Tag Archives: cooking

Culinary crack

I don’t do reality.

Reality TV, that is. Count me out of any televised competition that involves voting anyone off, sending anyone home or criticizing anyone to his or her face before millions of viewers. To my mind, while contestants are willing, there’s nothing more disturbing than watching someone being humiliated. Maybe this goes back to the days when I was always picked dead last for teams.

Since the inception of Survivor and American Idol, I’ve proudly shunned these competitions and rolled my eyes at my friends who get all wrapped up in discussing who’s faring how each week, using contestants’ first names as if they were their buddies.

I find it disgusting to hear people talking about “Scotty” and “Taylor” and “Adam” as if we knew them personally, getting into the dynamics of the competitions and the personal attributes that are going to make or break their success.

There but for the grace of God go I.

I am hooked on The Next Food Network Star. Or I guess it’s just called Food Network Star this season. I wouldn’t know; I never watched the previous six seasons. In Season 7, I haven’t missed a single episode, as contestants are called to create signature dishes, work around situational constraints, endure criticism by celebrity chefs and demonstrate their on-camera presentation skills, for the chance to have their own Food Network show.

As it often works with addiction, I was lured into my first taste by a peer. In the late Spring, a friend from church was generating buzz and support for a fellow church member who had auditioned to become one of 15 finalists. Ever loyal to my churchies, I faithfully went online every day and voted for Mary Beth Albright, whom I had met a few times. She’s a dear.

Mary Beth indeed became one of 15 finalists so, when the season debuted June 5th, I was there—in front of the television. My husband and son jumped on the chuckwagon.

Soon our family conversations, even during the week, centered around the fact that Penny was a good cook but wasn’t likeable, that Alicia’s constant crying was going to hurt her chances, that Mary Beth was going to have to punch up her dishes if she’s to survive. When Paula Deen praised Mary Beth for putting buttermilk and panko in her meatloaf, I immediately altered my own meatloaf recipe. We bristle when the judges speak to our girl harshly, even though we know she can take it.

Every Sunday night, at the end of each program hour, our house is filled with gasps and exclamations, shrieks and high fives, as Mary Beth escapes—often narrowly—the judges’ cleaver.

I recognize that my addictive behavior is hurting my relationships. We’ve left family parties early to make it home in time (we’re a DVR-less household) and already, I’m fretting over how to broach this with friends who are hosting us at their beach house Sunday night. Would it be impolite to request an hour in front of their television? Or is it better to leave a day early to make it home in time for the final four?

Seriously, I’ve got the shakes.


Filed under Family and Friends, Food, Movies, Television and Radio

El plato ostentoso

I gather the Spanish gastronomic community is deeply mourning the closing of El Bulli restaurant. For 50 years in Catalonia, El Bulli created culinary inventions that inspired chefs worldwide.

If you like food or if you like Spain, read The New York Times story about El Bulli; you’ll be captivated. During the short time I attended university in Spain, I lived on dorm food and bread and cheese. Oh, to have had the chance to go back with a little jingle in my pocket to indulge in some real cocina española.

If you like food and the words that describe it, check out Slate’s recent piece on the names of El Bulli’s menu offerings. This one caught my eye; then kept me entertained for way too long.

We’ve talked in previous posts about the wording of restaurant menus, about which you shared some of your favorites, some with tongue in cheek, hold the beef.

In the Slate piece, Jeremy Singer-Vine muses that dishes bearing such names as “Irish coffee of green asparagus and black truffle jus” cry out for satire.

Singer-Vine took the names of some 1,200 El Bulli dishes and created a technological algorithm that generates satirical sound-alikes. Though it’s not quite ready for the Wii, you can go online and play a guess-the-real-name game.

Because we have talked recently about simple versus pretentious language, I thought you might enjoy this timely diversion.

It also got me thinking about the name of my signature dish. 

In my social circles, I’m known for my pesto torte. It wasn’t mine originally, but because I have no one to whom to attribute it, and because I’ve made more than 50, and because I don’t know anyone else who makes it, it’s mine.

