A Literary Feast

Posts from the “Food History and Comestible Narratives” Category

The Melon Thief

Posted on September 30th, 2013

One morning, the melons were gone. The evening before, they sat right where intended – attached most certainly to the lovingly-tended but misplaced vine that refused to grow past spindly. We had done these melons wrong in planting them where the neighbor’s garage and dusty red Jeep stole the sunshine for most of the day, and despite our best efforts and our loving applications of worm tea and compost, we could only watch with anticipation as a few melons bulged slowly, grudgingly, into being. And one morning, they were not there. Sheared cleanly off the vine, leaving no clue or hint as to where they might have gone. Our melons were somewhat stunted and most definitely unripe, but they were ours, and we lost…

The Cream of Unknowing

Posted on September 30th, 2013

I’ll never see it again. I’m not sure it was there in the first place. It may have been a dream, or a summer night’s hallucination. On a lonely stretch of unmarked road somewhere outside of Montague, MA, walled in by dark trees and the whisking of bats overhead, I found, or thought I found, the world’s perfect soft serve.   If you’ve spent much time with your head inside a broken-down soft serve ice cream machine, you’ll understand that it is not a commodity often associated with perfection. Soft serve begins its life as an unwieldy sack of upsettingly viscous milk product weighing perhaps forty or fifty pounds. It sloshes like the innards of a giant squid as you drag it from the…

Hungry

Posted on September 30th, 2013

The air felt different. I had noticed a single tree with leaves that were starting to turn, crisp, brown, die. I wished that the afternoon would never end. The sun was still warm but the breeze from the river had a certain chill to it. At first I thought this story was about a boy. I realize now that that is fictional. I made it up. This is something different. I’m not actually hungry. Food tastes different. I can’t handle the thought of it anymore. I was so lonely. I could never really count on people. They judge. They disappoint. They sleep all day, or don’t call you back, or think you’re something else. The food never judges. It is comfort, reliable, company. I…

Like My Chowder, The Air Is Too Salty

Posted on August 19th, 2013

Like my chowder, the air is too salty today. I push it aside and glare, not quite hungrily, at my over cooked steak. You might wonder why I’d order a steak at a fish house anyway. If Mom were still alive, she’d probably wonder the same thing and give me that look. Or, depending on if it was her 2nd or 3rd vodka soda, she might warble shrilly, “You come all the way to the Vineyard and you order the steak, for Christ’s sake Billy, don’t you appreciate anything?” “Is everything ok, sir?” The waiter is a college-aged dude of a dude–his name tag reads “Tomas from Odessa, Ukraine”. He’s got a mini-turd of fuzz on his chin, a buzz cut and a tryzub…

Mahango and Mutete

Posted on August 19th, 2013

Dust, red and yellow and all shades of tan. Heat, outside the windows of the car. We have been driving for a long time, on an unwavering road through an unbroken vista of thorn trees, warthogs dodging across the tarmac, a lone gemsbok watching us with doleful eyes from the bush. The sky is huge and blue and unending. This is Africa, this is Namibia, the land fenced and quartered but still open, still empty. At a crossroads, we turn past a petrol station and suddenly are in the thick of Rundu on payday, the streets teeming with people buying, selling, walking to buy or sell, or standing in the long line at the ATM in order to do either. It is noon, and…

Epazote: A Rhoda No Longer

Posted on August 19th, 2013

It’s only my first summer as a backyard gardener, but I’m already anthropomorphizing my plants. I think of the tomatoes as the Mary Tyler Moore of the backyard plot — perfect, pure, sweet, and understandably popular. An informal poll of my social group indicates that most people (including me) would give up nearly anything — cheese, chocolate, even gluten — before submitting to tomato abstention. They’re just that lovable. If my precious heirloom tomatoes are Mary Tyler Moore, then the nearby potted epazote plants are the equivalent of Rhoda, Mary’s spunky (and underappreciated) best friend. Epazote doesn’t get much in the way of summer lovin’. It’s never had a glossy layout in a culinary magazine and, unless you’ve worked in a Mexican restaurant or…

A Job Well Done

Posted on August 19th, 2013

The sun is hot, but not heavy. I can feel my skin heating up, first warm to the touch, but then hot. Every bit of exposed skin is tingling, tightening. Soon I will burn. My face starts to sweat. I can feel it running down my neck, leaving trails in the dirt like an old map. My hands are working furiously. Gently, each branch needs to be lifted, pinching between the thorns. The ripe berries hang, weighing down the branches. They stain my fingers. I pick as quickly as I can, it seems like they are ripening faster than I can pick. Soon the bucket is full. Heavy. Rich with possibility. By the time I get home my heart is pounding. My hands are…

Portland, Oregon: Creation Myth of a Culinary Darling

Posted on July 19th, 2013

  (Adapted from the upcoming Portland: A Food Biography [Fall 2014])   The infant city called The Clearing was a bald patch amid a stuttering wood. The Clearing was no booming metropolis, no destination for gastrotourists, no career-changer for ardent chefs — just awkward, palsied steps toward Victorian gentility. In the decades before the remaining trees were scraped from the landscape, however, Portland’s wood was still a verdant breadbasket, overflowing with huckleberries and chanterelles, venison leaping on cloven hoof.   “The surroundings of the city were … still wild, and the shattered forests seemed excessively rude, having no more the grace and stateliness of nature, and having not yet given away altogether to the reign of art,” recalled newspaperman and historian Harvey Whitefield Scott…

Roll of Mustard, Hear My Cry

Posted on July 19th, 2013

I am in a major first romance. I am 36 years old: a stock-taking point in life. A point at which you begin to understand the broad contours of the things you will and will not have: the career as it has taken shape, the dreams as they have fallen away, the places you have visited but will probably never see again. I have time, I know this. But I don’t have all of the time. I don’t have the forever time of childhood, or the joking—when will she grow up?—time of teenage years. I don’t even have the experimental stretch that is so much the residue and the requirement of being in your twenties, or even the early thirties.   No—36 is something…

The Unfinished History of You and How You Ate

Posted on July 17th, 2013

In the beginning, you drank milk. It came from your mother or maybe from a powder. You drank it and you burped and you spit it up. You learned to breathe and eat at the same time, and your parents were overwhelmed with love. There was love, and you drank it. In time, you learned to eat soft, bland things, and you developed tastes. You liked sweet potatoes and bananas. You reached for things your parents ate, and you tried to put food into your mouth with your own hands, which sometimes worked. For the next long while, things progressed in a rather straight-forward way. You started eating like a full-grown human, small bites and then large ones,and the vast majority of the time…