Mom, Billy Called Me A Foodie!!!

When I picture enthusiasts, I envision older men who rebuild Model T’s or who do woodwork for hours out in their shops. I picture hipsters (or aging hipsters, a la Chuck Klosterman) hopping into their VW Jettas or their uberhip AMC Pacers and venturing from one spot where a cool, dead celebrity actually died to another spot . .  . where a cool, dead celebrity died.

I envy those people, cliche or not, because I’ve always wanted to be an enthusiast of . . . well, something. Simultaneously, I fear them. Sinking huge funds and efforts into a task that is not (gasp!) paying me is a frightening prospect. The blue collar voice inside my head is yelling, “Get back to work!” My fear is compounded by the weight of how some view enthusiasts. Urbandictionary.com, for instance, the source for all legitimate definitions, offers the following regarding enthusiasts:

A person who does something for a very long time but still sucks at it though he enjoys it very much. Thus, the term enthusiast is given to him as a consolation.

dictionary.com defines an enthusiast as:

a person who is filled with enthusiasm for some principle, pursuit, etc.; a person of ardent zeal
 
I believe the latter definition, but I am going to qualify it:
 
enthusiast: a person who is filled with enthusiasm for some principle, pursuit, etc. but who cannot seem to make any sort of money from all of this zeal either due to lack of market or lack of connections (or, on occasion, because s/he sucks at it)
 
If enthusiast–normally a word with positive connotation–occasionally comes with bumps, then shoving the word food in front of it comes with potholes. To be a food enthusiast these days appears to fall into a single pejorative category–foodie. Once again to urbandictionary.com for how some define what a foodie exactly is:
 
A dumbed-down term used by corporate marketing forces to infantilize and increase consumerism in an increasingly simple-minded American magazine reading audience. The addition of the long “e” sound on the end of a common word is used to create the sensation of being part of a group in isolationist urban society, while also feminizing the term to subconsciously foster submission to ever-present market sources. Though the terms “gastronome” and “epicure” define the same thing, i.e. a person who enjoys food for pleasure, these words are perceived by the modern American consumer as elitist due to their latin root forms and polysyllabic pronunciations.
 
A second definition for the word, found on the same website, is:
 
a douche bag who likes food
 
Oh, the wonders of the internet, letting people add as they please! The first entry misguides a bit; the words epicure and gastronome deal with gourmet items, which very often have been high-priced or rare, yet the entry deals fittingly, to me, with wanting to belong and with those who want to belong sloughing off any elitist terms (And please don’t neglect the part about Corporate America’s manipulation of the consumer.). The jerk who wrote the second definition is clearly and simply self-loathing (or has an ex who was a self-proclaimed foodie); nonetheless, I can see where his frustration originates because listen to how Wikipedia elaborates on the term:  
 
Foodies are a distinct hobbyist group. Typical foodie interests and activities include the food industry, wineries and wine tasting, breweries and beer sampling, food science, following restaurant openings and closings and occasionally reopenings, food distribution, food fads, health and nutrition, cooking classes, culinary tourism, and restaurant management. A foodie might develop a particular interest in a specific item, such as the best egg cream or burrito.
 
Seriously? restaurant REopenings? best egg cream?
 
I cannot help but keep in mind that most people in a Third World country will never be able to have an egg cream, much less pursue which egg cream is the best. This is a sad thought–less the egg cream (I’ve not had one, though I imagine it’s delightful) and more  the idea of not getting to freely pursue the genuine interest. Hell, in America, this same thing exists. I am currently teaching persuasion right now and am constantly having to remind my students to keep things in perspective for the audience. Just recently, one student excoriated proponents of year-round schooling because any year-round school schedule would prevent him from taking his two to three vacations per year! I couldn’t help but think, “What a suburban problem.”
 
While some restraint is useful, people do deserve their hobbies, as long as those hobbies are hurting no one else. Plus, not all views of a foodie are that bad. Here again is a description of a foodie from a 2006 Slashfood blog entry titled, “Foodie: What is That, Anyway?”:
 
To be a foodie is not only to like food, but to be interested in it. Just as a good student will have a thirst for knowledge, a foodie wants to learn about food.
 

Nicole Weston, author of the blog post (but who does not seem to have too much food experience herself), also explains why foodie has replaced epicure or gastronome:

In previous decades, words like “epicure” or “gourmet” were used to apply to the same type of person. The words are out of favor now, and bring to mind stodgy, snobbish people who are only willing to consider a restaurant that has truffled pate on the menu. This is because good food was hard to get and expensive in years, decades and centuries past. People didn’t have the resources to buy virtually anything they could want and often wouldn’t have the means to cook it. Now, both times and terms have changed.

