This weekend at the DBR: Early to bed &c. If it feels like a long weekend, that’s because Kathleen has been away for a long time.
Archive for the ‘Culinarion’ Category
Today at the DBR: How to make really good garlic bread, and why it takes so long to learn all this stuff. Let me rephrase that: I ask why it takes so long to learn all this stuff. I don’t have the answer!
Yesterday’s brunch was perfect, simply because it was exactly what I intended it to be. I’m talking about the food part, the part for which I, and I alone, was responsible. Because it was exactly what I wanted it to be, I had a great time talking with my friends. Indeed, I was at the table, without more than momentary interruption, for seven hours. And so were most of them.
Because Quatorze was sick [sicker than he dreamed, he found out in the morning, when he went to the doctor — although still ambulatory] there were only five of us at the table. In these early days of adult entertainment, I aim no higher than for six, but I do look forward to planning for eight. This evening’s five, though, was very jolly. Kathleen, although exhausted, was in great spirits. As was everyone else. That was the aspect of the occasion that I can’t really plan for. In addition to Fossil, we had an old friend of his who is rapidly becoming an old friend of ours, and, vice versa, a law school classmate of ours whom Fossil wishes he were young enough to run off with. These two old friends became good friends on the spot, or so it seemed. As I say, I can’t plan for that; I can but hope. For me, the ideal dinner party makes fast friends of at least two complete strangers. All I do is set the stage.
The menu was, for the most part, startlingly unabitious:
Dilled Blanquette de Veau
Pots de Crème au chocolat.
The lobster salad was the exception. It was an invention, and it was the only dish that wasn’t prepared well in advance. I wanted something light and lobster-sweet. I murdered and cut up a two-pound lobster, wrapped it up, and slipped it into the fridge. Then, when it was time to compose, I sliced the tail into medallions and cut up the claws. I shucked three ears of corn and sautéed the kernels in butter. I minced a seedless cucumber. These ingredients got tossed in one bowl. In another, I combined three small heads of frisée, two Belgian endives, and one medium head of radicchio, all cut up nicely. Then I made a dressing of fresh tarragon (bushels, it seemed), raspberry vinegar, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper, and safflower oil (with a dollop of walnut oil). Oh, and a jolt of honey. I didn’t measure anything, but I thought very hard about each ingredient as I added it to the bowl of the small food processor, and because I am a very old man who has been doing this sort of thing since before you were born, it came out just right. At the last minute, the greens were tossed with a sparing amount of dressing, and tonged to plates; the lobster-corn-cucumber mixture was dressed rather more substantially, and scooped atop the cabbages; and, finally, a lobster medallion was placed atop each pile, spooned over with a bit of dressing and a dash of retro paprika. At wash-up time, I was gratified by the generally clean plates.
The old friend of Fossil’s who is becoming an old friend of ours brought a tin of home-made chocolate-chip meringue cookies, and I tucked two at the base of each pot de crème. I was so collected that I even made a pot of coffee without feeling fussed.
I was ready for my guests to arrive a full forty minutes before anybody showed up. That is as it should be. That is how it used to be with me. I’d spend at least twenty minutes wallowing in the certitude that nobody liked me and that nobody would come to my party. Then I got to be rather a slob, occasionally waiting to dress until after everyone had arrived. Those days are over.
Somewhere between Labor Day and Thanksgiving, I realized that I was using the microwave oven for three things: reheating mugs of tea, scalding milk for béchamel, and I forget the third thing. This realization came at about the same time as my decision to stop zapping tea. There’s nothing wrong with reheating tea in a microwave, I suppose; but (long story short) I was tired of having to turn off the dishwasher every time I refilled my mug. Since the dishwasher is almost always on (its cycle can run for as long as two hours), and I am almost always refilling my mug — and because it wasn’t exactly unusual for me to forget to turn the dishwasher back on — you can see how the conflict got to be tiresome.
