DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!

Food and Drink

Nov 27 2015

Maybe It’s More than a Meal

by Dea Anne M

An instructor, who was leading a class I took recently, started off by asking the participants to go around the room and introduce ourselves and, as a little twist, to name our favorite Thanksgiving dish for everyone else. The choices ran the gamut from the plain yet delicious (mashed potatoes), to the more elaborate (a type of pie which sounded fantastic), to the outre (my own choice, my Mom’s lasagna, which I happen to love so, yes…I cheated…and yes, we have had it for the holiday meal). Folks spoke of their favorites–green bean casserole, pumpkin pie, sweet potato casserole with marshmallows or pecans–and the enthusiasm with which my classmates spoke about their favorites made me realize that there’s real emotion tied to our anticipation of what we think of as traditional holiday food. Of course, this includes turkey for many of us.

Now, I don’t care much for turkey myself and I don’t know that anyone in my extended family was particularly crazy about it. Yet there it sat, year after year during my childhood, providing a mighty anchor to my grandmother’s table. For just a simple Sunday dinner, my grandmother set what can only be described as a “groaning board,” and at Thanksgiving that poor table pretty much gave up and begged for mercy. The bird always seemed to dwarf the many side dishes that mobbed the turkey nonetheless like a bunch of underemployed paparazzi suddenly catching sight of Beyonce and Jay Z out on a double date with Angelina and Brad. I mean, there was barely room for our plates.

How is it that such food becomes a “tradition” in the first place? Well, let’s see.

  1. Turkey may or may not have played a part in the earliest Thanksgiving menus. Certainly the wild turkey has been a resident on this continent since it strolled over here from Asia about turkey50,000 years ago, but the best known record of the “first Thanksgiving” celebrated by the Pilgrims of Plymouth in 1621 mentions “wild fowl,” which could have easily been turkey, geese, ducks, or all three. There’s some logic to the thinking that the domestic turkey later seized its holiday seat of supremacy by virtue of its size (i.e., more people fed from one dish) and its lack of utility for egg production. At DCPL, see How to Cook a Turkey from the editors of Fine Cooking for all the information you will need to prepare next year’s bird.
  2. Pumpkin is another food that has traveled. Pumpkins are native to the Americas, but the pies didn’t become popular until after the pumpkin’s arrival in Tudor England from whence it hopped back over the Atlantic with the Pilgrims. Today, many–if not most of us–who choose to make a pumpkin pie select pumpkin in a can over fresh. If you’ve ever tried to cut up or peel any sort of hard-shelled gourd or squash, then you will understand this preference–although a pie pumpkin is much smaller than the one you might select for a jack-o-lantern. In any case, pumpkins are a true harvest vegetable so their inclusion at Thanksgiving makes sense. At DCPL, see A Year of Pies: A Seasonal Tour of Home Baked Pies by Ashley English, and make Gingersnap Pumpkin Pie with Candied Pumpkin Seeds next year.
  3. Sweet potatoes–either baked, mashed or made into a casserole–were not a part of the first Thanksgiving. bubblyBy the late 1800’s (right around the time Thanksgiving became a recognized holiday) candied sweet potatoes had developed a following in such northern cities as Philadelphia. Of course, folks in the South had already been eating sweet potatoes for a while. The addition of marshmallows came shortly afterward and the casserole’s fate was sealed. That is, unless you’re like me and prefer a crunchy, and infinitely more ethereal topping of crushed pecans, glazed with butter and brown sugar. See Clifford A. Wright’s Bake Until Bubbly: The Ultimate Casserole Cookbook to find a recipe for a sweet potato casserole that features a pralined, and thus correct, pecan topping.

While we’re talking about “traditional” food for the Thanksgiving feast, let us not forget that many, many families include dishes that reflect their cultural heritage and which are as important to a proper celebration as a specific kind of dressing or gravy (served from a boat and not a bowl) may be to you. People of Ukrainian origin might choose to include cabbage rolls and pickled herring with the meal. A Korean family might always be sure that kimchee and pa jun pancakes grace the table. From agnolotti to tamales, the presence and the taste of certain food just means holiday–and if you are cooking for others, you’d best not forget that.

I’ll never forget the year that I volunteered to make a green bean casserole. Regular readers of this blog might believe that I think of myself as some sort of fancy-pants cook–and all I will say to that is… some people would tell you you’re right. I steamed the fresh green beans to the point of perfection before mixing them with a carefully prepared cream sauce made with fresh mushrooms and spiked with sherry and lemon. Once I had topped my gorgeous dish with a layer of caramelized onions and baked it for the proper time and at the proper temperature, I took it to the potluck practically bursting with pride in my creation. Well, we all know what pride goeth before. Everyone was polite about my dish and, after all, there’s something to be said about carrying home one’s own leftover green bean casserole. It certainly reduces anxiety about what to eat for lunch the day after Thanksgiving (and the day after that). The problem, of course, was that my casserole simply didn’t have the flavor of the green bean dish that most of the guests knew. Most of that flavor comes from cans. But, that didn’t matter a bit. It wasn’t that my casserole didn’t taste good–it was that it didn’t taste the same.

