What You Eat: Senses Lost and Found

In preparation of our Food issue (submissions open until November 1, after which they’ll simmer ’til winter), I’ve asked members of the LPR community to share stories of what they eat. Food occupies such a central place in our lives, that we can’t help but grow with it. Whether we were getting lost in the smell of summer strawberries or, as in the case of this entry from Lorraine Whittlesey, watching our enjoyment of food slowly slip away, we can call on the sounds, smells, and tastes of our most formative and transformative foods to walk back into our own narrative histories. And on Laura’s suggestion, each piece in this series will feature a recipe, so you can cook yourself through an experience yourself. If you have a transformative experience with food, leave a comment and I’ll be in touch.

And now that I’ve laid the table, Lorraine Whittlesey:

Lorraine Whittlesey

Lorraine Whittlesey

If you had to make a choice, which one of your senses could you live without?

As a professional musician I always felt that a hearing loss would be tragic; not because I couldn’t continue composing (I can hear music in my head and most of my compositions are already completed before they hit the staff) but because I wouldn’t be able to hear music via a live or recorded performance.

I’m also a synesthete who experiences crossovers for some of my senses; when I hear music I experience textures and shapes, and when I smell and taste certain foods I can often ‘see’ their colors.

It never occured to me that I would, one day, suffer from ‘anosmia': the loss of the sense of smell. As most people know, when one loses their sense of smell, the taste buds are also compromised. The ability to taste is referred to as gustatory perception.

This loss didn’t happen overnight but over a period of a few months due to some serious medical conditions that affected my respiratory system.

Those close to me know I’m a consumer of fine food whether as a customer in restaurants or as a cook. I’m also lucky enough to have several friends who are quite skilled in the culinary arts. Most cooks will tell you that when you use the best ingredients available it’s difficult to go wrong. I’ve maintained (peripatetically) a blog titled You and the Food and the Music and often post about my recipes and restaurant experiences via social media. Some of my favorite reading materials are cookbooks. One could safely say that all things, culinary, have maintained a place of importance on my list of priorities.

As a consequence of not being able to smell the good things, I experienced a greatly reduced desire for food and became mildly depressed. For weeks my culinary range of interest was reduced to sipping on chicken broth or tea. There were a great many inconveniences associated with my condition but my keenest sorrow through this medical morass was my inability to smell, therefore, to taste anything.

After certain medical procedures were successfully completed my taste buds gradually improved and I began to taste the primary properties of salt and sweetness in a more intense way. Then came the other taste experiences of sour, bitter and savory (also called umami).

When my senses were basically restored and I felt as if I could appreciate my favorite dishes I decided my first effort would be a perennial favorite, eggplant parmesan. I planned a special evening with some of my closest friends who would appreciate this repast and share the joy I experienced as I tasted the results of my first serious cooking efforts after several months of simply eating to stay alive.

This is the recipe for the first entree I prepared.

Eggplant Parmesan

  • 2–3 thin eggplants (if too wide the many seeds can make the eggplant taste bitter)
  • 2 1/2 cups good quality tomato sauce, homemade or store bought (I prefer Marinara)
  • 8–10 oz mozzerella, shredded
  • 3/4 cup grated parmesan
  • 4 eggs
  • Bread crumbs
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 325 F.
  2. Remove the skin and slice eggplants no thicker than 1/4”.
  3. After slicing the eggplant, alternately layer pieces on paper towels and sprinkle each layer lightly with salt. Let sit for about 1/2 hour till some of the moisture has been absorbed.
  4. Place bread crumbs in a deep plate and whisked eggs in another (I incorporate a few splashes of water with the eggs).
  5. In a large cast iron or other skillet (at least 2″ in depth) heat olive oil. Don’t bother with extra virgin olive oil since that’s best used for dressings.
  6. The secret to this particular version of eggplant parmesan is to first dip each eggplant slice into the breadcrumbs, shake off excess crumbs, then dip into the egg mixture before frying. It gives the eggplant a unique texture and sublety different flavor.
  7. Make certain oil is heated to a medium temperature then add 3 or 4 slices of eggplant at a time, turning once when the first side is lightly browned (about 2 1/2-3 minutes). Place slices on a flat plate covered with paper towels to absorb extra oil. Repeat the process until all sliced are browned.
  8. In large baking dish (9×12″) add a few tablespoons of sauce to the bottom and distribute evenly. Add slices of eggplant across the dish then distribute half the mozzerella across the eggplant. Sprinkle a few tablespoons of grated parm across the top. Begin the process again staring with the sauce. Sauce should just lightly cover the eggplant. After the top layer of eggplant has been added, put some more sauce over the top and sprinkle the remaining parmesan cheese on top.
  9. Bake for 40 minutes or until the top layer is slightly browned.
  10. Turn off heat and leave in oven for an additional 30 minutes or so.
  11. Serve with a green salad and sliced Italian bread. A wine of your choice is highly recommended. My preference is a medium bodied Chianti.

