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Archives for Food

Loving Your Inner Turkey, and Stuffing


Did anyone else overeat last Thursday? A little too much Thanksgiving turkey, and stuffing, and mashed potatoes, and some sweet potatoes just to try them, and then maybe a little more stuffing just to give the gravy something to rest on, and a piece, or two, of pie, and maybe a brownie?

Hey, sounds good, and why didn’t you invite me? You’d want me as a guest this year, because this holiday season my immodest proposal would be – stuff yourself. Forget about calories and carbs and cholesterol and just – eat.

Because every year around now it’s time for a replay of that mass neurosis known as “The Holiday Eating Season” and I am up to here with it, or I would be up to there if I had any more room on top of the stuffing. I had a little extra time to read up on it because of my self-declared Thanksgiving holiday (sure, it’s a U.S. holiday and only embassy types here in Spain get the day off abroad, but hey, I consider myself just a bundle of ambassadorial good will – every day).

The holiday food madness starts with these clinical, scientific examinations of “How to Cook the Turkey.” It’s a dead bird, folks. Stick it in the oven. It’ll cook. (That said, I did bookmark this one, just because I’m hoping one day we can all get to the bottom of that “to brine or not to brine” debate. Because I’m afraid I just can’t break tradition that much and go with the scary-sounding deep fryer.)

Then you can get as obsessed as you’d like with details of the meal(s): traditional style, tradition-breaking, homey, gourmet, nouveau, low fat, vegetarian, in the style of early human mountain tribes serving a bobcat you’ve brought down with a spear and cooked in a pit. And that’s something to think about for any Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, holiday dinner, lunch, brunch, breakfast, cocktail, open house party you host.

But then comes the real nuts-making part: while we’re all obsessing on food, we’re also supposed to be obsessing on how not to eat it. Because it’s also the time of year for the articles on how we all supposedly gain 19.7 pounds at this time of year. And there’s the standard advice on how to eat an apple and then stick your head under a fire hydrant to suck down enough water before you go to a party so you can just happily nibble on a carrot stick all night.

You can tell who’s the person trying that technique. She’s the one who keeps circling the food table like a shark until by the end of the evening the “Jaws” music is at a fever pitch and she strikes, creating a huge sandwich on her plate with the ends of the wedges from the cheese plate, three scoops of hardening onion dip, the remaining dried-up curls of the honey-baked ham and an olive.

OK, so I like onion dip. Sue me.

What’s also gotten press lately is this book, “Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think,” that tells you about the unconscious signals that make you eat more or less, the idea being that if you just, say, reduce your plate size you’ll eat less without realizing it (it seems to get into better examples than that).

But forbidden fruit and all that, and the more time you spend thinking about what and what not to eat, the harder it is to just relax and eat reasonably. So what about a little less thinking, a little more enjoying? What about forgetting about all the rules and seeing what happens? Want the pie? Have the pie. I’m not saying anyone will lose any weight, but it could make for a fun holiday season. And there’s always a special on gym memberships in January.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 8:46 PM | Permalink

The Bagel Rolls On


While I’ve been adjusting to life in Spain, Spain has kindly been adjusting to me. I refer of course to the bagel.
I’m not addicted but it’s nice to know if a bagel craving ever hits, there’s a way to vaguely satisfy it – because they’re here, they’re really here. There have been individual bagel restaurants in at least Madrid and Barcelona for several years, but the bagel’s now gone mainstream (ish) here since a Spanish fast-food sandwich chain recently added bagel sandwiches to its menu. That’s like McDonalds offering gazpacho (which it does here, by the way). OK, maybe it doesn’t make bagels mainstream yet, but it’s quite a step for a bread item that has to be explained on the chain’s website. The sandwiches have things like pesto sauce and pork loin, and the hot ones get a little soggy from the heating, but hey, bagels have taken odder paths in the States.
Bagels of course started out in Jewish communities in Europe (Poland? Vienna? Pick your story. I lean toward Poland just because variations on the Vienna origin story pop up for croissants and coffee, and can one town really be such a founding site of the coffee break?). In the U.S. they still have some of their Jewish background attached but they’re getting less and less ethnic all the time. And here at least, they’re very much just an American food, although bagels strike me as a small part of interrupted Jewish culture making its way back in parts of Europe. Several years ago on a brief visit to Bialystok, Poland – the namesake town of the bagel’s cousin, the bialy, and home to a once-thriving Jewish community – the first place we saw with the breads for sale was called something like New York Bagel.
The round, holey rolls are a better marker of menu globalization than hamburgers. It’s one of those token foods Americans look for when they live abroad. Sure, worldwide people will cite the hamburger when they think of American food, but to heck with that. What they mean is McDonalds, and burgers from McDonalds and its cohorts have become their own category of international food item. They’re not representative of U.S. cuisine, they’re supranational, like pizza.
No, if I’m claiming a burger as my national heritage, then I’m going to try to put my best foot forward. As an American here, people think I know something about hamburgers; I do, but only the one or two bits of knowledge I’ve vaguely managed to remember from newspaper food section “how to make a great hamburger” articles. So for our national culinary representative, I’ll get behind a hamburger that’s one of those home-made, outdoor grilled, handcrafted things. With or without fancy additions to the meat. It should come with a few condescending remarks about how to grill it, and then be served with the disclaimer that the ground beef you can buy abroad is different but will have to do.
But the bagel’s a lot simpler to send out as a standard bearer. Not to mention it’s the centerpiece of brunch, which is a contribution to food culture that ranks right up there with tapas or afternoon tea. Bagels are apparently big in Britain too, because a British friend here turned me on to a bagel source – a grocery story that caters to British expats and carries frozen bagels. So now I can try to do a proper brunch, a concept that needs to be clearly introduced when you spring it on guests in Spain, because it throws off a Spaniards’ whole Sunday meal schedule. It’s a commitment. It takes flexibility. But hey, that’s what adapting is about.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 2:22 PM | Permalink

