Foodie Tuesday: I’ll Eat Anything (Except That)

Photo: Oddments in Aspic

I’ve many times here admitted to being something of a pig, loving food and eating so much that I might as well be in the barn with the rest of my kind, snuffling around in glee at the trough. But lest you think me an utterly indiscriminate eater, let me say in my defense that (a) I do have a modicum of manners when I absolutely have to and know enough not to put my bare feet up on the table when having tea with the queen, and (b) there are a few actual items I would rather not eat or drink.

I’ve mentioned, indeed, such delicacies as blueberries that I find entirely resistible in any form, despite the practically universal admiration for them among others. And though I’m not opposed to eating things that have been living (vegetable and animal), I have no interest in eating things that are still alive, particularly those that have any capability of trying to escape from me as they enter my mouth. There are plenty of animals whose offal and organs I will also happily avoid, though they are considered magnificent delicacies by many people, and plenty of plants whose seeds, bark and roots have equally little appeal to me other than as decorative items or mulch.

I’ve even met the occasional cook, in my life’s wanderings, whose entire oeuvre of cookery I would be sincerely delighted never to taste, once I knew how skilled he was at removing all appealing and edible qualities and characteristics from any item brought to that singular hall of horrors known as his kitchen.

Still, there are relatively few things in the vast pantheon of foods that I would rather avoid than eat, and even many of those I will ingest if diplomacy requires it. This summer’s travels were, thankfully, 99% delicious. The cooks and their cookery were generally fine, and often outstanding, and I certainly didn’t come home any thinner than I was when I left. Better yet, there was little along the way that didn’t beckon to me as I gripped my fork in anticipation. Travel has such potential for culinary joy! Revisiting favored tastes from previous journeys is always complemented by the pleasures of trying new dishes.

Well, there was that aspic (pictured above), on this trip. It was so curious-looking that I couldn’t resist trying it, even though the oddments scattered through it were rather unrecognizable, for the most part. For something that looked playfully like jelly with tiny, mysterious pieces of toys in it, it turned out to be strangely dull in flavor, leading to a disappointment not entirely unlike that felt by a child on pulling open a party cracker and expecting a nice snapping noise, a fun trinket, and a shower of colorful confetti inside and instead finding a slightly used pair of socks. I ate most of that aspic, dutifully if not quite enthusiastically, but was mighty happy to move on to better things.

Another entertainment frequently offered in the Bad Food Department is, of course, the ever-popular menu-mishap. This is far from limited to foreign travel, given the American propensity (and, I suspect, that in other nations) for menu-writing to be handed off to people who haven’t the same level of linguistic skills as a restaurant’s chefs are supposed to have culinary ones. I found plenty of fodder for my amusement in this department along the summer’s ways, but saved one little sample for you as I’m still slightly uncertain how to decipher it fully. And very unwilling to try to eat it, if there’s any chance it was written out correctly.

Photo: Delicious Lye Sandwich

Since this menu was meant to celebrate the World Cup semifinals then in progress, I suppose it’s possible that the so-called Lye bread was intended to simultaneously hold the sandwich together and wash out the mouth of anyone caught swearing at the referees. I’m still not clear, though, on whether the Pigling Ham was named to prove that the meat on the sandwich came from a very tender, youthful beast or it was, perhaps, *pickled*. If I ended up loosely interpreting this as a sort of Germanic (in one Viennese menu writer’s eyes, anyway) take on a Reuben sandwich, maybe it would all make some kind of sense. Maybe with a touch of Joppiesaus it’d be more palatable. But honestly, I’d prefer, in this instance, to merely enjoy the beer herein recommended, and skip the sandwich.

Foodie Tuesday: Ploughman’s Lunch & Cavegirl Quiche

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Ploughman’s-in-a-bowl.

I want to eat joyfully and intently and live a long, healthy life, then die and get recycled.

