Monday, May 9, 2011

Cooking Time

Last month, I posted some Sunday comics that reused their illustrations. At the time, I wanted something that would take my mind off doing random blog updates without too much forethought. The ironic thing is, there were several comic news announcements that I wanted to comment on, and as a result, April turned out to be one of busiest months I've ever done.

Part of the reason I was hoping to divert my mental workload was so I could focus on a group presentation. Normally, I prefer to do such projects alone, but this time, I was assigned with a partner. Even though we lived fairly close to each other, it was still a monumental task to find workable hours when we could get together. It also didn't make things any easier when our suggested cooking theme was passed over for an Anime theme in the belief that it would be easier. However, even this turned out to be false. We couldn't agree over which Anime we wanted to cover. Finally, we decided to divide it separately - my partner would do the biography of Yagami Light from Death Note, while I would explain the military strategy from the first two episodes of Legend of the Galactic Heroes. If there ever was an Anime worthy of being shown on HBO, Legend of Galactic Heroes would be it.

However, while I'm fairly proud of my Anime presentation, I'm a little disappointed that we didn't get a chance to do our original theme, which was going to be cooking. I thought it'd be interesting to show the originality of various cooking concepts. If you think about it, cooking is basicallly an area of experimentation, a mixture of various blends of spices, foods and temperature to create something totally new. With slight variation, the simple addition or removal of an essential ingredient can either make or create the very food you're making. Like Calvin with cow's udders, I have no idea how people managed to figure out the simple combination of different substances like say, eggs and flour, into something worth eating.

Given that today's cooking output is more suited to the quick-n-fast method of microwaving fast food TV dinners, cooking can be considered something of a lost art. It can take up to 3 hours to cook a beef stew to a slow boil, making sure the vegetables are absorbed by every inch of skin for maximum softness. This is not a recommended method for impatient hungry people, which is why fast-food restaurants are so popular.

Other than Iron Chef, cooking isn't generally thought of being exciting. Most people's cooking philosophies are more likely to follow Duffy's mindset.

I wanted to go into a history of creativity that lead to cooking breakthroughs. The stories behind the sandwich and potato chips are interesting enough in themselves, but I was wondering if there were any other foods that might've had similar backgrounds.

For potato chips, there was a customer at a restaurant who was grumbling about the thickness of the potato "chips" being served. He complained that they were too thick for his taste, and not salty enough. The cook, being fed up with the customer, sarcastically sliced the potatoes so thinly that they resembled paper, and added enough salt to choke a horse. After serving them, the cook was surprised to find the customer was pleased with the results, and the rest is history.

I even had the perfect person to use for an interview - the caterer for my sister's wedding. She was notorious for never quite creating the same recipe twice. She considered herself an artist, so each new foodstuff she made wasn't confined to simple factory-style output, but original creations she would be proud of. The only problem was when she made some stuff that tasted really good, and couldn't recreate it upon demand because she had no idea how she made it in the first place. As a result, her customers have learned to quickly snatch up anything she cooks after tasting her samples, because they have no idea when she'll hit lightning with a bottle again. It certainly makes shopping there interesting.

Part of the reason for her unusual dynamic may be because she's dyslexic, and doesn't like reading much. I found that a shame, because I thought she really would've liked Feifer's third story in The Long Chalkboard, since it described her perfectly. She's constantly improvising on her recipes, never quite sticking to a tried and true formula, but whatever she thinks will work.

"That was the best batch ever," friends would say. "What did you do?"
"Oh, I couldn't find any of something, so I had to use something else, but I forget what it was," she would say.
Some people thought she was being coy, but she was not. Judy was not that interested in chili per se; she was interested in giving it to people.

"Judy, did you put cornflakes in that chili you brought over last night?" her friends said to her. "Something in there looked sort of cornflakey."
"Oh, dear," she said. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be sorry, honey -- it was incredible. Well, you're a riot, that's what you are."

Unfortunately, when we first went to interview her, we ran into trouble almost immediately. The smell of spices inside her small one-floor room played havoc with my nose. However, I was willing to push away my discomfort for the sake of the project. Also, it was raining, but even though I hate getting wet, at least the light outside her window wouldn't distract me more than usual. Things could've gone swimmingly from there had our camera battery not died suddenly. With no alternate recording devices around, our potential questions dried up. I could've asked for my Dad's camera for backup, but he's notoriously finicky about strangers using his tools without permission. As someone who gets panicky whenever someone violates the sanctum of privacy that's my room, I can certainly relate.

In addition, I also hoped my partner would use various examples using clips from Yakitate! Japan, I lent him my sister's copy of the first volume, and he gave me assurance that he would torrent the Anime. However, due to personal problems, he never got around to doing either. Part of it was that he only liked to read comics on the bus, and he preferred to drive. I egged him on, encouraging him to find excuses to go downtown just so he could read any good Mangas I lent him. Unfortunately, he seemed reluctant to do so, and laughed at my bombastic suggestion. I suffer from a similar symptom to my partner - I can only read novels on the bus, since I find the vibrations to be soothing, and it keeps my mind off how boring the text is.

The last element I hoped to use was references to the legendary 50's chef, Julia Child. I rented the book and movie, Julie & Julia, about two American women in different times with very similar goals. I thought their story would be inspirational, even though they had creative differences.

I have no idea what our project would've been like if we'd taken this path more seriously, but it's fun to speculate.

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