separate two eggs: smashed patriarchy grilled pizza

IMG_8371Separate Two Eggs is my new, very occasional, series about a lonely single woman eating sad meals alone. Or not. It’s really just a way to continue to queer food writing and add diversity to the Mommy-blogging and monogamous couple-oriented fare (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

“Amanda cooks most of the food.  She says there’s no reason for her to grill.  Her husband is really good at it.  And she thinks for him it’s about more than just the food.”

Sound familiar?  A short podcast on masculinity and grilling, narrated by a cheery young woman, presents this description and a background on the caveman ethos that seems to undergird so much of the American rhetoric on man-with-fire-meat.  The piece goes on to comment that Amanda’s husband now lets his daughter grill.

Of course it’s about more than just the food.

I’d venture to say grilling is one of the last widely visible and critically unexamined bastions of mid-century masculist culture.  American girls are still raised with our dads or stepdads or uncles or self-identified-male-gendered individuals or manbuddies of our mom (or whatever configuration of masculinity operating in a family unit) at the Weber, joking, commanding, drinking a beer.  Manning the grill.

And the rest of us take pleasure in paying tribute to the priesthood by visiting and peering into the grates, smelling that meat sizzle, complementing the chef.  We are rewarded with the best of summer: hotdogs, hamburgers, steaks, all piled up on a platter and presented like an offering to Xiuhtecuhtli.  He’s the life of the party, the hero, the chef.

It’s so often among the happiest moments we remember.  It’s a peaceful time.  Sunny, family, “family,” bountiful, happy.  Fraying relationships are mended for the moment, and we believe it will be ok.  It’s almost magic. Why mess with that juju?

And we’re thus indoctrinated into the system.  Girls never learn how to grill because there’s no reason to grill.  I wonder about Amanda’s daughter, whose father “lets her” grill.  What’s going on there?  Is it an occasional thing?  A novelty?  Are things changing?

Are things changing.

It’s not that we feel oppressed or left out.  It’s a way to get the dad-figure involved in the party, and it helps him feel useful and central, reinscribing the patriarchal order in its most comfortable and pleasing form because here the order seems almost natural and harmonious, his place assured and his place needed and beloved. And for a change, everyone’s participating in meal preparation.

(I write this.  My heart aches.  The unbearable lightness of political consciousness, of feminist conscience. There’s no choice, really.)

IMG_8292 IMG_8293I have a reason to grill.  As previously and begrudgingly narrated, I’m negotiating singlehood and the unpleasant loss of an excellent griller myself. But as I assume the labor for two for the household tasks, I’m taking the opportunity that many women, even feminists, don’t have when they’re in heterosexual partnerships, even enlightened ones.

I’m learning how to grill.

And I kind of suck right now.  It’s not just another heat source to master, it’s a whole ‘nuther rhythm.  The grill doesn’t require an attentive sous chef, but it pretty much bites not to have one.  (See “Amanda cooks most of the food” and patriarchy, above.)  My excellent griller, and grillers across America, make grilling divine by a hidden system of support that includes hours of unacknowledged labor.  That labor is performed joyously in many cases (and it certainly was in mine) but I’m pondering it with some critical distance as I take on both roles.

IMG_1858 DSCF4114IMG_6193Just like in any performance, for any performer, the team behind the scenes makes the show.  For every piece of chicken or burger gloriously presented, there’s the planning and the shopping and the chopping and the marinating and the coordinating and the side dishes.  The side dishes.  Those take hours alone.

I figured that since I knew how to do all that, the actual grilling part would be a snap.  And you know what?  It hasn’t been that hard and certainly not that time consuming, save all the little things that no one gives me a hand with. Because any idiot can grill.  Think about it.

DSCF4259

I still have no reliable control over the heat, and I’ve burned a few meals because I’d forgotten to add something and had to run inside or whip up a sauce or chop up some herbs.  I try not to think about the danger of burning down the city because of my inexperience. My excellent griller would religiously rely on a thermometer and a cookbook, but I want to learn grilling from an intuitive angle, just like my cooking.

And then there’s the exquisite loveliness of freedom.  I had to argue for the inclusion of grilled vegetables since they take up space.  Pizza wasn’t even a possibility: he insisted I call it “grilled flatbread” and I was only allowed to make it for the privilege of the grill a couple times.  And there’d be no patience or need for delicacies like grilled peaches or plums or bananas or lemons or cheese or parsley or boquerones or onigiri or meatballs or omelets.

The world of grilling is open to you…and it’s fabulous.

So I bring you my Smashed Patriarchy Grilled Pizza, with an informal recipe.  Try it, ladies.  Pizza isn’t meat.  He’ll let you. Or just Occupy the Grill!  But don’t blame me for the divorce.  :)

(Oh, on the way, you might want to support the Kickstarter for the ladies who brought you the men grilling piece on the Feminist Fork. They’re fundraising for a new quarterly journal called Render: Feminist Food & Culture.)

Smashed Patriarchy Grilled Pizza

Serves 2-3, or one lonely feminist for three meals.

