Monthly Archive for May, 2013

Etsy Kitchen Histories: What to Grill Today

grillingThis is a Dixie Dog

My latest Etsy article is essential a rant about the historic gender bias in grilling–with recipes!  Read it here.

Yes, it’s a pet peeve of mine — it’s gotten to the point where I threaten anyone who approaches the grill. But it’s not just personal paranoia. Do a search for “vintage barbecue” on Etsy and you will find men — cookbooks adorned with images of men grilling; photos, aprons, and even grilling utensils emblazoned with images of men. So what’s the deal? Why, historically, is cooking in the kitchen the realm of women, but grilling outdoors the realm of men?

DSCF5864The Dixie Dog is a hot dog stuffed with peanut butter and wrapped in bacon.

Events: Masters of Social Gastronomy Face the Future!

Intuitive Antipasto – New York Times

Banning pasta in Italy, pre-WW2 molecular gastronomy and high-concept dinner parties: Welcome to The Futurist Cookbook!

Published in 1932 by F.T. Marinetti, it aimed to transform everyday meals from stodgy, sleep-inducing traditions into multi-sensory, scientific experiences appropriate for the modern world.

The evening will include an interactive tasting of Futurist cuisine! Join us as we abandon silverware, caress sandpaper, and craft meat skyscrapers, all in the name of recreating the cuisine of futures past.

This month, we’re in the back room at Public Assembly. Doors at 7, talks a bit after, and bring an ID. MSG is always FREE, but PLEASE RSVP here so we bring enough samples!

Edible Alphabet and Cubist Vegetable Patch – Image courtesy italianfuturism.org

The History Dish: To Make Hot Buttered Toast

toastHow to Make Hot Buttered Toast!

Bill Bryson, author of the awesome domestic history compendium At Home: A Short History of Private Life, doesn’t have a high opinion of Isabella Beeton.  Mrs. Beeton published Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management in the mid-19th century; it included thousands of recipes, instructions for house servants, cleaning tips, medical advice and more.  It is probably the most influential English cookbook of all time.  Bryson calls it “…done in carelessness and haste” “plagiarized” and “…An instruction manual that could be followed religiously and that was exactly what people wanted.”

Ok. Maybe her book is a little over the top.  Perhaps one of the best examples of the tediousness of her recipes can be found in her “precise steps how to make hot buttered toast.”

TO MAKE HOT BUTTERED TOAST.

A loaf of household bread about two days old answers for making toast better than cottage bread, the latter not being a good shape, and too crusty for the purpose. Cut as many nice even slices as may be required, rather more than 1 inch in thickness, and toast them before a very bright fire, without allowing tho bread to blacken, which spoils the appearance and flavour of all toast. When of a nice colour on both sides, put it on a hot plate; divide some good butter into small pieces, place them on the toast, set this before the fire, and when the butter is just beginning to melt, spread it lightly over the toast. Trim off the crust and ragged edges, divide each round into 4 pieces, and send the toast quickly to table. Some persons cut the slices of toast across from corner to corner, so making the pieces of a three-cornered shape. Soyer recommends that each slice should be cut into pieces as soon as it is buttered, and when all are ready, that they should be piled lightly on the dish they are intended to be served on. He says that by cutting through 4 or 5 slices at a time, all the butter is squeezed out of the upper ones, while the bottom one is swimming in fat liquid. It is highly essential to use good butter for making this dish.

But I tried her recipe, and I have to admit: it was a great system of toast making. I didn’t use the best butter–just Land o’ Lakes from the fridge.  And no open fire: I have a combo pop-up toaster and toaster oven, and used both features to execute this recipe: first to toast the bread, then to melt the butter. But with the double-toasting method she suggests, the butter was evenly distributed and saturated into the surface. The salty fat squeezed out with each bite and oozed over the tongue.  The soft squares of toast looked ridiculously small on the plate, but the mouth-feel was  almost decadent without the tough and scratchy crusts.

Maybe I just have a soft spot for Isabella. She was writing in a time when women weren’t. She was trying to write more specific  better organized recipes when recipes were about clear as mud. And she loved her publisher husband fiercely–who also seemed to love her back, but also gave her syphilis (probably).

At least she had a handle on toast.

How Did This Happen?

