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

Journal Archives

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."

Writing about food: Laurie Colwin, potato salad

"There is no such thing as really bad potato salad. ... One of my earliest childhood memories is of going to lunch on a summer Saturday to Conklin's drugstore ... . In those days, drugstores had booths, fountains and grills. They made bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches, fried eggs, egg salad, and hot fudge sundaes. What I remember most was the potato salad. It was the standard American kind: potatoes and onions in a creamy mayonnaise dressing spiked with vinegar and black pepper: no chopped eggs, no celery. I still make this variety myself, with scallions substituted for onions and dill as an addition. When I was young, potato salad was considered summer food. My mother made her mother's version, which included chopped celery and catsup in the dressing. It was known as pink potato salad and was served at picnics and barbecues as an accompaniment to fried or grilled chicken. No one would ever have thought of serving it in a formal setting. Once I was out on my own and could cook to please myself, I figured that since I loved potato salad so much, other people did, too. I began to serve it to my friends at dinner parties. 'Oh, potato salad,' they would say. 'I haven't had any homemade in years!' I gave it to them with thin-sliced, peppery flank steak, and with cold roast chicken in the summer and hot roast chicken in the winter. It was always a hit.

"I have a friend, a man in his seventies who fled Vienna on the eve of World War II and ended up in Bogota, who once every two years comes to New York. When I first met him, I invited him to dinner. 'What would you like me to cook?' I asked him. 'I am a meat and potatoes man,' he said. 'I want hamburgers and that wonderful American potato salad.' ... I watched anxiously, wondering what this feinschmecker would make of my potato salad. 'What do you think?' I said. I thought it almost perfect: creamy, oniony with just a jolt of vinegar. 'This is not at all what I had in mind!' he said forcefully. 'What do you mean?' I said. 'This is A-plus American potato salad.' 'I did not say it wasn't delicious,' he said. 'It is just not the potato salad I was thinking of.' 'And what potato salad were you thinking of?' 'What they serve in the delicatessen around the corner from my hotel,' he said. I knew the place. It was a Greek coffee shop. 'But Mr. Hecht,' I said, 'that stuff is made in five-hundred-gallon drums and sent all over the city.' 'Exactly!' he said. 'It tastes the same wherever I go. That is its charm.' He ate three helpings of mine, which mollified me enough to get me to admit that I liked the coffee shop variety myself."

Writing about food: Emile Zola's "The Belly of Paris"

"Lettuce, escarole, and chicory, with rich earth still stuck to them ... . Bundles of spinach, bunches of sorrel, packets of artichokes, piles of peas and beans, mountains of romaine tied with straw, sang the full greenery repertoire ... a continuous range of ascending and descending sales that faded away in the variegated heads of celery and and bundles of leeks. But the most piercing note of all came from the flaming carrots and the snowy splotches of turnips ... . At the intersection of rue des Halles were mountains of cabbages. There were enormous white cabbages that were hard and compact ... and red cabbages that the dawn seemed to change into exquisite flowery masses the color of wine, crimson and deep purple. At the other end ... the route was blocked by swollen-bellied orange pumpkins crawling across the ground in two lines. The varnished brown of onions shone here and there in baskets and the bloodred heaps of tomatoes, the muted yellow of cucumbers, the deep purple of eggplants, while thick black radishes in funereal drapes still held memories of the night ... .

"First of all, close to the windowpane, was a row of crocks full of rillettes alternating with jars of mustard. The next row was nice round boned jambonneaux with golden breadcrumb coatings. Behind these were platters: stuffed Strasbourg tongues ... next to the pale sausages and pigs' feet; boudin coiled like snakes; andouilles piled two by two and plump with health; dried sausages in silvery casing lined up like choirboys; pates, still warm ... ; big, fat hams; thick cuts of veal and pork whose juices had jellied clear as crystal candy. ... Between the plates and dishes ... were pickling jars of sauces and stocks and preserved truffles, terrines of foie gras, and tins of tuna and sardines. A box of creamy cheeses and one of escargot, wood snails with parsley and butter, were casually strew in opposite corners.

"A sunbeam streamed through the glass roof ... lighting up the rich colors ... the iridescent hues of the shellfish, the opalescence of the whiting, the pearly mackerel, the gold of the red mullets, the lame suits of the herring, the great silvery salmon. It was as though the jewelry boxes of a sea nymph had been opened there -- a tangle of unimaginable baubles, heaps of necklaces, monstrous bracelets, gigantic brooches, huge barbaric gems of no imaginable purpose. On the backs of skates and dogfish seemed to be huge dull green and purple stones set in some dark metal, while slender eels and the tails and fins of smelts suggested the delicacy of fine jewelry.

