The Thinking 


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The Loss of Simple Pleasures (as Exemplified in a Brownie)

October 2, 2012



 KAREN I. writes:

Have you seen the latest fake food product designed to save time? It’s called Shake and Pour Brownies by Betty Crocker. Preparing this concoction entails adding water, shaking for 45 seconds, then pouring the chemical laden goo into a greased pan. Apparently, mothers are now too busy to add eggs and oil to a box mix. The ad says it all. Read More »


Defending Julia

September 17, 2010


JULIA CHILD supposedly detested the word ‘housewife.’ She was a great cook, but was she a lousy wife? In this entry, a reader contends Mrs. Child emasculated her husband, Paul. Here, another reader disagrees.

MRS. P. writes:

Paul Child strikes me as a man who was his own person and not easily emasculated by anyone let alone his loving wife and closest friend Julia. The pair married in 1946. She was in her early thirties at the time. He was ten years her senior. When Paul passed away in 1994 after a long illness, the Childs had been married 48 years.  Read More »


More on Home Economics

September 16, 2010




I just discovered your blog and very much appreciate some of the thought-provoking articles and arguments on it.  The entry on home economics was a bit nostalgic for me as it was part of the elementary school curriculum starting in second grade at a Benedictine convent school for girls.  In our school it consisted of learning how to sew, embroider, and crochet for the first few years, and then cooking/baking classes in sixth and seventh grade.  Yes, we second grade girls were handling dangerous objects like needles and scissors without incident. Imagine that.  I believe the boys’ school down the street had their own version of the class involving carpentry and household repairs.  Read More »


Reality Shows and the Longing for Normalcy

May 28, 2010



Eric writes in the entry on feminism and cooking that, “I am noticing a lot of cooking-type reality shows…I wonder how Hollywood turned meal preparation into a gladiatorial competition.” As a fan of cooking shows (though not the “reality” versions in which loud-mouthed, vulgar chefs abusively deride younger, less experienced ones), I used to wonder the same thing. But it’s not so complicated, really. The entertainment industry is now, much as it has always been, in the “dream” business. Selling visions of people’s dreams back to them is what television has been about for quite some time now, and even the element of competition is not so new, with game shows being one of the oldest and most successful kinds of programming. Look around at the prime time competition shows today and what do you see?

You see The Biggest Loser, a show about a competition in which people get to become rich and famous while losing lots of weight. Whoever thought of this wildly popular show—which has now spawned a line of books, food, videos, clothing, etc.—understands America better than most of us would care to admit. Read More »


It Ain’t Dinner Without Dad

May 27, 2010


RESPONDING TO this entry on the decline of the family meal, Mabel LeBeau writes:

I haven’t figured out if by modern definitions I’m feministic or feminine or merely female in gender, but have found the most effective way to conduct a family meal is participation by the father figure. If Father is the one to initiate conversations, officially nod approval over the meal, settle disputes over who gets to pass the bread first, provide approval for individual family member’s self-validation and ‘say grace,’ it’s rather pointless to call it a family meal in our home if Daddy doesn’t show up. Read More »


The Concupiscent Eggplant

September 8, 2009



Judith Anderson,

Judith Anderson


I would never grow eggplant if I were Puritanical. I would shield the eyes of the young from its fruit. The eggplant is a masterpiece of suggestion. Actually, this is not suggestion but bold sensuality. With its glossy skin, midnight colors, plump or pendulous bottom, and creamy white flesh, it is positively indecent.

It is also one of the most bewitching of fruits. The simple pleasure of holding a newly-harvested eggplant is not simple at all. Who cares if eggplant is edible? What difference does it make if contains vitamins or is poisonous? It is beautiful and that is enough. Its only defect is that it begins to shrivel perceptibly within hours of being picked. Cruel eggplant.

