Claiborne Peeled

Craig Claiborne seems overshadowed by James Beard and Julia Child, but Thomas McNamee’s biography The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat: Craig Claiborne and the American Food Renaissance might change that.

Then again, it might not; though described by Betty Fussell as more “accessible” than the ostensibly warmer Child, McNamee initially seems to struggle against presenting the enigmatic complex Claiborne as anything less than a remote Olympian figure. When it boils down to it, though, Claiborne might best be described as the right man in the right place at the right time. His hiring as the first male food editor of a major newspaper came about as the result of crass opportunism if not (as is hinted) chicanery, but The New York Times provided Craig Claiborne with the preeminent platform to fulfill his mission, which McNamee describes as nothing less than “advancing the nation’s culinary culture”.

Claiborne’s call for reform (off the bat McNamee cites an April, 1959 column “Elegance of Cuisine is on the Wane in U.S.” as his gauntlet) came at a time when the nation was ripe for unabashedly elitist change; within a year, Jackie Kennedy, designer clothing and a French chef were in the White House. McNamee explains how Claiborne, with lavish finesse and training he received in Switzerland, set the tone of American culinary culture for two decades and beyond. This biography confirms his pervasive influence on food and dining and easily dismisses his only serious detractors, back-benchers John and Karen Hess, as resentful nit-pickers.

By the mid-Sixties Claiborne had became America’s unquestioned authority (his columns went directly to print; no editor) on the full culinary spectrum of foods and restaurants, chefs and cookbooks. He wrote and co-wrote many best-sellers, first and foremost The New York Times Cookbook. He discovered and promoted chefs as cultural and media personalities – Jacques Pépin, Alice Waters and Paul Prudhomme among many others – helped publicize the West Coast/James Beard movement and introduced Americans to nouvelle cuisine. Claiborne also reveled in a “pan-global eclecticism”, promoting the cuisines of China, Mexico and Vietnam (during the war), among others. He also lived to celebrate a resurgence of great American home cooking. His influence extended into the Reagan administration, and his legacy is evident today in the treatment of food as an important media subject. He created food journalism, and his sheer adventurism still informs our attitude towards food and cooking.

Though a bit exaggerated – McDonald’s Ray Kroc and other fast-food titans have influenced America’s diet far more than Claiborne –The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat should assign Claiborne’s ill-advised 1982 autobiography to a well-deserved obscurity. McNamee’s solidly researched and beautifully presented biography is a richly balanced and long-awaited feast for those wanting to know more (but not too much) about Craig Claiborne, an icon of his day and an avatar of ours, but I wouldn’t expect a biopic any time soon.

 

Hemingway’s Twister: The Candlestick Tornado

On March 3, 1966, a supercell thunderstorm developed over central Mississippi and produced a large tornado around 4:00 pm CST near the old Adams community in Hinds County, several miles south-southwest of Raymond.

Tracking generally to the northeast, the tornado moved through mostly rural areas, though several barns and a few homes were heavily damaged. Around 4:30 pm CST, the storm struck the southern limits of Jackson as an F4 or F5 tornado and leveled the Candlestick Park shopping center, which gave the tornado its name; cinder-blocks from the structure were scattered for long distances, a number of homes and businesses were destroyed, eyewitnesses reported pavement scouring and a few cars were tossed upwards of 0.5 mi (0.80 km). A brick church was destroyed with such force that it seemingly exploded. Once the storm moved through Jackson, it crossed the Pearl River and entered Rankin County, maintaining a nearly straight northeastward track through the county.

The tornado reached its maximum strength of F5 near the Leesburg community; multiple homes were swept away, large swaths of trees were leveled, pavement was scoured, and chicken houses were obliterated. In Neshoba County the storm began to weaken though not considerably as about a dozen more homes were destroyed before the system crossed into Alabama. The tornado finally dissipated near the city of Tuscaloosa around 7:45 p.m. CST. During the storm’s three-hour-and-forty-five-minute existence, it traveled roughly 202.5 mi (325.9 km), one of the longest paths ever recorded. Overall, the tornado ranks as the second-deadliest in the state’s history, killing 57.

