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Member since: Sat Nov 30, 2013, 05:06 AM
Number of posts: 16,298

Journal Archives

Writing about food: Roy Blount Jr., "The Way Folks Were Meant to Eat"

"These days people worry so much about their hearts they don't eat hearty. The way folks were meant to eat is the way my family ate when I was growing up in Georgia. We ate till we got tired. Then we went 'Whoo!' and leaned back and wholeheartedly expressed how much we regretted that we couldn't summon up the the strength, right then, to eat more. When I moved to the Northeast, I met someone who said she liked to stop eating while she was still just a little bit hungry. I was taken aback. Intellectually, I could see it was an admirable policy. Lord knows it kept her in better shape than mine did me. I just thought it was crazy. It was my feeling that we have only so much appetite allotted to us in our time on this earth, and it was a shame to waste any of it.

"People I grew up with wanted to get out beyond their appetite a ways, to make sure they used all of it. They wanted to get full. They intended to get full. If a meal left them feeling just a touch short of overstuffed, they were disappointed. I knew a man once who complained about little Spanish peanuts because they never added up to enough to give him any reason to stop eating them till they were all gone, and then he was still up to eating some more. 'I can't get ahead of them,' he said.

"But eating right is not just a question of quantity. Primarily it's quality. It's not letting any available good taste go unswallowed. I grew up eating with people who didn't just take a few of the most obvious bites out of a piece of chicken and decide abstractly, 'Well, I have eaten this piece of chicken.' They recognize that the institution of fried chicken demands a great deal of chicken, and they felt bound to hold up their end. They ate down to the bones, pulled them apart, ate in between them, and chewed on the bones themselves. Eating also goes hand in hand, so to speak, with talking. Folks I grew up with talked while they ate, about what they were eating."

Writing about food: Happy birthday to Harper Lee, "To Kill a Mockingbird"

"While Walter piled food on his plate, he and Atticus talked together like two men, to the wonderment of Jem and me. Atticus was expounding upon farm problems when Walter interrupted to ask if there was any molasses in the house. Atticus summoned Calpurnia, who returned bearing the syrup pitcher. She stood waiting for Walter to help himself. Walter poured syrup on his vegetables and meat with a generous hand. He would probably have poured it into his milk glass had I not asked what the sam hill he was doing. ... Atticus shook his head at me again. 'But he's gone and drowned his dinner in syrup,' I protested. 'He's poured it all over --'
It was then that Calpurnia requested my presence in the kitchen. ... 'There's some folks who don't eat like us,' she whispered fiercely, 'but you ain't called on to contradict 'em at the table when they don't. That boy's yo' comp'ny and if he wants to eat up the tablecloth you let him, you hear?' ... Perhaps Calpurnia sensed that my day had been a grim one: she let me watch her fix supper. ... It was not often that she made crackling bread, she said she never had time, but with both of us at school today had been an easy one for her. She knew I loved crackling bread.

"... we reaped the benefit of a talent Miss Maudie had hitherto kept hidden from us. She made the best cakes in the neighborhood. When she was admitted into our confidence, every time she baked she made a big cake and three little ones, and she would call across the street... . Our promptness was always rewarded. ... 'Soon as I can get my hands clean and when Stephanie Crawford's not looking, I'll make him a Lane cake. That Stephanie's been after my recipe for thirty years, and if she thinks I'll give it to her ... she's got another think coming.' I reflected that if Miss Maudie broke down and gave it to her, Miss Stephanie couldn't follow it anyway. Miss Maudie had once let me see it: among other things, the recipe called for one large cup of sugar.

"I sometimes thought of asking her if she would let me sit at the big table with the rest of them just once, I would prove to her how civilized I could be; after all, I ate at home every day with no major mishaps. ... But her cooking made up for everything: three kinds of meat, summer vegetables from her pantry shelves; peach pickles, two kinds of cake and ambrosia constituted a modest Christmas dinner.

"'Gracious alive, Cal, what's all this?' He was staring at his breakfast plate. Calpurnia said, 'Tom Robinson's daddy sent you along the chicken this morning and I fixed it.' 'You tell him I'm proud to get it -- bet they don't have chicken for breakfast at the White House. What are these?' 'Rolls,' said Calpurnia. 'Estelle down at the hotel sent 'em.' ... The kitchen table was loaded with enough food to bury the family. Hunks of salt pork, tomatoes, beans, even scuppernongs. Atticus grinned when he found a jar of pickled pigs' knuckles. 'Reckon Aunty'll let me eat these in the dining room?'"

