20/08/2014

Consumed: Volume XXXI

August is almost over (can you believe it?) and it seems a time of change is upon us. We've had lots of news in our household lately of things and people taking different courses (some very good, some not so good) but it all seems fitting given the time of year. What never changes? My craving for inspiration. Here's how I've been satiating that craving these days...

- We went to see Woody Allen's Magic in the Moonlight on Tuesday. While it wasn't anything spectacular, and definitely not one of his best, it was still fun and mildly entertaining. I especially loved the beautiful period costumes and idyllic scenery. Drop-waist dresses and the south of France get me every time.

- In these last weeks of summer, I have it on good authority that it's important to eat as many burgers as possible. I recommend perusing Scott Sifton's Deconstructing the Perfect Burger if you're taking that route. Mouthwatering is an understatement.

- I gifted Kurt Vonnegut: Drawings to AP for his birthday but I don't seem able to put it down. If you're a Vonnegut fan, it's an interesting read. Introduction written by his daughter Nanette Vonnegut.

- Fall fashion, you have my heart (see my "for fall" pinterest board for proof).

- Sometimes I dream of opening a book store. And not just any book store. A food book store, full of all the best food writing and the rarest cookbooks. But then I remember that such a store already exists. I've been following the @omnivorebooks twitter account for fun glimpses at rare cookery texts ever since I listened to this interview with owner Celia Sack.

18/08/2014

Women in the Kitchen: Sara Davis

The goal of the Women in the Kitchen series is to explore the different ways that women find fulfillment through their engagement with food. I aim to debunk reductive myths and stereotypes of female domesticity and show that women relate to the kitchen in various ways, many of them positive, all of them unique and complex.

When I came across Sara Davis's blog Scenes of Eating, my first thought was: we need more food blogs like this one! I'm always looking for intelligent, thoughtful angles on what has become a very familiar (and somewhat tired) medium, and with her engaging content, Sara definitely helps to fill the void. Make sure to check out her blog but also her Women in the Kitchen feature, below, which is quickly becoming one of my favourites. 
Name: Sara Davis
Currently living... in Philadelphia
Profession: University Press Marketer
Social Media: Twitter and Pinterest

Describe your home kitchen…

Most of my apartment is a large open space, so the kitchen is part of the room in which I eat, play, relax, read, and write. As a corner of this room, the kitchen area is fairly spacious, warm and bright when I want it to be, with real drawers and enough counter-space for appliances. (In the apartment I lived in as a full-time grad student, I kept my silverware, slow cooker, and other amenities in cabinets and under tables.)

How does spending time in your kitchen make you feel?

Comfortable and connected. Since the kitchen is not partitioned off from the rest of the room, I’m still in the same space as the music playing and the cats snoozing in the sun while I chop and stir. When I have company, I can keep up with conversation while I plate the food and pour the wine, chef regnant of my own hearth.

What sparked your interest in food? When did you start cooking and why?

I didn’t take much interest in cooking until college. My older brother started to cook as a hobby, and I would be sous-chef when I was home for the occasional weekend. We cooked with whatever we found in the house, which resulted in some well-meant if not well-executed meals to eat together with our mom. Later, I shared an apartment-style dorm with a good friend who has many food allergies; it was a pleasure and a challenge to cook foods she could enjoy with the rest of our gang. I think these experiences made me a flexible, adventurous cook.

Tell us a bit about the inspiration behind your blog Scenes of Eating

The blog began as runoff from my dissertation. I’ve been slowly working toward a doctorate in literature, writing about food and food practices depicted in 20th century American poetry and fiction. Like a lot of scholars obsessed with their topic, I started seeing connections everywhere: movies, books, art, the news. So I began doing short blog posts to get those ideas into writing without losing too much momentum on my main project. Now I have to admit that I think of the blog and related contributions as the main project—it’s much more fun and immediately gratifying to write for the internet, and this platform has brought me a few awesome writing opportunities and friendships.

How has your work as a food scholar changed the way you relate to food?

I’m more inclined to say that food has changed the way I relate to scholarship. When I first began my research and writing, there weren’t as many literary studies that focused on food culture or discourse. I had to read far out of my field to get the theoretical foundation I wanted, so my writing became more wide-ranging than in-depth. Food studies is an inherently interdisciplinary project, since there’s really no way to talk about the sociology of food without analyzing the language of food, or to debate politics of food without considering the economics of food. Further, writing about food is fun. The language of food is so often about pleasure, and I’ve come to believe that pleasure is a worthwhile scholarly pursuit—both as a subject and as an end in itself.

Is there a particular food scene in film, television or literature that stands out most in your mind? Why?

It’s so difficult to choose! But one of my all-time favorite verses is Helen Chasin’s “The Word Plum,” because it really dramatizes what intrigues me about food in literature beyond the paragraph or even sentence level. Chasin shows how even forming the word “plum” in the mouth can evoke sweetness and fullness; likewise, just reading or hearing the name of a food can summon powerful sensory memories and feelings of pleasure or disgust.

What about portrayals of kitchens? Is there a representation of a kitchen space that strikes you as particularly important or of interest?

