It is not a memoir, but nor is it really a cookbook. Instead, Fanny Singer’s Always Home: A Daughter’s Recipes & Stories is a compendium of how food is used to convey a child’s deep, abiding love for her mother.
Singer is the daughter of legendary farm-to-table pioneer Alice Waters, and she grew up in an environment where food was the sustenance, overriding aesthetic and emotional glue of the family. “I only have recollections of things centered around food,” says Singer, whose writing is sensual in the way it captures the smells, tastes, sounds and textures of meals in their home in Berkeley, Calif., dinners with friends in the south of France, or memories of time spent at her mother’s acclaimed restaurant, Chez Panisse. “Whenever I try to describe how I see the world, food is at the core,” she says.
Singer has her PhD in art history from Cambridge, writes art criticism for Frieze and the Wall Street Journal Magazine and is co-owner of a sustainable garment and housewares line, called Permanent Collection. “My mother believes, as do I, that the best cooks are artists. They are people who have considerable regard for the gestalt of an experience: the lighting, the tablecloth, the smell of the room. All those things are invisible from the food itself, but intrinsic to the entire experience.”
Always Home bursts with tasty descriptions that, in the book’s foreward, her mom acknowledges she could never have written with such nuance and heart. Things like the “hallucinatory color of the new growth on our backyard redwood tree"; the “amber-colored smell of fruit cooking in a pot on the stove”; or the "yeasty, fat smell of pizza dough rising’ in the kitchen of Chez Panisse.”
In a phone interview from her home in San Francisco, Singer says it is not lost on her that the title of the book has been weirdly prophetic. She, like the rest of us, is quite literally always home, which she says has given her even more time to reflect on how food has been that reliable constant that got them through the best, and most difficult times.
“The way my mother communicated with me was through food,” she says. “It was rocky for me when my parents were getting divorced. I was only 13 … but she continued to make very special things for me, my lunch, the breakfast before I’d leave for school, or the meal we shared together each evening. The ritual, and the clear effort she put into preparing our food, was a way of speaking her unconditional love to me beyond language.”
Deconstructed Nicoise Salad
Serves 2 to 4
- 2 handfuls green beans
- 2 tins canned tuna, preferably packed in olive oil
- 2 cups Nicoise olives
- 2 to 3 tomatoes
- 1 red pepper
- 8-10 small potatoes
- 4 eggs
- Pepper flakes
- 3 garlic cloves
- 2 cups basil leaves
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 4 teaspoons white wine vinegar
- ½ cup olive oil
- Pinch salt
Pound 3 garlic cloves and a generous pinch of salt in a mortar until pureed. (The amount of garlic depends on preference).
Shred or finely cut 2 cups basil leaves and add them to the mortar, along with another pinch of salt. Pound until the leaves break down to form a verdant pulp.
Add 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard, 4 teaspoons of white wine vinegar, and a ½ cup of olive oil.
Whisk together and taste.
Char a whole red pepper over a gas flame, medium-hot coals or under the broiler in an oven. Rotate it until the pepper’s skin is blackened and the flesh is entirely cooked and soft. Place pepper in a small covered bowl, allowing it to continue to steam, which makes slipping off the skin with a small paring knife easier.
Boil two large handfuls of small potatoes in salted water until tender.
In a different pot, blanch a modest pile of small green beans or haricots verts in salted water.
Slice several small tomatoes or a couple of large heirloom tomatoes in half or quarters.
Wash and dry two heads of crispy lettuce, like Little Gems or hearts of romaine.
Boil 4 eggs. (Cook for 8 minutes, when done place in a bowl of ice water).
Being assembly by peeling the eggs and slicing in half. Separate tuna into chunks. Set both ingredients aside on a plate.
Remove the skin and seeds from red pepper and cut it into slices.
Place the peppers, potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, lettuce and about ½ cup of whole Nicoise olives into a wide, shallow bowl. Before dressing, squeeze a halved lemon over the vegetables and sprinkle with salt. Toss gently. Whisk the dressing to emulsify it and pour half over the salad. Toss gently to coat. (Add salt, pepper, or more vinaigrette if necessary).
Arrange tuna and halved eggs on top of the salad. Season the eggs with sea salt and drizzle vinaigrette over the tuna. For colour or a hint of heat, garnish the eggs with Marash pepper flakes.
Excerpted from Always Home: A Daughter’s Recipes & Stories by Fanny Singer. Copyright © 2020 Fanny Singer. Photography by Brigitte Lacombe. Published by Appetite by Random House®, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.
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