I’m here. Just not HERE. Click on over to see the new pad.

I know y’all thought I ran off to Sundance and never returned. Thought about it, but nah.

Instead I’ve been bouncing around. I mean Bouncing. Around. In the real world, but also here. Which is why I am no longer here, in this spot, and I’m now OVER HERE, in that spot. There are a few glitches, but it’s all working sort of maybe okay. So that’s where I am, for the time being, in my very own domain, at

Cleaner

Plate

Club

Dot

Com

Stop on by. I could use some help unpacking, frankly.

On the move

This will be my new front door. No kidding, it's sweet, right?

Home internet died for a long while (perils of country living),.

Camera died (perils of small children who are rough with…well…everything).

But. Good things.

First: I made reservations to go to Sundance, where my sister is showing her latest film, Born Sweet. I missed it last time, not this time, and I am on my way there right this very second.

Seriously. In the airport here. And? May I just say? It is much, much easier to get through security without two small children.

But, all that said, I’ve been more focused on something else: moving. We’re moving! Eight miles away, mind you, but still. Packing up everything, hauling it to a new location, unpacking it again, only to wonder: was it really worth bringing this to a new location?

In some ways this is nonsensical. The real estate market! She is so terrible! And this is true. There are not many buyers out there, and those who are there are looking to pay about 4 cents per square foot. Which, if I’m not mistaken, is we are selling our house for.

And. We have a good home. And. We have beautiful views. And. We put so much work into our house. And. And. And.

And yet.

Our Little House in the Big Woods is far from anywhere. That, in fact, is what sold us on the place. It is peaceful. It is beautiful. In the summer, we hear so many birds it is a veritable cacophony. In the winter, the silence is stunning. We have witnessed almost every variety of wildlife from our window: Barn owls. Wild turkeys. Eagles. Coyotes. Snapping Turtles. Smooth green snakes. Fox. Rabbits. Pheasants. A couple of summers ago, during a thunderstorm, I stood in our doorway watching the rain fall over the valley, and a moose sauntered just past me. It’s just a lovely, incredible place to spend time.

Except that I don’t spend time at home. I seem to spend it in the car, driving from home to elsewhere. It was fine, it was perfect, it was my dream come true, until I had two kids who entered school. And now, somehow, we seem to spend all our spare time not hunting for salamanders and planting strawberries, as I once expected, but driving. Driving, driving, driving. You know those fake license plates that say “Mom’s Taxi?” That is me. Expect that I don’t get paid, and too many taxi rides are spent with a three year old crying, “it’s too long. Home is too long away!”

It hurts a little. Giving up the wild berries in the summer, the ability to snowshoe out our back door in winter. We are giving up the sound of coyotes howling at night (okay, that might not be for everyone, but I always really liked it), the ability to shower and pee with the curtains open, because if anybody is out there looking in, we’ve got bigger problems then the fact that someone might accidentally see my hooha.

If all goes well — and again, who knows, because the real estate market, she really is a mess— we will have neighbors again, which will be an adjustment, and a whole lot less commuting, which I think will be less of an adjustment. We will also have a sweet old house that was owned by an older couple, both since passed away, that ran a country hardware/general store for many decades. That touches me. The general store has since been replaced by a high end clothing retailer that caters to second home owners. But this couple’s house…I don’t know. It remains sweet, and feels like a place that was loved.

In the basement, there is a small woodshop, where there is, tacked up on the wall, a hand-sketched plan for a small set of stairs. There is sawdust on the table beneath. Was the set of stairs ever built, I can’t help but wonder? On the walls are framed pieces of crewelwork and embroidery, another project by the former homeowners, I suspect.

I’m telling you: it’s sweet.

We might remove the carpeting from the kitchen floor, we might do a little painting, but that sweetness: we want to keep that.

We close in fewer than 3 weeks, we move in March. Big couple of months.

Here we go. More from Sundance, y’all!

Kitchen tip that works: soften brick-like brown sugar

What’s that? You live in a tidy home where everything is nicely stored in airtight containers and your brown sugar never, ever turns into a hard lump at which you must chip away with a knife? And then? While you’re doing that? Your hand slips and you wind up putting a giant dent in your counter top and stabbing your left arm with the knife? And you curse like a sailor and then growl like a bear while your children shake their heads at you, and click tsk tsk with their tongues?

Um, yeah. That doesn’t happen to me either.

