Posts Tagged ‘Food’

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Way back in September, perhaps on the 17th or the 21st of that month, I proclaimed that my family had entered “The Autumn of Bread”.  Sounds regal, right?  Well, it is.  For the last 2 and 1/2 months I have been trying to bake a new type of bread each week.  Some weeks I do more than one loaf, and some weeks I just repeat a previous hit.  ‘The Autumn of Bread’ has been wonderful. If

Pretzels!

Pretzels!

you don’t believe me, ask my wife.

Let me give you a little background on why I am doing this.

First off, I need to explain the name.

A couple years ago, my brother and sister-in-law went to Ireland. When they returned, they declared it was going to be the ‘year of the sausage’.  They had eaten so much processed, salted meat on

Focaccia with pear, bleu cheese and caramelized onions.

Focaccia with pear, bleu cheese and caramelized onions.

the Emerald Isle, that they decided to bring the practice home with them.  That sodium-filled year was inspiring. Ever since, whenever my wife and I become a bit obsessed with a foodstuff we jokingly name the season after said foodstuff: ‘The year of the Latte'; ‘The Winter of the Brussel Sprout'; ‘The Season of the Waffle'; Etc.

But, ‘The Autumn of Bread’ has beaten all previous comers. For all you bread-bakers, you understand why.

If you have never baked bread, what are you waiting for?

Here are a couple reasons everyone should bake bread, at least at some point in their lives:

  1. Fresh baked bread straight out of the oven may be the best, most satisfying food a human being can eat. No joke.
  2. Baking bread calls for creativity. The methods, the flours, the flavors, the herbs, the designs, the tastes.  Once you have the basic skills down, you can really play around and try new things.
  3. Baking homemade, leavened bread is an amazing science experiment.  If you have kids, you can show them how them the physico-chemical right in your own kitchen.    Actually, why don’t science teachers use bread-making as a teaching tool?  It is microbiology and chemistry lesson in one. Two great tastes that taste great together.
  4. Scientific? Sure, but also mystical. Bread grows seemingly on its own, gaining airiness because of the ancient tiny lifeforms that are working their microscopic butts off. We help them, they help us. So symbiotic.
  5. For me as a historian, I feel tied to the past when I make bread.  It is so central to so many cultures and rituals that bread has some magical humanistic quality that is hard to pin down.
  6. Last, it is a gamble, Thus, when you win, the payoff is so rewarding. Unlike whipping up many foods, bread has the capibility to be a huge disaster and waste of time. This may sound like a negative, but it means that once you have the skill down, you really feel accomplished once you complete it.

As the solstice quickly approaches, and with it, the dregs of winter, I wonder if the Autumn of Bread should become the Winter of Yeast?  Let me ask my wife and kids. I think I know the answer.

 

 

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty.

If I’m right, you’re getting set to watch the second episode of Downton Abbey having put all the dinner dishes in the dishwasher, brushed your teeth, made a good strong cup or pot of tea or coffee, and are about to consume half a dozen donuts, or a huge slice of banana bread, or 3 humungous scoops of double rich, double good, chocolate chip ice cream with a bit of chocolate sauce on top.

Now I must admit, in all candor, that I can also imagine I’m dead wrong and you’re not about to consume a huge chunk of banana Imagebread–not at all. Instead it ‘s a medium sIzed piece of pumpkin bread with a maple walnut topping. Or perhaps I’m wrong because you have no plan to eat the pumpkin bread or the banana bread. And then again maybe I’m off base since you’re not now, nor have you ever intended to watch Downton Abbey. For you, it hath no relish of salvation.

Well, thankfully, this is a free country and you don’t have to watch the show if you don’t want to. However, let me also make use of this freedom and sing some praises for this mega popular BBC series for it’s got an awful lot going for it.

Let’s start with pageantry. The show sports loads of pageantry, but this is pageantry you can enjoy snuggling up to munching a Baby Ruth, or some pretzels, or that banana bread I mentioned earlier. This isn’t the kind where you have to sit in a cold, concrete block, stiff benched cathedral listening to soggy bromides mixed with especially pompous platitudes where you end your several hour stay furious and exhausted.

