Somehow, no-nonsense cooking and eating — roasting a chicken, making a grilled cheese sandwich, scrambling an egg, tossing a salad — must become popular again, and valued not just by hipsters in Brooklyn or locavores in Berkeley. The smart campaign is not to get McDonald’s to serve better food but to get people to see cooking as a joy rather than a burden, or at least as part of a normal life.
Foodie personal ads at an indie butcher. Williamsburg is so hip I think I might explode.
(Also, hi! I’m in New York!)
This Passage Haunts Me In Weak Moments
from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s miraculous essay “The Crack-Up”:
Of course all life is a process of breaking down, but the blows that do the dramatic side of the work—the big sudden blows that come, or seem to come, from outside—the ones you remember and blame things on and, in moments of weakness, tell your friends about, don’t show their effect all at once. There is another sort of blow that comes from within—that you don’t feel until it’s too late to do anything about it, until you realize with finality that in some regard you will never be as good a man again. The first sort of breakage seems to happen quick—the second kind happens almost without your knowing it but it is realized suddenly indeed.
Required Reading for Food Nerds
You don’t have to be a food history geek like me to appreciate the Lapham’s Quarterly summer issue on food, though if you are it’s pretty much the Holy Grail. The magazine’s MO is to exhaustively explore a single theme each issue (previous topics include sports, the city and celebrity), through more than 200 pages of excerpts, interviews, infographics and essays culled from all of human history.
The food issue is a glorious collection covering an astonishing range of topics. Some of the excerpts are a pleasure (a surprising hog feast in ancient Rome, Leonardo DaVinci’s mess of a kitchen, a fictional land where everything is made out of food); some are academically interesting (Anthony Trollope’s observations on American dining traditions, the culinary struggles of Jesuit missionaries and Native Americans in the New World, an essay on the history of poison); some are difficult and painful (diary of a suffragette’s prison hunger strike, a first-person account of starvation in Bergen-Belsen).
Taken together they challenged every single assumption about what I knew, or thought I knew, about the way we cook and eat. They made me think about hunger and plenty, about regional dishes and culinary attitudes, in a whole new way. And it was super-entertaining — actually hard to put down. It’s one of the best things I’ve read all year.
A couple other foodie gems I’ve found lately:
Edible Geography blogger Nicola Twilley wrote a delightful meditation on the history of the Oreo cookie’s intricate, beautiful stamped design for the Atlantic. Who knew that the Oreo’s signature emboss — which I have never, ever thought about in my life — has been heralded as a triumph of modern design, or that cookie design in general has such a long, rich history?
Browsing the Gourmet website one listless afternoon I came across this surprisingly touching account of a once-in-a-lifetime meal at the Waldorf-Astoria in 1948, when a young, poor navy midshipman wrote to the famous hotel asking for a night to remember so he could propose to his future wife. It’s completely heartwarming, and captures the spirit of service that only a great hotel can produce. I have to admit, I was moved to tears. (For reals. I’m a softie.)
Signing Books at Costco
When I was a kid, a trip to Costco was a Special Event. My parents kept a list on the back of an envelope on the fridge, and I’d impatiently watch it grow as the family’s need for paper towels, olive oil, frozen chicken nuggets, peanut butter, cereal and laundry detergent mounted. Finally, the day would arrive. To my sisters and me, a trip to Costco meant samples.
Samples were exciting, first and most obviously, because they were free food — food like chicken wings, jalapeno poppers and cheesecake that we were never allowed to have at home. But more importantly, in-store samples were a crapshoot. You never know what was going to be offered, what was around the next corner. Sometimes it was a moist Swedish meatball, a home run. Sometimes it was Yoplait yogurt, a bitter disappointment. You could never predict, and obtaining the best samples in the shortest amount of time (deadline: when our parents hit the checkout line) became a game to me and my sisters.
For the best samples offered we developed elaborate schemes to go back for seconds and thirds. We’d take off or don sweatshirts and jackets as disguises, lurk just around the corner to swoop in when the server’s back was turned, beg our parents to obtain more. When a server recognized us, we were made and could never go back to that table again. A city kid’s way of playing at hunter-gatherer.
