Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What's your "food"?

  Given the chance what would you eat?  It has been tradition in our family that on your birthday you can choose any meal you want and dad will cook it.  Now that my children are getting older their choices for that meal are changing and I began to wonder what, if anything that says about them, or for that matter what our "meal" says about any of us.
     My eldest, Read, now 22 was just home for a few days leave from the Army.  He had not been home for  several months, having been training to be a Cav Scout and then Airborne training.  Since his birthday is in May, we decided that he should have his birthday meal now since he will be at his base in Alaska and we may not see him again until his next birthday. (he'll be deploying to Afghanistan in the fall).  So of all the things he could have requested, he wanted brats on the grill.  Those of you not from the Midwest may not realize it, but brats are the "meat in a tube" of choice here in Wisconsin. This got me to thinking about his request.  To put it in the most simple terms, although brats may not be high cuisine, to him they taste like home.  Food can do that, in his words "At airborne school we were talking about what we eat at home, and I've been jonesing for a brat ever since."  So I think my son has become not just a man but a soldier, someone who, when times get tough thinks of the simple things back home........a brat, some kraut and a beer. 
     So, I fired up the grill (in the rain) threw on the brats made some beans, kraut and corn on the cob.  Opened a beer and had this "special" meal with my wife and 2 of my sons.  Again I was reminded that a real meal is not so much about the food as it is about sharing ourselves, laughing, crying and swapping stories.
     Now, contrast that with my middle son, Dom the Archaeologist, one of the smartest guys you will ever meet.  What does he ask for?  Coq au Vin, if you don't know what that is look it up.  Suffice it to say that it is a French chicken and wine dish that when made properly takes literally all day to prepare.  So, I get up early and start cooking this fairly complicated dish.  What does this say about Dom?  Well it could be he just wants to make his dad work all day to cook a meal for him, or he enjoys the complexity and different layers of flavors and textures involved in the dish.  I 'll let some psych major figure out how that relates to his chosen field.  But, in the end, we sit around the table and talk, and celebrate his year and many accomplishments.
     Ah, but what about the youngest?  He is only 13, what could his choice of meal possibly say about him?  Gabe chooses ribs, slow cooked on a charcoal grill with a smoking attachment pumping out hickory smoke, and then smothered in Sweet Baby Rays BBQ sauce.  I usually let them cook all after noon so the meat just falls off (I'm getting hungry, maybe I can sneak some in before his b'day in September).  Any way, it could very well be that he just really likes ribs.  But I remember one of the first times he had ribs,  it was at a Famous Dave's during a family vacation.  I'll always remember the look on his face when they brought out all that food on the lid of a garbage can, it was the look of joy and astonishment.  So does he choose ribs to bring back some of that memory?  Maybe a little, that day always seems to come up as we are wiping the sauce off of our faces during is birthday meal. 

So, what is your "meal"?  And what does it say about you?  Your past?  And your home?

Stay hungry

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

coffee vs. tea (thanks for the idea Tamara)

First, thanks to my friend Tamara who posed the question, which I then stole for a blog idea.

     Coffee vs. Tea,  not so much the beverage themselves but more the culture involved in each.  Full discolosure time, I am a coffee drinker.  Not just a drinker but a lover of coffee I like to try different kinds of coffee and different ways to brew coffee,  I don't much care for tea.  My wife however, likes tea (real tea, not the stuff that comes in a bag that has been sitting for who knows how long) and she doesn't like coffee even a little.
     My first impulse is to say that in general tea drinkers are a bit elitist, and coffee is the drink of the average guy I mean, come on, when was the last time anyone called tea something like "Joe"?  So let's compare a little.  Laying aside personal preference for one drink or the other, what is difference of the "culture" of each?

      Tea.  Well the history of tea stretches back centuries, and I suppose China would be the "hometown" of tea and tea culture.  But, I'm not going to get into tea and coffee history even though it is interesting and does go to the formation of the cultures.  My observation is that traditional tea culture isn't so much about the drink, it is more about relationship.  I am always amazed at watching a traditional Chinese or Japanese tea ceremony, that is were you can really see the relationship in tea.  The care taken in the preperation of the tea shows respect from preparer to drinker. The patience, time and detail during the pouring builds a commonality of experience between the two. And the appreciative drinking of the tea shows gratitude and acceptance from drinker to preparer.  If you haven't seen or taken part in a tea ceremony, you should....even if you don't like tea, because it's not really about the tea.
      There is of course another tea culture, the one born of the British Empire.  I'm not going to claim to know much about English tea culture, but perhaps that is were my perception of tea elitists comes from.  All those old movies that would at some point involve some stuck up jerk taking tea regardless of what is going on.  But obviously tea in the UK is an important part of the culture, after all we seemed to get pretty ticked off about a tea tax and chuck a bunch of it in the harbor.  And now some 235ish years later we have a political movement called the Tea Party........go figure.