Bah, who are we kidding? Most of us have opened the brown sugar container mid-recipe to find that the sugar has turned to stone. That’s because brown sugar contains molasses. Over time, the moisture in the molasses evaporates, leaving you with a brick that you want to hurl at someone’s head.

But no longer! You don’t need to throw it at someone, and you don’t need to throw it away! You simply need a tiny slice of apple. No joke: just place an apple slice (any size) in the bag and seal it back up again. I swear: your brown sugar will return to a moist, pleasant  state within about a day. It works! I know, because I tried it.

A short time ago, this bag of brown sugar was a brick. A brick, I tell you! Capable of paving the driveway! One sliver of apple and a couple of days later, it is soft and crumbly and delightful. The only evidence of my tampering is a small white spot where the apple lay. The apple slice itself looked brown and withered, like a tired soul that has done its duty with honor.

See that tiny white spot? That's where the apple slice did its noble work.

I am told — though I have not tried these alternatives — that you can also restore brown sugar with a slice of bread, an orange peel, or a piece of terra cotta pottery that has been soaked in water for at least 15 minutes. Want to prevent hardening in the first place? Just place any of these items in the bag when the sugar’s still fresh. (Or, you know, you can actually seal the container so it’s airtight. But of course we all know how well that’s worked in the past).

Can you see how soft this sugar has become? Rock on!

There are cookies to be made, oatmeal to be served! We need our brown sugar soft, yo! Hooray for kitchen wisdom and the inner calm that comes with soft, moist sugar!

New year, full hearts

A new year. 2010. Four days in already (and very happy birthday wishes to you, Mom!).

Christmas passed in a blur — we went out west with Blair’s family to go skiing, a skill I’ve learned only in the last few years, and not especially well. Learning to ski, it turns out, is rather like learning to knit: awkward at first, and there’s always something more challenging to tackle than the thing you just mastered. You fumble and you fall, and you start again, knowing that if you can’t laugh at your mistakes — at yourself — you probably shouldn’t be doing it. Then somewhere along the way you develop a sort of physical memory for it, so that you can think a little less, worry a little less, as you move forward.

There are plenty of differences, of course. There is, for example, that whole potential to snap your legs right in half with skiing. Still, though. Similarities exist.

I was glad to be out there, but equally glad to leave the glitz of the slopes at the holidays, and return to our humble life where the house smells a little too much like dog and almost everything is tattered and worn. Home. Now here we are in 2010, whatever it brings.

Once upon a time, I celebrated the kind of new year’s where the only possibilities for the next 365 days seemed to be good ones (these, of course were the years that I met the new year with a bottle of the cheapest champagne in the store, guzzled until it came foaming out of the sides of my mouth, and all the talk was about who we’d kiss at midnight).  When one reaches A Certain Age, though, one begins to greet the new year with a little less heady confidence, a little more humility. It could be the year we get fit/work less/make a million/lose 15 pounds/get organized/quit smoking/smell the letters/appreciate loved ones more. Or it could — we know this by now — be another kind of year altogether. We make our resolutions, praying fiercely that this isn’t the year that tragedy befalls us, that despair or darkness closes in.

This past summer, I went to see an outdoor music festival at MASS MoCA, an old industrial mill complex-turned contemporary arts center.  One of the musicians was Josh Ritter, who sings one of my favorite songs of all time: To the Dogs or Whoever (it’s the first song you’ll hear on Ritter’s web site, and it’s totally worth 3 minutes of your time). That night, he played another favorite song, Empty Hearts (#13 on the same site). It begins:

So save all of your light
for those who can’t sleep at night
and who can’t even sing to their shadows…

The song contains the refrain, “Don’t let me into this year with an empty heart, with an empty heart. Don’t let me into this year with an empty heart.”

That night, as we stood in the courtyard, surrounded by a labyrinth of looming brick buildings, Josh Ritter played that song, and the audience sang along. At one point, almost all of the musicians stopped playing, and all one could hear was the several hundred people  in the audience repeating the refrain. Over and over again, they sang it — Don’t let me into this year with an empty heart, with an empty heart. Don’t let me into this year with an empty heart — until I began to understand why the song is titled with a plural. Empty hearts.

I grew up going to church, and I’m a semi-regular attendee at Sunday services even today. And I’m telling you: what I heard that night —  hundreds of people calling out in a single voice, singing against an empty heart — was as much a kind of prayer as anything I ever heard beneath the steeple.

