Fuschia (Dunlop) Becomes You

Photo (partial) by © Colin Bell from

There are cookbooks, and then there are cookbooks whose every recipe calls out to you. Fuschia Dunlop's 'Every Grain of Rice' compels your full kitchen attention.

Every Grain of Rice

Publisher: W.W. Norton
Length: 352 pages
Author: Fuschia Dunlop
Price: $35.00
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2013-02
“I was once given an amazing lunch by a young woman whose mother had been unable to boil water but was quite able to employ expensive Chinese help. Everyone should have the good fortune either to be Chinese or to be rich.”

-- Laurie Colwin, “Starting Out In the Kitchen”

For those of us who lack both Chinese blood and wealth, we should at least have the good fortune to find Fuschia Dunlop’s latest cookbook, Every Grain of Rice. I’d read Dunlop’s articles in various cooking magazines, but never her books until I found Every Grain of Rice on a recent cruise through my library’s cookbook section.

There are cookbooks, and then there are cookbooks whose every recipe calls out to you. This is becoming a problem in my house, where cookbooks have rapidly outstripped available shelf space and now reside in piles on the floor. (The literature is also suffering this fate, to a lesser extent: cookbooks tend to be larger, thus harder to cram into shelving.)

I comfort myself repeatedly with Nigella Lawson’s admission of owning over 4,000 cookbooks. Never mind that Nigella Lawson is immensely wealthy, cooks for a living, and has a home seventeen times larger than mine. My cookbook habit is all to the good, for it brings me people like the wonderfully named Fuschia Dunlop, whom I can then bring to you.

According to her , Dunlop’s interest in China began with a job at the BBC. This led to night classes in Mandarin, then to study in Chengdu, where Dunlop learned to read, write, and speak Mandarin while learning the cuisine. She’s written a memoir and two other cookbooks, which in profligate spirit, I have ordered and eagerly await. For now, I am comforting myself with my overdue library copy of Every Grain of Rice. (Note: since writing this I have abased myself before the librarians, who kindly allowed me to renew it.)

I am also cooking madly from it. We haven’t eaten' American' food in days.

* * *

Like Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford’s Seductions of Rice, Dunlop explains the Chinese tradition of rice meals. Instead of a central platter boasting a slab of animal protein, eaters begin with a bowl of rice. Several dishes accompany the meal, mostly vegetable-based. The eater takes bits on her chopsticks and eats them with her rice.

Meat, poultry, and fish are accents: a little meat goes a long way in many recipes, while others are completely vegetarian. This has nothing to do with ethical concerns; rather, meat is an expensive commodity, used sparingly, and the resulting cuisine relies on vegetables, tofu, legumes, rice, and noodles. Nor does Chinese food employ dairy, making it a boon for vegans and their friends wishing to serve something besides pasta at dinner parties.

Every Grain of Rice is a boon to any of us wishing to eat less meat without missing it, to try something new, breaking out of the eating ruts we all fall into. On that note, I only wish Dunlop had included more offal. In a bow to Occidental tastes, Every Grain of Rice contains only one recipe that might be considered even mildly funky: chicken livers with garlic chives. In the accompanying text, Dunlop describes eating similar dishes at her friend A Dai’s restaurant. A Dai used pork liver and heart. Dunlop writes “and they were both spectacularly delicious.” But, “Here, I’ve adapted one of his recipes using chicken livers.” I wish she’d added “For all you wussy eaters out there.” (excluding vegetarians and non-pork eaters) She does suggest using chicken hearts “if you have them.”

* * *

Mostly I cook what I call Alice Waters food: fresh and straightforward. My kitchen is crammed with olive oil, lemons, garlic, fresh vegetables, freezer trays of chicken broth and plastic baggies filled with bread crumbs. There are bags of pasta, dried beans and cornmeal. There is sweet butter and too much cheese.

But a closer look reveals a schism. Prior to Fuschia, I had already fallen hard for Asian food. The cupboards are stuffed with bags of rice, the fridge door hopelessly jammed with bottles of dark soy sauce, Chinese black vinegar, oyster sauce, rice wine vinegar, fermented black beans, chili oil, Sriracha sauce, and tamarind paste.

Ginger and galangal live in glass jars, covered in white wine to keep them fresh. One cupboard bows beneath the weight of dried Japanese noodles, dried kelp, canned water chestnuts, dried hot red peppers, and extra bottles of peanut oil. The liquor shelf holds bottles of Mirin, Shaoxing Cooking Wine and, just in case, Sherry. At least once weekly, often more, I produce an Asian meal.

