Archive by Author

A Brief and Passing Obsession

9 Nov

Look at this mess, I thought, walking into my kitchen. Cluttered with elaborate coffeemakers, espresso brewers, heaps and heaps of coffee bean roasts of different roasts, flavors, smells; what is this weird looking contraption dripping brown liquid from the cooking range; how did this all get here? I walk into the dining room to see my parents happily sipping coffee, no doubt of their own creation, I deduced from the mess of a kitchen; my dad spewing praise of this ‘particular brand of coffee’ and my mom to me, ‘why don’t you try some? It’s specially imported from some place far away,’ well, uh no thank you, I’ll stick to drinking my orange juice.

A few years ago, my parents, who loathe spending money on anything that isn’t a necessity, had a strange and frightening obsession with coffee. They wanted to know everything about it – how to roast it, how to make it, how to steep the best coffee, etc. They insisted each roast of coffee had its own smell, each flavor had its own taste – I’m not really sure if roast and flavor are different from the other, so I won’t pretend I know.  I however, was bewildered and a little alarmed by their obsession. I felt all the coffee generally smelled the same, and the differences in taste and richness were minute. I didn’t really understand my parents’ enthusiasm for coffee, and I was worried they would take it too far. Thankfully, their obsession was brief and passing. To this day the smell of coffee still reminds me of that one morning when I walked into the kitchen I was familiar with and saw a stranger’s kitchen cluttered with strange bags of beans and strange devices.

Garden on 11/5/10

5 Nov

I went to water the garden today around 2. It wasn’t as hot as it was yesterday, but I made sure to water the plants well. I think the pumpkin plant looks overgrown again – it’s sprawling over some of the other plants. Also, some of the radishes look bitten and rotting. Other than that, everything else seems green and healthy!

Mythical Food Symbolism

18 Oct

In “Momotaro – Story of the Peach Boy,” the protagonist, Momotaro, is a boy sent from the heavens inside a large peach. When he departs from home to conquer an island inhabited by ogres, his parents cook him millet dumplings, referred to as “suitable food for a warrior on a journey” (Momotaro, 21). On his journey, Momotaro acquires three new companions: the spotted dog, the monkey, and the pheasant, which each wish to accompany Peach-Boy but are at odds with the other animals. Eventually, the three animals are each are initiated in the “warlike expedition” (26) with their consumption of half a millet dumpling and work together to defeat the enemy ogres. The mythical empowerment of the millet dumplings to inspire feelings of camaraderie and strength in the warriors is a key element of the Momotaro tale that appears in every version of the myth.

The mythical symbolism of food as something that promotes a quality is something that still pervades modern culture. For example, the foods eaten during Chinese New Year celebrations today are traditionally chosen for their symbolic meanings. Most of the words for these foods are homonyms – they have the same pronunciation as other words, but different meanings. Whole fish is commonly eaten during Chinese New Year, because it is thought to increase prosperity – its pronunciation is the same as another word meaning “surplus” or “having leftover money.” Mandarin oranges are also eaten, though they are sometimes given as gifts, because they have the meaning of “gold” or “wealth.” Other foods include: glass noodles to increase longevity, whole chicken for completeness, fresh fruit for new beginnings, etc.

Food as a symbol has transcended time and different countries to become a common literary and cultural motif. Whether we are looking at a modern day Chinese New Year feast, or an ancient Japanese myth, we cannot forget the importance of food in these celebrations of culture.


The Lure of “Magical” Food

28 Sep

Through the character of Count G, Tanizaki presents the reader with the strangely provocative allure of “magical” food. Beyond the simplicity and transience of regular food, the experience of exotic “magical” food transcends all other worldly experience and uses the senses of smell, sight, touch, and taste. Count G and the other members of the Gourment Club are fascinated with this magical Chinese food to the point where it becomes an obsession. Though “magical” food is not necessarily Chinese, it always is characterized by some kind of exoticism. Moreover, magical food possesses a kind of enigmatic incomprehensibility that requires time and effort to understand, but in the process, it is easy to become drawn into the continual cycle of addiction. This is what happens to Count G, who whether “asleep or awake, saw only dreams of food…” (Tanizaki, The Gourmet Club, 104). The lure of “magical” food is similar to the lure of the unknown “exotic” that draws the hero to his or her doom in every story and movie.

