In Defense of Eating Alone: Chorizo, Poblano & Sweet Potato Fajitas with Lime-Marinated Red Onions

Fajitas with Yam (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I remember, once, seeing the heroine of some movie or TV show standing in front of her sink, shoveling a limp chicken breast into her mouth represented as the penultimate form of loneliness. That image, wedged into my consciousness, still influences the way I think about the social aspect of eating–that eating alone in public is taboo and eating alone in private is unfulfilled. It makes me bring a book and seek loud, busy establishments where I can hide when I do dine with myself.

And yet, I have eaten many wonderful meals alone.

The best of these was a lunch one summer when I had just turned fifteen. My family was living for a few months in Bremen, Germany, and I had been tentatively released into a big city on my own for the first time. I wandered past the market place with its intricately decorated buildings, through the old city Schnoor, where the smallest road was just an inch broader than the length from one shoulder to another, and into the Viertel, the “new” part of town. I had never been there – my family hadn’t had a chance to wander that far – but as it was noon and I was hungry, I looked for a place to eat. An unobtrusive, corner storefront with a roasting slab of meat rotating in the window beckoned me across the street, and I unknowingly ordered what is still the best döner kebab I’ve ever had.

For three euros, it was a massive affair. A fresh slab of pita stuffed full of lamb, red cabbage, cucumber, tomatoes, onions, crumbling cheese, and threaded through with cool, garlicky tzatziki sauce. I ate it on a rickety metal chair outside the shop and watched people walk by. I didn’t care that my hands were covered in drippings or that if I set that sandwich down I’d never be able to pick it up again – every bite tasted like growing up. » Continue reading this post…

Provincial Mornings (a post by Josh): Overnight French Toast

I found my new recipe for french toast. I found it after a long night, some mindless egg beating and an emotional conversation, but I think this time, the ends justify my means. Around 11 at night, I got a phone call:

“Hey. Um, when are you – going home?”

“When do you need me there?”

“Don’t rush. No. I’m fine.”

Around 11:10pm, I was home.

Around 1:30am, I was in bed.

What transpired from pm to am included a few venting tears, a bunch of hugs, and my resolution to do what I could to be there for her. What I leaned on was food, obviously. I mean, whenever I get down, I need there to be quick food so I don’t have to think about my next meal. That’s not exactly true, I’m quite the opposite, but I imagine others feel like that. At least, that’s how my friend felt.

She went to bed around 12:20am, and I found myself searching hard copy cook books and Epicurious for breakfasts that soothe my soul with hearty warmth. Pancakes stuffed with honeyed ricotta, waffles loaded with cherries and cardamom, omelets from the southwest – these were all recipes I tried to adapt for my friend.

But let’s be honest, it was the new morning slash late night and I had work the next day. That’s not to say that the culinary effort for my friend wasn’t worth it, but more than five hours of sleep seemed a worthy reason for taking the gourmet factor down a notch. So I fell back on my provincial friend – french toast. I remembered two things first – stale bread works best and dipping eggs are best with milk.

“French Toast” turns up about two hundred and one times on Epicurious, but I seemed to find my perfect recipe on the first page. » Continue reading this post…

Monday Wonder

Moroccan sardines (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Mondays aren’t notoriously good days. But this Monday, everything seems to be going right – I worked out this morning, had a deliciously crisp, cold apple for breakfast, and am still awake without having had my usual cappuccino.

But the best part of my day so far, has been lunch. I’ve recently discovered that the best way to have hot, fresh (well, kind of) French bread without gobbling an entire loaf in the hours before it goes stale, is to buy unbaked loaves, tear them into serving sizes, wrap them individually in aluminum foil, and freeze them.

I heated one of those bread packets in the oven until it was brown and crispy, smeared it with butter, and then topped it with Moroccan sardines in chili oil.

It was exactly what I wanted without knowing that I’d wanted it.

The softness of the sardines, their saltiness, that quick, subtle hit of chili and the richness of melted butter on crisped bread – sigh. It was delicious.

  » Continue reading this post…

913 Words Concerning Things You Should Know About Wine

Bread salad with wine (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

So you know that you swirl it in the glass with your pinkie finger pompously thrust out from your hand. And you know that you’ve got to take a long, slow whiff before sipping just the smallest bit and swishing it over your tongue. And you know that all this must be done with an impeccably smooth frown. But what exactly is it that you’re looking for when you taste a good wine? What do things like “vintage” or “tannins” mean – and how does that affect what you taste?

