Friday, February 2, 2007

Bears and Colts – Extending the Palette

I was one of those people rooting for the New Orleans Saints in the play-offs, and not only for the post-Katrina civic boost it would bring to the Crescent City. There were even better reasons for cheering the underdogs that had come so far—the team’s black and gold colors would make for some pretty stylin’ football food.

Besides the figural molding and sculpting of food into the iconic shapes of the football, there is another school of food styling that expresses our passion and allegiance—sporting the team’s colors. Stripped down to its primal essence, colors signify our tribe and unify us into nations of us and them. We wear the colors, wave them, drive them, paint our faces, hair and midriffs with them. And increasingly, we ingest them too.

I live on the silvery border of Minnesota and Wisconsin called the St. Croix river. On the weekend of an important internecine battle, the supermarkets on each side of the river will place their orders (no doubt at the same industrial bakery) for hotdog buns colored purple and orange (Vikings), and green and yellow (Packers). And the color scheme goes further than breadstuffs to include yogurt, ice cream, dips, cheese, cakes and sometimes the hot dogs that go into those buns. The colors never come out quite right, they get muddied and dull; it’s a very unnatural treatment of food.

So the challenge for me is to find foods of the proscribed tribal colors that appear naturally and unmitigated by dyes or paints. But, boy that is tough to do this year when the opposing teams in this year’s Superbowl both have blues in their team palette. Blue is notoriously hard to find in the natural world; some flowers, a few birds and fishes, a couple of rocks and that’s it. And the blues found in food are usually tinged with purple or red, not a vibrant colbalt blue anywhere in a pint of blueberries. The Indianpolis Colts are just out of luck and will have to rely on artificial means to attain the right hues for the god-effigies they wish to eat on Sunday. The Chicago Bears have it a little easier because their blue is navy blue and they add a splash of orange.

Here is what you can put together with a variety of potato chips and corn chips -- the Chicago Bears, and the Minnesota Vikings.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Gridiron Guacamole

I might be going a little crazy with this but it could have been worse -- I once saw a gridiron made out of alfalfa sprouts with two teams of crudites arrayed on top, a mushroom cap fading back for a pass.

Then I wasted a lot of time watching "Ugly Betty," "Grey's Anatomy" and "Men in Trees" before deciding I really needed some goalposts on the field. But it was too late to go out for pretzel sticks and Cheez Whiz, I had to make do with what was on hand. The celery didn't work at all no matter how flat I planed it. And the peanut butter as glue didn't hold up as it warmed to room temperature. Finally, some fast work with a cracker and frozen peanut butter.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Pigskin Incarnate

I thought it would be stiffer, like clay, but instead, my cheese ball was soft. Very soft. Spreadable even. Which I guess is good for a cheese ball. What do I know? I don’t usually make these things, or eat them, and even less frequently try to mold them into footballs. I just grabbed a lot of leftover dairy products out of the fridge, put them in the food processor and spun them into a pale orange centrifugal uniformity. I coaxed my cheese goo into its football shape by placing it in the freezer to firm up, then sculpting it with wet hands. I found myself wondering what I could do with it if I had a potter’s wheel, a kiln, and some white zinc glaze. Back on track, I added the essential slipcover to my football cheese ball – bacon bits. A lot of them. Probably a couple of pigs worth. Not only does it admirably represent the pigskin, it is the perfect expression of the staples of Superbowl food – meat, cheese and salt. Yum!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Eat the Football

Superbowl Sunday is nigh. It’s not enough that we put our lives on hold for the playoffs and the final big game. It’s not enough to paint ourselves purple and gold, or put our team’s flag on our cars like a diplomatic entourage. It’s not enough to get the big flat screen TV and invite the gang over for chili. We must do all this and more—we must eat the football too.

In the weeks before Superbowl Sunday, the newspapers contain thick packets of glossy advertising that spill out inconveniently. Inside we find scenes of drama, ritual blood-letting and cannibalism. This is the great intersection of football and food styling where simple staples like processed ham and chocolate frosting are turned into edible, celebratory art.

Cheese spread shaped into footballs. Goalpost canap├ęs of pretzel sticks glued together with cheese. Dips and chips arrayed into a football diorama with stadium seating. Pizzas shaped like football helmets. Cakes portraying our fields of dreams, right up to the endzone. Even foccacia footballs. Like a consecrated host—this is Sunday after all—we can break bread with millions of fellow worshipers and partake of the body and blood of our culture.

I admire the internal consistency of using pork products to depict the pigskin. A cheese spread football coated with bacon bits and stitches of ham. A football-shaped ham salad. A pizza football covered with rondeles of pepperoni. Cocktail wieners fastened into goalposts.

There is a primal human urge to absorb the strength and power of our adversaries. Early man may have split open the skull of an enemy to ingest his brains at a post-war potluck. We enact the same ritual when we serve edible football and gridiron sculptures in our dens.

Pizzas become a canvas for an extended palette of peppers, anchovies and olives. Teams of mushroom caps and cherry tomatoes rush each other for a first down. Pepperoni piles up in man-to-man coverage but the onions break out and run for daylight. Uh-oh, a fumble, and now the snack mix has possession. Corn Chex passes to Wheat Chex, but the pretzel throws a flag because of peanut interference. Ten yard penalty—oh, the heartburn!

After the halftime show, the sheet cakes comes out, each decorated in the team’s colors. The Pack has the home field advantage because green and yellow food coloring is hard to screw up. Vikings come out too pink or too blue, and ‘da Bears—well, navy blue is just tough to do. One cake presents the gridiron fully populated with Hershey’s Kisses and Reese’s Pieces. Another attempts the hallowed ground of Lambeau Field with blocks of Twinkies and lots of frosting.

But the best one is all elegance and simplicity—the chocolate football cake. No tricked-out tableau of combat, no gaudy excess of cheese, just the iconic brown symbol of our oval god. It’s all that’s really needed for our Sunday worship—a football-shaped chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and a little squiggle of white icing—everything else is over-salted frippery. As our tribe gathers around the cake, full of the stories of our heroes and cleansed by ritual high-fives and chest butts, we are ready to eat the football. This simple chocolate cake says it best.
It says— “Bite me!”

Countdown to SuperBowl

Welcome to Eat the Football - the intersection of food, popular culture and football. Clueless about football, yet fascinated by its hold on the American imagination, I participate in SuperBowl fever the only way I know how--by playing with my food.

It doesn't matter to me which teams are playing as long as I can match their jersey colors with food coloring. I don't care who the MVP is--I'd rather bestow a prize upon the most valuable food-stylist, the one who has attained new heights in depicting the icons of the game into something we can get our mouth around. It may be all about the halftime show and commercials for some, but for me it's about football cuisine- meat, cheese and salt.

So, check out Eat the Football this week and see what I see when I look at American football through the lens of culinary expression.