Journal entries from April 2015

Hot Soup for a Cool Day


Hot Potatoes

It's so clear today that from where I'm sitting I can see both the Catskills and the Adirondacks, and if I get out the binoculars I can just make out Lake George far to the north.

It feels like spring is trying to arrive, and yet there's not a single local vegetable in the market and it feels like soup weather.

And so I ended up making this warm, vegetarian version of the rich, cold summer soup, Vichyssoise. It is not, by the way, a French dish. It was invented at the Ritz Hotel in New York in 1917 by Chef Louis Diat (who went on to become the resident chef at Gourmet Magazine in the fifties.)

Hot Vegetarian Vichyssoise

4 large leeks, washed cleaned of sand, white part finely chopped (5 cups)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1/2 cup finely chopped onions

4 cups vegetable stock (recipe below)

5 small russet potatoes, peeled and chopped (1 pound)

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 cup whole milk

1 cup half and half 



chopped chives or scallions

squeeze of lemon


Cook the leeks and onions slowly in the butter until they're soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. The quantity will reduce considerably.

Add the hot vegetable stock,  the potatoes, and the salt. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for thirty minutes, partially covered. 

Strain the mixture and puree the leeks and potatoes in a food processor. 

Whisk the puree into the strained liquid, add a cup of milk, and a cup of half and half.  

Bring to a boil and the very carefully puree the entire mixture again to make an extremely smooth soup. (Hot soup can be very painful when it hits your skin.O

Add a splash of lemon juice, taste for seasoning, and garnish with chopped chives or scallions.


Quick Vegetable Stock

To make a small amount of vegetable stock, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a  medium sized pot and saute half a chopped onion, one chopped carrot, the washed dark green tops of the leaks used for the soup, one chopped celery stalk, a few sprigs of thyme, and, if you happen to have it, a half fennel bulb, chopped.  Add a few good grinds of black pepper and two quarts of water, bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes, uncovered. 

Strain one quart of liquid from the vegetables and use for the vichyssoise.



Bean by Bean

It snowed yesterday.  And I woke this morning to these dispiriting words: "Snow will start in 55 minutes." I'd like to point out that it's the end of April!

In search of spring, I picked up a pound of fava beans.  I have a serious love/hate relationship with this particular vegetable. I'm always cheered by their tender green color, and their lively brightness seems flavored with optimism. But I find the tedium of peeling each little bean really annoying.

Back home, I put about a pound and a half of Yukon Gold potatoes on to boil. Removing the favas from their pods, I threw the beans, briefly, into the potato water, poaching them for a mere 45 seconds. Then I fished them out and stood at the counter, plucking each little bean from its shell. 

When I was done I diced a small shallot and sauteed it in a few tablespoons of butter. I sprinkled in some salt, tossed in the peeled fava beans and worried them around for three minutes or so. Then I smashed them with the back of a spoon.

The potatoes took about 12 minutes to get soft; at that point I added a few tablespoons of butter and a splash of milk and smashed them into a puree. I added a beaten egg, and a few gratings of lemon zest. Then I folded in the fava beans.

I happened to have some ricotta on hand, so I threw in a couple tablespoons of that as well. 

With a salad on the side it made a really heartening little lunch for two.  Each spoonful felt like a promise that spring really will come.  Soon please. 



Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant


That, in case you missed the reference, is the title of one of my favorite Laurie Colwin pieces.  It is also exactly where I found myself last night.  I've noticed that supermarkets are suddenly selling "baby eggplants" which fill in nicely for Asian eggplants. Bought one, and then stood in the kitchen, contemplating it.

I suddenly thought about the eggplant dish I learned when I was taking lessons at the Yangshuo Cooking School in Guilin, China.  I remembered loving it - and that it was incredibly easy.  What I had not remembered was how extremely delicious it was.  I'm sorry to say I liked it so much that we'd eaten it all before I remembered to take a picture. So no picture, but here's the recipe. 

What you’ll need: 

1 small baby eggplant (about half a pound)

2 cloves of garlic


fermented black beans

oyster sauce

Asian chile paste

soy sauce


Prep Work:

Cut the eggplant into long thin strips, then cut those in half. You don’t have to be fussy about this, but you want to end up with pieces about 3 inches long and a quarter inch wide. 

Smash the garlic and grate the ginger until you have a couple of teaspoons.

Rinse the salt from half a teaspoon of Chinese fermented black beans. 

