munching with maira, or, what do you want to be when you grow up?

#8 in an eclectic collection of notable noshes to whet your appetite and brighten your day.


When I was four years old we moved away from my first home, where the family gathered for lunch each Saturday singing songs around the table. We flew over the ocean to this hard gray city, and one of the first things I smelled was onions frying.          I FELL IN LOVE with the coffee shop. The squeak of the stool. The shine of the aluminum. The stainless steel. The griddle. The toaster. The steam that rises. The noise. The choice. The confidence. And presiding over the frenzy? An eight-armed octopus called the short-order cook whose name is Barney March. Half a yawn past dawn, Estelle the waitress throws out the orders loud and fast. “ADAM AND EVE ON A RAFT. WRECK ‘EM!” (Could I kindly have scrambled eggs on toast?) “WHISKEY DOWN WITH A STRETCH!” (Rye toast with a Coke, please.)            HE     GRABS     EGGS. (360 a day.) He poaches, fries, scrambles, boils soft, boils hard. He flips flapjacks. Sizzles bacon. He is the morning greeter, counter whizzer, white-apron wearer who toasts that white, rye, whole wheat, bagel, bialy. He is a hash slinger, potato masher, egg-cream whipper, onion chopper, plate stacker, burger slider. People say, “Hello, how ya doin’? Hiya. Howarya?” It’s a jazz combo. The soup slurper. The doughnut dunker. The pickle cruncher. The cash register rings. The phone rings. “CHICKEN SOUP, BOOTS!” (Chicken soup to go.) The deliveryman grabs the brown-bagged soup, dashes out past the accordion player on the corner and rings the bell of the finicky and persnickety . . .



  • To pursue a career in the growing field of donut product marketing


  • I believe I am highly suited to this career because I’m eager to taste many kinds of fillings and I’m very curious about sprinkles.


  • Harvard University summa cum laude
  • Major: Leisure Food Technology
  • Minor: Beverage Management
  • Junior Year Abroad: Bomboli Program, Florence, Italy
  • Senior Thesis: “Crullers: The Myth and Meaning”

~ from Chicken Soup, Boots by Maira Kalman (Viking, 1993)



This tasty tidbit is brought to you by a blogger who also likes chicken soup, boots, taking naps, snacking, donuts and cafés, and who took time off from balancing an egg on its end to type this post. Still trying to figure out how to grow up to be Maira.



Copyright © 2012 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

a favorite excerpt from Grace Lin’s Dumpling Days

#7 in an eclectic collection of notable noshes to whet your appetite and brighten your day.

Line drawings from the book.

So, as I was reading and drooling through Dumpling Days, I came to the part when Pacy’s cousin Clifford explains how you can tell wontons from dumplings — dumplings are shaped like ears.

He tells the story of a very famous Chinese doctor who supposedly invented dumpling soup. Ah! I had never heard this story before and found it not only fascinating, but quite uncanny, as a character in my picture book, Dumpling Soup, thinks dumplings look like elephant ears. Little did I realize the very first “ears” had great medicinal benefits. Totally cool!



Once there was a famous doctor, Zhang Zhongjing, who lived by the river in a cold part of China. He treated and cured many things, but in the winter, the things he treated most were people’s ears! That sounds strange, I know, but where he lived in China, the winters were particularly cold. The icy wind whipped and burned any exposed skin.

It was so cold that when a villager joked that his breath froze into pieces of ice in the air, all believed him because even if the cold did not freeze one’s breath, it really did freeze people’s ears. The doctor was kept busy during the winters treating frostbitten ears. He knew that people with frostbite needed warmth to heal, so he began to make a remedy that would warm peoples’ insides as well as their outsides. He cooked meat with warming herbs and finely chopped it. Then he wrapped it in thinly rolled dough and boiled the pieces in soup with more herbs. When the mixture was finished, he called it “soup that takes away the cold,” or “qu han jiao er tang.” He then served it to his frostbitten patients, who not only healed quickly, but enjoyed the soup so much that they continued to eat it.

People made the soup at home, usually eating it in the winter. They say the dumpling is the shape it is because it is made to resemble an ear, in honor of Doctor Zhongjing’s treatment of people’s frostbitten ears. The name of the soup, qu han jiao er tang, was shortened to jiao er tang, and the dumplings were eventually called jiaozi.

~ from “Story of Dumpling Soup,” Dumpling Days by Grace Lin (Little, Brown, 2012), page 119.


Zhang Zhongjing (150-219 AD) was an eminent physician in the Han Dynasty and is extremely well known in modern Chinese medicine.

Take two ears and call me in the morning.

He wrote China’s first book (actually 16 volumes worth), combining medical theory with his own experiences as a practitioner, analyzing causes, symptoms and methods of treatment. He recorded some 300 classic prescriptions, many of which are still used today. For his first dumplings he boiled mutton with warming herbs like chili (cayenne), which improved circulation and promoted healing. His “Warming Ear Soup” is traditionally eaten on the nights of Winter Solstice and Lunar New Year’s Eve.

♥ More Tasty Tidbits here.

♥ In case you missed my review of Dumpling Days, click here.


Copyright © 2012 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

charles dickens: festive nosh from a christmas carol

#6 in an eclectic collection of notable noshes to whet your appetite and brighten your day.

First edition frontispiece and title page (1843).

We thank Mr. Dickens for today’s word feast. What masterful descriptions of food!