Since I announced my book deal, a lot of people have asked me how it all happened; how did my career come to this point? I’m going to try to answer–so I hope this is helpful, and not too self indulgent.

I went to art school, where I learned many things that are still very useful to me on a daily basis.  One of the most important lessons I learned was that if I don’t put my work out there, no one will see it. Everything that has happened in my career has happened because of this blog.

I started Four Pounds Flour 4 1/2 years ago, simply because my friends seemed to enjoy my historic food adventures.  I thought that if they liked it, maybe there were other people who would like it, too.  I had also spent some time working in foodie culture in New York City, and I realized that there was an unfilled niche: no one out there had my same perspective on food.

I started writing with no expectations and I promised myself that if the blog stopped being fun, I would stop writing it. I began to meet a community of people through my writing, including new friends in New York. Soon, they starting asking me if I would do an event at such-and-such historic site.  When that event went well, I would be asked to do another. And another.  I’ve always loved teaching and performing, so it was a good fit for me.

When writing a blog, after a certain point you produce enough content (and hopefully enough reliable content) that your posts start coming up in Google searches.  That’s how I ended up on Appetite City and in the Wall Street Journal–someone was searching around for “the history of restaurants” or “recreating historic food” and they found me. Over time, my blog had built a respectable following. (Correction: Appetite City found me through Liza de Guia, creator of food. curated. who produced this video about my work three years ago.)

About two years ago, a literary agent contacted me.  I had done a private event for a local chapter of the DAR and one of the members (his wife) recommended he take a look at my writing.  We had a few meetings and I made my first attempt at a book proposal.  Nothing came of it, but I learned a lot and had something to show for it.

In February 2012 I was contacted by an editor at Simon & Schuster.  He had seen this post and invited me out for coffee. He told me I should write a book and we brainstormed some ideas.  We had a lot in common and had a sense we’d enjoy working with each other. He also recommended me to an agent.

It took a LONG TIME to write the proposal.  I conceptualized it for six months and I’ve been writing it on and off since August 2012.  There was a lot to learn in the process. There were a lot of rewrites.  In the end, I actually didn’t think Simon & Schuster would buy it.

But they did.  And I still can’t believe this is happening to me.  Getting a “big break” isn’t something I thought happened to real people.

Here’s my best advice: if you’re thinking of starting a blog, just do it.  The beauty of it is there is no one to answer to and no expectations of your work. There is no risk. Just make things. Write things.  Whatever your art form is–just get the work out there, in a public forum, where people can see it. If you work hard, and make good work, good things will come of it. I really do believe that.

If you have other questions for me, please feel free to post in the comments.  I’m probably going to be in the market for an intern this fall, so if you live in the New York area, and are interested in learning what I do first hand, keep it in mind!

Etsy Kitchen Histories: The Indestructible Cast Iron Pan

pan_1

 

 

How to rehab cast iron in my latest on Etsy.  Read it here!

In fact, cast iron gets better with age and use: years of oil and scraping with utensils create a super-smooth, non-stick cooking surface. Vintage skillets by Lodge can sell for $100 — more costly than new pieces from the 117-year-old cookware maker. If you’re not interested in dropping a Benjamin on a pan, take my advice: go for the rusty pieces. You’ll find them priced at half — or even a tenth — of the cost of clean skillets of the same age and size. All it takes is a little TLC to get these pans back in working order

Events: Learn to Cook Over an Open Fire!

hearth11

Campfire Cuisine Beyond Hot Dogs: An Introduction to Hearth Cooking
Saturday, June 1st, 11am-2pm TICKETS

The Old Stone House & Washington Park, Park Slope, Brooklyn

In this hands-on class, you’re going to learn how to cook a meal over an open fire.   But what you’ll really learn are the primal cooking skills that will make you a better cook in your daily life.

We’re going to cover the four basic cooking techniques: baking, roasting, frying and boiling.  While preparing a meal on an outdoor hearth, you’ll learn how to tell temperature without a thermometer, how to tell the doneness of food by using all of your senses, and how to build a bad-ass fire.

The skills you will learn in this three-hour session will allow you to amaze your friends on your next camping trip; put on an old-timey costume and cook at a historic house; or simply become a better, more intuitive home chef.

The cost of the class includes a light meal you will help to make: A vegetarian soup; Rusks, a fried bread; a grilled meat (moose or venison); and dessert. Buy tickets here!