You know that although I respect veganism and the very solid reasons millions of people have for choosing not to eat animals and animal products, I am, like some other animals, an omnivore myself. Like these brother animals, I am okay with eating my fellow creatures. Hopefully people who respect animals’ right to be carnivores can respect a human’s wish to be a carnivorous animal as well. Yes, I want animals to be treated with great care and respect while they live, and yet I know that they’ll die; I expect no less on either count for myself. I would love to know that when I die it would be permitted, instead of my personal-leftovers having to be buried in a state-sanctioned impermeable box to take up prime real estate in perpetuity, for the aforementioned detritus to be left in the woods for some nice creatures to eat up, and what remains to fade into the grand recycling unit of the forest. Short of that, I have arranged with my loved ones to cremate what-was-me [after any possible organ farming is accomplished] and put my ashes into garden-feeding, where at least I will fertilize feed for ruminants and so serve as a smaller part in earth’s renewal. That’s what I think we’re all designed to do. Carbon to carbon. So whether I get eaten or make a less obvious contribution as a small pH balancing agent in the dirt, I plan to return the gifts that others, animal and plant alike, have given me in my life. This is not particularly meant to be a political or religious statement on my part, as I apply it only to myself, and I don’t begrudge anyone’s disagreement with it, it’s just a worldview that seems pragmatic to me. I am not saying this to court condemnation or controversy (you know I despise them) but simply to be honest with myself as much as with you.

So my protein preferences arrive as fatty and delicious nuts, eggs, seafood and, indeed, meats. I tend to be very old-fashioned in that way, following the path of my workman ancestors, and even their ancestors back in the hunter-gatherer days. I am enormously (no pun intended) grateful for the gifts of the earth that keep me not only alive but healthy and even well fed, and I don’t want to squander or be thoughtless about such magnanimity. Hence my determination to eat more deliberately and moderately as I grow older, and also my penchant for being ever more inventive in refusing to waste the goodness of any part of my personal food cycle. The recent posts about rescuing broth-making remnants are a tiny testament to this commitment. I’m a junk food junkie like everybody else, loving stuff that’s far from good for me, but I’m gradually learning to lean a bit further toward the less trashy ways to enjoy those elements that are the true reasons I like junk, not the addictive formats in which they’re presented to us by commercial producers and retailers so that we’ll just treat them–and our bodies–like garbage by over-consuming them thoughtlessly.

I want to eat joyfully and intently and live a long, healthy life, then die and get recycled.

A couple of the variant meals I based on my recent beef ginger mousse making fed both my frugal and my treat-hungry sides. Having the pre-made avocado mash around amped up both aspects as well, and the addition along the way of some other easy-to-keep ingredients made it all pretty much homemade fast food without the related regret.

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Another day, another ploughman’s.

Ploughman’s lunch, that great English enthusiasm for serving and eating what’s essentially deconstructed sandwiches–bread, cheese, chutney, pickled goodies, and so forth–are pretty common around our house. The differences in our tastes, multiplied by the number of friends sharing the meal, makes it easier to stick to assemble-it-yourself service for so many things that the logic of the operation is obvious. Since I’m generally weaning myself from wheat, that makes a hands-on, fork-in version of the Ploughman’s even more useful. Beef mousse and avocado mash make this easy. Hard boiled eggs are a grand addition, but a quick scramble or fry is fine as well. Chutney or jam alongside? Oh, yeah. Pickles of any sort are a plus. Add the crunchy pleasures (and instant utensils) of carrots, snap peas, celery, apples, jicama, radishes or any number of other good crudites and you’ve got all you can handle, short of a cold cider, iced tea, beer or lemonade. Filling, varied and delicious.

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Ploughman’s redux: beef mousse with pureed fresh tomatoes and mint, olives, pickled green beans, roast chicken, snow peas and apple.

