Posts Tagged ‘food’
March 28, 2013 | by Tim Small
Alexa Karolinski is an old friend. I first met her in 2005, when I was the editor at VICE Italy, in Milan, and she was a particularly bright intern at the VICE Germany office. Alexa quit VICE a few months after I met her; she then moved to Paris for a while, started working in television for ARTE, met her husband, moved back to Berlin, and then moved to New York three years ago, where she studied documentary filmmaking at the School of Visual Arts. And now she is a film director. Oma & Bella, her first feature-length film, began as her thesis, and was then released in German cinemas after being accepted at the Berlin Film Festival last year. If, like me, you have any sort of fascination with World War II, food, and your grandma, it is an absolutely must-see documentary.
Oma & Bella tells the story of best friends Bella Katz and Regina Karolinski (Alexa’s grandmother), two octogenarian Holocaust survivors among the oldest surviving members of Berlin’s Jewish community, who moved in together when Regina had a hip operation. They spend most of their time cooking traditional Eastern European Jewish food, giving that food to their family, talking about food, organizing dinners, going food shopping, preparing food, washing the utensils they use to prepare food, putting food in Tupperware and freezing it, and occasionally taking a break from the food in the form of an amble to the park or the cemetery. With a delicate grace and a warm sense of humor, Alexa made one of the most touching portraits of an elderly couple―and of Holocaust survivors―I have ever seen on screen.
A few months after the movie was released, we collaborated on The Oma & Bella Cookbook. That is to say: when Alexa told me she wanted to make a cookbook that would collect the movie’s recipes, I begged her to let the Milan Review design it.
I recently got on Skype with Alexa to talk about her movie, grandparents, and food.
So, tell me—exactly when did you decide to make this movie?
It began about three years ago, when I was living in Berlin and decided that I wanted to learn how to cook. At the time I couldn’t cook anything more complicated than scrambled eggs and I decided that one day, my children—the children I don’t have yet—should be able to eat the food I grew up with. Therefore, I needed to learn that from my grandmother, and from her best friend, Bella, who she lives with. So I started cooking with them and then I kind of decided very quickly that it wasn’t enough to just cook with them, that I would have needed to write down the recipes and make a cookbook out of it.
It must have been daunting.
Yes. And they don’t cook with measurements—they go by eye—so I had to learn how to cook with them and invent the measurements just by watching them cook. So basically I started this cookbook project, and within that cookbook project I was looking for a visual landscape. And one day I kind of decided, knowing that I was going to go back to film school, to rent a camera and, just for fun, film them. Then I cut a two-minute teaser out of that, just to teach myself how to use Final Cut. And then, when I moved to New York, I showed this around, mostly just to show some friends how much I love my grandmother and how amazing she is. And people were like, This is gonna be your thesis film, and I kind of thought, Yeah, I guess it is. Read More »
March 14, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
February 27, 2013 | by Tallis Eng
To the hundreds of thousands in Asia who start each morning with a bowl of congee—and who, every evening, set their rice cooker to a low boil so that more congee is ready by the next day—it would probably seem strange that I’m about to spend so much time talking about the dish. It’s like someone rambling about corn flakes here. But in Manhattan, congee’s hard enough to find north of Houston Street, let alone beyond city limits. My tiny corner of the world feels like it’s in the perpetual midst of a congee shortage, and sometimes congee’s all I want to eat.
Topped with some mix of scallions, ginger, peanuts, and cilantro, the savory white-rice gruel (or more flatteringly, porridge) is often served in cast iron bowls, sometimes ladled into smaller portions and shared among a group. Read More »
January 25, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
The first time I cooked for him, it was the height of August. The meal was very simple: a salad; a pasta; some peaches I roasted and served with ice cream. Nothing special. And he seemed to like it okay. But the writing was on the wall: this was a man who ate to live, and not the other way round.
