Living Together

This week I am cooking Roman. It usually evokes images of toga clothed men lying around the table, feeding themselves as young birds with wide open mouths, holding up bunches of grapes. An image that for me as a Dutchman rhymes with the Dutch way of eating salted herring.


For the Dutch this tradition might have been born out of pragmacy, visitors to the lowlands look at it with slight disgust. “For goodness sake, that herring is raw, and then to slide it down your throat as herrons or seagulls….”

Roman grape eating has almost the opposite connection, that of decedancy. Part of a jetset lifestyle, we think.


But that is how we look at it with our modern eyes. I wonder what the Romans would have made of our dinner parties.
There is something rejective about those reactions to the Dutch herring ‘happen’ and the Roman banquet. That is something the Romans wouldn’t have liked. The called their banquet a convivium, a ‘living together’.

I find modern food culture more and more that of an exclusive one. New European legislation on allergy advice have made a menu in a restaurant almost more about what you can’t eat then about what the restaurant is offering.
I know Oren is only covering a niche market, because more and more people describe themselves as picky eaters.  The food they choose to eat is used as part of their identity, a way of setting them apart from everybody else, instead of ‘living together’, joining in.


When I was a child I hated green beans, because we had them every monday. Now I love them in a good salad Nicoise. I couldn’t stand raw tomato, I melt now when I smell a perfect ripe example. Recently I was given a jar of honey so good,  I had a teaspoon as a treat every day. My 14 year old self would have looked at it with disgust.
Only with real allergies the rejection of food is a physical thing. For the rest it is a mental switch. And as soon as you have made it, you can discover a world of flavour you might have been excluding yourself from.

I am convinced it is better to live together with the world and all its possibilities, then to distance yourself from it. So for all of you who do and don’t like honey, here is finally something the Chinese didn’t invent, but apparently the Romans,  a cheesecake.


Seeds of Change

This morning I heared somebody on the radio describing February as a month of nothing, and I couldn’t disagree more. In olden days this was the month the farming year started. Farms would change hands, or rents would be renewed. A month of cleaning out and getting ready. When people were counting moons instead of looking in their diaries, this was the time of the new year.


There used to be a pagan festival of light at the beginning of February, in the middle of winter. Christianity turned it into Candlemas, on February 2nd , 40 days after Christmas. The celebration of the Light outside found a form in the blessing of the church candles.
Pagans baked round cakes, symbolising the return of the sun. This tradition still lives on on Shrove Tuesday, which is part of the Carnaval period. And that is Partytime!, look at Venice, Brazil or New Orleans. This might be why eating pancakes always seem to be a feast.


Yes, this is the middle of winter, a time when there used to be nothing left to eat, and the scarseness of Lent is still to come, but the Light is there, so ‘let’s party’.
I am with the Chinese on this. For them the New Year is only starting just now, and it is the biggest party of the year. So a Chinese menu at Oren this week, with 8 (lucky number) dishes, long noodles and red cooked chicken wings.


After the party it is time to plan your farming year. Get the seeds of the crops you want to grow ready. What do you want to achieve in your life this year? Start thinking now. Sow your Seeds of Change. They will germinate during lent, and will rise from the ground at your own Easter.
A recipe for some Cumin and Caraway Seed Biscuits here, so you can nibble on them while pondering. I would use Aniseed instead of Cumin.But that depends if you like it more sweet than spicy!

By orencaernarfon Posted in food