Authentic and Original New Orleans
I am part of the first of many confused generations to have lived only to witness a pop culture dominated by reproductions (of reproductions) of music, fashion, film, etc. And every so often, the repercussions surface. Such as when my co-workers discovered (in utter horror) that I had neither heard of The Police nor their hit song “Every Breath You Take” (1983), despite my prolonged obsession with Puff Daddy’s tribute to Notorious B.I.G., “I’ll be missing you” (1997). While the general omnipresence of recycled material has taught me to treasure anything truly original and good (with the exception of Forever 21), embarrassing situations like these have conditioned me to use words like “authentic” and “classic” with excessive caution.
But really, what is “authentic”? A reproductions is, in fact, an authentic product (and fascinating documentation) of pop culture’s evolution. And what makes something “classic” more deserving of respect? Many of today’s most revered “classic” artists were completely ostracized in their day because of their originality.
Treme also challenges the meaning and significance of these words used to describe New Orleans. In the second episode of Treme, street musicians Sonny (piano) and Annie (fiddle) are asked to play “something authentic” (after having performed Careless Love) by a group of church volunteers in town to help rebuild homes. Sonny scornfully offers to play the clichéd spiritual “When the Saints Go Marching In” for an additional fee, which is earnestly accepted (to his chagrin). This provides us with a well-needed reminder that New Orleans is a constantly evolving city that continues to produce some of nation’s best original work. So in honor of this message, I set out to find and explore a current authentic and original (obviously) New Orleanian album and dish.
I am head over the highest of heels for Treme, HBO’s newest television series that takes place in New Orleans three months after Hurricane Katrina. By following the lives of a chef, musician, and Indian Chief (the Mardi Gras kind) among many others, the show incorporates a delightful agglomeration of three of my favorite things: Creole and Cajun cuisine, funky, soulful music, and serious reveling.
Treme has inspired me to explore the uniquely preserved culture of New Orleans, and I believe the best way for me to do so is by making the food. For one, I’m naturally obsessed with understanding the anthropological context of any food I bake/cook, because I believe it is the only way to capture its essence. And two, the food of New Orleans is integrally tied to its music and celebration, which collectively, provide a gateway to much of NOLA’s past and present. So my plan is to make at least one dish referenced on the show each week, whether it be a traditional étouffée, or a local mass produced snack, and to go from there!
As American as Fried Apple Pie
I have always approached New Orleans fare with particular deference, because I believe it is the tastiest representation of the true Melting Pot. And let me tell you, when it comes to the American, multicultural synergy, I get uber patriotic and nonsensically emotional, much like how I get when listening to “God Bless the USA”. But in all seriousness, I take pride, as an American, in anything fundamentally American (except maybe American Apparel). And New Orleans Cuisine, to me, is just that; it has beautifully preserved the cooking techniques and ingredients of its countless cultures, all the while “making do” with the natural resources of the land and bayou, in the best possible way.
Reformed by the NYC Public Library
Under normal circumstances, I gather much of my culinary research from books purchased at the Barnes and Noble in Union Square, which are promptly, and tastefully, returned after a quick trip to the copiers at the nearby Staples. But I didn’t have the heart to take, semi-inappropriately, from Paul Prudhomme, Jamie Shannon, and John Besh. So I finally paid a well-past-due visit to the New York City Library, which I had postponed since first moving to the city.
Journey in the Bronx
On my way to a panel on “Latinas and Politics”, diligently organized by my roommate with The New Latino Movement, I took an unintentionally productive detour. After getting off on the wrong 4 train stop in the Bronx, I was driven further off course by a disturbingly familiar smell. I followed my nose down 167th street, and was led to an African Market serving hot fufu, a traditional West African dish composed of pounded, boiled yams (or unripe plantains), accompanied with spicy groundnut (or palm nut) stew. I grew very fond of fufu during my stay in Ghana, and gluttony nostalgia compelled me to take advantage of the unexpected opportunity.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to enjoyably stuff my face. And bringing the highly aromatic dish with me to an enclosed room full of prominent, political activists was out of the question. In a state of panic, I made an impulse purchase. I bought a 2 lb 12 x 4 fresh African yam to make my own fufu; I carried it with me to the panel, which drew minimal suspicion (among all options considered).
As I lugged the painfully heavy tuber back home, I reconsidered my ambitious idea. What was I thinking? I had no idea how to make fufu. I also dreaded carrying the big baby with me up and down the 8 flights of stairs to and from the subway.
But I sucked it up. The yam was too expensive to abandon ($8.60). And although I knew I wouldn’t be able to make the fufu (at least until I get a personal cooking lesson from my Ghanaian buddy’s Mama), I knew that I would be able to make my favorite snack in Ghana – yam fries!
Now Jenny, I know you used to have a little (and now you have a f&#$ing lot), you always had access to the fufu. So now, more than ever, I perceive the “rocks that you got” as an accurate representation of your privileged present and past.
Playing with Campfire marshmallows, that is. Although we will also play with real fire too.
I received a HUGE box full of delightful marshmallows yesterday (thanks to Doumak, Inc.), so I figured I could use them somehow for April Fools’ Day. If you haven’t already thought of a prank or two, pick up a few bags of marshmallows at the grocery store and note the following:
1. Remove your roommate’s pillows from their cases, and fill the cases with bags of marshmallows. Place the real pillows in the freezer.
