Confessions of a Hired Belly

Confessions of a Hired Belly

Nothing elicits mock pity at cocktail parties faster than when I complain, “Food writing is a really hard job.” Until the head-on assault of the Food Network a decade ago, food writing made even soft journalism, such as fashion and gardening, look butch. But average Americans now know their chefs and food writers like they know the members of their favorite rock bands or sports teams. The best dish at the dinner table these days is usually the fight that breaks out over the latest restaurant review.

Nonetheless, despite the boost up the food chain, so to speak, I still maintain being a “hired belly,” as James Villas refers to our kind in Between Bites: Memoirs of a Hungry Hedonist, should come with hazard pay. Yes, all of my jealous friends are partly right; I have been invited to my fair share of ultra-chic restaurants. But for every Daniel Boulud and Alain Ducasse, there are dozens upon dozens of chefs, cooks, and desperately clueless people wielding spatulas who think their creations should be adored by the newly ensconced dining class. Needless to say, acid indigestion is my constant companion. Read more “Confessions of a Hired Belly” »

Pastéis de Belém: A Portuguese Legend

Confeitaria de Belem

On the fringes of Lisbon, in the picturesque section of Belém, are two shrines that every year draw hundreds of thousands of pilgrims. The more imposing is the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, the Manueline-style monastery that contains the tombs of venerated kings and queens, Vasco da Gama, and the national poet, Luís de Camões.

Nearby is a pastry shop called the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém, home to what is arguably the Holy Grail of Portuguese sweets: pastéis de Belém, the recipe for which has been a secret for centuries. Having been raised in a Portuguese-Catholic family, I looked at the monastery, then at the confeitaria, and joined my fellow sinners in the happier-looking line in front of the shop.

This adoration of the pastéis is easy to understand after you’ve taken a bite. The confection’s shell is made from massa folhada, Portugal’s equivalent to France’s puff pastry. It spirals up, creating a nest of hundreds of crisp layers. Inside is a luscious, warm custard. Rarely do a dozen make it home intact. Read more “Pastéis de Belém: A Portuguese Legend” »

Some Like It Pink: Classic Sno Balls

A pink homemade Hostess sno ball--coconut-covered dome--on a white plate with two more in the back

Hostess Sno Balls always remind me of Cheryl Swanson, our high school pep-squad leader who was fond of tight, hot-pink Angora sweaters. It was the late ’70s and the retro ’50s look was in, so all of us were desperate to resemble someone from Happy Days. I think she was going for one of Richie’s perky, pearl-draped girlfriends. And although these coconut-covered Sno Balls never reached the apotheosis of Proust’s ridiculously over-referenced, and undoubtedly overrated, madeleines, they’ve been a favorite since the Truman era.

“Sno Balls were invented in 1947,” says Mike Redd, vice-president of cake marketing at Interstate Bakeries, the company that bought Hostess in 1995. Accustomed to rationing flour and sugar during World World War II, Americans were now devouring manufactured sweets, and the Sno Ball was an instant hit. Even though there never has been a TV ad budget for Sno Balls, Redd says they continue to sell, though not quite as well as their heavily advertised — and in my opinion less telegenic — siblings, Hostess Twinkies and Hostess Cupcakes. Read more “Some Like It Pink: Classic Sno Balls” »