The Magical Beignet

Everybody loves donuts. Almost every culture has the compulsion to throw a wad of dough into a hot pile of oil, fry it, cover or fill it with something delicious, and eat it. In Austria, krapfen stuffed with vanilla cream or apricot jam, are a particularly popular Carnival food. In Indonesia, a ring-shaped dough of flour and mashed potatoes is fried and coated in powdered sugar or confectioners icing and called donat kentang. China, Israel, Germany, Greece, and a slew of other countries have their own version of a donut. In France, they have beignets.

I’ve never had a particularly good relationship with beignets. I burned my arm once making them when I was twelve years old. One spoonful of dough dropped too hastily in a deceptively still pool of oil, and three kiss-shaped scars were suddenly splattered on my arm. Since that encounter, every time someone said the word beignet, drawing out the last syllable with nasal panache, I’d grimace and think, What a pretentious way to say donut. Although I can just barely find the scars now, I hadn’t had another beignet until last Sunday after the Super Bowl.

Two of my regular cooking companions had invited me to a study hall featuring beignets and black coffee. Drawn to any event involving food, I packed a bag with reading and headed to the kitchen in which they were busy mixing dough. The recipe was one from Gourmet, part of a Middle Eastern feast, and featured rose water, orange juice, and lemon zest in addition to the flour, butter, and eggs that formed the basis of the batter. The gathering involved little studying–I read nothing–and a lot of cooking, chatting, and eating. These beignets were nothing like the flat pads of dough I had tried to make as a twelve year old. » Continue reading this post…

Why We Eat. Why We Cook. Why We Write. (a post by Josh and Lyz)

One afternoon, two years ago, as Josh and I stood in my kitchen, munching on bagel chips and goat cheese, we came to the unsettling conclusion that our life plans were almost identical. We were both English majors, studying creative writing at Davidson College, both wanted to go to culinary school, and both wanted to enter careers that somehow combined the two.

“Weird.”

“Yeah.”

Since that discovery, we’ve been cooking together, sharing recipes, and arguing about the merits – or demerits – of everything we eat. And since that conversation, we’ve also come to realize that we share many of the same philosophies about eating, cooking, and writing – and how each of those elements influences, and also shapes, our lives.

My own love for food writing came from an unlikely source, the lavish and loving descriptions of feasts in the Redwall books, a children’s series created by Brian Jacques that chronicles the epic lives of a loyal band of mice, badgers, and otters as they battle an evil contingent of weasels and foxes. I read and reread mealtime scenes in Redwall, imagining the taste of Mossflower soup, the smell of fresh biscuits with butter and honey, hotcakes, and nut bread. Brain Jacques, my first food writer.

After Redwall, I started reading my mother’s cookbooks, her back issues of Saveur, even the recipe section in Southern Living. Although I grew up in a home that consistently had good food and freshly prepared meals, I first discovered my passion for food by reading about it. That progression, from reading to cooking, and now to writing, may be unconventional, but for me, reading, writing, and eating are invariably intertwined. I read to understand my culture, I write to understand myself, and I cook to understand how it all relates.

– Lyz

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For me, there wasn’t a Volta, a change in time, an epiphany when I decided “I must cook,” or “I must write.” To be honest, I’m still grappling with what those terms really mean. » Continue reading this post…