Thursday, October 23, 2008

Thank you.

Picture it: Mount Wolf, PA. December 25, 2000. It's Christmas morning, and I'm sitting in front of the Christmas tree in my parents' living room. My parents, my brother, his wife, and I each have a stack of gifts to open, but there's one present that is serving as quite the distraction (to me anyway). It's a book. A big book. The French Laundry Cookbook. I opened all the other gifts first -- socks, clothing, a Cuisinart, a few CDs and DVDs, but I saved this special one 'til the end of the gift-opening extravaganza, because I'd been pining for it for over a year and knew that once I opened it, I wouldn't really pay much attention to anything else. Why?

In the weeks and months after The French Laundry Cookbook was released, I'd go to Borders and Barnes & Noble, take the only non-shrinkwrapped copy off the shelf, gently open the cover, and slowly turn the pages as I tried to imagine the lucky, lucky people who actually got to own this book. The lucky people who actually got to cook this food. The lucky people who actually got to eat this food.

See, it was 1999 and then 2000, and I was working in the technology sector right smack dab in the middle of the dot-com bust. I was working 16-hour days and although I was making a good salary, I'd just bought my first house, and had to stick to a tight budget because, like most of us working in the tech sector that year, I didn't know if my job would be there the next day. There was no extra money for splurges... and The French Laundry Cookbook was, begrudgingly, a splurge.

So, on that Christmas morning after we'd all opened the rest of our presents, I tore the wrapping paper off the book, curled up in a chair next to the fireplace, removed the plastic shrink wrap, inhaled the new-book smell of my brand new, very own copy of The French Laundry Cookbook, ignored everyone else (that's the Christmas spirit!), and began to read. I don't remember much else about that day. Couldn't tell you what we had for lunch. Don't remember if it snowed. Can't recall which relatives I saw that night. All I can remember is absorbing every word, and wishing I could eat every page. I swear I could smell the Creamy Maine Lobster Broth from just the photo alone.

When I went back home a few days later, I put the book on my coffee table in my cozy, little living room, and it warmed me all winter long. I'd come home from my job, beaten down from handling media calls, trying to reassure a nervous board of directors, and watching our stock price go into the toilet, and just imagine what eating dinner at The French Laundry must be like.

Those nights reading The French Laundry Cookbook and the full-on sensory engagement that ensued oddly enough transported me back to the many afternoons I spent sitting in the hall in second grade. Because I never could quite figure out that I should raise my hand to get called on instead of just shouting out the answer and being sarcastic about how awesome I was with all my knowledge, my teacher, Mrs. Hohenshilt, "punished" me by making me sit in the hall with a book. I almost always chose What's For Lunch, Charley? because there was a section in the book I loved to read over and over again. The book is about an elementary school-aged kid and the crush he has on the new girl, Rosabelle Ruggles. He watches her eat lunch every day, but one day, Rosabelle's lunch stands out in particular -- a thermos of tomato soup, a drumstick of fried chicken, a small jar of fruit salad, and a piece of chocolate layer cake... all spread out on a clean white cloth napkin.

When Charley forgot his lunchbox one day, he decided to slip out of school undetected and eat lunch at the very fancy King Charles Hotel. Charley walked by the hotel and its street-facing dining room every day, and he always wondered what it would be like to eat there. So, he did.

He could ask for a peanut butter sandwich, an apple, a cookie, and some milk. But that didn't seem like the right thing for lunch at the King Charles. Charley drew a breath and said, "Tomato soup, chicken leg, fruit salad, and chocolate cake." Then he added, "Please." He looked up at the waitress, wondering if he had ordered the right things. She nodded and scribbled something on her order pad. Then she winked at Charley and went away.

The book goes on to describe the crisp, white tablecloth, the place setting, his seat by the window, the cold, wet weather outside... and then the food begins to arrive, one course at a time. The tomato soup was piping hot, the chicken crisp and juicy, and I remember smiling and holding my throat when reading the part about how Charley could only eat one bite of the fruit salad until he was "full to the chin." So full, the waitress had to wrap his piece of chocolate cake in foil for him to take home.

