Tuesday, October 27, 2009
I thought about writing a post about the strange feeling of drive that was then fostered in my brain to tame this darn recipe.
I thought about writing a post about how I went on to have two more failures.
I thought about writing a post about how success finally occurred and that I have no idea how.
I thought about describing that moment when I anxiously turned on the oven light to see those tiny feet; about how I danced right there in the dark of the night kitchen; about the shriek of glee I let out; about my husband’s surprise.
I thought about writing about how by using Helen of Tartelette’s recipe for macarons from Desserts Magazine that I finally found joy in making these French delicacies.
I thought about writing about getting so at ease with the prospect that I made them with a 2 year old (soon to be three she would like me to inform you.)
I thought about telling you how fun blanching almonds can be (a pinch of the thumb and pointer finger makes them into projectiles.)
I thought about giving you the rundown of my flavors:
Pumpkin Spice with Pumpkin/Pale ale cream cheese frosting (I follow Helen's advice of drying pumpkin in the oven (oh if i had a dehydrator) and then making a powder of it. These smelled heavenly when baking.)
Green Tea with Ganache
Mint Tea with Pumpkin/ pale ale cream cheese frosting
Pink Peppercorn spice with ganache
Nanami Togarashi spice with ganache
Roibos with Ganache
Rose Hip tea with guess what ganache
I thought about telling you that shifting sugar with a child under 4 is messy business (and that you shouldn’t laugh when they climb down to the floor to lick the lost powdered sugar.) I thought about telling you that in that instance you accept a lumpy shell.
I thought about telling you how I got a little punchy with my flavors and made cinnamon with almond pumpkin butter macarons as well as smores--cinnamon with a charred marshmallow and then dipped in chocolate.
I thought about telling you how I turned them into Halloween cookies and how my husband said I turned the delicacy and beauty of France into something kinda wrong but right at the same time.
But, what’s the point in telling you any of this when I have pictures.
And for those of you who are wondering what the heck I am not talking about, it is Daring Baker day of course. The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.
Monday, October 19, 2009
I have been trying to write my final post for #eaton30 since last night. (Confused, go to @runningwithtweezers to learn more.)
I wanted to write something poetic but the truth is just too ugly. Here it is plain and simple—I am damn thankful that I don’t have to choose between feeding myself and my daughter, that I always have food in my pantry, that I have never worried about where my next meal will come from. I can't imagine what it is like to look into your child's eyes and tell her there is nothing to eat. I can't imagine how hard you must need to hold them against you when their bellies are growling in hunger. And, it is a cruel injustice in this world that some of us are lucky enough to get to spend time elevating food to joy and extravagance while some don’t even get to use it for sustenance. With the jobless recovery, it will be a long winter in America (globally too); consider donating to your local food bank.
If you are dying to know how we did with the challenge, we ended up $8 under budget but because we had dinner with family Friday and Saturday for free. I thought I would leave you with what we did with the last of our homemade yogurt and kobocha squash.
Kobocha Squash and Potato Naan:
Serve warm with some curry like or top with potato baaji, some achar, tomato paste, an egg, and cheddar cheese to make a perfect brunch dish.
In a stand mixer with a hook attachment add:
4 cups flour
1 cup mashed squash
1/4 cup potato
1 t sugar
1 t salt
2 T yogurt
1/4 cup water
2 T oil
Let rest 3 hours. Punch down. Split into 6-8 equal sections, pull into thin oblong pieces. Bake one by one for 2.5 minutes on a pizza stone that has been heated to 550 F. (We preheated the oven to 550 for 1/2 hour.)
This is my entry for yeastspotting from Wild Yeast.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Spice is the variety of life. And if you love to cook, your cabinets no doubt overflow with various condiments, vinegars, spices and herbs. When I am in an ethnic grocery store I often pick up one of these items, ideally something new to me and with little identification in English. I consider this habit endearing; my husband would say it is just plain bad. Either way it is discretionary. When you are on a limited budget it is hard to outfit your kitchen with a bounty of spices. So this week, as I took the Eat on 30 Challenge started by Tami of running with tweezers, I decided to only use two spices, cumin and chili pepper in my dishes, along with the fresh mint that grows on my sill. I felt that even on a limited budget you could shell out for one spice that would transform your food. I chose cumin because it works in a variety of cuisines and tastes different when roasted and unroasted.
