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Posts Tagged ‘Gastronomy’

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Ouch. It’s January 2009, and wallets previously ready to fly open at the slightest beckoning call of the local free-range organic rabbit (head still on, bones intact, tiny tail bone looking rather pitiful now shed of its cute fluffy fur) for $7 per pound – which effectively makes the cost of the meat shorn of the bones somewhere around $15 per pound – those wallets are balking.

But it is not 1940. And we are not in London. And we are not kept busy in the ways the Women Firewatchers shown in the above photograph (from British Vogue in 1940 by Lee Miller) were kept actively busy at that time.

But getting back to the wallets of 2009. Some will still open. Many more will not.

Pain shows in the hearts and faces of men and women when facing their finances. Not only have their retirement funds been hobbled but food – right now – today! – is becoming more and more expensive. What’s a person to do?

This poverty is a different shape, here and now in 2009, than it has been in times past. For aside from the fact that the grocery stores are still filled to over-brimming with every product from almost everywhere in the world, there is the question of those wallets. Are those wallets as damaged as they have been in past times of hardship? Not being an economist, I can’t answer that.

But I do know that in past times though there may have been mortgage payments and utility bills and all the usual expenses of day-to-day life, there was no monthly cell-phone bill . . . there was no monthly cable or internet connection bill . . . there was no high health insurance payment due . . . there usually was not a second or third car payment bill due . . . and let’s not even start talking about the cost of a higher-education where funds must be saved or financed for the Masters or Ph.D rather than for the Bachelors degree – which now for the most part is about as useful to the job-seeker as a High School degree was in times past – useful, that is, as a mere nod into the door of a low-paying entry job.

In times of hardship one looks to times of past hardships for answers: what to do, how to survive. There’s also the sense of seeking reassurance that indeed, people did survive. They did live and love and eat and hate and plot and plan and dream and finally either regain their feet – or if not – simply go on living, somehow.

One of our most-revered writers on life, food, and hungers – MFK Fisher – wrote a huge body of work during the 1940’s during times of war and some hardships. Consider the Oyster (1941) was written as she and her husband Dillwyn Parrish fled a war-torn Europe to come back to the US. Dillwyn was dying – in a most painful way – in a way where his body was slowly, bit by bit, being claimed by Buerger’s disease. How to Cook A Wolf was published in 1942 – the year when the rationing (already in place in England) finally came to US shores.

Tires were the first item to be rationed in January 1942 because supplies of natural rubber were interrupted. Soon afterward, passenger automobiles, typewriters, sugar, gasoline, bicycles, footwear, fuel oil, coffee, stoves, shoes, meat, lard, shortening and oils, cheese, butter, margarine, processed foods (canned, bottled and frozen), dried fruits, canned milk, firewood and coal, jams, jellies and fruit butter, were rationed by November 1943.[3] (Source wiki-rationing-US)

How To Cook A Wolf is full of information about how to survive when there is little to survive on. I’ve read this book more than once, in varying circumstances. The time I most appreciated it was when I moved to Paris into a wonderful apartment whose heating system required the insertion of coins into a small box on the wall. It seemed apt to read MFKF then and there.

Much of what is in this book will not be accepted by today’s readers, looking for answers in terms of ‘what to eat’ when the pocketbook is hurting. Gently given advice to ‘Go fishing for your dinner‘, or to ‘Gather wild foods for the one daily meal’, and ‘Eat mush‘ (recipe provided) come to mind.

In 1943 MFKF published The Gastronomical Me – to my mind the greatest of her works. Here is life, punctuated by food. Food is the thing that binds, that ties, that rocks, that cradles – a river that the larger themes of existence flow upon, with the prose of MFKF as wind goddess moving it all along.

Then followed a novel, then the translation of Brillat-Savarin’s The Physiology of Taste, and An Alphabet for Gourmets.

There are many ways to face being pinched by the dollar. As for myself, I won’t try cooking and eating mush – unless I really have to. And I am grateful that my days are not spent scanning the skies for warplanes and fires.

But I will read MFK Fisher. And not just only (or not even substantially) for the advice she gives (though some of it is good).

I’ll read her just for her words, alone. They’re better in some ways than even the most perfect slab of Kobe beef.

An added bonus? They are sustainable.
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Live recording of Billie Holiday from the 1940’s: Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do

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I love QQ food. I love Q food too.

Q is not a question. Q is a texture. Or as expressed much more succinctly and beautifully by Zoe Tribur in the Spring 2006 issue of Gastronomica

QQ is a unique oral sensation that
cannot be mistaken for any other. When you put something
in your mouth—cold or warm, salty or sweet, dry or wet,
it doesn’t matter—if the substance first pushes back as you
seize it with your teeth, then firms up for just a moment
before yielding magnanimously to part, with surprising ease
and goodwill, from the cleaving corners of your mandibles—
that is Q.

Many people do not like Q food. It is somewhat alien to the palate of the eater exposed solely to the foodways of the middle-class United States.