Anyone can be a foodie.

A second source for looking at the sunnier side of foodie-ism is Wikipedia, which details the positive aspects of the rising foodie market:
 
Interest by foodies in the 1980’s and 1990’s gave rise to the Food Network and other specialized food programming . . . shows about food such as Top Chef and Iron Chef, a renaissance in specialized cookbooks . . . growing popularity of farmer’s markets [and] food-oriented websites like Zagat’s and Yelp. 
 
Okay, so not all of this is covetable. I’ve tried a couple of Rachael Ray’s items. Pass. And when I plopped down in the bookstore to read portions of Mark Kurlansky’s Salt: A World History, only one question remained in my head, “Who the hell cares about salt THIS much?” With all due respect, Mr. Kurlansky, it is roughly 400 pages worth of salt information. It did come highly recommended, I must say, but I did not make it past the first couple of pages. For salt enthusiasts, however, it is a salt-induced boon. As my friend from high school once said, “Hey, whatever creams your Twinkie.”  
 
On the brighter and/or less daunting side, though, people are starting to take notice and appreciate the local farmer and his ingredients. This is good stuff. Also, sites like Yelp have helped to revolutionize the way food is reviewed. It is not magic; some reviewers, like the following who reviewed The Four Provinces with a full five stars, are more than a little hard-pressed to give a well-rounded opinion. Here’s how she starts:
 
I am amazed the star rating isn’t higher for this place.For the naysayers, we’re not in Ireland, so “shut your pie hole!”  Short of that, this is as good as it gets.

The best part of this place — THE STAFF!  I moved here 4 weeks ago from Chicago.  Moved to Falls Church on a Thursday night and went exploring the next day.  First place I walked in (yea, I’m half Irish), sat on the stool for what, 45 seconds, when Johnny the (head) bartender, saddled right up to me and said “who are ya, hon?”  Made me giggle like a school girl and a warm fuzzy from the absolute warmth!

I could, and will, go on and on about the staff.  Sheila (watch the guys fall at her feet), and is officially nominated to be on the Board of Directors of “The Cool Chics Club!”  Tommy, with one of the driest humors I’ve ever met… Brian, who could be a real player, but isn’t ….  

I digress.

Jaded at best, this review only goes uphill. Still, I’d like to believe that if enough honest reviews are logged for a restaurant, then reviews will stabilize. This, unfortunately, is not grounded in empirical evidence but in faith in the internet. Phew! Faith in the internet? Even I’m starting to doubt myself now.  

Back to reality.
 
Weston’s Slashfood blog mentioned earlier was written as far back as 2006, eons in the food industry and in the world of culture. Trends change fast. What was once a new term to coin those who enjoy all things food has now become a pejorative term. Though some will disagree, I stand by this firmly. It now seems cool to like food but not to be a foodie, per se. Even back in 2008 on Chowhound, one commenter stated, “I don’t really like the word “foodie” at all. It doesn’t adequately describe the depth of interest and passion of those who love food in all forms,” and another declared, “It’s the damn “-ie” ending that bothers me.” I’d have to agree with that last one, Maria Lorraine. These proclamations of the love of food and of the denial of the word are all over the eWorld. People just don’t like to be labeled, and that’s that. Intro the label, exit the novelty.
 
The more I’ve researched, the more I’ve realized that I fit the title of foodie, I guess. It’s like looking at a picture of a celebrity and having everyone tell me that I strongly resemble her . . . but I just cannot see it. I’ll be honest: from the moment I introduced the idea of an enthusiast, though, I’ve decided that that is what I’d rather be. Enthusiast, monetary reward or no, has stood the test of time, and who doesn’t see herself as the equivalent of an old man tinkering out in the shop? Now that’s the cool thing to be. The irony being, of course, that I am categorizing myself in an effort not to categorize myself. C’est la vie.
 
Please just don’t ever convert the label to be an enthusiastie. Lorraine said it best when she said, “It’s the damn “-ie” ending that bothers me.”
 
 
  
    
 
 
 
 
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“Oh shit! I am the ‘Next Generation’!” — Learning to Savor Our Food

A crust eaten in peace is better than a banquet partaken in anxiety.
Aesop

For those of you going to Super Bowl parties, today is not the best day to savor, but it can still be first day of your eating career.

