Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Where is my beloved fog?

I started some bacon on Saturday and made some Parmesan stock on Sunday, both from Ethan Stowell's New Italian Kitchen, but it has been too hot to smoke the bacon or use the Parmesan stock or do anything in the kitchen but eat cold grapes and drink beer. Today is probably the perfect day to try making these enticing crackers using solar energy and perhaps I will do just that.

Sundry other stuff:

-Owen got three bizarre and adorable new chickens for his birthday. One of them looks just like this. Another laid the smallest egg we have ever seen -- about the size of a large jelly bean. It was oddly disturbing. We fried the micro-egg, but no one wanted to eat it.

-Terrific essay about not reading Jonathan Franzen's Freedom.

-This review made me take Anthony Bourdain's Medium Raw off the shelf which in turn made me revisit

-this, which I must remember to bookmark. Who the hell is Forelock?

-this is right-on, but you'll probably only enjoy it if you watch Rubicon.

-If you have baked a lot of Dorie Greenspan recipes you might enjoy seeing her in action. Am I the only one who doesn't understand the apple pie-cheese concept?

-If you don't subscribe to Bon Appetit, you might have missed this fascinating recipe, which I am going to attempt right before I start the next diet.

-I can't wait to start cooking from Thai Street Food, but am holding off until I have finished writing the book. Meanwhile, controversy.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Eight down and I'm calling it

No one can say I'm not a trouper. A compulsive idiot, maybe.

Mixt Salads recipe #6: Porky. That mess up there was some roasted butternut squash and overseasoned pork tenderloin served over mixed greens. Conceptually great; in fact, problematic.


1. the meat.

a. Andrew Swallow calls for 3 pounds of pork in the ingredients list, which is clearly too much flesh for four people. Then, quite reasonably, he only utilizes one pound of the meat in the recipe itself. But what are you supposed to do with the other 2 pounds of pork? Careless mistake, wasteful of the inattentive reader's resources. Demerit.

b. seasoning on pork tenderloin: too spicy. Far too spicy. Like maybe another mistake?

2. the dressing.

a. bland! Like all the dressings I've tried from this book. How can a salad maven make dressings this tasteless? I don't get it. Is it just me? Do I lack the proper Andrew Swallow/Mixt Salads decoder ring?

b. too much. All of Swallow's dressing recipes make about 5 times more than you need. I've started cutting each vinaigrette recipe in half, but there's still too much and I now have three jars of only slightly different, very bland vinaigrette in my fridge, including the vinaigrette to dress. . .

Mixt Salads recipe #7: Autumn.
This was, in fact, okay, despite bland dressing. Chunked beets, pine nuts, and cambozola cheese on butter lettuce. There was no genius to the recipe, but it was edible and I enjoyed making a big, healthy salad for lunch like someone who takes really good care of herself. Interestingly, I think the gesture of taking really good care of myself meant more than actually taking really good care of myself. I made the gesture again today and prepared. . .

Mixt Salads recipe #8: Green
Chopped apples sprinkled with lemon juice, cayenne, cumin, chili powder, lime zest and red chile flakes. This was very easy and I made it just to move us closer to the next cookbook. As I type my face is sweating and nose running from the cayenne and chile flakes. I would never serve this to anyone else -- it's a freaky, masochistic, fatless salad -- but I kind of like it!

So, I just went to the Mixt web site. Andrew Swallow looks nice and now I feel mean. I don't want to be the Ken Starr of food bloggers. I know what I think about this volume and there's no need to run it into the ground, so I'm quitting Mixt Salads reviewing right this second. I did not know I was going to do this when I started typing this post.

This sounds like an enticing and crazy cookbook.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Hey, what's wrong with watermelon?

My father hosted a family dinner last night and early in the day I called and offered to bring, in addition to an apple pie, a salad. I am trying to whip through Mixt Salads as quickly as possible so I can move on to something more exciting, like Thai Street Food.