For some of us, this is unthinkable. I am always plotting my next meal, mulling over my last, calculating my degree of appetite. Those days when illness robs me of hunger are among my most hopeless. I remember food scenes in movies and books better than others. The city is mentally mapped by cookies and hamburgers; noodle stands are my landmarks; a trip is an opportunity to eat new things, and work up an appetite, and try more. Read More »
November 8, 2012 | by Alia Akkam
My first encounter with Patrick Swayze was not, like many of my classmates’, in a suburban movie theater, watching his robust muscles seductively grip Jennifer Grey’s tiny pelvis to the sounds of Mickey & Sylvia. The night I met him on the small television in the kitchen, my mother washing dishes in the background, instead of a form-fitting tank top Swayze was wearing the distinguished gray uniform of the Confederate States Army. Before he played the Catskills dance instructor of teenage girls’ dreams, Swayze was Orry Main, a good ole fighting South Carolina boy whose best friend is a damn Yankee, in North & South, the melodramatic 1980s miniseries that reduced one of the country’s most devastating slabs of history to coquettish glances thrown from beneath floppy straw hats and above buxom gowns. At age six, too young to comprehend the definition of secession, much less the horrors of slavery, I watched the scenes of sprawling plantation estates with the same intensity as an afternoon fix of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. It was the first time I heard the words civil war.
Years and textbooks later, the intricacies of this defining upheaval continued to compel me more than any other period in our country’s history. Each moment of the war—those first foreboding booms over Fort Sumter, the hundreds of thousands of lives replaced by bloody corpses, Abraham Lincoln’s searing call for freedom—seemed fraught with political, economic, and moral complexity. Patrick Swayze ushered me into this suspenseful drama, Ken Burns’s The Civil War took me deeper, and I didn’t want to leave. Read More »
August 27, 2012 | by Jamie Feldmar
As a penny-pinching undergraduate in New York, my idea of a power lunch was saving up for the Friday whitefish sandwich special at B&H Dairy on Second Avenue. Sitting alone on a vinyl swivel stool, I’d daydream about my boho-intellectual fantasy life, which involved large groups of opinionated writerly types laughing and arguing over exotic communal meals and bottomless tumblers of whisky, which I did not actually drink.
If my luncheonette-fueled fantasy was a bit overstuffed, at least it was rooted in historical accuracy: power lunches are an institution in New York, so much so that they warrant their own section in the New York Public Library’s new exhibit, “Lunch Hour NYC,” a retrospective of 150 years of lunch history and culture in the city. While the term power lunch didn’t officially appear in print until a 1979 Esquire article about the Grill Room at the Four Seasons (unfortunately, “America’s Most Powerful Lunch” is nowhere to be found online), the ritual itself has been an important part of the city’s lunch landscape for well over a century.
Lunch helped shape the rhythm of life in a rapidly industrializing New York at the turn of the last century: lunch breaks were hurried affairs, with rushed stops at quick-lunch counters in the early 1900s and Horn & Hardart automats a few years later. Time was a luxury, and leisurely midday meals were reserved for those wielding considerably political, financial, or social power. “Power lunches weren’t necessarily about exchanging money,” explains Lunch Hour cocurator Rebecca Federman. “They were about connecting with each other and exchanging thoughts, and there can be great power in ideas,” she says.
The earliest power lunches likely took place in the 1830s at Delmonico’s, whose culinary wizardry (Lobster Newburg, Baked Alaska) and prime location in the financial district made it popular with well-heeled suits. Apart from the occasional visit from such authors as Charles Dickens or Mark Twain, Delmonico’s remained largely populated by business and finance moguls. Other powerful groups gathered at different locales over the years: playwrights and actors descended upon Sardi’s in the theater district in the forties, while wealthy socialites clustered at Le Cirque, Le Pavillion, and La Grenouille in the fifties and sixties, earning the not-entirely-flattering nickname “ladies who lunched.”
