Obviously, Wendy’s Word has been on a long hiatus. Perhaps a permanent hiatus although I’m not promising. If you’ve missed reading Wendy’s Word, here’s a shameless plug for my new blog, Good Enough Life Coach. I’d love for you to check it out!
Julia Had It Right February 3, 2012
That Julia Child really knew what she was talking about.
I love Julia Child. I love that she cooks high quality, gourmet food without an ounce of pretentiousness. She believed in good food and making cooking accessible to everyone. Amen. But although I revere Julia Child, I don’t often use her recipes anymore. I find them too complicated, taking three steps to do something that I would do in one. So when my daughter told me she was making Julia Child’s garlic mashed potatoes for a semester-end project for her culinary arts class, I had mixed feelings.
If I were making garlic mashed potatoes, I would roast the garlic in some foil, make the mashed potatoes and then squeeze the roasted garlic into the potatoes and mix it all together. Julia said to braise the garlic in butter and then simmer in cream and puree. This involves peeling all the garlic cloves before you braise, obviously, which seems like way more work than roasting the garlic in the skin. My version of mashed potatoes involves a masher — which doesn’t give you smooth potatoes, but it’s good enough for me. Julia prefers a ricer.
Since this was for a school project for a teacher who idolizes Julia Child, my daughter stuck to the recipe. We don’t have a ricer, but we do have a food mill which gives the same outcome. It so happens that I bought this food mill specifically for mashed potatoes I was making for a dinner party. They may even have been garlic mashed potatoes. She did the garlic braising and pureeing thing, put the potatoes in the food mill, added the garlic mixture to the mashed potatoes, added some warm butter and cream, salt and white pepper, and voila — garlic mashed potatoes. I have to admit, they were fantastic. The flavor of garlic, butter, cream, and potatoes with the smooth texture was terrific. Maybe a little much for a weeknight dinner, but definitely worth the effort for a dinner party or weekend dinner.
I’m sorry that I doubted you, Julia.
The Kogi Truck September 7, 2011
I don’t know if the Kogi truck was the first food truck in LA, but it was certainly the first one that I heard about that had people following it on Twitter and waiting in line for two hours for a Korean barbecue taco. I was intrigued but not intrigued enough to hunt down the truck and wait in a two-hour line. So imagine my thrill when I found the Kogi truck parked in front of my house!
Actually it was parked in front of my neighbors’ house. I went to investigate, but the truck workers either ignored me, didn’t speak English, or pretended not to speak English when I tried to question them. To their great relief, my neighbors came out and explained that they were having a party that evening and the Kogi truck was catering, and would we like some tickets so we could enjoy Kogi fare too? Yes, we would!
Was the food as good as the hype? I thought so. I ordered the tacos – one short rib and one spicy pork. Both were delicious — intensely flavorful. The meat was juicy and highly spiced. It didn’t occur to me that I was eating Korean bbq in a taco until I remembered later that the Kogi truck was a fusion truck. My tacos didn’t taste Mexican, they didn’t taste Korean — the whole was better than the sum of its parts. My daughter had a tofu burrito — large chunks of soft tofu in a spicy marinade with cabbage. I also tasted the sliders — not a patty, but chunks of spicy pork (the same that they use for tacos and burritos) with sesame mayo, cheese and cabbage slaw on a small bun with a shiny top. The last thing I would have ordered was a quesadilla, since that’s our dinner of last resort at home, until someone mentioned that Kogi’s “blackjack quesadilla” was written up in Food and Wine. Game on. I had to taste it. It was fantastic. A flour tortilla was filled with caramelized onions, spicy pork, and two kinds of cheese, and topped with a salsa verde. And it was huge.
Everything was so good, I don’t know what I’d choose next time I encounter the truck. Would I travel across town and wait in line for two hours for it? I don’t know if I’d do that for anything, no matter how good. But if the Kogi truck ever pulls up near your house, it pays to be a nosy neighbor!
Wendy’s Word Meets Open Culture September 6, 2011
Two great blogs together — Wendy’s Word and Open Culture. Will there be enough air in the room? Uh, yes. Wendy’s Word doesn’t require much air, and Open Culture, well let’s just say that Dan Colman, of the great Open Culture blog, is modest and doesn’t take up the air he deserves.
I jest about the two great blogs thing. But I really did spend part of a day with Dan Colman, and he is genuinely nice, talented, capable, indefatigable, and extremely modest. All of which gives me a good excuse to introduce you to his blog.
