Category Archives: book reviews

Good read: An Everlasting Meal

I found myself tasting a pot of almost boiling water, then I waited a few moments and tasted the fully boiling water, as advised by chef and writer Tamar Adler ( who got the idea from Julia Child). The water did taste different. Try it.

Though I have always rolled my eyes at the term, I’m trying to be more mindful. Yep, I’m getting old and trying to get wise. But not by meditating on a mountain–I’m hoping to learn mindfulness while cooking, standing in front of the stove. I count myself lucky that I’m guided by the words of Tamar Adler, who has written a great book called An Everlasting Meal. Her message is how to make something last, how to carry meals over to the next meal, how to not waste when cooking. I love her writing style–careful, full, beautiful–which is so unlike my messy way. Take this passage about shopping: “And always (buy) a few bunches of dark, leafy greens. This will seem very pious. Once greens are cooked as they should be, though: hot and lustily, with garlic, in a good amount of olive oil, they lose their moral urgency, and become one of the most likable ingredients in your kitchen.”

Adler is a professional cook with so much to teach the home chef, reading the book is like having a cooking teacher whispering suggestions in your ear. Things like how to roast vegetables, poetic methods for thinking about how to cook beans (“As they cook, beans should look like they’re bathing”), and recipes for using olives, anchovies, and capers–her favorite ingredients, and it turns out mine too. She is a fellow scrounger, who uses every scrap of animal or vegetable to make stock. There’s even an appendix that details how to salvage botched ingredients. Mindfulness, I’m discovering through this terrific book, can be delicious.

I’m looking forward to using some of her recipes tomorrow when I cook for Thanksgiving. To everyone: enjoy the day, the food, the company, the bounty–happy Thanksgiving!

Cooking with Italian Grandmothers and My Calabria

There are two books that I’ve been using in heavy rotation in the kitchen. Both are about Italian food, and old ways of doing things–two of my favorite topics.

The first is called Cooking with Italian Grandmothers by Jessica Theroux. I heard about Jessica’s project through a DVD called Rabbits and Wrinkles, short documentary films of Italian grandmamas wandering around in funny socks and picking weeds, then showing us how they cook them. The grandma I watched cook was from Calabria, the extreme southern part of Italy. She pulled up bean plants in a foggy field, shelled and then simmered them in a wood-fired oven. She got out a basket and foraged for wild greens. I felt deprived that I wasn’t there to eat this amazing feast she prepared from the earth. The DVDs morphed into CwIG, and chronicles Jessica’s journey around Italy, and her lessons in cooking. For Thanksgiving I’ve decided to ditch the turkey and make a series of dumpling/dumpling related foods instead. Stuff like rabbit raviolis and Polish plum dumplings. CwIG is going to help that dumpling dinner: I loved the gnocchi recipe, which yielded these light and chewy friends.

I also have plans to make the baked semolina gnocchi. Oh! And the Polpette di Bietola (chard-sesame balls) –an amazing sounding/looking concoction of steamed chard rolled into a ball with ricotta, bread crumbs which are then rolled in seasame seeds and baked.

The second Italian grandma book involves a grandpa. It’s My Calabria, a cookbook about Calabrian food by Rosetta Costantino. I met Rosetta through a friend and have taken a cooking class from her before (see Hamish Bowles hilarious account of our antics in the November issue of Vogue). And I recently met her father and mother, who are old-school Italians, and are bad-asses in the garden and kitchen respectively. The book is really a love song to the old ways Rosetta’s parents do things: they reuse everything, they preserve and save things for winter, and they seem to grow or make most things they need. Rosetta’s dad, for example, grows and dries his own peppers and his wife grinds them up to make Peperoncino. The tomato trellis in their garden is truly amazing. Don’t worry that you’ll have to use hard-to find ingredients–the Calabrians are all about tomatoes, onions, and zucchini, seen here in the Parmigiana di Zucchine that I made the other night.

But there’s also some weird stuff too! Like the Pitta con Verdura, which is like a calzone but stuffed with borage leaves (if you don’t have borage, you can use chard instead). I had never eaten borage leaves before, but now will never go back, they are so buttery. One of my favorite sections was about the Calabrian pantry–how to make salt-cured anchovies, sun-dried zucchini (wtf? i never thought of that!), candied orange peel. Rosetta tells us that Calabrians never waste anything, so when I found myself with a bunch of figs, I made the Marmellata di Fichi with lovely results.

For dessert on Thanksgiving, I might attempt the Chinulille, sweet ravioli filled with ricotta and candied orange and then (gulp) deep fried. I’m also looking lovingly at the photo on page 153, which is of a pair of goat stomachs which are hanging on some smoky beams. The stomachs aren’t to eat, but are used to make rennet, something Rosetta’s dad did when he was a goatherder and cheesemaker in Italy. This page is especially enticing to me as I have three bucklings on my hands this year, and am faced with the fact that they will not be able to stay–so why not make some rennet and then cheese from that rennet? To use every part, to transform something sad into something delightful.

Both of these books made me have hope that old ways can be rediscovered, as long as we are interested in them. Happy Thanksgiving-planning.


Tartine Book

I don’t usually do book reviews here. Obviously, I love books, especially of the how-to variety as they help me out on the farm making cheese or kraut or beekeeping.  While I love novels and literary non-fiction (except for the sacred few) I find that I lend those out or give them away. But I keep the how-to books. They’re for reference of course, and they are books to use when I teach classes or when I have an open house and I want to invite people to see the books firsthand. Often visitors will have some of the same books (Wild Fermentation, Encyclopedia of Country Living) on their bookshelves and we’ll laugh about our crazed how-to gurus.

There’s a new book out by a crazed how-to guru that I was so pleased to find at Green Apple books the other night. Bill and I had gone to San Francisco for an evening out which involves going to Rainbow to buy olive oil when they’re open, spend a few hours doing something else, and returning to Rainbow when their mighty-fine dumpster gets put out and can be perused.

So there we were, wasting time at Green Apple and I see this book, called Tartine Bread. I read the first paragraph and knew I had to buy the book, even though it is not in my budget ($40). The rest of the night we went diving, then got home tired and dirty. The next day was so hot, I just sat around and read Tartine Bread instead of going outside. I found myself completely blown away how lovely the book is, how measured, how perfectly the book captures the essence of what matters right now with people today. It took my breath away; and I realized, this is probably what happened when my mom read the Moosewood Cookbook or Diet for a Small Planet. The book captured what is important to me, the author finds what I find beautiful, he crafts and cares and loves. He’s–yes–speaking for my generation.

His name is Chad Robertson, and his careful prose paints a portrait of a man obsessed with craft and doing one thing very very well. From what I’ve heard of him, this is all true–by all accounts, he is a humble craftsperson. There are also perfect photos which show you how to make the Tartine loaves which so many people in SF gladly wait in line for. The secret is a series of steps–coaxing a wild yeast to become your friend and live in a jar of flour and water; making a sticky wet dough that you don’t really knead, but turn instead; cooking the dough in a cast iron pan with a lid–to make a big, unique crusty loaf.

Now, I just got the book, I haven’t started to make my wild yeast friend yet, but I will. I had originally thought I would make the bread in my cob oven, but Chad insists that wood fired ovens aren’t necessary (I’m still going to try…) I have made a recipe from the other part of the book, which details how to make bready-recipes like roasted tomatoes, Bahn mi, and a dino kale caesar with croutons. Since I have a million dino kale plants in the garden, I busted that out last night (using the far less superior bread from Brioche Bakery to make the croutons). Lordy, it was divine.

So, there’s my first book review. The end.