Blue stained wood with crimson carnations

Friday, August 31, 2012

Foodie Friday: A Treatise on Foodology

I'm going to begin this post by stating right up front that this is likely to be one of the most controversial posts I've written.

The subject that I'm going to tackle here is hotly contested and disputed bringing out the fangs and knives and pitchforks of its most ardent advocates on all sides. I am not here to poke fingers in anybodies eye...well, mostly... and I am not here to make apologies for what I'm going to say- but I would like to make a few disclaimers.
~I don't know it all when it comes to this topic- in fact I'm sure that there are things that I still have to learn- but I am well trained and well read on it and it's surrounding issues and I'm going to talk about what I do know when I know it and I'm going to take Gramma Fisher's advice and 'take things with a grain of salt' that seem just too good to be true.
~I'm not here to plant my own flag on the highest hill and defend it with my life but I will defend what I believe. You are welcome to disagree and to tell me so but you are not welcome to flame for my opinions.
~My goal in writing this post is to vent some frustrations that have been building up over silliness and ignorance that I have been seeing recently in peoples opinions on 'X' culture. I hope that in laying out some of my own thoughts and beliefs I can try in my small way to bring some common sense to a very confused table.

I want to talk

(Don't throw tomatoes!)

The world of food today is a confusing one. If people cryo-frozen 50 years ago were to awaken in America today and foray out to have their first meal in the 21st century I imagine that after a brief time they would think returning to their pod and to a suspended state of animation might just look more appealing than trying to decrypt our food culture and find a decent meal! Everywhere you look there is a new warning, a new diet, a new way of doing or not doing, and a new food once banned from polite society becoming a beloved staple once again. In addition to that, it's just not good enough anymore to love good food and love cooking it well, creating something beautiful for people you love! Scratching just beyond the surface of the food world we find sects of foodies that are worse than high school cliques, they demand absolute fealty to their superior rule and make those on the outside wonder what exactly it is that they are missing. It's no wonder that people are confused and it's no wonder that some, like me, have had enough.

I don't know why food shouldn't be simple.
God Himself in the very beginning of the world lays out a few simple rules for Adam to follow when it comes to food. Eat this, don't eat that. Simple.
Yah, I know how that one turned out too.
The thing is I don't think we as humans do simple very well. We always figure it's got to be more something than it really is. When I look at Genesis I appreciate that God looks at everything He has made and says 'it is good'- and more than just that He says "It is very good" (Genesis 1:31). God created a pretty awesome world and in that world He created some pretty awesome food! Now, I know the garden was as close to perfect that ever was and that after the fall things weren't perfect anymore- but you can't tell me that what God had created and continues to allow to be propagated, though imperfect, isn't still very good.

That single thought is simple and that is where I begin when I begin to consider food today.

Now I know God continues to develop His commands on food as the story of His people progresses and I know that some things were for a specific time and purpose but I refuse to believe that Scripture is ever insufficient for our every need- even when that need is food. By starting in Scripture on food (as in everything else) I know I have a good foundation to build on.

