Podcast: The Science Enthuiast

I recently appeared on the The Science Enthusiast podcast, talking FOOD SCIENCE, natch. Tune in to hear me chat MSG, GMOs and much more. But don’t listen if you don’t like cussing, we do that a lot.

The History Dish: “Barida,” A Medieval Arab Recipe with Ancient Roman Roots

Barrida, an herby-chicken dish.

This is a special guest post from Intern Andrew! We just wrapped working together for the past five months, and as a result, he’s launched a new blog: Pass The Flamingowhich focuses on ancient cuisine. Read on to learn more about a unique recipe from the Islamic world.

Over its long history, the Arab world has become a unique crossroads, the site of centuries of influence and exchange between cultures indigenous and foreign. One example of this influence is in foods like barida: an Islamic-era chicken dish that carries on the traditions of Ancient Rome.

Much of what we now call the Arab world was at one time also the Roman world. In the third century BCE, two great rival nations stood on opposite shores of the Mediterranean Sea: the Roman Republic and the kingdom of Carthage. A century later, Carthage was no more and Rome had overtaken its territory in Spain and North Africa. From there, Roman power would swiftly circle the coastline as the Romans conquered first Syria, then Egypt, then the Levant. By the first decade of the first century, the Romans ruled every land touched by Mediterranean waters.

Wherever Roman power extended, so did Roman culture. The Romans introduced their gods, language, laws and food to every land they conquered, while also picking up new habits and customs from the people of those lands. One of the ways this history shows itself most clearly is in food. Reading the book Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World by Lilia Zaouali (2009), I was struck by the various similarities between Ancient Roman cuisine and the cuisine of the medieval Arabs, Berbers and other North African and Middle Eastern peoples.

One of the most central ingredients in Roman cuisine is the fermented fish sauce garum. Savory, salty and rich in B-vitamins, garum is used in almost every Roman recipe. Zaouali describes a fermented sauce called murri as essential to medieval Islamic cuisine. In its role in cuisine as well as its flavor and nutritional profile, murri is identical to the garum of Ancient Rome, except for one key difference: garum is made from fermented fish, and murri from fermented barley (although Zaouali also records a variant made with grasshoppers). Some scholars believe murri evolved directly from Roman garum, connecting the name to Latin salmuris, which means “brine”, or to muria, one of the byproducts of garum production. Zaouali connects both sauces to a common origin in the ancient Middle East; perhaps analogous to soy sauce and fish sauce in Asian cuisines, which also diversified from a common point of origin.

The first Arabic-language cookbook, Kitab al-Ṭabīḫ (The Book of Dishes), was written in 10th-century Baghdad by Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq. Sarah has made several dishes from this book, including a chicken wrap, a lamb stew, and a roast chicken with a savory pudding. You can read about them here. The Book of Dishes features a number of recipes for barida, chicken or fish topped with a complex sauce of spices and herbs that is prepared separately from the meat. Al-Warraq traces barida to the 8th-century ‘Abbasid caliphate, based in Baghdad, but the distinctive techniques and combinations of ingredients are far older, with roots in Roman North Africa and other places with a long history of cross-cultural exchange.

Typical ingredients in the sauce poured on barida include Roman favorites: dates, caraway, cumin, coriander/cilantro, asafetida, rue, pomegranate and pepper, with murri standing in for garum. The spicy-sweet-bitter flavor profile as well as the serving and preparation call to mind the 3rd-century Roman cookbook Apicius, including one of its most memorable entries, a recipe for a whole, roasted flamingo. When I recreated that recipe for my ancient food blog (which takes its name, Pass the Flamingo, from that particular experiment), I had to compromise by using a duck, but I managed a pretty faithful interpretation of the main element of the dish: a thick sauce of many ingredients, sweet and intensely spiced, prepared separately from the meat and poured on top for serving.

It’s worth noting that many of these ingredients popular among the Romans are actually native to the Middle East and North Africa (including flamingo itself). Although the influence of Roman cuisine on later Medieval Arab cuisine is apparent, it is less clear with whom these recipes and techniques truly originated. Was it Romans who adopted foreign influence into their diet, or non-Romans who adopted Roman influence–or both?

The Recipe

Out of several barida recipes in Zaouali’s book, this one caught my eye largely because it includes the herb elecampane, which I had never had the opportunity to use before (more on that below). Zaouali includes a translation of al-Warraq’s 10th century original:

Cold Chicken With Spices and Herbs

Take some vinegar and murrī and in them macerate coriander [seeds], Chinese cinnamon, pepper, dried and fresh thyme, cumin, caraway, fresh coriander [cilantro], mint, rue, celery, the pulp of a cucumber, and elecampane. Put everything in a grinder, mix, and pour over the grilled chicken.

