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(article, Liz Crain)

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Like Julie Powell, of Julie & Julia fame, blogger Carol Blymire has set herself a mammoth kitchen task: cooking her way through a culinary tome, in this case The French Laundry Cookbook, from the California restaurant of the same name. Blymire is nearly a quarter of the way through the book, and keeps track of the results on her blog, French Laundry at Home.

[%image carol float=right caption="Carol Blymire" credit="Photo courtesy Carol Blymire"]

p(blue). Blog: French Laundry at Home 
Average posts per month: 8
Blogger: Carol Blymire
Age: 38
Blog place of origin: Takoma Park, Maryland

Although Blymire has an impressive library of cookbooks at home, she’s never been such an adventurous cook. But, frustrated with the American habit of relying on quick, processed foods and intrigued by chef Thomas Keller's cookbook (co-written with Susie Heller and Michael Ruhlman), she decided to demonstrate that even a novice cook is capable of extraordinary things in the home kitchen. 

Recipes from the cookbook aren’t included on the blog; you’ll have to buy the cookbook for that. But Blymire’s renditions of them, along with her wit and humor, make for an entertaining alternate universe. Blymire can make even eggplant caviar feel like a picnic in the park. 

Any help with your ambitious cooking?
Nope. I’m doing it all myself. My neighbor’s kids come over every now and then to help with plating, but so far, it’s been all me. I know it sounds corny, but the best help I get is the encouragement from my friends, the food-writing community, as well as my readers’ comments.

[%image promo-image float=left width=400 caption="An elegant plating, French Laundry-style." credit="Photo courtesy Carol Blymire"]

Any dishes that you really just didn't or don't want to make?
I’m a little squicked out at the thought of deveining foie gras, but I think I can do it. And even though I’m a rabid carnivore, the “Head to Toe” (pig’s head and feet) gives me the willies, as does butchering a fresh, whole baby lamb. 

But this is a big reason why I’m doing this blog: to push my own boundaries, improve my skills, and learn about what goes into dishes like this so I can use what I learn in other aspects of my cooking.

Has anyone from the restaurant contacted you since you started your blog?
I’ve heard from former employees who love the blog and have offered their help and advice along the way, which has been incredibly flattering and wonderful. But so far, I haven’t heard from anyone currently at the restaurant. Unless they are called “anonymous” and keep submitting comments asking me what I wear when I cook and want to know if I could post photos of my bare feet. In which case, I just have to say, “Dude.”

On an annoyance scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the toughest, where do most recipes in the cookbook sit with you?
For me, most of the recipes are not annoying at all. You just have to go into each one knowing there’s going to be prep work and attention to detail. I like chopping and all the methodical things that go into these dishes. Others may get frustrated and want to try shortcuts, but I actually like cooking this way.  

The only exception was the Candied Apple dessert. That rated a 900 millionbajillion on your 1-to-10 scale. I was this close to ripping those pages out of the book and setting them on fire.

Has the blog improved your kitchen proficiency?
I won’t pretend that I’ve always been a great cook. In fact, I still rely on mac and cheese when I’ve had a particularly bad day. However, I’ve always loved food and cooking. To me, it’s the perfect balance of science and art.

Since I started the blog, I’ve become more open to making mistakes in my cooking and more willing to take risks. I’m more focused on things like the smell of food as it changes temperature. I pay attention to cutting things more precisely; I see the value in skimming and straining; and, I’m more aware of what went in to making what I eat in restaurants — good or bad.

How much longer do you think you'll need to finish the book?
When I started out in January of 2007, I set a goal to complete this project in two years. Now, I think I can do it in 18 months. I’ve gotten better at planning my cooking based not only on what’s in season when, but how I can best overlap ingredients and be most efficient. This is where being an obsessive list-maker and strategist comes in handy.

[[block(sidebar).

h1. Liz's favorite posts

[[block(smalltext).

1. Butter-Poached Maine Lobster
2. Gruyere Cheese Gougères
3. Pecorino Toscano with Roasted Sweet Peppers and Arugula Coulis

]]
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Have you ever systematically worked through any other cookbooks?
I’ve never done anything like this before, and honestly, I haven’t really cooked from cookbooks before. I have well over 200 of them, but because I am a huge nerd, I read them like novels and make notes in the margins about what I like and don’t like about the recipes. I test some of them, but mostly I use cookbooks (and magazines, websites, and blogs) as inspiration and reference in my regular everyday cooking.

What's your take on The French Laundry Cookbook after spending so much time with it?
I hate to sound like such a Pollyanna, but I'm even more in love with \[the book\] than before I started the blog. The photography is beautiful and the recipes are mostly spot-on. I’ve only found one or two things that didn’t work, but that could be chalked up to user error. \[And\] any time I get to read Michael Ruhlman’s writing, I’m a happy camper. 

Do you think you'll score a trip to the French Laundry out of the blog?
I turn 40 in August of 2008 and hope to have my birthday party there as a way to celebrate the completion of cooking the entire cookbook. Maybe they’ll throw in a free baguette, but I know I’m going to have to call and try to get a reservation, just like everyone else. If the staff wants to join in a champagne toast, I won’t say no, but I don’t expect any special favors. 

p(bio). Liz Crain is a writer in Portland, Oregon.


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