I'm the Co-founder and CEO of The Grommet. We launch undiscovered consumer products. It's also the birthplace of Citizen Commerce. I write about design, cultural anthropology, and start-ups, mostly.

Of surprise candy apples and underfed teenagers

Candy Apple

196 Degree Celsius Candy Apple

Food & Wine magazine published its 30th anniversary issue this month. I’ve read every issue for 26 of those years. This was an improbable outcome for a person who grew up on Ragu and Stovetop Stuffing.

Offered a dirt-cheap subscription in college, I started the habit and could never kick it. Sensual food photography, elaborate lists of ingredients and techniques, wildly inventive celebrity chefs–it’s my preferred choice of pornography. I tried to drop the Food & Wine habit when, in my starving designer days, I didn’t have money to afford it. Instead I skipped paying the electricity bill and made my own clothes. (OK, the subscription wasn’t that expensive, but it was one of my very few luxuries in those lean times.)

Moving to Ireland seemed a good time to move off the magazine, on the theory that I should convert to an Irish publication, cook with only seasonal, local foods, and finally learn the metric system. Ireland even has a magazine of the same name, how hard could it be? But I went scurrying back, renewing my Food & Wine subscription after only two short months, tail between my legs, overpaying for international postage, and suddenly searching Dublin for elusive American ingredients (who knew that slivered almonds, chocolate chips, pumpkin, and Monterey Jack were indigenous?)

Way back when, I got forced into learning how to cook because my college roommates and I had a co-op cooking system in our apartment years. I had to “own” a night’s dinner. The summer before that assignment began, I furiously clipped recipes from my mother’s Better Homes and Gardens. These culinary “delights” were full of Campbell soups, heavy cream, and chicken with the skin on. Fortunately, my friends Anne and Claudia had learned to cook at the foot of master chef mothers and they patiently brought me along. Food & Wine completed the journey.

Food & Wine is my go-to source for new and scary recipes, much to my athlete son Gray’s chagrin. He wants to maintain some bulk for his sports teams. He frequently complains, “Mom why can’t we eat normal food? Other people eat chicken and mashed potatoes, and plain steak without stupid sauces. Every night in our house I have to try a new gourmet horror. No wonder I lose weight in season.” I protest… I mean, we like, and even eat, all kinds of food, and luckily for him, I don’t always have time to make the stuff Gray hates. We have lots and lots of nights with I’m-not-sure-what-we-all-ate for dinner, and hamburgers with Heinz ketchup, and two ingredient macaroni and cheese like my mother made. I call those “Gray” nights. And I personally can eat Pringles, Wendy’s, and Pop Tarts with the best of them. Pop Tarts got me through my nauseous third pregnancy. (Wonder that child has ten fingers.) But it’s pretty hard to make this “we have normal food too” point when looking down at my plate during one of Gray’s diatribes; we are eating Food & Wine August 2008 recipe for “Summer Squash Linguini”. It’s a colorful pile of par-boiled ribbons of zucchini and summer squash “pasta”, with shitake mushrooms and crumbled goat cheese. (That was Pop Tart Baby Carl’s night–he’s the only vegetable lover.) Hmm…maybe Gray has a good point.

Fig and Gorgonzola Flatbread, from Todd English recipe in Food & Wine
Me with another nightmare of a Food & Wine recipe:  Fig and Gorgonzola Flatbread.  “Keep me that away from me.” declares Meat-and-Potato son.

My husband’s recent solution to the Food & Wine “problem” was to take Gray to the local Stop and Shop and let him load up a cart with frozen dinners to supplement his apparently under-filling and overly healthy diet.

Anyway, teenage sons and their dietary needs set aside (easier said than done), I aspire to keeping up on food trends in the magazine, appreciate the recipes because they are inventive and usually predictable in difficulty (the length of the recipe alone pretty much covers that), and they give a time frame for each recipe’s prep time.  And even if all I have time to do is read them, I like knowing that somewhere, someone eats stuff like this all the time.  (My friend Anne, for instance.)

The travel tips are spot on and often ahead of the pack. In my early readership I would read them with longing, wondering about the type of people who actually went to Tuscany, or who ate in those cool-sounding Chicago restaurants. I somehow didn’t imagine any of it was really real until a few years ago, planning a trip to Italy (we were really going!) when I called a phone number in an article about an “eco-warrior” who takes people fishing for educational and tasty day trips, off the Maremma coast. How fake does that sound? But the phone number rang, I got a real person (Isabelle), I booked a huge (and actually inexpensive) family surprise. A few months later, we met Isabelle and the eco-warrior captain, Paolo, on the boat and had one of the best travel adventures of our lives. That’s when my whole Food & Wine experience came full circle.

So in this month’s issue I learned about a Tokyo chef Seiji Yamamoto, who makes a Candy Apple recipe, pictured at the top of this post. Here’s the food writer’s review:

It was time for the famous -196 Degrees Celsius Candy Apple. With spoons, we tapped what looked like a lady apple, so shiny it could have been a Christmas ornament, and it shattered into shards of candy shell. Inside were two bites of powdered ice cream that tasted like the most delicious apple pie ever. How did Yamamoto do it—with liquid nitrogen? When I later tried to ask, he dodged the question, more chef than talker.

(The picture in the magazine made it look a lot more appealing and less scientific than the one I grabbed…this one is from a Japanese publication.) Anyway, will I ever have this crazy apple concoction? Maybe. Probably not. But I love to know that it exists.

But, from the anniversary issue, I plan to make a bunch of the choices from “30 Best Fast Recipes Ever“. I’ll consider buying the microplane grater they recommend. I’ll remember some of the kitchen design tips from an article on a clever take on a “New Americana” kitchen renovation. And I’ll discover Bloc 11 Cafe in nearby Somerville, touted as one of the “Best U.S. Coffee Bars.”

Anyway, Happy Birthday Food & Wine. BTW, I love that editor Dana Cowin writes back when you send her an email. But, Dana, I do hope that by your next birthday you upgrade your site’s search function. It’s so inconsistent that I find it easier to use Google to get to your amazing recipes and articles. But heck, we all have room for improvement, and when I do get to the recipe it’s always worth the quest. Even if one of my sons wishes I’d stick to grilled cheese and ramen soup.

2 Responses to “Of surprise candy apples and underfed teenagers”

  1. Jane C

    Jules
    I agree that food magazines are strangely addictive. I subscribe to Delicious (http://www.deliciousmagazine.com.au/) and find myself turning to pre-read issues when I want something not too demanding to read.

    The danger when feeding a family is finding a dish that everyone likes, and then making it too often. It’s a fine balance and once saturation point is reached there’s no return !

    Jane

    Reply
  2. julespieri

    Jane,

    I am still looking for that dish that everyone likes…:) Well we did have a lasagne-on-Sunday run that hit the saturation point you mention. And no one complains about pancakes for dinner. I really should go back to Ragu and Stovetop…I didn’t mind it when I was a kid!

    Reply

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