Tuesday, November 22, 2011
I have discovered that I enjoy reading cookbooks for shear pleasure. Ive also started collecting them in my library. Cookbooks are fascinating science books filled with logical interesting knowledge. The act of cooking is essentially a molecular chemical reaction that produces something delicious to savor and enjoy. Period.
They are excellent conversation pieces to any library of substantial merit. They may seem expensive, and many of them are; however, the price is well worth it in the end. What you may not realize is that the author has tested the recipes time and time again through every reconcilable scenario. They have encountered all the malfunctions, and disasters. All you need is the right equipment, and the precise ingredients. All you have to do is cook it forward.
If your conscientiously worried about the prices (that's fully understandable) I suggest hitting up elite bookstores during their annual holiday sales. On the other hand, check out used bookstores. Those are my personal favorite places because they are immense treasure troves. If its a good used bookstore, you will be pleasantly surprised and in a merry nirvana when you start realizing what's truly around you. The "coming across" is my favorite part of pillageing dilligently through those lofty wooden shelves. My second favorite part is checking the price. Many of these used books will be half price or lower. And maybe...just maybe...you'll come across a first edition, which is something that will satisfy you immensely.
Here is a list of cookbooks that I've discovered are well worth having:
1. The Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer, "Mrs. Joy" as she is affectionately called. Her claim to fame: Her husband committed suicide by purposely shooting himself in the skull. She was in an awful depression and started cooking. She then took her late husband's life insurance money and published The Joy of Cooking, which became a classic in kitchen literature. Sadly, her publisher swindled Irma and she lost a great deal of money. The Joy of Cooking became a classic and is regarded as the first mainstream cookbook for Americans.
2. Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Simone Beck, and Louisette Bertholle. The claim to fame: Simone and Louisette were two French cooks living in Paris who dreamed of producing a French cookbook for American housewives. They produced a staggering manuscript filled with errors. The measurements were not even converted from the metric system and into customery units, basically making the recipes impossible to create across the pond.
Paul and Julia Child were Americans working in Paris for the government after War World II. Julia was becoming unsatisifed with her work and wanted to so something more. She liked to eat and was in love with French culture. She enrolled herself at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and started learning to cook. It was there that she met Simone and Louisette. They told her their vision for a French cookbook for American housewives and asked Julia to help them since she was an American and knew what life was like back there. She jumped at the chance and the book became an obession and labor of love. Julia converted all their recipes to customary units, and made subtle changes that the hardheaded Simone and Louisette could not understand. Julia promised them both that they had to do these changes otherwise the books would be a waste of time and energy. During this time, the three cooks formed a cooking school called L'Ecole Trois Gourmands which ran out of Julia's Parisan apartment on University Avenue.
Julia developed a pen-pal relationship with a woman named Avis Devoto who lived in New York. Julia shared some of their secret recipes. Avis was so impressed that she shared them with an editor from the Alfred E. Knoph publishing house. This was completely against Julia's standards because she was in fear their work would be stolen! Knoph was bedazzled by what they found and agreed to publish the work. However, they didn't realize the work was the size of an encyclopedia. They covered EVERYTHING. This wasn't feasible so Knoph asked them to pull up their sleeves and meticulously attack the work and break it down. Knoph paid Julia and her team $200.
Louisette began to distance herself from the project and the cooking school, it had initially been her dream all this time, but she was now going through a rough divorce. This unfortunate event landed Julia Child at the helm of the project now. Julia and Simone took on the brunt of the work and made Louisette a contributor.
Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published by Alfred A. Knoph in 1961 and became a beacon of light for the culinary world and the American housewife. Mastering brought the magic and culture of Paris into the American kitchen for the very first time. It became a classic, a best seller, and a bible of inspiration for chefs and cooks alike . It outsold The Joy of Cooking, its predecessor, and is regarded as one of the most distinguished books ever written. Julia, Simone, and Louisette gave back to the world, and the world is forever grateful.