Don’t get me wrong. Gathering with friends is a good thing. However, when we gather with friends over food, what we gain in friendship we often lose in food appreciation. Pursuing friendship and appreciating food are both excellent endeavors, but can they really be done simultaneously? Unless the food is the sole focus of the gathering, I think not.

Take a piece of fresh bread . . . please! Or a fresh anything. Really, go to your kitchen now, by yourself, before you head off to that Super Bowl party. Find something fresh.

(At some point during this exercise, make sure you are logged off of Facebook, Twitter, Snitter and Snatter.)

Now, slow your breathing . . . 3-1-6 . . . 3 seconds in, 1 second to hold, 6 seconds out.

Concentrate on relaxing your shoulders.

Take a bite of your fresh food. Concentrate on chewing, slowly. Concentrate on texture. What does it feel like? Concentrate on flavor. What does it taste like? Concentrate on your reaction. Do you like it? Why? Concentrate on whether you’ve ever concentrated on these things. If it makes you focus more, write down your thoughts.  

If you can’t do this now but get a second at the party, step out onto the back deck, bite into that chicken wing, and savor like you’ve never been able to do when you were sittng in front of the TV, hurriedly shoveling chicken wings into your gullet so that you can get back to that 7-layer dip before your cousin’s gluttonous boyfriend continues to double-dip into it.

On that back deck, are you going to look like a freak and have to explain yourself? If you are caught out there with a chicken wing, without a sweater and with your eyes closed, yes you are. You might get a moment to savor your food, though, and unless someone streaks across the football field naked this Super Bowl, your time out on the deck is the thing you’ll remember most . . . because you were in touch with your senses . . . or because years later, people still relay how some freak was out on the deck making love to a chicken wing. Either way, really . . .

One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.  ~Luciano Pavarotti and William Wright, Pavarotti, My Own Story

Eating is fleeting in this life we’ve created. Slow down. Enjoy.

This is one of the reasons I’ve become so enthralled with cooking and food. Of late, I have been more than discouraged with my impact on the world. I cannot pinpoint why, though I am trying. Then there is the question: why am I trying?

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends. To appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

If Emerson’s quote about what makes life a success is true, then things look to be in fairly good shape. I laugh a good bit. Intelligent people surround me, and I would like to believe that I’ve earned their respect. I work hard to appreciate beauty, even if much of the beauty that appears in front of me certainly still bypasses my senses. Some things Emerson mentions may not be omnipresent in my life, but his statement of having “one life [that] has breathed easier because [I] have lived” is what I hope to be true.

I desire, often too much, to leave an impact on the world and, more importantly, to leave a legacy to my daughter. Even if she ends up as a non-cook, it will be of no consequence. (Reminder to future self: do not take personally any anti-cooking stance that your daughter adopts. You will not be able to control it anyway. The same goes when she decides that knowing the words to “Bust A Move,” still being able to do the “Running Man,” and falling asleep on the couch at 7 pm are all for lame-o’s, too. You will know that all of these things rock.) To know that she will go off to college appreciating the smell of homemade and recognizing the taste of freshness is paramount. I don’t want the world to be her Chicken McNugget; I want the world to be her fresh chicken breast with rosemary and sage.

“Ponder well on this point: the pleasant hours of our life are all connected by a more or less tangible link, with some memory of the table.”
Charles Pierre Monselet (French journalist and author)

Monselet’s point is the legacy I hope to leave Baby O. She does not have to love food as much as I. She just needs to remember the smells of her childhood home. May those smells make her “breathe easier” in times of happiness and strife.

I think I’ve been discouraged on my impact with the world lately because there is just so much stuff to learn that I cannot keep up. None of us will ever be able to keep up. I’d once convinced myself that I could keep up, and then when my father died and Baby O. was born, it made me realize, “Oh shit! I am the ‘next generation’.” I felt like people were looking to me to guide.

 In the years that have followed, I’ve struggled with taking the imagined lead I’ve been given and have decided that I have to focus on few things well, not many things haphazardly. All we humans can do is to promise to leave a “memory of the table.” To do this, we are going to have to actually taste the food for what it is.   

Novice Cooking Tips: Cooking Rules To Remember :-)

For those of you who are cooking pros, you are about to come across some tips that you’ve most definitely heard.

For those of you who are cooking novices, you are about to come across some tips that will spare you some pissed off and hungry bystanders and a few cooker’s wrinkles.

Since I’ve started cooking, and since I am pretty much self-taught via cookbooks and experimentation, I have mostly learned these tips the hard way: color your meals, pre-chop the “choppable” items, and taste as you go. I still don’t always follow the tips as I should, but I definitely regret when I don’t. In sharing them, I hope to save you the strife that I have, on many occasions, caused myself.

