M.F.K. Fisher’s How to Cook A Wolf

Wolf

The destiny of nations depends upon what and how well they eat.” —Brillat-Savarin

Years ago, the title of M.F.K. Fisher’s book evoked fantastical images. I read a lot of Tolkien, Mervyn Peake, and others that would lead me to believe that a book about cooking wolves had to be intriguing. Alas, as a child, I was disappointed, as there were no monsters of mysterious elf rangers. Just practical advice about making ends meet. Having spent years with my great-grandmother, I’d already seen the economy she practiced: slapping the toast onto the cast iron skillet to cook it in bacon fat. The things we preserved and stored in the cellar.

Decades passed, and as I search for the best in food writing, I was drawn to her books again. How to Cook a Wolf has probably been my favorite so far. Like The Ravenous Muse, the theme of the book is anthropomorphized into a recurring character. The wolf stalks M.F.K. Fisher throughout: “The wolf has one paw wedged firmly in what looks like a widening crack of the door. Let us take it for granted that the situation, while uncomfortable, is definitely impermanent, and can be coped with.”

Wartime shortages are the central theme. Coping with limited utilities, making the best of canned goods (and saving the liquid for soup stocks later on), and stretching ingredients are economical bits of wisdom that go far beyond the wars of the mid-twentieth century. While in America the kinds of sacrifices made by everyday people is no longer what it was in the past, people are turning away from industrial agriculture and the effects of climate change are making many people rethink how they sustain themselves. Urban gardening is a sign of a smart city, and while many of the kitchen tools she refers to are no longer a wonderment (she goes on quite a bit about the “modern” pressure cooker), the practical advice in this book would do a lot of good in reducing waste and saving energy.

How to Cook a Wolf

One of the most interesting aspects of How to Cook a Wolf is her view on food production and trendy diets. She places the blame on fad diets squarely on the growing magazine industry. The balanced diet of three square meals a day is perpetuated by advertisers, she argues, and the needs of the individual should take precedence. Much like patient-driven healthcare is changing traditional medicine today, our attitude toward food needs to change. No one “miracle diet” will work for everyone.

In the chapter titled “How to be Sage without Hemlock,” M.F.K. Fisher lamented the mass production of bread. The refined flours rendered bread tasteless and nutritionally worthless, and imposed a false sense of snobbery. Darker breads were poor, foreign. You were moving up in the world by buying chemically treated foods. Coupled with America’s Puritain reluctance to really enjoy food, she muses, will put us on a bad path leading to large-scale health problems. Indeed it has. If she’d only been around to be vindicated in an era where chefs rediscover “artisanal” cooking, and present us with the kind of bread people knew from the Old Country.

Fisher offers up a number of recipes that are worth a try—her roast is fabulous, and the French technique of drizzling the beef juice on a salad is a revelation. According to Fisher, rubbing chicken in lemon is a good way to tenderize it. And as always, beautiful, stately quotes make every page of her work a pleasure to read: ““Polenta is one of those ageless culinary lords, like bread. It has sprung from the hunger of mankind, and without apparent effort has always carried a feeling of strength and dignity and well-being.”

In addition, she advises the housewife on making mouthwash and soap from myrrh, and how to make a pin cushion by sewing fabric around old coffee grounds. Evidently, the coffee grounds prevent the needles from rusting. If I were a habitual sewing-type, I may have tried it, but sewing is one of those things I do only if I absolutely must.

Of all the recipes, the onion soup is the one I had to go with for this series. It’s been one of my favorites forever. And while I typically rely on Julia Child’s recipe, this one is great too…though I’d switch out the Parmesan for a super thick slice of Jarlsberg Swiss, and add sherry as well as wine when deglazing the pan. (But then again, I really like boozy flavors, just like Julia!)

