Thursday, November 20, 2014

THE ONION: Report: Meat Now America's No. 2 Condiment

Extra! Extra! Meat all about it! "Report: Meat Now America's No. 2 Condiment"

According to The Onion, meat is "ketching up" as America's most popular condiment. Squeeze-bottle chicken? Pudding cups with dried veal sprinkles? Kielbasa chutney? The possibilities are endless!

Mindful Eating

Many people are concerned about the food we eat and how we eat it. We often have good intentions when it comes to consuming food, but just how aware are we of the food we put in our bodies? Last night I had the pleasure of hearing Brian Halweil, a sustainable food writer and activist, speak at the Shambhala Meditation Center of New York on the topic of "Mindful Eating: What Does it Mean for You and the Planet?"

As the editor of Edible East End, co-publisher of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan, senior fellow at the Worldwatch Institute, and someone who keeps his hands in the soil (and sea) with a home garden, orchard, and oysters, Brian had plenty say about how we relate with food. Many of us know that our food choices have repercussions, but when it comes down to the moment do we always make the most beneficial choices for ourselves, others, and the planet? Not always. But Brian provided many examples of people working locally and globally to decrease harm and increase the positive impact of food. For example, the oyster raising he is involved with on Long Island helps keep the waters clean, provides food for those who harvest it, and brings people in the community together. Brian likes to think of the oyster gardens as "little underwater mollusk militias, fighting pollution along the coast."

Plus, oysters are delicious.

There are plenty of people and organizations out there making positive changes in our food systems, but I've been thinking lately about what obstacles prevent us from making the best food choices in our everyday lives. The other week I was at the supermarket and was struck by the baskets of other shoppers. I noticed that other consumers my age had baskets filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, carefully selected organic milk or meat...and then just one item that didn't seem to fit. For one shopper it was Totino's pizza rolls, for another it was Little Debbie snacks. I looked in my own basket and laughed--I had all the ingredients for a nice salad. And frozen mozzarella sticks. The intention of good eating was there for all of us, but we didn't quite make it on the follow through.

So I asked Brian about this aspect of our food choices. We can have the knowledge about what food is healthy for our bodies and the best origins of that food, but sometimes we give in to nostalgia and the deeply engrained cultural habits that we grew up with. As a meditation practitioner I know that meditation has the power to help us become aware of and change our habitual patterns. But when it comes to food did Brian have any advice on how we disrupt such deep patterns of food consumption?

As expected, Brian had a lot of insight and practical advice on the matter. First he acknowledged that much of our relationship with food is emotional. This is important to remember--sometimes we crave something, not because it's what we physically want but because we have some emotional attachment to it. I certainly notice this when it comes to food, as I'm sure you all have certain items you don't necessarily need but really want.

In terms of actually changing those habitual patterns, Brian suggested being more conscious of where we do our food shopping, noting that the environment we find ourselves in can greatly impact us. He commented that farmer's markets and co-ops were much better places to buy food than the "toxic environment" of a supermarket where there are many food items we would ideally avoid. From my knowledge, supermarkets are laid out in such a way to lure you into buying items you don't need. When you do shop at a supermarket, it's best to stick to the edges of the store--produce, meat, dairy--rather than go up and down the aisles where the food is highly processed. Of course, shopping at a farmer's market and getting more directly to the source of the food is ideal, but when it's not an option there are still wise ways to manage a supermarket.

Brian also suggested that eating with others can help alter our food habits for the better. When we eat alone, we are often mindlessly stuff food in our face as we zone out or watch something on Netflix. In these circumstances we tend to eat more than we need and are more likely to make poor food choices. When we eat with others, the meal can be infused with joy. Eating returns to being a communal activity (which it has been throughout human history), and we share in the delight of eating good food with our friends and families. Dining in groups of like-minded individuals can also encourage us to stick to our ethics of good food choices.

The final piece of advice from Brian was to expand our food options. We often become so used to what we think we like that we rule out other foods. When we open our minds (and stomachs) to new foods, we may be presently surprised. When it comes to our tendency to gravitate toward particular food items for nostalgic reasons, there are often other options out there. For example, one year for my birthday I was craving ice-cream cake. Rather than buying me the typical Carvel's ice-cream cake that basically tastes like childhood, my friend made me an ice-cream cake from scratch. I didn't even think of that as a possibility, but results were delicious! And much better than Carvel's.

