The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘food’

Comfort Food

June 30, 2014 | by

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Sally Bell’s started making box lunch in the 1950s, but the recipes used to make the salad, sandwich spread, deviled egg, cheese wafer, and cupcake that go into the box date back to the 1920s, when Sarah Cabell Jones opened her bakery in a building across the street. There is nothing singly spectacular about the immemorial meal you get here, except for its immunity to anything modern. Sally Bell serves the exact lunch it served a half-century ago, which is probably much the same as polite Virginians ate a hundred years ago. There are two salads from which to choose: macaroni, which is fine, and spicy-sweet potato salad laced with onions, which is memorable. Of the eleven kinds of sandwiches, we seldom can resist pimiento cheese, but we have not regretted chicken salad (on a roll rather than white bread), cream cheese and olive (talk about a bygone taste!), and thin-cut Smithfield ham. As for cupcakes, there’s no beating the orange-and-lemon, its icing sprinkled with little bits of citrus confetti. All the elements are neatly packaged in a cardboard lunchbox lined with wax paper.
—Jane and Michael Stern, Roadfood

Sally Bell’s Kitchen is hardly a secret. It is a Richmond institution, beloved by generations of Fan District denizens, and the subject of a lengthy profile, in 2000, in the New York Times. Saveur calls its box lunch “paradise in a box.” Its demure, upside-down cupcakes, twenties-vintage Colonial Dame logo, deviled eggs, and old-fashioned, pecan-crowned cheese wafers—described by the Sterns as “heartbreaking”—speak to a sort of timeless gentility most of us can only imagine.

Certainly I can. I have no ties to Richmond, no institutional memory of the place. The three times I’ve tried to visit Sally Bell’s, I’ve fallen victim to the bakery’s conservative hours. And yet my obsession with the place is so well known that friends have more than once taken the time to wait on line and rush me a box lunch up to New York. People have given me aprons emblazoned with the cameo logo and a picture book filled with mouthwatering images of deviled eggs and beaten biscuits. On occasion I have been known to print out a copy of their menu and quixotically check off the options that appeal to me: potato salad, ham roll, lemon cupcake. For a while I had this pinned over my desk at work. I imagine people found this eccentric; in fact, I found it deeply comforting. Sally Bell’s—or my dream of it, anyway—has somehow become my happy place: a magical, cozy, well-ordered, old-fashioned realm filled with immutable recipes and homemade mayonnaise. Never mind that these aren’t the foods I grew up with; they have somehow become, for me, the definition of comfort. When I’m sad or disoriented, I pull down my book and pore over those pictures. I watch this film again and again, and I cry for reasons I can’t even explain to myself. Read More »

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Don’t Hold Back

June 20, 2014 | by

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Dan Dailey, Romance, 1987

Each member of my family has quirks and foibles. I stomp my foot like a cartoon furious person when I lose my temper, and I once humiliated myself the one time I attempted the road test by waiting ten minutes to turn at an intersection, panicking, and nearly hitting an oncoming car. My brother pulls a weird, unconscious face whenever he passes a mirror; he will never live down the years he spent, as late as the first grade, refusing to wear clothing. My dad is mocked regularly for getting ketchup all over his face and for insisting on down jackets in seventy-degree weather. And then there’s my mom’s thing. It’s probably very unwise of me to write what I am about to write while I am staying with my parents. But I am, like pope emeritus Benedict XVI, a Servant of the Truth.

Although she’s an excellent cook and great company, my mom is a nervous hostess. She finds the demands of guests and meal-planning onerous—terrifying, even. By the time dinner is served, she has generally worked herself into an anxious frenzy. I’m sure most people at the table can’t tell; to her family, the signs are unmistakable.

At some point in the meal, a wild look will come into her eyes. Her hands will clench. It is as though she is possessed. A conversation may be in progress; someone may be mid-anecdote. It matters not. As though powerless to prevent the words, she will suddenly declaim:

“DON’T HOLD BACK. THERE’S MORE OF EVERYTHING!” Read More »

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Menu Planning

June 4, 2014 | by

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Carl Bloch, In a Roman Osteria, 1866

The other day, having traveled to a midsize American city that shall remain nameless, my dining companion and I encountered the following description on an online restaurant menu:

Tender day boat scallops, lightly cajuned, pan seared with pancetta, caramelized leeks, sweet roasted red peppers, mint and pickled lentil medley, drizzled with a fava bean puree and organic pea shoots.