I bought a stainless steel kettle at Feldman’s and kept it on a flame tamer over the stove’s lowest setting. (Now I pour steeped tea directly into it, without troubling a fréquentable teapot.) As for the milk-scalding, I also bought, and also at Feldman’s, a stainless steel pan that is really an overgrown measuring cup. It holds a pint, but although it is honest it is not substantial: scalding milk is what it seems to have been designed to do.
Now that I didn’t need the microwave oven for anything (except that third thing, which I couldn’t remember), I woke up to the fact that there are toaster ovens so big that they are not toaster ovens anymore, but real ovens. And I really needed a second conventional oven. I was probably never going to have a second wall-mounted oven in this kitchen, but now I saw my way around that.
Why doI need a second oven? To serve dinner rolls alongside a roast chicken. To serve a savory soufflé before a roast chicken. To bake frozen croissants for breakfast, at 350º, while cooking bacon in the best of all possible ways, in a 400º oven. The list is not endless, or even particularly long, but if I was tired of forgetting to turn the dishwasher back on after reheating a mug of tea, I was a hundred times more tired of not being able to plan certain menus because I had only one oven.
Early in life, I was told that gas ovens (such as the one built into my kitchen wall) are best for roasting meat, and that electric ovens are preferred for baking breads and cakes. Whether this is true or not, I think it’s true. Even so, I’ll probably continue to bake banana bread in the gas oven. It’s cheaper, for one thing; we pay for electricity but not for gas. And even if we paid for gas, it would probably still be cheaper. But after I’d replaced the microwave with the unit shown above, yesterday afternoon, a loaf of banana bread seemed to be the perfect choice for a shakedown cruise. Truth to tell, I was quite a bit more surprised that the oven worked, and that the banana bread tasted as good as it did, than I was that my grandson was born with all his fingers and toes &c the day before. Thjs may be because I was far more directly involved with the installation of the new oven.
The microwave oven turned out to be a never-entirely-satisfactory convenience. Like many cooks of my vintage, I gave Barbara Kafka’s Microwave Gourmet a college try, going so far as to buy one of those peculiar porcelain platters with metal studs that were supposed to facilitate the browning of meat (wasn’t that what they were for?). For six months or so, I had a crush on the idea of baking potatoes in eleven minutes. Most seriously, I made extensive use, over several years, of Bread in Half the Time.
But now that I don’t spend so much time in the kitchen, I’m less interested in saving time when I do. The mircrowave oven may be an appliance with a great future, but for the moment I’m going to store it in the past, to be pulled out now and then only for the odd comparison to Twitter, which sometimes seems also to be an appliance that I can’t find a place for.
I would never have gotten rid of the microwave oven just for the sake of it. But I’m pleased by the residual buzz of having disposed of the object of Julia Child’s sweetly disingenuous dismissal:
Microwaving. I wouldn’t be without my microwave oven, but I rarely use it for real cooking. I like having complete control over my food — I want to turn it, smell it, poke it, stir it about, and hover over its every state. Although the microwave does not let me participate fully, I do love it for rewarming, defrosting, and sometimes for starting up or finishing off. However, I know how popular microwave ovens have become and that many people adore them. I’m delighted to see, therefore, a growing number of excellent books on the subject available in supermarkets and bookstores.
The third thing was nachos. Which I need like a hole in the head. Something tells me that the new oven is going to make much better ones.
Here’s how I knew that it was good brunch: I did not ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” Instead, I was thinking of ways in which I could have managed better. A very good sign.
There were seven of us at the table, and only Kathleen and I knew everybody beforehand. I have come to see that, ideally, this would always be the case. When I was young, and reading Proust for the first time, I thought that it would be the coolest thing in the world to have a salon. On a certain day of the week, or (more realistically) the month, one’s coterie would drop by en masse. This despite Proust’s consistently unflatting portrait of Mme Verdurin and her circle. But what did I know of “entertaining”? I knew my parents’ cocktail parties, that’s what. The same people showed up at them for years, yet I still yearned for a salon of regulars. I must have thought that, by substituting tea for whiskey, my shindigs would inspire the kind of lofty conversation that would have made my parents’ friends take flight.
