Friday, February 29, 2008

Oscar Party

Ok, here goes. I finished this post the other day and, poof, it was erased. So here we go again.
I had an Oscar party on Sunday and planned quite an elaborate meal to go along with the nominees (yes, I really am that much of a dork). My menu consisted of the following: Whiskey Sours (There Will Be Blood), Goat Cheese Salad (Michael Clayton), Chicken Chili (No Country for Old Men), Grilled Ham and Cheese Sandwiches (Juno), and Sticky Date Pudding with Toffee Sauce (Atonement).
I started the prep work on Saturday because I wanted to make sure that I had time on Sunday to get my massage in the morning (my first ever! And honestly, it wasn't that great. And I think that my back is bruised from him "working on it.") Anyway, I chopped things that could be chopped on Saturday afternoon, onions and bell peppers, and then on Sunday I followed my time plan that I had written up in the previous few days. Ok, yes, I am that cook who has a road map of when to put things in the oven, when to take them out, when to relax for a few minutes so that I can talk to my friends. It was all written down and I tried to follow it closely. What was missing from the list was grating off my thumb as the first thing I accomplished of the afternoon. This put a bit of a hitch in my plans because it would NOT stop bleeding. And I could not out a band-aid on because I was constantly rinsing my hands in the sink and doing dishes. So I fashioned a tourniquet out of paper towels and had to re-fashion it every 10 minutes or so. This slowed me down severely. Plus it really hurt.
So there I was, cooking and thinking that I had it all taken care of. I had mixed the batter for the pudding, the chicken was cooked and I had shredded it (note: hot chicken juice REALLY hurts when applied to open wound. Just in case you weren't sure). And the chili was burbling along in the pot, mixing its flavors and juices accordingly. I had constructed the sandwiches as well and placed them on a platter, both sides liberally smeared with butter, just waiting for my new, fancy panini maker to crisp them to perfection. And my first guests arrived.

My friend Rob came with the ingredients for whiskey sours just as I had instructed. I learned that evening that in 'There Will Be Blood' they actually drank whiskey and milk, but that sounds absolutely disgusting and I decided to keep to my original plan. Part of said plan was to make them using powdered sugar and lemon juice instead of that fake tasting "sour mix" you find in the liquor aisle (I just typed "isle" before correcting myself. I guess I could think of the liquor aisle as its own little island, does that work? Word play, fun!) The whiskey sours were quite a production though. I don't own a juicer (I though that was what strong hands are for) so Rob needed sufficient room for his task. But I didn't have much room because my kitchen is poorly laid out and I only have one longer counter which is covered with but not limited to: my entire cookbook collection, a microwave, a toaster, a bowl of fruit, random fruit that doesn't fit in the bowl, the occasional piece of mail, a lovely decanter filled with sherry (?) which my roommate uses to make hot toddies. I think that is it. So, there isn't much room. And then Rob started juicing lemons on the other smaller counter next to the sink, but that is where the clean dishes are! So I freaked out a little bit.
And my friends kept pouring in. And eventually there were about 6 people milling about my kitchen, reaching for glasses, looking for wine openers. JP came with the salad ingredients, my mom was there hanging out, and I was having a breakdown. Eventually they all fled for the living room while I tried to keep cooking. It was then that I realized there was another little problem.
The silverware that I have is some lovely old silver that my dad and his girlfriend gave me. (I must give her credit because I have a sneaking suspicion that she had more to do with it than he did). But the silver is in odd quantities. I have tons of knives, enough knives to rarely have to wash a knife. And enough forks to be happy. But I do not have very many spoons. Really, there are about 3 soup spoons and 3 little tea spoons and that is it. I had not even thought about it. Until I was dishing up chili and I realized that I had stuck pretty much every spoon that I own into a condiment bowl (blue corn chips, cheddar cheese, sour cream, cilantro). Uh oh. But everyone was relaxed. my mom and my step dad shared their spoon, I didn't eat yet (I am never hungry by the time I finish cooking, just stressed), and JP said that she was fine using one of my serving spoons.