I have a heritage of food within my family. My very blood is steeped in the culinary tradition but it is amazing to see the differing legacies of the two family lines.
My Great Grandad laboured over what I'm sure were the best pastries, breads and baked goods in Scotland. He passed down that love to his youngest daughter, my Gran. Gran, I'm quite sure has never strove for anything less then perfection in her kitchen! Growing up in my Gran's kitchen was just like the song says: "Ye can aye rely on Grannies, for somethin’ gid tae eat"! And my mothers kitchen was always turning out wonderful treats and special goodies too! Mom has always been the one to recreate dishes she learned working in the restaurants of her collage years and the one to embrace the ethnic cooking of her childhood neighbourhood.  It was at my mother's hand in the kitchen that pizza was made- something unheard of in Gran's meat and potatoes repertoire- and something well appreciated and loved by myself and each one of my siblings today!
I guess with food on my mom's side of the family I've always thought of it as a way of communicating love and a way of binding people together in a lovely sort of community.
Conversely, the other side of the family has held on to secrets and surprises! It was only well after I graduated from culinary school that any of us knew that Gramma's mother ran a restaurant back in the depression era! It's one of those things that I would have loved to know more about and one of those things where you wonder how she did it. It wasn't easy for families to put food on the table then- but how hard must it have been for someone whose job it was to provide food to others? I wonder how involved my Gramma was in her mother's business and as I look back now I think I understand better why Gramma so proudly hung a copy of my diploma- in a prominent, see-every-day place... I think maybe she was thinking of her mother. My Gramma was an all-American career woman who began working during World War II while Grampa was gone and never stopped afterwards. Her kitchen legacy is one of necessity and not one of pleasure- she would have much rather been watching a baseball game! There are few dishes that I ever ate from her kitchen, when we visited Gramma pizza was usually the food of choice...but when she did cook, her vegetable soup was unforgettable to us as kids who rarely ever ate cabbage and lima beans! I really don't know what Gramma ever taught her boys to cook- knowing my dad's limited dish selection I think what they learned from her or on their own was more survival cooking than anything else! I think most of what my dad ever learned about cooking was in the swift pace work of a short-order cook!
I guess food on my dad's side was about necessity and convenience. About knowing something once and not thinking it important enough to pass down...except that I'll always remember it was dad who taught me to make a mean plate of eggs!

So why am I telling you all this? Well, I guess it's to illustrate that food, and our perspectives about it, the legacies, or lack there of, left by previous generations effect us. They shape from our earliest months and years patterns for life.
Naturally then, comes the desire to shape those patterns carefully.

I have several philosophies on food. Some of them stem from my culinary training, some of them stem from my heritage, some stem from a desire to leave a new heritage. All of them are simple. Here they are for your consideration:

Eat what is fresh and in season. This is the chef's number one rule. Its reason is based on the elementary thought that food bought in the season it is ripe is food that is at it's peak nutrient value and flavor potential. It is food that is going to be enjoyable to the eater and thus more likely to be eaten. It is food that is going to be most beneficial to the body when eaten. And because of this it is one of the easiest and most beneficial food rules that you will ever follow! So do this: next time you are going shopping take time to look at the ads or peruse the market shelves for the produce and meats that are current and fresh and take that home with you- even if you don't know what you're going to do with it! It will force you out of ruts and it will teach you new recipes- and trust me- it will be delicious and fun!

Eat in moderation. This can be a difficult one to execute in practice but it is one that is very necessary. You can't live on a steady diet of Twinkies, and, I would argue, you can't live on a diet of salad either.
When I was at culinary school we hosted/catered a health conference. It was a terrible week that never ended. The school administration got on such a health kick that from there out it mandated dark green salads be available for breakfast, lunch and dinner and encouraged everyone to eat them (have you ever smelled Asian sesame dressing at 6 AM? Yuck!). It didn't stop there either: next came the almost complete removal of even the leanest turkey 'pork' products; the liberal use in the kitchen of Braggs Liquid Amenos (gag!); the removal of the honey bottles from the dining tables; and- woe be you who were caught looking in the direction of a sweetened beverage (do you know that all that sugar knocks out your immune system!)!
This was not moderation. This was insanity.
Julia Child once said: "Everything in moderation, including moderation." She was right. In my book both salads and Twinkies are good things but in eating them, as in eating anything, we need to remember that there is a time and a place. Salads are not for breakfast. Twinkies should not be eaten by the box in one sitting. And moderation is only as good as the discipline of the person practicing it. What I'm talking about here is balance. Be thoughtful about your food, but be flexible with your food. Rigidity in diet will only get you funny looks...

