17 November 2012

The Salad - pt. II

After reading the previous post, it may shock you to learn that I have actually tried a salad before, and that I did so entirely of my own volition.

It all happened in January, 2010, while I was wintering in southern France (I will never get tired of that phrase). I was staying at a beautiful and totally self-sufficient hostel, and I even had my own private room. Few people realise that when I jokingly say that I travel in order to find myself that I'm not entirely joking. I often do travel with a specific purpose in mind. I will recognize a certain obstacle in my life and go on an elaborate trip to try and remove that obstacle from my life in the privacy that anonymous travel provides. I went to Central America with the intention of learning how to dance and to read Moby Dick. (I only accomplished one of those things and it remains one of the greatest regrets of my life. I mean that completing Moby Dick is one of the biggest regrets of my life. I never learned how to dance. I guess I regret that too, but not as much.)

Before I went to Europe in late 2009, my restricted diet was really starting to weigh on me. It seemed impossible that I would ever be able to become the person I wanted to if I continued to refuse to try new foods. At the time, I foolishly wanted to be a person who could go to dinner parties and eat like a normal person. I wanted to be able to one day own cook books. I wanted to have cupboards full of ingredients and I wanted a spice rack that would hold more than just salt and pepper (adding pepper to foods is actually still pretty new to me, so at the time it would have been just salt). My time at the hostel in Nice seemed like a perfect opportunity to branch out and explore new things. I had ordered several dishes of spaghetti bolognese at the hostel before, and knowing that it came with a side of green salad, I always asked for no salad. But then one night, I didn't. I'm still not sure if I simply forgot or if I purposely forgot or if my subconscious desire for a normal life was dragging me toward that salad and forcing me to confront it. But in any case, my spaghetti arrived, and sure enough there was a green salad on the side.
This is the picture that accompanied my thoughtful expose that appeared
in a certain publication that shall not be named.
I stared at it for a long time. I considered the person I had become and questioned whether or not I wanted to continue on this path of extreme food avoidance. And then, I just stopped. I stopped thinking about what eating this salad would mean; I stopped wondering how much I would hate it once that lettuce was in my mouth; I stopped thinking about the exact amount of time it would take before the taste and all remnants of that salad would be washed away by the pasta. And I just ... took a bite of the salad. And I swallowed it. And I hated it.

But you know what trying that salad taught me? That I never ever have to try a new food ever again because if I already know that I hate it, then I hate it. It taught me to put faith in my own judgment and my ability to know myself. It taught me that I don't have to own cookbooks or cumin--or even know what cumin is--in order to live and happy and full life. And it also taught me the importance of ordering a dish without a side of salad, because I'm pretty sure you get more spaghetti that way.

Stop trying to find yourself, you'll only prove to be a fool
And the process by which you try must necessarily be cruel.
If you know you don't like something, then please don't tempt fate--
What was once cold indifference will become solidified hate. 

16 November 2012

The Salad

I hate salads. There is no such thing as a salad that I might like. There are no varying gradations of acceptable salads. I hate all of them equally (except pasta salad. I hate that salad the most. More below). I hate everything about them. I hate hearing my mum say, "Mary, can you make the salad?" I hate watching Mary (it's always Mary) make the salad. I hate seeing the salad(s) brought out to the dinner table. I hate watching people serve salad with those archaic tools (just use tongs already! This should not be a two-hand affair!). I hate watching people move their lettuce around the plate to sop up the last bits of dressing. I hate seeing the leftover dressing in the fridge because it makes me feel like I live in a laboratory that's in the business of testing unhealthy stool samples.

There are so many different kinds of salad that it's almost useless to collect them all under the blanket term "salad." What would it mean for someone to tell you that they're having salad for dinner? It wouldn't mean anything. They might be eating any disgusting combination of food! Aside from being a grab-bag of mixed ingredients, salads don't really have that much in common. Of course there are the lettuce (or other leafy greens)-based salads, but then there are all those other kinds of salads. Like bean salads. Or cold pasta salads. Or cold, slimy, Oriental noodle salad. Or potato salad. "Salad" is just an arbitrary term thrown around recklessly and attached to any collection of solid food (ie. not a soup) that is served in a bowl. If these people were half as creative at coming up for names as they are in creating revolting culinary concoctions, I wouldn't be in the position of trying to tackle all of the varying kinds of salad in one rambling post. Sometimes I wonder if anyone cares about my welfare at all.

Before I get into all of the different bowl-foods that are wrongfully and lazily referred to as salads, let me address why salads perfectly encapsulate everything I hate about food. Even though there are infinite different kinds of salads, one thing they have in common (although this is not something that is exclusive to salads, so I don't think it can be considered a defining feature) is that they're mixed. Whenever I inevitably have to explain to someone why I don't eat certain foods, I typically fall back on the excuse that I don't like my food mixed or touching other foods. Anyone who knows me knows that this is not an accurate statement. I love borscht, I love apple pie, I love spaghetti bolognese--there's actually a whole multitude of mixed foods that I would count among my favourite meals. But--and here's where it might get a bit tricky to explain--the mixed foods that I like make sense as mixed foods (with the exception of borscht. I have no idea why I like borscht. I shouldn't, but oh my God, it's so delicious). All of these foods are perfected by their combination. I love plain pasta, but it only really shines when it's paired with a bolognese sauce (similarly, I love ground beef, but it's only perfected when combined with a tomato sauce). I love apple sauce, but it's really only at its best when it's in a pie shell. These foods make sense together because there are no jarring and contradictory sensations at play. They go together like Dick and Nicole in Tender is the Night: "He supposed many men meant no more than that when they said they were in love — not a wild submergence of soul, a dipping of all colors into an obscuring dye, such as his love for Nicole had been."

But salads are the exact opposite, and they're what I mean when I tell people that I hate mixed food. Those ingredients don't go together at all. There's too much forced combination of different textures, different liquid consistencies. There's no logic behind combining lettuce, feta cheese, olives, and tomatoes. Of course I've never tried a Greek salad, but I don't have to in order to know that there are at least three too many sensations going on there (technically four because I wouldn't eat any of those ingredients). Wait. How many ingredients are there in a Greek salad? Whatever the number, that's how many of them are totally unacceptable.

So, without any further ado, let's get this show on the road. What follows is by no means an exhaustive salad list; I've included only the salads that immediately come to mind and that I have likely observed first hand.

Green Salad: Of all the salads, this one is the least offensive to my logic of mixing because, it is my understanding, that it is just lettuce and a light dressing. But it also doesn't make any sense to me. Why bother with this salad? If eating that leaf of lettuce that one time has taught me anything, it's that lettuce has absolutely no purpose. It's not filling and the texture is unpleasant.



Caesar Salad: Caesar salads are everywhere, but it wasn't until part way through high school that I actually figured out what it is. What's all the fuss about? Why is this salad on every single menu? It sounds disgusting. Egg? Worcestershire sauce? I wonder if I ordered a Caesar salad but asked them to hold the lettuce, the egg, the olive oil, the lemon juice, the Worcestershire sauce, the garlic, and the pepper if they would just bring me two separate bowls of parmesan cheese and croutons. Because I could get on board with that kind of salad.