I think that an excellent attitude toward food, and receiving it in the proper spirit of genuinely giving thanks, may have been summed up best by the late, and very great, Edna Lewis. Her book The countryTaste of County Cooking is revered as a true classic–both as a cookbook on southern cooking and as a memoir. Lewis was born and raised in Freetown, Virginia, which was founded by African Americans, many of them emancipated slaves, including her own grandfather. Lewis’s book is a delightful tour through the seasons and the wonderful food cooked by people whose lives were devoted to tending the earth and all of its gifts. These were people who truly understood gratitude. When Lewis’s editor Judith Jones asked her why she had not included a menu for Thanksgiving, Lewis answered with the quiet dignity for which she was widely known: “We didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving. We celebrated Emancipation Day.” If you have never read Lewis’s wonderful book, I urge you not to pass it up. In the meantime, look here for Francis Lam’s insightful and beautifully written profile of Lewis which appeared in in the October 28th issue of the New York Times magazine. If you are as yet unacquainted with this fascinating and regal woman, you will be glad to make that acquaintance now.

{ 0 comments }

Burger King seemed to have the popular edge over McDonald’s in Orlando, Florida, where I spent most of my formative years. Maybe this is because in 1953, Jacksonville became the original Home of the Whopper. In any case, fast food wasn’t much of an issue when I was growing up. On the very rare occasions that my family went out to eat (usually before the drive-in double feature and always in the car), it was Burger King all the way. I suspect this is because my father preferred the Whaler (as the Big Fish was then called) to the Fillet-O-Fish. My own taste leaned toward the milkshakes, as did my brother’s, and we pronounced them “superb” from the back seat as we discussed (i.e., fought over) the relative merits of strawberry versus chocolate.

Well, it’s a not-so-secret secret that fast food juggernaut McDonald’s has been in a sales decline for at least a few years now. In fact, according to this recent article in the New York Times “Big Food” as an industry is facing some very scary times. Now you may greet that news with glee, dismay or utter indifference, but the fact remains that businesses are in the business of staying alive and growing as much as they possibly can. What is to be done?

This story from the November 2nd issue of The New Yorker suggests that more and more people want a healthy meal at a good price. Of course, “good price” is a relative term and a fully loaded one. The young Manhattanites featured in the article’s opening consider eight to fifteen dollars for a meal a pretty fair deal. While you can certainly spend that much at McDonald’s, a typical lunch might run you a little over five dollars, and get you out of the drive-through line in about that many minutes. When it comes to real value, these same young Manhattanites–as well as increasing numbers of people everywhere–want tasty food, free of antibiotics, unpronounceable additives, and the now thoroughly tarnished reputation of factory farming. Reasonable prices are desirable too, but not as a consolation prize in the absence of those other factors. It would seem that McDonald’s has a complicated trek ahead if it wants to recapture its previous market glory. In fact, it’s difficult to see this happening unless it becomes something quite different indeed.

Still, let it not be said that we Americans don’t love our burgers and subs and chicken and barbeque. Furthermore, we love to eat out…a lot. The average American might eat 5 meals a week or more in restaurants, and most of those restaurants will be fast or what is known in the industry as “fast casual.” Are you fed up with (so to speak) the pack ’em in and move ’em out fast dining experience? Maybe you value reasonable prices and also sustainability and healthier ingredients–or you just want food that tastes better. This recent article from Bon Appetit‘s website will point you toward 32 fast service restaurants to watch. Some of these, like Five Guys Burgers and Fries and Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches, are familiar to us here. Others, like the West Coast’s In-N-Out Burger and the British chain Pret-A-Manger, are still expanding. One of them, LocoL, has yet to open at all (as of this writing). Still, the future for restaurant dining looks a little brighter.

Or you could always cook at home.

“Dream on,” you say. “I always pick up a bucket at KFC on Tuesdays. The kids are like wild animals after soccer so why on earth would I fry chicken at home? Besides, think of the mess!”

Believe me, I hear you–but, before you completely dismiss the idea, consider these resources from DCPL.

