Archive for the 'The Bookish Cook' Category

Oranges and Lemons

Food often gets me thinking about literature, or history, and vice versa. This happened one afternoon recently as I trotted happily back to my office with a slice of sunny citrus-spiked loaf cake from the staff café at the Met Museum. I found myself humming the nursery song “Oranges and Lemons” and wondering what it was all about. Continue reading …

Venus in the Kitchen*

This afternoon, I prowled the food section of my local bookstore looking for a laugh. More specifically, I had in mind those books that creep from the miscellaneous cooking shelf to show up on seasonal display tables every Valentine’s Day. I mean the sexy cookbooks.

I do this every year, mostly because I love to make fun of them. They have absurd titles like Fork Me, Spoon Me: The Sensual Cookbook, [take a deep breath] Booty Food: A Date By Date, Nibble by Nibble, Course by Course Guide to Cultivating Love and Passion Through Food, and InterCourses: An Aphrodisiac Cookbook, which is apparently such a classic in the field that it was given a 10th anniversary edition in 2007. And the covers, oh the covers. The Seduction Cookbook: Culinary Creations For Lovers by Diane Brown depicts a spoonful of honey being drizzled onto a disturbingly sculpted abdomen of ambiguous gender. But the aforementioned Fork Me, Spoon Me takes the prize in the cover art category: a nude woman (is that the author, Amy Reiley, Master of Gastronomy herself?) sits on the floor before an open fridge, making come-hither eyes at the viewer while nibbling a strawberry. With one leg provocatively raised, she is like a foodie Danaë, waiting to be ravished by Zeus in the form of a golden rain of bubbly. Continue reading …

Pain Relief

In times of stress and heartache I turn up the heat in my cooking. I hadn’t really faced this until recently, when on my third consecutive day of fiery red curry I paused to consider as I rubbed an ice cube over my chile-scorched fingers. Stress and spicy food seem to have a long-term relationship in my life: in high school I carried a tiny bottle of Tabasco sauce in the breast pocket of my coat at all times, as an antidote to angst-ridden lunchtimes. Years later, in the throes of romantic despair, I became a prolific baker of very, very hot pepper-spiked cheddar muffins.
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Still Life

A favorite book of mine, Alexandra Stoddard’s Gift of a Letter, points out that one should never begin a letter by apologizing for not having written sooner. Having said that, I’ll share a bit of what has filled the many days between right now and that last bowl of soup: Still Life Painting in Southern Europe, 1600–1800 and Botanical Imagery in European Painting, published on The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Timeline of Art History.

Inspired by the startlingly unidealized still lifes of Caravaggio and his followers, I filled a bowl with this week’s haul of veggies from my local CSA (here including kale, fava beans, cucumbers, and a zucchini) and snapped away without primping, spritzing, or overly arranging. I realized what incredible pleasure there is in not choosing the most beautiful specimen or the most flattering angle, but simply depicting what is. This summer my kitchen is overflowing with greens, more than I’ve ever cooked with or eaten before, and the more time I spend with things that come out of the earth the more singularly beautiful I find them for their imperfections.

“Happiness is Plenty of Vareniki”

A couple of months ago, a certain free morning newspaper (and I say “a certain” but I actually don’t remember which one, as I took it with one jet-lagged eye open from the chirpy giver-outer at my metro stop, and read only one page) suggested rather unhelpfully but with all good intentions that instead of spending money on a costly summer vacation, one should simply go out and buy a cookbook. Thus, I suppose, cooking one’s imaginary way through an exotic land, steeped in the spices and flavorings of a culture hitherto unexplored (by you, or me, the cook/traveller).
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Fashionista, Foodie, Fairy-Godmother

This week’s stellar entry in the Fanciful Foods and Kitchen Witchery recipe contest, submitted by Albin, left me speechless with delight. And it contains some very sage advice. Read on.

Albin writes:

Tagliatelle al Burro e Salvia

Once upon a time, there was a girl who believed she had magical powers. She moved to New York from Northern Italy and was very happy. But it soon saddened her that many people did not share in her happiness. They failed to see the beauty in the city. After all, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.
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Thumbelina Carrots

I had never seen or even heard of Thumbelina carrots before today, and when I saw them I had to have some. They’re in fact the nicest thing about today–my today, at least–because they reminded me of Hans Christian Andersen and the tale of a tiny girl who became the Queen of Flowers. I still love reading about Thumbelina’s adventures with beastly beasts, of her tulip-petal boat on a bowl-of-water lake. I may love even more dearly the 1952 film Hans Christian Andersen–also a complete fairy tale–with the dreamy Danny Kaye as Hans Christian.

Back to the carrots. They’re sweet, squat, and somewhat radish-like in stature. They’d be perfect for pickling, but mine are going to be eaten raw, now, with a sprinkle of Cassina Rossa’s Sweet & Salt, pictured above in my birdbath salt-cellar.

The Once and Future Pudding

I’m very pleased to post the first outstanding entry in the Fanciful Foods and Kitchen Witchery Contest, submitted by fitzmap. I’m also really glad I learned how to read Middle English in college.

This medieval-inspired apple bread pudding is fantastic: I’ll definitely be curling up with it and an Arthurian romance.

There are five spots left for excellent qualifying recipes, so keep your cauldrons on the fire from now until September 15!
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Win a Magic Wand! Fanciful Foods and Kitchen Witchery Contest

Get cooking and enter to win a beautiful magic wand, custom made for you by The Wand Shop!

Send me, in an email, a recipe inspired by magic or a flight of fancy. It may be your own version of a dish that has captured your imagination in story, song, or film. It may be a dish whose ingredients have a fabled lore. It may be a food eaten in a magical realm entirely of your own imagining. It may be a confection with unusually bewitching properties. (It may not contain eye of newt, toe of frog, etc.) These are intentionally broad guidelines: be as imaginative as you wish. Both sweets and savories are welcome, as well as beverages.
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Fanciful Foods and Kitchen Witchery Contest: Win a Magic Wand!

I’ve had a lot of irons on the fire these days, with the unfortunate result that in the past month I’ve spent much more time in front of my laptop than my stove. I’ve also just spent a week eating leftovers from a spectacularly over-catered family party. Just when I thought I might take on the physical characteristics of the hundredth Swedish meatball I consumed, the fridge emptied: I can cook again, indeed I have to cook again.

And in my current frame of mind, all I want to cook are magical, fanciful, delightful things. This is hugely influenced by what I’m doing in my spare moments, which is re-reading the Harry Potter series. I’d forgotten how much food and feasting there is in those stories, and how literally bewitching is the very mention of butterbeer and cauldron cakes. What you see above, by the way, is a fairly tasty but decidedly failed attempt at butterbeer, consisting here of sparkling apple cider and caramel syrup. We’ll get into that in another post.

In the meantime, I’d like a little help from you, your friends, your children, your grandchildren, your wee siblings.

View details and get coooking!

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