February Reader Spotlight: Jennifer Jackson Berry

In continued anticipation of this week’s event, The Food of Love, today we bring you a little taste of Jennifer Jackson Berry. If you want more than this tease, you’ll have to join us at Zeke’s Coffee, Friday 2/19 at 5pm!

JJBWhy do you write about food?

I’m just following that old adage: write what you know. We all eat, we all know food, so using food as a metaphor, or as a part of the narrative, or as the main focus, makes the piece approachable for many readers.

What’s the sexiest meal you’ve ever had?

I find adventurous eating sexy. My husband & I drove across the country from Pittsburgh to the Grand Canyon, then back, for our honeymoon in 2011. I’m going to read a poem at the Food of Love reading titled “My Offal Honeymoon,” and it describes two of the sexiest meals I’ve ever had. We were arriving at different cities every day, searching out the local favorites, trying different foods, laughing at our trepidation, savoring the best bites, then falling into bed exhausted, but happy.

If someone invented a cocktail named after you, what would it include?

The JJB — something with rum & cherries, fizzy.

Jennifer Jackson Berry’s first full length collection of poetry The Feeder is forthcoming from YesYes Books in October 2016. Her ec-hapbook, When I Was a Girl, is available as a free download from Sundress Publications. Her poems have appeared in journals such as Booth, The Emerson Review, Harpur Palate, Moon City Review, Stirring, and Whiskey Island, among others. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Pittsburgh Poetry Review and lives in the Braddock Hills neighborhood of Pittsburgh.
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February Reader Spotlight: Deesha Philyaw

We’re so excited for this week’s event, The Food of Love, so today we bring you a little taste of Deesha Philyaw, who will be reading at Zeke’s Coffee on Friday, 2/19 at 5pm. We hope to see you there to hear all about the sexy side of food!

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Photo credit: tfoley

Why do you write about food?

Growing up in the South, food was at the center of everything–holidays, car trips, lazy Saturdays, or just stopping by because you were in the neighborhood on a Sunday afternoon. Food was hospitality and love. I learned to cook by watching my maternal grandmother, and my time in the kitchen with her is among my fondest memories. When I teach my daughters to cook, I make new memories and share culture. How and what we eat, who we cook for and eat with..there’s always a story. And sometimes the food itself is the story. I write about food to tell broader stories about family, love, change, pain, and loss.

What’s the sexiest meal you’ve ever had?

I don’t typically think of food as sexy, but I remember having dinner at a seafood restaurant with my high school sweetheart before going to prom. We decided to eat a bunch of raw oysters because we’d read somewhere that they were aphrodisiacs–because of course two teenagers need an aphrodisiac on prom night!

If someone invented a cocktail named after you, what would it include?

Fresh ginger, potato vodka, lemon juice, wildflower honey, and sparkling water.

Deesha Philyaw is the co-author of Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive in Two Households After Divorce, written in collaboration with her ex-husband. Deesha’s writing on race, parenting, gender, and culture has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Brevity; Stepmom, Essence, and Bitch magazines; and various anthologies including The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage: True Tales of Food, Family, and How We Learn to Eat. She’s a Fellow at the Kimbilio Center for African American Fiction, and a recent Pushcart Prize nominee for essay writing in Full Grown People. Deesha is a two-time recipient of an Advancing the Black Arts in Pittsburgh grant from The Pittsburgh Foundation and the Heinz Endowments.

 

Say Cheese: Poems by Jen Karetnick

As a dining critic and poet for more than two decades, Jen Karetnick realized she had “fistfuls of poems on many food subjects, including cheese, wine, coffee, fruit, pasta, fish, eggs, and more.” The result was her full-length book Brie Season, published by White Violet Press. We’ve excerpted three delicious poems below.

Karetnick says she was inspired by G.K. Chesterton’s comment, “Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.” Smoked, Swiss, soft, gooey—we agree. Let’s rhapsodize together on the delight brought by a perfect, ripened wedge.


A Note to GK Chesterton 

If it’s true, as you say, that we have been
“mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese,”

perhaps it’s because few are the poets
who would choose as a muse

a bloomy rind triple crème
coated with penicillium candidum

when great white herons miss the bay
and, with breeze-fuzzed feathers,

land instead to amuse toddlers by stalking
reef geckos not quite camouflaged

among the grasses growing like lies
on the sand-held bricks of driveways

where basketball nets hang – the tattered
tails of kites – or wax about calf rennet

when older boys wheel like hawks
on baseball diamonds and our daughters

run, more long-legged every day,
under phone wires lined with a dozen

observant ibis, or care about cheddaring
and cave aging when none of these

things are true, and the children we never
bore are regrets, difficult to census

yet kept warm in the nests
of plume-hunted, colonial egrets.


