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Archive for the ‘Global Food Culture’ Category

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The New York Times International Cookbook ‘by’ Craig Claiborne is among my small gathering of long-time book companions. I put the quote marks there because I’m not sure I see Craig anywhere in the book, aside from a preface where he lists a zillion names and gives thanks to a large city.

This is a book of recipes. Period. No commentary, no cultural notes, no cute little stories, no stressing over ingredients or substitutions, no ‘how to cook’ notes, no pages of equipment with details.

The collection of recipes is good and basic. So much so that the book feels substantive. But in terms of cooking from it – no, I never really did. It feels substantive, the book, but it is more on my shelves just because it feels substantive. Not because it is substantively useful to me.

There are several recipes in this book that were worthwhile to me, though. Very basic recipes but simple and delicious. Pastisio is the first – and the best of the lot. And if you don’t have pastisio every once in a while there will be a part of your soul lost. You will forget the glaring sun upon the open-aired sea, lose the taste of Retsina burning at the back of your throat, and rue the memory of cats sidling round your feet at the taverna.

Therefore it is important to keep the pastisio fires burning. One recipe. That’s why I keep this book.

You have to eat oatmeal or you’ll dry up. Anybody knows that. (Kay Thompson)

Kay was really talking about pastisio when she wrote that.

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For almost as long as I can remember, I’ve believed that I am Pippi Longstocking. My mother encouraged this belief as soon as I could scan pages in the Pippi book (this was before Pippi was immortalized in film). Pippi, after all, was from Sweden – and so was my mother’s father. Pippi was red-headed and freckled like me, and she not only was a ‘character’ (which was a good thing, in my mother’s mind) but she was the strongest girl in the world.

Before reading Pippi, I’m afraid the way I was shaping up was just not to my mother’s tastes. The things that seemed wrong to her had been introduced by my grandmother – including, at the grand old age of four years old, desperately wanting a lavender colored two-piece linen skirt suit with matching hat, tiny little clasp purse, and white gloves to wear to church – on Easter. My mother did not like church nor did she like the idea of girl growing up to be like a ‘church-woman’ in any way. So Pippi was the application of medicine she applied, and it took quite successfully!

Now Pippi had many adventures – the real Pippi. And so have I. If I had become a little lady with white gloves as opposed to becoming Pippi, I never would have been able to walk into a professional kitchen and learn to kick ass well enough in that environment to eventually become an executive chef. White gloves simply don’t cut it in many environments.

My big adventure, at this moment of my life, is raising my children. I raise them alone as a single mother. I’ve got my own ideas of what that encompasses, for me and for my children, and this adventure is of a rather quiet nature. It’s a private adventure. Not thrilling to talk about, in general. But I wouldn’t give it up for the world.

But a few days ago, Diana Buja left a comment (for ‘foodvixen the chef’) that mentioned going to Africa – where her own adventure takes place – and working for a month in the kitchen being grown there in Burundi at the gorgeous hotel built to charm tourists into visiting a fascinating and beautiful country  where hope lives right alongside terrible and deep challenges of the sort many of us will never have to face.

My heart soared in the face of this invitation. Pippi, me – I would go! I knew this adventure would teach me more than I carried along with me . . . for things like this always do. And I was ready to go!

After imagining just how it would be, after a bit of time reality set in. I may be Pippi, but I still have two kittens here at home – and I won’t leave them for this sort of adventure just yet. Because that is the sort of Mommy-Cat I am.

But what could I see, if I did go? Maybe I would see Gustav!

The hand of a crocodile at the Musee Vivant in Bujumbura. Urban legend has it in the countries surrounding Lac Tanganyika that within the lake lives a 30m crocodile known as Gustav. He is reported to have eaten over 100 people drowning after a ferry capsized en route to Burundi from Tanzania.

The hand of a crocodile at the Musee Vivant in Bujumbura. Urban legend has it in the countries surrounding Lac Tanganyika that within the lake lives a 30m crocodile known as Gustav. He is reported to have eaten over 100 people drowning after a ferry capsized en route to Burundi from Tanzania.

