Sunday, April 25, 2010

Internet-based Recipe Sharing: Berry Bran Muffin Inspiration

As I try to stay current on the foods newly considered good for my health, and had been recently looking at functional foods, when, on the way out to the cottage, I stopped at a Tim Hortons for a coffee and a snack.  Usually, I would opt for something wholesome-looking, but experience – and research – had taught me that appearances can be deceiving – especially when it comes to fast food chains.  The Cranberry Blueberry Bran Muffins – promoted, unofficially, as the healthiest of the bunch – is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. 
Cranberries, blueberries and bran are all recognized functional food ingredients, but cannot make up for the negatives associated with the excess sugar and fat in the Tim Hortons muffin recipe.  I was inspired:  my mission was to make the most healthy “super” muffin possible, to go where no muffin had gone before.  Unfortunately, as baking is a matter of chemical reactions as well as flavour combinations, I needed a base recipe with active ingredient quantities and dry / wet proportions that I could then change to accommodate the ingredients I deemed worthy of inclusion.
Though I have shelves full of recipe books, in the last few years I have turned to the internet as my primary source for recipe ideas.  When I used to pull down books, one-by-one, and search indexes for mention of certain ingredients or types of cuisine, I now google my recipe requirement and browse the results online.  I have favourite recipe-sharing websites that I gravitate to – websites I find more comprehensive than others, with more healthy dishes and more filtering options to narrow my search results. 
The base recipe for my Berry Bran Muffins came from Recipezaar, a user-friendly recipe database that allows people to browse or search by course, ingredient, cuisine, diet, occasion and preparation.  I used Recipezaar’s nutrition filters to set additional recipe parameters – in this case low-fat, low sugar and high fibre – and after scanning the recipes for potential, starting at the highest rated and working my way down, I decided on the Healthy Wheat Bran and Flax Meal Muffin recipe, posted by chef #508256, on June 11, 2007.  It used natural wheat bran – as opposed to All Bran cereal – incorporated flax seed and some Splenda already, and used ingredients that I had substituted for healthier options in muffin recipes before.

Nutrition Labels: Inspiration for Cilantro Lime Tilapia

I love going to the grocery store.  When I’m stressed and need to unwind, I stroll through the aisles, browsing and brainstorming, examining random items whose dietary claims (only allowed in Canada in 2003[1]) peak my interest that day.  I pick up bags and boxes, check ingredients, and look at the nutritional labels.
Nutrition labels became mandatory on most pre-packaged foods in the U.S. in 1990, but in Canada only in 2005 (following a 2003 ruling).[2][3]  Enforced, in Canada, by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the labeling regulations are

“…designed to provide a system for conveying information about the nutrient content of food in a standardized format, which allows for comparison among foods at the point of purchase. [The] clear, uniform information should support consumers . . . by permit[ting] dietary management of chronic diseases of public health significance, and [by] help[ing] them make food choices that may reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases.”

Labeling requirements in the United States are based upon the same principles as those in Canada, exposing key factors in the healthiness of a product that may otherwise be unapparent to the consumer.  Guidelines govern label contents, placement, size and font, and specify if additional ingredient information must be listed on the package.  Neither country mandates labels for most raw, unprocessed and unwrapped produce, meat and fish, but encourages companies to give nutritional information when packaging allows.  Even on products that are processed only in ways that don’t change their ingredients, the little white and black labels are helpful for those wishing to learn about new foods.  They are easy to find and read, even relative to researching with an iphone application, and I frequently find myself thus inspired to try foods shown to be good for my health.
            I was in the frozen fish aisle at Trader Joe’s, my favourite grocery store in Boston, when I first discovered Tilapia.  Vacuum-sealed in clear plastic, it had no other packaging save a nutrition label and price tag on the back – which first caught my attention.  The price per weight was low compared to the fish I usually bought (sole or salmon), and so I grabbed a small package and tried it that night for dinner.  Tilapia, I concluded, is not only extremely lean, but has a pleasant texture that is firm yet flaky, and a mild – almost bland – flavour, that beseeches and accommodates a variety of flavours.  Though best eaten fresh, I found that Tilapia freezes well and thaws quickly – making it perfect to have on hand for a quick, healthy dinner.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Pizza Inspiration: Forno la Renella

