The transcendence of onions – a discussion between Ruth Reichl and Michael Pollan:
R: In your new book, Cooked, you said, “There’s nothing ceremonial about chopping vegetables on a kitchen counter.” I have to tell you, I so don’t agree with you. For me, chopping onions, putting them in butter, the smells coming up, that’s all totally sensual, totally seductive. And truly ceremonial, in the best way. I built a kitchen so that people can stand around and watch me cook.
P: To me onions are the metaphor for kitchen drudgery. Cutting them is hard to do well and they fight you the whole way. But I worked at this for a long time, learned everything I could about onions—why they make us cry, how to prevent it, why they’re such a huge part of cuisine worldwide, and what they contribute to a dish. I finally learned this important spiritual truth, which is bigger than onions: “When chopping onions, just chop onions.” When I finally got into the zen of cutting onions, I passed over to another place. Part of the resistance to kitchen work like chopping is a macho thing. Men like the big public deal of the grill, the ceremonies involving animals and fire, where women gravitate toward the plants and pots inside.
R: Chopping is like a meditation.
P: A zen practice, I agree. I learned that from my cooking teacher Samin Nosrat, who is a serious student of yoga. She talked to me about patience, presence and practice. She thought they applied equally well to cooking and yoga. And they do.
Some of the battiest lines in Gwyneth Paltrow’s new recipe book:
You’ll also see striped bass called for in a lot of the fish recipes — that’s because it swims in the waters close to Gwyneth’s summer home [in Martha's Vineyard], where we do a lot of cooking.
My old assistant, Cleo, insisted we include her secret afternoon shake.
Our dear friend Cameron [Diaz] is a master popcorn maker — and this is one of the many reasons she is Apple and Mosey’s favorite house guest.
I once overnighted a batch [of almond butter cookies] from London to my manager in Los Angeles who was doing the clean program and was dying for a cookie! They did not disappoint.
I know that Paltrow is – like Ruth Reichl, I suppose – an easy target. But a lot of what this recipe book of hers recommends, is dangerous nonsense. I want to draw attention to the fact that Paltrow is not a nutritionist. She’s an actress. With a deeply odd relationship with food.
The lament of the woman with two kitchens…
I have two kitchens. For most of the year, I cook in an Upper West Side apartment, in Manhattan. It was designed in the eighteen-nineties and is probably best described as a landlord’s misguided attempt to lure tenants with horizontal evocations of the upstairs-downstairs life. The ‘public’ rooms, meant to be seen and admired, were large and well proportioned. The ‘private’ rooms, out of sight off a long back hall, were for the most part awkward and cramped, and perhaps the lowliest room on this totem pole of domestic status was the kitchen, where your cook, emerging each morning through the door of a tiny bedroom—in my apartment, it opened between the icebox and the sink—was expected to spend her waking hours.
… there was no way to expand my kitchen to accommodate my own moment …
… I am consoled, however, by my other kitchen. It is the ‘please come in’ room of the Umbrian farmhouse where I work, and cook, in the summer—a much more satisfying image of the way I like to live.
A frankly bizarre interview with Nigella Lawson:
Nigella Lawson bites her bottom lip as she snatches a giant knife off the counter with the stealth of a schoolgirl up to no good. Swiftly, she lops a loop of fabric off her curve-hugging purple dress.
The blade nearly grazes her jugular.
“The microphone got caught in my dress,” she explains, batting her eyelashes coquettishly as if to make amends for doing something naughty.
“I took the impatient and slightly dangerous way out.”
Impatient. Certainly. Dangerous. Perhaps a bit. Add to that larger than life with star wattage that could light the fire under a rocket ship….
A hurricane of hips, boobs and hair, the British food babe tosses her head and unwraps her black wool coat. It slinks off her shoulders like a dressing gown, instantly transforming the culinary space into a boudoir and underscoring why she’s famous for making food sexy.
But before getting down to the whisking and sprinkling of cooking Mini Macaroni and Cheese All’Italiana, a recipe from Nigellissima, Lawson sets her famously ample bottom into a chair so a makeup artist can smooth the winter’s kink from her appearance.
The chocolate, it speaks:
‘”Alice knows chocolate. It speaks to her. We’re lucky to have her as a translator,” Lydon wrote to me. “Alice’s cocoa brownies changed my life.”‘
With grateful thanks to Sue Quinn. All submissions more than welcome.
From the New York Times. Again:
It is a sinister dish, this ziggurat of bread, steak and foie gras, cloaked in black like a treacherous peak on the road to Mordor. At the base is a hulking crouton, topped by filet mignon, both slaked in butter; then comes foie gras; and finally all is drenched by a slow-moving sauce of bordelaise, truffles, veal stock and Madeira, which lends a sweetness and tang akin to balsamic vinegar. It is heavy, hobbling, a prelude to gout, an anachronism and a thrill.
The restaurant is called Le Philosophe:
Afterward, there will be enormous profiteroles, shrouded in chocolate sauce, with a rubble of half-burned hazelnuts. … Better is the apple tarte Tatin, made with a wink at Jacques Derrida, with a round of pâte brise (which my table took for a shortbread cookie) in lieu of a proper crust, and caramelized apples and apple butter sloping down the plate, as if poised for a getaway.
One wall is covered with black-and-white photographs of French philosophers: Montaigne in his ruff, Simone de Beauvoir in her chignon. Name them all and Le Philosophe’s owners, Amadeus Broger and Jack Wu, will comp your meal.
Thus far no one, not even a visiting French philosopher, has succeeded.
This comes courtesy of Signe Rousseau. It’s by Yotam Ottolenghi and although I’m a huge fan of both him and his restaurants, this is really ridiculous:
This is by a man with a ‘spinning axis of eros’ who lived, for a while, ‘a feckless carnival’:
Soothed by its musky light, I’d discover a vividly perfumed circus that needled me with pleasure while letting me be invisible. If I loved the olive stalls, the chickpeas and fava beans, and the charcutier’s stand with its carnivore’s curtain of dangling brick red chorizos and its satanically handsome butcher, it was the fishmongers of this port city at the door between the cold Atlantic Ocean and the warm Mediterranean Sea that truly fascinated me. I could study their lavish and mysterious offerings for hours, and every day I’d come across a kind of fish I’d never seen before—science-fiction-strange goose barnacles, or scarlet scorpion fish. Though I didn’t know it at the time, slowly but surely, the market was healing me, a just-turned-30 writer living in Paris in the 1980s.
This is from a New York Times review of Ganso, a new Japanese restaurant in Brooklyn:
Some ramen broths detonate at first spoonful, then fizzle out halfway through; others start off meek and turn carnal. Ganso aspires to the latter. After my initial disappointment, I kept eating, idly, expecting nothing, and as I dragged up broth from the bottom of the bowl, the flavours began to deepen and assert themselves. What I had thought nebulous took on a distinct point of view. But some of my dining companions never got that far, abandoning hope a few spoonfuls in.
No MSG is used, no artificial flavor boosters. And no condiments are on the table. (A house-made chile sauce is available on request.) There is an austerity to the proceedings, a sense that something is being asked of us, the diners, as well. Patience, perhaps.
The strange power of Lobster Thermidore:
It was time for us to cook a lobster and join the rest of Maine. I wanted to connect it symbolically; I would knit together past, present, and literary past pluperfect. And I’d finally learn what Lobster Thermidor tasted like.