A Nigerian Easter in the Midwest
From the front door she calls, “He has risen!” Her children respond, “He has risen indeed. Let’s eat!”
I dodged church Easter Sunday this year. My mother Gbeme, however, worshipped at the Baptist church she’s been attending twice weekly for the past 20 years.
Raised Catholic in Nigeria, my mother’s Easter begins the seasonal swap from heavy wools to floral prints and pastels. She wears a beautifully vibrant gele — an intricately fashioned tie around the head worn by Yoruba women — and iro and buba — the matching outfit traditionally worn by Yoruba women — to church. She exchanges compliments with the other congregants about their upbeat clothes and steady health. For two hours the pews fill, the choir sings, and for the larger Easter crowd, the young new pastor delivers an especially rousing sermon. Soon thereafter, church dismisses. Time to eat.
For many Americans, Easter is synonymous with the egg. But in my bicultural household, creamy frejon is the signature Easter week delicacy. The bean soup is made of smoothly blended brown beans called ewa ibeji and steeped coconut, then sweetened with cane sugar to taste.
In the mid-1980s, my mother left metropolitan Lagos to attend college in rural Wisconsin — and made necessary modifications to the original frejon recipe. Back then international foods weren’t as integrated. In lieu of traditional Nigerian dishes, my mother observed her first few Easters amid sweet friends, sweet rolls, egg salad, and hearty Midwestern casseroles. After she graduated, she moved from Wisconsin to Minnesota, reuniting her with city dwelling, a dense Nigerian immigrant community, specialty grocers, and Easter frejon.
“More than 50 percent of the food dollar is spent outside the home now, and that’s a big difference [from] what it was several decades ago. People are eating outside because they’re on the move, they have crowded schedules, they want to take the family out for a treat – and there are so many restaurants out there now to cater to this need. … The problem is when you go out, you tend to eat more and you tend to eat worse than when you eat at home.” — Kelly Brownell
Oy, don’t I know it…
~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Whole Foods has become the first prominent supermarket chain to run a Ramadan marketing campaign—and they’re hoping Muslim customers will return the favor as they break fast. Even though Muslims traditionally forego meals during the day, lavish evening Ramadan meals could mean big bucks for the natural foods giant … as well as brand loyalty from a demographic not traditionally courted by megastore advertising.
Did Elites Help Cultivate the Local Foods Movement?
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
When we first released “Driven by Flavor,” some listeners were rankled by Dan Barber’s assertions. In the video clip above, the Blue Hill chef argues that “elites” deserve recognition for catalyzing sweeping changes in our collective food consciousness:
“It has been a movement that’s pretty much started with the people who can afford to pay for this kind of food. Do I think that’s unfortunate? I really don’t … a lot of great movements in this country, including women’s suffrage, including the civil rights movement, started with elites and ended up becoming mass movements through powerful ideas.”
What do you think? Are elites the chicken or the egg here? Or is there another way of understanding how the food revolution Dan Barber is a part of became so widely embraced?
Hull a Strawberry in Seconds without Waste
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
I realize this may be a stretch for our editorial thrust, but this tip from Saveur is too good not to share on an early Saturday evening. And, if you are finally entering summer like us cats up here in Minnesota, you’re starting to increase your fresh fruit intake — especially coring all those delicious strawberries for your loved ones. What’s more meaningful than this?!
Emerging from the “Dark Ages” of American Food Life
by Krista Tippett, host
Dan Barber is one of those voices who stays with you and changes the way you move through ordinary time — the vast ordinary time, that is, that we all spend thinking about what we will eat, buying food, storing it, preparing it.
His knowledge is as infectious as his passion. He wants us to enjoy our food. And if we become “greedy” for flavor, he says, we will also reform our agricultural ecologies and economies.
This is an irresistible proposition, of course. And what is strange, he helps us realize, is how far-fetched it sounds.
