Lessons from “The Great British Bake Off”

I binge watch cooking shows. Instead of reading intellect-stimulating tomes such as Homer's The Iliad (who amongst you can say that you have???), lately I've been spending my precious time on earth transfixed by Paul Hollywood's piercing blue eyes, calmed by Mary Berry's soothing voice, cheering on the indomitable bakers of "The Great British Bake…

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A Pinch of Alchemy: Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat

"Anyone can cook anything and make it delicious." That's what chef/teacher Samin Nosrat promises, right up front, page 5, in her stunning debut - Salt Fat Acid Heat. Everybody loves an optimist. And I count Ms. Nosrat among that merry band of people, those who amble through the world with a smile on their faces, their…

Seeking Food at the Crossroads of History

When it comes to the kitchen, I've always been a seeker, a pilgrim in a more modern sense of the word, "A person travelling to a place of particular personal interest."* It all began on a diesel-perfumed street corner in Puebla, Mexico. I stood in the shadow of a broken streetlight, sunshine and sweaty bodies…

Cooking with Wolves (Or, Keeping the Wolf Away from the Door)

There's a whining at the threshold, There's a scratching at the floor. To work! To work! In Heaven's name! The wolf is at the door! ~~~C. P. S. Gilman The season of gift-giving will soon be upon us, with the mail deliverer knocking at our door, bearing credit card bills, not gifts. The holiday season hovers…

Relishing the Cranberry: A Real American Original

Bad cranberries don't bounce. Bad cranberries don't float. Bad cranberries sink. In fact, cranberry growers bounce their cranberries seven times over a four‑inch high barrier before packing. Imagine buying unbagged cranberries in the grocery store, with savvy shoppers chasing after red berries boomeranging all over the produce section! Who has ever seen fresh cranberries sold…

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…

Muscling in on Mussels

In Dublin's fair city, where the girls are so pretty I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone As she wheel'd her wheel barrow Thro' streets broad and narrow (Chorus) Crying "Cockles and Mussels alive, alive O!" Alive, alive O! Alive, alive O Crying Cockles and Mussels Alive, alive O! She was a fishmonger,…

The Harvest Months

The frost descended on the pumpkin the other night and in the early morning light, as I drove around the curving roads of rural Virginia, a dozen cows stood silhouetted and blanketed in thick white fog. Eerily outlined against the fading green of the sparse grass they munched, for some reason those cows reminded me…

Women and the Building of America: Reflections

Last night, I stayed awake far longer than I normally do, reading Gayle Forman's new novel, Leave Me. The hook for me was "Every woman who has ever fantasized about driving past her exit on the highway instead of going home to make dinner, and every woman who has ever dreamed of boarding a train…

Day 2: Oysters – Celebrate American Food History

Jonathan Swift once quipped, "It was a brave man who first ate an oyster." And an even braver one who pried open the shell without special gloves and knives. Actually, it's more likely that our hero (or heroine)  used a rock to smash into the mollusk. Oysters kept people alive in the early days of colonial North America,…

Transform Your Aching Soul with Cooking

Photo credit: C. BertelsenLiving today’s hurry-up-run-run-run-faster-faster-text-text lifestyle tends to blunt contact with more earthy things, like cooking. The act of cooking offers something that the stiffest drink or most potent tranquilizer cannot. Dare I say it out loud? It’s even better than sex, in a way. Especially when chocolate is involved, but that’s another story…

Who is a Chef? Who is a Cook?

There's a lot of confusion out there about just what constitutes a "chef" versus a "cook." Oh yes, and it's a question that many writers have tried to answer. Nothing new there. I'm a big believer in defining terms, realizing of course that terminology and words change meanings over the years. But, that said, and…

Science: The Missing Ingredient in the So-Called Art of Cooking

Every chef should be a scientist too. How so? Cooking changes the chemical and structure of food. Therefore, understanding these changes would help a lot when perched in front of the stove, whisk or wooden spoon in hand. Over the last several weeks, I’ve watched more episodes of the popular American TV program, “Chopped,” than I…

From Mother Russia with Love: A Fish in Every Pie

The kulebyaka should be appetizing, shameless in its nakedness, a temptation to sin. ~~ Anton Chekov, "The Siren" Fish dishes abound in Russian cuisine, in large part because of the Russian Orthodox Church’s strict rules on fasting during Lent other times of the year. But we cannot ignore the simple fact that fish thrive in…

