Mark Bittman is our family's version of an American folk hero. Sure, myth has it Paul Bunyan dug the Grand Canyon with just his ax and an ox. And Pecos Bill, they say, could ride anything, even a tornado. But neither could have pulled off the same impressive feat that the professional food writer and cookbook author did at our place a few years back.
Because of him, we actually have fresh, homemade meals a lot more often now.
And as those who know me well, or frankly, know me at all, know, I'm not the one cooking them.
It all began during the holiday season of 2010. As appropriate for Hanukkah, this miracle also involved oil -- for cooking, though, as opposed to sacred lighting. This was the year my sister, instead of a predictable iTunes gift card, gave my then 13-year-old son a shiny hardcover copy of Bittman's How to Cook Everything.
And with it everything changed.
I think it was the "everything" part of the title that so enthralled my son. If you'd told him this book would help him with desserts only, or braising, or how to measure a cup of flour, I don't think the fascination would have been quite so intense. But this was a culinary opus, a full-on dissertation ---the Completely Revised Tenth Anniversary Edition, no less. Within days we were having Sweet Baked Omelets for weekend breakfasts and leftover Stir Fried Chicken with Black Beansfor lunch.
That first week we had fresh homemade pasta with fresh homemade Bolognese meat sauce for dinner. I'm not sure we'd ever had two fully fresh things on our plates before, not to mention the salad. My son actually got so good in the kitchen a neighbor mom with similar feelings towards baking as I have commissioned him to prepare a pineapple upside down cake, her husband's favorite, for his 46th birthday celebration.
So when Hanukkah 2011 rolled around, it made perfect sense for my mother to give him How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. And lo and behold we were eating things like tofu and seitan with regularity. And genuinely enjoying them.
Both volumes are now on permanent display in our home, much the same way another family might honor an heirloom Bible or a signed, first edition of a favorite book. Side by side they sit, one red, one green, and both flour-coated (my son is a remarkably messy chef) to remind of us the day that things changed forever at family mealtime.
And as far as I know Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill have never appeared in Madison before. But Monona Terrace is exactly where our hero will be Saturday, April 21, to deliver the keynote at this year's Isthmus Green Day event.
Bittman will be addressing conscious eating and the connection between diet, health and the environment. In essence, he will try to change the way we think about food.
And it's no tall tale to say that for my family he already has.
And if he could get me cooking? Well, that would truly be the stuff legends are made of.comments powered by Disqus
Is it just me or does each summer seem to go by quicker than the last? The end of summer is upon us and for many families this means the start of a new school year.
This past week, on the way to the grocery store, my daughter asked what I believed she thought would be a innocuous question, "Mom, when are we going back-to-school shopping?"
Volunteering with the Young Writers Summer Camp this past week really helped me to remember how utterly creative kids can be when encouraged to come up with their own ideas and use their own words.
This past week I gleefully accepted an offer for new job on the UW-Madison campus. My kids are getting are older and I guess I've felt for a while now that it was time to figure out what would be next for me on the professional front.
"Kids spend so much time in and around school, it's the only place where some have a chance to develop an appreciation for a healthy lifestyle," says Katie Hensel, founder and executive director of Tri 4 Schools.
"I'm envious, mom," said my twelve-year-old daughter as she hopped in the car after theater camp last week. "All the other kids in my group seem to really like, and to be really good at, singing, dancing and acting. But I think all those things are just okay."
"People are looking to book space here all the time," says Remy Fernández-O'Brien, communications and facilities coordinator for the Lussier Community Education Center, a private, nonprofit community center on Madison's west side. "They want to throw their child's first birthday party here or hold a Girl Scout meeting. We're really busy year-round, but it's especially lively here in the summer."
Last week, in response to the county-wide Sleep Safe, Sleep Well public health campaign that encourages parents to "share the room, not the bed" with their sleeping infants, Isthmus contributor Ruth Conniff penned a lovely opinion piece in defense of bed sharing entitled "Confessions of a Co-Sleeper."
As much as I'd like to believe there is latent genius in my daughter's early finger paintings, I'm pretty sure her works are not distinguishable from those created by the pointer fingers and pinkies of thousands of other children from across the world.
Seeing Romeo and Juliet this past weekend was a definite reminder that I need to prepare for something that might resemble a (Near) West Side Story around our place pretty soon.
All during childhood, we calmly tell our kids they don't need to be afraid of the dark, thunder or the monster under the bed. But it's pretty hard to keep your parental cool when your kid is about to embark on the one thing that terrifies you. I knew the problem wasn't really with him. It was with me.
Last January, when temperatures dipped below minus 30 and most people between the ages of 16 and 24 did anything to stay inside, a small yet sturdy group of at-risk teenage boys and young men stacked wood and managed controlled burns at Festge County Park near Cross Plains. Five months later, following a temperature swing of more than 100 degrees, Isthmus found some of those same guys removing invasive honeysuckle and buckthorn at Lake View Hill County Park on Madison's north side.
The first week of summer break at our place usually comes and goes without incident. At times, one could argue, it even verges on pleasant. I have no school lunches to pack and the kids have no 7 a.m. buses to catch.
Have you tried getting anywhere on either Verona Road or East Johnson lately? I'm pretty sure a six-month old could crawl to Fitchburg, or across the isthmus, in less time that it takes me to drive there these days.
As soon as the door closed behind him, I poured myself a cup of the coffee he had made and took a moment to let the enormity of what just happened sink in. My son was ready that morning despite my inability to properly set an alarm clock. My kid was ready that morning without nudging, cajoling, or reminding. He was ready, even when I wasn't.
For the past 17 years or so (i.e., since I've had kids), I haven't made books the priority in my life I know they should be. It's not that I don't try. Just this past weekend I had the best of intentions of picking up, and even finishing, I am Malala, this year's UW-Madison's Go Big Read pick. But the copy still sits untouched on my nightstand.
The longest day of the year is upon us. For those of you keeping track, the sun will rise at 5:18 a.m. and set at 8:41 p.m. on Saturday, June 21. All that daylight, courtesy of the annual summer solstice, will provide the perfect backdrop for Make Music Madison, a daylong event featuring hours and hours of free performances in nearly every corner of the city.
Last week, for the first time, I made my way up to one of the open gallery nights during Madison West's Fine Arts Week, the school's annual showcase for all things creative. The scope of the event is huge, with nearly 1,600 students participating, and the quality of the presented works is phenomenal. It's almost as if the school had been lifted off its perch on Regent Street and traveled back in time to Belle Époque Paris.
If you have aspiring authors in your house, this summer offers a fabulous opportunity for them refine their writing skills. For its second summer, the Greater Madison Writing Project, in partnership with Olbrich Botanical Gardens, is sponsoring two week-long camps in August for young writers entering grades 3-8.
There are lots of benefits to living in a college town. First and foremost, there is always something going on -- a lecture, a film series. Maybe even a protest, if you're lucky. And since becoming a Madisonian, I, for the first time in my life, find myself interested in college football.