For a cave-dweller-pleasing rearrangement of the same essential ingredients, I stacked it all up and sliced it into a semblance of a pie, first as a single layer and then as a double-decker version. Rather than baking it all up as an actual crustless quiche or omelet, which should be simple and tasty with the addition of some beaten eggs (and if I had some on hand, a bit of shredded cheese), I ate it cold and was not sorry to have the quicker version either. This one, given my previous pseudo-recipes on the topic, can be pretty easily illustrated in assembly by pictures only. What you choose to do with it is up to you! As long as you don’t disappoint me by wasting it. [Winking broadly.]

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The Cavegirl Quiche Assembly Line: sliced chicken or smoked turkey; mashed lemony avocado; sliced olives; pate or beef mousse; fried or scrambled eggs; tomato-mint puree; pickled green beans.

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A wedge of cavegirl quiche. Enough to take the edge off a day’s hunting and gathering.

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The double-decker version of cavegirl lunch: how to get ready for yet further mastodon chasing and saber-tooth battling.

Animal Rescue

Thanks to my handsome and perspicacious canine pal Rumpy over at rumpydog.com I was reminded again when I last visited his site of the complicated and, when it’s well-managed, fantastic relationships between animals of the human and non-human kinds.

The notion of animal rights and their humane treatment was enough of a fledgling concept in the broad public sense when I was a mere hatchling myself that it was represented in all of its wimpy glory almost exclusively by the catchphrase Be Kind to Animals. It’s not that no one had given a single thought to the necessary deeper commitment to conservation or species protection or rehabilitation or research or any of those other lofty and positive things, but they weren’t as widely recognized and commonly discussed as they are now. Does that mean we’re good at this stuff these days? Hardly. Progress is slow. Still, any progress is better than none, and gives me hope that we can continue to learn from each step forward.

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We humans are such silly geese; before we can fully serve other species, we need to get our own ducks in a row.

I myself make no pretense of being an animal rights lobbyist or animal care practitioner of even the most minimal sort. I haven’t been a biologist, nor have I ever farmed or been a veterinarian, or even, save in very brief intervals with housemates’ companions, shared my home with pets. My entire personal contact with animals beyond any local wild critters has been limited to meetings with so-called ‘domesticated’ animals–those whose lives and well-being are dependent upon the other humans who house and keep them in homes, on farms, and in zoos. And I must admit that I have always relished these times of interaction. Most of all I enjoy it when the animals, whatever their sort, are appropriately respected and properly cared for so that they, in turn, are healthy and content to do what comes naturally without being aggressive, destructive or self-destructive, because they don’t need to be in order to get along in life.

I wouldn’t have the remotest chance of saving a species, even a single needy animal, other than by means of supporting others in that work. I am, in fact, an omnivore, far from being a vegetarian or vegan; I don’t lobby actively for animal rights (or anything, being far from a political animal myself) and have no skills whatsoever in caring for animals. All I can say in my defense is that I think I understand pretty clearly the animal participation in this world of ours that makes the life of even a human like me with my exceedingly limited contact not only so much better but, frankly, possible. And I am beyond grateful for it.

This other bit of useful wisdom with which I credit my uninformed self could be simply translated as a recognition that the phrase Animal Rescue, commonly used to describe the magnanimous salvation of non-humans by humans, is more aptly applicable when used to describe the opposite. They save us.

The green earth that provides for our survival could never do so without the animals that keep its lovely recycling services operational. Animals, even those domestic beasts treated the most kindly, account for a large slice of the labor force that keeps our world operating on a practical basis. Animals act as medical and physical guardians and assist persons with sensory deficits or health challenges to let them live in a world that’s not otherwise adjusted to meet their needs. Animals have been and are part of police forces, search and rescue teams, security operations, transportation teams and more; they contribute to all kinds of research and behavioral studies and provide wool, fur and hair used for a wide variety of woven, filled or lined coverings, many of them over long productive lives.

Top of the list, if you ask me is companionship and comfort. These are the characteristics that we admire most in our fellow Homo sapiens. We look for warmth and unconditional acceptance from friends and loved ones and even from acquaintances and colleagues, and many kinds of animals willingly give us these in return for very little demand on their part as well. This gift alone makes me grateful for animals as much as all the other great treasures with which they grace our lives.