Writing about food: Andrew Todhunter, "A Meal Observerd"

"... before my junior year in high school, a friend and I took a month-long course in mountaineering and wilderness survival ... in Wyoming. ... At month's end, fit as Olympians but wraithlike, we hiked out ... fasting. ... Unable to sleep, we spent most of that last night writing lists of all the sweet and savory things we would consume ... on our return to civilization. One of us would call out an entry; after a silent moment of absorption would rise a chorus of oaths and moans.
'Philly cheese steak, covered in onions ... '
'Don't say it.'
'A big oily sausage-and-pepperoni pizza ... '
'Ohhh, you bastard.'
'A Double Whopper,' rasped a parched voice in the darkness, 'with bacon and cheese, large fries, and a Coke.'

"Other entries on my personal list of nearly a hundred items included Key lime pie, lobster rolls, jelly doughnuts, and Buffalo wings. Red meat and pizza appeared in countless forms. Greasy substances, high in fat and protein, were the staples on everybody's list, the T & A of our culinary pornography. ... On our return to Lander, disregarding our instructors' warnings, we ate as much meat, fat, and candy as we could get our hands on. ... Alone and with others, ... hitting every fast-food place and convenience store in my path, I scratched items, one after an other, from my list. Double cheeseburgers, chocolate bars, steak sandwiches, vats of soda and lemonade, huge, loaded pizzas wolfed down in a corner booth.

"The morning after our return, the very instant I awakened in our hotel room, I sprang out of bed with the intention of cleaning out the adjacent doughnut shop. I took one half-conscious bound down the staircase, missed the fifth step I had aimed for, and tumbled end over end to the next landing. Then seconds later, rubbing my elbows, I stood before the shop's glass cabinet, peering in. Glazed doughnuts, powdered doughnuts, chocolate doughnuts, cinnamon doughnuts, jelly doughnuts, old-fashioned doughnuts, crullers, twists, eclairs. Row upon row, illuminated under glass. This three-day orgy destroyed my digestion for months ... But I couldn't stop; the imperative to eat was too strong. I have never sat down to a meal in quite the same way since ..."

Writing about food: "Shocking Life, The Autobiography of Elsa Schiaparelli"

"... the feature of the house is the bar downstairs near the kitchen where one generally eats, with a real zinc counter and a wooden table with vaudeville posters of the nineties. This room has received an incredible number of the most famous and important people in the world. When somebody is asked to dine, the question rises naturally and nearly always: 'I hope it is in the bar ...' There is certainly something psychologically tantalizing in having good china, good linen, and good food in a cellar. One eats everywhere in the house, in the library, in the sitting-room, in the bathroom, in the garden. Only formal dinner-parties are held in the dining-room. Few people restrain from bursting into exclamations of wonder when the door opens and they see what appears to be gold plates and gold tablecloths. Actually the plates are Victorian vermeil and the china was bought when roaming through the English countryside. ... The glasses are of different colours and shapes, and the yellow and pink table-cloths are embroidered in gold by the Bedouin women of Tunisia. There are never any flowers. The extravagance consists principally in the colours and the unexpected setting. It is not necessary to spend millions to make a table glamorous.

"Hard bread and caviare -- and vodka ... . ... We arrived in Moscow in a burning cold. ... We lunched at the British Embassy, a wonderful lunch because all sorts of things had been brought over by air. Lady Chilston was a thoughtful hostess. ... Meals outside the embassies were occasions for farce. My companions would ask for something impossible, like salmon or a minute steak, and were surprised and a little cross when they could not get it. I stuck to the only good menu, hard bread and caviare -- sometimes sturgeon, but always vodka. Caviare was sold in the grocery stores in big barrels of red wood, and one could take it out with a large soup spoon. I can vouch for this diet being miraculous for losing weight, for when I returned to Paris I was as thin as Gandhi and in marvelous health.

"I learned to know London well, and though I was invited into many homes and attended all the parties in the fashionable restaurants ... I also delighted in the more popular places. There is a public house in Wapping (and I confess that I love 'pubs' because they are so human) that pleased me immensely. I would sit for hours at the water's edge, surrounded by ancient and rotting wooden poles, and munch bread and cheese. One could see the tugs and lighters, dark grey in the haze, in the grey of Whistler's Thames, threading their way majestically through the busy shipping. Cockneys laughed at Italians, Chinese would bow to Swedish sailors. Men of all nationalities came in for a glass of beer and a craps game, and though they spoke different languages they understood one another perfectly."