**It’s fun to stick stuff in the freezer…. and it pisses people off. Try it.
2. Play Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles” over and over (in the office) until all of your co-workers are annoyed. Then offer them ear plugs, but give them each matching pairs of mini fruit flavored marshmallows.
3. Microwave 4-5 marshmallows in a clear glass for 15 seconds. Allow it to cool. Then walk towards a friend/co-worker and pretend to trip and fall. Make sure to point the glass of milk towards him/her!
4. Offer to make dinner for your friends and/or family. Tell them you will make seared scallops with Beluga caviar in a brown butter sauce. Here is how you will do it:
• Cut off the tops of 3 regular white marshmallows with a pair of kitchen scissors to give your scallops a slightly edgier edge. “Sear” the tops and edges with a lighter, blowtorch, or by using the flame from a gas stove (just stick the other end of your marshmallow with a metal fork or chopstick). Remember, this trick can also apply for when you simply crave a roasted marshmallow but don’t feel like building a fire.
• Cut 3 thin slices of kiwi. These will be cucumber garnishes.
• Place the marshmallows on top of each kiwi slice. Using a black gel icing pen, dot Beluga caviar pieces on the tops of each scallop.
• Melt and brown 2 tbsp of butter with 1 tbsp of sugar over medium heat. Drizzle the brown butter sauce over the seared scallops and serve!
Mmmmm…. so good! But not in the way your friends and family will expect. Tell me how it goes….
Until next time….
Discomforted by “trendy” comfort food
The recent comfort food fad is often attributed to the general movement towards comfort, value, and simplicity, in response to the depressed economy. But when food becomes “trendy”, it also becomes more expensive. Not only does it increase overall demand, but it subjects the food to the most pretentious chefs, critics, and food snobs, thus generating a flood of frou-frou makeovers.
Comfort food is comforting because it is yummy without over-intellectualization, served and consumed in big-ass quantities, and cheap. And this is because many comfort foods were conceived or first popularized in less than fortunate times, often by those with limited resources in less than fortunate circumstances.
Comfort food is my favorite cuisine, and I love it as is. So I was discomforted by the idea of it becoming “trendy”. I feared that its essence would be lost, and that its rich culture and history would be discredited.
The Trendy Trinity(s)
Fried chicken : Britney Spears
Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, slaves in the American South were forcibly limited to the “off” cuts of most meats, but could often raise their own chickens. So on special occasion, the slaves fried their chicken using saved/re-solidified lard and flavorful spices, not only making the chicken more palatable, but also more economical (calorie dense) and longer lasting (fried chicken is “sealed”, giving it a longer shelf life without refrigeration). The physically and psychologically nourishing treat survived the fall of slavery, and ultimately became a staple in the south.
Fried chicken is like the Britney Spears of trendy comfort food. People have indulged in it in secret in past times because of the negative stereotypes that have been attached to it. But in very recent times, people have come to embrace it openly because of its uncontainable, undeniable goodness. Thankfully, fried chicken and Britney Spears are not bitter. They welcome appreciation from even those who belittled them before they gained mainstream respect.
Big name chefs, such as Andrew Carmellini, David Chang, and Thomas Keller, have all incorporated their interpretations of the southern fried delicacy into their fine-dining menus.
Want a piece of chicken? A piece of Britney?
Animalification is the art of identifying the animal version of a human being. The process involves much more than finding an animal that bears a strong physical resemblance to the person. For example, an amateur might incorrectly identify Sarah Jessica Parker as an Equus ferus caballus (horse) based on the structure of her face. But in reality, her nimble movements, dainty style, and overall coyishness are not at all characteristic of the odd-toed ungulates (the mammalian order encompassing horses and rhinoceroses) who maintain slow grazing lifestyles.
The key to successful animalification is to first understand the essence of the person, and to then seek the animal that somehow captures that essence. Since most of us are not exposed to the thousands of animal species in the world beyond Wikipedia.com and Discovery Channel, it is rare for us to be able to precisely animalify a person beyond the animal family, or even animal order.
*Hiearchy of Biological Classification * remember: Katy Perry Came Over For Great Sausage
The concept of animalification is analogous to the concept of “foodification”. Foodification is the art of creating the food representation of a human being or personified object. Although translating a human being into food form is more abstract than translating a human being into another member of the animal kingdom, foodification is overall, a far less daunting craft. First of all, food is much more accessible than animals, therefore making it possible for us to develop a strong knowledge of the flavors, textures, smells, sounds, and appearances of a significant portion of the food kingdom. Secondly, we are not limited to identifying a pre-existing food. In foodification, we have the freedom to create an original food that possesses the precise essence, or “food-onality”, that we seek!
If you like to surround yourself with fascinating people and/or constantly personify interesting/cute objects like I do, you will have an endless supply of inspiration to bake/cook using my avant-garde approach. The most challenging part of creating an original dish is to make all of the flavors, textures, etc. cohesive. But foodification alleviates this difficulty because the inspiration is an already cohesive being!
** Urbandictionary.com claims that foodification is, “the act of providing food to stop hunger in one-self”. This is wrong. “The act of providing food to stop hunger in one-self” is eating. The suffix “-fication” indicates the making of, or transformation into, the noun or state of the word ending in “-fication”.