Thursday, September 3, 2009

My Julie and Julia

I'd title this My Sheila and Sheila but it looks weird...


The brilliance behind the Silver Palate cookbook series died on Sunday, did you know? I didn't. I only noticed when I read her obituary in the newspaper (I like me a well-written obituary). And then I felt kind of sad, because I have this book, the one to your left, and the discovering of it was one of the more seminal moments in my long and rather speckled cooking career. I picked it up at a Costco somewhere, and all of a sudden, there in front me, I saw the possibilities of savory food. Before that I'd been a die hard sweet fan, even apprenticing as a Dessert Cook in many a restaurant, and savory foods were not really on my radar. Oh sure, I ate savory food, most every day, and I loved eating out. I'd even spent some time as a treeplanting cook, where (vegetarian) savory food production was a Serious and Extremely Well Paid Event, even if it was unaccompanied by electricity or refrigeration. I liked cooking, and people were always enthusiastic about eating my food, but cooking meals was never a Grand Passion, until I met this book. And then, one day, on an otherwise desultory Costco visit, I picked this book up. It was bright, it had interesting illustrations, and what's more, way back in the early 90's it had panache. Charisma. Style, even. Whatever it was, this book had it. I was hooked, and I know I irritated my mother to death with all my "Why didn't you ever make ____?" remarks when I was reading it. It was this book that introduced me to such oddities as caponata, peperonata, galettes, sorrel mayonnaise, and potato gnocchi before I even knew they existed (or saw a hint of them in stores). It had a repertoire of things called "new basics" before Martha did them, and (dare I utter this thought without jinxing my Martha juju?) it did them simpler than she did, with less ingredients. And it abounded in charming phrases like "In Rome, Thursday is gnocchi day..." I was so delighted that such a thing might really exist somewhere I made them then and there. As a result, the page where the gnocchi recipe is is so coated with flour it practically opens up on its own (if you're wondering why I don't just remember the recipe you're in good company: my mother wonders the same thing when I call her every Christmas for my biscotti recipe - which I can never remember either).

The other place that opens on its own is where my much-coveted brownie recipe is but I probably shouldn't give that away - page 655.

This book did for me what Martha does for me now: opens my mind up to the possibilities. And for that, I thank you, Sheila Lukins. You were great and I really owe you. I'm sad you're dead.

9 comments:

Heather said...

Well...that post is a cliff-hanger for me, just as big as Who Killed JR? What is Sorrel Mayonnaise? I need to know. We grew sorrel in our old garden and E loved it. I made sure to give divisions of it to key people so that we could get some back for our next garden. ;-) But what on earth would sorrel mayo be? Do you put the sorrel right in the blender when you are making the mayo and end up with a very tart, bright green mayo? And, if so, why? Is it actually yummy?

Answers, Shelia, I need answers!!

Heather said...

And just wait 'til I tell E that Thursdays are gnocchi days in Rome, he'll insist on making us gnocchi each week. Yum!! Did I tell you about his pumpkin gnocchi with sage butter? Delicious!

sheila said...

Heather, it's basically sorrel, egg yolks, vinegar, and oil. Maybe I'll copy the recipe onto the food blog I run so badly, and you can see it there. Or I can email it to you on SD.

I think we need to do an exchange of recipes. I'd love that gnocchi one. It sounds amazing. Is it on your blog?

I forgot to mention that she does all the illustrations for the book, and that they are almost as enticing as the recipes.

Becky said...

Sheila, thanks for this. I saw this too, and it made me sad, especially because she died so young, and so quickly; how old I feel now.

I have an old copy of "The Silver Palate Cookbook" which I ran out and bought in 1985 as soon as I graduated from university. It was *the* cookbook to have, especially because it was the "this isn't your mother's cookbook" sort of thing. The pages are stained and scribbled in, and in many cases wavy from the touch damp hands. My favorite recipe is her mother's carrot cake, made with *cooked* carrots (plus coconut, and crushed pineapple).

(PS There may not have been 25 cloves of garlic in the ratatouille, but Sheila was one of the first to have 40 cloves with her duck...)

Heather said...

Um, I think I may have blogged about it. If I remember correctly we got the recipe from a Jamie Oliver website. I can't remember if it was from JO that we got the idea to serve it with sage butter or where we saw that.

Oops, I just went to look up the recipe and I see the one we had with the sage butter was the baked potato gnocchi. There is a link here
http://ahandmadelife.blogspot.com/search?q=sage+butter

And then I think he just decided to replace some of the potato with pumpkin puree the next time he made it. My kids are like me and they like to experiment when cooking, otherwise they think it is boring. ;-)

sheila said...

Becky, I gave that one to my mum one year and spent the next 5 years borrowing it from her! And you're right - it's a tactile interactive experience using those cookbooks. It's certainly one of my favourites.

Jamie Oliver, eh, Heather? Thanks. My kids LOVE him. It might be because we watched his School Dinners while we were renovating this house, and sitting in my parents' dining room watching Jamie's homely face on a big screen while we ate hastily prepared I'm-too-tired-to-cook-right-now food was such a wild and crazy experience.

Kim said...

I have the same cookbook. :)

sheila said...

Kim! There's more to us than meets the eye, isn't there?

Kim said...

My sister also has a copy. That book helped me learn to cook, it was a gift from my Dad. I still refer to it. Can't wait to try your brownie recipe! :)