Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Alice Waters?

I'm contemplating taking a run at the cookbooks of Alice Waters when I put my domestic life back together in a week or so. Doesn't she look a bit like Emma Thompson? But not as pretty.

I must confess, I have a grudge against Waters, based on a sour experience seven years ago when I wrote a story about Chez Panisse. Waters and her "people" treated me extremely poorly. Perhaps because I was affiliated not with Gourmet or Saveur, but with a AAA magazine that went out to millions of ordinary Americans, as opposed to a few elite tastemakers? I'll elaborate later, but let me just say that Waters' assistant at the time, Cristina Salas-Porras, was the rudest, snottiest factotum I have interacted with in 20 years of journalism. I am scouring my brain trying to think of someone nastier. Can't.

I think it would be interesting to explore my thoughts and feelings about Waters, about her cooking philosophy, and about Slow Food (with which she is deeply involved), by working my way through her oeuvre. My longstanding grudge would add a crackling note of personal tension to the narrative.

At the end of August, Slow Food is holding a big happening in the Bay Area, so maybe I could work that in as well provided I got tickets NOW. 


Meanwhile, I sorely miss my daily cooking life. It's a little tiresome, going out every night. No, I'm not being sarcastic. I feel I'm on this exhausting forced march to try as many restaurants as I can before the window of opportunity once again slams shut. 

Honestly, I won't be all that sorry when it does.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Holiday from Cooking: Manresa

Three elegant ladies from three generations of a distinguished (or not) bloodline, out on the town in balmy Los Gatos, Calif., about to partake of a lavish 4-course meal at the fancy-pants Manresa restaurant. 

And it was pretty good. After all these years of longing to go there, I waddled out thinking: Pretty good. The soft-cooked egg with sherry-vinegar foam and maple syrup; the Parmesan churros; the succulent veal breast; the black cod; the strawberry parfait with olive oil ice cream (which they RUINED by scattering with clover -- you know, the green leaves you can pluck from your lawn. Playful idea; big mistake.)

Some of it was great, some of it just okay, and it all averaged out to pretty good.

But it was still a magical evening.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Holiday from Cooking: Checka's House

That is a photograph of my mother's refrigerator. The cupboard is pretty bare, no? 

I adore Checka who is neither stingy nor ascetic, but her concept of a larder partly explains why I became a baker, if not a tipsy one. 

For that, I blame you, Dad.

I finally fled the construction zone of my home yesterday. The water main burst and there was a mixup with the evil floor guys, some hostility, some anxiety, and I couldn't find a private place to get dressed, so I threw everything in the car and ran to Checka's house where I continue to camp out.

Mark has returned; the eating odyssey proceeds. A fine pho and imperial roll lunch (B+) at a restaurant recommended by Patricia Unterman. A couple of dismal egg custard tarts (C, B-) from random bakeries on Clement Street. Dinner at Bar Tartine (B+) which is lovely and precious and a little smug. Marrow bones: skimpy! Gnocchi: I've made better. No complaints, however, about the coconut parfait.

What a shame I forgot to pack my scale. 

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Holiday from Cooking: Hell

Half of the rooms in my house are empty and in the process of being painted/sanded/overhauled by men wielding power drills and blasting Mexican radio. The other half look like the photo above, or worse. I sleep, work, and eat on the lumpy living room sofa, and I can't find any of my shoes or unpaid bills or even the TV. I am almost never alone.

But I think it's wrong to complain about remodeling. It's like complaining about the pain following elective plastic surgery. I am sitting here in a pretty sundress typing on a fancy laptop in an about-to-be-beautiful house drinking a Starbucks latte. The world doesn't really need to know about how HARD it all is.

Now about food: Koi Palace was a physically grand space -- a koi-filled stream trickled through the dining room -- but the dim sum was shockingly unimpressive. I'd been led to believe this was the ne plus ultra of Bay Area dim sum joints, but I didn't even finish my usually beloved har gau, a sure sign that something was off. The baked bbq pork buns were gummy inside; the ribs extremely fatty (in a borderline nasty way); the shrimp had a powerfully fishy taste.