Onion soup

Parisian Onion Soup

4 sweet onions, very thinly sliced
4 tablespoons butter or good oil
2 heaping tablespoons flour
1/2 cup white wine
1 quart beef consommé
Grated snappy cheese (Parmesan cheese)
Rye bread, sliced thin and toasted
Directions
Brown the onions in the fat, sprinkle with flour and stir while it simmers for 10 minutes. Deglaze with white wine. Meanwhile heat the consommé. Add it to the onions and let boil slowly until the onions are tender. Spread the cheese thickly on the toast and melt under a quick broiler. Pour the soup into a hot soup tureen, cover with the toast and serve at once.

Writer, Interrupted

journals

More than two decades of drama–all in one crate of journals!

As someone who loves to blog about food, and connect food and literature, I wanted nothing more than to open this post with a photo of a freshly made loaf of bread and talk about some amazing book I read that featured food in a unique way. The bread’s on hiatus—the blog is not—and I’m getting my life back in order after an unexpected turn of events.

It started as a lark. I work in type 1 diabetes research. Out of scientific curiosity, I check my own blood glucose from time to time. My husband has type 2 diabetes, and it’s become a customary joke to stick my hand in front of his as he prepares to check his blood sugar some mornings. “Ha ha—you can’t catch me!” Then he did. I wasn’t prepared for bad news. 108. Too high for a fasting blood glucose reading.

“Well, what do you expect?” he said. “We had a big Thanksgiving meal yesterday!”

True, and with adequate pacing, I can probably eat my body weight in stuffing. But still. For days after that, I used the hub’s spare meter to check my blood sugar. Always too high in the morning. And the numbers varied greatly otherwise. I kept a chart and made an appointment.

Fortunately, recent conversations with friends led me to start a low-carb/ketogenic diet anyway. The past four years have been intense and have kept me sedentary, and only recently have I been able to work out regularly. I was about 2 weeks into the new diet when I broke regimen at a staff retreat and indulged in a half bagel and tuna sandwich. Post-meal readings went alarmingly above normal. My pancreas is trolling me.

My A1c is just on the edge of prediabetes. In addition, perimenopause has been terribly disruptive, the lack of reliable research on it has been frustrating, and the myriad symptoms have been kicking my literary butt for some time now. Even in this short time on the keto diet, some of those symptoms have abated to a noticeable degree. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when they next check my A1c in six months.

fingerstick

2015 has been a turbulent year, beginning with selling my old place in Somerville and buying a home a few towns over. Then came the unpacking, the renovations, the unexpected house projects (broken water heater, leaky sink, discovering a gas leak that had been “fixed” by the former owners by wrapping a corroded pipe with electrical tape…). Getting back to a regular writing routine has been slow. Frustratingly so. I was certain the fourth novel would be close to done by now. I’m barely halfway there.

Blog posts have been slow but steady. A short story was submitted to, and rejected by, and anthology. These things happen. This novel has been playing in my head for so long, there shouldn’t be any hold-ups when I sit in front of the computer. Alas…

Stress. Distractions. Trying to perfect a strength-training and cardio routine. Family stuff. Life.

Then the short story I wrote blossomed into what appears to be a trilogy, and the abyss Nietzsche warned about was staring back at me.

I already have too many novels on my list to write about in a lifetime, especially if I have to keep my day job. How can I prioritize them?

I’d convinced myself my deadlines weren’t arbitrary because I was aiming for maximum production, figuring I’d be able to keep up the pace until I was about 80 or so. Plus, many years at a high-pressure academic institution has given me a touch of PTSD when it comes to fostering the tendency to be an overachiever to the detriment of wellness. And then suddenly to have an epiphany after years at said institution and realize the toxic morass I found myself in was destroying my true sense of self.

In short, I spend so much time beating myself up that I haven’t given myself the space to deal with a massive amount of physical and psychological change.

I don’t have all the answers yet. I’m still dealing with an unwieldy list of novels to write, and short story ideas pop up all the time for journals and anthologies. But the bottom line seems to be that I need to write what I’m passionate about—and that is many things. I came into the literary world as an author who found real women who were rebels and outcasts, marginalized by history, and gave them a voice to tell their tale. I could spend a lifetime doing that alone. But there’s a speculative fiction novel that’s been in development for years, as well as a fantasy series of who-knows-how-many books. And now a Steampunk trilogy.

