Tuesday, November 05, 2013

what's for dinner?

20/10.2013 - soup for dinner.
roasted cauliflower & brussels sprouts soup topped with grilled monkfish, bacon, kale and homemade breadcrumbs
we've been doing some heavy reading in our blog camp food & culture course. turgid academic texts about the industrialization of food (what i like to think of as the badly treated chicken texts) were getting downright depressing. so, we (and by we, i mean me) decided to go off-syllabus to get our food (and perhaps cooking and hopefully reading) mojo back. i've been reading margaret visser's much depends on dinner and the rituals of dinner (aside: i also tried to read her the geometry of love: space, time, mystery, and meaning in an ordinary church, but it didn't do it for me and i had to abandon it again. i can do that with non-fiction.) i've also just started erica bauermeister's the school of essential ingredients and really feel transported by it. anyway, i made a copy of the intro chapter to visser's much depends on dinner and asked everyone to answer that daily dilemma: what's for dinner? as visser says,
"a meal is an artistic social construct, ordering the foodstuffs which comprise it into a complex dramatic whole, as a play organizes actions and words into component parts such as acts, scenes, speeches, dialogues, entrances, and exits, all in the sequences designed for them. however humble it may be, a meal has a definite plot, the intention of which is to intrigue, stimulate, and satisfy."

now at first glance, i don't feel like i put on a play every evening when i put dinner on the table. a meal like thanksgiving feels choreographed somehow, but the daily meals we eat do not. there's more routine in them, less effort and significantly less food than a thanksgiving feast. but doesn't our daily evening meal set the stage of a life well lived? it says a great deal about who we are and what we prioritize, our tastes, our norms, our likes and dislikes. and it's predominantly me who is the director of the play that is our evening meal. i hadn't really thought about how powerful that is in shaping our identity as a family until now.

blackened tuna + roasted cauliflower + Brussels sprouts + pomegranate salad #dinnerwhilethechildisaway
autumn salad of mixed leaves, roasted cauliflower, roasted brussels sprouts and pomegranate topped with seared, rare tuna
some days it's easier than others to answer the "what's for dinner?" question. other days, i have a pan of chopped onions sizzling away in olive oil underway before having a single idea what to do with them. i learned at a friend's wedding shower nearly two decades ago that something can always come of sautéed onion. fridays are easy - as i said in my post the other day, we have a friday ritual that we generally follow - fresh bread and yummy things to put on it. friday is also the day that the fish truck comes to town and i generally buy a tempting piece of something or other to use for our saturday meal - whatever's coming ashore out the west coast, but sometimes a piece of fresh tuna if there's no inspiring mackerel or monkfish and we don't feel like old standbys such as salmon or cod. i got a piece of grey mullet on friday and it was heavenly tossed with a few leeks from the garden and steamed in foil in the oven (i sadly neglected to photograph it).

garden bounty
fresh from the garden
i often take my dinner inspiration from what's in the garden. at the moment, that's potatoes, jerusalem artichokes, squash, leeks, kale and it was apples until we turned them all into 30 liters of cider last weekend, we've even still got a few raspberries going strong (enough to throw a handful into smoothies or cupcakes). we're trying to eat less meat and we're on a health kick for the month of november (which mainly means i'm not partaking of my daily glass (or two) of wine while cooking), so we're making even more of an effort on that front. i've said it before, we don't want to be vegetarian, but we would like to do better at not considering meat to be the centerpiece of every meal. that's what i love about the tuna salad above - instead of buying us each a big tuna steak, i buy one large one and slice it thinly on top of the salad. we all feel like we get enough to eat and we haven't each consumed a whole steak ourselves. it's better for us and for the tuna.

raspberries still going strong
some days, we're busy running to meetings and gymnastics and riding lessons and we get home a bit late, so i throw together a omelette with potatoes and perhaps chorizo sausage in it. i've been doing that less since our chickens were rustled. we've got new ones, but they're young and not yet laying. i hate to do it too often with store-bought eggs, as those chickens, even if the eggs are organic, often live miserable lives. if you don't want to slog through academic texts on the subject like we did, check out hugh fearnley-whittingstall's chicken out campaign. it was his programs on chicken welfare that first brought it to my attention. the industrial chicken industry is absolutely horrifying and means we don't eat chicken around here that much. i occasionally buy an expensive organic one that was ostensibly treated well (using it as roast and boiling the carcass for soup and/or risotto, thereby getting several meals out of it), but do my best to stay away from the water-filled packaged breasts.

