CHoWline: Soul Food

Have an American meal on this Independence Day–chips and salsa, pizza, hamburger–it’s a big table with room for everyone.

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CHoWline: Food in the Gilded Age

In the 1980s there was a Texas congressman who was skeptical that there were hungry people in the US–poor people looked too fat to be hungry. He was an idiot. Just because there is “food” doesn’t mean it’s healthy, a reasonable part of your budget, or nearby. And this isn’t just a poor people problem. Our food system harms the environment and all our health. I don’t want to be a scold–I love an occasional bag of Cheetos–but small decisions have big impacts.

You can get a copy of this book here and visit the CHoW website to keep up with our meetings and speakers, likely to be zoomed this upcoming season.

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CHoWline: The Foxfire Book of Appalachian Cookery

Have you had that odd jolt yet when you realize you are part of history? Talking to someone in their 20s about the Allman Brothers? That making a shopping list is suddenly considered a life hack? Watching jeans styles go around and around, in and out of fashion?

Take a look at this new version of Foxfire–the voices are as bright and sharp as ever, as are the recipes and techniques. Time has only added patina and appreciation.


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Healthy Bones

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Healthy Bones, Sheilah Kaufman and Paul Jacobsen

Let food be your medicine


I’ve been reading Twyla Tharp’s latest book, Keep it Moving, a bracing look at aging. Too often we think of fighting aging with hair dye, expensive cosmetic potions, even surgery, but recasting it as simply another phase of life, with its own pleasures and perils, is far more energizing.

Of course, Tharp is a dancer and movement is her lens, but her book’s larger message is to not stop;  accept aging, but assess and adjust. Goals, energy and enjoyment don’t end at any age.

And with this book, there is plenty of healthy enjoyment to be found at the table. Sponsored by the National Osteoporosis Foundation and written by the cookbook pros and Cookbook Construction Crew, Sheilah Kaufman and Paul Jacobsen, the book begins with some medical information with recommendations for exercise and medication. Their most reassuring message is that osteoporosis is not an inevitable result of aging.

Before the recipes, the book supplies larger diet information, which can be summed up pretty simply–eat a lot of different real food, avoid sweet and salty junk food, and limit the alcohol and caffeine. This is advice that makes it easy to eat healthy–there’s so much choice!

The recipes taps into that choice with a broad selection of dishes (including one from me–Sicilian-Style Pasta with Sardines–an excellent off-the-shelf quick dinner). The recipes range through the menu and across cultures. Begin the day with Cannoli French Toast, made rich and healthy with ricotta cheese and for an after dinner dessert try Bittersweet Chocolate Loaf Cake made with good-for-you dark chocolate. For Asian Flavors try Curried Shrimp with Apples or Chinese Steak with Pea Pods. The Mediterranean diet has long been touted as a healthful way to eat, and this book offers Moroccan Lamb Meatballs, A creamy yogurt-based Tzatziki, and Garlic Sautéed Rapini, among many others.

In fact, the book is a perfect balance between new flavors and easy techniques, which you can enjoy even more knowing the dishes are good for you.

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Feast of the Seven Fishes

Feast of the Seven Fishes, A Brooklyn Italian’s Recipes Celebrating Food and Family, Daniel Paterna, Powerhouse Books, 2019

I like reality that tastes like bread.

Jean Anouilh

Enough with the jokes about garlic and overeating. Its time to recognize Italian home cooking, Italian-American cooking, not as coarse overabundance but for its subtle sparking of flavors, its seasonal sensibility, and its generous expression of love.

This book is a loving scrapbook to the author’s family–particularly his energetic mother who juggled job, family, and kitchen–and to his neighborhood that keeps food traditions vital.

Paterna takes on the stereotypes of both Italian-Americans and of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn where he grew up. His mother had a 30-year career as a bank teller (reminds me of my grandmother who was sharp with numbers and well-respected at her publishing company office). He points out that the neighborhood is more than mafia stereotypes. Its shopkeepers are skilled artisans using old machines to roll out pasta dough and coal-fired ovens to bake bread, keeping alive generational techniques of food production. And shops that keep a connection to Italian culture with imported groceries and music.

