It’s Complicated

Or, Why I’m Not In Napa Right Now.

I graduated one year ago from Converse College with a BA in English and a plan to enroll in the Baking & Pastry degree program at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, California.

cia-st helena (64)

That’s the one.

After a major health crisis the fall of my junior year and a semester abroad in Florence, Italy the following spring, I got fed up with not listening to what I really wanted instead of what I thought I should do and embraced my inner food nerd. I took some classes, I read a lot of books, and allowed myself to proclaim my love for baking loud and proud. I visited the CIA’s NY campus, then their Greystone campus in Napa, and I was hooked.

IMG_4307

There are a lot of reasons why culinary school/baking felt right for me. First of all, I was dying to be surrounded by people who love food as much as I do. I was absolutely desperate to learn more about classical baking techniques – especially yeast breads. One of my many dream jobs is to own a bakery – preferably somewhere in Italy, in a little shop with an apartment over it that I can live in (think Chocolat.). The craft itself fits my personality – it’s all about measuring and numbers and getting everything exactly right. The hours were very attractive; I’d much prefer to have a work day that goes from 2 AM to 10 and have the whole day to take naps in the sun. [I’m dead serious. I love working in the middle of the night. Most of my best writing happens then.] Even the way the class schedules worked was right; the CIA has a block schedule where you take one class at a time for an intensive 4-6 weeks every day. That is precisely how I prefer to learn; I can multitask, but I absolutely hate it, and the thought of being able to focus all my attention on one subject was quite relieving. [<—Introverts. ‘S how we roll.]

cia-st helena (121)

And to top it all off, it was in St. Helena, where my idol M.F.K. Fisher spent many years of her life. [Wrote my senior thesis on her book How to Cook a Wolf, memorized her entire life story, generally worship her every word.]

If all had gone to plan, I would be standing in a school kitchen with my whites and non-slip shoes, hanging on every word out of my chef-professor’s mouth right this very second.

Obviously, something changed.

easter 2012 mt tam (6)

First there was my  restaurant, ahem, experience, otherwise known as Gillian Learns How to Quit a Job. Then there was another food prep internship – I pretty much hated that one, too. What I realized was that for all that I love spending hours in the kitchen trying new recipes and learning new things, that was only a part of who I am. A very wise boss/friend who had a similar experience said it best: my relationship with food is so much more complex than just its preparation. My real passion for food comes from my awe of its “basic-ness;” that something so essential to our lives can have so much embedded meaning and history is, I think, incredibly exciting.

And it is for that reason why I fell so happily into place in the sustainable food movement. It is about so much more than just “eating local.” It’s about knowing the person who pulled your carrots out of the ground, who fed the cow that produced your milk, who collected the eggs that go into your quiche. It’s about respecting your self, and respecting the food that gives your health and energy every day. It’s about discovering the narrative running under every meal and every bite. With food comes stories, and there’s always a new one to tell. That is what I love. And that’s why working towards a safe, fair and sustainable food system makes me so happy.

Yes, there are graduate programs where I can study the subject in the traditional way, but I’m not ready to go back to that life. Not yet. It is not out of the question, but in all honesty, just the thought of returning to those days of essay writing and endless readings  and exam-cramming exhausts me. Sure, I’m good at the academic stuff, but if this – I’m sorry, I have to say it – journey has taught me nothing else, it’s the importance of focusing on what I want, not what I “should” do. At some point, I may decide that a graduate program will get me where I want to go. But right now, I think I’ve found myself where I want to be.

And with that said, I think I’ll go search for a new cookie recipe to try this weekend. Because some things never change.

scms stepbystep (18)

Advertisements

To Be Honest

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that there were a couple changes coming up for me.

[Other than the fact that I’m an intern at this rockin’ place. And that I’m the resident foodie on this awesome blog.]

 

*drum roll please*

I am officially…

check it ouuutt (3)

A FOOD COLUMNIST! I will be writing bi-weekly articles for my local paper, the Dedham Transcript, as the columnist of Honest Eats. I intend to write about the food scene/trends of the Greater Boston area and make them more accessible and less elitist, and always with a recipe. I think, with all the craziness and hype of the food world right now, it helps to bring it back down to earth and talk about why food is such a wonderful – and more importantly, simple – thing.

What I love most about food writing as a genre is the giving of recipes. Did you know that the root of the word recipe comes from the Latin word recipere, which means to receive? I can’t help but love that the word it has evolved into now has its roots in community and sharing because for me, that is what good eating is really all about. Sitting at a table with family and friends and just talking and enjoying the meal – the longer the better. One of my favorite things about Italian cuisine is the amount of time given to the meal – anywhere from 2 to even 5 hours can be considered normal (although today, it does seem to be decreasing Sad smile ). All good recipes have a story behind them, and I love when they are shared together. I think it gives the whole dish a new dimension – a literal food for thought. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather eat the chocolate chip cookie that was created by accident when the chocolate bar fell into the dough bowl than just some random boring cookie.

