Tag Archives: food

What We Eat Vs. Food Culture

Nicholas Hune-Brown describes how foodie trends don’t reflect most of what Americans actually eat.

The gap between the food we cook and the food we talk about has never been larger. Culturally, it’s the same gap that exists between The Americans—the brainy FX spy show that seems to have nearly as many internet recappers as viewers—and shows like the immensely popular and rarely discussed NCIS. Breathless blog posts about the latest food trends can feel like certain corners of music criticism, pre-poptimism, when writers would obsess over the latest postrock band that was using really interesting time signatures while ignoring the vast majority of music people listened to on the radio. The food at Allrecipes is the massively popular, not-worth-talking-about mainstream.

This is another example of how the culture of media people or the culture of the places where most news writers work chafes with middle and small town America. I don’t think it has to be an uncomfortable chaffing, but writers should be aware of it. Food writers may love to write about what’s new and different and extol new theories of nutrition and flavor, but eating has many ties to traditions, personal comforts, family, and even ceremony. We don’t cook for critics; we cook to bless the people at our table (sometimes that just ourselves). And around the holidays, our family traditions (or a specific rejection of them) are like a fuming stew pot, filling the air with expectations. If food writers don’t share our traditions and comforts, if they have deliberately rejected them for personal or professional reasons, then they’re going to push us away from their table to some degree. We may still appreciate what they have to say, but when it comes to actually eating, well, we may ignore them more often than not. (via ArtsJournal)

Alton Brown: Memphis Is #1 Town

The Eater Upsell podcast talked to Alton Brown this month about his books, his road show, his Food Network shows, and his food philosophy. There are many highlights, but one that stands out to me is his big shout-out to Memphis, Tennessee.

Outside of Memphis proper is this doughnut place called Gibson’s, which makes not just the best doughnut in the United States but, as far as I’m concerned, if all the other doughnuts went away and I still had Gibson’s, I’d be okay. They’ve also got the best chicken, and maybe the best hamburger in the United States.

He also gives credit to Starbucks for being the “game changer” in American food culture. Now, many of us are willing to spend $4 on coffee and look forward to fancy third-wave brews.

What’s funny, though, is I think that we’re more sophisticated as eaters than cooks. You know, I know people that can detect the difference between whether we’ve made the bouillabaisse with, you know, Turkish saffron or Iranian saffron, but couldn’t cook the seafood in the bouillabaisse if you held a gun to their head, you know, so — we’ve become far more sophisticated as consumers. Whether we have as cooks or not, I don’t know.

Reading The Lord of the Rings as Spiritual Food

“Why is the Lord of the Rings so good at nourishing the spiritual flame?” asks Professor Bruce Charlton. “I think the answer is metaphysical – in other words, it is related to the basic set-up of imagined reality which structures the story and the ancillary material.

When people say that Middle Earth seems real – realer, in a sense, than this earth – this is what they probably mean.

It is not convincing characters, nor detailed landscapes and maps, nor the specifics of languages and history that sets Tolkien’s mythic world apart from any other I have encountered; it is a step back from all that: the sense that everything fits together in a deep and coherent fashion.”

Better Food for a Better World

The first book of Gregory Wolfe’s new literary imprint, Slant, is almost out. It’s satire by Erin McGraw, called, Better Food for a Better World. Publishers Weekly has a nice discussion with the author about it:

McGraw says that the part of her that loves Charles Dickens took pleasure in inventing outsized characters behaving in outrageous ways. “Once you’ve created an over-the-top world, you’ve got a fat contortionist and anything else you want.”

The publisher also has a much longer interview with McGraw.

Worst Movie Gadgets

There was an awards show the other day, wasn’t there? I must have been making another mediocre omelet again. I tell you, ever since I watched videos of Julia Childs and Jacques Pepin making omelettes, I have tried to make my omelettes better than ever. I’ve succeeded in part, but I usually make only a decent one, sometimes a flavorless one. My egg and cheese bagel this morning was pretty good, despite the smoky scent all over the bagel. I know. You hate it for me.

