Twenty/20 Project: Introduction

Ruhlmans20Recently, I had the good fortune of interacting (just a bit) with respected writer and cook, Michael Ruhlman on twitter. I had re-tweeted a link he posted to a story not related to cooking. I re-tweet links a lot, so I was surprised when he responded by thanking me for the re-tweet and complimenting me on my blog. (Fangirl response: Holy crap, Michael Ruhlman looked at my blog!)

About a week later, I sent out a tweet referring to a blog post written by Jennifer Reese (“Fiddling while Jersey Floods”), herself a cookbook writer and foodie. She made some pointed criticism of a particular recipe in Michael’s latest cookbook, Ruhlman’s Twenty, which I found interesting. Her overall impression was that while Twenty appeals to a lot of cooks, and it did have a few things in it that she did like, it was not a good match for her in particular.

What I didn’t realize is that Michael had seen that link…and apologized for the flawed recipe when I tagged him on #FollowFriday. (Follow Friday is a twitter thing – incidentally, if you’re curious, check out a preview of a forthcoming film about the phenomenon. It’s an excellent, concise explanation.)

So in the interest of gaining some insight for myself, and providing me with an excellent reason to finally do an honest review of a cookbook, I bought Ruhlman’s Twenty.

Still, there are a few things that I have to admit to right off the bat…

While I am a home cook and therefore immensely proud of what I have learned from the best cooks I know (my mom and my grandmothers), I do have what I feel is a fundamental flaw in my cooking.

I hate onion. I cannot overstate how much I hate it. Although I am sure to get commenters regaling me with stories of how they “grew out of hating onion as a kid”…this is not a phase for me. If anything, my distaste for onion has only intensified as I’ve gotten older. I’m in my 30′s for godsakes. I am not going to “grow” out of it.

Truly, I know how much of a handicap that is for any home cook. I understand that by eliminating that ingredient from many of my recipes, I am constantly committing a cardinal sin of cooking. Onions are part of what a lot of cooks call the “holy trinity”. There are several varieties of a “holy trinity”, but in each variation, onion is a vital ingredient. To omit it is a sin…and I am, for all intents and purposes, an unrepentant sinner on that front.

There is, unfortunately for me, a section of this book dedicated to onion as a vital ingredient. You might be wondering how I plan to review that section in particular, much less any other recipe involving onion in this book.

To be frank, I’m just going to have to suck it up. Thankfully, I will have my husband give me his impressions of a recipe from the onion section in particular. I could have eliminated the above confession and simply related my husband’s impressions as my own when I get to that part. However, I feel it’s best to just be honest. So in truth, I will be going through nineteen of Ruhlman’s Twenty personally…and my husband will take on the onion section. I’m pledging to not alter any of the recipes in any way…onion or otherwise.

Here’s how it’ll work:

I’ll review each of the twenty sections over a one month period. Right now I’m thinking of launching this in January. The book is broken into twenty sections (hence, Ruhlman’s Twenty) addressing either a fundamental ingredient or method in cooking. Each of those sections have an essay to introduce the ingredient/method. When I review each section, I’ll talk about my impression of each essay and follow-up with a review of one recipe from each section. If I tried to pull a Julie Powell by going through all the recipes, this would morph into a way bigger project than I’d like to do.

I’m excited and nervous about this, as I have never actually reviewed a cookbook before. I think it’ll be a great experience for me.

Related:

Michael Ruhlman’s Blog

 

Cookbook Review(-ish): Elote Cafe Cookbook & Tomatillo Sauce

Just after Thanksgiving this past year, my mom and step-dad went on a trip to Sedona, Arizona.  I don’t think they had been there before, and they went to try out some new photography skills by utilizing the breathtaking landscape and visiting the Grand Canyon nearby.

While they were there, they had a meal at Elote Cafe in Sedona. They had such a marvelous time there and so enjoyed the food that they decided to purchase the restaurant’s cookbook.

