Will Write For Food

I took someone into a fromagerie the other day and he was asking me to describe a perfectly ripe, oozing camembert cheese. “Musty gym socks”, “funky undies”, and “barnyard-like” don’t exactly sound appealing, but were the most accurate descriptions that came to mind at the time (looking back now, however, perhaps next time I need to do some pre-editing in my head). The trick to is to make something as special as a perfectly-ripened wedge of cheese sound so good that you can’t believe it will taste better than it smells.
Conveying an exact sensation is the difficulty of food writing. How do you describe something that you think tastes good, and make it sound good enough for someone else to want to taste as well? (and if you think “musty gym socks” or “funky undies” taste good, you’re at the wrong web site).

Dianne Jacob, a seasoned culinary journalist and instructor with a long string of success behind her, shares her secrets and suggestions while explaining what food writing is all about: how to succeed, how to get published, and what you can do to make your food writing more evocative and compelling.

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Will Write For Food is one of the best and most comprehensive workbooks I’ve read on this topic and if you’ve fantasized about writing about food or wanted to know what it was like to write a review restaurant or well-loved cookbook, read the suggestions she culled from experienced food writers like Russ Parsons, Anthony Bourdain, Deborah Madison, and Alice Medrich.
Heck, I’m even in there too!

Childhood Food Memory Meme

I was tapped to do this meme back in July, by Shuna, and I began to write it up.

Then I stopped, and began writing much about my culinary travels. So the file got moved somewhere on my desktop, obliterated amongst the mess of files and folders here at chez Dave. As someone else mentioned when she got tagged for the meme, it’s kinda like getting a homework assignment.
And who wants homework when you live in Paris?

Then last month Clotilde, who effortlessly manages to both live in Paris and respond to food memes, and she tagged me again, so I felt guilty and decided I’d better sit down and do this.

The meme asks Food Bloggers what 5 Favorite Childhood Food Memories they remember most. Here are mine. I suppose I should be taking only about things like usual suspects like ‘comfort food’, but frankly, these are the things I remember (and miss) the most…so, ok…there’s one ‘comfort food’ entry tossed in…

Chocolate (or Rainbow) Sprinkles

I love sprinkles, or as we called them, “ants”, since they resembled everyone’s favroite picnic critters swarming all over your ice cream. I remember going to Friendly’s Ice Cream in Connecticut and ordering Chocolate-Marshmallow Swirl Ice Cream and once it was scooped, the server dipped the whole she-bang in the container of sprinkles, covering everything. A few years later, soft-serve ice cream made its was to New England and I discovered Rainbow Sprinkles, which are almost as good as their darker cousins, when smushed into pillow-y soft-serve ice cream once it emerged from the swirling machine at Foster Freeze.
(I wonder what they would say if I asked for sprinkles at Berthillon?)

Chicken and Rice with Apricots

My mother was a great cook.
And I never appreciated it fully until I got to college and other guys told me what lousy cooks their mother’s had been. My mother was an artist who specialized in weaving and spinning. And she was kind of a character and very well put-together . She had a remarkably strong resemblance to Mary Tyler Moore (before Mare’s Joker-From-Batman-like face lifts) and Jacqueline Susann…both were very well put-together, and mom and Jack’s shared a penchant for stiff, high hair, opulent jewellery, and swirly Emilio Pucci outfits.

I remember her stepping into her shiny Mercedes, with her Louis Vuitton handbag and a bag lunch (her Yankee thrift prohibited her from stopping at Howard Johnson’s for lunch), and driving up to Vermont where puffy bags of fresh wool from the hippies and beatniks who sheared it off their sheep for her. Somehow she managed to fit right in.
Another time I came home from school with friends and my mother was sitting in the front yard, wearing her bra, shorts and Frye boots, and spinning wool on one of her spinning wheels.

Anyhow, my mother made the best Chicken and Rice with Apricots. Her father was Arabic (her mom was Danish) and this dish has roots, I think, in his culinary tradition.
You take a whole chicken and simmer it in water with a sliced carrot or two, and a stalk of celery, until it’s falling-off-the-bone soft. Then you make a pot of long-grain rice and use the chicken stock to cook it, replacing the water. In a small saucepan, she poached some tangy California dried apricots in some water with a bit of sugar to serve atop the chicken and rice.
YUM! This is the best dish ever, and really simple too. I make it any time during the winter months when I’m not feeling very healthy: it instant restores me.

