Saturday, October 29

Me Eats + Three

Sort of the point in this whole red neck blog is that I've never really known whether something I do fits with what is expected of one human by another. I don't necessarily want it to fit and I don't necessarily want to know if it does. And so my life is just one big awkward human moment, I just try to enjoy it. But there are some things that are common to all of us humans. We all, for one, eat. But what we eat and why we eat it, that comes from innumerable places as we go our merry way on this planet. It differentiates us and it defines us. I don't feel fully qualified to say much regarding the ethics of food. But Michael Pollen sums it up pretty well in The Omnivores Dilemma and In Defense of Food. I've never been extremely concerned about the health factors either. It seems pretty simple as long as I am eating real food (again, refer to above links). We all have our special ways of going about this human act, but my kitchen is my own and I am on a quest to find a happy balance for my family and, like I always tell Ariel, make sure we live to be one-hundred-and-eleven. 

With myself, two kids, and an Argentine, food at our house is a constantly changing adventure. Not because we are trying dangerous and daring things, but because you just never know what to expect. One day Ada's favorite food is corn chips, the next she won't touch them...that's life with a three year old. I've pretty much stopped planning meals around what they will and will NOT eat because, well I love to cook, and every time I make something specifically for THEM and something about it isn't JUST right (pretty much every time) it's like a cold wet blanket in the middle of January. But I do want to make things that they LIKE and I want to make things that will teach them what food actually IS (Wonder Bread NOT being included in this category). Since I've stopped trying so hard to please them and just focused on making good food, it seems like they've eaten more and better.

Food at our house is also an ongoing test in the human ability to adapt. We have two entirely different food cultures that we are meshing. I guess that could be true in any household. Having an Argentine in the house, there's pretty much no way we could ever go vegan or vegetarian. But I must give my carnivore a little credit (actually, alot) for the ways in which he's adapted. We usually eat meat once or twice a week, and very rarely red. In 'his' country, they eat red meat once or twice a day and fluffy white bread is the only kind of bread unless you happen to be diabetic or have high cholesterol. Some time I'll blog about a traditional Argentine Asado. It'd be worth the risk of disgusting most of the people who read my blog.

For all of the adaptation Ariel has endured, there are a lot of things we elect to do the Argentine way. For their love of meat, they use their vegetables very creatively and frequently. No meal is complete without a salad of greens, simple or complex. Rarely served with a bottle of salad dressing, rather some variation of vinegar and oil. Yams are eaten savory, with herbs, in stews and purees, not with marshmallows on top. Coming from the land of high fructose corn syrup, Argentine food to me is about cleansing your taste buds and filling them with simple goodness. In the beginning of our marriage, learning to cook for him was a labor of Love. In our first little apartment (which I was afraid to leave for fear of being mugged) I basically spent five months experimenting with six ingredients (literally that's ALL I did). Simply potatoes, garlic, white flour, onions, eggplant, and eggs I stole from my mother in law's chickens (Yes Lucia, it was me).  I bought cheap vegetables when I could, but for the most part that was it...until my Mom came to visit. She can attest to the fact that it WAS a pretty bland diet. When she came down for my wedding, she brought with her peanut butter and for the first (and last) time in my life I enjoyed 'American cheese'. It was nice because it didn't need a refrigerator and we didn't have one anyway. We were VERY poor.  The art of simple food arose out of necessity, but I have always had kind of an obsession with making something out of nothing. Many of those somethings have turned into very disastrous, inedible substances (each specific awkward instance is recorded very well on the walls of my brain and if you remember one of them yourself, I've probably retold the story laughing my guts out, more than once), but I keep experimenting. Cooking for my family still is a labor of love, though toned down and quite a bit less romantic with two kids.

Argentines follow a strong Italian tradition. Going beyond the ingredients, it means taking the time to cook and then, the time to enjoy food together. One of the ways we do things 'Argentine' style is that we eat 'Almuerzo' instead of dinner. Almuerzo is at the same time as lunch, though not to be compared in any other way. It means we spend a fair portion of time together in the middle of the day. A huge part of Argentine culture is about just enjoying one another's company over a meal, and 'Almuerzo' is always followed by drinking yerba mate unless there is something of THIS world that keeps us from it.  It is, in effect, ingested group therapy. If you are ever invited to drink yerba mate with us, it's only because we value you and want to validate you as a human being. That just what we do when we drink mate. That's not to say that there won't be a healthy share of brutal honesty along with a good amount of political discussion, also unavoidable parts of Argentine culture, but mostly, it's about talking. I attribute drinking mate with Ariel to why we are such good friends, because we are very different creatures. But taking the time, brings us back to the same place every day, together. It's also important that we spend time together with the kids. They drink mate too. But it's not about the mate, its about learning how to communicate and value each other. And this way they don't starve to death if they didn't like what we ate for almuerzo.

My biggest challenge with feeding my family (Argentine included) is teaching my kids about food. Though every day I doubt whether I am capable, I WILL teach my children that green food is good and that food is about people not just what you do and don't put in your mouth. So there you have it. That is part of the food culture at OUR house. I would love to hear about YOUR food culture. Why do you do things the way you do?


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