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Bookish Event (recap): Ferran Adria in San Francisco

Cover image courtesy Indiebound.org

As part of my comeback, I decided to finally update everyone on my experience seeing chef Ferran Adrià speak in San Francisco.

This event was held way back in the second week of October, which was particularly busy for me in terms of book events. I was looking forward to this one for a few months beforehand, so by the time I left my home to drive into San Francisco, I was almost giddy.

Because of my excitement, I left for San Francisco as early as I could so that I didn’t arrive at the theatre too late to get a good seat.

The event was held at the historic Castro Theatre, well-known to be a grand old movie house. It’s a rather large venue for a movie theatre, seating about 1500 people in all. Every last seat was sold. I remember checking Craigslist to see what the tickets were being sold for before I left, but I failed to write it down. I remember thinking “wow” when I saw what people were willing to pay.

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Bookish Event: Ferran Adria by way of Anthony Bourdain

Click on the logo to visit Omnivore Books' website.

I have discovered lately that my family is only just beginning to understand what I’m doing. Even then, the things I’m interested in can sometimes be a bit of a mystery to them. I think to a lot of people, it might seem strange to line up a ton of “book events” in a single week, stand in line and listen to an author talk and sign books. They appreciate my enthusiasm, and I am grateful that they are interested enough to ask about my goings on. I say all this as a preface to my discussion about tonight’s book event, and how I got to this point.

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Book Review: "Whiskey: A Global History" ~ by Kevin Kosar

Title: Whiskey: A Global History
Author: Kevin R. Kosar
Pages: 144
Publisher: Reaktion Books, Ltd.
Pub Date: October 2010

Note: This book came to me by way of a mutual contact, who put Mr. Kosar and I in touch. A copy of the book was supplied to me by the author free of charge.


When I started reading this book, I knew exactly nothing about whiskey. In fact, I knew so little that right off the bat I discovered that there is an alternate spelling -”whisky”. Who knew?

Clocking in at just 126 pages, this is a compact and informative read. Part of Reacktion Books’ Edible series of books, it gives the reader an easy-to-follow history on the of the production and selling of whiskey.

The chapters themselves cover a generalized history first, then move seamlessly to the history of whiskey in three main locales, Scotland, Ireland and the United States. In each chapter, an explanation of production methods in the given country, along with government regulation is presented, with a few societal effects sprinkled in for context. Even a small exploration of marketing practices makes an appearance near the end of the book.

It makes for an easy read for sure, and it gives a well rounded starting point for the more complex stories it hints at, especially in Scotland and Ireland.  There is some mention of other countries near the end of the book (namely, Czech Republic, Japan and Spain among others), but those are quite literally passing references. Of course, it does not hurt that there are a few pages of drink recipes featuring whiskey at the end of the book, as well as references for more information on the subject.

For true whiskey aficionados, I doubt that anything completely eye-opening would be learned from this book. However, they may enjoy it for affection’s sake.  For people like me, who are complete and total novices with regards to whiskey, this is a good place to start. Since Father’s Day is coming up shortly, this might make a good gift for any dad who has an appreciation for whiskey.  I learned quite a few tidbits from this book, and I feel a bit more enlightened on the subject. All in all, a fine little tome on whiskey.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (I enjoyed learning something on a subject I was completely ignorant on)
Father’s Day: If you have a dad that has an appreciation for whiskey, this might make a good gift.

For more information on Reacktion Books’ Edible Series – click here

Book Review: "The Bucolic Plague" ~ by Josh Kilmer-Purcell

Title: The Bucolic Plague
Author: Josh Kilmer-Purcell (@joshkp on twitter)
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pub. Date: March 2011 (Paperback)
Pages: 336 (Paperback)

I admit that I first picked up this book based largely on the word “bucolic”. I like to think that I have a fairly extensive vocabulary, but I had never encountered that word before.  It is defined as “of, pertaining to, or suggesting an idyllic rural life“. Given that in the past few years I have had a growing interest in what can only be called the “slow food” movement, I liked the idea of seeing how self-declared “Manhattanites” decided to purchase a farm and make a living from it.

