The Jesus Rule

A comic book cover with Jesus pointing at the reader and fisherman in the background. title: The Jesus Rule

Most people are familiar with the Five-Second Rule: If you accidentally drop a piece of food on the floor while cooking and pick it up within five seconds, you and your immune system are no worse for the wear.

Some particularly anxious and OCDish folks opt for the ambitious Three-Second Rule.

Then there’s the Chef-In-Need-of-Anger-Management Rule, which doesn’t involve an accident at all. This happens when you send back your food because it’s under- or over-cooked; not what you expected; too soggy, dry, small, or big, etc. Back in the kitchen, the chef allows your dinner to “fall” to the floor—or, if he’s in a particularly athletic mood or hasn’t taken his meds, hurls it against the wall—and only after it slumps, beaten and bruised to the floor, does he prettily replate it for your dining enjoyment. (Be a waiter long enough, and you’ll see just about everything.)

And then there’s the Jesus Rule. A rule created by my grandmother, Vovó Costa, and shared only with me. Its power comes from its provenance: Whenever food fell on the floor, Vovó would pick it up, rinse it, give it a kiss, and chirp at it in Portuguese, “Jesus loves you!” Content it had been absolved of all its earthy filth and sin, she’d toss the philistine bit back into the pot.

To Vovó, Jesus was the original Mr. Clean.
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A Friend in Knead

A piece of bread on a wooden cutting board for the writing 'a friend in knead'.

Alas, bread has been less forgiving of me than even my high school girlfriend. During the last few sun-dappled months of senior year, she came to realize that I was genetically predisposed to want to go to the prom with her brother rather than with her. Understandably steamed, she gave me an astonishingly icy shoulder for weeks. She eventually softened, in no short thanks to my inimitable charm and fashion tips, and we remained friends.

But my relationship with bread? Forgive the pun, but it hasn’t been so cut and dried. From the very beginning of my cooking days, I’ve been inexplicably drawn to desserts and attracted to savories. On the other hand, baking creations of the yeasted kind terrified me.

Then came Jim Lahey’s miraculous no-knead bread recipe and its breathless promise of perfect boules, which swept the Internet and spawned two books. I was extraordinarily curious. I bought a copy of Lahey’s My Bread, pulled out my Le Creuset, and baked. And baked some more—yet my boules looked more like Middle Eastern flatbreads. It felt as if bread had a vendetta against me, as if it was punishing me for my dalliances with puff pastry, cakes, and cookies the size of coffee saucers. Read more “A Friend in Knead” »

Because I Can: Homemade Ketchup

The journey that culminated in my realization of the wonder that is homemade ketchup was long and circuitous, and, as sometimes happens, littered with the body of a friend.

One autumn night in 2000, our friend Geoffrey slunk back in through our kitchen door, a waft of cigarette smoke trailing behind him, as he hoped to avoid his wife, Sarah, who was helping The One clear the dishes from the dining table so we could play cards. Geoffrey leaned against the counter while I washed dishes.

“The lasagna was great,” he said.

“Thanks.”

It wasn’t, actually. It was an anemic imposter, devoid of the beef, veal, pork, and cheese that define the true Italian diva.  Instead, it contained zucchini, peppers, and broccoli rabe layered between spinach noodles. Geoffrey was in his green-food phase. Read more “Because I Can: Homemade Ketchup” »