Greek Salad: Ever since someone first explained "dick cheese" to me in elementary school, I knew I would never eat Feta cheese. I'm pretty sure that's where it comes from. Have you ever met a Greek man? They're disgusting. But there are a lot of other problems with a Greek salad. Like the large portions of tomato that force you to acknowledge their presence in a way that small cubes of tomato never do. Or the olives. Did you know that I won't shop in a grocery store that has an open olive bar because they smell and look so disgusting that I can't bear to spend another second in their vicinity? (Take note, Extra Foods in Grand Forks).


Santa Fe Salad: I hate to break it to you, but this isn't a salad. It's a bowl of beans. I understand that it sounds a lot better to roll into a potluck and announce that you've brought a Santa Fe salad rather than "Oh hey, I just brought this bowl full of beans," but come on. Call a spade a spade.







Pasta Salad: Presumably "pasta salad" is a category unto itself, but the pasta salad I'm aware of is composed of cold cork-screw pasta and strawberries and, as such, is the most offensive salad of them all. This is exactly what I meant when I said that salad forces two things together that by no means should be. Look, I love pasta. No one loves pasta more than I do. And I love strawberries. They're the second best berry (after perfectly plump blueberries, obviously). But even though I love both of them, there's no way I would ever consider putting them in a bowl together and then adding God knows what else! Get out of here with your pasta salad! I am crying right now! I'm not just saying that as a figure of speech or for emphasis! I am actually crying because it's too much for me to take in.  Stop ruining everything I love in this world! You want your strawberries paired with something more substantial? Then eat them on a waffle or with an angel food cake or in a pie or as jam on toast, but for the love of God, leave pasta out of it!

Noodle Salad: The only good thing that can be said about this salad is that it doesn't try to incorporate summer fruits. This salad is probably so slimy and makes me shudder in the exact same way that I shuddered when my mum told me that one time she was swimming in the ocean and then when she got back on the boat and shined a flashlight into the water she had just been swimming in, it was full of eels.

Kale Salad: Wow, I bet you shop at a farmer's market. I bet you bought some fashionable tote bags just to do your farmer's market shopping. I bet you rub beets on those tote bags so that when someone asks why there's a purple stain on your tote bag, you can say, "Oh, this ol' stain? That's just a beet stain from all the beets I bought at the farmer's market. I always shop at the farmer's market because I like to support our local farmers." Now that I'm actually looking at this picture of a kale salad, it looks a lot like what the end result would be if I ate a salad and then threw it up into a bowl.

Coleslaw: I've never eaten coleslaw, and I never will. But one good thing that can be said about coleslaw is that at least it has a consistent texture. What is it? Just raw, grated cabbage, right? Maybe some grated carrots? At least everything is crunchy. So I'm more or less okay with this salad. Although I have a feeling that it's also customary to add some sort of creamy dressing to it, which of course I am strongly opposed to.


Potato Salad: One time, when I was about 12 years-old, I wandered into the kitchen on a summer's day. No one was home. And I was hungry. There was a bowl sitting on the counter. I didn't know what it was. I don't know why I was drawn to it. I would never try a mystery food and I don't know what was going through my head at the time. I think I must have thought it was something it was not. But I put a piece of it my mouth and was immediately seized by pure terror and disgust. I was entirely immobilized. I couldn't even spit it out right away. I just stood there, rooted to the ground by a kind of extreme horror that I had hitherto never experienced. It was potato salad. I just put potato salad in my mouth. I get so angry when people try to coax me into trying something new because their reasoning is always that even if I don't like it, it will all be over in a second. But they weren't there when I tried that potato salad. They don't know what it's like, and they'll never understand that while that terrible taste did only last a manner of seconds before I spat it out and rinsed my mouth, I have been haunted by that experience ever since. I can't even talk about all the reasons why potato salad is wrong. I just don't want to think about it anymore.

A second post on salads is soon to follow, and its contents may shock and appall you. Just like a pasta-strawberry salad should.

On the dinner table, the salad is ever-present
But its definition is marked by constant deferment.
If I say "salad," what comes to mind?
Lettuce? Tomato? Dressing? A hint of lemon rind?
There's no natural correlation between the word and the thing
And we're left with a problem that is fundamentally Derridian.  
So remember before you sit down to dine
The inevitable gap between the signifier and the sign.  

15 November 2012

Rice

Hot damn! The rice at Rancho Chico's is SO GOOD. One time I asked what
rice they used and where they got it from, and the waiter was obviously
uncomfortable and said he didn't know, but I know that he just wasn't willing
to tell me. I don't even care if they won't tell me. I am more than happy to
pay $3 for this mystery rice, and going to Colville is a pleasure in itself.
When I was about four or five I came up with a great joke that drew on all of the important elements of my life and wove them together into what seemed at the time the greatest comic query ever produced:

Q: What did Michael Jackson say to the bowl of rice?

A: Let’s eat!

Black or White was my favourite song at the time and I guess we were having rice for dinner. Who knows. Rice is such a boring food that it’s impossible to remember when you’ve eaten it. I had a 10kg bag of rice in my closet and now it’s gone and I guess that I ate it because it’s no longer there.

But the charm of rice lies in the ease with which it is forgotten. Like an undervalued friend, it’s always there for you. But unlike the undervalued friend trope, you won’t learn a valuable lesson in taking things for granted once they’re gone because rice will never ever desert you because there is so much rice in this world and it is so cheap. It's a food that, until now, I have never really had to think about. I eat it because it's filling and cheap and doesn't really taste like anything.

Here is a delicious plate of plain rice that I enjoyed in
Bogota. I was with my mum at the time and we had met up
with a girl I met in El Salvador a few months before who was
now living and working in Colombia. She took us to this
restaurant where both she and my mum ordered really
outrageous and enormous dishes, while I happily consumed
this and contented myself with the knowledge that I was
not a disgusting human being who hate disgusting things.

Honestly I don't know what else I can say about rice. I realise now that a lot of this post is about me eating rice in Central America. I guess that's because that was the time in my life when rice really took the centre stage of my diet. By eating almost nothing but rice, I was able to forget about food and stop worrying about what I would eat that day and focus on the important things, like learning how to smoke and, for the first time in my life, really enjoying casual drinking. Rice allows for great things to happen in your life without ever taking the credit for them.

Some Ways that I Like to Eat Rice:


  • With cheese sauce. Not with cheese sauce, obviously--that would be disgusting. But my favourite dinner is white basmati rice, sausages, and broccoli and cauliflower smothered in cheese sauce. I eat the sausages first so nothing touches them/is touched by them, and then I eat the vegetables. But once the vegetables are gone, there is still a pool of cheese sauce on the plate, and I like it when some of the cheese sauce touches the edges of some of the rice, but I don’t think I would ever like to push the rice onto the cheese sauce because that would be too much. It’s just nice to get a hint of cheese sauce with your rice because then you can remember and savour how delicious that cheese sauce was.
  • White basmati rice with mixed frozen vegetables and soy sauce. I don't know if there is anything else to say about this except that it's a relatively new development for me. I had always relied on fried rice if I found myself in a Chinese restaurant, and one day I finally realise that I could just more or less make it myself and avoid Chinese restaurants all together. Eating rice with vegetables and soy sauce makes me think that maybe I am growing up and broadening my horizons.
  • 1 part brown rice, 2 parts butter. When I was little and my mum was doing some baking, I used to lick the butter paper after she was done with it. Eating rice with tonnes of butter tastes like butter but feels like rice. It's like licking butter paper without the guilt of actually licking butter paper.
  • Plain. Eating plain rice with no butter or salt is a sneaky way of tricking yourself into having an ascetic experience without actually committing to asceticism. It’s like learning something meaningful from the Orient by looking up Buddhist prayers on Wikihow.com--which I just did because I thought I would be able to make a joke about Edward Saïd, but then I lost interest.
  • In a restaurant. I love going into ethnic restaurants in big, bustling cities like Vancouver or Colville, because I know that there must be at least one person who sees me enter and think, She must be a good person. She must really care about the world. Why else would she be eating at an ethnic restaurant? Ethnic restaurants always serve plain rice, and it's always the cheapest thing on the menu. And for some reason, it's usually way better than rice that I can make at home. Must be all that ethnicity.
This was kind of a weird moment for me because while I do (now) enjoy rice
with vegetables, I definitely don't enjoy rice with these vegetables. I don't even
remember what was in here... Corn, obviously, and I think some crushed tomatoes
that had cooked into the rice so it wasn't really very traumatizing, and, I don't know,
carrots? Anyway, like all of the other pictures in this post (with the exception of the
first one), this was taken in Central America and I was really hellbent on
experiencing new things.

Something to Keep in Mind:

 

Of the food I eat, I never expected that rice would be the one to betray me. But betray me it did. During my trip through Central America, I was too busy finding myself to ever even question where I was finding my rice. I lived almost entirely off of rice, and I never worried about how it was prepared because it's rice and it's really hard to mess up rice. But did you know that rice can go bad? You probably did because no one was surprised when I told them that I got rice poisoning and was so miserable that I wished only for death.

In Rio Dulce (or should I say Rio Not-So-Dulce?) I ordered a plate of rice from a street vendor just as I had done countless times before and would continue to do countless times afterward. I watched as the woman scooped out a large portion from a stainless steel bowl that was sitting on a counter and heap it onto my paper plate. But I had no qualms with eating relatively cold rice that had been warmed only by sitting out in the sun all day and was of questionable freshness. None of this was of any concern because with my restricted diet, food poisoning had never even entered my mind as a possibility for me. I ate the rice in the same way that I eat any rice--as a simple means to an end--and washed it down with a litre of beer. The afternoon and evening passed as any evening in Central America passed: lazy hammock reading followed by a rousing game of gin rummy, and this specific night, with a bag of hickory sticks which I did not enjoy in the least. When I was in bed, I broke out in a sweat and began to feel the waves of nausea wash over me. Convinced it would go away by morning, I committed myself to the task of falling asleep with great success. I was awoken at around six in the morning with an immediate need to vomit. So I jumped out of bed with the grace and agility of gazelle and ran down multiple flights of stairs to the bathroom on the main floor, certain that I would make it in time. And I did--sort of. Just as I breached the threshold of the bathroom door but had not quite made it to the stalls, I projectile vomited everywhere. And I mean everywhere. I was like a veritable fountain, spewing hickory sticks in all directions. When I had expelled what I believed to be everything that had ever been in my body and surveyed the pool of vomit that now surrounded me and covered the majority of the bathroom floor, I calmly asked the hostel receptionist to provide me with a bucket and mop to clean up the mess. I showered, I brushed my teeth, and I went back to bed. Mere minutes after crawling back into bed, I was once again on my feet and rushing down to the bathroom. This time I managed to make it to the sinks and clogged not one but three sinks with hickory sticks. After scooping the puke out of the sinks and into the garbage, I again showered and brushed my teeth and went back to bed. The third time I didn't even make it out of the room and instead just dry heaved and dribbled bile into a garbage can which, in retrospect, would have made more sense to use in the first two instances.
Upon arriving in Livingston, I remained in bed in the fetal position for one
day and one night until I finally felt well enough to greet the world, at which
point I was told by a nurse that I had suffered from rice poisoning because,
duh, rice goes bad.
The next morning I had to take a boat to Livingston and it was one if the hardest things I've ever had to do. I arrived at the hostel and immediately went to bed. Until I had an eye-opening conversation with a British nurse the following night, I had been under the impression that the hickory sticks had made me so sick. It was the first time that I had ever tried hickory sticks, and they gave me the distinct impression of being rejected McDonalds' fries that were too old, dry, and crusty to sell. But, you guys, it was the rice. It was that Rio Dulce rice that had been sitting in that stainless steel bowl in the sun for God knows how long. And what followed this revelation was an existential crisis almost as painful as the rice poisoning itself. I was force to reevaluate my life and the decisions I had made. Could I still eat rice? What would it mean to give up something that had, for so long, been such a central staple of my diet? How could I continue a trip in a region that depended on rice as much as I did and not eat it? Ultimately I abandoned all of these difficult questions and resumed eating rice with the same reckless abandon as before.

A plain bowl of rice
No one cares about it.
They're missing out. *

* See what I did there? That's a haiku. Get it? The Orient?

07 November 2012

Consumption Habits

I wanted to take a picture of all the bacon I ate today but it was inside of me before I had the chance.

30 October 2012

Cultural Connectionz: Hungarian Pig Roast

You can be sure that somewhere, deep in the Hungarian wild, a pig roast is going on right now. And you’re not invited. Presumably the Hungarians have developed some secret technique to roast a pig of their own invention and are not willing to share it with the rest of the world--just like their secret Mangalitsa pig, which has only recently been unearthed by the New York Times.
No wonder the Magyars wanted to keep this ludicrous sheep-pig to themselves.

No foreigner has ever attended a Hungarian pig roast (at least I haven't, so I assume no one else has either), so we can't be totally sure what goes on, but I am going to guess that a pig is roasted, consumed, and then everyone puts on their vest embroidered with gold braiding and performs a festive jig.

But quite frankly, I'm glad I've never been invited. One time we had a Christmas ham that was from an actual pig, and it tasted so totally foreign from the processed Schneider's ham nuggets that I'm used to and tasted so totally like a ham that I did not enjoy it at all.

Update:

It turns out you are invited for the nominal fee of 35€. And although now is as good a place as any to discuss the urban bourgeoisie's fetishism of the lower (and typically rural) classes, I'm not going to because it makes me too angry.

Sound the alarm! Grab your gold-braided vest!
Double the horses, therefore double the pace:
Why shouldn't one man ride two horses abreast?
The irrefutable logic of the Hungarian race

Three more for each man, there's no time to waste!
The pig roast has started! It's already begun!
All 'cross the puszta, we must go post-haste!
If we don't get there soon it will already be done!

But the pig roast was over; it came and it went:
Just one more thing for the Hungarian to lament

29 October 2012

The Pickle

One time an incorruptible-Huxtable  babysitter chased me into the basement and threatened to force me to eat a pickle. To this day I don’t know if she was merely exercising her authority over me or if she thought that pickles are so good that it would be criminal to let me live another day without trying one myself.

But I was triumphant, and to this day, I have never tried a pickle.
This is what I imagine the outcome would be if I ever tried a pickle.
It wasn’t until 2008 that I figured out what a pickle is. I remember this moment very clearly. I was working on an organic vegetable farm for the summer because I like to be close to the earth and I respect the welfare of our planet. I was directed to gather some cucumbers and some pickling cucumbers. As I repeated “pickling cucumbers” over and over to myself while looking at the pickling cucumbers, it suddenly dawned on me that cucumbers are pickles--just pickled. And I thought to myself that I better keep this little insight to myself because it was 2008 and about 17 years too late to make this connection.

