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Authors: Daniel Duane

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Then I saw them: young white turnips, smaller than golf balls, fresh green leaves truly sprouting off their tops.

A familiar voice said, “What up, double-D?”

I looked up from the turnips and, to my surprise and delight, saw a guy I'd known in a former life, a tall, unshaven, shaggyhaired surfer named Joe. The very sight of Joe's face brought a knee-weakening tide of nostalgia for weeks on a certain Baja beach, surfing all day in warm water, eating fish tacos and drinking beers at night, and sleeping blissfully with Liz, just the two of us. But Joe stood on the backside of the farm table, surrounded by several shockingly beautiful young hippie-farmer girls. So I asked what the hell he was doing in San Francisco.

“Selling turnips, man! I'm a farmer!”

Liz, speaking softly to me, said, “Sweetheart, I've got to get out of here. Hannah's melting down.”

“Hold on, sweetie. Joe's got turnips. You remember Joe, don't you?”

She smiled at him. Then, to me, Liz said, “Honestly, honey, I can't deal anymore.”

“Okay, okay. Just hang in a little longer.” I got carried away, paying alarming prices not only for Joe's perfect Tokyo turnips, as he called them, but for the rest of his early-spring offerings, like shallots and kale, chard and carrots, even strawberries and baby leeks. I feel a measure of guilt, in hindsight, over the way I led the exhausted Liz and the screaming Hannah onward through the rest of the booths, buying up still more foods I'd seen in
Vegetables
but never in a store: savoy cabbage, escarole, curly endive. I saw astounding things for which I did not yet have recipes, and could therefore not yet rationalize the splurge: shockingly tasty cheeses; fresh fish for a small fortune per pound; locally grown beef, chicken, lamb, pork, goat, and eggs. I led my wife and baby into the Ferry Building itself, too, a vast emporium with a high domed ceiling. Like one long large intestine, the hall branched
off here and there into an All-Star lineup of Northern California's very highest-status, highest-prestige local food labels, from Recchiutti Confections to Prather Ranch Meats, and from the Cowgirl Creamery to Boccalone (“Tasty Salted Pig Parts”) to Far West Fungi. Sur La Table alone, the upscale kitchenware store, carried so many things I suddenly wanted to own that I had to hustle Liz and Hannah out of the building and back down the waterfront as if I'd just smoked my first pipe of crack and liked the rush so much I knew I was coming back.

After returning home, while the enraged Liz and the oblivious Hannah fell asleep together, I diced and sautéed exactly the prescribed amount of onion and garlic. Then I sliced up those costly little turnips and added them to the pot, and I then added just the right amount of bay leaf, thyme, bacon, and vegetable stock that I'd made the night before. The turnip greens went in last, around the time Liz got up from her nap. I shaved a little Parmesan onto the top of our bowls and then, precisely because I'd resisted all impulse to improvise, I liked the soup. I liked it a lot.

“This is great,” Liz said, already willing to forgive. “I love this.”

“I'm so glad, baby.”

She smiled. “You'll never make it again, will you?”

“Never.”

“And remind me why?”

“Forward motion, baby. Got to keep moving.”

4
We All Need Something to Believe In

“Food—at least as much as language and religion, perhaps more so—is cultural litmus,” according to Felipe Fernández-Armesto, in
Near a Thousand Tables: A History of Food
. “We continually devise ways to feed for social effect: to bond with the like-minded.” Think of adolescents and their fierce interest in the finer shades of musical taste: “Well, I
know
she's like
totally
smoking hot and super sweet and ultra smart and
totally
perfect for me in every imaginable way, and she even actually likes me, which is amazing, but I'm really worried that I don't know what kind of music she listens to.” And when it comes to food, it's not just the feeding: cookbooks play an outsized role, placing the food in its all-important cultural and aesthetic context, telling you what the food actually means—like Fergus Henderson's cult classic
The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating
, from which I would one day cook Deviled Kidneys (“the perfect breakfast on your birthday”) and Pot-Roast Half Pig's Head (“the perfect romantic supper for two”), claiming membership in a club of the unsqueamish, presenting friends with Deep-Fried Lamb's Brains and a facial expression that says, “Oh
come on, please
tell me you're not grossed out. I've
always
loved lamb's brains!” David Chang's recent
Momofuku
, too, packaged his New York restaurants' recipes in foulmouthed conversational narrative and blurry photographs of
tattooed diners in cutting-edge urban street fashions—some of them secretly famous, at least in food circles—reassuring me that hours burned on making Chang's magisterial ramen would get me far more than a great bowl of food, it would even purchase entry into the hippest current clique of the like-minded.