Measure out a third cup of water, then add a tablespoon of oyster sauce, a tablespoon of soy sauce, a quarter teaspoon of chile paste (more if you like your spice), and the rinsed black beans.

Slice the scallions into long, thin shards, then cut them into 2 inch lengths. 


Get a wok so hot that a drop of water, flicked in, skitters across the surface.  Add 3 tablespoons of oil, swirl it around the pan, then throw in the eggplant slices and toss them about until they’re soft and slightly seared on the edges.  Add the garlic and ginger and toss until the scent rises above the pan, then add the water mixture.  Stir fry for a couple of minutes; the eggplant should now be coated with a glossy sauce.  Add the scallion threads, toss for a few more seconds and serve to two happy people.



A Pickle from the Past

I want to share one last recipe from Virginia Cookery, one that reads almost like poetry.  It’s from the personal family cookbook of Robert Bland Lee - who was the first Virginian representative to the US Congress (and also the uncle of Robert E. Lee).  His wife Elizabeth Collins, a Quaker born near Philadelphia, wrote these recipes in her own hand. I'm wondering how she felt about owning slaves.

The Lees were planters who lived in Fairfax County on Sully Plantation; the plantation's website says they had 29 slaves.  The head cook, Thorton, was a slave, which might explain the vast amount of work that went into this recipe.  ("Race ginger"  incidentally, had nothing to do with slavery; it was another word for ginger root.  I'm not sure how it differed from white ginger.  And I'm extremely curious about the amount of garlic in the recipe; unusual for that time.)

Without further ado: 

Yellow Pickle

“Put 6 quarts of best cider vinegar in a stone jar.  Put in it 4 oz. of mustard seed pounded fine, 4 oz. coriander seed, bruised, 6 oz. of race ginger Soaked in salt and water 24 hours, then pealed and sliced and put in the sun to dry, the white ginger, 2 oz. preferable, bruised, 5 oz. of garlic, 1/2 oz. of mace pounded, 1/2 oz. of nutmeg pounded. Have a wooden stopper for the jar to fit tight, tie a cloth over it and put it in the sun for six weeks shaking it every day. 

In the meantime prepare the vegetables. Put cabbage in salt and water after quartering it until it turns yellow.  Then scald it in the last brine until a little tender, sprinkle salt over it and lay it in the hot sun in the morning the inside down.  Before night open the leaves and sprinkle salt through them turning them up on the dish.  Let them remain out that night in the dew. In two days if the sun is hot they will be quite white, and dry enough in two more to put away until winter for the soaking pot. Prepare radish pods, beans, young corn, melons, peppers etc. in the same way. Radish pods will become white and dry in one night and day.  Nothing should be dryer than to keep until the soaking pot is ready. - E. Lee” 


Clementine Paddleford

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 9.56.33 PM


Few names are as memorable as Clementine Paddleford, and yet our collective culinary conscience doesn't seem to have filed hers in the right place. A prolific columnist for the New York Herald Tribune in the forties and fifties-- and the writer of the "Food Flashes" column in Gourmet --Paddleford spent the better part of her life traveling the country in search of America's best regional fare. She is variously credited as the first person to ever publish recipes for fried chicken, barbecue sauce, and cioppino. True?  Probably not. Still, she was way ahead of her time. She was, in many ways, introducing us to our own cuisine. It makes me sad to think that she never got to know that her time had come;  she died in 1967,  just a few years before food became an important part of popular culture.

Paddleford had a passionate regard for the everyman - and yet she was a product of her time.  Her ideas about hometown cooking often show their age. Reading her you begin to wonder what was for dinner if you did not happen to belong to an all-white community association. She began a column on Ohio desserts,"Here on South Park street in Cleveland, Ohio, the houses are built far apart with wide lawns and hedge between to give exclusive privacy." 

Still, she had a flair for the rare: she published a recipe for chawan mushi, the delicate Japanese custard, in the 1950s. 

Truth be told, looking through most of her recipes doesn't make me want to run into the kitchen. But just as I was thinking that, I came upon this, which seems remarkably up to date, given the current craze for all things pickled. Prune plums won't be in season for months, but I've been thinking this would work well with apricots - or maybe rhubarb? 

Paddleford got this recipe from the former first lady of Idaho. 

