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Member since: Sat Nov 30, 2013, 05:06 AM
Number of posts: 23,718

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Writing about food: Molly Wizenberg's slow-roasted tomatoes in "A Homemade Life"

"The word happiness has many definitions. ... I'm quite certain, though, that if you looked it up ... what you'd see is a pan of slow-roasted tomatoes.

"I first tasted slow-roasted tomatoes one hot summer several years ago ... . I was in Oklahoma, staying with my parents for a few months, and one day, a glut of tomatoes from the garden sent us running for the cookbook shelf. ... The fruits were sweet and fat, coming ripe by the dozen. ... We'd scoured two shelves of cookbooks when we stumbled upon a technique called slow roasting. It called for the tomatoes to be halved lengthwise and put into a low oven for several hours, so that their juices went thick and syrupy and their flavor climbed to a fevered pitch. Following the loose guidelines, we sent two pans of tomatoes into the oven, and six hours later, we opened the door to find them entirely transformed. They were fleshy and deep red, with edges that crinkled like smocking on a child's dress. When we bit into them, they shot rich, vermillion juice across the table.

"Slow-roasting tomatoes may take time and planning, but straight from the oven, it's instant gratification. It's almost impossible to keep stray fingers out of them. They're like rubies in fruit form. And though they're delicious plain, their sweet acidity also plays remarkably well with other flavors, especially those dishes at the rich, robust end of the spectrum. I've served them alongside cheese souffles and plates of pasta with pesto. When teamed up with fresh goat cheese, basil, and arugula, they make for a delicious, if drippy, sandwich, and laid over the top of a burger, they're like ketchup for adults. You can whirl them in the food processor with some basil and Parmesan and turn them into a pesto of sorts. You can even make them into a pasta sauce. Just slice a handful into a bowl with some capers, slivered basil, and sea salt, and add splashes of balsamic and olive oil. ... And on nights when the stove is too much to consider, few things make for a happier picnic than a hunk of crusty bread, a wedge of blue cheese, and some slow-roasted tomatoes."

National Fried Chicken Day!

Laurie Colwin:

"To fry chicken that makes people want to stand up and sing 'The Star-Spangled Banner,' the following facts of life must be taken seriously: Fried chicken ... must never see the inside of a refrigerator because this turns the crisp into something awful and cottony. Contrary to popular belief, fried chicken should not be deep-fried. ... It must never be breaded or coated with anything except flour (which can be spiced with salt, pepper and paprika). No egg, no crumbs, no crushed Rice Krispies.

"Carefully slip into the oil as many pieces as will fit. The rule is to crowd a little. Then turn down the heat at once and cover. The idea of covering frying chicken makes many people squeal, but it is the only correct method. It gets the chicken cooked through. ... When the chicken just slips off the fork, it is done inside. Take the cover off, turn up the heat, and fry it to the color of Colonial pine stain -- a dark honey color. Set it on a platter and put it in the oven. ... You have now made perfect fried chicken.

"And you have suffered. There are many disagreeable things about frying chicken. No matter how careful you are, flour gets all over everything and the oil splatters far beyond the stove. It is impossible to fry chicken without burning yourself at least once. For about twenty-four hours your house smells of fried chicken. This is nice only during dinner and then begins to pall. Waking up to the smell of cooking fat is not wonderful. Furthermore, frying chicken is just about the most boring thing you can do. You can't read while you do it. Music is drowned out by constant sizzling. ... But the rewards are many, and when you appear with your platter your family and friends greet you with cries of happiness. Soon your table is full of ecstatic eaters, including, if you are lucky, some delirious Europeans -- the British are especially impressed by fried chicken. As the cook you get to take the pieces you like best. As for me, I snag the backs, those most neglected and delectable bits, and I do it without a trace of remorse. ... Not only have you mastered a true American folk tradition, but you know that next time will be even better."

