Monthly Archives: March 2010

Audrey Hepburn's Little Black Dress

So I was having a chat with the head librarian at Cannon Beach Library the other day, because they’ve very kindly invited me to come talk about food there (two of my favorite things, food and the Oregon coast, in one–on March 13, at 2, in case you’re interested), and he said he only had one problem with the way I cook.

“What,” he objected, “if you just want something to come out exactly the same way as the way you had it somewhere else?”

I turned that one over in my mind.  For a bit, in fact, And in that moment, I had a flash of understanding: I am a person who is constitutionally incapable of wanting one moment to turn out exactly like another moment. I like them all to be different.

“Well,” I said. “You might as well give up on that one. Because you can’t.”

“You CAN’T?”

“You can’t.” I said this flatly and firmly, because you really really can’t.

“WHY can’t you?”

“Because,” I said, “you’ll never be in the same place, with the same ingredients, with the same equipment, with the same atmosphere, with the same audience, in the same mood, more than just one time.”

He laughed.

“I’m serious. You can look at Audrey Hepburn wearing a little black dress in Paris and say, ‘I want to look just like that.’ But you’re not going to.”

He laughed again.

Look. Let’s not even get into the question of why you would want a recipe to taste exactly the same as the way someone else does it. No, wait a minute. Let’s get into that question. Why do you want to? I don’t mean you shouldn’t want the food that results to give you and the people who eat it as much happiness and satisfaction as the original recipe–that’s a given. I mean, why do you want it to taste the same?

I guess what I’m saying is: you have a chance, every time you cook, to figure out who you are and what your world is like. These are the two questions that interest me mainly, and food is just a way of getting more answers for me, not an end in itself. Which is why it is endlessly fascinating. And not just that–endlessly productive. I don’t mean endlessly productive of meals (though there certainly is that benefit!), but, rather, endlessly productive of insight. Insight that leads to a firmer understanding of one’s likes and dislikes, and, through that, to building our autonomy. Autonomy, I truly believe, is what each of us owes her/his world–because only an autonomous adult, who knows who she/he is, and knows what her/his duties and rights are can participate in making our world better for everyone.

And what else are we in it for? I mean, I ask you.

So if that’s my goal, why on earth would I want to cook something just like Martha Stewart? Although I must say, I’m slyly interested in what the way Martha Stewart cooks says about her.

Here’s what I cooked last night. And I guarantee you won’t be able to replicate it in your own home.  I guarantee I’ll never be able to replicate it in my own home…not again, anyway.  Well, just look at the list of ingredients.

Fettucine with broccoli, shallots, roast tomatoes, blue cheese, and parmesan (for 2).

1/2 package fettucine, which turns out to be lighter weight than it says on the package, so about 7 ounces rather than my usual 8.
1 head of broccoli, peeled, chopped, and steamed.
1 shallot minced and let to sit in a tablespoon of lemon juice to sweeten
3 1/2 roasted tomatoes, diced
a nubbin of blue cheese, squished between your fingers
a nubbin of parmesan, grated
a couple of minced garlic cloves
a squish of anchovy paste
the olive oil that was left in the bottle, rounded out by some walnut oil
a dab of butter

Cook the fettucine. While it’s boiling, warm the minced garlic cloves and anchovy paste in the oil. When the pasta is done to your liking, drain, put back on the stove in the still warm pot, add the hot oil and garlic/anchovy, and the shallot.  Toss. Toss with the blue cheese and parmesan. Taste for salt. Toss with the broccoli and roast tomatoes. Taste again. If you think you need it, add a dab of butter and toss again.

Serve up with a lemon wedge and salad. Or be lazy like I was, and serve by itself with tangerines  and dried fruit to follow.

If you like, wear that little black dress you saw on Audrey Hepburn. You won’t look like her. But you might look better. You’ll look different, anyway, and more like yourself, which sounds to me like more fun in the end.

(WARNING: The above does not apply to baking.  That was another question the nice librarian asked me, what am I crap at cooking? The answer will come as no surprise: anything that requires precise measurements. Baking requires precise measurements unless you want to end up with something somewhere between soup and a hockey puck when what you’re aiming for is a cake. Baking is a precision activity. Even I highly recommend you try to get the same results time after time with baking.)

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