Tag Archive for Cookbooks

Goodbye San Francisco, Notes on Ex-Lovers, and Welcome Home with Chana Masala.

It’s been nearly three weeks since I got here to my new home across the country from my beloved San Francisco. It’s not that all its digital money boom entirely obscured its charms from me with the Google busses and the wall to wall boutique donuts. It would take more than that. I love that town. I will always love that town. The way in which I remember some of the women who have come and gone. I can always recall how that one smelled so good right behind the neck like pomade and a campfire, or the other one, how she read me Raymond Chandler while I soaked in the bath. There was the first real true love who I somehow convinced, in true lesbian fashion, to stay on as my favorite abiding and loyal friend and that one who I don’t remember much about except how good she looked in those work-worn Levi’s every time she left. I always remember her leaving, which, as it turns out, is probably how the memory should go. I Hate to See You Leaving, But I Love to Watch You Go. All of those connections, like the city, are still easy in these ways to love. And with San Francisco, my favorite metropolis so far in which to live, I look forward to seeing her again, I know the exact angle of the sun going down on the bay in the Spring when I walk myself to a day game on a Wednesday clad in black and orange. I know the way the light starts to shimmy like a gown at the Oscars and the remainders of the old wood docks jut up out of the water right through the sequins. I know the way North Beach smells and which blocks off of Market used the sparkly concrete on the sidewalks so when you run over it, it hurts a little bit less at 8 miles. I love that city. But I am no longer right for city life itself and it really wore me the fuck down.

We moved to a town with a population of 711. There is no post office. No traffic light. Not one state route passes through the whole dang thing. No store and, well, no baseball stadium. But in this town, you can watch the bats come out when the sun trades places with the moon at dusk, the sky turns pink, then violet, then lazes its way to navy and finally black. It’s so dark, you look up and it’s like somebody powdered the canopy of night with sugar. A car rolls by maybe every 45 minutes. Maybe. We take the trash to the dump because no one comes to get it and the old dog can lumber around the back with me and no leash. He seems mad we waited until he was 15 to tote him out to paradise, but when the Spring comes, he won’t be mad about anything at all.

Plus, Elizabeth Warren is my Senator.
FUCK, YES to that.

I unpacked like a marine. Up before five and I just kept going until it was done. I always feel weird if the boxes are around. Since I left my home at 17 for college, I have changed domiciles 19 times. I have some ideas about what works for me. And the thing I have always known, is the kitchen comes first. Even before I really gave a shit about how I ate, something about the kitchen had to settle first. It’s where I always feel closest to some kind of connection to my foremothers. I’m not exactly sure why because Gramma Eva I don’t remember cooking very much and Nanny Bert cooked, but never seemed to love it. She loved to smoke these Parliament lights at the breakfast table with the glass top over a bagel and coffee. By the time I was six and old enough to get shipped to Jewish Grandparent Utopia on the gulf coast of Florida, she mostly seemed like she was waiting for the sun to drop from the hot sky so she could pour the Sapphire gin into a rough tumbler, squeeze in a lime, splash out some tonic and listen to the ice clink around as if Bach was conducting.

I remember my mother as a wonderful cook, but she always says I’m wrong. Meh, she says. But no matter what, we all ate together. All five of us. Every night there was a feast on the table for 5 effing people. That seems like such a feat to me when I think about it today. Keeping a house for a family, stitching them all together with brisket and clean laundry and floors so spotless, you might as well eat off of them. I remember this insane shiny wallpaper we had in the kitchen in Pittsburgh with massive cartoony flowers all on it and my mom tan from tennis, pushing her hair back from her forehead with the back of her wrist while she diced things. Something about my mom in the kitchen is the crux of what makes me feel, well, powerful.

I know. I’m as surprised about it as you are.

But that’s how it turned out. Nothing makes me feel more kick ass than inviting over a handful of favorite people and fanning out a spread of divine tastes for everyone. The more food restrictions, the better. I love a puzzle. I’ll try anything new. I like to listen to Sam Cooke, Aretha, Ray Charles and Leonard Cohen. I like cello when I cook or the sounds of a Giants game with Jon Miller calling it. I like them better when we win, but, fuck it, I’ll take any of it. And I will cook my ass off.

Anyhow, all of that to tell you, we had our first handful of incredible people over last week. In honor of our vegetarian, there was a salad, a mujadara, and a chana masala based on the Gingered Chickpeas recipe from the wonderful book 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer. I wanted something warming and cozy and this recipe was perfect. It also happens to be good for vegetarians, vegans, plus the wheat and gluten challenged. I served it over brown basmati rice. I’m sharing my variation with you here.

