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Member since: Sat Nov 30, 2013, 05:06 AM
Number of posts: 11,100

Journal Archives

Writing about food: "Shocking Life, The Autobiography of Elsa Schiaparelli"

"... the feature of the house is the bar downstairs near the kitchen where one generally eats, with a real zinc counter and a wooden table with vaudeville posters of the nineties. This room has received an incredible number of the most famous and important people in the world. When somebody is asked to dine, the question rises naturally and nearly always: 'I hope it is in the bar ...' There is certainly something psychologically tantalizing in having good china, good linen, and good food in a cellar. One eats everywhere in the house, in the library, in the sitting-room, in the bathroom, in the garden. Only formal dinner-parties are held in the dining-room. Few people restrain from bursting into exclamations of wonder when the door opens and they see what appears to be gold plates and gold tablecloths. Actually the plates are Victorian vermeil and the china was bought when roaming through the English countryside. ... The glasses are of different colours and shapes, and the yellow and pink table-cloths are embroidered in gold by the Bedouin women of Tunisia. There are never any flowers. The extravagance consists principally in the colours and the unexpected setting. It is not necessary to spend millions to make a table glamorous.

"Hard bread and caviare -- and vodka ... . ... We arrived in Moscow in a burning cold. ... We lunched at the British Embassy, a wonderful lunch because all sorts of things had been brought over by air. Lady Chilston was a thoughtful hostess. ... Meals outside the embassies were occasions for farce. My companions would ask for something impossible, like salmon or a minute steak, and were surprised and a little cross when they could not get it. I stuck to the only good menu, hard bread and caviare -- sometimes sturgeon, but always vodka. Caviare was sold in the grocery stores in big barrels of red wood, and one could take it out with a large soup spoon. I can vouch for this diet being miraculous for losing weight, for when I returned to Paris I was as thin as Gandhi and in marvelous health.

"I learned to know London well, and though I was invited into many homes and attended all the parties in the fashionable restaurants ... I also delighted in the more popular places. There is a public house in Wapping (and I confess that I love 'pubs' because they are so human) that pleased me immensely. I would sit for hours at the water's edge, surrounded by ancient and rotting wooden poles, and munch bread and cheese. One could see the tugs and lighters, dark grey in the haze, in the grey of Whistler's Thames, threading their way majestically through the busy shipping. Cockneys laughed at Italians, Chinese would bow to Swedish sailors. Men of all nationalities came in for a glass of beer and a craps game, and though they spoke different languages they understood one another perfectly."

Writing about food: Peggy Knickerbocker, "Sandwich Sub Culture"

"My parents were often grumpy on Sunday mornings. It was the fifties, after all, and they consumed a lot of martinis on Saturday nights during that decade. Having had too much fun the night before, they were in the mood for a relaxing day outdoors with my brother and me. We knew something was up when my mother asked us to pick up a few loaves of French bread and some hard rolls on our way home from church.

"My mother took the warm loaves of bread from us, sliced off the tops, and pulled out the spongy centers. Into the largest loaf she stuffed chicken that she had cut into pieces and cooked with port and orange zest, a recipe inspired by Alice B. Toklas. She then replaced the top of the loaf and wrapped it tightly in linen towels to retain the moisture and warmth. Depending on her mood, she filled the other loaves and rolls with all sorts of concoctions. In one she stuffed olives coated in chopped parsley; in another she tucked sliced cherry tomatoes, feta, and red onions tossed with olive oil; in a third she added red and green peppers cooked with olive oil, garlic, anchovies, and oregano ... . And there was always at least one roll filled with caramelized onions. Offering to help, we cooked some Italian fennel sausages to fill a baguette.

"We drove across the Golden Gate Bridge to one of our secret picnic spots under a grove of eucalyptus trees. There we spread out the red blanket and unwrapped the towels covering the bread. Using the towels as napkins, we each got a fork to dip into the various salads and savories my mother had prepared. We ate the chicken with our fingers, and as the pieces disappeared, we were left with the tasty remains of bread. Our parents often brought a fully stocked wicker picnic basket into which my father stashed a shaker of martinis. My brother and I usually settled for slightly warm ginger ale. For dessert, we ate some of my famous lemon squares or a box of gingersnaps, perfect with the Maxwell House coffee my mother brought in an old metal navy thermos. If the air got chilly or it started to rain, the meal was lots of fun to eat in a deserted barn, or we would park the car on a country road and pass the stuffed rolls around, licking our fingers a lot in the process. Whether we ate inside or out ultimately didn't matter; we always drove home fat and happy. And with every last crust of bread eaten, there were never any messy plates to worry about."

