Chef: More than just food


I was unable to attend the premiere screening of Chef at SXSW this year, much to my chagrin, so I’ve spent the ensuing two months on tenterhooks, waiting for it to open here in Austin (I was all set to see it when it opened in limited release on May 9, even going so far as to book a babysitter, but it didn’t open here until the 23rd).  So, once it opened here on the weekend, I got my butt in a seat as soon as was humanly possible. On the whole, I thought it was a very pleasant movie, if not a little formulaic. While many folks have mentioned the visceral delight of the food porn on display (which, frankly, I found a little distracting — Jon Favreau’s character makes this enormous, gorgeous meal alone in his apartment for no one, which made little sense to me. But it sure was pretty to look at!), I saw some other things going on as well, points of interest that I don’t think should be overlooked even though this film 100% capitalizes on this current food-obsessed cultural moment. _DSC9959.NEF There are very few things I find more delightful as a consumer of culture than watching Jon Favreau’s semi-autobiographical characters tear themselves down into a broken, ego-bruised mass, usually via an epic meltdown, then slowly rebuild from a place of abashed humility. The first time I saw Swingers, I couldn’t sit still while watching the answering machine scene; it made me so anxious, I was pacing back and forth in front of the TV saying, “no, no, please god no, don’t do that, just stop for the love of … he’s not going to stop, is he?” There is a similar meltdown in Chef, only his shame isn’t private — it’s viral. It’s through this mechanism that Favreau communicates his particular brand of vulnerability, one that provides a counterpoint to all the puffed-up masculinity on display in the rest of his celluloid life.

There’s no small amount of dick swinging in Chef, and the showdown between Carl Casper, whom we are to understand is a creative culinary mastermind, and Dustin Hoffman’s irascible, inflexible restaurant owner is but one particularly aggressive example. Carl’s banter with his loyal sous chef Martin (John Leguizamo) is simultaneously macho, semi-filthy, and respectful (the chemistry between the two actors is as refreshing as a watermelon paleta on a blazing summer’s day), and together they do the work of teaching Carl’s son, Percy (Emjay Anthony) the intricacies of being a man, from applying cornstarch to one’s “huevos” in humid climes to learning the hierarchy of the working world to the profound responsibility imbued in a chef’s knife. mmmmm And it’s that male-centric view that troubles this film. Typical of most Hollywood movies these days (I guess technically this is an indie? But it’s got Robert Downey Jr and Scarlett Johansson in it, so it can’t be THAT indie), there are women present, but only in relationship to the man and his needs. Por ejemplo, Johansson’s sultry sommelier serves only to warn Carl that the boss is coming, provide calm encouragement to spread his wings and fly, and moan lasciviously over a mouthful of pasta he’s prepared for her while she lounges on his bed. Inez (Sofia Vergara), Carl’s ex-wife, offers friendly support, encouragement, as well as gentle chiding when Carl lapses in his fatherly duties. As likable as Inez is, she’s something of a cypher. Why does she have that amazing house with the huge staff? Why does she have a publicist (brilliantly and skeevily played by Amy Sedaris)? We know nothing about Inez other than that she adores her son, clearly still cares deeply for Carl, and has a famous Cuban musician for a father. Put another way, the three women in the film are essentially there to reflect Carl back to himself in one way or another. (For a brilliant and devastating takedown of The Amazing Spider Man 2 along these same lines, check out Amanda Ann Klein’s “The Postfeminist Gift of Gwen Stacy [SPOILERS!!!])

In addition to the film’s “woman problem,” Favreau is blind to his economic privilege in telling this story. Despite the fact that Carl kvetches that he’s broke, he magically receives an apparently no-strings-attached truck from a Miami connection of Inez’s (she’s so useful like that!), then proceeds to max out his credit cards outfitting that truck to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars, not to mention secure the appropriate permitting in each city they visit on their drive from Miami to LA, have startup cash to purchase ingredients (and beer and cigars). Yes, it’s a feel-good story about implementing your own creative vision in the interest of living your best life, but it was extremely difficult for me to suspend my disbelief when it came to Carl’s overnight success as a food truck operator.

