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by Diane Leach

19 Dec 2014


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.

by Diane Leach

12 Nov 2014


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.

by Diane Leach

10 Oct 2014


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.

by Diane Leach

23 Apr 2014


Above: Beautiful lettuce photo from Shutterstock.com.


In reviewing Alice Waters’s The Art of Simple Food II, I returned to its predecessor, The Art of Simple Food, published in 2007.  I’d recently been immersed in multi-step recipes with complex techniques and arcane ingredients. And while flaming cognac, blanching salt pork, and messing around with shrimp paste are all highly diverting, The Art of Simple Food reminded me that all are unnecessary when a delicious meal is desired. 

One only needs a basic kitchen: iron skillet, a knife, a heat source, and some food: a vegetable, a protein perhaps a piece of fruit. Et viola: dinner.

 

by Diane Leach

1 Apr 2014


Above image from The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen: Recipes for the Passionate Cook ( Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, October 2013)


I have before of me an original edition of Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco. Written in 1973, this book put Moroccan food on the American map, or more accurately, into American mouths. One need only read Gael Greene’s introduction to realize how very spoiled we’ve become, 40 years later. Greene, invited to Wolfert’s New York apartment to taste from the cookbook-in-progress, writes about what to bring:

Blockquote“Do I bring flowers? Wine? Bonbons? No, I bring cilantro (green coriander) because fresh cilantro is the badge of our friendship.  (She can’t buy it in her neighborhood. I can. A friend would not cross town without cilantro.)”blockquote

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