When I read that book over and over again in the hallway of Mount Wolf Elementary School in 1975, I could taste the hot, sweet and salty tomato soup on my tongue. I could feel the heavy hotel silverware in my hands. I could imagine eating the crispy, seasoned fried chicken with my fingers and wondering if it was okay to do that in a fancy restaurant. I could taste the cool fruit salad, and I could smell the chocolate cake and feel the crinkled foil around it as I imagined carrying it in my hands.

I don't know if I ever thanked Mrs. Hohenshilt for her awesome form of punishment, but it opened my eyes to so many stories and dreams and ideas. And, best of all, just like we all have distinct food memories from our past, I feel so lucky to have a really significant food literature memory in What's For Lunch, Charley?, and had no idea how prominent and permanent it was until that Christmas morning in 2000 when I sat in my parents' living room, reading The French Laundry Cookbook. As I write this, both books are now sitting side-by-side (a few books down from Michael Ruhlman's Soul of a Chef) on the bookshelf in my office here at home. Seems fitting somehow.

So, fast-forward to today, at the end of what has been a most amazing ride. There's so much to say, much of which I've already said in private to those I've needed to say it to. But there are some things I think I want to say out loud.

While anyone who has ever read this blog knows I'm not exactly the most earnest and mushy of food writers (oh, for the bliss and the cheese and my soul and our love, and YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME WITH THAT), I fully appreciate the role great love letters have played in our literary and social history. Declarations of adoration written by hand, preserved on paper, shared, held, saved, remembered. When I was growing up, these kinds of notes were written with a blue Bic pen (with teeth marks on the cap) on blue-lined white notebook paper with the reddish-pink margin lines, sometimes with drawings in the margins, folded five or six times into a rectangle, and then slid through the vents of a locker in the school hallway. I imagine nearly everyone has or has had a secret stash. Some are tear-stained and looked at every few years. Others are shoved in a box in an attic. Others burned or thrown away when things went wrong. But the one thing they all had in common was that someone took the time to say some things they needed to say in as permanent a way as they knew how.

I appreciate love letters, I really do. But I've never really written one before. Well, maybe in high school, but I'm not sure "Holy crap, trigonometry is so boring and I have marching band practice tonight [nerd!] and I cannot WAIT to go to the prom with you!" is quite the same as what I want to say here, and now, in this very public place.

There's no paper, no ink, no drawings in the margins, no folding... just my fingers typing, and these words appearing for everyone to see. And, it's more of a thank-you note, I suppose, than a love letter, but the need to say it comes from the heart.

First, to Chef Keller:

Thank you for this book, and for your grace and kindness throughout this project.

Thank you for your leadership and your inspiration.

Thank you for your sense of humor, and for letting me express mine.

Thank you for providing a smart, focused, hard-driving example to those of us who want more out of life, and who want to better ourselves, push ourselves, in whatever way we can.

You didn't know you were doing this when you and your team at The French Laundry along with Michael Ruhlman and Susie Heller, and the wonderful people at Workman/Artisan developed, wrote, and released this book, but you published something I clicked with on a level I still find hard to describe. The stories, the order, the instruction, the complexities, the techniques, and the challenges were all things I felt in my bones every time I turned a page to start yet another dish. It was almost as if cooking finally made sense. You provided something that nearly ten years later enabled me to experience the most incredible, and often indescribable, sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. And after all these years of writing for other people, you allowed me a platform from which to speak in my own voice.

Thank you.


To all of you:

I started this blog because I was bored and unchallenged, a little annoyed, and maybe just a tad crazy. I honestly wasn't sure when I started it that I was going to stick with it, but I was hooked from the get-go and felt this strange yet familiar surge of adrenaline kick in when faced with something a little voice tells you you probably can't do.

Sure, there were more than a few bumps along the way, but I am so incredibly proud of what I was able to accomplish. I had no idea I could do this, and I'm so thankful for everyone who, when I met or corresponded with you over these past two years, were so supportive and gracious and kind and funny. It makes me hopeful to know that there are so many of you out there who appreciate good food and are willing to make the effort to try something outside your comfort zone every now and then.

I've been incredibly lucky these past two years. I've been able to meet some people I've admired from afar, and I've been given some amazing opportunities that continue to open doors I never could've imagined.

