Yesterday, I glazed, loaded and fired pots. I prepped and baked bread, turkey thighs, and sweet potatoes. We were having a rainy nor’easter, so instead of running, I spent 70 minutes on the cross trainer talking to Linda and Mom (not at the same time). By 5:00, I was coated in a patina consisting of sweat, dust, clay, flour and Sadie fur. On this sort of day, neither showering nor napping before supper is optional.
Potters say that opening a kiln is like Christmas morning. I don’t entirely resonate with this since I never had that childhood experience. But I did get to see my own kids have it, which is probably just as good. Not to go off on too much of a tangent (it’s my blog, I can do what I want)…we did the Santa thing when the kids were little. We did the Chanukah thing, too. I found that I didn’t really like lying to them, but it was magic, so I went with it. But it was tricky for me. The Christmas presents came from a fictional cultural icon, the Chanukah presents came from us. I wanted credit for the magic! I found myself trying to justify giving them the best stuff for Chanukah. It felt great when they looked up from the nest of wrapping paper and said, “thanks, Momma, thanks, Daddy,” and not quite as great when they said, “I love Santa!”
The magic is, after all, about transformation. Suddenly, you have something special and new. In the case firing pots, the transformation has to do with the application of heat. The glazes have melted and solidified, fused with the clay. The clay itself has vitrified (turned into glass). Cooking food also involves the application of heat. Raw ingredients change in texture, color and digestibility, liquids boil and evaporate, fats melt, sugars caramelize, the house smells wonderful.
There are scientists and anthropologists who believe that cooking food (the application of heat) is what is responsible for human intelligence and civilization. And, of course, pottery (first presumably fired with food in it) was intimately involved in that process. Which reminds me of one of my favorite Megan stories.
I think my daughter was a junior in high school. She had a lot of interests and talents. An avid reader and writer, she was (and is) a really fine singer, messed around with the guitar, liked to draw and take photographs; she could sew, knit and do macrame’. Oh, let’s not forget she’d been scuba diving since she was 10. So I was a little surprised when she said to me, “Mom, I have a new hobby. I’m really good at it.” I couldn’t imagine! “What is it?” And she says, completely serious, “evolutionary biology.”
Sorry, back to the application of heat. You may remember we dug sweet potatoes last week. I want to tell you about roasting them. I love sweet potatoes and the food police tell me they are incredibly healthy, which makes me quite gleeful. I like ‘em roasted whole. Brian really likes it when I take the whole roasted ones, peel them, and put them in the food processor to make a very silky puree’. A little butter and salt…maybe some brown sugar, honey or maple syrup. This preparation is really great for a party or holiday because it reheats perfectly in the microwave or oven so you can make it ahead. Sweet potato puree’ makes a great bed for stewy things.
But my “go to” sweet potato dish is simple, easy, and so good. You can really use whatever oven temp you’ve got going and adjust the cooking time accordingly. Just wash ‘em, cut into chunks and put the chunks on a parchment lined baking sheet. I’m a big fan of parchment because it enables you to enjoy the nice crust you get on the food rather than having to scrape it off the pan after supper.
Toss the potato pieces with a little oil, salt, pepper, and sugar. You can really use just about any oil. I’m sure coconut would be amazing, but Bob doesn’t like it, so you’ll have to let me know about that. Olive is great, walnut, almond and hazelnut are wonderful, peanut is good. I’m sort of off canola after I read some negative things about it. And my favorite sugar now is organic cane. I am not sugar phobic, but if you are, you could skip it. Or use honey or maple.
You’re aiming for about a half hour in a 400° oven. But I did them today for a couple of hours at 275° while the thighs roasted. It’s nice if you toss them around once to get all the cut sides into contact with the pan surface for a while. But this is really optional. You can tell by feel when they’re done. If you don’t have asbestos hands like me, you can poke them with a fork.
These are great alongside any kind of roasted meat, meatloaf, veggie burgers; I love them next to a nice piece of salmon. I’ve tossed them into salads, they seem to have a natural affinity for lentils. And they are a must in any kind of abundance bowl.
While I was roasting dinner and the kiln was cooking my pots, I took a nice, hot shower and a little snooze…