Although I’ve never come up short in the crazy category, there are some gastronomical indulgences that even I refuse to make at home. You see, a lot of what drags me into the kitchen is a complaint: I find something dissatisfying in its availability, quality or it brings me ennui. But items on my list of cooking refusals fall into none of these categories, and that’s why I’ll gladly leave the sausage, sushi and bagel making to others in this great city.
September, 2007 Archive
I spent six hours on a train yesterday to and from my old stomping grounds, Washington D.C. I lived there for six years and haven’t been back in just as many, so you can imagine how crazy it was to only see twenty minutes of it, from a cab. With every turn, I jumped, remembering how we used to hang out legs out from that window above Dupont Circle over the sign for what used to be a hair salon, or that turn that always unnerved me to make from California to Connecticut and that block on Massachusetts Avenue not far from NPR where a hooker once flashed me everything as I gripped the steering wheel and willed the light to turn green already, PLEASE.
Considering that my parents will celebrate the 40th anniversary of their first date this weekend, it seems only appropriate to use today shed light on a certain farce: my mother didn’t marry my father for his flamenco guitar, his ability to use a hammer and a nail or his promises to love her for the next hereafter. Nope, she married him because when she asked his aunt for the recipe to her delicious noodle kugel, she was told she couldn’t have it until she married my father. And so it was. And you might think this story cruel or careless, but really, mother has been telling me and my sister this our whole lives and my father seems not in the least offended. “I only married him for that noodle kugel recipe,” she says, and everyone nods and smiles because, well, they’ve heard it a zillion times before but also because the kugel is just that good. What’s to question?
There are so many things I don’t get about red velvet cake: One, that despite all claims of acid plus baking soda reactions to the contrary, that a color created by food dye is considered so exciting. It could just as easily be blue, and oh, it has been. The second thing I don’t get is that it is considered chocolate cake, when a good lot of the better-known recipes hover around one or two tablespoons of cocoa (and never over a half-cup), a barely distinguishable flavor distributed over a three-layer stack. The last thing I don’t get about red velvet cake is, if at least according to my husband, the frosting is the very best part, why that same vaunted cream cheese frosting couldn’t just be put on another cake, one with a distinguishable flavor and absence of egregious amounts of food dye.
If you’ve ever tried to recreate something you loved when you were growing up in your own kitchen, you know how difficult it can to match your taste memory to the reality of ingredients and step-by-step directions. Sometimes, even when you get the flavor right, it doesn’t feel right, but you hold out for those rare times that everything falls into place.
I used to be a fennel/anise/black licorice-hater, too. I say “too” because I know that it’s impossible to bring the flavor up without at least someone in the room saying “ew.” Like beets in anything or nuts in cookies, its presence is a deal breaker for a surprising number of people.