(Ok, so in this context maybe I should have used an example of eating homemade kale chips instead of potato chips or something, but ice-cream cake is important too!)
We may think of our food choices as minor, but their impact is far reaching. We will drive ourselves crazy if we all of a sudden try to be conscious of every single food item we procure and consume. It is likely sitting down to meditate for the first time and thinking we will reach enlightenment. But if we start small eventually the larger patterns of food consumption will change as well. There are always alternatives to what we think of as fixed situations. So good luck and happy eating!   


Monday, July 28, 2014

Bug Bites

Recently, I’ve been talking a lot about why insects should be incorporated into our diets. It makes perfect sense, but when I bring it up I’m often met with disgust. But why? 

Like all aspects of culture, we become accustomed to particular ways of doing things, often seeing alternatives as the wrong or inferior way. When it comes to eating, we have a sanitized, convenient relationship to food. It is clean, bright, and orderly. We embrace the grocery store as the proper food source, expecting meat to come wrapped in shiny plastic, cereal in brightly-colored boxes, or yogurt in single servings.

This sanitized approach divides us from alternate food sources that may benefit humanity and the earth, such as the practice of eating insects. Many cultures eat insects throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In fact, about two billion people eat insects throughout the world, and the United Nations even reports that incorporating insects into our diets could revolutionize our food system. Insects are high in vitamins, minerals, and proteins. Raising insects for consumption also has a much lower environmental impact than raising other protein-based food sources.

But many Americans see this custom as backward. As we consistently use food to define who we are as a culture, insects threaten a supposedly solid sense of modern identity. I predict, however, that in the next few years as more and more people search for alternatives to our failing food system we will begin to see insects on our plates. And not just E. coli and salmonella.

This TED-Ed video “Should We Eat Bugs?” popped onto my radar the other day. It nicely summarizes the argument for eating insects, so check it out if you want to learn more. Bon appétit!

Thursday, June 12, 2014


I've been slow on the food blogging as of late, but hope to have some juicy posts up soon.

For the last month, I've been focusing on getting my new Twitter account @DonnerDigest up and running. Each day I'm documenting what was happening with the Donner Party at that moment in time. You can follow the Twitter feed here:

If you're not on Twitter, you can also follow updates on this Facebook page:

See ya on the trail!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Time Travel Cooking: 1796 Minced Pie of Beef

As a food historian I’ve often contemplated cooking up historical recipes but haven’t ever done much to fulfill that desire. So one of my intentions for this summer is to try a new (really old?) recipe at least once a week.

I decided to start off with a recipe from what is regarded as America’s first cookbook. I’ve used Amelia Simmon’s American Cookery (1796) as a historical source before, but I’ve never actually worked with any of the recipes. I’ve also never made a meat pie before, so it seemed like the perfect one to start with.


Here’s the original recipe:

Four pounds of beef? Six pounds of apples? Are you kidding me, early America?

Obviously I converted the recipe. I also omitted the two pounds of sugar. And suet (beef fat)? Nope--subbed that out with bacon. I also added onions, just because it seemed like a reasonable thing to do.

Here’s the ingredient list I ended up with:

1 lb. ground beef
2 apples, chopped
¼ lb. bacon
1 cup red wine
½ cup raisins
½ yellow onion, chopped
cinnamon to taste
salt to taste

I would have kept in the mace and nutmeg but unfortunately didn’t have those spices on hand.

First I set the oven to 350º while I prepared the dough and filling.

I cut the bacon into small pieces and cooked it up on the stovetop with the onions. Next I added the ground beef. After the beef was mostly browned, I tossed in the apples, raisins, cinnamon, salt, and wine.


I didn’t cook it on the stovetop for too long since it would keep cooking in the oven. Once I finished the filling I added it to the piecrust WHICH I MADE MYSELF. 

For the piecrust, I used this simple recipe from Crazy for Crust. Now, I generally avoid baking but it didn’t seem right to purchase a pre-made crust when using a 1796 recipe. I did, however, use a food processor to make the dough. We all have our limits.

