Finding My Chowder — Part 1

cannedlunch

  I don't know where she was born, and I don't know her real last name. When I say this to friends or even to party strangers, they quite rightly raise eyebrows. My late mother lived to almost 90. What kind of adult son would have been so profoundly uncurious? As of now, I've found no record of her before her marriage to my dad -- no marriage certificate, either. Her maiden name is "Browne" on the photostat of my birth certificate, but she told me later that that was not the case and offered another one -- also, as it happens, … [Read more...]

Cooking Alone

Broccoli and tagliatelle.jpg

Writers, even on Facebook and Twitter, are solipsistic. Writers burrow, like moles or voles, in whatever dirt we find ourselves to make some kind of momentary home. Because cooking is a form of writing, as eating is a form of reading, I've always felt most comfortable and free when I'm cooking in a tunnel, for myself. Solo menu choices narrow to a slim juggle (no whole turkey tonight), but the ego of one's appetite has the final say. First question: What do I -- I! 80 decibels -- want to eat right now? Too bad there's no microwavable … [Read more...]

Pasta Vazool: The Conclusion

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    A Note to My Readers -- Part 3 In learning to cook, I find that I am learning to think, in recipe form. That's different from cooking per se, because a recipe is communication, a medium that's supposed to outlive a Tweet, or a chef. It's also not supposed to hurt you: Place the unopened cans — yes, unopened — in a pot of boiling water, perhaps on top of a washcloth so that they don’t rattle. Cover the pot and simmer for two and a half or three hours, taking care to replenish the water as needed to keep the cans submerged: … [Read more...]

What Cooking and Writing Have in Common

Writing blocks

A Note to My Readers -- Part 1 When I was a youngster, I thought writing blocks were cubes with different letters that I could arrange into words. I'd do it horizontally, left to right, just as I had learned to print letters in penmanship class, or I'd do it by piling the blocks into towers and read the result from top to bottom. In that case, I'd have to lift the whole pile each time I added a letter, and if the word were too long it would topple. To prevent that, I tried to fashion my words from the bottom up, but I'd be stumped. What's … [Read more...]

Learning To Cook: Frittata

Potato, scallion, mushroom, sweet onion and Parmesan frittata

  Eggs, and recipes for eggs, are paradoxical. That shouldn't seem so at first. An egg will do a certain thing when placed near, or mixed with, another thing, and do that thing at a certain temperature for a certain amount of time. Which is what all ingredients do. But actually, as lucky four-year-olds know, eggs are full of surprises. Eggs are also full of doubt. Their clichéd purity of form is challenged by the slippery dualism of yolk versus white, which is why there's something sad, even destructive, when you take a fork or whisk … [Read more...]

I Never Cooked for My Father

Littleneck clam

"I learned about cooking and flavor as a child, watching my mother prepare food in our kitchen in Virginia." Maybe I'm worried that it's too easy, or dislike the part of me that's a permanent boy, but I've become increasingly shy of drawing from the same family well to recount my early fascination with food. Recently, though, I came upon a recipe for creamed scallions by the late chef Edna Lewis taken from her kindly and expert "memory" cookbook, In Pursuit of Flavor. The line at the top of this post is that book's opener, and here's how she … [Read more...]

Getting Pickled: My Brine Cocktail Comeuppance

I was taken aback by my failure to find a worthy pickle cocktail. I love pickles to an extent that should embarrass me. I could eat pickles every day of my life -- especially classic kosher half-sours. I can't explain that, in a Freudian or even middlebrow New Yorker way; it's just a kitchen fact, and I have no expectation that constant or even random readers would share my pickle jones. Perhaps it's genetic, like green hair or being gay. But how could you not crave tumid, crunchy, garlicky off-green pickles? Cut them up into dainty pieces if … [Read more...]

Condiment Time-Travel

Who Invented Crab Louis? It's almost pink, not a pretty-in-pink pink but a sickly, Pepto pink. Neither liquid nor solid, it crawls from server to plate like lava, lava with chunks. I know what those chunks are, because I chopped and diced green pepper, green onion, and green olive to create them. Sure, I licked that spoon. But in the time it took for my palate to awaken, before I could compute the flavor and register my pleasure and approval -- the taste was right, in the certain way that a blend of wrong things can be right -- I … [Read more...]