September 14, 2012
The summer days are wasting away and there are roughly 15 weeks left until Christmas. It feels a little strange to already turn one’s attention to the winter months; however, as some of you may recall, I made a few food-themed New Year’s resolutions, and with my colleagues beginning to celebrate Rosh Hashanah this weekend (that’s Jewish New Year to my fellow goyim), it’s a perfect time to take stock of how I’ve done so far. Here’s the original post with all the self-imposed benchmarks. Now, let’s review.
Resolution 1: Add new meals to the repertoire. By and large I still stick to the same core meals that I’ve happily lived on for the past couple years. Tried a few that I need to make up again—a fab vegetarian artichoke and potato soup—and have put the Crock Pot through its paces with a couple new recipes. I’m also trying to be a little more resourceful, occasionally scrap the cookbook and try on the fly to figure out what foods will work together. Most recently, a few sauteed summer squash with tomatoes, fresh herbs, a little onion and garlic made a fine meal when paired with a bag of tortellini hiding in my freezer. All in all, I think I can do better on this resolution—and I’ve still time to do that.
Resolution 2: Bake more. 2012 was the year where I finally got a handle on making a solid pie. Crafting crust was always my Achilles heel, but America’s Test Kitchen’s foolproof recipe involving vodka allowed me to up my game. Four cherry pies later, I’m feeling very zen with the baking. I’ve also dived into bread making. Dad used to make beautiful, round loaves of pagnota—white, crusty Italian bread—and when you grow up around that, it’s difficult to subsist on the squishy store-bought loaves. While two loaves of homemade wheat bread require a fair investment of time—I have to make the starter and soaker the night before and the next day it’s two hour-long risings and about an hour to bake off—the results are worth it. Flavorful bread that doesn’t back any of the fillers or preservatives that I find on the store shelves. As god is my witness, I’ll never buy Wonder again. At least that might be my goal for 2013.
Resolution 3: Entertain more. Have I done a ton of entertaining in my home? No, but I started off with a fondue party with just a couple buds (see Resolution 4), which went off pretty darn well. Everyone seemed to enjoy the Swiss/avocado appetizer, the red wine-based braise for the meats course and a dessert of macerated oranges with zabione. (Why be predictable and do three courses of fondue?) I also recently hosted a board gaming night where the fare was simple—hummus for appetizer, rolled out a few pizzas, key lime pie (see Resolution 2), DIY orange sherbet for dessert, bourbon-laced sangria to wash it all down—but all in all it went off well. It was also the gathering that let me know that, at most, I can comfortably accommodate 5 people in a 530 square foot apartment with one air conditioning unit in the window. But the other plus of entertaining? I found that I plan for gatherings like the rest of my family: convince yourself you’ve nearly enough food, overdo it at the grocery store and then find yourself with gobs of leftovers. While it may have been a slog to do all the prep work, there are a few post-party days where I can coast and graze off what’s left in the fridge. I can totally make a meal off a veggie platter.
Resolution 4: Use the fondue pots. One of my pots was a family hand-me-down, the other was a Goodwill find. It’s a shame people seem so willing to part with their fondue sets—it’s a wonderfully social way to enjoy food. While waiting for one person to dunk a bite of food or waiting for said food to cook, the conversation flows freely. I’m not knocking the standard dinner plate, but with that presentation, people might be more inclined to sit down and shovel their meal. If you still have yours kicking around in the closet, I encourage you to crack it out. Of course, now that I’ve used them once, the trick is to make sure they remain in use.
All that said, how are you all doing on any resolutions you made this past January? Let’s celebrate (or commiserate) in the comments section below.
June 13, 2011
Trying to get submissions to our last Inviting Writing on food and sickness, which I kicked off with a tale of ice cream and a wisdom tooth extraction, was like pulling teeth. So let’s try this again with a new theme, one that folks might find a little more serviceable: waiters and waitresses. Whether from the perspective of the server or the served, surely everyone who has ever eaten out has a tale to tell—good or bad (whole websites have sprung up for waiters to air their grievances about customers from hell, and the favor is frequently returned in the comments sections of online forums).