My heart is with them all. For someone who has tried so hard to maintain structure and impose deadlines, it’s helped me to remember some things must change. My first two novels were written with detailed outlines and chapter summaries. The third with fewer notes, and I never finished the outline. I’ve made a transition from a plotter to a panster, as they say in the writing world—though the background research I do is still in-depth. Maybe it’s time to take the same approach to the list of novels. Don’t worry about what comes next. When the fourth novel is published, go with my heart when deciding what will be the fifth novel. And if the fantasy series takes off like George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, and that’s all I have time for in the future, is that such a bad thing?

I feel like I’m betraying the women I wanted to write about. Doing all that research for many years—I made a vow to them—and I might break some of those promises. I have to square with that. Or maybe it’s time to pivot, as they say in Silicon Valley. Some may be short stories instead of novels, and those short stories can be compiled into a collection. Does it matter? They all have strong, empowered women, regardless of genre. The women of the fictional worlds have been nurtured by real women of history. Just write.

There are other numbers to be more worried about.

 

Consider the Oyster

oysters

One of the things that has struck me since I’ve started reading the works of M.F.K. Fisher is that she would have been a popular blogger. Many of her books are comprised of individual essays and stories that would be perfect blog posts. Some of the essays are personal—sometimes deeply so—and others are informative.

Consider the Oyster is a short read. It begins simply—with the life of an oyster (and in a time when we place high value sustainable food sources, an interesting description of how they live), and goes on to explore a range of favorite dishes that feature oysters: raw, fried, stuffing, Rockefeller—if she had been a blogger today, I’d wager she’d travel to New Orleans to find the best po’ boy in the region. She also spends an entire chapter talking about the best drinks to pair with oysters (Chablis, Guinness, sherry, whiskey).

On a trip to London, M.F.K. Fisher hears a tale of an American who greatly worried pub staff by eating a plate of raw oysters while drinking whiskey. Convinced the combination of whiskey and raw oysters would transform into a poisonous solid mass, the wait staff sent a constable to check on the intrepid tourist to ensure he was okay.

The subject of pearls inevitably comes up, and Fisher mentions girls in Asia who were trained as pearl divers. The outfits the girls wear, the ancient marketplaces that sold the treasures they found, so many anecdotes are provided—Fisher was a wealth of information about cooking around the world. Of course, she draws mostly upon her own experiences in France and elsewhere, but the historical pieces are always fascinating and often really unusual.

Oysters

Family history also plays a strong role in her works. In Consider the Oyster, she recounts her mother’s days at boarding school, and the secret rituals called “midnight feasts,” in which they indulged in a decadent oyster loaf. In an effort to recreate the memory, she seeks out a number of recipes. One involves blending oysters with breadcrumbs, butter, eggs, and seasoning, placed in a mold and baked. For me, the more intriguing one was hollowing out a loaf of bread, brushing it with butter and toasting it, then filling it with fried oysters. Much like a po’ boy, for sure!

A project I’ve been working on for a number of years is documenting my own family’s recipes. This has its challenges. Not the least of which is that not only was the family small and fragmented, but also that precision is not a goal when writing the family favorites down. The list of ingredients serves more aptly as reminders. I certainly do this as well. Many of my recipes, including ones featured on this blog, are guided more by whimsy than accuracy. Cooking, as an art, really should be. Ingredients are substituted from time to time. Inspiration takes hold just as strongly as any Muse for painting or poetry, and you’re compelled to grab a spice off the shelf that may transform a favorite into something even more magnificent. Or not. There are failures, too.

Part of the fun of recapturing the family favorites is trying to discern what was meant by sometimes esoteric notes in the margins. Or recalling my great-grandmother saying something like “stir it until it feels right.” Feels right? It takes years to learn such nuances. Luckily, my partner in this project—my mom—remembers a lot and is a talented cook in her own right.

