World on a Plate

Exploring culture. One plate at a time.

Category: Books

Eat Local Challenge | Reading Group

May Day this year marks the start of the second annual Eat Local Challenge.  As part of this effort Jen over at Life Begins @ Thirty has brought together many of us under one roof with the launch of a new group blog

As a part of this effort I will be co-moderating with Barbara from Tigers & Strawberries an online book group focused on food politics. The books to be discussed will be both fiction and non-fiction. The objective is to not only learn from what we are reading but to enhance the reading through open discussion, thoughts and ideas from each other.

So what will we be reading first?  The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan. This book is a must-read for those of us looking to better understand the impact of our food choices.  Read more over at Eat Local Challenge.

Join the discussion (via Yahoo! Groups membership)

Read the first chapter of the book (PDF)

The Kitchen Sisters


The 13-part NPR series, Hidden Kitchens: Stories of Land, Kitchen and Community, is a wonderful, at times heart warming reminder of the cultural and social influence of food.  By exploring the world of hidden kitchens be it street corners, unique kitchens or in this story below, a makeshift kitchen in a prison cell it showcases how people’s stories of courage, redemption and resourcefulness connect us.  It also features recipes, via the NPR website, for great regional, local dishes. Small stories that say something big. 

The oral history programs are produced by the San Francisco-based  Kitchen Sisters.  Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva  have been collaborating together since 1979.  Previous efforts were not related to the culinary.  In fact they won 2 Peabody Awars for thier radio series Lost and Found Sound: An Aural History of the 20th Century and for "The Sonic Memorial Project. Now the This audio collection has now been assembled into a book that includes recipes, photos and additional stories that were not featured in the radio effort.  Now the book is being turned into a three-CD audio book, read by actress Frances McDormand. 

If you are in San Francisco on Saturday, Nov. 19, the Kitchen Sisters will be at the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market at Noon.

Making Clandestine Candy Behind Bars (link to NPR for audio program)

"Robert ‘King’ Wilkerson, who created the most amazing kitchen. He was in prison at Angola State Penitentiary in Louisiana for 31 years. Twenty-nine of those years he was in solitary confinement, basically as a political prisoner, because he was a Black Panther. He started a chapter of the Black Panther movement with two of his other friends. They had become a sort of a cause celebre known as the Angola Three.

Somehow, in solitary confinement, he managed to create a kitchen — and he did it out of a stove made of coke cans, and he burnt toilet paper rolls to get heat. And he made pralines, which we love in New Orleans. He made these delicious candies and perfected the recipe, hidden in prison.

They decided they had made a mistake for locking him up for so long. ‘King’ had a new trial, and he’s out now, and he sells his candies which he calls "Freelines." He does it as a way to help raise (consciousness) about political prisoners. ‘King’ learned to do it from his friend ‘Cap Pistol,’ who was in the kitchen at the time and taught him how to make sugar candy. And they are really, really good."

Local Food Challenge Wrap Up – Part I

Slow Our American culture is all about faster, quicker and having whatever we need doing, done.  Although the warning signs are everywhere we don’t seem to heed them. We work more hours than Europeans; most of us don’t take our hard-earned vacation time every year; Americans are sleeping less than we did 100 years ago and as a result we are losing touch with our families, friends, our communities and ourselves.  But there’s hope in the form of a book called, "In Praise of Slowness: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed", by Canadian journalist Carl Honore. 

Honore says he wants to find a balance between fast and slow, not eliminate speed altogether. In Praise Of Slowness is the first comprehensive look at the worldwide Slow movements making their way into the mainstream — in offices, factories, neighborhoods, kitchens, hospitals, concert halls, bedrooms, gyms, and schools.

The book, now in its ninth printing, is striking a chord worldwide with its simple but far-reaching suggestions. The concepts are straightforward and the writing is easy, well researched and is a mix of reportage, intellectual inquiry tempered with a dose of humor. It will serve to improve people’s lives by showing them how others are re-establishing our relationship to speed and time.

Chapters cover the familiar, including the Slow Food Movement.  “A Slow dish can be quick and simple…Another way round the time crunch is to cook more than you need when you can and freeze the surplus.”  Other explorations revolve around the late 80s movement of New Urbanism with its walkable neighborhoods, public spaces and mixed income housing allowing for community to thrive.  The importance of leisure expressed through the “new yoga”—knitting, where “Knitting is one way of taking time to appreciate life, to find that meaning and make those connections.” 

While this all might sound esoteric the book is well grounded and full of common sense. This slow lifestyle revolution is about quality beating out quantity. In the end a slower, more relaxed approach to life is about balance between fast and slow.  Sometimes we all need a little reminding and this book will bring inspiration toward that goal. 