I had put together the salad (arugula, goat cheese, and a really juicy pear with champagne vinaigrette), the chili was done, and JP was helping me grill up the ham and swiss, cheddar and tomato, and gruyere and sauteed portobellos, sage, and shallots sandwiches. And I had put the pudding in the oven. All was coming together as it should have been.
The pudding came out and was delicious even thought I overcooked it a bit. But with the toffee sauce and ice cream, no one could tell a thing! So it all turned out well. And the only thing left to do was the dishes.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Clementine Clafouti (Isn't that Just the Best Name!?)

Because I am mildly Type A, I decided to go to the grocery store last night at 9:30pm and buy some missing ingredients to make a Clementine Clafouti. I was planning on making one this weekend for my Oscar party and I always do a test run of a dish before I serve it to my friends. So, I thought, no time better than a rainy Wednesday night. I came home with my milk and cream and a whole crapload of Clementines and started the experiment.
I buttered my pie dish, floured it, and started on the batter. Clafouti is just so simple, and really not bad for you or calorie dense when it comes to desserts, which is part of the reason I love it. The batter is pretty much eggs, sugar, pinch of salt, milk, heavy whipping cream, and flour. You whisk it up and pour it over the fruit. The clementines were a bit more high maintenance than I expected. I did not necessarily expect them to be low-maintenance, I just hadn't put much thought into it. Do you have any idea how long it takes to peel and de-pith a dozen or so Clementines? Okay, it really doesn't take that long, maybe 15 minutes, but still!
I laid the Clementines in the pie plate, added the batter as high as I dared, and stuck the whole kit and caboodle in the oven. [Don't just the Clementines look so pretty in the plate? I thought that they were a side to behold.]

As I sat in my living room waiting patiently for my Clafouti goodness to emerge a couple of things came to mind. As opposed to other fruit such as apples or peaches, citrus actually loses its sugar and sweetness when cooked and can become quite bitter. Hmmm, is this going to taste like marmalade? (Now, if we were in English class right now, what I just did would be called "foreshadowing.") (Another sidenote: I really don't like marmalade. Never have. And I love jams and preserves, and almost anything citrus, so my dislike of marmalade is odd and unfitting of me).
I checked on my Clafouti numerous times throughout the cooking process to see how it was coming along. And it was not cooking as quickly as I thought it would. Problem Number 1. Truth be told, I am lucky enough to rent a flat with one of the world's worst ovens. (Ok, I am sure that in some third world country there is an oven worse than mine, but I live in San Francisco. It is just old so you preheat it and wait and hope that it might be warm enough, the broiler is a joke, and it is not as hot as it should be.) I typically expect to add time to my recipes when I cook them, so I thought the Clafouti would take about 5 or 10 minutes longer. It took about 30 minutes longer!
I removed my beautiful Clafouti from the oven and I must say it smelled divine.

I let it cool for a few minutes and then flitted some powdered sugar on top of it and decided to serve it to my roommate and a friend of hers. (I took one bite, made my judgment, and decided not to serve it Sunday. I'm not really into sweets anyway). They ate their pieces dutifully and told me what I already knew. It was bitter. The Clafouti part of it, the batter, was lovely and sweet, but the Clementines themselves had turned into these sort of tough bitter pills. Not so good.

