Archive for the ‘Food & Culture’

How to Meditate with a Ouija Board

April 24, 2017
By Holly Jennings

 

A few weeks ago, I sat quietly in a candlelit room, my fingers resting lightly on the planchette that came with my Ouija board, poised to interview my grandmother for my story on boiled custard.

 

Following the instructions on the back of the box to “concentrate very hard on the matter at hand,” I repeated my questions, slowly, like a mantra:

 

“Grandma, why didn’t you make boiled custard? Is it because you actually didn’t like it? Or because you hated having to help your mother make it when you were young, and swore off making it ever again”?

 

As minds tend to do when pressed to focus, mine started to wander from the questions to random thoughts of my grandmother. Snippets of conversation, snapshots of her preparing foods, and other memories percolated up.

 

When I discovered I was no longer repeating my string of questions, I returned to them. The process repeated until I could focus more and more on the questions without departing quite as quickly from them. My mind soon felt cleansed of the day’s debris.

 

Though I never did hear from Grandma, I spent time with her all the same. And I learned something unexpected, something I would guess Hasbro didn’t intend—that the Ouija board is an excellent device for meditating and remembering ancestors. Is Hasbro missing a marketing opportunity here?


Attack of the Helping Hand

October 25, 2016
By Holly Jennings

 

This posting is my second foray into the macabre. My first was a story about Bloody Butcher cornmeal that I posted around this time last year. It was illustrated with appropriately “bloody” photos.

 

It was right when I was about to hit the “publish” button on Bloody Butcher that I came across a short film called Attack of the Helping Hand, shown above, and immediately recognized it as ideal Halloween-themed material for a food blog.

 

What could be a better metaphor for the horror show of the corporate food system than a sinister “helping hand”?  And this short has star (more…)


Black Walnuts—A Story of Love Lost and Regained

February 14, 2016
By Holly Jennings

A mature Black Walnut with full summer foliage (Photographed by Jean-Pol Grandmont, 2007)

A mature Black Walnut with full summer foliage (Photographed by Jean-Pol Grandmont, 2007)

Some new experiences are best undertaken with a guide: sky diving, rock climbing, foraging for wild mushrooms. Acquiring a taste for the Eastern Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) is another. Don’t go it alone.

 

The English at Jamestown were blessed to have the Powhatans as culinary guides in a new land, and it is they who likely introduced the colonists to the native black walnut, a nut with more protein than any other tree nut as well as high levels of healthy fats (omega-3 fatty acids and oleic acid), selenium, manganese, and vitamin A. To a starving settler, the extra effort required to hull and shell this unfamiliar nut would have been worth it, to get at the nutritional riches inside.

Black walnuts on the tree (Photo courtesy of Hammons)

Black walnuts on the tree in their hulls (Photo courtesy of Hammons)

Today the nutritional value of black walnuts is lost on most of us because most of us consume them in sweets—from ice cream and cakes to fudge, brownies, and pies. If you grew up eating black walnuts, you might think nothing of snacking on them, but you are the rare bird; for many, the assertive flavor black walnut is too strong for nibbling out of hand, regardless of their health benefits.

 

The first lure that hooked me was black walnut ice cream. I order this flavor whenever I come across it, which is seldom, and the last time I encountered it was probably four or five years ago. Still, no matter how much time would pass between scoops, the memory of (more…)


The Art of Bread, and a New Year’s Resolution

December 31, 2015
By Holly Jennings

I hate to waste food. Even bad food.

 

That’s how a loaf of bread made with more ingredients that I can count on both hands worked its way into the two photographs below, illustrating quotes that get at, with more folk wit and elan than I could wring from a slice of milk-soaked bread, why you should avoid processed, or “white,” bread.

