For the longest time, I never really knew what to think of cherry tomatoes. Or what to do with them. Though I might have regarded them as more interesting and Barbie-sized than the usual, boring (and most often flavorless) Beefsteak tomatoes I'd normally encountered, I left them where I felt they rightly belonged-- at the Sizzler salad bar, carelessly splashed by a variety of commercial salad dressings.
He sat next to her on a long bench. He complimented her outfit, saying something to the tune of "I really like your skirt. It's so... Third World." When this failed to win her over, he stepped things up by making a comment about the food on her plate:
"Ahhh, keen-waaaah," he said with deliberate flair. "That's an ancient grain, you know."
Frankly, if any man said this to me, I would have been automatically intrigued. Was he kidding? Was his field of study ancient grains? Was he really that interested in my diet?
Milk-Bone dog biscuits were the only read-to-eat snack food within my reach when I was too small to reach the higher shelves. They were right there under the sink with the dishwasher detergent, ant poison, and the Drano. Given my choices, I think I made the right decision, snackwise. Don't you?
Please don't answer that last question.
No longer will I over-complicate my feelings toward cherries. I will do my best not to think of them as symbols of transitory beauty, who in desperate need to retain their youth, turn to alcohol for support. Instead, I will eat them and enjoy them as they come. And when I dip into a brandied one or two come winter time, I will no longer view them as Helen Lawsons-in-a-jar.
And it's also due to the fact that I now understand where Thousand Island dressing is coming from. There is nothing tropical about it. Its success can be traced to a thrifty 19th Century New York housewife, a famous stage actress accused of getting a little too hot and heavy with her co-star, and a hotel magnate whose most famous hotel gave its name to another salad.
What the hell does it take to get a great waiter in this town? I have had so few. The only answer I could come up with is this:
Luck. Pure, unholy luck.
It doesn't seem to matter much what type of venue you are patronizing. High end restaurants are no guarantee of great service, though one's expectations are higher when there.
Having never been a fan of big business (or big business guys, for that matter), it struck me as odd that I should want to make something that pays homage to the grandfather of corporate culture and American oil-dependence. Of course, Rockefeller also donated vast sums of money for education (he was instrumental in the founding of both the University of Chicago and Spelman College, for example) and was dedicated to the eradication of both hookworm and yellow fever.
So there you have it.
Lambs are cute and provide wool for sweaters and socks but we don't seem to have much of a problem eating them. Rabbits are turned into coats that only hookers seem to wear and yet some people cry when they see them offered on a restaurant menu.
My copy of Lebovitz's book is already stained (with coffee) from just looking at it. It's the best type of food porn available: high production values (great recipes and gorgeous photography by Maren Caruso); a cast of stars (Chocolate Orbit Cake, Kumquat Sticky Toffee Pudding, Apple-Quince Tarte Tatin) that are hot, but not out of reach; and a writer who supplies, if not a story line, then enough anecdotes to keep me interested (The Racine's Cake recipe was, after all, found written on a men's room wall). It's one sexy book.
It was faintly powdery-- more like a rice cake than a piece of the Son of God. I had somehow imagined it would take on the some Everlasting Gobstopper-like ability to taste like something other than it was. But I had no time to be disappointed-- I was too filled with awe. And God.
The whole notion of kiddie cocktails centers around their ability to allow children to participate somewhat benignly in adult cocktail culture-- preparing them in a sense for their futures as alcohol-swigging grown-ups to whom they look up, both physically and morally.
Maybe they're not so benign, after all.
The idea of the Shirley Temple Black is entirely upside down. It is a drink that allows me to mix and mingle with the wee 'uns from time to time without having them point at my Manhattan and ask what's in it. With an innocent-looking, yet boozy Shirley Temple Black, I can gently tone down those shrieks of bouncy castle delight, or steel myself for the twenty-seventh consecutive screening of Thomas the Tank Engine more or less unnoticed.
At the next children's party I am obliged to attend, when the host or hostess asks me what I'm having, you know my answer's going to be:
"I'll have a Shirley Temple, and make it Black."
I never thought I had an issue with cauliflower. In fact, I've always enjoyed it, whether puréed into a soup, roasted to a nutty brown, or dragged through a bit of ranch dressing that always seems to accompany store-bought party crudité platters. Any time it is put in front of me, there is a good chance I'll eat it.
And yet I've never in my life cooked it. At least, not that I can remember.
I'd see it in the market, buy a head of the stuff and bring it home where it would just rot in my refrigerator, not so much forgotten as avoided.
I've gotten as far as placing one on my cutting board, but when I took out my 10" chef's knife, I paused, changed my mind at the last moment, and put the thing back into cold storage. For some reason, I just didn't want to cut up a head of cauliflower. I never gave it much thought until a few months ago.
And then I remembered Ben.
It is my new food crush. Yuba can be pressed into blocks, cut into noodles, fried, eaten like sashimi, and God knows what else. Loving the texture as much as I do, I was even tempted to paper my kitchen walls with it, which would have been lovely for about a day, until it started to decompose. I look forward to playing with it some more, perhaps even making my own.
So, instead of discussing the already discussed-to-death aforementioned film which, in my opinion, is only half a great film, I'm bringing you two wholly great ones: Babette's Feast (Babette's Gæstebud, 1987) and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Le Charme Discret de la Bourgeoisie, 1972). Both films (conveniently enough for today's topic) won Oscars for Best Foreign Language film. Even more happy-making, they both star one, particular actress-- Stephane Audran.