A few things that are coming along on this blog one of these days:
A few things that are coming along on this blog one of these days:
Ok, I read that July 29 is Cheese Sacrifice Purchase Day. Which means I have too much time on my hands right now or there is something truly wrong. Maybe both.
Once upon a time, Hobart and William Smith Colleges invented a sort of course called a “bidisciplinary course.” Yep, that means two apparently unrelated approaches to a similar topic or problem. Chemistry and Religious Studies on AIDS/HIV; mathematics and comparative literature on chaos; chemistry and writing and rhetoric on food! Yes, a course called “The Curious Cook” – taught by Walter Bowyer, a chemist, and Cheryl Forbes, a professor of Writing and Rhetoric is the focus of today’s interview.
Bibliochef: You two do a course called “The Curious Cook.” Can you tell us what the course is about – and how you two came to teach it together?
Cheryl and Walter: We designed the course to be a lab science for non-science majors on the chemistry of cooking—what happens, for instance, when you heat proteins or beat egg whites, another protein issue. We’re both interested in food and think it’s a good subject to introduce scientific inquiry.
Bibliochef: Ok, that starts to get to why I wanted to interview you both. Here’s a question for Walter. As a chemist, what do you bring to the course? You say it is a lab science? What made you interested in doing such a course?
Walter: I bring a love of food and a mind committed to the scientific method. We have a biweekly lab during which we perform experiments to test hypotheses in the kitchen. Cheryl sparked my interest and convinced me that the course would work.
Bibliochef: And Cheryl? As someone in writing and rhetoric, what do you bring to the course? What made you interested in doing such a course?
Cheryl: I’m the non-scientist—and the course is both a writing course and a lab course. I teach science writing, and have even taught how to write lab reports. So students write lab reports, but they also write essays, field notes, complete projects. In 1984 when Harold McGee’s seminal book came out—On Food and Cooking--I read it cover to cover. And ever since then I’ve been interested in what happens when you cook—what happens scientifically, that is.
Bibliochef: Tell us about the students in the course. What do you want them to get from the course? What is the most surprising thing you have learned from them?
Walter and Cheryl: We want students to appreciate and be able to use the scientific method, to answer questions by thinking like a scientist about a basic subject like cooking. And then to explain their findings for a wide variety of audiences. We also want students to extend their curiosity and their taste buds. That’s why we introduce unusual foods (or foods many students say they don’t like) but also why they write in different genres. Students come from a wide variety of majors. Some want to take the course because they’re interested in cooking or don’t know how and would like to learn or need to address one of their academic goals. Some students actually plan to go into food as a career.
Bibliochef: What do you have students do – and/or read – in the course? Why?
Cheryl and Walter: The main text is the second edition of Harold McGee’s book. We also use handouts. Students do a lab every other week (the class is big so we split it in half), take a weekly quiz that Walter writes, design and perform experiments and then analyze the results, write journals and lab reports as we said, write three essays, and complete a final project of their own choosing in consultation with us. We also try to plan our lab dinners to contain the lab. What we mean is, say, we make cheese; we then use the cheese in our meal.
Bibliochef: If you had an unlimited budget, how would the course change? That is, what about if you could have your fantasy version of your course? What might you do as a field trip? If you could invite anyone to join your class for a day (living or dead) who might that be?
Walter and Cheryl: We’d bring to campus chefs who have made names for themselves by incorporating science into their cuisine. Then we could design experiments to test why what the chef is doing works. A field trip? Take students to France and then to Italy. Or visit a foie gras farm, a cheese-maker, a vintner.
Bibliochef: Of course I have noticed that you already raised Harold McGee. I am a real fan of his work as well and his website The Curious Cook. You’ve emphasized the importance of his book already – and I knew when I asked you to do this interview that you list the book as one of the texts for the course. Can you reflect a bit more on what you like about the book – and what might you critique? (By the way, did you know he has been to Geneva?)
