Tag Archives: Food

A Brief History of Cooking

By Randy Jackson

Today, perhaps more than any other time in human history, food has been elevated on a cultural pedestal of reverence. The depth of knowledge and appreciation for a wide variety of cuisines among so many people seems to be a cultural characteristic of our times. Celebrity chefs, food shows and food networks, never mind food pictures posted on Instagram, are only a few of the many indicators of this interest. The term “foodie” was first coined in the 1980s and is now in common use. The American Heritage Dictionary defines a foodie as “a person who has an ardent or refined interest in food and who eats food not only out of hunger but due to their interest or hobby.” Travel, immigration, and the abundance of food and ingredients from all over the world have all had a hand in this current cultural obsession with food and cooking. However, today’s modern hipsters of cuisine are only the most recent green sprig of growth in the long history of cooking.

Our evolutionary record shows the harnessing of fire coincided with the growth of the human brain relative to body size. This development took place roughly 1.9 million years ago. Harnessing fire had multiple benefits to humans, but chief among them was that it allowed the cooking of food. Cooking food increases the caloric value and reduces the energy required to digest it. Cooking food also enabled early humans to eat certain tubers and roots that were otherwise inedible.

I think it safe to assume that grilling was the first cooking method. Studies of primitive tribes, even today, show how an animal is cooked (it’s estimated that there are more than a hundred “uncontacted peoples” worldwide, half of them in the Amazonian jungle). The entire carcass is thrown onto the open fire. The fire, along with some scraping, removes the fur. Then as bits of the animal are deemed cooked, they are cut or torn from the carcass and consumed. It’s easy to see the direct lineage of this form of cooking to the tossing of a piece of meat onto the barbeque today.

The earliest dishes beyond grilling were probably soups and stews. There is some evidence from Japan dating back 10,000 years of a type of stew made by putting flesh and water into an animal’s paunch and boiling it over a fire. No doubt soups and stews were being made much earlier than this. Once mankind had figured out how to cook in a container of some sort, it only made sense they began boiling up bits of almost anything they could find.

There is an ancient tradition in Oaxaca – still practiced – of making “stone soup.” National Geographic has a documentary showing this
(https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/intelligent-travel/2010/10/04/mexicos_stone_soup/). The cooking method consists of putting water, vegetables, and fish into a smooth rounded depression in the rocky ground. Then a stone is heated on a fire before dropping it into this natural cauldron, and the soup is cooked. It’s easy to imagine how different flavors were discovered by experimentation or by chance when something new was added to the soup or stew.

Let’s not forget about bread. Archaeologists in Jordan have found the remains of flatbread made with wild barley and plant roots – about 14,000 years old, it predates agricultural practices by thousands of years. Societies all over the world have independently found ways to make bread. Mash up grains, add water to make a paste, fry on a hot rock – and presto! For example, the original inhabitants of what is now California developed a complex procedure to make flour for flatbread out of acorns. Source material for bread was everywhere once man learned to harness fire.

Harnessing fire and cooking required greater social organization and division of duties – there had to be fire tenders, wood gatherers, hunters, etc. A central fire also brought people together for longer periods, especially at night, which increased social complexity and likely helped in the evolution of language.

Where Foodies Can Still Get Their Kicks: A Quarantined Summer in San Miguel de Allende

By Carole Reedy

The virus is on our minds, and frustration fills our hearts with dread. Most of the readers of The Eye are travelers, wanderers, and adventurers, so staying inside is anathema to us. Yours truly, who lives in Mexico City, struggled with the same, especially after the cancellation of a months-long Italian trip scheduled for the fall.

As a result, I opted to take refuge in San Miguel de Allende, my second home.

The tranquil pueblo of San Miguel de Allende (SMA) is just a three-and-a-half-hour drive from the hustle and bustle of the megapolis of Ciudad de Mexico, with its population of over 20 million. SMA was recently listed as the second-best city in the world by the magazine Travel + Leisure. (Oaxaca City grabbed first-place accolades, and the country of Mexico had four out of 25 mentions on the coveted list, more than any other country.)

Fearful of a bus ride filled with 30 potential virus-carrying passengers, I opted for a private car and driver from the reliable BajioGo company. It’s also possible to order a shared-car ride, but that, too, seemed a bigger risk than I wanted to take.

The deluxe bus ride is very reasonably priced at approximately US $30 a person (half that for seniors who have Mexican residency), whereas my private car was US $250. The price of a shared car/van ride depends on the number of passengers, of course. Vale la pena was my thought!

Eating in quarantine
The quarantine situation in SMA was much the same as Mexico City: stay home and wear a mask when out. No restaurants, stores other than grocery or food businesses, or hotels are open. This is scheduled to change on July 15, when the next phase takes over. Hotels are set to open at 40% capacity, as will some restaurants.

One of the attractions of San Miguel is the breadth of its international and local eateries. Like most major cities, the scrumptious food of the region can be delivered to your door or picked up. And the La Europea and Cava Sautto wine stores fortunately are open daily for your imbibing needs.