 

Welcome Home Chana Masala

1 Large tomato. (if you don’t have one, use a small can of diced)
1 small red onion, chopped
8 lengthwise slices of peeled ginger (each 2 in. long, 1 in. wide and
1/8 in. thick) Chop 4 of the pieces coarsely, and chop 4 into matchsticks.
1 dried serrano pepper, soaked in 3/4c water, liquid reserved
8 cloves of chopped garlic
1T coriander seeds
1T cumin seeds
1 cinnamon stick
2T sunflower oil
2t hot paprika
1t turmeric
1/2c chopped fresh cilantro
3 cups cooked chickpeas (I cooked mine the day before with an onion)
1t garam masala
1t sea salt
1c vegetable broth
Juice of one lime. I like a big fat lime, myself.
First get your dried pepper in warm water to soak and get all puffy. While that happens, you can put your basmati rice on to cook. When the pepper is all puffy again, put it in a blender with its attending water, the tomato, onion, chopped ginger (not the matchsticks), half the garlic, coriander, cumin, salt and the cinnamon stick, busted up. Puree it all together and you should get a speckled dark red sauce.

After that, heat the sunflower oil in a pan and put in the ginger sticks. Let it sizzle for about 30 seconds and then add the rest of the garlic. Cook for another minute. Everything should turn light brown. When that happens, pour in the sauce from the blender. Bring the mixture to a boil. Add the paprika, turmeric and 1/4c of the cilantro. Let the sauce come to a simmer again and sit for 5-10 minutes.

Now you get to add your chickpeas and a cup of vegetable broth (or water). Bring the whole shebang to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, covered, and go stir it once in a while. Cook for about a half hour. The sauce should thicken and the chickpeas will get good and soft.

Now stir in the garam masala and the lime juice. Serve over rice with the remaining fresh cilantro used to garnish each bowl.

Welcome home.

 

My Favorite Cookbooks, Part 2

I have 8 cookbooks sitting in my virtual shopping cart right now and I’m sitting on my hands. I don’t know if I told you here, but I’m relocating with my business, myself, my dog, and my handsome butch to western Massachusetts in February so adding heavy (beautiful) cookbooks to my collection at this time isn’t going to work. Shopping for them works, though, and I’ll tell you what I discovered: although I have a pension for always wanting more of them, I still believe you can do wonderful things in a kitchen with a skillet, an oven pan, a sauce pan, a soup pot and one little cookbook. You may love fancy gadgets, but you don’t NEED them to succeed with your food. Just like I LOVE collecting cookbooks, but really, you can just begin with one. And don’t forget your local library! Take them out and audition a few before purchasing. That shit is FREE. So in chorus with this sentiment, I am continuing on with Part 2 of my favorites list for your enjoyment. I’ll begin with my personal bible which I’ve spoken of maybe, like, a billion times.

6. The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters – I know you’re sick of hearing about this book from me by now but what can I say? It continues to bat 1000 from the plate. Since reading it, I have never again purchased salad dressing, mayonnaise or creme fraiche. I have a completely grounded understanding abut how to build my personal pantry of foods for the way I like to cook making whipping things up so much easier. The book not only taught me how to cook things but it helped me feel empowered to cook things. Ms. Waters clearly loves food and she has a more refines taster than I do, but she gives me a sense that as I move along, I too will develop into a person that detects the subtle taste and texture differences in the way a shallot might work vs. a red onion. Or why a lady might choose which oil to drizzle on a soup. Her care and yet simplicity is a combination I come back to over and over because it provides me with a kind of faith I can build in myself as a person who uses food to nurture my life and cooking to arrive as a place or creative expression. Plus, it’s a beautiful book, which I’m a sucker for every time.

7. Tender by Nigel SlaterSpeaking of beautiful books, I almost cried when this thing arrived on my doorstep. I’d been fondling it lovingly at one of the best places in America, Omnivore Books, and then while I was on vacation one time, I just couldn’t hold off and bought the thing online. British food writer Nigel Slater invites you into his garden and talks not just of cooking but of growing the food you cook and what it likes to do. Like Bryant Terry’s Inspired Vegan, this is also a tremendously personal offering. Mr. Slater is a wonderful writer and his attention to detail is actually emotional.When you sit down with him in his vegetable patch you feel encouraged to not only cook, but to go ahead and make a mess on your way. He’s all about the process of food, how things take attempt before they find their pinnacle and the pinnacle isn’t so much the point, but the journey there.The way he writes about pod peas made me want to kind of date them.