But there are things that I appreciate in the film, too. People of color in the movie aren’t depicted as comic relief, they are the main characters. And I think that’s particularly interesting considering the dominant discourse of celebrity chefs, which tends to privilege white males. I like that Cuban food is the link to Carl’s identity and reignites his creative fire without any anxiety about being Other, and I also like that in each city he visits, he effortlessly crafts a hybrid sandwich reflecting that city’s culture (po’boys and beignets in New Orleans, brisket sliders in Austin). He embraces an easy fusion, a subtle argument for food as the vehicle for inclusiveness.

I also loved the role of social media in the film, particularly as it concerns Percy. It’s through his son that Carl discovers the possibility of connection — and the destructive power — of social networking. Percy, a digital native, negotiates the truck’s viral marketing and is instrumental in his father’s success. It’s also the boy’s technological savvy that helps Carl connect to his son — just as Carl teaches Percy how to be a man, Percy teaches Carl how to get out of his head and be of the world. While I am uncomfortable with the idea of my own son, who is close to Percy’s age, being so comfortable with how to talk to people on the internet (I require my son to turn off the chat function when he plays Minecraft, and he will not have an email address, Twitter account, Instagram, Facebook, etc until he’s a few years older), Chef makes the argument that parents should learn to stop worrying and love the bomb, so to speak, because on the other side of that worry is true connection.

Ultimately, Chef is an enjoyable narrative of a man’s quest to rediscover his creative voice. The theme of pursuing your own vision in service to a professional endeavor resonated with me deeply. I laughed frequently and heartily, and drooled obediently on cue at the food porn scenes. I just wish that the women had been more than just set dressing while the men were busy learning from one another.

Meal plan: Week of 5/18/14 – 5/24/14


Welp, last week’s menu was a rousing success in terms of getting back on plan, so this week I’m letting it ride. I’m so close to my 5% goal I can taste it, and it tastes a lot like Garden Vegetable Soup. It’s also going to be warm this week, so I’m working more salads into the rotation.

Mmmm...cheesesteak

Mmmm…cheesesteak

Sunday: Cheesesteaks (can’t be a monk every night!)

Monday: BBQ Chicken salad

Tuesday: Rainbow peanut noodles (I’m making brownies for book group and am going to try very hard not to eat any)

Wednesday: turkey lettuce wraps

Thursday: chickpea & sausage minestrone (this might not happen, as the BK has baseball practice — he made the All-Stars team again this year — and the LK and I will go see Michael Pollan speak)

Friday: Almond, berry & chicken spinach salad

Saturday: Memorial Day weekend begins! Dinner TBD.

 

Call for Submissions: Tansy, a foodlore zine


 

Tansy, or golden buttons.

Tansy, or golden buttons.

I’ve started a new passion project, Tansy, a foodlore zine. Please consider contributing! I’ve already gotten some great submissions (and ideas for submissions). The more voices we have, the richer the story will be!

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: Tansy, a new zine focused on representing people’s personal experiences with food, seeks submissions for its inaugural issue. Each quarterly issue will center on a specific food; we’re kicking things off with STRAWBERRY. Submit your memoirs, essays, fiction, poems, recipes, original line art/comics, photos (high resolution, please) to tansymag@gmail.com, along with a brief bio. Submission deadline is May 31, 2014. Please limit submissions to no more than 1500 words.

Meal plan: week of 5/11/14-5/17/14


 

soup

It’s bathing suit season, which means it’s zero-point veggie soup season. Because nothing inspires wolf whistles at the beach than a cabbage-bloated belly. Wooo-hooo!

Seriously, though, I’ve been back on Weight Watchers in earnest for about five months now and I’ve been on the threshold of my first goal (losing 5% of your starting weight) for weeks now. Lots of things derailed me — I didn’t track or exercise during SXSW, I had Foodways Texas, followed by the Austin Food & Wine Festival. I work out A LOT, but I’m also super sloppy in my tracking, going over my daily points allotment every day.

