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December 19, 2003

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Publication Date: Friday, December 19, 2003

Someone's in the kitchen with Rosemary Someone's in the kitchen with Rosemary (December 19, 2003)

Council member shows how to create a hearty winter meal

By Julie O'Shea

The first in an occasional series of cooking articles from Voice reporter --
and beginner chef -- Julie O'Shea

Butternut squash soup. Roasted shiitakes and Yukon gold potatoes. Creamed spinach.

This was supposed to be a painless activity, yet as I stared, disbelieving, at the menu on my computer screen -- dishes I was actually expected to whip up for real, live people in less than a week -- I had the uneasy feeling that I had mistakenly been dropped in a frou-frou Martha Stewart cooking special.

The pang in the pit of my stomach only intensified after Tim, a good-natured butcher at Draeger's supermarket, plopped a $33 leg of lamb on the meat counter that Saturday and proceeded to give me a highly detailed mini-lecture on how he'd prepared this animal appendage for me.

I tried paying attention as Tim told me about the various veins of the lamb leg, but frankly, I was still trying to swallow the $33 price tag -- that kind of money usually buys me food for three weeks, and here I was, ready to empty the wallet for one night of fine dining. I felt like I was committing some sort of crime.

For a brief moment, somewhere between the frozen food aisle and the produce section (where I learned shiitakes are $15-a-pound mushrooms), I wondered if I was going to foul this all up. Admittedly, I don't have the best track record in the kitchen.

Just the other day, I had to scrape half my Rice-A-Roni dinner from the bottom of a pan, where it lay in a burnt, rubber-ball mess. And if truth be told, the stove scares me. My biggest fear is that someday I'll forget to turn it off, and it'll burn my three-story apartment complex to the ground. Silly, I know, but I still check it at least three times before I leave for work in the mornings.

So when Rosemary Stasek, Mountain View's hip, globetrotting City Council member, invited me over for an afternoon cooking lesson at her cute, little bungalow on Jessie Lane, I promptly ignored her e-mail, only to find out a few days later that my editor had promptly said I'd love to go.

Cooking with Rosemary, who'd learned the ins and outs of the trade from watching how-to shows on PBS, terrified me on so many levels. For one thing, she's entrenched in the local political scene. If I severely botched this assignment, I could only imagine what sort of jokes would be circulating City Hall the following business day.

But then there was the more pressing concern, this "dinner to impress," as Rosemary was calling it, would be eaten by people other than my relatives, not the most tactful people in the world, but by law, required to like me.

Still sore from a heated salad debacle I'd had with my aunt over Thanksgiving, I arrived at Rosemary's pad at few minutes late Dec. 6. We wanted to have dinner on the table for our two guests, set to arrive later that afternoon, by 6 p.m. I asked what time I should be over, penciling in 2 or 3 p.m. in my mental calendar, and was surprised to hear she wanted to start at noon -- sharp.

I was shocked. Was it really going to take six hours to cook a meal for four? The short answer: yes. I later made the mistake of wearing platform shoes. By the end of the evening, I felt as if I had been run over multiple times by a big rig, a sensation that left me feeling drugged and barely able to keep my eyes open at the dinner table.

Rosemary had given me the impression that she was merely an amateur chef. I realized almost as soon as I walked into her 1950s-styled kitchen that I couldn't have been further from the truth. The woman has a knife set and a $250 All-Clad stew pot. If that doesn't say dedication, I don't know what does.

("All-Clad is the most amazing cookware," Rosemary told me. "But don't tell that to Mayor (Mike) Kasperzak. His family invented Calphalon.")

She was extremely organized and within minutes of our return from the grocery store, we had written an hour-by-hour cooking schedule, and on the chance of everything going up in smoke (quite literally), we agreed on a Plan B -- order take out by 4 p.m. and pass it off as our own cuisine de extraordinaire. This, Rosemary told me, could possibly be the most important part of our dinner planning.

Sliding into aprons and popping in one of Aimee Mann's woefully invigorating CDs, we began. Except for a slight slip-up with a knife and the butternut squash -- I attempted to hold the squash upright and cut down, apparently a no-no in the cooking world where everyone's fanatical about keeping all 10 fingers intact -- I'd say the day was a runaway success. Albeit, I don't think I'll ever be a Wolfgang Puck, but, hey, at least I can say I had a positive domestic moment, and no one ended up in the ER with food poisoning.

Needless to say, there was no need to implement Plan B. Our guests, bless their souls, even asked for seconds.

E-mail Julie O'Shea at [email protected]

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