December 13, 2008

Banana Split Tease

While I work to gather the pieces of myself after a week of grading, I am pleased to post a sexy poem written by Linda Lee Madison of Indianapolis. Linda is a disability claims analyst who enjoys running, sipping on margaritas, and reading Tarot cards. She is also my mom. Enjoy Linda's first poem submitted to the Moody Kitchen! Also, be expecting un monton de posts in the next 3 weeks; today marks the first day of my holiday vacation!

Banana Split Tease

There you sit in your fancy bowl, enticing me with your charm.
You think I do not know that you have disguised your legs with a smooth, sleek banana and your bosoms with two thick mounds of the richest ice cream. Premium brand, I am sure.

I see your scarf wrapped around your neck made of the thickest, fluffiest cream available, along with your Cover Girl make up of chocolate, strawberry and pineapple. Everything about you is strategically placed to attract more attention.

You want me to admire, most of all, your sugar-crusted pecan accessories scattered ever-so-poignantly with the utmost detail. You top all of this off with your cherry-red “Sunday-go-to-meeting” hat. You’re a good girl going bad.

I hear you laugh quietly as I scramble for a spoon.
I lick the very last drop of your blood in your lead crystal bowl and you roar like the king of the jungle, knowing that you cost me 100 points. How could you?

I quickly climb the 16 steps, turn right, turn right and face the monster in my bathroom. I slowly step my heavy leg onto the digits, knowing already that I lost more than a pound today.

December 2, 2008

'Tis the Season for Citrus Fruits and Radiators!

While I am horrible at remembering book titles, album titles, and people's names, I am pretty damn good at remembering images. When it comes to image-collection, I am the queen of hamsters, stuffing those pretty pictures into my brainy pouch so that I can meal on them later. I once stored an image from an M.F.K. Fisher book that ranks right up there with the best of seeds in my rodent world. What's the title, you might be asking? That's for you to hunt down, Wiki-Sherlock. If this essay ain't getting graded, the responsibility for accuracy is out of my hands. Please tolerate my breed of hyper-unreliability.

Anyway, back to the hamster. Back to the citrusy seed. The image I recall so fondly is a slice of tangerine that Fisher accidentally roasted atop her apartment radiator in Paris. What I love about this image is the sheer accidental nature of its creation. Finished with her tangerine, she placed the remaining pieces on an old piece of newspaper and tossed the now-weighted paper aside...onto her metal radiator. This was the kind of heater you might imagine in any studio apartment in Chicago. Or a bourgie Parisian apartment circa 1930. Or 1931, Mrs. Picky Calculator Lady! Early-30s Paris might very well be the setting for this miracle. Or not.

At any rate, the radiator, the 1930s, the newspaper, the tangerine scraps, the woman, the naked man this woman can see in the apartment building across the street--none of these things are important. Nothing is important in this image I'm mealin' on betwixt my hamster teeth except for the final citrusy transformation.

While Fisher rested studiously in her armchair, perhaps considering a new way to prepare a fig compote at the tennis club brunch, her tangerine became something entirely new. From summery orange slice, to a crispy-shelled nugget of winter sun, Fisher's tangerine had changed. (If I could remember the book title or the essay title--or, if I could somehow summon forth Fisher's ghost--I would be thrilled to offer you her gorgeous description of this accidentally-roasted tangerine. However, these primary sources are the properties of other hamsters. Hamsters with winning memories and connections to high-ranking government officials.)

Back to the miracle that took place at Fisher's side: she remarked on how the soft membrane of this small slice turned to crunch, how the inside of the tangerine remained juicy, became almost creamy when warmed. How this union of glass and cream must have rattled her spine! How, after taking the first bite, she must have wanted to dive through her own glass window and into the creamy arms of the man still see standing naked across the street. (Or, am I once again imposing my own psychology upon this scene?)

I tried roasting my own tangerines a few years ago--without the newspaper, without the radiator, without the naked muse standing before me. I roasted my slices in a more conventional way: I used the oven. While my roasted sun slices were kinda good, they were nothing to lose yourself over. Perhaps they were made too deliberately, with expectations far exceeding anything in this real world (vs. my hamster world). Or, perhaps one needs to be in a bourgie apartment in Paris to understand such delights. I was dissatisfied with my copied tangerines, but still hopeful of their possibility. I probably won't try roasting my own tangerines again, but at least I still have the original and perfect image-seed to continue nibbling on until an accidental miracle takes place on my very own radiator.

By the way, for those of you with real radiators (vs. the metaphorical radiator I just crappily tried to create above), check this out. Radiator cooking sure has come a long way since Paris in the 30s!

Here are two near-miraculous recipes for appetizers that contain citrus. Since we are currently in the thick of citrus season, you might give one of these a shot at your next holiday gathering!

Citrus Roasted Olives
Based on a Rachel Ray recipe. You might have seen her prepare these olives during her 1-hour Thanksgiving Special.

3-4 cups of olives (I used a mix of Kalamata and Greek)
drizzle of olive oil
a few pinches of red pepper flakes
a strip of orange zest (from half an orange)
a strip of lemon zest (from half a lemon)
black pepper
a drizzle of the orange and lemon juice

1. Place olives on a large strip of aluminum foil. Throw in the remaining ingredients and mix everything around with your hands.
2. Fold the foil so that your olives are contained in an air-tight pouch. Toss your pouch into the oven (250-300) for 25-30 minutes.
3. Serve in a bowl while still warm.

Orange-Walnut Brie

1/4 cup of brown sugar
zest from half an orange
a few tablespoons of orange juice
1 Tbs. butter (cut into small squares)
a pinch of cinnamon
1/4 cup of walnuts
1 wheel of brie cheese

1. In a bowl, mix the brown sugar, orange juice, zest, butter, and cinnamon. When mixtures looks mixed and slightly clumpy, add the walnuts. Stir to combine.
2. Place your wheel of cheese onto a large piece of foil. Top it with the nutty mixture. Fold foil so that your cheese is contained in an air-tight pouch, and place your pouch in the oven (250-300) for 25-30 minutes. (Same as can warm both together!)
3. Serve warm with bread.

December 1, 2008

On Old Favorites and Mimosas

This post has sucked a lot out of me the past four days. It's a post about Thanksgiving. A holiday devoted to food. On a blog. A blog about food. Er, can you please remove the weight from my shoulders, please? For a woman who sometimes suffers from an empirical drive to document her surroundings Bill Clinton-style (hint, hint: his autobiography was 1008 pages long!), a simple post about Thanksgiving has totally wrecked me. To avoid writing this post, I experimented with every act of avoidance possible. I dusted my mantle. I played find-the-glow stick with my raver cat for, like, 7 hours. Hell, I even made soup! And you know how I feel about soup!

Yes, I've been driven to the verge, baby.

How does one even begin to summarize 2 days of planning; 10 hours of drinking; and 48 hours of feasting on delectable, wholesome, tried-and true, labor-intensive, goddamn-I-feel-my-arteries-singing food?

