Kate Christensen 4 KB copyI fell in love with Kate Christensen’s fiction for the smart but deeply flawed characters, the vibrant settings, the good old-fashioned plot twists and, of course, the prose, once described by Janelle Brown in the San Francisco Chronicle as “visceral and poetic, like being bludgeoned with an exquisitely painted sledgehammer.” Always in the mix, lusciously omnipresent, was food and booze, flavoring the titles (In The Drink, The Epicure’s Lament) and served generously through the scenes. There was no doubt the author was deeply involved with eating and drinking.

HOW TO COOK A MOOSE_COV_hr copyA Tale of Two Kitchens

Right away, when we first moved to Portland, I noticed the large numbers of homeless and mentally ill and drug-addicted and hardscrabble people on the streets. Walking Dingo through our new neighborhood, I saw a lot of strung-out-looking people talking to themselves with unselfconscious intensity as they took refundable bottles from recycling bins, and couples screeching at each other, enraged and incoherent, often many feet apart on the sidewalk. Every time we drove to buy groceries, passing by a series of homeless shelters on and near Preble Street, I’d look out the window of our warm car at the faces of the people standing there, huddled groups of down-and-out men and women, a few black but mostly white, hunched in wool pea coats and hats with earflaps, or watch caps and down jackets, rubbing hands together, kibitzing and standing around waiting for the soup kitchen to open and exhaling cigarette smoke as if it had warming properties.

AoC Cover ImageFood binds us together. It is who we are. What we eat, where our food comes from, how it’s produced, who grows it, and when it arrives on our table tell us pretty much everything we need to know about ourselves. Our culture is the sum of its edible parts. How we treat the animals that we eat, for example, tells us—or ought to, anyway—a great deal about the state of our nation. Overgrazed range is a food issue. Population is a food issue. Food ties urban to rural, eater to grower, people to land, past to future, one nation to another, our children to ourselves. There is no such thing as a “post-agricultural” society, as author Wendell Berry has noted. We’re all eaters. We’re all in this together.

The Ministry of Thin_FINALAlice and I are walking down the aisle marked Dairy. I take four small tubs of Total 0% Greek yogurt, a couple of raspberry-flavor Müller Lights. I add a four-pack of vanilla probiotic Activias, then a two-pint carton of skim milk. My sister grimaces at the red-top milk—“Skim? That stuff looks like dirty water.” I nod cheerfully, “I know, tastes like it too.” We turn the corner into the aisle marked Meat, where it’s Al’s turn to stock up: bacon, chicken, and some kind of fish.

At the checkout line, we look at our baskets: butter, bacon, and eggs in hers; muesli, pita bread, Greek yogurt in mine. I also have apples, broccoli, bananas; Al has sparkling water, salmon, avocado.

See what she’s doing, and see what I’m doing? Without even thinking about it, we both have our forbidden foods—or, if not entirely forbidden, substances we steer clear of. Al never buys coffee or wine, although she will have the occasional cappuccino or glass of wine when she’s out. I literally don’t go near butter, and I wouldn’t know how to cook any of the meat she buys. Odder than her wariness of caffeine, and my strict vegetarianism, is our avoidance of whole food groups. I don’t do fat; she doesn’t do carbs. A few decades ago these might have seemed strange rules to follow, but these days they’re pretty normal. In the twenty-first century most women police their diets in some way.

Holly Hughes by Kara Flannery 2You have been the editor of the annual best Food Writing anthology since its first edition, in 2000. What exactly do you do to “edit” this book?

Well, editing is sort of a misnomer. What I really do is more like glorified dumpster-diving – I cherry-pick essays and articles that have already been published somewhere else, either in print or on line, in the course of the past year. I don’t edit those pieces at all – I don’t need to.  They’re already just about perfect, or else I wouldn’t have picked them. Probably a better name for what I do would be “curator.”

The Walt Disney Company has announced a ban on a variety of junk foods that can advertise on the Disney Channel. Nutrition guidelines that will prevent ads include high sodium, sugar, and any food brands owned by Disney’s rivals.

Our detractors suggest this is a cynical gambit, that the company enters the nutrition business to license “Mickey-approved” foods, but this isn’t it at all. Studies show that children who eat healthy will end up living longer, and have more disposable income to spend on a variety of Disney products, such as Eldergarten, Disney’s fun-filled adult themepark and retirement community.

