July 29, 2012
My sticky crumby keyboard can attest that I do not separate the activities of working and eating. Indeed, there are few foods that I would outright rule out consuming while typing. Ice cream on a cone, probably. Fondue, maybe. Oysters, yes, but not to protect my electronics as much as to fully immerse myself in the bivalve experience.
Along these lines, I often find myself in a library. As proof of the matter, I recently gave a talk at the joint British, Canadian, and American (they don’t say American–American societies declare their dominance by foregoing national adjectives) History of Science Society meeting in a session entitled In the Library. My talk had very little to do with libraries, except that I had researched much of it within them.
Regular readers will be entirely nonplussed to hear that I love libraries. My relationship with libraries is thankfully the closest thing I have to a drug dependency, in that I bend rules to use them and often owe them money.
Recently, I have been frequenting the Pratt Library.
It still looks like this! Hooray for old things.
My cousin who went to Harvard told wide-eyed stories of finals week when she would have to leave her shoes by her workspace in the 24 hour libraries in order to get food and return to her seat. I assume this was during the spring finals for her toes’ sake. Rather than risk walking around the streets of Brooklyn barefoot (not that there is much competition for seats at an art school’s library in July…), I often bring along a snack. Since one is not technically allowed to eat in a library, there are several important criteria for deciding what to bring. Nothing crunchy or crumbly or sticky or melty or requiring utensils or heating or cooling. Something that can be safely placed in a lap should surveillance eyes pass by.
Yes. Of course.
This brings us to part two of the title because I am fairly certain no self-respecting food blog* would fain to record a peanut butter and jelly recipe. I did not make the bread, peanut butter, or jam (but I could, and maybe, someday, with a real food blog, I will). I have no ingredient measurements to share. Although, I can confidently say, this serves one.
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are an American institution. Tell stories of your childhood lunches to your European friends and they will eye you with disgust and never let you near their confitures, jams, or marmelade. A PB&J is more emblematic of our nation than apple pie, although it doesn’t have the same ring to it. Invented in the late nineteenth century, the humble peanut butter sandwich had high and mighty beginnings in the elite tea rooms of New York. Julia Davis Chandler is credited with publishing the first version of a PB and J, but we do not know what she looked like.
Wrapped carefully in tinfoil I snuck my lunch through security and up to the shelves. Hungry after much procrastination disguised as research, I was about to open my bag when who should I run into but Mr. Library himself!
I truly appreciate his work. Though I must admit I am more familiar with the alphabetical organization of the Library of Congress.
Nice day, I said.
551.6 E56, said Dewey.
Umm, I said.
808.51 D484, said Dewey.
At a loss for words, and by now fairly certain he wouldn’t rat me out, I offered him half of my sandwich.
647.95 G231S, said Dewey, and took a bite.
July 2, 2012
I’m a sucker for children’s books about food.
The story begins with them sitting in a library and learning that diners use specific lingo (I am also a sucker for stories featuring libraries). For instance, “First Ladies” are ribs and “Put out the lights and cry” means liver and onions. The rationale behind adopting this secret language escapes me, still I like it.
Here a gentleman orders “a stack with Vermont and a blonde with sand.”
Inspired and hungry, we had oatmeal pancakes with blueberries (on the flip side)–or, rather, “Beat up a Pile of Horses in Vermont” (I made that one up, but I think it jives well with the other machismo examples).
When considering with whom to share this breakfast feast, I turned to the origins of diners. However, as the American Diner Museum indicates, it would be difficult to credit one person. Do we thank Walter Scott for the first walk up covered wagon eatery in 1872? Or Thomas H Buckley for beginning the first lunch car company? Or Jerry O’Mahoney for producing 2000 diners shipped throughout the United States from 1917 to 1952?
Then I had a second thought, and decided to put the business men aside and invite the man who captured the image of the American diner.
They say Edward Hopper was lonely. Perhaps he was, but for the second half of his life he had a lovely wife, Josephine Nivison, and they would go on painting and drawing road trips together up and down the east coast. Since the Hoppers lived modestly, I imagine they ate in many diners along the way.
Though Aunt Jemima pancake mix had been invented and popularized by Hopper’s time, the syrup was not yet a household staple. I used to prefer my pancakes with corn syrup, which, although bland, is at least honest.
“More maple syrup?” I asked Hopper. He politely accepted. We discussed his show at the Brooklyn Museum in 1923. I told him that I hadn’t visited yet, but planned on going soon. It’s just down the road. We talked about his favorite places to visit along the Atlantic coast. We spoke of the importance of balancing solitude and companionship. I showed him my first watercolor from the previous post. It’s a crab in an oyster, I explained. He politely suggested that I should keep practicing.
Hopper iconicized the image of the American diner at night. One imagines that same diner in the morning might have been full of contentment and pancakes. Just like our bellies.