Imagine yourself as a child, frolicking through your parents’ backyard and digging up worms. Your mother calls you in from the kitchen for dinner and you bound in through the back door, smelling the roast she’s been tending to for the past few hours. At the table your father sits reading the newspaper, your sister fidgeting with a bow in her hair. Before you is the same familiar spread: off-white plates, clear glasses, spotless silverware, uniform serving utensils, and of course, the butter dish. You think nothing of the materials off of which you shovel food into your mouth, moving as quickly as possible to resume your outdoor activities. For hours your mother slaved over the stove to prepare your meal, but that won’t cross your mind until present day when, as an adult, you prepare meals for yourself and maybe even your own children. Now is a time when you’ve come to understand the worth of quality Tupperware, the importance of a sturdy teakettle.
On display this summer at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is an exhibition which allows you to take your newfound appreciation for kitchenware to another level. “The Main Dish” is composed of display cases plainly contrived so as to draw focus on the objects within them, like original Tupperware or decades old decanters. The arrangements evoke a strange feeling of appreciation for kitchenware as art, as many of the items are expertly crafted yet have obvious functionality. The show centers around the notion that the gadgets, cutlery, and dishware in today’s kitchens mirror the qualities of ideal homemakers: “polished, efficient, organized/contained, decorative/entertaining, and clean/tidy.” MORE
The Turkish delight was, in retrospect, a pretty big mistake. We were browsing a Middle Eastern market near our home in upstate New York, a festive, mom-and-pop place where I tend to buy way more than I need. It was winter — cars plowing down Genesee Street beyond the front window throwing plumes of brown slurry — and I needed a pick-me-up in the worst way. When I saw that box of candy, I was basically powerless to resist. It was obscenely large, the size of a cookie sheet or a generous end table, and it was on sale. For reasons that seem a little sad to me now, that candy felt like an opportunity.
My husband looked anxious when I approached the checkout line, box tucked up under my arm like a surfboard. Over the years, Rog has watched me eat a lot of things saner adults revile — like circus peanuts, or those pumpkin “mellocreme” things that taste like candy corn but are somehow worse. I’ve eaten marshmallows so old they’ve fused together in the bag and become indistinguishable. I’ve eaten gummi worms and gummi sharks and ancient, ossified Jujyfruits that threatened to yank the fillings from my head. My lust for sugar is disabling, literally self-destructive.
“I’m not helping you with that,” Rog pointed out. “You’re on your own here.”
“Did I say I needed your help? I’m perfectly capable, thanks,” I smiled.
I was already feeling better about my day.
I recently picked up a copy of Mediterranean Cooking. It’s an attractive book, with a pretty plate of pesto pasta on its cover and recipes that seem solid inside — each with their own full-sized photo. As I flipped through it, I thought about how it was the kind of cookbook I’d maybe like to cook with. Upon taking a closer look, I found the book was missing something major: an author.
At first, I didn’t believe such a nice-looking cookbook could be authorless. I looked even closer at the cover, searched for a name on the title page, and then flipped to find author information on the back dust jacket. No author name in sight. Just an anonymous cookbook packed full of creditless recipes. I wondered: Who wrote the introduction? Who created these recipes? Who gets credit for the cookbook’s success?
It’s certainly not a party of one in the Authorless Cookbook Club. I’ve noticed more and more authorless cookbooks cropping up. They usually deal with a trending food issue or ingredient. In fact, the market is now flooded with such titles: The Clean Eating Cookbook & Diet, Allergy-free Cooking for Kids, The Candida Free Cookbook, and all sorts of “Fill-in-the-blank for Beginners” books about canning and preserving, fermentation, juicing, the paleo diet, green smoothies, and edible wild plants.
While largely unspoken, it’s a widespread truth that just because a beer is “craft,” doesn’t necessarily guarantee it will taste good.
As the American brewing industry continues to grow, the topic du jour for many media outlets is saturation. When will the craft beer bubble burst? How many IPAs can consumers stomach? Is there room for new players in the community when microbreweries are competing against their peers and not the multinational beer conglomerates? Who gets the tap handles?
I personally believe one can’t have too many local beer options at one’s fingertips, but the discourse has aroused a nagging question in my head. For me, it’s not “how many breweries can one city handle,” but at what point do the quality operations rise to the forefront of the movement and the ones producing lackluster beer start to falter because their products are inferior? When do people start acknowledging that just because it’s “craft,” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good?
Looking over a typical day’s selection at the fishmonger, you might notice that the light pink flesh of a fluke, $12 per pound, looks remarkably like that of the pricier sole, at $16 per pound, right beside it. In fact, the two fillets could be swapped for each other and no one would know the difference. Unfortunately, this kind of seafood fraud happens much more often than you probably think.
This year, Oceana, an ocean conservation group, began reporting findings from its ongoing seafood labeling investigations. In July, Oceana found that nearly one third of 60 South Florida restaurants had mislabeled their seafood. In Los Angeles, Oceana found 55 percent of seafood had been mislabeled and in Boston, almost half (48 percent) had been mislabeled. Of 76 fish samples collected from 58 restaurants, 76 percent of samples had been mislabeled. When working with the Monterey County Weekly, Oceana also found that 7 out of 19 seafood samples (36 percent) were incorrectly identified. MORE
What are we talking about when we talk about food?