Since re-gaining the desire to give my time and attention to serious cooking (about a year ago) my sensitivity to smell has occasionally fluctuated but without too much variation. Certain medications can interfere with some sensations, but for the most part it has been as close to what I’ve ever experienced my adult life. I continue to experiment with new recipes, watch certain cooking shows (I could watch Julia Child re-runs ad infinitum and love Extra Virgin), re-visit my favorite dining establishments, and support newly discovered places. Many of my friends are either restauranteurs, good cooks, food and/or restaurant reviewers or others who are, one way or another, “in the business.”

To my dear family and friends, I intend to resume preparing and serving the traditional holiday dinners. I’ve certainly missed the cameraderie and joy that come with the gathering of the clan. I’m most grateful for the science that identified the source of the problems and was also able to address and remedy the situation.

For a list of my favorite local restaurants please contact me at privatesector(at)verizon.net

Lorraine Whittlesey, a former member of the Peanut Gallery for NBC TV’s Howdy Doody show, is a classically trained pianist and studied T.V. and Film Scoring @ UCLA. Her commissioned works have been performed by the Baltimore Symphony and Concert Artists of Baltimore and have been premiered at Carnegie Hall. She scored and performed the original music for the Baltimore documentary “We Are Arabbers” which was filmed by Joy Lusco Kecken. Arista Hip Hop Artists “Naughty By Nature” used her music on their Album “19 Naughty 9.” Her collaborators include Michael Salcman, Clarinda Harriss, and Joyce J. Scott. She wrote “Zippy the Pinhead: the Musical,” based on Bill Griffith’s syndicated comic strip and is in the process of adding two more acts.

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Concerning Craft: Greg Luce – Revisited

The “Concerning Craft” series introduces Little Patuxent Review contributors, showcases their work and draws back the curtain to reveal a little of what went into producing it.

Please meet LPR veteran and award-winning poet, Greg Luce. Greg’s work first appeared in our Water issue, a poem entitled “A Decent Happiness”, and was among the first contributors who explored their craft in this series started by Ilse Munro over three years ago.  We recently published another one of Greg’s poems, “Failing to Sleep,” (click link for text) in our Summer 2014 issue, and I decided to seize upon a unique opportunity – to return to one of our contributors to explore not just their approach to their craft in the present moment, but to observe an evolution in technique and aesthetic. So without further delay, Greg Luce:

Greg Luce (Photo: Naomi Thiers)

Greg Luce (Photo: Naomi Thiers)

“Failing to Sleep” combines two of my favorite themes (some might say obsessions): insomnia and birds. Those who remember my poem “A decent happiness,” published in the Water issue in January 2011, and the accompanying craft essay that I wrote shortly thereafter, will note some significant differences in the style and treatment of content.

I wrote “A decent happiness” many years ago, long before it found its home in LPR. As I described my process in my earlier essay, at that time I was intensely concerned with concision and brevity, suggestiveness rather than explicit statement. That poem showed the strong influence of W.C. Williams and Robert Creeley in particular. “Failing to Sleep” is a rather more recent poem and reflects my desire to loosen up my approach and try some new things in my writing.

While I did not and do not disavow my earlier work or the continuing importance of Creeley, Williams, and others for me as a reader and writer of poetry, I was beginning to grow bored with what I was able to write within the guidelines I had set for myself. I felt that I could write the short, intense poems like “A decent happiness” pretty easily but I was in danger of becoming too facile. In short, I was in a bit of a creative rut.

