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Inspirational, heartwarming tales of fathers in the kitchen.
Society may still dwell on gender and assign male or female roles to family tasks, but gender roles are changing, and this compilation of stories reflects that metamorphosis. Donohue, a cartoonist and editor at the New Yorker, asked 21 other fathers of varying backgrounds to share their cooking adventures, go-to cookbooks and favorite recipes, ranging from Grilled Burgers with Herb Butter to Afrikaner staple Vegetarian Bobotie. Like most collections, the quality of the writing varies. Readers may tire of tale after tale of kitchen mishaps, but the best pieces are surprising and enlightening. Highlights include Jim Harrison's"Chef English Major," a fantastic riff on food and cooking in America, which takes chefs to task for overuse of rosemary, and Stephen King's "On Cooking," an essay on how he learned the ins and outs of the kitchen after his wife lost her sense of taste and smell. There's romance here, too. Ghanaian writer and musician Mohammed Naseehu Ali tells of how cooking helped to heal his father's heart in "The Way to a Man's Heart." Matt Greenberg's "The Ribbing,"written in screenplay style, is a welcome piece in which a grill adopts anthropomorphic qualities.New Yorker–style cartoons garnish the pages,and the overall style of the book has that same urban feel.
Despite a few lulls, an engaging collection that should inspirecomfort for the man who cooks while his baby bangs on the pots and pans.
I was cooking long before I became a parent, mostly because I've always loved to eat. Maybe love isn't the right word. It doesn't quite capture the passion, the devotion, the fear, and the panic that I associate with food. Tall and thin, with a type A metabolism, I am constantly hungry. People marvel at how much I can pack away without gaining any weight. I marvel that people can skip breakfast without collapsing.
My mother was born in Ireland, and I am descended from Potato Famine survivors. It's hard to imagine how anyone with my skin-and-bones frame and insatiable appetite could have lived long enough during those terrible years to pass on his genes. My direct ancestors must have been ruthless or brilliant to have avoided starving. I'm neither tough nor all that smart, so I have no idea how the genetic code that required me to eat two deli sandwiches a night as a teenager (and that compels me to eat a meal before going to a dinner party at a friend's house) managed to endure. I sometimes think, on those rare occasions when I'm full, about how rich I would be if I wasn't spending so much money on food. I don't like to ponder how much I might have accomplished in life if I wasn't always eating or thinking about what to eat next. I'd get depressed if I considered those things for long, but I don't have the time-my hunger returns like clockwork.
Some cooks use a lot of equipment to make a basic meal. When I first started cooking for my family, no one used more gadgets and crockery than I did. Back then, to prepare a roast chicken, baked potatoes, and a head of broccoli, I needed to reach for a cutting board, a chef's knife, a roasting pan, and a steamer, typically, along with a colander, a whisk, a slotted spoon, a set of measuring spoons, a spatula, a four- quart saucepan, an eight- quart saucepan, a baking pan, an aluminum pie dish, silicone-coated tongs, three recycled thirty-two-ounce yogurt containers, four pot holders, five Pyrex ramekins, a Vacu Vin wine pump, and one rubber toy giraffe. My recipes didn't require any special equipment, but my company in the kitchen at the time did; Isis was often looking over my shoulder, or I should say ankle, as I worked.
To keep her entertained, I offered her every dull-edged tool within my reach. She was less interested in the Technicolor stacking blocks, glow-in-the-dark teething rings, and myriad other plastic toys (vibrating, blinking, or otherwise) in the next room than in what I was doing. I washed, chopped, and sautéed as my daughter teetered about, investigating the pots, pans, spoons, and other implements I tossed her way. During those preverbal days, when Isis was around, I wasn't just a cook; I was a juggler and a mime. Never mind a messy counter: the floor was an obstacle course. When I was finished cooking and Isis was finished playing, I often had to wash everything, twice. Our kitchen would have been the cleanest in Brooklyn except that Isis kept licking everything.
