Monday, November 23, 2009

Windy City Cooking: Week 17

(Ed.'s Note- Every Monday, Chicago's Jason Hissong writes Windy City Cooking, a column whose title says it all. Enjoy! -Max)


The Web Log
23 November 2009
by Jason Hissong

My good friend Joel used to run a blog about pop culture and other items he found of interest. His blog was full of links to other websites, because that's what the first blogs were. The word 'blog' itself is a contraction for "web log." So, in the tradition of early blogs, I present this entry in that style.

The first item is Colin Nissan's McSweeney's article. The column is the celebration of the ubiquitous fall decorative item: the gourd. Warning: some language is not appropriate for children and / or the work environment. The hook, from the opening paragaph:

"I don't know about you, but I can't wait to get my hands on some fucking gourds and arrange them in a horn-shaped basket on my dining room table. That shit is going to look so seasonal."

It's a comical piece, worth many laughs and a couple of reads. I don't know that I have much to contribute in an assessment of the piece other than it's really funny and you should read it. And if you read it and don't find it funny, well, that's not for me to inquire as to why.

The other item that crossed my radar this week was Adam Gopnik's article "What's the Recipe?" from The New Yorker.

Let me espouse my jealousy. I wish I was this articulate about cooking and writing about food. I'm not. But that's the sort of piece I'd love to write one day, with much more practice in both writing and cooking.

The hook comes from the central portion of the article, after Gopnik alludes to philosopher Michael Oakeshott. Gopnik writes:

". . . the real surprise of the cookbook, as of the Constitution, is that it sometimes makes something better in the space between what’s promised and what’s made."

This is exactly the kind of point I attempted to make a couple weeks ago when I wrote about my bookshelf of cookbooks. The cookbook represents the ideal of what could be, and yet the execution of those recipes reflects what actually is. And somewhere in between something gets lost, or changed, or added. And so, in that way, when I cook a recipe from, say, Mario Batali, I'm not making his dish. I make it my own.

Gopnik makes many great points in the article but the one that resonated with me the most is the question about learning to cook: can one really learn to cook from a book? Or is cooking something passed from generation to generation? The truth is probably somewhere in between.

I've learned much from cookbook cooking, even if I rarely follow an exact recipe. I've also learned from asking my mother what to do if, and when, and why. She doesn't always know the answers, and that's okay. What she does know she learned from someone else, and so on and so on.

Still, Gopnik's article breaks down modern cookbooks into two distinct categories: encyclopedic and grammatical. A cookbook either attempts to encompass every conceivable item in a certain style of cooking, or it attempts to teach the reader the basics of cooking in order that they experiment on their own. I own and have read both types. In fact, I own some of the books Gopnik references. This, again, shows the truth is somewhere between the poles.

It's a well-written, well conceived piece. It's something I'd love to have the experience to write someday. In the meantime, I'll continue cooking, and continue writing.

What I've Cooked, What Others Have Cooked For Me, Where I Ate

It was another crazy busy week. Monday brought me to Jimmy John's for a Club Lulu and jalapeno potato chips. Hummus and pitas comprised dinner.

Tuesday I had some canned butternut squash soup. It was okay but nothing spectacular. For dinner I went to Costello's sandwich shop, having a nondescript chipotle chicken sandwich.

Wednesday I shared with Ashley an order of mozzarella sticks and a cheese pizza from Bojono's.

Thursday I actually cooked. I made an acorn squash and some sausage. I had never made acorn squash before. It's delicious. Thanks to Kate for the suggestions on how to cook it.

Friday a bunch of us went to Cooper's. I had the Broodwich. It was okay, but nothing more spectacular than anything available at a worthy deli. The fries, on the other hand, were crisp and salty, which is just fine by me.

Late late Friday night, say 2:30 a.m. I made a stop to the local late night burrito stand for a chicken burrito supreme. Always so good, but only after 2 a.m. My friend Ben has told me repeatedly I need to do a column on late night spots for food like this. And he's right. Someday.

Saturday I attended a pot luck style event in the mid morning. There are too many people with too many dishes and it wasn't appropriate to take notes. Needless to say I wasn't empty-bellied after making my way through the line, or the desserts. Saturday night my friend Kimberly was gracious enough to have a few of us from the previous event over to her home. She made a vegetable soup for us, and then we went to the circus! Thanks Kimberly!

Sunday I found myself cooking two scrambled eggs and the rest of my sausage. Sunday night I was over at Ashley's and we resigned the fact that neither of us felt like cooking, or having Thai, so we had Bojono's pizza again.

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