I write “Asian” because unlike Fuschia Dunlop, or fellow authors Nancy Hachisu and Naomi Duguid, I am a dilettante, benefiting from their serious study.

I adore Asian food in all its glorious complexity without delving deeply into any one cuisine, which demands a committed lifetime of anthropological study. As much as I would love this kind of culinary sleuthing, that isn’t the life I got. I got the armchair cooking life. And so, for the past week, I taking advantage of my summer vacation and my husband’s sweet disposition, I’ve cooked exclusively from Every Grain of Rice.

* * *

Modern cookbooks are about inviting voices coupled with gorgeous design. Every Grain of Rice is no exception; Chris Terry’s photography is crystalline, literally mouthwatering, yet not overly prettified or arranged. You look at the cover, a bowl of Dan Dan Noodles, and think, I could do that. Yeah, you might lack the elegant chopsticks or the nice bowl, but the food is within reach. It’s pork, greens, noodles, a sauce. You don’t need food rehydrators or centrifuges or sous vide machines to prepare this. Hell, you don’t even need a food processor.

You do need some ingredients that may be new to you. This is where Dunlop’s voice comes in: easygoing yet utterly grounded in this cuisine—specifically, Sichuanese food. So make a careful grocery list. Here are some items I came home with:

A bag of dried shrimp, which you rehydrate in hot water. They’re small and intensely fishy smelling, though not unpleasantly so.

Potato flour

A block of tofu

A jar of black bean chili sauce (this is a spicy cuisine)

Spring onions

A lotus root

A small foil package labeled “preserved vegetable”.

You also need a wok. I don’t have one, relying instead on a large non-stick skillet. This is a lack requiring immediate remedy.

Nearly every recipe calls for Sichuan pepper. Unable to locate it in my market, which has an extensive selection of Chinese ingredients, I asked the butchers, who are all Chinese, where to find it. They looked bewildered; a conversation in Mandarin ensued, whereupon I was directed to the white pepper. See the white girl fail. I was also unable to locate Chinkiang vinegar. I used Chinese black vinegar, which worked fine, but then again, I don’t know what I’m missing.

* * *

The Food (so far)

Delectable Lotus Root Salad

Lotus root has hairy brown skin hiding a crisp interior laced with holes; it’s a little intimidating-looking. It browns rapidly when peeled, so follow Dunlop’s instructions to slice it thinly, then drop it quickly in boiling water for a couple minutes before rinsing and refreshing it in cold water. It’s less about flavor than texture: think water chestnuts. You stir the lotus root into a mixture of rice wine vinegar, sugar, dried shrimp, bits of spring onion, ginger, and sesame oil. A smidge of red chile pepper is optional.

Next time I’ll slice the root more thinly. But the name says it all. Simple to prepare, with a few ingredients creating a complexity of flavor in a dish entirely new to us. We ate it standing up, in front of the television, watching the hockey playoffs.

Beef With Cumin

Seriously addictive. Thinly sliced beef gets a marinade of Shaoxing wine, salt, potato flours, and light and dark soy sauces. Dunlop’s stir fry calls for red and green bell peppers, but peppers are out of season here in Northern California. I could indeed buy peppers at the market… from the Netherlands.

My inner Berkeleyan cringed at all those petrodollars. I bought local green beans and mushrooms, instead. Fuschia, forgive me. The Netherlands are much closer to the British Isles than they are to California. Ginger, garlic, and green onion were guiltlessly procured, along with red chili pepper, cumin, and chili flakes.

Fair warning: this dish will blow your head off, so if you or yours have tender tastebuds, consider cutting back on the spicy ingredients. Otherwise, serve with rice and try to refrain from shoveling it indelicately into your face.

Everyday Stir-Fried Chicken

Dunlop’s recipe calls for celery and cucumber, but she notes you may use other vegetables. Having a glut of mushrooms, I used them with fine results. Like many of the book’s recipes, this one calls for ginger, Spring onion, Shaoxing wine, potato flour, and soy sauce, which to my thinking added the extra oomph formerly missing from my Chinese cooking.

Potato starch acts as a thickener, much as cornstarch does, but blends better, leaving no white, floury crunch. Shaoxing wine and careful attention to the type of soy sauce used lends greater depth to an already deeply flavorful cuisine. If I can only get my hands on Sichuan pepper, things will be even better.

