Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Playing with our Food

Hi everybody! The Fresh Pioneer is back and I don't have anything really great to share.

(Now THAT'S a winning first line, eh??)

 Seriously, the recipe I have isn't really a recipe but more of a peek into the American obsession with fun food. I never really thought about how the rest of the world 'eats to live' while Americans 'live to eat' until I read a book called 'Hungry Planet'. Amazing. Huge picture book of a week's worth of groceries, in dozens of countries around the world. The differences were SHOCKING.

And it made me understand my foreign-born and raised hubby a little better.

But before I get to all that, I have a fun link for Jane Austen's Bicentenary of Pride and Prejudice!! As you can tell, I'll be celebrating all YEAR.


The Everything Austen Daily has some awesome links and articles to what's happening right now. Janeites, unite! (oooh, that rhymes)
Ok, back to playing with our food....
My husband hates the way Americans play with their food. And not just those cute little Pinterest ideas or laughing over inappropriate carrots we find in the garden.

          My sister unearthed these. Cover your eyes, innocent ones! These here are some romantically inclined carrots.

 And he doesn't mind food that is actually going to be devoured and enjoyed... Like these cupcakes. My girls started attending a book club and the first book was 'The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe'. The hostess made these . Aren't they adorable???
And the 'Jack Frost' cookies we made on a day we woke up to loads of frost were fine because the sprinkles and all were edible. So, no big grumbles were heard there.

But what IS hard for my husband is to watch Americans carve pumpkins (because a good pumpkin crop can get a family through the lean winter months in his native country) or make those little Christmas air fresheners from tangerines and whole cloves.
 It drives him bonkers when I make home made play dough. All that flour and salt! That should have been made into something edible! (He doesn't know about the cream of tartar. I won't tell him. That stuff is spendy.)

I don't even make little pretty batches like this...

Ours are the giant mega-batch that takes up an entire fruit bowl.
Ahhhh, play dough in the fruit bowl. The irony!
The more I thought about it, the more I realized we really DO love to play with our food. I like a dish that's fun to make... and fun to eat. It's not just sustenance, it's entertainment. It's definitely a sign of a wealthy nation when we prefer our food to be FUN.

Recently I decided to try artichokes. Why? No reason. Maybe because they were exotic and actually a vegetable that we hadn't tried yet. When I lived in California we ate them all the time. But I didn't think my kids had ever tried them and it might be... yes, fun!

This one was looking a little worse for wear. (Edna was quite skeptical. She told me that even trimming off the edges of the leaves was not going to make this an edible dish.)
After trimming, you gently pry the leaves from the heart. Spread them out so that when you steam the artichoke in a pan of water, each leaf will cook at the same speed. I added lemon to my water. Some people douse the artichoke with salt, pepper and oil before steaming, but I didn't.
About 15 minutes after steaming in an uncovered pot, the artichoke is soft and pliable. You can remove each leaf by tugging gently at the base.

(Side note: my husband's family cooks them by burying them in hot ashes for a few hours, wrapped in banana leaves. It sounds to me like the original crock pot.)
My daughter liked hers dipped in mayo and pepper. *shudder* I just salted mine. You scrape the tender 'meat' from the base of the leaves with a knife (or with your teeth, if you're like us and completely savage).
We cut into the heart of the artichoke to retrieve the very softest pieces. Here's the 'beard', and you can see how closely it's related to thistle down at the center.

My kids were in love with the innards because one of them asked what plant artichokes were related to... and of course we had to look it up. Apparently, they're a thistle! Cultivated for more than a thousand years, found wild in North Africa, improved by the Italians and passed around the world, the artichoke is really just a spiny, edible weed. :) Originally the size of a hen's egg and preserved in syrup, it's now the overgrown monster you find in the local grocery store.

   Anyway, back to the original topic, I'm learning to be more aware of how I prepare food and what I'm wasting just to provide a prettier product.

But still,  I can't resist a little 'entertainment' value in my meals. Here's a tea cup I was gifted recently.

 I don't think she and Edna are getting along. We'll have to see how this all works out. Perhaps dear Goldy is just too flashy for Edna.

So, what's your favorite 'fun' food? It can be edible or not, for eating or just decoration. We promise not to laugh! (Unless it's a pair of naughty carrots...)


  1. I have an entire board on Pinterest called "food too creative to eat." I can hear your hubby screaming now!

    There seems to be a lot more effort put in to making meal times "fun" for children in an effort to get them to eat their veggies. When my kids were growing up, we were past the "children are starving in China generation" and on to the "eat your beets or there will be no Nickoloden." My children are still traumatized.

    There, writing has given me time to think of my favorite "fun" food. I have to go with the standard making pancakes in different shapes. Mickey Mouse or ameoba, depending on the steadiness of the hand. AND you still eat those, no waste.