And even before the feast, how do I begin to describe the sensation of traveling 2,200 miles to a home I left 4 months ago--not my mom-and-pop-drinkin'-eggnog-in-front-of-the-fireplace home (although that reality would now include step-moms and step-dads), but a new home. Flagstaff, Arizona. The first place I was able to call home after studio-jumping from city to city for 3 years. The home where some of my closest friends are--human-friends and dog-friends alike! A place where, two years ago, I celebrated Thanksgiving away from my home-home for the first time and finally felt like an adult...kinda. A place where I will never feel like an adult.

And, how do I also describe the cavernous sense of loss I sometimes experience in that home? Even though it is a home dizzyingly full of pillows and long-haired cats and full moons and cute forestry boys, it is also a home where we have lost people who we loved dearly.

Ahh, a Flagstaff Thanksgiving: the blur of spills, the flavorful textures. The flashes of friends from bed. The drinks in their hands. The Turkish friend who posed eagerly with a turkey tendon stretched from mouth to bird. The Canadian linguist friend who woke early to baby the bird until it turned into a new thing entirely. Two generous friends who shared a secret. The lemon meringue pie that changed my opinions on lemon meringue pies. The best friend whose intelligence and sense of style (I mean, hello Clinton and Stacey!) is admired by everyone who meets her. A best friend who is everything.
The dog-friend who just might be the only non-human friend my cat will ever have. My button wanting to pop into constellations if I don't stop eating soon! The super-smart libertarian friend who makes the free market sound like the best sex you'll ever have. The brain hazy with mimosas and images of pilgrims drinking mimosas. The people who aren't there...but are there, too. And the Pennsylvania sweetcorn we now make and enjoy not because it tastes good (even though it does taste good!) but because he thought it tasted good. And we never questioned his sense of taste.
And my brain is/was kinda fuzzy because that's how we have to approach this day: to spit our mimosas from the kitchen to the mountain outside and say thanks for this meal that keeps everything together.

November 30, 2008

Eat Me and Die

While I'm busy writing up a mimosa-infused Thanksgiving post, I'll leave you with a delightful poem written by Flagstaff writer (and "hardcore libertarian"), Dan Heller. When Dan is not busy expressing his love for free market capitalism, you can find him falling in love with Che Guevara in the mountains of Flagstaff, Arizona. Enjoy his spicy-tongued poem!

Eat Me and Die

It’s burning me like a hot pepper,
Because I am one,
On the grill

Smoking these small plumes
Of hot fruit
Or are we vegetables?

A collection, an assortment
We are,
Each with her own juicy tail

From which we used to hang
On our mothers’ limbs,
That old dusty tree

In the middle of nowhere
Before Mr. Mexican came,
And plucked us off her land

Like grapes or oranges,
Only we don’t sour,
Spicy veggie fruit, we are!

No touchy! Beware!
I’ll burn your tongue,
Or scratch your eyes as your nose sizzles

Until they bleed,
And cluster,
And rot

As our poor mother did,
Once we left her,
To be outside in cold desert

Molested by foreign hands,
Those that cradled us,
And nourished our green baby bottoms

Some of us red or yellow
Some of us seedy
Some of us not

But if you dare to eat us,
To select us from the market—district of red and green lights,
To slice us up in two or three and rip out our insides and make them hollow

To fill us with cheese,
Sometimes white and creamy
Sometimes cram us with cheese that’s clumpy like Feta

To wrap us in bacon or poke us with sticks
Alcoholic toothpicks to hold us together
After being ripped apart

We will all scream!
Collectively! An organized union!
As our red skins sizzle and smoke and drop

Into the pan of the summer grill’s bottom
Until you swallow us whole
Lick our dried lips by the limbs Momma used to swing us

As we swim down your dark throats
Together, now, all as one
With cheese and bacon and taste-bud riots

In your dark stomach
We shall still shriek
And bite you right back

Because we are voluptuous peppers
Jalapenos of smiles and moonlit night
Shadows and curves of Latina color

We spice you well below the South
We, too, can give you color and turn your face yellow
With red or green tears that will never dry up

Consume us as we sear
On this black grill
Burning sweat of fire

And we will be blessed
Choke you with spite
As our spices kill you

We shall live forever .

November 20, 2008

Butternut Squash Custard

So, are you tired of pumpkin yet? I hope your answer is "no," as I have quite a treat to share with you. After roasting and preserving pounds of butternut squash, acorn squash, and other colorful gourds this fall, I've been trying to find new ways to incorporate these thick-skinned delights into new and exciting recipes. From gnocci to mashed potatoes-and-pumpkin to a strange-and-sickening coconut smoothie thingy, pumpkin meat has been showing up in the craziest of places in my kitchen. Sometimes these new recipes work wonderfully, while other times you wish the recipe (cough-cough, smoothie) existed another dimension--a dimension that will soon implode.

However, I will refrain from passing on disastrous experimental formulas in this post. (Those formulas have long been heaved into Dimension 76.) Instead, I will offer up a recipe inspired by an old tried & true autumn favorite: pumpkin pie. No fancy lavender infusions in this recipe! (Yes, you can finally breathe a sigh of relief. My lavender addiction is on the down-slope. As tempted as I was to add lavender extract to this custard, memories of my failed coconut-pumpkin smoothie reminded me to keep things simple and traditional this time around.) And, boy...this butternut squash recipe reminded me that traditional can be damn good.

I love how pumpkin pie inspired desserts have the power to totally take over American towns this time of year. Just the other day, I strolled down to The Scoop, a quirky little ice cream parlor in Wilmington's historic Cotton Exchange, to sample their signature pumpkin milkshake during my lunch break. Yes, milkshake was my lunch. I am not ashamed. To my surprise, the milkshake technician, who is also The Scoop's owner, spooned freshly roasted pumpkin meat into the blender along with ice cream, milk and spices.

"Wow," I said, "Real pumpkin! That's exciting!"

"Yeah, we don't use any of that powdered shit. This is the real thing."

Yes, there's definitely something about "the real thing" that makes the drinking/eating/smelling experience so much more gratifying. Using real meat from real pumpkin vines us more tightly into our real environment. In other words, pumpkin treats are so common this time of year simply because they are harvested this time of year. In a world where harvesting periods no longer dictate our palate--I can buy blueberries in a supermarket in the middle of December, for example--our devotion to pumpkins in autumn speaks measures about the natural cycles to which we have long been indebted. And refuse to lose hold of. And love. This culinary tradition of consuming pumpkin in the autumn months represents a history of cultivation that is wholly North American, and I will always be amazed by people's use of "the real thing." Using home-roasted pumpkin meat in an ice cream shop reveals more than just that shop owner's dedication to taste; by using real pumpkin, he is also resisting a beaker-centered, powder-obsessed worldview that can, at times, work against nature.

(Granted, all this is coming from a girl who could make a meal out of Red Vines and Skittles, but hey--once your chemistry steps into pumpkin territory, I take offense!)

