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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… )

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Happy National Hot Dog Month!

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hotdog

Who doesn't love hot dogs? *Frankly,* that would be un-American!

As the Fourth of July approaches, I can’t stop thinking about hot dogs — possibly because the annual Nathan’s pig out is this Saturday.

My love affair with the link is nothing new. I even run a Flickr group dedicated to world-wide weenies of all shapes and sizes: Hot Dog.

It seems that I am not alone in my obsession.

Way back in the 70’s, Mettja C. Roate wrote a cookbook devoting half its pages to tube steaks. Roadfood.com has a forum on hot dogs, sausages and brautwursts (you have to register to access the lively discussion). Hot Dog Chicago Style has a searchable database of restaurants located across the country. In addition, the opinionated HollyEats.com has a Hot Dog Page listing close to a hundred different joints located across this great hot dog loving nation. (Oh, and did I mention The Frankfurter Chronicles?)

I have a list of my own old favorites and “dying to try” establishments:

Before dining at any of these or any other fine dawg-serving establishments, I suggest a study of Hot Dog Etiquettte. (Unless, of course, you’re heading to the white trash trailer, ahem, restaurant, Hillbilly Hot Dogs: www.hillbillyhotdogs.com.)

Just as in the great depression of the 1930s, reds hots are, well, red hot! So far I haven’t seen a “Depression Sandwich” offered on menus (hot dog & fries for a nickle — or four cents if that was all you had — as served at Fluky’s in Chicago).

Today we have “designer dogs” and restaurants serving “Lobster Dogs.” We even have recipes for lobster corn dogs with truffled hollandaise sauce, with, perhaps, an order of duck fat fries on the side…

With all the money the weenie industry is making, I think I should join the ranks of the honorable hot dog cart vendor. The cost of running a profitable weenie stand may be high, but I would be doing something I loved. I could even prepare for my new career by simply changing degree programs. Goodbye SUNY-Empire, hello Hot Dog U: The Harvard of Encased Meats!

A Dozen Dishes I Crave

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Gorgonzola Stuffed Medjool Dates

Gorgonzola Stuffed Medjool Dates

Inspired by Michael Bauer’s thoughts about “dishes I’ve remembered long after my reviews have been published,” here are the top 12 dishes I still crave, also in no particular order.

  1. Pollo Molcajete — spicy chicken in red sauce served with nopales, crunchy deep-fried pork rinds and grilled fresh white cheese at Casa De Las Sirenas in Mexico City.
  2. Tom Douglass’ salty-sweet, seriously tasty Fennel Salad with Orange and Hazelnuts at Seattle’s Serious Pie.
  3. The chewy, earthy Gorgonzola Stuffed Medjool Dates served at intimate Bar Tartine in San Francisco’s Mission District.
  4. Alaskan Halibut (pricey, but worth it for the heavenly fresh taste as well as the jewel box-like presentation) by Chef Laurent Manrique at Aqua.
  5. Bi-Rite Creamery’s mouth-watering Salted Caramel ice cream.
  6. A favorite childhood treat — old-fashioned French Dip Sandwiches (with hot, house-made Dijon-style mustard) at Phillipe the Original in L.A.
  7. Divinely rich, savory-sweet Pere al Gorgonzola salad at Tigelleria in cute little Campbell, California.
  8. The absolutely addicting Pecan Bars — oozing sugary fresh, sweet cream butter — at Kenny & Zukes in Portland.
  9. Super simple Yunnan-style Roasted Leeks dusted with hot red pepper powder at Beijing’s Food in Novel.
  10. Luscious Crabmeat Sardou with artichoke bottoms and creamed spinach as served at historic Galatoire’s Restaurant in New Orleans.
  11. Butter soft Hot Salt-Beef brushed with lip tingling hot mustard on a chewy beigel (bagel) fresh from the oven at Beigel Bake on Brick Lane in London’s notorious East End.
  12. Delfina’s intense Grilled Calamari with Warm White Bean Salad — the squid’s smokey flavor pairs perfectly with creamy white beans.

Rotten Butter

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Fresh Willow Maid Butter

Fresh Willow Maid Butter

My father never liked butter. He said his American farm-cook mother had served rancid butter as a cost-cutting measure. I think, perhaps, serving rotten butter was just a reflection of my grandmother’s lack of skill in the kitchen. The only thing she whipped up that didn’t make me sick was packaged Hidden Valley Ranch salad dressing.

In England, everyone’s favorite living Sex Pistol, Johnny Rotten, is mock-celebrating the U.K.’s history and butter: watch his telly commercial on YouTube (Rotten sells Country Life).

If Rotten’s butter sell-out leaves you craving a pat of real anarky, check out the recipes at F*#k Corporate Groceries and Punk Rock Kitchen‘s kick-ass cookie cutters! And steer clear of the Food Network — where the programming has turned into a rancid pablam according to True/Slant’s Matthew Greenberg.

Just Like You Remember!

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Just Like Mom Used to Buy

Just Like Mom Used to Buy

Laura Scudder’s has jumped on the retro-food packaging bandwagon with the release of its new “Classic Twin Pack.” The California-based snack food company is also offering a vintage TV commercial on their web site.

This follows earlier retro successes from companies including General Mills (Retro Cereal Boxes), Coke, Pepsi and Hershey’s. New retro-inspired summer offerings are available at Target.

Industry sources claim the retro trend stems from consumer desire to be rid of “the excesses witnessed in communication over the past two decades” (source: Board Bia).

TheDieline adds that these “retro designs are aimed at adults” who appreciate “the aesthetics of yesteryear.”

These design-appreciating adults also run web sites like The Imaginary World and post images to Flickr: check out the fun food-related packaging sets created by Waffle Whiffer and Roadsidepictures.

Goodbye Roach Coach, Hello VendrTV!

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Nuevo Mexico, Portland

Nighttime in Downtown Portland, Oregon

Gone are the days when break time begins with shouts of “here comes the roach coach!”

Today, the phenomenon of mobile canteens — serving upscale cuisine — is as hot as a habanero pepper.

At VendrTV you can watch podcasts devoted to “curbside cuisine,” and there’s even a yearly awards ceremony for New York City’s best street food: The Vendys.

In Seattle, mobile Skillet Street Food renders bacon with spices and onion to make the bacon jam topping their burgers and “grilled cheese sammys.”

In Portland, this lunch wagon-friendly city has entire parking lots devoted to old vans and trailers kitted out with tiny kitchens dispensing everything from Peruvian rice plates to Czech dumplings.

In San Francisco, the Mission District’s beloved mobile taco trucks have been rolling along for years. However, police and health department officials are now cracking down on other food vendors who attempt to operate without the proper permits. (Discover where these pirate food vendors will be serving zuchini-mozzarella quiche and Crème Brulee by following their Twitter posts.)

In Los Angeles, sadly, taco truck vendors are battling officials over increasingly tight parking restrictions. Things have gotten so heated that a taco truck was fire bombed and the equipment of a woman selling bacon wrapped hot dogs was trashed.

You can show your support for L.A.’s mobile food vendors by visiting Save Our Taco Trucks and buying a T-shirt bearing the manifesto: Carne Asada is Not a Crime!

UPDATE: Listen to a Pirate Cat Radio interview with San Francisco street food vendors at: http://www.nerdnetworks.org/pcr/KingsOfSF-20090612.mp3 (Warning: you’ll have to listen to some “colorful” language and music before the interview gets going… )

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.