Friday, October 06, 2006

Edible clichés

I still do prepare meals, you know. Like today, I made fried rice with leftover beef stew. The beef had been cooked in red wine but it went very nicely with the garlic-ginger-kecap manis seasonings and the usual fried rice garnishes of carrots, peas, eggs, and green onions. The key was to shred the beef by pressing it through my fingers so that every bite would have some bits of braised meat in them. Another trick: it helps to have wet hands when adding the cold rice to the pan. It keeps the grains from sticking to your fingers and helps you break up the clumps.

Now some links.

-Epi-log solicits food analogies.
He has some chops; give me some sugar; don't sugarcoat it; hi, honey; honey will get you more flies than vinegar; too much sugar for a dime; don't give a fig; he gave us raspberries; to squash a project; bitten off more than I could chew; he's worth his salt; salty language; take it with a grain of salt; you don't want to see how that sausage is made; now we're cooking...
More in the comments. I was going to start a culinary metaphors wiki but neither my web skills nor my spare time are up to the task. Of course, there is a difference between these phrases and the culinary metaphors I have been writing about. These are all basically clichés. Notice that to avoid sounding like someone who uses clichés many people say things like "you have to take it with a very large grain of salt" or "you have to take it with a mountain of salt," etc.? They're not fooling me. Also, squash or quash? Discuss.

-Language Log reports on Asian salad languages, which are the sort of things we might call Spanglish. Indonesians apparently call this bahasa gado-gado, gado-gado being a kind of salad. I like how salad means "stuff jumbled together," but salads are often more carefully put together than that suggests and the origins of this terminology might betray a prejudice against salad-making if not against food preparation in general. Also, consider the use of "tossed salad" as an alternative to "melting pot" and "salad days" to mean a youthful heyday. There is also a sex talk usage of "tossed salad" which you might have read about in Dan Savage's advice column. Food terms used in sex talk is a big, exciting topic for another day.

-A newish blog (via zp) called Epifurious recently offered this nasty smackdown of one popular food blog, 101 Cookbooks:
Inspired by au courant food photography, 101cookbooks delights in the magic of macro--the food photographed microns away, the shallow depth of field allowing a single fleck of cilantro into full focus, the rest of the dish receding into the blurry, supersaturated distance. As Ulrike pointed out, no one actually surveys their food from nose's distance. This photography is a conceit--an aestheticization of food that has nothing to do with cooking, nothing to do with eating. It is the dish as a dish. In the same way that the ingredients are labored over, exclusive, the photography suggests that the food is outside of the actual act of making, and certainly outside of the act of eating.

I like pictures of people cooking. I like pictures of the process. I like pictures of mistakes. I like pictures of food as a meal, food as a spread. I like the ugly photographs from 1970s cookbooks, a garish array of food presented from a respectable distance, to be taken in as one would a lavish buffet--food as bounty, food as plenty. Food is not a collection of items, a collection of precious bowls. Food is a social act.
My problem with this kind of food photography, which I also admire in some ways (not least because I lack the skill and tools to duplicate it), is not that it takes food away from its social function. It is that it has become a cliché. Shallow focus is an overused technique. (And to be fair to Heidi, many of her best shots are not of the sort described in that quotation.) When you see one of those shots, you don't immediately see the food, you see the mode of presentation. I see that and say, blah, another shallow focus food porn shot. But the idea of aestheticizing food and taking it out of its usual context is not necessarily a bad thing. This kind of photography has the power to show us food in a new light, to allow us to discover it anew. The whole point of avoiding cliché in any endeavor is that clichés get in the way of our enjoyment of things. A photographic cliché is the opposite of showing us things in a new light. One reason macro shots can be good is precisely because no one surveys their food from a nose's distance. And that can be a cool thing to see.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Totally concur with you--not all food porn is bad, but it's also entirely overly done. What I really like are shots with some character, a bit of attitude, or an entirely different angle.

Not articulating what I like well, I know. But hey, I know it when I see it.

1:46 AM  

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