Double Gloucester with Chives and Onions

Oh, you’re sharp. A real British wit. Even at the right
party, your tone is affectation – crumbling bits of puce-

hued irony, melded with tense, chewy bon mots that grind
between the teeth. How I like you: pared. But most take

chunks, willing to risk slavish salivary glands and a pain
not unlike melancholy so that you last between mastications

long after you should have been washed away by a wine
reeking of rain clouds, bruised guava and violets.


Fibonacci’s Angels at Surfing Goat Dairy

My
angels
are covered
in ash, shaped into
convex volcanoes, crumble at
the glance of a blade
as dull as
cracker
crumbs

My
angels
are Swedish
hearts, caraway seeds
nicking the tang of cool and cream,
rudeness to the tooth
under the black
waxy
shield

My
angels
are ping-pong
balls, marinated
in macadamia nut oil
and smoked over shells,
then preserved
in sealed
glass

heads
without
eyes or hair,
Styrofoam angels
before you add the gauzy wings
and Popsicle sticks,
born of goats
balanced
on

waves,
angels
draped in grape
leaves, spiced with the zest
of Provence, touched by Buddha’s Hand,
Thai dragon chilies,
Malabar
pepper,
bone.

Previously published in Cobalt.

***

Jen Karetnick, aka “Mango Mama,” is the author of the cookbook, Mango (University Press of Miami, 2014), which won a 2015 Excellence in Culinary Writing Award from Les Dames d’Escoffier International, and co-author of From the Tip of My Tongue (Story Farm Press, 2015), with chef Cindy Hutson, which won the 2015 “Best Woman Cookbook USA” from the World Gourmand Awards. Karetnick also has two forthcoming books of poetry, American Sentencing (Winter Goose Publishing, May 2016) and The Treasures That Prevail (Whitepoint Press, September 2016).

The Food of Love

Even if science doesn’t support all our aphrodisiac myths, there’s no doubt that food is often the way to someone’s heart — or into their pants. Our annual Valentine’s Day reading, The Food of Love, will tantalize you with sexy food stories, whether first dates or ten-year anniversaries, candlelit dinners or vegetables as sex toys.

Join us on February 19th, from 5-7pm, for readings from Jennifer Jackson Berry, Deesha Philyaw, and Ellen McGrath Smith. We’ll be hosted by Zeke’s Coffee on Penn Ave. in East Liberty.

Over the next week, we’ll be spotlighting each of our upcoming readers here on the blog, to whet your appetite for the seductive feast to come! For more information on the event, visit our Facebook page, or contact organizer Marissa Landrigan (acqtaste@gmail.com)

Beer Muffins: Just Like My Grandmother Used to Make

By Shelley Johansson

A grandmother’s superb home cooking is at the heart of many people’s childhood memories. I can’t say that this is true for me, exactly. My maternal grandmother grew in up in a Mississippi orphan’s home during the Depression, and never had a mother to teach her how to cook. But married at 16 and a mother by 18, cooking was her duty and she by God got good at it. Nana, who was so beautiful she was offered a screen test as a young woman, loved family meals and expressing her love for us through good food. But to her, cooking was a means to an end, not something to be enjoyed. It was a chore that had to be done to get to the good part – the companionship of the meal.

As an indifferent cook myself, I can relate. In my family, my husband does almost all the cooking, simply because he’s more interested in both the process and the result. So we regularly enjoy varied gourmet delights like scallops with champagne sauce, whereas if cooking were my responsibility I’d develop a rotating menu of good but basic meals. But an arrangement like that just wasn’t on the table in that era. Heaven knows my Papaw would never have scrambled his own breakfast eggs if Nana or one of his three daughters could be summoned to do it.

Like many of her generation, Nana never wasted anything, especially not food. She was known to combine the last little bits of many different cereals into one box, so you’d pick up a box of Cheerios and get ten chewy Cheerios, three Rice Krispies, some of bran flakes and a handful of cereal dust of indeterminate origin. (The trick was to slide the mess back in the box and grab the Chex before she noticed). She would “crisp” stale crackers in the oven, make concentrated coffee to reconstitute and heat up later, and combine leftovers into a new and weirdly-textured dish that would inevitably result in still more leftovers.

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A photo from Nana’s “modeling card” in the 1980s, so although she’s taking muffins out of the oven, it’s completely staged!

