Tuesday, October 19, 2010 2:28 PM
In his 1826 landmark The Physiology of Taste, Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote “Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es”—literally, “Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you what you are.” That imperative has always struck me as stereotypically French, sort of goofy (I am canned soup?) and, frankly, judgmental. That hasn’t, of course, stopped food cultists from carving Brillat-Savarin’s commandment into stone, and if anything the old gastronome’s words have become an increasingly shame-based creed in our present culture of hyper-conscious—and hyper-conspicuous—consumption.
Secular transubstantiation has always been a subtext of both the ethics and the aesthetics of cooking and eating, but thankfully the history of food writing is full of entertaining stuff that owes more to decadence than duty. Plenty of it, in fact, does little but pay slavish devotion to the muse Gasterea (Brillat-Savarin felt obligated to create a tenth Muse), and celebrates in often eccentric terms the pure pleasures of chow.
Darryl Campbell over at The Millionshas a nice short history of food writing that ranges from Brillat-Savarin to Anthony Bourdain (although it curiously manages to avoid a single mention of M.F.K. Fisher). Somewhere in there, though, you will find this quote from a typically prophetic George Orwell: “We may find in the long run that tinned food is a deadlier weapon than the machine gun.”
Source: The Millions
Thursday, December 03, 2009 3:01 PM
According to legend, the Ghanaian dish pepper soup is able to protect people who eat it from influenza epidemics. The overwhelming heat of the peppers is enough to scare away most people of European dissent, but it can also reward those who can stomach the spice. In the latest issue of Gastronomica, Adela (Mary) Blay Brody writes a touching ode to her beloved pepper soup. She includes stories from her grandmother of how the dish warded off European colonialists (for a time) and she also explains how she acclimated her husband to the spicy African food. She also provides a recipe for a variation of the dish, with the spice dialed down for the faint hearted. She writes:
Dear reader, please don’t fear to come to my house for dinner. I have learned over four decades how to modify my dishes for every palate. Starting with my husband, I have cooked to make non-Africans weep tears of pleasure, not pain, as I adapt my recipes and add new ideas from around the world.
Source: Gastronomica (article not available online)
Monday, October 05, 2009 10:59 AM
You know that funny little red thing on the top of a rooster’s head? It’s called a cockscomb, and as Francine Segan recounts for Gastronomica, it’s very tasty:
What are these morsels that look like the fingers of a doll-sized woolen globe? . . . We take a taste. The spikes are slightly gelatinous, with hints of delicate frog-leg flavor. “Delicious” is the consensus.
Segan stumbles upon this rare ingredient on a trip to the Piedmont region of northern Italy, where cockscomb is a vital ingredient in a stew known as la finanziera, a 200-year-old dish that also utilizes a rooster’s wattles and testicles (among many other ingredients). The cockscomb seems to be the star of the show, though, which makes sense given the amount of work that goes into its preparation:
Cleaning the cockscombs, which have a thick outer skin loaded with feathers, is a labor-intensive task. The feathers are plucked, and any tiny strays are burned off with a flame. The cockscombs are then washed, blanched, and soaked in lemon juice to loosen the tough skin. The entire staff, even the busboys, gathers around the kitchen table every Wednesday to peel off this outer layer. “You have to handle the crests gently, like a beautiful woman, so as not to ruin the pretty tips,” Chef Beppe laughs.
The article isn't available online, but if you're up for a cockscomb adventure, track down the Summer 2009 issue of Gastronomica—Segan includes two recipes (including one for la finanziera) at the end of the piece.
Image by Tennessee Wanderer, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, September 18, 2009 4:36 PM
Canned food is one of the more underappreciated staples of the human diet. According to James Parker, writing for the Boston Globe ideas section, the humble canned food—invented by a Frenchman and industrialized by the British—is “an instrument of culture,” diffusing knowledge across borders, “agent of dietary democracy” understated in its transnational diplomacy. It’s also a symbol of rich philosophy, standing for “asceticism, separateness, lack of nurture, the dignity of the mental life.” Let the snobs scoff at the understated value of the canned food. Parker writes:
Let’s face it, we can’t all be cooks. And for those of us unattached to the soil, amicably divorced from Nature, to whom the seasonal tang and the fibrous crunch of freshness are matters of indifference, civilization has made a single marvelous provision: canned food.