I’d like to explore what makes one wine different from another and what distinguishes a good wine from a bad one. Below, you’ll find some basic principles and vocabulary words which will be useful when further discussing wine.

What is wine?

Wine is fermented grape juice. In the process of fermentation, the sugar in the juice of crushed grapes is converted to alcohol, producing wine.

Ok. That was easy. Next question.

What is good wine?

Good wine is the result of different factors including soil, grapes (many wines are a mix of different varieties of grape), climate, and vineyard care. Not all wine grows better with age. Unlike a vintage store, where the older the ugly sequined dress the more expensive, vintage in the wine world simply denotes when the grapes were picked and the wine made.

How do I tell whether it’s good wine?

The process for determining the quality of a wine is as simple as look, smell, taste.

When you look at a wine, look for color and clarity. Hold the wine up to a white surface and check its color. Red wines can run the gamut from brick, ruby, purplish, or brownish, while white can be pale yellow, almost clear, or deep amber. Now check the wine’s opacity. » Continue reading this post…

And What a Joy It Is: Picadillo

Let me paint a picture for you: I’m standing in a cramped kitchen with a dripping, raw chicken cradled in one hand and a giant knife in the other. I am about to cut up said chicken, when I realize that I actually have no clue what cutting up a chicken entails. “Somebody grab The Joy of Cooking,” I yell, growing frantic with the weight of the chicken in my hand. (Chickens, although small, are deceptively heavy, and I did start lifting weights after this incident).

The Joy of Cooking, my kitchen bible, is procured, and with reassurance, the voice of Irma Rombauer tells me, “With a little practice and a sharp knife, you can easily cut a whole chicken, duck, turkey, or goose into serving pieces.” Thanks, Irma.

First published in 1931 as a coping mechanism for dealing with her husband’s suicide, The Joy of Cooking was Irma Rombauer’s first foray into helping cooks everywhere keep their households happy. Joy was a departure from other era cookbooks written mostly by cooking schools or dieticians. “Talking about ridiculous cookbooks,” said M. F. K. Fisher about her generation’s offerings, “One, lavishly larded with instructive photographs, illustrates the correct way to serve dinner rolls, each tied with satin ribbon and a red, red rose!”

Instead of such impractical or hard to follow instructions, Rombauer offered recipes suited for day to day life and included basic instructions for commonly used cooking techniques. After hitting on the action method–working the ingredients list into the directions–she republished the book in 1936 with Bobbs-Merrill and began a family-run cookbook empire.

Joy has undergone a number of reprints since then–not all of them lauded. It has tried to move with changing attitudes toward food, substituting unrationed substances for costlier commodities during WWII, adapting to post-war appliances like freezers in the home, and expanding to include international recipes when it appeared that there was a demand for them. » Continue reading this post…

Brunch – A fashionable Event (a post by Josh)

My housemates and I have decided to start up a less-than-innovative tradition within our group of friends: Brunch. Sunday Brunch, to be more exact. Sunday Brunch Potluck style to be precise. We figure that food is the best reason to come together, our house the best location, and Sunday the best time to prepare for the upcoming week.

As I said, this tradition is nothing new. In fact, we are rapidly approaching the 115th anniversary of the first publicized use of “Brunch.” Back in 1895, an Englishman, Guy Beringer, pleaded to the general readership of Hunter’s Weekly to delay breakfast and combine it with the mid-day meal. Unbeknownst to us, there were reasons other than as an excuse for gathering during the first push to popularize this meal. Beringer’s main arguing point for creating a conjoined meal rested largely on the goings on the night before; he wanted to drink more, until later, and not feel bad about it. In fact, Beringer also became revolutionary by suggesting that alcoholic drinks be taken with Brunch, which spawned (not until later) the birth of the Bloody Mary and mimosa.

“Brunch: A Plea” caught on throughout universities, allowing students to enjoy their Saturdays just that much more. The more general British public began to participate due not to increasing alcohol consumption, but because of the virtues that Beringer suggested came of Brunch, including compelling conversation, good temperament, a cheerful disposition, and an enticing and social environment. Who would have thought a combination of two meals into one would result in virtuosity, let alone psychological treatment. Beringer also insisted that Brunch was a source of satisfaction: “Brunch makes you satisfied with yourself.”

The dynamic duo of a meal stayed mostly in Britain, however, until the 1930s, When American Movie stars started to indulge in Brunch out of necessity. » Continue reading this post…

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…