“I grew up a black boy who looked white. This was in a black neighborhood, during the height of the Black Power Movement. Even though I didn’t ‘look black,’ even though my father was white (and a pasty Irish white at that), I was definitely black. Because my mother was black. I was black and yet lacking apparent blackness, and as a result I failed my own definition, but never so much that the definition would be suspended. That’s what it felt like racially for me growing up 1970s and ’80s Philadelphia: You were black or you were white. There was a Racial Cold War, a delicate ceasefire called at the end of the Civil Rights Movement, and you had to know which side you stood on.”Continue reading
As you’ll see on this blog, a recurring theme in my writing is food, glorious food. Certainly my latest book, Pig Candy, enlists food in its storytelling, but food as metaphor and subject also comes up in an essay about love; in a profile of chef Marcus Samuelsson; in the celebration of artisanal cidermaking; and as a central factor in a bittersweet essay about the search for family ties.
When I moved home to Philadelphia in 1996, after 18 years away, I lucked into buying a house two doors down from Claudia Raab, a talented, curious cook. She made a welcome dinner of fresh corn tamales, and at that instant, I didn’t feel so bad about having left Brooklyn behind.
Then I met my husband, John Howard, who is just as talented and curious. When we started dating, he was making artisanal hard cider — one of our first weekend getaways was Cider Day, an annual fall pleasure in western Massachusetts. Then Claudia (instantly approving of my choice in men) bought him a smoker at a yard sale for 25 bucks — he began to make smoked bacon by the slab. One batch used an apple syrup boiled down from the juice he bought at Clarkdale Farms, a family-run orchard that plays a big role in Cider Day. With all the apples around, John perfected his tarte tatine.
Claudia never runs short on grand schemes, and she pulled strings with her connections in the region’s Mennonite farming community to secure us a pig. Enter sausage-making, pancetta-making, and prosciutto-making. Enter preliminary discussions of building a smokehouse and curing room (when the guest room, used in the interim, started to smell a little too meaty). Also, enter Sebastian Agudelo, a poet and literature professor who actually was a professional chef for a while, but now just stuns his friends and neighbors with fine dining at home. I may be John’s lifemate, but Sebastian is his sausage soulmate.
More on food to come.