Friday, June 22, 2007

Female Food Writing (part two)

This week, it was back to food well as the trip to the library. In searching for "food writing" in the catalog, Through the Kitchen Window: Women Writers Explore the Intimate Meaning of Food and Cooking (ed. Arlene Voski Avakian) was on top of the list.

Unfortunately, that was kind of a misnomer, because this book related more to gender studies than food. (The editor is a associate professor of women's studies.) Don't get me wrong - I love how food intertwines with everything, including gender, and as a female, I think it's incredibly important to observe how such a basic function like eating relates to identity. But in my opinion, the majority of this anthology was overly ambitious by attempting to tie the relationship between food and gender into one neat bow. Ultimately, the food writing portion suffered. Pieces that focused exclusively on narrative or on an academic perspective tended to be better reading - standouts included "Laying on Hands through Cooking: Black Women's Majesty and Mystery in Their Own Kitchens" by Gloria Wade-Gayles, and "Follow the Food" by Barbara Haber. But for the most part, no piece was particularly memorable. I was also uncomfortable with the explicit material in some essays.

On the other hand, I'm in the first half of Cornbread Nation 1 (ed. John Egerton), an annual anthology of Southern food writing. While its Southern nostalgia overwhelms me at times as I read, each cook's profile draws me in. The writing doesn't have as much "sparkly metaphor" as Through the Kitchen Window, but the storytelling paints a vivid picture nonetheless. The food is not necessarily the main character here - sometimes dedication is - but it plays a meaningful role. Interestingly enough, it's easier for me - a teenage girl who has never been to the South - to identify with this compilation.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Review: I-Mei Black Sesame Ice Cream Omochi

After a review of chocolate, I felt like continuing on the ol' dessert route. I-Mei Black Sesame Ice Cream Omochi ($5) did the trick. It was the last box in the Chinese market freezer, so I was a little bit suspicious, but I decided to interpret that as overwhelming consumer demand rather than the possibility of being a guinea pig. My mother also told me that I-Mei, as a well-known Taiwanese brand, would be reliable with taste.

I opened the box - there were five packages of 2 mochi (called "omochi" here) each, filled with black sesame ice cream. Each ball was relatively larger and heavier, compared to other ice cream mochi brands: about 2 inches in diameter. I did like the individual packaging of the ice cream mochi (above), but the tiny two-pronged fork, while cute, was useless. I used my fingers.

Some freezer burn was evident on my mochi, but again, my observation may have been based on my "guinea pig paranoia." Holding the mochi (still dusted with rice flour) seemed to get rid of the burn; I found that if I waited a little longer, the shell as well as the ice cream took on a softer, more "authentic" texture.

As for the ice cream center, it initially tasted like vanilla, with small pieces of sesame grit, but as time passed, I tasted some (but not much) black sesame as it began to melt. I did like the texture of the mochi better than other brands, and I did like the fact that it highlighted an Asian flavor. In fact, this mochi reminded me of a Chinese dessert - much smaller "mochi" with sesame or red bean filling, boiled in hot water. This particular omochi seemed too "sophisticated" to be a novelty (like a chocolate mochi), but would be improved if the black sesame flavor was stronger.

I'm back, and I'm still a Chocolate Snob.

Apologies - graduation (and the barrage of activities that go along with it) have held me captive for about the past two weeks. That isn't to say that I've stopped eating, though. Incidentally, three of the more memorable experiences this week involved food:

  • The post-commencement reception - besides the jumbo cocktail shrimp, my personal favorite was the Craisin/bleu cheese endive "boats."
  • Playing Apples to Apples - which really doesn't have to do with food, but for the fact that it's named after a food...or an idiom. Whew, I finally figured that out.
  • Accidentally eating rum-soaked pineapple at one open house. Because I've never had alcohol, I thought the pineapple was canned in sugar water. Until after my third piece, I wondered why the chocolate fountain was so...bitter.
That said, I absolutely love dark chocolate. For the past few years, I have had trouble eating Hershey's chocolate (with the exception of recently-released Coconut Hershey's Kisses) as a result of its sour milk taste.

