23.12.08

Blah Humbug?

So here it is the eve of Christmas Eve and I have, like many of you, spent a great deal of time the past few days cooking and baking...for everyone else. Why do we do this to ourselves? Do we feel some great need to prove our domestic goddessness to everyone by stressing out in a flurry of powdered sugar and candy sprinkles?

If you are like me, I very much enjoy cooking for other people. I get a lot out of watching other people take pleasure in something I have created. I love having people over because that means I get to put together a menu and use some new recipe or technique I've learned.

This time of year, however, I begin to feel a bit Scrooge-like. It's not because I have stopped enjoying my time in the kitchen (although I do bake much more than I care to this time of year and baking is not my favorite discipline), but it almost feels like an obligation around Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I believe this feeling is reflective of our entire mentality this time of year. We are so caught up in our "holiday obligations" that we have veered off the true Christmas course. That course, obviously, is remembering the true celebration of Christmas: the birth of Jesus!

I find that once I remember why we celebrate this day, everything else falls into perspective. I realize just how truly blessed I am, and how thankful I am for all God has given myself and my family, and I am rejuvinated in my desire to give and create for others.

I also think back to my favorite Christmas food memories. I remember that the reason my mom started making goodie boxes is because when we were a very young family, there was not a lot of money for gifts, so she baked. I have had long forgotten memories of my grandmother's goodie closet refreshed (thanks mom!). I remember homemade vegetable soup (before church) and a tray of cheese and summer sausage (after church) on Christmas Eve. And I remember all the fudge, buckeyes, and fruit cake being stored in my older brother's bedroom because it was the coldest room in the house. Oh....that fruit cake! Little bundles of brandy (or was it rum?)-soaked joy wrapped in cheesecloth like little mummies, just waiting to be untombed in a few weeks time!

So now I look at my seemingly never ending grocery list (and bill!), stare at my cooking and baking to-do list, and remember that were it not for Jesus, this birthday celebration would not be here to enjoy, and all these wonderful memories would be nonexistent. So I will go back into the kitchen and tackle my scones, short ribs, and bacon-wrapped dates (yes Carrie, they are appearing yet again) with a truly thankful heart and plunge right back in, this time with the right attitude. Happy Birthday Jesus!

29.10.08

How Much is Too Much?

The other night Gary and I were watching our latest recording of "No Reservations" with Anthony Bourdain. This episode was in a different format, with Mr. Bourdain back in New York having a sort of round table meal with friends well connected in the food industry. They were dining at WD~50, the restaurant of the highly talented chef/molecular gastronomist Wylie Dufresne.

At the beginning of the meal, Mr. Bourdain stated that he had recently had a definitive dining experience at a sushi establishment where he spent $1800.00 on a meal for two. Of course the questions he posed was obvious: Was he a fool for paying so much? Should he even have been charged that much for a single meal for two people?

I will give you two quick answers to each question. Firstly, I think if you have the means, spend away. Secondly, absolutely there was no reason to charge that much for a meal.

Here is my reasoning for each answer in turn. People shell out exorbitant amounts of money on seemingly ridiculous things everyday. Of course, ridiculous is in the mind of the beholder. There are many experiences that people involve themselves in and pay good money for that I think are quite pointless, silly, and just downright idiotic. Here are a few: skydiving, base jumping, taking guided tours, swimming with sharks, going on cruises (unless it's free), clubbing, political campaigning (did I say that one out loud? How many of you have $600 million? Ahem Ahem.) Here is the thing, though; this is my personal opinion. If getting hijacked by terrorists after being mangled by sharks after your ranger guided tour of Old Faithful is your thing, so be it. You may in turn look at me as if I have lobsters crawling out of my ears when I say I would pay really good money for a wonderful dining experience.

And there of course is the key word: experience. People don't shell out large amounts of money to have nothing to talk about or remember when they're done. They don't want to walk away with just a postcard and a case of food poisoning. They want memories, stories to tell. I feel the same way. I don't go out to eat just to fuel my body and get out of cooking (I happen to enjoy cooking very much). I want to be treated well and to be fed well. I want to walk away singing a chef's or restaurant's praises.

