Friday, June 17, 2011

Food, glorious food

And the winner for the best Moussaka made by an Anabaptist is . . . ARNE!!

Order me another, please.

Like most of you—probably—I am in love with food. Furthermore, I am extremely promiscuous in my affections. I can devour with equal relish a hot dog on a store-bought bun heaped with mustard and relish as I can a rare and delicate avocado and butter lettuce salad with balsamic and virgin olive oil dressing topped with sesame seeds. Nothing starts up my salivary glands like a perfectly roasted asparagus Rinderoulade with a side of mashed potatoes and garden-fresh baby peas. But if that’s not available, I can be perfectly happy with a cheezeburger and a pile of French fries with ketchup.

               What’s more, I like watching cooking shows on TV and reading cookbooks. It’s through the variety of cooking shows that I’ve come to the following conclusions about the relationship between people and food. Food is religion in our culture—and in many others, I suspect—with the French and Italians leading the way. But differences that are the most striking—attitudes toward food and cooking—can cross cultures just as there can be African Jehovah’s Witnesses and Swahili-speaking Mennonites.

               I begin with that attitude of near-worship of food, of food plants, etc., that characterizes some people. To them, tradition is everything; they practically faint at the sight of someone trying to whisk a sauce with a fork on high heat. They are adamant that there’s only one way to roast a duck properly. They can’t abide anything that’s even slightly overcooked or underdone; pasta that’s not done el dente is only fit for hogs. They lean heavily toward food names that are in a foreign language. Not only will they not eat at Tim Horton’s; they can’t even bring themselves to say “Tim’s.” They are the high church of food; eating is a highly structured, liturgical event. They pay homage to butter and cream. They are proud to call themselves Conservative.

               Next come the food fundamentalists. They see food in black and white, figuratively speaking. As adamant about the rights and wrongs of food culture as the traditionalists, their choices are driven by a combination of conspiracy theories, Biblical injunctions and reverence for an ever-changing procession  of health gurus. So preoccupied are they with balancing their mineral, vitamin, protein and carbohydrate intakes that they hardly have time for anything else. But that’s OK; they have truth on their side. Also like the traditionalists, they wouldn’t be caught dead in a fast-food joint, but unlike the traditionalist, they are quite evangelical; they feel compelled to win converts.

               There are those, of course, who can’t much be bothered with the niceties of consuming or not consuming food. They’re right at home in the whole range of eating establishments from Boston Pizza to restaurants with “Chez” in their names. They are not intimidated by gravy or ketchup, and yet, know how to eat a whole lobster gracefully. They appreciate caviar on a boiled egg, but they enjoy nothing better on a weekend evening than frying up a batch of eggs and potatoes, opening a beer and watching a baseball game on TV while they eat out of the frying pan. They are the food liberals, and they don’t care what anybody else eats, as long as they don’t eat their lunch.

  And at the bottom of the food chain, so to speak, are the food agnostics and atheists. They ignore others’ preoccupations with food altogether and sneer at the pronouncements of the traditionalists, the fundamentalists and the liberals alike. They neither eat nor dine—they feed. They feed so they don’t die or because they’re angry, upset, depressed or because it’s a day that ends in “y”; they order in a lot, throw frozen pizzas in the oven, drink until the beer runs out, eat until they’re comatose. If they have a kitchen, their tools consist of a few burnt pots and half a wooden spoon; neither cooking as an art nor eating as a social sacrament would ever occur to them. They have terrible table manners; tend to shovel their food while bent over their plates with one arm in their laps. Even liberals find them irritating.

               As for me, I can’t think of a greater pleasure than sitting at length around a table with friends and eating well-prepared and perfectly spiced and herbed food. I guess laughter and banter are my two favourite condiments. I’m probably a food socialist.

               By the way: I invented a new way to enjoy cauliflower yesterday; here’s the recipe: 

Herbed Cauliflower Florentine


10-12 cauliflower florets
ca. 10-15 pak choy or spinach leaves, chopped
½ cup freshly shredded old cheddar
1 Tbsp butter
1Tbsp whole wheat flour
½ cup milk
1 tsp oregano flakes
Salt & pepper to taste


Bring cauliflower to boil. After 5 minutes add pak choy or spinach. After 2 minutes, drain and cover.
In a frying pan, make sauce with butter, flower and milk. Stir in shredded cheddar. Add oregano and salt and pepper to taste.
Toss cauliflower and pak choy or spinach with sauce and serve.

Serves 2-4 as side dish.

Guten Appetit!

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