In addition to all that, what I honestly and truly love are the emails I get every day from people who write to say, "I called in sick to work because I wanted to make veal stock -- am I nuts?" [no] or "I didn't think I could do anything from this book, but I just tried the duck and it's amazing!" [I KNOW] or "You know what? I think I'm gonna try the salmon cornets!" [enjoy!] or "Hey, did you hear Bloomberg is going after a third term?!?" [swoony swoon swoon]

It makes me happy to know there are so many busy, hardworking people out there -- home cooks just like me -- who want to stretch their wings and spend all day cooking something special, and who don't want their food dumbed down. I love that we've been able to connect through this and other blogs. I also love that when you hear news about Michael Bloomberg, I'm the first person you think of. That's awesome.

While I am sad that this specific blog has come to an end, I am surprised at how good it feels to be able to say, "I cooked every dish in The French Laundry Cookbook."

So, thank you. All of you.

For everything.

All my best,
Carol

p.s. Here's my forwarding address. I'm moving in next week.


Music to Say "Thank You" To:
Sly and the Family Stone, of course.

58 comments:

WhiteTrashPorchParty.com said...

I too had a similar experience with receiving the FL cookbook for my birthday in 2002. I believe it's a great read, regardless of whether you attempt a recipe (which I have done). Your experience, as conveyed to me an other readers of your blog, has been phenomenal, and you should be proud of the accomplishment.

As the freind who gave me the cookbook stated (he ripped off the shrink wrap and read it before gifting) "You gotta love any book that has a chapter on the importance of rabbits."
Best of luck, and I'm looking forward to Alinea at Home. Just got the signed copy myself.

katie said...

Congratulations! I am jealous of your tenacity and courage. I am disappointed that I only discovered your blog at the end, but at least I will be at alineaathome from the beginning!

Anonymous said...

Dear Carol, your post made me well up. I have enjoyed many culinary delights (and some frights) at your cozy blog over the years, and look forward to dining at your new establishment. You have inspired me in more ways than I can express, so I'll skip the clumsiness of that - but trust me.

Best and kindest,
Susan

Sloane said...

I loved What's For Lunch, Charley. So much so that I still have my copy on my bookshelf in my den. Rosabelle's mother was the waitress! Sorry I spoiled it for everyone else.

Thank you for spending countless hours prepping the food, and then having the patience and dedication to blog each and every step.

From a lurker who is peeking through the windows of your new place, I can't wait!

Rhonda said...

Carol:

Well, it is finally here (dread). The last post. I, for one, was hoping it would go on forever.

I look forward to Alinea At Home and the subsequent investigation by the FBI on your electricity usage even though you are only growing microcelery. Or are you? Fair question... You are the one who has decided to cook through Alinea.

I LOVE that you spent "time" in the hallway during second grade. I did too! Although it was not because I knew the answer to the teacher's questions. My verbal indiscretions were more "Bourdainienesque" in content and, unfortunately, delivery. However, I now know why I like you so much and can relate to your writing.

I have said to you many times, both publicly and privately, that the FLAH exercise held within it many lessons both visible and invisible. For this, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Onward and upward. Alinea, Alinea, Alinea!

All the best to you!

Rhonda

Heather said...

Someday, when/where it's applicable in a future project, I would absolutely love to see you put your own gourmet spin on Charley's dream lunch of tomato soup, fried chicken, fruit salad, and chocolate cake. I feel like that'd be so touchingly personal to you. For real!

Thank you for being you.

matt barr said...

No matter what you had planned for us, I already feel like I won the greatest prize by finding your blog. And thus, my daily cheese quota has been met. Thank you for everything. so much...

Anita (Married... with dinner) said...

Gah, Blogger ate my comment! Well, it bears repeating...

You. Rock. Sistah.
Thank *you* for the best blog ever.

I would be completely teary-eyed if I didn't just know that 'Alinea at Home' is going to kick eighteen different kinds of ass.

Liz C said...

Wow - thanks for the ride! I loved the humor and honesty in your posts and I am so excited that you're going to continue with Alinea at Home.

p.s. I'm probably never going to cook a single thing from FL. I come here simply to read your writing. (blush!)

Brett said...

Carol-

You are and inspiration. Thank you for your humor, poignant commentary and eloquence. I cannot wait to begin reading through your Alinea travails. I bought the book to follow along. Congratulations again on your accomplishment.

Brett said...

