Princess Pamela’s Soul Food Cookbook

princesspamA good cook is like a sorceress who dispenses happiness.

Elsa Schiaparelli

And clearly Pamela Strobel could cast a spell.

In their introduction to this reprint edition, Matt Lee and Ted Lee, self-taught scholars of Southern foodways, describe the character of Strobel’s restaurant. Princess’ Southern Touch was an outpost of Southern cooking at 78 East 1st Street in New York City.

It was an unassuming storefront, made even more off-putting by the roll-down door that was usually partially closed. The door was locked, and if you didn’t past muster after you knocked, you were told the restaurant was closed.

But if you could get in the menu offered Smothered Chicken, Corn Meal Waffles, greens and grits in various guises, and pies–sweet potato, peach skillet, molasses pecan, and brown coconut. They were recipes that Strobel learned from her mother, who migrated north to work as a cook, and from her grandmother, who raised her.

Strobel worked hard to create her own space, where she expressed herself in her cooking, but also in her poetry and later, in her jazz singing. She created an environment that people wanted to be part of, treating her customers like guests. He restaurant drew regulars and celebrities like Sidney Lumet, Pearl Bailey, Lee Radziwill, Norman Norell, and Gloria Steinem. New York Times restaurant reviewer Craig Claiborne was a fan.

The Lees parse the book, from its original appearance to its recipes, putting it into historical context. The unattributed preface notes that “one may seek in vain the clear line of demarcation between where Southern cuisine ends and soul food begins,” recognizing the intermingling of technique and culture. But the preface also falls back on cliched images of “bandannaed mammy” and “pickaninny.”

The Lees also suppose that the anonymous editor tamped down the spice and flavor of the original recipes, and they encourage contemporary cooks to spice more liberally. These are not fancy recipes or techniques, and the hand of the cook–princess or no–is what will make them sing.

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Patisserie at Home


Patisserie at Home by Melanie Dupuis and Anne Cazor, Harper Design 2016, hardback $50.00, 288 pages

The fine arts are five in number, namely: painting, sculpture, poetry, music, and architecture, the principal branch of the latter being pastry.

–Antonin Careme

I used to repeat this quote to wind up my architect husband, but now I totally get it.

In this monument of a book, the basic building blocks–genoise, buttercream, meringue, etc.–are assembled to create classic pastries like Religeuses and Opera, or assembled and flavored in new ways to create the avant-garde.

Sounds like architecture to me!

I think the reason we buy patisserie is the architecture factor. I can make a creditable genoise and a decent buttercream, but not in the same morning, or even the same day. And building a Charlotte or Croquembouche can be fraught. I’ve had layer cakes implode and force me, cursing, from the kitchen. A perfectly layered Mille-Feuille or even a Baba that cooperates by sliding out of it’s mold can be a lot to ask.

Luckily, in each of set of directions,  Dupuis and Cazor highlight the “tricky aspects,” like hydrating gelatin, using a pastry bag or recognizing the ribbon stage. Then, with page references, they guide you through each of those tricky techniques.

But not all the recipes are killers. Some, like an apple tart, are excellent basics, easy to master and vary. From apple, move on to tropical fruits or a chic lemon meringue. Recast the tart into tartlets, filled with Chibouste cream and raspberries or lime curd.  Or crank out passion fruit, strawberry and chocolate.

So after you tire of your New Year’s, lentil-based dietary resolutions, make a resolution to build some pastry skills. Become a master of the macaron, fearlessly stare-down a St. Honore, and vanquish the Vacherin.


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Victuals by Ronni Lundi, Potter 2016, $32.50 hardback, 320 pages rec'd from Blogging for Books

Victuals by Ronni Lundi, Potter 2016, $32.50 hardback, 320 pages
rec’d from Blogging for Books

What is patriotism but the love of food we ate in childhood?

–Lin Yu Tan

Maybe I’ve used that quote too much, but it is what makes food interesting. Whether it’s Fritos and a Fresca or the dried beans called leather britches, flavors stick with us and take on meaning. They expand into a set of skills and community traditions, and eventually become part of what defines us.

In that sense, Ronni Lundy has written both a dictionary and love story to the foods and foodways of her Appalachian family. Though she grew up in Louisville, where her Dad found work, for Lundy, Corbin, Kentucky was “up home.”

Lundy recalls how her parents would easily slip back into family life on visits for summer or holidays, and that return would often be marked by food–Chili Buns and grape soda from the Dixie Pool Room, Aunt Minnie’s “crisp fried dried apple pies,” or lush, garden-grown watermelons.

Foods that have become fashionable, like kale, or have become the palette for a chef’s wild flights, like fried chicken were the taste of home, firmly anchored in what could be grown, raised, shot, or foraged. The foods were the work of the people who farmed, hunted, and knew the hills. And while many outsiders see Appalachia as a one note Scotch-Irish community, Lundy knows better and teases out the Hungarian and Italian influences on the region’s food. You’ll see it Pepperoni Rolls or Miner’s Goulash.

