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Most days, I think you guys would agree, I am not a Wendy Whiner.

Today is not one of those days.

Look, I love to cook, and I love ingredients, and I’m creative to the core (for better or worse. For worse, see here and here and ooooh just recently here). So please know I am all for personal expression, for putting something into the world that has your own stamp on it.

But…what is the unholy obsession today with calling dishes by the wrong name? I see it especially in restaurants that call themselves Italian, the cruelest knife in my side. New Jersey has the third largest Italian population in the country and it’s the densest state in the country. So in essence, we’re talking about a whole lot of Italians who really ought to know better.

But this virus is not just in Italian restaurants, nor it is endemic in New Jersey. It’s everywhere.

Stand by for the dirty laundry.

1) Tortellini in Brodo

This translates to ‘tortellini in broth.’ It’s a very simple dish. You can tell by the name. I ate this as a kid when I had a sore throat. A wanna-be-upscale place nearby serves a dish by this name. It has tortellini, broth, lemon juice, eggs, cheese, and Italian parsley. And it’s actually pretty good. But it is not tortellini in brodo. It’s stracciatella, Italy’s version of egg drop soup.

Chefs. Just because you float tortellini in soup doesn’t mean you can pick any name out of the Italy handbook and slap it on. And most importantly? People who eat it and aren’t aware that it’s not what you say it is are going to be misled. You’re the ones wearing the aprons. You’re supposed to be authorities on this stuff. Hello.

Wait, here’s another one. This same place also serves what they call pasta carbonara, and thinks the odd chunk of ham in a cream sauce does them proud. To clarify, there is no cream in carbonara. This sauce is made when you add (along with pancetta and other ingredients) raw eggs to hot pasta, which cooks the eggs on contact and provides a lovely velvety texture. You cannot get this out of a jar, kids.

If you call yourselves a ‘ristorante‘ and brag on the menu that the experience of eating here is going to be authentic, then p.s., you don’t get to lie to us.

2) Turkey Bolognese

Bolognese is my favorite sauce. Marcella Hazan, who even while dead could cook me under the table, calls for butter, oil, onion, celery, carrots, beef, pork, veal, pepper, milk, nutmeg, white wine, and tomato sauce. Recently I saw a recipe named the above. The creator said she loved traditional Bolognese sauce, but likes to vary it up with turkey.

But she didn’t stop with turkey. She spiraled off the map, using red wine instead of white, adding garlic salt and mushrooms…then she remembered the Alamo and threw in steak seasoning and Worcestershire sauce.

Do I applaud her innovative spirit? Without question. Would I eat this? Sure. But it is Bolognese sauce? Not even CLOSE.

Dear lady. Give your recipe a new name. Name it after your sainted Portuguese Water Dog for all I care. Just don’t call it Bolognese.

Her recipe is sitting on my desk next to me as I type this, and re-chafes me every time I look at it. It’s WordPress’s problem now. Recycling.

Okay.

3) Caesar Salad

I’m not sure anyone makes classic Caesar salad anymore, which kills me because it’s a knockout. The dressing is made with raw eggs, anchovies, fresh lemon juice, fresh garlic, olive oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Dijon mustard, salt, and black pepper. This is tossed with Romaine lettuce and topped with rustic toasted croutons. It is not, as most restaurants would have us believe, thick, gloppy, and sponsored by Hidden Valley.

4) Chocolate Mousse Cake

This was an edit I was assigned. After scanning the ingredients I called my higher-up.

‘The Chocolate Ganache Cake looks fantastic. But there’s a problem.’
‘What is it?’
‘There’s no ganache in it.’
Pause.
‘Huh?’
‘Ganache is chocolate and cream. This has lots of whipped egg whites. That’s mousse, not ganache.’
I spoke to the recipe writer and we changed the title. There it is above, and it really was delicious. But again. Before you call something something, make sure you know what that something is.
5) Tiramisu
Your dessert may have more layers than an ogre. But if it doesn’t have espresso, cocoa, zabaglione, and ladyfingers, it’s not tiramisu. Chefs: get lazy in this respect and your customers are going to walk out of your place thinking Nilla wafers layered with Snack Pack pudding and out-of-season Peruvian blackberries are tiramisu. Or worse—you think they are, too. Aren’t.
To all of the accused: You’re dropping more work into my In Box. Give me a leg up here.

