Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Favorite Cookbooks: A Homemade Life

I’ve recently returned “home” to England after three weeks in Texas (my native home) – and frankly, I’ve been struggling with re-entry. We take pretty much the same version of this trip every year and flying there is so easy. We get off the plane in the afternoon, and even though we’ve been travelling for twelve hours, sunny skies, Mexican food and friends are waiting for us. It’s like an instant shot of adrenalin to the system. We feel revved up and full of energy for what is, basically, several weeks of pure pleasure. Flying back to England is a different story, though. We arrive in the early morning: dirty, exhausted and with a crick in the neck from trying to sleep on the plane. At home, there are a million things that need to be done . . . not to mention the piles and piles of dirty laundry that tumble out of our (many) suitcases.

Getting back into the kitchen is always a bit of a problem after a long trip. While we are in Texas, I positively revel in eating out. The trip becomes a checklist of all of our favourite foods at all of favourite places. I can identify with this quotation: “The only reason I travel is for an excuse to eat more than usual.” (A Homemade Life, p. 260) And let’s be honest: Every now and then a person just needs to be liberated from the demands of dinner – not just having to make it, but having to think about what to make, too. I make about 98% of what we eat in our “normal” life in England, and I usually enjoy it, but it does always take me a little while to get back into the routine. And sometimes I feel that way about eating, too. After a couple of weeks of stuffing myself with Texan specialties (steak, hamburgers, Mexican food), I don’t feel like eating anything but the plainest sort of food. A baked potato, maybe; or a boiled egg with toast.

Just before I left Houston, I picked up a copy of A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg. (You might know her from the Orangette blog or her food essays in Bon App├ętit .) Wizenberg’s book is a foodie memoir – just the sort of thing that I like best. Her writing has warmth and wit; qualities which remind me of Laurie Colwin, one of my most beloved food writers. Interspersed with gracefully told essays are the recipes, which lean heavily towards soups, salads and baked goods – the food that I most want to cook, and eat, when I’m at home. With the exception of her potato salad and pickled carrots, which no one in my family but me would eat, I was tempted to earmark every single one of her recipes for immediate experimentation.

I guess that some people can draw inspiration from ingredients alone, but good stories always work best for me. It’s part of why I love to eat out when I go home to Texas. It’s not just the food; it’s also the memories lingering around the food. Reading A Homemade Life is just what I needed to rekindle my enthusiasm for my own kitchen. Although I’ve only been home for a handful of days, I’ve already made her blueberry-raspberry pound cake and her buckwheat pancakes. I’m got bananas ripening on the counter for the delectable sounding banana bread with chocolate and crystallized ginger. And I'm eyeing up the leftover Easter ham to make her version of a frisee salad with ham, eggs and mustard vinaigrette.

Funnily enough, the only meal that I made in Texas was a breakfast of pancakes and bacon when we were staying at a friend’s ranch. Although I can’t recapture the warm Texas breeze coming through the window, or the cups of good coffee, or the collection of friends, Molly’s buckwheat pancakes were really good, too. As recommended, I added blueberries to the mix. I doubled the recipe, and that was enough to feed me and three jet-lagged teenagers with bedhead. I had the two-day-old leftovers this morning and they were still surprisingly delicious.

** One thing that I can share from my Texas trip is my Mom’s tip for bacon. Instead of frying it or microwaving it, try baking it in a hot (400 F/200 C) oven. (Does everyone else know about this?) Just arrange it on a slatted baking sheet (with a pan/tin underneath to catch the grease) and bake for 20/30 minutes or until it reaches the desired colour and crispiness. It cooks evenly and crisply, and doesn’t shrink as much as with other cooking methods. It also makes less of a mess, although there will be a dirty pan to clean up. But hey, it’s worth it.


Magpie said...

Mmm, I think I need that book.

Char said...

i make my bacon that way. your post inspired me to have pancakes (or waffles) for supper tonight.

julochka said...

i have that book too...but have treated it more like comfort reading to snuggle up in and haven't actually cooked anything from it. isn't that strange? maybe because the recipes feel like they're something very personal between her and her father, i haven't wanted to intrude on that.

i'll definitely be trying that bacon method the next time i make bacon!

Tracy Golightly-Garcia said...

Cannot eat bacon--wonder if you can cook turkey bacon in the oven and get the same results?

Tracy :)

Bee said...

Magpie -- it's a very enjoyable read, and I can vouch for the recipes, too.

Char -- DID you have pancakes (or waffles) in the end?

J - I made the lemon/ginger scones today. Very good. Now I've made FIVE recipes from the book in as many days. Really, you can cook with it! Maybe just leave Burg's potato salad to rest in peace.

Tracy - I have no idea about the turkey bacon. I don't think we can get it here, but if I find some I will give it a try and report back.

Nimble said...

I enjoyed the MW's book too. I thought her writing was top notch even though a young person's memoir is a limited canvas.

I'm glad you're easing back into the kitchen at home. I have heard of the bacon in the oven technique. I make bacon about once a year so I'll see if I can remember.

Speaking of pickled carrots, I had a brainstorm about banh mi the other day. That's a Vietnamese sandwich which consists basically of meat pate with pickled carrots and cilantro on a crusty toasted baguette. It's heavenly. I realized that a thin slice of meatloaf could serve as the filling! I made some pickled carrots right away (just steeped in rice vinegar and sugar for an hour) and it was delectable.


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