As powerful as Chang and Henderson have been in recent years, at least among people like me, they scarcely rank next to Alice's own act of cultural litmus-creation. California State Historian Kevin Starr, recognizing her rare gift for envisioning a beautiful life and then announcing that she and her dazzling friends already led that life in a way that could make millions crave instruction on doing the same, credits her with making food-and-wine connoisseurship a key membership test for the liberal elite. “Let the rest of the country vote Republican and eat out of cans and packages,” he writes, in
Coast of Dreams: California on the Edge, 1990–2003
. “Berkeley would reform the world … while dining on salads of dried cranberry, pecans, and arugula, free-range fowl from oak-fired ovens, fresh-baked whole-grain breads, and an appropriate white wine, with poached pears for dessert.” And if anybody was a born sucker for this dream, it was me—not least because my very own Republican grandparents had proudly worn formal dinner attire to eat Continental brown-sauce dreck at their country club while I'd worn jeans and skateboarding sneakers to Chez Panisse itself, on my very first dinner date. Thirteen years old and I'd proudly led the pretty Miss Jane H. up the Chez Panisse stairs into the upstairs café, wide-eyed with wonderment at a glittering world of grown-ups. Nervous kid on a big night, I'd been absolutely thrilled to see my father's law partner, Ted, sipping wine at the tiny bar. I still recall Ted's affectionate smile, the way he leaned back and bellowed, “Hi, Danny!” so that I felt special. Ted knew how much I'd love being
treated like a grown-up, out on the town, so he kindly introduced himself to Jane and then left us alone drinking water at our two-top and sharing a calzone. Hot raclette cheese melted out of that crispy crust, and I'll never forget Jane's young skin, her brilliant eyes funny and alive. And sure, the bill did come to a little over nineteen dollars, and I did foolishly imagine this meant that my single twenty-dollar bill was enough to cover the tip, but it's all a fine memory nonetheless, warm and happy and fun—and those were precisely the feelings evoked by my opening the
Chez Panisse Café Cookbook
itself, when Hannah turned one.

“After almost twenty years,” Alice wrote in that book's introduction, “the Café is still a place where people hang out together, and measure out the years from Bastille Day to Bastille Day and from New Year's Eve to New Year's Eve.” And look, I knew perfectly well there couldn't be a single, solitary, nondelusional, non-French soul in the entire Golden State honestly measuring out anything at all between Bastille Days. Nor was I blind to the overt salesmanship of Alice's next bit about how “my old friend, film producer Tom Luddy, still drags in every foreign director and starlet imaginable… Retired professors and Nobel Prize laureates still lunch quietly, and our Saturday lunch regulars are still known by name to cooks and waiters alike.” But I craved that sense of belonging and I had a perfectly reasonable membership claim to precisely this imaginary clique.

I'd also run aground a little, with
Chez Panisse Vegetables
. Having finished all the soups, salads, and pastas, I'd been looking at a hundred-plus vegetable side dishes. Liz rightly wondered, during one dinner I made for friends, why anybody outside prefamine Ireland would serve a banquet consisting of potato pasta, potato gratin, a side of sautéed potato slices, and a platter of roasted fingerling potatoes. Unwilling to repeat dishes, I therefore needed
a new raft of mains for my recipe-ticking mania. The
Chez Panisse Café Cookbook
, which I already owned, offered an obvious first step toward a solution. “We have paid special attention to the ingredients we left out of …
Vegetables
,” Alice wrote, also in that introduction: “fish and shellfish, meat and poultry, eggs and cheese.” In short, everything a man wanted to eat. Simply in broadening my mission, I realized, and redefining it as an assault on the entire Chez Panisse cookbook oeuvre, I could squeeze through this frightening little bottleneck by combining mains from the
Café
book and even others, like
Chez Panisse Cooking
, by longtime Chez Panisse chef Paul Bertolli, with all the
Vegetables
outliers. And that's how I fell truly under Alice's spell, her vision of a broader community—Paul Bertolli among its leading lights, along with various other cookbook authors—living the grand Chez Panisse lifestyle.

