Why do people always order ginger ale when they fly? I almost always do, and many of my fellow travelers seem to do the same. It’s not a conscious thing for me, but rather reflexive. I don’t know what it is about being strapped into a cramped coach seat, browsing SkyMall, that makes me think: Canada Dry. When I’m on the ground, I rarely find myself saying, “Gee, you know what’d be great right now? Ginger ale.”
Woe to the thirsty soul who, only familiar with ginger ale, picks up a ginger beer. Pity this poor sap, this rube, who thinks that he can glug-glug ginger beer down his gullet just like his Canada Dry or Schweppes, but instead finds himself attacked by the ginger bite, as if a tiny, ginger-fierce dog was running circles in his mouth, tearing up the carpet, barking up his nose, and slobbering down his throat.
Oh, I have been this sap.
I tried not to grimace as I took a second swig of rakija from the tall plastic water bottle. I winced slightly, but then smiled and was met with chuckles and applause. I don’t usually drink straight booze at lunch, but I couldn’t refuse, not just out of politeness, but also out of curiosity. As the warmth of the homemade moonshine spread through my body, I looked toward my boyfriend’s grandfather for approval. The snow-haired man who I was told “only puts his teeth in for pictures,” flashed me a toothless grin that told me I’d crossed some sort of threshold of acceptance. He was entertained by how obliging I’d been; taking a swig every time he nudged me playfully with the bottle. We did not speak each other’s language, but I didn’t need a translator to understand that his cajoling was a sincere attempt to make me feel welcome. Despite being an American, if I could handle the drink, that meant there must be some Croat in me somewhere. MORE
I once worked for a place that mandated a group coffee break every Friday. When the time came, we’d file from our cubicles into the conference room and sit around a massive U-shaped table. Someone would produce the week’s snack and pass it around to go with whatever tea or coffee we’d carried in from our desks.
The gathering was a nice idea, something that should have fostered collegiality and generated some laughs. But it was, unstoppably, dreadful. MORE
Green garlic is one of the true joys of spring. It’s immature hardneck garlic, plucked from the rows to give the rest the space they need to grow into heads of garlic that will last through the winter. It’s typically picked before the cloves or their papery layers have formed, and so is entirely edible from top to bottom.
Typically, green garlic is sold in long, grassy stalks with the roots still attached. I like to trim away the leggy roots and use the rest of the vegetable in stir fries, baked goods, salads and pestos.
The flavor of green garlic is bright and mild (compared to storage garlic, at least). It mellows nicely when cooked or roasted. The green tops can be wilted into soups, though do take care to trim away any browning or tough parts.
My father does not have an illustrious history with cooking. You wouldn’t know that looking at him in the kitchen now – when my grandmother’s health was failing, he studied with her so that he could make her classic desserts, like fluffy cream cake, spiraling jelly rolls, and not-too-sweet apple pies. But before that, I knew my father to have exactly one dish – Welsh rarebit.
What do we make of Michael Pollan’s seventh book, Cooked? Is it, as the subtitle suggests, a “natural history” which examines the science and paleoanthropology of cooking? Is it, as many of Pollan’s promotional interviews suggest, a polemic and a manual which tells us how and when to cook in order to repair the social fabric and national health of the United States? Is it a memoir of meals past, with ample nostalgia for a simpler time measured out with head-shaking over the bustle of the modern world? Is it the foodie equivalent of a travelogue, tracing the author’s encounters with cooking techniques in such exotic locales as Korea, Portugal, and North Carolina? Is it an intellectual history of cookery, attempting to establish the cerebral value of the culinary arts through the theories of French anthropologists and philosophers? Or do this book and its promotional tie-ins comprise an elaborately executed piece of multimedia performance art, a parody of the foodie intellectual on the level of Joaquin Phoenix growing a beard and releasing a rap album?
Celebrities go through identity crises and need to reinvent themselves all the time. Rarely do vegetables face the same problem. But for the Jerusalem artichoke, the rebranding process has been crucial to its revival. The first step? A new, friendlier name: Everyone, meet the sunchoke.