Writing about food: Peggy Knickerbocker, "Sandwich Sub Culture"

"My parents were often grumpy on Sunday mornings. It was the fifties, after all, and they consumed a lot of martinis on Saturday nights during that decade. Having had too much fun the night before, they were in the mood for a relaxing day outdoors with my brother and me. We knew something was up when my mother asked us to pick up a few loaves of French bread and some hard rolls on our way home from church.

"My mother took the warm loaves of bread from us, sliced off the tops, and pulled out the spongy centers. Into the largest loaf she stuffed chicken that she had cut into pieces and cooked with port and orange zest, a recipe inspired by Alice B. Toklas. She then replaced the top of the loaf and wrapped it tightly in linen towels to retain the moisture and warmth. Depending on her mood, she filled the other loaves and rolls with all sorts of concoctions. In one she stuffed olives coated in chopped parsley; in another she tucked sliced cherry tomatoes, feta, and red onions tossed with olive oil; in a third she added red and green peppers cooked with olive oil, garlic, anchovies, and oregano ... . And there was always at least one roll filled with caramelized onions. Offering to help, we cooked some Italian fennel sausages to fill a baguette.

"We drove across the Golden Gate Bridge to one of our secret picnic spots under a grove of eucalyptus trees. There we spread out the red blanket and unwrapped the towels covering the bread. Using the towels as napkins, we each got a fork to dip into the various salads and savories my mother had prepared. We ate the chicken with our fingers, and as the pieces disappeared, we were left with the tasty remains of bread. Our parents often brought a fully stocked wicker picnic basket into which my father stashed a shaker of martinis. My brother and I usually settled for slightly warm ginger ale. For dessert, we ate some of my famous lemon squares or a box of gingersnaps, perfect with the Maxwell House coffee my mother brought in an old metal navy thermos. If the air got chilly or it started to rain, the meal was lots of fun to eat in a deserted barn, or we would park the car on a country road and pass the stuffed rolls around, licking our fingers a lot in the process. Whether we ate inside or out ultimately didn't matter; we always drove home fat and happy. And with every last crust of bread eaten, there were never any messy plates to worry about."

Writing about food: Gabrielle Hamilton, "Blood, Bones & Butter"

"We threw a party. The same party, every year, when I was a kid. It was a spring lamb roast ... . The lambs roasted so slowly and patiently that their blood dripped down into the coals with a hypnotic and rhythmic hiss ... . My dad basted them by dipping a branch of wood about as thick and long as an axe handle, with a big swab of cheesecloth tied at its end, into a clean metal paint can filled with olive oil, crushed rosemary and garlic, and big chunks of lemons. He then mopped the lambs, slowly, gently, and thoroughly ... . Then the marinade, too, dripped down onto the coals, hissing and atomizing, its scent lifting up into the air. So all day long, as we did our chores, the smell of gamey lamb, apple-wood smoke, and rosemary garlic marinade commingled and became etched into our brains. I have clung to it for thirty years, that smell. I have a chronic summertime yearning to build large fires outdoors and slowly roast whole animals. I could sit fireside and baste until sundown.

"The rest of the meal was simple but prepared in such quantities that the kitchen felt hectic and brimming and urgent. There were giant bowls of lima beans and mushroom salad with red onion and oregano and full sheet pans of shortcake. Melissa, with a pair of office scissors, snipped cases of red and black globe grapes into perfect portioned clusters while my mom mimosaed eggs -- forcing hard-cooked whites and then hard-cooked yolks through a fine sieve -- over pyramids of cold steamed asparagus vinaigrette.

"Jeffrey politely kissed the older guests, who arrived more than punctually, on both cheeks. And I plunged in and out of the stream to retrieve beer and wine and soda. Then they started pouring in, all these long-haired, bell-bottomed artist friends of my dad's and former ballet dancer friends of my mother's, with long necks and eternally erect posture ... . Slowly the meadow filled with people and fireflies and laughter ... and the lambs on their spits were hoisted off the pit onto the shoulders of men, like in a funeral procession, and set down on the makeshift plywood-on-sawhorse tables to be carved. Then the sun started to set and we lit the paper bag luminaria, which burned soft glowing amber, punctuating the meadow and the night, and the lamb was crisp-skinned and sticky from slow roasting, and the root beer was frigid and it caught, like an emotion, in the back of my throat."

