Archive for the ‘Social Commentary’ Category

Dinner Stroll: Fettuccine with Chicken-Liver Sauce

Chinatown, New York (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Our apartment’s fire alarm is hyper-reactive, erupting into warning cries at just the intimation of heat. This means that when I cook, I spend almost as much time running back and forth between the two alarms with a long wooden stick and disengaging them with a well-aimed prod, as I do standing in front of the stove.

I do a lot of walking in New York in general, so the fire alarm situation is nothing out of the ordinary. The other night, I met a friend for dinner after work. We were meeting at 6:15 and I was done with work at 5 – so rather than wait around uptown, I walked the thirty or so blocks from SoHo to 6th and 20th. I like to walk casually but with purpose, separating myself from the throng on the city streets. Everyone is stressed in New York, even the tourists, who must somehow subconsciously feed off everyone else’s frantic energy. To set yourself apart from this and still be in it is an almost elevated feeling of peace, like every commercial where there’s that one guy standing there while the rest of the world blurs by like water.

Uptown, New York (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I like the introspection that comes along with walking – the mind’s mimesis of wandering feet.

And especially walking in New York, I have these moments where I thrill that I live here. It’s a very special moment, to know where you are going, to know that after you leave your bank on Broadway and 10th, you can wander generally South and left (I actually do all my directions this way; I’ve mastered North and South, but I find East and West a little elusive), and you can pick up a bottle of cheap wine at the Broadway Liquor Warehouse, check on a new milk frother at Sur la Table and finally end up at your favorite pasta shop on Grand and Mulberry for fresh egg fettuccine and next door, a slab of Sicilian black pepper cheese. » Continue reading this post…

Frühstück and Vespern: Friedel’s Fleischsalat

Laugenbretzel (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

My verbal skills are now thoroughly mangled. I’m thinking in three languages, navigating through two cultures, and working my way through something like six time zones. So I’m confused, mostly. All I can say for certain is that my family is keeping me regularly caffeinated and fed (and caffeinated) and that they forgive me for whatever errors my German may contain.

Since joining up with them in the rural south of Germany, I’ve been playing a fun game called, “Can I Say This in Schwäbisch,” in which I say a sentence out loud and then in my head try to sound it out in the garbled southern dialect (the aforementioned third language) my family speaks. Say: Meine Sprache ist ganz durch einander. Think: Moi Sprach ist hey. The result is that I speak a very strange German: either correct, crisp high-German pronunciation with a rolling Southern inflection or the reverse – as if an inhabitant from the Pacific northwest were to cleanly articulate the sentence, “That ain’t nohow the way to go ‘bout it.”

As I speak and eat my way through the week, I’m working out a theory that culturally, the difference between Americans and Germans is a principle of curves and edges. Lets assume that we evolve angularly against our environments in order to navigate them, that in the yin-yang of the universe, there must always be a balance between curves and lines. In this sense, the Americans are outwardly round and inwardly straight and the Germans are outwardly straight and inwardly round.

Pretend I’m not totally jet-lagged and work with me. American culture is loud and big and comfortable. Americans are easy to get to know, are chatty and open. Advertising is seductive and billboards are filled with colors, scripted font, pictures, and sequins. Yet Americans themselves are inwardly direct and goal-oriented, good at general friendships but wary of vulnerability, in relationships less earnest than flippant. » Continue reading this post…

Not Cooking

Empty plate (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

There is a point where what you don’t cook means something too. Every day at work on my lunch break, the hectic rush to Starbucks, the deli, money spent. Two weeks into moving and I still can’t make myself at home in the long kitchen – so new and full of stainless steel, without character or enough space to chop onions. The fridge is smaller than me, there is no order to a glutted smash of plastic bags, yogurts, mustard, glittering cherry tomatoes in clear cases. Yesterday I threw away spring onions, cilantro, lettuce, and cucumbers. Forgotten in there. Mom says, try Paxil. But what I need is to christen the kitchen and to write again. I miss those anchors of sanity.

What is there in cooking that saves me? Stability: the heft of a knife handle in my hand, the rhythmic grind of the blade rubbing salt into a garlic clove. Creativity: the unexpected sour hit of feta on spinach wilted in bacon grease. Safety: fried eggs. Escape: a pinch of berbere spice. Comfort: pasta and basil, chorizo. My eyes closed, eating tacos.

