Friday, February 18, 2011

Blue (a musing)

WARNING:  No perfume today.  Follow the bouncing ball.  A sketch from a sketchy brain.

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There we go.  Cheese.

Had to take a while to get to food.  Something food.  That's edible.  Even if that's mold I'm consuming.

"So in conclusion, {cough, look down at notes} my subjects were more willing to eat the food with the green dye than any other alteration {raise hand to point at bar graph}, and the blue food {brief pause, smile that might be a smirk flashes across face} was the least chosen."

Science fairs.  Ever been to one?  A sea of tri-fold upright poster boards, visible schisms between parent aided and student dependent projects, kids giving their spiel to visitors, kids bored out of their minds, kids totally distracted by their projects.

Next to talking to plants to see if they will respond to kindness (or, alternately, music), one of the most frequent themes and variations I have seen is playing with your food.  Specifically, messing with the color of it to see if one's subjects can be grossed out influenced in terms of preference.

"BLUE: the absolute worst.  I had blueberries all day.  And Gatorade.  Dinner was this gross blue ice cream I saw at Baskin Robbins.  This was so, so gross.  Most people tell me they started to worry because they were feeling sick just looking at the photos.  Blueberries aside, there is nothing blue that isn't synthetic.  And don't try to argue with me here.  There are 30 people that each said 'let me think, I know I can think of something blue for you to eat' and I would respond with 'no, really, you can't.' [...] I hated blue day.

"Diet Sunglasses" available at Yumetai
wear them to reduce your appetite
These words from Johanna's TokyoHanna blog.  Johanna's mind (and blog) wanders a lot of places; a girl after my own heart.   She undertook a week of monochromatic eating, which is, of course, the polar opposite of eating across the rainbow.  Nonetheless, there she was, and on the last day she was sticking with BLUE, not purple, because photography was an important element of her diary project, and the foods had to register as true blue.

Johanna was unhappy with the fact that there are not many "blue foods" to choose from in the first place.  (Fortunately for us rainbow thinking eaters, we can also find other foods fertile with flavenoids, such as cabbage, kale, spinach, asparagus, lima bean, garden peas...even onions.)

Hey, while we're here in blue food, have you ever come across that helpful diet "tip" that occasionally appears in women's magazines?  The one that says  when trying to lose weight, blue food and blue plates are your friend?  Of course, they were thinking more about our predisposition to avoid blue when it comes to food, not to the paucity of purpleness in food.  They're back at the science fair.

"Try this," he said, plonking a potato shaped object onto my plate.  "Go ahead; guess what that is."  My eight year old self searched her developing brain.  "A potato?," I ventured.  He looked a little disappointed.  "Wait; don't guess yet.  Taste it."  So I did.  "A potato?" I suggested again, this time more boldly.  This time, he was pleased and disappointed.  "Well...yes.  But don't you find it kind of mealy?"

Conversations with my grandfather often veered off into unpredictable directions, often just as much because we didn't talk all that often as the strange tacks they could take.  But produce was generally predictable.  And a topic of discussion every year we were both alive and capable of conversing.  He grew all his vegetables in his garden.  He was a man of patterns.  He would plant 4/5 of the garden with known favorites, and experiment in the rest.  My eighth summer was the first he first grew blue potatoes.  They became a kind of in joke between us, the innovation that wasn't an innovation--he had researched; turns out some scientist in a lab hadn't created the potato, they were an honest genetic strain--but a novelty item.  Because when it came down to brass tacks, they weren't the best potato, or even a good potato; they were just the purplest.

But he amused himself with them.  Many years later, when his granddaughter started her first garden, there was no doubt what kind of potatoes she would grow.

And when she had trouble with the novelty item that was supposed to be "perfect for growing potatoes," but most certainly was not, she avoided getting purple in the face but managed to let loose with some blue language she learned from her gardener grandpa.

No matter / How you slice it / It's still your face / Be humane / Use / Burma-Shave

I have enjoyed the sensory writings of Michelle Krell Kydd for a few years now.  Over at Glass Petal Smoke, she has written some beautiful pieces on things that smell and what smell does to us and for us.  Hers was one of those blogs where postings were infrequent, but almost always gems.  Then things slowed way down in 2010, and I wondered if we blogosphere attendees were losing her to other projects.

