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Posts Tagged ‘chard’

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Help me out here. Something’s not making sense to me, it hasn’t for a while, and I want to pick your collective brains to try to get back on the trail.

I went to a restaurant a couple of weeks ago and ordered ‘carrot cake in a jar.’ It was a charming presentation, cake layered with icing, but the cake was dried out and the icing tasted like really sweet chemicals.

Last week I met a specialty foods store owner who apologized for the way some of his multi-grain loaves looked. The oven was acting up lately, he said, and was turning out loaves that were browning unevenly. None were burnt. He was just worried that I’d be upset that some parts of the loaf I’d bought were mahogany while others were tan.

Many local, hardworking farmers I know don’t set out produce that has so much as one flaw—a nick, natural russeting, a lopsided bottom—because they say the public won’t touch it. Some stores wax their organic apples to make them look more buy-worthy.

My favorite ice cream shop sells artificially dyed green chocolate chip mint ice cream. I asked the owner why he didn’t seek out a variety that didn’t, since I know they’re out there. He said he did, and set it out, ‘but no one wanted it. They won’t buy it if it’s not green.’

The affluent parents of the nursery schoolers I used to teach chose Go-Gurt—those brazenly colored tubes of chemicals—instead of pure yogurt for their kids’ lunches.

My local bakery makes luscious, three-layer chocolate cakes with Jamaican rum. But if one comes out of the oven with a crack across the top, no matter how slight, the proprietor doesn’t put it in the display case because she says it won’t sell.

Yet.

We pay top dollar for low-quality supermarket-made cakes, and we feed them to appreciative partygoers who gasp over the design but don’t pay attention to the flavor or to the fact that they are poking forkfuls of powdered head fake into their mouths.

We buy massive, brand new houses in developments in the middle of farmland, bells and whistles from the sun room to the butler’s pantry, but the basement floods as soon as it rains because when the mason was given instructions to make sure the foundation was tightly sealed, he just shrugged.

We spend $45 for a shower curtain at a big box store, so enamored with the cute embroidery at the base that we don’t actually FEEL the fabric to be sure it’s good quality, and it begins to fray after a month.

We pay six men to haul out the vintage cast iron clawfoot tub that came with the house, consistently holds its toasty water temperature for the length of time it takes to read Eat, Pray, Love, and has never leaked in all of its 80 years, then we install a five-figure plastic Jacuzzi (in ‘Creme Brulee’) whose finish begins to peel by the end of September. And after each use we see little pools of water at the corners.

So it goes.

What is UP with us? Why are we so preoccupied with perfection, even if it’s—absurdly clearly—just the look of perfection, a solar system’s throw from the real thing? Why don’t we see the manipulation that’s going on here?

And a more insidious thought comes to mind: If we DO see it, why don’t we give a flying Wallenda?

We used to care, I know we did. I have cookbooks that prove that people wanted, and ate, honest, delicious food made from real ingredients. I’ve seen old-time ads touting goods made with care and attention, with ‘family-owned’ splashed across them. But when I wrote for radio (18-35 demographic) a few years back I was told not to include ‘family-owned’ in my spots. ‘This generation doesn’t care about that,’ the head sales rep told me.

But I can’t shake the image—and the flavor—of farm-fresh chard so full of rainwater that it snaps apart when bent…of a funkily shaped Sugar Baby melon that’s so ripe that at the gentlest prick with the top of a chef’s knife it cracks and splits open in two on my counter top. Real tastes better than perfect.

I’m not saying there’s not a time and a place for convenience; I’m not saying every restaurant serves chemicals for dessert (and to be fair, the carrot cake was at a chain restaurant, so I wasn’t exactly surprised); and I’m not saying there aren’t notable exceptions to what I’ve outlined here.

I’m saying there seems to me to be a dismaying prevalence of choosing fancied-up crap over quality, and it’s a behavior that does not seem to be changing. There have been staggeringly positive advances in the food industry; maybe we all just need time to appreciate foods grown and made with integrity over ‘perfection’, or eating locally and in season, or what have you. And there will always be those who don’t care what they buy or eat. I get that.

But barring those who don’t know better or don’t care, I’m wondering where our predilection for mindfully choosing crap over quality comes from, and when and how the change took place. Thoughts?

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Crayfish and shrimp stew.

Last weekend I drove down to Ellicott City, MD to my college roommate’s house, jumped in the van with her, her three girls and the dog, and continued down to Colonial Williamsburg.

I’m not a serious history buff—I don’t know the Hawley-Smoot tariff from a hole in the ground (it might have been, for all I know)—but I’m one of those people who loves historical places, thinking places, and beautiful places. Factor in good food and we’re golden.

I love that you can wander around most of Colonial Williamsburg and don’t have to pay to do it. I love that the original plank floors in the King’s Arms Tavern are still there, worn and smooth and grey, and that George Washington’s boots crossed them more than once. I love that the place has been so authentically restored that if Thomas Jefferson were beamed back from the dead and dropped onto Duke of Gloucester Street, barring us with our fanny packs and our iphones, he wouldn’t see a thing different than he ever knew.

When I travel I make a point to eat something that the region is known for. Lunch at the Shields Tavern offered some tasty southern/colonial choices. Lordy, how I do love Carolina pulled pork, and I was tempted to get it, but pushed the envelope and ordered crayfish and shrimp stew. Described as an 18th century recipe, it includes tomatoes, vegetables, sherry and seafood. But the addition of that sherry plus a splash of cream really made it a bisque, and it truly lived up to that name: velvety, rich and savory. It was full of calories and full of flavor, and I didn’t care about the first part.

Tender Sally Lunn bread, watermelon-rind relish, those addicting ginger cookies that are sold on the street under awnings—these are the flavors of long ago, carefully recreated to give visitors a genuine taste of the cooking of the area’s English-Scottish settlers. Tasting it is a trip anyway, but if you’re used to Hot Pockets and Yoplait for lunch, it’s even trippier. My favorite dish is Game Pie—rabbit, duck and venison under a crust. Just the description makes my mom squinch her mouth up like Wile E. Coyote when he’s standing immobile just over a cliff and holding a sign that reads ‘Help’, but I adore it. And Colonial Williamsburg’s root beer—sharp on the tongue and intensely flavored—is a standout drink. Not for wusses, and I wish I’d bought a case of it to bring home.

After lunch we did what Colonial Williamsburg is best for: wandering. Photo opportunities are endless for normal people who like to take shots of trees or architecture or an errant fife and drum procession as well as for less-than-normal people who like to take pictures of rusty things and bricks. Three guesses which category I belong in.

Rusty padlock.

Path and boxwoods.

Sleepy ewe.

Bricks in stages of curing.

18th century fence.

Portrait.

Moss and lichen.

Magnolia blossom.

Peeling shutter.

Lightfoot.

Portrait.

Swiss chard.

Hitching post and elm.

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