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OYSTERS Part 1

Crowds outside the Emu Park Railway Station Emu Park ca.1910

Crowds outside the Emu Park Railway Station, Emu Park, ca.1910. State Library of Queensland. Negative number: 131737.

When I started looking for literature about eating oysters, I soon realized many authors have written about the topic.

This suggests that there’s something about the experience that motivates writers to capture it in words. Different writers have different perspectives, I can see that, and it will take some time to figure out just what makes oysters a meaningful experience for so many people.

But for now, here’s a small local investigation. I live in a charming seaside village called Emu Park. It’s a quiet place, but in earlier days, it was a popular resort, where people came to escape the rigid demands of everyday life.

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REVIEW: THE SEARCH FOR THE PERFECT HOT DOG

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This is the story of a family business selling frankfurters-in-a-bun at Coney Island, a precinct of Brooklyn famous for its amusement parks.

Even before the tiny store opened in 1916, Coney Island’s illuminations were visible 30 miles out to sea. To inbound immigrants like Nathan Handwerker—a Polish Jew who in 1912 fled poverty, hunger and war—the glow whispered: “This is the land of opportunity.”

Handwerker—who died in 1974—made the most of every opportunity. His business, at its height, sold 75,000 hot dogs in a single weekend.

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LOIS’S CHICKEN CURRY

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The typed recipe card for my father’s famous chicken curry.

The recipe card says Lois, but it should say Louis.

And I should know. Louis was my father, and the recipe is for his famous chicken curry.

Well, I’d better clarify—the curry was famous, but only among a small group of people.

In Louis’s small culinary repertoire, chicken curry was definitely his signature dish.

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STRANGER DANGER, CANNIBALISM AND GINGERBREAD

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Poor Hansel and Gretel! Abused in their home, abandoned in the forest, kidnapped by a witch who planned on eating them. Both tormented by the witch, who kept Hansel in a cage and forced Gretel to take him food to fatten him up.

This horrific story is often told to children and, in fact, the very first theatre experience I ever had was a touring pantomime of Hansel and Gretel. I must have been about 4 or 5.

Television hadn’t yet arrived in our Far North Queensland village, so it was an especially glamourous treat for my family to travel to the small town nearly to watch a matinee performance.

And as my first experience of the power of live theatre, it overwhelmed me. It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t entertaining. It was just terrifying, and I simply had no faith that any child could display the power of thought and action necessary to defeat an adult—as Gretel does, by shoving the witch into her own oven.

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Now—decades later—I’m thinking of the role played by food in this story, collected by the Grimm Brothers and first published in 1812.  Continue reading

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I’M OBSESSED WITH THE NEW TIM TAMS

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Since I tried the varieties of Tim Tams originating from Arnott’s collaboration with Gelato Messina, I’ve been obsessing over the whole new-flavours-for-old-products thing.

For those who can’t guess, Gelato Messina is an ice-cream company. The business has grown from their first store in Darlinghurst, Sydney—est. 2002—to Las Vegas. And although Messina hasn’t arrived in regional Australia, they do have a Queensland foothold at Coolangatta. Messina’s 2014 hardcover recipe book laid the foundation for national recognition, but the Tim Tams venture provides an opportunity to reach far-flung supermarket shoppers for whom the book is invisible.

But what does Arnott’s—now owned by giant American company Campbell Soup Company—get out of the deal?

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REVIEW: Dan Barber’s THE THIRD PLATE

Dan Barber: “How had I assumed all those years that polenta smelled of nothing more than dried meal?”

Dan Barber: “How had I assumed all those years that polenta smelled of nothing more than dried meal?”

Dan Barber is chef/co-owner of the Michelin-starred, farm-to-table New York restaurant Blue Hill, and also Blue Hill at Stone Barns  (in upstate New York), where organic produce for the two restaurants is grown.

In addition, Barber is a man who knows how to tell a good story—a skill he puts to good use in The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food, published in 2014. (Acclaimed journalist Ira Glass, of This American Life, professes envy of Barber’s writing skills when he introduces him in the YouTube clip Beyond Farm-to-Table.)

Barber’s book opens with a yarn:

A corncob, dried and slightly shriveled, arrived in the mail […] Along with the cob was a check for $1,000.

It turns out that a seed collector had sent the cob, an heirloom corn dating back to the 1600s. Native Americans had cultivated that particular variety because of its flavour, and it was then adopted and enjoyed by colonists. But the frigid winter of 1816 killed the American plants; starving animals and people ate the harvested barn-stored cobs. The variety disappeared altogether from New England.

But in the 21st century, the seed collector traced this corn to a rare crop in Italy. That is the cob Barber now holds in his hand, along with a plea to grow it—and $1,000 to persuade him to accept the challenge.

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TOAST: IT’S COMPLICATED

The taste test. Inconclusive verdict. More testing needed.

The taste test. Inconclusive verdict. More testing needed.

Surely nothing could be easier than making toast. In these modern times, all you have to do is drop sliced bread into the toaster slots, push the lever down, and toast will pop right up when it’s done.

It was much trickier in my childhood. Our toasters were primitive appliances, with fold-down doors on either side. They demanded vigilance and patience, with disastrous consequences if we wandered away. These were the days before fire alarms, so burnt toast could be very burnt before the smell roused our attention.

My family also had a camping toaster, a simple wire mesh contraption held over a flame. I remember the toast it made was particularly delicious—very crisp on the outside and somehow fluffier and moister inside.

Either way, there was nothing difficult or complex about toast. Or so it seemed.

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