8. The Sprouted Kitchen by Sara Forte and photographed by Hugh Forte - This is a whole foods book built around vegetables. Sure there’s a scallop here and there plus plenty of desserts, but the heart of the book is about vegetables and Ms. Forte clearly loves them. Her experience on the organic farm comes through in bright recipes that take beauty into account as an intrinsic part of the enjoyment of food alongside the taste. The photographs by her husband Hugh are fantastic and she makes it easy to go along with her. This is a fantastic place to start for beginner cooks or people who’ve felt intimidated in the kitchen. The introduction sets the scene, demystifies technique and invites you along for a gorgeous ride. The food is robust and healthy with fantastic pangs of flavor that punch each seasonal note. I think the beauty of this book as an object is a reflection of how this couple came together for the project. Something about their collaboration comes through and serves not just the recipes, but the readers beholding them as well.

9. The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen by Peter BerleyI got this book a few years back when I embarked on my first cleanse. I picked it in a haphazard way just because it had a fat gold James Beard Award medal on the front. I didn’t know Mr. Berley’s background as either the former chef of Angelica Kitchen in NYC or as a cooking teacher of many years. But his way with writing is telling of his teacher’s background. He speaks to both beginners and experienced cook at once somehow using his knowledge of technique and his experience to encourage his readers. It’s a really supportive book. It’s surprising to me I went with a book that’s got black and white photographs of food as I’m usually so easily seduced by the pictures in books, but this one was perfect for me. I found his work with whole grains in particular incredibly useful and come back to that over and over. Plus the drawings are wonderful.

10. Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson - I’ve been reading Ms. Swanson’s blog, 101 Cookbooks forever. It’s been one of the best free resources my kitchen has ever had. I have to say, it’s maybe a little alienating to me in this way that has to do with money and what my friend Silas likes to call The Sheen of the Well-Off, and some days I can’t quite rise to the task of peeking in at what appears to be a perfect photograph of perfect food arranged in a perfect dish in a perfect kitchen in a perfect life. Now I’m not proud to say that reveals much more about me than it does about Ms. Swanson, but I like to level with you all. But I’ll tell you what, this lady knows her way around a vegetable. I have never made a recipe from this book I didn’t love. And I use it all the time. She makes food with great flavor, has no fear of richness, and takes you around the globe with her inspirations. (This is because she is often traveling around the globe.) This is her second book and it’s been out for a bit. Her first is just as lovely. In fact, most of the authors in Parts 1 & 2 have numerous books to check out so don’t be shy.

There you have it…. My top ten. I bet if I did it again in a month there would be some moving around, but I feel great about these.

 

My Favorite Cookbooks, Part 1

Some people might call it a problem. I call it a library. I know that there are so many cooking sites to visit online. The recipes are solid, they’re free, and you don’t have to pack them into boxes and lug them across the country when you move. (We’re MOVING in February!) But I’ll never get over books. I like the way the matte pages feel, I like the feel of flipping a page over, and with cookbooks, I love the photographs. I really feel wild about a good cookbook. People ask me all the time what my favorites are. I’m making a list my my ten more consulted here. I love many others, but this is part 1 of core group that I return to over and over. One of them is new and is an instant classic that I am currently in a deep love affair with. Since these are in no particular order, let’s start there:

1. Vegetable Literacy by Deborah MadisonThis book is the kind of book I always found myself looking for and could never find. But now here it is. Part encyclopedia, part cookbook, this volume tells you everything you might want to know about things that grow and then we eat them. She tells you how things grow and where, what kinds of nutrients they have to offer, how they like to be cooked and what they go well with. She tells you how to store things, what to look for when you shop. I read this thing like a novel, from cover to cover. The recipes range from incredibly simple to simple, but with some labor. Nothing is difficult and all her combinations that I’ve tried tend to sing. Her Red Lentil and Coconut Soup with Black Rice, Turmeric and Greens is one of the best soups ever. I could eat that jazz every day.

2. Clean Food by Terry Walters This book is the perfect introduction to clean cooking and eating. Ms. Walters has organized it by seasons. For people who are new in the kitchen, this is so helpful because the recipes match up with what looks good in the market. As you get accustomed to shopping and cooking, eventually your body will acclimate to its natural yens rather than feel confused by the general processed food that we often eat in the Standard American Diet. In addition to supporting beginning cooks and cooks new to this kind of cooking, Ms. Walters gives a great variety of choices for each season including desserts. Her sweet choices are always made with alternative flours and sweeteners making her recipes much easier on the system without skimping on flavor. She tends toward very simple preparations with pops of satisfying flavor.

