Review: Best Food Writing 2009

best food writing 2009

I don’t usually dedicate entire posts to books I’ve read, but in this case the book is about the very things this site is, food and writing, so that warrants an exception, I say.

Best Food Writing 2009 is exactly what the title suggests: a compilation of last year’s best food-centric stories, as published in magazines like Gourmet, Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, The New Yorker and Saveur; as well as Web sites like Chow.com and eGullet.org. I finished my review copy last weekend, in the air somewhere between Chicago and Charlotte, North Carolina, and I have to tell you: I was sad it had to end.

See, what’s so great about collections like this one, which was edited by Holly Hughes and features work by big-name authors like Calvin Trillin, Ruth Reichl and Frank Bruni alongside essays from new-to-me-but-no-less-gifted writers like Jason Sheehan (newly of Seattle Weekly and formerly of Denver’s Westword), Francine Prose (a celebrated novelist) and Todd Kliman (a James Beard award-winning restaurant critic and Dining Editor of The Washingtonian), is it gives you tastes of so many different writing styles (journalistic, personal, probing, funny) that all have one chief thing in common: a skilled command of language and information that makes you think, whether about the ethics of meat or the community of sitting around the table.

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Friends! Food! Florida!

Florida in January

Before my plane landed in Tampa Friday afternoon (where it would be a balmy 74 degrees!), I did a lot of thinking about the last time I’d touched down in the Sunshine State, back when I was an unhappy freshman, and about how strange our life paths are, with mine taking me from Illinois to Florida to Wisconsin and to Illinois again, and how here I was nine years later, wanting to be in Florida for the weekend when before, I had wanted to be anywhere else.

My friend Elizabeth picked me up at the airport. We had lived together in Unit G—the bed bug unit—and reconnected only recently, through Facebook, drawn into deeper correspondence through, well to be totally honest, this blog, and she lives in the same town as one of my roommates from that college in Wisconsin I ended up transferring to, a roommate who also likes to cook, isn’t that crazy?

Over our fast weekend, we did simple things like eat Thai food at Elizabeth’s favorite hole-in-the-wall place, where I tried Pad Thai for the first time (and loved it):

pad thai

and grabbed breakfast at a bagel place (twice!) where Elizabeth and her family know the people by name, that’s how much they love it (that curly-haired girl is her daughter—gorgeous!):

fishhawk bagels
Fishhawk bagels
elena

and, the highlight of the whole weekend, attended the kumquat festival in Dade City, all because I saw it online and thought it was just crazy enough to be fun, which it was, even with the rain that hit us after about 45 minutes there:

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leaving you with these (cheese crackers)

cheese crackers

I made these cheese crackers a while ago, inspired by Hannah’s version at Honey & Jam, looking for something to snack on one night. And the fact that I’ve waited so long to tell you about them has nothing to do with how savory and soft they were, like Cheese Nips but better!, and much more to do with how short my attention span is becoming.

Like, right now: as this post publishes, while you’re reading about these cheese crackers, I am either on my way to or at the airport, headed to Florida, not two weeks after returning from Nashville. I’m going to see some friends and their families, as well as attend (at least if the weather cooperates) the Kumquat Festival in Dade City.

I mean, really. The Kumquat Festival?

I don’t even know how this all happened except that my friends Elizabeth and Rachel, both of whom I lived with in college but at different colleges in different states, now live in the same place and that place is Florida and, I don’t know if you’re aware, but it’s freezing cold and snowy here, so Florida is definitely the place to go to for the weekend.

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Breakfast at Chicago French Market

chicago French market

By the time my friend Michele mentioned the Chicago French Market to me last Friday, there’d already been a lot of buzz on it (plus more specific calls to us as individuals: an e-mail to me and a handed-out-on-the-street coupon to Michele) but neither of us had yet been to visit, so we declared 9 AM on Saturday morning the perfect time to do something about that.

Part of the MetraMarket at Ogilvie Train Station in the West Loop, this market dubs itself as a European-inspired marketplace, filled with products from local farmers and artisans—sort of a year-round indoor farmers’ market that’s easily accessible for commuters.

And while it turns out to be more like an upscale version of a shopping mall food court than an indoor version of a street in France (think fluorescent lighting and shiny grocery-store floors), it does have some notable features.

Like, for example, bakery:

bakery
pastries and sweets

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last monday night (Greek chicken and pitas)

greek chicken and pita

Can I just say I think it’s the best thing ever that I live close enough to my brother that, on a random Monday night before he leaves for a business trip, I can head over to his apartment after work and he can grab some groceries and we can cook together and then eat on his vintage chairs while we watch the latest episode of Friday Night Lights that he saved on his Direct TV for me?

I mean, really, beyond the unusual privilege of being so geographically close to all my family that I can see them—any one of them—any time I want to, how awesome is it that when I text my brother and say, How ’bout I come over tonight?, he responds by saying he’ll buy chicken. That, even more than his ability to laugh at the right part of stories, calm me down in near-death situations like that crazy car accident on the way to Nashville or willingly let me photograph him while he works in the kitchen, shows how well he gets me and, that we’re family.

marinating chickenmarinating chicken

The chicken we made last Monday is nothing fancy. It’s the kind of thing you can assemble while you’re talking and munching on leftovers, marinating the meat for 20 minutes and cooking it on the stove. But it’s also the kind of thing that you could marinate overnight and cook the next day.

chicken in panchicken

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to bring across state lines (homemade graham crackers)

graham crackers

The night before we left for Nashville, just as I was throwing clothes into my suitcase and packing up a bag of snacks that included carrot sticks, blueberries, strawberries and granola (I know, right? party animal that I am), I got a hankering for graham crackers and then, when I clicked over to Twitter just to check in for a second, there was a link to a new post at Roost for, what else, exactly that.

I enjoy that kind of serendipity in life. It’s like when Becky and I went to Margot Saturday night after being told on the phone there were no openings and then, wouldn’t you know it, someone canceled and we got seated in 10 minutes. Or like a year ago when my car kept putting out smoke and smelling like burnt metal but finally the mechanics saw it was the catalytic converter! all along!, just weeks before my warranty expired, which paid for the entire replacement.

You have to embrace these things, these providences, so that’s what I did last Thursday.

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NASHVILLE in (just over) 24 hours

Nashville downtown

Friday morning, my friend Becky and I left Chicago and headed south on a road trip bound for Nashville, where we would stay just two nights before turning back around to come home—which yes, is kind of crazy but also, it turns out, so worth it.

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