Do I think this experience can only be had by spending a seemingly ridiculous amount of money? Absolutely not. I understand that there are times when you pay for atmosphere, for the reputation of a chef or restaurant, and for costly ingredients. However, I can relate, as well as many others can including the likes of Mr. Bourdain, that I have had many memorable dining experiences without spending large amounts of money. I would be just as happy sitting on a washed-up log on some nameless beach watching the sun set while I tear into fish just pulled of the boat and grilled in front of me. I would be just as happy sitting on the curb next to a taco stand eating mystery meat out of a freshly made tortilla and washing it down with a Tecate. I would be just as happy sitting under a pergola drinking local wine while someone's nonna shapes homemade gnocchi and stirs her ragu made from a centuries old family recipe.


You see, it is really about the experience, and it depends on the type of experience for which you are searching. If I want to dine in the presence of culinary greatness, I am willing to shell out the funds to do so. If I want to appreciate a local culture and its traditions, I will forgo all dining formalities and eat from a plastic bag with no utensils. I want to be amazed. I want the adrenaline rush of being amazed. Ten or twenty years from now I want be able to recall with relishing detail the time that I had. I want to have an experience that sets a new standard of comparison. And if the day comes when I can afford to spend $1800, or I need only spend $18.00 for that experience, so be it.

18.9.08

Preparedness

Are you prepared? For what scenarios are you prepared? Do you even know how to be prepared? Are these questions even presenting themselves in conscious thought?

Landslides. Tsunamis. Tornadoes. Earthquakes. Blizzards. Famines. Pandemics. Terrorist attacks. Genocide. War. Hurricanes…in the Miami Valley… If you think you can continue to live in blissful ignorance while the rest of the world suffers through these experiences, then this week and its events have taught you nothing. Let me tell you what I have learned, or rather what I have had reinforced. You need to prepare yourself and your loved ones. You need to be prepared to survive.

Am I exhibiting a heightened state of paranoia? You bet. I was born in the 70’s and grew up in the 80’s and 90’s. During this time I have witnessed a major shift both in the threats to our country (not to mention humanity as a whole) and our ability to turn to our government for assistance through difficult times. Our grandparents dealt with The Depression and a world war. Our parents came of age during Vietnam and the Cold War. Those of us in my general age group watched the Berlin Wall come down and the Soviet Empire with it. We then watched as hostages were taken, embassies were bombed, and planes were hijacked and flown into buildings, murdering thousands of people. We no longer have a clear enemy. We are surrounded by people, by entire nations, that hate our faith and our way of life to such a complete extent that their desire is for our complete destruction.

But, you say, this was a natural disaster! The waters that engulfed and the winds that destroyed were natural phenomena! People, you must remember that we are in end times and things are only going to get worse. How many more news stories depicting the destruction of property and person do we need to witness before we wake up and realize that we are just as vulnerable to environmental disasters as to those which are man-made?

Yes, I understand that, you say, but I have faith, and my faith tells me to trust in God to protect and provide.

I am reminded of a story that I am sure most of you have already heard. A man is stuck on the roof of his house during a flood. Another man comes by in a boat and offers to help him. The man on the roof turns him down. “My God will save me!” he says. Later another man in a boat comes by and the situation repeats itself. The waters continue to rise. A helicopter hovers over the man and drops a ladder. Again the man turns down the help. Again he says “my God will save me!” What happens to the man? He drowns. When he meets God he asks “why didn’t You save me?” To which God replies, “I sent two boats and a helicopter to save you. What were you looking for?”

When we pray for help what are we expecting? A holy host of angels to come swooping down and whisk us away in a cloud of heavenly glory? I don’t doubt God’s ability to make this happen. I do realize however, that He answers our prayers in myriads of ways, and more often than not in ways we do not expect.

We have been blessed with a land of great bounty. We have resources at our disposal in this country that many countries cannot fathom. With this bounty comes responsibility. We have been given a great gift, but we are supposed to nurture and care for it. We can reap its bounty, but we have to work for it. We must also remember that everything we have is temporal and temporary; it can all disappear in an instant.

On Sunday afternoon hurricane force winds blew through our state damaging homes and businesses, uprooting trees, and knocking out electricity to hundreds of thousands of people. Everyday life has been disrupted as people empty their refrigerators of spoiled food, wear dirty clothes, and miss work. The economic effect of this far- reaching loss of power will be felt for some time. We cannot control the weather. We are not able to repair fault lines, change the direction of wind, or stop rain from falling. What we can control is our reaction to these events. We can be prepared.

