Believe it or not, November is just around the corner. And that means cooler temperatures, football, and Thanksgiving! We decided to feature food articles once again in In Touch magazine, and opted to include several different articles about the way it feeds our souls as well as our bodies. My contribution for this special section features my grandfather and the way he and I spent time working a BBQ smoker/grill.
This is a collection of articles I highly suggest you enjoy in print, so please visit this site and get yourself a free subscription. The layout is just gorgeous and is filled will illustrations created by the uber talented Jeff Gregory.
You can also view my article and the other wonderful pieces from authors like Rachel Marie Stone, Leslie Leyland Fields, Matt Woodley, Chad Thomas Johnston, Aline Mello, and Leigh McLeroy by clicking here.
Thanksgiving will be here before too much long . I know this not because of the falling leaves or cooling temperatures, but because the November issue of In Touch Magazine hit homes this week!
The second feature is a fun, five-part read called Memorable Meals. The goal for the piece was to feature—you guessed it—food. But not just lavish holiday feasts. We wanted our writers to tell us the stories in which food played a part, and we got a wide variety. Seriously, everything from roasted goat served in the Sahara to a nuked hamburger shared in a prison visiting center.
And if this special feature wasn’t special enough, we decided to kick it up a notch and add an audio component. Each piece was recorded in the In Touch audio suites, some by the authors themselves and others by members of the In Touch Ministries’ staff. The feature as a whole can be seen (and heard) here. And if you want to suffer through me reading the text below, feel free to click here.
Two things I learned through creating this short piece. Writing about food is always fun, and listening to a recording of yourself is pure torture. 🙂
However, I’d love to hear your stories. What’s your favorite memory involving food?
Also, after you take a listen to the stories on our website, I’d love to hear your feedback. Is this something we should do more of? Let me know!
I value healthy eating, but by the seventh mention of bowel movements, I totally checked out. I’d gone to a baking class to learn about something I considered complicated—making bread. But I got a lot more than that for my eight dollars. In addition to learning about all things yeasty, I was also treated to a dissertation on the evils of pre-packaged foods and forced to listen as the teacher waxed rhapsodic about the unfathomable joy that could be mine if I made everything from scratch. Like buy-grain-in-bulk-and-grind-your-own-flour-in-a-mill-from-scratch.
To quote Hall and Oates, “I can’t go for that. No can do.”
Don’t misread my reticence. I’m not one of those people who eschews anything to do with good nutrition. In fact, I avoid fast food as much as possible, drink plenty of water, and eat my veggies. (Seriously, I actually like Brussell sprouts.) But to spend nearly every waking moment of my life thinking about what I eat and how I should buy, store, and prepare it is beyond my ken. If you’ll forgive me the dead metaphor/bad grammar super combo, it might be some folks’ bread and butter, but it ain’t my cup of tea.
Hecks to the yes, I value wellness. As a person who’s lived with multiple sclerosis for nearly ten years, I know what it feels like when your body turns traitor and refuses to work the way it should. But expending such an inordinate amount of time, money, and energy in the name of good health makes me wonder if the term “quality of life” has as many shades of meaning as Kool-Aid has uses for Yellow No. 5. To me, a life spent checking labels and prepping food to squirrel away in Tupperware boxes doesn’t make me want to do the Cupid Shuffle or “go tell it on the mountain.” I love to eat delicious, wholesome meals, but if I have to make a choice between spending my life creating them or crafting poetry, the latter will win. Every single time.
In C.S. Lewis’ masterwork, The Screwtape Letters, the title character (who just happens to be a demon) advises his nephew to tempt a person with gluttony. He says, “We canuse a human belly and palate to produce querulousness, impatience, uncharitableness, and self-concern” by “concentrating all our efforts on gluttony of Delicacy, not gluttony of Excess.” In other words, Lewis says, the desire for a perfect slice of toast or ideal cup of tea can never be fulfilled, and in searching for it, a person’s stomach “dominates” his/her life to the detriment of everything else.
I still want to learn everything there is to know about baking bread—but not so I can fend off some invisible specter of illness or fear. I want to bake to help feed the hungry, to teach my future children the value of making something with your hands, and to welcome others to my table to fellowship. After all, what good is lifetime spent filling my stomach with good things only to wake up one day and discover my soul is empty and my heart starved?
The day after Thanksgiving, I sat my uncomfortably overstuffed fanny in one of my parents’ equally overstuffed armchairs fully intending to zone out to whatever football game I could find. That’s when I noticed a can my grandmother had left on a nearby table. The label got me to thinking–a dangerous pastime, especially when one has a stomach full of dressing and yams.
