Friday, July 25, 2008

I miss the AQR

Since when did it become appropriate to have a full on conversation in the library? And on one’s cell phone no less? More troubling is the advent of the library meal. The person at the table next to mine is eating some sort of wrap, and not discreetly. The foil wrapper is splashed across the desk and she’s slurping on a soda. And there’s a librarian not two feet from her who hasn’t made a comment. It’s not just here, but at various libraries I’ve visited recently, where library dining is really taking off. Have we said goodbye the days of furtive library eating? When did it become socially acceptable to eat without hiding when among books and computers and people at work?

Admittedly, I found the covered container exception a bit progressive when I first heard about it. Drinks and books? It seemed like a recipe for disaster. But then it’s not really about books anymore. They’re secondary. Studying and playing around on the internet seem to come first. As I sit here sipping my coffee, I wonder, “will I ever get used to, or even adopt the library meal?”

I’ve taken advantage of the not-at-all-secret library meal exactly once. My study partner suggested we get lunch, by which I thought she meant we’d gulp down some food and return to our books, hoping there wasn’t a hot market for stolen wills and trusts casebooks. When we got our sandwiches, she said, “ready to head back?” “Where to?” “To the library. We can eat lunch and work.” I was incredulous. “Out in the open?” “Yes, I do it all the time.” Clutching my sandwich and fries, I felt sheepish entering the library, bastion of books that one likes to think are free from greasy fingerprints. I thought I’ve have to sneak my lunch by the guard, but no, I was able to walk in, foil-covered plate in full view, and no one stopped me. It was a good lunch, and certainly productive. And yet I felt judgmental about my lunch, and not in a good way. It felt wrong to flaunt my meal in front of everyone. So I’m saying no to not-at-all-secret eating in the library. Sure, I’ll continue to indulge in the occasional silent library snack hidden from plain view, and there will be moments when I wonder if it was a wise decision to leave my stuff unattended for an hour, but for my main meal I’ll exit the library. I guess I'm just old-fashioned that way.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

another half year's worth of books

It's been kind of a slow reading year. I have a vague notion that I've left things off this list, but I can't seem to focus my brain on what those might be. In the meantime, it's been a pretty good (and sometimes even great) reading year.

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant
Jenni Ferrari-Adler (ed)
There are anthologies that grab you, and this one grabbed me. It's also an entire volume devoted to cooking alone, eating alone, and dining alone (yes, there is a difference). Reading about the weird things other people eat when left to their own devices in the kitchen brought me comfort that my own weird meals were keeping good company. Experience several author's routines when eating out alone. It's a solitary book, but never lonely. I loved it.

Letters to a Young Chef

Daniel Boulud

I didn't know what to expect from this little book. I've read about his restaurants, and being on the upscale side of things, I was expecting something pretentious. Instead, I found a series of friendly letters, not at all know-it-all, but heartfelt and fun to read. Having seen a few episodes of After Hours with Daniel Boulud since my reading, the book makes more sense. His show is irreverent, and though the jokey humor doesn't make it onto these pages, I can see that he hasn't strayed far from his love of cooking.

Fork It Over: The Intrepid Adventures of a Professional Eater

Alan Richman

This book is at least a few years old and already it shows its age. The author is also a bit more old school, writing from the perspective of french is best. Some of the items presented as exotic clearly aren't at all unusual today. I know it's not supposed to be historic, but reading it, I felt like I was in a sort of time warp.

Death by Pad Thai: And Other Unforgettable Meals

Douglas Bauer (ed)

The title says it all. I've been reading this sporadically for months which is funny because it's the slimmest volume of today's selections, and I still have a couple vignettes go. Why so slow? Certain stories grab me, certain ones don't. As anthologies go, its an unintimidating, fun read. It's probably much better than my lukewarm note here, but since I haven't picked it up in a while, I've for forgotten some of the unforgettable meals. The pad thai story though - truly unforgettable.

The Nasty Bits: Collected Varietal Cuts, Usable Trim, Scraps, and Bones

Anthony Bourdain

I read Kitchen Confidential a long time ago, and I remember being not terrifically impressed by his storytelling at the time, so it was with low expectations that I started this book. It's a compilation of pieces he's published in magazines and such, sort of organized, but kind of random and really conducive to reading at one's whim. Possibly because I've just started watching No Reservations of late, as I read I couldn't help but hear the cadence of his voice, complete with shades of mockery and disgust. My read was all the better for it. Bolder, more outrageous, and just plain hilarious. The author commentary made my read even better!