You’ll need two sides (hot and cool) for your grill and a lot of oil.  Don’t try this on a tiny hibachi, as you’ll be too close to the coals and the dough will burn rather than char.  A gas grill is easier than a charcoal grill, and make sure you pre-oil the grate with some paper towels dipped in a small bowl of veg oil, held by long tongs.

The easiest method is to use a pre-made store-brought dough.  Mix 2-3 tablespoons tomato paste with dried oregano, basil, garlic powder and a little olive oil.  Pour a few tablespoons of  olive oil in the plastic bag and massage it in the bag to get it pretty oily, then stretch out the dough on a cookie sheet so it resembles a pizza crust. With a fork, spread out tomato paste, concentrating on moving it to edges not middle of dough.  Layer on fresh mozzarella slices and sprinkle sparingly with toppings.

Heat the grill up to about 500 degrees, oiling the surface as you begin the grilling process and not later (FIRE!). Move your pizza outside on the cookie sheet; hopefully there will be enough oil on the bottom to aid transferring it over to the HOT side of the grill with a metal spatula.  Let cook there for 2-3 minutes or until it starts to char and blister and get stiff enough to move, then carefully move it over to the COOL side of the grill.  Close the grill lid to melt the cheese and cook the top of the dough.  Moisture is your enemy.  Dab away any liquid from the tomatoes or toppings with a towel.  Sprinkle on herbs just before removing from grill and serving.

Pro tip: clean the grill while it’s still hot with a wire grill brush.

 

 

 

 

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red and green tomato pizza sauce

IMG_5326I’ve been eating homemade pizza, and my waistline has everything to show for it.  lt’s made all the better by peppers and basil from the garden and homemade pizza sauce.  If you’ve made and frozen my tomato paste already, it’s easy to pizzasaucify it when you defrost it by adding some fresh oregano, black pepper, and olive oil.  I usually use two ice-cube-tray cubes per pizza.

But I discovered another way as I was experimenting with roasted green tomatoes: red and green tomato sauce.  The green tomatoes are fantastic!  They give the sauce a slight green-peppery edge, and roasting onions and garlic along with the tomatoes adds great depth of flavor.  Just add a little spice mix and you’re good to go.

Need more green tomato recipes?  Click the link or, if you would, check out my very first column in Eugene Magazine, in which I discuss the pleasures of green tomato molé.  It’s on the shelves now, Fall 2013. Planning to try some fermentation experiments next.

Red and Green Tomato Pizza Sauce

  • 2 roasting pans full of paste tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 roasting pan full of green tomatoes, cut in large chunks
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 large white onions, chopped coarsely
  • 1 head garlic, cloves separated and peeled
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • Seasoning to taste with celery salt, black pepper, fennel seed, oregano, smoked paprika, and/or Penzey’s or another company’s pizza seasoning blend.

Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Prep tomatoes, onions, garlic, and carrot, then place in three roasting pans.  Exact amounts can vary, but try to make one relatively even layer in each pan.  Sprinkle with a little olive oil and celery salt (or regular salt) and toss. Roast vegetables slowly overnight until shrunken but still soft, 6-8 hours.

Grind roasted vegetables in a food mill, taking care to squeeze the onions and remove fibers when the mill is getting too clogged.  If the purée that results is still too wet to be a proper paste, cook down in a saucepan at very low heat to remove more water.  Add seasonings and freeze sauce in an ice cube tray.  For a standard pizza using store-bought pizza dough, defrost 2 cubes, about 3-4 tablespoons of sauce.

food networking: culinaria eugenius in new york city

I had been meaning to go to New York to catch a wholly different act, an exhibition of the life of Samuel Steward, one of Alfred Kinsey’s primary sources on gay life in the 1950s and the subject of part of my book on mid-century sexuality, so I thought I’d combine an important conference in my field being held in Buffalo and the exhibition all in one trip.

When I saw that the Food Network was hosting its annual Wine & Food Festival in one of the old Chelsea pier warehouses during the exact time I’d be there, I jumped at the chance to go to the Grand Tasting on Sunday.

I’ve also been researching modernist menus — the fascinating clash of cultures in Greenwich Village in the first couple decades of the twentieth century — and post-modernist menus, in particular the way mainstream American media views the 21st century consumer.  And what better way (if you can bear the high price) to contrast old and new American media than a Food Network event in the old meatpacking district? Above, that’s me standing on the old Cunard Lines dock (Pier 54) where the Carpathia docked with its unintended cargo, the Titanic survivors.  And the apples in a pile?  That’s the plan for Pier 57’s future.

No, the Big Apple didn’t do its apples justice.  I eschewed the pile of refrigerated container apples and the supermarket ‘Red Delicious’ apples in the FN display.  Red Delicious in fall, really?  I like to think one jumped ship out of embarrassment.

So while the Occupy Wall Streeters were assembling, I occupied the Grand Tasting, a benefit for local food organizations.  There’s always something a bit off about mixing philanthropy and feasts to me, but they are always a quick and easy way to survey the territory.

We received lime green bags with a baffling range of swag in it — everything from sour gummy candy to a regular-sized box of pasta to a pack of red chili flakes to a Nutella-like spread made from those Biscoff cookies Delta gives out on their flights.  And Nutella.  With wooden spoons and olive oil packets and concentrated chicken stock and a packet of electrolyte powder for good measure.  More Biscoff cookies were distributed at the Delta booth, which occupied the space from which I’m photographing above.

