Thursday, November 18, 2010

Talking With My Mouth Full

Élan, long a favorite word,
so full of itself and uplifting,
leans low now
and whispers,
“anagram of Neal”

Neal Hartman, 1/9/46-10/13/10
Great Friend

Welcome to the “Crazy About Words” Café to epicurious food & language lovers!

More new words and usages have evolved around food recently than just about anything else but communications technology. Foodies are grazing throughout the day, eating many small meals, rather than the old fashion three squares (named for a square wooden board on which food was served at inns and from which ‘room and board’ was derived). Tapas is in, and locavores are priding themselves on eating nothing that’s grown or raised beyond an ever-shorter radius of their homes. CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) are popping up all over, and cow shares (you get the front quarter; I get the hind) are burgeoning. People are tweeting about it all and e-mailing photos of their food as they eat!

So we’re going to visit the “Crazy Café” periodically and sample a few food words, some old… others new, to chew on.

A new reader reminded me last month in response to my “Silent Knights” column, that knish has the distinction of being the only kn- word in the dictionary in which the k is pronounced. It’s a Yiddish import from Russia (1916). Think of it as a big Jewish ravioli.

A good friend and successful cookbook author suggested that barbecue has an interesting etymology. Indeed, it derives ultimately from barabicu, a Caribe Indian word meaning sacred fire pit, and has become a kind of suburban altar. It’s also morphed into a sacred symbol, BBQ.

Cauliflower too, my friend thought. It’s from the Latin caulis (cabbage) and flower. It’s a standout in a family whose siblings are all edible leafy greens: kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and broccoli.

Looking at the two words together in his e-mail, I was inspired to barbecue some cauliflower. Voila! it was some degustation (tasting or savoring). If you’d like to “eat my words,” steam a trimmed cauliflower head al denté, cool and separate the “flowers,” toss with a light Tuscan herb or ginger sauce, marinate a few hours, & grill for 10 minutes. Here on Eastern Long Island, home of the LI Cauliflower Association, it might become a locavore’s dream… “Crazy Cauliflower.”

Are you aware of the cupcake craze? After losing in popularity to muffins and doughnuts, they have roared back in the last few years. I read of cupcake parties and cupcake wars, (with decorations like 5-star generals). They are the original patty cake of nursery rhyme fame, (patty cake, patty cake, baker’s man, bake me a cake as quick as you can) dating to 1796, baked in cups, and designed to serve one person. They are also less rich and heavy than their uncle, pound cake, for which the ingredients of both, butter and sugar, were measured by weight (pound) rather than by volume (cup).

And did you know that Carry Nation, the six-foot tall Prohibitionist, also railed against foreign food? Clearly she did not win her uphill battle. The first volley sounded when Thomas Jefferson served “potatoes in the French manner” at the White House in 1802. Silly Carry, what was she thinking? Where would we be without our beloved French fries, without being able to hear ourselves say pommes frites to a waiter although we speak no French?

Food has, as always, brought us together—for sustenance as well as for good conversation. Happy Thanksgiving!

(Please feel free to forward this column to friends you feel would enjoy it, or give me their e-mail addresses and I will add them to our list.)