Today exhausted me. A Thursday 5 p.m. deadline inexplicably became a Wednesday 2 p.m., and somehow, on what is supposed to be the deadest (inventive language like this is what I get paid the big bucks, folks) news week of the year, I was under an avalanche of it. Plus, there were other insults to injury: I had my first warm latte of the cooler season and spilled a good sum of it on my pink shirt, I stepped in a puddle and my surprisingly absorbent sandals remained damp and cold all day and I realized that flame-tinted leaf I’d seen this weekend and considered sort of a fluke, might not have been. Don’t get me wrong — I love fall — just not in August.
August, 2006 Archive
I have no doubt I’m opening a can of worms here, but I really don’t see the point of the classic foodie hobby, Rachael Ray Bashing. Sure, her voice is unnecessarily loud, and it makes you wonder why her supposedly caring producers wouldn’t tell her to cut back on all the yelling; of course, the (trademarked) EVOO is hideously annoying; and yeah, that FHM photo shoot was, at best, a cry for attention, but in the kitchen? The 30-minute meals? How did these become the enemy?
Yes, her knife skills are lacking, but guess what? So are mine. Yes, she relies a bit on pre-processed ingredients, but I’ve got no beef with canned tomatoes, beans and frozen peas when you are short on time. Yes, she lacks finesse but hello! I’m a big as a dork as anyone, and yet you are still here. To be honest, I often parallel her cooking to Oprah’s Book Club. (At the rate she’s earning, she’ll be as loaded as Oprah in a couple years, which is what I suspect is actually what irks people.) For the most part, the books aren’t to my taste but I won’t begrudge a woman who got thousands of Americans back into reading. In the realm of food, I can think of more worthy nightmares to dump on (ahem).
This kind of brings me to the only recipe of hers I have ever cooked: penne a la vodka. What drew me in? Well, to be honest, everything her packagers promised: It looked easy. I had the stuff on hand. It didn’t take long to make. And best yet, it had a showiness to it that readied it for prime time, or in this case, an early date with my now-husband, and the first time I had ever cooked for him.
In the two years since I’ve rejoined the meat-eating world after a 15-year absence, I’ve re-immersed in, I’d like to think, a considerable range of flesh. There’s been more chicken than you can shake a drumstick at (sorry, couldn’t resist), turkey, pork, beef and even some new things at tablecloth-ed restaurants like duck and quail. But, I’ve sorely lacked in my embracing of les fruit de la mer and this constantly mocks me on my journey to become the kind of eater that embraces everything edible. (I heard Ruth Reichl say a few weeks ago that the only food she simply will not eat is honey. Just one thing! And it’s honey!)
My issues with seafood are more than an aversion; they’re a reaction. It’s the type of nonsensical thing better explained in a Psychology 101 textbook than a food blog, but it basically unravels like this: I see a spectacular presentation of seafood on a menu or my husband’s plate and I yearn for it, but when a single fork-speared bite gets within an inch of my mouth, I go into bloodhound mode, finding some otherwise undetectable unpalatable “fishiness” and I abruptly panic. It’s such a strong, specific and illogical reaction – to not take a bite of something that appeals to you – I’ve said to my husband (an avid eater of smoked, boiled, broiled, breaded, fried, poached, shelled and de-shelled seafood of every color and shape) on more than one occasion that I wish I could just go to a hypnotist to help me “snap out of it.” He thinks I am kidding; I am not. Never doubt a woman quoting Moonstruck.
My husband got down on one knee and asked me to marry him under the Eiffel Tower in December 2004. Or, rather, he proposed and I might have been too excited with plans for us to actually say yes, but he got the idea and we called our families with the good news. Engagement and the ensuing swoon is a great way to fall in love with Paris, and oh, that we did. In the year that followed, we spoke with near-obsession about French food, culture, wine, mood and approach to diet. For two Jewish kids from New Jersey suburbs, we are capable of a surprising amount of Francophilism.
The last time I made this chocolate caramel cheesecake, a lot of teddy bears had to die, but I swear, I had never set out for blood (crumb?). These things just happen.
Let me explain. The store was out of those Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers typically used to make crumb crusts and my husband coyly suggested I use Chocolate Teddy Grahams instead. (He has a soft spot for those chemistry sets of a baked good; I allow them into our apartment only for malicious purposes.) I had to admit that they’d be a decent substitute. Plus, we could have some fun while we were at it.
And, oh, what fun we had.