Kirsty presents – The Chopping Board

When I first heard about Zoe’s new blog venture it was in the very same breath that I heard of its demise as well. Oh, how disappointed I was.

Enticed by Zoe’s recollection of setting up the site, I was all set to read more of the humour that I had so grown to enjoy at CrazyBrave applied to all things culinary. But then she told of how, in the middle of writing a post about substituting ingredients in a recipe for muesli bars, she was overcome by a moment of extreme self-consciousness, at which point she declared the blog had folded before it even began.

The cause of Zoe’s doubt was an ingredient so utterly pretentious that its name could not be uttered without rousing every latent fear she had concerning accusations of food-related onanism—the likes of which, no doubt, had not been bandied about since the heady days of the Culture Wars, when aficionados of lattes and those purporting to represent lovers of meat pies faced off over barricades built by the Murdoch Press Corps.

It is only since Progressive Dinner Party has gone ahead anyway that I’ve figured out that the fly in the ointment, or the affected berry in the muesli so to speak, was the goji berry, alleged purveyor of every health benefit imaginable.

Before I knew about the inhibiting effects of the goji berry, however, I got to thinking about the notion of pretentious ingredients. What makes a foodstuff pretentious? What makes a foodstuff down-to-earth, the proverbial humble pie? Who is qualified to declare such things?

My first thought on this was that an ingredient might not be pretentious if you could serve it to your average, friendly, middle-aged, heterosexual, white bloke who earned his living through good, honest, manual labour on a farm. You know the kind of fellow who populates ads for beer and Utes and speaks plainly, mate?

From that point on, I found myself in all sorts of trouble, not least because I could envision dismissing a whole range of pantry stores as pretentious simply on the basis that they weren’t part of some apparently authentic Australian ‘meat and three veg’ heritage.

Allow me to tell you briefly about the time I made a cup of Earl Grey tea for the visiting uncle of a flat mate from several years ago. He took one sip of my offering and it was as if I’d failed his personal test of womanhood. His lips pursed and he looked at me aghast, convinced I’d served him poison, before he resorted to lighting a fire in the front yard and swinging the boiling billy around (okay that last part is not quite true).

Now, if I were to apply the AFMAHWB measure to Early Grey tea then, judging from this experience, I would have to label it ‘pretentious’ and that seems rather harsh for a bit of bergamot flavouring.

Amidst this dilemma, I decided that what was needed to make flagrant declarations about pretentiousness or humbleness, or something in between, was a particular kind of personality. To judge without conscience, or at least a good dose of bravado, required an arbiter with chutzpah, an authority incapable of embarrassment, someone like Jeremy Clarkson from Top Gear who would declare his prejudices and set up a ‘Cool Wall’to display them shamelessly to one and all.

Obviously Jeremy mislaid my request for him to apply his particular logic to the contents of Australian pantries, so I’ve suggested to Zoe that collectively, you, the readers of her blog, might like to rate them instead. She has very cleverly designed a ‘Chopping Board’ for us to place things ranging from ‘Humble Pie Goodness’ to ‘Goji Berry Pretentiousness’. The middle ground will be reserved for that which you deem to be ‘A Proper Cup of Tea’ (I will go out on a limb and put the Earl Grey there).

All suggestions are welcome. Let the slicing and dicing begin!


The teapot image is from here.


52 thoughts on “Kirsty presents – The Chopping Board

  1. Hmmm, while I think I understand what you are getting at, I think it could be better represented as a grid rather than a spectrum.

    Take lentils or tofu, for example. Both are clearly relatively cheap, yet vaguely subversive foodstuffs.

    I would therefore perhaps suggest a model with two axes. The X axis would be straightforward monetary cost. However, the Y axis would be humbleness vs. (in Butlerian terms) troubling-ness.

  2. There isn’t a “posted by…” in here… Kirsty?

    I would like to nominate the Minnesota Hotdish for the unpretentious stodge recipe category. After reading a n item at Feministe about the FBI infiltrating Minnesotan progressive dinner parties, I had to look up Hot Dish on Google to see what it really consists of. Voila, I give you… the Tater Tot Hot Dish.

    But there’s a lot more where that came from. (Apparently Minnesota is also the home of that dreadful abomination delicious treat, Jell-o salad.

  3. Helen, that is one of the worst things I have ever seen on the internet. I had to look up what a tater tot was—and now I just feel soiled.
    In Jeremy Clarksons’s terms: not, not cool. To the hard left of the board.