It was actually incredibly easy to make the dough—just flour, butter, and water. And there’s something very satisfying about working with dough. It also tasted so much better than any store-bought crust I’ve used. It seems I may slowly be converted to the baking realm.

After glazing the top crust with an egg wash of yolk and water, I popped it in the oven and let it cook for about 45 minutes until it was a beautiful golden brown.

This pie. Guys. Seriously. It’s so amazing and satisfying. It’s not entirely “historical” since I altered the recipe. But hey, I like to play fast and loose with the past, especially if it means getting to eat something as delicious as this updated version of a 1796 meat pie. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Love and Hunger

"It seems that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the other. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it...and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied...and it is all one."

--M. F. K. Fisher, The Art of Eating

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Savage Barbecue

"...from the era of conquest onward, barbecue arose less from native cooking practices than from a European gaze that wanted to associate those practices with preexisting ideas of savagery and innocence... barbacoa or barbicu or barbikew or barbeque, however it has been spelled, not only referred to the smoked foods of American Indians, it also enacted Europeans' deep desire to see those foods as barbarous--as the result of a primitive kind of cookery, savage and base, akin to that which their own distant ancestors long ago performed."

--Andrew Warnes, Savage Barbecue: Race, Culture, and the Invention of America's First Food

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 

Thursday, March 27, 2014


AntiMatter Collective presents THE TOWER--a psychedelic journey into the history and mythology of the Donner Party, a group of snowbound pioneers who notoriously resorted to cannibalism to survive the brutal winter of 1846-47. Historical narrative collides with hallucinatory imagery to create a shifting landscape filled with the whispers of the past and the roar of the future. A vision of adolescent America: frostbitten, bloodstained, ravenous. 

Standard Toykraft
722 Metropolitan Ave, 3rd floor
Williamsburg, Brooklyn

April 12-26
Wednesday through Sunday, 8pm

Help tear it all down by donating to our fundraising campaign!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Quote of the Week: Kindred Flesh

“All day Mrs. [Sarah] Foster held her brother's head in her lap and by every means in her power sought to soothe his death agonies. The sunlight faded from the surrounding summits. Darkness slowly emerged from the canyons and enfolded forest and hill slope in her silent embrace. The glittering stars appeared in the heavens and the bright full moon rose over the eastern mountain crests. The silence, the profound solitude, the ever present wastes of snow, the weird moonlight, and above all the hollow moans of the dying boy in her lap rendered this night the most impressive in the life of Mrs. Foster. She says she never beholds a bright moonlight without recurring with a shudder to this night on the Sierra. At two o clock in the morning Lemuel Murphy ceased to breathe. The warm tears and kisses of the afflicted sisters were showered upon lips that would never more quiver with pain.

Days and perhaps weeks of starvation were awaiting them in the future and they dare not neglect to provide as best they might. Each of the four bodies was divested of its flesh and the flesh was dried. Although no person partook of kindred flesh sights were often witnessed that were blood curdling. Mrs. Foster as we have seen fairly worshiped her brother Lemuel. Has human pen power to express the shock of horror this sister received when she saw her brother's heart thrust through with a stick and broiling upon the coals? No man can record or read such an occurrence without a cry of agony! What then did she endure who saw this cruel sight?”

--C. F. McGlashan, History of the Donner Party: A Tragedy in the Sierras, 1879

Song of the Week: Hearts and Bones

"On the last leg of the journey,
they started a long time ago.
The arc of a love affair,
rainbows in the high desert air,
mountain passes slipping into stones...
Hearts and bones."


Dear Readers,

In the words of the narrator of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, “I been away a long time.” It’s true. I’m sorry for my prolonged absence. It seems, however, that the time has arrived to rekindle this food blog.

So. LIFE UPDATE. A couple years ago I started meditating and practicing Buddhism again. In August I moved to Brooklyn, which I do believe was a very wise decision. I also got an iPhone over the summer. What? Hello, twenty-first century.

Seriously though, life has been good to me over the last year and a half of my food blogging hiatus.

