Category: please support these fine businesses

July 27, 2005

Dear friends, it's can-shaking time at PTMYB, by which I mean I am making an appeal for charity, not shaking my round and not-insignificant cans at you.  (Although if you'd like to imagine me shaking my round and not-insignificant cans at you, who am I to stop you, really?)

Those of you who are regular visitors here may recognize the lovely and talented Professor Bunni.  Some of you may even be friends of the Professor herself.  She is my neighbor and my pal, and she wields an invisible cat-o'-nine-tails over me every time I fall into the slough of despondency, threatening to beat me about the head until I cheer up -- and cheer up I always do.  She inspires me in dozens of little ways, and now she has inspired me in a big one.

Here commenceth the can-shaking.  On Saturday, August 6, I will be participating in Blogathon 2005.  From 9 a.m. on Saturday the 6th until 9 a.m. on Sunday the 7th, I will be posting to PTMYB every 1/2 hour.  Yes, that means I will be staying up all night.  No, I can't promise that what will be posted will be coherent.  But I can promise that this will be for a good cause.  I will be raising money for Windows of Hope Family Relief Fund, which provides aid and assistance to the families of the food, beverage and hospitality workers killed in the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.  As a rule, foodservice work is not the highest-paying work in the world, and many of those workers supported families on very, very tight budgets.  The loss of these fathers, mothers, sons and daughters was not only an emotional catastrophe for their loved ones, but a financial one as well.  Windows of Hope helped provide emergency food and housing assistance to these families immediately after September 11, and continues to work to provide educational funds and health insurance for them.  This is a charity that is very, very near and dear to me, and I want to help them as well as I possibly can, even -- especially -- if that help includes quaffing Red Bull and taking plenty of cold showers.

If you are interested in making a pledge, please click here.  You will receive instructions for how to log in and pledge to the campaigns of your choice.  (If you click on the "View Campaigns" link, you will be able to access both my and Bunni's pages directly.  Bunni's is on page 2; mine is on page 7.)

If you are interested in blogging along with us, please accept my thanks and kisses!  And, uh, please click here.

If you have any ideas for what you would like to read in my 24 hours of madcap posting, please feel free to leave a comment below.

Here endeth the can-shaking.  Thank you, dear friends, for your consideration and support.

Posted by Bakerina at 06:55 PM in please support these fine businesses • (0) Comments
June 12, 2005

It is a muggy Sunday here at Chez PTMYB. The air conditioner is cranked, the strategically-placed fans are creating a dull roar all over the apartment, and I am going to facilitate all of this madcap energy consumption by turning on the oven and baking a pie with some of the sour cherries I froze last summer and thawed over the weekend. There is a pound of wild asparagus from the market in the fridge, waiting to be turned into penne with asparagus, creme fraiche and lemon zest, just because I think it will all go nicely together. Usually my ideas for improvised pasta sauces end fall short of the mark I'm trying to hit, but I have a good feeling about this particular sauce. If I'm not sick of running the oven, I might make a little batch of biscuits, whip the rest of the creme fraiche, and make strawberry shortcake with the strawberries I have sitting in a bowl, dressed with sugar and lemon thyme. I might even take a bash at making more stovies, although, frankly, the thought of eating stovies on a day like today makes me wilt. In short, it is a day for home cooking, for puttering, for cutting the roots off fresh coriander and pounding it to a paste with garlic and chiles and salt (and cursing myself for not investing in a mortar and pestle, relying instead on a big bowl and a potato masher, which is not really a good substitute), for making roasted salt-and-pepper condiments. It should also be a day for ending my egg book research hiatus, although the jury is still out on that. (I put the research on hold about four weeks before I left for Scotland, but now I've been back for three weeks, and it's really time to hoink myself up by the scruff of my neck and get back to the damn library already.) What it definitely is, though, is a day for me to engage in barefaced, naked, unashamed endorsement. Dear friends, consider yourself warned.

In the past, I have recommended books that I enjoy, explaining why I enjoy them, recommending that you check them out if you are interested, offering to loan them to you if you are within loaning distance of me. This time, though, I am not going to apply any finesse. I apologize in advance if my enthusiasm feels like a cudgel; it's just that yes, I really am that enthusiastic. The book in question is Cooking Like Mummyji: Real British Asian Cooking by Vicky Bhogal, and it is a prize.