My partner cherishes a fond memory of Outback Steakhouse’s Bloomin’ Onion. My partner is not a basketball team–which you would have to be (a basketball team, that is) to burn off the heft of this titanic “appetizer.” Deep-fried and lavishly sauced, this well disguised allium resembles the sort of novelty you purchase on a whim at the county fair and regret as soon as the double Ferris wheel starts its ascent. At almost 2000 calories, it is in no way an appropriate teaser for a full steak dinner. This istop secret a highly personal point of view, of course, and one with which my partner, being a reasonable person, has come to agree. However, if I wanted to, I could make it at home, and Todd Wilbur’s Top Secret Restaurant Recipes would coach me every greasy step of the way. Other books by Wilbur include Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 (for Chili’s Southwestern Egg Rolls) and Top Secret Recipes Unlocked (for McDonald’s Sweet Iced Tea). Of course, you and I both know that I won’t be making a Bloomin’ Onion any time soon. I mean, think of the mess!

eat thisDavid Zinczenko is the author of the popular Eat This, Not That series of titles in which he schools us all on the better choices we can make at fast food and fast casual restaurants–including, of course, in the mall. For those cooking at home, there is Cook This, Not That. Zinczenko shows us how to save calories, as well reduce the fat and sodium in our diets, by cooking in our own kitchens. This, in itself, cook thiswould be a bit disingenuous since most nutritionists agree that home cooking is almost always a better choice. However, Zinczenko does come up with some truly tasty alternatives. The book’s title might imply that you are recreating clones of favorite restaurant dishes in your own kitchen, but what you’re actually doing is cooking recipes that mirror the less desirable restaurant meals. It’s your choice, but I will say that the food in Cook This Not That looks remarkably delicious with recipes like Mushroom Swiss Burgers and Cauliflower and Butternut Curry. Let me repeat–this book most emphatically is not in the business of giving you exact recipes for dishes like Olive Garden’s Spaghetti and Italian Sausage or Applebee’s Steakhouse Burger. Instead, Zinczenko shows you how to make Spaghetti with Spicy Tomato Sauce and the previously mentioned Mushroom Swiss Burger. To my mental palate, these are trades well worth making.

madhungryFinally, here are a couple of books in a similar vein to those mentioned above:

The Chinese Takeout Cookbook by Diana Kuan

Mad Hungry Cravings by Lucinda Scala Quinn

Of course, there are times when you want, crave, need a Big Mac or a Spicy Italian Sub, and you’re on the road, exhausted, laid up with the flu or otherwise don’t want to go anywhere near a kitchen. For these times, keep in mind that list of “better” restaurants mentioned above and see if a reasonable alternative presents itself. Just remember–a burger and fries from Five Guys, or the Atomic Wing Combo at Wingstop, are still going to be a burger and fries and a basket full of wings and, not say, a salad and a piece of broiled fish.

Not to ruin your good mood or anything.

As for me, I’m kind of in the mood for a strawberry shake (made at home, of course).  Then, maybe I’ll find a handy car to drink it in, surrounded by uncontentious silence, or perhaps in the company of a kindred spirit who remembers the shakes of yesterday with as much fondness as I do.

{ 0 comments }

Jul 10 2015

Embracing the eggplant…er…I think

by Dea Anne M

For a number of years, in my twenties and beyond, I was a vegetarian. I was convinced that pursuing this path was right for me for a variety of reasons although my most compelling concerns were environmental. I actually still believe that limiting our consumption of animal products can be an effective way of living a little more lightly on our planet although I started eating meat again quite some time ago. Certainly the options are much broader now for those choose a vegetarian or vegan diet some or all of the time.  In fact, the opportunities for upscale vegetarian dining have never been better from Dirt Candy in New York City to Cafe Gratitude in Los Angeles to Millennium in San Francisco to Arpege in Paris (which isn’t vegetarian but features a very vegetable heavy menu).

Lately, I’ve felt a yearning to return, at least partially, to vegetarian dining but I don’t want to approach it in the same manner that I used to. For example, a vegan lunch or dinner back then would have consisted of a stir fry heavily embellished with nuts and tofu or maybe a pizza made with soy based cheese.  A vegetarian meal might be rice and beans with a thick garnish of cheese and maybe some sour cream for good measure. A lot of this, cheesy, nutty, soybeany heaviness had to do with a general anxiety, promoted especially by such counter culture “bibles” as Frances Moore Lappe’s Diet for a Small Planet and the original Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen,  that vegetarians must combine the “incomplete” proteins found in grains and legumes or consume dairy products in order to attain a healthy diet. This view has been widely discredited in recent years and current dietary wisdom holds that vegan and vegetarians alike share the same nutritional challenge faced by the majority of Americans namely – eating enough of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. I’ve always been a little surprised at the number of folks I’ve met who practice a vegetarian diet who don’t really like vegetables. To be honest, I was one myself. It has only been in recent years that I’ve truly begun to embrace the beauty and deliciousness of vegetables and fruits. Nowadays, an ideal vegetarian lunch for me is an iteration of the good old southern vegetable plate featuring field peas, sauteed kale with garlic, sliced tomatoes, and corn on the cob with maybe watermelon for dessert. Yum!

Are you interested in exploring vegetarian and/or vegan options in your diet? Maybe you are a practicing vegetarian who just needs some new mealtime ideas. Either way, DCPL has the resources to help.

