Thursday, January 17, 2008

A new season

The season of cookies and fruitcake has passed, and the wave of diet ads and promos has crested. Time to get back to serious wintry eating. And to some serious food related reading. I note that the articles in papers and magazines are more interesting, less sentimental.

One of my resolutions for this year is to try to pay more attention to concerns and interesting stories of food and culture.

Who knew that fortune cookies were Japanese in origin.

Be sure to check out the photos and video that accompany this story. I love the 19th century Japanese illustration of a baker making fortune cookies.

I have two favorite fortune cookie memories. One is of those years between college and seminary, when working for the Bank of California in downtown San Francisco. A few blocks away was a small cookie factory. Rather than the individual cookie irons shown in the Japanese illustration, they had a rotating apparatus, where the batter was poured, the lids went down, the cookie passed over flames, and on the other side a worker removed the hot flat cookie, and folded it and inserted the fortune in one deft movement. Actually, I used to buy the bags of almond cookies. I'm sure they were loaded with trans fats - and were they good!

My other fortune memory is of receiving one at restaurant in Reno which read, "A once in a lifetime adventure awaits you in the South Pacific." I'd been toying with the idea of a trip to follow up with colleagues in New Zealand, met at the Pacific Basin Roland Allen Conference - so I went home and started planning the trip that day.

On that same trip I did some consulting in Japan and then became a tourist in Kyoto. Now I wish I had known about the bakeries there - I would have made a pilgrimage, out of thanks for the impetus of a fortune.

I also plan, this year, to do more reading of fiction where food, eating it and/or preparing it and/or growing it, is a strong theme. I welcome suggestions.


John Leech said...

My parents announced their engagement with fortune cookies. They had the special message inserted. It was one of the San Francisco bakeries, like Golden Gate in Waverley Place off Washington.

John Leech said...

Fiction where food is a strong theme:

There are plenty of foodie mysteries, including the series beginning with "Sharpshooter" by Nadia Gordon (Julianne Balmain) published by Chronicle Books - set in the Napa Valley wine/food country.

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, by Henry Fielding, has that wonderful scene in the inn at Upton with our hero and Mrs.-- munching there way thru a huge salacious feast (filmed by Tony Richardson)

Anna Karenina by Lev Tolstoi has extensive swaths of discussion of traditional agricultural techniques in Russia - Levin goes from reformer to traditionalist, harvesting with the peasants....

The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair. The book that makes everyone a vegetarian - at least for a week. I wonder if his novel "Oil" (now a movie starring Daniel Day-Lewis, "There will be blood") will have the same effect on driving automobiles and trucks.