Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Consuming Literature

The other day I stumbled across this post by Marla Popova about a new book called Fictitious Dishes: An Album of Literature's Most Memorable Meals by Dinah Fried. The book looks fascinating, as Fried elegantly photographs fifty meals from classic works of literature. I have yet to read the book (though I will definitely pick up a copy), but it got me thinking about how we relate to food through literature. 
The best authors of fiction draw us into another realm by breaking down the boundaries between us, the reader, and the characters. It's a challenge, certainly, and yet skilled writers can somehow make us feel an intimate connection to people who exist only in our collective imaginations. I believe that food is one means authors can use to help make the characters feel more real. We all relate with food on a daily basis, and food helps us define who we are at any given moment. Why wouldn't the same hold true for fictional characters? It bring us further in to their emotional world and we begin to see them more as real people.

Consider, for example, a scene that always strikes deep for me in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. This scene occurs at the end of the novel when Gatsby is waiting outside Daisy and Tom's house to make sure everything is okay after Daisy's hit-and-run. Nick joins Gatsby and goes to the window to see what's happening inside:
Daisy and Tom were sitting opposite each other at the kitchen table with a plate of cold fried chicken between them and two bottles of ale. He was talking intently across the table at her and in his earnestness his hand had fallen upon and covered her own. Once in a while she looked up at him and nodded in agreement.

They weren't happy, and neither of them had touched the chicken or the ale--and yet they weren't unhappy either. There was an unmistakable air of natural intimacy about the picture and anybody would have said that they were conspiring together.
Nick tells Gatsby everything's fine and that he should go home and get some sleep, but Gatsby wants to stay and wait for Daisy to go to bed.
He put his hands in his coat pockets and turned back eagerly to his scrutiny of the house, as though my presence marred the sacredness of the vigil. So I walked away and left him standing there in the moonlight--watching over nothing.
This scene always impacted me emotionally, not so much because of Fitzgerald’s prose or description of Daisy and Tom, but because of the image of cold fried chicken and unsipped ale. This uneaten meal is a hardened and real vision of Daisy and her choice to stay with Tom. Nick sees a reality around that kitchen table that Gatsby chooses to resist—a reality where Daisy is careless and selfish, not the idealized beautiful being Gatsby envisioned. Gatsby chooses instead to look at the light coming from her window—to stand and wait for a sign that his dream has not ended. To Gatsby, he watches over the possibility of Daisy. And yet Nick knows it all comes down to some uneaten chicken. It is the food in this scene that brings us more deeply into the characters' world and leaves us feeling just as unsettled as Nick.

Dinah Fried's book doesn't include this particular meal, but it has many others from classic works such as The Secret Garden, To Kill a Mockingbird, and On the Road. From the few photographs featured in Popova's article, these stand out to me the most:


Moby Dick

The Catcher in the Rye

Check out Dinah Fried's website or Marla Popova's article for more information and images from Fictitious Dishes: An Album of Literature's Most Memorable Meals.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Omurice Jam Jam

You ever have one of those days where you go to the post office to pick up a mysterious parcel that you missed getting delivered and it turns out to be a box from Seoul, South Korea, from a person you’ve never met, filled with Korean food and literature? 

No? Yeah, me neither. Until today.

As I walked down the street in Brooklyn, clutching my box, I couldn’t help but feel strangely connected to someone half-way across the world. Someone I’ll probably never meet and yet we can connect through a similar delight in food.

It all began back in 2012 when I received an email from Cho Kyungkyu. He was writing to inquire if he could use a couple photos I took of Louis’ Lunch in New Haven in his upcoming book. Sure, I responded. Why not? He offered to send me a copy of the book as a thank you. And then I promptly forgot about it.

Nearly two years later I get an another email from Cho: Hey, remember me? 

So after a few weeks I receive a box in the mail. I was surprised at how big it was. How large could this book possibly be? Turns out that Cho decided to send me some snacks as well!

The food consisted of two different noodle cups (always good to have around!) and a red box with a photo of fried chicken. I don’t really know what it is, but it involves mini-drumstick shaped crispy things that taste kind of like shake-and-bake. I love miniature food. I love fried chicken. I love shake-and-bake. I love pretty much anything crispy. These are amazing. 

I wish I could read the book—it looks really interesting! The accompanying letter informed that the book is entitled Omurice Jam Jam and that it’s volume four in a series about food, his life, and his family. The book is filled with illustrations of food, family, and outings at various locations. Lo and behold, my photos made it in! 

There’s something very strange and satisfying about having pics from this blog appear in a random Korean publication. I think it’s pretty great. Maybe I’ll make it to Korea sometime, but in the meantime at least I can enjoy these fried chicken snacks and live vicariously through Cho's cartoons!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Besty Profiles A Slice of Earthly Delight

Exciting news! The Besty, a new food website, has written up a profile about A Slice of Earthly Delight. Check it out here!

The Breslin

A couple weeks ago I had a great outing with my sisters (and one of our honorary sisters) to The Breslin at the Ace Hotel, located at 16 West 29 Street in New York. Dinner was amazing and the company excellent.

Our meat-laden meal began with a terrine board: guinea hen with morels, rabbit and prune, rustic pork with pistachios, head cheese, liverwurst. All served with pickles, piccalilli and mustard. This platter was decadent enough in itself, but it was only the beginning.

 Terrine Board

We also split a scotch egg and scrumpets with mint vinegar. Having no idea what a scrumpet is, I was pleased to discover it is lamb breaded and fried. Kind of a like a lamb fishstick. It's a bit heavy, but sharing is a nice way to get a taste without going overboard.

Scrumpet with a vegetable thing in the background

Extreme Close Up Scrumpet & Scotch Egg

We also shared a lamb burger, which was awesome. I had it once before at The Breslin and it's definitely a good deal. As you can see, the meat is cooked very rare, allowing the taste of the lamb to really come through. The feta cheese makes it a little too salty for me, so this time around I tried some bites without the feta and found it more pleasing.

Lammmb Burger

Razor clams also appeared during the meal (and disappeared, quickly). I'd never tried razor clams before and I really enjoyed them. They are a bit heartier than regular clams, and the good chefs at The Breslin cooked them perfectly.

 Razor Clams, with a Scotch Egg peeking out in the distance

To round out the meal we got a roasted beet salad and broccoli. Because, vegetables are a thing that people should eat. But also there was meat in the vegetable dishes as well. You can never escape the meat.

 Tasty Vegetables

If you get a chance, treat yourself to some awesome food at The Breslin! I also recommend retiring to the lobby of the Ace Hotel for a drink to end your delicious meal.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Quote of the Week: Hungry Fellows

April 2, 1847: Happy birthday to little Tommy Reed!

Tommy was the son of Margret and James Reed. He was four years old during the Donner Party's ordeal. It was less than a month ago that Tommy made it to safety. Now he celebrates his fifth birthday with his family on a Napa Valley Ranch.

Seventy years later...
San Jose Evening News 
April 7, 1917

"Always so long as Mr. [Thomas] Reed lives to him the most terrible of all pain was hunger. He could not endure the sight of wasted food. He often surprised people by picking up scraps from the table and putting them in a paper. It was not to save the food, but because he wished to give it to someone in need.

'I am sure,' he often said, 'I'll find some hungry fellows over at the railroad station.' He always found the poor fellows, gave them what he had, sought out more hungry men and returned to the house for another supply of food."

James and Marget Reed