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Food Sites for January 2021

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Comfort food: Orrechiete with sausage and grapes

Now is the winter of our discontent—with a vengeance. 

Janus was the Roman god of doorways. He had two faces, one facing forward and one back... hence our new year begins in January. 2020 will probably be remembered as our least-lamented year for the next century or so. Let us hope Janus’s door slams 2020 in the ass on its way out. 

Our kitchens have become havens—sometimes our only haven—now that restaurants and bars are either off-limits or too risky to consider.

Penwipe Publishing continues to remain in staycation mode, but—while the pandemic has provided plenty of time—our obsession with following the news has inadvertently provoked more writing. This month, we’ve posted ”The Cook’s Tale,” and “Crossroads,” two little stories from a book-in-progress. You can probably guess which one includes some—rather unusual—culinary content.

Coping with Covid” is an essay on our blog (while it has no culinary contents, whatsoever, it’s loaded with plenty of paranoid delusions). Also, our preoccupation with Covid has forced us to reconsider (and rewrite) an old holiday article. As a result, Roll Magazine has posted “Are You Going to Holiday Faire?”. It has been updated to include a lovely recipe from Shakespeare’s Kitchen by Francine Segan.

Listed below are a few more podcasts we’ve found that provided opportunities for procrastination (as if we needed any).

You can, if you wish, follow us on Facebook (where, among other things, we post a LOT of photographs), and Twitter. Still more of our online scribbles can be found at A Quiet Little Table in the Corner. There’s even an Amazon author’s page, mostly about our food writing.

In reflecting on social isolation, we’re including a few items not yet found in On the Table’s culinary quote collection:

Food feeds both the body and soul—there are clear reasons to eat a balanced diet, but there are also reasons you cling to your mom’s secret chicken noodle soup recipe when you’re sick. Michael Mina

No man is lonely eating spaghetti; it requires so much attention. Christopher Morley

We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie. David Mamet

Sometimes I think I’m liquefying like an old Camembert. Gustave Flaubert

January, 2021

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 who have pointed out corrections or tasty sites (this month we’re tipping our hat to Sheila Ratcliffe), thanks, and keep them coming!

PPS: If you wish to change the e-mail address at which you receive these newsletters, or otherwise modify the way you receive our postings or—if you’ve received this newsletter by mistake, and/or don’t wish to receive future issues—you have our sincere apology and can have your e-mail address deleted from the list immediately. We’re happy (and continuously amazed) that so few people have decided to leave the list but, should you choose to be one of them, let us know and we’ll see that your in-box is never afflicted by these updates again. You’ll find links at the bottom of this page to fix everything to your liking.

— the new sites —

American Institute of Wine & Food Culinary Collection

(7,200 volumes in the special collections of the University of California at San Diego)

Barbaric History of the Sugar Trade, The

(Khalil Gibran Muhammad’s New York Times article about the connection between sugar and a history of slavery)

Before Food Trucks, Americans Ate “Night Lunch” from Beautiful Wagons

(Gastro Obscura’s Anne Ewbank describes the glory of the ancestors of today’s diners)

Brewing Beer in Wine Country? First Archaeobotanical Indications for Beer Making in Early and Middle Bronze Age Greece

(Soultana Valamoti’s 2017 paper in Vegetation History and Archaeobotany)

Challenge and Pleasures of Elizabeth David, The

(Melissa Pasanen’s homage in The Art of Eating)


(information packet from the U.S. Department of Agriculture)

For the Record

(Robert Simonson’s cocktail history articles at Vinepair)

Gifts of the Gods: A History of Food in Greece

(chapter seven of Andrew and Rachel Dalby’s 2017 book; in PDF)

History of Pies, The

(a timeline from What’s Cooking America)

Kernels of Truth About Corn

(Hadassah Patterson’s article, in The Bitter Southerner, on the history, culture, and uses of Native American varieties of maize)

