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

 
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Friday, Dec 19, 2014
With Jewish Soul Food Israeli Food Writer Janna Gur tries to create a "greatest hits from our Jewish Grandmothers." Only the grandmothers aren't around to help.

With Jewish Soul Food, Israeli food editor and cookbook author Janna Gur hoped to create “a kind of greatest hits from our Jewish grandmothers.” Yet a book about Jewish soul food was problematic, for the very people who produced these iconic dishes—the bubbes (plural Yiddish for grandmother) were no longer available for consultation. Theirs was a generation that cooked by hand and eye, writing nothing down. Their grandchildren, now adults, want to recreate the meals of their childhoods but cannot. Nobody knows how. The recipes, sadly, died with the grandmothers.


Gur’s exact words are: “the grandmother is gone.” In the case of Jewish Soul Food, this is a mixed blessing. Good because no Ashkenazi grandmothers are around to shri (shriek) at the liberties Gur takes with classic recipes. Bad because they aren’t around to set her straight.


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Wednesday, Nov 12, 2014
Ovenly's recipes are hip, exciting, and accessible. If only they worked.

Sometimes I can’t wait to get home before opening my mail. Instead, after stopping at my Post Office box, I tear into my packages indelicately on the Bay Area Rapid Transit, trying not to appear overly animated. As all public transit regulars know, it’s essential to maintain “train face” at all times, lest you attract the attention of transit crazies. But I must have failed to keep my blasé BART face when I brought the Ovenly cookbook home. 


When I looked up from its pages, I noticed people starting. This should tell you how excited I was about the book.


At least, how excited I was at first.


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Friday, Oct 10, 2014
My lips went mildly numb. Not dentist-visit numb, or certain illegal drugs numb. Just pleasantly numb. Comfortably numb.

It took three tries to figure out what all the excitement was about.  An ardent lover of Chinese food, I drooled my way through Fuchsia Dunlop’s three cookbooks on the subject. Two of them are devoted to Sichuan cookery, a cuisine famous for its extensive use of chili and Sichuan peppercorns. 


Dunlop’s rapturous descriptions of the Sichuan peppercorn’s mysterious tingling and numbing effects piqued my curiosity. My quest took me to the local 99 Ranch, the West Coast chain of Chinese supermarkets. No Sichuan peppercorns. I did, however, find a dusty canister at my local American market. When I opened it, I found what looked and tasted like brown woodchips. I tossed them, rooted around in another market, bought another packet. More woodchips. On my third attempt I ripped open the tiny bag and popped a couple into my mouth while unloading groceries.


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Thursday, Jun 12, 2014
The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone updates a beloved cookbook. Relax. Your favorites are all still in here.

I can’t imagine the work that went into revamping Deborah Madison’s 1997 magnum opus, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. The title says it all, and despite its 740 page heft, this welcoming cookbook became the go-to manual for vegetarians and their veggie-curious friends. Now, 17 years later, Madison has revamped her masterwork. Et violà: The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.


Re-reading an old favorite was deeply enjoyable after page one and the kefir lime incident. O Proofreaders at Ten Speed Press, it is kaffir limes, not kefir. Kefir is a fermented milk drink commonly found in supermarkets near the yogurt. Kaffir is a type of lime, often associated with Middle Eastern cuisines. Being a publishing concern specializing in cookbooks, I suspect you know this. And hasn’t the poor lime sustained enough abuse lately?  This once-cheap fruit now costs almost $4 a pound due to extreme weather; crates are now going for as much as $30, drawing the unsavory attentions of organized crime.  The least you can do is properly name the poor fruits.


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Wednesday, Jun 11, 2014
Popular blogger Marisa McClellan's second canning cookbook urges readers to think small.

Marisa McClellan, bases her second canning cookbook, Preserving by the Pint, on the practical notion that most people do not require a winter’s worth of jams, pickles, or chutneys. Instead, she offers literally pint-sized canning recipes, perfect for smaller households or those who just don’t want five dozen jars of blueberry jam.


McClellan isn’t exactly burning new territory here. Eugenia Bone, master chef, mycologist, and expert canner, led the way in 2009 with her seminal: Well-Preserved whose subtitle says it all: Recipes and Techniques for Putting Up Small Batches of Seasonal Foods.


Bone’s book is the bible, a clearly written manual well-suited to those whose kitchens resemble broom closets. A canning novice could pick up her book and end up the happy producer of canned tomatoes and perfectly pressure-canned corn. I know. I was that person.


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