Maybe it’s because I don’t often eat cashews or because the starkness of the generic label made it more apparent, but I never noticed the clever use of the verbiage “and pieces” before. However, a quick consultation of The Google confirmed that most brands do in fact use this phraseology.
Is it just me, or does this seem like a cop out? After all, there is no such caveat on a jar of peanuts, a bag of walnuts, or even a single-serving snack pack of pistachios. (Believe me, I looked. Don’t judge, I was facing a six-hour car ride home and had a fully charged iPhone for research purposes. I can think of less constructive uses of one’s time, only some of which involve a Kardashian.)
Why do the canners of cashews cover their bases so thoroughly? Was there once an irate consumer who felt he had been sold a faulty product and sued hardworking, honest horticulturalists because there were more pieces than halves? Whatever the reason, one thing is blatantly obvious…
Halves + Ampersand + Pieces = Manufacturer is legally absolved of quality control and painstaking shipping practices. After all, the packaging makes no bones about the fact that some of your nuts will arrive in less than pristine condition. If other manufacturers were this truthful about their products, bags of chips would have “& air” at the end. Shampoo manufacturers would finally have to admit what’s in their overpriced bottles is as much “& water” as it is soap.
So maybe it isn’t a cop out. There is something noble about the proclamation “& pieces.” No one is perfect after all, so why should we expect that of nuts? Cashews somehow seem more humble and unassuming for their willingness to admit their weaknesses, their penchant for falling short at times. I can’t imagine Brazil nuts or almonds being so high-minded. Hazelnuts are all too busy trying to be magically transformed into Nutella to worry about ethics, and pecans can’t even decide how they want their name to be pronounced. (Seriously, is it Pee-cans or Pe-cahns?) Macadamia nuts, nature’s ultimate guilty pleasure, are so fatty and delicious they don’t feel a need to justify themselves to anyone. They’re like the Lady Gaga of Nutworld.
Like I said, a full belly coupled with an overactive imagination can be a dangerous thing. But I’ve come to the conclusion that, despite the fact they fall to pieces, there’s no reason to eschew the cashew.
What do you think? Is it nuts….or am I for asking!? Have you noticed any weird or random labels on products lately that made you wonder about the world’s sanity? Link up and discuss below in the comments!
I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I can say with confident conviction that I love Chinese food. Oh, I know what some of you might be thinking…The stuff that we eat in America isn’t even really Chinese food, you know. I am well aware of this truth, and I’ll tell you that unless it still has a head on it or is still moving when they bring it to me on the plate, I’ll usually eat it. So, yes, I love all kinds of fusion cuisine be it Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese–the list goes on and on.
The one thing I can say I have fallen out of love with, however, are fortune cookies. I used to eagerly await their arrival at the table when I was a kid. The waitress would bring them out at the end of the meal on a tiny tray, and I would follow a specific ritual for selecting, opening, and eating mine. I think some of it might have been generated by urban legend or things I was told one was supposed to do with the tawny, brittle oracle, but most of it was a product of my own overactive imagination.
I would never go for the first cookie I saw; neither was the one closest to me the one I was “meant” to choose. I’d usually spin the tray and grab one at random. So there was some chance to my selection, but I had a hand in it as well instead of simply taking what I was dealt.
I then carefully unwrapped the cookie, checked it for imperfections such as a crack or (gasp!) a hollow center lacking the necessary strip of paper. Once I was assured that my cookie had arrived parcel post from the Szechuan universe with all its parts intact, I proceeded to open it by attempting to pull the two halves apart at the seam rather than cracking it in half vertically. Often, I couldn’t do it, but when I could, I just knew that the fortune was an accurate one.
Now, any fortune cookie aficionado will tell you just how truly gauche it is to eat your cookie before you read your fortune, to shove it in your gaping maw and masticate it briefly before sending it down to join the rest of the grub in your already painfully full, distended abdomen.
For me, eating the cookie was the proof that I accepted said fortune, that I agreed to abide by its command or advice. If I chose to leave the cookie on the table after reading my message, it meant I was choosing to bite my thumb at the universe instead. It could take its tiny note and shove it as far as I was concerned.
For someone who put so much thought into a nearly tasteless piece of baked dough, you’d think I’d be more forgiving. However, whoever manufactures these things now really needs to step up their quality control standards. (I think it’s likely some place in New Jersey. Nothing good comes from there.)
Back in the day, the fortunes were just that….fortunes. You’d get messages that told you something relatively specific that would likely happen in your future. For instance:
The project on your mind will soon gain momentum.
A new business venture is on the horizon.
Tell them, for it will soon be too late.
You will receive a gift from someone you care about.
People in your surroundings will be more cooperative than usual tomorrow.
