I would like to dedicate this column to the memory of Michael Piller, who lost his battle with cancer on the day I sat down to write this. For me, Michael Piller epitomized the very best of Star Trek and his creativity and genius gave me some of my most cherished moments across all the series.
Clearly I am a food fiend, so it's no small wonder that I take great interest when food of any kind makes it into movies and television shows. I recently threw an Auntie Mame party at which the movie was watched and specially-created food was consumed. I salivate over Anatole's cooking in the Jeeves and Wooster series, I yearn to find an acceptable recipe for Lobster à la Rhisholme as fought over in the Mapp & Lucia series, and I crave Battenberg Cake whenever I watch Cold Comfort Farm. Oh, that Battenberg Cake! I can't remember what brand we ate—it was whatever Sainsbury's carried—but I do remember that we ate a lot of it when I lived in Cambridge. It was so wonderfully tooth-itchingly sweet that it went down quite perfectly with a good strong cup of builder's tea.
Anyway, I love food. If, when reading a book, I come across some type of food or dish I'm not familiar with, I will research the hell out of it until I find my answer. I am no less intrigued by alien or futuristic food. I remember watching something—television show? movie?—a long time ago where a futuristic family was eating their Thanksgiving dinner in the form of pills. If I recall correctly, there were three pills to be consumed: one for the turkey, one for the mashed potatoes and gravy, and a third for Brussels sprouts or some other hated vegetables. I think they may even have been color-coded. Being an extremely picky eater at that time in my life, this concept of popping dinner pills totally appealed to me. As it was, I already was swallowing all manner of vegetables—peas, string beans, the still-despised succotash—as though taking required medicine. I'd even go though multiple tall glasses of water in a single meal just to get down one serving. So, if living in the future meant easy access to gel caps that gave me all my nutrients in a single swallow as well as Max Headroom on every television, I was all ready for it.
Clearly, I've changed. Now, I so revel in the chewing, the savoring, the tasting of most foods (still hate succotash with a unearthly vengeance), that to deprive myself of such hedonistic pleasure would be tragic in the extreme.
I'm currently quite obsessed with a few shows and, as luck would have it, I'm also behind in all of them. And when I mean "behind," I mean that I started watching Alias only this summer but have brought myself to the middle of season four (last year's season). I am whipping my way through Veronica Mars' first season in the hopes I will soon catch up with the current second season. And—drum roll, please—my husband and I have only just embarked on the final season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
It is with very mixed feelings that I give my husband his birthday present of the seventh season Deep Space Nine DVDs, because it means we are only twenty-some episodes away from no longer being able to watch a DS9 episode for the first time. True, many of you will say, but consider how much pleasure you will derive from rewatching those episodes. I suppose. But you only lose your Star Trek virginity once and you always savor and remember your first time. Because I have come so late (yeah, um, a DECADE late) to this particular series, I have had to dodge many spoilers along the way. However, one fact I was completely aware of was how the first season of the series was pretty close to being universally disliked. I had the opposite reaction.
You have to understand that when I first started watching Deep Space Nine, I was also recapping the end of the second year of Enterprise and just beginning the Turd Season. Clearly, that recapping was being done under Quantum duress and, consequently, I drank in the first season of Deep Space Nine as if it were spiked nectar of the gods. I'm serious. I was in heaven! As the series went on, I even found Sisko rivaling Picard in my affections. I mean, Sisko was so snarky and dangerous and unpredictable! I love Picard for his quiet, unruffled authority, but Sisko was another thing entirely. Plus, he cooked!
I was pressed into watching Deep Space Nine because my delightful Enterprise posters and readers over at Television Without Pity gave me a wonderful present of the first season DVDs along with The Star Trek Cookbook, and one year, I took it upon myself to audit a few recipes from the cookbook. I was not very happy with some of them, actually.