Hot and Cold Kitchens


Renovating your house is a relatively pleasant way to drain your bank account. That’s relative to, say, taking out all your money and flushing it down the toilet. Then getting the toilet all clogged up and trying a plunger that doesn’t work and then having to call in a plumber who reports the destroyed money to the Treasury Department which then comes to investigate you for possible subversive activities, not to mention tax evasion, and so on and so forth. Relative to that, hey, go with that kitchen or bath do-over instead and spend three months thinking about faucet styles.
When we lived in California and I was thinking about redoing our own humble kitchen, maybe raising it from the level of dump to simply domestically challenged, I’d check out pictures of hot (as in hottie, not hot from cooking) kitchens for whatever tips could be scaled down. All the dream kitchens in magazines were roughly the size of a football field with yards and yards and yards of counter and a clear understanding that the only appliance getting any use was the tucked-away microwave to make popcorn for the home theater in the other wing of the house. Well, maybe some weekend recreational cooking takes place, but the main question is what kind of granite looks good with the chopstick set for the take-out Thai.
Yeah, there’s a lot of not-cooking going on in kitchens. Look how popular Trader Joe’s is, a grocery whose success is based on having a whole store full of food you assemble rather than cook. Or, as I like to think of it, Joe and his house brands are like Betty Crocker for the Ikea set. I am exaggerating of course; there are many people who do cook real stuff, and I think that’s great, especially if they’re inviting me to dinner.
Here in Spain we’ve been house-hunting and thinking about kitchens. One trend that’s been around for quite a while in U.S. kitchens is having them open to the living space, with maybe the family dining area and family room and whatever else all merging together with the kitchen. That open kitchen look is popular in Spanish magazines – they usually reference it as loft style – but the traditional look is what I still see in most homes here; the kitchen may be eat-in size but it’s still in a separate, closed room.
So almost universally when I mention to a Spaniard that I like open kitchens, I get one response. Gee, they say (actually the Spanish equivalent, whatever that is), I’d worry about the smells. The cooking smells, they mean. I can’t remember that concern ever coming up in all my kitchen conversations in the U.S. (Yeah, I know, I need a new topic to talk about.) Not that Spanish cooking is particularly stinky, although here they do cook more fish and do more deep frying than Americans. Nor do I think Spaniards are necessarily more sensitive to cooking smells in their homes, although they might be. And they do seem to have extractors that work equally well.
What I think the real difference is, is that people here still think of a kitchen as a place to actually cook. Shocking, I know.
That’s not quite the full story of course. Plenty of American cooks do think of their kitchens as a place for serious, regular cooking but also like to have them open, for entertaining or to keep an eagle eye on the kids trolling the Internet or whatever.
But you’ve got less restaurant going, less take-out and fast food, and more people here (and not just women) do still think of a kitchen as a place to go into regularly and come out with a meal to feed themselves and their families. One thing’s clear: I’ve got to wangle a few dinner invitations.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 12:31 AM | Permalink

