Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Butterfly Effect

I like patterns-- whether flooding the deeply engraved grid of my waffles with syrup, numbering the crisp accordion pleats of my window blinds or watching paired birds of a feather perch upon a distant tree branch. It seems to me that there is an invisible story constantly being sketched upon the world ripe for the asking. The Butterfly Effect is another pattern albeit more abstract and a phrase that describes the idea that a small change during the initial stages of a dynamic system lead to more significant movements. While this scientific theory ultimately requires a higher understanding of mathematics than I currently possess, it has sparked the imagination of science fiction enthusiasts and even the creators of The Simpsons to wonder into the infinite variations that can occur over time with the change of a single variable. I sometimes imagine a detail of my life casting off a transparent thread pulling me ever so slightly down a new trajectory. Perhaps this is the reason why I deliberated so long as a child at the local Baskin Robbins. Fifty one flavors is a lot of choices to choose from and if you double your scoops, there are that many more: rocky road and pistachio or perhaps peppermint chip with a topper of chocolate with peanut butter ripple? Careful, life could be very different down the road. It is a fun game to be sure, one with no answers and only more questions. This week I was asked by Gattina to respond to the Butterfly Effect Meme created by Dan at Saltshaker, which by now has certainly traveled across the globe spurring maelstroms of frenzied baking and cycles of obsessive licorice eating in far away places…

Here are the variables:
An Ingredient
A dish, a recipe
A meal (restaurant, a home or elsewhere)
A cookbook or other written work
A food “personality” (chef, writer)
Another person in your life

Brie Cheese in the sixth grade: My teacher was introducing the class to foods of the world and we were currently being courted by France. In my exclusive little cheese world of Kraft single slices and mozzarella, Brie was odd man out, funny spaceman in a silver suit. She explained that the French ate this gooey mold encased cheese without removing the dusty white crust. Even at this tender young age, I recognized the French to be connoisseurs of good eating and in spite of being put off by the dry dingy rind, I ate it. This mold covered cheese shook me up. It was so wildly different from my homogeneous surroundings that biting into it was a promise of a bigger, colorful, more sophisticated world. I literally ate it up and vowed to save up my money to buy more of this funny French cheese.

Chicken Mole:
My friend J_ of chocolate covered fruitcake nugget fame labored over a traditional mole. She fused together a Diana Kennedy and a Rick Bayless recipe to create her own. It had about five different kinds of chile, fresh lard from the butcher’s shop, almonds, sesame seeds, raisins, Mexican chocolate, corn tortillas, allspice, cinnamon stick, star anise, coriander, cumin, oregano, bay leaf and stock. Being that this was a test drive for an important event and receiving very mixed reviews, she asked me to be “the mouth”. While I have certainly eaten all kinds of wonderful food throughout my life, my first bite of this mole made me sweat. It was the most soulful thing I have ever eaten. It tasted of tradition and story, smoke and earth and passionate love.

Rare Roast beef with a friend: I was visiting the home of my best friend in college and we were sitting in her kitchen eating and talking, eating and talking. It was some time ago so the exact details are blurry but somehow between the two of us we ate an entire small roast beef. We happily sawed away at thick juicy slabs of meat which we repeatedly dunked in a magic pool of A-1 sauce. We drank hot cups of Horlick’s malt beverage, ate bowls of Cherry Garcia ice cream and then polished off a few bundles of sticky rice in lotus leaf. It was a strange hodgepodge of food that we consumed over the afternoon and evening. The time was magical, the food delicious and that meal--that friend always epitomized the essence of hospitality and generosity.

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George: This is a children’s book that I read when I was about eleven which completely captured my imagination. The young boy in the story decides to head out to the Catskill Mountains and live off the land. He uses his ingenuity and wits to create home, find nourishment and stay safe. I admired Sam Gribley’s desire to define his own life and his ability to cull from the environment to fashion a simple, elegant and beautiful life. For the budding food enthusiast in me, the passages on food alone kept me reading: “Early the next morning, I got up and dug the tubers of the arrow-leaf that grew along the stream bank. I baked these and boiled mussels for breakfast…”

Aveline Kushi’s Complete Guide to Macrobiotic Cooking: For Health, Harmony, and Peace: While I am not a devout Macrobiotic follower, I enjoy the food and appreciate the philosophy of eating and living. Reading the book made me look at food differently- more holistically. It has made me more mindful of the ingredients, the method of cooking, the utensils used, one’s frame of mind while cooking and eating and the after effects of a meal. It makes me appreciate and see more clearly all aspects of nourishment.

Marisa's Mother: I have written a previous post about this cook and her influence upon me. She touched me with her open-kitchen policy towards me and generosity. Her cooking was simple and unpretentious but still had an elegance that came from a sharp attention to detail. What I appreciated also was how natural she was. There was no self-conscious attempt to teach me anything, she was just cooking in her kitchen and I was soaking it up.


sher said...

Ahh, that was lovely to read!! And I always love your paintings. It must be nice to be so talented. :):) You talked about chicken mole--so, I want to tell you a funny thing I read in The Mustard Grill Cookbook. A fried of the owner/chef brought a woman to the restaurant and they ordered a dish with mole sauce. As the woman ate it, she exclaimed over its flavor and then she asked, "How do they kill the moles? And how do they fix them to get this flavor?"

Everyone in the restaurant nearly fell on the floor in merriment!

Dan said...

Thanks for jumping into the meme and playing!

Really delightful writeup. I haven't thought about My Side of the Mountain in probably 35 years - it was a favorite book at one time, I probably read it 3 or 4 times! Thanks for the memory...

Callipygia said...

Sher, Thanks for visiting again. What a great story about the mole and Mustards, life can be so fun huh?

Dan, Well thank you for the meme- It is actually something to consider how far it goes and I am glad to remind you of the book. I actually reread it this summer.

gattina said...

That butterfly look like just breaking free from her cocoon.
As usually, beautiful illustration and write-up! I enjoy reading them a lot.

miragee said...

I really like your description. I know there are always too many flavors to choose from when it comes to ice cream, bagels, and so on, but it has never occurred to me that different combinations of flavors will change my day:-). You always come up with questions that prompt me to think!

I feel the same about the idea that food from another culture can take us into a completely new kingdom. That must have brought a lot of impact on you when you were little. From now on, I am going to appreciate more the food I eat, with my heart:-).

Thank you for the lovely post!

Callipygia said...

Gattina, thanks for asking me to play. The butterfly needs sustenance after breaking out of it's cocoon.

Miragree, especially with the internet we are entering so many worlds and touching each other. I like the phrase "culture can take us into a completely new kingdom"

Lis said...

As always you've given me something to think about. I never really put much thought into how food has changed my life on occasion. The story of your friend's house and the roast beef feast you had - reminded me of how eating in my best friend's mother's kitchen did actually change my life - which is too long of a story to write in comments, but suffice to say that her mother taught me a lot about making your loved ones - as well as any guest - feel comfortable and at home in my house. =)

Callipygia said...

Lis I am glad the writing gave you pause to remember your friend's mother especially since it contributed in making you the warm person that you are.