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Free Black Man in France: James Hemings Makes His Culinary Mark in History

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

A portrait of James Hemings.

A portrait of James Hemings.

I had one of those driveway moments the other day when I heard this story on NPR. It’s about Thomas Jefferson’s enslaved chef, James Hemings, yes, the brother of Sally Hemings. James was apparently quite the culinary genius, so much so, that when Jefferson traveled to Paris for a five-year stay, he took James with him so he could learn the art of French cuisine. While there, James lived as a free man, indeed learned the secrets of French cooking and considered a bid for freedom. Check out the story on the NPR site and then tell me if you’re not moved.

I’m so happy people are taking the time to tell individual stories about Black people in antebellum America. This is how we restore our humanity and this is how we encourage young people of all colors to recognize the true diversity of the Black experience in America. For example, by sharing James Hemings’ story, folks realize that our culinary legacy reaches beyond the limited notions of Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben. No disrespect to Jemima and Ben, of course, because their contributions to our cultural heritage are significant and dear, but it is high time we expanded the notion of what Black people were doing in America’s kitchens before (and after) the Emancipation Proclamation besides stirring up pots of soul food.

Mind you, I love soul food in all its juicy pork goodness, but I also know that Black chefs weren’t cooking soul food for their masters. How do I know this, because I read and because it doesn’t make sense that White masters were eating slave food. They were eating the delicious creations that their talented, enslaved chefs learned how to make using the fresh, expensive ingredients in the master’s kitchen. Hello, James Hemings! Here’s another NPR story that will continue this argument, because I have to go make lunch. I’m hungry after writing this post.

I bet you are too. You’re welcome.

Peace!

Enjoy!

Breakfast, Kids and International Flavors

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

Pancakes, they're not on the menu.

Pancakes, they’re not on the menu.

If you could sum up Ms. Meltingpot’s favorite things in the world, children, breakfast foods and international travel would probably make the top-ten list. Well, the New York Times combined these three things in stupendous photo essay this week called, “What Kids Around the World Eat for Breakfast” in their Sunday magazine. I’ve reread it several times, shared it with my own crumb snatchers, and then checked out the online version which offers a few more photos than the print magazine. Besides providing a glimpse into other cultures and showcasing adorable kids, the essay proved to me that what I feed my kids fits in nicely with what the rest of the world deems appropriate. In other words, everything — from chocolate sprinkles to fermented bean sprouts — is potential kid fare and as parents we should not judge. To each his own and bon appetit!

Soul Food: Deconstructed & Delicious

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

Ms. Meltingpot and Soul Food author, Adrian Miller.

Ms. Meltingpot and Soul Food author, Adrian Miller.

Sometimes I really love my job as a writer and cultural thinker. It sounds very nebulous to describe myself that way and granted, there’s not a lot of money in the business of thinking and talking, but it does provide some wonderful opportunities. Like last night. I had the honor of playing ‘hostess’ at a literary dinner celebrating this wonderful new book called, Soul Food:The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time. The menu for the meal was pulled from recipes in the book and was so delicious. Meanwhile, the author, Adrian Miller, entertained the audience with his fascinating story of the origins of Soul Food as well some of the myths and misunderstandings often associated with this under appreciated cuisine. The book is well-written and engaging as well as chock full of fascinating information. I highly recommend it for any foodie, soul food scholar and/or Black culture enthusiast. And last night’s dinner was so good, I highly recommend the restaurant, Geechee Girl Rice Cafe, if you happen to be in Philly.

Here are some photos of our delicious meal. Try not to drool over dinner.

Fried catfish, mac&cheese, plum tomatoes & hot water cornbread! Yum!

Fried catfish, mac&cheese, plum tomatoes & hot water cornbread! Yum!

Chicken and waffles reinvented for dessert. I wanted to lick the plate.

Chicken and waffles reinvented for dessert. I wanted to lick the plate.

What do you think of when you hear soul food? I’m listening.

Peace!

Look What I Bought!

