Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.


Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Cookbooks, briefly

Exhausted. Today was a double whammy. Braces "adjusted". Who invented brackets? Chains? (yes, chains!)
And then the assistant says sweetly: you might want a little Advil later on.

Advil? Try Tylenol with Coedine. And make mine soup, please.

It'll be better tomorrow.

My coworker returned to work today after spending time arranging her cousin's funeral. She is a mess, which is entirely understandable, and only in the office to explain her work sufficiently so I can temporarily take over. What amazed me was everyone else--they all acted like nothing happened. She's sitting in her chair cycling through moods like Sylvia Plath and they're all babbling about soccer. I mean, I don't expect them to fall all over her--they've been quite nice--but take the commentary about soccer player physiques elsewhere? Do you notice her sobbing?

Okay. I'm done. Thank you for reading.

Cookbboks. Briefly, before I lie on the couch like a brainless fool.

I was pretty dismissive of Goose Fat and Garlic a few posts back. I was mistaken. The book, by one Jeanne Strang, is a fine examination of Southerwestern French cooking. It also gives an excellent agricultural history of the region. The only odd thing about the book is the complete lack o' quack. Where you are virtually wallowing in the stuff in Paula Wolfert, Jeanne Strang sticks to all manner of pork and lots of goose. Goose fat is not readily available even here, in the land of Bay Area Foodism. As for geese themselves, I checked out the frozen selection at Andronico's and nearly fainted in the aisle. Fifty-four bucks for an inorganic goose. And I thought making duck confit was a pricey venture.

I can't say I'd rush to make recipes from Goose Fat, but I'm still glad to have it.

Next up is Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen. I am 3/4 of the way through the book--I read cookbooks through, like novels--and have mixed feelings about it. Most importantly, I want to, and will, cook from it. Being a Detroiter, I came to Mexican cuisine late in life and didn't appreciate it until I was around twenty-six. Bayless's recipes are clear if repetitive, aimed at your average cook. My primary complaint is the book is badly written. The headnotes and longer explanations have some clunky metaphors:

"If it's true the earth 'Laughs in flowers,' as Emerson said, then I'd have to say that eating these giggles can make you giddy." (140)

A combination of vegetables leaves a dish "sing in harmony." (182) A tortilla casserole has "a lilting texture." (208)

Oy. Well, Bayless isn't a writer, he's a chef, and a fine one. My point isn't to make fun of him. In fact, he comes across as such a sensitive fellow (he thanks his therapist in the acknowledgements) that I'm afraid to. But this cookbook is a Maria Guarneschelli/Doe Coover production. Never heard of Maria G.? Open the 1997 Joy. As for Doe Coover, she is THE agent of cookbook writers everywhere. These ladies know food, and they know language. The book could be smoother, and I think both women must have known that. But they also knew the book would sell to those who watched Mexico One Plate at a Time, a show I never knew existed until I picked this up.

A final note...nearly every recipe in the book calls for fresh tomato. I undertand it's part of Mexican cuisine, but Bayless cooks in Chicago. It's nearly November. Where is he getting fresh tomatoes? Is he heedlessly getting them shipped (entirely his perogative...)? Have a hydroponic garden behind La Frontera? Seasonal Berkeley-type minds want to know!

Rick Bayless: Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen, with Deann Groen Bayless and Jean Marie Brownson. New York: Scribner, 1996.

Jeanne Strang: Goose Fat and Garlic. England: Kyle Cathie Limited, 1993.

Authors, Cookbooks


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