Cheryl and Walter: It’s more of a reference than a text book, which is both its strength and its weakness. He’s now writing an occasional column for The New York Times Dining section, which comes out on Wednesdays, the day we have our labs. It’s written at an appropriate level for our students—scientific without readers needing a strong scientific background to get it. We think he should have included more recipes and experimental procedures, and we would rearrange the book—but that’s because of the way we teach the course.
Bibliochef: Some see cooking as art while others see cooking as science – as evidenced perhaps in the subtitle of your course – the science and art of cooking and eating. What do you make of this distinction? What do you see as distinguishing the two, if anything? Do you see the molecular gastronomy trend as relevant?
Walter and Cheryl: The scientific method distinguishes the two—the strict control of your variables. The art part would be the more intuitive or creative approach to solving problems in the kitchen. Chefs who think about molecular gastronomy seem to be combining or melding the two, maybe without even being aware of it. One of the tensions in teaching the course is just this issue: how easy is it to control all the possible variables in cooking. But to get students to figure out what all the variables might be makes them think through the scientific method.
Bibliochef: You emphasize both cooking and eating in the course subtitle. Can you comment on that?
Cheryl and Walter: The point of cooking is eating. So it gives an immediate and practical result to the science. We are also trying to develop students’ ability to distinguish subtle tastes and textures. We have several blind tastings during the semester—one lab group against the other. That addresses the subjective versus objective issue in science.
Bibliochef: Geneva is in many ways a lovely place to work on food-related themes – do you use Geneva and the Finger Lakes region at all in your teaching? If so, how?
Walter and Cheryl: We don’t, but maybe we should, for instance visiting Lively Run.
Bibliochef: One of the themes of Cooking with Ideas has to do with women’s lives and/or feminism. Do you see this issue as at all relevant to your class?
Cheryl and Walter: Only to the extent that most of our students are women. We have several hypotheses as to why. Women might be scared of science, men might be scared of the kitchen, or women might be more organized and conscientious. So when we announce the course as first come, first served, the students who respond the fastest are the women.
Bibliochef: I know Cheryl cooks – do you both? And if so, are you willing to share a favorite recipe from each of you?
Walter: I used to be a sorry cook and now I’m a mediocre cook. I’d pick two recipes: a flourless chocolate torte and a soufflé. The recipes aren’t trivial and knowing the science makes success more likely. Plus, I love to eat both.
Cheryl: I, though, draw a blank any time anyone asks me for a favorite anything—book, recipe, color….
Bibliochef: Hey thanks – this is swell. I know students must find the course fascinating. And now for some of the questions I ask all of the people I “speak” with! What’s the absolutely best meal you have ever had? What made it the best meal?
Cheryl and Walter: Here’s what came up when we talked about this question. A birthday dinner Cheryl made for Allen (her husband)—foie gras, crown roast of pork, cheese course, flourless chocolate torte—sauterne, pinot noir. But, says Walter, how can I pick just one? I think of one, then another and another pops into my head. Or dinner at the Hotel Cro-Magnon, which is adjacent to the excavation site of eponymous Cro-Magnon skeletons. It’s Michelin one star but better than the meal I had the next day at a Michelen two-star restaurant. For Cheryl it would have to be one of the meals she and Allen had at Da Franz in Venice—maybe the very first one, which was her birthday dinner. Or her birthday dinner three years ago at a restaurant near Reggello, a hill town outside of Florence—with all her Italian and British friends there—where she and Allen went every August for fifteen years.
Bibliochef: What music, films, books related to food wine would you recommend? Why?
Walter: Hugh Johnson’s Atlas of Wine.
Cheryl: Hmmm, I can’t remember the name of the book I’d recommend. Maybe The Omnivore’s Dilemma? But politics and food? Travel books about food, for sure. And thinking about it later – Heat, by Bill Buford.
Bibliochef: I've read both of Cheryl's suggestions and reviewed them here and here. The Johnson book, though, I will have to search out. So, on to another question I ask everyone: What do you eat for comfort food?
Walter: Cold baked potatoes or ice cream.
Cheryl: I don’t eat food for comfort, not even macaroni and cheese—homemade, of course. Wait. After I thought about it awhile, I realized that I did have a comfort food growing up--my go-to snack: toast and cheese. And what is that in adult terms? Pizza. White pizza. Just toast and cheese magnified.