Tip #1: Color your meals

Last year, I’d settled in to dinner with Matt and Baby O. Either my fatigue (such negativity!) or my adventurous spirit (positive spin!) had prevented me from having officially planned for the meal we were about to eat. Rummaging the kitchen cabinets provided the requisite inspiration. Here were the results: tilapia, white rice and cannellini beans. If you know these foods, then you’ll know that this meal was so white that it reflected back on to me and my fellow diners. Arguably, cannellinis are a bit beige, but . . . technicalities. At the time, however, I’d thought that the meal had come together pretty well given that we were totally out of fresh food, besides the fish. Fish, beans, rice, all nice.

Then it came time to sit down. I’d “plated” everyone’s meal and pulled my chair up to the table. Then I looked at my meal for a moment–really looked–and declared in a flat tone, “This meal is all one color.”

“So?” That’s what Matt said.

After taking the first couple of bites, I declared, “Even I don’t really want to eat it.” The meal was just boring, unappealing. This is the moment the importance of “coloring” a meal crystallized.

Since then, I’ve added color to my meal checklist. Greens and reds are particularly good and acquirable year-round. There’s basil and tomatoes and peppers and spinach, all that are so accessible, affordable and easy to slice and add as a topping or a side. Assuming you are not thinking Cheetos would be a fabulous fish topping, color forces vegetables and fruits into your meal, and it sometimes inspires new food combinations.

It’s definitely time to color.

Tip #2: Pre-chop, pre-chop, pre-chop!

Make this one a mantra until you are saying it in your sleep, in the grocery line, in the middle of your sentences. Pre-chopping will save you those wrinkles I mentioned earlier. I’ve repeatedly tried to convince myself, “Oh, I’ll just chop this while the pasta cooks and chop that while my bacon is sizzling.” Of course my mind has convinced me this is the most time-consuming method! News flash: It has NEVER saved any time.

Chopping while waiting for the pasta to finish? Cooked pasta ain’t waiting for nobody. Al dente turns into Al rubber-aye.

Pending the bacon sizzle? What was intended to be brown bacon now matches the black skillet in which it sits.

I hate to put the pressure on and turn you into a stickler perfectionist cook, but pre-chopping is a necessity if you want to remain sane. As I write, I think that I must not have a desire for sanity sometimes. Well, a good cook does need to be a little crazy!

Remember, you can usually chop hours in advance of dinner if you don’t want to shove everything together, time-wise. Ha! I still never do this, but it is a great suggestion.

Tip #3: Taste your food as you go

I still sometimes get caught up in the whirlwind of making the recipe and forget to do this. I’ve cooked fish, chicken, and pork chops and have forgotten to do this. I have cooked . . . . drumroll . . . a whole dish of red beans before without doing this. Are you kidding? Those take hours and no one will be eating them if they are without season.

When I was in college, my roommate Amy and I were rushing around the kitchen. We had scarce space and at one point, Amy bumped me, I bumped the oven, and we both watched the salt shaker fall from the back of the oven right into the uncooked but already-mixed brownie mix. We hurriedly dug out the shaker and moved forward. That’s one recipe we probably should’ve taste-tested, but what’s a party without salty brownies?

The more you manipulate the recipe, the less the recipe manipulates you. When you feel you can manipulate a dish, then the fun begins. Maybe that last sentiment is just for control freaks.

Short, sweet and hopefully helpful–

Let the cooking commence.

Happy cooking! Happy eating!

Preserving the Lagniappe Culture: Food Memories

Earlier this week, a co-worker asked me, “Which culture, if any, would you identify yourself with?”

I paused, pretty sure I understood his question but not entirely. “Exactly what do you mean?”

“Well, sometimes people identify themselves with a culture, and I was just wondering if you did, too. You may not.” While this did not exactly bring added clarity, I still felt I understood him much better.

“It would be the Southern culture. Yes, if there is any one culture, it’d be Southern.”

*                            *                            *

Is it true that if you live away from a very cultural place for a long time that you could lose that culture entirely? If you were rooted in the culture to start, that seems a pretty impossible task. How long would it take–or does it take–to lose a culture? What if you don’t want to lose the culture? Are you battling uphill without a weapon?

Losing a culture with which you closely identify is a very dreadful idea indeed. Not to have identified with one in the first place is scary, too, but cannot be helped except to move forward, to embrace an entirely new culture.

