My family has, over time, developed a policy about my birthday. It's on New Year's Day right after everyone has gotten heartily sick of shopping, so by mutual agreement they all pretty much stick to a happy birthday phone call and worry about gifts later. I like this, because it means that I receive presents sporadically throughout the year. Last week my sister visited New York and brought me a birthday gift.
The large beautiful ochre-colored wood box alone would have made me very happy, but naturally there was more.
There were treasures inside!. Three food-related books (what could be better?!): Colette Rossant's Apricots on the Nile, Abe Opincar's Fried Butter, and Stuffed: Adventures of a Restaurant Family, by Patricia Volk; a box of lovely cards; two boxes of large kitchen matches (always needed for my ancient gas oven); and four beautiful cloth napkins.
Notice how perfectly matched everything is? Everything Lisa touches is like that. If you haven't had a look at her work yet, you really should.
I think I'm ready for Spring. I want to smell flowering trees and hear bees buzzing. I want to sit on ground that's still slightly chill, while the sun warms my skin, like I did in this New Hampshire apple orchard last May.
I'm over root vegetables. I really am. I want to be excited each time the Greenmarket has another beautiful early vegetable. I want to eat a stalk of asparagus pulled right out of the ground. I want to make a salad of tender baby lettuces. A risotto with tiny little peas.
Apple Orchard Study, by Sophie Bearman
I want to be looking forward to the first tomatoes, and when they finally arrive I want to weigh one, warm in my hand, and then take an impulsive juicy bite.
I also want to thank my daughter for giving me a little bit of Spring with this watercolor of that New Hampshire apple orchard.
Yes, I'm ready.
Food is sexy. Yes, yes, we're all tired of the whole "food porn" thing, and it's been done to death, but the fact remains. Food is sexy. Come on. Admit it. You've never sniffed and tasted a raw mushroom and thought to yourself that it smelled like sex? In a good way, I'm saying, not in a morning-after way. Really fresh oysters are sexy. Creamy, smelly cheeses are sexy. Wine is sexy. Sharing food with someone you are newly in love with is ridiculously sexy.
The first time I was actually embarrassed to eat something in public was in a little French bistro. I ordered a pastry (I think it was simply called walnut cake) which was made up of many layers of meringue and walnut paste and I can't remember what else. But it tasted so remarkably delicious and was so voluptuously velvety in my mouth that it made me want to moan with pleasure. I remember looking around furtively, wondering if the other diners could tell I was being transported. It was sexy, I tell you.
Sexy is one thing and the notion of aphrodisiacs is another-- it seems pretty obvious that it's not the ingredients themselves that turn us on, but the way in which we experience them. People have been using food to try to snare those they desire forever, and I suppose it made a certain amount of sense in the days before we understood psychology to assume that the ingredient itself was responsible for a successful outcome, but this cause and effect assumption led to some pretty odd ideas. We all know that asparagus, figs, caviar, chocolate, alcohol, and dozens of other foods have historically been considered aphrodisiacs, but did you know that cocklebread was used in the 17th century to get a man interested? Indeed, the bread dough was kneaded against the maker's erm, parts. John Aubrey wrote:
Young wenches have a wanton sport which they call `moulding of cocklebread' - they get upon a table-board, and then gather up their knees and their coates with their hands as high as they can then they wabble to and fro with their buttocks as if they were kneading of dough with their arses, and say these words: `My dame is sick and gone to bed! And I'll go mould my cocklebread'
In this case, I suspect that the young wenches got a lot more out of "wabbling to and fro" than their unsuspecting recipients got out of the cocklebread itself (and no, this post does not contain a recipe for cocklebread, nor did I try to make it. Jack was intrigued, but I do believe my withering stare changed his mind).
I bet you're wondering when I'm going to get around to an actual recipe, aren't you? Well, I'm not. Instead I'm just going to describe a favorite romantic meal Jack and I have been sharing for years, prefaced with the story of how we met and fell in love.
