BEYOND FOOD:

from dream to palate

by
Rima Nickell

 


(We're proud to announce the addition of "Beyond Food" to the pages of thedetroiter.com. Look for Rima Nickell's recurring column in this space. - Eds.)

Like my foraging distant ancestors, I am preoccupied with food, seek it everywhere, and find it in familiar and in unlikely places. As a 21st century woman, I am passionate about food. It must be the best: the freshest, most beautiful I can find, exquisitely prepared and eaten with good friends, savored and lingered over every last moment.

Food need not be costly or extravagant to be the best, nor served on fine china and linen. The ingredients may be humble and inexpensive, the dishes uncomplicated and quickly prepared but suited to the occasion. Memories of some best eating experiences do include a few very fancy restaurants, but the most memorable stem from a north woods rustic table of wild greens and venison in cabin sans electricity and plumbing; the rocky Maine coast where razor clams and periwinkles, gathered with friends at low tide, steamed on a bed of seaweed in an iron caldron; in a mosquito-net tent in northern Michigan slurping wild blueberry pancakes, drenched in butter and local maple syrup, just griddle-cooked on an open wood fire; and at our own family dining table, a summer supper of corn-on-the-cob, cold sliced-tomatoes, steamed, buttered summer squash, and green beans, all quickly hustled from backyard garden to stove and served with hot corn bread and just-brewed iced tea.

These memories nourish me time and again because they evoke moving images of people and cultures; places and special occasions; the sincerity and generosity of the hosts; the immediacy of the sensations -the aromas of food, wood fire and candle or bodies in a crowded restaurant; the feel of the food on the tongue, the textures, the flavors, the colors; the friends, new or old at your elbow or across the table; our feelings and what we talked about. And what brought all these together was the food.

By now you have discerned that "Beyond Food" is as much about how we experience food as what we consume. The food we eat, who prepares it, how we eat it, where and with whom, all affect who we are--our identity as members of families, communities and cultures. Food connects us to nearly every aspect of our lives.

Join me in an exploration of fabulous food from garden to kitchen to the table and picnic basket, to the art museum and the fashion dais—um, yes, wearable food.

We will celebrate the joys of food but travel even further "beyond food" to some of the lesser known aspects of food production and distribution that bring food to our table in a global economy. We will learn something about cheap prices and the real costs of "cheap" food.

But, best of all we will be championing many the great things happening on the food scene in and around Detroit: community gardens, community supported agriculture (CSA), Pick-Your-Own farms, harvest festivals and seasonal celebrations of local foods.

And, yes, there will be recipes. - Rima

For Rima's Column: Harvest Time - Discovering Winter Squash please click here.

Food Writer CV

"Beyond Food" was conceived during a prolonged family gustatory evening last May. Rima had been seeking a way to blend her experience as a writer and her passion for all aspects of food. Nick was open to trying a food column in thedetroiter.com.

As a journalist, Rima has worked for newspapers in Maine, Tennessee, Mississippi and Montana and co-authored The Insider's Guide to Glacier. Montana Magazine, Appalachian Trailway News, UpRiver-DownRiver and other periodicals have published her articles. She self-published Different and Better: A Handbook for Allergy and Alternative Cookery in 1982.

She calls herself a food adventurer because during her many travels and residencies in North America and Britain she makes a beeline for the market places, super markets, green grocers and local restaurants. She claims her earliest food memory-sitting alone in front of a bowl of cold oatmeal after everyone else had left the table—didn't warp her love for food. Overriding that feeling of abandonment were the aromas and comfort of warm, freshly prepared meals shared around the supper table by a loving family.

"I grew up in an Appalachian-immigrant family who moved north seeking jobs in Detroit during the Great Depression. When my parents moved to Cranbrook, where my father worked at the Cranbrook Institute of Science, the food traditions they brought with them were as distinctive as their Kentucky drawls. It was essentially a peasant diet: simple, healthful foods, made from scratch and freshly prepared, or home-canned by my mother, enlivened by hot cornbread or biscuits. It was not meat-centered as we had little money and no refrigeration those first years at Cranbrook."

Early exposure to Italian cuisine at the neighboring Vettraino family table, visits to the Eastern Market and international fairs in Detroit began expanding her food horizons, which keep growing.

"I've done just about everything you can do with food except wear it," she says. "I've bartered my food skills and offerings for rent, for knowledge and adventure." She has prepared meals in situations from a charcoal pit stove in rural Mexico, to portable propane field stove in Alaska's Brooks Range, to commercial kitchens and now is a personal chef, preparing custom gourmet meals for select clients.

As a home gardener, commercial market gardener, greenhouse and farm stand employee, and food educator at both elementary and college levels, it was a logical step to become a food activist. In the early 1990s, Rima joined the successful effort to incorporate conservation and sustainability measures into the 1995 Farm Bill by working with the Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture.

After traveling around North America, living in 14 states, Mexico and Canada, Rima has settled in rural Vermont where she still gardens, writes and cooks. But her time in Detroit last May rekindled so many memories and emotions, she has no reservations about writing a column for thedetroiter.com about the area where she grew up.

"I was impressed with the positive transformations I saw in all aspects of the city and the metro area. I was intrigued and inspired by the loyalty of people like Nick and his readers who seek ways to be active in fulfilling the promise of Detroit and I wanted to be a part of it. I look forward to sharing food experiences of the 40s and 50s in and around Detroit and informing them about many of the area's exciting current agricultural and culinary activities. I'd love to hear from readers about anything food-related."

Write Rima at beyondfood@thedetroiter.com.

This is the first of a recurring series. For Rima's Column: Harvest Time - Discovering Winter Squash please click here.


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