Archive for January, 2008

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He Begs and Pleads

Friday, January 25th, 2008

The dog, he likes the ribs.


And who could blame him? These are Tyler’s Ultimate ribs, taken from the eponymous tv program which we must watch on mute because we cannot stand the “a’ights”. It’s like a tick. An annoying verbal tick.

Speaking of annoying, here’s something from The Food Network website I’m glad I didn’t write: “Tyler stirs up a sticky barbecue feast that will have you clinging to your napkins while you squeal with joy.” The only squealing and clinging that occurred during our preparation of these oven-cooked beauties came out of the dog in sheer frustration at not being human enough to share in the feast.



Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008

Thick, lovely slabs of tuna.  Red and quivering,  glistening with a slick sheen of a soy marinade.  Seared with hot grill marks, cool and raw in the center, it fits perfectly under a moist tangle of slaw and a spongy brioche.   I wish lunch were always this perfect.


A fist-sized steak of fish carefully sliced into thin ruby strips, mounded onto a bed of crisply dressed carrots and cabbage and made to glow from the egg yolk dropped into the centre.  A capricious toss of black sesame for drama, a glass of champagne, just because.


160 Kilometers

Friday, January 11th, 2008

I’m reading The 100-Mile Diet now, a gift from Shirley for Christmas. It’s written by Canadians in Vancouver which makes it kind of odd that they refer to the range within which they’re allowed to eat in miles instead of kilometers, though I suppose The 160-Kilometer Diet doesn’t have quite the same marketing appeal, nor does it fit quite so well across the front cover.

After reading a chapter or two in the mornings over my coffee, it’s always tempting to wonder where our food came from and how far it travelled- certainly the coffee, though organically grown in the shade and traded fairly, came a long ways. Presumably alot of our other foodstuffs come from away, too, though I rarely look so I can’t rightly say. The stuff we purchase at the farmer’s market is more likely to have been produced within 100 miles of SF, but I can’t really be sure…

Just now I looked up our 100-mile radius:


Oh boy! We get Roseville and Turlock and almost Ukiah! I have no frame of reference for these places; I should really find out what grows and swims around here, besides left-wing democrats and cold-water surfers. I wonder how many Starbucks there are in this 100-Mile radius… hmm… at least 500 within 90 miles.

At any rate, though it probably can’t measure up to eating local, there is alot of eating organic going on here (which is sometimes worse, I know, since the distance it must travel sometimes outweighs the points it might have earned by being organic). We have Trader Joe’s to thank for the excellent variety of dried fruits, especially the currants and tart cherries for our morning oatmeal.


My Eyes Have Been Opened

Monday, January 7th, 2008

My eyes have been opened to a new realm of culinary arts. For months I had admired the glossy, imposing coffee table book that is always displayed prominently in the cooking section of bookstores. This tome of French cooking which is heavy enough to be used as a tool in some of the recipes it describes – weighing down the cookie sheet that is squeezing the moisture from the slices of eggplant or smashing apart pepper corns with its solid spine – has become my teacher. It is The French Laundry Cookbook. It is alpha and omega. It is over fifty Canadian dollars.

I’m sure I can expect some resistance to my declaration of its importance, especially from those who learned to cook from books by Julia Child or James Beard or Auguste Escoffier, though I would argue that perhaps everyone who loves to cook has a book which they hold in higher esteem than the rest. Why is it this book for me? How is it that Thomas Keller, who isn’t even on the Food Network, came to represent the finest of culinary artists to me? Apart from magazine articles, I didn’t even have any exposure to him or his cooking, having never been to Yountville to visit The Source, or even having seen or heard an interview with the guy. Somewhere along the way, I just decided that he was the one whom I wished to emulate, if only occasionally and with the greatest preparation anxiety.

So we bought the book. As a matter of fact, we bought the very last signed copy available at Stacey’s Bookstore on Market street. I had always planned to buy it, perhaps on a special occasion, but the fact that it was signed was what clinched it, and I, who always suffer from buyer’s remorse, felt not a twinge; I happily, hungrily brought it home and devoured it.

It took a least a month before the book actually made it into the kitchen. I once read an article by a woman who collected cookbooks and who found that she would usually hesitate to bring a new, gorgeous, art-gallery-worthy cookbook into the kitchen, the same way she would buy a new silk blouse but let it hang in the closet for a few months before actually getting up the nerve to wear it. I can empathize. I break or spill nearly everything I touch- I wouldn’t say I’m clumsy, exactly, I just seem to touch the glass or plate to a hard surface at precisely the weakest point which causes it to shatter and/or spill. It’s sort of a super power. But anyway, the same could be true for the book; I could just imagine opening it for my first attempt at cooking a recipe within and spilling a healthy tablespoon-full of balsamic all over the wide, white pages, possibly even ruining a few pictures as well. Ergo, I hesitated. Until finally, one day, I decided to try one of the least threatening recipes: Blini with Roasted Sweet Peppers and Eggplant Caviar.

It’s worth mentioning, I think, that this is one of the few recipes that required few pieces equipment that were not already in our possession. It did involve some work the day before eating, but that is small potatoes, no pun intended. Before beginning, I was tempted to read about a blogger’s experience cooking this particular recipe on, a woman who, like Julie of the Julie/Julia project, has purchased The French Laundry cookbook and has made it her mission to cook every recipe in it, while documenting the process online. But I stopped short of searching for the recipe’s post on her blog because it would be like using training wheels and I already have a fairly decent idea of how to ride a bike. I may not have ridden one on a wire stretched over a gorge, but training wheels would not help the situation, the same way Carol’s tips are unlikely to help me know when the blini were done- I just gotta do it.

The book made me nervous. I had put it well beyond harm’s reach, on the furthest corner of the furthest counter-top from where I was working. Nonetheless, it made me nervous, the same impatient, anxious kind of nervous I feel when trying out a new instrument or playing a new sport- if I’m not good within 10 minutes, I’m giving up. Luckily, all that I had to do in the first 10 minutes of this exercise was slice up the eggplant, lay the slices out on a cookie sheet and let them rest so all the moisture is leeched from their pale, spiritless slabs. Encouraging. And so I proceeded, using clever tool replacements when I didn’t have precisely the appropriate instrument, and substituting but a few ingredients (like prepared, organic vegetable stock instead of of homemade) and two busy evenings later, produced my first, humble FL masterpiece.


The second attempt at cooking-to-eat-like-royalty is entitled Salad of Haricots Verts, Tomato Tartare and Chive Oil and went equally as smoothly, much to my surprise. Probably there will be no screw-ups until I’m working with an extremely expensive ingredient, like foie gras. But for now, I am happy to stick to the vegetable kingdom and turn out these first course delights.