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John Thorne

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  1. In response, thanks to you all for some truly stimulating exchanges. I'm too lazy to set down a list of my own favorite quotes, but you can be sure they weren't written by me!
  2. I wrote that last night just before going to bed, and my thoughts were a little slow. I think your description is great: if you're the right sort of person, they're there to ponder, admire, puzzle about, even, yes, navigate by, as I have used Richard Olney and Patience Gray both. M.F.K. Fisher, like the other two, actually, were (are) subscribers; I wrote an essay, "Loving to Cook," immediately after reading Fisher's essay in the first edition of The Journal of Gastronomy. It wasn't written in imitation or in homage or in argument; it just came bursting out. Maybe a little of all three, but not intentionally. Thanks.
  3. Quite honestly, in it's largest sense, I don't really have an answer. As the "webmaster" of my own site, I know how hard this is to do well and I've found eGullet as easy to use as it is pleasant to look at. The quality of the posting is very high and I'm impressed with the range of participants, from what my nephew would call /\/00|35 to old pros. Beyond that, I haven't given it much thought, except that -- for me, certainly, my first thoughts are rarely my best, and this has meant my postings have not always left me feeling very good. Time and thought would have kept me from making a fool of myself regarding Kenneth Lo's book, which did not result from his travels in China but his extensive (and admitted) borrowings from Chinese chef publications. In my defense, it's been over decade since I read through the book (this information is in the introduction), and I forgot. But still. I probably could have saved myself the embarrassment of translating "red bean-curd cheese" as "red bean paste", but I don't feel so badly about that, since this is just the sort of thing the home cook has to struggle with, and can't hope to always get right. "Write in haste, repent in leisure." But the positive side is what is most enjoyable here: the spontaneity. I wish you all happy postings. PS: /\/00|35 = "noobs" = "newbies"
  4. Hmm. What you write reminds me of the story of the hippie/counterculture couple who watched with dismay as their daughter transformed her bedroom into a Laura Ashley showcase. "Why didn't she want to be free like them?" Do you think Jane and Michael Stern sneak off incognito to haute cuisine restaurants and secretly indulge in scallop foam? It would be nice to imagine...as it would that if nutritionists all decided we're better off fat, we would all become thin just to spite them. "I'm so SICK of all this macaroni and cheese!!" Part of secret eating is surely throwing off prohibitions and rules that we're at least secretly sick of but it is also assembling stuff that our public selves have been taught don't belong together: like grape jelly on pasta or butter sandwiches. It's hard to make conceptual order out of chaos.
  5. "In my opinion the next John Thorne is the young Matthew Amster-Burton." Him? He's not my disciple, he's my brother. "Ezra would have settled right comfortably onto a stool at the No-Name Diner and joined volubly in the conversation." And he'd be welcome, too, as long as he kept off the subject of usury. As to the rest of what you say, I don't know. I agree with Shaw about the "faux-regular-guy schtick" and I don't like to think that it applies all that much to myself. It's more accurate to say that I suffer from multiple personality disorder: there's the guy who writes seriously about serious food; there's the guy who goes and makes his lunch from a can of Progresso soup; and then there's the nut who meticulously peels off the smoked casing from the kielbasa he just took out of the Jensen-Luhr smoker and makes a po' boy out of it. They all claim equal time and they all have their fans and foes. You wouldn't believe the hate mail I get about the No-Name series: so much for the appeal of cracker-barrel philosophy. The Gaston-Bachelard-tinged stuff goes over much better. Finally -- yak, yak, yak...I know. Sorry, but it's my last day -- I thought the last post from Shaw really hits the nail directly on the head. If, for instance, Jeffrey Steingarten tried to go to Paris on his own and visit all the best restaurants, he'd have a VERY different experience -- and potentially a much more interesting one to write about. But drop the name Vogue and all doors swing open; all chefs are your friends; reservations are always found. True, this is as much a part of reality as the experiences encounted by the innocent enthusiast, but it is reality of many parts -- as Shaw sagely enumerates. To have all that at your elbow and to act as the guy next door hit with a stroke of luck gets to be a little creepy.
