Hospitality Perverted

If hospitality, like I discussed in my previous post, is the creation of an open space to allow people the freedom to be who God created and intended them to be (most clearly seen and exhibited when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet), then what is its stark opposite?

Dare I say: Cannibalism?

In Homeric Greece, a civilized community is a place where “people produce grain to make their bread, where they have vineyards to make wine, orchards with apple and pear trees, pomegranates, figs and olives, and where well-planted gardens provide all sorts of fresh green vegetables throughout the year. Communities like this have meeting halls where the people come together for discussion and counsel” (Food: The History of Taste, 67). And hospitality was an act held in high regard; Zeus himself was considered the god of strangers; so much so that the common practice upon receiving a stranger was to first feed him and then, once fed, to ask questions about his history and business (The Hungry Soul, 102).

In his epic The Odyssey, Homer gives us a glimpse into what the antithesis to the idea of Greek hospitality looked like through Odysseus’ encounter with the Cyclopes Polyphemus. As many know, the Cyclopes are one-eyed monsters. Because of the one eye, they lack any perspective, motivated solely by the here-and-now, enslaved to an unbridled, imbalanced appetite.

The Cyclopes are further described as “lawless brutes,” having “no meeting place for council, no laws either,” and “each a law to himself, ruling his wives and children, not a care in the world for any neighbor” (The Odyssey, 9:120-128). Their land is unsown and unplowed, overgrown. They live in caves in complete isolation from one another, hating community and hospitality so much that they use huge boulders as doors. Polyphemus takes better care of his goats and sheep than other humans.

When Odysseus and his men finally face the Polyphemus, they beg him to treat them as was the custom, as Zeus had commanded. Polyphemus’ reaction to Odysseus’ request? Mocking Zeus and hospitality to the extent that he snatches up two of Odysseus’ men, “knocked them dead like pups—their brains gushed out all over, soaked the floor—and ripping them limb from limb to fix his meal he bolted them down like a mountain-lion, left no scrap, devoured entrails, flesh and bones, marrow and all!” (9:326-330)

They Cyclopes have such a distorted/twisted view of what it means to be human that they resort to devouring humans, leaving nothing behind. Humans are simply to be tossed aside while his goats and sheep deserve the utmost care and respect. As Leon Kass observes, “For him [Polyphemus], not nature or the divine, but ‘one’s-own-ness’ is supreme” (The Hungry Soul, 112). Kass continues, “One-eyed, without perspective, he is confused about what is truly near and far, about what is superficial and what goes deep, indeed, about that which is truly his own—the human soul and its openness to learning and loving” (112). Everyone that is only slightly different is a threat to who he has become, and therefore, must be destroyed, taken to the furthest extreme in cannibalism.

While no one might be practicing Polyphemus’ deeply perverted hospitality, I do wonder if there is not some sort of spiritual cannibalism we as sinful humans all struggle with? We may never resort to physical cannibalism, but do we spiritually cannibalize others who are different from us?

This spiritual cannibalism brought to mind Paul’s words to the church at Galatia: “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed” (Galatians 5:15).

Life in the Spirit and becoming more and more like Christ is not an easy, straight-forward process. It is messy; it can be disorienting; it can raise a whole lot more questions than provide answers. Unfortunately our tendency is not to embrace said process but to look for shortcuts or easier means. Along the way we are tempted to think that these shortcuts are the means of sanctification and require others to adopt the same. If not, they can be ostracized from the community…devoured and destroyed…instead of “serving one another in love” (Galatians 5:14).

What am I doing that might be cannibalizing others? What practices/ideologies/theologies of the church might be cannibalistic in nature?

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Dinner at Forage Restaurant

One of the most exciting, current food trends is allowing the local to shape the nature of a restaurant’s cuisine. Restaurants in Europe, like Noma and Faviken, have been instrumental in spearheading this movement, and now other chefs in the United States are incorporating this philosophy into how they cook. This trend is a very localized farm-to-table movement, where all the details of the restaurant are shaped by this philosophy. (An aside: I am fascinated by how this trend has appeared at the height of the molecular gastronomy movement in cuisine.)

Forage Restaurant in Salt Lake City is presenting cuisine connected with the terrior of Utah, and after a meal there this past Saturday, it is very exciting.

Forage has been on my radar even before moving to Utah. I think I first heard of Forage when the chefs (Viet Pham and Bowman Brown at the time) were nominated for a James Beard award. Viet Pham left Forage in September 2012 to pursue his own restaurant (he has appeared on Food Network a couple of times). Since then, Chef Brown has put his unique spin on the menu paying more careful attention to what Utah offers and trying to look deeply at the question, “What can this place offer? And how can I respect the ingredients?”