She did seem to like baking more, but maybe that’s because the times I remember her baking she was doing it with us, her adored grandchildren. We made many trays of cookies together, but the most fun we ever had was making old-fashioned molasses pull taffy with all six under-10 kids helping. The kitchen was sticky for days. She seemed to think it was worth it.

As in so many families, when we all got together at the big house my Papaw had built in Louisville, the six grandkids would eat at the kids’ table. There simply wasn’t room at the huge round dining room table for us all. There was nowhere I felt safer or more loved than eating dinner in my Nana’s warm, comfortable kitchen, laughing with my cousins while the adults bustled around getting their meal ready.

My grandparents retired to Florida when I was a preteen, where they lived on the lagoon, with a boat parked at a dock in their backyard. Most of the family still lived in Louisville, so when we visited there were generally fewer of us at their house at once — so the kids and adults would eat together. The meal was often delicious seafood we caught under my Papaw’s guidance, and that Nana had learned to cook. Papaw cleaned the fish, but they both became experts at shucking oysters and opening scallops. We’d play cards after the meal – an aptly-named game called “Oh, Hell” – and the two losers would do the dishes. My grandfather almost always won. Nana, on the other hand, almost always lost.

Nana was incredibly creative, an artist without training. A gifted decorator, gardener and artisan, she would rush through her cooking chores to get back to whatever her creative passion was at the time – framing art, sculpting clay, creating wreaths, and seashell crafts are just a few that I remember. She was very much an extrovert and loved all kinds of get-togethers, especially dinner parties. In fact, she was so well-known for being able to throw a great party at a moment’s notice that this attribute was mentioned in her obituary. But the food was not what made these events memorable – it was her personality, her fine-tuned ability to make a party sparkle.

Nana2
Nana in a homemade costume, perhaps for a garden party

I still have a stack of index cards with recipes she copied from newspapers and magazines, carefully transcribed in her loopy, increasingly spidery handwriting. What’s less clear to me is how many of these recipes she actually tried. There was a brief period where she drove my mom crazy asking her to type dessert recipes she’d made up to enter into the Pillsbury Bake-Off. (They generally included at least two sticks of “oleo” and generous amounts of Cool Whip). But for the most part, she was a utilitarian cook, not an experimental one.

The one food I credit her with inventing, or at least perfecting, was beer muffins. My memory is that she started making these on a family trip to the Florida Everglades some 40 years ago, when I was about six and we were staying at a cabin that had non-potable water. So instead of using water to make Bisquick muffins, she used beer, and the result was delicious. Whether this is actually what happened is another question – memory can be a funny thing — and no one else in the family can recall how beer muffins entered her repertoire. Google gives me several recipes for beer muffins, which probably means she didn’t originate the idea. Maybe she got a recipe off the back of the box, who knows.

But it is unambiguously true that these muffins became a staple of our family get-togethers for decades. They were fast, cheap, delicious, and easy to make in bulk, all great qualities when you’re trying to feed a crowd. Like most quickbreads, they had to be enjoyed fresh. Day-old beer muffins weren’t worth much, although Papaw would sometimes eat toasted leftovers for breakfast.

The beer muffin era ended when my grandparents returned to Louisville in the mid-2000s, realizing it was time to be near family. After that, the extended family didn’t gather at their new, much smaller house – instead, we’d go to my aunt’s – and when we did get together Nana was no longer in charge of the meal. She continued to cook for herself and Papaw, a chore that went from unpleasant to downright oppressive after he was diagnosed with oral cancer. His surgery and treatment made eating difficult, and she had little guidance from the doctors on how and what to cook for him. I don’t know if she ever made beer muffins in these years, but for some reason none of the rest of us did, either.

After Papaw died she moved into a retirement home. She gleefully noted that she would never have to cook again. And she didn’t, although I know she missed throwing dinner parties. She passed away the day after her 92nd birthday, almost two years ago now. I rarely go a day without thinking of her with love and gratitude.

They say smell is the sense most associated with memory, but I say taste trumps it. So recently, I decided to evoke my grandmother by making beer muffins, the one food I truly associate with her. The recipe is simple and easy to adjust – about two cups of Bisquick, three tablespoons of sugar, and enough beer to make a thin batter, baked in well-greased muffin tins at 425 degrees. As the muffins were baking, I opened the oven door to make sure they were getting nice and brown. Enveloped in the sweet, familiar smell for the first time in at least 10 years, I burst into tears before eating three in one sitting, with plenty of butter. For me, beer muffins are childhood at Nana’s house, served up on a fragrant plate.

***

Shelley Johansson is the director of communications for the Johnstown Area Heritage Association.Her work has appeared in The Bitter Southerner, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Johnstown Magazine, and DIY Musician. She earned an MS in Communications from the University of Tennessee, and teaches public speaking at Penn Highlands Community College.

