Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

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Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

Secret recipes and the secret of recipes

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Item number one: My old friend Jay came to visit a few days ago, brought the most delicious chocolate chip cookies, and sent me the recipe. It’s from Neiman Marcus, but it’s a real recipe for really wonderful cookies.

(If you’ve never heard the story--which is total urban myth--it involves a woman eating at the restaurant in Neiman Marcus, loving the chocolate chip cookies so much she asks for the recipe, only to be billed $250 or some such outrageous sum for it. Story is a complete fabrication.)

Item number two: In today’s New York Times Michelle Slatalla has a piece on neighbors trying to outdo each other with secret recipes for stuffed cabbage.

The confluence of those two items got me thinking about the whole idea of the secret recipe. Not a pretty picture. For two reasons.

Take one: Food is a basic need and also love made concrete. It’s nurturing, caring, the one indispensable thing we can offer someone else in true generosity. So the whole idea of withholding a recipe is so stunningly miserly when you think about it that it’s really not so far removed from bread lines and continents of starving children. The smallness of begrudging someone food--maybe especially delicious food--has implications of a world view that goes way beyond our little recipe files.

Take two: Just who is it who is usually seen as hoarding those secret recipes--or maybe giving out the recipe but with one vital ingredient missing? Women. Women whose place was so firmly rooted next to the stove that the secret recipe can be a stand-in for the miniscule power they had, the perceived value of what they had to offer in the world. Tiny scraps of yellowed paper. Tiny aspirations, truncated possibilities.

So, thank you to my friend Jay and to Neiman Marcus for the cookie recipe. Thank you, Marcie, for carrot pudding,; Caryl Kahn for peach pie; Fran for bread pudding and another Fran for Tuscan bread soup; my late neighbor Dan for country stew; my aunt Sara, gone for decades, whose noodle pudding recipe lives on and has now evolved to include one new ingredient suggested by my granddaughter. My recipe file is filled not only with foods, but with people, with their history, and with my ties to them. My thanks to you all: your generosity continues to sustain me.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

In between making the third kind of cranberry sauce and the carrot pudding for my family’s holiday dinner, I’m taking time out to write this. I’m sure everyone who writes a blog or a newspaper column or an e-mail to a friend is composing a similar message today, but that’s fine. It’s as it should be.

A few years ago on a trip to Key West, I was struck by the “sunset celebration” that goes on there every evening at the water’s edge. In the travel article I wrote on that trip I said, “If the sun set only once a year, so the folk wisdom goes, everyone would stop to watch. In Key West they watch it every day.” I think, too, of a Jewish teaching that, at the end of our days, we will be called to account for every fruit in its season that we did not taste.

Isn’t that what Thanksgiving is all about--noticing the things--small as a pear, huge as a sunset--that enrich every one of our days?

I wish you all a holiday warmed by the presence of loving family and friends. I hope you find yourself surrounded by what nurtures you. And I wish us all the good sense to notice.

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The occasional recipe: carrot pudding

Friday, November 6, 2009

Thanksgiving is coming and it’s time to plan dinner. One of the things my family gives thanks for every year is carrot pudding on the table. Our Thanksgiving is basically every vegetable dish we can think of, a lot of stuffing, four types of cranberry sauce, and, oh yes, a little turkey. For years carrot pudding has been the hands-down favorite.

My daughter Meg Russell got the recipe from her friend Marcie Roche. Now, Marcie seems like a natural source of recipes. She and her husband, Serge, run Three Clock Inn, a wonderful restaurant in South Londonderry, Vermont. But this recipe is strictly from Marcie; as a child she lived in Savannah and had a nanny who made this. That version called for lard, but we’ve used butter.

Easy as pie. Even easier, actually:

1--Peel and slice a lot of carrots and cook them until tender. This is what the recipe says, and I think we translate “a lot” into about 2 pounds. The slicing just has to be enough so they’ll cook pretty quickly. They’re going into the food processor, so no perfect uniform slices are required.

2--Melt 1 stick of butter and mix with carrots. Add 1 cup sugar, 2 eggs, 1 cup flour, 2 cups milk, and cinnamon and vanilla to taste. You’re probably not really going to taste it at this point, so just put in as much as you think you’ll like.

3--Put all ingredients in blender or food processor. You want it to have a little texture, not like something out of a baby food jar.

4--Put the mixture into a greased ovenproof dish and and bake at 350° for 1 1/2 hours.

Probably feeds 8-10 people, but the recipe handed down in our family says “feeds one hungry Marcie.” Basically as much as you have is going to be eaten. Trust me, you’ll be glad you made it.

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