Last week, I made a trip to Whole Foods. Not including local chocolatiers (e.g. Bellaria Bakery, Just Truffles, BT McElrath, etc.) this is the place to go for good chocolate - to clarify, chocolate bars that don't empty my wallet.

Or at least, where I took a pilgrimage a la Steve Almond. His hilarious book, Candyfreak - specifically, the chapter on Lake Champlain chocolates - took me on a search for Five Star Bars to celebrate the end of finals.

My first find, the Fruit and Nut Bar ($2.49) was beyond brilliant. A quick disclaimer: the bar is about the size of a tiny 1" by 2" brick. But it's also as dense as one, which makes it about $1.25 an ounce - a fairly reasonable price. The Gianduja chocolate cut easily with a butter knife and melted in my mouth; there was just the right amount of fruit and nut (dried cherries) so that it didn't taste like trail mix. It also held well in my Tupperware for a few days - the chocolate was (enjoyably) rich enough to consume in three sittings.

The alleged crown jewel of the Five Star Bars, the Hazelnut Bar ($2.99), was more difficult to find. Before I searched Whole Foods, I tried to custom-order a box from Byerly's (which didn't work out). Unfortunately, as my search continued, my expectations had grown so high that when I finally found the Hazelnut Bar, it was a letdown. Steve Almond's account of the chocolate absolutely made me swoon, but in actuality, the chocolate seemed more cream than actual chocolate, and the sugar content made it hard to swallow without the chocolate coating my throat. The feuilletine (or "vanilla-infused geometric planes" as Almond calls them) were a nifty, crunchy little touch, especially when I cut the thick bar into cross-sections, but overall, the bar was too rich for my taste.

Moving on to different brands, I tried the Chocolove 55% cocoa with raspberries bar. Initially, I was attracted to the fact that 1) it was on sale ($2 for 3.2 ounces) and 2) it had a love poem as an insert.

I was also disappointed with this bar. The chocolate wasn't a problem, but the raspberries were a distraction. What had been advertised as "crispy bits of raspberry infused to flavor" was basically the same freeze-dried stuff found in Special K berry cereal, only in less generous quantities. The love poem was just English and obscure enough to seem trendy, and to apparently "accommodate" the poem, the large paper wrapper had made the chocolate bar seem thicker than it actually was.

Finally, I bought the Dolfin Chocolate Noir au the Earl Grey ($3.99 for 2.47 ounces). This 52% cocoa minimum came in a checkbook-sized, plastic-covered envelope. Major points for presentation (although it was covered by the price). There was no signs of caloric content, and so I cheerfully indulged over the past week. It was good, but try as I might, I could not taste the Earl Grey tea in the chocolate. There was no sense of bergamot (which gives Earl Grey its distinctive taste), although the chocolate did have some "grit" to it. Some of the bar tasted like coffee grounds - which wasn't a bad thing, texturally. The problem was that they were just tea bits without flavor.

Although most chocolate bars come in squares, I have a problem with this. First, squares are hard to remove from a bar. You have to break the bar in one direction, and then in the other. The Dolfin solved this problem by simply dividing the chocolate in little vertical chunks. I would also argue that triangle shaped pieces (not like Tolberone, though - those things are tough!) on a flat plane would do the trick. They tend to break the bar "naturally" and are easier to nibble on.

Lastly - now that we're on the subject of Earl Grey tea - did you know that Twinings makes a female equivalent called Lady Grey? Kind of sounds like the reverse situation as Men's Pocky.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Against Preparing Food (but not Eating)

350. Good baked goods?
They don't exist.
Simply, eveything is half-baked, or half-
good. Nothing is both.
At least, not in metaphysical mumbo-jumbo.
Certainly not in my kitchen.
Just like how Descartes argued for body/soul,
I argue for baked/good.

375. Then again,
effort has never quite been
so mindlessly tasty. All you need to do
is chisel
frozen cookie dough chunks
with your chortling clan.
Why not enjoy your family
in thirty-minute intervals,
just like those Nestle commercials.

