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If you go to New York City’s Ellis Island, you’ll see a display of some of the items people brought with them over a century ago, during America’s great wave of immigration: heavy brocaded clothing; a fez; sepia photographs of stiff, unsmiling people; porcelain dolls with frizzled hair; silver spoons; terrifying brooches; and a coconut.
Were these things left behind on the ships? Did they have to be surrendered? I don’t remember. What I do remember is the coconut. The coconut I understand.
Jenny and Minnie, two sisters who passed through Ellis Island back then, would have understood it, too. They’d probably never seen a coconut, but they’d understand it was, for someone, what home tastes like.
Continue reading The taste of home »
Several hours after David, my father-in-law, died, my mother called. “I’m making a brisket,” she said.
“Now?” I glanced at the clock. It was 7:30 in the morning.
“I know.” Then her voice wavered. “I couldn’t think what else to do.”
None of us could. We couldn’t start making the awful phone calls and funeral arrangements quite yet. We couldn’t sleep — and hadn’t. We were overwhelmed by details like showering and getting dressed. So my husband, Benjamin, and I sat amid a war zone of crumpled tissues and held each other. We waited for our hearts to stitch themselves together; we waited for the world to make sense.
Continue reading Brisket in bereavement »
The air inside the small greenhouse at Vermont’s Kingsbury Market Garden is warm from the cooking compost and heady with the fecund fug of tomato leaves. The fragrance is both dusky and divine, with hints of basil. The tomato vines, cleverly staked with cables suspended from the greenhouse ceiling, hang down thick, lush, and jungly, bearing abundant red, ripe fruit. You can feel what my husband, a man not usually given to religion or poetry, called the chi of the tomato.
Chi — Chinese for “life force” — is the very thing you don’t get with most commercially grown tomatoes. We know from author Barry Estabrook (and, sadly, from personal experience) what commercial tomatoes are: pallid, tasteless, and baseball-hard, not to mention unsustainable, unethical, and, might I add, utterly lacking in sex drive.
Continue reading The chi of the tomato »
Food prices are high. So’s unemployment. In a perverse way, this could be good news. Some of our most exciting culinary times have grown from poor soil. During the worst days of food shortages and ration cards, M.F.K. Fisher taught us how to cook a wolf (1942).
Frankly, many of Fisher’s recipes from that time scare me. However, I’m totally behind her belief that even in dire times — especially in dire times — we have to live, and we might as well do it stylishly. To her, it meant mock duck made with breaded flank steak. To me, it means rice and beans.
Continue reading Beans and ricely yours »
Friends and parties are two instances where I think less is not more. A cozy dinner for four? Lovely, but let’s invite you, too. You’ve got a friend in town visiting from Austin? Excellent. Bring him along. Your babysitter cancelled? Bring your kid. Oh, and her playdate. And bring the babysitter — she broke up with her boyfriend, she’s bereft, and I’m hoping my almond-and-pear torte might cheer her up. Our gorgeous guy friend might cheer her up, too. Let’s see if he’s free Saturday night. Remember when he introduced us to that real fun couple? Didn’t they used to live in Austin? Let’s invite them, too.
Continue reading Party girl »
I wasn’t a voracious eater as a kid, but I was a voracious reader. I read books and stories, sure, but also street signs, cereal boxes, magazines, billboards, and ketchup labels.
And cookbooks, like my mother’s Joy of Cooking. I read them as if they were storybooks. Each recipe told a tale — the ingredients were the characters, the preparation was the plot. Each recipe was a total, page-turning thrill.
Take beating egg whites — could the slimy, transparent stuff at the bottom of the bowl really whip up into something huge, white, and fluffy? And how could the egg whites lift and rescue the cheese sauce for the soufflé? Would they all live happily ever after? No way! It would all go wrong!
Continue reading Child’s play »
To honor surviving their first year in a new land, the Pilgrims wanted to celebrate with a special feast. I felt the same way after my first year in Tokyo. I hadn’t done too badly as a new bride in a new culture. My husband and I were clearly gaijin — foreigners. I couldn’t read hiragana or katakana — Japanese characters — but I could navigate my way around the city by foot and by subway. I could chat with the woman who ran the noodle shop downstairs from our apartment — if the conversation didn’t go too far.
