Friday, June 1, 2012

Moussaka and Mangoes

To usher the best month of the year, June, I hosted a dinner party last night. With the extra free times sans teaching, grading, and planning, I had the intention of truly creating a made-from-scratch meal.  Settling on four courses, I ventured out to my friendly, neighborhood Hy-Vee with an epic grocery list to make hummus(whole wheat pitas already hand-made earlier), a summer salad, vegetarian moussaka, and finally strawberry and rhubarb crisp.  Sadly, I found that Hy-Vee, even in all its excellence, didn't have rhubarb or tahini; therefore, I picked up pre-made hummus and canned peaches and headed home.  Five hours later, countless pans washed, 50 Clorox wipes used, dinner was ready.

  Moussaka has to be one of he most complicated dishes I've ever made.  From slicing up eggplants and zucchini then broiling them , boiling potatoes, mashing up chick peas, making a made from scratch tomato sauce, it seemed like an ancient culinary curse from the Greek gods; however, nothing compared to making a bechamel sauce.  I've never made a white sauce before, so it was a unique experience.  For those who haven't made it, Bechamel requires constants attention, from making a rue, whisking in warm milk then eggs yolks, then watching constantly to make sure it didn't burn as it thickens.  I wasn't sure how thick the sauce was supposed to be; as a result, I decided smother the pre-assembled layers to veggie goodness with the white flood, creating an Greek island surrounded in a French sea.  Hoping for some sort of congealing and browning, I opened the oven 45 minutes later, and it turned out decent although I'm sure I made some French cuisine faux paus along the way.   I'm ready to round 2....some day.

I also learned to always check your mangoes.  The salad I made required mangoes.  Eager to add the tropical flavor to usher in the long day of June, I picked up the first mango I saw in the colorful display.  Unfortunately, as I sliced into it a home, a gooey effusion of pulp and syrup burst out; however, instead when life gives you a crappy mango, dump it into salad regardless.  Also, I cooked my own black eyed peas, but they turned into a mush as well.  Perhaps, I could've gone with the canned instead.

In general, while making a made-from-scratch is challenging and while I won't undertake something was laborious every week, it made me appreciate how what we eat used to be: completely natural and personal.    I've undertaken a summer experiment not to eat out at all and not drinking any soda, partially to see how much money I save but also in attempt to have even more control about what I put in my body.    Culture and food have done an intricate tango over the centuries, and fast food reflects a culture of accessibility, artificiality, and instant gratification.   I'm not condemning those those eat fast food as I know I will make a run to Jimmy John's and Subway occasionally once school starts; nevertheless, I feel like cooking like I did last night let's my get to know intimately what I took for granted for many years.  Cooking is truly an art, a way to express part of who you are at your core in a concrete way for you and others to enjoy.  --I reduced the butter to one stick :P.

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