2010. Twenty-ten. Let’s approach this year, whatever it brings, with full hearts. Let’s genuinely save our light for those who can’t even sing to their shadows. Because here we are, in 2010, dancing on this one small planet together.

Here’s Ritter singing this song in another live concert, this one in Central Park with the New York Pops. It’s not quite the same effect as being there, but it sure is a good song:

Happy new year to you.

Winter solstice, where a zucchini festival is a bit like the Andromeda Galaxy

"Howdy, friends, from faraway summer."

Today was the winter solstice; the shortest day of the year.

In my neighborhood, the sun set just nine hours and two minutes after it rose — leaving almost 15 hours, a whopping two-thirds of the day, steeped in darkness. A couple of days ago, a fierce blizzard blanketed the East Coast; snow shovels scraped gravel from North Carolina all the way to New England.

Everywhere, there are white holiday lights. Already, Chanukah has passed. Christmas and New Years will be done in the blink of an eye. Then comes January’s deep freeze.

When you’re in one season, it’s hard to believe that another ever existed, or might still. When the skin on your hands is cracked and bleeding from sub-zero winds, summer seems almost like a myth. You can know that it exists — the balmy breezes, the long, hot days, the smell of sunscreen, the blooms, the roadside farm-stands — but it all feels a little like the Andromeda Galaxy — so impossibly far away that it may as well not exist.

With that in mind, I bring you this posting from beyond our current, chilly universe; a little reminder that summer is real, that it actually does exist. This guest post, from my brother-in-law, Matt, is actually a bit like the Andromeda Galaxy, in that what you see here here is actually a report from the past.

Last summer, Matt attended the West Stockbridge, Massachusetts Zucchini Festival; it’s something I’ve wanted to attend for years, and we always found ourselves somewhere else on that weekend. Matt sent me this report. I share it here, today, to remind you — and myself — that even today, on the darkest day of the year, summer is still out there. The days of harvests and baseball games and children whose faces are smeared with ice cream and — yes, zucchini — they are all out there still, even as we wrap ourselves in woolen hats and down coats.

Here’s Matt’s report, with some photos to really capture it.

Zucchini is not hard to grow in New England; it tends to be a bit too easy to grow, actually, and can easily produce wildly overabundant crops. Eventually, gardeners soon grow sick it and will do about anything to get rid of the stuff – a great gift to friends and just about anyone who will accept it, come August.  I have even heard of desperate gardeners abandoning zucchini on the neighbor’s doorsteps or on the front seats of unlocked cars.

Not that this is entirely a bad thing.

Zucchini is among the most versatile vegetables.  You can bake it into bread, eat it raw, sauté it, fry it, bake it alone, eat its flowers, or even empty it out to make an impromptu serving boat.  It’s a modest ingredient with a mild and delicate flavor that tends to harmonize with more dominating flavors such as garlic or tomatoes.

The Zucchini Festival allows  New Englanders to celebrate their love and revulsion for this abundant vegetable. Personally, I had been feeling a bit of revulsion as I drove to the festival…  heavy rains had blocked so much sunlight that many of the fruits of my garden were rotting in their beds.

Once at the festival, I found myself soon forgetting my gardening woes.  There were neo-hippies drumming up a storm on the streets with barefooted  women dancing to the beat and men dressed up in folksy zucchini hats.  The high point for my kids probably was the zucchini-flinging catapult (the Big Flipper), which hurled unwanted zucchini into a dumpster, decorated like a giant mouth, some fifty feet distant.  In fact, most of the flung zucchini ended up splattered and torn up on the ground.

For me, the best part of the festival was the zucchini-decorating contest where kids and adults made their own zucchini creations using carving tools, fabric, and paint.  From a Jewish Orthodox zucchini to a carved clunker car zucchini, this contest was full of whimsy.

I would have been pleased to have traded the rubber ducky race, the face painting for which my children begged, and the countless street vendors that had nothing really to do with Zucchini. What I could have used more than anything else at the festival was a good mouthful of tasty zucchini ratatouille, zucchini enchiladas, zucchini and turkey pannini, zucchini lasagna, grilled zucchini sandwich, or one of the other thousand dishes that can be made with the vegetable.

