Thank you, Julia

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This time I went with bacon… almost Quiche Lorraine

Not to get all Julie & Julia on you, but this post is about cooking…well, about cooking and writing. About cooking and writing and re-writing, to be precise. And the cooking part? Inspired by one of my favorite cooks—maybe you guessed?—Julia Child.

I used to make quiches all the time when my kids were home. It was kind of a Sunday morning tradition. But now, quiches are reserved for more special occasions. Like yesterday: my son’s girlfriend’s birthday brunch. Last time she was here (at Christmas time) we attempted a quiche together. The crust was gorgeous but the quiche itself? An unmitigated disaster. The problem was it never set. If you’re not a cook—or if you’ve never made a custard—you may not understand. It means that the quiche was a runny, watery mess. (In case you’re curious, I later found out through Internet searches that it was likely due to the asparagus I used in the filling… too much asparagus equaled too high a water content equaled the non-setting of the custard.)

I digress. Although the quiche filling was what failed last time, it’s the crust that I’ve always had more trouble mastering. But finally, through those years I was making quiche every Sunday, I could produce an amazing crust, as evidenced in my blog post on Writer Unboxed about the pie off (which clearly I won).

As I got out my well-worn, well-loved Julia Child French Chef Cookbook, here’s what I read as I loaded up the Cuisinart with ingredients (yes, that’s how I do it):

“Every serious cook should be able to produce a tender, crunchy, buttery pastry crust that is a delight to eat in tarts, quiches, turnovers, or quick hors d’oeuvre. The mastery of pastry dough is simply a matter of practice, as there is a definite feel in the hands you must acquire for mixing and rolling. Do a batch of pastry every day, if you are determined to learn and keep notes as you go along.”

I thought about the last quiche that M. and I made together, remembering that it wasn’t the crust that failed—it was near perfect, in fact (if I do say so myself). Although I hadn’t made a crust everyday, I had over the years become comfortable with making pastry crust, with the feel of it in the hands, as Julia said. It was then and there I decided to blog about yesterday’s effort, so I took some photos along the way.

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I did some patching…

But of course, wouldn’t you know it, as I rolled out the crust, it stuck to the mat and then it broke apart a bit. In years gone by, I might have gotten frustrated. In fact, ask MEH (My Engineer Husband), I have been known to throw pie dough across the kitchen a time or two. But this morning, partly because I’ve learned the way of the crust (and how to fix things) and partly because I was writing this post, I stuck with it. I finished rolling, put the crust in the pie plate, did some patching, and I crimped the edges.

It wasn’t totally perfect to look at, but it didn’t have to be. I knew that once I added the filling, it (probably) would be fine… although there is that danger point in the oven, when the crust could collapse.

Then I thought about something else. How much like my writing this is right now. I’m in revisions of my current work in progress. I started with a lump of dough and now I’m rolling it out. It’s unfinished and incomplete, but I’m patching it and crimping it and putting it in the pie plate everyday, sometimes over and over again each day. But I’m mastering it. And it’s looking (more) perfect. And that’s when I realized, that I’m writing the Julia Child way.

The mastery of pastry dough writing is simply a matter of practice, as there is a definite feel in the hands you must acquire for mixing and rolling revision and editing. Do a batch of pastry every day Put your butt in the chair everyday, if you are determined to learn and keep notes as you go along.

Thank you, Julia. For the pastry lessons and for the writing advice, too.

Cheers,

Julia

P.S. I’m also guest posting today on Jessica Null Vealitzek’s True Stories blog about the Great Ice Storm of ’98, in a post appropriately titled “The Great Ice Storm.” I’d love for you to visit me there, too!

Have you ever gotten writing advice in unexpected places? What’s your favorite thing to cook?

 

My Name is Ann, and I’m a Foodie


Ann’s food journal and a few of her HUNDREDS of cookbooks

I am so happy today to welcome my friend Ann as a guest to my blog! I met Ann when I first started blogging two years ago. She had a wonderful cooking blog, and I simply loved all the recipes she posted. We became fast friends. Last year Ann retired from blogging, but we still kept in touch and shared photos and recipes. Recently when I wrote a post about my new Moleskinejournal, I found out, in comments, that Ann keeps a very special kind of journal. I asked her if she would write a guest post about it. Being the generous friend she is, Ann agreed without hesitation, and I couldn’t be happier!
Please enjoy this post by my friend Ann!
About two years ago, I stumbled on Julia’s blog and since then, I’ve made a cozy home here as a devoted reader…and never left. Whodathunk?! A writer, who writes about WRITING who is so…interesting…so captivating?!  I figure that’s the hallmark of a talented writer, and Julia certainly is that!  She is positively MADE of awesome! 

