Archive for Food culture

The loving kindness of gentle eggs

When they won't drip off the fork, they're ready!

When they won’t drip off the fork, they’re ready!

Years ago, my wife was ill and – as is sometimes the case with sick people – was rejecting food. Too spicy! Too bland! Too crunchy! Too much like – food!

I have a strong feeding instinct and it was being balked. Then, as in a dream, I saw it – a savory egg custard. What sickie would not love such a thing!!?

But – a traditional egg custard would not have the texture I felt she wanted and I felt it needed a little updating.

I soon found myself in the kitchen making what we now call gentle eggs. Our son asked me what I was making that took so much stirring and I said something like “Oh, I’m stirring them a lot, but I’m stirring very gently!” to which he responded, “So – these are “gentle eggs”, then?”.


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Snack Food as an Art Form – Tortilla Espagnole


An elegant potato frittata - a national snack food!

An elegant potato frittata – a national snack food!

I was lucky enough to win the blue ribbon at our local Culinary Art Society monthly dinner gathering with this dish – a rich, elaborate potato frittata that is one of the most popular types of tapas in Spain today. I adapted this recipe from one shared by Bobby Navarro (100eats100days).

I remain convinced that it is not necessary to fry the onions in the large semi-deep-fry amount of oil (see the recipe below) that you’ll later use for your potatoes. Proponents of the “cook the onions in the deep pool of oil” note that this will give the potatoes a better, more onion-y flavor.

I don’t think so, but I was in a hurry, and so – I cooked to the recipe’s indicated technique. Next time I make these, I’m going to try an entirely different technique and will report back to you on how it turns out!

This is the classic Spanish tapas and is something you will see (we did!) at virtually every place in Spain where tapas are sold or given away. I’ve tarted it up a little with some good local chorizo and a little homemade sofrito.

I love how the Spanish have transformed snacking into an art form. In the States, snack food is a mercilessly commercial operation, where we are besieged with engineered snack foods designed to turn us into, well, mindless munchers. In Spain, snacking – tapas – is an art form that celebrates local ingredients, unusual and beautiful preparations and regional culinary heritage.

Makes enough for 2 tortillas, about 50-60 small wedges as tapas. Served with chorizo and homemade sofrito.


  • 3 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes (or use any waxy potato), peeled and sliced into approx. 1/8th” slices
  • 3 large sweet yellow onions, peeled, halved and sliced into very thin slices
  • 14-16 large eggs (depending on the actual size!)
  • 1-1/2 T coarse salt (I used Kosher)
  • Half a sweet red pepper, chopped
  • ½ lb. chorizo (sausage style, not cured)
  • 1 Pint homemade sofrito
  • Olive oil for frying, so no need to use expensive Extra Virgin, whose flavors will be lost in the fry!


Put potato slices in a large bowl of warm water for about ten minutes or so to remove surface starch. Strictly speaking, this is not required, but it makes for much easier frying and a cleaner tortilla. Treat your potato slices like this and they will not stick to the pan or to other slices!

Remove from water, spin dry, then pat dry with paper towels.

Heat about 1” of oil in a good sized fry pan. Note: You can re-use this oil and not that much of it stays with the tortilla! It should be hot enough that an onion slice sizzles immediately after being dropped in.

Fry sliced onion until it begins to turn a little golden, about 8-10 minutes.

When the onion is almost done, add the red pepper and stir fry for another minute or so until the pepper has softened.

Remove onions with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined container. Try to shake off as much oil as possible from onions, and then turn them once or twice in the paper to make sure as much oil as possible is removed.

Using the same oil put about half the potatoes into the pan and fry them until they’re puffy and golden, about 10 minutes. Move them about a bit with a heatproof spatula or tongs, so they cook evenly.

Remove potatoes with slotted spoon, again shaking off as much oil as possible, and add to onion mixture. I like to put another paper towel or two on top of the potatoes briefly to remove additional oil, but it’s not required.

Repeat with remaining potatoes. Sprinkle with 1 T of the salt or to taste (mine is for a little bit more salt), turning gently to let salt come in contact with as much of the mixture as possible.

In a large bowl, lightly whisk eggs and mix with the remaining salt. You want to mix them a bit, but not so much that they homogenize entirely and get runny.