One element I was especially desirous of incorporating into some of my poems was narrative, tell a bit of a story rather than just describe a scene or an emotional experience. I had always admired Frank O’Hara’s work, especially his deceptively simple-seeming accumulation of events and details culminating in a humorous or moving epiphany, such as in “The Day Lady Died” (a great favorite of mine). So I began writing poems that told little stories, mostly drawn from my own experiences, though a few of them are fictions that synthesize various observations of and reactions to people, places, and situations I encounter.

“Failing to Sleep” is an example of this new direction. It describes a typical night-into-early-morning in which I drift in and out of sleep, the various thoughts, feelings, and images that run through my mind as I drift in and out of sleep, and wake up too early with birdsong in my ears. A new craft element in this piece is the attempt to render a few of the songs that arise in the speaker’s thoughts and capture his attention when morning finally arrives. On the other hand, a carry-over from earlier practice is my use of linebreaks (and fairly short lines) as a formal element in the absence of fixed meter or rhyme; in the case of this poem my intention was to impel the reader forward almost headlong and keep up a steady if not exactly fast pace. To further push the pacing, em-dashes provide one slight pause midway through, but otherwise there is no punctuation until the closing period. This sparing use of punctuation is another part of my practice that has been fairly constant from my earliest work until today.

As in my earlier reflections, I must mention the readers who read all my poems prior to my launching them into the world and without whose feedback I would have been far less successful in publishing. Foremost among them as always is Naomi Thiers, who has also published poems and a craft essay in LPR and whose keen eye and ear never fail to discern potential improvements. I would also like to thank Laura Shovan, LPR’s eminent poetry editor who made a couple of very useful suggestions before accepting this poem, just as she did for past submissions. Such incisive editing, along with this opportunity again to write a few notes on my approach to craft, are among the reasons why it is such a profound pleasure and honor to be counted among the LPR community.

Gregory Luce, author of Signs of Small Grace (Pudding House Publications), Drinking Weather (Finishing Line Press), and Memory and Desire (Sweatshoppe Publications), has published widely in print and online. He is the 2014 Larry Neal Award winner for adult poetry, given by the Arts and Humanities Council in Washington, D.C., where he lives and works for the National Geographic Society. He blogs at http://enchiladasblog.blogspot.com.

Posted in Awards, Craft, Poetry, William Carlos Williams, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

What You Eat: The Best Brownies

In preparation of our Food issue (submissions open until November 1, after which they’ll simmer ’til winter), I’ve asked members of the LPR community to share stories of what they eat. Food occupies such a central place in our lives, that we can’t help but grow with it. Whether we were sweating it out over a stove in the summer or, as in the case of this entry from Lisa Rosinsky, finding an unexpected moment with an elder long thought lost, we can call on the sounds, smells, and tastes of our most formative and transformative foods to walk back into our own narrative histories. And on Laura’s suggestion, each piece in this series will feature a recipe, so you can cook yourself through an experience yourself. If you have a transformative experience with food, leave a comment and I’ll be in touch.

And now that I’ve laid the table, Lisa Rosinsky:

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Lisa Rosinsky

My grandmother, Rita Bella Roberts Shapiro, turned ninety-five this year. She has round-the-clock nursing care and is confined to a wheelchair; she’s mostly deaf and has lost the abilities to speak, use the bathroom, and feed herself. But she’s still living in the house my mother grew up in—the house where Rita raised three daughters, one mentally retarded, and helped my grandfather run a nursing uniforms business out of their basement in the years after World War II. The house where she used to cook her special “cottage cheese contraption” for my sister and me, where she’d overload our plates with buttery home fries, back when we were little and she could still walk and talk. Where she always had a well-stocked cookie drawer in the kitchen.

My mother organized a party the Saturday after Grandmom’s birthday. That morning, my mother and sister drove up from Baltimore and I drove down from my home in northeast Pennsylvania, to converge at the single-story brick duplex in north Philadelphia. My Aunt Dena and Uncle Jeff were there; the head nurse, Donna; the neighbors, who helped Grandmom out with odd jobs around the house when they could. Dena and Donna had been decorating all morning. A “happy birthday” banner hung across the windows in the living room, and framed photographs stood on every surface.

