Saturday, April 04, 2009

Not the Physiology of Taste x Exodus 1

Can anyone be sure exactly when it begins? The first consciousness of taste, then the adolescent angst that taste cannot be adequately described nor its memory replicated.

Smoochies Bistro and Bar
Another difficulty in speaking in detail of culinary experiences is the dire lack of excitement they conjure. Locally anyway. We were at Smoochies Bistro and Bar while I was trying to explain this to yet another person. Perhaps the eating experience can only be described, inadequately, by the component of its parts. So this particular establishment had been recommended along the lines of "die die must try", but all present agreed that the forest mushroom soup (S$9) and caesar salad (S$12) were only so-so-can-pass - the taste/smell of truffles being non-existent and Soup Spoon actually offering a heartier soup and tastier caesar. The baked pork ribs (S$28) should have been stated in the singular in the menu. It might have been slow-braised with pineapple, beetroot, wine and herbs but wasn't as juicy or more complex in flavour than, say, a humble BBQ rack from Coastes on Sentosa or Naughty Nuri's in Ubud, Bali. And since everybody and their kid brother can now rustle up a warm chocolate lava cake for dessert, it needs to be brought up a notch for S$14 a clump.

Spruce, Phoenix Park, Tanglin Road
Or another Saturday night over at Spruce, which was somewhat glowingly reviewed by Aun of ChubbyHubby and later, Wong Ah Yoke of the Straits Times, even the loyal follower of Travis Masiero from his Wine Garage days swore not to return ("oh why Travis, why?" etc) after the mac and cheese starter (S$7) was poked around then left alone because it was dry and tasteless and virtually cheese-less and creamless ("let's head home for Velveeta!"); the grilled squid and rocket salad (S$17) was nice but one-dimensional; the bread and three dips (S$16) were underwhelming since although the tuna dip wasn't too bad but neither is the canned stuff we cream with mayo, the hummus was very thin compared to the solid Middle Eastern stuff - more of a lemon juice-soaked chickpea mash; opinion was divided over whether the limp, yellowish-green sauteed broccoli was overcooked; the ginger sticky date pudding came without ice-cream, seemed over-microwaved and was accompanied by a brown sauce that tasted mostly of milk powder ("shall we run to Marmalade Pantry now?"). We returned the pudding after only tearing off 2 spoonfuls and despite a second wait-staff promising to "check on it", was never replaced nor was any explanation given for the odd taste and still, featured in the bill they handed us. The neighbouring table complained about the food as well and sent their rather dry-looking roast chicken back. The only half-decent thing was the chunky beef patty in the spruce burger (S$19 with bacon). And the Giancarlo coffee. Alas traceability ideals and little inhouse veggie patch, al fresco deck filled with Eames chairs and Castiglioni lights, and free parking.

"You must not say this and this is not good! You must say this and this is not my taste, no?"*, exclaimed a certain chef disapprovingly when the refugees slouched in at 10pm, though he sat himself down at the table to hear more news. His wait-staff were hospitable and competent and his desserts, look-up-and-beam-at-each-other, tummy-rubbing-ly excellent.

So perhaps it is the tastebuds that are to blame - so temperamental that their human would rather go without food than be subject to the thankless chore that eating would be. But then, as was pointed out, it was this chef's little joint that gave one hope that it wasn't the tastebuds that were jaded after all...

Like the doubtful quest for good food, many an Israelite might have had similar concerns about the existence and, if he existed, the goodness of God. The first chapter of the Book of Exodus opens on them in oppressed slavery in Egypt.

But like every good rescue story with a plot that is more than protein powder-enhanced muscles (or maybe even those), we are given hints that the deliverer was at hand. And his name was not Moses.

A bit of background. We are told that the Israelites had multiplied so greatly in Egypt that "the whole land was filled with them" (Exodus 1:7). The fruitfulness of the Israelites in Egypt was not the result of a healthy diet of grain and lean meat and regular physical exercise that could be marketed as the Israelite Fertility Diet to childless Egyptians, or of the simple lifestyle away from the stresses of urban Egyptian life.

It was, in fact, an unsubtle hint that the God of creation was very much directing the course of his created world. For this was a fulfilment of the mandate he'd given the first humans:"Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth" (Genesis 1:28). And in case anyone thought that this mandate was in any way altered by the Flood, God says to Noah and his sons:"Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth" (Genesis 9:1). The Israelites were inheritors of the promise made by the Creator to all creation.

But more specifically, it was a sign to God's people that the God they knew had neither forgotten nor abandoned them. For they were living (and numerous) proof of the fulfilment of God promise to a childless geriatric couple that he would make them exceedingly fruitful (Genesis 17:6), and to their only son Issac that "I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven" (Genesis 26:4), and to Jacob, one of Issac's two unmarried sons:"Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south" (Genesis 28:14). When Jacob arrived in Egypt, his descendants only numbered 70 people (Exodus 1:5), mostly agrarian types. Hardly a military threat. But one or two generations later (Exodus 1:6-8), their numbers had swelled so hugely that the most powerful and technologically-advanced military force of that day was alarmed (Exodus 1:9-10). "I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply." (Genesis 35:11) - any doubts as to God's existence or faithfulness to his ancient promise(s) could surely be laid to rest.