Of course, even unfettered enthusiasm needs a bit of qualifying. If you absolutely, positively can't abide Indian food of any variety, you'll want to give this a miss. (If, on the other hand, you're a fence-sitter, not really sure whether you like it or not, please do read on.) If you live in the UK, you should have no problem finding this book at your local bookshop, but US-based friends will have a harder time finding it. Amazon.com in the U.S. lists three copies, and I have urged my pals at Kitchen Arts and Letters (212-876-5550) to carry it. If you do decide to order it, keep in mind that duty on imported cookbooks is high, and you will end up paying more than you would normally pay for a trade paperback cookbook. But if you do decide to go through the time and expense of ordering it, you will be rewarded richly.

If you come over to my house and look at my cookbooks, you might come to the understandable conclusion that the last thing I need is another Indian cookbook. I have a shelf full of "key texts" by Madhur Jaffrey and Julie Sahni; I have my well-used, oft-cited, dearly-loved copy of Sudha Koul's Curries Without Worries; I have user-friendly "this is the way we cook today" books by Manju Mahli and Padma Lakshmi; and I have a particularly nifty find, Rotis and Naans of India by Purobi Babbar, a book of beautiful bread recipes that also includes the savory stews and sauces that go so well with them. I have more than enough to satisfy my spice cravings, but I can never resist browsing through just one more, and this was the frame of mind I found myself in when Lloyd and I paid a visit to Blackwells in Edinburgh.

I'll confess that I almost gave this book a miss. Ever since I took a wrong turn around a book celebrating home food that just rubbed my fur the wrong way, I've been leery of books that wear their home cooking hearts on their sleeve. In addition, the short bio of Vicky Bhogal on the back cover identified her as "a bright new star in the cookery world" who "wrote the first-ever academic study of British Asian Youth Culture and Slang and has worked for fashion and lifestyle magazines." Even as I knew I was being shallow, I began forming the snap judgment in my head: here was another cookbook by another posh young thing, written to entice the takeaway generation into picking up a nosegay of coriander and a sharp knife. Did we not have enough of this already on Food Network? Did this cookbook really need to be written? It's a good thing that I untwisted my knickers enough to get past my own bad attitude and actually open the book. By the time I got to page 20, I knew that this book would be coming home with me.

Vicky Bhogal is indeed a bright young woman, a stone-cold pro as a writer, and a real beauty, inside and out. (She bears a striking resemblance to my sister-in-law, Lori; they both have smiles that could run small cities.) She is also funny, intrepid, thoughtful and has a terrific palate. We can all appreciate a beautiful cluster of cherry tomatoes, but when she appreciates a cluster of cherry tomatoes, she turns them into baked tomatoes, bathed in olive oil, cardamom, cloves, pinches of sugar and salt, garam masala and saffron. Since I've been home, I've made this about four times, turning it into a topping for baked potatoes, mixing it into Greek yogurt and eating it with flatbread for breakfast, and just eating them right out of the fridge. While she is skilled at creating her own dishes, she is also skilled at sharing the dishes she learned from her mother, her father, her friends and various aunties. There are recipes for creamy chicken, old-fashioned saag, quick saag, samosas, pakore and carrot halva and the gorgeous rice pudding known as kheer. There are traditional Punjabi recipes such as peas in creamy cheese, and newfangled comfort foods such as Pasta with Yogurt and Chilli Drizzle (which Lloyd and I ate for three nights running last week).

The recipes alone are enough to recommend the book, but what puts it over the top for me is Ms. Bhogal's openminded and openhearted philosophy of cookery. In the introduction, she explains that once upon a time, girls learned to cook at their mothers' and aunties' sides, making the same dishes over and over until they got them right. For the generation of Indians that moved to Britain to find their fortunes, though, the priorities for their daughters began to shift. Girls were still expected to know how to cook, but they were also expected to excel at their studies and to move into prestigious, well-paying careers. Add to this the desire of young women to enjoy the trappings of Western society (e.g. listening to music in their rooms, going to the cinema with their friends, honing their videogaming skills), and suddenly these young women found the traditional way of learning to cook frustrating and more trouble than it was worth. At the same time, though, they recognized that they were losing something potent and wonderful in not being able to replicate the cookery of their mothers. Ms. Bhogal was one of those women, not wanting to spend weekend after weekend in a kitchen trying to determine just what the level of salt should be in a dish, but also not wanting to live on leftover pizza at university. Cooking Like Mummyji is her way of finding a middle ground, an easy reference guide that still pays homage to a magnificent cuisine, and recognizes its both its complexity and its simplicity.