It was mid September, just after noon, I was hungry, and it was hot in the studio.  I’d been sketching all morning in a third floor room in the school’s building in Trastevere (Rome) and was restless to get out and enjoy the beautiful weather.  I grabbed my keys and purse, jogged down the cool, dark, stone stairwell, and emerged from the large wooden doors into the Piazza di Sant’Apollonia and the brilliant mid-day sun.  I set off down Via del Moro to my favourite Forno (bakery) to see what fresh daily pizzas they were serving.           
The Forno la Renella was always a hub of activity around lunch time – an anomaly on the winding, sleepy street – as it was a well-known local favourite.  Though they baked cookies and breads there as well, they were famous for their pizza.  They commonly had half a dozen different kinds of pizza ready to eat and even served pizza bianca (simply dressed in olive oil and salt) as the based for sandwiches.
The daily pizza was something I’d never seen before, but had heard was a seasonal specialty – Fiori di zuca with anchovies.  Though I’d made a habit of trying a different kind of pizza every time I visited the forno, and desperately wanted to try this new pizza, I could not bring myself to eat anchovies – one of the few foods I absolutely can’t stand.  I ordered the potatoe pizza instead, as my friend – a real potatoe lover – had had strongly recommended it to me.
A few weeks had passed and I returned to the forno, after conceding to try the any pizza at least once before passing judgment.  After surveying the pizzas of the day, I disappointedly asked why they were not serving the fiori di zuca pizza.  My question was met with a shrug and a quick response in broken English - “No more. Next Year.”  The season had passed.  What flowers still remained were now on their way to becoming squash.
I left the forno empty handed that day, frustrated with myself for not seizing the opportunity to taste the pizza earlier.  Eating a sandwich by the fountain infront of the studio, I thought about how different food was in Italy compared to back home in Canada.  I couldn’t remember the last time a restaurant didn’t serve a dish because it was out of season:  they would have just bought the ingredients at a grocery store or had it shipped in from the US and served it year-round – regardless of its freshness.
The next day I walked back to the Forno la Renella with a new appreciation for what they make there.  Though I was still sad that I’d missed trying the pizza, I knew it meant that there would be new pizzas to try – with new seasonal, fresh toppings.  To eat the ingredients out of season wouldn’t have done them justice, wouldn’t have shown them off in all their glory.  The season had changed, the menu had changed, and that became the first day I tasted pizza with pears – my new favourite.

Seasonal sales and paying for quality (Pizza, Cost)

Though my first experience with thin-crust pizza was buying it from a Forno in Italy, at a time when I didn’t have the time or resources to make something so delicious for myself, I recognize – even more now that I make my own pizza – that their margin of profit was enormous.  The crust – mostly white flour with a bit of egg and salt – costs mere pennies per serving, and the toppings – sourced from local producers when possible – avoid most shipping and import fees.  The cheese and meat components contribute most to the cost, but as Cheese Shops (Formaggi) and Delis (Salumeria) are more plentiful in Italy than anywhere else in the world, even those costs were significantly less than in Canada.
In Canada, and specifically in Ontario, where I was born, good quality locally-made cheeses and meats are scarce.   In Niagara, Pingue’s Proscuitto (also known as Niagara Specialty Foods) is the only – and fortunately Ontario’s best – producer of cured meats.  Though the business is local, the Pingue brothers’ growing popularity and near monopoly allow them to charge high prices typically reserved for specialty imported products – starting at $5.90 and $8.90 per 100 grams for prosciutto and bresaola beef, respectively. That said, the meats produced by Pingue exude such flavour impact that less is required for substantial effect on a pizza.  The quality is certainly worth the cost, especially when given the opportunity to support skillful local artisans.
I find it more difficult to find quality cheeses made in Niagara.  Though there are few producers – the largest being Upper Canada Cheese, which carries only a limited selection of generally mediocre-quality cheeses – Niagara, with its growing wine and tourism industries, is certainly not short on cheese shops.  Most stores’ refrigerators are well-stocked with Quebec cheeses, specialties from Monteforte, a cheese maker outside of Stratford, Ontario, and a wide variety of cheeses from Europe.  Prices range from $3.00* to $20.00* per 100 grams, depending on age, name brand, and place of origin.  Good cheese shops allow clients to taste before buying, and I find that allows me to make better judgments on how much money I need to spend to get the right amount of sharpness or smoothness to compliment the rest of the toppings on the pizza.  Generally, the stronger the cheese, the less that is required, but the higher the price.  Mild or unripened cheeses can be less expensive, but more is required to stand up against more flavourful toppings.
Other than meat and cheese, the rest of the pizza toppings are inexpensive – especially when bought in season, on sale, at the market – like I tend to do.  One of my favourite Saturday activities is going to the local market and seeing what produce is most plentiful – and thus least expensive – that week.  Frequenting the market certainly has its benefits, as vendors are more likely to throw in extra items and give deals to the people they see returning week after week: repeat business is good business.
In total, homemade thin-crust pizzas cost between $0.50 and $3.00 per serving – a fraction of comparable quality restaurant pizza.  Frozen grocery store pizzas may be similar in cost, but are generally made within the bounds of what maximizes mass-production efficiency, cost-cutting and shelf life, rather than quality and connection to the environment.  The time cost, making the pizza from scratch, in my mind is worth every “penny.” 

