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Member since: Sat Nov 30, 2013, 05:06 AM
Number of posts: 23,608

Journal Archives

Writing about food: Eddie Huang, "Fresh Off The Boat"

"Every day, I got sent to school with Chinese lunch. Some days it was tomato and eggs over fried rice, others it was braised beef and carrots with Chinese broccoli ... . I'd open up the Igloo lunchbox and stale moist air would waft up with weak traces of soy sauce, peanut oil, and scallions. I didn't care about the smell, since it was all I knew, but no one wanted to sit with the stinky kid. Even If they didn't sit with me, they'd stand across the room pointing at me with their noses pinched, eyes pulled back, telling ching-chong jokes. It was embarrassing so I asked Mom to start packing me some white people food.

"I walked up to Jeff's room ... I couldn't believe my eyes. Everywhere you walked: toys, games, huge television, stuffed animals, it was like living in a Toys 'R' Us. ... These fuckers had EVERYTHING. ... I literally rolled around in video games ... and then went to the bathroom and wiped my ass with their fancy toilet paper just to see how it felt. When you washed your hands, they had hand towels so you didn't have to wipe your face with the towel your brother wiped his balls with ten minutes ago. ... I felt like some wild gremlin child living in a Chinese hell after going to their home. ... I wanted to be white so fucking bad. But then dinner happened. All of us sat down. I had never eaten at a white person's house, but I figured they ate pizza, hot dogs, or something like that. After a few minutes, Jeff's mom came out of the kitchen with two bowls. One bowl was filled with goopy orange stuff. For a second, I thought they might be little boiled intestines in an orange sauce, which I could get down with, but on closer inspection they were unlike any intestines I'd ever seen. The other bowl was gray and filled with a fibrous material mixed with bits of celery. I thought to myself, These white people like really mushy food.

"She also gave us each two pieces of bread, the same plain Wonder Bread I saw at school. Jeff started wiping the gray stuff on the bread. I didn't want to come off like an idiot so I did the same thing. I put the other slice on top, lifted up ... but holy shit, that smell. ... I took a deep breath, clutched my orange juice, and forced myself to take a bite. ... I couldn't hide it anymore, I had to ask. 'What is this, man?' 'You've never had tuna fish sandwiches?' ... 'OK, but what's the orange stuff?' 'Macaroni and cheese.' ... The shit was so nasty. We never ate cheese and it stunk like feet. ... I suddenly realized that converting to white wouldn't be easy ... ."

Writing about food: David Sedaris' "Theft by Finding, Diaries 1977-2002"

April 17, 1981
Today I dug a ditch and later it rained, so I finished painting Lou Stark's living room. She paid me $20, bean-burger mix, and four turkey legs. One of them I took upstairs to Getchen's cat, Neil, who had been asleep on a blanket and wheezed with delight.

November 25, 1986
I stayed up all night rewriting my new story, which is better now. I heated up a couple of frozen potpies and made some crescent rolls. ... I thought I'd take a break from typing and eat in the living room in front of the television, so I put the food on a tray and then tripped while carrying it. The potpies skidded across the floor and flipped over when they hit the baseboard. Rather than cleaning it up right away, I let Neil eat as much of it as she wanted. I just took the crust and continued on to the living room, where I watched a rerun of 'The Odd Couple' ... .

November 27, 1998
Ted's boyfriend James loaned me a cookbook called 'Imperial Dishes of China.' ... . In France I often leaf through recipes in search of words I think might come in handy. It's how I learned the verbs for 'to simmer' and 'to chop.' 'Imperial Dishes' is in English, but still I feel I came away with something. Here were instructions such as 'Rinse the lips twice in cold water' and 'Remove the penis and carve it into bite-sized pieces.' Mental pictures aside, it was disturbing to read such things in the form of a direct order. 'Scald the vagina and remove any remaining hairs,' for example.

March 26, 2000
New York
On the plane from Paris I heard a man say, 'The first thing I'm going to do when I get home is order a Big Gulp. I'm going to supersize everything!' He said he'd been thirsty the entire time he was in Paris, and though I'd never thought about it, if you're used to carrying a trash-can-size cup filled with crushed ice and soda, I suppose it would be hard to spend a few weeks in Europe.

August 29, 2000
La Bagotiere
This being France, I know I'm supposed to sit in cafes with thimble-sized cups of espresso. I'm supposed to return day after day until the owner finally consents to shake my hand and ask how it's going. But I couldn't have been happier than I was at my ugly little McDonald's. It was the coffee I wanted, with no fear that the waiter would ignore me. I paid immediately and didn't have to beg for my check.

