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Member since: Sat Nov 30, 2013, 05:06 AM
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Writing about food: Anniversary of Japan's World War II surrender.

From John W. Dower's "Embracing Defeat":

"Based on a research report by local army officials, the emperor's loyal subjects were encouraged to supplement their starch intake by introducing such items as acorns, grain husks, peanut shells, and sawdust to their household larder. (Sawdust, it was explained, could be broken down with a fermenting agent, transformed into a powder, and mixed in a ratio of one to four with flour to make dumplings, pancakes, or bread.) For minerals, people were encouraged to introduce used tea leaves and the seeds, blossoms, and leaves of roses to their diet. Protein deficiencies could be remedied by eating silkworm cocoons, worms, grasshoppers, mice, rats, moles, snails, snakes, or a powder made by drying the blood of cows, horses, and pigs. ... The press reproduced these dietary recommendations shortly before the emperor's surrender broadcast ... . .... A young schoolgirl's first thought on hearing the emperor's broadcast was that she would not have to look eyeball to eyeball at frogs anymore -- a reference to the practice of sending children out to catch frogs to eat. As it turned out, her intimation of relief was premature.

"Defeat did not merely sever Japan from the food supplies of Asia. It also occurred in midsummer, when the previous year's rice harvest was running out. With the empire now cut off and millions of exhausted civilians and demobilized soldiers about to return, it was imperative that there be a bumper crop. Instead, due to adverse weather, manpower shortages, insufficient tools, and a fall-off in fertilizer production, 1945 saw the most disastrous harvest since 1910 ... .

"Many farmers engaged in a gratifying barter trade with once-condescending city folk who flocked to rural areas in search of food. Kimonos as well as watches, jewelry, and other treasured possessions were traded for food, giving rise to one of the most famous phrases of the time: takenoko seikatsu, the 'bamboo existence.' The edible bamboo shoot can be peeled off in layers, and the takenoko seikatsu phenomenon referred to city people stripping off their clothing, as well as their possessions, for food. ... Food-fixated activities and stories mesmerized the public. In September 1946, 'bread-eating races' became a fad in elementary-school athletic contests. Competitors in this popular event had to run up to a roll suspended on a string and then eat it without using their hands. In such a race, needless to say, there were no losers."

Writing about food: Happy Birthday to Andy Warhol, "The Andy Warhol Diaries"

Wednesday, December 20, 1978
... just as I was leaving the office I noticed in the book that it was the night of Jackie O's Christmas party ... . Cocktails were from 6:00 to 8:00 and then dinner was being served for the people who didn't leave. It was really good food -- baked ham and some new potato salad with red lettuce from Cape Cod -- she always goes to the best shops. Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton were there, and Bob heard -- overheard -- Jakie saying that something Warren did in the hall was 'disgusting,' but we were never able to find out what it was.

Monday, December 31, 1979
Marina invited me up for pizza and I went. I always hear that she gets the best food from all over the city, that she has the people who work for her bring salami from Brooklyn and pizza from Queens and things like that, so I wanted to try it out. It was sort of good, a really cheap kind of pizza, all dough and a little ketchup and a little cheese. Like the cheese doesn't come away when you eat it, there's not much. And when I was there I noticed that she had a pile of food on the stove, and she said it was for good luck, you're supposed to have it piled on the stove on New Year's.

Wednesday, June 4, 1980,
We got to Lynn Wyatt's house, fifty people for dinner, and she had cream of crab soup and barbequed filet mignon that'd been marinated for twenty-four hours and hot curried fruit and homemade Rice-a-Roni which Joan Quinn who was there said was Armenian-style. And creamed spinach and then this great dessert which was fruit ice cream piled onto a big meringue.

Wednesday, September 24, 1980
Went upstairs and they'd left a package of Godiva chocolates and I ate the centers out of them. I opened every center. And they left a bottle of brandy so I drank that. And a basket of fruit and I ate all the kiwis. Got sugared up and I guess I passed out but I woke up an hour later.

