- Hurricane Harvey made landfall earlier this week and it is the latest weather-related disasters to shake the world — hopefully toward a more in-depth and meaningful understanding of the workings and effects of climate change. With the highest wind at 215km/hour, the hurricane devastated Houston and left damages estimated at tens of billions and years of recovery. As with events at such a scale, reporting tropes often dominate our news cycle and, often, obfuscate reality. On WNYC’s On the Media’s latest episode, ‘Unnatural Disaster‘, Brooke Gladstone on what we need to know about how we talk about and understand hurricanes and other disasters.
- Churchill, Manitoba, is as foreign as the Mojave desert to most Torontonians. Yet it’s right there on the Canadian map, a once burgeoning and now tourist-destination port city, home to the dissipating dream of a lively Arctic route, on the southwestern edge of Hudson Bay. Earlier this year, on May 23rd, a flood washed out the train track connecting Churchill to the rest of the Province. Read more on the effects of privatization and climate change on small cities and towns around Canada here.
- David Cole of the New York Review of Books and ACLU, of which he is the national legal director, writes on the relationship between free speech and equality: “Here is the ultimate contradiction in the argument for state suppression of speech in the name of equality: it demands protection of disadvantaged minorities’ interests, but in a democracy, the state acts in the name of the majority, not the minority. Why would disadvantaged minorities trust representatives of the majority to decide whose speech should be censored? At one time, most Americans embraced “separate but equal” for the races and separate spheres for the sexes as defining equality. It was the freedom to contest those views, safeguarded by the principle of free speech, that allowed us to reject them.”
- On a different note, on my recent visit back home to Montreal, I found my stash of past issues of Lucky Peach and felt anew a deep sense of regret at not buying five copies of each and keeping them plastic wrapped — I’m telling you, soon they will go for +100$ a copy. I also felt sad. Lucky Peach was the best food magazine out there. The editors, contributors, artists, and whoever was involved with it truly seemed, to borrow Peter Meehan’s words, “pigs in shit” — irreverent, happy, absolutely in love with their subjects. I just found out that their website is down. Walter Green’s “Fancy Butter Taste Test“ is the only article I could find that you can access online. It’s from the Fine Dining issue of Lucky Peach. Have a taste.
- And for good food writing elsewhere, an excerpt from Alice Waters’s latest book,“Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook” describes the opening night at Chez Panisse: “A few things I do remember vividly: it was still light out, and the first party, a man and a woman I didn’t know, were coming in the front door for their reservation. I was wearing a vintage crocheted beige-lace dress from Bizarre Bazaar that fit like a glove, and some little heels that matched; I remember turning around, and feeling very self-conscious of what I looked like right then—Do I look O.K. to be answering the door? I was still tacking down the secondhand Persian carpet on the stairs as these people walked in.”
- And finally, something to peruse in the post-Labor Day weekend haze: Miranda July’s latest short story in the New Yorker, ‘Metal Bowl‘: “He cupped the two halves of my tush and spoke directly to them. “Run away with me, girls,” he whispered. “She doesn’t understand our love.” I lay still, staring out the window, letting them have their time together. If I protested, I’d only make his case stronger: I’m less fun than my own butt.”
I feel nostalgic when I walk through a farmer’s market for a childhood I did not have, wherein the many vegetables, picturesquely growing in gardens and wildly spreading in nearby ditches, would have been common-fare, eaten daily in-season, missed over winter, and ingrained in my diet and thought. In this imaginary world, corns grow side by side with all kinds of beans, which are not so far from wild fiddleheads and asparaguses, and fields of heirloom tomatoes just below the kitchen window, which looks towards a hill where sheep graze. Beyond them, a river, a nice beekeeping neighbor. A vineyard somewhere.
In my defense, I’ve only lived in cities all my life. So my fantasies of vegetables are really fantasies for the final product, a plate of food, a bowl of soup, a pot of stew, and not the dirt and the work. This is an ill omen to me, the separation is, once considered, jarring in its magnitude and meaning.
But nevertheless, I persist in dreaming up new recipes, trying old ones, reinventing classics — because you have to live your fantasy somehow. These cookbooks I’ve listed below helped me get there. They are not coffee-table books, though some of them would also look great in the living room; they will be, by the time you’ve gone through some of the recipes, spotted, spattered, and crinkled up with use.
Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson
Baking is essentially so far from cooking that the two are almost disparate, or at least they are in my experience, since I use ‘pinches’ of this and that because it ‘feels right’ when cooking, whereas I’m all mathematics and precision when it comes to a loaf of sourdough. But, for the purposes of this list, let’s consider this wonderful book of recipes and stories by Chad Robertson a cookbook, especially since bakebook hasn’t entered common usage yet. Robertson, the man, the hands, the sleepless nights, behind the Tartine empire give us the basic how-tos of baking a good sourdough; he’s with us from the sourdough starter to an aside on modern ovens to sitting around to the loaf. If you choose this book as your first book on bread making, you will need some extra help here and there, either online or from some other book, as a beginner’s experience of things can only be explained by another beginner. But I think it is nevertheless the book to begin with, as Robertson’s writing makes you want to wake up early in the morning to bake the bread for dinner.
Marcella Cucina by Marcella Hazan
Among Marcella Hazan’s great Italian cookbooks, Marcella Cucina is the most acclaimed, perhaps because it was awarded the James Beard in 1997. Marcella brings together dishes from different regions of Italy and each recipe, each paragraph on food, culture, and flavors come with her great personality. Just watch her chat with Mark Bittman. She knows more than any of us will probably ever know about cooking, yet she tells you it’s all very simple. And, if you listen, it really is.
Lucky Peace Presents POWER VEGETABLES! by Peter Meehan
Vegetables: you may very well not want it but you know you need it. Peter Meehan of the acclaimed Lucky Peach food magazine brings you POWER VEGETABLES!: TURBOCHARGED RECIPES FOR VEGETARIANS WITH GUTS, that cookbook you know you need; after reading a few of the recipes, one you know you want. Recipes include ‘Braised Cold Celery Hearts Victor,’ ‘Caponata,’ ‘Vegetable Tex-Mex Shepherd’s Pie,’ and more alongside pantry suggestions that will rig your system into loving vegetables. Finally, with classic Lucky Peach attitude, a lot of the recipes are fuck yous to your mama’s boiled broccoli.
True, I have mentioned these two + Peter Meehan (ah, the formidable six degrees of Peter Meehan) before in these pages. But it was more of an aside, and Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli deserve more than that. For one thing, the meatball recipe as dictated above has garnered me, personally, a certain kind of respect, a certain kind of presence at the dinner table. People look at me differently, as if I’m capable of things. The secrets — sans my personal touches here and there — are available, along with many more, in The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual. With it, you, too, can be a temporary venerable master of the dinner table.
Jewish cooking needs more PR than you’d think as many, even those initiated into the love of appetizing, pickled herring and onions, hot knishes with hot mustard, often egregiously think that it can be easily grasped through pastrami, gefilte fish, and matzo balls. Janna Gur shares ethnic Jewish and Arabic foods of Israel made by immigrants in Jewish Soul Food: from Minsk to Marrakech. It’s a fantastic addition to your stack of Joan Natahn, Gil Marks, and Mimi Sheraton (whose writing I also admire), and other more traditionally Jewish-American cookbooks.