The Candlestick tornado touched down in what was in 1966 rural Rankin County, which like the area around Cooper Road is more heavily populated today. The tornado crossed Highway 25 (Lakeland Drive), and homes and businesses in the area around River Oaks, the north side of Jackson International Airport, Laurel Wood and Castlewoods lie in or very near where the tornado passed. The storm was also going through the Jackson metropolitan area between 430 pm and 5 pm, during the afternoon rush hour. In 1966, the interstate system was in the process of being constructed, but today the tornado would have been moving near the Stack just south of downtown Jackson where Interstates 20 and 55 converge. The tornado would have also been passing near or through the heavily trafficked areas along Highway 80, Flowood Drive and Lakeland Drive in Flowood.

The tornado’s story is told by Lorian Hemingway in her book, A World Turned Over: A Killer Tornado and the Lives It Changed Forever (Simon & Schuster; July, 2003). Hemingway, the granddaughter of novelist Ernest Hemingway (the daughter of Hemingway’s youngest son, Gregory, who left his wife and eight children when Lorian, the youngest, was 6 years old), moved to Jackson with her mother and stepfather into a house fifty yards north of Candlestick Shopping Center some years before the storm and moved to Nashville a month before the tornado hit, but in an interview after the book’s publication said the tornado, “… wouldn’t let me alone. I was haunted by it. I’ve been haunted by it all my life; I’ve been haunted by it in dreams. Each time I would go back to Mississippi — and I did not go back until I was well into my adult life — just by happenstance, just sitting around and hearing people talk, that tornado would come up. Not through any provocation of mine. I was amazed to see how much it had lived on and how much it had impacted people and become a part of their history.”

Hemingway’s book takes us back to Jackson with interviews of friends and neighbors. Included are the stories of Ronny Hannis, who was severely injured but helped dig survivors from the rubble,  and Donna Durr, who was sitting in her Volkswagen with her child and was carried away in the air, only to be gently set down in a field. As you might expect, there are plenty of people who talk of God and their belief that there was a plan to nature’s savagery. Hemingway, who shares her contrary thoughts with the reader, brings a sophisticated yet sympathetic tone to the conversations, never passing judgment. In fact, she seems desperate to reconnect with the people who made Jackson seem like home for her. Her style is radically different from that of her grandfather’s; the story is told in fully-rounded sentences often brimming with emotion, and the descriptions of the area around Caney Creek along Cooper Road seem pastoral.

She tells the story first in her own words then in the words of the survivors. Weaving nostalgia for the world of her childhood with apocalyptic images of that world “rolled onto a spear, of the sky punctured at its heart,” Hemingway draws the reader into the nightmare, describing the moments preceding the tornado and the instant when everything was turned upside down. Hemingway describes how a familiar setting is suddenly turned into a morass of shattered concrete, twisted metal, splintered glass, mangled cars and broken bodies and how everyone walks and speaks “with reverence because what is heaving and bending at jagged turns all around them is a burial ground they must undo.” Even after Candlestick Shopping Center was rebuilt, local residents stayed away. They couldn’t bear to remember.

 

On Heirloom Recipes

For a long time I was remiss about not getting recipes from someone when our lives were shared, particularly those relatives we all have who were known for making a dish that everyone remembers, most often for a pie, cake or cookie, but canning recipes ran a close second, particularly pickles, then there were sauces such as barbecue and Jezebel followed by casseroles, stews and breads.

I once felt as if those recipes were irreplaceable riches that had been swallowed by the maw of time, but that feeling has passed; now I’ve come to realize that this remarkable world does indeed go around, and those cooks who will be remembered are here with me now. If fact, we should all realize that getting recipes from others is important, perhaps even crucial in some larger scheme of things, and we must have them even if we have to beat the holy hell out of someone to do it.

It’s our duty as members of the human race.

Mickler’s Revolt

By 1986 publishing was already wedded to celebrity so much so that the best-selling cookbook that year was by “The Frugal Gourmet”, an ordained minister who was convicted of molesting teenage boys some years later. But Smith, for all his faults, was an international media presence, while Ernest Matthew Mickler (God rest his sweet soul) who in the same year published White Trash Cooking, was a dying man with a vision.

