Salty: Lessons on Eating, Drinking, and Living from Revolutionary Women

Salty coverSalty: Lessons on Eating, Drinking, and Living from Revolutionary Women
Alissa Wilkinson
Broadleaf Books (June 28, 2022), 203 pages
Kindle edition $17.99, Amazon hardcover $22.61

In Salty, Alissa Wilkinson discusses the lives of women she admires and whom she would like to bring together for a hypothetical dinner party. And what a range of women she selects. She devotes each chapter to an individual woman and ends the chapter with a recipe that reflects that woman’s character.

Wilkinson includes two novelists in her dinner party. She writes about Laurie Colwin, whose novels describe ordinary, white, middle-class Americans who manage to mess up their lives. Her recipe is Lentil Soup and No-Knead Bread. But then she discusses Octavia Butler, an African American writer of speculative fiction who died in 2006, but whose work is experiencing something of a revival these days. Butler’s dish is Vegetarian Chili with Winter Squash because the alien race in her trilogy Lilith’s Brood is vegetarian.

The author gives ample attention to women involved in political struggle. She writes about Ella Baker, who was a civil rights activist in the South and the force behind the creation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. She was not one to spend time in the kitchen but loved sharing meals with people. Appropriately, her dish is Louisiana-Style Shrimp Salad. The political philosopher and anti-fascist activist Hannah Arendt was also not interested in cooking but loved her cocktail parties, where she could engage in extended conversation. Wilkinson assigns Arendt the Stiff Gibson, a form of martini.

Conversely, Wilkinson pays homage to women dedicated to food. She tells us about Edna Lewis, out of the ordinary because she was a Black woman who worked as a chef in New York City in the 1940s and then opened her own short-lived restaurant. She also published well-received cookbooks. Then there is Agnès Varda, who wrote about food and cooking in post-World War II Britain, where many desirable (even essential) ingredients were rationed or difficult (if not impossible) to find.

Of course, such a dinner party would not be complete without Alice B. Toklas. Her life partner Gertrude Stein wrote The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, as we all know, but Toklas wrote The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book (yes, it was two words). As an expatriate with Stein in Paris, Toklas did the cooking on the cook’s day off, and had to deal with the shortages of wartime France.

Finally, Wilkinson pays tribute to Maya Angelou, whom she puts at the head the table for her hypothetical dinner party. Angelou, in addition to her other prolific output, wrote cookbooks. Who knew? I didn’t. And Angelou’s dish? Poached Pears in Port Wine.

Salty is delightful reading and pays well-deserved homage to nine strong and capable women.


using the MasterCook recipe software

I wrote about having to retire my old laptop computer and therefore having to say goodbye to the recipe software I loved so much, Living Cookbook.

The question, then, was what program to move to. There aren’t a lot of choices for recipe software, and most of them are subscription and cloud based. I have enough damn subscriptions as it is, and I’m not wild about storing my recipes in the cloud. It also appears that a lot of the programs are not actively maintained.

MasterCook screen shotI finally decided on MasterCook. It has been around for a long time and they released an updated MasterCook 22 not long ago. Recently enough that the developer says they tested it on Windows 11. Of course the MasterCook folks would rather that you go with their web-based subscription version, but at least they offer a locally installed, one-time purchase version.

So there it is. I have MasterCook. It is not Living Cookbook, but it does the job. It certainly doesn’t have the flexible search capabilities I had in Living Cookbook. The user interface is rather old-fashioned and clunky. Something tells me that is intentional: a way to get you to subscribe to their more modern cloud-based version. Sometimes I will be in the middle of doing something and the program will simply close. Blip! Just like that.

I find it annoying that I cannot, apparently, do an “and” search. For example, if I search on “Italian” and “Stovetop,” I get all the Italian recipes and all the Stovetop recipes, not the recipes that are tagged both Italian and Stovetop. The program does offer multiple formats for printing recipes, but none of them are as clean and well-laid out as Living Cookbook’s format. But, hey, it’s what I’ve got.

So I work with what I have. I have access to all of my recipes and I can add new ones fairly easily. It will have to be sufficient.


letting go of the old laptop

I had to do it. It just got too painful.

I have known for a long time that I was going to have to give up my Living Cookbook software. The program has not been updated since 2014 and the company has been out of business for a while. The program was on my laptop, which was over ten years old. That laptop had been growing progressively slower and less responsive for some time. I can’t move the software to my desktop because that would require the publisher to generate a new license key and the publisher isn’t there. I tried a workaround, believe me, but the workaround didn’t work.

laptop computerThe unfortunate thing is that the Living Cookbook software worked just fine. The surrounding pieces were what was failing. The computer became incredibly slow. Norton Antivirus would no longer run and would not reinstall. I installed a more lightweight antivirus program with a smaller footprint, and even it became balky. Finally, with everything running as slow as molasses, my Chrome web browser refused to open. That was it.