Carol-

You are and inspiration. Thank you for your humor, poignant commentary and eloquence. I cannot wait to begin reading through your Alinea travails. I bought the book to follow along. Congratulations again on your accomplishment.

Rosie Hawthorne said...

Congratulations Carol.
I applaud you.

amber said...

I came to the party late, but have loved this blog so very much. I even had a friend confess to me that after she discovered it, she started from the beginning and read the whole thing through in one sitting. I couldn't poke fun b/c well, I did the same thing :)

Thank you for your writing, your humor and your guts to cook the entire cookbook. You've definitely inspired me as well as many others.

I look forward to the next big adventure at ALH!

Much Love,
Amber

Ed said...

Thanks to you, Carol. Reading this blog has been an inspiration for me--as for a lot of folks, I think.

I had a similar experience with The Book, and once I got a copy spent a lot of time looking at it before cooking anything (my first was the truffled custard). And then it became clear that all of the recipes were doable.

I just got a bunch of sweet potatoes in my CSA box, and my first thought is that it's time for another batch of agnolotti. We'd not have joined a CSA nor would I have thought of agnolotti without the book or the example. So, thanks again.

Ed said...

Thanks to you, Carol. Reading this blog has been an inspiration for me--as for a lot of folks, I think.

I had a similar experience with The Book, and once I got a copy spent a lot of time looking at it before cooking anything (my first was the truffled custard). And then it became clear that all of the recipes were doable.

I just got a bunch of sweet potatoes in my CSA box, and my first thought is that it's time for another batch of agnolotti. We'd not have joined a CSA nor would I have thought of agnolotti without the book or the example. So, thanks again.

Cher said...

Dear, dear Carol --

Thank you so much for reminding me of that fabulous story. I love, love, love Charley and his wonderful lunch. I can't wait to share that one with my kids.

MassarosKitchen.Blogspot.com said...

Carol -

This has been a great accomplishment on your part! Congratulations and I greatly look forward to A@H!

Thanks!
Mike

feasting-on-pixels (terrie) said...

Woundn't you know that I find your blog the last day of your last post.
But I will be reading every single posts in the archives a I just got my very own copy big, beautiful copy of the The French Laundry Cookbook.
Felicitations on achieving this amazing goal…!

I certainly will also be following your new blog as you cook from Alinea at Home. Alinea is my fave resto here in Chicago and have been there several times.

I already put a link to it on my new food blog, hope this is ok.

Keep on cookin'...you are an inspiration...!

Amy said...

Super excited to read all about your new adventures in cooking! Please find a way to RSS feed your new blog so we can read you on google home pages!

Anonymous said...

(sniffle, sniffle, wiping eyes) Thank you, Carol, for a wonderful read! I am looking forward to the next project.
~Jodi

MrsVJW said...

"I cooked every dish in The French Laundry Cookbook."

I sure hope you can put that on a T-shirt or something.

Thank you for your humor, thank your for your rockin' tunes, and for letting us all hope on the ride with you. And personally, thank you for being the one to really show me how awesome and worthwhile things like tomato confit, veal stock and butter-poached lobster are. You've made my head and my tummy very happy.

Rach said...

As always, thank-you. I'm all goosebumpy and teary, and the other people in my office are eyeing me with suspicion.

It was worth it. I can't wait for the next step.

Tea said...

Here's a post-modern love letter for you, darlin':

YOU ROCK!

Alice Q. Foodie said...

Congratulations Carol - you rock. I can't believe it's over but I also can't wait for Alinea!

margalit said...

I have to admit that I've been dreading this post. It feels like the death of a good friend, the end of this blog. I'll follow you along to Alinea At Home, of course, but it will never feel the same as the French Laundry because you and I were both virgin home cooks when it comes to Thomas Keller's fabulous recipes. I can't even begin to tell you how much you've inspired me, entertained me, touched my soul. You're a magnificent writer, and I can't wait to see where the next jag in the path will take us both.

Good luck to you with the new blog. I'm really looking forward to it.

Karl Miller said...

