I’ve been meaning to get into the Shakshuka groove ever since I had it for breakfast at Nopi in London, and on my trip to Israel, where this North African dish wowed me – and my taste buds – every morning. Although various versions abound, the most widely known Shakshuka involves eggs softly cooked in a hot skillet of spiced tomato sauce. I’ve had plenty of spicy foods in my life, but the complex seasoning in the sauces that I’ve tasted in the ones I had lingered with me for months afterward, and I had no choice but to make it at home. (Or move to London – or North Africa.)
Results tagged Alice Waters from David Lebovitz
As 2011 draws to a close, I look at the stack of books that I’ve collected on my bookshelf (and piled up on my floor…and beside my bed, and stacked in my kitchen…) and wonder how I’m going to cook and bake from them all. I just can’t help it, though—I love cookbooks. And these are the books that I couldn’t resist tackling in 2011, although a few are filled with bookmarks intended for future dinners and desserts, and blog posts. Some are traditional books bound with nice paper, filled with recipes, others are food-related books; memoirs and remembrances. And there are a few entries I’ve chosen that push the boundaries of traditional text, electronically and otherwise.
This year, I found myself drawn to cookbooks with a story to tell, not just mere collections of recipes. Books with a distinct point of view by an author, and essays which took me beyond the page and into their lives, which veered in some rather compelling directions. A few of the books were chef’s memoirs, which I did include even though they don’t have recipes. But something about them added to the canon of cookery books I have and referenced cooking in ways I wasn’t expecting.
Because I live abroad and have limited storage space (and deliveries can be a challenge), I wasn’t able to procure all the books that I wanted to. But this year saw a big uptick in publishers – and readers – jumping onto the e-book bandwagon. While not everyone wants to cook from a computer screen, one advantage is that foreign cookbooks, or out-of-print titles, may have new lives and can downloaded anywhere in the world within seconds.
Well, the anniversary fête for Chez Panisse finally came to an end and I was more than glad that I came for the weekend of events. From the moment I had my first sip of Bandol rosé on Friday afternoon to the big final blow-out event for the hundreds of people who’d worked in the restaurant and café on Sunday, hoo-boy, the weekend marked a milestone in my life. And although Alice Waters swore there wouldn’t be another anniversary celebration like this, I’ve learned never to count out this fiercely determined woman.
One of the main things I learned at the restaurant, and from Alice, was that less is more. I’m as guilty as the next person of saying this, but when I hear people say they didn’t like a restaurant because they left and were still hungry, I’m glad that I no longer feel the need to qualify a restaurant based on how distended by stomach feels. Yes, we eat the feed ourselves, but I’m not so sure the hype about extreme eating and so forth have had all that many positive effects on society and our health. During breakfast with a friend at a local café, I was amazed at the amount of food on the plate that was presented to me. (Although I did somehow manage to eat it all, as well as the heaping plate of carnitas I had the day before. So I should keep my mouth shut, in more ways than one.)
Before I started working at Chez Panisse, way back in the early 1980s, I didn’t really know all that much about the restaurant. Prior to moving to California, I’d read an article about “California Cuisine” and of all the places listed, the chef of each one had either worked at this place called Chez Panisse or cited it as inspiration. So I’d picked up a copy of The Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook, which listed menus and the recipes featured in the restaurant.
As I read through the book over and over, I was intrigued by this place where people injected tangerine juice for multiple days into legs of lamb then spit-roasting the hindquarters so that those syrupy-sweet juices not only moistened the meat but caramelized the outside to a crackly finish. There were descriptions of salads of bitter greens drizzled with walnut oil that were topped with warm disks of goat cheese, which were made by a woman who lived an hour north of the restaurant and had her own goats.
Thinking about it now, I am sure that I’d had goat cheese on backpacking trips through Europe, but never really paid attention to it. But these fresh disks of California chèvre that oozed from the bready coating that were part of one of the menus in the books sure sounded pretty good. And a tart made of sliced almonds, baked in a buttery crust until toffee-like and firm, and meant to be eaten with your hands, along with tiny cups of strong coffee alongside. I kept that book on my nightstand for bedside reading for months.
Stop the Insanity!
Michael Ruhlman pointed out the absurdity of sugar becoming the new “ok food”, as reported by the New York Times. The interesting thing about getting older is that you see how foods go out of fashion, then invariably come back.
In my life, I’ve been through warnings about sugar, margarine vs butter, salt, white flour, fat, trans fats, tropical fats, chocolate, eggs, corn syrup, and carbohydrates.
I can’t agree with Michael more: if you want to be sure you’re eating correctly, cut out as many processed foods as you can. You don’t need to wait for the latest medical study to tell you what to eat. (Which will invariably be negated by a contradictory study a few years later anyways.) I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but swilling soda isn’t good for you, sugar or no sugar.
No, not everyone is going to be able to cook a freshly-laid farm egg over an open fire in their kitchen. I know I can’t. But it’s pretty easy to eat decently no matter where you live. To eat well, one needn’t need to live near a greenmarket. The quality of American supermarkets have improved vastly over the past decade and I’m always astounded to see how the selection of things available, from fresh produce to good olive oils and dairy products, has improved dramatically.
Fortunately, rainbow sprinkles haven’t been demonized. But I’m still trying to find some that are locally-produced.
During my interview at Chez Panisse, as I sat across the table from Alice Waters in the main dining room at the restaurant, she asked me, “What do you eat at home?”
Since I’m not exactly convincing when lying, I told her.
“I eat popcorn, mostly.” And continued, “I’m a restaurant cook. I don’t have time to eat at home.”
(Although I did conveniently omit the fact that it was microwave popcorn…)
In spite of that, or because of my chutzpah, I got hired and worked at Chez Panisse for a long time. What nailed it for me and endeared me to Alice, years later, wasn’t her politics or her philosophy on cooking. It was when I told her, “I really like to drink coffee leftover from the morning, with milk in it, that’s been sitting on the counter all day.”
And she said, “Me too.”
There’s a pretty lively debate over at Amateur Gourmet about the recent appearance of Alice Waters on The View. I’m not going to attempt to put words into anyone’s mouth, but there seems to be a lot of mis-information about the message that Alice is trying to bring across.
Alice is an idealist, which is someone who imagines things that are…’ideal‘. We need people like that. If no one imagined anything but what already existed, or nixed any new ideas, we wouldn’t have telephones, electricity, flour, tires, espresso makers, and the Spice Girls reunion.
When I started at Chez Panisse back in 1983, few people knew what mesclun, goat cheese, or blood oranges were. Now they’re common in many supermarkets like Safeway, and sold at reasonable prices. I recently paid $5.99 for a box of Rice Krispies in New York, so I don’t buy the argument that convenience foods are cheaper than ‘healthy’ foods. Quaker Oats are about half the price, although you can’t make Rice Krispie Squares out of them.