Now and again, one of the grasshoppers will ask me about cooking. In response to a concern about originality, I suggested the following:
Pick up something like Elizabeth David's French Provincial Cooking, and see what inspires. It is a very unoriginal cookbook, and that is its strength. Learning to cook is more like playing in a wedding band than being a jazz solost. Do I know The Hustle? Check. Can I make a roux? Check.
Was this good advice, people who read this and are smarter about cooking than I am?
The Cod has roasted hogs in two blue states, two red states, and a purple state, has pickled green peaches, and fed any number of folks any number of ways. However, 2012 marks the first time that The Cod and cinetrix will host Thanksgiving. In the nick of time, Sam Sifton delivers the book for just such a thing. "Thanksgiving: How to Cook it Well." It is the only thing you will ever need to read about Thanksgiving cooking.
The book format gives Sifton an unfair advantage. Thanksgiving is a holiday for traditional cooking. It is not a day for experimentation. Newspapers, blogs, and magazines come out every day or week or year, and have some obligation to present holiday service journalism that goes beyond "Do what you did last year, but maybe wait until after noon to get into the Beaujolais, for Christ's sake."
Sifton's approach emulates that of the coach of his favorite college football team, munus the joylessness. Focus, attention to detail, and preparation mean that relatively straightforward dishes come together to form a successful meal.
Moreso, the book's genius lies in understanding hostingThanksgiving as a challenge of adulthood, and a problem of logistics and social engineering as much as it is of cooking. I would like to see a series of such books, on other grownup stuff like refinancing your house, or building a deck, or suchlike. If you have a big monitor, watch this while you order:
Old friend Thomas McNamee dropped in on Eater to plug his new jawn -- a Craig Claiborne bio, the which no ARC has manifested itself, so you're on your own. But! If you write for a magazine that covers food, Thomas McNamee would like you to know that you are a fucking whore:
Hi! Sorry I suck at blogging anymore. Morale is low, with nary a Roiphe in sight to deliver the beating that might restore morale. But! I saw where Emily Gould was revisiting Laurie Colwin. Laudable, but one thing Laurie Colwin* would not do is read an article about herself where the platform is an allegedly buggy app branded w/ the name of a defunct food mag. Buy the book, and the other book - her ode to biscuits is the single most compelling piece of food writing I've read in some time. Basically -- make biscuits, or you are an asshole, but better than that.
*Thanks to TAFKAOGIC for hooking me up w/ Colwin back in the day.
Gwinnie, et al, seem to be in the throes of an heroic romantic notion of authorship, which is a relatively recent phenomenon, and exists for the sake of copyright as much as anything. But to be an author is to be that kind of author, so there is an idea that a book springs from the brow of its creator. For novels, sure, maybe, academic monographs, sometimes, but for cookbooks, less so. Recipes in a cookbook need testing, in a way that chapter 12 of the new Marcy Dermansky novel does not. It is, by its nature, a collaborative product. Here is where auteur theory might help. Scorsese, for instance, makes movies, but Thelma Schoonmaker edits them. It's silly for Gwinnie to beef, much as it would be silly for Scorsese to insist that he shot every frame of Raging Bull himself. It's not true, but it's also not the point. Scorsese makes Scorsese films, and other folks help him realize his vision, just like if Mario does a NASCAR cookbook. Moskin's article seemed to be more of a memoir ("I was the literary equivalent of a plongeur"), than an expose', but the reaction from various cookbook producers turned it into a scandal.
Martha Bowden: The Reform’d Coquet, Familiar Letters Betwixt a Gentleman and a Lady, and The Accomplish’d Rake, an edition of three novels by Mary Davys (1674?-1732), University Press of Kentucky, 1999.
Late to the party on this one, but as the running around killing oysters sojourn ends, want to rewind to the Moskin piece on Southern chefs that dropped a couple of weeks ago:
IT’S not hard to get Emile DeFelice riled up. Just mention Paula Deen, the so-called queen of Southern food, who cooks with canned fruit and Crisco. Or say something like “You don’t look like a Southern pig farmer.” He’ll practically hit the ceiling of his Prius.
