Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Song of the Week: Lollipop

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Quote of the Week: Discovery

"The discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a new star."

—Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste

Friday, September 25, 2009

Don't Forget to Eat Your Metaphors!

The English language is filled with metaphors, similes, and idioms, and many of them revolve around food and the act of eating. Food is such an integral part of our lives that it has seeped into our everyday phrases. Some of these food phrases are so engrained in our culture that we don’t even think about the origins of them as revolving around ingredients, cooking, or eating, but we really do compare many aspects of our lives to food!

So what food figures of speech are out there?

Apple of one’s eye
Comparing apples to oranges
Rotten to the core
Forbidden fruit
Fruits of one’s labor
An apple a day keeps the doctor away
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree
Go bananas
Sour grapes
Peachy keen
How do you like them apples?

Baked Goods
The best thing since sliced bread
Have one’s cake and eat it too
The icing on the cake
Take the cake
As nutty as a fruitcake
To have a bun in the oven
Easy as apple pie
Pie in the sky
One smart cookie
A piece of cake
Eat humble pie
That’s the way the cookie crumbles
Tough cookie
You’re toast
Flat as a pancake

Don’t cry over spilt milk
Not one’s cup of tea
Not for all the tea in China
Wake up and smell the coffee

If life gives you lemons, make lemonade

Egg on one’s face
Bad egg (or a good egg)
Don’t put all of one’s egg in one basket
Don’t count one’s eggs before they hatch
Nest egg
Walk on eggshells

That won’t amount to a hill of beans
Spill the beans

Everything from soup to nuts
To stew over something

Who can forget those Chicken Soup for the Soul books? Whatever happened to them…?

Nuts about something
Hard nut to crack
In a nutshell
Work for peanuts

Cream of the crop
Cool as a cucumber
Two peas in a pod
In a pickle

Bigger fish to fry

Packed in like sardines

Couch potato
To drop something like a hot potato
Small potatoes
Meat and potatoes

Rub salt in one’s wounds
Salt of the earth
Take something with a grain of salt
Worth one’s salt

Big cheese
To butter someone up
That’s cheesy
Crème de la crème
The proof is in the pudding
That really butters my bread!

Bring home the bacon
To chew the fat

Spice of life
Spice things up

Grains and Pasta
Sow your wild oats
To use one’s noodle

Like taking candy from a baby

Hard to stomach
Acquire a taste for something
Bite of more than one can chew
Bite the hand that feeds you
To eat one’s heart out
To eat one’s words
To eat someone out of house and home
Sink one’s teeth into something
No such thing as a free lunch
Whet one’s appetite
Out to lunch
Glutton for punishment
Sing for one’s supper
You are what you eat

What’s cooking?
Recipe for disaster
To many cooks in the kitchen

Kitchen Utensils
Have a lot on one’s plate
Out of the frying pan and into the fire
The pot calling the kettle black

To have something handed to you on a silver platter

A watched pot never boils

And, of course, there’s always food for thought!

Food can also be used to connote sexual desires, such as describing somebody as “eye candy” or a “tall drink of water” or asking someone if she “wants fries with that shake?” Songs in particular use food metaphors in place of sexually suggestive topics, such as in the lyrics below:

“Candy on the beach, there’s nothing better
But I like candy when it’s wrapped in a sweater
Some day soon I’ll make her mine
Then I’ll have candy all the time
I want candy”

—The Strangeloves, “I Want Candy”

“Squeeze me, babe, till the juice runs down my leg
Do, squeeze me, squeeze me, until the juice runs down my leg
The way you squeeze my lemon
I’m gonna fall right outta bed”

—Led Zeppelin, “The Lemon Song”

“I’ll take you to the candy shop
I’ll let you lick the lollipop”

—50 Cent, “Candy Shop”

“Ah, brown sugar, how come you taste so good?
Brown sugar, just like a young girl should”

—Rolling Stones, “Brown Sugar”

“Come on-a my house, my house, I’m gonna give you candy
Come on-a my house, my house/I’m gonna give you
Apple and plum and apricot-a too”

— Rosemary Clooney, “C’mon a My House”

“My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard”

—Kelis, “Milkshake”

“Please mister, don’t touch me tomato
No, don’t touch me tomato
Touch me on me pumpkin, potato
For goodness sake, don’t touch me tomato”

—Josephine Baker, “Don’t Touch Me Tomato”

“Black boys are delicious
Chocolate flavored love
Licorice lips like candy
Keep my cocoa handy
I have such a sweet tooth
When it comes to love”

—Hair, “Black Boys”

Anymore food metaphors, similes, or idioms out there?