July 22, 2001
La Bagotiere
Hugh is proudly cooking with things from his garden, so last night, along with our steaks, we had oddly shaped potatoes and deep-fried zucchini fingers. He also made a 1-2-3-4 cake, which calls for one cup of butter, two cups of sugar, three cups of flour, and four eggs. ... ... I put on Joni Michell's 'Hejira.' It came out twenty-five years ago, when I was living in Mom and Dad's basement. ... For me it's ironic that, on a certain level, all my nineteen-year-old fantasies have come true. ... What's missing, what made the idea so incredibly romantic, was the instability, the series of boyfriends bound to run off with someone else the moment your back is turned. That's the sort of thing you write songs about, not zucchini fingers and a perfect 1-2-3-4 cake sitting in the refrigerator.

October 28, 2002
New York
We had dinner at Le Pescadou, a French restaurant on 6th Avenue. The menu was ridiculous and included such items as:
Seared Tuna Embraced by Sesame
Baby Pasta Ears Listening to Artichoke
Grilled Prawns Frolicking on Polenta

Writing about food: Keith Richards' "Life"

"When I'm at home I cook for myself, usually bangers and mash ... with some variation on the mash but not much. ... I have quite solitary eating habits at odd hours, born out of mealtimes on the road being the opposite of everyone else's. I only eat when I feel like it, which is almost unheard of in our culture. ... You've got to hit it when you're hungry. We've been trained from babyhood to have three square meals a day, the full-factory-industrial revolution idea of how you're supposed to eat. Before then it was never like that. You'd have a little bit often, every hour. ... That's what school's all about ... they're teaching you how to work in a factory. When the hooter goes, you eat. ... Better to have a bit here, a mouthful there, every few hours a bite or two. The human body can deal with it better than shoving a whole load of crap down your gob in an hour.


1. First off, find a butcher who makes his sausages fresh.
2. Fry up a mixture of onions and bacon and seasoning.
3. Get the spuds on the boil with a dash of vinegar, some chopped onions and salt (seasoning to taste). Chuck in some peas with the spuds. (Throw in some chopped carrots too, if you like.) Now we're talking.
4. Now, you have a choice of grilling or broiling your bangers or frying. Throw them on low heat with the simmering bacon and onions ... and let the fuckers rock gently, turning every few minutes.
5. Mash yer spuds and whatever.
6. Bangers are now fat free (as possible!).
7. Gravy if desired.
8. HP sauce, every man to his own.

"My grandad Gus made the best egg and chips you'd ever believe in the world. I'm still trying to get up to the mark on that, and shepherd's pie, which is an ongoing art. Nobody's actually made the quintessential, absolute shepherd's pie; they all come out different. ... The basic thing is just great ground meat and throw in some peas, some carrots, but the trick I was taught by, bless his soul, he's gone now, Big Joe Seabrook, who was my minder, is before you spread the spuds on the top, you chop up some more onions, because the onions you've used to cook with the meat have been reduced, and he was damn right -- it just gives you that extra je ne sais quoi. ... Just a tip, folks."

Writing about food: Woody Allen's "Notes from the Overfed"

(After reading Dostoevski and the new 'Weight Watchers' magazine on the same plane trip)

"I am fat. I am disgustingly fat. I am the fattest human I know. ... At one time I was thin -- quite thin. ... I remained thin until one day ... when I was having tea and cracknels with my uncle at a fine restaurant. Suddenly my uncle put a question to me. 'Do you believe in God?' he asked. 'And if so, what do you think He weighs?' ... 'I do not believe in God,' I told him. 'For if there is a God, then tell me, Uncle, why is there poverty and baldness? ... Could not all life be an illusion? ... Could it not be simply that we are alone and aimless, doomed to wander in an indifferent universe, with no hope of salvation, nor any prospect except misery, death, and the empty reality of eternal nothing?' I could see that I made a deep impression on my uncle with this, for he said to me, 'You wonder why you're not invited to more parties!' ... He ... then said, 'God is ... everywhere. In these cracknels, for instance.'