Some notes on the ingredients:

  • I inferred that the recipe calls for celery leaves, which are often used as an herb in Roman recipes. They have a similar flavor to the stalks.
  • Per Zaouali’s suggestion, soy sauce will substitute for barley-based murri. The flavor is said to be similar, but I also noticed strong similarities between the process for making murri as described by Zaouali and the traditional process for making soy sauce. In both cases, a cooked grain is shaped into cakes, allowed to air-dry and rot, and then sealed up with water and salt to ferment. A lot of modern soy sauce brands even contain barley or wheat.
  • I wasn’t quite sure which part of a cucumber constitutes “the pulp”–just the flesh? Just the seeds? I decided to go with both.
  • “Chinese cinnamon” is an old name for Cinnamomum cassia, the species commonly called “cinnamon” in the USA.
  • Elecampane is a species of sunflower with an edible root. It has many other names, all of which make it sound like it belongs in a Shakespearean witches’ brew (horse-heal, scabwort, elfdock, yellow starwort, etc). I managed to find some of the dried root at Kalustyan’s in Manhattan, my go-to stop for spices and herbs from around the world. In case you were wondering, elecampane tastes extremely bitter and smells like wood chips, specifically those wood shavings you put in the bottom of a hamster cage. The package I bought says “not been evaluated by FDA.” I think it was meant to be made into tea.
  • Rue is another bitter herb that was popular in ancient times. I have some dried rue that I ordered online and have used in many Roman recipes. It’s worth being cautious about, as some people are allergic. Dandelion leaves would be a good substitute for both rue and elecampane.

Below is the recipe according to the procedure I followed:

Ingredients:

4 chicken legs (skin on)
Pinch of salt
½ cup white wine vinegar
½ cup soy sauce
1 small cucumber, peeled and cut into chunks
About ½ of cup each of the following fresh herbs, loosely packed:
Thyme
Cilantro
Mint (any variety)
Celery leaves
½ teaspoon each of the following:
Black pepper
Dried thyme
Cumin
Cinnamon
Coriander seed
Caraway seed
Dried elecampane
Dried rue (Substitute a couple of fresh dandelion leaves for the elecampane and rue, or leave out)

  1. Season the chicken legs with a little salt on both sides and cook them on a stovetop grill over medium-high heat. When they are finished, remove and allow to cool to room temperature.
  2. Using a food processor or mortar and pestle, grind all the dry ingredients into powder. Then add the other sauce ingredients and continue to grind until you have an even green paste.
  3. Spoon the sauce over the pieces of cold chicken and serve.

The Results

Barida is explicitly described as an appetizer served cold. At first that sounded unappetizing to me, but I can only guess that the low temperature is necessary to keep the herbs in the sauce from being cooked by the heat of the chicken. In the end, I was really pleased with how this recipe turned out. The sauce has a bright flavor from all the fresh herbs; the soy sauce provides all the necessary salt, and the pureed cucumber balances out the acid from the vinegar. There are so many other ingredients that I couldn’t taste each of them individually, and I’m still skeptical about the inclusion of both dried and fresh thyme, which I’ve never seen in a recipe before.

The bitterness of the elecampane is hard to shake, and it was the last flavor I tasted in the sauce. Bitter as a flavor seems to have been much better-appreciated in ancient times than today. If the bitter ingredients were taken out, I wouldn’t be surprised to find something like this on a modern menu.

The History of Garlic: From Medicine to Marinara

Garlick, from The Herbal by John Gerard, 1597.

I’ve got a guest post up on Books, Health and History,  the New York Academy of Medicine’s blog, based on  Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine. I’ll be speaking there on Monday, June 5, about the whole history of garlic (to read more about this lecture and to register, go HERE.) But in the meantime, this post is all about garlic’s connection to medicine:

Ms. Amelia Simmons gave America its first cookbook in 1796; within her pamphlet filled with sweet and savory recipes, she makes this note about garlic: “Garlickes, tho’ used by the French, are better adapted to the uses of medicine than cookery.” In her curt dismissal, she reflected a belief that was thousands of years old: garlic was best for medicine, not for eating. To add it to your dinner was considered the equivalent of serving a cough syrup soup.

You can the entire post, including some of garlic’s more dubious medical claims, here.

