In person I am about the least likely person to back down from a potentially controversial position. Multitudes of jokes have been made about me being opinionated. I tend to shy away from it online, however. For one thing, I dislike dealing with the inevitable lack of courtesy that accompanies comments on the internet, where people are freed from the immediate consequences of their tone (and to be fair, it is also so easy to mistake tone online). For another thing, as much as I enjoy having opinions–lots of them–I don’t always enjoy a good debate that extends long past the initial conversation. So I tend to pick and choose carefully where I take a stand. One example that comes to mine, is my rant on the Dumbing Down of Kids’ Food (alas World Kitchen did not survive my crazy summer, but my feeling about kids food remain as strong as ever). I did draw a line in the sand then.
Well the time has come again. I just have to get this off my chest, even though I feel like I might be treading on sacred ground. I am irritated to the point of being offended by Alice Waters’ contribution to the Food52 Piglet (an annual tournament style cookbook challenge–she judged the final entries). Go read it and then come back.
I confess that I previously did not know a lot about Ms. Waters. I knew that her local, sustainable, organic movement has basically effected a revolution in the way that we in America think about food. I know that as a northerner and a midwesterner I support it, but only to a point (you try cooking locally and 100% organically in February around here!). But beyond that I confess I never thought much about her. As excited as I can get over a perfect spear of asparagus come spring, I really get more excited over a perfectly blended curry paste. The first seems like luck of the season and what the farmers around me are growing (or what I have managed to grow in my own garden). The latter, on the other hand,I take culinary pride in, that I have taught myself how to make Thai curries from scratch to the extent that a native Thai woman once asked me if she could please take some of my curry back to her boyfriend, because they had not had a homecooked curry in a long time. My taste in cookbooks and culinary media reflects the curry paste far more than the asparagus spear.
But that is just me, and my explanation for why I did not know much about Alice Waters. If you want to get more excited about the asparagus, more power to you. I would not criticize or decry your priorities. There is room for everything at my ideal banquet: seasonal fruit crisps barely sweetened and unctuously sweet cookies and candy, just picked vegetables barely steamed and long cooked curries, gorgeous cuts of fatty pork carefully turned into sausage and heirloom beans transformed into a gorgeous vegetarian stew. And to my mind as long as the recipes are delicious, there is room for all these cookbooks as well. Apparently Ms. Waters would prefer not.
She is disappointed because both of the finalist cookbooks “contribute to feeding our addiction to sugar and fat” and she seems particularly irritated at Christina Tosi’s clever (to my mind) play on the word “crack” in naming her famous sugary sweet pie “Crack Pie” (which is by all accounts tremendously yummy, although I have yet to try it). Where is her sense of humor?!? Ms. Waters “cannot support” the use of processed ingredients (I have Milk Bar and I cannot think what she is referring to other than white flour and white sugar, the building blocks of Western baking, and the use of creative and absolutely delicious mix-ins, like pretzels and potato chips). If she is incapable of supporting any baking book, I am not sure why she agreed to judge a cookbook contest. She pronounces the winner The Art of Living According to Joe Beef basically because they have a garden. She damns them with faint praise: she is clearly disturbed by the fat in the meat recipes and she awards them the piglet because they have a garden, which is a good thing no doubt, but not, as far as I can tell from other reviews, the point of their cookbook. In short, Ms. Waters does not come off as a “foodie,”, she comes off as the food police.
If I was Alice Waters’ friend–and therefore we could have a lively debate where I could express my multitude of opinions–this is what I would say: Be careful, Alice. Be careful lest your preachy ways effect the exact opposite of what you intend. You have fought long and hard to change certain things about the cuisine in this country and most, if not all, of those changes were welcome. Eating as locally, sustainably, and freshly as possible is a good thing. But it is easy to preach from sunny California where everything grows year round. And a world without candies, cookies, cakes,red meat, sausages and bacon is not a world that most of the rest of us want to live in anyway.
Whew! I feel better! And with that said, here’s a fantastic White Russian Pound Cake I made with processed white flour and processed granulated cane sugar, not to mention the Kahlua and Stoli Vanilla Vodka. We ate every last crumb. I found the recipe I adapted from in Warren Brown’s United Cakes of America: Recipes Celebrating Every State.
- For the cake:
- 15 oz (3 cups) AP flour
- ¼ t baking soda
- ½ t salt
- 15 T whole milk (see directions, 1 cup minus 1 tablespoon)
- 2 T Kahlua (coffee liquor), divided
- 2 t vanilla
- 8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- 21 oz (2½ cups plus 2 T) granulated sugar, preferably superfine (I did not have)
- 6 large eggs
- For the glaze:
- 2 T Kahlua (coffee liquor)
- 1 T vanilla vodka, such as Stoli
- 5 T whole milk
- 8½ oz (2 cups) confectioners’ sugar, plus more as needed
- Preheat the oven to 335 F, with the rack in the middle position. Grease and flour a 10 inch bundt pan (I use a spray like Baker's Joy). Set aside.
- Whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
- Place the butter in a large mixing bowl or a stand mixer bowl. Cream with either a handheld mixer or a stand mixer until creamy. Add the sugar slowly, on medium low speed, over 5 minutes. Cream an additional 2 minutes until light and fluffy.
- Add the eggs one at a time, mixing on speed 2. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.
- Place 1 tablespoon of Kahlua in the bottom of a liquid one cup measuring cup. Fill the the cup with whole milk to the 1 cup line and then add the 2nd tablespoon of Kahlua. Add the 2 teaspoons of vanilla.
- Beginning and ending with the flour mix, alternate between the flour and milk, 4 additions for the flour and 3 for the milk. Mix on low speed, scraping down the bowl as needed. After the last flour addition, mix on medium low for 20 seconds. Pour the cake batter into the prepared bundt pan. Smooth the top.
- Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean or with only a few crumbs attached. The sides of the cake should also begin pulling away from the pan.
- Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, before turning out onto a cooling rack. Let cool completely.
- Make the glaze by whisking the ingredients together. If you want it thicker (I prefer thinner glazes), add more confectioners' sugar. Drizzle over the cooled cake. Let set.
As always, affiliate links were used in this post, but only to link to products I would be discussing and linking to anyway.