All posts filed under: Journalism

The Power of Potlikker

In the antebellum South, “potlikker” referred to the broth that was left over from a pot of greens. The masters ate the greens; slaves got the broth. Today, writes John T. Edge in The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South (Penguin Press, 2017), locavore chefs use potlikker to give dishes such as poached mountain trout an authentic Southern umami. It turns out potlikker is just one of many foods that form a through line connecting everything from racial equity and cultural appropriation to immigration and food trends. Take the 1955 bus boycotts in Montgomery, Alabama, during which people used their own cars to transport African American laborers to work. Drivers needed money for insurance, gas, and tires, but many riders were too hard-pressed to contribute. Cook and midwife Georgia Gilmore organized a club to raise the money by selling home-cooked fried fish and fluted pound cakes. The club inspired more cooks, and together they helped keep cars on the road until the successful end of the 13-month strike. Read more [Appeared in …

The Craftsman of Yore is No More

When you write about food, people like to ask you for a favorite restaurant. For me, favorite means different things, and so there has never been just one. I have a favorite for out-of-town guests and fancy occasions, for breakfast, for pizza, and for Korean food. But the most important favorite is the neighborhood restaurant I go to at least once a week because the wait staff is lovely, the atmosphere is charming, and the food is, without fail, great. For a long time, for years, that was the Craftsman Restaurant & Bar. A dear friend and I used to meet there once a week to hash out our life and work conundrums over the Craftsman’s fantastic Manhattans (a toothpick stacked with house-macerated sour cherries before they were a thing), or for the brief time they were available, the wonderfully tanniny Emily’s Sumac. We liked the hummus, smoky and garlicky and surrounded by simple but pleasing vegetables — bright pink watermelon radishes, pickled cauliflower, parboiled green beans, and such. Another good memory: Early one summer evening, …

The Hidden Lives of Owls

Giving a Hoot

In The Hidden Lives of Owls (Sasquatch Books, August 2016), naturalist Leigh Calvez explores her newfound curiosity about owls—tagging along with wildlife biologists and citizen scientists for a year as they study 11 Pacific Northwest species. This illuminating journey into owl lore, habits, and biology also provides an insightful look at regional efforts to protect the bird and its habitats from human industry and climate change. On one outing, Calvez and a team of forest service “hooters” visit one of central Washington’s few remaining old-growth forests, bushwhacking through dead trees and brush to check on a pair of rare nesting spotted owls. Calvez puts a live mouse on a branch and offers it to the male owl, who delivers it to the female—a sure sign that she is sitting on eggs. “The hope for spotted owls on the eastern slopes of the Cascades rested squarely on this nest,” she writes. Read more [Appeared in Sierra Magazine]

Casey Holley

The Grain Expectations of Casey Holley

“A lot of people have forgotten that beer is a mostly agricultural product,” Casey Holley says. “There’s people growing hops in Minnesota, there’s people growing grain in Minnesota, and their livelihood depends on it. And for me, I just kind of lost that connection that these ingredients have stories, and they’re based in history and family and tradition and flavor and all these cool things that we care about.” Holley is the proprietor of Able Seedhouse + Brewery, which opened a year ago in a Northeast Minneapolis building that used to be a maintenance garage for school buses. It came with the slope-to-drain floors and high ceilings conducive to brewing and the giant roll-up doors conducive to a light-filled, airy taproom — and, at 10,000 square feet, enough space to accommodate a malthouse. The latter was important to Holley, who named his company “seedhouse” because it was always his intention to make his own malt from Minnesota grains. Thus far it hasn’t been easy: Malting is expensive and labor intensive, and five years in, he’s just at the early experimentation stage. …