Bibliochef: Do you have a favorite restaurant in the Finger Lakes?
Cheryl: None in the Finger Lakes per se. My favorite restaurant in the area is Max at Eastman Place in Rochester.
Bibliochef: As a side note, that's a new link for Madderlake Cafe -- they just posted a new site. And finally, what am I not asking that I should? What question have you never been asked that you have always wanted to be asked? What's your answer?
Cheryl and Walter: We can’t think of anything; anyway, we’re hungry so we’ve got to stop now.
Bibliochef: Thanks – for the time, the ideas, the science, the food for thought.
I have known Lynn Poland since we were in graduate school -- but only recently learned that she teaches about food and religion (ethics) at Davidson College where she is in the Department of Religion. It felt like only seconds between learning that -- and asking her to do this interview. I learned a lot from our virtual conversation and know you will too!
Bibliochef: When we reconnected recently, I learned that you have been teaching courses about food and religion for some time. Can you tell us about how you came to do so –and what drew you to this topic?
Lynn: I moved to Davidson after many years of urban life. Davidson was still fairly rural then, and so I renewed my childhood passion for horses. A longish stay in England with daily walks through fields, flocks, and herds, had already rekindled an early affection for farms and farm animals, and I have always been a nature lover. At Davidson and elsewhere I’ve always taught courses on women and religion, recently under the title “Woman and the Body in the Christian Tradition.” And I’ve had for a while an ever-changing course called “Christianity and Nature.” Food touches on all of these interests. I get to be an academic and play with theories—and I love theories-- about nature, culture, gender and religion without flying off into the ether like an untethered balloon.
Bibliochef: What sort of students take your classes? What is the most surprising thing you have learned from them? (I know you ask them to explore websites connecting food and religion. Any links we should explore?)
Lynn: I have 2 different courses on food—not taught in the same year. One is a freshman seminar—a discussion and writing course for 16 students. The other is a 200 level course with 30 students that usually contains all four classes (seniors, juniors, sophomores and first years). Students who sign up usually have some interest in food, and need to satisfy the college’s one-course-in-religion requirement.
Surprises. One happy discovery was that teaching about food and religion can get students otherwise uninterested in the environment to care. There is so little most people know about how their food is produced that reading a book like Fast Food Nation or The Omnivore’s Dilemma can be transformative. (For a review of the latter on Cooking with Ideas, click here.) Industrialized food production, they learn, is not only unhealthy for them, but for animals and the earth too.
Another surprise was just how surprising it is for students to discover that religions have to do with the most basic of human experiences—besides birth, sex, food, and death, what else is there, really? (Take back birth, actually. Off the top of my head I can’t think of a single religious ritual that celebrates being born of a woman—can you?) (Bibliochef's side comment: Okay, I cannot. Can anyone reading this? Leave us a comment!)
To help students see this, I like to begin with a unit on cannibalism, looking closely at the ritualized anthropophagy of the Aztecs. Since the Aztec practice is closely tied to their cosmology (David Carrasco wrote a terrific essay on them called “Cosmic Jaws: We Eat the Gods and the Gods Eat Us”), the topic is a great way to introduce students to some of the many roles religion plays in what, when, where, why, and how we eat.
Links: food and religion links there are in vast quantity. A memorable set resulted from the Google search question “Christian Diet.” I had no idea God could help one shed pounds until I saw these: www.God4me.com/weightloss; www.WeightLossGodsWay.com; www.weighdown.com
Bibliochef: Your course descriptions say that your focus is Judaism and Christianity (though you include some material on Hinduism and Buddhism, on occasion). Can you say why? And what you see as major connections/differences between these?