For my birthday my parents’ gift to me was money so that Claire and I could enjoy an evening at Forage. I had not been this excited about a meal in a really long time, and was slightly worried that my expectations would be too high and I would be let down. Thankfully, that was not the case in the least; the team at Forage gave us one of the best meals I have ever enjoyed, and definitely the best dining experience in Utah.

Forage only offers a tasting menu, which can be accompanied by wine pairings or non-alcoholic juice pairings. I opted for the wine pairings with each course, while Claire had the juice pairings. When you dine at Forage, I think this is the way to go as the juices were unique and delicious and definitely not an afterthought to the wine (actually in some courses, we both preferred the juice pairing to the wine pairing). The wine pairings were unique and allowed me to try some new wines, like a sparkling Malbec and a dry Gewurztraminer.

(The pictures do not do the food justice, but I was not going to spend 15 minutes to get a great picture of each dish.)

The meal started with five amuse bouches.

Apple and Woodruff

apple and woodruff with fermented honey (this was fresh pressed warm apple cider, quite possibly the best apple cider I have tasted)

Elderberry and Beet

elderberry and beet (beet puree inside of elderberry leather. Thankfully the beet was not overly sweet, so it was a nice bite of the earthy beet with the elderberry fruit)

Crispy Potato

crispy potato with chicken liver mousse (the chicken liver was very subdued and approachable)

Kale with Juniper

kale with juniper (this dish was presented to the table with a glass dome on top, so that when the server lifted the lid, the aroma of the smoking juniper branches engulfed us. The kale was presented as chips and sandwiched between was an egg yolk puree, adding a nice richness to the smokiness of the dish)

Elk and Buckwheat

elk with buckwheat (elk heart tartar with watercress and creme fraiche, served with homemade buckwheat crackers. The flavor of the tartar was quite subdued, I would have liked a stronger flavor from the heart, which felt overpowered by the cracker, but still very tasty)

All of the amuse bouches were excellent, but our favorite had to be the apple and woodruff, if only because a fresh cup of hot apple cider is just so hard to beat. The amuses came quite quickly; I wish they had been spaced out a little more so that we could truly savor each unique bite.

Bread with Local Butter

Before the main courses arrived, we were presented with homemade bread and butter made locally at Gold Creek Farms.

Crayfish and Late Tomatoes

crayfish with late tomatoes (this dish surprised me as it was presented cold. The tomatoes are presented here as ice, but with a super concentrated flavor. Underneath were two nuggets of crayfish with a crayfish panna cotta underneath.)

Fresh Roe and Potatoes with Elderberry Capers

fresh roe and potatoes with elderberry capers (a perfectly cooked potato, displaying a lovely butteriness to it, topped with fresh trout roe and cream. Potatoes, roe, cream…classic combination and for good reason.)

Young Roots, Stems, Leaves, with Fruit Vinegar

young roots, stems, leaves, with fruit vinegar (baby carrots and beets on top of a perfectly sublime parsnip puree, finished with a homemade fruit vinegar. Perfectly executed fall vegetables)

Oats and Turnips with Mushrooms

oats and turnips with mushrooms (a full on assault of umami in this course. The previous course and this course fully encapsulated the broad range of fall flavors and the beauty of this time)

Duck with Black Gooseberries

duck with black gooseberries, onion, black bread (this was not on the menu but a special course. The skin on the duck was crackling-esque, while the flavor of the duck was so deep and rich, tempered by the fruit and the lightly pickled onions)

Trout with a Sauce of its Bones

trout with a sauce of its bones (the trout was lightly smoked but still incredibly moist, topped with a briny sauce and New Zealand spinach. The combination of smoke and brine was really quite delightful)

Beef with Cabbage and Wild Onion

beef from pleasant mountain with cabbage and wild onion (beef shoulder sous vide for 48 hours in beef fat with cabbage and onion puree. The cabbage was sweeter than most cabbage I have had before, but still with a slight bitter edge, but really helped to balance the richness of the beef)

I have a hard time picking a favorite main course as they were all executed with such precision and offered unique flavors and textures. Not to mention the order and progression was great.

Frozen Quince and Green Juniper

frozen quince and green juniper (the first dessert was a quince and marshmallow sorbet topped with juniper and lemon verbana. Claire and I both loved this dessert as it was light and refreshing, serving almost like a palate cleanser)

Toasted Acorn

toasted acorn (acorn cake, acorn custard, ground toasted acorns and a salted yogurt)

I really appreciated that both desserts were not overly sweet, but again well balanced with differing textures.

I cannot reiterate how much I loved dining at Forage. It is exciting to see Chef Brown and his team doing something completely unique in terms of a dining experience in Utah.

