culinary transnationality

•29 April 2010 • 2 Comments

Transnational is the new multinational, it’s the upgrade from international, for a recursive, transgressive epoch.

Sometimes, when we get tired of our generic dinner menu, I try a new cooking method. Usually it takes the form of a culinary thought experiment. Today it was: What would a dish look like if the cook was raised on English gastronomic simplicity, trying to make a French dish, trapped in an Italian’s kitchen.

Thus, boiling some potatoes, and setting them aside, I sautéed halved mushrooms, a chunked tomato and some slivers of apple in a butter and olive oil mix. Tossing in a chunked onion and a courgette (a.k.a. zucchini) cut into thick half-rounds, I added some of every herb/spice in the cupboard I would add to a pizza sauce (including garlic, which isn’t in the cupboard).

While that was set to simmer down, I took the steak which had been sitting in some lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, and (lots of fresh ground) pepper and set it cooking in the cast iron. Once that was pleasantly medium, I removed it to a plate and sliced it into thing strips. In the cast iron, I put another chunk of butter and the potatoes, letting them get a little extra flavour.

In two bowls, I layered the potatoes, the vegetable stuff, and the meat slices–pouring the extra juices to soak into the taters.

Where the lines between ‘English’, ‘French’, and ‘Italian’ in this dish should be drawn may be open to interpretation. But, that is the nature of transnationality.


the old gardener

•27 April 2010 • 3 Comments

it being spring, and such, the gardeners have returned to the lawn out front our flat. While one mows the lawn, an older gentleman is working his way around the perimetre trimming the rose bushes, fighting back the ever encroaching raspberries, and thinning out the bramble.

I think he comes from a generation of gardeners you just don’t see much any more. In dark grey slacks, a white dress shirt and black tie, he wrestles the plants with his left hand, cutting them with garden clippers in his right. A hand rolled cigarette clutched gently in the right corner of his mouth. His black lace-up leather shoes show years of wear, and the collar of the white Oxford is frayed–these are definitely work clothes, but it is still a shirt and tie.


•24 April 2010 • 1 Comment

I always thought it amusing when one of the few things a person knows  how to say in a language is ‘I do not speak [Language Name]’.

But since it is useful when abroad, outside one’s own native language, to let someone know you can’t understand them, and to please try another method of communication, I see it a valuable phrase to have.

Now, with that context, I raise the subject of my son. He was doing international air transit before being one week old. And now that we’ve settled for a bit, he’s talked at in various dialects of English as well as Arabic, French, Spanish, and Russian. The poor fellow stares with the utmost attention, but not being able to let his conversation partner know his limitations has its limitations.

Thus I am working on teaching the boy a few phrases. The first, and I think most useful phrase for him at this point in life is as follows:

I am a prelingual baby.

Progress is slow, but given time I’m sure he will grasp it and use it to good affect.

strangers I begin to know

•23 April 2010 • 2 Comments

I promise, I am not a stalker. No one with my readily memorable features and carriage could do well as a stalker. But after a while of always watching, you start to get to know the habits of strangers.

There is a gentleman, with a head of vibrant silver and slate grey hair, who I see on regular occasion. I’ve never been particularly good at keeping a steady schedule, so it is not the situation of getting to recognise that one chap on your morning commute — no, I see him at odd hours, on strange street corners, in various parts of town. (Now I do sound like a stalker.)

Today I have ascertained that he does indeed live in my neighbourhood, and has a young teenage son (I’d say 13), whom I have also seen on various occasions. The kid has a pretty stellar sense of style. I’d classify it loosely as retrosexual-punk.

I think he works in west central London. Either near Euston station, or just south of it (on the Victoria Line?). His son is a percussionist, and plays in some student band–I think public (i.e. American ‘private’) school affiliated. Father and son have similarly shaped noses.

I think I have seen his wife and daughter, too. But that I am less sure of, it was early enough in my sightings of this gentleman my memory may be conflating two different contexts.

In any case, he seems like a rather pleasant chap.

The two just walked past together, looked like they were enjoying the sunny afternoon.

no bones about it

•21 April 2010 • 1 Comment

Some time ago, back in my youth (so maybe a year ago?), I was reading some cookbook (as I have been prone to do), and discovered a beautiful idea: a boneless chicken roast.

I had, at a wedding once, had a boneless quail. It was quite good, but rather small, and sadly a little dry. A chicken, however, would be big (or big enough). Thus, on finding that little diagram showing how to bone a chicken, it became something resident on my to do list.

