Thursday, October 30, 2008

ATALANTA: The Food Huntress Inspiration

My blog is turning one year next month. I opened this blog in 2007 in a century- old library, and I do admit that there was a time when I have been a little worried if I had the staying power to sustain it. But as it shows, my counter continues to roll- many thanks to all of you out there in the world who took time to read my page.

I think it is quite timely to write here a few facts on how this blog alter ego came to be. It all started with this little illustration of Atalanta, a Greek myth character, whose story I have been reading since… I can’t remember when. From this picture emerged the name ‘food huntress’ – a woman holding a spear about to shoot a boar - all of which speaks a lot about my psyche more than sheer fascination for this literary character. And lately I started living in that fantasy as this year I got into a masculine gathering of men – being the only woman in a male- dominated kitchen brigade- as Atalanta has been with the hunters of Arcady. Indeed, we become the reality we create.

One true conscience of this blog page is my dramatic/ romantic side. While garnished with a little surrealism, it intends to indirectly illustrate that dimension which is innate in each one of us: our natural and unpretentious tendency to be appreciative of beautiful things, good food, and our natural inclination to love. Why Romeo and Juliet are immortal, why the Taj Mahal was built, why some foods are termed aphrodisiacs, and why the human race lives on - all of these respond to that primitive nature of the human heart.

Legend has it that whoever could beat the swift- footed Atalanta in a foot race would be the one she’s set to give her heart to. Those who don’t win were executed. Apparently it is not my intent to beat a man in a foot race nor any duel (hahaha) for him to earn my affection, though I admit, I do most of the time imagine the adrenalin rush of it. Atalanta’s legend goes perfectly with my kind of love story which is not the type where an egomaniacal necrophiliac Prince Charming (haven’t we noticed that Prince Charming is a womanizer? He’s the one and the same prince that helpless princesses are linked to) makes love to a sleeping princess, nor the Madame Butterfly martyrdom, but more of this wonderful Greek myth where the hero was measured by his courage and the pureness of his intentions.

At some point in my life I have become naturally nonchalant with men- either treating them respectfully as plain comrades or with hands down indifference that such attempts for courtship die even before they start. I am not sure if our Greek heroine had similar attitude, but for this blogging food huntress, albeit we have the tendency to be blinded by self- indulgent infatuation, it is quite easy to distinguish the borders of passion and friendship. When you work with men every day, such numbness for manly companionship grows that it makes you wonder how different you are from any other female to have attracted this fate.

Atalanta runs like a gazelle but there wasn’t a record in history that she had pursued men. And what was it that Japanese warriors have taught us to relate with honor and self respect: they’d rather die than stand the shame of defeat (or of hanging around where we’re not wanted). She is neither a Madonna nor a whore. She is a man’s dream- not as a woman per se- but her feats and athletic victories that come naturally are the same things that the male ego wants for itself. Men like her (she was known to have many suitors) because she is unconceitedly beautiful- more preoccupied with the things of the wilderness than looking at herself on the mirror “As for her face, it seemed too maidenly to be that of a boy, and too boyish to be that of a maiden…” On the other hand, men dislike her because “ (some of the heroes resented her presence and) felt it beneath them to go hunting with a woman…”

Atalanta’s story the only classic plot I knew that has a strange twist. The contenders became lovers after competing. There was only one rule- outrun her and she’s yours. Melanion, (a.k.a Hippomenes) the lover, doesn’t run as fast as the huntress, but he used his head to outdo her. Ah, give way for love, give way! As for food, there were the golden apples, a product of the Melanion’s genius and Aphrodite's help, which was the cause of Atalanta’s fall.

I think the story’s one lesson is that it takes a kind of man to beat the odds in order to win a woman’s favor – especially if she has a reputation of being his equal. Our strengths after all are counterbalanced by the many events and people who arrive in our lives, for while Atalanta delighted in her many triumphant adventures and presumed that no man alive could outrun her in a foot race, Melanion’s essence is that of quiet confidence. Quite the opposite of the typical Alpha male who’d proclaim himself as lord of the jungle. What sets him apart is that he disregarded the fact that Atalanta could hunt and shoot and wrestle , instead focused on his desire to have the girl - true to his heart - even if it meant risking the consequence of losing in a race against her, or beseeching the help of the gods. To take risks is in itself a manifestation of courage, and courage has genius in it.

Filling up this blog turned my life around in ways that so much creation – whether of thought or things material- sprouted out of it. What a genial way this idea is to write ideas, to get connected to people, and above all, to discover what you are made of.

I am too fascinated by this character that I decided to place her on my header (does it require a copyright permission?) - like what the gods did to hunters and heroes – they were placed as constellations in the night sky.