Soon we’re embarking on a journey to where our family comes from, Eastport, Maine, to gather more research and continue to compile our recipes. An earlier version of this book was a homemade project, printed on hand-crafted paper and given to an inner circle of friends. Within the next year or so, a revised and professionally done version will be available.

In the meantime, as a preview, here’s a recipe for our own oyster stew. Remarkably simple, but incredibly satisfying.

Oyster stew

Oyster Stew

  •  1 pint of shucked oysters with oyster liquid (ask for a generous portion of the liquid when ordering the oysters, as this is what makes the stew great)
  • ½ stick of butter
  • 1½ cups of light cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste

(And if you follow M.F.K. Fisher’s advice in the book, be generous with the paprika!)

Place oysters and liquid in sauce pan and heat to a gentle simmer. Watch for edges of oysters to curl as a way to test that they are cooked.

Add butter and let sit until melted.

Add light cream and heat gently, making sure not to bring to a boil, add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with oyster crackers and a good loaf of crusty bread!

 

Keychain

Another year, another Boston Book Festival. Only this year was different in that I decided my time was better spent working on my own writing, rather than going to hear other authors talk about their published works. I was sorry not to go, but this fall has been a whirlwind. So much so that I’ve even been neglecting this blog a bit…but all’s well, and moving onward. The fourth novel is well underway, and I’m preparing a short story for submission to an anthology. But I participated in BBF in one small way, by writing a story for their One City, One Story program, where they invited writers to tell a flash fiction story about what home means to them. Here’s what I sent them.

keychain

A keychain shouldn’t be empty of keys, Callie thought as she placed hers on the bare wooden floor. The sunlight glinted off the various trinkets that found their way onto the rings over the years. Practical things like the tiny flashlight and bottle opener, and the fanciful, such as the silver-and-shell seahorse pendant from a trip to Mexico, and the enameled black heart, emblazoned with Emily Strange’s face and the words “Bad Girl Gone Worse” over a spiderweb.

Callie snapped a photo of the bereft keychain. “We’re officially homeless,” she said.

With the photo snapped and uploaded to Instagram with a poignant comment, Callie surveyed the empty room. The moving truck idled by the curb. Shafts of sunlight lengthened along the polished pine floor.

Callie couldn’t fight the emotional storm that descended. Reels of memories played, but one in particular brought tears to her eyes.

“I’ll never forget that moment—after the closing and this place was truly mine. It was empty and sunny, just like this. Diva the Queen of Wonder Dogs and Best Witch’s Familiar Ever was with me. It was her first time seeing the place. She ran through all the rooms and skidded to a halt right here to relax in the sun. Missing her still breaks my heart.”

Kissing her head, Jack pulled her in for a hug. “I know. I’m sorry. We can get a new dog after we settle into the new house.”

“It’s not that,” Callie said with a despondent sniff. “There are so many memories here. I’m happy about the house, but this place is a whole era.”

“A new era awaits.” His squeeze comforted her. “Come on. The movers are waiting.”

old sun

She said goodbye to twenty-five years as they drove through Somerville. The store-front ghosts of the past appeared in her mind’s eye. Disc Diggers and Someday Café in Davis Square; Arsenic and Old Lace in Porter Square; WordsWorth and the Tasty at Harvard. At least Bob Slate’s was resurrected, Callie thought as they continued to drive.

“To think people used to make fun of me for living in Davis Square,” Callie said. “And now it’s hipster central and exorbitantly expensive.”

Jack reached out with one hand to caress her neck. “Hey, we’re only a couple towns over now. We can still go to our favorites anytime. I’m sure it will be hip where we’re moving someday, too.”

Callie laughed. “Someday. That town has a way to go before anyone calls it ‘cool.’ Feels like the end of the universe at the moment.”

Jack laughed and turned on the music. As if on cue to summon her muse, Kate Bush, Nick Cave, and other prophets of the bygone era of her twenties conjured deeper memories. Maudlin sentiments lured like a will-o-wisp.