Although in general I don't like to lift wholescale passages of text, I'm going to do it here, with two of Ms. Bhogal's headnotes, simply because to me, they encapsulate what makes her book such a joy to read and cook from. Any suspicions that she is a culinary lightweight are zapped into oblivion by this beautiful, mindful essay on the dish called khadhi:

I have to admit that I have a real problem with the word 'curry'. Neither Indians nor British Asians use this word. This word instinctively makes me think of the days of the British Raj in India. A time when any English dish that had a bit of chilli added to it was passed off as Indian food and anything, be it fish, vegetable, meat, was all curry. These concoctions were about as authentically Indian as Coronation Chicken. And curry powder? What is that all about? It was invented by the Colonials in Madras to export to England and is certainly not a blend I have ever tasted in authentic Indian food.

I also grew up very confused about curry sauce in chip shops. I am still not sure what it is made of, have not uncovered the tenuous link to Indian food and am not quite sure why it is there amongst the haddock and pickled eggs of such an English establishment, but I like it. Its soft sweetness and velvety texture was always comforting on my walk home from school. Therefore, there is a real use of the word 'curry' in this country and still no one really knows where the word originates from. There are many theories, one of them being that it comes from the name of this dish. The very idea breaks my heart as this, out of all the recipes in this book, is my ultimate favourite. Its seductive, thick, tangy, bright yellow, gram flour, yogurt, lemon and fenugreek sauce with chunks of soft potato and onion couldn't be further away from the pale brown curry in freezer compartments in the local supermarket. I am so enamoured with this Punjabi dish par excellence that I refrained from learning how to make it until very recently. I wanted to retain the mystery of it all. My Mum is the only person who makes it just how I like it and I love seeing it appear on the table. Because it takes a lot of time and constant attention, I am only treated to it occasionally (sometimes I have to bribe my Mum, like, clean the whole house in return, or sometimes I just get it as a treat when she is in a good mood). The recipe is a very old one and is one of those dishes that the younger generation are not cooking as much. That is a shame as this original vegetarian specialty should not be lost.

I was still drinking these words in when I found this essay on the making of traditional Indian cardamom milky tea, elaichi chaa. This made me laugh out loud, loudly enough to garner dirty looks from my fellow subway commuters:

This is the one thing that most British-Asian girls get asked to make but they either don't know how or have forgotten how to. Picture the scene if you will, see if it sounds familiar. Imagine...you're at a relative's house and your Mum has popped to the shops with some distant twice-removed Massiji (aunt) to pick up some coriander from the Indian grocers next to the gold shop -- they'll be at least four hours. You're left minding all the snotty-nosed little brat children and suddenly an elderly Auntyji turns to you, pulls your left cheek and with a toothless grin asks you to make her some Indian tea like a good little girl.

You have been spending more time listening to garage than being in the kitchen, despite your mother's desperate pleas. You have often thought that to spend a Saturday afternoon in a kitchen being taught how to make aloo gobi is a pastime only reserved for the truly socially hopeless pindhus. You have friends to meet, essays to complete, clothes to buy, hair to highlight, ring-tones to download and texting techniques to be perfected. Exasperated as your parents may be, you are happy with a life that is filled with bhangra not bhajis, daytimers not dhal, Moschino not mooli and diamante tikkas not chicken tikkas.

Yet here you are, stuck in this semi-detached in Bradford on a Sunday evening confronted by a slightly cross-eyed creature in a pale green floral Indian suit and brown cardigan with tennis socks poking from leather toe-thong sandals asking for elaichi tea, and there's nowhere to run. You are going to have to somehow make this damn tea and your Mum has left her mobile in her bag tucked beside the sofa. You also know fully well that if you fail, not only will your Mummyji give you a front and backhanded slap when she returns but the Auntyji will wail to the entire Indian community (India and Canada included along with the UK) that you are an absolute disgrace of an Indian girl and a shame to your mother. So here's how to make it just as they like it so this doesn't happen to you again. Sweet and milky, just remember to serve with a plate of assorted biscuits.

