Some grandmothers send you home with handmade pies after each visit. If you’re lucky, you have a grandmother who slips you a $20 on your way out the door. Not mine. Instead of baked goods or money, she fills my arms with large plastic bags of frozen pierogi.
I can’t remember a time I’ve left her house without a dozen in hand. At every family gathering, our Mom Mom generously distributes her homemade pierogi to my sister, cousins, and me. We’re all mostly in our twenties now, and the pierogi often come in handy later as a quick and easy solution for dinner.
Though I’m grateful for her efforts to ensure I always have a dozen in my freezer throughout the year, I most appreciate Mom Mom’s seemingly endless pierogi supply around the holidays. Without them, Christmas Eve would lack my favorite family food tradition, and I wouldn’t be found shoveling the potato-stuffed dumplings into my mouth at a rate only my late grandfather could match.
Q: What do Tom Green, the Hoover Dam, and candy canes all have in common?
A: They’ve all been the subject of false rumors, perpetuated thanks to the Internet.
So for the record, Tom Green didn’t dress up as Hitler at a bar mitzvah, the Hoover Dam doesn’t have bodies of workers buried inside, and candy canes? Oh, where do I begin. Perhaps with a warning: other than grappling with a particularly divine-tasting edible, a column about foodstuffs isn’t normally the place to tackle religion. Today it is, because the candy cane and Christmas are as intertwined as the stick’s red and white stripes.
I have a great deal of appreciation for yogurt. Many of my childhood memories involve bewilderingly shaped Yoplait containers filled to the brim with sickly sweet fruit-flavored dairy solids. As a child, I was constantly tricked into enjoying the yogurt gimmick du jour – drinkable yogurt, yogurt from a plastic tube-shaped sleeve, and cups of yogurt with lids full of crushed cookies and candies. But I didn’t truly acquire the taste for real yogurt until Fage, the original Greek yogurt, began appearing in my household refrigerator.
This new yogurt was drier, thicker, milder, and more substantive than the more common European-style yogurts I was used to eating. Greek yogurt omits nearly all of the flavorings and additives found in supermarket brands, like the gelatin added to some Yoplait yogurts for texture and consistency or the ambiguous “natural flavor” at the end of nearly all yogurt ingredient lists. The idea behind Greek yogurt is simple: Plain yogurt is placed in a fine strainer and then a significant portion of the excess liquid (or whey) is allowed to drain. Traditional Greek yogurt contains goat’s milk, but most American brands use cow’s milk.
There are many ways to split society into opposing halves. Rich vs. poor. DC fans vs. Marvel fans. Butter people vs. margarine people.
We all begin as butter people; nobody erupts from the womb ready to move from mother’s milk to margarine. Kids happily spread their school-lunch rolls with individual pats of butter, top their pancakes with generous globs of the stuff, and will even take bites of butter sticks when a caregiver isn’t looking. But slowly, margarine creeps in. Maybe we eat margarine because our parents do; others among us switch when we’re old enough to start paying attention to our waistlines or hearts. After all, the American Heart Association and the Mayo Clinic both recommend using margarine. So eventually, we stand in the dairy aisle, look at our options, and put the margarine in our carts. MORE
As a third generation Marylander, I spent many summer days of my childhood hiding under the picnic table watching my parents and brothers — from an up-wind safe odor-free distance — as they enthusiastically did their crab picking and eating. Even at an early age I knew that I was missing out on an important part of being a true Marylander, and an important family gathering. But I also knew what my family was doing when they picked crabs, and it wasn’t appealing.