I explained to them that I even chose the sweetest Clementines of the bunch. I truly had one segment from each piece of citrus that I used (that made them both laugh too. They think I am crazy, I said it was simple quality control). My roommate then asked me why I made it then and not simply on Sunday. My reply: because how awful if this was the only dessert I had to serve. Her reply: oh, I would just serve it and say, sorry, it's not great. If you have been following my blog, you now see why the French Onion Soup Incident will not be and was not a one time occurrence.
Anyway, my lesson learned. But I also realized that all was not lost. Hmmm, I think that this particular clafouti would actually be quite nice for a brunch. Or for dessert with some super sweet whipped cream. Or with shaved dark chocolate over the top. Wait, maybe it wasn't a disaster. Ooh, I could flambe it with Grand Marnier! I could mix in raspberries to sweeten it up. I will be the Clafouti making Queen!
Sorry, I'm back.
Kids- when cooking at home, please try recipes before you decide to host a lavish dinner party and end up having to call Domino's at 9pm while you're tearing up in the kitchen and your friends keep saying "it's really not that bad." Or "I mean, salt and sugar look exactly the same, anyone could mix them up." Or the worse "we still love you regardless."
I have not given up on the Clafouti as a concept though. When summer comes around I am sure I will be trying to de-pit dozens of cherries so as to make the traditional clafouti from Limousin, France. But for Sunday, I am thinking figs! Or what else is in season? Oooh, cranberries. Dates and almond slivers. More to come...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Little Star Pizza

Oh Little Star. I feel like this place has such a cult following, and with the no reservations/cash only, it can be quite a feat to eat there in an effective manner (yes, I am one of those women who can never manage to have cash on me and I only take $20 at a time out the of ATM). I crave Little Star at times but I usually end up leaving there a bit dissatisfied. I know that there will be people who completely disagree with me, and it could be that I ate too much garlic bread before dinner (which wasn't as good as I remember. Either it was different or my memory is off). I think that the crust is too oily or buttery. I am not sure what they use in the cornmeal crust, but it is too rich for my taste.

And the pizza itself, well, there was a funny mix-up when we ordered. My table of 5 ordered a large deep dish half Little Star (which is veggies and stuff) and half cheese with olives and mushrooms. Now my friend Allyson was very clear with the waitress about the olives. She asked if they were black olives because she doesn't like any other kind on her pizza (I actually completely agree).
So we get our pizza (after the requisite too long Little Star wait) and Ally takes a bite. She instantly knows that these are Kalamata olives and not normal black, pizza olives. I taste it, her fiance tastes it, we are all in agreement, both on the type of olives that have landed on our pizza and the fact that Kalamata olives are really way too strong for pizza and overpower all other flavors.

Waitress gets flagged down and comes back over.

Ally- Um, we ordered black olives on our pizza and these are actually Kalamata olives
Waitress- Hmmm, I put that on the order, let me go talk to the kitchen.
(Waitress returns)
Waitress- The kitchen said that they put black olives on your pizza.
(She then looks at the pizza and sees the black colored olive)
Waitress- See, those are black olives.
Me- Actually, they are Kalamata olives.
Waitress- But they are black.
Me- Yeah, they are black in color but a different kind of olive than a "black olive."
Waitress- Well that is the only kind of olive we offer.

Ally switched pieces with her fiance and then we launched into a discussion about olives and definitions. I said that while a Kalamata olive is black in color, most people who know about food know the difference between a black olive that you always get in some funny, 70s looking can, and Greek Kalamata olives that almost always have pits, are a much more oval shape, and have a distinct taste. And we decided that if you are in the food business, and if you work at a restaurant that pretty much just serves pizza with a dozen or so different toppings, it would be best to know the attributes of each of these options. And then our discussion veered into the territory of food descriptions. I said that the term "black olive" would confuse someone who doesn't know much about olives, because, yes, technically Kalamatas are black. But I said that this is like saying that Romaine lettuce is a "dark leafy green." Technically Romaine may appear to have the qualities "dark," "leafy," and "green," but when one discusses dark leafy greens they mean kale, spinach, swiss chard, collard greens, or mustard greens.

Our dining experience was not completely harmed from the unnecessary appearance of the dastardly Kalamata, we still had the Little Star side of the pizza, and wine of course. I guess we all take for granted what we know about food. I think it was just recently I was out to eat and someone was asking me what a pistou is. I remember when I was younger asking my parents about all the different components of a menu, so I am hoping that I can be an educational help to my friends and family when they need it now. And there are plenty of words that I am still missing (I did just buy the New Food Lover's Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst. I plan on reading it cover to cover and then educating the 3 people who read my blog about all I have learned!)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Blogger's Remorse

Now that I have finally really gotten going with my food blog (seeing that it took me 13 months to write a second entry) I am feeling extremely remorseful at all the blogging opportunities that I have missed. I keep thinking about the trip to New York I made over New Years and all the tasty food I ate (as well as the photos I could have shared of my swollen sprained ankle, the Lenox Hill Hospital emergency room, and the lovely wheelchair trip I got to make around JFK as I attempted to get my handi-capable self back to California).