Tipsy, flipping through Mixt Salads: How does this sound, potatoes with truffle cheese? It's not really gooey-looking, just roasted potatoes with some cheese. I think it looks amazing.

Father: (silence.)

Tipsy: Or this: Tomato and watermelon. I could chunk up some of your homegrown tomatoes, combine with watermelon, and add some feta. Might be interesting.

Father: (silence.)

Tipsy: Or wow, this one: grilled sourdough with heirloom tomatoes.

Father: (Silence.)

Tipsy: Or grilled corn with baby tomatoes. Is there still corn in the market?

Father: I think there's still corn.

Tipsy: This one is incredibly boring: heirloom tomatoes with olive oil and sea salt.

Father: I think simple is better.

Tipsy: What does that mean?

Father: Just that simpler things are usually better.

Tipsy: Are you saying I should just do the heirloom tomatoes with sea salt?

Father: I think that would be best.

Tipsy (affectionately but not without exasperation): You're so boring!

Father (exasperatedly but not without affection. Presumably.): This just means you don't have to buy a fucking watermelon.

Tipsy: Don't use 'fucking' with me!

Father: Don't you think simple things are always better?

Tipsy: I'll be there at five with the pie and I'll make the boring salad.

Father: You're a good person.


For the record, I do not think simple things are always better. I think simple things are sometimes better.

Mixt Salads recipe #5: Pure Heirloom. You slice tomatoes, sprinkle with sea salt, dress with olive oil, garnish with torn opal basil. It was simple and it was really good and it was boring and I didn't need a cookbook to tell me how to do this.

Pleasant evening. My father fusses over his orchard like some people fuss over their orchids, with the result that he has the most beautifully pruned, productive and orderly backyard orchard I've ever seen. Owen and Stella get a thrill out of picking fruit. See photo at top.

Teenagers get a thrill out of laying a gracious table.
See how thrilled?
I can't believe "jeggings" is an actual word.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Friday night excitement

Mixt Salads recipe #4: Field

I misplaced my camera. Not that Field was visually exciting, though it was quite pretty: a salad of pale butter lettuce with contrasting dark stripes of tarragon and a tiny bit of blue cheese. Nice and basic. Again, though, the proportions seemed off. I felt there was too much lettuce, too little cheese, too little oomph, that I have improvised more interesting green salads, that a handful of toasted nuts would have made a huge difference. Andrew Swallow calls for two heads of butter lettuce for four people. I bought one and maybe it was just an extraordinarily large butter lettuce, but we still had far too much. I can't quite get the hang of this book.

I served Field with veggie burgers made from The Frog Commissary Cookbook. These contained garbanzo beans, tahini, vegetables, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, wheat germ, and soy sauce and they were falafel-like and delicious, but again, too soft and crumbly. I'm going to try again and add more . . . more what? What would make these bind better? I share the aversion to using an egg, though I'm not sure why. I will try the recipes suggested by commenters. Thank-you.

After dinner, we watched a mesmerizing documentary on DVD called Sweetgrass about sheepherders in the mountains of Montana. Basically nothing happens and there's no talking but for occasional furious profanity directed at sheep. I highly recommend this movie, but please reread the first three words of the last sentence. I'm not exaggerating and wouldn't want anyone to be disappointed.

Friday, September 17, 2010

I'm losing faith

Mixt Salads recipe #3: Heaven

Heaven: a frisee aux lardons salad plus chanterelles. Has everyone eaten the classic frisee aux lardons? If not, briefly, it's frisee lettuce tossed with small chunks of bacon, optional croutons, a vinegary dressing, and a poached egg. The yolk breaks and melds with the tart dressing to coat the bread cubes, salty bacon and crispy pale green frisee, which somehow manages to keep this salad lively and refreshing. It's an incredible treat, a perfect dish.

Does this exquisitely calibrated salad really cry out of chanterelles ? It does not. Is it in fact diminished by chanterelles? I would say, sadly, yes.