Writing about food: Betty MacDonald's "Onions in the Stew"

"The refreshments ... consisted of large lumpy salad in lettuce cups, homemade banana bread, black olives and lukewarm very weak coffee. ... When it could not be avoided any longer I took a bite and it was tuna fish and marshmallows and walnuts and pimento ... and chunks of pure white lettuce and boiled dressing. ... It was at another baby shower that I first encountered a ring mold of mushroom soup, hard-boiled eggs, canned shrimps (that special brand that taste like Lysol) and lime Jello, the center heaped with chopped sweet pickles, the whole topped with a mustardy, sweet salad dressing. An evening party ... produced casual refreshments of large cold slightly sweet hamburger buns spread with relish, sweet salad dressing, dried beef and cheese, then whisked under the broiler just long enough to make the cheese gummy and the relish warm. ... A hospital group dredged up a salad of elbow macaroni, pineapple chunks, Spanish peanuts, chopped cabbage, chopped marshmallows, ripe olives and salad dressing. ... I don't know what is happening to the women of America but it ought to be stopped. Another thing, why do terrible cooks always have their houses so hot, their coffee so cold? ... Men's magazines have much better recipes than women's magazines, but are apt to go to the other extreme and demand 'six tiny bitter oranges from the island of Crete, one-fourth litre of St. Emilion, Chateau Ausone, pounded into two pounds of fresh truffles.'

"Digging clams on your own beach is a special thing. ... With steamed clams we like only hot buttered toast and adults. It takes an almost fanatical affection for children or clams to put up with the 'What's this little green thing, Mommy? Do we eat this ugly black part? Do you think this is a worm?' that always accompanies any child's eating of clams. ... A good recipe for a quick delicious Clam Chowder which we have evolved over the years is: At least four cups of butter clams cut out of their shell and washed thoroughly. Grind with the clams: 1 green pepper, 1 bunch green onions, 6 slices of bacon, 2 large potatoes, 1 bunch parsley. Put everything in a large kettle, add one cube of butter and enough water to cover. Cook slowly until the potatoes are done. Add two or three large cans of milk, salt and coarse ground pepper to taste. Serve, as soon as the milk is hot, with buttered toast.

"Geoducks are found only at the lowest tide, are scarce, and digging them requires quick action and enormous tenacity. There is a game limit on geoducks -- so many per person per season -- I don't know what it is but I'm no more worried about exceeding it than I am about getting too many dinosaurs. ... After everyone in our audience had examined it and told us how they cooked geoduck, how their Aunt Eunice cooked geoduck, why they didn't like geoduck, etc., we took it home, cut it out of the shell, skinned the neck and removed the stomach. Then I put the geoduck meat along with a dozen soda crackers and a handful of parsley through the food chopper using the fine blade, added a couple of well-beaten eggs and some coarse ground pepper and made the result into patties which I sauteed in butter. They were heavenly, with a sweet nutty flavor somewhere between scallop and abalone."

Writing about food: Betty MacDonald's "The Egg and I"

"I accepted as ordinary fare pheasant, quail, duck, cracked crab, venison, butter clams, oysters, brook trout, salmon, fried chicken and mushrooms. ... The seafood in the Pacific Northwest is superb. The Dungeness hardshelled crabs are the largest, sweetest most delicately flavored crabs obtainable. ... We'd go on regular crab sprees -- eat cracked crab with homemade mayonnaise well-flavored with garlic and Worcestershire, until it ran out of our ears. Have deviled crab, crab Louis and crab claws sauteed in butter and served with Tartar sauce. ... We had fried chicken for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We had chicken roasted, fricasseed, stewed and in soup and salad. We did not tire of it nor of eggs, but we got damn sick of sowbelly, which is the only meat the local stores ever carried. ... With all of the natural resources in the way of food ... I never in all of the time I lived on the chicken ranch tasted salad in anyone's house but my own; nor did I see meat cooked any way but fried or boiled, nor did I ever catch anyone but the Indians eating fish. Sowbelly, fried potatoes, fried bread, macaroni, cabbage or string beans boiled with sowbelly were the fare day in and day out. They grew heads of lettuce the size of cabbages and fed it to the chickens or the pigs, they grew celery as crisp and white as crusted snow and they sold every stalk. They grew beets like balloons and rutabagas as big as squashes, but they fed them to the cows.