Hi Carol,

Long time reader, first time poster. I just wanted to take the time to thank you for sharing all of this with us. It is truly inspirational, but I won't get all sappy on ya. I am a bit of a different reader, as I cook for a living. All through the years that I have been reading your blog, I have worked in some truly fantastic kitchens, and some that I would rather not mention. I loved reading your blog throughout them all, but it was really nice to come home from the grease-pit that paid the bills and read about somebody having fun with great food. Reading your journey always brought back memories of myself making my first hollandaise, braising my first chunk of meat, learning how to dice and mince properly, etc. I loved that, and still do. The Laundry book is one of my prized possessions (as is Bouchon, Keller is my culinary hero), and it was great to see somebody tackle the thing the way you did. So, thanks for the memories, and I will see you at your new place.

-Karl

PJ Punla AKA Nine Moons said...

Long time reader, first time commenter.

I just wanted to let you know how much of an inspiration you've been to me in terms of food, writing about food, and of course making gorgeous and delicious food.

I've learned so much from perusing all the entries on this blog. Someday I hope to find the courage to take up an endeavor such as this.

Congratulations on reaching this monumental achievement, and good luck as you begin to tackle the new one.

With great thanks
PJ Punla

Anonymous said...

Thank you and congratulations, Carol. It's been a great adventure! Looking forward to Alinea.

Arundathi said...

Congratulations, Carol! I've loved your blog and can't wait to dine at the new Alinea-on-the-Web! :-)

Anonymous said...

Carol,

I appreciate good food but I appreciate good writing more. You are a good writer. Congratulations and thank you.

Tei said...

Long time reader, first time poster. Every morning I sit down at the computer with my cup of coffee hoping to find a new post. What a good day when I would find a new post! I would read the post so slowly savoring the taste of each dish. Thank you for so many wonderful breakfasts'.

Eri-chan said...

Hi Carol

I don't think I've ever commented but I've been reading for about a year (and have gone back through all the rest of your posts) and I just have to say thank YOU for sharing this experience and letting us all come along for the ride. You are an inspiration to me, proving that it is indeed possible to make unbelievable food right in your own home with a little patience, dedication, and determination. Though if I can even get through half of this book in my lifetime, I think I'll consider it an accomplishment :)

I'm so excited for Alinea at Home, and this time I'll be coming along right from the beginning!

Thanks again, and much luck with the next big thing :)
-Erica

Anonymous said...

Carol

You are truly an inspiration. I look forward to the Alinea at home. Thank You for blogging your experiences...I look forward to the Alinea ones as well!

-Amy

Anonymous said...

No, no, Carol. Thank you.

I'm hoping Blogger leaves this up forever.

the italian dish said...

Carol:

Ciao and we'll be seeing you over at Alinea. Can't wait. It was GREAT!

EB said...

Oh Carol. What an amazing final post (just the right mix of snark and mush). Can't wait to follow the new adventures.

JoP in Omaha said...

A lovely post. Thanks, Carol.

The Alinea project will be great, but FLAH will always have a special place in my heart. It was launched about a month after I discovered Ruhlman and became captivated and intimidated by FL and the cookbook. I owned the book, I loved to peruse it, but I didn't think I could cook from it--who could? Your blog showed me you could! And that encouraged me to try, too. It's been a blast following your journey through FLC.

See you at Alinea At Home.

Adam said...

Carol,

Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. You, along with Julie Powell, have been an inspiration to me and the many other home cooks who are among the growing ranks of cook-through bloggers.

Congratulations on this tremendous accomplishment.

Adam
gourmetalltheway.blogspot.com

P.S., I'v already got AlineaAtHome on my blogroll.

whimsy2 said...

Carol, your writing - both about food and about life -- has enriched my life in So Many Ways -- thank YOU!

I could blather on and on about how I've looked forward every day to reading your blog, but I won't, smile. Just know I'm anxiously awaiting reading your next project.

Txgrrl said...

Carol, I can't tell you what an inspiration your blog has been to me. After my transplant in late 2006, my love of cooking was gone. I was making packaged meals and not caring. I was numb in the kitchen.

Time, I suppose, heals many things. But your blog helped tremendously. I realized a few weekends ago that I spent nearly the entire weekend in the kitchen, cooking slowly and enjoying it even more than I used to. Today, I am cutting out early to buy veal bones. I can tell - that love is back.

Thanks for providing the inspiration to get back in the kitchen.

Beau said...

I am nineteen years old and started reading your blog about a year ago. I am so thankful that I found this blog.