At the end of dessert — we would continue sitting at table for another hour — I thanked the friend to my left for having been such a lovely guinea pig. I rather regret this now; it seems an ungracious thing to say to anyone. But in almost every detail the brunch was a mission. I wanted to know how to fit giving a weekend luncheon party into the texture of regular life, more or less as I make dinner for Kathleen and myself on school nights. A lot remains to be learned, but even though I’m tired and somewhat afflicted by Sunday night blahs, I don’t look back on this afternoon’s meal as a big deal that completely disrupted the weekend.
The important thing is to try to make friends happy to be in my home. This involves good company and good food, served with as little fuss as possible. It may have seemed like fussing when I asked everyone to leave the table after the main dish, so that I could tidy it up for coffee and cake, but everybody went right on talking, which, at least among my friends, never gets in the way of eating.
The entrée was a chicken dish from Gourmet, circa 1993. I haven’t written it up at Portico but will try to change that. It’s an “oven-friend” dish — a genre that excites skepticism as a rule — that is in fact far more suitable for a winter luncheon, at a properly-set table, than the real thing would be. It’s quite piquant; there’s a lot of cayenne pepper.
I discovered that the fish poacher is an ideal vessel for marinating two cut-up chickens.
The side dishes were seriously retro: a German potato salad, made according to a recipe from the original New York Times Cookbook (1961), and an aspic of bouillon and V-8, with minced green onions floating obscurely in the ring. We began with a fruit salad and muffins, and ended with a mocha-rum cake (I make it with Jack Daniels) that also came from an Early-Nineties issue of Gourmet. The fruit salad came from Gristedes, but in chunks too large to serve without a knife; it took ten minutes to render them bite-sized. The muffins were flavored, dimly, by the Calvados in which I plumped some raisins. I had wanted to make cinnamon rolls, but yeast bread would have taken more time than I had allotted.
There would have been more time to play with if I’d really known what I was doing, the way I know how to prepare a roast chicken dinner. I knew how to cook each dish on the menu, but not how to cook them all on the same menu, which is really the final lesson of giving dinners, including as it does knowing where to put the special plates that you want to use for dessert until it’s time to use them. All in all, I did pretty well, but I want to get better. I want to have it down to the sweet spot of habit. I know that I’ll never be bored so long as friends old and new are kind enough to venture into darkest Yorkville for a seat at my table.
OMG! We meant “Pakistan”! (BBC News)
¶ Matins: Is Bob Cringely mad? His vision of the future, “Pictures in Our Heads” — well you can see where he’s going. (“And the way we’ll shortly communicate with our devices, I predict, will be through our thoughts.”) But it’s the beginning of the entry that caught our eye. The power of Mr Cringely’s assumption (with which we’re ever more inclined to agree), that the iPhone/iTouch is today’s seminal device, from which everything in the future will somehow flow, seems to mark a moment.
¶ Lauds: Isaac Butler outlines just how very hard it is to apportion praise and blame in the highly collaborative atmosphere of the theatre. Mr Butler winds up by pointing out how much easier it is to judge the performance of a classic play, because one of the variables — the text, usually unfamiliar to premiere audiences — is taken out of the problem. (Parabasis; via Arts Journal and the Guardian)
¶ Prime: Jeffrey Pfeffer discusses the “Sad State of CEO Replacement.” His remarks prompt a question: Is the typical board of directors a band of masochists in search of a dominator? The minute a self-assertive bully walks in, they tend to submit with rapture. (The Corner Office)
¶ Sext: Adam Gopnik addresses the evolution of cookbooks, from aides-mémoire intended for professionals to encyclopedias for novices, and beyond. Oakeshott and gender differences are dragged in. The recent fetish for exotic salts is explained. (The New Yorker)
¶ Vespers: Our favorite literary couples, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, sits for an interview with the Wall Street Journal. We knew the basics. But it’s nice to have a bit of detail. (Who knew that Pasternak’s style is “studied”?) (via The Second Pass)
¶ Compline: At NewScientist, a slideshow taken from Christopher Payne’s Asylum: Inside the closed World of State Mental Hospitals. The show, presumably like Mr Payne’s book, ends on a guardedly positive note. (via The Morning News)
¶ Matins: Driving while intoxicated, and with a child in the car, will be made a felony, according to a law that has passed the New York State Assembly. Interlock devices, which block ignition when the driver’s breath carries faint amounts of alcohol, will be required for drivers convicted of driving while intoxicated. (NYT)
¶ Lauds: Lucy Lu recently celebrated the first anniversary of Met Everyday, her online report of visits to the Museum. Her list of ten things that you must see (or wings that you must visit) is personable but not surprising — with the exception of the modern-art item.