For all that I’ve had little animal presence in my life–or possibly, because of that limitation–I learned very early that each happy time spent in the company of contented, healthy animals makes me feel immediately new-and-improved. I don’t know if other folk would confirm that I am any better than I was before, but I feel better inside. It’s as though every five-minute increment in company with animals makes my blood pressure drop, my spine straighten up and my mind clear of unhappy junk and fill with peaceful, more meaningful, more creative things. Suddenly, thanks to having a goat come up to me in a field and beg for a good head-scratching, I’m thinking the sun got brighter and my lifespan just got extended, stretched another two days’ length or so; because a dog lay quietly by my feet while I was taking care of the day’s correspondence I gained not only the direct warmth of him against my shins but also, the warm glow of his trust and calm confidence in being around me makes me feel more trustworthy and confident myself and strengthens me to get my task wrapped up well and swiftly.

What I take away from this contemplation is twofold: I sincerely believe that I must do any and every small thing I can to improve the lives of animals by avoiding thoughtless approaches to them and simply by treating them appropriately whenever the opportunity arises. And I need to learn from them as well. I know I can benefit from being more, if you will, ‘beastly’ in this way–by approaching life a little less cynically, not thinking of the rewards I expect or desire in return for my actions but rather of the pleasures that being kind, just, helpful, hopeful or appropriate can give me in and of themselves. If the very act of making others happier can make me happier, how could I not love that? Seems to me like we can all benefit from ‘behaving like animals’ in this sense.

A wonderful daily photography blog, PhotoBotos, just published the spectacular photo that won the prestigious National Geographic contest in 2012, and besides being a truly distinctive and powerful photograph of a gorgeous tiger, the image marks a significant story (included in the post and comments) regarding people’s contentious attitudes toward others of the human animal when it comes to how we treat non-human ones. I find it sad, surprising, maddening and poignant that sometimes those who are sincerely motivated by a desire to protect and conserve wildlife are so unwilling or unable to see a need to extend the same courtesies to their fellow human creatures and the animals whose lives intertwine in less wild circumstances with theirs. It’s just possible that we ought to be learning better–as creatures with the ability to consider the needs of others in a supposedly rational way–to rescue ourselves and our fellow humans before we can more truly accomplish the care of and respect for other animals. They enrich our existence without any particular expectation in return. Imagine the possibilities when we do the same.

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Perhaps when we treat both humans and other animals with the proper respect and love, we will all soar like eagles.

Owl be Seeing You

I’m fond of the idea of animal companions and the way that various spiritual and philosophical schools of thought have incorporated the concept of human-animal affinities as talismans, symbols, totems and the like–never mind the opportunities presented for animal appreciation in contacts with pets, farm animals, zoo denizens and the serendipity of wild meetings. I simply find animals intriguing and appealing, and the chance to be in friendly contact with any of them pleasing and attractive. When they become boisterous, and especially when they are threatened or threatening, not so much of course, but even in those states they are compelling subjects of interest.

Animals are beautiful, mysterious, sometimes cuddly and affectionate, sometimes regal and dramatic, and always rather miraculous in my view. As I’ve lived much of my life in proximity, one way or another, to interesting animals but never had pets or been a caretaker of animals directly, there’s a tinge of the exotic even in the most common and frequently seen birds, bugs and beasts, fish or fowl, tame or terrifying, that perhaps people having more direct relationships with the creatures would not see. Somehow, despite the frequency with which I may see them sitting on the road-lining fenceposts, dead trees and light standards, hawks become not only the focus of my attention but messengers and comforters and guides that reassure me and inspire me simply by appearing where they do and catching my eye. When the call of a full moon brings out more of the neighborhood creatures to enjoy its bright benefits, I am moved to feel that the presence of more animals (the wild ones from our wooded ravine and even the neighbors’ straying house pets) has some meaning and purpose and must be meant to please me as well.