Lynn: I stick to Judaism and Christianity because my expertise has limits! I’m gradually learning more about Islam and Asian religions and so I add bits here and there. There are certainly food related ideas and practices that run through most traditions—fasting, feasting, sacrifice, gratitude, for example. There are also huge differences that nevertheless invite intriguing comparisons. For instance, we read some tales about the Buddha in his previous lives, where no matter what his station in life, he demonstrates supreme virtue. In a number of the stories he himself becomes food for needy others—generously hacking off a body part, or providing himself altogether. While the Buddha is not worshipped as a god, it’s still interesting to compare his deeds to those of Jesus Christ: take, eat, this is my body broken for you. My students also think again of Aztec cannibalism, where the captive to be eaten undergoes a lengthy process through which he becomes divine before he is consumed.
Bibliochef: Your courses include readings from both the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and the New Testament. Can you reflect on why you include biblical texts? I am particularly interested in your inclusion of readings from Leviticus, since it is this book of the Bible that is often marshaled these days to limit some people’s rights – but of course the texts are important to the making of various religious communities.
Lynn: After we discuss cannibalism, we move to ancient Israelite dietary restrictions, which are, arguably, also connected to their creation myths. The creation story in Genesis 1-2, for instance, carefully organizes chaos into categories like water/dry land, light/dark, and earth, water, and heavens. Foods that are kosher fit neatly into these categories—sea creatures have fins, residents of the heavens have wings, and earth creatures have legs. Sea creatures with legs such as shrimp are therefore unclean, prohibited. These regulations are listed in Leviticus, along with lots of other purity laws—rules pertaining to what goes in and what comes out of the human body. I also like to read the instructions for sacrifice at the beginning of Leviticus—all about animals, blood, and power. I think that the way we read the texts proscribes the kind of proof-texting to which you refer. Since we also read Elizabeth Ehrlich’s Miriam’s Kitchen, a contemporary memoir about becoming kosher, students get a sense of how traditions “must change to stay the same.” (Bibliochef's side note: See here for a NY Times Review of Ehrlich's book.) In other words, Leviticus is ancient, and one cannot directly “apply” it to the present.
One of the startling results in early Christianity is that this young religion, whose first followers were Jews, comes to reject the practice of keeping kosher. In an article in The Christian Century, Garret Keizer noted that this form of Christian “freedom” succeeded only too well, in that most Christians today—at least Protestant Christians—completely disassociate religion and food. The only thing bodily still considered to be in the religious realm is sexuality. This is a great loss. One of my hopes for the course is that by seeing some of the more ancient ways that food was once vital to religion—the importance of table fellowship in early Christian communities, for example--students will begin to re-imagine their own food practices as sacred.
Bibliochef: One of the big challenges on college campuses these days is the epidemic of eating disorders – which some times involve not eating and certainly is gendered in particular ways. Your courses look at not eating – aka fasting –in religious traditions from various perspectives. Can you talk some about this sort of religious practice and what you make of them?
Lynn: You are certainly right about eating disorders on campus.
In the courses I teach, we read and discuss a number of different essays in an effort to look at both eating disorders and religious fasting from several perspectives. Carolyn Walker Bynum’s work on medieval women mystics and their food/fasting behaviors is important to me, and for the course. In Holy Feast and Holy Fast Bynum explores why, in the late medieval period, food-related miracles increased exponentially, and why they occurred mostly to women. Her answers are too complex to say much about here, but one of her insights is especially pertinent: for these women, suffering was religiously significant because through it they felt united with Christ’s suffering. They therefore sometimes prayed for the “gift” of illness; sometimes they ate only Christ, through the Eucharist; sometimes, while eating little or nothing themselves, they became food, by serving it to others. Contemporary eating disorders are often discussed as a question of control, of controlling the one thing—eating—one may feel one can control. While there is an element of this among the medieval women too, by connecting it to the broader issue of suffering Bynum shows how in their historical context, where there frequently may be not be enough to eat, food is about human vulnerability even more than control. We read in juxtaposition to Bynum a haunting contemporary piece called “Grateful,” in which the hospitalized, anorectic speaker ironically inverts Bynum’s saints. Not to need is for the speaker the highest spiritual state. Commenting on the “clear liquid in its transparent plastic tube” that sustains her, she says, “This is how the angels feed. Pure.” The students see, I hope, two remarkably different forms of spiritual practice.