I was very excited about Heaven, because I love frisee aux lardons and I love chanterelles. Chanterelles are wonderful sauteed and then mixed with cream, because they're soft and slippery and sweet and love to be coddled. They were not meant to be tossed in an assertive salad where everything has to hold its own. Every element of the frisee aux lardons supplies some absolutely necessary component -- salt, fat, crunch, acidity -- and there's just no role for a tender, mild-mannered mushroom. The pieces of mushroom clung limply to the frisee and got in the way. What a waste of an $8 bag of chanterelles.

I don't like saying punk things about a book day after day, and I'm sure if the authors knew about it, they wouldn't like it either. I feel like maybe I should abort if the next couple of recipes don't turn out great.

Because I doubted Isabel and Owen would like the salad, I also served tempeh burgers from my old friend Gourmet Today. Practically every non-meat product in the kitchen-- seed, spice, grain, tempeh, canned chile, dried tomatoes, fresh vegetables, herbs -- went into this dish and each seemed to require toasting, grinding, simmering, soaking, chopping, chilling, or shredding. I'd forgotten how much work vegetarian cooking requires.
But the results were very tasty, if not as chewy and dense as we would have liked.

Does anyone have a veggie burger recipe they love and can recommend?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Like asking Dwight about beets, Obama about healthcare

It's really hard to photograph goats. I quote Owen far too much, but as he puts it, "They're like paparazzi when they see us." Which is exactly right. We step outside and they come running, madly bleating, and then slavishly follow us around.
Owen isn't hugging Peppermint, he's trying to keep her from jumping on the lap of the photographer.
I would say they're in it for the food, as aren't we all. But Peppermint will neglect grain, melon rinds, popcorn, and tortilla chips to butt gently at my legs until I give her the attention she remembers from her pampered indoor babyhood: holding, scratching, conversation. Then when I go back inside, she finds a shady spot and chews her cud. Goats are the greatest pets. We're going to breed them in November and will hopefully have kids and milk in the spring.

We just had some kind of mushroom

Mixt Salads recipe #2: Noodle

Last night, I was going to make Heaven (chanterelles and duck eggs) but Isabel was so aghast I put it off and made Noodle instead.

Andrew Swallow gives all his recipes names and the reason for this one is obvious. Noodle consists of cool Japanese soba noodles tossed with a miso dressing and lots of vegetables: sprouts, cucumber, red bell peppers, enoki mushrooms. "It looks like the compost!" Owen said, not unkindly. We all liked and ate the salad.

All fungi are freaky. Usually I can handle it. I do think, though, that the enoki is freakier than most because it's skinny and albino and has a pinhead. Plus, it travels in a pack, so you're faced with hundreds of skinny albino pinheads.

The enokis came from Korea and I told myself I really liked them as I snacked on them while I was making the salad and later as I ate them in the salad. They're sweet, bland, and refreshing. But, of course, flavor isn't everything. We had to go to Isabel's back-to-school night and as I sat there listening to the cute algebra teacher talk about study groups my mind kept wandering back to those sickly, spidery mushrooms that had traveled from Korea in a plastic pouch. I thought about this Haruki Murakami story called "Crabs." It's an amazing story, but I can't recommend that you read it because every time you feel irrationally uneasy about something you ate, you'll remember "Crabs" and feel even uneasier.

My aversion to enokis is not Andrew Swallow's fault. Noodle was a modest success, and we enjoyed it a lot more than Mashup. May the upward trend continue.
Meanwhile, a new cache discovered in the garden today contained 18 filthy eggs.

I think this might just be the most unappetizing food post on the entire internet today.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The chickens loved it, so that's something

Mixt Salads by Andrew Swallow, recipe #1: Mashup

This recipe -- Swallow's twist on the chopped salad -- made a huge trough of boiled cruciferous vegetables scantly embellished with treats like feta, pine nuts, and bacon. While the concept is sound, the proportions seemed off. One head of cauliflower, one head of broccoli, and one pint of cherry tomatoes, which is what the cookbook specifies, is simply too much plant matter for four humans.