I’d have to decide whether I thought of myself as Stanley or as Livingstone, when I went to the place the two of them met in 1871

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And there would be many interesting things to eat!

Dried fish, Lates stappersii known in Tanzania as "mikebuka". This species is endemic to Lake Tanganyika.

Dried fish, Lates stappersii known in Tanzania as "mikebuka". This species is endemic to Lake Tanganyika.

This would be an adventure of a Pippi sort! I’d love to do it – and maybe it will happen . . . next year? Or the year after? As they say, ‘God willing’. Let’s change that to ‘Goddess willing’ and I’m going to cross my fingers, too! The adventures we are allowed – and even those we sometimes fall into unwittingly – bring us to life. As do the stories we believe!

Some music? Of course!

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Like any other thing we eat, there is the question of ‘why’? Why do we eat this particular thing? Do we eat it because we are really hungry? Or do we eat it because it just happens to be in front of us and available to eat? Or maybe simply because it happens to be the set time for a meal? These questions are the simpler ones. The more challenging questions have to do with tradition, history, culture, and power.

Power is not the least of things affecting what we eat – though in our culture that fact is not as apparent as it may be in other cultures.

In this short online documentary from National Geographic, the bush meat trade is summarized in a way that brings attention to some of the power issues circling around the eating of wild game or bushmeat such as rhinoceros in Africa. There was no mention of the lumber companies which have a hand in the story, but the players in this game – and the histories and traditions – all combine to create a not-so-small battle of ‘whose reality is the right one here’ – with very real results of the battle showing in day-to-day life in this place faraway from where we live and eat.

There is real hunger in some places. Hunger for food to stay alive. Then there are the other sorts of hungers. The complex hungers of status that play out in a number of ways.

Why would we want to eat rhinoceros? Or lion or tiger or bear? These things are not part of our cultural norms as edible things. Is the answer ‘I just want to know what it tastes like,’ a real answer – fully true and valid with no squirrelly levels of additional or alternate meaning underneath this flat-stated claim?

Perhaps in some cases it is for mere entertainment value.

We can buy wild game, including lion meat – online. Here, at this link, is a source. It is called ‘exotic meat’. Which of course has a different feel to the mind than ‘bush meat’ does. One of the satisfied customers giving testimonial on the website of this online exotic meat store was the pastor of a church in California, who states

“Anshu, The Lion Meat and the Python Meat was a hit. The guys found ways to cook it that were appealing. 500 people had a taste. Thanks for all your help.It was very nice to meet you and visit with you on the phone.” Yours, Jeff Beltz, Pastor, Hydesville Community Church

Dining upon the rhinoceros is certainly something to muse upon. We’ve come up close to the beast and have a few recipes ready if the need or urge arises.

The rhino is a homely beast,
For human eyes he’s not a feast.
Farwell, farewell, you old rhinoceros,
I’ll stare at something less prepoceros.

I think the rhino is rather cute, though Ogden Nash would disagree. Prepoceros, though – for sure.

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Ugh. Or at least that’s what I thought at first. Violet-Sweet Potato Latte sounds like something in a Tim Burton film. There’s something frightening about it that makes its name transpose silently into ‘Violent-Evil Potato Latte’. What would happen if you drank it? Perhaps a crack would start to form on the plaster of the wall, slowly opening to reveal another world filled with multi-color polka-dotted baby lambs gamboling on anodized-steel hills and hummocks.

But I digress, and of course the picture I paint is merely modern agriculture as viewed by many people.

The more I considered the Violet Sweet-Potato Latte the more I liked it, though. Tasting the flavors in the  mind brings the conclusion that they could work. Who knows! The flavors could possibly work as well as the Starbucks Pumpkin and Spice Latte – which I have about once a year.

Is there any other thing made from sweet potatoes and violets? I decided to search. A quick search turned up nothing, nada, rien. But this Sweet-Potato Mochi recipe might be revised to add a touch of delicate violet syrup along with the coconut milk to good results.