My Biggest Pet Peeve

My biggest pet peeve in being a professional cook has nothing to do with the hours, the people I work with, or even the customers who can sometimes be completely unreasonable. No my actual biggest pet peeve is when I hear people tell me, “We would love to invite you over, but we are scared to cook for you.”

Listen, I understand. I am around food way too much, cook way too much, and taste good food way too much. And I will admit that it is hard to turn off the critique in my head. Doing something as an amateur around a professional can be nerve-wracking. It can bring to the surface all of the feelings of insecurity and inadequacy we are used to suppressing.

But I still hate it.

First, understand that Claire and I have just finished graduate school and are going to be paying back over $200,000 in student loans FOR-E-VER. So when someone wants to offer us a free meal, we will gladly accept it.

Second, people must think that Claire and I eat like royalty at home every night of the week, which is simply not true. My lunch is sometimes frozen pot-stickers from Costco or beef hot links on a hotdog bun. Not to mention that there are some nights after a long week, where I simply do not want to cook, so Claire and I will enjoy the rare delicacy of Kraft Mac-n-cheese with a can of tuna.

Third and most important, Claire and I love spending a quiet evening with other people around the table. Sure it helps when the food is good, but just being together is more important. I did not start cooking because I wanted to always eat really good food; I started cooking because I noticed something more in feeding people than just the physical act—the deep spiritual connection that occurs when people dine together.

Maybe that is why the statement irks me so much – it reveals that the other person does not know me that well yet.

Even if you order in pizza, Claire and I will be thrilled; we simply want to get to know you.

Or recall the climatic scene from Ratatouille, when Ego is served ratatouille. That is all any of us really want…to experience the warmth, love and security of home every time we sit down to eat.

My Love/Hate Relationship with Michael Pollan

While love and hate may be too strong of words to describe my reaction to Michael Pollan’s new book Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, I figured it might grab your attention. But in reading his latest contribution to the ever changing dialogue of the place of food in American culture, at times he was speaking directly to my heart about the importance of a shared meal, but at other times, I could barely continue reading as I was frustrated and jealous of how he went about the business of learning to cook.

I have enjoyed reading Michael Pollan’s books over the past few years, starting with The Omnivore’s Dilemma, then In Defense of Food, and now Cooked. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to state that Michael Pollan may be the most influential food writer in America. Through his three books, he has done more to change the food culture in America from exposing the awfulness of modern agriculture practices to the dangers of our over reliance on corn and to the weird science of nutritionism.

I was excited as I began reading Cooked as right off the bat he states that lately he came to the realization that while he had written a lot about food, he knew very little about how to cook. Not only did he not know much about cooking, but he “made the unexpected but happy discovery that the answer to several of the questions that most occupied me was in fact one and the same. Cook” (1). He laments the lack of cooking being done in America today, which is odd as Americans are watching and talking about food more than ever.

His premise in the book is that cooking “is one of the most interesting and worthwhile things we humans do” (11). And after his education in the kitchen he writes, “the most important thing I learned by doing this work is how cooking implicates us in a whole web of social ecological relationships: with plants and animals, with the soil, with farmers, with the microbes both inside and outside our bodies, and, of course, with the people our cooking nourishes and delights. Above all else, what I found in the kitchen is that cooking connects” (18, emphasis mine).

He also praises the importance of the shared meal. He writes, “It is a foundation of family life, the place where our children learn the art of conversation and acquire the habits of civilization: sharing, listening, taking turns, navigating differences, arguing without offending” (8).

Everything he has said, I reply with a heartily “Amen!” If you know me, these ideas are what makes my heart come alive. I first borrowed the book from our local public library, but after reading the introduction, I told Claire that I wanted to buy the book, to which her response was, “You want to underline and write in the book.” And she was absolutely correct. I wanted the ability to have this book on my shelf so I could quote from it without having to look too far.

Michael Pollan divides his book into four sections based on the primordial elements: Fire, Water, Air and Earth, with each section evidencing a greater degree of civilization. In Fire, he learns the techniques of authentic barbeque from pitmasters in South Carolina. In Water, he learns all about the technique of braising from a local cook who had worked at Chez Panisse and spent two years in Tuscany learning how to cook. In Air he discusses the wonder of the wild yeast found all around us that has made bread baking possible, spending time talking and learning with Chad Robertson, the fame baker at Tartine Bakery. And finally in Earth, he learns the science about fermentation, from pickles to cheese to beer, again learning from experts along the way.