Au contraire. Watching the pageantry at Downton, you find yourself at the end of the show wanting more of the stuff. Pageantry at Downton is like a pageant–I mean it’s like fun. It’s a holiday, an Olympic event; it’s a kind of rock concert you want to dress up for. Or watching puts you in a festive big hotel wedding mood with mounds of shrimp and oodles of oysters there for the taking. And all the chocolate you can get your hands on. I mean some folks are even wearing tuxedos and shiny dresses and five inch high heels.

But here’s the thing. If you don’t like pageantry that’s perfectly OK. You can still be entertained for Downton provides you a wonderful opportunity to enjoy despising the mindless excesses of early 20th century English aristocrats who never have had to squeeze into a packed redline rush hour train car during a January snow storm or 100 degree Chicago heat wave in July. By all means, let your flood of opprobrium for these folks flow.

On the other hand, you may prefer warmly sharing in the more modest sorts of joys and concerns which are offered the downstairs staff. For they too have their loves, and dreams, and anxieties and interesting conundrums they work hard to favorably resolve. The show doesn’t present the downstairs staff as flat, boring, card board creatures who we, the audience, don’t worry about or identify with.

ImageFor the point is that both the upstairs and downstairs folks are shown sympathetically which is to say they’re both shown in an attractive light. Whether their portrayal is historically accurate I must report, with some consternation, I’m unable to say since I have no first hand knowledge or experience of people who lived these kind of lives, nor do I have much book learning under my belt to help me decide. But what I can report with some confidence is that at by the time an episode has ended I feel as if the better angels of our nature have had many opportunities to come forth.

Downton Abbey is in its fourth season and enjoys a huge viewership. According to several surveys, it’s easily the most popular TV show in England. And it’s amassed a large American audience as well. The most frequent explanation for its popularity is that both here and in England people harbor secretly and not so secretly a huge wish to live the lavish life style enjoyed by the aristocrats of old. I mean waking up surrounded by tons of Spode or Haviland cups and saucers and plates amid a sea of sterling silver trays, and tea sets, and immense serving spoons, and napkin rings, and silverware. And gorgeous sloping lawns, and fancy cars, and a downstairs staff to minister to one’s every whim.

However, my explanation for the show’s success points in the opposite direction. I believe Downton’s popularity rests on the way the show shows not how the downstairs staff takes care of the upstairs aristocrats but on how both stairs take care of each other. Care and concern and love and affection doesn’t travel in one direction only.

What we learn from watching Downton Abbey is that our probable preconceptions about aristocratic life were wrong. Contrary to the idea that the old world was composed to two groups of people who were very very different, Downton portrays a universe where upstairs and downstairs people share a common humanity and common concerns. Right is right and wrong is wrong and sometimes it’s hard to know exactly which is which. Moreover, both upstairs and downstairs folks are basically pretty nice, but some aren’t and the ones who aren’t sure end up creating an awful lot of trouble for everyone, upstairs and downstairs alike.

By Jane Wendorff-Craps, English Faculty.

ImageI hate to stereotype, but… city people are so funny sometimes.  What seems like general, foundational knowledge just isn’t so obvious to others. And as Jerry Seinfeld would say: “There’s nothing wrong with that.” People’s lives and experiences are just different.

It is my experience to eat, what I think is a normal, everyday summer lunch at my desk: red and green leaf lettuce, diced tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, herbs, etc along with some bread and jam. A student (who grew up in the city) comes in and said to me, “That looks colorful and yummy, where’d you get it?”

I replied, “From my garden.”  She was silent for a moment, and her hamster wheels were spinning as if she wasn’t sure if “My Garden” was a new restaurant near campus. Note to self, not a bad idea if this teaching gig doesn’t pan out.

Anyway, I further explained that my garden, at my home, was flourishing despite the heat, and I loved to eat from it, raw and undressed (the veggies, not me), sometimes with a fatty piece of cheese, which I do buy at the store.

She again looked puzzled and asked, “You grow food at your house?”  “Yep, and I can it too so I can have some things in the winter months.”  I should have said “put it in jars” because “can” may have given her a false image.

She stood there befuddled for what seemed like a long time, and I didn’t really know what else to say.  I’ve been eating this way my whole life, thanks to my mom who had a garden, thanks to her dad who always gardened after a long day in the locker (butchering animal flesh for a living for those who have never been to a meat locker- grandpa wasn’t an athleteJ).

This experience with my amazed student, who admittedly had never grown anything from a seed before, which thoroughly amazed me, reminded me of a neighbor who had grown up “in town” and had never lived rural before moving to Farmington. She was driving past my house one day, years ago when I had 4 kids under the age of 6. I had a newborn at the time, and I was nursing my baby all the while sitting in my garden picking peas and pulling a few weeds, multi-tasking at its finest.

