The Gleeful Gourmand: August 2012

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Pleasure of Reading M.F.K. Fisher

When asked why she chose to write about food and hunger, prolific writer M.F.K. Fisher replied, "When I write about hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth, and the love of it...and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied."

M.F.K. Fisher
Such a beautiful, simple, elegantly stated answer to a complex question. And that in a nutshell is what Mary Francis Kennedy Fisher was all about. But my foray into Fisher's writing didn't start with her. It started instead with Judith Jones, cookbook publisher extraordinaire; the woman who finally brought "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" into fruition, and with it catapulted Juila Child into stardom. She also, incidentally, was the person responsible for getting "The Diary of Anne Frank" published here in the United States. Jones's own memoir, "The Tenth Muse," is one of my most cherished books, and in it she talks briefly, but reverently, of M.F.K. Fisher. Not really knowing Fisher (I vaguely remembered hearing about her somewhere before), I was struck how she kept popping up in the subsequent memoirs I read from other famous chefs and restaurant critics.


Who was this writer? I wondered. Why did people in the food world speak about her so reverently? Why was she so important? I was determined this summer to find out, delving into the huge tome "The Art of Eating."  This compilation of five of Fisher's most loved works (Serve It Forth, Consider the Oyster, How to Cook A Wolf, The Gastronomical Me, An Alphabet For Gourmets) shows off the créme de la créme of her genius. Although I've only gotten through three of them, it was more than enough to help me understand why Fisher is so revered.

She is one of the most brilliant food writers I've ever read. Scratch that. She's one of the most brilliant writers I've read, ever. So what's so fantastic about her writing? How very uncomplicated it is, and yet how sensuous, witty, clever, and genuine it is all at the same time. Take her sublime "Serve It Forth" for instance. She effortlessly weaves a tapestry of the history of gourmet food and its evolution with memories of her culinary pursuits while living in Dijon, France. I learned so much, felt so much hunger, and even laughed aloud a few times. I was never once bored or itched to get to the next essay. I found myself lapping it up, and exclaiming tidbits to my husband - for instance, did you know that French cuisine, which is regarded around the globe as the finest cuisine, got its humbled beginnings not from French chefs, but Italians? In 1533 Pope Clement VII married his niece Catherine de Medici to Henry II, and she brought her Florentine cooks with her to Paris. Their innovations in her kitchen ignited a fire and lust for good food in France that has continued to this day.

Fisher in the kitchen, doing what she loved best.


Just like those Florentines who changed everything, so did Fisher with her writing. She was the forefront of a movement starting in the 1940s that demanded food to be regarded as something more than just sustenance. To read her now, decades later, is still a fresh, new joy. Ruth Reichl sums it up beautifully:

"Mary Frances has the extraordinary ability to make the ordinary seem rich and wonderful. Her dignity comes from her absolute insistence on appreciating life as it comes to her. You'll see."

"The Art of Eating" is a good place to start, but if you want to take smaller bites, you can purchase her books individually (Amazon.com is a good place to look) for a small price. If you love reading about food, there is no finer food writer than Fisher. As Reichl says, "I can't tell you how much I envy you the joy of reading Mary Frances for the first time. It will change your life."

Friday, August 10, 2012

Baptism and Tea Sandwiches

This past Sunday we had Savannah and Delia baptized! The girls did a wonderful job. We were really nervous for them leading up to it because they have been going through a pretty lengthy phase of "Stranger Danger." Since these days they're mostly in the nursery at our church, we were scared that all heck would break loose in the church during the baptism, especially when Father Steve went to hold them.

Liam was clearly not as thrilled as we were.
They proved us wrong and shone like the little superstars they are, not crying one bit. I dare say they actually kind of enjoyed it. Maybe that's because we had been prepping them during every bath time by dribbling water over their heads. Hey, it never hurts to be prepared! Anyway, it was such a beautiful, wonderful moment to see our girls finally be baptized and marked as Christ's own forever. We definitely missed Buck's parents who sadly couldn't make the trip from Hawaii, and Savannah's Godparents, Buck's brother Louis and sister-in-law Audra (she's due with twins of her own any day now!). We were thankful that Buck's best friend Shane stepped in for them to sponsor Savannah. My best friend Kiki came all the way from Texas and pulled double-duty as Delia's Godmother (she also stood in for her husband Rob, who is Delia's Godfather). We were so thankful for all our family and friends who came out to share the girls' special day.