Bibliochef: Aha. I will have to look for "grateful"! On an unrelated note, I have been struck by the representation of the American South in various foodie magazines lately, with the emphasis on Edna Lewis (is that her name?), an African American Southerner who wrote cookbooks. Based on the readings you include in your courses (wow), I wonder if you might comment on the relation of food, religion and the American South and/or matters of race, food and religion?
Lynn: Thanks for introducing me to Edna Lewis! I don’t do much with this topic in my courses. We read one essay arguing that Barbecue has a sacramental, even Eucharistic, function in the South, combining regionalism, folkways and religion. The students never buy the argument but they all like to talk about their own regions’ distinctive foods.
Bibliochef: Your Spring 2007 course focused on ethics and food and included student projects on specific topics. Can you tell us a bit about their projects and what students seemed to learn about ethics through their exploration of them?
Lynn: One year I tried a group project about genetically modified foods. Students chose different topics under this umbrella, from golden rice to the science of GMO. Those who focused on a specific geographical area could look at public policy, at all sides of the debate, and at the effect of whatever GMO scheme they studied on people of different social classes. In 2007 students chose topics emerging from the Omnivore’s Dilemma, which also led students to politics, public policy, and human welfare. To learn that it takes around 50 gallons of oil per acre (some estimates are higher) to raise an acre of industrial corn, for example—to power the machines, create the pesticides, insecticides, and fertilizer, to harvest, dry, ship and store the corn—certainly provides food for thought. These practices raise ethical questions—and for me, ultimately religious questions, about what it means to live a good life and to love one’s neighbor.
Bibliochef: I am jealous of the opportunity you –and your students – had to hear Alice Waters speak. Seeing what to me is the ultimate fantasy on your syllabus leads me to ask what you might do – who you might invite (living or dead, since this is a fantasy!), what field trips might you imagine – for your courses on food and religion if you had an unlimited budget?
Lynn: We would go to the biannual Slow Food International event: 5000 producers are invited to Terra Madre in Turin every two-years, from Korean fisher folk and Mongolian shepherds to Mexican farmers. Its purpose is to thank them for the work they do, and to encourage them to maintain their traditions and knowledge. A huge fundraising effort enables many to attend.
Then, perhaps, to the Feast of the Virgin in the North End of Boston.
Bibliochef: Wow. Those are great choices. I'd love to do both of those too! So, do you cook? If so, are you willing to share a favorite recipe?
Lynn: I do like to cook, although I am for the most part still tied to cookbooks. One thing I can cook without a book, though, is a favorite, easy summer meal. Marinate in olive oil chopped tomatoes, garlic, basil, salt and pepper, olives, and a soft cheese—brie, feta, fontina. Later, cook pasta and mix it into the other ingredients. The heat melts the cheese and it is delicious.
Bibliochef: Thanks. One of the themes of Cooking with Ideas has to do with women’s lives and/or feminism. How do you see this theme as relevant?
Lynn: Some of my earlier replies address this. I would add as a kind of summary statement that all positive valuing of bodies—men and women’s bodies, other animals’ bodies, the earth’s body—is congruent with, and partly a result of, feminism. The stereotypical Western gendering of nature as female and culture (reason, spirit) as male is subverted when one values and feels responsible for the care of all bodies. Mortality, vulnerability, and thus dependence on others characterize all living things.
Bibliochef: And now for some of the questions I ask all of the people I “speak” with! What’s the absolutely best meal you have ever had? What made it the best meal?
Lynn: I’ve had “the best meal I’ve ever eaten” many times. They were best not only because of the food but because they were in wonderful environments with beloved friends.
Bibliochef: What music, films, books related to food would you recommend? Why? (These could be about food and religion or otherwise!)
Lynn: There are so many—and the list of books and films is growing fast right now. I imagine my choices are already on your readers’ lists. I’ll list only a few films, two of which are classic food films: “Like Water for Chocolate” and “Babette’s Feast”. “King Corn” is a recently released documentary by and about two recent college grads who move to Iowa to grow an acre of corn. Along the way they, and the viewer, learn almost everything there is to know about planting and harvesting the stuff as well as where all the corn goes.
