I’ve been busy since my last post. Cooking, frequently; writing, sometimes; thinking (about food, books, and food in books) constantly. The last two in particular have been greatly facilitated by my (now not-so) new role as a Fellow at the Jackman Humanities Institute (at U of Toronto) for 2012-13, part of a Circle of Fellows working on this year’s theme—Food. As a Graduate Fellow I’m very, very fortunate to have been given my own office, which I’ve filled with my books about food…
…and to attend weekly lunches where the fellows—from undergrads to faculty fellows, from across many humanities disciplines—come together to share our research on food. This is a tight-knit group, and as my colleagues become friends, I know that the bond is in large part to do with the weekly experience of sharing food, as well as our frequent “community kitchens”, when the fellows cook and eat an (always incredible) meal together. We’re especially fortunate in that the Jackman Institute this year elected to bring on a consultant chef, the talented Joshna Maharaj, who consults with the presenting Fellow each week to devise a menu based around their research. (For my talk a couple of months ago on George Eliot’s novel The Mill on the Floss, we had a tender beef stew, chewy, fresh-baked bread and butter, roasted Brussels sprouts, and jam turnovers—thoroughly Victorian, and absolutely delicious.) These lunches are the high point of my week, without doubt. I’ve been fascinated by the incredible diversity of discourses food touches on, from politics to aesthetics to economics to ethics. The projects are stunningly varied—from a history of MSG, to the role of food in the recent Egyptian revolution, and a look at the contemporary Jewish food movement that includes, as a practical element, the creation of a Jewish farm outside of Toronto.
Perhaps the best part of this experience is witnessing research-in-progress, and abstract ideas, becoming tangible and embodied in this way—thought made food, as it were. It’s been so satisfying—in several senses—to see, week after week, this physical evidence of the growing interest in and credence given to the field of Food Studies, an area which, as our Distinguished Visitor Darra Goldstein noted, has been somewhat marginalized by more mainstream and conventional academic concerns until very recently. The circle of Jackman Fellows are living, breathing—perhaps more pertinently, eating—proof of the calibre of scholarship being undertaken on food in the humanities in 2013. The cerebral and intellectual practices of writing and thinking are being brought into play with the embodied practices of cooking and eating in wonderful ways at my workplace, and every week I get to sit down and eat good food and think hard about food with a group of people who are as passionate about these issues as I am. I have to say, I never thought academia could be like this; I must be one of the luckiest people I know.
To celebrate all this thinking about food, here is a piece encouraging us not to think—just cook—which, I hope, will make you think. And cook. Accompanying it is a recipe that should go straight into your arsenal of weapons against the icy swirl of winter outside.
By Daniel Borzutzky. Published in The Chicago Review, Spring 2005.
“You can want to do nothing and then decide instead to do this: make leek soup. Between the will to do nothing and the will to do something is a thin, unchanging line: suicide.” – Marguerite Duras.
Most people who make leek soup do not make good leek soup
because they do not realize that to make good leek soup
they must realize that instead of making leek soup
they could do nothing. One can only make leek soup by
not wanting to make leek soup. Do not stare into the
leek soup. Stare straight ahead while making leek soup and stir
the soup nonchalantly. A good leek soup smells like
vomit. A bad leek soup tastes like vomit. This is the
challenge of making leek soup: you will want to alter
its nature. But any interest you take in leek
soup will cause it to rebel against you. In this sense,
it is not like pumpkin soup. It is more like a
surly adolescent for whom apathy is a
form of love. Do not insist on making leek soup or
surely you will make bad leek soup. And never say:
tonight I will make leek soup. Do your taxes, or
iron an old shirt. And when leek soup appears, out of
the tedium of your life, do not say: now I will
eat leek soup. People think they know how to eat leek soup.
But they do not know how to eat leek soup because they
do not realize that to eat leek soup they must
realize that instead of eating leek soup they could
Serves 2 as a main, 4 as starter
1 bunch spring onions, sliced
3-4 medium potatoes, washed, peeled, and cut into chunks
3 large leeks, peeled, washed clean of dirt, and sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced or roughly chopped
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
leaves from 2 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
roughly 700ml chicken or vegtable stock (broth)
2 rashers (slices) of double-smoked baconsalt and pepper
In a heavy based pan or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil and butter over a medium heat. Add the spring onions (or substitute a diced brown onion), leeks, and garlic. Fry gently for 7-10 minutes, just until translucent. Add the potato. (If you prefer, the potatoes can be left unpeeled; just be sure to scrub them well.) Add the herbs and the stock or broth, and turn the heat right up to bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat so that the mixture simmers, with the lid ajar. Let it simmer for 20-30 minutes, or until potatoes are soft, stirring occasionally. If the liquid level seems too low, top it up with hot water or stock. If the liquid has not reduced at all, remove the lid completely. When the potatoes are cooked through, puree the soup using a blender or (much easier!) an immersion/stick blender until it's absolutely smooth and creamy. (You can even push the soup through a sieve at this point for extra silkiness if you want to--points for effort!) Season carefully but liberally; potato-based soups often suffer from under-seasoning. Return to the heat to simmer while you dice and fry the bacon; serve the soup sprinkled with the crispy bacon. Other spectacular additions are crumbled blue cheese, a dollop of creme fraiche or natural yogurt, some fresh croutons, or some snipped chives. Offer a black pepper grinder and warm, crusty bread with butter.