Today it has been crossed off.

It is strange removing the skeleton from an animal, fun, and slightly surreal. After some difficulty, I got the rib cage and spine out in one piece, leaving the four limbs to be de-boned separately. My wife thought (and still thinks) it was gross. There were certainly moments that the same opinion flitted across my mind, doing a pirouette before leaving stage left.

Par-boiling some new potatoes, and sauteeing an onion with a healthy dose of fresh ground pepper in an unhealthy dose of butter, I combined it all with some carrot and parsnip to use as the stuffing. Taking garlic, thyme, and rosemary I prepared a butter and herb rub — massaging half of it into the chicken’s skin, and rubbing the other half on the inside along with the vegetable stuffing. Rolling all the goodies up in the bird like a burrito with legs, I shaped the animal to looks something like a chicken. I stuck another hunk of butter in one end, just for good measure, and ground sea salt over the skin, to help seal in the moisture.

Stuck it in the oven, and waited. I figured, that was fun, but an almost two hour prep time is a bit much. It’s crossed off my list, I can move on to other things. Then I tasted it.

I think it might be the best dish I have ever made.

Using the juices, I made a gravy–but it was unnecessary, as the meat was so moist and flavourful on its own. The skin had that perfect crunch that left a turkey at Christmas time skinless before it reached the dinner table. I rarely out-do myself, having rather high expectations for my cooking. I think  I outdid myself, though.

And I already know what to do better next time. Next time? Yes, the next time I decide to painstakingly remove every bone from the body of a silly animal, smother it in delicious butter and fresh herbs, and prop it up with vegetables to make it look like I’ve done nothing to it.

Ah, the vanity of culinary delight.

song making

•20 April 2010 • 2 Comments

In a few days my son will be four months old. One of the many things that his active involvement in my life has brought about is the odd tendency to sing little songs to/at him. While I remember singing as a little kid, it seems generally unlike me to do so — but then much of what I do is deemed generally unlike me.

Most of the songs are spontaneous and entirely context-oriented. Though, as some contexts are recurrent, a few of these songs are becoming permanent items in my repertoire.

These include such timeless changing table classics as ‘Poo for Two’ and its special occasion version: ‘Poo for Three, Please’, as well as the up-beat and swinging tune, ‘Socks go on Foot’.

Maybe if my academic aspirations fail, I can go into the singer/song-writing line as a fall-back option.

Lemon Cheese

•17 April 2010 • 3 Comments

Today I learned something. This is not necessarily that strange, but it is especially nice when one gets to learn something entirely trivial and wonderfully sublime in a culinary sort of way. (I promise, I’m not turning this into a food blog.)

It was a bright, warm spring day (I wanted my flip-flops I forgot in ‘Fornia), so we decided to take to the park for a relaxing afternoon overlooking London. Yesterday we went for a walk in the wood, but this nice sunny day was much more park-esk.

With a bottle of fresh sqeezed lemonade and a half dozen scones, right from the oven, we set forth, intending to stop on the way for Lemon Curd and Cream (for what is a scone if it hath not its curd and cream?). Looking for just a small jar of curd, we stopped into one of them old-looking dry-goods stores that sells jams in jars your gran’ might still think old fashioned. They had, to my dismay, only large jars of Lemon Curd. But they did stock little jars (the perfect size) of Lemon Cheese. What was this I did behold? The ingredients were identical save for Lemon Curd having something weird in it. So we bought the Lemon Cheese.

It was amazing. I thought Lemon Curd was good, but this was more robust. It had a richer and more balanced palate. The texture was perfect, a smooth pure gel like that of a thick custard — with no hint of grain or grit.

I could eat it off a spoon — but I had none, so I used my finger.

Good company, soft grass, warm sun, wide open panorama of the city, fresh lemonade, the perfect scone, and the delight of a new found culinary masterpiece. It was a good day.

Upon returning home, I investigated this thing–this Lemon Cheese. To my bemusement, there is no difference between Lemon Curd and Lemon Cheese. I have it on the good authority of several top hits in the Google search for ‘what is the difference between Lemon Curd and Lemon Cheese’, that indeed they are the same thing.

It is on my to-do list now to visit the store again, and ask them what the difference is between their lemon curd and their lemon cheese. But in the meantime, I will relish my Lemon Cheese.