by Kate Heyhoe
Even in today's global environment, most Westerners have a hard time wrapping their heads around the nuances of Chinese culture, customs and mind-thought. Now, a newly published history of Chinese food reveals as much about Americans as it does about the inscrutable Chinese culture. Anyone who's ever eaten Chinese food in America, whether it's Panda chain-take out, Susanna Foo's upscale restaurant fare, or General Tso's chicken, will discover fascinating tidbits spanning economics, world history, sociology, geography and of course, cuisine.
In Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States, Andrew Coe follows the thread of Chinese cuisine from China to the United States. China's first impact on American shores traces back to the Pre-Revolutionary War days of British tea imports and bone-China teacups. In 1784, The Empress of China became the first American ship to set sail for China, carrying thirty tons of dried ginseng root harvested in Pennsylvania and Virginia, and returning ten months later laden with silk, porcelain and tea. From this point on, Coe feeds us plenty of fascinating morsels from both sides of the Atlantic, all leading up to and revolving around the impact of a single dish: chop suey. From sea cucumbers, dumplings and birds nests, to the Treat of Nanking, opium dens, and Richard Nixon, this book enlightens the inquiring mind. Coe himself discovered plenty of surprising details when writing the book, which he shares below.
By Andrew Coe
Chop suey occupies the realm halfway between a stir-fry and a stew and is generally made of onions, bean sprouts, celery, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, cabbage, stock, cornstarch and some sort of meat. American-style chow mein is generally the same as chop suey, only served over crispy noodles, not rice.
Andrew Coe is a food historian and writer living in New York City. He has written for Saveur, Gastronomica, the New York Times, and many other publications. He is the author of Chop Suey: A Cultural History of the United States (Oxford University Press, July 2009).
Artists have paints. Cooks have olive oils. Both are the foundations of great creations.
I'm always eager to try new olive oils, which reflect not just the olives they're pressed from, but the soils, climate, and skills of their makers. I've added three new brands to my collection, each with its own global, green, and flavor profile.
Alter Eco: Wonderfully intense, deep green and sassy, Alter Eco Robust Extra Virgin Olive Oil originates in Palestine. It's USDA Certified Organic, Fair Trade Certified, and carbon neutral. Planted, picked and processed by fair trade cooperatives, the Rumi olives yield oil so flavorful, just a splash adds a concentrated blast of rich flavor and aroma to a dish. It's a great finishing oil, and proceeds support farming communities by financing scholarship funds, micro loans for women, and tree planting. Alter Eco Mild Extra Virgin Olive Oil is equally delicious, with a buttery, rounded olive-y taste and gentle enough to be sprinkled on salad greens. (Global Gourmet is a big fan of Alter Eco Chocolate Bars, which are also organic and Fair Trade Certified.) (www.altereco.com)
GAEA: Another earth-friendly brand we love is kissed by sun and spray from Greece's Aegean Sea. GAEA makes the first extra virgin olive oils to be certified carbon neutral (it offsets carbon emissions by funding the "my climate" organization's projects). GAEA's Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil from handpicked organic olives is luscious, velvety, and great as an all purpose oil, for greens to dipping. Other oils aren't certified organic, though the brand's mission emphasizes environmentally sound policies, like integrated crop management and carbon offsets. Connoisseurs will appreciate two gold medal winners, cold-pressed from Koroneiki olives: Kalamata DOP Extra Virgin Olive Oil, with a peppery aftertaste and clean, low acidity; and the Sitia-Crete DOP Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which yields a leaf-green oil with a distinctly fruity flavor and perfume. We also like GAEA's Organic Kalamata Olives, plump and meaty, packed in brine; keep them on hand for spontaneous entertaining or snack attacks. (www.gaea.gr)
Olinda Ridge: Closer to home, Olinda Ridge's award-winning small-batch oils and vinegars are handcrafted in Northern California. They make both a USDA Certified Organic oil and products that aren't "certified organic" but follow organic and sustainable farming practices. According to the company, their extra virgin oils have an acidity rate of .3% or less (lower than the .8% requirement), and a high polyphenol count, which maximizes anti-oxidants. Top of the line is Olinda Ridge Estate Organic Extra Virgin, very fruity with peppery spunk. Other extra virgin oils include the smooth and mild Late Harvest Gold and the moderately bold Master Blend. I'm very fond of the Lemon Olive Oil, which needs only the Golden Balsamic Vinegar to dress a delicate salad. Their Pomegranate Vinegar is another special treat, good for greens or splashed on as a fruity finish. (www.olindaridge.com)
Suddenly, everyone wants to cook like Julia Child again. Or at least like Meryl Streep, who plays the grand dame in Nora Ephron's film Julie & Julia.
Julia Child did her first online chat in 1996, and it happened to be with our company, when we were partners with AOL. We were only a couple years old as an online site (we were the Internet's first food e-zine), and getting Julia as a guest in her first live chat was serious chops. Like flipping through an old family album, I searched our site and ran across an article I wrote about Julia just after her appearance with us. It's got photos of her and other colleagues, including Jacques Pepin, Graham Kerr, and me. You'll also find Julia Child's Tips for everything from garlic to green beans and anchovies to coulis, and a profile of her by Alex Prud'homme from the wonderful book, Food Jobs: 150 Great Jobs for Culinary Students, Career Changers and Food Lovers, by Irena Chalmers.
Trivia: Did you know Julia had a passion for goldfish crackers? Guests and visitors to her home were offered a bowl of the little snacks, usually with wine or cocktails. I discovered this when and a bunch of foodwriters and I were reminiscing about Julia. One of us mentioned the goldfish in passing, and suddenly all of us chimed in that indeed, Julia served the little snacks to us all.
Julia Child: America's Favorite TV Cook, by Alex Prud'homme
Copyright © 2009, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page modified September 2009
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