"A Parmesan added an aromatic pungence to the heavy smell. Three Bries on round boards were sad as waning moons. Two very dry ones were full. The third, in its second quarter, was oozing, emitting a white cream that spread into a lake, flooding over the thin boards that had been put there to stem the flow. Port Saluts shaped like ancient discuses had the names of the producers inscribed around the perimeters. ... The Roqueforts, under their glass bells, had a regal bearing, their fat, marbled faces veined in blue and yellow as though they were the victims of some disgraceful disease that strikes wealthy people who eat too many truffles. Alongside them were the goat cheeses, fat as a child's fist, hard and gray like the stones rams kick down a path when they lead the flock. And then there were the smells: the pale yellow Mont d'Ors released a sweet fragrance, the Troyes, which were thick and bruised on the edges, were stronger-smelling than the others, adding a fetid edge like a damp cellar; the Camemberts with their scent of decomposing game; the Neufchatels, the Limbourgs, the Maroilles, the Pont l'Eveques, each one playing its own shrill note in a composition that was almost sickening."

Writing about food: Anthony Bourdain, "Kitchen Confidential"

"We'd already polished off the Brie and baguettes and downed the Evian, but I was still hungry, and characteristically said so. Monsieur Saint-Jour, on hearing this -- as if challenging his American passengers -- inquired in his thick Girondais accent if any of us would care to try an oyster. My parents hesitated. I doubt they'd realized they might actually have to eat one of the raw, slimy things they were currently floating over. My little brother recoiled in horror. But I, in the proudest moment of my young life, stood up smartly, grinning with defiance, and volunteered to be the first.

"Monsieur Saint-Jour beckoned me over to the gunwale, where he leaned over, reached down until his head nearly disappeared underwater and emerged holding a single salt-encrusted oyster, huge and irregularly shaped, in his rough, clawlike fist. With a snubby, rust-covered oyster knife, he popped the thing open and handed it to me, everyone watching now, my little brother shrinking away from this glistening, vaguely sexual-looking object, still dripping and nearly alive. I took it in my hand, tilted the shell back into my mouth as instructed by the now beaming Monsieur Saint-Jour and with one bite and a slurp, wolfed it down. It tasted of seawater ... of brine and flesh ... and somehow ... of the future. Everything was different now. Everything. I'd not only survived, I'd enjoyed.

"For the rest of that summer, and in later summers, I'd often slip off by myself to the little stands by the port, where one could buy brown paper bags of unwashed, black-covered oysters by the dozen. After a few lessons from my new soul mate, blood brother and bestest buddy, Monsieur Saint-Jour -- who was now sharing his after-work bowls of sugared vin ordinaire with me, too -- I could easily open the oysters by myself, coming in from behind with the knife and popping the hinge like it was Aladdin's cave. I'd sit in the garden among the tomatoes and the lizards and eat my oysters and drink Kronenbourgs (France was a wonderland for underage drinkers) ... and I still associate the taste of oysters with those heady, wonderful days of illicit late-afternoon buzzes. The smell of French cigarettes, the taste of beer, that unforgettable feeling of doing something I shouldn't be doing."

Writing about food: Sallie Tisdale's "The Best Thing I Ever Ate"

"My favorite sandwich as a child was toasted cheese, the way Mom made it: Velveeta and Miracle Whip on soft slices of white bread, fried in margarine. Each element was essential to the whole, but the bread was the foundation -- the soft, airy, cloud-white bread so fragile that a slice larger than my hand could be compressed into a ball smaller than my thumbnail. ... Not long ago, I bought Velveeta, Wonder Bread, and Miracle Whip. The solid yellow rectangle in its neat silver wrapping is like a solid block of my elementary-school career, with no need to refrigerate before opening. I made my childhood toasted-cheese sandwich as an experiment, with my daughter as the guinea pig. She's been raised on sandwiches made from whole-wheat bread and local whole-milk cheddar and homemade mayonnaise. I fried the bread lightly, spread one slice with Miracle Whip, and piled on the Velveeta; put the bread together and fried the sandwich again, squished down flat with a spatula until it was brown and melting. I cut the sandwich into triangles and gave one to my daughter and took one for myself. She chewed meditatively and smiled. 'This is great,' she said. 'How did you make this?'

"The A&W was a place where everything was always the same, a sameness that was far more comfort than structure. California blended into Nebraska there, Nebraska blended into New Jersey, the whole country parked under a low roof on a summer evening with the windows down and the crickets beginning to sing in the warm, dry air, fragrant with the scent of frying meat. Susan and Bruce and I in our shorts and T-shirts blended into the crew-cut quarterback and his blond girlfriend in the Ford pickup beside us. You blended into me, and me into you, without ever having to touch at all. It was a homegrown joint, like the drugstore soda fountain and the pizza parlor on the edge of town, a place where everyone in town could go and be treated the same way. Only years later did I realize it was a chain, that there were A&Ws all over the country just the same, and when I found out, I felt a peculiar sorrow mixed with relief.

"Not long ago, I ... stopped at ... a chain store, one of the ugly retail warehouse stores America is growing now, where you can buy rubber cement, bagels, shampoo, plumbing fixtures, sanitary pads, bananas, fireworks, and a lot more. In this block-square box ... its echoing high ceilings and distant fluorescent lights, the rows march up and down in vanishing lines of too much, so much, too much. We walked, hungry, up and down and back and forth in the sickly light, in a crowd of people who seemed just as lost, and in the harsh glare everything I saw looked awful. I saw a chasm of despair open up and myself sliding down into an acute sense of failure, of having made the wrong turn for years. I felt a terrible loss taking place, holding a frozen pizza in my hand, blinking back tears. "
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