Food and Memory

I stood at the curb, on a corner of Insurgentes Sur in Mexico City, tapping my foot impatiently, watching the traffic hurtling by at 7382 feet above sea level, dozens of men hanging on to ladders hooked to swaying buses, diesel smoke spewing from exhaust pipes, and tinkling mariachi music fading away in the roar of…

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…

Christmas in the White House: President Benjamin Harrison’s Carlsbad Wafers and His 1890 Christmas Dinner

President Benjamin Harrison, being a card-carrying participant of the Gilded Age, and his wife Caroline Scott Harrison served an unusual dinner on Christmas day, 1890. (The menu follows below.) Unusual in one way. Carlsbad Wafers. Huh? The mention of Carlsbad Wafers stopped me in my tracks for a minute. Like a curious cat, whiskers trembling,…

December 12: The Virgin of Guadalupe

Patron Saint of Mexico and the Americas Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes once said that "...one may no longer consider himself a Christian, but you cannot truly be considered a Mexican unless you believe in the Virgin of Guadalupe." Apocryphal or not, the story of the Virgin of Guadalupe makes fascinating reading. And the food's pretty…

Real Mayonnaise, Real Food? Or Just Sanctimonious Snobbery?

It’s not REAL mayonnaise. You know the one I mean. Mayonnaise – made with egg yolks, an acidic liquid, a dash of mustard, salt, and oil, usually olive – feels as smooth and soft as a silk pillow, sliding like thickened cream across the tongue. There’re no startled taste buds in the presence of too much…

Eating like a Lumberjack

The Black Bear Camp Skillet Served with Cherokee Sweet Corn Pone, Fresh Fruits, Cheese Grits, Hunt Camp Potatoes, Cathead Biscuit, Sausage (Sawmill) Gravy, and Thick Griddle Cake with Maple Syrup. A Sizzling Combo of Country or Sugar Cured Ham, Pecan Smoked Bacon, Sausage & 2 Farm Fresh Eggs any style $13.95 I recently spent several…

A Case of Culinary Illiteracy

It wasn’t just the Thai language and its lacy script that rendered me illiterate. So also did the sheer variety of ingredients, the creatures – crawling, swimming, splayed, and grilled – and the vast range of vegetables and fruits on display in the Warorot market in Chiang Mai, Thailand. My adrenaline levels soared as if…

The Gaza Kitchen: A Portrait of Cooking and Culinary Exile

Cookbooks, if you look closely, contain more than recipes. Even when recipes predominate - in books with no headnotes, contributor names, nothing more than ingredients and methods - you learn a lot about the people who wrote the books. By scrutinizing the text, you develop a sense of what’s important to the authors and the authors' intended audience.…

The Gift of French Cuisine

The French peasant cuisine is at the basis of the culinary art. By this I mean it is composed of honest elements that la grande cuisine only embellishes. -Alexandre Dumaine I don’t remember exactly when it happened. One day I resisted even opening my then-pristine copy of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking…

Tomato Sauce with Butter: Thinking About Marcella Hazan, My Nonna in Spirit

My little brother took his first breath on a cold day in February, when doctors still made house visits and new mothers still spent days in the hospital. And that was good, as far as I was concerned, for during those 4 or 5 days that my mother lay exhausted in the maternity ward, I…

Moonstruck, a Meditation on Earth’s Moon

The crescent moon rises in the early night sky, a scythe among the clouds, sharp against the fading blue and the sun's dying light. Cooking by the light of the full moon, the shadows in the corners illuminated, tugging at my mind. I bend low, hunting for a knife to chop the onion, slice the…

* New Bibliography Available, on Southern Food & Cooking & Stuff

Anyone who reads my blog regularly knows that I love books passionately, especially cookbooks and any books about food. Because of my current emphasis on foods and cooking and foodways of the American South - tied as all that is to social change and the influx of new population groups - I have created a…

Weaving the Ties that Bind, One Bite at a Time

I stood by the wooden fence, peering over the barbed wire fringing it like a lace collar. For some reason, I couldn’t focus the camera lens clearly on the Holstein standing a few yards away. The cow gazed back at me, her jaws moving with the steady precision of a slow motor. When I stooped…

From Russia with Love: Cooking Utensils

The theme of next year's Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery centers around "Food and Material Culture." The spoons captured my interest and so I decided to take a quick peek at other utensils. I never get tired of looking at the tools that people created for cooking their food, food that gave them the…

Ivan Day: Master Food Historian

Those of you with a tremendous love of food history will be happy to know that Ivan Day blogs with all the beauty and erudite authority of his spectacular recreations of historical British food. (Yes, British food!) Take a look both his blog - Food History Jottings - and his regular Web site - Historic Food. You'll…