Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Archaeology Recipes 101

Curiously, people expressing a newfound interest in the daily routine of archaeologists almost always get around to asking, “What do you eat?” I guess they think we all eat chilled monkey brains as depicted in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. In reality, archaeologists tend to consume normal food just like regular people. Possibly, archaeologists do drink more beer.

I’ve heard that cooking blogs are all the rage these days, so I thought I’d pitch in and include a few recipes of my own in an attempt to kill a few mockingbirds with a single stone tool. Of course I don’t intend to post them all at once, as I wish to make interested readers feel like they have reasons to return and check out future installments.

First up is the Excavation PB&J Sandwich. Personally, I find the name somewhat misleading, as this classic sandwich makes for ideal eats on practically any archaeological project- be it an excavation, survey, research, or even while hidden away from the rest of the world in the belly of an archaeological laboratory. (Incidentally, people who work in archaeology laboratories oftentimes refer to themselves as “lab rats.”)

Preparation time averages about 3 minutes, assuming of course that you concentrate on the sandwich and don’t get distracted, or drawn into a lengthy argument with your co-workers about which came first- the pot or the shard. The key to making the perfect Excavation PB&J Sandwich is being prepared and having the essential ingredients on hand. Minimally, this includes bread, peanut butter, jelly, and raisins.

Bread: Use two slices of practically any type of bread, except garlic. If you’ve blown your per diem at one of the local bars and find yourself short of cash near the end of a 10-day field session, it is perfectly acceptable to gather uneaten slices of toast from the continental breakfast bar from your hotel in the morning. If you are too shy to do so while the rest of the crew is present, wait till everyone is in the vehicle and tell your crew chief that you forgot your compass and run back inside. An added benefit of that maneuver is that the vehicle will be well on the way to having been warmed to a comfortable temperature by the time you return.

Peanut Butter: Use Skippy! Skippy’s 16-ounce plastic jars fit easily into even the most moderate-sized dig kit without overcrowding. Forget those other name brands, and whatever you do, avoid anything that claims to be 100% natural. You’ll spend more time trying to stir the oil back into their butter to make it halfway spreadable, and regardless of what you may have been told by those lunatics on NPR… it won’t taste nearly as good.

Jelly: I won’t even begin to recommend a flavor since there are so many. Yet, grape, blackberry, and mixed fruit come to mind. Experienced archaeologists realize that traveling with glass jars of jelly or jam is as hazardous as it is impractical. Thus, it is recommended that you grab a handful of those little plastic jelly packets whenever you see them on your table at a restaurant. Free jelly is one of the earliest indications that a society is evolving into a socialistic mode. I bet you didn’t know that!

Raisins: You’ll want a handful of these little buggers for sure since constructing an Excavation PB&J Sandwich without raisins is paramount to making a pitcher of Kool-aid without water. Sure, you CAN do it, but why on earth would you want to? Both Sun-maid and Dole offer raisins in convenient travel-sized boxes, but those are usually cost prohibitive. Your hard earned per diem would be much better spent buying raisins in the rectangular 8-ounce boxes. Again, if you find yourself low on funds, odds are very good that you will be able to sweet talk one of the members of your crew out of a few raisins from their Trader Joe’s Trail Mix. Don’t worry if they have chili flavored trail mix. You can still salvage the raisins by soaking them in Coke. Use the peanut butter jar lid for this purpose, but be sure to rinse it off before screwing it back onto the jar. Otherwise, you’ll soon have a dig kit filled with ants. Be sure to begin the soaking process as soon as possible as the longer they are allowed to marinate in the Coke, the tastier your sandwich will be when you eat it.

You should take care to not offend anyone who offers you more trail mix than you actually want. If they should press you after you say “No thanks,” I find that it is generally easier to accept the offer with gratitude. Later you can always discard the unwanted materials in your back dirt pile when no one is looking.

Okay, with all the necessary ingredients gathered together, you are ready to construct a delicious Excavation PB&J Sandwich!

First, you’ll need to position your two slices of bread on a relatively clean surface. I normally employ my field notes for this purpose, but you may substitute any USGS 7.5 minute topographic map.

(I also use my handy weatherproof clipboard as shelter during light rain showers to prevent my bread from becoming soggy.) Anal-retentive people tend to make sure the slices of bread are laid out to mirror each other. Although this doesn’t really affect the overall taste, it could be important if you are concerned with presentation.

Next, trowel a glob of peanut butter across the exposed surface of the slice of bread that is either furthest north or west (obviously depending on how you are situated at the time). You should apply the peanut butter liberally to a depth of not less than 3 millimeters, making sure you end up with a level surface, but not necessarily “smooth.” A good rule of thumb is to add an additional millimeter of peanut butter for each increment of 10 degrees as temperatures plummet below 70 degrees (Fahrenheit).

Then, open three jelly packets and dump the contents onto the surface of the other slice of bread. You may substitute only two packets of jelly if you wish, but four packets is really too many. You will want to spread the jelly around on the bread using your trowel as before. There is no need to clean off any remaining peanut butter before this step, but I should mention that you WILL want to make sure you clean the majority of attached sediment from your trowel BEFORE you begin the peanut butter phase. Don’t sweat it if you didn’t since a little (hanta virus-free) dirt isn’t likely to cause long-term health problems. Besides, is it really a SANDwich if it is completely grit free?

With the slices of bread covered with appropriate lenses of peanut butter and jelly, it is time to add the raisins. If you’ve got them soaking in Coke, this would be the time to remove them from that container. Make sure that you always add the raisins to the jelly side of the sandwich. Sprinkle a handful across the jellied surface evenly, or if time permits, create an interesting design or likeness of a particular artifact you wish to find once you get back to digging. For instance, I’ve been known to add my raisins in the shape of a Clovis projectile point.

The final step involves lifting and flipping the slice of peanut buttered bread and placing it (peanut butter side down) on top of the jellied slice. Although you are likely starving at this point, it is very important that you take your time and complete this phase with a steady hand. One slip and the whole thing can land face down in the dirt, and will be reduced to food for ground monkeys. Also, don’t let anyone kid you into trying to flip the jellied side onto the peanut butter half. Previous studies have proven that this methodology is both flawed (Smuckers 1987) and “highly inefficient” (Goober and Peas 1992).

Now you are ready to kick back and enjoy one of the tastiest lunches known to mankind. Wonderful complements to this sandwich include Poore Brothers potato chips, Little Debbie brand snack cakes, and strawberry Twizlers.

A word on substitutions… I’d say that once you are comfortable with the process, go for it! As expressed previously, you really shouldn’t mess with the peanut butter. Bread is also an essential ingredient, but if you are REALLY in a fix, you may substitute plain strawberry Pop-tarts for the bread (and reduce the jelly to say a single packet). Also, you might enjoy substituting either candy corn or chocolate chips for the raisins, or honey for the jelly.

Dig in, and enjoy!


M32001 said...

You're a creative bastard! I think that I'll forward your link to Lynne Rosetto Kasper at "Splendid Table". Oh, wait. I listen to her on an NPR station. Oh, well.

Anonymous said...

mud says you need to come cook for him.