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Category Archives: cook

Booking and Cooking

Every once in a while, a book from the library falls into my hands, I burn through it, and NEED to go out and buy my own copy. That happened twice this month—and both books are worth talking about.

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School came on my radar screen in conjunction with a town-wide reading of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. To be honest, I was afraid TKCCS was going to be a mandate to eat organic radishes written by someone extremely knowledgeable, like Al Gore’s housekeeper. This was, thankfully, not the case.

Instead, I found a very well written, engaging memoir/cooking manual that taught me dozens of cooking lessons. The author, Kathleen Flinn, is a Cordon Bleu graduate who embarks on a quest to teach nine novice cooks how to make delicious, healthy, simple and rewarding meals. Each chapter covers a specific lesson, but equally shares the foodie journey of the nine students and their passionate teacher.

I’ve been cooking for almost fifty years, and I learned something new and worthwhile in each chapter. There are new spice combinations to experiment with, ways to do away with processed foods and replace them with tastier, fresh possibilities, and how to do so fearlessly. I also appreciate seeing how Flinn, as a teacher, met the needs of her very diversified class. Some were afraid to cook, some were discouraged because of past failures, some think they were too busy to bother. All types move forward throughout this book. At first, I started to copy the recipes I wanted to try… then I realized that I was transcribing the book and better buy a copy of my own. I think I’ll make it a point to “cook my way” through this book, one recipe at a time. Maybe two per week—sounds like a plan. Go buy the book, please. You’ll love it.

The next book that I devoured is a thin, lean, but very rich compilation of Ernest Hemingway’s opinions about writing, edited by Larry W. Phillips. Again, I started with a library copy and kept wanting to highlight and write in the margins. I’d come across astute paragraphs and read them aloud to my husband only to realize that I was reading the whole text to him, one passage after another.

Hemingway shows what it’s like inside his head. He lets us in on the process and shares the joy as well as the tribulations. The first chapter starts off with the following quotation from a letter to Mrs. Paul Pfeiffer, 1933: “I am trying to make, before I get through, a picture of the whole world—or as much of it as I have seen. Boiling it down always, rather than spreading it out thin.”

And that is exactly what he does with his writing on writing. We get these unadulterated gems that make us think and help us write. There is a freshness and authenticity in his words that I find addictive. He reminds me to cut back any unnecessary baggage. I’m especially fond of this passage from George Plimpton’s The Paris Review interview: “The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, shit detector. This is the writer’s radar and all great writers have had it.”

As an English professor, I used to write “Do you need this…Is it fluff?” in the margins of many students’ papers. I’m forced to ask myself if every word is working effectively for me. This paragraph alone survived the pruning of ten words.

I’ve always believed that writing is “re-writing” and a vehicle for thinking. Hemingway says it so well in a letter to L.H. Brague, Jr., 1959: “I love to write. But it has never gotten any easier to do and you can’t expect it to if you keep trying for something better than you can do.” This famous author reiterates that writing is simultaneously joy and hard work.

Ernest Hemingway On Writing is a book that I want to have on my shelf and be able to pick up, browse through for inspiration, and come back to again and again. I suggest you do the same.

Here’s the latest on my reading for this New Year.

I succeeded in reading five books so far in January:

Art of Hearing Heartbeats


Hemingway On Writing

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School

Candy Freak (in progress).

My goal for February is five more:

The Dark Vinegard (book group book)

Finish In Sunlight and In Shadow

The Burgess Boys new Elizabeth Strout book advanced copy 🙂

and two more titles to be pulled from the mountain motherload of books in my den—all waiting patiently.

Let me know what you’re reading and what you think of it.

Christmas Memories

I love Christmas. Making the presents, wrapping them, putting them under the tree that is loaded with ornaments that track our family’s history—it makes me obnoxiously happy. We’re together to relax, celebrate, retell stories, and laugh.

Each year we try not to overdo the excessive buying aspect of the celebration. We don’t always succeed, but this year we’re behaving well. Each present is something we thought about before slapping down the credit card or clicking the “submit” button online. There’s hand knitted socks, hats, blanket, shawls and mittens; the folks who wanted hats, got hats—I didn’t mess around. Each knitted project also served a purpose for me; I made it a point to learn something from each present. Perhaps it was a new technique, a new yarn, a new design… each one kept me engaged and taught me something in addition to the joy of giving.

