Maude

do you not know how to edit
when what you know is more than
you should say

how to keep you lips tight

when it has been made clear from the
beginning that there is no place
for noise

or truth

what you think
is a storm at sea
what you feel
is the earth about to open.

I don’t want to know
about the rumbling underneath your skin.

deny it

there is no need for climate change
for Goodness sake

stick to one yarn color.
slate.
not shades of orange from the inside of a flame
not the magenta of rose petals that they use to make a satin tube top
Definitely not the full black of a night sky
so dark you can’t see your hand in front of you when you hold it up.

the color of the night sky can’t be contained in a stitch.
orange breathes.
magenta bleeds.
you are supposed to hold that in.

eat it.

When I was nine

When I was nine and smoking cigarettes with Susan Berringer outside of her house in Wethersfield, she told me she got me a date with kid called Jimmy. I hadn’t asked for a date, but I agreed to it. She asked me if I had been on a date before. “Yeah,” I said.
It wasn’t entirely true, but another kid called Dameon, who had just transferred into my 4th grade class had passed me a note with yes or no boxes asking me to go out with him. I had checked yes and passed the note back. I hadn’t spoken with him since, but I figured it counted.

Susan’s father drove us to the movies by the Carpet Giant. Susan’s boyfriend and Jimmy were waiting out front. Jimmy had long hair and wore a black leather motorcycle jacket. I followed him into the movie. Right before the end of it he put his arm around me. He left it there for a while like a bag of cement, and then he took it back.

After the movie we walked towards I-91, the highway that cuts between downtown Hartford and the Connecticut River. I wasn’t sure what the plan was. We stopped at the barrier and watched the cars for a minute. “So where do you live,” Jimmy asked me. “I live in Hartford,” I said. “Whoa”, he said. “You go to school there?” “Yeah”, I said.

When we moved to Hartford, the general consensus in Wethersfield was that my mother was risking our lives. In the two years that I had lived there, exactly nothing had happened. Ken Noel had twisted the skin on my arm backwards and forwards at the same time, but nothing more than that.
Susan had blow pops in her pocket and she passed them out. Then she asked me how old I was. She knew how old I was, but I told her anyway. They all laughed. She was 11 then, so I suppose she felt a lifetime older, which made being 9 laughable.
She asked me if I would cross the highway. I looked at the highway and smoked my cigarette.
“Just go to the other side and come back,” she said.
“Okay” I said, and I ran.
“Oh my God,” she screamed at me, “why would you do that?”
“You asked me to” I screamed back. Cars drove past between us.
Susan grabbed onto the barrier and the boys took a step away from her. She laughed to break the tension. They broke a smile.
“Are you going to walk to your house from there or are you coming back?” I was miles from home. I wouldn’t have known how to get there.
I ran back.
“You are an idiot.” Susan said. We started walking back to the parking lot. Jimmy said, “You are pretty brave for a 9 year old. What is your name again?”
“It is Faye.”
“You wanna go out, Faye?”
“No” I said. “That is okay.”
After Susan’s father dropped the boys on the Silas Deane which was nowhere near a neighborhood, and before my mother picked me up, Susan told me I had hurt Jimmy’s feelings.
“How?”, I asked her.
She said, “You are such a nine year old.”
When we got home, my mother made a giant omelette and served it in the pan. I made a rabbit salad on Bibb lettuce with canned halved pears, cottage cheese tails, currant eyes, and almond slivered ears.

osso bucco


Taking on braising big boned pieces of meat can feel like you have just been handed the ropes of a sailboat on the open sea with nothing but thin soled boots to get you to the other side.
Don’t worry about it. First of all, you are in a kitchen. There is no figuring out how to collect fresh drinking water from the eyeballs of large fish in case you get caught in some kind of crazy storm. The panic that comes with osso bucco is way more manageable.
Things like:
how to sear
how to get the meat to soften up
or
the low, nagging hum of how to get that depth of flavor that will make you feel like it wasn’t a mistake paying all of that money for a piece of meat.