The story of the wild blueberry

“Plants, it turns out, are a lot like people. It typically takes some kind of challenge to bring out the best in them.”

Though evolutions in agriculture bring us many advantages – increasing seasonal yield by reducing losses due to disease and insects, and enhancing the size, visual uniformity, and thus the marketability of a higher percentage of produce – they can also, in some cases, take away from the product’s natural health benefits.  Cultivated, commercial foods are pampered relative to their wild equivalents – and have no need for natural defenses to limit their size and boost the nutrient concentration that makes them so valuable to our diet.  The flavonoid-rich blueberry – proven to reduce cellular damage and the effects of aging, improve cardiovascular and brain functioning, and reduce the risk of cancer – is a perfect example. 
Mary Ann Lila, a plant scientist at the University of Illinois who has been focusing her research on the nutritional compounds in berries, stresses the importance of abiotic stress – including drought, extreme ultraviolet radiation, or cold temperatures.  "Modern breeding focuses on qualities to attract the consumer.  When we increase the size of a fruit, it is at the expense of the secondary components that would be greater in the wild plant" – particularly in northern climates, Lila explains, where the harsh growing season produces berries with flavonoid concentrations equal to medicinal, “nutraceutical” values.
Such plant adaptations are also sympathetic to the needs of the inhabitants of the area, and further the argument for eating food found locally.  Before grocery stores began shipping and stocking foods from all over the world, people were forced to glean sustenance from the land – a difficult task in northern parts of the country.  The naturally occurring, higher doses of nutrients found in local wild produce, however, help supplement, through quality, the reduced quantity in those climates.
Lila is just one of a number of scientists working to convince the public that bigger is not always better.  Rather than genetically modifying produce to be larger and resilient to disease, they seek produce that is healthier – even if aesthetically impaired.  Using precedents from viticulture – namely the infection of grapes with botrytis to heighten flavonoids levels more than tenfold in neighboring, disease-free fruit – scientists and farmers are developing produce that is even higher in nutrients than their wild counterparts.  The next step is promoting awareness of their inner – rather than outer – beauty.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Abstract - Revised

"The gastronomic must no longer serve as mere metaphor for the arts, but must take its place among the muses."

Weiss, Allen S. "Culinary Manifestations of the Genius Loci." Eating Architecture. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 2004, pp. 25.