I’m really ready to get serious again with this partly because I’m paying to be a member every month, but also partly because this is the most progress I’ve made with weight loss since before I got married. (I lost 40 pounds back in 2003.) And it’s not so that I can look good in a bathing suit, but because I want to be healthy for a long, long time. I also am looking to clean up the family’s diet, especially because I’ve been letting too much sugary junk slip through the cracks and ends up sliding down my gullet. It’s better for the entire family’s health if I’m holding the line with healthy foods.

Along with having a vat of zero-point veggie soup on hand for afternoon snacks, I’m committed to weighing and measuring all of my portions and staying within my points target every day. No more borrowing from my slush fund of 49 weekly “extra” points, since I have no intentions of giving up my Saturday cheat day.

To that end, this week’s meal plan is carefully planned to speak to all of those concerns — cutting back on the sugar and junk, carefully measured on-plan portions, with a little wiggle room for wholesome treats.

Sunday: Build your own tostada night, with refried pinto beans, shredded chicken, cheese, veggies. The kids loved this.

Monday: Bacon and Shrimp Pasta Toss (10 points per serving); apple crisp for dessert

Tuesday: We’re going to a 6pm UT baseball game, so there will probably be sausage wraps or Frito pies or nachos or something (I’ll have a big helping of veggie soup during the LK’s dance class, which ends at 5:30)

Wednesday: Easy Crock Pot Chicken and Black Bean Taco Salad (7 points per serving)

Thursday: Edamame Salad with Crispy Steak Bits (7 points per serving)

Friday: Mom’s Spanish Chicken and Rice (9 points per serving)

Saturday: TBD. Not sure what we’ve got going on this weekend — maybe nothing, but that’s typically our dining out night.

What’s on your healthy eating plan for this week?

On cultural appropriation, “pioneering,” and Georgia Pellegrini


Those of you who’ve spent any amount of time in my presence sometime over the past two weeks know that I have Some Thoughts on Georgia Pellegrini. It has not been a particularly slow burn, though; I’d never heard of her before my sojourn at Foodways Texas back in March, right around the time Pellegrini’s newest book, Modern Pioneering, came out. When my friends showed me the cover of the book, my first question was, “what’s pioneering about a watermelon keg?”

cover

Now then, I’ve gone on record as being less-than-impressed with people who call themselves pioneers from a position of white privilege, and Pellegrini seems to be at the forefront of this next wave of privileged “pioneering” women. Like Ree Drummond, Pellegrini participates in spinning a romanticized angle in the house with her DIY domesticity, but raises the stakes through her narratives of hunting, killing, field dressing, and cooking her own food (particularly in her first lifestyle book, Girl Hunter). This lady is all about getting her hands bloody, and you know what? Good for her. I’m all for women who embrace self-sufficiency to that degree (I’ll go about as far as buying pork chops from the ones what raised the pigs at the farmers market). But when that self-sufficiency becomes a product, one that’s flogged on the backs of indigenous people, is where I part ways with Pellegrini, philosophically.

Maybe we should define our terms here. For Pellegrini, “pioneering” involves making lip scrubs out of raw cane sugar, cornmeal, and organic peppermint extract to combat the chapping effects of winter weather, stenciling one’s staircase, and the aforementioned watermelon keg. I suppose that’s trailblazing in some way or another, but as my fellow mom and wine-guzzling buddy said, “It’s like she went to goop University. I can’t imagine that her audience includes anyone over age 35.” In truth, Pellegrini has basically developed a lifestyle portal for women who want a little more personality to their Pinterest and who can afford a $2200 “adventure getaway” in Montana, during which Pellegrini will help them “unravel” while they’re up to their elbows in entrails.