 

Well, ok, I wouldn’t blame you if you ate the boring cookie either. But I’d still like the one with the story better!

 

Yep, just call me the Carrie Bradshaw of food. And I’m ALWAYS accepting suggestions or ideas for articles, so if you fellow Dedhamites would really like to know about something food-y, drop me a line here!

 

In other news, I’m thinking of challenging myself to post here every day, just to see if I could get into a rhythm. Never mind those 3 4 other job/internships. I’m not in school anymore, shouldn’t I have like, gobs of time on my hands all of a sudden anyway?

 

Just let me have my delusions.

 

Oh and….Happy September?!?!?! How did THAT happen? Thank goodness for long weekends – I need some transition time. Although this 80 degree weather clearly didn’t get the memo…

 

Have a lovely loooooong weekend!!

 

dfm 8-31-11 (2)

 

dfm 8-31-11 (7)

 

guilty as charged (2)

(I’m sorry, I can’t help it. She begs to be on the blog.)

Let’s Go To The Movies – But Ditch the Popcorn

Have you heard about Amazon Instant Video?

You can rent movies for like 3 bucks and watch it on your computer. It is one of the coolest and most useful things for a college student without a Blockbuster membership ever.

Seriously, I watched 2 movies in 4 days. Don’t look at me like that, one was for a class.

Image link

The Secret of the Grain is a French film (love me some subtitles!) about a Moroccan family who lives in southern France. I designed my own honors course – because I can – on the role of food in the lives of Mediterranean women in the 20th century. I’ve been focusing on a fantastic text that focuses on food in Florence (of course), but the professor who is advising this project recommended I watch this. Amazon Instant Video to the rescue!!!! I loved this movie. Mostly because it brought food into the spotlight, but the way in which the director did it was very well done. If you can handle subtitles (and a little nudity – it is French, after all), I recommend it.

But the real exciting discovery on Amazon was…

Image link

I’ve wanted to see Food, Inc. since it came out in 2008, but I generally fail at renting movies and just hadn’t gotten to it. (No, really – I even keep a running “movies-to-see” list on my computer. It only ever gets longer.) And then Amazon decided to fix it for me, for which I am very grateful.

Food, Inc. is a documentary exposing the crooked, creepy inside of the American corporate food system. It had quite an effect on viewers – one woman quit going to grocery stores for a year, and I’ve hear several people go vegan because of it. It features interviews with people from all over the food industry spectrum – although it was sure to note that representatives of the big companies that were not being shown in a particularly, er, flattering light declined to be interviewed for the film. Shocker.

I will say that, because of my inherent nerdiness and the Food & Culture class I took last spring in Florence, I knew a lot of the info that the movie put forward. And the parts that I didn’t know did not shock me because of my prior knowledge. (You should have seen me when we read articles about the food industry last spring though – I was angry. And NOT hungry.)

I do think that this is an important movie to watch as an American, a consumer, and a human being who is semi-aware of “rights” and “wrongs.” The corporate food industry is – for lack of a better word – disgusting. The corruption and greed overwhelms any remotely redeeming factor they might be able to boast.

I don’t think the film is nearly as gruesome as it could have been, which is good and bad; but I think that makes it more viewable to more people, and that is what’s important here. There were some things that I felt should have been included with more detail (like what exactly is so bad about GMOs and the corruption behind “organic”), but I also applaud what they manage to cover in an hour and a half of film.

For me, the film was inspiring, validating – but frustrating. I hate how tightly money is wrapped around this issue, but I suppose that is the way of the world. The dollar is your ballot and your loudest protester. But I won’t lie, when I am at the grocery store and I am forced to choose between the generic brand eggs for $1.50 and the organic, cage-free dozen for $3, it’s not an easy decision. And more than once, I’ve let the cheap side win.

Food Inc. has strengthened my resolve – and my conscience – and if money is how I have to assert my beliefs, then so be it. It may mean that I buy less, but all the more room for “real food” which can actually be quite cheap.

I’ll end what could very easily turn into a too-long ramble about my food philosophy with a list. I love lists, don’t you?

1. Watch Food, Inc. The knowledge it imparts is worth sticking through the not-so-savory parts. I promise.

2. Buy local first, organic second if & when you can. Vote with your dollar.

3. Our food industry is eff-ed up something bad. No time like the present to start trying to fix it.

Oh, and Eat Real Food. More on that tomorrow. For now, just go with me 😉

My roommate and I hopped online after the movie and found some pretty sweet resources. The Cornucopia Institute is an organization that aims for “economic justice for the family-scale farming community” – basically, they advocate local-organic-whole food. Sounds good to me!