That's the way the cookie crumbles!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Quote of the Week: The Food of Aphrodite

“Before I was born my mother was in great agony of spirit and in a tragic situation. She could take no food except iced oysters and champagne. If people ask me when I began to dance, I reply, ‘In my mother’s womb, probably as a result of the oysters and champagne—the food of Aphrodite.’”

—Isadora Duncan

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Space is the Place

It's time to take a look at one of the strangest people in American history—Sun Ra.

Sun Ra (1914-1993), born as Herman P. Blount, was a black musician who played with the Solar Arkestra. Their music included swing, be-bop, free jazz, boogie-woogie, and avant-garde jazz, and most of their music was created in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. Sun Ra is mostly associated with his experimental jazz music, and he saw this music as a “living myth” that would bridge black Americans into the future. He believed strongly in astrology, numerology, Egyptology, and the wisdom of the cosmos.

Music itself was viewed as a universal language by Sun Ra, and the poetry and music he created was art or the sake of human consciousness, enlightenment, and beauty, not for political purposes. He wished to use his art to spread a message of the potential of humanity and universal harmony. His views culminated in his 1972 film, Space is the Place, where he discovers a planet in outer space that has the appropriate vibrations and then travels to earth to bring all the black people back to his newly discovered peaceful planet where they can finally live in harmony.

So what does any of this have to do with food?

According to Sun Ra’s biographer John F. Szwed in Space is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra, when the Arkestra was short on money for food Sun Ra would take over the cooking, and “his cooking was like the music, individualized, spiritually guided, mysteriously concocted. Moon Stew was his chief dish, a mix of green peppers, onion, garlic, okra, tomatoes, and ears of corn. And when it was done right, he said you could taste each ingredient individually. Once when he was asked to share the recipe for a musicians’ cookbook, he warned the authors that there were no fixed proportions to it, and that it required the ingredients of sincerity and love, to say nothing of the ability to make the fire burn with psychic intensity.”

Sun Ra told the authors of the cookbook, “You can’t say, ‘One teaspoon of this, or one teaspoon of that.’ Like a musician, you improvise. It’s like being on a spirit plane; you put the proper things in without knowing why. It comes out wonderful when it’s done like that. If you plan it, it doesn’t work.”

Sun Ra himself is an elusive cosmic being, but it is possible to create his food. Want to try to make Moon Stew yourself? Just put on some of Sun Ra’s music (I recommend his earlier albums, such as Sun Song, Music From Tomorrow’s World, and We Travel the Spaceways), and get to work, letting the stars and planets guide you!

Moon Stew

Green Peppers
Butter or Vegetable Oil
Broth (chicken or vegetable)
Salt and Pepper to taste

1) Chop the vegetables.

2) Bring the broth to a simmer on the stove while making a rue. To make the rue, melt the butter or vegetable oil in a pan and add flour, stirring until it reaches the consistency of wet sand.
Stir a little of the broth into the rue and then add the rue into the broth.

3) Add the vegetables, salt, pepper, sincerity, and love to the broth.

4) Cook for at least one hour and serve to family and friends!

If you want to learn more about Sun Ra, check out his biography by John F. Szwed, which was mentioned above. You can also check out the opening scene to Sun Ra’s movie, Space is the Place, here:

"They'll come back in ships of gold
With wisdom never told
A touch of myth-world's splendor
Then they'll take back the others
Who are not of earth's dimension one
The others who are ready
Melody harmonic rythmic planes,
Chromatic magic is eternal,
Outward on pleasant spheres,
Nothing is, yet everything is all
A splendid neverness..."

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Quote of the Week: Wine is Sunlight

"Wine is sunlight, held together by water."

—Galileo Galilei

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Culinary Adventure in London

The English get recognition for a lot of things—the Beatles, some of the best Romantic poets, losing the American Revolution…but something most people overlook and even scoff at is English food. During a recent trip to London where I visited my sister Tara I found that I ate well, very well, so I’d like to take you on a little culinary adventure through London.