Ernie insisted on the title, which left him an open target since his simultaneously unblinking and winking approach to the stereotype of the rural South confounded people across the country as well as people on the Redneck Riviera. The only thing even remotely resembling a precedent for White Trash Cooking was written by another Floridian, Zora Neale Hurston, whose studies in anthropology brought her back home, much as it did Mickler, who threw down a gauntlet, insisting that while the nation might profile Southerners as a whole as white trash, the behaviors that earmark anyone anywhere as decent, perhaps in cases even honorable, hold sway in the American South as well, a region that is no more tragic than any other section of the country. He also knew that people outside of the South consider us low and mean, but we are (as they are) a layered society undeserving of their unilateral condemnation; our culture, our manners, our morals all have as much a measure of  civilized imprint as those of our fellow countrymen, but instead of embracing our differences, they persist in considering the South and its people worthy of their collective opprobrium.

With White Trash Cooking, Mickler opened a portal of discovery into the essential character not only of the South, but of the nation; white trash cooking uses cheap ingredients, commercially frozen, dried or canned, few seasonings, packaged mixes, plenty of salt and sugar, lard and margarine in dishes that are quick and easy to cook, unsullied by any degree of sophistication. It remains the most basic form of cooking in the nation,  the cooking of people who don’t read Bon Appetit, people who work a forty-hour week (or more) at a poorly-paying job with little or no insurance, living from paycheck to paycheck, struggling to make a life for themselves and their children. They wouldn’t go to a Whole Foods store unless they lived next door and had to, which is good advice for anybody without an attitude. White Trash Cooking celebrates a significant surface of our many-faceted country, one we should all recognize as uniquely ours and none others. Love it.

 

Halcyon Soup

Homemade soups should grace our tables more often; they’ve fed body and soul long before canning came along, and a good soup made with stout stock and proper care is the measure of a good cook. One soup you’ll never find in a can is gazpacho, which rated an entire chapter (“Beautiful Soup”) in The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook, and became a culinary craze sometime in the late 1970s. Gazpacho is a king of cold soups, an easily-made, refreshing and somewhat novel way to serve fresh summer vegetables. Historical recipes of this dish always include bread as one of the basic ingredients, usually melded early on with oil, salt and garlic into something resembling a paste. While my recipe does not include bread at that juncture (I simply don’t like the texture), take it from someone who crumbles cold cornbread over a table bowl, bread is a great addition, and any well-textured bread will do.

This recipe is from my halcyon days in Oxford, where I was desultorily studying for a degree, diligently exploring my capacities for vice and desolately working in a string of eateries, among them The Bean Blossom Bistro, the first health-food restaurant in Oxford. It was located on Jackson Avenue across from the old telephone exchange. The Good Food Store, Oxford’s first health-food store—then in its second incarnation—was on the corner next door. Carol Davis opened the Bean Blossom in 1978. We had worked together at the old Moonlight Café, which Betty Blair had opened up in the Hoka a couple of years earlier. Carol and I became fast friends during that time, and when she opened up her own place, she brought me with her. We were very young, and though I like to think that Oxford in those days was an intoxicating environment, perhaps youth itself was our wine.

The Bean Blossom, like so many small restaurants, was founded more on good intentions than experience. I don’t think we ever seated more than fifty people at one time, and usually far, far less. The kitchen could barely hold more than three people. Our menu changed daily, though we could always whip up a tofu burger, or a veggie stir-fry or a great salad any time you wanted it. Carol introduced me to a lot of new foods, including adzuki beans, which I cook like cowpeas, and tofu, which I of course deep-fry. She also brought gazpacho into my world, and for that I am evermore grateful. I remember dipping the soup from a bucket in the bottom of our double-door refrigerator, a sheen of oil glistening atop the mixture. We served it with a variety of breads, and each bowl I eat now is a serving of nostalgia. Like memories themselves, this soup improves with age, but sours if mishandled.

Bean Blossom Gazpacho

Take two or three cloves of garlic, mince very, very finely and mash in the bottom of a glass or enamel bowl with a teaspoon of salt and about a half a cup of olive oil. If you want to try adding bread, now is the time, but I can’t make a recommendation as to what kind. Add in fine dice one yellow onion, three very ripe summer tomatoes, two peeled cucumbers, two ribs celery (with leaves), and a sweet pepper if you like, though be careful, since the pepper can overpower the other vegetables; a sweet yellow banana pepper works well. If you want to add a hot pepper such as a jalapeno, fine, but I don’t recommend heat; this is a cooling dish, and should be refreshing rather than pungent. Likewise, starchy vegetables such as fresh corn or peas seem out-of-place to me as well, though there are countless variations. Add another teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of cumin, a teaspoon of fresh basil, a heaping tablespoon of freshly-chopped parsley, a teaspoon of coarsely ground black pepper and a bit more olive oil, perhaps a tablespoon. You might want to add some liquid, in which case I recommend a vegetable juice such as V8; tomato juice is too thick. Let this mixture sit for a couple of hours in the refrigerator in a sealed non-metallic container overnight. An hour before serving, add more juice if needed, a little fresh chopped parsley, adjust the salt and pepper and return to the refrigerator. Serve in chilled bowls (freshly chopped chives are a nice touch) with good crusty bread.

