Proustian Memories Everywhere

Childhood, and heartache

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Community Cookbooks with Paula Forbes

Canned tamales and the mysteries of Reese Witherspoon (ham parties?) with journalist and cookbook author Paula Forbes. And hey: just how WASPy are community cookbooks?

Our French Cook

By Emily Beyda

In conversation with my father the other day, he made an observation I can’t seem to shake. The toughest part of being a child, he said, is the feeling of powerlessness you experience in your relationship with adults. But when you’re an adult you’re still not in charge. The only difference is that the power no longer seems to lie in the hands of grown-ups. It is the universe, or God, or fate, or whatever name it takes in your personal cosmology, that takes control.

Perhaps this is why so many of us are turning to the familiar routines of childhood to inform our pandemic gastronomy. A recent poll found that Americans are increasing our comfort food intake in almost all categories, with a notable uptick in the consumption of ice cream, mac and cheese, and pizza. Cottagecore cooking is on the rise. My friend, the brilliant novelist Ivy Pochoda, is cooking her way through the pandemic making what she calls Stoner Foods of the Apocalypse with her daughter. And me? I’m rereading “Clémentine in the Kitchen”.

At the risk of sounding extremely cool, one of my favorite pastimes as a child was reading my way through my parents’ cookbook collection. “Clémentine in the Kitchen” was one of the best. Written in 1943, this book, which chronicles an American family's experience learning how to appreciate food through their relationship with their French chef Clémentine, is profoundly soothing, a bright window into the domestic habits of a bygone era that reads like a combination cookbook, memoir, and gastronomic guide. Imagine a more humble “Larousse Gastronomique,” perhaps, or a French “Fanny Farmer Cookbook.” 

The book was written by an American author named Samuel Chamberlain, who, along with his family, lived in France for a decade or so before WWII forced them to return to the States. It focuses on their relationship with their cook Clémentine, recounting their experiences as she introduces them to traditional French foodways and the DIY spirit of the countryside. Chamberlain writes about the family learning to make their own wine, and hunting the snails Clémentine will use to make her legendary escargots de bourgogne in their garden. The whole thing feels cozy, domestic, and deeply charming, the kind of book that transports you into another life. It is also full of excellent recipes for hearty French country cooking. Consider escaping with Clémentine. If you manage to get a pot of her beef bourguignon bubbling away on the stove, so much the better. 📖

Family, Joy, and Heartbreak in a Glass

By Monica Romano

As the sun rises in Morocco, tea merchants across the country pile fragrant bundles of spearmint leaves high atop their bicycles and ride through villages yelling, “Nana, Nana.” Our house was a regular stop on one route. 

I’d watch my husband perform his usual consumer ritual in fluid motions: a deep sniff of the mint, a nod of approval, a bit of bargaining. A tip to the vendor finalized the sale.

His sisters and I would gather the teapots, green tea, and sugar  —  lots of sugar! — along with some snacks to accompany tea time. It’s a cherished memory.

Moroccan tea service (Atay Bi Nana) is a fine art and a charming tradition, unveiled for guests at celebrations and meals, and even while conducting business.

Mint tea is also enjoyed throughout the average day, just as coffee is in the U.S. But unlike quick coffee breaks ,  tea time is never rushed and can span hours. 

Consider it a good omen and soak in the warm-hearted hospitality if you're invited to share tea with Moroccans. It's where acquaintances become friends. 

Moroccan children are taught the nearly-sacred tea custom early, starting with learning to brew the perfect pot. In daily life, both men and women make tea, but during special occasions and Eid al-Fitr (end of Ramadan), an older male usually prepares the tea. 

Mentha spicata, a hybrid spearmint plant (Nana mint) is at the heart of this recipe served all across the Arab Maghreb region of North Africa. Chinese gunpowder green tea is another essential ingredient. The brands Sultan or Sinia are preferred by Moroccans, who believe it creates a magical taste when brewed with fresh mint. 

“The quality of Chinese green tea fits with the taste, the scent, and the color Moroccans look for to prepare a good Moroccan mint tea,” says Omar Amrani, co-owner and manager of Dunes and Desert in Marrakech.

Amrani includes a tea ceremony in his excursions so his visitors can have a "Moroccan welcome drink" while sightseeing. 

Guests of La Maison Arabe in Marrakech receive instruction in the art of traditional mint tea preparation and the high pour technique to achieve aeration and the signature foam that gives it the tourist nickname “beer."

Also known as "Berber whiskey" due to the dark amber color produced by steeping the gunpowder tea (and because it is used in place of alcohol, which is illegal in Muslim countries), mint tea has a place at every kind of celebration. My husband and I had plenty of occasions to clink our glasses filled with “whiskey.”

It flowed non-stop at our three-day-long marriage celebration. Relatives from different regions brewed their own special versions, varying in color and taste with saffron and rosemary additions.

Although my husband passed away just weeks after our wedding, his tea culture remains close to my heart and I'm honored to share it with others. I feel his spirit any time I raise a glass. 🇲🇦

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This newsletter is edited by Katherine Spiers, host of the podcast Smart Mouth.

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