My name is Ann and I am a foodie…

Recently, I came to the realization that canning and bread making are a lost art. I decided to take up the mantle and continue both. Happily, I discovered, both online and in person, that there are pockets of folks who think the same, and I am enjoying the old-fashioned culinary arts.


Speaking of old-fashioned…I have to confess that I adore electronics. I have an e-reader, an iPad, an iPhone, a Macbook, and a regular Mac computer. I keep my calendar, address book and just about everything else online. I haven’t bought a paper book in five years. I have, however, purchased 392 ebooks in that time (I checked…).

There is one exception—and to me, it’s an old-fashioned biggie! When it comes to cooking, I want a paper book. I want to touch it, I want to put tabs on marked pages. I write notes in the margins about the recipe and notate any changes I made. I cook 95% of the time from a cookbook and try 3-5 new recipes each week, so this is helpful to me. Did I mention that I have several HUNDRED cookbooks? 
So, here I am, a foodie chatting with a writer…

….who was gifted a Moleskine journal!


Julia and I started a conversation–via the comments section—about MY journal. The conversation quickly moved onto texts so we could chat more. Since I am a woman of limited interest, my journal is a FOOD journal!

I have a beautiful leather-bound journal where I keep my week’s menu, my grocery list and any party planning I do. When I have a party (or do the occasional catering for a friend), I keep a detailed plan, including the menu, timeline for cooking and setting up…even the table or buffet plate placements.

It’s also a resource when I want to re-make a recipe. Rather than search through all the books—which is it’s own kind of fun. I flip through my journal to the time I made the recipe, and I have the title, the date I made it, and what book and page number it’s on!

Flipping through my journal gives me a tremendous amount of pleasure and a great sense of accomplishment. I cheered Julia on with starting a journal…any journal!  Whatever you’re interested in, keeping a record of your time is never a waste of it. I am a richer person because of my little brown leather bound book, and I know Julia will enjoy her new Moleskine.

I also wanted to share another favorite. I think everyone has their favorite cookbook…here is mine! I love thisbook so much that if I’m stranded on a deserted island, THIS is the book I’d take with me!  This book has it all!  I love, LOVE it!  When it doubt, I run home to this book!  (This is not a paid endorsement—I’m a small fry who adores this book—no one’s paying me or twisting my arm, I promise!)

Julia asked if I was willing to make a recipe for you, and I did from my favorite cookbook. I made the classic (dare I say old-fashioned?) Quiche Lorraine. The classics are called that for a reason. This recipe is deceptively simple, but packs a real flavor punch. Rather than take up a bunch of room with the recipe, here’s the link!




…And here are a couple more iPhone shots (just a small sampling!) of what I’ve been canning lately!



Thanks a gazillion, bajillion Julia for letting me guest post on one of my favorite blogs, you really do rock, girlfriend! You rock, too, Ann! I love your journal even more now that I’ve seen the photos, and I love quiche and can’t wait to make the Quiche Lorraine! Your canning photos are wonderful, too…
Please let us know in comments: What’s your favorite recipe or cookbook? Do you keep a journal? Ann and I would love to hear all about your cooking, recipes, cookbooks and journals!


Cheers,
Julia & Ann

Using Food as an Inspiration for Writing




It’s Blogathon 2011 Exchange Day! Today’s post is written by blogger friend Jennifer Walker, who writes a cooking blog called My Morning Chocolate. I always look forward to Jennifer’s posts because we share a passion for both cooking and writing. She writes from the heart, and I can always count on a recipe that I’ll love. After you read Jennifer’s post here, head over to her blogsite to read my post about Blueberry Bran Muffins!


Using Food as an Inspiration for Writing

I’ve been bugging my grandmother and great-aunt, now 86 and 83, to teach me how to make Polish food for years. Last year, after I started my food blog and was looking for story ideas, they finally relented.


Kartoflane Kluski, a Polish potato dumpling dish

Through cooking pierogi and kartoflake kluski – handheld pockets filled with sauerkraut or cheese and potato dumplings respectively – I learned about the Baltimore community where my grandmother and great-aunt grew up, and about my great-grandmother, who I’ve never met.


I did write about these dishes on my blog, but I also found that cooking with my family was an even better springboard for writing about them. So I turned these bits and pieces of information into a reported essay about my family’s history, as well as the history of the Polish community in my hometown.



Here are a few ideas for using food as a way to write about your family and community:

1. Think about what you ate when you were younger. I actually don’t remember eating Polish food when I was younger, maybe because I was a picky eater. But think about what you ate during holiday get-togethers and birthdays. Think about whether you liked the dishes, and what they meant to you when you were younger. If there are any dishes particular to your culture, learn the history behind them and why your relatives continued to make the recipes.