To my mind, pioneering is a notion that’s heavily romanticized in American history. For me, it’s connected to Manifest Destiny and the subjugation of this country’s indigenous people as legislation like the Homestead and Dawes Acts institutionalized and legitimated the seizure of land and displacement of its rightful owners. I’ll quote myself from that Pioneer Woman post:

The pioneers (think Laura Ingalls) are romanticized icons of Western progress, fighting harsh weather, uncertain food supplies, and — worst of all — Indians (*gasp*) in order to realize the promise set forth by Manifest Destiny. The American Dream, while certainly accessible to and enacted by all Americans, is rooted in a rhetoric of whiteness. 

Today, there’s a movement among various American Indian tribes to recover and preserve their foodways, including gathering of edible plants and herbs, as well as improving nutrition and health on reservations. The federal dam system has encroached on native salmon fisheries to such a degree that several Pacific Northwest tribes have been deprived of a significant food source and cultural touchstone, not to mention untold environmental devastation. (More information.) At the same time, indigenous languages are dying out, kids in rez schools don’t have school supplies thanks to last year’s sequestration (I’m sure that won’t help close the achievement gap between American Indian kids and their white counterparts), and the unemployment rate for American Indians still hangs out at around 11%.

Ooooh, this is bad, you guys. Super bad. A Modern Pioneering-branded  Minnetonka Moccasins giveaway. Oy.

Ooooh, this is bad, you guys. Super bad. A Modern Pioneering-branded Minnetonka Moccasins giveaway. Oy.

So that’s why it really chapped my ass at the Austin Food & Wine Festival when I saw Georgia Pellegrini giving cooking demonstrations and participating in panels focused on “old-school cooking methods” while clad in fringed leather moccasins, an embroidered blue tunic lashed with a leather thong, and an Indian princess feather fascinator stuck in her expensively highlighted blonde hair.  I’ll explain more in a minute, but first I’m gonna pass the mic to Thomas King in this very short excerpt from his novel, Green Grass, Running Water (the title is a reference to the US government’s promise that indigenous people would retain the rights to their land “as long as the grass is green and the water runs”). The scene is the Dead Dog Cafe, in a Blackfoot community in Alberta, Canada:

One of the secrets of a successful restaurant was to keep things simple. Every day Rita cooked up the same beef stew, and every day Rita or Billy or Cynthia or Latisha thought up a name for it. It wasn’t cheating. Everybody in town and on the reserve who came to the Dead Dog Cafe to eat knew that the special rarely changed, and all the tourists who came through never knew it didn’t.
“Toilet’s working.” Billy let the door swing shut behind him. “You want me to change the gas on the dispensers?”
“No, get dressed. We may need help out front.”
“Plains, Southwest, or combination?”
The itch was more persistent. “What’d you do yesterday?”
“Plains.”
“Do Southwest.”
[...]
Latisha would like to have been able to take all the credit for transforming the Dead Dog from a nice local establishment with a loyal but small clientele to a nice local establishment with a loyal but small clientele and a tourist trap. But, in fact, it had been her auntie’s idea.
“Tell them it’s dog meat,” Norma had said. “Tourists like that kind of stuff.”
That had been the inspiration. Latisha printed up menus that featured such things as Dog du Jour, Houndburgers, Puppy Potpourri, Hot Dogs, Saint Bernard Swiss Melts, with Doggie Doos and Deep-Fried Puppy Whatnots for appetizers.
She got Will Horse Capture over in Medicine River to make up a bunch of photographs like those you see in the hunting and fishing magazines where a couple of white guys are standing over an elephant or holding up a lion’s head or stretching out a long stringer of fish or hoisting a brace of ducks in each hand. Only in these photographs, it was Indians and dogs. Latisha’s favorite was a photograph of four Indians on their buffalo runners chasing down a herd of Great Danes.

In this scene, King satirizes cultural tourism and cultural appropriation by having the First Nations staff of the Dead Dog Cafe don “uniforms” of “authentic” indigenous garb because they know that the visiting tourists won’t know the difference. Latisha and her employees exploit the stereotype for economic gain and subvert the entertainment value of their native-ness. They acknowledge their “Otherness” and use it to their advantage, with the (presumably white) tourists as the butt of the joke.