I don’t want to suggest that I was totally unaware of the pickling process or that the final pickled product must have pre-existed in a non-pickled state; of course I knew these things. But pickles have always been so far from my mind that I never really thought about it. And I certainly never considered that this was an activity that everyday people engaged in. I assumed that pickles just appeared on the shelves of our grocery stores, fresh from a container from China. And besides, even though we all (now) know that pickling is a process to preserve food, “pickles” are always referred to as just “pickles,” whereas “pickled asparagus” is never referred to as just asparagus or just pickles, or “pickled beets” as just beets or just pickles. I think as a society we have accepted pickles as a food unto themselves with no important connection to cucumbers in a way that we have not done so for other foods that can be pickled. As a result, I don’t think my late in life discovery of the nature of pickles is all that embarrassing. 

It is my understanding that a pickle can be either crisp or soft, and come in a variety of flavours, like sweet or... I don’t know, sour? Bitter? Are these even flavours? Maybe you can put some other food in the jar with the pickles and it flavours them? Oh, dill obviously. Dill pickles. I know that because you can get everything in dill pickle flavouring. I don’t know how these things work, and it doesn’t matter because I would not be more inclined to try one flavour of pickle over another flavour of pickle. However, the varying texture does interest me somewhat. I find nothing immediately offensive about biting into a crispy substance because I think it would be similar to biting into a carrot, which is a sensation that I enjoy. Similarly, a soft pickle might have a similar texture to a banana. Except in both cases I expect that a pickle is much more slimy than a carrot or a banana, so why would I bother? I can’t imagine that that pickles taste very good and I also can’t imagine how my life might be improved if they became a part of my diet. Pickles are almost always served a as a side dish and are therefore easily avoided. Plus, I can’t get it out of my head that pickles are just scientific specimens of syphilitic penises stored in jars. I also don’t know how the flavour of the cucumber interacts with the brine, and as of yet I have not been convinced that a cucumber marinated in brine for an unspecified period of time would taste any different from a syphilitic penis sample that has undergone the same process.
Are these animal penises preserved in jars or various tubers marinating brine?
I'll never tell...
When does the cucumber cease to be and the pickle to became?
Is there no change in substance and merely change of a name?
What is the exact moment of transition?
We shall place all our faith in the powers of human cognition.
Let us test our hypothesis; grab a jar from the shelf.
For the purpose of science we shall sacrifice the self.
It doesn’t matter which one you pick--
I’m certain they all taste like a pickled syphilitic dick

26 October 2012

Potato Update

The other day I bought a bag of frozen hash browns and consumed it in an embarrassingly short period of time. I took several pictures to commemorate the occasion, but I am only posting a few because I worry that the only thing more embarrassing than eating that many frozen hash browns that quickly is taking 15 pictures of myself doing so and posting them on the internet.
This is the first picture I took. I look pretty at peace with the situation. I now
regret that I didn't take a series of pictures of myself struggling under the
burden of shame that was the inevitable result of this potato feast.



And then I found out that you can take a series of four pictures in sequence,
so of course I took 13 more.
I meant for this post to be a warning to anyone who has ever idealized a certain food from their past, as I have with McCain's frozen hash browns. I was going to write about how sometimes you remember something being so delicious, but when you revisit it, you're kind of disappointed. I was going to write about how it's easy to conflate these foods with past emotional states, and why it's wrong to think that eating a food from your childhood--a time in your life that you typically associate with happiness--will ever be able to fill that void that has been steadily growing since those first tinges of adulthood. But now that I am looking at this mound of hash browns, I kind of just want to go out and do the whole thing over again.

21 October 2012

Grits

Had I never agreed to discover America with my sista in 2008, I would still be happily ensconced in the idea that grits were an especially greasy form of breakfast potatoes. But when I started to do some more research into the Grit Belt--where we would be spending a large portion of our time and where my sister would now be living--I realised that grits were not the refried deepfried greased-up heavenly hashbrown dish I had always dreamed of. When I found out that grits are actually just some disgusting porridgey dish made out of ground corn, I realised that the world would never be as beautiful as I once hoped it would be, and I gave up all hope for the future. The world is a cold, hard place, you guys.

Here’s a terrible article about just how far America has fallen.

Sometimes learning new things is a difficult and lonely experience.
Fun Footnote: Evidently there is a Christian rap duo known as GRITS ( = Grammatical Revolution In The Spirit, obvs). But I feel like if I was part of a rap duo, I would not name it GRITS. Because every time someone might try to search for the group on the internet, they're going to wind up with a bunch of pictures and stories about grits (the food, not the grammatical revolution).

When I discovered the true nature of the grit,
My world began to crumble, bit by bit.

The Tomato

Tomatoes on the brain.
In grade 12 English I was given a one page creative assignment in which I had to describe the most important experience of my life; something that made me who I am today (or was, on that day). I wrote about getting my period and was immediately withdrawn from the class and placed in a remedial English program.* In hindsight, my regret is not that I chose to write about my period, but that I didn’t write about the time I stood up to my mum and refused to eat a fresh tomato.

My eating habits have, on and off, been a point of contention between me and my mother. Sometimes she seemed to accept that I just would not eat certain (read: nearly all) foods, but other times she would attempt to force me to broaden my culinary horizons. The latter almost always proved disastrous for both of us (see the posts on salmon pie and squash, which are surely to come in the near future). By the time I reached high school, I thought we were beyond playing this game, but then one day she placed a plate of sliced up tomato and cucumber in front of me and expected me to eat it. I refused, and she insisted. After several minutes had passed, I agreed to try a slice of cucumber. I immediately regretted my weak nature and was horrified by the taste. I said I would eat no more. She said I just had to try a slice of tomato and then it would all be over; I didn’t have to clean my plate, just try one slice of tomato.

But I wouldn’t, and I honestly can’t understand who would. Is there anything more hellish than a tomato? The cross-section of a tomato is horrifying and thinking of biting down on that soft red flesh makes me shiver. It is so moist that it can’t even hold its shape. The seeds slip out of the body of the tomato, and yet are still held there--trapped in the thick, gummy liquid--and the branches of tomato flesh collapse onto themselves. The tomato has a sort of synesthesic quality, in which just looking at it translates into  terrible taste in my mouth. I don’t need to try a tomato to know that I hate it and I can’t imagine what form of hell would have awaited me if I had backed down and second time and placed that slice of tomato on my tongue.

That was the day that I said no, not only to my mother, but to tomatoes. There comes a point in every person’s life when they realise that they are in control of themselves and that they--and they alone--determine their own destiny. And so it wasn’t when I got my period that I grew up, became a woman, and took charge of my own life; it’s when I rejected the tomato and realised that I have the power to determine my own menu.

But I will tell you one thing: I kind of like the idea of tomatoes growing. When tomato plants start to flower and tomatoes start to grow, I feel like summer has really arrived. I have harvested them several times throughout my life, and there is something quite satisfying about plucking a ripe tomato off of the vine. It makes me feel like I should be in one of those "Good Things Grow in Ontario" commercials.