Before Sarah and I had kids, I did most of the cooking. Or we'd cook together. Or we'd eat out. Or we'd go hungry. New parents always marvel at all the time they wasted in their lives before children came along—how they can't remember what they did with those empty Sundays, to say nothing of the vacant mornings and evenings all week long—but I really have no idea what I did before our kids were born. For all I know, we were feeding each other figs and strawberries while lounging on divans. Postmarriage and prekids, it was a heady time of easy freedom and grand plans. Sarah and I came of age after the first wave of feminism. We were swept away by the idea of equal opportunity for the sexes. When we got married, we assumed that we'd split the responsibility of running a house. Sarah devoted herself to her career as a filmmaker, and I devoted myself to artistic pursuits.
I saw this arrangement as a real bargain. With Sarah working, I would not grow up to be like my dad, who had worked day and night as a lawyer while my mother worked day and night at home taking care of five children. With Sarah working, I figured I could avoid growing up at all. Her income would relieve me of worrying about paying a mortgage or saving for college tuition. I would not have to strap myself to the career ladder to hoist my family into the upper middle class. It was all going to take care of itself, or so I thought. And for a while, it did. With Sarah doting on me, I discovered talents I didn't know I had. I started drawing and painting. My artistic career flourished—I soon started selling cartoons to the New Yorker and other publications.
Then we decided to have children. I was at home for the first three weeks after Aurora's birth, whipping up potatoes au gratin, roast leg of lamb, and Bolognese sauce for my wife and my firstborn, who at that time was breast-feeding nicely. After I went back to my job as an editor, we started to frequent the fancy restaurants in our Brooklyn neighborhood. Aurora would sleep on my chest in the BabyBjörn as we dined. Or at least that was the plan. She'd often wake just before the entrées arrived, and we ended up spending a lot of money picking wasabi and bread crumbs from her hair while bouncing her on one knee or walking with her outside the restaurant to keep her from crying.
One brisk spring night, in search of a more affordable option, I led Sarah to an Austrian pub that I'd just read about in the paper. It was about twenty blocks from our house, but walking that far seemed easier than figuring out what to cook at home. The restaurant was crowded with attractive young people whose smiles and laughter and glow all said one thing: We're carefree and having fun. I sat in a drafty corner with Aurora strapped to my chest. She started to wail. The food came and went.
On the way home, I was angry and dissatisfied, and I had two realizations. The first was that I didn't care for schnitzel. The second was that my life wasn't working. We'd gone to the restaurant because the refrigerator was empty. Dining out was supposed to be rewarding and convenient, but I was still hungry, short on cash, and miles from home. Looking down at the cold bluestone of the Brooklyn sidewalk, I realized that if I wanted a good dinner when I got home from work, it was going to be up to me.
There didn't seem to be any choice. Sarah was not interested in cooking or planning meals. It hadn't yet occurred to me that I should be doing it. No one was doing it in our household. I wasn't happy with this realization. I was enraged. Enraged to come home from work and stare at an empty refrigerator. Enraged to have to wield a spatula after a long day at the office.
Then we had a second child, Isis, who, unlike her older sister, had trouble sleeping for more than a few hours at a stretch. We became exhausted, emptied, spent, consumed entirely. We were operating on four hours of sleep a night. Our personalities shriveled. My reading comprehension dropped to that of a one-eyed crocodile. Nothing worked to get Isis to sleep better. Out the window went my second career as a cartoonist, Sarah's fragile prospects as a filmmaker, and all semblance of civility. Waking night after night at 3:00 a.m., Sarah would get out of bed cursing like a drunken David Mamet character. I learned a few choice phrases and started to reply in kind.
Distraught from a lack of sleep, troubled by Sarah's anger, and dodging thoughts of our financial instability, I ducked into the kitchen. I went in a coward and I came out a conquering hero. Night after night, when I whipped up something delicious that pleased Sarah and fed Aurora and Isis, I felt like I was doing something so right that I couldn't possibly go wrong. Sarah would occasionally roll her eyes when I told her I was making a three-hour beef tagine with green olives or a rabbit stew with fresh sage. That was OK with me. In retrospect, a different kind of woman would have shooed me out of the kitchen and sent me pounding the pavement to get a better job. Sarah isn't like that, though, and she was delighted to enjoy my cooking. She'd repeatedly told me that she'd been happy to eat commercial spaghetti sauce and pasta every night before we met. During that same period in her life, she would also take refuge in empty churches in the middle of the day to cry her eyes out for no tangible reason. Could it have been the jar-sauce pasta? Maybe.
