Tuesday, October 30, 2012

chocolate as protection

Some people remember what they wore or what was said. I remember what I ate.

This was perfectly illustrated in an exchange with my dear A:

Me: I remember Hurricane Floyd vividly. My dad was at work, and came home with these chocolate chip muffins that I used to love because they were never too dry and always had a high chocolate to muffin batter ratio. It was so cool that regular work was suspended and we ate those muffins.

A: Wasn't that the hurricane when you broke your wrist?

Oh yes. That's right. I broke my wrist during that hurricane. I remember that too, very clearly, but it was the muffins that popped in to my mind first.

Storms have a way of focusing on the essentials: the isolation of a hurricane or blizzard sends everyone panicked and running for the store, preparing with favorite foods to hunker down and stay strong. Maybe the excitement of the out-of-the-ordinary event provokes a strong sensory and taste memory as well.

Huddled against the wind and the rain, the primal storm evokes a primal desire for warmth and comfort, and what better way to provide that comfort then filling the house with the scent of cooking? Comfort comes in different flavors, dependent, I think on both your upbringing and your own food cravings, but  as all comfort food cooks, the smell wafts and weaves a snug and warm protection against the cold rain.

My comfort food over these past days involved potatoes, roast chicken, goat cheese, kale, purple cauliflower, and lots of bread.  But the best addition to shopping list and my strongest protection against Sandy? Chocolate. Hurricanes may come and go, but chocolate is still a powerful way to weather the storm.

What foods protected you through Hurricane Sandy? Leave me a note below!

Monday, October 22, 2012

you can't make omelets without cracking eggs

I love eggs. Scrambled, sunny-side-up, omelet, frittata, you name it, I can cook it and eat it with grace and aplomb. My cooking technique, however, is not so much technique as lots of experimentation in an all-embracing conglomeration of styles and cuisines. Which makes it a funny melange of delight and frustration when I try a new-to-me but old-to-seasoned-cooks method of making an omelet - the "rolling omelet" technique as described by Julia Child - and find out that yes, there IS a better way to make an omelet, and it kicks butt. When I read about the style, I started laughing - a vigorous north-south shaking of ones omelet pan until the omelet is evenly and mostly cooked, shut off the heat, and the omelet is done.  Farcical, really. Until I tried it. And got the most beautiful looking omelet I have ever created. Taste was excellent too; a uniform, fluffy layer of eggs without any sticky bits on the pan or my spatula.

Look at the edge and flip of the omelet... oh YUM.

And so, I share my new-old technique with you: my words, but Julia's presence and expertise in every action.

Cream or Milk
Herbs (optional: for garnish)
Cheese (optional)


1. Beat the eggs in a bowl. Once they're mixed, add a dollop of cream, pinch of salt, and swirl them in.

2. Heat butter over medium-high heat in a saute pan. When the butter is melted and starts bubbling at the edges, roll the butter around the bottom of the pan to coat it completely.

3. Pour in the egg mixture. Now, let's make Julia's omelet-perfect hand gesture: give me the "thumbs-up" sign, then lay your thumb flat over the handle of your pan - your fist should be below the handle, thumb above.  Start moving the omelet pan in a "north-south" direction over the heat.  The egg mixture is going to roll laughably along, until all of the sudden, the eggs start to coalesce from liquid to solid form.  ** If you're going to add cheese or other filling, now is the time!

4. When there is still a little bit of eggy jiggle, shut off the heat, hold your omelet pan at a 45 degree angle, and let the omelet come together for two to three seconds in the low section of the pan.

5. Slide your eggs on to a plate, garnish, and serve.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

an apple a day

Apples are not just fruit.  A predominant literary and cultural symbol, apples span the distance from science to the bible, Newton to Eve, both times a conduit for human knowledge. Greek myths of Paris and Atalanta feature tempting apples, as American myths of Johnny Appleseed abound. They are also a symbol of the harvest, a late summer taste of sweetness to hold you close for the coming winter, and of health, keeping the doctors at bay when consumed daily.  The apple is on a pedestal across genres.

And picking the all-mighty apple becomes the quintessential autumn escape to paradise: fresh air, open spaces, green things, idyllic pastures, even a gentle doe at the farm, not to mention the green and red fruit itself.

Walking back to the rows and rows of apple trees, pulling a red wagon and wrapping myself against the cold, damp day, I started smiling. It's just so cool, picking an apple off a tree. And in that very "coolness" comes an essential element of eating: the aspect of seeing the origins of our food. There is nothing quite so visceral as reaching into the leaves, emerging with an apple, and taking a giant, tart bite. It feels primitive, good, and for some of us urbanites, is the closest we get to nature for a while.

Nature is not necessarily present in the grocery store, the most common purveyor of our foodstuffs. Grocery stores are awesome, bountiful places. Meat, cheese, produce, eggs, dairy, baked goods, canned goods, dry goods - the plethora of choices and food stuffs is overwhelming and delighting. It is, however, hard to distinguish where an apple comes from if it is shrink wrapped in a bag next to 5 or 6 other apples. It's hard to smell an apple's scent after it's been refrigerated and transported over a few days, hard to see the leaves and branches that produced the fruit. And the connection to the food itself is diminished by the ready availability of whatever we want, whenever we want, regardless of seasonality. The very specialness of understanding the origins of our food doesn't exist when the path is hidden from view.

So maybe this explains the ever expanding zeal for farming. A quest to reconnect to what we eat, and what our senses require for sustenance. It's empowering and awe-inspiring to see a tree at work, even though it's been doing the same exact thing for thousands of years, germinating, blossoming, and being fruitful.