But it was worth the visit because the egg custard tarts were so damned good. Like maybe the best I've ever had. Egg custard tarts are one of the great unsung desserts on earth, better than flourless chocolate cake or tiramisu or strawberry ice cream or bread pudding. The warm, creamy tarts at Koi Palace are top drawer. A little sweeter than those at Golden Gate Bakery, the generally recognized standard-bearer, but I think I like that.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Holiday from Cooking

In the temporary absence of my family (they are estivating in Marion, Mass.) I have hung up my apron. Instead of cooking, I am trying all the San Francisco restaurants that are ordinarily lost to me as a suburban householder with children.

I've been slowed somewhat by work responsibilities and a cruelly timed, viciously painful sore throat, but I did manage to swallow an amazing dinner at Orson. You can read a discussion of Orson (Tipsy Baker contributed) here. I was inspired to try this extraordinary restaurant by  an excellent review from the always reliable Patty Unterman

Enough gushing. God. Extraordinary? Excellent? Always-reliable? All in one sentence?

Today: Koi Palace dim sum (if the sore throat abates and the lines aren't too long) and then dinner with my mother and grandmother at Manresa in Los Gatos. 

Things continue in this vein for the next week, though I may have to cut it all short if I gain more than four pounds. I think that's a reasonable amount to allow myself, no? Or should I make it five?

In other news, I have continued blogging about The Closer. The comments have turned a bit harsh, which is puzzling to me, but par for the course. Or so I hear.

Where else should I eat?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Best of the Best from Alaska: An Earnest Summation

I made 25 recipes from The Best of the Best from Alaska, compiled and edited by the grandmotherly Gwen McKee and Barbara Moseley (see left). The breakdown:

Worth the Price of the book -- 2
Great -- 3
Good -- 9
So-So -- 8
Flat-out bad -- 3

A respectable spread. There were some wonderful dishes here -- the blackberry cobbler, the halibut fettuccine, the 1-2-3 biscuits. There were also some abominations. (Creamy fried halibut. My stomach lurches just typing those words.) 

The book as a whole is neither artfully nor carefully crafted; I have my doubts that the editors tested all the recipes, as several of them simply didn't work. Pains were not taken to ensure that instructions were clear and detailed.

What makes this volume extraordinary? It expresses the range and creativity of middle American cooking, genus Alaskan, without asserting a political or aesthetic agenda of its own. A welcome relief when you live in the land of Alice Waters. Best of the Best includes recipes for both flamboyantly artificial Jell-O salads and made-from-scratch chowders. I LOVE that. Here, we have a casually (or perhaps mindlessly???) unpretentious synthesis of high and low, a sadly rare phenomenon in American cookbooks, and culture.  

Pompous summation concluded.

If anyone has a suggestion for the cookbook I should try next, please let me know. 

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Best of the Best from Alaska: Biscuits & Jam

I gave the The Best of the Best from Alaska one last shot after last night's debacle.

This morning I made a batch of rhubarb jam, the recipe for which originally appeared in a Presbyterian church cookbook published in Skagway, Alaska.

When I was growing up, my mother canned prodigiously, hundreds and hundreds of jars of fruit, jam, pickles, and juice emerged from her steaming kitchen every year. It was a crucial piece of her '70s earth mother phase, along with vigorously pushing the carob, honey and whole wheat. 

But my mother never would have made this particular rhubarb jam; it would have violated her principles. (And good principles they were.) You boil the rhubarb with five cups (!) of sugar until it collapses into a super-sweet soup. Then you add a large box of cherry Jell-O and some pectin. Pour 
into sterilized jars. Seal.
Isabel made 1-2-3 biscuits (also from Best of the Best) with which to sample the fresh jam.
The biscuits: easy and great.

The jam?

Mark shouted: "This tastes like Lifesavers!"

Isabel tried the jam, then opted to eat her biscuits plain.

Owen took one bite and cried, "You can't give any of this away! You have to keep ALL of this. It is SO good. It's the best jam I've ever eaten!" 

It was as if I'd just given the boy a new Scorponox action figure.

Owen gets his wish. I have five jars of garish, scarlet, exceedingly sweet, decidedly artificial-tasting Jell-O jam that I can't imagine sharing with anyone who is not 7-years-old. 

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Best of the Best From Alaska: Last Supper

A vile ending to a mostly excellent cookbook experience.

Tonight's misbegotten meal was built around The Best of the Best From Alaska's creamy fried halibut.  The headnote reads: "Needs no sauce; tastes delicious alone."