Dishwasher: One Man's Quest to Wash Dishes in All Fifty States

Pete Jordan

When I saw this book on the bargain rack I just had to have it. Maybe it was the jaunty cover. Mostly it was the concept. Simple and with the potential for such great stories. And there were some funny stories. But stop reading here if you don't want to know how it ends. He didn't finish his fifty state circuit. I felt so cheated! Still, it was an enjoyable read with moments that made me laugh aloud, and other moments where I was perfectly okay skimming. Not really about food, but it did take place all around it.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Library Snacks

In: quiet snacks like chocolate and sandwiches (you can guess the variety)

Out: snacks that can't be consumed without a commotion, like carrots, trail mix, and ice cream (okay, so I've never actually tried this last one in the library, but clearly I've contemplated it)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

I totally thought it was a joke.

Frozen yogurt and sunglasses? It's an unlikely pairing, but ultimately sort of brilliant. When a friend told me about San Mateo's newest yogurt addition, I just couldn't envision it. On a recent evening I finally visited the shop and discovered that it was all mirrors and chrome. Stylish, if pricey frames decorate one wall, and when you get sick of browsing the myriad of shapes there's yogurt. Lots of it. The tart yogurt was so cold that it froze the raspberries into crunchy fruit nibs. Whereas other yogurt shops attempt to balance tiny portions of toppings on top of tiny servings of yogurt, the folks here heap yogurt into a gigantic cup, throw toppings on top of the first serve, and then heap more yogurt into the cup with a follow-up of more toppings. Their smallest size is a large, and for the daring there's ultimate. Perplexed (and admittedly delighted) by the gigantic yogurt serves, I somehow managed to polish off the entire cup. Was it the conversation? The people watching? I'll only find out with a return visit.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Breakfast of Champions

I always forget that I like donuts not piping hot, but after they're had time to cool a little. Even so, I was so excited about by first visit to Stan's Donuts in nearly a year that I started eating right away. Warm yes, but also doughy and seemingly underdone. After I'd had a chance to get my coffee, I had another bite and it was gloriously restored. Light, satisfyingly sweet and almost eggy, the donut was exactly as I remembered, the best donut in the universe; others are inevitably bland. The crunchy glaze falling in pieces all over me was the only downside of this particular pastry.

And if that wasn't enough, I had to have a cake donut too. It's always a dilemma. I'm glad I got both.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Aptly Named

For Candy Cots, I'd forgo candy. They were firm and not all that orange, but wow, so sweet and fragrant. These deserve every letter of their cutesy name.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

It's decided

I'm not a huge fan of the Food Mill peanut butter. Wanting to give it a fair chance (and without other peanut butter options), i made several sandwiches over the course of the week. While chock full of peanuts, it's lacking in peanut flavor. Next up: Adams Natural Peanut Butter.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

If only it wasn't 103 degrees out today...

After reading today's delightful NYT article on chocolate chip cookies, I really, really want one. Or some. Preferably home made. And yes, warm.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Revelation, Disaster, and Still Undecided

Home one morning with a freshly-made peanut butter sandwich, but wanting to take the chill out of the bread, I popped the entire sandwich into the toaster over for two minutes and was pleasantly surprised to bite into a crispy sandwich. A panini, without the pressing. With this shortcut, it's likely I'll never eat peanut butter on toast again!

And then in the "what was I thinking category," I totally misjudged a recipe and came out with a cake that I'm currently trying to re-imagine as something else. I was craving chocolate chip cookies, but in the name of daring (and wanting to waste some time, I suppose), I settled upon a Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Crumb Cake from an untested chocolate book. The name is a mouthful, the cake not so much. I made the mistake of using natural peanut butter, which I find usually gives inferior baking results compared with Skippy or Jiff, with all of its additives. I also used non-fat milk where whole milk would have made more sense given the extremely skinny nature of the recipe. It's a dry, dusty cake, with a hint of peanut butter flavor and a weird peanut cocoa crumb topping. I knew it was bad news by the time I started assembling the cake since it was far too doughy to portend light and fluffy. Maybe it will morph into biscotti. Then again, maybe it will just remain one of these baking disasters. I can't say that I see much potential for this cake. Next time I'm making chocolate chip cookies.

Finally, on the gourmet peanut butter front, I've just opened a jar of locally made crunchy peanut butter from The Food Mill. There seems to be a bare minimum of oil added, so it's kind of like a peanut butter paste. Pros: it's can't separate. Cons: it's just a mash of peanuts, and not much butter.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

More Snacks

rosy berries ripe
tumble with rogue river blue
dulcet mellow pair