Mix the potato onion mixture with the eggs and fold in gently

Heat a medium sized nonstick fry pan and add a little of the olive oil from the potatoes. Add half the egg potato mixture and fry gently over medium heat, stirring a little with a spatula. When the eggs have just begun to set up, turn heat to low and cover the pan. Cook another few minutes until eggs are set, but still a bit loose.

Put a large plate over the pan and invert the pan over the plate, plopping the omelet into the plate. CAREFUL, there’s hot oil here! Slide the omelet back into the pan and cook for another few minutes until both sides have been lightly browned.  As Julia Child says “Flipping anything is an act of faith.” Have courage – this will work for you!

Slide tortilla out of the pan onto a cutting board and let cool. Repeat with rest of egg potato mixture. Slice into thin wedges for tapas.

If desired, top each wedge with a little fried chorizo, add a small thin piece of manchego cheese atop each wedge, and serve on top of slices of baguette, cut on the bias and lightly toasted or grilled. Spread a bit of your homemade sofrito on each baguette slice before arranging the tortilla wedge – you’ll be glad you did!

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There Are Two Kinds of Cooks in the World – Stuffed Scalloped Potatoes Gratin

Stuffed, Scalloped Potatoes with Kale Salad

Stuffed, Scalloped Potatoes with Kale Salad

No. Really. Two kinds. And hang on for a moment, because towards the end of this piece, we’re going to talk about what they are. But first, let’s talk stuffed scalloped potatoes.

They are astonishingly good, you can make them in a wide variety of ways – they’re one of those dishes that can be elegant and mannered or real refrigerator cleaners. And I mean that in the very best of all possible ways. Read the rest of this entry »

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It’s a Problem – But It’s a *Good* Problem – What Should We Do With These Eggs??

One of the things we are grateful for is our wonderful neighbors - and their amazing eggs!

One of the things we are grateful for is our wonderful neighbors – and their amazing eggs!

Our neighbor Ginny stopped by and brought us a dozen entirely perfect eggs from her rural chicken ranch. Free-range pets fed on the finest seeds and insects, her chickens lay eggs that – at this time of year – have rich orange yolks, a sturdy shell and a white that hangs together in a perfect circle in poaching water.

But. . .now I’m wondering – what is the perfect dish to showcase these babies?

What dish would you like to see these eggs star in?

I’m open to suggestions. If I end up taking your suggestion, I’ll try it out and write about it in a future post. You’ll get credits and all kinds of good ‘boo!!

So help me out – what can I do with these utterly gorgeous eggs!!

I mean really!!

  • Scotch eggs
  • Deviled eggs
  • Bacon and eggs
  • Ham and eggs
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Poached eggs
  • Fried eggs
  • Shirred eggs
  • Coddled eggs
  • Omelets
  • Pickled eggs
  • Quiche

The list goes on – this doesn’t even scratch the surface!! Comment with your suggestions and help me figure out what to do with these eggs!



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Custom Cookbooks – A Blend of High and Low Tech

Overwhelmed by Cookbooks

Imagine thirty feet of tables covered with three rows of cookbooks placed spine up for easy reading.  The floor underneath is covered with boxes holding more cookbooks.  This is temptation central, otherwise known as the Friends of the Library Book Sale.  Other topics fill other tables, but right now I’m focused on the cookbook section which promises spicy Mexican meals, Indian cooking made easy, Mediterranean menus which promote good health, bean dishes, vegetarian dishes, French cooking for the gourmet, White House favorites, thirty minute meals, casseroles for every day of the year, desserts to highlight any meal, and Northwest specialties.

The list could go on, but it’s making me hungry.

Some books are easier than others to pass over because I rarely make desserts, even more rarely eat red meat, and favor spicy one dish meals.   Maybe just one recipe in a book looks tempting, so I ask myself, “Do I really want to pay a dollar if I’m going to use just one recipe from a book?”  Why do I even ask?  After half a century of eating my own cooking, a new recipe that both my husband and I like is a treasure.

Now imagine my bookcases.  I’m an avid reader who is a committed Anglophile, especially the years of Elizabeth I, plus I like science, history, and anthropology. And so many books have to be kept and reread.  When the floor under the bookcase begins to sag, it’s a hint that I need to thin out. Last time the row of cookbooks was my target.