Whether it be roasted or canned, your use of real pumpkin meat in this recipe is a political act! (Or, at least a delicious act. Two birds with one stone, eh?) The only modification I made to the recipe below was in the use of ramekins instead of a pie crust. The best part of squash pie is the filling, right? (Plus, eating out of a ramekin is so much cooler.) If you choose this modification, fill a big casserole dish with an inch of water, and place your ramekins into the casserole dish before baking. This method ensures that the custard cooks through all the way.

Butternut Squash Custard
(via Pittsburgh Needs Eated, who got it via David Lebovitz's Room for Dessert; recipe copied and pasted directly from Pittsburgh's blog.)

2 pounds butternut squash (for about 2 cups pulp)
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
4 eggs
3/4 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extrct
1 tbsp brandy (I did without)
one 10-inch prebaked pie crust (again, I did without. I instead poured custard into 5 2-cup ramekins.)

1. Position the oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment and rub generously with butter.

2. Slice the squash in half lengthwise. With a spoon, remove the seeds and fibers from the cavity. Place the halves cut side down on the baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes, until tender and fully cooked.

3. While the squash is baking, mix together the cream, milk, eggs, sugar, spices, salt, vanilla, and brandy.

4. When the squash is cooked, remove it from the oven and turn the oven down to 375F. Scoop out the squash pulp and add to the other ingredients. Mix until smooth in a food processor or blender.

5. Pour the warm filling into the pre-baked pie shell and bake for 30-35 minutes, until just barely set in the center. (I poured the filling through a strainer). (Again, you can also do without the shell. Ramekins give this pie filling more of a custard/pudding feel! Yummy.)

November 14, 2008

Lavender Pomegranate Truffles and a Love Letter

Dear Lavender,*

Purple Darling, I love you aggressively! My cells explode into flocks of Canadian geese when you are near. I want to infuse my neck with you, wear you like God on my wrist, pray to your guitar.

Mummify my body, baby, like some ancient Egyptian priestess. Toss yourself into my tomb before I'm entombed. Become eternal.

Livendula, livendula: I will crawl up your Roman skirt and into your ivy. I will pluck the purple grape from between your fingers and feed it to myself. I taste you going down my throat.

Mary washes her Jesus with you before drying his feet with her hair. Their house is filled with the odor of you. She places Baby onto your nest and makes you holy for eternity.

Let me enter your Gothic chamber. Let me watch--from the window to the outside world to the spotlight raying down earthward from the sun--the washing women. Lavenders. They dance hysterically to your music.

You are a pillow under the head of Charles VI. A spoonful of jelly down the Queen's throat. A royal paste coating the armpit of a princess. The revolution beyond the fence.

In a world of professional noses, you have "a green, haylike sweetness." In Provence, les nouveaux amoureux roll like wild serpents in your fields. How many French babies have you carried into this world? You make me want to live in a harmonica.

In conclusion: take me. Your love can save Jerusalem.



(Letter infused with historical facts found here: The History of Lavender)

Lavender Truffles

The tartness of pomegranate and the sharpness of a good dark chocolate (60-75%) has the ability to bring alive the holy power of lavender. Taste...but only if you are willing to love.

8 oz. dark chocolate
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 Tbs. culinary lavender buds
2 Tbs. butter
1 Tbs. pomegranate molasses
4 Tbs. cocoa

1. Chop dark chocolate into slivers so that it will melt easily into the cream.

2. Heat cream in a saucepan over high heat just until it comes to a boil. At this point, take the pan off the heat and stir in the lavender buds. Let this mixture sit for 30 minutes to an hour, or until you reach the strength you desire.

3. After lavender essence has infused into the cream, strain. Incorporate butter into the cream by stirring slowly over low heat. When butter is completely melted, bring cream to a heat once again, just until it comes to a boil. Pour cream over the chocolate, and let sit for 30 seconds. After 30 seconds, stir chocolate and cream until chocolate is thoroughly melted. Add molasses, and stir until combined.

4. Cover bowl, and place in refrigerator for 2 hours. This will cool the mixture, making it easier for you to form into balls.

5. Once chocolate has cooled and somewhat hardened, form into small balls. You might want to wear plastic gloves during this part of the process, because the chocolate tends to soften and melt in your hands as you are working with it. After forming each ball, place in a bowl with the cocoa. Agitate the bowl until balls are coated. Store truffles in the fridge for safekeeping.

6. Eat truffles until you become the Queen of England.

November 8, 2008

Lavender Ceremony: Creme Brulee*

We have long closed the blinds on summer. With legs firmly knotted into the pumpkin vines & old sticks & dried-out cornstalks, we still catch ourselves looking back over our shoulders to make sure it really happened--that one season stretched like 100 cat backs and then relaxed itself into this new season. That one thing arced & eased itself into a new day. Maybe I'm not talking about summer here, but of other things--and people--we can lose under sheets & soil.

But what logic is there in looking back, in recalculating these losses with the same broken calculator? What logic is there in looking under the blanket just one last time? What logic is there in digging the plowed dirt until our shovels reach that layer of bedrock we knew we'd inevitably arrive at?

And after all of this--all this searching & formulating & shoveling--what peace are we left with? What one, whole, golden skeleton are we able to reconstruct in the museum? And if none, then how to we reconcile that constant loss?

First, I need to slough off all metaphors, all cliches, and simply state that last year I lost a beautiful friend. A friend who, when I am not too pained to remember him, I remember in the kitchen. A friend who, after getting paid, once came home with close to $40 worth of berries. A friend who knew how to eat a pomegranate. Who was never satisfied with my dicing skills and so would always re-dice. A friend whose re-dicing did not annoy me but made me smile. A friend who was never a slave to simplicity and so would one day spend a Saturday making homemade pizza dough & pizza sauce with a splash of wine & would top those 7 pizzas with 4 cheeses & fresh herbs all while drinking an entire bottle of $20 Zin...and a few bottles of IPA. A friend who once whipped up a vegetarian meatball sub with chipotle sauce I will always remember as one of my favorite meals. A friend who was always a somewhat haphazard cook--always spilling and dropping and forgetting. A magician--always making those spills seem like part of the act. Who was always singing John Lennon in front of the stove. A friend who I choose now to remember in the kitchen because in other rooms, in other places, we were not as synchronized.

This weekend, as a form of ceremony, I made my very first creme brulee, a dessert my friend and I had always planned on making. As corny as this might sound, making this dessert brought me a sense of peace. This dish is sensitive, always threatening to curdle, overcook or become too dense. He would have loved taking on these challenges. After eating a spoonful of this creamy pot of lavender, I felt as though it might be possible to put down the shovel and the calculator. This ceremony gave me the chance to take in his memory, whole and delicious. Each time I spill a sauce, or dice a clove of garlic with the precision of a surgeon, or make a dish that has the power to make my body and other bodies happy, I need to remind myself that he is, in fact, present. These small acts of ceremony give us the ability to stop the questioning and remember without the uncertainty of decimals.

Lavender Creme Brulee (from this Rocco DiSpirito recipe) 4 servings

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons culinary lavender
6 egg yolks
1/4 turbinado sugar
more sugar for torching

1. In a small saucepan, bring milk and cream to a boil, monitoring it closely so it doesn't boil over. Remove from the heat. Add lavender, and allow lavender to infuse the cream for one hour at room temperature. Strain mixture into a clean saucepan. Bring to a boil again and remove from heat.