I cannot help but to believe that moving away from the mores of a particular region will result in some loss. That’s natural. However, I also believe that all does not have to dissipate into the nether regions of legacy maintenance. Cultural preservation, I suppose it is called.

Here is my contribution.

*                        *                         *

Pass the Sauce

                  King Cake Mayonnaise Saltines Raw Oysters w/Horseradish, Ketchup & Lemon Crawfish fat, bursting Strawberries I wanna Snowball with Condensed Milk on Top, Bubble Gum flavored like I always get. My Daddy loves to cook me redbeansandricewithsausageandasideofcornbread. He also cooks me tomato gravy and gives me a slice of white bread to soak it up. When it’s New Year’s, Mama cooks up the black eyed peas, cornbread and cabbage. It’s gonna bring me good luck. We all eat gumbo when it’s cold outside and when it’s not. It ain’t right if you don’t put the rice on top of the gumbo. Rice swims in gumbo. Everyone knows that. I mainly like fried oyster po-boys, but I’ll take the shrimp if that’s all you have.

*                    *                    *

                Fried oyster po-boy, dressed. I’ll need some hot sauce, please.  Crystal’s only, though, because it’s not too, too hot like that Tabasco. . . . I cannot take that kind of hot. People say, “You from here, right? You got to like spice!” Well, a little spice might make things nice, but I’m not trying to go up to Charity, right? . . . Hey! Are the oysters seasoned with Zatarain’s or Tony Cachere’s? . . . Why you lookin’ at me like that? I know it’s a crazy question! Sorry I asked . . . Look, I’m fixin’ to get on down the road and take my meal home with me. See ya’ll later.

*                    *                    *

                Come on, Mee-chelle, we going to Mike Anderson’s. Im’a get us some oysters. I just want to see if you’ll eat them. I know I will, and your momma won’t eat with me . . . Yeah, they’re gonna be raw. Of course they’re gonna be raw. You know your Daddy. The only way I like them is raw with a little horseradish and ketchup mixed together. On the half shell . . . Oooooowee! I love me some raw oysters . . . See her eating those? I’m tickled pink that I can get my daughter to eat them with me. Her momma don’t care for them as much. Shoot, I’ve tried to get her to come with me, but she won’t, so I thought I’d bring Mee-chelle. Shoot, Mee-chelle can eat oysters all day. Put each one on a little cracker after you dip it in the sauce. Watch her, she likes it . . . Yeah, she’s smiling. Raw oysters are good.  Sure do wish her momma would come with us, though.

*                    *                    *

                I’m the secretary, so I’m in charge of this year’s crawfish boil, and you’re going with me. I’ve already ordered the crawfish and the corn and the potatoes at $2 a pound. Now I’ve got to find a place to have this shindig. Remember when you went last year there was not a lot to do? This year we are going to have it out at the park, so you ought to find yourself a friend to bring with you. Ya’ll could go to the lake. You could bring a fishing pole or something. Maybe that’d be fun. I’m going to be in charge of clean-up and all that other stuff. You helped me with that last year, which was a big help. You’re a good daughter, Michelle.

*                    *                    *

                 Alright, if I just scrounge up some change, I can go down to get me a snowball. I’ve got $1 here, but 25 cents more and I can get that condensed milk on top. I wish’d it hadn’t taken me so long to figure out I like that stuff. Daddy says it’s nothing but pure- dee fat. He don’t care, so I don’t care. I’m gonna go to that place that says “SNOWballs” spray painted in big, black letters on the front. I like their crushed ice the best. They put just the right amount of juice, too. I hate when the juice drowns out the bottom of the Styrofoam cup.

     *                        *                        *

                 Pralines on wax paper in the kitchen. They might stick to the paper a little bit, honey, but ain’t nothing you cain’t take a knife to. You being my oldest grandchild, you can manage to get it yourself. If you spill, be sure to pass the vacuum under that table.

*                    *                    *

                  Oooooowee, Mee-chelle! I know whereyou could get you some big ol’ strawberries—down at an intersection in Bogalusa. This man was there the other day sellin’em, and we bought us a flat. Ten dollars a flat, I think it was . . . The man sellin’em is your cousin. I bet you didn’t know that . . . I’ll give you ten dollars right now if you go down and get some . . . I know it’s 20 minutes away, but they sure are big and juicy. Ooooowee! Them suckers’ll melt in your mouth . . . Come on, I’ll go down there with you. I’ll drive you and buy you a flat . . . Well, I know you’re one person, but there’re a lot of things you could do with some big ol’ strawberries like the ones I seen . . . Come on, we’re going. Now I gotta have me some strawberries.