Mental Floss: Why Early America was Obsessed with Nutmegs

I’ve got a post up on Mental Floss, unwrapping the mystery of the wooden nutmeg!

Although today we’re primarily familiar with nutmeg as a powder that comes in little plastic bottles, it’s actually the pit of the fruit of a tree native to the Banda Islands of Indonesia. Throughout the 18th century, the Dutch controlled the Banda Islands, keeping nutmeg scarce and prices high in international markets. In America, where nutmeg was a popular flavor in 18th and early 19th century cooking, the spice was extraordinarily expensive—so expensive, unscrupulous vendors allegedly tried to replicate nutmegs in wood.

Read the whole story here!

And below, a visual step-by-step of  making a wooden nutmeg.

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Photos and nutmeg by Douglas Strich.

Origin of a Dish: Steak au Poivre

Black pepper-crusted steaks. Photo by Alan Tran.

While writing my first book, Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine, I researched the eight most popular flavors in American cooking: black pepper, vanilla, chili powder, curry powder, soy sauce, garlic, MSG, and Sriracha. When I dived deep into each of these eight topics, I often found fascinating new information and recipes–some of which didn’t make it into the book. So over the next few months, I’ll be publishing this exclusive content on my blog! If it whets your appetite to read the whole book, make sure to get your own copy here.

When we cook a steak, we often cover it in a thick layer of cracked peppercorns and salt. A simple, but flavorful, preparation. This generous crusting of pepper is often credited to a trend born of the 1960s, with a dish called steak au poivre. But the roots of this classic steak preparation may go back much further.

Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery is a manuscript collection of recipes, gifted to Martha on the occasion of her first marriage to Danial Custis. The recipe book– copied from recipes of her in-laws–includes recipes that date from the late medieval era to the early 18th century. One in particular caught my eye: a roast of venison crusted in black pepper.

To Season a Venison

Take out ye bones & turne ye fat syde downe upon a board. yn take ye pill of 2 leamons & break them in pieces as long as yr finger & thrust them into every hole of yr venison. then take 2 ounces of beaten pepper & thrice as much salt, mingle it, then wring out ye juice of lemon into ye pepper & salt & season it, first taking ye leamon pills haveing layn soe a night. then paste it with gross pepper layd on ye top & good store of butter or muton suet.

Here’s a rough translation of the recipe: De-bone a roast of venison. Take the peel of two lemons and cut it into finger length strips, stuffing them into any holes left from the bones. Let the meat sit overnight, and remove the lemon peels. Take two ounces ground pepper and six ounces salt, mixed with the juice of one lemon, and season the holes the lemon peels previously occupied. Crust it with cracked pepper and butter or fat.

Sounds like the great-great-granduncle of a modern steakhouse dish, doesn’t it? This pepper-heavy treatment of venison was recommended through the 19th century to offset the strong, gamey flavor of the meat. The salt and fat would also serve to keep moist what was a particularly lean, dry meat. By the end of the 19th century, this dish evolved to have a creamy, pepper sauce, or sauce poivrade, and became known as “Steak a la Diane,”named after the Roman goddess of the hunt. The renowned Auguste Escoffier gave us a recipe for pepper sauce intended for venison in Le Guide Culinaire, published in 1903.

Sauce Diane

Lightly whip 2dl [about 2 cups] of cream and add it at the last moment to 5dl [4 1/2 cups] well seasoned and reduced Sauce Poivrade. Finish with 2 tbs each of small crescent shaped pieces of truffle and hard-boiled white of egg. This sauce is suitable for serving with cutlets, noisettes and other cuts of venison.

His sauce was comprised of three other sauces and stocks, each one slowly simmered from finely diced vegetables and joints of meat to add levels of deep flavor, and finished with slices of truffle. The entire dish, rich with pepper, would have taken an army of kitchen staff days of preparation before it finally landed in front of a restaurant patron.

French chefs simplified the dish after the turn of the century, calling it “steak au poivre” for the first time. Venison steak was replaced with crushed peppercorn-encrusted beef, which was pan seared and served with a brandy, butter, and (sometimes) cream-based sauce. The dish was often cooked table-side because when the brandy was added to the hot pan it resulted in an impressive tower of vaporized alcohol flames.