I think I failed to cut the broccoli and cauliflower tiny enough, which may have adversely affected our experience. (Swallow says to cut the vegetables into "small" florets, which I interpreted as a lazy person would.) But I still don't see how amid that ocean of vegetable anyone could possibly taste 1/4 cup of feta or a single tablespoon of olives. With half the quantity of base vegetable, I think the recipe might have worked beautifully. After eating what was on our plates, we all lingered at the table, fishing the precious pine nuts and bacon from the giant bowl of watery cauliflower and chatting. Although it goes against everything my mother taught me about manners, I sometimes suspect communal picking at food is better for fellowship and conversation than plates.

Anyway, I will make no sweeping judgments based on one disappointing recipe. Tonight I am attempting an enticing recipe that involves an $8 bag of chanterelles from the supermarket and four duck eggs from the backyard.

In other news, I started A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan last night and it is so incredibly good that I was reading at 2 a.m. I can't describe the novel without making it sound overcomplicated and pretentious and since it's no longer my job to try to do so, you'll just have to trust me! It's wonderful.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Eat your salad no dessert, get that man you deserve

Someone from Random House has put me on the cookbook publicity list and now these gorgeous cookbooks keep turning up in the mail.

I'm trying something new: Just for a month or so, I'm going to actually review new (ish) cookbooks in a brisk and timely fashion. I will cook ten recipes, assess, and move on. You can tell a lot from ten recipes. This last wallow through Barabara Lynch was fun, but I need to pick up the pace, at least for a while.

I'm starting with Mixt Salads by Andrew Swallow, which I received last spring. It's not "brand new" but it contains nothing but salad recipes. This appeals to me right now because

a. late summer/early fall produce
b. one-dish meals
c. slimming

After Mixt the lineup is:

Ethan Stowell's New Italian Kitchen
Thai Street Food by David Thompson
My Sweet Mexico by Fany Gerson

Ten recipes per book, brisk pace. Hold me to it, guys.

Thomas Keller & Barbara Lynch: earnest summations

I had to go back and search through the blog to ascertain that I'd never actually summed up my experience with Ad Hoc at Home. I didn't, did I? This wasn't meant to be a Keller-Lynch horse race, but since they're both chef books, I'm reviewing them together.

I made 36 dishes out of Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc At Home:

Worth the price of the book -- 1 (fried chicken)
Great -- 13 (biscuits, mint chocolate chip ice cream)
Good -- 10
So-so -- 11
Flat-out bad -- 1

I made 40 dishes out of Barbara Lynch's Stir:

Worth the price of the book -- 2 (eggplant salad, stuffed tomato)
Great -- 15
Good -- 17
So-so -- 6
Flat-out bad --- o

I think as time passes a lot of really wonderful recipes tend to fade in my memory. Looking through my margin notes in the Keller I had written "fantastic" beside dishes I only vaguely remember making and loving, like mint chocolate chip ice cream and his mother's coconut cake. So some of his "greats" might have been "worth the price of the books" if I'd done this summary in a more timely fashion. In any case, at the high end, I really think these two books shine equally brightly.

But I didn't have as many disappointments with Lynch. That I'm sure of. Thomas Keller's iceberg lettuce salad was a time-consuming flop. The roasted halibut, the roasted game hens, the pomegranate-glazed quail -- not hits. A lot of these recipes are attempts to show how to make impeccable, very simple, down-home food which would be fine, except they didn't consistently work. I don't need a $50 cookbook to show me how to make boring food that doesn't taste amazing. I can do that on my own. The exception: his Santa Maria tri-tip was simple and fabulous and that "boring" recipe might have been worth the price of the book. On the fence about that.