Grandmom sat in the middle of the living room, fuming. She’d try to push herself out of the wheelchair until her arms tired out, and then she’d collapse back in the chair and groan. Every few minutes she’d wave a lethargic hand at the photos and banners and balloons and say something that sounded like “Put it away” or “Go away.”

Donna shook her head. “She’s been like this all day. Two o’clock, and she’s ready for bed.”

It was more than exhaustion. She was agitated at seeing her house out of order, and the photographs were making her unhappy.

“Sometimes it’s easier to forget than remember—especially when not all the memories are good ones,” my mother said. My grandfather had been gone for nearly a decade. His last years were not happy ones. He forgot who his wife was; thought she was trying to kill him; sometimes called the police, who would find him ranting and raving, or wandering around the house naked.

Donna was setting out plates and cups and an enormous fruit salad. My mom and I unpacked the food we’d brought. She’d made a tuna casserole and a chocolate cake. I peeled the foil off the aluminum baking pan I was carrying. “I brought brownies. Guess we’ve got the chocolate food group covered.”

We all tried to stay cheerful and upbeat, patting my grandmother on the hand and singing happy birthday to her when she moaned.

“I think she said ‘Go away,’” my sister whispered.

“She’s been saying that ever since I got here this morning,” Dena replied. “‘Go away’ or ‘Clean it up’ or ‘Put me to bed.’”

Grandmom let people give her the occasional grape or sip of Gatorade, but she didn’t seem very interested in the food otherwise. So I put a brownie and a slice of chocolate cake on a plate and sat down next to her. Even when she’s been at her worst, she’s never lost her sweet tooth. The last time I visited, I brought her cookies. “Yum, yum, yum,” she’d said, biting into one. It was the only lucid thing she’d said that day.

I loaded up a spoonful of cake and held it to her mouth. She obediently ate it, and licked her lips.

“That’s the spirit, Mom!” my mother said, applauding. Grandmom let me feed her most of the cake, then pushed the plate away. But a few minutes later, she gestured toward the plate again, and let me feed her the rest of the cake.

“Someone’s hungry!” I said, immediately hating the patronizing tone of my voice. It’s so easy to treat the elderly like small children. No wonder Grandmom’s tired of it all.

She finished the last bite of cake, and I started on the brownie.

“Which one do you like better, Grandmom?” I asked, mostly to keep up the charade of conversation, to pretend that we were actually communicating.

She looked at me, and for a moment her eyes were completely clear and her voice didn’t wobble. “They’re both good,” she said. She took the last bite of brownie. “Now clean this all up, and put me to bed.”

Best One-Bowl Brownies

  • ½ cup oil
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup cocoa
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ cup chocolate chips
  1. Blend oil, sugar, and vanilla.
  2. Add eggs, mix.
  3. Add everything else and mix till blended.
  4. Bake in a 9-inch greased pan at 350 degrees, 20-25 mins (or until edged pull away from pan).

Lisa Rosinsky lives in the mountains of rural Pennsylvania where she is the Associate Managing Editor at Boyds Mills Press, the book publishing division of Highlights for Children. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Little Patuxent Review, Measure, Prairie Schooner, Hunger Mountain, Iron Horse Literary Review, 32 Poems, and other publications. She is working on the second draft of her first novel.

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What You Eat: Pasta Primavera

In preparation of our Food issue (submissions open until November 1, after which they’ll simmer ’til winter), I’ve asked members of the LPR community to share stories of what they eat. Food occupies such a central place in our lives, that we can’t help but grow with it. Whether we were all lost in the supermarket or, as in the case of this entry from Emily Rich, watching a child grown into a different cook, a different person, than ourselves, we can call on the sounds, smells, and tastes of our most formative and transformative foods to walk back into our own narrative histories. And on Laura’s suggestion, each piece in this series will feature a recipe, so you can cook yourself through an experience yourself. If you have a transformative experience with food, leave a comment and I’ll be in touch.

And now that I’ve laid the table, Emily Rich:

Emily Rich

Emily Rich

Isabel, with my black apron cinched around her waist has effectively shooed me out of the kitchen.

“I got this, Mom, don’t worry,” she says, unsheathing the good chef’s knife from its protective case. My oldest daughter is home from college and wants nothing more than to make the family dinner.