Father Steve with Savannah (L) and Delia (R)
The luncheon afterwards was held at my mother's house, and the table setting for the buffet was very special as it boasted both my Grandmother's (Grammy Jeanne) tablecloth and my mother's Grandmother's table cloth. We served the usual crackers and cheeses, and fruit, along with my mother's amazing Gazpacho, and chicken salad sandwiches on yeast rolls. I also made an orzo salad and some tea sandwiches from Southern Living's May issue. What I liked so much about these sandwiches was that they were relatively easy, but they also weren't simple, boring flavors as tea sandwiches can sometimes have. The first was a traditional cucumber sandwich but the flavor was bumped up and more complex (and delightful in my opinion) thanks to some finely diced red onion, lots of fresh basil, and strawberries. The second was even simpler with cream cheese, orange marmalade and dried cranberries put together with turkey and a spring baby salad mix. I was nervous about the marmalade because it's not something I typically enjoy, but it worked well here. Perfect for a tea, or a light lunch, or even to snack on, the fillings can be made the day before.

Some Notes: On the cucumber sandwich, I would not dice the strawberries finely again. I'd slice them instead, allowing for a greater burst of flavor. I know it doesn't seem like the cut would make a difference, but I really believe it would. On the second, I went with a pre-packaged turkey. I would actually see next time if I could get some real roasted turkey (or chicken) to slice slightly thicker for a more robust flavor component. It also calls for pumpernickel, but I hate pumpernickel, so I just used plain white/wheat bread. I also omitted the nuts since we have a lot of nut allergies in our family. Be sure to freeze the bread slices until hard to make slicing the crusts easier. Each filling makes 2 cups, and each whole sandwich should use about a 1/4 cup filling.

Cucumber and Strawberry:
Stir together 1 (8oz.) package cream cheese, softened,; 1/2 cup peeled, seeded, and finely chopped cucumber; 1/3 cup mayonnaise; 1/4 cup minced red onion; 3 Tbsp finely chopped fresh basil; 1/2 tsp. finely ground pepper; and 1/4 tsp. salt. Spread on: white bread; sandwich with diced fresh strawberries.

Orange and Cranberry:
Stir together 1 (8oz.) package cream cheese, softened; 2/3 cup sweetened dried cranberries; 1/3 cup orange marmalade; and 1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans. Spread on: pumpernickel bread; sandwich with thinly sliced smoked turkey and fresh arugula.



Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Pie Safes! Keeps Your Pies...Safe!

You may have noticed that I haven't been very good about posting, and believe me, I feel like a blogging slacker. There are a few reasons for this:

1) It's summertime and my brain has turned to a sluggish ball of mush wherein no creativity shall spark forth. Instead, it is replaced by trying to come up with ways to keep 1 preschooler and 2 babies entertained (and thereby using up my quota of creativity), and how best to beat the ridiculous heat. The rest of my brain is occupied with the overwhelming desire to be at the beach, apparently its natural habitat.

2) Our camera broke at the beginning of the summer and we still haven't replaced it (and apparently fixing it would cost just as much as a new camera. Fun!). Knowing that blog posts aren't really that interesting without some sort of picture leaves me floundering. If I can't take a picture of the food, I probably shouldn't blog about it either.

However, I finally had some inspiration that I don't need to even take pictures of! What is this glorious inspiration?

The Pie Safe.

What's a Pie Safe you ask? (Or maybe you don't ask this because you already know what one is and are now snickering at the fact that I didn't know what a pie safe was until recently) Anyway, this is a Pie Safe:




It keeps your pies...safe. Like a vault of money at The Bellagio. Just kidding. Basically, it keeps the bugs out while allowing air to circulate through it thanks to the many little holes in a (usually) tin front, keeping the pies from getting moldy. They first arrived on the scene around the beginning of the 19th century in the homes of Pennsylvania German women who used it to store breads, pies, cakes, and cookies, and have now generally become antiques thanks to a little invention called the ice box (known to you now as the refrigerator). They really are beautiful to behold, and in some homes of people who enjoy collecting antiques they are used as cabinets to store all sorts of sundries.

For the record, if I owned one, I would only put baked goods in it. But I don't own one. Do you know how much these suckers cost?! Thousands. You read that right. At one point in time, most homes in America had a pie safe in the kitchen, which means that they could not have been very expensive. Yet now if you want to own this piece of authentic Americana, it could potentially cost you upwards of $3000. I don't know, to me that is simply ridiculous.

But what made me interested in the Pie Safe in the first place was a featured Pie Safe seen in Garden & Gun Magazine. This new Pie Safe was constructed to look vintage with heirloom type quality, but it was also a simple countertop job. And it was only $42. I've been obsessed ever since.

When I told my Mom about this she promptly related that my Grandma Hazel had a beautiful antique Pie Safe that sat for decades in her basement that was owned and used by her mother. When my Grandma Hazel passed away, my Mother begged my Father to save that Pie Safe, knowing it would be valuable at best, or at worst, a wonderful family heirloom. But I guess my Dad didn't see the beauty in it. How could he have guessed that his daughter would someday be obsessed with not only making pies, but something to put them in as well?

I like to think that somewhere out there someone bought that Pie Safe and cherished it, realizing that a true, beautiful Pie Safe should be put to good use. I hope that person was inspired to bake their little hearts out, and filled the Safe up with the best pies, cakes, and cookies they could muster.