I embark on the second week of 2013 with a sense of anticipation and appetite for the year that is to come. As the commitments begin penciling their way into the calendar and the travels begin anew, sometimes I think it’s good to look back on the year that was to consider how it might be in conversation with the year ahead… and wait until you see what I have in store for the food poet in 2013. Much revelry and cause for food poetry merry-making indeed.
Instead of a top ten rundown of recipes from last year, I reckon with what my palate and cravings from a year passed have in store for the future. Oh, and for fun and because this is a blog of food and poetry, I suggest poetry books to pair with each of the different types of foods.
A brief stint teaching Sunday school to Middle Eastern kids many years ago already awakened my tastebuds to the delights of fattoush and maqluba-esque seasoned meat, rice and nut combinations. In 2012, I found my repertoire and interest for Middle Eastern food only deepening as I cooked my way through Faith Gorsky’s An Edible Mosaic cookbook of Syrian recipes. I find Syria is still in my waking thoughts and prayers with the violence and deaths that seem to be escalating. It makes me consider the role of breaking bread and how that altogether ordinary act of eating together might herald peace into the Middle East. This idea only grows with possibility as I have begun cooking through Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem cookbook, a culinary ode to their birth city. The perspective that they espouse is refreshing- these two friends, one Jewish and the other Palestinian broach the idea of what is shared between both cultures like the recipes each of them remembers their parents preparing. I let myself linger in Middle Eastern flavors as our house fills with the smells of an emptied bottle of cumin toasting in oil or rice steaming with fish in a nine-spice mix.
Pair with Wendell Berry’s “Sabbaths“
It helps to take what you do seriously. Whole grains are no exception. Steel cut oats, organic non-GMO cornmeal, brown and white rice were already stored in the jars lining my pantry shelf. To the mix in 2012, I made granola with popped amaranth, discovering I like the nuttiness that popping gives to the grain. I also cooked my first pot of millet and found creative ways to welcome quinoa (technically not a whole grain) into many dinner dishes. A box of Kamut pasta made its way to me in the mail from the Kamut folks and I have yet to delve into doing a taste test of it side by side with whole wheat pasta. In the journey of cooking and learning the nuances of more whole grains, I have found myself at odds with one that is pretty popular in the Bay Area as I cannot get a handle or a taste for farro. Along the way, I have found teachers in the likes of Maria Speck with her groundbreaking “Ancient Grains for Modern Meals” and “Whole Grains for a New Generation“ by Liana Krissoff. Still to come in whole grain happenings will be baking with Kim Boyce’s “Good to the Grain” and trying out a few whole grain mains from “Grain Mains” by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarborough.
Pair with Tomas Transformer’s “For the Living and the Dead“, tr. John F. Deane
There’s a pretty good chance I drank the kool-aid, instead swapping out that artificially colored drink powder for a glass of yogurt or kefir more likely. It’s pretty safe to say I ascribe to the school of thought that if something is good, then yogurt will only make it better. Part of this obsession can be attributed to looking for practical ways to eat or drink more probiotic-rich foods as well as to soften the spice of dishes that are rather hot. In my practice of trying to eat less sugar, I often find a few hefty spoonfuls of plain yogurt with fresh cut fruit or one of my personal favorite combinations of Spanish peanuts and a sprinkling of mini dark chocolate chips satisfies or perhaps dried figs with yogurt. When dinner has already been washed down the gullet, I crave dairy and yogurt comes calling.
MIY – Why Buy When You Can Make It Yourself
Pair with Wendell Berry’s “Bringing it to the Table: Essays on Farming and Food“
What is it about the current fascination and emphasis on making store-bought ingredients by scratch? Is it that we collectively have unearthed stores of time we never knew existed for us? Is it that we find the novelty of making our own pickles charming? I tend to think this resurgence of wanting to get back to the earth, know the source of the food we are eating and then how to preserve it as life skills that unfortunately are no longer taught in schools or many homes. In fact, this article made me start considering what it might take to become a home economics teacher or at the very least what it would like to teach food preserving in the larger community, debunking the idea that this too is for “food snobs.” Unlike people who think that eating from or supporting a CSA is only for the elite, the notion of being able to grow your own food, harvest and prepare it yourself should be a universal right. The trick here is that for most of us, we don’t have the aptitude naturally and look to others already entrenched in the process for guidance, people like Marisa McClellan and her “Food in Jars” cookbook that shows how to process what’s in season to be enjoyed in the coming months or Linda Ziedrich’s “The Joy of Pickling.” I disagree that a 99% diet must subsist of cans that are lined with BPA or frozen foods. I can’t believe that is the only way, when research and data from 2012 shows an uptick of organic foods purchased by those well in the 99%, making less than $30,000 a year.
Good food made of good, quality ingredients is not just for the elite. And we have to work to make it more available for all. In California, SNAP can be used at farmer’s markets. Perhaps, part of the key in this equation is helping reaffirm the connection of what it means to take care of ourselves through what we eat and how to love our neighbor as we love ourselves through the ingredients we bring into our homes. So, MIY comes back to making the most of what you have on-hand and stretching it into tomorrow, which is just good common sense. Now, if I could just find time, bandwidth and a patch of soil large enough for raising urban chickens, this might be next on the learning spectrum…
Pair with D.A. Powell’s “Tea“
There was a time when my proclivity for tea knew no bounds. I found myself aflush in leaves and opportunities for experimentation. Several months in 2012 found my brain abuzz in tea concoctions, ideas and I wonder’s… From this came a delicious spate of recipes that kept me second guessing new ways to introduce camellia sinensis into unexpected occasions. Unsurprisingly, our tea drinking also surged with morning subsistence on regular cups of green or black tea and a peppermint herbal tisane for the evening. There is something so exquisite and maddening when an ingredient gets under the skin and in the case of tea, if you don’t like one offering, a whole host wait to fill the cup. Classic blacks and greens give way to flavored or fruity blacks and greens. Then there are the spiced blends or the caffeine-free tisanes. The options are vast. My respect for tea and the kind of presence it requires for the drinker is not one easily lost. Perhaps there might yet be some unchartered terrain for this year.
And now, as promised, I give you 2012, recipes illustrated. May 2013 be even more delicious.
(Click on the drawing if you want more of a close-up sneak peek.)