I’ve mentioned Mark Bittman and his books in other posts but let me, again, vegetarianrecommend his How To Cook Everything Vegetarian. Long time vegetarians and beginners alike will find that this is one book that lives up to its title. From Acorn Squash Stuffed with Wild Rice to Ziti Baked with Goat Cheese and Olives, this volume is comprehensive plus and vegan options abound. This could be the only vegetarian cookbook that you’ll ever need.

Deborah Madison, who opened Greens, the San Francisco everyonefine dining destination in 1979, has updated her much loved, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone to incorporate more modern techniques and ingredients. The result is The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and boy is it a stunner. Not everything here is “quick and easy” – or cheap for that matter – but every recipe is positively sumptuous. Try the Tangerine Pudding Cake with Raspberry Coulis if you don’t believe me.

“Umami” is a term that gets thrown about in a lot of circles – including some of meatlessmine – but what does it really mean? Well, it is a Japanese word that roughly translates to “pleasant taste” and is meant to describe a certain savoriness in food that results from our taste receptors picking up a substance called glutamate. Asian fish sauce and steak are held up as prime examples of umami carrying foods but other foods are rich in umami as well including mushrooms and tomatoes. Dina Cheney’s Meatless All Day: Recipes for Inspired Vegetarian Meals is something a little different in vegetarian cookbooks. Cheney incorporates 45 “power ingredients” into her recipes to boost umami. Some of these include parmesan cheese, miso, and caramelized onions. Whether or not meat eaters will “never miss the meat” is debatable and the recipes are a bit heavy on cheese and eggs but overall this is a worthy addition to your vegetarian cookbook shelf.

cottageFinally, let me highlight two well-written and beautifully photographed cookbooks that will appeal to anyone – vegetarian or not. River Cottage Veg: 200 Inspired Vegetable Recipes comes from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall who is probably best known as Britain’s leading exponent of “nose to tail” eating but he is actually a champion of sustainable cuisine in general and these days declaims the viplatertues of a more plant based diet. Written in a comfortable, chatty style River Cottage Veg is just plain fun to read and the recipes are fantastic. Asparagus Pizza anyone? Mollie Katzen’s (she of the previously mentioned Moosewood Cookbook) latest offering is The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation, and it is a beauty. Katzen’s aim here is to “layer” flavors for a more sophisticated dish. Examples are Orange Rice and Black Beans and Kale and Grilled Bread Salad with Red Onions, Walnuts and Figs. Just reading about Farfalle and Rapini in Creamy Walnut Sauce makes me want to get in my own kitchen and cook!

Vegetables rule…although I have yet to find a recipe for eggplant that I’ve really been satisfied with. How about you? Are you a vegetarian or interested in exploring those options? What are some of your favored cookbooks? Let me know and if you happen to have a good eggplant recipe to send my way, please feel free.

 

{ 1 comment }

Jun 12 2015

Meals Al Fresco…Or Perhaps Not

by Dea Anne M

This is the time of year when many people’s thoughts turn to all sorts of outdoor entertainments, particularly picnics. Summer and picnics just seem to go together for a lot of us. I say “seem” because, when it comes down to it, I don’t really like dining outside very much. I always think that I should–as so much of my life’s reading has involved romantic accounts of picnics in the gracious English countryside or on magnificent windswept coasts overlooking the Pacific. The reality of my actual picnic experience though has been far different. For example, the food never quite matches my literary memories of delectable cucumber sandwiches sliced utra-thin and steamed Dungeness crabs pulled straight from the water an hour before. While I love deviled eggs and watermelon, there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly romantic about them. And then there are the physical discomforts. The heat! The sun! The mosquitoes! Whenever someone asks me if I would agree with the adage “everything tastes better outdoors,” my answer is a quick and definitive “It depends.”

As it happens, National Picnic Week begins on Sunday, June 13, this year. While I possess the celebratory spirit as much as anyone, if someone invites me to a picnic, my first question will always be “Will there be an umbrella involved?” There had better be, because otherwise I’m eating my deviled eggs inside. You may not agree with me, and if you are a picnic lover eatinglooking for new recipe ideas or someone new to picnicking who needs inspiration, then DCPL has what you need. See, for example, Country Living, Eating Outdoors: Sensational Recipes for Cookouts, Picnics and Take-Along Food from the editors of Country Living magazine for plenty of ideas. When I’m being completely honest with myself though, I have to admit that I prefer experiencing outdoor eating vicariously through books. Literature is surprisingly filled with meals of all sorts, and some of those meals happen outside. Here are some of my favorite examples.

mountainThere’s a scene in Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier in which Ada and Ruby go to check on the progress of an apple orchard. The women have so far survived the extreme hardships brought on by the Civil War through a combination of Ada’s determination and Ruby’s intelligence and survival skills. For their picnic, the women take cold fried chicken left over from the previous night’s dinner, cucumber slices in vinegar, and a potato salad for which Ruby, true to form, has “whipped up the mayonnaise.”