Source: Boston Globe
, licensed under
Friday, August 21, 2009 10:22 AM
Curing your own meat is easy—and there are many artful ways to display your hunk-of-meat work in progress, as Yolanda de Montijo explains in the new issue of Meatpaper (article not available online). Once you’ve begun your quest to cure your own salami, prosciutto, or pancetta, she writes, “you are faced with a challenge that many an artisan curer has pondered: Where to hang?”
De Montijo offers a number of fun (and functional) suggestions, including the “kitchen hang”— which “gives your kitchen an immediate pastoral or country look, as though you could just as well be churning butter or turning out garlic braids. Be sure to hang it away from direct sunlight”—and the “full frontal hang,” wherein “you simply pick any workable place in your living space without regard for aesthetics or the squeamishiness of houseguests. Corners work well—especially those near the front or back door.”
For her inaugural home-cured pancetta project, De Montijo chooses the closet in her guest bedroom, which houses her slab o’ salted pig flesh for a couple of weeks. It seems like a good option for the urban curer: “It’s likely to maintain a consistent temperature, and in hot weather you can leave the door ajar, or set a fan nearby for air circulation.” But, she warns, “check regularly to see that your clothes or other items don’t embrace the smell of the meat. More than you want them to, anyway.”
Image by marcelo träsel, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, July 13, 2009 9:57 AM
In the latest issue of Meatpaper, Chris Ying deconstructs our love for watching men masticate curious things on television. His equation—dubbed the "unattractive men/unattractive meat narrative" or "UM/UM"—is this: “the weirder-looking you are, the weirder the food you have to eat.” He writes, rather scathingly, that UM/UM explains why “an acid-washed porcupine” like Guy Fieri is forced to scarf the slickest, homeliest burgers in the country (though he seems to dig it), while bitsy Giada De Laurentiis tucks away much tidier pieces of chicken and the occasional mini meatball. After grappling briefly with the consequences of his media equation, Ying has these final words:
In all honesty, we can’t really blame television for overfishing, or for lousy, overpriced renditions of street food in upscale restaurants. Nor can we blame TV for aspiring housewives lusting after organic home gardens and Hamptons beach houses. It’d be like blaming porn for teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease. It’s all just entertainment. And at the end of the day, food television, like porn, is irrevocably and essentially unsatisfying. They keep turning us on, but we keep watching, mouths watering and agape in horror.
Image by sashafatcat, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, July 01, 2009 11:07 AM
The Atlantic claims your summer cocktail could benefit from gourmet ice. Are you rolling your eyes? Well, when Wayne Curtis investigated the issue, mixologist Toby Maloney clued him in: “Ice is as important to a bartender as a stove is to a chef.” He goes on to say that, “You’d never tell a chef he could have only a stove-top burner or a fryer. And I couldn’t do without at least three or four different types of ice.”
In fact, fancy ice can range in style from standard crushed ice, to chunk ice that must be chipped and shaped, to “oblong blocks that fit perfectly into a Collins glass.” Each drink, in turn, requires a different sort to suit its chilling needs. Curtis himself is clearly a convert, and performs his own experiment between a drink made with “cheater ice” and one made with the good stuff. According to him, if you’re looking for “a richer taste” and “a denser, almost velvety texture,” choose your ice wisely, friend.
Image by Jökull Sólberg Auðunsson, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, December 01, 2008 10:33 AM
As food magazines go, Diner Journal sits triumphantly atop a slew of mediocre reads. Whether you have the inkling to delve into a bit of gastronomic prose or tie on your favorite apron and cook the night away, Diner Journal seamlessly melds the literary and culinary arts.
Read Charlotte Kamin’s “Donut Peaches & Time” in the Fall 2008 issue, an excellent swatch of food writing on pickling with her ex. Kamin tells the charming, yet awkward, story of how the two former lovers learn and relearn the canning process to cope with the discomfort of no longer being a couple. Further paging through, you’ll discover recipes to pickle your own everything: cucumbers, kimchi, and green tomatoes.