In the 1960s, American home cooks were introduced to the cuisine of France by Julia Child. Child’s longtime friend Jacques Pépin remembered her in the New York Times as “… almost a foot taller than I and her voice was unforgettable — shrill and warm at the same time.” They loved to disagree and debate proper cooking techniques and ingredients; “I like black pepper and she liked white pepper,” he recalled. According to Pépin, Child’s style of cooking meant “a simple meal made with great care and the best possible ingredients.” Her strong opinions on food come through in her recipe for steak au poivre. Child’s 1961 recipe for steak au povire in Mastering the Art of French Cooking was the first to be published in America, but she speaks to her readers as though the recipe was a familiar one, a nod to its pre-existing popularity in restaurants.

Julia Child.

Steak au poivre can be very good when it is not so buried in pepper and doused with flaming brandy that the flavor of the meat is utterly disguised,” Child writes. “In fact, we do not care at all for flaming brandy with this dish; it is too reminiscent of restaurant show-off cooking for tourists. And the alcohol taste, as it is not boiled off completely, remains in the brandy, spoiling the taste of the meat.” As a rule, she felt “there was too much flaming in table top cookery.” In Child’s recipe, after the steaks are seared a sauce is made with leeks and crispy cooked bits left in the bottom of the pan, as well as vegetable stock, cognac and a lot of butter.  The peppercorns crisp into a crust, and the dish is served with potatoes to soak up the rich sauce.

Through Mastering the Art of French Cooking, steak au poivre entered the American mainstream and set the precedent for how we prepare beef; a perfect example of Julia Child’s tremendous culinary influence. The dish is also key in shaping our modern identity of pepper. Steak au poivre treats pepper not as just another spice to be shaken into every dish, but as an ingredient with a bold flavor all its own. Steak au poivre today influences how most Americans cook their meat: crusted in salt and pepper, seared and served. The most basic cooking technique, and perhaps the most delicious.

Steak au poivre. Photo by mmmWolf.

Steak au Poivre
From Mastering the Art of French Cooking, 2011 reprint, by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, Simone Beck

2 Tb of a mixture of several kinds of peppercorns, or white peppercorns
Place the peppercorns in a big mixing bowl and crush them roughly with a pestle or the bottom of a bottle.

2 to 2 1/2 lbs. steak 3/4 to 1 inch thick
Dry the steaks on paper towels. Rub and press the crush peppercorns into both sides of the meat with your fingers and the palms of your hands. Cover with waxed paper. let stand for at least half an hour; two or 3 hours are even better, so the flavor of the pepper will penetrate the meat.

A hot platter
Salt
Sauté the steak in hot oil and butter as described in the preceding master recipe. Remove to a hot platter, season with salt, and keep warm for a moment while completing the sauce.

1 Tb butter
2 Tb minced shallots or green onions
1/2 cup stock or canned beef bouillon
1/3 cup cognac
3 to 4 Tb softened butter
Sauteed or fried potatoes
Fresh water cress

Pour the fat out of the skillet. Add the butter and shallots or green onions and cook slowly for a minute. Pour in the stock or bouillon and boil down rapidly over high heat while scraping up the coagulated cooking juices. Then add the cognac and boil rapidly for a minute or two more to evaporate its alcohol. Off heat, swirl in the butter and half-tablespoon at a time. Decorate the platter with the potatoes and water cress. Pour the sauce over the steak, and serve.

 

 

Lapham’s Quarterly: Mild, Medium or Hot?

Curry powder illustration by Peter Van Hyning

I’ve got a new piece up on the Lapham’s Quarterly blog, all about how Americans went from adventurous eaters to plain janes—and then back again.

Much of what we view as American identity is English: pilgrims and Plymouth, pumpkin pie and pot roast. It’s seasoned with at most a few herbs, perhaps a few imported spices. It’s from this English heritage that much of our stereotype of being lovers of bland food comes from. But by the early nineteenth century, American cookbooks had begun to move away from pure British cuisine, reflecting America’s multiculturalism with increasingly fiery food. One of America’s earliest cookbooks is also considered one of the most influential: The Virginia Housewife by Mary Randolph, published in 1824. As food historian Karen Hess points out in her introduction to the 1984 reprint, Randolph’s recipe selection illustrated “an elemental change in palate” from somewhat tame English dishes to highly spiced regional cuisine. Randolph’s book contains half a dozen curry recipes and a homemade curry powder that uses a full ounce of cayenne pepper, as well as turmeric, coriander, cumin, ginger, nutmeg, and mace. The recipes reflected not only her British forebears’ love of curry (which also bucks the bland-food stereotype) but also a common trait of American port cities: a love of spicy cuisine from the Far East. Indigenous American foods are reflected in the recipe “To Barbecue Shote”: the origin of barbecue is the native word and cooking technique barbacoa, and in this recipe a “fat, young hog” is dressed in a sauce that includes garlic, black pepper, and highly seasoned mushroom ketchup (a soy-sauce-like concoction made from salted fermented mushrooms and spices). Enslaved black cooks brought dishes and spicy seasonings from the Caribbean like pepper pot, a tripe soup that includes whole dried chilies in Randolph’s recipe. Based on The Virginia Housewife, it would be safe to say that America in the first half of the nineteenth century was a very spicy place.

