Monday, July 26, 2010

Another Cookbook to Rave About

Last March, I won a cookbook from Lorraine Eaton at The Virginian-Pilot. She writes about all things both local and food related. A while back, she had returned from a trip to Spain and she came back with five extra cookbooks. In her blog, she asked about the origins of mayonnaise. The top three answers would each get a cookbook sent to them. I entered that contest with an answer straight from Wikipedia. It ended up winning me the “Cuisine of Spain” cookbook.

Oh…

my…

GOD!

Let me first start off by saying I’ve never been to Spain and if I don’t get there someday, I’ll survive. However, this cookbook is AWESOME. It is the best cookbook I’ve ever had (sorry, Betty Crocker)! I dog-eared several recipes as soon as I got it, stuck it on my shelf and promptly forgot about it until about a week and a half ago. My husband decided earlier this year he wanted to start eating healthier, so that meant less red meat and more chicken and fish. After several weeks of that, I was starting to feel a little bored with cooking. So I dug out the “Cuisines of Spain” cookbook and have been using it quite a bit this last week.

According to Amazon, “The Cuisines of Spain is first and foremost a book to read. The author's first two chapters describe in great detail the history and geography of Spain's regions which she groups by shared climate and natural resources. She calls this "following bean stews rather than political boundaries." Woven into this tapestry are traces of the Phoenicians, ancient Greeks, Romans, Celts, Visigoths and Vandals (who left behind livestock farming practices), Moorish and Jewish culture, and, of course, the New World impacts of foods returning with Columbus--tomatoes, potatoes, corn, peppers. She gets granular--which pigs, grown where and eating what, contribute to the great hams of Spain.

“She divides the book by the flow of a meal, and makes suggestions throughout which dishes would typically go together. This is if you were to choose to cook an entire Spanish meal, from tapas to dessert. You could also strive to include a single Spanish dish in your weekly meals, learning as you go, expanding a repertoire, because this is home cooking. This is about every day, not just special occasions.”

True, so true. At first glance, these recipes look elaborate and drawn out, until you realize the pages include information about the dish itself, as well as the recipe: culturally, historically and geographically. But really, as you read (and this is a cookbook that demands to be read and enjoyed, not just used), you realize…these are simple recipes.

I started my foray into Spanish cooking with the first recipe in the book: a potato and onion omelet called Tortilla Espanola. I’ve never made omelets before but this one slid out of the pan, flipped and went right back in as easy as can be.

It has more than 350 pages and the second printing was published in August 2009.

I have only but one complaint about this book, and it’s more of a recommendation for future printings: how about a spiral-bound version so the pages will lay flat? Having this in a large paperback edition is alright but you have to put something on top of the pages to keep it open.

And I write in my cookbooks when I’m trying a new recipe so I know what our thoughts were on new dishes. Having a spiral-bound book would make it easier for a few quick notes when supper is done.

I have been enjoying this cookbook so much, as well as my husband enjoying it, that I emailed a thank you over to Lorraine just the other day. This is a book that will get used over and over again.

Top 5 Historical Figures

One topic of discussion on Monday’s “Rumble in the Morning” on FM99 was the top 10 presidents to party with and why. I think it came from this list of “Top Ten Presidents of All Time.”

Kind of a silly topic but it got me thinking…if I could choose five deceased people from throughout history to meet, who would I choose and why? That would make a kick ass dinner party! So, here’s my list, in no particular order:

1. Marilyn Monroe/Norma Jean Baker

“Please hold a good thought for me.”

I almost have to list Marilyn and Norma Jean separately here. Either one of them would be interesting to meet. In reading about her, I always wondered if she might have had some kind of multiple personality disorder or something. Norma Jean always seemed a like a separate entity completely from Marilyn. I read one biography of her that talked about her early life as a teenager. Norma’s mother, Gladys, suffered from some mental illness that became more apparent after Norma’s birth and Norma’s biological father left. Norma grew up watching her mother suffer from this illness, as well as her mother’s brother. Even Norma’s maternal grandfather had his brain rotted away by syphilis. Normal Jean herself was afraid she’d wind up like her mother.

Norma Jean aside, I think Marilyn had to have some SERIOUS business smarts. She transformed herself from a pretty high school student, over time, into a glamorous pin up model and then into a se symbol actress (although she might not have been a very good actress, she tried to make herself better by studying with acting coaches). She even knew how to make herself look like the anti-Jackie Kennedy (think about that blonde flip hairstyle she had going on while singing “Happy Birthday” to President Kennedy). She knew men would find her desirable.

This was not a “dumb blonde” by any chance. Her kind of sex symbol, I think, is something that still stands to this day. Okay, so she slept around with a lot of guys and did a lot of drinking and drugs, but some people are like that and can get their act together with help. I’m talking about the icon that she was: the positive things people know and remember about her.

Either way, Marilyn died in 1962 of an apparent drug overdose. I’ve always felt it was an accidental overdose. I don’t think she knew enough about or from the Kennedys to warrant someone killing her. I don’t think we can talk conspiracy theories where this is concerned. I think she probably could have died sooner, but she had a high tolerance for drugs from years of possible use.

And I don’t think she was suicidal, but maybe she was depressed. If you look around online, you’ll find reports that say she had a personality disorder, was schizophrenic, you name it. I have always thought her “problem” was simpler than all that: if Norma Jean hadn’t become Marilyn Monroe, then she would have lived longer.

2. Abraham Lincoln

"I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts."

I’m not going to lie…ever since reading Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and the biography, I’m still on a Lincoln-high. He was quiet and thoughtful. For someone without a formal education, he continues to come across as deeply philosophical and highly intelligent. I imagine Lincoln to also be very open-minded and probably had a pretty good sense of humor too. I would also imagine him to be a totally different person when he was away from his wife. You know how some people act differently when they aren’t with their spouses? In reading about Lincoln, I bet that when he was away from Mary, that was the “real” Lincoln, when he could be himself.

Lincoln was assassinated on April 15, 1865, having been shot the night before, in the private booth at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. He died in one of the rooms of the Petersen House, right across the street. To this day, Ford’s Theater and the museum below it remain my two favorite attractions in D.C.

3. Jesus Christ

“What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul.”

Let me just start by saying I am not a religious person. I’ve never read the Bible and I stopped going to church when I was in high school because I wasn’t getting out of it what I thought I would or should.

That being said, I would want to get past the religion and the Bible and just meet the MAN, Jesus. What was he like?

4. William Shakespeare

“Brevity is the soul of wit.”

I was first introduced to Shakespeare in eighth grade and I was immediately hooked. I really can only understand his plays and sonnets if I read them out loud and with a pen in my hand so I can write in the margins of whatever I’m reading from. His works are lyrical and beautiful, haunting and in some cases, filled with the thoughts of a man so in love with someone he can’t have that it’s heartbreaking. Try reading his sonnets and decide for yourself. (His wife, Anne Hathway, also passed after him, in 1616, at 34 years old.) “Published in 1609, the Sonnets were the last of Shakespeare's non-dramatic works to be printed. Scholars are not certain when each of the 154 sonnets was composed, but evidence suggests that Shakespeare wrote sonnets throughout his career for a private readership… However, over the centuries readers have pointed to Shakespeare's sonnets as evidence of his love for a young man. Others read the same passages as the expression of intense friendship rather than sexual love. At the same time, the twenty-six so-called "Dark Lady" sonnets, addressed to a married woman, are taken as evidence of heterosexual liaisons.”

Whatever the case of his sexuality might have been, I think Shakespeare was the most creative author I’ve ever read, conspiracy theories be damned. His plays remain relevant today. This is just a partial list of movies that have been made in the last 20 years, based on his works:
--Shakespeare in Love--1998
--Romeo + Juliet--1996
--10 Things I Hate About You--1999
--Much Ado About Nothing--1993
--O--2001
--Hamlet--1996

It’s just a matter of finding the right audience that will relate. Yes, sometimes, you do have to update the original material to make it “work,” but the originality of it all still comes through.

He died in 1616 at only 52 years old.

5. Gene Roddenberry

"It speaks to some basic human needs, that there is a tomorrow - it's not all going to be over in a big flash and a bomb, that the human race is improving, that we have things to be proud of as humans. No, ancient astronauts did not build the pyramids - human beings built them because they're clever and they work hard. And 'Star Trek' is about those things."

As a self-professed geek and an almost life-long Trekkie, do I really need to explain this? Of course, he created more than just ST, but it was really ST that put Roddenberry on the map. “As a freelance writer, Roddenberry wrote scripts for Highway Patrol, Have Gun, Will Travel and other series, before creating and producing his own television program, The Lieutenant. In 1964, Roddenberry created Star Trek, and it premiered in 1966, running for three seasons before cancellation. Syndication of Star Trek led to increasing popularity, and Roddenberry continued to create, produce, and consult on Star Trek films and the television series, Star Trek: The Next Generation until his death. Roddenberry received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and he was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences' Hall of Fame. Years after his death, Roddenberry was one of the first people to have his ashes "buried" in space.” Talk about creativity and a legacy of science fiction that continues today!

Roddenberry died in 1991. When word of his death was publicized, I cut the article out of the newspaper and put it into my senior year scrapbook.

Musical Monday