The Food Politics of Chicken

Where does my food come from? As a child I might have answered, “the store.” As an adult, I might ponder the question only to realize I don’t know. I have never asked my parents where they bought the chicken or the beef. As a student, I tend to focus more on the price than the origin.

Last night I baked a chicken. I have eaten plenty of baked chicken, but I have never done the baking for myself. I recall reading “organic” on the plastic covering. What is an organic chicken? What does organic even mean? As far as I knew, the chicken wasn’t organic, but so what if it was?

I loathe my ignorance. I need to be more conscious of what I put into my body. In my mind, I had already purchased the chicken and I was damn sure not going to waste that money. That chicken might have been raised well and slaughtered humanely, but I don’t know that for sure. Too many of us don’t know or don’t want to know where our food came from, how it was raised, what it was fed, or how it died.

I come from a family that has always had to eat on a budget. Nothing was purposefully wasted. Now that I am a college student on a budget, many of the foods that I buy must fit into that budget. However, how do I know that the cheaper chicken isn’t going to wind up being linked to the future increase in whatever cancer 30 years from now? I promise the next chicken that I bake will have lived a good, healthy life and died a clean, humane death.

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A Look Back At My Pickier Past

I didn’t know food growing up. I still don’t, but I’m trying to learn. I can remember my mom telling me that my taste buds would mature, as I got older. I couldn’t comprehend the idea of taste buds maturing. In reality it’s the person that matures, but the idea is the same: they try new things. I see people my age who are still picky eaters and I wish that I could tell them to try new foods and acquire new tastes, but I also know that they wouldn’t listen. After all, I didn’t listen.

I always ordered the same thing. A hamburger, probably with some sort of generic barbecue sauce and bacon, was enough to satisfy me. My brother was the exact opposite; he tried everything. I thought he was weird, but I now realize that I was missing out. I look back and ponder my pickier days. When did I transition from ignorant and unwilling to learning and eager?

Me: What did I hate eating when I was younger?

Mom: You hated meat on the bone, but you would eat chicken nuggets. And now you love eating ribs. I can’t make sense of it. You would smell everything. What kid that age puts food right up to his nose and smells it. If you thought it had eggs in it, then you wouldn’t eat it.

Me: What did I love eating?

Mom: Spaghetti, your dad’s lasagna, Ritz crackers, mac and cheese, but absolutely no vegetables. I even took you to the doctors to make sure you weren’t malnourished because I could not get you to eat fruit or vegetables for the longest time.

Me: what was your favorite food to make?

Mom: I tried to make foods from my childhood hoping you or your brother would inherit the love for them that I had. I tried making sweet and sour chicken, but you wouldn’t eat meat on the bone. You were talking to your grandfather about getting old one day and you started crying. You said you didn’t want to get old like him, which made both of us laugh. I said that carrot juice will keep you young, so we started making carrot juice. You enjoyed juicing the carrots and loved the drink from that day on. I realized that I should try to bring you into the cooking process more often to develop your love for food.

Me: Did you enjoy cooking for me?

Mom: I enjoyed it more as you got older. I involved you more and you liked the food as a result.

I still smell my food, but I’m not looking for eggs. Instead, I am experiencing the food with every sensation.

Chocolate Without The Makeup

I love my coffee black and my chocolate dark. That is not to say I avoid sweet and seek bitter. Coffee without an excess of cream and sugar is not always bitter, however, dark chocolate is and should be. The more bitter, the better.

Everyone has a different chocolate preference. Some shun dark chocolate not hesitating to publically show their disdain. They consider themselves chocolate loves, but are they? I am not attempting to scorn those who prefer milk chocolate to dark chocolate, but milk chocolate contains only a small fraction of cacao and is more a sugary candy than anything else.

Alegio Chocolate in Berkley’s Gourmet Ghetto offers a cathartic chocolate tasting. Don’t be fooled, you will taste real chocolate, so expect bitter flavors with pungent aromas and unexpected textures.

We started with cacao seeds. The seeds looked like dark brown beans, but had a dark chocolate aroma. As I chewed, the texture reminded me of a coffee bean. It was crunchy, but not hard to chew. The flavor was noticeable, but not strong. If it weren’t for the dark chocolate aroma, I might not have known I was eating chocolate.

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The next sample was 80% cacao. The chocolate resembled something more familiar with a typical rectangular shape. The color was a dark brown to black. I could smell the dark chocolate aroma that always reminds me of coffee brewing first thing in the morning. The embracing aroma was pungent, but not distasteful. I could taste a hint of nut as it melted in my mouth. The bitter flavors all seemed to gather on the sides of my tongue. There was a crunch to the texture, which was perhaps a remnant of the cacao seed. When we sampled a slightly sweeter chocolate, I found myself dissatisfied and wanting what I had before; I desired the real thing without any artificial enhancement.