*For the record, the remedial English program at GFSS is infinitely better than regular English classes. Especially when your English teacher happens to be a Vespa bitch. I had to read Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, which is a lot better than watching Josh Groban videos on loop. Just sayin’.


Allow me to show you a horrifying tableau:
A white plate presenting a sliced up tomato.
Sliced into nine to represent Dante’s circles of Hell
And to eat of it is to become one of Satan’s new clientele.

Circle One is Limbo, for those not baptized when they were alive,
The ones who ate a tomato just merely to survive.
And these unfortunate souls we must no further chastise.

Circle Two is for Lust, that overwhelming passion,
Those who devoured the tomato in an unseemly fashion.
And for these revolting sinners we must show no compassion.

Circle Three for the glutton, who ate all the tomatoes without restraint.
For their service to mankind, let us canonize them a saint.
And for these filthy creatures I have no complaint.

Circle Four for the greedy, hoarding tomatoes like treasure.
Leaving none for the rest, but to eat at their leisure.
And I regard these misguided souls with nothing but pleasure.

Circle Five for the angry, but should they be blamed?
I’m angry, too, to live in a world where the tomato is acclaimed.
They have a right to be angry, but no right to be devoured by flame. 



Circle Six for the heretic who claimed that tomatoes are good,
Who would have you eat tomatoes if only they could.
Let them burn in hell, for burn in Hell they should.

Circle Seven is for the violent, who would have you eat a tomato by force
Who ignore all your No’s until your voice becomes hoarse.
For this assault on your freedom, the punishment we must steadily enforce.

Circle Eight is reserved for those who told you a lie,
Trying to slip a tomato past your eagle-eye.
And for those awaits endless torture after they die.

Circle Nine is for the traitors you trusted the most,
Who present you a tomato as if it were toast,
And whose betrayal has bought them an endless roast.

So take a lesson from Dante and avoid the tomato
After all, this isn’t Ireland--there’s always the potato.

19 October 2012

Frozen Peas


If you’re anything like me when it comes to food (and there are pretty good chances that you’re not), there’s nothing worse than having to go a dinner party. But do not despair, fellow foodphobics: those that care about you will ensure that there is at least one thing that you will eat, and if they don’t, then you can sit and sulk quietly in front of an empty plate and they’ll learn for next time. One of the easiest ways to please a person who won’t eat any of the regular trappings of a communal meal is to serve them a bowl of frozen peas--everyone has them in their freezer and they make for a delicious snack.
There's something really special about eating peas--fresh or frozen--and I think it has something to do with being able to hold several in your mouth at one time without them losing their singular identity until you crush them between your teeth. Sometimes the inevitable clumping in a bag of frozen peas can prove to be a problem, but usually breaking up these
clumps--squeezing them so hard that they just fall apart in your hand--is half the fun.
At first you might think that dipping your claws into a small bowl of frozen peas is more shameful than pretending you’re engaged in the conversation while staring at an empty plate. But the one thing that I’ve learned about shame is that showing shame is actually shameless, so you can look at me and think to yourself I’m so ashamed for/of you, but at least I’m not the one eating a salad right now.

In hindsight, eating frozen peas is pretty disgusting. The only food that should be eaten frozen is either food that was designed to be eaten frozen (i.e. ice cream) or frozen green grapes or blueberries, but not vegetables. And despite my unaccountable love for frozen peas, I would never consider eating a frozen bean, carrot, or corn niblet. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I've been eating frozen peas forever, and even though I know it’s wrong, old habits die hard (or don’t die at all), and I still spend most of my nights tucking into a bag of President’s Choice small sweet peas (seriously, best frozen peas on the market. Forget the Green Giant).

A note of caution: eating frozen peas will make your hands smell disgusting and fungus-infested, but I think it’s a pretty fair tradeoff.

Peas, peas, peas, peas--
Frozen in a bowl!*

*This song, quoted here in its entirety, was written for me by my sister's friend, ca. '97/'98.

09 October 2012

The Taco

I ended my tour of Central America with a three-week sojourn in Mexico, the majority of which was spent in Mexico City. Determined to get to the root of Mexican culture (see: The Function of Food at the Present Time), I set myself to the task of eating a taco, and if you’re a dumb white girl with nothing to go on but your guide book, the only place to do this is Plaza Garibaldi. I was certain that if I just tried one taco, all of my failure to even try local cuisine (with the notable exception of the copious amount of rice that I consumed throughout Central America*) would be forgiven.

It was Swine Flu season: everyone was canceling their trips to Mexico, the hostel was practically empty, and the streets--considering the population of Mexico City--were more or less deserted. But I had recently received a (probably illegal and definitely ineffective) flu vaccine in the wilds of rural Colombia, so I had nothing to worry about. I had also recently picked up a sassy swatch of Kuna fabric in a sketchy underground shop where everyone had handguns in Panama City, which I wore from time to time as a face mask. And I felt like this was my time to push myself to the absolute limit: the city had been abandoned, and now it was mine.

There’s a strange adrenalin that accompanies certainty; a kind of energy that carries you through as you hurtle towards the inevitable. And this is what I felt as I prepared to leave the hostel, as I approached Plaza Garibaldi, and as I stood by the cart waiting for my chorizo taco (the ordering of which was a total blur). I was so fully committed to eating this taco and getting the whole thing over with, that it never even crossed my mind that I could back out of the agreement I had made with myself.

I have spent a lot of time wondering why it is that I am totally incapable of trying new foods or why I’m unwilling to give foods I have tried a second chance. The main reason is because I am adamant that certain textures or flavours or even colours should not go together. This is why I won’t eat sandwiches or salads, and is best left to future posts. But the other reason is because I made peace with my diet long ago, and I have no desire to change it or add to it, and I don’t believe that I am missing out on any crucial life experiences by having an extremely limited selection of food that I will actually eat. I know that it’s possible for me to travel to any of the places in the world that I am at all interested in and maintain more or less the same diet I have at home. And yet curiosity seized me, clutched at my heart, and would not let me go. Somewhere within myself I knew that I could not leave Mexico without trying a taco--even if I hated it and even if I knew I would never try one again (...or would I? More to come). So I told myself that this is something I was going to do and I did not entertain the possibility of not following through on it.

I had spent a lot of time observing people eating tacos, and I knew exactly what I was in for. I had studied the size, the texture, and the amount of time it would take me to eat one. There are a lot of different kinds of tacos with different kinds of toppings, but I was going to go for the plain chorizo in the small soft shell, and with that knowledge I knew I was setting myself a goal that I could reach. When the man gave me the taco, I walked over to one of the patio tables and sat down as if this was the most normal thing in the world for me to be doing. I didn’t hesitate or question whether or not this was something I really wanted to do; I just ate it like I would eat anything else. And you know what? It was delicious. That night I went to bed with a feeling of self-satisfaction and elation that I have rarely experienced.

