A/N: Another old one which is notr interfering with new writing, just getting it up here.
The Raw and the Cooked
1. September: The Tip of the Day
The tip of the day is that if you use wild California bay laurel leaves in your cooking where the recipe calls for the kind of bay leaves you get at the store, you must use half a leaf where the recipe calls for two or three leaves. The flavor is not identical but it is similar, and some people learn to prefer the more pungent wild bay laurel over the domestic bay. Some people like wild things in general. Jackson didn't, but Marek did.
The next tip of the day is that you may gather the wild California bay laurel leaves by breaking off a branch when you are hiking in the hills. Summer is a good time to do this as the twigs are dryer and snap more easily. However, the leaves are even stronger tasting in the summer and might be overwhelming to cook with. Or even to carry in the car. Jackson thought Marek was overwhelming. Marek thought Jackson was overwhelming too, but the difference was that Marek wanted Jackson to overwhelm him and Jackson wanted something else.
Once you bring the branch home you don't need to do anything special with it. You can hang it from the edge of your spice shelf by piercing it with a thumbtack. You might want to tie it up with a string if the branch is resistant to the piercing. Marek failed to bind Jackson. Jackson was resistant. Marek was pierced to the heart every time Jackson's eyes focused on him.
The bay laurel leaves don't wilt much or go stale, though they are more tender than the conventional bay leaves. Marek was more tender than Jackson was used to. Jackson expected Marek to stale on him, but it didn't happen. It's reasonable, even so, to wait a few days before putting the leaves in a bottle, if that's what you want to do. It's tidier that way, and it's possible that the leaves retain their flavor better in the bottle. Jackson liked things tidy. Marek was willing to be kept, or to be allowed to hang out, just so long as Jackson expressed a preference. Jackson did not admit to any preference regarding Marek.
The French like to put bay leaves into quite a large variety of savory foods, including bechamel, which is a beautiful word for plain cream sauce. Bechamel is delicate and California bay laurel leaves could easily overbalance the flavor and ruin it if you don't remember to use much less of the leaf. You should probably remove the leaf after a while too. Marek was very careful making bechamel. He put the sauce into a casserole and put the bay leaf and an onion studded with cloves into it and put it in the oven for a long time while he got the other things ready. He had heard a rumor that Jackson's favorite dinner was spinach souffle with asparagus and hollandaise sauce and little tiny potatoes with parsley. He was anxious about the hollandaise sauce but the souffle was like breathing, once the bechamel was made and the eggs separated. He really faced his demons making the hollandaise sauce, careful that it didn't break.
A kitchen with a branch of bay laurel leaves hanging in it smells very clean and airy. Marek's kitchen was small but the smell of the bay laurel seemed to open it up. The only table in the apartment was two feet from the stove. Marek didn't do the candles and soft music thing. He did open a bottle of Carrignane and he did sweep the floor. His bed was clean and so was he.
Some people like to have decorative wreaths made of bay laurel branches and garden herbs -- rosemary is a good choice, and so is thyme. Other herbs take more effort to get them to look right. Marek wasn't much of a decorator. Besides cooking he just didn't do much that was very domestic. Jackson liked a minimalist environment and quiet color scheme, and Marek hoped that would work to his advantage. Jackson did agree to come over for dinner. Marek didn't know why, given that Jackson had not had one encouraging word for Marek yet. The reason Jackson came was that he had heard that Marek was a very good cook and Jackson thought that he might be able to put the sexual tension issue to rest if they got involved talking about food.
Possibly the best use of California bay laurel leaves is in the old-fashioned pot roast. The day after Jackson came to have souffle and asparagus, and left after the last potato was eaten and before Marek could get out more than two not very suggestive comments, Marek put a piece of chuck roast into a pot with turnips, carrots, celery, onions, garlic, a sizeable bay laurel leaf, and half the bottle of Carrignane from the night before. He had eaten the leftover souffle for breakfast and every green soft bite reminded him that Jackson had not spent the night.
Bay laurel leaf and wine make a natural and very compelling combination. That night Marek took half the pot roast and some dumplings to Jackson's place and made him take the food. He left before Jackson had a chance to refuse, or to thank him, or to change the subject. In his mind he fantasized that Jackson would like the pot roast so much that he would call Marek and command him to return. But he told himself it was much more likely that the pot roast would be a farewell gift. He had put the food into disposable containers to express his acceptance of the fact that he would never belong to Jackson.
Another classical use for bay laurel leaf is artichoke vinaigrette. It's another simple dish. Marek trimmed the bottoms of the artichokes so they could stand up in the pot more easily and poured water into it up to his thumb joint. A half a bay laurel leaf, a scattering of peppercorns and whole allspice, half a head's worth of garlic cloves peeled and cut in half, a shake of salt, and a stalk of celery, a branch of rosemary, a generous sprig of thyme, and vinegar and oil in the opposite ratio to salad dressing: twice as much vinegar as oil. There was leftover hollandaise to which Marek added a little Spanish smoked paprika.
Bay laurel leaves are also good in gumbo, paella, bouillabaisse, cioppino, and pumpkin stew. A week later, Marek was out of bay laurel leaves and he had put on five pounds. Both of these were good reasons to go hiking in the hills. Marek would have liked better to go anywhere with Jackson than to go hiking alone. He came home when it was dark, with a branch of bay laurel leaves, a sunburn, a tick bite, and a broken heart.
Jackson passed a bistro that smelled of domestic bay leaves and wine. He went in and ordered the paella. He went home with a full stomach and a feeling that he had dodged a bullet.