Open Culture is an incredibly informative blog. Every day, there’s at least one posting of a video clip or link on a vast array of subjects, including classic film, philosophy, art, science, and much more. For example, there was recently a 1970’s clip of the Velvet Underground singing Sweet Jane along with a current one of Lou Reed singing it with Metallica. There was also a clip about a graphic novel about Richard Feynman’s life. Such is the diversity of Open Culture.
But Open Culture’s raison d’etre is to provide readers with easy access to free educational content on the internet. There is an exhaustive (or should I say exhausting) list of free educational resources available on the web. Everything from college courses to foreign language podcasts to classic movies and literature available as free mp3’s. Classes or lectures are available from every school you never got accepted into for college — like Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Oxford, Columbia. Best of all, they’re free, and no pressure to get a good grade! Just the great lectures without the stress of schoolwork, finals, or tuition. Check out today’s posting.
I guarantee you will love Open Culture. One of my friends frequently forwards me postings he loves, and I have to remind him that I’m the one who introduced him to Open Culture in the first place!!
Books About Food September 4, 2011
Yes, I have read more books about food. I would hate to disappoint. Here’s the latest fare:
Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook, by Anthony Bourdain. Bourdain is always entertaining, and this book is no exception. It’s not as good as Kitchen Confidential or A Cook’s Tour, but I still enjoyed it. The book is a bit of an apologist for Kitchen Confidential, explaining that he was angry when he wrote it. No need for apologies — Kitchen Confidential was insanely funny and informative. It gave an insightful look at just how grueling restaurant work is. Medium Raw seems like Bourdain’s attempt to justify his selling out and becoming a celebrity chef (without the chef part, since he no longer has a restaurant) since he mocked celebrity chefs so mercilessly in Kitchen Confidential. Medium Raw goes over some of the same ground as A Cook’s Tour — eating around the world — but in less detail. If you’re only going to read one Bourdain book, I would not recommend Medium Raw, but I enjoyed getting his perspective now that he’s older and had different life experiences. And like the other books, Medium Raw is funny.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentices: A Season in the Kitchen at Ferran Adria’s El Bulli, by Lisa Abend. At first, I hated this book. Probably because I hated the idea of El Bulli. I love to cook and eat, but I don’t think food is “important.” I don’t think it should be taken that seriously, or manipulated so intently. But I got into the book, and I ended up liking it very much. The book follows several stagieres, or young chefs doing unpaid interships at the restaurant for the season. Reading about the stagieres’ backgrounds and motivations was interesting, but more interesting was their attitude about El Bulli. Some revered Ferran Adria, El Bulli’s chef, and wanted to continue making avant garde cuisine. But others disliked the drudgery and longed to cook, rather than making these high-concept creations that didn’t really involve actual cooking. The book gives you a sense of what it’s like to be a stagiere — the long, unpaid hours, the sacrifice to the stagieres’ personal life, the constant pressure to be perfect and to get noticed by Adria and his team, the pressure of not wanting to disappoint diners who have traveled to this remote part of Spain to eat the meal of their lives. After reading the book, I had little desire to eat at El Bulli. I’d rather not travel to another continent, brave a treacherous mountain road, and pay a fortune to be forced to eat rabbit tongue and other dubious creations. That’s just too much pressure for me.
Blood, Bones, and Butter: the Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, by Gabrielle Hamilton. I would have liked this book better if it wasn’t for Anthony Bourdain. His quote on the front cover said that it was “the best memoir by a chef ever. EVER.” Really? I’ve read alot of chef memoirs – and I mean a lot. You’ll see many titles listed if you look in this blog’s book index, and those are only the ones I’ve read since I started this blog — I’ve read many other before that. So I can confidently say that it was NOT the best memoir by a chef ever. However, it was pretty good. Hamilton had a tough childhood – her parents’ divorce bounced her around and ultimately left her living on her own too young. She got into drugs and drifted about — but always maintained a strong work ethic, so she was able to work and support herself throughout. And then there’s her crazy love life – she’s a lesbian but marries a man with whom she’s having a relationship but who also happens to need a green card. Although their marriage has problems, he provides her with the loving, effusive family she sometimes longs for.
Ultimately, she became the chef and owner of Prune restaurant in New York. I enjoyed reading about her rise and respect the fact that she is entirely self-made. She is also a good writer — she received a masters’ degree in writing along the way. But I found her unsympathetic and complaining at times, so I didn’t love the book as much as I probably should have — or at least as much as Anthony Bourdain thinks I should have.
Eggs for Dinner September 1, 2011
Sometimes, when I’m stuck on what to make for dinner or I have no groceries, I fall back on the old standby — eggs.