In her odyssey through Kentucky, West Virginia, southern Ohio, northern Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina, Lundy finds old ways like dried beans recorded at historic sites and old ways rejuvenated as at the J. Q. Dickinson Salt-Works. She finds traditions made  new like chef Lisa Donovan’s upscale take on the glove compartment classic–Cheese Nabs. And she finds the very particular flavors of the region–ramps, sorghum, sumac oil.

While Lundy touts the return and retooling of traditions, she points out that it’s only happening in some Appalachian communities–those close to highways or towns where you’ll see New York and DC license plates in the parking lots. Deeper into the hills, into coal country, rejuvenation is harder where streams are un-fishable and mountains are disfigured by coal mining practices.

Lundy describes a shifting community, facing a changing economy, that may find new meaning and some prosperity in its foodways.






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Happy New Year’s

a metaphor for the coming year? How do we feel about excessive gold?

a metaphor for the coming year? How do we feel about excessive gold?

There’s a bit of holiday still hanging around–draped garlands, more cookies than usual, and bits and bottles of fancy foods received as gifts.

I’m not really one for resolutions. I’m a pretty sensible person who stays in the center lane (well, not when I’m driving–I like that fast lane–maybe there’s a resolution for me).

I keep lists and generally get through them. I like lentils and greens and apples, so a renewed commitment to fiber really isn’t necessary. I make do and mend.

But I am thinking about how happy this new year will be. Maybe the resolution is watch less TV news and talk more to my neighbors!

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Cookbook Digest–Ocean’s Best

We’ll be celebrating on Christmas Eve this year with a Seven Fishes dinner–a symbolic holiday meal that is meant to be a lean abstention from red meat. But leave it to Italian-Americans (or any humans, for that matter) to turn it into a feast.

If you need to up your fish game, check out these books. In Two if By Sea, Barton Seaver encourages you to buy local and diverse. Then he teaches you how to cook what you might think of as trash fish–mackerel, porgy, or mullet. He’d be right at home at our Seven Fishes table. In Fresh Fish, Jennifer Trainer Thompson offers a briny dose of New England–including a home-scaled clambake.

Get a subscription to Cookbook Digest for someone you love who loves to cook!




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A Square Meal, A Culinary History of the Great Depression

Andrew Coe and Jane Ziegelman go beyond the platitudes about Depression-era dining to discover some uncomfortably close-to-home history.

Looking forward to this Sunday’s CHoW meeting (December 11), where Libby O’Connell will be speaking on dining during America’s Gilded Age–its wasn’t all caviar and canvasback ducks!


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Shop, Cook, Eat New York

Shop Cook Eat New York by Susan Meisel and Nathalie Sann, 2016 Rizzoli, paper $27.50, 192 pages

Shop Cook Eat New York by Susan Meisel and Nathalie Sann, 2016 Rizzoli, paper $27.50, 192 pages

I think you know that when an American stays away from New York too long something happens to him. Perhaps he becomes a little provincial, a little dead and afraid.

Sherwood Anderson

New York is a great Christmas city–maybe you’re planning a little trip to see the windows and holiday decorations. And of course, to shop.

This book will help you avoid the recently invaded 5th Avenue, and find your comfort food, whatever it may be. Maybe it’s the artisanal expertise that goes into making Laduree macarons or the egg tart pastries at Lung Moon Bakery. Perhaps you’re looking to set an ecumenical brunch table with Kosser’s bialys and Sahadi’s pickled vegetables.

Go high end at the Bellocq Tea Atelier or home comfort at Make My Cake. Keep it old school ethnic at the Bari Pork Store, Pastosa Ravioli, and Ralph’s Famous Italian Ices. Or opt for hipster cool at Mast Brother’s Chocolate and Momofuku Milk Bar. God, I love immigrants!

Susan Meisel and Nathalie Sann have done the leg work. I’ll bet they’ve gone through numerous reusable shopping bags to write this book. But their effort was more than about writing the book. “We’ve met people who are the best (perhaps the best anywhere) at what they do. And while they may have achieved neither notoriety nor wealth, they have derived enormous satisfaction from their pursuit and achievement of unmatched excellence.”

Those sentences give me chills–puts me in mind of what’s really important. And if we can take a little of that skill and excellence to our tables, to share with friends and family, who cares how much it costs per pound.

You can make your own attempts at excellence with the recipes included–Oeufs en Muerette from the Burgundy Wine Company, Despana’s Salmorejo, or (if you must) Baklava from Artopolis.

Better yet, get out, talk to people, smell things, taste stuff, find a new favorite and a new friend. Food makes it easy, and it’s more important now than ever.

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