Mrs. Robert E. Smylie's Fresh Plum Chutney

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1 1/2 teaspoons crushed chili pepper

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons mustard seed

2 fat cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1 small onion, thinly sliced 

1/2 cup preserved ginger, cut in thin slices

1 cup white raisins

3 1/2 cup fresh Italian prunes, halved and seeded (about 20 prunes) 

Mix together the sugars and vinegar and bring to the boiling point. Add remaining ingredients except prunes, and mix well. Then stir in prune halves. Simmer until thickened, about 50 minutes, stirring frequently and gently. Fill sterilized jars.

If you're a reluctant canner like me, just cut the recipe in half and freeze leftovers. I'll be serving mine with a sumptuous piece of pork. 




Beaten biscuits

Viriginia cookery
I just dusted off Virginia Cookery, a plastic-spiral-bound cookbook I found at Bonnie Slotnick's antique cookbook shop right before she moved to the East Village. Like many great cookbooks of it's kind, this one is a self-published compilation of recipes from (mostly) church-going women. The recipes in these books often vary in quality, but at the very least they make for fun, voyeuristic reading.  What was on the table in 1957 Virginia?  

Whipped syllabub, turkey pie for 200, and five different types of chess pie, it would appear. (Maybe not all at the same time.) There's also a recipe for sweet potato souffle with sherry and black walnuts that I'm dying to try. 

Think I'll pass on the tips for excelling in housewifery. 

But here's one odd find: beaten biscuits.  Has anyone ever baked with an axe? Here, Virginia Cookery quotes a 1885 tome on Virginian cooking, also called Virginia Cookery, written by Ms. Mary Stuart Smith. 

""In the Virginia of the olden time no breakfast or tea-table was thought to be properly furnished without a plate of these indispensable biscuits... Let one spend the night at some gentleman-farmer's home, and the first sound heard in the morning, after the crowing of the cock, was the heavy, regular fall of the cook's axe, as she beat and beat her biscuit dough...Nowadays beaten biscuits are a rarity, found here and there, but soda and modern institutions have caused them to be sadly out of vogue...There are difficulties in the way," Mrs. Smith then goes on to explain that a biscuit block, the trunk of an oak or chestnut tree, sawed off and planed, must be provided near the kitchen." 

Mrs. Smith's Beaten Biscuit 

4 cups flour

1 tablespoon lard

1 teaspoon salt



Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 

Sift flour with salt and work in lard. Have ready a mug filled with equal parts of sweet milk and water. Add it gradually to the other ingredients, kneading all the while, and stopping as soon as the flour will hold together, for the dough should be very stiff. Beat thirty minutes with an axe kept for the purpose. Prick with a fork and bake until a delicate brown. 




My Dinner at Dill


This was probably my favorite course at Dill.  It doesn't look like much - but Icelanders are understated, so that's typical.  It tastes like it looks - bland as snow - until you encounter intense little bursts of flavor that are the best version of butter you've ever eaten.  And if you admire butter as much as I do, that's saying something.

I loved Dill from the first moment I walked in the door.  I loved the quiet look of the place - all wood and stone - and the casual nature of the room. But what I loved most was that the entire restaurant smelled like butter.  And - in the course of a meal that lasted four hours - the scent of butter never stopped.

Dill was the restaurant I was most eager to try in Reykjavik.  My friend Evan Sung, the photographer who shot the wonderful new cookbook, North (which just won a James Beard award), said I had to try the restaurant while in Iceland. Still, I was skeptical: Iceland is not exactly known as a food paradise. (Although I know now it should be).

The first course, I'll admit, didn't do all that much for me.  This seemed tricky, almost silly:


Really? I thought when they set this ridiculous flower pot in front of me with it's little hanging bit of dried salt cod, and it's dried parsnip. And though this dill dipping sauce was delicious:


it all seemed like a stretch. I sat back, thinking, show me more.

Then this arrived: 


Okay, nice enough. Carrot with fresh cheese and a LOT of caraway. Tasty. But not exactly mind-altering.

Then the shredded catfish arrived, and I sat up.  It was unlike anything I've ever experienced, a kind of magic in the mouth.  Think savory cotton candy with bursts of brown butter threaded through it. Hitting that flavor was like a splash of cold water; take that!

Then there was this:


Beet, wrapped around liver.  (The leaf is only there so your fingers don't turn red.)  And suddenly we were out on the glaciers, wild beasts ripping at dead animals.  The liver was intense, the beet like blood, and it was all primitive, elemental, incredibly delicious. All that in a tiny bite. I'm alive now, eager for whatever's coming next.

