Sunday, February 17, 2019

Foodly illogical

Words are rather elusive objects. People tend to apply them in contexts so far from their origin that any connection becomes obscure. As an example, the word mouse most commonly refers today to a computer accessory that spends most of its time in the office or salon, not the kitchen or shed. Aside from computers, no area of activity has perverted meanings of words more than food. Those who either do not cook or watch cooking shows can find themselves clueless to what certain terms mean.

There is nothing sadder than the look of confusion of the first-time buyer of wine. While the taste of sweet wines is clear, that of dry wines is perplexing. It is clear that there is a liquid in the bottle, which mean that it is wet, not dry. Alas, the fact that all of the sugar has turned into alcohol is not evident at all.  Likewise, as everybody starts off unexperienced, virgin olive oil sort of makes sense. However, extra virgin olive is rather obscure, even considering extreme religious purity movements. For those not in the know, it means that the oil has gone through cold processing only, without any heating to remove impurities. Locally, in Israel, the major term for better and more expensive produce is the Arabic baladi. It is interpreted to mean homegrown or even sort-of organic and serves as a justification for higher prices and/or less attractive produce. What most Hebrew speakers do not know is that it merely means excellent in Arabic. For the cook or the store, it is not clear.

Cooking processes also have their tricky terms. Baking and cooking programs refer to clarified butter, which may imply that everybody understands that the product is butter. Alas, the clarification refers to the color produced by separating the butter into its components and using only the butterfat, not the solids or liquids. I hope the term is clarified now. As for poaching, it may seem strange that poaching animals is illegal and even is even causing extinctions, but many a brunch offered by respectable restaurants openly offer poached eggs and poached salmon. In this case, the products were not stolen but cooked in water although I imagine that in a few cases both meanings could apply. In regards to crime, many would say that the devil is quite busy sowing evil in this world, but it is hard to understand his obsession with eggs. Why he would think stuffing hard boiled eggs with mayonnaise and other ingredients, deviled eggs, could lead to sin is beyond my understanding.

Products can also be a bit bewildering. I watched Gumby as a kid and know that clay characters have a life of their own. So, when I first heard of kissing dough, I felt a bit animated. Then I realized that the kiss here refers to connecting of two items of baked goods. This is not so romantic, as Roseanne Roseannadanna  would say. Now, the title Baron brings up the image of middle-aged men with gout or even the World War I flying nemesis of Snoopy. However, in the (culinary) meat market, it is a large piece of meat consisting of two sirloins attached at a joint. Finally, if your egg or baked dished is van dyked, it does not mean that it has a bad fake accent (as in Bert in Mary Poppins) or even a mustache. This artistic term only implies that it has been cut in zig zags.

As they say in the translation business, there is nothing more dangerous than a little bit of knowledge. We may think we know what a word means but are completely unaware that it took a long detour into the world of food and came out something entirely, even unrecognizable, a bit like the ingredients in a fancy French dish. As Spock said, “Once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

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