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Member since: Sat Nov 30, 2013, 05:06 AM
Number of posts: 5,290

Journal Archives

Fortune Cookie Day: Jennifer 8. Lee's "The Fortune Cookie Chronicles"

"We now knew that the fortune cookie had originated in Japan, but there was one final mystery. ... Almost all the people who claimed to have created the American fortune cookie had Japanese roots -- so how had the Chinese managed to take over the fortune cookie business? 'When the Japanese-Americans were interned during World War II, they had to leave all their equipment behind,' Yasuko pointed out in Japanese. As her words were translated, all the pieces in my quest came together. ... I had a flashback to my first conversation with Sally Osaki ... her telling me that when she'd been a child the original fortune cookie messages had been in Japanese. But at one point they had become English: 'By the time we came out of the camp.' The fortune cookie had changed by the end of the war. I recalled that the Japanese-American confectionery shops -- Benkyodo, Fugetsu-do, Umeya -- had all closed when their owners were 'relocated.'

"The popularity of Chinese cuisine grew tremendously during World War II; after Japan invaded China and China became an American ally, the national perception of the Chinese threat gave way to sympathy. In addition, the wartime rationing of meat enhanced the appeal of Chinese dishes, which made a little meat go a long way. San Francisco's Chinatown quadrupled its business between 1941 and 1943. The tide of public opinion turned. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was repealed in December 1943, opening the door for an eventual flood of Chinese immigrants (and additional Chinese restaurant owners). In 1946, the United States Office of Price Administration delisted 'Chinese fortune tea cakes' from its price control list ... .

"Although the interned Japanese were released by 1945, it took years for the families to rebuild their lives. Many of the business owners had lost everything. It wasn't until 1948 that Benkyodo was up and running under family control, Gary Ono believes. During that time, a number of Chinese fortune cookie makers sprung into existence -- like Lotus, which opened in 1946. A sharp rise in demand at Chinese restaurants combined with a lack of Japanese bakers gave Chinese entrepreneurs an opportunity to step in. One of America's beloved confections emerged from one of the nation's darkest moments."

Stephen Colbert: How To Be a Russian Oligarch with Billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov

Samantha Bee: Trump's Voter 'Integrity' Commission; Louie Gohmert's Freestyle History Lesson

Writing about food: Greg Atkinson's "At the Kitchen Table, The Craft of Cooking at Home"

"But among creative outlets, cooking and writing are unique in that both endeavors produce something that ultimately becomes a part of whoever partakes in them. If I cook a meal and someone eats it ... then something in that food will become a part of that person. If I read something and internalize that dialogue, then the words on the page will be incorporated into my own thoughts. Ideas expressed on the page will be reformulated in my mind into thoughts of my own. If I write a recipe and you make it, then we are sharing both the words and the dish that results from them.

"The novelist Tom Robbins is quite devoted to Best Foods-brand mayonnaise. ... When Tom's wife, Alexa, invited my wife, Betsy, and me ... for a private mayonnaise tasting, we hit the road with a few jars and bottles of our favorite brands. I also had, secreted away in a canvas shopping bag, a wire whisk, a deep mixing bowl, a fresh egg, a bottle of organic canola oil, some white balsamic vinegar, and a bottle of good Dijon mustard. It occurred to me that Tom and Alexa might like to learn how to make their own mayonnaise, and I wanted to see how the homemade stuff stood up in a taste test with the commercial brands ... . ... But when I set about making a batch of homemade mayonnaise ... Robbins did not appear to be interested. ... 'I have been eating mayo for sixty years, and until ten years ago, I didn't even know what the ingredients are. I preferred to think of it as some kind of substance dug out of an underground cave in the French Alps. ... I like the mystery. ... I used to cook quite a bit, too,' he said. 'But I didn't use recipes. When I cooked, I cooked from vibrations.'

"I like the idea of this well enough, and even though I write recipes for a living, I almost always cook without them, feeling my way from one step to the next. First this happens, then that happens. While the onions soften, I'm cutting the celery, and on a back burner, the rice is simmering away. But eventually, my left brain kicks in and I start to codify things because I want to share them. ... I like the geometric proof-like formula of a recipe, and I feel that if the precision of writing it down doesn't get in the way of the thing, it can be like an incantation, a magic formula for transforming a bunch of ingredients into something completely unlike its component parts. Mayonnaise is, after all, nothing like eggs and oil."