If the presents under the tree aren’t made of fiber, they’re probably books. Throughout the year, I keep my eyes open for titles that I think my loved ones might enjoy. Could be a book of walking tours through their new neighborhood or cookbooks that are unusual or something they might have mentioned, but haven’t bought for themselves. I like how this practice keeps Christmas alive throughout the year.

One of the most fun parts of the celebration is stuffing everybody’s stocking with little goodies: a favorite candy (not a whole bag!), some cool spices from Trader Joe’s, a handmade bar of soap or moisturizer and something funny that they’re not expecting (no clues given here now!) We’ve got the same stockings that the kids had growing up—and David’s stocking from when he was a young boy—ironically it’s knitted and has his name knitted around the cuff.

The tree is up, fully lighted, but won’t be fully decorated until our daughters arrive. That’s just something we do together. We all gloat over our favorite ornaments, and you can hear “I remember this one”… over and over again. There’s Christmas music in the background, but not the regular stuff. David has collected CD’s that really mark our season: Charlie Brown, the Canadian Brass albums, Dave Bruebeck’s Christmas album and many more.

This year all three women will be cooking together in the kitchen; it will be a menu that satisfies all of us, regardless of allergies, gluten intolerances, vegan regs, paleo regs, and Mom trying to lose weight. Per Tim Gunn, “We make it work” and it’s joyful. Every once in a while we find a recipe that all of us can eat, like zucchini noodles, and then we get really happy.

Lots of good, old memories get stirred up this time of year. I appreciate remembering them and having them come alive once more. When I was a kid, my dad was Santa at the church fair. He rode around town on the fire truck and then sat for hours in a throne like chair in the school auditorium while long lines of nervous children waited to sit on his lap and tell him their wishes. He was the absolute best Santa in the world: he listened, smiled, laughed, and looked soooo real. I have a photo of me sitting on his lap completely unaware that it was my dad. It’s one of my favorites. He made my childhood Christmas full of wonder and love.

Another standout memory is how every Christmas Eve, I’d hear sleigh bells and thumping on the roof. My heart would beat a million miles an hour, and I’d pretend to be sound asleep, just like Santa expected. Years later, I learned that it was Papa Louie Andiorio who did the honors every year. That was one of the many memories I have of that special man.

This Christmas, there mostly likely won’t be snow here at the Cape, and I probably won’t see Santa at the mall, but I will look for him in the sky and listen for reindeer hooves on the roof knowing that David’s probably throwing the pebbles. Merry Christmas to all.

Re-thinking Thanksgiving 2012

As is often the case, my daughters are responsible for me making changes in my standard operating procedures. The latest is re-thinking Thanksgiving. In the past, this day of thanks has been known for an overabundance of food, a lot of traffic on the roads coming and going, and long afternoon naps after overdoing the whole routine. There was always an oversized turkey on the table and too much of everything else. And it was fun.

This year, the kids raised some interesting questions and suggested options:

  1. Can this not be an overindulgent food fest? How about regular healthy, simple meals and more time to relax together?
  2. How can we make new traditions for this celebration that takes into account who we are and what we value?
  3. Does it make sense to hit the roads via car or bus and deal with unmanageable traffic? Let’s have a family get-together on another day and do it our way.

So we’re in the process of re-creating the holiday or perhaps making a new one. I’m excited about finding a way to make this new celebration work. As a kid, I never questioned how colonization affected the Native Americans. Without being disgustingly politically correct, I do think about this issue and have doubts about celebrating the takeover. I think I need to do some more reading about this and understand what really happened in 1621 and what were the intended and unintended consequences.

It seems that the first Thanksgiving was in appreciation of not starving during that difficult year of survival in a new land. Then it grew and grew and grew… more food on the table, larger venues, over the top in so many ways. Even the average size of the turkey has exploded; anything less than 25 pounds looks like a Cornish hen. An assortment of pies now await on the sidebar, not just the one cherished pumpkin or apple treat. Thanksgiving is on steroids, and it’s less satisfying, even though we’re stuffed.

I’m thinking that reshaping this holiday does fit into my quest for simplicity and pared down living. I don’t like what Thanksgiving has become, and it’s time for a change. Stripping away the excess and recalibrating the holiday is in order. For us, that will mean treating food as healthy fuel. It also will be quality time together without stressful travel.  We’ll find a creative project to work on together… maybe hats and scarves for the homeless or birdfeeders for the feathered critters. Needless to say, we won’t be hustling out in the week hours on Black Friday to hit the sales. We’re gravitating back to basics, and I’m thrilled that we’re doing it as a family. That’s something to be thankful about.