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Sweet Winter Reading: On My Bookshelf

29 Nov

I’m not letting Monday’s 66-degree weather fool me, Massachusetts. You may be all smiles now, but December is almost upon us. The colder it gets, the more likely you will be to find me indoors, snuggling with a book, a DVD, a hot chocolate or a glass red wine (maybe even all four at a time). To that end, here is my round-up of sweet reads for the coming cold weeks:

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Diary of a New England Thanksgiving

28 Nov RoastingCarrots, Sweet Potatoes and Apples

2011 was the first year that I cooked an entire Thanksgiving, soup to tart. For the last couple of years, I had been preparing side dishes and desserts, and my mother would contribute the protein (a.k.a. the main event), along with candied sweet potatoes and some other enticing accompaniment like corn bread stuffing with turkey sausage and dried cherries.

This Thanksgiving, I wasn’t traveling, but I was cooking in my new apartment in a new/old city. What was I going to do to make the holiday memorable? I decided I was going to try mostly new recipes, with a few old standbys thrown in. I also knew that I wasn’t going to cook turkey.

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Judith & Julia: Jones Talks Child at Boston University

28 Nov

I don’t know about you, but for me, November has flown by like Hermes, with winged sandals. My kitchen internship with ATK wrapped up last Tuesday, just in time for my holiday cooking preparations. The second half of my 12 weeks I spent on the Cook’s Illustrated team, which really taught me an enormous amount about the two P’s (patience and perseverance) of recipe development (especially when said testing involves grilling on not so warm days!). Suddenly, I understand that phrase, “It’s character building.”  I even got to test and develop my own recipe (on a much shorter time frame of two weeks) and write a Cook’s Illustrated-style article. After this experience, it is safe to say that, although I’ll always love them, I think I might need a break from sweet potatoes!

Sweet Potatoes! (Image: Johnisha M. Levi)

November was also an eventful month for me in terms of culinary literature. If you hadn’t figured out from my blog posts by now, I’ve been drawn more and more to writing about both “food writing” and food in writing (i.e., my previous post on AGG). I recently attended a lecture at Boston University by the famed Judith Jones, author of the wonderful memoir, The Tenth Muse, and of course, the Knopf editor that is most responsible for introducing the world to the twin gifts of Julia Child and Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The lecture presented the perfect opportunity for me to quietly celebrate  the contributions of this brilliant fellow Leo (Julia’s birthday is the day before mine) and mid-life career changer.

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Anne of Green Gables: The Culinary Triumphs and Trials of a Titian-Haired Spitfire

30 Oct

Out of nostalgia, I started re-reading one of my favorite childhood books with one of my favorite heroines: L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. I had lucked upon the reruns of the PBS miniseries earlier in the year while I was in culinary school. After watching Anne of Green Gables again, I was instantly smitten and had to Netflix Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel.  To this day, I can’t hear the words “Anne of Green Gables” without picturing the stunning, spirited and poised Canadian actress Megan Follows who played the series’ namesake. She truly embodied that role and somehow made “that Anne girl’s” maudlin speeches equal parts heartfelt and humorous. And when she broke that slate over the ever-dashing Jonathan Crombie’s (Gilbert Blythe’s) head, it was magic. I’ll show you CARROTS!!!

Of course, I can never forget the genius supporting performances of Colleen Dewhurst and Richard Farnswsorth. I’m 34 years old, and it still brings a tear to my eye when Matthew succumbs to a bad heart in the middle of a cow pasture and, gasping his last breath,  tells  Anne that he “is so proud of his little girl.” (Matthew’s demise in the novel is much less (melo)dramatic, but nevertheless deeply touching given its roots in financial woes.)

While reading AGG this time around, it occurred to me that a large part of Anne’s education and “civilization” in Prince Edward Island (the P.E.I.) revolved around learning the domestic arts of entertaining and cooking.

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Boston Book Festival: Eat Your Words

23 Oct

Blue skies were smiling at me on Saturday as I made  my way toward Copley Square for the Boston Book Festival. The festival was extremely well-attended, which has to be a good sign: a city that reads together, stays together, at least in my book.

