Growing up in the 1970s I ate a lot of green beans, because that’s what Mom cooked while Dad was outside grilling the steaks. But I don’t think I ate a fresh green bean until I was an adult, even in the summer. It was just plain easier for Mom to drop a block of frozen Birds Eye French-cut green beans out of the cardboard box and into a pot of boiling water.
Times have changed dramatically: Mom wouldn’t think of buying frozen green beans now—instead she buys fresh haricots verts, the slender and tender green bean, available year-round at her local Publix. And as an adult, I was the one reaching into the frozen vegetable case at the grocery store for the rock-solid peas, because that’s all my kids would eat. I considered getting the kids to eat anything green a triumph, and frozen peas were an easy, inexpensive, reliable victory.
If I've gotten fat — as plump as a November turkey — I can safely blame Amy Thielen’s new memoir, Give a Girl a Knife. The book chronicles the Food Network star’s ascent through the storied kitchens of New York City’s fine dining restaurants (Daniel Boulud’s db bistro moderne, David Bouley’s Bouley, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s now-shuttered Chinese restaurant 66, among others). But it also delineates her Minnesota upbringing and the dishes and ingredients she was reared on and has since returned to: “chokecherries would come on the branch in early August and sugar would erase their woolly mouthfeel”; “the wild rice growing on the creek — right in our front yard —would ripen around the time that summer came to a close.” The story line is cinematic, yes, but also highly caloric. I found myself putting it down only to run into my kitchen and attempt to cobble together, in some part, some of the dishes she describes, especially the ones her mother made — the “chicken marsala with mushrooms and spaetzle in brown butter; grilled pork chops served still a little pink in the middle and cloaked with horseradish sour cream.” And like her mother — who set two sticks into the butter dish every morning and used them entirely by nightfall — I didn’t skimp on fat. (The word “butter” appears 99 times in the book. You’ve been warned.)
I’m still like this: Still buying hardcover books with no discount, still daydreaming about what I’m going to spend my 401(k) on when I withdraw it early, because who are we kidding, I’m not trying to live to 65, are you nuts? I don’t have any debt because I’ve never owned anything and I dropped out of college before my loans got unmanageable. I pay for everything in cash because I don’t understand A.P.R.s. My credit file was so thin from so many years of living pretty much off the grid that when I finally got around to applying for a Discover card, Experian thought I might be dead.