Wine in hand, I retire to the non-serious side of the granite counter and take a seat on one of the low backed stools where I can watch my daughter expertly dice zucchini and red peppers into one parti-colored mound on the cutting board. Her fingers on the knife are pale and slim, well manicured. Her blond hair is swirled up into an out-of-the way bun.

She has categories of ingredients arranged before her, spices, vegetables, fats, but no recipe book. She knows what will taste good, she says.

How fun it must be, I think, to be able to cook with such authority and abandon. It’s a gift I’ve never had.

It’s not that I don’t like to cook, I do. And I’ve long gotten over my food issues, from the days I rebelled against the tense and joyless dinner table of my youth, eating as little as possible of whatever my mother put on my plate. By Isabel’s age I was skinny and finicky and a terrible cook. I’ve relaxed quite a bit, but it was something I had to teach myself to do.

As a wife and mother, I adore my family and want to provide them with good, healthy, even memorable meals. I peruse cookbooks and magazines—or more recently, websites like epicurious.com—I write lists, shop, chop, bake and braise, following every recipe pretty much down to the quarter teaspoon. I’ve never developed the confidence to improvise. My meals are less spontaneous love letters, more well-researched reports.

Whether learned or inherited, Isabel has gotten her cooking skills from her father, a happy and extraordinary cook. I remember Isabel as a child standing beside him in the kitchen as he threw unmeasured quantities of this or that into the veal ragout, stirring, tasting, adjusting the flavor. “You know how you know if something tastes good?” He’d instruct. “Taste it. You gotta go with your gut.”

My husband is a big man with big appetites, whose passion for life’s pleasures mean a good portion of the family budget will always be dedicated to fine food and drink. Not that I’m complaining! If you want to have a great dinner, come over sometime when he’s cooking and pouring the wine. I’ll happily clean up the kitchen for us afterwards.

But my husband can also be undiscriminating. He’ll eat anything. It’s a point of pride. Sweetbreads, pigs head, offal, you name it. Once in Thailand he bought a bag of wok-fried locusts from a street vendor. In Hawaii he ordered something called “difficult octopus” that looked like a bowl full of pale snot and delighted in the reaction he provoked from the rest of the table as he chopsticked the goo into his mouth.

Isabel is more discerning. She is a pescatarian, which means she’ll eat fish, but not poultry or meat. It’s healthier, she says. Usually she cooks vegetarian, like she is doing tonight: A pasta primavera bursting with vegetables, a blueberry-peach cobbler for dessert.

So what is my contribution to the meal tonight? I like to think I provided the haven where everyone’s true selves could flourish. From the time my children arrived, I wanted nothing more than to create a warm and stress-free home, a place so completely opposite from the sad and violent home where I was raised. My kitchen is clean and well-stocked, there’s classic rock streaming on the computer. Everyone is relaxed and having a good time. All I need to do is get out of the way and let Isabel compose her love letter to the family.

Isabel’s Pasta Primavera

I use whatever vegetables I have available, sometimes it’s frozen broccoli and spinach. But my favorite is fresh zucchini, yellow squash, cherry tomatoes and mushrooms. I chop those up and sauté them in white wine (if I have it!), butter and as much garlic as possible. Throw in some herbs like oregano or thyme, salt, and red pepper flakes.

Meanwhile, boil whole wheat angel hair pasta, drain and mix in the sautéed veggies. Top with Parmesan and a fried egg. Finish with black pepper. Enjoy!

Emily Rich is the non-fiction editor of Little Patuxent Review. She writes mainly memoir and essay. Her work has been published in a number of journals including Little Patuxent Review, Welter, River Poet’s Journal, Delmarva Review and The Pinch.

