I’m no meat eater. But hearing Nigella Lawson wax on about eating Irish lamb stew almost makes me wonder if I’m missing some essential aspect of the human experience:
“I mean it doesn’t make for dainty eating. But it’s such sort of wonderful robust, sort of rapturously robust stew, really, that I think it’s okay to take out each little chop as you eat it, and gnaw away and fling the bones away into the fireplace.”
Rather, this is what an evening of delectably messy protein looks like to us: fish fingers produced by Emmie over spring break on her night to cook. Soy sauce dribbles indelicately over our chins and we lick errant sesame seeds from our lips. Breading slips from the tender cod in shards, and we immediately pluck it between our fingers to pop into our mouths.
Our Alaskan cod doesn’t quite conjure the nourishing, lusty warmth of a brawny stew. There are no bones, but that’s just as well since there is no fireplace close enough to be within flinging proximity.
Still, it’s satisfying in a different sort of way. We are eating it together and as we are thoroughly staining our napkins with soy and a little grease, it’s hardly dainty. It may not be rapturous, but it’s wonderful enough.
Nothing makes me want to cook something daring and complicated than does reading that such activity is still in peril. I thought we were cooking more frequently during these tough economic times in America, but to hear the New York Times’ Kim Severson tell it (reporting from the International Home & Housewares Show in Chicago), we still equate “cooking” with pushing a button or turning a dial. Or at least that’s the definition that appliance and gadget manufacturers are going for.
The author and culinary historian Betty Fussell is worried that another kind of button –- the one that powers up a computer –- is getting in the way of our cooking. She writes in the current issue of Gastronomica that we’re all so caught up in clicking through and critiquing the glut of photos and videos of food on the Internet, that we’re distancing ourselves from all of food’s other sensory experiences.
And it’s probably true –- I know I’ve gazed at more prettily confected cupcakes on Foodgawker than I’ve actually baked. Maybe I do need to spend more time swiping sweet finger-fuls of cake batter or letting my girls mix up too many colors of icing. But if anything, regarding what other cooks and bakers are photographing in their own kitchens inspires me to get cooking in mine. It’s not just a well-lit shot of golden flatbread; it’s a suggestion that there’s satisfaction to be had requiring action on my part –- not just in slathering finished flatbread with hummus, but in learning how to get that chewy mouthful from a precise heap of flour, some water, salt and perhaps a little olive oil.
Making food and eating the food we’ve made will always be a far more fulfilling human experience than sifting through a worldwide web of food photography. For me, that fulfillment always reaches completeness when I share it with others –- first with the people across from me at the table, the ones whose nightly job it is to put forks at each place and fill the water glasses, who tell me what they like –- or don’t –- about the soup in between dissertations on the worthlessness of math or who chased whom at recess.
Then, every now and then, I share what we eat with the world. I’d rather do it with words than with my own lousy photography, but either way it’s less about show-and-tell and more about speaking up, about adding my voice and my passion to the broad conversation we’re having about food. I don’t want to just tell you what I made for brunch, but I want to tell you about it. All of our breathless blogging and picture posting isn’t in itself detrimental to the art of eating. It’s just another way of expressing that food is so much more than food.
Few things are actually worth the incessant hype heaped upon them. Among the truly worthy: YSL’s Touche Eclat, Phoenix’s very own Pizzeria Bianco, and reusable shopping bags.
Add to that list freshly ground spices, which add oomph and flavor the way their pre-ground spicy sisters in no way can.
It’s why I love (big-red-heart-with-an-arrow-through-it-love) my spice and nut grinder. This, my cooking friends, is one petite-but-mighty kitchen appliance you won’t relegate to the garage-sale box. I use it for the obvious, for grinding whole toasted coriander and cumin seeds, for whirring grains of paradise into a fine finishing powder, for breaking lots of walnuts into itty-bitty chunks.
But I love it just as much for it’s ability to emulsify a small batch of pesto or blitz chunks of bread into coarse breadcrumbs faster than I can get out and assemble my blender and/or food processor. And then there’s the way it handles our favorite brown sugar, which arrives brick-hard and unusable.
The lone drawback is that it makes a racket, but sometimes things (or kids, for example) have to make a little noise in order to be get the appreciation they deserve.
This qualifies for the “do try this at home” category: Egg on pizza.
I saw it in the pages of last month’s Sunset magazine: Some hip pizzeria somewhere in hip California is cracking eggs atop pizza moments before it’s fully cooked. Because I’m never one to turn down the lush, enriching quality of an oozy egg yolk, I was effectively intrigued. But since I can’t drop everything and road-trip it west anytime soon (sad, isn’t it, this stable and scheduled little domestic life I lead?), I figured I’d better experiment with an egg or two and some home-rolled pizza dough.
Sunset says the combination works best with toppings that pair well with eggs. Imagine the possibilities then, given that more things taste good with eggs than not.
To wit: spicy tomato sauce, thin-sliced red-skinned potatoes and roasted kale — a deserving wintry cliche — all scattered over with a little mozz and some Parm. I made sure to leave little indentations in the toppings, so that when I pulled my pizza stone out during the last five minutes of cook time, the eggs would have somewhere to go.
I used four eggs, one for each of us, and we each voted that egg on pizza qualifies for another category: that of “Must make again.”