Ms. Bhogal says that her family are "the real Dons of the cooking after decades of experience and I am just the humble messenger who loves the results."  It's a beautiful statement, but she is far too modest.  In an industry full of bluffers, "instant experts" and corner-cutters, she is the real thing:  a real cook, a real writer, a real teacher.  Dear friends, this may not be the book for everyone, but if this is the book for you, please, please snap it up. Let me know if you're having trouble ordering it and I'll try to help you get one. And if the powers that be in the food-television industry ever find fit to give Vicky Bhogal her own television show, please do reward them for their good sense by tuning in. I know I will.

Posted by Bakerina at 04:57 PM in please support these fine businesses • (1) Comments • (0) Trackbacks
June 08, 2005

Dear friends, I have been working on a brand-new, 20-zillion-word monograph on home cooking, namely why it's a good thing, and why Sudha Koul, Su Mei Yu, Tessa Kiros and Vicky Bhogal should all be richer than Croesus and more famous than Elvis, the Beatles, Slim Whitman and Zamfir (Master of the Pan Flute!) combined.  I was really hoping to post it tonight, but three harder-than-hard days at LuthorCorp, one evening out at a company event and one further evening out in the company of my obligatory-in-New-York-City mental health professional have all conspired to give me both the attention span of a gnat and the capacity for intelligent thought of a sea anemone.  (If you're an ichthyologist, and you happen to know that sea anemones *are* capable of intelligent thought, thank you very much, please save it for another night, please.  smile  The new post is coming, it really is, but until that time when the valentine to my new books is ready, here is a valentine to an older one, which originally appeared here on September 29, 2004.

To those of you who arrived here via the lovely Michele (thank you, lovely Michele!), thank you all for your kind words!  I will be visiting over the next few days, you bet.

If you have ever wondered if your fellow people still read books, if words have power, if lives can be changed by a single book, believe me when I tell you they can. I know this because I have 72 candy bars sitting under my desk, and I have Steve Almond to thank for putting them there.

For those of you who have not been within earshot of me for the past few weeks (note to self: what is the equivalent of earshot when you communicate via the ‘net? Fingertipshot?), the story is simple. I was on my way home from my Labor Day weekend adventures at Snowball’s house. I was on my second attempt to get home from Denver International Airport, having spent four hours there the previous day only to get bumped from my flight. I returned the next day only to find out that my plane would be two hours late due to a door malfunction at JFK. I was in that horrible travel state where I wanted to be at home or back at Snowball’s, but I didn’t want to be at points between. To kill the time, and to quiet my chattering nerves, I decided to browse at the bookshop at DIA.

I had no plans to buy anything, but it leapt up at me anyway: Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America. It was one of those digest-sized books published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, whose list I have been loving for years. It included jacket blurbs from Amy Sedaris and Nick Malgieri (who was the director of the pastry program at my alma mater) and Tom Perrotta and the righteous John Thorne. How could I say no?

Dear friends, I am so glad I didn’t, because Candyfreak is a wonder of a book, definitely the best work of nonfiction I’ve read this year and probably the best I will read for the next five. And I’m not just saying that because I’m a freak, too, a sucker for chocolate, a plump little grouse bird in love with her chains. Nor am I saying that because I have a crush on the author – although, let’s be frank, I do. (I haven’t been this crushy on an author since I read Consumer Joe).

