From Reading Material

Reading Material 12.04.15

Food related writing and news from the last two weeks.

Chinese Food and the Joy of Inauthentic Cooking, The New Yorker.

Examining the ‘existential crisis’ and ‘flavor memory’ shown by well known Asian chefs.

Pits Show Peaches Were in China Before Humans, Futurity.

There’s little evidence of the domestication of peaches. Two and a half million year old peach pits found in China, nearly identical to modern ones, show the long history of the juicy fruit.

The Case for Bad Coffee, Serious Eats.

Like a love letter to anyone that has ever had a terrible/fantastic cup of coffee at a Denny’s at 2 o’clock in the morning in the company of the slightly wasted.

Arizona just threw mass shade at The New York Times, Business Insider.

When the state of Arizona makes fun of you (and I say this as a former resident of the state, a place I still very much love), you really screwed up. The NY Times, and writer Melissa Clark, may never ever live down the great Peas in Guacamole Incident of 2015. If you’re looking for a less legume-inclined guacamole recipe, there is help. And ‘mass shade’? Is that how the cool kids are saying it now?

Thieves are Ravaging California’s Nut Farms, CNBC.  

Thousands of pounds of nuts does not seem like the most practical thing to steal, but when there is a will, there is a way.

Vintage Ad Archive: The Drinks of Thanksgiving! The Alcohol Professor.

Does anything go better with Thanksgiving than drinking?

High Sodium Labeling Starts Tuesday At Chain Restaurants In NYC, gothamist.

Because calorie content on  menus are not scary enough, now also including sodium. Can sugar content be far behind?

Common Pesticides Linked to Decreased Lung Function in Children, Time.

Children living in farming areas are suffering the same kind of lung damage as caused by second hand smoke from exposure to common pesticides.

The world’s favorite fruit is slowly but surely being driven to extinction, Quartz.

A fungus, Tropical Race 4, is slowly killing off the very popular Cavendish cultivar of bananas, the most common banana variety. Good thing we still have plantains and apple bananas. Seriously, try apple bananas.

And finally:

The Search for a Better Sriracha, Eater. 

The good folks at Eater are trying to let you know your Sriracha obsession is so 2009. Time to find a cooler hot sauce, bro.



Reading Material: 11.20.15

Some of what you could be reading:

450 illegal tamales from Mexico seized at LAX and ‘incinerated’ (not steamed) – LA Times. My reaction: Noooooooooooooooooo!

Truck Full of Domino’s Pizza Dough Crashes, Dough Rises Across Road – Eater. Also: Noooooooooooooooooo!

America’s Test Kitchen Founder Chris Kimball Leaves Show and Dana Cowin Stepping Down as Food & Wine Editor – NPR and NY Times, respectively. Two American culinary gods are stepping down from their posts. My theory: A culinary Atlas Shrugged is upon us.

It’s Time to Put New Nordic Cuisine Out of its Misery – Amuse. To quote the man who first introduced Noma to the American culinary press : ‘When I hear that a plant has been foraged in an urban environment, all I can ever think about is dog piss and pollution.’ Amen brother. Someone needed to say that.

Is haute cuisine still relevant? – The Rambling Epicure. Short answer: Yes. Why? Because the French know how to eat better than we do.

Ruth Reichl Recharges in the Kitchen – NY Times. This is completely my life, except I live in the not cool part of upstate New York, it’s a Focus and not a Lexus with 100k miles on it, and I don’t have a fancy book deal. But otherwise, completely my life.

Tim Hortons Closes At Least 21 Stores With No Advance Warning – Consumerist. Where am I supposed to get my fruity muffins now?

GMO Salmon Approval Turns Up Heat in U.S. Labeling Battle- NY Times. Hate to break it to you, but you’ve been eating GMO corn since the 50s, and it was never labeled. The GMO argument is far more complicated than labels, or ‘evil corporations.’

Reading Material: 08.14.15

A little bit of the funny side of food writing:

Ordering Pizza Online is When you Let your Freak Flag Fly, Hillary Pollack, via Munchies.

…just as how in space no one can hear you scream, on the internet, no one can see your true gluttony.

