Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Confessions of a culinary hipster

Recently I've fallen onto the bandwagon and upgraded my phone for an iPhone.  After a quick review of its bells and whistles (useful and otherwise) I happened upon a most delightful "app".  Apparently, whole books are available to any and all, free of charge, so long as they are public domain.  Within the first day of owning my new toy, I'd amassed the virtual equivalent to a grand, formal library as one only sees in old movies.  I admit to feeling rather grand about it myself.  Books are treasures to me, and to have them freely given is a joy.

Further digging rewarded me with several old and digitally dusty cookbooks from the days of yore.  After flipping through several, I found one dating back 1918, which was written to help home cooks deal with the rationing implemented throughout the country.  I'd read about it, heard about it, but nothing really made it seem so real as this book I happened across.  It made me feel quite nostalgic for those times, when it seemed we as a country were more inclined to band together and make small sacrifices to benefit a greater need.  Where is that spirit today?

I have every intention of using this and many other similarly "ancient" cookbooks I've found.  Food is what binds worlds together, it's the first part of a culture that tells us what it is.  It's important to remember these recipes, these people, these forgotten ways of life in order to benefit our own.  Older books than my already-loved wartime cookbook show a snapshot of the times in which they were written.  Describing the care and preparation to packing up a weekend picnic, for example.  People did that at one time!  Now, time feels so short, so rushed, but there is still time, isn't there?  Please tell me there is still time.  These worlds I read about, sometimes as foreign as my sci-fi/fantasy fanfiction I still write, they can't be completely lost.  Fittingly enough, I just recalled a line from "Wrath of Khan":  "He's not really dead, as long as we find a way to remember him."  And we must.  This is my battle cry, not out of disdain for modernity (I just got an iPhone, after all) but to go back and learn to do things "the hard way."  (The secret is that for the most part, it really isn't all that hard!) To see how our forebears might've lived, and those before them.  It seems that we've lost an awful lot in a short space of time, that we've surrendered our abilities, or even potential abilities, to the machines of mass production.  I'm not suggesting we raise our own cows and chickens, I can imagine few landlords would be very keen to allow that, but start small.  Bake bread.  You'll never go back.  Or a pizza from scratch.  So simple yet so good.  Go to the store, pick out some premade/frozen/boxed/canned food you normally buy and learn to make it yourself from first principles.  There is so much power there!  Whoever said that knowledge is power wasn't just dropping a platitude.  It's the truth!  And as it has also been said, the truth will set you free!  My most recent example of this is when I was at the store a few days ago, reading the ad, and saw that pork potstickers were on sale this week.  I beat a quick path to the freezer section only to find that they were all gone.  Then it hit me: why not find out how to make them?  It can't be that hard.  So that's on the board for one of my days off this week.  I'm going to attempt Chinese dumplings.  I reasoned that if I'd bought them premade, it would've cost about $3, and I'd probably only get five little ones in the whole box.  Rather I spend just a teense more and make a dozen good-sized ones!

Go forth!  Be brave!  Dive into Grandma's old cookbooks and recipe boxes, and you'll be amazed what you will learn!