Neelix, the chef and writer, seemed to have a horror of alcohol (the hell?), which culminated in a weak-as-water Tranya. I'm sorry, but if an embryonic Clint Howard is going to kit himself out in sparkly go-go boots and pants and start reclining on silky pillows, when he offers me a drink, it sure as HELL better be chock-full of mind-erasing alcohol! Neelix also credited Kirk with making Plomeek Soup instead of Spock (or even Nurse Chapel), and said Plomeek soup was so bland I had to really spice it up. I mean, think how hot Vulcan is supposed to be. Wouldn't you think their soup might reflect that? Considering how spicy Equatorial cuisine is, I don't think I'm so far off in my assumption.
As Deep Space Nine played on before our hungry eyes, I began to take specific note of the food eaten by the characters. In fact—and perhaps this is due to Quark's bar also serving food as well as cool-ass drinks—but I felt the Deep Space Nine folks ate far more interesting things than the crew on The Next Generation. With Chef Neelix making a nuisance of himself on Voyager, I'm sure those guys ate even better, but I haven't yet forced that series upon my household.
The specific food moments I immediately recall from The Next Generation are Picard's Bulgarian canapés for Admiral "Something Bitchy This Way Comes" Nechayev; Troi's eternal and insatiable chocolate appetite; Miles O'Brien's Scottish foods vs. Keiko's bowls of kelp and plankton loaf; and those weird Owan eggs that Riker scrambled and only Worf liked.
The food scene that I totally adore in The Next Generation doesn't even have anything to do with specific food. In "The Next Phase," after Ensign Ro and Geordi turn uninvisible, or phase back in, or whatever, they sit around and philosophize at the remains of their interrupted funeral banquet. While Ensign Ro is so upset about losing the after-life or her beliefs (it was always something with her) that she can't seem to eat, Geordi is feasting away. Apparently, they didn't eat for nearly two days and he's happily cramming rolls, noodles, and crunchy things into his mouth. I love that scene because he's just so ecstatic to be eating and, let's face it, we've all been there. You know what I mean—after a long day, you're starving and too tired to cook, so you send out for Chinese food, which is my personal craving of choice. Then there's the wait. You get out the utensils, plates, and napkins, and wait some more, getting ridiculously more hungry. You even think, "I don't believe I've ever been this hungry EVER!" When that food finally arrives, you are just so happy. You quickly pile a little bit of everything onto your plate and you generally don't look up from that plate until you're sated. Then, you lean back, burp, and have a few more spare ribs. That's exactly how Geordi eats in that scene.
But back to Deep Space Nine. The food that instantly comes to mind on this show are things like yamok sauce, jumja sticks, hasperat, Gramillion sand peas, and Sisko's Aubergine Stew and other Creole creations. The great thing about Sisko's food was, not only did he seem to cook quite often, but because his father is a chef in New Orleans, he probably relied on fresh ingredients rather than depending wholly on the replicator. If I lived in Star Trek (and I frequently want to), I'd probably be just like Picard's brother and O'Brien's mother, who were very anti-replicator when it came to cooking. Tea. Earl Grey. Hot, fine. Popcorn, sure. Panzanella with fresh tomatoes and sourdough bread? Not on your kidney stone.
On Deep Space Nine, not only could you make your own food or replicate meals, but you could also eat out at Quark's Bar, the Replimat (has to be a brilliant allusion to the recently-defunct Automat in New York), and the Klingon Cafe. It cracks me up to think of Klingons having a cafe anywhere. I mean, cafes conjure up images of French people sitting around outside, dressed all in black, smoking impossibly-nicotined cigarettes, and drinking impossibly-strong coffees. And if they're not doing that, then they are sitting in cafes sipping wine with buttery cheeses and light flakey pastries. Can you really see a Klingon doing that? However, if you think about it, Klingons might crash their way through a pain au chocolat because it would literally be a pastry of pain and would probably involve some sort of beating or ritual electrocution. Using baguettes as pain sticks. No, "The Klingon Cafe" just doesn't sound right. I'd suggest "The Klingon Grill," but they frequently eat their food raw . . . so a grill would be a bit unnecessary. Maybe "The Klingon Pit"? Except that they seem to be on an upper level of the Promenade . . .
