- Is anyone feeling pressured by festive family commitments, or somewhat stressed by difficult people in these days as I am? My personal circumstances are easily guessed: as one who does not eat meat, you have to fit in with omnivores in all get togethers, adjust your courses or let someone do it for you with the likelihood of loads of cheese and dairy white sauce everywhere. You thank everyone and are kind, even if you wish you could spend your time doing (and cooking) what you really like. Sometimes you wish Christmas holidays are over soon, you also have to stop blogging even when you have a lot to say. Everyday lunch is negotiated with crucial planning unless you are going out, but it is raining and cold out there. I made this Mediterranean fusion toast in a loved hour of freedom. Grilled Violife, Tofurky, roast aubergines, rocketleaves and mango.
I saw the city of couscous by the French-Algerian artist Kader Attia in the Tate Modern Gallery a few years ago. Under the generic name “Untitled”, the 2009 installation recreates the Algerian city of Ghardaia with 300kg of couscous cooked then left to dry with salt, in moulds shaped like the city’s buildings. The task of literally building the city from the project was carried out by the Tate’s staff who arranged it in the room of the “Living Cities”exhibition.
I was moved when I saw it for the first time, not only for all its meanings and references – the Parisian banlieues where the artist grew up, his homage to Le Corbusier and Pouillon, who used features of Gardhaia’s buildings in their architecture, the relationship and influences between Europe and Africa and the impermanence and decaying of the city, as the couscous will crumble with time like real cities do.
On a personal point of view, couscous is one of my best loved foods, it is quick to make (for who, like me, will only ever use the precooked one), it is nutritious, has many health benefits and an amazing taste. Other cereals (quinoa for example) have more protein, but the couscous flavour is unbeatable. I accompanied it today with oven roasted beetroot, a pumpkin burger and a powerful sprinkle of herbs and spices. Couscous is the typical middle-eastern cereal but I know no limits to the toppings. Whether it consists of stews, oven cooked or raw vegetables, I dare to go beyond tradition. I understand that couscous is a basic staple of north African nutrition, like pasta, rice and potatoes in other latitudes, and that it is less expensive than other cereals like barley, spelt, millet and so on.
At the exhibition I perceived the city of couscous like a place offering well being, which is slightly out of the context. At the same time it connects me with my roots. Even in Sicily, the southernmost part of Italy, couscous is part of the culinary tradition. Having in mind the low, flat roofed Mediterranean buildings of the south I look again at the city of Ghardaia on the wooden floor. It is doomed to erosion, and the plans are to act by adjusting it or building it again when it is nearly unrecognisable. What a challenge!
I cannot avoid to think of my home town in Italy, recently hit by a hurricane on the Tyrrhenian coast. With many roofs and walls collapsed and all the pine trees in the main boulevard eradicated by the violence of the storm, the calamity has changed it in its individual, characteristic features. It takes a huge endeavour and time to build it as it was, or better. I have no doubts that art curators and workers have a much easier task.
I am more keen on writing than on following the rules of culinary tradition, like they do for sure in the south. But thank you for dropping by and… have a lovely couscous dish.
For a pleasant start of the day or relaxing time read https://toastsandthoughts.blog/2018/12/10/a-poem-for-breakfast/
“It’s the best of days”, wrote the poet Catullus in the 1stcentury B.C. with regard to Saturnalia, the festival ancient Romans held on the days before the winter solstice. And it’s my opening banquet of the festive season a little ahead of December, as on these days we are never too early to shine light in our hearts and stomachs, when the sky is at its darkest and the sun at its minimum.
We conquer the sun at our table with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, coloured berries, the sweet of honey and balsamic vinegar, the twist of sage and pungency of pepper. Then, with the aid of such aristocratic companions and no sacrifice of human or living beings (no gladiators’ or pets’ blood here), we overthrow social order and norm by placing on the throne
for the whole month to come one of the most humble peasants, the Brussels Sprout, and let it rule our dining room.