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
On November 5, 2011 I attended my first official book signing. It was for the one and only Martha Stewart. She’s garnered as the world renowned Queen of Domestics who built a home empire made from scratch. Only to have it permanently marred by willingly participating in an insider trade scam that utterly soured the company and seared the name’s keeper with deception and greed. She was charged with fraudulence and obstruction. Before being locked away she stated boldly and defiantly to the American public, “I’ll be back. I will be back!” Martha Stewart, who diligently made a living making a world of perfection, luxury, style, and grace, was sentenced to five months in federal prison, and two years of supervised release. For five of those grueling months she was placed on home confinement with an ankle bracelet. She’s stated, “I won’t be hit by a bus tomorrow. I’ve already been hit by the bus. Once is enough.”
America loves a Comeback Story.
During her public absence and within her incarceration, she decided to start a new project. With so much time on her hands she set sail to write a new cookbook of colossal and intimate proportions. Four years of tedious exertion concluded with Martha’s Entertaining: A Year of Celebrations. It’s the follow-up sequel to the ground-breaking Entertaining which was published in 1982. That book launched her to superstardom and made “Martha Stewart” a household name. Martha’s Entertaining: A Year of Celebrations is 432 pages of full-color food and floral porn! This high strung magnum opus tips the scales of decadent voluptuous proportions. Altogether, the opulent book weighs a hefty 5 pounds!
I thought to myself: “I don’t own anything related to Martha Stewart. I’ve grown up around her my entire life, this is a once in a life time chance. If I don’t go, I will painfully regret it and wonder what could have occurred. If I did go, I would own a slight piece of her and not only meet a celebrity; but an ex-con as well and no one could take the experience away from me! I had some birthday money stashed away. I gathered it, and decided to kill two birds with one stone.
The night before, I did some evasive research on her. I watched videos and interviews, read articles and so on. I wanted to envelope myself in her Stepford world of perfection and get a sense of the woman behind the illustrious name. I woke up Saturday morning as usual: I stretched and yawned, took a shower, and got dressed. Even though I was going to meet Martha Stewart in person, I did not possess that exciting feeling of butterflies pouncing a gay flutter in my stomach. I drove myself to the San Leandro BART station and caught a San Francisco/Daly City bound train.
My biggest fear was that Martha would undeniably come across as a haughty, pretentious, narcissistic, ungrateful, shallow bitch since she has harvested a rumored reputation of being an Ice Queen. She makes her millions through promoting, demonstrating, and selling her products to the public. God knows she’s reached the point to where being nice is probably an Oscar winning performance. If she dared to send me any hostile vibes, I was determined to call her a bitch to her face. No shame.
I arrived at the Powell Street Station. Commuters and tourists were shuffling along through the hurried station with their personal agendas on their mind. Many of them had coats on and backpacks strapped to their bodies. Scarfs were wrapped around their necks and nicely hung from them. The chilly breeze blew through the top floor of the station. I was adorned with my black rivet coat and argyle scarf which had the colors of black and white running through it. My red carrier bag was hanging from my shoulder. I ascended up the escalator and onto Powell and Market. The winds were blowing off the Pacific and through the lively streets of San Francisco. Tourists were waiting in line to board the legendary Powell street car. Two men were turning the street car on a wooden axis with a set of rails running through it as I was walking buy. It was about to start its ascension up narrow Nob Hill. It would later descend down to Pier 39. As all these engagements were happening around me, I made my way through a bundled swell of people up the sidewalk of Powell, and then turned at the intersection of Powell and O’Farrell. I kept walking beside some of the most beautiful window displays I’ve ever had the chance to observe. I made my final turn by Louis Vuitton and onto splendid Union Square only to see a large line forming towards me from the Macy’s entrance. It was 9:45am, doors opened at 10:00am. Security guards were initiating the crowd for the way Macy’s was supposed to orchestrate this special event.
The line consisted primarily of women, which I had expected. There was a limited presence of men. Some had obviously come at their own will like me; others looked to have been dragged to Macy’s by their wives or girlfriends kicking and screaming. Humorous thoughts like: If you don’t come with me to see Martha, then I’ll cut your sex off for a month! raced enthusiastically through my mind. Their facial expressions gave off feelings of shame, embarrassment, frustration, and utter annoyance. Others quivered because they were witnessing the annihilation of their precious masculinity. Oh how sweet these sights were to me! There were women from all walks of life, some were professional caterers, others were loyal fans, and then you had the obsessed cult-like followers. These broads were cookie-cutter clones of Martha. They looked like Stepford Wives with hideously perfected blonde hair in the shape and style of all of Martha’s bravura through the decades! I stood back, and couldn’t stop staring. “Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints!” silently whispered in disbelief through my mouth.
