Bits and pieces of my food consciousness.
It probably doesn’t surprise you that I think about food and what to do with it rather a lot. While I go about my work of of on-line publishing and dealing with electronic formats and trying to understand the emerging needs of scholars, I always have a second track going on in the background that involves “what’s for dinner” and “how do I rate that think I made/we ate last night?” So, a brief glimpse into that part of my brain today:
Frank Bruni has a nice review of Market Table in the NYT Dining section today. It set me dreaming of New York, but what I was really interested in his consideration of what helps a restaurant to succeed in troubled economic times (resulting in a full house at Market Table while more experimental places are seeing thinning crowds). His analysis? Successful places will be warm, soothing, humble, unambiguous, and generous. What sets a restaurant apart is how well it embodies these qualities. His characterization certainly spoke to what draws me to a restaurant these days, but also made me wonder if overall this is good for the food world or not. On the one hand, one always wants to support a return to “honest cooking” done well. On the other, don’t we also want to support the experimenters and the innovators, even if some of the experiments fail in the end? Also, inevitably I’m wondering what restaurants in our area embody these qualities and do so in a way that creates a dining experience worth going out and paying for? Thoughts?
Halloween and the last of our Tantre Farm share led to a surplus of little pumpkins around the house. Some of them ended up in that pumpkin risotto this weekend. The rest sat in the fridge, taunting me, until last night when, needing something to supplement a cheddar, pepper and chorizo frittata, I pulled it out, sauteed it with butter, folded in some diced slow-roasted tomatoes, some ancho chili powder, cumin and salt, scraped the whole mess into a gratin dish and stuck it in a 350 degree oven for half an hour or so. The spices took the pumpkin flavors from North American harvest to Central American warmth. It was perfect, and even more perfect reheated today for lunch; the flavors developed nicely over night and really infused the pumpkin.
So Monday night, somewhat inexplicably, I found myself making chicken fingers. Okay, the back story is that last week when driving around, three year old Nick piped up from the back seat and requested “chicken nuggets and fries” from McDonalds. His old day-care used to sometimes go through the McDonald’s drive-through for a post-outing treat, and the boy does not forget easily. He asked so nicely, and he so rarely makes a food request, that I humored him. And yes, I ate some fries too. And one bite of nugget. Which led me to think “I’ll show you mcnugget!” So, I sliced chicken breasts into long strips, floured, egged and breadcrumbed them (store-bought breadcrumbs, but pretty good quality), heated up about a half inch of olive oil to a temperature higher than I’m usually comfortable with (just short of smoking) and made up a mess of chicken fingers. Nick was twenty minutes into a tantrum about having his television watching curtailed when I got some in his mouth. Tears stopped. The sun shone. “Mama, I looooovvvveeee these,” he said angelically. Twelve year old Naomi said nothing, just shoveled. But when sometime during dinner I said “I need an idea for a blog post,” she gestured at her plate and said “blog these, these are the best thing ever.”
These are the children that have been raised on souffle and homemade pasta and goat cheese and what do they love best? Chicken fingers. As if chicken had fingers. But, here’s the thing. I liked them too. A lot. And this has made me think about other foods that I’ve left behind but for which I have residual longing. Meatball heroes. Sloppy Joes. Campbell’s Cream of Tomato soup. Do our tastes, as in our taste buds, really change as we grow up or do just our tastes, as in our culturally formed preferences, change? Would a Sloppy Joe make me happy now, and if it did would it be because of the way it tastes or what it makes me remember? And does that distinction matter? I’m not sure, but in the interests of experimentation, I’m trying to find my long dead father’s famous recipe for meatball sandwiches. I bet the kids will like them.