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Member since: Sat Nov 30, 2013, 05:06 AM
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National Hamburger Day. Burger Truth, James Villas' "American Taste"

"The old-timey real McCoy was, above all, thick, and when I say thick I'm talking about 1 1/2 inches of meat. ... I can still see in my mind's eye one old expert now frying up my order in a small joint I patronized for years. He reaches in the refrigerator, pulls out a fistful of fresh red meat, shapes it into a fat patty, and throws it on a flat grill (and I'm not referring to a charcoal grate). After a few minutes he flips it over, and, since I want a cheeseburger with all the trimmings, lays a slice of American cheddar (nothing more fancy, mind you) on top to melt all down the sides. In the meantime, he takes a hot, soft sesame-seed bun out of a bread-warmer, smears both sides with gobs of mayonnaise plus a little catsup, and neatly arranges, on the bottom half, one fat cut of Bermuda onion, two slices of real tomato, and two or three leaves of crisp iceberg lettuce. On top of all this he spatulas the burgers, adds the top half of the bun, and then, with the palm of his hand, pushes slightly down on his creation so that the meat juices begin saturating the other ingredients. Finally, he tongs a mess of piping hot French fries on the plate, an unspecified number of sliced sour pickles, and casually plops the miracle on the counter.

"Now comes the inimitable moment to take the first compelling, mouth-watering, sensuous bite of the burger. You grasp the corpulent creature with both hands, squeeze hard, and begin gradually, ever so carefully, trying to edge it into your salivating mouth. You close your eyes, chomp down, and ... you're on your way. The meat, cheese, onion, tomato, lettuce, mayonnaise, catsup: each makes its own special contribution to the whole, yet the flavors and textures harmonize almost synesthetically. ... When your teeth finally meet, all hell breaks loose as the juices start to explode and bits and pieces of garnishment try to go their own way. It's dripping ... all down your chin and through your fingers and across your wrists and onto the plate; red, green white particles bombarding the countertop and the single, innocent, worthless paper napkin resting on your lap. Trying not to lose grip on the bun, you slowly, respectfully return matter to rest on the plate, rearrange the components, grab frantically for a handful of napkins, tidy up fingers, chin, lips, clothing, counter, and prepare for the next assault. ... So you stay in control and eventually win out over every burger-bite, French fry, pickle, and ounce of Coke."

Writing about food: Anais Nin's diary, 1931-1932

"An aunt of mine taught our cook how to make a souffle of carrots, and the cook taught our maid Emilia. Emilia serves it for every festive meal. She served it to Henry and June. They were already hypnotized by the oddness of Louveciennes, the coloring, the strangeness of my dressing, my foreignness, the smell of jasmine, the open fires in which I burned not logs but tree roots, which look like monsters. The souffle looked like an exotic dish, and they ate it as one eats caviar. They also ate puree of potatoes which had been made airy with a beaten egg. Henry, who is thoroughly bourgeois, began to feel uncomfortable, as if he had not been properly fed. His steak was real and juicy, but cut neatly round, and I am sure he did not recognize it. June was in ecstasy. When Henry knew us better, he ventured to ask if we always ate like that, expressing concern for our health. Then we told him about the origin of the souffle and laughed. June would have wrapped it in mystery forever.

"One morning when Henry was staying with us, after all his starvation, sloppy meals, cafe-counter slobbery, I tried to fix him a beautiful breakfast. I came down and lit the fire in the fireplace. Emilia brought, on a green tray, hot coffee, steaming milk, soft-boiled eggs, good bread and biscuits, and the freshest butter. Henry sat by the fire at the lacquered table. All he could say was that he longed for the bistro around the corner, the zinc counter, the dull greenish coffee and milk full of skin. I was not offended. I thought that he lacked a certain capacity for enjoying the uncommon, that is all. I might be down in the dumps a hundred times, but each time I would clamber out again to good coffee on a lacquered tray beside an open fire.

"A summer evening. Fred, Henry, and I are eating in a small restaurant open on the street. We are part of the street. It is not Henry, Fred, and I eating, but the street full of people eating, talking, drinking. It is the whole world eating, drinking, and talking. We are eating also the noises of the street: the voices, the automobiles, the cries of the vendors, children's cries, the cooing of doves, the flutter of pigeon's wings, the barking of dogs. We are all fused. The wine which runs down my throat runs down all other throats. The warmth of the day is a like a man's hand on my breast; the warmth of the day and the smells of the street caresses everybody; the restaurant is wide open and the street penetrates into the restaurant. The wine bathes them all like an aphrodisiac ocean. Henry, Fred, the street, the world, and the students preparing for the Quartz Arts Ball. ... They invade the cafe. They help themselves to our decanter of wine, to other decanters of wine, steal a lamb chop, fried potatoes, laugh, and continue on their way."

