Yay!!

Okay, so I promised to write about my last food class, and how my presentation was based on Dio de los Muertos. But may I interrupt that announcement for another announcement? Good, ’cause I’m gonna.

I’M GOING TO THE FINALS IN U OF T IDOL!!!!

Okay, awesome. Fun times, I can eat dairy again, all is well. (I don’t eat dairy before a performance. It drives me nuts but at least gummy throat is one less thing to worry about come showtime.)

So for my final Cook the Books class at U of T, my group presented on Barbara Kingsolver’s non-fiction work, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle about her and her family’s year of eating only food they either grew themselves or traded for food that their neighbours grew (like a chicken for a lamb, or eighty pounds of tomatoes for the equivalent in salad greens, that sort of thing). We thought, great, give us the presentation on local food in December. But, as it turns out, our local farmer’s market The Brickworks (shuttle running from Broadview Station on the TTC) was teeming with local produce.

We managed to put together a Dio de los Muertos feast for 40 which included traditional Pan del Muertes, not-so-traditional sweet potato quesadillas, handmade tortilla chips and homemade salsa (our professor’s contribution), and not-even-a-little-traditional baked apples. Paper skulls adorned the room, along with an altar that we prepared with a centrepiece reflecting the four elements (because it was too hard to represent the 150+) and a motherflippin’ pinata. WE HAD A PINATA. I think that counts as an instant A.

The pinata was full of seeds (contributed by our Chef) and we had soil in which to plant them so our classmates could take them home and continue the local-food journey, even living in the city. Someone quipped that “oh no, the SOIL isn’t organic!” But of course, our group thought of that already, and yes, the soil WAS organic. So there.

The tea we served with dessert was an artisan tea, foraged by a native Canadian woman in the woods of Northern Ontario. It was, according to Hart House’s dishwasher, “like drinking a forest, yes?” Yes.

All in all, a good time was had by all. And I will admit, though somewhat begrudgingly, that not all locavores are snotty arrogant holier-than-thou hipsters. The farmer’s market was pretty cool.

AND I’M CONTINUING ON IN U OF T IDOL!!!!!

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Whether Meat is Meet

Today I found out I’d rather eat dog than be a vegetarian.

This somewhat startling revelation came about as a result of my previously-mentioned English/food class at the U of Toronto, which has now been featured in an article on the UToronto Media site (http://media.utoronto.ca/media-releases/arts/new-class-has-students-cooking-up-literature/),  and also in the Toronto Star (though I haven’t found the link to that yet). Today’s class was based on a radically vegetarian book, Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. I have to say, I did not at all enjoy this book; I found several arguments based on erroneous data or invented facts, an extreme bias which led to instant dislike on my part, and an overall sense of extreme patronising coupled with the fact that the author has raised his son vegetarian – meaning his son did not get to make that choice himself. Indeed, much of the narrative reads as if Foer believes he is the all-knowing father to all of his readers, finding reasons (and sometimes making them up) to force us into vegetarianism.

That being said, the group that presented today (though mostly comprised of vegetarians) were not radical, were not pushy, were not patronising. They prepared us a delicious salad using more than just the customary iceburg and kale, and followed it with a tofu stir-fry on jasmine rice. Throughout the meal, however, diners were somewhat nervously aware of their meat selection – a styrofoam tray with nine Ikea-meatball-sized hors d’oeuvres, a pinky flesh tone with bits of white and black speckled throughout. This mysterious offering was simply labeled “Thing.” Diners were offered “Thing” as their meat serving (which, with the iron in spinach and the protein in tofu, was not technically needed). Being as hardheaded as I am, however, and as affrontedly opposed to the message being shoved into my eyeballs by Foer, I ate one. It wasn’t bad. I ate another. In fact, I ate two-thirds of the serving in front of my little group of horrified classmates.

Growing up with a Chinese side to my family, strange meats and unidentifiable foods are not out of the ordinary. My cousin loves fish cheeks and eyeballs. A walk down Spadina will bring you face to face with bright red marinating pigs, golden brown dripping fatty ducks, freshly plucked and seemingly shivering hanging chicken, and the ubiquitous neon orange cuttlefish. Seeing meat in its original form does not fase me. Seeing meat as curious globs also does not fase me. I’m still not sure what was in my yin-yin’s jook meatballs, but they were crunchy and delicious and – motto of my childhood – try one, you might like it.

That was the attitude with which I approached “Thing.” Try it, you might like it. That simple phrase has led me to my love of Brussels sprouts, artichoke, steamed pork buns, chili… the list goes on, because that phrase has not yet led me wrong. I tried “Thing.” I liked it.