Read the full article here!

A Peek into my Next Book–and a Chance to Help Fund it!

I’ve been hard at work on my next project! The working title is OHIO 1910, and the concept combines food history and true crime. I wanted to share with you how it’s going so far, and if you’re interested, you can help support my work by donating (and get yourself some perks in the process.) If you’re interested, there’s more info about what your donation funds here. (Donations will be open until April 19, 2017.)

I’ll be telling the story of a handwritten recipe journal created by a husband and wife from 1880-1910. The journal starts with recipes for the perfect lemon pie, homemade yeast, and chocolate cake. Then, there are chapters on medicine (like cholera cures and PMS aids), beer and wine (root beer, rhubarb wine, blackberry brandy), and finally mushroom foraging.  The recipes in the book abruptly stop being recorded in 1910, because the man writing it was brutally murdered by his son-in-law in a crime so scandalous, it made national news headlines.

As the author, I’ll take you along with me as I experiment with these recipes and use them to reveal how a loving, food-focused Midwestern family unraveled–and ended up the focus of a tragic crime.

Here are a few images from the original recipe book:


You can find the original New York Times article about the murder here.  In it, the murderer claims the victims “exercised a mysterious influence over him.”

I’ve already begun recipe testing the dozen of baking recipes recorded in the book, dating to the 1880s. Here’s a little video of my mom and I working together. We tested 18 recipes together over four days, and went through more than three dozen eggs, nearly 2 gallons of milk, and three jars of molasses!

So far we’ve made yeasted rolls and cakes: Sally Lunn rolls, eggy-sweet coffee puffets, hearty-health food Graham bread, a few fruit cakes. We also test three puddings (custards and a bread pudding) and three lemon meringue pies, as well as biscuits and quick breads. Every day, there was a “winner”–a recipe that clearly stood out as interesting, delicious, and easy enough for anyone to make.


This coffee puffet is very light and slightly sweet. Meringue is folded in at the end to give the fluffy texture.
These are Sally Lunn rolls, rising, a white flour dinner rolls. Mom and I were both pretty pleased at how well these turned out.
The many layers of “Delmonico Pudding,” coconut custard on the bottom, meringue on top.
Two lemon meringue pies! They both had their problems, tbh.
Baking through these recipes was a fun challenge, but more importantly, they told me a little something about the woman who wrote them down, and the family who consumed them. But more on that..soon! If you’re interested in the project, stay tuned here for more updates, and get involved by donating here.

 

Eight Flavors: James Beard’s Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic

beard1Chicken. With 40 cloves of garlic.

While writing my first book, Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine, I researched the eight most popular flavors in American cooking: black pepper, vanilla, chili powder, curry powder, soy sauce, garlic, MSG, and Sriracha. When I dived deep into each of these eight topics, I often found fascinating new information and recipes–some of which didn’t make it into the book. So over the next few months, I’ll be publishing this exclusive content on my blog! If it whets your appetite to read the whole book, make sure to get your own copy here.

I’m trying to get a handle on James Beard. In my generation, he wasn’t a household name; but once your reach a certain level of foodie-ness, you’re indoctrinated. You’re taught he’s a deity of American food.

According to Provence, 1970, Beard was “six foot three, three hundred pounds, and bald.” He described himself in this PBS documentary as “large and scarcely beautiful,” hardly a candidate for international super success. He enjoyed a jaunty bow tie; or, an even jauntier unbuttoned dress shirt. He was gregarious, always bringing people together, always quick to help out a new food talent in which he saw potential–like Julia Child, early in her career. He also kept his phone number listed in the phone book, and fans could look him up and give him a ring–unimaginable of a celebrity today. He would often “end up talking at great length to some woman in Iowa about her macaroons.” His mantra was to use the best, seasonal ingredients in the simplest, most flavorful preparations, and he embraced the diversity of American cuisine

Beard starred in the first food television show in 1946, a 15 minute program on NBC called “I Love to Eat.” Sadly, no copies of the episodes exist. Both Beard and Child created an interest in food that met in the middle between the housewiferly-domestic guides and the men-only haute restaurants of an earlier generation.  In their DIY wake, cooks without formal culinary training began to open restaurants and head kitchens.

