A Return to Blogging

I created this blog over a year ago, wrote 4 entries and then left it by the way side. As I have been following some friends of mine on their new blog adventures I decided it was time to head back to the keyboard myself. I have had many significant pig, pinot and prayer moments over the past year, which I won’t address at the moment, and have reflected a great deal on the relationship between food, drink and religion in my life and the life of others.  I am working away at preparing for my comprehensive exams, which I attempt to relate to these topics and which the stress from tends to lead me to overindulge in all three (is it possible to overindulge in prayer?). All in all, I decided I may have more to say and so I am back to blogging and hoping I will have more success in this endeavor this time around. 🙂

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Are we what we eat?

I am reading a book right now called We Are What We Eat: Ethnic Food and the Making of Americans by Donna R. Gabaccia.  It explores the history of ethnic food and the creation of an “American” food culture.  It’s quite exciting because this book addresses many of the questions I have been asking recently in regards to the role that food can play in the immigrant experience.  It particularly addresses the idea that the things that we eat actually play a foundational role in our personal and group identities.  It makes me wonder, are there foods that I consider foundational to my identity?  More specifically, are there foods that I consider foundational to my religious identity?

I have asked this question of myself before.  When I was doing my Master’s degree I was a part of an interfaith group on campus.  It was a great little group of about 10 women all from different backgrounds and traditions within the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam).  We got together once a month to discuss various themes like education, medicine, and of course, food.  We decided that when we discussed food it would be fun for everyone to bring some form of traditional food from their tradition.  Quickly my Jewish and Muslim friends announced the wonderful dishes they would bring to share.  The Korean Christian member of our group also quickly announced what her contribution would be.  It seemed to come so easily to all of the other people in the group.  They all knew exactly the right dish to illustrate their personal religious and cultural backgrounds.  As I sat at the table and thought through what I could bring, I became increasingly frustrated.  I could not think of a single dish that would properly portray my Canadian Protestant Christian background.  I found myself jealous, jealous that everyone else had such a rich cultural heritage that even the food they ate had significance.   By the end of that meeting it was decided that I would simply bring French toast and maple syrup.  The argument being that the idea of egg bread was somewhat a traditional Eater food and that maple syrup was “oh so Canadian.”

I left that meeting and began really questioning what foods I consider part of my identity.  I guess for me those foods would be the foods that if I didn’t eat them I just wouldn’t feel right. Or the foods that when I eat them I feel deeply connected to the other people who are also eating them.  I think most of the foods that fit that criteria  for me are foods that I eat around the holidays.  For example, my mom’s apple cinnamon Quiche on Christmas morning.  If I didn’t have that Quiche on Christmas morning I just wouldn’t feel right for the rest of the day.  I wouldn’t feel myself.  On a religious level, communion would not be communion without the bread AND the wine.  I have been to some churches where only one element is consumed and my religious self feels conflicted and confused.  I cannot identify with that practice.  But when both elements are present and I take both the bread and the wine, that is one of the times where I feel most full in my religious identity.  It is one of the times where I am most sure of who I am as a Christian.   It is also a time where I feel connected to all of the other people who are also consuming the food, who also view the food as important.  It is a form of common ground.

Are there foods like that for you?  Are there foods or drinks that without them you just wouldn’t feel yourself?  Are there foods or drinks that when you consume them you feel connected to your identity in a much clearer and more tangible way?   Do you think that we actually are what we eat?

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Pigs and Pinot in Chicago

It’s hard to believe that it has been a week since our impromptu trip to Chicago.  It is even harder to believe that it has taken me until now to write about it. I have wanted to go to Chicago for many years now, and while there are many wonderful architectural sites in Chicago and lots of history, my main reason for wanting to go was to Eat!  I have to admit that I didn’t even realize that Chicago was the home of the infamous Al Capone until I was there and saw a picture of him in a “timeline of Chicago” poster.  What I knew about Chicago, what I cared to know, was that you could get deep dish pizza, Chicago style hot dogs and some of the highest class food in the USA.  So we got into the car and drove the 8 hours from Waterloo to Chicago last Friday night and Chicago did not disappoint!  It turned out to be everything I wanted it to be and more.  The food, the people, the architecture, every single moment spent there was inspiring in one way or another. 