The food offered just a touch of inspiration in the form of zucchini batter ice cream. Then there was the standard carnival fare: fried zucchini and zucchini wraps. One vendor sold paper bowls filled with zucchini stew. Still another sold variations on zucchini bread. Still, I found myself yearning for more.

Fortunately, I was able to followed my  four-year-old daughter’s suggestion. Because even the wettest of summers still leaves plenty of zucchini to spare, I went home to my garden, picked some zucchini, and cooked a few of these things up myself.

Yes, Virginia. There realy is a zucchini catapult.

And here is some of her carnage.

Dress your zucchini in calico and denim.

Why it's a veritable zucchini city!

Wh it's a veritable zucchini city!

Zucchini invades.

Bake it into muffins...

Or you can always deep-fry it.

Some big ol' zucchini on display

And some rubber duckies, of course. Wait. Huh?

Take off your shoes and dance a little to the beat. Because: summer.

Peace, yo.

And there you have it. A report from the past, which is also a report from the future: a future which promises a harvest so abundant that people don’t hesitate to catapult produce toward a dumpster, or dress it up like robot. The promise of warmer days and summer festivals and face paint on happy kids, and days when maybe (just maybe) blizzards and whipping winds seem like some distant memory.

Thanks, Matt. Happy solstice, all.

Crazy-good carrot souffle

Bright orange: not the easiest color to photograph.

This recipe isn’t mine. Not mine at all. It is, however, really good. We’re talking slap-my-knee-and-call-me-Pappy!-type good.

This recipe comes courtesy of Beth, over at Expatriate’s Kitchen (and she is giving away a book on drinking, yo!). Beth is my co-author on our as-yet-unnamed book project (due out fall 2010). This recipe will be included in the book, and I offer it here as kind of a sneak preview, a window into the 272 vegetable-laden pages that will follow less than a year from now.

Sake’s alive, Beth has some kickin’ recipes up her sleeve.

This dish is so tasty. It is sweet and warm and completely comforting, and it features one of the few ingredients that can still be found locally, in this, the coldest of seasons: carrots!

What do you call an elephant with a carrot in each ear?

Anything you want; he can’t hear you!

Carrots rock the vegetable world. They offer copious amounts of vitamin A as beta-carotene, which is associated not only with great eye health, but also cardiovascular health. Beta-carotene also appears to contain anti-cancer properties.  Carrots are loaded with antioxidants, vitamins K and C as well as B vitamins, and are a great source of fiber.

A guy walks into a doctors office with one carrot in his ear and another up his nose. He says: ” Doc, I don’t know what’s wrong with me!”

The doctor looks at him  for a while, and finally says “I know what’s wrong with you!”

The patient says “Really? What?!!”

“You’re not eating right!”

This is one of my favorite carrot recipes of all time: carrot souffle, with a touch of orange flavor. I made it this week for a potluck gathering, and it got raves. My mom made it for Thanksgiving and it earned raves. At the end of my book-writing deadline, when my butt was plastered to a big rubber ball and my back hurt and my eyes were dilated from staring too much at the computer, and the sun was disappearing and the world was growing colder by the second, this is the one dish that I craved, the one dish I would get off my rump to prepare happily.

It’s officially a side dish, but one can also see it peering boldly into the “Dessert” end of things, waving with familiarity to the pumpkin pies and sweet potato pies and baked figgy puddings and the fruit souffles. In other words, it’s kind of dessert. But you get to call it part of dinner.

The wise man says: mother who cooks carrots and peas in the same pot is very unsanitary!

The fact that is so delightfully sweet is why I am surprised that my own daughters refuse to eat this carrot souffle. Merrie has it in her head that she just doesn’t care for cooked carrots in any form. And once my child convinces herself she doesn’t like something, that, apparently, is that. As for Charlotte, well, she just doesn’t eat. As I have mentioned before, Charlotte lives on love, Elmo, and Annie lyrics.

So I make it,  I offer it, they refuse it, and I eat it. All of it.

Until one day, when I left a fresh-baked dish of it on the stovetop and didn’t announce what it was. The top of it was baked golden brown, with just a slight crust to it. The kitchen, I thought, smelled glorious. Merrie wandered into the kitchen, then was silent for a while. Suddenly she burst into where I was working.

“Mom!” she exclaimed, with a giant spoon in her hand. “That stuff you made is SO GOOD.”

I lifted my eyes in surprise.”Really? You think so?”

“Yes! It’s DELICIOUS!!”