The problem is, when I say “pesto torte,” no one ever knows what it is. It’s fair to say some people know neither pesto nor torte.

My son’s girlfriend calls it “cheese loaf.” And you know what? That’s exactly what it is—cheese stuffed inside cheese, prepared in a loaf pan (layered with enough other ingredients to almost justify the fancy name).

I took one to my aunt and uncle’s last weekend. As I was setting it on a platter, someone said, “It’s beautiful; what is it?”

I said, “Pesto Torte,” which didn’t tell anyone a thing.

“What does that mean?”

I threw the question to my son’s girlfriend who said, “cheese loaf.”

Aha. Everyone knew immediately. Kind of like in My Big Fat Greek Wedding: “It’s a bundt.” (After several rounds about, the realization, “Oh, it’s cake!”)

In El Bulli’s defense, who’s going to pay 50 euros for a glass of asparagus juice?


Filed under All Things Wordish, Food, News, Travel

Trash talk

You may have seen the Johnson family of Mill Valley, Calif., on Today or read about them in Sunset magazine though, if you’re like the Johnsons, you might not have any magazines in your house.

The Johnsons have come to be known as a zero-waste family. They generate no trash and very little recycling. You can read for yourself how this family’s desire to live simply and cleanly has decreased their contribution of refuse to our planet. Admirable, I’d say. And guilt-provoking.

I’m a little ashamed of our household’s size 16 carbon footprint. We are the antithesis of the Johnsons. I’m not sure exactly how two humans and two felines can generate enough weekly waste to fill the Johnsons’ bins for more than a year. See for yourself. Not counting the bags of yard waste that already await pick-up at the curb, we’ve filled a 20-gallon can and an even larger sized Hefty bag in less than a week. Plus this large recycling bin and a paper bag’s worth of newspapers joining the yard waste at the curb as we speak.

Granted, we did a little spring cleaning over the weekend. For example, in preparation for our kitchen project, I decided to thin out our spice collection. “They” say kitchen spices go bad after six months and that we should discard them after that time. “They” would probably also say that the bottles should be recycled and the spices themselves composted or trashed, but that presumes the spices aren’t permanently adhered to their receptacles after years of neglect.

As someone who keeps her spices in alphabetical order, I’d appear to have a good grip on this. Over the weekend, I went through all my spices, A to Z. I discarded four bottles of curry powder, while being hard pressed to remember when I’d ever used curry powder in my life. Maybe they were part of my husband’s trousseau. Cream of Tartar? I’m not sure I even know what that is.

I swear there was a bottle of whole cloves that came from the house I grew up in, which we vacated in 1976. Somehow I manage to go through several bottles of chili powder a year, and yet can barely twist off the gummed up lids of nearly a quarter of these fastidiously filed spices. I had samples of every Spice Islands and McCormick’s label design of the last 30 years. Never mind all the other relics I came across while cleaning out my kitchen for the first time in 20 years.

Perhaps the Today show would like to interview me.


Filed under Food, Hearth and Home, Movies, Television and Radio

Fowl play

A year ago, three days before Thanksgiving, I facilitated a medical  meeting at a large urgent care center. As I was setting up for the program, the meeting coordinator and I were exchanging pleasantries, mostly about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

I asked her if the center was expecting to be busy on the holiday. I thought this was a logical question. She just looked at me as if I had three heads and said, no, that she couldn’t imagine why that would be the case.

Huh. I would have thought, based on our family’s experience, that urgent care centers would be staffing up and stocking up with extra bandages, sutures, balms and epinephrine.

I recall a time when one kind of accident or another defined Thanksgiving tradition. One year it was a severe oven burn. Another it was a deep laceration caused by a broken glass concealed in a sink full of dish suds. Once—though on a different holiday, perhaps July 4th—someone drank bug spray. Another time one of my cousins nearly lost a toe, though I can’t recall exactly how.