My friend had to stop, laugh, shake her head, and make a few comments before going back home.  Since then, she has called me “Prairie Jane.”  At first I was a tad insulted, but I’m not sure why. I had stereotyped the term “prairie” to be disconnected and perhaps uneducated and simple. Yet after a bit of contemplation, I began to like the term. Prairie can also bring thoughts of connection to nature and reliance on self.

This nickname came 15 years ago, BTY (before teen years). While I knew tons of people who had been gardening, canning, and freezing at that time, it has become more popular in recent years—thank goodness!  I like the term sustainable better than what I called it then, necessary!  After choosing to stay home with my young children rather than work, growing my own food was truly the only way to feed my family healthy food.

It is because of this time in my life that I have such empathy for people who are food unstable, who may have to rely on food banks for healthy food since buying fresh fruits and vegetables for a large family could easily take out of the budget area for the electric bill or a tank of gas. Just think, purchasing a few tomatoes, an avocado, and some lettuce could also buy several boxes of mac and cheese, some Kool Aid, a box of crackers, some cookies, and even a jar of peanut butter. The choice is made price per serving for the mom who has to feed a family on a budget. 

Knowing that, and experiencing it myself, I love the trend of communities creating shared space for gardening, especially in urban areas where loose dirt is a minority to cement and blacktop.  And I love that people are supporting, out loud, farmers and markets where food is grown locally, where people make a living at “growing food.” What I would love more is if I could eat at my desk and not have any surprised looks at fresh veggies in full color because someone had only seen hot house tomatoes and wilty greens at the local Walmart.

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty.

Trust me!  Despite all you’ve heard and will continue hearing to the contrary, the title is entirely correct: you’re not what you eat.  Not now. Not last week.  Not next month.  Not next year.

87How can I be so certain?  What evidence do I have proving my contention beyond a reasonable doubt?   Here it is and it’s all very obvious.   Let’s do a thought experiment.  Imagine that this morning for breakfast you ate a big bowl of hot, high fiber, harsh tasting, steel cut oatmeal.

Next, picture yourself getting up from your kitchen table, putting your now empty oatmeal bowl in the sink, running some water in it, shutting off the tap, turning off the kitchen light, and then going to your front closet to get your coat and head off to work.  Lastly imagine putting on your coat, taking your keys out of your pocket, opening and going out the door, and then closing and locking it, before finally taking off for work.

What, you may be wondering, does this have to do with our theme?   Here’s the answer: though you do these things routinely, a bowl of oatmeal can’t.   Thus, you can’t be a bowl of oatmeal and my thesis is proven for you’re not what you eat, at least not the particular morning I have in mind.  And I’m convinced the same thing would be true if instead of oatmeal, you had some eggs and toast or, being in a terrible hurry, you only had time to grab a granola bar before rushing out of your warm comfy abode.

But might a skeptic claim my point’s pretty weak for I’m being much too literal minded.  Our title’s magic phrase doesn’t mean we become an actual glob of oatmeal after scraping  our bowl clean; instead, what’s meant is that our digested meal supplies what our bodies need to keep us healthy.

Yet I continue to hold we’re not what we eat.  Food certainly may influence how we feel and what we want to do, nonetheless the core of who we are isn’t defined by how our body functions as it may or may not be influenced in still not understood ways by what we’ve eaten.

As I see it, putting so much weight on how and what people eat leads to a host of problems large and small.  Slowly, we become preoccupied, even obsessed with food, as does our nation, which is blitzed daily by a media michael_bloombergculture which encourages the obsession.  Mayor Bloomberg’s recent effort to ban the sale of 16 once plus sized containers of soda provides a good example of an aspect of the food obsession now sweeping the land.

The mayor justified his ban arguing it would reduce the incidence of obesity.   One major reason his law makes no sense–and there are many others–is that there’s no data that shows the degree to which 16, or 17, or 18 ounce sodas cause obesity.  In an editorial written a day after a New York State Judge struck down the law, even the New York Times, usually a friend of trendy food regulations, stated that the law was ill conceived and wouldn’t work.