The local tortillerías are also working daily, so you can have freshly made tortillas for your tacos. The small and large fruit, vegetable, and flower markets are open too for purchasing (at drop-dead low prices) the freshest regional produce, with avocado, papaya, melón, mango, jícama, cilantro, and broccoli topping the list of the vast range of fruits and vegetables available year-round in Mexico.

For those with a kitchen in which to cook at home, in San Miguel we are fortunate to have a grocery store right in centro.

Bonanza has graced the street of Mesones for many years. It’s a favorite of the gringos due to its range of imported items, including sweet relish, horseradish, and New Zealand butter. They also carry delicious homemade yogurt and ice cream. There’s a deli section and a back room with a variety of spices and nuts. The prices are higher than the La Comer just outside of town, but the convenience is incomparable. My favorite purchase is the pickled herring in a jar, an item I have trouble finding even in Mexico City. I would shy away from buying wine here though. The prices are often double that of La Europea or Cava Sautto.

If you’d rather not cook, let me recommend some take-out/delivery options. I’m finding comfort foods more satisfying these days than the fancy “tasting” options many restaurants are offering.

Let’s start with a brimming bowl of pozole. On the Ancha San Antonio, at # 35, you will find Victoria’s, a tiny restaurant hidden among the larger venues that sell Mexican artesanías (handcrafts). There are just a few tables inside and you’ll wait just a few minutes for your take-out order of green or red pozole, chicken or pork. Accompanying your large or small portion are fried tortillas and the fixings to top your pozole: lettuce, radish, and red onion.

Hecho in Mexico, at Ancha San Antonio, # 8, is a favorite among both the gringo crowd and Mexicans due to the highly consistent quality of each item on the menu. The variety of selections is staggering: everything from enchiladas and tacos to hamburgers, salads, soups, and (my personal favorite) the Reuben sandwich. This is a large, mostly outdoor venue, which makes it ideal for social distancing.

Il Castello Ristorante Pizzeria, at Animas 20, serves the real thing when it comes to Italian food at reasonable prices. There is fabulous pizza, stromboli, calzones, and the best eggplant and chicken parmesan around (a personal favorite). Small seating area only, but like all other restaurants, they are prepared to give you take-out. The portions are ample and the location is easy, just up from the market at the Plaza Cívica on the charming street of Animas.

Garambullo, at Animas 46, just down the street from Il Castello, serves breakfast and lunch only in a beautiful courtyard. It’s been described as a small jewel in the midst of the hustle-bustle of the nearby market. Garambullo, by the way, is a Mexican fruit that has many healthy properties, and the restaurant reflects its name in the quality of their food. There are salads, eggs dishes, beans, sandwiches, and enchiladas, all made from the freshest ingredients.

La Parada, at Recreo 94. During normal times you need a reservation for seating at this popular spot featuring Peruvian food. Of course, you must start by sipping a tart Pisco Sour. Follow it with a meal choice from the variety of seafood and wonderful pork dishes, including a yummy pork sandwich, a favorite of many friends. Portions are ample and all very fresh. The waitstaff is exceptional, which makes every visit a special occasion.

Buenos Aires Bistro, at Mesones 62, serves some of the best steaks, arrachera, and lamb chops in town. My personal favorite is the polenta with vegetables or pork; another friend always orders the octopus salad. It is a charming restaurant just steps from the Jardín.

Zenteno, at Hernandez Macías 136, has by far the best coffee in town. That and their breakfast pastries are served daily in this miniscule space with just four tables. You might find yourself alone in here during these pandemic days, but during normal times you’d see many happy patrons on their iPads sipping coffees. One day I even spotted Robert Reich, the American economist, in a quiet corner. I buy my freshly ground coffee here by the kilo.

Tostévere, at Codo 4, is known for their tostadas. Forget your image of a Mexican tostada because here they create their own version of the popular Mexican dish. The chef and staff present a small menu, but it’s filled with unique variations on the traditional tostada. Think octopus, soft-shelled crab, corn, a variety of vegetables, and carpaccio, all served in a manner you’ve not experienced before. There’s a full bar with a variety of popular cocktails and a friendly, knowledgeable staff.

Whether dining out or in, you’re sure to find variety, quality, atmosphere, and charm in this small yet grande colonial city of Mexico. Come visit when you feel comfortable traveling.

A New Relationship with FOOD in the New Normal of 2020

By Susan Birkenshaw

My connections to food have never truly been what would be considered logical, happy, or even healthy. At times I ate because I had to, at others because I absolutely adored what was presented to me on a beautifully created plate, and then others … was I having an “emotional” set back?

This less than normal or consistent relationship with food has led me to be one of the laziest cooks that I know. My grandmother would be horrified! BUT – that finally changed in later years when timing and urgency were no longer factors in how or what I cooked and ate. Add to this, I led myself to believe that I do not like to shop. The truth is, since I do not really know what to do with food beyond the basics and the fact that I absolutely detest waste, cooking has not been a creative outlet for me.

