Let Me Count the Ways: St. Valentine’s Day 101 (Yes, There’s a French Connection)

Remember the old shoeboxes for valentines in your grade school classroom? How you'd decorate your box with all sorts of frou-frous and hope the cute little boy (or the cute little girl) with the dimples would give you a valentine card, one of those mass-produced things? In school, at least, probaly no teacher ever told…

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SUGARPLUM VISIONS: Christmas Cookies

...visions of sugarplums danced in their heads. ~~Clement C. Moore~~ " 'Twas the Night Before Christmas" Happy Holidays to all readers and visitors to Gherkins & Tomatoes / Cornichons et Tomates! I will "see" you again on January 2. 'Tis soon the season to be jolly. And to bake cookies, the sugarplums of today. I'm…

Cooking with Saint-Pierre (John Dory)

As it fell on a holy-day, And vpon an holy-tide-a, Iohn Dory bought him an ambling nag, To Paris for to ride-a.* ~~ Child Ballad #284A: "John Dory" I first met John Dory at the open-air fish market in Rabat, Morocco. He's a solitary soul. Doesn't hang out too much with his own kind. And…

East is East and West is West: Pondicherry and French Curry

In Pondicherry, Pondichéry, or Puducherry as it is now called again (since 2006), you still see streets sparkling with old colonial buildings, dating back to a time when passersby heard French spoken daily. Yet, those buildings, policemen's hats, and a fully functioning French lycée or school, are among the few overt signs that you'll notice…

La Malbouffe, Oui ou Non? Fast (Ethnic) Food and the French

If you saw the following headline  pop up on one of the many news feeds streaming into thousands of computers around the global, you might think, "Oops, some editor didn't ingest their caffeine fix in time!" French Get the Taste for Fast [Ethnic] Food (Click on the link above to read the article that inspired…

Gifts of French Food: Blogs to Hold in Wonder

With each gust of drafty air from the front door, the candles  shimmer, and the flickering light scintillates off blood-red wine glasses and the golden gilt rimming them. Your mouth rounds in an "O" as you see the table for the first time. The sight never fails to cast its spell as, for a brief…

Nougat Noir, or Black Nougat, Another of the Thirteen Desserts

A Provençal gros souper (Christmas Eve dinner) would not be correct without some nougat noir to challenge the skill of your dentist and possibly lay waste to your dental work. In other words, nougat noir can be a bête [bite!] noire*, if you're not careful. For nougat noir is a hard candy, not the pillowy stuff…

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…

Is Cooking Necessary?*

No, it's not. That's your immediate answer, isn't it? After all, you've got more important things to do, don't you? Or do you? You can live your life without cooking. You can go to your nearest grocery store and bypass all the technology and knowledge that took your ancestors centuries to refine. You can buy…

Hamburger Heaven, or the Global Burger: A Medley of Recipes

Hot weather does funny things to people, especially to cooks. Certain instincts crop up at about the same time that air conditioners crank up the juice. Primeval visions prevail, usually of smoldering coals and roasting meat, prompting the almost daily obeisance to that great American tradition, the summer barbecue grill. And summer just wouldn't be…

Coconut Groves and Coconut Dreams

"Columbus had no idea, of course, of the almost infinite ramifications of his voyages on the way future people would eat." ‑‑Raymond Sokolov‑‑ Why We Eat What We Eat(1991) Trying to get the meat out of a coconut is like trying to pull a tooth without Novocain, a very painful process. I know---I tried to…

Saffron: The Gold We Eat

Once used as money instead of gold in Don Quixote's Spain, saffron costs upwards of $1000 US per pound. Indeed, the world's costliest spice.  Most likely you will not have ever seen saffron for sale in your local grocery's spice department. Knowledgeable customers ask the store managers for it; they keep it behind the counter,…

Pass the Nostalgia, and Nix the Organics

I’ll be blunt: I like my food with a heaping handful of nostalgic romanticism. Yes, there are those who claim that the present food landscape sparkles with the dreamy hue reminiscent of rose-colored glasses, that the perfume of nostalgia permeates too much of present-day “discourse” on food. And then there’s the flip side of that…

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…

The British Melting Pot

I recently ran across these books, mentioned on an interesting British Web site providing glimpses and glances at cookbooks published in Britain, cookbooks that we here in the US of A rarely see. Maybe it's my imagination, but it seems that the British cookbook market features more books concerned with other cultures and not so…

Cooking Fish — Let Us Count the World’s Ways: Africa

It's Lent. That means fish to a lot of people, even today, despite the relaxed rules of the Church. But how to cook fish? How to get past Mrs. Gorton's Fish Sticks? Many, many ways. Let's look at what people around the world do to get fish from the seas, rivers, and lakes from their…

Dig for Victory! Locavorism in Eons Past

Looking at the past almost always calls up that old adage: "There's nothing new under the sun."* Take locavorism's wartime antecedents ... As these WWII posters from England's "Dig for Victory!" campaign prove, the idea of local foods is not one whose time has come, but whose time has come again. Aimed at encouraging the…

The Gifts of Food Bloggers

To celebrate the holiday season, and the Twelve Days of Christmas as it were, I'd like to raise a glass of premium Belgian ale --- Chimay to be sure --- to a number of food bloggers whose work I admire. Each of the following blogs inspires me, prods me, and awes me. Each day feels…

In the Kitchen with Barbara Kingsolver: I

I'm going to bed every night now with Barbara Kingsolver's latest book, The Lacuna: A Novel, about Mexico, politics, art, El Norte, and --- best of all --- cooks. After her last book (Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: A Year of Food Life), Kingsolver still finds food a fascinating part of life. In The Lacuna, here's how…

The Backyard Beekeeper’s Honey Handbook

Many, many cookbooks focus on cooking with honey. The Backyard Beekeeper's Honey Handbook: A Guide to Creating, Harvesting, and Cooking with Natural Honeys, by Kim Flottum (2005, reprint 2009) goes a step farther. Flottum takes readers on a journey into the production side of honey as well as the cooking and eating side. According to…

Can You Stomach It?

A continuation of our fascination with fish stomachs ... The following fish tale comes from Elie Hunt, a member of the Kwakuitl Nation of British Columbia. Her husband, George Hunt, translated her account into English between 1908 and 1914. A relatively rare example of oral history, worth sharing. (I'll confess that my visceral reaction to…

“Curry & Rice” on Forty Plates: The British Raj Encore

In 1859, George Francklin Atkinson, a captain of the Bengal Engineers and a writer of some imagination as well as artistic skill, published "Curry & Rice" on Forty Plates: or the Ingredients of Social Life at "Our Station" in India. Illustrated with forty drawings, or the "plates" in question, Atkinson's fictitious account of life in…

Iran: The Beauty of an Ancient Cuisine

Once upon a time, my brother married a beautiful young woman, an exile from Iran. And at their wedding feast, which she and her mother and sister cooked, I ate Persian food for the first time. Such intricate flavors and ingredient combinations, each mouthful a celebration of life and love. And when she, her mother, …

Reveling in Books: Catching Fire

“If there hadn't been women we'd still be squatting in a cave eating raw meat, because we made civilization in order to impress our girl friends. And they tolerated it and let us go ahead and play with our toys.” Orson Welles, actor, director, producer, writer (1915-1985) My big Homo-sapiens brain caught on fire while…