Writing about food: Gabrielle Hamilton, "Blood, Bones & Butter"

"We threw a party. The same party, every year, when I was a kid. It was a spring lamb roast ... . The lambs roasted so slowly and patiently that their blood dripped down into the coals with a hypnotic and rhythmic hiss ... . My dad basted them by dipping a branch of wood about as thick and long as an axe handle, with a big swab of cheesecloth tied at its end, into a clean metal paint can filled with olive oil, crushed rosemary and garlic, and big chunks of lemons. He then mopped the lambs, slowly, gently, and thoroughly ... . Then the marinade, too, dripped down onto the coals, hissing and atomizing, its scent lifting up into the air. So all day long, as we did our chores, the smell of gamey lamb, apple-wood smoke, and rosemary garlic marinade commingled and became etched into our brains. I have clung to it for thirty years, that smell. I have a chronic summertime yearning to build large fires outdoors and slowly roast whole animals. I could sit fireside and baste until sundown.

"The rest of the meal was simple but prepared in such quantities that the kitchen felt hectic and brimming and urgent. There were giant bowls of lima beans and mushroom salad with red onion and oregano and full sheet pans of shortcake. Melissa, with a pair of office scissors, snipped cases of red and black globe grapes into perfect portioned clusters while my mom mimosaed eggs -- forcing hard-cooked whites and then hard-cooked yolks through a fine sieve -- over pyramids of cold steamed asparagus vinaigrette.

"Jeffrey politely kissed the older guests, who arrived more than punctually, on both cheeks. And I plunged in and out of the stream to retrieve beer and wine and soda. Then they started pouring in, all these long-haired, bell-bottomed artist friends of my dad's and former ballet dancer friends of my mother's, with long necks and eternally erect posture ... . Slowly the meadow filled with people and fireflies and laughter ... and the lambs on their spits were hoisted off the pit onto the shoulders of men, like in a funeral procession, and set down on the makeshift plywood-on-sawhorse tables to be carved. Then the sun started to set and we lit the paper bag luminaria, which burned soft glowing amber, punctuating the meadow and the night, and the lamb was crisp-skinned and sticky from slow roasting, and the root beer was frigid and it caught, like an emotion, in the back of my throat."

Happy National Ham Day: Smithfield Ham, from Raymond Sokolov's "Fading Feast"

"Parke Griffin passes the shaft of an ice pick slowly under his nose. He inhales gently, concentrating as he sniffs. Then he smiles. Griffin is not a homicidal maniac savoring his murder weapon; he is a ... farmer testing a country ham. Like his 'one-horse' farmer father and generations of other rural folk in the American South, Griffin cures his own hams, smokes them, and then ages them over the summer until they turn dark red and take on a virile tang. The process is crude, does not involve refrigeration, and has been part of human life for as long as there have been hogs and salt. But it is also a subtle method, a gamble against weather, a matter of intuition and experience, a canny fight with bacteria. ... Griffin begins in January. He sets out scalded wood salting racks on the floor of his smokehouse. On these racks he lays out one hundred hams at a time ... then sprinkles on a small amount of saltpeter. ... After the curing period ends, the hams are washed off with hot water to remove the salt, then pepper is rubbed into the faces of the hams to seal them off from infection and insect infestation. Finally, they are hung high in the smokehouse ... . When the hams have dried for a few days, the smoking begins. ... I was able to buy the last of their 1978 hams, an eighteen-month-old beauty. It was coated with a patina of green mold, a harmless badge of venerability that sometimes fools ham neophytes into throwing out a precious old treasure.

"I liked all those hams. Each one had the flavor impact and directness of a young, rural, pioneer country. ... This is certainly the feeling of old-time farmers around Smithfield, who have watched their way of life erode over the last fifty years, while the packing houses grew into big business. ... 'Then,' writes another Smithfield woman, Mrs. Dewitt Griffin, 'people worked by the sun and not by the clock and they worked hard so by the time they could eat, they were really hungry. I baked my pies beforehand, and then each day I made large pans of potato pudding, cooked beans, cabbage, and snaps and made cornbread and biscuits to serve with the fresh pork. Everything was eaten, which made me feel good.'