Technology Offers a Solution

We recently got a new computer printer with a built in scanner that makes it easy to quickly copy recipes.  I spent an evening going though the cookbooks and putting post-it notes on pages to copy.  Some books had just one or two post-its while other had so many the tops drooped like the tails of over fed birds.

I dedicated a day to the scanner, but copying all the recipes took less than two hours.   Technology! A three hole punch made all the pages ready for an old fashioned three ring binder. I categorized the new recipes into vegetables, poultry, lentils and beans, meat and fish, international, salads, desserts, pasta, cheese, breakfast, and canning.

A Personalized Cookbook!

I love my new one-of-a-kind-just-what-I-like cookbook!  Now instead of trying to think of what to fix next week and then going to check the recipe while I make out a shopping list, I thumb through my own personal cookbook and see what looks good at the time.

It’s easy and efficient.  I’ve even been motivated to fix some recipes I copied because “someday” I wanted to try them.  Now I have a personally customized cookbook that makes  life both easier and tastier.  Why didn’t I do this years ago?

Of the recipes I’ve tried so far, here’s an unusual and very tasty vegetable side dish from page 78 of the Totally Garlic Cookbook by Helene Siegel and Karen Gillingham. It’s a palm size paperback shaped like a head of garlic. Try doing *that*, O Kindle!! I’ve made a few modifications, feel free to try your own.

Green Beans with Walnuts and Garlic

Serves 4-6

  • 1 pound green beans, string and tough ends removed. Or not. If they’re fresh enough, green beans need next to no preparation.
  • Coarse salt (Kosher or sea salt) to taste
  • 1/2 bunch parsley
  • 1 cup walnut halves
  • 10 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 chicken bouillon cube (Ed: We recommend a teaspoon or so of “Better than Bouillon”)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup olive oil

Drop beans into boiling, salted water.  As soon as water returns to boil, remove beans and immediately plunge into iced water.  Drain well.  Place blanched beans in a large bowl and set aside.


Remove leaves from parsley and place in food processor fitted with metal blade.  Set aside 1/4 cup walnut halves for garnish.  Place remaining walnuts in food processor with parsley.  Add garlic, bouillon cube (Ed. Or 1 tsp. “Better than Bouillon”, and pepper.  Process until mixture is like paste.

With the machine running, slowly drizzle in olive oil.  Mixture should be the consistency of thick syrup.  This is much like a kind of pesto. Tip: You might want to add the juice of half a juicy lemon – your call!

Pour over beans in bowl and toss to coat beans thoroughly.  Serve at room temperature garnished with walnut halves.

Jane Roll is an educator and world traveler who lives in Seattle when she’s not in some far away place, learning about new cultures and cuisines

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Food is Like Sex on a Plate – Confessions of a Serial Eater

My Relationship with Food

As a chef, I try to taste as much as possible; I rarely go to a restaurant and get one dish.  If I go somewhere to eat and I see ten things on a menu that I must have, I’ll try them all!

I often describe food as sex on a plate, something that will make you want to slap something, someone or break something!  A prime example, and one of my all time favorite dishes in the world (so far) is the Rabbit Cacciatore from Valentino’s Cucina Italiana in my adopted home of Fort Lauderdale. I tell people to watch out when they order it, “You will want to get up, pick up your chair and hurl it violently through the large plate glass front window!”  It’s that good.  Sorry Peter Cotton Tail, Thumper, Runny Babbit, Roger Rabbit, Aunt Bunny.  Some foods are just too fine to resist, even if they come from animals with cute faces.

When you eat this, you'll want to throw a chair through the window - in a good way, of course

Small Things – Strong Memories

You can probably tell that I have a very emotional relationship with food. Oddly enough, and as surprising as this may be, my strongest emotions and memories are most often for the little things, not the large, showy dishes.

One of these things just happens to be ketchup.  I know, KETCHUP??  Yes, ketchup is my crack… I have certain things that I have to have it on and if I don’t have it, LOOK OUT!  Don’t mess with this girl’s ketchup, I’ll bite!

