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My Soup Cookbook Came From My Battle With Cancer

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Around this time, notes from my editor arrived in my inbox for the Spanish cookbook. After a few phone calls with my agent, we determined the best outcome was for me to hand over the rest of my advance to a ghostwriter. And so my dream project was whisked from my hands as if it had never been mine at all.

I was called back to the doctors’ office to learn that my brain surgery wasn’t, in fact, the end of this wild ride, but only the beginning. My surgeon told me I had cancer, glioblastoma, and likely only about a year to live.

I cried. I sat as my parents and husband cried over my body that seemed to belong to someone else. I told my oldest son that his mother might be leaving him but I would do everything in my power to try to change that. I immediately began the kind of diet I’d made fun of as a food writer, looking for buzzwords like “alkaline” and “anti-inflammatory”; I began to take menu suggestions from a homeopath. Suddenly, I was eating like a totally different person: I now no longer consumed refined sugar, gluten, and chocolate; I swapped my daily coffee for tea; I made a “do not eat” list that would have previously read as a grocery list. I wasn’t yet strong enough to cook, however, so I immediately took to my CaringBridge and sent a call for homemade soup into the void. It was also the first place I admitted publicly to my diet changes, as if holding myself accountable.

Every day, the cooler we left on the front porch was stocked with a jumble of jars, all filled with soup that suited my new diet. Many jars came with notes, but just as many came without: the wishes for health and love were implied in the soup itself. I spent the next three months undergoing daily chemo and radiation treatment and, to the disbelief of the team constantly monitoring my body on a cellular level, I grew stronger, healthier even. My job had become to survive for my family, and somehow I was.

As I grew stronger, I needed to cook again as much as I’d needed to write, and so, with deep gratitude, I asked my anonymous soup spirits to stop filling the cooler out front. I cooked as a means of exploring my new way of eating, trying to convince myself that I could enjoy, share and write about food despite the limitations I’d put on my diet. But I was unhappy. Because of my diet, I felt even more isolated than I did as a cancer patient betrayed by her own body.

I arrived at the year mark, the time I was given to live, and my scans were clean. I’d survived against very slim odds and built a strange life for myself in the process, one that held parts of myself separate from another. The place I’d arrived at was foreign, desolate: my dream career had fallen away, and my cancer had put my family in serious financial difficulty. I was thrilled to be alive, but the life I’d gotten back wasn’t really living.


So I decided to make soup. Soup, this sustenance that communicated health, love, and community in a way that I honestly believe saved my life. I believed it could save me again. I decided to make it for the friends who made it for me, to drop it on their porches and hope it gave them something they needed. And so, soup club was born.

Many of my friends are vegan, so I chose to make vegan soups despite not being a vegan myself. I wanted to prove to myself that eating a restricted diet didn’t exclude flavorful, exciting food. Making vegan soups was like the most challenging article I’d ever written—I needed them to be amazing, to say something interesting and different. Cooking pots upon pots of soup for people who would eat it within a few days gave me an immediate feedback loop I’d never had before in my work. My soups were affecting my members’ lives in a real way, and my creativity was felt in their bowls; I was receiving silly soup texts and beautiful soup-inspired artwork as heartfelt gratitude.

And when an idea for a cookbook came to me, I knew I was fully restored, alive again. I saw it clearly: a book inspired by my cancer story, yet not defined by it, one that belonged to my community. To return to them the debt of soup and life they had given me, sewn together in pages that held our collective story.

Today, I am alive and have indeed created the cookbook I am proudest of: Soup Club, a collection of the recipes I make for my friends. Turns out, it didn’t take journeying across the world to find my dream project. It found me right where I was, and fed me soup that saved my life.

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Food

Danny Bowien Posts Confessional Following Mission Chinese Workplace Investigation

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Following a lengthy Grub Street investigation of the workplace culture at trend-setting restaurant Mission Chinese, chef Danny Bowien opened up publicly about the longstanding allegations of mismanagement that occurred at the restaurant while the critically acclaimed spot was operating at its height in the NYC dining scene.