I could have also included photos of my boyfriend mocking me and my klutziness, and the series of colors my ankle turned in the following weeks. Maybe if I had been taking photos of martinis instead of drinking them I would have more fully noticed when the lovely, slim heel of my Ferragamo got stuck in the grate outside the restaurant and I wouldn't have attempted to keep walking, leaving my ankle health in the dust. But, alas, we can all dream. And I don't know if photos of a purple/yellow/blue ankle really fit in amongst entries about food and cooking (maybe if this were a diet site I could splice together photos of disgusting injuries with food so whenever you look at a cream puff you associate it with a compound fracture and walk away from it. Wait a minute, that is absolutely genius, I am brilliant beyond belief and will make more money than Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers put together. I better patent this before someone steals my fabulous idea).

So I know I have to catch up in all the food and writing that I have been missing. On top of my blog, I was instructed by my new trainer to write down everything I eat for a few days. (The trainer is in direct relation to the ankle. Because of the sprain I cannot run my usual dozen or so miles a week, so I have joined the gym in an attempt to keep my stomach from growing outward). I was supposed to do this food journal this past weekend and attempt to follow his rule for me "no white at night" (whatever that means. Does he really expect me to cut carbs out of my diet, even at night? I would starve I tell you, STARVE!) Unfortunately, I considered myself responsible for consuming as much food as possible this weekend and made cheese grits, quite possibly the unhealthiest thing in my food repertoire. So now I want to start afresh and create a new food journal, one that doesn't include chicken and waffles, and Little Star Pizza. I will eat only veggies and whole grains, and try to consume a bit less butter than I usually do. (I have rationalized that because I don't eat red meat or pork, it is important that I eat lots of butter because god forbid I don't consume as much saturated fat as the average American). So I will indulge in the fresh vegetables that my lovely Northern California supplies me with and banish cheese, bread, and butter. Ok, at least until dinner time.

The Supper Club

This past Saturday night I was invited to my friend Katie's house to join her Supper Club. She and a group of friends started a club where they gather about once a month and all cook on a theme. Apparently it all started with something called Pork Chop Friday and has grown into quite a production. The theme this month was Southern food with Chicken and Waffles being the centerpiece dish. Katie asked me to bring cheese grits (an amazing recipe from my mom that has been in our family forever). I was happy to say that they were a big hit.

It's really fun to cook communally and so much more satisfying than going out to a restaurant.
Here are some photos of the full spread:
Roasted Chicken

Waffles (notice the PBR, I thought it was a nice touch)

Roasted Potatoes with Rosemary

My delicious Spinach and Arugula salad with green apple, chopped prunes and ricotta salata. Oh, and with a champagne, shallot, and dijon vinaigrette

And there were some crudite and hummus, and some gravy for the chicken as well. And collard greens too, I'm not sure how I missed those but I sure ate them.

After setting up the food and serving ourselves, we sat around in Katie's living room, balancing plates and wine glasses on our laps and on the coffee table. Good music, good conversation and great food was had by all. And Katie's roommate Kate is a baker at Tartine (a fabulous San Francisco bakery if you don't know it) and she made an Apple Brown Betty. It was perfectly cooked and oozing with cinnamon, yum.
I have been missing my cooking mojo recently and I think that I am slowly getting it back. I think it is partly to do with the fact that I don't really have anyone to cook for, and I am never motivated to put much effort into cooking for myself. But I am going to start hosting dinner parties again and that should get me back into experimenting in the kitchen, something I am excited about doing. Hmmm, what should I make next?