Which is all to say — Costco has a special place in my heart. (I still appreciate the samples, though as an adult I also now appreciate the prices, especially on booze.) And yesterday I got to go there in a professional capacity. I sat at my very own table for two and a half hours watching the crowds, interacting with customers, and signing copies of my new book. Everyone was very friendly, enthusiastic and encouraging. Most carts included either paper towels or toilet paper. One man had a cart filled to the top with bags of soft white rolls. There were a lot of cute babies. I smiled at everyone, sold dozens of copies of my book, and felt like I’d finally arrived.
One gradually developed a protective hardness against both praise and blame. Too often people liked your things for the wrong reasons or people liked them whose dislike would be a compliment. No decent career was ever founded on a public and one learned to go ahead without precedents and without fear.
5 Favorite Memories of Kim Ricketts
Sometimes you come across people who believe in you. Against all odds and expectations, they see a glimmer of something in you that you’ve always seen in yourself but maybe never told anyone about, and they make it their mission to help you draw it out. They come in the form of mentors, patrons, close friends—but they share the simple fact that at one point they believed in you more than you believed in yourself.
Kim Ricketts was one of those people to me. From the minute I met her she swept me up to me to her level, accepting the awkward, inexperienced, 23-year-old me as an equal. She did that to a lot of people. I’ve come across people of her public stature that treat newcomers to the scene as outsiders or wannabes; Kim’s tractor beam was enough to hold everyone.
Later I knew Kim mostly because of my friendship with her daughter Whitney. Because of this, I got to know her as I know all of my close friends’ moms—slightly overbearing and annoying in her attempts to be nurturing and, well, motherly. That was never a detractor. She was a great mother who loved her children and loved her children’s friends and encouraged everyone to be more than they were.
From the first day I met her she encouraged me to write and conquer the world… and her encouragement made me feel like I could do anything. It still does. It was an amazing gift she had.
These are Kim moments I will never forget.
1. A press opening at some restaurant in Seattle. I was in a room full of strangers, hovering awkwardly on the side. I’d never met her, but knew her by reputation and introduced myself. She gave me her full attention and we talked books. She offered a press spot at any of her events. “But… is there room for me?” I asked, unsure. She leaned into me conspiratorially. “There are always spots for fun people,” she said, and just like she’d tapped a magic wand, gave me the gift of self-confidence.
2. I wrote a scary, balls-out essay about my ex-husband. The night it was published online, I actually threw up I was so nervous about how everyone would respond. Kim tweeted about it the next morning: “Someone get this girl a book deal!” I know it sounds like a small thing, but that one sentence validated the personal risk I’d taken. Kim knew books—and though she was encouraging of talent, she was never fake. I knew I’d done something right.
3. IACP 2010, Portland, a midnight One Pot dinner. I’d been setting up—and drinking Prosecco—all day with Whitney and Maggie. By the time dinner rolled around, I was wasted. Kim’s radar went up. She made sure I sat in a corner, made sure I ate something and drank water, kept coming back to make sure that I was okay. It was tender and non-judgmental and mothering, and I needed a mother that night.
4. Last summer. Whitney and I had afternoon beers, and we ended up at the Ricketts kitchen, hanging out. Kim brought a perfect roast chicken out of the oven. “You should stay here the next time you’re in town,” she said. I was a little taken aback. “Uh, I think my mom might be offended. But thanks,” I said. Kim was nonplussed. “You’re always welcome here as part of the family,” she said. And she meant it.
5. An email she sent me a month ago.
hi Ms Anna and I know I will see you before this…but we are doing #4 of What We Talk About When We Talk About Food at the Palace Ballroom in June—can you be on the panel? We always have 150+ people there for appetizers and we laugh, cry, you read a piece from the book, you sign books. It’s perfect. Can’t wait to see you. Kim
I never saw her—she passed away three days ago after a long illness. But her influence, and enthusiasm, will stay with me forever. And someday I hope that I’ll be at a cocktail party and see an insecure twentysomething and be to them what Kim Ricketts was to me, if only for the evening.