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Making an Opinion Count

I had too many opinions over the weekend.

And then last night, I had even more.

It’s serious. I’m talking six, maybe even seven unsolicited opinions! I don’t know the exact number. After half a dozen or so, I lost count.

It’s getting so that if I don’t have an opinion, I just can’t function. Every day, I tell myself that I am restricted to just one opinion. JUST ONE. But pretty soon, it’s a ‘like’ in addition to an opinion, and then a ‘share’ in addition to an opinion, and then a comment about someone else’s opinion, and then a comment that quotes an opinion that I happen to agree with, and then…

Well. I think you can see where I’m going with this. It just escalates. In my opinion, I need a 12-step program for the opinionated.

See? Not even noon yet, and I’ve already started.

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So, I was talking to my sister Beulah the other day, and the subject of these kitchen chronicles happened to come up. Well, I found myself trying to explain what was going on here – is it humor, or is it cooking, or just what? Because, according to some people out there who seem to like their rice white and their coffee black, it can’t be both.

Well as you’ve probably guessed by now, I have my own thoughts on that. See, in my opinion, food without any humor never quite hits the spot. I think humor should be considered a culinary mainstay in anybody’s kitchen – not just mine. Sniff around a bit and you’ll find that the best cooks are masters of laughter, and most of them wouldn’t be caught dead without a big pot of humor simmering away on a back burner.

Take, for example, my hero Julia Child. In her esteemed opinion,

The best way to execute French cooking is to get good and loaded and whack the hell out of a chicken. Bon appétit.

See what I mean! That sort of irreverence was the secret ingredient in Julia’s success as a writer, as a person, and as a cook. No, The French Chef didn’t shy away from wit one bit, and you can bet that her guests walked away positively tipsy from the handfuls of humor she’d thrown in.*

Yes, cooking is a serious business, and being short on humor is NOT the kind of poverty you can afford. In fact, humor is sometimes the only thing that can salvage a real wreck of a situation.

Take, for example, the day the fudge frosting you’ve been slaving over for the last 20 minutes refuses to set up. Well, ever the impatient optimist, Miss Haste E. May is not about to be deterred by such a minor setback as semi-liquid frosting, and she rashly decides to slather it on anyway.

But as the warm, runny frosting meets room-temperature, freshly-baked cake, said cake begins to crack, eventually splitting clean down the middle like a calving iceberg with one half heeling over to starboard like a sinking ship. Finding itself freed from the horizontal aspect, the aforementioned frosting naturally takes this opportunity to slide slyly over the edge of the plate onto the counter where it forms an oozing rivulet heading straight for the nearest edge. Over it goes, like a thick, molten tongue of chocolate lava, down the front of the cabinets you just cleaned yesterday, onto the floor that you just mopped last month, where it finally comes to rest – yes, finally decides to set up – in one of those waiting drifts of cat hair that tend to build up at the baseboards. (And don’t pretend that you don’t have those, because I happen to know that you do.)

Now before you ask, the answer is, yes – this actually happened to me. And did I somehow manage to resurrect this unholy mess from its state of utter ruination? Did I recover my wits and my frosting in time for dinner at eight? Did I miraculously succeed in transforming my kitchen catastrophe into an elegant masterpiece that I graciously served to astonished guests after a five-course meal, like some sort of culinary superhero dressed in pearls and an invisible chef’s cape??

HELL no. I threw that sucker in the trash where it belonged. It was good for a laugh, but that’s about it. The point I’m getting at here is that without humor, that cake – along with its evil counterpart, the frosting – would not have been good for anything at all.

Yes, humor may be invisible to see, but you sure can tell when it’s missing. It’s the antidote to dullness and fatigue and bland living – the REAL spice of life. Get some and use it with abandon. You’ll be able to taste the difference.

* Of course, the half-bottle of sherry might have had something to do with it.

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When life hands you lemons…

I know what you’re thinking.

