Runner Beans

July 20, 2010

Still Life: The Days of Unprocessed Food

Still Life: The Days of Unprocessed Food

Hello Friends! I’m out of town this week visiting Chicago. Since I haven’t been doing any cooking and have decided to not take pictures in restaurants anymore, I thought I’d share a few food-related images from my visit this morning to Chicago’s Art Institute.

I love studying these still lifes—especially the four from the 17th century—because they provide a glimpse at life before processed food. The vegetables are wild and beautiful with their uneven contours, and the dead game is a solemn reminder that meat didn’t always come wrapped on Styrofoam trays wrapped in plastic. There is one thing, though, that hasn’t changed in the hundreds of years since these still lifes were painted: mankind’s fascination with and celebration of food.

Cotan Still Life with Game Fowl 1602

Juan Sanchez Cotan: Still Life with Game Fowl (c. 1602) What variety of fowl! These four birds trump the generic chicken and turkey I eat.

Snyders Still Life with Dead Game, Fruits, and Vegetables in a Market 1614

Frans Snyders: Still Life with Dead Game, Fruits, and Vegetables in a Market (1614) The abundance of this painting reminds me an “I Spy” book. Do you spy the pickpocket?

Claesz Still Life 1625

Pieter Claesz: Still Life (1625/1630) A lavish banquet: the lemons, olives, sweetmeats and tableware are luxuries only the wealthy could have afforded.

Barbieri Kitchen Still Life 1640

Attributed to Paolo Antonio Barbieri: Kitchen Still Life (c. 1640) I was drawn to the simplicity of the foods in this painting: a basket of chestnuts, two wheels of cheeses, almonds, currants and mushrooms—the offerings of the land.

Renoir Fruits of the Midi 1881

Pierre-Auguste Renoir: Fruits of the Midi (1881) Renoir probably painted these colorful peppers, eggplant, citrus and pomegranates while traveling along the Midi, the Mediterranean coast.

Harnett For Sunday's Dinner 1888

William Michael Harnett: For Sunday’s Dinner (1888) In person, this painting looks eerily realistic. My queasiness, however, turned to delight as I realized this naked bird was going to be Sunday’s Dinner.

May 17, 2010

Cherry Alive

Filed under: Informational, Literary, Personal Essays — Tags: , — Andrea @ 5:15 pm

Cherry Alive

Bowl of cherriesIn 1909 poet George Sterling christened San Francisco “The Cool, Grey City of Love,” and over 100 years later, the epithet still holds true: it is a dreary, cool, grey day here in San Francisco. As the rain spills forth from the clouds, the usual hum of cars in the street crescendos to a whoosh. And though it feels more like November or March, there is one thing that reminds me it is May 17, a month shy of summer: this bowl of tart, sweet cherries sitting on our counter.

Every time I think of cherries, the phrase “I am cherry alive” starts running through my mind. The phrase is actually the first line of a poem by the same name. I never memorized anything beyond “I am cherry alive,” so I decided to look up the rest of the poem in The Random House Book of Poetry for Children. While the poem is sweet in portraying the unabashed wonder and delight of a child, it savors of sadness at the impending loss of a carefree childhood. In a way, I think that’s appropriate for this rainy, spring day—a mix of mirth and melancholy.

I Am Cherry Alive

“I am cherry alive,” the little girl sang,
“Each morning I am something new:
I am apple, I am plum, I am just as excited
As the boys who made the Hallowe’en bang:
I am tree, I am cat, I am blossom too:
When I like, if I like, I can be someone new,
Someone very old, a witch in a zoo:
I can be someone else whenever I think who,
And I want to be everything sometimes too:
And the peach has a pit and I know that too,
And I put it in along with everything
To make grown-ups laugh whenever I sing:
And I sing: It is true; It is untrue;
I know, I know, the true is untrue,
The peach has a pit,
The pit has a peach:
And both may be wrong
When I sing my song,
But I don’t tell the grown-ups: because it is sad,
And I want them to laugh just like I do
Because they grew up
And forgot what they knew
And they are sure
I will forget it some day too.
They are wrong. They are wrong.
When I sang my song, I knew, I knew!
I am red, I am gold,
I am green, I am blue,
I will always be me,
I will always be new!”

Delmore Schwarz (1913-1966)

April 27, 2009

Can there be a Righteous Porkchop in the Age of Swine Flu?

righteous-porkchop300wide375high1News of the Swine Flu is becoming a pandemic,  spreading faster than the flu itself: “Swine Flu” is a “Trending Topic” on Twitter; the school where my mother teaches in a virtually at-no-risk region of California sent home two letters (in one day!) on the Swine Flu; and 7 of the 32 my “Latest Headlines”  tab from the BBC  are about the Swine Flu.

With all this talk about swine, I thought it an appropriate time to share about a book I recently heard a lecture on, Nicolette Hahn Niman’s The Righteous Porkchop. Just hearing the phrase “Swine Flu” makes me want to stop eating pork, but according to the BBC Q&A page on Swine Flu, it is OK to eat pork (cooking it to the proper temperature would kill the virus). Nonetheless, the prevalence of Swine Flu encourages me to ask the butcher where my meat came from, and this — knowing where what we eat comes from — is one of the main things I took away from Nicolette Hahn Niman’s book lecture.