Pock-Marked Old Woman’s Tofu

Every Grain of Rice has an entire section of tempting tofu recipes… and if your significant other or family eats tofu, go for it. Personally, I like tofu’s gentle blandness, its willingness to play so well with other flavors. But my spouse, so open-minded in many ways, has a block against “white foods” like goat cheese, cream cheese, mayonnaise, and yogurt.

So I was stuck testing the tofu alone. I made Pock-Marked Old Woman’s Tofu. Dunlop’s version uses vegetarian broth, and is thus vegetarian, but I had only chicken broth on hand. The ingredient list is longish, calling for, among other things, Sichuan Chili Bean Paste, fermented black beans (which are incredibly salty and best rinsed before use), ginger, garlic, and white pepper. The result is tongue-tingling, ambrosial, and, if you use vegetarian stock, vegan.

* * *

Three recipes doesn’t do Every Grain of Rice service. So much is left to try: the vegetables, the rices, the soups, the dumplings. That is, the rest of the book. Every Grain of Rice beckons both newcomers and experts while solving the problem of what to feed your vegan and vegetarian friends (or yourself). Just be sure to make room in your fridge. You’re gonna need it.


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Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
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Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

The Hall of Fame has been harshly criticized for some of its more inexplicable exclusions and for neglecting certain subgenres of music. Cynicism and negativity over the Hall's selection process and membership is fairly widespread. That said, despite the controversies and legitimate gripes, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is still widely viewed as a career milestone. The Hall's stature feeds its surrounding controversies: after all, nobody would care to argue so vehemently about the merits of one artist over another if it wasn't important. Very rarely will a newly inducted artist miss the opportunity to appear at the star-studded ceremony to accept their honor.

The criteria for nomination is as follows: "Artists -- a group encompassing performers, composers and/or musicians -- become eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first commercial recording. Besides demonstrating unquestionable musical excellence and talent, inductees will have had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock and roll." Specifically for performers, "This category honors bands or solo artists which demonstrate musical excellence. Such a descriptor includes (but isn't limited to) influence on other performers or genres; length and depth of career and catalog; stylistic innovations; or superior technique and skills."

These standards allow the selection committee wide latitude with their choices, and generating a list that would create zero controversy is an obvious impossibility. As for those deserving artists yet to be included, their time will surely come. There has purportedly been an emphasis on increasing diversity among the nominating committee and voters in recent years, and the list of contenders for the class of 2018 reflects this.

Radiohead, as expected and deserved, are nominated in their first year of eligibility, and there is little doubt they will be inducted. Other nominees include Bon Jovi, Kate Bush, the Cars, Depeche Mode, Dire Straits, Eurythmics, J. Geils Band, Judas Priest, LL Cool J, MC5, the Meters, the Moody Blues, Rage Against the Machine, Nina Simone, Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Link Wray and the Zombies. It's a strong and varied group.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise on the list, however, is the British duo Eurythmics. Even though they've been eligible since 2006, this is their first nomination. Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox certainly deserve recognition for their important contributions to the musical fabric of the last 40 years. While Eurythmics have always been generally respected, they've never been darlings with the critics like some of their contemporaries. It's puzzling as to why. Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting and creative audacity. Lennox is second to noone as a vocalist, not just in her lead parts but also in the creative, often rhythmic way she uses her voice as an instrument. This nomination could boost the stature and perception of Eurythmics' body of work immeasurably.

Although Eurythmics are often consigned strictly to the synthpop genre, that designation fits only a portion of their repertoire. Each of their nine studio albums has its own unique vibe while retaining the duo's core identity. Eurythmics never repeat themselves, often taking bold risks and swerving in unexpected directions. Unlike many of their contemporaries, Eurythmics didn't "sell out" or compromise by chasing after obvious Top 40 hits. Even their most popular singles aren't commercial in the traditional sense, and they've always sounded like nobody else on the radio.

Despite the sudden emergence of their 1983 single "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" as an MTV staple and international smash, Eurythmics are far from an overnight success story. Their story begins in London, 1975, when Stewart fortuitously encountered Lennox at the restaurant where she worked as a waitress. The Scottish singer had recently dropped out of the Royal Academy of Music, which she felt didn't suit her musical interests. Stewart and Lennox strongly connected over their love of music, and they quickly became a couple who were inseparable. Along with singer/ songwriter/ guitarist Peet Coombes, Stewart and Lennox formed a short-lived group the Catch. After one failed single, they added two members and renamed themselves the Tourists.