we are fortunate to have a good variety of organic produce in denmark. i always buy organic milk, cream, creme fraiche, butter and lemons. (and i'm a bit of a snob about it, i'll admit, looking askance at those who fill their carts with the non-organic sorts.) i buy organic, free range ground beef and pork if it's available (it's not always in our little town). fruit and veg can be a bit more of a challenge as to availability in our smaller grocery stores, so there i tend to choose based on food miles. tho' i feel a dilemma on that front with regard to cucumbers - is it better to take a danish cucumber that's produced in an energy-hogging greenhouse in our climate or to take one that's been trucked up from spain? i'll admit i often choose spain, because the flavor is better, same with tomatoes. i turned my front entryway into a makeshift greenhouse this summer and we had our own tomatoes and cucumbers, at least for a short time.

tomato galette - with foraged chanterelles
our daily dinners tend to be a simple salad of some kind, featuring whatever inspired me in the green section of the supermarket, often rice (black and red are favorites) or spelt or rye grains, sometimes meat or fish, but not always. i do lots of stir-frys, these days with brassicas that seem to be in season (we're not fans of broccoli, but we love cauliflower and various kinds of cabbage). i even succeeded in growing a couple of heads of red cabbage in the garden this year and i've got kale there too, still going strong. i love to make risotto, tho' sabin's not fond of it. we eat simple pasta dishes like pasta carbonara or with pesto. sabin and i love soups and even tho' husband isn't fond of them, we try to make hearty, chunky ones so he's happy too. sometimes i boil up a big pan of beans and use them in various ways over several days - mixed together with diced onion, tomato and avocado, some chili sauce and a little creme fraiche is one favorite way. a one-dish meal if you throw a few arugula leaves on top. in fact, i've just inspired myself and have set some black beans to soak. i quite often make savory tarts or galette, just throwing in whatever is around.

mixed leaves salad with pear, cashews and parmesan
we don't often give in and buy a pizza, nor do we go out to dinner much. it's just not the way of the culture here and there is a distinct lack of inspiring places in our area, so we'd rather not spend the money on it. if we do eat out, it tends to be a posh sandwich for lunch in a café, but only very rarely dinner. it would probably be different if we lived in copenhagen, where there's much more choice. but generally, there isn't a big eating out culture in denmark the way there is in the states. there is also a culture here of buying groceries every day, rather than stocking up and having a whole lot in the freezer. i think it's because our refrigerators are smaller, but i'd also like to think it's because people are more focused on having fresh, good ingredients. i'm used it now, it's part of my routine and i actually quite like it. if i had the daunting task of going to target or whole foods for groceries every day, i wouldn't like it, but our grocery stores are small and intimate, so it's easy to pop in and out daily or every other day.

that said, i have a stash of beans (both dried and canned), pasta and rice in the cupboard. i try to keep staples like butter and bacon and milk and cheese in the fridge, so we can always come up with something for dinner in a pinch when there hasn't been time to shop. i always have a good supply of different kinds of flour and i make bread several times a week - often focaccia-style, drizzling olive oil and a sprinkle of cheese and maybe thin slices of serrano ham on top to make it heartier. if we don't eat it all, i cube it, dry it in the oven and make bread crumbs for other uses. either that or we feed it to the chickens.

agnolotti in progress. #funinthekitchen
roasted cauliflower agnolotti in progress (i've obviously got a thing about roasted cauliflower)
of course some days are more inspired than others and sabin complained not long ago that i was uninspired and never making anything new. so i've added things like homemade pasta to the repertoire of late. it's easier than you think and so soothing to run it through that little hand-crank pasta machine. we all need a little inspiration sometimes and we have to shake things up. i subscribe to epicurious and martha stewart and the kitchn's email newsletters, and i pin a lot of recipes on pinterest, both savory and sweet. cooking is probably where i'm best at using my pinterest boards regularly.

i don't know if my daily dinners are theatre, but they definitely set the stage for the way we choose to live our family life.

how do you answer the question, "what's for dinner?"

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minimalist fairy tale posters.

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the cat-hater's notebook was wonderfully illustrated.

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clever tiny homes.

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i'm in love with the idea of secret dining societies. 


rayfamily said...

I am so jealous that you have a fishmonger. We have no real outlet for fresh fish, though I am finding out increasingly about sourcing our meat from local farms. We're in the process of getting a whole pig for the freezer, much more meat curing in our future :) Now that we have harvested lots of dried beans, I need to start using them, I like the idea of making a bunch and using them over several days. Oh, I so want to be part of a secret dinner society! I have already pitched it to my tastebuds group!

Laura Doyle said...

I really enjoyed reading about what factors come into play for your dinner decisions. The food habits of other countries and cultures are fascinating. It was especially touching when you mentioned that you had a moment of clarity about it being you who is the director of your family's "play". Some tasks are also responsibilities which means they can be done in a routine, distracted way but realizing that you are the center of their food universe must put a little more pride in something that was already enjoyable to begin with.

I loved it. Thank you.