Monday, August 02, 2010

A banana is Burt

Last week, my friend Debra threw a party and I baked this spelt-olive oil-rosemary cake from Good to the Grain for the occasion. Naturally, I worried about bringing a spelt-olive oil-rosemary cake to a party, but reports had been good and I trust Kim Boyce. Plus, this was a crowd -- kombucha-loving females of Marin County, California who met in a spin class -- that might actually embrace an alternative cake. Not that I would EVER stereotype.

The cake was easy to make because you don't have to deal with butter, i.e. no creaming or melting. Two bowls and into the oven it went in about 4 minutes. Cake was unfrosted and firm and traveled well. I brought some creme fraiche for garnish, though I now think whipped cream would have been better, or nothing. As you can see, the cake also contains dark chocolate chunks. I would have preferred it without, but am alone in this aversion.

Although no one at the party took seconds, everyone praised the cake -- which was exotic in flavor, moist, austere, not very sweet. Someone said, "You outdid yourself!" which made me glow. On the face of things, a hit. Certainly not a flop. But for me, at least, there was something quietly wrong.

When I got home I lay in bed and started analyzing what I didn't love about this elegant, arresting dessert. I realized I didn't like this cake as a person . I think I may have still been a little drunk. But it became clear to me, lying there in the dark, that I subconsciously assign genders and personalities to foods. All foods. Steak is an alpha male in his thirties, roast beef is an alpha male over fifty, and potatoes are their brutal, stupid henchmen. Roast pork loin is a pompous bald man, peas are eunuchs, bread is a monk, ice cream in a cone is a fun gay guy, but in a dish is a sensible middle aged woman. Pie is a grandmother, but the kind of grandmother who has too many grandchildren and can never pay specific attention to any one of them. Chocolate chip cookies are tomboys and ginger snaps are great aunts. Dark chocolate is Bea Arthur, milk chocolate is my mother, an uncooked hot dog is Ricky Gervais. Et cetera.

I'm telling you, it was weird! But I don't have to tell you. Here's my question: does everyone subconsciously do this? And if so, do your food personalities match mine at all?

Anyway, I hadn't met this spelt-olive oil-rosemary cake before nor anything like her, so it took me a while to figure her out. And the cake is a her, though that was somewhat unclear at first because she's handsome, angular, and wears drag. I'm fine with all that, but what I didn't like was her hauteur. When I tried to engage with her, she remained cool and contemptuous, perhaps enjoying my bourgeois confusion? I decided I don't want to have dinner with her again, but if you think you might, the recipe is here.


  1. never really have thought of foods as people, or articulated that i do so, but i know exactly what you mean about all of your descriptions, they're right on the mark, and i think i have reactions to and feelings about foods as if they were people as you described. of course it often corresponds to how much i like the food, but not always. for instance i love camembert, but i don't love camembert. but i never would have put it that way, which is why you are a spectacular writer/observer!

    if i could only pick five friends they'd be
    1. potato chips
    2. greek salad
    3. banana split
    4. salami
    5. beer

  2. Interesting... I've never really thought about the analogy that far through, but I totally know what you mean. I wonder if you would like the cake more if you tried it at least once more without the chocolate? Those angular chunks that scream of the desire for dessert sophistication might be the equivalent of the extra jewelry that some women wear on a night out, making them look trashy when they're trying to look sophisticated...

  3. I do this. I think of my food as personalities at a party, and how they would complement/conflict with each other, what sort of party it would be . . . this happens mostly with cheese, but with other foods as well. I think your steak description is apt, but I think it can also be an oversexed older woman in fantastic shape.

  4. I subconsciously assign genders and personalities to foods. All foods. Steak is an alpha male in his thirties, roast beef is an alpha male over fifty, and potatoes are their brutal, stupid uncooked hot dog is Ricky Gervais. Et cetera.


    This is memorable writing.

  5. The chocolate chip cookie is Miss Congeniality.

  6. You should spend more time alone. This is good stuff! Funny. I do the same thing, but rarely assign gender, just personalities.

  7. This was so fun to read. This cake has been on my list to bake, but your assessment might articulate what has been holding me back...the closest I could get to describing my hesitation was "too snobby" to combine olive oil and rosemary in a dessert when really what everyone wants is chocolate cupcakes.

