Wendy’s Word

Not your mama’s blog….

Ode to My Le Creuset Pan May 22, 2010

Filed under: Food — wendy @ 9:48 pm
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It took me many years to finally buy a Le Creuset pan, but I’m glad I finally did.

Every holiday season, Marshall’s carries Le Creuset pans, called “second choix” which sounds so much nicer than “irregular.”  I always ogle them and think about buying one but reject the idea.  (It’s kind of scary that I’m so familiar with Marshall’s merchandise patterns, but there you have it.)  There were many good reasons to forgo buying a Le Creuset pan.  They’re heavy, especially when filled with food.  I had no space to store a large new pan.  And there’s nothing I could make in a Le Creuset pan that I couldn’t make in a roasting pan, a stock pot, or my slow cooker.  But for some reason, my resistance was down this year.  Must have been all those hours in my day job working on H1N1 virus – a treat seemed in order.  So when I mentioned to two colleagues that I was thinking of getting one and they both immediately told me that they had one and it was their favorite pan, I was decided.

Being a research nerd, deciding to buy the pan and actually buying it are two different things.  First, I had to decide what size would be best.  Then I had to research whether Staub is better than Le Creuset.  Then there was the choice of color.  I finally ended up with a lovely cobalt blue 5 1/2 quart dutch oven and I love it.

I use it for several types of dishes.  I roast chicken pieces with vegetables or dried fruit in it — the convenience being that I can brown the chicken on the stove and roast in the oven all in the same pot.  I have to admit that sometimes the pan gets a little too crowded, but it comes out well.  I love making soups or stews in it.  But perhaps my favorite is making baked pasta dishes in it, because I turn it into a one pot meal.  I boil water for the pasta in the Le Creuset pan and when the pasta’s draining, cook the sauce in the Le Creuset pan, mix it up, put some cheese or bread crumbs on top, and stick it in the oven.  Voila, one pot meal!  Not counting the colander for draining the pasta.

I also love cleaning the Le Creuset pan.  After roasting chicken, sometimes the sides will get completely black and I’m sure that the pan has been ruined.  “Honey, this pan’s yours,” is what my husband, the customary dishwasher says to me.  After soaking for a bit, I can always get all the baked in gunk off no matter how horrible it looked.  The pan still looks new, and I’ve used it lots of times.

No, I didn’t need a Le Creuset pan.  But it conducts heat beautifully, it cleans well, and it’s so attractive that I love cooking with it.  And I do spend lots of time cooking.

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Brick Lane, by Monica Ali

Filed under: Books — wendy @ 9:15 pm

Brick Lane is a beautiful book about fate.  The protagonist, Nanzeen, is born prematurely in a rural town in Bangladesh.  She is expected to die and is left to let fate decide whether she would live or not.  Fate decides in her favor.  The rest of the book is about the struggle over how much Nanzeen should take control of her own destiny or let fate decide for her.  She moves to London for an arranged marriage, and starts out as a traditional Bangladeshi housewife, rarely leaving the house.  She eventually ventures out, into the neighborhood, into the larger city, she gets a job and raises kids, and gets involved with a radical young man.  Tension builds as Nanzeen takes more and more control over her life, while at the same time, wondering whether she is wrong to challenge fate in this way.

Ali draws the world of Nanzeen’s insulated Bangladeshi neighborhood well — we can feel what it would be like to live there.  She also draws her characters well.  Nanzeen’s pompous but hapless husband is not one-dimensional.  His love for his wife and family and his frustration with not being able to succeed despite his educational ambition make him sympathetic and not just a caricature.  The book’s back story is about Nanzeen’s sister who has remained in Bangladesh.  She took control of her fate at a very early age, running away to marry a man she loved rather than enduring an arranged marriage.  Her decisions led her to a very difficult and almost hopeless life in Bangladesh, but in a way, Nanzeen envies her sister’s moxie for making her own decisions.

Although Nanzeen seems bland for much of the book, you will be rooting for her by the end as she faces tough decisions about herself and her family.

 

UCLA Festival of Books May 3, 2010

Filed under: Books,Food — wendy @ 9:37 pm
Tags: , ,

Last weekend, I went to the UCLA Festival of Books, and now I feel extremely sanctimonious, like I’m part of intellectual LA.

Every year, I think about going, but I’ve only made it once before, when my now 12-year-old was still in a stroller.  I was worried that it would be mobbed and traffic and parking would be horrible, but it wasn’t bad.  I drove directly to a parking lot, paid my $10, and within minutes was in the midst of the action.

And alot of action it is.  It can be overwhelming.  Smart people check out the schedule in advance (it’s published in the LA Times a week before the festival) and plan out which authors they want to see.  Author lectures cost $1, and there are many book signings as well.  There are also free talks, demonstrations, and live music at the various stages around campus.  But advance planning is not in my nature.  I decided to go spur of the moment, mostly because my daughter wanted to meet some friends and see an author who’s her recent discovery.  I dropped my daughter off with her friends, and then other daughter and I wandered.

Not surprisingly, we ended up at the cooking stage where we saw Mark Peel cook tuna casserole.  I love Mark Peel.  Or I should say that I love his restaurant, Campanile.  It’s my husband’s and my favorite special occasion restaurant.  So I was excited to see Mark Peel, although extremely disappointed that all he made was tuna casserole.  This was not ordinary tuna casserole.  This involved making a tuna confit (c’mon dude, it’s tuna casserole – just open a can), making a roux and adding milk and good cheese.  It’s miles better than using mushroom soup concentrate, but really, it’s not that hard to make homemade mac and cheese (tuna casserole being a variant of mac and cheese).  Since it was hard to see from our front row seat and the sun was in our eyes, we left while the white sauce was still thickening.  So I never got to speak to Mark Peel, which I probably would have been able to do, being in the front row and all.

We then wandered around, and there are booths for the randomest things that don’t seem book-related.  Although I guess L. Ron Hubbard was a science fiction writer before founding dianetics.

My favorite part was showing my daughters around UCLA, since I went there for undergraduate and graduate school many moons ago.  It’s changed alot and I swear that they’ve renamed some of the buildings but I can still find my way around.  And if not, there are volunteers all over the place to help you.

On Monday, a few of my friends said that they had been there, and my daughters’ classmates said they had also been there.  So now I’m convinced that the UCLA Festival of Books is the place to be and I must not miss it.  Maybe I’ll even read the schedule in advance and see a few authors!