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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Culinary Intertextuality

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Feeling geeky today. (pushes glasses up nose – ignore the fact that the glasses are pink, rhinestone-studded Versace for a sec…)

Food is a source of inspiration for me. I find it’s an opportunity to show creativity, artistic talent even, and to just enjoy myself. But in reading another blog – – the subject of original recipes came up.

Is there such a thing as an original recipe?

Probably not.

But when you come to think of it, is there such thing as an original anything? Exploring my favourite literary vein again, let’s go back to Homer’s Odyssey (or the Iliad). Many consider this to be one of the first written works of fiction (or legend or what have you) in the Western world. But as my comp lit prof so often told us, there was nothing original with Homer. He was taking thousands of years of oral tradition and merely putting them into a new and less metamorphosing form. Something concrete, at that point in time.

Virgil came later and tried to surpass what Homer did, by writing the Aeneid. And then Ovid tried to turn it all topsy-turvy with his Metamorphosis. Fine, dandy.

Then you get real nutcases like Boccacio who, for example, uses a crazy frame-work to turn the structure of fiction on its head (holy story within a story in that one batman) to build a canvas for his fiction or not fiction, depending on what frame you see.

And this just continues in modern times – you can look at experimental fiction today and really, is it that much stranger than The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy (which dates back to 1759)?

The real crux, however, is that nothing is being done that hasn’t been done before. There is nothing new. Very rarely do we truly innovate, in the literary sense. The tools change, the context changes, but the people-vs-people interaction remains as it always has been. You can’t separate yourself from what you already know and what you’ve already done, and hence this is the nature of literary intertextuality. People do not exist in vacuums and all you do is influenced by who you are and what you’ve already done.

Is food any different?

Probably not. Is it possible to create a new recipe that hasn’t been influenced by anything you’ve ever made and tasted before? No way. So this is what I like to call culinary intertextuality, or really, the impossibility of culinary innovation.

That said I don’t care. :)

I revel in the fact that all of the amazing cuisines I’ve had the fortune to enjoy are as we speak revolving around my little brain, influencing how I create a meal. It just makes it SOOOO much more fun. The cosmopolitan nature of today’s food economy means that now, more than ever, we have the opportunity to be exposed to how others throughout the world prepare food. I love seeing how surroundings influence the flavours of the dishes – the spices that are used, the way the food is eaten, everything.

I just enjoyed a yummy meal of homemade chowmein, and am now sipping on a delightful cup of chai tea. The world at my fingertips, indeed.

On Sunday, I ended up with an impromptu mini dinner party, and had a good time getting that together. Had a little too much time on my hands and hubs had invited a friend over to work on some sort of project, so I suggested that the friend stay for dinner as well.

And then spent the rest of the afternoon having a little fun in the kitchen.

Homemade foccacia was the first thing that I made. It wasn’t that hard! I was inspired (see??!!??) by the ACE bakery rosemary foccacia I had enjoyed the night before. I LOVE that stuff, but I just can’t foresee spending $4 for a teeny loaf of bread that hubs and I will devour in a matter of minutes (it’s that good – the lazy among you should buy it and eat it!). I opened up a cookbook and found myself a recipe. Foccacia is a time-consuming bread to make, but not terribly labour-intensive. First you make a “sponge” (warm water, flour and yeast) that is technically *supposed* to stand overnight. I only had a few hours to let it stand, and it seemed to work just fine, though the fermented flavour would probably benefit from a longer standing time. After you’ve made the sponge, you add more flour, water, a bit of snipped rosemary, and some sea salt. Also pretty simple. The somewhat yucky part is kneading for 10 minutes (I could not ever knead again and die happy, but I guess that is the price we pay for tasty homemade bread). Let rise for a while (tip: cover your dough, put in a cool oven, turn on the oven light, and voila, you have the perfect warm draft-free place for your bread to rise!)……then you dump it out of the bowl onto a baking stone (if you have one, which I don’t) and let rise for some more time. The fun part is spreading it out, dimpling it with your fingers, and then brushing with olive oil. At this point, I also snipped more rosemary and sprinkled sea salt and then baked my way to salty, chewy, crusty perfection. I love bread.

We also had Caesar salad, but I was very lazy with this – renee’s light dressing, jarred (real) bacon bits, boxed croutons…..and some fresh parmigiano-reggiano to try to redeem it. It was tasty.