After waking up very early and flying out of Albany International Airport and transferring at Newark, I eventually made it to London late on a Tuesday night. After an hour-long tube ride from Heathrow to King’s Cross, there was only thing on my mind—fish and chips. Most pubs close pretty early in London, but luckily there were lots of options for food near my sister’s place. We went to a basic kebab joint that also served fish and chips—nothing classy, just good and greasy fish and chips. For those of you who aren’t in the know about English terms, chips is their word for fries. And what we call potato chips, they call crisps. The fish and chips was drizzled with vinegar, salt, and mayonnaise. I’d heard of dipping fries in mayonnaise before my trip and was skeptical, but one bite converted me. The meal was great—exactly what I needed and an ideal way to start my week-long trip.

The next morning Tara took me out to a traditional English breakfast. The meal consisted on eggs, boiled beans, grilled tomato, ham, sausage, toast, and chips. The eggs, toast, ham, and chips were pretty much what you would expect in America, though I’ve never been offered chips at breakfast. Tara informed me that beans on toast was a popular snack in London. The beans were pretty good, but I’ll probably never pick up the habit of eating them at breakfast. The sausage was actually quite different than breakfast sausage in America—instead of thin links or patties, the sausage was a large link and apparently mostly fat. I definitely preferred the ham. All in all, it was very satisfying and the perfect way to start a long day of touring London.

After a visit to the National Portrait Gallery, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abbey, and a walk along the Thames it was time to eat again. We planned on going to Harrods but needed to eat something before venturing into this Victorian department store. Across the street from Harrods was a little French bistro. I enjoyed a glass of white wine and a plate of mussels steamed in garlic, cream, and white wine—the mussels were succulent and tasty. Tara had a cappuccino and a tomato tart. Then we were refreshed and ready for some exploring of Harrods.

That night we hit the pubs with Tara’s wonderful roommate Allie. We enjoyed pints of London Pride and a hard cider called Strongbow. Both were delicious. I don’t drink beer very often these days, generally preferring wine, but when in London

London Pride is brewed by Fuller’s who describes the beer as “a smooth and astonishingly complex beer with a distinctive malty base complemented by a rich balance of well-developed hop flavors.” Yum. Hard cider, such as Strongbow, is also usually available on tap at pubs. It’s bubbly, sweet, and contains more alcohol than you would expect! Cider is little too sweet for me in general but definitely a nice treat on occasion.

The next morning we had late start and decided to go right for lunch. Tara and Allie took me to one of their favorite spots—Indian Veg. It was a vegetarian Indian buffet that was delicious and, most importantly, cheap. The cost of living can run pretty high in London so for students studying abroad, like Tara and Allie, places like Indian Veg are a good way to make a few pounds last a long time. The restaurant also had an interesting ambience to say the least. Instead of the typical Indian décor, the walls of the restaurant were mostly covered in posters with statements declaring the benefits of a vegetarian diet. Everywhere you looked was another reason to become a vegetarian—it didn’t convince me even though the food was good. I’m still not sure what any of the food was since it wasn’t labeled, but there were tasty potatoes, veggies, crispy things, rice, and a ton of delicious sauces.

We spent the afternoon at the British National Museum—you could seriously lose yourself for weeks in that place, but we managed to see a lot in just a few hours. Then it was time for afternoon tea! My excitement for a real, English afternoon tea had been growing since I bought my plane ticket months before the trip, and now it was finally time for tea, scones, and finger sandwiches. We saw a sign outside a little restaurant advertising afternoon tea so we ventured inside—before we were even seated I was telling the server that we were getting afternoon tea. It was beautiful. We got scones and clotted cream—oh, clotted cream, how I love you! It’s like butter but better—smooth, creamy, amazing little spoonfuls that you spread thickly onto scones. So good. There was also a pot of black tea, of course, a variety of finger sandwiches with fillings like tuna salad, salami, and egg salad, and a big slice of chocolate cake. In my mind I had imagined that I would go to tea at a fancy, Victorian-style tea room, but this simple afternoon tea in an everyday restaurant was truly perfect.

That night it was her majesty’s mojitos, a fight club reenactment, and a dance party to music by the Beatles, Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, and Jackson 5 at The Old Blue Last. Enough said.

