Posted by Jeanne Munn Bracken
Lately I have been in a food mode. Not cooking--who has time for that? Well, my retired spouse does, but somehow his leisure time has not translated into gourmet anything. It's meatloaf, spaghetti, tuna fish, repeat ad infinitum.
What I have been doing is reading about food. I didn't plan it, but before I knew it, I was listening to an audiobook about food, and reading both a nonfiction food book and a mystery in the culinary genre. Not a cookbook in the bunch, but the theme was clear.
It started with Ruth Reichl's Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise. Ruth was the restaurant critic at the New York Times, and this, her third memoir, Tells All about the job as well as the lengths to which she went to fool restaurant staff and owners who are prone to providing excellent food and service to critics that might not trickle down to the average diner. The book is funny and interesting and introspective (not as hilarious as her first book, Tender at the Bone (about her mother the terrible cook) and not as self-indulgent as her second memoir, Comfort Me With Apples (a poignant narrative of her attempts to adopt a child). Garlic and Sapphires has some recipes, which are not always successful in audiobooks, but for some reason, they work here. I found myself wishing I could pull over and take notes. Instead, I returned the audiobook when I finished with it and took out the print version, so I can copy recipes for New York Cheesecake, Gougeres (bear with me--I can't figure out how to insert an accent aigu or maybe it should be an accent grave? High school French was a very long time ago.), Nicky's Vanilla Cake, and Roasted Brussels Sprouts.
I was also reminded recently about a title I meant to read but forgot. So I hunted down a copy of Debra Ginsberg's Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress. I was a waitress; wasn't everyone in my generation? I worked at a diner, at a family restaurant (my family, which certainly added drama to the whole process), and at a Howard Johnson's (briefly). Debra Ginsberg was a waitress for a lot longer than I was, and she certainly made a lot more money. On the other hand, she earned it; I never figured out how to hoist those trays of food and haul them around, fearing disaster at every step.There are no recipes in Waiting although she got along with her father in the family diner much better than I did with my stepfather in ours. (I was regularly fired and rehired at double my salary, which, since it was $0, had little impact on the restaurant's bottom line or my college fund.)
The third book was by the mother-daughter team of Susan Conant and Jessica Conant-Park, Steamed. I have enjoyed the dog and cat lover series by Conant mere (see accent apologia above), so I figured I'd give the new one a try. I have to say it started off slowly but I stuck with it and was grabbed by the laugh-out-loud humor and the back room look at upscale restaurants in Boston (where Conant fille is married to a chef.) It was a quick read and I liked it, plus of course there are recipes.Before I return the book to the library, I have to copy the recipe for Warm Chocolate Cake.
Cleaning out my purse, I also found a recipe for Kugelis, a Lithuanian potato dish I copied from Jo Dereske's web page (www.jodereske.com) -- there is a new Miss Zukas out, Catalogue of Death, always a cause for celebration.
I will never make New York Cheesecake, or Roasted Brussels Sprouts, or Kugelis, or, alas, Warm Chocolate Cake. The photocopies will join the large pile of other photocopied recipes I'll never make, which are stuffed onto a shelf in the kitchen with cookbooks we rarely open. We still live by The Betty Crocker Cookbook that I was raised on, battered and worn, that falls open to the recipe for brownies, barely legible through the chocolate smudges. I won a first prize at the Hopkinton Fair for those brownies in 1964.
While I'm reading about food, my husband and my daughters are watching the Food Network, and once in a great while (which is not nearly as often as a Blue Moon), someone makes a meal a la Paula or Rachel or Giada. But mostly we get meatloaf, spaghetti, or tuna fish. Could be worse: at least I don't have to cook it.