2. Preheat oven to 275°F. In a mixing bowl, whisk the yolks and granulated sugar until just combined. Temper the egg mixture by very slowly whisking a small amount of warm lavender cream into the eggs. Take your time with this step so that the yolks don't scramble. Once the egg mixture and cream are roughly the same temperature, whisk the remaining egg mixture into the cream.

3. Divide custard among four 4-ounce ramekins. Place ramekins in a baking dish or roasting pan. Fill dish or pan with water so that water comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins and transfer to the oven rack. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes. During the last 10 minutes, check frequently for doneness: when fully baked, the crème brûlées will be firm and will wiggle just slightly when shaken. Remove ramekins from water bath and refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours.

4. Before serving, sprinkle each dessert with 1 1/2 tablespoons turbinado sugar. If you own a propane torch, hold the torch about 8 inches from the custard's surface and flame the sugar into a golden brown, brittle curst. Alternatively, place ramekins under a preheated broiler and broil until sugar has caramelized, 1 to 3 minutes. Watch carefully: sugar turns from light brown to black quickly. Serve immediately.

*Photos forthcoming. The lovely photograph at the top is from here.

November 4, 2008

Food & Politics

Paul Allor is a fiction writer, journalist, and food lover who currently works for the city government in Kokomo, Indiana. In the following guest post, Paul challenges the assumptions that we have about food, and argues, with an even balance of research and wit, that arugula does not an elitist make. Thanks, Paul, for this delightful essay! You can reach Paul at pdallor at hotmail dot com.

If you are reading this after my lunch hour on Tuesday, November 4, then I have already cast my vote for Sen. Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential race. Why did I vote for Sen. Obama? One word: Arugula.

You see, I love arugula. At least twice a week, I toss arugula leaves with stemmed-and-sliced strawberries, to make a simple, elegant, two-ingredient salad that I eat with no dressing or oil. And ever since Sen. Obama mentioned “the price of arugula at Whole Foods” while campaigning in Iowa, the Republicans (and the media) have sought to tie him inextricably to that most bitter of leafy greens. So if I like arugula and Sen. Obama likes arugula, then naturally, I have to vote for him.

Obviously, I’m kidding. No one makes election decisions based on food choices. And if someone did, you would probably want to pull them aside and ask them, politely but firmly, to either take their civic responsibility more seriously, or stay the Hell home next election day.

Why, then, is food so often brought up in our political campaigns? Most obviously, candidates use food as a way of burnishing their “regular-guy” credentials. That’s why candidates eat so many corn dogs at so many county fairs, and why, during this year’s Democratic primary, Sen. Hilary Clinton could be found throwing back shots at a Pennsylvania pub. Heck, during the 2004 Gubernatorial Race in Indiana, Gov. Mitch Daniels’ campaign boasted that the governor had eaten a pork tenderloin sandwich in all 92 of Indiana’s counties.

But I’m more interested in those times when food is used as a weapon against the other guy. There are a couple of ways to do this. First, you can skewer your opponent, by mocking him or her for not understanding regional food traditions and customs. In 2004, Democratic Presidential Candidate John Kerry ordered a Philly Cheesesteak with Swiss cheese, an apparent Philly Faux Pas. President George W. Bush, campaigning later in Philadelphia, made a point of telling audiences that he “like(s) my cheesesteak whiz with.”

Second, you can use food to slice a candidate, by arguing that the candidate is an out-of-touch interloper, whose food choices are radically different from yours. For example, after the 2004 election CNN reporter Candy Crowley told audiences that Sen. Obama lost the election because … he drinks green tea.

Yes, really.

Here’s what Crowley said, according to a 2004 article in the Palm Beach Post:

In January 2003, when his campaign was still young enough that Kerry would actually sit down with reporters in a relaxed setting, he and Crowley met for breakfast at the Holiday Inn in Dubuque, Iowa. "I'd like to start out with some green tea," Kerry told the waitress, who stared at him for a moment before responding, "We have Lipton's."

Lipton's would be fine, Kerry said, but the memory stayed with Crowley. “There were many green tea instances … There's a very large disconnect between the Washington politicians and most of America and how they live. Bush was able to bridge that gap, and Kerry was not.”

Crowley’s comments are really quite astounding in their sheer, naked elitism. And I am not someone who throws the “e” word around much. But come on! Kerry’s preference for green tea represents a “large disconnect” between Washington and most of America? Translation: “us rubes in flyover country don’t drink none of that fancy ‘green tea’ stuff. We drink black tea, from a bag or a bottle, and if you do any differently, Mister Fancy Pants East Coast Elitist, you ain’t someone I can trust.”

This says more about Candy Crowley, and her apparently dim view of Middle America. Green Tea is sold, and consumed, nationwide, from the smallest towns to the biggest cities. It’s not some fancy commodity that can only be found in the more culturally sophisticated parts of our country.

Similarly, let’s revisit Arugula-gate. Sen. Obama was portrayed as out-of-touch for two reasons; first, because “no one in Iowa knows what arugula is.” Yikes. Are you kidding me? Again, arugula is grown throughout Iowa, and eaten throughout the nation.

Second, Obama was mocked for mentioning “Whole Foods,” the upscale grocery store. There are no Whole Foods locations in Iowa, and right-wing commenters pounced on this as another indication of Obama’s out-of-touch elitism. The clear implication is that Whole Foods is a big-city grocery store, patronized by big-city folks. But there are Whole Foods locations in Kansas, Missouri, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Indiana. So, if you’re wondering why there are no Whole Foods stores in Iowa, it isn’t because Iowa is a backwards state full of hicks who don’t care about high-quality food; it’s simply because Whole Foods hasn’t yet opened its first Iowa location.

And honestly: does anyone care if Sen. Obama eats a different kind of leafy vegetable than you, or shops at a different grocery store than you? Does anyone care if Sen. Kerry drinks a different kind of tea than you? This argument is based on a flawed understanding of middle-Americans by people who, to paraphrase Candy Crowley, believe there’s a large cultural disconnect between the coasts and the center of our nation that simply doesn’t exist.

Oddly, you don’t hear many of these attacks when it comes to the Republican candidates. Earlier this year, Sen. John McCain held a party for his traveling press corps, and served couscous. A birthday party he held a few years back included lobster salad and crème brulee. I suspect this is because the “he eats odd foods” attack fits neatly into the “Democrats are effete elitists” stereotype that the media and the GOP love to perpetuate.

But it’s time for them to realize, it doesn’t work. We are an omnivorous nation. Regardless of geography, we fashion our own food choices, choosing to include or exclude meat or dairy, to go organic or pesticide-friendly, to eat raw or cooked, to frequent fast-food or prepare everything for ourselves, to grow our own produce or have it shipped in from overseas. Most importantly, we don’t expect our friends and neighbors – our or governors and presidents – to make the same choices we do. So God bless America, and pass me the tofu.