On Instagram, Bowien reacted to the report with a lengthy confessional, in which he apologized while discussing rampant abuse in the industry. “I am sorry. I am truly fucking sorry,” Bowien wrote. “Not only for all that I did wrong but like in fucking general that this had to be the industry we all found ourselves in.”

In his post, Bowien alleged that he experienced sexual abuse and trauma as a child, followed by physical assault as he started his restaurant career. Bowien acknowledges that, while leading Mission Chinese, he was “cruel” and regularly used homophobic slurs, but writes that, at the time, the misconduct felt mild compared to what he had experienced in kitchens. He goes on to question the workplace ethics of restaurants as a whole, ultimately seeming to take a resigned view of the entire industry and the abuse that seems endemic to it.

Grub Street’s investigation included interviews with over two dozen former Mission Chinese staffers, who detailed allegations of extensive abuse by multiple management figures in the workplace, including many instances of physical and verbal assault. One former line cook likened the work environment to living in “a nightmare you couldn’t wake up from.”

Some of the abuse allegations, including an instance where the restaurant’s chef de cuisine, Quynh Le, allegedly seared a staffer’s arm with a spoon dipped in hot oil, first came to light in a class-action lawsuit that a group of employees filed against Bowien and Mission Chinese in 2018. Le, who was not named in the suit, posted his own apologetic statement on Instagram last month in which he wrote that his actions at Mission Chinese “perpetuated and fostered an unsafe workplace.” He did not address specific instances of abuse.

Bowien, his ex-wife Youngmi Mayer, and former executive chef Angela Dimayuga have been trading blows in various public forums over the past few months regarding Mission Chinese’s workplace culture and who was responsible for allowing misconduct to allegedly flourish behind-the-scenes.

During Mission Chinese’s heyday in NYC, Bowien and Dimayuga both publicly propped up the restaurant as a bastion of healthy employee relations at the same time that the misconduct was allegedly taking place.

“It feels really distinctly like a race to cover one’s ass in terms of their involvement in this,” a former server told Grub Street of the recent finger-pointing playing out over social media.

Bowien addressed issues of alleged racism at the restaurant this past summer following the Black Lives Matter protests, and further alluded to the toxic culture at the restaurant in a podcast with Mayer in July, but this is the first time that Bowien has addressed issues at the restaurant in detail.

Bowien shut down Mission Chinese’s lauded Lower East Side location in September. Mission in Bushwick is still operational, as well as the original San Francisco location, but Bowien acknowledged in his recent Instagram post that the Brooklyn outpost was in financial trouble. “It sucks I made money off this industry,” Bowien wrote. “I guess it will be cleansing to hear I walk away with nothing but debt. Barely holding on to one place that will most likely close.”

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Your Home Is the Sports Bar Now—Make Wings!

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You can drag me to the sports bar with the stickiest floor, the rudest fans, and the worst beer selection and I will be happy. Because I LOVE WINGS. My favorite preflight meal is Buffalo Wild Wings. So with the return of Big 10 football this weekend, my home will transform into the sports bar of 2020, better than any other sports bar because it’s just me and my pod and my cat. We have a clean bathroom. And a great beer selection.

Back to the wings. Bon Appétit has many recipes for them. Some are more complicated than others. I’ve been practicing, and I took notes, so that we can figure out which wings YOU should make. Go Blue!

You want to be true to the experience, you purist you

To re-create bar-style Buffalo wings, what you really need to do is deep-fry them in the grease of 1,000 wings past. I don’t do that at home because of the amount of oil required and my general laziness. But if you MUST, this recipe is the truest expression of those wings you so desire. Super-crispy skin, drenched in sauce, an absolutely delicious mess.

You want Buffalo wings but don’t want to fry them

Why go to the trouble of deep-frying when the wings get sogged in sauce anyway? When you bake them you can achieve a pretty damn crispy skin and no one will be the wiser once they’re smothered in ranch that’s all over your face and couch cushions. Steam cleaner’s coming next week, don’t worry about it. 