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#Ferguson : My Thoughts on an American Flashpoint

Originally posted on Afroculinaria:

“…It was the corroboration of their worth and their power that they wanted, and not the corpse, still less the staining blood.”  James Baldwin, “To Be Baptized,” from No Name in the Street, 1972

I have been asked by many people to take a close look at the Michael Brown shooting case in Ferguson, Missouri and offer my opinion.  I felt it best to take a step back and really absorb all the circulating currents of opinion and matters of fact before I made any personal pronouncements.  This is my best attempt to answer that call, hopefully soberly, responsibly and with as much restraint as I can muster in the face of this deeply American tragedy.  This is inherently a blog about food and food culture, but anyone who regularly reads this blog understands that it also is a blog about social and cultural justice.  It is clear to…

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What You Eat: Fearless Quiche

In preparation of our Food issue (submissions open until November 1, after which they’ll simmer ’til winter), I’ve asked members of the LPR community to share stories of what they eat. Food occupies such a central place in our lives, that we can’t help but grow with it. Whether we were setting off smoke alarms in a zealous attempt to impress or, as in the case of this entry from Clarinda Harriss, learning life lessons from Julia Child, we can call on the sounds, smells, and tastes of our most formative and transformative foods to walk back into our own narrative histories. And on Laura’s suggestion, each piece in this series will feature a recipe, so you can cook yourself through an experience yourself. If you have a transformative experience with food, leave a comment and I’ll be in touch.

And now that I’ve laid the table, Clarinda Harriss:

Clarinda Harriss

Clarinda Harriss

For an early-1960s Christmas, my then-husband’s sister, a fabulous cook, gave me a copy of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Betty had a satirical bent, and I thought the present might have been offered in that spirit. The kitchen in our 2-room Charles Village grad student apartment clwas a 6 x 6 space that housed, in addition to the entire upper floors’ huge hot water heater, a dorm-size refrigerator whose tiny top was also the only “counter space,” a miniature sink, and a toy-size stove.

One day I returned home from a late-afternoon class needing to put together some dinner for my husband to gulp down before heading out to night law-school and found that the larder was completely bare except for a pitcher of half-and-a half, a stick of butter, a couple of eggs, a slim wedge of cheese, and two strips of bacon. A desperate search revealed nothing in the pantry (read “linen closet”) but half a small bag of flour, shoved into a mason jar to discourage the roaches.

I can’t imagine what impulse, what good genie, what goddess, what on earth made me turn to Julia. But there, near the front of her tome, it was revealed unto me that I had all I needed to make a quiche. Bear in mind that this occurred long before Real Men and their position vis a vis quiches became a popular issue. So I did what Julia said to do on pages 140 and 147: I made a quiche. And lo, it was good.

The following Thanksgiving I heeded the indomitable spirit of that great cook: think of Meryl Streep as Julia Child warbling “I was FEARLESS.” We hosted sister-in-law Betty, her husband, and her many children at the tiny apartment for a full-scale traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Yes, Virginia – and Betty, and everybody – you can cook a 25-lb turkey in an oven that looks smaller than the turkey itself.

And yes, Betty, I suddenly understood your gift. It was the gift of a food-loving, cookery-loving, risk-taking cry: “Have No Fear.”

And I’m not just talking about food.

Fearless Quiche

What I do now, quick-quiche-wise:  Line a pie pan with a Pillsbury (NOT store brand) pre-made pie crust and prick it lightly all over; bake at 350 for about 7 minutes.  Beat together 2 or 3 eggs, a cup of heavy cream, a big handful of shredded cheddar or whatever cheese you fancy, and a dash of salt. Scatter a few strips of cooked bacon, crumbled, over the baked crust.  Pour in the egg-cream mixture.  Dab bits of butter (about a tbsp total) over the top. Bake for about 40 minutes.  Serve with a green salad to ease your guilt.

Clarinda Harriss is a professor emerita of English from Towson University and 40-year director of BrickHouse Books, Inc., Maryland’s oldest literary press. Her most recently published poetry collections are Air Travel, Dirty Blue Voice, and Mortmain. Several years ago, CityLit initiated the annual Harriss Award for Poetry in her honor. With poet Moira Egan, she edited Hot Sonnets: An Anthology. A collection of Harriss’ award-winning short stories, The White Rail, was released this year. One of her main interests continues to be prison writers and restorative justice projects.

