My September column for the Durham Herald-Sun is about my love of eating and reading! I hope you enjoy it and I welcome any comments or additions to my reading list. I just bought David Lebovitz' Living The Sweet Life In Paris and I can't wait to dig into it very soon.
Eating and reading have been two of my greatest pleasures for as long as I can remember. Growing up, I spent hours next door in my grandparents’ kitchen. My grandmother made breakfast, bananafritters, apple pies and coconut cakes. My grandfather, a former chef, prepared everything else. If I close my eyes, I can still see andsmell his beef stew even though it has been over 25 years since I last tastedit.
As for my second love, when I was around eight or nine years old, a cousin gave me a book for Christmas, one in the BobbseyTwins series. My mom often took meto the library and I borrowed books from school, but that book was the veryfirst brand new book I could call my own. I have been in love with books ever since.
I am amazed that I only recently combined those two loves and discovered the world of food books. I am not talking about traditionalcookbooks. I now search out booksabout cooking, chefs and adventures in food. It began in 2008, when my best friend Martha came to visitme during my sabbatical in Arles, France. She brought along a copy of TheSharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn. At the age of 36, Ms. Flinn lost herjob, decided to move to Paris, and use her life savings to enroll in the famedCordon Bleu culinary school. The first chapter is entitled “Life is not a dress rehearsal” and itbegins with a Julia Child quote: “I didn’t start cooking until I wasthirty-two. Until then I justate.” Once I started the book, Icouldn’t put it down.
Since finishing that book, I’ve struggled with Julie Powell as she cooked her way through every recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking,blogged about it and then turned it into a novel, Julie and Julie. Thatled me directly to Julia Child’s memoir, MyLife in France. (And yes, Idid love the movie based on those two books.) Next, I discovered M.F.K. Fisher and her novels about livingand eating in France, Map of Another Town,set in Aix-en-Provence, Long Ago inFrance, set in Dijon, and AConsiderable Town, set in Marseille. French Dirt by Richard Goodmanis the story of a man and his garden in the south of France. This is the love of food at itsmost basic level. A friend lent mea copy of Bill Buford’s Heat, thestory of the author’s foray into the kitchen of Chef Mario Batali, with aninterlude in Tuscany, working with an Italian butcher. This book was eye-opening and left mewandering why anyone would become a chef or even work near one.
My friends are always on the lookout for new books for me, especially ones about food and Provence. I received Trail of Crumbs by Kim Sunée as a gift. The story follows Ms. Sunée, a Korean orphan adopted by anAmerican couple, as she searchesfor her own identity while preparing feasts for friends in Paris andProvence. She includesrecipes, as do many of the other authors. Clémentine in the Kitchen bySamuel Chamberlain, published for the first time in the 1940’s, is the story ofan American family living in Senlis, France, a town I know well. Clémentine, their cook, left behindnotebooks full of her handwritten recipes and many of them are included in thebook. The Tenth Muse by Judith Jones, the editor who published works bythe likes of Julia Child, M.F.K. Fisher and James Beard, was a joy to read as Ifollowed her discovery of good food in France and the revival of the Americanfood scene in the late ‘60’s and ‘70’s which she was privy to as part of herwork. I would be remiss if Ididn’t mention Peter Mayle’s hilarious FrenchLessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork, and Corkscrew, with a chapter devotedto the blessing of truffles at a special mass followed by a lunch featuring thesacred diamants noirs or blackdiamonds, as they are called in French. There is also a chapter about a festival for lovers of frog legs, orthighs, as they are called in French, in the town of Vittel in April. Frog legs are on my to-eat list.
Every spring I eagerly anticipate the Used Book Fair at Durham Academy. One of my favorite finds this year was Soul of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman. He wrote about the Culinary Instituteof America’s master chef competition and then spent time with leading Americanchefs, including Thomas Keller of The French Laundry, trying to figure out whythey are successful. This book isa follow up to The Making of a Chefabout his time as a student-journalist at the CIA in Hyde Park, New York. His third one, The Reach of a Chef, is on my to-read list.
Anthony Bourdain, another celebrity chef, found his way into my bookshelf. Iread Kitchen Confidential and foundmyself once again wondering why anyone would choose the torturous life found inthe kitchen of a chef du jour. I am amazed that Bourdain is stillalive to travel the world looking for interesting culinary delights to show uson The Travel Channel, but I loved the book.