In case you are saying Eat on 30 Challenge, what? (#eaton30) This challenge is to help raise awareness of hunger issues in America:
- At some point during the year, 1 in 5 Americans receives food assistance from 1 or more of the 15 programs providing help.
- In 2009, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will help feed 31 million people per month. The average monthly benefit? $101.
- Between March 2007 and March 2008, the global price of food rose 43%. 1 billion people - 1/6th of the world's population - live on $1 per day.
Back to the rundown of my spices…so on Monday we started with roasted vegetable couscous. My picture was subpar but imagine whole wheat couscous painted a lovely shade of pink, nay a princess pink. It scented with fresh mint and a pinch of cumin tossed with olive oil, 3 small freshly roasted beets, 1 roasted onion and 1 roasted sweet potato. In this dish, the cumin was just a hint to round out the punch of the whole handful of mint in the couscous.
On Tuesday, without the cumin and chili pepper, the dish could not have been called chili and would not have been something we would crave for days.Tonight I had planned to make squash risotto but the Arborio would have killed my budget. Instead, I decided to make squash and sweet potato chapattis, spicy roasted squash (sliced, dusted with cumin and pepper), masoor dal cooked with caramelized onions and stir-fried cabbage and potatoes with cumin. For the dal, purple potato, wheat flour, and squash, I did break into the pantry, but I will charge myself for each based on my old receipts and yes I do keep them all at the bottom of my purse ($1, $1, 1/3 of 2.99 and $1.50). This Indian-inspired dinner was $5.57. So far for the week, with no breakfast for me because I was crazy busy and leftovers for lunch for both of us, we are at $44. $16 to use until Monday seems like we are cutting it really close—bad budgeting on my part. That said, I totally forgot this weekend is Diwali when I signed up for Eat on 30. Our part of the pot luck will be part of the challenge, but we will be feasting largely on someone’s tab. (Also, sorry for the poor state of proofing on the last post. There have been some sleepless nights lately.)
Kabocha squash and sweet potato chapatis
Roast 1 sweet potato.
Mash sweet potato with:
2 T squash
1 T olive oil
2 T yogurt
½ t salt
2 T mint leaves chopped
Add 3/4 cup or 1 cup wheat flour until the dough comes together as a ball.
Let rest for 20 minutes and then break off Susan B Anthony coin sized pieces. Roll in a ball, flatten and then roll out thin.
Cook on an unoiled skillet and then puff on an open gas flame.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
I wanted to share why I joined Eat on 30. This project created by Tami of running with tweezers is to bring awareness to American poverty period. The numbers are sobering.
• At some point during the year, 1 in 5 Americans receives food assistance from 1 or more of the 15 programs providing help.
• In 2009, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will help feed 31 million people per month. The average monthly benefit? $101.
• Between March 2007 and March 2008, the global price of food rose 43%. 1 billion people - 1/6th of the world's population - live on $1 per day.
Those in America on food stamps get is less than a fancy coffee drink or significantly less than a fancy cocktail per day. When you break down what you spend per serving, or the cost of your food per day, you are likely spending significantly more. And, if so, you are lucky, and might consider a donation to your local food bank. Alright, off my soapbox.
Today, I missed breakfast. We ate chili for lunch and dinner. We spent 5.13 for the day (including my husband’s dirty water hot dog when he forgot lunch.) Since I was without a recipe for the day, I thought I might share 19 ancillary benefits I have learned.
1. Have an easy standardized, affordable breakfast every day. This way we are benefiting from the economics of bulk but without falling into the possibility of wasteful bulk purchasing. Our breakfasts are oatmeal made with milk from our ½ gallon purchased the other day.
2. Make breakfast fool-proof. Sleepiness might keep you from preparing it; and then halfway to work, Bialys will call you loudly.