Wednesday, October 8, 1980
Then she began telling me food stories ... like how she once went to the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station and ordered a three-pound lobster and a nice waitress brought it to her but it didn't look like three pounds to Brigid. Brigid said, 'I am a compulsive eater and I know my food and this is not a three-pound lobster.' This lobster was costing like $39. ... So Brigid said, 'Then let's go weigh it, and if this lobster is three pounds I'll give you $10.' So they went into the kitchen and put it on a scale and it weighed less than one pound!

Saturday, November 15, 1980
We were going to a monastery and we had to be there at 12:00 ... . Herman drove really fast in this pouring rain. After we got there we weren't allowed to say one word to each other. We went into the lunchroom and then the monk read something for twenty minutes while we ate our lunch -- sour apple cider and lentil soup which tasted like canned to me but when I said so everyone just looked at me like I'm crazy, but -- I think I know my soup.

Monday, March 9, 1981
The first food was fresh liver, the goose was just killed in the kitchen and the liver was just taken out and cut into slices and warmed up -- half warmed by the heat, half warmed by the goose. It was delicious, but after you thought about it you wanted to throw up. The second course was soup. Then lobster with baby quail -- you got the breast of a little quail as big as your fingernail. It was really good, but so sad, like eating the chest of a roach. Then between courses we had some sherbet and they made it look like Jackson Pollack because they pureed fresh kiwi and strawberries and threw them on a plate. Artistic. Then they had lamb encrusted and it was the best lamb I ever had encrusted.

Writing about food: Eddie Huang, "Fresh Off The Boat"

"Every day, I got sent to school with Chinese lunch. Some days it was tomato and eggs over fried rice, others it was braised beef and carrots with Chinese broccoli ... . I'd open up the Igloo lunchbox and stale moist air would waft up with weak traces of soy sauce, peanut oil, and scallions. I didn't care about the smell, since it was all I knew, but no one wanted to sit with the stinky kid. Even If they didn't sit with me, they'd stand across the room pointing at me with their noses pinched, eyes pulled back, telling ching-chong jokes. It was embarrassing so I asked Mom to start packing me some white people food.

"I walked up to Jeff's room ... I couldn't believe my eyes. Everywhere you walked: toys, games, huge television, stuffed animals, it was like living in a Toys 'R' Us. ... These fuckers had EVERYTHING. ... I literally rolled around in video games ... and then went to the bathroom and wiped my ass with their fancy toilet paper just to see how it felt. When you washed your hands, they had hand towels so you didn't have to wipe your face with the towel your brother wiped his balls with ten minutes ago. ... I felt like some wild gremlin child living in a Chinese hell after going to their home. ... I wanted to be white so fucking bad. But then dinner happened. All of us sat down. I had never eaten at a white person's house, but I figured they ate pizza, hot dogs, or something like that. After a few minutes, Jeff's mom came out of the kitchen with two bowls. One bowl was filled with goopy orange stuff. For a second, I thought they might be little boiled intestines in an orange sauce, which I could get down with, but on closer inspection they were unlike any intestines I'd ever seen. The other bowl was gray and filled with a fibrous material mixed with bits of celery. I thought to myself, These white people like really mushy food.

"She also gave us each two pieces of bread, the same plain Wonder Bread I saw at school. Jeff started wiping the gray stuff on the bread. I didn't want to come off like an idiot so I did the same thing. I put the other slice on top, lifted up ... but holy shit, that smell. ... I took a deep breath, clutched my orange juice, and forced myself to take a bite. ... I couldn't hide it anymore, I had to ask. 'What is this, man?' 'You've never had tuna fish sandwiches?' ... 'OK, but what's the orange stuff?' 'Macaroni and cheese.' ... The shit was so nasty. We never ate cheese and it stunk like feet. ... I suddenly realized that converting to white wouldn't be easy ... ."