*                     *                   *

Honey, I done made Mississippi Mud Pie so many times that I cain’t even taste it. I just make it up and serve it to whoever walks in the door. Look over yonder for a pie knife in that drawer. Cut you a real big piece.

Ah, damn, it’s dinner time AGAIN? Every day with this dinner business. (Sorry, no recipe, just sarcasm.)

This is how my days go:

1. Fancy up a tres cute outfit and rock massively high heels just in time to show up to work with a wide grin on my face and to greet the morning and my coworkers with a big, “How d’ya do?” This is at 7:15, and I’ve already taken the dog for a spin around the ‘hood and presented warm mugs of cocoa to the kids waiting out at the bus stop. Brrrrr. What a chilly morn’.

2. Happily greet my morning set of students before I then present to them the most cogent and entertaining lesson on the history of Levittown–as it relates to A Raisin in the Sun, of course–that they have EVER seen. Do you know how many teens have never even heard of Levittown until meeting me? My. Word.

3. Attend two very important meetings and grade about 50-60 essays during my hour-and-a-half planning period a bit later in the day. As you can imagine, I stop for a brief bathroom break (Gotta bring those papers in with me, though! Breaks are for sissies.)

And so it goes. Ahhhh, and so it goes . . .

And finally we’ve arrived at 6 p.m.ish. Dinner time . . .

16. Watch as my family pulls up in the driveway and then suddenly rush to the refrigerator to check out the bits and scraps I might throw together to cook YET. ANOTHER. MEAL. (and I actually like to cook).

17. Start discovering all the stuff I bought last week and have still failed to use.

**I bought those chives for this stir-fry I’d planned to make . . . until I realized that three days after the chive shopping trip, we’d be eating out for Baby O’s birthday at a Japanese steakhouse. Home stir-fry AND steakhouse in one week? Absurdity, I guess. Status: Chives still pending.

**Oh, here are these frozen burritos I bought last month. I didn’t even bring lunch today because I thought I had nothing. In all of my morning fabulosity, I guess I neglected to even look to see that we had these burritos and two other frozen meals.

**I have to use the ground turkey at this point. That’s what I choose to do. Result: floppy turkey patties on ashy-looking buns (that have been in the freezer God knows how long). Don’t forget the tomato whose top is all mushy now. Now, to make it all healthy, I’ll add sweet potato fries. I’m an awesome dinner-maker all around tonight, boy. Whew!

What a day. Now that my belly is full, I am off to wow some more students with some essay revision comments.

Till tomorrow,

YMByrd!

Outtakes:

The start of this photo shoot

Working hard on those papers, but my spoon (for effect) WON'T stay!

Eating my imaginary pancakes

Diva moment: The spoon fell AGAIN! My ears must be too petite.

Everything has gone pear-shaped! (But not really) Food Adventure Challenge 2011: Installment Two

by Michelle Byrd–A special thanks goes directly to M. Cameron and indirectly to T. Cameron for alerting me to the beauty of an Asian pear.

To go straight to the pear results and a short pear salad recipe, simply scroll to the picture of the three pears.

We’ll get to what I thought about this week’s challenge items–Asian, Bosc and Red Bartlett pears–but first, for those who appreciate historical records of human communication, I have provided for you a small, pear-related excerpt from “The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste” by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams.

Now, my intent is not to make light of the geekiness that is the recording and debating over pears, because I love reading these sorts of exchanges. However, sometimes I lie to myself about my intent.

In the excerpt below, the editors of “The Horticulturist . . .” doubt some pear measurements they’ve received anonymously. The main man they can consult to confirm these measurements is one Mr. William Reid, a lifelong, dedicated horticulturist. I know little to nothing of Mr. Reid except that he was committed to his profession and was published in and consulted for “The Horticulturist . . .”, a 19th-century journal, a number of times.

Duchess D’Angouleme And Sheldon Pears

The annexed is the outline of a Duchess d’Angouleme Pear (Fig. 1) that grew last season in the garden of Thomas R. Thompson, in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, on a standard tree taken from the nursery of Mr. William Reid. It was forwarded to us anonymously, and we consequently felt some doubt about the enormous proportions; but, on application to Mr. Reid, the well-known nurseryman there, we received the following note:

Duchess D'angouleme.