Just thinking about it I am overcome by a crippling wave of nausea.

The premise of this dish is that you dip chunks of halibut in bottled Ranch dressing, dredge them in dehydrated potato flakes, then deep fry until "golden brown."

Irresistible! Middle-class American genius! A recipe I had to try!

Except the fish lost its coating when dropped into the hot fat, and so we ended up with naked fried halibut which of course we devoured, along with its traces of Ranch dressing and a heavy film of oil.

The oil also left a stomach-turning film on the crispy fried carrots -- exactly what they sound like, except not very crispy, and not very good.

You could wring another quart or so of oil out of Esta's Onion Patties. The headnote crows:  "I don't want to say that these will cause riots, but I have seen some unsightly human behavior when 'just cooked' onion patties were placed within arms' reach."

I will refrain from making a disgusting joke. Keep in mind that these patties (key ingredient: dried milk) come from a cookbook entitled Recipes from the Paris of the Pacific -- Sitka, Alaska.

Having said that, Mark and Owen liked the onions.

Dessert was blueberry cheesecake ice cream. Made with fresh berries, eggs, real cream cheese, lemon, sugar. . . but just not that great. I ate a bowl of it, but what a pathetic waste of Weight Watchers points.

I'm feeling a little blue tonight. Like that mediocre ice cream.

Best of the Best from Alaska: Ugly Blueberry Cake

She's no beauty, that blueberry almond cheesecake tunnel, but she sure is sweet.

I read the recipe for this cake and decided I absolutely had to make it. There are a lot of those recipes in Best of the Best from Alaska, but my critics have informed me that it is not as much fun watching the Baker cook easy American dishes as it is watching her try to make Beggar's Chicken. So, yes, I will be moving on shortly.

Last night my sister invited us over and this was my contribution to the lovely meal. Justine is on a quest to duplicate some sun-dried tomato crostini she ate at the New York City restaurant, Ino, so we started with a bowl of that spread on baguette toasts. She thought her experiment fell short, but I loved it. Rich, dark red, nutty. After that: some excellent flank steak, corn on the cob, potatoes. . . and this blueberry eyesore.

I love cakes with tunnels, swirls, surprise fillings. To make this one you prepare a tiny bit of cheesecake batter (if I did it again I'd double the quantity) and set it aside. You then prepare the host batter -- sour cream/eggs/flour/leavenings/blueberries -- pour half of it in your bundt pan and dig a trench which you fill with cheesecake batter. Then spoon the rest of the blueberry batter over everything. Bake. Cool. Drizzle with a white icing. Then drizzle THAT with an icing that includes crushed fresh blueberries. I don't understand why you ice the cake twice, but it's not for me to question the wisdom of Best of the Blueberry Bash: 1994-2002, the cookbook that originally published this recipe.

How was the cake? Very tasty, and with some tweaking, probably be a prize-winner. But it wasn't quite delicious enough that I feel compelled to make that effort. My go-to cake from the Tipsy Baker project remains Niloufer Ichaporia King's elegant, exquisite cardamom cake.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Tony Tutto's Pizza

I live in a small town without all that many exciting restaurants and so the arrival of a new one requires that I cancel all other plans, even those involving halibut, and go OUT to dinner. 

Usually, I'm disappointed. But Tony Tutto's is wonderful. I am so happy, albeit slightly worried for the future of this sweet, personal, and rather disorganized little place. If you're interested, you can read my longer report here.

And if you are in the vicinity of Mill Valley, Calif., try Tony Tutto's yourself: 246 East Blithedale, 415/388-8646.  

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Best of the Best from Alaska: Trail's End

A reader has politely inquired when I will be done with "that Alaskan cookbook," and suggested I move on to a more enticing cuisine sooner rather than later.

Honestly, I was shocked. And saddened. And a little hurt. Have I not made the culinary journey to the Northland an exciting one?  There are so many recipes I still want to try from The Best of the Best of Alaska: Halibut quiche, halibut puffs, teriyaki halibut, halibut Parmesan, caribou enchiladas. 

Okay, the caribou enchiladas were a joke. 

But I'm so into this cookbook!

