Tuesday 13 October 2015

Finding the time

Finding the time - chocolate + almond marble cake © Feeding the Eye 2015

There was a time in the mid 1990s when it was more socially acceptable for the urbane middle class to serve up a ready meal from M&S than to admit to being able to let alone actually enjoy cooking. This is a concept that seems hard to grasp in our food obsessed times. But food seems to have drawn a parallel with politics like talking to the left and walking to the right. Double speak, hypocrisy, a bad diet of the highly processed masquerading as authentic, healthy, provenance imbued but all the time hiding a panoply of hidden horrors. 

"Oh you like to cook - how do you find the time?"

Finding the time has never been the issue. Food is most oftentimes priority not performance. Ennui and the need for immediate comfort inflicts convenience food upon us all - but as a life choice the highly processed has become socially and culturally embedded not the occasional foray simply to remind ourselves of its palette stripping potential.

Making, baking, growing - basic skills have been coerced into a competitive retro-feel-good nostalgia. Lifestyle one-upmanship bombards us from every medium. Too much self-reflection rendering us impotent, constant comparisons and impossibly perfect scenarios throw our own dingy lives into a maelstrom of insecurity so once again we turn to comfort. 

To reduce this thought to its simplest - cooking is a form of mastering your own destiny - when you bake a cake you see exactly what goes into it whilst making you mindful of just another slice but also the knowledge of what exactly you are eating. Knowledge is a powerful thing in food and politics.

Chocolate + almond marble cake

150g unsalted butter 
150g caster sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
100g self-raising flour
50g ground almonds
100g dark chocolate finely chopped
2 tbsp cocoa

Grease and line a bread tin.
Heat oven 180C.
Cream butter + sugar until pale and light.
Add one egg at a time and beat thoroughly.
Add vanilla essence
Mix the flour + almonds together.
Fold into the batter.
Remove half of the batter and fold in cocoa and chopped chocolate.
Add alternate spoons of batter - gently swirl with a skewer.

Bake till cooked approx 35-40 mins.

Thursday 24 September 2015

Bitter leaves

"You haven't planted fagoili nani, have you?" he asked.
"A mixture some dwarf, others not" I replied "I'm saving the beans for when I next see you..." the statement left floating in the air. 
The promise of beans could not redeem the fact that I was not there. My visits, although frequent, always judged as too infrequent. 

I baked bread, I made jam, I cut flowers that I'd grown from seed - new unusual flowers that I knew were unfamiliar to him. I tested myself - it came to me more easily than I'd expected. Plants felt simpler to deal with - the care and attention I lavished upon them rewarded me over and over. I hunted websites to find the seeds of fantastical bitter greens, puntarelle, so much more exotic sounding than chicory, food from childhood, strange but embedded in memory.

I planted the seed. I nurtured the plant - watering, weeding. I thinned the seedlings - and ate them as miraculously transformed micro greens. I tentatively tiptoed around them - ever attentive to those that grew in tandem - cutting and tying in sweet peas, wigwams for borlotti beans, earthing up leeks, deadheading cornflowers. Slugs and snails shunned their bitter tender shoots in favour of less demanding greens. The resident foxes used these higgledy piggledy rows as a chicane to slalom through.

Perhaps it was my impatience, so eager to share this long forgotten taste memory I produced an immature offering.

"This is not what you think it is." he said "This is the wrong plant."
"I think it's still a little young - do you remember what it should look like?
"Not like this"
"But on the seed packet..."
"Seed packet, what do they know? No you've got the wrong plant. It should be puntarelle brindisina"
"I'm sure that's what it said on the seed packet"
"Daniela they can say what they like on the seed packet."

I search on the website, I produce the postage stamp size image and the name is there Cicoria catalogna puntarelle brindisina - "oh yes, that's right" he says.

We prepare the puntarelle, cutting length ways along the white stems, discarding the leaves plunging them in iced water, waiting for the signature curl. I pound anchovies in a mortar add his red wine vinegar and olive oil from his groves in Sicily - I elicit his involvement "does this taste OK?" I ask "Mm lovely" he replies.

We sit down to eat the food grown by me - the promised borlotti beans "solo questi?"  he asks "it's late in the season now" I reply. A simple fair - the luxury of super fresh food - no need for lavish embellishments. The wonderful mealy, creamy consistency of fresh beans, gently simmered in a scant covering of white wine and water, bay and garlic. Then a dash of that same olive oil - so strong and robust it negates the need for further condiments. Next comes the salad. He serves himself cheese. We eat the salad. He does not. He picks out a scant curl and refuses anymore.

The rush of adrenaline extinguishes all appetite. I feel the prick of scalding tears sting my eyes. His careless gesture negating all. He is old and frail, physically weak but wields a power way beyond any I can muster. The telephone rings. His attention is distracted. The moment has passed. He knows he has hurt me - he tells me I am wonderful - this is not what I want to hear.

Thursday 19 February 2015

Food and Design Today – Information or Obfuscation?

Goldbourne Road, Portobello Market, Notting Hill, Ladbroke Grove, Food imagery, representation of food, Feeding the Eye
Goldbourne Road, London © VAC

From pre-millennial angst and food security scares, to the provenance and personification of our weekly provisions, Feeding the Eye examines the who, where, what, when, why and how of twenty-first century food and design.
Is design as an agent for change, championing the health of humanity? Or is it an obfuscatory tool, the handmaiden to corporate capitalism? Design is the bridge between ‘them’ and ‘us’ – it provides the typographic information on food labels, the visual enchantments of advertising campaigns and it aestheticises the unpalatable.
Feeding the Eye, investigates these designed communications through primary source visual analysis and oral history interviews with practitioners. Social, economic and political polemics are scrutinised through subject specialist journals, academic research papers and government inquiries.
We are told, ‘You are what you eat.’ Feeding the Eye debunks this myth by critically analysing the role of design in the production and representation of food. Is government didacticism and legislation for the public good? Or for the economic interests of multinational food manufacturers?
Feeding the Eye is an original exposition of the impact of design on food. Who knows what they are actually eating? Food manufacture, production and technology have obscured and abstracted food beyond recognition. From the synthetic concoctions of the laboratory and the reconfigured genomes on the nanoscale, food has been reconstructed, rebranded and redesigned. What is the role of design? Aesthetic styling or critical conscience?