Duchess D’angouleme. http://chestofbooks.com/

Duchess D’Angouleme And Sheldon Pears

Elizabethtown, N. J., Nov. 28,1855. J. Jay Smith, Esq

Dear Sir: The specimen of Duchess d’Angouleme Pear which you refer to, the outlines sent you by Chas. Davis, Junr., of this place, grown by Thos. R. Thompson, of Elizabethtown, is correctly described. The measurement was 15 inches longitudinal circumference, by 13 1/2 inches, as represented. This Pear was brought to my place by the grower, to look at before being eaten. I had heard of this Pear before I saw this specimen, but having so many fine specimens, I took no notice of it until I saw it; I at once thought the size exceeded anything I had ever seen, even putting me, as you observe, in mind of a monstrous specimen I saw at some exhibition, made out of wax. It was very solid and heavy, and, to all appearance, Juicy and perfectly melting; the weight is correct, having been weighed by several scales in town, viz: 1 lb. 12 ozs.

Yours, etc, Wm. Reid [1].

As a follow-up, please imagine picturing Mr. Reid upon his receipt of the letter that you have just read. This addition is completely fictitious and is what I couldn’t dismiss from my mind while reading the above excerpt regarding pears? or pride?

Mr. Reid, dressed in trousers and a sensible sweater, picks up his correspondence from the post office. One gardening glove hangs from his trouser belt loop, just in case. Once home and after drinking several sips of tea, methodically, he begins to sort his mail. Everything has a place. Correspondence from his Aunt Nell goes in one pile. She is doing splendidly and hopes to visit him soon. The journals that publish his work enter another pile. They will be placed alphabetically along his solid, wooden bookshelf. The last thing in the evening’s pile? The Accusation. It arrives in a fairly nondescript envelope but for the return address in the upper left-hand corner. It’s official, to be sure. It’s a letter from “The Horticulturist . . .” that doubts an anonymous mailer’s findings. In Mr. Reid’s zeal in any situation to “set the record straight,” he instantly whips out his pen of fine craftsmanship he uses for just these occasions and then hastily but steadily pushes his pen to paper, drawing his nifty diagram and discussing his findings. For every mention of pear, he capitalizes P. For every mention of the pear in question, he responds with the excitement of someone who has seen Frankenstein.

Oh, how agitated Mr. Reid must’ve been when he’d received the editor’s correspondence that doubted the size of the pear in question. Had Mr. Reid been so inclined to add one more little line, his mood may have established a different course of one phrase as we know it. Instead of the exhausted “How you like dem apples?” we’d use instead, “How you like dem pears?”*

Game on, The Horticulturist!!! (and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste)

*I am aware that the supposed origins of “How you like dem apples?” came way later, if I am to believe Wikipedia. I am disregarding all research where this is concerned so I can make my story end remotely cleverly. How you like dem . . . Oh, nevermind.

Photo courtesy of M. Byrd

On to the verdicts:

Asian pear: I loved this one! It’s like eating an apple but better because when sliced, the pieces are less bulky and mildly sweeter. Some bites had a small buttery aftertaste. This pear even looks like it’d belong in the apple family and is often referenced as an “apple pear” [3]. Hell, you should slice these up and throw them into your next salad or just eat them raw. Yum! See a simple pear salad recipe below. (I hated the skin, but I hate all the pear skins I’ve ever tasted.)

Red Bartlett: I had two of these, an overripe one and another just beginning to ripen. Baby O loved the overripe one–great for her to “toddlerhandle.” Take a look at the picture above if you need evidence. I found the Red Bartlett to be sweeter and softer than the Asian. Of course sweetness, etc. will depend on when you buy the item. Since I prefer crispy, this one came in second. I’d recommend this one for salads, too, to offset the pear’s sweetness a bit. See a simple pear salad recipe below.

BOSC: When I first tasted the BOSC on Wednesday, I found it to be bland and lifeless. I shoved it into a plastic bag and then tossed it into the fridge, thinking I’d try it again in a couple of days. I didn’t have much hope for it. On Friday, I pulled it out and sliced it. Crisper. Sweeter. Better. Still not my favorite.

What should you look for when shopping for one? In general, if you are ready to eat a pear, look for one that has a slight give and then eat within a day or two. The longer you wait, the softer it’ll get. Look for pears with no scarring or bruising. HOWEVER, for the Asian pear, you should buy it when it is firm. Look for a sweet, strong smell (when pear is cold, this factor fades). If you’d like to ripen further, put your pears in a “cool, dark place” [3]. The Asian, unlike many other pears, is intended to be a crispy pear, so don’t wait around for it to soften unless you enjoy rotted pear.

Now, get out there and try something, anything new, Folks! This challenge is rolling and needs you. You know you’ll be at the grocery or a new restaurant anyway this weekend. Come back and share with us 🙂 Happy cooking! Happy eating!

