Friday, January 04, 2008

Gather-combine-tweak-shake-shake-shake: the Chocolate & Zuccini Best of 2007 list

Sometimes, when I have a minute, I sit back and think about the world of food, how vast it is, and how many rivers, hills, and valleys remain uncharted to me: I know so little, and have so much yet to learn. I don't find the prospect overwhelming, far from it. I find it encouraging, I find it promising, I find it comforting: as long as I can read books and move around a kitchen, my life will see no shortage of inspiring ideas, happy discoveries, and exciting projects.

-Clotilde Dusoulier, author, "Chocolate and Zuccini" (a blog and now a book)

In the past month, my friends and I have read and contributed to countless "Best of 2007" lists. It's fun at first, but often the entire experience dissolves into knee-jerk reactions, tired bickering and previously unplumbed depths of snobbery. Things I enjoyed in their original contexts during the year - Judd Apatow's "Knocked Up," the Arcade Fire's highly-anticipated "Neon Bible" - were placed on pedestals, debated and discussed to death, or summarily dismissed. All in all, a very anti-inspiring experience.

However, this list, which appeared in my inbox today, had the opposite effect on me.

I am only a casual reader of Chocolate & Zuccini, which became very popular with food fans in '05 and '06. Casual because, I admit, because French cooking seems more difficult than other cuisines, so I don't always have time for Dusoulier's sometimes elaborate dishes, although I do have a handful of hazelnuts in my refrigerator at home, waiting to be cracked and mixed into her recipe for sables croquants poivre et noisette (crisp hazelnut and pepper cookies).

However, I loved her Best of 2007 list. It was personal, it was sweet and it was built around things that brought her joy throughout the year, so it was a pleasure to read (except for twinges of jealousy as she described her romps through the French countryside in pursuit of the perfect portable cooking knife - why not me?). It also brought together many things that I may decide to make time for - trying my hand at muhammara (bell pepper spread with walnuts, cashews, and something wonderfully exotic: pomegranate molasses), mixing my own tea, and reading cookbooks outside my comfort zone like Moro East.

In browsing around the blog, I found a phrase in one post that I like very much: her description of her own cooking methodology as "Gather -combine-tweak-shake-shake-shake." To me, this is the perfect onomatopoeia for the creative process.

Most importantly, Desoulier's comment about the world of food being a vast, uncharted place - a thought both humbling and exciting - was something that resonated with me. So much so that I may begin to read her blog again. And to try making French food without fear. And perhaps to make my own "Best of 07" list.

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