In “A Matter or Mouthful,” Jess Arndt and Amos Owens disclose the making of moonshine, or rather, the consuming of it:
Moonshine, bootleg, white lightning, crazy Mary, popskull, panther’s breath, hooch. One night in the hot armpit, of a country summer I thrashed through the buggy backdoor and into my bare-bulbed kitchen. My roommate (who also likes taking pictures of himself standing in used car lots wearing Mexican wrestling masks) was making moonshine. There was a mason jar on the table. Clear as water, thick ripples beckoning small greasy hurricanes on its surface.
I drank it.
Meanwhile, people all over New York are carting in soil to cultivate their own food, according to Peter Hale in his essay “A Series of Gestures.” He reminds the reader of World War II's Victory Gardens, community vegetable patches grown in support of the troops and to alleviate the financial burden of war. Victory Gardens produced 40 percent of the food consumed annually in the United States. Hale contends that growing your own food, even in the city, is both responsible and possible.
Published quarterly out of Brooklyn, New York, the ad-free Diner Journal is the rural-minded urbanite’s dream come true, sharing an appreciation for fresh, natural foods from the center of a bustling metropolis.
Friday, June 27, 2008 5:28 PM
We’ve all received them as gifts: prettily packaged cookbooks with titles proclaiming the excellence of the food you’d be able to devour if only your pantry could store all of the items on each recipe's page-long ingredient list. Finally, someone’s calling them what they are—useless tabletop decor. Writing for British current affairs weekly the New Statesman, Nicholas Clee suggests that independent publishers (specifically the UK houses Grub Street and Prospect Books) are more apt to deliver food writing and recipes "that [are] intended to be of more than ephemeral interest."
Clee's food column sits with the magazine's hefty arts and culture section, a phenomenal collection of criticism and discussion that earned the newsweekly a 2007 Utne Independent Press Awards nomination for arts coverage. Well into 2008, the New Statesman remains a breath of fresh air on both the cultural and political fronts. The June 23 issue includes commentary on master sitar-player Salil Tripathi's farewell concert, and a review of the 1988 documentary Afghantsi, lamenting the lost art of television documentaries.
In the same issue is a discussion of Barack Obama’s "first presidency," his editorship at the Harvard Law Review back in 1990. The writer digs through some back issues of the journal and speculates that perhaps his legal career never took off because “Obama, despite being a lawyer, is a really good person.”
Thursday, March 06, 2008 11:45 AM
A 2007 UIPA nominee for best writing and best design, Maisonneuve delivers food coverage in its Winter 2007 issue that pleases the visual, verbal, and vegetarian. OK, maybe not the last one, since the magazine opens with a piece on lapsed vegetarianism under the header “Iron Deficient Dept.”
After dismantling meat-free dogmatism, Maisonneuve offers up another battle for believers. The chart-article, “Methodists vs. Quakers” puts the denominations head-to-head in a potluck showdown, where Quaker silence prevails over Methodists who sing “twinkly worship songs” during supper. Deeper analysis goes into “Dining Among the Saints,” which connects Mormons’ fondness for the packaged foods of the 1950s to their cultural conservatism.
In another article, molecular gastronomy ignites debate over whether science can cohabitate in the kitchen with time-honored tradition. And if this is your first entrée into exotic eating, why not start it off with a light snack of scorpions?
Monday, January 28, 2008 11:10 AM
Gastronomica editor Darra Goldstein talks to Utne.com about her savvy, luscious, and provocative food journal
interview by Sarah Pumroy
You could say Darra Goldstein has her plate full. She’s the founder and editor in chief of Gastronomica, the journal of food and culture that won the 2007 Utne Independent Press Award for social/cultural coverage. The quarterly is a labor of love she produces with the help of a part-time managing editor and design director while managing her work as a professor of Russian studies at Williams College. She’s also the author of four cookbooks and numerous scholarly books and articles.