This is Mr. Kilmer-Purcell’s second book. I have not read his first autobiographical work I Not Myself These Days, but after reading Bucolic, I can say that Myself has been added to my enormous TBR* pile.

While the title gives the basic focus of the book plain as day, what I found in the pages was something far deeper. Yes, there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments in this book. Hilarity does indeed ensue when Josh and his partner Dr. Brent Ridge (who some readers may recognize from appearances on the Martha Stewart Show) purchase the Beekman Mansion and farm in Sharon Springs, New York.  In between the laughs though are some truly touching (and heartbreaking) passages.

The book itself covers roughly the first three years (or so) of farm ownership for Josh and Dr. Brent, and it is all at once a sweet and harrowing story.  They bought the Beekman Farm pretty much by pure happenstance and it changed both of their lives immeasurably. It explores a number of things from the terror of taking a huge leap of faith in buying real estate on the spur of the moment, to what that kind of faith-leaping can do to your relationship and quality of life.

Josh’s day job is in advertising, and Brent was (at the time) working as the Vice President of Healthy Living at Martha Stewart Omnimedia. They had their apartment in Manhattan (which they kept, and still have I believe), and commuted to the Beekman on weekends and holidays, working on their farm.

They had started with a rather simple (and reasonable) goal of getting the ageing Beekman back in working order, renovating the barn and living off what the farm could produce for them.  But then it evolved, and it became much more than I think either Josh or Brent ever knew it could be. The goal eventually expanded into both of them wanting to leave their life in New York City behind and live full-time at their stately farm in Sharon Springs. They wanted to devise a way to make enough money to cover the expense of running and paying for the farm, without either of them being dependent on their “day” jobs.

As a result of the chaos, the idea for Beekman 1802 was hatched. They started with selling soap made with goat milk produced from goats on their farm. With a little help from an appearance on Martha Stewart’s show, the soap was a nice seller, but not yet enough to replace either one of their salaries. In the middle of all the to-do lists, the renovation, and their struggle with “zombie flies”, Brent was laid off at Martha Stewart Omnimedia and began living more fully at the Beekman. With the financial strain, coupled with the stress of keeping a farm in working order, they both struggled to keep the balance in their relationship.

Eventually, things look up for them both when after a first rather disastrous attempt at reality television, a second opportunity came knocking from Discovery Channel’s Planet Green. From that opportunity sprang The Fabulous Beekman Boys, which is…fabulous.

There is, of course, so much more to this book than I’ve described. Josh has a way of writing that makes you feel like you’re just chatting with a good friend. It’s the kind of conversational style that really appeals to me in particular. There are some very heartwarming stories in their journey, and the townspeople of Sharon Springs, New York have quite a few characters that are a joy to get to know. Some parts of this book made me laugh out loud, and other parts made me want to reach in the pages and give Josh and Brent a hug. I finished the book wanting more, and promptly put The Fabulous Beekman Boys on a Season Pass on my TiVo.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars (A wonderful read. I had trouble putting the book down)

*TBR pile - To Be Read pile. A common expression among my book-blogging friends, I figured that a few of you might not know what that meant. Hi, Mom! ;)

Related Sites:
The Fabulous Beekman Boys – Planet Green
Beekman 1802 ~ Official Site
Beekman 1802 on Twitter
Beekman 1802 on Facebook

My Life in France – by Julia Child (with Alex Prud’homme)

My Life in France by Julia Child was lovingly co-written by Paul Child’s grand-nephew, Alex Prud’homme, but the voice throughout the story is entirely Julia’s.  Mr. Prud’homme spent just under a year with Julia, reminiscing about her time in France, and together with his notes and the numerous letters that Paul Child wrote to his twin brother Charlie during that time, they pieced together a vibrant and detailed account of her life with Paul in la belle France.