Coombes was the dominant creative force and primary songwriter behind the Tourists. Lennox and Coombes shared vocals on the band's dour and melancholy power-pop. The Tourists released three albums and managed a handful of chart appearances in the UK. Two of their singles, a peppy cover of Dusty Springfield's "I Only Want to Be With You" and the hard-rocking "So Good T\to Be Back Home Again", made the UK Top 10. The band toured extensively, but their success was fleeting. The Tourists' third album, Luminous Basement (1980), tanked badly despite containing their strongest material yet, and the group dissolved shortly thereafter.

Lennox and Stewart also endured a painful ending to their sometimes tumultuous romance, but they recognized the power of their musical chemistry and decided to continue working together as a duo. They were a pair "who couldn't be together, and who could not be apart", as Lennox reflects many years later in the song "17 Again". History has shown that they made the right decision: Stewart and Lennox compliment each other intuitively through a shared passion for music, the thrill of experimentation, and the need for emotional release that songwriting and performing allows.

The name Eurythmics was derived from a technique used to teach music to children based on sensory and physical methods of learning rhythm. The newly-christened duo signed with RCA Records and in early 1981 headed to Germany to record their debut album with highly-respected krautrock producer Conny Plank.

Plank already had a long string of acclaimed albums to his credit, including collaborations with Neu!, Can, Ultravox, Kraftwerk and Brian Eno among others. The sessions for what would become Eurythmics' debut album, In the Garden, were held at Plank's studio in Cologne. He brought several of his regular collaborators into the proceedings, including bassist Holger Czukay and drummer Jaki Liebezeit of avant-garde rockers Can, Blondie drummer Clem Burke and D.A.F. electronics whiz Robert Görl. Stewart has described the sessions as a learning experience that helped expand his perception of what pop music could be and how it could be created without following any rules, a perspective that served Eurythmics well.

Eurythmics' austere and hypnotic debut single "Never Gonna Cry Again" was released in May 1981. They filmed a low-budget video and landed a couple TV slots to promote the track, but the song's haunted nature did not translate to mainstream success: it barely scraped the lower reaches of the UK singles chart. A second single, the dreamy guitar-rocker "Belinda", followed in August but failed to chart.

In the Garden was finally released in October 1981, but without a hit to generate momentum it was barely noticed. Despite scant sales figures, the album's gloomy psychedelic guitar-pop makes for a rather strong debut. In the Garden exists in late summer shadows, densely atmospheric and shrouded in a veil of dread. Lennox's vocals are understated, subtle and lower in the mix than on subsequent albums. Sound effects, odd vocalizations and bits of sonic experimentation fade in and out like flashes of hazily repressed memory.

RCA wasn't eager to invest in a follow-up to In the Garden after its disappointing reception, so Stewart financed Eurythmics' second album largely through a personal bank loan. Faced with a minuscule budget, they worked in a London warehouse to avoid spending money on studio time. They were able to purchase cheap second-hand equipment for the sessions, including the basic TEAC 8-track on which most of the album was recorded. Adam Williams, former bassist for the ska band the Selectors, helped the duo learn the equipment while co-producing some of their earliest tracks.

The primitive set-up was the ultimate blessing in disguise. Since they were financing the sessions and self-producing, Eurythmics had the freedom to experiment with no oversight. As both Lennox and Stewart were enduring periods of deep personal strife at the time, the sessions evolved into an emotional and creative catharsis that helped shape the mercurial nature of the music. It was out of this environment that a classic was born.

Despite appearing only a few months after their debut album, the first single to emerge from the new sessions proved radically different than any of Eurythmics' prior work. Released in April 1982, "This Is the House" is a flamboyant, horn-driven spectacle on which Lennox belts out a vocal more confident and brash than any of her prior work. The song's odd mix of synthpop, R&B; and latin influences renders it completely unique, but despite its infectious ingenuity and beguiling loopiness (or perhaps because of it), "This Is the House" failed to chart.

The follow-up single that landed two months later is even better. Entrancing and soulful, "The Walk" exudes the anxiety, drama and innovation that became Eurythmics' hallmark. The vocal arrangement is ingenious, and Dick Cuthell (known for his work with Madness, the Specials, Fun Boy Three and others) lets rip a blistering trumpet solo. As in many of their songs, "The Walk" slowly ratchets up the tension through hypnotic repetition and the gradual addition of more layers of sound until it reaches a haywire frenzy. Although a brilliant recording, "The Walk" fared no better than its predecessor.

