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betsuni

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Member since: Sat Nov 30, 2013, 05:06 AM
Number of posts: 9,794

Journal Archives

Writing about food: A.J. Liebling, "Between Meals, An Appetite For Paris"

"The Proust madeleine phenomenon is now as firmly established in folklore as Newton's apple or Watt's steam kettle. The man ate a tea biscuit, the taste evoked memories, he wrote a book. ... In the light of what Proust wrote with so mild a stimulus, it is the world's loss that he did not have a heartier appetite. On a dozen Gardiners Island oysters, a bowl of clam chowder, a peck of steamers, some bay scallops, three sauteed soft-shelled crabs, a few ears of fresh-picked corn, a thin swordfish steak of generous area, a pair of lobsters, and a Long Island duck, he might have written a masterpiece.

"The primary requisite for writing well about food is a good appetite. Without this, it is impossible to accumulate, within the allotted span, enough experience of eating to have anything worth setting down. Each day brings only two opportunities for field work, and they are not to be wasted minimizing the intake of cholesterol. They are indispensable, like a prizefighter's hours on the road.

"If ... the first requisite for writing well about food is a good appetite, the second is to put in your apprenticeship as a feeder when you have enough money to pay the check but not enough to produce indifference to the size of the total. ... The reference room where I pursued my own first earnest researches as a feeder without the crippling handicap of affluence was the Restaurant des Beaux-Arts ... in 1926-27. I was a student, in a highly generalized way, at the Sorbonne ... . A man who is rich in his adolescence is almost doomed to be a dilettante at table. This is not because all millionaires are stupid but because they are not impelled to experiment. In learning to eat, as in psychoanalysis, the customer, in order to profit, must be sensible of the cost. ... A drastically poor man, naturally, has even less chance than a drastically rich one to educate himself gastronomically. For him eating becomes merely a matter of subsistence; he can exercise no choice. The chief attraction of the cheapest student restaurants in my time was advertised on their largest placards: 'Pain a Discretion' ('All the Bread You Want'). They did not graduate discriminating eaters. During that invaluable year, I met a keen observer who gave me a tip: 'If you run across a restaurant where you often see priests eating with priests, or sporting girls with sporting girls, you may be confident that it is good. Those are two classes of people who like to eat well and get their money's worth.' ... Failing the sure indications cited above, a good augury is the presence of French newspapermen."

Writing about food: Henry Miller, "Tropic of Cancer"

"Food is one of the things I enjoy tremendously. And in this beautiful Villa Borghese there is scarcely ever evidence of food. ... I have asked Boris time and again to order bread for breakfast, but he always forgets. He goes out for breakfast, it seems. And when he comes back he is picking his teeth and there is a little egg hanging from his goatee. He eats in the restaurant out of consideration for me. He says it hurts to eat a big meal and have me watch him. ... Elsa is ordering a delicate little lunch for Boris -- 'a nice juicy little pork chop,' she says. I see a whole flock of pink hams lying cold on the marble, wonderful hams cushioned in white fat. I have a terrific hunger though we've only had breakfast a few minutes ago -- it's the lunch I'll have to skip.

"High noon and here I am standing with an empty belly at the confluence of all these crooked lanes that reek with the odor of food. ... Hotels and food, and I'm walking about like a leper with crabs gnawing at my entrails. ... Long queues of people with vegetables under their arms, turning in here and there with crisp, sparkling appetites. Nothing but food, food, food. Makes one delirious. ... We're all dead, or dying, or about to die. ... We need meat -- slices and slices of meat -- juicy tenderloins, porterhouse steaks, kidneys, mountain oysters, sweetbreads. Some day, when I'm standing at the corner of 42nd Street and Broadway, I'm going to ... put down everything that goes on in my noodle -- caviar, rain drops, axle grease, vermicelli, liverwurst -- slices and slices of it.

"Walking along the Champs-Elysees I keep thinking of my really superb health. When I say 'health' I mean optimism, to be truthful. ... I'm a bit retarded, like most Americans. Carl finds it disgusting, this optimism. 'I have only to talk about a meal,' he says, 'and you're radiant!' ... The mere thought of a meal -- another meal -- rejuvenates me. A meal!

"Every meal starts off with soup. Whether it be onion soup, tomato soup, vegetable soup, or what not, the soup always tastes the same. Mostly it tastes as if a dish rag had been stewing in it -- slightly sour, mildewed, scummy. I see Eugene hiding it away in the commode after the meal. It stays there, rotting away, until the next meal. The butter, too, is hidden away in the commode; after three days it tastes like the big toe of a cadaver. The smell of rancid butter frying is not particularly appetizing, especially when the cooking is done in a room in which there is not the slightest form of ventilation."