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What You Eat: Home Brewing

In preparation of our Food issue (submissions open until November 1, after which they’ll simmer ’til winter), I’ve asked members of the LPR community to share stories of what they eat. Food occupies such a central place in our lives, that we can’t help but grow with it. Whether we were pushing ourselves to do more than just survive or, as is the case with my entry, trying to feel at home while driving away roommates with the smell of boiling malt and hops, we can call on the sounds, smells, and tastes of our most formative and transformative foods to walk back into our own narrative histories. And on Laura’s suggestion, each piece in this series will feature a recipe, so you can cook yourself through an experience yourself. If you have a transformative experience with food, leave a comment and I’ll be in touch.

And now that I’ve laid the table, well, me:

“They’re good, but I don’t think they have enough flavor for brewing.” Martin picked a wild plum off of a tree growing alongside the trail and handed it to me. I popped one in my mouth and picked another before following Martin around a bend to look over the marshes and coastline. He handed me the binoculars and pointed to a spit of beach, “Over there, by the boat.” I lifted the binoculars, and surrounded by samphire, sea purslane, godwits, and gulls, I watched the tourists snap photos of seals while their boat paced the coast.

The Blakeney salt marsh. (Photo: Gerry Balding)

The Blakeney salt marsh. (Photo: Gerry Balding)

A year and a half before, I was clutching a rag against my bloody thumb while dumping wort into a carboy in my small kitchen in Brooklyn. I was bleeding onto the airlock, scrambling to find my sanitizing solution, and finding all my clever preparations for this moment failing. I was brewing my first beer—an English brown ale. But after six months of drawing maps in my notebook, learning the best places to buy groceries, and finding a good slice within walking distance of my door, I would still hesitate to call myself a homebrewer.

Martin Warren in the smokehouse of JWH Jonas Fishmongers, a business now nearly two centuries old. (Photo: Steve Adams)

Martin Warren in the smokehouse of JWH Jonas Fishmongers, a business now nearly two centuries old. (Photo: Steve Adams)

I first met Martin while cycling the length of the Norfolk coast in England. He opened the doors of his Poppyland Brewery for me on a Sunday morning, and I stepped into the biscuit-sweet smell of malt. As we talked shop and shared ideas, we sampled his Stewkey Gose, named (phonetically) for the Stiffkey River which feeds the marshes. The aroma coming off of the hazy pale beer told me how much I’d missed in the miles between the train station in King’s Lynn and this tiny brewhouse in Cromer. Martin had been in the marsh, foraging fistfuls of plants that call this unique ecology home. He told me that he wanted to transport his drinker here, and to celebrate this place. In its delicate balance of sour and salt, herb and earth, I found one of the most interesting and thought-provoking beers on the island.

But the gose isn’t alone in Martin’s range. He brews with barley grown just two dozen miles away from the brewhouse door. He has taken that malt and his hops to a local smokehouse, giving his smoked porter a distinctive tobacco character I haven’t found anywhere else. He brews a saison to be paired with Cromer crab. On this recent visit, we walked into a candy shop and ordered a slice of fudge to split while walking about town. “This is where my gluten-free brewing all began,” Martin said, indicating the clerk behind the counter. “Digby’s got coeliac, and I wanted him to try my beer. There are so few gluten-free beers out there, but it’s so easy to do.” Martin uses an enzyme to degrade one of the two proteins implicated in coeliac disease (the other is naturally degraded during brewing by enzymes present in the barley). When Martin held out some bills for the fudge, Digby shook his head and pushed the fudge over the counter to us.

Cromer Pier (Photo: Garry Balding)

Cromer Pier. (Photo: Garry Balding)

Homebrewing simply refers to brewing within the confines of one’s residence. I still brew in my kitchen. Two years ago, Martin moved his operation into an automotive garage (opened just two decades after the birth of the automobile) across the street from his house. But Martin is much more a homebrewer than I am. As a retired curator of the Cromer Museum and leader of geology walks, brewing is one more manifestation of Martin’s sense of home.

Most of my life, I’ve felt out of place. I didn’t grow up fishing, sailing, or pitching crab traps full of chicken necks off a pier. My first time at a tryout for lacrosse saw me flat in the mud as more experienced players trounced me. I hardly saw Baltimore beyond the commercial island of the Inner Harbor. Whether or not these experiences would’ve made me a Marylander, hearing my peers’ chatter put me on the outside. When my travels took me to suburbs of Chicago or Long Island, my disorientation was only exacerbated by finding the same houses—homes to others. I don’t know my geography.

