About Me

Truth in Advertising

Truth in Advertising

A few Conceivably Asked Questions about me:

1. Why Lady Disdain?

BENEDICK
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!

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 ages 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.

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 used to be able to buy it online, but now you may only be able to get it from 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 go to Amazon.

7. Who are your influences?

First and fundamentally, my mom and my late maternal grandmother, both of them amazing cooks. Grandma was every bit the old-school abuela, who stuffed you to the gills with incredible food to show you how loved you are, and who, as far as I know, never cracked open a cookbook. Her gnocchi was, 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 admitted 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, 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 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. 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 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 for 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 of III, 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!

17 thoughts on “About Me”

  1. I so wanted to steal that t-shirt.

    My mother/grandmother are/were amazing cooks. Mom doesn’t bake, though and I used to watch grandma knead bread when we visited them in SoCal.

    Oh sweetie, five hours of Sandra Lee? That might make you the Media Matters of Food Network, watching so I don’t have to. Am of mixed feelings about Emeril because I can tolerate him in the Essence Of show but not the Live schtick. Also, Tony Bourdain had a nice sit-down with him when he did a two years post-Katrina episode of No Reservations. Will look forward to your skewering of Bobby Flay.

  2. nererue said:

    My grandmother doesn’t bake at all either, except for very simple desserts like rice pudding or fruit salad. Although Mom is an excellent baker, she doesn’t go mad for sweets so she only makes them for special occasions. This left a nice little niche for me to fill, actually. It’s nice not to have to feel like you’re competing with your foremothers.

    I’m sure Emeril is a great human being and all, but he’s still annoying as all hell and I personally blame him for setting the whole gimmick chef paradigm at the Food Network. If not for him, there would have been no Nemesis, so he’s got it coming. BAM!

  3. What a fun read!

    I can’t stop myself from wondering….What was your first choice?

    Four degrees! I am in awe.

    Abuela = grandmother? All this time, I thought it meant “chocolate.”

    Knives: I need a good set, and I’ve been watching the sale at Linens and Things. Still terribly expensive, and way too much to spend without knowing whether or not I’m getting a good knife. Recommendations?

    Loved these words: “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.” Long story. Bottom line: I’ve saved them for savoring.

  4. nererue said:

    My first choice was “Muse of Fire”, which was being used by some punk college kid who hadn’t posted in over a year.

    ‘Abuela = grandmother? All this time, I thought it meant “chocolate.’

    Ha! Actually, if we were going by Grandma’s preferences, it would mean “ice cream”.

    I have to admit there’s a huge disparity between the knives I want to have and the knives I do have. Our current ones are not Wusthofs or Henckels (with one exception) or any of the big-name high-end brands, and I could take much better care of them than I do. My OXO offset bread knife and a couple of IKEA purchases have held up surprisingly well, though, I must say. Conventional wisdom is that you want heavy, sturdy, and a good fit for your hand regardless of price.

  5. Re knives, I love my bread knife from Victorknox aka the Swiss Army Knife people. Their chef’s knife is highly rated by Cooks Illustrated and reasonably priced. BIL gave me a Henckels santoku, which is my go to knife for most things.

  6. Henckels santoku? Laughing…I can’t even say that!

    If heavy, sturdy, and a good fit for my hand are the things that matter, I might not need new knives after all. Keeping them sharp seems to be an issue, but that maybe because I always put them in the dishwasher.

    Ice cream would make your grandma a woman after my own heart. There’s always some chocolate in the “Mexican” section of our local grocery stores, and I could have sworn it was called Abuela.

    Thanks for humoring my curiosity re: your name.

    A big congratulations on your nomination!!!

  7. Aiee! Not in the dishwasher! That will rust them on top of dulling them.

    I’m sure what you saw in the grocery was Abuelita brand chocolate, which is used to make Mexican-style hot chocolate. I’ve been a fan of it since we lived in Mexico, although I never had the patience to use a molinillo to froth it as you’re supposed to.

  8. Made me laugh! Now that you mention it, I think I have tossed some knives because of rust spots. Knives make good substitutes for screwdrivers, or at least my kids thought they did. Between that and the fact that they sometimes threw dishes away rather than clean them, I just never could keep knives. (Maybe the dish tossing isn’t a fact. Maybe it is just a suspicion.) I promised myself that when I could quit worrying about the Mysterious Disappearance of Knives, I would get a good set. Turns out, I don’t need to spend $48.59 for a paring knife, I just need to handwash the one I have.