"If the country ham is an endangered species, it is not the fault of anyone in Smithfield. It is the result of changes in the outside world, of a new national taste formed by square, water-cured hams in cans, and of naive people who throw away gift Smithfield hams because they find them too salty. Despite these menaces, the Smithfield ham still hangs on as a savory relic of America's early days. Parke Griffin is still spry enough to perch in his smokehouse rafters in a cloud of pepper, babying his hams."

Writing about food: Michael Ruhlman, "The Soul of a Chef"

"One of the things you learn in culinary school ... is that everything ... gets a sauce. ... And to be so antisauce generally, as Michael Symon seemed to be, was foolhardy. ... Willfully, defiantly, hopefully, and skeptically I ordered the chicken, the roasted, sauceless chicken. ... First, the potatoes. Courtney roasted them early in the day and cooled them. When the chicken was ordered, Chatty fired it, plopping the boned half chicken onto the grates of the broiler ... then reheated those precooked potatoes with some red onion and arugula in a saute pan into which he poured a little cream, some salt and pepper. The liquid helped reheat the potatoes evenly and added some moisture and the fat that made potatoes good to eat. When the chicken was done ... he poured the potatoes into the center of a hot plate and placed the chicken atop the pile, gave the plate an artful squirt of balsamic squeeze bottle, and off it went.

"By the time it reached me, the diner, the chicken has rested ... the juices redistributing themselves in the chicken; but it was also losing juices, and when you cut into it, plenty of juice ran out. The bird was stuffed with chanterelle, shiitake, and chicken-in-the-woods mushrooms, which are loaded with juice, and as they rested, they dumped their liquid. The chicken and mushroom juices fell over the potatoes, which were generously coated with seasoned cream. The falling juices and cream were then offset by the acid sweetness of the balsamic reduction. And there it was, a dish that sauced itself -- with all the familiar components of a classical sauce ... . Not only was this ingenious, but it was light ... and practical. From a service standpoint, it reduced for the cook the number of steps needed to finish the plate. You're in the weeds, got a million orders called, potatoes, chicken, vinegar, boom out the door. No dipping a ladle or spoon into sauce and pouring. This was not insignificant, and Symon strove for this kind of efficiency. 'If I can't finish it in two pans, I won't do it,' he told me about his rule for all dishes ... . ... The business of cooking was a craft -- you worked with tools and materials -- and he was mechanically versatile."

Writing about food: Anniversary of the publication of "The Great Gatsby"

"There was music from my neighbor's house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars. ... Every Friday five crates of oranges and lemons arrived from a fruiterer in New York -- every Monday these same oranges and lemons left his back door in a pyramid of pulpless halves. There was a machine in the kitchen which could extract the juice of two hundred oranges in half an hour if a little button was pressed two hundred times by a butler's thumb. At least once a fortnight a corps of caterers came down with several hundred feet of canvas and enough colored lights to make a Christmas tree of Gatsby's enormous garden. On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors-d'-oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold. In the main hall a bar with a real brass rail was set up, and stocked with gins and liquors and with cordials so long forgotten that most of his female guests were too young to know one from another. ... I was immediately struck by the number of young Englishmen dotted about; all well dressed, all looking a little hungry, and all talking in low, earnest voices to solid and prosperous Americans. I was sure they were selling something: bonds or insurance or automobiles. They were at least agonizingly aware of the easy money in the vicinity and convinced that it was theirs for a few words in the right key.

"Most of the time I worked. In the early morning the sun threw my shadow westward as I hurried down the white chasms of lower New York to the Probity Trust. I knew the other clerks and young bond-salesmen by their first names, and lunched with them in dark, crowded restaurants on little pig sausages and mashed potatoes and coffee. ... I took dinner usually at the Yale Club -- for some reason it was the gloomiest event of my day -- and then I went upstairs to the library and studied investments and securities for a conscientious hour.

