monicaSPEAK

Chef Monica Pope writes about eating & cooking where your food lives

Spicy. Sticky. Sweet. September 22, 2010

Green Plum Cooking School – Saturday, August 28th

Today, I’m doing a spicy red chili preserve, even though I don’t have all the ingredients…does that really surprise anyone at this point?  I decide to have Benjy roast the peppers in the kitchen so we don’t have to do them in small batches (and because food just happens back there!).

I’m not sure where they are but my usual hecklers are not in the audience today.   Maybe they know we’ve moved class outside to the patio and think it’s too hot.  Everyone is sooooo quiet.  My friend Nicole is helping her husband, Tommy, sell his photo t-shirts at his vendor table in the parking lot; I holler over the fence if she can heckle me from out there, but she can’t hear me.  A voice comes through the plants on the patio; it’s Miss Priss saying, “You mean me?”  I say “No, it’s just not the same,” but then realize she could heckle me just fine.  This could work!

A whole peck of peppers...

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In the Spirit… February 15, 2010

Green Plum Cooking School – February 6th

Thai Pork Salad & Vatapa Shrimp Puree

Today marked the one year anniversary of the start of Green Plum Cooking School (thanks Alison for remembering that!), my free cooking class on Saturday mornings during the Midtown Farmer’s Market.  I started the class for two reasons:  first, I was starting to feel like I talked the talk as a chef, but didn’t walk the walk as a mommy/person (honestly, I didn’t really think that cooking simply could be just that – simple and fun); and second, I wasn’t sure how the year was going to play out economically.  So, you start a FREE cooking class, you say?  We were bracing for a tough 2009 and, when I’m faced with adversity, I hunker down and try to be true to who and what I am and I have always believed that people respond in kind to this authenticity.  And 2009 turned out to be an amazing year upstairs at t’afia – we’ve had Saturdays full of surprisingly simple, epiphany-provoking food, new forever friends and, of course, community.  Way too much community.  Just kidding.  You can’t have too much community.

I was in a really good mood this Saturday because, the night before, I had finally gotten to my stack of New York Times magazines and newspapers (I get the NYT’s Sunday edition, most of which is used for kitty litter — yes, I’ve asked myself repeatedly if this is sustainable).  I am a slow reader mainly because I fall asleep when I am still.  In the New York Times Magazine from January 31st there is an article entitled, “Is There an Ecological Unconscious?” by Daniel B. Smith.  There were some other great articles in this magazine that resonated with me:  “The Terrorist Next Door,” about a young Muslim boy from Alabama who is now pretty high up in the terrorist world; and an article on a gay jazz pianist who has overcome AIDS-related dementia, a two-month coma, and the loss of motor function in his hands and is now trying to capture those experiences in music — it’s called The Coma Project.  Oddly enough, the more limited he became technically, the more he expanded creatively.  He has more to express and what he has to say doesn’t take musical pyrotechnics.  Of course, I found both of these articles fascinating on both personal and professional levels.  This class is a perfect example of doing away with culinary pyrotechnics and letting the turnips speak for themselves.   But the best article was Daniel Smith’s on this new branch of psychology that says there is a direct link between the health of the natural world and the health of the mind.  A guy named Glenn Albrecht coined a name for people who suffer from this “hitherto unrecognized psychological condition:” Solistalgia is the name he came up with — not to be confused, I tell the audience, with the new Bryan Caswell restaurant, Stella Sola.

Anyway, Solistalgia comes from the Latin word Solacium (comfort) and the Greek root-algia (pain).  The word describes a feeling of homesickness even though you are at home.  He refers to the loss of the “heart’s ease,” not just with displaced native populations (he mentions the Katrina victims) but with people the world over, affecting different people in different places, as our environments continue to be degraded.  People are more anxious, unsettled, despairing and depressed.  Somehow I feel better though, just knowing that my dis-ease has a name and, now, expert therapists (even though I will have to travel to Portland, Oregon to have a session with one).  It’s odd that, on this day when I want to be a little nostalgic about our one year anniversary, I find out I am a lot more Solistalgic.  But we must cook on — locally!

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