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Sunday, June 17, 2012

What's Cooking: Musings on Modernity

I am not a cook.  I could be a cook but I have too many food issues; I'm a vegetarian texture-eater  who hates tofu, eggplant and large mushrooms, random exotic fruits give my mouth a weird, scratchy feeling, I have an almond-family allergy that may or may not be abated when the almonds are cooked, I have never cared for seafood (except Friendly's fried clams) so instead, I'm more of a baker.  You can't go wrong with cake and cookies.

Growing up, our house always had a brownie or cake mix to make.  I have no idea why these items were on the shopping list but I remember, as a teen, being able to open the cupboard and assuredly find brownies to be made.  Mom's only stipulation was "use walnuts to cut the chocolate taste".

Our cupboard, also, always had a box of magical Bisquick that could make biscuits, dumplings, shortcake and pancakes! I believed in the mystical powers of Bisquick well into my 30s when I was living in England and found a box in my local Sainsbury's.  I was so beside myself with joy and nostalgia.  The English box didn't have the standard recipes as on the American box so the next time I went home I brought a box back and cut them out when it was empty so I'd always know how to make my English Bisquick do what I wanted.

It was only when we moved back to the US that I first gave the powers of Bisquick any thought and looked at the ingredients.  It was only flour with baking powder, salt and butter already in it. That's not magical; that's lazy.  I don't buy it any more.  In fact, I only buy cake mixes in a time/ingredient crunch but pancakes and cakes and even brownies made from scratch don't really take much more time and taste infinitely better.  What the hell have we been thinking? 

 Yesterday, I was making cupcakes because I found a tub of processed chocolate frosting that admittedly I had once purchased in a previous time-crunch experience.  Feeling the need to not waste it, I made vanilla cupcakes from scratch and because my kid hates fake frosting, I made her a little butter cream.  Anyway, none of this is the point which is that as I was mixing up the butter and sugar, out of nowhere an earwig falls into the batter and scrambles for cover under a hunk of butter.  I did what I'd like to think anyone in my position would have done; I screamed and screamed a little more (not loudly so much as consistently) and dumped my bowl in the sink.  Quickly, I scooped the beast out with a spoon into the sink and flushed it down the disposal where I ground him into smithereens. 

As I flipped off the disposal and gave the bowl a clean, I thought of Nora Cass.  Do you know what my great-grandmother Nora would have done, or yours for that matter?  They would have picked the bug out with their bare hands and squashed it between their fingers before continuing to cream their batter.  They wouldn't have started over.  They couldn't have afforded to if it had even dawned on them.  But we are so spoiled with convenience and plenty.

Andy Warhol
Recently, I was speaking with Diana about our grandmother Mabel's cooking abilities.  I was dumbfounded remembering our favorite dish of hers was chicken and dumplings. I don't even think the chicken was fresh but was made from Campbell's cream of chicken soup and had Bisquick dumplings.  OMG, that was tasty back in the day when I ate such things.  What a salt lick but hardly scratching the surface of what a farm girl should be capable of cooking.  Why didn't Gram eat fresh food or cook more originally than that?  Even when she packed our lunches for the Greyhound ride home from a visit, they would always include a bologna sandwich, Snack Pack pudding in the metal can, a grape or orange Crush soda and a Wet One.  Everything was processed in her kitchen.  Diana thinks it's because, being born at the right time for all these newly-created food stuffs, Gram embraced their ease and convenience without a single glance back.  She was a Modern Woman who kept a Modern Kitchen.

It is interesting to note that all this modernity has made us a fat and lazy nation.  And, it is also interesting to note, my generation of friends is reverting back to a natural state of culinary affairs.  We grow our own food as best we can, we belong to CSAs, buy local, buy organic...No more dark magic from the Bisquick box, we can mix our own dry ingredients, thank you very much.


1 comment:

  1. You might want to know if you don't already, that the itchy scratchy feeling from certain fruits, (which I also have, as does my sister) is often what is newly named "oral allergy syndrome" is where something in the item eaten, has a cross over sensitivity with other allergies, such as birch tree pollen or ragweed or what have you. I get itchy scratchy feeling from raw but not cooked carrots (I can do carrot juice if I use a straw) plum skin, cherry skin etc. I find that I can often handle the fruit if peeled. It's not horrid bad, but it makes me not want to eat those items.