Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

 
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Tuesday, Oct 9, 2012
Food, chef and travel writer Naomi Duguid tells us, is the main entry point into another culture. It takes everyone to an everyday level.

Cookbook writer, world traveler, photographer and Southeast Asian food expert Naomi Duguid’s latest book, Burma: Rivers of Flavor, will first engross you with its exquisite photography and evocative writing, then send you into the kitchen to prepare dishes like chickpea soup with lemongrass and ginger, lima beans with galangal, and standout tomato chutney.


Once you’ve cooked your way through this lovely book, be sure to check out Duguid’s six other works (co-written with Jeffrey Alford).  Each is more than just a cookbook, immersing the reader in the cultures and peoples of a place using narrative, history, photography, and divine recipes.


Duguid spoke with me about Burma: Rivers of Flavor, the Burmese political situation, her work in Southeast Asia, and shooting with a digital camera.


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Monday, Oct 1, 2012
Blogger and author Luisa Weiss reassure us that "Most of the time, you can sort of salvage a screwy meal and make it taste good nevertheless."

Luisa Weiss, born in Berlin to an American father and Italian mother, had a splintered childhood. She spent her earliest years in Berlin. When her parents divorced, she moved to the United States with her father, a math professor. Vacations were spent in Berlin, where her Italian mother remained, leavened with occasional visits to Italy, where Weiss spent time with relatives. 


Despite loving family and friends, Weiss grew up profoundly unsure of herself and her place in the world.  During graduate studies in Paris, she met Max, her future husband. Fearing commitment, she ended the relationship, moving to New York City, where she worked in publishing and quickly became caught up in the fast-track life of a young woman in the city.


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Thursday, Aug 30, 2012
It's high summer in the US: the tomatoes are in. Now is the time to gorge, for all too soon August will give way to September’s lesser specimens. Come October, we're back into pumpkins. Tomato junkies had better lay in their winter fixes now.

Yes, I know. Winter? Hear me out. It’s high summer in the United States, a time when vegetables and fruits evoke adjectives like glut, plethora, cornucopia, fleeting. The tomatoes have arrived in Northern California, in all their multicolored heirloom glory. The market I frequent has bins overflowing with a multiplicity of sizes and colors. Shoppers load up greedily, furtively popping smaller tomatoes into their mouths.Now is the time to gorge: tomatoes morning, noon, and night, for all too soon—note that fleeting up there—August will give way to September’s lesser specimens, the peppers will come in, a small if colorful consolation, then we’ll be hard back into October’s orange squashes, turnips, and greens. Tomato junkies had best get their fixes now.


Of course there are ways around the tomato in winter. The first is acceptance of a Lenten abstinence, a starved seasonal waiting practiced by Chef Alice Waters and her locavore devotees. Oh, we cry, we love winter’s root vegetables, the chard and rutabagas and those enormous red kuri squashes. We love winter’s deep winey stews loaded with hearty tranches of beef.  We can wait, thank you very much, for the summer tomato. No poor quality tomatoes from faraway lands when we could be eating local greens from California’s Central Valley.


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Monday, Aug 13, 2012
Julia Child is an influential cooking icon who didn't actually pick up the ladle until after her 32nd birthday. As her 100th birthday approaches, we look back at Julia the icon, her influence, impact, legacy rumors and urban legends... the good and bad in her recipe for success and immortality.

Not very many of us have the distinction of being portrayed onscreen by both Meryl Streep and Dan Aykroyd (although, for some, I’m sure it’s just a matter of time).


This fact alone speaks volumes about the impact of Julia Child, the cooking icon who worked her way into America’s kitchens in book form and into America’s living rooms on television. The lady was everywhere for decades.


As to these remarkably diverse portrayals and her opinions on them, Child was reportedly such a fan of Aykroyd’s Saturday Night Live spoof that she showed recordings of the sketch to visiting friends. Streep’s much more serious and accurate turn as Child in 2009’s Julie & Julia was a performance that, sadly, Julia Child did not live to see. She was reportedly unamused by Julie Powell’s blog and book that led to the film. However, Streep’s acclaimed interpretation of Child was informed by Julia’s own book My Life in France (written with grand-nephew Alex Prud’homme) and gave a dead-on impression of our subject, near-falsetto voice and all, never once seeming like she was poking even gentle fun at the lady.


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Wednesday, Aug 8, 2012
When Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published in 1961, gustatory elegance meant canned cream of mushroom soup and TV dinners. Julia Child, a too tall, plain woman happily waving a knife, changed all that for the immeasurably better. Everything changed with her.

“AND LET US NOT FORGET: JULIA CHILD. Everything started—everything changed—with her.”
—Anthony Bourdain, The Les Halles Cookbook


In October 1961, Knopf Publishing released a 732-page cookbook entitled Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  The authors, Louise Bertholle, Simone Beck, and Julia Child, were unknown writers. The book was expensive ($10 dollars!) and unwieldy, its recipes complex. The interested cook needed time, equipment, and courage. Publishers Alfred and Blanche Knopf were sure they’d never earn a dime.  his was an era of gustatory shame in America, a time of speedy meals comprised of processed foods. But a young editor named Judith Jones, herself an excellent cook who had lived in France, insisted there were American book buyers ready and willing to prepare dishes like oeufs à la Bourguignonne (eggs poached in red wine) and oie rôtie aux pruneaux (roast goose stuffed with prunes and foie gras).


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