Thus in my view the notion that you are what you eat is both wrong and a symbol of a wider cultural trend which brings more harm than good.   Rather than worrying about becoming what we eat, we’d be better off seeing ourselves as a red red rose, or a dancing star, or the sum total of all we’ve surveyed and, after a good night’s sleep, still hope to survey as our train roars into the future.

By Larry Larys, RMU student. 

Standards. Fresh. Quality. Every restaurant says they deliver these things, but do they really? We, as consumers, believe that fresh and quality carry the same meaning, but in actuality do they? We also believe that fresh is healthy. Subway is a great example. People always say, “Let’s go to Subway! It is healthy.” In reality, Subway is not much better than Imageany other fast casual restaurant. Americans have it in their mind that “Subway, Eat Fresh” means it’s healthy –especially after the addition of Jared, who actually lost the weight from his 3 mile walk there and back.

            While restaurants may have consumers confused that fresh is not only healthy but quality, it is our own fault because many of us don’t know what the word quality means. Quality is defined as “A degree of excellence,” something that is hard to find in a restaurant nowadays. Fresh is defined as “newly or just come or arrived,” and this may be part of the reason consumers are confused. Just because a product arrives that day in a restaurant does not mean the food is “fresh.” Personally, I would define fresh as never being frozen, quickly shipped to the location, and used within a few days. It is important that consumers make sure there is an understanding of what we want in a business and ensure it achieves that caliber of service.

            To compare the health benefits of restaurants let’s compare Subway, which people think of as healthy, to McDonald’s, thought to be the worst of fast food. Two favorites are Subway’s Chicken Bacon Ranch Melt and McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with Cheese. Subway’s “healthy choice” has 570 calories to the Quarter Pounder’s 520. And, personally, the second choice has more flavor. Also, realize the Chicken Melt isn’t figuring all the extra toppings and other dressings, such as oil, you may want to add—tacking on more calories. Everyone thinks fish is a healthy substitute for red meat but Subway’s Tuna sandwich packs 470 calories. McDonald’s Filet-o-fish comes in at a mere 390 calories.

            I am not saying eat at Subway over McDonalds, because the fries and other sandwiches can be much worse if you don’t shop smart; however, this proves very strongly that what most consumers deem as fresh doesn’t necessarily mean healthy. People need to do research on what they are eating and not put their fate into the stores that feed them confusing material, both at fast food restaurants and full service restaurants. It is okay to eat fast food in moderation as long as you are an informed shopper. The most important thing to remember is that fresh doesn’t always mean healthy. 

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

I’m teaching a food history course right now, and I was recently thinking about some extra-credit assignments for my students.  I found some inspiration reading a fascinating book by Ina Lipkowitz called Words to Eat By: Five Foods and the Culinary History of the English Language. Lipkowitz reminded me that the world’s oldest recipe book was written in the fourth or fifth century AD by a Roman gourmand by the name of Marcus Gavius

Apicius?

Apicius?

Apicius.  This man lived and died for food, and I mean that literally. Evidently, Apicius committed suicide when he could no longer afford to throw the lavish feasts he so enjoyed.  That is an interesting aside, but the idea that really grabbed me was using his recipes from his book De Re Coquinaria as an extra-credit opportunity. Since many of my students are culinary students, I would think many might be interested in testing their hand at some ancient Roman fare.

But, I thought, maybe I should try it first. After looking through Apicius’ recipes, I settled on an easy one to start:

Sautéed Squash in Herb Sauce

1 medium onion, thinly sliced.

1 T. olive oil

¼ t. pepper.

¼ t. celery seed.

¼ t. oregano.

Dash of cumin.

3 c. diced squash

½ c. squash stock.

¼ c. white wine.

1 t. olive oil.

Directions:

Sauté sliced onion in olive oil. In a mortar, grind pepper, celery seed, and oregano. Add to onions, with a dash of cumin. Stir. Then add diced squash. Add stock, white wine, and olive oil. Stir repeatedly over medium heat until the gourds are cooked. If you wish, thicken the liquid with flour and serve.

 

The oldest recipe ever found is for beer.

The oldest recipe ever found is for beer.

So, this is a roughly 1600 hundred year old recipe.  Doesn’t look too hard, or odd. Now admittedly, I skipped over the recipes with calf brain and garum (fish sauce) to find some that I could easily make, but it struck me how similar this is to a modern recipe.  Maybe this shouldn’t be surprising though when you think about how recipes are handed down from generation to generation. Our family recipes are often based upon regional or national traditions that simply have riffs and slight alterations of what people have been cooking for millennia in a certain part of the world.  So even the food of Apicius is quite simple; or is it?