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Maybe your palate is too sensitive, but I challenge you to try chocolate for what it is and not for what you want it to be. Chocolate is meant to be bitter, but bitter is not always bad. Try coffee black and chocolate dark every once in a while and you might find yourself acquiring a taste for bolder flavors.

http://alegio.com/

Glazed Meatloaf and Bitter Watermelon

I cannot imagine why I hated meatloaf growing up. If I loved hamburgers, then I should have loved meatloaf. After all, meatloaf is basically a large patty. Perhaps it was the mystery behind the loaf. Regardless, my own meatloaf was one of the better meals I have made myself.

My cooking expertise is limited, so when drew ground turkey, eggs, and watermelon for my classes “chopped” assignment, I was relieved. I felt pity for those who had more complicated ingredients such as truffle oil.

Meat loaf is easy. All of the work goes into the preparation. It all starts with two pounds of ground turkey and then add in some minced garlic, thyme, salt, pepper, paprika, eggs, parsley, olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, breadcrumbs, and diced onions. Dicing the onions was the most difficult part. I have never diced onions before, so it took me a bit longer than it should have. I had to stop part way through the process to give my stinging eyes a break and was glad when I finally finished. The final addition was the barbecue glaze, which is honestly why I chose this recipe.

The glaze tasted bitter before it was baked in the oven. I was disappointed at first. I added the correct amount of Dijon mustard, ketchup, light brown sugar, and apple cider vinegar. I remember regretting adding the vinegar. I imagined it would taste sweeter because of the sugar. I decided to finish the recipe regardless of my hesitation. Once baked, the glaze perfectly complemented the dish adding a slightly sweet aspect.

The meatloaf was good, but not without imperfections. There were too many onions and I wish I had diced them smaller. I’m not sure why I added thyme. While the herb smelt great, I couldn’t actually taste it in the finished meal.

So I was able to use the eggs and ground turkey in a relatively successful attempt at a meal, but I was also assigned watermelon. I thought the watermelon would be a refreshing change that would balance the rich and heavy meatloaf. I think I had the right idea, however, the melon itself seemed lacking in texture, flavor, and color.

I can’t remember ever having watermelon in the middle of winter. This isn’t the right season. Surely watermelon is a summer fruit. At least that is my opinion. The color was a pale red. The flavor was practically non-existent. It was even bitter at times. I found myself disappointed, but the meal wasn’t ruined. The meatloaf was successful in satisfying both myself and a friend, who courageously opted to try my interpretation of a classic dish.

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http://www.yummly.com/recipe/BBQ-Turkey-Meatloaf-Once-Upon-A-Chef-200039?columns=4&position=4/36

Japantown

San Francisco’s Japantown, while once larger, spans a four-block radius, but this small area is densely packed with history, culture, and food. Every shop seemed mysteriously tucked away. The restaurants and eateries were exuding an odor that reminded me of seafood, but Japanese cuisine is much more than sushi. Although when I imagined a day tasting Japanese food, I imagined sushi and fish. The food names were unrecognizable and impossible for me to pronounce. I found myself forced to pick a dish at random, but that was a good thing as my bias towards certain preferences was uncontrollably bypassed. The tastes and smells were new while still managing to retain a certain familiarity. My Japantown experience left my taste buds overwhelmed and myself content. I must return. In fact, I will return. There is too much to discover in one day.

How does one describe akonomiyaki? Basically, it seemed like a bunch of leftovers all mixed together forming an egg dish that reminded me of a breakfast keish. The first things anyone will notice are the moving flakes resting atop the egg and mystery meat combination. When heated, the bonito flakes danced around and made the dish seem alive. This wasn’t a dish for picky eaters. The flakes offered a subtle fishy taste that allowed the rest of the dish to speak for itself without being overpowered. I believe the akonomiyaki had some shrimp, scallops, beef, pork, and even calamari, but I can’t be certain. Perhaps I should’ve taken my time. I’ll take note the next time I stop by Mifune Don. The sauce was sparse and reminded me of a kind of barbecue sauce. If it were up to me, I probably would have over-saturated the akonomiyaki in this mysterious sauce. I could taste a hint of ginger. This meal seemed full of hints. Nothing was too powerful and everything was subtle. The sauce was the one strong flavor, but they had the sense to limit the quantity, which is a foresight rarely seen in this country.

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The last thing I expected was an Indian restaurant in Japantown, but Dosa made a vegetarian crepe that you just cannot pass up. The crepe was crispy and potato-like. The coconut and tomato chutneys pared perfectly with the spicy sambar soup. The soup reminded me of a spicy chili. We were told to dip, so I dipped. Then my mouth was overwhelmed with spice and flavor. Spicy foods have a way of clearing my sinuses. The smells were powerful, but offered me no form of nostalgia. I can’t say I grew up eating too much Indian food. I wish I had.