With the duo's second album Sweet Dreams (are made of this) completed, RCA began a strong promotional push, issuing the opening track "Love Is a Stranger" as a single in November 1982. Lennox's dazzling vocal ranges from icy cool to fiery passion over a relentless electric groove bracketed by sinuous lines of synth. "Love Is a Stranger" rose to #54 in the UK, their highest placement yet, and momentum was finally building for the duo thanks in part to the single's provocative video.

The first significant chapter in a series of visually arresting promotional clips that Eurythmics generated over the span of their career, "Love Is a Stranger" showcases Lennox's dramatic presence and her innate ability to command the viewer's attention. She plays multiple roles, ending the clip with her red hair slicked back and dressed androgynously in a man's suit. Image was quickly becoming an important part of the Eurythmics' equation, with Lennox always compelling no matter which character she inhabits, and Stewart often appearing as her sort of mad-scientist counterpart.

Sweet Dreams (are made of this) hit the shelves on 4 January 1983, along with its title-track, a single that continues to reverberate through pop music nearly 35 years after its release. Suddenly everything changed for Eurythmics. An obscure British duo, barely managing to survive in the music business, soared to the top with one of the more unconventional songs ever to scale those lofty heights.

"Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" has an unusual structure, with no real verses or chorus. Lennox has described it as a mantra, and indeed it is. The lyrics, which Lennox rattled off spontaneously in a matter of minutes, are a simple but profound statement about the human condition: "Everybody's looking for something," the search for meaning and fulfillment, the ephemeral "this" of which sweet dreams are made.

Lennox begins the song with a single line of vocal, then starting with "some of them want to use you" at the 0:24 point it doubles. From there the song gradually builds intensity, with the vocals increasingly layered. A masterful finalé combines all the sonic elements before fading to black, the mantra repeating endlessly, the "this" still stubbornly undefined. The booming minor-key bass riff and the epic string-motif solo starting at 1:31 are played by Lennox on a Roland Juno-6 synthesizer. The main riff (improvised by Lennox while listening to Stewart working on a drum-machine pattern), is a simple two-bar arpeggio that loops throughout most of the song. Two parts were recorded separately and panned on opposite sides of the sound spectrum, creating a richly resonant effect. "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" is no dated relic from the early days of MTV burdened by the limitations the time. Its massive waves of synth flood out of the speakers with enormous power, as inexorably as the tide.

The music video, which became wildly popular on MTV during its heyday, is forever entwined with the song in listeners' collective consciousness. The iconic image of Lennox in her masculine suit and flaming orange flat-top helps to define the new wave era. Her forceful demeanor, nervy confidence and the subtle nuances of her facial expressions amplify the song's inherent tension. She confronts the viewer directly by pointing right in our faces at the 0:24 mark. At 1:56, she offers a sly half-smile with, "some of them want to abuse you", and at 2:15 she pounds her fist just as the song reaches its dramatic apex. Stewart appears throughout the video stoically pecking away on the drum machine he used in the recording of the song, the Movement MCS Drum Computer MK1 (except for that part where he and the cow have, well, a moment… It's all in the eye contact).

After a slow climb up the US pop chart, "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" was finally able to derail the Police's "Every Breath You Take" from its seven-week reign at the top during the week of 3 September 1983. It would be Eurythmics' only chart-topping pop hit in America, and it reached #2 in the UK. In the wake of Eurythmics' new-found fame, "Love Is a Stranger" was re-released, this time becoming a major hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

The album's deep cuts are every bit as strange and fascinating as its better-known singles. The ghostly "Jennifer" is a narcotic reverie of keyboard swells and spectral atmospherics. "I've Got an Angel" and "Somebody Told Me" are serrated neurotic fits, swerving dangerously off-the-rails from anything that would normally be considered pop music. A long and mesmerizing exploration of urban isolation, "This City Never Sleeps" is a powerful finalé. Sweet Dreams (are made of this) is an examination of the human psyche fraught with turmoil, a series of jagged recurring nightmares and anxiety attacks set to music that is soulful and experimental, melodic but eccentric, a stark electronic soundscape that bristles with horns and unexpected sonic jolts.

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