Impossible standards will make life difficult.
You can fix it with a little energy and a positive attitude.
There you have it! Each one of these examples, while some are more specific than others, was a bite-sized augur, a prognostication of upcoming events in my pre-teen life. They were exciting and fun, and I loved reading them, collecting them, and even writing stories based on their messages.
Nowadays, however, “fortune cookie” is a bit of a misnomer. I got one at lunch this week, read it, and was flummoxed. I thought it might have been a random gaff, but two cookies later, I had to admit that fortune cookies were no longer fortunate. Look at the three I pulled.
The top one is the first one I pulled. I consider myself a fairly deep thinker and critical reader, but that statement makes no sense to me at all. I firmly believe that is, in fact, impossible to do. I’m calling this one, and all those like it, “conundrum cookies.”
The second one sounds like something my dad would have said to me when I was practicing my French horn for an upcoming audition and had finally slammed headfirst into wall of frustration. Many cookies fall into the category of “sage advice,” and while it might be good to note their wisdom, they are not in any way, shape, or form considered fortunes. Hence, they are “admonition cookies.”
The third one, I’ll call it the “gumption cookie,” reminded me of those motivational posters that were huge back in the early nineties. You know the ones…
If the advice in these posters were water, they were just a shade shallower than a half-full kiddie pool. It was something bosses hung in the office hoping to increase positive vibes and employee enthusiasm. However, they mostly made us want to snatch them off the wall set them on fire, Hendrix style. In fact, the demotivational posters that followed them are the ones that have survived in popular culture. What does that say about us?
So my beloved fortune cookies are now nothing more than crunchy carryalls for pablum. They, like the Happy Meal that actually came in a box and the opportunity to ride a bike without being legally required to wear a helmet are things of a better yesteryear, I suppose.
How about you, dear reader? Anything from your childhood been destroyed lately? Do you want to bemoan the loss of better times with me? How about your recent fortunes—were they as insipid as mine? Tell me about it in the comments!
Ah, the book club….such a complicated social organism. It should be clique of folks like you who just love to read and discuss books. However, more often than not, it becomes an exercise in frustration as books no one likes are selected, venues don’t satisfy, and personality clashes make true lexicographical bliss impossible. I’m not saying that a perfect book club is impossible—only improbable. After all, reading is a fairly solitary exercise, one that doesn’t require a +1 to be enjoyable.
However, the lovely folks at The Broke and the Bookish want us to pick our top ten book club reads for this week’s meme. Therefore, if I was the benevolent dictator of a book club and decided everything from the monthly selection to the location and the food/beverages consumed, I would select the following pairings of book and meeting locale…
1. The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. by Robert Coover—I would suggest meeting up in deli for this one, as the protagonist spends a lot of time in one when he isn’t gaming the night away. It might also be fun to meet in a place where people are playing tabletop games involving dice to experience the sounds of triumph and tragedy that come with any game of chance.
2. Scimitar Moon by Chris A. Jackson—I know I recommended this one as a bonus pick last week because of the hunky leading man, but it bears mentioning just how good this book is again. It is a fun read that people can really dig into. I’d think this one might pair nicely with a pub that serves fish and chips and good, dark draft beer. Yeah, that would be a boffo meeting space…as would a coffee house (as “blackbrew” is consumed in mass quantities in this novel). Also, there is a ton of nautical knowledge that gets dropped on you when you read this book, so anywhere near the sea or near sailing ships would make for a perfect backdrop.
3. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh—I saw this one recently on Bookmovement.com and liked the look of it. I was fascinated by the idea of coded messages in flowers, which was commonly done during the Victorian Era. You couldn’t simply explain your emotions in a letter or even in person when everything from the words you wrote to your body language could damage your social standing. This would be a lovely book to discuss over tea at a public park or garden!
4. Devil at My Heels: A Heroic Olympian’s Astonishing Story of Survival as a Japanese POW in WWII by Louis Zamperini—I believe In Touch Ministries did a feature on this gentleman late last year, and I was intrigued by his story. An Olympic athlete turned bombardier, he was brought down over the Pacific, floated in a life raft for 37 days, and was eventually captured by the Japanese and made a prisoner of war for over two years. Years afterwards, he experienced salvation and the grace of Jesus Christ. He, in turn, returned to Japan, forgave his tormentors, and began preaching the gospel there. Pretty amazing stuff. Some place serving authentic Filipino or Chinese food would be perfect.
