Thursday, December 3, 2009

Nigella Lawson

If you like food, but don't know Nigella Lawson, you ought to catch her on Food Network or YouTube.

If you don’t like food, you can still learn a lot from Nigella.

I love her.  Not just for her British accent, striking face, or easy, delicious recipes.  I love her because she is unapologetically, fully-blown herself.  Same reason I admire Kendra from Girls Next Door, but that is a different story and a completely different person.

Nigella Lawson stomps around the kitchen, hastily chopping herbs, slamming down bottles, and shoving things in the oven in a hurry.  But it isn’t because she has to force a meal that takes two hours to prepare into a 30-minute time slot.  It is because she naturally moves this way and prefers to cook this way.  And she prefers it because she’s that good at it.  Daintily chopping the onions and sprinkling them slowly into the sauté pan would be as painful for her as swimming alongside me would be for an Olympic swimmer.  In contrast, Giada de Laurentis naturally makes stirring chocolate look like ballet.  And Ina Garten makes a conscious effort to toss the potatoes and carrots together gracefully, but really she wants to dig in and toss the hell out of those veggies in two seconds flat.  I love Ina’s recipes but watching the tension in her face makes me a little uncomfortable.  Nigella is messy, clumsy, and best of all, uninhibited.

And glutinous.  Who among us has not at some point wanted to shove the whole slice of chocolate cake into his mouth as quickly as possible?  We won’t do it though, because the natural instinct to get something so delicious into our bellies as soon as possible is a sin.  Well, watch Nigella Lawson and be liberated.  On national television, she crams carbs into her mouth and displays no shame whatsoever.  We respect her for it.

And she loves language.  Her language is the literary sort, creative and witty and alluding to literature and devoid of all that jargon and cliché buzz words.  She indulges her impatience, her appetite, and now the original phrases that pop into her head at just the appropriate – or better yet inappropriate – time.

She basically just indulges herself.  So we see the real her.  And if we find that refreshing, we might consider indulging our true selves as well.  If we could be so brave.

Monday, November 30, 2009


I’ve thought about it, and my most prized possessions are my two younger sisters.  And the things that come along with them, like my brother-in-law Zach, whose laid back nature has the power to immediately diffuse any anxiety in the room, and my eight-month old niece Abby, who puts life in perspective every time I see her.

I’m also a huge fan of homemade stock, which is so delicious I could drink it plain; there is just no comparison between it and store-bought broth.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Perfect Brownie

My roommate is a pastry chef, and her bakery is known for its enormous dark and milk chocolate brownie squares.  She gave me the recipe.  I've since made these brownies several times.  It's rare that I care to make the same dish over and over again when there are so many new and interesting recipes to try.  But I have a fascination with this brownie recipe.

The recipe takes the elements that make a brownie a brownie, as opposed to a cake or a cookie or fudge, and exaggerates them.  No - the recipe hones in on the crucial essentiality of the brownie, and pays homage to it with a definitive, simplistic product.  You could put this brownie on a tray in a museum under a glass case with a plaque bearing the engraved title "Brownie."

While some brownies lean towards cakey or fudgy, this one owns its core being: that chewy, dense, heavy, moist, bordering on grainy texture.  Nothing more and nothing less.  Also, the color is opaque throughout; no variation in the form of a lighter chocolate chip or a peanut butter swirl or a tan fudge icing breaks the consistent, permeating darkness.

Made with dark chocolate cocoa powder, the brownie is almost black.  It's a beautiful thing, placed on a stark white plate with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a sprig of green mint (which I haven't actually done but wouldn't it be pretty?).

Friday, November 20, 2009

you aren't being original by ignoring the rules of capitalization

e.e. cummings came up with it first, back in 1923.  Please refer to my very first post on this blog, if you want to know why you are positioning yourself not as original, contemporary, daring, or defiant, but in fact the opposite, when you use all lowercase letters in your company name, tagline, or literature.  You have not drawn inspiration from e.e. cummings to form your own unique means of expressing your brand.  You have not anticipated a shifting of cultural trends and responded accordingly.  You have done what the trailer curtain manufacturers did to the French country decorating theme, in fact worse, because you sought to exploit a dusty river bed in the landscape of Expression Through Font Aesthetics.  I purposefully made that analogy stupid in protest of your creative deficit.

We get it.  You're fun, informal, friendly.  Look at you bending the rules!  But next time, consider the power of subtlety.  Imply your modernity.  Then, you will be.

Salad is for Lunch

Part One

Salad is best consumed for lunch.  Make sure you heap your plate high with lightly dressed if dressed at all (trust me, you get used to this so quickly) spinach or arugula or romaine.  Add as many fruits and veggies as you want.  Hell, you can even top it with a scoop of macaroni and cheese if you want, now that you have the important leafy base, the one that's going to fill you up without putting you to sleep afterward. Lay off the cheese, nuts, and croutons, please.  Toppings are clever little things that fool you into thinking you're being calorie-frugal when really you may as well eat a snickers bar if you're going to pelt your salad with goat cheese, pine nuts, and sesame sticks.  At least macaroni and cheese doesn't pretend to be lowfat.  Finally, make sure you add some lean protein.  Otherwise you're going to starve.