“One of my partners had befriended a farm family in Amador County in the Sierra foothills who kept a few hogs and who had agreed to supply us with suckling pigs,” Alice writes, and so I showed up at the Marin Sun Farms booth at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, and I tried to befriend the poor rancher while I scored the goods for Long-Cooked Pork Shoulder, Simple Cured Pork Chops, and Roast Pork Loin with Rosemary and Fennel. Somebody named Nancy Warner and her family, according to Alice, slept outdoors “with the chickens to protect them from attacks by coyotes and roaming packs of dogs,” and who wouldn't like to feel that a slumber party might replace cyanide-laced deer carcasses and government “predator control” specialists? And, thus, I bought “pastured” Marin Sun Farms chickens for Pollo al Mattone with Lemon and Garlic, Chicken Ballotine with Chanterelles, and Grilled Chicken Breasts au Poivre. Nobody made business arrangements in Alice's new/old Berkeley; they befriended
people. The restaurant didn't offer anything as tawdry as seasonal specials; it just hewed to “cherished traditions” like “serving spring lambs from the Dal Porto Ranch,” as if Alice and company were a big collective grail knight, bringing bourgeois fertility to blighted modern America.

Now we're really living, see, especially with Hannah crossing some developmental milestone bringing the world beyond Mommy into focus. Precocious talker and tentative walker, she took notice first of the dog, discovering that this hairy animal really was on Hannah's and Mommy's team, a part of their tribe; but next in line came the dawning awareness that a third human being lived in the house. Soon, my cuddles, once utterly useless at calming Hannah, acquired a modest but accelerating effect on her tantrums; my pancakes began to elicit a cautious interest, especially when she got me to serve the syrup on the side, in a little cream pitcher, so she could drink it all in one gulp. Thus, all the non-remunerative time required for all-
Café
dinners like Duck Legs Braised in Zinfandel, Grilled Endives with Sauce Gribiche, and Lindsey's Chocolate Cake with Sicilian Sabayon felt not like evasion—not like running from the Great American Novel I knew I'd have to abandon, sometime soon—so much as celebration, insistence on living the good domestic life right now.

If Hannah wouldn't nap, I'd learned, I could shut down my computer and put her in our white Subaru wagon and roam the nearby freeways and make up silly stories until the boredom and the motion made her doze off. Then I could park at the beach and let Hannah sleep while I lay on the warm dirty hood of the car, relieved to be free of my writing, and breathing all that sea air and feeling the cool wind and sun on my cheeks. Instead of lamenting that I wasn't out surfing, or that my stupid secret dream of becoming the next Jack Kerouac had to end, sometime soon,
I could feel this welling mysterious plenitude, a faintly throbbing satisfaction that my precious kid dreamt peacefully in my back-seat, window ajar, smelling what I was smelling. And once she awakened, I could bounce her happily in my arms through Sammy's Bi-Rite Market, picking up lamb shanks for Soupe au Pistou. Days even came when I made it to the beach alone, and caught a few waves, and felt fine about cutting the session short to jump back in the car and zip home to run up the front stairs I'd built with my own hands, to push open the front door and find Hannah standing on her own two feet, neck craned back so that her bright blue eyes could gaze up toward me as if toward the noon sun as she spread her arms wide and shrieked, joyously, “Daddy!” Little Hannah shrieked that word like I was some kind of rock star, the greatest guy on earth, and it turned out she could make me feel something nobody else had ever been able to make me feel—that it didn't matter what the hell I did for a living, because fatherhood was the very
best
thing that ever could have happened in my life (and so he sang,
It took a little girl/to make a man out of me
).

More practical improvements, too, of course: no more breast-feeding, meaning I could take the occasional late-night bottle feeding, allowing Liz's sleep and state of mind to improve; a little freelance journalism, on my part, bringing in trickles of money, and thus justifying purchase of a Grade A goose liver for the
Café
book's Shaved Foie Gras and Rocket Salad. I could even see a new Golden Age dawning in which we'd one day risk leaving Hannah with a babysitter, maybe catching a movie. Liz, admittedly, leaned toward conversation-stoppers like, “Hey, baby, you
are
open to a second kid someday, right?”

BOOK: How to Cook Like a Man
5.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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