January 3, 2009

Feasting on Hemingway's Hunger

Hunger is good discipline and you learn from it.
--Ernest Hemingway, Moveable Feast

When Hemingway said that that cutting back on eating and drinking could make one write more--and better--it was obvious he didn't have a food blog with which to concern himself. While reducing the amount of food that we consume can, I found, sharpen one's focus with the pen, it certainly doesn't produce many exciting morsels for food writing. In other words, there is little room for creme brulee or wine sorbet or orange-walnut brie when adhering to such a regiment.

Which is why I've been a delinquent food blogger as of late, folks. But, don't blame me...blame dear ol' Hemingway.

I feel like I picked up Hemingway's Moveable Feast at a magic moment. The perfect moment. Kinda like when a guy sees his unknown twin brother from the window of his departing train and knows then, at that exact moment, that he is not alone. That he has another half somewhere out there in the world. That's exactly (and by "exactly" I mean "kinda") what my experience was like when sitting down to read Hemingway's collection of essays he wrote while a young-buck expat in Paris.

In the essay "Hunger Was Good Discipline," Hemingway tauts the mental benefits of cutting back on food. At first, I thought that such "hunger" would leave one in a constant state of want. I mean, doesn't "hunger" imply that there is a genuine lack of something considered necessary? When we delete the things we love, will we not mourn those losses? And, depending on what our bodies are made to do without (food?!), won't our bodies weaken...or die? These are questions I thought I knew the answers to before embarking on my own journey of Hemingway's brand of hunger.

First, before I begin sounding insensitive, allow me to clarify what I mean by "hunger" in this context. For many--MANY--we know that hunger is not a choice. To say that "hunger is good discipline" to someone who has no choice but hunger is nothing less than cruel and ignorant BS. Hemingway did not literally "go hungry" in Paris. Even though he wasn't exactly living the champagne-and-truffles life of a literati when he wrote these essays, he certainly had the means to provide (very) basic food for himself and his family. Unlike the way we usually speak about hunger, Hemingway's version of "hunger" was neither forced nor life-threatening.

What Hemingway meant when he said "hunger is good discipline" was that if we resist overindulgence in some realms of our lives, we can devote more focus and energy to other areas of our lives. In his case, he believed that cutting back on over-eating and over-drinking (Hemingway?!) would make him a more disciplined writer in a world where he had a LOT of brilliant competition. And, according to his essay, such a regiment seemed to work. He underindulged (like this new word?) in food so that he could overindulge in his art--and the art of others:

"[A]ll the paintings were sharpened and clearer and more beautiful if you were belly-empty, hollow-hungry. I learned to understand Cezanne much better and to see truly how he made landscapes when I was hungry."

When I began leafing through these essays in early December, I had already begun to change some of my eating and lifestyle habits on a whim. (I am a frequent whimmer, which means I might "whim out" of some of these habits soon. Ah, well.) I cut out dairy. I began eating more uncooked veggies. I started running. And, lo and behold, I had much more energy for reading and writing. Maybe that energy was born out of a refusal to overindulge--a sort of "hunger," a happy lack. (Or, maybe it was merely an end-of-semester spurt of optimism.) In any case, I was feeling very, very satisfied. So satisfied, in fact, that I had no desire to eat all of the tasty, buttery, melt-on-your-tongue holiday delectables that usually appear at work and home and dreams come mid-December. I was willing to sacrifice the taste of those treats for the taste other things.

I could get all new-agey and say that I was "present" or "in a metaphysical sphere wherein I finally got a chance to look at myself in the mirror & when I looked I waved not to myself but to my twin brother. From a train." But, no--all I'll say is that things were/are good...and maybe Hemingway's "hunger" deserves all the credit.

However, this blast of Good also left this blog a barren wasteland devoid of sweet delights, save my mom's pretty banana split poem. (Thanks, Linda Lee.)

So, where does this new-found hunger leave the blog? Same place it was before! Except, I'm not so sure you'll be seeing any deep-fried cupcakes or cream cheese pound cakes anytime soon. The gears are shifting, but the direction of the vehicle is still undetermined. Here are some goodies I am currently looking forward to experimenting with and blogging about in 2009, however:

-Yeast breads
-Veggie stews
-Homemade wine
-Vanilla extract
-Lavender-walnut whole wheat pancakes (nope, I'm not giving up on lavender just yet!)
-More food poems and stories!
-Veggie sushi
-Anything with turnips--my new favorite grab-and-go treat
-Stuff infused with tea--I'm thinking muffins, scones, etc.
-Anything with hominy
-Vegan ginger cookies with home-crystallized ginger bits
-Meatless cabbage balls (representin' Hungary!)

In conclusion, I apologize for forgetting about food in December. I was eating--don't get me wrong. But, I'm not so sure raw turnips (hellz yeah!), avocado on toast, or yet another bean burrito (can I get another hellz yeah!) was Moody Kitchen material.

I'm not going to leave this post without offering up something delicious for you to bake, however. Below is a recipe for Sparkled Ginger Cookies from Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Vegan with a Vengeance. I baked a big batch of these cookies, plus some pumpkin muffins, for my students during Final's Week.

Happy 2009, lovelies! (And congratulations to Grieve & Co.! I can't wait to visit you in your new home overseas.)

Sparkled Ginger Cookies
makes 2 dozen

-4 Tbs. turbinado sugar
-2 cups flour
-1 tsp. baking soda
-1/4 tsp. salt
-2 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
-1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
-1/2 tsp. ground cloves
-1/2 cup oil (I use olive)
-1/4 cup molasses
-1/4 cup rice milk
-1 cup turbinado sugar
-1 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease 2 cookie sheets. Place the tablespoons of turbinado sugar in a small bowl.

2. Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices.

3. In a separate large mixing bowl, mix together the oil, molasses, rice milk, sugar, and vanilla. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet and combine well. Roll into 1-inch balls, flatten onto a 1 1/2-inch-diameter disk; press the cookie tops into the turbinado sugar and place 1 inch apart on a prepared cookie sheet.

4. Bake 10-12 minutes, let cool on cookie sheets for 3-5 minutes, and transfer to cookie rack.


Breedale said...

YAY!!! I am so glad you are back. I have missed your posts and your smiling face. I got Veganomnicon for Christmas so we have some major experimenting to do. Yeast breads are my favorite so I would love to do a bread day with you. I love this post. I think it is a perfect post holiday mindset. I wish I could say I was as dutiful as you. Also, raw turnips? I made raw raviolis one time with them but the nut filling made them so good I didn't taste the turnips. You will have to fill me in on what you are doing to them to make them so good. Can't wait to get together and chat about food. Welcome back!

Hadley Gets Crafty said...

Where did Grieve and Co. go? I am so incredibly curious... Give them my congrats when you talk to them next.

I, too, have been eating lots of turnips, but I've been eating them in the yummy stew kind of way.

My next post is about indulgence - it will lay a lovely juxtaposition to yours about middle-way kinds of living.