I love being in the kitchen. And as a father, I am not alone. The amount of time dads now spend behind a stove is at an all-time high. In 2005, according to John P. Robinson, a sociologist and a coauthor of the book Changing Rhythms of American Family Life, fathers accounted for nearly a third of the time a family spent cooking. These days, the percentage is certainly higher. In 1965, that figure was only 5 percent. That's quite a rise.
Why are more fathers cooking now than in the past? There isn't one answer, but a number of trends are pushing dads into the kitchen as never before. Over the past forty years, the percentage of working mothers has doubled, hitting nearly 80 percent of all mothers this decade. With more moms working, someone else has to do the cooking. The restaurant and prepared-foods industry has been quick to recognize this. During nearly the same time period, the restaurant industry's annual revenue has grown from less than $40 billion to close to $600 billion. That's more than a tenfold increase, and those figures are in current dollars. At roughly the same time, the percentage of Americans who are overweight has risen from 44 percent of the population to more than 66 percent.
These are unhealthy and unsettling trends. Yet it is improbable that the United States will return to the Leave It to Beaver days of the single-income family. Even if this became a possibility, women aren't likely to trade their BlackBerrys and cell phones for wooden spoons and aprons. The social consequences of such an arrangement, however, pale in comparison to the potential future economic costs. More young women go to college now than men. Girls achieve higher scores in reading and writing than boys at every grade level. The nation would suffer mightily if such a highly intelligent and educated segment of the labor pool decided to stay home.
What is to be done? The nation could continue eating out more and more and getting fatter and fatter. Or men could cook more. This is happening already: the stories in this book document it. Chef Mario Batali reveals what he makes around the house. The cookbook author Mark Bittman discusses how he found himself behind the stove. The novelist Stephen King offers tips about what to cook when you don't feel like cooking, and the screenwriter Matt Greenberg delivers a comic yet harrowing tale of grilling gone wrong. The science journalist Shankar Vedantam uncovers hidden associations in the subconscious that affect how we view cooking. And the memoirist Sean Wilsey gets to the truth behind doing the dishes.
Along with these essays, this book includes interviews with working fathers from across the country—from a biochemist in Boston who talks about how learning to make chocolate mousse influenced his career as a scientist, to a school counselor in Atlanta who grocery shops at 3:00 a.m., to a former public radio host in Cleveland who recalls how he got involved in canning.
What becomes clear is that every well-fed family is well fed in its own way. One important commonality can be found, however: Men who cook for their families are more likely to be happy than those who don't. Or at least they are more likely to have sex with their wives. Various studies have documented that men who do more work around the house—and that includes cooking—are more likely to have spouses who are in the mood for sex. Oysters have long been rumored to be an aphrodisiac. It is now known among married couples that oysters—along with everything from baked potatoes to stir-fried zucchini—are indeed an aphrodisiac as long as they are prepared by the man.
Which leads me to one of my shortcomings. If anything, I cook too much food, too often. Back when Isis was younger, she typically woke a little after five in the morning, and I used to get up with her and start chopping. I would get as much done as I could before breakfast. On any given morning, I'd have a fine spiced dal going in one big pot, and a smaller pot of rice finished to go with it: lunch for my wife and kids. Plus I'd prep dinner for myself and the kids, which meant letting a pot of Bolognese sauce simmer or readying a chicken for roasting that evening (by leaving it, uncovered, in the base of the fridge, I effortlessly dried out the skin, making it all the more crispy after it came out of the oven). We can't eat all the food I cook, and our freezer sometimes looks like a Rubik's Cube, tightly packed with plastic containers of soup, lasagna, sauce, and chicken stock.
Taking things out of it can be a hazard. I make sure neither of my children is nearby. If a frozen block of chicken stock were to tumble out and hit one of them, it could be devastating—the impact might scare them off good food for the rest of their lives.
Weeknight Chicken Parmigiana
This is a very fast, very simple, stripped-down version of the Italian American classic. It's made without bread crumbs, but browning the chicken in a cast-iron pan compensates for the lack of breading.
