Category Archives: Literary

What I’m Reading: Food Magazine Edition

I always enjoy hearing what books, magazines or blogs my friends are reading, so in case you do too I thought I’d share a few food magazines I’ve been reading lately. First off, let me say I love food magazines. Whether I’m admiring the gorgeous photos, discovering new ingredients or finding inspiration within the pages, I’m hooked. This past week I’ve been reading two food magazines that diverge from mainstream food magazines, and in doing so provide a refreshing take on food and cooking.

sated

sated magazine

This brand new food magazine was founded by two Bay Area food bloggers, Anita Chu of Dessert First and Stephanie Shih of Desserts for Breakfast. I first stumbled across Stephanie’s blog through Food Gawker and was enchanted by her food photos, which reminded me of still life paintings because of their dark shadows and artistic arrangements. The duo of bloggers have outdone themselves with the first issue of their magazine: Thoughtful, interesting and well-executed, sated infuses the food magazine scene with elegant images and quality content.

The Dark Chocolate Issue of sated is brimming with beautiful photos of chocolate and chocolate desserts as well as recipes galore, an essay on the history of chocolate, an interview with a chocolate startup and a guide to Bay Area chocolate artisans. I was delighted to open the magazine and find a poem written by a friend from church, Annelies of the blog The Food Poet. There are no advertisements cluttering the pages of the magazine, just 90 full-color pages of chocolate inspiration. I’ll admit that it took me a few months to cough up $18+shipping for the issue, but I’m not in the least bit sorry I did — this magazine is going to be displayed on my coffee table, not crammed among my other food magazines on a bookshelf. Paired with a few artisan chocolate bars, sated would make a great Christmas gift for the foodie in your life. The next issue is coming out soon, so bookmark the blog for the latest info.

Gastronomica

gastronomica

I should make this clear from the get-go: Labeling Gastronomica as a food magazine is a bit of a misnomer because it is actually a scholarly journal. There are no recipes in Gastronomica, no features deciphering the five latest diet trends, no roundups of the best 10-inch skillets. What’s the appeal, then? Gastronomica’s subhead“The Journal of Food and Culture,” provides a clue: culture. You don’t have to be a sociologist to realize that our Western culture is obsessed with food. This journal takes a step back and asks such questions as How do we interact with food and what does this say about us? What can we learn from food cultures different than ours, whether in a different part of the world or a different century? Through personal essays, poems, book reviews, art critiques and interviews, the writers posit their answers to these kinds of questions.

The lastest issue, Fall 2012, contains an article that food bloggers may find particularly relevant: “Dishing It Out: Food Blogs and Post-Feminist Domesticity.”Author Paula M. Salvio examines several top food blogs—The Pioneer Woman Cooks, Smitten Kitchen, Cannelle et Vanille—through a scholarly lens and attempts to reconcile her feminist ideals with the seemingly un-feminist domesticity that is prevalent on many food blogs. Whatever your take on feminism and domesticity, the article is certainly a fascinating read.

Gastronomica runs $12.99 a pop, but the 130+ page journal will provide hours of reading time and plenty of fodder for thought projects.


Heirloom Cookbooks: A Peek Into the Past

“Grandmother’s spicy kitchen with its gay curtains, neat rows of pots and pans, and loaves fresh from the oven is a heritage granddaughter treasures. Around that kitchen centered the heart of the home. Through it strong characters and good communities were built.” These are the introductory words to a cookbook I was recently given by my grandma. Lest you think the grandmother referred to in the cookbook refers to my grandma’s generation, consider this: the cookbook was published in 1942. That means the granddaughter mentioned would have been my grandma and the grandmother would actually be my great, great grandma.

cookbooks

I don’t remember either of my grandmas cooking much, but even so, I treasure the vintage cookbooks passed down from both grandmas. Today I’d like to share a few snippets from the Granddaughter’s Inglenook Cookbook, which was published in Elgin, Illinois in 1942 by the Brethren church. This cookbook is a revised version of the first Inglenook Cookbook, which was published in 1901. As you can imagine, the forty-one years between 1901 and 1942 brought great changes to kitchens and grocery shopping, and thus a new cookbook was needed to serve a new generation.

When I opened the cookbook, the first thing I noticed was the Baking Table on the inside cover. If your oven didn’t have a thermometer, there was an easy way to determine the temperature: bake white flour. If the flour turned light straw color in 5 minutes, the temperature was 250-350°F. If it turned golden brown, the temperature was 350-400°F, and so on. The Baking Table also lists the temperatures and time to cook bread, pies, potatoes, meats and more.