Books—everything by Michael Pollan. I also love cookbooks—lately I’ve been enjoying Deborah Madison’s farmer’s market cookbook and collections of Elizabeth David’s writings about French and Italian food.
Music—he could eat no fat and she could eat no lean? I’ve noticed that a lot of bands lately have food names: Smashing Pumpkins, for example. A local group is called “Poultry in Motion”.
Bibliochef: So, what do you eat for comfort food?
Lynn: Warm apple crisp.
Bibliochef: Have you ever been to the Finger Lakes region? If so, do you have a favorite restaurant there? If not, what restaurant do you recommend anywhere on the planet?
Lynn: No, I have not been to the Finger Lakes. On the planet: Auberge de l’Abbaye de Hambye. In Normandy, overlooking a river. A few bedrooms upstairs. Perfect.
Bibliochef: What am I not asking that I should? What question have you never been asked that you have always wanted to be asked? What's your answer?
Lynn: A colleague and I argue about whether food is, a metaphor for sex or vice versa. “I love you so much I could eat you up.” What do you and your readers think?
Bibliochef: Ok, hmmmmm. Readers?
I was in an emergency room recently. Usually, nothing good comes from such visit, except on occasion a statement like "it's not too serious" or -- on very rare occasions, a good story. This trip brought neither. But, there is one other possible good outcome of a trip to an emergency room. This can happen elsewhere -- a dentist's office, say. I even experienced this once in a tax consultant's office. What, you ask? The discovery (and ok, on this particular occasion, the lifting of) a new magazine. Yes, I found a magazine entitled Specialty Food (the April 2008 issue). It's subtitle? Products, Trends and Your Business in Perspective. Who knew? And yes, they have a web site. And it turns out that there is something with an acronym (NASFT) which stands for National Association for the Specialty Food Trade. Who knew, again?
As a foodie, I was thrilled to find the magazine, have read it thoroughly and . . . . here's part of what I learned (beyond that the magazine exists):
(1) People actually write articles about how to design menus. And by design, they mean both how to choose what food items to include on the menu and the actual physical artifact of the menu itself. The feature article, in fact, of this issue of Specialty Food focuses on "five strategies that can turn your menu into an effective marketing piece." Now, I knew that was what a menu was for. After all, what else is a restaurant besides a purveyor of commodities for our consumption. But still. This magazine provides a glimpse of the restaurant business that may be more than I really want to know.
(2) Smoothies continue to be trendy and there are people who write articles on how to keep on top of that.
(3) There are gatherings of people -- marketing conventions in fact -- focusing on speciality foods.
(4) The advertising in Specialty Foods is really really interesting. I learned about all sorts of foodie items that will have "booths" at the Global Food and Style Expo such as family-owned Italian olive oil companies as well as others that advertise through this magazine -- a company specializing in sauces (www.barhyte.com), another focused on mousse mixes (www.kingscupboard.com), another focused on pates (www.3pigscom), a 70% organic set of bread mixes (www.lollipoptree.com) and more.
And that's not all. Why? Because the magazine also has a whole section entitled "buyers' picks." Here are a few items I intend to watch out for -- and maybe even try -- Fran's Smoked Salt Caramels, Zotter Schokolade Bars, and, where have I seen this name before -- Mymouni Fresh Fig Jam (the answer that I finally dredged from the back of my mind: the cookbook Saha, reviewed here.)
Finally, having read this what do I think the next trend is? Iberian ham. Will I subscribe? Probably not. Will I haunt emergency rooms in search of another copy? Definitely not. So there.
Beware False Profits is a murder mystery in the series "Ministry is Murder." Yes, both the title of the book and the series are a bit punny. Still, if you are a) a minister; b) a minister's spouse or partner; or c) a person who secretly delights in the foibles of the ministerial, loves murder mysteries and combines that with a foodie spirit, this book is for you. It even has a bit of drag done sympathetically and well, even if. . . . well, my yearning to avoid plot spoiling prevents me from going further. This book is a fun read by Emilie Richards who also wrote a mystery with the title Blessed are the Busybodies which I have not read but which is in the running for best title ever. She has written loads of other novels, but this is a newish series for her.