Jiffy Pop

This was my first lesson in disappointment (unfortunately, there were many others to follow…), since the television ads showed the popcorn rosing up in a big, bulbous aluminum balloon in about 5 seconds much to the happy delight of the kids clustered around the stove.The bag just rose and rose until it was practically bursting open by itself. Then the steaming bag was ripped open with a fork and everyone squeeled with joy and hapiness.
Well, we bought Jiffy Pop, and it took about 5 or 10 minutes to rise and pop, and was very underwhelming and boring. And the popcorn sucked too…not as much fun to make, as it was to eat.
(Hey, who said this meme supposed to only be about good-tasting food memories?)

Dried Pasta Elbows

I used to eat dried pasta by the box. I don’t know why. I would grab a box of Mueller’s dried elbows and crunch on them all day long. It was very satisfying, even though my father would warn me that all that pasta was going to expand in my stomach.

Red Licorice

I hate black licorice.
It’s gross. There’s nothing worse than having the taste of black licorice stuck in your mouth. It’s like licking gooey tar off of hot pavement. It’s disgusting…and yes, I know that there’s all this supposed great gourmet licorice out there that’s just divine and I just haven’t tried it yet. Well, some people eat dogs and monkey brains and you might think that’s disgusting…so stop trying to convince me to try black licorice. I don’t like it.

But what I loved was red licorice. It’s gummy, like those vibrant, jelled Orange Slices covered with lots of crunchy granulated sugar (…which I loved almost as much, which would be #6) and chewy all at the same time, with a red cherry-like sweetness. I now enjoy Panda bars from Finland, where they’re naturally-flavored and apparently good for you, since they sell them in health food stores in the US. So I don’t feel too bad eating one once in a while even though now I’m a more sensible adult.

Searching Through Paris

The hardest thing about living in France (aside from speaking French) is that most of us Americans here expect things to be like ‘back home’; corn-on-the-cob, Office Max open on sundays, and cheery customer service.

I tried explaining that uniquely American concept of, “The customer is always right” to a French friend, and he just kept giving me this blank look as if I was explaining how aliens were impregnating Republicans in an effort to achieve global domination through procreation.

It seems like everything that I look for, I can’t find. Whatever I’m looking for, will surely elude me.

The good news is that everyday staples like…

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My Beloved Fleur de Sel

and
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Er, Any Takers for Dried Algue?

…are easily available.

But I wanted to make Meg’s Pickled Onions a few weeks back. I couldn’t find white wine vinegar at any grocer. Last night’s risotto almost didn’t happen either…I couldn’t find Arborio rice and, naturally, the local Italian épicerie was (still) closed for vacation.

For the past few months, I’ve been considering an all-out search for a Cake Carrier.
Now, that’s not something that one searches for everyday. Perhaps you’ve never searched for one. Maybe you have.
But I knew it would take a bit of work; I began to gather my strength and prepare myself.
Sometimes takes me hours to prepare myself to do simple daily tasks, like going to the bank here. It’s exhausting. Or having a key made. Or choosing just the right baguette.
And never mind the amount of mental preparation it takes me to enter a French department store…the frenzy!…the jostling!…les resquilleurs who the cut in line!…(although when I try to do it, I always seem to get nailed.)

And just in case you think I’m picking on the French (I’ll leave that for the US government), it’s a chore to find exactly what you’re looking for, no matter where you live.

Don’t believe me?
Quick!
Where can you find a Cake Carrier where you live? You probably wouldn’t know where to look either, whether it’s Portland or Peoria (and searching the internet doesn’t count. No cheating.)
Now imagine me mètro-ing around Paris, frantically searching for something that I didn’t even know the name for in French.
(And for some unknown reason, my otherwise excellent French dictionary doesn’t provide a translation for something so important, so vital to one’s existence, as a ‘Cake Carrier’.)

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So imagine my surprise when snooping around the enormous BHV department store and finding this cloche de gâteau!
And to top it off, it was only 9 euros!
(If Emile Zola referred to Les Halles as; “The Belly of Paris”, I’d dub the BHV; “The Digestive Tract of Paris” since everyone in Paris needs to go through it at one point or another. And no one comes out exactly the same way as they went in.)

But a Cake Carrier is not something one can easily do without, thank you very much.
If you think it’s not an essential item, you try schlepping a carefully-frosted cake on the steamy mètro, dodging the crush of Parisians during rush hour and see how your cake (and you) fare.

And speaking of baking essentials, here’s something I’ve re-discovered that I tucked into my suitcase at the last-minute when I returned last winter from the US…and you should discover them too:

OXO Measuring Spoons

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These are the best!
Oxo tools don’t have a lot of bells-and-whistles: they just work.