Waiting

By Marissa Landrigan

Essay

Over the course of the past year, the final year of my twenties, many of my closest friends have become mothers. Which is to say, they have come to understand the design of their bodies as evolutionary miracles, capable of withstanding great pressure, change, eruption. The body as engine.

As an incoming high-school freshman, I weighed 170 pounds. Sixteen years later, I weighed somewhere slightly north of 315. That’s a gain of 145. So, with much respect to the late great Allan Sherman, I would like to explain how it came to pass that I got fat:

Amuse-bouche

By Alan Brouilette

Food

I don’t know what I’m doing. Well, I do. But I don’t want to. I could throw out a CV, with articles and citations. I could throw you a family heirloom guilty-pleasure reverse-snobbery recipe from the fifties. I could yammer about obscure restaurants or the importance of pure ingredients or “the joys of authentic sushi” or any of a zillion other things. I could fake it, y’know? Look up some African restaurant no one’s ever been to and Asian fruits no one’s heard of and a couple of microbrews no one’s invented yet and wax poetic on ’em. Talk about how green sapote tastes just like chocolate pudding and tut-tut that more Americans aren’t adventurous eaters. (With the “like me” implied.) Wave my bona fides atcha like a puffed-up pigeon, strutting and looking for a fight.

An old man with six fingers total saws lugubrious anthems of loss and love on a zither with a caved-in box and crooked plectrum. His only lyric: ¿por qué? repeated over and over like incantation. He sits on an old barber’s chair perched against a crumbling wall along one of the Zócalo walkways. He has breadcrumbs in his moustache, and the graffiti behind his sombrero’d head, reads, in Spanish: Fuck Your Mother. We drop a few sweaty coins into the empty yogurt dish at his feet. His eyes drop like bats feeding.

Vendors flash their wares. Leather wallets with big silver snaps. Purses of all sorts of hides bearing the ecstatic faces of the toothy gods, handbags made of tortoise shell and obsidian. Earrings of snail shells, snakeskin belts. Something about this commerce stirs in us a sly uneasiness, but admiration. This is a market without middleman, and the directness of it—the chance to place the pesos for a turtle purse into the durable hands of the man who, just last week, ripped the small wriggling body from the shell—is chilling, as it is alluring.

Like somnambulists, we zombify the market, wide-eyed and stiff-legged, not saying a word or looking at each other, Mexico City the only reaction shot we need. I want to know everything Louisa is thinking, if thoughts of Chicago evaporating like tea steam rush her with their thin whistle, if she is only in the moment or already forcing upon it reflection from some unknowable, but probable future. I want to know, but stare straight ahead until she speaks.

“I’d really like an agua fresca.

Her voice is like the hand that pulls me from the bottom of the pool, where I lost myself gathering pennies to the point of drowning; the same penchant for blind engrossment that caused me as a child to piss myself while watching Sesame Street. I suck air. It’s filthy and wonderful. All sewage and roasting corn.

“We have to find the kind that’s all fruit, or mixed with milk,” I say, “the ones mixed with water can hurt us.”

“It’s so tempting though,” she whines, gesturing to a stand mixing prickly pear drinks, cantaloupe, coconut, tamarind.

“Those are the water ones, baby,” I say, “Trust me, you don’t want to get sick.” And immediately I hate playing the role of reason, of lack of surrender, but I’ve been struck with parasites many times before; once, years ago in Mérida, Yucatán, when I couldn’t help but eat a guyaba berry rolled in chile powder, handed to me by a cloaked 100-year-old Mayan woman sitting streetside on a blue plastic crate. I paid for such surrender with high fever and higher intestinal duress for weeks, cut with no sleep and freezing cold sweats. It was only later that I found out that, in Taíno mythology, that the guyaba was typically reserved for opías, or the walking dead, who would parade the Ceiba forests and make of the berry the edible centerpiece for their night-feasts, taking the form of pale navel-less humans, or bats. In fact, according to the legend, the ruler of these dead bore the name of Maquetaurie Guayaba, Lord of Sweet Delight. The nectar of the berry was often used as the base of a black body paint used to evoke the nature of death in various rituals and rites. So, maybe that had something to do with it.

“Oh, I know,” Louisa croons as we pass the fruit drink stands, “but they look so good.”

