Wednesday, March 30, 2011
One of the most enduring relationships of my adult life was sustained for years through letters. Stephanie von Buchau, was a popular freelance cultural critic who wrote reviews of opera and dance for San Francisco Magazine, The Oakland Tribune, the Pacific Sun and many other Bay Area publications, and was the San Francisco correspondent for Opera News for more than twenty five years. I admired her observant eye and acerbic pen as a high-schooler, and as an adult, we cemented our friendship over a memorable four-hour lunch. We remained close friends until her death nearly thirty years later. A long, chatty and funny letter arrived to thank me for lunch when I returned to New York. It would be the first of hundreds. Hers were deeply personal, often contentious, full of insight--always funny, and endearing. Even when Stephanie's exasperated editors forced her to do her work on a computer, our correspondence continued on the Internet and tended to be long and intricate. She passed away seven or eight years ago, and I miss her every day. She wouldn't have understood Facebook or Twitter where communication is minimal. She had the chops to write about culture, politics, dance, sports, movie, opera, symphonic and chamber music, rock music, books and food and she never lacked an opinion on most subjects. I truly believe those letters made me want to be a better writer and exerted a profound influence on my own work. I will cherish the many I saved forever.
I say this as I write about AS ALWAYS, JULIA: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto, edited by Joan Reardon (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $26.00; ISBN: 978-0-547-41771-4), a collection of the letters between Julia Child and Avis DeVoto, that charts the long and often tortured odyssey Julia Child endured in getting Mastering the Art of French Cooking published in America. The book also reveals one of the most remarkable relationships between a cooking icon in chrysalis and a hugely sympathetic, funny, and frank woman who recognized Child's talent early on, and had the publishing connections and the self-confidence to nurture, support and help steer Child through the process of having her book published.
Avis DeVoto was married to the popular historian and columnist Bernard DeVoto. Avis, a book reviewer and avid cook, also handled her husband's correspondence. DeVoto had written an article about the poor quality of the American kitchen knife, and Child, who was residing in Paris at the time, sent him a French knife. Avis sent a thank you note and a great correspondence was launched. Julia Child was already involved in the writing of a French cookbook for the American market, and she confided in Avis about the project. Avis was enthusiastic from the beginning, establishing a trust between them. Avis would be Julia's eyes and ears about the book, about the U.S. publishing scene, ingredients readily available in U.S. markets which could be used in her recipes, becoming a valued sounding board with whom Mrs. Child could share opinions and feelings about politics, marriage, and a host of other subjects- that make for fascinating reading.
In the early 50s, for instance, Avis didn't seem to mind not having a dishwasher. She had a part-time housekeeper. Julia could acquire frozen vegetables at the French embassy commissary in Paris, and she liked their convenience, but she abhorred frozen chicken, which she condemned as "absolutely awful and tasteless and stringy." Julia is full of admiration for the classic all-purpose American cookbook, Joy of Cooking. "I adored it, and always have. It is a wonderful book...Somehow, old Mrs. Joy's personality shines through her recipes too." Julia worried about finding herbs to use in the preparations of her recipes. Avis was used to not having them. Julia even sent her shallots from France, which were virtually unknown in American markets of that dark culinary era.
Both women were Democrats and politically at odds with the Truman/Eisenhower 50s-era cold-war politics, the Korean War and the creepy communist witch hunts that characterized McCarthyism "I hate to think what this McCarthy thing is doing to our shreds of prestige in Europe, especially in England," wrote Avis with concern. Because Julia's husband, Paul was stationed in Paris working for the diplomatic corps, Avis cautioned, "The only other thing that is important right now is that I must warn you to be careful about what you say about McCarthy. B. and I can say what we damn well please, and we do. But Paul has a job. And he could lose it."
The heart and center of AS ALWAYS, JULIA is the long gestation of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Julia endures the highs and lows of seeing her great masterpiece see the light of printed day. Avis is with her all the way, as Julia leaves her beloved Paris for a posting in Marseilles, and then to Bonn and their final European assignment in Oslo before returning to the United States. Julia continues to work refining the book while absorbing Houghton Mifflin's rejection. Avis supports her friend via their correspondence. Back in the United States, the Childs settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and awaited the inevitable publication of the cookbook, by Alfred Knopf, and eventual TV series that would start a revolution in cooking in America and make Julia Child an authentic American icon.
Shrewdly edited by Joan Reardon, a culinary historian, cookbook author and biographer, AS ALWAYS JULIA takes the reader into the epicenter of a great friendship between two talented and sympathetic women who took an incredible journey together in that pre-computer, Internet, cellphone, fax and social network era. It just might encourage you to begin a your own life-altering correspondence.
