Thursday, October 21, 2010

Consider figs in Frankfurt

Ah, it is lovely to be back in New York again....

Don't get me wrong, I love to travel and would never forsake a trip to a new place for anything, but I have heard that one of the pluses of traveling is that it makes you appreciate home that much more.

The past two weeks have been quite the whirlwind. I think I've slept in my bed 3 times in the past three weeks. Granted, it has been almost entirely of my own making, and while my Sleepy Bear is probably a bit mad a me, it's been completely worth it.

The Frankfurt Book Fair is always an intellectual rush. To be at the center of the international publishing scene and hear what's happening in countries all over the world is such a thrilling sensation--it always serves to remind me why I am doing this. Unfortunately, it is not a huge gastronomical rush. Not to say that I didn't eat well--I stuffed myself each morning with the buffet breakfast and then with heavy schnitzel and beer each evening--but I never found myself trying something new and exciting.

While I was a bit tired of meat and starch by the end of the trip (I always feel like I come down with scurvy a little bit during the fair, between the heavy party food and the pre-packaged convention center food), the buffet breakfast each morning was superb. And it was not as if we were staying in some wildly plush hotel. I have found that breakfasts at most European hotels are excellent. Whereas in the States you'd have some watery coffee, generic brand OJ and some most Eggo waffles served with egg beaters, European continental breakfasts are first rate, even at the hostels.

Cured meats and a variety of egg preparations (soft boiled, hard boiled, scrambled or fried), pastries and bread for toast, seasonal fruit, yogurt and various dried fruits and nuts, muesli, a bevy of cheeses, and my favorite of all, figs.

I am crazy about figs. One time I bough my roommate a fig-scented candle for her birthday just so she'd light it and then the entire apartment would smell like figs. Then she decided to keep it at home in Connecticut. Blast!

But seriously, I think figs are tremendously under utilized and appreciated here in America. It takes a trip overseas or mingling with someone from say, Turkey, to bring out the figs and dates. They're so sticky, delicious and integral to human history.

There is the old biblical story of Jesus himself reviving a fig tree (aka a ficus) and Adam and Eve clothed themselves in fig leaves after eating from the Tree, but the relationship between mankind and figs predates Him by a could thousand years. The fig was one of the first plants that were cultivated by humans. Apparently nine fossilized figs from about 9,400 BC were found in a Neolithic village just outside Jericho, predating the domestication of wheat, barley and legumes, and thus fig cultivation might be the first known sign of agriculture.

So, basically, figs and there awesomeness was what brought us down from the trees...and yet they themselves don't travel very well and are rarely served fresh if not grown locally. They are usually dried (as I had in Frankfurt) or candied and turned into dates. That's ok though, and as my primary fruit source in Germany, I was served quite well nutritionally.

Figs are one of the highest plant sources of calcium and fiber. According to USDA data for the Mission variety, dried figs are richest in fiber, copper, manganese, magnesium, potassium, calcium, and vitamin K, relative to human needs. They have smaller amounts of many other nutrients. Figs hare also a good source of flavonoids and antioxidants.

So what to do about figs gastronomically? You can make fig jam and there are ways to make fig reductions and even cocktails that I can only dream about. Ducks are fed figs to prepare them (and their liver) to be made into foie gras. Yet I have only ever enjoyed figs of my own devices dried or fresh, and even in the early jet lagged mornings of Frankfurt, I don't think I'd have it any other way. After all, 10,000 years+ of perfection is hard to mess with....

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Excuses are like assholes...

...Everyone has one, and they all stink. That's a bit of wisdom from the Gastronomical Dad, via the Marine Corps. It's funny, a bit crass, and quite true. It's my dad's birthday, and he himself is quite the food fiend. He introduced me to the wonders that are Coney Island hotdogs, which are not from Coney Island, as one might think, but from Detroit. Go to Athen's Coney in Southfield for a decadent treat: a wiener with all beef chili, spicy mustard and onion served in a hot dog bun. Eat with a fork. It's as awesome as it sounds and recently an editor at Saveur, my favorite magazine, caught onto this too.

My dad is the person who made me wait for blueberry pies after swim practice(so I could enjoy them properly). He has his own personal stash of artisan bread, has been known to bring home a box of cup cakes only to eat off all the tops before anyone else gets to them, and has an epic knowledge of place to get the best anti-pasta and other gourmet goodies. When he made us lunch, PB & J's were anathema--we all got salami sandwiches, sliced extra thick. If we were lucky, we also got a Ho-Ho tossed in alongside our apple.

My mom has waged a 25+ year war against him to eat more fruits and veggies--battle of the Asian diet versus American midwest, and while she's succeeded in part (he now craves edamame), his preferences still run towards kielbasa's and pastrami sandwiches given the opportunity. He's snuck away from business dinners while in NYC for work to go to the Astro diner so he could get a real sandwich and a proper Greek salad. He once gave our dogs rye bread for treats because he thought they might like the taste (he was right....they are now completely obsessed with it and go nuts the minute they here the distinct crinkle of the bag opening).

And despite his affinity for food of the Germanic-Polish-WASP persuasion going back to his childhood, we were eating sushi long before it became trendy in the 90's, he snarfs down Chinese food and was the one who discovered Pho soup, something that has been a staple of our family diet since I was in middle school. Afraid to try new things he is not, and there is another thing I share with my dad when it comes to food: a distrust and dislike of anything even resembling mayonnaise.

While his usual mantra has been cribbed from Garrison Keillor (Be well, do good work, and stay in touch) and other pithy Marine sayings aside, when I first moved to New York, he told me that there was simply no excuse not to eat well in the city. And he is right. There really isn't.