And this is where my frustration (and if I am honest, my jealousy) with the book started to mount. Here was a great writer and thinker discovering what I and many others have known for a while, namely the pleasures of cooking and sharing a meal with others, but he was learning from some of the best in the business, a privilege few people are able to enjoy. He travels not only the states, but the world, to talk to people who have been practicing their specific craft for years. He is able to spend a devoted length of time to learning how to bake a loaf of bread based on Chad Robertson’s recipe from Tartine Bakery, a recipe that requires at least 6 hours of time, turning the loaf every 45 minutes or so. I would wager that anyone could find the same success in cooking as Michael Pollan did if given the opportunities he had.

But the problem is, not many of us will ever be able to simply call up Chad Robertson with a question about our bread starter and be able to hang out with him learning. Chances are if you want to learn to cook, we will have to teach ourselves. And this is exactly how I have learned. Yes I have been to culinary school, but I am still paying off that debt. Yes I work in a restaurant, where I have also learned quite a bit. But by and large, my culinary education has been self-taught. I have taught myself a lot about sous-vide cooking. I have taken the time to bake bread and cultivate a sourdough starter. And I know many others who have taken a similar approach.

And herein lays the small danger of Michael Pollan’s book: unknowingly or unwittingly he espouses the belief that in order to cook successfully, one has to learn from professionals. He laments the outsourcing of a lot of our cooking in modern life, but when he seeks to learn how to cook himself, he relies on the professionals. He might argue that this is no different than reading and copying recipes from cookbooks, but I don’t think it is the same.

When I was starting to explore cooking more and more, I learned from recipes and books, but when and if something fails, I do not have the luxury of having the author right there to answer my question. Instead I am left to figure it out myself and try again. My worry is that others will read this book and instead of feeling inspired to cook might feel discouraged and deflated.

But just as I was ready to give up on the book, I skipped ahead to the conclusion where Michael Pollan returns to the beauty and heart of cooking and sharing meals, where “the world becomes literally more wonderful (and wonderfully more literal) as soon as we are reminded of these relationships” (408). As we cook we are reminded of the beautiful relationships that exist. Our relationship to this earth, that we depend on the earth to feed us. Our relationship to farmers who grow the food we eat. And most importantly our relationship with one another, the community we experience around food that is unlikely to be experienced in any other avenue of human activity.

At the table we experience love, community and interdependency like no other place. Through cooking we remember that we are all humans on the same journey. And I love that Michael Pollan has written about this, but please know that you do not need the best cooks to teach you how to cook. You can start by choosing a recipe that you feel comfortable with and trying it and inviting a few friends over to share it with you.

If it fails, order pizza and laugh with your friends, as the point is not the food, but rather the people we share the food with.

Grandma on Cooking in 1958

With Grandpa having passed away a little over a month ago, and Grandma close to nine years, my dad has been sorting through a lifetime’s worth of papers. Most of it ends up in the trash, but every so often he comes across a piece containing rich family history or a piece that sheds further light into who my grandparents were.

Recently my dad found two pieces of the latter sort. Two speeches my grandma delivered—one in 1958 on cooking and one on gardening, which unfortunately has no date. He had them both scanned and emailed me them, knowing that I would especially love the speech on cooking.

I just finished reading In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan, and some of what Grandma talks about in 1958 sounds like it could have come straight from the book, but Grandma had Michael Pollan beat by a half century. Both speeches are too good not to share, so here is the speech on food. It is a little long, but is quick easy reading.

Bon appétit!

__________________________________________________________

One of the most interesting things Bill [her husband, my Grandpa] and I have learned the last few years that makes cooking those three meals a day that we are all required to do much more intriguing and fun is that cooking is culture. In reading noted cooks from the past, present and from all over the world—they all agree that cooking is definitely one of the arts and is therefore culture. Sounds rather strange when you first hear it, but stop and think, if one is to live so every minute counts, to be alert and alive instead of numb, then cooking and eating rank high as cultural matters. Nothing affects the very quality of life itself so much as our diet, our pleasure in it and what it does for us nutritionally.

The person who cooks and eats to just assuage his hunger is living no more fully than an animal. The person who is interested in food on many levels is actually living more. For the more you know about food, the more you can appreciate it—sensually and intellectually. The cooking you accomplish from day to day, whether cooked by yourself or others, is as indicative of the quality of your life as your architectural surroundings, the books you read, the clothes you wear, the music you listen to or the objects you rest your eyes upon. In some ways, it is more important than all these other things, for there are so many times in a day, and therefore in a lifetime, when food must have your attention as a necessity.  Once you become aware of how fascinating the world of food really is you bemoan the years you have wasted.

Some people associate gastronomy with “excess” but Andre Simon has expressed it best saying, “Excess is the hallmark of fast living, as sure a road to damnation as good living is to salvation. Gastronomy is, on the contrary, intimately bound to moderation, the very reverse of excess. Without moderation, appreciation becomes impossible. Others confuse gastronomy with high living. It is entirely opposed to it. High living is inseparable from extravagance, from rare and rich costly foods and wines, and from fatty hearts and enlarged livers.”

