Tag Archives: james beard

Tell It

Head space: In canning, one must leave some in order to get a good seal. In life, one must to leave some in order to gain perspective, which is basically the same as getting a good seal. I mean, you want to be able to enjoy what’s in the jar, you know?

The Autumnal Equinox approaches – it’s this Wednesday. I’ve taken the day off and am giving it over to whatever (Canning tomatoes? Power napping? Writing?). The moon should be waxing under mostly clear skies this entire week, which thrills me. The signs of the change in seasons are everywhere in central IL – leaves starting to turn, squirrels acting stupid and running out into traffic, and the last of the peaches at the farmers markets.

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There’s nothing finer than the ultra-blue skies we get this time of year. ANYTHING thrown against that sky looks awesome, even (especially?) withering walnut trees.

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When I was a kid, I loved ladybugs and yellow was my favorite color. My love for ladybugs is now more about respect, and I’m not a huge fan of the color yellow… EXCEPT this time of year. I mean, look at it.

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It’s also a really birthday-heavy time in my circle of family and friends. Jim, Lilly, and I have birthdays between mid-September and early November. Our friend Douglas had a birthday yesterday, and invited people to his workspace in Tolono (he relocated Uptown Concrete there this summer) to check it out, play parking lot games, and witness a shopping cart bonfire.

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I made a rather sloppy carrot cake, per his request. I learned that it’s really important that the cream cheese frosting act as serious mortar to the bricks that are the cake layers (this is a TERRIBLE analogy), especially if you’re transporting the cake ten miles over bumpy and twisty county roads, so more powdered sugar is critical. It didn’t matter – it was delicious and it looked pretty with candles on it.

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It has not been the easiest 6+ weeks in the world. One of the hardest things for me to wrap my head around has been the death of my friend and neighbor, Mel Farrell. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor in spring 2015 and immediately started kicking its ass, but toward the end of the summer, her body tripped her up a few times, and at the beginning of this month, pneumonia claimed her life. She was a rock star in so many ways, and readers will likely be finding more about Mel later, but I’ll say this for now: Though I’d known her for about 10 years, and of her for 5 years past that, there was much I didn’t know about Mel. Since her death, I’ve come to realize that she was quietly expert at filling up any gaps in her life with more friends, more fun, more food, more… and it was the quality aspect of more, not the quantity. She was so very thoughtful and truly believed in the basic conviviality that goes missing from so much of modern life. Her laugh gave serious body to so many gatherings. And… and! She had stories. Sure, the whole legitimately-at-Woodstock thing was awesome, but I was electrified when she told me a few years ago that, when she was a kid growing up in NYC, her mother’s day job was, if I recall correctly, working for James Beard. That wasn’t my favorite part of the story, and I don’t think it was Mel’s either. No, we both loved the fact that her mom came home from working all day for Chef Beard and often had the following dinner, feet up: An onion sandwich (2 pieces of white bread slathered in butter with sliced onions in between) and a beer. I figured Mel and I had all the time in the world to eventually get some of these stories saved. We did not. I do wonder if she saved any of them herself.

Seriously. If you have food stories to tell – and we all do – write them down. Tell them to someone. You know what, though… don’t stop at the food stories (you don’t have to start there, either). Stories, period. Histories. Get them onto paper, or make some audio – just talk into your smartphone, if you have one. I truly fear real storytelling – the passing along of the big stories and the quotidian ones, the bare facts and the tall tales – is going the way of ultra-curated social media (which I feel sadder and sadder about with each passing day): Cropped and filtered just so for maximum effect, negative or positive, spun emptily one way or the other. We all seem to crave the unvarnished truth (witness the popularity of Storycorps), but we seem ever more reluctant to tell it.

Tell it.

Not Ketchup, Catch Up

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It’s a long weekend, more cold weather is coming, and I feel like making things, so I planned meals for the upcoming week today (you may be surprised to know it’s something I’ve been out of the habit of doing for YEARS), went shopping for the food for those meals, roasted some grape tomatoes in the vein of Nom Nom Paleo and Smitten Kitchen (same basic ┬áprinciple, slightly different methods), and now I’m patiently (?) waiting for Jim to come home from refereeing soccer matches so he can get started on his chorizo chili so I can just sit here and inhale while he cooks. The chorizo is from Triple S Farms in Stewardson, and – god. Our family has a RELATIONSHIP with this chorizo, an affair. It’s great in fajitas or as nachos, but chili is what is needed tonight. Acceptance-yet-defiance of winter in a bowl, that’s what this chili is.

Post-holidays (is it just me, or do the holidays seem like they happened MONTHS AGO?), I think it’s good to get creative with your comfort food. We’re past everything-pumpkin, we’re past the family traditions that dictate the holidays – now, January/February, before fresh food is truly available here in the midwest, that’s when we get down to the business of really figuring out what we want to eat. For, you know, strength when spring comes. My favorite winter foods come in bowls. How about you?

reading

I am utterly, woefully behind in my reading. I found myself at the bookstore this afternoon (very much a “How did I get here?” moment), looking for more magazines, another cookbook. Never mind that I have the above to read, plus two more cookbooks arriving Tuesday. And I still have two cookbooks I received for Christmas from one of my dear sisters-in-law that I can’t wait to read. It’s a sickness. I LOVE ALL OF THEM and occasionally fantasize about literally building a fort out of all these books and magazines, the better to surround myself with culinary and food (and life) wisdom. I haven’t done it. Yet.

I did, however, finish Provence, 1970 this afternoon. I adored the first 2/3 of the book, and was really excited to find out what happened, but after that first 2/3, I thought it just sort of ground to a halt just when I thought something explosive, some a-ha & super-influential moment that I’d never heard of before, would happen, which it… didn’t. That doesn’t mean I didn’t love it. I did. I cannot get enough of good, evocative writing about the food and farming and conviviality surrounding food in France, especially from that time period. Author Luke Barr had access to all kinds of correspondence between the principals (MFK Fisher [his great-aunt], Julia Child, James Beard, Richard Olney) as well as Fisher’s notebook from her time in France at that particular juncture. Anyway, if you have a thing for France and French food and The Days of Yore, I do recommend it.

I’m thinking ahead to next weekend, when we begin shooting “Ramen Shaman”. We’ll be interviewing the Shaman himself at his place, surrounded by his cookbooks and tchotchkes (the guy has a hundred times the cookbooks/food books I do… he could build a palace), and then filming the preparation for his next ramen event, and then filming the event. I’m a little nervous; I made a drastic change to my appearance ahead of all this filming, because I was feeling very what-the-hell about it, but now I’m more like, what the hell? Oops.

Anyway. The ramen is the story, but Mark is the story, too. I can’t wait to hear it, to help tell it. Right now, though, I’m all about swooning over this chili; Jim’s home.