For literary types, the lunch venue of choice was the Algonquin Hotel on West 44th Street. What would later come to be known as the Algonquin Round Table (or, as its members preferred, “The Vicious Circle,”) began in June of 1919, when Vanity Fair writers Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, and Robert E. Sherwood joined like-minded pals for a midday soiree to welcome back famously sharp-penned New York Times drama critic Alexander Wollcott from a stint as a World War I correspondent overseas. Theater agent John Peter Toohey had organized the lunch as a practical joke, ostensibly as a welcome home, but instead used the opportunity to roast Wollcott for failing to include one of his clients in a column. Legend has it that all attendees—Wollcott included—enjoyed the gathering so much they decided to do it again the next day, and the next, and the one after that.
Dining upon free popovers and celery sticks, or, in flush times, chicken hash with pancakes, the aforementioned writers—along with an ever-evolving cast that included playwrights George S. Kaufman and Marc Connelly, columnist Heywood Broun, and author Edna Ferber—bantered and gossiped, played endless games of cribbage and poker, and devised elaborate practical jokes to deceive one another. Conversation was fast, clever and biting—hence the “vicious” nickname, though the Round Table moniker was widely used after a Brooklyn Eagle caricature depicted the group draped in armor around a circular table. (Not all were fans of the club: Groucho Marx, whose brother Harpo occasionally joined the group, distanced himself from the table, claiming “the price of admission is a serpent’s tongue and a half-concealed stiletto.”)
Of course, the Round Tablers also wrote—Kaufman, Connelly, and Sherwood all won Pulitzers for their work, and the Table’s wit was made famous nationwide in columns by Broun and Franklin Pierce Adams, who dutifully reported Tableside gossip in his “Conning Tower” column in the New York Tribune. Ernest Hemingway wrote his infamous “Baby Shoes” short story during a visit to the Round Table, collecting ten dollars apiece from the other writers who dared to bet he couldn’t write a complete tale in only six words.
But the most enduring legacy of the Algonquin Round Table was undoubtedly the creation of The New Yorker in 1925, the masterwork of editor and Round Table regular Harold Ross, who secured funding for the magazine at the hotel (to this day, Algonquin guests receive a complimentary copy of the magazine). Many Round Tablers contributed to the magazine, whose urbane, sophisticated tone mirrored the conversations at the Algonquin’s power lunches.
Over the course of the twenties, as its founding members moved on and away from New York, the Vicious Circle gradually disbanded (the hotel had long since stopped serving free popovers). The legacy of the Round Table has remained strong, however, in the generations since: in 1987 the Algonquin was designated as a New York City Historic Landmark, and in 1996 it was declared a National Literary Landmark by the Friends of Libraries USA.
And the history of the power lunch, too, continues today, albeit in less ostentatious incarnations: Federman suggests Union Square Café as a modern-day haunt for literary agents and authors, while Michael’s in Midtown has long been a favorite for publishing-world honchos. The perennially hip Momofuku restaurant empire—which last year launched its own food-lit magazine, Lucky Peach, in conjunction with McSweeney’s—now hosts a series of lunchtime discussions at its Midtown outpost, Ma Peche. Called the “56th Street Round Tables,” the forums are billed as “lunch and lively discussion, in the spirit of the Algonquin Round Table.” This month’s discussion, presented in conjunction with the library, concerned the history and legacy of street food in New York, with insight from Federman; Robert La Valva, the founder of the New Amsterdam Market; Jane Ziegelman, the curator of the Tenement Museum’s Culinary Conversations; and Zach Brooks, the founder of the blog Midtown Lunch.
The New Yorker’s midday meal, it seems, will continue its reign as the quintessential venue for the exchange of thoughts, ideas and power; to say nothing of the fare consumed. Perhaps for my next trip to B&H, I’ll split the sandwich with company.
Visit NYPL’s “Lunch Hour NYC” through February 17, 2013.
Jamie Feldmar is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor focused mainly on food, both professionally and personally.