Marmalade: A Very British Obsession

(Olivia Potts on the history of the preoccupation with pectin and bitter oranges, at Longreads)

Natural Food Additives, Ingredients and Flavourings

(PDF of 2012 British technical book, edited by David Baines and Richard Seal)

Nouvelle Cuisine

(a history, by André Gayot, in Gayot: The Guide to the Good Life)

Quest for Sourdough, The

(resources and blog about leavening with fermented dough)

Recipes and Remedies: Manuscript Cookbooks

(digitized manuscripts from the collection of The New York Academy of Medicine)

Reviving a Crop and an African-American Culture, Stalk by Stalk

(Kim Severson’s New York Times article about Sapelo Island traditional cane syrup)

Science of Baking, The: How Physics and Chemistry Can Make You a Better Baker

(answers to the “whys” of baking)

Science of Cooking, The: Understanding the Biology and Chemistry Behind Food and Cooking

(PDF of 2016 book by Joseph J. Provost, Keri L. Colabroy, Brenda S. Kelly, and Mark A. Wallert)

Short History of American Food, A (Whatever That Is)

(Channon Hodge organizes the subject five small essays for CNN)

Short History of MSG, A: Good Science, Bad Science, and Taste Cultures

(Jordan Sands’ 2006 article in Gastronomica)

This Man Made the First Canned Cranberry Sauce

(K. Annabelle Smith tells the story of visionary Marcus Urann’s breakthroughs For Smithsonian magazine)

— inspirational (or otherwise useful) sites for writers/bloggers —

Good Sentences Are Why We Read

How Cookbooks from the Past Inform the Food of the Present

How Snobbery Helped Take the Spice Out of European Cooking

How to Edit a Book: How Many Times Should I Edit?

Margaret Atwood’s 10 Rules of Writing

Mexico Cooks!

Our Lady of the Kitchen

Promote Your Book With a Shoestring Budget

Reflections on Objectivity and Wine Tasting (1)

“Salt to Taste,” Taken with a Grain of Regret

“So You Want to Write a Cookbook…?”

Ultimate Guide To Food Photography, The (77 Yummy Food Photo Tips!)

Why Wine Tasting Notes Are Not Helpful

— podcasts, etcetera —

America’s Most Famous Dessert: Jell-O, Classism, and the Death of the American Dream

Encores: Michael W. Twitty in Conversation

How to Cake It

— that’s all for now —

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

As an Amazon Associate, this newsletter earns from qualifying purchases made through it. These include our own books (listed below), and occasional books mentioned in the entries above. If you order any books via those links, the price you pay is not increased by our commission.

Occasionally, URLs we provide may link to commercial sites (that is, they’ll cost you money to take full advantage of them). We do not receive any compensation for listing them here, and provide them without any form of recommendation—other than the fact that they looked interesting to us.

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 for our own books:

The Resource Guide for Food Writers
(newsletters like this merely update the contents of the book; what doesn’t appear here is already in the book)

The Herbalist in the Kitchen

The Business of Food: Encyclopedia of the Food And Drink Industries

Human Cuisine

Herbs: A Global History

Sausage: A Global History

Can It! The Perils and Pleasures of Preserving Foods

Sauces Reconsidered: Après Escoffier


Terms of Vegery

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

How to Write a Great Book

The Digressions of Dr Sanscravat: Gastronomical Ramblings & Other Diversions

Ephemera: a short collection of short stories

Prophet Amidst Losses


Future Tense: Remembrance of Things Not Yet Past

Here endeth the sales pitch(es)...

...for the moment, anyway.


The Resource Guide for Food Writers, Update #243 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 author’s prior written permission—is strictly prohibited.

Copyright ©2021 by Gary Allen.


Saturday, December 5, 2020

Johnson looked down at his shoes and sighed.

They were covered with fine yellow dust, the same color as the shoulder of The Great River Road. He’d walked it for days. The long fingers of his left hand clung to a piece of rope tying his suitcase together. The suitcase looked like it was made of alligator hide, but it was really just cardboard. He had a guitar slung across his back.

