*Quick preface: Project Food Blog has really brought out the best in bloggers. I have noticed so much camaraderie, generosity and championing of one another’s posts, I am floored. It has been brilliant to read raw words written by real people all across the blogosphere and to laugh, salivate and cringe alongside fellow food aficionados. We are a strong community which has the ability to effect great change in the world, and this is the first I’ve seen of all that energy channeled toward a common goal; consequently I’m giddy with excitement about what the future holds. Voting for this round starts 09.27.10- Hope you’ll think of me.
The goal? Tackle a classic dish from another culture. I have decided to present a culture both near and far to many of our hearts- that of space in the “future,” specifically, The Jetsons. The Jetsons culture is eerily similar to our own in many ways. The buildings are even constructed to resemble the Seattle Space Needle. The food is startlingly different though, since it comes in capsular form. Yes, pill food. The goal of the challenge is to try and be as true to the actual representation of the culture as possible, so I have undertaken to prepare pills from one specific breakfast in The Jetsons movie. In the scene, George has toast, eggs, bacon, marmalade, juice and coffee. I have created a coffee and cream capsule, a blood orange marmalade pod, a quail egg and bacon pill resting on a tablet of toast, and a sphere of hot butter.
Lest anyone posit that the Jetsons is not in fact a “culture,” allow me to explain. I believe, as bloggers, we have an obligation to infuse our words with meaning. This is why I try to weave a thoughtful undercurrent into every post, albeit disguised behind tawdry humor and cheap puns. By selecting a subject so seemingly-whimsical as The Jetsons and their galaxy, I can illustrate some similarities and differences inherent to all global cultures in a non-offensive way.
Take for example, sexism. The Jetsons utopia was an imagined fabrication of what life would be like late in the 21st century in Orbit City as theorized by mid-20th century cartoon writers. The whole thing reeks of Mad Men-like sexism that, in the US at least, we are now comfortable enough to laugh at because we know it’s parody. And yet, even in this society sexism is a battle we have only just won. In many cultures the label “sexist” is a non-issue because social parameters that have been in place for centuries render it a moot point. Women do what they do in different given societies- carry water on their head, cook for an extended family of 30, or even marry more than one man (go matrilineal society!). Men do what they do- hunt, play bocce, or amass a coterie of wives.
Cultures have mores because they make sense in the society to which they pertain. What I love about our society (meaning Western culture in general) is that we are constantly challenging what is relevant. For example, we’re well into the 21st century and most of us sentient beings have realized that love is something to be celebrated regardless if it’s between a woman and a man, a woman and a woman, or a man and a man. We’re still fighting that battle in court, but I’m proud to say I don’t personally know anyone who is mentally-challenged enough to see a problem there.
One final point on why the Jetsons is relevant as a culture as it pertains to food I’d like to address is that many sci-fi enthusiasts envisioned future food as capsular. This is an ALARMING state of affairs! Was food really so bad in the mid-20th century that everyone from Willy Wonka to Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future resorted to eating foods that were mere shadows of themselves in imagined realms? For that reason I am elated that our love affair with food is once again impassioned. I want to use my 40 acres (hold the mule, please) of web real estate to bring attention to the notion that I hope food remains just that, food, for a long time to come. Yes, many of us resort to energy bars and effervescent electrolytes when pressed for time, but hopefully we won’t get to the point where we’ll be smashing grass-fed filets into 1” cubes to shave a second off our day full of endlessly ephemeral tasks.
Encapsulating food and making it both look and taste good is hard. I am accustomed to churning big batches of ice cream, smoking 20 pounds of pork belly to make bacon, fabricating a whole duck and tossing it into a sous vide water bath, and extruding enough pasta to feed the Pitt-Jolie clan. In other words, I like to do things from scratch and sometimes they’re kind of “fancy” things that employ molecular gastronomy techniques, but almost always they are high-volume. Food pills are just the opposite, so it was tricky to come up with a way to make tiny parcels both look and taste good.
I thought for a few days about how to encapsulate everything and the first epiphany I had came from pondering eggs. Eggs are a perfect food; nutrient-rich, contained within a membrane- i.e. Mother Nature’s pills. I decided to work with the shape of the egg and thus came up with the bacon eggs and toast tablet. To make it, I sous vided a quail egg, rolled it in bacon, then baked the parcel so that the bacon shrink-wrapped the egg. I froze a baguette then thinly sliced it on a mandoline. Originally I planned to wrap the quail bacon pill with the baguette but it was much prettier without so I left it be aside from a quick jaunt under the broiler.
For the coffee and cream capsule I prepared two agar agar-based puddings, one espresso and one vanilla cream. I formed them by filling sheets of acetate taped into tubes, and then I froze them solid. For the butter sphere, I made molds of beurre monte mixed with calcium lactate and let it soak in a sodium alginate bath for half an hour. After my spheres formed sufficient skins, I removed them to a hot water bath. The effect of this is that while the butter forms an exterior skin, when you slather it on something it is unctuously-melted inside. The butter sphere served with the toast tablet made for quite a bite.
I combined the concept of juice and marmalade to make the blood orange marmalade pod. I started by candying some blood orange peels, but rather than caramelize them in sugar and water, I used blood orange juice. Once the syrup thickened, I molded it and turned it out after it had formed a solid pod.
After I photographed my encapsulated breakfast, I set about to eating it. Every pill was a distillment of its larger format self and therefore intriguing, delicious and novel. The biggest irony, however, is that it took days to create this meal when I could have rendered its current counterpart in mere minutes. Future food may save space, but it certainly didn’t save me any time. Wait- maybe that’s what the robots are for?