Journeys versus Destinations: Initial Comments on a Sojourn in Indonesia

I too for years have been stirred by the sight of a solitary cloud drifting with the wind to ceaseless thoughts of roaming. ~ Matsuo Basho, The Narrow Road to Oku I cannot forget his face. Soaked with sea water and sweat, grimacing with the physical effort of his daily labor, the lines telling of…

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In My Grandfather’s Garden, or, a Long Apothegm on Apricots

I don’t really remember my grandfather very well, for he died just a month before I turned 14. Yet he left a legacy that lies hidden deep in my brain, a usually dormant place where I apparently shelve all my food memories. But in the right circumstances, and with the right stimulus, that place –…

Keep Calm and Carry On: Cows as Zen Masters

The cow stood there, stoically it seemed to me, chewing with lazy abandon, while I fumbled with the focus on my camera. She rolled her big weepy eyes, as cows are wont to do when confronted with something new. Coincidence or not? I pressed the shutter and peered at the tiny LCD screen, the sun's…

Mushroom: A Global History – New book coming out

I am thrilled to announce that my new book about the culinary history of mushrooms is due out in September 2013. A sneak preview: Known as the meat of the vegetable world, mushrooms have their ardent supporters as well as their fierce detractors. Hobbits go crazy over them, while Diderot thought they should be “sent…

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…

* Biscuits and Buttermilk: A New Year and New Directions

After a long fallow period, spent baking (and eating) many Christmas cookies, I have decided to bloom/cook where I am planted, so to speak. Lately I’ve become more intrigued by the cuisine that surrounds me, here in the American South.  After all, I've basically been a Southerner for over 30 years. Although many cookbook authors…

With Time and Frost, Things Fall Apart

Fall can be a bittersweet time, a time to look forward to cool-crisp nights, hearty meat-and root-vegetable stews, and the smell of burning leaves, that is, you're allowed to burn them where you live. On the other hand, the coming of fall and frost signifies the end of the growing season, and the beginning of…

The Meat of the Matter: A Question of Sacred Reverence

Meat eating presents modern society with a bit of a dilemma. How to raise and slaughter large numbers of animals under humane conditions, while keeping the price down and within wallet reach of most consumers? That's the major issue, tinged with other, often moralistic, questions. First, right up front, I am not a vegetarian, and…

The Zen of Artichokes

I love autumn. If it’s not the leaves and all the color, then I find poignancy in the drying and dying weeds littering the ground. They embody survival to me. One plant I particularly love is a thistle-like plant, filled with tiny seeds attached to billowy white parachutes. The least puff of wind forces the…

Another Holy Trinity of the Kitchen: The Magic of Milk, Eggs, and White Flour

Every time I pour crêpe batter into my 8-inch Teflon*-lined crêpe pan, I see deep scratches, the ones that Habiba made with the fork she used while cooking a three-egg cheese-and-herb omelet one wintry Moroccan morning. The scratches don’t affect the pan’s performance, just as wounds and scars don’t fundamentally change who we are and…

Two Moons and a Ksar

It’s funny how sights, sounds, and smells trigger memories, isn’t it? Tastes, too. When I photographed a blue moon the other night, a very specific image bubbled up for me.* Perhaps, in a way, you could deem it a Proustian madeleine moment. Although I didn’t really eat anything. Standing there, trying to keep the camera…

Waiting for Pears

I bought four very green, very hard pears four days ago. Waiting for them to ripen made me think about how quickly everything happens in our lives today. There’s something soothing about watching the ripening process, something profound actually, because no matter how much I might have wanted to make a pear cake, I just…

The Curse of Corn: Poverty and Politics and Pellagra

Dr. Joseph Goldberger stands watching the children eating. He's about to prove his hunch that pellagra occurred in the face of nutritional deprivation. He devoted years to discovering what caused the curse of corn, pellagra. Although the fat cats in the South of the time, and we’re talking early 20th-century here, didn’t want to spend…

Worshipping Different Gods … The French (Food) Reformation

People throughout history reveal their preoccupations through their architecture, artifacts, and the written word. These aspects reflect what matters to societies at various times. It comes down, in a way, to questions of taste, not just alimentary, but cultural and moral. The fashions, the trends, the modes of the day pass and morph into others…

The Last Vineyard in Paris? Clos Montmartre

Through the seasons of the year, the Montmartre vineyard prevails ... the temple of Bacchus no longer sits on the steep slopes and the vineyard covers only a small portion of prime real estate, 1500 square metres to be exact. Benedictine monks in the 12th century produced wine here, their monastery destroyed during the French…

Lavender, France’s Balm for the Soul

The lavender lingers on my sloping hillside, autumn rain running in rivulets between the dying leaves. At summer's peak, the purple flowers tantalized the bees and butterflies and me, the glorious scent perfuming the air of evening and morning both. No lambs frolicked in the lavender this year, but maybe someday a friend's weanlings will…

The Joy of France: Open-Air Markets I

Markets in France reflect a long tradition of local foods, now sadly giving way to supermarkets like Franprix, Monoprix, and Intermarché, but still holding their own. With any justice at all, such markets will continue as the local foods movement takes firmer root.

The Man Who …

... in a way ...  holds the future of French cuisine in the palm of his hand, French Agricultural Secretary Bruno Le Maire: Given this short biography, it's not clear where farming enters into his background: Bruno Le Maire became Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries in June 2009. Prior to this appointment he was…

The Bibliothèque Nationale de France and Me, Etc.

Dear readers of Gherkins & Tomatoes /Cornichons & Tomates, Soon I will embark on a great adventure, doing research on France's colonial empire at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and the Archives nationales d'outre mer in Aix-en-Provence, thanks to a grant from the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Until I return, I will not have the…

Famine in Somalia: Why are Food Writers Not Talking about the Black Horse?

"When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, 'Come!' I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, 'A quart of wheat for…

Le Potager du Roi, a Kitchen Garden Fit for a King

Winter still chills those of us north of equator and so the time has come to dream of gardens and kings and and cabbages and things like seed catalogs. A while ago (OK, more than a while!), because of the burgeoning trend nowadays for local foods and backyard gardens --- the most famous being the…

Vitis, Vin: Gift of Life

Reach out a hand and take the ruby fruit, gift grown of sun and rain. Vitis. Grapes. Gift too of earth, of chalky soil, sloping and stone-filled, redolent with vistas and vast horizons. Hard toil, yes --- certainly this truth the hands of peasants knew. Cutting and pruning, trimming back. Thus, from that harsh care,…

A Taste Sweeter Than Meat, More Ancient Than Wine

Olives, pungent, demanding, a taste acquired. Their beauty belying their bitterness, their hardness. Sunshine and human hands transform tartness into fragrant fruit and nectared oil --- fare of  peasants, armies, kings, and saints. From ancient, twisted roots comes timeless provender, oily, meaty, food until long journeys' end. Spread out under the vast sky, waiting for…

Disappearing Act: Will Centuries-Old French Fruits and Veggies Go the Way of the Dodo?

According to an article (in French) recently posted on the ASFS (Association for the Study of Food and Society) discussion list (a great list for people interested in food and culture in all their permutations), 25 --- yes, 25 --- familiar fruits and vegetables  --- many that you might consider quintessentially French ---  will soon…

The Potager of Thomas Jefferson: A Kitchen Garden in Photos

Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, that amazing genius and inventor, and --- according to the late food writer, Karen Hess --- probably America's first real gourmet. Any lover of books, art, architecture, wine, and food should dream of visiting this place at least once. [Note: It's the only house declared a UNESCO World Heritage…