That said, I recognize the need to finish this up. So just a few more days. Definitely will be done by Sunday. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Best of the Best from Alaska: Can't Focus on Food Today

That's one giant halibut. Don't really love fish, but I do like halibut -- something about the big, firm white flakes. Almost like crab. I feel guilty cooking seafood these days, given the state of the oceans, but I haven't read anything sad about halibut. 

Though to be honest, I haven't looked. 

So, I made a Halibut Nicoise Salad last night from the Best of the Best from Alaska. (Of course.) Reasonably delicious and very healthy. I have nothing else to say about dinner, for once.

Meanwhile, check out my new Entertainment Weekly blog about TNT's crime drama The Closer  starring Kyra Sedgwick. Presumably, I will be doing this every week unless the readers hate me. I briefly babysat a similar blog for the moronic, addicting L-Word, but my musings were not much appreciated. If you click here you can read the enraged comments at the end of my most-loathed L-Word post. I won't pretend they didn't sting. 

God. Now I'm really nervous. What if this happens again with The Closer? I can sure dish it out, but I don't much enjoy being criticized.

 Funny how that works.

Monday, July 14, 2008

An Awful Morning

Hello Hangover, I remember you.

Yesterday was our 12 year anniversary and we tied one on -- a semi-controlled lapse from my sobriety project. There was some wine at dinner, a Manhattan at the Mose Allison concert, then another Manhattan at the Elite Cafe. I was startled when Mark suggested that last bar stop as he's not much of a drinker. But it was fun. We ordered biscuits and deviled eggs and talked about something fascinating, though I can't seem to remember what it was. . . 

Happily, nothing makes me want to not drink more than drinking.

Slate has a story on the wonder of family dinners. I found it mildly depressing as my family dinners are frequently loud, contentious, and emotionally harrowing

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Best of the Best from Alaska: Rhubarb Reverie

Traveling in Alaska earlier this summer we saw these monstrously huge rhubarb plants sprawling everywhere. Each sighting gave me a thrill. Objectively, I'm not sure I even like rhubarb, but who's objective about food? 

My late grandmother grew rhubarb in her back yard; she served it stewed. How can I describe her rhubarb? A thin, cold, dusty pink soup with little strings floating throughout. Painfully sweet and yet incredibly sour, all at once. My own health-conscious mother kept my sister and me so starved for sugar that we greedily devoured gallons of Grandma Glade's rhubarb every summer when we went back to Utah. 

But how good was it really?

Hardly matters. Today, I always buy rhubarb when I see it in the market. I clip rhubarb recipes. My heart sings whenever I taste it. The rhubarb crisp from the Best of the Best of Alaska, of which I just consumed a conscientiously modest portion, is a little poem of sweet and tart. I regret the scoop of vanilla ice cream. It interfered with the sharp, shivery flavor of rhubarb.

In case it's not clear, I'm in love with the Best of the Best from Alaska. I didn't realize how badly I needed a cookbook like this in my life until I started cooking from it. I will write much, much more about this later, but meanwhile, forgive me, I'm in a bit of a swoon.

Not that everything has worked. Today's strawberry surprise Jell-O salad did not set. That was a disappointment. I was looking forward to it more than I like to admit, which is a telling comment on the contemporary politics of food and taste and class and pleasure. 

I also made sweet-and-sour ribs, which we all enjoyed. Maybe not the best ever, but messy and hearty and porky. Accompaniments: dilled slaw (the vinegary kind which, incidentally, was exactly what Grandma Glade made) and June's Boston Baked Beans

Very tasty. But all I can really think of is the rhubarb.

Best of the Best from Alaska: Mayonnaise Fish & Frosting Cake

Last night's Best of the Best from Alaska menu:

Halibut Olympia
Company Rice
Green Beans and Pine nuts
Frosting Cake

And a fine dinner it was.

The recipe for Halibut Olympia originally comes from a cookbook called Just for the Halibut, and invokes an only-in-America flavor combination: Jarred mayonnaise and Parmesan cheese. You've almost certainly tasted this before, probably in a warm artichoke dip at a cocktail party 20 years ago. Yum. No, seriously! Yum. It's wickedly delicious stuff and takes a nice brown crust, sort of like a toasted marshmallow. Only in the name of Tipsy Baker cookbook research am I allowed to blanket halibut in mayonnaise, Parmesan, and sour cream.