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Thanksgiving’s just a few weeks away. And while I’ve never been one to stand on ceremony, I am one to give credit, and thanks, where they’re due; and this seemed like the perfect time.

So. A schtickle of backstory.

I started blogging in 2011, on a lark, at the suggestion of a friend. Why? Because I just sorta decided (on another lark)* one day that I was going to be a food writer. Which makes no conceivable sense: my background is in business writing and editing, and I had precisely zero experience writing from my own point of view, let alone about food. I wrote crowd-pleasers like website copy, newsletters and fundraising appeals. Food was just something I thought about a lot and talked about a lot. Okay, a ton. But still. Write about it?

I knew very little about food blogs (still do, because I want to be sure to maintain my own voice), but I knew I didn’t want it to be just narcissistic blather, or to be cliche (how many blogs are out there with titles like ‘Fun With Cilantro’? Not that cilantro’s not fun, mind you; it’s a veritable RIOT at office potlucks, but I don’t want to oversell it, either). I also have no formal training of any kind in taking pictures; I don’t know a shutter speed from an F stop (is that the term?).

Since I’m clueless about technology, another friend set me up on WordPress. When he was done he said, ‘You’re ready.’ ‘What do I do now?’ ‘Well…you write something.’ ‘Right…yeah.’

I’d like to say I sat down and cheerfully banged out a stellar post within an hour.** I didn’t. But I did like my first post, rough as it reads to me now, which was an argument against letting outside forces dictate what you were and were not capable of creating in the kitchen.*** I’m a sociology nerd, too. I love ingredients and I love recipes, I do, you guys know I do. But I’ll always be more fascinated by how we approach food as a culture, what it means in our lives, how we shape it, and how it shapes us. Lucky for me there are so many of you out there, Eve’s Apple’s**** lovely crew of faithful readers, who like to talk about it with me.

My hat is off to friends and family who have supported me from the get-go, who read over the first few posts and offered feedback, coaching (see technology quip above), and recipes. And it’s off once more with an audacious flourish to the friends I’ve never met, most notably my LinkedIn food tribe, with whom I speak daily. I’m honored to have readers throughout the U.S. and all over the world, the collective wisdom of ranchers, retired farm wives, bankers, caretakers, artisans and many more, all of whom can discuss with me everything from why we don’t handcraft the way people did 100 years ago to the beauty of organic lard.

You trust me with your photos, your recipes, your memories, and your questions. You’re respectful of each other’s opinions and offer advice to each other. You’re willing to sift through my semi-coherent ramblings every week and encourage, counsel and make me laugh. You more often call my posts articles, or essays, not just pedestrian ‘blog posts’ (which is all they are), which is humbling. I can throw any topic out there—and goodness knows I do—and you all take it and run like slippery midnight bandits.

You want to celebrate with me the macro (farm stands versus supermarkets ), the micro (the smoke point of olive oil) and the warm underbelly (Halloweens of long ago). You get what I mean when I talk about the majesty of the simple. In my mind, you are the authorities when it comes to food, and sharing it, and I continue to be astonished at how much you have to teach me. You have made my world bigger, and have made me a more competent writer. I’m grateful to have this forum so I can keep learning.

Thank you. You’ve taught a girl typing alone at the beach so much.

*Truth be told, this one was a sparrow.

**I’d also like a pony.

***Here’s how much of a technodweeb I am: I didn’t even know you could add photos to posts. Consequently the first fat handful of posts were photo-free. Sorry about that.

****I almost called it Semisweet, but that name was taken. Not the bummer I thought it was 🙂

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So many of you commented on my last post (thank you) with thoughts on why people might choose what looks like quality versus what actually is quality; and it’s clear that the possible reasons, as well as solutions, to the question are many. One reason stuck out for me, though. Let me know if you agree or not.