“The whiter the bread, the sooner you’re dead.” —Folk saying, dating from the mid-1920s* Bread #1, 8 November 2015, Holly Jennings, America Mixed Media: Premium Potato Bread (Enriched Wheat Flour [Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Reduced Iron, Niacin, Thiamin Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Folic Acid], Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Yeast, Potato Flour, Soybean Oil, Salt, Wheat Gluten, Corn Flour, Mono- and Diglycerides, Datem, Calcium Propionate (Preservative), Monocalcium Phosphate, Calcium Sulfate, Grain Vinegar, Spice & Coloring, Soy Lecithin, Natural & Artificial Flavor, Soy Flour.), 18 October 2015; Pigment print by Joseph Sudek entitled The Cemetery of Mala Strana, 1940–1950 (reprinted in Josef Sudek [1896–1976]: Sixty Pigment Prints from the Artist’s Estate [New York: Salander-O’Reilly Galleries]). *At the time this saying was coined, ultra-refined, ultra-white, and less-nutritious flour, possible with the invention of the roller mill and bleach, had become common. Not until the 1940s did American milling operations start to enrich flour with thiamine, niacin, riboflavin, and iron in an attempt to compensate for the loss of nutritional value in flour milled using modern milling techniques.

“The whiter the bread, the sooner you’re dead.”
—Folk saying, dating from the mid-1920s*
Bread #1, 8 November 2015, Holly Jennings, America
Mixed Media: Premium Potato Bread (Enriched Wheat Flour [Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Reduced Iron, Niacin, Thiamin Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Folic Acid], Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Yeast, Potato Flour, Soybean Oil, Salt, Wheat Gluten, Corn Flour, Mono- and Diglycerides, Datem, Calcium Propionate (Preservative), Monocalcium Phosphate, Calcium Sulfate, Grain Vinegar, Spice & Coloring, Soy Lecithin, Natural & Artificial Flavor, Soy Flour.), 18 October 2015; Pigment print by Joseph Sudek entitled The Cemetery of Mala Strana, 1940–1950 (reprinted in Josef Sudek [1896–1976]: Sixty Pigment Prints from the Artist’s Estate [New York: Salander-O’Reilly Galleries]).
*At the time this saying was coined, ultra-refined, ultra-white, and less-nutritious flour, possible with the invention of the roller mill and bleach, had become common. Not until the 1940s did American milling operations start to enrich flour with thiamine, niacin, riboflavin, and iron in an attempt to compensate for the loss of nutritional value in flour milled using modern milling techniques.

“People who eat white bread have no dreams.” —Diana Vreeland, Empress of Fashion Bread #2, 8 November 2015, Holly Jennings, America Mixed Media: Premium Potato Bread (Enriched Wheat Flour [Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Reduced Iron, Niacin, Thiamin Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Folic Acid], Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Yeast, Potato Flour, Soybean Oil, Salt, Wheat Gluten, Corn Flour, Mono- and Diglycerides, Datem, Calcium Propionate (Preservative), Monocalcium Phosphate, Calcium Sulfate, Grain Vinegar, Spice & Coloring, Soy Lecithin, Natural & Artificial Flavor, Soy Flour.), 18 October 2015; Silver gelatin photograph by Marcia Due entitled Columbia County, New York, 1993 (reprinted in Design Quarterly 164 [Spring 1995]).

“People who eat white bread have no dreams.”
—Diana Vreeland, Empress of Fashion
Bread #2, 8 November 2015, Holly Jennings, America
Mixed Media: Premium Potato Bread (Enriched Wheat Flour [Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Reduced Iron, Niacin, Thiamin Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Folic Acid], Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Yeast, Potato Flour, Soybean Oil, Salt, Wheat Gluten, Corn Flour, Mono- and Diglycerides, Datem, Calcium Propionate (Preservative), Monocalcium Phosphate, Calcium Sulfate, Grain Vinegar, Spice & Coloring, Soy Lecithin, Natural & Artificial Flavor, Soy Flour.), 18 October 2015; Silver gelatin photograph by Marcia Due entitled Columbia County, New York, 1993 (reprinted in Design Quarterly 164 [Spring 1995]).