NOTE ON THIS RECIPE: Some commenters do NOT like the brown sugar in the Buffalo sauce, which is “untraditional” and “blasphemous” depending on your wing religion. I made them with the sugar and have to agree: not necessary. I want straight buttery Frank’s Red Hot heat.

You want to grill 

The weather’s nice and you have one of those outdoor setups with a TV on the patio! This is a nice recipe for the occasion. The soy-honey marinade is easy and lip-smacking, I’ve made these about once a summer since the recipe came out. Plus shishitos! If you want.

You want crispy wings but don’t like them “wet”

Sorry, not sure how else to say it. But after some time in the boiler, these peppercorn wings get a texture  I’d compare to a salt-and-pepper-flavored kettle chip. The recipe’s also super flexible—play with whatever spices you have around the house, as long as you go HARD on the pepper for those crunchy bits.

You want a sweet, glaze-y wing

Within this recipe there’s a traditional Buffalo sauce and the option of a simple glaze with ginger, honey, garlic, and soy sauce. I hate to mention B Dub’s “Asian Zing” sauce because that name, oof, but these really did remind me of them. (I add sambal.)

You want crispy wings AND leftover chicken fat

Andy Baraghani’s wings have a couple of cool cooking-technique things going on. The wings get covered in spices and a ginger-garlic oil and sit for 30 min-to a full day to season them deeply. THEN you bake them starting from a cold oven, which makes the chicken fat slowly drip off into the pan (which you can save and use later) and leaves you with super-crispy skin. It’s a bit of a process but with restaurant-worthy results. Very Andy.

You want “mind-altering” wings

This is a recipe from a Texas restaurant, Hot Joy, know for its crab-fat caramel wings. I haven’t made these because there’s frying involved, but there’s also a fish sauce and crab paste caramel for glazing the wings. So I’m thinking maybe I’ll make THAT and then bake the wings to be more user-friendly. I’ll report back soon. 

See you on the sidelines!

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The Ideal Thanksgiving Wine Is Versatile, Slightly Chilled, and Orange

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As the sommelier at Pinch Chinese in New York City, I get a lot of questions from friends and family about which wines to pair with Chinese food. But this time of year I field one specific crisis call: What should I drink on Thanksgiving?! Even among somms, Thanksgiving dinner is a notoriously difficult meal to pair because of all the sides. How do you find a wine that plays well with a green bean casserole, three types of stuffing (it’s a competition in my family), and creamy mashed potatoes?

In the past I’ve leaned on tried-and-trues like Prosecco and Lambrusco, but this year I’m tying the meal together with a few bottles of orange. Also known as skin-contact wines, they’re made by fermenting white grapes with the skins on, like you’d normally do for a red wine. I recommend starting with a light-maceration option that’s spent only a few days fermenting with the skins—like steeping a bag of tea for an extra few minutes to extract more flavor and aroma. The result tastes like white wine with the volume turned up, but not as intense and barnyardy as some other orange varietals. And because of their floral aromatics, heightened acidity, and fruity flavor, these wines work well with just about anything on your table.

So this Thanksgiving I’m pouring slightly chilled glasses of Domaine Glinavos’s Paleokerisio, with half the bubbles but twice the flavor of Prosecco; Oenops’s Rawditis, full of grilled lemon and apricot notes (perfect for Chardonnay-loving relatives); and Manolis Garalis’s Terra Ambera, which tastes like orange blossom and jasmine, a reminder of The Summer That Could Have Been. It’s a new tradition, like muting my uncle on Zoom, wishing I was in Santorini, and telling myself that there’s always next year.

Buy them: 

Domaine Glinavos’s Paleokerisio, $15 at Leisir Wine 
Oenops’s Rawditis, $30 at Astor Wines & Spirits
Manolis Garalis’s Terra Ambera, $22 at Astor Wines & Spirits

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