Thursday, May 22, 2008

Let's Just Talk About Food For A Minute

I posted a quote from Brewmaster's Table in my scribblings about a Victory beer dinner a little while back and i am finding that it really, really rings true.

The jist, if you didn't click over, is that sometimes we get too wrapped up in the day to day operations of life to concentrate on a good meal. Sometimes we have to eat just to fuel up and don't get to sit down and really enjoy something.

This has been happening to me lately, i honestly don't know why, but i've been running around quite a bit during my prime kitchen hours and haven't been cooking nearly as much as i want to.

So here's where my head is at. I've been discovering all types of foods that i'd just never had before over the past few years. The more i read, the more i poke my head into different restaurants, etc the more i end up getting exposed to, as anyone would. I've been watching No Reservations too, so that has certainly opened my eyes (and in many cases my stomach...but not all).

So maybe it is ironic between gourmet Indian cuisine, traditional Indian fare, Thai, and getting over my fear of scallops (thank you Andy Dickerson) that what i've found myself getting into from a food shopping and meal prepping aspect has been food that is so much more simple and in many cases so much more plain. It's not laziness, i know at least that much. I love to let the hours slip away over the stove with a couple records playing.

I've made some connections with, of all things, traditional English cuisine. A long and winding story i'd tell you over a pint would reveal a novel i started writing sometime during college. At times the words poured out of me, but in other spells i would force sentences out one by one. I was overthinking something i didn't know how to properly execute and its ended up as chapters and notes and ideas on a computer disk.

But the place is very much like the portrayals of Olde England and port towns and villages i'd seen in books and cartoons growing up. They stuck, don't know why. Bustling cobblestone streets, voices all muddled together as people sell their wares in an open air market set up in an alley, fat red-faced men laughing as they sip from tin goblets, buskers that resemble The Band trying to make a pound on some corner.

This food falls right in line with that. Although not connected by geography, the writings of Dylan Thomas have always connected me to that same unconcious place. Whether it be men doing the devil's work or a simple rousing night on the town, Thomas would frequently takes us to a room full of characters deep into the night's allowance, with a watchful landlord presiding over the action.

The image in my mind was always one with a necessity for simplicity and these foods certainly represent that. Many derived more from an approach of 'What do we have left?' than anything else, this food has stayed very much the same for hundreds of years. It is easy to picture it served in a pub on a dull, rainy day just the same as i see it laid out in the hearth warmed kitchen of an English farmhouse. The dishes alone can blur the lines of time. I think that is a huge part of why i am drawn to it.

What am i eating you ask? Right now stuff that's easy to prepare. I've got a lot to learn in the kitchen, but these meals are as much a therapeutic touch as anything else really. They taste great, of course, but they're a transporter and that is really important.

The Ploughman's Lunch:

A lot of people believe this is a meal with a manufactured history, that's fine, i'll bite. The idea behind the meal is that it's a simple offering of goods a ploughman could take from home in a sack and unwrap and enjoy at midday right in the fields. You've got a nice chunk of English cheese, bread, pickle, tomato, and maybe some pickled onions and bit of mustard. There are variations, i've certainly added and subtracted for my own, but for such a raw, bits and pieces meal you really get to enjoy a lot of different tastes and flavors without eating a whole lot.

Toad In The Hole:

Basically it's sausage baked in Yorkshire pudding with gravy on top. I'm still working out an English ale gravy recipe, but this is easy to prep and easy to make and will fill you up in a hurry. Talk around the lunch table has involved tossing some veggies into the batter, so i may go in that direction next time around.

Bangers and Mash:

Of course. Sausages over mashed potatoes, gravy over everything. So simple, so delicious. There's a pub down the street from me with bangers on the menu and i ducked in during a snow storm over the winter and it was absolute perfection. Too messy to drive to work, not messy enough to keep the town out of the bars. Seems to be a theme every winter.

The English Breakfast:

Eat your heart out. Most everything is fried up in the full English Breakfast and that's just fine with me. Eggs, meat (sausage please), tomatoes, baked beans, fried bread, black pudding. Pile it on and pile it high boys.

Now i have never had black pudding, but i think i'm ready to try. It's not nearly as frightening as it might seem at the onset. What's the saying? Use everything but the squeal? I buy into that at the time being.

What to drink? There's no way to turn your back on the classic and obvious choices here. There are certainly a great number of American craft beers that would serve up well here...Brooklyn Brown was my beer for my first stab at Toad In The Hole, but let's remain in traditional form here.

I am very partial to the Brewery at Tadcaster, the Samuel Smith line of outstanding British Ales. This is due in part because i learned about many styles of British beer by way of their products. In the necks of the woods i was drinking beer in when i was learning about Porter, Oatmeal Stout, English IPA, and Nut Brown Ale, Sammy Smith was what as available. Thank you for your hard work Mr. Finkel.

Samuel Smith

Not to be a single-dimensional or brand loyal consumer, i've got to celebrate other good beers and breweries here who are owed their due. Fuller's is widely available and worth your while, the ESB and London Porter are all over the place. I've yet to try Adnam's and with rosy cheeks i'll admit to still not having experienced Old Speckled Hen or at least not since its meant anything anyway. Bitters and milds, bitters and milds, bitters and milds.

CAMRA Just because.

So there you have it, a lot of words about something really simple. That's exactly how i feel about this food though so it serves me right for opening my big mouth.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

dr. joel... i thought of you and went to look on the virtual friend world and found this link for your blog. how genius! have you had the sly fox in a can? it's a delightful surprise as long as it doesn't self distruct in your fridge. long story. anyways, what's up with you? email me yo! come down to philthy this weekend - me and moff got a new place in northern liberties! flaming lips on saturday ahhhhhhhhh!!!!
much love -