The food exceeded my expectations.  On our first morning we walked (from our very well situated hotel) to Yolk.  When I went onto tripadvisor on Friday afternoon, just to check out what restaurants were ranked well in Chicago, Yolk was ranked as the #2 restaurant in the city.  It lived up to its ranking.  Yolk has a bright, modern atmosphere, with yellow and blue everywhere and an open concept kitchen.  We were seated at the bar (which over looked the kitchen) and thus began our breakfast experience.  I call it an experience because it was so much more than a meal.  From listening to the cooks call out orders in Spanish, to the smell of bacon, eggs and waffles, to friendly chats with Chicago locals, it was the perfect way to start our day.  My eggs Benedict was the best I have ever had, with perfectly cooked eggs, incredibly thick and delicious Canadian bacon and a brilliantly executed hollandaise sauce.  It set the bar high for the rest of the day.  Lunch was an authentic Chicago dining experience, with deep dish pizza at Gino’s East (again, another convenient walk from our hotel).  After waiting 40 minutes in line and then another hour once seated, the piece de resistance came to our table.  I don’t know if I have ever been more excited to see a pizza in my life.  It was perfectly round, perfectly golden and perfectly deep!  With the first bite I was a believer.  I am not normally a fan of crust on pizza, leaving the crust on my plate and throwing it out at the end of a meal, but this crust was off the hook.  While it is definitely a “P90X killer,” it was so incredibly worth the pound that I am sure I gained by eating it.  If you head to Gino’s East, be sure to bring along a sharpie as they have graffiti all over the walls and it appears that it is almost expected that you add your own name to the collection.  Now what about dinner?  Well, my initial goal with the trip to Chicago was to eat at Rick Bayless’ restaurant The Frontera Grill.  Bayless is probably one of my favourite chefs out there.  Ever since I saw an episode of At the Table With that featured him I was hooked on everything he did.  On that program I learned that he was doing his PhD and then after an inspiring trip to Mexico he decided to leave academia and become a chef.  There is something about following your heart and going against the grain and everything that people expect of you that is incredible inspiring to me.  Anyway, we put our name on the list at Frontera and were told it would take approximately 2 and a half hours to get a table.  We left Frontera and went to get a drink at a wine bar close by (Fleming’s is a fabulous place with a great wine list) and started trying to decide whether we should wait for our table at Frontera or check out another restaurant we had heard of: The Purple Pig.  After finishing our delicious glass of Sanford Chardonnay we decided to head over to The Purple Pig.  How could I resist a restaurant that’s very name encapsulates two of the three parts of my blog title.  The Purple Pig was amazing!  It serves tapas type menu items with lots of pig on the menu.  We enjoyed the Pig platter (a pig shaped platter filled with house made cured meats), chorizo stuffed olives, and roasted bone marrow all alongside a delicious half litre of Pinot Noir from Languedoc.  For dessert we had one of the best desserts I have had in a long time, a Farro, Rocotta cheese pudding with warm dark chocolate sauce.  To top off the wonderful food, the service we received at the Purple Pig was amazing!  We had a phenomenal server named Lucas who was passionate and knowledgeable and just incredibly helpful and entertaining.  If you find yourself at the Purple Pig, be sure to ask if he is in and if you can sit at a table that he serves!  Finally, on our second day in Chicago we went up to Wrigley field and on the way out of the city stopped by The Clark Street Dog to get ourselves a traditional Chicago style hot dog.  A Chicago style hot dog (for those of you who don’t know) is a hot dog with mustard, relish, onions, pickles, tomatoes and sport peppers.  Again, this hole in the wall dining experience did not let me down and left me with a memory that I will not soon forget.