Allow me to explain. If you consider the Socialist movement in the US in the early 20th c. and professional wrestling, the issue is clear. The most badly misread book in US literary history is Upton Sinclair's portrayal of an immigrant family being chewed up and spit out by capitalism, primariy in the form of industrial meat production. Folks read The Jungle, however, got grossed out by the rat shit in the potted meat, and ignored the larger message of the book, passed the Pure Food and Drug Act, and transformed other folks' class/economic problems into their problems as consumers. What the Jungle lacks, in retrospect, is a villain. Here, perhaps, Sinclair could have taken some lessons from professional wrestling, where there is always a face and a heel.
Especially when Bourdain is beating the drums, Paula Deen emerges as the face of industrial meat. In other words, if artisan/heritage meat needs a villian to codify what it is and what it ain't, then Paula Deen makes a pretty good heel. To this end, here's an artist's conception of what it would look like if Paula Deen joined legendary wrestling crew the Moondogs. Thanks to The Artist Formerly Known As Penny Pascal for the peerless Photoshopping.
Via Google Alerts, the Cod saw where the St. Louis Post Dispatch had picked up on the Whole Hog kerfuffle. It's a curious piece. The thrust is "St. Louis native writes cookbook," but they do mention the issues w/ Smithfield and Caw Caw Creek Farm, documented here and elsewhere -- sort of:
"Summers also works as a producer, writer and stylist for journalistic and commercial clients. One of those, the multimillion-dollar international pork producer Smithfield Packing Co., helped to sponsor the publication of "The Whole Hog Cookbook." Some of the book's recipes specifically call for Smithfield products.
The sponsorship — and the subtle way it's revealed in the book — drew online rebukes from food bloggers and from Emile DeFelice of the small-scale heritage-pig specialists Caw Caw Creek Farm in South Carolina, whose animals are pictured in the book. Summers apologized to DeFelice after he commented on a post on the Gurgling Cod, a blog that took her to task. Soon thereafter, however, the controversy was fanned when chef and multimedia food personality Anthony Bourdain condemned the sponsorship from his @NoReservations Twitter account.
During the interview for this article, Summers singled out Caw Caw Creek as a great example of a heritage-breed farm."
This is how the story looked when I saw it this morning. Earlier in the piece, there had been a link to the cookbook itself. I emailed the author of the piece, asking "why you offered a link to Summers' own blog, but not to my post that raised the initial concern about the Smithfield connection, or Bourdain's tweet, or Eva Moore's article that fleshed out DeFelice's (quite legitimate) objection that Summers had taken pictures of his humanely raised animals to promote Smithfield's factory animals?"
Not long after, I got a pleasant response from Joe Bonwich, the article of the piece, who added these links:
"Summers apologized to DeFelice after he commented on a post on the Gurgling Cod, a blog that took her to task. Soon thereafter, however, the controversy was fanned when chef and multimedia food personality Anthony Bourdain condemned the sponsorship from his @NoReservations Twitter account.
During the interview.... etc."
On one hand, it's nice to be able to register a complaint w/ a major metropolitan daily, and have it acknowledged and fixed. On the other hand, there are issues that remain about what, when, and how this story says what it says.
The what is probably the least complicated -- the food pages of the St. Louis Post Dispatch are not exactly Woodward and Bernstein territory, but it's odd to see the issues with this book acknowledged and dismissed, rather than a) ignored b) discussed. Let's look at the key sentences:
"The sponsorship — and the subtle way it's revealed in the book — drew online rebukes from food bloggers and from Emile DeFelice of the small-scale heritage-pig specialists Caw Caw Creek Farm in South Carolina, whose animals are pictured in the book. Summers apologized to DeFelice after he commented on a post on the Gurgling Cod, a blog that took her to task."
Subtle? The book is not Smithfield branded on the exterior, but from the exhortations to buy pork from Smithfield in the preface, to the logos for Smithfield products on ingredient list, the effect is about as "subtle" as Jeff Gordon's relationship w/ DuPont. More importantly, Bonwich appears to miss the point of DeFelice's objection, which he spells out in his comment -- Summers used pictures of his humanely-raised animals to promote industrial feedlot pork. I do not know if DeFelice and Summers have had any communication via attorney, but Bonwich's mention that Summers apologized to DeFelice again misses the point that the book exists, and the apology does not undo or mitigate Summers's misappropriation of the images. Speaking of the materiality of print, that raises a whole other set of issues, which we can save for another post.