I’m learning to slow down but it’s not easy. Tomorrow my life examined via my wrap up of the month long Eat Local Food challenge.

Here are tips from Carl Honore, author of "In Praise of Slowness," to help you decelerate:

Leave entire time slots unbooked in your schedule rather than filling up every moment with activity. Easing the pressure on your time helps you slow down.

Set aside a time of day to turn off all electronics that keeps us connected—literally unplugged– phones, computers, pagers, e-mail, television, and radio.  Sit quietly somewhere, alone with your thoughts.

Make time for at least one hobby that slows you down, such as knitting, reading, painting, gardening or yoga.

Taste and savor dinner at the kitchen table instead of balancing it on your lap it in front of the TV.

Keep checking in on your “speed.” If you’re doing something more quickly than you need to, take a deep breath and slow down

Garlic and Sapphires

Gs "Food writers are generally a self-abasing lot, in thrall to master chefs they consider their creative betters and doubtful of the very validity of their profession — a profession that ”alone among all human vocations,” the former Gourmet restaurant critic Jay Jacobs once wrote, ‘culminates in ignoble defecation.’ But Ruth Reichl is different."  {snippet of David Kamp’s review}

Continue on to The New York Times book review of ‘Garlic and Sapphires’

American Food Fights

Cookoff_1 Every year, thousands of amateur cooks enter their masterpieces in hundreds of cooking competitions across America. In food journalist Amy Sutherland’s 2004-IACP nominated Cookoff: Recipe Fever in America, this sub-culture is avidly explored to the point where the author gets the competition bug herself.

In the world of competitive cooking there are hundreds of contests. There are cook-offs for everything from chili, barbecue, and cornbread to mustard, oysters, and mandarin oranges. According to Sutherland, “the triple crown” is the National Chicken Cooking Contest, The National Beef Cook Off and the grandma of them all, The Pillsbury Bake-off.

Cookoffs typically have commercial sponsors that require contestants to use one or more of their products. In other words they are marketing outreach effort. However, more than anything these contests reveal who we are, how we cook and how far we’ll take our hobbies. If you read enough of the recipe submissions some similarities start to appear—recipes are simple using everyday ingredients, are convenient and have a definite orientation toward the home cook.

Last year Sutherland was asked in a Salon interview what makes these contests so particularly American.  She replied, "We think of competition as a good thing and also a very democratic way to test yourself, to prove yourself by your own wit."  She later added, "It also encourages our faith in the ordinary man or in this case, the ordinary cook.  They affirm our general faith that an everyday person can be just as creative as an expert."

The National Chicken Contest was first held in 1949 and is sponsored by the National Chicken Council and the U.S. Poultry and & Egg Association. according to the official website, the objective of the competition is in “uncovering new trends in chicken cookery and encouraging the development of new recipes for chicken.”

Held ever other year the rules for the competition require the use of chicken in any form—whole, part, ground; the recipe must be original and take no longer than 1 ½ hours to prepare.

The most recent chicken champ in 2003, Kristine Snyder, of Hawaii won $25,000 for her Pacific Rim Chicken Burgers with ginger mayonnaise. The Maui resident and wedding harpist by day was also a finalist at the 2000 Pillsbury competition, and was the winner in the 2003 One-Dish category at the National Beef Cook Off.

Chicken is an incredibly adaptable and easy dinner. It can get dull quick. The competition submissions are varied and include, Moroccan Chicken and Squash Tagine, Maple-Encrusted Chicken with Creamy Nectarine-Brandy Sauce, Chicken Tikka Strips with Ginger Plum Sauce and Honey Mango Relish and Pulled Jerk Chicken Thighs on Sweet Potato Pancake Stacks. Every two years finalist recipes are collected into The Chicken Cookbook, and is published and sold for a mere $2.95 postage paid.

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Food for Thought


The 2004 Best Food Writing anthology was released a few weeks ago. If you aren’t familiar with the 5-year old series, it’s a collection of essays, in this case 51, all on food-related topics. Best Food Writing is required reading for all undergraduate students enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America and is used as a textbook at other culinary schools nationwide. The writings are culled from the past year’s books, magazines, newspapers, newsletters, and Web sites.

Culinary author Molly O’Neill’s essay “Food Porn” is included in the 2004 collection. A longtime food
columnist for the New York Times Magazine, she is also the host of the PBS series Great Food and has published three award-winning cookbooks, The New York Cookbook, A Well-Seasoned Appetite, and The Pleasure of Your Company. To give you a flavor of the caliber of writing in this book I have found the essay online. If you have even a passing interest in food writing you should read this Columbia Review of Journalism essay. The premise is that food writing is not about journalism, but more about the selling of a fantasy lifestyle defined by comfort and affluence. Excerpt:

“Some of the most significant stories today-the obesity epidemic, water purity, the genetic manipulation of the food supply as well as its safety and sustainability-are food related.