But while cycling through farms and woodland bridleways with Martin, learning how he’s shaping his geography through guerrilla gardening and rerouting trails, I had hopeful thoughts that maybe I’ve succeeded in sowing some seeds in Brooklyn. Just a few blocks from my apartment, a homebrew shop hosts a community pulled together from all reaches of the city. We’re all fascinated by fermentation. I am hopeful that these seeds take root, and by spring be budding. Martin is planning a visit, and I’d like to be able to show him the home I’ve been brewing.

Bottles of my first brew. I served samples while giving a talk on homebrewing as part of an informal graduate student lecture series at NYU.

Bottles of my first brew. I served samples while giving a talk on homebrewing
as part of an informal graduate student lecture series at NYU.


English Brown Ale

This is a version of the first beer I ever brewed, with some modifications that I think simplify and improve the recipe.

  • 1 satchet Fermentis SafAle S-04 dry English yeast
  • 2 oz East Kent Goldings hops
  • 8 oz 120L caramel malt
  • 4 oz 40L caramel malt
  • 4 oz chocolate malt
  • 6 oz Victory malt
  • 5.5 lbs light dry malt extract
  • 3+ gallon pot with lid
  • 6 gallon food-grade plastic bucket with lid
  • Sanitizing solution (StarSan or 1 tbsp bleach in 2 gallons water or 12.5 ppm iodine solution)
  1. Place your crushed grains into a muslin bag (the shop where you bought the grains should crush them for you). Fill your largest pot (hopefully 3+ gallons, from now on called your brew kettle) with water, leaving at least a half gallon headspace. Bring to about 170 F, cut heat, and submerge grains. Let steep for 10–15 minutes, agitating to make sure all the grain is wet. The water will turn dark.
  2. Remove the grain bag and set into a colander above another pot to collect any goodness dripping out of the grains. You can squeeze the grain bag if you dare (the grains are hot!). Bring the brew kettle to a boil, uncovered. Once the grain bag stops dripping, you can dispose of it and add the collected wort (jargon for unfermented beer) to the brew kettle.
  3. Once the wort is boiling, dissolve your dry malt extract into the wort. Be careful, as it will foam, and boil-over is possible. If the foam is getting out of control, cut the heat. Also, once the malt extract is exposed to humidity, it starts to clump and stick, which can make handling it more difficult. Dissolving it all may take 10 minutes or more depending on the intensity of your boil and the amount of headspace in your kettle. If you feel you don’t have enough headspace, just let the wort boil off some water until you’re comfortable with the volume.
  4. Add one ounce of hops, and set a timer for 45 minutes. Hops add bitterness, and the longer you boil them, the more bitterness is extracted. Therefore, it is important that if you want to reduce the volume of the wort in your kettle, you should allow it to boil off before adding hops.
  5. After 35 minutes has passed (i.e., 10 minutes on left on the timer), add another ounce of hops. You may want to begin preparing an ice water bath in a sink or tub.
  6. After 45 minutes, when your timer goes off, turn off the heat. Move the brew kettle to the water bath. Once the temperature of the wort drops below 180 F, cover with lid. Let it sit, replacing the water and/or ice in the bath when it warms, until the wort reaches room temperature.
  7. Sanitize your food-grade plastic bucket by making sure your sanitizing solution contacts all surfaces that the wort will touch. A spray bottle helps. If using bleach solution, make sure to rinse with boiled (and cooled—don’t melt your bucket) water. Other sanitizers needn’t be rinsed. Pour contents of brew kettle into your food-grade plastic bucket.
  8. Open satchet of yeast and add to wort. Legally, your wort is now beer. Cover bucket loosely with lid. Fermentation produces a lot of gas, so you’ll either need an airlock to allow gas to escape or you’ll need to leave the seal of the lid loose. Move the bucket to a cool (~60–65 F) place if you have one. Anywhere around 70 F is okay.
  9. Anytime you’re feeling curious, lift the lid and sneak a peak. But not too often! You were so careful to kill bacteria and yeast that were in the bucket before you started, don’t go letting them in now. After two or three weeks, your beer is probably done fermenting, and you should go over to How To Brew to learn about bottling. And you should learn more about brewing and do it all over again, but even better.
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