400. And I won't stop, because
is a protest: I speak
for those poor mascots exploited.
I refuse to eat Charlie the Tuna, and even
the Jolly Green Giant.
So go ahead and
toss the tuna noodle casserole
into the garbage.

But the Pillsbury Doughboy is one

425. At this point, here is my solution.
It's rather simple - I am a master of Pizza Rolls.
Pizza Rolls are meant to toast,
As much as I am meant to
not cook.
Only just as grand as the Grand Unifying Theory,
my toaster and I.

(written this spring for my poetry class)

Monday, June 4, 2007

This is Foodivia: #4

Certain members of my quiz bowl team have prompted me with the following:
"Heidi, we get questions about food all the time during meets."
"Not as many as Bill Gates questions."
"But quiz bowl questions about food are exactly about Foodivia. Write about us."

So let me tell you about food and quiz bowl: each competition featured greasy pizza. And another time, our teammate John once brought a half-gallon of chocolate milk from a gas station. He drank half of it straight from the jug, then offered it to a rival team. But I digress. (After all, food does play a starring role in memory.)

The two food questions I remember:
"The Japanese term that means to grill..." "Hibachi!"
"From French roots, the cooking term that means to delicately slice..." "Julienne!"

Julienning was something I had briefly encountered. Yet, it was "obscure" enough to be a quiz bowl question. Interestingly enough, my inspiration for this blog was that question - the first example of foodivia I encountered.

Do forgive my nostalgia, of course.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Remembrance of Things Brat

After a one-year hiatus, I finally returned to the Minneapolis Farmer's Market.

The reason for this is simple. I had, after all, been following a perfectly logical extension of Newton's first law of motion: a teen in bed stays in bed during the weekend. That is, until I was bribed with a bratwurst from the market which case I set my alarm for 8:30 am.

It was rather cool when I arrived around 10:15, several snooze alarms later - the perfect time to shop and carry vegetables without being too exhausted. I was particularly excited because
recent trends in food writing had pointed to organic food and locally-grown produce. One Minneapolis example is an article in which someone followed well-known chef Brenda Langton (the chef of acclaimed Spoonriver) as she bought her ingredients from the market last year.

But while the fiddle music bolstered my spirits that day, I didn't end up buying any produce.
The market was different from how I had remembered it. This time around, more vendors were selling strawberries and raspberries out of Driscoll's boxes. The sugarsnap peas weren't in their "usual" place, in the green boxes resembling egg cartons.

Maybe it was just too early, or it was a flower day. (After all, I did end up buying a carton of pansies.) I headed to the roasted corn stand, where a woman traded me a ear of corn hastily slathered in butter mixture for $2. I shook lemon pepper on it, and let its sourness dissolve into the sweetness of the corn; it was good.

Next, it was time for the bratwurst. I edged up to the counter. "A bratwurst with vegetables, please. And a lemonade." The man yelled to the other side: "Bratwurst, not naked!" then slid a cup down at me. The lemonade consisted of a half lemon squeezed and thrust in the cup. I took a sip, catching the powdery sugar on the bottom. My bratwurst arrived. I could see in the huge heap of vegetables that none of them were grilled, like I had thought years ago. "$6.50." Digging for quarters, I handed the money over.

The market was crowded as ever; I managed to get a spot with six other strangers at a red picnic table while soon figuring out my small apprehension over the price, though. Everything - corn, brat, lemonade - had gone up exactly a dollar since I had last came. But the brat was amazing; it probably tasted better since I had learned to appreciate red peppers. Even more, it brought me back to memories of other brats as I began to mentally compare this new "best brat" to other incidents. After some hesitation, I finally ranked it number one, beating my eight-year-old marvel at the beer-and-cheddar brat served at the church retreat (or mainly the fact that the brat had beer).

I still enjoyed coming to the farmer's market and might enjoy it some more in the future. I must admit that I wonder a little bit if the prices are compensating more for higher quality or more for the atmosphere, and I was disappointed in the dearth of fresh vegetables that week. Many things have changed, and not just in the price.

It could be me, too.