Readers of Jane Austen will be familiar with two dramatically different scenes in Emma. In the first, Mr. Knightley has suggested a luncheon following strawberry picking at his elegant estate, Donwell Abbey. He listens, for a few moments, to theemma lovable, yet frustrating Emma wax rhapsodic about large bonnets, small baskets and tables spread out under the trees. “Everything as natural and simple as possible,” Emma declares. Mr. Knightley replies in his usual dry fashion, “The nature and the simplicity of gentlemen and ladies, with their servants and furniture, I think is best observed by meals within doors. When you are tired of eating strawberries in the garden, there shall be cold meat in the house.” The next day, the same party goes to Box Hill, where Emma believes that all her wishes for the ideal pastoral picnic will come true. Instead, the day turns into a bit of a disaster. “There was a languor, a want of spirits, a want of union, which could not be got over.” Emma winds up thoughtlessly insulting the well-meaning and inoffensive Miss Bates. Mr. Knightley (who Emma is in love with, although she doesn’t know it yet) confronts her with her behavior, and the group finally leaves the scenic spot carrying away with them hurt feelings and anger.

willowsKenneth Grahame describes a very different sort of picnic in The Wind in the Willows. Ratty decides to prepare a picnic for a French seafaring rat he has just met. Ratty truly wants to please his new friend, and so “remembering the stranger’s origins and preferences, he took care to include a yard of long French bread, a sausage out of which the garlic sang, some cheese which lay down and cried, and a long-necked straw covered flask containing bottled sunshine shed and garnered on far Southern slopes.” How could disagreements erupt over such delicious, and poetic, food?

Finally, we come to Women In Love by D.H. Lawrence in which Lawrencewomen paints a scene that may come closest to my fantasies of the perfect English picnic. The sisters Ursula and Gudrun, the “women in love” of the title, have had a long swim. “When they had run and danced themselves, the girls quickly dressed and sat facing the slope of the grassy hill, alone in a little wild world of their own.” They lunch on hot tea, “delicious little sandwiches of cucumber and of caviare” and cakes described as “winy.” Ursula asks Gudrun if she is happy, and Gudrun replies that she is perfectly so–and really, who wouldn’t be, sitting in such an idyllic setting and eating such wonderful food?

Still, when it comes to eating al fresco, I side with Mr. Knightley. Give me a table indoors anytime and let me go on dreaming about perfect picnics.

What about you? Do love a classic picnic and where would it be? What is your ideal picnic food and what is your favorite literary picnic?

 

{ 4 comments }

May 13 2015

National Barbecue Month

by Glenda

BBQDid you know that May is National Barbecue Month? Barbecuing is a very popular pastime in our country. No matter if you prefer charcoal or gas, barbecuing is American as apple pie. Most people use barbecues to get together with family and friends. Barbecuing is also a great excuse to get outside and enjoy the weather. It can also be very healthy. Usually when people barbecue they use fresh food, which is better for our bodies. Barbecuing can be economical because making food at home is usually cheaper than eating out.

When I think of barbecue, I think of ribs smothered in sauce, shish kebabs and grilled corn. I think of being with my family and having a good time. I think of fireworks and being at various Atlanta area parks. Barbecues are about so much more than the food. If you have barbecued food on the brain, stop by your local library and pick up some of the wonderful books on barbecuing.

The Gardener and the Grill: The Bounty of the Garden Meets the Sizzle of the Grill by Karen Adler and Judith Fertig

Good Housekeeping Grilling: More Than 275 Perfect Year Round Recipes, Rosemary Ellis, Editor-in-Chief

Michael Chiarello’s Live Fire: 125 Recipes for Cooking Outdoors by Michael Chiarello

100 Grilling Recipes You Can’t Live Without by Cheryl and Bill Jamison

So enjoy all of May–and if you can, barbecue every day for the rest of the month.

 

{ 1 comment }

Mar 20 2015

Devouring Downton

by Dea Anne M

Like many people (including some fellow bloggers), I have fallen under the spell of Downton Abbey, the PBS period drama. Through war and social upheavals; marriages, births and deaths; scandals and joys–I find the story of the Crawley family and the servants who work for them utterly irresistible. One aspect of the show I find particularly fascinating is the impeccable attention to detail that goes into the set designs and the costumes. Every aspect of the Crawley’s world seems rendered perfectly–including the routines of the household which, of course, feature many, many meals. I love watching scenes that take place at the many elaborate dinner parties as well as those of humbler meals shared by the servants. I think my favorite food-related sequences are the ones set in the Downton kitchens. I’m fascinated with the food that Mrs. Patmore and her staff prepare week after week, and I often wonder how everything appears so seamless. Well, this recent article in the New York Times makes it clear exactly how hard the show’s food stylist, the very talented Lisa Heathcote, works to guarantee the sleek appearance and historical accuracy of any scene involving food. Imagine cooking 60 chickens in one day! All in all, a very interesting article for of us Downton fans.