For example, the Grimms Brothers’ fable Snow White and the Seven Dwarves tells the story of a young girl, Snow White, who is tempted by a “magical” red apple that is so different from anything she has ever seen that she must eat it, despite her suspicions of the old woman who gives it to her. The apple ultimately poisons her, but the weak resolve on Snow White’s part is no different the weak resolve of Count G when he comes across new and mysterious types of gourmet. Both characters are drawn by the temptation of “magical” food: in Snow White’s case, because it is enchanted to be so; for Count G, it is because the food has no kind of palpable “enchantment,” but rather an intangible one that is fueled by his obsession.

Fukuoka vs. Food Network

15 Sep

Fukuoka’s belief is that humans should live simply and directly, therefore eliminating all problems associated with human tampering. His philosophy of food is much the same: we should all eat a humble, natural diet, ending problems of obesity and economic hardship. Fukuoka holds all others who do otherwise in disdain, primarily those who needlessly indulge in meat and imported foods – the “foodies.”

In the 21st century, the ‘unnatural’ state of our food that Fukuoka so much despised has been taken to a whole new level, since modern chefs are far more adept at manipulating food into unrecognizable forms than the chefs of the Meiji era. The contemporary “foodie” has also found his own niche in popular culture with the Food Network. An entire channel devoted to the consumption and appreciation of food – not the humble food of Fukuoka’s passion, but elaborately prepared and expensively produced food would surely earn us Fukuoka’s disdain. Though if he were still alive today, Fukuoka would have been fighting a losing battle against the growing “foodie” culture. The fanatic obsession with examining food is a global obsession, not merely an American one, despite the stereotypes accorded to us by other countries.

 However extreme the modern day “foodie” may be, we cannot overlook the importance of the “foodie” in the Meiji era. The foodie’s interest in restaurants, food science, preparation, taste, and especially the new, foreign foods from the West gave food a value beyond its literal price. Japan, which had previously closed itself to the West during the Tokugawa period, began experimenting with Western food and dining. Food became the means through which the isolation between the West and Japan came to a gradual end.

The Garden on 9/15

15 Sep

When I went to water the garden today, the soil was still quite moist in the part closest to the house despite the sunny weather. The radishes and moutard verte seem to be growing well, but the plants further away from the house look a bit stunted. I wasn’t able to take any pictures because I found that my camera battery had died when I got there.

There were also a number of scary looking wasps buzzing around the garden, but other than that, everything else seems to be going well. The problem of the water faucet seems to have abated slightly since last week.

Finding Vernacular Creativity in the Buffet

14 Sep

There has always been a kind of universal stereotype about the eating habits of Americans. We are often characterized as gluttons and gourmands by the other cultures of the world, but not without reason. The epitome of our love of food can be found in the popularity of the self serve buffet and its prevalence in our country. Although the buffet may be commercially popular, it is still an excellent place to find vernacular creativity outside of common cultural practices.

On one occasion, I was eating at a buffet restaurant with my friends, and one of them urged me to try a new dish she had invented: baked potato topped with vanilla ice cream. . I was reluctant to eat it at first because this strange combination defied any conventional use for both ingredients I’d ever heard of, but after awhile I gave in and found the dish surprisingly good. The fluffy texture of the potato and the creamy flavor of the ice cream eaten together had an agreeable, subtly sweet taste. The hot and cold contrast between the baked potato and the ice cream also added an interesting element. As a terrible cook myself, I was relieved to learn there was relatively no technique or skill to making this dish. We simply cut the potato open, dug out the inside with a spoon and mashed it around while still in the potato skin. The final step was adding a massive scoop of vanilla ice cream on top of the still steaming potato.

After that day, I promised myself I would try strange and innovative combinations of food. After all, there are only so many dishes you can eat within the limitations of traditional cuisine.

Garden on 9/8/10

8 Sep

The sky was overcast again and there was no sunlight at all when I went to water the garden today. There appears to be no sign of new plant growth since we planted the seeds yesterday. However, the part of the hose that connects to the water spigot sprayed large jets of water no matter how tightly I screwed it to the spigot. Turning the hose on and off was a bit of a problem.