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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.

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One of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever had the luck of dining in is a Nando’s restaurant in London. Nestled in between London and Southwark Bridges, it has views of the Thames River and St. Paul’s Cathedral. There are brick walls and arches, and incredible windows. It is like the Oyster Bar at Grand Central only above ground. It is a space dreamed up to be photographed, the type of building where people pay thousands to get married. And in one of the vaulted booths overlooking the Thames, I sat with a group of friends late one Friday night. We were the masters of the universe with a bill under 40 quid. More… “A Dash of Peri-Peri”

Grace Linden is a PhD candidate in art history. Her thesis looks at  New York City’s downtown art scene after 9/11. Grace’s writing has appeared in Catapult, Lenny Letter, andC. Magazine, among others. She currently lives in London.

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In the same way that America’s fast food purveyors pack their menus with cheap, empty calories, the country’s home builders pack their houses with cheap, empty space. On a cost-per-square-foot basis, the typical McMansion may seem like a good deal — but like a Big Mac, what sort of nourishment does it truly deliver? Gorge yourself on cathedral ceilings, three-car garages, and all the tasteless architectural condiments you can stomach (gables, turrets, etc.) and you’ll only end up as queasy and unsatisfied as the Joneses next door.

 

Like tiny medallions of herb-encrusted, farm-to-table lamb loin at your local fancy restaurant, smaller homes — sustainably grown, artfully assembled, a little bit pricey — represent an obvious alternative to such fare. But how to convince America’s real estate gluttons that this approach can apply equally to dining rooms as well… More…

At just 540 calories, KFC’s new chicken sandwich, the Double Down, makes for a modest meal. Even skimpy Hollywood movie star Megan Fox would have to down nearly five of them each day to sustain her weight of 114 pounds. But if the sodium-drenched morsel seems more tooled for casual snacking than a serious feast, it has certainly satisfied our collective appetite for outrage and controversy. In the lead-up to and aftermath of its national debut three weeks ago, the Double Down emerged as an irresistibly mediagenic, instantly polarizing force, the junk food equivalent of Sarah Palin.

 

In true maverick fashion, the Double Down replaces the plainest, least indulgent part of a traditional chicken sandwich — the bun — with the most delicious part — the chicken. At first glance, this seems like a… More…

Pull up to a Wendy’s drive-through window and you can get a Baconator and a side of fries in 131 seconds. But if you try ordering an upright bagless vacuum cleaner, you can wait forever and Wendy’s won’t be able to accommodate you — and neither can McDonald’s, KFC, Sonic, Jack in the Box, Taco Bell, or any other fast-food chain in the land. But is there any good reason that we have dozens of places where we can procure deep-fried animal parts without exiting the soothing cocoons of our automobiles but must battle for parking spots and bushwhack our way through maze-like department stores whenever we need a new pair of crew socks? Earlier this year, the Sears Holding Corporation introduced a new concept store in Joliet, Illinois called Mygofer that addresses this weird imbalance of modern life. It is the world’s first drive-through department… More…

America was booming in the Gilded Age, the era after the Civil War when robber barons hammered out vast empires and enormous fortunes were made overnight in New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia. At the same time out West, American chefs were refining their own contribution to international culture: Fast food.

Of course, they were drawing on a grand tradition: As with so much else, we can blame the ancient Romans for the original idea. As excavators have found in Pompeii, busy citizens would stand at stone counters called thermapolia and shovel down fried meat or rich stews ladeled out of in vats in the counter (an early form of steam table). Travelers even more pressed for time… More…

I imagine that one of the most universal but least discussed rites of passage is the discovery that the house you grew up in has a very distinct smell, and that it wasn’t just everyone else’s house that smelled peculiar. Recognized only on return from your first long time away, this is typically not the romantic smell of baking pies or pipe tobacco, but neither is it anything foul, like a backed-up septic tank or mildew. It’s instead something that defies description, a complex olfactoral web that is unique to the group living under one roof. Like snowflakes, no two are ever alike.

It is for this reason that I never plan to start a family where I currently reside. I live next to a Wendy’s fast food restaurant, and the smell of my home is very describable: It’s the smell of Wendy’s food cooking. The last thing I want… More…

 

So there we are en route, it’s closing in on 1 p.m., and we’re hungry.

“Let’s eat at the next rest stop,” says my husband. “I could really go for a Nathan’s hot dog or an Arby’s roast beef sandwich or maybe a Whopper with Cheese.”

His reference to these items reflects his familiarity with the culinary landscape of the New Jersey Turnpike. Depending on the rest stop, a traveler can choose from among one of two unholy trinities: Nathan’s, Burger King, and Sbarro pizza, or KFC, McDonald’s, and Arby’s. These franchises have, I presume, engaged in some high level fast food negotiation so as to divide the Turnpike turf between them. My husband’s palate happens to have a chameleon-like versatility. If we were in Paris, he would go for moules frites or sole meuniere, but given that… More…