Portland: A Food Biography

Hello, all:

My upcoming book, Portland: A Food Biography is available for preorder and has a Tumblr. Please take a look!

The infant city called The Clearing was a bald patch amid a stuttering wood. The Clearing was no booming metropolis; no destination for gastrotourists; no career-changer for ardent chefs — just awkward, palsied steps toward Victorian gentility. In the decades before the remaining trees were scraped from the landscape, Portland’s wood was still a verdant breadbasket, overflowing with huckleberries and chanterelles, venison leaping on cloven hoof. Today, Portland is seen as a quaint village populated by trust fund wunderkinds who run food carts each serving something more precious than the last. But Portland’s culinary history actually tells a different story: the tales of the salmon-people, the pioneers and immigrants, each struggling to make this strange but inviting land between the Pacific and the Cascades feel like home.

The foods that many people associate with Portland are derived from and defined by its history: salmon, berries, hazelnuts and beer. But Portland is more than its ingredients. Portland is an eater’s paradise and a cook’s playground. Portland is a gustatory wonderland. Full of wry humor and captivating anecdotes, Portland: A Food Biography chronicles the Rose City’s rise from a muddy Wild West village full of fur traders, lumberjacks and ne’er-do-wells, to a progressive, bustling town of merchants, brewers and oyster parlors, to the critical darling of the national food scene. Heather Arndt Anderson brings to life in lively prose the culinary landscape of Portland, then and now.

Portland cover

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Persimmon Bread

This post has been coming for awhile, particularly considering persimmons aren’t even in season anymore. But if one were especially diligent, one would have a fair stockpile of persimmon jelly just languishing in the freezer. As luck would have it, persimmons freeze just beautifully, which is a good thing, because the ten or so pounds I pilfered from a neighborhood tree ripened so slowly, so painfully one-at-a-timely, that I was forced to scoop out the jiggling flesh and plop it into a tub until I’d accumulated enough to use.  My resolve was rewarded: I now have a good two quarts of jelly socked away, enough to keep me in fragrant loaves for months.

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The America persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) was used by indigenous people on the east coast in a similar way as the farmers who wrote the early recipes. They very likely taught early settlers how to use the astringent fruit in the first place. “[M]any people with fine trees in their possession are allowing the fruit to waste because they do not realize its value,” lamented a farmer’s bulletin in 1917, and that remains true nearly a century later. Back then, in areas where they grew wild, they were said to be best suited to “dogs, hogs and ‘possums.” That’s very possibly because early settlers didn’t wait until the orange fruits were fully ripe before tucking in. The name ‘persimmon’ comes from Powhatan word pessamin, meaning ‘dry fruit;’ anyone biting into an unripe persimmon gets a mouthful of tannin, turning one’s tongue into an asphalt roof tile.

Another reason persimmons may have had mixed reviews is that they require a fair amount of labor to be useful. Getting the pulp out of the skins and away from the seeds is quite a task, one requiring “the patience of Job,” according to cookbook author Martha McCulloch-Williams. Her 1913 classic Dishes & Beverages Of The Old South reflect the early pioneer use of persimmon as a wild foodstuff, good for little but brewing beer or as a substitute for pumpkin in bread recipes. But I think she’s wrong.

It was the American persimmon that was brought to Europe; de Soto was the first to describe it in 1539, and following his introduction dried persimmons were eaten all over Europe like figs. However, the Chinese had revered it for culinary uses long before Europeans set sail for the New World. It is the Chinese species D. kaki  that grows in my neighborhood, the Japanese ‘Hachiya’ cultivar, specifically.  Since the Asian ladies are my main competition for these strange fruits, I have to park my car beneath the tree and stand on top to reach the fruits those ladies couldn’t.

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The recipe for this bread comes from James Beard, who received the recipe from “a dear friend from the Middle West,”  who probably learned it from an early 20th-century farmer’s newsletter or a book of domestic economy. Persimmon bread recipes abound in these bulletins from about 1910-1920, but are curiously absent from cookbooks until David Liebovitz resurrected Beard’s recipe a few years ago. Or if you’re feeling adventurous, why not try an old recipe? Here’s one from the aforementioned farmer’s bulletin (USDA Farmer’s Bulletin #685, 1917). In this case, assume a “moderate oven” is one set to 350ºF.

