Saturday, February 26, 2011

No, Not Another Food Cliche'

Fish out of Water?
Writing this blog is a fairly new creative outlet for me. Most of my experiences in writing have been in business correspondence, emailing, Facebooking or Tweeting. None of which are terribly creative unless you are talented at creating witty headlines. When I decided to take the leap and start this blog, I was reminded of the advice one of my college TV script professors taught me. Write about what you know and reflect on what you are passionate about.

Easy enough.  I know some about food and am definitely passionate about the subject.  But why is it every time I start to write a new post, every foodie cliche possible pops into my mind?

Is it because I'm a newbie at creative writing? Maybe, but when I used one these idioms I would feel like I was cheating to make the point. I started to pay attention to other people's writing more closely. This awareness even included paying attention to everyday banter, written and spoken.

Guess what? We all use them. We all use catch phrases because they work at making a point. But they only make a point if your audience understands its implied meaning. Food cliches are probably the most overused of all.

I personally find reading an item full of, call it what you will, sayings, catch phrases or cliches tiring to the reader. Therefore, I will continue to try to avoid the expected turn of a phrase in future posts. Dedicating myself to the avoidance though, hasn't stopped my curiosity of where some of these terms originally came from. So bear with me while I get it out of my system. If you are interested read on... If not, believe me I understand.

Apple of My Eye - a very common term used over and over again through the ages including the King James Bible translation. The original Hebrew for this idiom was 'iyshown 'ayin (אישון עין), and can be literally translated as "Little Man of the Eye." This is a reference to the tiny reflection of yourself that you can see in other people's pupils.  Hence the reason for the use with parents and their children or a beau and his gal.  Other notable authors such as Shakespeare and John Paul Jones from the band Led Zeppelin continued to give life to the phrase.

Cold as a Cucumber - cucumbers are cool to the touch, of course.  Cool is synonymous with the word calm.  Remember, I'm just reporting the facts here...the phrase first appeared in a play in 1610, "Cupid's Revenge."  The playwrights called some women, "cold as cucumbers."

Egg on your Face - more than likely started as US teenage slang as documented by the Danville, VA's The Bee in 1941.  The literal translation, of course, references poor or sloppy eating in a social setting, but is implied that some turn of an event leaves one looking foolish.

Fish out of Water - a metaphor for one who is uncomfortable in a situation. Earliest reference was found in Samuel Purchas's Pilgrimage, 1613,"The Arabians out of the deserts are as Fishes out of the Water."

Have one's Cake and Eat it Too - a popular figure of speech implying you can't have it both ways.  The phrase's earliest recording is from 1546 as "wolde you bothe eate your cake, and have your cake?" John Heywood's "A dialogue Conteinyng the Nomber in Effect of All the Prouerbes in the Englishe Tongue" alluding to the impossibility of eating your cake and still having it afterwards.

High on the Hog - is in reference to the priciest, best cuts of meat on the pig.  If one is living "high on the hog" they are living the high life.  While there are references to living the high life dating back to the 17th century, none specifically in relation to the hog.  In food historian Jessica B. Harris's recent publication, High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America, she cites how a Master "hired" a slave to slaughter his pig each season.  The pay ... a pig's head, feet and ears.  Several years passed and as the slave emancipated he found a bit more wealth.  When called upon the following season to slaughter the pig, he inquired about his pay and the Master responded with the historical payout (head, feet and ears) plus a bonus of the tails!  Our protagonist was able to respond he would not need the work as he was able to live higher on the hog since he now owned 3 pigs himself.

Pie in the Sky - we all know this to mean future happiness being unlikely to achieve.  The phrase was originally used by a Swedish immigrant, Joe Hill in a 1911 song parody of the Salvation Army's hymn, "Sweet Bye and Bye" criticizing the theology of the salvation of souls rather than feeding the hungry.  It was later popularized by The Fresno Bee in 1939 during World War II stating the business world was fearful of Roosevelt's focus on restricting trade and profit.

Proof is in the Pudding - it shouldn't come as any surprise that an original phrase dating back to 1605 got mangled along the way.  The proverb was popularized by Spanish author, Cervantes' "History of Don Quixote."  “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” A dish may have been made from a good recipe with fresh ingredients and looks delicious, but you can really only judge it by putting it in your mouth. The actual taste is the only true criterion of success.

Selling Like Hotcakes - early-American cornmeal cakes cooked in pork fat or bear grease and sold at fairs and church benefits.  That sounds good...where can I go buy some?

Take things with a Grain of Salt - a quick interpretation is to accept but maintain a degree of skepticism.  The idea behind the phrase is that food is more easily consumed with a bit of salt.  The phrase took hold in the English language as far back as 1647 in John Trapp's "Commentary on the Old and New Testaments."