The worm turned.

She started a Twitter feed.  I followed.  And suddenly a mass of tweets about blue potatoes, an Oxo™ ricer, and an upcoming pie recipe.  While the onslaught of Burma shave like tweets was a little onerous, the promise of something insightful or beautiful or maybe both regarding blue potatoes kept me in the game.

Finally came the recipe.  And the pictures.  And my first two thoughts were, I know what the science fair kids would say.  And boy, is that purple.  (See post here.)  The flavenoid involved is apparently anthocyanin; while the Wikipedia article linked within the post explains that the "cyanin" part comes from the Greek for "blue," but you know that I am leaping across the Greek root and landing on another "cyan" word.  Yup, just like those smarty pants kids would.  Smirk.

Incidentally, some of those smarty pants kids would be telling me that if food is so good for you, why are there cherry pits and almonds, hmmm?  Because that's where cyanide comes from, you know, Teach.  Inevitable diversions into botanicals (digitalis, anyone?) and or misleading labeling (the mistake of equating "all natural" with "healthy for you," for example).

NONE of which is to suggest that the sweet potato pie recipe, which happens to be purple, and uses specific proprietary natural foods ingredients, is poisonous.  I'm just laying bare the easy associations my particular brain takes when the purple potato path is opened.  Also, perhaps, as additional warning that my brain can wander, even while focused.  As in...

The pie recipe calls for muscovado sugar.  Muscovado sugar is different from other raw sugars, like say demerara, because instead of being process via centrifuge and then having molasses re-added, it is allowed to dry in the sun.  Now, you combine "dry in the sun" and "musco-" and in the background, my brain is already seeing grapes in the sun and smelling a muscat. In the foreground is the question "why not call for a specific muscovado, but go ahead and specify a particular company's prepared Graham Cracker crust?"  I am disappointed to discover that my answer is related to the noise I find in Ebert's Amazon tweets.  But hey, I could be wrong.  And even if I was right, we all have the right to monetize as we see fit.

I miss the old posts, though, the ones that seemed to come from various paths of the heart and mind but didn't go down a highway in South Dakota toward Wall Drug.

In the interest of Science Fairs and fairness, I should point out that the pie is purple.  Not blue.  And I haven't made it or tasted it.  Not so sure how rosy the outlook is on me actually doing so.

My grandfather met my grandmother in South Dakota.  The purveyor of the blue potatoes and nearly every other thing he planted in his garden and yard used to be based in Yankton, South Dakota.  Cary Grant once dangled from the face of Mount Rushmore in a movie, and in the same movie, is menaced by a crop duster.  The Badlands wasn't just a movie, it's a heckuva place.  I kinda feel for Cary Grant.  Being lost in the Badlands would be awful.  Would I rather have a purple potato, or one from Idaho, if I were lost in the Badlands?  Can you stick two electrodes in a potato and power a compass?  

I miss my grandfather.  I miss my garden.  But the snow is melting, and I know I'll be turning over the soil in a couple of months.  This is the year I plan to introduce potato hills into the garden, something I haven't had since moving to the new house.  I'm looking through the catalogues, trying to find the right combination of options I know will do well in my climate, and a little something to experiment with.

I like experimenting.  I like it in my own life, in measure, and finding it in other places.  I like seeing the excited kids at the science fair, the ones who were able to find a topic they cared about, whose boards are maybe not beautiful, but whose minds are.  I like a person who says "why not?" to purple pie, and sets about making some.  Like most people, I have things I like, and things I don't like.

I know a compass uses a magnetic and not electrical current.  But my mind goes places.  Into the wild blue yonder and back again.  And again.  And again.


The Straight Dope on cheese, specifically blue cheese.

Pleasures of being diverted:  I found a recipe for Jack Daniel's Orange Zest butter.  Kid you not.  Though I suppose if ever we wanted to avoid the "appetite stimulating" spectrum of color, it would be when encountering butterfat.  Ah, well.  Maybe I'll pour a shot of JD and bake some blue potatoes tonight, all as a sort of half-baked homage to making the butter and the pie.  