And it is perfect. I am an animal. I will devour this beef tartare on its bleached white marrow bone. I am out there now, howling with the wolves.  It is delicious, but I'm no longer in the restaurant; this food has taken me to another place.



The porridge brings me back. It is as if the chef is trying to remind me that I'm a civilized being, an eater of grain. But of course, on top, there's that egg, cooked until it's nothing but crisp nubbins. As if to say - yes, you may be a grower, a reaper of grains, but you yearn to eat animals.


And then this comes, reminding me of my humanity. If there is any food that makes us civilized creatures, it is bread. And this is bread as I've never quite had it before.  Slightly burnt. Still warm. Sourdough.  Elemental.  It is FANTASTIC bread.


And it is paired with this wonderful butter and gorgeous salt. The chefs take buckets down to the sea, then cook off the water to make the salt.  Lovely stuff.

Dill btter


All this is prelude, just the warm up to the meal which now appears in a slow parade of fascinating dishes. It begins with salt cod - soft in the mouth, its deep saline quality tempered by the two purees: celery root and apple.  It is the chef whispering in your ear, urging you to think about what happens when sea meets shore.  





This pork belly with crisp bits of Jerusalem artichoke, smoked hazelnuts and powdered burnt leeks is a circus in the mouth, different with each bite.  It slows you down, makes you stop and really think about what you're eating.


Next comes arctic char, the raw fish silky and almost sweet beneath its fennel and mushroom topping. It is the least exciting dish of the night. Pretty. Flavorful. But not a thrill. 



But what is this? Rutabaga nestled into a little puddle of cream cheese, grains of millet dancing across the top, adding texture. I've always thought of rutabaga as a bully, a great ugly brute of a vegetable that forces itself upon you.  But this is different:  firm, meaty and so satisfying I am forced to reconsider my feelings about this once-despised vegetable.



And finally, the main meat course.  Icelandic lamb is wonderful, and this is the best I've had.  But the real revelation is that whipped lamb fat. Why haven't I ever had this before?Lamb


And finally the surprise of dessert.  Chef Chef Gunnar Karl Gíslason doesn't take the easy sweet path. He's still playing with flavor, throwing in elements that pop out to startle you. This lovely dish of angelica, caramel and walnuts is bathed in beer.


And  this skyr - you're never very far from skyr in Iceland - is paired with celery and roasted oats.  Who knew that celery could be so sweet?


The wine pairings were both brilliant and generous, beginning with copious amounts of rich, yeasty Champagne and stretching on through the hours we spent at the restaurant.  So thank you Evan; I would have been extremely sorry to have missed this meal.



Notes from Iceland: Part 2

First, a confession. I agreed to teach at The Iceland Writer's Retreat for only one reason: Susan Orlean told me she had so much fun last year that I'd be a fool to turn it down.

Thank you Susan.  It was a memorable week; I'm sorry to say I probably learned more from the students I worked with - they were all so emotionally brave -  than they did from me. I also had the joy of meeting some really wonderful writers.  A few you will know, and those you don't, you'll want to. 

Barbara Kingsolver, who must be a hero to everyone who cares deeply about great writing, climate change, and the ethics of eating. I've loved every one of her books, and was delighted to discover that she turns out to be exactly the person you hope she'll be: warm, smart and delightfully no-nonsense. She's down to earth with a very particular view of the world.  This is what you think when you first meet her: "This woman knows exactly who she is."

Adam Gopnik, who is much funnier in person than his rigorous writing leads you to believe. He is effortlessly - and constantly - humorous. Also, I think, the most innately polite person I've ever met. I suspect he is incapable of walking into an elevator in front of a woman or cutting into a line. It makes me wonder how he survives in New York. 

Taiye Selasi, who is so extremely beautiful you can't believe she's also a writer. If I looked like that I think I'd just stare at myself in the mirror all day.  But her books are deep and rich - and she is a rare, warm and extremely generous teacher.  Her students emerged from each workshop buzzing with energy.

John Valliant. I didn't know his work before I got to Reykjavik.  I'm reading his The Jaguar's Children now. Slowly.  It's a novel you want to savor, a book that gives voice to the voiceless- and he's a man you want to know better.  Also, I might add, a great dining companion.  