Restraint, especially when it comes to ingestibles, when we’re traveling has thankfully never been our strong suit as a couple. But pass the stands we do. Soon, as if antidote, we’re looking to buy a knife from a short middle-aged man in a tank-top, serpentine scar tattoos adorning both of his shoulders, moustache guyaba berry-death paint-dark, straw sombrero ripped open at the top, exposing his wet knotted hair. Surely we need something sharp with which to excise our agua fresca loss. We make this transaction wordlessly. The scarred man shows us various knives—thick-bladed, thin-bladed, switch-bladed, stone. Bright knives inlayed with jewels, knives used and stained with old blood and rust. When we shake our heads, he retrieves a new one from its slumber on his crowded blanket. He is barefoot and his foot-tops bear old puncture wounds.

After seven failed attempts, he retrieves a stunning obsidian knife with an Aztec design carved handle of green onyx. It is ancient-looking and beautiful, fresh from some painful sacrifice—agua fresca or otherwise. This is the one. The eyeballs convince us; carved into the handle, they bug-out at us, hypnotic enough for Louisa, continuing our opera of silence, to grab my unscarred shoulder. The man sees this, nods, and immediately wraps the knife in bubble-wrap and scotch tape. We pay him the 150 pesos (about twelve bucks) without bargaining, he touches our scalps as if blessing us, his tepid hands the texture of hessian, and we move on to the section of city on the other side of the Zócalo, where we have not yet been. Stone knife safely sheathed in packing material, we stroll the streets, teeming with life and neighborhood, dollies overloaded with wares of all kinds—carpets, jugs, cow heads, clothing—small cars honking, open flatbeds rattling, bicycles swerving, barely navigating the madness of street stand and pedestrian. We think of that man and his zither, can’t decide whether everything or nothing we see answers his endless question of Why? We barely navigate this madness ourselves, oblivious to the rules, the imbroglio of smell and sound, looking for anything alive to eat.

Preface – The People Who Are Special, Too

I strongly believe there is no species of millipede I will ever find palatable. The particular version I found in my bowl on a warm summer evening in the summer of 2005 was an easy call. There were hundreds of them, red and pink, each about an inch long. They had however many legs it takes to make something “milli” as well as angry-looking pincers from both the front and back. They had been deep fried and were left moist with oil. The dish included long sugar sticks that one could lick and dip into the bowl. The millipedes that stuck would get sucked off the stick in what I had been assured was a delicious combination of sweet and sour. Nevertheless, I demurred.

“I cannot eat this,” I told my host, a middle-aged Communist Party official in a dusty blue jacket. We were two of the dozen or so people who had gathered at the center of Unicorn Hill Village #3—a tiny hamlet of perhaps thirty single-story houses constructed of cinder block and wood—to celebrate my visit and the arrival of the Peace Corps. We were sitting around a low, round table on fourteen-inch-high plastic stools. The millipedes glistened before me in a chipped porcelain bowl. The group stared on in silence as the village leader looked from me to the millipedes and back to me. He had a spindly frame and tanned skin that was drawn taut against his cheekbones. He looked like a Chinese Voldemort.

“Eat the food,” he grunted. His wife had made the millipede dish according to what my guide told me was “a very special recipe of the Bouyei people.” The Bouyei were a tiny, impoverished ethnic group concentrated in the mountains of central China. These were some of the very people the Peace Corps had sent me to live with, learn from, and—in theory—teach. My first meal in the village and I was off to a bad start.

“You can eat this,” my guide said with a nervous smile. “It tastes good.” He demonstrated for me, licking his sugar stick, dipping it in the bowl, and sucking off one particularly hairy millipede. “They’re sweet,” he explained, crunching away happily, “and Americans like sweet things.”

I nodded. “That’s true.” I groped for a polite escape. “But I’m a little different than most Americans.”

This gained me perplexed looks from both my guide and my host.

“I’m a Jew.”
Gasps. Widened eyes. Furrowed brows. Awkward silence. I said this last sentence in Chinese. “Wo shi youtairen.” The phrase, loosely translated, meant “I am a Person Who Is Special, Too.”

Why—oh why—had I said this? This was atheist, Communist China, after all. Didn’t Karl Marx say religion was the “opiate of the masses”? Had I just told my hosts I was a drug addict? And hadn’t Chairman Mao condemned religion as one of the “Four Olds,” a remnant (along with old culture, old habits, and old ideas) of the feudal past the Communist Party sought to destroy? I wondered if the arrest and deportation of a Peace Corps volunteer would make the evening news back home in Philadelphia.

