Readers may know her as the Edgy Veggie columnist for the Miami Herald, or the Meatless Monday columnist for the Huffington Post. Ellen Kanner, an award-winning food writer, launched her first book to a packed house at Books & Books recently. Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith & What to Eat for Dinner is a thoughtful, cheerful collection of recipes and the stories behind them, written with gentle wit and sensual musings on life, love and food.
The hungry ghost of the title is a Taoist concept, and Ellen uses it to refer to anyone who might be feeling hungry for food, meaning, connection or unconditional love. For Ellen, cooking food and serving it to her friends and family is a way of expressing that love and quelling those ghosts. “I write about the value of community,” Ellen said at the book signing presented by Slow Food Miami. “Food brings us together in many ways. We are all here together in a great global stew. We depend on each other.”
Ellen is not shy with the flavors of her dishes. She revels in creating rich and complex blends. Her recipes are inspired by exotic corners of the world. In her hands, familiar vegetables don’t taste so ordinary anymore. “There’s a great big world out there and it’s all worth tasting,” Ellen said.
Moroccan Carrot Salad is a zippy orange slaw with hits of cumin, cayenne and lemon. Summer Tomato Salad is spiced with za’atar. Red Lentil Soup fairly dances with Indian notes of coriander, turmeric and red pepper flakes. Earthy cardomom might be her favorite spice. “Slightly honeyed, slightly dusky — it struck a low note, back in the throat, deep in the viscera. It seemed to dirty-dance with our tongues.” Ellen writes poetically and sensually about flavors, textures and feelings. Don’t you dare snarf down a meal — enjoy! “Food is like foreplay, a pleasure in and of itself, one you don’t want to rush. Allow yourself to get into the mood,” she wrote. (She even tells the story of an orgy she hosted for her friends at the tender age of 15. You can read about it on page 35.)
Yet as adventurous as the recipes might get, Ellen is partial to home grown and praised the local food scene. More farmers markets are closing the gap between grower and consumer, and Slow Food Miami’s school gardens encourage kids to get their hands dirty. “Grow your own food,” Ellen suggested to a reader in the audience, “even if it’s a pot of herbs on the windowsill. Get a real appreciation of what it takes to grow real food.”
Friends and fans swooned and praised Ellen, who cheerfully signed books and posed for pictures. A number of local food luminaries were in there: organic farmer Gabriele Marewski, organic grower Norman Brooks, food writer Trina Sargalski, and a fair number of Slow Food Miami members, among others.
A table was loaded with desserts baked by Slow Food members, from recipes from the book. Local chef Ariana Kumpis brought seed cake, loaded with chia and flax seeds, scented with anise. Soft orange blossom cookies were perfumed with orange water and studded with pine nuts. Moist and richly flavored vegan chocolate cake disappeared quickly. “Love transforms even the simplest dish. It makes our inner light shine.” For a happy moment, hungry ghosts were sated with love of the edible kind.