“But you won’t find these stories in the food section because the focus of food stories is on entertainment, rather than news and consumer education,” according to Molly O’Neill, who was a reporter and food columnist for The New York Times for 10 years.

A World of Good Eating


Serendipity always surprises me. I guess that’s part of the magic of it all. Yesterday I received a missing issue of Gastronomica. I could go on about this quarterly journal published by UC Berkeley and the range of fascinating, vast and well-written and documented pieces in each issue. Suffice it to say that if you hold more than a passing interest in food you owe it to yourself to get a subscription. It makes other food publications, excluding Saveur and The Art of Eating look rookie. (Sorry, watching the Red Sox playoffs in tandem to this effort.)

Well, there in the author bio of Ann L. Bower, an associate professor of English at Ohio State University/ Marion was a listing of a book she had edited, Recipes for Reading Community Cookbooks Stories, Histories, (1997). Well, really! Now I’m not even thinking that I was the first to write about the cultural and social significance of this genre of cookbooks but I felt, well, ok, a bit smug and oddly validated.

Back to the book find of the moment…from the publisher’s site info in a short summary it states that it the scholarly book is arranged into three sections:

Part One provides a historical overview of community cookbooks, a discussion of their narrative strategies, and insights into the linguistic peculiarities of recipes.

Part Two contains essays about particular cookbooks and their relationship to specific cultural groups. Examined here are Methodist, Mormon, and Canadian recipe collections and a recent cookbook from the National Council of Negro Women.

Part Three considers a range of community cookbooks in terms of their culinary, historical, ethnic, and literary contexts.

Now I know many of you may not share this fever. The essays in this collection examine such topics as the “syntax and semantics of pie recipes to provide a linguistic background for the communities that created and used them.” (Tell me more!) Another “deconstructs Like Water for Chocolate as a complex blend of community and self in the kitchens of Mexico.” (Yes, yes!)

Cultural studies, food, and women’s studies all rolled into one book. To continue with this week’s feature find and purchased for $1.00 from the SF Big Book Sale is “A World of Eating” by New England homemaker and recipe collector, Heloise Frost. This effort looks like it was put together by Ms. Frost and her friend, and the book’s illustrator Ellen A. Nelson. The countries represented are the British Isles, China, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Scandinavia, and America. I know. Scandinavia is not a country, and folks living in the “country” of the British Isles would have something to quibble over but let’s go with it, this was put together, in 1951.

Ms. Frost’s objective, “if she couldn’t go to the foreign restaurants, maybe she could bring their exotic dishes into her home.” There’s a range of recipes ‘wild’ recipes including avocado cocktail, rhamkuchen (cheese cake), don-ku (egg wrapplings) to the simpler French omelette {sic} and breakfast marmalade.

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Peachy Reading

For many of us, a peach is quintessential summer. It’s all that’s best about summertime. Long, sunny, hot days–homemade peach ice cream, a BBQ beginning with peach sangria and finished with peach cobbler, or just simply fresh from the farmer’s market barely blushed, tree-ripened with a burst of sweet juices running down your chin.

I find the peach to be sexy with its downy, velvety skin blushed with red and voluptuously curvaceous shape. Good peaches awaken all the senses.

Although Georgia may have the immediate association to peaches California is the largest peach source, growing more than half of the world’s supply.

One of those California growers is David Mas Masumoto, an organic peach farmer, philosopher, in Central California who writes about his practices and peaches in several books.

<a href="Epitaph for a Peach: Four Seasons on My Family Farm, describes life on the farm and his family’s work to save the juicy, flavorful Sun Crest variety of peach. Alice Waters in <a href="Chez Panisse Fruit states, “I cannot imagine how anyone could fail to be charmed by Sun Crest’s lovely golden skin overlaid by a brilliant red blush.” This non-fiction book won the 1995 Julia Child Cookbook Award, among other honors, and earned him a loyal audience of people hungry for writings on finding a deeper connection to the land, and to an agrarian way of life.

Over the weekend summer has finally arrived in long hot form here in San Francisco I sat in front of a fan reading David Mas Masamuto’s 2003, <a href="Four Seasons in Five Senses: Things Worth Savoring. Throughout this collection of short essays we embark on a lyrical literary journey through the senses on the ups and downs in a year of growing peaches. We come to love the land, peaches and develop an appreciation and understanding of what the farmer goes through during a day, month and year. As romantic as this may sound our lesson here is that by saving a peach, a farm is saved and in turn family, community and a way of life.

We need more everyday heroes like David Mas Masumoto.

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