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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, Feb 6, 2014
Mussels are an inelegant if delicious food. Serve this to your nearest and dearest with nary a thought to table manners.

Mussels in Cider comes straight from Nigella Lawson’s Nigella’s Kitchen, a cookbook I go on about, but it sees a lot of action in my kitchen. Forget Lawson’s recent bout of public scrutiny: the woman can cook. I’ve never had a recipe of hers go awry, even when baking, my weakest point in the kitchen. And Mussels in Cider, as she puts it, is a recipe that “doesn’t begin to convey the luxe-for-less-time gloriousness of the feast”.


I actually test drove this recipe on a time-crunched Saturday night, but “Saturday night test drive” lacks alliterative punch. But Lawson is right: the results far outweighed the crazed five minutes of prep (truly, I was frantic) and the one pot I needed to wash afterward. I used Price Edward Island mussels, which my fishmonger sold cleaned and debearded.  Five dollars worth amply fed two.


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Monday, Jan 13, 2014
I have a New Year's confession to make. I did not burn, scorch, mangle, or ruin. My sin was much worse. I threw out perfectly good food.

In the many food blogs that appear to be overtaking the internet, one never sees a mistake.


Nobody, it seems, in their perfectly appointed kitchens, has ever charred a chicken, torched a tomato, or just plain ruined a recipe. Nosiree, everything out there in internetland is gorgeous, parsley-flecked, and perfectly ready to eat.


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Tuesday, Nov 26, 2013
Happy Accident Soup began as a Lamb Tagine: the soup was a bonus. How often do you get two wonderful things from one?

Happy Accident Soup began as a Claudia Roden recipe from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food. My market has recently begun carrying high-quality, locally sourced lamb, and I’d purchased a pound of lean cubes labeled “kebab cut”, which were a dollar cheaper than the stew cut.


Having no way of preparing kebabs—that is, no grill—I began paging through my Claudia Roden cookbooks. Food writer and Food52 blogger Amanda Hesser calls Claudia Roden one of the “Mistresses of the Mediterranean”.  Who better to consult?


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Monday, Sep 16, 2013
Fresh pepper season is maddeningly short in Northern California. We get but a few colorful weeks in late August and early September. The clock is ticking.

Fresh pepper season is maddeningly short in Northern California. We get but a few colorful weeks in late August and early September. I’m not speaking of hot peppers, which contain the heat-causing chemical, capsaicin. They’re a whole other peck, botanically speaking. I write of sweet peppers, beautiful bells, red, orange, and yellow.


Hurry.The clock is ticking.


The world divides between pepper fanatics and normal people, who stand by, bemused, while the preservers amongst us amass gallons of lemon juice, olive oil, and white wine vinegar to can, marinate, and pickle, frenzied, before the squash shoulders in and takes over.


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