  8. I was concerned about this cake, too. Thanks for letting us ALL know that it was, well, "meh". My foodie friends (who I would be serving it to) would probably hate it.

    I love how you give personalities to your food, too. :)

    BTW: The "GttG" carrot cake spelt muffins were good, but needed more sugar and melty butter on top. Mmmmm.

  9. I love dark chocolate as Bea Arthur.

    My food has feelings, but not actual personalities.

    My letters and numbers have personalities though. Alot of them are almost too subtle to explain, I guess closer to a feeling or mood to go with each letter-- some cheery, some uncooperative, some beautiful.

    Like I'm not crazy about five. It's so brash, and prime. And it is so fancy the way it counts so rythmically. 5, 10, 15, 20....

  10. I've never in my life thought of assigning human personalities to food...but how wonderful and hilarious to read about it.

    The cake sounds like my kind of girl. Actually, I've been intrigued by this whole book and keep meaning to look for it.

  11. The line about the ice cream made me giggle out loud. So spot on.

    I don't anthropomorphize food, but I definitely do it with plants. Like Mean Mr. Mint who bullies everyone around in the herb box.

  12. Georgia Jewel8/3/10, 5:55 PM

    I've never thought of food as a person but I can definitely understand it. Excellent post. I'm glad to see you more regularily again.

    How are the baby goats?

  13. I think you meant A banana is Bert, as in Ernie. Unless you meant Burt Reynolds. But he's more of a chili burger. Or Burt Young, who is a roasted onion. Or Burt Bacharach, who is lemon chiffon.
    -- Honestly, though, this entry should be in the New Yorker or something. Not that isn't an elite publication itself.
    Great post.

  14. Brilliant stuff, Tipsy. I agree with all your personifications, though I do think roast beef can be a little sexy; think Brendan Fraser.

    For me, it's more like a dish or a menu or a dinner scene will invoke either someone I know personally -- a lost love, say, or someone I despised in 4th grade -- or an artist or a character from a novel or a play. There is a certain coconut cake with a layer of passion fruit that is Blanche DuBois. The other night someone was drinking cognac and he became William Holden. If I'm out dining alone and feeling ridiculous, I order a Pernod and I'm Jean Rhys.

  15. But what food are you???

    I think I'm a lobster roll. Or at least, I'm trying to become one.

  16. Well, I read the title wrong, and thought it said BURNT. I was puzzled at the photo, thinking to myself "it looks all right to me, not too brown, but maybe on the bottom...". Then I read the post, and realized my mistake. And laughed hysterically. I don't think I could eat if I thought my food had personality or feelings. I have a hard enough time when the fish is looking at me.

  17. Hot wings are a 30-year old guy who lives in his parents' basement and works part-time at his brother-in-law's auto parts store so he has time to pursue his dream of making it in professional softball. He'll probably never make it, but I'll always love my little brother no matter what.

  18. Soju is a Korean rice whiskey and he is the devil, especially when he is consumed with his evil henchman--samgyeopsol (BBQ pork belly)
    Don't ask me how I know this....
    Ginny Lee

  19. You crack me up! Of course an uncooked hotdog is Ricky Gervais. You are so right, and just nailed why I don't like that kind of haughty dessert, either.
    If that banana is Burt Reynolds, then Loni Anderson must be two mountains of canned whipped cream.

  20. "an uncooked hot dog" ... eaten straight from the fridge.

    My god, I think I may be in love with you for that paragraph. Your writing makes me think of a less pompous Jeffrey Steingarten.

    Don't get me wrong - I love Steingarten. I sit at his feet in awe of his meticulous research and methodology, thought provoking topics and personal courage (dude. That pig slaughter essay was INTENSE.) And he is really, really funny. I so totally come to praise Caesar and not to bury him. But, undeniably: pompous at times.

    "Sometimes, I feel like a giant bluefin, my powerful musculature propelling me around the world in search of food"

    Oh, me too! Doesn't everyone feel like a big tunafish sometimes?

    ... anyway - I really love your blog AND Jeffrey Steingarten and I'm inspired by you to go write a Steingarten-esque post to my own blog. So thank you.