"I had a dream that was to change my life forever. In the dream, I am strolling in the country, when I suddenly notice I am hungry. ... I come upon a restaurant and I enter. I order the open-hot-roast-beef sandwich and a side of French. The waitress ... tries to tempt me into ordering the chicken salad. which doesn't look fresh. As I am conversing with this woman, she turns into a twenty-four-piece starter set of silverware. ... I awoke with a tremendous sense of well-being. ... Suddenly everything was clear. My uncle's statement reverberated to the core of my existence. I went to the kitchen and started to eat. I ate everything in sight. Cakes, bread, cereals, meat, fruits. Succulent chocolates, vegetables in sauce, wines, fish, creams and noodles, eclairs, and wursts totalling in excess of sixty thousand dollars. If God is everywhere, I had concluded, then He is in food. Therefore, the more I ate the godlier I would become. Impelled by this new religious fervor, I glutted myself like a fanatic. In six months, I was the holiest of holies, with a heart entirely devoted to my prayers and a stomach that crossed the state line by itself. ... To reduce would have been the greatest folly. ... For when we lose twenty pounds, dear reader (and I am assuming you are not as large as I), we may be losing the twenty best pounds we have! We may be losing the pounds that contain our genius, our humanity our love and honestly or, in the case of one inspector general I knew, just some unsightly flab around the hips."

Writing about food: Alain de Botton's "The Art of Travel"

"Large photographs of coffee cups, pastries and hamburgers hung on the walls. A waitress was refilling a drinks dispenser. I slid a damp tray along a metal runway, bought a bar of chocolate and an orange juice and sat beside the window ... . There were few other customers in the service station. A woman was idly rotating a teabag in a cup. A man and two small children were eating hamburgers. ... The lighting was unforgiving, bringing out pallor and blemishes. ... No one was talking, no one admitting to curiosity or fellow feeling. ... I remained in one corner, eating fingers of chocolate and taking occasional sips of orange juice. I felt lonely, but, for once, this was a gentle, even pleasant kind of loneliness because, rather than unfolding against a backdrop of laughter and fellowship, in which I would suffer from a contrast between my mood and the environment, it had its locus in a place where everyone was a stranger, where the difficulties of communication and the frustrated longing for love seemed to be acknowledged and brutally celebrated by the architecture and lighting. The collective loneliness brought to mind certain canvases by Edward Hopper ... .

"In 'Automat' (1927), a woman sits alone drinking a cup of coffee. ... The room seems large, brightly lit and empty. ... Something appears to have gone wrong. ... 'Automat' is a picture of sadness -- and yet it is not a sad picture. It has the power of a great melancholy piece of music. ... In roadside diners and late-night cafeterias, hotel lobbies and station cafes, we may dilute a feeling of isolation in a lonely public place and hence rediscover a distinctive sense of community. The lack of domesticity, the bright lights and anonymous furniture may come as a relief from what are often the false comforts of home. ... The figures in Hopper's art are not opponents of home per se, it is simply that ... home appears to have betrayed them, forcing them out into the night or on to the road.

"Few seconds in life are more releasing than those in which a plane ascends into the sky. ... No one seems to think it is remarkable that somewhere above an ocean we are flying past a vast white candy-floss island ... no one stands up to announce with requisite emphasis that, out of the window, we are flying over a cloud ... . .... Food that, if sampled in a kitchen, would have been banal or even offensive, acquires a new taste and interest in the presence of the clouds (like a picnic of bread and cheese that delights us when eaten on a cliff-top above a pounding sea.) With the inflight tray, we make ourselves at home in this unhomely place: we appropriate the extraterrestrial landscape with the help of a chilled bread roll and a plastic tray of potato salad."

Writing about food: Fran Lebowitz's "Metropolitan Life"

"Summer has an unfortunate effect upon hostesses who have been unduly influenced by the photography of Irving Penn and take the season as a cue to serve dinners of astonishingly meager proportions. These they call light, a quality which while most assuredly welcome in comedies, cotton shirts, and hearts, is not an appropriate touch at dinner.

"Cold soup is a very tricky thing and it is the rare hostess who can carry it off. More often than not the dinner guest is left with the impression that had he only come a little earlier he could have gotten it while it was still hot.

"Vegetables are interesting but lack a sense of purpose when unaccompanied by a good cut of meat.

"White grapes are very attractive but when it comes to dessert people generally like cake with icing.

"Candied violets are the Necco Wafers of the overbred.

"A native-born American who has spent the entire day in what he knows to be New York City and has not once stepped aboard a ship or plane is almost invariably chagrined and disoriented by a menu that uses the French counterpart for the perfectly adequate English word 'grapefruit.'

"People have been cooking and eating for thousands of years, so if you are the very first to have thought of adding fresh lime juice to scalloped potatoes try to understand that there must be a reason for this.

"Technological innovation has done great damage not only to reading habits but also to eating habits. Food is now available in such unpleasant forms that one frequently finds smoking between courses to be an aid to the digestion.

