Newly canned jar of Iranian garlic pickles from the gallery installation. Photo by Jori Remus.
Happy new year everyone! Last week as part of the RISK exhibition, Columbia College Chicago’s office of Asian American Cultural Affairs hosted a special edition of their “Food for Thought” series in partnership with GARLIC & GREENS. Lunch guests were treated to Iranian food from Chicago restaurant Noon-o-Kabab and they learned about the new year celebration of Norooz, which falls on the vernal equinox. In the Zoroastrian tradition, a festive table spread called “haft-seen” is laid out with seven objects beginning with the letter “seen” and symbolizing the return of new life in spring. One of these items is often garlic, called “seer” in the Persian language. Pickled garlic (“torshi-eh seer”), is also known as Seven-Year Pickle because it is best eaten after being aged several years. Sometimes people start a jar on a special occasion such as a birthday or anniversary, and some of the finest pickles have been kept for decades. I have displayed some freshly packed jars of garlic in the gallery, and they are available for free to anyone who would like to have one, while supplies last! Just contact soulfoodstories-at-gmail to request your jar. The jars are labeled “Do not open until 2021″ with the hope that people who take the jars home might be reunited in 7 years’ time for a pickle-tasting party. There are ways to cheat and accelerate the pickling process, but most Iranians agree that the older the garlic, the better the taste!
This image shows two types of Persian pickles, also known as “torshi”. Aged garlic pickles (on the right) turn dark and soft after being preserved for many years. The sharp garlic flavor mellows to a caramelized sweetness.
Here’s an update about the 3 components of my installation at the RISK exhibit. The opening reception is Thursday February 13 from 5:30 – 8:30pm and the exhibit runs from February 10 – April 26, 2014 at the Glass Curtain Gallery, 1104 S. Wabash in downtown Chicago.
1) Anxiety Garden: Financial Crisis Mycoremediation This piece features oyster mushrooms decomposing books that represent the anxieties of the global financial crisis, including financial guides about risk management, texts authored by Chicago School economists like George Stigler, and books by and about the figureheads of neoliberalism, such as Margaret Thatcher and Deng Xiaoping.
2) Anxiety Garden: Do not open until 2021 This piece features jars of Iranian pickled garlic (torshi-eh seer), also known as Seven-Year Pickle because it is best eaten after being aged several years. This is not a heat-pasteurized or traditional salt brine ferment, and as such it may be considered risky by professional food safety standards. Chicago health code prohibits commercial kitchens to do their own canning without special permission to do “Modified Atmosphere Packaging”, requiring a course in “Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points”. However, traditional folk methods usually do not follow these types of stringent procedures. For generations Iranians have pickled all sorts of vegetables in large clay pots which were stored in cellars to age. Please email soulfoodstories-at-gmail.com if you would like to take home one of the jars of pickles at the end of the exhibit.
To learn more, join Columbia College Chicago’s office of Asian American Cultural Affairs for Food for Thought: Operation Pickle, at the Glass Curtain Gallery on the first floor of 1104 S Wabash Ave. Try food from Iran and learn about the traditional Persian new year, Norooz, which falls on the vernal equinox. In the Zoroastrian tradition, a celebratory table spread called “haft-seen” is laid out with seven objects symbolizing the return of new life in spring. Come to the gallery to learn more about one of these items which happens to be garlic. Seating is limited, RSVP to rgupta-at-colum.edu.
3) Anxiety Garden at the Green Art + Social Practice (GASP) Fair
The first ever Green Art + Social Practice (GASP) Fair is seeking proposals for student work to be exhibited during a pop-up art and science fair at Columbia College from 2:00 pm-6:00 pm on Friday, April 25, 2014. The GASP Fair takes the notion of a traditional poster session and combines it with the strategies of social practice, using participatory engagement to explore the diverse intersections of art, science, and the humanities. To apply, contact ftoosi-at-colum.edu
In addition to acting as the faculty organizer for the GASP Fair, I’m starting seeds indoors to be transplanted to the Papermakers’ Garden at 8th and Wabash. The garden bed will be used to grow powerful medicinal plants that are used to treat anxiety. To learn more, join me for Heritage Tea Time from 12:30-1:30 on Monday March 10 to try some anxiety tea and heritage and heirloom foods like benne wafers.
