To borrow and twist a title from the band, Talking Heads.
One year later, about 35 pounds less in weight, two extra cats in my life, about three less trees in the yard, and a whole passel of home improvement plans in the works, I admit to having fun with this blog.
Along the way, I’m going to want to credit influences, both subtle and strong; both people I’ve known and people I’ve read. And, yes, maybe I can loose an additional five pounds…
Dad: For stepping out of the box way before it became trendy. Coming home with unique ingredients in the seventies, sixties, and no doubt the fifties. Encouraging the philosophy of “try everything at least once”. He also hunted, and came home with venison, pheasant, and more venison. As a child, I tried snake, all manners of fish, all manners of offal. We had beef tartare back when beef was more or less beef, topped with the raw egg and capers. We had chilled brain salad, and I don’t think I’ve gotten mad cow yet. Finding spices and herbs from all corners of the world. Never quite making the same thing twice. Even when we wanted him to. (Now he’s more set in his ways, but back in the heyday, he discarded the idea of opening some sort of restaurant because he didn’t want to be beholden to a menu. Probably also the realization that opening restaurants is always a risky proposition, and he didn’t need to be risky in the livelihood direction.)
Both of them: Breaking with the Southern ancestral tradition of soggy veggies. Non-leafy veggies should definitely have some form or substance to them. Some crunch, some fiber. We hailed from Louisville, Kentucky. Essentially, both of my parents
taught me to appreciate good foods, and most essentially, to explore. Which meant, when I left the nest, I had to learn to cook, and not be afraid of mistakes.
Anyhow, I didn’t need to compete in their kitchen. The two of them had the bases covered. My brother didn’t do much there either, then. I think he liked to make cream cheese sandwiches.
The Salad Bar at Saint Mary’s College, Indiana: Freshman year. Went out and saw this salad bar laden with tomatoes. They all looked nice and red. Hog Heaven!!! It was September, still tomato season. I loaded and LOADED up my plate with tomatoes. Brought them back to my seat. I ate exactly one half a slice, and while I felt guilty for throwing the rest of them in the trash (there being no way to get food to those poor starving people in whatever part of the world parents tried to guilt you into eating said food for), there was absolutely no way I could eat these insipid, cardboard-infused things. A crash into the reality of the world. Although at that point, back in the mid 70’s, I didn’t really know what this meant, yet.
O (Cooking for my first vegetarian): Late 70’s. I invited my friend M and her vegetarian fiance, O, over for dinner. He ate cheese, just no meat or seafood. (I don’t think he was aware of animal rennet in some cheese, or maybe it didn’t matter to him; he’d go to Burger Kings and order burgers, hold the meat… I wasn’t aware of rennet myself, then.) I made spaghetti, spaghetti sauce with mushrooms. By that point, I was already aware I didn’t want extra sugar, so I liked the idea of making my sauce from “scratch” — well, in the middle of Indiana back then (where and when “Chinese” restaurants served breadrolls alongside their food instead of anything remotely from Asia), scratch meant from a can or two of tomato sauce and a can of paste, plus condiments and some seasonings. I was about to upend the bottle of Worchester condiment into the sauce when I, on a lark, read the ingredients. Anchovies. Anchovies. Damnit. Fish. He doesn’t eat fish. Would anchovies be an exception? Ethically, I couldn’t go there, and so I omitted this ingredient, kicking myself since the taste is essential, but I just couldn’t add it. But this experience instilled a habit of ingredient-reading, even if I’ve yet to find a good substitute for Worchester sauce, whether feeding a vegetarian or a gluten-intolerant person (it contains wheat, too).
T (My brother): He got inspired to get cooking in a big way after cutting loose from the home front, too. He lives in the Chicago area, and has lived in Florida, so I don’t often get to sample his cooking, but both his full-grown octopus and his spanikopita are to die for. Seriously. He’s done large-scale neighborhood food bashes where he and his wife do most if not all the cooking, and satisfying a sheer volume of people with excellent food must be an incredible experience.
