Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Bearing of souls and other things ...

This week dear readers, I am bearing a bit of my soul. My food soul, that is. Putting it right out there for you to see. Right out there. Be gentle … 

I want to tell you a little story of my grandmother. Of what she taught me. Of what I believe about food today and what it means to me. A kind of “culinary about me” if you will … At heart, as you all know by now, I am a glutton. Completely, wholeheartedly and with gusto. Give me wonderful food, heady wine and fabulous company and I am in heaven. There is however, another side.

Bearing of souls …

In my heart, food is an expression.

An expression of love.
Of connection.
Of gratitude.
Of humanity.
Of suffering.
Of identity.
Of life.


I would like you to take little a trip back with me in order to give you a glimpse to what has shaped my ideas and who I am today.  

This glimpse takes us to my family’s farm.

I have vivid memories of my childhood summers spent on my grandmother’s farm. Memories of playing in the river while my cousins fished. Memories of leaving at dawn and coming back at dusk, muddy from head to toe from all my adventures, to the great dismay of my grandmother who had to bathe me. Memories of the backbreaking work and long hours it took to care for the land and the animals. Memories of gathering, preserving, smoking, salting, pickling …

The most profound memory I have is of the animals.
The nurturing and killing of them, to be more precise.

Dirt poor, in communist Romania (she was one of the lucky ones whose land was not taken away) my grandmother was up at 4am.
Every day. Until the day she died.

She was alone on the farm (my grandfather had died a while ago and I am not sure he was much help when alive). Tiny and skinny as a twig, quiet, hunched over from years of hard work gardening and taking care of the animals, long sallow face with the deep wrinkles of wisdom, sorrow and quiet resignation, handkerchief on her head she marched out in all seasons.

Social visits were rare and a luxury when they happened. Idle time was non existent. She rarely smiled.

Except, dear readers, when she was with her plants and animals.

It was in those moments.

Moments when she was weeding the gardens, walking in our sunflower field to pick the seeds for roasting, collecting eggs from the hens and telling them how proud of them she was when they produced many eggs (and “chastising” – aka whacking - them when they got lazy and didn’t) feeding the pigs (sometimes better than herself, really) and petting them because pigs crave contact, milking the cow all the while talking to her and giving her extra special grasses to eat so she would be happy and her milk would taste heavenly, feeding the geese walnuts and seeds and grasses and other special treats so they would be fat and happily waddling around the land foraging for extras, feeding the sheep and shaving them for wool, and at the end of a long, exhausting day sitting me down and feeding me the most simple of things. Sometimes it was a hot egg fried in pig fat and some homemade bread. Other times it was chicken soup from chicken killed that morning. Beautiful, honest peasant food.

In all these moments, she smiled.

As I followed her around the chores of the day (this was a luxury as usually she would not let me because I was more in the way with my incessant questions and running around startling the animals) she would talk to me.

She would talk to me about the animals, their different needs and personalities (pointing out the trouble makers and the ones that had an extra special place in her heart) why it was important to be kind to them and treat them well, why (when I asked her why the pigs were eating better than her) it was important that they eat well.

If you will allow me dear readers, I would like to tell you what she said.

She said that like people, all animals are unique. No two pigs or chickens or any other animal for that matter were alike. We had to pay attention to each one so that we would know what the best way to interact with them was. It was very important to spot a disgruntled pig and find out why or you could be in trouble…It was also important to spot content animals so you know your work was worth something.

She said that animals were our responsibility. That we were responsible for making sure they were healthy, happy and well fed. That we were also responsible for killing them.

She said that everything was connected. That what the animals ate, how “happy” they were and finally how they were killed were all indicators. Indicators not only of how we respected the animals but of how we respect ourselves and every other living thing that we are a part of.

When she took such care of the land and the animals, she was taking care of herself. Of me.

I remember thinking years later, after she died trying to lift a dresser to move it over (the fact that she was ancient and riddled with osteoporosis did not concern her and she went out working – the way she would have wanted to) that this was her expression. This was her connection to the world and all the living creatures in it. (I have more but fear will find myself in the “spawning of novel” predicament again and you will wind up with a six page blog post so I will peel more layers in the future …)

All said, dear readers, she was, looking back, the seed, the cultivator, the water and sunshine that nourished my respect for all life and the food, in all its forms, that sustains it.


And other things …

The existential:

Food allows us an intimate and profoundly human form of expression. It connects who we are, dream to be and what sustains us. It is the poetry of existence, of dependence, of collaboration, of beginnings and ends and of continuance. It is the undiscriminating bond between all people. It is a feast for all senses. It art. It is beauty. It is love.

The manifesto:

The philosophy is simple.
If you eat meat, as I very obviously do, eat less of it.
Have a respect for the animal, understand that a living thing died so you can eat their meat and do not waste.
Buy from local farms – they deliver and the food tastes so much better.
Buy small time organic whenever possible.
Buy everything else you could possibly desire in moderation.
Understand that with every food purchase you make, you have a direct effect on the future of our world.
At least once in your life, if you can, try to witness (either live or via media) an animal being killed for your food.
Plants also have to die so we can eat them.
Abundance is not a natural state.
Change takes time, failure and the willingness to try again.
Don’t preach (except for preachy moments above but only this once I swear!). 
Lead by example.


Above all:

Enjoy.
And eat with people you love.

To remember the lessons …

Simple Fried Egg on Toast

Here is what you need ...
  • Egg
  • Pig fat (butter was a luxury and not often available)
  • Crusty bread
  • Wild Thyme
  • Sea salt
  • Cracked black pepper
  •  
    Here is what to do ...

    Could not be more simple dear readers. In a hot pan fry an egg in lard (runny yolk please) and sprinkle with sea salt. In the meantime, cut a thick piece of country bread (smear it with lard, of course) and toast in the oven until nicely browned. Top with fried egg, sprinkle with thyme, cracked black pepper and enjoy the crunchy, creamy, oozy, herby bites.


    The staph of life ...


    Oozy bites ...

    Thanks Bunica ...




    8 comments:

    1. Thank you for sharing Bunica's wonderful wisdom. Such important lessons!

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    2. You definitely take after your grandmother...
      God rest her soul

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    3. Rocco: Thank you Raf. Have an egg for her will you! :)

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    4. Nicolas: Thank you for reading. It was not the easiest post to write :). Indeed.

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    5. Thank you for sharing this story and allowing us to experience your special memories and adventures on the farm with your grandma. I loved it! It's great to see where your culinary journey started from.

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