Isidore of Seville, in his seventh century work Isidori Hispalensis Episcopi Etymologiarum sive Originum, reminds us of the relationship between cuisine and reason:  he etymologizes the word sapiens (wise, rational) and proposes sapor (taste) as its source, explaining that “just as the sense of taste is able to discern the flavours of different foods, so too is the wise man able to discern objects and their causes since he recognizes each one as distinct and is able to judge them with an instinct for truth.”  Taste, defined as such, is the interdisciplinary means for assessing and appreciating all that exists – and thus the instigation behind creativity and change.
At its base level, taste is intuitive: in our search for survival, we must sense what is good to eat, and in our pursuit of pleasure, we must discriminate.  This primary stage of assessment is what Brillat-Savarin, the 18th century philosopher who founded the field of gastronomy, refers to as the “first perception.”  The next level, the “first impression”, occurs only after the object is “well-chewed,” after we recognize the depth and range of “flavours” the object possesses.  Comprehension arouses a level of “personal judgment”, in which the flavours we perceive are weighed on our individual scales of pleasure and pain.  Taste, therefore, cannot be forced upon us, but must rather arise out of intuition, be formed by experience, and developed over time through practice.
Naturally, therefore, I turned to another field of interest to develop my sense of taste – gastronomy – after I found limited opportunity to practice architecture, my academic field of study.  As opposed to my current position in the architectural practice, in the kitchen, I have complete license to be the designer, the craftsman and the client, all at once.  As the designer, I take stock of the tools and ingredients available, and find creative ways to accommodate both personal preference and nutrition.  Interactions and connections with suppliers aid my search for sustainable resources, and the insights they offer help me create a composition to maximize the performance and aesthetics of the ingredients.  As the craftsman, I draw on self-taught skills and learn new skills to create the proposed dishes, but, more importantly, take time to dwell on each ingredient, and contemplate the potentials embedded in it – for, in the words of Richard Sennet in his book The Craftsman, all of my “efforts to do good quality work depend on curiosity about the material at hand.”  As the client in the kitchen, I set parameters before cooking, and taste the results after.
The dishes that come out of my kitchen are expressions of both my personal taste and my world.  My methods are revealed by my recipes – or lack thereof – and illustrate how and when I incorporate nutrition, personality, community responsibility and delight.  This “recipe book” is the story of how practical experience – even if in a different discipline – develops our sense taste, and how cooking can inspire and enrich architecture.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Pizza - Generating Seasonal, Personal Recipes

Below is a chart I generated to illustrate my thinking when designing pizza to suit the season and the person coming for dinner.  It is almost complete - I just need to fill in the pictures on either side, create a legend and show references.

Blue = Peak Season (field)
Green = Peak Season (greenhouse)
Yellow = Available locally, fresh.  Not Peak Season.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Squash Soup - Nutritional Values, Before and After

Below is a comparison of the soup recipes’ basic nutritional value before and after I altered the ingredients.
I found a great website for calculating nutritional value of recipes and generating labels for them. As it's the recognized method of reading nutritional info, and as I'm comparing the before/after stats of the soup and discussing my method and reasoning, I thought it appropriate to graphically represent my findings this way.

Original                                            Revised

Squash Soup - Local, Seasonal Sourcing (unedited)

The original squash soup recipe was created at Treadwell, a Farm-to-Table restaurant – not a new type of cuisine, but rather a revisiting of an old one.  Though it began out of necessity – country folk eating only what they could produce themselves, barter for, or buy at the local market – it was recaptured in the last few decades by a generation of Europeans (and more recently, Westerners) seeking to reconnect with the land and rebel against internationalism.  Bolstered by recent publications, such as the Omnivore’s Dilemma and Fast Food Nation, and promoted by organizations – Slow Food and CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) networks, for example – there is an emerging mandate to know and appreciate where foods come from. 
Farm-to-Table chefs commercialize that desire.  By relying on local artisans and fresh seasonal produce to determine the menu, and by preparing and plating the foods simply to preserve the sensual impact of each ingredient, chefs showcases the best their region has to offer.  Treadwell maple-roasted squash soup does just that.
A reoccurring daily soup special from September to December – prime squash season in Niagara – maple-roasted squash soup celebrates the vegetable’s best qualities.  The roasting helps convert much of its starch into sugar, reduces water content, and thus heightens and concentrates its flavour.  Its natural sweetness is further augmented by the maple syrup that caramelizes in the oven, the apples – another seasonal ingredient – and by the salt used to enhance via contrast.  The creamy texture of the soup helps it coat the inner surfaces of the mouth and throat and allows the eater to fully experience the soup by stimulating more taste buds and by having better access to the olfactory receptors.
My maple-roasted squash soup recipe gained international recognition when I served it in the North House, on the National Mall in Washington D.C..  The dinner party was one of the events at the 2009 Solar Decathlon, a semi-annual solar-powered house competition.  The meal was to be cooked and hosted in the house, according to the rules, and was to be consistent with the (self-imposed) North House objective to represent a healthy, environmentally sensitive, Canadian lifestyle.  The revised soup recipe was a perfect fit: it was nutritionally balanced yet tasted of indulgence, used ingredients locally sourced and seasonal in both southern Ontario (where North House was designed and built) and Washington D.C., and featured maple syrup, a trademark Canadian product.