There are many levels on which you can pursue food as culture. First, there is the gourmet point of view—that is the training of one’s tongue, one’s eye, and one’s nose to recognize small differences. Without this ability to distinguish small characteristics, it is impossible to develop as a critic, as an expert or as a cook. This sensitive awareness is the cornerstone on which a cultural attitude toward food must be built.

Once you start paying attention to food in this critical way you open new areas of interest. You make observations about how food expresses national and racial differences, and how it reflects economic conditions. For instance, has it occurred to you the reason France is such a cheese producing country may be that they have so little refrigeration? Whereas, we consume our milk as milk thanks to our superb transportation system and universal refrigeration.

Thus the intellect comes into play, and you see food and cooking as living history. The folk wisdom and practices of any nation are in their cooking traditions. If you know how to analyze them you learn more about their values—from the status of women in society to the nutritional protection afforded by native diet.

The Germans have a proverb “You are what you eat.” Scientists have proved that many so called racial and national characteristics—laziness, energy, persistence or instability often bear a direct relation to habits of eating. From whatever point of view, it would appear that the proper study of mankind is FOOD, as food is linked with every branch in the tree of cultural history.

A knowledge of cooking adds a new dimension to travel. It is, in the truest sense of the word, your passport into new areas and your introduction to people, things and places, which the ordinary tourist never sees. You cannot understand any country or people unless you know something about their food. When you travel you should taste your way around the world. The tourist that insists on an American steak or an American cup of coffee is missing much a country has to offer. I feel we miss much here in our own country when we are not willing to experiment with regional dishes. I have greatly enjoyed the Southern dishes Izetta [the wife of Grandpa’s brother, Don] has brought West—like the country ham and egg pie she once made for our PEO. Too many people refuse to try anything they are not familiar with and consequently deprive their families and themselves of a great deal of pleasure.

One of the pleasures of cooking is being able to increase your skill. We all know the act of doing something successfully is a pleasure. It is fun to perfect a technique, to become better and better at something. We can analyze why a thing contributes to flavor, texture or efficiency or speed. It is fun to think of the alternatives open to us—whether to soak lamb in wine or soy sauce or whether to use ginger or garlic. Cooking this way is not work or drudgery for you are always testing a theory, pursuing a point of view. You are creating as you cook.

You may be asking, what is the down-to-earth pay-off of making cooking a culture area? Here are a few ways.

  1. Once cooking becomes more than reading and blindly following somebody else’s recipe, you begin to cook superbly well. For, let’s fact it, many, many recipes are not superb because they are created by people who may not have their own cooking practices sharpened by years of tasting the best. You, though, begin to view a recipe as something you can improve. You look for faults in methods or the lacks in seasoning and you correct as you go along.
  2. This way of cooking lets you create new methods, new combinations and new short cuts. A huge mass of recipes are obsolete in the light of the revolutionary meaning of new appliances and new foodstuffs.
  3. You can order a meal well in a restaurant, for you know how to run your eye down the menu and judge the capabilities of the chef and order the best he has to offer.
  4. You can buy the best foodstuffs available for your own kitchen, screening from a huge variety of sources the choicest. You tap the local and national sources in a way you would not have known before.
  5. You get a better focus on price, for you know when to pay extra to get something better, and when not to pay more because there is a false value buried in the price. For instance, peak-of-season plenitude is also the time of peak flavor and lowest prices. Out-of-season means lowest flavor and highest prices. The gourmet eats in season.
  6. The cultured cook knows when to cook quick and when to cook long and adapts the menu and the recipes to time available. Just as there are certain types of music written to played as encores, there are certain types of dishes for fast concocting.
  7. The cultured cooks commits no clichés such as the ever present buffet menu of baked ham, potatoes au gratin and green salad.

More and more people are learning the fun of creative cooking as is seen in many of our new kitchens. The kitchen is becoming one of the most interesting, as well as expensive, rooms of our homes, as it is a place where families can have an adventure together.

The devotees of food as culture are a merry company. You find them everywhere—some are rich, some are poor, some are in cities, some in little town or in the country. A few are young—many are older, for the gourmet attitude seems to increase with the mellowing effect of years—which is another way of saying, experience. The type of culture seems to thrive among warm-hearted kindly folk. This makes it all the more fun to be one of them.