Barbara Lynch wraps her chicken in bread dough and puts caraway gnocchi in her soup and whipped cream in her risotto. She taught me how to stuff gnocchi and tear up pasta dough and make a pizza out of brioche topped with honey and pistachios. Even when I didn't absolutely adore the results, the experience was always interesting. Mostly I adored the results.

If you have unlimited cookbook dollars to spend on fat, beautiful chef tomes, buy both books. But after cooking 76 recipes from these two fine volumes, I would say if you have limited funds, buy Stir.

Very excited to move on to a new book. I've got something a little different in mind for the next month or so. I'll save that for the next post.

Here in Topeka

I don't know what happened here because I've had this post mostly written for almost a week. The other day I had to explain to Isabel what procrastination meant. She knew the technical definition, but she just couldn't understand why people would ever do it and as I described the mixture of perfectionism, dreaminess, anxiety, and laziness that I struggle against every day, she looked at me blankly.

Wednesday night I cooked my last Stir dinner: prune-stuffed-gnocchi with foie gras sauce, which is Barbara Lynch's "most requested" recipe.

Roughly two weeks ago, I ordered foie gras online from D'Artagnan. With shipping, four lobes (disgusting word) cost $68 which puts a lot of pressure on the cook. I was excited and nervous all day thinking about this expensive grand finale and bought a bottle of red wine to mark the occasion.

At 5 o'clock, I poured a glass of the wine and got to work. First, I simmered prunes in Madeira until they were soft and then pureed them. I boiled the potatoes, riced them, mixed them with eggs and flour, formed a gnocchi dough, rolled it out, and cut it into biscuit shapes. In the middle of each biscuit I put a teaspoon of pureed prune, folded the whole ensemble into a potsticker-shaped crescent, stood it up on its fat side, and made a sauce-catching dent in the top. Watching this artistry distracted Owen from his homework and he came over to help. Usually, it's the eraser on his pencil that distracts Owen from his homework. I poured another glass of wine.

The sauce is made by creaming together foie gras and butter then chilling it until firm. I warmed some shallots, spices, and Madeira in a saucepan and started throwing in chunks of the cold foie gras butter. Weird: You chill the butter and then right after it's really cold you melt it? This is the chemistry part of cooking that I have to take on faith. I strained the sauce, which was like melted foie gras-flavored butter. In fact, it was melted foie gras-flavored butter.

I sliced the remainder of the foie into thick chunks and heated the pan to sear it. I brought the water for poaching the gnocchi to a rolling boil. It was seven o'clock, the hour when my handsome husband usually walks through the door to find table set, dinner ready, me in high heels and fresh red lipstick holding a chilled cocktail shaker. The first half of that joke sentence isn't a joke. Promptly at seven the phone rang and Husband said he was so sorry, he was going to be an hour late, was just leaving the office, weren't we having something special tonight, like foie gras? He was so so so so sorry.

I said, You think you're sorry now, buster.

I wish I'd said that. I don't remember what I said.

I poured another glass of wine, tossed the salad, cooked the gnocchi, and seared the foie which, in under one minute, threw off several cups of fat and shrank to little planks of soft brown liver. The kids and I sat down to eat. Isabel was immediately and completely repulsed by the foie gras and nudged it to the side of her plate. She said,"I would have liked it better if you'd just made regular gnocchi."

"The gnocchi tastes really weird with the prunes in it," Owen said. "The meat (he meant the foie gras) is pretty good, I'd give it 3-and-a-half out of 5. But the salad is 5 out of 5!"

Foie gras was my mother's favorite food. She discovered it late in life, and thought it was very decadent and wicked, and she loved being decadent and wicked in completely innocent ways. I got weepy at dinner, due to missing my mother and drinking too much red wine and wasting an expensive delicacy on children. I liked the gnocchi a lot. If you close your eyes and imagine Gerber prunes, Madeira, duck liver, and soft, doughy potato dumplings you will have a sense of what the dish was like. Delicious!

But I won't make it again. Next time I'm going to order it.

