Julian Baggini writes in a thoughtful essay that high-end restaurants in the United Kingdom have thrown out the idea of “artisan” espresso and bought Nespresso machines, which use factory-sealed capsules of precision-ground coffee and can be operated with the push of a button. In fact, as Baggini discovered in a blind taste test, Nespresso is consistently better, or at least more consistently good, than “artisan” espresso made by hand. But, he asks, is a cup of coffee just a cup of coffee — just the momentary pleasure it gives us, a mere utilitarian instrument? Or is it something more — the sum of its relationships to other things?
The sandwich was, in short, a waste of cheese, bread, meat, and money. On reflection, though, I hadn’t nine dollars for a sandwich. I paid nine dollars for the idea of a sandwich.
One of the perks of baking bread at home — maybe half the point of baking bread at home — is the privilege of hacking off the crust while it’s still hot, slathering it with butter, and eating it messily over the sink. Cookbooks will tell you that bread only develops its full flavor after it cools, which may be true. They will also tell you that if you slice bread while it’s hot, you’ll crush it, which is definitely true. But I do it anyway. Damn the torpedoes and all that.
Thank God I didn’t live in the nineteenth century, though, because then, it would probably have killed me. Or so people said…
Funny how some things we traditionally do to mark the new year are long-term resolutions, while others are one-off celebrations. Eating right and working out? Oh, we’re going to do that every day. (What’s that? We said the same thing last year? Hush, child.)
Massive hangover? One-off celebration, I hope, and not a new leaf. On the up side, with a headache like that, the year can only get better. Think of it as a cause for optimism.
Frugality? Eating, say, a simple meal of beans and cornbread? Hum. Now that sounds like a resolution, and yet it seems to be a celebration. Half the South will be eating black-eyed peas today. Ninety-five percent of that half will be back to eating slab-o-meatwiches tomorrow.
I have never been able to get into the idea of eating black-eyed peas for New Year’s dinner.
“Let’s start the new year on scientifically sound footing,” writes Jane Brody in the New York Times. Maybe in addition, we could all start the new year by recognizing that our food — and ourselves — are more than just collections of chemicals.
The beef has been roasted, the cookies devoured, the wine and the eggnog drunk. Bits of ribbon still litter the floor. But there are leftovers, glorious leftovers, and it’s nearly lunchtime on the east coast. Huzzah, indeed.
In between shopping for bigger pants, though, let’s give a thought to those who had too little, or nothing at all, to eat yesterday, and today, and the day after. Better yet, let’s actually do something. Giving money isn’t all that needs to be done, but it is one thing, and thanks to the internet we can do that one thing without even getting off our holiday-sized behinds. (As a dozen emails a day remind me, not nearly all of them charitably.)
Sugar cookies can’t be too rich and buttery if you want to roll them, and the really good historical cakes and cookies aren’t cookie-like enough to pass for Santa fare. But we can mine those recipes for flavor ideas. Herewith, some historically plausible (1750-1850) flavorings for your Christmas sugar cookies that will kick them up a little without competing with the gingerbread. […]
Traditions have a way of growing sadly stale over the years, don’t they? The spirit that once animated them slowly dies, leaving only the dry outer husk of empty actions. Ah, but sometimes we can revive them by looking to the past, by finding the old spirit and sloughing off the dead forms. Sometimes we find that the original form of a tradition not only meant more at the time, but can mean more to us today. Sometimes the past is like a little hope chest, a little… er… hopeful thing. Or other.
This is not one of those times.
No, friends, today we’re going to talk about sugar cookies.
Today is the hundredth anniversary of Julia Child’s birth, and even Google is remembering her. (Although Google has a new home page every day anymore, so I’m not sure this is noteworthy.) What is there to say, really, that hasn’t already been said? When a few years ago I watched The French Chef on DVD, even after two decades of cooking almost every day and reading endless cookbooks I picked up a trick or two from nearly every episode. She was an effective teacher if one wanted to learn and an entertaining teacher even if one didn’t, and the instructional writing in her cookbooks is impeccable. Those aren’t compliments I give out lightly, and they ought to be enough of a commemoration.
In our hyperbolic culture, though, they’re barely noticeable. Witness Julia Moskin in the New York Times yesterday proclaiming the Apotheosis of Julia:
One of the arguments I’m making in my book has to do with the movement in American baking from simple and unadorned to fancy and visually enticing, and how that shift went hand in hand with the decline of craft and home cooking. I find it useful sometimes to try to graph and diagram things, even (especially?) when they’re not obviously quantitative, but when you’re writing cultural history, where “data” is largely fictional, you can easily oversimplify what you’re trying to visualize. What follows is a useful way to think about craft and ornament in baking, but take it with a grain of salt.