107 Cookbooks Rotating Header Image

In the News

posts about subjects in the news, not necessarily directly related to the collection

Is this the end of Twinkiehenge?

TwinkieHenge

Hostess has declared bankruptcy. It sounds like the company has been struggling with debt, but that in the short term this is not likely to result in any interruption to operations. So you’ll still be able to buy Twinkies, Wonder Bread and other highly processed foodstuffs, assuming you care for that sort of thing. The NYT article strongly hints that labor and pension costs are a big issue, but if you’re getting into debt to the tune of $860 million there’s a lot more wrong with your planning than just paying your workers too well, I think.

A lot of the coverage has been suggesting, possibly tongue in cheek, that consumers may want to stock up on Twinkies just in case the company ends up folding. I can’t get behind that, but use your own judgment. They don’t actually last forever — though I held onto the ones left over from my Twinkiehenge for over a year before finally discarding them and they didn’t look appreciably changed. But I didn’t taste them to find out.

Hurricanes and cookies

chocolate chip cookies

I live in New York. If you’ve been following the news you know that Hurricane Irene passed through here in the early hours of this morning. More accurately, it was Tropical Storm Irene by the time it reached us, and not as big and awful as it might have been. It was still big and awful enough for plenty of people in the area; there are numerous reports of downed power lines, flooding, and fallen trees, as well as a few deaths. Here at Chez 107 we were lucky to come through virtually unscathed; the only problems we encountered were a minor leak in the skylight above the hall stairs, the possibly coincidental death of our cable box/DVR, and serious disruption to our sleep.

We were not so confident that it would be this easy in the days leading up to the storm. Forecasts suggested it could be a Category 2 when it hit the city, which could cause serious damage. We don’t live in one of the evacuation zones so we prepared to shelter in place, and that included stocking up on food we could eat if the power went out. We’ve never lost power here in a storm before but a Category 2 hurricane seemed like a good candidate for the first time. So I went to our regular grocery store on Friday night, not sure what would be left. Bread was almost cleaned out, but I found a number of other things: peanut butter, crackers, hummus (one package, which we could finish off in short order if the power went out), salsa (ditto), chips, cereal, and a few other little things. I was pretty sure that if we did lose power we wouldn’t be without it for very long, so I made sure to only get things that we would use anyway.

I understand not everyone kept that in mind when preparing for the storm. If you’re someone who stocked up on non-perishable food that you no longer thrill to now that the crisis has passed, you might donate your excess to a local food bank (such as Food Bank for New York City).

We had completed our preparations by midday Saturday, and then we were left to wait. The storm was moving slowly, and it had an entourage in the form of massive TV coverage, a pretty well-mixed blend of the informative and the sensational. Waves of rain washed through, all a prelude for what was to come. The worst of it passed through overnight; we tried to get some sleep but were repeatedly awakened by alerts and our own anxiety. By this afternoon, when it was mostly through except for some intermittent showers and gusts of wind, I was ready for things to be normal again.

Cookies

Which is probably why I made chocolate chip cookies. My original plan was to make chili for dinner as well, but I seem to be out of beans. (Well, I suppose they wouldn’t have been high on my list of things to make without refrigeration or a stove.) So we foraged on room-temperature food for another night and I’ll be making a pot of chili for tomorrow’s dinner. But I found comfort in the process and the taste of cookies. I was a little imprecise with the soda and salt measurements, so they’re a bit flat, but you know what? They still taste good. They taste like normality, and comfort, and safety from disaster.

Join Me: Take the Slow Food $5 Challenge

I’m a big believer in home cooking. That’s probably no secret if you’ve been reading this blog. I can be as lazy or inattentive or self-indulgent as anyone — I am not averse to the occasional takeout empanada or sandwich — but I also really enjoy the process of cooking. I like the fact that most of the time, what I end up making is better than something I would buy. And I especially enjoy the fact that for just about anything I make, I end up spending a lot less money than I would if I went out and ordered the same thing at a restaurant, or got home delivery.

There are people who don’t believe this, though. Really. There are people who argue that cooking at home is much too expensive for anyone to do. This mentality gives rise to ridiculous blog posts like “The $84 Stir-Fry,” in which an inexperienced cook demonstrates that she also doesn’t understand the concept of amortization by assuming that the amounts she shelled out for a pepper grinder, a cutting board and a “totally unnecessary” (her term) food scale deserve to be included in the cost of this single meal. (Seriously, did she throw away the scale and cutting board after she ate?) I have a feeling these are also people who don’t actually do the math to compare the costs of a week’s worth of deli sandwiches with the costs of getting the equivalent amount of bread, meat, cheese, lettuce and tomato at the supermarket. The data set may not be valid.

OK, it’s true that if you don’t know what you’re doing or how to do it you may make the mistake of buying the wrong ingredients, in the wrong quantities, for the wrong price. You may make rookie mistakes that result in waste and mess. You may take longer than you think is reasonable because you don’t have the skills to work efficiently. But that doesn’t mean cooking is inherently expensive, and it certainly doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to learn how to do it at all. Smart cooking enables you to make use of the best-priced fresh ingredients you can find, to take advantage of seasonal availability (and the fact that a vegetable at its prime in the market is often at a great price as well — supply and demand in action), and to make smart substitutions that save you money.

Of course there are also a lot of people who can’t find affordable ingredients. They live in food deserts — areas where there are no grocery stores, produce markets, or other sources of reasonably priced fresh food to use for cooking. They have easy access to overpriced bodegas, fast-food outlets galore, and 99-cent stores with dubiously sourced packaged foodstuffs, but not to fresh tomatoes or whole-grain bread or frozen spinach. If you don’t have a car or can’t afford gas, and your nearest supermarket is two bus rides and a 25-minute wait at the transfer point away, you aren’t going to make a habit of grocery shopping; you’re going to get whatever you can find most cheaply near you, no matter how bad for you it is in the long run. This is a big problem, but it won’t help matters if we blithely accept the assumption that cooking at home is expensive and thus isn’t a realistic goal.

Slow Food USA is trying to help spotlight the real value of home cooking. On Saturday, Sept. 17, they’re presenting the $5 Challenge. Participants will either cook or participate in a meal — a slow food meal, cooked with real ingredients by real people — that costs no more than $5 per person. (That applies to ingredients, not to extraneous purchases like “totally unnecessary” scales.) The goal here will not simply be to cobble together cheap ingredients; the goal will be to create a delicious, nourishing meal at a low cost.

Who’s in? I’m in. I’m not planning to host a public event — though those who would like to do so are invited to host an event or attend a hosted event or potluck — but I am planning to cook, photograph and write up a meal, including a detailed accounting of the per-serving cost. I think this is a great chance to demonstrate a few fundamentals of home cooking:

  • Real food doesn’t have to be costly.
  • Real food tastes great.
  • Food that you share with people you care about is nourishing in ways that go beyond vitamins and fiber.
  • You don’t have to be a trained chef to cook something that people will enjoy.

So why don’t you join me? If you know me in real life, get in touch about coming over for dinner. Otherwise, please feel free to dive in and host an event or join one that’s already set up, and come back here to post about it in the comments.