The presenting group then took suggestions as to what “Thing” might be. Was it Spam? Pate de foie gras? Ground chicken liver? It was revealed to be dog, possibly Chow-chow, picked up off the black market by the presenter’s Korean friend. Instant disbelieving gasps shot through the assembled diners. Was it really? How could they have done that? My only thought was, I guess this makes my palate more diverse.

Once, when travelling in Vienna with my father, we were given the chance to eat horse at a Mongolian barbecue. (As a sidenote: I’m not really sure whether horse as a food is native to Austria or Mongolia.) I had to pass it up at the time, at the age of seventeen, because my palate was not quite in line with my psyche, and I couldn’t help but correlate the dark reddish-brown slices of meat to the horse-drawn taxi cabs waiting on the street below. Given the chance now I’d definitely take it.

Foer raises the issue in Eating Animals that thousands of dogs are euthanised in the US alone due to failure to spay and neuter, or pet negligence. His argument, supposedly towards vegetarianism, is as follows: Why not just eat all those leftover dogs? There’s tons of meat simply rotting due to societal ideas. I understand that his argument was intended to shock the audience into a repulsion towards dog meat, and meat itself in general. When I read that section I simply began to wonder what dog meat tasted like, and kept digging into my chicken salad.

As it turns out, “Thing” was canned corn beef (a food product that, incidentally, I find slightly more revolting than dog meat). Its alien appearance (as we are used to seeing cooked beef at a brown colour, not this sickly pink) and foreign smell was intended to throw the diners off the, ahem, scent. The presenters asked how we’d felt about “Thing” both before and after finding out it was “dog,” and again after we’d learned it was really cow. I explained that I followed my “try it, you’ll like it” upbringing, was proud of myself for stomaching, nay, enjoying an alien food source that not many North Americans have had the chance to try, and then disappointed when I found out it wasn’t as exotic as I’d thought. But I was surprised at my reaction to “finding out it was dog” – initially, my stomach dropped in disbelief, and then I came around and began to be quite at ease with the thought. After all, Chow-chow is a breed that originally was specifically bred to become food.

So that is the story of how I would rather eat dog than be a vegetarian. I figure it can’t be worse than anything found in modern-day street meat. (And a slight confession – though I definitely tried “Thing” in the hopes that I might like it, I also ate it slightly in spite of the vegetarians. Make meat as disgusting looking as you can, I will still eat it. That’s the evolutionary purpose of incisors – and who am I to spite evolution? It made me what I am today.)

Cook the Books: an actual class at U of T

 

The best cookbook ever

This is an actual assignment for an actual half-credit class at U of T. Be jealous of my course load. 

This cookbook was given to me by my mother at the age of fourteen, incidentally the year I learned how to boil water. Its wit, along with its good advice on all areas of kitchen activity, convinced me that even I could eventually learn how to heat tinned soup without cutting myself or add pasta to that boiling water for a more filling meal. The recipes are simple and direct, easily understood, and easily undertaken by somebody with my primitive cooking knowledge.

What makes this book really important to me, other than the sarcasm with which it was given to me by dear old mum, is that it manages to instruct without patronizing and gives sound advice. The author, Evelyn Raab, wrote this book as a means of instructing her two then-teenaged sons on how not to starve to death. It’s helped me do much the same, though usually because of the first instructions in the book: throw everything in the fridge into a stir-fry. 

Eight years after I received this book, it is still my go-to for simple, everyday meals that still manage to take me an hour and a half to put together. Effective tips on managing food waste, storage, portioning, ingredient substitutes, and shopping list efficiency throughout the book provide a good grounding and general arsenal for the culinarily challenged. There are a few basic recipes as well that can be used as the foundation for more complex recipes – pie crusts, different kinds of crumbles, and bread, for example – so that the beginner cook can advance to novice and begin to take on more complex recipes in the future. The title of this book is extremely apt.

The day I burned myself and dropped half a frozen pizza through the oven rack was the day my mom decided that enough was enough, and bought me the first cookbook she found in the children’s section that didn’t involve an Easy Bake oven. From that day forward I’ve been burning myself on pot handles, casserole dishes, baking pans, Pyrex and all sorts of other cooking accoutrements! While my ability to cook hasn’t hit the pinnacles of fine cuisine, I am now able to not starve to death due to techniques learned in this book. Raab’s goal of educating her teenaged sons on the basics of kitchen abilities has been successfully achieved in Clueless in the Kitchen.