 

Whichever you use, please do yourself a favor by enjoying it warm and sliced thick, smeared with sweet cream butter, and all year round.

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Toddy Marmalade

From The Country Housewife and Lady’s Director, in the Management of a House, and the Delights and Profits of a Farm, by Richard Bradley, 1732.

I haven’t tried this recipe, but boiling the rinds in a few changes of water reduced the pectin along with the bitterness, which is why Mr. Bradley recommends adding the high-pectin pulp of Golden Pippins (apples) back in. By the time this recipe was published in London, the Scots had been enjoying marmalade for two hundred years or so.

The Scots certainly did not invent marmalade — Apicius included recipes for fruit preserves in the 1st century— but they were the first to eat it specifically for breakfast. The acidic citrus had a warming, invigorating effect, deemed necessary to awaken the “cold” stomach and prepare it for digesting breakfast. A slice of orange peel “condite (candied) with sugar, and taken fasting in a small quantity” was the matutinal amuse-bouche recommended by physician Sir Thomas Elyot in the early 1500s.

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But this was a job that many supposed had been done perfectly fine by whiskey, thank you very much. English writer Samuel “Dr.” Johnson wrote in The Johnson Calendar (1774) that “no man is so abstemious as to refuse the morning dram.” He continued, qualifying the statement by writing that “[n]ot long after the dram may be expected the breakfast, a meal in which the Scots … must be confessed to excel us.” The Scots, like many British, also typically enjoyed a draught of ale at breakfast. When tea-drinking (and that irksome temperance) caught on in Scotland in the early 18th century, some people replaced their sturdy mug of ale with a dainty cup of tea; others replaced the dram as well, instead opting for a bit of tummy-warming candied orange peel or marmalade.

Brigadier Mackintosh of Borlum was less than pleased about this. “When I came to my friend’s house in a morning, I used to be ask’d, if I had my morning draught yet? I am now ask’d, if I have yet had my tea,” he bristled in 1729. “And in lieu of the … strong ale and toast, and after a Dram of good wholesome Scots Spirits, there is now … marmalet, cream, and cold tea.” He is positively quaking with justifiable annoyance.

Dr. Johnson had no such disdain for marmalade; rather, he mentioned it specifically as one of the delights of the Scottish breakfast table, writing that “if an epicure could remove by a wish, in quest of sensual gratifications, wherever he had supped, he would breakfast in Scotland.” Because of their habit of serving tea with “not only butter, but honey, conserves and marmalades,” Scotland, Dr. Johnson mused, had even the Mother England beat at breakfast.

The two gentlemen both raise very good points. I love nothing more than a hot English muffin spread with butter and marmalade. I get a happy tingle in my you-know-where when I think about a butter knife scraping across that toasty, lunar landscape of farinaceous delight. On the other hand, I do enjoy getting hammered in the morning. So which is it: Whiskey? Or marmalade? Unwilling to get between two very good arguments, I decided to split the difference and add whiskey to my marmalade.

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With its blend of sweet lemons and woody whiskey, this marmalade is not unlike a hot toddy (another Scottish invention), in jam form. I had a few half-pints of grapefruit marmalade left over from last spring that are just too bitter to enjoy without a fair amount of honey dribbled on top, and I decided to toss in a couple of jars to add a bit of dimension to the sweet, mellow Meyer lemons. I think it’s a rather nice break from the usual. I wrote a loose recipe for marmalade awhile back, but my friend Marisa has a really good one in her book Food in Jars, and another really toddy-appropriate recipe on her beautiful blog of the same name. Just add a glug of whiskey.

Let us all be like the Scots, those masters of the breakfast table, and begin the day with a dram.

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Shakshouka: or, What to Have Instead of Brain Cakes

From Phillis Browne’s The Dictionary of Dainty Breakfasts (London: Cassell, 1899). Warning: this recipe may be a bit cloying.