  4. We are a Proper Cup of Tea household, dictated by my partner, who was brought up to ONLY drink teapot tea. I started drinking tea when I met him, and I love the Teapot Tea, but have been known to drink Teabag Tea with white sugar — only when he’s not around. It’s shameful, I know; I’ve been considering writing to postsecret about it… but now I have this thread. Hooray! I hold you all to this secret, on pain of death.

  5. Thanks Zoe for making the ‘by Kirsty’ change, and for the introduction.

    Always Hungry, I think the trick to this is to channel Jeremy, to admit no subtlety, to ready yourself for going into battle with the flimsiest of evidence.

    Helen, your nomination is a corker. I think we’re trying to nominate edible food though 😉 I’d push it further than Liam, right off the edge. Minnesota is obviously calling out for a Jamie Oliver intervention.

    Duck, I’m starting to think that teapot tea is creeping closer to the goji berry end of the board…

  6. I’ll have to do some fiddling to have the author name appear automatically, but the Power of Teh Green Comment Box is yours!

    Also, will investigate strikethrough. Must have strikethrough!

  7. Humble pie guilty pleasure #1 – Tiny Taters.

    Tiny Taters are no relation to Tater Tots!!!

    Humble pie guilty pleasure #2: Tater Tots (well, potato gems anyhoo)

    I must say, the Goji Berry doesn’t quite epitomise what I think of as wanky ingredients, as it is actually snake oil. Sure, in a diet otherwise devoid of vitamin C they do wonders, but gimme a break.

    Anyway, my Goji Berry haute cuisine obsessions du jour:

    Smoked paprika, saffron, de puy lentils, saffron, beancurd skins, saffron.

  8. Oh, I’m green, lovely.

    FDB I do think the de puy lentil distinction is an important one in the food snob stakes. They’re quite different from the sort that you throw in dahl or lentil burgers aren’t they? And perhaps the bean curd skins are the food snob’s version of tofu, rather than the silken or pressed variety?

    I must say, I’m with you on the saffron, and the powdered variety or turmeric as a substitute just won’t do!

    Channelling my inner Jeremy, I feel compelled to say something about the often maligned latte. I think it might have crept into ‘proper cup of tea’ territory now that it’s widely available in shopping centre food courts, but I think if it’s made on soy milk, then it might just be nudging back to the goji category. For this I have no evidence of course.

  9. de puy lentils…are going mainstream aren’t they? In the local shopping centre you used ot have to get them from the deli at $5 for 200g, but last time I went to coles they had some in with the other pulses in the same packaging as the other soup mixy stuff – mc something’s

    Anyway, humble pie food: poached eggs on toast with avocado. Every weekend morning. Makes getting out of bed before eleven not only possible but probable.

  10. I don’t know if this is the right time to mention this but since thirdcat discussed the health benefits of Coles belgian chocolate mint flavour…I have done some independent experiments and come to the independent conclusion that her conclusions were entirely sound.

  11. Yeah, maybe de puy lentils are getting mainstream-ish. Certainly cheaper, which is cool. Their integrity, flavour and appearance (like slightly distended cannabis seeds, I’ve always thought, what with the mottling and all); truly the Rolls Royce of lentils.

    I put saffron all over the place for a while, but I’ve calmed down – despite getting a box of 50g of the stuff last year from a mate. Now it’s mostly seafood (a bouillabaise last week, mussel soup tonight), and my fiance (another Kirsty) makes a sublime and simple dessert by making a little sugary syrup with saffron, then baking stonefruit in it. Plums and nectarines are specially good. If you nail the quantities and oven temp, the syrup should wind up such that it sets to toffee on contact with icecream. She quite pulled it out of her head, too. The recipe, that is.

    Beancurd skins (sold as ‘we-we’ or ‘weh-weh’) I use as wrappers for quasi-rice-paper-rolls. Soften them (they come dried), then roll up with whatever you like and steam. Eat hot or cold. Actually, credit for this belongs to the other Kirsty too, maybe originally from Charmaine Solomon or someone.

  12. “since thirdcat discussed the health benefits of Coles belgian chocolate mint flavour”

    did I really? Crikey. I didn’t even know I knew there was Coles belgian chocolate mint flavour. Fark. Shall go and remind myself of it tomorrow.

  13. also, ashamed to say I bought a whole packet of goji berries a few years ago. They were really expensive, and so they’re still in the cupboard, because I can’t bear to throw them out.

