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Volume 40 Issue 18 • Sept. 2-8, 2010
now in our 40th season

Un-thyme-ly Demise 

by Jenn Farmer
Chef, Bartlett’s Ocean View Farm 

A friend of mine recently got me an interesting cookbook.  It is all about the meals served on the Titanic.  I know it seems morbid, but the book is fascinating.  It has actual recovered menus from different restaurants on the ship.  Some of the menus are simple, others are extravagant, and it gives a lot of insight to what was trendy to eat at the time.  It got me thinking about my own mortality, and what I would wish to eat as my last meal.  It was a more difficult question than I had anticipated.  I soon found out there is a book asking many famous chefs the same question.  It is beautiful and hardly depressing at all considering the subject matter.  I found it fascinating that most went for simple home cooking, or comfort food.  I was expecting a few more people eating foie gras, and caviar with champagne.  Many chefs picked a dish their grandmother or mother made for them growing up.   Evoking childhood memories is formidable stuff.  Which made me think about how powerful food is to us all, not just sustenance, but culturally and symbolically?  What is more potent than thinking about food and how it links to the “end”?

It does not matter what my or even your personal beliefs on this subject are—the history and the stories connecting food and afterlife are endless.  I think it is because it is something we all share.  Everyone has to eat.  Hunger is also a very powerful thing.  This is why food is so intrinsic in many rituals.   Festivals and feasts go hand in hand.  Food is usually served at funerals too, to sustain the survivors.  Religious rituals include food, and fasting also.  Which brings me to my not so morbid fascination with stories including food and the afterlife. 

The Ancient Egyptians are a perfect example.  They would bury urns of honey, wine, and other food along with the mummies, to sustain them for their journey into the underworld.  There was even artwork that was supposed to be magical, and would turn into actual food when needed by the dead.

The story of Persephone and Demeter in Greek mythology is all about the seasons.  It is said the earth was once bountiful all year round with Demeter’s (the earth goddess) happiness; she and Zeus had a daughter.  Their daughter was abducted by Hades, the god of the underworld.  Demeter searched everywhere for her daughter, and in her misery, she made the land barren.  People were suffering.  Eventually she found out about her daughter’s whereabouts.  Hades agreed to let Persephone go back to her mother, but there was one problem.  Persephone had eaten three pomegranate seeds from Hades, and was required to stay with him one third of the year.  This is believed by the ancient Greeks to be the origin of winter.  When Demeter’s daughter must go underworld she is sad and the earth becomes barren until she is again returned. 

Underworld Pomegranate and Jicama Salad

  • 1 pomegranate, seeds removed, and skin discarded
  • Three quarter of a pound of jicama
  • One half pound of haricot vert, trimmed
  • One quarter cup walnuts, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon mint, chopped (optional)
  • One quarter cup pomegranate juice
  • Two tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper

Peel and small dice the jicama.  Boil some lightly salted water in a large pot.  Have a bowl of ice water ready also.  Blanche the haricot vert in the water, then “shock” it in the ice water to stop the cooking process.  Make vinaigrette from the pomegranate juice, oil, lemon, and chopped herbs.  Taste and add salt and pepper.  Toss all ingredients together lightly and serve.  Serves 6

My favorite story comes from the Korean culture.  They say there is no difference between heaven and hell.  Both contain large tables of food, feasts of all sorts, an unending banquet.  Both also have oversized chopsticks.  Chopsticks that are about three feet long!  In Hell people struggle with 3 foot chopsticks, and are unable to eat or enjoy any of the glorious feast, since it is impossible to get the food to their mouths.  In Heaven the people feed the person across the table and everyone gets to enjoy the feast, what a great party, and very enlightening message.

“Heavenly” Korean Noodles

  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 2 green onions, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • One half teaspoon black pepper
  • One third pound beef top sirloin, very thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • One half cup thinly sliced carrots
  • One half cup bamboo shoots, sliced
  • One quarter pound napa cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups spinach, chopped
  • 3 oz cellophane or rice noodles, soaked according to package instructions

Combine one tablespoon soy sauce, sesame oil, green onions, garlic, sesame seeds, one teaspoon sugar, and one quarter teaspoon pepper.  Add the beef and marinate for about 15-20 minutes at room temperature. 

Heat a wok or very large sauté pan on high heat.  Add oil, and cook beef until evenly browned.  Add vegetables and noodles, and sauté.  Add remaining ingredients, and reduce heat.  Cook until it is hot, and serve.  If you enjoy spice, add some sriracha or garlic chili paste for seasoning.  Serves 4

Citrus and Thyme Paradise Cake

  • One and one half cups flour
  • One quarter teaspoon baking powder
  • One teaspoon baking soda
  • One quarter teaspoon salt
  • One cup sugar
  • One cup butter (at room temperature)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons orange zest
  • 2 teaspoons orange juice
  • 2 teaspoons thyme or lemon thyme, leaves

For Glaze:

  • One third cup orange juice
  • One third cup sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  In a mixing bowl, cream together sugar and butter, add the eggs , zest, juice, and thyme.  Blend together.  Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients, and stir until the batter is blended. Bake in a greased and floured 9 inch square baking pan.  Bake for 45- 50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Make the glaze while the cake is baking, by mixing the sugar and orange juice together until the sugar dissolves.  After removing the cooked cake from oven, poke a bunch of holes in it with a fork.  Pour the glaze over the hot cake.  Let cool, and cut.  16 servings.


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