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Troubled Waters

Monday, July 20, 2015

Yesterday, as my eighteen-year-old niece frolicked with her boyfriend in the pool, her ten-year-old cousin looked on in dismay.

At first, I imagined her pre-pubescent concern was that boy-girl touching was “yucky,” but perhaps I was projecting my own self-conscious horror of public displays of affection—hell, any kind of public display.

But that’s just me.

She was so upset that she complained to her mother, at length, afterwards. It turns out that the source of her concern was something else altogether. 

A lot of her friends, at school, were dating (which was, in itself, quite a revelation—that ten-year-olds were dating).

When our son was only slightly older, there had been many short-lived romances among his friends—but they occurred mostly in the minds of the girls. The boys were mostly unaware that they were even in relationships or—if they even knew—had no clue what it meant, or what their roles and responsibilities in the relationships might entail. But that was around age twelve, and we only got to see the boys’ side of the drama. The girls’ side of the stories was, apparently, very different.

She went on to reveal—with increasing levels of emotion—that her friends and their “boyfriends” were constantly breaking up. This comes as no surprise to me (I was a former boy, myself). The break-ups caused endless anguish among all the girls, even those—like her—who were merely spectators of the primal struggles.

Oh so slowly, I deduced that she was not disgusted by the observed physicality of the romance, but dreading the inevitability of a painful break-up. Her concern reflected her, albeit limited, experience: that all romantic entanglements must, perforce, end in disaster. Her worries about her older cousin’s potential for suffering were touching—and strangely informative—because she had no personal knowledge of any part of romantic entanglement except of the unavoidable agony of separation.

That this tawdry sturm und drang is the stuff of literary tragedy—not to mention countless country/western songs—suggests that the chroniclers of misery might, themselves, be cases of arrested pre-adolescence.

Food Sites for August 2015

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Bitter Bolete, Tylopilus felleus, Poughkeepsie, NY


It’s been a hot, wet summer around here—and mushrooms are popping up everywhere. Alas, not all of them are chanterelles, black trumpets, or the more savory species of bolete. Fortunately, summer provides a host of tastier alternatives—and endless choices of seasonally- (and age-) appropriate libations.

Regular subscribers to our updates newsletter receive these updates from our blog, Just Served,  directly—but there is much more at the blog that isn’t delivered automatically. You can, if you wish, follow us on Facebook, and Twitter. Still more of our online scribbles can be found at A Quiet Little Table in the Corner

This month’s quotes (from On the Table’s culinary quote collection) continue our celebration of summer.

The egg creams of Avenue A in New York and the root beer float are among the high points of American gastronomic inventiveness. Mark Kurlansky 
Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish, and he will sit in the boat and drink beer all day. OldFox 
He is no true fisherman who is willing to fish only when fish are biting. Grover Cleveland 
In the Barbecue is any four footed animal—be it mouse or mastodon—whose dressed carcass is roasted whole... at its best it is a fat steer, and must be eaten within an hour of when it is cooked. For if ever the sun rises upon Barbecue, its flavor vanishes like Cinderella's silks, and it becomes cold baked beef—staler in the chill dawn than illicit love. William Allen White 
The story of barbecue is the story of America: Settlers arrive on great unspoiled continent, discover wondrous riches, set them on fire and eat them. Vince Staten 
For each glass, liberally large, the basic ingredients begin with ice cubes in a shaker and three or four drops of Angostura bitters on the ice cubes. Add several twisted lemon peels to the shaker, then a bottle-top of dry vermouth, a bottle-top of Scotch, and multiply the resultant liquid content by five with gin, preferably Bombay Sapphire. Add more gin if you think it is too bland... I have been told, but have no personal proof that it is true, that three of these taken in the course of an evening make it possible to fly from New York to Paris without an airplane. Isaac Stern
Gary
August, 2015

PS: If you encounter broken links, changed URLs—or know of wonderful sites we'‘ve missed—please drop us a line. It helps to keep this resource as useful as possible for all of us. To those of you who have introduced us to sites like the ones in this newsletter (such as Fabio Parasecoli), thanks, and keep them coming!

