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

 
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Thursday, Oct 25, 2012
The soaring demand for seafood has made fish, more than any other food source in Asia, political.

I always have a soft spot for Hong Kong, for its bright lights and spindly towers and unpretentious attitude. It feels First World and Third World at the same time, and it smells like oyster sauce, a mainstay of my childhood.  Eating is a past time and an adventure in Hong Kong, which is why the city and I get along well. I ate pastry with bean paste, soup made with tripe and offal, dumplings made with chives and mystery meat. But there is one food that I’m too squeamish to eat whenever I’m in Hong Kong: live reef fish.


Hong Kong, the portal between East and West, is the center of the live reef fish trade, an unsustainable food industry. It’s the first stop for the seafood that are farmed, harvested, or poached from the abundant waters of Southeast Asia and the Pacific Ocean before it goes to mainland China, its final destination.


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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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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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Monday, Jul 23, 2012
Unlike its sugary sister, the cupcake, the muffin is unlikely to have its 15 minutes of fame. Nobody in foodieland is filling muffins with salted caramel or lavender essences.

There is nothing hip about the humble muffin. Unlike its sugary sister, the cupcake, the muffin is unlikely to have its 15 minutes of fame. The muffin is far too plebian for bakery display windows or breathless magazine write-ups. Nobody in foodieland is filling muffins with salted caramel or lavender essences. It’s difficult to imagine a muffin pop-up or muffin food truck, parked proudly between the pork belly tacos and pho. 


No, the muffin is either relegated to the puffy horrors of chain supermarket bakeries or the indigestibly fibrous offerings calling themselves health food.


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