I’ll confess, I’m not really a Food Network fan.  I used to be. I could happily watch Molto Mario all day long.  In fact, in my early days of graduate school, I would use Mario as a study break.  He managed to be both patronizingly didactic and still entertaining– he’d drive home the same point over and over again: undercook the pasta; add it to the sauce; don’t drown it; save the pasta water; and spoke at such a fast clip you could never quite follow the Italian names of dishes or regional variations he was introducing.  It was a cooking show you actually needed to pay attention to.

And what a delight.  You were there to eat what he wanted to give you and listen to what he wanted to tell you.  If anything, you could take a bit of schadenfreude in knowing you were at least as smart as his guests, who perched over the counter and asked him questions (Mario, but what is puttanesca?  Mario, could you use any winter squash instead of summer squash? Mario, is it called bench flour because it’s made out of benches?)

Food Network, you’ve come a long way, baby.

There were two stages, something I discovered embarrassingly late, after going to see several celebrity chefs that mysteriously seemed not to show up.  But I did get to see everyone I came to see:  Masaharo Morimoto (O he of Iron Chef Japan fame!), who made a rather gruesome (and I am sure amazing) marinated raw crab dish that featured chopped up live crabs that quivered and shook their legs in their soy bath throughout the rest of the presentation (above)…


…and Anthony Bourdain, who had advertised that he was going to speak about being a sell-out.  The first sentence of his conversation with the Destinations Magazine editor was “I am a whore,” but instead of being tiresome about it, he was actually quite entertaining and managed to convince people otherwise.  He spoke about the growing political side of his TV show on the Travel Channel, and didn’t mince words about the sponsoring network of the festival.  (He gained points with me when he said Molto Mario was the best FN show ever.) He discussed the resistance of various regimes to filming people in their countries.  The Egyptian government, for example, steadfastedly refused to let Bourdain’s crew film regular Egyptians eating their daily breakfast of ful.  Hmmm, what media privileges one type of eating over another in the U.S.?  And why?  It’s something we might want to keep in mind when we think about a day like today, Food Day, in the U.S.

I also saw…

…a few people I didn’t want to see, like the Deen brothers, getting prompted by their mom in the first row, and Anne Burrell (above), whose picture says it all.  Seriously, can’t we just focus on good cooking?

That seemed to be the question of the day, and perhaps the focus of my research.  When one deals with any media (this blog included) one needs to be wary of the message of its creators and sponsors. Running through the world of food is a slight distaste for eaters — a distrust, a disdain.  Most cooking shows not-so-subtly play on class anxieties and the brouhaha related to the American diet, but couched in rhetoric that carefully masks the corporate sponsorships needed to fund cooking shows and magazine.  Not much we can do about the latter, I suppose, but it would be nice to not feel so dumbed down and manipulated into buying into every last trend.

Luckily, there was enough good food in the tasting that I didn’t feel completely annoyed by the media and the stand-offish servers (I’d be stand-offish too, if I had to prepare ten gazillion bites and explain them each time I served them).  I tried a couple of great wines, and there were unexpected surprises, like the Lucid absinthe booth, where the owner of the company kindly fixed me up a fresh glass.  The best bites of the festival for me were:

A delicious and simple gazpacho from Cordoba, served by Salinas restaurant.  It differs from the usual by the addition of jamón, hard-boiled egg, and almonds. Yum.  The leaf is Talde’s version of the Thai salad miang kum, in this case a shiso leaf that one wraps around a single peanut, a tiny chunk of lime, bacon tamarind caramel, candied chili, and dried shrimp.

Worst bite was a drink: cake vodka.  And not one but TWO vendors hawking it to the wedding market.  I can’t imagine anything more vile.

In the center aisle of the festival was a very popular set of booths offering bites made with processed food, like these cones of Campbell’s soup (tomato?) with what looks like grilled cheese sandwiches.  People ate it up, literally.

I was pleased and surprised to see oysters in one booth.  Here they were served ceviche-style with some plantain chips.  Indeed, there were quite a few delicious seafood dishes, including a pickled mackerel with a persimmon purée and celeriac salad from August Restaurant that I had to try several times, wonderful house-smoked salmon bites from a German place whose name escapes me, and Aureole’s ruby shrimp with a micro salad and coconut broth.

Also surprisingly, the West Coast obsession with variety meats and charcuterie wasn’t really represented well.  There was one booth (above) with pig face, and a few sausages here and there, and a completely non-distinct but high-concept pickle booth (whiskey sour pickles that tasted like regular pickles, for example).  Someone had a portable sous-vide, and braised short ribs and this-and-that sliders were popular.

But you know what I liked best in New York, in a city full of choices like this?

This.

Yep, a slice of cheese pizza, eaten after doing research in the morning at NYU on a blustery day at a run-of-the-mill pizzeria in Greenwich Village.  Even after eating as much as I could for several days AND missing out on Babbo down the street because it’s closed for lunch, that’s amore.  Thanks, New York!