Sunday, November 1, 2009

Plain Food

Being a Gemini, I have a kind of ADD approach to life. I flit from thing to thing, having dozens of interests and am never quite able to decide my perfect focus. I love to act and sing. I love to write (duh). I enjoy researching my family history and I like to cook. I am enamored of the computer and of the virtual world and take pride in my prowess at manipulating Google to give me the goods. So, you'll never know what you're going to get from me here on my blog, and the truth is, I don't know, either.

So, I came here this morning, filled with ideas about what I want to write and just COULDN'T decide. I drew mental lots and chose the topic of plain food as a good start.

Yes, I'm a foodie. But I'm not a foodie who is interested in trying new and unusual recipes. I like plain food that is true to its earliest ancestor. For example, reading a recipe about lamb with apricots in phyllo dough leaves me completely cold, and maybe even a bit nauseated. I'd much rather read and follow a recipe for Craig Claiborne's Southern Fried Chicken. THAT, my friends, is mouth-watering. To me.

His recipe is mostly chicken, white flour, salt and pepper, and some Tabasco sauce. But it's out of this world. Try to gussy it up and you'll have missed the point. It's perfect. I can't bear to think or hear of people tampering with a recipe as good as that.

Southern food is a great example of the kind of food I like best: unfussy, not cluttered up with unusual ingredients in an attempt to excite the palate: it doesn't NEED anything else. Believe me, my palate is never bored with a humble piece of that Southern Fried chicken. I'm drooling all over my keyboard as I write this.

But since I'm of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage, and I have taken an interest in family research, I have melded these two interests in the form of recreating authentic recipes for Ashkenazi food. This is the kind of food that weighs you down and makes you groan. It's filled with salt and cholesterol. But hey! We only live once. I definitely don't want to have lived without enjoying my favorite foods.

I have to leave for work soon, but I wanted to give an example of a simple recipe my mother once described to me. This recipe is for Bub Tzimmes. Lithuanian Jews, such as my mother, don't generally use much sugar in their cuisine, so this recipe is kind of an anomaly. Otherwise, you can see where this recipe would have been popular for the plainness of its ingredients, for its simplicity and for its cost effectiveness. It's also a stick-to-the ribs kind of dish and probably kept a lot of Litvaks warm in those dreadful Eastern European winters. When I finally reveal the ingredients, you are going to have a bit of a shock and may be dubious that this is a dish worth trying, but I have to say it's absolutely scrumptious.

Ready? The ingredients are dried lima beans--cooked until slightly mushy, chicken fat (schmaltz), salt, pepper, and a bit of sugar. That's all. It's unctuous. It's sublime. But you will have to try it to find out. Believe me, this is authentic, plain food at its absolute best. If you're a foodie, I dare you to try it and swoon with pleasure.

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