Friday Food Writers: Patience Gray and Primrose Boyd

December 10, 2010

One of our Thanksgiving dinner guests brought me the most wonderful gift–two gorgeous reprints put out by an amazing press I hadn’t heard of before, Persephone Books in London. According to them, their goal is to publish “forgotten fiction and non-fiction by unjustly neglected authors.” Amen to that. The first of the two books I was given are They Can’t Ration These by the Vicomte de Maudit (don’t you just love it when you have the chance to use the word “Vicomte”? I do.), first published in 1940. It’s a guide to getting by on what nature has to offer you in wartime (and according to the flap copy, the poor old Vicomte is believed to have been captured by the Nazis after the fall of France and was never heard from again.). The second, from which today’s Friday Food Writers is taken, is a 1950 sort of guide to everyday cooking called Plats du Jour. Clearly it would not be possible to dislike a book written by two women named Patience and Primrose no matter what it was, but this one just happens to be a delightful primer on the matter of food in England after the war, when Continental influence was beginning to seep in and people were beginning to take an interest in cooking again after the lean years. It’s full of recipes and general advice and all kinds of goodies, but I thought I’d give you a snippet of the introduction which expresses the authors’ general feelings about how to eat well, (which, I confess, are pretty much mine, too).

It is a personal point of view encouraged by the experience of simple meals abroad where attention is given not only to the vin de pays, but to the kind of bread, the choice of cheese, and the crispness of the salad, as well as to the preparation of the principal dish. It is borne out in everyday life by the limited time available for cooking, the consequence of preoccupations outside the family. Some of the dishes given here do not amount to a plat du jour in the substantial sense outlined…Where the occasion is a special one, a pate, or an extravagance in the form of Dublin Bay prawns or smoked salmon may be called for to precede a Daube a la Provencale or a Poulet a l’estragon. But barring such exceptions, the liberating idea prevails, a concentration of culinary activity, a close attention to a particular dish, which, once composed, can often be left to combine its flavors in a slow oven, later to be enjoyed with a glass of enhancing wine.

 

Enhancing. Yes. That’s the word I’ve been looking for to describe wine for my entire adult life. And with that–happy weekend!

I am not alone

December 6, 2010

Every once in a while, the universe conspires to remind you that no, you are not the only person suffering from whatever frustration ails you. As you all know, my particular frustration is funny and wonderful and red-headed and soon to be five years old. I never feel quite so lame as when I watch other people’s children happily eating whatever’s put in front of them and am consumed with envy. After all, why do I care so much? No one else seems to.

Today, however I discovered that someone else does, and that she’s written a hilarious essay over on Parents.com. An essay that, if I could write about this subject without foaming at the mouth and with as much style as she does, might have been penned by yours truly. Debbie Koenig, who writes the great blog Words to Eat By: Because Parents Need to Eat Too (might I add: best subtitle ever), has this to say on the subject of her picky-eating 4 year old son and all the tactics she’s tried to get him to eat. Oh, how familiar this list is….and oh how I have failed just as miserably as she has.

It’s snowing outside and I know that somewhere my neighborhood, where Koenig also lives (though I’ve never met her), tonight at dinnertime, while magical flakes swirl and street lamps gleam outside the window, there will be another child helping himself to yogurt and not even remotely considering trying rice. And you know what? I feel good about it.

Friday Food Writers: Li-Young Lee

December 3, 2010

I discovered Li-Young Lee in college, when I was obsessed with his second book The City In Which I Love You, the title poem of which still rings in my head on a regular basis (well, lines from it, anyway). He writes a lot about memory and family and Chinese culture, among other things. He also writes marvelously about food. I was tempted to put up his wonderful poem “Persimmons” here, but it’s long for a blog post, so I’ll just link you to it instead in case you’re interested. In the meantime, here’s another really lovely one from his first book, Rose, perfect for the season. I hope it both makes you hungry and brings you a moment of calm in the pre-holiday hustle.