According to Phillis Browne (the nom-de-plume of 19th-century sports journalist Arthur Gay Payne), breakfast should consist of the following: a) a fundamental dish; b) “trifling accessories… for the benefit of (1) those who are so hungry that the fundamental dish does not suffice, and (2) those who feel so sick that they cannot touch it;” c) fruit; d) drinks (presumably coffee and tea, though juice was coming into fashion); and e) a bread of some sort.

Fundamental dishes include the proteins such as ham, eggs, fish and other meats. Browne also advocates the use of offal as a money-saver, within reason; the heart was off-limits (“the heart is scarcely suitable for breakfast,” clucks the author), but kidneys, liver and brains were all perfectly acceptable. Browne offers one caveat: “brains fried in bread crumbs are not bad, but rather cloying.”

Call me narrow-minded, but I will probably never make brain cakes for breakfast, and not because they cloy.

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Chouteau Avenue in St. Louis, Missouri. Photo by Edward Buck, 1979.

I can, however, get behind eggs in any form. One of my favorite discoveries while working on Breakfast was shakshouka. During the summer, when I was writing the egg section, my three hens were consistently giving us an egg each daily, and although I loved nothing more than a new-laid egg scrambled on toast (usually with a thick slab of tomato and a crunch of sea salt), the eggs really piled up fast. I eventually resorted to cooking them for dinner as well, and shakshouka was one such breakfast-cum-dinner. To boot, my garden was in a similar state of reproductive fervor and I had sufficient tomatoes and peppers to make sauce on a fairly regular basis.

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Even in the tomato-less, egg-less winter, shakshouka fits the bill. The Tunisian breakfast dish of eggs poached in a rich, spicy tomato sauce is the ideal marriage of traditional and exotic (or if you live in the Levant, it’s just a regular thing). Get the sauce bubbling and crack the eggs right in. Or, go the Turkish route and whisk the eggs first to make menemen, an equally satisfying morning meal that resembles a saucy, stew-y fritatta. Either way, serve with warm flatbread and your favorite trifling accessories. Or crumble in tortilla chips and cotija cheese and have chilaquiles. (The More You Know: Chilaquiles may actually be the origin of shakshouka, since peppers and tomatoes are New World foods that wouldn’t have made it to the Ottoman states until around the middle of the 16th century.)

Shakshouka

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 red bell peppers, sliced finely
1 28oz can fire-roasted tomatoes (or 2 pints home-canned tomatoes)
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon harissa (more if you like heat) or cayenne
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder (optional, but I think it adds a nice brightness)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
6 eggs
 
 In a large frying pan or saucepan, fry the onions, garlic and peppers in olive oil until they become glossy and soft, about 10 minutes on medium-high heat. Add the spices and stir, cooking for about two minutes to release the oils. Add the tomatoes and simmer for about an hour, or until the onions and peppers are very soft (your patience will be rewarded). Add a splash of water here and there to make sure the sauce doesn’t burn. Crack in the eggs and let them simmer for about five minutes, or until the whites have set. Alternatively (it making menemen), dribble in whisked eggs and cook until set. Serve with warm flatbread and a sprinkle of parsley. 
 

 

What Shall We Have to Eat?

I won’t bother with the excuses, but yes, I’ve been away a long time.  The gist: my first book, Breakfast: A History is complete and will be published in May, and I’ve got a couple more irons in the fire that I’ll share when I have news. The future of this here is a little uncertain, but I can probably at least commit to blogging from my phone using artfully grainy Hipstamatic photos on a weekly basis.

What I’m really excited about right now (besides the fact that OH HOLY SHIT MY BOOK IS AVAILABLE FOR PREORDER!!) is a supernerdy bill of fare that I’m working on! Gone are the days when I linger in front of the cabinets and fridge wondering “what the hell am I supposed to make for dinner tonight? Guess it’s pasta again!” or text Scott at 5:15pm to meet me and Zephyr at Sunshine Tavern in 20 minutes!

Menu planners aren’t just for 19th century housekeepers and war-era homemakers anymore! My secret: substitute cold tongue and biscuits for taco night! The impetus for this decision to eat from a menu plan is driven by the half-cow in my freezer (not to mention the whole tuna sitting on my shelves in half-pint jars). I can always deviate to allow for guests, eating out, or seeing something gorgeous at the market. But so far, so good.