Writing about food: Death Peas, from Garrison Keillor's "Wobegon Boy"

"'Would you care for spaghetti?' said Mother, already filling a bowl with a long skein of pasta. She dumped a cup of red sauce over it and added another, and set it on the table, with a paper towel for a napkin. ... Dad died on the next-to-top basement step ... . While in the basement, he fetched a bag of peas from the freezer in the laundry room, which he kept full of hamburger patties, fish sticks, vegetables, hash browns, as his hedge against disaster. ... And then disaster struck as he climbed the stairs. ... Mother heard him gasp. ... She was making spaghetti sauce. She put a little more seasoning in it, and then opened the door to the stairs a moment later, and he was gone, slumped against the wall, the bag of frozen peas in his right hand.

"She told him she loved him and always would love him. And then she took the frozen peas from his hand and put them in the refrigerator and called the rescue squad. ... 'You didn't think you should call a doctor?' said Diana. She looked at the rest of us. I ate my spaghetti. Bill and Judy drank coffee. They ate cookies from a box that neighbors had sent over. ... Over the table hung Dad's three-by-five index card, Pantry Light: Do Not Yank. ... 'He sat there unconscious and your first thought was to make sure the peas didn't thaw?' said Diana. ... And then Diana clapped her hand to her mouth. 'Those weren't the same peas ...' 'Yes,' said Mother. 'Actually, they were. Of course they were.' She had put the peas in the spaghetti, with the tomato sauce. The death peas. 'We ate the peas Daddy held in his hand as he died?' Diana whispered. 'Dad touched everything in this house,' I said. 'You're sitting in his chair. What's the problem?'

"I took a forkful and held it to my mouth, smelled the sweet, uncomplicated sauce: it reminded me of when I was in sixth grade and Mother had me sent home every day for lunch because Mr. Benson, the teacher, liked to humiliate kids and Mother thought she needed to boost my morale. She fed me her spaghetti and we had grown-up conversations."

National Barbecue Day: Jeffrey Steingarten, "The Man Who Ate Everything"

"Whenever I travel to the South, the first thing I do is visit the best barbecue place between the airport and my hotel. An hour or two later I visit the best barbecue place between my hotel and dinner. ... In Memphis, a pork-barbecue sandwich consists of pulled shoulder ... on a hamburger bun ... doused with a tomato-based sauce that is tangy, mildly sweet, and barely piquant -- and topped with a scoop of coleslaw and the upper half of the bun. ... In St. Louis, potato salad replaces coleslaw and is served on the side. In Kentucky, pork becomes mutton. ... In North Carolina, the mild tanginess of Tennessee spice rub becomes the corrosive power of vinegar, and in South Carolina the tomato-sauce base is replaced by unadulterated mustard ... and if you travel farther west ... pork gives way to beef and poultry.

"Apple City BBQ cooks its loin and baby back ribs ... for six and a half hours ... and right before every contest ... cuts green applewood prunings that will produce an aromatic smoke ... . The team believes that taking dry applewood and soaking it in water would remove its aroma ... . Before they go into the cooker, the ribs are rubbed with a secret mixture of eighteen spices. ... For the first couple of hours, the temperature in the cooker is kept down near 100 degrees so that the pores of the meat open up and take in the smoke and spices 'like Mother Nature would take in a seed in the springtime.' Then fuel is added and the heat rises to 180 to 200 degrees ... hot enough to form a crispy bark on the outside of the slab and render out the last bit of fat. A rib will go through at least two sweats, as the surface opens up and natural juices break through, and that's when the Apple City team sprinkles on its spices. After two or three hours have passed, the ribs are basted with freshly pressed apple juice ... . And in the final thirty minutes, Mills and his teammates apply two light coats of finishing sauce, which they dry up with more of the spice rub and a little salt.