K (A housemate back in the 90’s): Adding nutmeg to homemade mashed potatoes. Until then, I’d simply thought of nutmeg as a dessert spice for, say, pumpkin pie. Mashed potatoes before then had simply been a chore, something to laden up with salt for palatability. Since then, I’ve discovered Yukon gold potatoes, and other variants of gold potatoes, all of which have better flavor (and a much better nutrient concentration than the standard insipid russets.)
Nutmeg, btw, works wonders on fried eggs, too. Nutmeg is real, earthy, and versatile.
The writers Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan: Early 90’s or thereabouts the Jack in the Crack E. coli nationwide hamburger poisoning scare happened. At that point I determined that since I thought burgers should indeed be served rare, I would no longer eat hamburgers since the dried-out overcooked but safe pulps were repulsive, taste-wise. I’d eat veggie burgers or else cook my burger meat well done into sauce or something, but just not eat dried-out beef burgers. This seemed reasonable, and I did this for at least 10 years or something. Reading Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation in the early 2010’s made me realize there was a lot more going on here. Your average ground up beef stuff is going to be made from spent dairy cattle, a portion of perhaps “downer” cattle, and who knows what else. Downer cattle are sick animals. Feedlot animals are sick animals, too. I suspect they get the bovine variant of celeriac disease, what with all the grain they are forced to eat. I do understand they do get severe digestive-track disorders in their last months of life.
More recently, I read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemna. An additional sea change. And more confirmation. I seriously want our food to go to the Joel Salatin model he describes so well in that book — and which Salatin avidly describes in his own books, too.
I’ve been to Salatin’s farm with Dad and Nancy, and I really want this to be the future of grass and meat. Symbiotic connection, live life sustainably. Not all land is suitable for growing vegetables. And I am convinced that raising children to be vegans is entirely irresponsible on many health-related levels. Indeed, seen it with people I know. Hindus, with centuries of their diet behind them, those that don’t eat meat, still eat dairy.
Nancy: She’s my Dad’s partner these days (Mother passed on the Ides of March, 2001 of cancer — which was very shortly after a minor earthquake that happened to hit in Seattle. I remember Mother watching the news there in the hospital, saying she shouldn’t be complaining about her troubles, looking at the news from Seattle. This was about a half-year before 9/11, which if she truly had to pass on, I’m grateful she missed this.)
Nancy lives on a farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, not far from West Virginia (which I just read in Smithsonian magazine became its own state when these counties decided they weren’t going to succeed from the Union a century and a half ago, when the Civil War was initiated). She rightfully calls the neighboring Tyson poultry factories “concentration camps for chickens”.
Discussions with, and examples from, her have over the years helped me get my feet more on the ground with regards to food and where it comes from. She raises animals herself, and I go home with beef, goat and lamb from her freezer, non-CAFO, and excellent. I go home with true farm-fresh eggs, chicken, duck (and in the past, as they are no more) turkey eggs. Yellow yolks that don’t owe from dyes or marigold petals. Food as it should be.
Other sea changes here, things which may have been gradually in the works but which have developed more fully into words over a much more recent period, some of which also pertain to this blog and where it has led me. I write here, but I also read here. And link out, and read there.
Recipezaar / Food.com (Vegetarian Forum): I joined up here for recipes, on Food.Com proper. I’ve connected with the vegetarian forum — I’m not the only non-vegetarian there, but we limit ourselves to posting or reviewing vegetarian recipes. Occasionally I participate in the veggie recipe swaps: I try to go for the vegan ones, to balance out my diet, but lately I am mostly making sure my choices are both Real Food and Low Carb. For instance, no tofu-burgers. This site is fun, and I’ve met good people. I want a good diet when I cannot get meats and indeed don’t always need them, but I want a food/nutrition plan that begins more and more to have to live up to standards I’d prefer to adhere to. And, besides, I do like my veggies.