  14. I’d put quinoa up the goji berries end of the spetrum and porridge down towards the humble pie. Mind you, if you add a fruit compote and soy milk then it would have to move along considerably…

  15. I’ve seen goji berries in Asian grocers for a fraction of the price you see them in health food sections or stores. They’re not called goji berries of course, they tend to go by the botanical name which I can’t quite recall right now.

  16. That linked article says wolfberries, which turns out to be our neighbour’s towering and annoyingly fruit dropping hedge. I’ve been raking money away!

  17. Yeah, they’re Chinese Wolfberries. I must admit that I buy them. Lily loves them and they are cheaper than cranberries (her other dried fruit of choice)… Personally I think that they taste a little like dirt.

  18. Ah Minnesota hotdish! My bloke has been threatening to make it for some time now, on the grounds that D’Arcy might eat it. (He reckons he’d totally devour tater tots. ) I’ve eaten food in Minnesota, and it can be kind of scary, but I haven’t done the small-town potluck that would result in hotdish and Jello salads.

    humble pie = lamb stew
    goji berries = anything I buy from teh whole-food shop near work (organic sourdough spelt bread, maya gold hot chocolate) decaf skim mochas. Gotta say though I can be much less of a princess than some!

  19. I think I first heard about Jello Salad on Making Light. Apparently the influence of Mormons on American foods is not to be denied. There’s more strange, exotic and otherworldly stuff here and check out the photo of “candle salad”!

  20. I’m beginning to feel sorry for people in America if Minnesota/Utah cuisine is their idea of home cooking.

    That candle ‘salad’… I really don’t know what to say.

  21. oh noes, the goji berries are in the local greengrocer, it’s all over now, this suburb is ruined.

    Thirdcat, I’m sure it was you that spoke of the coles belgian chocolate with bits of crushed peppermint candy in it. It is really good. And I suspect everyone is turning up the nose because quite often they try to flog two big blocks of the stuff for $4.

  22. “And I suspect everyone is turning up the nose because quite often they try to flog two big blocks of the stuff for $4.”

    Not me. That’s almost as much of an attraction as the crushed peppermint candy of which you speak.

  23. Since we’re talking tea – silver tea or white tea needs to go with the goji berries. Picked by virgins on moonlight nights on mountainsides in Sri Lanka, whence it is imported to Australia in satin-lined boxes guarded by warrior-monks, and then sold at a price per ounce not far off that of gold in exclusive tea shops in inner-city suburbs.

  24. I just planted a goji berry bush and it seems to have stayed alive for a week so far… My thinking was that as a Himalayan plant, it might actually survive the frost, and it’s just a berry. Sod the hype, I just like having edible things growing in my garden. I have eaten some dried, and they’re OK by me.

    I actually wouldn’t put them so high on the pretentious scale, but they do go high on an orthogonal scale of hype and woo-woo. Magic food, beloved by hippies rather than by poseurs and wannabe celebrity chefs.

    My nomination for the most pretentiously overused item: truffle oil. Also truffle honey and fleur du sel should be high up there.

    And thanks for linking to me! I shall reciprocate immediately!

  25. I was getting the kids porridge this morning and I realised I have left out my number one soft spot for poncy food – rapadura.. It can’t be just sugar, it costs about $25 a kilo!

  26. I think it might have been Jello Salad that someone brought to our BBQ in Alice. I kept putting it back with the desserts until someone said ‘No it’s salad!’. I then explained to some very confused Aussies and Americans that it was salad. “What sort of salad” I was asked suspiciously by someone ” Something with jelly in it by the look of it” I replied. We both stared suspiciously at it for a moment longer then moved on. It was never mentioned again.

  27. I’m a late entrant, so my comments on puy lentils aren’t very timely, but in a salad with roast beetroot, goat’s cheese, loads of parsley, red onion and red wine vinaigrette — can anything so earthy and delicious be pretentious?? Amuse bouche — that’s pretentious.

  28. Oh, I thought of a good one. Parmesan oil.

    Parmesan rinds – saved up from pasta nights in the door of the fridge, not wrapped too well so they don’t go soggy. Once you’ve got a (metric) crapload, chop into bits or shave or coarsely grate it, then cover with a decent olive oil in a saucepan and warm up gently. Let it steep till the oil tastes really parmesany – maybe an hour or so if you can keep the temp low enough.

    This shit rocks, and it’s really easy, but folks get pretty impressed.

  29. Too true, Zo; but I have always maintained that you and Jeremy Clarkson have much in common. What have you got against goat’s cheese? It’s not like I said “goat’s curd” (like I really wanted to)… That dessert is very bent.

    My new nomination is “fleurs du sel guerande”, which is well poncy, in the manner of Renaults. Please don’t google my spelling.

  30. That dessert is beautiful Zoe. Not only will it be a hit with the Ally Network, but it’s got the market cornered for 6 year olds too–girls anyway, I don’t know much about male children, are they obsessed with rainbow colours too?

  31. I know I’m completely missing the point here, but…
    A lot of the things that I think of as ‘ordinary groceries’ would be considered ‘pretentious’ by Kirsty’s skip farm labouring bloke. It’s a matter of ethnicity, I think.

    1. fancy fetta cheese and fancy olives. All my local supermarkets (from the safeway to the ‘mediterranean supermarket’, which is a large, cheap wholesaler) sell at least 15 types of olives (more at the IGA) and half a dozen fetta cheese types. I don’t buy fetta from the safeway any more because it’s RUBBISH. I have a couple of greek varieties I adore (not called ‘greek fetta’ but …. can’t remember. one starts with D. That’s the one I get… though usually I pull a ‘oh, I don’t know which one I like’ so that I get free tasters and the nonnas bully me). There’s also a non-dairy fetta on display, which is ok, but I prefer the cow. These would be unbearably pretentious to Kirsty’s bloke, but the little nonnas buy it in half kilo/kilo blocks as a daily necessary.

    2. pide. Not that bullshit stuff you buy at the supermarket. The fat, fluffy type. Or the flat, ‘pocket’ type. I cannot buy the flat stuff from the supermarket – it’s too stale. Round here there are at least 2 bakeries that make the stuff. It’s soft, so soft it’s like nanna skin – powdery, loose and lovely to pat. Buy it the day it’s made, toast it on the grill the next day for salads. The fat, fluffy stuff is so different to supermarket stuff – it’s light, it has a distinct smell, it pulls apart perfectly for dipping into sauces. Eat it the day it’s made (well, it’s made to order as you wait). The next day, toast it.
    Again, it’s a daily necessary for local nonnas.

    3. basil. Buy it? wtf??!! It grows in the garden. You eat it by the bushel.

    4. fancy tomatoes. Same.

    5. mozarella (in all her forms). It’s cheap, it’s wonderful. It’s usually cow, rather than buffalo, but there are lots of different types, and everyone gets it.

    6. pecorino. I prefer pecorino bambino (a bit like mozarella). But everyone buys it by the massive chunk. You can’t get less than 250 g pieces in the local shops.

    7. turkish fairy floss. It’s old school. I’ve only just discovered it’s ‘chic’. Is it?

    8. pickled turnip for falafel.

    8. artichokes, broad beans, ..

    …. heck, all that action. It’s just local everyday food here in the ‘wick. But we can’t get decent bok choi. I think that ‘pretentious’ is so culturally specific it’s difficult to talk about in a city with a decent migrant population…

    …man, I’ve forgotten the point I was trying to make. But remind me to tell you about the fermented soy product some time. Now _that_ was tricky to find in the wick.

  32. I’m afraid, FDB, that there is a bottle of parmesan oil in the cupboard.

    And dogpossum, there has to be an exemption from ponciness if you’re aged over 70 and wearing all black, a head kerchief and scuffs. It made me sad to read about proper bread – that’s what I miss most about living in Sydney.

  33. Ah dogpossum you continue to taunt with your proximity to excellent foodstuffs. Any time you feel like sending me some more fancy wafers you just go ahead.

  34. Dogpossum – sounds like you’re in Brunswick near Sydney Road, somewhere between Victoria Street and Albion. That’s a pretty A1 location for foodstuffs. Have you checked out the warehouse joints west of the main drag? Middle Eastern Bakery on Hope St and NSM on Victoria Street are fantastic for bulk dried/canned stuff.

    Zoe – really? Who makes it? Don’t let that stop you making your own when it runs out though – the rinds ain’t good for much else. Always recycle… TO THE EXTREME!!!

  35. Pingback: Friday the 13th Salad — Progressive Dinner Party

  36. Heh, the talk of Jello Salad makes me think of this one, which I learned in Huonville High School Home Economics in 1981 and then didn’t see again until 1999, when someone’s nana brought it:

    one can crushed pineapple
    a shitload of grated apple
    a handful of chopped mint
    about a litre and a half of aspic

    Combine and pour into a pretty mould. Serve. Unforgettable. One of those meals that’s much better than you think it is but you only need to eat it once or twice.

    I was told, way back in 1981, that such food is useful for keeping stains off ones tennis whites. Apparently aspic around beetroot serves the same purpose.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s