So this is how it’s going to be – we’re four days into October and I haven’t started a new cookbook, because I haven’t closed the loop on the last cookbook because – and I do have a reason – because I was trying to give “A Platter of Figs” one more time to shine before moving on.
Surely, I thought, this will be the night I’ll make grilled halibut with Indian spices or even the soufflé-y spinach cake. But no. I was always trying to use the last of the garden's vegetables and David Tanis wasn’t giving me much help there. I could give him a pass and chalk to up to bad timing. But here’s the deal: Scanning the index for potential entrees, I kept running up against the fact that I did not have, waiting in my freezer – or even readily available – quail, rabbit, pigs’ ears, shoulder of spring lamb, or veal loin.
Great recipes, I’m sure, and worth trying for a special dinner. But in the end, the book didn’t meet the day-in, day-out standard I’d set for this exercise.
Having said that, it also ended up providing some corroborating evidence for how I cook right now. His Parsnips, Epiphany-Style, are my spears of parsnips roasted in olive oil. One of the side dishes if I end up on Death Row, for sure. Same with roasted beets, roasted eggplant, spiced olives, salted tomatoes. In many ways, David Tanis and I think along the same lines, which is cool. We all need a vote of confidence. But I'm not looking for my own routines in a new cookbook.
I’m making it sound like "A Platter of Figs" held no insights, and that's not so. I will remain forever grateful for its humble tip about garlic. Tanis wrote that he never understands why people think peeling garlic is such a big deal. “It’s so easy to do it right. Hold a firm, fresh garlic clove top to bottom between your thumb and forefinger and quickly squeeze the clove until the skin pops. Then the clove is easily peeled.”
Honest to Pete, I had never heard of this technique. And it works, better than smashing the clove with a knife. And it’s rather satisfying to feel, and sometimes even hear, that soft “snap” that means a clove’s surprisingly sturdy back has been broken. Call it Garlic, Epiphany-Style.
So thank you, Chef Tanis, for the tip, and the encouragement, and that recipe for jalapeno butter with the vegetables.
But bottom line: This book is destined for the bottom shelf. If the economy doesn’t pick up, it may end up at Half-Price Books. For now, though, I’ll keep it under my roof -- as a vote of confidence.