Boston is a city that loves its books (Image: Johnisha M. Levi)

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Food Writing Worth Reading: What’s on My Bookshelf Now

11 Oct

One of my only regrets this summer was not finding enough time to read. It remains one of the great pleasures of my life. I still remember the long ago thrill at age six of being able to read myself  “a big kid’s book” (or one without a photo on every page). I had checked out Beverley Cleary’s Socks from the public library. I spent the remainder of the day reading through its 160 pages by myself. From that point, I knew I was hooked.

My internship this fall has certainly been demanding on a physical level; it makes me want to curl up even more with a good book at the close of a day. Or bring a book to read during my train commute; I spend just enough time on the T to get absorbed without fear of interruption. (Of course, this works even better on the D line where I am more likely to get a seat.)

The Harvard Bookstore (still going strong after more than 75 years in business) has become a bit of a haunt for the purpose of perusing new candidates. The basement is dedicated to an impressive array of used and remainder books, quite a few of which are food-related (everything from cookbooks to food memoirs). These days, I suppose you could have worse habits than buying used books; the place and its prices are hard to resist.

So here are a couple of recommendations based on my recent reading:

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I’m Shipping Up to Boston

1 Oct

Okay, so let’s dispense with the elephant in the room. Obviously a good chunk of time has passed since I last posted on Tortefeaster. Apologies to my two loyal readers (LOL). Before you start judging me, it is not as bad as it looks. After finishing up very intense sophomore level pastry labs (including the particularly taxing specialty cakes that was a brutal–rather than beautiful–struggle) this May, I moved back home from Charlotte and almost immediately began my internship with the Dining Editor of Northern Virginia Magazine.

Anniversary Cake I Made as Part of My Specialty Cake Lab (Image: Johnisha M. Levi)

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Food in Films: Vatel’s Last Supper

14 Mar

For my Entremets and Petits Gateaux class, we were given the option of watching the 2000 Gerard Depardieu film Vatel for extra credit. If you like period dramas and lavish set and costume design, this might be one for you to Netflix, although it is not in the league of Impromptu, or Dangerous Liaisons or the Madness of King George. What follows is the text of the review I wrote for class. Warning: this review contains spoilers. Stay tuned for future Food in Film reviews.

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Minis, Memoirs, King Cake and Kinship: What I’m Reading

7 Mar

The good news is…I’m back! The bad news is that this is going to be a posting sans photographs. I am hoping in any event that you like me more for my brains than my beauty, LOL, since my photography sometimes leaves much to be desired. It has been some time since my last post (at least it feels that way), but not because of a dearth of ideas on my part. The last couple of weeks were awash in practicals and projects, papers and recipe testing, and then I spent 7 days reunited with my husband on vacation in a Saint Lucian paradise. Now I’m back in Charlotte, about to begin the last term of my pastry arts program. It is 39 degrees–sometimes reality is a cold wind after all. And of course, I am always ready to write….

I had some different threads of thought floating around today as I sat down to write, but I soon realized (happily) that all my ideas  relate cooking and baking to my other favorite hobby…reading.

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Heaven Can Wait, I’ll Take Entenmann’s: Confessions of Forbidden Food

8 Jan

IlovechocolatecoveredEntenmann’sdonuts…. There, I finally said it. It is a secret I have held for perhaps 10 years, as it has been at least that long since I held one in hand. I walk by them in the Harris Teeter with my head down. I spy them out of the corner of my eye, piled high on tables with coffee and crumb cakes (meh), poundcake (bleh), and chocolate chip cookies (hmmm) as I make my way to the dairy section to buy guilt-free cottage cheese with fruit or soy milk. But every time I take that stroll of shame, I end up fantasizing. Fantasizing about me face down in  a box of chocolate donuts, yellow cake crumbs flying out of both corners of my mouth, my face smudged (or fudged) dark with the evidence. Think Paul Giamatti in Sideways but with donuts instead. Why don’t I just give in, you say? Because with Entenmann’s chocolate donuts, there is no such thing as eating one. You’ll eat five before the box lid closes and you throw it away. Really, the Cracklin’ Oat Bran slogan works better here.

What suddenly made me confess my forbidden love for a product Krispy Kreme and other donut aficionados would deem wasted calories? This week, I have been enjoying my new subscription to the food literature journal Alimentum. Upon perusing its website, I came across a very intriguing  posting about “Secret Foods.” For confessing your food sins, you could get an additional issue free.

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