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Member since: Sat Nov 30, 2013, 05:06 AM
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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."

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

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

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

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

National Fried Chicken Day!

Laurie Colwin:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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