The best thing about their research is that they have created “scorecards” that rate various brands of eggs, dairy, and soy products based on 22 criteria. The focus is on ethicallyproduced products. I’ve already marked down what eggs to look for next time I need them!

Egg Scorecard

Dairy Scorecard

Soy Scorecard

Have fun and eat ethically 🙂

When In _______, Eat Like the _______-ans.

Due to my impending trip to my study abroad program’s offices to be trained in all things Peer Mentor-y, I’ve had my time in Florence on the brain quite a bit lately.
Ok, that’s a lie, I think about my 3.5 months on the greatest city on earth on a hourly daily basis. But roll with me on this one.
I thought I would compile a definitive list – according to me, at least – of the absolute must-dos while abroad…and the other stuff that if you somehow fail to fit in to your packed, globe-trekking schedule, you won’t be in tears about once you’re home. And then I started typing the first item on my list….and it became a post in and of itself. If you haven’t guessed already, it’s about food.
You had to have seen that one coming. Yes, number one for me is *drum roll*…food. I know you’re sitting there saying “well duh, this coming from the food writer wannabe/culinary-school-student-to-be.” But hear me out.
Well, wipe that drool off the keyboard and then hear me out.
Food is a pretty important part of experiencing a culture. And by pretty important, I’m talking in the Top 3.
It usually goes by unnoticed, and perhaps that’s as it should be, but the way one goes about eating has a lot to do with his/her culture. Why, for example, are there millions of take-out & delivery services available from restaurants in the U.S.? Because we the people keep up a go-go-go lifestyle, and convenience is often a top priority. We may enjoy a PB&J sandwich, but it’s probably while also replying to 50 emails, holding a conference call, and/or making plans with friends concerning what to play during recess in a couple minutes. Further more, the ubiquitous PB&J – arguably a truly ‘American’ recipe – is ideal because it’s cheap & quick to prepare.
On the other hand, we have bella Italia, where places to dine specifically and exclusively for lunch abound. Their hours are usually somewhere between 11 & 2, give or take, but this is not to cater to a wide variety of schedules – it is so for people to enjoy a 2 hour lunch. Unlike the U.S.of A., where food accompanies conversation – and the quicker, the better –  the conversation accompanies the food in Italy, which is afforded several reverent hours. The pace of life is slower, the meal times truly appreciated. Yes, sandwich shops exist where you can drop in and get a quick bite to go – but you will usually find such establishments double as a wine bar, where as early as 11 AM little old men are enjoying a deep red glass of Chianti and chatting with the owner behind the counter. Merely by stepping into such a place, you are observing – and partaking in! – the culture. And I haven’t even started on the food itself yet. 
This part is somewhat obvious – what people eat is, of course, part of who they are. And their culture is also [duh] an important part of who they are, so it’s a double dose of cultural immersion. But, let’s face it, the real fun is on the menu. While back home, your younger brother is chowing down on turkey & swiss on rye, you are about to dig your fork in to a hearty plate of fresh pasta, doused artfully with homemade tomato sauce and crowned with real parmeggiano-reggiano
And don’t forget the bread on the side! Or maybe it’s a big steaming bowl of my very favorite ribollita (the presence of bread goes without saying). 
Either way, a far cry from that little Wonderbread-clad sandwich on the other side of the Atlantic.
Call it a bunch of rambling, but all of this is to prove a point. Yes, eating in a new place can be scary. (Cacciucco, anyone?) But it’s an important part of getting to know that new place so everything else in it can be, well, less new & scary! I learned a lot more than just what the best kind of cheese is when I ate in Italy. (It’s fresh pecorino, by the way. At least I think so.) So please, before you throw up your hands and spend whatever precious little time you have abroad consuming a steady diet of ham & cheese sandwiches (don’t get me wrong, they have their place – just not 24/7!) – try something new. Even if you have no idea what you just ordered. Even if the waiter tries to translate and you think it might be something with a a beak, 3 legs and a dorsal fin. You might discover a new favorite I-must-eat-this-every-day food! You might also discover a new I-will-never-touch-that-foodlike-thing-ever-again food, but that’s okay too. What I can guarantee is that you won’t regret your choice of going out on a limb and trying something brand new. I do recommend bringing a friend – for fun photo ops and, if that second scenario turns out to be the case, to share her inevitably delicious plate of whatever-it-is. 
Now, I’ve given a great deal of time to explaining all this. And yes, it is because I love nothing more than talking about food and Florence, but it is also because I’ve been there, too afraid of new food to enjoy the whole cultural experience of dining. The regret I had about my first trip to Italy – spent hungry – was tangibly painful, and this time around, I was not depriving myself of that again. I learned a lot the second time around, but I’m lucky I got a second time! Heed these words, and you won’t regret a single minute of your trip. You’ll just live each and every one.

Buon Appetito.

~Namaste~

P.S. – See you in Austin!!!