Photo of Mitch Daniels, courtesy of Ryan Nees

November 2, 2008

Red Dress Recipe Call-Out

"I like to think of the Golden Gate Bridge as a sexy red dressed woman." --from the back of a postcard sent to me by a good friend who was living in San Francisco.

Ah, the red dress. Apple of my knee, rhubarb of my waist, and tomato of my bosom. This sexy fashion statement is booming as a literary conceit. In the past 100 years, several American poets have published red dress poems that dance off the page and into our cherry-red hearts: Kim Addonizio, Anne Sexton, Dorothy Parker, Sharon Olds, etc. I probably don't have to tell you that the red dress in these poems symbolizes sex, attitude, confidence, and desire. I see the red dress a verb, propelling the wearer "into this world, through the birth-cries and the love-cries" (Addonizio).

Since I fall into new obsessions almost daily, it didn't take long for the red dress to totally consume my body and soul. For the past year or so, I have been accumulating red dress poems by some fabulous American poets--and I've even been writing some of my own! I am extremely dedicated to this obsession. For example, if I ever own my own business, I will call it The Red Dress. Hell, if I have a kid, maybe I'll even don him/her with the name Red Dress. Yes, this is an obsession I will work hard to preserve, even if it means that someday, somewhere, a 1st grade teacher might have to say, "Red Dress, please give us your answer for 2+2."

This red dress is driving me deliriously happy! And crazy. Some nights I stay up until 4am just contemplating the possibilities of its red-flame power! I often miss work after riding a 4-day red dress binge. At night I sometimes choke on my plateful of red dress, and not even 40 chugs of my red dress beer can unclog the red dress. She speaks to me, too:

Red is Courtney Love lipstick and chicken blood. Red, the color of a hooker's heels in Vegas or the flashing lights of a police car. Red is dangerous. Red is apple and cherry and pomegranate open mouths. It says lick my palm. Red is Richard Simmons cheek-glitter or the real color of blackberry stains. Rhubarb pie with strawberry. Red pepper chile ristra in the doorway saying enter, enter. Red wax of the candle dripping off the mantle and onto the white white carpet for 8 days straight. Red wine dripping infinitely onto coffee tables and doilies. Red give-ins . Red mornings when the sun seeps through red curtains. Roadkill. Ketchup on my red dress you can't see oh-no-you-can't.

Wow. Maybe I should learn to shake this red dress obsession. It may no longer be a healthy academic endeavor...

Red Dress Recipe Call-Out: Here's how I want you to join in my obsession: Email me a recipe that calls for beets at adabach at hotmail dot com. Yes, BEETS! What could be a more perfect Red Dress food! Beets are red to the fiery core. The stains they leave on your hands and lips scream out to you that they cannot be forgotten. They are Red Dress. Next Sunday I will post your recipes, poems, pictures, or anything else beet-related you wish to send my way.

On a final note, here's what novelist Tom Robbins has to say about beets:

"The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent, not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious."

October 24, 2008

Impecunious Person's Recipe Swap

Impecunious: habitually having very little or no money.

My friend Sara is hosting a recipe swap for those with skeletal wallets. The aim of this swap is to prove that good food can still be had on a budget. Cardboard & sawdust may not be our only edible options when the times get tough. (Although, I'm sure some of you out there would be able to whip up some pretty fancy dishes using these two ingredients as your base! Apple Pie with a Buttered Sawdust Crust, anyone?)

Each person who participates in Sara's Impecunious Person's Recipe Swap "will prettily write up the recipes for an entree, dessert, and hot beverage and mail them out to their three other swapmates." Here comes the impecunious part of the game: the ingredients for the entire meal must cost less than $15. (Try not to include such dishes as cardboard stew or sawdust fritters into the menu.) Click here if you are interested in participating or would like more information.

Now, back to my dinner:

October 21, 2008

Ginger, Apple, Tofu and Butternut Squash Soup

I am usually not the type of person to order soup at a restaurant. Ordering soup at a restaurant, in my mind, is equivalent to ordering water at a bar. You just don't do it. In a world where sandwiches and pizzas and stir-fries and pastas exist, why order liquid in a bowl that you have to clumsily eat with a spoon? It just seems so intangible, so un-American. (Hehe). I mean, if you like soup, you might as well move to Europe to live with those other soup lovers on their fancy soup farms. While you're across the pond spilling half of your lunch on your doilies, I'll be atop my horse in the blazing American sun eating something solid (topped with chili and cheese and jalapenos. And mustard. And beer. And America sauce.)

So, when I returned home from work this afternoon, I began questioning my street cred (and my citizenship) when I found myself desiring soup, of all things. The prissy nature of soup defies cool on many levels. But, since I am already very aware of the fallibility of my coolness--after all, my students remind me that I am not cool almost daily--I reluctantly accepted my soupy desire.

Soup! Oh, Soup! I had you all wrong. It's just that most of my encounters with soup have been of the canned variety. Or the watered down restaurant variety. This afternoon's rendezvous, however, has opened my eyes to the possibility of a real, long-term relationship with soup. (If soup shares my feelings, of course. Can you talk to him? Maybe? I mean, don't tell him I asked you to ask him or anything. Play it cool.)

After assessing what my kitchen had in stock, I decided to do an Asian twist on Butternut Squash Soup. I will try to remember how much of each ingredient I threw into the pot, but this recipe is definitely flexible (much like my national identity, I guess).

Ginger, Apple, Tofu and Butternut Squash Soup
1 TBS olive oil
1 tart apple, peeled and chopped (I used Granny Smith)
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tbs. minced ginger
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 cup rice milk
3 TBS. soy sauce
1/2 cup water
more olive oil to taste
1 can butternut squash
1/4 cup red wine (optional)
nutritional yeast to taste (optional)
more cumin
more olive oil
1 package extra firm tofu, diced into tiny cubes

1. Heat olive oil in a pot & then toss in the garlic, ginger, apple and red bell pepper. Toss for 3-4 minutes, or until ingredients soften a bit.

2. Add black pepper, salt, red pepper flakes, and cumin. Toss until all ingredients are covered with spices. Add rice milk, water, and soy sauce. Bring to a boil.

3. Add squash, red wine and nutritional yeast. Stir. Keep at medium heat for 15-20 minutes.

4. Pour soup into a blender or food processor, and blend for 2 minutes. Return soup to pot, and continue cooking at a simmer. At this point, you can add the diced tofu (and maybe some powdered ginger, salt to tast, black pepper to taste, and more cumin).

5. Simmer for 5 minutes after adding tofu. This will give the tofu the chance to adopt some of the flavors of the soup.

Once you have poured your soup into a bowl, add a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of sesame seeds. Or, you could drizzle a bit of cream on top. Or soy sauce. Or love. (But, beware: this soup is my boyfriend. Don't get too friendly, girl.)


October 20, 2008

Food as a National Security Issue

Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food, An Omnivore's Dilemma, and A Botany of Desire, was interviewed on NPR's All Things Considered this evening. While I have much to blog about myself (squash pudding & squash soup--OH MY GOD!), I will instead have to leave you with a link to Pollan's interview with Terry Gross.

