I have been a professional film critic for more than a decade, but anyone who’s ogled my personal library knows that my most ardent cultural passion is actually food writing – not just cookbooks but essays about restaurants, markets, cooking, and foraging. In short, I like to read about eating. Everything lives inside a great piece of food writing: history, science, art, crafts, politics, culture, even our connection to the divine. The best part? In most cases reading about great meals confers less guilt and more pleasure than the meals themselves – especially when rendered by the writers I’ve selected below.
“The primary requisite for writing well about food is a good appetite,” intoned New Yorker writer Liebling, and he knew of what he spoke. Gluttony was the name of his game, and he detailed his heaping boards with the same zeal that he applied to city life and boxing, his other signature topics. In the memoir Between Meals, he describes favorite dinners of his youth. A typical menu: figs, artichokes, three kinds of cheeses, oysters, ham, “sausage in crust,” clam chowder, a peck of steamers, cognac, bay scallops, sautéed soft-shelled crabs, ears of fresh-picked corn, a swordfish steak, a pair of lobsters, a Long Island duck, boar, a bottle of champagne, and a bottle of Bordeaux. In Liebling’s extravagant prose, you don’t just discover your appetite. You discover a past that did not fear the future. Continue Reading →
All hail the vernal equinox! This is a glorious day not just because there’ll be more light than darkness from here on in. It’s glorious because everything is perfectly balanced, and, more than most times, we can trust that what feels good is also right since that balance extends to each and every one of us. To reflect this hallowed equinox, I’ve chosen an Alice Neel painting of Andy Warhol superstars Ritta Redd and Jackie Curtis, who had a beautiful balance that was uniquely their own. Take a few moments to assess what is your unique balance—not according to a “should” so much as according to your most specific desires. While you’re at it, take a few more moments to thank the sun for being such a wonderfully constant life bearer. Even in our worst times, we are so lucky she glows upon us.
The night before Tuesday’s blizzard, I emerged from a critics’ screening into midtown Manhattan. The sky was heavy and violet; the city, already abandoned. The only other people on the street were hurrying along with big bags of laundry and groceries–everything they needed to lay in for the storm. But the film I’d just seen had been much better than I’d anticipated, and I felt the happiness that good work, natural or human-made, has inspired in me since I was a small child; it’s hard to be despondent when beauty in all forms gladdens you this way.
In that burst of cheer I decided to walk rather than surrender to the weirdness of east 30s public transportation. I bundled up more seriously—double-wrapped my scarf, donned the velvet gloves my mother had sent for Christmas, and took off, knowing it might the last time in a while I’d walk so easily on NYC sidewalks. The air was so cold I could hear little ice crystals forming on my lungs when I breathed; this felt cleansing rather than unsettling. I walked faster, not to hasten my return home so much as to visit with all of the world at once. Continue Reading →