Georgia Pellegrini at the Austin Food & Wine Festival. Please forgive the blurriness. Not shown: fringed leather moccasins.

Georgia Pellegrini at the Austin Food & Wine Festival. Please forgive the blurriness. Not shown: fringed leather moccasins.

But when people like Georgia Pellegrini, a former Wall Street financier, affects American Indian dress in the process of marketing herself as a “modern pioneer” (who draws heavily, I imagine, on indigenous methodologies of hunting and gathering), it’s a problem. Using another culture’s clothing/customs as part of your “brand” is Not Okay. (I’m sure GP’s a very nice person; I have nothing against her personally, and it’s not like she put on a war bonnet and then acted shitty about it. But still.) When a member of the dominant group (in this case, a privileged white woman from an affluent hamlet in downstate New York, home of the Tappan tribe, who hunted, fished, trapped, and companion planted for food) appropriates or “borrows” attire and practices from groups that have been historically “Othered,” it distracts from the lived experiences of the people being borrowed from, perpetuating their “Other,” exotic status.

Having your $40/head book launch party on the “Wet Deck” at a luxury hotel downtown? I’m not sure where that fits into anyone’s definition of pioneering, unless it’s within the context of finding a place to park in Austin’s condo-blasted downtown hellscape.  But it certainly suggests a tone-deafness on someone’s part, to the tune of unexamined white privilege.

Meal plan: 5/4/14-5/10/14


The semester is over and, beyond fielding queries from students with questions about their final grades, I’m done teaching for now. (For the foreseeable future, really.) I’m now concentrating on writing and my postdoc, working on lots of exciting new projects and hoping to make something happen with my food-writing career.

I’ve been cooking a lot; partly because I’m reviewing some cookbooks, but also because I haven’t had much opportunity to spread my wings in the kitchen over the past several weeks. I have so many unfinished projects hanging over my head, I’m really relishing the short window of time I’ve got right now to get caught up on things domestic before summer madness starts.

To that end, I’ve been putting my cast iron skillet through its paces of late, as well as working through my aversion to cooking things in oil. Being raised by a lifelong Weight Watcher makes one skittish about frying things, but I’ve been trying to relax in that regard a bit. Everything in moderation, right?

I’ve got lots of things to say here in the coming weeks and months. But for now, here’s a meal plan.

Image

crispy chicken thighs

Sunday: wiener schnitzel (technically, schweineschnitzel because I don’t eat veal), mac and cheese, steamed broccoli, because nothing says “bathing suit season” like breaded, fried pork cutlets and rich, creamy, fat-drenched pasta.

Monday: chicken spaghetti, salad

Tuesday: I went to the Women Behind the Wheels class at Antonelli’s; the kids had mac and cheese and hot dogs and Matt had leftovers.

Wednesday: crispy chicken thighs, salad, crusty bread and Mt. Tam

Thursday: catfish tacos

Friday: roasted cauliflower tacos

Saturday: I’m hoping we’ll go grab some pizza from Sauced and help them stay open.

What are y’all eating this week?

Foodie Field Trips: Treebeard’s (Houston)


Back in the late ’90s/early ’00s, I worked as the Music, Arts, and Movies editor for Houston Citysearch. In many ways, it was the perfect job for me, back before the site was a Yelp-like, user-curated city guide. I got to create all sorts of content, previewing and reviewing movies, records and concerts, and exhibits at places like the MFAH. My work days were filled not only with writing these pieces, but also planning an editorial calendar, attending movie previews and private gallery tours complete with catered lunches. My nights were spent in various clubs and music venues, or at the theatre or the opera. Yes, I was working 50-60 hours a week and only making $27,000/year, and it was super corporate, but dang, it was fun. Our office was on Main Street in downtown (not too far from Minute Maid Park; I could have walked to Astros games after work. In fact, I’m not sure why I didn’t.), very close to lots of cool restaurants. (I was a big fan of Mission Burrito, which had a location about a block away from the office.)