Snack Time


Sometimes when I’m thinking about dinner possibilities, I look at Son the Elder’s school lunch menu for ideas. (Then of course I toss it aside and make pasta.) As I’ve mentioned, his lunch menu puts the average U.S. chicken-nuggets-with-a-side-of-ketchup kids lunch to shame.
(Seriously, drool with me as I look back at May’s offerings: cannelloni followed by an omelet and salad, paella, soup and then roast chicken and potatoes, beef stew, grilled salmon…oh boy, excuse me while I get a snack.)
(OK, back.)
It’s a reflection of that Mediterranean diet and food culture thing. But an email from a California friend reminded me of where the kids’ diet falls short here. She was complaining because her daughter’s kindergarten teacher gave the kids cotton candy. Ah yes, snacks. Whoops. OK, some typical snacks at the school here (they serve them in the afternoon because school goes until 4:30): pastry, packaged cake-like things, even on the occasional day when the kitchen must be down to the dregs – bread with ketchup. There are better things like bananas or turkey sandwiches other days. But in general, snacks are a pretty laid-back affair.
And oh yes, here too (and other parts of Europe, particularly the south) childhood obesity has become a problem. While there’s still a somewhat healthier diet from traditional habits, with more fruits and vegetables and fish and olive oil, kids in recent years have increasingly been eating processed baked goods and snacks and fast foods, and being less active, just like their American peers; and like them, getting heavier. The ways the government is trying to attack the problem are similar here too, such as looking at what food’s available in schools.
So in some areas Spain has unfortunately moved along that American-style continuum from food as food to food as product. The next step we Americans picked up with our usual excessive enthusiasm and marketing complex is food as antidote, taking food even farther away from its origins with reduced-fat fat and non-sugar sugar and calcium-added this and omega 3-fortified that. This has not made us healthier, at least in terms of weight-related illnesses. But there are concerned parents, possibly quite rightly but certainly a bit obsessively reading labels, trying to avoid all sugary, fatty snacks, desperately seeking a whole-grain, natural, vitamin- and mineral-strong fruity snack nirvana that kids will eat (at least until we cave to the whines in the grocery store and buy the choco-woco-slimo chips, with seven kinds of sugar and extra grease – and free stickers).
There are certainly a growing number of reduced-whatever and whatever-fortified products here, but I wonder which way parents, who to my eyes seem they might be concerned but not obsessed, will go. Spaniards after all have a strong, fairly healthy, food culture to draw on. It’s not like parents really want their kids to sit around watching TV and eating junk, but it’s what’s sold to the kids and it’s easier. (But when it comes to eating habits, culture still trumps contemporary trends in many ways – no matter how much money is spent to market them. That’s true for trying to triumph over the effects of an unhealthy culture too. As my Spot-on colleague Matthew Holt points out, even with all the money that gets dropped into health care in the U.S., we’re still less healthy than the U.K. or Canada.)
So will Spanish parents become obsessed, buying even more altered food products but without making any other diet and lifestyle changes, and see that backfire as children get fatter and fatter? Or will Spaniards try to recuperate some of the older eating and exercise habits that have been lost? Will the next generation be shopping for U.S.-style XXXL clothes or going back to dinky European sizes? Stay tuned.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 3:27 PM | Permalink

I Hate It When Dinner Sucks and I’ve Made It


Because at least if the Husband had cooked it I would have had someone else to blame. That makes it a little better. But when everyone takes one bite and asks for cereal, what do you do? Acknowledge the truth and pour the milk for yourself too? Or gamely plow on, eating just because it’s your own creation?
Sometimes dinner just doesn’t work. Sometimes I can foresee this even before I start cooking, and so I don’t. Sometimes I should foresee this and I forget. And sometimes I am ignorantly enthusiastic about the meal, right up to the first forkful.
There are many ways to ruin dinner:
Cook when you’re cranky. Food knows this and will not respond properly.
Start cooking when you’re hungry and snack the whole time you’re cooking so you don’t want anything by the time it’s done.
Start cooking when everyone’s hungry and let everyone snack until the meal’s ready, so nobody wants anything once it’s made.
Make something child-friendly like boxed macaroni and cheese and think you’re going to not mind eating it also.
Cook to clean out the freezer. There’s a reason you haven’t wanted to make the rest of the breaded stuffed cuttlefish patties. Freezer burn is a sign of a shopping mistake.
Think that anything will go with pasta.
Or on rice.
Not that there’s anything wrong with cereal. Luckily. If your dinner didn’t work recently, here’s a funny (and unrelated to food) mom tale to make up for it. Keep reading – the payoff is toward the end.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 4:00 PM | Permalink

Tea Time?