The mixed media, faux egg-colored (or it the color meant to conjure butter?) loaf of bread that I sacrificed to art came into my possession this October, during a weekend get-a-way with my husband. Destination: My family’s (more…)


A Christmas Story from Burt and I

December 24, 2015
By Holly Jennings

The Pet TurkeyThe Pet Turkey

(Click on the link above to hear the story.)
“The Pet Turkey”
by Marshall Dodge, Robert Bryan
Originally published in an album titled Bert and I Stem Inflation (1976)


The Not Pardoned Turkey

November 15, 2015
By Holly Jennings

Red Bourbon and Broad Breasted Whites_2

 

Last Friday the 13th, on a mild, blue-skied mid-November afternoon, I took a drive out to Keenbell Farm. Fridays are the Farm Store day at the farm, and are a good time to catch C.J. Isbell. The purpose of my trip was to run a couple of embryonic story ideas past C.J. and to check up on my pardoned turkey, a Bourbon Red hen who will remain nameless. Of course she is not “my” turkey, but upon hearing her story, I was immediately taken with this feisty broad who managed to escape the dinner table fate of her colleagues. Somehow I felt invested in telling her story for the Thanksgiving holiday, and I was curious to know how she was getting on.

 

C.J., co-owner of Keenbell Farm with his father, Eddie, had relayed the story to me in late August during a farmyard walkabout. (I was there to interview him about Keenbell Farm for a story published in the Nov/Dec issue of Edible Richmond Magazine.) During the tour C.J. introduced me to some of the farm’s outliers: Mimi, a fainting goat; Charley and Ritzy; two riding horses; and an escapee Bourbon Red turkey who moved so quickly I could hardly catch sight of her. Undoubtedly lonely but glad to be alive, she was the sole survivor from (more…)


Chow Fun, Honey

April 14, 2013
By Holly Jennings

 

When I came across this Chinatown scene with Lightning Louie (Vic Perry) and Candy (Jean Peters) in the film noir thriller Pickup on South Street (1953), I felt the giddy excitement of an explorer who has come across a hidden treasure by dumb luck. That was more than a year ago.

 

Since picking up The Breath of a Wok by Grace Young, the current DCCC pick, I’ve been thinking about the scene again. How impressive (and extensively employed) Lightning Louie’s chopstick wielding skills are. How at home he is in his adopted milieu. And how focused on eating he is. Lightning Louie is not about to miss out wok hay to just to do business with Candy. For these reasons, Lightning Louie is my culinary hero.

 

 

 

 


The Chicken Chronicles: Heritage Breeds Versus Modern Hybrids, and Roasted Versus Grilled

October 29, 2012
By Holly Jennings

 

Without intending to write a follow-up to my last posting on heirloom seeds, I’ve done so with this story, which deals with the other h word—heritage breeds.

 

A couple of weeks ago, after having done the work of making a double batch of David Leite’s Amped-Up Red Pepper Paste as well as his Piri-Piri Sauce, both in his cookbook The New Portuguese Table, I decided to make two poultry recipes that would highlight their flavors.

 

I started with Leite’s Quick Weekday Roast Chicken with Potaotes. The chicken is (more…)


The Walking Dead, and Gardening in a Post−Factory Food Landscape

October 18, 2012
By Holly Jennings

If you are running for your life in a landscape infested with zombies, aka “walkers,” and devoid of a modern food distribution system, would you grab your guns or seeds?

In “Seed,” the first episode of this season’s apocolypic zombie series The Walking Dead, Hershel, one-time-farmer now “walker” killer, muses that the caged bit of open green the show’s characters find themselves in could be a planting field for tomatoes, cucumbers, and soy beans.

In this temporary oasis, they have land, symbolized by the dirt Hershel allows to run through his fingers as his imaginary vegetable garden takes shape. But oops! No seeds.

Even if Hershel had the presence of mind to (more…)


Shock and Horror

March 13, 2011
By Holly Jennings

While not a typical headline for a food story, shock and horror is what I felt when seeing this grab-and-go packing in the produce section of my local grocery store, while looking for limes for margaritas. (The club is cooking Mexican, after all.)

I rarely shop at supermarkets, though it’s a good idea to go every so often to keep abreast of the latest in food packaging, even if I leave feeling dismayed.

In this particular bit of packaging ingenuity,  a plastic suitcase with a handle allows you to grab about four Mandarin oranges with just one hand.  In contrast, the human hand can only grab one or two Mandarin oranges, depending on the size of the hand. Have the packagers convinced themselves that they are doing humankind a service by using this zippy packaging to promote fruit to consumers that might otherwise be drawn to the zippy packaging used for less healthy food choices? I wonder.

My next post, I promise!, will be about Mexican cooking—so that I can share something that is affirming, beautiful, and sarcasm free with you.



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