That’s okay. More for me. 🙂

I’ve found a recipe for a Q food served at the Winter Solstice way over on the other side of the world. Tang Yuen. It looks delicious. Yay, tang yuen!

It is a few days past the Winter Solstice, but better late than never. Perhaps this will be the start of a new tradition – our own post-Christmas Tang Yuen party!

Note: The article in Gastronomica on Q is downloadable as a PDF file. It is titled ‘Taste’ by Zoe Tribur and is definitely worth reading, for any gastro of any astral sphere.

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The November/December print issue of Mental Floss puts Homaro Cantu of Moto on its list of ‘The New Einsteins – 9 Geniuses’.

The article is short, one page of questions. Cantu talks about levitating salt with a particle gun 🙂 🙂 and has this to say about his menu:

‘First we shock people, and then we awe them with the fact that this stuff is real food, ‘ Cantu says. ‘If it doesn’t make you go, “Holy sh**, that was the greatest spaghetti I’ve ever eaten – and it looked like a cheeseburger!” then it’s just not worth it.’

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(This is part 1 of 3 posts.)

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‘Near a Thousand Tables’ is a very different book within the genre of food history than I’ve ever seen or read before. There may be books equal to (or similar to) it – my reading on food history is only a small part of the other sorts of reading I do so I may have missed something like it along the way. If so, I rue it. There should be more books like this.

Let me set my placement as ‘food history reader’ so my thoughts on this book can be weighed and measured knowing that stance:

* The first food history book I ever read (aside from grammar school lessons on turkeys and pumpkins et al) was Larousse Gastronomique. The volume was the 1971 edition. Though Larousse is not defined exactly as a ‘food-history’ book there exists within it a tremendous amount of food history nonetheless. The reading of it (in my mind at the time) was as preparation to be a chef – the idea of which was a vague stirring inside me. I read each entry from A to Z and loved it. In retrospect (in view of the marketplace for these sorts of things) it’s shame I didn’t read it now instead of then and try to sell a book based upon following the entries! But I can not read that thing from A to Z again.

* Masses of Gourmet Magazines, from the years anywhere between 1960 and 1990. The writers during those years of Gourmet often wrote of food history under the guise of merely writing of gourmet food. Somewhere around 1990 this sort of writing disappeared from Gourmet – swallowed below the wide swaths of surface food: how to cook and what to cook to be a gourmet cook par excellence, where to travel, what to buy for the kitchen. I can understand how this happened – the foodie revolution had begun and as a group-in-general foodies are interested in the ‘now’ of things: what’s hot and what’s not. The urge was for a fashion statement and Gourmet shifted its tone to suit the readers. I’m glad it did, and glad it survived. In recent years, Ruth Reichl has been gently and intelligently re-shaping the magazine to be more than just an ephemeral statement about acquisition and food fashion. Today Gourmet has morphed back from being a rainbow-colored gigantic lollipop wrapped in shiny cellophane with a nice big stick to hold tightly while waving around in the grip of a well-manicured hand, into something more than that. Thank goodness.

* Waverly Root – and how he has come under attack in later years! James Beard – who is not as well known for his writings as he is for the charitable Foundation created with his name whose Board often appears to be trying to figure out how to handle or mis-handle the fairly decent lashings of money they manage to gather. MFK Fisher – who writes of food history almost by default as she writes, as she does write to entertain and story-tell, to gather her audience close with their ears eagerly perked. Elizabeth David, Jane Grigson. Roy Andries de Groot, Evan Jones. The Settlement Cookbook. The Boston Cooking School Cookbook. Marion Cunningham. Patricia Bunning Stevens. Margaret Visser, Charles Perry, John Egerton, Sherrie Inness, Rachel Laudan, Clifford Wright, Paula Wolfert, Madeleine Pelner-Cosman. And so many more I can not remember at the moment. These readings come from this part of the globe and not other parts of the globe solely due to the fact that I can only read my native language (English) (as opposed to other languages) at a level that allows the understanding of any subliminal intonations in the text (or as many as a general reader might try to find, anyway). I dearly love the writings of all the above authors. And aside from love which is a fanciful thing, I respect them all immensely.

* Cambridge ‘World History of Food’ sits on my bookshelf, as do the Oxford ‘Companion to Food’ and Oxford ‘Food and Drink in America’. All great reference books, but I’m unsure how much I really ‘learn’ from them as I dread to pull them off the shelf for fear of falling asleep due to the generally dry academic writing styles and the length of the entries. I am not a true scholar, in this sense.

That’s where I’m coming from as a reader. Add the fact that I also have a strong aversion to reading things wherein the author appears to have pulled out a bunch of facts from somewhere and plopped them down like a lesson plan on to the page with little or no value added: no creative POV to take the thing to the next level – or alternately, if the author’s voice is not the sort that would independently charm me into not really caring if there were a next level added or not.

Having said all that, I am madly in love with ‘Near a Thousand Tables’.