3. Purchase items in the bulk section of the nature foods store. Prepackaged organic oatmeal is costly.
4. Buy organic vegetable based on the dirty dozen.
5. Buy seasonal vegetables. Our gang this week are beets, carrots, onions, cabbage, potatoes and sweet potatoes. Yes, it does read like a who’s who of the Russian steppe. But, those folks survived on truly nothing in winters that would make a Yeti wear woolies.
6. Go ahead and get the almost spoiled vegetables but only in moderation. I bought one almost spoiled eggplant and used it immediately.
7. If you are buying a vegetable make sure that you aren’t leaving any parts at the store. For carrots, keep the leaves for salads or stocks. Beets keep the greens to eat as a side dish (as we did on Monday.
8. Use things smartly. Mr. Chicken was breast for dinner the first night, the back meat chili second night, and bones will be broth for risotto on the fourth night.
9. Don’t stand on ceremony about the bones. With just the family around, I decided to debone the roasted chicken and plate our dinners, so that I could immediately start the slow-cooker for the stock. Sure it didn’t look as proud as a cock on a platter, but my family loves me for more than my food styling.
10. Figure out ways to exact as much flavor as possible. The peels of the onions, the skin of the carrots, the skins of the beets were all roasted for different parts of the meals throughout the week; they become part of the stock. The stock was brown and lovely.
11. Don’t completely deprive yourself. I choose not to live without caffeine. Chocolate maybe, but caffeine no. One cup (maybe two) but not three this week.
12. Prioritize. I mentioned yesterday, I don’t know how you could buy meat and cheese on this budget. Going through our budget and accounting for EVERY cent, I realized I could buy cheese but only a little. Make the choices that work for you. I can’t afford grassfed meat so I won’t buy any. But, I really feel like cheese will elevate some of the foods so go with it.
13. Make some stuff. We decided to make our own bread (the same one we did last week from Ruhlman’s Ratio) and yoghurt. Homemade yogurt is way cheaper and it is a serious staple in our family. That step alone saved us big bucks.
14. Prep a number of dinners in one fell swoop. No I don’t work for the Food Network, but it is true. We were less apt to get take out tonight even though we were busy b/c everything was prepped ahead of time.
15. Use that slow-cooker. I have it planned for the two busy nights this week.
16. Don’t cook too much. Seems counterintuitive, but if you make too much it just goes to waste. And, really, if you are making the same breakfast and snack everyday, you can’t also eat the same dinner every night. Boredom will drive you to get a pizza.
17. Eat communally. If you are the kind of person who cooks too much, go with it. If you are short on freezer space work together with another family and splits costs and preparation times. We have been doing that with my Mom. For the same prep time and little extra cost in ingredients (one and ¼ carrot vs two), we can feed 3 adults.
18. Just because it comes in a vat that you can crawl into doesn’t mean you are saving money…bulk stores aren’t always cheaper. And, if you don’t use it all you aren’t saving money. So put down that pallet of apples, Dad.
19. DON’T FORGET YOUR LUNCH AT HOME. This is our hardest one. Mornings are super hectic and while you can set aside your clothes and put your briefcase in the car the night before, it’s not like you want your yogurt to fester there all night long. We have tried signs on the door, but it is getting to the point I wonder if we should put a tattoo on our hands.
And if you are still with me, go over and look at the entries from the rest of the #eaton30 gang.
Carrie Neal - also from Atlanta - is blogging at carrienealland and tweets under@carrienealland
Susan is our newest participant! Her blog Doughmesstic is just great. She's on Twitter - @doughmesstic
The amazing and fabulous Jen - who blogs from Colorado at Use Real Butter - can be followed @userealbutter
Paula of the gorgeous blog bell'alimento is taking part! Follow her on twitter@bellalimento
The Broke Socialite of the eponymously named blog can be followed@brokesocialite
Betty Joan is a fellow Atlantan who blogs at Trouble With Toast . You can find her on Twitter @bettyjoan.
Atlanta food blogger Jimmy of Eat It Atlanta will be taking part in a crash course week before a wedding he has to be in. Follow him @EatItAtlanta.
Robert - @rdyson on Twitter - is also taking part from Atlanta. Check out his bloghere.
Mike - who took part last time and made a blog especially for the challenge - will be doing it again. You can also follow him @boutte.
Zach is kicking off a new blog with this challenge - Mise en Face. Follow him@drzachary.