The interview focuses on Pollan's recently published open letter to the next president, "Farmer In Chief" (New York Times Magazine, 10/9). In that letter he outlines several key food policies he hopes either Obama or McCain will consider once they enter the White House. "There are many moving parts to the new food agenda I’m urging you to adopt," the letter reads, "but the core idea could not be simpler: we need to wean the American food system off its heavy 20th-century diet of fossil fuel and put it back on a diet of contemporary sunshine." Among other recommendations, the letter calls on the next president to create a new government position: Farmer in Chief. Maybe the losing candidate could be awarded this position. I'd take fresh produce and sunshine over awkward calls to foreign leaders any day of the week! Losing the election on November 3rd might be a blessing in disguise for one of these chaps.

This letter is a lovely read, and like most of Pollan's work it stresses a more intimate (and more local) relationship between people and the delicious stuff that we consume.

I will be back in full-blogging-swing in a few days. For now, I must return to grading (and nibbling on this delicious black bean & egg burrito).

May your Tuesday be packed with minerals, nutrients, and other magical microscopic delights!

October 15, 2008

Some Thoughts on Pumpkin

Sometimes I think I like the idea of pumpkin more than the taste of pumpkin. I mean, pumpkin ain't never good on its own, right? I've never heard of anyone sitting down to a steaming plate of pumpkin--unless it's doused with salts or sugars, spices or creams, broths or chihuahuas. However, there's something earthy and homey and comforting about pumpkins that keeps me coming back to them year after year. (Plus, babies and chihuahuas look just ADORABLE in pumpkin costumes. How can one turn their back on pumpkin when pumpkin gifts us with small mammals decorated with stems?!)

But we really like pumpkin? Does it have to be pumpkin? Couldn't a pumpkin pie just as easily be a sweet potato pie? Or an acorn squash pie? Or a Palin ponytail pie? I'm not saying I don't like pumpkin pie, pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin bread, pumpkin soup, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin cupcakes, pumpkin etceteras. Hell no. I am NOT saying that. Toss that canned pumpkin into a bowl full of sugar, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, and liquid, and I will suck up the entire bowl with a straw! I love all things pumpkiny...well, except for pumpkin, naked of all adornments.

So, since I would not eat pumpkin on its own, does that mean that I don't like pumpkin? No. Not liking pumpkin does NOT mean that I, uh, don't like pumpkin? Man, this is confusing. I need a metaphor to help me understand this dilemma. Here's (a lame) one: even though we can't look at the sun head-on without blinding ourselves, we still love the image of Sun, right? Think of how many ankle and lower-back tattoos have been inspired by the image of that life-giving orb of hot gases! We can never experience the beauty of the unfiltered sun with our own eyes, yet we are fascinated by it.

This same reasoning applies to pumpkin. (Stick with me here.) Just as we are unable to view the sun without solar filters, we are likewise unable to enjoy the taste of pumpkin without the filters of gentle autumnal spices (ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg). These spices are like those solar eclipse boxes we made in elementary school--they filter out the icky & blinding & bad and leave us with the good. (This logic does not apply to my resurrected Pre-Columbian readers who love eating naked pumpkin, no filter required. Feel free to call me a "silly Post-Columbian" for voicing this culinary fallacy.)

Granted, I don't see many people with pumpkin tattoos, so something about this sun-pumpkin metaphor ain't quite workin'. But, maybe this metaphor will: think of pumpkin as a drunk uncle you cannot enjoy until you've had 3 or 4 drinks. Or more. After tying one on, that annoying uncle becomes your best friend. Before you know it, you two are hugging each other and repeating your "I-love-you-mans" while the rest of your family looks on in disgust. Come midnight, you and your uncle are on a Greyhound to Vegas singing/slurring the lyrics to "Runaway Train." Back to the metaphor: to love your uncle, you need the filter of booze; likewise, to love pumpkin, you need cloves, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

Okay. I'll cool it with the bad metaphors. Our pumpkin is not the sun. Nor is it a wasted uncle. It's pumpkin, plain and simple. And we love that simplicity (well, after complicating it with spices and sugars...and baking it...and then topping it with ice cream).

What are your favorite pumpkin recipes? Does anyone out there love pumpkin without the feather boas and purple rouge? This fall, I'm looking your way, America, for some great pumpkin recipes (wink-wink-you-betcha- gosh-darnit-tootin-uh-uh-maverick-education-policy-chihuahua-squash)!

Below you'll find some ideas for how to utilize your pureed pumpkin this fall. Some of these recipes have been tested and approved (*), while others will be experimented upon with probes & tubes in the near future.

*Pumpkin French Toast (for 2): In a bowl blend together 3 eggs, a dash of rice milk, a few tablespoons of maple syrup, a tablespoon of honey, cinnamon, ginger, crushes cloves, nutmeg, vanilla extract, and 2/3 cup pumpkin puree. Saturate 4 pieces of whole wheat bread, and fry away! Drizzle with maple syrup. Dash of cinnamon. Holy-French-Pumpkin, these are good!

*Vegan Pumpkin Muffins (makes 12, from Vegan with a Vengeance): to save me the time and energy I could better spend doing cool Post-Columbian things (like racquetball or chugging emergen-C), I will not copy this recipe from Isa Chadra Maskowitz's book. Instead, click here. Internet plagiarism just gifted me with more time to up my dosage of Vitamin C!

*Vegan Pumpkin Pancakes (makes however many you want): throw together some flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cumin (very little), ginger, rice milk, maple syrup, sugar, and vanilla. Yum.

Pumpkin Coconut Sorbet (maybe gross, but we'll see...): I will blog about this soon. Hopefully I can experiment with this recipe this weekend. I'm guessing it will include some measurements of the following: pumpkin puree, coconut milk, shredded coconut, nutmeg, cinnamon, cumin, sugar, and jasmine extract.

Pumpkin Milkshake (hellz yeah!): ice cream or rice dream, milk or rilk (hehe), adequate spices, pumpkin puree, and maple syrup.

*Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing (makes 24): Check out Gourmet Peasant's "Naughty and Nice Pumpkin Cupcake" recipe here. I made these last fall, and they were, by far, the most delicious pumpkiny treats I have ever digested. Coming from a true pumpkin lover (er...), that's saying a lot!

Now, look at this:

October 12, 2008

Navajo Tacos and a Show

Nathaniel Curley is a writer, student, and 'zine editor from Tuba City, Arizona. In the following essay Nathaniel remembers a time when a little team effort and a batch of Navajo Tacos earned him some much-needed cash (and beer). Check out Nathaniel's previous submission to the Moody Kitchen here.

It was the summer after I graduated from high school (which only took me five years to complete instead of the typical four). That was the summer I stayed with my brother’s family in Phoenix, Arizona. During the summer of ‘98,’ I hadn’t a clue what the “real world” was supposed to be like. I was only interested in the important things: girls, beer, pot, girls, and beer, and did I mention beer? I wasn’t 21 yet, so I drank what was offered then, which mostly consisted of a tall, fat, frosty 40 ounce of Mickey’s, or Old English, or maybe a Crooked Eye. I was naïve to the fact that money was needed to live in the urban setting that was Phoenix.