Start with your stock. Buy organic wings and bring them to the boil in plenty of water with a few stalks of celery, a carrot, a peeled onion, a leek, half of a seeded tomato, a garlic clove, bay leaf, parsley sprig and thyme sprigs. Let that go for at least an hour with a spill of olive oil, or butter if you don’t have good olive oil. (Get some good olive oil.)
Now the sear. Dust the shanks with flour. Give them a good slap so that no more flour than necessary sticks to the meat. Season the shanks on all sides with kosher salt. Kosher salt will give you the most control when you pick it up with your fingers; you are looking for a nice even coating. Get a heavy sauce pan hot on a medium to high flame. Give it a spill of olive olive where the meat will sit. Add the meat. Don’t touch or prod it or push it around. Just let it sit for a few minutes. If you have a nice sized pan, you may be able to get two or three cuts in there, but you don’t want to overcrowd. Now take a peek underneath. You are looking for a deep chestnut color. When you are sure you have it, flip and sear the other side. You may have to give the pan another spill of olive oil. When all the pieces are done, arrange in a roasting pan. Mop out the sauce pan with a piece of paper towel, using a pair of tongs. Dab the pan, leaving the crusty bits. Add a carrot, a stalk of celery, a clove of garlic, and a half an onion per 3 pounds of meat. When the vegetables are starting to stick to the pan, give them about 1 cup of delicious, deep red wine. Nothing sweet. Add about another cup of water, and bring to a simmer. Pour everything over the osso bucco in the roasting pan, adding a few sprigs of thyme, a few sprigs of sage and a bay leaf. Cover with parchment to fit the pan, and aluminum foil. Roast at 350 degrees.
Now you are going to make the soffritto, that will saute, watched closely, for about 40 minutes over a medium flame.
Finely chop two peeled carrots, 4 celery stalks, and two medium yellow onions. Saute in good olive olive oil with two cloves of smashed garlic, a sprig of sage, sprigs of thyme, and a sprig of parsley, until they completely collapse under the pressure of your tooth with no resistance. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Remove the bucco from the oven. Add stock to come about a third of the way up the meat, and all of your soffritto. Remove the large vegetables. Turn the meat over, and re cover. It will need about 2 and half hours total of cooking time, so at this point, you have about an hour and a half left. Check a few more times before it is done. I like to cut a small piece from one of the shanks when it is getting close, to make sure that it is fork tender. When you are there, remove the meat and set aside. Skim the fat from top of the sauce in the pan taste. It may need a little more wine for a bit of sharpness, or it may need a little stock to ease it up a little. You can mount it with a piece of cold butter to make it satiny smooth. Taste again. Pour over the meat and serve with a saffron risotto.

sugar, sugar

My sister is coming. She is not really looking after Ferdinand; Ferdinand is 6’4” and 17 and he goes to bed about four hours later than I do. He also lives across the street from me. But I don’t like the idea that if he needs something, and I am away for a few days, there is no one in my house. So I asked my sister to come and I am trying to figure out what to cook.
The truth is, my sister likes candy. Candy, cake, cookies, pie, ice cream, you know, sugar. She is like me. And like me, she doesn’t like to eat a lot of it, but it makes her happy to know it is in the house. She gets excited by the visuals. So maybe I won’t cook so much as arrange. Because sure, homemade is great, but when you grow up in a house where if you wanted sugar, homemade was the only sugar you were going to get, there is an unexplainable thrill you get from a pack of Oreos.