For weeks, he’d worked his way up Mississippi’s US 61, picking up occasional gigs. He’d sing in juke joints in exchange for a meal and a drink—usually a couple of tamales or a ham hock, washed down with cheap no-name bourbon. He never got to play more than one night at any of them. He wasn’t very good. He had a reedy voice that broke when he tried to hold the high notes, and his guitar-playing sounded like he’d just learned to play. Which was exactly the case. Still, he had hopes—and hope kept him going on his little part of The Great Migration.

As he approached Clarksdale, he heard—faintly, off in the distance—someone playing a guitar. It was unlike anything he’d ever heard before. It had a driving demonic rhythm that alternated with long blue notes that stretched and snapped at him. They moved him in ways he never imagined music could move him. It thrilled, but also depressed, him. There was no way in hell that he could ever play like that. He kept on walking, and tried to think about something else.

He’d gotten a couple of miles further, when he came to the spot where US 61intersected with US 49. He sat down at the side of the crossroads, and waited. Something, he felt, was important about the place; he felt sure that something was destined to happen there. Occasional cars went by and, every once in a while, a farm truck rattled through. None of the drivers seemed to notice him sitting there. Hours went by, and the big red sun began to settle through the Mississippi haze.

No one showed up. Whatever destiny had in mind for him, it clearly wasn’t meant to happen there.

He stood, slowly, his gangly legs stiff from sitting so long on the hard ground. He picked up his suitcase and guitar, and looked back—south—facing the direction he’d already walked. He decided he should find out more about the infernal music he’d heard earlier that day.

It was just dark when he heard it again. Set well back—a good distance away from the highway—he could see a small run-down cabin. As he approached it, several chickens scattered noisily. The music stopped.

A voice called out from the front porch, “Whatcha’ be wantin’ here, boy?”

Johnson shuffled up the path, a little embarrassed. “Sorry to bother you… but I heard someone playing, an’ had to ax…” his voice trailed off.

“Ax what?”

“How you do it? I ain’t never heard nothing like it.”

“Come here, boy, and set a spell. Whatcher’ name?”

“It’s Robert, but you can call me Bob”

“I’m Son. Son House. An’ this here’s my Mississippi National steel bodied guitar.”

“Could you teach me how to play like that?”

“You got any money?”

Johnson looked down. He had unlimited youth and ambition—and a surprising amount of nerve, approaching a stranger like that—but he sure as hell didn’t have any money.

“Can you play that guitar you’re carryin’?”

“A little bit… nothin’ like what you can.”

“Les’ hear it.”

Johnson set down his suitcase, took the guitar from his shoulder, and played.

For a few seconds.

“That’s enough,” interrupted House. “Boy, you got you some long fingers… long enough to reach all the strings… but you shore as hell ain’t reachin’ ‘em at the right time.”

Johnson was hurt, but didn’t want to complain.

House continued, “Still… ah think ah could learn ya’ a few things. Here’s the deal I got for you; I kin’ make you the best dam’ blues man they ever was… but they’s a price to pay. You willin?” Johnson was definitely willing to pay. He’d pay any price, as long as it wasn’t in cash, since he had none. House said he wasn’t interested in cash.

“Kin ya’ work?”

“Shore. Whaddya’ need me to do?”

“Boy… if there’s anythin’ ah hates, it’s farm work. If you take over feedin’ ma’ chickens, weedin’ ma’ garden, choppin’ wood, and carryin’ water from the pump… .” The list just went on and on.

Starting the next morning, right after chores, House began Johnson’s lessons. He worked on timing, fingering, and how to run an old hambone along the guitar neck to bring out the wailing tones that had intrigued Johnson the first time he heard them. The lessons went on for a few weeks.

