25 September 2010

Thinking about food last night

I was thinking a lot about food at a remarkable concert by The Bad Plus last night. I can taste food, taste a dish and notice a seasoning, an influence, a remarkable combination of ingredients. A good reuben, a classic coq au vin, a 9x13 pan of baked macaroni and cheese, a single thick slice of a sun-warmed Brandywine tomato, a bowl of cereal before bed – every dish offers up something for which we delight, give thanks, and dig in. Food nourishes and gives, reminds us of our need for sustenance and soul, for fellowship as well as calories. The traditions of France, Thailand, and Vietnam, the serendipity of leftovers in the fridge, the strength of oatmeal on a cold morning, the joy of a quick lunch with my wife – these are the things of food, the stories and the context for what we eat and why we eat. There are stories and harmonies and seasons that play off one another, ingredients that shine or support, stand out or blend in.
I’m not trained in music; I know nothing formal about it at all, and I listen to very little recorded music. But live music is different, and though I don’t hear nearly enough of it, most live shows I go to send my soul flying. The few and far between shows of the past year have included the Dave Rawlings Machine, the Takacs Quartet, and last night’s show by The Bad Plus. I’m least familiar with jazz, especially new, cutting edge jazz, and before the show started I was wondering how to listen to it, wondering if there was a way to listen to music that was like tasting food or drinking wine. If there are similarities, I'd say both require attentiveness, a willingness to notice things, an ability to be surprised, an open mind, and flexibility. I started listening to the amazing drummer Dave King and I thought to myself, sure, he’s roasting the bones I’ll use to make my stock. He was wild, hitting the drums and cymbals with intensity, speed, and a lightness that bedeviled my eyes – how did all that movement result in such a light, clean sound followed by a power surge that stood my hair on end? Look, I said to myself, there’s the bassist steadying the universe with his string-pulled throbs, with his leeks, reducing wine to better define the edges of bone and char. I listened and I thought of food, and that let my ears relax so I didn’t work too hard to try to hear something that may or may not be present. Just like food, I thought. Enjoy it, taste it, sniff it and savor it. Ethan Iverson’s piano playing was a real engaging conversation, a collaborative energetic and joyful noise, one that pounded and touched those big Steinway strings in so many ways I didn’t know how he did it himself. And all the time I’m listening I’m thinking to myself, so this is jazz, this constant rearrangement of the ordinary, an extension of something small, a noticing, a wild exuberance that stretches and reaches and stops and there I was with my ears on high and I thought, I want to make a Bad Plus rabbit stew, a fat-wrapped rabbit with a deep black sauce, a red wine and chocolate and red pepper black pepper stew that’ll go with some kind of pasta – maybe thick, maybe thin, I don’t know. We’ll see what the fall brings. Last weekend I butchered eleven big rabbits and tomorrow we’re going to the Cities. Maybe we’ll stop at an Asian market and buy a big slab of pork belly and I’ll start next weekend’s stew.

10 September 2010

September 1, 2010 Radio Show

Jessica Paxton joined me in the studio for the September 1 broadcast of Duck Fat and Politics and we talked about all things Minnesota.

August 11, 2010 Radio Show

The August 11 broadcast of Duck Fat and Politics was especially enjoyable because my wife Meaghen joined me in the studio and we talked about food and cooking and gardening.

Summer 2010

We ended our summer in northern Minnesota, where each year we fish, play cards, swim, and sauna.  One night we sat around a fire and my daughter roasted marshmallows for us.  What a lovely night.

I've written this blog because I love to share food and talk with friends about tomatoes, sauerkraut, chickens and beets.  But one season blends into the next and as this summer progressed I found myself unable to say anything else about the glorious Brandywine tomatoes I was slicing and eating, about the blood red beets we forked from the bowl at dinner time, about the rich yolks of our backyard hens.  Additionally, as I read the 17 million other food blogs that also celebrate confit, ramps, and the ineffability of good zinfandel, I am bowled over by how many good writers and excellent photographers have surpassed my parochial interests and limited writing skills.  Food is such a hot topic that I'm seeing some of the writing moving toward the competitiveness we see in sports, fashion and other interests and I wonder if we're all really and truly interested in piment d'esplette peppers or if we're searching them out because no one else has written about them yet?  Do we enjoy slaughtering animals or are we trying to outdo the next writer who merely bought his sow's belly at a butcher's market?  Me?  I got my piment d'esplette seeds from a guy in Vancouver because I had read about the pepper for years and met a fellow blogger who is from the region in France where they're grown, and she knew the guy with the seeds.  So while there may be a back story to the things we cook and eat and write about, it's easy to seem like a carpetbagger.  So, all summer I've avoided writing, spending the time instead with family and friends, doing the things I usually do, and eating delightful things.  I still have to figure out how to move past this awkward stage of my blog, where I've written about the foods and traditions I care about and don't want to be too repetitive.  At the same time, I've missed writing and sharing the stories of food and the way it connects us as a family and as part of a community.