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Celebrating Julia Child

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Julia's 90th Birthday Party

Kate & Julia

In his book A History of Cooks and Cooking, author Michael Symons notes that “Mass Foodism” (also known as being a “foodie”) has been on the rise for years — as can be observed in the booming gourmet food/cookware industry as well as soaring sales of cookbooks. Part of this rise, Symons adds, is due to television bringing “foodism to the masses” via charismatic instructors like Julia Child.

Julia Child made what was once intimidating obtainable, and became an international icon after first appearing (in 1963) as “The French Chef” on Public Television. Child’s greatest contribution to the art of cookery, however, is most certainly Volume One of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (published in 1961).

Child (along with her colleagues Simone Beck and Louisette Berholle) spent a decade researching and writing Volume One — the “style and clarity” of which, according to Noel Riley Fitch (author of Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child), makes it “a genuine masterpiece in culinary history.”

In 1950, Child, Beck and Berholle started their work with a goal to create a book novice American cooks could understand, yet would still be “interesting for the practiced cook.” Ten years later, Knopf’s Judith Jones wrote that the soon-to-be-published book “will do for French cooking here in America what Rombauer’s The Joy of Cooking did for standard [American] cooking.”

Jones was right: the book has been in print for over 40-years, including a new edition celebrating the release of the film “Julie & Julia” — opening Friday with Oscar-winner Meryl Streep appearing as Ms. Child.

“Julie & Julia” is the first of what might well become many motion pictures based on Child’s fascinating life encompassing great loves, world-wide travels, epic feasts — and perhaps even a stint as a WWII spy. Standing over six-feet-tall, Julia Child’s dynamic physical presence and positive personality drove her ever-increasing popularity as a TV performer and delivered her passion for cooking to an international audience.

Writer Christopher Lydon, quoted in Fitch’s biography, states that: “Queen Julia has done more than [Betty] Friedan, Gloria Steinem and Co. to show American women a model of power in public and expressive self-discovery at home.”

Even after her death (in 2004 at the age of 91), the cult of Julia Child is still hungry for more: DVD collections are available for purchase, her home kitchen has been moved into the Smithsonian Museum, new books are inspired by her life,  bumper stickers read “What Would Julia Do?,” and the truly obsessed can buy devotional candles.

If you haven’t yet had your fill of all things related to ‘the original spice girl,’ check out Flickr’s Julia Child group (lovingly administered by the author of this blog… )


The Fetishization of Everyday Food

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Cheese Dog at Happy Hound

Cheese Dog at Happy Hound

A recent New York Times piece entitled Foie Gras Palates, Hot Dog Pocketbooksdiscusses how the internet’s “infinite real estate” is behind what the author, Frank Bruni, calls our “fetishization of everyday food.”

Bruni suggests his point is illustrated when one types the search term “cupcake blog” into a Google browser and finds the number of cupcake-focused sites (as of today, 2,470,000).

When we write about food, are we really imbuing our crispy bacon strips and extra-dark chocolates with the power of fetish objects associated with sexual gratification, desire or worship?

Is it a sin to Tweet about our favorite recipes or blog about what was on last night’s table? And if I find some psychological fulfillment and emotional satisfaction by simply eating a hot dog (and even taking a picture of it), does that make me a deviant?

Can’t I just be someone with a good appetite and too much free time on her hands?

EAT IT UP: Fascinating Food in the News

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Alameda County Fair

Alameda County Fair

  • French Fry Face Off
  • Are you sure you want to eat there?
  • Looking for a new recipe?
  • If it ain’t deep fried, it’s un-American
  • What we eat when we eat alone: new book from Deborah Madison
  • Forget about fancy sea salts — sugar is now Raising Cane
  • Is Alice Waters a legend?
  • Written by Kate Blood

    July 13, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    Fashionable Food

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    San Francisco's High Fashion "I Dream of Cake" Shop

    High Fashion at I Dream of Cake

    As I’m researching the history of women writers in the kitchen, I’m noticing a few references to fashion.

    For example, the first cookery book printed in America (in 1742) was “The Compleat Houfewife” written by an English woman named Eliza Smith. Ms. Smith published the book with only the initials E.S., but she did identify herself as “a woman constantly employed [by] fashionable…families.”

    Fashion and food are still in style.

    Take, for instance, San Francisco’s sweet shop I Dream of Cake. In this tiny North Beach store front, cake artist Shinmin Li creates edible sculptures inspired by the handbag designs of fashion houses like Louis Vuitton.