Returning to the theme of food and Provence, I recently read Mary Ann Cawes’ ProvençalCooking: Savoring the Simple Life in France. The author and her husband bought a small stone cabanon, or cottage, in the south ofFrance and spent their summers making it inhabitable. Ms. Cawes tells of the markets she visits and the neighborsand friends with whom she lingers over long meals of wonderful traditionalProvençal dishes. Her recipes tookme right back to Arles and my many meals and picnics there. (A little cabanon in a small village in Provence is my fantasy, not theCordon Bleu or the CIA!)
On my bedside table at the moment is The Perfectionist by Rudolph Chelminski. It is dedicated to thememory of Chef Bernard Loiseau, a French chef whose goal was to own arestaurant with a Michelin 3-star rating. He achieved this goal with his restaurant La Côte d’Or after 17 years ofintense labor. At the time of hisdeath in 2003, at the age of 52, there were rumors that he would lose his thirdstar. He had confided to acolleague that he would kill himself if that ever happened. The plot of the Disney movie Ratatouille is supposedly based onLoiseau’s life. It is a fascinating look at the French system of chefapprenticeship and some of the big name chefs who have come out of France inthis century, including Paul Bocuse, Fernand Point and the Troisgros brothers.
Just last week I read a children’s book entitled It’s A Book by LaneSmith. Monkey, one of thecharacters, is reading a book and Jackass, his friend, doesn’t know what a bookis. He is only acquainted with theinternet. He asks Monkey a lot ofannoying questions and, in the end, takes his book and won’t give it back. I intend to read it to my students atschool very soon. I vow to do mypart to pass on my love for books to the younger generation.
As for my love of food, it seems that certain foods and smells can take me back in time and even across theocean. Meals are special becauseof who we share them with, I believe. This is what I hope I am able to pass on to my own children. And to be able to write a book thatmakes a reader hunger for the sights, sounds, and smells of my own life? Well, that would be a dream cometrue.
I’ve tested these two recipes and they are truly simple and delicious. Enjoy thepasta with a glass of chilled Provence white wine for a simple feast.
Mousse au Chocolat
(from Clémentine in the Kitchen by Samuel Chamberlain; Modern Library, 2001)
Bittersweet chocolate, eggs, rum or vanilla
In the top of a double boiler over simmering water, melt ½ pound of bittersweet chocolate, broken into pieces,with ¼ cup of water. Stir until itachieves a beautifully smooth consistency. Remove the top of the double boilerfrom the heat and stand it in cold water to cool, stirring occasionally.
Beat well the yolks of 5 eggs and add these to the chocolate, together with 1 teaspoon of rum or of vanillaextract. Transfer the chocolatemixture to a large bowl and carefully but thoroughly fold in 5 stiffly beatenegg whites. Put this delectablesubstance into a serving bowl or individual ramekins and chill at least 2 hoursbefore serving.
Note: This is the simplest recipe for chocolate mousse you are likely to find and also very likely the best. You must, however, use chocolate of the finest quality. Also, use very fresh eggs, or the moussemay separate.
Midnight Pasta #3: Penne with Popped Tomatoes, Anchovies, and Onions
(from Trail of Crumbs by Kim Sunée; Grand Central Publishing, 2008)
1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pint ripe cherry or grape tomatoes
Salt and fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
Pinch of sugar (as needed)
1 small onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped
Hot red pepper flakes, to taste
4 to 5 anchovy filets
Handful of black olives or 1 teaspoon black olive tapenade
½ pound penne
Garnish: Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano
Heat olive oil in a large skillet on medium high to high heat. Addtomatoes and cook, tossing often, about 10 minutes. Cover and let cook about 3 minutes. Uncover, season with salt and pepperand a pinch of sugar. Add onion,toss, and cook about 2 minutes. Add garlic, red pepper flakes, anchovies, and olives. Lower heat.
Cook penne in salted boiling water just until al dente. Drain,reserving about ¼ cup pasta water. Toss in pasta and heat for about 1 minute, adding some of the reservedpasta water if too dry. Toss tocombine. Divide pasta into 2warmed bowls. Serveimmediately. Add another crack ofpepper, if desired, and garnish with cheese.