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Archive for the ‘general foodie essays’ Category

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Cornelius loves the ginger cookie from Two Fat Cats Bakery.

One of the “main” reasons I was anxious to visit Southern Maine recently was because I kept hearing about the great food in Portland.

Bon Appétit called it “The Foodiest Small Town in America,” while others in-the-know freely describe Portland as “a foodie’s paradise,” a major dining destination not only in New England but the entire Northeast.

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Second only to San Francisco in restaurants per capita, the largest city in Maine may not be a major metropolis like New York or Boston, but when it comes to good food, it’s big on appeal, quality, and innovation. If you know Portland at all, you know it’s fertile ground for creative types, so it’s no surprise that cooking is enthusiastically celebrated and embraced as a fine art. It’s all about showcasing fresh local ingredients and maximizing the unique wealth of resources that circle the city (farms, apiaries, fishing grounds, dairies, smokehouses).

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When is a recipe more than just a recipe?

Back when I first started blogging in 2007, one of the first recipes I shared was for Hawaiian Sweet Bread Pudding. It’s so sinfully delicious, people are often surprised at how easy it is to make.

This longstanding Island favorite is perfect for neighborhood potlucks, bake sales, and school and church gatherings. It’s my go-to recipe for last minute guests, always fits the bill for relaxing Sunday brunches, and is just about as comforting as comfort food can get.

I’ve fed sweet bread pudding to painters, carpenters, and landscapers. To dinner guests I wanted to impress. To new neighbors and physical therapists. I even converted a fourth grade class of die-hard brownie and chocolate chip cookie lovers. One taste, and their stories magically brimmed with sensory detail.

But of all the happy eaters I’ve encountered, Roberta is my favorite.

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“So many great souls have passed off the scene. The world has changed. We are now faced with picking up the pieces and trying to put them into shape, document them so the present-day young generation can see what southern food was like. The foundation on which it rested was pure ingredients, open-pollinated seed—planted and replanted for generations—natural fertilizers. We grew the seeds of what we ate, we worked with love and care.” ~ Edna Lewis (“What is Southern?”)

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For me, she’s the one. The more I learn about Edna Lewis, the more I love her.

Since today marks the 7th anniversary of her passing at age 89, it’s a good time to celebrate her remarkable achievements as an award-winning chef, cooking teacher, caterer, cookbook author and Grand Dame of Southern Cuisine with a love-in-your-mouth piece of her Warm Gingerbread. Mmmmm-mmmmm!

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Miss Lewis, as she was always known, grew up in the small farming community of Freetown, which is located behind the village of Lahore in Orange County, Virginia (about 66 miles from where I live). Her grandfather founded Freetown with two other freed slaves and started the first area school in his living room.

Long before it became chic to advocate fresh, organic, seasonal ingredients and field-to-table cuisine, Edna and her fellow Freetown residents were enjoying a bucolic live-off-the-land existence — growing, harvesting and preserving their own food, gathering nature’s bounty (seeds, fruit, nuts), fishing the streams, hunting wild game in the woods, cultivating domestic animals.

In The Taste of Country Cooking (Knopf, 1976), a classic of Southern cuisine edited by the brilliant Judith Jones (also Julia Child’s editor), Edna shares recipes and reminiscences of the simple, flavorful, uniquely American, Virginia country cooking she grew up with, lovingly describing how they anticipated the select offerings of each season and celebrated special occasions like Christmas and Emancipation Day with full-out feasts.

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We are reminded that there’s nothing better than a freshly picked sun-ripened apple, relishing a dish of Spring’s mixed greens (poke leaves, lamb’s-quarters, wild mustard), celebrating Summer’s bounty with deep-dish blackberry pies, apple dumplings, peach cobblers and pound cakes, sitting down to a Fall Emancipation Day dinner of Guinea Fowl Casserole, “the last green beans of the season and a delicious plum tart or newly ripened, fresh, stewed quince.” As Alice Waters says in her introduction, “sheer deliciousness that is only possible when food tastes like what it is, from a particular place, at a particular point in time.”

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  Nutella Pudding by comeundone/flickr.

Before Nutella, I was a good person.

I was sensible, sane (*cough*), relatively rational and mostly in control. Sure, I had my dalliances with cupcakes, macarons and pies, but these indulgences were fueled by requisite research (*cough cough*). I explored, analyzed, tasted, and reported back just for you. Contrary to popular belief, I’m perfectly able to limit my consumption of these treats for special occasions only.

Not so with naughty Nutella. If I were banished to a desert island, the one thing I would take with me (besides a recording of “Like a Rolling Stone”) would be a nasty, nutty, hopelessly unhealthy jar of Nutella. There, under the searing sun, with chapped, cracked lips and tired hair that hadn’t been washed in months, I would dip my pointer finger into my Nutella and bliss out.


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Anybody out there know what I’m talking about? One doesn’t choose Nutella. It chooses you. And absolutely NO ONE is safe from its brand of tawdry temptation. So, you think you’re all tidy and health conscious with lots of willpower? Nutella will find a way to weasle itself into your life. All it takes is one weak moment, a teensy dose of curiosity, an innocent offer by even the most trusted of friends — and wham! You’re hooked.

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Speaking of pie, I hope you saved your forks, because today we’re serving up an extra delicious portion of Southern goodness thanks to the kindness and generosity of multi-talented, award-winning children’s author Candice Ransom!

I call Candice a human dynamo, because I’m in perpetual awe of just how much and how fast she writes. In a career spanning 25+ years, she’s published well over a hundred books in multiple genres — board book, picture book, easy reader, chapter book series, tween and middle grade fiction, biographies and nonfiction.

She has not one, but two graduate degrees: an MFA in children’s writing from Vermont College and an MA in children’s literature from Hollins University. She currently teaches in the MA/MFA children’s literature program at Hollins, is a widely sought after speaker at conferences and workshops, and can polish off a Red Velvet cupcake, blackberry bruchetta, or Devonshire cream scone with the best of them.

Impressive credentials aside, what I admire most about Candice is how completely she immerses herself in the time and place of her stories. She’s a diehard antique junkie who will travel to the ends of the earth to locate a cool artifact which might “belong” to a particular character, or a bit of ephemera that might inform a certain scene or illuminate an overriding theme. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more astute observer of human nature; Candice wholeheartedly loves and appreciates her Virginia roots, and conveys her enthusiasm in crackling prose brimming with telling detail.

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