A while back the Finger Lakes region foodie network was aglow with the notion of a new magazine called "Edible Finger Lakes." (See here for my own commentary.) Today, I spent a bit of time lolling around reading "Edible Shasta-Butte," an addition to my reading which was, as seems often to be the case, a gift. Like "Edible Finger Lakes," this magazine is affiliated with the broader network of Edible Magazines including, for example, "Edible Cape Cod", which was the first of this sort I ever read. (Do not, do not, read that as meaning that the magazine world has reached new levels of integration of foodie desire with magazine production. More directly: do not eat the magazine folks, no matter how edible it is.) These magazines are sort of paradoxical: a wide (and highly commodified) network with commonalities across all the magazines as they emphasize local, locale, localized. So, this one feels just like "Edible Finger Lakes" in tone and in all sorts of ways. But wait: there's the ad for Monterey Bay Aquarium and a farmer's market directory which includes Chico, and all sorts of other Californiana. All of which makes me feel conflicted -- I do love my own local, but this other local looks pretty darn wonderful too. I can't remember if the Finger Lakes version had the same recipe for strawberry granita, but the recipe included in "Edible Shasta-Butte" will certainly work when strawberries are in again in 2009 in upstate NY. I know for sure the recipe accompanying article on edible thistles by the author of a book entitled Sacramento Valley Feast was not in my local; and (alas) Mim's Bakery in Chico is not right down the street (yes, there are amazing pictures of cakes). All this inclines me to ask such questions as -- how are the magazine production strategies local, and what about the paper, but really, that seems way too academic right now and might require web searching. So, I will contain my questions and go back to lolling around with an eye to the local, the paradoxical, and the fruitfulness of just being in the moment.
So: I enjoyed the magazine. It transported me. It puzzled me about how we as foodies can argue so strongly for local while creating commodities that are oddly the same across vast distances. And it made me hungry.
Even though James Thurber (1894-1961) once said "I think that maybe if women and children were in charge we would get somewhere" and I have always liked James Thurber, sometimes you need to escape on your own rather than spend a weekend in a residence hall (new-fangled lingo for dormitory) with 65+ women. In fact, such escapes seem urgent when you are away from the people you love and the possibility of spending time in the kitchen making home feel like home by slicing and diciing. (Yes, I love to cook even though Bibliochef has not been in the kitchen lately.) So, I went to Bucks County, PA (and even drifted into New Jersey a bit while there). Why did I go there in particular? An hour away and I am not a great driver. Rumor had it there were rainbow flags everywhere. Not so much; but it was welcoming and there were some very very visible rainbows; and yes, this county has more Democrats than Republicans so there is hope for the 2008 election. Like Provincetown further north, it has a long history of what it's Chamber of Commerce wants to call "openness and tolerance" as well as an arty reputation. And, like P-town, it has a historical relevance for what we now know as the U.S. -- with Washington's Crossing a key to American history and many many truly lovely 1700s homes scattered throughout the county. Also, both Bucks County and the nearby NJ counties have made significant efforts to preserve farmland -- which is great for a while range of reasons. Anyway, I had a variety of food related adventures there, which I come to below, in no particular order. ( I spare you the flea markets, antiques, and general fun shopping and history. . . )
No, this entry does not involve injectable drugs. The Main Line, for folks who do not know it, is a label for western suburbs of Philadelphia -- traced by the railroad and by Route 30 (aka Lancaster Pike) and including Bryn Mawr, Wayne, Villanova, Overbrook, etcetera. The train was called "the Paoli Local" in my youth and perhaps still is. When you think Main Line, think Katherine Hepburn in the film, "The Philadelphia Story" and then realize that though that depiction of wealth is not entirely accurate (and relatively few people look like Hepburn or Cary Grant or Spencer Tracy or. . . ) the film certainly reflects one aspect of the old money (and huge homes) that stand over against other aspects of the Main Line. Think class. Definitely think class. Think "interesting" racial and religious dynamics. Think the Devon Horse Show and Radnor Hunt Club. . . Think a $27,500 (plus tax??!?!??!?) Tiffany gold russian imperial era cigarette case I saw in an antique store in Wayne -- but also think of the hope that various groups brought with them when they moved from South Philly, for example, after WWII. Think Revolutionary era homes and gated communities as well as 1950s ticky-tacky (once at the far reaches of the Main Line, some of these have been absorbed into more urban-ish environments by now). Contrast the Mummers (clueless? click here) to all this -- and their complex racial, ethnic and religious heritages. Hmmm.