Here is our King of Saturnalia: a young veg ignorant of gentility and of the mundane world, that I leave in the oven cut in halves and coated with all the bounty mentioned before for half an hour, so that it changes its odour from stable to Capitolium. So did the Roman citizens of the Republic and the Emperors later do, by appointing a person within the people, or a slave, to give orders for a set time and be moderators of crazy days and nights. But they left this remarkable task unfinished: the seasonal kings were put back into fetters at the end of the month, where they stayed hidden and tame for the rest of the year.
I wish the Brussels Sprout was at the centre of our attention and desires always and not only on Saturn’s days, and to elevate its aesthetics and pleasantness there is one simple step to be done: it must be baked or microwaved, not boiled, then dressed in the most delicious ways. The benefits cannot be counted, as it strength can prevent all sorts of nasty things.
Some Christmas cakes, and I mention some Italian ones – Panettone from Milan, Pandoro from Verona, Crustoli from Puglia and the Neapolitan Pastiera, to say just a few in hundreds – are under the same unfair rule: they appear just before the solstice and fade away on the Twelfth night, or Epiphany day, when three biblical kings come visit with gold, incense and myrrh. I pray for them to stay and to sit at the same rank of everyone else, for no more social hierarchy all year round, as in the mythical Golden Age of Saturn.
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When tension builds up between us and someone we truly love, often because of each other’s row of expectations, the clear, rightful trio of mind, action and communication tries to escape from the next Pompeii’s lava force with the devising of something clever and neutral, not to say edible.
Here we set to make an avocado toast that is “our avocado toast” in the midst of thousands identical ones. No, this is not a philosophical clone or a replica, just one new element in the freedom of healthy food for busy days.
Peacefully me and my daughter mixed a little extra virgin olive oil with lemon juice and salt. We had separate bowls so as not to clash with each other’s hands and spoons and get nervous. Then we brushed the avocado slices she had already cut before. She said cutting slices so thin was relaxing. Lastly we placed them on top of medium thick slices of a spelt and sunflower bloomer.
It was a fat concentrate full of flavour and never mind the calories: our heart needs it! Added the sesame seeds for decoration (we had a full jar), still more fat and more heart.
This is not something I would eat more than once or twice a week and not because I wouldn’t like to be hearty every day! The soul of this blog is indeed to conceive as many combinations of fruit, vegetables, seeds and so on to put on toasts as can be imagined.
I heard someone comparing avocados with Moby Dick, because like Melville’s white whale they are now everywhere and have become the obsession of so many people owning a fridge.
The other day, as we were looking at magazines while sitting in the dentist’s waiting room, an article about whales on the last “Focus” issue grabbed my attention as it was in line with the mother-daughter theme, and with avocados as a consequence.
I copy it below in full, hoping someone might find it interesting reading it.
BELUGA WHALES AND NARWHALS GO THROUGH MENOPAUSE.
Menopause is rare in the animal kingdom. While many species may be less likely to reproduce as they near the end of their life, until now only three animals were known to have an “evolved strategy” where females have a significant post-reproductive lifespan: humans, killer whales and short-finned pilot whales. But now researchers at the University of Exeter and the University of York have added two more toothed whale species to that list: belugas and narwhals.
The team studied dead whales from 16 species and found dormant ovaries in older beluga and narwhals females, indicating that they had gone through the menopause. The findings suggest that these species are likely to have social structures that involve female beluga whales and narwhals living among a greater number of close relatives as they age.
“For menopause to make sense in evolutionary terms, a species needs both a reason to stop reproducing and a reason to live on afterwards,” says Dr Sam Ellis, of the University of Exeter. “In killer whales, the reason to stop [reproducing]comes because both male and female offspring stay with their mothers for life, so as a female ages her group contains more of her children and grandchildren. This increasing relatedness means that, if she keeps having young, they’re competing with their own direct descendants for resources such as food. The reason to continue living is that older females can be of great benefit to their offspring and grand-offspring.
For example, their knowledge of where to find food helps the group as a whole survive.”
Studies of ancestral human remains suggests they have similar social structures, which may explain why menopause has evolved in our own species, the researchers say. “Looking at other species like these toothed whales can help us establish how this unusual reproductive strategy has evolved,” says Prof Darren Croft, also of the University of Exeter.
I thank you for dropping by and wish you would have a look at my first post here: