Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Food Poem: The Tea and Sage Poem

The Tea and Sage Poem 
by Fady Joudah

At a desk made of glass,
In a glass walled-room
With red airport carpet,

An officer asked
My father for fingerprints,
And my father refused,

So another offered him tea
And he sipped it. The teacup
Template for fingerprints.

My father says, it was just
Hot water with a bag.
My father says, in his country,

Because the earth knows
The scent of history,
It gave the people sage.

I like my tea with sage
From my mother’s garden,
Next to the snapdragons

She calls fishmouths
Coming out for air. A remedy
For stomach pains she keeps

In the kitchen where
She always sings.
First, she is Hagar

Boiling water
Where tea is loosened.
Then she drops

In it a pinch of sage
And lets it sit a while.
She tells a story:

The groom arrives late
To his wedding
Wearing only one shoe.

The bride asks him
About the shoe. He tells her
He lost it while jumping

Over a house-wall.
Breaking away from soldiers.
She asks:

Tea with sage
Or tea with mint?

With sage, he says,
Sweet scent, bitter tongue.
She makes it, he drinks.

(c)2008 Fady Joudah

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Bad foods

Like 68% of Americans, I am overweight and have been for most of my adult life. It's been an ongoing source of shame and frustration. I am fully aware of the health and societal consequences and yes, I've tried and continue to try to do something about it with mixed results. I exercise regularly and eat a moderately balanced diet.  But I've encountered what all the weight loss fads prefer not to admit: Losing weight is really hard. For many of us, our bodies like to hold onto fat because, in the whole of human history, we're more likely to have too little than to have too much. And "bad" foods just taste so good.

We are programmed to crave and enjoy carbs and fats, the very things that make us fat. It makes sense, evolutionarily, that our palates are tuned for the sources of nutrition that most effectively keep us alive when food could be scarce. It's our very abundance that's killing us.

In all of my weight-loss success and failure, what's been emotionally hardest is the guilt when I don't succeed and the frustration over labeling certain foods "bad." At the moment, I'm not interested in writing a woe-is-me post over weight-loss frustration. Instead I'd like to re-examine what it means for a food to be bad.

In weight loss circles, a food is bad if it has a high calorie to volume ratio. A small portion of something with a lot of calories makes it bad, be it sugar and other dreaded carbs or fats. I know this is a gross simplification, but I have come to believe thinking of foods as "bad" is also a gross simplification.

Yes, there are some things we just really shouldn't eat. Cheetos, delicious though they may be, have a lengthy ingredient list full of more chemicals than a cheese-ish snack really should have. But what about bread? Is that bad? Flour, water, yeast, salt, a smidge of sugar.

For some people, sure. Everyone's body is different. But I'm coming to realize that when I call a food "bad" I give it, and my appetite, more power over me. It's more likely to become a forbidden fruit or a vehicle for self-disgust should I eat it, than if I simply remember that it's a food I am healthier without. The food by itself is neither good nor bad, it's my reaction to it that makes it that way.

Instead of labeling foods good or bad, I need to balance my thinking. I need to remember that any food, made with real ingredients and a minimal amount of processing, is simply food. It's what I do with it that makes it more or less wholesome for me. By choosing to not think of food as good or bad, but as healthy or less healthy, dietary modification becomes less restrictive and more about choosing to live bigger.

(c) 2011 Laura S. Packer

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Travelling - back soon with food adventure stories!

I'm in Los Angeles for a few days, visiting family. I'll bring back some food adventure stories for next week, I promise! I'm sorry for the delay in yumminess, but I decided I'd rather be honest with you and give you higher quality content later than just churn out something now.

Thanks for understanding.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Food Poem: Perhaps the World Ends Here

Perhaps the World Ends Here by Joy Harjo

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

(c)1994 Joy Harjo

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Winter squash

I love winter squash. I love the determination of the shell, the clever slippery seeds, the surprising variety in its taste and texture. It is one of my favorite winter comfort foods.

Late in autumn go to the farm stand. If you can’t get there, go to the supermarket, but be prepared to lie and tell everyone you went miles out of your way to find these lovely, eccentric squash.

Pick out a few beauties. Butternut, with its smooth, sultry skin. Acorn, with its seductive ridges. Dumpling, small and endearing. There are so many to choose from. Don’t let your squash lust run away with you. And only buy a hubbard if you have a good, sharp ax.

Cradle them like children in the back seat of your car. If you have a spare baby seat you may want to buckle the larger ones in. Bring them home. Store them in a cool, dry, dark place. They will wait for you.

When you’re ready to cook one, try this.

Pick your sharpest knife, for both safety and mercy. With as much strength as you can muster, cut the squash in half. Be careful - they can be quite resilient and you don’t want to get hurt. 

Scrape out the seeds. You can save and roast them as you bake your squash if you wish - they will be lovely and delicious - after all, pumpkin is a squash! If you want to do this, pull off most of the stringy flesh from the seeds, toss with oil and salt and arrange in a  single layer on a baking pan. Bake with the squash until they are golden brown and crispy, no more than 10 minutes. Let them cool a little before you eat them up, they can be vengefully hot!

Cut the squash into manageable portions - halve for delicata or dumpling, quarters for larger. Place them face up on an oiled baking sheet. Turn the oven onto 400f or so.

Some will tell you to use butter and sugar, but then you lose the delicate sweetness of the squash itself. Instead, rub the cut surface with a bit of EVOO, sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Roast until a fork slides into the thickest part of the squash flesh with only a little resistance.

Let it cool for a bit before you scrape the shell out into a bowl. Drizzle with a little more EVOO. 

Eat. Savor the product of sun and soil, summer and fall, lingering into your mouth in winter.

(c) 2011 Laura S. Packer

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Comfort food for a long dark night

Here in New England winter has been slow in coming. Following a freak October snowstorm that brought down trees and powerlines, we had weeks of unseasonably warm weather that have been both lovely and unsettling. Warm days mean we’ve had a chance to spend more time outside, but we’re walking in early winter dark at 4:30, when it’s 65f amongst leafless trees. At night we see cold weather constellations but there are swarms of moths that cling to cars, follow headlights and flutter in confusion, thinking it must be spring.

I’ve been confused too. By this time of year I’m usually deep in cold weather cooking, making the things that bring me the most comfort against the chill dark. In this unexpected warmth I’m not quite sure what to do, but the dark, oh the dark calls for comfort.

Brightly colored squash and rich soups. Yeasty breads and roasted chickens. All of these speak to me of home and hearth, of warmth through the long winter, of companionship in the dark. The process of preparing these foods - the scraping and chopping, mixing and kneading, seasoning and tasting - and their long slow wait in the heat of the oven, brings me to the happily-ever-after once-upon-a-time of old women who offer magical feasts to travelers on a winter’s night. These are foods for long conversation and gratitude. They remind us of our ties to the earth, of the passage of our time on this planet, of the value of light in the dark.

What foods give you comfort? What tastes and textures bring you warmth and safety through the long night?

(c) 2011 Laura S. Packer

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A month of sundaes: on blogging more refrequently

I’ve decided to try to blog more regularly for the month of December. Really what I’ve decided is to blog and write more frequently, but sometimes setting a BIG but specific goal seems more achievable than a smaller, less specific goal.

Here is what I hope to accomplish from this experience:
  • Better writing habits
  • More engaged readers (you)
  • A better understanding of my own relationship with food and cooking.

To help me do this I’ve come up with an editorial calendar. Not to give too much away (hey, I need to keep some things surprises, right?) in general I plan to do the following:
  • Thursdays: Short takes (not short cake!). Links, quick observations, etc. Today is an exception, because I’m stating my intention to write more.
  • Saturdays: An observation about food, culture, my own life.
  • Sundays: A recipe that I have cooked.
  • Tuesdays: Someone else’s writing about food. 

I’d really love to have your feedback. Please let me know what you think of any of these posts. If I say something you have a response to, please say it! Part of the appeal of blogging is to interact with the world. I’d love to know what you’re thinking.

As if all this weren’t enough, I’m also going to be blogging more regularly on my personal blog and my organizational storytelling blog. Check those out later this week for more information.

Thanks for the support. I hope I write something interesting or useful for you!