I’m saying it because Candyfreak is about more than the pursuit and love of candy bars. It is also about fear and loneliness, creeping existentialism and fear of death. It is about the primal hold our own freaks, be they candy or bottle rockets or marijuana or reckless adventure sports, have on us; how we can’t use them to skirt the miseries of adulthood, but also how those miseries of adulthood can’t totally squash the thrill of a really good freak. It is about those screwups that are small in the grand scheme of things, but mammoth when you are going through them (like, say, losing your driver’s license on the eve of a tour of candy companies all over the country). It’s about meeting people who work at small, regional candy companies, who can’t begin to compete against the candy behemoths of Nestle, Hershey and Mars (who have rechristened their candy division with the howler name “Masterfoods”), who not only come to work to make the candy every day, but also find their jobs really, really neat. It is about pining for missed opportunities and lost loves, including but not limited to the Caravelle bar, the Choco-Lite bar and my own lost love from childhood, the Marathon bar. For those of you not familiar with the Marathon bar, it was a foot-long, inch-wide lattice of caramel, coated in milk chocolate. I don’t remember a caramel outside of a home kitchen that tasted nearly as buttery as that found in a Marathon. I do remember the little frisson of pleasure I would get when we visited the Cochecton General Store in Cochecton, New York, right over the Delaware River from our home in Damascus, PA, when I knew that I’d be allowed to get a candy bar, and I would hone in on the cluster of Marathons, dead center in the candy rack. The Marathon wrapper was bright red, with a huge yellow 70’s-appropriate font spelling out “Marathon” on the front of the wrapper and a ruler on the back. According to Steve Almond, any teenage boy who is given candy bar wrapper with a ruler on it will do only one thing with that ruler, but since I was a) eight years old and b) a girl, it never occurred to me to do anything like that.

You might think that I am overstating the case for Candyfreak. I am not. This is a book written by a thoughtful and principled and sharply funny and deeply intelligent fellow, one who acknowledges that candy is a nutritional vacuum food that manages to make children both hyperactive and obese; that food companies target children in ways that are less than principled; that sugar and chocolate are both produced under terrible conditions by some of the most exploited people in the world; and yet, and yet…and from there we are catapulted into the rest of the tale, that wonderful “and yet.” He went to Palmer Candy in Sioux City, home of the Twin Bing;to Boise, Idaho, home of the Idaho Spud and the mythic Owyhee Butter Toffee; to Kansas City, home of the Valomilk, which really is as good as its press would indicate. He went south to watch the production of Goo Goo Clusters, and he went to North Philadelphia for Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews, a candy that is ubiquitous from Boston to Virginia, so ubiquitous that people take it for granted and rarely actually buy it. (I’d always thought that it looked like candy for people who didn’t enjoy candy; then my stepdad bought me a bar, and I never looked back. If you live somewhere where you can’t buy Peanut Chews and you want to try them, I will buy you a bag and ship it to you, my treat to you. Seriously.)

If it weren’t enough that he went to visit all of these nifty places, and reminded us once more that there should be room for something besides Nestle, Hershey and Mars (sorry, Masterfoods), his turn of phrase is simply amazing. At the start of the final chapter, he finds himself at the end of the candyfreak journey, facing a hellish series of connecting flights, contemplating his return to teach writing at Boston College,

…where a group of students would be waiting for me with their eyes full of cigarette lust and their hearts shut tight as antique lockets, and it would be my job, presumably, to do something about this.

When I read this line, I thought of another teacher I know who had much the same group of students waiting for her. I bought her her own copy of Candyfreak to fortify her for the semester ahead.

Should I even go into what ran through my mind when I read his impromptu haiku, composed as he watched melted chocolate pour from a steel hopper at the Goo Goo Cluster factory?

Brown rivers released
From cold silver machines sing
for a stunned wet tongue

No, I don’t think I need to.

It was in this highly-charged state I found myself when I decided to explore some of the links in the Appendix. Ten minutes later, my candydirect.com order had been placed. Ten days later, I found myself the proud owner of a case of 24 Idaho Spuds (a little odd, but they’re growing on me fast, literally and figuratively), 24 Boyer Smoothie Cups (a peanut butter cup with butterscotch coating, not chocolate, also weird but successful) and 24 Abba Zabas (the clear winner of the bunch, a slab of white taffy filled with a peanut filling that has to be tried to be believed). If candydirect.com had not been out of Valomilks, I would have had 96 candy bars under my desk. No, I am not an unrepentant glutton; I am just stuck in a world where if you want to cultivate the offbeat and quirky and sweet, you might just have to buy it in quantity.

Fortunately, I have the easy solution to this. “Would you like some candy?” I say to coworkers, to friends, to Lloyd, a wide spectrum of different people in different contexts, but the light in their eyes, it’s all the same, and it's all the reply I need.

