Sunday, January 17, 2010

book review (of sorts)

My grand-father (scientist, jewish, crazy, passionate, life-lover, theory-maker and healer) had a thing about food. He thought and theorized about it a lot. "All food is medicine and all food is poison", he would quote at us ("Hyppocrates...???", she croaks hesitantly). And "You are what you eat!". For as long as i knew him, he was busy finding the right nutrition, for him in particular, and by extension for the world in general (although some repressed historical sources (i.e. my mother) tell me that this only started sometime in his forties, prior to which time he mostly concentrated on life-loving in all its forms). He applied his theories to himself and whoever would follow, and in true scientific style, changed his mind often. There was the dreaded 'seaweed' period, the 'powdered milk' treatment, the 'red period', the 'marinated cabbage era'... and many others. Towards the end of his life, his kitchen was filled with chipped emaille bowls containing various odd concoctions, and he only ate sardines and tomatoes from tins, only that one particular kind, as well as the ocasional orange. By that time, i not only could no longer 'join him for a bite', but even watching him eat was likely to provoke spontaneous gagging. It just didn't look good, if you know what i mean.

My grand-mother (melodramatic, azerbajdzhani, writer, passionate and melancholy, mother and housewife) also had a thing about food. She made it in large quantities. Although later in her life, after her children and grand-children had left, and the many-headed hedra that was her large circle of friends, relatives, colleagues and students of my grand-father's, neighbours and other acquaintances had dwindled to a few dried sticks of fragile bones, although by then, she had given up, and her food had become somewhat stale, somewhat greasy, her table stands in my memory the way it was when i was a child. Laden. With home-made pickles (cabbage, beets, tomatoes, garlic, gherkins, aubergines, patisson, carrots and garlic, to name a few). With black sourdough rye bread, moist and fresh, with a crunchy crust. With fresh raw vegetables, cucumbers and tomatoes and onions, their sharp juices salted out, as sweet and as soft as honey. With fresh herbs too, coriander, parsley, chives, dill and celery, laid out in bunches on long plates. And in the midst of this colourful display throned her broths, her soups, her stews, her pilafs, rich, moist, creamy, buttery, perfumed with the same oriental spices that had given her brown azerbajdzhani skin its lustre, and her black azerbajdzhani eyes their shine. Now that was food to remember.

Of course, even the mists of time cannot say with any certainty whether my grand-father's long life and resounding health were due to his theories or my grand-mother's cooking, but i personally suspect it was, at the very least, both.

Now me (melodramatic, passionate, melancholy, crazy, life-lover, theory-maker, scientist, writer and mother), i am a true child of both these ancestors, and I most certainly have a thing about food. I eat it with great relish. And in addition, since having children, i have also been making a lot of food, with nutrition occupying much of my theory-making. It seems that there is nothing more important to me than feeding my family well. But what does 'well' mean? In the past six years, i have flirted with a multitude of traditions and theories (vegetarian, vegan, macro-biotic, ayurveda, and most recently, the paleontological diet), reading, getting excited, trying things out, and coming away vaguely disappointed, having run into some sort of undefinable barrier, some precept or idea that i could neither embrace nor walk around, telling me clearly that this was not quite the way.
Until, around christmas, i made my last online book order before the great budget era, and ordered Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon. A huge thick 700-page book without a single photograph, filled with text not only in the middle of the page, but also through every single one of its 700 margins. Disappointed, i put it away, hoping this mammoth of a mis-purchase wouldn't catch Marc's eye. But some time in early early january, i picked it up absent-mindedly, and started reading. And never stopped. And while reading, i moved, hypnotized, towards the kitchen. Where I have been ever since. Glass jars were acquired, in various sizes, and filled promptly, with beetroot kvass, with whey-based orangina, with ginger carrot pickles, with home-made crème fraiche and cream cheese, and soaking oatmeal. The stove is humming gently to itself as i write this, with simmering broth. The house is filled with the smell of magic in the making. And it is this very humming, this very tangible aliveness, that is the reason why, i realize now, i have been fantasizing about aga stoves for so long. I guess a kitchen is just supposed to, you know, have something cooking.

It turns out, you see, that my grand-mother wrote the pages of Sally Fallon's book, and my grand-father added the margins.


Josh said...

Hey, this is fun!, this is my favorite book too! My counter is filled with buttermilk maturing and broths are bubbling on the stove. I'm buying raw milk and anxious to try out the ginger fizzly drink. What are your favorite recipies??

Véronique said...

hey, that is fun!!! i have so far tried the recipes i mention in the main post, and i have the poppy seed cake in the making, but first i had to make the creme fraiche, which is taking a long time. What are your favourites?

Mirjam said...

O, that sounds great! Can you tell a little more about her ideas? The do's and don'ts?

Pauline said...

Oh and those broths those broths....not even a jar full of soggy and at the same time melige (sorry...suggestion?) white beans could spoil that stuff!