The CHOW Blog rss

Insights, tips, and restaurant reports from CHOW editors and Chowhound.

Advice for Heathens

Advice for Heathens

What do atheists say when asked to say grace? READ MORE

The Dish on Ditching

The Dish on Ditching

How to escape bores at parties. READ MORE

What Happens if You Eat One of Those Silica Gel Packets?

What Happens if You Eat One of Those Silica Gel Packets?

We're betting they taste pretty dry. READ MORE

New Year’s Day Brunch

New Year’s Day Brunch

An easy, make-ahead menu to share with friends. READ MORE

This Year I Will …

This Year I Will …

Resolutions that are attainable, fun, even educational-- and all available right here. READ MORE

Good Luck with That

Good Luck with That

May you live a long, healthy, prosperous, loving life. READ MORE

Behind the Swinging Doors

Behind the Swinging Doors

A day in the life of a restaurant kitchen. READ MORE

Old Beer Is New Again

Old Beer Is New Again

Aging suds in oak casks comes back in style. READ MORE

Faking It

You’d think that after helping to direct a few Williams-Sonoma cookbook shoots, I’d be up on all the food fake-outs. Actually, we tried really hard not to pull from the same bag of tricks some food stylists and photographers trot out on a regular basis, so I never watched a side of beef get shined up with spray-on lacquer or set up a bowl of Cheerios with Crisco masquerading as milk.

That said, I get rather discouraged when my culinary creations come out looking not so much like porn as they do a really bad movie on Skinemax. However, Gael over at Pop Culture Junk Mail alerted me to this entertaining piece by Carin Moonin in the Willamette Week.

Moonin writes:

But we have a strange relationship, cookbooks and I. They lure me with shiny pages, happy lists and lush photographs. Deviled eggs are perkily piped. Lamb gleams, wantonly, under a balsamic reduction. Lasagna bubbles off the page.

But cookbooks, tragically, lead me to a place I can’t go. I’m a writer, not an artist. I’ve taken knife-skills classes, sushi-rolling tutorials and cake-decorating seminars, and I’m still at the same level of artistic aptitude as when I made macaroni necklaces. While the stuff I make tastes good, it never, ever, looks like the picture.

She then proceeds to make a handful of recipes in an attempt to re-create their accompanying tempting images in the cookbooks, and has Carol Ladd and Ellen Ladd, two food stylists, critique her results with such comments as, “Seriously? Are you actually trying to replicate the plate as it’s composed in the book?” and “Sometimes a perfect drip—or the sensation of gooey-ness that you get from pulling the cupcake apart—can be achieved with candle wax, strategically placed and covered with the actual foodstuff …”

I now feel so much better about all my holiday entertaining. If anyone comments on my presentation, I’m going to ask them if they’d rather eat my candles.

Spiritual Hunger

The Los Angeles Times has a fun piece that explores why images of Jesus and the Virgin Mary keep popping up in people’s baked goods. While I personally think the answer may have something to do with the Maillard reaction, the piece doesn’t go into the chemistry; unsurprisingly, the reason is psychological—a phenomenon called pareidolia, in which people perceive patterns where none are intended.

The exciting thing about the article is the specifics, a great summary of the last three decades of holy sightings in food and people’s reaction to them. There’s the candy-factory worker who found the Madonna in a stray blob of chocolate: “I can’t describe the feeling; the emotions make me cry,” she said. And then there’s the “famous Jesus tortilla of New Mexico,” which is said to have set “the world standard for claims of miracle sightings”—it received so many visitors that its owner “quit her job as a maid to become full-time attendant to the shrine of the tortilla built in her home.”

How do religious officials react to these sightings, you may ask?

‘The church encourages Christians to see the face of Christ in the homeless, the poor, the destitute and the immigrant—not in a plate of pasta,’ said Tod Tamberg, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. ‘Imagine showing up on your judgment day in front of God, and he says, “Where did you see me? Did you see me in the poor and the immigrant and the homeless?” And you say, “Well, no, but I did see you in a piece of chocolate once.” Doesn’t sound so good, does it?’

Touché, Mr. Tamberg, touché. On the other hand, the fact that some of the highest-profile sightings lately have been in food rather than in other objects—and that, as the LAT reports, “followers of Islam have said they’ve seen the Arabic script for ‘Allah’ or ‘Muhammad’ on fish scales, chicken eggs, lambs and beans”—is really fascinating. Do humans just have a natural tendency toward deifying food?