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The Austerity Kitchen
By Christine Baumgarthuber
Where the alimentary is elementary.
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Noshing with Nomads

Wandering peoples knew no distinction between home-cooked dinners and meals “on the go”


I’m moving again. This move will be my fourth in eight years and, like the three before it, owes not to any restless impulse but to banal necessity. Contrary economic winds have blown me from Arizona to New England, from New England back to Arizona, and from Arizona to western Pennsylvania. Now I’m returning to New England. Relocation ranks just below divorce and illness in terms of unusually stressful events. I feel this fact palpably.

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Radish Malorum

Picnic Boris Kustodiev 1920

“We have pink radishes on the table, beautiful yellow butter, plump golden bread on a white tablecloth…. Our ladies in their muslin gowns are so happy, sitting among the green plants in the garden, because it is hot and they are in the shadow. But beyond, the evil devil famine is already hard at work, covering the fields with weeds, crazing the arid soil, tearing the soles of the peasants’ calloused feet and splitting the animals’ hoofs, and will so shake and agitate us all that we, too, under the shade of our lime trees, with our muslin gowns and our lumps of butter on our flowered plates, will get what’s coming to us.” –Leo Tolstoy, “Letter to Afanasy Fet” (May 16, 1865)

Dutch Treat

Enlightened government, humane ethics, and bustling trade meant that even the lowliest in the Low Countries shared in the high times

Claesz Still Life2

The 1806 summer trip British writer and barrister John Carr took through Holland wasn’t easy. The Netherlands and Britain had long been enemies, and he had to borrow a passport from an American friend to sneak past customs. The subterfuge paid off. As Carr later noted in his reminiscences, which he published in 1807 as A Tour through Holland, the “aqueous kingdom” impressed him as happy and prosperous. Her stone houses he found “very noble”; her streets, broad and magnificent. Dexterous were her boatmen, and beautiful were her women and cathedrals.

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Hyperreality Bites

US National Archives Vancouver, Washington 1973

“You could say that the social is just like the sense of taste in American cuisine. It is a gigantic dissuasion from the taste of food: its savor is, as it were, isolated, expurgated and resynthesized in the form of burlesque and artificial sources. This is flavor, just as there was once cinematic glamour: erasing all personal character in favor of an aura of the studio and the fascination of models. Likewise for the social: just as the function of taste is isolated in the sauce, the social is isolated as a function in all the therapeutic sauces in which we float.” –Jean Baudrillard, Fatal Strategies (1983)