As the silence around the table deepened and my face turned ever-darker shades of red, I marveled at the desperation of my religious mea culpa. I should have known better. I had, after all, already undergone months of Peace Corps training, sweating through seemingly endless hours of language classes, daily safety-and-security lectures, and occasional lessons in cross-cultural sensitivity. All of this, however, had taken place in Chengdu, the wealthy, relatively Americanized capital city of Sichuan Province, which was now a sixteen-hour train ride to the north. Chengdu had McDonald’s, Starbucks, and an IKEA. It was the China of Thomas Friedman and other American pundits touting China’s rise. I was now in Guizhou Province, the desperately poor, rural province in the dead center of China that would be my home for the next two years. Guizhou had . . . millipedes.

I was happy that my training was complete and I was finally on my own. I was happy to be in a part of China I had rarely seen covered in the American media. I was feeling like an authentic, trailblazing Peace Corps volunteer on an Indiana Jones adventure. Unicorn Hill Village #3 was no Temple of Doom, but this was far from my typical dinner.

Dr. Jones played it cool; I was desperate. Embracing my Jewish roots at that particular moment was a foggy-headed attempt to get excused from the table. I had never yearned so powerfully for a bagel.

“Jews can’t eat insects,” I mumbled, my eyes scanning for reactions from the men who surrounded me. “I don’t want to get into it, but there are a lot of rules for us . . .”

The tension seemed to mount until, quite suddenly, the silence was broken by a hoot from my host’s wife. Her cry was followed by smiles from others in the group, pats on my back, and even some applause.

“Comrade Marx was Jewish,” said a man sitting a few paces away from the table, staring at me intensely.

“So was Einstein,” beamed the man to my right, offering me a cigarette.

“You must be very clever,” said my guide, as the bowl of insects was removed from my side of the table, replaced by a dish of steaming meat.

“Why would the CIA send us a Jew?” mumbled Voldemort. I wasn’t sure I had heard him correctly, but the raised eyebrow from my guide let me know I had, officially, just been accused of being a spy.

It was all a little bewildering, but I smiled like an idiot, happy to avoid the millipedes. I dug right into the mystery meat, and the men around the table quickly began eating their food as well. There was a toast to my health, then another to my success as a teacher, then another to American-Chinese friendship. We all got good and drunk.

I had passed the test. I was a Jew in the middle of nowhere, China.



Excerpted from Kosher Chinese by Michael Levy
Copyright 2011 by Michael Levy
Published in 2011 by Henry Holt and Company
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

This book describes a China very different from the one in the news.
  What do you think are our biggest misconceptions about China?

The president of Guizhou University once asked me if he could understand
 America if he visited New York City and San Francisco, and then went home.  
Could you imagine how profoundly skewed his ideas of American politics, food,
 culture, landscape (etc), would be? But, he told me, this is exactly how
 Americans view China. He’s right, especially for those of us who learn
 about China from someone like Thomas Friedman, a pundit whose coverage of China 
is way off. It’s as if the billion average Chinese in the middle of the 
country don’t even exist. Guizhou and the surrounding provinces are totally 
invisible (unless there’s a natural disaster or a riot). Kosher Chinese is an attempt to fill in this massive blind spot.

What are our misconceptions? First, there’s the religious aspect of life in
 China. I had more conversations about spirituality in two years in China than 
in two decades in the U.S. Second, there’s politics. Chinese love their
 government, and for good reason. They have no interest in what we would call 
democracy. Government, my students often told me, is for the experts in 
Beijing. They’ve given three decades of incredible economic growth, after all!
  At a time when the approval rating of the American Congress is something like
 9%, it was amazing to live in a place bristling with unbridled patriotism.

You now teach at a private school in Brooklyn, NY. What are the 
biggest differences between how American and Chinese children are educated?

On the one hand, the stereotypes can be all too true: Chinese students do, 
indeed, spend epic amounts of time studying for tests, particularly the gaokao 
(their version of the SAT). My students in Guiyang spent all of high school
 cramming for this test, the only factor in their college admissions. That’s’ 10 
hours a day, 6 days a week, for four years. My students in Brooklyn might spend
 15 minutes a night on the homework I assign; after that, it’s off to basketball
 practice, then play rehearsal, then gchat/texting till bedtime. So you do get 
the robot-Asian myth coming true, and the distracted, super-social American 
teen-myth as well.

A lot of Americans are worried that we are losing our competitive edge, and 
they often point a finger at our school system. Maybe we need more seriousness, 
more competition, more tests. Maybe we need to be more like China. People who 
read Kosher Chinese will have a much more three-dimensional
 understanding of what this would mean—and after teaching in both school
 systems, I would say the Chinese way is absolutely NOT the answer.


