You know the expression “do what you love and you’ll love what you do.” John Shelton Reed is living that life–tasting barbecue, judging it, hunting up the best, and writing about it. From this collection of his writings, a few themes emerge–regional styles, the development of expertise, and how they are both being threatened by corporate barbecue.
This review is from Chowline, the monthly newsletter of the Culinary Historians of Washington, DC, which begins their 2021-2022 season on September 12 with a talk by John Birdsall on his book, The Man Who Ate Too Much. To get the link, email email@example.com or visit http://www.chowdc.org
If you are of a certain age, you may remember Francis Moore Lappe’s Diet for a Small Planet, and these books are two sides of the same coin, exploring how what we eat impacts the planet. Moore Lappe inspired the counter-culture kitchen; in this book, Otter describes the systems and motivations behind our global food chain. You’ll never look at a package of cookies the same way again!
CHoW is off for the summer, but we’re already lining up a great slate of speakers for our 2021-2022 season, including John Birdsall, author of the new James Beard biography, The Man Who Ate Too Much
We struggle–and it seems we’ve always struggled–with what we eat. It’s too much or too little, clean or dirty, healthy or indulgent. For a little historic perspective on the physical and psychological interpretations of appetite, check out Appetite and Its Discontents by Elizabeth A. Williams.
Actually, the University of Chicago Press is a great source for works on culinary history, and so is CHoW. You can watch our speakers live via zoom or later on youtube.
There is a huge system behind the food on your plate, one worth examining, as Andrew Deener does in this book, using Philadelphia as a case study. That system is the reason you can buy a roast chicken for five dollars, the reason you drive to the supermarket, the reason food tourism is part of visiting downtown.
CHoW has gone online, like everything else. Check out our website for monthly speakers and email firstname.lastname@example.org to get the link to the talks.
700 Foods You Should Try from Around the World by Alexandre Stern, Universe
No matter how you feel about the world “foodie,”you will love this book. It’s a kind of food dictionary you might want to keep around to settle arguments about where is baklava from, what salep is, and who invented peanut butter.
It is a worldwide tour, via a carefully sorted arrangement of ingredients, dishes and drinks that are typical of countries and regions. What is typical you might challenge and who decides? In his introduction, Stern lays out his thoughtfully developed categories, noting right up front that it is a personal selection, but of choices deemed to be representative or palate-expanding. Some countries–France, Japan, China–get their own sections, others are grouped into regions–North Africa vs Sub-Saharan Africa, Spain and Portugal, or Middle East.
In the regions you know, you’ll likely have some quibbles–I think Tomato Soup has been around longer than 1960, and did Frenchmen really bring sourdough to San Francisco? That’s what the internet is for.
In the regions you’ve visited you’ll be delighted to find your discoveries on these pages and ready to return as a more educated eater to try what you’ve missed. For places you’ve never been and barely thought about, your stomach may flip, but you’ll learn history, geography and culture.
Just flipping through the pages, you’ll get a sense of cuisine–the apricots, pistachios, and pomegranates of Iran and the Middle East or the cloves, nutmeg, and coconut of Southeast Asia. And you’ll get a sense of how food travels–baklava appears in Lebanon (but Greece!), mushrooms in France (and Russia), coffee in Ethiopia (and everywhere).
The book ends with a directory of where to get some of these foods–also what the internet is for.
How Gender and Power Collide in Food Media and Culture.
It’s Super Bowl weekend and I assume that no one will be making quiche for “the big game.” But it’s not just this weekend that food marketers and advertisers think about manly food. Contois confirms all those things that you may have noticed on supermarket shelves–diet drinks recast as power drinks and yogurt that is high-protein, chips that aren’t just hot but flamin’ hot. So if you do make quiche call it ham and egg pie and make it as large as you can–maybe in layers.
I may have found the perfect winter quarantine book. This is a mechanic’s handbook to creating perfect boulangerie–croissants, brioche sucre, apple tarts, vienna rolls, and all sorts of bread loaves. Those delicious things you used to enjoy in the bakery when we all went outside. The treats you could enjoy over an afternoon coffee in the cafe with a friend. Remember all that?
If it’s any comfort, you can re-create them at home, though it will take time–but you’ve probably got that. Also get some flour. And get then get started.
But first understand that you will be an apprentice in your own kitchen. Landemaine worked with Pierre Herme and Paul Bocuse, at Lucas Carton and Le Bristol. He has since opened his own chain of Parisian bakeries an his watchwords are work, excellence and pleasure. Humble yourself and start kneading.
The book begins with the building blocks of bread–various starters and basic doughs–each one with an explanation of the ingredients and how they work together as well as some baker’s tips about shelf life, when it’s ready, and how you can use it.