These are the best measuring spoons I’ve found. They’re affordable, well-designed, and…if you put liquid ingredients in them, you can rest them on the countertop without them spilling or tipping over.
See above?

Sometimes it’s the small things in life that make a baker happy, and these measuring spoons are one of them.
And sometimes it’s the bigger things, like my new cloche de gâteau .

Now I gotta scour Paris looking for corn syrup and pecans in preparation for “Celebrity Foodblogger Survivor” for Katrina disaster relief.

Coming soon….

Franglais

Did you know you already speak French?

It’s true, and I’m not just talking about quiche and Tar-jay.

Franglais is the curious and unlikely (but perhaps inevitable) invasion of English into the French language.

Not since the un-easy (but remarkably convenient) alliance of Franco-American culture, as found in Franco-American ‘Spaghetti-O’s™’ (whose relationship seems more Italian-American…if you ask me), has there been such a near-fatal collision of two diverse cultures and languages.

Here’s some of the more popular Franglais words that I hear on the streets and in cafés;

Très People
: Very celebrity-conscious, in reference to People magazine, which curiously isn’t available here.

Le Lifting: Le Plastic Surgery

Le Jogging: Jogging (like that’s something you see a lot in Paris!…)

Les Baskets
: Sneakers…which Parisians wear for style, not comfort. Très chic.

Les Thongs: Plastic Flip-flops (in French, the ‘h’ is silent, so it’s not ‘thongs’, like G-strings, you say, “Les Tongs”). And ‘thongs’ (the underwear kind…for both sexes) as well as the plastic ones (for your feet) are quite popular in Europe. I almost bought a thong by accident (you know which kind…) when buying undies a few months ago.
Ouch! Those things look painful.

Les Preservatifs: Male contraception (aka; condoms), Don’t ask a chef is he uses preservatifs unless you’re prepared to get romantically involved.

Le Weekend: The weekend.
(This is interesting since there are only a 23 words in my French dictionary that begin with “W”, and all of them originated from other languages; Walkman, Water polo, W-C, Weekend, Wagon, etc…and when I play Scrabble in French, I always seem to get stuck with the “W”, which is like a cruel joke. It’s such a high-value letter, but I can never find a way to use it. Could that be why I always lose when playing Scrabble in French?… or could it be the unending fountain of points found in French verbs, which French Scrabble players have to their advantage…with 14 different verb tenses to pick and choose from, no wonder they always win!)

Le Shopping: Shopping (ok, that’s another no-brainer, but Americans are better at shopping so it seems fitting that they use an English word when there’s plenty of words they have already in their massive vocabularies.)

McDo’s: McDonald’s (Did you know the French are the largest consumers of McDonald’s in Europe?)

Les Emails: There’s lively controversy whether this is supposed to be plural around here.
We say in English, “I have a hundred emails to read.” but we also say “I can’t get to all of my email today.”. or, “I have a hundred pieces of email to read.”
Or
“I could sure go for a nice, big slab of chocolate cake.”, and we also say (or at least I say), “I’ve could eat chocolate cake all day.”, but also, “Hmmm, look at all those delicious chocolate cakes.”
(Boy, am I glad to be a native-English speaker. Imagine if I’d had to learn to read and write in English…you might not read my blog if I spoke, say, Latvian or Estonian…would you!…unless you were Latvian, or Estonian, I supposed, but then you wouldn’t know who I was. But wait a minute, how do you know who I am??)

Les Teenagers: Teenagers

Les Top Models: Supermodels (however in America they’re revered, and here no one understands our fascination with them.)

Le Gadget: Gadget (which sounds cute when French people say it.)

Le Snack: A relatively new concept, and the reason that the French are getting rounder.

Le Fast Food: Another relatively new concept, and Reason #2 the French are getting rounder

Très Snob: Someone snobbish.


So that’s 15 new, and very au courant words you can add to your French vocabulary.

The French Breakfast

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Le petit dejeuner

Crazy People

Who remembers the good old days when if you saw someone walking down the street talking to themselves, you’d think that that person was crazy?.

A short while back, it startled me to see so many people talking to themselves while walking down the street.
Why all of the sudden an influx of crazy people?
What was the world coming to?

That is, until I realized they were chatting on cell phones using indiscreet hands-free devices.
“Ok, they’re not crazy”, you think.

But from the volume of their voices, you realize they’re anything but indiscreet.
I’ve heard everything.
Business deals, surgical results, cussin’, personal details of last night’s date…all for everyone to hear, whether we want to or not.

Then you realize, “Ok, they are crazy.

