"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Tag: Alice Waters

a nice vinaigrette! . . .


vinaigrette photo

Last night, I tried out a new way to make vinaigrette. It included Alice Waters’ process of macerating a clove of garlic with salt in a mortar and pestle before adding vinegar and oil. Here’s the recipe with tweaking suggestions. It’s a combination of Alice Waters’ garlic process and my own vinaigrette ingredients.

Its success depends on tweaking the amount of vinegars, sugar and garlic – the macerated garlic tends to make it a little bitter, I think.

1. Peel a good sized clove of garlic. cut into pieces to make pounding it easier.

2. In a mortar with a pestle, scrape and press the garlic with 2-3 pinches of Maldon salt (sea salt) until the garlic is pureed.

    This is not as easy as it sounds and I’m thinking you could do it in a small food processor too.

3. Add 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar and 2 tablespoons Marukan gourmet seasoned Japanese vinegar.

4. Whisk in 6 tablespoons of olive oil until well combined.

5. Add 1 teaspoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of Poupon Dijon country mustard

6. Add cracked pepper and zest/juice of a wedge of fresh lemon to taste.

Now, you’ve got the basics and the tweaking begins – let it sit for a few minutes, whisk it again and dip a leaf of lettuce in it.

If it’s too bitter, I added more Marukan vinegar and more lemon. If it’s too sour, add a dab more sugar.

It’s very important to empty your greens into a salad spinner and soak it in very cold water. Rinse well and spin it thoroughly. Then store the spun greens in the fridge. This cleaning and rinsing step provides a freshness and the cold air a crispiness to the greens. Doing this ahead of time makes it so much easier to put the salad together when dinner is ready.

I like to keep a salad simple without too many ingredients since the dressing is complex. A handful of fresh thyme, basil cut up in strips goes with anything you want to include: fresh tomatoes, cucumber, red onion.

If I’m making a salad with fruit (fresh orange sections or pears with or without pomegranate seeds) I would omit the garlic macerating step and just make the vinaigrette with some chopped up garlic pieces marinating in the dressing ahead of time. The vinaigrette keeps in the fridge and also at room temperature if it’s not too hot.


judy rodgers . . .


This morning, inside the back of the second section of the New York Times was an obituary for Peter Graf, the tennis father (read ogre) of Steffi Graf who escaped her tyrannical father by marrying Andre Agassi.

Then, I glanced at the opposite side and gasped (literally) to see that Judy Rodgers had died. It’s not as though I ever met her, you see. But I have her beautiful cookery book called “The Zuni Cafe Cookbook” which won the James Beard Award when it was published in 2002. In the article, her cooking was described as “refined simplicity.” Her famous recipe for roast chicken with bread salad has circulated far and wide and was even published at the bottom of the page of her obituary today.

Still stunned, I went to the bookcase looking for her book and found her large, thick volume with the beautiful cover photo of nuts, nectarines and ham. THIS, dear reader, is why it is so gratifying to have a large library of books that I love, ever flowing throughout the house, in stacks on the floor, in old baskets, on the credenza waiting to be put away. To me, these books are like old friends who awaken to have a conversation once again.

Although my family eschews red meat for the most part, most of the time, somehow, I”ve had it stuck in my mind that we should have something beefy, English or some type of roast in order to feel “Christmas-y.” Last year, I roasted a filet of beef which was delicious although it’s not my favorite cut of meat. It also fed my granddaughter and her boyfriend the next day too. To be honest, I thought the homemade beef gravy was what made the meal so tasty. The depth of flavor entailed hours making homemade beef stock, offsetting the supposed benefit of being able to roast the filet in a short amount of time.

But this morning, struck by Judy Rodger’s untimely death (she was only fifty-seven,) I read more about her life and about her work. At the age of sixteen, living in St. Louis, she somehow ended up on a student exchange to France and was assigned to live at the home of the best chef in France: Jean Troisgros, “who happened to run one of the greatest restaurants in the world, Les Freres Troisgros, in Roanne.” As though Fate and Destiny had anything to do with her life’s calling?