Happy new year everyone! Chicago ushered in the new year with a dramatic polar vortex. Winter hibernation has been a time for brewing, fermenting, and fruiting mushrooms in preparation for a new chapter of GARLIC & GREENS. G&G will be featured in an exhibit about social practice at Columbia College’s Glass Curtain Gallery in the South Loop. GARLIC & GREENS: Anxiety Garden will focus on the therapeutic properties of gardening for self-care and medicine, while also addressing the political anxieties of contemporary culture. For this exhibit G&G will highlight traditional Persian pickled garlic, oyster mushrooms from recycled waste materials, and herbal remedies you can grow in your home garden. Stay tuned for updates!
One of the objects featured in the Shoebox Lunch book is a chicken feather. It’s been a few months since we received our feathers, and we’d like take a moment to thank the chickens and the humans who sent them our way. The feathers were donated by Chicago residents Laura Foley and Carla McGarrah, as well as The Prairie Crossing Learning Farm in Grayslake, Illinois. Laura and Carla both keep chickens at their homes, while Prairie Crossing is a working organic farm that does hands-on education promoting conservation and healthy ecosystems. They have all kinds of classes and workshops and tours for the public; it’s definitely worth a field trip to learn more about this fantastic project.
Our contact at Prairie Crossing, Erin Cummisford, tells us that their feathers came from multiple breeds: Black Australorps, Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks, and Buff Orpingtons. She was kind enough to send a photo of the chickens, which you see above. Some of them were adopted to new homes last fall, others were butchered for food.
GARLIC & GREENS would not be possible without the support of the people and animals who have contributed to this project. Next time you are out, listen closely for the sounds of birds, insects, and other creatures who make their home in our gardens and farms, and thank them for their service! To get a chicken feather for yourself, order a copy of the book by contacting us at soulfoodstories -at- gmail -dot- com.
This is a close-up from the envelope made for each feather featured in the live version of “Shoebox Lunch”.
On Sunday 9 June at 8:30 PM, GARLIC & GREENS is proud to present a live version of Shoebox Lunch at Chicago’s own Rapid Pulse International Performance Art Festival. This interactive listening event will take you on a train journey completely in the dark. One by one, you will meet characters telling personal stories about families and food heritage. These memories will be shared with you through sound, touch, taste, and smell.
Attendance is limited to 15 participants, so if you can’t make it, never fear! Please join us later this summer for the official Shoebox Lunch book launch party: Wednesday 17 July, 2013 6-8 PM 625 N. Kingsbury St. Chicago, IL 60654
RSVP to Archeworks: archeworks.org/event_rsvp.cfm
65$+ Kickstarter contributers may pick up their copies at this event, otherwise they will be shipped by mail. Contact us at soulfoodstories-at-gmail.com if you would like to have your very own copy of the Shoebox Lunch book-in-a-box. Quantities are limited. Your purchase will allow us to share the project for free with people who are low or no vision.
“I’m going back to the way I grew up and finding out, darn it, I was very healthy. Even though people will tell you today that soul food cooking and African American cooking is very bad for you. It clogs the arteries. And, I’m like: No, you balance that out. You don’t have to have fried chicken. You don’t have to have fried fish. You bake your fish. You bake your chicken. Maybe I can’t have greens every day, but I can have salad… You just balance it out.” Dorothy Horton-Jackson
This quote is from one of the interviews featured in the forthcoming “Shoebox Lunch” audio book-in-a-box. I want to highlight Ms. Dorothy’s words today as I reminisce about some GARLIC & GREENS activities from the past few months.
