January 20, 2009

Good, old-fashioned change

Yesterday I had big, Obama-like plans to write here - a blog about change, on such a historical day, marking my moment in living through this history. But then change (of plans, that is) did happened as the last first-day of my college career, friends, textbook-buying, cheesecake, and Obama filled my day. I still can’t decide what gave me more chills- seeing hopeful, young black girls looking at Obama as if he was their rock, or the velvety cheesecake Bethany and I ate while watching the First Lady dancing with her Mr. President at the various balls. All this buzz about change got me thinking about change in my life. Taking a birds-eye view at this past year, I see that what has changed in my life isn’t seemingly change at all, rather a back-to-the-basics reversion to more simple life. In celebration of this realized-change in simplicity, I decided to make some tomato soup with my farm’s produce, frozen from this summer. (And it feels so good to stick hot soup in the face of Minnesota Winter.)

My mother's canned garden tomatoes also found their way in the soup. Canning is no minor issue in my family, my mother and sisters can food furiously. This canning process is quite a production and has been for some time now. It’s even gotten to the point where my mother has a ‘canning section’ of the garage, and has young, newlywed neighbors come down for lessons from her. Just as Barack Obama so eloquently relates his situation to that of the early framers, I have turned an eye and ear to the wisdom of my culinary-ancestors. Both obsessive foodies, MFK Fisher and Julia Child didn’t stop at the kitchen, they put hard work and diligence into communicating with others and encouraging them to know their food while taking greater pleasure in it. My flight back from Seattle found me reading through MFK Fisher’s, ‘Gastronomical Me’, where she shares memories of canning strawberry jam with her grandmother in California. She writes, “The first thing I remember tasting and then wanting to taste again is the grayish-pink fuzz my grandmother skimmed from a spitting kettle of strawberry jam.” (Are your tastebuds sweating?) As for Ms. Child, her wisdom is endless. I savor up her good-sense like chocolate frosting left on a spatula, appreciating its classic timelessness, knowing that many before me have experienced the same appreciation and pleasure. Tonight I curled up on the couch to her first season of ‘The French Chef’, where she shared the key to successfully flipping food in a pan: “You must be courageous of your convictions; if you want to flip it, you’ve just got to flip it.” Talk about chutzpah. She tried it a first time, which flopped because she admittedly didn’t think she could do it. But the second was executed with such confidence and grace, it almost drives one to think she faked her first failure in order to relate with the unpracticed American home-cooks. Oh Julia, you’re so kind. And I'm sure your chocolate icing was divine, too.

All this reminiscing of canning and storing food got me thinking about my generation of cooks and eaters. My 20-some year old sister-in-law is inspiringly enthusiastic about raising her own chickens (despite their eggs freezing) and putting up her garden for storage in order to eat throughout the doldrums of winter. The motivation behind canning has changed completely as it used to be about survival, making sure one’s family has enough just in case harvest wasn’t as bountiful the next year. We have no ability to relate to this with the immediate access to an endless variety to food-products that we have. Even better, young men and women are engaging in these time-intensive processes to reconnect with the ways of their ancestors, to get closer to the earth, and depend on their own ingenuity for sustenance. This attempt at reconnection to those who have gone before us is much like what we heard in Obama’s speech.

I think I may like Obama so much because he’s got many characteristics of one of my favorite foods: the egg. Now I know most food metaphors are awful, but I just can’t help this one. Both of their binding powers are intense – the ability to move a nation’s people above its rigid two-party system, turning some Republicans a hue of blue (like the Araucauna egg!). As for the egg, its binding power is its calling card. Like the egg-based quiche, asparagus and bacon come together as one under the egg and Muslims and Christians come together under the guidance of Obama. Among other admirable qualities- timelessness, versatility, and practicality are atop the list.

Maybe this whole idea of change really isn’t about change at all, rather a reverting back to the ways-of-old, making the stone-cold hard decisions like our founders, being empowered by the grassroots movements of those still with us, and truly coming together from an increased desire to share and love outside ourselves.

Returning to what's essential - that’s change.

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