The best kind of writing, fiction or otherwise, is the kind that produces a strong mental image of what you're reading about. It's vivid and concrete; it's why metaphors and parables exist. To quote Strunk & White: "The greatest writers—Homer, Dante, Shakespeare—are effective largely because they deal in particulars and report the details that matter. Their words call up pictures."
One of my favorite ways that writers bring their stories closer to reality is when they plop descriptions onto my mental dinner table. Maybe it's because I just love eating, so I don't need a lot of arm-twisting to think about food; maybe it's that I like it when the lines between fiction and reality blur, like Mac Barnett waxes about in his TED talk "Why a good book is like a secret door." Regardless, I'm fascinated with collecting moments of characters interacting with their victuals.
Here are some of my favorite food mentions in books, linked up with recipes.
It comes as no surprise that spirits and beverage industry has identified the ideal glass for tasting whatever product they're trying to sell. There are separate wine glasses for enjoying your pinots noir and pinots gris, a wide variety of glasses to complement a certain style of ale or lager, and specific glasses for "fully experiencing" tequilas, gins, and brandies.
Mostly, this is insider stuff, employed at competitions, industry events, and certain high-end bars and restaurants with expansive "programs." But there is one specialty glass that has made its way into the homes of consumers and fans since it came into production in 2001: the Glencairn whisky glass.
In the Grand List of Essential Grownup Skills, somewhere between changing a flat tire and tying a half-Windsor, you'll find an entry for serving your loved one their first meal of the day before leaving the room where they woke up. It's a simple act, but with some care and a little finesse, it can be an incredibly thoughtful gesture that will reverberate throughout the rest of the week.
Let's take a look at some of the considerations for a perfect breakfast in bed!
Sparkling water. It's a thing. Whether a weird normcore love of the dated 90s can design, or an earnest attempt to cut back on sugar and chemical-laden soft drinks, the cool kids have embraced LaCroix. And drink manufacturers, in an effort to capture the energy, are coming out with dozens of their own brightly-colored alternatives. I went to the grocery store yesterday, and spied no less than seven distinct brands of pink and orange-canned flavored waters, all of which basically look the same (and all which include a version of pamplemousse), attempting to capitalize on the trend.
I'm no hater. Live and let sip. If it keeps you hydrated and drinking less sugary soda, or even beer, then enjoy yourself. But, if you truly love the bubbles, then allow me to nominate my lifelong favorite sparkling beverage that never doesn't taste unbelievably delicious and refreshing, and, dare I say, defines effervescence?
This happens to me way more often than it should––the day has gone longer than expected, I didn't plan carefully enough for what I was going to eat, and now I am home and hungry, without a plan. For much of my life, this has been a recipe to order something, pick up something, or heat up something frozen and in a box. But now I live in a place where few things deliver, the only foods close by are not conducive to living (or sleeping) well, and I have stopped allowing myself to buy things that come in frozen boxes, no matter how lazy I may be feeling.
If I have all the time and money in the world, I love to shop and cook. But my foodie
Ramps are magic. It's that simple. They appear of their own free will out of the ground, they bless the landscape with their beauty, their perfect aroma of garlicky-greenness––a combination you might approximate by breathing in deeply a bag of freshly mown lawn clippings while simultaneously crunching down on a double-sized mouthful of sour cream and onion potato chips. And then, just as magically, they disappear after an astoundingly short season, as spring gives way to summer.
A ramp is a kind of wild leek that looks like a cross between a scallion and a flowering weed. The aroma is, to me, something absolutely elemental; once you
Bon Appétit has become a paragon of food media lately with a gorgeous magazine, a wonderful podcast and some serious web content that is standing in where other outlets have stopped putting meaningful content in front of audiences. But they have quietly rolled out a series of videos on highly technical food crafts that are so well done, so well produced and so sharply executed that they serve as both educational content and an opportunity to truly marvel at people who have spent a lifetime perfecting their skills. Bon Appetite really deserves credit for providing a venue to showcase such talent and expertise.
