Dan Jurafsy is a professor of linguistics and computer science at Stanford University. He has all kinds of impressive academic credentials, but what I brought him into my kitchen to discuss was his fascinating book, The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu (W.W. Norton).
His book applies computational linguistics to menus to find what we write about food says about us as a culture, and how those conversations change over time. In our conversation, we talked about why we have teenage girls to thank for the language we speak every day (really), what we like to eat when we’re sick and took a deep dive into desserts. We also talked about this video from Portlandia featuring Colin the Chicken, and how trends led to a conversation like this:
His book was the first one I’ve done for the podcast that didn’t contain any recipes. At the start of the book, Jurafsky discusses the origin of the words macaroni and macaroon. So I considered a long time family favorite of macaroni and tomatoes, but then opted for one of my favorite things in life — coconut macaroons. I was glad I did, as they turned out to be on his favorite sweets, too. This recipe replaces the usual white sugar with agave syrup, which I think improves both the taste and the texture.
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- 6 egg whites
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 cup agave syrup
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extra
- 3 cups unsweetened shreaded coconut (about 7 ounces)
- Preheat oven to 350° F. Line two baking sheets with silicon baking mats or parchment paper. Set aside. Add the egg whites and salt to the bowl of a mixer outfitted with a whisk. Whisk until the eggs are stiff, which means the peaks remain upright without collapsing. Use a spatula to gently fold in the agave syrup vanilla and coconut. Drop one rounded tablespoon of batter onto the prepared baking sheets at least two inches apart. Pinch each macaroon at the top to resemble a Hershey’s kiss. Gently stir the batter as you go along to prevent the agave from sinking to the bottom. Bake at 350° for 10 to 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Let cool slightly before serving until firm to the touch.
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