My family ate every part of the crab except, of course, the grey lungs (or “devils-fingers” in Maryland jargon), which not only taste terrible but could leave you with a nasty stomachache. After discarding the lungs and sucking down as much crab meat as they could find, they even ate the kinky yellow guts and the mysterious bitter golden crab mustard that many Marylanders refuse to touch. How much nicer it was, I thought, to eat something ripped apart from itself before it reached your table. MORE
We shove plenty of foods in our face holes without thinking much about them. What’s in a Twinkie? How was the slurry that becomes a McDonald’s chicken nugget actually formed? What the hell combination of black magic and ingredients is needed to make Mountain Dew Code Red? When we decide to consume foods and drinks like these, we know we’re heading into a bit of a mystery; there are ingredients and processes involved that we will never truly understand. So it goes.
Do not try to make your own Old Bay.
I’m serious. Don’t even bother.
I wholeheartedly encourage you to whip up your own crab seasoning or make your own Cajun spice. Sprinkle these mixes liberally everywhere you would use Old Bay — seafood, corn on the cob, french fries, wherever. But when you do this, start with the intention of making something different from Old Bay. Trying to beat Old Bay is a losing proposition. There are many reasons why. Here are the top three: MORE
My first encounter with homemade kombucha took place about 10 years ago. My younger sister had been brewing a batch in our parents’ sunroom when she was offered a last-minute job at a summer camp. She left her gallon of tea and SCOBY (also known as the symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) behind when she left to take the gig, and not knowing what to do with it, my parents let it sit. A month later, I came to visit and my mom asked if I’d help her dispose of the contents of the jar.
By that point, the bacteria and yeast creature in the jar had grown to be approximately four inches thick and had a disturbing flesh-like consistency. It took the liberal application of a serrated bread knife to free it from the jar and when I was finished wrestling it out to the compost heap, I swore that I’d never again tangle with something so otherworldly.
However, fast-forward a decade and you’ll find that I am now eating those words. I’ve been brewing kombucha in my own kitchen for the last six months or so and have found it to be easy, delicious, and satisfying. What’s more, it has made me deeply curious about the many other kinds of homebrews and liquid ferments I can make in my small city apartment. MORE
White flour is like a ghost: if we don’t think about it, we’re fine. But when we do start to think about it, we get a little creeped out. Oh, it might not look like we’re scared of it when we wolf our restaurant bread baskets or take forkfuls of cream cheese-frosted carrot cake, but when we start to think about that powdery wheat product on its own, some serious flourphobia rises to the surface. Together I’m hoping we can make it through this. That’s right, together: I have flour-fear issues, too.
“Un pincho de tortilla y un café con leche, por favor.”
It was an almost-daily order. The café near my little casa in Madrid had the best tortilla española around. And with a cup of espresso with milk, I was a happy girl. My options at such cafés were usually limited because I was a vegetarian. I had underestimated how difficult studying abroad in meat-loving Spain would be. I usually had two possibilities: tortilla española and gazpacho. As winter was approaching in my time in Madrid, the chilled gazpacho was not usually served, so tortilla was my go-to dish. MORE
As recently as 15 years ago, peanut butter was nothing but wholesome. It was rubbed on Mr. Ed’s teeth, slathered on sandwiches, tucked into lunch boxes across the country, and stuck to celery and covered with raisins for “ants on a log” (a treat that always sounded more awesome than it tasted). Peanut butter was the protein-filled glue of childhood and a pleasant, nostalgia-filled comfort food for adults. Dammit, peanut butter was America.
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.
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
I don’t know the life expectancy of a food product like the flour tortilla. What I do know is that, in the early 2000s, that poor bugger had a midlife crisis. Like an ’80s pop star who doesn’t realize a new generation of fans only like him ironically, the flour tortilla became famous again, but not on his own merits. No, the poor tortilla wasn’t loved for his flavor or spunk. Rather, fueled by the Atkins craze, he was loved for being a low-carb alternative to bread. He was a pawn, a rube, a sandwich-delivery device. And that poor, naive tortilla loved it. He even agreed to change his name for the Atkins people: abandoning the traditional moniker and letting himself be known simply as “wrap.” It’s not quite the same thing as buying a Corvette and growing a ponytail at 50, but I dare say it’s close.