Remnants of snow banks from a month’s worth of blizzards clung to the curbs—filthy and battered sentinels of one of the harshest winters in recent memory. Spring’s warmth was slow to start, but the densely packed snow showed its age with deepening pits, revealing humanity’s wake—pollution and litter.

When they pulled up to the driveway of their new home, long-time residents pulled their curtains aside to peer at them. The moving truck hadn’t caught up yet. Callie got out of the car, smiling as she thought of the day the real estate agent showed them the house. They had barely crossed the threshold when both Jack and Callie felt that this was their new home. She opened the door and smelled the memories of the family that had left. Years of cooking, favorite colognes, and the mustiness of old things lingered.

“It’s all about the past,” Callie said. “That’s where home really is. Everyone’s too busy to notice it in the present. When you think of home, it’s always in the past.”

The Gatekeeper

OdinAndTheGatekeeperThe wizened gatekeeper shuffled along at a maddeningly slow pace. With each churn of an arthritic hip. The keys jangled at his belt. They were ancient keys—both utilitarian and fantastical designs—all on an enormous ring. The cross-crossed paths on the grounds were coated in a light frost, making his journey even more perilous.

“By Odin’s beard, this is the last thing I need,” he muttered as he looked to the darkening storm clouds above.

When he reached the gate, he glowered at the ravens perched on its spires. They squawked in unison. The cloaked figure on the other side of the gate wore a broad hat and carried a well-worn staff.

The gatekeeper grunted as he fumbled with the keys. “Back from Midgard already?”

The ravens squawked again. The gate rumbled, and the cloaked man stepped through and onto the path that led to his home. “By my beard, eh? I’ll thank you to be quicker next time, else I feed your heart to the wolves.”

His hard, one-eyed glare still unnerved the gatekeeper, whose lips pressed shut and he placed the keys back on his hip again.

Why I Said Goodbye to Facebook Groups

Photo credit: Kevin Dooley CC 2.0 via Flickr

Photo credit: Kevin Dooley CC 2.0 via Flickr

Social media has resulted in a sea-change for how the world communicates. But as everyone knows, it has its downsides. When I published my first novel in 2010, I was grateful for the many groups on Facebook that gathered indie authors to share their experience and talk about the writing life. Now, I can’t deal with groups. The reason behind this was reinforced recently in a blog post that appeared on Indies Unlimited, a great resource for self-published authors. They’re no longer taking paid adverts from indie authors. Why? Because thin-skinned authors can get really hostile about friendly advice.

The Era of the Troll

Alas, many a good thing has been ruined by mob mentality. The “sock puppet review” hysteria in 2012 that gripped the denizens of readers and authors alike led to widespread deletion of reviews on Amazon. Many fake reviews were removed, but a lot of authors lost perfectly honest write-ups that could’ve boosted sales. Also in 2012, the same lynch mob raised their pitchforks to LendInk in the name of ebook piracy, causing the site to be taken down (at least temporarily)—all in the spirit of rampant misinformation and people not doing their due diligence in figuring out what the hell was actually going on. Then bitter tears were cried over bad reviews on Goodreads. Granted, it smarts to get a one-star review, and some of those reviews are really nasty. The Guardian even published an article about an author who stalked a reviewer who gave her book a bad review. Yes, that’s incredibly creepy. But do we all need to light the torches for every perceived slight? Can’t we at least do our research first to make sure the monster in question is real? Or, at least maybe smurf-sized rather than Cthulhu-sized?

Aside from these incidents, which drew a lot of attention, there are daily battles that plague the self-publishing groups on social media and sites like Indies Unlimited—namely, the battles with trolls.

There were some Facebook groups I truly enjoyed, but as they grew, so did the problems. Half the posts were authors disregarding the no promotion policy or launching provocations simply to start a comment war. The other half of the posts were frustrated scoldings by beleaguered moderators. Because politely stated rules of the community were not enough, the banners at the top of the group’s page bore increasingly huge fonts: No self-promo here! We’re here to foster insightful conversations about writing and publishing, dammit! Be respectful, or else!