I was thrilled. I don’t mean that I wanted to eat it; there were like thirteen different components that I wouldn’t have wanted alone, let alone in combination. But I loved that the dish existed, in this moment in the world, in this place, and that, like a perfectly crafted poem, it managed to illuminate the human condition in a few deft strokes.

As the late Maya Angelou wrote, “The desire to reach for the stars is ambitious. The desire to reach hearts is wise.” Certainly, this dish was ambition incarnate—it was like the Macbeth of restaurant dishes—and certainly that was a big part of its appeal. There were seven parts (not counting seasonings) used, some ten different techniques employed, with more adjectives than you’d find in an Elizabeth Bishop poem. Read More »

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Three Short Stories About Deviled Eggs

May 13, 2014 | by

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Photo: JeffreyW, via Flickr

I.

Once, when I was very young and foolish, I threw a party, the refreshments for which consisted exclusively of deviled eggs. Mind you, there was some variety: I made deviled eggs with bacon, deviled eggs with horseradish, deviled eggs with pickle relish, even a highly dubious specimen involving salmon roe. Each one was topped with something different—paprika, chopped chives, green peppercorns—and boasted a small sign. Keep in mind that this was many years ago, before we knew smoked paprika, let alone eggs stuffed with smoked trout or sriracha, but I tried. (I had also not yet discovered Durkee Famous Sauce, which would revolutionize my egg-deviling.) On this long-ago day, in my innocence, I boiled and mashed and stuffed and garnished for hours, and at the end it seemed to me that I had never seen anything so beautiful as that table full of deviled eggs. No one else was that into it. Even people who like deviled eggs seemed to understand instinctively that half their power came from their preciousness. I had to eat so many that I was sick, but I still loved them. The party was a failure.

II.

The single worst deviled egg I’ve ever eaten was in Maine in the summer of 2008. By this time I had eaten my way around town, having consumed all manner of deviled eggs—some good, some bad—but never before or since had I encountered an abomination like this. Here was what was in the deviled egg: egg yolk and horseradish. No salt, so mayonnaise. I had not known such degradation was possible. I had to throw the balance into a garbage can set under a pine tree. We had accidentally decided to picnic on a gay beach, and when I went to throw the egg away, I came upon a man giving another man a blow job in the woods. Read More »

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On Being a Regular, or Strange Chefs, Part 2

April 8, 2014 | by

A counterpart to yesterday’s piece.

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Regulars in the village pub in Tomintoul, Banfshire, 1943. Photo: British Ministry of Information

Speaking of characters. There was a time when, for a small adventure, one had only to go to a particular bakery in the West Village. You know the one I mean. The owner was unfailingly unpleasant, the coffee unfailingly terrible, the place lacking air-conditioning and, in summer, unbearably stuffy. But the croissants were good in their heavy way, and it was always entertaining to see people attempt to ingratiate themselves with the management.

When said owner retired, he sold his business to a hard-working and kindly employee and today things go on much as before, save that now the customer service is more or less normal. It’s not the adventure it used to be. I happened to stop in for a pain aux raisins and one of those awful coffees the first day they reopened, just by chance. One fellow bellied up to the counter and said in a confidential fashion, “Man, am I glad to see you. Jean was a piece of work. Came here every day for ten years and couldn’t get a friendly word out of him.”

He was clearly looking for commiseration, but got only a noncommittal smile from the new owner, and went away with his desired status as “beloved regular” still very much in question. No sooner had he left than another man, who’d overheard, approached the counter with an equally confidential air. Read More »

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Pork Products in the Work of Harper Lee

March 7, 2014 | by

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Detail from George Morland’s Vor dem Schweinestall, 1793.

Yesterday, the estimable Margaret Eby sent me something she had run across in The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook, a 1961 oddity fiercely beloved by culinary bibliophiles. This book—which featured an introduction by Alice B. Toklas and illustrations by Marcel Duchamp—is a treasure trove of literary arcana, containing as it does entries from contributors as wide-ranging as Man Ray, George Sand, and John Keats. (Maria Popova did a terrific post on TAAWC, if you want to see more.)

One of the more contemporary offerings, and that which Margaret passed along, is Harper Lee’s recipe for cracklin’ cornbread. It reads as follows: Read More »

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