- Thank you.

Illustrations by Steele Savage lifted from MYTHOLOGY: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes by Edith Hamilton

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Promised Land for Dates, Cows, St. Peter – and Mama Rosa

These photos were borrowed from the photo album of my mother who just arrived from a business trip from Israel the other day. I am personally fascinated by her trip so I decided to write about it.

To say a little about my mother, her life is a colorful story of the rags to riches tale – and never went back. Mama Rosa (whose character reminds us Ursula) was born under the Virgo sign Year of the Sheep, to a peasant couple in a two-by-two provincial shack. Now years later with a doctorate degree and a sprawling mansion in Macondo and seven kids whom she iron- handedly raised and sent to college, she technically doesn’t know what to do with her retirement money so she travels. My father, a Melquiades clone, is a bum artist.

This is Mama Rosa’s second trip to Israel- the first in 2000. But the pictures are better this time. The first was a pilgrimage of some sort, but since then she has been so fascinated with the kibbutz and the whole country in general. So she went back.

Remember the Rose of Sharon?

Cows... and kois in a kibbutz...

Apparently, my mother is expecting that I would do an ultra erudite feature of her trip. But I already know what to expect the moment she opens my blog...

The Sea of Galilee where Jesus Christ, St. Peter and other disciples used to fish..

Fried St. Peter's fish! Yum!

2 x 2= five thousand fish and loaves - Jesus Christ times.

Israel's sons and daughters.

Fruits by the roadside. Israel kibbutz produce some of the world's best crops.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

When Your Boyfriend is a Chef...

There is probably a common fantasy that when you have a chef for a lover or even a sibling, it’s pure euphoria. We think of delicious food on the table and someone to tuck us in bed every night with homemade gourmet ice cream. Maybe yes, maybe no. But alas, there are a few realities why it is not easy having a chef for a lover.

10. Don’t expect fancy dinners all the time. I honestly find lucky those women who have chefs for a mate, if such partners had enough stamina to cook for them on a regular basis. Because for the life of me (this could be an excuse because I am a woman), cooking is such an exhausting job that every time I go home late, doing another mise en place is the last thing I ever wanted to do. I just take a brief shower then doze away in sixty seconds and dream of giant blue cabbages. I only get to cook for my family once or twice a week.

9. Don’t expect breakfasts in bed either. Another ironic reality is that I’ve never cooked for the guys I dated. During the weekend and holiday mornings, instead of lazing away in bed with the morning paper and a romantic brunch, I had to go running like crazy at 7 am for the weekend and holiday crowd. This pissed off a former lover who once bellowed at me, “Get a f------- real job!”

8. Chefs being artists have their own mood swings. Don’t nag if your chef- lover is all clammed up while you blabber on. He’s not listening to you. He’s thinking how he screwed up the sauce last night and got a customer complaint. Or, he’s thinking about what dish goes best with pickled scallions. Sometimes you’d also find him sketching with his fingers on the air. He’s composing a meal.

7. You can’t go on last-minute dates. Unless you want to go out with someone whose hair smells of hickory barbecue sauce or hold hands with someone who just chopped tons of onions… it’s entirely up to you. And besides, our backpacks are not always squeaky- clean impressive. We have soiled aprons, perspired kerchiefs, kitchen- smelling clogs.

6. If you’re both chefs dating each other, it’s either you coach each other how to make the perfect hollandaise or pick upon the other’s cooking. Would you be exchanging recipes and techniques in between kisses? Would you be discussing the anatomy of a sandwich instead of rolling under the sheets in the morning?

5. Forgive them if they’d rather talk of Champagne or Sake than listen to your whines…

4. There’s no guarantee that we could spend special holidays with you. Forget Christmas or Thanksgiving or even Valentine's Day. If you happen to be dating a professional chef, he/ she is cooking for someone else during those times.

3. If you’re a male dating a female chef, extend your patience a little more if her makeup melts like butter all over her face. Be a little understanding, dork! And if you’re a female dating a male chef, get used to waking up with a caveman beside you- the haircuts, the shaving… ah, how often are they forgotten.

2. There’s this unavoidable tendency to curse every thirty minutes. Sorry. Really.

1. And by the way, if you’re a female chef dating a male chef, I could only imagine how the two of you would fight. Not only do you each have a set of knives, but both of you were trained on knife skills, weren’t you?

Proof of my affair.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Hail, the Mighty Azuki

This is taken on the same day I wrote about the Japanese book. I don’t know how this is called- this azuki candy- it was brought by my boss from Japan. Azuki (adzuki, aduki) beans enclosed in sugar crystals.