"Toward the end of June ... Bob and I ... picked five gallons of wild blackberries -- and the canning season was on. How I dreaded it! Jelly, jam, preserves, canned raspberries, blackcaps, peas, spinach, beans, beets, carrots, blackberries, loganberries, wild blackberries, wild raspberries, applesauce, tomatoes, peaches, pears, plums, chickens, venison, beef, clams, salmon, rhubarb, cherries, corn, pickles and prunes. By fall the pantry shelves would groan and creak under nature's bounty and the bitter thing was that we wouldn't be able to eat one tenth of it. Canning is a mental quirk just like any form of hoarding. First you plant too much of everything in the garden; then you waste hours and hours in the boiling sun cultivating; then you buy a pressure cooker and can too much of everything so that it won't be wasted.

"They sometimes brought Bob unexplained hindquarters of lamb or veal and that second summer they appeared one evening at dinner with an apple box full of smoked salmon bellies. They stamped into the kitchen and plunked the box down in the middle of the floor; then Geoduck with filthy hands lifted out one of the smoked salmon and carefully cut off a strip for Bob to try. ... I grinned hatefully at Bob, as with distended nostrils and curled lips he put the salmon in his mouth. With the first chew, however, the distaste left his face. Of his own volition he went over and cut himself another strip and then cut one for me and insisted that I eat it right then. ... It was delicious, but I realized with sinking heart that smoking salmon bellies would be added to my canning duties ... ."

Writing about food: Lela Nargi's "Food before sanity"

"I recently fired my therapist. ... Every summer Saturday finds me at the farmers' market, gasping in disbelief at the sights and smells of over-abundance. How to choose from forty varieties of lettuce; how could there be forty varieties of lettuce? The intoxicating scent of peaches is so potent that I can follow it past the fragrant melons and the explosively sweet-smelling cherries ... . Then there is the taste of a truly fresh egg, subtle and buttery. It is my gladdening companion through a forty-five-minute wait on a farm-stand line. ... We are waiting for a vessel of suspended disbelief: a taste that will ... transport us beyond the world of 'eggs' and into the far superior kingdom of 'Eggs!' A tomato can be such a vessel, too; so can a chocolate cake. This is why food is magic. It holds infinite, unprecedented delights, never exhausted.

"My therapist, naturally, was always keen to link my every motive, my every small utterance to my mother. ... I fired my therapist because she didn't love food ... a person who does not love food cannot understand this propensity in others, cannot feel empathy for their disposition. They do not realize that, for a food-lover, to draw food into the realm of 'issues' and family is to ruin its magic forever. ... I do not want to question why I love to cook. Would it really matter if I did so in order to gain my mother's approval? Or because I had some deep-seated need to take care of people? Or to satisfy my ego? To love food, and to love to cook -- why should I want to analyze these loves away?

"Some evenings at dinnertime, I catch myself flitting around my own kitchen in mindful oblivion, and recognize my mother in action. I take a brief moment to settle into this concordance, standing there amid the cheerful detritus of another night's cooking experiment -- spills of saffron and cumin, a few dirty spoons, stovetop splatters of every shape and color -- and imagine how my ex-therapist would balk at the scene. SHE: 'You mean to tell me that you just let the sauce BUBBLE OVER like that, all over the kitchen, and didn't even clean it up? ME: 'Yes. Then, after I ate my meal straight out of the pot, i let the dog lick sauce off my chin. She's always been a big fan of my cooking.'"

