Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Food & Me

Food and I have a very interesting relationship.  I only have two senses that work well. Taste and touch.  Tasting food and the mouth feel were heavenly  to me as a little kid.  I always wanted to try new and different food.  Part of that is due to living in Southern California with its multi-ethnic mix, another part is due to my multicultural family.  My Filipina Aunt taught my mom two dishes from her culture, Pancit and Adobo, and how to make good rice.  The city I grew up in, Oxnard California, had a large Mexican-American community and a very influential Japanese-American Community. We had a Swedish Smorgasbord and a Hawaiian style Tiki Restaurant as well when I was little.  I had fun learning those cuisines, plus the Chinese places and my first Mongolian Barbeque.  With these influences and my own curiosity with food, I was familiar with a great deal of food that most people in Oregon had no clue about back in the 1970’s and 1980’s. 

Also at an early age my mom taught me how to cook.  I was making meals by the age of 12.   Compared to some kids I have seen on some cooking competition shows that is a little long in the tooth. In the early 80’s it was very unusual.  I would go to youth group potlucks with my own dishes. I weirded out a High School buddy, because instead of making ground beef for Tacos with a seasoning packet I chopped up vegetables and did not use prepackaged pre-measured spices.   He kept telling me a lot of the ingredients were not in his Mom’s ground beef.  At the time my maternal grandmother was visiting, she told my friend that everything I put in was in his Mom’s packets but in powered form.  The main reason my Mom taught my brother and I to cook, was she did not want her boys to think they had to get married to have a home cooked meal.  She saw too many of my Dad’s Military buddies do just that.

As a kid I used to watch the Galloping Gourmet, Martin Yan, and Justin Wilson on Television.  New ideas and ways to cook always fascinated me.  In University I continued.  My parents bought a 19 Acre farm in Yamhill County Oregon, my freshman year of University.  They started to raise their own livestock for meat.  I did not know how to work with anything but beef, pork, chicken, turkey and fish.  In University after the dormitories, I was the annoying guy who always had good fresh meats.  At this point we had deer venison and lamb/ mutton as well. It was not till I started watching Jeff Smith’s PBS cooking show that I learned how to work with them.   Before I was using ground venison and lamb/ mutton with Hamburger Helper, those were formulated for beef’s flavors.  I discovered the Our Immigrant Ancestors television series and cook book.  By that time I was in Eugene, that area for its size had an extremely diverse food scene.  I was trying Latin food, Middle Eastern food, Greek, Italian, and Hawaiian.  Hawaiian was familiar because it included Filipino and Japanese influences.  I also explored newer things in Mexican, Japanese, and Chinese cuisines too.

Soon after that I left school.  I continue to play with new foods form the Smith Cook book.  I even bought the Three Ancient Cuisines cookbook, this covered Chinese, Greek and Italian foods.  I found Nature’s markets and Trader Joe’s.  Nature’s was the predecessor to Wild Oats which later became Whole Foods here in Oregon.  I was making my own Tzatziki sauce and Spanakopita.  I was creating new dishes like my Armenian meat sauce on Spinach fettuccine with Parmesan and Feta.  I perfected my Yakisoba, Adobo, and Liver with onions and mushrooms.  My own mother preferred my versions of the last two. 

I discovered German, Thai, Indian, Jewish/ Yiddish, Irish, Scottish, Cajun, Creole, Hungarian, Tex-Mex, Southern, and Southwestern cuisines.  I always experimented eating and cooking new food.  During this time I put on some weight went from 150 to 200 in 6 years.  Some of this was due to my diet changed in college.  My mom had discovered the family was wheat intolerant back in the 1970's so we went Gluten free, before it was cool.  We ate little breads and pastas.  We had lots of vegetables and rice.  Potatoes were once or twice a week.  We rarely had any heavy sauces.  When I went to University and lived in the dormitories that changed drastically.  I began to really put weight on.  When I was thinner I ate a lot more. That seemed to slow down too.  Mind you the change of a Southern California climate to Pacific Northwest did not help.  I used to walk and bike everywhere not so much here. 

I had gained another 60 pounds after another 4 years.  I worked and lost 30 by walking and watching what I ate.  Then I met Barbara, in the beginning she made it seem like she enjoyed my culinary experimentation.  After few years she started to limit what she would eat.  All she wanted was processed food and heavy carbohydrates.  I went to very little wheat in my diet to quite a bit of it daily.  She would complain about anything “ethnic.”  It led to me giving up cooking.  In order to try new things, she could not be with me.  I gave up.  Anything Japanese was banned completely.  There seemed to be new rules.  She became more and more picky about her food choices and would complain if I made anything she did not like, even if I did not serve it to her.  I began stress and binge eating at this time.   That led to me being 450 pounds.  I am not complaining here.  This is to explain how I got to where I am now.

