A few Conceivably Asked Questions about me:
1. Why Lady Disdain?
What, my dear Lady Disdain! are you yet living?
BEATRICE Is it possible disdain should die while she hath
such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick?
–Much Ado About Nothing
Because I’m overeducated, food-obsessed, and snarky. Also, my first choice was taken.
2. So what are you trying to do here?
Oh, nothing revolutionary. I just wanted to have a readily accessible place to keep my cooking notes, an easy way to share recipes with people when they requested them, and an outlet for my overflowing cornucopia of sarcasm.
3. What’s with all the whining about the delays in blogging?
Half the fun of paving the road to hell with your good intentions is whining as you go along!
Besides, there will hopefully be less of it now that I’m leaving the job that was the primary cause of the delays, although I’m doing so to start an accelerated postgraduate program that will constitute my fourth (count ‘em, fourth! See point 1 re: overeducated) degree, so we’ll see.
4. While we’re on this subject, when is the next installment of “Celebrity Chefs I Hate” coming out, anyway?
Do you have any idea of the investment of time, effort, and most importantly, profound and abiding pain and suffering involved in producing “Celebrity Chefs I Hate”? I actually have to watch these insufferable hacks cook. At length! Repeatedly! And then I have to revisit the horror again and again in writing, editing, and posting the analysis. Look at how long it’s taken me to recover from that first one!
I’ve been holding on for half a year to my notes from having inflicted five hours of Sandra Lee on myself. Every time I so much as think about opening that file, I break out in hives that only massive infusions of chocolate can relieve. I’m currently researching whether a preemptive chocolate strike will fortify me sufficiently to get it done. Or possibly hard alcohol.
To whet your appetite, here’s the short list of additional ‘celebrity chefs’ who are going to get it just as soon as my reserves of masochism are sufficiently recharged: Bobby Flay, Emeril, Paula Deen, Mary Ann Esposito, Martin Yan, and possibly some Top Chef rejects. There should be more, except that the Food Network sucks so much these days that I can barely stand to turn it on.
5. Where can I get that deliciously acerbic shirt?
Scharffen Berger, one of my favorite sources for chocolate, which I have been watching with an anxious eye since its acquisition by Hershey in my dread that they will screw it up.
You can buy it online, but if you’re appropriately hard core like me, you will get it from the factory in Berkeley after taking the tour, or their store in the Ferry Building in San Francisco after buying an unconscionable quantity of Meyer lemons and Meyer-related condiments in the adjacent farmers market.
6. What is that scary-looking implement?
It’s a chipper, used to convert large blocks of chocolate into chips, or more accurately, chunks. It’s also handy for getting my point across when my wit is insufficiently biting. Ha! I kid! Maybe.
Most highbrow cooking stores will carry them, or you can also patronize Scharffen Berger.
7. Who are your influences?
First and fundamentally, my mom and my grandmother, both of whom are amazing cooks. Grandma is every bit the old-school abuela, who stuffs you to the gills with incredible food to show you how loved you are, and who has, as far as I know, never cracked open a cookbook. Her gnocchi is, without any shred of doubt, the best in the history of the world. No, your grandmother’s are not as good.
Mom is a more modern cook, who instilled in me and my brother at a very young age a love of international cuisine, cookbooks, cooking programs, irony, and British comedy. There is probably no recipe she couldn’t make perfectly on the first try, and even my gnocchi-master grandmother admits that her tomato sauce is the best.
Although my father’s particular strong suit, the barbecue, is not as compatible with my vegetarian lifestyle, his adventurous palate and his enthusiasm for experimentation have always been an inspiration, and after many, many years of rebellion, he did finally manage to bring me around to his love of salad. You were right, Dad.
Over the years, a lot of food personalities have added bits to my repertoire, from Julia Child to Jeff Smith (say what you will about his personal life, but his cookbooks are still great) to Alton Brown. Mostly, though, becoming a cook is about finding your own way: picking up the basic skills, learning how to suit your own tastes, expanding your culinary horizons, and practice, practice, practice. This will, unless you’re my mom, mean a lot of failures, but as I keep telling my neurotic perfectionist ego, that’s the only way to learn.
8. What are your favorite foods, cuisines, equipment, etc.?
You might get the impression that I like chocolate. I also go nuts over citrus of every variety, but especially Meyer lemons, blood oranges and kaffir limes; tart red fruits, including cranberries, sour cherries, and rhubarb; berries, particularly Marionberries; honey, which I bring back as a souvenir from every trip; tomatoes and tomato products; cheese, yes, even Wensleydale; legumes, notably lentils, chickpeas and black beans; good oils, from extra-virgin olive to toasted sesame to avocado; and, well, nuts, especially hazelnuts.
I’m not sure I have a favorite cuisine, although Italian and Spanish feel most like family and home. By extension, the entire Mediterranean pretty much feels natural to me, but I’m also passionate about Chinese, Thai and Indian thanks to their veggie-friendliness and my California upbringing. I regret that I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to really immerse myself in Mexican cuisine when we lived there, but I’ve been trying to get to know it, and the wider world of Latin American cooking, better in recent years. I don’t think there’s any cuisine I “yuck” categorically, but there are some that don’t seem to fit too well into my lifestyle. I still can’t quite make Filipino work, although His Lordship is quite appreciative of lechon.
My favorite equipment is a toss-up between my stand mixer, my food processor and my immersion blender, all Kitchenaids and all utterly kick-ass. I could cook without them, but I don’t wanna and you can’t make me. Other can’t-live-withouts are nice sharp knives, heat-resistant silicone spatulas, whisks, big metal mixing bowls, Pyrex measuring cups of every conceivable size, good sturdy pots, a potato ricer, a salad spinner, and a multitude of baking sheets so I can make many batches of cookies without waiting for the pans to cool down. The least-used equipment includes the ice cream maker, juicer, heinously heavy cast iron dutch oven, pasta maker, hand-held mixer, ravioli molds, and mandoline, not because they are not useful or loved, but because I don’t have the time or space to use them often, or because clean-up is kind of a pain. There was a time, for example, when I made fresh pasta once a week, and there was a kitchen with ample working surface for shaping it into ravioli, but those days and that kitchen are in the past. Perhaps they’ll come again.
Oh, and I have a glass fetish. One reason I never picked up antiquing, garage sale-ing or ebaying as a hobby is that I know damn well how much I’d end up spending on stemware that would never get used.
9. Why did you become and how long have you been a vegetarian, and how do you and His Lordship make it work when you’re a vegetarian and he isn’t?
I became a vegetarian in college on the basis of a confluence of reasons, both health-oriented and philosophical. For all but about six months of the time since, I’ve been ovo-lacto. I tried veganism for those six months in grad school (part I, if you’re keeping track), and although I felt great, it proved logistically unworkable for me. More power to you, vegans who can eat out and spend holidays with your family without feeling like every meal is a struggle between principles, cravings and social pressures. I firmly believe everyone has to make their own choice about what works for them, though, and in the last few years, I have been trying to lean in a more vegan direction.
His Lordship and I eat vegetarian at home, and he eats whatever he wants everywhere else. It helps a lot that he’s very ecumenical in his tastes, flexible about what we eat, and a really good cook himself. If he wants meat, he’ll supplement our meal with an additional dish of his own, although it’s not terribly economical time- or money-wise to buy and prepare meat for one person. As a result, he tends to eat meat-heavily when we go out instead, so he can really enjoy his meal while letting someone else do the work.
Any questions I haven’t answered? Ask in the comments!