Oh, and just for the record, I feel the same way now as I did when I wrote this.
Alice Waters, What Are You Thinking?
I’m a little bit annoyed with Alice Waters.
Oh, sure, she deserves her props for her food advocacy, for helping to raise awareness about the value of organic foods, yadda yadda yadda. I admire all that.
It’s her smugness that’s bugging me.
Did you see the segment about Ms. Waters on “60 Minutes”? The one where she cooked breakfast for Leslie Stahl?
The steps involved in preparing this "simple repast" go something like this:
- Open a restaurant in Berkeley
- Pretend it’s a co-op, but retain the majority share
- Make a couple of million bucks
- Build or renovate your kitchen to include a wood-burning hearth—conveniently at standard counter height
- Pick up some hand-forged iron spoons with really long handles
- Stock up on firewood
- Buy eggs, tomatoes, olive oil and herbs (organic, of course)
- Have your assistant build a fire in the hearth about an hour before you want to make breakfast—for me, that would be at 7 a.m., so my phantom assistant would have to get up before 6
- Chop up some tomatoes and herbs (are they organic? If not…), allow the mixture to marinate
- Slice some bread bread bread*
- Grill it
- Spoon the tomato mixture on the bread (which has been placed on a hand-painted plate that you got in Italy—part of a set of 40)
- Take a nap
- Coat an iron spoon with the olive oil (did I mention that the olive oil should come from your good friend’s grove and be organic?)
- Crack an egg into a bowl, slide the egg into the oil-coated spoon
- Walk across the kitchen to the fire shove the egg under the flames gently fluttering from the log and stand there until the egg bubbles up and cooks through
- Walk back to the counter where the plated bread/tomato thing is
- Scoop the egg on top of the tomatoes
- Repeat as needed
This is the kind of every day food that’s perfect for a family of four or more because, really, making it creates an oasis of calm amidst the panicked searches for the missing homework and the right pair of black shoes. Those family members who are not sweating it out at the fire can make brown bag lunches at the same time. (You did include a separate lunch prep area in that kitchen redesign, didn’t you?)
“And you don’t really have to do it in the fire,” says Alice. “You can do it in the cast iron skillet on the stove.”
Well, thanks for that tip, Alice! Because, honestly, that never would have occurred to me.
The flaws in Alice's thinking are, in my (extremely humble) opinion, these:
Not everyone lives in California, with access to farmers and their foodstuffs—the only locally-grown organic tomatoes I can find right now look like they're made of styrofoam and they cost something like $20 a piece
Organic food costs a LOT—and I've got other expenses, like my mortgage
Shopping carefully for each ingredient takes time—I love meandering through my local farmers' markets (which operate in my neck of the woods from late May through November; the only food in stock after September being turnips) but since I have to also make a trip to the regular grocery store, shopping turns into a day-long event
But the worst part is, her serene self-satisfaction creates anxiety. Who can live like this? Do you live like this? Or are you wedging a trip to the grocery store in between work, getting the kids to their activities, going to the gym, doing a load or two of laundry, finding the lost homework, and refereeing arguments about who's turn it is to set the table with the chipped plates you inherited from Aunt Thelma?
Because that's the life most of us live—and we're the lucky ones who don't rely on public transport, aren't trying to stretch the food we can buy with food stamps, haven't had to visit the local food pantry...do I need to go on?
So, yeah, I admire the woman, but I don't think she lives on the same planet I inhabit.
* This is a completely gratuitous inside joke.