Talking with My Mouth Full is something I do on occasion, but it is not this book's title that made me laugh out loud. In fact, when I picked it out of the newish books on the shelves of the Geneva (NY) Public Library, it was its subtitle that attracted me: Crab Cakes, Bundt Cakes, and Other Kitchen Stories. Written by Bonny Wolf, NPR's Weekend Edition food commentator who is also an occasional blogger (ok, it's way out of date) and contributor to Kitchen Window (a web newsletter from NPR), this 2006 book is a reasonably quick read. In fact, the book is sort of bloggish, by which I mean it is comprised of short pieces strong together in a sort of chatty fashion and followed by recipes. Wolf has organized her book into three sections: "Generation to Generation," "Feeding the Multitudes," and "Foreign Foods." Topics range from those mentioned in the title -- bundt cakes and crab cakes -- to such wonders as toast and fish cooked in salt (I have always wanted to do this and lived in fear of doing it with the wrong salt. Turns out Wolf got there ahead of me.)
So: what made me laugh out loud? It was a short essay toward the beginning of "Generation to Generation" that made me laugh out loud in pleasure. The essay, entitled "Aunt Esther's Antipasto" begins with the following sentence: "I was married and living in the East before I found out that antipasto did not originate in the Minnesota Iron Range"(p. 21). It was not the notion of the Minnesota Iron Range that made me laugh (though I had never heard of it and I admit the notion puzzled (and puzzles) me; in fact, because I was reading about cooking I sort of imagined a huge cooking appliance somewhere in Minnesota. I have since been corrected). Anyway, what brought about the belly laugh was the tale that followed -- and the discovery of something very familiar embedded in this story of someone else's epiphany. The story -- spoiler alert -- is about Wolf's discovery that what antipasto meant to her -- jarred and seasoned vegetables -- was not what antipasto meant to many other people (trays of meats, cheeses, pickled vegetables, for example, or the first course in an Italian meal). She eventually traces this fixation to a modified (Minnesotan) version of a Sicilian food. But what really made me laugh -- simply and truly with pleasure -- was nothing but the particular antipasto she mentioned part way into the tale as representing something much like what she means by antipasto and what it meant in the Minnesota Iron Range. She mentioned "Something Special Deli Foods" Gourmet Antipasto made in Alberta, Canada (and pictured below). This is the very antipasto which I was introduced to in trips to Alberta and which we were recently utterly frustrated to realize is now impossible to bring home. Why? The new air travel regulations treat this antipasto like they treat toothpaste and shampoo and other liquids and gels. Only 3 ounces can come through in your carry on (and it must fit into a very specific size baggy). And while we love this antipasto, the risk of it (tasty though it is) distributed haphazardly throughout our checked luggage should the (glass) bottle break is just too much.
What should we do? Well, one possiblity is to try to make it. And Bonny Wolf does offer a recipe. Another is to try to find it in the US. There are certainly Costco warehouse stores in the US, which Wolf mentions as one source for the Antipasto. (No, they do not have it on-line.) Or perhaps we could start an import/export business. Any ideas?
There's much more to Wolf's book -- nothing too serious, but I hope you too will find a belly laugh. (I intend to send a chapter on Crab Cakes to a friend who persists in ordering them everywhere I go, but that's a tale for another day.)