And so we come to the end of the long season of Stir! I have tallied the recipes and will provide a full write-up . . . soon.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Penultimate Stir dinner: rabbit food

I can't think of much to say about this Barbara Lynch salad of haricots verts, fennel, cucumber, celery and roasted potatoes except that it made a very pleasant meal, especially if you're on a diet.

What I really want to talk about are homegrown potatoes, how tender and creamy and gratifying they are. My limited storehouse of culinary adjectives fails me. I put less effort into burying those cheap seed potatoes last spring than I expend in any given week updating my Netflix queue. And six months later I have a small mountain of incredibly tasty spuds! I planted blues, fingerlings, and russets from the nursery, then buried some sprouted red supermarket potatoes in a defunct redwood pot on its way to the dump, and neglected them all for months while I went about more important activities, like reading and staring into space and watching TV. While the fruits on my tenderly staked and fertilized tomatoes are rotting, still green, on the vine, the potatoes are literally popping out of the earth. I don't know why everyone shamelessly gushes on about prima donna tomatoes when they could be growing and eating friendly, forgiving, delicious potatoes.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Now that's a pretty table

Last night's dinner featured the loveliest recipe I've made out of Stir: a peeled tomato hollowed out and stuffed with seasoned fresh ricotta then placed round side up on a plate. You surround it with finely chopped celery leaves, scallions, sliced radishes, and homemade croutons. The dressing: olive oil, vinegar, chopped Nicoise olives, shallots, and golden raisins. It was exquisite and scrumptious and not all that fattening and I haven't made a dinner I liked more in ages.

Afterwards, Isabel and I completed our petit four experiment.
The pink petit fours are sandwiched with black raspberry jam; you can see the chocolate petit fours in the lower left-hand corner. You can also perhaps see that our icing technique needs work. We used a poured fondant that didn't quite blanket the squares completely before it ran out. I need to pursue this further, because petit fours are delicious and beautiful and cool, providing all the goodness of a whole cake in a single tiny bite. I just wish bakeries would quit with the scones and muffins and get back to making the hard stuff I can't really make at home, like petit fours and napoleons.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Dutiful dinner report

Friday night Stir dinner:

Chicken soup with caraway gnocchi. You brown chicken, onion, carrot, celery, and various herbs, add water and simmer for an hour and a half. Meanwhile, make potato gnocchi the usual way, but with caraway seeds. Poach. When the chicken is falling off the bone, strain the broth, then add some chicken meat back to the broth, plus broccoli, cauliflower, and shredded cabbage. Cook until the vegetables are tender. Add the caraway gnocchi.Great soup.

For dessert: chocolate mousse. I'm not crazy about chocolate mousse, but decided to try Barbara Lynch's recipe because we had cream to use up and, of course, lots of eggs. Lynch's mousse was rich and airy and smooth, like any proper mousse, and everyone liked it a lot. I even liked it a lot, if not quite as much as everyone else.

Today, Isabel and I used the leftover mousse to make petit fours. We're still in the middle of that project, so I can't report.
Half the petit fours will be sandwiched with mousse, half with kirsch-spiked black raspberry jam. This isn't a Lynch recipe, just something we wanted to try.

A propos of nothing, we collected our first duck egg today. It's very long and narrow and the shell is shinier than a hen's egg, has a waxy sheen. It will have to be an awfully delicious egg to justify the irritation of keeping our messy, noisy, unfriendly, weird-looking, chicken-bullying ducks.

Friday, September 03, 2010

No one has been hospitalized after 23 hours, so I'm calling it a success

I've stalled out on Barbara Lynch's Stir, a great book that I've been dawdling through for months. I was going to call it quits yesterday, but one reason I started this blog was to force myself to actually delve into my cookbooks on a regular, even daily, basis. DELVE. Like, cook stuff I don't know how to cook already. It felt wrong to quit when there's so much delving potential left in Stir.

