Idiot’s Slattern’s Guide to Coping with Centigrade
So this morning I was thumbing through the Good Book, the oracle of all knowledge and wisdom, the fountain of inspiration for Western man. I’m talking, of course, about Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child and those two French broads who don’t really count except as back up. Gladys Knight had her Pips, Diana had Flo and Mary, and the great Julia Child had Simone and Louisette, at least until volume two when Louisette quit the band (“creative differences” one supposes). Of course after that it was just a matter of time before JC went solo and the rest, as they say, is culinary history.
Before we talk temperature, a word about the queen. If you want to learn to cook properly, buy both volumes of her book. They are available in paperback or you can choose from an endless supply of used ones on AbeBooks. The writing is clear, the terms are explained and the content is pleasingly antiquated — folding brains into sauces, making cold beef in aspic, the content of quenelles (you don’t want to know). But above all the voice of Mrs. Child comes through strong and clear, and as you read, you hear her ringing, off-kilter delivery in every sentence, phrase, and mot. Food for the body and the soul. You can also dip into her TV show on YouTube.
Doesn’t that make you feel good? I’ll bet you weren’t making your omelette correctly, were you?
Anyways, as I said, I was grazing in Julia’s fields of gold this morning and ran across her instructions for converting temperatures. Now, I know it’s the computer age and we can all just Google up a conversion chart, but come the rapture, I suspect the web will be among the first things to go down. Of course, you’ll still be wanting to convert the odd temperature, especially if the Germans come out on top (and it appears they may well), and we’re all finally force-marched into the metric system. So here’s how:
Fahrenheit to Centigrade
Subtract 32 — Multiply by 5 — Divide by 9.
350 F: 350 – 32=318. 318 x 5=1590. 1590/9=176.67 (call it 175 C)
Centigrade to Fahrenheit
Multiply by 9 — Divide by 5 — Add 32.
100 C: 100 x 9=900. 900/5= 180. 180+32=212 F (call it 200).
Coincidentally 100 C and 212 F are the temperatures at which water boils. So now you have also learned to boil water! This is the beauty of the Child approach.
Now, you’re on your own when it comes to that British Gas Mark business, though I think it’s based on shillings and crowns. If I ever figure out the difference between centigrade and Celsius, you’ll be the first to know.
I Like You, Hospitality Under the Influence by Amy Sedaris
This is one of my favorite cookbooks of all time, I suppose because it reminds me of my own life back in those hazy days before Dr. Feldman got the prescriptions balanced just so. Reading through it is, for me, like a walk down memory lane, a stroll through the past, a slow backward stumble into the three-day benders, stomach pumps and small town jails of yesteryear. It’s nostalgia with a twist, or perhaps twisted nostalgia would be a better description. Anyways…
If you’re familiar with my culinary ramblings, you’ll recall that I have a soft spot for the cuisine of the atomic age: casseroles, Jell-O, turkey divan and such. And until recently – like yesterday – I had thought that this kind of food had met a fate similar to that of Latin: more or less dead and just kind of limping along in places no one wanted to go, like church services and criminal court. Well, it’s easier to come by than you might think, and I’m big enough to admit I was wrong. In fact, after two days at the trough in Ohio I’m also big enough to land a fighter jet on.
That’s correct, I’ve just finished up a mini-tour through the heartland where the trees are turning, the air is clean, and the folks are unfailingly friendly. Unfortunately the coffee is thin, the gravy is white and apparently the Velveeta runs like a river through the entire region. Now, I have it on good authority that there is plenty of good food to be found in corn country, but I cannot honestly say that I encountered much.
Love her or hate her, Miss Lawson is for many the original short-cut taking, taste-as-you-go then eat-with-abandon kitchen slattern, and for that alone I will always be a fan. I stumbled upon Nigella Bites in 2001 and loved the show’s clever editing, Nigella’s girlfriend-y chatter and her refreshingly relaxed approach to both cooking and eating.
Over the years, however, as the domestic goddess juggernaut picked up steam, I began to feel a creeping unease, and by the time we got to Nigella Express in 2007, the experience of watching her cook had begun to make me squirm, and not in a good way. With adjectives multiplying like randy bunnies and the chatter taking on a, how shall I say, slightly overheated feel, the experience became more than I could reasonably endure, at least without a partner.
Witness the foreplay for a chocolate raspberry pavlova recipe:
“You just cannot beat a pav in summer, and in particular this dark beauty. The crisp and chewy chocolate meringue base, rich in cocoa and beaded nuggets of chopped plain chocolate, provides a sombre, almost purple-brown layer beneath the fat whiteness of the cream and matt, glowering crimson raspberries on top: it is a killer combination.”
Ooh, sorry. I just slid off the glistening seat of my rigid ebony desk chair, the fat whiteness of my pale, billowing ass tumbling with a surprising, yet somehow satisfying, plop onto the plush, mellow lusciousness of the ruby and citron carpet below.
Oh God, it’s happening again and all I’ve been looking at are YouTube videos.
My recommendation: Like that of the Rolling Stones, Nigella’s early work in both print and video is by far the best. Her cookbooks are worth buying, since most include several very good recipes and some great tips, for instance, when she suggests roasting beets rather than boiling them or serving deep fat fried Mars bars to your girlfriends, and don’t even think of telling me this does not appeal. If it doesn’t, you’re either hanging with the wrong crowd or need to get to Walmart more often, or both.
From Nigella Bites: Gingery-hot duck salad (because I find duck fat repulsive, I peel it off, melt a little in the pan to cook the duck, then chuck it as soon as humanly possible – up to you) and Vietnamese chicken and mint salad are fabulous, as is the recipe for Italian sausages and lentils.
In Forever Summer I like the cold beet soup. The slow cooked lemon garlic chicken is a real winner, too. The method is foolproof for producing meat that slides off the bone, though I usually omit the lemon and brush on barbecue sauce before the final high heat cooking time. Sticky, sweet and salty? You bet. That’s just the way I roll, but you may prefer the original.
Nigella and I part ways on the issue of mixing red and green ingredients in salads — I’m all for it, and I cannot urge you strongly enough to avoid the carrot and peanut salad; I tried it during my early, true-believer phase and it’s as delicious as it sounds. And let’s not even get into the watermelon, olive and feta salad. Even at the height of my fanaticism, I never even considered that one, no matter how convincing her argument in favor. Ugh.
And what is pavolva anyway?