      So what about my impresion of coffee being the average guy drink?  Think back to all those old war movies, what did your average soldier, sailor, or marine want to drink?  Coffee.  But, as with tea, when you take a closer look it's not really about the drink.  Where tea is about the relationship, coffee is about socializing.  Coffee can be a drink used as an excuse to get together, "hey do you want to get together for coffee?"  I personally have been with soldiers and Coast Guardsmen passing a cup of coffee around on a cold evening.  It was not really about the coffee it was more about sharing the misery of being cold and/or wet.  So where the relationship built with tea is focused on sharing the tea,  coffee is usually not the focus, the focus is on some other shared experience.
      Yes, there are exceptions to every observation, my wife drinks tea while we play games or sit around talking.  I enjoy the different preperation styles of coffee.  Some cultures have a very deep respect and ceremony for coffee, to be invited to an Ethiopian coffee ceremony is a great honor and show of respect.  And certainly there is a different coffee culture in Italy, Turkey or North Africa.  Vietnam has some amazing coffee where the traditions of colonial France and South East Asia collide creating some really nice coffee.  Even in Japan there is a growing coffee culture and here in the States tea is becoming a more "social drink"

Of course this doesn't even touch on the whole   Venti, Non-Fat, No Foam, No water, 6 pump, extra hot, chai tea latte. Or the grande hot decaf triple five-pump vanilla non-fat no foam whipped cream extra hot extra carmel upside down carmel machiatto.  Or whatever.............thanks Tamara!!!!

So there you have it, my take on tea vs. coffee...............any one for a glass of wine?

Stay hungry..................peace

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Why do you eat what you eat?

I  challenge you to ask that simple question.  I believe that we in most of the western world eat out of habit, mostly bad habit.  Now I'm not going to prattle on about fruits and vegie's,  low fat, low salt blah blah blah low taste diets.  All of those are valuable as any doctor will tell you, but I'm not a doctor or a nutritionist, I like food!  Having confessed my carnivorous nature, lets go back to the question, why do we eat what we eat?
     As I said I believe it is habit formed by our culture of fast food and convenience.  Not convinced? How about a few statistics?  The average American eats 3 hamburgers and 4 orders of fries a week!  We spent approximately $110 billion on fast food (and that was 10 years ago!), that is more than we spend on computers, cars,  and higher education combined!!!  My point here is not to wage some war against fast food joints, I enjoy a big mac as much as the next guy(not really but you get the point), and the fast food industry employs a lot of people.  My point is this: Each of us must take an honest look at why we choose to eat what we do.  Rather than continue our mindless habits, we need to be intentional and rational about what we eat.  Let's take a cold hard look at our bad eating habits and choose to eat good food.
     At some point I will rant against "fad" diets, which I believe are as bad a habit as our fast food habits and contributes to our lack of food culture just as much if not more.  In the end you will eat what you want to eat, and I do not have the desire or the qualifications to tell you what that should or shouldn't be. My challenge is just to ask..... why?

stay hungry

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Pass it your kids "eat" history?


     There is no greater confluence of table and theology than the Jewish tradition of the Seder meal at Passover.  Last evening I was privileged to lead a Christian version of the Seder..(yes I know it's not the correct date).  One striking thing about it is that it is read in the first person, as if the story were happening now and to us.  A reminder of how we should approach our history and tradition.
     The meal is full of references to the historical flight to freedom when we ran from Egyptian captivity.  The Matzoh, unleavened bread, to remind us that there was not even time to allow the bread to rise.  It is also called the bread of affliction.   Charoses, made from apples, red wine cinnamon, sugar and walnuts,  this combination is meant to look like mortar.  It is to make present all of the mortar that was heaped brick upon brick during the years of slavery.
      During the meal one also tastes a bowl of salt water, representative of the tears shed.  Bitter herb to help us recall the bitter things that happened on the Exodus, and a sweet herd to recall the good things.  A hard boiled egg to make present the many sacrifices offered on our behalf at the altar.  And finally a roasted lamb shank to remember the Paschal Lamb sacrificed and eaten on the night of the Passover.  (more on the tradition of the Lamb in a future post).
     But for me, the part of the meal that stands out are the four questions asked by a child.  Not so much the content of the questions, but the reason we are told to include this during the meal.  It is the command to pass on our tradition and beliefs to our children when they ask why we eat this meal and share the story,  as instructed in Exodus 13:14 " In the day you shall tell your son saying: All of this is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt."  This entire meal illustrates that there is no greater place to teach our children than at the dinner table!!!
      What is your history, your tradition, your beliefs?  Even if your family didn't share the history of your ancestors at the table, you can.  Look to the old recipes, find the stories and the "feed" it all to your children.