Part Two

Salad does not belong at a dinner party.  I say this, having made dozens of salads for dozens of dinner parties.  They're pretty, they add color, and they're a light vegetarian accompaniment to heavier dishes. But now it occurs to me that while I love a salad for lunch, I never, ever enjoy eating salad for dinner.  When I eat a salad for dinner, I am going through the motions, putting forkfuls in my mouth without any real enjoyment.  So from now on, I am not going to subject my dinner guests to salad.  Instead I'm going to get right to the point with the stuff people actually want to eat.  No one will have to clear the obligatory salad plate before getting to the hot stuff, ever again, not while I'm in charge.

And below, a salad which does little to illustrate my point.  I've actually made it several times before and it's one of my favorites.  Mine doesn't look like that though.  Hmm.  Anyway, here's the recipe.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Eat Pray Blah

Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love is a mediocre imitation of Erica Jong's groundbreaking Fear of Flying.  The latter, written in 1973, is perfectly relevant today.  The former does too much telling and not enough showing.  Kind of like what I'm doing right now.  Good-bye.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Six-Pack Every Day

People are addicted to diet soda, those made by one of the two largest soft drink companies in the world.  They're drinking like 6 to 12 diet colas every day.  And, they're in denial about the oddity of this obsession.  What other beverage can you name - besides water or beer (and then, only in the case of an alcoholic) - that can physically be consumed in such large quantities on a daily basis?  I've asked people for their opinions.  The diet cola drinkers get almost defensive and refuse to consider the question.  The non/more moderate diet cola drinkers shrug and suggest maybe the low calorie aspect.  As if drinking diet cola is similar to drinking water and that's why people are able to consume so much of it.  I can't figure it out.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Goodbye Gourmet

The magazine Gourmet, founded in 1941, container of great writing, transcendent (versus trendy) recipes, and food beyond food, meaning the politics and implications of food, folded.   :-(

Luckily we can still get those recipes on Gourmet's sister site Epicurious.  But now who is going to help us understand what food really means?

Maybe food today means that Gourmet can't survive.  And so if that is true, then Gourmet is still speaking to us, and maybe it will come back one day under the same or a different name.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

What Do I Think About This?

Commercial Breakers from Douglas Haddow on Vimeo.

I haven't decided yet, so even though someone showed me this clip a month ago, I have hesitated to post it.  But then again - A) No one is reading this blog and B) Maybe I don't have to say anything about it except it's interesting.

I know what I think about this.  And I know why I was struggling with whether or not to post it (yes, I can turn even seemingly simple decisions into something that requires months of consideration).  The truth is, I love Nike and Coke and all of those things.  So I guess I'm sort of the person in the video.  Oh well, I never claimed to be anything more than a product of society.  Very few people escape that, not even the people they write about in history books.  In fact, I could argue that those people actually represent society; they are the chosen symbols of their time.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

This I Believe

I believe in the difference between art and not-art. I walk down the street, into a bookstore, out of a restaurant, mentally accepting or rejecting every house – is it carefully crafted or cookie-cutter? – novel – the best-sellers aren’t usually the ones that change my life – culinary creation – a hamburger can be so thoughtful, while the linguini pasta with shitake mushrooms, tomato confit and ginger broth sometimes tries so hard but… can’t.

I was born with this propensity to toss my every encounter into the art or not-art pile, though my categories aren’t as black and white as you might think. For example, the boneless buffalo wings at Applebee’s are frozen hunks of processed fat and sodium, yet they never claimed to be anything else, and so they are art in that they are perfect at being just what they were intended. Thus, whoever says art is pretentious is mistaken. Art is by definition unpretentious.

I don’t know how to tell you exactly what makes a thing art or not-art. I just know, when I see a thing, which it is. Art is a leader, and while it evolves from its predecessors and draws inspiration from tiny moments – like a gum wrapper blowing across a deserted parking lot, or a construction worker zipping up his toddler’s winter coat, it must be original, or else it isn’t art. By the time the French Country decorating trend reached the manufactured trailer homes, it had long, long ago stopped being art. Red toile curtains, for example, are one of the most extreme current examples of not-art, because not-art actually derives from exploited art. In this way, artists are the visionaries who unwillingly determine what sort of not-art you will consume.

I seek out artists. I want to leave the salon with a piece of the person who touched my hair. My accountant, if I had one, would be an artist, fully engaged in the process of minimizing my taxes.

Art is functional. If it isn’t functional, it is not-art. A white hand towel that gets used, tossed in the laundry, washed, and hung back neatly on the bathroom rack is art. The matching seashell print hand towels, which go with the nautical theme and are not intended for use, are not-art. The artist’s painting evokes its intended emotion when I stand before it; it is art. Mass-produced and hung to fill a space, it’s not-art, and you can find it at Target.

The truth is, I’m afraid of not-art. Because not-art is like a band-aid, hiding a deep wound. It is the latest big-screen TV, the Miley Cyrus pop song, the prostitute, the line of cocaine. We consume not-art for its illusion of happiness, but it will be gone tomorrow. In contrast, art – like rocking my sister’s new baby girl, or a rocking chair worn by time – sustains me. Art is real.

I’ve built my life around my belief in art and not-art, yet I can’t tell you why I see the world in this way. Why the view from a dilapidated porch can be so much more beautiful than the manicured lawn unfolding before a million-dollar mansion – or vice versa. It just can be. This I believe.