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Michele Kayal grew up in a Syrian-Irish family but all she ever learned in Arabic were the food words. After years writing about “important” things – politics, business, the Federal Aviation Administration – she finally caved in to the lifelong knowledge that all she really wanted to talk about was food and how it expresses culture and identity. She has lived and traveled around the world, from England to India, Prague to Hawaii, from Syria, Singapore and Seoul to Jakarta, Japan and Jordan, eating and writing every step of the way.  A regular contributor to Associated Press and NPR.org, Michele’s pieces also have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Gourmet, Bon Appetit, Conde Nast Traveler and The Huffington Post. Her work has been recognized by the International Association of Culinary Professionals and by the Association of Food Journalists. She truly believes ice cream eaten from the carton has no calories.

By Michele Kayal

Chop Talk: Zac Brown Band and a truck named ‘Cookie’

The Zac Brown Band rose to fame with their 2008 hit “Chicken Fried,” an ode to the comforts of hot chicken, cold beer and a pair of comfy blue jeans (video below). Country music has long been associated with food, its lyrics crooning about pecan pie, whiskey and a mother’s love. Country artists have cooking …

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Chef Sean Brock shares his Southern “Heritage”

I get somewhere between three and eight cookbooks every day. Most of them, I glance at and put aside, waiting for a story that they might fit. Truth be told, many are the same, offering smoky covers full of airbrushed ingredients or screaming about the five ingredients that I Must Cook With Now. But today, …

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Sorghum farmers become accidental artisans

On a recent Saturday morning, Danny Ray Townsend stood stirring a pan of sorghum over a hot hickory wood fire. The breeze came only now and then, wafting through the shed and carrying the syrup’s grassy scent to the crowds gathered around the mule-powered mill. “We’ve got little spoons and we give a hot sampling …

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Jacques Pepin slow but still steady

He doesn’t swallow insects or tell anyone they’ve been “chopped,” and as far as we know, he’s never yelled “Bam!” But Jacques Pepin has been a force on American food television for longer than many viewers have been alive. Pepin, who turns 80 next year, steps down from his longtime perch on public television with …

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Confessions of a clam killer

    “No, don’t die!” I found myself yelling at the bowl in my sink. I had just covered about 3 dozen steamer clams with water, and when I added a small bit of salt and cornmeal, which I’d been told would help them spit their grit, a sort of gurgle came from the water. …

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Vermont farm vacation means food and family

One of my family’s favorite summer rituals is a trip to Liberty Hill Farm in Rochester, Vt. Tucked along the banks of the White River, this working dairy farm has about 300 cows, a hayloft with a tire swing and so many kittens the kids never have to fight over who gets to hold them. …

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Maya Angelou was also a poet in the kitchen

Many people know Maya Angelou as a poet, civil rights activist and revealer of why caged birds sing. What fewer know about Angelou, who died yesterday at the age of 86, is that she was a passionate — and acclaimed — cook. Like so many of us, she learned to cook at her grandmother’s knee. …

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Chop Talk: Cory Bahr urges small-town food stops

It makes Cory Bahr angry when people blow through the small cities of the South on a tear to reach New Orleans or Nashville or the region’s other culinary giants. But Bahr’s having the last laugh. The 37-year-old chef-owner of Restaurant Cotton in Monroe, La., was just named “Food and Wine” magazine’s people’s choice chef …

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Chop Talk: Aarón Sánchez on Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo is more than an excuse to drink margaritas. And it is not — repeat, not — Mexican independence day (that’s Sept. 16). Instead, it commemorates the victory of outgunned and outnumbered Mexican soldiers over Napoleon’s army in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. It’s a low-key holiday in Mexico — …

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Hawaii’s ‘local’ food is diversity on a plate

Today in Honolulu, the discerning diner can eat at lots of upscale places from Nobu to Bill’s Sydney, creation of the Australian chef Bill Granger. But on a recent trip, the only thing I wanted were the flavors that brought me home. I lived in Hawaii for seven years, learning about the state’s intensely multi-ethnic …

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