Writing about food: David Sedaris' "Theft by Finding, Diaries 1977-2002"

April 17, 1981
Today I dug a ditch and later it rained, so I finished painting Lou Stark's living room. She paid me $20, bean-burger mix, and four turkey legs. One of them I took upstairs to Getchen's cat, Neil, who had been asleep on a blanket and wheezed with delight.

November 25, 1986
I stayed up all night rewriting my new story, which is better now. I heated up a couple of frozen potpies and made some crescent rolls. ... I thought I'd take a break from typing and eat in the living room in front of the television, so I put the food on a tray and then tripped while carrying it. The potpies skidded across the floor and flipped over when they hit the baseboard. Rather than cleaning it up right away, I let Neil eat as much of it as she wanted. I just took the crust and continued on to the living room, where I watched a rerun of 'The Odd Couple' ... .

November 27, 1998
Ted's boyfriend James loaned me a cookbook called 'Imperial Dishes of China.' ... . In France I often leaf through recipes in search of words I think might come in handy. It's how I learned the verbs for 'to simmer' and 'to chop.' 'Imperial Dishes' is in English, but still I feel I came away with something. Here were instructions such as 'Rinse the lips twice in cold water' and 'Remove the penis and carve it into bite-sized pieces.' Mental pictures aside, it was disturbing to read such things in the form of a direct order. 'Scald the vagina and remove any remaining hairs,' for example.

March 26, 2000
New York
On the plane from Paris I heard a man say, 'The first thing I'm going to do when I get home is order a Big Gulp. I'm going to supersize everything!' He said he'd been thirsty the entire time he was in Paris, and though I'd never thought about it, if you're used to carrying a trash-can-size cup filled with crushed ice and soda, I suppose it would be hard to spend a few weeks in Europe.

August 29, 2000
La Bagotiere
This being France, I know I'm supposed to sit in cafes with thimble-sized cups of espresso. I'm supposed to return day after day until the owner finally consents to shake my hand and ask how it's going. But I couldn't have been happier than I was at my ugly little McDonald's. It was the coffee I wanted, with no fear that the waiter would ignore me. I paid immediately and didn't have to beg for my check.

July 22, 2001
La Bagotiere
Hugh is proudly cooking with things from his garden, so last night, along with our steaks, we had oddly shaped potatoes and deep-fried zucchini fingers. He also made a 1-2-3-4 cake, which calls for one cup of butter, two cups of sugar, three cups of flour, and four eggs. ... ... I put on Joni Michell's 'Hejira.' It came out twenty-five years ago, when I was living in Mom and Dad's basement. ... For me it's ironic that, on a certain level, all my nineteen-year-old fantasies have come true. ... What's missing, what made the idea so incredibly romantic, was the instability, the series of boyfriends bound to run off with someone else the moment your back is turned. That's the sort of thing you write songs about, not zucchini fingers and a perfect 1-2-3-4 cake sitting in the refrigerator.

October 28, 2002
New York
We had dinner at Le Pescadou, a French restaurant on 6th Avenue. The menu was ridiculous and included such items as:
Seared Tuna Embraced by Sesame
Baby Pasta Ears Listening to Artichoke
Grilled Prawns Frolicking on Polenta

Writing about food: Keith Richards' "Life"

"When I'm at home I cook for myself, usually bangers and mash ... with some variation on the mash but not much. ... I have quite solitary eating habits at odd hours, born out of mealtimes on the road being the opposite of everyone else's. I only eat when I feel like it, which is almost unheard of in our culture. ... You've got to hit it when you're hungry. We've been trained from babyhood to have three square meals a day, the full-factory-industrial revolution idea of how you're supposed to eat. Before then it was never like that. You'd have a little bit often, every hour. ... That's what school's all about ... they're teaching you how to work in a factory. When the hooter goes, you eat. ... Better to have a bit here, a mouthful there, every few hours a bite or two. The human body can deal with it better than shoving a whole load of crap down your gob in an hour.