Here’s January:

SUNDAY

MONDAY

TUESDAY

WEDNESDAY

THURSDAY

FRIDAY

SATURDAY

 

Vegetable French bread pizza

 

Panko-breaded tuna cakes and rice pilaf

 

Roast lemon chicken with carrots and cumin-scented pilaf (use leftover rice)

 

Chicken pot pie with biscuit crust

 

Corn chowder with biscuits (use leftover chicken/carcass)

 

New recipe: Momofuku

 

Pork chops with cider apple sauce

sweet corn fritters

celery*

 

Misoyaki salmon with rice and cucumber salad

 

Spaghetti with meat sauce, green salad, garlic toast

 

Shepherd’s pie with mashed parsnip crust (use leftover meat sauce)

 

Tofu red curry with rice noodles

 

Pressure-cooker split pea soup with ham and biscuits

 

New recipe: I Know How to Cook

 

Roast beef, peas and carrots, mashed potatoes, mushroom gravy*

 

Hot roast beef sandwiches, French fries, salad

 

Baked potatoes

w/broccoli, cheese, bacon, yogurt

 

Barbecue chicken sandwiches with sweet potatoes and greens

 

Lentil soup with kale and roasted butternut squash, baguette croutons

 

Macaroni and cheese with ham and broccoli

 

 

New Recipe: Silver Spoon

 

Baked beans,
Brown bread, Mixed pickles, Biscuits*

 

Meat loaf with mashed potatoes and gravy, peas and carrots

 

Taco Tuesday!

Roast pork with brown gravy, cabbage roasted in drippings, mashed turnips, apple sauce*  

Orzo with linguiça and clams in pepper-tomato broth

 

Pepper steak with creamed kale and baby potatoes

 

New Recipe: Mastering the Art of Chinese Cooking

* From What Shall We Have to Eat (Mrs. Clarence I. Burr, 1893), with minor adjustments (typically to add vegetables and remove starches and tongue).

So, this is what I’m up to.  I’m not sure what it means for V&S. A little more historical cooking? More stuff about breakfast? More about my next projects? We’ll see.

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Dutch baby Monte Cristo

Who says a Dutch baby must be a sweet vehicle for jam and syrup? Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that, it’s just a little predictable. With a base so eggy, it may as well be an omelet. Once it’s deflated like some kind of sad balloon, it’s just as flat as any regular pancake, but the egg does keep it tender and the edges are still crispy and browned, with all that Maillard-y goodness. I do love sweet and savory together, though, so I thought I’d scratch both itches with this take on a Monte Cristo.

A Monte Cristo is a beautiful thing; a stoner’s wet dream. Why eat a perfectly wonderful ham and cheese sandwich when you can eat an even more wonderful fried ham and cheese sandwich? I’ve had them every way possible: grilled simply in butter like an embellished toasted cheese; I’ve had sliced ham and Swiss served between two pillows of French toast; and I’ve had the whole affair dunked in egg batter and fried whole. They’re each lovely, truly, but this iteration performs the additional duty of being dead simple to make.

Here, I took the basic batter (2 eggs, 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 cup flour), left out the sugar, and added a handful of grated sharp cheddar and finely diced ham. In a cast iron skillet, cook the ham in about two tablespoons of butter or bacon fat (or both, like I did) and then dump in the batter. Let it sit on the stove for a minute, then pop it in a 425 degree oven for 13 minutes or so, until it’s all golden and puffed and breathtaking. Watch it deflate like so many of your girlhood hopes and dreams, and then slice that disappointment right up and dust it with powdered sugar.

I suppose if you’re sensitive about these things — or Kosher, heaven forbid — you could leave out the ham and use a few handfuls of wilted spinach, or some sauteed mushrooms. You could use a different cheese, if that’s what you have. Ooh, I bet chorizo and diced potato would be something pretty special, too. They make good vegetarian chorizo, don’t they? Oh, they don’t? Oh, well.

(I suppose someone will helpfully chime in with some mention of “soyrizo” or some other such abomination, to which I’ll reply, “no thank you.” I asked for good vegetarian chorizo, which was really a trick question, because we all know there’s no such thing.)