So finally on a recent Friday I went through the painful and tedious process of doing a full reset on the laptop, wiping out all of my data and personal information, then reinstalling Windows 10. The next day was one of the fortnightly electronics recycling days here in Hemet so I dropped it off. I saved the wireless mouse which I liked and hooked it up to my desktop – a nice and comfortable change from my old wired mouse.

I hated to give up the old laptop, but it was no longer usable in any real sense. I found the original packing list and it showed a ship date of August 31, 2010. That’s just short of twelve years. Pretty darn good for a laptop computer.

And how am I replacing Living Cookbook? I selected MasterCook. Not ideal, but serviceable. Details on that soon.


a quick appliance repair

Terry and I bought a new stove in 2019 when the oven wouldn’t heat up and a repair to the old one would cost almost as much as buying a new one. Our local appliance store didn’t have what we wanted, so we found a Samsung range we liked (with a convection oven!) at Lowe’s. We have been very happy with it, but recently it started acting up. The oven took longer to heat up than before and finally it stopped heating up altogether. Never mind that this should not happen in an oven that was just over three years old. The problem was there and we needed to deal with it.

A and E Factory Service truckWe called our local appliance store, but they said that they don’t service Samsung and referred us to A&E Factory Service. I was familiar with them, as I frequently see their trucks here in Four Seasons and around town. No doubt you’ve seen their trucks as well, and perhaps even used them.

I called A&E on a Monday and was able to schedule an appointment for Wednesday. The service technician diagnosed the problem and had the part on his truck. The igniter had gone out. Our oven was working again within forty-five minutes of his arrival. Not only that, but the oven now heats up more quickly than it ever did. I’d say it’s twice as fast as it did before the performance started to deteriorate. Never mind that the technician kept trying to get us to sign up for the A&E service contract for fifty bucks a month. The end result was well worth the slight annoyance.

Our experience with our local appliance store (which we love and appreciate and where we have purchased several major appliances) is that it takes a week to get a service call and another week to get a replacement part. So while I love supporting local businesses, it is delightful to have such a quick resolution from a national company.

Thank you, A&E Factory Service.


letting go of a trusted kitchen appliance

The other day when Terry was emptying the dishwasher she put the spatula in the sink rather than putting it away in the drawer. With good reason. The spatula had seen better days. It was rusting and chipping.

kitchen utensilsI hated to get rid of it. I have had it since the late seventies or early eighties. Let’s say I bought it in 1980, which would not be far off the mark. I know I bought it when I was living in my second-floor apartment on Steanson Drive in Oklahoma City, very near the busy intersection of Northwest 50th Street and North May Avenue. That’s forty-plus years. Pretty good for a kitchen utensil. I had to replace a pizza cutter of the same era for similar reasons a while back. But I still have a slotted spoon from that family of utensils, and it looks as if that one will keep going for a while.

Some things you don’t want to let go of, but sometimes you simply have to make the right decision and move on. I bought a quality Oxo spatula that will last a good long time.


The Recipe Critic

I get my recipes from a variety of sources. There is the Food Network, from what few actual cooking shows that they have left. We subscribe to three cooking magazines: Food & Wine, Bon Appétit, and Food Network Magazine. I also follow a few recipe sites on my RSS news reader. (My RSS news reader allows me to follow my favorite web sites using a sort of inbox format. It is a technology that is on the decline, however, something that I have written about.)

The Recipe Critic logoOne of the recipe sites that I follow is The Recipe Critic. Alyssa Rivers offers recipes that are consistently both easy to make and tasty. Low calorie, not so much. But for my cooking preferences easy and tasty rank higher than low calorie.

For example, last Saturday I made her Creamy Tuscan Garlic Salmon. (A lot of Alyssa’s recipes start with “creamy.” You see what I mean about them not necessarily being low calorie.) It was not at all difficult to make and it was delicious. Terry loved it.

At a time when neither my television programs nor my magazines are offering recipes that I find terribly exciting, I am glad that Alyssa is there to keep things interesting.


What the Food Network Stars are Doing

It’s been a long time since I’ve written about Food Network, although Food Network programs make up a large percentage of my television viewing. I haven’t written anything because nothing has changed in the past several years. There are still a lot of competition shows and a handful of straight cooking programs. Certainly they made some changes at the height of the pandemic as to which shows were taped and how they were taped. For the most part, however, Food Network has been pretty stable.

What frustrates me is that the top, most skilled Food Network chefs focus on competition shows when they could be teaching us innovative recipes.

Food Network logoAnne Burrell once had a good cooking program called Secrets of a Restaurant Chef. Now she focuses on Worst Cooks in America, which must be popular as the network renews it season after season. Tyler Florence once had a show I really enjoyed called Tyler’s Ultimate. Now he’s all about The Great Food Truck Race. Bobbie Flay, once known for his grilling and brunch programs is tied up with Beat Bobby Flay and BBQ Brawl. On the other hand, Valerie Bertinelli spends a lot of time on Kid’s Baking Championship, but still finds time for Valerie’s Home Cooking. It’s just that her recipes the past several weeks haven’t caught my attention.