Flavenoid food lists:  Care2, BBC

Bill Mitchell's Poynter Online article about Ebert's tweets, which Ebert tweeted a link to saying it supported his enterprise, but which I would qualify by saying it supports the action in that he is in the clear for doing so because he writes his own [advertising] copy, and is wiser to do his own rather than use a service such as Sponsored Tweets.  Which then becomes another numbers game, and a search for begetting followers as revenue stream rather than listeners ensues.  Folks who toil in online content and need to pay for shelter and food are, of course, interested in revenue streams, sooner or later.  

blue diet sunglasses found at Inventor Spot
cyanide bottle image at Firefighter's With Parkison's Disease
Deliciously Different Purple Viking potato image is my own, from the Gurney's catalog


Elisa Gabbert said...

I've bought baby purple potatoes a couple of times and they really are mealy. I avoid them now. But the blue potato chips you can get on JetBlue flights are quite good!

Anonymous said...

Never could resist Blue Corn Chips, simply because of the novelty value.

Darn it, I wish I had some of them now!

cheerio, Anna the Contrary, in Edinburgh

Furriner said...

I used to make a cornbread using blue corn flour... I should make it again.

I also have a South American cookbook with a couple of recipes using blue potatoes I have been curious to try and make.

ScentScelf said...

Elisa, I'm almost tempted to ride Jet Blue just for the chips. Now where to go?

Anna not so Contrary, you are picking up on a blue food theme I could sink my teeth into: salty crunchy snackstuffs. (Nice to see you back, btw.)

Furriner, is it fair for me to coax you into trying some of those recipes and reporting back? As for me liking blue corn flour...well, see my comment to Anna. ;)

Josephine said...

Potatoes are one of the unresolved quirks of my life. They tweak my texture issues and are either eternally undercooked (I have yet to eat a potato salad with adequately cooked potatoes) or burnt to a crisp.

I happen to like them burnt(dark and crispy around the edges, with just a bit of tender potato left inside), but no one else does. So unless I cook them myself, I'm screwed when it comes to potatoes.

And one can hardly go anywhere without encountering potatoes. Like chocolate. I'm not crazy about that either.

But cheese, I will experiment with freely. It's my thing. I exist to eat cheese. Cheese is the only proof I need of a Higher Power.

Perhaps cheese IS the Higher Power.

Just a theory.

Vanessa said...

I enjoyed this piece of purplish blue prose! : - ) I love blue tortilla chips too...

My brother used to be part of an eclectic dining set in Glasgow and each New Year's Eve he and some 12 of his oddest friends would stage an elaborate dinner party with a different theme each year. One year it was technology-themed food (my brother - somewhat tenuously - fashioned a circuit board out of spaghetti squiggles), and another year the theme was oddly coloured food, for I recall a few black submissions, while my bro made a bizarre take on iles flottantes which he named Blue Lagoon.

That pie is mad-looking!

Anonymous said...

Where *are* Blue Corn Chips hiding these days?

I'll even share if I find some!

cheerio again, Anna in Edinburgh

(I've been reading all this time but didn't have anything to contribute until you appealed to my tastebuds!)

ScentScelf said...


Ha! Texture issues and food. Someday I will write about why I could not, would not consume tomatoes as a child. (The flavor was okay, it was...well, let's just say a cross between an alien movie and a zombie movie.)

We are like Evil Food Twins. Potatoes? Chocolate? They help define the very reason for our existence, as far as I am concerned. But hey, so does we can share that part of the buffet, and divide and conquer with other goods.

I'm willing to roll with your higher power theory for a while. ;)

ScentScelf said...


I'm kind of digging the technology theme. Of course, I'd be taunting those poor tech heads with bits and bites and serving only zero or one of each....

...well, maybe for a while. I do like the spaghetti squiggle circuitry. And may inquire further about a Blue Lagoon, which of course in my head should come from the bar and not the kitchen. ;)

Oh-oh; cross ocean talk. Yes, that pie IS mad-looking. But as a hatter? Or crazy good? Or both???

ScentScelf said...


Oh, good. It's nice to know you've been lurking. Crunch a little louder on those corn chips occasionally, and I'll wave. :)