Will sunchokes steal the spotlight away from kale, become the new cauliflower, or out-trend Brussels sprouts? It’s too soon to tell. Regardless, sunchokes are the next dowdy vegetable that wants to be a star.
Self: “Hello, my name is Erica.” (Insert handshake).
Prospective Employer: “Erica, nice to meet you. Tell me about yourself.”
Self: “I just finished working on a cruise ship in Hawaii.”
Prospective Employer: “A cruise ship! Doesn’t everyone on the ship have to be analyzed by a shrink? Who knows whom you may be living with!”
Self: “It wasn’t the crew I was worried about.”
She sat with perfect posture at a table for two next to the ship window, book poised in her hands as if it were a bird. Her eyes flitted up at me when I approached her side. “Could you stand toward the end of the table, please,” she inquired. “My neck cramps when I turn it too much to the left,” she explained.
When you hear the words “boiled dinner,” chances are good that the image that springs to mind is one of a heavy cut of beef, surrounded by a bevy of mealy, overcooked root vegetables. It’s something best eaten in the deep winter, when the nights are long and bone-chilling.
However, I’m about to suggest a springtime take on the boiled dinner for this month’s entry in the Whole Chicken Project. A gently poached and cooled bird, served with blanched asparagus, boiled new potatoes, and a garlic and basil mayonnaise. It’s a meal – one that doesn’t require multiple hours of cooking and, because every component is just as good served chilled as it is warm, all the work can easily be done in early in the day.
Oh, poor vermouth. It’s been the brunt of an ongoing joke in the United States for some time. It was once an essential cocktail component but, following the lead of writers and statesmen from the mid-20th century, it was either swirled and dumped or left out all together, until finally, vermouth was relegated to a sad, crusty old bottle, abandoned on the shelf. Then, with the second coming of cocktail culture in the mid-2000s, it returned in spades. Bottles of Carpano Antica Formula, Dolin Vermouth de Chambéry and reformulated European varieties began populating the shelves. But, until recently, American vermouth had yet to stake its claim.
If I was in charge of All Food Everywhere, I would fire whoever made the decision to name tofu the ambassador of meat substitutes. Now, I don’t want to insult tofu — like a child who gets a puppy instead of a kitten for a pet, I have learned to love tofu after spending a few years with it. But even for me — a tofu enjoyer of five years and counting — there is still something about tofu in its raw state that turns me off. Sure, when tofu converts try to convince the uninitiated, they bring up a very good point: tofu tastes like whatever you cook it in. But while this is mostly true, it doesn’t stop tofu from having a consistency that can vary between pudding and hard cheese, but never retaining the best qualities of either. The worst offender is salad-bar tofu, the tofu that’s put out as more of a visual courtesy than an edible ingredient. Here’s a tip: If you have not tried tofu before, do not try salad bar tofu. It’s like eating a bean-curd-flavored cube of Jell-o.
But then…then there’s seitan. MORE
America was booming in the Gilded Age, the era after the Civil War when robber barons hammered out vast empires and enormous fortunes were made overnight in New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia. At the same time out West, American chefs were refining their own contribution to international culture: Fast food.
Walt Powell’s beer cellar is a carefully crafted library of rare and curious brews.
Beer bottles of various shapes, colors and sizes line the shelves like volumes of classic novels, stacked in repetition so there’s always a copy available, and the closet is packed with cardboard boxes brimming with bottles, tucked into every available nook or cranny of the space. The arrangement appears haphazard and chaotic, but upon closer inspection, there is a method to the madness.
Each spring, when the first local asparagus arrives in the farmers markets, I go a little bit overboard. Those fat, green-verging-on-purple stalks mean that the season of abundance has finally arrived. I binge on asparagus, buying several pounds at a time without any kind of a plan, a little bit fearful that it will disappear before I have my fill. MORE