Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Dear produce

Maybe it's wrong of me to assert, as I did in the very first paragraph of this blog, that Alinea at Home is the best of the several online journals devoted to cooking and photographing every recipe from the Alinea cookbook (this is the world we live in). After all, Alineaphile does a very good job of replicating the recipes too, and I don't think anyone could argue that his website isn't among the most compendious food blogs on the internet, with its list of errata from the cookbook and dishware sources and twitter feed and who knows what else. So maybe Alinea at Home isn't the best one. Maybe it's like comparing apples and oranges. Maybe it's just my favorite one.

Of course it's my favorite one! Seriously, just read compare this entry from -at Home to this entry from -phile. I don't doubt that Alineaphile produced the plate of food that more closely resembled the one that would be served at Alinea, and he takes much prettier pictures of the whole preparation process to boot. But just look at Carol's entry at Alinea at Home. She does a lot of the prep work. She takes some pictures. She stays up until 3 AM making goose stock. She does the best she can. Then she finds out that the guests she was going to have over to taste the dish had a really bad week, and broke their arms and got sinus infections. So she takes all the components and reassembles them into a proper dinner to serve as comfort food. And then (this is the best part) she reflects on her blog on how all the complicated cooking techniques she's learned from working her way through the Alinea cookbook have improved her cooking skills--including the ability to whip up a celery root puree with veal sauce at a moment's notice for a comfort food dinner. If I had a blog about, say, Ad Hoc At Home, I hope it would have the same transformative effect on my life and cooking: work, take pictures, have a sense of humor, have people over, ask yourself, "What have we learned today?"

And while you're reading through Carol's entry, just listen to that last thing she ate--a salad of white grapefruit, pink grapefruit, blood orange, and cara cara orange with basil-lime sugar. Doesn't that sound great after eating three pounds of goose and stuffing and after breaking your arm?

It sounded so good that it inspired me to get out of my produce doldrums and to take a look at the embarrassment of citrus that is currently flooding the aisles of Berkeley Bowl. So maybe I couldn't buy morels or peas or pomegranates in February, but, hey, it turned out that there was a ton of cheap citrus that you don't see every day sitting there right in front of me--into my cart went a pomelo, two ruby grapefruits, some blood oranges, and a few tangelos. I got them home, assembled them into a huge salad of assorted citrus, and then, just to gild the lily, added some tarragon and vanilla sugar. Oh my, was that ever gilded. I didn't notice it at the time, but a few minutes after eating it I was still carrying around the heady aroma of the tarragon and vanilla with the tang of the fruit.

I will never wash this mouth again.

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