Happy National Ham Day: Smithfield Ham, from Raymond Sokolov's "Fading Feast"

"Parke Griffin passes the shaft of an ice pick slowly under his nose. He inhales gently, concentrating as he sniffs. Then he smiles. Griffin is not a homicidal maniac savoring his murder weapon; he is a ... farmer testing a country ham. Like his 'one-horse' farmer father and generations of other rural folk in the American South, Griffin cures his own hams, smokes them, and then ages them over the summer until they turn dark red and take on a virile tang. The process is crude, does not involve refrigeration, and has been part of human life for as long as there have been hogs and salt. But it is also a subtle method, a gamble against weather, a matter of intuition and experience, a canny fight with bacteria. ... Griffin begins in January. He sets out scalded wood salting racks on the floor of his smokehouse. On these racks he lays out one hundred hams at a time ... then sprinkles on a small amount of saltpeter. ... After the curing period ends, the hams are washed off with hot water to remove the salt, then pepper is rubbed into the faces of the hams to seal them off from infection and insect infestation. Finally, they are hung high in the smokehouse ... . When the hams have dried for a few days, the smoking begins. ... I was able to buy the last of their 1978 hams, an eighteen-month-old beauty. It was coated with a patina of green mold, a harmless badge of venerability that sometimes fools ham neophytes into throwing out a precious old treasure.

"I liked all those hams. Each one had the flavor impact and directness of a young, rural, pioneer country. ... This is certainly the feeling of old-time farmers around Smithfield, who have watched their way of life erode over the last fifty years, while the packing houses grew into big business. ... 'Then,' writes another Smithfield woman, Mrs. Dewitt Griffin, 'people worked by the sun and not by the clock and they worked hard so by the time they could eat, they were really hungry. I baked my pies beforehand, and then each day I made large pans of potato pudding, cooked beans, cabbage, and snaps and made cornbread and biscuits to serve with the fresh pork. Everything was eaten, which made me feel good.'

"If the country ham is an endangered species, it is not the fault of anyone in Smithfield. It is the result of changes in the outside world, of a new national taste formed by square, water-cured hams in cans, and of naive people who throw away gift Smithfield hams because they find them too salty. Despite these menaces, the Smithfield ham still hangs on as a savory relic of America's early days. Parke Griffin is still spry enough to perch in his smokehouse rafters in a cloud of pepper, babying his hams."

Writing about food: Michael Ruhlman, "The Soul of a Chef"

"One of the things you learn in culinary school ... is that everything ... gets a sauce. ... And to be so antisauce generally, as Michael Symon seemed to be, was foolhardy. ... Willfully, defiantly, hopefully, and skeptically I ordered the chicken, the roasted, sauceless chicken. ... First, the potatoes. Courtney roasted them early in the day and cooled them. When the chicken was ordered, Chatty fired it, plopping the boned half chicken onto the grates of the broiler ... then reheated those precooked potatoes with some red onion and arugula in a saute pan into which he poured a little cream, some salt and pepper. The liquid helped reheat the potatoes evenly and added some moisture and the fat that made potatoes good to eat. When the chicken was done ... he poured the potatoes into the center of a hot plate and placed the chicken atop the pile, gave the plate an artful squirt of balsamic squeeze bottle, and off it went.

"By the time it reached me, the diner, the chicken has rested ... the juices redistributing themselves in the chicken; but it was also losing juices, and when you cut into it, plenty of juice ran out. The bird was stuffed with chanterelle, shiitake, and chicken-in-the-woods mushrooms, which are loaded with juice, and as they rested, they dumped their liquid. The chicken and mushroom juices fell over the potatoes, which were generously coated with seasoned cream. The falling juices and cream were then offset by the acid sweetness of the balsamic reduction. And there it was, a dish that sauced itself -- with all the familiar components of a classical sauce ... . Not only was this ingenious, but it was light ... and practical. From a service standpoint, it reduced for the cook the number of steps needed to finish the plate. You're in the weeds, got a million orders called, potatoes, chicken, vinegar, boom out the door. No dipping a ladle or spoon into sauce and pouring. This was not insignificant, and Symon strove for this kind of efficiency. 'If I can't finish it in two pans, I won't do it,' he told me about his rule for all dishes ... . ... The business of cooking was a craft -- you worked with tools and materials -- and he was mechanically versatile."

