Tiburón -Shark- Žralok

Tiburón -Shark- Žralok: Writing Cooking Traveling

Saturday, May 16, 2009


So I got a recent complaint that I hadn't "adopted" the blog for a while, which reminded me, oh yeah, the blog. So after trimming the fat from my postings and doing some life maintenance, I'm hoping to return to writing about food and my cat. 

Currently Tito is asleep (thankfully), not on top of my laptop which is missing the 8 key, the dashboard key, and is about to lose the 1 key. Who knew kittehs enjoyed using keyboards as scratch pads and napping spaces. It's cute when he attacks the screen up until he won't go away and then gets mad and starts biting. This goes on for an hour or so. Then he falls asleep and resume cuteness.

As for food, well I was stressed out momentarily so I jumped up and in five minutes put together what a couple of hours later has become some rather tasty mush which I guess is some sort of curried split pea soup. The split peas became mushy a lot quicker than I anticipated but that is the way of split peas and I realized, despite being hidden under layers and layers of spices and other vegetables, they have a particular, almost nutty flavor to them. I'd never cooked with split peas before, I only recently had split pea soup for the first time (it's ok), but I figured it would take too long for dried red beans to cook and I should've soaked them overnight anyway. So I made tasty mush which may potentially pass as soup. That's how I cook: 

Heat some olive oil in a pot or pan, add onions and any combination of the following: green or red peppers, garlic, tomato sauce/paste, diced tomatoes, water or vegetable broth, legumes, spinach, mushrooms, eggplant (occassionally), frozen broccoli, salt and pepper, spices. My use of spices brings on that terrible description of my cooking "tasty" (the culinary equivalent of "interesting") but I'm completely addicted to them. 

I often wonder why I think I'm a good cook. R says it's because I make food that tastes good. This is fine to start but it's nothing really. I don't think I've made anything particularly memorable or am a better cook than most of my friends with any culinary inclination, the opposite actually. Mostly I just like talking and writing about what I've cooked but I'm not sure why or why now. I think I'm a good improvisor and I know the flavors I like, but I'm clueless about technique (I've no idea how to make a simple, delicious tomato sauce, I only know to make a complex over-spiced one with no rhyme or reason to it, usually "tasty"), flavor combinations (ok, I have a vague notion of this when it comes to certain classic combinations, but I'm not experience enough yet to be able to take ingredients other than the ones mentioned above and make them anything beyond "tasty"), and I've yet to master textures, colors, or presentation. Sorry, I've lapsed into making lists again, which makes my writing boring according to one of my (three) readers. 

This self-consciousness stems from Joni. He was the 22 year old half-genius Israeli that R lived with until we moved to Sunset Park. He had no formal training but made restaurant quality meals at least once a week. Even when he was just making something simple, like mac and cheese, he usually made it astounding. During the time we were there he was going through a French phase. A lot of meat, butter, sauce, fresh herbs, stews. His meals never took less than an hour to prepare. When he made steak it melted in your mouth, when he added spices (and he had a ridiculous amount all across his shelves) they harmonized with the flavors of the ingredients rather than overpowering them. He never drank and never had dessert. For him, he loved the food too much to have room for anything else. 

He claimed to have learned everything from Cooks Illustrated and just cooking. Obviously, beyond that he also just had a talent for it. When the recession started and his business began floundering and he suddenly found himself in an economic slippery slope, many people recommended he start working as a cook or open a restaurant. He responded with the utmost reluctance. Much in following with Ajay's theory that if you start taking something you love seriously you lose your love of it, Joni had no desire to turn something he enjoyed doing into work. 

Why anyone would voluntarily engage in any activity has either necessity or pleasure at it's core. When I accompanied R to a video game lecture at NYU recently, I asked two video game scholars, who had written books, designed games, taught classes, one was even designing a school that used game theory as it's educational model, how did someone who hates video games get into video games? My motives for asking that was borne from need (to be able to relate to R now that he had chosen video games as a career and was playing them more and more often) and I was trying to figure out how to find the pleasure in it. One of the better answers I got out of them was, what is your purposed for playing a game? What are you looking to get out of it? Not everything will appeal to you, and she went on to list several types of games she didn't enjoy playing, as well as other games she did enjoy. Then she spoke about her favorite game, Rez, she explained how the designer was seeking to recreate the experience of people at a club at 3 am all dancing as one. Being together and moving together. And knowing this colors how she feels about the game. Beyond the game is the experience of it and your attachment to it. R thought it was a boring lecture.

Thinking about cooking in that context I realize I still haven't defined what I'm looking to get out of it aside from food. And I think because of that, I haven't been able to take it to the next level. I haven't committed to it in either a way of pleasure, the way Joni did by learning about it, taking his time with it, enjoying the process, or out of need, as in my friend Mario, who is going to culinary school and wants to open several restaurants. Do I want to engage in this just as something I enjoy and for the sake of enjoyment, a hobby or leisure of sorts, or do I want to engage in it as something that will fulfill some sort of need in me? The answer, if I really do want to take cooking to another level and test the levels of my love, is the second one. Because, despite his desire to enjoy his food and his ability at creating incredible meals, Joni was in a way fulfilling a personal need. After giving up alcohol and drugs, the taste for extremes still exists in him and so he brings that out in extensive traveling, a love of food and cooking, and motorcycle racing. For Mario, he gets pleasure from cooking because for him it's a form of artistic expression and will eventually fulfill a need both economic and personal.

Much like video games, which are something I dislike but somehow need for the sake of my relationship, what is it that I'm looking for out of cooking? What am I looking for out writing about cooking? Basically, what do I need to make the food better? And what do I need to make the writing better? Open to any thoughts on the matter.

Let me think about it and I'll write more on the subject later.

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