“Huh,” I said. (Now here comes what they call a strategic mistake). “That’s interesting, because that’s the carrot souffle I’ve made so many times and you’ve refused to eat every time.” (and that, right there, was my strategic mistake. I should have said nothing if I wanted her to eat it).

“Really?” she asked. It was her turn to be surprised.

“Yeah.”

“Huh,” she said, considering the situation carefully. “Well, um maybe I only liked it a little.”

From “DELICIOUS!” to “I only liked it a little” in a mere three seconds flat.

Whatever, kid. That just there’s more for me.

What did one snowman say to the other snowman?

“Hey, do you smell carrots?”

Ingredients
2 1/4 lbs. of chopped carrots (about 16 medium carrots, or 8-9 very large carrots)
2/3 cup sugar
4 tbs. flour
3 tbs. plain low fat yogurt
3 eggs
2 tbs. melted butter
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. mace (or nutmeg)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. orange extract

Steam carrots until soft. Cool completely.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Place carrots in food processor. Pulse until pureed. Add the other ingredients, pulsing as you go. Run food processor until all the ingredients are well incorporated.

Spray a souffle dish with cooking spray. Pour in carrot souffle batter. Bake for about 50 minutes, until inside is well-formed (an inserted knife should not come out gloppy and wet).

Try not to eat the whole dish while it is still steaming warm from the oven. After all, you might want to save some for dessert.

On Home Cooking, by Laurie Colwin

I discovered Laurie Colwin about a year after I graduated from college. I was living in Chicago at the time, and was only beginning to emerge from what I would later call the Dark Year. When I’d graduated from college, I believed that only great things awaited, that all possibilities were good ones. In the year that followed, I’d learned that this assumption was wholly false: that some possibilities were dreadful, and the worst of these possibilities were irrevocable.

In that year, I’d been desperately lonely — so lonely that once, in a taxi cab, I pulled out a scrap of paper, and begin writing down a list of anything I could possibly think of to look forward to. The list was short, and it was comprised of small things.  “Visiting dogs at the Humane Society” is the only one I remember today.

It was around this time that I picked up Colwin’s novel, Happy All the Time, and was quickly drawn in, just as I was later by her other novels. Not by the plot so much — her books are hardly plot-driven — but by the characters. In all her fiction, Colwin’s characters are quirky, sometimes difficult, and they often fumble. But they are uniquely themselves, navigating a complex world filled with inscrutable others, making peace between Who They Are and What The World Is. They felt like the friends that I hadn’t made yet (though these, thankfully, were soon to follow), and they were immensely comforting.

Colwin’s fiction isn’t dense, and it isn’t lengthy. Her books are entertaining and quick to read, probably more appealing to women than men — the literary equivalent of one of the better Nora Ephron films, perhaps. But at moments, using simple phrases and remarkably few words, Colwin captures the hearts of human beings beautifully.

For me, at that time, her books were exactly what I needed: stories about people in transition — finding love, finding careers, discovering themselves, moving from youth to maturity — that always left open the possibility of happy endings.

I forgot about Colwin for a long time. Then last year, I stumbled across this sentence she’d written:

Oh, domesticity! The wonder of dinner plates and cream pitchers…You want everything. If Mrs. A. has her mama’s old jelly mold, you want one too, and everything that goes with it — the family, the tradition, the years of having jelly molded in it. We domestic sensualists live in a state of longing, no matter how comfortable our own places are.

I realized at that moment that Colwin’s writing is as much about home and security as it is about transition and change — something I just hadn’t seen all those years ago.

With that in mind, I borrowed from the library Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen, Colwin’s collection of short non-fiction essays about food.

I like this book. Like her fiction, Colwin’s essays are not filled with flowery language — Colwin is about getting to the point. For example, her chapter on soup begins with five words: “There is nothing like soup.” Her chapter about disguising vegetables begins frankly, “it is amazing how many adults hate vegetables.” Or consider her take on potato salad: “It is always wise to make too much potato salad. Even if you are cooking for two, make enough for five.”

These are not essays that wax lyrical, that attempt to answer the unanswerable, or that ponder the many deepest mysteries of the universe. This book is about what is — Colwin’s own experiences tasting an ingredient for the first time, what foods she enjoys or doesn’t, her own recommendations about what’s worth trying, and how best to prepare it.

