From Scratch

Food is an emotional marker, a way we identify and recall time, place, and people, which Tembi Locke does with searing effect in this memoir of her life with her Sicilian husband, and with his family after his death.

This review of From Scratch appeared in the May issue of CHoWline, the monthly newsletter of the Culinary Historians of Washington DC. We’re off for the summer, but will start up the speaker’s program again in September 2019.

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Bread & Beauty at the Literary Hill Festival

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Bruce Moffett Cooks

Bruce Moffett Cooks, A New England Chef in a New South Kitchen, with Keia Mastrianni, UNC Press 2019, hardcover $35.00, 304 pages

…a good meal in troubled times is always that much salvaged from a disaster.

A. J. Leibling

Bruce Moffett, at his restaurants, and in this book offers good meals that will calm and comfort in thee troubled times–Sweet pea Risotto with Pea Butter, Butternut Squash Soup with Chowchow, Lobster Rolls with on Brioche with Fingerling Potato Chips, Lemon Bars, Cinnamon Buns, and Blueberry Bundt Cake.

These are dishes that sound like they could have from his grandmother Craig’s kitchen. Moffett grew up in Rhode Island and learned to be independent–cooking for his family and helping in the vegetable garden while his single mom ran between school and work. At his grandmother’s house he learned to be both disciplined and meticulous–how to cook a perfect soft-boiled egg, buying fish off the boat, and sweet corn from the farm.

After college he bounced around, landed at the Culinary Institute of America, and eventually landed in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he runs three restaurants, has learned to navigate Southern seasons, and has built himself a restaurant family. So this book is not all home cooking, the recipes are buffed with a chef’s polish–Mushroom Soup is served with a truffle whipped cream, Arabiatta Pizza is served with drama and a fried egg, and Moffett draws on a wide and international pantry.

He starts out the way I do–building the pantry with jars of sauces, salsas, cures, and pickles. Bright flavors of herbs, vegetable, citrus, and vinegar that spark a meal and brighten leftovers. Apple Chutney, Garlic Confit, or even Pickled North Carolina Shrimp will elevate a chicken breast, pasta bowl, or salad into something special. It’s a sensible and creative base to cook from.

The recipes run through a full table–small plates to snack on with friends, soups and salads when you need color and crunch, meat and seafood main dishes, and Garganelli with Italian Sausage when the cold wind calls for pasta.

In sidebars, Moffatt reflects on learning to adjust to Southern seasons and culinary traditions, developing his own skills and those of his staff, finding like-minded suppliers, and overcoming the real estate challenges faced by non-chain restaurants–it’s all a glimpse into his kitchen. With a generous sharing of his life’s highs and lows, this book reflects its author–Moffett’s own development of flavor and master the skills of self-sufficiency.

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Salt, Smoke, Time

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Salt Smoke Time, Homesteading and Heritage Techniques for the Modern Kitchen

When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece

–John Ruskin

Maybe you’ve kept your sourdough starter alive for a year or two, or you’ve got some kombucha bubbling in the corner of the fridge. Feeling pretty brave about those pickled ramps you bought at the farm market?

Will Horowitz has you beat. He’s making Beach Plum Preserves and Knotweed Jam. I don’t even know what knotweed is, let alone that I could make jam out of it. However, I’m intrigued by Chive Salt, which sounds like it would be good on pretty much everything. And I’m waiting for the season’s first batch of strawberries to make Roasted Strawberry and Cardamom Jam.

Horowitz is a restaurant owner, and a forager, fisherman, and naturalist. He finds food in nature, alert to season and savor. Salt Smoke Time takes a challenging but worthy position–certainly outside the supermarket and the production systems that supply it. Whether you visit the farm market, fish, or forage, gathering that food can be expensive use of time and money. So Horowitz advocates making the most of it and not wasting a scrap. It’s good for the planet and the palate.

In an era of Instagram unicorn cakes and gig economy food delivery,  Horowitz’s heritage techniques seem untenable. He admits, approaching food this way takes a “gradual shift in  our mentality,” but the shift to skill, independence, and flavor is worth it.

Let’s honest, this is not a “what’s for dinner, five minutes-five ingredients cookbook.” This is a book for adventurers who are willing to engage with their food at an intense level. It’s like Euell Gibbons, with the refinement of chef, and the hands of a homesteader. Horowitz directs you to plants that grow wild, possibly on your street, that supply food and flavor, like bayberry leaves, garlic onions, acorns, and sassafras, and how to find them, prep them, and cook with them.

