Thursday, July 3, 2008

Vicarious Home Cooking

So I'll admit it, my kitchen has been in a bit of the doldrums lately. Without air-conditioning and with equatorial 100-degree weather bearing down upon us, using heat by which to change the color, texture, and flavor of a food, also know as cooking--well--it's just not as appealing as say, reading foodie books while sprawled on the couch with a fan blasting my face.

I just read Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking (1988). Colwin's book is classic American food writing. Last year, an anthology borrowed the title of her essay "Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant," which was originally published in Home Cooking.
Sure Colwin's not as elegant as M.F.K. Fischer, but then really who is? And, even though Colwin has a sort of bossy, no-nonsense tone that sometimes grated on my nerves, I still loved every minute of reading. It is a rare thing to read a twenty-year old book, but still feel it is timely and relevant amidst flashy food trends (and not charmingly archaic like Fischer's older works). Although, I couldn't help but think that the book reads more like a series of blog postings. The book is set up as small vignette essays, illustrated by charmingly old-school (think Moosewood Cookbook) drawings.
Colwin is homey precisely because my mother cooked like this in 1988 when I was still in elementary school. At the same time, Colwin makes me feel homey and old fashioned. For instance, Colwin admits that "unlike some people, who love to go out, I love to stay home" (3). Yes! I agree. Colwin writes of her love for baking bread. Yes, me too! Colwin takes a definitive stance that fried chicken should only be cooked with Wesson. Of course, absoultely, she's right! Colwin was crazy enough to bone a chicken. OMG! ME TOO! The similarities piled up like a stack of Tarot cards as I read. Colwin's stance on roasting red peppers, making potato salad, and chicken salad sandwiches was my view entirely. Colwin just might be my long lost gastronomic twin!
Sadly, the serindipidy bitterly ended when I read the "Bitter Greens" chapter. This essay is devoted to rapini. I planted rapini in my garden this year, so I was thrilled as I began to read about how Colwin discovered this strange vegetable. My mouth watered at her description of baked chicken, golden and basted in its own fat with creamy buttery polenta to contrast the pungent, bitter bite of the rapini.

But, when I finally roused myself from my heat induced stupor, from the cool embrace of my couch, my rapini had bolted. The edible baby broccoli-like fronds had transformed themselves into tough, woody stalks. (Rapini should look like immature stalks of broccoli with leaves attached. Notice how mine look like wanna-be green beans.) The rapini was ruined by the heat.
So vicariously, Colwin gave me rapini, when my own failure to harvest it earlier resulted in the loss of the whole crop. Maybe I have been spending too much of my summer on the couch...


Diane said...

Sooo...question. I bought some fancy semolina flour to add an extra flourish to my usual standard pizza dough. It's been sitting in my pantry for a couple of weeks now (airtight, so I know that nothing got in there since I brought it from the store), and when I went to use it I found a very coarse hair in there. Like, not human. I think pig or maybe cow? Not sure. Now I'm grossed out and don't want to use my expensive flour. Should I toss it, or does most flour have stuff like that in it and I just don't know about it?

Anonymous said...

This entry was sooooooo funny. I have never heard of rapini and I am sure I have never eaten it before. Your picture of this was so funny as it did look like "green beans". BTW I still fry chicken in Wesson!! Stay cool. Mom