Writing about food: Anniversary of the publication of "The Great Gatsby"

"There was music from my neighbor's house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars. ... Every Friday five crates of oranges and lemons arrived from a fruiterer in New York -- every Monday these same oranges and lemons left his back door in a pyramid of pulpless halves. There was a machine in the kitchen which could extract the juice of two hundred oranges in half an hour if a little button was pressed two hundred times by a butler's thumb. At least once a fortnight a corps of caterers came down with several hundred feet of canvas and enough colored lights to make a Christmas tree of Gatsby's enormous garden. On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors-d'-oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold. In the main hall a bar with a real brass rail was set up, and stocked with gins and liquors and with cordials so long forgotten that most of his female guests were too young to know one from another. ... I was immediately struck by the number of young Englishmen dotted about; all well dressed, all looking a little hungry, and all talking in low, earnest voices to solid and prosperous Americans. I was sure they were selling something: bonds or insurance or automobiles. They were at least agonizingly aware of the easy money in the vicinity and convinced that it was theirs for a few words in the right key.

"Most of the time I worked. In the early morning the sun threw my shadow westward as I hurried down the white chasms of lower New York to the Probity Trust. I knew the other clerks and young bond-salesmen by their first names, and lunched with them in dark, crowded restaurants on little pig sausages and mashed potatoes and coffee. ... I took dinner usually at the Yale Club -- for some reason it was the gloomiest event of my day -- and then I went upstairs to the library and studied investments and securities for a conscientious hour.

"'Highballs?' asked the waiter. 'This is a nice restaurant here,' said Mr. Wolfshiem, looking at the presbyterian nymphs on the ceiling. 'But I like across the street better!' 'Yes, highballs,' agreed Gatsby, and then to Mr. Wolfshiem, 'It's too hot over there.'
'Hot and small -- yes,' said Mr. Wolfshiem, 'but full of memories. ... I can't forget so long as I live the night they shot Rosy Rosenthal there. It was six of us at the table, and Rosy had eat and drunk a lot all evening. When it was almost morning the waiter came up to him with a funny look and says somebody wants to speak to him outside. ... He turned around in the door and says, "Don't let that waiter take away my coffee!" Then he went out on the sidewalk, and they shot him three times in his full belly and drove away.' ... A succulent hash arrived, and Mr. Wolfshiem, forgetting the more sentimental atmosphere of the old Metropole, began to eat with ferocious delicacy."

Writing about food: John Steinbeck's "Travels with Charley, In Search of America"

"Even while I protest the assembly-line production of our food, our songs, our language, and eventually our souls, I know that it was a rare home that baked good bread in the old days. Mother's cooking was with rare exceptions poor, that good unpasteurized milk touched only by flies and bits of manure crawled with bacteria, the healthy old-time life was riddled with aches, sudden death from unknown illnesses, and that sweet local speech I mourn was the child of illiteracy and ignorance. ... But it is true that we have exchanged corpulence for starvation, and either one will kill us.

"'It is more than possible that in the cities we have passed through ... there are good and distinguished restaurants with menus of delight. But in the eating places along the roads the food has been clean, tasteless, colorless, and of a complete sameness. It is almost as though the customers had no interest in what they ate as long as it had no character to embarrass them. This is true of all but the breakfasts, which are uniformly wonderful if you stick to bacon and eggs and pan-fried potatoes. At the roadsides I never had a really good dinner or a really bad breakfast.' ... I might even say roadside America is the paradise of breakfast except for one thing. Now and then I would see a sign that said, 'home-made sausage' or 'home-smoked bacons and hams' or 'new-laid eggs' and I would stop and lay in supplies. Then, cooking my own breakfast and making my own coffee, I found that the difference was instantly apparent. A freshly laid egg does not taste remotely like the pale, battery-produced refrigerated egg, the sausage would be sweet and sharp and pungent with spices, and my coffee a wine-dark happiness. Can I say that the America I saw has put cleanliness first, at the expense of taste? And ... that the sense of taste tends to disappear and that strong, pungent, or exotic flavors arouse suspicion and dislike and so are eliminated?

"'Let's take the books, magazines, and papers we have seen displayed where we have stopped. ... There have been local papers and I've bought and read them. There have been racks of paperbacks with some great and good titles but overwhelmingly outnumbered by the volumes of sex, sadism, and homicide. ... If this people has so atrophied its taste buds as to find tasteless food not only acceptable but desirable, what of the emotional life of the nation? Do they find their emotional fare so bland that it must be spiced with sex and sadism through the medium of the paperback? And if this is so, why are there no condiments save ketchup and mustard to enhance their foods? We've listened to local radio all across the country. And apart from a few reportings of local football games, the mental fare has been as generalized, as packaged, and as undistinguished as the food.'"
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