I’m now four years into my doctoral program for American cultural history. After wavering in the should-I-stay-or-should-I-go dance of graduate school, I recently decided (i.e., six days ago) that perhaps I’ve been pursuing the wrong course of study. Then it clicked. It's not that academia isn’t for me. It's that I've been struggling to study topics not appropriate for me at this point in my life. A moment of clarity dawned upon me and I realized—I’m a historian of cannibalism. How could I have ever thought I was anything else? It all made sense. My dissertation? The Donner Party.

Of course.

Which brings me to the next and, quite honestly, most important aspect of my life right now. THE TOWER. For just under the past year I’ve been serving as a dramaturg for an incredible play called The Tower (as in the tarot card representing chaos, collapse, sudden change, downfall, revelation…) about the Donner Party, a topic I’ve always found fascinating. For months I’ve been researching the history that surrounds these ill-fated emigrants who notoriously resorted to cannibalism to survive a brutal winter in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in 1846-47. Most amazingly, I’ve been able to fulfill a passion I didn’t quite know how to best manifest on my own—turning the past into art.

Now that I’ve become intimately involved with the members of the Donner Party it seems I have no option but to stay with them. I’m just riding the energy I’ve tapped into through this process, and I’m ready to see where it takes me. So, dissertating? It’s a thing, apparently. I think I’m finally ready for it.

What does this all mean for A Slice of Earthly Delight? Well, I’m about to be immersed in food history. Which means I’m going to need an outlet to write about food thingz. Which means you all get to hear my ramblings once again! Everybody wins.

It also means that I’m going to be writing a lot about cannibalism. Be prepared.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Birthday Cake!

I’m normally not much of a baker. It just doesn’t bring me the same thrill as sautéing vegetables, listening to the soft simmer of soup bubbling away on the stove, or basting a nice piece of meat in the oven. My lukewarm approach to baking changed, however, when it came time to create a birthday cake for one of my best friends. I say “create” rather than bake because this was not your ordinary birthday cake…this was a triple-decker, over-the-top, completely ridiculous, and absurdly delicious birthday cake. 

The bottom layer consisted of a funfetti cake. Then I frosted the top with a layer of swirled nutella and fluffernutter (a combination I shall name “flufftella”). On top of that was a dark chocolate brownie. Another layer of flufftella. And then…and then waffles. Not just standard breakfast waffles, but waffles that contained bits of a dark chocolate bar with coconut and caramel. Yes, I did that.

 After the cake was assembled I frosted the whole thing in home-made whipped cream and decked it out with rainbow sprinkles. And of course no birthday cake is complete without brightly colored candles dripping wax all over it. 

This cake was seriously awesome. I didn’t add any sugar to the whipped cream or the waffle batter so that it wouldn’t get overly sweet. Don’t get me wrong, it was still a sugar bomb--while making the cake I got such a sugar rush and crash from tasting everything that I had to stop baking and take a nap. But these are the hardships we must endure to make our friend’s birthdays extra special. So say goodbye to boring birthday cakes. Next time you’ve got to make one, while settle for just one plain cake with some frosting? Why not combine three awesome desserts into one massive baked good of happiness? Trust me, it’s so worth it.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Steak and Arugula Salad

For many of us spring has arrived. Sunny days and warm temperatures call for grilling, and tonight I just so happened to have access to a grill...and a steak. 

Before grilling the sirloin steak rare I coated it with just a little bit of olive oil, salt, and fresh-ground black pepper. After the grill was nice and hot I cooked the steak for just a few minutes on each side, leaving it seared on the outside and tender and rare on the inside. After removing it from the grill I let it sit for a few more minutes before slicing it, allowing the juices to circulate and settle. 

While the steak cooked and sat, I prepared an arugula salad as the final resting place for the lovely steak. Before I ate it, of course. The salad was simple--just baby arugula, chopped fresh cherry tomatoes, and finely chopped red onion. I tossed it all together with a vinaigrette composed of blood-orange olive oil, lemon juice, salt, black pepper, crush red pepper, and a raw egg yolk. 

I tossed the dressing with the salad and topped it with the sliced steak. It's a simple and absolutely delicious dish for these delightful spring days.

Honey, Honey