THE GOURMAND AWARDS

Just a note - life's busy - to share the shortlist for The Gourmand Awards. "What is that," you might ask? Here's their take on it: "The Gourmand Awards are the major Food Culture event in the world. They started in 1995 for cookbooks and wine books, at Frankfurt Book Fair. They now include all…

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Cooking with Hurricane Irma, Part I: Tomatoes Breathing Fire: A Universal Sauce

I am of the unpopular opinion that no one owns cuisine. In spite of UNESCO decrees and loud cries from the lecture stand or pages of popular books, the fact remains: Food and ingredients travel with people. People share food. People love food. People want the recipes. Or at least the basic facts about how…

What’s Cooking in Kenya? Ugali, Sukuma Wiki, and the Food of Barack Obama’s Father’s Childhood …

"When two locusts fight, it is always the crow who feasts." Nigerian saying quoted in Barack Obama's Dreams of My Father An article in The Times of London stated that Barack Obama's Kenyan family, members of the Luo group, to celebrate his presidential election victory, slaughtered four bulls, sixteen chickens, and a number of sheep…

They Called it Callaloo

Stuck off the beaten track, but surrounded by the heavy traffic of a congested city, the Grand Market in Virginia Beach, Virginia is not an easy one to pinpoint, even with GPS  tracking technology. But "Sam's" voice droned "Turn right, then left," and somehow  I managed to avoid the motorcycle on a kamikaze path to my…

A Juneteenth Commentary: Edna Lewis and the Myths Behind Southern Cooking

Powered by the mythology that has grown up around Southern food over the last several years, many voices claim ownership, hurling harsh accusations of cultural appropriation, and silencing and shaming contrary opinions. The argument is not easy to prove, as it remains hampered by a lack of statistics, contemporary documentation, and clear evidence of outright…

African Cuisines: Cookbooks for Exploration and Discovery of Superb Flavors

Only one of this year’s new releases in print cookbooks covers the cooking of Africa, unless you count books about Moroccan cooking by Fatéma Hal and Z. Guinaudeau, as well as Kittee Berns’s Teff Love: Adventures in Vegan Ethiopian Cooking. The rest only come in Kindle editions, a medium which is not my first choice…

Peanuts and the Cooking of West Africa

Writers throw out the words "African cooking" all the time. I know. I have written same words, to my great embarrassment. But stop and think about something for a moment. The term "African cooking" is just as ridiculous as calling the cooking of Europe "European cooking," lumping together the cuisine of France with that of…

Cassava, One Rugged World-Traveling Ingredient

Cassava, for me, remains the Sleeping Beauty of Latin American  kitchens. I remember clearly the first time I ever ate cassava. I was sitting on a porch in a Paraguayan boarding house, torrential rain streaming hard off the thatched roof. I really didn't know what I was doing there, on so many levels. Behind that wall of water, the cook - a…

Grits on the Menu: A Short Treatise on a Global Favorite

Big Hominy Grits (Photo credit: James Bridle) These days, when you drive through the endless piney woods of low-country Georgia and South Carolina, you will see fields of corn, and not so much cotton. And, if you're lucky when you stop for breakfast, there will be grits on the menu. Not just any old grits,…

Thinking About Rice in America: The Black Rice Theory – Mysteries, Myths, and Misconceptions

Note: My point here, and elsewhere, on my blog and in my work, is to present information in as truthful a manner as I can, in order to raise questions and, hence, awareness. The truth is that there are more than ways than one to look at issues. Blindly accepting points of view only serves…

Hoppin’ John, or Dashing Myths Galore

(Due to a foul up with WordPress and dates, this post appeared on December 30. I was not finished with it yet!  But now I am!) Black-eyed peas, a gift to the New World from Africa. These beans were there as early as 1659 at St. Louis, now present-day Senegal, but they actually originated in North Africa, in…

With Roots in East Africa: Okra, a Veritable World Traveler

Yesterday, while driving across the vast expanse of South Carolina, I noticed dueling billboards, advertising Margaret Holmes canned goods and the Glory line of fresh chopped collards and Bruce's Candied Yams. So I decided to repost this while I look more deeply into the foods eaten in Africa prior to the tragedy of the African…

Hey, Wait a Minute: Glimpsing What’s Really Behind Words like “Ethnic”

NOTE: Today marks SEVEN years since I first started writing this blog. It's been an interesting journey, with many bends and curves along the way. It's fascinating to observe the increasing awareness of how language defines so many cultural attitudes and reveals long-held biases. Take a recent article, "Why Everyone Should Stop Calling Immigrant Food 'Ethnic,'" by Lavanya Ramanathan, a Washington…

Gleaning the Lessons of Wandering

This summer is different from all other summers. This summer I’m signed up for a weekly basket of local, organic vegetables from the rented land of some starry-eyed young farmers. And this week’s bounty included four cucumbers ranging from Lou Costello plumpness to Bud Abbott skinniness, six carrots resembling the clown-twisted balloons available at all…

Vivre en l’Outre-Mer, or, The Trials of Living in French Congo ca. 1923: Part III