"In front of me sat the highest expression of America's proudest vernacular cooking tradition. ... I grasped two bones and pulled them apart. The firm flesh instantly separated, sending up a puff of steam with the aroma of a clean burning wood fire and the ineffable, God-given sweetness of pork. The meat was nearly red throughout, moist and entirely free of fat, and deeply flavored with spice and smoke. (Its color and texture resembled pastrami or long-smoked fish as much as it did pork.) And it was profoundly delicious, satisfying every need that the human body and soul have for food, unless you consider cold and slimy greens to be food. In the blink of an eye, a completely bare bone lay on my plate, then three completely bare bones, and soon a dozen"

Writing about food: National Buttermilk Biscuit Day, Laurie Colwin's "More Home Cooking"

"Biscuits are the utility infielder of the culinary world: They serve as bread, as snacks, as something to nibble with cocktails. ... They can be plain, spicy, savory, or sweet. ... These flaky, delicate, and melting little buns are composed of almost nothing at all. Everything they are made of is commonly found around the house (unless you are one of those people whose fridge contains a bottle of Champagne and a lime). You need 2 cups of flour, 1/2 stick of butter or margarine ... 2 teaspoons of baking powder, and 3/4 cup (a little more or less depending on the flour and the weather) of milk -- sweet, sour, or buttermilk (or a combination of milk and yogurt).

"There is no end to the things you can put in biscuit dough. Chives are nice, and so are toasted sesame seeds, or poppy seeds. You can add Parmesan or grated Cheddar cheese and spike them with cayenne pepper. You can roast up cumin seeds and add those, too, or snip some fresh rosemary. ... For a picnic you can take the dough, roll it out, place it carefully on a baking sheet or baking stone, brush it with olive oil and tomato sauce, layer it with thin-sliced tomatoes, and scatter any kind of cheese on top. This sort of biscuit pizza is excellent topped with fried peppers, crisp-fried eggplant, or zucchini. You can brush it with pesto and put on top of it almost anything you can think of. ... This summer I discovered another use for the ever-helpful biscuit and used it all summer long as dessert. To the basic dough you add 1 generous tablespoon of sugar. Roll out and spread with the jelly or jam of your choice. On top of the jelly arrange in some attractive pattern juicy, sliced fruit. ... This is the sort of dish I love best: plain, but very delicious, and absolutely gorgeous to look at.

"Often at night I find myself ruminating about ... Tomato Pie ... . The pie has a double-biscuit-dough crust ... . You roll out the dough on a floured surface and line a 9-inch pie plate with it. Then add the tomatoes. Mary makes this pie year round and uses first-quality canned tomatoes, but at this time of year 2 pounds peeled fresh tomatoes are fine, too. Drain well ... then lay the slices over the crust and scatter them with chopped basil, chives, or scallions ... . Grate 1 1/2 cups sharp Cheddar and sprinkle 1 cup of it on top of the tomatoes. Then over this drizzle 1/3 cup of mayonnaise that has been thinned with 2 tablespoons lemon juice, and top everything with the rest of the grated Cheddar. Roll out the remaining dough, fit it over the filling, and pinch the edges of the dough together to seal them. ... It is hard to describe how delicious this is, especially on a hot day with a glass of magnificent iced tea in a beautiful setting, but it would doubtless be just as scrumptious on a cold day in your warm kitchen with a cup of coffee."

Writing about food: Jean-Paul Sartre's "Nausea"

"It is one-thirty. I am eating a sandwich in the Cafe Mably, everything is more or less normal. Anyway, everything is always normal in cafes and especially the Cafe Mably, because of the manager, M. Fasquelle, who has a raffish look which is positively reassuring. ... There are still about twenty customers left, bachelors, small-time engineers, office employees. They eat hurriedly in boarding-houses ... and since they need a little luxury, they come here after their meals. They drink a cup of coffee and play poker dice; they make a little noise, an inconsistent noise which doesn't bother me. In order to exist, they also must consort with others.

"Everywhere, now, there are objects like this glass of beer on the table there. When I see it, I feel like saying: 'Enough.' I realize quite well that I have gone too far. I don't suppose you can 'take sides' with solitude. That doesn't mean that I look under my bed before going to sleep, or think I see the door of my room open suddenly in the middle of the night. Still, somehow I am not at peace: I have been avoiding looking at this glass of beer for half an hour. I look above, below, right and left; but I don't want to see it. And I know very well that all these bachelors around me can be of no help: it is too late, I can no longer take refuge among them. They could come and tap me on the shoulder and say, 'Well, what's the matter with that glass of beer?' It's just like all the others. It's bevelled on the edges, has a handle, a little coat of arms with a spade on it and on the coat of arms is written, 'Spartenbrau.' I know all that, but I know there is something else. Almost nothing. But I can't explain what I see. To anyone.

