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Posts Tagged ‘food’

Of Plums and Iceboxes

August 27, 2015 | by

Passmore_Wickson-plum-1896

A watercolor of the Wickson plum by Deborah Griscom Passmore, 1896

Because my neighbors were out of town, I had been offered the gift of their weekly fruit and vegetable share from Community Share Agriculture. And because they are a family of four, when I came home from the nearby church where the produce is distributed, it was with bags heavy laden with corn, summer squash, celery, peppers, and stone fruits. It was more than I could eat.

The soft little sugarplums were especially ripe—several had burst in one of my totes on the way home—and clearly needed to be dealt with quickly. In that moment, I realized that I had no idea whether one can refrigerate a ripe plum. I knew, of course, that it had to ripen at room temperature—but what about afterward? Did it go horrible and mealy, like a tomato? Or was it stable and delicious, like a grape? It wasn’t that I’d grown up without fruit—in season, there was always a large bowl in the kitchen. But we ate them all so greedily and quickly that the refrigeration issue (at least in my memory) never came up. Read More »

Peckish

August 20, 2015 | by

Ludwig Knaus, Mein Napf ist leer, 1886.

I dislike the term hangry, a neologism conflating hungry and angry and thus describing the rage induced by hunger. Like PMS, it seems to conveniently dismiss any legitimate anger that may arise in the course of a blood-sugar crash. And for those of us who are both frequently ravenous and frequently furious, it doesn’t allow for the possibility of much reasonable irritation. Besides, it rests on the supposition that there is such a thing as unclouded judgment, and that feels potentially very dangerous.

Aside from that, the word itself is ugly. It evokes airplane hangars and chewy steaks and public executions and boring games played on pieces of scratch paper. It does not trip off the tongue. Hunger and anger, as words, both have such dignity, such grace—they are serious feelings in response to real stimuli. They are noble marble statues. Hangry, by contrast, is a Shoebox greeting card.

But it is spiritually ugly, too. To be hangry is a luxury. The very use of the term suggests that hunger and suffering are so remote as to be irrelevant to the conversation. I don’t mind telling you that now that I think about it, it gets me absolutely furious.

That said, only the other day, in the supermarket, I felt an almost overwhelming wave of rage crash over me because someone happened to already be standing in front of a spice I wanted to inspect. The intensity of the rage alarmed me, and I had to give myself a little talking to, and a bag of gummy bears besides. It is, after all, this sort of behavior that leads to charges of irrationality.

Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review and the Daily’s correspondent.

Salmon Mousse, or Absolute Power

August 17, 2015 | by

First edition, 1988.

Cooking, as we know, is a constant test of character. It’s easy to pretend we’re all attracted to the high-minded ideals of fostering community, continuing traditions, and feeding souls. But catering for others is often competitive—even if the competition is only with oneself. There is the constant temptation to show off, to experiment, to give into exhibitionism, to put theoretical pleasures before a guest’s actual comfort. The turning out of a completely anodyne meal can be an exhausting exercise, because for every normal and pleasing dish served, there exist the ghosts of a hundred more exciting possibilities considered and abandoned, haunting the dinner table with their potential glory. The trick is keeping overweening ambition at bay. The trick is remembering that, for the duration of the meal, you have a kind of control over others.

And so the question really becomes: What does one do with absolute power? The Stanford Prison Experiment is always looming on the horizon. Benignity goes against nature. Read More »

Zero at the Bone, and Other News

August 13, 2015 | by

A daguerreotype of Emily Dickinson, ca. 1848.