I was like most young men back then who graduated from high school with a GPA of 1.7-something. I looked for any type of suitable work. I remember dreading the idea of work because I wanted to live like the songs of the band Primitive Tribes and emulate their ideals of realizing that we are nothing but “Wage Slaves” feeding the rich capitalistic overseers who truly run the world. I was an angry young man with ideas of changing the world by not wanting to do anything except party and complain about stuff. Punk rock was my life then, and punk girls preoccupied my mind because punk girls didn’t care if you had a job or drove a cool car.

The problem was that one of ways to meet these ideal, super-cool girls was to go to a punk show, and that had its own problems. I needed cash to go these shows, even when some were free, the beer usually wasn’t. I think a 40 was roughly about two bucks back then. I can picture it now, me saying to a group of young whipper snappers, “I remember when a 40 ounce of Mickey’s only cost two dollars.” Eventually, though, there was no other way around it; I needed to get a job, which I eventually found as a day laborer at minimum wage.

On one particular weekend, my brother’s wife expressed with a sense of concern that we needed to find a way to pay for the utility bill, which, if I remember correctly, was $119. I don’t know how I remember that number, but I do. Not one of us who lived in that small one-and-a-half bedroom apartment had that kind of money, and even if we pulled together our monetary sum, we would have fallen well short of what was needed. There were seven of us--my brother and his wife and their daughter, his wife’s younger sister and her boyfriend, his wife’s younger brother, and then me.

Finally, one of the others thought up the idea that we should sell Navajo Tacos in order to pay for the utility bill. I am not sure if we would have still called it a “Navajo Taco” if we were some other tribe, but most people from Arizona know what a Navajo Taco is, so as a marketing scheme we made flyers with, “NAVAJO TACO Sale! 5 Dollars Today Only!” printed on them.

My brother’s brother-in-law, Dub, and I had been charged with the responsibility of hanging the flyers around the apartment complex. Armed with clear tape, thumb tacks, and a stapler, we roamed to all corners of the complex, but as we did so, we also had a hopeful plan of seeing the Nobody’s and The Queers play at Boston’s Bar and Grill in Tempe, AZ that night. Paying for the utility was, of course, the primary reason for this sale, but we hoped that maybe--just maybe--we could sell enough to pay for the show (and, of course, some beers). This was our added incentive to run around in the 100-degree heat. It was also a given bonus that if you sold Navajo Tacos, it was very likely that you would get to eat one.

There are three basic main ingredients to a well made Navajo Taco: Frybread, chili beans, and grated cheese. However, the toppings may vary depending on the taste of the individual. I like mine with tomatoes, lettuce, onions, and hot salsa. I have been taught the process of blending flour, baking powder, salt, milk, and lukewarm water to make the dough for frybread. Unfortunately, I have not perfected it yet because my dough usually comes out as a clump of plaster clay. When done right, the dough should be soft and airy and stretchy. There’s nothing like the crackling sound of hot grease sizzling in bubbling fashion around the soft texture of well crafted dough. When the dough is gently placed in the hot oil, the sound is like a scattering glass precisely hit with a sharp tipped instrument. The resonations of the flopping flop sounds of dancing sizzles are enough to bring an eager willingness to bite into the soft, hot and often crunchy frybread. I have to admit that my sensory memory is being overwhelmed as I write this.

I remember the excited facial expressions of the others as the phone rang; it was enough to say, “Alright, our first costumers!” As the day wore on, Dub and I operated as the delivery guys and we got to see where all the Navajos lived in the complex. We were greeted with gratitude because some were away from home and a Navajo Taco was welcoming sight. We felt like we weren’t only providing food to people, but a connection back to the Motherland of the Navajo Nation. At one apartment that we delivered to, a group of Navajos were enjoying themselves on a Saturday afternoon, drinking beer and watching TV, when we rung their doorbell. We were greeted with a loud, “Hey the food is here!” when one of them blurrily asked, “What did you order, pizza?” And one of the ladies of the apartment answered, “Pizza! You can get pizza anytime, these are Navajo Tacos! Pizza?” Then, to us, she said, “Hey, you two want a beer?” That last question was tempting, but we were on the job and we had a goal in mind. It seemed like every time we returned from a delivery, we had to head right back out taking with us our hot product. It was madness for about a couple of hours before it was announced that the monetary goal of $119 was met! We cheered and, most importantly, we got to sit down and eat.

I don’t recall when, but I do remember my older brother asking, “Do you guys want to go to the show?”

October 6, 2008

Last Taste of Summer Sorbet

First thing I heard that morning was the sound of her too-tall heels shuffling their way toward the door of my apartment. It must have been, oh, 3 or 4am. Despite my desire to tear out of the sheets and throw my body in front of the door and beg and plead with her to never-ever-ever go, I didn't move a muscle. No, I didn't move. Played dead. Gonna save my pride this time, I thought.

I heard her grab her keys, heavy with the objects dangling from the chain: 2 troll dolls, a beer bottle opener, a picture of the two of us on a roller coaster in a small plastic frame, and a Schnauzer figurine. Hidden in the clink-clink of this kitschy mess was one key, the key to my apartment. Next, I heard her fumbling with the clasp of her bra. Heard the plastic click of her lipstick container. Imagined that lipstick spreading on those Angelina Jolie lips of hers. And then--then, she was gone. Door open, door close.

This is the 27th time Summer has abandoned me. Each year I hope she'll change her mind and stick around. "If you move with me to the Southern Hemisphere, baby, you can have me longer this year," she said a few weeks ago. And I've considered the move--really, I have. I mean, once you get a taste of Summer, sometimes you feel like you'd do anything to make that love stay. However, I had papers to grade...and no money saved...and a late-20s tension headache. Something about the move didn't sit well with either of us, so we didn't talk about it after that.

As the days grew less humid, I could sense that Summer was getting antsy. After knowing this woman for 27 years, I can tell when she's fixin' to leave. September comes around, and all of a sudden she throws a sweater over her tube top, starts losing her tan, and switches from Camel Lights to organic cloves. Nearing the end of the month, she's long gone. Nothing I do or say can make her stay, so I've given up trying. I guess the best I can do is remember the good times, right? That, and hope she'll show up on my doorstep next year with a pack of ice-cold Coronas in her hand, a slice of lime between her pink-pink lips. Because no matter how sour the goodbyes, I don't change the locks.

The morning she left, I concocted a sorbet using some of Summer's favorite flavors. With each bite, the memories of her flood in like a giant monsoon--takes all I've got to put the spoon down and walk away.

Last Taste of Summer Sorbet

The recipe below is not super-specific. With these ingredients, however, you can't really go wrong!