Derby Day!

The Kentucky Derby is tomorrow! Looking over the sports section of The New York Times today and photos of the muddy track at Churchill Downs reminded me to get cracking and write up my own Derby recipes and traditions for my friends in other parts of the country.

How to Dress for the Derby

Derby is the time for considered bets or wild hunches, frosty mint juleps and dressing to the nines: elaborate hats or fascinators, colorful silk dresses or suits, finished off with heels and gloves. Men wear bright trousers, poplin or linen suits in ice cream colors, bright socks and fancy ties or bow ties, with seersucker and classic navy always in form. Hats are for the men, too, from bowlers to boaters (but no cowboy hats, please). Gentleman, please praise each woman’s hat: it’s expected!

Churchill Downs

I haven’t been to the actual race in years — when I was often included with my family in former Gov. A.B. “Happy” Chandler’s box at Churchill Downs. That was always a treat: no one could sing “My Old Kentucky Home” better than Happy, usually wearing a white linen three piece suit accompanied by movie stars like Natalie Wood, baseball players like Bob Feller or politicians such as the elegant Sen. Thurston B. Morton and his wife made sure to stop by to greet the Chandlers.

My good friend Amy Zemo Broadhurst has been at Churchill Downs all week, from Millionaire’s Row to the Winner’s Circle Suites to the Turf Club. The Turf Club, by the way, is where you will find the owners and trainers. No messy infield for Amy, who is immaculately dressed and entertains business clients during Derby. Should you fail in your quest for the good seats, there’s always the Infield, where the grass should be blue – but is too crowded to see. Tickets for the Infield used to be $20 when I was young, but are now $60. You are allowed to bring in food but not liquor though somehow liquor WILL make it through.

Derby Parties at Home

Alas, Happy is long dead and the real Kentucky Derby scene for me now is in the private parties held by Kentuckians in their homes. Even NON-Kentuckians like to celebrate the festive day and while your party may be as humble as a bucket of KFC and beer, here are some traditional ingredients for a successful party:

Country Ham

I used to buy my country ham and beaten biscuits from Taylor Farms in Cynthiana, Kentucky.  Farmer Taylor’s celebrated method of curing has been adapted by others but I now favor the country ham served by the fabled Beaumont Inn in Harrodsburg, Kentucky.  These hams have been cured by Meacham Hams in Sturgis, Kentucky for more than eighty years. Cooked or uncooked ham is available along with other delicious smoked meats; and they will also provide nicely trimmed biscuit cut slices. Rather than host a party, you may want to consider a traditional Derby breakfast to start the day off right. Happy and Mildred Chandler started this tradition during his first term as Governor in 1936. They served an excellent spread of country ham, grits, red eye gravy, scrambled eggs, biscuits, jam and plenty of hot coffee. This meal is no longer served at the Governor’s Mansion, but it’s still a wonderful menu.

Beaten Biscuits

While I prefer smallish buttermilk biscuits with my ham, beaten biscuits are an old Kentucky tradition.  On the crisp side, the biscuits are made by beating dough with a wooden mallet for half an hour, no more, no less.  Luckily for all hostesses who don’t employ a cook or have the patience to make them, Meacham Hams sells them by the dozen.  Even stores like Liquor Barn sell them,  NOBODY wants to make beaten biscuits any more.   Halfway between a cracker and a biscuit, just add a little butter and a slice of ham. They are so good. However, if you want to be old-fashioned, here is an excellent old recipe.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 tablespoons white sugar
1/4 cup lard, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/3 cup light cream
2 tablespoons cold water (optional)
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Sift flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar together. Use a fork to “cut” the lard into the flour until it looks like coarse meal. Using a standing mixer, or a wooden spoon, mix the dough as you slowly add the cream. Mix well to form the dough into a ball, adding water if needed. Place the dough onto a tabletop, and knead slightly. With a mallet or a rolling pin, beat the dough a few times to form it into a rough rectangle. Fold the dough over, and then beat it out again. Repeat this process until the dough becomes white and blisters form on the surface, about 30 minutes. Roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thick. Cut into 2 inch rounds, and prick the top with the tines of a fork: nine holes are traditional. Place on greased baking sheets. Bake until golden, about fifteen minutes.