Shades of Tim Burton again. What is that thing in the middle of the plate of mochi do tell?

Nevertheless though I be scared I be brave and the recipe does look quite good. The original source of this interesting mochi recipe is the Hawaiian Electric Company website, which maintains quite a collection of recipes not often found elsewhere. Mind-boggling, really. I can not imagine Con Edison doing this.

I’ve been musing on recipes strange because of a wonderful place I fell across the other day: Delicious Corpse. It’s now on my list of places to visit every day, simply because of the joy it brings.

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Postscript: After writing this I got a note from a friend with the thought that the Violet-Sweet Potato Latte was not made from violet and sweet potatoes but instead from violet sweet potatoes. Hah! Apparently I’ve been viewing the world through violet-colored glasses in this search for things made with violets. I’m seeing little violet flowers everywhere, even when they are not there!

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I’ve wanted to make Son-of-a-Bitch Stew since forever.

It’s been so long I’ve wanted to make one that I can’t remember anymore where it was I first even heard of Son-of-a-Bitch Stew. And usually I can trot out the source of any recipe I’ve ever made or heard of because my mind is a Steel Recipe Trap.

I looked in all the cookbooks I’ve had for a long time. Nothing. Nada. Rien. Kaput. Son-of-a-Bitch Stew was not even mentioned by Waverly Root, and goodness knows he mentioned a lot of wonderfully, exceptionally odd things.

But that Son-of-a-Bitch Stew has been calling my name. I used to threaten people with the fact that I’d make it for them. Threaten or promise, that is. I was ready to do it at the drop of a hat (but only if it was a cowboy hat) and even knew butcher shops that had most of the ingredients.

That Son-of-a-Bitch (stew, that is) came awful close to hitting the stove once when a fellow from Wyoming came to lunch. Why Wyoming? (Say that fast five times . . .) Because Wyoming is a place where the Son-of-a-Bitch was known and loved. It’s not only in Texas, you know.

I was close to putting it on the menu, as close to it as a pig’s nose-ring is to the soil when they’re rooting around, but then I chickened out. Actually my mind was more running along the lines of making Son-of-a-Bitch-in-a-Sack, which would have been much more good old-fashioned fun, but darn it all. Something inside told me not to.

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I probably never would have found all the ingredients though, or at least not without saddling up my trusty steed and heading out for a long ride on the dusty trail in search of some of the more interesting tidbits. Then there’s also the fact that for sure the kitchen staff would have run for the hills themselves if I’d proposed the idea of Son-of-a-Bitch for lunch.

Son-of-a-Bitch in a Sack is sort of like Son-of-a-Bitch Stew, or it’s not. It’s not when it’s a pastry, a dessert – like the recipe Alan Simpson mentions enclosing in his letter. But the other way is like an Extreme Son-of-a-Bitch-Stew. You get real, with this thing. Here’s a recipe for Son-of-a-Bitch Stew from Clifford Wright.

What I remember most, but what I can not find written anywhere (did I imagine it, as I loped across the imaginary plains on my imaginary horse?) is that the Son-of-a-Bitch in a Sack (the one that is not a dessert) (the one you get real with) was cooked in a cow’s stomach. Therefore the name.

Though that Son-of-a-Bitch is still calling my name, the words are fainter now as time goes on by. Now, when I read the ingredients list, no low growl emits from my throat – the growl that says “I Will“.  Now, the corners of my mouth turn up a bit in delight at the unbridled sheer macho joy of the whole thing. And I say to myself “Maybe. Just maybe. Someday.

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Clifford Wright’s “Real Stew” book (source of the recipe above) is here on my bookshelves. And although I winnow constantly, it has been – and will always be – a Keeper. 🙂
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Yeeeeeeeee-haw! Rawhide!

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It’s good to know what sign you are, to eat accordingly.

BBC GoodFood can help with this. I like what they advise for me.

Happy Chinese New Year!

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