    Peace and good luck with Goldy (gorgeous) and Edna (envious),


    1. I've never yet made a child who wasn't an eater. We're usually telling the kids to eat SMALL portions.

      Then again, we don't eat many beets around here! Maybe that's the trick? Beet diet for all!

      Oooh, I love shaped pancakes!

  2. I'm lovin' the carrots....

    And we love conjoined summer squash too.... They're so scientifically challenged.

    But Goldy and Edna.... it's the shine factor. Bling. And both being female. Goldy might have to be resigned to the top shelf of the cupboard until she's been used enough to 'dull' her expectations. Edna was there first. She is top dog.

    That's all I'm sayin'....

    1. Hm, conjoined squash? Might look like two mating slugs.

      And we shall see if they can become friends. Or if there will be the tinkling of glass!

  3. We need to look at this Goldy and Edna thing from their perspective.

    Goldy? She's top drawer. Upstairs. She's the lady of the house.

    Edna? She's downstairs. A regular Mrs. Patmore, the queen of the kitchen.

    Goldy may deign to visit the kitchen occasionally, but it makes both of them nervous. That's too much familiarity.

    Goldy will have tea in the drawing room, if you please. With biscuits.

    1. I never thought of that!!!

      But Jan, there's up and down in this house. :O Just one kitchen that's not big enough for both of them...

  4. Oh, and we were talking about food, right?

    Your post reminds me of an incident my daughter told me about.

    When she was in college, there were quite a few students in her department from Central America - mostly Costa Rica and Honduras, but there were a few other countries represented.

    She was sitting in the student lounge, doing her homework (or something...) when another student dropped a dime while standing up. The other girl watched it roll under the couch, shrugged, and went on her way.

    Another student in the lounge - a boy from Honduras - put his books aside and scrambled under the couch to retrieve the dime. He looked at my daughter and said, "In my country, you never through money away."

    We throw money away all the time...our country is so rich our poor people are fat.

    And we complain about not having enough. Sheesh. I think it's time to buy another Heifer Project goat.

    Oh, and using food for fun? As long as it's edible afterwards, I'm all for it :)

    1. I think it's time for caffeine. Carlos said, "In my country you never throw money away."

      THROW, not THROUGH.

      Where's my proof-reader?

    2. Oh, Jan, I write stuff like that all the time. It sounds perfect in my head!!

      I know a sister who collects coins off the ground, in parking lots and stuff. She had her whole congregation doing this. They showed me the jar. It was HUGE. There was a little sign above it that someone had cross-stitched :

      "be careful, be kind
      little acts add up
      and change lives"

      They had donated over a thousand dollars in coins and had been 'collecting' for 8 years.

      Nobody could add change to the jar, it had to be FOUND. So funny.

  5. Yes, I need caffeine. I forgot to thank you for the artichoke lesson. I've tried cooking them before, but have failed miserably. Now I think I' ready to try again.

    1. So, how did it fail? Do share? I think I could have trimmed mine more.

    2. Could I have cooked it too long? Boiled it instead of steamed it? Not season it correctly?

      It was bland and a bit slimy. No one wanted to eat it.

    3. ew,NO! Slimy is bad. Probably cooked too long. And just with a tbs of lemon juice and one tsp of salt to 3 inches of water (and set face down) ours was sort of meaty and flavorful. My daughter was afraid it would taste like cabbage but it's definitely NOT in that family.

  6. I am excited about the prying apart the leaves hint! I love the taste of artichokes (dipped in butter--you can hear my arteries clogging) but have struggled with the too-done outside and not-quite-done heart. Our neighbor down the road grew Jerusalem artichokes last year with great success. I think I will try to grow some this year. I wonder if they would entice the deer away from our tomatoes?

  7. Did they really?? I was wondering about that, since 90% of arty's come from California. And are the Jerusalems smaller? There was a youtube video and a few nice blog posts on how to cook an artichoke, so I read up before I tried it. :D Mmmm. I dipped mine in lemon-pepper butter.

  8. Oh, Virginia, I LOVE that teacup!!!! It's gorgeous! Reminds me a little of my grandmother's china.

    And I'm still cracking up about those carrots. :)

    I'll have to check out that book you mentioned. Although, I'm sure I'll feel horribly guilty when I see the American grocery photo compared to others.

    You know, all that work for the artichoke kind of reminds me of eating the nectar from honeysuckle. :)

  9. A day late and a dollar short. That's me, Virginia. But that's a good thing. That means I was too busy writing yesterday. And with a deadline looming....

    My family is so wasteful. There, I've said it. It makes me sick to think of how much we throw away. One of the news programs had a segment the other night where they monitored what a family threw away for a week and calculated how much money they wasted in a year. Shocking! And so me. Sigh.

    Okay, back to my corner now.