This is the Best Cookie Ever and it’s named after compost

This is the Best Cookie Ever and it’s named after compost

A single bite of this cookie transports you into a taste-fueled rabbit hole, a complex tunnel of sweet and salty from which there’s no turning back … it’s Christina Tosi’s Compost Cookie. Tosi is the chef and owner of New York’s Momofuku Milk Bar, the sweet spot in David Chang’s restaurant empire, and she is awesome, creating sweet somethings out of everything from Cap’n Crunch cereal to corn to pretzels, even serving up cereal milk (a registered trademark!) to go with your candybar pie. She’s written a full-color book with her recipes, and if you’re in Brooklyn, you can even sign up to take classes to cook the book. I am NOT in Brooklyn and didn’t know about Tosi’s wonderland of taste until her Compost Cookie recipe (also a registered trademark!) caught my eye on Zite from the Table for Two blog. The “compost” part of the name comes for the idea that you can toss anything you have leftover into the dough, just like a sweet salad. Her cookie ingredients – chocolate and butterscotch chips, oatmeal, ground coffee, potato chips, and pretzels – sounded intriguing. I went for it. I’ve made these three times and have tweaked the recipe a bit. The original recipe called for mini butterscotch chips; those are hard to find and the regular sized chips added too much butterscotch. So I decreased the butterscotch chips a smidgeon, increased the oatmeal slightly, added dried cranberries for the tartness and texture, used ground espresso instead of ground coffee because that’s all I had, swapped dark corn syrup for the glucose, and used malted milk powder instead of milk powder in...
Fiction for foodies: Baking Cakes in Kigali

Fiction for foodies: Baking Cakes in Kigali

Every now and then I read a book that just perfectly illustrates how food as a theme unites all the people of the world. Baking Cakes in Kigali is one of those books. It’s most likely not a novel you’ve heard of; at least I hadn’t, although author Gaile Parkin made Oprah’s poll of favorite contemporary women writers the year after it was published. My newest sister-in-law – the one on our family who ALWAYS  knows what’s going on – gave me this copy on one of my trips back to St. Louis. Once I dove into the story. I was completely enthralled – read it straight through the day and into the night. The protagonist is Angel Tungaraza, a married mother raising her four grandchildren while running a cake-baking business. I love her character; she’s wise, insightful, and empathetic, the type of person to whom others confide their problems. With flour, sugar, eggs, and food coloring, she sets the wheels in motion to solve any tricky situation or problem that arises with a light heart and a perfectly decorated cake. This isn’t magical realism, though. Here’s the deal – the best part of the novel is the contrast of Angel’s baking business against the setting, her middle-class household in post-genocide Rwanda. The only thing I knew about the country was locked in my memories of horrific reports that I honestly tried to block, and Parkin, who lived in Rwanda for a time, created a sweet story of people who live normal lives – working, schooling, traveling, and marrying – against a devastated past. Cake and joy are the ties...

Book spine poetry: the food edition

Kid One was quite amused to see me standing in the kitchen this morning, staring intently at books piled on the counters while “Appalachian Spring” played on the iPod dock. He thought it would make a great scene from a movie – I’m hoping he was imagining a romantic comedy of some sort, although knowing him, more likely it was the prelude to a zombie invasion. I was actually not auditioning for my son, though, I was trying my hand at book spine poetry, a concept introduced to me recently by Susan Bearman via Brain Pickings in honor of National Poetry Month. All you have to do is arrange a pile of books so that the titles say something poetic, profound, or perhaps preposterous. It would be a great party game if you had lots of books and a few nerdy friends. This morning I decided to handicap myself by choosing only food fiction or food fact books. There’s a collection spilling around the kitchen; I thought it would be easy. But turns out a shelf of titles starting with “The” and ending in “Cookbook” is a bit limiting, and try as I might I couldn’t figure out how to put “The Widow Cliquot” together with “A Goose In Toulouse” and “The Nasty Bits” without cheating. Here’s the first one I came up with: What Einstein Told His Cook: The Sweet Life in Paris Tastes of Paradise. Banana, Fruits & Vegetables, Nuts, Secret Ingredients, Spam. Are You Hungry Tonight? And then this more haiku-inspired poem: Pacific Feast From My Mexican Kitchen, Fish, Without a Doubt. Then I played around...

A tale of two sausages

It wasn’t unusual that LL and I were each reading last weekend. It was unusual, though, that at the exact same moment each of us reached a page in our respective books that contained a recipe. Recipes written by people famous for something other than cooking. Plus, neither book was a cookbook. And each recipe involved sausage. My book was As Always, Julia, a book I’ve been savoring in small bites for several weeks now, completely impressed with how incredibly smart, thoughtful, busy, and passionate these two women were. And they knew everyone! One of my favorite bits is this excerpt from a letter Avis deVoto wrote to Julia Child about making her special spaghetti sauce, a recipe given to her by the poet John Ciardi – how cool is that? It was a blast from the past; I loved the word histories he did for NPR that I listened to back in my college-public-radio-reporting days. Here’s the recipe, which Avis wrote takes about five hours to make: 5 large onions sliced and softened in nearly a cup of olive oil, then two cans tomato paste, two cans tomato sauce, quart can solid pack tomatoes – garlic salt, bay leaf, caraway, basil, Italian parsley. Then eighteen Italian sausages fried gently and simmered in the sauce for couple hours. These are the fresh sausages made of pork butt and Marsala and garlic, fat and marbled pink and white – nothing like ordinary pork sausages and they don’t cook apart, they’re quite firm and rich and garlicky. The onions cook away to nothing and the sauce is intensely tomatoey. Then imported pasta cooked at the...

Urban farming

Novella Carpenter is my newest heroine. I’ve just finished reading her book Farm City: Confessions of an Urban Farmer, in which she moves into a ramshackle apartment on a dead-end street in a dead-end Oakland, CA neighborhood and hesitantly plants a garden in the empty lot next door. This quickly grows to a full-scale, tenth of an acre, urban farm, complete with beehive, egg-laying chickens, “meat birds” (ducks, turkeys, and more chickens) and rabbits, all successful experiments is loony locavorism that leads to, by the book’s close, her careful cultivation of two Red Duroc pigs for future meals. Carpenter lives the intersections of food with community and environment in a high crime, low income, politically weak area, and her observations become the backdrop to her story. She does such an excellent job at demonstrating a way of life instead of evangelizing it, and made me think about abundance and waste in different terms. She’s also a completely engaging writer, open and funny in telling her story. I laughed out loud several times, especially when she describes feeding her pigs their first meal scavenged from a Chinatown dumpster. The key to Farm City, however, is that although its premise of two white kids growing vegetables and butchering rabbits in the inner city sounds like it could be the teaser of a doomed Hollywood movie, she is genuinely honest and passionate about her avocation; there is nothing precious, pretentious, self-righteous, or gimmicky in her tale. This book came along at a perfect time for me. We took down the play structure just as winter started and have been thinking about how best...
A Big Sur Thanksgiving, 1939

A Big Sur Thanksgiving, 1939

Knowing how to brine a perfect turkey is not as important as the ability to remember what, exactly, to give thanks for. Here is novelist Lillian Bos Ross’ description of her 1939 Big Sur Thanksgiving meal. Lillian Bos is one of my heroes; read on to find out more about her.