To experience superbly:
Nibble on these delicious bites while sipping black coffee. The sugar crystals will melt in your mouth while coffee washes it, stirring the bitter- sweet taste down your throat.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Beyond Shichimi Togarashi

Our Tribe Chief just arrived from Japan last week and, in addition to the tons of Japanese cakes he dumped on my lap, he got me a very likely gift: a Japanese food dictionary. Thank you, Boss, thank you!

To be very honest, among the cuisines I studied, the cooking of Japan is the one I avoided the most. Because I found it very hard, that’s why. It simply doesn’t harmonize with my messy ways, and no- nonsense that it is, I used to see it as somewhat intimidating- more than French nor any cuisine on earth. It is just too perfect.

My walk- in freezer and my cupboards have been full of Japanese ingredients these days- from unagi to enoki to azuki, as I wrack my brain as well to do good in my Japanese attempts.

Now probably the Tribe Chief sensed that I needed further education on my cooking so he gave me this marvelous book. Authored by Richard Hosking, it has been nominated for the 1997 Glenfiddich Food Book of the Year Award. This is just my kind of book. Concise, clean pages, needle- point fluid illustrations. Just perfect. It also has texts on Chopsticks, Tea, Soy Sauce, Japanese Kitchen and Utensils… highly recommended for any global cook.
While flipping through the pages, I was thinking to myself that the more I learn, the more I realize how little I truly know. What on earth is Sudachi? Suikuchi? Warishita? Kiku?

This gave me a little flashback to my graduate school about four years ago. We got these visiting students from the Yokohama National University as we studied international business (which only about .05% sank in my limited brain capacity), and in between discussing Japanese business and sipping coconut shakes, I asked this very friendly girl named Sawa how the Japanese see “The Last Samurai” which starred Tom Cruise. She was shaking her head, half laughing, half- choking at the awkwardness of my question, saying – “Oh, trash movie! Banned in Japan!”.

At this moment, I was thinking what if I asked Sawa instead about how to fillet a wiggling Japanese eel at the Tsukiji Market or the closest alternative to shichimi togarashi. I must have absorbed more than .05% of the Japanese culinary wonder. For sure it would have been more interesting than a sake- drinking Tom Cruise.

Anyway, I have a good book, so…

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Catfish Story

If many accomplished cooks hailed from a family of foodies, then I am not sure if I belong to that league. No one in my family knew how to cook- not my parents nor my siblings. An exception though, for a distant grandfather who had established himself as a private chef. He used to be invited from one district to another to cook at special occasions, and, as a child of eleven or twelve, that was the time I started following him around.

Instead I came from a family of farming people. I grew up in a small piece of land purchased by my parents and the neighboring lands there- hectares of them- were tilled by a lowly farmer and later on when my grandparents moved in with us, my grandfather. That was a great memory of my childhood- to wake up with basketfuls of corn, sweet potatoes, beans, fruits, peanuts, sugarcane, fresh eggs, molasses- at our doorstep.

- and catfish.

Now this is my catfish story.

It used to be my childhood habit that every night before I went to sleep, I always had a piece of mosquito net on which I rub my feet. I don’t know what the psychological implication for this is, but having that mosquito net gave me a sense of security and comfort. And if it happened to slip from the bed in the middle of the night, I would grope in darkness to find it – for I couldn’t simply sleep without it. Could not.

It was one of those mornings -I was twelve years old and I was sleeping in the attic -where I started feeling grumpy because I couldn’t find my mosquito net- for gods sake! It was 5 am- and where is my mosquito net?! You know those chilly mornings after a long night of raining, you want to stay on the bed a little longer. But that very same morning I had to get up against my will because my mosquito net was missing. What’s the sense of staying in bed?

Then as I went down for breakfast, I was hearing murmurs of voices from outside. I came to look.

Basins and basins of catfish were being cleaned at our water pump. My brothers and my grandfather were working on them.

And there- my precious…..!@#$%!! – mosquito net- all muddy for it was used in catching the catfish from the farm puddles. My eldest brother was the mastermind for this mosquito net crime.

You see, I was almost on the verge of crying, thinking that I could never- for the life of me- sleep well at night. I was looking at my mosquito net all dirty and fish- smelling and, while I rejoiceD on the fact that the catfish were indeed fat and plump, I was still worriedly thinking of ways to resurrect my poor mosquito net.

The catfish went into the frying pan and was finished immediately at lunch time.

My mosquito net was washed with nuclear detergents and many changes of cold and hot water as I spent the whole afternoon washing, rinsing, and washing again. For while catfish truly has a charming taste of its own, there was no apparent substitute for my mosquito net- for even in the face of new pleasures, still, old habits die hard.