Squash Soup - Methodology (unedited)

To improve the original soup recipe and to make healthier, I first identified its key attributes – sweet, creamy, and smooth – and areas for improvement – high fat and sugar content, timely preparation.  I then analyzed the flavour and texture, used knowledge gained in previous experiences to judge what quantity of fat and sugar were necessary to maintain those attributes, and proposed potential substitutions to attain the same effect while adding nutritional value to the soup. 
To reduce fat, I reduced the amount of grapeseed oil used to roast the veggies and, to prevent burning, used a slightly deeper roasting pan and reduced oven temperature.  This allowed the natural juices of the squash and apples to prevent them from sticking to the pan.  I also replaced the heavy whipping cream (37% milk fat) with a blend of half and half (10%) cream and skim milk (the two types of milk I had on hand at the time) to achieve approximately 3% milk fat – the minimum percentage before the soup becomes watery.  
To maintain the creaminess of the original recipe – mostly from the heavy whipping cream – I added creaminess by, instead, using a higher speed on the blender, and blending in smaller batches.  This infused the soup with tiny air pockets that act like fat molecules to cushion and smooth out the suspended squash bits. 
To reduce the sugar, I reduced the amount of maple syrup used for roasting, and supplemented the sweetness by adding a roasted sweet red pepper – a bonus 30% of daily Vitamin C.  I eliminated the swirl of maple syrup used at Treadwell to garnish the soup, and replaced it with a sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper, as the contrasting spice accentuates sweet.
The preparation time was most difficult to reduce without compromising quality; by spending more time blending the soup, I eliminated the need to strain the soup afterwards, which balanced out the total time required.  In the end, I opted for a mass-manufacturing type of efficiency.  I cut down on total set-up, roasting, and cleaning by making double or triple batches, and freeze whatever isn’t going to be consumed in the following few days.  The soup maintains flavour and textural integrity extremely well in the freezer, and is convenient for meals or dinner parties at short notice.

Squash Soup - First Encounter

It was a cool day in late September and I’d been working at Treadwell for almost five months.  Treadwell is a “Farm-to-Table” restaurant in Port Dalhousie that specializes in local, seasonal fare.  In my search for inspiration and new insights into culinary design, I’d taken a job as a hostess there – frustratingly removed from the inner workings of the kitchen, but in a prime position to sample all aspects of the business.
The daily soup featured maple roasted butternut squash.  It was a famous favourite of the employees who, nearly every time it was made, ordered a bowl for themselves.  As the chef had the day off, his assistant had prepared the soup and was doling out free samples to staff.  A single white, asymmetrical bowl sat on the table just inside the door leading to front of house.  Yolk-coloured squash soup half-filled the bowl, crowned with a glistening swirl of maple syrup.  A handful of spoons lay beside the bowl on the table – an invitation for indulgence that was readily accepted. 
As my upper lip cleaned off the spoon and my mouth became coated in the silky, it became clear that the sweet substance was more confection than first course.  The seamlessly smooth texture of the pureed squash and the lingering aftertaste of maple and cream made the soup irresistible – and I went for a second spoonful.
Later that day, one of the serving staff emerged from the kitchen with a piece of white paper in hand – the recipe; the assistant chef was sharing secrets.  Before tucking the paper into her purse, she made a stop at the photocopier – opting to share her good fortune with others, including myself.

Squash Soup - Consideration of the Canada Food Guide and the Soup’s Nutritional Value