We order more and are more picky about our order online. And now I want a pizza with all the cheese, topped with Chinese food.

So you Want to Write a Food Blog, Julia Edelman, via The New Yorker.

Remember, you never want to confuse your readers. I find it helpful to always provide a photo of each individual ingredient, in case your fans forget what food looks like, as well as a candid photo of a baby (it doesn’t have to be yours) in a bathtub full of chia seeds. Isn’t he adorable?

Pro Tip: Babies and chia seeds do not mix.

27 Food Stories Nobody Needs to Write Again, via Eater.

27. Here’s something another culture has been eating for ages but I’m going to say I discovered it

I’m guilty of the this one myself, but mine is more of ‘There’s this ethnic food I’ve been eating forever and you’ve just discovered. And you’re eating it ALL wrong!’

And something completely not funny:

Ultrafast Avocado Soup, Mark Bittman, via New York Times

Avocado milk soup.

Dear Mr. Bittman, avocados are not for soup. That is all.

Reading Material: ‘The Authenticity Trap’ and Handmade Tortillas

The easiest way to sell an ethnic cuisine is to make a claim to authenticity. Authentic street tacos on authentic hand made tortillas, made by authentic people. But my question is, who and what determines that authenticity?

Making tortillas, something deeply rooted in Mexican history and culture, is still very much a part of the people, but so is taking out a warm, soft, pliable corn tortilla from its bag before leaving the tortillería and sprinkling it with coarse salt before rolling it and eating it while getting on with more pressing matters than tortilla making. If the tortilla is made of wheat flour, rather than corn, the scene plays out only slightly differently, perhaps with a rushed trip home to spread butter on the still-warm disk.

Of all the thoughts crossing the mind of the average Mexican, the authenticity of this act, purchasing and eating a perfect, machine-made tortilla — made of nothing more than maíz, sal, y agua or harina, manteca, agua, y sal — is not one of them.

Read the rest of my piece The Authenticity Trap of Mexican Food in America for the Phoenix New Times.

And in case you thought I hold anything against the tortilla, read my post The Tortilla Ratio.

Reading Material: Eat Mexico by Lesley Téllez

Recently I was asked for advice on what I thought the best Mexican cookbooks were. I was a bit stumped when it came to giving an answer.

The first thing I will tell anyone about Mexican food is that is a highly regional cuisine, which creates a problem for books aiming to cover the entirety of the country in a single volume. The books of Diana Kennedy and Margarita Carrillo Arronte’s Mexico: The Cookbook focus heavily on the food of certain states, Oaxaca, Jalisco, Veracruz and Puebla mostly. Kennedy outright dismisses Mexican seafood as not being exactly worthy of being bothered with (my words, not hers, though the sentiment is hers alone and could not be further from the truth).

Northern Mexican regional styles are heavily ignored in a great number of popular Mexican cookbooks, and only to the detriment of the reader/eater. The second thing I will tell anyone about Mexican food is that northern Mexican food is far more than just carne asada.

There’s no fewer than five taco-centric books being released this fall (including a taco cleanse – I would advice to stay far far away from this one). I can’t say I find any of them exciting; for the most part, if you’ve seen one gringo taco cookbook you have seen them all.

But, all of this leads me to Lesley Téllez and Eat Mexico, newly released and based on her experience of living, eating and cooking in Mexico City, and reads more like a travel journal of her experience, rather than her declaration of having gained mastery over this cuisine in her time there. I’ve kept up with her blog, The Mija Chronicles, on a semi-regular basis, mostly to feed my own love for the food of Mexico City, a place where street food is omnipresent, and sitting down to eat a table is hardly a necessity, though always a pleasant experience. I spent my days in Mexico City eating churros, followed by mango flowers, followed by freshly pressed orange juice, tacos de cabeza, cucumber spears sprinkled with chile, lime juice and salt, more churros… All while stopping only for a few minutes at the most, then walking on.

Captivating photography inside Eat Mexico by Lesley Téllez.
Captivating photography inside Eat Mexico by Lesley Téllez.