What drove you to join the Peace Corps?

Actually, it was September 11th that was the first impetus. I moved to New 
York for graduate school on September 1, 2001, and experienced ten days of New 
York as I had always imagined it. I was in heaven.

I woke up on that fateful Tuesday morning, and ended up watching smoke rise
 over downtown Manhattan. I remember feeling helpless, frustrated, and confused.  
I wanted to do something. Joining the Marines wasn’t in the cards: I’m a bit 
too old, and get woozy when I stub my toe. But I am a fairly patriotic guy, and
 I did want to serve my country. The Peace Corps started making a lot of sense.

The more I thought about it, the more it appealed to me. I would serve. I
 would express my patriotism in a way that was fully in line with my values. I 
would help heal my own feelings of political impotence. I started the paperwork
 about a year later, and not long after that, I was on my way to China.


You ended up with the unlikely nickname “Friendship Jew.”
  What role did you expect your Judaism to play in Guiyang –- if any?

I had no idea what I was getting myself into—none. I didn’t speak any
 Chinese when I left, I had never been anywhere in Asia, and I would not have 
been able to find Guiyang on a map. It was a leap of faith.

I assumed it would be a long time before I spun a dradel or ate kugel, but I
 really wasn’t sure. And it didn’t bother me. Guiyang had had a few Americans 
living in town before Peace Corps arrived, and all of them had been evangelical 
Christians on covert missions. That sort of work is illegal in western China, 
but people are only deported for really egregious political-religious acts. (In
 my time in Guiyang, one American got shipped out for crossing an invisible 
line).

The result was that most of the folks in Guiyang thought all Americans were 
right-wing Christian missionaries. It was depressing. And a lot of my Chinese 
friends and students were genuinely scared of religion. It was hardly their 
fault: all they had ever heard about God came from Communist propaganda or
 creepy preachers who often doubled as sex-tourists.

Judaism was a sort of neutral way to talk about a lot of things Guiyang
 needed to talk about: American diversity; non-extremist religious faith; Woody
 Allen.


Some of the best passages, and times it seems, surround food and
 meals. What caught you most off guard about eating with China’s other billion?

Can I just say that not a day goes by where I don’t yearn for food from 
Guiyang? I really miss it. It’s true that it took two months before I could eat
 a meal without experiencing almost immediate, bowl shaking diarrhea, but once
 my system acclimated, I was in culinary heaven. It’s nothing like American-
style Chinese food. There’s a lot of pork, even more hot pepper, and oceans of 
vegetable oil. The most popular local snack is called siwawa, or
 “dead baby.” But don’t worry—the name has nothing to do with the 
snack (it’s a sort of veggie burrito).

The biggest surprise was the food etiquette. Every meal was like a Passover
 Seder: talking, laughing, drinking, sharing, and stuffing myself. I really got
 used to a beer with lunch, and a few shots with dinner.

We are what we eat. I know that now more than ever. And we are how we eat.
  People in Guiyang ate to build friendships, to show respect, and to grow
 closer. There were never any prayers said over meals, but it was clearly the 
most meaningful time of the day for many of my friends.


Liza, a native of Lexington, Kentucky, said that Mama’s Kitchen served the most authentic Southern food in New York. To me that meant things would be fried, greased, and doused in gravy but a whole new type of eating awaited me inside the red screen door of Mama’s.

Not yet anteater boot-top-deep in suicide art and esophageal cathedral, the open rush of mole negro alley and chipped abalone shell catching the sun in its drying marine mitt, strange creams and Aztec knives—long-gone virginal—loved, hated, ignored, we ditch, thanks to Juan Pérez’s biscuit-faced generosity, our suitcases behind the Rioja’s front desk for the day—our flight to Oaxaca City only at 9:00pm tonight, and sup from Ciudad de México/Méjico/Distrito Federal, this triple-named beast of a metropolis, its belly heaving with street-scene and food and market and fake snow in 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and Juan Pérez’s patulous hugs (He actually runs his hands over the backs of our heads, kisses us on our cheeks, his lips warm and smooth, his face prickled with graying stubble, rife with effluvium—clove, citrus peel, musk, the back of a grandparent’s closet, the mothballs there and peeling floral shelfpaper, the spice of age and the uncontainable joy that can sometimes penetrate loneliness, calling to my own grandparents long-lost in their Long Island deathbed Yiddish mumblings and sweet neuroses bound to triple-checking the thermostat before bed, and Louisa’s, their quiet passings after being robbed in Johannesburg, handcuffed to their toilet), and stepping from the lobby, our ultra-temporary home, our one-night sanctuary and port in the educational protest deluge, we are naked and stuffed with beating hearts, two turkeys bloated with garlic and apple and breadcrumb and quick pace, heated demeanors, breasts drying out in this city-oven, juices running clear and exhilarated over the haldz and pupik of Avenida Cinco de Mayo and the corners we have yet to turn.