Take a look at the recipes and you’ll realize how important the cooking times and temperatures are. For example, the recipe for Pocketbook Rolls simply directs the baker to “Bake in hot oven.” No temperature or cooking time is given, but the reader can always refer to the Baking Table inside the front cover.pocketbook rolls

I also find it fascinating how simple the recipes are written. Consider this recipe for Crackling Corn Bread:

Crackling Corn Bread
Cut cracklings
1 qt. cornmeal
1 c. sour milk
½ tsp. soda
1 tsp. salt
Warm water
Heat the cracklings. Combine rest of ingredients, using enough water to mix well. Add to the heated cracklings, stirring thoroughly. Bake in a moderate oven.

This recipe doesn’t indicate the quantity of cracklings or warm water or what size pan to use or how long to cook the corn bread. Reading a recipe like this makes me realize that much of what is detailed in today’s recipes was once common knowledge. I like to think I know a fair bit about cooking, but by my great-grandmother’s standards, maybe I don’t know so much after all.

Just as passing years bring changes in clothing trends, so they bring changes in food trends. A few of the recipes in the cookbook made me chuckle for that very reason. Take, for instance, Health Drink.

Health Drink
2 pkg. raspberry jello
2 c. orange juice
4 c. hot water
juice of 2 lemons
Add water to jello and let cool to room temperature. Add juices, ice and serve, or place in refrigerator in jar to cool after mixing with fruit juice.

health drinkYes, friends, a Jello-based health drink. It’s hard to imagine making this in 2012. Then again, Gatorade and Powerade are pretty much the same sugar bombs, aren’t they?

The US has been known as a melting pot for generations, so I was curious to see what recipes were in the International Cookery section. I discovered a few Hungarian sweets, several African recipes that used peanut butter and taro root and many Chinese dishes. There were also four pages of recipes from India, which immediately grabbed my attention because Sam is from neighboring Pakistan. Yes, there was Dhal Curry with the traditional onion tardka; the funnel cake-like jalebies; and pillau, a more obscure rice dish (and one of Sam’s favorites). Who would’ve thought that here in a cookbook from 1942 Sam’s and my heritages would meet? pillau

There are too many interesting snippets from my heirloom cookbook to share with you in just one blog post, so I plan to make this a regular type of post on my blog. I’ll still be doing my usual recipe posts, but you can expect more peaks into the past regarding everything from stain removal tips to canning and candy making.

heirloom cookbooks

Still Life: The Days of Unprocessed Food

Hello Friends! I’m out of town this week visiting Chicago. Since I haven’t been doing any cooking and have decided to not take pictures in restaurants anymore, I thought I’d share a few food-related images from my visit this morning to Chicago’s Art Institute.

I love studying these still lifes—especially the four from the 17th century—because they provide a glimpse at life before processed food. The vegetables are wild and beautiful with their uneven contours, and the dead game is a solemn reminder that meat didn’t always come wrapped on Styrofoam trays wrapped in plastic. There is one thing, though, that hasn’t changed in the hundreds of years since these still lifes were painted: mankind’s fascination with and celebration of food.

Cotan Still Life with Game Fowl 1602

Juan Sanchez Cotan: Still Life with Game Fowl (c. 1602) What variety of fowl! These four birds trump the generic chicken and turkey I eat.

Snyders Still Life with Dead Game, Fruits, and Vegetables in a Market 1614

Frans Snyders: Still Life with Dead Game, Fruits, and Vegetables in a Market (1614) The abundance of this painting reminds me an “I Spy” book. Do you spy the pickpocket?

Claesz Still Life 1625

Pieter Claesz: Still Life (1625/1630) A lavish banquet: the lemons, olives, sweetmeats and tableware are luxuries only the wealthy could have afforded.

Barbieri Kitchen Still Life 1640

Attributed to Paolo Antonio Barbieri: Kitchen Still Life (c. 1640) I was drawn to the simplicity of the foods in this painting: a basket of chestnuts, two wheels of cheeses, almonds, currants and mushrooms—the offerings of the land.

Renoir Fruits of the Midi 1881

Pierre-Auguste Renoir: Fruits of the Midi (1881) Renoir probably painted these colorful peppers, eggplant, citrus and pomegranates while traveling along the Midi, the Mediterranean coast.