Eat what you love, love what you must eat. This point really goes hand in hand with my previous one. In my book there is no point in eating food that you hate. -I'm not saying here that you should binge on junk food- and I really hate that I have to even say that for clarification, but that's what everyone's mind goes to and assumes when it's said.  What I am saying is that good food should be enjoyed. I think of Julia Child when I say this, and I think of her description of her first meal on her first day in Paris. It was truly a foodies dream- but Julia at this point was far from a foodie- she had never experienced food this way before and it opened totally new doors to her. She and her husband found a little tucked away restaurant and ordered lunch. On learning it was their first day the Chef outdid himself. Oysters, Sole Meuniere, a piquant green salad and a cheese platter. If this scene played out today it might never have been experienced! Today people would have worried about the sustainability of the fish, the amount of butter, and the fat in the vinaigrette and the cheese.....  This is no way to live your life, you will miss out on the best the culinary world- and your own hands- have to offer. Eat the foods that you enjoy! Remember there is nothing that says that the lighter things can't be equally as loved as the rich ones and that there is nothing wrong with an occasional rich meal either!

Respect the food. This is the number two rule in the Chef's world. Food, from field to plate, deserves our respect- for three reasons- it is a gift from God, it is the work of another man's hand, and it is the source of your nourishment. When you work with food you may never stop to think about what labour went into getting that food to your countertop but it truly is the fruit of another man's day's, week's, month's and worries. Honor what it represents. Do something great with it and don't waste food, don't abuse food, and don't be careless with food.

Simple cooking showcases the food. This point again is sister to the one above it. When you come to the place where you respect what is represented by what God has presented you with then you are naturally going to want to communicate that to others. This revelation should not be the first step down the road of cooking an elaborate four course meal every night. The best way to show off the food is with simplicity and you do that by knowing and using culinary method. Don't worry- this really isn't as complicated or daunting as it seems! Begin simple, pick up a great cookbook at the library like "Martha Stewart's Cooking School", "How to Boil Water" by the Food Network or anything by Alton Brown and learn what your food is doing, what you're doing to it and how to get the most out of it! By learning the basics of culinary principle you are more likely to eat good food because of that knowledge and less likely to reheat a frozen box of lasagna. And remember, that in learning serious things about cooking, don't take it too seriously- if whatever you make turns out awfully there is always another chance to make it better just waiting around the corner!

There is a difference between healthy and healthful. Over the years these two words have been confused, interchanged and become synonymous but the fact remains- they are two different words and two different meanings. Healthy is a state of one's being, a state few of us will ever embody! Healthful is a word which means promoting a state of good health. That tomato you just picked off that vine is not healthy, you just removed it from it's source of life- it is now dead! That same tomato however, now has the potential to be healthful because its nutrients are now available for consumption and digestion in your body. ....Grammar aside, what I'm getting at is this: is whatever "healthy" thing you're doing really healthful? Do not pay for a label, appearances or an image; spend your money instead on substance.

Get off the bandwagon. At one time or another graham crackers, Grape-nuts, granola, yogurt, sprouts, juicing, vegetarianism,  Brewers yeast/malt, grapefruit, whole grains, apple cider vinegar, soybeans, gelatin, macrobiotic, probiotic, flax, tofu, cabbage, raw food, chia- yes, I do mean *that* chia, free-range/cage-free, natural, organic...and many, many more....have all been touted at the best food science had to offer.
Seemingly, food culture revolutionaries have applied the modern "Just do it" motto to food leaving a twisted, convoluted reality in its place. If you miss this weeks food fad just wait a week for the next one to come along! It's depressing, its draining, and it's insanity. So I'm begging you can we all just let the food fad bandwagon pass us by? Can we all agree that we need to examine what's being fed to us? Some of the things on this list are good things, they are sound and they have stood the test of time but others aren't- others are bad science, bad practice, new-age theology based, and some just plain frivolous. When the next 'must do' thing comes along allow it to pass you by and and when it comes around again, when it has some miles, battle scars, and has gone the distance and proven itself then by all means jump on!
...But until then, God gave us meat and it's delicious, chia belongs on tera cotta not my smoothie, free range is a delusion to make people feel better and only means that the animal has a cubical of 'range' available to it, and organic is a weakly defined, unstandardized, government regulated waste of money. Period. (Yah, I said it!)