Miss Jennie Benedict, a Louisville caterer, created Benedictine spread at the turn of the last century.  Years ago, certain bakeries in Louisville used to bake pink and green loaves of bread just for these popular finger sandwiches, a staple at Derby parties, weddings and showers.  I have even served these at a funeral where they were much enjoyed.  My recipe, taken from “Kentucky’s Best, Fifty Years of Great Recipes” by Linda Allison Lewis, was amended and given to me by Tish Clark of Prestonsburg, Kentucky:

Tish’s Benedictine

1 8 oz Philadelphia cheese, softened
1 tablespoon of mayonnaise
3 tablespoons of grated cucumber, drained well with a paper towel
1 teaspoon finely chopped green onions with tops
1 teeny tiny drop of green food coloring (the color should be delicate)
a dash of two of Tabasco
Blend all ingredients together and mix well. Yield: 10-12 servings (I multiply by eight.) You may serve this on trimmed bread as finger sandwiches or as a dip. Please note there is not a single drop of Benedictine liqueur used in this recipe! I like to make a nice pile of these sandwiches on a silver tray lined with a paper doily and garnished with a few cucumber slices and parsley. (Cover with a damp paper towel so your sandwiches don’t dry out and curl before serving. Refresh as necessary.) I also put out big crystal bowl of pimento cheese with Carr’s crackers, celery stalks, salty peanuts to encourage drinking and deviled eggs to prevent or at least stall off utter drunkenness.

Last week, Amy attended the Taste of Derby Festival and was served the most amazing new dish: Hot Brown Grits. This is an adaptation of the original hot brown recipe, originally created at the Brown Hotel in Louisville by Fred K. Schmidt in 1926 – long before people knew about pesky cholesterol. A hot brown is made from fresh roast turkey, tomatoes, cheddar and Mornay sauce, served atop thickly sliced toast, garnished with strips of bacon, served “piping hot and bubbly brown.” The Brown Hotel serves 800 hot browns a week but during Derby Week, they sell 1200 a day.

Hot Browns with Fried Cheese Grits

1 cup regular grits
1 cup (4 ounces) extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
4 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
2 large sweet onions
1 tablespoon sugar
1 pound roasted turkey slices
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
8 bacon slices
Prepare 1 cup regular grits according to package directions. Stir in 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese until melted. Pour hot cooked grits into a greased 9-inch square pan. Cover and chill 8 hours or until firm. Invert onto a cutting board, and cut into 4 squares. Cut each square into 4 triangles. Fry grits, in batches, in 2 tablespoons hot vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat 2 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Remove from pan, and set aside. Cook 2 large diced sweet onions and 1 tablespoon sugar in 2 tablespoons oil in skillet over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, 20 minutes or until deep golden brown. Arrange 4 grits triangles in a single layer in a lightly greased individual baking dish or large baking dish; top with turkey, sautéed onion, and cheese sauce. Repeat with remaining grits triangles, turkey, onion, and sauce:
1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup shredded Swiss or Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Melt butter in a 3-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Whisk in flour, and cook, whisking constantly, 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk. Bring to a boil, and cook, whisking constantly, 1 to 2 minutes or until thickened. Whisk in cheese, salt, and pepper. Pour over grits, onions and meat, broil 6 inches from heat 4 minutes or until bubbly and lightly browned; remove from oven. Top evenly with cooked bacon and sliced tomato. Serve immediately.

I serve mint juleps in individual silver or pewter cups as well as a treasured set of Louisville Stoneware cups bearing the lyrics to “My Old Kentucky Home.”  My ex-husband is an Englishman, so I adopted the habit of serving a pitcher or two of Pimm’s Cup, made with Pimm’s No. 1 herbal liqueur and gin, fresh unsweetened lemonade and garnished with cucumber spears, a slice of apple and a sprig of mint. Last year I served bourbon sours instead of mint juleps and those retro drinks went over in a big way!