Can’t get enough of Downton Abbey? If so, you might want to explore these titles from DCPL.

edwardian

If you’d like to delve into some of the cooking of Edwardian Britain (the series begins slightly after), consider Recipes From An Edwardian Country House by Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall, as well as The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook by Emily Ansara Baines. Fearnley-Whittingstall’s book is charmingly written while the Baines book includes recipes for some very scrumptious looking dishes with cutesy names such as Tom Branson’s Colcannon and Lady Mary’s Crab yearCanapes. I can’t vouch for the authenticity of the recipes in either book, but they look like fun. You’ll find more recipes in A Year in the Life of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes, which depicts life at Downton during the year 1924 and includes descriptions of family trips and festivities.

In the show, Cora Crawley, i.e. Lady Grantham, is an American heiress whose fortune is key toward allowing Downton Abbey to stay in the family. This story reflects the reality of many wealthy young American women during what’s known as The Gilded Age. They flocked to England to marry noblemen whose finances were in need of some shoring up–basically trading money for titles. Arguably, the most famous of these so called “Dollar Princesses” was Consuelo Vanderbilt who became the Duchess of Marlborough in 1895. Her marrymemoir, The Glitter and the Gold: The American Duchess–In her Own Words, originally published in 1953, has been reissued in paperback and promises to be a fascinating read.

You can read more of Cora’s story, and those of her sisters in this peculiar marriage market, in Gail MacColl’s and Carol Wallace’s book To Marry An English Lord. Gossipy and engaging, the book provides insight into the pleasures, and often pains, experienced by this unique group of women. And for the view from “downstairs,” don’t miss Minding the Manor: The Memoir of a 1930s English Kitchen Maid by Mollie Moran and Below Stairs by Margaret Powell, belowboth written by women who worked as kitchen maids in two of the great houses in the early twentieth century.

Of course, I can’t seem to make it through a single episode of Downton Abbey without sighing over some item of clothing worn by one of the show’s characters, and now that the action has moved into the 1920’s (one of my favorite fashion eras ever!) the pleasures are non-stop. If you, like me, love the show’s costuming and you plan to be in Asheville this spring, be sure to check out the more than 40 Downton costumes which will be on display at our country’s own stately home, the Biltmore Estate. It might be worth making a special trip just to see the scrumptious green silk dress that Lady Mary wore at Matthew’s first Downton dinner.

Do you like Downton Abbey? What aspect of the show pleases you most and do you have a favorite character?

{ 1 comment }

Mar 6 2015

Racing the Clock

by Dea Anne M

Regular readers of this blog know that cooking is one of my hobbies. I love nothing better than spending hours in the kitchen, chopping, sauteing, stirring and braising, all in the service of what I hope will be a memorable meal. Realistically though, on a day-to-day basis, I don’t have hours to spend cooking–unless I wanted to sit down to dinner at ten or eleven every night, which I don’t. That’s one reason why I’m excited about Mark Bittman’s latest compendium How to Cook Everything Fast: A Better Way to Cook Great Food.

I’ve long been an admirer of Bittman’s work for the “Opinions” column of The New York Times as well as his food writing for the paper’s “Dining” section. Bittman’s opinion pieces can inspire, shall we say, lively debate among readers. He’s a passionate advocate for a more plant-based diet and for cooking at home, as well as stricter government regulation of food production. His outspoken stand on these and other related issues has earned him labels ranging from elitist to hero to public menace. He tends to provoke commentary that often boils down to “Mark Bittman can’t tell me what to do!” In any case, his cookbooks are admired by a larger group than perhaps appreciates his politics and none more so than his “Everything” titles–which include the original How to Cook Everything: 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great Good and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food.

Since Bittman is focusing on speed in How to Cook Everything Fast, you won’t find every recipe under the sun. Still, at 1,056 pages, it’s a surprisingly comprehensive work. No, you won’t find cassoulet or beef stew here … except wait…there are recipes for cassoulet and beef stew! True, these are streamlined versions of the cook-all-day classics, but they appear to be creditable renditions nonetheless. I’ve already pegged Beer Glazed Black Beans with Chicken and Chorizo and Pasta with Kale and Ricotta as two recipes I plan to try this week. You could cook exclusively from this book for a very long time and never repeat yourself.

Are you someone who appreciates a delicious dinner but needs to get it ready fast? If so, DCPL has resources to help. Along with Bittman’s book (very highly recommended) check out the following:

Weeknight Wonders: Delicious, Healthy Dishes in 30 Minutes or Less from the Food Network’s healthy cooking guru Ellie gourmetKrieger.

Gourmet Weekday: All-Time Favorite Recipes by the editors of gone, but not forgotten, Gourmet magazine.