"I am alone in the midst of these happy, reasonable voices. All these creatures spend their time explaining, realizing happily that they agree with each other. In Heaven's name, why is it so important to think the same things all together."

Writing about food: Donald W. George, "The Way of Iced Coffee"

"Three months ago I was sitting in a Tokyo coffee shop, lingering over a glass of iced coffee ... and suddenly it struck me that one of the reasons for my sense of well being was the little ritual I was enacting ... . As I reflected on this, I realized that I had seen variations of this ritual enacted -- unconsciously -- in countless Japanese coffee shops by countless Japanese people, and that in fact the preparation and drinking of iced coffee had become one of those delightful little rites that unify and enrich Japanese life. To my knowledge, however, no one has recognized it as such, so I decided ... to set down my own modest version of ... 'the way of iced coffee.'

"When your iced coffee is placed before you, study it for a while: the dark, rich liquid glistens with ice cubes whose curves and cracks hold and reflect and refract the liquid. Notice the thin silver streaks and peaks in the ice cube, and the beads of water on the outside of the glass -- a cooling sight on a hot day. Then take up the tiny silver pitcher of sugar syrup that has been set just beside the glass and pour it into the part of the glass that is nearest to you. The syrupy stream courses through the coffee like a tiny waterfall, then quickly disperses and dissolves, like the dream of a rain shower on a summer afternoon.

"After that, pick up the tiny white pitcher of cream that was placed just beyond the silver pitcher and pour it into the middle of the glass. Watch it disperse into countless cream-colored swirls and whirls and steams, which hang suspended in the middle of the coffee like a frozen breeze. Notice how the cream is pure white in some parts and a thin brownish hue in others. Notice also that a little trace stays on the surface, spiraling down into the middle of the glass. Then unwrap the straw that has been set beyond the glass and place it in the middle of the glass. This sends out ripples that reconfigure the cream's liquid breeze, creating new waves and textures and layers of iced coffee. Then sip the coffee through the straw, tasting its coolness and complex mix of bitter coffee and sweet sugar and cream."

Writing about food: Christmas in May, from Laura Ingalls Wilder's "The Long Winter"

"Pa brought groceries that afternoon. It was wonderful to see him coming in with armfuls of packages, wonderful to see a whole sack of white flour, sugar, dried apples, soda crackers, and cheese. ... With yeast cakes, Ma set the sponge for light bread that night, and she put the dried apples to soak for pies. ... Laura and Carrie picked over the cranberries and washed them. Ma stewed them with sugar until they were a mass of crimson jelly. Laura and Carrie carefully picked dried raisins from their long stems and carefully took the seeds out of each one. Ma stewed the dried apples, mixed the raisins with them, and made pies. ... All day long the kitchen smelled of good things, and when night came the cupboard held large brown-crusted loaves of white bread, a sugar-frosted loaf of cake, three crisp-crusted pies, and the jellied cranberries.

"What a hurrying there was! Breakfast was soon over ... Ma prepared the big turkey for roasting and mixed the bread-stuffing for it. The May morning was warm and wind from the prairie smelled of springtime. ... Ma brought the glass bowl filled with glowing cranberry jelly. She set it in the middle of the white tablecloth and they all admired the effect. ... The roasting turkey was filling the house with scents that made their mouths water. The potatoes were boiling and Ma was putting the coffee on when Mr. and Mrs. Boast came walking in. ... While Ma made the gravy Laura mashed the potatoes. There was no milk, but Ma said, 'Leave a very little of the boiling water in, and after you mash them beat them extra hard with a big spoon. The potatoes turned out white and fluffy, though not with the flavor that plenty of hot milk and butter would have given them.

"'The table looks some different from what it did a few days ago,' Pa said as he heaped Mrs. Boast's plate with turkey and stuffing and potatoes and a large spoonful of cranberries. And as he went on filling the plates he added, 'It has been a long winter.' ... While Mr. and Mrs. Boast told how they had worked and contrived through that long winter, all alone in the blizzard-bound shanty on their claim, Ma poured the coffee and Pa's tea. She passed the bread and the butter and the gravy and reminded Pa to refill the plates. When every plate had been emptied a second time Ma refilled the cups and Laura brought on the pies and the cake."

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."
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