Writing about food: "The Philosophy of Andy Warhol"

"Food is my great extravagance. I really spoil myself, but then I try to compensate by scrupulously saving all of my food leftovers and bringing them into the office or leaving them in the street and recycling them there. My conscience won't let me throw anything out, even when I don't want it for myself. ... The leftovers usually turn out to be meat because I'll buy a huge piece of meat, cook it up for dinner, and then right before it's done I'll break down and have what I wanted for dinner in the first place -- bread and jam. I'm only kidding myself when I go through the motions of cooking protein: all I ever want is sugar. ... People expect you to eat protein and you do so they won't talk. (If you decided to be stubborn and ordered the cookie, you'd wind up having to talk about why you want it and your philosophy of eating a cookie for dinner. And that would be too much trouble, so you order lamb and forget about what you really want.)

"What's great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a tastier Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.

"And New York restaurants now have a new thing -- they don't sell their food, they sell their atmosphere. They say, 'How dare you say we don't have good food, when we never said we had good food. We have good atmosphere.' They caught on that what people really care about is changing their atmosphere for a couple of hours. ... My favorite restaurant atmosphere has always been the atmosphere of the good, plain, American lunchroom or even the good plain American lunchcounter. The old-style Schrafft's and the old-style Chock Full O' Nuts are absolutely the only things in the world that I'm truly nostalgic for. The days were carefree in the 1940s and 1950s when I could go into a Chocks for my cream cheese sandwich with nuts on date-nut bread and not worry about a thing. No matter what changes or how fast, the one thing we all always need is real good food so we can know what the changes are and how fast they're coming. Progress is very important and exciting in everything except food. When you say you want an orange, you don't want someone asking you, 'An orange what?' I really like to eat alone. I want to start a chain of restaurants for other people who are like me called ANDYMATS -- 'The Restaurant for the Lonely Person.' You get your food and then you take your tray into a booth and watch television.

"When I'm walking around New York I'm always aware of the smells around me: ... pizza; Orange Julius; espresso-garlic-oregano; burgers; ... neighborhood grocery stores; ... the hot dogs and sauerkraut carts; ... the donuts, pretzels, gum and grape soda in the subways; ... the good cheap candy smell in the front of Woolworth's and the dry-goods smell in the back; ... cumin, fenugreek, soy sauce, cinnamon; ... fruit stands in all the different seasons -- strawberry, watermelon, plum, peach, kiwi, cherry, Concord grape, tangerine, murcot, pineapple, apple -- and I love the way the smell of each fruit gets into the rough wood of the crates and into the tissue-paper wrappings."

Writing about food: anniversary of the publication of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn"

"I was powerful lazy and comfortable -- didn't want to get up and cook breakfast. ... Well, then I happened to think how they always put quicksilver in loaves of bread and float them off because they always go right to the drowned carcass and stop there. ... A big double loaf come along, and I most got it, with a long stick, but my foot slipped and she floated out further. ... . But by-and-by along comes another one, and this time I won. I took out the plug and shook out the little bit of quicksilver, and set my teeth in. It was 'baker's bread' -- what the quality eat -- none of your low-down corn-pone.

"Mornings, before daylight, I slipped into corn fields and borrowed a watermelon, or a mushmelon, or a punkin, or some new corn, or things of that kind. Pap always said it warn't no harm to borrow things, if you was meaning to pay them back, sometime; but the widow said it warn't anything but a soft name for stealing, and no decent body would do it. Jim said he reckoned the widow was partly right and pap was partly right; so the best way would be for us to pick out two or three things from the list and say we wouldn't borrow them anymore ... . So we talked it over ... trying to make up our minds whether to drop the watermelons, or the cantelopes, or the mushmelons, or what. But towards daylight we ... concluded to drop crabapples and p'simmons. ... I was glad the way it come out, too, because crabapples ain't ever good, and the p'simmons wouldn't be ripe for two or three months yet.

"I hadn't had a bite to eat since yesterday; so Jim he got out some corn-dodgers and buttermilk, and pork and cabbage, and greens -- there ain't nothing in the world so good, when it's cooked right -- and whilst I eat my supper we talked, and had a good time. ... Once there was a thick fog ... . A scow or a raft went by so close we could hear them talking and cussing and laughing ... but we couldn't see no sign of them; it made you feel crawly, it was like spirits carrying on that way in the air. Jim said he believed it was spirits, but I says, 'No, spirits wouldn't say, 'dern the dern fog.' ... It's lovely to live on a raft. We had the sky, up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made, or only just happened.