    You’re right about “Abuelita.” I didn’t know I was supposed to forth it, and I’d never heard of a molinillo. There is a Mexican grocery store not far from my house. I wonder if they would have a molinillo. (I’ve been to Google, and know what it is now.) Course, I don’t know where I’d put one more cooking utensil, either. Do you think a wire whisk would ruin the chocolate?

  9. No, a whisk would be perfectly fine. You can also just put the chocolate and the hot milk in a blender and whiz it. Our housekeeper in Mexico used to do that, so it’s legit and you can do it guilt-free.

    The only molinillo I have is kept for purely decorative purposes, since they are rather pretty.

  10. Cool! I have a whisk and a blender…choices!

    You lived in Mexico? !

  11. Mexico City, for two years when I was a teen. Smack in the middle of my most resentful, bitter, nasty phase, so I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I should have, but some things did manage to sneak through.

  12. So, even Mexico City won’t get you an expemption from teen angst. I don’t picture you as any of those things, and if my own wonderful daughters hadn’t once been resentful, bitter, nasty teenagers, I wouldn’t believe you for a minute. (What about me? Good question. I think I was always wonderful.) 😉

    Would very much like to hear about all the things that did sneak through, but I think I’m probably “off topic” here in the worst kind of way, and I caught a glimpse of some oatmeal cookies….must go back….

  13. Mexico City was an amplifier of teen angst, since at 16 all I wanted was to fit in, and here I was being dragged off to yet another country. I’ve long since realized what a pain in the ass I was and have apologized to my parents and baby brother.

    The things that did sneak through include a passionate love of mangoes, juices, fideos, quesadillas, cilantro, chiles rellenos, cinnamon with chocolate, limonada/naranjada, and a number of other foods; an increased confidence in my conversational Spanish; and a working knowledge of class and race issues that had previously only been abstract theory given my sheltered middle-class suburban West Coast childhood.

    And there’s no “off topic” in the “About Me” section as long as it’s about me! (Moi? Egotistical? Nooooo.)

  14. “Yet another country?” Where else? Where else!

    Fideos and naranjada are brand new words for me. And here I dither. The obvious, and easy, and self-reliant thing to do would be to go google the words, but as I was mentally composing a sentence that would tell you I had done that, I realized I’d be robbing myself of your descriptions, which I know would be infinitely more fun that what I would find.

    Was the working knowledge of class and race issues a result of many subtle incidents, or fewer, more stark events?

    And “phew” on my not being in trouble re: topic.

  15. Oh, suffice it to say that I’ve lived at each extreme of the Western Hemisphere as well as in the middle.

    Fideos are a soupy dish made with angelhair noodles in a tomato base. It’s too dry to be soup, but too wet to just be pasta with sauce, and the noodles are toasted until quite brown in oil before the tomato broth is added, so they stay chewier and also have a lovely smoky flavor. Our housekeeper used to make it at least once a week, and our dachshund puppy always got her share too.

    Naranjada is orange juice, sugar, and either still or fizzy water, i.e. lemonade made with oranges instead.

    The working knowledge was mostly observational, since paleness and relative affluence made us elite by default. Seeing the contrast between my life and the majority of the people around me was quite a shock.

  16. Fideos = yummy!

    I wish my brother had discovered naranjada while his groves still had a chance of making it.

    I read your reply early this morning, but…

    It is hard to imagine figure skating in Mobile, Alabama, but Stars on Ice comes here sometimes, and I went to one of their shows. One of the acts was so beautiful and moving that I couldn’t clap, even though everyone else was, and even though I knew the skaters would probably like to know that I appreciated their performance. I just wanted to sit still, to somehow stay in the place where they had taken me.

    The last line of your response struck me kind of like that: it just deserved some staying, instead of responding and moving right along. Reminded me of events in my life that were similar, and I was glad to be reminded.

  17. Vickie-Jilz said:

    Long time, no visit. Not good….still, when we were just about to pour Chickadee Whisperer’s sourdough starter down the sink, I knew who to ask…..

    It was given to her by a very nice woman, a friend of Paul’s (Oceanus) I think, even though Laura protested that it would go bad in her car.

    And it did indeed qet quite warm while she was walking along Ship Island.

    But, still….you hate to just throw starter out, and I knew you’d know whether or not she could still use it.

    So, it is in my refrigerator, awaiting your reply…

    Miss you!

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