Friday, December 31, 2010


Photo courtesy Flickr

This year I resolve to take life in small bites, to pace myself, to drink twice as much water as coffee, to melt dark chocolate into every bowl of oatmeal, and to make sure my energies exceed my commitments.

That would sound better in Latin, but that’s how it’s gonna be this year. If I remember.

-30- More after the jump.

Thursday, December 30, 2010


Photo courtesy Flickr

At times, I worry that a blog will reveal pitiful ignorance. This may be one, or it may be a rediscovery of one of the graces of the old kitchen ways.

It’s very useful to have a warming function. One bitter winter I cooked on a wood stove that had had an oil burner installed in it. The thing ran all day long-it was a source of heat as well as food-and I loved that elegant hunk of iron and nickel.

Over the cooktop was a warming shelf. A hot plate keeps food hot longer. There’s a chef in Napa county who cooks fish on one side only, using a hot stoneware dish to finish the job when he serves.

Recently, guests called to say they’d been delayed for dinner but were on their way. For better or worse, I carry on as planned when news like this arrives. I had fired up a midget cast-iron stove with half a dozen tea lights to use as a warming center, and I just parked the main course on it as dishes came off the grill and out of the wok.

Much of my training in cooking involved getting the timing of courses right so things were at their peak when they came to the table. The meal would have been a decent one by Northwest standards if it had been served on time. An extra forty minutes holding warm turned it into an old-fashioned down home spread, everything cooked a little too long, but over such gentle heat that nothing really suffered.

The oil-fired cookstove that taught me the value of a hot plate in an icy room also taught me the value of inefficiency. Its thirty by forty inch steel top was a forgiving surface to work on with an infinite range of temperature and ample space for any number of pots.

It’s damned hard to plan a party so that one can enjoy it oneself. Generous warming facilities and a country approach to cuisine take the sting out of timing.

-30- More after the jump.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas Clutter

Turning out three back-to-back holiday meals points up stagnant places in the kitchen, little spots where useless inventory has taken root, pull dates have expired, agendas have reached a dead end.

When you run across a petty stumbling block, let it go, and let it go fast. One day’s waste isn’t going to sink the planet. What counts is what happens on the other three hundred sixty-four.

Traffic engineers design facilities for the ordinary daily load and let peak demands fend for themselves. That’s the best way to get the most out of every dollar and every hour of labor.

-30- More after the jump.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Feast of Lights

Photo courtesy Flickr

It is said that a technology becomes art after it is rendered obsolete. Suddenly, I cherish incandescent light bulbs. I know they “waste” energy-that wasted energy is part of my heating system.

A fellow in the United Kingdom is marketing archaic incandescent bulbs. Don’t recall the details, but a local boutique has some of these things in its display window. I wasn’t quite ready to pay the price for one lightbulb, but I noticed the trusty Square Deal hardware store offers the same format in three watts on a chandelier base.

Rummaging around for tree lights the other week, I found a salvaged string of ten chandelier bases. It seemed ideal for deep-retro lighting, and after the in-house techie set up a dimmer, we are enjoying the subtle fire of ten glowing filaments amplified across three dozen two-inch glass gold spheres.


More after the jump.

Monday, December 27, 2010

After-Action Report 26 December

Photo courtesy Flickr

Every hostess secretly understands Christmas as the Long March. The three back-to-back holiday meals of Christmas’s Eve, breakfast, and dinner tax the best-organized households, all four or five of them, and the rest of us as well.

This year I nudged my partner out of the kitchen and tried to remember how to cook, after a year of steamed vegetables, whole grain carbs, and the odd bit of lean protein now and then. Planning meals on the morning of the twenty-fourth lent a mild urgency to the process that produced a new efficiency: I contracted the three menus into one extended presentation with few variables. If the guests change, the menu doesn’t have to.

Leftovers from Christmas Eve, traditionally a meatless feast, formed the first course of Christmas dinner. Newly inherited cocktail forks made it easy to tuck an ounce of seasoned crab into a juice glass and call it good.

Hey, all those courses evolved before refrigeration, when use or lose was the rule. I would have renamed December twenty-third’s curried chicken and served it over fettucini, but the gluttony meter was edging into red.

We expected a mid-Western pie champion to bring her very own triple-decker split hickory transit case, and no one was disappointed. Anyone who’ll bake Harry and David’s pears into a custard tart can show up on my doorstep any time.

-30- More after the jump.