I do still love the sweet Dutch babies, though. I decided to whip up a double batch today, because my baby boy has pinkeye and nothing says “I care about ocular health” like plying a two year-old with tiny, muffin-sized Dutch babies slathered in homemade blueberry-elderflower jam and Meyer lemon marmalade. Just use the same, simple batter, but add 1/4 cup of sugar. You could stir in a little citrus zest or vanilla, if you fancy. Heat a muffin tin in the oven with about 1/2 teaspoon or so of butter in each hole and once the butter’s melted just pour the batter in, filling each depression as evenly as you can without worrying too much. Then bake for about 10-12 minutes, or whenever they’re requisitely golden and puffy. Even when they fizzle out, they’re still so cute and lovable with that little blob of jam in the middle, aren’t they? They kind of remind me of how a sea anemone looks when you tickle its tentacles. It recoils into itself, embarrassed that it mistook your finger for a little oceanic detritus, leaving its soft, flabby neck and that shallow indentation on top where it’s turned itself inside out.

I bet a dollop of jam would really cheer up an embarrassed sea anemone.

 

 

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Gooey Orange Sticky Buns

Today is New Year’s Eve, and instead of planning a healthy regime change in 2012 I am doing the opposite. I say: more bread. More dessert. More DIY sticky-icky. I’m bringing butter and eggs and gluten back.

I’m bringing the old bitch back.

And if that means my Twitter followers drop like flies, I say “good.”

To make these delicious buns, do this (yes, you have to actually read to see the recipe. if it hurts your brain too much then maybe you should stick to store-bought buns):

Dissolve 1.5 teaspoons of active dry yeast in 1.25 cups of warm milk. Use whole milk, because it’s not the dairy that makes any difference in how fat you are. Let it soak for about ten minutes, or until it gets foamy; add 1/3 cup sugar, an egg, two tablespoons of melted butter and four cups of flour. Mix it in your KitchenAid with the dough hook attachment for 5-10 minutes, or until the dough is as smooth and elastic as your skin was before you had kids. Put the bowl in a warm, draft-free spot covered with a bit of cling wrap (I spritz mine with a little oil so it doesn’t stick to the dough and keep it in the oven with the light on for warmth), and leave it alone for 1.5 hours or until it’s doubled in size.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling by combining a handful of chopped walnuts, a handful of raisins, about a half cup of packed brown sugar, a fat pinch of salt, the zest off an orange and a teaspoon of cinnamon (freshly-ground; have an imaginary conversation defending what may be construed as a totally ridiculous practice by reminding yourself that this cinnamon is way cheaper to buy in stick form, and tastes like nature’s Red Hots instead of saw dust). Make the glaze by juicing the orange whence the zest was derived; reduce in a small saucepan with a half stick of butter, a cup-ish of powdered sugar (I guess you could use honey), another pinch of salt and a splash of vanilla extract. Stir and simmer until it’s sticky like melted jam. I guess you could just use marmalade melted together with butter, come to think of it.

Punch the dough, deriving far too much pleasure from the simple act of aggression against the defenseless blob. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and roll it out to a rectangular sheet about 18″ x 10″. Sprinkle the nutty brown sugar mixture on top of the dough and spread it out evenly, then roll it up into a log. Cut it into 12 rolls. The easiest way to do it without measuring is to cut in half, then cut the halves in half, then cut those each into thirds. Nestle the rolls into a greased 9×13 baking pan (turn the end pieces cut side up) and sprinkle any fallen streuselly bits back on top. Tuck a little pat of butter (like a half teaspoon’s worth or so) onto each roll, cover the pan loosely with a dish towel and let the whole thing rise again for about 45 minutes at room temperature. Bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes. I advise erring on the side of longer; even though it will seem like the tops are getting pretty brown, it’s mostly the butter and sugar doing that and you don’t want doughy interiors. Besides, the glaze will moisten things back up nicely. Drizzle it all over those buns and then just try not to sear your palate on them while you shovel them into your face.

Scott and I ate three before I even got to take any photos.

The thing is, this is real food. Yes, it’s white flour, but who gives a shit? It’s unbleached white flour from a local mill and it won’t kill you, even if you’ve decided that gluten gave you fibromyalgia or made your kid autistic or wasn’t what pre-human cave people ate so it must be poison.

