Better With Butter: Aunt Lynda’s Corn Puddin’

Mountainous mashed potatoes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The first thing I said when I woke up this morning was: “No more butter. Please don’t make me eat any more butter.” And then, because there was nothing else to eat for breakfast, I stuck a square of macaroni and cheese topped with a dollop of tomato puddin’ in the microwave.

If you’re unfamiliar with tomato puddin’, let me enlighten you on how it’s made. Two cans of chopped tomatoes are mashed with five pieces of white bread and one cup – yes, one cup of sugar. This concoction is then baked until all the natural health benefits of the tomatoes have been removed. Also good to know is that according to my family, this dish counts as a vegetable. Just some trivia.

Christmas in my family is predominantly loud. This year, though the pair of almost-octogenarians presided over only two braches of the family tree – my mother, father, me, my two brothers, my aunt, her husband, her two daughters, one daughter’s husband, his two children, her three children, and a dog – the decibel level was impressive. Everybody’s stories needed to be told at the same time, their recipes recounted in maniacal tones. The children seemed unable to have as much fun if someone wasn’t screaming and the camera’s shutter clicked so often the room began to resemble a disco rave.

I love my family very much. But I am a quiet person, and it takes a little time adjusting to the chaos of the (almost) entire Cohen clan. Fighting passionately about the rules of Mexican Train dominoes, telling the story (again) about that embarrassing thing you did at your baptism (like poop your baptismal dress) when you were a few months old, or belittle other family members’ sports teams as creatively as possible. It’s very Norman Rockwell, but a little louder and with less pastel. » Continue reading this post…

Leftovers Regifted (a post by Josh): Biscuits

A Christmas scene (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

It all started with leftovers. Not those things that sit in Tupperware containers in the back of your refrigerator for too long, growing mold because you didn’t want to eat the same thing on Monday as you did on Saturday. Maybe that’s just me. But it did all start with leftovers. The type that isn’t prepared. That one ingredient that you buy for one recipe but the recipe only calls for about a quarter of the container, so now you’re stuck with a lot of buttermilk. That’s what happened to me, at least. And during the holidays, of all times. What joy!

If you caught it in my last post, the one about half moon cookies, the recipe called for buttermilk. I don’t really know much about the stuff, and neither does my family, it seems. “I think it’s the healthiest milk there is,” “It’s all naturally fat free,” “I don’t know if anyone just drinks it,” “Doesn’t it make all yogurt?” I don’t know if any of that is true, but I do know that I had too much buttermilk to try out a big, tall, brimming glass of the stuff. So I decided to reduce (my quantity of buttermilk), reuse (it in another recipe), and recycle (again, reuse it).

The cookie culprit (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

It was Christmas morning and the scene was set. The tree was outfitted with lights, blinking, and presents stuffed underneath. Coffee was brewing. My brother was headed in from Charleston. My sister, her husband, and my nephew were on their way out to our house. My moms were reading on the couch. I was in charge of food.

I walked down the stairs, opened the fridge to find some inspiration and what did I find? Buttermilk. I moved it out of the way, in search of the eggs, but then, with all clichés in mind, it hit me. » Continue reading this post…

A New Half Moon, but Not Like Twilight (a post by Josh): Black & White Cookies

Half & Half cookies (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I have a few things to confess. The first is that I haven’t completely abandoned this blog. I know that it seems like it, since the last time I posted was about five months ago. There are a few reasons for that, for sure, but maybe no excuses. I can’t say that I haven’t been cooking since then, since I surely have. I also can’t say I haven’t been writing since then, because it seem like I’ve written about three hundred pages since that time. What I can say is that a few things have changed since August. I finished my southern culinary tour, I moved into a new apartment, I ran a half marathon, I gained a serious affinity for Kombucha and turkey curry salad, and I finished my penultimate semester at college. So where does that leave me? At home, thinking about my last semester at college, and a little uneasy. So what do I turn to? Writing, but of course!

The other big thing I have to confess is: the inspiration to start back writing was both coming back home for the holidays, and (don’t judge) watching Julie and Julia. It’s not that I fell in love with that movie, but it’s that I realized that writing and food really are what I live for (I think that might be a line imbedded in that movie somewhere).

Dropping the dough (Eat me. Drink Me.)

Baking cookies (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

So what do I write about, to get things started one more time? I could go back to where I left off and talk about canning strawberry jam with my grandmother in Gretna, Virginia. Or I might be able to talk about that one article in Gourmet that inspired me to write a whole post, without posting it. Or maybe, I could talk about the fact that my dream job came crashing down the day Gourmet died. » Continue reading this post…

Come Together (Right Now, Over Me, Ba-da-da-da-dum)

Thanksgiving (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Americans love Thanksgiving. There’s feasting and family, paper turkeys, historically elusive pilgrims, ticker tape, brisk winds, tryptophan, and faintly ringing jingle bells making promises of an even bigger and better shabang to come. Maybe it’s an inborn gluttony or a cultural draw to symbol and spectacle. But maybe, through a delicious twist, a singularly American holiday is one in which pride, that cornerstone component of the (quotation marks necessary) “American Dream,” is replaced, at least hypothetically, by thankfulness.