Harnett For Sunday's Dinner 1888

William Michael Harnett: For Sunday’s Dinner (1888) In person, this painting looks eerily realistic. My queasiness, however, turned to delight as I realized this naked bird was going to be Sunday’s Dinner.

 

Cherry Alive

Bowl of cherriesIn 1909 poet George Sterling christened San Francisco “The Cool, Grey City of Love,” and over 100 years later, the epithet still holds true: it is a dreary, cool, grey day here in San Francisco. As the rain spills forth from the clouds, the usual hum of cars in the street crescendos to a whoosh. And though it feels more like November or March, there is one thing that reminds me it is May 17, a month shy of summer: this bowl of tart, sweet cherries sitting on our counter.

Every time I think of cherries, the phrase “I am cherry alive” starts running through my mind. The phrase is actually the first line of a poem by the same name. I never memorized anything beyond “I am cherry alive,” so I decided to look up the rest of the poem in The Random House Book of Poetry for Children. While the poem is sweet in portraying the unabashed wonder and delight of a child, it savors of sadness at the impending loss of a carefree childhood. In a way, I think that’s appropriate for this rainy, spring day—a mix of mirth and melancholy.

I Am Cherry Alive

“I am cherry alive,” the little girl sang,
“Each morning I am something new:
I am apple, I am plum, I am just as excited
As the boys who made the Hallowe’en bang:
I am tree, I am cat, I am blossom too:
When I like, if I like, I can be someone new,
Someone very old, a witch in a zoo:
I can be someone else whenever I think who,
And I want to be everything sometimes too:
And the peach has a pit and I know that too,
And I put it in along with everything
To make grown-ups laugh whenever I sing:
And I sing: It is true; It is untrue;
I know, I know, the true is untrue,
The peach has a pit,
The pit has a peach:
And both may be wrong
When I sing my song,
But I don’t tell the grown-ups: because it is sad,
And I want them to laugh just like I do
Because they grew up
And forgot what they knew
And they are sure
I will forget it some day too.
They are wrong. They are wrong.
When I sang my song, I knew, I knew!
I am red, I am gold,
I am green, I am blue,
I will always be me,
I will always be new!”

Delmore Schwarz (1913-1966)

Can there be a Righteous Porkchop in the Age of Swine Flu?

righteous-porkchop300wide375high1News of the Swine Flu is becoming a pandemic,  spreading faster than the flu itself: “Swine Flu” is a “Trending Topic” on Twitter; the school where my mother teaches in a virtually at-no-risk region of California sent home two letters (in one day!) on the Swine Flu; and 7 of the 32 my “Latest Headlines”  tab from the BBC  are about the Swine Flu.

With all this talk about swine, I thought it an appropriate time to share about a book I recently heard a lecture on, Nicolette Hahn Niman’s The Righteous Porkchop. Just hearing the phrase “Swine Flu” makes me want to stop eating pork, but according to the BBC Q&A page on Swine Flu, it is OK to eat pork (cooking it to the proper temperature would kill the virus). Nonetheless, the prevalence of Swine Flu encourages me to ask the butcher where my meat came from, and this — knowing where what we eat comes from — is one of the main things I took away from Nicolette Hahn Niman’s book lecture.

As an environmental attorney, Nicolette Hahn Niman (then just Hahn — she hadn’t married rancher Bill Niman yet) was sent by Robert Kennedy Jr. to investigate pollution caused by pork producers.  Her research led her to discover the unnatural practices in raising and slaughtering pigs and other animals for food. In her book, she delineates some of these cruel practices and the negative effects they have on the communities and environments where these farms are located.

With all these terrible things occurring, asks Nicolette, ” Can there be a righteous porkchop?” Yes, she says, there can. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago when natural and humane hog farming techniques were the norm rather than the exception. So while comprehending the magnitude and prevalency of the cruel practices of the hog farming industry can be disheartening, we needn’t count it as lost. After all, the biggest obstacle to change, says Niman, is a sense of inevitability of where the situation is heading. One audience member asked, how can we who are not hog farmers or environmental lawyers help bring about change? “Vote with your dollars” was Niman’s reply. If the demand for humanely treated products increases, so will the supply.

This blog didn’t give an “answer” to the Swine Flu (nor did it attempt to) or to the hog farming predicament, but hopefully it has sparked in you a little curiousity about where your food comes from before it reaches the table.