  6. Ed Behr and I are friends and I think that the way you describe him is exactly right, although what I think we have in common is that both The Art of Eating and Simple Cooking are vision driven, not profit driven, if only in the sense that you hold to the vision and try to make ends meet. As you know, Ed is trying to transform The Art of Eating into what I (but not he) describe as something like the Paris Review of the food world. (The problem is that he doesn't have the pockets of George Plimpton.) If he manages to do this, and he's gone a great distance with it, he'll have created something truly unique: a food publication that is neither scholarly nor glossy but intelligent, independent-minded, and motivated by a very real love of serious food writing. Now Simple Cooking could never evolve in this manner. It is, I sincerely hope, a very fine thing, but it will die with me -- probably ahead of me, but who knows. This is, I think, because, although I have gift that is very much my own, I really don't have a vision. Murky depths maybe, but no proposition, no method to put forth that someone else could pick up and run with. Because of this, I can't have disciples. I think this is true of M.F.K. Fisher, too. The new M.F.K. Fisher is often announced but the comparison never holds -- not at all, usually, but certainly not for long. The same is true for another writer I greatly admire, Patience Gray. For me, HONEY FROM A WEED says everything about Mediterranean cuisine that neither Paula Wolfert or Clifford Wright has come close to saying, but you can take what they've done and go ahead with it. You can't do that with her writing; it just stands there like a rock. And a rock is something that you notice, even admire, but steer around and keep going. This is the price that has to be paid. There are other books I would put on the same shelf as my own -- speaking strictly from this perspective (I think Patience Gray is a sybil and so out of my league entirely): Daniel Spoerri's MYTHOLOGY & MEATBALLS, T Earle Welby's THE DINNER KNELL. All the same story. If I had been a novelist instead of an culinary essayist, I would have been Ivy Compton-Burnett. So, I think trying to imagine someone as being my disciple is as wrong-minded as imagining me as Patience Gray's disciple. All you can say about that is that God broke the mold before he made either of us.
  7. "It's one of my favorite corners to hang out on. " Janet, believe me, it's a very scary place. It's much more fun to hang out with the prep cooks.
  8. "Am I the only sane person in the room? " Finally, you understand the problem.
  9. "But John, that's how I think of your writing, which I like very much." But, Stephen, if you like my writing, for God's sake, you know the last thing that I am is any kind of expert. About talent, well, I suppose I do have some of that, although it is very rough hewn. Perhaps one could say that "Food writing, like any writing, is best when ignorance and talent collide"? Or, better, drag Oscar Wilde out of his special spot in Hades to retort, "Food writing, like any writing, is best defined as the place where ignorance and incompetence so often collide." "John T's [criteria] apply to another (essays and memoirs)" Well, gee, thanks for tossing me a dog biscuit and pushing me back into my "literary food writing" corner. I would argue that sensibility is what makes one cookbook superior to another, however factual it may be. It is sensibility, not just expertise, that makes Shirley Corriher so engaging, and she and I couldn't be further poles apart. You can say, "well, that's just your taste," and I won't deny it, but, believe me, my taste embraces a universe.
  10. "First, the bookstore didn't have any of your books in stock." Not surprising. The small city I live in has several bookstores and at least two gourmet food emporiums and one cooking supply store all with cookbook sections, and my writings are nowhere to be found here. I could do something about that, of course, by moaning and groaning, but...would they sell any if they did get some copies? I also notice that both SIMPLE COOKING and OUTLAW COOK are hard to get hold of new OR used. Flattering, but.... I didn't know Shirley appeared on Alton Brown's show. She must be a lot of fun; if her prose is any indication, she's a character and a half.
  11. Thanks. A writer could ask for nothing more. As to what you say about Laurie Colwin, it may be that her private appetite didn't follow her to the supermarket, wagging its tail. A lot of my snacks originate as odd bits of this or that which catch my fancy and get squirreled away at the back of the refrigerator. This is probably because I've lived by myself for so long that this aspect of my personality isn't as deeply buried as it ought to be. As it is, Matt is afraid to go poking around in the back of the fridge for fear of what might turn up. We've solved that by giving me one shelf all to myself. It is full of little containers of mysterious liquids (some of which I can identify and others that I can't), chunks of meat in various stages of cookedness, etc. etc., including a preserved duck leg I bought at a Chinese market that I can't quite figure out what to do with. Anyone know? Can I just eat it?
