Food: The Don’t-Go-Anywhere-Near-This and the What-Are-You-Waiting-For?

Think fried. Think crunchy. Now think onions. Doesn’t that sound as if it would be a lovely combination — sort of like fried onion rings without all that pesky finger-licking grease?  That’s what I first thought when I spied these “Onion Chips” at the Fresh Market in Huntsville, Alabama, recently: “Chips made out of onions! Genius! Why didn’t someone think of this sooner?” But the answer to that question was clear after one bite: No one had done this before because it’s a horrible idea. At least this version is. You know how when you accidentally eat some of the inedible onion skin and it literally tastes like paper — paper that tastes really really bad? Imagine that in crispy form and you’ve got these onion chips. Yuck. It’s sad that somehow the concept of fried onions got messed up so badly. I couldn’t even think of anything to do with them after everybody I forced to taste them politely declined to have any more. I mean, there’s your sign, right there. I’d thought about grinding them up for breading crumbs or salad add-ons or something creative like that, but these don’t even deserve a second life.

So to offset such food awfullness, go out and buy/borrow/read/look at/check out Martha Foose’s new cookbook, “A Southerly Course.”  Martha is a Mississippi native and personifies the best of the Magnolia State — open-hearted, generous, adept at storytelling, skilled in the kitchen and wrapping it all up with a wry sense of humor and an appreciation of all the cultures and heritages that make up today’s South. And the recipes are absolutely wonderful: Bacon Crackers. Sugarcane Sweet Potatoes. Honey Pear Salad. Pickled Crawfish Tails. Summertime Spaghetti Squash. Peach Shortcake. Dandelion Cracklings. And the photos! Gorgeous food close-ups using heirloom china and vintage linens combined with hometown shots of the Foose folks  —  Martha even reveals her messy refrigerator door — make this cookbook seem both a food-feast and a friend’s scrapbook.   But “A Southerly Course” is more than a collection of user-friendly yummy recipes. Martha knows that the soul of good cooking is the love that goes into every spoonful — the sharing of good times with family and friends, the sharing of laughter around the table, the sharing of priceless memories with those you care about. Now, that is Southern cooking, Mississippi-style.

Cookbooks

 I was so proud of myself. Our recent yard sale had but a major dent in the household clutter, and we’d sold tons of all that stuff that sort of accumulates and nobody in the family knows why or where it came from or why somebody had to have it in the first place. Such as sure-I-can-knit-eight-Christmas-stockings supplies. And I-know-I’ll-use-these-purple-silk-flowers someday. And gotta-have cookbooks. Well … actually … we know where all those come from. Raising hand guiltily. I am a cookbook junkie. I admit it. I’m easily seduced by pretty pictures and promises of attainable culinary delight. I’m eternally optimistic, even though deep down I know I’ll never make all … uh … most …  okay…  any of the recipes. But somehow having the book in my possession makes it maybe perhaps possibly likely that I might someday make Peppercorn Roasted Pork with Vermouth Pan Sauce and Spiced Applesauce Cake with Cinnamon Cream-Cheese Frosting for dessert. Maybe. Anyway, everybody — husband, children, friends — commented on how well I’d cleaned out my cookbook stash, and I was starting to believe that maybe I could be trusted to wander through a cookbook aisle once again. However, the very next weekend after our yard sale (The. Very. Next. Weekend.), we went to a friend’s yard sale and because of course the rule is that you HAVE to buy something at a friend’s yard sale, I naturally gravitated to her Table O’Books — and found these cookbook treasures.  Oh, I should mention that my friend is a newspaper cookbook editor, so it’s possible that in the back of mind I thought maybe I’d find something interesting. Maybe. I mean, “Boy Eats World?” How cool is that? And “The Real Woman Cookbook” is a hoot — all feisty and sassy in the manner of Peg Bracken and Erma Bombeck.  “The Fearless Chef” has some wonderful-sounding recipes, and the “Layers of Flavors” and the book about flavored oils have gorgeous inspiring photos. And I got them all for only $5. “I’ve just got to clean out all my cookbooks,” my friend said. My husband just shook his head. But the minute I create a gourmet feast from one of my new cookbooks, he’ll thank me. And I’ll sure let you know when that happens. The cooking part, I mean.

Books and Other Random Thoughts

You all are so sweet to wade through my jumbled and scattered thoughts here in Bloggy World. You have no idea how much I appreciate that. But you’ll be happy to know that I can manage to string together some coherent sentences and actually get them in print — really, I can!!! Here’s proof:

You know the economy has tanked and everybody’s scrimping and saving wherever they can, right? You know folks are cutting back and slashing expenses, right? And you know that the book-publishing industry — like music and movies — is suffering. Then you’ll be as surprised as I was when you find out that there’s one category of books that’s seen an incredible increase in sales. And it’s no wonder — I’ll bet you’re like me and cannot wander past that section in your local bookstore without stopping and checking it out.