"A loaf of bread that is more comfortable than a sofa cannot help but be unpalatable.

"When one asks for cream one should receive either cream or the information that the establishment in question favors instead a combination of vegetable oil and cancer-causing initials.

"Cheese that is required by law to append the word 'food' to its title does not go well with red wine or fruit.

"Civilized adults do not take apple juice with dinner.

"Inhabitants of underdeveloped nations and victims of natural disasters are the only people who have ever been happy to see soybeans.

"Large, naked, raw carrots are acceptable as food only to those who live in hutches eagerly awaiting Easter.

"If there was no such thing as food, Oyster Bay would be called just Bay, and for the title of 'The Cherry Orchard' Chekhov would have chosen 'A Group of Empty Trees, Regularly Spaced.'"

Fortune Cookie Day: Jennifer 8. Lee's "The Fortune Cookie Chronicles"

"We now knew that the fortune cookie had originated in Japan, but there was one final mystery. ... Almost all the people who claimed to have created the American fortune cookie had Japanese roots -- so how had the Chinese managed to take over the fortune cookie business? 'When the Japanese-Americans were interned during World War II, they had to leave all their equipment behind,' Yasuko pointed out in Japanese. As her words were translated, all the pieces in my quest came together. ... I had a flashback to my first conversation with Sally Osaki ... her telling me that when she'd been a child the original fortune cookie messages had been in Japanese. But at one point they had become English: 'By the time we came out of the camp.' The fortune cookie had changed by the end of the war. I recalled that the Japanese-American confectionery shops -- Benkyodo, Fugetsu-do, Umeya -- had all closed when their owners were 'relocated.'

"The popularity of Chinese cuisine grew tremendously during World War II; after Japan invaded China and China became an American ally, the national perception of the Chinese threat gave way to sympathy. In addition, the wartime rationing of meat enhanced the appeal of Chinese dishes, which made a little meat go a long way. San Francisco's Chinatown quadrupled its business between 1941 and 1943. The tide of public opinion turned. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was repealed in December 1943, opening the door for an eventual flood of Chinese immigrants (and additional Chinese restaurant owners). In 1946, the United States Office of Price Administration delisted 'Chinese fortune tea cakes' from its price control list ... .

"Although the interned Japanese were released by 1945, it took years for the families to rebuild their lives. Many of the business owners had lost everything. It wasn't until 1948 that Benkyodo was up and running under family control, Gary Ono believes. During that time, a number of Chinese fortune cookie makers sprung into existence -- like Lotus, which opened in 1946. A sharp rise in demand at Chinese restaurants combined with a lack of Japanese bakers gave Chinese entrepreneurs an opportunity to step in. One of America's beloved confections emerged from one of the nation's darkest moments."

Writing about food: Greg Atkinson's "At the Kitchen Table, The Craft of Cooking at Home"

"But among creative outlets, cooking and writing are unique in that both endeavors produce something that ultimately becomes a part of whoever partakes in them. If I cook a meal and someone eats it ... then something in that food will become a part of that person. If I read something and internalize that dialogue, then the words on the page will be incorporated into my own thoughts. Ideas expressed on the page will be reformulated in my mind into thoughts of my own. If I write a recipe and you make it, then we are sharing both the words and the dish that results from them.

"The novelist Tom Robbins is quite devoted to Best Foods-brand mayonnaise. ... When Tom's wife, Alexa, invited my wife, Betsy, and me ... for a private mayonnaise tasting, we hit the road with a few jars and bottles of our favorite brands. I also had, secreted away in a canvas shopping bag, a wire whisk, a deep mixing bowl, a fresh egg, a bottle of organic canola oil, some white balsamic vinegar, and a bottle of good Dijon mustard. It occurred to me that Tom and Alexa might like to learn how to make their own mayonnaise, and I wanted to see how the homemade stuff stood up in a taste test with the commercial brands ... . ... But when I set about making a batch of homemade mayonnaise ... Robbins did not appear to be interested. ... 'I have been eating mayo for sixty years, and until ten years ago, I didn't even know what the ingredients are. I preferred to think of it as some kind of substance dug out of an underground cave in the French Alps. ... I like the mystery. ... I used to cook quite a bit, too,' he said. 'But I didn't use recipes. When I cooked, I cooked from vibrations.'