I’d like to tell you about some of the books and periodicals we have read that started and has increased our interest in experimenting with food. I’ll admit that Bill is the one that purchased our books and read them first and then whetted my interest enough to read some of them. Some of the periodicals that we feel are well worth subscribing to are:

  1. Gourmet, which is a monthly publication and always has several articles on the history of different foods, some points on making cooking easier as well as tastier and always has reliable recipes.
  2. House Beautiful, its editor, Elizabeth Gordon, is a true gourmet and there are always some food articles and generally good recipes. It gives you much food for thought.
  3. The Wine and Food Quarterly, put out by the Wine and food Society in London, which is an organization for man only and does much to stimulate their interest in food. This makes cooking a lot more fun for women if their menfolk are appreciative of their efforts. It features experiences in gastronomy and has a section on Memorable meals which comments in detail on certain meals and menus. It also gives the menus at the different meetings of the Wine and Food Society Chapters around the world. It reviews the old and new cookbooks as well as other articles on food.
  4. House and Garden, also has a section relating to food. It will take one subject, like meat, and spend the entire chapter on it.
  5. Sunset is another magazine to take as the recipes are dependable but perhaps not as classic or fine as some of the others.

Have you notices how many magazines are adding food articles that have never had them before these last few years, like Vogue, Glamour, and some of those?

Books that really can tell you why cooking is a real art and should be treated as such, and yet, are most interesting reading are:

  1. The Art of Eating by M.F.K. Fisher. It is a book of observations with a few recipes. What I especially enjoyed was the history of food from 3000 BC to now, as well as her clever stories on places and people she’s known in various restaurants or who were cooks.
  2. The Art of Good Living by Andre Simon. The flyleaf says that this is a book to shape the mind and not one of action. Simon tells why he feels gastronomy is so vital to our well-being as an enjoyable art. He is the founder of the Wine and Food Society.
  3. The Physiology of Taste by jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. Brillat-Savarin was a French lawyer, politician and writer of the 18th and 19th centures. He is still a noted reference as an outstanding gourmet. A couple of his quotations are: “Tell me what you what and I will tell you what you are.” “The man who gives a dinner for a group of his friend and takes no trouble over what they are to eat is not fit to have any friends.” “The discovery of a new dish does more for the happiness of mankind than the discovery of a new star.”
  4. Trader Vic’s Kitchen Kibitzer by Vic Bergeron. This is a humorous book on food with recipes by a man with whom we are all familiar.
  5. The Unprejudiced Palate by Angelo Pellegrini. Mr. Pellegrini is a teacher of English and Literature at the University of Washington. He says his book is a philosophy of cooking and that the discriminating eater is seldom a sour puss. This is a cleverly written guide to good living.

Outstanding well-rounded cookbooks that are good to use regularly. Whenever I wish to find a different way of preparing a dish that I haven’t tried before, I go to these first.

  1. Gourmet Cookbooks, Vol. I and II. These books have the simplest to the most complicated recipes and cover every range of food. They are expensive but worth it.
  2. Complete Book of Outdoor Cookery by Helen Evans Brown and James Beard. This is much more than just a barbecue book and is especially good for our western type of living. My pet!
  3. Cooking a la Ritz by Louis Diat. This is a good basic cookbook as is Diat’s French Cooking for Americans.
  4. West Coast Cookbook by Helen Evans Brown. This is one that has good recipes and also is fun to read the little quips she writes about some of the recipes and how we westerners got them.
  5. Fireside Cookbook by James Beard

There are many, many more books that I use regularly but more as references.

  1. Escoffier Cookbook by Escoffier. Most often quoted author today as this book is regarded as the Bible of Culinary Art, the one indispensible book on fine cooking. Escoffier says it is not a book for beginners but I disagree as it has helped me answer many questions pertaining to food.
  2. Concise Encyclopedia of Gastronomy by Andre Simon. A dictionary type of reference on everything.
  3. Game Cookery in America and Europe by Raymond Camp, for the hunter’s wives whose husbands were lucky on their last pack trip.
  4. Madame Prunier’s Fish Cookery Book – Translated from French. This is still the most noted fish cooking book.
  5. Sauces by Louis Diat. The most complete and authoritative book on this subject.
  6. The Epicurean by Charles Ranhofer (formerly chef at Delmonicos). This gives detailed instructions of cutting meat, vegetables, cooking and serving. It has pictures and drawings to illustrate techniques.
  7. Modern Culinary Art by Henri Paul Pellaprat, who was formerly head instructor at the Cordon Bleu School of Cookery in France. It is also a complete book for decorative foods.

Then we have books that are just fun to read that are as interesting and as entertaining as a novel.