National French Fry Day

James Villas, "America's Passion, America's Guilt."

"Of course you love them! French fries are your secret yen, the source of your most deep-seated guilt. Admit it. Oh, I know how you try to hide it. The waiter says, 'Baked or French?' You hesitate, you cringe, you wonder why in hell he couldn't simply serve the steak with a baked potato and not mention French fries. But now you're forced to choose, and you know there is no choice; by God, you want the fries, diet or no diet, pimples or no pimples, and damn the cholesterol. You say, 'I think maybe I just might have the French fries tonight,' forgetting that you ate half a pound three evenings ago. When they arrive you pick around at the mound one fry at a time. You think you'll eat just a few. Halfway through the steak, you're downing them by the handfuls, and by the end of the meal you've devoured the batch, long thin ones, short fat ones, charred ends, every remaining greasy or dry, oversalted or undersalted, catsupy or non-catsupy morsel.

"Americans love French fries violently -- all of us ... . Even the country's most respected epicures admit directly or indirectly to being fanatics. When Julia Child was asked what she thought about McDonald's fries, she described them as 'surprisingly good,' while Craig Claiborne pronounced them 'first-rate.' Gael Greene swoons over the French fries at Carrols, Roy Andries de Groot still dreams of those he tasted at Aurthur Bryant's in Kansas City, and James Beard becomes passionate while discussing the pommes frites at La Grille in Paris.

"A perfect French fry is, above all, fresh, meaning the oblong has been cut from an absolutely fresh potato no more than an hour before being deep-fried in clean fat. A perfect French fry is thin, smooth and not crinkled, consistently golden brown in color, firm, crackly crisp on the outside with a slightly soft interior, and dry enough for most salt to fall off. Anyone who's ever tasted delicious pommes frites in France or Belgium knows what I'm talking about and will agree that the fries in those countries are generally just the opposite of the soggy matchsticks or fat greasy tubers we have thrown at us in fast-food places and undistinguished restaurants. ... This may all sound like too much of a production over something as common as French fried potatoes, but again, if you're really after perfect fries, you'll learn that making them correctly yourself involves a lot more than cutting up potatoes and throwing the pieces in hot oil."

The View: Panel Trashes Trump Jr., The Trumps: A Forgetful Bunch

Conan: Donald Trump Jr. Interrupts His Father's Call With Putin

Happy Birthday Marcel Proust: those madeleines from "Swann's Way"

"And suddenly the memory came to me. The taste was that of the morsels of madeleine that on Sunday mornings in Combray ... when I went into her bedroom to say good morning, my Aunt Leonie used to give me after she had dipped them in tea or lime-tea. The sight of the little madeleine recalled nothing to me before I had tasted it; perhaps because as I had seen them on the trays of pastry shops many times since without eating them, their image had dissociated itself from those Combray days to become linked with more recent ones; perhaps, because, of the memories so long left undisturbed, nothing survived, everything had crumbled; the forms -- like that of the little pastry shell, so lushly sensual beneath its austere and pious ridges -- had lost the expansive force that would have enabled them to reenter consciousness. But when nothing of a remote past survives, after the death of its people, after the destruction of its objects, only odors and tastes, frailer but more vivid, more immaterial, more persistent and accurate, linger for a time on the ruins of the rest like souls, ready and hoping to be recalled, to bear without flinching, on their almost impalpable sensory traces, the immense edifice of memory.

"And no sooner had I recognized the taste of the morsels of madeleine soaked in lime-tea that my aunt had given me (although I still did not know why the memory made me so happy, a revelation that must be postponed until much later), that the old gray house on the street, where her bedroom was, superimposed itself, like a theatrical decor, over the little pavilion overlooking the garden that my parents had added to the rear ... and with it the house, the town, from morning until evening and in all sorts of weather, the square where I was sent before lunch, the streets where I ran errands, the paths we took when the weather was fine.