Kristina will be taking place from Tennessee via her blog TNLocavore.com and@TNlocavore
Another Susan, this time of Frugal Hostess, tweets @frugalhostess
Diana of A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa is on Twitter @dianabauman
Hailey of Hail’s Kitchen blogs and tweets from Utah - @hailskitchen
Joining the party today is Maybelle's Mom who blogs at Feeding Maybelle. You can find her on Twitter @feedingmaybelle
Also newly taking part is Atlantan Biz, who blogs at Wisfulfillment.
One night years ago when I first moved back to Cleveland I needed a bowl of pho. The blue-eyed boy, who later became my husband, thought I had a stutter as I repeatedly said, “lets get some pho, pho, you know pho.” We walked into a local place that only serves only pho to have our entrance blocked by the waiter. The four table restaurant “only served pho” he explained and we would be smart to turn around and go to the fusion place across the street. When we explained that we had in fact attended the restaurant for its pho, he then wanted to know our credentials, “When have Yo you had pho? Where have you had pho? Why have you had pho?”
When the pho arrived, the owner/ waiter pointed to the plate of raw add-ons saying, “change the pho once, twice, three times, four times but not five.” He then looked on standing against the swinging door that separated the small kitchen and the spare white dining room. As I added 2 jalapeno slices, cilantro, bean sprouts and 2 squeezes of lime to my pho, I felt a smile on my watchers face. Apparently I had passed the test.
With two little ones, it has been much harder to run across town when the desire for pho pops up, so I was glad to learn to make pho at home. The recipe is a breeze and really lovely, though if you have a small family assume you will be able to freeze half the soup for a deep winter treat. Thanks to Jaden Hair of Steamy Kitchen. Her book, The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook, is to be released soon.
We also made the dessert wonton part of the challenge. I made homemade white chocolate, pink peppercorn and raspberry icecream. After churning, I put them in the wontons and then froze them. Quick fry and voila.
(And, if you are there with your calculator, I made this a month ago not during Eat on 30 week.)
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
After a power moment with Microsoft Excel, Eat on $30 seems doable. (for an intro, other participating bloggers, and the whole point, go here. #eaton30 on twitter. I am eating/twittering @feedingmaybelle)
For today’s post, I thought I would talk about Mr. Chicken.(Excuse the psychedelic coloration; my scanner is broken so I had to photograph the drawings.) This story takes us way off topic for a moment. Every college has certain stock characters: the guy wearing shorts in a snowstorm, the jugglers, the theatrical speakers, the smokers/intellectual folks, and then the boy who acts (and looks 35) but is only 18. Someone in the later category turned me on to the money saving possibilities of Monsieur Le Chicken. My mom basically cooked vegetarian Indian food at home with the occasional fish dish, so I never really purchased chicken until I started experimenting with cooking in high school. And, then I often fell into the skinless, boneless trap. But, then again, I wasn’t paying for the food or earning the money. It was that balding, practical college friend, F--, who told me one afternoon about the dream of spending only $10 a week on food. He had heard of someone who used one chicken to make all his lunches and dinners for the whole week. He told me this as if it were some mythical legend. In the infancy of the Interweb, and before I really thought about keeping a budget, this promise of the miraculous chicken seemed to me an aspiration not likely attained. I just assumed he would eat 1/7 of the chicken eat day; and how could that be satisfying. Now of course, I have put a modified version of this into practice for years. We will often use the same chicken for meals for 3-4 days and then go veg the other days, if only for respite from the bird.
For this week we started on Monday with the Mr. as a roasted bird. In the pan, we also roasted 4 beets, 2 carrots, 3 sweet potatoes, 3 onions, 1 head of garlic and a partridge in a pear tree. (Incidentally we also roasted the squash for Wednesday and the tomatoes for Tuesday. Nourished Kitchen has wonderful tips on saving money while eating healthfully and she mentioned how much energy is wasted in oven cooking. To save energy do all of your oven prep at a time, she tells readers) One big thing was that I didn't send those beet stems to the compost. We used them to add body and flavor to the chili; and it was delicious. I will never compost them again.