Wait, scratch all that, The Star Trek Cookbook calls the place "The Klingon Deli" where I'm certain Moi'She stocks some damn good schmaltz and dill pickles. Other sources boringly refer to it as "Klingon restaurant," so I don't know what I'm talking about anymore. Still, the idea of Klingons smoking up a blue haze and discussing Sartre with red berets tipped over their cranial ridges is sort of hilarious. Hm, the idea of eating escargot is sort of Klingony, but it would have to be raw. Maybe Klingons are part French!
When Jake and Nog trade five thousand wrappages of yamok sauce for one hundred gross of self-stealing stembolts, which they later turn into seven tesspiates of land on Bajor in the episode "Progress," I learned three things. The first was that I worship the words "wrappages," "tessipates," and all other made-up words on Deep Space Nine, like when Sisko says he'd rather eat his azna "rolloped" rather than steamed. The second was that I really wanted to own at least one gross of self-sealing stembolts even if I never figured out how to use them. Finally, the third was that, as the series wore on, yamok sauce began to sound very appetizing. Because the Cardassians are sort of reptilian, I like to imagine that yamok sauce is a tangy, fermented fish sauce—maybe akin to Vietnamese nuoc nam—that is great for dipping or dousing food. O'Brien and Bashir liked yamok sauce on their Gramillion sand peas—those ingenious bar snacks that Quark started serving because it made people want to drink more—and Ziyal used it to dress her asparagus.
Jumja sticks were weird. At first I thought of them as root beer-flavored Popsicles, except they don't melt at room temperature, so they seemed more like sticky, chewy candy. All I know is, after I heard a commentary where the crew said they just called them "meat on a stick," I can't think of anything else when I see anyone sucking on them.
Not long ago, I watched "The Magnificent Ferengi," which not only had the best line ever (Nog Winnie-the-Poohing, "Now we are six!"), and the gigglesome scene with the reanimated dead Vorta, but it also handed me endless delight by mentioning Syrup of Squill and Hypicate (pronounced hip-ee-cat). On Deep Space Nine, Syrup of Squill is something that people like to put on their groatcakes, and Hypicate is a cosmetic cream that Moogie wants to market on Ferenginar. The hysterical thing is that both Syrup of Squill and Hypicate are real things. At least, Hypicate sounds suspiciously like "ipecac," an emetic and expectorant in our world. Wait, it gets better—because Syrup of Squill is also an expectorant, and definitely not something you'd willingly eat on groatcakes or any other cake. Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables famously uses ipecac to save Diana's croup-ridden sister's life, and both ipecac and Syrup of Squill are bandied about in a laborious conversation in the W.C. Fields movie, It's a Gift. Back in the day, both were used on sick kids to get them to cough or throw up stuff like accidentally ingested poison or the dangerous phlegm that had collected in their chests. Now we just use Vicks Vapor Rub. Yum!
Next month, I'll try out some Deep Space Nine recipes from my cookbook. I stayed away from them before because I hadn't watched much of the show yet, but now I find that I have a singular craving for Aubergine Stew, the confusing hasperat, and icoberry torte. I think I'll go ask some of the farmers at the Ferry Building Farmers Market if they know where I can get my hands on some of those little berries.
I'll end this with a bit of cheese trivia. This was taken from my recap of Star Trek Enterprise's "Harbinger."
So, we're looking over the goat, cow, and sheep products and what do you think I saw? I'm going to blow your mind here: I saw a picture of TOS Khan pasted next to a cheese description. I shit you not. The cheese is Campo Montalban—are you seeing this now?—and the write-up says, "This man would rather eat this cheese than be an Intergalactic Overlord or live on a fantasy island," and then it goes on to describe the cheese. Loved it. LOVED IT! What I loved the most is the fact that they didn't even use the 1982 picture, they used the genuine 1967 cheese. AH! Cheese! KHAN! I just got the deeper connection! Man, you just gotta love a store for that.
Not only is Khan Noonien Singh nearly synonomous with cheese, but the name of the cheese is "Campo." Camp. O. Now, I'm well aware that "campo" has many definitions that loosely mean "area" or "place," but still. The hilarity of the name is there.