All posts filed under: Recently Published

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 …

Two zebra finches snuggling on a twig

Short Story: The Fledgling

A child had died in the neighborhood. A four-year-old girl called Molly. The day it happened, there had been snow. Molly and her mother, Sarah, went out to shovel the front steps. They took the dog, an eager, young chocolate Labrador. The snow was heavy and wet, the kind that packs well. Molly had just learned to make snowballs. Afterwards, the neighbors would point to the steep slope of the yard, the tiered garden beds, the rows of shrubbery wrapped in misshapen bundles of burlap and twine. There was no space to play, and the child was always running around in the boulevard. Molly had hurled a snowball into the street and followed as the dog went after it. Neither of them noticed the car, but Sarah, hearing the crunch of tires in snow, looked up from the shovel and said, “Molly, stop! Car!” The little girl halted, teetering at the curb, still laughing at the Labrador as it scrambled to find the snowball in the white slush of the road. The car rolled forward …

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]

William and his goose.

On Living with Geese

The goose arrived in early Autumn. William, my husband, was standing on top of the shed, working on the roof. The shed was ramshackle, its floor-to-ceiling shelves crammed with bottles and bags of powders—alumina, bentonite, borax, cobalt oxide and lithium carbonate—wood working tools, packing peanuts, and weathered cardboard boxes. It belonged to his mother, Daphne. Nearly eighty and a working potter, she used the shed to mix her glazes and pack her pottery off to folks around the country. William’s father, Roger, had built it in the seventies, and the asphalt shingles were so curled and cupped that the roofing nails had all been exposed and were bleeding rust. As William pulled the nails out, steel strained against the wood, creating a series of rapid screeches—something like a manic squeaky toy or the call of a domestic goose. Read more [Appeared in Switchback literary magazine]

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]

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]

Unpacking Our Palates

I AM A FOOD WRITER. At restaurants, I taste as much of the menu as possible. I bring people who are willing to let me eat off their plates. I come to the meal ready to be delighted, to coo over the red kuri purée, and gamely tuck into the Scotch eggs, jellied head cheeses, black corn fungus, whatever you’ve got, yes please. At home, I like to cook and to feed people — the best of my friendships have been established over long-winded meals — and, being a food writer, people like to feed me. Friends bring me bourbon from Kentucky, pork rillette from California, and truffle flour from France. They bring me pocket melons and wonder beans from their gardens, and all kinds of goodies from their kitchens, too — crumbly shortcakes, goat-milk ricotta drizzled with honey, pickled watermelon rind. If it all sounds a little precious, let me say that I’m equally pleased to receive a piece of hot, buttered toast. In the words of Jonathan Richman, I eat with gusto, damn! …