The clock struck 10am and the doors opened to fans shivering with anticipation! The line picked up an exciting acceleration as I started walking towards the escalator that would descend me smoothly down into the very bowels of Macy’s known as the Cellar. The Cellar housed a Boudin Bakery which is one of San Francisco’s most celebrated sourdough bread companies with a Parisian flare. You could smell the buttery aroma of fresh artisan baguettes, boules, croissants, bagels, and hot sourdough loaves lingering out of their brick ovens to beguile and seduce customers. The sensual, warm odor traveled up the escalator and into the first floor of Macy’s to unsuspecting guests noses to lure them down below. It was a comforting fragrance that traveled leisurely through your nostrils. From there, it would infiltrate your brain to create special endorphins that would arouse your senses and force your mouth to water fiercely. Ah, the power of food.
Suddenly, the line came to an abrupt halt. Beyond this sourdough food court was the primary cellar which is used to house the vast majority of Macy’s cooking appliances. Associates were signing their anticipated guests up for wrist bands, cookbook purchases, and seating arrangements for the cooking demonstration. Once I made it through these anguishing steps, I took my seat, and waited for the show to start. Each seat in the audience had special Macy’s bottled water, special Martha Stewart embossed recipe cards for the menu she was going to prepare us, and a list of mandatory rules for the event.
I sat next to a woman named Danielle. Her career was in the Food Industry as a Kitchen Manager. However, she was now primarily working outside of the kitchen and in the office. She had previously been the Kitchen Manager of a classy restaurant on the Embarcadero named Perry’s. It was there that she met Jeffery and Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa). Humorously, I can say, “The closest I’ve ever came to Ina Garten is through Martha Stewart!” Danielle had purchased two copies of Martha’s Entertaining: A Year of Celebrations. One copy was for her, the other for her best friend; it was her birthday the same day as the signing. We casually chatted about the food business and eventually exchanged e-mail addresses.
The cooking demonstration was supposed to start promptly as 11:00am. The clock slowly turned to 11:15am and that’s when Martha Stewart entered the Cellar! I suppose it’s okay to be fashionably late to your own event when you’ve achieved the status of Martha. I looked to my left and the audience started to gasp in excitement. Martha walked towards the audience with a subtle smile and into the studio kitchen as the Manager of the Union Square Macy’s gave her a marvelous introduction. Martha was adorned in a white cotton shirt with comfortable long sleeves and a large collar; on top of that she wore what I conceived to be a light gray cashmere sweater vest. She had khaki dress pants on, and flat beige shoes. The Macy’s Manager was short, round, and piggish in her face. She seemed to be on the verge of collapsing because of her exuberance, shortness of breath, her slight nervousness, and the stress she had been allocating that all led up to this point.
Finally, Martha Stewart took center stage with her assistant Sarah Carey from Everyday Food Magazine. Martha began advertising and doing a small preview of her new All-Clad line of cookware. She has made the length of the handle a bit longer than usual so the cook won’t have to deal with all of the pan’s weight in his/her wrist. Afterwards, Martha and Sarah started cooking for us a menu from her new cookbook. They prepared us braised chicken and dates over sautéed spinach with garlic and citrus cilantro cous cous. Towards the end of the cooking stages the Macy’s Culinary Team came out and served each of us a beautiful and liberal serving of the dinner. The flavors were exceptional paired and tasted delicious. During this time Martha showed the audience how to use a wood rasp or more commonly called a Micro-Plane to zest fruits such as oranges, limes, and lemons. I already knew how to do that. However, she did teach me a new way to peel ginger without wasting and of the valuable root meat. Take the end of a spoon to scrape away the skin of the root. It works every time.