The Canada Food Guide is published by the Health Canada to promote “nutrient standards and the prevention of chronic disease.”  It is an evolving document that expands and shifts in response to new scientific discoveries and changing patterns in food consumption.
The newest version, published in 2007, is a marked change from its 1992 predecessor.  In addition to making general recommendations on daily intake of the four food groups – the standard content since first published in 1942 – a supplementary guide has been issued for First Nations, Inuit and M├ętis, to better reflect their cultural history and resources.  It has also been adapted to reflect preference for different ethnic foods, and is currently available in 12 languages – English, French, Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, Korean, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, Tamil and Urdu – to address shifting demographics due to the increasing immigrant population.  *
Health Canada has included a new online “My Food Guide” tool aimed at helping Canadians create personalized food plans. Though I commend the intent to address technological changes and the Internet generation, I found it too simplistic.  After entering my age, gender, and examples of foods I like from each food group, I expected a meal plan, perhaps a way of evaluating meals or recipes, or at the very least, a few examples of what a healthy day could look like for me.  My efforts, however, yielded nothing more than a customized PDF of the guide showing my food and activity selections.  “My Food Guide” should be more comprehensive to be of any real benefit – comparing current diet with the idealized diet, weighing caloric requirements against calories burned through the types of physical activities chosen, suggesting daily meal plans to accommodate personal nutritional needs and ways to eliminate what is unnecessary.
The revised Food Guide, however, already focuses more on foods to avoid and limiting the quantity of food consumed.  These changes were made in response to a 2001 Canadian Community Health Survey that found a 24% increase in the number of obese 20-64 year old Canadians (almost 2.8 million) in the previous 6 years.
A person aged 19-30 now has a daily recommended intake of no more than 2-3 Tbs (30-45mL) of non-saturated oils and, depending on activity level, 1900-2350 calories (for women) and 2500-3000 calories (for men) ages 19-30. *  A single serving of the squash soup recipe I obtained from Treadwells contains an astounding 33 grams of fat and 600 calories – necessitating some ingredient substitutions and adjustments to lessen its unhealthiness and thus increase my psychological enjoyment. 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

recipes and narrative outline

Maple Roasted Squash Soup
· Inspiration: The story of my first taste at Treadwell and how I appropriated the original recipe.
· Nutrition: How I made the original recipe healthier. A comparison of before/after and relation to daily nutritional requirements.
· Local Sourcing: Maximizes and enhancing seasonal fall foods in Canada/ trademark Canadian products. Used this recipe in Washington D.C. at Solar Decathlon dinner competition.

Peach, Basil and Comfort Cream Pizza
· Composition: Proportion of toppings to crust, balanced flavours, unique combinations of flavours
· Presentation: Balanced colours and textures of toppings, timing to ensure
· Local Sourcing: Variations on the 3 ingredients to suit seasons and personal tastes – show a progression, changing one ingredient at a time…

Tilapia with Cilantro Lime Sauce
· Nutrition: Low fat, Salt-free, Sugar-free protein
· Cost: Best value for fresh boneless, mild, “meaty” fish. Sauce costs next to nothing.
· Preparation: Poaching, light flaking for better sauce absorption
· Composition: sweet and sour flavour combination

Banana Blueberry Bran (Triple B) Muffins
· Nutrition: Sugar-free, fat-free, high fibre, anti-oxidant rich
· Preparation: Pre-prep of wet and dry, moistening, key to muffin preparation is what not to do (do not over-stir)
· Ingredient Properties: Regionally sensitive, highly concentrated nutrients of wild blueberries

Seasonal Salad with Honey Mustard Tarragon Vinaigrette
· Presentation: Aesthetically pleasing colours/textures layered/balanced on plate.
· Composition: Balanced sweet/sour flavours, flavour pairings
· Local Sourcing: Seasonal Ontario adapted for Washington D.C. – find similarities between available fresh produce and highlighting them.
· Ingredient Properties: Rich colours/textures of salad greens

Mulled Pears
· Inspiration: Mulled wine from Epicurean (cafe in Niagara), Grandma’s canning
· Ingredient Properties: Niagara Wine, fruit and canning Industries
· Local Sourcing: relationship with fruit vendor/grower at side of road.
· Presentation: served whole, simple, perhaps with ice cream.

Curried Chicken and Spinach Strudel
· Inspiration: Curried chickpea salad from Melville’s, greek pastry, ingredients available at home.
· External Parameters: pre-made, homemade, quickly prepared, warm finger food.
· Preparation: Thawing of filo, layering of filo, sealing of strudels - dealing with moisture, "adhesives", leakage, etc.