I am not very picky about food.  When it comes to savory foods there are only a handful of things I do not like.  Well sweets, there is another story.  I am very picky about my candy, cookies, Ice cream, pastries and so on.  Marshmallows, candy corn, Circus Peanuts, malt balls, malted anything, pumpkin candies, and cheap butterscotch chips and hard candies are among my dislikes.  The older I got the less sweet my sweets are.  I still am not a big fan of dark chocolate, especially the darker stuff.  I prefer natural peanut butter, due to that not a fan of the fake peanut butter flavor of Butterfinger products.  I prefer real maple syrup to the fake stuff.  One of my culinary disagreements with Barbara was real versus fake maple syrup.  She preferred Golden Griddle; that product had a nickname in my family, we added Pancake Piddle to its name. 

Since I left I have lost between 70 to 90 pounds.  Most of that was less stress and binge eating.  Fewer fast food stops.  I would hit a fast food place anytime I went to the store without Barbara.  It was a bad and unhealthy habit.  That does not happen as much.  Now that I am free, I have been trying to be more experimental and less processed food.  Right now my living situation is hindering things.  Once I get myself a place of my own the sky is the limit.  I will use and abuse my cook books.  I will play around with everything.  I still have a few cuisines I wish to try: Argentine and, or Brazilian Steakhouses, Cuban/ Caribbean, Moroccan, Spanish, French, Korean, and Vietnamese.  I have even toyed with going to culinary school so I can open a food cart or truck.  I still love food.  I am just in the middle of relearning how to eat to live not live to eat.  That Is My Not So Humble Opinion.    

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Food Glorious Food

In the last twenty years we have seen are major cultural shift.  This shift has been in how food and the food industry are portrayed in the media.  At the head of this juggernaut are Food Network and its sister channel Cooking Channel.  The broadcast networks have come up with their own entries into this lucrative market.  We have seen a shift how food is viewed by the public.  There have been cooking shows since the dawn of television and they remained unchanged for the most part until the late 1990’s.  Usually a cooking show was a demonstration of how to make a certain recipe.  There were Celebrity Chefs before the late 1990’s, people like, Julia Child, Justin Wilson, Martin Yan, Paul Prudhomme, Wolfgang Puck, Jacques P├ępin, Jeff Smith, and Graham Kerr.  I may have missed a few. 

The Food Network was the game changer.  It started in 1993, but it gained momentum with the advent of three shows.  In 1997 Emril Live started, it melded a cooking show with a talk show vibe.  In 1999 two shows further changed how Cooking shows evolved.  First was the airing of a dubbed version of the Japanese Cooking competition show Iron Chef.  This is considered one of the first of that genre.  The second was Good Eats hosted by Alton Brown.  Good Eats was part cooking show, part skit show, part history and science of food and cooking all rolled into one half hour show. 

These plus a few travel style food shows that highlighted local hot spots and the modern styles of cooking shows were born.  Of the travel food shows, the pinnacle was Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations.  Another new style of food or cooking show was the renovation show.  These are where a failing food related business is helped by a renowned food professional into fixing the issues.  Now there are shows for bakeries, restaurants, bars and more.  This format is so successful for a show that it has been translated to non-food related businesses.

Now even the broadcast networks have cooking talk shows and cooking competitions shows.  The food travel shows are still either public television or cable.  With the popularity of this style of programming we are beginning to see a movement to know what we are eating and where it is coming from.  Chefs are becoming bigger Celebrities than before.  We are seeing cooking competition shows with child competitors that actually understand some serious cooking techniques. 

Is this a good thing?  I think so.  I hope it can lead to more responsible cooking and eating.  I would like to see people take more responsibility of where their food comes from.  We are seeing a food movement toward using everything possible and going back to the basics.  If we get away from processed food and back to home cooked food.  It will be for the best.  I feel even if we were to eat things that some consider unhealthy but lacked processing and all the preservative it would still be better. 

Another bi-product of this is the examination of what is in our food.  That has been a stream of documentary films about where our food comes from and what it is doing to us.  Among these films are Forks Over Knives, Food Inc., Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, and Super Size Me.  They examine what the processed food is doing to us, how the current way of eating is not working, and what the major food corporations are doing to worsen things.  I am not going to get into further about the evils of the major food corporations, but they have a lot to lose if we eat natural and healthier. 

In this country between this gourmet and natural movements occurring in our culture, we find ourselves at the precipice of a food based paradigm shift.  This is exciting and scary.  We are finding out that maybe the old ways of doing things were not all bad. We also need to learn about moderation.  I struggle with that myself.  I am hopeful.  That Is My Not So Humble Opinion.