Trailblazing Lady Chefs (And Their Holiday Cooking Tips)

by Alicia Williamson, chief editor at Quotabelle

The holiday season is a time to reconnect with family and friends. It’s also the season to dust off those old family recipes, many of which are best kept for once-a-year consumption.

I’m from the Midwest. Quite a few of the favorite dishes my family counted as “traditional” were conspicuously midcentury in their origin. Cranberry Jello salad laced liberally with crushed pineapple, celery and nuts. Green cornflake wreaths decorated with Red Hots. Canned green bean and condensed soup casserole, topped with french fried onions and cheese.

This year, I’m planning to mix up my holiday menu with recs courtesy of the fascinating foodies I’ve researched this year. It’s my job to discover and share the (often passed-over) ideas and stories of women and girls from all fields, including the culinary arts. Here are quotes, recipes and the stories behind them sourced from Quotabelle’s collection—perfect for spicing up December baking sessions and holiday parties.

***

“This book is for those of us who want to fold our dishwater hands around a dry Martini instead of a wet flounder, come the end of the day.” Peg Bracken

When copywriter and humorist Peg Bracken went to publish her irreverent I Hate to Cook Book, it was rejected by 6 male editors who flatly refused to believe the market implied by the title existed. When a female editor undertook to print Peg’s book in 1960, it was an instant bestseller.

This essential midcentury kitchen companion was born out of an ongoing collaboration among working women. They “pooled their ignorance” to come up with dishes that were easy to prepare, tasty to eat and hilarious to read. The recipe for “stayabed stew” ordered the chef to go back to bed for 5 hours while it slow-cooked itself. Peg’s instructions for the ever-popular “hootenholler whisky cake” advised the baker to start with “a small snort” of the titular ingredient “for medicinal purposes.” And it reminded readers to “buck up” the delicious leftovers now and again with the aid of an ice pick and an eye dropper.

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“A good recipe travels as far, and fast, as a good joke.”

Need quick bites for holiday party? Try one of Peg’s no-fail, 3-ingredient hors d’oerves, like “Betty’s cocktail cookies”:

½ c flour, ¼ c butter and 1 jar processed bacon-cheese spread. Simply mix, roll, refrigerate, slice into discs and pop in the oven for 10 minutes at 400º F. No need to grease that baking sheet.

***

“What does the Cuban homemaker have and what can be done with it?” Nitza Villapol

Nitza Villapol was the host of the longest running cooking show on television. The first episode of Cocina al Minuto aired in Cuba on December 23, 1948. The popular program survived the 1959 revolution and continued for nearly 3 decades following, with the loyal Fidelista serving up countless helpings of her signature black beans and picadillo.

During her TV tenure, Nitza personified Cuban cooking—and patriotism. The people’s chef tried to wean fellow citizens off their traditional meat-and-starch diets and cheerfully adapted her recipes to fit the current rations. When ingredients were scarce during food shortages, she’d encourage cubano “ingenuity.” If the rice ran out, she’d add macaroni to her beans. If potatoes were the only thing on offer, she’d exhaustively demonstrate the many things you can make from potatoes (salad, mash, stew…even jam and mayonnaise).

Cocina-al-Minuto

“We may not have anything left to eat, but we still have our dignity. If it’s necessary, we will do our cooking with firewood. We will do anything except surrender!”

Nitza’s cookbooks were considered so precious that they were often smuggled off the island and passed down through generations.

Her holiday tips? Marinate your turkey for at least 10 hours in garlic, lemon, orange, cumin and oregano. Stuff the bird with arroz congris (Cuban black beans and rice). For a seasonal postre, add calabaza (butternut squash puree) to your flan.

***

“I consider stir-frying a form of culinary magic in which ingredients are transformed.” Grace Young

Julia Child may have been her childhood idol, but today Grace Young has left behind the pastry and cream sauces to become the “poet laureate of the wok.” It’s an alias that pays homage to “timely and timeless” traditions of Chinese cooking she first learned at home. Behind the food in Grace’s three award-winning cookbooks is a “yin-yang” philosophy that calls for contrast and balance in flavors and nutrition.

Follow this stir-fry master’s tips, and you, too, can make culinary magic from hot pepper beef to chili mango chicken to seared sugar snaps. Marinate your meat. Make sure your veg is fresh and dry. Never overcrowd the pan. And, be a good listener—because when a wok sings, it’s ready.

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“If there isn’t sizzle, something’s wrong.”