Eggs for dinner used to mean frittatas. I had a great recipe from Patricia Wells’ book, “Trattoria.” You don’t need a recipe to know what ingredients to use, but rather for the technique. Pretty much all frittata recipes have you start the eggs on the stove, add fillings (which have been cooked separately, although I sometimes cheat and cook the filling, remove it to a plate, and cook the eggs in the same pan. I’m lazy that way.), and finish under the broiler, but Wells gets the timing just right. A trick I learned from Wells is to run a knife along the sides of the pan to loosen the frittata before putting it in the broiler.
I love frittatas, and so does the rest of my family. You get your protein and your veggies, and you can cook a frittata for four people in one pan. But lately, I’ve switched from frittatas to omelets. Frittatas do have their down side. They can be difficult to unmold, you have to cook them in a broiler-safe pan, and the pan is often difficult to wash. Omelets have none of these problems. The only problem with omelets is that you have to make them individually. But how delicious they can be!
This omelet is filled with sauteed mushrooms, green onion, and some fresh thyme. I also threw some fresh thyme in with the eggs, just to gild the lily. And cooked in butter, of course. It’s the butter that makes the omelet, in my opinion.
I haven’t thrown over frittatas for good. But the humble omelet is so satisfying.
Spring Reading May 22, 2011
The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery. Renee is a concierge of a hotel particuleur in Paris who hides her intellect in keeping with her social position. Paloma is a precocious 12-year-old who hides her intellect to fit in with other kids. That is, until a wealthy Japanese man moves into the building, discovers their secrets, and befriends them. This book is beautifully written, as the two misfits ponder the nature of beauty, language, wealth, and what’s really important in the world. The transition from solitary musing to sharing their thoughts with a kindred spirit is heartening.
Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life, by Kim Severson. I’m a sucker for food books. Kim Severson was a food writer for the San Francisco Chronicle and the New York Times. She writes about the eight women cooks who are her heroines and who got her through the hard times of alcoholism and figuring out who she was and what she wanted to do with her life. Some are famous – Ruth Reichl, Marcella Hazan, Alice Waters, Rachael Ray – and others are not. It’s fun to get the low-down on these revered chefs. But I also enjoyed reading Severson’s coming-of-age story about herself.
Comfort Me With Apples, by Ruth Reichl. I’ve completed the trilogy. Comfort Me With Apples is the second in Ruth Reichl’s trilogy of memoirs. The first, Tender at the Bone, is about her upbringing, coming of age as a person and a cook, and ends with her becoming a food writer. Comfort Me With Apples is about her transition from freelance food writer to esteemed restaurant critic, with a large dose of personal history about her marriage, fraught relationships with men including but not limited to her husband, and her desire for a child. The third, Garlic and Sapphires (reviewed on this blog), is about her experiences as restaurant critic of the New York Times. The fun about Comfort Me With Apples is Reichl’s encounters with young chefs whom we now know to be mega-famous, such as Wolfgang Puck, Mark Peel (owner of my favorite special occasion restaurant in LA), Alice Waters, Jonathan Waxman (whom I always see on Top Chef Masters). I love reading Ruth Reichl because she seems fearless — she’ll travel anywhere and eat anything.
Amsterdam, by Ian McEwan. Winner of the Booker Prize. Composer Clive Linley and editor Vernon Halliday are thrown together after the death of their common lover Molly Lane. They discover other lovers, namely Foreign Secretary Julian Garmony, who has a huge secret. When Halliday is tipped off to this secret, it causes a huge moral dilemma and the possible end of Clive and Vernon’s longtime close friendship. The ending seems dumb and arbitrary, although you can see it coming, but upon thinking about it later, perhaps the ending is farcical rather than dumb. It did win a Booker Prize, after all.
The Last Resort, by Allison Lurie. I enjoyed this very fast read, but it also made me mad. It’s about a well-known professor and naturalist who thinks he’s dying so plans to commit suicide. Meanwhile, his wife suspects something is wrong and makes plans for them to go to Key West for a few weeks. Characters get caught up in each others’ lives in a semi-soap opera-ish and comic way. The main character, the professor’s wife, is so bland that I care nothing about her, and I can’t see why any of the other characters care about her. She’s described as being totally devoted to her husband — her life’s work is helping him with his important work. Like Dorothea in Middlemarch, but much less interesting. Can she see that her husband is a pompous jerk and if so, does she regret devoting her life to him? We can’t tell. A little more effort in character development would have made this book much better.