As I put together this book proposal and invest all this energy in it, I’ve been feeling like the blog, the whole reason I’m writing this particular proposal, has been kind of getting the shaft. It’s a little strange because I’m writing so much about my relationship between learning to cook and life in general, including all these stories about my first couple of years in Los Angeles and some of the crazier things that Matt and I have been through, and instead of sharing it with you here on Bon Appétempt, I’m hoarding them away, putting them all in this giant Word document (which is presently labeled PizzaTheHutt.doc because when I started it, it was just as sloppy and ravenous as that character from Spaceballs). And as I’m stashing these stories away, this passage from The Writing Life by Annie Dillard, a book I read a thousand years ago, kept coming to mind. In my head, the lines went something like this: Don’t save your ideas for later. Use them now! Use them all! But I knew that Ms. Dillard had written it much more beautifully. So, after some searching, I finally spotted the thin little paperback hiding at the very bottom of a stack of much thicker books and reread exactly what she’d written:
“One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”
Wow. It was so much better than I’d remembered. And at first reread, I felt bad. I felt like: shit, I have all these stories to tell and I’m just stockpiling them away for this book, a currently intangible entity that may never become tangible. Am I ignoring the advice of Annie Dillard? But then, I thought for a few seconds longer and reread the passage, noticing the word book. It’s actually there twice. Of course, Ms. Dillard published The Writing Life in 1989, and so I can’t be sure if her stance on not saving things for later would extend to the instantaneous, often under-edited nature of the blogosphere. (Though I’m going to interpret it as if it would not.)
Like so many of us, my relationship with the Internet is complicated. I love the Internet. Ever since that guy first told me: “You’ve got mail!” in 1996, I’ve been hooked. I love the ease, the quickness, and the ability to retrieve video clips from the USA women’s gymnastics team’s international competitions before NBC airs them. But I love books too. I love their non-quickness and the space they afford. I love the things I associate with them: vacation, school, bedtime, and bookstores. And since the two are so different, when creating content, I think it’s sometimes best to choose the appropriate medium first and then go for it.
For example, a video of making chocolate éclairs with your Mom while she downs cans of Diet Coke? Internet. The story of how learning how to cook has changed my world view and helped me redefine the meaning of success? I think that’s book material. In my life, the Internet is fun, quick, occasionally thoughtful, and a pinch stressful. Books, on the other hand, are calming, restorative, and very rarely stressful. And I love food blogs (obviously)—all those recipes and voices and glimpses into other people’s lives and kitchens—but sometimes there’s just no substitute for paging through a beautiful, food-stained cookbook.
I know I’ve already talked about this book a couple of times, but I really love the tone of Andrea Reusing’s Cooking in the Moment. The whole book feels very honest, very much like a friend inviting you over to cook with her. There’s one photo in particular from the book that makes me want to get to know Ms. Reusing. She’s wearing an oversized black sweater, seemingly no make-up, and has her head down, smiling, as she mans the grill. A friend or relative stands behind her, also smiling but again not looking at the camera. She has her hands in her pockets and looks exactly as one should look when they’re keeping the person who is doing the grilling company. The focus isn’t on a fancy house or even particularly gorgeous food. To me, it’s about the camaraderie of a really good dinner party. It makes me want to jump into the frame and join them—“Hey, guys! Room for one more? I have this weird food blog and…”
Of course, the photo right next to it, of the grilled radicchio on top of grits and paired with warm fresh mozzarella, is pretty inviting too—particularly for this vaguely-spring, more-like summer weather we’ve been having. So, despite our lack of a grill, I thought we’d give it a go. Reusing calls for Carolina Gold rice “grits,” which she describes as “short, uneven pieces of rice that have been broken during the threshing process,” but all I could find were the classic polenta, made-of-corn kind. Also, my radicchio hardly looks anything like her radicchio, but if you run a quick Google image search on radicchio, the kind I got is clearly much more prevalent. (As always, if there are any radicchio experts out there, please weigh in!)
The meal came together more quickly than I’d expected. I guess the Carolina Gold rice grits take longer to cook. Mine were ready in about 15 minutes as opposed to the 45 she calls for. And apart from my radicchio being crazy bitter, (Perhaps it needed more time to cook and mellow out?) I loved this meal. I forgot how comforting and delicious grits are and want to make a point to cook them more often. Plus, the balsamic vinegar was the perfect counterpart to the mild cheese and all that butter I put in the grits. (She doesn’t specify how much, so I just went for it.)
Also coincidentally, a short essay that I wrote on the intended (and unintended) consequences of Internet distraction will be published in the next installment of the awesome literary journal The Rattling Wall. It’s a fantastic press, so be sure to pick it up!
Warm Fresh Mozzarella with Grits, Seared Radicchio, and Balsamic slightly adapted from Andrea Reusing's Cooking in the Momentserves 4
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 heads of radicchio, trimmed but core left intact, cut in half lengthwise
extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3/4 pound fresh mozzarella, either in small balls or cut into 4 chunks, at room temperature
Aged balsamic vinegar
flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
Put the grits in a medium pot, whisk in 5 cups cold water, and season with salt. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cover and cook, stirring frequently and adding additional water as needed, until they are creamy and tender. If you are using the Carolina Gold rice grits, this will take 45 minutes to an hour or longer. The corn grits I used took only 15-20 minutes. Add butter to taste and season again with salt.
Put the radicchio on a large plate and drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle all over with the sugar, and season generously with salt and pepper. Sear the radicchio, starting with the cut side down, in a cast-iron pan over medium-high heat until it is caramelized and tender, 2-3 minutes per side.
Put the mozzarella in a bowl of hot, salted water for 30 seconds to heat and then drain. Divide the grits among four warm plates, and arrange the cheese and radicchio alongside. Drizzle with balsamic and sprinkle with sea salt.