Some holiday wisdom from Grace—ditch the butter and cream, and wok your way to healthier sides that don’t hog valuable real estate in your oven. Try stir-fried Brussels sprouts with shallots, sherry and pine nuts or stir-fried balsamic ginger carrots. For Chinese New Years, go for a mushroom-based main…quick-growing fungi are associated with good fortune.

***

“People who love to eat are always the best people.” Julia Child

Today, her iconic TV kitchen is a bonafide Smithsonian exhibit, but Julia Child was no natural when it came to the culinary arts. She grew up thinking she would go into science. The first recipe she cooked up was for shark repellant (as a US Navy researcher during WWII). She failed her first exam at Paris’s École Cordon Bleu. But, this dubious resumé made Julia the perfect person to take the “bugaboo” out of Continental cuisine for the rest of us.

Her first major publication—the 1961 magnum opus, Mastering the Art of French Cooking—led to a PBS gig where she debuted her classic live show The French Chef with a savory pot of boeuf bourguignon. For the next decade, fans tuned in to see her pragmatic instruction and infectious enthusiasm brought to everything from paté to soufflé.

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Ready to commit to a Julia-style holiday dinner? Go for a well-trussed goose! Stuff it with brandy-soaked prunes, chestnuts and ground pork.

Make sure whatever dessert you choose—be it crokenbush (a pyramid of filled crème puffs held together with caramel and topped with spun sugar) or bûche de noël (a frosted yule log made from rolled sponge and Italian meringue)—takes no less than half a day and 4 stages to complete. But, as Julia would say:

“The pleasures of the table, and of life, are infinite—toujours bon appétit!”


Quotabelle is now on Indiegogo, if you’d like to help them give life to more women’s words.

Too Spicy for Average Mortals: December Reader Spotlight on Claire Burgess

We’re so excited for this week’s event, Six Impossible Things for Breakfast, so today we bring you a little taste of Claire Burgess, who will be reading at Classic Lines, Thursday 12/10, at 7pm. We hope to see you there for the weird and wonderful side of food!


 

IMG_2045Why do you write about food?

The funny thing is I don’t purposefully write about food, but it’s all over my stories. Food, eating, cooking. It’s because there is a visceral power in food. It can be pleasurable, comforting, gluttonous, or sexy. It nourishes and sustains us, keeps us alive. Preparing it can be an act of love or obligation. We take it into our bodies. Think about that. We take it into our bodies. There’s a boon of metaphorical possibility there. It’s also just plain useful: you can tell a lot about a character by what she feeds herself. Green smoothies or gas station nachos? Or, even better, both? (We all have our contradictions.) There’s a lot you can do with food.

What’s the strangest meal you’ve ever had? 

My husband and I were in Paris, and there was a TexMex restaurant near our hotel called El Rancho. Naturally, we had to try it. It was decorated in tasteful, Mexican-ish decor, and there was a sign over the door that said “Thank’s for your visit.” They served us the tiniest chips and salsa imaginable. The chips were bite-sized, and the salsa was in a bowl about the size of a soy sauce cup. I ordered a margarita, which came in a miniature Manhattan glass, and chicken fajitas, which had not only the standard peppers and onions, but also broccoli, green beans, olives, and sugar snap peas. Sugar snap peas. In a fajita. It was delicious, of course, cause France, and we actually went back a second time and ordered the exact same thing. Since then, I’ve tried to recreate it at home, but I can’t quite capture its original glory.

If someone invented a cocktail named after you, what would it include?

The Claire Burgess would use ingredients that you always have in your house, because this is the kind of drink you drink after you’ve already had a few and shouldn’t be tempted to drive anywhere for some missing frou-frou liqueur. It has a strong pour of whisky in it, and it definitely has hot sauce, and then whatever else can be scrounged from your pantry because you haven’t been to the store in over a week. It should be too spicy for average mortals. Every sip should warm you like an embrace and then kick you in the ass. Some people think it’s disgusting, but that’s how you know who your real friends are. They’re the messy ones with the belly laughs, the sharp tongues and giant hearts. The fire eaters, the smoke breathers, the dragons with a purr in their throats.


You can read some of Burgess’s fiction at Annalemma, and then hear her in person next week at Classic Lines bookstore for Six Impossible Things for Breakfast.

Claire Burgess is a writer of short fiction, educator of teenagers, and blogger for The Rumpus. Her stories have received special/notable mentions in thePushcart Prize and Best American anthologies, and have appeared in Third Coast, Hunger Mountain, PANK, and elsewhere. She received her MFA from Vanderbilt University and is a founding editor of Nashville Review. Currently, she’s completing a manuscript of short stories under the working title Last Dog.