What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Nick Paumgarten is not like a piece by Dana Goodyear, and neither is like a piece by Ian Frazier. One could not mistake Finnegan for Friend, or Bilger for Lepore, or Collins for Khatchadourian. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Friday, December 7, 2012

December 3, 2012 Issue

Mmm. The air is warm, “with a breakfasty smell.” I taste the “caramelized endive, smothered in bread crumbs, Parmesan, thyme, and cream, and roasted with a topping of serrano ham.” I lick “the platter itself, and even that has a complex nutty flavor, the flakes of crust melting in my mouth.” Where am I? I’m deep inside The Food Issue, experiencing the exquisite double bliss of its prose – double in the sense that there’s the deliciousness of its words and there’s also the deliciousness of the food it describes. Lauren Collins writes that a bite of Poilâne miche “reverberates in the mouth for a few seconds after you’ve swallowed it, as though the taste buds were strings,” and my eyes eat the words. Of the many pleasures of this year’s Food Issue – the pungent details (e.g., the “half a roasted pig’s head, teeth in, glistening fiendishly on the counter,” in Dana Goodyear’s “Toques from Underground”), the surprising similes (e.g., “but this food touched me, it had a message of concern in it, of interest, like a letter” – Daniyal Mueenuddin, “Sameer and the Samosas”), the interesting concepts (e.g., “palate memory,” in Calvin Trillin’s “Land of the Seven Moles”) – the most piquant are the sensuous passages drenched in food enjoyment. For example:

In the early nineteen-sixties, while doing research for a German cookbook, I made several visits to the handsome gray and rainy port of Hamburg. Each time, I stopped at A. Michelsen, a shop famous for its elegant delicatessen. The lure was a sublime goose liverwurst, a creamy, gray-beige sausage with whole goose livers running through the middle, held in place by a pâté of goose meat and liver. At the center was a luscious slab of pure foie gras. Late each afternoon, I would buy a quarter of a pound of the thinly sliced wurst, a rye roll, and a half bottle of chilled Riesling, and then dash to my room in the gracious old Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten, to indulge privately in front of an open window overlooking the Inner Alster lake. [Mimi Sheraton, “Missing Links”]


Now Poilâne is bread’s most venerable brand, the Louis Vuitton of boulangers. It is, however, an affordable pleasure – an eighth of a miche, which yields ten or so slices, costs about five dollars. One week, I drizzled the first piece with some olive oil; dunked the second in a bowl of gumbo; spread a few more with pumpkin butter, spanning the holes like spider’s silk; and, on the sixth day, used the hardening remains as the base of a ribollita. Apollonia likes hers with soft-boiled eggs, “just smeared with a little bit of salted butter, and having the grease of the egg revealing all these flavors.” [Lauren Collins, “Bread Winner”]


The smiliest dish I’d seen that week was shakshuka – a North African breakfast from “Plenty,” cooked and served in little cast-iron skillets. It wasn’t fancy: a couple of eggs poached in a spicy saffron-onion-tomato-and-bell-pepper sauce, flecked with fresh herbs and dappled with drops of yogurt. But it was irresistible. I could taste it before I raised my fork. [Jane Kramer, “The Philosopher Chef”]

Ah, yes - I could taste it before I raised my fork – spoken like a true sensualist. There is, in this great Food Issue, an enormous pleasure taken in description. I devour every word, lick the plate clean, and hunger for more. 

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