  12. " Chicken roll being a childhood favourite deli product that now that I think about it must have been mostly chicken skin with a bit of meat." Yes! Thanks exactly what I remember thinking when I tasted it. And, yes, it was good, after its fashion. Better than deli turkey breast, certainly. Also, the reference to "scraps" might also refer to the bits and pieces of my knuckles that were lying around on the cutting board after I finished boning the chicken. Certainly, I know that they gave the finished ballotine a certain special quality....
  13. So Thomas Mann. No, no, no. I've always found real life preferable to anything I've encountered in books, although the act of reading is as real-life as anything else. You forget that I grew up as an Army brat and lived for years in different places around the United States and abroad, notably a year each in Japan and in Germany. That spoiled me because it made me think of travel as actually living somewhere, not shooting through it. If Simple Cooking had found a readership averaging 3000 subscribers say as opposed to 1500, I probably would have made a real effort to live abroad, and in several different places. Not only to sample the food, but to experience the light, the weather patterns, the smells and sounds of everyday life. A single photograph can get me daydreaming for hours about the sky over the suburbs of Buenos Aires. It may not be too late. Now that Jonathan Day has declared me a "highly successful" food writer, can fortune be far away? Fortune enough at least to rent a walk-up flat in some dingy quarter of Lyons?
  14. "Grilled cheese" is a bit of a subset of "bread and cheese." My most frequent breakfast recently has been thin slices of Ecce Panis pane rustico, a flattish rustic loaf that is very crusty and chewy, almost to the point of absurdity, toasted and then layered with slices of some simple melting cheese like Havarti. I put this on a plate and slip it back into the hot toaster oven while I finish brewing my coffee (right now Sumatra from Chicago's Coffee and Tea Exchange. He got upset when he learned we were so broke last summer that I had had to switch to canned coffee for awhile. Bad year 2002.) As far as grilled cheese sandwiches are concerned, my ideal version is made with sharp Cheddar topped with roasted red peppers, then fried in lots of butter. As to bread and cheese, we're lucky to have a very good cheesemonger nearby and so we regularly go pick out something nice -- in the refrigerator right now we have a superb piece of Taleggio patiently waiting for tomorrow's supper. And they often have obscure unpasteurized French cheeses if you happen to catch them while they're still in stock.
  15. Yeah, I'm a thigh man myself. And thanks to the ban on American chicken parts in Russia (where most of the dark meat went), you can now get chicken thighs almost for free. A local supermarket every other week is offering a buy one package get two free deal. Just think what chicken breast meat might be like if they made chickens fly instead of just free range! I take your point about brining: in fact, so has the pork industry, since a lot of supermarket pork comes already brined because of meat's universal dryness. However, the mistake I made last night (I think!) was not thinking out some of the larger issues surrounding the recipe before I started to cook. Apart from the fact that Chinese pork is probably quite different than our own (or so I sincerely hope), American ovens are greatly limited (so far as cooks are concerned) by home safety concerns. Professional pizza ovens, for example, get much hotter than we can get our ovens; Chinese restaurants stir fry over far hotter flames than we can coax out of even a top notch gas range. I should have had the sense to look at the dish at the far side of Ken Lo's recipe and see that he was bowdlerizing it for Western kitchens. This may be the cook blaming the equipment; I'm certainly willing to admit this as a possibility, too. But I've had great success with a crispy-fried pork dish, and I imagine that is because in China or in America, hot fat heats to the same temperatures.
  16. If Fat Guy ever cornered Mary Frances and demanded that she fess up, she probably would have hit him with her walker and told him to get the hell out of her house. He forgets that she claimed that she was not a food writer and she certainly didn't have his simplistic attitudes about the craft. "Yes it's nice to flesh out your food pieces with cultural observations and such, but it should all be pointing to and informing the food discussion." This is completely wrongheaded. Any food writer who "fleshes out" his or her food pieces with "cultural observations and such" should go earn a living writing book jacket copy. What makes writing interesting, as opposed to instructive, is sensibility, and sensibility is all part and parcel of the same thing. For the same reason I think that "food writing, like any writing, is best when expertise and talent collide." This may be true of chefs, but I don't find it particularly helpful as a way of thinking about writing. Talent is too easily confused with cleverness, and expertise is as often used as a cloak for a deeper ignorance. "When expertise and talent collide" seems to me to work best as a description of Gourmet magazine writing -- which, of course, may be exactly what is meant here.