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 small onion, chopped 1 28-ounce can peeled plum tomatoes 3 or 4 sprigs fresh basil 6 to 8 ounces spaghetti, linguine, or other pasta of your choice 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts ½ pound fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced ¼ pound Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, thinly sliced
Prepare a simple marinara sauce as follows (this can be made in advance):
In a large, heavy-bottomed sauce pot, sauté the onion in the olive oil over moderate heat until completely translucent and soft. Be careful not to brown.
Crush the tomatoes with a fork or use an immersion blender to puree.
Add the tomatoes and their juice.
Reduce until thick, about 20 minutes.
Top with copious amounts of chopped or torn basil before serving.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt heavily. Start cooking the pasta (timing varies based on type of pasta, but plan on about ten minutes for something like spaghetti).
Slice the chicken breasts in half horizontally, so they are thin.
Heat a cast-iron skillet, add olive oil, and continue heating until the oil is nearly smoking.
Place the chicken breasts in the skillet in one layer and brown intensely.
Turn on the broiler.
Flip the breasts in the frying pan once they are browned.
Turn off the stove.
Top each breast with marinara sauce, basil, mozzarella, more sauce, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
Put the skillet under the broiler until the cheese bubbles.
Place the chicken on a plate.
Drain the pasta, arrange it on the plate next to the chicken, and top it with the sauce.
Not-So-Basic Black Beans
When you eat these beans, you'll taste why there's nothing basic about them—they are so rich I sometimes think of them as more of a condiment than a side dish. Long ago, black beans were a staple of my diet, and I used only onion and cilantro to make them. I ate them so often (mostly because they were very cheap) that I couldn't tolerate them anymore. When I wanted to return black beans to my repertoire, I was determined to make them taste unlike any I'd had before. This is what I came up with.
3 cups dried black beans 1 3-inch or so strip kombu seaweed (optional) 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil, or other oil of your choice 1 medium onion, diced 2 strips bacon, finely chopped 2 carrots, diced 1 stalk celery, diced 4 cloves garlic, diced ½ cup dry white wine 1 quart chicken stock 1 6-ounce can tomato paste 1 tablespoon cumin, more or less, to taste 2 teaspoons dried thyme Salt and pepper to taste
Soak the beans with the kombu overnight.
Rinse and cook the beans in a stockpot with the kombu for at least 2 hours, or until the beans are soft. The kombu will more or less dissolve.
Rinse the beans and set aside.
In a second stockpot, sauté the onion in oil until it is translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add the bacon, carrots, and celery.
Continue to sauté until the bacon fat is rendered and the vegetables are soft.
Add the garlic and cook another 2 minutes.
Turn up the heat and add the beans.
Add the wine and cook for 3 or 4 minutes.
Add the chicken stock, tomato paste, cumin, and thyme, and water if necessary.
Cook for 30 minutes to 1 hour longer to reduce to desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Excerpted from Man with a Pan Copyright © 2011 by John Donohue. Excerpted by permission of ALGONQUIN BOOKS OF CHAPEL HILL. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted May 12, 2011
There's Stephen King whose "weapon of choice is the frying pan." As he says, "You can call it sauteing if it makes you feel better - but it's really just educated frying." It seems you can give him a fry pan, a hunk of butter, and he can cook anything. His tips on preparing an omelet are not only on target but as fascinating to read as his fiction. Mario Batali's kids are served monkfish liver and foie gras for breakfast - why not?
We thoroughly enjoyed every story from the dad who managed to cook with a toddler crawling around his ankles to the fellow who simply can't seem to get enough to eat and doesn't understand why everyone isn't the same way.
Each commentary is followed by a recipe or three. These range from the extremely simple to gourmet. Writer John Donohue is also a cartoonist of note and peppers his book with smile producing illustrations ( a favorite shows a torture chamber with the victim bound and at the mercy of a villainous looking fellow who says, "You can stop the pain, Marcel. Just show us how to crust a sea bass."
Don't miss "MAN WITH A PAN"!
- Gail Cooke
Posted May 31, 2011
No text was provided for this review.
Posted September 24, 2011
No text was provided for this review.