The next morning Tara and I woke up early for a day trip to Winchester, which was about a two hour bus ride from London. At the Victoria bus station I grabbed a cup of Earl Grey tea and tried a Cornish pasty, which is basically a meat-filled pastry. It was warm, filling, and satisfying on the rainy London morning.

When we arrived in Winchester Tara got a sandwich at a shop called the Earl of Sandwich. The bread was fresh and tasty with a generous portion of cheese, brie I believe, and greens.

We were in Winchester to pay our respects to one of our ancestors—King Alfred the Great. He was buried at the edge of town so we went in search of his grave, which now has a public park built around it. We found the grave…it was a solemn moment.

Then we continued to explore the town, visiting Winchester Cathedral where Jane Austen is buried. They also have an amazingly creepy crypt and a monument to a scuba diver who saved the cathedral from collapsing.

I like Winchester—it’s a town where I could see myself living someday, especially after eating at the next restaurant we tried. It was a seafood restaurant that had a beautiful display when we walked in of all their fresh fish and shellfish. As soon as I saw the oysters I knew I had to try them. They were from Loch Fyne Bay in Scotland and they were heavenly—probably the best oysters I have ever tried. Eating each one was an ineffable experience. I would go all the way back to Winchester or wherever else these oysters are served in the United Kingdom just to be able to eat them again. I also tried the appetizer special of the day—fried King Prawns, which came complete with their heads. The prawns could never match the beauty of the oysters, but they were still quite tasty. Everyone on television always sucks “the best part” out of the heads of prawns. I tried and there was nothing there—either I’m missing something or everyone on television is just pretending.

Back in London the next day, it was the London Eye, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Oxford Circus (a shopping area), and then dinner at Rules, London’s oldest restaurant. Established in 1798 by Thomas Rules, the restaurant still serves traditional English fare. The ambience inside definitely says high class, and the walls are covered with an array of paintings, photographs, and various animal heads. Tara and I both started out with the soup of the day—creamy mushroom soup. The server brought it over and served us right out of a silver soup tureen. It was smooth and decadent and drizzled with truffle oil. For the main course I had a rack of West Sussex lamb with creamy potatoes and vegetables. The lamb was cooked perfectly and the flavor was so rich it barely needed the seasoning it was cooked with. Tara opted for the fish and chips, which came complete with mashed peas and was nestled in newspaper.

Sunday, my last full day in London, was the perfect day. Tara and I started off by going to a big market that was open every Sunday where you could buy clothing, jewelry, food, and other random items of interest. We browsed and ate—snacking on bagels with cream cheese (though the sign of the bagel shop was spelled begels for some reason), vegetarian spring rolls, and Tibetan momos (beef dumplings) with a chili sauce.

Allie joined us and we headed off in search of a pub where we could get a Sunday roast. We finally found one at Dirty Dick’s. We simply couldn’t resist eating at a restaurant with that name! Being a bit full from the snacking at Sunday Market, we went for the child-size portion of the Sunday roast, which came with beef, Yorkshire pudding, vegetables, and potatoes cooked in the drippings of the roast—so traditional and so good. The best part was the Yorkshire pudding, which is a puff pastry that is cooked in a tin beneath the roast so it can catch all the delicious drippings. Tara, being a vegetarian, went for a cheesy potato—a nice big baked potato loaded with cheese and beans.

Next we headed for a lazy walk around Hyde Park and then to Chelsea in search of a tea room in a garden I had read about. On the way we spotted a shop that served Flake cones. Tara had been raving about flake cones for the past few days so we stopped in to treat ourselves. A Flake cone is a soft-serve vanilla ice-cream cone with a Cadbury Flake chocolate bar stuck in it. The Flake bar is made of thinly molded milk chocolate that is, well, flaky. It adds the perfect amount of a chocolate crunch to the vanilla ice-cream.

We finally arrived in Chelsea and found the location of the tea room, only to find out that it was about to close and that we had to pay a pretty high fee to get into the garden so we could access the tea room. We opted to find another location for afternoon tea. Luckily there was a beautiful little spot on a pleasant Chelsea street where we got a pot of Earl Grey tea and a delicious plate of scones and clotted cream. The scones were warm and came with a dusting of powdered sugar, a dish of clotted cream, and a little jar of strawberry jam. It was another satisfying afternoon tea and a great way to celebrate a lovely last day in London.