The story encompasses a lot more than the title suggests, as it functions more as a story about the most important events of Julia’s life.  It covers her marriage to her devoted husband, Paul, her time at the Cordon Bleu in France, as well as the long and arduous process of getting Mastering the Art of French Cooking published.  Indeed, the story behind the writing and publication of the book alone could have made an intriguing story, as it included everything from the development of recipes with her co-authors (Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholde) to the navigation of the publishing world.  The story of how her television show, The French Chef, came about is also told, which I found personally fascinating.

Weaved within the landmark events are wonderful stories of the close friends she made while in France, as well as her discovery of French cuisine and her life’s calling as a chef and teacher.  Throughout, Julia’s ebullient personality shines through and her excitement practically jumps off the pages.  She always kept her sense of fun and adventure in everything she did.  I could clearly see why Julie Powell found Julia so intriguing, and why she connected with her so deeply.  By the time I finished the book, I felt as though I had made a new and wonderful friend.

Anthony Bourdain’s "Medium Raw"

I will admit up front to being a big fan of Anthony Bourdain, so this review might be more biased than most.

I saw Anthony Bourdain speak a couple of years ago near where I live.  The evening was filled with a few stories, rants, and razor-sharp critique of some very big names in gastronomy…and this book is very reminisent of my experience from that evening.  At many points, he made me laugh out loud at his candor and snarky commentary.  He is as brutally honest as ever, and I felt like he was just sitting across the table from me, with a drink in hand and saying exactly what he pleased.

Which is, I suppose, the reason it would definitely help if you are already a fan, or at the very least, a devotee of his popular Travel Channel show, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations.  “Medium Raw” is not only a bloody valentine to the world of food and the people who cook…this is a bloody valentine to his fans who appreciate his humor and personality.  For those that read Kitchen Confidential, there is a follow-up on some of the names that he talked about in that book, sort of “where are they now” kind of thing.  I liked that part, though it has been awhile since I read “Kitchen Confidential” and I found myself pulling that volume off the shelf for reference.  He also manages to sprinkle in a few more personal bits here and there, talking briefly about becoming a father and the breakup of his marriage to his first wife. 

While it is not really being promoted as a literal follow-up to his widely-read “Kitchen Confidential“, a good argument can be made that it does function as a natural progression from there. His characteristic respect and love of chefs (and cooks) is even more on display here than it was in “Kitchen Confidential”.  Doesn’t seem possible, but it is the case. It is a relatively easy read – only 281 pages in all. I finished it in about a day or so. 

It’s an all-around fun read for any fan of Bourdain.  I’d recommend it especially if you are a fan of his, but really it would be a great read for any food nerd, foodie, or culinary student.

A Raw Julie Powell in "Cleaving" (repost)

Due to an ill-fated re-design on my part, the original posting of this entry’s formatting was all kinds of messed up.  Because I am what can only be described as an extreme novice in the ways of HTML, I had to delete the original post from June 9th so that I may re-post with the corrected formatting. 
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After the release of “Julie & Julia“, that charming movie based on Julie Powell’s original blog documenting her year-long quest to cook her way through Julia Child’s iconic “Mastering the Art of French Cooking“, audiences the world over thought they knew Julie Powell.

They were wrong.

In my eyes, they were wrong in the best possible way.  While that movie (and my subsequent reading of her book) inspired me to have the courage to make my own book blog public, I knew instinctively that there had to be more than met the eye when it came to the Julie Powell of everyday life.  Sure, she was still a human being, as she did portray herself as less than perfect in her first wildly popular book and blog.  But the deeper complexities remained hidden.  “Cleaving” is a much more intimate view of Julie Powell.

I have been reading this book for more than a year, it having fallen victim to my bad habit of amassing more books than I can possibly read at once.  I admit that while I found the writing to be particularly gripping, it teetered on the edge of being a smidgen too real.  It’s raw, this book.  And as is the case with many things that are raw…it wasn’t always pretty to look at.  In fact, there are many points that were downright cringe-worthy.

