Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wittgenstein in My Kitchen

I was reading Wittgensteins' Tractatus last night.  Ok,  even I wouldn't actually pick it up and snuggle down by the fire--even if we had a fireplace--and curl up with the Tractatus for the evening. The fact (more about 'facts' in a sec), that the Tractatus has its own definite article preceding only the first part of the title belies the specialness of the text.  Calling it the Tractatus is worthy of an ironic chuckle...this is pure  ironic familiarity, kind of like calling Jean Paul Sartre ol' Johnny.  You just have to know the power of this book to appreciate the irony.  Those of you unfamiliar with the Tractatus Logico Philosphicus,  check out a copy at the local library.

When you do, take heed of the proper awe the Tractatus inspires.  The correct treatment of this odd little wisp of a book is to slowly take it down from the shelf, open to its first pages, inhale deeply, close the book, and return it to its place on the shelf.

Beware, it's power is awesome and strange. It will have you pondering the familiar:  Facts and Things.  How often do you, while, say, folding a load of laundry, stop to ponder how that act defines our immediate reality? What's at issue here?  The towel before you, or the act of folding it.  I mean, really.  Here, I'll show you what I mean.   Take a gander, (and this is only its opening few sentences):
The world is the totality of facts, not of things.
The world is determined by the facts, and by these being all the facts.
I was looking for one of my mom's cookbooks when I found my old copy of the Tractatus from college.  I picked it up, nostalgic for the days when thoughts filled with more than the ideal order of cleaning: First, to vacuum or dust?  I read the above lines and they got me to thinking, if a fact being a irrefutable assertion about a thing...for example, "The table is flat," is a fact, in that I am making a irrefutable assertion about the table -- it IS flat.  Could the Tractatus relate to things culinary? Could one possibly make a similar statement about what we eat?  Kinda like this:

The meal is a totality of recipes, not of ingredients,
Our cuisine is determined by recipes, not ingredients,
and by these being all our meals.

Oh my word, I think this works. I mean, if you give a set of ingredients to different cooks, what results is sets of different recipes or a type of cuisine. Cuisine is what we, or a culture does with its ingredients.  A tomato literally morphs in taste, shape and color as it goes from Italy to to India.  So, what is it that constitutes a meal?  Can a single tomato make a meal?  No matter how juicy and sweet?   No?  Well, what if we set the table, dice that tomato, saute it in olive oil  with garlic and capers and toss it over cooked pasta with a dusting of Parmesan cheese.  Is that then a meal?  Does a recipe, no matter how simple, form the basis of our cuisine?  It would seem that food and the ritual of its preparation and service a meal makes.

This ability to transform food from its raw state into a work of sensuous delight is amazingly powerful.  "I am mistress of the universe!"  I yield to this power when I successfully transform a food item into the basis of a good meal.  Writing does this too...the crude elements are my ingredients individual words and discreet ideas....the art is in the combining of these two elements (much like a recipe) and producing a coherent text (like a dish).

Let's descend for a sec, back to the domestic domain....I was in a cooking mood yesterday.  It came on slowly...I made pulled chicken tacos for dinner.  This is a good one, I can tell, DH gets a funny look when the dish is especially good--a half grin and a slight giggle as he eats.  But be warned this took me more than an hour to make--it's really good to do when it's cold outside and you have no errands to run:

All Day Chicken Tacos

6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
2 large onions -- any color
2 tbl salt
3 garlic cloves
1 bay leaf
1 tbl olive oil
2 tbl of cumin
1 tbl of chili powder
1 tbl of McCormick's hot Taco Seasoning --use mild if you don't do hot food
1 16 ounce jar of Newman's Own All Natural Salsa

6 Tortillas, shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, guacamole, shredded cheese...any toppings you normally put on your tacos.

  • Put thighs in large pot, cover with water
  • Add the salt, whole garlic cloves, quartered onions  and bayleaf to the water
  • Bring to a boil and reduce to a medium simmer
  • Simmer for a 2 hours (adding water if necessary)
  • When the meat is falling off the bone, remove from heat
  • Put the chcken, onions and garlic cloves in a bowl and refrigerate to cool enough to handle
  • Drain the liquid, save about a cupful
  • When cooled, use your hands and remove all the bones and the skin (I keep the skin on because it really imparts more flavor)
  • Shred the meat and slice the onions and if necessary, smash the garlic cloves
  • Heat a tbl of oil in a frying pan,  
  • Add the garlic and onions to dry out--do not scorch 
  • Add cumin, when  fragrant, add the chicken
  • Cook on low to absorb most of the liquid
  • When the meat looks pretty dry, add 1/2 of the jar of salsa and some of the reserved water
  • Sprinkle the taco seasoning and continue to cook for about 5 mins or until the chicken is hot.
  • Serve on warm tortillas with the toppings of your choice.

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