Get Closer to What You Eat


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Food is inherently sensual, and not just because we eat it. Of course, taste is the obvious sense associated with the things we put in our mouths, but our eyes, ears, noses and hands play equally important roles in cooking and eating. Great food maximizes these sensory experiences, engaging as much of the body as possible. We should never be self-conscious about this truth because this is why food is so amazing-you can experience beauty on so many levels. In short, don't hesitate to touch your food.

Do you know how to pick out a good loaf of bread? If you watched Pixar's "Ratatouille" then you know (if you haven't, get up right now, leave class and rent it IMMEDIATELY). Give the loaf a gentle squeeze, listen for a soft crackling sound and pay attention to its weight and texture. Is it springy? Is the crust thick or thin? Are there lots of air bubbles in it? Are the bubbles large or tiny? The answers to these questions will help you to pick the right loaf for you, and the only way to know the answers is by touch.

Texture is not just important when you are standing in front of a shelf piled high with ciabatta and baguettes. For many people, texture is the most important component of the eating experience. In fact, we have a friend who describes herself as a "texture-eater," alternately excited or repulsed by the texture of what is on her plate.

While our friend is perhaps an extreme, the idea is not so uncommon. I would guess many of you might be turned off by the softness of tongue or the gumminess of escargot. At the same time, many of you are probably attracted to the chewiness of a warm cookie. Phoenix Pastificio, a small operation that runs a stand at most farmer's markets in Berkeley, makes what they claim to be the "world's best macaroon." They happen to be correct, and 95 percent of the cookie's greatness is due to its texture: The macaroon's outer shell is thick yet delicate, sprinkled with powdered sugar, and falls away to reveal a moist, soft, heavy interior.

While touch is undoubtedly a central component of the eating experience, it plays perhaps an even greater role in the cooking process. Making food should be engaging, energizing and, above all else, tactile. A friend of ours recently received a bread machine as a gift. While it might be useful as a smaller and less efficient stand-mixer, the idea of a machine that makes bread for you is seriously depressing. You pour in the water, flour, yeast and other ingredients, turn on the machine and hours later you have a loaf of bread. What could be easier? What could be less fun?

Nothing can ever replace the sight of bubbling yeast or the feeling of wet dough beneath your hands. And nothing, really NOTHING, will replace kneading dough by hand. For some people, us included, kneading has in some ways come to replace church-spiritual, meditative, cathartic. Last but not least, nothing compares to eating a warm, handmade loaf of bread straight from the oven. When your teeth rip through the crust and you taste your first bite of the steaming, airy interior, you cannot help but feel as if you are a part of some ancient, beautiful rite.

You may be wondering, in today's world of supermarkets, canned goods and vacuum-sealed greens, how to get closer to the foods you eat. Touch should be an integral part of the food-buying process, but this is not always the case-anyone who's been to Safeway can tell you that. Farmers' market advocates tend to be a bit scary with their ranting on organic fair-trade free-rangeness and the like, but really, the farmers' market is a fantastic place-albeit not for those reasons.

The farmers' market is great because it is their market-the open air stands allow shoppers to chat with the people who grew the food in front them. Growers can tell you which apples are best or point you in the direction of a new fruit or vegetable. Don't be deterred by the price-it can be expensive-you certainly don't have to do all of your grocery shopping there. Walk through the market, see what's in season, smile at a farmer, chat with a honey-making hippie and buy some leeks ... or a cookie from Phoenix. When you get home and grab those leeks to make soup, you might smile remembering the farmer who sold them to you. You don't even need a utensil to eat your soup-forgo silverware altogether and put that hand-kneaded bread to use.

Do play with your food with Maria and Graham at [email protected]

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