Archive for the ‘Kitchen Culture’ Category

What a Splendid Table

February 10, 2011

When not occupied by Sunday Night Dinner, I like to settle in for the week with NPR.  This American Life at 7pm, The Splendid Table at 9pm, and The Moth at 10pm, it’s public radio heaven.  Who needs a TV?  The quirky true life tales of This American Life and The Moth appeal to my Brooklyn sensibilities, but I used to tune out (i.e. do dishes) during The Splendid Table until it won me over.  I originally wrote it off as too mainstream, too matronly, until I found myself hanging on to its every word.  Opening with a tinkling piano tune reminiscent of department store music, Lynne Rosetto Kasper rapturously talks about food and eating.  There are guests, recipes, regulars, Q + A, all making for a captivating hour.  Desperate Housewives can suck it.

We Could All Use Some Heat

January 18, 2011

If only, one could have the opportunity to learn from the greatest, as Bill Buford does in Heat.  What starts as an investigative piece on Mario Batali, turns into a teaching meditation on the audacity of good food.  The short bio on Molto Mario becomes a stepping stone to intern at Babbo – admittedly one of my favorite fine dining experiences.  A vivd recounting behind the scenes, where the curtain is parted to reveal that the back breaking work of a busy kitchen, Buford’s endless curiosity is intertwined with the origins and evolution of Italian food, which lead him to an apprenticeship with an infamous butcher in a small Tuscan village.  The lesson is that one learns to be a good cook by doing it all the time, repeatedly, honing all your senses, most essentially by touch.

I want to be a better cook this way.  Instead of fluttering between recipes, which is  how my curious mind works, I should master a few things.  A much more different accomplishment when I have only myself to feed, and not a restaurant that serves 350 people a night.

Over the holidays, I did master my granola, having made ten batches for gifts.  The repetition made me improve my technique – mise en place, getting to know my stove, knowing that moment when toasty starts to cross the line of burned, sharpening my eyes and nose.  A crash course that is small in scale and simplicity, but a mastery nevertheless.

Oh The Drama

February 18, 2010

The most spellbinding food show isn’t on the Food Network, but on Drama Fever – Dae Jang Geum or Jewel in the Palace.  Cutthroat competition, food action shots, political intrigue, all set in Korea’s royal court of the 1500s.  Our heroine, Dae Jang Geum, sets out to become the Highest Kitchen Lady upon the dying wishes of her mother.  Through hard work, curiosity, and general good luck, she succeeds in working her way through the royal kitchen.  With each episode, she is on the verge of getting kicked out of the palace but subsequently prevails, being talented and pure of heart.

Soap opera drama aside, it is breathtaking to watch the army of period dressed women prepare glorious meals for the king and his court.  The precise and rhythmic chopping, the parsing of mysterious powders and sauces, agility and knowledge coming together in beautifully orchestrated feasts.  There is much talk of the healing purposes and properties of food, elevating cooking beyond a basic necessity – it is entertaining and intoxicating.

Reconsidering Cakes

December 15, 2009

I don’t consider myself a baker, at all.  Hence the lack of urgency to get an oven.  And, minding my figure, the last thing that I need to know is how to make cakes.  But, All Cakes Considered shows that one doesn not need to bake one’s cake and eat it too.

The beauty, and charm, of Melissa Gray’s All Cakes Considered is that it derives from baking a cake for her co-workers at NPR’s All Things Considered for a year.  Culling recipes from relatives and cookbooks old and new, there is a range of cakes for 50 weeks.  A learning process for the author, her instructions are clear and easy.  Makes me want to be the most popular person in my office.

An Ode to Gourmet

October 13, 2009


I have to admit that I’ve never cooked a recipe out of Gourmet Magazine.  I’ve wanted to with its big beautiful photos and fetching recipes, but I never got around to it, thinking that the magazine would always be there to inspire and aspire to.  No longer.  I am dumbstruck and deeply saddened.  We’ve lost a great master.

Yes, it’s fancy-schmancy, and not everyone likes pickled collared greens with pineapple, but it was always a pleasure to leaf through page after page of food porn.  Over the years, it was able to evolve and be modern, addressing the way we eat now – open-mindedly, politically, frugally, passionately.  Unfortunately, the survival of the fittest in magazines is determined by maintaining a diet of  advertising, for which Gourmet was lacking.  Rachael Ray and Food Network’s mass appeal live on, where as a respected institution dies out.  We will miss you.

Serve It Forth

January 16, 2009


If I could back in time, I would live like MFK Fisher.  Or, better yet, in my time machine, visit each of the gastronomic ages that she charmingly writes about in “Serve It Forth”, her first book from 1937.  The pleasures of eating, from grand Roman feasts to the evolution of the modern brasserie, are interwoven with her own personal history and experiences.  Hoping to embrace her spirit, I try out her “secret eating” – tangerines on the radiator.  A tangerine is peeled and its segments are left to dry out on the radiator.  The skin of the segments dry out to create a crisp, delicate shell.  The fruit stays juicy and splooshes with every bite.  I love it, the next best thing to the time machine.

Julie and Julia

January 9, 2009


After having read Julia Child’s “My Life in France”, I had to read Julie Powell’s “Julie and Julia” as a sort of spin-off/sequel.  I love the idea of the Julie/Julia project, Powell’s commitment to cooking ALL the recipes in Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in one year.  I didn’t get to follow the blog while it was going on, seeing that I was late in the game.  The book is more or less an abridged version, complete with character buildup and story arc.  It’s almost like being there.

At first, I was put off by the casualness of her writing, the flippancy being more appropriate for day to day entries than a 300 page book, but I grew to appreciate her moxie.  The anachronistic insertions of faux-Julia Child tableaux were awkward, and probably unnecessary.  Overall, I liked the vividness of her life, or more so, how her life became vivid through cooking.  The scenes seem to change in my mind from the black and white secretarial day job hours to full Technicolor in her kitchen while she cooks.  With every project comes new intrigue met with triumph or catastrophe, and I rooted for her at every turn.  The loveliest parts of the book show the camaraderie and support of her family, friends and “bleaders”.  Much like Julia Child’s “My Life in France”, Julie finds herself and a passion in her unsatisfying life.

Julia Child’s “My Life in France”

January 11, 2008


I’ve never fully appreciated Julia Child until I read her memoir, “My Life in France”. I’ve cooked from her cookbooks, long endeavors of a generation past; and never seen her shows, entertainment for an older, stuffier generation. Her charicature lives large in my mind – “One cup of wine for the chicken, two cups of wine for the chef”. I could never relate to the patron saint of epicurean home chefs. Matronly and pedagogic, I am not.

“My Life in France” brings her down to earth, chronicling the time in her life when she discovers her passion for food and cooking, her “calling”. Written in a breezy tone of the wide-eyed California girl that she is, the book is filled with moments of delight and curiosity, lessons and dilemmas, friendships and love, a time when life just comes together. The details of post-World War II Europe makes me long for a time machine. Her enthusiasm and perseverance is inspirational. Most wonderful is her loving life with her husband Paul, who supported her every step of the way, sharing in their gastronomic pursuits, and translating her skills into educational visuals. This is a book and life to be savored.