Sunday, March 20, 2011
The Food Network has redeemed it self by creating The Cooking Channel. Here a fresh line-up of wonderful, real cooking programming and not a bunch of of what Anthony Bourdain recently described in his book, RAW, as "cynical, fake-ass, soul-destroying, lowest-common denominator shit shows," as one of the dreariest destinations on your remote control. For the time being we don't get the endlessly boring and old line-up of Giada, Rachael, Ina, Paula, Sandra or the tacky shows on how to make candy corn or the even worse shows about competitive cake baking (no more cupcakes contests, please) or the ubiquitous Guy Fieri and his unhealthy Diners, Drives and Drive-Ins. The Cooking Channel features the original Iron Chef, but even that can be ignored. All that has been blessedly jettisoned on The Cooking Channel.
Instead we can celebrate the return of Jamie Oliver. Other than Lydia Bastianich, there is no better cook on TV than Jamie. He's got his old Jamie at Home series plus his new hour-long Jamie's Food Escapes, where we can watch him on his food travels around the world. The original Naked Chef has grown up to be one of the most compelling food personalities on television. Nigella Lawson has a new show where we can admire her voluptuous personality as she effortlessly cooks for her family and friends in an atmosphere of cozy tranquility. Laura Calder is the effortless host of French Food at Home, where this attractive and accomplished cook presents delicious French food in a low-key but authoritative manner. There's a divinely zany new program called Bitchin' Kitchen, starring the hilariously wacky Nadia G. With her over-the-top fashion sense, downtown vibe and commanding culinary abilities, plus several equally bizarre off-set contributors. Nadia G is both a life guru and therapist for our times. Her rants and riffs on dating, dumping your boyfriend, or dealing with his mother are far more entertaining than watching another show about cupcakes. I like Chuck Hughes, host of Chuck's Day Off. The actress Debi Mazar and her Italian husband, Gabriele Corcos, make marriage so much fun, as they live out their culinary and marital lives in Extra Virgin.
How wonderful to have Two Fat Ladies back on TV. Jennifer Patterson and Clarissa Dickson Wright gleefully jumped into their two-person motorcycle and travelled all over the UK in search of culinary adventure. It was always fun, outrageous and instructive to see these two unglamorous, mature, but ever-so-entertaining ladies show us how to cook great food without fuss and with loads of humor. They always closed the show with a cocktail or glass of wine, and deep sense of satisfaction that they had given their best. They did Welcome back, Ladies! Ditto Sara Moulton on her good show, Sara's Secrets (though strong, it lacked the panache of her Cooking Live series). Why this wonderful food personality isn't on TV is a mystery to me.
Rachael Ray has a new show, Week In a Day, which I have yet to see. Nor have I tuned into Hungry Girl, brunch at Bobby's, Chinese Food Made Easy, Indian Food Made Easy, Spice Goddess or Kelly's Essentials. I'm looking forward to tuning into Mark Bittman's new program, and Unique Eats is a lot of fun in its very unhealthy way. I want to go to that restaurant the specializes in fried chicken or meatballs.
But I can do without Mo Rocca lolling on furniture like some demented pin-up model as he narrates a show called Food(Ography). There's something smug and a bit above it all in Rocca's delivery and in two shows he completely wore out his welcome with me. Don't that this deter you from checking into this new food network that has restored interest in food shows for me. It's wonderful to see chefs back in the kitchen doing what they do best rather than a bunch of nobodies competing on the dreary Chopped or The Worst Cooks in America over on The Food Network. I don't expect to see this kind of programming enduring on The Cooking Channel, but while it's here, I'm at least grateful that there's programming for people who care more about food than show biz.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
MR. SUNDAY'S SOUPS: A News Anchor's Wife Creates Her First Cookbook Which Finds Itself on The New York Times Besteller Lists
Jennifer McCord, a regular guest contributor to StoveTopReadings.com falls in love with soup all over again with this new collection.
The weather here in the Northwest over this long and dreary winter has been an unpredictable mess of rain, snow, ice, hail—at times all mixed together. Partaking of food that comforts the soul, the cook and the eater makes a lot of good sense. We have been talking about food since the holidays and what makes us feel warm and cozy as the days feel long, cold and wet.
This reviewer remembers coming home after slogging along in the snow and cold from school to my mother’s homemade beef vegetable or minestrone soup. It warms me up just thinking of it. Lately my husband and I have decided to make an effort to add more soup to our meals. MR. SUNDAY’S SOUPS (Wiley trade paperback; $19.95; ISBN: 978-0-470-64022-7) by Lorraine Wallace is just the book for all the soup enthusiasts amongst us. Wallace, a talented home cook, is married to Fox Sunday News anchor, Chris Wallace. Lorraine turned to soup as a way of bringing her busy family together and every Sunday after her husband’s anchoring chores are over, he comes home and joins other members around the Wallace dining room table to enjoy his wife’s great soups. Wallace raves about Lorraine’s soups so much that he has earned an affectionate name among his colleagues at the show: Mr. Sunday Soups.
The recipes in this cookbook are delicious, but also affordable, healthy and easy. Lorraine Wallace offers varieties of soup and ingredients that can create simple or complex flavors. It was unusually difficult to pick out which soup to make as there are seventy-five choices and they all were ones I wanted to try. We will be turning to this cookbook often.