Writing about food: Pooja Makhijani's "School Lunch"

"Mom ... likes to pack 'sensible' lunches. Plastic sandwich bags filled with blood-red pomegranate seeds. Fresh raisin bread wrapped in foil. Yellow pressed rice with potatoes and onions. A silver thermos full of warm tamarind-infused lentil soup. ... I don't want her lunches. I want to touch a cold Coca-Cola can that will hiss when I open it. I want to pull out a yellow Lunchables box so I can assemble bite-size sandwiches with Ritz crackers and smoked turkey. I want to smell tuna salad with mayonnaise and pickles. I want bologna on white bread. Capri Sun Fruit Punch, and Cool Ranch Doritos in a brown paper bag. Every day, I take my food out of my sack and slide it into my desk. I leave it there until the end of the day so I can throw it away in the large garbage bin next to Principal Ward's office before I head for home.

"It's the new girl. ... 'Will you have lunch at my desk today?' she asks. ... 'Sure, I'll eat with you,' I say finally. I know she has asked me to sit at her desk because I am the only person in the classroom who looks somewhat like her. ... I haven't had a chance to stuff my lunch into my desk, so I peer into my bag. I see Mom's aloo tikkis. She's stuffed the leftover potato patties inside a hard roll from La Bonbonniere bakery. The deep-fried flattened ball of potato is spiked with garam masala and shoved into a bun slathered with fresh coriander chutney, which Mom makes with coarsely ground almonds that crunch in my mouth when I least expect it. ... No Little Debbie apple pie. No Hostess chocolate cupcakes filled with vanilla cream. No strawberry Pop-Tarts. ... She brings back her tray and places it on her desk. Today's lunch is six chicken nuggets, a spoonful of corn, sticky peach halves floating in sugar syrup, and a tough dinner roll. ... 'Wanna trade?' I ask. ... Mom thinks her deep-fried aloo tikkis and freshly ground masalas are what good Indian parents give their daughters. She doesn't understand that good Indian daughters just want to become American. ... Aisha and I continue to exchange meals for the rest of the school year. I give her more of my mom's aloo tikkis, and she hands over her pizza bagels. I demolish her macaroni and cheese, and she inhales my masala rice."

Writing about food: Paddington Bear, from Karen Eng's "Paddington's marmalade, Jo's apples"

"Paddington's main relationship to food is one of deep affection and mishap -- much like his relationship to the Browns. When he's not getting grapefruit juice in his eye or dropping marmalade sandwiches from the theater balcony onto people's heads below, he is trailing a large piece of bacon salvaged from breakfast in his suitcase, causing dogs to follow him in the London Underground, perplexing Mrs. Brown. When performing a magic trick at his birthday party (the cake contains a cream and marmalade filling), he accidentally conjures a pot of marmalade beneath a crotchety guest's seat.

"Paddington was ... my introduction to marmalade, the bear's favorite food ... . I decided to try it on this basis, in spite of my intense dislike of orange peel in every other context. I don't remember the first time I had it -- maybe in college. For years I convinced myself I liked it, even getting into lemon marmalade for a while before I was forced to admit to myself that I was letting jars of it go bad in the fridge, and that in fact I liked the idea of preserves -- fantasizing about hoarding pots of jam in my pantry when I would finally have my own apartment -- much more than I actually liked the stuff.

"In the introductory chapter, ... Mr. Brown, taking into consideration Paddington's love of marmalade, buys him the biggest and stickiest bun he can find, which Paddington decides he must tackle on top of the table. Before long, he's covered in cream and jam and has a tumble-down accident with a cup of hot tea. When Mrs. Brown finds him, she remarks, 'You wouldn't think that anyone could get in such a state with just one bun.' It's my favorite line in the book ... ."