Monday was the quietest night in my schedule this week so I decided to prep some of the other meals. For us, eating out at the last minute is a double drain on the budget—we spend money on eating out and we waste what is in the fridge. To curb that, I prepped Tuesdays and Wednesdays meals on Monday night. Tuesday would be chicken chili with the beet stems and beans. Wednesday some sort of risotto thing (Arborio was too expensive.) So, after the chicken rested, we worked fast, plated the dinner plates with chicken, put bones in the slowcooker for the stock and also stripped done the back meat and one leg for the chili. By the time we sat down for dinner, the ingredients for dinner 2 were prepped in the fridge and the stock was simmering in the cooker.
It is worth saying that this dinner was $2 more expensive than the roast chicken and princess couscous (posting recipe tomorrow) in part because I decided to go back and get cheese as it was on sale for 1.50 today. Plus, I costed out organic tomato paste and organic cherry tomatoes (even though they were actually free) and that bumped us way up. Also, I decided to be honest to the challenge and be minimal in the spices that I use throughout the week. I do buy my spices bulk at an ethnic market (cheaper than at the grocery store) but they still add up when you use many. So for this week, I will make use of the herbs that are on the window sill plus cumin and chili pepper. I think even on a budget 1-3 well chosen spices or condiments will make the food taste good enough to keep you from straying. So dinner cost us $8.66 (for 4 people (Belle, J--, my Mom and I plus three lunches for tomorrow.)
And for those of who with your calculators out, we spent $17 for both of us for the day ($30 for the week). We had some successes. Homemade yogurt was darn cheaper than the orgo brands. Homemade bread is much cheaper than anything in the store. We had some failures. J—forgot lunch and had to buy something shooting a $4 hole in the budget. I got weak and bought a large tea to get me through my evening meeting. It would have only been .75, but I tipped the guy 1.25. He was telling me about his five year old son and I felt compelled to give him a big tip to help him out. I should say I know two days in and we seem to be ½ way through the budget. But, I am still confident we will make it.
To find the rest of the Eat on 30 folks...
In a slowcooker, add:
The meat from the back of a chicken plus one leg
2 large carrots diced
3 onions roasted
3 cloves of garlic roasted
2 T tomato paste (we had homemade but it is often on sale)
10 oven roasted cherry tomatoes (we had some left from the garden)
1 cup cannellini beans (soaked overnight)
1 cup chickpeas (soaked overnight, pressure cooked today and added later in cooking)
Stems on one bunch of beets
2 T cumin
1 T red pepper powder
1 green pepper diced and sautéed
1 eggplant diced and sautéed
2 cups stock
Drippings from roasting plan deglazed with water (no vino in our budget)
stems from one bunch of beets, chopped
Salt and black pepper accordingly
Cook on slow for 6 hours.
Serve with a dollop of homemade yogurt, shredded cheese and crusty bread.
Monday, October 12, 2009
Numbers have a lovely straightforwardness. This weekend Belle decided to give up on 3. She had counted to 10 perfectly fine up to now. A few months shy of three years old, and she just decided that 3 didn’t exist. At first, I thought she might have been regressing or protesting her new sister. After some discussion and a great deal of practicing, I found out that she really just preferred the number 8 and was interested in subbing three out for a better number. I had this discussion with Belle when driving back from dinner at a local Indian restaurant the other night. She sat in her car seat filled to the brim with lemon rice, rava masala dosa and sambar.
And, as I sat and talked with her, I was thinking about the Eat on $30 challenge by running with tweezers. (Go look at what others are doing. Or follow everyone on twitter. I am @feedingmaybelle. Send a request and if you are not a robot or selling me sex, I will accept you.)
The plight of the poor globally and locally saddens me. Cleveland is one of the poorest places in the country. Those on food stamps get about $4 a day for food. There are children just miles away from where my daughter slumbers right now for whom the start of the school year means that they actually get breakfast again. And, how can those children possibly pay attention and learn when their bellies scream in hunger. As a educator, I am saddened to think what potential is being wasted in America because of the way we feed our poor.
