Pane Siciliano: One Sexy Bread


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The same thing always happens when I’ve been on my weeks-long trips for book research in Singapore.

When I’m away, I find myself overcome with intense longing for something in my Brooklyn home. By the time I return, it’s all I can do to keep myself from running toward it (cue slow-motion romantic comedy music here) and getting it all hot and, well, hot.

My family home in Singapore doesn’t have an oven, you see — so when I’m away from my trusty hunk of stainless steel, a major itch to bake starts taking over.

When I returned this time, I was determined to jump back into the Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge, where bakers around the world are making a bread each week from Peter Reinhart’s “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.”

On the docket that week was pane Siciliano, a beautiful, golden Italian bread formed in a voluptuous “S” shape.

It seemed like just the thing to scratch my itch.

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Gourmet: A Letter to Si Newhouse


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Dear Si,

By now, you may have heard from others like me–the heartsick and the grieving, all mourning the demise of Gourmet magazine, a formidable kitchen companion to many for almost 70 years.

By now, you may have seen the words “iconic” and “institution” bandied about. You may have heard the sepia-toned reminiscing of armchair travelers and culinary voyeurs whose lives have been the better, even for just moments, because of Gourmet.

And you’ve probably heard the words: Save Gourmet.

Gourmet has been a victim of the economic downturn, to be sure. The financial reasons for the close are clear — its advertising revenue had plummeted 43% in the first half of 2009, a bigger drop than the industry average, and newsstand sales have suffered as well.

In an interview with Bloomberg News, Condé Nast chief executive Chuck Townsend said of Gourmet: “It is the epitome of Condé Nast photography and journalism, but it’s a poor business.” On the flip side, Bon Appetit, with its more accessible, recipe-heavy emphasis that hews more toward Rachael Ray than Anna Wintour, has fared better in this economy.

I get that. I do.

But I also mourn the broader cultural shift that this shuttering reflects — the move toward the practical instead of the aspirational. The embracing of the everyday and the 30-minute meals that populate it at the expense of the fantastical and the imaginative — the meals, the experiences, that many only dream of one day having.

Through Gourmet, I’ve been able to get an intimate glimpse of Paris through the young and newly infatuated Aleksandra Crapanzano’s eyes in the award-winning piece “Benedictions.” I’ve also been transported to little Ragusa in Sicily, where I got to know the Modicana cow, which produces some of the richest milk in the world.

Many magazines tell stories such as this — Gourmet always did so memorably. 

Yes, the practical is essential — and right now, that’s what sells. But it must exist alongside the other side of food journalism — the one that enriches lives beyond just one meal.

Without the lush pictures and the glorious tales of meals made and eaten in far-flung locales, cooking and eating becomes reduced to just pots, pans, recipes and the mere act of putting food on the table.

And with the closing of Gourmet, we’re a big step closer to that.

Sincerely,

A Fan

 

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Sicily: A Duomo Above Others


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Just about this time last year, I was in a little car, racing four hours across Sicily in search of a good meal.

At the end of the trek from Palermo, in far western Sicily, to Ragusa, in the Southeast, lay Ristorante Duomo, one of just two restaurants on the island at the time to have received a Michelin star.

Now, I’ve gone to many lengths in the name of sampling noteworthy food — this level of devotion is not anything new. But doing an eight hour-trip in a day just for a spot of lunch? Even that was a little insane for us.

What can I say? It was worth it. 

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