Last time I was a Chicago O’Hare airport, riding the inter-airport shuttle between terminals, a businessman in a poly-blend yellow shirt, super-stylized wavy hair, and a JC Penney navy blazer (and I’m quite sure a gold ‘power’ necklace underneath it all) was literally screeching into his cell phone.
It was something about a disk.

And it was a very important disk.
So important, he made sure we all knew it.

“I need that f&$cking disk. If she doesn’t get that f&%cking disk to me to by tonight I’m gonna…and this f&$cking airline. They’ve f%$cked up again….why can’t they get anything f&$%cking right.”

What a charmer!
(And I’m thinking…“Please God, don’t let me be seated next to him on the plane, please God…I’m a good person, I just bake cookies for a living…”)

I wondered if he was married, if he had any friends.
And if so, if his friends were just like he was. I couldn’t imagine anyone in their right mind voluntarily spending more than 7 seconds in his presence.

You get the picture, but I mean, this asshole (pardon my French) was SCREAMING into the phone, so that even those of us huddles together in the back of the bus just to avoid him had no choice but to listen. If anyone had the nerve to say something, I’m sure they were at risk of getting punched out. The driver, who he was sitting directly behind, looked like he was going to drive the shuttle under an approaching aircraft wheels just to get this guy to shut up.

And those kind of people are always itching for a fight, thriving on any kind of confrontation with others.
And why do they always seem to be the ones getting upgraded?
(Is it because they’re such a pain in the backside to the airline employees? I bring the ticket counter people cookies, but all I ever get is a seat with a meager 4-inches of legroom, until the idiot in front of me slams their seat backwards the nano-second the Fasten Seat Belt light goes off.)

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So…this morning I’m taking the bus to yoga. I know it seems funny to ‘ride’ to do exercise, but I was running late.

Anyhow…this man of Indian-descent, who’s kinda nerdy wearing big, dark-rimmed glasses that I’m sure will be held together by white tape in a few years, is talking very LOUDLY into his mobile phone….

“Yes, I said Capricorn.”…..”Yes, CAPRICORN!”

He’s speaking in broken-English, and unaware that he’s sharing the bus with someone who has an excellent command of the language of Shakespeare.

Then he starts shouting about how much it’s been costing him to chat…
“It costs me 200 euros per month on my SFR bill….200 euros!…yes, these calls!”

He finally begins winding up the conversation, saying he’d like to meet the caller that afternoon…after his doctor’s appointment, then began describing his horrible, scaly skin condition that’s running rampant over his legs and feet, prompting the medical exam.

Now that’s hot,really hot.

Thanks for sharing.

Anyhow, I’m watching CNN International last night and they’re showing images of the devastation in New Orleans, instead of the usual stories of Maddox Jolie’s hairstyle or The Runaway Bride or the latest tv Bachelor-star that cable “news” is normally preoccupied with.

After showing images of overworked police and military people who have the unenviable task of wading through the flood wreckage, unearthing bodies and rescuing trapped families, the story continues on to the looting.

The CNN reporter begins interviewing a man trying to scurry away, hauling away plastic sacks of trousers he’s looted from a local store.
(And no, he wasn’t taking baby food for his starving children, or medicine for this elderly grandmother.)

When the reporter asks the man if he feels any guilt for what he was doing in the aftermath of this horrendous catastrophe, the man responds…
“If it was wrong, the police would be stopping me, wouldn’t they!…”

Later I watched as the head of FEMA mentioned that workers had to stop delivering supplies to the disaster-stricken area because people were shooting at them.

Maybe it’s me. I don’t know.
But I think people are getting crazier.

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Click here to help others in need. Everyone, in spite of the few crazy people, need help.
Donate to the relief effort.

Zuni’s Pickled Red Onion Recipe

spring onions

When I arrived in France a few years ago, I was a surprised to find that red onions are rare and cost nearly four-times the price of yellow onions. I reasoned that although French cuisine uses lots of onions, most often they’re cooked to enhance their sweetness, and they become an essential backdrop for braises, stews, and casseroles…and most-notably in French Onion Soup. So why use the red ones if they’re going to get lost?

The rose-colored onions of Roscoff, a small port village off the north coast of Brittany, which faces England, are considered a delicacy in France. Beginning back in 1828, French farmers would load up boats with these pink onions to sell them from their bicycles in England, where the farmers were affectionately dubbed “Johnnies” by the Brits.

This recipe comes from one of my favorite books, The Zuni Café Cookbook (which everyone should own). Like all of chef Judy Rodger’s recipes, this one is a winner. The onions are tangy and sweet, and keep their nice crunch. They’re perfect on hamburgers and Mexican food, as well as a nice condiment for any sandwich.