"And as in the game in which the Japanese amuse themselves by submerging, in a porcelain bowl filled with water, little pieces of paper that, hitherto indistinguishable, almost immediately upon being plunged into it stretch out, twist, take on color, differentiate themselves, become flowers, houses, figures that are substantial and recognizable; likewise, now all of the flowers in our garden and those in the park of Monsieur Swann, and the water lilies on the Vivonne, and the good people of the town and their little dwellings, and the church and all of Combray and its environs, all of this spring forth, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea."

Writing about food: Molly Wizenberg's slow-roasted tomatoes in "A Homemade Life"

"The word happiness has many definitions. ... I'm quite certain, though, that if you looked it up ... what you'd see is a pan of slow-roasted tomatoes.

"I first tasted slow-roasted tomatoes one hot summer several years ago ... . I was in Oklahoma, staying with my parents for a few months, and one day, a glut of tomatoes from the garden sent us running for the cookbook shelf. ... The fruits were sweet and fat, coming ripe by the dozen. ... We'd scoured two shelves of cookbooks when we stumbled upon a technique called slow roasting. It called for the tomatoes to be halved lengthwise and put into a low oven for several hours, so that their juices went thick and syrupy and their flavor climbed to a fevered pitch. Following the loose guidelines, we sent two pans of tomatoes into the oven, and six hours later, we opened the door to find them entirely transformed. They were fleshy and deep red, with edges that crinkled like smocking on a child's dress. When we bit into them, they shot rich, vermillion juice across the table.

"Slow-roasting tomatoes may take time and planning, but straight from the oven, it's instant gratification. It's almost impossible to keep stray fingers out of them. They're like rubies in fruit form. And though they're delicious plain, their sweet acidity also plays remarkably well with other flavors, especially those dishes at the rich, robust end of the spectrum. I've served them alongside cheese souffles and plates of pasta with pesto. When teamed up with fresh goat cheese, basil, and arugula, they make for a delicious, if drippy, sandwich, and laid over the top of a burger, they're like ketchup for adults. You can whirl them in the food processor with some basil and Parmesan and turn them into a pesto of sorts. You can even make them into a pasta sauce. Just slice a handful into a bowl with some capers, slivered basil, and sea salt, and add splashes of balsamic and olive oil. ... And on nights when the stove is too much to consider, few things make for a happier picnic than a hunk of crusty bread, a wedge of blue cheese, and some slow-roasted tomatoes."

National Fried Chicken Day!

Laurie Colwin:

"To fry chicken that makes people want to stand up and sing 'The Star-Spangled Banner,' the following facts of life must be taken seriously: Fried chicken ... must never see the inside of a refrigerator because this turns the crisp into something awful and cottony. Contrary to popular belief, fried chicken should not be deep-fried. ... It must never be breaded or coated with anything except flour (which can be spiced with salt, pepper and paprika). No egg, no crumbs, no crushed Rice Krispies.

"Carefully slip into the oil as many pieces as will fit. The rule is to crowd a little. Then turn down the heat at once and cover. The idea of covering frying chicken makes many people squeal, but it is the only correct method. It gets the chicken cooked through. ... When the chicken just slips off the fork, it is done inside. Take the cover off, turn up the heat, and fry it to the color of Colonial pine stain -- a dark honey color. Set it on a platter and put it in the oven. ... You have now made perfect fried chicken.

"And you have suffered. There are many disagreeable things about frying chicken. No matter how careful you are, flour gets all over everything and the oil splatters far beyond the stove. It is impossible to fry chicken without burning yourself at least once. For about twenty-four hours your house smells of fried chicken. This is nice only during dinner and then begins to pall. Waking up to the smell of cooking fat is not wonderful. Furthermore, frying chicken is just about the most boring thing you can do. You can't read while you do it. Music is drowned out by constant sizzling. ... But the rewards are many, and when you appear with your platter your family and friends greet you with cries of happiness. Soon your table is full of ecstatic eaters, including, if you are lucky, some delirious Europeans -- the British are especially impressed by fried chicken. As the cook you get to take the pieces you like best. As for me, I snag the backs, those most neglected and delectable bits, and I do it without a trace of remorse. ... Not only have you mastered a true American folk tradition, but you know that next time will be even better."
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