Your food is not going to kill you. Neither is your cookware or your plastic wear! This, this is one of my pet peeves! It's the one that make me want to throttle some people and pound some sense into their media overloaded brains! It's one that brings me back to one of my original statements in this post, one that ultimately drives me back to Scripture. When people start chucking non-stick pans, refusing to use food preserving plastics and eating a fear driven unrealistic diet I cannot understand it I can only sit and ask myself a simple question: "What for"? The answer usually comes back 'because its good for you- and those things are going to kill you'.

This statement burns my biscuits.

Are you kidding me? Oh foolish man! Do you think by worrying you can add one inch to your height or minute to your life?!! Scripture says it is not so! (Matt. 6:27; Ps. 39:4) Do you think that being afraid of the tools and foodstuffs of the world you live in you can add one day, one minute to your life? No, you cannot. Your days are numbered and counted by the Lord Himself! It doesn't matter if you eat vegan or organic or farm-raised, it doesn't matter if it's cooked in Teflon or ceramic or if it's stored in non-BPA containers or not- what matters is that we have been blessed with food to eat. Don't you dare sit there and turn up your nose at my non-organic dish when people around the world go hungry- when your Christian brothers and sisters are starving under the isolation and persecution of despots and dictators! Don't you dare. Don't you dare tell me that your food and your cookware is killing you when others die for lack of nourishment!    

I have a few simple philosophies on food that I follow and frankly, that I would love others to follow as well, but as absolute power corrupts absolutely I'll be happy to rule in my little corner of the world...

In my world food is simple. In my world whole grains are good; as are yogurt and granola, eggs and red meat and butter, and gardening and canning/preserving (just like I suspect my great Grandmother did in the Depression). In my world sugar is a delightful treat with wonderful possibilities! In my world a family that cooks together is knit together.

In my world I've had enough of food fadisim and the do's and do not's of government regulatory boards. I've had enough of  government's- or anyone's- intrusion into the way I feed my family and reach out in caring for my friends. I will not live in slavery to it. I will not twist myself into knots trying to do *the* thing that will be right or enough.  What I am going to do is what I have always done- love food and love cooking it!

In my world food isn't worth dying over, but it sure is worth living over.

Maybe someday, that philosophy will be enough for everyone else too....

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Just a mild slacker...

Hello everyone! Just wanted to let y'all know that I am still alive! I know I have slacked off here out of the blue and not been keeping up with my regularly scheduled postings but the last few weeks I have been forced to participate in real life! ;) I hope to be back this week though and I am working on a real corker of an article for Foodie Friday (just to whet your appetite!), and I am almost finished with my Monday Meme questions and I'm going to have to think up something else fun to do soon! Anyone have any ideas? Maybe an open question post?
Also, the Republican Convention is this week and I know I'll be glued to it so I will likely be posting some thoughts on the speakers/speeches and on the new platform too!

So ya, not dead, working, I'll be back....

Monday, August 13, 2012

Monday Meme: Question Five

Things hsve been busy this week so we're keeping things simple this week for the meme! Here they are, in no particular order...

Question # 5

What are Your Top Ten Period Movies?

  • North and South BBC 2004 Richard Armitage & Daniela Denbe-Ashe
  • Pride and Prejudice BBC 1995 Colin Firth & Jennifer Ehle
  • Persuasion BBC 1995 Amanda Root & Ciaran Hinds
  • Little Dorrit BBC 2008 Claire Foy & Matthew Macfadyen
  • Wives and Daughters BBC 1999 Justine Waddell & lots of others
  • Miss Potter 2006 Renee Zellweger & Ewan McGregor
  • Amazing Grace 2006 Ioan Gruffudd, Romola Garai, Benedict Cumberbatch & lots of others  
  • Jane Eyre BBC 2006 Ruth Wilson & Toby Stephens
  • The Young Victoria 2009 Emily Blunt & Rupert Friend
  • Becoming Jane 2007 Anne Hathaway & James McAvoy
  • Monday, August 6, 2012

    I would click 500 times...