And I mean BLANKET. That is my one complaint. Too much of a decadent thing. But then isn't that sort of the quintessential American problem?

Ran into the same issue with both the green beans (too many pine nuts) and the Company Rice. Company Rice is an almost perfect dish that involves doctoring Uncle Ben's wild rice mix with butter, onions, orange peel, and a cup of dried cranberries. Cut the quantity of cranberries in half and you have a handsome starch that Samantha might have proudly served at one of Darren's client dinners on Bewitched

Finally: Frosting Cake.

Isabel fixated on the idea immediately, and proceeded to make the cake herself. I, too, was fascinated. You take yellow cake mix and add eggs, oil, water, pecans -- and a can of coconut pecan frosting. Pour in a Bundt pan and bake. An hour later you are slicing an extraordinarily moist, nutty brown cake with the distinct perfume of canned frosting. 

Credit for this insane, not-great novelty recipe goes to the Nome Centennial Cookbook. Find Nome on a globe. It explains a lot. 

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Best of the Best from Alaska: Baked Alaska

Is baked Alaska ever really that good?

Or is it just such a glamorous concept-- like fried ice cream -- that we all get a little fluttery at the prospect?

Isabel and I made the very rudimentary individual baked Alaskas from Best of the Best from Alaska last night. Atop circles of poundcake (frozen Sara Lee) we placed scoops of ice cream (Dreyer's strawberry) then topped with meringue. Baked five minutes at 450. Garnished with raspberry sauce (frozen fruit, sugar, Grand Marnier, cornstarch.)

And these tasted . . fine. Certainly one could construct a more thrilling baked Alaska with better cake and exotically flavored homemade ice cream. But I'm just not sure about the marriage of ice cream and meringue. Do you really want warm foam with your creamy frozen dessert? 

Also from Best of the Best, I prepared stuffed hamburgers. I didn't adequately flatten the ground beef, so these split and oozed. What we were after was a very thin, firm envelope of meat neatly encasing a molten, pizza-like filling. Almost achieved. In any case: hearty and great, if messy.

Alas, Owen disagreed. He picked apart, frowned at, whined about, then peevishly rejected the burgers and headed to the refrigerator for a coffee yogurt EVEN AFTER I EXPRESSLY FORBADE IT. This sparked a massive maternal meltdown. Unfortunately, one of our new windows doesn't close so I'm certain our neighbors overheard my shrill fishwife act. Lovely.

Many principles at stake: There are starving children in Africa and he sneers at a burger with cheese and pepperoni???!!! He asked for the burger! This is food he usually likes. My son is SPOILED! He whines. He cries. He looks me in the eye and disobeys. He wastes food. I am a FAILURE! 


My mother, who witnessed the whole baleful drama, suggested I cease setting a place for Owen and that he be allowed to eat yogurt every night if he wishes. I don't remember her embracing this lenient approach when I was a child and she cooked all that leathery fried LIVER. Nonetheless, it strikes me as good advice. I should probably reread Bread and Jam for Frances, though I suspect our mealtime issues have gone well beyond those of the kindly badger family.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Best of the Best from Alaska: A Double Play

Holy mackerel, that was lovely salmon chowder.

I am struggling to understand the whole "Best of the Best" phenomenon. I was all prepared for a hilarious/dismal week of cooking through the kitsch-packed Best of the Best from Alaska, but it has proved a fount of staggeringly delicious recipes. It makes me wonder if my whole approach to cooking and cookbooks has been completely wrong, if I have been hobbled by snobbishness and a knee-jerk aversion to anyone who would even consider making a recipe that calls for Velveeta, if I should just embrace my Jell-O salad genes. 


In addition to the salmon and leek chowder, which was by far the best chowder I've ever attempted, I baked 60-minute dinner rolls. Big, warm fluffballs. Hard to decide whether to use as a pillow or eat.

For dessert: Blackberry polenta cobbler. INCREDIBLE. Not so much like a cobbler as a sweet, earthy, buttery cornbread pudding full of fruit. Top with vanilla ice cream. Hyperventilating just remembering. So much better, so much more interesting and original and elegant than anything I've ever baked from Dorie Greenspan.

What I have failed to mention here is that everything from Best of the Best from Alaska has been easy and very fast. Increasingly, I find that I appreciate easy and fast. I started cooking at 5:40 and dinner was hot on the table at 7. 