  17. Draw a complete blank here. I'll look out for him. Not a library in Western Massachusetts has a copy, but that's no surprise.
  18. Well, gang, supper has been cooked, served, and eaten, and if you are expecting the report of a ravishing triumph, I should alert you to the fact that you've stumbled into the wrong forum. Not that it was an unmitigated disaster (although that would have been more amusing to report). As it has the previous two times I've cooked it, I was faced with an alternative: rare pork with a pale exterior or well done pork with a darker, tastier experience. Since I was cooking two pieces of meat, I did both, but this was by no means a case of having your cake and eating it, too. No, it was more like having your not very good pork dish served medium and well-done. Whoopee. Now, there are different things to be said about this. My own guess is that on its home ground the pork is cooked in a HOT -- let me repeat, HOT -- oven that chars the exterior a bit while leaving the interior just gently cooked through. However, it may equally be the case that my palate simply isn't up to appreciating the subtle difference the exterior and the interior of meat cooked in this manner. But Kenneth Lo himself writes in the recipe that one should turn the pork over after 8 or 9 minutes to make sure it isn't "burning or charred" -- and, believe me, after that long in a 550F oven, the meat is not remotely in danger of this....although it would be if you were grilling over hot charcoal. I'm not sure if this means I'm throwing the towel, but I don't have any ideas of how to proceed further. On the positive side, we had some fresh arugula left over from a meal we ate a few days ago and we ate it with this one, dipping it with the pork into a standard dipping sauce. The combination was terrific. Really delicious melding of flavors. So, this is something I'll pursue in the future, probably with some other sort of pork dish. Over and out....
  19. John, would I kid a kidder? I wouldn't say this turns me on, but I certainly am very fond of it. Have you no sneaking liking for Campbell's bacon and bean soup or such? Living in England, as you do, you have such an opportunity to roll in the gutter of canned food; I can't believe you never do. Not even hedgehog-flavored potato chips? My sister brought me back a bag of those on her last visit. You can edit a post you've already put up?! I could put the accent on the right e in entrée?! I can't even get the html to work for stuff like italics. I really am out of my element. You people amaze me.
  20. Jim, I do use a two-day salt rub when I make Chinese crispy pork belly, but in this instance I don't see the point. Why do you suggest it? (Too late, now, of course, but another time.)a Vanessa, thanks very much. I looked for something like that but couldn't find it; I'll look harder (or at a different place). Cathy, thanks for the vote of confidence. I think the ceramic cooker would be great. But you ought to wait until I make these, just in case the oven explodes, or something.
  21. You jest. At least you've given my bathroom scale a good laugh -- I can hear it chortling from here. I eat the same lunch pretty much every day. I don't write about it because it's pretty boring, but since you ask: it's a slightly doctored can of Progresso Chickarina soup. First of all, I eat lunch at my desk while I'm writing so it has to be something easy to eat. I tested many canned soups to find one that met my requirements, the first of which is that I like it -- not easy with canned soups -- and second of all that can eat it without recourse to a spoon, which is distracting and, often, messy. Progresso Chickarina won because it has the perfect pasta for drinking (little round globs) and I'm a nut for those little beef/textured-soy product meatballs. Here's how I make it. Open the can and dump the contents into a small pot. Add about a half cup of milk to the can and swirl free the little pasta lumps that always remain stuck in the grooves in the bottom of the can. Add this to the pot. Then: 1 tablespoon dried onion flakes; 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic (from a jar, preferably the brand make in Portugal), a jolly dash of hot sauce, lots of black pepper, and, last but most important, a tablespoon of Erewhon brown rice cream, stirred in very carefully. This thickens the soup just enough to make it entirely drinkable (are thereabouts) and tastes good, too. Bring up to a simmer, partially cover, turn heat down to low, and set timer for fifteen minutes. Pour into a huge mug (at least 20 ounce size) and enjoy, slowly. Now you know everything about me.
