December 4, 2013 | by Amy Butcher
My boyfriend Keith does not like my dumplings. He thinks they’re plain-tasting. I stir the sticky dough. He says that even their color is unappetizing. Like paste, he tells me, like something thick from inside an engine.
“Like papier-mâché, almost,” he says, and I look at him and blink.
Keith and I have been standing in my cramped kitchen for over an hour now, scraping spoons against spoons, and it’s late. On the table behind us, there’s a bowl of French-cut green beans and a whole chicken, getting cold. I take a pinch of flour and release it over the bowl.
“Like this,” I say, but still the consistency won’t come together in the way I know it can. I add another pinch, and then another, and then another.
The recipe for the dish is my grandmother’s, and it is simple: whisk together flour and egg, whisk until the dough sticks to the spoon and then, at last, snaps back against the bowl. It’s all about consistency, something you can’t put your finger on, something you just have to know. That is why there is no written recipe for this dish, this congealed mess of white that gets boiled in bits and drenched in sour cream and salt and pepper. There is no written recipe because how do you put your finger on dumpling elasticity?
“So you just know?” Keith asks. He dips his finger into the simmering stock beside us, pulling it to his lips.
“I just know,” I say. Read More »
November 27, 2013 | by Michael Croley
This Thanksgiving will be only the second time in thirty-six years I won’t be with my mother for the holiday. Last year was the first, when I spent it with my wife and her family. All day long I sat in her mother’s condo above the shores of Lake Erie—ice floes stretching to the horizon—and I thought about my mother, how she always labored over the turkey and dressing, deviled eggs, mashed potatoes, dumplings, corn, green beans, and three of four pies. That’s probably not that uncommon in a lot of homes across the country or in the Appalachian South where I was raised and where we like to serve two starches for every vegetable. But what is unusual is the sight of my mother, a Korean woman of five feet four inches, with beautiful salt and pepper hair, and a round face and almond-shaped eyes working away in the kitchen. Forty-three years ago she left Masan, South Korea, after marrying my father, and when she came to this country, after brief spells in Phoenix and Toledo, they settled in the hills of southeastern Kentucky. She was a vegetarian then but that was not a lifestyle decision. It was borne of necessity. Her family had never had enough money to afford beef, pork, or poultry, items considered expensive delicacies when she was a child, and her body had not learned to digest them. Rice (bop) was scarce and precious, as precious as cornmeal to my father’s family when he had been a child, and it was often the only thing she had to eat. And when there was no food at all, my halmuni still lit a fire and boiled water so that smoke would rise from their chimney and the other villagers would not know the family had nothing to eat.
October 23, 2013 | by Robert Moor
When I first started working at Kings County Distillery, in the summer of 2010, I was delighted to find the job provided ample time to read. Whiskey making has its own peculiar rhythm. Each batch begins in a flurry, as one juggles a series of tasks like a line cook, but ends in a hush, with little to do but watch the languorous drip of the stills.
This was in the wobbly-legged days of the company’s infancy, before we moved into the grand old brick paymaster building in the Brooklyn Navy Yards. Back then we were based out of a studio space on Meadow Street with wooden floors and five-gallon steel pot stills that had to be emptied, scaldingly, by hand. (This, as our former downstairs neighbors can attest, would prove an unfortunate combination of circumstances.) During that first summer, we worked singly, in nine-hour shifts, so there was a lot of alone time. So, unless one wanted to lose one’s goddamn mind in that little room, one read. Read More »
September 17, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
Paper and Salt, a blog devoted to food and literature, is consistently excellent. In a recent post, author Nicole Villeneuve draws attention to a little-discussed aspect of Thomas Pynchon’s writing: his recurring interest in Mexican food. Why, she asks? “Let’s just say he had done plenty of ‘research’ on the subject. As his friends’ memories, he was always seeking his next meal: ‘wearing an old red hunting-jacket and sunglasses, doting on Mexican food at a taco stand.’ Throughout the late 60s and 70s, Pynchon became a regular at El Tarasco in Manhattan Beach (It’s still open today, if you want to follow in his culinary footsteps). Neighbors would frequently spot him chowing down—the notorious hermit, lured into public by a burrito.”
Alas! If Pynchon does, indeed, reside in pleasant anonymity on New York’s Upper West Side, his options for good Mexican food are (as California-bred Villeneuve points out) notoriously limited. Good thing she provides a recipe for Beer-Braised Chicken Tacos.
September 16, 2013 | by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan
Fingers deep, I kneaded. Fighting the urge to be careless and quick, I kept the pace rhythmic, slow. Each squeeze, I hoped, would gently ease the flavors—knobby bits of garlic, finely chopped capers, smatterings of dry spices—into the marbled mound before me.
I had made burgers before, countless times on countless evenings. This one was different; I wasn’t making just any burger—I was attempting to recreate Hemingway’s hamburger. And it had to be just right.
My quest had begun in May when I read a newspaper story about two thousand newly digitized documents of Ernest Hemingway’s personal papers in Cuba finally wending their way to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. This was the second batch of Hemingway papers to arrive from his home in Cuba, where he lived from 1939 to 1960, and wrote numerous stories and the celebrated novels For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea.
In his Havana home—Finca Vigía, or “Lookout Farm,” a large house and sprawling tropical gardens filled with mango and almond trees—between tapping out books like A Moveable Feast (while standing up at his typewriter), he also enjoyed dining well and entertaining. The ubiquitous Hemingway Daiquiri, after all, comes from his time in Havana, when he wandered into the El Floridita bar, had his first taste of a daiquiri, then ordered another with no sugar—and double the rum. (So the story goes, anyway.)
September 2, 2013 | by Molly Hannon
I first considered the meaning of the word snack in fourth grade while reading the children’s book The Giver. The main character, Jonas, remembers elementary school, when the proper pronunciation of the word eluded him. He says “smack” instead and is punished with the literal smack of a ruler until he learns to pronounce the word correctly. The author uses Jonas’s confusion to highlight the book’s main theme: that knowledge and pain should never be tied together.
Though the “snack” incident plays only a minor role in The Giver, it made me realize that prior to pre-school there had been no such thing as a snack. There were three meals a day that were prepared and consumed rather formally. Meals were pleasurable and nourishing and that was that. They had purpose—they knew who they were, followed a routine schedule, had a role, and happily filled their recipients. They gave context to a day and helped quell any hint of insatiable hunger, or bouts of melancholy. They maintained a steady daily course from kitchen to table to belly. They delivered. Read More »