19 December 2008

The Alices

There exists a triumvirate of women named Alice who inspire my cooking, and therefore my entire life: Alice D., Alice W., and Alice T.

Alice D. is my friend from Seattle: activist, artist, cook, radical, friend. When you go to her house, she will cook beautiful, unexpected food in her beautiful kitchen that overlooks the beautiful Puget Sound and then she will take you upstairs to her studio and show you her beautiful paintings. She will cook for you some Korean pancakes, or an organic free range chicken cooked in clay, or an apricot crumble, and you will ask her questions about the world and she will never say what you think she would say, and she will never say what anybody else would say. She inspires me to be less occidental in my approach to food, and I encounter combinations of flavors in her kitchen that I never get anywhere else. And she gave me the Chez Panisse Dessert Cookbook one year, and it is my favorite cookbook.

Besides the one "written by" one of the other Alices, Alice B. Toklas, Miss Gertrude Stein's companion--The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook. I put the "written by" in quotes because it has been postulated, and seems quite plausible, that Miss Stein actually wrote the book as if it were the memoirs of Miss Toklas. At any rate, her chicken salad with heavy cream is the best. And her stories of cooking as an ex-patriot American in war-time France for the great Miss Stein are fascinating and delicious. I have a poem inspired/stolen from her coming out in Fence fall 2010. What I come away from this book with is how much the food and the art intersected in Miss Stein's life, and how creative scavenging in hard times can bring about delicious discoveries, which reinforces the last Alice's most important premise: that food is precious.

The last Alice is, of course, Alice Waters. She is frustratingly purist in her approach. No compromises. You are a bad person if you don't procure the best ingredients you can. I sometimes feel angry at her. She has easy access to sixteen varieties of Jerusalem artichokes in Berkeley. I have access to zero. But I also feel inspired by her--what are the best ingredients in my food world? What are they? Where are they? What am I willing to sacrifice in order to buy organic flour? Danish butter? Am I willing to give up my Netflix account? My favorite bubble bath? If not, I'd better have a good reason why, or Ms. Waters will spit on me from her food throne. She is responsible for the locavore movement, for more responsible farming practices, for a resurgence in heirloom varieties, for making Americans care more about food, and is currently working very hard to get schools to provide better food for children by reconnecting them to their food cultures. She claims that food is our number one national security issue, and she is right. Also, I learned to love cauliflower all over again because of her. If you don't own The Art of Simple Food, you should. Ask for it for Christmas. It might make you mad, but it will definitely make you a better cook.

I Heart the Alices.

1 comment:

Marni C. said...

I always remember Alice D.'s hibiscus tea punchbowl. And her incredible salmon. And her cakes at the MWC celebration parties w/edible flowers.