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---- the new sites ----

Applying Concepts from Historical Archaeology to New England’s Nineteenth-Century Cookbooks
(Anne Yentsch’s article in Northeast Historical Archaeology; PDF)

Case for Eating Small Fish, The
(John Donohue’s article, in The New Yorker, on the ecological, nutritional, and economic advantages of eating bait)

Cooking Pot, The
(history of one-pot cooking; proceedings of the 1988 Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery)

Dark Side of the Truffle Trade, The
(Ryan Jacobs’ article, in The Atlantic, on the fungal underground)

Dining with Darius
(Rachel Laudan on power and provender in ancient Persia; in The Cairo Review of Global Affairs)

Fabled Flatbreads of Uzbekistan, The
(Eric Hansen’s article in Aramco World)

First Kitchen, The
(Laura Shapiro’s New Yorker article on the horrors of dining in FDR’s White House) 

Foods Americans Once Loved to Eat, The
(Li Zhou, on some forgotten dishes, in Smithsonian magazine)

foodseum
(“Chicago’s Food Museum,” a work in progress)

Gerard’s 1597 Herball
(digitized pages from a copy in the collection of the University of Oklahoma Libraries)

Illustrated Guide to Indian Vegetables, An
(Michael Snyder’s article at Lucky Peach)

Knockout Blow for American Fish Stocks, A
(Gib Brogan, in The New York Times, on environmental threats to New England’s fishery)

Little Library Café, The
(a collection of recipes, inspired by literature)

Magnificent Lie Behind Champagne, The
(no, it wasn’t Dom Perignon in the Abbey of Hautvillers)

Mid-century Menu
(RetroRuth said a mouthful: “It was a long, painful and sometimes disgusting road that lead to our current national gourmand status.”)

Naturally Cured Meats: Quality, Safety, and Chemistry
(Gary Anthony Sullivan’s doctoral dissertation; PDF)

Oxford Symposium Downloads
(searchable archive of papers presented at Oxford’s fabulous Food and Cookery conference)

True Place of Science in Gastronomy, The
(Len Fisher’s talk at 2015 Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery)

Vegetable Detective, The
(Todd Oppenheimer’s article, in Craftsmanship, on the occurrence of heavy metals in cruciferous vegetables, even organic kale )

What It’s Like To Go A Year Without Processed Food
(Kate Bratskeir’s Huffington Post interview with Megan Kimble, author of Unprocessed: My City-dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food)

When Taste Is a Trade Issue
(Jack Ewing’s New York Times article on the legal, economic, political, and cultural differences that influence our cheese choices)

White House Orders Review of Rules for Genetically Modified Crops
(Andrew Pollack, on the Obama administration’s attempts to deal with this contentious subject in The New York Times)


---- inspirational (or otherwise useful) site for writers/bloggers ----

5 Reasons Why Writers Should Blog

Agents & Editors: A Conversation With Four Literary Agents

Ask an Editor: How Do You Create A Stunning Visual Identity?

Get Started on Twitter in 7 Simple Steps

How to Publish on Wattpad


---- other blogs ----

aashpaz

DL Acken Photographer

five o’clock teaspoon


---- thats all for now ----

Except, of course, for the usual legalistic mumbo-jumbo and commercial flim-flam:

Your privacy is important to us. We will not give, sell or share your e-mail address with anyone, for any purpose—ever. Nonetheless, we will expose you to the following irredeemably brazen plugs: 

Want to support On the Table, without spending a dime of your own money on it? 

It’s easy. Whenever you want to shop on Amazon. Com, click on any of the book links below, then whatever you buy there (it doesn’t even have to be one of our books) will earn a commission for this newsletter.

The Resource Guide for Food Writers
(Paper)

The Herbalist in the Kitchen
(Hardcover)
(Kindle)

The Business of Food: Encyclopedia of the Food And Drink Industries
(Hardcover)

Human Cuisine
(Paper)

Herbs: A Global History
(Hardcover)

Sausage: A Global History (for pre-order)
(Hardcover)

Terms of Vegery
(Kindle)

How to Serve Man: On Cannibalism, Sex, Sacrifice, & the Nature of Eating
(Kindle)

Here endeth the sales pitch(es)...

