Reader Silviu writes:
Reading [your posts on Michael Pollan] leaves me wondering what’s your approach to ingredients and food in general? Do you fit in any particular category (organic, local, etc.)? Do you have some never-touch-that rules? What do you think of sugar and pastry (I mean pastry is mostly not pastry without sugar)? I’d love to read a whole post on this.
Silviu, I try not to touch hot-button questions like this since they often lead to go-nowhere comment field combat, a lot like the trench warfare at Ypres. In the end, after all the shells and noxious gasses have been released, little has been accomplished and nothing has changed. But since you asked I’ll go for it. Briefly.
My core belief is that pastry is no place for killjoys. Diving into a warm piece of blueberry pie with ice cream on top I don’t want anyone asking me if the berries are organic or the cream is pasture-raised. It’s simply not the place for it. Pastry is supposed to be fun and delicious. Politics only give it a medicine-y aftertaste.
I used to quip that the pastry maker is the natural enemy of the oragno-nut, but it kept getting me into trouble so I stopped. What I meant by that was not that I was hostile to anything organic, but that if you’re going to make pastries you’re by definition acting against local/organic orthodoxy. Most of the foundational ingredients of pastry are either highly refined or come from a long way away: sugar, flour, chocolate, flavors, colors, you name it.
Is it possible to make good pastry that’s local and organic? No question that it is. Alice Waters is a good example of someone who makes excellent local, organic sweets. However, and maybe it’s just me, I can never eat one of her desserts without thinking: gosh, this is really good for something that doesn’t have anything delicious in it! I find myself making a mental note that if society ever ends and we descend into a Mad Max-like dog-eat-dog dystopia, I’ll know whose book to use when I get a craving for cobbler.
Do I care about local and/or organic foods in general? I care if they’ll make my spinach tart taste better — and not break the bank in the process. But when it comes to food I’m simply a consumer. I don’t feel the least guilty about that, for if local/organic foods are ever going to succeed on a macro level they’re going to have win not only in the realm of activism, but in the realm of quality, price and convenience. I try harder than most people to secure quality ingredients for the things I make. If the local/organic crowd can’t make it worth my while to drop by their tent in the church parking lot on Saturday morning, I can’t be held responsible. I’ve got a kid that needs to get to soccer practice.
As for never-touch-that rules, I definitely do have some. I once touched the intake manifold of a ’72 AMC Javelin with my ear while helping a high school buddy do a car repair, and brother, you think you know pain. Another time I mistakenly tried to pat the head of an extremely grumpy cat. As far as food rules are concerned, I only have one: eat a variety. All things in moderation is not only time-tested wisdom, it’s being increasingly validated by science. I don’t eat gâteau Basque three meals a day and I don’t recommend that anyone else do it. But it sure is a nice surprise after a light dinner on a Thursday night.
I started this blog because I had a simple aim: to give people the skills to make basic — and maybe some not-so-basic — pastry at home. If people want to apply those skills to making organic pastry, I say great. I’ll help them trouble-shoot their cruelty-free vegan marjolaine if they want, and I’ll be pleased and proud to try a piece when they’re finished with it. I’ll happily do the same with a trifle made of box cakes and pudding mixes. In both instances I might make some wisenheimer side comments about using a pastry cream that has actual eggs in it, then probably go for a second piece.
I get happy whenever anyone tries making a pastry at home. I encourage it because think it’s fun, I think it tastes good and I think it’s healthy. And that’s about all I can some up with on the subject.
OH AND…I will be approving comments on this post, but not moderating them after this afternoon because life is only so long.