So, I did some internet research. Best of the Best is the project of two self-described churchgoing "gals" from Mississippi, Gwen McKee and Barbara Moseley, who have traveled to all fifty states and collected the best recipes from community cookbooks in an attempt to preserve our country's culinary heritage. They have devoted fans, and there are bloggers who are collecting all their cookbooks.

And now there is another.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Best of the Best from Alaska: Big Hit

I'm amazed again by the healing powers of a good dinner. This was not by any stretch of the imagination a happy day for the family of the Tipsy Baker. It began disastrously, continued badly, and was limping along at 7 p.m. The dishwasher remains broken; the battery in the minivan is still dead; virtually every surface of our home is covered in filthy tarps.

But the halibut fettuccine from Best of the Best from Alaska. . . divine. (To use one of Checka's favorite adjectives -- we miss you Checka! Are you coming to dinner on Wednesday?) To make this crazily delicious dish you saute a little garlic, scallion, and halibut in butter; add cooked fettuccine, cream, and vermouth. Cook a little more. Turn off stove. Throw in Parmesan and parsley. Fattening and fabulous.

For dessert, Isabel made cowboy cookies which are basically oatmeal cookies with milk chocolate chips. Didn't know there were cowboys in Alaska, but whatever. Equally fattening and fabulous.

Best of the Best from Alaska is a spiral-bound volume which culls the "best" recipes from various Alaskan cookbooks. Flipping through it, you can't help noticing how inconsistent and inexact it is. Some recipes don't mention a yield; others call for "half a large can of crushed pineapple." Cake mixes, Cool Whip, and cream of mushroom soup make regular appearances.

I had my doubts and I still have my doubts. But the proof is in the Jell-O instant pudding. And dinner number one was flat-out awesome. 

Sunday, July 06, 2008

The Cuisine of California: The Earnest Summation

Before finishing last month's fling with The Cuisine of California by Diane Rossen Worthington (see left, attired in Nancy Reagan red) I lost my copy of the book. I found it this morning amid the wreckage of our house, and decided to do a quick summation.

I cooked 19 recipes from this book. 

Flat out bad: 3
So-so: 6
Good: 8
Great: 2
Worth the price of the book: 0

Clearly, this is the straggler in my cookbook project so far.

Written in the early 1980s, Cuisine of California is not an awful cookbook, but a pedestrian one. No, not pedestrian -- it's better than that. Worthington is a graduate of the Cordon Bleu and her book reads (and cooks) like the ambitious thesis of an apple-polishing student. Just as she projects little more than slick professionalism in that snapshot, she successfully suppresses her personality in both headnotes and recipes. Which is a pity, as personality is what I look for in a cookbook. 

Then there's the problem with the book's name. What Worthington writes about is not California cuisine as we understand it in 2008. It is the cuisine of the Reagan '80s, characterized by gallons of heavy cream, fat filets of expensive fish, and kiwi fruit.

Fun to visit. Wouldn't want to live there.

Friday, July 04, 2008

The Visitor: An Unpatriotic 4th of July

No cooking (or drinking) today. Mark is working the nightshift, it's the 4th of July, the house is still a chaos of tarps and paint fumes, and I'm exceedingly crabby. Bitchy, even. Just ask the ticket taker at the Sequoia theatre, the one with the Barry Manilow haircut who tried to explain to me that there are no bargain matinees on a holiday no matter WHAT it said in the San Francisco Chronicle.


So, I took Isabel and Owen to see The Visitor. I didn't know how it would go over with them, and Lord knows I've made some monumental mistakes in this department. But it was fantastic! The Visitor won't insult your intelligence, your 11-year-old daughter will be curiously enthralled, and even an excitable 7-year-old boy may find the thoughtful drama -- about illegal immigrants, draconian post-9/11 bureaucracy, African drumming, and one very lonely man -- touching. (Though he probably won't be able to articulate why.)

The film didn't make me feel particularly patriotic, but it was a perversely good choice for this dismal 4th. I highly recommend for all stir-crazy mothers whose children have not yet started camp.

I promise, tomorrow I will cook. 

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Alaska: Mad Housewife Day

That's a mighty fine-looking baked Alaska, though I didn't make it.