Look at this recipe.  Think of the processing of food that needs to go into this.  Getting oil from thousands of olives.  Fermenting grape juice.  Discovering and growing herbs that will not poison you, and will make your food tasty.  After all that, there is the chemical mixture of all these foods to create a pleasing taste.  Who was the first person to figure this stuff out? How did they do it?  I believe such a question is one of the great mysteries of human civilization: who invented our food?

Think of something as simple as bread (even non-leavened).  Process wheat into flour, process olives into oil, and add water.  Mix it together, and bake in an enclosed oven.  What?  Who thinks of that?  And, that doesn’t take into account more complex bread recipes that would add salt (from the sea/salt mine), honey (from bees), eggs (from a chicken), milk (from a cow or goat).  What mad scientist first put those things together, and then heated them at a certain, perfect temperature for a preordained time?

Such a question is obviously impossible to answer, but it should make us respect those anonymous cooks who came before us, and provided the knowledge that our civilization of food rests upon.  I wonder if my students will feel that sense of awe and respect when they are elbow deep in calf-brain and fermented fish sauce.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

If you remember my previous post, you know that my wife has created an incredible fruit/vegetable garden in our yard. In a small amount of land, she has peas, beans, carrots, strawberries, beets, and much more.  At this time of year, there are a good number of plants producing; asparagus, chard, lettuces, onions. My two favorite plants producing this time of year are strawberries and peas.  We must have 15 strawberry plants, and 20 pea plants.  We should be able to harvest this, and use it in a fresh culinary innovation, but we never get a chance.  We have two major pests that grab the fruits of the plants before we can.  They are not insects, rodents, or marsupials.  The pests are our children.

Our girls are 5 and 3 years old, and they are pretty adventurous eaters.  Like all parents though, my wife and I have to cater our desires to their tastes.    I would love to make some wonderful Indian dishes, but to our girls, this is “too spicy”.  So, it is a nice homemade Mac and Cheese with three cheeses and broccoli.  They will gobble this up, so I really shouldn’t complain.

As with most children, the girls have their seemingly irrational likes and dislikes.  The oldest will eat raw broccoli all day, but she won’t touch it if it is steamed or sautéed.  She literally turns up her nose.  The younger one enjoys sautéed asparagus, but only the stems, and not the ‘gross’ tops, even though there is no difference in taste between the two.   Though this can be infuriating at dinner time, it is an interesting phenomenon to watch from an unemotional distance.  I wonder why they, and most children, are so seemingly random in their tastes. I can’t say for sure what causes this, but I do have a hypothesis: my girls and other children want the autonomy of making a choice for themselves.

This brings me back to our garden, and the two little girl pests that eat our produce before it can be brought inside to process.  One of the girls’ favorite things to do is picking the veggies and fruit directly from the plant, and popping it right into their mouths.  They don’t want to be told to eat it, because it is good for them; they want to eat it because it is fun. In fact, when I asked my elder daughter why she so voraciously ate all the green and purple peapods right from the plant, she simply replied that “it is fun”.  I think it must be fun for the same reason that it is fun for my wife to work in her garden; it is a wonderful feeling of making your own choice, your own world.

Picking peas “is fun.”

Unfortunately, with the industrial food system, this experience of grabbing your own food by yourself is rare for some, and nonexistent for most.  Food is packaged to an absurd extreme in today’s world. (Del Monte produced an individually wrapped banana last year!)  At the same time, we face a mounting health crisis where the closest children get to a homemade meal is Old Country Buffet, and the closest they come to fresh fruit is Snapple.  Many times parents simply say that children will not experiment, and hence, they give them the easiest mass produced food-stuff for their growing bodies.  However, the garden has proved to me that kids do crave experimentation if it is autonomous.  This was driven home to me when the girls got their hands on arugula, and ate it direct from the pot.  That’s right, I said arugula. I really don’t even really like plain arugula.

Harvesting your own food is fun; cooking your own food is fun; food should be fun. The mass production companies realize this, and take advantage of it by stuffing horribly made toys in cereal, calling their ‘food’ happy meals, and marketing “snap, crackle, and pop.”  What we need to remember is that nature still provides kids with much more fun than any factory in Battle Creek, Michigan ever could.