Back to Hepburn. Though not originally a Main Liner (she's from, gasp, Connecticut), Hepburn was an alum of Bryn Mawr College and, indeed, they inaugurated the Katherine Houghton Hepburn Center in 2006 (which is named as well for Hepburn's mother). My favorite Katherine Hepburn film is actually "Sylvia Scarlett", one of the few films I have been unable to get from Netflix, but hey, that's another story entirely. (See here for some reviews, here for some pix, and here for an article entitled "Sylvia Scarlett: Androgyny and Cross-Dressing." ) All this is, of course, a tangent because what's really going on is: food on the Main Line. Here are a few of the things I have done around the Main Line recently that connect to food:
Food Source is a grocery store, specialty food store, call it what you will, that is lovely to visit. It is expensive but you can find all sorts of things there to try. They sell great demi-baguettes which I have used to make lunch. And I have purchased some tabouleh salad. You can buy sandwiches they make there. All in all it is a fun grocery store to visit and even buy a few things. On the more self-indulgent end of the spectrum, I bought: Les Gourmandiese Madeleines a la Vanille by Mireille Faucher (not as good as bibliobabe's madelines) as well as various wonders from Dancing Deer Baking Company and Mt Vikos Kristi Olive Oil Biscuits (which were interestingly sweet though I expected them to be savoury and handmade in Crete). No I am not losing weight. But I am sharing. . . . I also have tried a sort of local product (from Lancaster, PA), Uncle Jerry's Handmade Pretzels and aspire to trying a gelato made in Philly called Capogiro Gelato. I am trying to control myself; they have flavors like Turkish Coffee and Rosemary and Honey. I am definitely trying it before I die. Their website says "taste no evil.. . " and so I must try it! I will. I will indeed. What's dangerous is that they sell it on line. Oh no. But I have also been trying waters; that seems virtuous, right? (But what about water and politics?) Last year I was on to Hildon from the UK; this year I tried (and liked the best) Wattwiller (in a beautiful glass bottle), Tynant in a plastic twisty shaped bottle form Wales, and several versions of a sparkler called Bella Famiglia from (surprise surprise) Italy. Food Source's Location: 663 W. Lancaster Avenue, Bryn Mawr, PA. Phone: (610) 581-7332.
But where did I eat, you ask? Other than a baguette with some cheese and the bit of Tabouleh salad I got at Food Source:
Once in a while, I pick up pieces of paper on the street. After reading A La Cart I might do it more often. No: I am not getting into repairing the littering practices of the globe. I have a hard enough time managing my own ephemera. So, no. This impulse has nothing to do with being green. Okay, to be fair the practice might qualify as environmentally sound based on its greeny-ness but that would be an unintended consequence if I go ahead and recycle what I pick up. The impulse I am describing, though, has nothing to do with ethics. It has to do with laughter. Yes, laughter. A La Cart is a book by Hillary Carlip who may have bumped every other human being in the known universe (well, there might be a few exceptions that I can think of. . .) off the list called "In the Running For Funniest Person Ever." I don't actually keep such a list, but I am about to start and she's going to be in the top five. Likely the top two. Maybe even the Number One. Yes, Cooking with Ideas has had an entry entitled "I laughed out loud" before; but seriously, this book may be the funniest thing since. . . . sliced bread. (Ok, I am not sure sliced bread is funny.)
A La Cart also made me want to check out her other book: Queen of the Oddballs. For the associated web site, click here. (And, for a review of this memoir on trashionista, click here.) Perfect title. Imagine that as a superhero. Hmmm. And, the book was nominated for TWO Lambda Literary Awards. Who knew?