It’s almost easier to describe what food isn’t. Eggplant and potatoes become food if you cook them long enough to soften their tough fibers; if you did the same thing to paper, you could swallow it but not sell it as the hot new restaurant trend of 2013. Jell-O wobbles onto the dessert plate by way of proteins boiled out of animal bones, cooled, then boiled again at home; few other foodstuffs would still be considered comestible if subjected to the same treatment. Even plants and animals whose tissues are digestible, palatable, and nourishing might be overlooked as foodstuff if we are not taught to eat them: there were certainly many years that I threw away the leaves and stems of beets and carrots, not realizing that they too can be edible and tasty.
If you are an inmate in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s prison system, and you misuse food items, refuse to return uneaten food items, destroy or throw food items, or use food containers to throw human waste, you may be assigned a Behavior Modified Meal the state calls “Food-Loaf.”
The public recently had a chance to experience Pennsylvania’s Food-Loaf at Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary. The historic site was the world’s first true penitentiary; with the urging of the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons, the state opened the site in 1829. It aimed to inspire true penitence through isolation and silence. Eastern State closed in 1971, but in 2013, it was back to serving meals, if only for two days.
Believe it or not, there are some days when I welcome a lunch that smells like sweaty gym socks. At least that’s how Alex Greene, cheesemonger at Valley Shepherd Creamery, described the creamy, pungent block of Hudson Red he cut for me at the New Jersey cheesemakers’ Reading Terminal Market outpost in Philadelphia. But my days of stinky lunches could be numbered. The washed-rind, raw, cow’s-milk stinker is one of many that could be making its way onto the endangered species list — that is, if the government has its way.
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?
“I’d go with the Ewephoria. It’s under the ‘stoic’ category.” I scanned the menu for a description of “stoic.” It read “big, hard cheeses.” I peered over my glass of red wine from the Douro Valley as the attractive bartender flipped painstakingly perfect, wavy, grey-streaked hair out of his blue-grey eyes. I bet it is, I thought to myself.
The bartender at Tria, the Philadelphia wine and cheese bar, may have gotten the job based on merit alone. But placing attractive people at the front line of any business in the service industry isn’t just useful when it comes to female bartenders in nightclubs with barely-there outfits. The memory of an attractive person preparing your food or drink, no matter where it is, must stimulate some sort of pleasure center in your brain that keeps you going back. (It certainly keeps me going to a certain coffee truck between classes.) MORE
When I was young, I didn’t find too many vegetables palatable. I liked carrots, peas, and lima beans — all boiled and buttered — but would otherwise only eat produce to fill the quota to be excused from the table. When I started college, however, I was prepared to add more roots and leaves to my diet. To my mind, salads belonged to the world of adults; I was determined to belong to that world, so for lunch and dinner I dutifully filled a small bowl of raw vegetables to eat alongside my Southern college refectory’s chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes.
Pierre Bourdieu, a 20th century French sociologist, would argue that my transition into a dedicated eater of plants was not just a metamorphosis into maturity, but also a shifting of social position. MORE
In the 16th and 17th century, when the renowned painters of other European countries largely painted religious scenes and royal portraiture, the Netherlands developed genres of painting that reflected the mercantilist, increasingly secular culture that produced them. Wealthy merchants and other upper-class landowners had buying power to rival the Catholic church, and their patronage encouraged guilds to practice highly technical, sumptuous paintings of things: seashells and flowers, musical instruments, fine silver, and of course food — all improbably arranged onto an overflowing table and rendered in luminous layers of oil. MORE
“Oh no!” I heard my friend shriek from her kitchen. Had a mouse just run across her foot? Was an oven mitt on fire? Did someone put too much soap in the dishwasher? I couldn’t quite tell, but the loud slamming drawers and cabinet doors sounded rather serious.
“I can’t find it anywhere!” She came running back into the room, her hands full of various utensils. “What about a knife? Or maybe scissors?” she asked with a puzzled expression. “Do you know how to uncork a bottle with a fork?”
I’m a self-professed foodie, and it took me nearly three years to be able to say that. Learning about food is like learning about anything else—trial and error and lots of “learning as you go along”—and this story is no different. While some food lessons are more obvious than others (like removing bay leaves and adding cornstarch to cold water instead of hot), others can seem downright tricky. In my journey up until this point, I can think of no harsher (yet surprisingly popular) a lesson than learning about truffle oil.
The seemingly classy ingredient might very well be as crooked as the evil stepmother in Snow White, luring you in with false promises. When you think about quality ingredients, it’s not entirely uncommon to also see an increase in price, like better beef, organic produce, or vanilla beans instead of extract. So when looking at a bottle of truffle oil, everything seems to make sense. At $30 for a bottle just over three ounces, it has to be good stuff; the yellowish liquid surrounding the few flecks of actual truffle sitting peacefully down at the bottom. When I first saw it, that bottle of oil seemed so authentic and impressive until I did a little research.
I’m a firm believer that size doesn’t actually matter. At 5-foot-9, I’m pretty tall for a woman, though I’ve never had a problem dating a shorter guy before. I’ve lived happily in apartments both tiny and large. And I don’t fear any size portion of food put in front of me.
The very same rule applies to my wine. I see nothing wrong with the powerful, dark fruity blasts of pleasure that complex red wines so generously offer. In fact, I often desire them. But with these big-bodied, bold-flavored deep reds, it’s not uncommon to also find heightened levels of alcohol, and not everybody loves punchier wines as much as I do. Others loathe them, running in the other direction when they hear the phrase “high-alcohol wines” being used.