Grits a la Romaine-
not the healthiest thing in the world but truly the best. Indulge yourself once in a while with these, you won't be sorry!
(form my mother, Kristine Kelley)
Bring 1/2 gallon of 2% milk to a boil, being careful not to scorch it. While heating up add 1/2 lb. of butter (NO substitutions). When melted add 2 c. of Quick Grits (not instant or regular),cook til thick stirring constantly.
Remove from heat, transfer to a large mixing bowl and beat hard for 5 minutes with an electric mixer. Add 2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper while beating.
Pour into a 9x13 pyrex and let set in the fridge (takes about 25 minutes, doesn't have to be cool, just set). Then cut into domino size rectangles and lay like fallen dominoes in a casserole.
Grate 2 c of jack cheese and sprinkle over grits. Add 2/3 cup of parmesan and sprinkle.
Bake 30-35 minutes at 400F, until browned.

Friday, February 15, 2008

EPIC Roasthouse

Ah, lunch. Today I went on a company lunch to Jan Birnbaum's new Epic Roasthouse. It was such a beautiful day to walk along the Embarcadero, it was truly epic (sorry, I had to, won't do it again).
Ok, I'll do a little review to start. The restaurant is gorgeous. I love the decor and the views are spectacular (could've used epic but decided not to, kudos to me). There are a couple of strange things that happened before we even got to the restaurant. When i made reservations the other day the hostess told me that I could not make a reservation for 14. The largest they supply is 6, but I could make multiple reservations and she will note that we are all together. BUT I have to make them under multiple names. So, in order to accommodate our party of 14, I had to make 4 reservations, three for 4 people and one for 2. Does this make any sense? I cannot say it did to me. AND I had to put them all under different names. Okay, whatever, it's a new restaurant and they are trying to figure things out, so be it.
We ended up having two tables of four next to each other, and a booth that sat 6. Everyone was happy though and it is near impossible to speak to everyone at a table of 14 anyway, so we were satisfied with our seating arrangements.
The meal began with water and a choice of three breads, a cornbread in the shape of a madeline, a cheese popover, and sourdough. This was served with butter and a choice of three different kinds of salt. Now, I love salt so I was pleased to be offered such a lovely array.

My table mates started their meals with the french onion soup, steak tartar, etc, all which were highly applauded. We then moved onto the main course. I was served the chicken salad with cabbage, apples and walnuts. I thought that the flavors were lovely. The dressing was present but not heavy, the chicken was cooked wonderfully. My only complaint would be that I got two pieces of gristle in the chicken (very unappetizing) and it was difficult to eat (simply a hazard of cabbage that is unavoidable).

We had also ordered the Epic Mac and Cheese (it's really called that so I think it's okay to repeat) for the table. I was excited about this as macaroni and cheese is one life's greatest pleasures if you ask me. I am absolutely infatuated with James Beard's macaroni and cheese casserole (located in his "Beard on Bread and Pasta" book. It is incomparable to any I have ever tasted. Simply the best).

The mac and cheese was disappointing, though. It was missing a zing or some kind of layer to it that made it interesting. I felt that it was just extraordinarily bland. No edge, no sharpness. I think my nephew would have fully enjoyed it, but he is 16 months old and doesn't have the most discriminating palate yet. ( He obviously enjoyed his cupcakes on his first birthday, the picture is proof). I added all three of the salts to different bites as well as a load of pepper and it was improved slightly, but not a ton. I hope that this is the result of Epic being a new restaurant, this is their first week serving lunch, and so they have some things that they need to work on.
My table mates ordered two desserts that I was forced to taste (the cruelty). A warm Sharffenberger Chocolate Soufflé with caramel and sea salt ice cream and Beignets with Bicerin café au lait were brought to our table. Now if it were up to me I would have ordered the apple tart with calvados ice cream or some other fruity dessert. I am not a huge fan of chocolate (I know, oh the horror) and typically prefer a lighter dessert, if I choose to each dessert at all, which I usually don't. Whew. So I tasted the two desserts and must say that I wasn't bowled over.