And you know what they say when you first start trying to sell your house: Your No. 1 top-priority chore is to declutter. But be careful, because sometimes you end up with more stuff than when you started!

Speaking of family efficiency, how are you at packing? I thought I was pretty good. I had a system based on my method of household organization and it worked for years … until I out-organized myself.

Mother’s Day

I love this book! Younger Daughter gave it to me for Mother’s Day and I laughed all the way through my favorite banana-and-peanut-butter-toast breakfast. Amy Sedaris is a comic genius and her 2006 “I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence” (and, really, isn’t that the best way to offer some?) is the perfect blend of her signature retro humor and actual real recipes. It’s like you stumbled onto your crazy grandmother’s cookbook where she tucked articles on pantyhose crafts and how to make a paperclip necklace in between the pages. I mean, one minute you’re giggling over Sedaris’ advice that children’s parties always should have a time limit, “like, ‘from 2 to 2:30’,” and then you’re salivating over her recipe for “Real Chocolate Cake” and later still you’re pondering the command to look radiant when you open the door to your party guests — “It should appear as though you’ve used witchcraft.” Luckily, Sedaris gives us all the non-witchcraft help you need to be a thoughtful and serene hostess, secure in the fact that you’re covered for every entertaining emergency, even serving lunch to a lumberjack. Because you just never know. If you don’t have a wonderful child who gifted you this book for Mother’s Day, go out and buy it for yourself. And if you want to read it with a peanut-butter-and-banana-toast sandwich like I did, go here, https://cathylwood.wordpress.com/2009/01/05/healthy-eating/, for our recipe.

Food and Books

This past week, my four-woman book club had our November meeting at my house with the book “The Space Between us” by India-native Thrity Umrigar. We had just finished “The Help,” about black maids and the white women they worked for in Jackson, Mississippi, during the 1960s Civil Rights movement, and “The Space Between Us” is much the same story — privileged upper class women and lower-class servants. However, “Space” focuses more on the relationship between two individual women and what happens when that relationship is tested. We all loved this book for the insight into Indian culture and the stories of struggle, love and loss the two women main-characters endured. Highly recommended. And because book club is just us four friends, whoever is hosting usually tries to find some favors and cook a dinner that goes along with the theme of the book we read that month. Luckily, for my turn I found three oh-so-cute enameled trinket boxes from India at the World Market in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. And for cooking, I turned to Indian chef Madhur Jaffrey’s “Easy East/West Menus for Family and Friends.” Okay, I didn’t actually cook anything from that cookbook — you know me better than that — but I did get some good quick and easy menu ideas (thank you, grocery stores!): Roasted onion and garlic jam on toasted strips of nan bread, sauteed chicken breasts in a garlic and ginger sauce, turmeric rice with onions and golden raisins, roasted asparagus, a couple ready-made heat-and-eat curry dishes (hot, hot, hot — but tasty, in a hot mouth-burning sort of way) and English tea cookies for dessert. Good friends, good books, good discussion, not-so-bad food — and my three friends don’t mind the bonus cat hair they get at my house, at all.

Organizing the Kitchen

spices-2-0023new-spice2I cleaned out my spice drawer this week! I’m so proud of myself!!! Isn’t the newly organized and easily accessible drawer a a work of art now? I mean, I know it’s not alphabetized or arranged in descending order of expiration dates, but you have to admit it’s about 40 times better. Remember what it looked like before? Yuck — the sorry result of unbridled optimism that this might be the night I actually will make Nigella Lawson’s Honeyed Almond and Orange Cake with Figs … if only Survivor and Ugly Betty weren’t on. I have my priorities, after all, right? But after writing about it in my TimesDaily column today, I realized how pathetic it is to hold on to chili powder from 1983 and that it all had to go: http://www.timesdaily.com/article/20081120/ARTICLES/811200346

Fall Food, Southern Style

One of my favorite fall traditions has started: Betty Sims’ Scrumptious Culinary School in Decatur, Ala. A former restaurant-owner and caterer and the author of two cookbooks, Betty teaches eight classes or so in her home every fall. The classes, which focus on simple yet elegant menus for parties and entertaining, are so popular they sell out almost immediately. And no wonder! Betty is a delight — so warm and gracious and the very epitome of Southern hospitality. In each class, about 40 people gather in the basement of her elegant home, which she’s converted into a teaching kitchen. While we sample appetizers and sip wine, Betty demonstrates the recipes, answers questions and shares from her extensive cooking experience. Then the best part happens: We get to eat! This is such a fun evening that’s good for groups of girlfriends together or for going by yourself. A couple classes — a Spanish menu and cooking with wild game — still have openings, so check out the schedule at http://scrumptiousinc.com/