In the next post I’ll tell you why – and tell you of my respect for the book too. Right now I’ve ranted on for so long that it is past time to go make breakfast – or be charged with Treason by my children. Treason by Reason of Blogging.
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P.S. In my urge to rush off to feed these obviously-starving-to-death children I forgot to add a very important something (or rather someone) – Reay Tannahill. Her book ‘Food in History’ is my very favorite food history book in the world till now.

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A 2006 article from Discover Magazine discusses This (and that) on molecular gastronomy, how to cook the perfect egg, and more. Two years later it may be, but this is still an excellent article.

The confounding of molecular gastronomy with a sort of hipster cuisine drives even a patient man like This a little crazy. Non, non, non: Molecular gastronomy isn’t a cooking style, he insists. “We shouldn’t confuse science with technology. Molecular gastronomy is only the science part. It asks: How does something work? What is the mechanism? The application of that knowledge is the cooking part, and that’s technology. Cooking is a technique”—his voice softens—”combined with art.” He adds, “Here in the lab, we do the science part—experiments.

A fine distinction made, but an important one. 🙂

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If you have not yet read Ferran Adria’s

philosophy on food for yourself but merely heard bits and pieces you can find the whole at elbulli.com (which is quite an enterprise of a site with a serious corporate air about it).

It is titled ‘Synthesis of elBulli cuisine’.

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MoiraMoira’s Catty Corner

Eck eck eck. You’ll have to forgive these little noises that come deep from my throat so lovingly as I report on this topic, dolls. We’re talking squirrel here, and that makes me purr.

We’ll also talk about some of my other fav things – celebrity chefs – but before that let’s do our part to be cultured, as that is what cats do. Here’s something Emily Dickinson wrote:

Experiment to me

Is every one I meet

If it contain a Kernel? The Figure of a Nut

Presents upon a Tree

Equally plausibly,

But Meat within, is requisite

To squirrels, and to Me.

Emily has a way of understanding things, a way quite cattish! Prrrrrp.

Did celebrity chefs invent dining upon squirrels in one of their wild fits of adorable creativity that make us gasp and purr? Unfortunately, no.

The word itself, so lovely, sounding like my rough tongue rolling along its fur, comes from the Greeks. The Ancient ones. They gave it the name “skiouros” which means shadow-tail, for they believed the squirrels’ tail was made to wrap around the little guys, keeping them protected from the sun.

The Ancient Greeks may have been a little nutty but at least they were also poetic.

Eck eck eck. Back to the eating, please. A short history of this delightful taste-treat includes Brunswick Stew, native to Brunswick County Virginia, where the usual native American succotash was expanded to include little bites of squirrel meat, along with tomatoes. For some strange reason, Brunswick Stew never really took off to become popular anywhere except where there was not much else to eat.

That’s okay. More for me. Meow.

Jumping forward to current times, squirrel is becoming popular in some places. London is the epi-center of all things squirrel lately, based on my research:

In 2002, nutkin becomes a fine-dining item. A story dated March 10 of that year in The Independent reports that

Squirrel is on the menu at St John, a restaurant near London’s Smithfield market, and it’s delicious – like tender wild rabbit, braised with bacon and dried porcini mushrooms, musky flavours to echo its woodland habitat. But some might prefer to steer clear – because it borders on taboo.

Taboos were being fought in 2006 as this story (23 of March in BBC News) has it:

TV chef Jamie Oliver should encourage schoolchildren to eat grey squirrels in an effort to save the endangered red species, a Conservative peer says.Lord Inglewood said greys had to be culled to ensure reds – native to the UK – did not die out.

“I must confess that I have never actually eaten a grey squirrel… but I am prepared to give it a go,” he said.

“Unless something radical and imaginative is done Squirrel Nutkin and his friends are going to be toast.”

Eck eck eck! Eck! Lord Inglewood you have my full attention!

This year the passion for squirrel is growing. The May 11 edition of The Independent says that tree-huggers love the idea of squirrel. And why not?!

And then, dear ones, we get to those celebrity chefs!

A glut of back-to-the-wild TV programmes featuring celebrity chefs such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has also tickled the public’s palate, but squirrel is still unlikely to be found in the family fridge. The Observer’s restaurant critic, Jay Rayner, said he had never tasted squirrel, but if he did have it for dinner ‘it would have to be a big, fat country squirrel and not one of the mangy urban ones you see in cities’.

The very same day, metro.co.uk gets down with the rodent even more!

Keith Viner, former chef of Michelin-starred Pennypots in Cornwall, said: ‘Southern-fried squirrel is good. And tandoori style works.

‘It is especially tasty fricasséed with Cornish cream and walnuts. But the one everyone seems to like is the Cornish squirrel pasty.’

I would love a Cornish squirrel pasty. Buttery, flaky, squirrely goodness! And no bones to choke on!

That’s the report from Catty Corner, dolls. I must continue with my yoga. If you have any ideas or recipes for squirrel you’d like to share with me, please purr please do! Eck eck.

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