Snowman Soup

I remember, as a child, reading this poem on a tag attached to a Christmas gift of hot chocolate mix. Though I’ve since forgotten who gave me the gift, I still remember how the mug “Snowman Soup,” once prepared, not only warmed my fingers after a day playing in the snow, and warmed my body from the inside out, but how the warm sweet liquid also comforted me as it arose from someone caring about my well-being, someone wanting to put a smile on a little girl’s face. My positive feelings around the beverage were only amplified by the fact that hot chocolate is primarily composed of sugar and an invigorating rush would soon course through my veins as my body absorbed the shock of simple carbohydrates; for that reason, it was considered a treat when I was a child, and was subsequently something to savour.
This poem is over-sentimentalized, yet it reveals a popular belief that foods and beverages have the ability to influence physical and emotional well-being – if not by providing nutritional sustenance, than by making a special occasion out of breaking dietary rules, by unearthing positive mental associations, and by recalling fond memories of the past.

"Was told you've been real good this year
Always glad to hear it
With freezing weather drawing near
You'll need to warm the spirit
So here's a little Snowman Soup
Complete with stirring stick
Just add hot water, sip it slow
It's sure to do the trick!"
(author unknown)

Hot Chocolate Mix
Mini Marshmallows
Hershey Kisses
Candy Cane
- Put all ingredients into a sealable bag and give to someone you care about.

Let them eat cake?

The original French phrase 'Qu'ils mangent de la brioche' was most reliably referred to by French Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), a key figure in the Enlightenment in France, in Book 6 of his 12-volume autobiographical work Confessions: “At length I recollected the thoughtless saying of a great princess, who, on being informed that the country people had no bread, replied, "Then let them eat pastry!" Though the phrase is frequently attributed to Marie Antoinette, the “great princess” Rousseau speaks of is more likely Marie Therese (wife of Louis XIV) – a better fit considering supposed time frame and context.

Apparently stated in response to news that famine had robbed French peasants of even their bread, the statement poignantly shows the pampered ignorance of the French monarchy at the time – if the people have no money or supplies for basic sustenance, surely replacing it with butter-laden dessert bread would be both impossible and ridiculous. Also implied, however, is the realistic ranking of delicacies and culinary non-essentials in the search for survival and happiness; the delight that comes from the sweet, rich treat (that which the monarchy was accustomed to and took for granted) pales in comparison to the greatest pleasure of all – the relief from hunger. Severe hunger doesn’t discriminate between nuances and qualities of food, but focuses, instead, on obtaining quantities of it.


“The gastronomic must no longer serve as mere metaphor for the arts, but must take its place among the muses.”

Weiss, Allen S. “Culinary Manifestations of the Genius Loci.” Eating Architecture. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 2004, pp. 25.

Isidore of Seville, in his seventh century work Isidori Hispalensis Episcopi Etymologiarum sive Originum, reminds us of the relationship between cuisine and reason: he etymologizes the word sapiens (wise, rational) and proposes sapor (taste) as its source, explaining that “just as the sense of taste is able to discern the flavours of different foods, so too is the wise man able to discern objects and their causes since he recognizes each one as distinct and is able to judge them with an instinct for truth.” Taste, defined as such, is the interdisciplinary means for assessing and appreciating all that exists – and thus the instigator of creativity and change.

The acquisition and development of taste can also cross between disciplines. Though I have no formal culinary training, I am keen, curious, and can cook with infinite artistic freedom as often as I like; conversely, I am educated in architecture, but have limited opportunity to practice what I’ve learned. As both architecture and the culinary arts stem from judgment and invention – and as even architecture students need to stop working to eat – cooking has naturally become my daily outlet for expression and experimentation.

In the kitchen I can be the designer, the craftsman and the client, all at once. As the designer, I consider the tools and ingredients available, and find creative ways to accommodate both personal taste and nutrition. I interact with suppliers in my search for sustainable resources, and determine their proportion and composition to maximize performance and aesthetics. As the craftsman, I draw on self-taught skills to create the proposed dishes. More importantly, however, I first investigate what potentials are embedded in each ingredient – for, in the words of Richard Sennet in his book The Craftsman, all of my “efforts to do good quality work depend on curiosity about the material at hand.” As the client, I set parameters at the beginning and evaluate the results at the end.

The dishes that come out of my kitchen vary according to my resources, requirements and appetite. They are expressions of my personal taste and yet reflections of my world. My recipes are dissections of methodology – a self-integrated design process – and illustrate how and when I incorporate nutrition, community responsibility and delight. Ultimately, this “recipe book” is the story of how architecture has enriched my cooking, and how cooking will make me a better architect.