"I like the idea of this well enough, and even though I write recipes for a living, I almost always cook without them, feeling my way from one step to the next. First this happens, then that happens. While the onions soften, I'm cutting the celery, and on a back burner, the rice is simmering away. But eventually, my left brain kicks in and I start to codify things because I want to share them. ... I like the geometric proof-like formula of a recipe, and I feel that if the precision of writing it down doesn't get in the way of the thing, it can be like an incantation, a magic formula for transforming a bunch of ingredients into something completely unlike its component parts. Mayonnaise is, after all, nothing like eggs and oil."

National French Fry Day

James Villas, "America's Passion, America's Guilt."

"Of course you love them! French fries are your secret yen, the source of your most deep-seated guilt. Admit it. Oh, I know how you try to hide it. The waiter says, 'Baked or French?' You hesitate, you cringe, you wonder why in hell he couldn't simply serve the steak with a baked potato and not mention French fries. But now you're forced to choose, and you know there is no choice; by God, you want the fries, diet or no diet, pimples or no pimples, and damn the cholesterol. You say, 'I think maybe I just might have the French fries tonight,' forgetting that you ate half a pound three evenings ago. When they arrive you pick around at the mound one fry at a time. You think you'll eat just a few. Halfway through the steak, you're downing them by the handfuls, and by the end of the meal you've devoured the batch, long thin ones, short fat ones, charred ends, every remaining greasy or dry, oversalted or undersalted, catsupy or non-catsupy morsel.

"Americans love French fries violently -- all of us ... . Even the country's most respected epicures admit directly or indirectly to being fanatics. When Julia Child was asked what she thought about McDonald's fries, she described them as 'surprisingly good,' while Craig Claiborne pronounced them 'first-rate.' Gael Greene swoons over the French fries at Carrols, Roy Andries de Groot still dreams of those he tasted at Aurthur Bryant's in Kansas City, and James Beard becomes passionate while discussing the pommes frites at La Grille in Paris.

"A perfect French fry is, above all, fresh, meaning the oblong has been cut from an absolutely fresh potato no more than an hour before being deep-fried in clean fat. A perfect French fry is thin, smooth and not crinkled, consistently golden brown in color, firm, crackly crisp on the outside with a slightly soft interior, and dry enough for most salt to fall off. Anyone who's ever tasted delicious pommes frites in France or Belgium knows what I'm talking about and will agree that the fries in those countries are generally just the opposite of the soggy matchsticks or fat greasy tubers we have thrown at us in fast-food places and undistinguished restaurants. ... This may all sound like too much of a production over something as common as French fried potatoes, but again, if you're really after perfect fries, you'll learn that making them correctly yourself involves a lot more than cutting up potatoes and throwing the pieces in hot oil."

Happy Birthday Marcel Proust: those madeleines from "Swann's Way"

"And suddenly the memory came to me. The taste was that of the morsels of madeleine that on Sunday mornings in Combray ... when I went into her bedroom to say good morning, my Aunt Leonie used to give me after she had dipped them in tea or lime-tea. The sight of the little madeleine recalled nothing to me before I had tasted it; perhaps because as I had seen them on the trays of pastry shops many times since without eating them, their image had dissociated itself from those Combray days to become linked with more recent ones; perhaps, because, of the memories so long left undisturbed, nothing survived, everything had crumbled; the forms -- like that of the little pastry shell, so lushly sensual beneath its austere and pious ridges -- had lost the expansive force that would have enabled them to reenter consciousness. But when nothing of a remote past survives, after the death of its people, after the destruction of its objects, only odors and tastes, frailer but more vivid, more immaterial, more persistent and accurate, linger for a time on the ruins of the rest like souls, ready and hoping to be recalled, to bear without flinching, on their almost impalpable sensory traces, the immense edifice of memory.

"And no sooner had I recognized the taste of the morsels of madeleine soaked in lime-tea that my aunt had given me (although I still did not know why the memory made me so happy, a revelation that must be postponed until much later), that the old gray house on the street, where her bedroom was, superimposed itself, like a theatrical decor, over the little pavilion overlooking the garden that my parents had added to the rear ... and with it the house, the town, from morning until evening and in all sorts of weather, the square where I was sent before lunch, the streets where I ran errands, the paths we took when the weather was fine.

"And as in the game in which the Japanese amuse themselves by submerging, in a porcelain bowl filled with water, little pieces of paper that, hitherto indistinguishable, almost immediately upon being plunged into it stretch out, twist, take on color, differentiate themselves, become flowers, houses, figures that are substantial and recognizable; likewise, now all of the flowers in our garden and those in the park of Monsieur Swann, and the water lilies on the Vivonne, and the good people of the town and their little dwellings, and the church and all of Combray and its environs, all of this spring forth, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea."
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