No matter how intimidating the banner was, it didn’t help. Attacks on the moderators got personal. In one group, the mods were trying to decide whether to shut it down because members had found their personal phone info and called them at home. Threats have been issued in some cases. As Gamergate has shown us, the internet can be a dangerous place, and it isn’t always taken as seriously as it should be. Indeed, the Supreme Court overturned a conviction of a man who posted violent threats against his estranged wife. The women who are still targeted by trolls in Gamergate report death threats all the time—and though this is an extreme example, there are many well-meaning people who volunteer their time curating groups who grow weary of the endless negativity and personal attacks.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore CC 2.0 via Flickr

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore CC 2.0 via Flickr

I began checking in with the groups less. When I did return, I felt as though I had grown out of them. Relevant posts that didn’t break the rules were generally from beginners seeking advice. I’d chime in from time to time, but usually there were already a dozen comments saying something similar. I felt weighed down by the whole experience, and it taught me a lesson in time management. A lot of people I admired in those groups were gone, too. Because they were focusing on their novels. Like I should be. I tend to find deeper discussions on Google+ now; it eventually became my preferred venue for the world of publishing—so far, my stories have landed in an anthology, a literary journal, and I connected with a fantastic cover artist due to my G+ newsfeed.

Some moderators on Facebook pruned down their groups to eliminate the dross, including inactive members. Their newsfeeds became a wasteland, soon to be filled with self-promos with cheesy cover art and typos peppering the first page, if you bothered to click through to where the ebook was being sold. While the bad reputation of self-published authors is vastly overstated in some circles, you can see where it comes from.

There are legions of us who work really, really hard to produce quality work. We do tons of research to ensure the accuracy of the details in our novels. We apologize profusely for typos and fix them. We take helpful advice from our peers. We’re following our vision—and while no book will appeal to everyone, we do our best to be professional.

It’s difficult being an artist because you bear your soul to the world in the form of your work. But if you can’t take constructive criticism—from your editor, from beta readers, or reviewers, you may want to ask your heart if this is really what you should be doing. We all have the dream of our books taking off as best-sellers, landing movie deals, and being able to write full-time from the beautiful house we’ve chosen as our writer’s haven—be it deep in the woods or on a tropical island—but only a small percentage of writers achieve that. That’s not to say don’t pursue your dreams, but truly ask yourself how you feel being in the limelight—in good times and in bad. I may be delusional in saying I wish all “netizens” would follow the Golden Rule, but I do. Battling trolls should be left to hobbits and wizards.

MFK Fisher: The Art of Eating and Serve It Forth

SageKitchen

As a kid, I was a tomboy. I wore scuffed dungarees and Converse sneakers, and was happier watching dirtbike races than playing with dolls. I spent little time in the kitchen. Passing though, usually, on the way to my next adventure. But there was a special collection of books on the shelf that caught my eye even then. Especially one in the series: How to Cook a Wolf. How intriguing! Just like the Dungeons and Dragons stories my brother and I created, it inspired imaginative worlds. Only when I was older did I realize it was about living frugally in times of war.

Over the years, I’ve read portions of M.F.K. Fisher’s books. It’s a fascinating body of work. As I re-read the series, it was clearly a perfect fit for the “How Do They Feast?” series I originally started to talk about how food is portrayed in historical fiction. The series has grown to take on a lot more, and I’m looking forward to exploring M.F.K. Fisher’s books as a subseries to “How Do They Feat?” Thanks to Mom for letting me take them off the shelf and “adopt” them for a time.

The Art of Eating is a compilation of her earlier work. Far from the glamorous celebrity chef culture, the introduction of The Art of Eating almost apologizes for its own existence. Our puritanical roots are suspected in the lack of indulgence in the literature of gastronomy on the part of Americans. European greats such as Brillat-Savarin are mentioned as the experts on writing about food. Many lived under Brillat-Savarin’s shadow for a long time. M.F.K. Fisher, like Julia Child, pioneered a new path for American foodies.

