March 30, 2012

Paniche? Piniche? Painich? Pinich?

The word is ‘paniche’ and I just spelled it wrong. I’m sure of it. As sure of its misspelling here, I am also sure that I cannot find the correct spelling. That fact alone has stopped me from writing about it for years. My grandmother always said it was Italian for fried bread dough but I cannot find evidence of this anywhere and now that she is passed so, it seems, is any information on this word.

Perhaps it is paniche, piniche, painich? Phonetically, it is pa- NITCH. In a family as large as mine, you’d think someone might know.  But when questioned, my aunts and uncles seemed as clueless as I was. One uncle pointed out the link to the French word for bread- le pain. After checking some resources, my aunt who is a librarian, wrote, “I think paniche could be an abbreviation of panicino--the "icino" being a diminutive suffix, as in dear "little" bread. And people just tend to shorten unfamiliar words when using colloquial speech.” Definitely a librarian response. Another uncle responded, “Maybe `panich' is an Italian swear word, like for when you burn your hand on a grease splatter?” Definitely a Lambert response.

And the recipe is as lost as the name is.  It might just be basic bread dough or basic pizza dough that instead of being baked in the oven in the traditional way is fried in pans of hot oil.  Whatever it is, my grandmother’s fried bread dough is far from the fried bread dough you find at county fairs smothered with confectionary sugar and fake maple syrup.  What she made was magical. What she made was perfectly airy fried dough formed into circles; crispy on the outside, light on the inside. It was always served with maple syrup, sausage and pickles. I was sure the sausage and pickles were there only to balance the sweetness with enough salt so that you could push in at least one more piece of paniche even after you thought you were done.

There was more to it than just the paniche though. There was the heat from the hot oil in my grandmother’s kitchen, the way it fogged up the kitchen windows, her red and black flowered apron tied around her body busy about the kitchen, her dining room table with the extra rough cut boards to extend its size so that it had to be moved from its normal place into the whole kitchen or at least to where it met the ‘kid table’. And around it was my family- my grandmother’s sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, and those honorary aunts and uncles who we did not realize were not actually of blood relation until we were much older.

She passed away eleven years ago and despite missing it and the recipe likely being a simple one, nobody has tried to recreate it. Recreating it might only disturb those memories of the way my grandmother brought her friends and family around her table on a Sunday morning because in the end, without her, it’s just fried bread dough and maybe living with the memory only is the best way to relive this particular food. 

March 12, 2012

Facebook Food

The Facebook craze is one that originated with college kids- early 20s students who pioneered the way the social network would later disseminate through to older generations.  I missed that time frame by a few years- in fact, scoffed at the way the few college kids I knew were sucked into the site.  Five years later, Facebook had found its way into the thirty, forty and fifty something generations and now is ubiquitous the world round.  The status updates of these generations are different than those of the pioneers, to be sure. They seem to range in topics from their pets, what their kids are doing, reactions to sporting events, grousing about something upsetting or offering a political rant and of course, there is the occasional confessional. Having long been interested in what food reveals about people and the role it plays in our lives- nutritionally, culturally, personally- the status updates that I have been most intrigued by are naturally the ones that focus on food. I have been able to discern several categories that the Facebook food posts seem to fall into and I’d like to explore a few of those below.

First and most overwhelmingly, there seems to be a sort of ‘state of the state’ type food post that is exactly what it suggests: what someone is eating; what they are doing right now. It can communicate a certain enthusiasm for food and life: “Avocado break!” writes one person. Or another person “…is starving and therefore is focusing on what to make for dinner...Sicilian Chicken? Kung Pao Chicken? Grilled Pork? The possibilities are endless...” And another in which food is linked to activity: “Sliced the crap out of my toe, banged the crap out of my knee, ate the crap out of a quesadilla.” andBruschetta, artichoke, smoked gouda and the bravado of The Magnificent Seven. Nice.” Or even grounding food in time and place: “Fun at the beach followed by homemade bruschetta topped with ricotta, tomato, basil, & white truffle oil...YUM!!” These posts are light and fun. But most of all, they are interesting in what foods people pair with what activities. Usually a break is for apples or coffee, popcorn or ice cream pairs with watching movies and maybe something easy like pizza after a beach day.

Some of my favorite food posts are the ones where the writer simply cannot contain their excitement over what they are eating. I have one friend, who likely doesn’t even realize the amount of posting about food he does. His excitement spans a broad range from comments on hot dogs: “Two McKenzie natural casing hot dogs at 3 in the morning? Why not...” and “Ok, so you can say what you want about your Hebrew Nationals or your Nathan's, but if I'm going to break down and eat a hot dog (or four), it's going to be a Mackenzie natural casing every time, baby.” And stretches to dessert items: “Rhubarb dipped in sugar and straight up rhubarb--both awesome.” and “I cannot even begin to describe how much I love pineapple upside down cake right now.” Or plain old zeal for odd combinations and followed by energetic proclamations: “If eating a loaf of garlic bread with BBQ mayo on it at 11:15 p.m. on a weeknight is wrong then I don't want to be right.” And “Cinnamon Toast Crunch with a handful of chocolate chips thrown in the bowl: The Next Level.” His words bespeak a simple adoration and love for food; we should all be so happy when eating.

Food is the broad strokes that paint our daily lives.  Here are a few images of the daily life. We’ll start with one about kids and food:  “Me: ‘What would you like for breakfast this morning?’ Dylan: ‘Oatmeal and broccoli please.’”  Then there is how food fixes: “A good husband says, "I hope you feel better." A great one delivers Taco King chicken soup.” Or illustrates the identity of someone else: “The papa here steams our lobster on the grill. Because he likes to...” Or show someone just loving it: “…is at Hen of the Wood. Cucumbers with creme fraiche, icicle radishes with Sea Salt, Opal Basil & Butter. Then crispy oysters! Rabbit livers and rabbit! Oh, and did I mention the champagne and after-dinner cheese course? Heaven!” Or how food makes you miss someone and want to snuggle in with family: “Making Grandpa Perry's pork chops and spaghetti, drinking an extra dirty martini and hanging with my mom!” or some thing: “Seriously missing the fresh pesto from the Lebanon Co-Op... really miss that grocery store...” Many posts communicate excitement for heading home: “It's a beautiful thing to be heading home and have your mom tell you she's making all your favorite foods...all for one meal. Mom is a rock star in the kitchen.” Or being with friends: “Just made black bean mango salsa and a garlic lemon orzo pasta salad with tomatoes, chick peas, spinach, artichokes, and feta. Ready for a beautiful afternoon with some beautiful friends!!!” And then there’s the first time posts: “Never made chocolate chip cookies at 5:45 am....first time for everything.” Or “Just made bleu cheese salad dressing for the first time. Fantastic.” To me, these status updates capture a much more interesting view of what is going on in people’s worlds.

As someone who was skeptical of the either mundane or- worse- overly emotional sharing that seems to be the principle action of Facebook, I thoroughly enjoy these food posts.  They make me think about how we use food to become happy or to express happiness, about how certain foods make certain friends happy. Most of all, many times these posts inspire me to cook and share- whether in real life or on Facebook- in hopes that someone else will be similarly moved.