Monday, April 30, 2012

Weeknight Meal--Gringa Taco

So, I don't know about you, but I don't do elaborate cooking on weeknights. I usually get home around 5:30ish, and the kids have informed me on numerous occasions that they will literally starve to death if they don't see food by 6:30. Since I don't think about what I make for diner until approximately 5:40, I usually root around and see what we've got, then make something up. I try to keep the pantry reasonably well stocked, because there's nothing worse than figuring out what to make only to find that you are missing a crucial ingredient.  And you had better believe that I am not running out to the damn store to get the missing ingredient on a weeknight.

So, tonight I noticed a couple of forlorn boneless pork chops skirting dangerously close to their expiration date. There were also some commercially made tortillas. Pork tacos! Pork carnitas, slow cooked, would have definitely been more authentic, but we do what we can.

First, make up a marinade. It's going to be hard to give exact proportions because I don't measure anything unless I'm specifically following a recipe. I just throw stuff together and hope for the best. If I had to guess, the marinade would be something like this:

2 cloves of chopped garlic
juice of one lime
2 T vegetable oil
1 T honey
1/2 tsp ancho chile powder, maybe a bit more
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp basil
ground pepper

And would look like this:

Slice the pork thin, then mix in the marinade and wait 30 minutes. (Meanwhile, make up some black beans and rice and slice some fresh pineapple, some tomatoes and cilantro...)
Slice up some onions, then throw the whole thing in a hot pan. I used a cast iron skillet for this because it holds its heat well. At first, it will look pretty anemic:

But if you have a little patience and let the residual liquid cook off, it will start to brown nicely, and end up like this:

Set everything out on the table. Cringe at the thought that you are putting out ketchup for your ketchup-mad son, even though you don't see how ketchup goes with pork tacos. Or rice and beans. Or pineapple, for that matter.

Finally, warm up tortillas, put some pork and onion mixture in a tortilla, add some salsa (homemade would have been better, but cut me some slack--the tortillas would have been better homemade too) and some fresh cilantro, and you're good to go! Yes, I know there's cheese on there too. Yes, I know that these kind of tacos are not supposed to have cheese. I just happen to like cheese.

Congratulations, you have just successfully fed the family tonight. Please ignore your daughter as she eats the beans out of the rice but refuses to eat the rice, and don't look as your son dumps 1/4 cup of ketchup on his pork.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Inexorable Decline of Home Cooking

In preparation for my upcoming trip to Italy for a CIEE Faculty Development Workshop (entitled "Food from a 'Glocal' Perspective: Italy, the Mediterranean, and the Globe"--you can see the itinerary here if you're interested), I have begun plowing through the seminar reading list. Two of the books so far, Around the Tuscan Table: Food, Family, and Gender in Twentieth Century Florence by Carol M. Counihan and Dinner Roles: America Women and Culinary Culture by Sherrie A. Inness, deal, at least in part, with the expectation that women will be at home doing the family cooking every day. The entry of women into the workforce over the course of the 20th century has meant that women have been challenged to meet both the obligations of a job and the demands of the home, with men only very gradually assuming some of the home duties. The result, in both Italy and the United States, has been the decline of home cooking and an increasing reliance on convenience foods.

I should note that neither author explicitly laments this change. Counihan, with her 20 year span of interviewing the same consultants, simply reports that the women and men whom she interviews have noted this change. They would prefer the more traditional home cooking still provided by older women who don't work outside the home, but the women are emphatic that they no longer have time for this kind of cooking and may never have learned it in the first place. The Tuscan men give lip service to the fact that the women don't have time for traditional cooking, but grumble about it. Most men seemed generally unwilling to help in the kitchen, although the situation was changing a little in the early 21st century. The result for Tuscan food? More convenience food, more eating out, the introduction of more "international" recipes (the title given to the food by the consultants) that were fast, but involved the heavy use of cream and other more fattening ingredients than in traditional cuisine. Counihan also implies that the Italian birthrate, at this point the lowest in Europe, can be explained in part by the fact that Italian men have been very reluctant to help with any traditionally female jobs--such as cooking, cleaning, or childrearing--perhaps more so than in other European countries. Women, desiring to work outside the home for either personal fulfillment, independence, or economic necessity, feel they don't have the time or energy to have more children.

Inness takes a different approach--she analyzes cookbooks, magazines and other media for evidence that women have been socialized from a young age to assume that they are the ones responsible for home cooking. Admittedly, I have not yet finished with the book, but her approach seems to be that external pressure on women to be home cooks and find fulfillment in this role is both insidious and intense. Her ideas are not necessarily new, but she does follow other authors in pointing out that food manufacturers, grocery stores, and related enterprises have used advertising to push convenience foods. For better coverage of this phenomenon, read Laura Shapiro (Something from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America) and Harvey Levenstein (Revolution at the Table: The Transformation of the American Diet).

It is certainly true that women's entry into the workforce has changed the American diet. In popular media today, it seems like I either see a celebration of foodie culture OR dire warnings about what processed and convenience foods (along with lack of exercise) are doing to our health and culture. I enjoy cooking, but admit that everyday, 30 minute cooking to get something on the table sometimes drives me crazy. After starting my day at 5am, wrangling children, spending an hour in traffic, dealing with everything at work, and spending another hour in traffic, there are days when the last thing I want to do is get into the kitchen to figure out what to feed everyone. I have a husband who's willing to help out by cooking or getting takeout a couple of times a week, but I still feel pressure to make dinner and guilt when I don't.

How much of the current state of home cooking be laid at the feet of women? How much is the responsibility of a capitalist economy where there is relentless pressure from advertising steering us towards fast foods, convenience foods, and other food which is not even really food? What role should men play in feeding their families?

I've no brilliant answers to these questions, but I do think about them a lot. Fortunately, there's a lot of great reading material out there to help me think about it. I'll be posting further reading suggestions in future posts.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Cruising the Food Blogs: Apple Walnut Bundt Cake

Welcome to my blog! Over the last year or two, I've become increasingly interested in following food blogs. I've gotten some great recipes from them. Tonight I made an Apple Walnut Bundt Cake from Easier than Pie. It takes an hour and fifteen minutes to bake, and twenty minutes of cooling before it can even be turned out of the pan. At that point, you should really let it cool considerably before cutting into it, but my husband had been bugging me for an hour about the wonderful smell and so I had mercy on him and cut a slice. Marvelous! There's something about the cardamom and brown sugar that makes for a spicy, caramelized taste. No pictures for posting yet, because I managed to lose the charger for my camera battery...

Update: I've got a working camera! Here's a picture...

Of course, it now occurs to me that if I am going to post pictures, I might want to, er, clean up my counters a bit.