Jack and I got to know each other through the internet. He was in London and I had just moved to New York and we found ourselves arguing (on the same side and opposite sides, depending on topic) on a message board. Pretty quickly the arguing soon turned into sparring and witty banter and one day Jack posted he was going to visit the States and that NYC was on his itinerary. Naturally I posted an offer to buy him a drink. Though neither of us had ever expressed any sort of romantic interest or even acknowledged it to ourselves, it apparently became clear to the rest of the message board community that something was in the air and we received a fair amount of teasing. In the months before Jack's visit we emailed quite a lot and it is fair to say that receiving an email from him was often the happiest moment of my day (on lots of days).
And then that day in October, the Friday we met, arrived. I had suggested that we meet in Jimmy's Corner, one of the few "real" bars left in Mid-Town and just a couple of blocks from where I was working. We'd never exchanged photos, so I only knew I was looking for a man with dark hair and eyes and wearing black. When I arrived I did a quick walk-through, and not seeing anyone dressed in black, took a seat at the bar where I was promptly joined by some guy who was decidedly not Jack and who insisted on buying me a drink, even though I explained I was there to meet someone. It was mildly embarrassing to explain that I didn't know what that someone looked like and didn't know if he was, in fact, in the bar or not. After half an hour and repeated suggestions from the not Jack guy that I should give up and hand over my phone number, I decided to go and ask a lone man in a white (not black!) shirt if he was, in fact, Jack.
"I'm afraid so," he answered.
We had dinner in the East Village and spent the rest of the evening in a couple of dives (we like dives!) and then made plans to meet the next afternoon for a pub crawl in my neighborhood-- Williamsburg-- and to go to Coney Island on the following day. It was a lovely weekend and I was smitten, which became pretty obvious when I asked him to stay with me Sunday night (he turned me down!). I'm happy to report that on Monday he came to his senses and we spent as much of the remainder of his time in New York together as we could. All too soon it was time for him to fly back to England. We were very sensible and mature about it, agreeing that long distance relationships are difficult and that we should get on with our lives and not pine for each other.
Two months later I flew to London. That was it and for the next four years we were transatlantic, seeing each other about every six weeks, taking it in turns to cross the Atlantic. My passport from those years is very, very crowded with Heathrow and Gatwick entry stamps. During the times we were apart, the whining sound of an airplane beginning its descent into JFK or La Guardia would induce a terribly sharp longing in me many, many times a day.
Each time Jack flew into New York I made sure I had a selection of good cheeses, spicy olives, crusty bread and red wine on hand. He'd arrive in the early evening and we'd spend the rest of it in bed with the food and wine nearby.
Which brings me back to my point about sexy food... there is something about this particular combination of ingredients that plays all the right notes. We like to contrast a soft, oozing brie or camembert with a sharp and impertinently dirty blue of some kind. We usually add a firm, robustly-flavoured hard cheese such as an aged cheddar. Look at those adjectives! Soft, hard, oozing, dirty, sharp... cheese ought to be illegal. The other notes are the arresting bitterness of olives, the earthy and satisfying texture of ham spiked with tangy Dijon, the mouth-puckering sourness of cornichons... the bittersweetness of homemade marmalade against the cheeses... all played over the solid backing of good bread and a heavy red. Casanova wrote that blue cheese and red wine are just what is needed to "restore an old love and to ripen a young one."
Jack managed to get himself a job in New York five years ago, so the constant traveling is no more. But we still make it point to indulge in a meal of wine and cheese and bread several times a month. Just as surely as the sound of an airplane overhead never fails to remind me of how in love with Jack I was and still remain, this meal reminds us both of all of the richness of our lives together.
This is my entry for The Kitchen of Love event, hosted by Chris of Melle Cotte, who gave us this lovely logo and asked us tell her about an appetizer, main dish or side dish that includes at least one aphrodisiac. I'm not sure I quite followed the rules here, unless you believe a cheese board is a main meal, and while I don't believe in aphrodisiacs, wine is considered to be one. And if you take Casanova's word for it, so is the cheese.