Once settled into their bungalow overlooking Stanley Pool in Brazzaville, the Vassals faced the problem of hiring household help, especially a cook. Unlike many Europeans, they found a cook who knew his business, of whom Gabrielle wrote: I am glad, too, to have a change from German cooking.* Our primitive black Matamba is far superior…

The Smoke of Many Fires: A Meditation on Cooking Fires in Africa*

I still smell the smoke of many fires, its pungency hauling up memories, deep from that hidden place where forgotten things wait until the right atoms collide. With each of my slow short breaths, a picture of West Africa emerges, behind my eyes where I can see the past scrolling like a Technicolor movie. The…

Prometheus Unbound: New Evidence on Humans’ Early Use of Fire

I woke up this morning fully intending to end my two weeks of silence on this blog - due to familial obligations - with a preliminary examination of the role of ducks in French cuisine. But that alluring topic took a sudden backseat when I opened up my local newspaper and read, "Humans May have…

Vivre en l’Outre-Mer, or, The Trials of Living in French Congo ca. 1923: Part II

Like many writers of her era, Gabrielle M. Vassal tended not to be very complimentary of Africans in Life in French Congo (1925) and compared them negatively and constantly to the Asians she'd known during her sojourns in Vietnam and China. She recorded her experiences during a trip to Libreville early during her stay in…

Vivre en l’Outre-Mer, or, The Trials of Living in French Congo ca. 1923: Part I

When the French government appointed Dr. Joseph Vassal, Englishwoman's Gabrielle Vassal's French husband, Head of Health Services for Equatorial French Africa (A.E.F.), he exclaimed happily to her, "Je suis nommé en A.E.F." Naturally she asked, "What's A.E.F.?" So he replied "Afrique Equatoriale Francaise," and pointed to Gabon, Tchad, Oubangi-Chari, and the Congo, with its capital…

Eggplant, Out of Africa

Known in Britain by 1587, the "Guinea squash," as people originally called it, white, shaped like an egg, eventually became known as "eggplant." Around the same time, a cousin of this plant appeared, the "purple menace," as I call it, and it took over. The "Guinea squash" receded into the culinary backwaters of Europe. The…

Why Do We Cook?

What does it mean to cook? Some - Harold McGee for example - would say that cooking means to prepare food by heating, while others, such as historian Rachel Laudan, extend the definition to include modes of preparation beyond heating. I tend to agree with the latter and not the former. So, with that sticking point…

What the Crystal Ball Never Reveals: A Few Words about Blogging

A writer [and photographer], I think, is someone who pays attention to the world. ~ Susan Sontag I missed my anniversary this year, for the first time. Five years ago, I started blogging, and began writing regularly (or at least fairly regularly), for myself and not for deadlines, not because of external  “whip wielders” such…

The Little Fish with Big Taste: The Much-Maligned Anchovy and its Cousins

When I finally discovered that anchovies (Engraulis encrasicolus) weren’t just for crappy pizzas anymore, I was pretty long in the tooth, so to speak. It took me a long time to even dare to add anchovies to the food I cooked. In that, I am not unlike other cooks over the centuries: What if I…

Doing What’s Necessary: The Logical Outcome of Haute Cuisine, or, An Extremely Brief Meditation on the History of Privies and Toilets

I came face to face with the truth about outhouses on my first day in my Peace Corps village. Not that I’d never seen (or used) an outhouse before; I became intimately acquainted with the concept during the summer I worked as the assistant cook on an archaeological dig in Ozette, Washington. There, the pit…

The Story Behind a Kitchen-Counter Sweet-Potato Patch

There’s something about sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) that I cannot seem to shake. Maybe there’s some sort of cellular memory thing going on, like perhaps my ancestors sat around somewhere, gratefully chewing on roasted sweet potatoes, surviving a dry spell in food production. A good reason to foster a sweet potato patch. We Americans now…

* “We raise the wheat, they give us the corn” : a reflection on life in antebellum Virginia

Not too long ago, before the snow fell and kept falling, I drove down to Critz, Virginia, the homeplace of Virginia tobacco baron, J. R. Reynolds. Reynolds's parents, Hardin Reynolds and Nancy Jane Cox Reynolds, owned  several hundred slaves, who worked the 717-acre Rock Spring plantation. One of these slaves went by the name of…

*”Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new”: A Sweet Potato Rhapsody

“Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new,” or so confessed St. Augustine, a Catholic saint born in 354 A.D., in what is now Algeria. And I, I could also say the same, about many things. One of them being sweet potatoes, a beloved Southern staple.** It was a Thanksgiving Day. I…

* A Cuisine Created by Slave Women: A Review of Kitty Morse’s Mint Tea and Minarets, and a Brief Word about Dadas**

Dealing with the death of beloved parents takes a great toll on people, leading them on journeys of self-discovery often not possible while parents still live and breathe and exert influence on their adult child’s life. Rarely does settling up an inheritance take sixteen years of patience and hair-pulling, constantly reminding the bereaved of their…