Monday, June 27, 2011

Living the Brit life through food

Being newly graduated and unemployed, I've got a lot of time and potentially unwarranted optimism to think about what kind of life I might be about to embark upon. Like many new graduates, I at times have the sense that the world is my oyster, and I simply have to want a life in order to live it. As if we all have complete control over the process of bringing to fruition the life plans that we so idealistically design in our heads.


Then I remember how many applications I've sent out for, say, food writer/editor positions, and how few responses I've gotten to said applications (to date: zilch).


Nonetheless, humans are a relentlessly optimistic species, and the optimistic daydreams persist. Case in point, a few months ago, I was enamored with the notion of living a simple life in England, just knitting tea cozies and drinking tea all day. Maybe with Chopin nocturnes as the soundtrack to my life.


Somehow the part about being in England was very integral to the satisfaction I imagined I would derive from such a life. Why knitting tea cozies and drinking tea all day in my apartment in DC would not suffice in quite the same way perhaps says something about how objects can capture a sense of culture and association with a place. England completes the trifecta of tea cozies and tea in a way that DC doesn't.

Or maybe England's distance from my present life lends the romanticism of geographical escapism, the sense of "anywhere but here," that makes such a simple life more enticing.


Fast forward a few months, and I come across a recipe for the chocolate biscuit cake that so exemplified a British sensibility at the Royal Wedding. Clearly I needed to recreate this biscuit cake for myself.

In the process, I got to play out another little life fantasy of mine.


Graced with endless hours of free time and some great natural light, I spent the better part of an afternoon positioning my biscuits just so, working the macro function on my trusty little digital camera, and imagining what life might be like to do this every day.


Then I took one of my oh-so-British chocolate biscuit cakes (I ended up making lots of mini-cakes instead of one large one, since I didn't have the requisite size cake pan), sat down with a pot of tea and my newly completed tea cozy, and, after taking a few pictures...


...(okay, taking a lot of pictures), found a quite satisfactory sense of contentment.


Sure, these pictures might be a little sexier if I told you I had taken them while renting a flat in London, or Edinburgh, or staying in a cottage in the Welsh countryside. But, thanks to my stash of chocolate biscuit cakes (which hold up remarkably well in the fridge), I've found a way to "escape" to that simplistic, romantic little vision of life in England just about every other day this week, all while remaining in the good ole US of A.

Clearly I'm not accepting eating a bit of chocolate biscuit cake with some tea and a tea cozy as an acceptable replacement for being in England. But if I'm going to be stuck in DC anyway, there are worst ways to while away a few moments.


Friday, June 24, 2011

Inauthenticity = deliciousness

From Food and Wine Magazine's July 2011 issue, Karen Leibowitz talks about the evolution of San Francisco's Mission Street Food. I particularly love this quote:

"Deciding to completely redesign our menus twice a week taught us how delicious inauthenticity can be, and gave us the cross-cultural hubris to combine rice noodles, meatballs soaked with Asian fish sauce, Thai basil, cherry tomatoes and mozzarella and call it a Vietnamese Caprese."

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Royal Wedding menu

So, in case you've been living under a rock unawares, there was this little thing called the Royal Wedding that happened a few weeks ago.

For many, in the weeks building up to the big event the main question centered around the designer of the wedding dress. Brits seemed to nod in approval when it was finally revealed that Sarah Burton, protege of the late British designer Alexander McQueen, was the lucky anointed one. (By contrast, some criticized Michelle Obama for wearing a McQueen frock at the state dinner for Chinese president Hu Jintao, instead of opting for an American couturier).

For me, the big question was, What are they going to eat?

Of course, I'm always curious about what people eat. But I was especially interested in this menu after having researched Prince Charles's promotion of organic, sustainable, non-GMO farming and food production. Would the father of the groom and host of the exclusive evening reception use the occasion to reinforce his own call for sustainably-grown foods that preserve British rural communities and traditions?

Indeed he did. Reports of the evening reception's menu describe a 3-course meal with Welsh seafood to start, Castle of Mey lamb prepared three ways and accompanied by organic spring vegetables from Highgrove (site of Prince Charles's first forays into organic farming) as the featured entree, and mini sherry trifles, chocolate mousse, and honeycomb ice cream in a brandy snap basket to close.

By all accounts, the Royal Wedding seems to have constituted a huge win for Anglophilia both within the country and around the world. Some 2 billion people were estimated to have watched, and the newly minted Duke and Duchess of Cambridge recently announced an American extension of their state visit to Canada in July to capitalize on the royal fervor.

I heard from a few "what's the big deal?" party poopers in the lead-up to the nuptials, and I have to admit that even I was taken aback by pictures of the full-scale military rehearsal ahead of the actual event. All THIS for a wedding? But it seems like much of the pooh-poohing eventually fell to the wayside as the grandeur of British pageantry captivated all but the hardiest of cynics. As British Prime Minister David Cameron put it, "We're quite a reserved lot, the British, but when we go for it we really go for it." (Interesting how American nationalism often comes off as obnoxious at best, and arrogant and insensitive at worst, but when other countries do it, it's cool, eh?).

A wedding for any couple can be an opportunity to present a particular image about themselves to their guests. For the future King and Queen of England, it's an opportunity to reinforce their very British-ness, and hopefully in a way that turns people on to British culture. The oh-so-British touch that sealed the deal for me? It wasn't the dress designer, or the Scottish lamb entree, or the pomp and circumstance of a royal rite of passage. It was the McVities chocolate tea biscuit cake specially requested by Prince William to accompany the more traditional fruitcake wedding cake. A prince who commissions what amounts to "chocolate digestives"* in cake form for his wedding clearly has his culinary priorities in order in my book.

*If you are uninitiated into the wonders that are chocolate digestive biscuits, I promise they taste much better than they sound. If you don't believe me, Cost Plus World Markets often carry these biscuits; though they are generally served at room temperature, I've taken a liking to keeping them cold in the fridge.