Anyway, lists like this on worst gadgets ever used in movies strangely appeal to me. Here’s their take on the main character of The Terminator movies, the robot itself: “Now we know what you’re thinking. That the Terminator is actually an incredibly cool ‘gadget.’ But look: he shouldn’t even be in his own films. Kyle Reese clearly says that ‘things with moving parts’ cannot be sent back through time, in order to explain why he doesn’t have a ray gun, and why the robots don’t just send a big bomb back through time to kill John Connor. So how did the Terminator get back to the present day? ‘He’s covered in human skin.’ So why not just cover a ray gun in human skin? Do these people/cyborgs take us for fools?”

Eat like a Viking, regurgitate, repeat

In case you’re wondering how I’m doing on the Virtual Book Tour I’ve been working on for my publisher, I think I can say it’s been going well. I’ve finished one blog post and several interviews for various literature-related blogs. And yes, I’ll let you know where to look for them, once they appear (assuming I find out myself).

I’m nearly finished with the first batch of interviews. I understand more are coming. Today the publicist asked me how I felt about writing a food-related post for a blog that talks to authors about their favorite recipes.

Now on the surface that doesn’t make much sense, me being a certified microwave-dependent bachelor (though I do make a mean scratch chocolate chip cookie when the fit is on me). But the idea of writing about Viking food, and relating it to West Oversea (buy it here) is intriguing. I’ve decided to do it, and I’ve made arrangements to borrow a recipe from a reenactor friend.

(And yes, in case you wondered, I will give her credit for it.)

I feel confident I can produce a post unlike any this particular blog has seen before. A hard-hitting, take-no-prisoners exposé of genuine Viking cuisine, featuring such delights as rotten shark (a delicacy in Iceland which reportedly made that Chef Gordon Ramsey throw up), and sheep’s head (also popular in Iceland. The eyeballs, I’m told, are especially relished). Many is the joke that’s been made about lutefisk over the years, but the Norwegians’ beloved lutefisk is just a pale, ghostly remnant of the true Nightmare On Elm Street mealtime horrors of the Scandinavian past.

Because we’re talking about a marginal economy, where taste places a far distant second to survival.

People sometimes ask me whether I wish I had been born in the Viking Age.

My answer is no, for three reasons.

One, I was a sickly child who would in all probability have been exposed on a hillside for the wolves at birth.

Two, the plumbing was awful.

Three, the food was inedible to the modern palate.

I’ve written a time travel book (still unpublished at this date) in which a father and daughter get the opportunity to go back to Viking Age Norway and stay there. She points out that if they did, they’d never get to eat chocolate again.

I call that an excellent point.

Not without honor in my own city

Today provided another of those little rewards that make being an author almost worth the trouble. I spoke on the phone to a lady from Ingebretsen‘s Scandinavian store.

If, for some obscure reason, you don’t live in the Minneapolis area, you probably don’t know about Ingebretsen’s. It’s a community institution. It started (if I have the story right) as a neighborhood grocery on Lake Street, catering to Scandinavian immigrants, back in 1921. The neighborhood remains an immigrant center even today, except that the immigrants now tend to be Mexican and Sudanese. But through all the decades, Ingebretsen’s has remained on the old corner, faithful to the neighborhood, dispensing lutefisk, flatbread, goat cheese and herring to a small but grateful public.

Somewhere along the line they expanded to include a Scandinavian gift shop, and they’re the best and most successful brick-and-mortar enterprise of that sort in the metropolitan area. I make a pilgrimage every Christmas season, and it’s usually a long walk from wherever I can find a place to park. Before stepping inside to join the throng, I have to make a conscious effort to abandon all concept of personal space.

I wrote to Ingebretsen’s, along with a couple other midwest dealers in the same sort of line, after West Oversea came out. I enclosed copies of reviews and a free copy of the book. The lady at Ingebretsen’s told me she’d read the book and enjoyed it, and had added it to their winter catalog (which I knew about) and to their web site (which I didn’t).

