November 2009

Sunday Gravy

The thing about Thanksgiving is that people have expectations. They expect some kind of squash soup, they expect turkey, of course, and stuffing and taters (mashed and sweet) and all kinds of pies for dessert. Maybe that’s why I don’t like cooking it: the element of surprise is fairly limited (“Oooh look, he put cranberries in the stuffing!”) and even if you half-ass it, people will still enjoy themselves as long as there’s plenty of wine. Where’s the fun in that? Where’s the challenge? It’s not just the tryptophan that makes Thanksgiving dinner a sleepy affair.

Eid-Al-Adha (The Sacrificial Feast)

[We all know the big American food holiday that’s fast approaching–most food blogs, magazines and TV shows are going crazy over it–but there’s another food holiday that’s fast approaching too, a holiday that I didn’t know anything about until last year when I decided to work on a book proposal about religion and food called “Food of the Gods.” The book, unfortunately, never got off the ground, but this sample chapter is something that I’m really proud of and eager to share. So, pull up a chair, take off your shoes, and join me as we journey to Elberton, Georgia for a taste of what might be for you, as it was for me, an unfamiliar holiday: Eid-Al-Adha, the Sacrificial Feast.]

“Elberton is a Red. Neck. Town.”

These words come from Gina, a red-headed native of Elberton, Georgia and occasional helper to the Jalil family, who is driving me and my friend Shirin from Atlanta to Shirin’s family home—the Jalil family home—in Elberton, two hours away. We are going to observe an Islamic holiday, Eid-Al-Adha, a holiday that one doesn’t normally associate with rural Georgia.

A Pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving

In case you haven’t noticed, food blogs, food magazines, food networks and the like love Thanksgiving. They love it because, for once, the nation is intent on cooking dinner. For 364 days out of the year, that’s mostly not the case–what with fast food and frozen dinners and all the other instant options at our fingertips. But Thanksgiving? Thanksgiving is something you’ve gotta cook. That is, unless you’re me.

Ordering in from Otto

As a New York based food blogger, I often make an effort to vary my posts so that those of you not in New York–which, I imagine, is actually the large majority of you–can feel like I’m speaking to you too.

But this post, despite its New York specificity, has what I imagine is universal appeal–mostly because of a chef that I’ve loved and admired for as long as I’ve been interested in cooking. That chef is Mario Batali.

Pot Roast

When I think pot roast, I think Americana, I think 50s sitcoms and a beleaguered housewife who intones: “Oh, darn it, I burnt the pot roast!”

It’s not a dish that I ate much growing up, eating–as we did–most of our meals out. My first real pot roast memory, actually, comes from Atlanta. I ordered pot roast at one of my favorite, kitschy restaurants there–Agnes & Muriel’s–and got very sick afterwards. I don’t blame Agnes & Muriel’s, but I did blame pot roast. I avoided it for years.

Steam-Scrambled Eggs

Those of you with cappuccino makers, may I have your attention? I have a weekend project for you. When you make your scrambled eggs this weekend, instead of melting butter in a pan, beating the eggs with a fork, plopping them into the foamy fat and stirring them round and round, why not find inspiration in the picture above? Those eggs, you see, are the work of renowned New York chef Jody Williams. I ate them last Sunday with my friend Jimmy at her lovely little restaurant, Gottino, and they were so cloud-like and delicious I thought they might float right off the plate. But the best part was how they were made…

Lunch with Lidia Bastianich (and my dad)

It’s my fault, really. My parents were in town and my mom asked me, early in the week, if I’d babysit my dad for lunch on Tuesday while she met some of her friends. I said, “Sure.” Then, the day before, I received a confirmation e-mail from Lidia Bastianich’s publicist reminding me of a lunch scheduled at Lidia’s restaurant Felidia the next day. I’d RSVPed for two (I was going to bring a more talented photographer friend (why? see picture above)) and so, after some clever thinking, I decided to take my dad.

“What is this again?” asked my dad when I told him about it. “Who is this person?”

Pork on Fire (The Spiciest Dish in New York?)

On Friday, I sent out the following e-mail to my pork-eating friends:

Dear Friends,

Today I was reading the New Yorker profile of the only food critic to win a Pulitzer Prize, Jonathan Gold. In it he says of a spicy Thai food dish: “It was glowing, practically incandescent. You bite into it and every alarm in your body goes off at once. It’s an overload on your pain receptors, and then the flavors just come through. It’s not that the hotness overwhelms the dish, which is what people who don’t understand Thai cooking always say, but that the dish is revealed for the first time–its flavor–as you taste details of fruit and turmeric and spices that you didn’t taste when it was merely extremely hot. It’s like a hallucination.”

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