If you can take a field trip, make sure there’s a cooler in the trunk of your car. You won’t want to go home without fresh mozzarella from Lioni Latticini, Faicco’s hot fennel sausage, and Villabate Alba’s hand-painted marzipan.

If it’s a subway visit, pick-up a submarine sandwich assembled a la minute at Papa Pasquale’s or visit Coluccio and Sons for the ingredients to make Paterna’s recipes–Arrancini, Parmigiana di Melanzane, Pomodori Ripieni, or Gamberi Fra Diavolo. The recipes are mostly simple, relying on attention to small details and excellent ingredients.

And Paterna capture the Italian genius for making something out of nothing. Who would guess that stoccofisso, dried, salted cod or squirming eels and octopus could be transformed into dishes that you wait all year to eat. The Feast of the Seven Fishes is a symbolic meal served on Christmas Eve, said to represent the seven sacraments or the seven days of creation, but now its own ritual of family.

Like the holiday meal the book is named for, Italian American cooking takes a particular savor from the family and seasonal associations that attend to dishes and ingredients. The food, just like this book, is a labor of love and attention.


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Lost Farms and Estates of Washington, D.C.

In this book local historian Kim Prothro Williams finds traces and tells the stories of the farms, estates, and plantations that lie beneath the capital’s monuments and official buildings. Sheep and wine grapes in the hills of Northwest, African American farms in Chevy Chase, and a plantation on Roosevelt Island.

This review appeared in CHoWline, the monthly newsletter of the Culinary Historians of Washington, DC–an excellent group!

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Black Food Geographies: Race, Self-Reliance, and Food Access in Washington, D.C.

Examining how we use words, in this case “food desert,” makes us see people and places in new ways–more complex and complete. In this book, Ashante Reese examines a single DC neighborhood and finds agency in food that might otherwise be overlooked, and that might be a model for ways to address equitable food access.

This review appeared in the September issue of CHoWline, the monthly newsletter of the Culinary Historians of Washington, DC–a group you should check out!

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All About Dolci

All About Dolci: regional Italian Desserts and Sweet Traditions, Natalie Danford, Rizzoli 2019, 176 pages, $30.00

If your mother cooks Italian food, why should you go to a restaurant?

Martin Scorsese

This is my eternal dilemma–standing in front of a pastry case and wanting one bite of everything. Someday I will buy one of everything and solve my life’s problem, but until that day comes, I can cook my way through All About Dolci.

It must be pointed out that this is an Eataly book, and the publisher assures us that, re: Batali, “Eataly has cut all ties to Mario, so no input on or financial gain from this book or any other Eataly book going forward.” And if you’d like a sharp take on cinnamon rolls and apologies, read this.

This book is a wonderfully curated pastry case. It includes recipes that may be familiar to you, like Esse, those S-shaped cookies that you just point to. Or Ricciarelli, which I call on whenever the frozen egg whites are overflowing. But no Biscotti Regina, the recipe for which I found when I moved to an area without Italian bakeries and needed to have them. Never mind, the unfamiliar ones are intriguing enough to direct me to the kitchen.

And then on to Torte, which show what I find so appealing about Italian baking–a focus on flavor and texture rather than just sweetness. Pound cake–Amor Polenta–becomes toothsome when made with polenta. Dolci Alla Fruta includes Torta di Mele e Burro Nocciolo, flavored with apples and brown butter. And, to reveal Italy’s vast regional variety, there’s a Strudel di Mele from the Alto Adige and the pasticceria from Campania, evocatively named and shaped, and impossible to resist. Cannoli, of course, but also Funghetti, little mushroom pastries filled with hazelnut cream.

For me, it’s not Christmas without Panettone and Strufoli and if you can’t find a local baker or grandmother who makes them, you can attempt your own. Other holiday and festive sweets include Monte Bianco, a construction of chestnut puree and meringue and the Pastiera Napolitana usually made for Easter and derived from an ancient Greek dish of  sweetened wheat berries.

Sweet and symbolic–Italian baking is well captured here and made to recreate at home.


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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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