"The hunk of butter, big as a person's fist, was where I had left it, so I took up the slab of corn-pone with it on ... but here comes Aunt Sally with a candle, and I clapped the truck in my hat, and clapped my hat on my head, and the next second she says: 'You been down cellar?' ... I was that scared; and the place getting hotter and hotter, and the butter beginning to melt and run down my neck and behind my ears ... and a streak of butter come a trickling down my forehead, and Aunt Sally she see it, and turns white as a sheet, and says: 'For the land's sake, what is the matter with the child! -- he's got the brain fever as shore as you're born, and they're oozing out!'

Writing about food: Ruth Reichl's "Tender at the Bone"

"Imagine a New York City apartment at six in the morning. ... Coffee is bubbling in an electric percolator. On the table is a basket of rye bread, an entire coffee cake, a few cheeses, a platter of cold cuts. My mother has been making breakfast -- a major meal in our house ... . Right now she is the only one awake, but she is getting impatient for the day to begin ... she barges into the bedroom and shakes my father awake. 'Darling,' she says, 'I need you. Get up and come into the kitchen.' ... He leans against the sink, holding on to it a little, and obediently opens his mouth when my mother says, 'Try this.'

"Later, when he told the story, he attempted to convey the awfulness of what she had given him. The first time he said that it tasted like cat toes and rotted barley, but over the years the description got better. Two years later it had turned into pigs' snouts and mud and five years later he had refined the flavor into a mixture of antique anchovies and moldy chocolate. Whatever it tasted like, he said it was the worst thing he had ever had in his mouth, so terrible that it was impossible to swallow, so terrible that he leaned over and spit it into the sink and then grabbed the coffeepot, put the spout in his mouth, and tried to eradicate the flavor. My mother stood there watching all this. When my father finally put the coffeepot down she smiled and said, 'Just as I thought. Spoiled!'

"For the longest time I thought I had made this story up. But my brother insists that my father told it often, and with a certain amount of pride. As far as I know, my mother was never embarrassed by the telling, never even knew that she should have been. It was just the way she was. Which was taste-blind and unafraid of rot. 'Oh, it's just a little mold,' I can remember her saying on the many occasions she scraped the fuzzy blue stuff off some concoction before serving what was left for dinner. ... My parents entertained a great deal, and before I was ten I had appointed myself guardian of the guests. My mission was to keep Mom from killing anybody who came to dinner."

Writing about food: Hilary Liftin's "Candy and Me" -- Valentine's conversation hearts

"It was the winter of eighth grade, and I thought that I was on the cusp of being discovered by boys. ... I couldn't even imagine how a conversation with a boy might proceed. When I pictured my ideal encounter, it consisted of an initial dreamy gaze, filled with a silent understanding of mutual attraction, which led immediately to making out. ... The eighth grade ski trip was coed. The idea of getting onto a coed bus without a pre-established seating partner was inconceivable, so Lucy and I signed up together, and promised to sit next to each other. I brought a large bag of conversation hearts as our bus snack. ... Lucy kept pace with me, and by the time we had gotten to the New Jersey Turnpike, the bag was empty. ... In an almost too-perfect delivery, halfway through the sentence, 'I don't feel well,' she vomited between her knees, onto the floor of the bus. ... So much for being noticed by the boy creatures.

"A person can only take so many conversation hearts. After the third full bag of the season ... they start to taste sickeningly chalky. But they have charm. Their palette is as tied to spring as candy corn's is to autumn. They are hopeful and convincing. When you are alone, you can use them like a Magic Eight Ball, thinking, If the next one says 'true love,' I'm set for the year. I am not alone in my consumption of conversation hearts. They've been around (originally as Motto Hearts) since 1866. According to Necco (the New England Confectionery Company), in the Valentine's season they manufacture more than eight billion hearts, which sell out in the space of six weeks. Once, walking in Cambridge, I stopped in the middle of the street, 'Necco is nearby,' I announced, sniffing the air. Tracing the scent, my friend and I turned the corner, and there was the factory. Every year I consumed more than my share of the eight billion, but this year I wanted a change.

"No boy had ever given me conversation hearts, or anything else for that matter, for Valentine's Day. Ever since the eighth-grade ski trip, conversation hearts were a reminder of the absence of romance, the admirers who never emerged, the flirty conversations that never happened. Now I finally had Neal, a flesh-and-blood boyfriend, and I wanted my Valentine's Day, dammit."