It’s not surprising, then, that animals appear in so many of my artworks, both in their expected forms as portraits of a kind or characters in my visual stories, and often in more abstract influences on the pieces. As a carnivore myself, I am not averse to eating animals as well, but my appreciation in this regard is enhanced the more when I can make complete use of the animal’s sacrifice, say, in using not only all of the meat but also cooking down the bones for delicious and healthful broths and then still having the beauty of the bones that have not been utterly disintegrated in that process as potential art materials too.mixed media mask

Some marvelous turkey bones, for example, not only supported the original bird that became the crowning glory of a roast-turkey feast (or, more accurately, two or three feasts at the least), but then became soup and sauce base in a long slow cooking and then, as the bones came out of the broth, beautiful and earthy and sculptural objects that in turn made me think not only of the turkey itself but also of all sorts of other creatures whose bones and skeletons and exoskeletons make them so remarkably lovely and strange. That is how a turkey breastbone became, in my mind, first a nose and then a beak, and finally, when the ‘beak’ was matched up with other bones having the right shamanic shapes, combined and decorated and gilt and otherwise conglomerated, the bones became the structure of a different bird altogether. In a turkey I found an owl–a Great Horned Owl, or to be even more precise, the Spirit of a great horned owl–and perhaps that reflects best of all how I see animals.mixed media mask

For I would include the human animal, naturally, in the list of perplexing and amazing and funny and marvelous creatures that capture my imagination and that, in its own way, is a species full of exotic mystery and charm. That makes my own life, presence and bones a collation of possibly only practical and ephemeral and biologically ordinary, yet even in those regards, mythic, parts that fit in their infinitesimal way quite neatly enough into the grand scheme of existence. I suppose it’s a reflection of that, after all, that I see and seek in admiring animals as I do. Perhaps it’s legitimate that I should make shamanic masks and look for meaningful appearances from the many winged and hoofed and spirited beings surrounding me daily and nightly, throughout my life.mixed media mask

 

Foodie Tuesday: Egg on My Face

I have no particular secrets from you kind people out there in Bloglandia, so it can come as no surprise (especially to those who have seen any of my previous food posts) not only that I am an unreconstructed carnivore but also a generally unrepentant eater of all things–okay, nearly all things–that might be considered decadent if one is of the sort that equates dining habits with morality. I like eating. I like eating lots of different things, and in what even I will readily admit are too large quantities. It’s not good for my health, to be sure, and possibly not best for my soul, but there it is. I love food.photoOne of the things I would be most reluctant to give up eating or cooking with is of course that stupendous universal donor among ingredients, the humbly perfect egg. If I must be limited in my access and opportunities and omnivorous mania, I would proudly and gladly be wearing a nice schmutz of egg on my chops any day. Besides, with my coloring I am very ill-suited to wearing any other form of yellow, so why not embrace the ephemeral form of dressing up in some eggy yellow goodness that can at least be licked off my lips and make my innards very happy if its look doesn’t suit my exterior. I love what the egg can do for a sauce, a custard, a souffle. For baked goods; for dishes where it serves as binder, thickener, garnish.photoMaybe most of all, I love eggs when they star in the show. Their honest simplicity and smooth, creamy deliciousness deserve to be featured and recognized as the wonder that is borne in that beautiful capsule of the egg’s origin. So today I give you one of my very favorite meals, which despite my fondness for all sorts of marvelous mealtime miracles is a supremely simple omelette with grated sharp cheddar cheese melting in the middle, accompanied by some nice crispy bacon with a little drizzle of pure maple syrup, and a fresh, crisp, fabulous apple. I don’t usually mess with eggs much when I cook them, and a nice little cheese omelette like this deserves to be treated respectfully, so the only ingredient in the omelette besides the eggs, lightly beaten, and the cheese is just a nice big splash of melted butter to make the eggs easy to loosen from the pan and fold over when sufficiently set–but just barely set, really. Still light and creamy through the middle.photoI’d go on, but I’d kind of rather dash over to the kitchen and grab an egg or two . . .