“Will Write for Food: The Rise (and Fall?) of Food Writing” by Bryan Curtis (The Ringer)
Curtis claims that food has overtaken the place that music once held in popular culture. This is a curious trend: while food occupies our attention, enjoying the menu at a new, nationally-renowned restaurant isn’t as affordable or accessible as streaming newly-released albums (or watching a praised director’s new film). This piece explores the resurgence in food writing and the new phenomenon of food-as-pop-culture.
What I Know About Running Coffee Shops by Colin Harmon
Admittedly some of this is a little industry specific, but I think Colin Harmon (of Dublin’s 3fe) has a very compelling attitude towards quality control in coffee (e.g. focus on improving or eliminating your worst drink, not further improving your best one). His wisdom certainly has applications in other areas than coffee as well.
“Sauces” (Binging with Babish)
“Basics with Babish” is an instructional offshoot of Andrew Rea’s channel, in which he recreates noteworthy dishes from television and cinema with beautiful presentation. Though the focus of the video is basic sauces, it’s also one of the best knife skills videos I’ve seen.
“McDonalds Broke My Heart” by Malcolm Gladwell (Revisionist History)
Gladwell offers an interesting account McDonalds’ decision to change their fry recipe in 1990, yielding fries that he says tasted like cardboard. There’s a frustrating irony here: if McDonald’s changed their recipe in pursuit of a healthier fry, why did I grow up being taught that the post-1990 McDonalds’ fries were the quintessence of unhealthy food? Isn’t a bad-tasting, unhealthy alternative to a good-tasting, unhealthy food a lose-lose?
“Motion Sickness” by Phoebe Bridgers (Bandcamp)
“Language Alters Our Experience of Time” by Panos Athanasopoulos (The Conversation) [contains Arrival spoilers]
This is a fascinating explanation of how language shapes our conception of time. Athanasopoulos categorizes languages into “future-in-front” or “future-is-behind” patterns. These patterns, which employ a vertical time axis, are further juxtaposed with languages like Mandarin Chinese, which employs a horizontal time axis (such that “last week” is expressed “up one week” and “next week” is expressed “down week”). Subtle differences in linguistic conventions can even influence the way we experience the passage of time (for instance, whether we judge time as a distance–a long or short period–or volume–a big or small period).
Athanasopoulos claims that our individual conceptualizations of time are flexible; hence, learning a new language with a different temporal construct enables an individual to perceive the passage of time in a novel manner. This, of course, has wider implications, suggesting that learning a new language may grant access to an entire new set of mental models.
The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century by Alex Ross
From The New Yorker’s music critic, this is an account of the composers and musicians who defined twentieth century music and an exploration of the cultural and historical contexts that inspired them. This is not a musicology of the bestsellers of the century per se, but of the mavericks who defied conventional composition. The Rest Is Noise is particularly compelling in how it juxtaposes these composers with major societal factors of their time (like totalitarianism in World War II or racial inequality in the United States at the turn of the century).
Science Solved It (Motherboard)
Motherboard’s newest podcast explores mysterious and once-unsolved phenomena that have since been explained scientifically. The inaugural episode features “the bloop,” a mysterious and incomprehensibly loud sound captured by underwater microphones in the Pacific in 1997. I was fascinated by the bloop as a child.
My favorite episode of this season features the Marfa lights, a pattern of mysterious glowing lights visible (and frequently spectated) in the desert east of Marfa, Texas.
Kids In The Street by Justin Townes Earle (Bandcamp)
Of Justin Townes Earle’s recent releases, I may prefer Single Mothers and Absent Fathers, but Kids In The Street remains my favorite album released this month. It strikes me as more sanguine and even more cheerful than the several albums that preceded it, which is presumably reflective of Earle’s maturity, sobriety, and marriage. My favorite track is “Maybe a Moment,” which he calls his “best Bruce Springsteen impersonation.”
“Watch the Hands, Not the Cards–The Magic of Megabrew” by Chris Herron (Good Beer Hunting)
Chris Herron (of Creature Comforts in Athens, GA) explains why Wicked Weed was a smart and important acquisition for AB InBev, whose focus currently is to mitigate the threat of craft beer to its legacy brands (think Budweiser, Bud Light, and so on).
