Writer Explores Comforts, Community of Food Community and food are the central topics of Bonny Wolf's new book, a collection of essays called Talking with My Mouth Full. Wolf shares her thoughts on the recent shift in U.S. attitudes toward food.
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Writer Explores Comforts, Community of Food

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Writer Explores Comforts, Community of Food

Writer Explores Comforts, Community of Food

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Ms. BONNY WOLF (Food Writer): Oh darn it, what did I need?


WEEKEND EDITION'S food commentator Bonny Wolf lives in the Capitol Hill section of Washington. Her home is only a few steps away from the Eastern Market, a block-long, one-story brick building where you can buy fresh fruits, flowers, vegetables, fish, poultry, ice cream, even penny candy.

Ms. WOLF: Okay. Spinach. Are we eating spinach now?

Unidentified Woman: Are you still eating spinach? (Unintelligible)

HANSEN: Although the merchants have come and gone over the years, the market pretty much looks the same as it did when it opened in 1873. Bonny Wolf goes there most days to find the ingredients for her recipes.

Unidentified Woman: What else we got? That's it? Okay, $3.85. Would you like a date today?

Ms. WOLF: These are the best dates.

HANSEN: A collection of Bonny Wolf's recipes and essays have now been published in her new book, Talking With my Mouth Full: Crabcakes, Bundt Cakes and Other Kitchen Stories. And much of the chapter, Market Pleasures, is devoted to Washington's Eastern Market.

Bonny, why is the Eastern Market your Mecca?

Ms. WOLF: I moved to Capitol Hill probably 20 years ago, and one of the reason I never left was because of the Eastern Market. It is absolutely the center of the community, and in many ways sort of personifies the way I feel about community and food. And it's a meeting place for everyone in the neighborhood. I actually come with my friend Stephanie every Saturday morning. We've come for 20 years and we go early, because by 10 o'clock there are so many people here, and you know them all, that you don't get your marketing done.

HANSEN: Do you remember the first time you came in here?

Ms. WOLF: I do. I had moved to Washington, to this neighborhood, in the summer, and at that time the market is just overflowing with produce and flowers and people, and I walked in and I thought I was in Europe. It had a feeling unlike other cities that I had been in, that I had grown up in. I had - I moved here from Texas, and I had lived in New Jersey, and I grew up in Minnesota, and none of them had markets like this.

HANSEN: Do you think there's been a seismic shift in the way that Americans think about food, their attitude about food and places like this?

Ms. WOLF: Huge. When I was - and I think it's largely my generation. I'm 56 and part of the Baby Boomer generation, and when we graduated from college, the domestic arts were not something we wanted - were particularly interested in. It tied us into being housewives and - but now I think the pendulum has completely swung the other way, and people are so interested not only in what they're eating, but in where it's grown and how good it is.

I mean, it goes along with interest in health and natural things, and I think there's a whole artisanal movement. Everybody - I don't know if that's a word - but you know, people want farmhouse cheese, and some of it's a bit much, but I think it's a wonderful thing that people are so connected with their food, because a lot of people, you know, thought it grew in the grocery store, I think, in the 1950s.

HANSEN: How do you think food connects us as a community? I mean, your recipes come from your family. This market is a place where you know every vendor, everybody that seems to walk by, but they all seem to be connected by food.

Ms. WOLF: I think eating is a very intimate way to connect with people. You sit across the table from people, you share your food. Cooking is a loving act. It's a very giving, sharing thing to do. You comfort people with food, you celebrate with food.

I remember, it was a very strange thing. After 9/11, for almost a week, every day afterwards, a group of my friends and neighbors would get together at one of our houses and have dinner together. We didn't discuss it, we didn't discuss the menu, it just sort of happened. It was a natural thing to do, to eat together. It made us all feel safer. It was a very uncertain time. We lived near the Pentagon, and we just wanted to be together, but it was always at a meal. We didn't just huddle together, we huddled together over the dinner table.

HANSEN: So what's on your shopping list today?

Ms. WOLF: Today I got ground beef and some green onions and parsley and spinach. I also got pomegranate seeds, because Mrs. Calamiras(ph), she and her husband and their two sons have a produce stand and they've been here for many, many years. She has seeded pomegranates, so why go to all that trouble? And I'm making a pomegranate soup with little meatballs in it.

HANSEN: Can we come to your house for dinner?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WOLF: Absolutely. I love people to come to my house for dinner. You're most welcome.

HANSEN: Bonny Wolf. Her new book is called Talking with My Mouth Full: Crabcakes, Bundt Cakes and Other Kitchen Stories. And she joined us here in the shadow of the market lunch at the Eastern Market in Washington. Bonny, thanks for your time. We'll let you go back to shop.

Ms. WOLF: Thank you so much, Liane.

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