Breaking down the numbers of what you consume is edifying but it is of course a conceit. I am choosing to eat at $30 a week ($60 for my husband and I). I am choosing to set aside the time to make certain items like bread and yogurt; I am choosing to get items in bulk to save money. Basically, I am choosing this way of life for this week to show that many others, many children, do not have this choice. (And in perfect honesty, my daughter will not be taking the challenge because I did not want her to forgo organic, local milk and local eggs but if my husband or I use any of it we will tally them. Similarly if use items from the pantry, I will calculate them too)
The plan is not a terribly groundbreaking one, but a plan nonetheless. Use everything; have everything count for at least two meals. Tonight’s whole chicken will be stock for Thursday’s risotto, the pan drippings were deglazed and will serve as the base for tomorrow’s chicken chili. The vegetables for the week have that sort of seasonal utilitarian appeal (squash, beets cabbage) rather than the tarted up options like the purple artichokes and graffiti eggplant of last week.
So, back to the numbers:
Let’s start with the store. At the market, yesterday I purchased:
2 ½-gallons of milk 2.99 each
1 amish chicken: 9.11
4 apples: 1.84
8 bananas: 1.74
1 cabbage: 1.03
1 bunch beets: 1.69
1 bunch carrots: 1.99
1 bag onions: 1.39
3 yams: 1.68
50% of the whole week spent and no carbs, butter, cheese, or juice. But, we are lucky enough to have a stocked pantry; so I am going through and calculate per serving prices on things as well.
Tea=.16 per person
Oatmeal with milk and brewer’s yeast, 1 banana=.64 per person
Handful of almonds=.24 per person
Homemade bread and almond butter=no idea, but lets say $1.06
Apple=.46 per person
Upma (recipe later this week)=.50 per person (I think. Tomorrow I will figure out how much cream of wheat is.)
Roast chicken with Roasted Vegetable Couscous and Wilted beet greens=7.90 for the family (with enough for two lunches)
So we are at about $13.95 and it is only Monday. Will we make it?
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Once there was a girl
Nay a princess, with hair in many a curl
Whose love of bread was so great
All her mamma made would get ate
Belle’s love of pink and green is how it began
that veggie colored breads were her mama’s plan.
Spinach was blended. The beets were attacked by a masher.
The kitchen looked like the work of a slasher.
Yeast, flour and veggie juice became a frothy mix.
Mama and Belle then became kneading chicks.
After a rest, a rise and nap,
Rolls were made in snap.
Before their trip to the oven would be,
We marked them with a B for Belle and me.
For the recipe for the bread go to My Food Blog. I submitted this little ditty to Yeastspotting.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
That moment when someone tells you that you have lost a child, the world either spins ever faster until all the colors become a white blur or else the world slows down until all its banality is frozen in place. Either way those words about that loss just hang in midair for a moment. Then they fill your head displacing any other thoughts that might have resided there but a minute prior. You stand still for that moment. The words are just heavy in your brain. That minute might seem to be forever or not long enough. But, at that moment, you stand there alone just you and that terrible news.
And, then the world might start again with a sigh or a cry. You might fall to your knees and hope that the earth swallows you whole. You might find that all your limbs have stiffened and left you still as a stone statue. You might fall numb and deaf. You might shake so uncontrollably that every tooth feels like they will be dislodged from your mouth. But, with that loss, you certainly feel a small fissure form in your heart.
In time, that break might callus over. You will walk around the world as if your heart is whole. You will go on with your days. You will picnic on the lawn. Eat--and taste what you are eating. Maybe you will spoon macaroni and cheese into a little ones mouth. That callus on your heart will not keep you from laughing and playing again.
October 15 is a national pregnancy and infant loss remembrance day in the States. Loss such as this is pervasive, but a quiet truth in people’s lives. Maybe we can all spend that day being kind and caring indiscriminately. You have no idea who might be silently suffering.
Confetti Alphabet Macaroni and Cheese
Boil 2 servings of alphabet pastina according to the package directions and 1/3 cup diced carrots. Drain.
Grate 2 cups of cheese (parmesan, cheddar and smoked gouda.)
While pasta is hot, add cheese, 1 T dijon mustard, pinch paprika, 1/3 cup frozen peas, 1/3 fresh corn.
Take three handfuls of breadcrumbs and toss with olive oil, paprika and turmeric.