...for the moment, anyway.

______________

The Resource Guide for Food Writers, Update #178 is protected by copyright, and is provided at no cost, for your personal use only. It may not be copied or retransmitted unless this notice remains affixed. Any other form of republication—unless with the authors prior written permission—is strictly prohibited.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Gary Allen.





Perfectable Perdu

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

I’ve heard there are people who live only in the present, as either free spirits or enlightened Zen masters. I don’t personally know any of them, and can only think of them in the same way as Plato’s troglodytes could picture life outside. The picture is rather fuzzy—possibly warm and fuzzy, but fuzzy nonetheless.
I’m not one of them.
Certainly there are others who live only for the future. Whether they long for a Christian hereafter, or some form of paradise on earth, Utopia is where they want to live. Their goal is “a future so bright they’ve got to wear shades.”
I’m not one of them, either. 
The present is just too slippery, too evanescent, to hold onto, and the future—well who’s to say if there will even be a future? So what does that leave me? While there are philosophical and scientific arguments about the nature of time—and if it even exists—the only “time” I’m able to comprehend is the past. With increasing age, the ratio of the past to the future increases, so it’s only natural that I spend more time there.
Also, with advancing age, faith in the perfectibility of the future decreases (experience tends to make us less optimistic). The past, however, just gets better and better. Our rearview mirrors are often rose-tinted—and the further into the past we look, the rosier it appears. Its tense becomes increasingly pluperfect.
One of past’s best attributes is its malleability. We may not be able to change the facts of the past—as the events, themselves, are no longer available—but their interpretation is infinitely variable. It’s a cliché that “history is written by the victors,” but all memory is constantly re-written, by winners and losers alike. Needless to say, everyone comes out looking better in the memories of events in their pasts. The past is a lovely place to visit, and we’d all love to live there.

And we do.

The Hunting of the Snipe

Monday, June 29, 2015
Once, while riding in the backseat with a coupla’ Texas cousins, the conversation turned to the best hunting techniques for snipe. Back home, up north, I knew about snipe; they were brown-spotted, streaky-looking birds that ran along sandy shorelines on legs that looked too long and flimsy to hold them up, let alone run.

As I listened, it was clear that the Texas variety was a different animal altogether.

These elusive creatures seemed to have more in common with the armadillo tribe than any snipe I ever saw. Perhaps it was living in the vicinity of oil wells and pipelines—and the sort of men who worked in such places—but Texan snipe had an inexplicable fascination with the smell of burning sulfur, like when you lit up one of those old-fashioned strike-anywhere matches. They could also be lured close to a hidden hunter by softly calling “snipe, snipe, snipe, snipe, snipe, snipe, snipe…” into the darkness.

I’d never heard of a wild animal that was so egotistical as to know, let alone answer to, its name. This was Texas, after all—so, if any animal did have an inflated self-image, that would be the place it would live. On the other hand, I’d never heard of a bird that looked like an armadillo and liked the smell of burnt matches.

Still, their enthusiasm for the hunt led me to believe that these snipe must be very good eating, so I was more than willing to try my beginner’s hand at capturing a bagful of them.

We spent the rest of the afternoon gathering supplies and working out our hunting strategy. The supplies were easy: a large grocery sack and a box of kitchen matches for each of us. The strategizing fascinated this neophyte, and I paid careful attention to every word of my more-experienced cousins. It was clear that they knew a lot about the ins and outs of snipe hunting.

For one thing, it made no sense to try to track them or run them down; they were just too wily and quick for that. The most effective method was to sit quietly in a likely spot in snipe country, armed as described, calling softly and lighting matches just in front of the open grocery sack. I was warned to be careful not to hold the matches too close to the bag (that was obvious, even to me—if the sack got burned, what would I use to carry all the snipes I caught?).

