NPR food commentator Bonny Wolf is an anthropologist of the kitchen. In her funny, nostalgic, and historical new collection of essays, Talking with my Mouth Full, the Capitol Hill resident explores the way Americans eat, with 70 recipes and quotes from sources both expected (James Beard) and odd (Andy Rooney), woven throughout.
Each chapter analyzes and adds personality to an often overlooked food item or theme. One dissects kitchen disasters. Another explores the "era of the bundtcake." In her chapter on "Kitchen Magic," Wolf explores the popover. She recalls her eighth grade home-ec course—she got an F on her sundress and A on her popover. Internationally, the popover's French cousin is the choux pastry, and on Passover, matzo popovers are tradition.
As if Talking With My Mouth Full isn't already revealing of Wolf's personality and memories, we decided to get closer. We wanted more Bonny. So we asked her to divulge a few more of her food quirks.
Favorite snack before bed:
I love to have one small piece of very dark chocolate—the darker the better. I've been so happy since these high cacao bars have come out—70 percent cacao and more. Caffeine usually affects my sleep, but not this, for which I'm thankful.
Favorite dairy product:
I love milk. I grew up in Minnesota, a big dairy state, and the milkman used to bring milk in a glass bottle and leave it in a covered box outside the back door. Sometimes it was so cold, the box was frozen shut. I like milk icy cold, but I drink warm milk if I'm having trouble sleeping. When I was in college and everyone ordered coffee after dinner, I ordered a glass of milk. My dates thought I was very strange. I like one-percent the best. Whole milk is too rich for me.
Least favorite veggie:
Green peppers. I love red, yellow and orange peppers — raw and cooked. But if I get something in a restaurant with green peppers, I pick them all out. My mother hates green peppers. My brother hates green peppers. Nature or nurture? Who knows.
Brown sugar or powdered?:
I adore brown sugar. I like how it looks and tastes. I love how it packs and how it caramelizes. When I was little I used to eat spoonfuls of it. I appreciate powdered sugar for both its chemical properties in frosting and for how pretty it makes a simple cake look, but brown sugar has far more sex appeal.
Favorite holiday food:
This is a tough one. I love most holiday food because it's so traditional, festive, and family-oriented. But if I had to choose, I'd go with latkes on Hanukkah. I so associate them with good times, warm kitchens on cold winter nights, and family and friends.
Any food allergies?:
No, thank heavens. I can't imagine living with forbidden foods. I have great respect for people who can stay away from peanuts, milk products, gluten and other common triggers. I can't imagine I would have the strength.
Favorite hot beverage:
Tea. In late afternoon, it lifts the flagging spirit and restores depleted energy. The act of preparing tea—pouring it and sitting down to drink it—is a civilized, old-fashioned act in the midst of chaotic, technology-driven life. Everyone should stop for a cup of tea.
Favorite hamburger condiment:
Ketchup. I also use ketchup on Boca Burgers, which I rather like. I like lettuce and tomatoes but not without ketchup—I don't think you can have too many tomato products on a hamburger. Mustard is for hotdogs.
Pita bread or rye?:
Rye, hands down. I have nothing against pita. I quite like it. It's just not rye bread. I make sandwiches on whole grain breads (and stuffed into pita pockets) because that's the right, healthful thing to do. But sandwiches belong on rye bread. Rye bread also makes great toast, especially with peanut butter.
Favorite kind of jam on peanut butter sandwiches:
Strawberry preserves. I have no interest in jelly or jams without huge chunks of fruit. I only eat chunky peanut butter with chunky strawberry jam. My grandma lived next door when I was growing up and made vast quantities of strawberry preserves every summer. It was perfect on peanut butter. No commercial product quite compares.
Bonny Wolf will talk about her book at Politics and Prose (5015 Connecticut Ave., NW) on November 11 at 1 PM, and at Borders (1801 K St., NW) on November 16 at 6:30 PM.