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If you live in California’s bay area and you haven’t been to Japantown, then go. Explore the markets, eat the food, experience the smells, and most importantly discover a different culture.

My Brownie Shame

We have all had those disastrous kitchen moments that leave us embarrassed and others laughing. Even those most experienced among us can recall that dinner that went awry or that special meal, which might have even defined the outcome of a rather not so special relationship. Looking back, I can’t imagine my disaster was truly disastrous, however, in that moment I was devastated and even a bit ashamed.

The thought of Duncan Hine’s chewy fudge brownies, while perhaps not as good as homemade, makes my mouth salivate and tends to render my brownie craving uncomfortably satisfied when narcissistically gorged down without hesitating to consider the calories. That was my mindset on that insignificant night. While this foul-up was insignificant for my family, it was momentous for me.

It wasn’t even my recipe. I was simply following the directions on the box. If I wanted fudgy brownies, then I needed 2 eggs, ¼ cup of water, and ¾ cup of vegetable oil. After beating the eggs, I added the brownie mix and oil to the same bowl. I measured, diligently and consciously, I might add, the water and added it to the bowl in anticipation of finally getting to the end and licking the batter off of the spoon cleaner than my dishwasher could ever hope to do.

Something was off, the batter was less batter-like than I had expected. Where I expected to see a slightly viscous gooey mixture, I only saw a very diluted brown concoction that resembled muddy water more so than batter. My mom didn’t even have to tell me; I already knew, but she told me anyway. I added about 3 cups of water in my hurry. I had ruined the brownies and the moment. There wasn’t another box and I couldn’t be asked to make brownies from scratch knowing they wouldn’t be as palatable.

I left the kitchen defeated. An easy-to-prepare, premade brownie mix was more than I could handle. There would be no desert that night.

http://www.duncanhines.com/products/brownies/chewy-fudge-premium-brownie-mix

The Mission

San Francisco’s Mission District is a foodie paradise. The excursion on Thursday opened my eyes. The flavors were new and unexpected. I suppose I can’t say I truly know what gourmet is, but I would say I had a gourmet experience.

I’m not a morning person and this morning seemed particularly cold with an annoyingly persistent wind chill. The thought of food was the last thing on my mind as I waited for the bus. Once on the bus, I thought I had finally escaped the cold, but I still had to wait for the BART to take my class and I to 22nd street. We finally arrived around 11:00 in the morning. The tours were about to begin. I was clueless, having no idea what I was about to experience.

The tour started with the Wise Sons Deli. The deli was quaint, but overflowing with different smells as well as people coming and going. We waited on the sidewalk outside. Our guide was describing the history of the deli as well as the district. The deli employees came out with plates in their hands. Some had sandwiches and others had pickles. The rye bread was subtle in flavor and crumbled at the touch. The rye odor was blocked out by the pastrami, which overflowed from the bread. I squeezed a moderate portion of mustard onto the top of the sandwich because I didn’t want the mustard to overpower the flavor combination of the rye and pastrami combination. The pastrami was rich, but not too rich. The rye helped to balance the savory meal.

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Later we made our way to Taquerias el Farolito. We were served chips, salsa, and horchata as we waited for our tacos. The chips were homemade and just asking to be dipped into salsa. The salsa was some kind of a guacamole salsa. The guacamole flavor hit me first, and then came the spice. The salsa wasn’t overly spicy, however, I found myself drinking the horchata to douse the flames. The horchata was a refreshing yet Christmassy drink. Some don’t prefer the sweet drink because they find it slightly too rich to finish, but I thought it to be superb. The tacos were soft shell, which is the onlyreal way to eat tacos in my opinion. There was a perfect balance of savory and spice. Too much spice always ruins a dish for me, but Taquerias el Farolito developed a taco with the perfect amount of spice. The taco was simple. The ingredients were salsa, onions, cilantro, and meat. The powerful flavors packed into such a simple dish reminded me of Guanajuato, Mexico. The most difficult part of the day was trying to slow down and enjoy all of the flavors. I practically inhaled the first three-fifths of the taco.

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The tour took us to many more restaurants and eateries, but these two stuck out in particular.  We went to Roxy’s where we enjoyed yucca nioki with a bolognese sauce. Mission Minis’ peanut butter kiss cupcake was a deliciously light blend of two strong flavors. Local Mission Eatery served us the most delicious grilled cheese I have ever eaten. Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream had a bourbon and corn flake ice cream that is the best and strangest combination at the same time. Pig and Pie’s bratwurst with sauerkraut and spicy beer mustard on a bun was too rich to eat on an already full stomach, but I’m sure I could manage to scarf it down any other day.