3. A Year in my Kitchen by Skye Gyngell I would like to spend a year in her kitchen, too. This is one of my very favorite books for flavor. Ms Gyngell is from London so sometimes there are ingredients I can’t find in San Francisco, but WHO CARES?!? This is a woman who cooks like a painter. The flavors in each recipe hit all parts of the tongue and her preferences tend toward explosive color. She begins this book with her version of a toolbox, or what she believes are the staples a cook should have in their kitchens at all times. She talks about how flavors work together, what different components come together to work in shaping a taste experience, plus the book is gorgeous. It’s a small little thing with soft matte pages and dreamy photographs that make you want to follow all her directions to a tee. Her roasted tomatoes changed my life, even without the sugar, not to mention her pickled pear relish and her chilled almond soup.

4. Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi This might be one of the most elegant vegetarian (not vegan) cookbooks in existence. The work in this book is so varied and covers so many different styles of cooking that it feels as much like a travel log as it feels like a cookbook. It’s downright romantic the thing is so gorgeous. The recipes range from simple to all day prep affairs. Some of these recipes will make their way into your No Big Deal catagory without even batting an eye, whereas others may stay on your When Company Comes list for a year or more. But even when the meals look over the top, they are so much fun to read and look at, that the very act of perusing them will ignite your creative kitchen fire. The Cardamom Rice with Poached Eggs and Yogurt just slays me and I’m not mad about the Cucumber Salad with Smashed Garlic and Ginger either.

5. The Inspired Vegan by Bryant Terry Bryant Terry designs the meal for you. Each recipe comes with a drink and damn soundtrack. Mr. Terry made this book so that each turn of a meal is designed around an entire experience, born from the inspiration of jazz and hip hop. I love this book for its intimate invitation to hang out with your chef. You get stories, you get a radical kind of politic, you’ll find yourself jamming out to his ideas about sustainable food cultures and social movements. This book is so much more than a standard cookbook experience and his success with it is deeply moving. Not many chefs offer you justice and compassion with their entrees but for Mr. Terry, his ethic about life is not separate from his cooking. He understands that food is a right and healthy food is a gorgeous experience that supports artistic, beautiful and creative living for all people. Cooking from this book, for me, has been not only a creative and fun experience, but each time, it feels like an honor to connect with Mr. Terry’s world. Plus the sweet potato curry is fabulous.

 

Cookbook Fiend: Episode 1

I love books. I love the feel of a matte cover, the heft of a hardback and the class of a hand-bound letterpress number. I love the feeling of my eyes skimming, my fingers running down a color plate of an image and knowing the weight in my backpack is a private metropolis of nirvana. I love books the way DJs love vinyl, the way photographers love a Holga, the way poets cling to their typewriters. While I understand the incredible convenience of digital technology, the ability to bring a billion books on vacation in one snappy device, I still continue to accumulate tomes in paper, mostly used so not feeling TOO bad about the trees. I like to hold them. And I like to cook from them. People have asked me a lot what my favorites are and since it is impossible to list them all at once, I am going to take a cue from one of my favorites, Heidi Swanson, and tell you few in my list every coupla weeks or something. Let’s start with two indispensable ones.

1. The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters This book is irreplaceable in my kitchen. I love it the way I love seeing an old friend. Time never passed, everything feels always confortable. The book itself is beautiful with its fat red cloth spine and Patricia Curtan’s elegant illustrations, so it’s a pleasure to pull it out and crack it open over and over. With easy to learn ideas about everything from stocking your kitchen to create a system to pairing flavors, Ms. Waters’ passion for the simplicity of food the way it really is changed everything about how I approached the kitchen. She really helped me change it from a heavy industrial chore reserved only for undertakings of parties or company to a simple act of creativity to support not only my health but also art. That word isn’t in the title by accident. The dishes turn out colorful, vibrant and gorgeous and her passion for the respect of natural cooking only enhances the information she passes on with this iconic work. I would tote it to my island.


2. super natural every day by Heidi Swanson
As readers of this page you already know I am CONSTANTLY being inspired by Ms. Swanson. Not only is she a wonderful cook and a beautiful photographer, but she is incredibly generous with her talent. Her blog, 101 Cookbooks, has HUNDREDS of free gorgeous recipe offerings with the same sublime work as her books. Every recipe I’ve tried from her works out just fine, her instructions are clear and easy and her ideas for endless alternatives to continue to transform the same recipes over and over support my idea that we just never have to get bored with food. Never. Her work is vegetarian with some vegan options but frankly, even as a person who still occasionally eats meat, I find that’s not the point. The point is the taste and the beauty in the work. This book gives you a sense that you can fix yourself a bowl of steel cut oats so uncommonly lovely that your whole day will feel like a few minutes at a quiet table, maybe penning a letter to an old friend while a bird sings a city song with traffic outside and only the fresh air reaches you and your pretty pen. 

I’ll be back with more later, but these two are so dog-eared and well-loved, I thought they’d be a good place to start. Now, I’m off to roast a portobello cap.