Back to Betty


When I was seven, I decided to teach myself how to bake with my mother’s 1958 edition of the Betty Crocker cookbook. My mother had friends over one night and they were all sitting in the living room; I came in crying with a saucepan full of cement.
“It’s a rock,” I said. My mother took a look in the pan and was unimpressed. “You used flour instead of sugar–I’ve done that; just try again.” Then she turned to her friends and said, “She is working on her caramel filling.”
My mother knew she had little time and less patience, and so she offered books; Greek Mythology, Are you there God, it’s me Margaret, Simplicity Sewing Skills and Betty Crocker. I slapped the Betty Crocker on the table for support and was sucked in full throttle. I read the fine print. It was a Come to Jesus.
In the Betty Crocker test kitchens, they loved their food, and their outfits were full on serious. White shoes, white stockings, white dresses, white hats, and white aprons. There was a buzz of camaraderie, confidence, sensible directions and a tangible deliciousness that floated from the pages into my swelling, seven year old heart.
I now know that Betty Crocker was a sales pitch for Gold Medal flour and all I can say is, it was a damn good campaign. I learned how to make caramel sauce and I memorized the tips.
Tip #1: always bring something unusual to a dish. It was implied that this would keep your man happy. I don’t mind that. It was also implied that it was the to way to make cooking your own. That is vital.
Fast forward to last Saturday night. I was in the homestretch of dessert, which was that apple tart tatin with creme anglaise. Common knowledge calls for a baking apple for this kind of thing. Ditch it. Say what you want about golden delicious, but they are the best for a tart tatin. I would stand up and compete with that. You are also supposed to cook the apples on the stove top for about 30 minutes. No way. Are you making it with apples or applesauce? Make your mind up. 15 minutes tops on the stove to caramelize, before they go in the oven. There are chefs who would close shop if they had no vanilla bean for the creme. I say, keep your boots on; in America, unlike France, we have beautiful extract. Truth: It will never give you what the bean gives, but it will take you halfway. For the other half, my go to Faye Standard, the bayleaf. Throw it in the warming cream along with an unpeeled knob of fresh ginger. Autumn in Anglaise.
Thank you, Betty.

I am back


I am back in New York. My bags are unpacked and I have done my laundry, which is an event, because there is no washing machine at my house and I am too cheap to take it to the cleaners. It has been a few days, so I am waking up at 4:30 in the morning instead of 2:00.
I am cooking the most basic things I know. Chicken pot pie and pea soup. I could use a roast beef and popovers with buttered and honeyed carrots. Macaroni and cheese. A pork chop. Butterscotch pudding and whipped cream. I might pop some corn in a pan and drown it in butter.
Saturday I have to put my chef suit on and French it up, but until then I just want home.
In case you are in the mood to travel, Saturday’s Plan:

Amuse bouche.
The beauty of Gabriel Hamilton’s food stirs my insides, so to get me going I am starting with her Planked Tomatoes and browned butter

Then I will walk in with the First.
Buckwheat galette, Roquefort, schmear of cold unsalted butter under a rip of fresh basil or I am going to stir the roquefort into a little heavy cream and finish it with creme fraiche. It will settle people into their chairs.

Second.
Pan seared and roasted chicken with so many cloves of garlic and wild mushrooms
Braised leeks

Salad and cheese course.
Greens with fresh herbs and classic vinaigrette
Cheese—I have to wait and see what moves me at Murray’s
Marrons Glace—there is never a guarantee guests will like these, but at this point in the meal they need the boost of getting fired up talking about how much they love or hate, oversugared chestnuts

Dessert.
Apple tart and creme anglaise

I am thinking of serving a red wine pear sorbet in the living room when they come in the door. Risky, but it is good to remind people there is another way of doing things.
Knee socks are cute with a skirt. It doesn’t always have to be stockings.

First day flashback

Montsoreau market this morning in the rain. My students asked me if we were going to cancel. “Cancel?” I don’t even carry an umbrella. I think I was a farmer in my past life, or the principal in the “before” ad for Noah’s Wife Wear. I gave them an extra 15 minutes with their coffee, and then we made our way over the single lane bridge to the village. We found every vegetable ever invented for Fall in the French countryside—-cauliflower, parsnips, as many onions as you can think of, pumpkins in the shape of fat raindrops, tomatoes of every shape, and horseradish root.
I will wait til we get to know each other before I buy the horseradish; it always makes me cry. Which of course happened anyway when I saw the pink mushrooms. I was unprepared for them. It was windy and the rain was coming down, and there they were under a little umbrella shelter, just as pink and ruffled as they could be. I told the vendor she was beautiful. She was.

