Here is a minimalist representation of bacon. I confess, I am a non-meat eater for 40+ years, who loves the taste of bacon. Yes, I’ve read about things like smoked paprika that lend a smoky flavor to vegan or vegetarian foods and I want to try them one day. But crisp bacon…with eggs, on a BLT sandwich, in a grilled cheese… Well, it’s clearly flavor, the smoky flavor and the fat that are talking to me here. I’m not alone in this passion for bacon, so, for the most part I’m okay with it. But if I really look at it, especially raw, or when I’m served an undercooked (by my standards) fatty piece, not to mention when I think of the pig…well, I get grossed out. Eating animals… Fact is, I try not to think about the flesh of chicken, which I do eat… It’s the muscles, right? There’s internal organs and there’s fat and what’s left must be muscle. I’ve tried to research this, but haven’t gotten very far. But that’s got to be it. I mean, I’ve cut enough chickens apart (although thankfully never had to kill one myself) and there are the bones, flesh and fat. Okay, too graphic, gotta move on. Except for the bacon line drawing, there is no meat represented on these pages. Hmm.
Spinach is another drawing that surprised me. As a girl who gagged at the thought of spinach, it was a wonder to realize that raw spinach, in a salad (with bacon?) was actually really good. And then to discover that cooked spinach was sometimes more than palatable; cooked with oil & garlic or lightly creamed. I like spinach in spanakopita, quiche and spinach lasagna. And the topper is discovering the delight of a really thick layer of raw spinach in a sandwich, instead of lettuce (which I also want to be a thicker layer than the other sandwich fillings.) It’s incredibly delicious. The best! Because the timing for in-season (therefore edible) tomatoes is so limited, I can’t have them too often, but give me some excellent bread, real, flavorful tomato slices, crisp bacon and a thick layer of spinach…heaven. A BST. On this page, and in reality, I love the strong, bright color of fresh spinach.
Next to the so-green spinach is a pale little drawing of a pistachio. Nuts (and seeds, but they are smaller, less of a bite), are packed with something. Maybe it’s that umami taste, but it’s also a source of dense energy. I’ve read that they have ‘heart healthy fats’, and I know that must add to the pleasure they bring, as well as the generally present salt. Pistachios have their own history, or herstory…As preteens, we would buy the ones that were dyed red (why?), and our stained fingers would mark us for days. It was quite a revelation to find that there were un-dyed pistachios. And then that you can purchase shelled pistachios for cooking or easy eating. They are a rich and delightful nut. The task of opening the shells in order to eat each little nugget is part ritual and part price-you-have-to-pay. And the nuts are expensive, btw. Can certainly be eaten mindlessly. I’ve been surprised more than once to find a pile of empty shells on the table in front of me. Ah, but there is a satisfaction to popping open that shell. An acquisition-al, hunter-gatherer kind of satisfaction.
Another salty treat is next…chips. Seeing them beside the nut and writing about them after waxing so enthusiastic about the umami body of nut food, underscores the fact that chips are fluff calories. Merely vehicles to carry fat and salt and sometimes, flavor. But usually the flavor is sprayed on, so that’s sad. I’ve drawn four kinds of chips: Sun Chips, which are supposedly more ‘whole grain’ and therefore healthy, but really they are a salt vehicle. Potato chip are sort of the original salt and fat vehicle, with spray on cheesiness or barbecue flavor, but even the heartiest of the lot, like Cape Cod or other thick cut brands, do not really have a potato flavor. Now there’s something to draw…a baked potato. OMG, that’s good food. But I digress, back to the chips. I have also drawn tortilla chips, which can taste a little like the corn of a real tortilla and may lay claim to some healthiness. But again, they are primarily vehicles, often for nacho cheese flavoring, (I’m not a fan of the ranch flavoring or the spicier versions), but really, it’s all about the carrying of fat and salt. In order to understand the power of the fat, one has only to compare, with potato and/or tortilla chips, the traditional fried version with the highly-touted Baked version. The taste of baked chips is flatter, even when they increase the salt & spray-on-flavor levels. Yeah, it’s the fat that does it.
There are various types of vegetable chips now on the market. I like sweet potato chips, which actually do taste like sweet potato, but they need a certain level of salt, playing off against the sweet, to satisfy me. Plantain chips have a similar balance thing, not as sweet, but with a hint of sweet and a ‘healthy dose of salt’. Well that expression makes you stop and think about how words are used. The irony of describing a food as having a “healthy dose of salt” when we are being castigated daily not to eat so much salt. It’s just funny. One final note, of course, is the dips that go with chips. The potato chip belongs with onion dip or for some of us, with a rich blue cheese dip. Rich and sharp. Double salt, I guess. Guacamole is ubiquitous with tortilla chips, and avocados do have the “healthy fats” thing going on, but can be adulterated (with tomatoes, onions, etc) so that it loses the pure avo taste. I personally cannot stand any of the jarred salsas, most of which are green pepper-heavy, but a fresh tomato salsa, made with lots of lime juice, is a satisfying compliment to the salty corn chip.
There is a little cupcake here. A yellow cupcake with pink icing and chocolate sprinkles, or jimmies as they are known in Boston. Not sure why I drew that. The main thing I like about cupcakes is the frosting. Lots of it. Buttercream please, not crisco/solid shortening. Shiver. I’ve eaten plenty of that, with minimal enjoyment, but because it’s there. The sugar siren song. Cake is rarely something I want, for itself. Mostly they are too airy, not dense with flavor. And cupcakes are usually just an airy, sometimes quite dry (easy to overcook, I guess) vehicle for the frosting. So, why eat a cupcake at all? An interesting flavor might intrigue me, definitely a filling (more icing please) is appealing, but primarily it’s the topping. Frosting is simply sugar & butter. The theme here seems to be foods that are vehicles for carrying salt & fat or sugar & fat (s & f foods) vs foods that are flavorful and satisfying on their own. Hmm. I think I talked about scones on the wavy line of bread-y carbs. I’ve also done a stand- alone scone drawing, commenting on various flavors and praising the butter in and on them. Sometimes there is a sweet sugar glaze on top too.
One last thing, as I conclude these thoughts on page one of Eating Art Work. Somehow I missed (or avoided?) the first drawing I did on this page. My very first drawing was of a rugelah, a Jewish pastry/cookie. It is a cream cheese-based, dense, but flaky dough, rolled around cinnamon, nuts, sometimes fruit preserves or chocolate chips. I used to drive to Kupel’s in Brookline to get them. One day, craving sweetness, I mindlessly purchased some Vegan Cinnamon Rugelah, because that’s what I saw at the market.
They were lousy. They were extremely lousy. With no cream cheese or butter in the dough (vegan) they were almost tasteless, bordering on unpleasant tasting.
But, I ate them anyway. Extremely mindlessly. Because they were there. There was no pleasure at all in the eating. So, I made a rudimentary drawing of one, writing: ‘lousy, vegan cinnamon rugelah’, over and over in a coil.