My friend Valerie makes one chocolate cake. No, I don’t mean one chocolate cake for school birthday cupcakes and one for grown-up dinner parties, one for wedding cakes and one for really decadent layer cakes, one for roulades and one for a Thursday afternoon, just because. I mean just one recipe. She serves it plain to guests after dinner, she makes it when she hears it’s your birthday and she stacks, and coats it hypercolored frosting and studs it with superheroes for her kids’ birthdays.
I don’t mean to shock you, I mean, I do hope you’re sitting down for this, but it turns out that when I asked my husband to choose between a caramelized cabbage dish, mushroom tacos, or a beef stew whose ante had been upped with butter, bacon, Dijon, cognac and a splash of red wine as his ideal homemade Valentine’s meal, he chose the beef stew. I could hardly believe it either. I mean, between my delivered flowers, his cufflinks and the kid’s heart-shaped candies, I might have to mix things up next year just to rage against predictability.
Hello from 30,000 feet! I wrote this on my 23rd airplane flight since November 2012, but here’s the part where you can be certain at last that I’m as weird as you already suspected: I still love flying as much as this guy. How could I not? At the time, there were perfect white puffs of clouds below us (I always call them Simpson’s Clouds, because they remind me of the ones in the show’s opener) and the sky above the clouds, as always, was piercingly blue. The day before, it was snow-sided mountains down below, and before that, circular fields inside perfect grids, fern-like trenches and mosaics that stretched to the horizon. That I also get to hang out at awesome bookstores and meet really nice people who indulge me (but really shouldn’t, lest I feel encouraged) by laughing at my terrible jokes only makes it more fun.
I think we should all go to a party. And we should all eat this. I know, it doesn’t look like much. I am sure you’ve seen cheese spread on a slice of baguette before. It probably looked prettier than this too; less blue, more smooth. But please, lean in anyway, because I have to tell you: this is brilliant. And I can’t believe I’ve gone most of my life without knowing about it. Don’t let it happen to you.
I’m firmly of the belief that no matter what ails you in the realm of the kitchen, onion soup can cure it. Never cooked before? Don’t think you’ll be able to pull off the kind of cooking you believe you need to go to a restaurant to experience? Start with onion soup. Have only $5 to spend on dinner? Refrigerator is almost bare? Onion soup is your friend. Want your home to have a transcendent aroma bouncing off every wall, the kind that’s so distracting that you don’t even know or care what’s on the stove, only that you must have it now? Onion soup is waiting for you.
My brain is currently in Paris, idling in a cafe after a bike ride along the Seine. It may not come home. It started a few weeks ago, when an obsession with getting to the bottom of a baked spinach dish mentioned in a letter by Julia Child allowed me to, once again, dive deeply into the pages of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. What I didn’t have was an exit strategy, which is especially dangerous when day to day life lately has been a bit more about
double ear infections, sleep deprivation, cookbooking in a tiny, overheated kitchen, oh, and then we paid taxes things nobody needs to hear me complain about. In short: I choose Paris, instead. So the last few weeks have brought to our table weeknight roasted chicken, tiny gold potatoes, simple green salads, skinny green beans, white wine, weepingly delicious onion soup and a spate of apple tarte tatins.
On a beach vacation that already feels like it was too long ago, I tucked into the collection of letters between Julia Child and Avis DeVoto and realized I’d inadvertently brought on vacation with me the very best book ever for my current brand of mental unevenness. Apparently, even the great Julia Child went a little insane writing her cookbook. She fretted over if varied and uneven ingredients would keep her recipes from working as she wanted them to in others’ kitchens and even had occasional bouts of frustration with her tiny, ill-equipped kitchens. And Julia is like my superhero! I was no less than 10 pages in when I already felt better about my choices, the work I had left, life itself, the universe at large… or perhaps it was just those no-good piña coladas and that blue-meets-blue horizon working their magic on me. Nevertheless, I thanked Julia.