In “Upstairs Delicatessen: On Eating, Reading, Reading About Eating, & Eating While Reading,” New York Times book critic Dwight Garner delivers a delicious account of his linked pleasures of food and books. It is both insightful and laugh-out-loud funny.
Since Monday Munch is offering frankfurters, we’ll skip H. L. Menken’s vitriolic opinion of hot dogs. Garner’s presentation of a menu item at a Virginia diner needs no embellishment: “the breakfast special was scrambled eggs with sliced hot dogs.”
Garner relates Vivian Gornick’s tale of a boy who bought a hot dog for a “bum” who was hungry. His father slapped him, saying, “If you’re gonna do a thing, do it right. You don’t buy someone a hot dog without you also buying him a soda!”
Monday Munch does not offer soda, but fear not: Frankfurters come with Boston baked beans, baked brown bread and caramel sundaes.
As the title indicates, in “Raw Dog: The Naked Truth About Hot Dogs,” Jamie Loftus offers an investigation into the cultural and culinary significance of the hot dog, as well as a travelogue documenting her cross-country road trip researching high-culture and low-culture consumption — plus socio-politico commentary.
Loftus begins on a positive note, with a chapter titled “The Five Hot Dogs You Can Purchase Easily in Heaven,” and then it’s off to a critical, often funny, report on what else she found across the country.
Later, she is scathing about more than the hot dogs served in Troy, N.Y., a place where I taught for 15 years. Truth of the matter, I’ve written a few books with vituperative remarks about some goings-on there, too.
Monday Munch offers baked beans along with frankfurters. Note that Native Americans ate baked beans, and in the early 1620s, hungry Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony quickly adopted their cooking methods. Pinto beans rate a chapter in another of my favorite books about food, Rick Bragg’s “The Best Cook in the World: Tales from My Momma’s Table.”
Bragg tells us that James B. Bundrum, his great-great grandfather, taught his son, Jimmy Jim, that “a bland bean was a poor bean, and unfit for men or hogs.”
I’d like to reprint Bragg’s whole chapter on beans. Let it suffice to say that in 1924, when the old man wanted to teach a young girl how to cook beans, first he had to steal a pig.
“Dried beans, just a few a few cents a pound, were life itself for the people of the hills … butter beans, Great Northerns, baby limas, black-eyed peas and others. … They were not only filling, and nutritious; if they were properly seasoned, usually with just salt, pepper, onion, pork, some sugar, and sometimes a little stray red pepper or garlic, they were delicious. … For the poor they were the very foundation of the diet.
“The rest of the world could demean the bean, say that something ‘ain’t worth beans,’ or say that someone ‘didn’t know beans.’ In the foothills of the Appalachians, a man who knew beans was worth something, by God.”
Bragg’s bit of Virginia possum banter also relates to Monday Munch: “A Didelphis viginiana, the possum walked with the dinosaurs. Known as a semi-arboreal marsupial, it lived mostly on the ground but could climb trees and carried its young in a pouch like a kangaroo. James Smith of the Plymouth Colony noted that they didn’t like possums but when hungry, they’d eat them.”
Likewise, in Bragg’s momma’s childhood, the possum was regarded as “subsistence cooking,” and she doesn’t believe many modern-day chefs will attempt a recipe for baked possum and sweet potatoes. Truth to tell, she says, “I’ll talk about it, but I don’t like it. If I can’t enjoy what I cook, I’d rather not cook it.”
Anyone who has seen the kitchen area of the Charlotte Senior Center on Monday mornings knows that the volunteer cooks there definitely enjoy what they are cooking. Lots of laughter fills the room. The cooks enjoy what they are doing in-the-moment, and they also enjoy seeing people at the dining tables taking pleasure in good conversation along with the good food.
Eating and talking are deliciously combined.
More kitchen volunteers are needed. Many different jobs go into putting meals on the tables. Come offer your help.
Here’s Johnny Cash singing “Beans for Breakfast”.
Here’s Cash with “Look at Them Beans”.
And not to neglect the delicious offerings on Monday Munch, Nov. 27, here’s Weird Al Yankovich singing “Lasagna” a parody of Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba.” Besides featuring lasagna, Weird Al mentions spaghetti, calzone, minestrone, marinara linguini, fettuccine, and ravioli.
Nov. 20, 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Grilled frankfurters, Boston baked beans, baked brown bread and caramel sundaes.
Age Well Meal Pickup
Thursday, Nov. 23, 10-11 a.m.
Lasagna rolls with meat marinara sauce, mozzarella cheese, broccoli, wheat roll, fruit salad and milk. Meal provided by Age Well. A $5 donation is requested but not required. Pay what you can, when you can. Registration for Age Well meals is required by the prior Monday.
Email: [email protected]
Meals provided by Age Well.
Nov. 27, 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Lasagna, tossed salad, dinner roll and apple cranberry cake.
Age Well meal pickup
Thursday, Nov. 30, 10-11 a.m.
Beef steak with sauce, baked beans, Italian vegetables, wheat bread, oatmeal raisin cookie and milk.