I thought that the souffle was too rich, but honestly, I think I am alone with this, and I almost always think that chocolate desserts are too rich. The best tasting thing was the ice cream, but until I looked up the menu to see the description of the dessert, I had no idea it wasn't just vanilla. The chocolate was just too overpowering.

I think that the beignets were actually pretty good, they were fresh and warm, etc, but they are just not my thing. That's okay though, my coworkers ate them up whole heartedly so I am pretty sure that I am not trustworthy with this one.
Overall, I want to give the Epic Roasthouse another chance. Jan Birnbaum was at the restaurant cooking and came and said hello to our table, which is always nice to see. I think that with some more practice and a few tweaks the restaurant could be really great. It looks amazing, they just need to get the food to match the view!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Mussels for Lunch

The other day I went to Kokkari for lunch. It is a lovely Greek restaurant in the Financial District that I used to frequent quite often when I worked close by a number of years ago. Now that I am back in the neighborhood, I have been excited to return to some of my old haunts.
The one dish that I am really looking forward to returning to come this summer is the Fresh Peach Salad. Now I cannot remember the exact ingredients to this salad, but I remember there was some soft goats milk cheese and either arugula or watercress as the base green. This was just the best salad imaginable, mostly because there is pretty much nothing better than a ripe peach at the peak of the season. Matched with a glass of champagne, this was my typical self-indulgent Friday lunch with a girlfriend.
Well, my experience this past Tuesday was not quite the same. I ordered the mussels in a tomatoey broth. I don't know why I ever order mussels. It is quite strange actually. I sometimes crave them, yet when I am eating them I usually find them a bit disgusting and always feel a little ill afterwards. I think that this occurs because there is often a lot of butter in the broths around them, especially in French restaurants. Or maybe mussels just "don't agree with me" (what a lovely euphamisn that always is). So I had the mussels, and way too much bread (they have great bread there and really fruity olive oil). I was a bit stuffed upon my return to the office, yet incredibly hungry about two hours later.
And then it occurred to me, why I like both mussels and oysters. I think that I do not actually like the sea creatures themselves, but when it comes to mussels, I love bread with garlicky, buttery oil, and I have a strong affinity for mignonnette. So am I allowed to continue to order these dishes simply for the sides that come with them? Are there culinary rules against this? (In a side note- I have realized the same thing about escargot. Yeah, the slippery little snails are okay in their own right, but what I really order the dish for is the little pockets of garlic butter that I get to dip the bread into. Mmmm, nothing like it). But is it fair of me to have between a half dozen and a dozen tiny animal bodies on my head just because I like the taste of vinegar?? Gosh, eating can be complex sometimes.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