Writing about food: Summer, from Garrison Keillor's "Lake Wobegon Days"

"Despite the heat and no rain, gardens come on like gangbusters, faster than we can haul in the stuff and give it away. ... The Mister reaches for the razor in the morning, he picks up a cucumber. Pick up the paper, underneath it are three zucchini. ... Pumpkins are moving in to live with them. At night they check the bed for kohlrabi. Turn out the lights, they hear rustling noises downstairs: a gang of cauliflower trying the back door. Go to sleep, dream about watermelon vines reaching out and wrapping their spiny little fingers around your neck, the Big Berthas, the forty-pounders.

"At noon ... people knock off work right then and have them some dinner, such as the Commercial Hot Beef Sandwich at the Chatterbox: two slices white bread, two big dollops mashed potatoes, three chunks pot roast, and dark gravy poured over everything -- you also get string beans and a slab of pie -- $1.75. The Chatterbox gets as loud as the school lunchroom at noon with all the good eaters piling in, and sometimes the siren sets off an alarm in Dorothy. She straightens up, standing over the gravy pot with a ladle in her hand, and looks like she could brain somebody with it. ... 'You know, I think I'd sell this place for about half of what anyone in his right mind would want to pay for it,' she says to nobody in particular. It's packed today because it rained so hard last night nobody could get into the fields this morning and a lot of them wound up in town. Big butts of pear-shaped gents in coveralls lined up on the stools ... ('Twenty-six years I stood back here and watch them eat -- if I got some hogs and a trough, I'd feel right at home': Dorothy) and big forkloads of chow hover above the gorge, meanwhile Al who hasn't yet got his dinner hunkers at the end and clears the phlegm from his head with one expert snort. It's a deep liquidy snort of a sort that Flora would never allow at home, but here at the Box he cuts loose ... and then he eases up one cheek and releases a whistle of a fart. Bob next to him is offended. 'Take a dump while you're at it,' he says. 'Gotta eat first,' says Al.

"For three weeks of agony last February, Dorothy was gone on vacation to Tuscon, and her cousin Flo from Burnsville, who is too nervous to run around at noon with a dozen orders in her head, filled in. 'I don't know how you do it,' she told Dorothy, and she was right, she didn't. Flo has her own way, a daily menu like a hot-lunch program -- you plunk down your $2.50 and get Luau Pork Chops with pineapple and marshmallow dainties and cherry-cola Jell-O salad, or, if it's Tuesday, Tuna Mandalay with Broccoli Hollywood, End of the Trail Bean Salad, and Yum Yum Bars or Ting-A-Lings (your choice). Liver casserole au gratin appeared once, and Chicken Surprise and potato-chip cookies. Flo herself did not eat lunch, or drink coffee. Her coffee had an oil slick on top. Good old Norwegian cooking: you don't read much about that, or about good old Norwegian hospitality."

Writing about food: Happy Birthday to Anthony Bourdain

From "Medium Rare":

"It's early in my new non-career as professional traveler, writer, and TV guy, and I still get the vapors being in the same room with these guys. ... Against the wall is a sideboard, absolutely groaning under the weight of charcuterie -- the likes of which few of us ... have seen in decades: classic Careme-era terrines of wild game, gallantines of various birds, pate, and rillettes. The centerpiece is a wild boar pate en croute, the narrow area between forcemeat and crust filled with clear, amber-tinted aspic. ... Our host rises and a gueridon is rolled out bearing thirteen cast-iron cocottes. Inside each, a tiny, still-sizzling roasted bird -- head, beak, and feet still attached, guts intact inside its plump belly. ... This is it. The grand slam of rare and forbidden meals. ... What we're about to eat is illegal there as it's illegal here. Ortolan. ... First comes the skin and the fat. It's hot. ... There's a vestigial flavor of Armagnac, low-hanging fumes of airborne fat particles, an intoxicating, delicious miasma. Time goes by. ... I hear the first snap of tiny bones from somewhere near and decide to brave it. I bring my molars slowly down and through my bird's rib cage with a wet crunch and am rewarded with a scalding hot rush of burning fat and guts down my throat. ... With every bite, as the thin bones and layers of fat, meat, skin, and organs compact in on themselves, there are sublime dribbles of varied and wondrous ancient flavors: figs, Armagnac, dark flesh slightly infused with the salty taste of my own blood as my mouth is pricked by the sharp bones. As I swallow, I draw in the head and beak, which, until now, had been hanging from my lips, and blithely crush the skull. What is left is the fat. A coating of nearly imperceptible yet unforgettable-tasting abdominal fat.