1. First off, find a butcher who makes his sausages fresh.
2. Fry up a mixture of onions and bacon and seasoning.
3. Get the spuds on the boil with a dash of vinegar, some chopped onions and salt (seasoning to taste). Chuck in some peas with the spuds. (Throw in some chopped carrots too, if you like.) Now we're talking.
4. Now, you have a choice of grilling or broiling your bangers or frying. Throw them on low heat with the simmering bacon and onions ... and let the fuckers rock gently, turning every few minutes.
5. Mash yer spuds and whatever.
6. Bangers are now fat free (as possible!).
7. Gravy if desired.
8. HP sauce, every man to his own.

"My grandad Gus made the best egg and chips you'd ever believe in the world. I'm still trying to get up to the mark on that, and shepherd's pie, which is an ongoing art. Nobody's actually made the quintessential, absolute shepherd's pie; they all come out different. ... The basic thing is just great ground meat and throw in some peas, some carrots, but the trick I was taught by, bless his soul, he's gone now, Big Joe Seabrook, who was my minder, is before you spread the spuds on the top, you chop up some more onions, because the onions you've used to cook with the meat have been reduced, and he was damn right -- it just gives you that extra je ne sais quoi. ... Just a tip, folks."

Eating eels in Japan

July 25th and August 6th this year are "days of the ox" according to the old Japanese calendar, when eating eels is traditional (from when I don't know). They are delicious.

Osamu Dazai's "Merry Christmas":

"'Jinba-san!' I called through the closed door. I was sure I heard a reply. Then a shadow moved across the glass. 'Ha! She's home!' ... The girl stood bolt upright, and all the color went out of her face, and she twisted her lips in a grotesque way. Then, suddenly, she burst into tears. Her mother had been killed during the air raids on Hiroshima, she told me. She also said, in the delirium of her death throes, her mother had called out my name. ... Her mother had always loved broiled eels. We ducked under the curtains of an eel stall. We stood at the counter. There were other customers, a gentleman sitting on the far side of the stall, drinking.
'Large serving? Small ones?'
'Small ones. Three of them.'
'Yes, sir,' the young stallkeeper said in a hearty growl. ... As he vigorously fanned the coals in his clay stove. I said, 'Put them on three separate plates.'
'Yes, sir! And the third person? Coming afterwards?'
'There are three of us now,' I said without smiling.
'There's this person, and me, and standing between us there's a beautiful woman with a worried look on her face. Don't you see her?' I smiled a bit now.

"Three plates of eels were set out before us. We left the one in the middle alone, and began eating from the other two. Soon three brimming cups of sake arrived. As I silently drained four or five cups in a row, the gentleman on the other side began boisterously joking with the stallkeeper. ... He just kept rattling off his unfunny jokes and I found myself feeling more disgust than ever with the hopeless lack of any concept of what constitutes a sense of humor that you witness whenever Japanese are drinking. However raucously the gentleman and the stallkeeper laughed, I didn't so much as crack a smile, but merely continued drinking and absently eying the year-end crowds that bustled past the stall. The gentleman turned to see what I was looking at. After watching the flow of people for a while, he suddenly shouted, 'Ha-ro-o! Me-ri-i ku-ri-su-ma-su!' at an American soldier who was walking down the street. For some reason I burst out laughing this time."

Writing about food: Woody Allen's "Notes from the Overfed"

(After reading Dostoevski and the new 'Weight Watchers' magazine on the same plane trip)

"I am fat. I am disgustingly fat. I am the fattest human I know. ... At one time I was thin -- quite thin. ... I remained thin until one day ... when I was having tea and cracknels with my uncle at a fine restaurant. Suddenly my uncle put a question to me. 'Do you believe in God?' he asked. 'And if so, what do you think He weighs?' ... 'I do not believe in God,' I told him. 'For if there is a God, then tell me, Uncle, why is there poverty and baldness? ... Could not all life be an illusion? ... Could it not be simply that we are alone and aimless, doomed to wander in an indifferent universe, with no hope of salvation, nor any prospect except misery, death, and the empty reality of eternal nothing?' I could see that I made a deep impression on my uncle with this, for he said to me, 'You wonder why you're not invited to more parties!' ... He ... then said, 'God is ... everywhere. In these cracknels, for instance.'