Main course was also very tasty. I had lucked out a couple of weeks ago finding striploin steaks on sale, so I stocked up. Pulled a couple out of the freezer, and trimmed of visible fat (I hate fat on my meat! Blech!). These were bbq’d to perfection by my cute hubby (with some montreal steak spice). I topped the steaks with a mixture of caramelized onions, marsala and cracked peppercorns. I have to say cracking peppercorns is one of the most fun things put them in a little baggie and then go at them with a meat mallet. :) It's like therapy, but free!

I made these delicious twice-baked potatoes from epicurious - Potato Recipe I used whipping cream instead of half and half (I had some leftover from last week’s dinner party), PC peppercorn goat cheese, skipped the butter and topped with a sprinkling of paprika. I suggest adding salt, and perhaps some garlic for a little more flavour, but the presentation is quite impressive (yay for the good old icing gun!) and they are very easy to make. Two thumbs up. I also added some stir-fried veggies – matchstick carrots (leftover from some other recipe), green beans, peppers, onion and mushrooms, along with some olive oil, garlic, sea salt and rosemary. Yum!

And it was a success. Hubs’ confirmed bachelor friend is now re-considering his status.

Have two more dinner parties on the near horizon. A low-key one next week for the in-laws (it’s on a weeknight) and one next Sunday for some friends of ours. I’m always bittersweet on in-law dinners. On the one hand, I love preparing things that I know they will like, but on the other hand, they make such a HUGE kerfuffle about me not fussing that it has a somewhat vampirish effect on the joy I take from cooking. I mean, I *could* serve them plain baked chicken and potatoes with boiled veggies, but I wouldn’t serve that to myself! So why would I serve it to them????? It’s funny how a woman who seems to derive pleasure from keeping her house meticulously clean (a pleasure that I, clearly, do not share), would not understand the pleasure that I get in preparing tasty food for the enjoyment of others? They're awesome people, but not inclined to indulge themselves....

So I will make the whole dinner on Monday night, so when they arrive for dinner on Tuesday, all is taken care of, and we won’t need to order in (which is what they want to do…they’ll treat, but I’d still rather cook).

For our friends, I’m thinking Moroccan. Not sure why, but I think it will be fun. I think I’ll do a little research over the next little while – I’m thinking like Moroccan/French fusion something – so it’s exotic, but not too much so. The french colonial link makes me think that there could already be some great fusion ideas out there.

I want to make something with a "foam" just because I never have and it sounds cool. And I think apricots will somehow have to be involved. Any suggestions?

Thanks for reading!


Sarah said...

hey leslie

thanks for the fatfreevegan link, methinks i'll have some fun reading that blog!

gotta say, your knowledge of literature makes me wonder how i was ever allowed to graduate from uoft with a major in english. all i learned from my courses was that i hate fiction, and somehow i managed to escape 4 years without ever having to read the odyssey and many many other classics. needless to say, my marks weren't good enough to ever consider doing a masters. i should have chosen another major. all i read now is non-fiction. i wish i enjoyed fiction more though. it's better for the brain than watching laguna beach.

derek and i recently started cooking using actual recipes. each sunday we alternate making elaborate meals for each other. it has opened up a whole new world, and i am quite enjoying the process of cooking. before my rule was if it can't be done in 1/2 hour, it isn't worth doing-- we'd just throw stir-fries or curries together or make veggie burgers or burritos. that kind of stuff. but after years of this, it is so nice to have fresh ideas and use ingedients that i never would have thought or known how to use before. i get it now. it is a labour of love and it is worth the time to have something really good and unique on your plate. and there is a certain pride in cooking a great meal that took effort and patience. like you though, i'll never be able to enjoy cleaning! and i'll stick to one day every second sunday for the fancy meal.

Anonymous said...

for the "foam" desire... I'm not sure if it's what you're looking for or not, but I once had a cappuchino mushroom soup, which was a nice creamy mushroom soup topped with foamed milk (like for cappucchino)... sorry, no specific recipe, but the presentation fpr this is really fun :)

leslie @ definitely not martha said...

Sarah - glad to hear you are enjoying culinary creation. :) Awesome!

Regarding the nerdiness - honestly, if I'd taken English lit, I'd be the same. I actually majored in French lit, and took electives in waaaaaaaaaay too many subjects - media, comp sci, economics, comparative literature, history, italian, earth science, etc....such a geek.

AandJ - thanks for the idea. Sounds cool! :)

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