People Are Funny

You know, sometimes I forget that everyone isn't just like me. I say this because of an experience that I had last night. My roommate decided to cook dinner for her new beau and asked me and another friend of ours to join them. Now, when I have a dinner party I plan plan plan. I set the table nicely, I organize and usually create a time chart for myself with when certain things need to go in the oven, etc, I clean as I go(incessantly as I do not have a dishwasher), and I plan a meal that makes sense. When arrived at the house last night our kitchen was pretty much a disaster. The sink was full of dirty dishes, there was food on the kitchen towel that is laid out to dry clean dishes on, there was an enormous bowl of whipped cream in the refrigerator with no use, and my roommate was attempting to make french onion soup. Now I have not mastered the art of French cooking (sorry Julia), but I know a few things and I know the general concept of what makes french onion soup. What it is not is a few sweaty onions covered (prematurely) with vegetable broth with a bunch of parmesan cheese poured in. Call me crazy, I know. I am not sure how one can actually create something that is both tasteless and too salty. Not until last night did I think that could exist, but I was proved wrong.
I first spoke up when she mentioned the parmesan cheese. I said, "wait, you need to use gruyere." Her response- "oh yeah, I forgot to get it at the store, so i am, using Parmesan." Ok, hold up, now french onion soup is essentially three ingredients, onions, beef stock, and gruyere (ok, and the bread too, fine, four). That's like saying that you are making a caprese salad but you are going to use cheddar cheese instead of mozzarella. Hey, do your thing, but don't call it caprese. So I instantly reacted and said, "why didn't you ask me to pick it up on my way home?? How could you have forgotten it?" I was simply amazed that one could do that. I would have paid a taxi driver to go the the store and grab a brick of gruyere before I would attempt to use Parmesan as a substitute (and what a terrible substitute it is. Swiss maybe you could try, even gouda, something that melts though).
So dinner is finally ready. I sit down at the table and I am handed a fork, a napkin, and a tea spoon. There are no placemats (my mother would kill me if she knew we ate dinner last night on my family table with no place mats), and then I am handed two bowls, one with a very odd looking soup in it, the other one an empty pasta bowl. I look around the table and see a smattering of food. There is a half eaten cheese platter, there is a platter with carrots and celery and hummus, a bowl with sweet potatoes (they were actually quite good), garlic bread, and a bowl of salad large enough to feed at least 10 people. We sat to eat. And this is when (I hope) my roommate discovered that parmesan cheese does not melt the same way as gruyere. The soup was very yellow with not very cooked onions in it, a piece of bread floating around, and these disgusting warm globules of parmesan sticking to the bowl, the spoon and dangling around the soup. It was very strange, but I didn't comment. I have a bad habit of being a kitchen nazi ("everybody out", "ooh, can you use this knife instead?", "no I don't need help, just let me do it myself", you get the picture) so I decided just to sit and have a glass of wine while the cooking derby was occurring.
Anyway, the reason I am commenting on all this is because it made me realize a few things about myself. I do not consider myself to be type A, anal, or OCD, but perhaps I might be just a teeny tiny bit. I was amazed because I would rather disinvite everyone for dinner, or throw everything in the trash, than serve a dinner that was so unplanned and on a table so cluttered and unset. When it comes to cooking I am extraordinarily judgmental (mostly just of myself) and a perfectionist when it comes to everything being just right. I am overly apologetic whenever I serve a meal (I'm working on it), and insecure until I am sure everyone is satisfied. But I am learning that it is okay not to be that way. There is room for all kinds of cooks in this world, I just wish they weren't in my kitchen.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Food- Not Just For Eating

Of course I love to eat, and I also love to cook. But something that may surprise some people, one of my ultimate pleasures is reading about food. The genre of food literature has expanded in recent years, but it is not a new concept in any way. Although MFK Fisher and Judith Jones have been immersed in this world for more than half a century, "food books" are finally coming into mass popularity in the US. Just last week Michael Pollan's "In Defense of Food" and Alice Water's "The Art of Simple Food" were the number 1 and 3 spot on the SF Bay Area best seller list. While neither of these fall into what I would personally categorize as "food lit," it is exciting to see that people are interested in the subject.
Last year (or was it the year before, does this mean I am getting old when they all blend together?) I read all three of Ruth Reichl's memoirs in less than one week. Poor Ruth, it took her decades to culminate all these experiences in her lives and I tore through it all in a few afternoons. And then I discovered Laurie Colwin. Unfortunately Colwin was taken from us too soon, she died in 1992 of unexpected heart failure. Fortunately, we have her books to remember her by. I believe a friend of my mom's gave me "Home Cooking" for my birthday a few years ago and I could not put it down. That led me to read her follow up, "More Home Cooking," and wish that a) I could be friends with her, b) I cook everything in her book (a far greater possibility to say the least), and c) that I could one day write something as warm and effective as her prose.
Here are a list of my most recent favorite food lit in no particular order:
Heat- Bill Buford
The Man Who Ate Everything- Jeffrey Steingarten
A Meal Observed- Andrew Todhunter
Julia and Julia- Julie Powell
Comfort Me with Apples- Ruth Reichl
Tender to the Bone- Ruth Reichl
*note- I am not including Garlic and Sapphires- Ruth Reichl because it really isn't as good as the other two
Kitchen Confidential- Anthony Bourdain
Cooking for Mr. Latte- Amanda Hesser
My Life in France- Julia Child and Alex Prud'Homme
All Laurie Colwin books