One of my most favorite places to go for lunch was Treebeard’s, which was just around the corner at Market Square (and two doors down from Warren’s, one of my all-time favorite bars). Now then, given that I wasn’t making more than $500/week and had student loans, credit cards, and a car payment, Treebeard’s was a total splurge, as the daily lunch plus cornbread and a drink was about $12. I hadn’t really had much exposure to Creole food before living in Houston (at least that I can recall), and I remember being completely blown away by the red beans and rice (my absolute favorite dish there; it’s their signature dish for a reason). It’s a cafeteria-style setup, with a rotating menu of three mains (stuffed pork chops, chicken fried chicken, pot roast, blackened catfish, and the like) and assorted sides (black eyed peas, grits, mac and cheese, etc.).

Baked catfish on dirty rice, topped with étouffée.

Baked catfish on dirty rice, topped with étouffée.

Work-related travel found me in Houston last week and as I was considering my lunch options — there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on in Houston, culinary-wise — I seized on Treebeard’s and didn’t look back. I left Citysearch and moved away from Houston in August 2000, so a good decade-plus had passed since I’d last eaten there. I was so pleased to walk in and see that nothing had changed. I grabbed my tray, my glass for iced tea, a fruit cup, and went full-bore with my order of baked catfish atop dirty rice, with a side of jalapeño cornbread. The picture here doesn’t do it justice — this was an enormous portion (I must have stretched my expensive lunches into two servings back in the day), and I couldn’t finish it despite my best efforts. Everything tasted just as I remembered it, flooded as it was with memories of a very different time in my life.

In all honesty, my return to Treebeard’s  — among other things — has made me somewhat circumspect. Dang, I loved all the writing I got to do then, and all those perks sure were nice. And I left Citysearch to go to graduate school, ostensibly so that I could become a better writer (also, working at Citysearch could sometimes be … a bit of a you-know-what-show, especially once Ticketmaster bought the company, or Barry Diller bought Ticketmaster or whatever). I don’t think a job like that will ever come up again, but when I boil that experience down to its essence — writing about things I was (and am) passionate about, I get a little thrill. Who knows what else is out there? Who knows what’s possible these days? All I know is that I want to get back to that m.o. of Always Be Writing, even when it’s hard.

Oh, another thing about Treebeard’s: they have a pretty sinful assortment of desserts, and I was eyeballing the saran-wrapped squares of butter cake for the drive home. But since I’ve been making some progress on the Weight Watchers front, I opted to stick with my fruit. Of course, later, my Houston-based friend recommended that I get some butter cake to take home, d’oh! So on Friday, I made this. It were tasty.

butter cake

 

Do you have any restaurants that define a certain time in your life? If so, are you still able to visit them?

Meal Plan: Week of 4/6/14 – 4/12/14


veggies

This past Friday, we received our first delivery from Farmhouse Delivery. After my experience at Foodways Texas, I’ve been looking for ways we can both reduce our carbon footprint and support local producers from within the kitchen. I signed us up for East Side Compost Pedallers and did some shopping around for CSAs, ultimately deciding on Farmhouse because I liked the ability to add on things like milk and cheese curds from Mill King, bread from Easy Tiger, and eggs from Pelham Lane Farms. I was hoping to get some Rockstar Bagels in our first drop off, but every time I added them to my cart, some weird $14 “cardamom bars of joy” showed up in my shopping cart instead. THAT’S FINE I DIDN’T WANT ANY BAGELS ANYWAY.

Anyhoo, I opted for the large weekly bushel and on Friday, I opened the box to find rainbow chard, spinach, strawberries, a small bunch of rainbow carrots, a huge bunch of parsley, a couple of sweet potatoes, a couple of artichokes, a gorgeous head of red leaf lettuce, and a big bunch of scallions. So, I’m faced with planning our meals around these veggies, many of which I rarely use. The chard, in particular, made my knees quake a little.