5. The Amazing Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart—I have yet to read this one, but it was recommended for folks who enjoyed The Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. It also seems to have garnered good reviews for delving into more serious issues such as abandonment, family, loyalty, and facing one’s fears. I don’t know what kind of venue would be fun for this one. However, I do know that I wouldn’t tell anyone where it was. I would give them a series of clues and let them solve the puzzle in order to find the feast! 🙂
6. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss—This is another one I haven’t read, a fact for which many of my wordy nerdy friends have severely chastened me. It’s next on my reading this. Listen to the book’s synopsis: “This is the riveting first-person narrative of Kvothe, a young man who grows to be one of the most notorious magicians his world has ever seen. From his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, to years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-riddled city, to his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a legendary school of magic, The Name of the Wind is a masterpiece that transports readers into the body and mind of a wizard.” How can that NOT be a fantastic read, especially for fantasy-minded folk? Definitely an pub of sorts for this one because that’s where Kvothe lives–preferably one with low lighting and tankards of ale.
7. Cinder by Marissa Meyer—I’ve seen ads for this one all over GoodReads and various Internet booksellers, and I’m just interested enough in to give it a shot. Think fairy tale princess meets the Terminator for this one. In this sci-fi re-imagining of Cinderella, the protagonist is a cyborg and a gifted mechanic who can help rescue Earth from an evil queen of sorts. It’s just bizarre enough to temp me. I’m thinking a restaurant with a really gritty urban motif would be perfect. Either that or a place near a shoe store…
8. Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard—I’m a casual history buff. I like certain areas better than others and sort of graze my way through the decades and centuries with a lacadazical approach that likely makes real historians cringe. One area I’ve never been overly zealous about is the Civil War. However, this book might make me change my tune. Apparently, James A. Garfield was a pretty boss president, one I’m embarrassed to say I don’t know much about. His assassination was one of the unrecognized tragedies of American history, and I think it would be fun to read and re-think what we know about our country with this book as the primary text. According to this website, which lists the favorite foods of American Presidents (I’m not lying. Click the link!), Garfield was fond of squirrel soup, extra fluffy mashed potatoes, and breads. I think a bread and cheese meal would be divine, Mr. President. You can have all the soup. *Ick*
9. Night of the Avenging Blowfish: A Novel of Covert Operations, Love, and Luncheon Meat by John Welter—I read this one in college and was once kicked out of the library because it had me laughing so loudly I was disturbing other people. It’s a bizarre little book involving unrequited love, politics, secret baseball games, and processed meats like Spam. Guess what the menu should include anything of “low culinary esteem.” I’m thinking some recipes from the Spam Jam would be worth trying!
10. A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan—Yet another book I haven’t read, but this one has as many glowing reviews as I do useless bits of knowledge. It’s drenched in music references and rich characterization. I’d like to discuss this one in a corner bar/cafe like Eddie’s Attic where live music fills the room as fully as the smells coming from the kitchen. It’s a risky read for me as I don’t like to dwell on the overly maudlin much, but this one looks intriguing enough to put up with the extra weight.
The Herscher Project’s April topic is “Food for the Soul.” I normally use food as a positive force in my literature, using it to bring people together, to experience joy, and to create comfort. However, food can also be used for so many negative things–to fill a hole caused by sorrow, to stave off boredom, to tamp down rage. I got to thinking about that plus the mindless excess in places ranging from The Cheesecake Factory to buffets like Golden Corral, places where people gorge themselves past the point of good sense.
I then began asking myself what those from the past might think about such a sight, and the line from William Wordsworth’s poem “The World is too Much With Us” came to mind. Granted, his poem bemoans the fact people were too far removed from nature and caught up in the trappings of mankind’s technological world, but I thought the statement was applicable to people simple shoveling in as much as they can without paying attention to (or perhaps enjoying) any of it. The result is the first draft you see here.
Wordsworth would be aghast, I’m sure, at the sight
of our getting and spending, our caloric rivalry of Rome.
Certainly, he’d turn up his refined Romantic nose
at sneezeguards standing sentinel between consumer
and consumed and the golden halo of heat lamps, pendulous
angels supplying warmth to an endless parade
of entrées basking in their own bain maries.
Coleridge would no doubt become his own doomed
ancient mariner, his deep musings an aesthetic albatross
around his neck as he was compelled to explain
the definition of poetry to patrons concerned
with eating all and tasting nothing. After all,
how can the masses of mass quantities
grasp the pleasure of solitude and musing
behind a frosted window pane
with two hot bars and a dessert table
left to be devoured?
Blake alone might rejoice in his idiosyncratic
heart to see a place where no children hunger
and black/white, Jew/Gentile, she/he, high/low
eat from the same deep fried cornucopia, a testament
to liberté, égalité, fraternité worthy of engraving.
But would he know the sight of such excess
could pinpoint precisely where his palace of wisdom