Lost in the Atlantic: The Azores and Its Hearty Food

Lost in the Atlantic

I get all kinds of responses when I tell people where my family’s from. My favorite was uttered at a party by a young woman swathed in a gauzy, tie-dyed dress who was eating an alarming amount of hummus: “Oh, the Azores! You know, they’re the remains of the lost city of Atlantis. I lived there in a past life.”

Most people know surprisingly little about my family’s homeland, and even less about our food. And for good reason: Strewn some 1,000 miles off the coast of Portugal, the Azores — São Miguel, Faial, São Jorge and six other islands — are happily marooned in the middle of the Atlantic. Unfortunately, so too is our distinctive cuisine.

But geographic isolation is only one conspirator in our food’s invisibility. Like most peasant cuisines, Azorean cooking is home-based; economics prevent most families from frequenting restaurants. Mine was so poor that açordas — brothy soups filled with swollen chunks of crusty homemade bread — were sometimes all there was to fill bellies. Read more “Lost in the Atlantic: The Azores and Its Hearty Food” »

Abstinence Makes the Taste Buds Grow Fonder

Pistachio Gelato Recipe

I have butterfat flowing through my veins, and I have the documents to prove it. The day before my 40th birthday the universe decided to torment me with a little game of Mess With Your Head. I was happily gathering information for this month’s column about ice cream, perhaps God’s greatest gift to mankind after elastic waistbands and Entertainment Weekly. While dipping away in batches of homemade heaven (research, of course), the phone rang.

“David, it’s Dr. Rysz,” said the voice in a guttural Polish accent. I had had some routine blood work done the week before, and my doctor was calling with the results.

“Everything looks normal,” she said in even, modulated tones. Then an involuntary intake of breath: “Except for your cholesterol. It’s a bit elevated—252.”

Two hundred and fifty-two? Two hundred and fifty-two? That’s in the danger-Will Robinson zone. It should be well under 200, she informed me.

The spoonful of hazelnut crunch hovered before my mouth. I contemplated lapping it up, but this felt too diabolical considering Dr. Rysz’s pronouncement. So I just stood there dazed as it dripped onto my sandals. Read more “Abstinence Makes the Taste Buds Grow Fonder” »

Dining Through the Decades: 100 Years of American Food

Dining Through the Decades

A century ago someone, much like yourself, was seated at a kitchen table, much like yours, perusing a morning paper, much like this one. The big difference? The meal. While you may be lapping up fat-free yogurt with a café latte and Sweet’N Low chaser, our fictitious centenarian, depending where he lived, filled his plate with porridge, flapjacks, mutton or a heart-stopping amount of home-cured bacon.

How did we in 10 decades go from gruel to Starbucks?

“Quickly,” says Melanie Barnard, a Bon Appétit columnist and author of Short & Sweet (Houghton Mifflin, 1999). “Changes to the food we’ve eaten started slowly but then went into fast forward, mirroring the times.”

This century, more than any other, has been one of staggering transformation. Our population has mushroomed by almost 200 million since 1900. Passenger travel zoomed from the horse to the supersonic. Computers accomplish in hours what took a turn-of-the-century factory crew days. And the foods we’ve eaten have taken an equally remarkable journey. Read more “Dining Through the Decades: 100 Years of American Food” »