In case any of you might doubt that I actually tried a taco, here's proof of me doing so. You can also tell that I had a blast on
my trip because I'm tanned and have two wrist bands. Maybe you think I went to some sweet festivals, but actually one was
for the hostel and the other was from Torre latinoamericana. So... there you go.
Every time I recount this story, I am asked the exact same thing: if I tried this and liked it, then why don’t I try other things because maybe I will like them too? But that’s not the point. I know that there are other foods in this world that I have never tried and would surely enjoy, but I’m still not going to try them. If reading Candide has taught me anything it’s that we can travel the world searching for new experiences and ways to make ourselves happier, but if you can’t be happy in the space that you already occupy and by all the things that make that space your space, then you’re going to be miserable and you’ll probably get syphilis in the process. Of course we must cultivate our garden, but we must cultivate it as we see fit. I don’t have room in my garden for green peppers or tomatoes or tacos; my garden contains peas, potatoes, rice, and pasta, and I don’t cultivate it myself because I am western and entitled and I can pay someone to do that for me.

Two final notes: I actually did try another taco while I was in Mexico City. Shortly after my experience at Plaza Garibaldi, I left the hostel in favour of couch surfing, and our hosts (for I was traveling with a girl that I had met at the hostel) took us to some fancy taco restaurant. I’m not sure what exactly I was thinking. I don’t know if I just felt too much pressure to fit in or if I genuinely believed that because I had already had one, tacos were suddenly a new part of my diet. But whatever the reason, I ended up ordering three chorizo tacos in small soft shells. They were served with pineapple and cilantro and I was horrified. I can’t even remember what they tasted like. I just remember stuffing them into my mouth as quickly as possible and swallowing them without chewing as hot tears of shame streamed down my face.

I also tried natural carbonated water from a spring in Catemalco. It was okay, but slightly flat and not nearly as good as what can now be bought in a store. I had therefore determined once and for all that nature is rudimentary at best, perfected only by man (holler at your girl, Beerbohm).

*I arrived in Guatemala knowing only Hola, Gracias, Por Favor, and crucially, Arroz. Si, solo arroz. I quickly armed myself with ¿Tiene un cenicero? and a brief explanation that I don’t like my food to touch other food.

Porque en el pasado yo como un taco naturel
Entonces ahora, yo no quiero Taco Bell 
En realidad, no más tacos para
Pero lo comí? Sí, claro que sí.

03 October 2012

The Potato

When I first heard about the Irish Potato Famine I was shocked. Not because I felt bad for all the Irish that had starved to death, but because I believed that it referred to a time in Irish history when all they had to eat were potatoes. It’s not that I didn’t know the definition of the word “famine,” it’s just that potatoes have always played such a major role in my culinary adventures that I couldn’t possibly conceive of a world in which potatoes were not present. I thought that there was no other food available in Ireland except potatoes, so naturally I was angry that that Irish were whining about only being able to eat potatoes--a dream come true, for some of us. And I’m still angry about the Irish Potato Famine, although I have since switched my focus away from the Irish and towards agricultural injustice. I believe this is also the time when I stopped believing in the infinite goodness of Mother Nature--the only religious upbringing I had ever had*--and started to hate this cruel world we live in.

I was similarly shocked to learn that the potato was not native to Europe and that somehow Europe managed to not only exist, but thrive as a colonial and military force, prior to the introduction of the potato. Naturally, Sir Walter Raleigh is my hero; partially for writing the most beautiful examples of Elizabethan verse but primarily for the central role in played in getting all of Europe addicted to and dependent on tobacco and potatoes. (Incidentally, Raleigh busied himself with searching for El Dorado--which he found in the potato, and is probably why we called the most delicious potato of them all the Yukon Gold. Or else it has something to do with the gold rush. Or something else entirely. I can’t be bothered to do the research**)

I can’t stress enough just how important potatoes are to me and how much I love them. As someone who once ate over 30 potatoes in less than 24 hours, it would be impossible to cover all of the subtle nuances of my passion in one blanket post, so I have opted instead to divide it up into several categories which will cover my favourite ways to prepare a potato and my favourite kinds of potatoes. This post will inevitably fail and communicating my undying affection for the Über Tuber, but here it goes:

Boiled Potatoes:

Boiled potatoes are probably my least favourite potato dish, but I would never turn them down. The only excuse for boiling potatoes instead of mashing, frying, or baking them is if you have managed to get your hands on some perfect little baby-nugs, which are sweet enough on their own that they don’t require further seasoning or attention. It can be a good ideal to boil several in advance and then store them in the fridge for one of those rainy days when you’re desperate for fried potatoes but can be bothered to put in the time. Pre-cooked potatoes (and this goes for baked potatoes as well) fry up so much more quickly and so much more nicely than un-cooked potatoes.

Baked Potatoes:

Again, not my first choice for a potato dinner, but sometimes a pleasant surprise. One of the best things to do with a baked potato is immediately cut a slit in the top and slip in a generous pad of butter and then seal it up again so that it not only butters up the inside, but the butter will inevitably melt and drizzle down the skin as well. Tearing off the tinfoil is like unwrapping a precious present that you already know you’re going to enjoy, even before it’s out of its packaging.

Potato Squashers:

My sister discovered this recipe in a vegan cookbook, but if you’re as violently opposed to a vegan lifestyle and all that implies as I am, you can easily rectify its flawed vegan nature by adding copious amounts of butter to these already well-oiled treasures. They differ little from a baked potato except that you slather them in oil and salt and, once they are partially cooked, you take them out of the oven and squash them down in to little cakes.

Hash Browns: 

There are various different kinds of hash browns, and I will try to do justice to them all below:
This plate of shredded hash browns (courtesy
of Washington state) was the first of many
enjoyed at the hospitable road-side diners
that dot the American countryside. I know I
said in the introduction to this blog that it's
really stupid to assume that by eating a
particular culture's food, you are somehow
injecting yourself into that culture and gathering
a greater appreciation for that culture than you
otherwise would, but I am pretty sure that this
is the one exception: eating at American road-
side diners really does give you a greater under-
standing of that culture.

    Shredded Hash Browns: 

These are the kinds of hash browns you will typically get at roadside diners when on an elaborate road trip with your sister to the southern US or after a night of crinking at Denny’s. They don’t really taste or resemble a potato in any way, and sometimes I suspect they are nothing more than solidified oil. If you add enough salt to them, they will taste just like oil and salt. So why don’t I just drink a bowl of oil and salt, you might be asking yourself. Because I want the substance of the potato to back it up.

    McCain’s Frozen Diced Hash Browns: 

Ever since discovering you can buy frozen fries for $2 and justify eating them for dinner, I haven’t really indulged in diced hash browns as much as I used to. But now that I have just reminded myself about them, I might go out and get them for breakfast tomorrow. And for lunch. And also for dinner. Because they are delicious. A few years ago it was not uncommon for me to devour a whole bag in one day.

    McCain’s Frozen Hash Brown Patties: 

For the business woman on the go, these make a perfect breakfast snack. But as I am neither a business woman nor do I ever have anywhere to go, I never eat these. I always forget that McDonalds makes a hash brown slab. Perhaps I should investigate further. Tomorrow.

    Left-Overs from Last Night’s Baked Potatoes: 

These are the best hash browns you can get in your own house. What makes baked potato hash browns so much better than boiled potato hash browns is that with the baked potato variety, the flesh pulls away from the skin a lot more and therefore has the opportunity to fry as well. Sometimes I will pull the skin off of the flesh and eat it as a crispy accompaniment to the main dish and sometimes I will put the whole round in my mouth as one and revel in the two complementary consistencies.