I thought I would jump back into the whole cooking thing this morning, but I began the day by having "words" with our nice painter over whether the beams should be linen or bright white. Please feed me to a grizzly bear now. I have become the most disgusting of bourgeois cliches, the remodeling matron worrying over the different shades of white. 

Tension still crackling from that strained interaction, I drove Isabel to the orthodontist, basically ranting the whole way, and we were very, very late. Owen wore his pajamas and stayed in the car. We ate Krispy Kreme donuts. I gradually calmed down. 

Home again, some peacemaking with the painter, a conference with the contractor, and at this point it was noon and there were eleven people in the house, most of them speaking Spanish, and I still had not brushed my hair and was wearing dirty blue jeans and jogging shoes. Dumpy gringa! Way to keep it together, Tipsy Baker! 

Had to escape the house and since I'm officially still burning vacation days, I took Isabel and Owen to see Kit Kittredge, that Abigail Breslin movie about a family purportedly suffering privation during the Depression, but doing it ever so picturesquely in a gracious old house filled with gorgeous, radiantly lit antiques. What a crock! 

And yet I wept. The scene when Chris O'Donnell returns from Chicago and embraces Julia Ormond. . . .

My children need to grow up so I can stop seeing these horrible, treacly, manipulative movies.

The day seemed like a complete bust as I hadn't even made it to the supermarket to purchase halibut and ingredients for baked Alaska.

BUT: When we came home my copy of Oakland, Jack London, and Me had arrived. A most excellent and crazy book. I started reading, and decided to heat Red Baron frozen french bread pizzas for dinner. Perhaps the sanest decision I've made all day.

And, come to think of it, a truly Alaskan meal.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Best of the Best from Alaska

Given how I have muttered  about the cuisine of Alaska, it may seem perverse that I've chosen The Best of the Best from Alaska as my next cookbook project. But my mother bought me this volume in a little shop in Fairbanks and I'm going to give it a whirl. Lots of halibut recipes, and my family does love that strange, ugly fish.

Let me be clear about one thing here: Alaskan food stinks. Alaska itself is one of the most killer amazing places on the planet and while I was traveling there I did not think about eating. I just ate. Mostly frozen french fries, as I've mentioned previously. Also, Twix bars, butter pecan fudge, and bacon. I didn't mind at all, because in Alaska, food is beside the point. But this is a food-oriented blog and so I feel I should avoid writing too much about the birch forests, rivers, baby ptarmigans, orcas, columbines, and other non-culinary glories of the 49th state. 

Okay. Moving on. 

In addition to cooking from Best of the Best from Alaska, I'm going to try out different recipes for Baked Alaska. I've got a few hundred floating around. So that's what's coming up at Tipsy Baker, starting tomorrow.

We returned home tonight to some rather deflating developments (and non-developments) in our home renovation project. Mark would describe them as "stupefying."

Alaska: Goodbye!

We have been staying in the most sterile, anonymous Hilton in Anchorage, surrounded by chain restaurants and big box stores, but right across the street is this sprawling patch of wild birch forest. If my life ever goes completely to pot I am going to run away to Alaska, buy a log cabin on a mountain just outside Anchorage, acquire a huskie dog, and volunteer at the Botanical Garden.  I've got it all worked out. 

Meanwhile, we are about to return to our real lives, and I am hoping mine hasn't gone completely to pot. The food really is so much better in the lower-48.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Alaska: Anchorage

Oh, how I have missed blogging. I would have blogged every day of this strange and fascinating vacation if internet connections had been more reliable in some of our farflung destinations -- and if the food had been more noteworthy. Mostly, our Alaskan meals have involved overflowing plastic baskets of frozen crinkle-cut french fries, soupy cole slaw, and Coffee-mate. 

But here's my question: If the food is so crummy why am I returning home resembling one of the ectoplasmic humanoids from Wall-E ?

I think we know the answer: I am a fool for frozen crinkle-cut french fries.
Today, I lunched on caribou stew. Okay, not a high point, but worth a try and a photograph (see right.) We also watched a film about an Eskimo whale hunt in which the raw whale -- sliced on screen, on the beach -- resembled the most beautiful, pale pink sushi. Everyone else in the audience was gasping and hiding their eyes and I was thinking, hmm. . . . it looks kind of appetizing.

Yes, I was ashamed of myself.