In search of lost lime.

Today is Bon Appegeek’s second anniversary. I’m marking the day with a long post that has taken more than two years to write. There’s a recipe at the end. I promise.

In search of lost seedsAfter several years of on-again off-again reading, I finally started volume 4 of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (À la recherche du temps perdu), entitled Sodom and Gomorrah. After you spend your life reading mostly English and American literature, French literature is a shock to the system. I should have suspected something back in junior high when every single one of Guy de Maupassant’s characters engaged in rampant adultery or random copulation, in light of which I wonder why I didn’t read more French literature. Have I mentioned the whores? It should not surprise me that Proust covers these scandalous topics and augments them with the gomorrahesque twist, a popular American dance in the fifties (I might be wrong about that).

My complaint about Proust, wonderful writer though he is, is that he often writes about fine dining but rarely describes the food. He doesn’t even include photos. Recipes? Forget it. Oh sure, he can write ten pages about his love of hawthorn flowers and twenty pages about the beauty of a church facade, but an author who has nothing to write about, say, the delectable sauce atop a succulent pheasant, won’t get read as quickly as he might. Yet many readers, botanists and architects probably, claim he was brilliant.

In search of lost leavesProust’s greatest contribution to food writing was to glorify the madeline. I read the famous passage with all due attention and was riveted by it—not because of the madeline, which I’d already baked and read about a great deal by then (food bloggers adore madelines)—but because of the unusual tea he drank with it. Nobody discusses this magical elixir. True, the tea alone didn’t trigger Proust’s epiphany, but it did dissolve the madeline and release the flavor that would catapult the shell-shaped cake into food blog stardom and forever alter literary history. You’d think the tea would get at least as much attention as Robin gets in the shadow of Batman. (Nothing about Sodom or Gomorrah implied by that Batman and Robin reference. Until this parenthetical.)

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Hats off: Tuna and Goat Cheese Tartare.

Let’s say you’re a woman who never wears hats. One day you spot an outrageously stylish hat, the kind of hat Hollywood startlets from the forties wore when they put their handprints in that sidewalk wherever it is where they do the handprint thing while flashbulbs popped and adoring fans cried at how fabulous they looked in the hat. You buy the hat forgetting that your normal daily wear is ripped jeans and a faded t-shirt you bought from The Onion ten years ago. As soon as you see yourself in the mirror in this hat it hits you: You have no business wearing this hat, anything like this hat, or anything in the remote family of this hat. You dweeb.

Tuna and Goat Cheese TartareFood styling is my fancy hat. My pictures usually end up worse when I mess with the dish too much than when I leave it alone. So I do a minimum of arranging, focus on the natural state of the food, and hope one of the shots comes out okay. Besides, I’m hungry, and I don’t feel like eating cold, congealed food (unless it’s pudding).

Then I saw this intriguing recipe for Tuna and Goat Cheese Tartare in Anne Willan’s Good Food No Fuss and tried the damned hat on again. Willan describes this dish, a creation of Australian Chef Tetsuya Wakuda, as a combination of Asian and Western flavors “to brilliant effect.” I had a vision—food styling! presentation!—of the tartar molded with a criss-cross of chives on top.

Tuna tartare up closeIn my head, the smooth disk of tartare had distinct red tuna and alabaster squares of goat cheese. On the plate, the disk ended up ragged, the tuna paled to pink, and the goat cheese dissolved into white smears. If my family had been around, they would have started making fun of me around the third time I picked up the chives, wiped them off, then repositioned them. Then they would have called me a dweeb or its Korean equivalent. Babo (바보), maybe.

But never mind my herb-arrangement skills. The tartare is rich from the tuna and cheese, almost too rich. It would be great served alongside warm grilled fruit like pineapple or melon to counter the richness and provide a temperature contrast. A squeeze of orange juice in the dressing might be a good touch too. I spooned it on romaine leaves with a side of crusty bread. Endives or sesame crackers would go just as well.

TUNA AND GOAT CHEESE TARTARE

Adapted from Good Food No Fuss, by Anne Willan
Serves 2-3 as an appetizer

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The end of 2006 and the VORTEX OF DOOM.

In 1993 I purchased cookbooks for the first time. That was a year of Jansport backpacks, overpriced flannel, and my first non-parent-owned kitchen. The only other books I had in my collection then were a church fund-raising book that my mother purchased out of pity, Pepperidge Farm holiday pamphlets, and a free Dole book with recipes that featured—surprise!—Dole products. My collection cried out for an upgrade.

Cookbook vortex of doomAt the bookstore I pondered my choices with the seriousness of a woman about to embark on a new career. It was a watershed decision—these books would shape my culinary future and live with me for the rest of my life. After consulting my flannel-clad roommates, narrowing down my choices, and considering my limited skills, I bought one “fancy” cookbook and one “homestyle” cookbook to cover my ass: Julia Child’s The Way To Cook and the 1989 edition of the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. Bookends for my buttocks, if you will. Both books still grace my kitchen shelves. Along with 117 others.

It started innocently enough. Intimidated by Julia and dissatisfied with Better Homes, I began investing in practical, all-purpose books that covered as much area as possible. As my skills grew, a growing obsession with Indian cooking gradually added 16 books on Indian food alone. I moved into more specific but still encyclopedic cookbooks such as The Cheese Bible, The Pasta Bible , and The Cake Bible. I had found my religion. Hallelujah!

My downhill slide gained momentum in 2005 and 2006. New areas of interest like canning would spark yet another buying spree. Food bloggers raved about new releases that would somehow fall into my shopping cart and show up on my doorstep to be devoured and set aside like all the others. Then the most dangerous book of all sucked me in: the pornographic coffee table ornament—books filled with beautiful prose, sexy pictures, and airbrushed silicone-breast-enhanced recipes that look so good on paper that you’d never actually make them lest you ruin the hot, dirty fantasy. My Amazon wishlist bulged with glossy books promising countless hours of hedonistic reading for the small price of only $29.95. I could feed my lust for less than nine cents a day!

When did I go from the pragmatic, conscientious buyer trying to squeeze the most from each book to the spendthrift, greedy slut buying books by the armful and tossing them on the shelf after using them once for my pleasure?

I admit it; I have a problem. But know this: I am stronger than my problem. I am stronger than my problem. Yes I am! Don’t talk back to me, problem! I’m the boss of you now, because things have changed. My New Year’s Resolution is no buying food books, cookbooks, or baking books in 2007. Instead, I will focus on cooking from the books I have and eliminate those that I don’t want.

Warning to my readers: the next few months of Bon Appegeek posts will likely be on the testy side. You may see more profanity than usual along with uncontrolled bouts of rage and evidence of excessive substance abuse. I apologize in advance. Bear with me. Please try to have a HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! despite my suffering.

Oh, and if you get a chance, send methadone.