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September 2014
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November 2014

October 2014

A Halloween Fright: Thoughts on Learning to Cook and the Value of Blogging


Back when my book “Man with a Pan” came out, I was often asked about how hard it is to learn to cook. I had a good answer, I thought. I used to say that learning to cook is like learning to ride a bicycle: Tricky at first, but once you get it, you can go anywhere.

Only recently did I fully realize how apt a metaphor that is for the home cook. A bicycle might take you anywhere, but it won’t take you very far, very quickly. For a home cook, that’s just fine. You learn a dozen or so techniques, the recipes follow, and soon enough (meaning a couple of years, but when you are raising kids, that goes by in a blink), and, well, you’re cooking every day, and everyone is happy.

That pretty much describes my life, which is fine except for, perhaps, this blog. I’ve hit a limit with what I can offer. I’m riding a bike, not a motorcycle (which might be the metaphor for someone who goes to culinary school—watch out, don’t open a restaurant and crash!), so I find it harder and hard to find useful things to post about. I might want to eat my roast chicken, black beans, and Bolognese once a week, but does anybody want to read about it over and over? (John Lanchester, in the current New Yorker, talks about this much more eloquently.)

Also, as much as I love cooking and writing, my true love is drawing. I’m figuring out how to motivate myself to draw more (it’s complicated, just ask my therapist), and I took note of a recent piece in the New York Times about a Japanese organizer named Marie Kondo. Her new book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” advocates discarding “everything that does not ‘spark joy’,” according to the article. She give instructions to carefully fold (and consider) everything in one’s possession, imbibing them with the utmost care. 

Believe me, my kitchen (to say nothing of my house and life) could use a bit of tidying up, so I was interested. I’m not convinced I should follow her advice completely, but I realized that I could draw my possessions instead of folding them, and in that get better organized (in every sense of the word).

Drawing sparks joy in me every time I do it. I’m going to start with things in the kitchen, because that’s where I spend the most time. I’ll draw my staples. I’ll draw my storage containers. I’ll draw my drying dishes. I’ll draw anything. And I hope to learn how to run my kitchen better by taking such care. As I do, I’ll share my insights with you. 

In honor of Halloween, I present a drawing of one of my key staples, garlic. It is something that everyone should have around the house at all times. It keeps well, and is beyond useful, and not just in repelling vampires. Tell me how you use garlic, in a comment or by email, and I’ll send the person with the most creative response (and best recipe) a print of the drawing.

Halloween Special: Burbling Blood Blondies


Every year we make special Halloween treats—candied kale chips with crystallized tofu-and-powdered shiitake puffs. Just kidding! That sounds too scary, even for a natural-food, organically minded home cook like myself. Something like that would give me nightmares.

Halloween food should be fun. When I was a boy, I remember my older sisters having sleep-over parties on the holiday, where they would play games involving cold cooked pasta and blindfolds, making miniature haunted houses. Or so I imagined, because, apparently, I was too frightening a figure to be included in their games. What little I learned came by listening from the top of the stairs after bedtime to their distant squealing. But it’s no longer so hard to get information on Halloween parties. If you want to make a killer Halloween dish, the Internet is full of ideas, from Halloween cupcakes to monster cakes.

I have a contribution to that graveyard of sweet delights—Burbling Blood Blondies. They are Santa Maria’s invention, and they are gooey and delicious. I hope you like them. You can find the recipe here, on the page for Kraft’s Tastemaker program, which sponsored this post.

A Little Raita Changes Everything


About a month ago, we had a typically harried night. Actually, about a month ago, it was just the start of school, so what I might have thought of then as being “typically harried,” was, in retrospect, part of a significant transition during the year. Sometimes we can’t see what’s happening until we get a bit of perspective on things. Lately, I've been trying to give myself the space (mentally, emotionally) to find that perspective in a given moment. As soon as I figure out how, I’ll let you know. I might have a PhD in something or another before I reach that level of achievement (or be six feet in the ground), so for now, I’ll stick to what I know: making dinner

Making dinner can be a pain in the neck. But once dinner is made, it can be transformative. On that September night, I was tired, and not yet used to getting up at 5:45 A.M. during the week (which is the hour I need to rise to exercise, get myself ready for work, and get lunches for the kids—Santa Maria usually makes breakfast, and, yes, I like to allow myself time to eat that, too), so I did not feel like making dinner when I came home from work.

I knew that it was going to be tough in the evening, so I was prepared. That morning, I had pulled some wild Alaskan salmon from the freezer, and it was defrosting in my refrigerator. And earlier that morning, I had chiffonaded some kale, for a quick and easy, kid-pleasing salad. Not wanting to do any other work in the kitchen that night, I bought a bit of fresh bread from a Le Pain Quotidien near my office. I was feeling pretty good about things when I rolled through the door at 6 p.m.

But things didn’t go exactly as planned. The salmon wasn’t fully defrosted, and the kids were cranky (having not yet adjusted themselves to being back in school), and they were protesting the notion of fresh bread. They wanted pasta. Luckily, when I gave them a piece of bread, they changed their mind. Kindness can have that effect on people.

While I waited for the salmon to finish cooking (it was taking a while, being half frozen), I couldn’t just stand there. I had to do something. So I make raita. I diced a cucumber, chopped some dill, and mixed it with a bit of yogurt and olive oil. 

When sat down to dinner, the raita turned the salmon into a proper dish, adding flavor and chunkiness. The kids adjusted, as their blood-sugar levels stabilized, and before we knew it, everyone was having a good time. I asked Nina about her day, and she didn’t respond. I said it was an earnest question, and she replied, “Earnest? Then she and her sister stared singing “Ernest and Rebecca; Ernest and Rebecca; Ernest and Rebecca,” over and over, and laughing. It didn’t make any sense to me, but it made my day. 

Dill and Cucumber Raita
  • 1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped.
  • 1 cup non fat yogurt
  • 1 fistful of dill, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon or more olive oil
  • Sea salt and pepper to taste

Combine the ingredients and enjoy. It can turn any salmon or chicken dish into something special.