¶ Prime: Tom Bajarin’s discussion, at PCMag Mobile, of the impact of Vooks on publishing suggests to us that the author of a plain old book could do as well as a Vook developer, delivering a formatted text as an “app,” and collecting 70% of the price. (via The Tomorrow Museum)
¶ Tierce: We’ve heard of the Ithaca Hours, an alternative local currency, but we can’t imagine how anything like it would work in Manhattan. But who cares: it would be gorgeous, if these bills designed by students at the School for Visual Arts were in circulation. (via The Best Part)
¶ Sext: Will Sam Sifton be the next editor of the New York Times? It’s a very interesting rumor, considering that the gent has just been assigned to reviewing restaurants for the newspaper. We’ll say this: he has certainly dusted off the genre.
¶ Vespers: V L Hartmann bumps into Joan Didion in the street — almost — and observes that in her carriage as in her prose, the author of The Year of Magical Thinking is not like “the old ladies you see up here on the East Side that are all stooped over.” (The Morning News)
¶ Matins: Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals is eaten alive by John Williams, at The Second Pass, in a piece that begins with the surprised observation that Mr Foer does not mention Peter Singer in his book.
¶ Nones: Joshua Kurlantzick discusses President Obama’s trip to Asia, regretting that Indonesia was left off the itinerary and noting the dispiriting realism of Asian diplomacy today. (London Review Blog)
¶ Vespers: Grant Risk Hallberg’s long piece on myth and backlash in Bolaño studies serves as a toolkit to bring you completely up-to-date on a writer who, from beyond the grave, has excited a pungent array of macho responses. (The Millions)
¶ Matins: Matins: Darshak Sanghavi, a pediatric cardiologist and the health-care columnist at Slate, writes lucidly about medical-malpractice litigation. The tort-based system is broken, but it works, sort of. Dr Sanghavi likens it to a casino — terrifying doctors as a class while overcompensating a handful of plaintiffs — but he also attributes significant drops in patient injuries to lessons learned. (via The Morning News)
¶ Lauds: Two public spaces that people will know better from photographs than from visits: The National September 11 Memorial & Museum (when and if) and the White House. The latter, which is indeed a house, requires periodic replacement therapy, in the form of “redecoration,” a word that, Martin Filler tells us, Jacqueline Kennedy didn’t like. (via Felix Salmon and The Morning News)
¶ Sext: Two pieces that were printed side-by-side in the Times, and ought to have appeared in the same fashion online. Food colleagues Kim Severson and Julia Moskin are Jack Sprat and his wife about Thanksgiving. For Ms Severson, it is all about turkey. For Ms Moskin, the turkey is a turkey. The bitchery is quite amiable.