Then, I turned my attention to looking through her cookbook, marvelling at the gorgeous photos of dishes. Paging through the book to the roast chicken and bread salad recipe,  I resolved, or settled my mind at least, to make it for our Christmas dinner this year. Although it may seem like a sentimental gesture (it is) and although I didn’t even know her, nor especially cooked from her book prior to this (I didn’t) my strong feeling today is to honor her memory by creating a very different kind of menu for this year’s Christmas Eve repast. I can’t wait to go looking for small, organic chickens under three pounds that are a requisite for this recipe. Brining them a day ahead with salt is an essential step. I think I will roast three birds in my beautiful old French copper roasting pan. And I will serve them placed on top of the bread salad with the vinaigrette recipe she suggests.

As a starter, her recipe for “Prosciutto and White Rose Nectarines with Blanched Almonds” sounds like a lovely beginning to the evening. Kale, prepared with garlic, onion and red pepper might be a robust side vegetable to have alongside the roasted chickens and bread salad. A modest cheese plate, according to Judy, and then a dessert such as “espresso granita with whipped cream,” (who cares if we can’t fall asleep, there are still plenty of presents to wrap, right?) Or, a toasted almond panna cotta with saba (whatever that is!) or a fresh peach crostata, served warm from the oven?

Perhaps I am reacting over-emotionally to the surprise of reading about her death, and I am kind of surprised at the intensity of my reaction to it all. I feel strongly that a menu of her recipes is just the kind of food that I would like to serve as a celebration of Christmas this year.

Godspeed, Judy Rodgers. And thank you!

Note: for a follow-up photo essay and description of how the roast chicken with bread salad turned out, please click here.


books . . .

bookcase 1Although I didn’t think ahead of time that I was going to do it, I am finding myself in the midst of my semi-annual (twice a year) bookcase clean-out. Or I could just say book clean-out because I seem to have them stacked in all sorts of places, waiting to go to the library as donations, or finding a place to remain. This time, I’m even donating some large format books. It’s an interesting exercise because it’s a little like looking at a mini-“this is your life” video as the books get sorted or discarded, noticing how my interests and tastes have evolved.

The first section of bookshelves nearest the kitchen is prime real estate for books I love and use the most: cookery books by hip, healthy cooks such as Andrea Reusing, Nigel Slater, Alice Waters, Deborah Madison, Holly Davis, Heidi Swanson. Bookending them are Julia Child, the Conrans, Ronald and Felicity Dahl, the River Cottage guy and the River Cafe in London cookbooks. A dozen each of Japanese and Chinese cookbooks, dim sum, bento box, asian grill, noodles galore, tofu and soba paperbacks are now grouped together on the third shelf down. This reorganizing and culling out has inspired me to look through some of my favorites (Holly Davis and Andrea Reusing) once again.

In the middle section are two shelves of Taoist and Zen poetry, writings, translations and books about the I-Ching, including half a dozen translations of that venerable book. There’s a mini-library of books about Cape Cod and the North Shore:  National Seashore volumes featuring towns of Eastham, Wellfleet and Truro; books about the stone quarries in Rockport. New England Transcendentalists, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s writings and Henry David Thoreau’s journal of his time on the Cape meet halfway on a shelf with Taoist poetry translations by Red Pine and Zen writings by Alan Watts.

I-Ching emerson bookshelf

Finally, there’s enough room without having to lay books flat onto vertically shelved books (except for my two-volume boxed set of the I-Ching at the ready whenever it’s needed.) Whenever that kind of cramming has overflowed, it’s time to cull them out. It happens often in August, for some reason: must be because it’s so hot and one of the most uncomfortable times to do it.

There are five cartons of books to load into the car and take down to the public library today. Wednesday is their donation day and I’d just as soon have them out of the house so that I can enjoy the books that now have more breathing room. I’ve been remonstrating with myself lately about continuing to buy books when there’s no more room, but am glad to see how much richer my library is now than it used to be.

At the library, I’ll have a chance to look up and borrow some of the books that were suggested at the memoir writing class last week. It’s an opportunity to broaden my reading without buying more volumes, at least not today.