It’s distance.

Most of us are just too far away from the source of our food—literally, figuratively, or both—so we buy what looks pretty and go about our day.

Distance, and the detachment that goes with it, is a big fat theme in today’s culture. We watch TV alone, instead of visiting friends. We grab fast food and eat it in our laps in the car instead around a dinner table with family. We message electronically instead of speaking face to face (and yes, I see the hypocrisy of kvetching about it on WordPress, but a girl’s got to start somewhere).

Moreover, with a few exceptions, we buy food from massive organizations located hundreds of miles away, run by those we’ve never met and whose philosophies may or may not match our own. And we usually don’t care. A few decades ago food manufacturers made sure to depict wheat and other natural ingredients on their packaging because they knew if they were going to woo housewives, they needed to reassure them that their products were the real deal. Those women grew up on farms, just like their forebears, and strictly trusted their own two hands and consciences or those of well-known neighbors for every single thing their families bit into. They weren’t going to trust perfect strangers. They were wary, and rightfully so—wild, in a sense, and in the healthiest way.

Now we’re tamed, and the worse for it. We don’t require it, so an assurance of integrity has gone the way of disco. The link from farm to fork has been broken.

I recently mentioned to someone that most chickens are raised poorly (to say the least) and he cut me off quickly: “I don’t want to know.”

Because knowing means responsibility—the word begins with ‘response’—and we don’t want to. It means wanting accountability, but we don’t insist on it. We don’t want to do something different when we’re all so cozy with our routine, so we cloak ourselves in the illusion of safety. I suspect a lot of us know it’s all going to bite us in the butt sooner or later, but we do it anyway.

So when faced with two bins of apples, the one on the left featuring unshiny, uneven fruit that was grown locally for flavor, and the one on the right featuring lip-glossy red fruit grown in North Jabibb and bred purely for durability, we pick the one on the right. And we give mediocrity another point.

Man. Now I’m depressed. But I have an idea on how to turn this around. You’ll likely come up with many more (and please fill us in).

For starters, we can support local farmers as often as possible.*

Here’s my thinking: Buying locally from a trusted source…

1) gives us a chance to be won over by quality goods. It starts with taste, and you simply can’t compare the taste of a sweet grilling pepper grown locally to one on a shelf at the supermarket. You just can’t. Don’t even try. And it’s more nutritious because it’s was picked so recently; its store bought counterparts lost nutrients during travel time.

Fighting personal insecurities that make us buy crap that looks good but isn’t…worries that, to our peers, we’ll appear inferior if we buy lumpy pears…that’s a bigger hurdle. But I believe taste will win us over. I fantasize about a day when buying misshapen local food is rad.** Then we’ll demand quality goods on an even wider scale.

2) forges a brand spanking new link to where our food comes from. Along with taste, the link will be soldered by a relationship between us and the farmers. A smile, a handshake, a joke, a story, a lesson—face to face!—these build trust. Introduce yourself at a farmers market and ask questions. Foster a rapport. It’s fun. Buy some of their eggs. Find out what eggs are supposed to taste like, go into a faint, and go back for more. When we buy from the big boys at a generic supermarket***, we’re supporting strangers who may or may not give a crap about us. When we buy from local farmers, we’re supporting neighbors that, if given the chance, will become our friends. They want to keep raising laying hens, they want us to have the best, they don’t want to give up their farms to developers because agribusiness pushed them to it. Choosing to buy locally means we can relax that we’re not being duped, and eat really, really well. And we’re supporting those who provide this goodness so they can keep on providing it.

200 years ago on my native soil a handful of farmers got tired of being the establishment’s lap dogs. They became makeshift soldiers, fought back with blood and won—won big.

A soldier I ain’t. But I can buy local eggs.

Concord 1

North Bridge, Concord, site of the shot heard ’round the world and the start of the revolution. That’s a plow at his left side.

*If we buy organic, another 10 points for Gryffindor.

**I’m a child of the 80s. Obviously.

***Whole Foods is an exception.

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