Alas, there were those who thought it wasn’t possible that Fisher’s books were really her own. It was believed a man wrote them for her. The essays were too well-crafted—so much history and culture—clearly a polymath of the Ivy League, they speculated. Well, the glass…errr…skillet was at least broken in that realm, and we celebrate many women who achieve great success as chefs and writers alike. It does make me wonder, though, what M.F.K. Fisher would have thought if she could see the abundance of cooking shows today. She strikes me as a lady who would appreciate the travels and observations of Anthony Bourdain, rather than the bluster and superficiality of Guy Fieri.

MFK Cover SIF

I begin the series where she began, with Serve It Forth. Published in 1937, the book delves into interesting historical bits, such as the curious-but-kind-of-gross garum of Roman times, a sauce made of fermented fish guts that was a delicacy. (Which has now leapt off the pages of history, and has evidently become a thing—I may muster the courage to give it a try soon!) From the eating habits of medieval royalty to French fads during colonial times and during the French Revolution, Fisher provides an amazing array of detail. If you’re an author looking to add some authenticity to the cuisine of your worlds, her books are a delightful resource.

Frederick the Great made coffee with champagne instead of water, and flavored it with mustard. (Take that, trendy bulletproof coffee!) When American colonials began consuming turkey, many a French social-seeker ruined their finances serving turkey with truffles—an exorbitant expense which practically depleted the truffle business. Even in modern times, historical associations have given certain types of food a social status. Turnips and cabbage have a particularly bad reputation for being “the food of the poor,” but leeks and artichokes also make the list. M.F.K. Fisher relates some striking quotes in an effort to dispel the snobbery here, such as reporting people saying such things as, “Mrs. So-and-So is the type of person who serves artichokes!” as a means to slam someone’s social standing. It’s kind of funny, until you realize how real it is.

What I found particularly striking were Fisher’s concerns about the American diet. Even in the early 20th century, she noted about how much people ate, and observed a trend in weight gain among older adults. She worried about the future of this trend, which has sadly become a devastating reality, with half of Americans dealing with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, according to a newly published study by the Journal of the American Medical Association. In her essay of the tendency to overeat, she says, “To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art.”

M.F.K. Fisher introduces Serve it Forth by listing cookbooks as one of the three items that proves man’s ingenuity in transforming necessity into art. Indeed, her way of cataloging how we’ve viewed cuisine over the centuries shows this is the case. From the most extravagant to the most frugal, her work offers meticulous insight into our relationship with food.

A “meat and potatoes” style of cooking is mentioned with some frequency, so in honor of the mid-20th century way, I’m sharing a recipe that may have made it into the ‘50s-style kitchen. It combines happy hour and dinner, with steak tips marinated in a giant Old Fashioned. Toward the end of the book, Fisher tells us an endocrinologist told her that after a hearty meal of rare beef and wine, the earlobes turn red, and that’s the time to ask for favors or tell bad news. I’ll leave it to you to decide how to play on that. :)

Old Fashioned Marinated Sirloin Tips with Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes

Sirloin Tips Marinated in an Old Fashioned

½ cup bourbon
½ cup orange juice
½ cup cherry juice
2 lbs. sirloin tips
1 onion
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Cut steak into 2-inch chunks. Marinate in bourbon, orange juice, and cherry juice for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

Begin by pouring enough olive oil to lightly cover the bottom of a large skillet. Add sirloin tips, reserving the marinade on the side, and cook in batches if necessary, until sear—keep it very rare at this stage! Remove beef and set aside. Add chopped onion and cook until browned. Return beef to the skillet and add the sauce. Cook down until sauce thickens and makes a nice glaze on the sirloin tips (you can add some flour or cornstarch to the sauce to speed up the thickening process.)

Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes

2 lbs. potatoes (about 6 medium)
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup buttermilk
Salt and pepper to taste
Chives, chopped (optional)

Add potatoes to large pot. Fill with water and season with salt. Boil for approximately 15-20 minutes, or until very tender. Drain. Mash in pot with butter, buttermilk, and season with salt, pepper, and chives as desired.

Serve sirloin tips over potato. Make an old fashioned for after dinner!