I also learned how efficient my cousins were. In order to best cover the snipe terrain, we would spread out to learn where they were congregating. Whoever caught the first snipe would then call out to the other hunters—then everyone would form a circle of gradually-decreasing diameter, driving the snipe toward the waiting bag of the first successful hunter.

I so wanted to be that snipe hunter.

We waited anxiously for it to get dark, when we (or rather my sixteen-year-old cousin) could drive us out to the hunting grounds.

Now Callahan was, at the time, a dry county—and the only place a thirsty Texan could get a drink was in a private club. There was just such a place, a mile or two outside of Clyde. It was a signless and windowless cinderblock building surrounded by mesquites, only identifiable because it sat in front of a pile of empty Lone Star cans as tall as the building itself. This, I was surprised to learn, was prime snipe country. No doubt it had something to do with all the smokers (and the constant lighting of matches) among the club-members.

Since I was the honored guest on the hunt, I was given the best spot.

It was well away from the security light of the clubhouse, on flat sandy ground, surrounded by exactly the kind of brush that provided ideal cover for the secretive snipes. They got me set up, making sure I had everything I needed and understood the night’s strategy. Then they went off to find suitable spots to hunt. I felt bad for them, knowing that they were not as likely to be successful, since they had given me the choice location.

It was a moonless night, but the broad Texas sky was full of stars and their light was more than enough to make out the surrounding mesquites, slightly darker than the sky. I opened the bag slowly, being careful not to make too much noise with the stiff brown paper. I laid it on its side, placing a few small stones inside so that its bottom was flush with the ground. When the mad rush of a snipe happened, I wanted to be sure that it didn’t run under the bag.

I lit the first match.

Barely louder than a whisper, I began calling “snipe, snipe, snipe, snipe, snipe, snipe, snipe” into the darkness.

Another match, and slightly louder, “snipe, snipe, snipe, snipe, snipe, snipe, snipe…”

Nothing yet. I wondered if my cousins were having any better luck. Of course not—I would have heard them yell if they had.

Another match, and slightly louder, “snipe, snipe, snipe, snipe, snipe, snipe, snipe…”

The stars slowly wheeled around the sky, and my matches were running low, but still no sign of the first snipe.

Then I heard it.

A very faint moaning sound.

My cousins hadn’t mentioned the kind of noise that snipe made—or perhaps they did, but I hadn’t been paying close-enough attention? There it was again, a little louder. What if it wasn’t a snipe, but some other animal, possibly a territorial longhorn, or some other dangerous beast for which I was unprepared? The moaning faded away a bit, suggesting a change of direction. Maybe the creature had found some more interesting prey. No, it was getting louder again, heading straight for me.

That was no animal.

It was a pick-up truck.


It stopped not far from where I sat, matchless in the wilderness. My grandfather walked over to me, cursing softly in the darkness. “Damfool kids. What the hail would the sheriff say if he found him out here all by hisself?”

Vellichor

Friday, June 26, 2015

Popes Works, with a life by Dr. Johnson


Even before the door opens, a cart full of books tries to tempt me… but I know from long experience that there won’t be anything worthwhile. There’s a reason why they’re free or just really, really cheap. This is the place where failed wannabe bestsellers go to die, usually in the company of how-to books for software that’s been out-of-date for decades.

Still, I look (because one collector found a first edition of Moby Dick on a wheelbarrow outside one of those long-gone Fourth Avenue booksellers’ shops—a book that was signed by Melville to Hawthorne). I’ve never found anything remotely like that, but you never know…

Once through the front door, a second table of inexpensive books, or sometimes titles just recently added to the store’s stock. Always worth a peek. Sometimes, perhaps in an effort to justify the “rare books” portion of the store window’s “Used & Rare Books” signage, antique glass-fronted book cases hold the shop’s treasures: signed first editions; incunabulae; an unbound section of Pope’s Essay on Man; bizarre misprints—like 1631‘s Wicked Bible. I glance at these with a mixture of longing and parsimony. There will be nothing I can afford in those cases.