  1. Scot’s Kitchen, It’s Tradition and Lore by F. Marian Mc’Neill
  2. Scot’s Cellar, It’s Tradition and Lore by F. Marian Mc’Neill.
  3. Food in England by Dorothy Hartley
  4. By Request by Andre Simon that is an autobiography. Simon has many books that are most interesting and informative.
  5. Paris Cuisine by James Beard and Alexander Watt
  6. Fine Bouche by Pierre Andrion. A history of the restaurant in France.
  7. The Gentleman’s Companion. Two sets of two volumes. First is Exotic Cookery and Exotic Drink of the World. The other set is South American food and drink.
  8. Last of the ones I’ll mention, but not the least, is the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise which is a weekly paper from Virginia City, Nevada that always has a good food article, has advertisements of every known restaurant in the United States and is most entertaining reading about the town of Virginia City.

Authors to look for while reading that can be depended to have something of interest to say and fine recipes.

  1. Andre Simon, a grand old man in his 80’s whose life has been spent in learning and teaching good food.
  2. Helen Evans Brown, an American of today who writes for many magazines like House Beautiful, Sunset and Virginia City Territorial Enterprise and whose books are the absolute best concerning Western living.
  3. James Beard. Also a noted present day authority. He has an excellent fish book and barbecue book out. This last weekend I read he is publishing another book right away.
  4. Louis Diat, writes regularly for Gourmet. He has an article each month for beginners.
  5. Escoffier. Any reference to him is like taking a case to the Supreme Court. Cooks use his works as law.
  6. Vic Bergeron. Always fun reading and has recipes for good eating of all kinds.
  7. Frank Schoonmaker, a noted wine expert and cook of today.

These are just a few of many good cookbooks that are fun as well as practical. However, I want to point out that the vast majority of cookbooks are a complete waste of time and many, as too many are written by unimaginative and unauthoritative cooks. When you take the time to look up something, you want to know it is the very best.

It is standard practice in our home to try a new recipe each dinner. I’ll have to admit, it has added a great deal more pleasure to the cooking and to the fun of eating for our entire family.

In closing, I’d like to read the last chapter of Andre Simon’s autobiography, By Request. It gives in his words the joy he has had in finding that food is culture.

[The chapter is not quoted. Grandma must have read it from the book.]

The Odiferous Nature of Cheese

Celebrating Valentine’s Day this year with an evening of cheese, salami and wine, helped me recall a post I had written a few years back about the odors of cheese. Because it was on my old blog that has disappeared into some unknown space, I thought I would repost it.

Enjoy!

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Cheese and Wine Spread

As many of you know, I worked in the cheese room at Palate Food + Wine for a little while. I read up on cheeses. I put together a booklet of the cheeses we had on hand. I tasted cheeses constantly. And I smelled a lot of cheeses.

As I read about cheeses, particularly the ones that Palate carried, I was surprised to see some of the descriptions used for the odor of cheese. Some cheeses have an odor so strong that when I store them in my refrigerator, my fridge quickly smells like the cheese. As soon as I open the door, I am hit with the odor. Currently in my fridge is a wheel of VacherinMont d’Or cheese. I just hope that my roommate does not mind the powerful odor of the cheese.

Some cheeses should have a strong barnyardy odor, but a cheese should never smell like death, decay, dung or straight ammonia. For instance,  Steven Jenkins in The Cheese Primer describes the French cheese Munster this way: “Munster has a very pronounced, powerful aroma, and I have never figured out how it is that a food that smells like rotting fruits and vegetables and barnyard animals can evoke hunger pangs in me” (83). Epoisses is another cheese with a very pungent odor, which is putting it nice.

The odors of food are important because when it comes to eating the nose does most of the work. The human mouth can only decipher five basic flavors: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami. The nose, however, can sort through close to 10,000 different odors. Therefore, despite my mouth’s limitation in detecting the flavor, my nose compensates as it is connected to the mouth through the retronasal passage.

Unfortunately as an American, I am at a disadvantage when it comes to appreciating odors. The American culture literally shuns anything that smells strong, pungent, or funky. Think about how much money is spent each year to make everything smell pleasant. Granted some odors should be masked…I love my deodorant, and I am pretty positive that almost everyone else appreciates that I wear deodorant. I also love lighting fragrant candles to make my room smell nice. But this desire to cover up odors that might be a little unpleasant means that when it comes to tasting cheeses, I have to get over my preconceived idea that a bad smell equals bad taste.

You might be thinking, “Why would I ever want to put something in my mouth that has an odor that strong and that off-putting? I will just stick to food that smells good, like strawberries.” You are entitled to your opinion, but think of all that you will be missing in life. Epoisses is one of the best cheeses in the world. In fact, the great food writer, Brillat-Savarin called it the king of the cheeses. And once you get past the stench of the cheese, what awaits you is, in the words of Max McCalman, “a lovely chorus of refined flavors, complex yet well rounded” (The Cheese Plate, 102). Later, he writes, “It’s amazing how it can smell so funky and yet taste so balanced” (185).