I am fearless in the kitchen. A mistake is almost always fixable and sometimes leads to something better than what I had in mind. I try to approach life this way – the best things unfold before me despite my efforts. When I cook, it reminds me of the goodness of a greater plan. When I don’t cook, I forget. And I worry, about success and failure, jobs, getting a roommate, making phone calls, painting, finding time for yoga – as if I were picking apart the goodness of a whole orange and eating only pith.

Then I remember the soup I froze for bad times. Tuscan bean soup, thick with potato and butternut squash, smooth, sweet carrots cut through with the bitterness of kale. » Continue reading this post…

The Spoon Stands Alone

The beautiful spoon (Eat Me. Drink Me.)A fork is just a spoon with holes. How primitive, a set of little spears, to prod, poke, pierce, and rent. Where is the elegance of the spoon’s soft curve, the spoon’s caress of a pumpkin soup, its languid dive into pudding, the easy crunch with which it drops onto the caramel hat of a crème brulé. A fork is crude, a tine nothing more than a galvanized toothpick. Give me the heft of a spoon’s curved bowl cradled in the hand’s palm, the sensuous glide of the tongue beneath its cambered base, the upper lip’s sweep into the lightly sloping dip. How lovely, a piled stack of peas, pearls of tapioca suspended in pale pudding, a melting marble of ice cream lifted easily to the mouth in the safety of the spoon’s arms. A steak, you say? What good is a spoon for a steak? None; but for that I have my fingers. What is a fork, after all, but a bourgeois approximation of a hand? As if the hand were too delicate to grasp a breaded pork chop or a broccoli floret, as if the teeth weren’t meant to bite through veal or a tender medallion of filet mignon.

There is that crassness in a fork, a pretension that one shouldn’t feel the food one eats, a pizza must be prod and cut before it can be chewed, a tomato surgically sliced. A fork is redundant as is a knife, but a spoon – a spoon extends the hand as if the palm were mirrored past the fingers. How painstaking it would be to lap milk from a bowl of cereal or eat yogurt one finger’s sweep at a time. A fork and knife are just reductions of what we already have; the spoon completes the hand. » Continue reading this post…

Tailgating at 9 AM (a post by Josh)

At the Davidson Farmer's Market (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

From my limited understanding about tailgating, what you do at a tailgate is stand around the back of a truck, grill, drink, and stand in a parking lot. How American. That’s not what I ended up doing at 9 am yesterday, but I did tailgate. What? Stop confusing me.

What Davidson has stated to do in the winter months, when the crops are few and far between, is have its weekly Farmer’s Market become a bi-weekly tailgate Farmer’s Market. What that means is every other Saturday, farmers will bring their produce, baked goods, jams, ostrich meat, and flowers to the back parking lot of the local coffee shop, Summit.

Vendor selling lettuce (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The market board (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Fresh bread (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Yesterday was a Saturday that the market was happening, and how thankful was I. It was the first beautiful day in North Carolina since the November heat wave – a comfortable 60 degrees, blue skies, and crisp.

Lettuces (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Homemade dips (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Although there were a bunch of appetizing vegetables, I only had my eyes set on Brussels sprouts.

Um, why?

Well, it turns out that yesterday was not only a good day because of the Farmer’s market, and beautiful day, but also because there was to be a potluck that night. With potlucks, I always try to bring that food that everyone thinks they hate – see: cabbage, mushrooms, etc – and make them try my version. For me, it’s the ultimate test: can I make someone like something that they used to hate? So this time, I tried Brussels sprouts.

Beautiful brussels (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Once I got home with the two packages of sprouts, I realized that I actually didn’t know how to exactly cook these miniature cabbage-like things. Looking in a few cook books, I figured that boiling them, then sautéing them would be a legitimate option.

So after washing and halving them, I boiled them for about four minutes. » Continue reading this post…

If Your Grocer Doesn’t Sell Pork Neck Bones, You’re Probably Not Poor Enough: Poor Richard’s Pork Neck Bones

Pork neck bones (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

This was the opening line to an email my uncle sent a few years ago after his move to West Virginia, the second poorest state in the country after Mississippi. At the time, I laughed. I’d never seen pork neck bones in any grocery store I’d ever been to. I didn’t even know you could eat pork neck bones.

Then I moved to New York. And not only am I poor, but everyone around me is poor too (unemployed artists and musicians to the left, the projects to the right). So on my first visit to Bravo, my local grocery store, I was intrigued to find that the bizarre cuts of meat outweighed the “normal” selection. Pig tails and feet, turkey necks, chicken gizzards, pork belly, goat meat, beef honeycomb tripe, cow feet, oxtails, beef liver, and pork neck. Remembering that long forgotten email and being of a curious bent, I decided to make pork neck my first foray into adventurous cooking.