"'Highballs?' asked the waiter. 'This is a nice restaurant here,' said Mr. Wolfshiem, looking at the presbyterian nymphs on the ceiling. 'But I like across the street better!' 'Yes, highballs,' agreed Gatsby, and then to Mr. Wolfshiem, 'It's too hot over there.'
'Hot and small -- yes,' said Mr. Wolfshiem, 'but full of memories. ... I can't forget so long as I live the night they shot Rosy Rosenthal there. It was six of us at the table, and Rosy had eat and drunk a lot all evening. When it was almost morning the waiter came up to him with a funny look and says somebody wants to speak to him outside. ... He turned around in the door and says, "Don't let that waiter take away my coffee!" Then he went out on the sidewalk, and they shot him three times in his full belly and drove away.' ... A succulent hash arrived, and Mr. Wolfshiem, forgetting the more sentimental atmosphere of the old Metropole, began to eat with ferocious delicacy."

Writing about food: John Steinbeck's "Travels with Charley, In Search of America"

"Even while I protest the assembly-line production of our food, our songs, our language, and eventually our souls, I know that it was a rare home that baked good bread in the old days. Mother's cooking was with rare exceptions poor, that good unpasteurized milk touched only by flies and bits of manure crawled with bacteria, the healthy old-time life was riddled with aches, sudden death from unknown illnesses, and that sweet local speech I mourn was the child of illiteracy and ignorance. ... But it is true that we have exchanged corpulence for starvation, and either one will kill us.

"'It is more than possible that in the cities we have passed through ... there are good and distinguished restaurants with menus of delight. But in the eating places along the roads the food has been clean, tasteless, colorless, and of a complete sameness. It is almost as though the customers had no interest in what they ate as long as it had no character to embarrass them. This is true of all but the breakfasts, which are uniformly wonderful if you stick to bacon and eggs and pan-fried potatoes. At the roadsides I never had a really good dinner or a really bad breakfast.' ... I might even say roadside America is the paradise of breakfast except for one thing. Now and then I would see a sign that said, 'home-made sausage' or 'home-smoked bacons and hams' or 'new-laid eggs' and I would stop and lay in supplies. Then, cooking my own breakfast and making my own coffee, I found that the difference was instantly apparent. A freshly laid egg does not taste remotely like the pale, battery-produced refrigerated egg, the sausage would be sweet and sharp and pungent with spices, and my coffee a wine-dark happiness. Can I say that the America I saw has put cleanliness first, at the expense of taste? And ... that the sense of taste tends to disappear and that strong, pungent, or exotic flavors arouse suspicion and dislike and so are eliminated?

"'Let's take the books, magazines, and papers we have seen displayed where we have stopped. ... There have been local papers and I've bought and read them. There have been racks of paperbacks with some great and good titles but overwhelmingly outnumbered by the volumes of sex, sadism, and homicide. ... If this people has so atrophied its taste buds as to find tasteless food not only acceptable but desirable, what of the emotional life of the nation? Do they find their emotional fare so bland that it must be spiced with sex and sadism through the medium of the paperback? And if this is so, why are there no condiments save ketchup and mustard to enhance their foods? We've listened to local radio all across the country. And apart from a few reportings of local football games, the mental fare has been as generalized, as packaged, and as undistinguished as the food.'"

Writing about food: Happy Birthday to Barbara Kingsolver, from "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle"

"Vegetables are gorgeous, especially spring greens, arriving brightly as they do after a long winter of visually humble grains and stored rood crops. Bronze Arrowhead lettuces, Speckled Trout romaine, red kale -- this is the rainbow of my April garden, and you'll find similar offerings then at a farmers' market or greengrocer. It's the reason I start our vegetables from seed, rather than planting out whatever the local nursery has to offer: variety, the splendor of vegetables. I have seen women looking at jewelry ads with a misty eye and one hand resting on the heart, and I only know what they're feeling because that's how I read the seed catalogs in January. In my mind the garden grows and grows, as I affix a sticky note to every page where there's something I need. I swoon over names like Moon and Stars watermelon, Cajun Jewel okra, Gold of Bacau pole bean, Sweet Chocolate pepper, Collective Farm Woman melon, Georgian Crystal garlic, mother-of-thyme. Steven walks by, eyes the toupee of yellow sticky notes bristling from the top of the catalog, and helpfully asks, 'Why don't you just mark the ones you don't want to order?'

