Gadgets

Luca has been reading Fanny at Chez Panisse every morning at breakfast. The book is open on the table and he chews on his toast and reads the recipes. Today he read “Candied Orange Peels” and “Lemon Sole Fried With Bread Crumbs.” When he reads ingredients he says “one slash two cups water.” When he reads temperatures he says “two-seven-five faramites.” I don’t correct him. I figure I can stop time if I don’t correct him. For years instead of Portuguese he said “Porkagese” and I’d have to remind myself to say it like this so he wouldn’t catch on and start saying it correctly. Since I speak porkagese and we have Brazilian friends and lots of Brazilian music that we love, it’s a word that gets mentioned pretty regularly. Anyway, now he says “Portuguese” and is one step closer to leaving us to go off to college.

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This morning Luca was reading about candied orange peels and we were all getting pretty excited about them, especially the part about how the cooks at Chez Panisse like to dip the ends in melted chocolate and then “chop them up to put them into pies and tarts, ice creams and on top of cakes and custards.” Luca looked up from the page and said “Ooooooh. Yum!” He read on. “Let them boil for five minutes, then turn off the heat and let them sit in the pan for… twenty-four hours!” We all let out a big disappointed, “Oh!” This is why you always have to read a recipe all the way through. I remember being interested in a recipe for lamb in Alice Waters menu cookbook and the first step was this: “Roast the lamb on a spit.” Obviously I read no further. I don’t have the most equipped kitchen. Any recipe that mentions a double boiler or a food mill is out. Zesting used to be a problem until I got a really good zester and now it’s a breeze. But I can tell you that a spit is one item I will go without for the rest of my days. Unless I move to a big chateau in the French countryside or a stone farmhouse outside of Lucca, Italy. These are the types of places I imagine a spit would fit right in. Not so much in my Los Angeles kitchen.

When I was a kid my mother bought a crockpot. She thought this was the greatest invention ever created. Since her idea of cooking was to fry a hunk of tuna and call it a tuna burger the crockpot didn’t improve things much from a culinary standpoint. But for her it was a revolution. She could start a pot of rice in the morning before work and come home to… rice! I think she used it every day for about a month and then it sat on the counter gathering grease from the fried tuna burgers.

Another gadget intended to modernize the kitchen was the garbage compactor. Remember those? My mother bought one of those too. Considering that she was a single mother with four kids living on a secretary’s salary, she must have believed in the power of these things to make her life better. No more cooking! No more garbage! The problem was that we lived in Brooklyn and had what could politely be called “a cockroach problem.” You can imagine therefore that crunching up garbage and saving it in the kitchen until it weighed over sixty pounds was perhaps not the wisest idea. It made the roaches happy, but none of us wanted to lug it out of the house.

One day I will get over my fear of double boilers and parchment paper and food mills. (At the end of Fanny at Chez Panisse are a few recipes that call for an ice cream maker.) But for now I am looking forward to Luca’s Friday night attempt at breaded lemon sole. I really think Alice Waters is a genius for making this book for kids. I imagine Luca’s hands all sticky with egg and flour and breadcrumbs and then his eyes rolling up into his head as he digs into the buttery fried fish. Really, what could be better than gourmet fish fingers you made yourself? Maybe just watching Bringing Up Baby afterward and waiting for Saturday.

Next up (after the fish): chocolate birthday kisses for Daddy:

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5 Comments

  1. “Roast the lamb on a spit.” I had to laugh. Clearly, when Alice wrote her cookbooks, she did not envision the conventional American home. I’ve been to Alice’s house. She has a woodburning oven in her kitchen.

    I was in Manhattan years ago, for a Slow Food board meeting. A large group of us convened at the apartment of the executive director for a meal for 14 guests which we would cook in his tiny kitchen, so small that we also had to invade his neighbor’s in order to complete the meal. On his kitchen counter were two ducks which he charged me with. What do you want me to do with these, I asked. I don’t know, he replied, how about finding something in the Chez Panisse Cookbook?

    I knew I was in trouble when the first instructions for her duck recipe was, start a fire in a woodburning oven. Somehow I was able to adapt the recipe, while drinking copious amounts of wine. You don’t always need the bells and whistles…just a little ingenuity!

    • Yes, I heard that AW has a woodburning oven and that she also actually roasts on a spit in her own kitchen.
      The duck story reminds me of the only time i made duck. It was the Duck in Zinfandel from – who else – Alice Waters when we had just arrived in Berkeley. I asked our new friends if there were any dietary issues, etc. All assured me that no, everything was fine to eat. It took me ALL DAY to make this duck, I was dead on my feet when we sat down to eat and then one of our guests said, “Oh, the only thing I don’t eat is duck because they are so cute.”
      Anyway, aside from drinking copious amounts of wine – which of course is helpful – how do you adapt a recipe that calls for starting a fire in your woddburning oven?!

    • Sounds like your boy needs to meet my boy, who, at 10, is constantly pilfering my cookbooks and food mags, reads every word I write on my two food blogs, and was so proud when I wrote about the first recipe he made solo that he projected it onto the Promethean board in his homeroom at school. Let’s kick back with a glass of wine while THEY make US dinner!

      By the way, I have the same reaction about the food mill.

      • Sounds great, Erika. It would be great to get the two young cooks together, especially if we can actually sit down while they cook.

  2. Laurie, I can’t remember quite how we adapted the recipe, other than roasting the birds in the oven. Still tasted great, though I’m sure would have been improved by having the smokiness of an oven.

    So wonderful that Luca is so culinarily curious. Looking forward to future posts!


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