Don’t mess with me. Among Minneapolis Norwegians, Danes, Swedes and Finns, I now have street cred.

Glorious, American Food

Jerry Weinberger writes about American food culture in City Journal, saying:

But Julia taught us how to master French cooking, not American. American food had to be invented before it could be mastered. And the inventor was another Great Woman, this one on the opposite coast. In 1971, Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. This was the great transformative event in American culinary history. Chez Panisse grew out of Waters’s experience not with the butter and fat of Parisian haute cuisine, but with the foods of Mediterranean Provence (based on olive oil, the fresh fruits of the earth and sea, and the general habit of going to the market with a string bag every day). The principle of Chez Panisse was that food—both animal and vegetable—should be absolutely fresh, and that meant absolutely local. So it’s not quite right to say that Waters had to invent American food; what she did was rediscover and then elaborate on pre-canned, pre-supermarket, pre-tomatoes-all-year-round regional American food.

There’s a good bit in this article showing the need for gospel in our country, from a lack of respect at dinner parties to the layered problems evident in Weinberger’s comments on obesity. Feel free to comment here on anything you read there.

All About the Food

Jeffrey Overstreet talks about food in film in light of the recent movie, Julie & Julia.

In Mostly Martha, the main character runs her restaurant kitchen as if she were a general at war, with no room for mistakes. But when she ends up caring for her orphaned niece, and makes room in her life for a chef with unconventional ideas, their days — and meals — together help her discover a richer way to live. (Watch the original. Avoid the cheap American imitation — No Reservations.)

. . .

For this moviegoer, there is no cinematic meal more beautiful and profound than Gabriel Axel’s movie Babette’s Feast. . . . Babette is quietly fighting the Gnostic lie that the spiritual life is separate from physical experience. She is revealing the glory of God to them through food. She shows them that food, like all of God’s great gifts, is meant to be celebrated and shared with vigor, reverence, and gratitude. It might even have the power to make friends out of enemies.

It’s all food to me

Loren Eaton, at I Saw Lightning Fall, has a great piece today on the importance of reading widely. I concur. I don’t actually do it much, mind you, but I concur.

Speaking of what we wordsmiths like to call omnivorosity, I ate haggis for the first time in my life this past weekend, down in Elk Horn.

Sort of.

If you saw the pictures I posted last night, you may have noticed that there were wedge-shaped tents at the left side of the picture, and circular, pavilion-type tents on the right side.

The tents on the left were proper Viking tents, patterned after specimens found by archaeologists in ship burials.

The pavilions to the right were anachronistic, later medieval things which didn’t properly belong in a Viking camp. They belonged to Renaissance Faire people, whom good Viking reenactors generally look upon with disdain.

But we didn’t disdain these RF people, because they were our source of food.

Cook tent

Continue reading It’s all food to me

Increase Your Food Knowledge (and Vikings)

Sara Dickerman reviews a book for the epicurean in you, The Food Snob’s Dictionary. She writes, “[Q]uite funny throughout, the Food Snob’s handbook doesn’t so much seek to define individual terms . . . as define how such terms can be used to score points against other snobs or food-loving novices.”

Perhaps this book could explain why Snickers appeal to both vikings and pilgrims or how a bite of food can spare the monarachy.

Perhaps they just needed a little Greensleeves.

Mother’s Milk Cuts Out Food Allergies

All nutrition news must be taken with a grain of salt. Some reports don’t appear to reveal anything at all, but many just come across too strongly, that is, the headlines come across too strongly. The p-u-b-l-i-c mind should know better by now. Stand guard against reports that confirm your current beliefs, and watch for reports which may be just displays of a few researchers previously held beliefs.

Since I linked to research (not nutrition related) yesterday which I automatically rejected based on my biases, I will link to a report I can accept without question. “Breast-feeding in the first three months of life appears to help shield children from developing food allergies,” according to a presentation at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Sure, it does. Never doubted it.

Where’s my grain of salt?