Writing about food: Tama Janowitz, "Area Code 212"

"Here's my fantasy: I get into bed with so many unread books I have to push them aside to make room. Then I order the following: a pizza, extra-large, extra-crispy, extra-cheese. The crust is thin and crunchy, each slice has a different topping, mushrooms, onions, pepperoni, the whole thing is oozing, at once crispy, crusty and wet. Tomato sauce, long strings of cheese. I eat it.

"Baklava, myriad flakes of phyllo pastry dripping with honey, walnuts. Indian food, chewy nan, roti, parathas, fiery curry. Chinese food, not greasy but fried, things that are sweet and sour and hot all at the same time. ... I am surrounded by boxes of really good-quality chocolates and an entire chocolate cake, thick and black, bittersweet. I breakfast on donuts, dense, heavy, a crusty lump of sugary dough. Steaks, thick and rare, sliced thin, with a bone to gnaw on. Fried potatoes, potato chips, pommes frites. Biscuits, sugared nuts, wedges of assorted cheese: Stilton, Cheddar, Swiss, Havarti. Bowls of the blackest, sweetest cherries. Southern barbecue, ribs, with coleslaw, or a pulled-pork sandwich, the tenderest meat shreds slammed between two sides of a soft roll. Did I mention chocolate mousse? And the ice cream, flavor depending on my current mood -- ginger, green tea, mocha chip topped with hot fudge sauce. Pistachio, butter pecan, maple walnut.

"My job is to lie in bed and eat and read -- oh, once in a while perhaps a masseuse will arrive to soothe and comfort, a handsome delivery boy with a fresh pineapple he will chop right there at the foot of my bed and present to me in chunks on the ends of toothpicks. In my fantasy ... I am huge, I occupy the the whole bed ... . If only I had been born in the time of Rubens, or Titian's sixteenth century, when obesity, or at least plumpness and cellulite, was considered a desirable, sexy attribute in women. ... Instead I live in New York City, where women compete to be the slimmest. ... Basically, the modern New York woman is expected to have the same shape as that of a really tough villager who lives in a primitive place and spends the day hunting and gathering, grinding corn, lugging heavy pots of water on her head, giving birth to babies in the field, never getting quite enough to eat."

National Bagel and Lox Day: Mark Russ Federman, "Russ & Daughters, Reflections and Recipes from

the House That Herring Built"

"A Martian crash-lands his little spaceship at the corner of Orchard and Rivington Streets on the Lower East Side. When he climbs out, he sees that one wheel is missing. ... As luck would have it, he passes a store that has a lot of appropriately sized wheels in the window. He goes inside. Moishe is at the counter.
'I would like to buy a wheel,' the Martian says.
'We don't sell wheels,' Moishe replies.
'Then what's that in the window?'
'Those are bagels.'
'What do you do with them?'
'You eat them,' Moishi says, offering one to the Martian. The Martian eats it and gives Moishi a big smile.
'Do you like it?' Moishi asks.
'It's good,' replies the Martian. 'But it would be even better with cream cheese and lox.'

"The bagel and its cream-cheese-and-lox counterpart have gone mainstream; they are now part of American culture. ... The three components ultimately met and were married in the appetizing stores of the Lower East Side in the 1930s. ... It has always been known as 'bagel and lox' -- the presence of cream cheese is understood. ... The word 'lox' is derived from the German word Lachs, which means 'salmon.' The anglicized version, 'lox,' was first used to describe the millions of Pacific salmon caught, packed in a salt brine, and shipped to New York ports for further travels to Europe. Some of these fish found their way to Brooklyn smokehouses ... then sold in the appetizing stores on the Lower East Side ... . The Eastern European Jews in the neighborhood had no prior experience ... with salmon, smoked or otherwise ... . Because huge quantities of salmon were available, the prices were very cheap ... . Lox quickly caught on among the residents of the Lower East Side, and they took the taste for it with them when they moved out of the neighborhood.

"The bagel landed in America along with the huge wave of Eastern European immigrants who began to arrive on the Lower East Side in the 1880s. Bagels were not difficult to make ... they were hand-rolled, boiled briefly in water, and baked in ovens located in the basements of tenement buildings. The finished bagels were displayed on sticks and sold on the streets for two cents apiece. A bagel was a quick, on-the-go snack, meant to be eaten by itself -- an early form of fast food that was not originally intended to be the structural support for a sandwich. ... The origins of cream cheese are equally cloudy. ... The American version is traced back to a dairyman in upstate New York who, in 1872, was trying to reproduce the soft and creamy French Neufchatel. His results were less fatty and less creamy but became a big hit when wrapped in silver foil and branded as 'Philadelphia.' (At that time Philadelphia, not New York, was an appellation of quality.)"