Posted by Bakerina at 11:06 PM in please support these fine businesses • (1) Comments
January 25, 2005

Dear friends, I couldn't have done it without you.  You called, you wrote, you got out the vote -- and without needing Madonna or Lenny Kravitz to help you, either! -- and thus was it that Prepare to Meet Your Loudmouthed Showboater Bakerina placed second at the first annual Best of Blog Awards, amidst some very stiff competition indeed.  Congratulations and a round of applause to the lovely, kind and craftalicious Dawn at My Life With Garlic, who won the top honor, the blue ribbon, first prize (why do I feel the urge to burst into the Cole Porter songbook right now?); and to that cookin' mama at This Mama Cooks!, who placed third (but whose beautiful roasted vegetables will always be tops in my book). 

Astute friends will notice that I created a whole 'nother blogroll that includes all of the wondrous BoB Award finalists, as well as some other food sites that are definitely worth your time and attention.  Why not stop on by and say hi?  You'll be glad you did, and so will they.  (Be sure to say hello to Moira at Who Wants Seconds and Raspberry Sour at The Sour Patch; they are new bloggers who hit the ground running fast, and they did it with both style and substance.)

Thanks to everyone who voted, who nominated me (and with such kind words, too!), who cheered and razzed and egged me on.  As you may have ascertained by the embarrassingly slight number of posts, this has not exactly been the easiest of Januaries, but at the end of it -- yes, I know we're only talking about a week or so -- I can look back and say wow, that was fun.  Thank you, dear ones.

Posted by Bakerina at 02:06 PM in please support these fine businesses • (0) Comments • (0) Trackbacks
September 24, 2004

Note:  I will send a prize to the first person who can name both the song quoted in the title and the artist who sang it.  Really!

If you have ever wondered if your fellow people still read books, if words have power, if lives can be changed by a single book, believe me when I tell you they can.  I know this because I have 72 candy bars sitting under my desk, and I have Steve Almond to thank for putting them there.

For those of you who have not been within earshot of me for the past few weeks (note to self:  what is the equivalent of earshot when you communicate via the ‘net?  Fingertipshot?), the story is simple.  I was on my way home from my Labor Day weekend adventures at Snowball’s house.  I was on my second attempt to get home from Denver International Airport, having spent four hours there the previous day only to get bumped from my flight.  I returned the next day only to find out that my plane would be two hours late due to a door malfunction at JFK.  I was in that horrible travel state where I wanted to be at home or back at Snowball’s, but I didn’t want to be at points between.  To kill the time, and to quiet my chattering nerves, I decided to browse at the bookshop at DIA.

I had no plans to buy anything, but it leapt up at me anyway:  Candyfreak:  A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America. It was one of those digest-sized books published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, whose list I have been loving for years.  It included jacket blurbs from Amy Sedaris and Nick Malgieri (who was the director of the pastry program at my alma mater) and Tom Perrotta and the righteous John Thorne.  How could I say no?

Dear friends, I am so glad I didn’t, because Candyfreak is a wonder of a book, definitely the best work of nonfiction I’ve read this year and probably the best I will read for the next five.  And I’m not just saying that because I’m a freak, too, a sucker for chocolate, a plump little grouse bird in love with her chains.  Nor am I saying that because I have a crush on the author – although, let’s be frank, I do.  (I haven’t been this crushy on an author since I read Consumer Joe). 