Call me Minnow


I know for my swagger that I am easily mistaken for Mr. Schwarzenegger if you squint, or possibly “Mama” from that Carol Burnett skit.
But the truth is, there is a list of things that scare the bejeezus out of me.
Bears.
Wild boar when it is pitch black outside and I am walking on my own.
Any fish that brushes by me in the water—I don’t care if you are a minnow—stay on your side of the pond.
Insurance forms.
Taxes. I would rather give you all of my money than worry that I overlooked paying some tax, leaving myself wide open to jail time.
I am definitely afraid of jail time.
Love used to be on this list.
But it is not anymore.
Definitely cooking if I feel it involves a test, spoken or unspoken.
I am about to go to France, and France is a test. I know how to cook. I do not know all of the cheeses and all of the wines. I cannot identify all the fish off the coast of Normandy, and I have never fattened a goose for its liver. And about one thousand other things. They would struggle to mistake me even for a minnow in a restaurant kitchen in Paris.
But I can make a boeuf bourguignon that you want more of. And a tender cheese soufflé. I am confident of my coq au vin and of my delicate whole fish stuffed with herbs and packed in a salt crust with a silky side of beurre blanc. I can make a rice pudding hum with the scent of vanilla bean and caramel.
Which isn’t much; none of it. Unless you are coming home. And it is waiting for you.

Show ‘em what you got

I just parallel parked in front of a packed house at the Fizz bar, in Lisciano Niccone. Lisciano Niccone has a total population of 64 people. Not that many, but a tough crowd to impress. Parallel parking is all I have got.

I have been coming to Lisciano for 25 years, but they don’t really believe I am an actual cook; I am an American.
I arrive to work in Italy without my child; never completely acceptable.
I speak Italian like a problematic car with a good paint job.

So, nothing. All I have got is the parking.
I did it in one fell swoop.

Unusual around these parts only because although they are only 64, they have a parking lot next to the bar for at least 100; more if people drove with a buddy. There is loads of parking around the fountain in the center and up the side streets you can park where you like. So there is absolutely never actually a need to parallel park.

There is no need to ride two ponies while standing up, wearing a pink tutu, but people do it.

I ate leftover osso bucco and risotto for dinner last night, with a side of fresh fennel. Dinner of champions.

Teeny tiny sea shell


I have decided on my days off between teaching, to go camping at the beach.
It is called Fiorentina della Pescaia.
There is an ancient fort at the top of the village and a row of restaurants along the shore below. My favorite is a place at the very beginning of the rocks that divide an inlet from the sea. The dining room is nothing but windows wide open to the water and salty air, and tables and chairs that look like they have been recycled at least twice. Fishing boats anchor alongside and the flapping and snapping catch is loaded directly into the kitchen. I don’t know what the kitchen looks like behind those swinging doors.
There can’t be much more than a massive bucket of teeny, tiny clams, a bucket of butter, a barrel of fresh parsley, one of garlic, a pasta pot loaded with baskets of spaghetti, a load of hot pans ready for the clams and somebody with a good arm and a loud mouth, for throwing everything together and then yelling that it is ready.
Unless you are allergic, there is no reason to get anything other than spaghetti alle vongole.
It is perfect every time. Along with, I get a half carafe of slightly fizzy white wine. No dessert. When I am done, I like to just sit for a minute with the tablespoon of espresso, heavy with sugar that sinks to the bottom of the cup and then get up and walk along the beach in the dark.
The ocean always brings me back; like they used to promise in those Calgonite commercials.
Next to where I sleep at home, under the lamp, there is a teeny, tiny little shell to remind me.