I was looking into Beard’s history during my writing process for Eight Flavors  because he is often credited with convincing Americans to like garlic. Beard often looked to French cuisine for inspiration, and loved the simple, flavorful cuisine of Provence, which he first encountered while being stationed there during WWII. Provencal cuisine is also very garlic heavy. In America, leading up to WWII, people weren’t eating much garlic. It was associated with Italian immigrants, who were thought so unappealing, the US effectively banned Italian immigration in 1924. It was Beard who, with a rustic recipe, really began to change American’s minds about garlic.

“Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic” was first published in 1974. The recipe title sounds ridiculous and intimidating, but 40 cloves is only 2-3 heads of garlic. Beard calmly instructed his readers to fill a casserole with chicken legs and thighs, cover them with olive oil and vermouth, and top them with tarragon, parsley, celery and garlic–so much garlic, it serves the purpose of the vegetable in the dish. After baking for 90 minutes, the chicken comes out tender and mild–as does the garlic. Beard comforted the fears of worried cooks, stressed about the pungent taste of garlic:  “Invite your guests to spread the softened garlic on the bread. They will find that the strong flavor has disappeared, leaving a wonderful, buttery paste perfumed with garlic.” It was the perfect recipe to convert the American masses because of the tame garlic flavor.

Beard championed a new form of American cooking; inspired by French cuisine, but not slavishly imitating it. He emphasized fresh, seasonal ingredients featured in ambitious, sophisticated dishes. “Buy the best produce you can buy and do the least to it, and you’ll have the best food,” Beard once said. And we have him to thank (in part) for garlic becoming a part of mainstream American cuisine.

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Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic
Recipe from the James Beard Foundation

  • 8 to 10 chicken legs
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • Dash of nutmeg
  • 40 cloves garlic, approximately 3 bulbs, peeled
  • 4 stalks celery, sliced thinly
  • 6 sprigs parsley
  • 1 tablespoon dried tarragon
  • 1/4 cup dry vermouth

Rinse chicken legs in cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Dip the chicken in olive oil to coat each piece and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

Put chicken in a lidded 3-quart casserole along with the residue of oil. Add the garlic, sliced celery, parsley, tarragon, and vermouth. Seal the top of the casserole with a sheet of foil and cover tightly. Bake for 1 1/2 hours in a preheated 375ºF oven. Do not remove the lid during the baking period. Serve with hot toast or thin slices of pumpernickel and spread the softened garlic on the bread.

My Audio Book of Eight Flavors is out now!

Guess what? You can now LISTEN to Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine on audio CD or Audible–including whispersync, which allows you to switch back and forth between e-book and audio book without losing your place!

AND GUESS WHAT ELSE. I read the book! It’s 11-ish hours of my sweet, sylvan voice telling you tales about Edmond Albius, a 12-year-old slave who discovered the technique still used to pollinate vanilla orchids today; or Ranji Smile, a Muslim immigrant to American who became a celebrity chef; or so many more American stories!

Buy the audio book here!

Enjoy it! Then sign up for my mailing list and see if I’m going to do an event near you!

Thank you!

mental_floss: A Brief History of Sushi in the United States


A PLATE OF SUSHI IN THE 1970S, VIA GETTY IMAGES

I’ve got a new article up on mental_floss, and it digs up the history of sushi!

In the 1950s many Americans were somewhat resistant to Japanese food and culture, in part because they had lived through World War II and still perceived Japan as “the enemy.” But by the 1960s, the tide had started to turn: Food journalist and restaurant critic Craig Claiborne, writing for The New York Times dining section during that decade, was excited by international dining and kept tabs on the city’s numerous Japanese restaurants. He declared Japanese food a trend in New York after two establishments opened in 1963, noting that “New Yorkers seem to take to the raw fish dishes, sashimi and sushi, with almost the same enthusiasm they display for tempura and sukiyaki.” However, he admitted, “sushi may seem a trifle too ‘far out’ for many American palates”

Today, meeting friends for sushi is almost as American as going out for a beer and a pizza. It’s proof positive that when we leave our hearts—and plates—open to other cultures, good things often come of it. Find out how we became sushi lovers: I talk about America’s first sushi restaurants, the TV miniseries that made Americans obsessed with Japan, and how some “American-style” sushi rolls are making their way back across the ocean! Read more here.