Wednesday, November 19, 2014

And I'm not even very strong



Owen: We’re out of goat food.

Jennifer: There’s a whole bag in the driveway.

Owen: You know I can’t carry that down.

Jennifer: If I can carry it, you can definitely carry it. 

Owen: Not everyone does CrossFit, Mom.

Jennifer: Owen, you’re 7 inches taller than me and 34 years younger. If I can carry the goat food, you can carry the goat food.  If you can’t, that’s pathetic.

Owen, in his loud, aggrieved voice: Mom, that is SO sexist. Just because I’m a guy doesn’t mean I’m all strong and everything. You never tell Isabel that she’s pathetic when she’s not being all strong and stuff.

Claiming physical weakness and crying sexism to foist chores on his middle-aged mother?

This can not stand.

****

Here I go, as promised, eating my words on PruneSome of them, anyway. 

Monday night, I made Gabrielle Hamilton’s braised lamb shoulder with lemons, tomatoes, and cinnamon. I’ve never worked from a recipe that was so oddly written, bossy, affected, minimalist, sensual, and vivid. I have to admit, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

You start by browning lamb shoulder in a “rondeau” (I used a Dutch oven) in “blended oil” (I used vegetable). Snotty of her not to explain these and other terms, but it wasn’t hard to muddle through. Remove the meat to a plate, add cinnamon sticks and 3/4 cup garlic cloves and “stir around in the pan, kind of toasting and picking up the fond in a way.” 

Weird prose, no? And yet I could totally see it as I rarely can when working from a conventionally- written recipe.

After this, add a cup of lemon wedges and deglaze the pan, “loosening and scraping up the fond with the juice of the lemon wedges as you crush them with your wooden spoon.”

I’ve never deglazed a pan by crushing lemon wedges with the back of a spoon and I’ve deglazed a lot of pans. So that was interesting and fun. 

Once the pan is deglazed, pour in some wine and canned tomatoes (“crushing each one briefly in your fist”), add back the meat, put the “rondeau” in the oven, and four hours later you’re ready to eat. Hamilton: “On the pickup, make sure each portion gets a nice soft, cooked lemon, if you can. And take a good look to see that you haven’t given anyone an all-fat portion.”

I dislike “on the pickup” and other lines where Hamilton's pretends she’s writing for her restaurant crew. Silly. But the rest of the recipe was intuitive and visual and fresh and I found myself wondering why recipes are generally so gray and voiceless. Seriously, why?

The meat was dark, meltingly tender, intense, superrich, and delicious. Easy. Six ingredients. A week ago I made a 17-ingredient lamb shank recipe from the New York Times that wasn’t half as good. I served the lamb shoulder with bread and salad. Big hit with the family, though I felt stuffed and sluggish the next day because: lamb shoulder.

I'd barely recovered from the lamb shoulder when dinner rolled around again. Last night, I roasted a chicken and made Hamilton’s fennel baked in cream. You cut up fennel, put it in a “hotel pan” (so tediously annoying, those restaurant terms), then mix a pint of heavy cream and some Parmesan and pour over the fennel, “drenching” the vegetables. Dot with butter, cover tightly, bake for an hour, top with additional cheese, bake for thirty minutes more, eat, marvel at how delicious it is, listen to your husband opine that it would be better if you replaced the fennel with potatoes, feel puffy, stuffed, and sick for the next 24 hours because: pint of cream, butter, Parmesan.

Will all the Prune recipes be this fun to cook? Will they all yield more such superb dishes? Will they all be so rich and stuffing? 

This is spot-on and funny. And this is the only reason I came to a cafe this afternoon to write a blog post rather than lying down on the sofa to sleep off the fennel.

50 comments:

  1. Hmm, Prune is sounding promising. That fennel in cream reminds me a bit of Molly Wizenberg's cabbage braised in cream. I made it last night with whole milk and it was great. Thanks for the link to that article about not succumbing to the 2pm nap, which I, unfortunately, did today.

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    Replies
    1. The Terrible Minds blog is great if you're a writer and struggle with lethargy. I sure do. I thought of making the fennel for Thanksgiving but worry it would kill my more elderly guests.

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    2. Thank you for that tip. I also started using Freedom software after Zadie Smith admitted she uses it.

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    3. Freedom. I've used it and should be using it right now.

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  2. I'm glad that you are enjoying Prune, but those recipes sound rich, very rich. I loved both linked pieces! Thanks for that. I am not a nap person, but I really wish I was. There are people who nap and then conquer the world. I would like to be one of those people. You do CrossFit?! I am duly impressed if that is the case.

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    Replies
    1. Naps make me feel very bad, physically and psychologically, but they're still hard to resist. Those recipes were unbelievably rich. Scarily rich.

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    2. Oh yes, I understand. Naps for me entail at least 1.5 hours of sleep, and when I wake up I feel like death on a cracker. I am useless for the rest of the day. And I am usually mad at myself for succumbing. So, napping is definitely not my super power.

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    3. Death on a cracker. I love that phrase.