Kitchen Simple: Essential Recipes for Everyday Cooking by celebrated cookbook author and master of technique James Peterson.

kitchenEveryday Food: Great Good Fast from the kitchens of Martha Stewart Living.

Real Simple Meals Made Easy by Renee Schettler, from the editors of Real Simple magazine.

Everyday Easy by British food television superstar Lorraine Pascale.

What’s your favorite way to get dinner on the table fast?

 

 

{ 0 comments }

Feb 6 2015

Superlatively Delicious

by Dea Anne M

I have to admit to a not-so-secret fondness for “best of” lists. I know perfectly well as I am reading them that this is just one person’s (or group’s) opinion about the qualities of whatever is being judged. I know this, and yet time and again I find myself engaging in the entertaining (and really kind of silly) activity of “taking umbrage.” How could “Downton Abbey” make her list and NOT “Game of Thrones”? (Of course, I am a fan of both). No way is Dickens a better writer than Jane Bowles! (Although, actually, he probably is–just don’t get in a time machine and try telling that to my early-twenties self). What makes him think that the Doors were more influential than the Velvet Underground? Who told him he knew anything about music?!! Just WHO does he think he is???!!!

Thus, many delicious hours can be spent while less exciting activities like laundry and regular meals go by the wayside. These days, I try to resist the lure of the list–particularly around this time of year when they seem to pop up everywhere. Though I couldn’t help myself when I saw that Food & Wine magazine had posted a list of the “Best Cookbooks of All Time.” When I clicked on the link, I have to admit to feeling a touch of disappointment. Don’t get me wrong. The cookbooks praised here are no doubt worthy of somebody’s “best of” accolade–just not mine. As regular readers of this blog know, I am a huge fan of cookbooks and I have some pretty particular ideas about what makes a good one. More to my taste (so to speak) is The Nine Best Cookbooks of All Time, a list compiled via poll of the editors and readers of the excellent community cooking blog Food 52. Each of these books are the type of essential kitchen reference that you want if you are faced, either due to necessity or sheer desire, with roasting a chicken or making spinach calzone. All but one of these titles is owned by DCPL which makes it possible to take any one of these excellent cookbooks home for a “test drive.” I suspect, though, that sooner or later you may want at least one of these (or more) in your permanent collection. I own several of these books, and have cooked from the ones that I don’t, so I think I can safely recommend this list wholeheartedly.

The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker. I own one of the older editions of this book and I refer to it all the time for ideas and basic techniques. I even appreciate the “folksy” anecdotes. All in all, the recipes have stood the test of time and the conversational tone of Joy remains vegetableimmensely pleasing.

Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison. Madison is a long time champion of elegant vegetarian cooking. In this beautiful volume she celebrates vegetables themselves in all their luscious glory. Vegetables are grouped by family, which helps with substitutions, and the gorgeous pictures are sure to inspire. You may well begin making vegetables the star of your dinner plate!

The Silver Palate Cookbook by Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso. Beloved by caterers everywhere, this war horse still has relevance today almost 35 years after it was first published. True, dishes like Ratatouille and Chicken Marbella don’t seem as exotic to us now, but these recipes are no less delicious with the passing of time. The recipe for the Pate Maison alone is worth the cost of the book in my opinion. Alas, DCPL doesn’t own Silver Palate but gently used copies are readily available.

The Fanny Farmer Cookbook by Marion Cunningham. This is an excellent basic American cookbook and one that I use often. There’s nothing fancy here–and that’s kind essentialof the point.

The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century by Amanda Hesser. This book is enormous fun if you, like me, enjoy reading cookbooks. Hesser spent several years cooking her way through every recipe ever published in the New York Times food pages (since the 1850s!) and has compiled the best of them here. Each chapter lists the recipes chronologically. It’s fun to see the evolution of American taste. Hesser’s sharp and witty writing makes the book even more fun. I have made the Salad a la Romaine, the Stuck Pot Rice, and the Pickled Shrimp over and over again–and the sheer deliciousness of the South African casserole, Bobotie, is enough to inspire in me fits of culinary daydreaming. Highly recommended.

How to Cook Everything: 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great Food and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food by Mark Bittman. Truth in advertising! Unless you’re trying to track down a festival dish enjoyed by the residents of a remote village in Papua, New Guinea, or you want the definitive recipe for Crappit Heid (the oats-stuffed cod heads once consumed by Gaelic fishermen), then you’re bound to find what you need here. From arepas to zucchini pancakes (Asian style!), Bittman covers it all. The vegetarian volume is quite simply the most comprehensive vegetarian simplecookbook that I have ever seen and the recipes are great.

The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters. Reading Alice Waters wax lyrical about the pure, angelic beauty of a green salad will provoke either nods of agreement or uncontrollable gnashing of teeth. Still, the deep commitment to the fundamentals of cooking and the freshest ingredients cannot be denied. The recipes are not “easy” per se, but they are all well balanced and capture the essence of Kitchen Pleasure. A modern classic.