So back to the present. First, the Egyptians figured that enslavement and a bit of ruthless hard work might suppress the population. But "the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad" (Exodus 1:12 cf Genesis 28:14).

So much for that idea.

Ok, no more Mr. Nice Guy, said the Pharaoh and commanded the Hebrew midwives to kill all newborn Hebrew boys (Exodus 1:15-16). (He was forward-thinking enough to realise he would still need a steady supply of manual labour for his ambitious construction projects.) But Self-Regulating Programme for the Control of the Hebrew Population in Egypt = FAIL (Exodus 1:17-19).

Human rights protestors be arsed, fumed the Pharaoh, this is war! And commanded the Egyptians that it was their national duty to get with the Programme (Exodus 1:22).

So the king of Egypt set himself up against the king of all creation. Good luck with that. Obviously, this was all going to end badly for the Pharaoh.

But that's with the benefit of a cool calm head many centuries removed from the sweaty terror of the pogrom. If you were a lowly midwife brought trembling before the mighty Pharaoh in his mighty palace, if you'd lived in his land and under his rule all your life and had witnessed the display of his power and terrible consequences of incurring his wrath, it would be illogical for you to have this perspective. It would be more reasonable to fear him rather than the invisible God your nan kept going on about in your childhood...well, except for that inexplicable population explosion miracle thing.

Every few years, we are beset by doomsayers prophesying the end of Bible-based Christianity and belief in God, and the rise of godlessness. And every day, we are beset by the apparent happiness and success of those filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity; those full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice; those who are gossips, slanderers, insolent, arrogant and boastful; those who invent ways of doing evil; those who disobey their parents; those who are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless (cf Romans 1:29-31). The world is filled with seemingly satisfied God-haters, but God has been and will always be in charge.

If only the advertising vs reality product comparison were so easy. Can we continually keep in mind that God's words are always true and his promises always sure? Can we, like the Hebrew midwives Shiphrah and Puah, stand in the midst of all temptations and trials of the Satan and fear God? Can we remember that in all this, the king of this world sets himself up against the king of all creation and is bound for a hot and sticky end?

And it is not the dramatic "heroes of the faith" - the sort whose biographies we read, whose names we give our children to demonstrate our admiration of their alleged godliness, whose descendants make the Christian news merely by existing, whom we should be concerned to emulate. God asks this of us - that we should fear him, and in fearing him, love him and serve his purposes in whatever situation we find ourselves. The missionary to an obscure people whose tribal specialty is braised fresh missionary with seasonal vegetables in red wine reduction serves the same God as the missionary to the monied suits in Mayfair and as the unnamed crazy who preaches to unsuspecting strangers at the bus-stop. God asks the same of all of them and will write their names in the book of life. Perhaps, as the B suggested, Shiphrah and Puah might be good names as any for our babies. For every Eric Nash "Bash" with a eulogy that remembers them as "a quiet, unassuming clergyman who never sought the lime-light, hit the headlines, or wanted preferment; and yet whose influence within the Church of England during the last fifty years was probably great than any of his contemporaries, for there must be hundreds of men today, many in positions of responsibility, who thank God for him, because it was through his ministry that they were led to a Christian commitment", there must be thousands of uneulogised faithful whose very names have been unrecorded by all but the One who matters in the end.

Cheese-y Posh Spice, NYDC Wheelock
Good company makes people forget to gag at the powdered cheese-smoothered Posh Spice

Smoochies Bistro and Bar
991B Alexandra Road #01-10
Singapore 119970
Tel: +65-6276 7337

320 Tanglin Road, Phoenix Park
Tel: +65-6836 5528

*Obviously the forgiving chef had not been at Jones the Grocer, Tanglin Village, Dempsey Hill,
Roast Beef Sandwich, Jones the Grocer
when the cold roast beef sandwich looked meagre but edible when it arrived 45 minutes after the order was taken,

Slug in Greens of Roast Beef Sandwich, Jones the Grocer
until we noticed something moving on the greens, leaving a slimy little trail behind it, and the waitress didn't see what the fuss was about.

String in Roast Beef, Jones the Grocer
And after insisting that the sandwich be brought back to the kitchen, the second attempt featured the string attached to the roast. "The chef says it's like that," said the grumpy lady who said she was the manager.

Current Read/Think-through of Exodus

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At April 06, 2009 1:32 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear shadow
please elaborate on when this event happened as this certainly not an incident that has been raised to management and is something that we would like to resolve.

jones the grocer


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