So let’s hear about your best, worst or funniest dining-out experience. Send your true, original personal essays to FoodandThink@gmail.com with “Inviting Writing” in the subject line by Friday, June 17. We’ll read them all and post our favorites on subsequent Mondays. Remember to include your full name and a biographical detail or two (your city and/or profession; a link to your own blog if you’d like that included). I’ll get things started.
by Lisa Bramen
During my freshman year of college I lived in the dorms. I became friends with a group of girls who were brash, confident, opinionated and outspoken, qualities I admired but didn’t share. We cracked ourselves up inventing alter egos, like a group of physicians (or were they professors? I don’t remember) with nonspecific foreign accents—Dr. Ohmygoshohgolly, Dr. Lickasipasuck and Dr. Geewhizcheezwhiz among them—or crank-calling the brother of the actor who played Bobby Brady on the Brady Bunch. We’d yell, “Bobby Brady!” into the phone before hanging up. Notice I didn’t include “mature” in the list of admirable qualities.
Eating out was a rare luxury; most nights we ate in the dining hall. For a change of pace we would pile into my ’81 Toyota Corolla-Tercel, which had both the dimensions and engine power of a riding lawn mower, and head for the mall to dine on 49-cent burritos from Taco Bell.
Even after we moved out of the dorms and into apartments, eating at a real restaurant with waiters and silverware—not sporks—was a special occasion. But one night, deciding that we should have a “reunion” (ridiculous since we all still went to the same college), about six of us met up at a fondue restaurant that had the dual virtues of an affordable set menu and a lax carding policy (at least a couple of us were still under legal drinking age).
We were seated outside on the patio. We were a boisterous group, especially once we had a few glasses of wine in us. We were also naïve. None of us realized, when the waiter suggested a different option than what we had originally planned on, that we had been up-sold to a higher-priced menu.
We had a great time, stuffed ourselves and played the usual fondue games—traditionally if someone drops their bread into the fondue, they have to kiss the person next to them, but knowing our group we probably turned it into a drinking game.
Then the bill came. It was a lot more than we had been expecting. A lot. A couple of the more assertive girls in the group brought the matter up with the waiter, explaining that we hadn’t realized we were ordering such an expensive meal and that we couldn’t afford it. They didn’t get very far—the waiter insisted that we had been given what we had ordered. We asked for the manager, but he wasn’t willing to compromise, either. The discussion turned into an argument.
Angry and feeling cheated, a couple of my friends finally got up from the table and suggested we all leave. The others followed, me included. I didn’t want to get in trouble, but I also wasn’t about to stay and be caught paying the whole bill. One of the waiters shouted that he was calling the police. If we were smart, we would have used the fact that they had served alcohol to minors as a bargaining chip, but in the chaos it never occurred to us.
Things went from bad to worse when the waiter grabbed the purse of one of my friends, probably the feistiest in the bunch. With the purse still strapped around her arm, she was trapped. I saw panic in her face as she used her free arm to reach for a fondue fork from the nearest table. She clenched it in her fist like a dagger and warned the waiter to let her go.
I was mortified: now we were really in trouble. I was fairly sure she wasn’t going to spear the guy with the flimsy fork, which would be a pretty ineffectual weapon anyway. Unless she aimed for a vulnerable spot the worst damage it would probably cause was superficial puncture wounds from the three tiny tines. What would they charge her with? Assault with a funny weapon*? Still, I knew that threatening someone, even with a fondue fork, wasn’t going to look good to the police.
Fortunately, by the time they arrived the crisis had been defused and no one mentioned the fork incident to the police. The officers listened to both sides and negotiated a deal—we would pay most, but not all, of the bill, and no one would go to jail. We agreed, paid and left.
Within a few years my friends and I had all gone our separate ways and lost touch. Through the magic of Facebook, though, a few of us have reconnected. I am happy to report that everyone grew up to be responsible, successful adults: an English teacher, a computer specialist, a stay-at-home mother. As far as I know, none of us has returned to the fondue restaurant.
*Apparently, assault with a fondue fork is more serious than I realized. Last year a Florida woman was charged with aggravated battery after stabbing her boyfriend repeatedly with a fondue fork.
September 20, 2010
This is the final installment in our series of reader-penned tales about college food—look for a new Inviting Writing theme to be announced next Monday. Many thanks to all who participated. Since there were so many good ones, we couldn’t run them all, but we loved reading them!
