Why would a food writer attend a librarian’s convention? Like everyone else, librarians appreciate cooking and eating, and they buy books on those topics for their libraries. The exhibit hall of the Midwinter Meeting of the American Library Association in Philadelphia had a stage right on the floor called What’s Cooking @ ALA, with two days of demos scheduled during the five-day event. In addition, many publishers featured food-themed books in their lists. And, guess what? There was food scattered around the exhibit hall – although pound for pound, most of it was chocolate!
I was only able to attend the demos on one day. On Saturday, pizza and cupcakes were on the menu; the third scheduled demo was cancelled. Still, the two I caught were entertaining and informative – especially the first one.
Scott Wiener, author of Viva La Pizza: The Art of the Pizza Box, demonstrated his expertise at making a thin-crust pie. He passed on hints, for instance: crushed tomatoes are the sweetest canned tomatoes, because they were the ripest fruit when they were processed. He is not only the world record-holder for his pizza box collection, but he makes crust and sauce look easy. And it was delicious!
The book contains pictures of a representative sample of his collection, together with entertaining tidbits about the history, construction and artistry of pizza boxes. There are unexpected delights on every page. Who knew Ed Hardy designed a pizza box? And the phantasmagorical Japanese box is a stunner.
The Robicellis (Allison and Matt), disappointingly, were not prepared to make cupcakes. Instead, they made truffles, which any fool can do (melt chocolate chips in cream, chill, roll in cocoa or whatever; hey, presto, done!), but they did talk entertainingly about their book Robicelli’s: A Love Story, with Cupcakes. And they did bring cupcakes to sample.
They are advertisements for their ingredients – sugar, flour, butter (as in buttercream icing for each and every recipe), and their book is as much autobiography as cookbook. It’s the story of how two gritty, working-class Brooklynites rose to be professional chefs and opened a cupcake bakery; but not your prissy, sweetie-pie cupcakes, no, they bake cupcakes for grown-ups. Full of bacon, fried chicken, espresso, and (I swear) ghost peppers. I’m not going near El Melocoton de la Muerte (The Peach of Death!!!), but I’d like to try my hand at the Bea Arthur (black coffee chocolate cake, cheesecake buttercream, espresso ganache). It’s one of the simpler recipes. Most in the book have three or four components and seem like they would take all day for an amateur cook to produce. Many have a mitigating tip labeled “Half-Assed Corner,” which gives permission to cheat on some part, albeit while making the reader feel slightly ashamed – but that’s part of the book’s gestalt, so go with it.
And what else, besides booksellers, publishers, library furniture, and the occasional jewelry seller (?) ? Why, mummers, of course (it is Philadelphia), and a 3D printer.
And a lovely woman, Robin Blum, selling bookmarks which can double as gift cards.
And books. Yes. I somehow acquired a pile of books.
Of course, we couldn’t be across the street from Reading Terminal Market without patronizing one of my favorite places in Philadelphia. We ate jambalaya and etoufee from Beck’s Cajun Cafe. Both delicious.
The Convention Center has been both a blessing and a curse. While the market has come back from near-death through neglect, it is mobbed at lunchtime, and has become dominated by prepared-food stalls. Still, Bassett’s Ice Cream is still there (since 1861!), and a woman filling cannoli to order.
Among the produce, meat, fish and poultry stalls, there are cookie bakeries and cheese hipsters.
The cookbook stall is still there, and the piano man who plays for tips.
I never manage to carve out enough time to do the market justice. Maybe on the next trip!