In these videos you can
We would never want to actually judge this competition, but if you were to pit all the mass market hot sauces against each other in a taste test, the classic green nozzled sriracha sauce with the rooster on the label might very well come out on top. It's extremely versatile stuff, and offers heaps of complexity and flavors other than heat and vinegar tang.
The power of fermentation: instead of fighting off microbes, you invite the right kind to your party. It doesn't take a lot of culinary know-how to acknowledge that certain fermented foods get better the longer they ferment, like wines and cheeses. The more sourdough starter ages, the more complex its flavors become. Then you've got your fermentation standards like pickles, dairy products like kefir, soy-based miso and natto, and even Russia's beet-based kvass.
But did you know that occasionally tea gets invited to the bacillus party? Welcome to the world of pu-ehr!
We're living in a golden age of food media. Between exceptional print magazines like the gone-too-soon Lucky Peach and Bon Appetite, to Netflix shows like Chef's Table and PBS's Mind of a Chef, to David Chang's recent discussion of a developing food media empire, there is just so much professional-level food edu-tainment that an interested viewer need never go hungry.
And yet, even though the space is saturated with quality content, amateur programs are still finding their niche in online forums.
I was sitting with a few friends the other day and they started talking about how they needed to start drinking smoothies again. The conversation quickly turned to how expensive smoothie places can be, and how most blenders at home just don't make smoothies with the right texture. They turned to me, and I sheepishly owned up to it–I have a $500 blender. It's the Vitamix 7500––one of the immensely fancy ones that seem so ludicrously expensive.
To make matters worse, I think in my entire life I've only consumed 3-4 smoothies, hence my embarrassment. Spending $500 on an appliance only seems reasonable if it is part of a life plan––some
If you are anything like me, there have been numerous times in your life when you have been in a Target/Costco/Sur La Table/Container Store when box full of intricate, multi-shaped and variously sized plastic containers has come into view, and you have thought, "it's time I get organized!" The lure of organization is powerful because it feels like if you have a place for not only everything, but every KIND of thing, you'll never fall into disorder again.
I have learned something from a lifetime of tangling with stackable, burp-able, intricately sized storage containers: freedom does not come in a system that has options for every possibility, it comes in a simple system based on interchangeable parts. And in the world of food storage, we should look not to the glossy, marketed boxes in the housewares aisle, but to the humble set up of your neighborhood takeout place
I love all the "comes with" food from restaurant meals. You know what I’m talking about—the side dishes and classic pairings that are served with what you actually ordered: fries, steakhouse rolls, steamed rice...and, because I live in the South, biscuits. Oh, the biscuits. If you’re like me, though, half of that glorious freebie food gets launched at the end of the meal because you’re too full from the main entree.
I'd wager that when most people first pick up a mortar and pestle, their first thought is something like, "you can't be serious!" Very rarely is there a tool that you can buy at, say, Williams-Sonoma––perched alongside the electric pepper mills and the seasonally-themed waffles irons––that has not really changed since the invention of the wheel. A gigantic, blunt mineral rod and a heavy rock bowl is, quite literally, stone age technology. And for anyone who has not yet seen the magic and serious power that this tool puts into your hands, there is an instinct to look for electrically-powered appliances that can replace it: A food
Let's start with this: I like to eat. Really, really like it. I have all the respect in the world for people who can live by the adage "consume for nutrition, not for taste," but I will never be able to count myself amongst 'em.
I'm a level-10 introvert who works from home, and often, the process of procuring food for myself is the only thing that gets me out of the house during the dark days of winter. I live in Portland, Oregon, one the greatest food cities in the country, and I have a list in my phone of to-be-visited food establishments a digital mile long. It's updated almost daily.
And, because I like to eat, I like to cook. I'm a full-time DIY blogger who gets to make cool stuff, photograph and write about it every single day, and, yet, a Tuesday night dinner compiled from whatever's in the fridge often feels like the most creative thing I do all week.
So... cookbooks. They're fantastic, and they provide both inspiration and a depth that you can't find on food blogs or Pinterest. (And I love food blogs.) You don't have to buy all of these, but you should definitely check them out from the library or peruse next time you're at the bookstore. Because they read as well from cover-to-cover as a novel, and they'll actually teach you how to eat better.