Beyond some peaceful foraging, Horowitz pursues “a sustainable and ethical source of meat.” Beginning with eating less of it and making sure what you do eat is as delicious as possible. To that end he shares his experiences of tracking and hunting, and provides instructions for butchering and curing. To break down a goat, he suggests making “the first cut right above the hip plate…”. Remember that. The recipes start out familiar with Maple-Cured Bacon, and then go on to Venison Gravlax, Duck Prosciutto, and Boudin Noir.

The recipes are tempting–Capered Elderberries and Dandelion Honey. Some, like Sour Corn of the Cob with Duck Liver Butter and Shad Bottarga, are sheer torture, unless you are prepared to commit to serious lifestyle changes. But Horowitz makes it sound easy, whether you’ve got five acres or an apartment balcony, there is a way to produce and preserve your own food.

We’ve become inured to the shrink-wrapped anonymity of Costco’s mass quantities. We’re skeptical of cooking from a well-cured cast iron pan that looks “dirty.” Recalled lettuce and ethically and environmental questionable meat is out of sight, so we can put it out of mind.  Horowitz won’t allow it–every walk through the woods is a chance to gather food, and a pantry filled with mason jars is a living place. Take a risk and take a bite.

 

 

 

 

 

Brined Lemons smoothed with the additional of vanilla bean.

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CHoWline–Savage Feast

Immigrant stories are fascinating, especially when they are inspired and illustrated by the kitchen and the table. They touch on familiar feelings–the sense of disconnection, feelings of being different, striving for reconciliation. In Savage Feast, Boris Fishman, hits those tropes but makes them unique to his Russian-Jewish family, their brusque interactions, deep love, and savory cabbage. And yes, it includes recipes.

This review appeared in CHoWline, the monthly publication of the Culinary Historians of Washington, DC.

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Baladi–Palestine

Baladi Palestine

Baladi Palestine by Joudie Kalla, Interlink Books 2019, $35.00 hardback, 256 pages

The table is a meeting place, a gathering ground, the source of sustenance and nourishment, festivity, safety, and satisfaction. A person cooking is a person giving: Even the simplest food is a gift.

Laurie Colwin

This is the food of Kalla’s homeland, her baladi–but beyond geography, it is the food of her life and family.

The food, in a land occupied and re-occupied, has become an important marker of identity. Kayla’s family fled and resettled in 1948 and she notes, that to an outsider, the countries that surround Palestine seem very similar, but are in fact different. As a result, her family traditions include Jordanian, Lebanese, Egyptian, and Syrian dishes.

In fact, Kalla writes “Some may question the origins of the these recipes, and whether they are truly Palestinian.” Identity must be defended. These are dishes she grew up eating, learned from her grandparents and mother, with the influence of their moving home. And, she notes, her family are “heavily garlic, chili, and lemon obsessed,” so naturally, the dishes reflect those flavors.

Some recipes, like Chocolate and Labneh Cake, are new adaptations, but most are resurrected from the memory of her mother and her “twenty aunties.” Many of them will be familiar–hummus, shakshoukeh, and preserved lemons.

Even within Palestine, the food varies by region from cooler mountainous regions to coastal towns of Yaffa, Gaza, and Haifa. Kalla organizes this diversity in chapters covering Markets and Village Life, Fields and Earth, the Bakery, the Farm, From the River to the Sea, and Hills and Orchards.

She begins with small dishes that lend a distinctive Palestinian flavor–Grape Molasses with Tahini, Turmeric Milk with Cardamom Pods, thick Arabic Coffee brewed with cardamom. And quick cafe-style dishes like Halloumi with fired eggs and roasted tomatoes, or pan-fried potatoes with eggs.

One thing that does seem to be the same are the abundant fresh fruits and vegetables used in drinks and “salads.” From fried okra with chili and her version of Muttabal–sauteed zucchini dressed with chili, yogurt and mint. It’s a dish that her mother makes with other vegetables–and from one recipe, many flavors and seasons.

It’s that kind of simple, in-the-kitchen advice that makes this book a treasure. That, and the bread recipes, which are sometimes left out, as the province of professionals. Kalla’s savory rolls, flatbreads, and hand pies are stuffed with feta, za’atar, nigella seeds, sumac, and spiced lamb. She also offers home-based techniques–rather than cooking your Khubez Taboon over hot coals, try a hot skillet. She adapts again with Za’atar Brioche Twists.

Kalla here combines her skill as a trained chef and caterer with her heart and memory–the best kind of cooking.

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Bread & Beauty at CHoW this Sunday, February 10

We’ll be at The Culinary Historians of Washington in metro-accessible Bethesda this Sunday, talking about historic foodways in the Reserve. Join us!
B&B cover

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