Now we are in are in the middle of 2020 and our world has changed. Since leaving our home in Huatulco, we have been isolating as much as possible in lake country in northern Ontario, Canada, and this has given me ample time to think about many things that I have ignored until now.

I am blessed to live basically two snowless seasons, and this means fresh seasonal fruit, veggies and all the good local things year-round. And surprise, surprise, I am taking the time to learn how to cook!

Three months into this process, this is what I have learned: creating delicious is a combination of Chemistry, Creativity and Courage – all of these mixed with a big dose of patience and willingness to stick to the process and do-over if necessary!

Let’s consider chemistry. I know now that it was a mistake for me to have dropped chemistry class in high school as early as I could, but I remember the only thing I found useful about Baking Soda happened in my geography project.

My dad helped me mold a mess of flour, salt, water, and food colouring into anactive volcano! Baking soda and vinegar created the inner boom to move the “lava” up – what a mess! And now after my first baking experiment, I absolutely know I must have baking soda in my pantry.

And as I moved on, I learned there are many common substitutions in the kitchen. Use 1 tsp of lemon juice for ½ tsp of vinegar, ½ a banana for 1 egg, 1 cup corn syrup = 1¼ cup sugar + 1/3 cup water, and 1 cup self-rising flour = ⅞ cup all-purpose flour + 1½ tsp baking powder + ½ tsp salt – see, it’s Chemistry!

Now, on to my Creativity! Creativity is accepting differences and stepping outside the boundaries of whatever you are doing. Author Elizabeth Gilbert believes that creativity is in part “a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.”

So, taking these definitions to heart, I decided that I wanted to put my own spin on this thing called “cooking.” Obviously, this goes beyond simple taste and temperature. I realized the first thing I need to learn was the way each of these ingredients tastes and the way each cooks. This requires experimentation – and failure.

And failure takes Courage. But failure breeds its own kind of courage. Over time, the creativity involved in experimentation becomes a fearless activity. The act of creating a new flavour, new textures and combinations, leads to fascinating taste tests and carefully considered do-overs. Once I threw out the preconceived notions I had absorbed from my grade school Home Ec teacher, I was free to brave the mysteries of cooking!

The Huatulco Foodbank

By Lenore Harder and Tamara Plugers

Community is an amazing gathering of people who make time for each other to help as needed, accept when needy, and be humbled without recognition. In the tropical paradise of Huatulco, we have just that thing, community!

Thanks to several ambitious kind souls and their commitment to help others during difficult times, countless hours have been spent to purchase, assemble, and deliver hundreds of essential food hampers to some of Huatulco’s less fortunate population. As Covid-19 has approached and affected the world, we want to thank these “warriors” for the additional time and energy they have put into this since, almost overnight, the Huatulco tourism economy shut down, leaving thousands without work and the means to support their families.

In 2014 Randy Clearwater partnered with his friend Wilfrido Justiniano and a local church to start the Huatulco Foodbank. The goal was to, in love, meet the physical needs of those in the community who could not support themselves and their families for various reasons. Initially funds came in by means of donations through the local church and the business community, as well as from expats who were made aware of the need.

In time, various fundraisers for the Foodbank started up; now, thankfully, the Foodbank is continuing to receive additional funding to help support some immediate and desperate needs via Facebook. In the past few weeks, hardworking teams have hit the ground running to make sure that as many people as possible could be served with food and basic necessities.

We are blessed to have Wilfri’s wife, Nada who because of her past work experience in the community, is well acquainted with many of the women and families in the area. Both Wilfri and Nada have huge hearts and a gift for comforting and supporting struggling people. One experience stands out in Wilfri’s mind:

One day we organized a trip to El Manantial [a small town on the on the road between Santa María Huatulco and Pluma Hidalgo]. Our friend Pedro, a Cuban volunteer and former Barcelo dancer, and I took around 25 food hampers to deliver to a group of people. When we got there, we realized that about 12 of the people had come from the mountain area called Loma Limón, walking two hours to get food for their families. They explained to us that there was no grocery store available, and because of the blockade [at the airport], there was no way to bring food from Huatulco by car to the community. So we felt so blessed to be able to put some food in their hands.

A hearty thanks to the hands-on team working on purchasing, assembling, and delivering the food hampers. Randy Clearwater, Wilfri Justiniano, Rock Berube, and Manny Novoa have organized and distributed in excess of 640 hampers in Huatulco and the surrounding rural communities. They have been on the front line, recognizing the risks involved in this epidemic. To assist even greater numbers of people, food is also being donated to local community kitchens in the outlying areas.

Let this be an exchange for years to come, no matter the circumstances. People Helping People.

We invite you to contribute however you can. More donations always gratefully accepted. To donate, go to Facebook and search for Huatulco Foodbank:
(www.facebook.com/groups/1574782399424249/).

If you are donating from Canada, you can send an e-transfer; from the United States, use PayPal.
In either case, send your donation to rlclearwater@gmail.com.