Each issue of Gastronomica bursts with articles that inform, conjure the senses, and reflect on the cultural impact of food. And each issue brings a bounty of content that ranges in style, format, and gravity, from playful poetry to weighty investigative pieces. Utne.com spoke with Goldstein about how she got the idea for the journal, what makes for good food writing, and why the glossies’ food coverage is worth reading, even if it sometimes falls short.
You have a Ph.D. in Slavic Languages and Literature. How did you become interested in writing about food and where did the idea for Gastronomica come from?
I’ve always been interested in food. When I started graduate school I wanted to write my dissertation on food and Russian literature. Because there are so many themes of eating in Russian lit, I just thought it would be a wonderful dissertation to write. This was back in 1974, and my professors told me it was not a serious topic. So I did a different dissertation on a Russian modernist poet. I’m not sorry that I did that because it enabled me to enter into a really wonderful world, but I couldn’t stop thinking about food. I got the job at Williams and was teaching Russian literature but I was also continuing to write about food on the side. The two lives were very distinct: the Russian scholar and the food writer. It was almost as though what I was doing had to be secret, a little bit illicit, because I wasn’t supposed to be doing it. But I couldn’t help myself.
I thought there must be other people like me who were working in their own disciplines but were really interested in food and culture, and there was no place for us to talk to each other. That’s when I got the idea for Gastronomica. I wanted to create a journal that would give legitimacy to food studies in academia. It’s very much a crossover journal; I don’t want it to be a dry, academic thing. I want lively writing but I also want it to help food studies be seen as a valid discipline.
What makes for good food writing?
One of the problems that I’m seeing now in academia is that food has become very hot. A lot of people are starting to write about food but are coming at it from the intellectual side, which is important because not enough people think about food in serious ways. But if they haven’t ever spent any time in the kitchen, if they’re not thinking about the textures of food and the smells and the taste and the way food is transformed in the kitchen—the sensual side—then the writing ends up sometimes informed, but more often a little bit flat because they don’t have that more visceral connection to it. Sometimes I’ll accept a piece that’s entirely sensual. It doesn’t always have to be overlaid with cerebral thinking.
How do you find a balance between the creative and academic pieces?
I try to put the issues together so that they feel balanced. The poetry appears in every issue; that’s really important to me. The artwork is another way of exploring the sensuality, the beauty, and the aesthetics of food, which I know isn’t food writing but it captures a certain dimension of it that otherwise would be lacking. There are always two articles in the investigation section that are the ballast for each issue, and those are the most scholarly ones. And with the others I try to find a good balance between something that’s more like a memoir and something that’s more like investigative journalism.
You’ve criticized the popular press for its upbeat, candy-coated coverage of food. Why do you think this is the tendency of the mainstream magazines?
First, I want to say that I subscribe to all those magazines and I take them to bed at night. I enjoy reading them, and I write for them, so even if I critique them it’s not that I don’t think they should exist. But there is also a place for a deeper and darker exploration of issues surrounding food. With the trade magazines people want to be entertained and enter a fantasy world. It’s a larger problem with American culture—the happy face, as though we should always be smiling. Smiling is good, but we also need to explore things critically and analytically. When you talk about food, the pleasure component is important, but there are also problems of hunger, food security, the environment, the food chain and the toxins that are introduced into it. These issues need to be explored.
How has the magazine changed since it was founded in 2001?
When I started, I was insecure. I felt strongly that Gastronomica had to be serious to prove itself as an intellectual journal. I no longer feel that insecurity; I think that it has proved itself. Now I feel freer to be more playful, to have articles that are pushing against certain norms. For instance, in the May issue there will be an article that I find very disturbing, and I think readers will, too. It’s about an artist who harvests her own eggs. It’s a social commentary on caviar and the egg as a luxury good and the way women sell their eggs to make money. It’s a perfect Gastronomica article because it’s looking at food, but it’s also horrifying and pushing against the edges of good taste. I would not have had the courage to publish that early on, when Gastronomica was still getting established.
What do you hope readers will learn from Gastronomica?
I hope they will take tremendous pleasure in discovering how wide-ranging the world of food is; that it’s not limited to cooking. You can take almost any aspect of life and look at it through the lens of food and discover something new about it.
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