The Macy’s servers came out again to gather our forks and plates. Martha and Sarah then started to prepare a rustic pear crosstata using Martha’s signature formula for tart dough. Things were flawless up to the point where Martha took the finished pear crosstata out of the oven. She laid it on the counter in front of her, looked closely at the finished product, and suddenly her emotions changed. She went uber-bitch! The flesh on her face got taunt and in disgust she retorted, “I simply don’t understand whoever cut these pears in the back! They didn’t use a knife! They used an apple corer! She closed her eyes and took a subtle breath. Martha then picked up a piece of the pear and held it up to the light so that we could all see. She spitefully observed the cooked morsel and foully professed, “This is an ugly piece of fruit! It’s all about PRESENTATION, it’s that simple!” I muttered, “Oh shit, she’s going bitch! I’ve been waiting for it!” Some, but not all of the audience started to snicker. I had the biggest smile on my face and started to clap a little. Martha then proceeded to show us how to properly cut a pear with a knife to her impeccable standards. Afterwards, the pear was dismissed and the servers came out again with another liberal sample of her rustic pear crosstata. If I were the one who had been in the back preparing the tart specifically for Martha and heard her reaction to my work, I would have taken a knife and stabbed myself in the stomach!
As we were eating, she began to tell us the process of how she wrote Martha’s Entertaining: a Year of Celebrations. It took her 4 years to write it, she even stated, “I invited my good friend and professional cook chef Pierre Schaedelin to come live with me and test recipes because I wanted to entertain while I was on house confinement!” She made this goofy look and the entire audience burst into a lively ruckus of laughter and started clapping! It was brilliant, I loved the fact that she could actually laugh about herself. She smiled and continued, “I could only leave me house for 48 hours a week, just imagine only working 40 hours a week! I decided this was the perfect time to write the book and test the recipes!”
There was a short Question and Answer period and she told us that she’s not a fan of large beds; she truly sleeps on a double-bed and enjoys cuddling with her dogs. The demonstration ended and she made her way to the book signing desk. At the other end of the Cellar. We were called up row by row.
While in line, we passed through her section of products. It was amazing to see it all. Before approaching the signing table, each person had to place his/her purse of backpack in a Macy’s bag and hand it to an associate. Nobody was allowed to take a picture next to her. We then had to submit this special card verifying that we had previously purchased a copy of Martha’s Entertaining: A Year of Celebrations.
You might be wondering what happened between my short time with her: I approached her like she was holy, but she didn’t intimidate me. I could feel all the cosmic energy and knowledge radiating from her being as if she were a deadly chunk of uranium pulsing with a powerful aura. I smiled; she looked up and admired my scarf. She asked, "Are you a cook, young man?" (OH MY GOD BREATHE!!! My mind didn't go blank!) I responded, "I am indeed, I've grown up with you my entire life. You have inspired me. Thank you Martha!" She returned, in the gentlest tone; "You’re welcome. Enjoy my book, savor my recipes." Then she smiled, but it was one of the most peculiar smiles I've ever seen another human produce. It resembled a grin. It was subsequently thick. I could have cut it with a knife. It was almost too comfortable and gave me the impression of being staged. She calmly clasped my book and handed it to me. I left her table feeling full and with Theodore Shapiro’s score from the film “The Devil Wears Prada” playing in my mind. I sauntered toward the perimeter’s end and thought, "That's all..." I then turned to face her and snapped a picture from the other side of the barrier where we were permitted to take photos.
“Don’t be ridiculous...everybody wants this…everybody wants to be *us*.”
Meeting Martha Stewart was a dream turned into a reality. She’s the first celebrity/author I’ve ever met. The celebrity was demystified for me. It was neat to see her face to face without being glossy, photo shopped, or staged. She appeared accurately human, the same as you and I. I suppose put justly…”normal.” Deep down, I think she valued the insignificant short amount of time she spent with me. On the contrary she has an aura around her, and she’s not just a bitch, she’s a cut above. Martha Stewart is a classy bitch.
I live my life in a fantasy. I’m damn proud that I do. My obsessions rule who I am. I walked out of Macy's and onto the pinnacle of Union Square humming the melody of “The Devil Wears Prada” suite. I had my bag in hand, the top button of my black rivet coat was fastened, my black and gray argyle scarf was fancifully wrapped around my neck and draped down the left side of my torso. Suddenly, a blast of wind shot through all those superlative steel and stone towers, the mighty wind soared violently through the festive neighborhoods, parks, streets, and alleys. It finally crashed hard into my body fanning my coat out like a cape and picking my scarf up causing it to wave and flutter! As Martha would say..."And that's a good thing."