"Leafy green are nature's tonic, coming on strong in local markets in April and May, and then waning quickly when weather gets hot. ... But on a brisk April day when the tranquils are up and Jack Frost might still come out of retirement on short notice, hot weather is a dream. This is the emerald season of spinach, kale, endive, and baby lettuces. The chard comes up as red and orange as last fall's leaves went out. We lumber out of hibernation and stuff our mouths with leaves, like deer ... . In April I'm happiest with mud on the knees of my jeans, sitting down to the year's most intoxicating lunch: a plate of greens both crisp and still sun-warmed by the garden, with a handful of walnuts and some crumbly goat cheese. The is the opening act of real live food."

Happy Beer Day: Garrison Keillor, A Glass of Wendy from "Leaving Home"

"Wendy's is the beer a man drinks because it's the best. It's made from the deep wellwater from the town of Saint Wendell's ... Wendy's is made from it, using an old German recipe, by people who have worked for Dimmers Brewery so long they don't remember if they were hired or if they took a vow. The old brick brewery was supposed to resemble a Bavarian castle, but when it was built, in 1879, bricklayers had beer rights: there was two-fisted day-long drinking on the job. When the layers got on high scaffolding, it made them dizzy. So the building starts out to be a castle and rises royally for two stories and then it quits and becomes a sort of barn. The bricks for the towers were used to make a brick road because the layers felt more comfortable on their hands and knees. The brick road is a hundred feet wide for about seventy-five feet and then it's seventy-five feet for one hundred feet and then it becomes a path.

"You think of this as you sit in an old dim bar and drink a Wendy, and you think of how the beer wagons kept rolling in Saint Wendell's through Prohibition. They trained the horses to make the deliveries, and these smart Percherons memorized complicated beer routes -- stop here, skip two houses, stop there -- and when they stopped, a guy ran out of the house and grabbed his beer. The horses didn't make change but they did everything else, but of course if a horse got on the sauce himself, he might get mixed up, but usually they did the job and if the sheriff came, all he found was a wagon and a horse with red eyes and bad breath. ... In Minneapolis, you go to any hotel or shopping mall and find an English pub or a Western saloon or small-town tavern with a name like BILLY BOB'S, but the antiques come from the antique factory and the concept was developed by a design team ... but those aren't the same as a joint where people have sat for fifty years, and all of them people you know. It's the difference between a lie and the truth. It's not true that Wendy's is the best beer in the world, actually it's not that good. And it gives me terrible gas."

The beer I drank tonight, which I bought only for the pretty cherry blossom can:

Writing about food: Happy Birthday Barbara Holland.

Picnics, from "Wasn't the Grass Greener?"

"Certain foods came to be sacred to picnics, like deviled eggs, rarely served indoors and, being fragile and slippery, always a challenge to transport safely. Eggs were hand-boiled, cooled, and carefully sliced in half lengthwise. The yolks were popped out, mashed up with mustard, mayonnaise, and creative touches like chopped pickles or Worcestershire sauce, and replaced in the whites. Dedicated picnic packers stuffed the yolk mixture into fluted pastry tubes so it came out in curlicues. The final touch was a sprinkling of paprika, a red cosmetic powder widely used to brighten colorless foods. ... They were eaten in the hand, messily. For the respectable middle class accustomed to more than one fork at meals, half the joy of the picnic was eating with their fingers. They tore apart cold chicken and barbecued spareribs and chewed the bones; they picked up the strawberries by the tasseled end. ... Picnickers plunged their faces into watermelon and broke off chunks of cake. Peach juices dribbled down their chins. Bones and apple cores were winged into the bushes. Probably they talked with their mouths full. It was a glad cathartic orgy of unthinkable manners, sanctified by the outdoors.

"My grandparents, long ago in Colorado, often climbed the hills to a likely-looking stream and built a fire, buried potatoes in the coals, heated the skillet and then, when it was hot, caught and gutted a trout to throw in it fresh and sizzling. I don't know what they did afterwards. ... Innocence was an essential ingredient in picnics. Picnics provided a temporary rebirth into a sinless state; wherever we spread our blanket and opened our basket was a pre-apple Eden. ... In all those Impressionist picnic paintings, clothing could be doffed without prurience; indoor nakedness was suggestive, nakedness on the grass was a celebration. Where lunch was spread out under the sky, sin hadn't yet uncoiled its head. An enthusiasm for picnics required a belief in the possibility of innocence. We may have stopped believing."
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