'The BLT Cookbook' by Michele Anna Jordan
Photograph by Rory McNamara
Fabulous, Darling: Michele Anna Jordan's gig as a restaurant reviewer means she needs to remain anonymous--but here she shows her flair for accessories.
Life's Too Short
Michele Anna Jordan's philosophy involves eating well and living well
By M. V. Wood
Einstein said, "There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." Horace said, "Carpe diem," or "Seize the day." Michele Anna Jordan says, "Life is too short for bad macaroni and cheese."
Mac and cheese might sound like mere sustenance, but take a bit of extra time to make it with quality cheese and real butter, and suddenly you've gone from survival to sheer transcendence. Jordan, the author of 14 cookbooks, has built a career--and a life--out of exposing the miraculous within the mundane. Her newest book is all about that other ubiquitous American favorite, the BLT (The BLT Cookbook).
The Sebastopol resident believes it's important to pay attention to the everyday things in life--food, shelter, clothing--because these are the things that make up our lives. And Jordan embraces it all. She loves to cook and decorate her home and put together outfits. But Jordan has a very independent, free-spirited sense of how to go about doing these things. She's like Martha Stewart and Frank Zappa's love child.
"Life is for living, to be who you are, to express yourself," she says. "And it's getting absolutely ridiculous that as a culture we're turning to so-called experts to feed us and cloth us and decorate for us, and basically tell us how to look and how to live."
Take, for example, Jordan's home. She painted the interior burgundy and muted lime green. A bathroom is also green with leopard-print shower curtains. Although it sounds absolutely hideous, her home is exceptionally charming. As far as fashion goes, anyone who's met Jordan can attest to her unique personal style and her penchant for distinctive purses, scarves, and sunglasses. "Life is too short for boring accessories," she says.
Then there's her sense for cooking, which is the nexus of her career. Yet Jordan does not believe her talents in the kitchen are particularly special; it's just that she gives herself the freedom to experiment and play with food. In fact, she gives herself the freedom to experiment and play with life.
2003 Food and Wine Issue
What Chefs Really Eat: Do chefs hoard deep, disturbing food vices? It depends on whom you ask.
Wine Alive: Biodynamic wines, where flaws are welcomed and individuality is coveted.
Who's Cooking Now?: With the help of cooking schools, it could be you.
Half a century ago, pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock revolutionized the field when he dared utter the obvious: Most people have an inherent wisdom of how to care for their young. Back then, many American parents were in awe of doctors and intimidated by the various directives professionals imposed upon childcare. But Spock assured parents that they were the true experts.
Think of Jordan as the Dr. Spock of cooking. She believes people have an inherent wisdom about how to feed themselves. And she sees her job as inspiring people's sense of wonder in food and prodding their confidence, so they have the interest and self-assurance to create wonderful dishes themselves.
"There's this idea floating around that in order to get a really good meal you have to go out to a restaurant and have a professional cook it for you," Jordan says. "That's ridiculous. Anyone can make a wonderful, delicious meal. All of us have the capacity to nourish ourselves and others in this way. We don't have to rely on well-paid experts to do it."
This manifesto on personal expression underlies her life and her many varied works. In addition to having written 14 cookbooks and co-authoring or contributing to a dozen more, Jordan is also an award-winning magazine writer and newspaper columnist. Plus, she is the host and executive producer of the KRCB radio show Mouthful: The Wine Country's Most Delicious Hour.
Mouthful was recently nominated for a James Beard Award (Jordan's third Beard nomination), the "Oscars" of the food world. The other nominees in the category were All Things Considered, out of Washington, D.C., and Dish, out of New York City. She already won a James Beard Award in 1997 for a magazine article about Alice Waters. More recently, the magazine Bon Appétit ran a picture of one of Jordan's salad recipes as the cover of its August issue.
Being a full-fledged foodie, Jordan loves to whip up exquisite meals in her kitchen. For instance, she spent two days making a winter squash, smoked chicken, and chipotle broth, in which she poached pumpkin pasta raviolis filled with smoked chicken and drizzled with chipotle oil, fresh cilantro, and toasted cumin seeds. She is also partial to pricey pinot noirs from the Russian River Valley appellation.
Michele Anna Jordan definitely has a fondness for the finer things in life. But, as far as she's concerned, the finer things include such fare as BLTs and mac and cheese--as long as they're done right. That means using fresh, quality ingredients, preferably from your local farmers market or your own garden.
Jordan is a big supporter of small, local farms, organic produce, and sustainable agriculture. Currently she's working in whatever way she can to stop the proposed casino in Lakeville (also referred to as Sears Point). On Aug. 19, she's hosting a literary salon at Zebulon's Lounge in Petaluma. The topic is Lakeville Stories.
"My approach is to help increase public knowledge of this amazing and pristine part of Sonoma County, where I just happened to raise my girls on a dairy farm," Jordan says. She also speaks her mind about corporate farming and McDonald's and Monsanto--which can be summed up in the phrase "They're evil." No one can say Jordan is not opinionated, but her opinions are tempered with a sense of humor.
It's hard to believe that such an outspoken, confident woman could have ever been a shy, insecure girl. These days, Jordan's comfortable enough to go on The Today Show to promote her books. She's also appeared on television as host of a series of short segments she developed for PBS about Sonoma County's appellations.
And then there are the many in-person talks, book readings, and cooking demonstrations she's given around the country. But there was a time when Jordan could barely stand to be in a roomful of people, let alone stand up in front of a roomful to give a talk.
I can't tell you exactly how Jordan went from unassuming to exuberant. I can't tell you how she went from having the nickname Virgin Lips (thanks to her reputation of not kissing boys) to being called Ms. Mouthful (thanks to her radio show). But, I can tell you why Michele Anna Jordan started dancing the hula.
Back in high school, she met a boy from Hawaii who was kind and handsome. The two fell in love. But eventually they allowed themselves to float away from each other. As the years passed, Jordan led a life that, if not particularly passionate, was at least relatively safe and secure. And then, one day, her first love went out surfing and drowned.
"Something just changed, something clicked," she says. "You know, you don't have forever. You can't live life wondering what could have been, or just imagining that maybe someday it will be. Life isn't about staying safe and hidden. It's about going out, doing what you need to do and saying what you need to say, and really living. I know it sounds cliché, but you have to live each day to its fullest, because that's what life is, one day and another and another."
These days, there's still one thing left that Jordan needs to say, but she hasn't been able to put it into words. "And then it finally occurred to me that I can dance it," she says. "In the hula, each motion means something. It's like a whole other language. And if I can learn that language, I'll be able to express it."
So once a week, Jordan goes to class, listens to Hawaiian music, and learns the language.
Life's also too short not to dance.
A schedule of Michele Anna Jordan's classes and appearances is available at www.micheleannajordan.com.
[ | Metroactive Central | ]
From the July 31-August 6, 2003 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.