It’s full of fat, but it’s recognizable fat that took only two steps to create: milk cow; shake cream. It’s good enough for billions of Indians (not renowned for fat asses) and it’s good enough for me.

It’s full of sugar, but it’s the least refined sugar you can get that’s not made from bee puke. It’s homemade sticky buns, for fuck’s sake, not Cinnabon. If we promise to only eat sweets we make ourselves, we’d all be the healthier for it.

Here’s to resolutions we can stick to.

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Pasta and Seafood

A match made in heaven, no? I’m not talking about tuna noodle casserole, though I ain’t mad at that; especially not when it’s made with home-canned albacore and fresh sweet onion-shiitake bechamel. I’m just talking about some pasta, some seafood, something green and something dairy. This is a formula that can never disappoint.

Fall and winter is the time of year when we lucky Pacific Northwesterners are flush with an embarrassment of bounty: the last of the fall runs of weary coho and Chinook salmon, the silver streaks of winter steelhead, and freshly molted crab growing into their new chitinous skins. And of course, that’s not even to mention all the food that doesn’t swim or run. We have so much great stuff, and it all tastes good with noodles.

In the first case, I have spaghetti tossed simply with cream, fresh Dungeness crab, spinach and sliced sun-dried tomatoes to compliment the crab’s sweetness. I topped it with a chiffonade of lemon balm from the protected parts of the garden and a sprinkle of chile flake to keep the sleepy cream on its toes.

The second, equally unseasonably light dish is a pile of capellini tossed in olive oil and garlic (and a bit of the cooking water for body), into which flaked steelhead, peas and asparagus were gently folded. I topped the noodle nest with lots of fresh black pepper and Pecorino, because of course I did. The peas and asparagus are more evocative of spring, it’s true; but after a few weeks of kale, leeks and kabocha, well, I certainly wouldn’t judge you for eating out of season.

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Obi non and news

I always fiddle with ingredients and dishes, but rarely (I hope) to the point that they are unrecognizable by their forebears. This breakfast is one of those rare failures at respectful fusion: a tender Uzbek obi non; an ancient flatbread baked in a clay tandir — so old it was mentioned in the earliest Sumerian texts – this time filled with breakfast proteins instead of honey, onion or chickpeas. Why’d I do it? Uzbek cuisine is interesting enough on its own; Uzbekistan is a largely secular Muslim country with a steady population of Bukhari Jews that was incorporated into the Russian empire in the 19th century (just as my Volga German ancestors were fleeing). As such, there is a heavy Turkik influence with Russian breadbasket inflections. The Russian word for obi non is lepeshka (лепешка), and before I decided I’d try baking it myself, I did purchase this loaf from a Russian bakery.

The bread was a puffy disc, very flat in the center. That the soft, round loaf resembled a giant bialy (an Azhkenazi specialty) was reason enough for me to fill it with scrambled eggs, cheese and sausages. I carved it into wedges and served it thusly. I don’t think Gilgamesh would even bat an eye.

I also want to announce that I have gotten a book deal! I’m writing Breakfast: A History, to be published by Roman and Littlefield’s AltaMira Press probably sometime in 2013. So for now I’m busy conducting research and organizing my many thoughts on the subject. I have a year to complete my manuscript. This blurb is from my proposal; maybe it’ll be the blurb on the back jacket (if Jared Diamond and Michael Pollan are unavailable to provide accolades):

Whether it’s a bowlful of cloying, artificially fruit-flavored O’s with milk or a stinking pile of fermented soybeans on steamed rice, breakfast fuels our hungry brains. As the old adage says, breakfast is the most important meal of the day; it’s the meal that makes the champion. It “breaks the fast” of nighttime slumber, filling our raging bellies and providing us with the stamina to face the day—or the first few hours of it, at least. We’ve been eating breakfast since the Neolithic, when humans first invented a way to grind cereals, and until the advent of the mimosa, our day’s first meal has changed little.

Stay tuned for updates, and in the meanwhile, I will try to make time to keep the blog floating.

Gilding the Lily Since 2006