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May 2009

The Cheat

Truffles I planned to roast a chicken for the kids and ourselves on Sunday, but we spent the day celebrating my nephew’s first communion, on the Upper West Side, and by the time we got home it was too late to cook the bird.

So I had to improvise, which is rarely a problem for me. I’m a strict believer in keeping a fully stocked larder. My refrigerator is almost always full, and my freezer is consistently packed with soups, stews, and other things that are easy to prepare at short notice. When the apocalypse comes, I’ll be the one throwing a dinner party.

I reached for something that the kids always love: D’Artagnan’s chicken sausages with truffles. They are one of the most tasty things in the house (and while preparing them hardly qualifies as cooking, the purchasing of them has to stand for something).

When Nina was a newborn, one of my aunts (actually, all of my aunts) said I was going to spoil that child. They were right. I was in my late twenties before I heard of a truffle, and I was older than that before I even tasted one. Nina and Pinta have been eating them all their lives.

Years ago, I helped finance a trip to Provence by writing a travel piece for Time Out New York. The subject: truffles. This was back when you could get a round-trip ticket to Paris on Air Pakistan for about five-hundred dollars, which was what Time Out paid. At the time, though I had never tasted a truffle. I only knew that they had commercial value—hence my assignment—and no one asked me if I actually knew what I was doing.

We had a fantastic time in France, visiting Vaison-la-Romaine, staying with friends, cooking beef daube with wild mushrooms, and eating in Michelin one-star-restaurants. There was one problem. I didn’t get to taste an truffles. I tried. I even made an hours-long drive to an obscure truffle museum (where everything was in French, a language that my knowledge of stops with “Je cherche por un goûter de Armagnac,” a phrase I uttered on a subsequent visit to Bordeaux, but that’s another story). We were there a bit too early in the season for the region’s famed markets and I didn’t find any on the menus where we were eating.

Still, I had to write the piece, so I did the next best thing to tasting truffles myself. I found an expert to give me a quote. An English guide who led high-priced tours to the truffle markets quite rightly captured the odd and wonderful allure of truffles, when she said, “they are like B. O.; you smell them once and then you smell them everywhere.” Unfortunately, this quote appeared in print (due to an editing error) as “Truffles smell like B.O.,” which is not quite true.

At home on Sunday, I sliced up the sausages, browned them quickly in a pan, and served them with steamed broccoli, which the kids love to dip in a balsamic vinaigrette. Near the end of the meal, Nina, full of food and good cheer, stood up and said, “Daddy, you are the best cook ever.” It’s not hard to get praise like that when you start with truffles. The meal was so easy, it felt like cheating. 

The Rituals of Victuals

I’ve set up this website for a number of reasons. One is to be a source for recipes and inspiration for dads (and others) who like to cook. The other is to help me remember what I’ve eaten for breakfast (and lunch and dinner).

There’s a New Yorker cartoon by Bob Mankoff that shows a lone diner at a restaurant saying to the server, “Waiter, I’d like to order, unless I’ve eaten, in which case bring me the check” (you can see the drawing here). I’m not quite that bad—I always know when I’m hungry—but I identify with the absent-mindedness, and it leaves me feeling hollow.

So it was with the eagerness of a high-school-English student discovering Fitzgerald that grabbed onto a passing colleague’s comment the other day. I was at the coffee station at work, and I saw an odd sight for that stark office setting: a fancy immersion blender. I was keen to strike up a conversation with its operator, having once written a paean to the device.

I asked him what he was doing with it. He was frothing his milk for his coffee. He explained his methodology (froth first, then microwave) and, perhaps feeling self-conscious about the equipment, added a quip. "It's important to ritualize your drug habit, because otherwise it wouldn't be sacred."

I don’t know about drug habits, but I’m all for making the everyday bit more sacred. I’m hoping the ritual of writing about my adventures in the kitchen sanctifies the experience. And that provides an inspiration for others.