MR. SUNDAY’S SOUPS is user-friendly because it is divided into the seasons, making it easy to find fresh ingredients available locally. Each season features a list of Wallace family favorites. For the fall season, one that particularly drew me in was Minestrone and Arugula Salad Soup. It is chock full of vegetables including Great Northern beans and yet the soup is low in fat. After ladle the soup into the bowls you add fresh, spicy arugula and parsley that has been tossed with oil and lemon. Other recipes in this section feature squash, lentils, mushrooms and of course Chicken Noodle Soup. Winter season favorites include French Onion Soup, Hot-and-Sour Soup, Beef Barley Soup, and Lorraine’s more broth-heavy version of the classic French stew, now called Pot-au-Feau Soup. Spring offerings include Split Pea Soup and Salmon Chowder. But one I’m absolutely sure will become one of my favorites—Greek Lemon Soup, which is next on my list. Lorraine’s Summer selections are loaded with vegetables at their seasonal best, and I can’t wait to prepare Corn Chowder, Old-Fashioned Tomato Soup with Maple-Candied Bacon and Vineyard Clam Chowder. Lorraine ends the collection with two sections. Friends and Family Favorites, features recipes Lorraine gathered from travels, friends and family experiences. For instance there is the ‘21’ Club Chilled Senegalese Soup, a classic that has been on this legendary New York restaurant’s menu for decades. The soup includes, curry, apples, chicken, carrots, raisins, onions, cream and mango chutney. Four different takes on chili for the Game Day Favorites chapter with Buffalo Chili, a standout with white meant ground turkey, host sauce and blue cheese standing in for the famous chicken wings when family and friends get together to watch sports on TV. The last section is about how to make your own soup stock.
Recently as storm clouds announced the arrival of an approaching snowfall, my husband and I decided to try a soup from the Winter chapter—Green Kale and Kielbasa Soup. We were fortunate to have some kielbasa sausage from a local delicatessen and some fresh green and purple kale from the local farmer’s market. Murray had made some homemade chicken stock, which he had frozen. As the day became colder, we knew this soup would be wonderful for our evening meal. It was not as time consuming as some soups to make. You chop onions and garlic and sauté the onions and then garlic. Next came the potatoes that have been thinly sliced and sautéed, and then added to the stock. When the potatoes are tender, you mash some of them up into the broth, add the sausage, salt and pepper, cook for a few more minutes, adding chopped kale and simmering until the kale is wilted but still bright. A final taste for seasoning and the soup is ready to serve. The resulting soup was both colorful and tasty. We will surely make it again.
MR. SUNDAY’S SOUPS has abundant color photos of soup, but what separates the book from other soup collections is a gallery of Wallace family portraits at play, around the family table, at weddings, graduations, and vacations with Chris’s father, newsman Mike Wallace, and his mother, Mary and Lorraine’s mom, Kathy Leonard, and the family Labrador Retriever, Winston. Lorraine Wallace is making a big point about how gathering the family around meal times is an important part of maintaining the family dynamic. Soup is the vehicle that keeps Lorraine Wallace’s family coming back to the table.
This is a hearty, vitamin-rich soup that will satisfy the meat-and-potato lovers in your family, while also satisfying their nutritional need for fresh green vegetables during the dark days of winter. This tasty soup will stick to your loved ones’ bones and make them feel cherished and protected against the cold.
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 large yellow onions, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 large russet potatoes (about 21/2 pounds), peeled and thinly sliced
2 quarts (8 cups) low-sodium chicken broth, homemade (page 230) or store-bought
2 pounds cooked turkey kielbasa sausage, sliced 1/2 inch thick
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch green kale, thick stems and ribs removed, leaves sliced thinly crosswise
Place a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add the oil. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until golden, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute more.
Add the potatoes and toss to coat them evenly with the oil and onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the edges have only just begun to brown, 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Using a potato masher or handheld immersion blender, puree the soup just slightly, leaving some of the potato slices intact.
Add the sausage, salt, and pepper to taste. Cover the pot and return the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat to low so the soup simmers gently and cook for about 5 minutes more, just to heat the sausage through. Add the kale and cook the soup, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the kale is wilted but still bright green, about 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning.
Ladle into warm soup bowls or tall mugs and serve immediately.
Jennifer McCord made her first cake when she was nine years old. Even though the cake did not turn out as she expected, the experience began a life long love of cooking. She read M.F.K. Fisher in her late teens and decided to follow her advice. Cook with the cook whose food you have found delightful. Therefore, she has cooked with a host of cooks from bakers to restaurateurs following her palate and learning how to better her own cooking.
Jennifer has her own publishing consulting company where she operates as an editor, publishing management consultant and book packager. She and her husband Murray, live in Settle, Washington. Jennifer can be reached at www.jennifermccord.com.