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The Cross and the Cleaver: Food is Food (or is it?)

By Rev. Piotr

Every so often, a food movie comes out. While they always tell a story beyond what you see on the plates, the food is the vehicle of the message, and the movie indeed becomes a “food for thought.” I have just seen such a movie. It is called “The Menu.” Admittedly as a black comedy horror, it will not be to everyone’s taste. Yet the movie addresses very pointedly how food and eating have ceased to be what they once were and how to recover it. It may not be true for all, but certainly for many. Let me use other voices to give you an example and thus not give away the movie’s plot should you choose to watch it.

Horace Rumpole, given his voice by the writer John Mortimer confesses this: “I scarcely ever sit down to an octagonal plate on which a sliver of monkfish is arranged in a composition of pastel shades, which also features a brush stroke of pink sauce, a single peeled prawn and a sprig of dill. Such gluttony is, happily, beyond my means.” On the other end of that spectrum comes the voice of Andy Rooney, writing that: “I don’t eat in a restaurant that has a sign outside saying ‘HOME COOKING.’ If I wanted home cooking, I’d eat at home.”

I used to cook, as the saying goes, “fancy-schmancy and hoity-toity.” I don’t much anymore. I got mostly bored with it, and with the unspoken expectation of “upping” the previous recipe. Instead, I began rediscovering food memories and the magic of simple cooking. Don’t misunderstand me, there is nothing wrong with taking dishes up a notch. Problem was that those “notches” became more important than the dishes themselves.

Simplicity can still evoke powerful memories. I am sure most of our oldest food memories are those of simple meals provided to us by our parents or grandparents. Let me tell you a story of such dish.

It was early 80’s. I do not remember if it was my father or grandfather that took me out for a meal. As dining out was not a regular occurrence, I felt very special. It was a small restaurant, tucked away in one of the side streets leading to the Warsaw’s Old Town Square. I remember white tablecloth, and being taught how to eat spaghetti with fork and spoon, for only philistines cut their spaghetti in pieces (so I was told). For the dish was spaghetti with mushroom sauce and cheese.

It was most memorable simplicity. It became one of the first dishes I knew how to make, before I knew how to cook anything. In fact I cooked it so often between years 2000-2005 that Dawn and her boys, Alex and Ryan, dubbed it “Pete’s pasta.”

Do you feel like giving it a try? It is easy … well my version certainly is…

  • Boil enough pasta for everyone. Original version calls for spaghetti cooked al dente. But if, like me, you have some rotini and rigatoni at the bottom of two boxes then go for it … I did 😉
  • Open a can of cream of mushroom soup, mix it with half can of water or milk, and heat it up. If of course, unlike me, you feel like making sauce from scratch then have at it.
  • Open a bag of shredded cheddar, or Italian mix. Unless you feel like shredding your own cheddar by hand, in which case watch your fingers and knuckles.

To serve, fill the bowl/plate with pasta, pour the sauce, and sprinkle the cheese. Finish off with a touch pepper. Eat. Tastes best if accompanied by white wine; apple juice or lemon water if you do not partake.

You can choose to enrich the sauce with chopped onion and mushrooms (fresh or canned). You can garnish the dish with some freshly made bacon bits and chopped parsley. But that might earn you a label of cooking hoity-toity and fancy-schmancy. 😉

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