The Meat and Potatoes
She was Irish who taught me the phrase. Meat and potatoes. What people swear their very survival upon. The meat and potatoes are essential blocks that form the most basic nutrition. For others, the absence of the meat and potatoes render a meal embarrassingly incomplete. Being Chinese, I’m not Irish or even remotely European, so rice would be the meat and potatoes in my family’s house. I remember when my sister and I were young, we craved American foods like spaghetti and fajitas (both which are, interestingly enough, American interpretations of an immigrant’s homely culinary mark). The fajitas we made at first were never enough for my dad: chopped chicken, salsa, our unassuming orange cheese shredded in a small bowl apart from the rest because my mom would never have it near her, and some bite-sized vegetables to throw into the soft-shell envelope. We knew my dad would still be hungry after our fajitas because he’d make himself a bowl of instant noodles … then my mom picked up on that, and added rice to the filling options. His fajita is more or less the burrito in the family.
In many ways, meat and potatoes can sustain you. Take wages, for example. It can be said that the paycheque is what keeps the bottom line of your home/shelter/family solid and sturdy instead of wobbly and dotted. Which puts another meaning on bringing home the bacon! (Begging the question: can you have bacon and potatoes as a meal? Bacon chards dispersed in a hearty heap of mashed potatoes, yes I can imagine, but piled up crispy, next to some potatoes? Is that acceptable? I’d have to taste it to believe it …)
Alright, if meat and potatoes sustain and complete and necessitate a meal, what are the meat and potatoes for food writers? I assume you may be one, if you’ve been visiting my blog — and thank you to each and every one who do drop by! Let’s face it though. Often we writers get stuck, indigested, constipated, for lack of cleaner imagery. At that point, do you pull out a handy file of tried-and-true recipes to write from? Or maybe this is when you stray from the conventional and seek out a new meal, a new experience, an avant-garde kind of edible that will distract readers from the pedantic meat and potatoes.
I have two essentials to my meat and potatoes of food writing, one of which is the food photography. Blogs which I think are well done have much to do with how appealing their visuals are, because they make you want it, and more of it! Just look at this! Eat me! Kind of like your eyes calling for your stomach, isn’t it? Similar to how our olfactory button signals us to salivate, once you smell that earthy scent of fried onions mingled with a stewed beef wafting from the restaurant seats to the line of waiting customers where you impatiently stand.
I also try and compose prose that is more than sharing a recipe. There are lots of websites that have much more qualified cooks than I am, who can share and critique the best recipes from cold Borscht to beef Wellingtons. To help with get the prose right, I’ve taken to reading the masters. Ruth Reichl. M.F.K. Fisher. Writers who fed their readers with their words, like a crumb trail eventually leading you to some sort of eating establishment where you can satisfy what these marvelous writers awakened in your appetite. They do more than make you hungry, standing impatiently in line at a restaurant on a Friday after 7:00pm. They entertain, perhaps even intrigue and surprise you with their stories. Something that waiting in line at a crowded restaurant cannot guarantee.
Just as making meat and potatoes takes practise and innovation and the feedback from an enduring dining companion, same goes for food writing. There are plenty dinners I have not written about because they were flops or plain bizarre. In hopes to deliver food writing that will be the steak Caesar salad for summer, the perfect potpie for rainy days, the glazed-and-stuffed turkey for holidays, I hope this blog will keep your appetites.