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

All summer long, I was trying to teach my kids the value of money. So, we literally saved every penny we found on the street with the goal of purchasing something we all really wanted. Once you start looking, it’s amazing how many people walk over money in the street…if it’s a penny. Well, all of our pennies (and a few quarters, nickels and dimes) were enough to purchase half of a Vitamix blender. I added the other half of the funds and voila, we are officially a Vitamix family.
vitamix

One of the first things I tried to make was a carrot/mango juice. I used fresh carrots and frozen mango chunks. Unfortunately, we didn’t make juice, we made carrot mango sorbet instead. It looked like this: carrot

It was actually pretty tasty, but not exactly what I was hoping for. I clearly need a little bit more practice. But I’m seriously enjoying our new kitchen toy. Next up, el esposo and I are going to collaborate and create a real ‘kinky gazpacho,’ I’m thinking gazpacho with a little kick of spice. I’ll let you know what we come up with.

If you have any favorite Vitamix recipes, please, please, please share. I’m so totally listening.

Peace!

(And dear readers, please note, I have no affiliation with the Vitamix company. I’m just totally obsessed with the product and can’t quite curb my enthusiasm.)

Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free: The Way We Eat Now

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

So, this weekend we celebrated all three of our Kinky Gazpacho kids with a family party at casa nuestra. My parents came up, my sister, brother and cousins were here. We had a full house and it was really lovely. El esposo manned the grill and my mom and I made a bunch of lovely salads. And then there was the cake issue. I think it is only fair that since I make all three kids share one birthday celebration, that at least they get their own cake. My boys are easy. The oldest always asks for a pound cake made by my cousin, the professional chef. Done. Middle child always requests an ice-cream cake. Ordered over the phone. Check. But what about babygirl?

Last year, for her first birthday, I bought her a cupcake and called it a day. But this year it was different. I was seized with the need to make my daughter a pink birthday cake. I don’t know what came over me, but I was bound and determined. Not only was it going to be pink, it was going to be gluten-free so I could eat it, and dairy free so she could eat it. The gluten-free part was pretty easy. I bought a package of Pamela’s gluten-free vanilla cake mix. I’d never tried it before, but I liked the packaging. It didn’t seem overly corporate. But then I had to figure out the pink part. Every frosting recipe I know requires dairy. Butter, cream cheese, whip cream. Even Cool Whip has milk in it. Damn. I’m not a big believer in fake butters and I try not to give babygirl much soy. So, I finally decided to go with a simple glaze, threw a strawberry in it to turn it pink and voila: This is what I got:

Babygirl's birthday cake.

Babygirl’s birthday cake.

And it was tasty. The cake actually tasted like real cake, not a dusty, dry substitute. I was so excited. I haven’t made a cake since going gluten-free in 2008. Thanks Pamela’s. Being the mom to a babygirl is making me do a lot of things I didn’t know I cared about, like making a pink cake. Next on my culinary quest for healthy, gluten-free, dairy-free living. I want to buy a Vitamix Blender. I have become slightly obsessed and I’ve drawn my kids in with me on the obsession.  I have visions of pesto, savory sauces, exotic soups and dairy-free sorbet dancing in my head.  Somehow I have convinced myself that a Kinky Gazpacho family needs a Vitamix. Think about all of the kinky gazpacho we could make!

If anyone has a Vitamix blender and has an argument for or against me purchasing one, leave it for me in the comments. I’m so listening.

Peace!

My Kids are Food Snobs. Hooray!

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

This past weekend el esposo and I drove the boys down to North Carolina to stay with my parents for spring break. Granted it snowed there yesterday so they won’t be coming home with a tan and sand in their shoes, but hey, at least they’re down South.

El esposo and I only stayed for two nights, but we managed to go out for dinner one of those nights with my parents, my grandmother and an aunt and uncle. Sadly, where my parents live is a wasteland when it comes to fine dining options, and when I say ‘fine’ I simply mean places where the food actually tastes good and is made with fresh ingredients. We ended up at a Mexican restaurant that caters to the gringo population. Just to give you an idea as to how gringo it is, the complimentary chips that arrive at your table came with salsa and creamy ranch salad dressing.

I warned my kids to order something simple so that they wouldn’t be disappointed. So one kid got chicken enchiladas and the other got a taco and burrito combination plate. I watched my older son tuck into his enchilada and instantly knew the night wasn’t going to end well. He claimed the thing was full of cheese. “It’s an enchilada,” I hissed. “It’s supposed to have cheese in it.” I didn’t want his stank attitude to offend my parents and relatives. Mind you, these were relatives from the side of my family who still believe children should be seen and not heard.