You see, when I was expecting the Little Kid, I had some, uh, food aversion issues. Meaning that I would eat food and then my body would decide it was averse to it. One day in particular, I made Eggs in a Nest for my lunch. I wanted to like it, really. But my body did not get the memo and I’ve avoided chard like the plague ever since. But now she’s five and I reckon it’s time to get over myself.

The farm box didn’t contain enough to keep me from having to go to the grocery store, but it has ensured that I’m incorporating veggies into every single meal. Plus, this gives me the opportunity to try some things I’ve not tried before, like branching out into sauces and whatnot. I already used the lettuce for dinner on Friday night (we’re not paleo, but I’ve found some really yummy recipes out there in that world, and I’m very glad there was enough of this taco salad left over for me to take some for lunch later this week).

Sunday: I ran the Cap 10K this morning and am celebrating with friends and margaritas at Maudie’s

Monday: Beef empanadas with chimichurri sauce. I might also use the sweet potatoes from the farm box to make these, but we’ll see.

Tuesday: Rainbow frittata muffins (recipe below), roasted artichokes

Wednesday: Chicken tikka masala, rice, naan

Thursday: Steak and brussels sprouts

Friday: Baked chicken wings, carrot and celery sticks, salad

Saturday: TBD. We usually dine out on Saturdays, so we’ll probably do pizza or tacos or something.

rainbowfrittatas

 

It’s been a while since I’ve shared a recipe here, so I thought I’d do so today. Here’s a ridiculously nutritious vegetarian main that’s super easy for a weeknight. Serve with crusty bread (and a salad if you want to be super wholesome; add a chunk of cheese if you’re feeling like indulging).

Rainbow Frittata Muffins
makes 12 mini frittatas
adapted slightly from Veggiestaples.com

12 eggs
1 cup chopped rainbow chard
1 cup chopped spinach
1 cup diced red bell pepper
3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray cups of muffin tin with cooking spray.
Crack eggs into mixing bowl and whisk together.
Add in vegetables and cheese, add salt and pepper to taste.
Pour the mixture into the muffin tins.
Bake for 20 minutes.

 

 

 

 

Foodways Texas Symposium: A Recap


chickens

This past weekend, I had the extreme privilege to attend the fourth-annual Foodways Texas Symposium. This year’s “Farm to Market” program was held at the Agrilife Center on the Texas A&M campus and provided attendees with the opportunity to explore and learn about agriculture through various lenses, from logistics to oral histories to the connections between Texas food and swing music.

The event commenced on Thursday night with a welcome dinner at The Veranda, with a “Texas Spring Picnic” dinner provided by Molly McCook of Ellerbe Fine Foods in Fort Worth. The menu included chicken-fried quail and a potent whiskey pound cake, showcasing Texas ingredients from start to finish.

oyster

Indeed, each meal over the weekend laid bare the embarrassment of Texas riches in terms of both ingredients and culinary talent. Friday morning’s breakfast, courtesy of Brian Light of Ronin Cooking, featured empanadas made with Longhorn beef (because College Station), while breakfast on Saturday was curated by Austin’s Stephanie McClenny of confituras, who paired her spring jams (including the brand-new ruby red grapefruit jelly) with irresistible rafts of grilled Texas toast from Dallas’ Empire Baking Company and goat cheese from Blue Heron Farm. Friday’s lunch, courtesy of Randy Evans of Haven in Houston, featured Gulf Coast delights including briny appellation oysters and a mouthwatering sauce piquant plump with Texas shrimp. (Our table also tore through three servings of dessert, a tipsy strawberry trifle stuffed into large mason jars.) On Saturday, Jesse Perez of Arcade Midtown Kitchen in San Antonio offered up a “Winter Garden Luncheon” featuring an absolutely stunning plate of roasted chicken and sweet potatoes, along with lamb shank, meaty mushrooms, and coarse yellow grits. On Friday night, dinner came courtesy of Lenoir’s Todd Duplechan, who wowed us with a smoked porchetta dish accompanied by a hearty peasant bread and refreshing end-of-season beets.

