For my beloved Brother who introduced me to the art of cooking, who taught me how to taste and truly love food. Without him I'd never be able to be where I am today.

February 14, 2012

Accepting No Excuses

Needless to say, I'm really no big fan of this dreadful commercial festivity of love. For someone like me who doesn’t consume anything sweet, this day is just filled with big no-nos in all possible ways. Food-wise it's ridiculous: Heart shaped cupcakes, kitsch wrapped chocolates, creamy and puffy pastries; I've even encountered a heart shaped steak once! What a waste of perfectly fine meat I’d say…

However, there’s something about love and food that naturally goes hand in hand. I mean only the act of eating together in many cultures is the number one sign of intimacy and bonding and it is often a mutual slipper slope to other more sexual activities. C’mon, passion and lust (and love) are embedded in good food! But really, why go and make a mockery of your loved one by letting him/her cut in to a heart shaped Tournedos?! It’s just plain stupid if you ask me. A real sign of devotion and love is to cook for your loved one yourself. Now I’m sure there a bunch of lazy-asses or people calling themselves horrible cooks who would oppose, but I have to say in my defense that love really does make you do things you would never do otherwise! That is what I call Valentine’s Day spirit.

And of course I’ve got a personal story for you, otherwise it would be too easy to sit here and speak for almost anything hypothetical. A couple of years back, no, six years back I think it was, I was already a huge gourmade and on top of that I was IN LOVE big time. Back then, Valentine’s Day still meant something to me. It was a special day where any act of love however absurd, overwhelming or cheesy, was fully legitimate and welcome. I had all kinds of romantic images in my head of a five-course meal in a classy restaurant, but considering our age and our economic misery, we wouldn’t even have been able to order a decent glass of red. Let’s say that fantasy had to be postponed to the remote future back then. But I certainly wasn’t ready to give up the thought of being served a romantic meal though, and I damn sure didn’t want to be covered in food stains when I for once had planned on wearing a little sexy dress and be all girly and pretty to please my boyfriend. Solution: I decided that he would be the chef for the night. See that’s the great thing about teenage love. You were actually able to command our loved one and he would do what ever you asked for. ­Good old time…

My ex, poor fellow, was everything but a cook – seriously. I remember his Dad even pealing the oranges for him (maybe that was simply because he was too lazy…anyway)! But to my astonishment he fully accepted the challenge. I was ecstatic! Maybe now he finally would realize how much work and effort a home cooked meal actually takes and he would finally appreciate all my works of art that he had gobbled up in matter of seconds without even recognizing whether it was chicken or beef he was eating.

He started stressing a week ahead it seemed and when D-day arrived he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I felt bad. Maybe it would be best if I took over after all. He was somewhat of a sore looser so there was no way he would admit defeat before even having attempted the task. Three hour before dinnertime he asked me to leave the house. I delightedly followed his orders. As I kissed his goodbye and wished him good luck, I couldn’t help but feeling warm inside when I noticed the stack of recipes he had ripped out from magazines and printed out from the internet. I felt special and loved, what more could I have asked for.

Three hours later I was welcomed back to the house. It smelled amazing! Of course there were some bubbly wine, roses and a heart shaped card, but that was not the point. The point was that he had done it! A three-course meal was about to be served and all I had to do is sit and look pretty. Everything tasted divine! Plus he really hadn’t taken the easy way out. And this was a young man who honestly couldn’t cook for the love of God! 

So there you go, I won’t accept any more excuses – ever. If you haven’t made reservation in a restaurant that doesn’t serve lame-ass Valentine’s Day specials, cancel your reservation and google a few yummy recipes on your lunch break and on your way home drop by the nearest well equipped grocery store. I bet my head on it that you will get lucky!

February 5, 2012

Reveal Yourself

Have you ever thought about what happens to food and the raw materials when they're being cooked? Have you ever pondered what a specific  way of preparation means and signals? Have you ever realized that when food is cooked and prepared it gets a label and it carries a marker of something? Known for his famous work Physiologie du goût (Physiology of Taste) published in 1825, epicure and gastronome Jean-Anthelme Brilliat-Savarin said "Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are". Do you think the food you cook tells the others the truth about you?

I've many times thought about what kind of image and idea I convey of myself through my cooking, my food preferences and my eating habits. I've always considered myself as a very incoherent eater, but maybe I do, after all, follow certain patterns.

It's fascinating to see the variety of dishes the exact same ingredients and raw materials can result in when they're being cooked by different people with different culinary backgrounds. We turn food into cuisine with our hands. I for sure would love to base my understanding of another person solely on his/her eating and cooking! I wonder what I could find out only based on a cooked dish. Food habits and preferences matter and what a person decides to eat and how he cooks his food could definitely give off some interesting secrets.

I wonder how close to reality a judgement made through food could be. Could I tell whether it's a man or a woman, a Swede or an Englishman, whether the person is young or old, fit or unhealthy…Some elements are certainly more obvious than others. Anyone who has worked as a waiter in a restaurant knows this. At some point you just know who ordered what. But not everything is as clear. And I'm sure each and everyone of us has some very contradictory and incoherent vices.

I have a feeling that naming a person's cultural background based on his cooking and food preferences might be a bit trickier. It's not like food stays within any cultural boundaries nowadays. Besides, how much do we know about foreign countries' cuisines except for the common stereotypes? A year and half ago, I was jumping up and down of joy when I first found out that I'd be living with a Greek when moving to Sweden. I had always wanted to learn how to make an authentic Moussaka. Turned out the only thing that Greek ate was hamburgers and other junk food! I think this proves my point.

But if we stick to cultural markers only, not only do we eat foods from many different countries, but our eating habits can have multi- and/or transcultural origins. Until recently, I was sure that the Finns could boast with being the only people to make smoked cheese. A while ago a friend of mine living in Vigo, in Spain made me try a Galician speciality, smoked cheese – Another one bites the dust.

So if it's no longer what you eat that reflects your cultural origins, I'd like to suggest that it's the way you cook and prepare food that still can reveal your cultural identity. I'm saying this because a few days ago as I was watching a cooking program on TV, I realized that it's enough that you add one crucial ingredient or do something that no one else would do and you're busted. The chef on TV was showing how to make fajitas. I was surprised, a Finnish TV chef preparing fajitas in February, ok, why not. The ingredients he would use all seemed to respect the authentic recipe. And then as he had almost convinced me, he blew it.  I quote "in order to make it easier and faster" (to two 'musts' in Finnish everyday cooking) he empties a plastic bag of deep-frozen mixed "Mexican" veggies on the frying pan together with the ready sliced and ready marinated "Taco & Fajitas" chicken slices. Sigh.

In some strange way you just got to love it though. I mean it's simply a means to make an otherwise pretty foreign dish seem more familiar. In the best of cases, the Finn eating the Finnish fajitas à la Finnish TV chef might one day have the will to try the real thing because he got a "smooth landing" to a whole new world of tastes through the version suitable for Finnish taste. One sure can hope for the best.