If it’s not Heinz don’t even bother, it would be like buying store brand toilet paper made from recycled sandpaper. Hunt’s is against my religion!  For no rational reason, certain containers of Heinz taste even better than others, the large wide mouth glass jar for instance; this particular vessel brings back very strong memories about my childhood. Even today’s flock of gourmet ketchup cannot compare to the flavor memories I have of Heinz.

When I was young, my mother waited tables at a tiny little place across the street from our house.  My sister, brother and I would frequently visit her after school. Their ketchup – served on every table? Heinz in the large wide mouth glass jar!

Every time I see one of these containers, it takes me back to that time in my childhood and I know my sibs feel the same way.  I think about a lot of food that I can’t imagine not having and I try to remember the first time I ever had it. I usually find a fond memory of eating that food, often from when I was young.

(Ed: Notewe believe that almost everybody has a strong memory of some food from their childhood. What’s yours? Check the poll on the side of the page and let us know!)

Growing up, I was a very picky eater.  I rejected tomatoes (ketchup, in my book, is not a tomato!), strawberries, beef, pork, anything too squishy, certain herbs, veggies, chicken on the bone, etc.  I missed out on so much goodness; I have so much catching up to do! The good news is I am well on my way.

Mom? Is. . .that you?

With so many medical breakthroughs in the area of genetics, perhaps soon you will be able to choose how smart your baby will be, how athletic, even what your baby will look like, who knows? As odd as this may sound, if I could choose a trait for my children, I would give them adventurous palettes.  Who needs looks when you can have endless unforgettable food experiences?

At this point, you probably think that I must weigh around 500 pounds. Not only do I love eating, I love cooking. As a Pastry Chef, I bake for a living. Every day, I bake and taste desserts to create dishes that my customers will devour with every one of their senses. Sure, I still ask, “Do I look fat?” In fact, I ask it often!! Staying not-fat means tasting small, but mostly it means being willing to regularly put in the time working out, and burning calories, which I do joyously, because I’m doing it for love.

To me, this is the best of all possible jobs and I think I’m a lucky girl.

I live, sleep, EAT and breathe food.  I can’t think of anything else I am more passionate about.  I always tell people that I don’t eat because I am hungry; I eat because I love food.  I don’t even think I know what hunger feels like.  Great food makes me feel like the richest girl in the world.

P.S.  My cholesterol is stellar. So far! They say love conquers all – maybe it can even conquer my metabolism. In the meantime, I love to eat, and I eat with love. Oh, and the occasional sound of a solid smack (in a good way, of course) on a dining companion’s face, or the even more occasional sound of a piece of furniture going through a window.

The author, Sarah Magoon, is Executive Pastry chef at a hotel in Fort Lauderdale, FL, whose name begins – and ends – with a letter between “V” and “X”. Full disclosure – this passionate foodie and brilliant chef is our niece,  from whom we learn new things every day.

Give me the Heinz and nobody gets hurt!

Is this the face of a person who'd throw a chair through a window because the rabbit cacciatore was so damn' good?


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Maggie Go to Seattle and Get Fat

Editorial Note: We don’t usually publish stories without a picture of the dish, but felt this story was so engaging that it was time for us to do what we do best – break our own rules! This tale comes from Marjie Bowker, who I met at a cheese-making class. The class was an utter disaster, but meeting Marjie made it all worthwhile.

We loved her story – and the gorgeous recipe that follows. Hopefully, she’ll send us some images of the actual dish (sure, you can find them with, say, a Bing image search, but we’re looking for authenticity here, right? :). Enough. With no further ado, here is:

“Maggie go to Seattle and get fat!”

I hear Thanh proclaim these words joyfully, but they ping-pong painfully around my American brain before I can digest that I’ve just been called “fat” for the first time in my life by someone I love a whole lot.

I had just returned for year two of my teaching contract at the American International School in Ho Chi Minh City. Honestly, though, I was thinking of year two more in terms of food opportunities. Yes, I loved my endlessly sweet sixth grade Language Arts students, but I had become addicted to the neighborhood in which I and my two roommates had landed.