Put mac and cheese in single serving oven proof containers and top with bread crumbs. (we used alphabet shaped breadcrumbs)
Monday, October 5, 2009
I am proud to say I always knew that margarine was a hoax.
Freshly made butter. Pillowy and white. Cool fat lingering on the tongue. Sweet undertones. Soft like a baby’s cheek. Clean cream. Who can offer such encomiums for that nasty ole margarine?
Churning butter is for me a social activity. My great-grandmother had a simple wooden churn. The pole (churner, is it?) was the sort of smooth wood that satisfies the hand so certainly enticing you to continue handling it. The pole, tethered to the wall by a loop of twine, was to be turned and turned and turned.
There I would sit, toes fiddling against the stone floor. My great-grandmother was had a sort of ease and confidence; she spoke her mind and lost friends accordingly. She embraced and nourished childish caprices unlike any other adult in my childhood. She was a woman who felt that tiny, tiny masala dosas, fantastic stories and as much Bournvita as I could drink were important parts of any childhood. And, most importantly she spoke to me. She asked me. She heard me. At seven, those were credentials of an amazing adult. So, at that churn, we talked. Lord knows what I told her. My plans for archiving my sticker collection? My love of Duran Duran? My belief that Esprit was the height of fashion? It didn’t matter—she talked with me. And, in return I heard her. She told me stories of my mother’s childhood, about God and religion, about food, about life. I heard her and even seventeen years after she passed away, I still hold onto her.
Friday, October 2, 2009
How do you quantify who has the credentials to nominate the real, the actual? Let’s do a little math. My prof was half-Indian and she had spent her childhood in Bombay. Thanks to the fact that my parents came to America from Bombay almost forty years ago, I was raised in Cleveland. By the time potluck, in my 23 years, I had been in India for a total of maybe 60 weeks and never once was I allowed to do any cooking. After all, if I was cooking, when would I have time to eat all the food my various relatives were preparing to fatten me up appropriately. Which one of us is more likely to know and make the real sambar is anyone’s guess.
Of course, then there is the implication in her statement that there is but one real sambar. My mother and her three sisters all grew up together in a food obsessed family. (Money on the fact that they are all either eating or planning what to eat right now.) In a head to head contest, I could always tell my mother’s sambar. Who is going to tell my aunties that theirs isn’t the real one? (They may seem congenial, but don’t cross them.) Not me. There is not one real, not one authentic.
During the last Daring Cooks Challenge, discussion ensued about the dosa recipe chosen. Reading both sides I felt ambivalent. The recipe was not traditional for sure. And, its derivative nature did give me the same bad taste I get when patchouli-doused hippies and curry loving old white guys try to speak to me in yoga Sanskrit and make assumptions about knowing Indian culture. (Manisha at Indian Food Rocks has a great post on dosas.) But, at the same time, dismissing the recipe out of hand as wrong struck me as problematic. Derivations and permutations are some of the best bi-products of our global food culture (the recipe was from a vegan-friendly restaurant in Toronto). I might be an authentic South Indian, but I knew nothing of vadouvan until I was in college; and they do make for some delicious Thanksgiving brussel sprouts. And, I can’t be the only Indian-American who decides that Thanksgiving is a little bland without some spice. Does that make my Thanksgiving inauthentic? The issue with the Indian dosas challenge was calling or thinking they were Indian instead of embracing the fact that they were something else.
Nominating the right way to do things is like picking a moving target. An article in the Times recently reviewing Ginette Mathiot’s Je Sais Cuisiner (I Know How to Cook) discussed how Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon was French restaurant authentic , and from a particular time period, not housewife authentic. In a follow up article, the Times explored the debate about Julia in general in the French cooking establishment. Here was a woman who was helping American’s appreciate French food but the food she was highlighting was but portion of what was French food culture (and now perhaps only a sliver.) In the end, Julia’s boeuf and the Fresh restaurant dosas highlight for me that authentic and real are slippery concepts, perhaps even illusory.
(This whole post was supposed to be about Julia’s Boeuf as that was the Recipes to Rival Challenge this month. And, yes, I can be an Indian authentic or not and eat beef.)