    For high tea at London’s Berkeley Hotel, pastry chef Mourad Khiat is recreating the super sexy high heels of Christian Louboutin.

    Let’s hope these talented pastry artists can move beyond the realm of accessories. I’d love to be able to shop for the latest sportswear without having to worry about whether or not my designer of choice sells size 18.

    Cows With Jet Packs! Eric Schlosser on Bizarre Science-Fiction Factory Farms

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    Fly Me to the MooN

    Fly Me to the MooN

    Author Eric Schlosser recently appeared on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report to pitch the new documentary Food, Inc. (Schlosser, one of the film’s interview subjects, is best known for his book Fast Food Nation.)

    Food, Inc.’s press kit notes “the filmmakers expose the highly mechanized, Orwellian underbelly [of modern farming] that’s been deliberately hidden from the American consumer.”

    Speaking with funnyman Stephen Colbert, Schlosser calls this “bizarre science-fiction factory farming.” Colbert’s retort? He asks if Schlosser is “talking about cows with jet packs on?”

    Oddly enough, Mr. Colbert is not the first person to think about such things: Back in 2006, Artist Michael Bingham’s flying cow sculpture was on display in Salt Lake City…

    How to Cook a Wolf

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    Stretching MeatBad boy Bourdain’s rant about expensive foodstuffs got me to thinking about M.F.K. Fisher and her eloquent instructions for war time cooking (see How to Cook a Wolf, copyright 1942).

    I may still be employed (for a few days), but I’m already panicking about keeping the wolf at bay (food, as you may have guessed, is never something I leave to chance). Thank goodness I still have bookshelves piled high with the wise words of cooks who have lived through much harder times.

    The well-traveled writings of Paddleford and Fisher, especially, are offering up deeper comfort than ever before. Fisher’s descriptions of leisurely lunches in quaint French auberges — which I found so romantically intriguing in the past — have now given way to a fascination with instructions for grinding up cheap meat and whole grain into vitamin-rich pastes.

    I hope I’ll never have to buy a bottle of Kitchen Bouquet to color up my own paste concoctions (a la M.F.K).

    If need be, I’d rather sell off my cookbook collection.

    Tony Bourdain’s Les Halles cookbook would be one of the first to go. I’ve owned the book for years, yet it has never inspired me to cook a single recipe. For nourishment, I much prefer Mr. Bourdain’s serious writing: Typhoid Mary, the story of America’s most infamous cook, is at the top of my all-time-favorites list.

    EAT IT UP: Food Buzz You Should Be Reading/Watching Today

    Waste Not, Want Not: The Sun Times

    Typhoid Mary: Villain or Victim?: Nova

    Great Depression Cooking: You Tube

    Cooking for Less: OC Register

    Written by Kate Blood

    May 29, 2009 at 5:23 pm

    Bad to the Bone

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    Anthony Bourdain speaking in Cupertino, May 28th, 2009

    Anthony Bourdain speaking in Cupertino

    Yes, boys and girls, he is just as handsome in the flesh. He swaggers across the stage like Captain Jack Sparrow and sprinkles references to his role models as easily as potato peelings on the kitchen floor. He’s the Keith Richards of the dining room: he should have dropped dead long ago, but thanks to Lipitor, he’s still rockin’ & rollin’.

    What’s the glam rock god of food TV thinking about these days? Tony is pissed off at Alice Waters (and, of course, Rachel Ray) and he’s thinking we’ve all started to “fetishize” those organic/sustainable/pristine ingredients Waters is championing.

    Just take a look back at Jacques Pépin’s life (as Tony suggests). Pépin’s autobiography (The Apprentice) recalls childhood days cooking with his mother and using ingredients the market stalls couldn’t sell to the more well-off. The beat up goods Jacques bought home for mum were inexpensive and old and it took skill to stew that dubious junk into something memorable. Yet great dishes, like Coq au Vin, were (and still can be) crafted from such crap.

    “It’s not about the best ingredients,” Tony ranted, “it’s about taking the second best shit and turning it into something wonderful!”

    Think about pots of beans and dandelion greens, and remember, there is hope for a bright culinary future.

    As Tony noted: “The engine of gastronomy has always been deprivation.”

    How to Cook a Wolf?

    Top Ten Anthony Bourdain Insults.

    Written by Kate Blood

    May 28, 2009 at 10:27 pm