We referred to our five-story stack house with a Romeo and Juliet balcony as our “castle”; it was set at the end of an alley that was part of an extensive morning market that offered fresh fruit, vegetables, squid, shrimp and live frogs along with vendors selling Bánh cuốn nhân thịt (steamed rolls filled with minced pork and mushrooms) and Bánh khọt (tumeric coconut rice cakes topped with shrimp).

Banh Cuon Nhan Thit

Love for a place equals a lot of intangible qualities all tangled up together – for me, love for this place was the way the mornings moved in this ten-block alley grid, the way they smelled, and, of course, the way they tasted.

Acceptance into this community – into their homes, lives, weddings, funerals and Tet celebrations – had come through two women: Thuy and Thanh, who ran the fabric stand in the middle of the market. Each morning, they assembled a wooden frame outside of their tiny two-story home to hold layer upon layer of cloth from Thailand to sell by the meter.

They had befriended me from the beginning, and despite our lack of a common language, they made it clear that they were my friends while I was in Vietnam. They began to call me their sister, and every Sunday morning one of them would abandon the stand for fifteen minutes so we could shop for fish and vegetables to cook when they closed their stand at noon.


The first week I was back, Thuy and Thanh were over at our castle cooking with my roommate, Katherine, and me for our Sunday feast. Thuy was mashing up white fish, molding it around huge Vietnamese shrimp, dipping them in egg and flour, and frying them in oil. Thanh was frying long, slender eggplants to stuff with a pork and onion mixture.

Katherine and I were both so happy to be back cooking with our Vietnamese sisters, drooling over the greasy treats being prepared in front of us.

In the midst of feeling this happiness Thanh giggled, glanced at my bulging-from-summer-vacation waistline, and made a “wide” gesture with both hands, saying, “Maggie go to Seattle and get fat!”

Read that comment again. Let it sink into your American, westernized psyches.

This was not a new thing for me or Katherine. Not only were we Amazons in this country and especially in this non-foreigner neighborhood (I am 5’8” and Katherine is 6’0”), but every time we gained a little weight, someone was sure to let us know it.

Just a few days earlier, when the seamstress (“Sweet Seamstress”) two doors down from the castle laid eyes on me-and-my-extra-pounds back from summer break, she said “Hi Maggie!”, looked at my waist and then made a wide gesture with both hands. Then she came over and touched my stomach. Last year, our housekeeper made the same gestures to Katherine. As for our students, they were not at all trained to hide exclamations like “Truong is so fat!”

After the “housekeeper incident”, Katherine and I debriefed extensively on this cultural conundrum. She suggested that we should just burst into tears the next time it happens, to get our own cultural message across.

When Sweet Seamstress made the gesture and touched my stomach, I just laughed and said, “Yes, America!” as in, “Yes, I come from a culture of fat. I went home and my culture made me fat. Your culture does not make you or me fat.”

But Thanh? Somehow I thought that Thanh, my “sister,” would have somehow ingested and come to understand our cultural values out of her pure love for us. Surely she wouldn’t be capable of hurting either of us on this level. But the words had been spoken, and the gesture had been made.

Katherine jumped to my defense. “That’s a mean thing to say in our country. That makes us feel sad.” However, the only thing her scolding produced was uncontrollable laughter out of both Thuy and Thanh. It felt awful. Suddenly, I  empathized with every fat kid, everywhere.

After much analysis, this is what Katherine and I came up with regarding this topic: their way is probably better. Just like the honking of the Saigon motorbikes stating “I am here” is anything but mean, Thanh’s comment was a statement of truth and was not at all loaded.

Thanh is anything but mean. She is lovely and giving and has sat by our side through sicknesses. And she is truthful.

The Vietnamese culture does not encourage you to eat more, more, more. Their portion sizes are reasonable. There is no such thing as Super Sizing anything. Even Cokes are regular sized…nothing giant exists. Ice cream bars are little and there are no ice cream shops where you can order three scoops in a waffle cone. Yes, their way is better.

But you know what? Even though I can see all of this culturally and objectively, I do hold it against them, someplace where I can’t get rid of it. That statement has been tagged as one of the meanest statements in our culture of fat. We Americans can tell it like it is in so many situations, but in that one, we remain quiet liars.

So, how did I respond? That night I was silent and melancholy. Thuy and Thanh ask me if I was “sad.”