  • Since David Foster Wallace committed suicide in 2008, Infinite Jest has undergone a dramatic change in its cultural significance: once merely the mark of a curious reader, it’s become a totem for bros, who see in its massive size and brainy reputation a chance to show off their own massive size and brainy reputations—and who have no intention of really grappling with it. “How did poor David Foster Wallace go from dissecting the pretensions and shortcomings of mid-century men of letters to holding a central place in the pretensions of their heirs? … [Jest’s] irrefutable bigness is a dare … For these men, Wallace stands as a challenge to be confronted, just as the paperback brick of Infinite Jest stands as a challenge to the guy hauling it on the G train.”
  • Alexandra Kleeman, whose debut short story “Fairy Tale” appeared in our Winter 2010 issue, discusses her new novel, You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine, and the altogether surreal experience of seeing ads on TV for the first time after a long break from the medium: “They’re these little pockets of weirdness … You get these characters who so fervently believe in the power of a certain product, they’re so fervently wanting to fix this one problem. You have these weird extreme emotions like jealousies and affections for things that no normal person would, so I find them really interesting and almost beautiful in that way, like surrealist films. You can feel how much money goes into commercials by how swiftly they act on your mind. And they’ve got like a hypnotic quality to the way they present their products. I can feel myself taking on a desire for that thing, or at least like feeling the desire they want me to feel, when I see a beautifully done eye, or makeup, or the softness of some cotton fabric bouncing up and down.”
  • And Lydia Davis looks at the life and work of Lucia Berlin, who died in 2004, and whose story “B.F. and Me” appears in our Summer issue: “We have, most of us, known at least some part of what she went through: children in trouble, or early molestation, or a rapturous love affair, struggles with addiction, a difficult illness or disability, an unexpected bond with a sibling, or a tedious job, difficult fellow workers, a demanding boss, or a deceitful friend, not to speak of awe in the presence of the natural world—Hereford cattle knee-deep in Indian paintbrush, a field of bluebonnets, a pink rocket flower growing in the alley behind a hospital. Because we have known some part of it, or something like it, we are right there with her as she takes us through it.”
  • It’s time to make food a permanent part of the cultural canon: “We have traditionally regarded cuisines as pop or folk art at best­—cherished but ephemeral, beginning as peasant food forged from the local landscape and naturally disappearing as people emigrated and landscapes changed … ‘There is a group of us who want to know the deep flavors of what has endured longest. Those ingredients that mattered for so long that they became “the taste” of the time, the points of reference against which all innovations were measured. For me, those ingredients constitute the canon, and the dishes of the time frame them.’ ”
  • Step aside—Joyce Carol Oates is asking the big questions about inspiration and art. “Why do we write? What is the motive for metaphor? … Is inspiration a singular phenomenon, or does it take taxonomical forms? Indeed, is the uninspired life worth living? … ‘Inspiration’ is an elusive term. We all want to be ‘inspired’ if the consequence is something original and worthwhile; we would even consent to be ‘haunted’—‘obsessed’—if the consequence were significant. For all writers dread what Emily Dickinson calls ‘Zero at the Bone’—the dead zone from which inspiration has fled.”

The Spit of Recollection

June 2, 2015 | by

Philip Larkin

Philip Larkin.

A letter from Philip Larkin to Barbara Pym, July 18, 1971. The pair enjoyed a long, warm correspondence beginning in 1961; they met, at last, in 1975, at the Randolph in Oxford. “I shall probably be wearing a beige tweed suit or a Welsh tweed cape if colder,” Pym wrote in advance. “I shall be looking rather anxious, I expect.” In 1977, Larkin helped Pym find a wider audience by choosing her as the most underrated writer of the century.

Duke’s Head Hotel, King’s Lynn,
Norfolk

Dear Barbara,

I have a theory that “holidays” evolved from the medieval pilgrimage, and are essentially a kin of penance for being so happy and comfortable in one’s daily life. You’re about to point out the essential fallacy in this, viz., that we aren’t h. & c. in our daily lives, but it’s too late now, the evolution has taken place, and we do the world’s will, not our own, as Jack Tanner says in Man & Superman. Anyway, every year I take my mother away for a week, & this is it. God knows why I chose this place—well, there are certain basic requirements—must be fairly near where she lives, must have single rooms with private bathrooms & lift, must for preference be near the sea … even so, one can make grave errors, & I rather think this is one of them. One forgets that nobody stays in hotels these days except businessmen & American tourists: the food is geared to the business lunch or the steak-platter trade: portion-control is rampant, and the materials cheap anyway (or so I guess: three lamb chops I had were three uncuttable unchewable unanswerable arguments for entry into EEC if—as I suspect—they had made the frozen journey from New Zealand). The presence of the hotel in the Good Food Guide is nothing short of farce. Of course it’s a Trust House, which guarantees a kind of depersonalized dullness. Never stay at a Trust House. Read More »

Good Digestion

May 29, 2015 | by

Hieronymus_Bosch_-_The_Seven_Deadly_Sins_(detail)_-_WGA2503

Hieronymus Bosch, The Seven Deadly Sins (detail), ca. 1500.

It’s impossible to be completely happy when you have no appetite—or when you’re sated. People talk about the contentment that comes with a full belly, but to the food lover, this seems paradoxical. After all, if you are of the sort who lives to eat, rather than the other way around, being full means that, for the moment, you don’t have much to live for.

I’ve quoted Iris Murdoch on the subject before, but the quote bears repeating: “Every meal should be a treat and one ought to bless every day which brings with it a good digestion and the precious gift of hunger.” Read More »