I have to give the hosts of The Kitchen credit for giving proper attention to that program, which Terry and I both enjoy, while they still do other work. Alex Guarnaschelli, the newest Kitchen host, stays busy both as a competition host and competitor. Sunny Anderson works as a judge and Jeff Mauro his own competition shows, but we still see them consistently on The Kitchen. Geoffrey Zakarian is frequently off on QVC promoting his merchandise and has the occasional competition program on Food Network, but always offers interesting recipes on The Kitchen. We don’t see Katie Lee Biegel on competition shows, but she’s busy raising her daughter.

I know Food Network is there to make money, and I know they will invest in the programs that get the highest ratings. Perhaps it’s futile, but I can still hope for more straight cooking shows.


sometimes a sous-chef

When it comes to fixing dinner, I am the primary cook. There is no good reason for that other than that I had that role when Terry was working as a permit runner and that division of labor has continued after her job ended due to the pandemic.

kitchen prepStill, Terry is a great cook, and I’m always happy to have her fix dinner. There is one instance in particular when I am pleased to be her sous-chef. That is on our surf and turf Saturday nights. On surf and turf Saturday Terry has steak and I have halibut. Our nephew Eric says we should call it his and hers, as the phrase surf and turf implies both the seafood and the beef on the same plate. Nonetheless we persist with our terminology.

On these nights I take responsibility for the side dish: either baked potatoes or potatoes au gratin (from a package, not from scratch). I also prepare the baste mixture for my halibut, set out the grill pan and other necessary utensils, and then step away from the kitchen. I leave it to Terry to take over. She grills her steak the way she wants it and always does a superb job with my halibut.

Those are some of my favorite Saturday evenings.


a different kind of breakfast

Crock-PotTerry and I have had a specific kind of breakfast routine during the cooler months of the year. On Mondays we have blueberry pancakes and on Tuesdays we have oatmeal. Wednesdays through Fridays we eat cold cereal. For oatmeal days, Terry starts the oatmeal in the slow cooker on Monday night so it’s ready when we get up on Tuesday.

Terry was reading the Hints From Heloise column in the newspaper one day recently and came across a submission from a woman who frequently hosts overnight guests, for whom she wants to provide breakfast on their own schedule. She calls it her Crockpot Breakfast Apple Cobbler. Heloise reproduced the recipe as follows:

4 tart apples, peeled and chopped
¼ cup brown sugar
1 cup granola cereal
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons butter
Dash of cinnamon

Combine all ingredients in crockpot and cook on low overnight. Serve with a little milk.

Terry thought that might be a nice alternative to oatmeal on a Tuesday. We rarely have granola on hand so we picked some up from the bulk bins at Sprouts, along with a couple of Granny Smith apples. She put everything together on a recent Monday night, leaving out the brown sugar as she felt the granola was sweet enough.

We were both delighted. We liked it so much that this Tuesday we used a different variety of granola and frozen peaches. Excellent as well.

A really nice breakfast-time change.


Tastemakers

Taste Makers coverTaste Makers: Seven Immigrant Women Who Revolutionized Food in America
Mayukh Sen
W. W. Norton & Company (November 16, 2021), 283 pages
Kindle edition $9.32, Amazon hardcover $18.99

In a food culture that in the past has tended to focus on men and on American women, Mayukh Sen highlights the culinary work of seven immigrant women.

Sen’s subjects are diverse. Chao Yang Buwei introduced many Americans to Chinese cooking. Although she never mastered English her husband helped her to produce cookbooks that were popular in the fifties. Elena Zelayeta overcame blindness as an adult to teach Americans about Mexican cooking. Madeleine Kamman taught French cooking and was jealous of Julia Child’s success. She became so irksome that Child automatically forwarded any correspondence from her to her attorneys. Marcella Hazan published Italian cookbooks in the sixties, again with the English-language assistance of her husband. Julie Sahni started out as a dancer, but soon turned to food. She published Classic Indian Cooking in 1980. Najmieh Batmanglij typed out Iranian recipes on an Apple IIe (I once owned one of those) and eventually self-published Food for Life as American publishers in the eighties didn’t want to be associated with an Iranian. Norma Shirley prepared Jamaican food for wealthy Americans in New York, but eventually returned to Jamacia where she opened restaurants for the locals.

Sen has one chapter on a famous American-born chef: Julia Child. He believed that her influence in cooking in the United States was so great that she deserved her own interlude (as Sen calls it) chapter. Indeed, Sahni studied Child’s work and Kamman considered her a usurper: an American who dared teach Americans about French cooking.

The women Sen profiles were not the first to publish cookbooks on their respective cuisines. Most of them had predecessors. Madhur Jaffrey, for example, was known for her Indian cookbooks before Sahni. Sen also does not hesitate to criticize the “food establishment” who in his mind made success for these women more difficult than it might otherwise have been. He gives credit where credit is due however, particularly to Craig Claiborne, who was consistently open to new voices, and who was happy to pay attention to newcomers in the cooking world, even those who were not male and not American.

If you consider yourself a foodie (as I do myself) Taste Makers may introduce you to some chefs whom you may not have previously encountered. It did that for me.