The Way to Cook by Julia Child. It’s Julia Child and what else, really, do you smittenneed to know?

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman. Perelman has a very winning writing style which is part of what has made her Smitten Kitchen blog so wildly successful. She is also an extremely creative cook with an unerring palate. The big surprise here is that although this isn’t a vegetarian cookbook, the selection of vegetarian recipes is absolutely delicious looking and vegetable-centric with nary an over-cheesed casserole in sight. Reading this book sort of makes me feel like I’m talking to a really good friend.

What cookbooks would you consider the best? Do you have a collection? What do you think of “best of” lists?

{ 0 comments }

Nov 28 2014

A Nation’s Tastes

by Dea Anne M

thanksgivingtablesWho would have predicted, least of all the hardworking writers and editors of the New York Times, the level of outcry and (mostly good-humored) dismay that their November 18th article The United States of Thanksgiving would generate? The idea behind the article is that there are iconic holiday dishes unique to each state in the Union as well as Puerto Rico. (Click the image to the right for a larger version of the condensed visual overview.) Some selections make sense, such as Georgia’s Pecan Pie and Idaho’s Hasselback Potatoes with Garlic Paprika Oil. Others seem…well…questionable, like Nebraska’s Standing Rib Roast. But no selection has caused as much of an (albeit mild) uproar than the choice for Minnesota of Grape Salad. As writer David Tanis explains, this is a concoction made up of simply grapes, sour cream and brown sugar. Now that actually sounds pretty good to me, just not…Thanksgiving-ish (and no one could accuse me of being a culinary traditionalist). Responses to the choice, particularly from Minnesotans themselves, have been good-natured. Check out #grapegate for some of the outcry. Texas weighs in too, as in as this piece from the Austin360 food blog explaining that Texans don’t eat Turkey Tamales until after Thanksgiving. Perhaps the ultimate “take-down” of the Times article is Linda Holmes of NPR weighing in the next day. As Holmes, a former decade-long resident of Minnesota explains–with her usual dry wit–morel mushrooms or wild rice would more accurately reflect the culinary traditions of the Land of 10,000 Lakes. In any case, the public response was so quick and dramatic that the Public Editor for the New York Times issued a piece on November 20th that wryly characterized the original article as an “epic fail” and Tanis’s fellow NYT writer Kim Severson tweeted, “The great grape scandal of 2014! Headed to your state Thurs. Will personally apologize to every citizen.”

Of course, Thanksgiving 2014 has passed but you can always start thinking about next year. To help you out, make a note now about these resources from DCPL.

Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well by Sam Siftonthanksgiving

Choosing Sides: From Holidays to Everyday, 130 Delicious Recipes to Make the Meal by Tara Mataraza Desmond

Thanksgiving 101: Celebrate America’s Favorite Holiday with America’s Thanksgiving Expert by Rick Rodgers

The Healthy Hedonist Holidays: A Year of Multicultural, Vegetarian-Friendly Holiday Feasts by Myra Kornfeld

A Year of Pies: A Seasonal Tour of Home Baked Pies by Ashley English

Of course, you may be like me and skip the turkey and pumpkin pie. This Thanksgiving just passed, I will have cooked what has now become my “traditional” meal which includes roasted duck, turnip gratin and chocolate mousse.

{ 1 comment }

Oct 8 2014

National Pizza Month!

by Glenda

pizzaDid you know that October is National Pizza Month? Whether it is fresh from the delivery or hot out of your oven, most of us love pizza. Some of us are traditional pizza eaters and delight in cheese and pepperoni. Then there are those who enjoy non-traditional pizzas like Spinach Alfredo or Chicken Parmesan. No matter how you take your slice, America loves pizza.

National Pizza Month was first observed in 1984. October was designated as National Pizza Month by Gerry Durnell, the founder of Pizza Today magazine. Americans enjoy eating pizza. 252 million pounds of pepperoni are consumed every year on pizza. Americans spend $32 billion dollars per year on pizza. 350 slices of pizza are consumed each second in America. On average, each American eats 46 slices of pizza each year. 93% of Americans report eating at least one slice of pizza per month. There are 70,000 pizzerias in the United States. Of those 70,000 pizzerias, 9,000 are in New York. Three billion pizzas are sold in the United States each year. (Pizzamarketplace.com has lots of information about industry trends and statistics.) No matter how you slice it, pizza is adored by America. If you are looking to make you own pizza, check out some of these books from DCPL: Pizzas by Linda Henry, Cool Pizza to Make and Bake: Easy Recipes for Kids to Cook by Lisa Wagner, Grilled Pizzas and Piadinas by Craig W. Priebe, and Pizza on the Grill: 100 Feisty Fire-Roasted Recipes for Pizza and More by Elizabeth Karmel and Bob Blumer.

{ 1 comment }