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Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Writing Life: A Good Morning of Writing


A good morning of writing is as satisfying as the hunger for a dish you crave.  

How is hunger satisfying? It’s yours and no one else’s. It arises from the depths of your memory. The taste, what was it? Can you match the taste in your memory and bring it into reality onto the plate?


You set the stage. You bring out the block of unsalted European butter and let it come to room temperature. You choose the right pan, an old pan, one that is familiar – it gleams its bent and misshapen self with confidence. Just large enough but not too big for the sink, as it will need washing afterwards.


Hunger is your story. It craves to be told. Dished up. 


Near the tail of the Dover sole she made the requisite cut as she had seen done and then held the flap of sandpapery skin with a side towel. She peeled off the skin as if the fish was a crab molting and shedding its shell to prepare for its next season of life in the dining room. With precision she used the manicure scissors to trim the fronds of flesh, dangling like drowned feathers along the sides as if the fish were a bird being plucked smooth.



You want simplicity. You want heat. You love desire and the hunger that never abates to tell the truth.


The yellow knob of sweet butter melts in the pan. The sole slips in.


A good morning of writing is the most you can hope for to forget it’s almost spring outside, the bird feeder needs replenishing and there are hordes of emails and recipes that need attention, phone calls from folks who say they want to learn to cook, they do. But this moment. This is only once. And you work quickly before the lettuce wilts or the butter burns in the pan.  


Swirling the fish loose the pan to be sure it was crisp on one side, then lifting pushing and jerking the pan back towards her, she flipped the fish perfectly, quietly, and wait, even, professionally. She had that nailed, by God, she did, she had, and as they closed down the line, giggled, and she marveled at the transformation and the heat even followed her upstairs and was more than likely sleeping, still, in her bed.



Your story, like spring, being on the verge of warmth, is ready for renewal, up for understanding and awareness, and the desire to say this is what it’s like for me, this is what it’s like to stand in front of the heat with a ready pan. 

This pan, hit with butter and sole, hot with longing to stretch out the world inside to live for a few moments on the plate.



Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Rosemary Prompt: And A Chestnut Cake


Last week, Carol Henderson gave each of us a sprig of rosemary for a prompt. Well, I could just sit here and smell rosemary – remembering Provence and Italy. But that would be concocting an excuse not to write something more serious and devoted.

Rosemary seems like lavender in that primal essence and as we would be taking the teens to Joel Durand’s’ Chocolaterie Shop in St Remy – Aileen and I would run our hands through the rosemary bush after we parked the van behind the church or the charcuterie, I don’t remember which, but there were plenty of both in St. Remy. The scent was both invigorating and calming and connected us back to the earth. We would find a bush (easy enough in the wilds of Provence near Les Baux or out near Sophie's secluded House of Honey in the forest. And we needed rosemary’s calming us down influence. And revving up at the same time. Rosemary seemed to do this nicely and completely. It’s a little confusing having 2 prompts or is that just an excuse? Though, as I type this up, I can’t for the life of me, remember what the other prompt was.

Can I try to be funny about how Italian rosemary is different from the Provençale? But so it is and so is either variety that you try to grow here in the red dirt of NC. Our rosemary often gets picked, roots, and all from the garden. We replant it every spring, dig the hole, make sure there are rocks in the bottom for drainage and always feel that rush of purpose and hope that planting the garden brings. Last year Rich took to planting one plant in the garden - one that would be the show plant – and this was a new side to him- another two plants outside the garden that the happy root-plucking kid-chefs wouldn’t find.

Ah, but rosemary, the scent, damn you. Sitting by my purple purse. You remind me of being in the big kitchen of Torre Cona and assisting Chef Paolo with our class. We butterflied the wild boar roast – cinghale - that his father had hunted that morning and brought for us – stuffed it with rosemary needles, rose garlic, and anchovies. Slid it off the wooden cutting board onto the oil-shined potatoes. In a kind of hunting ceremony flourish we carried the big black roasting pan outside the kitchen and into the hot hole in the stone wall of the house. The wood-fired oven. Nearby in the sky – the sun was just kind enough to wink as the last pink edge sunk below the hills of Tuscany.