    Coming by to make replies to comments tonight and noticed that I am about to hit 500 pageviews for the blog! Woohoo! Of course I just had to make a note of this and say you guys are awesome! Thanks for reading my posts! I do wonder though with so many reading why more of you haven't decided to 'follow' me? I mean, you obiously are following me so why not make the leap and follow me publicly? I promise I don't bite...much! ;)

    Anyway, whether you are following me or following me I just wanted to say thanks!

    ...And who knows, when I hit 1000 I might do something really cool for ya'll!

    Monday Meme: Question Four

    Question #4

    "Describe Your Dream Home"

    This is a great question and I had a lot of fun this week pulling together images to illustrate a mental picture that is perhaps a bit too fully developed...but we'll just say that I'm a girl that knows her mind (and say nothing about my age ;) )!

    Before you ever see my home you would be welcomed with a driveway lined with redbud trees. These trees are some of my favorite and I love the spring when the breakout in a riot of tiny purple blooms!

    When you did see my dream home it would be a Craftsman.
    Like this:

    Or this:

    I love the details and and craftsmanship (no pun intended) in this style of home. I love the woodwork and the built in's and fireplaces and the open well-lit interior. It speaks both of tradition and comfort while it can be easily fit and adapted to modern color pallets and furnishings.

    Some of my favorite features of this kind of house are pocket doors and window seats! There will never be a dull moment in a home where one can conference behind closed doors (or conversely spy on said conversations!) or a quiet, well-lit spot to study and to explore foreign lands from the comfort of home!

    One of the most important places in a home for me would be the kitchen. (Big surprise there! lol!) Although I vacillate on what my ideal kitchen color is the style is not hard to decide- I love the farmhouse kitchen look!

    And wouldn't it be nice to have a nice corner tucked away in the back with lots of light for growing herbs and things in the winter?!

    Speaking of growing things the yard of the house is just as important as the rest of the home and needs to be equipped with lots of raised beds for cultivating herbs, vegetables and fruits. ...Perhaps something like this:

    The final touch to a backyard is an old nostalgic favorite of mine a glider swing! This allows people to sit face to face while they talk without getting too much rock and sway into it like a porch swing would... (which always makes me 'seasick'!)

    So there she dream house!

    Would you like to come on over for a cuppa?

    Friday, August 3, 2012

    Foodie Friday: Parmesan Penne

    This week's recipe is a quick and easy two pot pasta dish that is suitable for everynight dinners or the bit more special occasion!
    It uses a combo of my mom's easy Alfredo sauce and my love of all shapes pasta. (Even though I have used penne here you could use bowties or medium shells or any type of pasta that would hold sauce.) Though based on a really a tried and true classic Italian pasta it has just a bit of French influences in the flavor profile through the addition of peas and just a bit of a special and secret ingredient- nutmeg!

    Parmesan Penne

    1# penne pasta

    1 T. olive oil
    1# chicken breast, diced
    1/2 c. butter
    3/4 c. Parmesan cheese, grated
    1 clove garlic, crushed and pealed
    1c. cream
    1/2 tsp. kosher salt
    1/4 tsp. pepper
    4-5 grates of fresh nutmeg (approx. 1/4 tsp.)
    3/4 c. frozen peas

    In a large pot or pasta pot bring a gallon of water to a boil. Salt the water well (about 1-1 1/2 T. salt for every gallon of water) as this is the only opportunity you have to season the pasta.

    In a large skillet heat the olive oil briefly over high. Add the chicken, turning and browning until all pieces are cooked through.  Lower the heat to medium and add the butter, in chunks and the crushed garlic and slowly saute for about five minutes allowing the garlic to infuse and the butter to melt into the chicken.

    Add the cream, Parmesan, salt, pepper, nutmeg and peas. Stir everything together and simmer on low heat. At this point drop the pasta and cook it until al dente.
    When the pasta is done return it to the pot and carefully add the skillet of sauce over the top. Stir to combine and then cover the pot and allow it to sit for 3-4 minutes so the pasta soaks in the sauce.

    Serve with a green salad and crusty bread with butter. (Mmm!)

    Eat Well!