Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Second home

I’m back in England, for the first time in nearly two years. It’s amazing to me that I spent the better part of ten years of my life living here, and now nineteen months have flown by since my last visit—just a couple of weeks before I started this blog, in fact. My travel plans escaped unscathed from Volcanageddon, or whatever we’re calling it, although it was touch and go for a bit there, and I arrived yesterday morning, right on schedule. I spent about 24 hours in London, getting acclimated, going to meetings, and eating quite possibly the best Mexican meal (including margaritas) I’ve ever had. And tonight I’ve returned to my old stomping ground: Oxford. I’ll be spending most of the next three days inside a conference room, but I plan to escape from time to time and revisit some of my favorite haunts—yes, of course they all sell food, why do you ask?—and catch up with some friends. You can only get away with that kind of thing in a visit to a place you’ve called home, and I plan to make the most of the opportunity.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Food politics

I watched Food, Inc. the other night on PBS. Even though I didn’t learn much that I hadn’t already come across in other places, it was still pretty horrifying and depressing. And at the moment I feel revulsed by the idea of buying anything that can be classed as a product of the “food industry.” I’m not going to make any drastic pronouncements (yet). But I’ve been experimenting for a while with making things myself that I had previously only bought ready-made, and I feel more strongly than ever that that’s the direction in which I want to be going. There’s the health aspect of knowing what’s in my food, which is certainly important; but right now I feel as though the political statement I can make, by buying as many single-ingredient items as I can, is even more so. The filmmakers reminded me that we as food consumers send a message with every purchase that we make. They pointed out that Wal-Mart switched a while back to buying only hormone-free milk in response to customer demand—a significant decision considering both the size of Wal-Mart’s market share and its reputation as the premier outlet of industrially produced food.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Challenge 5.1

I have a feeling I’m not going to be buying this cookbook after all. When I first picked it out for the Cookbook Challenge, I had been through it exhaustively. I had covered one whole side of loose leaf paper (aka A4) with the names of recipes I wanted to try. Of course, I had also overlooked how many of them required specialist equipment not currently available to me (you know, things like mixers and cake pans). But even with the ones that are possible with my limited range of tools, I keep finding myself in the same situation: I read over the recipe, realize how similar it is to one I already have or have been wanting to try—and then make that one instead. Over the weekend, I was all set to make Poor Boy Beef Stroganoff, expecting it to be simply a frugal variation on traditional beef stroganoff. Then I re-read the recipe and noticed that, if I made the cookbook version, after preparing all the major components of the dish—including the accompanying starch—I was going to have to put the whole thing in the oven and cook it again.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Square two

If you’ve been following along here the last couple of months, you’ve probably gathered that we’ve been trying to buy a house.

One house in particular, in fact. Since before we got here. We found it on the internet before we left Australia, and went to see it five days after we arrived. Then we spent the next nearly three months dealing with banks (six of them, if you count trying to get the mortgage and trying to get all our funds into one place), organizing inspections, negotiating, and faxing enough documents hither and yon to deforest a small state park. It was that cliché: a roller coaster of emotions: non-stop and, at times, nauseating. My father-in-law, who works in finance, consoled me more than once with the maxim that “Every deal dies a thousand deaths.”

Friday, April 9, 2010

Real food

Mark Scarbrough of Real Food Has Curves put up a thought-provoking post today on the topic of whether sugar is “real” food, and a valid part of our daily diet. I encourage you to read it; this post started out as a response to that. When I realized how long it was getting, I decided to move it over here and not hijack his comments section.

Reading Mark’s post reminded me of a New Yorker article I read some time ago, which cited research done on sugar and the effect it has on humans. If I remember correctly (I couldn't access the full article this time around) one of the findings was that humans really have no sense of satiety when it comes to sweetness. The researchers' theory was that because sweetness is so scarcely available in the natural world (fruit, honey), humans historically had no biological need to develop a cutoff for it. When you combine that with our predisposition for sweetness, which we need in order to survive as infants, and a readily available supply of sugar and sugary food, you've got a nutritional perfect storm.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Pizza chiena

Back when people took Lent really seriously (ie the Middle Ages), they didn’t just go without meat for 40 days. They went without all animal products, which meant no eggs, no cheese, and no butter either. In light of this information, my mother’s Italian family’s two traditional Easter recipes, which involve three dozen eggs and three pounds of meat and dairy (and that’s before you start multiplying quantities to feed the extended family) make a lot of sense. You cook up a bunch of decadent food on Mardi Gras to clean out the kitchen before Lent’s privations; and by the time Holy Week rolls around, you’ve got another stockpile of the chickens’ and cows’ output for the past six weeks. (It helps in this scenario if you live on a farm.)

Monday, April 5, 2010

Kansas Easter

From top: Italian Easter tarrale; dyeing Easter eggs; Miss B at the Easter picnic; Easter cupcakes; Italian Easter
pizza chiene

I hope that you and yours have had a peaceful and joyous Easter, Passover, or first weekend of April.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Challenge engineering

I have two announcements to make:

1. I’ll be running the Cookbook Challenge this month--it's that time again.

2. I’ll be cheating.

Perhaps I should explain that second one.

Most of my cookbooks are either in storage (along with all my other stuff), or in Boston. I do have a small selection here—just enough to make a random selection possible, as the Cookbook Challenge was originally conceived. But I’ve decided that what I really want to do is delve into one of the cookbooks that I took out of the local library a few weeks ago and have been browsing through ever since. I need a reason to focus on making some of the recipes, to see if it’s worth investing in. So I’m going to bend the rules this once and choose the cookbook deliberately, rather than randomly.
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