The U.S. has come a long way towards developing a street food culture, but visiting a place like Mexico City shows just how far mobile food can go. Téllez’ book, beautifully photographed and written from having lived these experiences, rather than merely researched them from afar or from an anthropological perspective, rings the reader into the chaotic, fragrant world of Mexico City’s street food, setting it apart from the new crop of gringo taco cookbooks entering bookshelves.

Yes, the book does include recipes for the type of tacos typically sold by Mexico City street vendors, as well as the expected ‘pico the gallo’ recipe, which strikes me as an editorial decision (‘You have to include pico the gallo in there, no one knows what salsa borracha is!) when compared to the much more interesting sauces otherwise included. But also included are stories of how Mexico City’s food is a unique creature even within Mexico, shaped by the inward migrating patterns of the people from the edges of the nation towards its center, as well as shaped by the immense size of the city itself and the important role of local agriculture has always played.

Most welcome is this book’s inclusion of vegetable heavy recipes, something which will hopefully begin to throw off the misconception of Mexicans being nothing but pork eaters. Nopales, quelites and amaranto (prickly pear paddles, wild greens and amaranth) all get their due in beautiful salads, as fillings for tacos, or in soups. The vegetable heavy Mexican scrambled eggs is beautifully spoken of as a meal created al gusto, to the taste of the customer at a breakfast counter.

Perhaps one of the best parts of Eat Mexico is sharing one of those regional quirks of Mexican cuisine: a quesadilla stuffed with anything other than cheese itself. Half of Mexico seems to agree quesadillas require cheese. The other half, not so much.

Mexican food doesn’t have to make sense, it doesn’t have to be the expected, but it does have to taste good. I think Téllez would agree with that.

Reading Material: 07.10.15

Photo Credit: Paul Colangelo.

Something smells fishy:

Look Beyond the Label: A Supposedly Sustainable Fishery is Harming Native Alaskans – Lee van der Voo,

The Marine Stewardship Council has given McDonald’s trawl caught pollock for the Filet-O-Fish sandwich it’s blue label of sustainability, despite this fishing method scooping up halibut in the process and depleting supplies for native tribes in Alaska which depend on the large fish. This is just one of many examples of food labels being completely meaningless.

‘Salvation Fish’ That Sustained Native People Now Needs Saving – J.B. MacKinnon, National Geographic.

If salmon colonies were to collapse in drastic numbers, international alarms would sound and the plight of the ever popular salmon would become a major cause. But as a fish with no commercial significance and valued mostly by native peoples in Alaska, British Columbia, Washington and Oregon, the vastly reduced stocks of eulachon, also known as candlefish, in decline since the 1990s have gone largely unnoticed by the public. Climate change, bycatch from shrimp boats and pollution are all to blame, but numbers seem to be slowly improving.

The Case for Eating Small Fish – John Donohue, The New Yorker.

Fish such as herring, mackerel and anchovies are large used as feed or forage fish, or harvested for their oil for the supplement industry. Marine conservationists are hoping chefs can turn salmon and tuna lovers into small fish lovers. Personally, I will take mackerel over salmon any day.

Happy cows:

Milk Dumped as Supplies Overwhelm U.S. Dairies – Crain’s Chicago Business.

Feed and fuel prices are down, milk production is up, yet this milky overflow is going straight down the drain, being dumped by the truckload. Perhaps you should eat more cheese?

Say Cheese: How to Store Cheese so it Stays Fresh Longer – Jolene Bouchon, Tasting Table. 

A quick guide on how to best take care of your cheese. My personal preference: simply wrapped in parchment paper and eaten over the span of just a few days. Ok, perhaps only one day.

5 Ice Cream Myths That Need to Disappear – Max Falkowitz, Serious Eats.

I really wanted to agree with this list, but I can tell you from experience, cheap eggs and milk will result in cheap ice cream, stabilizers are a sure way to add a less than small batch taste to ice cream, and sure, maybe alcohol doesn’t help the texture of ice cream, but it sure tastes good. And untempered eggs, no. Just no. It’s not just tradition, it is technique.

And finally, no explanation needed,

Play ball:

The 43 Must-Eat Baseball Stadium Dishes Across America – Sonia Chopra, Eater.