As I told him when we began to speak, I grew up in the 1960’s and 1970’s, an era Dan Barber calls “the Dark Ages” of American food life. My grandparents grew their own vegetables, and we found that quaint but a bit puzzling. Buying supermarket food that emerged from boxes and cans was progress.
And yet, the transcendent food memory of my childhood remains the enormous, red, delicious tomatoes that were available at a ramshackle store on Main Street for a couple of months each summer. It needed nothing added to be the most gorgeous meal in itself. When I mentioned those tomatoes, an audible sigh went up in the audience. We all remember those tomatoes. Dan Barber — and others like Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver — would have us ask this: Why did we abandon that pleasure, and how can we reclaim it as part of our ordinary food lives?
That question becomes more urgent, relevant far beyond the matter of pleasure, as we learn what Dan Barber knows about the nutrition that comes with flavor, the potential that maximally flavorful, nutritious food is now being shown to have even in the fight against cancer. The processes and distribution systems that have leached the flavor out of seeds and produce — processes that also mean I can’t grow those transcendent tomatoes in my home garden even if I try — have made them inexpensive and available in all seasons. But in this generation or the next, the ecological costs of this will become unsupportable.
Amuse Bouche — Fresh Tomato Berries at Stone Barns. (photo: ulterior epicure/Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0)
This is a good news story, though, for a change. Because this crisis, if Dan Barber is to be believed, will bring us home.
The “great social movement” of which he is part is forcing us to re-learn where our food comes from. It is helping us internalize the natural connection between what is ethically grown and healthful and what is delicious. It is helping us discover the particular flavors and bounty of where we come from. You will learn more about root vegetables — especially carrots — in this conversation than you ever realized could be fascinating. Who knew, for example, that sweetness that forms in root vegetables in the hard freezes of northern climates is the vegetable telling you, as Dan Barber tells us, that it does not want to die.
Dan Barber’s cooking is about storytelling too, and it is fascinating to take in his approach to cooking that points “the vectors” at the brilliance and art of farming rather than the flourishes of his cooking. Though the gestalt of his two restaurants is by all accounts extraordinary. Food & Wine has called Blue Hill at Stone Barns one of the world’s “top 10 life-changing restaurants.”
If there is a challenge to the rest of us in Dan Barber’s delightful mission to put pleasure back at the center of our food lives, it is that we will all have to take up our boning knives and cast iron skillets again and begin again to cook.
Some will be uncomfortable with his provocative and impassioned explanation of why he is not vegetarian. He is also not a purist in the local food movement. He confesses to loving citrus on his menus all through the year, and insists that we must make the same distribution systems that have alienated us from flavor begin to work for the regional agricultural economies we must create.
I have cooked more, and with more pleasure, since this conversation. I have had conversations with my children that Dan Barber gave me ideas and words to have. I continue to savor and tease out the unexpected link he offers between what is pleasurable, what is ethical, and what is life-giving, and it is a great gift that I am delighted to pass on to you.
Matzah Makeover Turkish-Style
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Got a few extra sheets of matzah handy and looking for a Passover-friendly recipe? Deena Prichep has posted photos and recipes of various matzo pies, including a Turkish mina de carne that elevates this bread of affliction to a culinary delight!
…15 years ago when I went out into communities, these people would ask me, ‘Why are you doing the slaves’ work?’ And now I don’t hear that anymore.
In his recent interview with Tavis Smiley, Allen credited Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative and and the White House Kitchen Garden with getting people of color “back into the game” of what he calls the “good food revolution.”
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
The square has emptied out since the afternoon but it’s still a great atmosphere, a sense of solidarity, and very well-behaved – people are sitting around bonfires, or walking around picking up rubbish. Crowds who find occasional looters drag them over to the soldiers and hand them over. And no sexual harassment – which is not the norm downtown, especially when there are big groups gathering! We’re happy to be eating koshary – thank goodness vendors are still selling street food because we’re starving.