We blow kisses to the Virgen de Guadalupe calendar, the nightstands that once, if only for a storied night, held our books and our beer. The courtyard inhales, inflates its ribcage and we stare upward to its lack of ceiling, the sky washed-out, pale and filthy. We slip sheets of yellow paper beneath our suitcase handles with our Mexican names: Mateo y Luisa Franco. Wheel them behind the front desk. Juan Pérez implores us with a string of ten cuidados, clapping the air between his thick hands in applause or prayer, we can’t tell. We assure him we will be careful, our breaths sick with cheap toothpaste, his with cigar tobacco, leaf-acrid and heady, and step in toward those celestial embraces. He will not be here when we return, his shift over, his forty-minute drive to his ample wife and one daughter who still lives at home (of his remaining seven children, only two reside in Mexico City, and one of them in Chicago! which injects our goodbye with the additional five minute fever of memory and a list of stateside Mexican restaurants; Juan Pérez tells us he has never traveled north to visit. Muy caro,” he laments, rubbing his fingers together, empty of the many dólares he would have to spend to get there, my hometown, his son’s apartment, the last place my parents will likely live). We will retrieve our bags from that reincarnated eagle of a front desk clerk we saw briefly last night. In Juan Pérez’s adiós, the weight of the caretaker world.

We step, again, into the street, carrying with us our own decades in the service industry—my sixteen years in the restaurant trade, my start at age eleven, washing dishes in a fast food chicken shack on the outskirts of Chicago, moving through the worlds of server, busboy, wine grape picker and cantina floor mopper in Italy, line cook, garde manger, sous chef, sommelier, manager, catering business owner; Louisa’s journey including much of the same, though peppered with au pair in Israel, counselor to teenage drug addicts and prostitutes in South Africa (which temporarily earned her the status of nun), laundress in Key West (where she and I met in a Latin jazz bar called Virgilio’s, indelibly earning her the status of Fallen Sister Louie); our lives now in academia and massage therapy and, in Mexico, wherein we step toward the Zócalo, Juan Pérez’s graciousness still clinging to our necks like barbate scarves.

He makes us miss the service industry. We talk of this as we walk, our pace enflamed with our forthcoming evening plane ride, how the past has its sneaky ways to force us to desire it, return to it, even though we know disappointment imminently looms.

“Human nature,” Louisa says, as we pass an old woman playing the xylophone at the street curb, “we always want to be what we’re not, sweeten the things we used to do.”

“Or where we used to be,” I say.

Chicago asserts itself in the distance—some prohibitive force, forever muy caro.

When we emerge from skinny side-street into the behemoth Zócalo, we see at its center, on this 80-degree day, a snow machine spewing its cold manufactured flakes into the air. A team of smocked employees works with inadequate gloves to mound the snow into piles from which children, for a few pesos can pack snowballs for the throwing. The line to do this is obscene and snaking, two hours long at least, but oh, sweet novelty! This is the white sand beach to Siberia! All we can do is stop to watch a seven-year-old girl finally reach the line’s front, fork over her mother’s coins, and build a pathetic eight-inch snowman with the aid of a rigid burlap mold, under the supervision of a beautiful red-vested employee with matching red Santa Claus barrettes.

To her mother’s snapping camera, the girl beams as the barretted employee supplies her with a small pieces of cork and a reusable string of carrot, mounted on a long pin to stick into the molded snow-dwarf’s face, machine-pumped flakes waltzing around her head, collecting like diamonds in her black hair. Though this world is melting quickly, and she’s already being ushered out to allow for the next child, her face, as if trapped in a mold of its own, will not lose its smile. This is a past that may not require sweetening. Louisa and I take each other’s sweating hands. It’s been a strange winter.


Keith Dixon’s newest book, a memoir with more than forty recipes, follows a rich history of novelists like Orwell, Zola and Hemingway—whose interests (some might say obsessions) with food, drink and eating spilled over into their writing.

Chime in below with some examples of your favorite food writing by novelists, and we’ll automatically enter you in a drawing for three free copies of Cooking for Gracie.


***CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED***