Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Books, food, etc.

Yesterday I stopped by the library to see if I could find The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, which Alda had said was her favorite contemporary novel. With a recommendation like that, I definitely wanted to read it. But alas, the Uncle Remus Regional Library System* hath it not. I'll have to look for it elsewhere.

Of course, I didn't leave empty-handed. I brought home three cookbooks:

1. The oversimplistically named Madhur Jaffrey's Cookbook (what, like she never wrote any others?). This one's my favorite of the three. I read it pretty much cover to cover last night and took a lot of notes. She uses a lot of the same flavors and techniques over and over, but they're good sturdy techniques like popping mustard seeds in hot oil, etc., which she learned growing up in India.

2. Chinese Cooking for Dummies, which is better than it sounds because it was written by Martin Yan. I took this one out of the library before but made the mistake of not copying down the recipes I tried. This time the sweet and sour sauce and the basic chow mein are mine, dangit. I'm not the brightest bulb in the box when it comes to Chinese cooking, but the recipes in this book gave me excellent results when I used them before.

3. The Turkish Cookbook by Ozel Turkbas. I was excited, for obvious reasons, to see a Turkish cookbook in our teeny little rural library, but most of what I've found in this book looks underseasoned and Americanized. I would say the 1977 publication date is an excuse, but it's not; I have plenty of international cookbooks from the 1960s and 70s that are rigorously correct and adventurous. Still, there are a few things in this book that I can't wait to try. There's always something.

Two things I learned yesterday that have nothing to do with the above:

1. I've been rereading our copy of Amy Dacyczyn's The Tightwad Gazette (the book, not the newsletter). She has some good ideas that I use every day, but a lot of her economies are nitpicky and silly, and sometimes she's wildly inconsistent.** For years I've thought ill of her practice of substituting dry milk for fresh--that goes against everything I stand for as a foodie! But I'm willing to try almost anything once. Yesterday we ran out of milk, and instead of buying more I decided to make up a batch of the powdered milk I keep around for baking. After chilling it for a while, I bravely took a swig out of the jug. It tasted...fine. There was a malted-milk-powdery aftertaste, but it was not objectionable, just different. I'm thinking I should keep a batch of the stuff made up so I can use it in my coffee*** and in recipes, because that's an economically sound change that I won't feel a bit. When I'm making puddings (like last night's kheer), I can run through a half-gallon of milk pretty quickly.

2. On the other hand, Kellogg's Fruit Harvest cereal with strawberries and blueberries is cloyingly sweet and has a strange aftertaste. In no way is it an acceptable substitute for my beloved Kashi Strawberry Fields. I thought maybe it was the weird milk that was throwing me off, but I tasted a little cereal right out of the box and it was just as nasty. I won't be buying that again.

Oh, and...

I finished the first coat of paint on the fireplace mantel, but haven't gotten around to the second coat. It already brightens up the room a lot! I'll post a picture when I'm done.


* Yes, really. Joel Chandler Harris grew up in the county on the other side of the lake. I show off my keychain-sized Uncle Remus barcode card at parties as an icebreaker.

** For example, she bakes her own bread but buys commercial hamburger buns. If you go to the trouble of baking your own bread, why on earth wouldn't you pinch off some dough and make a few buns? Also, she compares the prices of fresh vs. processed potatoes and shows that fresh is cheaper by an order of magnitude, but then admits to buying potato flakes sometimes. I don't understand. Surely a person who's obsessive enough to wash out plastic baggies and make potholders out of old jeans wouldn't think twice about boiling a pot of potatoes.

*** It is quite literally impossible to tell the difference between fresh and reconstituted milk in coffee.