This blog has done a lot of growing up over the past years. The transition from “.blogspot” to “.net” was perhaps the first milestone. The style switch from ‘lemme-show-you-ALL-the-pictures-I-just-took’ to a more refined approach to food documentation, another. Yet again, my brief foray into organic farming threw the blog a curveball, introducing a whole new section of the oft-overused idiom, “food for thought.” Recently, The Pantry Raid transcended from being just another mess of recipes and photos to become a *real* food blog. That’s right folks, we’ve got a recipe index! For you, my loyal recipe skimmers and food porn fiends, this means that your scrolling days are over. You can now easily find exactly what you want, where and when you want it.
For me, this meant reliving the memories of each and every recipe I’ve ever posted here. I’m a firm believer that food is one of the best ways to make memories. Taste is so fleeting – once the food is gone, it’s gone. But it’s also infinite, for the aftertaste of your experience (the food, whom you were with, where you made it, what you talked about) sticks in your brain like the most stubborn Skittle plastered to your molar.
So, as I looked back at all the meals I’ve shared, recipes I’ve adapted, pictures I’ve taken, and people I’ve met, I was impressed to see that certain themes emerged. Food has been my proclaimed passion for five years now, but that passion has taken on many forms. In case you’re curious, here they are:
Gimme Some Suga’
When The Pantry Raid began, I knew little more than the recipes I’d made from books I’d read or made under the watchful eye of my parents and grandparents. I knew I liked food and I had a feeling it was important. But, in order to start my journey, I had to begin with my favorite ingredient: refined white sugar (can you see where this is going?). The first phase was a scattered mix of stolen-from-the-internet baked goods recipes (no one had yet told me about calories) and stolen-from-my-family meals that looked pretty through my camera lens. These edible training wheels are funny to think about, considering my current (and probably temporary) food philosophy.
The obvious next step of my foray into comestibles was a magazine subscription. When Bon Appétit first arrived in my mailbox (thank, Mom!), my eyes widened. Here was a collection of stories and recipes that were totally doable, not counting the frequent grocery story runs for obscure ingredients. I dog-eared the pages like it was my job and lapped up all the knowledge I could from the Prep School section. My adapted Bon Appétit recipes, like the Nam Pla Pork Chop and the Strawberry Basil Granita were the foundation for my being comfortable with cooking. I inserted myself into the Bon Appétit world, taking on its persona as my own, and hence, totally jumped the gun on adulthood at the tender age of 19. If I were gonna get anywhere near a can of beans, it was only to throw together Cast Iron Linguiça & Cannellini Stew, damnit!
My recipes boasted lengthy ingredient lists and time consuming steps, probably with the goal of impressing my readers and friends just as much as myself. Is my Only Child showing?
The roasted chicken was huge. My success here meant that I was no longer a copycat or fair weather cook. Roasting a chicken takes skill, I thought, and the fact that I could do it symbolized my transition from able-to-follow-directions to a real life cook.
With this confidence came a sense of duty. I began to realize the power of food, not only as a memory maker and an expression of love, but as a form of sustenance. My recipes began featuring words like Omega 3, protein-packed, and superfood. I touted the benefits of each, though I admittedly was only sharing what I’d just learned, not imparting age-old knowledge from my mental Rolodex. The recipes from this phase reflect my personal shift to becoming a more conscious consumer. I’d yet to consider where my food came from and how that affected me, but I felt a deeper connection with my food, as a way to make myself feel good, not just satiated.
The second I moved to San Francisco, things started happening. First of all, I was intimidated as hell. In Boston, I knew more about food than anyone in my circle. I was abreast of the trends, the healthy options, and the best burger in town. Though, here I was a rookie. I didn’t even know that there were multiple types of kale, for goodness sake! I’d never thought about the benefits of eating organic, or remotely considered that meat might not be an excellent choice.
What had begun as an unfounded desire to be healthy became a fascination and an unquenchable curiosity about where food comes from and what goes into its production.
My first Chez Pannise experience was extraordinary – here was a damn fancy restaurant that served the most simple, yet exquisite, dishes. As a guest, I didn’t feel gypped – for one, because I wasn’t paying – but mostly because the quality was so evident in the simplicity of the food. I realized that delicious food doesn’t have to be a robust combination of flavors. It need only be made of a few select ingredients of the highest caliber.
The shift to simple “California Cuisine” certainly made things easier. I stopped religiously reading Bon Appétit in favor of visiting farmers’ markets and grocery stores to pick out what looked best – and only then translating it into something of which Alice Waters would be proud.
In Too Deep
In the wise words of Phil Dunphy, I wanna go back. I wanna go back to the days of Farmer’s Frittatas and Hurried Curry. To the times when the most complicated question I’d ask myself in the grocery store was “chicken or pork?” I want to go back to loving Trader Joe’s more than anything and finding no greater pleasure than cracking open a bag of salt & vinegar chips.
But, alas, I’m in too deep. I’ve learned about GMOs, pesticides, monocropping, and the impact of the industrialization of farming on our climate, our population, and on our health. I’ve learned about animal husbandry, animal slaughter (both “humane” and inhumane), the insane amount of materials and money that goes into making meat. I’ve observed our national, and even global, addiction to meat and processed foods, while witnessing our unwavering indifference towards all of it. I’ve planted, read, raised, listened, and killed – all to learn more about where my food comes from.
What I’m left with is a lot of confusion. I can’t eat anything without wondering where it came from, who suffered to cause my momentary pleasure, how it’s affecting my body, and the impact that my food choices have on the environment. The answer is that, short of homesteading, which is entirely unfeasible for the majority of the population, there’s no way to be 100% “good.” I can choose to abstain from meat, but what about the raspberries grown in Watsonville and picked by hunched over, underpaid, and overworked immigrants? I can choose to eat meat that I can trace back to an ethically run family farm, but what about the fact that most animals have to be shipped (and, hence, traumatized) to a slaughterhouse if the farmer wants to sell commercially? I can choose to eat only organic, but what about my favorite restaurant that definitely doesn’t give a shit?
I’m grappling now with a heightened awareness and an ongoing philosophy that food is a vehicle for storytelling and memory making. Should I abstain from the garlic roast chicken I was practically raised on at Versailles in LA? How about Sticky Fingers at my all time favorite – B-Star? To me, the answer is “no”. Food is a nostalgia and pleasure trigger. Sure, I can enjoy organic veggies day in and day out, but so much of my food experiences are built around non-organic, non-local, non-traceable food. So, I’m currently struggling to strike a balance between awareness and happiness. It makes me sad that I’ll never enjoy a steak the way I used to. But I guess that’s just growing up.
My recent recipes have, and continue to be more conscious, more vegetarian, and more simple. The phase I’m in now feels unfaltering and permanent, though I’d bet that I’d have said the same thing back in the day when Bon Appétit was my bible.