    Home Fries: 

Because I adhere to such a strict diet, I typically
only ever order side-dishes when I go out for
breakfast, and usually those sides are
disappointingly small. But this Victoria eatery
really understood and catered to my specific
needs with this massive plate of delicious
home-fried potatoes.
Technically you could make these in your home, but I would never use the term “home fries” to refer to hash browns I cooked myself. Now that I think of it, would never refer to home-made potatoes as “hash browns,” but rather as “pan-fried potatoes.” Huh. Anyway, if you see these listed on a menu along with hash browns, always go for the home fries. While restaurant hash browns will often be frozen and from a bag, home fries refers specifically to partially pre-cooked potatoes, and so they tend to be much more rewarding. Although they probably are also frozen and come from a bag.

Pan-Fried Potatoes: 

It seems unnecessary to mention that this is my favourite kind of potato, because anyone whose favourite way to prepare a potato isn’t pan-fried is a culinarily-inept clod with an unrefined palate.  While I have always loved pan-fried potatoes, I only recently started enjoying them with onion and garlic, and thanks to a particularly intrepid culinary adventurer, kolbasz.

Mashed Potatoes: 

Once I saw my mum make mashed potatoes and I nearly threw up in my mouth. I initially refused to eat them after I found out that there is so much milk in there, but I soon lost heart once they were put in front of me. Interestingly, mashed potatoes is one of the few dishes that, while I know how it’s made and don’t approve of it, I will eat regardless because it is so overwhelmingly delicious. There are several foods that I have been tricked into eating in the past, only to discover later that there is a certain ingredient or a certain way of preparing it that I am strongly opposed to, and I will no longer eat it even though I previously enjoyed it in a state of Eden-esque ignorance. A good example of this is the time that my sister made muffins with carrots or cauliflower or zucchini--or some other ridiculous ingredient that has no place in a muffin--and even though I gobbled up several of them and enjoyed them immensely, I was no longer able to eat them once I found out what had gone into them. One time someone made a large portion of mashed potatoes with garlic (and maybe green onion?) and they were delicious.

Fries:

One of the rules in Michael Pollan's grossly unhelpful Food Rules is that you should not eat what you are not willing to make at home, and cites fries as an example. First of all, Michael Pollan, I make approximately 1kg of fries per day (admittedly these come from a bag. Julienne style is the best, and while I do like McCain's, I actually prefer the No-Name brand fries because they're greasier), and still I am fat and still I am unhealthy. And secondly, no person in their right mind has the time or patience to actually make fries from scratch. Fries are best enjoyed either in a restaurant (in a pinch, from McDonalds) or from the fry truck that I can now only ever find at the Rock Creek Fall Fair (even though you used to be able to find it parked in front of what used to be Badger Books in downtown Grand Forks), with a healthy dosing of malt vinegar and salt. I can't even talk about this anymore because it's 20:30, and I know that if I got on a bus right now I could be eating fries within the hour.

Scalloped Potatoes: 

I don’t know what scalloped potatoes are, but I do know I won’t eat them.

B-Pupp dinner. Please note how the two different foods are
not touching each other--even though I love both of them--
and that I have inadvertently arranged my potatoes
by colour and size.




Types of Potatoes: 

 

Nugget Potatoes:

Is there anything you can't do with a nugget potato?! Whether boiling, baking, or pan frying, nugget potatoes are always your best bet. Because mashed potatoes are flavoured with milk and butter and, uhh, mashed, it would not be wise to shell out for nugget potatoes in this instance.
I have had two particularly pleasurable encounters with nugget potatoes which stand out in my mind. The first was in Arles, France. They were roasted beneath rotisserie chickens and all the grease from the meat dripped down onto the potatoes. I don't like chicken, I don't like chicken grease, and I would never knowingly order potatoes saturated in chicken grease ever again, but I am glad that I got to experience this at least once in my life. The second memorable instance was in Medellin, Colombia. Otherwise an unpleasant city, Medellin was crawling with nugget potato venders on the streets. For less than $1, you could buy yourself a little bag of heaven.

Yukon Gold:

A few years ago I would have said that Yukon Golds are the best potatoes on the market, but recently I have been kind of let down. I don't know if the Quebecois just can't grow a good potato or if the Yukon Gold is better as a baked potato (which I never make myself) rather than pan-fried. I typically only go for the white and thin-skinned potatoes now.

Russet Potatoes:

Russet potatoes are only acceptable when there are no other potatoes to be found. And since it seems unlikely that you would not be able to pick up some Yukon Gold, some out of season nugs, or, God help you, even red skinned potatoes, there is no reason to ever go for the russet.

Purple Potatoes:

There are two different kinds of purple potatoes. One is the potato with purple skin but white/yellow flesh and can usually be found in a mixed pack (along with white and red) from Costco, and they are as delicious as they are beautiful. The other kind is the potato with purple skin and purple flesh. I have never eaten these, because the one time my mum did buy them (after seeing them featured on Martha Strewart), and their subsequent boiling gave me such an insufferable headache that I could not bring myself to try them. But also, I don't think that food should be purple--this goes for carrots, too. Once you have become accustomed to how a certain food looks, it is unfair to be forcefully confronted with the same food but with a different appearance.

Finger Potatoes:

Finger potatoes, while as delicious as nugs, are longer and usually can't be consumed in one bite. One of the principle pleasures of nugget potatoes is that you can pop the whole thing in your mouth.

* When asked about God and if we believed in God, my mother always responded, no, we do not believe in God; we believe in Mother Nature. 

** I was bothered to do the research after all. It might shock you to learn that the Yukon Gold variety was not developed until the 1960s. It might further shock you, but probably won’t, that it was not named for Raleigh’s search for El Dorado, but for the Yukon River.
 
Come live with my and by my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
Of the hills and valleys, dale and field,
And of the yearly potato yield.

There will we sit upon the rocks,
And gaze upon our unflagging potato crops,
The tuber we will always have on hand
(Unless we live in Ireland).

There I will make thee potatoes by the pan

--The favoured food of the Enlightened Man--

Or sometimes we will eat them mashed

By the bucket-full, and unabashed

A plate full of the finest nugs
(If we can ward off the potato bugs)
We’ll breakfast solely on hash brown,
So delicious to be worthy of the Crown

On lazy days, potatoes boiled
For our appetite is never spoiled
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.

In honour of Sir Walter Raleigh
We’ll name our home “Potato Valley”
Baked potatoes in a buttery sea
Prepared each day for thee and me

The potato each day our table adorning
For thy delight, night, noon, and morning
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and by my love.

02 October 2012

Quinoa

Remember how in The Edible Woman Marian isn’t able to eat anything because all the food is alive and squirming around and it makes her sick? Well, that’s how I would feel if I would ever put myself in the position in which quinoa was a viable option for me (of course I would never punish myself like that. We must learn to love and nurture ourselves). I’m just waiting for someone to make a haggis-style quinoa dish that, when you slice into the stomach, quinoa bursts forth like the clumps of tiny flesh-eating maggots squirming around that I know it to be.

Here is some quinoa. The picture on the left was taken with a regular camera; the picture on the right was taken with a
super-duper microscope.

Look at this quinoa. What do you see?
A simple pseudo-cereal
Or writhing maggots on a binging spree?
The Bolivians ate it first? That's immaterial.
Maybe they produce it, but it's ours to take--
It's a process called "the Culinary Imperial"
Now they can't afford it? Then let them eat cake!