You’re expecting to hear some sort of insipid Pollyanna-ish platitude, right?  Like maybe, “…make lemonade!! ;-)”

Well, that’s to be expected, I suppose. That sort of drivel is all over the place these days, and I might even spout some of it from time to time myself by sheer accident. I just want you people to rest assured that you won’t often catch me doing that, and if you do, it was an oversight on my part. I mean, I must have run out of coffee, or some crazy thing. Feel free to nail me for it, though.

Anyhow, this time you would not have been too far off the mark. I was going to give you my recipe for Lemon Olive Oil Cake. The way I figured it, my lemon cake would’ve made the ideal start for this little venture: not too sweet, not too sour, not too heavy – in a nutshell, kinda like me. Yes indeed, it was the perfect choice.

Right up UNTIL I baked my test cake, that is.

I swear to you, it was a nightmare of a cake. I mean, if I’d served you people a slice of that lemon cake you would have needed a week’s worth of saliva just to choke it down it was so dry. It was like eating oily tissue paper baked into an oversized lemon hockey puck. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen anything so godawful come out of my oven before in my life.

Well, that cake would’ve finished my kitchen chronicles off just like THAT. Pfffffft. Never would’ve seen or heard from you people again. I don’t have a clue what went wrong, either, so I can’t fix it. That’s the way it goes with some recipes some of the time, though – or anyway, it does in my kitchen where I have the three feline distractions milling around my feet at all times like pint-sized sharks on the hunt.

So anyway, I’ll have more to say on this subject after a bit.  For now, though, I’d better finish what I started. Here we go again.

When life hands you lemons…

…sometimes all you end up with is more lemons.

Go figure. I guess you people probably didn’t need me to tell you THAT.

Okay, I’ve gotta go let the feline fighting force outside to see what’s cookin’ so they’ll stop brewing up trouble that involves me. I’ve got more to say on this subject, but it’ll keep.

Like they say on TV, stay tuned for an important message after the break.

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Welcome to my…uhh…to my…

BLOG. There, I said it. Blog. I just hate that term. When I first heard the word, it reminded me of something a troll would leave in the woods.

These days, though, ‘the blog’ sounds like the kind of morass some poor sucker might stumble into on the way to the unemployment line, never to be heard from again. The term just seems so, well, terminal that even writing it depresses me.

And if that isn’t bad enough, inviting people to take a look at my blog makes me sound like a pervert: “Hey baby, hey baby…wanna see my bl-o-o-o-g?” I mean, just what are people supposed to think when they hear that?! No wonder they run the other way when I mention it.

No, I don’t like the word B-L-O-G at all. Back before the invention of ‘blog’ (which is just a lazy way of saying ‘web log,’ by the way), they had this thing called a ‘zine’ which was basically the same thing. Zine is slightly better, but it sounds a little too sleek and glossy and professional for anything I’ve got to say. I don’t want to have to get dressed up in leather pumps and a pants suit every day just to form an opinion.

So I’ve been giving this some thought, and I don’t see why I’d want to use an ugly word like B-L-O-G when I can use a nice word that doesn’t get nearly enough good press these days.  I’m talking about the word ‘chronicle.’

Now chronicle conjures up all sorts of pleasurable images for most people. I happen to be reminded of sailing voyages, and martians, and daily newspapers gathered from the doorstep just after dawn.

On a more practical level, chronicle is an appropriate term because the entries are, by definition, in chronological order – just like blog entries. Plus, chronicles tend to aim for historical accuracy without any slick spin.

Well, that happens to suit my purposes to a T, let me tell you. Because the way I figure it, I’ll be spending at least half my time telling you people why you shouldn’t do something the way I just did it. So chronicle it shall be.

Welcome to my kitchen chronicles.

Now, just soon as I put a fresh pot on, we’ll be on our way.

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Rachel Laudan

A Historian's Take on Food and Food Politics

in vita esse

To be alive. Dispatches from the surface of the planet.

Kicking and Screaming into the Kitchen

and other thoughts on eating, cooking, living, loving, writing from an ex-circus sideshow performer turned elephant advocate and author