Eggplant is in the Solanaceae family and originated in India. It is easy to grow. I plant it in pots on my patio. It comes in many varieties, including white, light purple, black-purple, and orange. Its lavender flowers with yellow stamens are pretty and the large lobed leaves are extravagantly ornamental. It keeps producing fruit from July through September. The sight of these dangling from their woody stems is arresting. They are worth growing even if you hate to eat it.

Eating eggplant is the best compensation for the inevitable loss of its visual splendor. Some people are allergic to it, but if you cook it long enough most of the allergens disappear. One of the best ways to prepare it is to fry it in olive oil and then add smashed garlic, soy sauce, mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, zucchini and a little chicken broth. A fresh eggplant is firm and its skin taut. Julia Child recommends eggplant pizza.

Mrs. Child once made the mistake on her cooking show of stating that there are male and female eggplant fruit and that the female looks different from the male because it has a smooth bottom. She received grief from her viewers. There is no sex in fruit. She had gotten this bit of false trivia from her Italian grocer of course. When she confronted him with his error, he said, “Well, maybe so. But the long, thin eggplants with the smooth bottoms are still the best. We call them females.”


patio eggplant



Julia and Non-Julia

August 14, 2009



Meryl Streep is a great actress and Julia Child is a cultural force and an inspiration to anyone who has spent years in the kitchen. Nevertheless, I will not be seeing the new movie, Julie and Julia, in which the famous actress plays the famous cook. It may very well be that Nora Ephron crafted a good script from a very bad book. Still, I won’t see the movie. The book was just too appallingly bad. Julie Powell, the author, is a writer who set out to make all the recipes in Child’s famous Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  That was a great idea.  Unfortunately, Powell is the anti-Julia of American pop culture. She is vain, undisciplined, messy, heavy-drinking and immoral. The book begins with her describing a visit to a clinic to sell eggs. Not chicken eggs, her eggs. It is the typical admixture of self-revelation and self-apology common to confessional literature today. It was a disservice to the everyday art of cooking, which requires self-deflation for its survival.



Tarts Lost. Tarts Saved.

July 6, 2009


I know a woman who once placed a homemade tart on the front passenger seat of her car. It was a Provencal recipe made with roasted red peppers. She set off for a social event where the tart would be unveiled and eaten. The woman was racing along when she was forced to make a sudden stop. The tart went flying, landing on the accelerator. She had to keep driving. She vividly recalls crushing the tart again and again into the pedal and car floor.

Perhaps you cannot fully appreciate this story. If you have never made a tart from scratch, perhaps this means nothing. But to any cook, it speaks of tragic desecration. The tart is the acme of culinary perfection. It takes years of trial and error to master the form. Some people never get it right despite monumental effort and patience. In our world, many women never get the chance to try.

Tarts are not important. But, they are among the most important of unimportant things. Everything from field and orchard is at home in pastry. “So many simple ingredients can be made to look exotic by being dressed up in a pastry crust,” said Julia Child. It’s true. If you sliced up an old shoe and arranged it in concentric circles on pastry, it would look appealing. With a light glaze, it might taste good.

The homemade tart is cheap and filling. Store-bought models look fine, but taste stale. Ironically, those who make pastry for a living are considered to be doing something worthwhile. But, the housewife who spends hours getting this tart art right is an elitist or a dolt. The store-bought tart has professional credentials. The homemade one is a sign of decadence or stupidity.

Monks in the desert can live on honey and locusts. Most of us cannot. “Good living is an act of intelligence,” said Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, “by which we choose things that have an agreeable taste over those which do not.” He was French. We tend to think differently. The non-industrial tart is inefficient.

But, even tart failures are a form of accomplishment; they lead to later successes. Far better to make a tart and fail then to buy a tart and eat. I made a red-white-and-blue tart for July Fourth out of raspberries, blueberries and custard. The crust was cracked. The custard was thin. But, it was one minute step on the road to tart perfection. One day, some talented cook will unveil a work of such consummate skill and beauty, it will transform the world. It will be the Platonic Tart, the essence of tart-ness, the ideal form. It is toward this Heavenly Tart, we must labor in obscurity.

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