Continue reading A Tokyo Thanksgiving »
The universe exists by certain immutable laws — gravity, physics, stuff like that. I accept these rules even if I don’t always understand them. But sometimes a girl’s gotta buck the system. I do not accept the fact that zucchini bread — or any quick bread — needs multiple cups of sugar and oil to taste good.
I like zucchini. Even now, late in summer, when it’s as ubiquitous as Lady Gaga (without the odd wardrobe). And I like zucchini bread. Jasmine tea and zucchini bread have seen me through tough times more than once. Over the course of years, the perfect zucchini bread became a quest, without me even realizing it. It’s genetic. Food obsessions run in the family.
Continue reading A definitive vegan zucchini bread »
My beans are up, bursting from the soil in rows of earnest green shoots. The cowpeas, tiny purple black-eyed beauties, are a gift from my friend Muriel Olivares of Little River Market Garden. Big-hearted in the way that farmers are, Muriel gave them to me to plant as soil-enhancing, nitrogen-rich cover crops before I grow my vegetables in the fall.
I love legumes, but only from the eating end. Often slagged off as poor man’s meat, beans are indeed cheaper than meat and are little powerhouses of plant-based protein. I prepare beans every which way: black-eyed peas with fennel, crowder peas with tomatoes and okra, curried mung beans, white beans with lemon and sage. Now, thanks to Muriel, I’m growing them.
Continue reading The bean field »
Editor’s note: This piece first appeared on the Huffington Post.
The ongoing BP oil spill has pretty much beaten me into submission. It hasn’t slowed down my eggplant, though. The plant’s leaves are, like the rest of us in South Florida, limp from the heat, but it’s produced one last harvest — hearty, plump, and glossy, with stylish lavender and white striations.
Rich in fiber and antioxidants, eggplant is a nightshade. Like its fellow nightshade the tomato, it’s actually a fruit, and is about as versatile. You can prepare eggplant a bazillion ways, and through the ages, every ethnicity has.
Continue reading Still, life with eggplant »
What brings together the mayor of Miami, a couple of the city’s hottest chefs, local farmers, Haitian refugees, tatted hipsters, inner-city residents, and guys in suits?
Jewel-like heirloom tomatoes. And fresh, locally grown collards, carrots, eggplants, green beans, loquats, and more. It’s all happening at Roots in the City, Miami’s newest farmers’ market and a magical convergence of cultures.
I’m skeptical about magic. I’d like to have faith in the universe’s benevolence and all that, but usually I find we’ve got to help it along. Roots in the City has had some serious magical muscle behind it, including the folks at Miami-Dade’s Human Services Coalition; local CSA maven Michael Schwartz, the chef of Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink and a recent James Beard Award winner; and Michel Nischan, a chef and the author of Sustainably Delicious.
Continue reading Roots in Miami »
Strawberry season came late to south Florida this year, but with magical abundance.
I took a visiting friend berry-picking on a perfect day — temps in the 70s, humidity miraculously low, the sky cloudless and Atlantic blue, the sun spilling a beneficent golden light over all. Our growing season is when the rest of the world still shivers, and the U-pick fields were alive with proof.
I crouched in the damp, mineral-fragrant earth with my baskets and pails, foraging for strawberries, full and red and glistening like jewels hiding beneath their canopy of broad green leaves. These small, low-to-the-earth plants are called plugs. Not a glamorous name. The glamor goes to the strawberries themselves.
Continue reading Strawberry magic »
Editor’s note: We welcome Florida-based writer, vegetarian, and cook Ellen Kanner to the Dinner Guest Blog. Bon appétit!
The secret to dancing is not being afraid to fall. So says my dance instructor. Easy for her. She’s not the one falling.
I’ve been falling, and I have not been liking it. But I pick myself up and keep going.
The only place I’m not afraid to fall — or fail — is the kitchen. For this, I credit my paternal grandmother. She could not cook. Her leatherlike scrambled eggs used to make me cry. But she was effortlessly gifted in the ways of lemon cakes, coconut layer cakes, sour cream coffee cakes, brownies, sugar cookies, and liar’s cookies, those ground-almond confections rolled in so much powdered sugar, you couldn’t deny eating them — you’d be dusted and incriminated as soon as you bit into one.
Continue reading Culinary choreography »
|Invited bloggers on the subject of food.|
Most of the time with cooking and eating, the rules are clear.
An American native
A father’s legacy
The vegetarian-cooking pioneer
Cracking a Filipino favorite