The Cabbage

When Adam asked God, What is beauty? God extended his hand and said, Behold, my son. Upon His palm danced swirls of gaseous purples, reds, greens, and ribbons of white. As each colour separated itself from the others, it became entangled in the ribbons until several orbs were formed, each more wondrous than the last. God delicately placed the orbs upon the ground and wrapped them in leaves of the gentlest green so that they might be protected from harm.

Here is a picture of an arrangement of cabbages on display in
Vienna. They are so beautiful that only a monster could eat them.
God directed Adam to look upon these--His most perfect creations--whenever Adam might question the infinite grace of his maker. But he was not to eat them, because to eat them would be to destroy beauty. For seven days and seven nights, Adam gazed upon the magnificent spheres, unable to avert his eyes from such radiant beauty. But as Adam’s admiration for the cabbages grew, so did his discontent with his own physical form. He reasoned that if he were to ingest the cabbages, he too would become as beautiful as they were.

After gobbling up the last of the cabbages, Adam muttered, Das gut! No sooner than the words had escaped his lips, his belly began to bloat and ache: the dance that had formed the beauteous spheres was now being undone inside himself. He felt the colours pull apart, swelling and swirling as they danced themselves back to their gaseous state.

And for seven more days and seven more nights, Adam was in the throes of agony, writhing in pain and trying to expel all of the heinous gas from his delicate human system. The only thing more horrible than the painful bloating of his digestive tract was the intense shame he now felt in front of Eve; an emotion that had hitherto never been experienced before by man.

As was his custom, God doled out punishment for man’s insolent and disobedient consumption of food that ought not be consumed: Thou shalt feel shame and the burn of crimson upon thine cheek for all thine bodily functions in the company of thine partner.

Cabbage angels.
And that is why you should never eat a cabbage: beautiful to behold, but deadly to ingest. Well, that and because it tastes and smells like the effects that it will inevitably have on your body. (An exception can be made for borscht, but that will be covered in an up-coming post.)

And for anyone interested in my thoughts on sauerkraut, here’s a query: How do you make a bad thing worse?

Answer: Ferment it.


If considering the consumption of a cabbage,
Remember this, a timeless French adage:
'Mange-le si tu veux
Mais tu ne seras plus mon chou-chou.'*
That is to say: lucky in cabbage, unlucky in love.

*French authorities have insisted that “veux” and “chou” do not, in fact, rhyme. But I maintain that eux is an impossible sound and can only be pronounced in the exact same way as ou.

30 September 2012

Turkish Delight

While wintering in southern France, I attended a Turkish film festival. I tried a piece of Turkish delight, partly to be polite and partly because I assumed any food with the word “delight” in its name could be nothing short of delightful. (Although admittedly the "Turkish" part should have tipped me off.)

I immediately puked in my mouth, and the vomit tasted so much better than the Turkish delight that I was actually able to swallow it. Fool me once, Turkish delight, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I will never make that mistake again.
According to Wikipedia, Turkish delight is "a
family of confections based on a gel of starch
and sugar." Please. I like my starch pure.
 Do not go gentle into that Turkish delight
But rage, rage against the urge to bite!

29 September 2012

The Egg

In Powers of Horror (which, full disclosure, I have not bothered to attempt to read because there is no point in attempting something if you already know you will fail), Kristeva defines the abject as something that horrifies and repulses us, but also attracts us. It is located at the imaginary border between subject and object, and to confront the abject is to suffer the breakdown of this border, and thus a breakdown of our concept of our own identity. We draw imaginary borders between our self (subject) and what is not our self (other) by ejecting what is not us in the early stages of development (i.e. we eject the mother and draw a border between our self and her)--but it can never be fully expelled and remains on the periphery of our consciousness. Because the breakdown of this border would bring us back to a primordial state--a state of assumed “wholeness,” prior to the separation of subject/object (you guys, WOMBS! Do you see where I’m going?)--the abject at once compels and repels us. To give in to the abject is to submit to a kind of reckless abandon, or jouissance if you want to get fancy about it; therefore “one thus understands why so many victims of the abject are its fascinated victims--if not its submissive and willing ones” (Kristeva 9).

How can anyone eat something that looks like a wart?
Kristeva likens the abject to corpses, shoes found at Auschwitz, shit, and most relevant to our purposes here, certain foods (in this case, skin on milk):
“I experience a gagging sensation and, still father down, spasms in the stomach, the belly; and all the organs shrivel up the body, provoke tears and bile, increase heartbeat, cause forehead and hands to perspire” (2 - 3).
Eggs are my milk-skin.* Eggs inspire in me a kind of horror that is not realised in any other kind of food. While I can watch another person consume an egg with an air of removed disapproval and rapt interest, if I am confronted with the possibility of having to eat one myself, I am gripped by an anxious nausea and brought to the brink of tears.

The only kind of “good egg” is a baked egg. Eggs can be used to make meringues or cakes and other delectable treats, but that is the extent of their purpose. All eggs that stand alone as a meal unto themselves are “bad eggs.” 
Oh my God. Look at this. Look at how revolting this is. It
looks like one of those creepy wild mushrooms you sometimes
encounter in the woods that are always bursting apart, and your
first reaction is to panic because you can't understand why nature
would create something so horrifying. THESE ARE BORDERS
BREAKING DOWN!!!!
Of the various ways to prepare an egg, scrambled seems to me the most harmless. The process of scrambling destroys  any semblance of the egg’s original form and we are left with clods of yellow, rather than the truly terrifying egg/yolk dynamic. Boiled eggs, although perhaps easier to digest visually, strike me as the most offensive to our nostrils and taste buds, and the process of peeling the shell and slicing into the liquid that is now solidified is panic inducing. The poached egg specifically is where we approach the abject, and actually comes to symbolize it: the tenuous border that contains the yolk is as tenuous as the border that separates the subject/object and is just as easily transgressed.

Despite my totally rational fear of poached eggs, I nevertheless feel myself drawn to them. If I am with someone who is about to consume a poached egg, I cannot tear my eyes away and feel compelled to watch the first instance when the fork punctures the bulb of the yolk and the yellow liquid oozes forth, disrupting any former boundary between white and yolk. What’s more, every once in a while, I want to engage in this depraved act myself. I want to revel in my own depravity, just as I have watched countless others do before me; I want to observe as my own identity oozes out of itself and as meaning collapses.

But I have resisted because we must remain vigilant against the abject and struggle to retain some scrap of meaning and concept of our self if we are to survive. And for the record, I have eaten eggs before. I have eaten fried and scrambled eggs, and I remember with stark horror the one day a week my mum would prepare a poached egg for breakfast, and I would beg her to cook it to the point where the yolk could no longer ooze. Rumours have been circulating that there was a time in my life when I devoured eggs with apparent relish, but it was a time before the mirror stage and before I entered into language and the symbolic order, and please God, don’t let me go back there.
*Someone should be turning this sentence into a meaningful piece of art.
Ugh! On toast!? Thick yellow liquid soaking into crispy toast?
That's disgusting.

Scrambled, fried, poached, or boiled,
Our identity the egg has spoiled.
It lures us towards its traps,
Towards the place of meaning-collapse.

More than the shoes found at Auschwitz
Or the corpse pocked with bloody slits
It complicates the subject/object,
And that is why the egg is abject.