The Art of Simple Conversation

Alice Waters is doing a good thing.  She’s been doing a good thing for a long time.  If you are unfamiliar with her work, you have been living under a food rock for nearly three decades.  Chef, author, food aficionado, and most notably famous for her restaurant in Berkeley California, Chez Panisse,  Alice Waters is largely responsible for bringing local, sustainable and organic food practices to the plates of American’s nationwide.   In the 1970’s a food revolution was happening in northern California.  Waters was paving the way along with Ruth Reichl- author,  critic and editor for both the The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times, and the last editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine.  She laid her roots in Berkeley California where she was co owner and chef of Swallow- an important establishment of the 1970’s food revolution which Alice Waters was pioneering.

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Ruth Reichl & Alice Waters

A few months ago, I had the honor of attending The Art of Simple Food: Alice Waters in Conversation with Ruth Reichl at the Art Institute- one of the host’s for The Chicago Humanities Festival where Waters was promoting her new book- The Art of Simple Food 2.   I owe this privileged experience to the good folks at Chicago Foodies who hooked me up with a media pass to cover the event.  CF does not like us to repeat our posts on personal blogs so for that reason, I will send you here  (although I will admit the intros are pretty similar).  However, I will tell you that this was one of the best foodie experiences I have had yet.  Being a big fan of Alice Waters for a long time and having read and cooked from many of her books, I was especially excited to attend.   I have also always been aware of Ruth Reichl’s important presence in the food writing world.  It was an evening where two masterful food philosophers spoke eloquently about food and food practices. I was hanging on every word.  Afterward, Waters signed a copy of her new book.  I asked her to dedicate it to Olive.  I also told her that as an emerging food writer, teacher, and new mother I appreciated being a part of the evening she hosted.  She grabbed my hand, shook it vigorously and  looked into my eyes as if to say she empathized with me.  She signed the book “With hopefulness, to Olive Julia”.

P1070735atH4dzxUovH9DJbjYSoi6xMUgFvUxyKttXCDZQCHwsZMIpPvpKmOLquUG6bX3MNEmCILEDfeyo0YpZPlQM8E3m01cNoY1Pb9W-nXyBkFUcBkhPdxvhSYHX4R_nGXfuqWUjSHERy1awB4ZPA9Aw67=s0-d-e1-ftOn the way home, I took an Uber car.  The driver was from Pakistan.  We talked about food practices in Pakistan versus America, spiritual butchering rituals, goat’s meat, where to eat Pakistani food, and gyros (his favorite food since moving to America).  Our conversation was an easy one to have.  Anyone will talk about food.  It’s a good opener.  It’s what needs to happen in order for our food world to change.  More conversations about where our food comes from and how it is made.  Until then, talk to the people around you.  Ask them what they make for dinner, where they buy or grow their food, or start by listening.  See the video below:

Decadent Comfort Food for the Winter

I LOVE CHRISTMAS.   I love the pagenatry, the romantacism, the sparkle, the anticipation, I love it all.  There is an undeniable spirit that I find irresistably delightful.  This year, our tree was full and bright, adordned with  ornaments- each year adding a new one to our collection; keepsakes of our budding family.  1499426_10151786641901331_1470693544_nThis being our first Christmas with our darling Olive, I wanted to make the holiday extra special.  I had planned on cooking for both Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas Day breakfast.  I wanted the food to be decadent and rich, something that could warm our bellies and hearts.  For Christmas Eve dinner I turned to Alice Waters.  Her cookbooks are full of simple and elegant recipes and use whole ingredients that are easy to prepare.  Everything is equally satisfying and tasteful.    Her slow cooked pork shoulder is easily one of my most favorite things I have ever made.  To accompany the salty and fatty pork, I roasted brussel sprouts alongside sweet potatoes of which I drizzled honey and dusted with cinnamon and curry powder.  I included a parsnip and thyme puree which added an interesting textural and aromatic component .  For dessert, a lemon blackberry cheesecake.  It was my first cheesecake, It was really good.

Cheesecake Batter

Cheesecake Batter

Christmas Day, I made grilled brie sandwiches layered with roasted strawberries and dark chocolate.  I credit this find to Jessica at How Sweet It Is.  For this treat, simply toss halved strawberries in olive oil and lay a single layer on a cookie sheet and roast for 20 mins at 350 degrees- toss halfway through roasting.  In the meantime, butter two slices of good grilling bread like sourdough, or maybe try experimenting with challah or brioche- on the outside.  Layer one side with brie, broken pieces of dark chocolate (I used dark chocolate with coffee) and top with roasted strawberries.  Grill in pan until outside is golden and the inside begins to melt.  Use a fork and knife.

Grilled Brie Sandwiches with Roasted Strawberries and Dark Chocolate

Grilled Brie Sandwiches with Roasted Strawberries and Dark Chocolate

But really, this post is all about the star of the show-  Alice Water’s Long-Cooked Pork Shoulder from her Chez Panissee Cafe Cookbook.  This is a go-to, no-brainer recipe that always steals the show at every dinner.  The longer cooking time allows the fat on top to render making the most perfectly crisp top that melts like butter in your mouth and helps keep the meat tender and moist.  It is pure pork heaven.

Ingredients: 1 bone-in pork shoulder about 4 lbs

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Red pepper flakes

Chopped sage

Instructions:

Alice Waters recommends having your butcher tie the meat to the bone.  Keeping the meat close to the bone greatly enhances the flavor.

Liberally season the meat with the salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and sage the day before.  Wrap and place pork shoulder in the fridge.

The next day, bring the pork shoulder to room temp.  Waters recommends roasting the pork in an earthenware baking dish at 4oo degrees for two hours and twenty minutes.  After two hours, baste the pork with the rendered fat.  Let the meat rest for 20 minutes before carving.