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  3. Jennifer, thanks so much for this post, as well as the previous one. And, I really enjoyed the links--as far as choosing between a power nap and to keep running, I find that doing the nap before continuing the run (metaphor for everything else I try to do) usually works best for me, but, do I do that? No, I usually keep chugging along until I'm REALLY TIRED and feel pretty horrible. I work from home, so my life is full of constant choices. Yet, I love it this way. Freedom--I can choose to be smart, or not, and correct things as I decide.

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    Replies
    1. Everyone has a different chemistry -- I've reads lots of stories about the value of a power nap. I almost never nap because it makes me feel so sluggish, but it's tempting almost every day.

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  4. Have you read or tried the recipes in Barbara Tropp's The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking? Far from colorless.

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    Replies
    1. Barbara Tropp was amazing -- her recipes are so precise, intelligent, and delightful to read. Yes, there are exceptions and she's one of them.

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    2. Did you ever eat at China Moon? I thought it was amazing.

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    3. I ate at China Moon once, before I knew how special it was or how much I'd come to revere Barbara Tropp. Later, after she'd closed the restaurant and had already been diagnosed with cancer, I wrote a story about food tours and she was leading a Chinese food tour of the Richmond. It was the best food tour ever. She was an inspiration -- smart, curious, knowledgeable, crisp, stylish. All these years later I remember her outfit and earrings! Terribly sad she died so young.

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  5. I recently quit my job and decided to go full nougat. One of the promises I made to myself is that I will now carve out a time to get regular exercise. Crossfit sounds intimidating, though. What are your thoughts?

    I would be irked at Hamilton's pro-kitchen pretentiousness too. I'm so over it. On the pickup. Annoying.

    (BTW, if you want to buy any nougat, just Facebook me. I only yesterday realized that my Etsy account isn't working.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'll Facebook you about the nougat -- perfect Christmas present.
      I should do a whole post about exercise/Crossfit. It is totally intimidating and I've been doing it for 10 months. It's so not "me," but I know that if I stop it will be another 3 years before I exercise again. Momentum. . .

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  6. Am I the only one who thinks Owen's comeback was kind of genius? I too want to hear more about CrossFit. Is that why you were (are?) drinking the bulletproof coffee a while back? From your occasional pics, it does look like you've lost weight in the past year or so. Clare

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    Replies
    1. Genius? I hope he doesn't read this. It will only encourage him and he's already a handful!
      I'll do a post on CrossFit. I'm not sure how much it's affected the weight. I'd put on a lot of weight during the year I wrote my book and slowly lost it all. Very slowly. CrossFit came after that and is entirely about not dying sooner than I have to, something I only started to think about seriously in middle age.

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  7. Review on food52:

    https://food52.com/blog/11793-why-we-love-gabrielle-hamilton-s-prune

    I have been following a seriously restricted diet {no dairy, gluten, sugar, alcohol, meat, corn, soy, peanuts or oil except olive} for a couple of months and unfortunately I have been feeling so much better that I probably I probably won't go back to eating most of those things. So I have to come here and live vicariously. I wish I could cook a few recipes out of Prune. That lamb and fennel both sound heavenly.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for the link! The lamb and fennel were heavenly indeed, but I felt bad enough after both that I can see the wisdom of restricted diets.

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  8. Go ahead and make the fennel and cream dish. Elderly guests will love the decadence!!

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  9. Was I the only person who thought, after reading "Blood, Bones, and Butter," that Gabrielle Hamilton was a totally honest, gifted writer bordering on crazy? I vowed never to enter her restaurant, city, or state. Then I read your take on her crazy cookbook, Prune. I spent an hour at the bookstore debating whether to buy it. When I got home I made a standard green bean and garlic recipe that calls for canned tomatoes. This time I crushed the canned whole tomatoes in my fist, and it worked like a treat. The cookbook is pretentious and has attitude, but I can learn some things here. Still debating.

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    Replies
    1. I'm still on the fence about the book, too. It's a puzzler -- and so is she.

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    2. Okay - I got it and no regrets. Her acknowledgment of Mimi Sheraton's recipe for a fritter batter from The German Cookbook made me run out and buy that book, too. Hamilton seems to be conscientious about giving credit to her sources.

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    3. Yes, and she also has some Greek cookies credited to another writer. Very gracious.

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  10. I'm a little surprised that the Prune cookbook brings out such strong feelings. I've read through most of it and can't really say I'm offended by anything and find much of her commentary interesting. It's a bit like a view into a restaurant kitchen's inner workings. I see her as someone who has high expectations and doesn't have time for nonsense and I suspect many successful chefs are the same way. It's a restaurant and the food going out of the kitchen has her name on it, so she has every right to make sure she controls as much of the details as possible. I don't find her comments rude at all; in fact, she qualifies many commands with please (which I wonder if she actually does in the restaurant).

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    1. It's complicated, knowing how to read her tone. I had certain preconceptions based on what I'd read about and by GH in the past and when I got the book I initially recoiled. I still think she's a very tough, controlling person, but having lived with the book for a few weeks, I'm no longer so put off.

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  11. BTW, how are your goats? Haven't heard about them for quite some time.

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    1. The goats are very wet right now, but alive and well. Thanks for asking!

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  12. I keep thinking about your initial comments on the prune book every time I read about it, which is often. The use of terms like "hotel pan" (a vessel that is huge!) next to quantities like "a pint of cream" is beyond ridiculous. I'm glad you are enjoying the results though!

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