I wish I could tell you it was a more bizarre experience than it was. But pork neck is, well, decidedly normal after you’ve cooked it for two hours. The meat is incredibly tender and rich after having soaked in notes of brown sugar, cayenne, and salty broth. I made a regular Southern meal out of it with fried okra and cornmeal griddle cakes, and with pork neck stew spooned on a hot griddle cake—I felt much wealthier than I was.

Okra, pre-frying (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

All this has gotten me thinking about food stigmas, what it means to eat “poor,” and how food often undergoes the same sort of gentrification a neighborhood might. Take grits, for example. Grits are unpretentious. They are plentiful, inexpensive, and staple-worthy. Yet you can go to a five-star restaurant and order grits for $40 or $50. Those better be some damn good grits. » Continue reading this post…

Eating in German: Schwabian Potato Salad

Opa on the Eichland (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I grew up speaking in German, and I grew up eating anything but. Schnitzel, sauerkraut, bratwurst? Never. If it was puddled in butter, wrapped in gravy, or leaking grease, my mother did not make it. I remember her once exclaiming about German food, “It’s all so heavy! They even cook the peas in cream!” So I grew up eating couscous and bulgur, slow-cooked stews, stir-fry, and salmon. But not a single Spätzle graced our table.

This was all ok with me. My father is from Germany, so my rare cravings for Würstchen and Läberkäs were satisfied on our trips to the country every two years or so. And while my brothers seemed never to get enough schnitzel (seriously, never enough), I was maxed out on potatoes by day three.

Still, some of my strongest (and fondest) childhood memories center around German food. My grandfather owns a piece of property on the Schwäbische Alb, a low mountain range in the South of Germany comparable to the weathered Appalachians. Every available Pfister would gather, and we’d have a bonfire and roast as many types of wurst as Aldi and Lidl had on sale.

There would be loaves of fresh, crusty bread, potato salad done in the German style with vinegar, oil, salt, Kräutersalz, and onion, Fleishsalat (strips of bologna mixed with mayonnaise, gouda, eggs, and pickle), cucumber salad, and beer – lots of beer. For the kids, there was süsser Sprudel and gelber Sprudel, both sweetened types of seltzer water.

Eichland Eating (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The grown ups would sit around the fire and gossip, while we cousins ran around the woods building houses out of bark, moss, and small stones for elves or catching crickets in the sunny neighboring field. Bocce ball was popular with everyone, and for some inexplicable reason, the kids fought over the right to mow the lawn with a rickety, unmotorized push-mower with scissoring blades. » Continue reading this post…

A Family History: Bagna Cauda

Davis Family Cook Book (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The other day, as I was looking through my mom’s collection of cookbooks, searching for some recipes to deal with our cash crop of zucchinis, I stumbled upon a blue binder clasping thick, yellowed pages and stuffed with wrinkled clippings. I quickly leafed through the clippings and turned to the first page. “Fern Eunice (6/22/1905 – 7/25/1977) m. Joseph Welle” ran across the top in my grandmother’s all-caps handwriting and below that a list of names, Marguerite, Sharon, Barbara Jo, Kenneth, Scott, Douglass. It seemed to be a family tree of sorts, though its logic was obtuse and the family members obscure. As I flipped the page, I realized what I held; it was the Davis Family Cook Book, inscribed by my grandmother, “With family love and tradition to my daughter Lauri, Mother 1979.”

The Davis Family Cook Book says a lot about my family—and about 1979. For instance, here’s the order of the table of contents. Appetizers, Beverages, Candy, Desserts and Breads, Meats and Main Dishes, Salads, Relishes and Preserves, Soups, and Vegetables. Clearly, there’s a sweet tooth running through my family tree. Not to mention that there are thirty pages of desserts, yet only ten sorry pages devoted to main dishes.

I love the titles of these recipes, like the opening one for “Truly Different Cheese Ball.” What, I wonder, makes one cheese ball different from another, and what makes this one truly different? “Sure Thing Roll Out Cookies” is quaint, and you know “Everybody’s Favorite Cheese Spread” must be good.

The salad section makes me nostalgic for a church potluck in the Midwest, where my grandmother’s family comes from. There are layered salads, a few recipes for coleslaw, some fruit salads, and of course, Jello salad. In fact, there are eleven recipes for some sort of Jello salad, though my favorite horror is this recipe for “Pineapple Salad,” which calls for pineapple tidbits, miniature marshmallows, and Velveeta cheese. » Continue reading this post…

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