Monthly Archives: February 2015

Primary Courses: or old cookbooks

I’ve always loved used bookstores. When I was in school, not only were they the best place for a bookworm to score some deals, it was also a great place to find what my history teacher described as “primary source information”, artifacts of history to show the existence of a specific trend or set of expectations. 

For example, a modern reading of “Jane Eyre”, would show that Rochester is a terrible human being and why the hell would anyone think he was decent marriage material? 

Ok. So I still think that’s the case. But Charlotte Brontë was writing from a time when there were no mental institutions, and shutting one’s crazy wife in an attic with a caretaker, was the more humane thing to do. Not to say it wasn’t still awful for everyone involved. But it’s sort of like saying “well, the only things to eat at the time were bugs; otherwise everyone starved.” 

The right response is not “why didn’t they just eat sandwiches?” Because this was a time before sandwiches! And you can’t learn about this sandwich free era by reading “Jane  Eyre” because the author assumed her readers were contemporaries in this time of no sandwiches. You actually have to read books about the state of sandwiches  in the early 1800s, England. (In case you’re unclear, in this metaphor, sandwiches = psychiatric care, which was very bad at that time.) 

Now of course, we are in a heavily sandwich rich time, so there are no such excuses. 

One of my favorite sources of primary source information are old cookbooks. They are so much more than just a collection of recipes that remind you of how novel a microwave used to be, or the prevalence of Jell-O as an ingredient, they can also be a reminder of who used to be famous enough that they assumed people wanted to know what they wished to eat. They are a reflection of the times in which they wre published, and the state of mind of their authors. They’re  an unexpected window intro the fleeting nature of trends, of celebrity, of who used to be rich and famous… 

There’s a grilled eggplant recipe from Bruce and Kris Jenner are in here…with family pictures showing a very young Kim Kardashian in what appears to be a denim jumpsuit

Cookbooks are ostensibly about the preparation of food: everyone needs to eat. But outside of perennial, practical staples, like “The Joy of Cooking”, most of them are about something else. How to transform your body, and thus your life. How to solve some existential problem by cooking. How to somehow become more like someone successful by eating what they eat. The subtext of them say a lot about the culture from which they came; from the ingredient lists to whose recipes were considered worth collecting. They are advice and value systems, wrapped up in a food prescription. 

Like, when you think “what should I make for dinner”, you probably never think, “what should I make if I were a Laker?” But maybe you should! Why wouldn’t you want to be like an entire well compensated basketball team? They seem like they have good lives! Eat like a Laker!

Or if you’ve just discovered an evil twin, committed incest, have amnesia, or are unfortunate to have experienced all three, The last thing you want to think about is what to make for dinner. So this is the cookbook for you! 

Or if all of the above happens to you while trying to establish a political dynasty, AND you are a fan of the Renaissance Faire and Italian  food …

not only does this give you recipes that the Mediciicis would have enjoyed, it also reminds you that there was once a 13 part PBS special about them.

There are a reminders of what events people at a time wished to commemorate, but people are vague about now. 

I went to this as a kid. And I only just noticed how much the logo looks like a short penis with a third ball.

Cookbooks about movies that were popular enough at the time to warrant a cookbook  

Cookbooks for OCD physicists, or for those inviting some over for dinner. 

Cookbooks for those seeking a creative solution to pest control, or who are unable to travel to restaurants who serve unusual proteins. 

this must have been a challenge for the food photographers: judging from the results, I’ll say they failed to make the food look appetizing.

Cookbooks for lovers of a specific genre of music…

I eagerly await the dance music cookbook, the metal cookbook, and the synth pop cookbook.

And of course, one for fans of Star Trek. Recipes for a long and prosperous life!

If you have favorite, very specific cookbooks, I’d love to hear about them! 


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Filed under books, life

Na, na, na, na, hey, hey, hey, Naaan Hut!

One of the things I miss the most about SF is its variety of good, cheap eats. There is always some place tucked away on a busy street, selling a fantastically yummy meal for under $10.

I know such places exist in LA, but such is the urban planning of southern California that they’re almost impossible to stumble across because this is not a pedestrian friendly town (more on this later). Good ethnic food are hidden in a myriad of identical seeming strip malls, clustered in their own counties, requiring a drive and an infuriating search for parking.

So when I was exploring my new neighborhood last year ON FOOT, I was happy to come across the Naan Hut, its nondescript storefront, tucked in between a frozen yogurt shop and a swiss bakery.

Naan Hut doesn’t actually make naan, the Indian bread most of us are familiar with. What it specializes in, is sangak, a crispy, chewy flatbread, speckled with sesame seeds. You can get a generous scarf sized piece of this bread for only $3. And you have to wait for it, because the oven is on the premises and they prefer to give it to you fresh, wrapped in brown paper. Like an awesome present of bread!

The first time I went into the shop, I passed by a woman who was smiling ear to ear, arms full of bread. I bought the same bread that day, and then returned a few more times when I realized that they also used the bread to make a uniquely delicious pizza.

At the time, they only opened for lunch and served the aforementioned pizza as well as a few wraps. All delicious and inexpensive. There were a few rickety tables and a television bolted to a corner, so the ambiance was somewhat lacking.

But a few weeks ago, I discovered that it was now open for dinner. Not only were aesthetic and gustatory improvements made, it is also open late, for those craving a late night meal that isn’t diner food.

Its owners have installed a large refrigerator case that houses all kinds of treats, both prepackaged and homemade. I spent a good deal of time googling the names, and everything sounded delicious, (as well as unpronounceable.) Among its shelves, there were saffron puddings, eggplant stews, and hummus, all neatly stacked and labeled. The rickety tables have been replaced with comfortable cafe style tables and chairs and I spotted a samovar bubbling away in the back; must come back for tea!

I’ve been back twice for dinner already, and the host was extremely hospitable and enthusiastic. I don’t know if he’s the owner, but if he isn’t, he should get a raise because he is clearly delighted and proud of what the establishment offers.

Anyway, if you find yourself in L.A. and on the Westside, pop into the Naan Hut!


(This is some kind of tomatoe-y, eggplant stew thing that is so good, and has a lot of garlic. So only eat it with someone who loves you already, or someone you don’t care if they love you or not.)

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Filed under food, Los Angeles