As an environmental attorney, Nicolette Hahn Niman (then just Hahn — she hadn’t married rancher Bill Niman yet) was sent by Robert Kennedy Jr. to investigate pollution caused by pork producers.  Her research led her to discover the unnatural practices in raising and slaughtering pigs and other animals for food. In her book, she delineates some of these cruel practices and the negative effects they have on the communities and environments where these farms are located.

With all these terrible things occurring, asks Nicolette, ” Can there be a righteous porkchop?” Yes, she says, there can. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago when natural and humane hog farming techniques were the norm rather than the exception. So while comprehending the magnitude and prevalency of the cruel practices of the hog farming industry can be disheartening, we needn’t count it as lost. After all, the biggest obstacle to change, says Niman, is a sense of inevitability of where the situation is heading. One audience member asked, how can we who are not hog farmers or environmental lawyers help bring about change? “Vote with your dollars” was Niman’s reply. If the demand for humanely treated products increases, so will the supply.

This blog didn’t give an “answer” to the Swine Flu (nor did it attempt to) or to the hog farming predicament, but hopefully it has sparked in you a little curiousity about where your food comes from before it reaches the table.

January 18, 2009

Osso Buco: A Poem

Filed under: Literary — Tags: , , — Andrea @ 5:34 pm

Billy Collins

To whet your appetite for Osso Buco and give you something to chew on mentally, I present you with a poem by Billy Collins entitled “Osso Buco.” Billy Collins was named U.S. Poet Laureate in 2001 and writes wonderfully clever yet gracious poetry about the ordinary. 

Read this poem aloud and listen to the sound of the words, and don’t stop reading at the end of every line but follow the punctuation. 

“Osso Buco”

by Billy Collins

I love the sound of the bone against the plate
and the fortress-like look of it
lying before me in a moat of risotto,
the meat soft as the leg of an angel
who has lived a purely airborne existence.
And best of all, the secret marrow,
the invaded privacy of the animal
prized out with a knife and swallowed down
with cold, exhilarating wine.

I am swaying now in the hour after dinner,
a citizen tilted back on his chair,
a creature with a full stomach–
something you don’t hear much about in poetry,
that sanctuary of hunger and deprivation.
you know: the driving rain, the boots by the door,
small birds searching for berries in winter.

But tonight, the lion of contentment
has placed a warm heavy paw on my chest,
and I can only close my eyes and listen
to the drums of woe throbbing in the distance
and the sound of my wife’s laughter
on the telephone in the next room,
the woman who cooked the savory osso buco,
who pointed to show the butcher the ones she wanted.
She who talks to her faraway friend
while I linger here at the table
with a hot, companionable cup of tea,
feeling like one of the friendly natives,
a reliable guide, maybe even the chief’s favorite son.

Somewhere, a man is crawling up a rocky hillside
on bleeding knees and palms, an Irish penitent
carrying the stone of the world in his stomach;
and elsewhere people of all nations stare
at one another across a long, empty table.

But here, the candles give off their warm glow,
the same light that Shakespeare and Izaac Walton wrote by,
the light that lit and shadowed the faces of history.
Only now it plays on the blue plates,
the crumpled napkins, the crossed knife and fork.

In a while, one of us will go up to bed
and the other will follow.
Then we will slip below the surface of the night
into miles of water, drifting down and down
to the dark, soundless bottom
until the weight of dreams pulls us lower still,
below the shale and layered rock,
beneath the strata of hunger and pleasure,
into the broken bones of the earth itself,
into the marrow of the only place we know.

from The Art of Drowning

Photo credit: John Hopkins University

September 14, 2008

“This Is Just To Say”

Filed under: Literary — Tags: , , — Andrea @ 11:39 pm

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

William Carlos Williams

August 27, 2008

Neruda on Tomatoes

Filed under: Literary — Tags: , , , , — Andrea @ 6:07 am

As sunny days offer forth sweet, juicy tomatoes, I am reminded of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s poem in which he pays homage to summer’s prized vegetable (or fruit!).

Ode to Tomatoes

by Pablo Neruda

The street
filled with tomatoes,
light is
its juice
through the streets.
In December,
the tomato
the kitchen,
it enters at lunchtime,
its ease
on countertops,
among glasses,
butter dishes,
blue saltcellars.
It sheds
its own light,
benign majesty.
Unfortunately, we must
murder it:
the knife
into living flesh,
a cool
populates the salads
of Chile,
happily, it is wed
to the clear onion,
and to celebrate the union
child of the olive,
onto its halved hemispheres,
its fragrance,
salt, its magnetism;
it is the wedding
of the day,
its flag,
bubble vigorously,
the aroma
of the roast
at the door,
it’s time!
come on!
and, on
the table, at the midpoint
of summer,
the tomato,
star of earth, recurrent
and fertile
its convolutions,
its canals,
its remarkable amplitude
and abundance,
no pit,
no husk,
no leaves or thorns,
the tomato offers
its gift
of fiery color
and cool completeness.

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