Friday, January 18, 2008

Food In The Four Fields

I haven't had access to the internet since Monday. The story is typical north Idaho. My ISP provider began to snowmobile up to the radio tower to fix some equipment, could only get so far on the snowmobile, snowshoed the rest of the way, worked on the equipment until it was too dark, then found himself being "rescued" by our local Search and Rescue guys who refused to let him spend the night there. It was four days before he could go back in and fix the equipment. I was never sure whether I should laugh or cry....

What made this so frustrating for me is that I started teaching at our local community college this week (90 miles away, giving new meaning to the term local), and needed internet access for all sorts of school related reasons. Luckily, things seem to be back to normal, so here I go again....

Interestingly, I have a student who is taking my Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology class because she is interested in cultural aspects of food and nutrition. How can I not love that? Food is a great topic for talking about anthropology because it can be approached through any and all of the four sub-fields of anthropology: physical (also called biological), archaeology, cultural, and linguistic.

Biological and physical aspects of diet, evolution, and health are prominent topics today. Food is an important part of the archaeological record, providing us with historical data about what and how people ate in a time without written record. Cultural and social aspects of food abound, from culture specific diets to the economics of shopping to social aspects of eating. And how we talk about food reveals much about our culture, ourselves, and how food is valued. Indeed, history, the environment, and economics also enter into discussions of food, while the politics of food is pervasive around the world. Given the popularity of food today, what with the food channel, trendy restaurants, sustainable eating, GMO crops, and so forth, the topic of food lends itself to a variety of questions and discussions within the four fields of anthropology and makes it easily accessible to beginning students. I could go on and on....

Instead I'll jump right into the food I made for Monday lunch this week, especially since it's one of my favorite comfort foods. I made an Italian sausage and lentil soup. I first had soup like this at a restaurant and I loved it. Of course, lentil soup was also childhood delight since it was one of my father's favorite foods although we only had it when he had time to make it. (My mother's favorite to make, and it hasn't wavered over the years, is reservations). Anyway, starting with some good Italian sausage (or ground pork with Italian seasonings like fennel, oregano, and hot pepper), I brown the meat, throw in some chopped onion, a bit of carrot and celery, garlic and salt, and before that garlic has time to do anything but yield its flavor into the fat, I add some homemade tomato sauce. Then come the lentils and the water, and I let it simmer until the lentils are edible. At the end I mix in some creme fraiche or sour cream and I just love the mix of flavors in this soup.

I found several years ago that my soups, stews and what have you always taste better when I use water instead of some canned or even worse, dried broth or bouillon. I was delighted to read last November that this is the very thing that author and blogger, Michael Ruhlman suggests. He said:

"I cannot say this strongly or loudly enough: DO NOT use canned stock/broth. Use WATER instead. I repeat. You DO NOT NEED to buy that crappy can of Swanson’s low sodium chicken broth! It will HURT your food. Use water instead. When that recipe says 1 cup of fresh chicken stock (or good quality canned broth), please know that your food, 90 percent of the time, will taste better if you use tap water instead of that "good quality" canned broth. Water is a miracle."

And he's absolutely right.

Continuing with lunch, salad consisted of celery, carrot and couscous with a lemony, dijon vinaigrette. My everyday white bread flour with wheat bran rolls took on some interesting shapes when I tried sliding them off the peel onto the preheated baking stone in my oven. I kind of liked the effect.

And dessert, well, I never go wrong when I make something out of Nick Malgieri's book Perfect Cakes, so this week I made the "Capriccio alle Nocciole" or Hazelnut Cake from Ticino. It was delicious!

Bon Appetit!

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