The Julie Powell in this book is deeply flawed – turning her life upside-down with an affair and temporarily moving herself to a small apartment near Kingston, NY to apprentice at Fleisher’s Meats.  Julie seems to be in a near-constant state of disarray.  At the center of it all, the apprenticeship and fascination with the seemingly dying art of old-school butchery serves as her solace.  The breakdown of an animal to perfectly portioned cuts of meat sold in the front of the store serve as an eerie parallel to her own turmoil, and she makes full use of that parallel.  In between the rather vivid emotional crisis in her marriage and her affair with a man she refers to as “D”, there are wonderful stories of her experience at Fleisher’s, and of the people who own and run the place.  She finds beauty in the breakdown of something in order to draw something beautiful out of the mess.

It was easy to see why the book provoked such a strong reaction from those who loved “Julie & Julia“.  Indeed her first book I considered to be delightfully dark in humor with enough rough edges to show humanity and a search of self.  If her tango with Julia was a discovery of her own potential, then “Cleaving” shows off her talent for raw expression.  It is rather like those uncomfortably close magnifying mirrors that most women have, but secretly despise.  Every single imperfection is right up in your face, with very little apology for its existence.  But I rather enjoyed that aspect, it made her easier to relate to.

There is plenty of gore of the butcher variety of course; her descriptions of the exhausting physical work of a professional butcher, as well as hacking at a side of beef and the smell of burning bone as it goes through a saw are rather vivid.  Even the wonderful recipes (an echo of “Julie & Julia“) are described in great detail, although that is the most pleasant symptom of her level of detail.  This book is not for the easily offended, the squeamish, or indeed the vegetarian or vegan.

Make no mistake though, I did love this book.  She has a powerful voice, and if you think you can handle the candor with which she tells this particular story, I highly recommend it.

Julie Powell & Me: Cooking and Writing Dangerously

About a week and a half ago, I saw the movie Julie & Julia. And then something clicked.

While I have hardly been in such a state of misery as Julie Powell was in her job at a government agency at the verge of turning 30, I could still identify with feeling as though I was lacking a sense of direction in my life as a whole. After seeing that movie, I promptly set about editing my throwaway posts from this blog, and I went live the very next day.

In the meantime, I was recommended by a dear friend of mine to be a contributor on Examiner.com as a Book Examiner. Since I had seen a listing for that very job randomly just days before my friend told me that she had recommended me for it, I took it as a sign and applied for the position.

And so here I am, newly-hired as the San Jose Book Examiner. The good thing is, I have to produce anywhere from two to three articles per week on average, which will no doubt turn up here as re-worked, more personal versions of my articles, or outright cut-and-paste jobs…depending on how busy I am in any given week.

While I love books, I have never really envisioned myself as anything of a writer beyond posting to a blog. I’m feeling a mix of excitement and unbridled fear. I sure hope I can pull this off. In the meantime, enjoy my first entry for the Examiner, which won’t be live on their site for about another few days at the very earliest. I will post an update to this entry when the link goes live.

Until then, happy reading…

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In 2004, Julie Powell, a self-proclaimed “government drone”, found herself in the midst of what is sometimes referred to as a “quarter-life crisis”. She felt stuck in a job she did not like, and generally lacked a sense of direction in her life.

While on a trip home to see family, Julie impulsively “stole” her mother’s copy of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Soon after she began her now famous blog The Julie/Julia Project (due in part to encouragement from her husband Eric), giving herself more than just a sense of direction. This became a mission.

In her book, Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously, Julie Powell takes the reader on her journey as she blogged about her experiences in cooking all 524 recipes of Julia Child’s iconic cookbook.

It is important to note that the book itself is not a simple reproduction of her blog (although pieces of the blog are featured). It is more of a fleshed-out version of the blog – less about each recipe, and more about her life during the Project. As such, the language is a bit more coarse than it is in the blog in it’s original state (and in fact, she gave a bit of a warning about that in her current blog).

She opens up about the daunting task she set out before her, the obligation to her readers (or as she calls them, her “bleaders”), dealing with reactions from friends and family on the subject of blogging in general, and the whirlwind of fame she experiences near the completion of her Project. A great read for cooks, foodies, and bloggers alike.

 

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