Imbibe: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to “Professor” Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar by David Wondrich
This is a James Beard Award-winning exploration of 19th century American cocktails through the lens of Jerry Thomas, considered the father of the American bar. Wondrich establishes that cocktails are largely an American invention and consequently are among the first crafts in which Americans could claim international excellence. Imbibe includes a somewhat chronological reproduction of Thomas’s recipes which reflect the evolution of early American cocktails.
Proof: The Science of Booze by Adam Rogers
From Wired’s articles editor, this is an entertaining investigation into the basic science behind fermented and distilled drinks, explaining the roles of yeast and sugar, the processes of fermentation, distillation, and aging, and the physiological effects of alcohol. It’s particularly interesting that Rogers chose to emphasize the disparity between Eastern and Western fermentation strategies.
“Chris Schooley of Troubadour Maltings” (Good Beer Hunting)
This Good Beer Hunting episode features Chris Schooley, a maltster and former coffee roaster attempting to establish a niche market for malts. Schooley’s hope is that brewers will approach malts with the same excitement and intrigue that are often reserved for hop varieties.
I had the pleasure of meeting Chris Schooley at this year’s Global Specialty Coffee Expo in Seattle (I’ve known of him from his Firestarters column in Roast, a favorite source of inspiration to me as a coffee professional). This interview is fantastic and I’d recommend it to anybody with more than a casual interest in beer or coffee.
Regarding Cocktails by Sasha Petraske and Georgette Moger-Petraske
This is a collection of cocktail recipes and wisdom from the late Sasha Petraske, the famed New York City bartender behind the legendary cocktail bar Milk & Honey. Each recipe follows a short anecdote from friends, bartenders, and business partners of Petraske’s plus stunning minimalist illustrations by Studio Lin.
I can’t publish the recipe here, but my favorite drink from this collection so far has been the Bicycle Thief, a slightly bitter and very refreshing fizz inspired by the film of the same name and containing gin, Campari, grapefruit, lemon, simple syrup, and club soda.
Something to Food About: Exploring Creativity with Innovative Chefs by Questlove
I admire Questlove for reasons that have as much to do with his writing as his skill as a musician. (See his series in Vulture on the recent history of hip hop, beginning with “How Hip Hop Failed Black America.”) This beautifully designed book is a compilation of interviews with world renowned chefs exploring creativity in cooking and culinary philosophy.
Mariachi Static by Izaak Opatz
This is an album of lovely “dirt wave” folk from a songwriter who spends most of his time cutting trails for the National Park Service. He’s formerly of the alt-country group the Best Westerns. I’ve struggled to listen to anything but this album lately. My favorite tracks are “Everything (But One Thing),” “Arm’s Length Away,” and “One Way Or Another,” but every song is fantastic.
“Getting Fermental on Fermentation with Lucia Solis” (Opposites Extract)
While esoteric to anybody who isn’t in the coffee industry, this is an interesting debate and discussion on the topic of fermentation practices in coffee production. Washed coffee in particular undergoes an intentional fermentation process post-harvest which helps separate sticky fruit material called mucilage. Usually this process is carried out by wild yeasts and bacteria, but the practice of using specific yeast and bacteria cultures has shown promise in experimental trials. Continuing this practice will be beneficial in promoting quality consistency and price stability.
The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks by Amy Stewart
Amy Stewart’s The Drunken Botanist explores the ingredients used to create the world’s most significant fermented and distilled drinks. The book is presented as a list of these most ingredients, starting with the basics that comprise our most familiar beverages (such as agave, barley, potato, wheat) and continuing to the more obscure or exotic ingredients that often flavor them (clove, elderflower, wormwood). Each entry is, more or less, a brief examination of the ingredient in terms of the spirits derived from it alongside its biology and historical significance.
“An Absurdly Complete Guide to Understanding Whiskey” by Jake Emen (Eater)
Hyperbole aside, this guide provides a nice rundown of the major factors that determine a whiskey’s flavor. Emen specifically discusses aging and warehousing conditions, barrel types and sizes, ingredients, and distillation techniques.