tipsy

While our bodies were nourished by Texas ingredients, our minds were nourished by the various thought-provoking topics. Friday’s program was more loosely organized, focusing on agricultural products like wine, olives and grapefruit, as well as an introduction to Robyn Metcalfe’s intriguing new project, The Miracle of Feeding Cities. I was particularly moved by Saturday’s program, though, which hewed rather more closely to a single topic: the rice industry in Texas.

First, Todd Romero, a history professor at the University of Houston, gave a talk on Saito Saibara, a turn-of-the-century ex-samurai who became a successful rice grower in South Texas before the racist immigration policies of the early-to-mid-20th century squelched his ambitions. Next, MM Pack moderated a panel dedicated to teasing out the nuances of water usage and conservation in Texas and how that relates to the rice industry.

Perhaps the most profound example of this troubled relationship came when Jack “Jacko” Garrett, a Houston-area rice farmer who founded Share the Harvest, a charitable organization that has donated millions of pounds of rice to the Houston Food Bank, accepted his Lifetime Achievement award. He explained that because water consumers in urban areas fail to conserve water in any meaningful way, this will be the first year in decades that his father’s farm will produce no rice because there simply isn’t enough water available. As a result, the Houston Food Bank will receive 800,000 fewer pounds of rice from Share the Harvest this year, which adds up to 8 million servings. It is profoundly humbling to reflect upon the connections between hunger and people’s dedication to maintaining their emerald-green lawns. It’s easy to think of water being a problem people in third-world countries have, but we can no longer deny that it’s a social justice issue here in Texas as well.

Also of note was the closing panel, moderated by Austin’s Kristi Willis, who led three urban farmers in a discussion of their operations. Max Elliott, of Urban Roots in Austin, James Jeffers of Eat the Yard in Dallas, and Colleen O’Donnell of Plant It Forward in Houston all described the ways that their farming programs yield positive change in their communities. Not only does Urban Roots teach at-risk youth critical leadership and life skills, but the farm also donates thousands of pounds of produce to the Capital Area Food Bank and Caritas each year. Eat the Yard, which was founded by two Army veterans, reaches out to veterans who are in need of immediate therapeutic interventions, and Plant It Forward helps out immigrants and refugees through its gardening programs.

In between all the eating and the learning, there was community-building to boot. There were many lively discussions floating around, from how to best manage one’s cast iron collection to what the best thing on the menu at El Patio is. I can’t imagine a better way to spend a weekend than surrounded by people who love food: the growing, preparing, and sharing of it. Here’s to many more weekends like this one.

Meal plan: Week of 3/23-3/29


pineapplecake

 

It’s spring! And pineapples were on sale for ridiculously cheap at the grocery store, so I took this opportunity to make my first-ever pineapple upside-down cake. You can see where it stuck to the edge of the pie plate when I inverted it, but look at that glaze! That caramelized edge! I’m very much looking forward to sampling this.

I went to the Foodways Texas symposium this weekend and learned so much, met some cool new people, and hung out with friends I don’t get to see very often. I’ll have a recap of it here tomorrow. There’s so much to share and process and take action on and be excited about — I can’t wait to get it all in writing.

In the meantime, here’s the meal plan for the week!

Sunday: Skillet roasted chicken from Cast Iron Nation; I’ll be testing some recipes from this new cookbook this week for a review.

Monday: Baked Spaghetti (Also from Cast Iron Nation), salad

Tuesday: Baked fish and chips, broccoli

Wednesday: LK and I will have dinner at Salvation Pizza while Husband and BK are at baseball

Thursday: Slow cooker chicken “gyros”, appropriate Mediterranean sides

Friday: Teriyaki salmon, rice, spinach

Saturday: Double date dinner out!

What’s on your menu this week?

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