Thursday, November 22, 2007

the obligatory Thanksgiving post

Not unsurprisingly, my Thanksgiving involved quite a bit of food from the get-go, and then some. My original intention was to grab a quick meal at Quincy House (since the freshman dining hall, Annenberg, was closed today) and then catch my flight. Although my alarm clock caused me to forgo that plan, I found a well-hidden (though extensively bruised) in a corner of my backpack and consequently escaped short-term starvation.

Upon arriving at the airport, I headed towards Au Bon Pain, colloquially known as ABP. ABP
is my East Coast-fairly-cheap-and-fast-culinary-friend. Though PETA activists have protested the Harvard Square's use of "innocent eggs," I take a sympathetic stance towards the company. Especially since their ubiquity ensures almond croissants on every corner. I bought a piece of Southwestern cornbread ("it's spicy," the cashier warned me), and chewed it fast.

Maybe this rush - or the anticipation of real Thanksgiving food, whatever that may mean - caused me to appreciate the cornbread less this time, but I found myself losing affection for the spicy Southwestern cornbread. First of all, it wasn't that spicy. The small green specks on the interior might have been jalapenos, but for the most part, the cornbread tasted like a hybrid of jalapeno kettle chips and red pepper flakes - not a terrible combination, but selective enough to be only fitting for a craving. In addition, the cornbread had a strange texture on the outside - crusty, but not entirely so to be crisp - which made it taste like an overcooked muffin.

I wanted something more, which is why - of all things - I found myself in front of McDonald's.

(To clarify my stance on Mickey D's: yes, I read Fast Food Nation. Yes, I realize the extent to which McDonald's branding has penetrated society, especially children: in fact, my junior high science project was on that topic. And yes, I enjoy their French fries and soft-serve (which I daresay, is their best-kept secret). I even occasionally delight in a discreetly hidden and textureless McChicken sandwich. So in short, I'm still confused.)

Airport menus are particularly limited, so I encountered some difficulty in finding a snack-sized item. Then I had my decision made for me: a poster on the side declared "Snack Wrap." Since the word "snack" was in the title, I ordered that.

In short, I finally got a Chicken Select (capitalization not mine) wrapped in a limp wrap, with a ranch dressing the consistency of tartar sauce and a few scattered cheese strips that looked as if they had been stolen from a Taco Bell...there went my $2.

My next stop on my food quasi-adventure was the plane. Don't get me wrong - I actually didn't consume any food on the plane - not even a flimsy aluminum bag of cocktail peanuts. Especially since they too, like my snack wrap, were $2. Instead, I read The United States of Arugula by David Kamp.

When my pundit friend lent me the book a few months ago, I originally thought it referred to the campaign speech where Obama complained about the rising price of arugula. Actually, the subtitle of the book is "How We Became a Gourmet Nation."

The book is quite cleverly written, and for its size it goes into a good amount of historical depth. Kamp does trace the evolution of the American gourmand through the twentieth century, but ultimately his book seems to imply that cults of personality are what really caused this change. It is interesting to see the culinary world as one big, dysfunctional family full of juicy affairs, occasional cocaine usage, and entirely different perspectives on who contributed what to the field, all of which Kamp covers eagerly and footnotes with asterisks. Having read other food history books and memoirs first, it was rather pleasant to read through the chapters and automatically recognize the "big critics" of that era by their first name, although Kamp does take a different perspective on culinary disputes than those memoirists themselves.

Ultimately, The United States of Arugula serves as a breezier, introductory book for the history of food writing and cooking. While it was nice to finally read through a sampler of interviews and to actually form a timeline of food in America, I wish less emphasis was given to the celebrity status of cooks. While I understand that the business and publicity aspects is often overlooked in the recent history of food, it would have been nice to see more of what the American consumer was becoming interested in, instead of how foodies were catching onto the biggest trends.

I finished the book just as the plane landed, and shortly after arriving home, I was treated to Thanksgiving dinner. A family friend brought handmade wraps that tasted like naan. We wrapped the turkey, along with Hoisin sauce and green onions, up in the wraps to make "Peking turkey." And of course, we had plenty of veggies - roasted, corn-on-the-cob, and my absolute favorite - green bean casserole. I have no qualms about green bean casserole, even if it looks spartan grey. Sure - when it's made badly, it can be rubbery. But when it's good, it's amazingly comforting - and for the most part, the french-fried onions will cover any mistake made during the preparation.

The sweet potatoes were quickly cooked to retain a crispy-carrot texture and tossed with cranberries for extra tanginess, and the mashed sweet potatoes with the mushroom gravy (Mom's somewhat-classified recipe, of course) topped it all off, with fruit tart and pumpkin pie for dessert.

Delicious. It was wonderful and fully satisfying (maybe too much - I definitely ate my share) to finally sit down to a home-cooked meal, and the company made it great. Happily enough, my day started from a mediocre banana-on-the-run and reached its climax to an amazing dinner. If there wasn't evidence already: there is something transcendent when food and family collide.

(I think we call it joy.)

1 comment:

Libby said...

Yay... I'm glad you finally read the book. I was wondering when you were going to get around to that.
Your thanksgiving sounds pretty good. Someday you should ask me about my thanksgiving dinner. I even have pictures. :)