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with chef, USA Today columnist and author Kim O’Donnel at 1 pm today.

Join us! and jump in on the conversation or just follow along, as you prefer.

Easy, aromatic, soul-sustaining–there’s a reason fish stews are popular all around the globe.

Here’s the story.

Today’s Eat Your Books blog entry (I’ve decided to cross-post them here, as they’re typically full of cookbook observations):

Here’s an interesting exercise I thought we could try.  Let’s take 3 up-to-the-minute cookbooks at random off the pile and see how they address an everyday ingredient. Say shrimp.

Shrimp Biryani (Indian Shrimp and Rice), from The Food52 Cookbook.  It’s a fairly simple one-dish meal, with an attractive photograph at the end.  It has 18 ingredients if you count all the spices; it has 10 steps, and cooks in 1 pot.  Despite all the seasonings, I wouldn’t expect it to take longer than 45 minutes to an hour to complete.  There are some tips at the end, like throwing in vegetables to make it a more complete meal, or what sort of pan to use, and quotes from the cook and a user who tried it.  It serves 6.

I could easily imagine making this at home on a weeknight for the family, and I’m positive they’d eat it all.

Fiery Grilled Shrimp with Honeydew Gazpacho, from Home Cooking with Jean-Georges.  This is, I’m fairly sure, an appetizer, as the serving size works out to 4 shrimp and the gorgeous, restaurant-presentation picture has only 2.  There are 13 ingredients and 5 steps, requiring 2 cooking implements (a blender and a grill).  It serves 4, but in an “OK, what’s next” sort of way.

If I made this, it would be as an appetizer for some guests I really wanted to impress (most of my dinners don’t involve dedicated appetizers these days), and it would serve 4 only because the kids probably wouldn’t go near it.  But chances are I wouldn’t end up making it at all because I’d run out of time after making the main protein.

Asparagus Textures with Shrimp and Anise Hyssop from Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook. The photograph is so stunning I have no idea what I’m looking at, but it’s probably art.   Even the name of the dish is hard to parse.  The dish is composed of 4 recipes, with 38 ingredients (2 of which are completely different sub-recipes with 10 more ingredients and a sub-sub-recipe) including liquid nitrogen and pea tendrils.  I thought it had 10 steps, not counting the sub- recipes, but then I looked at one of the steps and saw it was really composed of 8 more steps.  The names of the four “basic” recipes making up this dish are: Frozen Asparagus Mousse, Dehydrated Almond Milk Crisp, Almond Milk Snow, and Shrimp.

Likelihood of my ever making this?  Very, very small at the present time.  I could devote a week to tracking down the ingredients, not all of which are available in the same season, and a couple of days to making the sub-recipes, and clear out the fridge to have room for all the prepped components.  But then, what would the family eat those days?  And it’s only an appetizer, after all.  On the other hand, Serves 8.

The moral of the story?  I don’t mean for there to be one.  It’s a curious commentary on the way we live today that all three of these can be called “recipes” despite their very different intents and results.  I’m glad all three of these cookbooks exist, and they each have something to offer someone–though not the same thing, and not to the same someone.  One recipe feeds the soul, another the stomach, the other the imagination–but maybe none of them can feed all three equally well.

Here’s one I haven’t yet cracked:  why do I buy store candy every year?  I hate buying it.

I resent giving my money to some multinational to buy cheap chocolate doctored with vegetable oil.  I resent funding child labor on cacao plantations.  And where we live, we barely get any trick-or-treaters in the first place.

Every year, I agonize about store candy for most of October.  And then, at the last minute, I go out and get it anyway.

I always buy the same two kinds of candy: Number 1, I buy Andes mints, because I feel nostalgic for the smoke-filled Howard Johnsons of my youth.  And Number 2, I get Kit Kats, because we all like them even though they leave us with the breath of carrion eaters.  I put the Kit Kats and the Andes mints in a basket, where their red and green color scheme looks like Christmas, not Halloween.  Then we leave the house so  my kids can trick-or-treat the next town over.  In the rare event anyone does stop by our house, there’s usually no one here to answer the door.  So every November 1st, 95% of the Kit Kats and mints are untouched.  I throw them in the freezer and there they stay till Easter, steadily dwindling in number and tainting our breath.

The irony here is that Halloween is when you’re supposed to confront the things you avoid all year.  You’re supposed to laugh at death.  You’re supposed to plunge into the early darkness armed only with a flashlight, whistling past the graveyard.  Yet year after year, I have somehow nimbly avoided confronting my darkest feelings about store candy.

Even though the Kit Kats and Andes mints have already become a highly anticipated family tradition, I can’t seem to change the facts: Store candy is bad for your health, it’s bad social justice, and it doesn’t even taste good after the first 30 seconds.

So this year, I’m gonna do it: I’m boycotting store candy.  How will this happen, you ask? Well, I’d like to say that I’ll make some kind of homemade treat and tie it up in crafty-looking, hand-sewn bags.  But we all know that’s not gonna happen.  I could skip candy and just hand out party favors, like pumpkin-shaped erasers.  But that’s lame, and besides, my problem isn’t with candy generally.  My  problem is with the poor quality of store candy, and the nefarious profit motive behind it.

If I buy anything at all,  I’ll probably end up getting some kind of obscure miniature fair-trade chocolate bar.  It might cost a little more.  So be it.  It’s probably time I put my money where my mouth is.  Maybe this one choice can make a difference–even if it’s a difference that is very small, a little dark, and definitely bittersweet.

Eating alone, and together.

This aired Friday, Sept. 23rd.  The audio link is now available.

Barring unforeseen developments, I should be appearing on WFCR’s Morning Edition Extra (Fridays 8:45am to 9:00am)  once every 6 to 8 weeks or so.

We had our first frost of the season last night.  Though it was only a little earlier than usual, it felt like a shock because the fall till now has been so warm and wet, the leaves failing to turn, the grass standing thick and damp in the fields.

Today I learned that my grandmother, my Po Po, has passed away; it was around noon, in the light of day.  She was 98.  She outlived my grandfather and my mother, her eldest daughter, and spent a long old age close to those of her children and grandchildren who lived in the Northeast.  Until her years overtook her, she enjoyed the cherry tomatoes by the side of her house.  She had scallions growing among her potted plants inside,  and there was always a bunch of bananas hanging on a stand on the table.

Yesterday afternoon, in haste, I gathered in the last of the tender crops ahead of the frost, anticipating the withered vines and frost-blackened leaves of morning.  The tomatoes–some of them–were still green, the basil not yet bolted.  And though one can’t deny the passage of time, that province devoid of choice, it still felt too soon.

Now cooking

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