stay hungry
A Guide for a Christian SederA Guide for a Christian Seder

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Have an olive........

Olives, you just have to love them.   We've been enjoying olives for thousands of years, and it's hard to imagine the Mediterranean landscape without olives.  Olives are were so important to the ancient Hebrews that they are mentioned 55 times in the Bible.  The Romans, who conquered Palestine in 63 BC, wrote with some detail on how to create a brine solution with lye to preserve and take the bitterness out of raw olives.

So go get some olives (good ones that don't require being drowned in a martini to be palatable) eat slow and think back across the centuries and those with whom you are sharing the taste of the simple olive.

And then give this recipe a try, cucumbers and olives?  yup and it awesome!!

1 cucumber peeled and cut into 1/2" cube
about 12 good kalamata olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
1 table red wine vinegar
a sprig of fresh dill
4 ounces of goat cheese

Gently mix the first 4 ingredients together and sprinkle with the cheese.   Serve with flat bread and enjoy!!

Olives: More than 70 Delicious & Healthy Recipes

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Food talk?

Just what does your food mean? I started looking at the Bible for food references, and what I found fascinated me.  The Bible is filled with food talk, but it is not talking about food necessarily.  It's talking about theology, it's talking about God.

The word faith is used about 275 times in the Bible....but the verb to eat is used some 800 times!

Jesus doesn't say "Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone should answer I will enter and discuss existential theology with him" No. Jesus says " I will dine with him."

All of the Resurrection appearances occurred at the table, with the one exception of the appearance at the tomb.  The rest were at meals; on the road to Emmaus, in the Upper Room, and the fish fry on the edge of the Sea of Galilee.

Why all this food talk in the Bible?  That is what I intend to explore in the coming months. I'm thinking about writing a daily devotional based on food in scripture written for cooks and lovers of food.   I guess we'll see what happens

stay hungry
PeaceA Biblical Feast: Foods from the Holy Land

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The quickly vanishing art.............

The following is adapted from the book  The Art of Manliness: Classic Skills and Manners for the Modern Man. What does this have to do with food? Very little, however it does speak to culture. We, as men, have allowed ourselves to be defined by political correctness, pysco-babble run amok, and (sorry girls) how women think a man should, act, think and feel. So, how does a gentleman conduct himself at the table? I submit this is a good start.

1. Unless you are expecting a call that your wife's water has broken, be sure your cell phone is off before sitting down to a meal.
2. If you are accompanying a lady to dinner, pull out her chair for her and allow her to be seated first.
3. When you sit down immediately place your napkin on your lap.
4. When you see all those forks don't panic!!
*smallest fork : for eating seafood
*next smallest fork: for eating salad
*biggest fork: save for dinner
*small spoon: for coffee
*big spoon: for soup
5. Keep your elbows off the table!
6. Wait until you know whether grace will be said before diving into the food. No man wants to be caught with a mouth full of roll when everyone else bows their head.
7. Always say please when requesting a dish to be passed.
8. Don't try to taste something off someone's plate.
9 Don't eat to fast. Slow down and enjoy. If you're with a lady match her pace.
10. The "see food diet" joke is only funny when you're 5.
11. Use your napkin! That hairy masterpiece under your nose is not a "flavor savor".
12. Be careful of your conversation topics. Your story about breaking open your head in a skate board accident may slay them at the frat house, but it can put someone off the tomato soup.

Well there you have it, an etiquette short list. Bottom line......Be a Gentleman, and enjoy the food.
The Art of Manliness: Classic Skills and Manners for the Modern Man

stay hungry