Every night, after dinner, Johnson sat off to the side, and listened as House read bedtime stories to his kids. His young daughter always wanted to hear the same story, so House’s student had to listen to Hans Christian Anderson’s tale about the Little Mermaid—again and again. And again. Most of the story didn’t interest him. It was too girly-girly for his taste, and all those oceanic details meant nothing to the man who was born and raised on the delta.

One night, however, something in the story caught his attention: the part about the witch and the deal she made with the little mermaid.

When the story was over, he went out to the front porch, where he’d made a pallet for himself. He tried to get some sleep, but it was no use. He tossed and turned, hoping to shove the story out of his consciousness. “It’s only a dam’ fairy tale,” he tried to tell himself. Still he couldn’t stop picturing the witch’s warning—and the little mermaid’s willing acceptance of the terms. Terms that put her very existence at stake. Something about the story—which was sappy, trivial in a way that could only appeal to a little girl—burned in his brain. Day after day, the chores and lessons went by. Night after night, the bedtime stories, followed by tossing and turning. It felt like a never-ending cycle he was doomed to repeat, again and again.

But it did come to an end.

One day, Son told Robert that he had learned everything he knew how to teach. The student had even gone beyond his lessons, learning to shape his thin cracked voice to mirror the stretched plaintive notes of a bottle-necked guitar. Johnson packed his pasteboard bag and swung the guitar over his shoulder. He walked away from the House house, then headed back to highway sixty-one.

He kept going, past the intersection of highway forty-nine, this time without stopping. He just walked until he came to a familiar juke joint. Even though he’d played there before, something in his manner, some weird self-confidence, convinced the bartender to let him play again.

As the sun went down, a few customers trickled into the bar. They sat at worn-out tables with bottles of beer, or flasks of whiskey, and talked among themselves. They ignored the young man sitting at end of the bar, and the guitar that leaned against his stool.

It was only when he got up to play, that they recognized him. No one wanted this no-account, no-talent hick to spoil their evening. Some booed. Some threw empty bottles or chewed-up bones at him.

Johnson stood, not exactly facing them. He seemed to stare at something standing in the doorway, something none of them could see.

The first striding bass notes made them sit up and pay attention. A few high chords had them leaning toward the make-shift stage. Then his high, cigarette-roughened, voice grabbed them:

Early this morning
When you knocked upon my door
Early this morning, ooh
When you knocked upon my door
And I said “hello Satan
I believe it's time to go”

They were mesmerized.

Song after song poured out of him. He performed like a seasoned bluesman, someone who had been living, and singing, the blues for sixty, maybe seventy years—even though he was still in his twenties. No one could believe that this was the same pitiful amateur they’d seen only a month or so earlier.

After his set, folks crowded around him, buying him drinks, and begging him to explain how he could have changed—so completely—in so little time. He looked up at the ceiling, as if expecting to find an answer written there. Eventually, words formed, “I went to the crossroad, fell down on my knees.”

He paused.

The new fans looked at each other, confused.

He continued, “I went to the crossroad, fell down on my knees.” Another long pause, causing more confused looks.

He brought it to a close, “Asked the Lord above, ‘Have mercy, now, save poor Bob if you please.’”

He could tell that the juke joint’s customers had no idea what he was telling them. They understood no more now than before they even asked him anything. He had an answer ready for them: “It wasn’t the Lord above who had mercy on me.” More puzzled looks. “It was the Lord below.”

They bought it. Completely.

Over the course of the next few months, in many more juke joints, he told the story over and over. He gradually embellished his version of the Little Mermaid into a personal life-story that became legendary. Everywhere he went, people flocked to hear the devilishly-good guitar of the man who had sold his soul to Satan. He was well on his way to becoming the most famous bluesman of all time. At least until the devil came to collect.

Turns out, if you invoke Satan’s name often enough, even if—or especially if—it’s in the middle of a lie, it amounts to a verbal contract.