Further in, a wall of elegant leather-bound sets speak, in reserved tones, of opulent private libraries, lined in dark woods, and paved with thick sound-deadening carpets. These ancient volumes, wearing a patina that suggests, simultaneously, generations of care and the likelihood that they have never been read. I open one carefully, see the un-cut pages, inhale the fragrance of benign decrepitude, run the tip of a finger over the indentations of early letterpress upon ever-so-slightly foxed rag paper, then slide it back on the shelf. None of these books would satisfy anyone but an illiterate snob or his interior decorator. Who, among us, longs to read through twenty-eight volumes of seventeenth-century sermons written by an obscure pastor from an unpronounceable parish in Wales? Or pore over the military memoirs of a retired officer, recounting forgotten and inconsequential deeds in neglected corners of a long-gone empire?

These books are rare, and deservedly so.

I walk away from these shelves, respectfully—as if stepping between the stones of a cemetery, the graves filled with people I never knew, or even knew of. There may be nothing there for me, but there’s no need to be rude, either. I’m impatient to get into the parts of the bookshop that pander to my particular forms of book lust, but I’m vaguely aware of another urge, something perhaps more visceral in nature.

I ignore its implied message, and head to the alphabetically-organized shelves of favorite authors. I look to see if they have the one volume of Boswell’s journals that I’m missing. Alas, no—but they do have a better copy of the first one I acquired, and I’m tempted to upgrade. I hold off, since the day is young, my budget is limited, and I have no idea what serendipitous wonders are lurking back in the stacks.

How about TC Boyle? My living room has one shelf bulging with his books, but I’d like to replace a couple of paperbacks with hardcovers, especially the early Water Music. Alas, there are many copies of his later books, printed when his fame justified huge print runs. I’m beginning to feel a little anxious about my chances for a big haul, or maybe it’s an unsettled something-or-other in the abdominal region.

Perhaps I should have had breakfast before starting this book trek. Never mind; I’m here now; let’s see what finds are in store.

Do they have any of the four volumes that would fill out my set of complete works of John Burroughs? Not likely. I do find yet another copy of Locusts & Wild Honey—a tasty book, to be sure, but I already have two editions of it and a third would place an uncalled-for burden on already over-stuffed bookshelves.

Speaking of burdens, those complaints from my nether regions are becoming more insistent. It is becoming obvious that the problem is not the emptiness of my upper abdomen, but quite the opposite. While writers of books may be metaphorically full of shit, this collector of books is literally so.
Why don’t I ever remember to void my bowels before wading into the vowels (and consonants) of a major book hunt? For some reason, moments after entering a bookstore, the urging of my corporal (and less ethereal or aesthetic) nature begin to dictate my behavior. This has happened so often that I suspect there may be an element of causality at work.

Is it because I read in bathrooms—and all that literature is telling me it’s time to find a private place to sit and read?

Is it a variant on the gastrointestinal effects of fright and flight—the urge to empty one’s colon to ease an escape? If so, what could I possibly fear in a bookstore—finding more treasures than I can fit in my book-jammed house? Not likely, since I rarely pass up the opportunity to acquire more books.
Perhaps the urge to purge is metaphorical—my body telling me to make room before ingesting yet more volumes? Or does the smell of old books—“vellichor,” the word itself suggesting the Proustian aroma of parchment perdu—merely trigger ancient memories of reading in restrooms? Do rolls of toilet paper mimic the scrolls in the library at Alexandria?

Whatever the reason, I soon find myself in a small room at the back of the shop, seated between walls covered with old New Yorker covers, portraits of authors long gone, photos of the great libraries of Europe—a kind of sanctum sanctorum, consecrated with icons of literary lives, real or imagined. These bookshop bathrooms invariably hold a few books to distract the temporary occupants from their mundane tasks.


No longer burdened by the baser elements of my nature, I emerge fully refreshed and refocused. Where was I? 

Ah yes, “C.” 

I wonder if they might they have any Calvino or Catullus that I’ve not yet perused...

The Libro-Emporium

Doorstops and lavatory entertainments abound in our book store.