Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Homemade Life: And so it is, but you might need a mandoline to make it

Molly Wizenbeg's recipe for zucchini noodles requires a mandoline to julienne squash into long threads that resemble spaghetti. I don't remember how we got our mandoline (wedding present? present present? did I buy it?) all I know is that we've had it since before we moved into this house eight years ago and never once used it. Look at it. Thing is sharp and crazy complicated.

My mother is mechanically minded and manually dexterous with these nimble, bony hands that love to pick wrong stitches out of a needlepoint and assemble a VCR  just for the exercise. She has what my father calls "possum" hands. (He has "pancake" hands, as do I. "Pancake" is the vastly inferior type of hand, but fortunately there's more to life than hands.)

My mother had the mandoline julienning zucchini in under ten minutes. 

You saute the finely cut zucchini in olive oil until soft, then toss with hot spaghetti and pesto. 

Elegant bowl was also made by mother's hands.
The spaghetti was tasty, if not as tasty as traditional pesto-sauced pasta without zucchini. I know it is healthier and makes everything less fattening, but we all felt the watery, flaccid strips of zucchini got in the way.
For dessert: Wizenberg's vanilla bean buttermilk cake with glazed oranges and creme fraiche. She introduces this recipe with a story about buying too many oranges then having a vision of a white cake with poached oranges, "a little like a Creamsicle in cake form." After much experimentation, she finally settled on a buttermilk cake out of Rose Levy Beranbaum's Cake Bible as the perfect vehicle for glazed oranges and syrup. Excellent choice. What appealed to me was how the cake itself -- tangy from buttermilk -- tasted like cheesecake but was, in fact, cake cake. Even without the oranges, I instantly loved it.

So, here's the weird thing. I just pulled out my copy of The Cake Bible to see how much Wizenberg tinkered with the recipe (almost not at all) and noticed that I'd already baked this cake once before. On 2-11-01 I wrote: "Fluffy, golden, buttery -- but there IS a tang and I don't like it."

I can not explain.


  1. that is a cake i'd like to see a photo of. do you have one?

  2. Anonymous: unfortunately, it wasn't a thing of beauty and I didn't take a photograph. The cake, while delicious, rose unevenly.

  3. Melvil Dewey4/30/09, 1:25 PM

    The zucchini dish sounds a lot like a Marcella Hazan dish we like that involves cutting zucchini into matchsticks, frying those in oil until they're golden and crispy, then tossing them with cooked pasta, lots of parmesan, an assload of basil, salt, and a mix of beaten egg and milk (I might be making up the milk part, but there's definitely egg in there). It's very, very delicious. Not as healthy as the one you made, but I'm sure much tastier. I'm pretty sure this is the recipe here:

  4. 1. Which mandoline do you have, and is it worth the expense? I want one so badly, but haven't justified it yet.

    2. "Possum hands" has got to be the most awesome thing I've read today. Maybe this whole week.

  5. Layne, I don't know what this brand is but I don't recommend it. I've heard of these Japanese brands that are supposed be inexpensive and good. Molly Wizenberg recommends the Benriner brand.

  6. I have both kinds of mandolines and I much prefer my cheapo japanese one. The fancy metal french one is such a hassle to put together and it is wicked sharp. I'm so afraid that I am going to sever an artery with it that I barely ever use it.

  7. that mandoline is something else... it looks like a surgical device!!

  8. I have that same mandoline - it's still in the box I got it in YEARS ago.

    I use my plastic Benriner - only way to go, but it doesn't make waffle cuts.

    So I don't make waffle cuts. Arrest me.

  9. I've never seen a mandoline before, and I am consumed by curiosity now.

    I also love the "possum hands". Would like to see a picture of "pancake hands" now to compare.

    My husband calls me "rat fingers", or sometimes "chi fingers". Apparently, "chi" means "rat" in Korean? As in, "Get your little rat fingers over here and see if you can reach this screw that fell down inside the carburetor."

  10. The mandoline is a "Bron mandolin vegetable slicer," according to the directions that came with it. No "e" at the end, though I think there should be.