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The Last Word: Poor Man’s Feast by Elissa Altman

W.H. Auden once said of legendary food writer MFK Fisher “I do not know of anyone in the United States who writes better prose.”

This is how I feel about Elissa Altman.

I am far from the first to say so.  Altman was once described as “The illegitimate love child of David Sedaris and MFK Fisher,” which is also quite fitting, since she approaches her craft the way she does her life, with humor and love, and not without some occasional sarcasm.

She wields a sharp wit and an even sharper eye for detail in her new memoir, Poor Man’s Feast – A Love Story of Comfort, Desire, and the Art of Simple Cooking (Chronicle, 2013). Read more

What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam? Government and the American Diet

Poor Uncle Sam’s got a lot on his plate these days: a curdled economy, an overcooked climate, a soured populace. It’s enough to give a national icon a capital case of indigestion. Anti-government sentiment is running so high that half the country seems ready to swap his stars and stripes for tar and feathers.

Sure, Uncle Sam’s always been kind of a drag, with his stern face and wagging finger. But to “nanny-state” haters, he’s a Beltway busybody in drag, democracy’s Mrs. Doubtfire, a Maryland Mary Poppins. If you believe that government is always the problem, never the solution, then you have no use for, say, more stringent food safety regulations, or Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign to combat obesity.

But the new exhibit “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam? The Government’s Effect on the American Diet” at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. offers an intriguing display of documents, posters, photos and other artifacts dating from the Revolutionary War to the late 1900s which serve to remind us that our government has long played a crucial role in determining how safe, nutritious and affordable our food supply is. Read more

Whole Grains: Putting White Flour Power On The Run?

So the First Family’s pulled up a patch of green turf and rolled out the red carpet for that dynamic dietary duo, fruits and veggies. Finally, fresh produce has a friend in the White House (except for beets, which, sad to say, the President declines to eat.)

But where is the Beltway ballyhoo for the third crucial ally in the Axis of Eat Well? It takes three pillars to form the plant-based diet we’re supposed to adopt if we want to save ourselves and the planet: fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. With all the publicity that the Grow Your Own movement has been getting, it’s high time to shine a light on America’s Grainy Day Woman, Lorna Sass, whose last book, Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way won a well-deserved James Beard award. Read more

Bryant Terry Delivers the Goods in Vegan Soul Kitchen

I was so excited when I received Bryant Terry’s newest cookbook, Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy and Creative African-American Cuisine.  First, because I grew up on southern delights like baked beans, corn bread, grits and coleslaw, but have been hard-pressed to find tasty recipes that don’t call for industrially canned and/or processed ingredients.  Second, the recipes in Terry’s book are vegan — which I see as an added bonus (though I’m not a vegan, I love eating that way), allowing the eater to get back to the core of what makes soul food good: Terry shows us that it’s the fresh, simple ingredients that bring the most flavor. Read more