For the people who were shovelling away on the housetops were jovial and full of glee; calling out to one another from the parapets, and now and then exchanging a facetious snowball — better-natured missile far than many a wordy jest — laughing heartily if it went right and not less heartily if it went wrong. The poulterers’ shops were still half open, and the fruiterers’ were radiant in their glory. There were great, round, pot-bellied baskets of chestnuts, shaped like the waistcoats of jolly old gentlemen, lolling at the doors, and tumbling out into the street in their apoplectic opulence. There were ruddy, brown-faced, broad-girthed Spanish Onions, shining in the fatness of their growth like Spanish Friars, and winking from their shelves in wanton slyness at the girls as they went by, and glanced demurely at the hung-up mistletoe. There were pears and apples, clustered high in blooming pyramids; there were bunches of grapes, made, in the shopkeepers’ benevolence to dangle from conspicuous hooks, that people’s mouths might water gratis as they passed; there were piles of filberts, mossy and brown, recalling, in their fragrance, ancient walks among the woods, and pleasant shufflings ankle deep through withered leaves; there were Norfolk Biffins, squab and swarthy, setting off the yellow of the oranges and lemons, and, in the great compactness of their juicy persons, urgently entreating and beseeching to be carried home in paper bags and eaten after dinner. The very gold and silver fish, set forth among these choice fruits in a bowl, though members of a dull and stagnant-blooded race, appeared to know that there was something going on; and, to a fish, went gasping round and round their little world in slow and passionless excitement.

And who could forget the goose at the Cratchit house!

Such a bustle ensued that you might have thought a goose the rarest of all birds; a feathered phenomenon, to which a black swan was a matter of course; and in truth it was something very like it in that house. Mrs. Cratchit made the gravy (ready beforehand in a little saucepan) hissing hot; Master Peter mashed the potatoes with incredible vigour; Miss Belinda sweetened up the apple-sauce; Martha dusted the hot plates; Bob took Tiny Tim beside him in a tiny corner at the table; the two young Cratchits set chairs for everybody, not forgetting themselves, and mounting guard upon their posts, crammed spoons into their mouths, lest they should shriek for goose before their turn came to be helped. At last the dishes were set on, and grace was said. It was succeeded by a breathless pause, as Mrs. Cratchit, looking slowly all along the carving-knife, prepared to plunge it in the breast; but when she did, and when the long expected gush of stuffing issued forth, one murmur of delight arose all round the board, and even Tiny Tim, excited by the two young Cratchits, beat on the table with the handle of his knife, and feebly cried Hurrah!

There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn’t believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavour, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration. Eked out by apple-sauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed, as Mrs. Cratchit said with great delight (surveying one small atom of a bone upon the dish), they hadn’t ate it all at last! Yet every one had had enough, and the youngest Cratchits in particular, were steeped in sage and onion to the eyebrows! But now, the plates being changed by Miss Belinda, Mrs. Cratchit left the room alone — too nervous to bear witnesses — to take the pudding up, and bring it in.

~ from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Stave 3  (Ghost of Christmas Present).


On December 19th, 1843, exactly 168 years ago today, Chapman & Hall published the first edition of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

Dickens wrote it in six weeks, choosing to receive a percentage of the profits rather than a lump-sum payment due to a previous dispute with his publisher.

from The Children’s Wonder Book (1933), via Grandma’s Graphics

Though the novella met with immediate critical acclaim and sold well, profits were disappointing because of high production costs. The book was also pirated the following year and Dickens suffered more financial woes after suing publishers who then declared bankruptcy.

Despite Dickens’s disappointments, A Christmas Carol helped to rejuvenate old English Christmas traditions, and largely shaped today’s concept of the holiday as one of open-hearted generosity, giving, light, and a joyous spirit, to include festive food and drink, dancing, caroling, family gatherings and general merrymaking.



Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

food philosophy from alan watts

#5 in an eclectic collection of notable noshes to whet your appetite and brighten your day.

via Chiot’s Run


The one absolutely essential requirement for the art of cooking is a love for its raw materials: the shape and feel of eggs, the sniff of flour, or mint, or garlic, the marvelous form and shimmer of a mackerel, the marbled red texture of a cut of beef, the pale green translucence of fresh lettuce, the concentric ellipses of a sliced onion, and the weight, warmth, and resilience of flour-dusted dough under your fingers. The spiritual attitude of the cook will be all the more enriched if there is a familiarity with barns and vineyards, fishing wharves and dairies, orchards and kitchen gardens.


~ from the food essay, “Murder in the Kitchen,” by Alan Watts, first published in Playboy Magazine (1969), included in DOES IT MATTER?: ESSAYS ON MAN’S RELATIONSHIP TO MATERIALITY (New World Library, 2007).


♥ Read Jaime O’Neill’s article, “For the Love of Food,” to learn more about “Murder in the Kitchen” and its relevance today.

♥ Longer excerpt from the essay here.

♥ Big thanks to Jinx Stapleton Watson for sharing the excerpt!

♥ More Tasty Tidbits here.

Watts was a British philosopher, editor, writer and lecturer most widely known for his teachings on Eastern philosophy. He was also a sensualist who enjoyed cooking for the likes of Timothy Leary on his houseboat in Sausalito.


Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

carl sandburg’s soup

#4 in an eclectic collection of notable noshes to whet your appetite and brighten your day.

ed ed/flickr

  Fave writer soups: Truman Capote (Gumbo), Willa Cather (Vegetable), Bob Dylan (Split Pea), Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Vegetable), George Bernard Shaw (Vegetable), William Makepeace Thackery (Bouillabaisse). Source:


Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphbet soup. All rights reserved.