Okay…why do I have a tab for teaching, research, and food? Well, I made a promise to myself that on top of the normal academic-oriented projects that I planned to work on during my 2009 – 2010 sabbatical, I wanted to work on developing my skills in the kitchen, particularly with respect to Italian cuisine. I had a lot of reasons for this, so I’ll list out a few of them.
1. Probably the most central reason is that since moving to the Midwest from the Northeast in 2002, I haven’t been able to enjoy the Italian food that was a normal everyday part of my New York upbringing and environment. I grew up in a particularly immigrant-heavy Italian neighborhood (on both sides, my own grandparents themselves came to New York from Italy through Ellis Island), and so I was deeply immersed in authentic Italian cuisine pretty much all the time. To be honest, I took this for granted. I figured that this was how everyone lived, everywhere. I was wrong, obviously. Out here in the Midwest, Olive Garden is considered a classy Italian restaurant, and good bread – a staple of everyday Italian homes — doesn’t even exist. The locals will tell you that it does exist, but they don’t know what the hell they are talking about, given that they’ve never had good bread themselves (would you trust Ray Charles on the difference between colors?). So, in short, I miss, as I put it to my oldest daughter (who is 5), “the food of our people.”
2. I started to worry that my daughters (the other one is 2) that although I remembered what good Italian cuisine was like, and so can sort out Olive Garden from an actually good Italian restaurant, my daughters, who were born here don’t know how to do this. This started to make me sad, given that great Italian food was such an important, central, and meaningful part of my own upbringing. I didn’t want them to miss out on this and turn into “Olive Gardeners” who think that Domino’s makes good pizza. These thoughts really do sink the Goombah part of my identity into a kind of deep despair. If I learn how to properly reproduce Italian food, though, these things can become a part of their own upbringing too!
3. Although it is hard to explain, I simply miss the connection to Italian culture that I had growing up, and a lot of that connection came through food. I’d like to recapture it through cooking/baking. For instance, when I make Anisette Cookies, the smell transports me to my grandmother’s house, where the smell of anise was ever-present. Making dough, I recall pressing pasta into small cup-sized bits for my Aunt Amelia, who was about as Italian a woman as you can get.
4. Lastly, because I am a professional philosopher/academic, I think too much. I spend a lot of time in my head. That’s fine, I enjoy it, but cooking and baking are tactile. There’s something about shaping a dough, or making meatballs, or pressing down on a cake crust that fulfills a part of a need that theory and abstract thinking doesn’t.
What you’ll find is that my posts on cooking are split between cooking meals and then baking, whether breads, cookies or cakes. These posts can be pulled up in the category list by choosing “Goombah Gourmet” (my alter ego). They are usually found with titles like “Mission #…” — as I go from experiment to experiment they are numbered and typically I discuss the product, lay out the recipe, and talk about whether it is any good or not. As time has gone on, I’ve found myself a bit more drawn to baking than cooking, but what holds it all together is the connection to Italian cuisine. I don’t bother with any other kind of food. Here at A Ku Indeed it is all Italian, all the time. Unless I’m talking about philosophy — and then it is likely Chinese or steeped in some discussion of Existentialism!
Hopefully you find it useful or enjoyable! My hope is to one day take the food posts here and print them into two books for my two daughters as cookbooks from their dad.