I decided to take the next few days to cook as many interesting dishes as I can, then wrap it all up on Wednesday. On Wednesday, the foie gras arrives. I felt that before I moved on I had to make Lynch's "most requested" recipe: prune-stuffed gnocchi with foie gras sauce. This is the kind of dish I reflexively skip over because it looks difficult and expensive. I hope it is worth the money. I hope it is worth the misery of the ducks.

About last night's dinner. My father had invited himself over and since it was a hot day and he's a game guy, I planned a cold meal, all of it from Stir, most of it involving serious delving. Then my maternal grandmother, who is 98, unexpectedly turned up. So it was a party, a very unlikely party given that my parents divorced 25 years ago. My camera battery conked out hence lack of pictures.

We ate:

-oysters on the half shell with sparkling mignonette. At a local market yesterday, fresh oysters cost $1.19 a piece, which is less than half what you pay for oysters at a restaurant. Of course, you have to shuck them yourself which I had never done. By unfortunate coincidence, I sliced my finger while mincing the shallots for the mignonette and then had to shuck oysters with two Band-Aids and a piece of cheesecloth wrapped around my gory finger and while I am confident that no blood sullied the shellfish, the shucking took twice as long as it should have. Also, I used a butter knife. If you shuck a lot, you should definitely invest in the right shiv. The sparkling mignonette, which contains Prosecco, was fabulous and really did sparkle from the bubbles. Here's how you make it: Mix 1/2 cup Prosecco with 1/2 cup white wine vinegar, 2 finely chopped shallots, a generous grinding of black pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. If you like oysters, try this dish. I can't believe it took me so long to shuck my own.

-butcher shop steak tartare. Even though I bought quality filet mignon and used salmonella-free eggs from our chickens, recent newspaper stories cast a pall over this segment of the meal. I always order steak tartare if it's on the menu because it's something I don't make at home. Now that it's something I do make at home, I might be done with steak tartare. Did I only order it in the past because it was exotic? Lynch's recipe, which is classic, calls for chopped raw steak, raw egg yolk, mustard, capers, and chopped cornichons. It tasted fine and I ate it, but not with tremendous enthusiasm and can not explain this sudden aversion.

-toasted bread salad with tomato and cucumber. Very pretty twist on a summer standard. Halved cherry tomatoes are tossed with fennel and cucumber and served on long baguette crisps spread with olive paste and adorned with sweet roasted red onion. Lovely.

At one point, Owen was sitting on the sofa between my tiny grandmother and my father telling them about something absurd (rockets? robots?) while they all three merrily ate the oysters. I wanted so badly to take a picture of those three right there, right then. It was like my own private Halley's Comet. I'll probably never get them all in the same room again, let alone the same frame, and certainly not in that giddy oyster-slurping mood. I had to make do with a mental snapshot.

Very fun evening. No crowd I'd rather shuck oysters for.

Thursday, September 02, 2010


I have a book due next month and last weekend I printed out everything I'd written, checked in to a hotel, read the manuscript start-to-finish, cut it up with scissors, put it all in a new order and stuck it back together with Scotch tape. After about seven hours of this fun, I stood up and was so stiff I could barely hobble to the minibar to extract the $12 bag of cashews.

Diabolical minibar aside, the hotel turned out to be a fantastic idea. I worried I'd feel just as unfocused in a rented room as I do at home, but it was astonishing how much more easily I could concentrate without internet, children, cooking, dust bunnies, goats, chickens, garden, books, phone calls, bills, Lost DVDs, et cetera. Let me repeat that first part: It was astonishing how much better I could concentrate without internet.

About the book. I got the contract early this year, just before my mother died. Later, I put off posting about it because I didn't want to jinx the writing, about which I was extremely anxious. Now I feel coy not posting about it, like I have to explain why I haven't been chatting about the book cheerfully and self-promotionally for months. Two word answer: nervous wreck.

The book is about food, of course. For some reason, the publisher was not interested in using my photography. More details to come. Fall 2011.