I never made it with Chef Paolo – but here is another dish that harks back to my earliest explorations of Italy via Elizabeth Romer's book, The Tuscan Year. A savory and slightly sweet cake made with chestnut flour, olive oil, honey, and rosemary laid across the top. This cake is an intrigue. The smoky chestnut flour – the fruity olive oil – the thick honey (chestnut if you can get it) and the almost wand-like christening of the rosemary as it’s laid across the surface of the batter – maybe like a crown. I’ll have the interns make this cake, that cake, what a cake, at their intern try-out, or maybe on intern day coming up soon. A cake like that needs to be made. But it’s a serious cake, an adult cake. Are they ready?

It’s time again, and I have no excuse for not making it. 



Castagnaccio - Chestnut Flour Cake with Pignolia and Rosemary

I did two things wrong here, but I had to make it when I did. Numero Uno - I did not have raisins so I used craisins. Tuscans, and especially Elizabeth Romer, are crying into their Sangiovese. Mia Dispace! Number two boo-boo. Usually advised to make this in a glass pie plate, which I have in the past, and that is perfectly fine and traditional, and no reason to lose any sleep if you do. However I knew I was taking (some!) of this cake to our writing group meeting and so instead, I lined a 10 inch tart pan with parchment paper so it would be easy to transport. And the other reason? I like the little fluted edge that bakes into the cake using a hand cut parchment circle 

for the cake
300 grams of chestnut flour (I find it at Capri Flavors in Morrisville, yes, it's worth the trip) 
40 grams of organic sugar
2/3 cup finely ground almonds (walnuts are more traditional, but I didn't have any) 
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup craisins or raisins (soaked in vin santo is even better) 
2 cups water
3 tablespoons olive oil

for the top
1/2 cup untoasted pine nuts
three sprigs of rosemary, needles stripped off

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Prepare your parchment first or just have your glass pie plate at the ready. No need to flour and oil or any such excess. 

With your scale, place a big stainless steel bowl on top and set the tare button to zero. this way you can measure all your grammed ingredients into the bowl at once. Begin, and in the order listed add your ingredients into the bowl. Using  a wooden spoon stir everything vigorously till combined. Scrape this batter into your pan, Scatter the pine nuts and the rosemary on top. 

Place in the oven and reduce the temperature to 375. bake for 35 minutes or until set. 

Let cool completely. 

Break off very small pieces, at a time. Enjoy. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Merging the Life of Cooking and Writing: Avant Garde Food Films, Part Deux

(Go Here for Part One)

Last week we returned to the always favorite "dinner special" of food films. We tried to define what is a Food Film, with a couple of capitols thrown in for good measure, and what we decided was that any film that stirs your appetite is indeed, a Food Film. 

(whether it deserves ALL CAPS is purely a matter of taste and what you can, er, stomach.)

Here then, what I came up with is a number of categories. From feature films, and a bevy of film folks – just as interesting as the films themselves – who direct and appear in them.

Here's my Top List of Food Films with Flair and Cunning, Straddling Art.

The Story of Boys and Girls is a Feature film. This is the bad boy cousin of Big Night. A 20 course Italian Wedding Feast is being made and where there’s pasta, there's always drama! 

Here's a review that was in the Washington Post


The Exterminating Angel, another feature film and an art film, is the brain child of South American director, Luis Buñuel. After a sumptuous dinner party the guests find that they are unable to depart. Not physically, but psychologically. 

Check out the IMDB listing and a very cool photo (which I tried to post here, but alas the photo must be unable to depart the dining room too) 

Ah me, and who could forget the lusty literature category of Feature Films? 

What about the rowdy Tom Jones, from 1963? heavens, I don't mean the "It's Not Unusual" singing Tom Jones - but, the other one, the Tom Jones from The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, an 18 book novel by Henry Fielding, who was also a playwright, first published in 1749. Now this Tom Jones was a rambunctious and conflicted lad, killing partridges and getting into all kinds of trouble. 

Here's a frisky Joyce Redman - who played opposite Tom - in the notorious scene of eating roast chicken. This is a standard, be sure to watch!




Take a moment to catch your breath.

And that, dear friends is where I will leave you. Surely I haven't exhausted the list? As you ponder and peruse, what are your favorite food films? 




Leave a comment on the blog if you'd like to join a Film and Food Afficianadoes Meet-Up Group and watch some of these!
Next time, for Part Trois, we'll get into the category of Documentaries and Shorts for Film festivals. There's some infinitely yummy and sexy possibilities there


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