What do you need to be prepared? What do you need to survive?
Potable (drinkable) water
Non-perishable food
Shelter
Clothing
Here are some sites to assist you in your preparedness:
www.ready.gov
www.redcross.org
www.prepare.org
www.72hours.org

4.9.08

Say Hello to My Little Friend


I have a new friend. His name is Morimoto[i]. No, not the world renown Japanese chef of Iron Chef fame (though that would be seriously cool) but my new knife. Morimoto is a Global vegetable knife, and he is wicked sharp. I also believe he has Jedi skills. I am sitting here writing about my new knife, and I feel a small twinge of pain on my right index finger. I look down and spy a small cut. Now, it looks and feels like a paper cut, but I am typing. On a computer. I am not using paper. I am telling you this knife has mad skills beyond merely chopping celery and carrots.
I decided to buy this knife on sort of a whim. Hannah and I were on a rare trip to the mall, and I just happened to have a Williams & Sonoma gift card still burning a hole in my wallet (thanks Sarah and Chris!). After walking the store and weighing my purchase options, I eventually gravitated back to the knives. Besides the fact that good knives are absolute essential tools for the kitchen, knives are just so cool. I had had my eye on a Global for a while; this particular line of knives is much revered by chefs and was created by the Japanese in the tradition of the Samurai, so wielding this knife would make me cool in the Uma Thurman Kill Bill kind of way (and thankfully not in the Tom Cruise Last Samurai kind of way).
Let me reassure you that I am experiencing absolutely no buyer’s remorse over this purchase. Although I love my W├╝stof chef’s knife, it is no match when it comes to chopping vegetables. The Global features a hollow ground blade with indentations which reduce sticking while cutting, and as I mentioned before it is incredibly sharp, which makes proper chopping a breeze. As I chop loads of vegetables on a weekly basis, this particular knife is fast becoming an indispensable member of my food prep team.
Let me close by making a point that I am sure I will harp on again and again in future posts. People: if you are going to pursue any craft, make sure you have the right tools and make sure they are of quality. You may have to make a bit of an investment up front, but chances are you will never have to buy a replacement and your work will be that much easier.

[i] Although I don’t make a practice of naming inanimate objects, every now and then I feel inspired to do so, mostly based on the object’s profound impact on my daily life.

28.8.08

On Food

So why have I decided to join the ranks of millions who because they think they have something important to say have set up their own little forum to bloviate ad nauseum about anything and everything under the sun?



Because I too think I have something important to say.



You may agree, disagree, or not even care enough to have an opinion either way, but that's your opinion, and you know what is said about those.



I have not written a lot since college, but seeing as I am now writing of my own accord on subject matter of my choosing, I have decided to try my hand (ha ha) at it once again and delve into the world of food writing.

The reasoning behind this foray is both self-serving and (hopefully) educational for myself and others. I have developed a seemingly unstoppable addiction to all things culinary. I of course love to eat and cook, and am constantly trying new things both on my plate and in the kitchen. My pantry is well stocked, my palate is expanding, and my drawers and cabinets in my insufficient kitchen space are overflowing with tools and gadgetry. But this addiction has developed beyond the actual consumption and preparation of food. Now I am seeking to understand food. Of course I am not saying that I want to sit down with a carrot and talk about its hopes and dreams, but I do want to understand where it came from and why it so important and loved as food today.

I love real food. That is to say, I am a lover of the food that originates unaltered in the ground and on the hide. I am a lover of food that is nutritious and colorful in its original state. This love has grown into a desire to seek out food that is grown as naturally and as close to home as possible. I want to know the name of the farm where my food originated.

I love learning about the origins of food. I believe that food is an end result, a culmination of a people, a history, a culture, a language. I want to understand why certain foods and dishes have survived over time and are still loved today not only by those who created them, but by others far removed from its place and people of origin.

I want to figure out why we in this country have such an unhealthy relationship with food. I want to know why in a nation of such bounty we are becoming more and more unhealthy. I want to figure out why food makes us feel guilty. I want people to understand that indulgence is not always a bad thing. I want all of us in this country to take a lesson from the French, the Germans, Italians, and others and enjoy our food and appreciate its importance.

So for all of these reasons and probably a few more, I have decided to write about these issues. It is my hope that by putting these questions, thoughts, and beliefs down in written word I can find answers and increased knowledge and understanding, and hopefully help us all to enjoy such a vital part of culture worldwide.