2. Follow the food’s trail. I learned a lot about my great-grandmother because my grandmother and great-aunt told me about her food. For example, she used to make duck’s blood soup, cutting off the head of a duck and draining the blood herself. If I hadn’t starting cooking with my family, I probably never would have heard this story about a dish that only could have been made in a different time. See how far back you can trace your family’s recipes, and what these recipes tell you about the time period and the relatives you’ve never met.

3. Ask your family to cook with you. There’s a reason the kitchen is the center of so many people’s homes. Food just gets people talking. When I made Polish cookies with my family, I learned that my grandmother craved them constantly when she was pregnant. It’s a small detail, but a good one to use in a story. The good news is that you don’t even need to have old family recipes. If you cook hamburgers and French fries, ask your family members if they ate hamburgers and French fries when they were younger. The stories will flow from there.

What food did you eat when you were younger? Have you ever used food as a way to write about family or place?



Jennifer Walker was once deciding whether to go to graduate school for writing or cooking school. Writing won, but she decided to start a blog, My Morning Chocolate, to learn more about cooking. She hopes she writes posts that provide delicious inspiration for people who wake up thinking about food.

Why This Blog is Not About Arugula


Yes, it’s true. I was going to blog about arugula today. And hope of spring. Because Friday when it was almost 50 degrees and the sun was shining, I went to the grocery store, and there they were. The towering racks of seeds right inside the door. MEH (My Engineer Husband) and I almost swooned. Really.


When you live in Maine, and it’s dark and dismal and cold and icy for endless months on end, you take any sign of spring as an encouragement. Like the groundhog seeing his shadow. Like the garden thyme desperately peeking out from the only non-snowy corner of the driveway. Like one sunny day at the end of February. Like the seed towers at the local grocery store.


And so MEH and I oohed and aahed over every seed packet, every possibility, what should we buy as our representation of spring? To tuck into a prominent spot of the kitchen so we could appreciate the reality that someday soon we would return to the garden, dig up the beautiful bountiful earth, and engage in our yearly ritual of planting.


Flower or vegetable? Root crop or leafy green? Someone walking by might have thought we were playing 20 questions or Animal Vegetable Mineral. Someone walking by might’ve thought we were crazy. No we’re in Maine. They knew. They understood.


Finally of course we knew it had to be a vegetable. We passed by the beets, the spinach. Breakfast radish, a new favorite from last year, almost made the cut. But in the end, we went with arugula. This spicy, almost-bitter green sprinkled with balsamic vinaigrette, is the bee’s knees of culinary delight. Closing our eyes, we could almost imagine: feel the springtime, standing in the warm sun, pinching back the arugula sprouts, thinning and then devouring the tiny harvest. Sublime.


But instead more snow. Only lightly falling, but still. This morning an annoying reminder that we need to wait. And so for now the seed packet of arugula sits on the window sill. A small reminder that soon I will be able to begin to consider that maybe someday, I will sit and think and write and maybe even blog in the warm spring sun while I watch the arugula grow where now there is only snow.


Cheers,

Julia


p.s. How does the weather inspire or discourage you in your writing? What gives you hope for spring? If you’re a gardener, and you live in a warm climate, how’s the growing going?

Will Write for Thai Peanut Salad


One of my clients is a caterer. (And a very good cook.)


Mark and I became friends through our love of good food and good stories. And when Mark needed new ways to communicate with his clients, we talked about how I might be of help. I helped Mark set up a Facebook business page, and now we are exploring the best ways—through social networking and the web—to get the word out about his business.


Once, early on, Mark offered to pay me for my help. I refused. Instead, we worked out an exchange: I help him for a couple of hours each week, and he gives us a great homemade dinner. Mark’s cooking is delicious, and we look forward to something new every week: Thai Peanut Salad or Hearty Steak Pie or Penne with Grilled Chicken with Broccoli Rabe.


But the real value is in the discovery. The reality is that we live in a struggling economy in very small town in a low-population state. By swapping food for services, Mark and I are adopting the age-old business model of bartering. It’s mutually beneficial. He gets the word out about his business, and I get good food and a satisfied reference for my writing services.


And although it doesn’t fall neatly into tidy columns of dollars and cents, the meal also offers me value in kind. Once a week we get an excellent meal, while at the same time I am freed up from cooking—giving me more time to write. And by opening myself up to alternative economic models like this, I can allow myself to continue to pursue my life as a writer.


Cheers,

Julia


Does anyone else have experiences with bartering writing services? How has it worked? Is it worth it? Any tales of good or woe?