I grew up in the 1950s and ’60s, and my mother was a working woman who didn’t like to cook. Although she dutifully made dinner for us every night, these were perfunctory and repetitive meals: meatloaf made with Catalina salad dressing, spaghetti with tomato sauce and occasional meatballs (also made with Catalina salad dressing), roast chicken (overcooked), and instant chocolate pudding or Jello for dessert. I looked with envy at my friends whose stay-at-home moms prepared things like veal parmigiana and shrimp scampi, baked alaska and pineapple upside-down cake.

At the time, convenience foods were sparse, limited mostly to canned foods. For many years, my idea of vegetables were greenish things floating in yellowish liquid that were dumped in a saucepan for 30 minutes so whatever taste and nutrition they contained had been boiled away. Another familiar adjunct to our meals was cream of mushroom soup — flavored lard to be added to casseroles, dips, or anything that needed a fat and sodium boost. Also, pork and beans: snippets of fat drowning in a salty mush and introduced alongside the occasional boiled hot dog (my mother saw hot dogs as low class but made an exception by serving them under the name of frankfurters). Finally, there was the much-loved macaroni and cheese — elbow macaroni and Velveeta — served to us when our parents went out for dinner. More… “Dinnertime and its Discontents”

Paula Marantz Cohen is Dean of the Pennoni Honors College and a Distinguished Professor of English at Drexel University. She is the host of  The Drexel InterView, a unit of the Pennoni Honors College. The Drexel InterView features a half-hour conversation with a nationally known or emerging talent in the arts, culture, science, or business. She is author of five nonfiction books and six bestselling novels, including Jane Austen in Boca and Jane Austen in Scarsdale or Love, Death, and the SATs. Her essays and stories have appeared in The Yale ReviewThe American Scholar, The Times Literary Supplement, and other publications. Her latest novels are Suzanne Davis Gets a Life and her YA novel, Beatrice Bunson’s Guide to Romeo and Juliet.


“I suspect that cooking with love is an inversion of a different principle: cooking to be loved,” Bill Buford says in Heat. Perhaps that’s why eating a restricted diet feels so lonely: cooks — whether they are homespun or professional chefs — are deeply annoyed by being confined or regulated. If you are on the receiving end of this annoyance, it feels personal, especially if your finicky-ness is a result of necessity rather than preference. But for the person preparing the food, even a simple request can create a major upheaval, undermining both flavor and technique. Food designed for specialized diets tends to expel puffs of uncertainty and sometimes disdain. (If you don’t believe me, just go to your favorite pizza joint and order a gluten-free crust. If they have one, it will almost certainly be served either nearly raw or burnt, and although it may have the same sauce topping and cheese as your usual order, it will exude none of the decadent coziness of your typical slice.) More… “Comfort”

Laura M. Martin resides in South Carolina and teaches writing at Lander University. Her essays appear at Luna Luna, The Establishment, and Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood among other venues.


What is it that drives some members of the human community to defy their physical limits, to exceed the norms of logic and reason, and to stand alone on the frontier of the impossible?  I had occasion to contemplate these questions at the first bi-annual Hot Wing Challenge, held the other weekend at the Grand Marketplace, a suburban bazaar in Willingboro, New Jersey.

The event was hosted by Mild to Wild, Curly’s Creations, and Stolzfus Meats — the last supplying the wings, the first two the sauce. The Mild to Wild store stocks a variety of sauces including “F” Milk, Larry’s Hot Pussy Sauce, Salvation, and Neal’s Hairy Ass. But Curly’s Creations is the local brand, and Curly was there to fine-tune the sauces for the competition.

First round: super hot.

Second round: super-duper hot.

Third round: hottest on the planet.

Possible final elimination round: capable of blinding… More…


Once, at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., I watched an orangutan vomit on the glass wall of its enclosure. I was standing next to a group of schoolchildren, and they laughed in response. Then the primate stuck out its tongue, pressed it to the glass, and dragged it through the vomit. The children screamed. We moved to the next exhibit, where this same group and I watched a gorilla stick its finger first into its anus, and then into its mouth. As one can probably guess, the schoolkids went berserk.

This happened a few years ago, but it wasn’t until I recently attended a meeting on zoo animal obesity that I learned these separate-but-equally-unappealing behaviors have scientific names: regurgitation and reingestion, and coprophagy, respectively. The conference was the Crissey Zoological Nutrition Symposium, held at North Carolina State… More…


What do poets eat for dinner? — Molly M., Chicago, Illinois

The poet Thomas Lux eats boiled potatoes and chicken carcasses among other delicacies cataloged in “Refrigerator, 1957,” but not anything whose ingredients call for maraschino cherries, “full, fiery globes like strippers/ at a church social.” Maybe he is outraged by the cruel treatment the cherries endure in order to become maraschino, but what he actually says is this: “you do not eat/ that rips the heart with joy.” In general, I tend to listen, except when it comes to avocados.

Dinner for poets may be tasty, of course, and possibly themed, but at least for Lux and me, rarely do poets eat anything whose physical qualities and metaphorical applications are superior to their taste. So we eat kidney beans. Mmm, we love kidney beans. But then we… More…

I have been known to eat foods that others snub. As a student, I lived off back-of-the-store, reduced-price vegetables and fruits. Day-or-more-old muffins and danish were a treat. My best company dish was a cheap and tasty enchilada casserole that I made with chicken necks and backs. So it was only natural I should one day undertake a real gastronomic adventure. I should try to eat a pet, a nice small one. A guinea pig would do, and the place to accomplish that was Peru where cuy, as guinea pig is known, was said to be a staple of the traditional diet.

Of course, I didn’t travel to Peru just to challenge the frontiers of dining. It had long been my dream to explore the cloud-crested ruins of Machu Picchu and to glide upon Lake Titicaca in a reed boat. I wanted to brush up on my Spanish. I wanted… More…