National Potato Lovers Day

I love Nora Ephron's novel "Heartburn" and she has a lot to say about potatoes:

"I have friends who begin with pasta, and friends who begin with rice, but whenever I fall in love, I begin with potatoes. Sometimes meat and potatoes and sometimes fish and potatoes, but always potatoes. I have made a lot of mistakes falling in love, and regretted most of them, but never the potatoes that went with them. Not just any potato will do when it comes to love. ... I am talking about crisp potatoes. ... All this takes time, and time, as any fool can tell you, is what true romance is about. In fact, one of the main reasons why you must make crisp potatoes in the beginning is that if you don't ... you never will. I'm sorry to be so cynical about this, but that's the truth.

"One day the inevitable happens. I go to the potato drawer to make potatoes and discover that the little brown buggers I bought in a large sack a few weeks earlier have gone soft and mushy and are sprouting long and quite uninteresting vines .... I throw out the potatoes and look in the cupboard for a box of pasta. This is moment when the beginning ends and the middle begins.

"In the end, I always want potatoes. Mashed potatoes. Nothing like mashed potatoes when you're feeling blue. Nothing like getting into bed with a bowl of hot mashed potatoes already loaded with butter, and methodically adding a thin cold slice of butter to every forkful. The problem with mashed potatoes, though, is that they require almost as much hard work as crisp potatoes, and when you're feeling blue the last thing you feel like is hard work. Of course, you can always get someone to make the mashed potatoes for you, but let's face it: the reason you're blue is that there isn't anyone to make them for you. As a result, most people do not have nearly enough mashed potatoes in their lives, and when they do, it's almost always at the wrong time. (You can, of course, train children to mash potatoes, but you should know that Richard Nixon spent most of his childhood making mashed potatoes for his mother and was extremely methodical about getting the lumps out. A few lumps make mashed potatoes more authentic, if you ask me, but that's not the point. The point is that perhaps children should not be trained to mash potatoes.)"

For me, the most satisfying potato preparation is the croquette. Potato croquettes with cheese in the middle, especially blue cheese. Crisp savory brown exterior deep-fried in well-seasoned oil, soft fluffiness within, gooey salty cheese core: beginning, middle, end, it is the best.

Writing about food: Brillat-Savarin, "The Physiology of Taste": The Bresse Chicken

"On one of the first days of January this present year, 1825, a young married couple, Monsieur and Madame de Versy by name, were guests at an oyster breakfast. Such meals are charming, not only because they are composed of tempting dishes, but also because of the gaiety which usually distinguishes them; however, they have the disadvantage of upsetting the rest of the day's arrangements. ... When dinnertime arrived, the pair sat down at table; but it was a mere formality. Madame took a little soup, Monsieur drank a glass of wine and water ... .

"About two o'clock in the morning, Monsieur de Versy awoke, feeling restless; he yawned, and tossed and turned so much that his wife grew alarmed, and asked if he was unwell. 'No, my dear, but I appear to be hungry; I was thinking of that beautiful white Bresse chicken which we were offered for dinner and to which we gave such a cold reception.' 'My dear, to tell the truth, I am as hungry as you are, and now that you have thought of that chicken it must be sent for and eaten.' 'What an idea! The whole house is asleep, and tomorrow everybody will laugh at us.' '... I'm going to ring for Justine.' No sooner said than done; and the poor girl, who had supped well and was sleeping as only those can sleep who are nineteen years old and untroubled by love, was duly awakened. ... When everything was ready, the chicken appeared, to be torn apart on the spot and remorselessly devoured. After this first exploit, husband and wife shared a large Saint-Germain pear, and ate some orange marmalade. In the intervals they drained a bottle of Graves wine to the dregs, and declared, several times, with variations, that they had never had a more delightful meal. However, this meal came to an end, as all things must in this world. Justine cleared away the incriminating evidence, and went back to bed; and the conjugal curtain fell upon the participants in the feast.

"Next morning, Madame de Versy hurried round to see her friend Madame de Franval, and recounted all that had happened in the night; and it is to that lady's indiscretion that the public owes the present revelation. She never fails to add that when Madame de Versy came to the end of her story, she coughed twice and blushed furiously."
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