About Me

My photo
I'm a guy who likes to cook, eat, and drink, but not necessarily in that order. This blog is nothing fancy; just my random thoughts about anything that can be baked, roasted, or fried. Enjoy!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Some Memories are Best Served from a Can

I have heard that the sense most closely associated with memory is smell. Not being much of a science student growing up, I have no means of challenging this theory, though it makes sense. Walk into a room and smell nutmeg and cinnamon, and you think Thanksgiving or Christmas.If you smell hamburgers on a grill, you may be reminded of summertime trips to the beach, fighting with your sibling over that imaginary line in the back seat. And if you are of a certain age and you smell buttered popcorn, you may recall when you saw Star Wars for the first time in an actual movie theater—the original one, before it was Episode IV.

Of course, our perceptions of the past are less than trustworthy, and even the present can be a tricky thing. As Milan Kundera said, it eludes us completely.” How we perceive the past and the present, and what we expect of the future, is the central theme in a delightful book I read recently: Provence, 1970. It is written by Luke Barr, the grand-nephew of M.F.K. Fisher, and based on a journal written by Fisher that Barr found in a storage shed. The journal recounts Fisher's trip to France in December 1970 and her encounters with some of the culinary stars of her day: Julia Child, Simone Beck, James Beard, and Richard Olney. But more importantly, Provence, 1970 addresses the tension between tradition and the new, increasingly apparent in Americas culinary scene of the early 1970s.

This book reminded me of my own discoveries of food and cooking. (I was born in 1970 and came of age in the 70s and 80s.) Like most kids, Im sure I was not unusual. While I was not too picky, and though I had a healthy appetite, there were things that I liked; things that I tolerated; and things that I loathed with a passion. Brussels sprouts fell into this latter category. They were known to causeand Im not kiddinga gag reflex. One evening, my mother decreed that I could not leave the table until I finished my vegetables, in this case Brussels sprouts. And being a kid who didnt like rules (and later growing into an adult who likes them even less), I grabbed my napkin, wrapped them up, and hid them behind the piano. 

Done! Can I go watch Battlestar Galactica now?” 

Unbeknownst to me, I had committed a grievous tactical errorI had forgotten that my grandmother was visiting. She, being the original wearer of the been-there-done-thatt-shirt, had witnessed all the numerous vegetable-avoidance schemes firsthand. She easily smelleda rat. With the olfactory precision that would have made a Louisiana bloodhound proud, she found my shrouded Brussels sprouts in five minutes flat. And talk about gag reflex, try eating Brussels sprouts stone cold and covered in dust bunnies!

Things did improve. I grew to appreciate the finerthings in cooking, though it was a slow process. 

Advance the clock forward about five or six years.

I still remember my first fancymeal. My family had recently moved to the outskirts of Washington, DC, from a small town in southeast Virginia. This was my first foray into the big city. (Before that I had confused Richmond, Virginia, with New York!) We went to lunch at a now-defunct chain called The American Cafe. In keeping with its name, this restaurant sought, with typical American exuberance, to reproduce Parisian brassiere food for the masses. Being a 12-year member of the American masses, I thought this place was the bomb! I ordered the crepe suzette and discovered that there was more to food than bologna sandwiches and cheese doodles.  

Good or bad, how Americans think about food and what they eat has changed a lot since that crepe suzette in 1982. As Barr points out in his book: There is more good food and cooking than ever in America, and more hype, spectacle, money, moralizing, and pontificating, toomuch of the discussion still circling around the same undying questions of authenticity, elitism, and taste that divided Child, Olney, and the others.In other words, snobbery is nothing more that the zeal of the recently converted.

We shouldnt let that food-snobbery blind us to what was good about how we ate back in the 70s. I loved my Moms spaghetti, even if it come from a jar. However, is spaghetti from the hot barat the local Whole Foods such a big improvement? And yes, vegetables came from a can, but are those kale-carrot smoothies made in a Vitamix a step forward? And with all the recent talk about GMOs and food dyes, gluten-free this and that, I can't forget the Technicolor glories that one could create with FDA Blue #6.

While visiting my grandmother during my birthday, my mother asked me what kind of birthday cake I wanted. This was back in the day when moms still made birthday cakes and those cakes typically came from a box. I said blue, because blue was my favorite color that week. And my Mom, like any dutiful mom in 1977 found some blue food coloring in my grandmothers pantry and made me a birthday cake that was the most perfect electric blue in the world. Why? Because I had asked for it, and she loved me, so she made it. 

Yes, we Americans are probably more sophisticated about our food and how we prepare it than we were thirty, twenty, or even ten years ago. But have we gone too far? Yes, locally sourced kale is one thing, but Ill take a can of green beans, Kraft Mac-n-Cheese, a bottle of Lambrusco, and reruns of All In The Family  with friends and family any day.

1 comment:

  1. I would like to see you do a post on food that you want when you are under the weather -- "comfort food" for when you are sick or have the blues.