What’s funny is I vaguely recall the other guests laughing in agreement, but I more clearly remember Sarah and I standing in front of the host’s stove: Sarah whisking a pot of polenta and me sautéing brussels sprouts—both of us seemingly lost in the act of cooking but more so locked into a riveting conversation about our cooking techniques for the dishes we were preparing. Actually, I kind of forgot anyone else was in the kitchen except for the two of us. It was the laughter that jarred me back into reality: the dinner party where guests were waiting for our last-minute dishes.
After that night, Sarah and I started cooking Friday lunches together, during which we talk about failed recipes, coveted ingredients, wish list pantry goods, palate development, and beloved vegetables. Add in tangents about art, spirituality, family, and our future aspirations, and it’s no wonder we usually end up eating dinner together too. As Sarah’s husband says, “You two talk in paragraphs.”
During one of our lengthy afternoon talks, we seriously considered hosting a cooking show, one in which we could showcase one ingredient and prepare our two favorite recipes for said ingredient. With two extremely talented former students of mine behind the cameras, Sarah and I are able to share our love of food and passion for cooking—beyond the page. Spatula was born.
Most people, for many reasons, find preparing their own dinners intimidating and tiresome. As ardent home cooks, we see cooking as time to unwind from the day and an opportunity to strengthen bonds with our families and friends. The kitchen should be a place of refuge and community, not one of frustration and isolation. With Spatula, our hope is to inspire folks to turn up the tunes, crank up their ovens, and fire up their stovetops. In an age of processed foods, factory farming, environmentally detrimental packaging, obesity, and rising food costs, home cooking is more important now than ever. All it takes is a good knife, a cutting board, some pots and pans, quality ingredients, and little bit of practice.
From Plate to Palate seemed to be the perfect home for Spatula. Video and other multi-medias are ideal for Connotation Press’ online forum. Of course, exquisite food writing will continue to be showcased, but my hope is that the new visual element will enhance the text and contextualize the ever-changing genre of food writing. My goal, dear readers, with your continued support, is that From Plate to Palate and Spatula will show how cooking is accessible, easy, and fun. Our accompanying essays will share food-forward insights, include the recipes, and provide helpful tips.
In the months to come, anticipate videos on an array of our favorite foods (hamburgers) and those that deserve a little more love (kale). Right now, enjoy this teaser trailer, a sweet little introduction to a project very dear to my heart: Spatula, one ingredient, two ways.
I’ve never been on a blind date, but the time Amanda stalked me on Facebook before we met and convinced me to meet her at a local pub comes close. This encounter, based on our mutual passion for writing and gustatory pleasures, was the beginning of a friendship. At the time, Amanda worked as the assistant director in the General Studies Writing program where my husband is a graduate assistant. Amanda and I had a lot of mutual acquaintances, but we didn’t know each other. Everyone I knew who worked in the GSW office kept saying to me, “You have to meet Amanda. You have so much in common.” There were always promised to get us together for cocktails so Amanda and I could meet, but invitations never materialized. So when I received a friend request on Facebook from Amanda asking me to submit my food writing to Connotation Press, I promptly accept. Even then, I admired the fact that she didn’t wait around for other people. She took matters into her own hands, and that’s also why she had the guts to meet with a total stranger.
We met a Trotter’s, a local pub with dark woodwork and crisp white tableclothes. For an appetizer, we ordered Scotch eggs—hardcooked eggs, encased in sausage and then deep fried—served with cornichons and whole grain mustard. We followed that with Brown Jug Steak, the pub’s specialty. A sirloin steak, doused in a dark, almost black jug sauce, that is at once spicy, tangy and full of umami—flavors of mushrooms, whiskey, Worcestershire, and anchovy— punctuate the beefy slab of meat. By the end of that meal, I knew we were going to be good friends. We told each other cooking stories. We found that who we are is so intertwined with food that we could talk for hours about one meal or one dish or even one ingredient.
We don’t think this is strange behavior, but when we’re around others they point out how odd it is. When we went out for dinner with my husband, at Flip Burger, in Altanta, in the middle of the meal he finally said, exasperated, “Any time either of you open your mouth and start talking about food, you talk in full paragraphs!” Then again at a small potluck party I hosted, Amanda and I began talking about every dish in minute detail. From how well the roast chicken was trussed (and if that made a difference) to the perfect technique for caramelizing sugar on crème brulee. One of our friends just shook her head at us. “You two should totally do a cooking show,” she said. But she was probably thinking, you freaks, get over it already, you’ve been talking about that damn vinaigrette dressing for twenty minutes now! On the surface, our friendship probably looks like just like two obsessed foodies that cook and eat together a lot; though with food as a conduit, it’s much deeper than that. I trust Amanda because of her food values. She sees eye to eye with me about things like local foods, organics, and sustainability. And we use food to express our feelings. When my cat Henry died last fall, Amada brought over sautéed kale and chocolate crème-filled moon pies: a perfect combination of nourishment and decadence.
Still, after all this time, I’m amazed at how simply friendships start. This summer I have been teaching 4th grade reading classes with the Institute of Reading Development. We read the Cricket in Times Square, and I love the scene when Chester Cricket and Tucker Mouse become friends over a shared piece of liverwurst sandwich. I always ask the kids, “How did you meet your best friend?” Without fail, I get nearly the same response every single time: “I asked her to play. She said, yes, and then we were friends.”That’s how it was with Amanda. As the editor of Plate to Palate, she asked me to play with some words for Connotation Press. Then, we played around in our kitchens together with bone marrow and canning tomatoes and rocky mountain oysters and pizza and so many other things. Those around us happened to notice that our obsession with food was perhaps a bit extraordinary, and we finally took our friends’ advice: You two should really do a cooking show. So we’re still playing around in the kitchen, but now we’re filming it in a new online project called Spatula, where we do what we do—cook and talk about food—in a video format. I’m excited to share with you in a new medium why Amanda and I love the food that we do. Stay tuned.
Starring Amanda McGuire Rzicznek and Sarah Lenz
Produced by RG Films & Connotation Press Productions
Directed by Rob Groulx
Shot by Rob Groulx
Edited by Kristin Esper & Rob Groulx
Song: "Tell Me Ma" by The Codgers
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