As for bourbon, educate yourself on the different kinds of bourbon.  Favorite brands include Four Roses Single Barrel (which has a high rye content), Jim Beam’s Basil Hayden, Old Grand Dad, Buffalo Trace (a high corn blend) then wheated bourbons like the very famous Maker’s Mark, Rebel Yell and any of the Van Winkle bourbons. Small batch artisanal bourbons like Knob Creek or Woodford Reserve have risen in popularity over the past ten years.

Lay a table with your very best linens, platters and crystal. Don’t forget to arrange flowers from your own garden, or red roses from a florist are always appropriate. Be ready to get the party started at least an hour before the actual race starts. And have hankies ready for the singing of “My Old Kentucky Home” there shouldn’t be a dry eye in the house! And you made need those hankies later anyway for tears of jubilation or losing bets. When the day is over, the owners, breeders and trainers start planning for the next Derby, as does a good hostess. Names are crossed off or added to lists, paper goods or swizzle sticks are bought on sale for next year.

(Lynn Weddington Tucker is a Kentuckian living in New York City since 1976. She has been a fashion designer, publicist and best of all, mother. Lynn is a sustaining member of the Junior League (like any good Southern girl) and as a Methodist, has all the ingredients on hand in her pantry for a casserole for a potluck. Lynn is a card-carrying Kentucky Colonel and loves a good party.)

Lynn Weddington Tucker (Churchill Downs photo by Dave Black)

The Essential Mexican Cookbook

The best way to learn Mexican cooking is from someone who was taught the cuisine at their mother’s table or someone who has lived in Mexico for many years. It also helps to a considerable degree if that person is indeed a good cook, someone who is interested in techniques and ingredients and can steer you in the proper direction for suitable pots and pans and such. Barring such a muse, we are left with books.

One of Craig Claiborne’s most significant legacies is his diverse contributions to the American table via his support of cooks and writers. Claiborne encouraged us to sample Vietnamese, Chinese, Moroccan and (perhaps most enduring) Mexican cuisine, in that case the writer is Diana Kennedy, a British subject who married The New York Times correspondent for Latin America in the 1950s and early 1960s. She became enamored of the food, which she discovered was better in rural and local settings, and began to learn the cuisine literally from the ground up, visiting every state in Mexico on all kinds of transportation, from buses to donkeys to her Nissan pickup truck with no power steering (and a shovel to dig it out of the mud). Such dedication is rare if not unique; Kennedy’s efforts were crowned with an authoritative body of work that provides a thorough, extensive survey of the many cuisines of Mexico from Chiapas to Baja as well as dozens of honors and awards, including membership in the Order of the British Empire.

Her essential work is The Cuisines of Mexico (Harper & Row, 1972). If you are at all interested in food and cooking, and you have a taste for books that are well-written, well-researched and ring with conviction, then you must have this one on your shelves. A revision was published in 1986, but I’d recommend the original edition with Claiborne’s introduction stating, “If this book is a measure of Diana’s talent, it will probably rank as the definitive book in English on (Mexican cooking).” Kennedy’s introduction, “A Culinary Education” certainly ranks among the most notable essays about coming to know food as more than mere nourishment. The first section, “Ingredients and Procedures” gives the initiate a thorough grounding in such arcana as herbs, kitchen equipment and chilies. You’ll find no better introduction to the basics of the Mexican kitchen. As to the recipes, bear in mind that Kennedy was writing for a somewhat less sophisticated audience, and these were selected for simplicity and ease of preparation; still you will find surprises. You might be, as I was those many years ago on first reading, delighted by the seafood recipes (“There is an awful lot of coast to Mexico …”), which includes perhaps one of the first recipes for “cebiche” included in an American cookbook. The inclusion of many Gulf species among these recipes is poignant indeed in this post-BP Gulf world. My personal favorite among them is the snapper Vera Cruz, which we served at the Warehouse during my tenure.

Kennedy’s writing is strong and serviceable, rarely lyrical but revealing when so; her most powerful gift is an excruciating attention to detail which can be daunting, but remember again her audience, who needed such specifics. You will enjoy the Mesoamerican art she includes as well as the history. After you read this book, you will come to know Rick Bayless for the shallow fraud that he is. Comer bien.

The Bride Frightened at Seeing Life Opened - by Frida Kahlo
The Bride Frightened at Seeing Life OpenedFrida Kahlo