Alison Pick.  How did I not know this woman before?  When she gave me her novel, Far To Go I made the mistake of reading the first page.  The next thing I knew it was morning, and I'd been reading all night. It's gorgeous. Poetic. Compelling.  Truly one of the finest books I've read in ages. She is a deep soul, and her students emerged from her classes slightly dazed - and then went off to their rooms to write.

Linn Ullman.  Again, a writer whose work I should have known and to my shame did not.  Linn was the voice of reason on the panels; when everyone else was mystifying the act of writing, she was saying, "You know, it's a job. All great writing does not come from inspiration. Sometimes it just comes from work."  Later, thinking about it, I realized that of course the daughter of Ingmar Bergman would take a slightly jaundiced view of "genius."  But to read her books is to understand the importance of trusting yourself. 

Marcello di Cintio.  With a name like that he has to be a dark, handsome Italian with a romantic bent. In reality he's an approachable (handsome) Canadian who seems too sweet to have undertaken the dark subjects he tends to tackle: war, poverty, people who live behind walls.  He taught travel writing, and his students said his workshops were wonderful.  He too is a great dinner companion.

Sjon - one of Reykjavik's most famous writers (among other things he writes lyrics for Bjork), whose latest book has won dozens of awards. The Blue Fox is about to come out in an English translation. Can't wait.

If you've read this far, you're probably considering signing on for next year.  Don't know who'll be teaching, but I'm sure it will another memorable occasion.  If you're eager to spend time among writers, this is a fantastic opportunity.  The participants are talented, the workshops never larger than 15, and all the writers are pretty much around, and available, for the entire time.  Last year Geraldine Brooks, one of my favorite authors, was teaching a workshop and all I can say is I wish I'd been there.

And, of course, you also get access to the strange, stark, beauty of Iceland. And it's fascinating food. My first lunch was at Iceland Fish and Chips.  The fish was great - but what I remember best were those onion rings at the top of this post. Breaded in spelt, splashed with spice, they were memorable.

Tomorrow I'll tell you about the most impressive - and longest - meal I had in Reykjavik.  Among other things, it included bread and butter so good I literally could not stop eating it. 








Iceland: First Edible Impressions


That, my friends, is Iceland on a plate. And delicious it is, this giant codhead, cooked in chicken broth and sugar kelp, the soft, tender tongue breaded and sauteed before being replaced to do rude things on the plate.  

To eat a huge codhead like this is to have an extraordinary experience of texture. The bit of filet, at the top of the head, is rather firm.  The cheeks are like little scallops. The bit right beneath the eye is pillowy soft. And that tongue.... like eating a gentle cloud. 

The codhead is the signature dish at Matur og Drykker, the restaurant in Reykjavik's Saga Museum which is named for the classic Icelandic cookbook of that name.  Written in the 1950s, the book is the Icelandic version of The Joy of Cooking; every local person I met told me they'd grown up on those recipes.

At the restaurant they've gone looking for history - and then refined it. So the classic halibut, mussel, whey soup is turned into the loveliest chowder you can imagine. 


The mussels are sweet and plump, their flavor underlined by the other notes woven through the soup: cream, dill, the sweetness of apples and then - surprise! - a bit of prune, which lends an almost wine-like quality.  I kept eating the soup, entranced by the parade of flavors, and was devastated when I discovered that there was no more. 

The other surprises of this meal:


Codliver pate with a berry jam on caraway flatbread.  I'll admit I was reluctant to try it - too many bad memories of codliver oil - but how could I resist?  The flavor was a total surprise; if you've ever had Japanese ankimo - monkfish liver - you'll instantly recognize the taste.  Those berries were a wonderful foil for the fish flavor; think of the sea washing into the forest. 

And then there was this, which looked exactly like dried rose petals - and tasted almost entirely of smoke.

Essentially lamb jerky, this was as crisp as a potato chip so the buttermilk smudge on the side made it seem like eating chips and dips.  The friend I was eating with said she always takes double smoked lamb along when she goes hiking - but she had never had any half so delicious. Excited, she ordered a second plateful.

Some other wonderful dishes from this restaurant.


"Fish Stew." Only it's not.  This is what, in the old days, Icelanders did with leftover fish.  It's kind of a smoked fish and potato mush, with dill, with thin bits of rye biscuit, rutabaga and fennel.  It's classic nursery food, reimagined for grownups.

And, of course, lamb.  You don't get very far in Iceland without eating lamb - and I never met one I didn't like. But this, with gorgeous carrots and some beautifully cooked potatoes - was remarkable for its simple honesty. 

