What We’re Reading: February 16, 2015

Talia RalphSecret Ingredients: The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink
I’m trying to brush up on how the best of the best do this whole “writing about food” business so well. There’s no better inspiration than the holy grail of non-fiction itself — I was so engrossed in a piece by Adam Gopnik about the state of French cooking the other day, I almost didn’t look up to find I’d been spotted by the wonderful blogger of Subway Book Review!

Caroline LangeHuckleberry: Stories, Secrets & Recipes from Our Kitchen
Someone recently asked me what I like to read before bed, and I couldn’t help but think about how thoughtful a question that is: you can learn so much about someone by what their bedside reading material is. These days, I’ve been drifting off clutching the massive and beautiful Huckleberry, a cookbook from the eponymous bakery-café in Santa Monica. I’ve never been to Santa Monica, where citrus and figs are both local and always in season (or, at least, it seems this way to little old New-Englander me). I gravitate to baking before cooking most days, and breakfast (and its variants, brunch and elevensies) is my favorite time of the day; this, plus the dreamy photographs of which Huckleberry is full, have made this cookbook an immediate favorite. I can’t decide what to make first.

Gabrielle Langholtz: “Maple Water—Fad or Lifeline for Forests?,” Civil Eats
It’s maple season. Wild trees across the Northeast are preparing to send their sweet sap up from their roots and out to swelling buds — or, if the trees have been tapped, into waiting buckets and lines, to be cooked down into syrup. Now a few businesses are bottling the stuff straight to sell as an interesting drink. I’d heard of two but Nancy Matsumoto’s piece for Civil Eats explains that there are now at least eight startups in this new field, and that the wild water could bring finances to forests, if demand continues to grow. “Despite its voguish appearance in yoga studios and paleo cafés, Farrell points to the fact that Native Americans have been drinking maple sap for centuries as a tonic. It is also prized in Korea for its cleansing properties; downing huge quantities during spring maple tapping festivals is a cherished rite in some regions.”

Carrington Morris: Food Tank’s Webinar Series
I had the good fortune to spend my lunchtime Tuesday tuning in to Food Tank’s webinar series. The hour-long live chat presented Oxfam’s genius Behind the Brand campaign, which harnesses the collective voices of hundreds of thousands of consumers worldwide to hold global food and beverage giants accountable for what happens in their supply chain. In particular in the developing world and regarding land grabs, working conditions, rights of women, farmers and workers, climate, transparency and water. Notably, Oxfam’s approaches are friendly not hostile—they just want the top 10 corporations to know that consumers think they can do better. What’s more, the practice is working. So far Unilever, Nestle, Coca-Cola, Pepsico, Mars, General Mills and more have responded in varying degrees to shape up bad practices and have long- and short-term goals that they hope to achieve going forward. You can keep track of their ever-changing scores here. Sign in to listen to a lo-fi recording of last week’s webinar or sign up for next week’s with Patrick Holden of the Sustainable Food Trust. Your lunch will be greatly enhanced.

Ariel Lauren Wilson: “Agalinis Acuta, Phantom Flower,” The New Yorker
The food or drink connection for Nicola Twilley‘s story about an “endangered flower that blooms only for a few hours, just after dawn, on one day of the year” isn’t immediately obvious. The agalinis acuta is tiny, pink and the only federally protected endangered plant species in New York State. The bloom’s transience makes it a challenging specimen, but as Twilley recounts, Brooklyn based artist Miriam Simun harnessed the technology of one of the world’s largest scent and flavor companies to capture the agalinis’s ephemeral fragrance. I’ll let you read the full article to learn how Twilley managed to smell an odor that’s virtually inaccessible to humans without volatile chemical-capturing equipment (how cool is that??). In general though, this piece made me curious about what we’re physically capable, or incapable in this case, of experiencing in the natural world—just imagine the flavors and smells! (As a sort-of related follow up, I suggest this Radiolab “Colors” episode that delves into the limitations of human eyesight.)

Feature photo credit: Instagram/carolange13

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