Me, I just think food can be very, very sexy.
Jack leaves for the Italian Alps in a few days for his annual ski holiday. Then he'll be in London to check on our flat and just enjoy being back in England for a little while. I have already given him a list of basics (and a few luxuries) I want him to bring back:
1) The new Gordon Ramsay cookbook
2) McVities Chocolate Digestives
3) Fleur de sel
5) The Champagne Truffles I love so much from Harvey Nichols
But I'm sure there are items I am not thinking of. So, dear readers, what else should I add to Jack's list?
So Anne of Annechovie tagged Ann, and Ann (are there enough Ann/Annes going on here yet?), having already been tagged quite recently, decided to pass the tagging on to me. I am therefore the proxy taggee of the title. For those of you who have no idea what I am babbling about and who are probably thinking, "time to get the doctor to change the dosage, Jack", allow me to explain what it means to be tagged.
Here are the rules:
1. Link to your tagger and post these rules on your blog.
2. Share 5 facts about yourself on your blog, some random, some weird.
3. Tag 5 people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blogs.
4. Let them know they are tagged by leaving a comment on their blog
So here goes...
5 Weird/random facts about me
My nickname at school was "Swot".
I have been interested in magic all my life and used to be pretty good at it.
At the age of 37 I voluntarily quit working for over a year, backpacked around Greece for three months with my ex-wife and...
...had a lot of fun playing guitar in a wholly unsuccessful but noisy and energetic rock band called Stink. That's us in the pic above. I am on the left, ably demonstrating the ancient art of "Guitar Face".
5 People I am tagging
Our adopted bloggers Psychgrad and Gizmar at Equal Opportunity Kitchen
Karyn at Hot Potato
Zenchef at Chefs Gone Wild
Ronell at My French Kitchen
Laurie Constantino at Mediterranean Cooking In Alaska
Looking forward to learning some more about you all!
Lately I've gotten several notes from readers here or over at The Mini Pie Revolution Headquarters. In December I received a cry for help from a grandfather getting ready to make mini pies with his two grand-daughters and recently received a follow-up letting me know how it worked out.
Yesterday was a double pleasure, as my (snail) mail box contained a lovely little collection of favorite recipes sent to me by Anna, of Produce Stories. All of the recipes are vegetarian and I've already marked several to try, particularly her two risotto recipes (one with ramps and one with celariac and leeks). Thank you, Anna!
I also received an email from Shmuel in Israel, with a recipe and photos for Arbor Day (Mini) Pies (TU-B'Shvat cake). You can read Shmuel's first letter and learn about his Arbor Day Mini Pies over at The Mini Pie Revolution Headquarters.
As we were sending emails back and forth, Shmuel mentioned that he was very taken with the Tiny Pies video we posted and included some photos of his wife's work with miniatures (though not edible). How adorable is this tiny bakery?!
Of course I wrote back and asked for more detail. I received this very lovely response and permission to reprint it:
"My wife, for nearly 52 years already, Sarah is a fabulous, though very humble person. She is creative in so many ways that its difficult to know exectly where to begin. But concerning her work with miniatures has been going on for a long time. Some five years ago a small item in the newspaper caught her eye, about a miniaturist club that was being formed and anybody wishing to join, please contact Gloria. That was a great opportunity for her to develop her skills even more, each member showing and teaching the rest what could be done with materials at hand.
The general market for miniaturists supplies and materials in Israel being so limited don't encourage importers to stock even some of the basic materials so a lot of "McGuiver" methods have to be employed to make their wonderful items from scratch, some of which can be seen in the miniature bakery that I sent a photo of. That project took several months to complete. She used Fimo and other such clay-type materials to make breads, cakes, pizzas, cookies, and whatever it takes to stock a conditory, all within a 9" x 6" box with a depth of about 5".
