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betsuni's Journal
betsuni's Journal
July 10, 2017

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."

July 9, 2017

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."

July 4, 2017

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."

June 13, 2017

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."

June 12, 2017

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."

June 10, 2017

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."

June 8, 2017

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. "

June 2, 2017

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."

April 28, 2017

Writing about food: Happy birthday to Harper Lee, "To Kill a Mockingbird"

"While Walter piled food on his plate, he and Atticus talked together like two men, to the wonderment of Jem and me. Atticus was expounding upon farm problems when Walter interrupted to ask if there was any molasses in the house. Atticus summoned Calpurnia, who returned bearing the syrup pitcher. She stood waiting for Walter to help himself. Walter poured syrup on his vegetables and meat with a generous hand. He would probably have poured it into his milk glass had I not asked what the sam hill he was doing. ... Atticus shook his head at me again. 'But he's gone and drowned his dinner in syrup,' I protested. 'He's poured it all over --'
It was then that Calpurnia requested my presence in the kitchen. ... 'There's some folks who don't eat like us,' she whispered fiercely, 'but you ain't called on to contradict 'em at the table when they don't. That boy's yo' comp'ny and if he wants to eat up the tablecloth you let him, you hear?' ... Perhaps Calpurnia sensed that my day had been a grim one: she let me watch her fix supper. ... It was not often that she made crackling bread, she said she never had time, but with both of us at school today had been an easy one for her. She knew I loved crackling bread.

"... we reaped the benefit of a talent Miss Maudie had hitherto kept hidden from us. She made the best cakes in the neighborhood. When she was admitted into our confidence, every time she baked she made a big cake and three little ones, and she would call across the street... . Our promptness was always rewarded. ... 'Soon as I can get my hands clean and when Stephanie Crawford's not looking, I'll make him a Lane cake. That Stephanie's been after my recipe for thirty years, and if she thinks I'll give it to her ... she's got another think coming.' I reflected that if Miss Maudie broke down and gave it to her, Miss Stephanie couldn't follow it anyway. Miss Maudie had once let me see it: among other things, the recipe called for one large cup of sugar.

"I sometimes thought of asking her if she would let me sit at the big table with the rest of them just once, I would prove to her how civilized I could be; after all, I ate at home every day with no major mishaps. ... But her cooking made up for everything: three kinds of meat, summer vegetables from her pantry shelves; peach pickles, two kinds of cake and ambrosia constituted a modest Christmas dinner.

"'Gracious alive, Cal, what's all this?' He was staring at his breakfast plate. Calpurnia said, 'Tom Robinson's daddy sent you along the chicken this morning and I fixed it.' 'You tell him I'm proud to get it -- bet they don't have chicken for breakfast at the White House. What are these?' 'Rolls,' said Calpurnia. 'Estelle down at the hotel sent 'em.' ... The kitchen table was loaded with enough food to bury the family. Hunks of salt pork, tomatoes, beans, even scuppernongs. Atticus grinned when he found a jar of pickled pigs' knuckles. 'Reckon Aunty'll let me eat these in the dining room?'"

April 19, 2017

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."

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