Soy, for instance, for me, should be within the context of Asian cuisine, which is where the recipes belong. Tofu burgers or faux bacon? No. I did that in the past when avoiding CAFO burgers, but no more. I can avoid tofu burgers and fakin’ bacon by eating REAL foods, and being properly selective. A small amount of real bacon is fine, from reliable sources.
Carolyn: Friend who got me onto Sparkpeople, since we both wish to lose weight, and who has no doubt put up with me in one means or another. Periodically, and not nearly as often as we should, we meet over food, usually sushi.
Sparkpeople: an online site for, among other things, weight loss. Their party line goes for high carb, low fat, but if one has the ability to continue still to listen to what I may arrogantly consider better sources, this site is still worthwhile. 1) you can track your nutrition — I did this early on for a baseline, but now just irregularly. 2) there are teams where you can talk to like minded-souls, even if they don’t fall into the sparkpeople high-carb myth. The site doesn’t make people lockstep, although the focus still remains high-carb. 3) free.
J: Friend who got me aware of paleo/primal nutritional concepts. Even if I’m not a full and true convert, this concept is very valuable and helps me with my low carb (and real food) determinations.
B: Friend who got me in touch with gluten-free concerns, since he has to deal with them daily.
Some relevant blogs, and unfortunately I don’t have the time to review even all of these I am linking to:
Weave a Thousand Flavors: This blog is taste-wise, to die for! The writer samples from the world over, what’s not to like? The food principle here is, home made, savor and taste.
The French Laundry and Alinea: These are blogs from the woman who indirectly inspired me to do my own blog. I’ve never eaten in either place, and indeed Alinea may be too “molecular-gastronomy” for me, but who cares? She’s written her way through the first cookbook, finishing up on the second, and even though it sounds Julie and Julia, I seriously doubt her impulse was due to Julie’s blog at all. (And she writes a hell of a lot better.) It was her making of a sweatbreads recipe from the French Laundry that dragged me in to food blogging. I needed to know how long, and how, to cook, and took over from there.
Chowstalker: An awesome way to collect chow. Low carb, Paleo-influenced meats and veggies. I’ve contributed there when possible. I’ve gotten great ideas from there. They now also have a DessertStalker site with grain-free items posted. Also: check Jan’s Sushi Bar, not about sushi per se, but about eating this way, with recipes.
Real Food Whole Health: Amy Love got me into looking into Weston A. Price principles. Whole food. Unlike paleo/primals, WAP doesn’t go back to paleolithic, but they do eschew gluten and microwaves and most sugar/sweeteners. Certain fats are encouraged. I’m not quite ready to give up my microwave at work (I don’t like sandwiches much, and I don’t want to eat salads there every day, and I DON’T want to go back to buying lunch from the cafeteria there… starch starch starch hidden starch…), so my own personal jury is out on microwaving. But she may be right, read and decide for yourself. I want to thank the WAP people for leading me to avocado and coconut oils. A year ago, neither was in my kitchen. And for their research on foods, entirely.
I loved last summer’s Indian cooking class. Check out Suvir Saran. He’s more into grains than I will ever be, but he’s more importantly into whole foods and into flavors. It works.
For me: I don’t trust fake food. It has an agenda, somewhere. What’s in it,for instance? On this I can agree with nearly every blog I have a link to. Check them out. From foraging to a world-wide delectibility, to where ever they lead, great and stimulating ideas, both in recipe and in conversation.
Since starting this blog, I’ve started and realized my weight loss plan (low carb, real food), eliminated soy foods that aren’t based on actual Asian menu items (my flirtation with soy-based faux burgers, for instance, is so OVER), cut bluefin tuna completely out of my sushi ventures, and will probably follow this with yellowfin shortly, if I haven’t already; increased my trips to farmers’ markets. Gone from eating 90% of my lunches from the cafeteria at work to eating about 5% there, and eating breakfast at home before going in. Other than eating as a guest in someone’s home, I haven’t had factory-farmed beef in ages — the exception was the Brazilian deal we had last October in Tampa, FL, perhaps because it was a new cultural culinary experience.
I may not be comfortable in being a true purist, and so I decline that role, but I do like standards.