When I look back, one memorable Thanksgiving springs to mind. Thankfully, no humans were harmed.

My mother had just moved into a house in Arizona with slick terra cotta floor tiles that ran from the kitchen to the bedroom area.

We were roasting a large turkey, which neither of us could lift alone. When it came time to remove it from the oven, my mother and I each took an end of the roasting pan. On the count of three we would lift it to the stove top. One, two, oops, one of us dropped her end. The roasting pan toppled and the turkey was ejected, landing on the slick tiles with such force that it turned the corner and slid down the hall toward the bedrooms.

That might have been the first time I heeded the 10-second rule; hey, what’s a little desert dust?

Bon appétit. Et soyez sûr.


Filed under Family and Friends, Foibles and Faux Pas, Food, Holidays

Clay pigeon

While on a plane this week, I finished up my November issue of Vanity Fair. Having read all the good stuff, I swept back through my less favorite features, including one called “My Stuff.” Each month this feature asks a celebrity to list his or her favorite clothing items, household furnishings and gadgets.

November’s celeb is Amy Sedaris, author, actress and comedian. In case you were dying to know, her favorite dessert is angel food cake stuffed with ice cream. Another item on her list caught my eye.

Favorite Discovery: Romertopf Clay Pot.

This evoked tremors in me, going back decades, when my parents made their foray into the realm of health food, 10 years before anyone else did. While everyone else was eating Charles Chips and Twinkies, we were eating alfalfa sprouts and carob. Our family swore off salt, refined sugar, bleached flour and any grain that wasn’t in its whole form.

For me, the most dismal piece of this lifestyle was the dreaded Romertopf. Any role this godforsaken pot played in dinner guaranteed a nearly inedible meal—one I thought (but did not dare say) should immediately be Fed Ex’ed to the starving children in Bangladesh.

The Romertopf remains immensely popular to this day, though I can’t imagine why. The pot is designed scientifically to eliminate the need to cook one’s chicken or vegetables in fat, salt or any seasoning for that matter. Purportedly, the clay cooking method brings out the natural flavor of the food. The meal gets its moisture not from butter or olive oil, but by immersing the pot in water before cooking, so that it releases steam while in the oven. Basically, your meal tastes like chicken and/or vegetables and water. Mmmm.

According to the Romertopf’s official website, “If you intend baking bread or sponges, then lining the base with foil or parchment paper will aid easy removal.”

I thought that eggplant tasted like something out of the sink.


Filed under Family and Friends, Food, Health

Easter brisket

Julia Child, if you’re looking down from your celestial kitchen, look away, dear.  I’m making a brisket.

I’ve always wanted to say that, “I’m making a brisket.” 

I am a carniphobe, intimidated by meat.  Roast not, braise not.  Man versus meat?  Not a contender.  I love to eat it, when someone else cooks it.  But I don’t cook it.  Ever. 

So why the brisket?  I love the word.  Brisket.  It’s crisp, it’s fun to say (perhaps because it rhymes with biscuit?).  Brisket is home, it’s comfort, it’s a special occasion.  Women who make brisket are respected. 

When brisket comes up in conversation it is intimate and holy, “my mother’s brisket.”  Whispered at a Shiva, “she made a fabulous brisket.”

Just this week, The Big Bang Theory had the guys stranded in the woods without food.  As they were getting desperate, Howard Wolowitz exclaimed, “my mother put an I-love-you brisket in my backpack!”

The next day, coincidentally the first day of Passover, I was in front of the meat case hearing voices. I think it was Trader Joe himself, dream music in the background, “Brisket!”  “Monica, you can do it, you can be the woman behind the fabulous brisket.”

So I caved and there it sits, on the bottom shelf in the fridge, waiting to be prepared, fearing it will perish.  Better get out the, uh, what kind of pan do you use?

Note:  Word Nymph shalt not blog on Sundays.  Hope to see you Monday.


Filed under Food, Holidays, Movies, Television and Radio