Maybe it’s the foodie in me, but with all the discussions and hearings lately about Strata Corp’s proposed granite quarry and rock-crushing project along the upper Minnesota River, I keep thinking of that other kind of strata. The kinder, gentler, savory bread pudding kind.
This post is not meant to be some kind of cruel joke–it’s really about both things. But, to channel M.F.K. Fisher’s brand of culinary wisdom–sometimes in dark hours and with the wolf snuffling ’round the door, we need a repast that is, for all its humble ingredients, a celebration of light and hope and that channels our best intentions for good outcomes from scrappy beginnings.
It starts with a loaf of bread. I made two a little over a week ago from a rye starter that went bubbly from wild yeasts. The loaves are dense, but tasty, and I took the second of the batch out of the freezer last night for just this project. Usually, you’d use stale bread for a strata, but mine wasn’t. It’s not always possible to plan perfectly for these things.
I sliced it thin, and layered it in the bottom of a small buttered casserole. On top of the bread, I grated a little nubbin of very good cheese a friend shared with me quite some time ago. It was almost too hard to sliver, but it had a good, heady aroma. The next layer was roasted vegetables from the summer garden, and on top of that more bread, more cheese, more vegetables.
With the layers completed, I cracked eight eggs into a bowl–hard to make strata without cracking some–and whisked them with milk. That mixture went over the top of the layers in the casserole–with a pause for a bit to let the bubbles come up and the custard soak in.
The most important thing about a strata is that it wants to take its time. You can’t just pour in the egg mixture and bake it straight away–the bread won’t have time to soak up the moisture. So, even though I made it early this afternoon (when I was hungry! I ate something else then), I am just now baking it for a late supper.
Strata is a humble and democratic dish–it takes whatever you’ve got–any little bit of this or piece of that–brings it together, takes its sweet and sometimes frustrating time, and comes out with something quite wonderful and beyond what any of its one ingredients could’ve accomplished.
So, perhaps my thinking about the one strata and the other Strata are not so unconnected. Or maybe I am about to stretch a clumsy metaphor way too far.
As I’ve written previously, I’m against that mining project. I think that the long term and widespread economic benefit of preserving the natural beauty of this place far outweighs the limited economic benefit to having our granite outcrops blasted, crushed, and exported for the aggregate taxes.
And, I’m inspired when I see citizens out in public exercising their right to oppose the Strata quarry–people of all different stripes–people who’d probably not sit on the same side of the aisle in most other matters–coming together. It’s good stuff. It’s local democracy. It takes time, and its messy and sometimes a little weird, but the end product is often very much better than any one of us could’ve come up with on our own.
This Sunday at noon, those opposed to the Strata Corp mining project are gathering at the Memorial Building in Clinton for a potluck and discussion session. If you’d like to join in the discussion, please come and bring a dish to share.
Since that’s two days from now, and my supper will only stretch so far, I’ll bring biscuits instead.