This sweet story comes to us from Lori Berhon, a self-described “fiction writer by vocation; technical writer by profession” based in New York City.
By Lori Berhon
At my freshman orientation, the culinary high note was that a former alumna had set up a fund to ensure that every student, lunch and dinner, had access to fresh salad. In other words, an iceberg lettuce fund. In those days, you couldn’t find arugula unless you were Italian and grew it in the yard. Julia Child was just wrapping up The French Chef, and easy access to things like balsamic vinegar, chutney, or even Sichuan cuisine was still a couple of years in the future. In short, the American Food Revolution hadn’t yet begun.
Hopping from room to room, looking for likely friends among the strangers, I noticed that a girl named Susan and I had both considered a few books from Time-Life’s “Foods of the World” series important enough to drag to school. I had The Cooking of Provincial France, The Cooking of Vienna’s Empire and another about Italy, I think. (I know one of Susan’s was Russian Cooking, because we used it the following year to cater a dinner for our Russian History class…but that’s another story.)
It was astounding to find someone else who thought reading cookbooks was a reasonable hobby, not to mention someone else who understood what it meant when the instructions said “beat till fluffy.” Susan and I became firm friends. Over the course of our college careers, we swapped a lot of recipes, talked a lot of food and teamed up to cater a few theme-heavy history department functions. But to this day, if you ask either one of us about food and college, the first thing that comes to mind is our favorite midnight snack: chocolate fondue.
If you were in New York in the 1970s, you’ll remember the fad for narrowly-focused “La” restaurants: La Crepe, La Quiche, La Bonne Soupe (still standing!) and of course, La Fondue. Eating at these, we felt very adventurous and—more importantly—European. In this context, it shouldn’t come as a thunderbolt that my school luggage contained not only a facsimile of Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, but also an avocado green aluminum fondue pot, a set of forks and an illegal electric burner.
The “illegal” bit is crucial to the experience. Our dormitory was built in 1927 and, at the dawn of the consumer electronics age, hadn’t yet been rewired. We were told not to use hair blowers in our rooms, and we were not even supposed to possess such things as burners, toasters, irons, televisions…and certainly not refrigerators. We were supposed to avail ourselves of the common-use shelf on each floor, which had an electric burner and a grounded plug. No one listened. Everyone had some sort of appliance for playing music, and I had a television, as I considered myself constitutionally unable to study unless seated in front of one. Susan had a bar-sized refrigerator that masqueraded, under a tablecloth, as a storage box.
I can’t remember how it started, but the routine was always the same. Throughout the term we kept boxes of Baker’s chocolate and miniature bottles of flavored liqueurs—Vandermint, Cherry Heering—in the metal safe boxes nailed near the doors of our bedrooms. When the craving would strike, we spent two or three days filching pats of butter (that’s where the refrigerator came in), stale cake and fruit from the school dining hall. It was pure forage—whatever we found, that’s what we’d be dipping. The anticipation was intense.
When we finally had enough, we would muster our ingredients in one room or the other late at night, after studying to whatever goal we had set. While the chocolate and butter and booze melted together in my one saucepan, we cubed the cake and fruit. The smell of melting chocolate would snake out of the transoms (1927 dormitory, remember), driving everyone else who was awake in our hall half-crazy.
We listened to Joni Mitchell, stuffed ourselves with chocolate-covered goodness and talked for hours, the way you do in college. Afterward, we’d have to wash out the saucepan and the pot in the bathroom’s shallow sinks, with the separate hot and cold taps—not so easy, but a small price to pay.
There are photos that capture that memory. We sit on the floor by the painted trunk that, when not in active service between campus and home, did duty as my “coffee table” and held the fondue pot. There’s one of each of us, looking slantwise up at the camera while carefully holding a dripping fork near the pot of molten chocolate.
A couple of years ago, some friends pulled together an ad hoc dinner after work one night. The host had a brand new fondue pot and wanted to put it to use. Stepping up, I found myself in her kitchen, melting chocolate and butter and raiding her liquor cabinet for an appropriate soupcon. The smell floated out into the living room, drawing everyone near. People picked up their forks and speared strawberries and cubes of cake, and we sat in a circle dipping chocolate and talking for hours.
Don’t you love when your college education pays off?!