Best of 2009

In the wee hours of a fresh new year, it is a lovely feeling to sit down and reminisce about the one that just ended, trying to squeeze out its essence and single out a few of its most memorable moments.

Among them, and in no particular order, I would list the release of a French classic I helped edit, a Best Culinary Travel Guide award for my Paris book, a trip to San Francisco and our first-ever apartment swap, my thirtieth birthday, and a few other noteworthy things, listed below.

Favorite new kitchen pet

Last spring I started keeping a sourdough starter, which I named Philémon, and this has been the most gratifying, wonder-filled project I have ever undertaken: each starter bread I bake seems an opportunity to learn something new and improve my skills, and the results delight us every time.

In addition to simple loaves, English muffins, and bagels, I have just started making sourdough baguettes and you will hear about these very soon.

Favorite new appliance

After a maddeningly frustrating few months trying to work with an oven that refused to cooperate, I finally threw in the towel and invested in a shiny new one that has (knock on wood) served me really, really well so far.

The contender in this category is the electric steamer I got for my birthday, which opened me to a whole new world of steamy dishes. In 2010, I ambition to use it for homemade dim sum.

Favorite new cookbook

This is not at all a newly published book, but I recently acquired Claudia Fleming’s dessert book The Last Course after hearing glowing reviews from several trusted sources. And indeed, it is a beautiful and inspiring book, full of seasonally-sound ideas and useful tips. (The book is out of print and its market value has shot up to absurd heights, but it can be ordered for a more reasonable price through the North Fork Table & Inn, where Fleming works now. Update: the book is now sold out at the North Fork Table & Inn.)

A contender in this category is Nancy Silverton’s Breads from the La Brea Bakery, a book about baking with a natural starter, which is, as I think we’ve established, my current passion.

Favorite new pieces of cookware

2009 was the year of cast iron for me: back in May, I acquired two cast-iron skillets, one vintage, one new, as well as a small, vintage, enameled cast-iron pot that matches one of my cocottes, and I gleefully got rid of the scratched nonstick pans they were coming to replace.

I am now a cast-iron convert — it conducts heat really well and is a lot easier to care for than people think — and I invite you to consider it for your next pan purchase.

Favorite new toy

The best kitchen toys are the ones you get thinking they’re just a fun gadget, but end up surprising you with their usefulness, and quickly earn their keep in the utensil drawer. In this category, my 2009 winner is this laser thermometer, for which I discover new uses all the time: checking the readiness of a griddle, a bread dough or a syrup, keeping the stock just under the simmering point, making sure the brown butter doesn’t burn, using the right temperature water for the right kind of tea… (Note: I call this a kitchen toy, but obviously you should keep it out of the reach of children and handle it with caution, never directing the beam in anyone’s eye.)

Favorite new pastry challenge

Making my own strawberry daifuku mochi after taking a class at La Cocotte.

Favorite new staples

On heavy rotation in my kitchen in 2009 were these two new staples: the olive oil tart crust, which I’ve used for savory and sweet tarts alike, and the peacamole, a green pea cilantro spread that’s quick to make and always well received.

Favorite blogging moment

To celebrate Earth Day, I asked C&Z readers to share their best tips for a green kitchen. Your enthusiasm was heartwarming and I was most impressed with your resourcefulness and clever ideas, as compiled in these two posts: Tips for a Green Kitchen, Part I and Tips for a Green Kitchen, Part II.

Favorite new DIY projects

I enjoy to try and reproduce in my own kitchen those items that most, um, normal people would buy ready-made, and these projects are especially rewarding when the result costs less and tastes just as good, or even better, than the store-bought version. In this category I’ll nominate the homemade Lärabars and the homemade vanilla extract.

Favorite food adventure

On a chilly but sunny day in late November, a friend and I joined two mushroom experts and went foraging with them in the Rambouillet forest, thirty minutes outside of Paris. It was my first mushroom-picking experience, and although I could stand to be more persistent and wear better shoes, I had a fantastic time.

I came home that night with a basket heavy with ceps and assorted, lesser-known specimens, and what followed at our table was a bit of a wild mushroom extravaganza, featuring a cep carpaccio, cep fettuccine, a cep pizza, wild mushroom oeufs cocotte, and a wild mushroom tart. I can’t wait to go back for chanterelles in the spring.

Favorite (non-food-related) reads

Because I know many of you are also enthusiastic readers, I can’t resist sharing my four favorites books among the ones I read in 2009: Dave Eggers’ Zeitoun, Peter Godwin’s When a Crocodile Eats the Sun, Nancy Horan’s Loving Frank, and Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road. (Note: I maintain a list of the books I read on the site.)

And you? I’d love to hear about your own best-of-2009 list!

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