Last year, I was approached by Sarah Ross and Ryan Griffis to create an artist multiple for their collaborative project, Regional Relationships. Regional Relationships is a subscription based art/culture project that commissions artists, writers, scholars and/or activists to create projects that materialize work across spaces or between places. The project website will tell you that RR is interested in work “that investigates the natural, industrial and cultural landscapes of a region.”
Sarah and Ryan were interested in featuring something related to the GARLIC & GREENS initiative for the third edition of Regional Relationships. I had been a fan of Sarah and Ryan’s work from afar, so I was quite honored to be asked and I couldn’t say no! The project took some time to materialize. My goal was to highlight a story from the many interview clips that would not make it to the final edit of the audio book. As any editor will tell you, there are many wonderful moments that have to be left on the proverbial cutting room floor. I decided to focus on a conversation with my friend Joy Smith, who shares her description of a noodle dish called yock or yak-a-mein.
I went to college in a small town with no fast food chains. Students managed industrial kitchen co-ops where they subjected their peers to strange cooking experiments. There I learned how to make burnt yogurt and large batches of wet rice. But from time to time, we indulged in the convenient foods well loved by our peers at other schools: microwavable, rehydratable, and unhealthy.
I probably ate less ramen than most people in college. But I ate a lot of a cousin noodle dish called yock. I don’t remember the first time Joy prepared yock for us to share. I remember it was something made with spaghetti, ketchup, and soy sauce. There must have been something else in it, but I’m not sure what. I remember it was delicious. It was our version of ramen, but tastier.
It wasn’t until I moved to Japan after graduation that I was reacquainted with ramen as an actual food, not one that comes in freeze-dried bricks, but one with whole restaurants built around slurping.
But I never ate yock before or after that time. Was this dish just a product of Joy’s culinary imagination? If it was so popular in the Tidewater region of Virginia, where I grew up, how come I had never heard of it before? These are some of the questions that inspired the Yok Yock project.
Language is constantly evolving. Humans try to contain it with dictionaries.
It’s the same with food. People have cookbooks to claim the definitions of food. But go down to the coastal areas of Virginia and Louisiana, you’ll find everyone’s version of yock is THE version yock.
It may not be evident at first glance, but a lot of research went into this 20-page booklet that was hand-rendered by comics artist Neil Brideau, who collaborated on the project. We decided to mix fact and fiction, quoting from actual newspaper stories that featured yock, and mixing in fantasy, cryptozoological elements, and specific references that only some people might pick up on. One of these was a shout-out to Braddock, PA and the famous ketchup company located in nearby Pittsburgh. The final project, Yock Yok, came packaged with a CD of my conversation with Joy, and a dishtowel showing the coastal areas of southeastern U.S. where yock is commonly found. It’s distributed by Regional Relationships, so you can contact them to sign-up for a subscription.
Like a lot of popular comfort foods, there isn’t just one definitive way to make yock. The basic thing you need to know is that yock is a hybrid noodle dish with a broth made from ketchup and other ingredients such as soy sauce, vinegar, cayenne, onion, and egg.
There’s even a Facebook page for fans of yock who hail from my hometown.
Most versions of yock are super salty and greasy. Its key ingredient is ketchup, which some people might categorize as a super-processed “edible foodlike substance“. But you can make a healthy bowl of yock at home by taking control of the process and making a few changes here and there. The basic premise of the dish can be hacked to be delicious and nutritious, and this is evidenced by Joy’s vegan version of yock which is tweaked to incorporate fresh vegetables.
Celebrating the healthy origins of popular food traditions is one of the catalysts for the GARLIC & GREENS initiative, and I look forward to discovering other projects that do the same.
How about you? Are you hacking the cafeteria food at your college dorm? Making your own ketchup from home-grown tomatoes? We’d love to hear from you. And if you make your own version of yock, send us some photos and let us know how it turned out!
The audio boxed set is ready to ship; each one is $35. All purchases will allow us to share the project for free with people who are low or no vision. Quantities are limited! Contact us to request your copy at soulfoodstories-at-gmail.com