Two seconds later, my other son screwed up his face and claimed there was cheese all over his burrito and he couldn’t eat it. Now, my younger son is not a big cheese fan in general, meaning unlike his brother and sister, he’ll eat cheddar, Colby Jack, parmesan and aged Gouda, but refuses to eat any cheese made from goat’s milk or with a stinky rind. So, I couldn’t figure out why he was having a problem with the cheese on his burrito. I assumed it was cheddar. I watched both boys pick at their food and eat the salad and rice on their plates and then claim they were too full to finish. The older one had a serious scowl on his face too, like someone had personally insulted him. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and tasted the offensive enchilada and realized the problem.

It tasted like American cheese. My kids have never eaten American cheese in my house. I don’t suspect they eat it anywhere else either, seeing as how I told them American cheese isn’t really cheese. In general we eat a lot of cheddar, Colby Jack and all sorts of goat and sheep’s milk cheese from Spain and Greece. My mother tried to convince my kids that it wasn’t American cheese, but my older son wanted the truth. He wanted to know why his enchiladas were so disgusting. He actually waited for the waitress to come back to the table and he asked her directly what type of cheese was used in the enchiladas. She looked at my son like he was crazy for even having to ask, “It’s American cheese,” she said. And I knew she was thinking, ‘You know that cheese you gringos like.’

My son was triumphant and aghast. He turned to me and said, “How can this be a Mexican restaurant if they serve American cheese? That’s just wrong.” I had to agree. It was so wrong. My mother rolled her eyes and huffed, “Your kids are food snobs.” And I proudly threw my arms around them both and said with a smile, “Yes, yes they are.”

That is all.

Peace!

Wednesday Round-Up: Finding Zion, Fried Chicken and Black Women in Britain.

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

It’s Wednesday, I’ve searched the web, so you don’t have to. Let’s get to those tasty, new links.

1. Check out this quickie but quirky interview with novelist turned memoir writer, Emily Raboteau. Her new book, Searching for Zion is travelogue, crossed with journalism, mixed with memoir. In the book, Raboteau travels the world trying to find the ‘Promised Land’ for Black folks.  I’m reading it right now and fell in love on the first page.

2. Talk about tasty. I watched Soul Food Junkies on Monday night and immediately wanted some fried chicken and pound cake. Seriously, I did. But that’s not exactly the intended message of this charming documentary that seeks to understand the pleasure and pain we get from Soul Food. Check it out.

3. What does it mean to be a Black woman in Britain today? Funny, I was thinking about teaching a class on just that topic when I stumbled on this uber-cool organization that’s all about celebrating women of color in Britain. Check out I’mPossible. Very inspirational. And don’t you just love those accents. Fabulous!

Kimchi and Cheddar: Korean Food Gets Cheesy

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

Here’s something for my fusion foodie friends. Yesterday I was working hard at my office at Temple University and I didn’t want to venture far to grab a bite for lunch. As luck would have it, there’s a brand new food truck parked right outside my building called Wingo Taco. I guessed Mexican, but I was wrong. Better said, I wasn’t all the way right.

A Korean-Mexican marriage of flavors. So Yummy!

A Korean-Mexican marriage of flavors. So Yummy!

Dear readers, you know I was doing a meltingpot jig in the street when I found out that Wingo Taco is serving up Korean tacos, burritos, hoaxes and wings. It’s a fusion masterpiece. Yesterday I sampled a ‘burrito bowl’ with Korean-spiced pulled pork, kimchi, rice, seaweed salad, cilantro and cheddar cheese. Yes, cheese! I hesitated when I saw the cheese on the menu, but the owner assured me that the cheese brought the whole dish together. Now dear readers, I’m from Wisconsin. I love cheese, but mingled with a Korean palate? I was skeptical. But I was game. And guess what? It was delicious. The whole dish was quite spicy, but the grated white cheddar created a smooth and cooling element. The proprietor of Wingo Taco, himself a Korean chef, told me that Koreans historically haven’t used cheese in their cuisine because they never had cattle, but these day they do and cheese is showing up everywhere in the local cuisine. Interesting, right? Anybody been to Korea lately and want to verify?

So, my big challenge now, dear readers, is not to walk out the door every day at work and indulge at Wingo Taco. Ms. Meltingpot must be good.

What’s your favorite fusion food? Or favorite food truck offering? Food trucks are big here in Philly these days.

I’m listening.

Peace!