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Food as Graphic Art : The Things We Eat Offer Endless Possibilities for Self-Expression

December 29, 1985|MIV SCHAAF

Now that the holidays are upon us, merrily we turn our thoughts to festive food. So all the magazines tell us. As far as food goes, I don't turn merrily so much as warily.

Aside from my utter incompetence, the trouble is that I pay attention to the festive first and the food second.

The actual preparation of food is reluctantly brought to heel, so to speak, in the wake of all sorts of decorative ideas; they're the fun part, after all. Perhaps it's because I'm a graphic designer, concerned with colors and shapes, and the look of letters in booklets and such, and because--believing that every effort ought to be different from the last--I keep experimenting with new media. In printing, you're somewhat limited in media; there is only paper, typography, illustration and photography. But when I survey the field of food--gosh, there's no end to the possibilities.

Hence, I see no reason not to apply graphic ideas to food. There's hardly any point in squeezing one of those mustard servers if you don't take the opportunity to spell your (or your loved one's) name on the hot dog. And, if you like (or if you've run out of frosting), spaghetti spells Happy Birthday wonderfully on cakes. Cooked, it falls into the most florid script; uncooked, it makes charming stick figures or formal printed statements.

If you've run out of time, there's no reason you can't just leap out to the garden and pop some flowers or even leaves on a cake--a supreme decoration au naturel . The most successful birthday party was when I burst into the house half an hour late with my store-bought cake and, suddenly inspired, shouted to the assembled 7-year-olds, "And now everyone gets to decorate the cake." It was amazing to see how they took to the idea, to see how willingly they shared colors, ideas and frosting, and to see the outcome--a top-heavy cake lurching with decorations, their myriad colors merged into a dull brown, acclaimed and eaten with more enthusiasm than you can imagine.

Hey, did you know that you can paint on sandwiches? Sure, anything you want. I never know what to put in them, but, as a designer, I always know what to put on them. I suppose it's safer to use food colors, but I found that my German water colors worked better--nicer colors, better coverage. (I ate the blue cat, friend Charlie ate the red wagon, and we're still around, though I wouldn't recommend it.)

Rubber stamps don't work on sandwiches. The best rubber stamp media, foodwise, is ginger-cookie dough. Roll your dough out thinly, take your neat collection of rubber stamps, dip them in flour and print away. The cookies come out of the oven with their messages deeply imprinted--cuisine that really communicates. Messages of love and cheer? If you insist, but I like more give and take--cries from the very souls of cookies. Please don't eat me, a cookie duck says. I am poison, proclaims the crescent moon. You're already too fat, the diamond with crinkly edges says, but who listens to a cookie?

That's about all the holiday food hints I can give you. Oh, wait--if you need to tie a roast and, ye gods, there's not a bit of string in the house, don't panic. There's always dental floss at the ready. It so happened that the dental floss I used the other night--it was mint--added an extra bit of flavor.

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