  22. You write about every other meal but rarely if ever about lunch. Do you skip it? Is that the secret to your slim figure?
  23. Hey, good question! I get into various projects that I don't have any particular interest in writing about -- I hate the idea that I live my life to provide fodder for my writing. Recently I was leafing through a very interesting Chinese cookbook by Kenneth Lo called CHINESE REGIONAL COOKING (Pantheon, 1979). What makes it interesting is that Lo collected the regional dishes by traveling around China and eating in local restaurants, something more or less unheard of at the time the book was published and still relatively rare today. Anyway, one of the dishes that caught my fancy was Cantonese Cha Shao Roast Pork, which he describes as "a specialized Cantonese form of cooking which involves the long marinading and quick roasting over a high heat of strips or pieces of meat not more than 3.75 cm (1.5 in) in thickness, so that they can be heated through in a matter of minutes." However, the clincher to all this was his description of the finished product: "The marinade encrusted on the outside of the pork by the high-heat roasting frames every slice with a well-cooked rim which contrasts well with the fresh, lightly-cooked centre. This is the special feature of Cha Shao Roast Pork, which is a winner every time it is properly done." Now, for obvious copyright reasons, I can't give you the recipe as he writes it: the book is well worth searching for online and currently you can find copies for under $10...even a few under $6. But I can tell you where I've gone with it up to this point, for better or for worse. To tell the truth, the first time I made it I wasn't all that pleased with it. This was partly because I found his marinade rather bland and partly because the meat didn't cook through nearly as fast as he said it would: for a total of 13 to 14 minutes at 425F. My suspicion is that Chinese ovens are much hotter and to amplify this, tonight I'm going to cook the meat inside my oven, cranked up to 550F, putting the meat inside a cheap ten-dollar metal outdoor grill (legs removed) which I had to climb through a snow bank to retrieve. The idea is (a) partly to reduce splattering in the oven which if I make I have to clean and (b) mostly to get the hot metal radiating heat close to the meat. There's plenty of venting so I'm not worried about steaming it. (I was worried about the plastic handles melting into stinky puddles on the oven floor, but a test run showed that they could take the heat.) Also, and this, too, is no doubt totally inauthentic, I decided to serve the cooked pork with a dipping sauce. (I decided this when I tasted the first batch and found it not only raw in the center but rather bland on the outside as well. More cooking cured the second problem, but not the first.) This turned out to be so good that I have kept the practice even as I've added more pizazz to the marinade. Speaking of which, one of the ingredients for that is something he calls "red bean-curd cheese." Now, in the ordinary course of events, my guess as to what "bean-curd cheese" is would be tofu, but I can't really see tofu, red or not, as a marinade ingredient (as opposed to something >being< marinated), so I've guessed that what he means here is "red bean sauce." Maybe someone will correct me here. Finally, for the meat, he calls for a 2 lb pork fillet and I'm going to substitute two 1-pound pieces of boneless country-style pork ribs, since these were on sale this week for $1.99 a pound, or about half their usual price. (Ken, I hope you're not reading this.) So, as I head into the kitchen to start the marinading, here's where we stand: Cantonese Cha Shao Roast Pork (Feb 7, 2003) 2 1-lb slaps boneless country pork ribs Marinade 2 tablespoons soya sauce 1 tablespoon raw sugar crystals 1 tablespoon red bean sauce 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce (I have this, but will probably substitute ketchup manis) 1 star anise 1 tablespoon vegetable oil Coat the pork with the marinade and let it rest in the refrigerator for a few hours (I plan 3 hours). Preheat oven to 550F. Put the pork strips on a the rack of a roasting pan and put some water in the base to keep the drips from vaporizing. Roast at this high temperature for 8-9 minutes. Then turn the pork over (see that it is not burning or charred) and roast for a further 5 minutes. Check for doneness. Pork should be pink inside but not raw. (Remember, I'm going to be doing this using my ourdoor grill as a kind of roasting pan.) When the pork is done, slice it thinly and serve it on preheated plates, with a dipping sauce if you wish. (I'll be making this at the last minute so I can't give the recipe, but it's the usual sort.) I also plan to serve this with Szechuan fried green beans and red peppers. I can give this recipe, too, if anyone wants.
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