Simple Pear Salad

I love crunch in my salad. If you do, too, here’s a really easy way to use the Asian pear aside from eating it straight up.

Time:   5 minutes      Difficulty:   Super easy    Serves:  2 peopls

Ingredients:

  • Approx. 1.5 cups arugula
  • balsamic vinaigrette, enough to provide a good drizzle and light coating on your arugula (I really like Archer Farms’ Aged Balsamic Vinaigrette (which is one of Target’s brands))
  • 1 Asian pear
  • 1/3 cup to 1/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
  • 6-8 black olives , sliced (can buy canned, but I like getting the ones at the olive bar (if the bar looks well-kept))
  • black pepper

LET’S DO THIS!!

1. In a small bowl, lightly drizzle the vinaigrette over your lettuce. Toss until just coated and place on individual plates.

2. Slice your asian pear into very thin wedges. Test out a slice to make sure you have just enough taste but do not have a slice so large that it is clunky in the salad. Apply as many slices to a salad as you’d like.

3. Add cheese crumbles.

4. Slice your olives thinly and add as many as you’d like. *I love olives, but adding too many can overwhelm your pears, so caution.

5. Sprinkle black pepper, to taste.

6. If you’d like to, drizzle more dressing. Taste beforehand, though. To get the true taste of each bite, you do not want your dressing too heavy-handed.

Next week’s new: Ben and Jerry’s Schweddy Balls. It’s a limited supply right now, you know! Hang on, co-workers, you’ll be getting some of this malted milk ball delectable this coming week!

cites

1. “Duchess d’Angouleme and Sheldon Pears.” Stasophere. 17 Sep 2011. 22 Oct 2010. <http://chestofbooks.com/gardening-horticulture/Journal-7/Duchess-D-Angouleme-And-Sheldon-Pears.html>.

2. “Fruit & Vegetable of the Month.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 17 Sep 2011. 2011. <http://www.fruitsandveggiesmatter.gov/month/asian_pear.html&gt;.

3. “Red Bartlett Pear.” Produce Oasis. 17 Oct 2011. 2011. <http://www.produceoasis.com/Items_folder/Fruits/RedBartlett.html&gt;.

Hairy Virginian Woman Demands To Pay More In Grocery Tax

By Michelle Byrd, Tuesday, August 30, 2011, 11:32 p.m.

Lynchburg – After years of performing self-checkout at the grocery, Leif Ann Karit of Lynchburg, Va., marched up to the headquarters of Sexton Foods in Charlottesville, Va., last Friday and demanded that the company begin charging her more in taxes. “I’m out here today because I only feel that it’s right. If I’m going to do what basically equates to a job, then I need to be held accountable. You can’t just go out and get a job and not pay taxes in some way. My dad did that for years–under the table, I think they call it–and I never thought it was right when I seen him do it.”

Ms. Karit explained that often, in the early mornings, her local supermarket was hard-pressed to get any skilled cashiers to come in before 7 a.m. “Most of the people that work there are kids, and they’re out drinking until two or three a.m. Sometimes I see them sitting out in front of the grocery when I come in, and I think they never went to sleep. No one can run a cash register good on that little sleep.” The only thing she’s been left to do, she explained, is to perform self-checkout. “When I’ve got to get milk and depilatory items at 6 a.m., I’ve got to get’em. No other choice.”

Ms. Karit explained that the store could simply add more tax onto her bill and then send that money off to the state and federal government. She was asked to explain how this self-checkout could be considered a job when there is no pay. “Well, it’s just like a job at home. When it was my turn to sweep the house, my daddy used to say, ‘You got a job to do; now do it.’ No different from that.”

On Sunday, the store’s manager, Sue Lemon, was asked about Ms. Karit’s actions. She responded, “Ms. Karit does certainly come in every morning for her depilatory items, and often I will open up a lane expressly for her, but she insists on self-checkout anyway. I always thought she was embarrassed at the amount of razors she’s buying. Being a hairy woman is not really accepted in America and all.” In response to Ms. Karit’s idea that self-checkout is a job and should be taxed more, Mrs. Lemon stated, “Since she buys so much in razors and milk, I just figured she was hairy and lived with a bunch of cats or something and that she was crazy anyway. Her wanting to call self-checkout a job and get taxed is certifiably crazy, I believe.” Mrs. Lemon paused and then added, “I do still want to know if she has cats.”

Sexton Headquarter representatives were unavailable for comment.

There. ‘Tis my first attempt at satire 🙂

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