I, in a way, have had two aspects to my life. I went to an all-male, Jesuit high school where I worked hard academically as well as physically being a part of a varsity team. The other aspect was that cooking is definitely my number one hobby. Any time I have ever had to myself is spent cooking, and all the other times I am thinking about flavors and ingredients and how they work together. The kitchen is where I like to be, and when I am cooking I prefer no help or assistance, it is my place. I no doubt like to cook for people, but the time I spend in the kitchen is limited being that I am away at school, so I appreciate and make the most of it.

Soooooooo, the reason why I am glad I found your blog is because I have more and more been learning and have had a growing interest about food and food culture and your blog has been at this point my French Laundry Experience. Following along with the book has been awesome. It's one thing to read, or see completed dishes, but to put those aspects together with your personality and wit that clearly come through with your writing is a great experience. The two aspects of my life don't really overlap due to the lack of people who really immerse themselves in the culture as I have. And I feel, in a non-creepy/ non-stalkerish way, that you along with other food bloggers have become that outlet community for me.

To wrap-up this dissertation-length blog post, I would like to say, Congratulations on an outstanding job and project.
Thanks and I can't wait to follow your Alinea project.

ntsc said...

I went out and bought the book because of this blog. I would never attempt something like this, Ruhlman's Charcuterie perhaps but not French Laundry.

I will be following the next

Anonymous said...

Carol, I am sorry it has come to and end. This has been one of my favorite reads over the last year.

Bouchon perhaps??

Bravo to you!!

FoodPuta

jillian said...

Congratulations on completing this fabulous project! I have enjoyed following along!

blondee47 said...

No, thank you.

Shannalee || Food Loves Writing said...

What a lovely story! I'm new to your blog and have never heard of The French Laundry Cookbook, but I'm fairly certainly a need a copy now.

:)

ann said...

Carol,
Thank you for doing this blog! Can't wait to keep up with the new one. Bloomie Threepeat in '09!

jgunnink said...

I'm so glad we had this time together,
Just to have a laugh, or sing a song.
Seems we just got started and before you know it
Comes the time we have to say, 'So long.'

There's a time you put aside for dreamin',
And a time for things you have to do.
The time I love the best is in the evening -
I can spend a moment here with you.

When the time comes that I'm feelin lonely,
And I'm feelin' ohooooo - so blue,
I just sit back and think of you, only,
And the Happiness still comes through.

That's why I'm glad we had this time together,
'Cause it makes me feel like I belong.
Seems we just got started and before you know it
Comes the time we have to say, 'So long.'

Anonymous said...

I bought my copy of The French Laundry cookbook because of your blog. I would read it in bookstores (I did years of that) and wish that I had it, but finally, reading your witty and cogent prose made me take the leap. I haven't made a dish yet, but before I go to bed at night I read a section, smell the book, think about what amazing fun I will be having when the book makes it's way to my kitchen. I can't thank you enough for your inspirational blog. God's speed to Alinea, and may all your Bloomberg fantasies come true!

E said...

Congratulations, Carol! And thanks for all the laughs and inspiration. Time to try a more challenging dish for New Year's than gougeres and a cheese course!
Good luck on Alinea! That, my friend, is a daunting project.

elizabethm said...

Well I have come too late to the party! I found you via geranium cat and loved this post. I am another with a passion for food, both growing it and cooking it, and for my home high on a hillside in Wales.
I will try to be sure to follow your new blog and catch up on old one too.

Marcy said...

It was SUCH fun--looking forward to the next chapter!

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

Bravo!

*cheers*

Fantastic effort. Looking forward to your next challenge already.

ambrosia ananas said...

Thank you for your blog--I owe my introduction to Keller entirely to you. (And where would I be without his quiche?)

Can't wait to see your Alinea blog.

Foof Tales said...

what an accomplishment.

I look forward to the next er, chapter.

best to ya.

Marla said...

I'm already reading Alinea at Home but wanted to come back to this - what a lovely post. I enjoyed reading every post of this blog, and you really inspired me to have more fun in my own life. Now, back to butterscotch and bacon.

Rumela said...

Hey that was an interesting read. you must have had a great experience. thanks a lot for sharing your experience. I love reading cookbooks and often try out the simpler recipes.

Dave Jones said...

i'm visiting your blog first time...thanks for sharing your experience with us..congratulations on this great achievement...looking forward for your next project.