Brain/Food: a 21st-century Tasha Tudor

TashaTasha Brandstatter is one of my internet people. For a while, we both wrote for the sadly now retired Food Riot, but long before that, we knew each other as book bloggers. (I think I even once wrote a guest post for her Truth, Beauty, Freedom, & Books site about what constitutes a Classic…which is hilarious, because I think I would refuse to touch that topic with a ten-foot pole now.)

Tasha has taught me many things over the years, including that The Phantom of the Opera is a sadly under-appreciated rollicking good read and that Regency ice creams came in extremely odd flavours, such as basil. Tasha is very busy writing all about books and food in spite of the death of FR; check her out at The Pueblo PULP and the super-cool/makes me crazy-irritated I didn’t think of it myself Project Gutenberg Project.

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How are you finding fulfillment in life now that there’s no Food Riot left to write for?

It’s been difficult, actually. I am writing wine and beer articles for a local magazine (The Pueblo PULP), but with them I have a limit to what I can do. With Food Riot I could write whatever I wanted and it was more fun and creative. I have to say I’ve really been missing it, especially now during the holidays.

What is your favourite either unknown or underappreciated book?

sabatini-scaramoucheHm, there are a lot, actually! Probably Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini. I cannot believe more people haven’t read it. It has one of the greatest opening lines in English literature, is a fantastic revenge story with one of the most sympathetic antiheroes I’ve ever encountered, and there’s a major twist at the end. Everyone loves a twist!

Has a book ever made you physically ill? If yes, which book was it and why did it affect you this way?

Yes, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. Or maybe it wasn’t so much physical as mental, although it felt physical. Since I’ve been a teenager, I’ve been susceptible to bouts of depression and as I read The Bell Jar, I could feel myself being pulled into that mental state. That’s not a good place for me to be. I had to call it quits for my own mental health.

Favourite literary description of food?

Hm, tough one! I do enjoy Dickens’ account of the Christmas feast in A Christmas Carol, but the food descriptions in Dracula are so bizarre and fun. I think I had more fun with Dracula.

I dined on what they called “robber steak”–bits of bacon, onion, and beef, seasoned with red pepper, and strung on sticks, and roasted over the fire, in the simple style of the London cat’s meat!

The wine was Golden Mediasch, which produces a queer sting on the tongue, which is, however, not disagreeable.

I had for dinner, or rather supper, a chicken done up some way with red pepper, which was very good but thirsty. (Mem. get recipe for Mina.) I asked the waiter, and he said it was called “paprika hendl,” and that, as it was a national dish, I should be able to get it anywhere along the Carpathians.

Your favourite author writes a book about your favourite food/dish just for you: Title? Genre? Summary of contents?

I love this question! My favorite comfort food is miso soup, so it would probably be an adventure/mystery novel titled Miso Lost (I’m a sucker for punny titles). A young American woman living in Japan unwittingly becomes involved with a ring of art smugglers and has to travel to Mongolia to rescue a priceless artifact. Along the way, she eats a lot and falls in love with a charmingly roguish thief.

What was your first cookbook? Do you still have it? How does it reflect who you are?

Better Homes and Gardens Junior Cook BookMy grandmother had a copy of the Better Homes and Gardens Junior Cook Book for the Hostess & Host of Tomorrow in her house that I basically appropriated as soon as I could read. It was published in 1963 and a lot of the recipes were simple, like lemonade or chocolate milkshakes, but there are some surprisingly advanced dishes for kids (like scalloped salmon). I mainly just remember the instructions on how to set a table.

Also, notice the “Hostess & Host” section of the title. Who would have expected a 1960s kids’ cookbook to be so much with the gender equality?!

Reading and eating simultaneously, yes or no? Dangers and benefits?

My grandfather used to yell at me for reading at the table, so I tend to avoid it when I’m eating with other people. But if I’m by myself I love to read while I’m eating. With e-readers and tablets it’s so easy, too! It used to be you had to either free up one hand to keep the book open, or try to hold it open with the edge of your plate, and then turning the pages was a pain. Now you can just prop your iPad up in front of you and touch the screen to turn a page.

Have you ever read a cookbook front to back like a novel? What was it, and what story did it tell you?

Yes, The Tasha Tudor Cookbook. I was actually named after Tasha Tudor and my mom kept a collection of all her books. I learned that Tasha Tudor lives like it’s 1899 (she really does; her farm has no electricity and she makes everything from scratch), and that a person’s whole personal history and family heritage can be found in the food they cook.

Is it okay to write in cookbooks? What about novels or books of poetry? What’s the difference?

I support all forms of marginalia, but I think writing in cookbooks is especially important because you’re using your experience to build on the information in the book. It could help another person who picks up the cookbook, like Harry Potter with the Half-Blood Prince’s Potions textbook. Whereas with a novel or book of poetry, the notes would probably only be of interest to yourself.

Cooking can be so easy

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