"I had a dream that was to change my life forever. In the dream, I am strolling in the country, when I suddenly notice I am hungry. ... I come upon a restaurant and I enter. I order the open-hot-roast-beef sandwich and a side of French. The waitress ... tries to tempt me into ordering the chicken salad. which doesn't look fresh. As I am conversing with this woman, she turns into a twenty-four-piece starter set of silverware. ... I awoke with a tremendous sense of well-being. ... Suddenly everything was clear. My uncle's statement reverberated to the core of my existence. I went to the kitchen and started to eat. I ate everything in sight. Cakes, bread, cereals, meat, fruits. Succulent chocolates, vegetables in sauce, wines, fish, creams and noodles, eclairs, and wursts totalling in excess of sixty thousand dollars. If God is everywhere, I had concluded, then He is in food. Therefore, the more I ate the godlier I would become. Impelled by this new religious fervor, I glutted myself like a fanatic. In six months, I was the holiest of holies, with a heart entirely devoted to my prayers and a stomach that crossed the state line by itself. ... To reduce would have been the greatest folly. ... For when we lose twenty pounds, dear reader (and I am assuming you are not as large as I), we may be losing the twenty best pounds we have! We may be losing the pounds that contain our genius, our humanity our love and honestly or, in the case of one inspector general I knew, just some unsightly flab around the hips."

Writing about food: Alain de Botton's "The Art of Travel"

"Large photographs of coffee cups, pastries and hamburgers hung on the walls. A waitress was refilling a drinks dispenser. I slid a damp tray along a metal runway, bought a bar of chocolate and an orange juice and sat beside the window ... . There were few other customers in the service station. A woman was idly rotating a teabag in a cup. A man and two small children were eating hamburgers. ... The lighting was unforgiving, bringing out pallor and blemishes. ... No one was talking, no one admitting to curiosity or fellow feeling. ... I remained in one corner, eating fingers of chocolate and taking occasional sips of orange juice. I felt lonely, but, for once, this was a gentle, even pleasant kind of loneliness because, rather than unfolding against a backdrop of laughter and fellowship, in which I would suffer from a contrast between my mood and the environment, it had its locus in a place where everyone was a stranger, where the difficulties of communication and the frustrated longing for love seemed to be acknowledged and brutally celebrated by the architecture and lighting. The collective loneliness brought to mind certain canvases by Edward Hopper ... .

"In 'Automat' (1927), a woman sits alone drinking a cup of coffee. ... The room seems large, brightly lit and empty. ... Something appears to have gone wrong. ... 'Automat' is a picture of sadness -- and yet it is not a sad picture. It has the power of a great melancholy piece of music. ... In roadside diners and late-night cafeterias, hotel lobbies and station cafes, we may dilute a feeling of isolation in a lonely public place and hence rediscover a distinctive sense of community. The lack of domesticity, the bright lights and anonymous furniture may come as a relief from what are often the false comforts of home. ... The figures in Hopper's art are not opponents of home per se, it is simply that ... home appears to have betrayed them, forcing them out into the night or on to the road.

"Few seconds in life are more releasing than those in which a plane ascends into the sky. ... No one seems to think it is remarkable that somewhere above an ocean we are flying past a vast white candy-floss island ... no one stands up to announce with requisite emphasis that, out of the window, we are flying over a cloud ... . .... Food that, if sampled in a kitchen, would have been banal or even offensive, acquires a new taste and interest in the presence of the clouds (like a picnic of bread and cheese that delights us when eaten on a cliff-top above a pounding sea.) With the inflight tray, we make ourselves at home in this unhomely place: we appropriate the extraterrestrial landscape with the help of a chilled bread roll and a plastic tray of potato salad."