Department and store managers at Seward Co-op Friendship Store

Building a More Diverse Co-op Grocery Store

At a few minutes before 8 a.m. on a weekday morning in Minneapolis, there’s a small crowd of people waiting for the front door of the Seward Community Co-op Friendship Store to slide open for the day. They stand under a sign that says, “Everyone Welcome,” and it seems true when Jerry Williams, a department manager, arrives to unlock the door. “Let me at ‘em!” he says and greets the waiting shoppers like old neighbors, even clasping hands with a few of them before they go inside. Things haven’t always been so harmonious between the community and the cooperative grocery store. For 44 years, the Seward Co-op has been an anchor in the Seward neighborhood, where it operates a grocery store and, more recently, a restaurant. In 2013, the co-op announced it was going to spend $11.5 million to open a second grocery store about four miles southwest of Seward in the Bryant neighborhood. At the time, the people who ran the co-op assumed the community would welcome the new store. There wasn’t a conventional grocery store …

pastry case at savory bake house

Sandra Sherva & Max Okray of Savory Bake House

We visited Savory Bake House on a recent Tuesday morning. The sign on the door said closed, the ovens were cold, and the only sound in the place was the low hum of the air conditioner. We found proprietors Max Okray and Sandra Sherva sitting at the counter, the latter contentedly flipping through a magazine. With the weathered air of a veteran, Sherva told us how she had worked in a great many kitchens — Savories European Bistro, The Wedge, Birchwood Cafe, Crema Cafe (now called Sonny’s), Barbette, and Merlin’s Rest among them. Some of these jobs were rewarding, some were punishing, but she learned a lot along the way. And eight months into Savory, she seemed still to be settling into the idea of it, surprised and grateful to have found not only a kitchen of her own. “In some respects this was dumb luck,” she says. “This was just really, really lucky.” Read more [Appeared in Heavy Table. Photo credit: Brenda Johnson]

Saved by the Birds

When life’s hard decisions are staring you down, the thing to do is procrastinate. Neil Hayward, a shy Englishman living in Boston needs to figure out how to jumpstart his erstwhile career, what to do about his lovely girlfriend, and why, at the ripe age of 39, it seems like the best of life is behind him. Instead, he goes to see a rare Nutting’s flycatcher in Lake Havasu, Arizona. And then a red-flanked bluetail in Vancouver, a gray partridge in Calgary, and ultimately more than 700 birds across North America. Suddenly a small midlife crisis becomes a Big Year of birding—and the subject of his memoir Lost Among the Birds: Accidentally Finding Myself in One Very Big Year (Bloomsbury USA, June 2016). Read more [Appeared in Sierra Magazine]

red hen

Nettie Colon Queen of the Pop-up

Pop-up dinners are wonderful for everything the name implies: the surprise venue, a restaurant in an unlikely place, or where one was not before, and where a bunch of strangers will gather, for one night only, to share an unusual experience — and a good meal. Or that’s what we hope for. No one really knows what will happen, but we’re all in it together, the diners and the chefs, and that’s the fun of it. On a recent evening, we took our hopes and expectations out to a pop-up at Sun Street Breads. Chef Nettie Colón (above, center) and crew had taken over the bakery-cafe for the night. “Red Hen Dinner Club,” the Facebook invite said, “neither a dinner party nor a fancy restaurant, guests sit at a communal table and enjoy this lively and social dinner. …” In that spirit, the cafe’s two- and four-tops had been pushed together to form one table that ran the length of the room. It was covered in white tablecloths and brown kraft paper, red Sicilian olive-oil …

The HI-LO Diner Opens

Ever since the Hi-Lo Diner pitched up on East Lake Street — in all its stainless steel and neon glory — we have been standing on the curb, eagerly watching the windows for signs of life. Was it six months or a year? It seemed a century, during which rumors of milk shakes and doughnuts only increased our vigilant anticipation, so it’s no surprise that the place has been packed every meal of the day since it opened a few weeks ago. And, now that we’ve been inside and had a bite to eat, we can say that it looks just like we hoped it would and early tastes are promising. Read more [Appeared in Heavy Table. Photo credit: Sarah McGee]

The Genius of Birds book cover

Birdbrains

Neurobiologists once thought that birds possessed tiny, reptilian brains hardwired for instinctive responses to the world. Now they know better. In her latest book, The Genius of Birds (Penguin Press, 2016), Jennifer Ackerman explores new research that shows how closely bird brains resemble our own. They, too, have a cerebral-cortex-like system in the forebrain, rapidly firing neurotransmitters, and pathways between the brain regions. Read more [Appeared in Sierra Magazine. Photo credit: Lori Eanes]