The club has already exhibited many dozens of their creations at several shows but lately, whatever ways advancing age has of acting up, the club has sort of fallen apart. Now Sarah is working on a few projects simultaniously: "an archeological dig site" a "furniture emporium" and some other small scenes.
However her cooking abilities are "full sized" making it hard for me to keep up any successful diet. The mini-pies were my idea.
I'm sure shes not too keen on my telling all about her, she being so modest about herself, but I am proud of the many things she produced, including our three children."
Thank you, dear readers, for sharing a little bit of your life with me and for allowing me to share them on this blog. Shmuel, thank you especially for your glowing description of your wife and her work and congratulations on nearly 52 years of marriage!
Kristen of Dine and Dish has organized a wonderful event for the new year. Adopt-a-Blogger matches "veteran" food bloggers with new food bloggers, allowing them to get to know each other and introduce each other to their respective communities. Our adopted blog is Equal Opportunity Kitchen, co-authored by Psychgrad and Gizmar (giz for short). Psychgrad and Giz have been blogging about their shared kitchen adventures for about five weeks, though Psychgrad is a veteran blogger outside of the food realm. I've only had the quickest of looks through their recipes (and they have a lot for such a short period of time!), but I've already promised myself to try their Grilled Skirt Steak with Moroccan Spice Paste and Saffron Yogurt very soon. And today, Giz has added a very fabulous-looking original recipe for lentil encrusted lamb.
Please drop by Equal Opportunity Kitchen and say hello!
And while I am sending you hither and yon, please take a minute to check out my extremely talented sister. Lisa Teague Studios has offered some free design consultation time to a winning commenter. Just wander on over to her blog to find out the details and leave her a note about a room in your house you've been wanting to re-do.
Last, but not least, Zenchef over at Chefs Gone Wild is asking that you write a poem, short story or just "something funny" praising vanilla. He will pick a lucky winner and ship out an assortment of vanilla beans from around the world (4 beans per bottle from Tahiti, Uganda, Madagascar, Mexico, Reunion, Comores and Papoua), a bottle of vanilla extract, and a box of vanilla sugar. You can check out his post for more details.
Did you notice the new banner?
We'd love to know your opinion! Does it capture what you think Redacted Recipes is about? Is there a better way of conveying our identity?
Did you like the apples better?
We've also added an About Us Page. Let us know if we answered all of the questions you've always wanted answers to but never asked us!
I said on my birthday post that I don't make New Year resolutions, and I don't. But I do make lists and I am always thinking about improvements I want to make to Redacted Recipes, so when I saw that Lalaine at The CookMobile is hosting a challenge to list and then implement challenges/improvements for our blogs in 2008 I knew we had a match here. The rules of the event are to come up with a five-step plan for the next year consisting of four improvements/changes to your blog and one recipe you have always wanted to master. I already spent the month of December adding a recipe index, and thinking of other ideas, so I have a bit of a jump-start. Here is my plan:
1) A new banner for Redacted Recipes that conveys the tone and personality of the blog and also somehow references the rather wide-ranging nature of our writing-- Anglo-American outlook, an ongoing interest in art, a love of food prepared by ourselves and others, wine, travel, ad infinitum
2) An About Us page that will tell you all a little more about, well, us!
3) Global Navigation right under the header so that you can quickly find recipes, or The Artful Kitchen series, or Jack's Bad Teeth and Lousy Food pieces
4) For those who are more visual than textual, I'd like to put together a companion photo calendar with links from each photo to the relevant post (I'd call it a mini-Tastespotting, but my photos just aren't that good, though the link does go to a collection of the most popular photos for the first week of January and my Macaroni and Cheese is amongst them, by some odd twist of fate)
5) A post proudly showcasing and describing how I learned to make religieuses-- a pastry I absolutely adore
I've already started on a number of these items (I started working with an artist on the banner in December, in fact) and look forward to revealing them to you soon. Naturally I will want your feedback on each and every attempt. :-)