I’m saying it because Candyfreak is about more than the pursuit and love of candy bars.  It is also about fear and loneliness, creeping existentialism and fear of death.  It is about the primal hold our own freaks, be they candy or bottle rockets or marijuana or reckless adventure sports, have on us; how we can’t use them to skirt the miseries of adulthood, but also how those miseries of adulthood can’t totally squash the thrill of a really good freak.  It is about those screwups that are small in the grand scheme of things, but mammoth when you are going through them (like, say, losing your driver’s license on the eve of a tour of candy companies all over the country).  It’s about meeting people who work at small, regional candy companies, who can’t begin to compete against the candy behemoths of Nestle, Hershey and Mars (who have rechristened their candy division with the howler name “Masterfoods”), who not only come to work to make the candy every day, but also find their jobs really, really neat.  It is about pining for missed opportunities and lost loves, including but not limited to the Caravelle bar, the Choco-Lite bar and my own lost love from childhood, the Marathon bar.  For those of you not familiar with the Marathon bar, it was a foot-long, inch-wide lattice of caramel, coated in milk chocolate.  I don’t remember a caramel outside of a home kitchen that tasted nearly as buttery as that found in a Marathon.  I do remember the little frisson of pleasure I would get when we visited the Cochecton General Store in Cochecton, New York, right over the Delaware River from our home in Damascus, PA, when I knew that I’d be allowed to get a candy bar, and I would hone in on the cluster of Marathons, dead center in the candy rack.  The Marathon wrapper was bright red, with a huge yellow 70’s-appropriate font spelling out “Marathon” on the front of the wrapper and a ruler on the back.  According to Steve Almond, any teenage boy who is given candy bar wrapper with a ruler on it will do only one thing with that ruler, but since I was a) eight years old and b) a girl, it never occurred to me to do anything like that.

You might think that I am overstating the case for Candyfreak.  I am not.  This is a book written by a thoughtful and principled and sharply funny and deeply intelligent fellow, one who acknowledges that candy is a nutritional vacuum food that manages to make children both hyperactive and obese; that food companies target children in ways that are less than principled; that sugar and chocolate are both produced under terrible conditions by some of the most exploited people in the world; and yet, and yet…and from there we are catapulted into the rest of the tale, that wonderful “and yet.” He went to Palmer Candy in Sioux City, home of the Twin Bing;to Boise, Idaho, home of the Idaho Spud and the mythic Owyhee Butter Toffee; to Kansas City, home of the Valomilk, which really is as good as its press would indicate.  He went south to watch the production of Goo Goo Clusters, and he went to North Philadelphia for Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews, a candy that is ubiquitous from Boston to Virginia, so ubiquitous that people take it for granted and rarely actually buy it.  (I’d always thought that it looked like candy for people who didn’t enjoy candy; then my stepdad bought me a bar, and I never looked back.  If you live somewhere where you can’t buy Peanut Chews and you want to try them, I will buy you a bag and ship it to you, my treat to you.  Seriously.)

If it weren’t enough that he went to visit all of these nifty places, and reminded us once more that there should be room for something besides Nestle, Hershey and Mars (sorry, Masterfoods), his turn of phrase is simply amazing.  At the start of the final chapter, he finds himself at the end of the candyfreak journey, facing a hellish series of connecting flights, contemplating his return to teach writing at Boston College,

…where a group of students would be waiting for me with their eyes full of cigarette lust and their hearts shut tight as antique lockets, and it would be my job, presumably, to do something about this.

When I read this line, I thought of another teacher I know who had much the same group of students waiting for her.  I bought her her own copy of Candyfreak to fortify her for the semester ahead.

Should I even go into what ran through my mind when I read his impromptu haiku, composed as he watched melted chocolate pour from a steel hopper at the Goo Goo Cluster factory?

Brown rivers released
From cold silver machines sing
for a stunned wet tongue

No, I don’t think I need to.

It was in this highly-charged state I found myself when I decided to explore some of the links in the Appendix.  Ten minutes later, my candydirect.com order had been placed.  Ten days later, I found myself the proud owner of a case of 24 Idaho Spuds (a little odd, but they’re growing on me fast, literally and figuratively), 24 Boyer Smoothie Cups (a peanut butter cup with butterscotch coating, not chocolate, also weird but successful) and 24 Abba Zabas (the clear winner of the bunch, a slab of white taffy filled with a peanut filling that has to be tried to be believed).  If candydirect.com had not been out of Valomilks, I would have had 96 candy bars under my desk.  No, I am not an unrepentant glutton; I am just stuck in a world where if you want to cultivate the offbeat and quirky and sweet, you might just have to buy it in quantity.

Fortunately, I have the easy solution to this.  “Would you like some candy?” I say to coworkers, to friends, to Lloyd, a wide spectrum of different people in different contexts, but the light in their eyes, it’s all the same, and it’s all the reply I need.

Posted by Bakerina at 06:55 PM in please support these fine businesses • (6) Comments • (2) Trackbacks
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