Monthly Archives: August 2011

Lamb Hash

After I watched Smoke Signals for the first time, I sat in the dark and thought about Thomas Builds-the-Fire’s breakfast story:

Hey Victor! I remember the time your father took me to Denny’s, and I had the Grand Slam Breakfast. Two eggs, two pancakes, a glass of milk, and of course my favorite, the bacon. Some days, it’s a good day to die. And some days, it’s a good day to have breakfast. Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Recipes, Theory and Criticism

Pics or it Didn’t Happen: Lemon Meringue Pie

Zach Bell, Yale University

A staple of American dessert culture is the lemon meringue pie. Although lemon flavored desserts and custards have been in use since medieval times, the lemon meringue pie as we know it did not emerge until the nineteenth century. For my lemon pie, I used a recipe that originated a bit more recently. My recipe came from my great-grandmother’s cookbook, dating from the early to mid- twentieth century. Although I only have vague memories of her, and none of her lemon pie, I hear stories of her baking virtuosity. So I decided to test out her recipe and see if I inherited some of her baking genes.

Continue reading


Filed under Food, History, Pics or it Didn't Happen, pie, Recipes, Zach B.

The Christmas Leg

Have you ever handled a leg—felt the femur’s heft, massaged its sagging muscles, pushed a gentle, probing finger into its ligamental hosiery? Nothing tastes like fresh—really fresh, freshly killed—leg, preferably eaten in December with holiday trimmings. In this Jewish house, St. Nick came in August. Last Tuesday, I dismantled my Christmas lamp with a hacksaw—sliced that leg above the knee and tore the knobbly head off the iliofemoral ligament. After wiping down the attic dust and spending a suitable time admiring its injection-molded geometry, I rubbed on brown sugar, salt, mustard, and black pepper. It rested in the refrigerator while I played “In Your Own Sweet Way,” missing more than a few notes. Ever since I broke my wrist and three fingers, my left hand hasn’t worked properly. I know the score and, with a mighty will, urge the numb thumb to slip under that tedious middle finger. Despite my constant efforts, I always stumble through the colonies of notes swarming around the bass stave. Such huge chords frustrate average hands, let alone my deformed left. While my Christmas leg marinated and developed a double deckle crust, I flopped my hands against the score, and then, when I felt suitably tired from the pointless effort, built a hickory fire in the smoker.

I decided to bring down my Christmas lamp from the attic and cook it, because my wife finally died and I saw no reason to maintain an unhealthy attachment. She gave it to me for our first anniversary. Although I grew up excessively Jewish, we decided to raise the kids—since in these relationships, some unknown quantity of “kids” invariably dwells just over next year’s horizon line—atheist. During the holidays, we would celebrate Christmas, the most atheistic option. At the time—we were both in our late twenties and ready to buy this home (and its half-acre backyard)—we gave up our once fervid revolutionary aspirations and consigned those Marxist sentiments to momentary ironies and behind-the-back sniggers. By celebrating Christmas, we could give our “kids” a normal holiday season and still gift the corporate warlords with an ironic middle finger salute. For the anniversary of our first Christmas, she gave me a studio replica of the leg lamp. You know, the fishnetted woman’s leg fashioned into a light fixture that Ralphie’s dad treasures in A Christmas Story. I loved A Christmas Story and fantasized about Ralphie’s life after Christmas. When my wife left, I put the lamp in the attic and didn’t look at it until she died. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Recipes

Pics or it Didn’t Happen: Chicken Pot Pie

Zach Bell, Yale University

Savory food isn’t really my thing. When it come to meals, I’m pretty much exclusively the dessert chef/procurer. Yet, in my exploration of pie it was inevitable that I would one day have to face the meat pie. Meat pies have a long history, tracing back millenia, with many theories about its various uses. Scholars believe that medieval meat pies were more like casseroles, with a much thicker pastry acting as the cooking container and preserving mechanism. From the Greeks to the Romans to the Middle Ages, the pastry was not meant to be eaten. Over time, the crust grew lighter and flakier until today when the historically “inedible” crust separates a pot pie from a meat stew.

Continue reading


Filed under Food, History, Pics or it Didn't Happen, pie, Recipes, Zach B.

The Donut Shop, Natchez, Mississippi

The morning is greasy.
The Donut Shop is where John R. Junkin Drive meets Lower Woodville.
The gray is braless and fat and ready for rain.

(Two nurses from the Natchez Regional Medical Center came for breakfast:
Two hundred glazed balloons
deflating behind bulletproof glass)

I ate a stuffed porcupine skin: caramel, maple, cinnamon dough.
I suffocated the rain with my coffee, and the nurses waiting inside their cars
for two boxes. After the rain the morning was a luminousgreaseball
expanding like a hot air ballon
rising along her curvature to float
breathless, a Galilean moon. Gravity
could not hold me—just a tunic of muscular mucous
aroused underneath her diaphragm.

Leave a comment

Filed under Poetry, Travel

Pics or it Didn’t Happen: Linzer Torte Fail

Zach Bell, Yale University

Failure is hard to swallow in any context, but for a baker, this translates literally… a failure is actually difficult to choke down. A few days ago, I failed to bake an edible Linzer Torte. What should have been a buttery raspberry pastry ended with a texture best described as bizarre. Although many a mentor has told me, “Do not be afraid to fail!”, I cannot deny my totally rational fear of that monstrous Linzer Torte.

Continue reading


Filed under Food, Pics or it Didn't Happen, Zach B.

The Charismatic Chef

I am surprised that chefs do not regularly take curtain calls. After a final spoonful of (chocolate bacon) panna cotta that jiggles like Lucia di Lammermoor’s “Il dolce suono,” diners should bravo the chef into postprandial ecstasy; when polishing off a plate of hormone-free lamb-balls, the modern eater must rise and applaud. The charismatic chef deserves, no, demands praise. His food is an extension of his irresistible and indefinable and authentic personality.

Reading Zachary Woolfe’s piece in the Sunday Times, “A Gift From the Musical Gods,” I was impressed by how well his commentary on classical music charisma describes the economy of fine dining. Today, there are two types of successful chefs: the skilled technician, operating behind the scenes, and the celebrity chef mogul industry giant whose magnetism gives electric motion to a personal brand. If there is a Mary Callas of American cooking, it is Thomas Keller, a man whose “Oysters and Pearls” would send a dining room into bivalvular orgy—mouths open to receive Chef Keller’s winsome and terribly genuine “Zen and the Art of Fine Dining” philosophy, anuses expelling a continuous stream of savory tapioca pudding. And if there is a Christian Tetzlaff, Mr. Woolfe’s example of the “technically flawless” but uncharismatic musician, it is Eli Kaimeh, Thomas Keller’s chef de cuisine at Per Se. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Theory and Criticism