As I thought about the odiferous nature of cheese, I began seeing the connections between cheese and my Christian life. I have come to believe deeply that my life should always smell and look good. I do not like it when things smell bad or get messy. I wish my Christian life was like a perfectly ripened strawberry—lush, perfectly ripened, that smell that immediately draws my mind to the beauty of spring and summer, and the juice that drips down my chin—that’s the Christian life I like. As I observe American Christianity, it seems that I am not alone. This is what we all want and this is what we present to others, and I think we have gotten pretty good at it, unfortunately.

But as I have studied spiritual formation, I have begun to learn that this is rarely the case, as we live in a fallen, sinful world. Sure there are moments when the Christian life might come close to resembling the strawberry. However, messiness and foul odors are part of the process that God uses in his infinite wisdom to mold me and shape me. Just like with cheese, however, there is a fine line. I am not talking about sin, which to use the analogy with cheese, smells of death, decay and dung. I am talking about situations, trials, thorns in the flesh, that the Lord introduces; those events, peoples, situations, whatever they may be, that smell “bad” to me, just like some cheese might smell “bad.” However, if I can get past my preconceived ideas and deep beliefs of what smells good and bad, then I might discover that what awaits me is similar to Epoisses: “a lovely chorus of refined flavors, complex yet well rounded.”

Unlike with cheese, where the payoff comes as soon as the cheese enters my mouth, I may never fully know that chorus of refined flavors, but I will continue to learn to trust.

Tips for Valentine’s Day

Cheese and Wine Spread

I realize that this may be late, considering today is Valentine’s Day, but I thought I would offer some of my personal suggestions on dining on Valentine’s Day.

My number one suggestion: Don’t go out on Valentine’s Day. Working in a restaurant, I, along with others who work with me, look forward to Valentine’s Day as much as I look forward to a root canal. For some reason, people who never dine out decide that on February 14 they should go to the nicest restaurant they can afford. Chefs know this so they cater their menu accordingly. Or they offer a set menu that while may not be completely uninspired, is definitely not the food they would love to cook.

Not to mention that if you do decide to go out, you are going to be putting up with large crowds and noisy restaurants. Because my ideal Valentine’s Day is to celebrate it with 200 other people crammed into a restaurant being served by people who may not be in the greatest mood.

The one caveat I will throw out there is this: If you and your significant other have a great hole in the wall place where you just love to eat, go there. Chances are those types of restaurants are doing nothing different, and you will probably not have to face large crowds.

The other side to my number one suggestion is: Dine in on Valentine’s Day.

You do not have to make an extravagant feast for you and your other, rather simply enjoy the food you both love with the mindful intention of just being together (Two years ago I wrote a blog post on the simple and Valentine’s Day). If you are both adventurous and want to create something new, by all means do it, especially if you do it together. But, say in my case, where I am most likely to cook for Claire, I would purposefully choose a dinner that would not require me to spend all day in the kitchen by myself. For instance our first Valentine’s Day together, when we were dating, Claire came up to my little cabin in Forest Falls. I made a citrus salad (all of which can be prepped beforehand and assembled right before eating) and then short ribs with mashed potatoes. As the short ribs were braising in the oven for a couple of hours, we were able to go out and play in the snow.

This year, Claire and I are going to enjoy an even simpler dinner: cheese and wine. I went down to Trader Joe’s in Salt Lake City and picked up three different types of cheese, some salami and some dried fruit. It is one of our absolute favorite things to do. There is little prep and little clean up. We usually clear off the coffee table, put in a movie and relax.

One of the other major perks of staying in on Valentine’s Day is that you do not have to worry about drinking too much. I am by no means advocating getting drunk, but if Claire and I open a bottle of wine, if we finish it, neither of us is in a good place to be driving.

Claire and I don’t have children at the present, so it is a lot easier to plan an evening. But if you do have children, make Valentine’s Day special for your children, but do not forget about each other. Maybe wait to celebrate Valentine’s Day until the weekend, like a Friday or Saturday night, where the two of you can stay up later. Once you put your kids down for the night, maybe try and be intentional about doing something special, whether it is cheese and wine or even having a separate dinner for the two of you.

As I was thinking about this post, I remembered one of my favorite quotes from M.F.K. Fisher, the celebrated food writer. She writes:

“And above all, friends should possess the rare gift of sitting. They should be able, no, eager, to sit for hours—three, four, six—over a meal of soup and wine and cheese, as well as one of twenty fabulous courses. Then, with good friends of such attributes, and good food on the board, and good wine in the pitcher, we may well ask, ‘When shall we live if not now?’” (The Art of Eating, p. 44)

And isn’t this what Valentine’s Day is all about?