Now that I've satisfied my curiosity in understanding these idioms, perhaps I am cured of my impulse to use one.  Only time will tell.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Celebrating My Cook-at-Home Mentors

Earlier this month, the government updated their dietary guidelines.  The headlines?  Eat less food, eat more fruits and vegetables and fewer SoFAS.  What the heck are SoFAS?  And how do I achieve meeting the new recommendations? 

As defined by the guidelines, SoFAS are solid fat and added sugar.  We are left to draw our own conclusions as to what the authors of the document are referencing since they avoided actually naming the "bad for you" foods.  Here's one interpretation to get you thinking....

If you take to heart some of the criticism in the media regarding the new guidelines, a common theme is how the guidelines fail to include suggestions for achieving a better diet.  One of the obvious ideas that could have been suggested and one of the easiest to achieve is cooking more at home.  By it's very nature, cooking at home helps you control portion size, variety and nutrients where restaurants and prepared food manufacturers are slower to act on your behalf.

My husband and I, while living in Dallas, were neighbors with a restaurateur.  He gave us some freebies once inviting us to sample his establishment.  The portions were huge!  We asked him why so much food had been served (on enormous plates).  He said he hated serving that much food  -- often much of it went to waste -- but he had to because his competition did.  If folks came in and paid $12.00 for an entree they wanted a lot of food.  Even if they could not finish it. 

The idea of cooking at home is easy to embrace if you already like cooking at home.  For me, I not only like,  but love cooking at home.  But had I not had mentors along the way, my path could have been very different.  This thought got me thinking.  Who are my "cook at home" mentors?

Of course magazine recipes, cookbooks and the typical celebrity chefs have played a role.  More importantly, I have very personal mentors who have really inspired me. 

My mom - when using alcohol in cooking says, "Use only what you are willing to drink."  One of my first lessons in using the best ingredients possible.  Go Mom!  The "cooking" Sherry I use is a lovely Sherry from Jerez de la Frontera, Spain.

Joy, my long ago, co-worker/friend/neighbor showed me the love in making a potluck dish and sharing with friends.  I really do believe you can tell the difference if the cook cares about what they're making.  I still make her chicken enchilada casserole.

A couple we hung with in Chicago, Jan and her husband Bruce (Bruce, a food historian and Jan, a documentary producer/professor) authored a book and produced a series about authentic Mexican food.  They invited my husband and I along with about 4 other couples to be recipe testers in their home kitchen.  The experience demonstrated how to have a great social experience with a group of friends preparing a big, ethnic meal... at home.  We also learned to appreciate the necessity of good communication.  I now jot notes on all my recipes.

The Commander's Palace New Orleans CookbookAnother mentor?  My husband, John.  When we moved to Chicago for my job, he was left with time on his hands before successfully finding work.  He decided to kick up his skills a notch and bought the famous New Orleans restaurant The Commander's Palace cookbook and a killer french cookbook.  What lovely meals were awaiting me upon my arrival from a long day at work.  I marveled at his willingness to dive in and try something new.  He showed me I could do it too.

Our friends Ric and Barb - they were one of our very first dinner guests when we were first married.  I served veal.  Ric ribbed me a bit about my choice of meat.  Did I realize it was a baby cow?  Other than that, the meal was a success.  But from that point forward I was more mindful of my food choices and what I may serve a guest.  To this day, we have never eaten together at a restaurant, our gatherings are over home cooked meals at their house and ours. 

A co-worker from my Dallas days, Nguyen and his wife Thi moved to Los Angeles about the same time we did.  His wife loved to cook, Nguyen being the techno geek that he is, sent to select bloggers and food followers about when and where to sample his wife's cooking.  The word spread and the next thing they knew they were operating an illegal restaurant out of their apartment.  The covert establishment became so successful, they had to go legit. By listening to friends feedback, they dived in and now operate the very successful Starry Kitchen in downtown LA.  They'll be celebrating one year this week.

And our dear friend Nick - he embraces all of the characteristics above.  His Italian mother passed on her culinary talents to her son and he now, the ever patient teacher, showed me how to make pasta in my own kitchen.  And what a sport for participating in a friendly grilled chicken competition with my husband.  Both prepared a fabulous chicken in their own way .... Nick's Coffee Grounds Coated, Beer Up the Butt Chicken and John's ever Succulent Foiled Roasted Chicken w/Secret Herbs.  Nick showed us how to be playful in the kitchen.

I raise my glass of Sherry to each and every one of you for playing a such a big role in my culinary development.

Who are your heroes?

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