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Member since: Sat Nov 30, 2013, 05:06 AM
Number of posts: 11,017

Journal Archives

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: Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little Town on the Prairie"

"There were little new potatoes for dinner, creamed with green peas, and there were string beans and green onions. And by every plate was a saucer full of sliced tomatoes, to be eaten with sugar and cream.

"She opened the oven door, and took out the tin milk pan. it was full of something covered thickly over with delicately browned biscuit crust. She set it before Pa and he looked at it amazed. 'Chicken pie!' 'Sing a song of sixpence --' said Ma. ... He cut into the pie's crust with a big spoon, and turned over a big chunk of it onto a plate. The underside was steamed and fluffy. Over it he poured spoonfuls of thin brown gravy, and beside it he laid half a blackbird, browned, and so tender that the meat was slipping from the bones. He handed that fist plate across the table to Ma. The scent of that opened pie was making all their mouths water so that they had to swallow again and again while they waited for their portions, and under the table the kitty curved against their legs, her hungry purring running into anxious meows.

"The pan held twelve birds,' said Ma. 'Just two apiece, but one is all that Grace can possibly eat, so that leaves three for you, Charles.' 'It takes you to think up a chicken pie, a year before there's chickens to make it with,' Pa said. He ate a mouthful and said, 'This beats a chicken pie all hollow.' They all agreed that blackbird pie was even better than chicken pie. There were, besides, new potatoes and peas, and sliced cucumbers, and young boiled carrots that Ma had thinned from the rows, and creamy cottage cheese. And the day was not even Sunday. ... Pa ate the last spoonful of pink, sugary cream from his saucer of tomatoes, and drank his tea. Dinner was over."

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. "

Writing about food: Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine

"They picked the golden flowers. The flowers that flooded the world, dripped off lawns onto brick streets, tapped softly at crystal cellar windows and agitated themselves so that on all sides lay the dazzle and glitter of molten sun. ... So, plucked carefully, in sacks, the dandelions were carried below. The cellar dark glowed with their arrival. The wine press stood open, cold. A rush of flowers warmed it. ... The golden tide, the essence of this fine fair month ran, then gushed from the spout below to be crocked, skimmed of ferment, and bottled in clean ketchup shakers, then ranked in sparkling rows in cellar gloom. Dandelion wine. The words were summer on the tongue. The wine was summer caught and stoppered. ... And there, row upon row, with the soft gleam of flowers opened at morning, with the light of this June sun glowing through a faint skin of dust would stand the dandelion wine.

"Nothing else in the world would do but the pure waters which had been summoned from the lakes far away and the sweet fields of grassy dew on early morning, lifted to the open sky, carried in laundered clusters nine hundred miles, brushed with wind, electrified with high voltage, and condensed upon cool air. ... Taking something of the east wind and the west wind and north wind and the south, the water made rain and the rain, within this hour of rituals, would be well on the way to wine.

"Yes, even Grandma, drawn to the cellar of winter for a June adventure, might stand alone ... communing with a last touch of a calendar long departed, with the picnics and warm rains and the smell of fields of wheat and new popcorn and bending hay. Even Grandma, repeating and repeating the fine and golden words, even as they were said now in this moment when the flowers were dropped into the press, as they would be repeated every winter for all the white winters in time. Saying them over and over on the lips, like a smile, like a sudden patch of sunlight in the dark. Dandelion wine. Dandelion wine. Dandelion wine.

Recipe for dandelion wine from The Women's Day Encyclopedia of Cooking:

"Dandelion wine is a time-honored drink and ranks among the better home-made wines. Here is an old recipe for it. Place one gallon dry dandelion flowers in a two gallon crock. Pour one gallon boiling water over the flowers. Cover and let stand for three days. Strain through a cloth and squeeze all the liquid from the flowers. In a deep kettle combine liquid, three pounds of sugar, and the juice of three oranges and one lemon. Simmer for 20 minutes. Return liquid to crock. Toast a slice of rye bread. Sprinkle top with 1/2 package dry yeast or 1/2 cake compressed yeast. Place bread on top of liquid in crock. Cover with a cloth and keep at room temperature (70-75 degrees F) for six days. Strain wine into gallon jugs. Plug jugs loosely with a wad of cotton. Keep in a dark place for three weeks. Decant into a bottle. Cap or cork the bottle tightly. Keep at least three months before serving."

National Doughnut day: Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Farmer Boy"

"All day long Mother had been baking, and when Almanzo went into the kitchen for the milkpails, she was still frying doughnuts. The place was full of their hot, brown smell, and the wheaty smell of new bread, the smell of cakes, and the syrupy smell of pies. Almanzo took the biggest doughnut from the pan and bit off its crisp end. Mother was rolling out the golden dough, slashing it into long strips, rolling and doubling and twisting the strips. Her fingers flew; you could hardly see them. The strips seemed to twist themselves under her hands, and to leap into the big copper kettle of swirling hot fat.

"Plump! they went to the bottom, sending up bubbles. Then quickly they came popping up, to float and slowly swell, till they rolled themselves over, their pale golden backs going into the fat and their plump brown bellies rising out of it. They rolled over, Mother said, because they were twisted. Some women made a new-fangled shape, round, with a hole in the middle. But round doughnuts wouldn't turn themselves over. Mother didn't have time to waste turning doughnuts, it was quicker to twist them. Almanzo liked baking-day. But he didn't like Saturday night. On Saturday night there was no cosy evening by the heater, with apples, popcorn, and cider. Saturday night was bath night."

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."
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