 

Eating Together

In the steamer is the trout
seasoned with slivers of ginger,
two sprigs of green onion, and sesame oil.
We shall eat it with rice for lunch,
brothers, sister, my mother who will
taste the sweetest meat of the head,
holding it between her fingers
deftly, the way my father did
weeks ago. Then he lay down
to sleep like a snow-covered road
winding through pines older than him,
without any travelers, and lonely for no one.

‘Tis the season

December 1, 2010

I’m in full-on holiday mode these days. If it’s not writing about cookies for the Food Network and Cooking Channel blogs (today it’s macaroons–yay, Hannukah!–and pecan bourbon balls), it’s pondering upcoming festive dinners–Christmas, New Year’s, random dinner parties. You name it, I’m obsessing over the menu for it. It’s cold and rainy outside, but in my head, there are a thousand roasts roasting (alongside eleven ladies dancing, two turtle doves, etc. etc. etc.)

Hopefully all this forward-thinking will mean that I don’t do what I did on Thanksgiving, which was to order a turkey that was, oh, about 3 times the size we actually needed. What can I say? I’m excitable. I looked at the weight/person calculations about a zillion times, and then I went ahead and got a turkey that weighed almost 25 pounds, and we brined and stuffed it. Behold:It was madness. And leftovers, some of which The German Professor, who is a southern Californian by birth, turned into some very delicious turkey enchiladas. Because really, eleven people (one of whom is The Cheese-Hater, who ate, yes, a bagel for Thanksgiving dinner) don’t need twenty-five pounds of turkey. I chalk it up to holiday zeal.

Meanwhile, I am very busy loving The Tipsy Baker (who has her own turkey photos up–check it out!)

And in case you missed it, here’s the link to my Thanksgiving radio broadcast on the Brian Lehrer show here in New York. Given a listen and discover that a) I cook Thanksgiving dinner in my pajamas every year and b) why I like to throw dinner parties with The German Professor. And other things, too, of course.

WYNC/New York, New York

November 11, 2010

Once again, I really enjoyed my conversation this morning on WYNC’s Brian Lehrer show–and it didn’t hurt to find out that even Brian Lehrer has a picky eater kid (or that his son, age 12, will now eat asparagus even if he hates to admit he likes it. Perhaps there’s hope for The Cheese-Hater after all). There were so many great calls, so thanks to everyone for listening. If you missed it, you can get the audio here.

On a purely personal note, I had a moment of completely sublime New Yorkishness when, in the middle of the show, I looked out the window and out over the buildings and water towers of lower Manhattan sharply delineated against the crisp, clear blue sky. I grew up in Manhattan, and sitting there with my headphones on, on a great local radio show, talking about my work with the perfect view of the city I love, was almost overwhelming. I was talking about arugula, but I was hearning this in my head:

Meanwhile, I’ve been light on the posting because I’ve been busy with a lot of other projects, including–yay!–a new book deal and some writing about cookies for the Food Network, which I’ll tell you more about when it launches online. All of this and more will be available soon on my new website, which will be a gathering place for all things having to do with my writing and interests. More on that soon, too. In the meantime, I promise to keep the Friday Food Writers coming.

Friday Food Writers: Anthony Doerr

November 5, 2010

Four Seasons in Rome is novelist Anthony Doerr’s account of the year he spent in Rome (on a Rome Prize Fellowship from the American Academy–jealous, anyone?) with his wife and twin baby boys, trying to write a book, trying to learn Italian, and often, trying to figure out how to get food for his growing children. It’s a wonderful little book, part travelogue, part chronicle of new parenting, part history lesson, but of course, since this is Italy we’re talking about, there are many scenes and snippets that have to do with food and eating. After all, no matter why you claim you’re going to Italy, really, it always ends up being about the food. This passage comes near the beginning of the book–it’s autumn–when the family is recently arrived and still adjusting to almost everything, while at the same time completely bowled over by the majesty and beauty of their new home town. On the surface, it’s about grocery shopping, but what it says about Italian culture and the surreal magic of travel is just as vivid.