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The Zuni Café’s Red Onion Pickles

Adapted from The Zuni Café Cookbook by Judy Rodgers

Judy’s recipe calls for 1 pound of red onions, peeled and sliced into rings. Make a brine with 3 cups white vinegar, 1½ cups of sugar, cinnamon stick, a few cloves, allspice berries and peppercorns. Add 2 bay leaves and a small dried chili, then bring it all to a boil in a 4-quart non-reactive saucepan.

Simmer the onion rings, in three separate batches (that means, one-third of the onion rings at a time), for 20 seconds each (20 seconds for each batch) in the brine. Remove onions to a baking sheet using a slotted spoon to drain them, and let cool.

Then you do it again, simmer the onions in three separate batches, for 20 seconds each. Drain them, and cool.

Then you do it again…simmer the onions in three separate batches (yes, have you memorized it yet?… 20 seconds each…then drain them and let them cool.)

Finally you chill the brine thoroughly. Once chilled, add the onions and store in the refrigerator.

Related Recipes

Homemade Kosher Dill Pickles

Cocoa Nib, Shallot and Beer Marmalade

Herbed Ricotta Tart

Pickled Red Onions



Food Blog Day 2005

Do you know what today is?

It’s Blog day 2005!

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As I learned from Pim, today food bloggers spanning the globe are to name 5 new food blogs that they like.
Here are a few of my favorites at the moment. I wanted to list more than 5, but I’m still psychologically-bruised by Mrs. Sheegan, my 3rd grade teacher, throwing up her hands and telling my parents, “David has a very hard time following directions. He’ll ever amount to anything…”

Ha! I say to her.
Here I am…and where is she? I don’t see her blog listed anywhere around here, do you?
I don’t read .com after her name… do I?

Then I had second thoughts.
I realized that as a grown adult I just may need to learn to follow directions, (maybe that’s been my problem all along…gulp, my editor will be thrilled with this new revelation)…so I winnowed down the list to just 5 new blogs that requests.
And I guess that means I I’ll soon be on my way to amounting to something.

Since I have no idea who many of you are (if you don’t post comments), here’s a list of food blogs that I haven’t mentioned in my postings that you should check out…Happy Blog Day!

The Food Whore

A very funny and scathing look at the world of catering. Anonymously penned…of course! As someone who’s worked in the restaurant business for 25 years and has seen everything.
I’m hooked.

The Cooking Fire

William (or Bill?) writes about the cuisines and culinary traditions of Mexico. Think you know Mexican cooking? You’ll learn something new here from each entry.
Pristine, informative photos accompany this well-written blog.

Chocolate Alchemy

This blog is focused on the how’s and why’s of making chocolate for people that want to tinker at it themselves. Lots of information and exploration. A terrific place to learn about chocolate.

In Praise of Sardines

Brett shares his wonder of all good things to eat wherever he goes. And he seems to go to all the places I want to go and eat!
Recently he blogged about my favorite food cities: Barcelona and San Sebastian, and is now back in San Francisco.

The Farm Girl Fare

Always dreamed of gettin’ outta ‘Frisco and moving to a midwestern farm?
Susan did, and she writes lovely tips about bread making, farm cooking, often accompanied by daily photos from her farm and gardens.

If you’d like to explore some other food blogs and web sites for other bakers and friends, many who I’ve written about before but didn’t want to ignore, check out my links page.

Want To Start A Food Blog?

If you’re wondering what it’s like to write a food blog, or what’s involved, check out what Adam writes.

He’s just celebrated his 1000 posting which I believe merits a complimentary upgrade from ‘amateur’ status, don’t you? Perhaps we can help him find a new title…(since somehow “The Mediocre Gourmet” doesn’t have quite to same appeal.)

Adam has the youthful enthusiasm I had before I became the hardened, yet wiser, internationally-celebrated cookbook author that I’ve become.
That was before the media and damn paparazzi pursued me relentlessly, compelling me to seek refuge and my reclusive existence in my Paris rooftop pied-à-terre, prompting much speculation in the industry. The scandals of reputed multiple cosmetic surgeries, a failed romance with Jennifer Lopez (and that American Idol star, which I can’t talk about due to our settlement agreement), the revealing slew of unauthorized biographies that cast doubt on my personal life, and that nasty, and unfortunately public, falling out with Justin and Cammy at that club after that award scandal.

All have forced me to live an unassuming and vaguely anonymous life, food blogging in Paris.