"Flashback, not too many years. ... I was working a lunch counter on Columbus Avenue. It was a 'transitional' phase in my career ... and I was wearing a snap-front, white polyester dishwasher shirt with the name of the linen service over the left breast pocket, and dirty blue jeans. I was cooking pancakes. And eggs fucking Benedict -- the English muffins toasted under the salamander on one side only, half-assed, 'cause I just didn't care. I was cooking eggs over easy with pro-cooked bacon rewarmed on the griddle, and sunny-side ups, and some kind of a yogurt thing with nasty fruit salad and granola in it. I could make any kind of omelet with the fillings available, and the people who sat at my counter and placed their orders looked right through me. Which was good, because if they really saw me, really looked into my eyes, they'd see a guy who -- every time somebody ordered a waffle -- wanted nothing more than to reach forward, grab them by the hair, and drag a dirty and not particularly sharp knife across their throat before pressing their face into the completely fucked-up, always-sticky waffle iron."

Writing about food: Banana Yoshimoto's "Kitchen"

"The place I like best in this world is the kitchen. ... Ideally it should be well broken in. Lots of tea towels, dry and immaculate. ... I love even incredibly dirty kitchens to distraction -- vegetable droppings all over the floor, so dirty your slippers turn black on the bottom. Strangely, it's better if this kind of kitchen is large. I lean up against the silver door of a towering giant refrigerator stocked with enough food to get through a winter. When I raise my eyes from the oil-spattered gas burner and the rusty kitchen knife, outside the window stars are glittering, lonely. Now only the kitchen and I are left. It's just a little nicer than being all alone.

"That summer I had taught myself to cook. ... Complicated omelets, beautifully shaped vegetables cooked in broth, tempura -- it took a fair amount of work to be able to make those things. ... At first my impatience would lead me to the brink of despair, but when I finally learned to correct my mistakes coolly, it was truly as if I had somehow reformed my own slapdash character. ... Getting the job I have now, as an assistant to a cooking teacher, was incredible. ... Why was it that I -- a novice with only one summer of study under my belt -- got hired? When I saw the women who attend the classes, it made sense. Their attitude was completely different from mine. Those women lived their lives happily. They had been taught, probably by caring parents, not to exceed the boundaries of their happiness regardless of what they were doing. But therefore they could never know real joy. Which is better? Who can say? ... What I mean by 'their happiness' is living a life untouched as much as possible by the knowledge that we are really, all of us, alone. ... Every day I thrilled with pleasure at the challenges tomorrow would bring. Memorizing the recipe, I would make carrot cakes that included a bit of my soul. At the supermarket I would stare at a bright red tomato, loving it for dear life. ... No matter what, I want to continue living with the awareness that I will die.

"I walked along, stepping on my shadow, watching it lengthen and shorten with every streetlight I passed. ... I peered into the darkened windows of souvenir shops and I spotted the light coming from a small eatery that was still open. ... I craved something heavy and filling, so I ordered deep-fried pork in broth over rice. ... This katsudon, encountered almost by accident, was made with unusual skill, I must say. Good quality meat, excellent broth, the eggs and onions handled beautifully, the rice with just the right degree of firmness to hold up in the broth -- it was flawless. ... I impulsively said to the counterman, 'Can this be made to go? Would you make me another one, please?' That's how I came to find myself standing alone in the street, close to midnight, belly pleasantly full, a hot takeout container of katsudon in my hands, completely bewildered as to how to proceed."
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