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.