Writing about food: Fran Lebowitz's "Metropolitan Life"

"Summer has an unfortunate effect upon hostesses who have been unduly influenced by the photography of Irving Penn and take the season as a cue to serve dinners of astonishingly meager proportions. These they call light, a quality which while most assuredly welcome in comedies, cotton shirts, and hearts, is not an appropriate touch at dinner.

"Cold soup is a very tricky thing and it is the rare hostess who can carry it off. More often than not the dinner guest is left with the impression that had he only come a little earlier he could have gotten it while it was still hot.

"Vegetables are interesting but lack a sense of purpose when unaccompanied by a good cut of meat.

"White grapes are very attractive but when it comes to dessert people generally like cake with icing.

"Candied violets are the Necco Wafers of the overbred.

"A native-born American who has spent the entire day in what he knows to be New York City and has not once stepped aboard a ship or plane is almost invariably chagrined and disoriented by a menu that uses the French counterpart for the perfectly adequate English word 'grapefruit.'

"People have been cooking and eating for thousands of years, so if you are the very first to have thought of adding fresh lime juice to scalloped potatoes try to understand that there must be a reason for this.

"Technological innovation has done great damage not only to reading habits but also to eating habits. Food is now available in such unpleasant forms that one frequently finds smoking between courses to be an aid to the digestion.

"A loaf of bread that is more comfortable than a sofa cannot help but be unpalatable.

"When one asks for cream one should receive either cream or the information that the establishment in question favors instead a combination of vegetable oil and cancer-causing initials.

"Cheese that is required by law to append the word 'food' to its title does not go well with red wine or fruit.

"Civilized adults do not take apple juice with dinner.

"Inhabitants of underdeveloped nations and victims of natural disasters are the only people who have ever been happy to see soybeans.

"Large, naked, raw carrots are acceptable as food only to those who live in hutches eagerly awaiting Easter.

"If there was no such thing as food, Oyster Bay would be called just Bay, and for the title of 'The Cherry Orchard' Chekhov would have chosen 'A Group of Empty Trees, Regularly Spaced.'"

Fortune Cookie Day: Jennifer 8. Lee's "The Fortune Cookie Chronicles"

"We now knew that the fortune cookie had originated in Japan, but there was one final mystery. ... Almost all the people who claimed to have created the American fortune cookie had Japanese roots -- so how had the Chinese managed to take over the fortune cookie business? 'When the Japanese-Americans were interned during World War II, they had to leave all their equipment behind,' Yasuko pointed out in Japanese. As her words were translated, all the pieces in my quest came together. ... I had a flashback to my first conversation with Sally Osaki ... her telling me that when she'd been a child the original fortune cookie messages had been in Japanese. But at one point they had become English: 'By the time we came out of the camp.' The fortune cookie had changed by the end of the war. I recalled that the Japanese-American confectionery shops -- Benkyodo, Fugetsu-do, Umeya -- had all closed when their owners were 'relocated.'

"The popularity of Chinese cuisine grew tremendously during World War II; after Japan invaded China and China became an American ally, the national perception of the Chinese threat gave way to sympathy. In addition, the wartime rationing of meat enhanced the appeal of Chinese dishes, which made a little meat go a long way. San Francisco's Chinatown quadrupled its business between 1941 and 1943. The tide of public opinion turned. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was repealed in December 1943, opening the door for an eventual flood of Chinese immigrants (and additional Chinese restaurant owners). In 1946, the United States Office of Price Administration delisted 'Chinese fortune tea cakes' from its price control list ... .

"Although the interned Japanese were released by 1945, it took years for the families to rebuild their lives. Many of the business owners had lost everything. It wasn't until 1948 that Benkyodo was up and running under family control, Gary Ono believes. During that time, a number of Chinese fortune cookie makers sprung into existence -- like Lotus, which opened in 1946. A sharp rise in demand at Chinese restaurants combined with a lack of Japanese bakers gave Chinese entrepreneurs an opportunity to step in. One of America's beloved confections emerged from one of the nation's darkest moments."
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