I’ve been feeling a little annoyed with the state of food writing lately. Am I allowed to write that here? I’m not sure. I’ve likely turned half of you off already, though I hope that at least a handful of you stick around long enough to make it to the next line. Hear me out.
I read a lot of magazines. Like, a lot of them. It’s kind of annoying, in fact. Literally every weeknight, after Jay and I finish our meal, I curl up in a deep corner of our couch and read at least one full magazine. This is not hyperbole. I’ve adored magazines since I’ve been a kid. My first job out of college was at a very well known magazine in New York. For the better part of the past decade, I’ve freelanced with various magazines any chance I get. I’ve long loved the informative aspect of magazines, as well as the storytelling and the gorgeous brevity that is necessary for the format (while we’re on the topic, did you read this excellent piece from NY Mag about brevity and Lucky magazine?). When it comes to magazines, I don’t discriminate. I look so forward to the essays in Vogue and Vanity Fair. I deeply admire the fiction and humor coverage in my weekly New Yorker. I daydream about redecorating our home each time I read a design story in Real Simple or O. As you can imagine, food magazines are pretty high up on my list as well.
Or, if I’m being honest, they used to be.
For the better part of the past year, Jay and I have frequently discussed our distaste for the direction many food magazines are moving in. Many nights, during our evening couch ritual, I release a litany of sighs, which ultimately lead to a disgruntled comment, which ultimately leads to Jay agreeing with said disgruntled comment, which then leads to an hours long conversation about why X food magazine now, well, stinks.
In short (and at the risk of sounding like a grumpy, bitter, woman of a certain age), we’ve both become disappointed by the fact that, for one, the amount of text on the pages of so many food magazines we’ve long admired is completely disappearing, one graf at a time. In its place, the pages are fast filling up with large format, overly stylized photos that frequently tend to put more emphasis on the type of carafe or cloth napkin displayed as opposed to the actual food.
The food, of course, is a whole separate topic, though it basically boils down to this: it all looks and sounds (and I presume tastes) the same. The recipes have become somewhat pretentious, like they all stood in line for three hours to get a seat at the latest artisanal taqueria in Brooklyn, and then sloshed the whole thing down with an ironic can of PBR. Many of the recipes are riddled with unnecessary, but very “of the moment” ingredients, making them seem fussy and, in many cases, unaccessible for those times when the vast majority of us do our cooking and eating (i.e.: at 7:30 on a Monday night). The food seems less real and more stylized, the stories more about trends than actual narratives about where our food comes from and how it is produced. Those once tightly edited narratives that I loved for so many years, it seems, have been replaced by catchy graphics and bold fonts.
Then, a few months ago, Luisa Weiss, the author of The Wednesday Chef, posted a little something on her Instagram account in which she expressed a similar sentiment. Many people commented on her post to share their likeminded beliefs, a number of whom expressed that they had canceled their subscriptions to several big time food magazines due, in part, to many of the reasons I’ve listed above.
So where have all our food stories gone? Food is so central to our families and to our cultures at large, not only because it nourishes us on a physical level, but also because it nourishes us on a much deeper level too. So what are the implications of a culture that constructs food in the same way it constructs fashion: that is, as something trendy, as an extravagance of sorts (which it certainly can be at times!), as opposed to something accessible, a ritual we all take part in (god willing) every day of our lives.
Because Jay and I own a food business (by the way, I promise I’ll have a more uplifting post next week filled with details about the renovations at our new second location!), we eat out a lot, and have had the good fortunate of having dined at some of the city’s finest restaurants, as well as at some of its best dives and off-the-beaten-path food stands. However, most of the time, we like to eat simple, real foods, the type that can be prepared quickly, the type that fill our bodies with the nutrients they need, and the type that fill our souls with the warm, comforting feeling of home.
This salad does just that. It is made with a number of greens and herbs from our home vegetable garden, which is going crazy at the moment thanks to such a rainy June. It is not particularly fancy; just a smattering of tender greens, lightly sauteed radishes and asparagus spears, some leftover lentils, a hard boiled egg and a seared lemon, which I squeeze on the whole thing in lieu of a traditional dressing. It reminds me of the type of approachable, honest food we cook on, say, a typical Wednesday night. It tastes clean and simple and good and real.
And somewhere, beneath all the muss and fuss of the day, I think there is a story worth telling in that, one that is well worth the read.
A Summer Garden Salad with Charred Lemon, Black Lentils & a Seven Minute Egg
serves 2 as a meal
1/4 cup dry black lentils
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch asparagus (I prefer green asparagus here), washed and sliced into 2-inch pieces
1 bunch radishes (I used Easter Egg radishes, though any variety will work well), washed and cut in half
1 lemon, sliced in half
6 cups mixed tender lettuce greens, roughly chopped
1-2 cups kale leaves, removed from stems and roughly chopped
2 cups assorted fresh tender herbs (I used basil, flat leaf parsley and chives), roughly chopped
1 tablespoon capers
coarse sea salt
freshly cracked black pepper
In a medium-sized pot, cook the lentils according to the package’s directions. I like to add some of the assorted herbs into the pot while the lentils cooks (maybe 4-5 basil leaves, 2-3 parsley stems and 5-6 chives). When the lentils are done cooking, drain their liquid, remove the wilted herbs and set the lentils aside to cool to room temperature.
While the lentils cook, bring a small pot of water to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and add the egg (you can certainly add more than one egg if you want to beef up the recipe). Cover the pot and allow the egg to simmer for exactly 7 minutes. Immediately remove the egg and submerge it in cold water for several minutes. Peel the egg and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the asparagus, the radishes and the lemon halves (being sure the lemon is faced down so the juicy pulp will begin to caramelize). Allow everything to brown for a few minutes; avoid the temptation to move anything. When everything begins to smell like it has begun to caramelize (but is not yet burned), you can begin to gently toss everything in the pan until the asparagus and radishes are cooked, but still firm. Remove the pan from the stovetop and allow things to cool to a little bit above room temperature.
In a large bowl, add the lettuce, the kale, the asparagus, the radishes, the lentils, the remaining fresh herbs and the capers and gently toss. Squeeze the charred lemon (both juice and pulp) over the salad. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Gently toss again. Cut the cooked egg in half and arrange on top of the salad.