Good evening, friends and neighbors!
This week has been more than a little crazymaking and exhausting, and as such, I don’t have a really solid blog post ready for today.
In the meantime though, as a way of recompense, here are a couple excerpts from my upcoming book!
- The book as a whole will be on food and dining philosophy.
- Each of the 5 chapters of the book will be an essay looking at a part of the culinary world and dining experience.
That’s all you get right now, but keep an eye on this blog for more details. If you’re REALLY excited after reading these excerpts, consider supporting my Patreon!
Make no mistake- cooks, chefs, and bakers are artists. We are called upon to be so regularly, in one form or another. Even if we aren’t directly involved in the creative aspects of our work- after all, it doesn’t take a whole kitchen to design a dish or a single pastry- those of us who actually make those concepts a reality are called upon to be artists in our execution. We are called upon to quick, instinctual, precise, exacting, and demanding of ourselves- to regularly put forward perfection seemingly effortlessly. We are artists- and artists recognize each other.
Some years ago, I accompanied my wife (a piano teacher, and then my girlfriend) to a cocktail party of her teaching peers. I felt a bit out of place- I was not a teacher, and hadn’t even taken formal music lessons in at least a decade. As I walked around and tried to mingle, the first question was- predictably- “What do you teach?” When I answered in the negative, the response was always a small nod and understanding smile. “Oh, gotcha… you’re The Husband/Partner. So… what DO you do?”
As soon as I said “I’m a baker,” lights came on in their eyes. The conversation was no longer just being polite to a fish out of water- it was interest.
“Oh wow! I have SUCH a sweet tooth- what’s your favorite thing to make?!”
“Oh man, that’s awesome! I have this recipe from my grandmother, and I make it every year…”
“You’re a baker? Ok, so I’ve got a question- I’ve been trying to go gluten-free, and I have this recipe for…”
I was busy most of the rest of the night talking food with a group of people I didn’t think I’d have anything to say to. Amazingly- or perhaps not SO amazingly- artists are passionate people, and passionate people are passionate about a LOT of things.
That was the scene of one baker in a party full of musicians. Consider then what happens when a number of other professional cooks get together.
Some of my favorite moments in my career are when I can meet with other pros- usually over a drink or two to take off the edges of a busy day- and talk shop. We compare concepts, menus, and ideas. We argue about business and equipment. Certain things are understood without saying- a shared experience, just for us, sealed in blood, sweat, and fire- and we talk about why we do what we do.
Even outside of the synagogue, hospitality was something I was raised to aspire to- some of my earliest and happiest food memories involve helping my parents prepare for dinner parties at our home on the Jersey Shore. There’s always work for a nudgy 8-year-old boy in the kitchen if you keep it simple and creative enough- and perhaps don’t mind some of the food mysteriously vanishing. With a barely-sharpened paring knife, my mom would set me to slicing canned hearts of palm and marinated artichoke hearts for hors d’oeuvres, laying out crackers on trays (“No, not in a PILE, Matt! Like playing cards, make them look pretty!”) and small bowls of olives after being taught how to drain the brine from the can.
My father, meanwhile, lost no time in teaching me how to light and use the grill in our backyard. He made sure I learned the secret family recipe for hamburgers (at least six different additions with no concrete measurements- you have to smell it to know when you’ve got it right,) and somewhere there is a picture of me VERY nervously holding a live lobster prior to boiling. When it comes to hospitality, however, nothing shines more clearly than my grandmother’s dining room table.
My father’s mother Mildred (or “Bubba Mitzi” as we all called her, “Bubba” being Yiddish for “grandma”) was very much the matriarch of my family. Visiting Bubba meant hearing “Are you hungry?” within the first few minutes, followed- regardless of one’s answer- by offerings of chicken soup or banana chocolate chip cupcakes, always on hand in a tub in the freezer. Holiday dinners at her house, gathered around the giant, knobbly-legged wood table in her dining room were a foregone conclusion, and it ALWAYS meant a good time. It was around that table that I witnessed the power of home-cooked food to change people’s behavior and soothe their hearts.
My family was large, loud, passionate- and occasionally contentious. There was rarely anything said that was deliberately spiteful or hurtful, but arguments and debates were as likely as anything to get loud quickly. Around Bubba’s table, however- perhaps because of her food, or because of the presence of Bubba herself- that would change. Arguments might still break out, but they were based more on the events of a family story, and the joke “it takes no less than five Strengers to tell a single story.”
Bubba rarely asked for help in the kitchen (she had raised three boys and spent much of her life moving around the country- she knew how to make do) but she would accepted volunteers. The menu was a rotating cast of family staples- Matzo Ball Soup to start, then Grape Tomatoes marinated in Caesar dressing, potato kugel tinged green from dill, two styles of brisket, with corn pudding, fruity jello mold, and the semi-legendary triple chocolate cake for dessert. She would then occasionally be content to enjoy a glass of wine while others cleared the table and her kids did the dishes.
Regardless of when, how, or why you were in Bubba’s house, it always meant the same thing, the same message:
“You are safe here. You are loved here. Anything wrong is outside and can wait.”
In the meantime, if you want to be among the first to get more book news and news in general for what’s going on behind the scenes, consider supporting my Patreon!
By supporting my Patreon for even $1 a month, you help me do more with this blog and all the other projects I want to bring to you- projects about eating well, living healthy, and finding the odd beauty in ordinary life. As a thank you, at different level of donation, you get special bonuses and perks!
If you don’t want to/ can’t support the Patreon, that’s okay! No guilt here, and the blog will always be free for you to enjoy as you have been- but my Patrons are always the first to hear upcoming news, next steps, and even suggest and vote on upcoming topics! You can change your pledge level whenever you like, and cancel it whenever you want- no fees, fines, or hassles.
Have a good night all! I’m gonna go somewhere quiet and sit down a bit, maybe get some more work done…