One of the first books to ignite my interest in a literary study of food is Chuang Hua’s 1968 novel Crossings. The main character (loosely based on the author) isa  Chinese-American woman living in Paris during a somewhat depressed and unmoored period of her life; cooking helps her feel centered. She starts an affair with a Parisian man and many of the scenes developing their relationship take place in her kitchen, where the meals she makes for or with him become vehicles to explore their cultural differences. My favorite is a dinner of steak and beans: the Frenchman announces that he wants to help and will take charge of the steak, but while he’s lecturing the protagonist about how writers belong in the kitchen, she is left to manage the meal herself—which she does adroitly, without interrupting their conversation. It’s a kitchen scene with many layers: the gentle irony of his obliviousness, the tense gender dynamics, and the loneliness of loving someone who does not know how to love you in the same way.

And just for something fun… If you could invite anyone, living or dead, real or fictional, to come cook with you in your kitchen, who would it be and why?

My first thought is Edna St. Vincent Millay. I have a particular fascination with woman poets of the early twentieth century—I hope to write more about them someday—and Millay had a purposefully colorful public persona. She wrote some sharp, funny, often heartbreaking verse, but she was also pretty, openly sexual, and fun at a party. She used to do readings in full-on velvet-and-lace glam, which on one hand played right into her media representation—the femme fatale poetess—and on the other hand gave it the finger. Smart woman.

Toward the end of her life, Ladies Home Journal did a feature on Millay’s remodeled kitchen called “Poet’s Kitchen” which is generally thought to be a weird piece with a jarring midcentury agenda: in the interviewer’s words, “I expect to hear no more about housework's being beneath anyone, for if one of the greatest poets of our day can find beauty in simple household tasks, this is the end of the old controversy.” Okay then.

I would love to hear about this coverage from Millay’s perspective. What happened? Is this part of her act, or did control of her media representation slip from her grasp? It would not surprise me if Millay genuinely loved to cook and spend time in her bright new kitchen: many excellent woman writers and thinkers—Lee Miller, Simone de Beauvoir—found comfort and creativity in the domestic sphere. But what of the conservative spin? The article was published a few months before her husband’s death and about a year before her own—what of that? I wish I could make some tea and listen to her side of the story while we companionably slice vegetables and simmer something simple, comforting, and good.

To read more about the experiences of Women in the Kitchen, please check out the other feature interviews in the series, found here.

15/08/2014

Chocolate Velvet Cake

We never seem able to contain birthday celebrations to a single day in our home. Instead, we like to stretch the event over what we call a "birthweek," pulling the good food and drink and festive air in and through as many days as we can manage. Indulgent, I know.

Last weekend, a music festival and camping trip started things off on a celebratory note. Despite my professed reservations, the trip was a success. The days were hot and bright, full of great music and swims in a cool lake. And though the nights were downright cold (two sweaters required!), there was something quite comforting about feeling the air change. I guess summer really is on its last leg.

Continuing the festivities this week, we've enjoyed a daze of fun times with friends and favourite dishes made and served with love.

I say "we" because though my birthday was months ago, I often enjoy celebrating the birthdays/weeks of others more than my own. I love making moments special for people, treating them to what they like most and finding that perfect gift or card. Or better yet... that perfect cake. AP favours chocolate (always has, always will), but to be honest, I find chocolate cake to be incredibly intimidating. Infinite recipes exist, all claiming to the best ever, the most classic, or the king of all others. And then there's texture and flavour to consider: fudgey, gooey, light, airy, scented with coffee, cinnamon or mint... the list goes on. But how to choose?

This year, instead of worrying about it, I followed my instincts and decided to update a classic (yes, one of many) with my own twist. Though not overly chocolatey, I've always been fond of the moist crumb and cocoa-charged warmth of Red Velvet Cake. For my update, I left out the red food colouring (who needs it?) and added a few spoonfuls of cocoa to the glossy cream cheese icing. It didn't disappoint. And the remaining slices will keep the party alive for at least a few more days.

Chocolate Velvet Cake
adapted from this recipe

this recipe makes one large bundt cake

for the cake, you will need...
half a cup of unsalted butter, at room temperature
one and one-half cups of sugar
two eggs
five tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder
four tablespoons of water
one teaspoon of vanilla extract
one cup of buttermilk (make your own)
one and one-quarter cups of all-purpose, unbleached flour
one teaspoon of salt
one teaspoon of baking soda
three teaspoons of distilled white vinegar

for the chocolate cream cheese icing, you will need...
three hundred and seventy-five ml of cream cheese, at room temperature
about one and one-quarter cups of confectioner's sugar
two tablespoons of cocoa powder

you will need to...
Preheat your oven to 350. Grease and flour a large bundt pan.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy (about 3 minutes). Add eggs one at a time, beating on high until combined after each addition, scraping down the bowl periodically, as necessary.

In a small bowl, combine cocoa, vanilla and water and stir to make a thick paste. Add to the batter, mixing until the batter turns brown, ensuring the cocoa is evenly distributed.

With your mixer on a low speed, add half of the buttermilk and stir to combine. Next, add half of the flour and salt and stir to combine. Scrape bowl and repeat the process with remaining buttermilk, salt and flour. Beat on high until smooth.

On a low speed once again, add vinegar and baking soda. Turn to high and beat for 2 more minutes. Spoon batter into bundt pan and bake for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick tester comes out clean.

Let cake cool completely in pan before turning out.

To make the icing, beat cream cheese until soft and fluffy (with no lumps) in a medium bowl. Add icing sugar gradually and taste as you go (you may want less or more sugar than I recommend). Once combined and sweet enough, the icing will be smooth and glossy. Add the cocoa powder and stir until your icing turns to chocolate. Frost your cooled cake with the icing and serve.