Food for Thought
It's not quite time to clear away the cookbooks, or to consider Jamie Oliver your new best friend, but the world of blogs, Twitter and Facebook have seriously changed the way one approaches making dinner, even the definition of a "friend," if you're into it.
Think about this evolution: Ten years ago I discovered a beautiful book by Amanda Hesser called "The Cook and the Gardener," which documented the author's year cooking at a French chateau a few miles from St. Julien, and her relationship with the caretaker there. The cookbook is layed out by seasons, with the author aligning essays and recipes with what is growing in Monsieur Milbert's garden, and with what he is willing to quietly relinquish that week to the petite blonde American in the kitchen. Almost every day from May until October, I think of how this rubber-booted Burgundian gardener warmed the water for his vegetables in buckets set out in the sun so that his haricot and carrots were not shocked with cold well water. ( I don't always have the time to treat my own vegetables so tenderly, but I think about it.) I still pull that book from the shelf a few times a year to see what the gardener, who is probably now deceased, had available in — let's say January — and what Amanda was doing with it; Turnip-Thyme Soup, Potatoes Braised with Bay Leaves and Baby Onions, Frisee Salad with Sage Croutons. In fact, now that the exhaustion from holiday sweets has tempered, it may be time to make the Chocolate-Bay Leaf Tart with Apples from December's chapter.
A few years after I dog-eared that book, I had the welcome chance to get a little closer to Amanda Hesser because she started writing a weekly food column in The New York Times. Once a week, I read a good recipe and got to know who she was dating.
Well, now, I can go to Amanda's blog, Food 52, http://www.food52.com/cooks, which is tasteful, gracious, and welcoming to just about anyone who has a good food idea. Now I can tour Amanda's New York kitchen; I can peer into her refrigerator (OK, you know she cleaned it for this short video, but it still looks as stuffed as mine). I can send her my own recipes, and I can vote on contributions to her new book. I'm Amanda's friend now, sort of.
And I'm Jamie Oliver's friend, http://www.jamieoliver.com/diary. And Martha Stewart's friend, too. http://www.themarthablog.com/. Mark Bittman, who writes for The New York Times? I'm his friend. http://bitten.blogs.nytimes.com/. And Corby Kummer, food writer for The Atlantic Monthly, I'm his friend, too. http://food.theatlantic.com/. Actually, the last two still read more like journalists, but intimate journalists, journalists right inside my kitchen talking to me.
I'm sure I could be Emeril's and Mario's friend; I just haven't checked yet because I'm feeling like I just started at a new school and so far everyone in the class is really nice, and I'm overwhelmed with invitations to come over and play. (Jamie told me today on Twitter that he's watching "District 9" today, and he loves it! But then he was bummed because he did something terrible to the winch on his Land Rover. "Not happy sunk my Argo then broke Land Rover pulling the Argo then broke my winch on another Land Rover pulling the Land Rover not good at all." Or maybe that was two Land Rover?
There are just as many beautiful, creative food blogs by names you may or may not know, like Miz MaggieB at Eat Boutique, http://www.eatboutique.com/ which "aims to connect people with inspiring chefs, restaurateurs, foragers, small-batch food producers, home cooks and simple recipes that fill your belly and your life with delight, all the while bringing you closer to the people behind each bite." And that it does. Not only did it connect me to a great recipe for sweet potato and pineapple soup, which sounded amazing garnished with coconut and cashews, but to Ice Milk Aprons — a line of linen aprons with a magnificent swish of a bow askance at the waist, certain to make me feel like a dressed-up milk maid at my stove.
Spend a little time on the Web with all these people and their food blogs, and the creative gastronomic energy out there is almost overwhelming. How close they all feel is mysteriously seductive. It is like the fairy tale in which the pages of the book suddenly open up and the reader steps right into the story. In this case, the chefs start talking right to us, their cookbooks open wide, and we walk right into their lives.
But not exactly either, because you can spend the entire day with them, learn about their tips for blah-blah, buy their favorite spoons or pork bellies, know exactly what they're eating for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and in Jamie's case even feel badly about his Land Rovers, but once you've culled their greatest recipes of the day and are ready to cook, you still need someone to actually invite to dinner, so don't lose touch with your real friends, too.
If you do decide to enter these Elysian Fields where food meets the Internet, don't get lost in the forest; Mashable, an online guide to social networking, lists the top 55 sites for foodies, http://mashable.com/2009/08/13/twitter-foodies/, so you could start there. Or you could start with charming Amanda Hesser who had the sensitivity years ago to recognize the soon to be quaint Gallic enchantments of Monsieur Milbert; he never knew a leek seedling about URLs.
The following recipe, submitted by "WinnieAB," was a winner in one of the many Food52 recipe contests. Food52 has a contest every week until June, with titles like: "Your Best New Year's Resolution Dish" or "Your Best Nose to Tail Recipe (you can guess the ingredients there)," with all winners going into the soon to be published Food 52 Cookbook. Even if you don't have a recipe, you can vote on a winner. Both contestants and winners are all wonderful recipes to browse, with beautiful photographs and always kind, helpful comments from the readers. This is a world in which people celebrate the best foods, the most artful cooking, and warmly cheer each other on when they're doing it. No one is grumpy. If they don't like the kale, they're polite about it. The cyber kitchen is a pretty good place in which to sit and have a mid-morning cup of tea.
Food for Thought runs weekly in the Times' Living section and is written by Heather Atwood, an author and mother from Rockport. Questions and comments can be sent to Heather at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Turkey Pho from WinnieAB via Food 52
Serves 2 big bowls of soup
Toast the spices:
2 tbs coriander seeds
4 whole cloves
4 whole star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1. Heat a cast-iron skillet or frying pan over medium heat. Add the coriander seeds, cloves, star anise, and cinnamon stick and toast until fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Immediately spoon out the spices into a bowl to avoid burning them and set aside.
Make the turkey pho:
1 quart homemade turkey stock (or homemade or store-bought chicken stock)
1 bunch green onions (green top parts only) chopped
1 3-inch chunk of ginger, sliced and smashed with side of knife
1 tsp brown sugar, or more to taste
1 tbs fish sauce, or more to taste
1 or 2 cups kale, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1/2 pound leftover turkey breast, shredded
1 bunch (approx. 2 oz.) cellophane or bean thread noodles (or enough flat dried rice noodles to serve 2)
1 or 2 tablespoon cilantro, chopped- for garnish (optional)
1 or 2 tablespoon chopped green onions (white parts only), minced- for garnish (optional)
1/2 lime, cut into wedges
Sriracha chili sauce to taste
1. In a large pot, add the toasted spices and all ingredients from stock through fish sauce and bring to a boil.
2. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer for 20 minutes, skimming the surface frequently.
3. Taste the broth and add more sugar or fish sauce, if needed. Strain the broth and discard the solids. Add the kale and cook for 1 to 2 more minutes. Remove from heat.
4. Add the shredded turkey and the cellophane noodles. Allow to sit for a few minutes while the noodles soften.
5. Ladle the broth into bowls. Divide the kale, shredded turkey and the noodles evenly into each bowl.
6. Sprinkle on the garnishes and add sriracha to taste. Squeeze lime juice to taste over the top of your bowl before eating.