At the produce stand—we learn the hard way–you’re not supposed to touch the vegetables; you point at the insalatine or pomodori and the merchant will set them on the scale. The butcher’s eggs sit in open cartons, roasting in the sun. There are no tags on any of his meat; I gesture at something pink and boneless and cross my fingers.

The Kit Kats are packaged not in orange labels but in red. They taste better. So do the pears. We devour one and bleed pear juice all over the canopy of the stroller. The tomatoes–a dozen of them in a bag–appear to give off light.

The babies suck on biscuits. We glide through sun and shadow.

Find your local CSA

November 4, 2010

I had a great time on Brian Lehrer this morning (you can listen to the audio and find out about next week’s show here). The callers were really interesting and smart, and one of them wanted to know how she can get local produce in Bensonhurst, where she lives (she just moved there from Vermont, where, as she put it, the local food movement is decades old while in Bensonhurst it seems decades away!). I suggested joining a CSA, and many people wrote in on the Brian Lehrer website to suggest the Just Food website as a great resource for, among other things, locating a CSA near you. If you go to it, you can search by zip code and take it from there. There’s also a ton of other really great information there about local food, farms, and related subjects.

It’s pouring rain here in New York, and at the suggestion of a friend I think I’m going to spend the afternoon roasting squash, a very seasonal activity, indeed.

Thursdays with EFB

November 3, 2010

I just got the exciting news that I’ll be doing a series of four interviews about EFB on the fantastic Brian Lehrer Show on WYNC (New York’s NPR station), every Thursday morning this month at 10:40. If you’re  local, please tune in! Each week will cover a different aspect of the book. I adore the show, so I’m thrilled to be going on. Even better, the last installment will air on Thanksgiving morning, when I know all of you, like me, will be standing in your kitchen in your pajamas, coffee mug in hand, wondering how you’re going to produce dinner for zillions of people in the next five hours. What better inspiration than a dose of EFB on the radio? (And, just in case you’re looking for ideas, there are several Thanksgiving recipes in EFB, including Chef David Shea’s turkey brining method and the best Brussels Sprouts recipe on the planet. Because it has bacon in it. And a lot of butter.).

If you’re not local, look here and on my Twitter and Facebook feeds for links to the shows as they’re posted.

Friday Food Writers: Julia Child and Avis DeVoto

October 29, 2010

I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of a fantastic new book of letters between Julia Child and Avis DeVoto, the friend and editor who was responsible for shepherding Mastering the Art of French Cooking to a publisher. The two women met when Julia (in what I like to think of as a very Julia moment) read an article by DeVoto’s husband in Harper’s about, of all things, kitchen knives. She sent one over to him from Paris, with a fan note, Avis replied, and a lifelong friendship and professional collaboration was born. The book, As Always, Julia, will be published in December (pre-order! writers and publishers love it when you pre-order!), but here’s a little taste from a 1953 Julia letter which makes it clear that Julia and Avis could have gone in a whole different direction from book publishing. (They were also mailing each other produce, specifically shallots, which Avis had to special order in Cambridge, MA.)

Have just been re-reading your last, about shallots, etc. That is just too bad, and complicates things. How about us going into the business, the DeVoto/Child Shallot Packing Co. Inc, which could include Mirepoix, meat glaze, herb puree, shellfish butter, detective stories, photos and paintings. Amen. History–a chemical factory & cooking school. Just a small cozy establishment, built on the un-American principle of not trying to make money, just not losing on it.

Greetings and salutations and news

October 27, 2010

It has been far, far too long since I posted, for which I apologize. Can I blame it on someone very cute, with a big Elvis pompadour to boot?And can I also mention that he weighs 17 pounds at three months and that means….folks, we have an eater!! In the odd moments when I haven’t been busy dreaming of all the cheeses I’ll be able to feed him when he’s a little older, I’ve been planning a new website, where this blog as well as a lot of other stuff will move. Hopefully it will go live in a few weeks, and I’ll keep you posted on that, but for now I promise to write more here.

Meanwhile, I am obsessing over this woman’s job, which I wish was mine. Her blog, Candy Professor, is pretty much a dream come true for me.