“Just tired,” I answer. And I eat way less of the stuffed eggplant and greasy shrimp (which are extremely delicious) than I would have, otherwise.

But then I go on to respond in another way: by losing those extra *&^% pounds within about ten days (after signing up at the most expensive gym in Ho Chi Minh City).

If you think getting on a weight scale is motivation for keeping your weight down, try having a Sweet Seamstress three doors down who makes a wide gesture with her hands if you gain a few pounds, or have your Vietnamese sister point at you and laugh as she calls you “fat.” That, I’m telling you, is a much better incentive to keep yourself in line.

And it’s also free.

The Recipe

Vietnamese Stuffed Eggplant with Nuoc Cham and Crispy Fried Shallots

This recipe will make four servings. Begin by making the nuoc cham (dipping sauce) and set it aside while you prepare the eggplants.

Basic Vietnamese Dipping Sauce Recipe (Nuoc Cham)

I spent Sunday after Sunday trying to “measure” Thuy and Thanh’s Nuoc Cham ingredients. They threw it together so quickly, though, that I could hardly keep up with them, but I have tested and tested until I came up with a very close copy. This dipping sauce is essential to all Vietnamese cooking – it is poured over and dipped into with just about everything and is used to bring all sweet, sour, salty and spicy elements together.

This recipe makes ¾ cup

  • 3 tablespoons lime juice (1 fat, thin skinned lime)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 ½ tablespoons fish sauce (Viet Huong’s Five Crabs is my favorite)

Optional additions:

  • 1 small garlic clove, finely minced
  • 1 or 2 Thai chilis, thinly sliced or 1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce

1. Make limeade. Heat the water and then add sugar and lime juice, stirring to dissolve the sugar. This is like a simple syrup made with lime

2. Add the fish sauce and any of the optional ingredients. Taste again and adjust the flavors to your liking, balancing out the sour, sweet, salty and spicy.

Note: Advance Preparation – This sauce may be prepared early in the day and left to sit at room temperature.

Vietnamese Stuffed Eggplants


  • ¼ lb ground pork
  • I small onion, minced
  • 1 tsp vinegar
  • ½ tsp. salt, or to taste
  • 4 long, slender Japanese eggplants, tops peeled
  • 2 T peanut oil
  • 4 shallots, thinly sliced and dried on a paper towel
  • 1 T peanut oil


  1. Heat the 2 T of peanut oil in a large, shallow pan over medium-high heat. Add eggplants (you may need to cut them in half if they are really long so they will fit) and fry them, turning often, until they are completely soft in the center. This will take between 10-12 minutes, depending on the eggplants, and they will most likely char on the outside.
  2. While the eggplants are cooking, mix the ground pork, onion, vinegar and salt.
  3. When the eggplants are soft, you should be able to slit them down the middle with a sharp knife to create an opening pouch for the pork mixture. Round it out with a large spoon.
  4. Spoon ¼ of the mixture into each eggplant and press down. Lower the heat and simmer until pork is cooked through, about 7 minutes. The eggplants will caramelize with some of the juice from the pork mixture.
  5. While the stuffed eggplants are simmering, heat another 1 T of oil in a small pan over medium heat and add the dried shallot slivers. Brown them until they are light and crispy, then drain them on paper towel.


Serve stuffed eggplants over a mound of jasmine rice, pour a ladle full of nuoc cham over the top, and sprinkle with crispy shallots. Don’t be shy about adding more sauce…this dish is best swimming in it in my opinion!  Enjoy~

About the Author

Marjorie Bowker is (usually) a high school English teacher in the Edmonds, WA.  School District. You can find more of her stories about Vietnam at

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CalorieFactory: Great Stories, Great Recipes

Cultures, countries, communities, families, individuals – we all have our own comfort foods, special dishes, and traditional preparations that make us think of  where we’ve been, what we love, and who we are.

CalorieFactory is filled with great stories and great recipes from foodies, chefs, cooks, BBQ mavens, and other folks who love life, culture, and food.

Have a story to tell? Your grandmother’s noodles? Your Bubbe’s brisket? Your cravings for the foods of your childhood? Your funny uncle’s BBQ? The dinner party that nearly went awry – but didn’t?

Join us. You’re in the right place. CalorieFactory.

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