After the basics, you graduate to the recipes–the twists and cuts to shape, the fillings and finishes that make them perfect. I have begun my devotion with Vienna dough, a milky and just barely sweet that is what white bread should be. It can be fashioned into baguettes, a cheese bread, a seeded bun, or speckled with dried fruit. I’m envisioning quiet breakfasts and a calm table.
I’m hoping that the recipe will become second nature but that I’ll never lose my attentiveness.
This book was a good faith effort to make appealing drinks for every time of day and type of gathering and, in the our time of mock-tails, actually offers a bit of inspiration.
Some of the drinks are more like dessert: raspberry ice, vanilla ice cream, orange ice, and strawberry preserves. Others are more like a salad–tomato wedges, asparagus tips dressed with ketchup, worcestershire, and lemon juice, crabmeat optional. Lemons step in to cut through sweet fruit juices and the strongest mixer is tea.
The preface, by a Dr. Harvey Wiley, describes the book as “a very fine thing” and the Eighteenth Amendment as a “permanent part of our Constition” and promises these drinks “will make for a healthier and more contented mental attitude…”. You know the history–no further comment needed.
The recipes come from various college home economics departments and from various women identified only by their husbands names and titles (this is Washington after all where your spot in the bureaucracy is noted). Laura Volstead Lomen shares a recipe for fruit punch that calls for fresh fruit and a quart of sugar. Somehow the author manages to discern which recipes are suitable for children and offers a recipe from Mrs. John B. Henderson of Henderson Castle on Washington’s 16th Street, known as “the playground of diplomats.”
Apparently Mrs. Henderson decided “that liquor, even the best of it, is injurious to the health of an individual and worse than detrimental to the life of a nation. Without more ado, she ordered the contents of her extensive wine cellar–rated one of the finest in Washington at the time–poured down the gutters outside her castle walls.”
I can only imagine what Senator Henderson had to say.
Local Dirt, Seasonal Recipes for Eating Close to Home by Andrea Bemus, Harper Collins 2020
Here’s how it started with this book. At first I thought, sure, eating local is easy if you live and work on a farm, But as I flipped through the seasonal recipes I remembered those few leaves of kale and the two purple potatoes left over from my latest CSA delivery. More kale–it can be dispiriting.
So I followed Andrea Bemis’s advice to “localize it” and swapped the parsnips for potatoes in her recipe for Cozy Lentil Stew with Kale and Parsnips. The warm spices–cumin, pepper, and smoked paprika–were just the thing for the first nippy night of the changing season.
I’m ready to “localize” Pumpkin Honey Bread, swapping, as Bemis suggests pumpkin for acorn squash and honey for maple syrup. This approach makes cooking and eating with local ingredients realistic and creative.
Bemis, who farms in north central Oregon and suggests asking three questions about your food–is it good for you, good for the planet, and good for your community. An occasional bag of cheetos isn’t the end of the world, but getting more local food into your diet can improve your health, lower pollution created by producing and shipping industrial-scale food, and can provide local jobs and maintain local communities. Kale–even a lot of it–is a good thing!
She’s been through a thoughtful food process, moving away from meat and dairy, and then returning to them, when they are farmed locally and responsibly. Instead of thinking of eating locally in terms of challenges and limitations, Bemis finds herself and her table rooted in the community and the seasons.
Amid stories of outings with day-boat albacore fisherman, a ranch lunch with cattle farmers who can’t afford to eat their own grass-fed beef, raising their own pigs, and searching out raw milk, Bemis offers seasonal recipes, which, she reassures readers, are “very forgiving and were created with the idea that you can make them your own with what you’ve got.”
She advises sharing bulk purchases with friends or storing stocked up basics in the freezer. Ask questions when you can’t find an ingredient–the farmer might know. Keep it simple and plan ahead. When it’s berry season, enjoy them, freeze them, preserve them.
After a chapter of basics like stocks, broths, and herbs, Bemis starts the year of recipes in the fall, with pot pies, slaw, soups, and stews–a mushroom hunter’s stew, honey and cider baked beans, and a Sausage and Sage Frittata. Winter warrants biscuits and gravy, a luxurious, waste-not chicken liver pate, and comforting Baked Apple Oatmeal.
Spring must begin with eggs, here another frittata, green with herbs. Salads and strawberries make an appearance as do lamb kabobs on the grill. It always seems easier to get up earlier in the summer, especially for Huckleberry Cornmeal Pancakes or even a slice of savory Tomato Pie.
And kale gets it due–in that savory stew, in pesto, green eggs and ham, and stirred into a Pumpkin Pot Pie. Who could complain?