And, of course, the classic Iceland dessert: twisted doughnuts.  Warm, laced with nutmeg, and barely sweet, these were the most restrained doughnuts I've ever encountered.  Doughnuts are usually flashy and brazen, but these little cakes knew how to charm you with subtlety.


And did I mention the weather? 


But this is only the beginning.  I'm just back from The Iceland Writer's Retreat, and in upcoming posts I'll talk about that (truly memorable), and a few more remarkable meals I ate in the land of light, literature and ice.



Wheat of the Future

A taste of kernza: nutty and complex. The biscotti on the bottom is 100 percent kernza, the one above is 50 percent kernza, the muffin is one quarter kernza. 

What if the ancient art of annual crop cultivation - perhaps the oldest art there is - has stopped serving us? 

The plant engineers at Salina Kansas' Land Institute think it might have. 

When wheat was cultivated into an annual crop it probably ushered in civilization as we know it. But 9,500 years later - give or take - we've got a problem: America's plains are blowing away as pesticide-laced eroded soil washes into our rivers. And for what? An increasingly problematic product: according to the Land Institute, modern commercial wheat contains a fraction of the nutrients found in the wheat we ate only two generations ago. 

Their solution? Develop a perennial wheat with long roots going deep into the soil.

But domesticating wild plants is tough business, and the Institute's Lee Deehan was prepared to spend a long time developing kernza (their perennial wheat plant).  He thought it might take up to a hundred years to produce a satisfying specimen. But swift DNA sequencing changed that, and Deehan and his team think they're only a few years away from a commercial product.  At the moment they're tackling the problem of yield per acre (around a third of the industrial wheat), and seed size (too small).

All impressive, but how does kernza taste? Nuttier and more complex than most whole-wheats I’ve tried. Its low gluten content means it won't work as a replacement for all-purpose flour, but it makes a wonderful addition to breads and pastries.

At the moment you won't find kernza on your grocery shelf, but it’s slowly inching into the market. Patagonia food will use it in their new health food line, a few restaurants offer kernza bread, and someone is even making booze from it. 

It is definitely in your future.



What Angels Eat



Had a dozen egg whites saved - been making a lot of lemon tarts lately - so last night I decided to make an angel food cake.

I'd forgotten how satisfyingly beautiful they are - all high and white - and what a pleasure the texture is.  Pure sponge.

When my friend Marion Cunningham was working on the Baker’s Dozen Cookbook, she sent a recipe for the classic cake to thirty-five bakers, asking them each to bake the cake, exactly as written, and bring it to a meeting. She called me afterward in great excitement; “You would not believe how different they were,” she marveled. “They all had holes in the middle, but other than that, each cake was unique.”

Appalled by this, she and the other bakers decided to perfect the recipe. This cake, created by Flo Braker, is angel food perfection. Follow these instructions and you will have a high, white cloud-like confection that truly does seem food fit for angels.

Five Steps to a Better Angel Food Cake

  1. Cold eggs are easier to separate, so do it when the eggs are right out of the refrigerator. 
  2. If even the tiniest amount of fat gets into the eggs they will refuse to whip.  So separate each egg white into its own bowl before adding it to the others, in case one of the yolks breaks. 
  3. Leave your egg whites out of the refrigerator, for about an hour. If you have an instant-read thermometer, the optimum temperature is 60 degrees. The whites are more viscous at this temperature, and the air bubbles more stable.  (Room temperature is about 70 degrees; they will whip more quickly, but at this temperature they are easy to over-beat.) 
  4. To insure there's no grease on the bowl or beater, wipe them with white vinegar and rinse in very hot water.  Dry well. 
  5. Make sure your oven is 350 degrees. If the oven’s too low, the sugar will absorb the liquid from the egg whites and turn syrupy.  If it’s too hot, the outside will set before the interior. 
  6. Allow the cake to cool completely before removing it from the pan.

Angel Food Cake (From Baker’s Dozen Cookbook) 

12 large egg whites

1 1/2 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar

1 cup sifted cake flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla.


Allow the egg whites to sit in the bowl of a stand mixer for about an hour, to come to just above room temperature (70 degrees).

Sift the confectioner’s sugar, cake flour and salt together. 

Whip egg whites at low speed until they are foamy.  Add the cream of tartar and increase the speed to medium.  Keep whipping, gradually adding the cup of granulated sugar, until the whites thicken and form soft, droopy peaks.  Add vanilla.