Thanksgiving traditions are fierce and hard to kill. More than Christmas dinner, the Thanksgiving meal is scripted. There may be variations on a theme, but the melody is always turkey, stuffing, green beans, potatoes (both plain and sweet), bread, cranberry, and gravy. Last year, when I proposed to make an ancho-chile rubbed turkey from a recipe I found in Gourmet, my youngest brother said, “You’re going to ruin Thanksgiving.” Motivated by that vote of confidence, I made the turkey anyway, and was surprised when he announced over dinner that it was the best turkey we’d ever had. Of course, after seeing the “I-told-you-so” look on my face, he quickly recanted the statement.

Thanksgiving in my family doesn’t follow a specific formula, per se, but there’s always a menu-related tug of war between tradition and innovation that starts about a month before the event. Green beans bathed in butter, garlic, and roast almonds or ascetically blanched and served with salt and freshly ground pepper, Southern-style cheddar biscuits or jalapeno-studded cornbread or Pillsbury rolls from one of those popping cans, cranberry relish or cranberry jelly or cranberry salad, stuffing with chestnuts or croutons, mashed potatoes, potatoes au gratin, and the piece de resistance – where to begin on the duel-inducing differences. Brined, baked, slow-roasted, deep fried, basted, barbequed, stuffing in, stuffing out, salt-rubbed, herb-stuffed – if the turkey makes it to the table without a death in family, there’s more than enough reason to be thankful. » 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…

Bringing It Together in a Four-Foot Kitchen: Chicken Mole Wraps

Bushwick kitchen (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

On my silence, let me say this: Moving boxes, painting walls, working 8-hour days, and scouring a city for an extension cord or two is time consuming. I’ve barely been eating, much less writing about eating. Rice with ketchup was about as gourmet as it got. (Moment of silence for the sadly defunct Gourmet.) But all that is changing. I’m moved. My walls are orange. My clothes are hanging. My desk is bigger than it’s ever been. I am ready to go buy groceries.

Well. I was ready to buy groceries. And then I realized that I don’t know where to buy food in New York City. Think about that for a second. One of the biggest, most delicious cities in the country. And there’s not a normal grocery store for miles. Sure, there’s Whole Foods, if you want to spend $8 on an eggplant grown in a local, sustainably organic hydroponic cave. Or Trader Joe’s if you want a fist sized, shrink-wrapped head of lettuce you can only buy after waiting in a twenty minute line. There are specialty shops in midtown and unmarked bulk bags in Chinatown, ethnically-themed markets and bulgar-tempeh-tofu kingdoms, but all I really wanted was a comprehensive grocery store that wasn’t going to break the bank at item number three.

And then I thought – maybe I’m being a little too suburban right now. Maybe this is the chance for my foodie self to show some mettle. So I’ll buy the giant log of goat cheese for $5 at Trader Joe’s and my Illy espresso at Whole Foods. And I’ll buy my rice and nutmeg in Chinatown and my meat from the store down the street called “Meat.” I mean, it just takes time to grocery shop. And it’s not like I have to finish unpacking any boxes or commute to work or do the dishes. » Continue reading this post…

Paris in New York

Ceci-Cela (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I think I’ve found IT. True love. The café of my dreams. Ceci-Cela is located on Spring Street in the heart of SoHo, and the bohemian chic stroll by in droves. Inside, however, is an oasis of soft lights, well-worn wooden floors and tables, exposed brick walls, and crooked corners. There are only eight small tables in the back room; to get there, you walk past a display counter of glazed tortes and cakes, crisp croissants, and sugar cookies glistening with raspberry jam.

The first time I came to Ceci-Cela, I was visiting New York to meet up with a friend and native New Yorker, for whom coming to Ceci-Cela was a family tradition. We ordered cappuccinos and croissants, at which point Natalie, whose family is French and Persian, taught me the art of dipping croissant in coffee. It all felt so very – French, like being transported to Paris on a magic quiche.

I’ve been back a few times since then, stopping by almost every time I come to New York. And now that I live here (still so strange to say), I have the feeling I’ll be here more often. » Continue reading this post…

Why the Diet Will Never Work

Turkish pastries from Al Jazeera konditorei (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Right now, I’m sitting on a train from Berlin to Stuttgart, thinking back on my visits, the conversations I had, the things I saw, and the millions of pounds I gained. Not that I would give one single pound back. In fact, I’m stocked up for this train trip with a hefty mound of honey-laden pastries from Al-Jazeera, a Turkish Konditorei that my mom just happened to find once on a bike trip through Berlin.

When we first picked up our goodies, we walked into the two-armspan-wide store and asked for one of everything. The man on the other side of the counter couldn’t quite comprehend the request and asked us every third pastry or so if we really meant one of each. Oh yes, we did. And it didn’t take us long to walk back to our bikes locked other side of the street, open our three boxes of pastries and sample each piece. We had an assortment of Turkish baklava, stuffed with pistachios or peanuts, halva or melting sugar and layered between crisp sheets of phyllo dough dripping with honey.

There were three types of cake, one filled with apples and custard, another with crumb pressed into rose-water flavored cream, and a third which the pastry cook brought out after we had paid and which looked so good, we asked for a piece of that too and paid again.

After an extra-vigorous bike ride (a guilty calorie conscience?), we stumbled into a packed Vietnamese restaurant/café for lunch. Hamy, as the restaurant is called, only serves two dishes a day. Judiciously, my mother ordered the chicken curry on rice and I ordered the Pho with pan-fried pork over rice noodles. Hands down the best Vietnamese food I have ever eaten in my life, and for five Euros, the most reasonably priced. » Continue reading this post…