This story is excerpted from Backstories: As retold by Gary Allen, available in two formats:


©2020 Gary Allen

Coping with Covid

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

We live in strange and fearful times. While everything is strange and unfamiliar, these days, not every fear is based in reality. The devilish part is that we can never know which fears are, and which fears aren’t.

Every day, a trickle of tiny symptoms—a slight cough, a tickle in the back of the throat, an aching shoulder, a runny nose—swell into a flood of doubts and worries. They could be foreshadows of the dreaded disease and the final darkness. 

I question everything about my activities over the last few days. I have, of course, worn my masks religiously—but what about that guy who didn’t, the guy who was nice enough to hold the door for me at the post office? And what about that couple who ignored the one-way aisles at the grocery store? If they didn’t follow that simple safety precaution, then, what other health rules might they have ignored in the past two weeks? What if they were politically-averse to following any rules? What if they don’t even believe that the virus is real? What chance do I even have to survive in a world where such dangerously anti-social behavior is rampant?

What if that strange tightness I feel in my chest is the beginning of my lungs shutting down? I check my temperature. It’s normal. I check my pulse and oxygen levels. My pulse is just as it always is. My oxygen is down a little—95%—but I have asthma, so I should expect that. Oh wait… asthma, combined with my advanced age, are preconditions that tell me I would probably not survive a brush with Covid-19!

Thinking all of these thoughts, it becomes increasingly difficult to sleep at night.

Thoughts are not the only things keeping me awake. A tightness in my chest keeps me tossing and turning. No position change makes breathing any easier. But I had checked all the vital readings I could, didn’t I? 

What if it is something else? I’m old enough to have any number of age-related problems. What if it is my heart? Wait—I notice a dull pain running down the inside of my left arm! Isn’t that a sign of a heart attack? My breathing becomes more difficult.

How bloody ironic. I could die, in my own bed, a victim of my own heart, and Covid would have nothing to do with it. It could be that this is the very night I will die. It would make no difference to me—since I’d be dead—but it would be a very unpleasant thing for my wife to wake up to. Still, it would be better not to die, right? 

Should I wake her, and ask to be taken to the hospital? Do I need to get dressed? Really—does it matter what I look like in the emergency room? Is this even an emergency? What an incredible waste of time, money, and medical resources it would be if this is not a heart attack! My wife wakes during my ten thousandth spin under covers, and asks if I’m alright. I hesitate, then tell her about my symptoms—without offering my amateur diagnosis. She asks if she should take me to the hospital.

I answer, “I don’t think that’s necessary.” I try to go back to sleep, but my chest feels like a tourniquet is being twisted ever tighter around it. I can even feel it between my shoulder blades. I don’t even want to move, lest I gasp for air and frighten my already worried wife. I can’t remember if this is what a heart attack feels like—a spear passing clear through the body.

The tightness is nothing I remember ever having experienced before, but something about what I’m feeling—in the space between my shoulder blades—is familiar. I’ve never had heart trouble of any kind, but I recognize this sensation. I recall that, over fifty years ago, while I was still in school, I went to college infirmary with a similar pain. The doctor handed me over to one of the Phys Ed instructors. He was also a physical therapist, so he massaged my back and told me to soak in a hot tub. The pain subsided.

I got out of bed without waking my wife, dug around in the bathroom until I could locate a heating pad. After warming it up, I slipped it between me and the bed, and waited. Before long, I fell asleep. 

In the morning, the tightness was gone. It was just a muscle spasm. Neither Covid nor a heart attack would take me that day.

Still, I find it curious that our evolution has provided us with ways to prepare for our own demise. It’s something that no other species has developed, or needed to develop. As we age, we gradually receive little hints of the impending end—one by one, our powers diminish in a accelerating increase of little deaths, signaling the relentless workings of entropy—making it easier to accept its inevitability. If we live long enough, most of what makes us who we are will have gone before we, ourselves, are gone. 

If we’re willing to accept these losses in the spirit in which they’re given, we can find peace in the only universe we will ever know.


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