Gosh, I’d really like to write something today, something interesting, or something topical, or something, whatever (I ‘d settle for coherent) but I can’t. I don’t have my decaf green tea.
I’m used to having some decaf green tea when I sit down at the computer. I like decaf green tea, although I never considered myself a decaf green tea person. I cut back on caffeine when I was nourishing others through what I ate, and green tea is supposed to be very antioxidant and super-duper healthy and all that, plus, and this is, as always, the key, doesn’t it have some weight loss benefit? What is it, one cup of tea negates the calories in 20 cookies? Something like that, I’m sure.
And I just like decaffeinated green tea. Is that a crime? Not as far as I know, at least in the territories I inhabit.
So now I’m like a kid who can’t get to sleep without a bedtime story. The problem is, as you might have guessed, that I haven’t found decaf green tea in Valencia yet. I’ve checked in a large supermarket and a health food store, either of which would be likely places, so I’m starting to give up hope. And actually, my tea won’t matter a fig in a few months; I’m sure I’ll have found a worthy substitute. It’s just now, when I’m neither here nor there, that I could really use a cuppa.
When you move abroad (or even to different regions in the U.S.) you leave behind certain foods that are typical of home. The appeal of peanut butter, for example, is limited in Europe. Americans though, thanks to a “food” culture that’s increasingly global, have it pretty easy to find most of the basics from home. No one thanks us for this.
Still, everyone has his or her missing favorites. And so depending on your level of homesickness, how long you’ve been away, how good the food is where you’re living, how your hormones are hanging, etc., you could be one of those expatriates who ends up paying $5 for the lone can of cranberry sauce in Marseilles in November. Or you (read: college students at the end of their semester abroad) could vow to forswear all sliced bread and eat nothing but baguettes forevermore.
Spain is a great country to eat in. And it’s got that Mediterranean diet thing, so in theory you’re eating more healthily. And Spaniards are – yes, we’re back to the key again – thinner than Americans, like everyone else in the world. Although they’re apparently getting fatter, thanks to an increasingly American-style diet (sorry about that).
Which means I’d better adapt fast, before there’s nothing to adapt to and we all just look like the same potato-chip-sucking roly-polies in every rich country around. I’ll have to think about it. As soon as I get a cup of tea.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 4:11 PM | Permalink

Where’s the Quiche?


Over the weekend the husband had some guy friends over to help him lay a brick patio. Being completely tool-sense-deficient, I figured I could at least feed the workers, so I laid on a spread with hearty sandwiches and chips and pizza, because I was thinking, “Arrgh, matey, men working on construction-type tasks outside, must eat much food and meat and potatoes and yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.”
This gender-traditional division of labor must have fried my brain, because no one’s eaten like that, at least in public, since 1963 (well, perhaps in some restaurants in Tennessee and Texas and places like that where measurements show that it is technically still 1963, but certainly not in the self- and health-obsessed town I live in). How did these men, who had been hauling bricks and bags of sand and swinging hammers and doing other John Henry-esque manly stuff, satisfy their appetites? They dug in, taking off the top half of the bread before they ate their sandwiches and spooning up the fruit salad and chugging down the Diet Coke.
No more stereotyping of men’s diets for me. I’ll now assume every construction worker is carrying grilled salmon and arugula salad in his lunch bucket.
Part of my confusion probably comes from the fact that my weekdays are spent like someone on a Titanic lifeboat—surrounded by women and children only. The only place I hang out that has large numbers of men is Trader Joe’s, which has a decent proportion of surfer dudes as check-out clerks, sliding the groceries through while they discuss wave breaks.
That’s the other problem. I should have just shopped at Trader Joe’s for lunch, instead of a regular supermarket, but I’ve got this love-hate thing going with Trader Joe’s. Trader Joe’s, in case it hasn’t hit your neighborhood yet (so far it’s mainly in blue states and related enclaves), has smaller stores that are a sort of cross between gourmet foods shop and health food store, with non-mainstream brands and many of its own-labeled products.
The grocery does have some yummy food and good prices, but Trader Joe is like Betty Crocker for the Ikea set. A gift of Trader Joe’s chocolates, for example, passes muster where Whitman’s Samplers wouldn’t; while a TJ frozen fajita kit is OK in kitchens that would put Hamburger Helper straight in the trash.
You don’t really cook after shopping at Trader Joe’s; it’s more like food you assemble. Microwave something here, open a sauce there, slap it on a plate. Which is fine–“cooking” doesn’t have to be about actually cooking; but I can just see my kids’ generation smirking at the cliché of these Trader Joe’s composed recipes and snacks just as much as I do about a Campbell’s soup casserole my mother used to make, for example. Which actually has its appeal, as do the Trader Joe’s combinations, but baked-brie-in-a-stainless-steel-and-granite-kitchen is sure to be the jello-salad-in-an-avocado-kitchen of the future. If you see what I mean. Trends come and trends go in a consumer society, and what different groups use to define themselves or use as an in-code has little relation to intrinsic worth.
But hey, maybe my kids will remember my “cooking” fondly. After all, I don’t know where they’d learn to stereotype.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 1:10 AM | Permalink

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