Sprinkle a quarter cup of the flour mixture over the whites and fold it in, by hand, with a rubber spatula. Repeat with the next quarter, and the next, until all the flour has all been gently folded in. Pour into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan.

Bake at 350 degrees, 40 to 45 minutes, until the top is golden, the top springs back when you touch it, and a toothpick comes out clean. Invert the pan onto the neck of a bottle.  Leave for 2 hours so that the cake is completely cool. 

Run a knife around the sides of pan until you feel it release. Then push up the bottom of the pan. Loosen the cake bottom by tapping on a counter until it’s free and invert onto a plate, and then back onto a cake platter.

Slice with a serrated knife.



Waiting for the cake to cool - there's something wonderful about the way you hang these upside down- I realized it might want some sort of embellishment. Ice cream?  Looked in the freezer, and found we had none.

But I did find a package of frozen cranberries still lingering from Thanksgiving, that gave me an idea. What if I made a quick frozen cream with that?  Would it work?  

Basically I poured half a package of the frozen berries into a blender, added a few tablespoons of sugar and about a cup of heavy cream, and kept blending and tasting til the balance seemed right. Tart and creamy, it was the perfect accompaniment to this cake. 





Only Elizabeth David.....

Been reading Elizabeth David's wonderful An Omelette and a Glass of Wine, as I prepare for a workshop at the Iceland Writer's Retreat next week. So much great stuff here.  This particular sentence stopped me cold: 

“I can only say that there are times when one positively craves for something totally unsensational; the meals in which every dish is an attempted or even a successful tour de force are always a bit of a trial.”

A little bit later I came upon this recipe for an extremely unsensational chick pea salad.  Intriguing: it's basically hummus without the tahini, and without being pureed. (And I'm curious about that tablespoon of flour.  What's that doing there?) 

Elizabeth David’s Salade de Pois Chiches

Soak 1/2 lb. of chick peas overninght in plenty of cold water into which you stir a tablespoon of flour.  Next day put them in a suacepan with the same water, plus a half teaspoon of baking soda.  Simmer them for an hour. Skim and strain.

Rinse out the saucepan, fill it with 3 pints fresh water, bring to the boil, add a tablespoon of salt, put in the chick peas and simmer another 1 to 2 hours until the peas are perfectly tender and the skins beginning to break.

Strain them (keep the liquid - it will make a good basis for a vegetable soup), put them in a bowl and while still hot stir in plenty of olive oil, sliced onion, garlic, parsley and a little vinegar.


Wake Up Crunch

Millet muffins

Millet's Moment

Texture matters to me. I'm intrigued when foods are so soft and smooth they seem to melt in your mouth.  I'm enchanted with foods that vaporize when you take a bite.  And I love it when a crunch resonates inside your head.  

Seeds are especially appealing to me. I like the snap of  pepitas in salad and the crackle of poppy seeds scattered on a bagel. Little wonder that the first time I went to Cafe Fanny in Berkeley and found their millet muffins, I was hooked.

Millet, star of these muffins, isn't a seed of course, but in this country it's used mostly for birdseed. Much of the rest of the world, however, considers it a staple; historically it's been eaten longer than rice.  It is also, apparently, a good crop for arid regions. And given the state of water in California, it might be time we got to know it better.

These muffins use millet to add a spirited crunch to what are essentially straightforward buttermilk muffins. Serve them hot out of the oven, with plenty of the best butter you can find. 

(This recipe is slightly modified from former Chez Panisse Chef Joanne Wier’s recipe, found on her blog.) 



1 egg

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup melted butter

12 tablespoons millet, broken up a bit - but not pulverized - in a food processor. 

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk


Preheat an oven to 375 degrees.  

Beat the egg and brown sugar well with an electric mixer.

Add the melted butter and 1/2 cup of buttermilk.

Stir in the millet. (If you’re making your batter ahead of time, be sure to wait until right before baking to add the millet. Let it sit, and it'll get soggy and you’ll lose the lovely crunch.) Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together and add to the other ingredients.

Add the other 1/2 cup of buttermilk. Don’t overmix! Place in greased muffin tins.

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, or until golden and a tester comes out clean. 

Makes 12 muffins.


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About this journal
Where am I eating? What's for dinner tonight? And what books have I been reading? For a look at what's going on in my life lately, take a look at this journal, which I try to update on a regular basis.