By Grady Locklear
Vanilla lime pineapple skewers, pomegranate cheesecake, avocado-banana crock-pot bread, green chili stew, Spanish taco salad, and "boogie pasta." Hungry yet? Intrigued enough to want a recipe or two? Or, better yet, the recipe plus some fascinating food facts to feed your mind as well as your stomach? Here's the web address that will take you where you want to be: the food blog of Darla (Lewis) Wiese, '04.
The name of Darla's blog, www.messycucina.blogspot.com, mixes the Italian word for kitchen, "cucina," with the English adjective for her cooking style: "messy." The blog is an outlet for Darla's creative passions – intercultural communication, writing and preparing interesting foods.
As she wrote in her blog entry from July 5, 2007, "Cleopatra loved figs. Samson wooed Delilah with almonds. Persephone became Queen of the Underworld with just a few nibbles of pomegranate. I wonder what Joan of Arc ate before battle?"
When reading one of Darla's blog posts, the audience is treated to more than just a great recipe. Providing cultural context or history for the recipes she creates is one of the hallmarks of her site. In addition, she has the ability to make even the strangest foods sound appealing. She could probably tell fascinating stories that would make comic book character Calvin eat his mom's shapeless green goop with gusto.
"I try to do a little research into the history of where the food came from," Darla says. "The food has a story, and I like to tell it – and hopefully you like it too."
Extraordinary stories about people are easy to find, but food histories are less common. Darla hopes her blog gets readers interested in the stories behind the foods she writes about.
"In our culture, we don't think about food; we just eat it," Darla says. In a way, our tendency not to think about where our food comes from contributes to the obesity problem in America, she says. It is easy in our culture to eat whatever comes our way. If people learn about where their food comes from, it could help them make better choices, she adds.
Food and recipes are linked to culture, Darla says. In the Northwest, for example, people are accustomed to food like salmon.
"Food is an extension of your cultural identity," she says. "It becomes part of us."
Darla says food also plays a role in cultural rituals, a topic she plans to use as her master's thesis at the University of New Mexico, for which she's now completing her second year.
Darla's interest in intercultural communication and writing is traceable to her Whitworth years. She is remembered by Communication Studies Department Chair Ginny Whitehouse as "a marvelous teaching assistant, because she could gently help students explore their own cultural identities."
Whitehouse introduced Darla to intercultural communication, Darla says. After graduating, Darla ended up in Iowa with her husband, Daryn Wiese, '01. He worked all day and she had no friends in Iowa, she says. That's when she came across a diverting way to spend her time. "I found some food blogs online… I'd spend hours every day since I was so lonely," she laughs.
Inspired by these blogs, she began her own cooking escapades. Darla's husband quickly found out that her new culinary adventures inevitably left the kitchen in shambles. "If the kitchen isn't messy, the food was too easy to prepare," Darla says.
Rather than using existing recipes, Darla tried to replicate dishes she had eaten before. Her experiments combining tastes and developing recipes were then posted online. She started her "Messy Cucina" blog in fall 2005. Since then, Darla's blog has received more than 30,000 visits, with each post typically getting three or four comments.
"Here was an opportunity to couple my love of writing with my love of cooking and of exploring new foods," reads a July 2007 blog post, "The first few posts felt awfully like a blind date, but the initial attraction was there and after a few dinners I began to feel familiar and, dare I say, attached to this food blog thing."
These dinners began to take on a more exotic nature as Darla's interest in cultures led her to investigate new recipes. She recently visited Spain, where she found a dish in Toledo that combined a lentil stew with Spanish chorizo sausage ("delicious and spicy!" she says). She wanted to duplicate the dish for herself. Based on her memory of how the stew tasted, she experimented with flavor combinations to develop her own recipe. Then she learned the history of the ingredients and has now posted the recipe, along with some background information.
One of the details she includes, for example, is that lentils were among the first crops to be cultivated, but for years were considered poor-man's fare, Darla says. Then lentils found favor with Louis XV's wife Marie in 18th century France. Chorizo is a sausage with Spanish origins, and "is usually made from lean pork and can be seasoned with, garlic, paprika, red bell peppers, red chile pepper flakes and Spanish paprika," Darla says.
Once finished with the food history, she writes, "I'll disclose that the day, the day, I got back from Spain I was in the kitchen trying to replicate the dish. That should speak to this dish's tastiness." After touting the nutritional merits of lentils, she unveils her version of the dish:
- 2 lbs. dried lentils, washed
- 12 to 24 oz. Mexican-style chorizo (the more you add, the spicier the dish)
- 4 spicy Italian sausage links, casings removed and cut into bite sized pieces
- 1 large onion, diced
- 4 ribs of celery, diced
- 4 carrots, sliced
- ½ lb. bacon, diced
- 3, 32 oz., cartons of beef broth
- 2, 28 oz., cans diced stewed tomatoes
- 4 -6cloves garlic, minced
- 2 Tbsp. dried thyme
- 3 dried bay leaves
"Combine all ingredients in a large crock pot — using just enough beef broth to cover the stew. Reserve remaining broth. Cover crock pot with lid. Simmer on medium heat for two hours. Remove lid and simmer until desired consistency (30-60 minutes), adding more broth if necessary or desired. Buen Provecho!"
Then, of course, there's the option of pomegranate cheesecake for dessert.