Like her fictional characters, she is witty and wholly idiosyncratic — always completely herself, whatever she’s doing — making butterscotch brownies, feeding the fussy, or acknowledging that stuffed breast of veal is, simply, “a bad idea.”

Consider this opener to her essay, “How to Fry Chicken:”

As everyone knows, there is only one way to fry chicken correctly. Unfortunately, most people think their method is best, but most people are wrong. Mine is the only right way, and on this subject I feel almost evangelical.

Or the start of her chapter on comfort foods, “The Same Old Thing:”

Many of my closest friends are sick of my baked chicken, and even when I point out that I know a million variations on this theme, they rightly point out that they have had them all, and more than once.

There’s wisdom there:

What you want is an enormous return on a small investment. Almost the only situation in which this is possible is cooking.

There are meditations on dinner parties:

After you have cooked your party dinner six or seven times, you will be able to do it in your sleep, but your friends will be bored. You will then have to go in search of new friends who have never had creamed spinach with jalapeno peppers, or you will have to find something new to feed your old friends.

And there are lists of what’s necessary in a kitchen, and what’s not:

I will never have a microwave oven because I believe they are dangerous, and totally unnecessary unless you are running a fast-food operation or, like one of my cousins, you are amused by watching eggs explode.

There are also recipes…sort-of. Not recipes like you’d get in a cookbook, exactly — no ingredient lists, no detailed explanations. Almost like someone is standing with you in the kitchen, knocking back a glass of wine, saying, “okay, now sprinkle some sugar on the apples. Not too much. Sure, that’s about right.” Several recipes even include the direction to make something “in the usual way,” with no further explanation whatsoever. Last night, for example, I made Pepper Chicken with Polenta and Broccoli di Rape, and was amused to find not one, but two instructions of that type. I was told to “bake as you ordinarily bake chicken. There is no rule for this.” And I was also told to prepare the polenta in “the ordinary way.”

I respect this. Why should Colwin spend her time explaining how to bake a chicken or mix polenta? There are other books that can do this. It’s more important that she tell me she realized she was addicted to the broccoli di rape (broccoli raab) the day she found herself eating it right out of the steamer.

Colwin passed away right just before I first discovered her. She was 48 and seemingly healthy, with an 8 year old daughter — Merrie’s age, I can’t help but realize. One day, unexpectedly, her heart simply failed. It is further proof of the hard lesson I’d learned in that year in Chicago — that nothing, nothing is fair, and that there’s not much that can be said about that.

I would have liked to read more of her essays. I would have liked her perspective on today’s growing food movement. I suspect she would have enjoyed many aspects of it, and that she also would have had limited patience with too much sentimental rhapsodizing about carrots, or the way dinner has become so politicized. I also would have enjoyed imagining that we might meet someday, only to find that we shared much in common. After all, Colwin wrote, “I am not a fancy cook or an ambitious one. I am a plain old cook.” She didn’t own upscale kitchen equipment, she appreciated the occasional repulsive meal, she knew that “three meals a day seven days a week…is enough to get a person down,” and she believed in the power of a decent frittata.

You can see how I would enjoy her.

As I write, her Beef, Leek, and Barley Soup is simmering on the stove (she herself might have added lima beans, but she “would not put any kind of squash into this soup,” and she is “not fond of turnips.”). I also have her Bread Baking Without Agony recipe at the end of its rising (“whenever you happen to get home, punch down the dough, knead it well, roll it in flour, and forget about it until convenient.”). I was all excited to make her chocolate steamed pudding, until I learned that steamed pudding requires a steamed pudding mold.  I’m sure I have walked past such things eight thousand times in the thrift store, without ever realizing what they are. Now I know, and I will buy one the next time I see it at the Goodwill. I suspect she would approve of this; she herself bought all her bakeware at tag sales, never once paying more than fifty cents for a cake tin.

Here’s her chicken and polenta dinner that I made last night (not fancy, just plenty tasty, with a dry marinade of thyme, black pepper, red pepper, and a pinch of clove, with the baked chicken juices poured over everything):

In the foreword to this book, Colwin writes that

no one who cooks cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers.

Tonight, in our house, we’ll sit down to Colwin’s bread, and Colwin’s soup, and there won’t be a question about who was with me in the kitchen as I put together the meal— someone who seems rather like an old friend, who met me in the darkness of a cold Chicago winter when I was young and alone, who found me again in middle life when I had a family to feed…and with whom, it turns out, I still have plenty to talk about.


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