That night the three of us spent the night walking along the River Thames. The city was glorious in the evening—calm and beautiful with just a slight chill in the air. We sat by the river drinking wine and eating crackers with brie and simply soaking in the magic of London. In the words of Samuel Johnson, “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford,” and the same goes for London food as well.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Cooking is like Painting

Cooking can mean different things for different people: a
hassle, a joy, an unwelcome necessity, or a comfort. But for some, cooking is like painting.

The painter and the cook choose their materials with care. The painter selects the paints, the cook selects the ingredients. When able to afford higher-quality materials, both will most likely choose quality over quantity. Just as the painter can choose from a plethora of shades, so can the cook choose from a range of ingredients. However, just because the painter can choose a pre-mixed orange paint as the cook can choose a pre-made beef broth doesn’t mean they will. No—the dedicated painter and cook will create shades and ingredients from scratch when possible. The painter carefully chooses the right amount of yellow and red to create the perfect shade of orange, while the cook chops vegetables and beef bo
nes, roasting them and allowing them to simmer for hours on the stove top. Every once in a while they will find that a pre-made material has excelled their expectations and will opt to substitute it for their own creations, but this is rare.

Both the painter and the cook also choose their tools with care. The painter fingers through canvasses and brushes before selecting the best one for the piece, and the cook carefully ponders knife blades and cutting boards to determine the best-suited tools. The wrong brush or the wrong pan can be detrimental to the creation, but the right tools can help elevate the works of art and food to higher planes.

In both painting and cooking, mistakes are permanent. Once in a while, too much salt can be scooped from a mixture before it is too late, or a smear of the wrong color paint on a canvass can be partially wiped away. But more often, these mistakes become a part of the painting, a part of the meal. It is the talented painter and cook who can incorporate these “mistakes” into their creations—a little too much citrus ends up becoming the star of the dish, and a dab of blue that never meant to be ties the whole painting together. It is these mistakes that challenge the cook and the painter in their crafts—that push them to their limits and often end up the impetus for masterpieces in the right hands.

The painter creates art both for personal reasons as well as for others, as does the cook. The cook, of course, needs to eat, but true joy comes from preparing meals for others, using ingredients and combining them in ways that will nourish and please the guests. The painter, too, can create art that is personally satisfying but will labor over the canvass to create art for others—as a birthday or wedding gift, or simply for those who have been inspirations. Both the painter and the cook possess gifts to share with others, gifts that truly blossom when they refine their skills with others in mind.

The painter and the cook approach the canvass and the kitchen and craft their visions. Both are artists, both are creative, and both inspire the mind, body, and soul.

Parmesan Cliffs by Carl Warner

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Quote of the Week: Daydreams

“A daydream is a meal at which images are eaten. Some of us are gourmets, some gourmands, and a good many take their images precooked out of a can and swallow them down whole, absent-mindedly and with little relish.”

—W. H. Auden

Friday, September 4, 2009

Have You Considered a Plate of Bacon?

If you are looking for something tasty to serve up at your next party, have you considered a plate of bacon? “Bacon?” you may ask. Yes—Bacon. Although bacon helps to create delicious hors d’oeuvres when wrapped around various ingredients, such as scallops, shrimp, or pears stuffed with herbed goat cheese, these treats can be quite time consuming. Besides, the taste of bacon always speaks for itself.

Making a plate of bacon is easy—just cook some up when you make breakfast the day of the party and set some aside for later. Guests at first may laugh or scoff at the idea of putting out a plate of bacon at a party, but there is no way that plate of bacon will still be sitting there by the end of the party.

Everyone loves bacon, right?

Well, maybe not everyone, but even those pesky vegetarians will be amused by the plate of bacon. It’s simply an entertaining hors d’oeuvres.

If you decide to venture into the realm of bacon plates, splurge a little and get some high-quality bacon. Even if you don’t have access to country-fresh, all-natural bacon, you should still be able to find something of high caliber at the super market. Coleman’s natural, nitrate-free, thick-sliced bacon was a big hit when I tested my plate-of-bacon theory.

So try it out and relish in the delight that a plate of bacon will bring to your next gathering. A little bowl filled with Lipitor is the perfect accompaniment to this dish!