Other than the food my experiences in Chicago the whole weekend left me inspired, contented and sure of the goodness in the world.  The service that we received at every single restaurant we went to was so great that it made me wonder what is in the water in Chicago that makes people in the service industry so incredible nice.  We met an inspiring guy on the Navy Pier who is a college admissions counsellor in Venezula and is just generally an amazing person.  We spent a lot of time admiring the beauty that man can make in the reflection of the Chicago Cloud Gate (AKA the Bean) and just took in every fresh breath of air that the windy city provided.  I think that it is important to get out of our own little comfort zones every once and a while, to travel to distant, or not so distant, locales in order to discover the beauty outside of our own familiar places.  It helps us to realize that there are great things out there in this big world; that there are so many wonderful pieces of pig to eat and sips of pinot to drink and people that are passionate about sharing those with you.

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Breaking Bread and the memories it brings

I just finished reading a great book.  Not only was this a great book, but it was the first on my list of 15 which I have set out to read over the next month or so.  I am desperately lapping up every bit of information I can about food, drink and religion, reading the books I want to read on my own timeline and trying to decipher exactly what it is that I might want to study in this crazy world of academia.  It really is a brilliant thing, taking time to read what you want to read and not what you have to read.  I have been reading what I HAVE to read for the past 20 years of my life and I cannot begin to tell you how refreshing it is to finally have time to read what I WANT to read.  It just so happens that what I want to read is still very much in line with my academic endeavours.

 So, this book, how did I pick this book as my starting point?  I guess the title just spoke to me.  The book is called Breaking Bread: Recipes and Stories from Immigrant Kitchens by Lynne Christy Anderson.  It was the perfect book to start my month long reading extravaganza.  I read it from front to back, not skipping a single page.  For those of you who are grad students out there, you will realize that this is a big deal.  Selective reading is a skill I have become quite good at as of late, but there was no selective reading of this book.  Every page intrigued me.  Every story told and every recipe recorded; I wanted to be in every moment that Anderson described.  The book was just full of the kind of stories I hope to hear one day in my own research.  Each chapter was a little glimpse into the life and foodways of various immigrants in Boston, with Anderson describing her own experience with her subjects and then allowing her subjects’ own voices to describe the place of food in their life.  The book was written in such a way that as the reader I thought I was actually sitting in the kitchen with these wonderful people, watching them prepare classic dishes from their homeland.  The only thing that was missing was the smell and taste of the food.  As much as I thought I was there, and as hard as I tried, I unfortunately could not taste the incredible creations that each of the people interviewed placed in front of Anderson.  Except, wait, what is this?  She gives you the recipes for all of these wonderful dishes!  There are many that I am already chomping at the bit to try my hand at.

 While I could go on and on about so many things that this book does I think the most fascinating aspect for me is how food is so completely tied to memory for these immigrants.  By eating a traditional food one is transported back to a particular time or place in one’s memory.  Anderson suggests that “food has the power to resurrect the past” and that “cooking brings home a little closer.”   I can think of so many foods (and drinks) that serve this role for me.  I think of the smell of my mom’s apple cider and how that transports me back to so many Christmas Eves.  I can picture the candle light service at my childhood church.  I can see my childhood home, decorated for Christmas and I can smell the cider cooking.  I know exactly what the crockpot that it is made in looks like and can remember so well that glorious moment when the lid comes off and the smell of apples and cloves and oranges floats up to your nose.  Whenever I drink this apple cider it takes me right back.  Much like my mom’s apple cinnamon quiche on Christmas morning.  Food, drink, memory.  These things all go hand in hand.  I can only imagine that if I were living in a far off land, feeling lost and disconnected, that making some of these “traditional” things would put me at ease.  That’s what I love so much about food and drink, not only do these things taste great, but they have the power to comfort us, to connect us to times and places that may seem distant but with a small bite or sip can be close at hand.

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Hello world!

So I have decided to try my hand at this blogging phenomenon.  My plan is to write on my many explorations and adventures into the wide world of food, drink and religion (hence the name of the blog).  While this happens to be my current research interest, the title of the blog also describes what generally occupies my own life.  I eat, I drink, I pray, and therefore, this blog goes beyond mere academic reflection to personal investment in these three topics.  I hope those reading it find it sufficiently entertaining.

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