¶ Nones: We’re not quite sure why the offer would help negotiations along, but the UK will return 45 square miles of sovereign territory on Cyprus to — to whom? We can remember when Cyprus was in the news every day. Remember Archbishop Makarios? (BBC News)
¶ Vespers: Dan Hill’s review of Alain de Botton’s Heathrow book, A Week at the Airport, is long and serious but hugely compelling, inspired to be challenging where the book under review leaves off. For example, after quoting the passage about an interview with an airline CEO that stressed the fact that neither the CEO nor Mr de Botton works in a profit-making industry, Mr Hill cocks an eyebrow. (City of Sound; via The Tomorrow Museum)
¶ Compline: David Dobbs argues for replacing the “vulnerability” model of genetic variation with an “orchid” model. The older thinking holds that variants increase their carriers’ vulnerability to disorder. The new idea acknowledges vulnerability but also inverts it, seeing heightened access to special skills. (The Atlantic)
¶ Matins: The editors of The Awl analyze today’s NYC ballot, and render a nice distinction between “douchebaggery” and “dickslappery.” By Frank Rich’s account, things were much more exciting upstate — until just before his column went to press. (NYT)
¶ Prime: The economics of Swedish meat balls — which we share for the woo-hoo fun of being in completely over our heads! (Marginal Revolution)
¶ Tierce: Eric Patton sighs over the beauty of Italian, while collecting a nice armload of local street signs for you to puzzle out. (SORE AFRAID)
¶ Sext: In case David Drzal’s Book Review rave didn’t convince you that William Grimes’s Appetite City is an absolute must-read, we’re sure that Jonathan Taylor’s more expansive review at Emdashes will do the job.
(At first, we believed that ousted president Manuel Zelaya was an idiot. Over time, we came to appreciate the fact that Roberto Micheletti used to be his mentor.)
¶ Vespers: Daniel Menaker considers Tim Page’s Parallel Play, an expansion of the New Yorker piece in which Mr Page shared his relief at finally having been diagnosed as having Asperger’s Syndrome. (Barnes & Noble Review; via The Second Pass)
- Picking up nickels in front of a steamroller
- Don’t try this at home.
¶ Prime: Robert Cringley poses the Emperor’s-New-Clothes question about American corporations that we’ve been asking for ages — only with greater élan: when did profits become more important than pensions and health benefits?
¶ Nones: In the eyes of the developed world, Muammar el-Qaddafi hovers unstably between dictator and thug. Dictators, while not approved, are accepted; thugs, like terrorists, are not permitted to negotiate. Negotiating the release of the Lockerbie bomber, the colonel may have kicked himself away from the table.
¶ Compline: Edward Moore Kennedy: a princeling who had a U S Senate seat handed to him (repeatedly)? Or a little prince who had to overcome the allure of accidental advantages in order to find real strengths? We take the latter view, along with the Times, the Journal, and even the Post.
¶ Vespers: Not so hypothetical: what if you could teach only one novel in a literature class that would probably constitute your students’ only contact with great fiction? A reader asks the editors of The Millions.
¶ Matins: The High Line may be cute, but we disapprove (an understatement) of elevated highways in urban areas. So does everybody with a brain. Jonah Freemark and Jebediah Reed contemplate the elimination of seven American monstrosities.
¶ Tierce: Compare and contrast these contemporary fines: $675,000 for file sharing in Massachusetts; $1300 for second DUI arrest. Get your dose of righteous anger at World Class Stupid — it’ll make you laugh before you can rant.
¶ Vespers: Here’s a wonderful new literary game from LRB: take the title of a famous book and attach it to the name of an author who (a) couldn’t possibly have written it or (b) would have turned in a very different text.
¶ Prime: One of the biggest problems in the way we do business — literally — is the slapdash way in which we do or don’t clean up after ourselves: “When Auto Plants Close, Only White Elephants Remain.”
“If there ever was a window where the seeds of a professional military culture could have been implanted, it is now long past. U.S. combat forces will not be here long enough or with sufficient influence to change it,” wrote [Col Timothy R Reese]. “The military culture of the Baathist-Soviet model under Saddam Hussein remains entrenched and will not change. The senior leadership of the I.S.F. is incapable of change in the current environment.”
¶ Bon weekend à tous!
¶ Sext: Henry Alford files a report about leftovers: “chunks of some sort of appalling turgid brownish oozing cake.”
¶ Nones: In the bad old days, utter nincompoops could inherit thrones. Now, they get elected. But the problem is the same: how do you get rid of them? The kid-glove approach taken by the Honduran élite seems not to have worked.
¶ Compline: John Lancaster, a Washington-based journalist, did not finish out his term at Atchison College, Pakistan’s top prep school (boys only, natch), but he did gather enough material for a must-read report. (via The Morning News) (more…)