3 handfuls of Concord Grapes (or other inky grape)
2 handfuls of strawberries
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup water
a few lavender buds
a touch of vanilla extract
a drizzle of honey
1 drop jasmine extract (optional)

1. Bring a bit of water to a boil, and then drop in your handfuls of grapes. Let boil for 2 minutes. Once you see the skin peeling back a bit, take off the burner and let sit for a few minutes. Strain grapes through a wire sieve. Hopefully this will yield close to a cup of fresh juice. Set juice aside.

2. Bring to boil the cup of water with the 2/3 cup of sugar. Maintain boil until sugar has dissolved, and then remove from burner. At this point you can toss the loose buds right into the sugar mixture to infuse the syrup with a flowery flavor. This smells fabulous!

3. In a food processor or blender, blend the strawberries, vanilla extract, honey, and jasmine extract. Blend for close to 1 minute, making sure no pieces of strawberry remain. Add the fresh grape juice, and blend until combined.

4. Once the lavender syrup is at room temperature, strain out the buds and blend together with the fruit. Pour mixture into an 11X13'' casserole dish.

5. Every 30 minutes for 2 hours, you should remove the sorbet and whisk. This ensures that your sorbet will not crystallize.

6. Eat. Remember. Cry.

October 3, 2008

Chocolate Stout Brownies

With the economy quickly melting into a giant puddle of Velveeta, one must learn to cut corners. One must begin tightening one's belt for the difficult times that lie ahead. One must acquire the skills to kill two birds with one stone. Or four squirrels with one stick. Or 7 hot dogs with one gag. One must gather in the fine leathery reins of exorbitant spending and eat said reins, diamond studs and all. If one is not careful, one will be forced to eat oneself. One does not like the sound of that one bit.

Okay, it's time to get real with oneself--er, myself. When it comes to buying food, I find it hard to cut corners. I find it hard to sink my teeth into leathery reins when such things like dark chocolate, chocolate stout, and white chocolate exist in this world. Oh--and Dutch-processed cocoa. And semi-sweet chocolate chips. And butter. Oh my...

Call me crazy. Call me naive. But since I only have one life to live, I make it a point to indulge from time to time in my favorite treats. On any given Sunday morning, for example, you can find me munching on truffles, caviar, and saffron-infused creme brulee in my baroque-inspired gazebo.

Well, maybe my indulgences are not that extreme. I do, however, enjoy a good dark beer from time to time. And I find it hard to shy away from purchasing a good bar (or 10) of dark chocolate.

Could my obsession with chocolate and beer--an obsession made possible, as of late, by a plastic card--be the cause of this current economic crisis? Maybe, and for that, America, I am sorry. However, will a chocolate stout brownie suffice as a bailout? Run it by those guys in the House, and then let me know. In the meantime, I'll put my oven on preheat.

Below is my recipe for Chocolate Stout Brownies, stolen/adapted from the blog A Mingling of Tastes. The only change made to the original recipe (which was adapted from various online recipes) was this: Mingling's recipe calls for Guinness, and my version calls for Young's Luxury Double Chocolate Stout. Any stout beer will work...but why refuse to add another layer of chocolate to this chocolately dessert?!

Chocolate Stout Brownies:

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
8 ounces dark bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 ounces high quality white chocolate, chopped
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cup Chocolate Stout beer, at room temperature
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 13 x 9-inch baking pan with nonstick foil (or regular foil coated with nonstick spray); or, use a nonstick pan coated well with nonstick spray.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa and salt; set aside.

3. Melt the chocolate in a medium saucepan. Combine the dark chocolate, white chocolate and butter. Over low heat, stir until chocolate and butter is melted and combined. Set aside.

4. Combine the eggs and sugar in a large bowl and mix on high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add melted chocolate in two additions, beating on medium speed until combined. Add flour mixture in two additions, beating on medium speed until combined. Add one-third of the beer and whisk until combined. Repeat two more times with remaining beer.

5. Pour brownie batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle chocolate chips evenly over top. Bake for 23 to 27 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (mine took exactly 25 minutes). Cool completely in pan, cut into 24 squares and serve. These are excellent eaten within 24 hours (possibly longer; I’m not sure), and they freeze very well.

(Pictures to come!)

September 27, 2008

You Said It, John Keats!

In his poem "Ode to Autumn," John Keats described fall as the "Season of mists and mellow fruitfullness." Once again another seemingly immortal summer has weakened and dissolved into a chilly and vaporous autumn. The winds begin to roll in, forcing us to seek refuge in woolly sweaters. The songs of birds unravel with slight threads of anxiety we didn't notice when the air was warmer, thicker. Change, no longer an abstraction or a political slogan, is all around us.

We can see, hear, smell, feel, and most definitely taste this transformation from summer to fall. It's times like this when we remember that the earth's axis does, in fact, exist. We spin and tilt, spin and tilt, until--suddenly!--our environments metamorphose almost miraculously before our eyes.

This is the season of reflection, of maturation. Summer--the tube top-wearing, 20-something stripper--throws on a brown sweater and decides to teach a seminar on Women Philosophers of the Late Modern Period. This brown-sweatered Ivy Leaguer is Fall. If Fall were a woman, she would consider Dostoyesvsky "light reading." She would open curtains dramatically. Her sigh would be a rhetorical marvel; in it we would finally understand our own existence. She would says things like, "Internet? I would rather not participate in that experiment. What about passion? Where is passion in a pixel? Now, pass me the ground white pepper, darling."

Is she pretentious? Sure. But would we would love her anyway? Yes. We would always love her. Why? Because she's just so, well, cool (in an old money, New England sort of way). Plus, underneath all of that wool and lavender mist and hosiery, she's pretty damn sexy. She carries the experience of the world in the way she walks and talks and cocks her neck ever-so-slightly when listening to her super-cool friends say super-interesting things.

God, will I ever be as cool as Fall?! Probably not. I doubt terms like "super-cool" exist in Fall's vocabulary.

Maybe, however, I've gotten Fall totally wrong. Maybe she's not an Ivy League Professor in Massachusetts, but instead an organic farmer in Montana...or a lonesome cowgirl in Douglass, Arizona...or a Ukrainian egg painter. As Keats noted in his poem, Autumn is the season of mist; just when we think we have it figured out, it morphs into something new. We need drowsy eyes from which to view this season. With eyes too logical, or eyes too curious, we may become frustrated with the ephemeral nature of fall. (This is philosophy my brown-sweatered autumn woman would definitely dig. She's a fan of ambiguity.)

Here's a dessert sure to please those of you ready for the "mellow fruit[s]" of fall. It's full of everything this season is about: subtlety, calming spices, and sophistication.

Spiced Fig Upside-Down Cake (adapted from an online recipe you can find here)


2 tbs. melted butter
3 tbs. brown sugar
10 black mission figs, halved
1.5 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cloves
pinch of salt
1/3 cup olive oil, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup rice milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 egg whites

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Coat a 9-inch round cake pan with cooking spray. Coat bottom of pan with melted butter, and sprinkle with 3 tablespoons sugar. Arrange fig halves over sugar, cut sides down. Set aside.
3. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 6 ingredients (through salt), stirring with a whisk. Place 1/3 cup butter and 3/4 cup brown sugar in a large bowl, and beat with a mixer at medium speed until blended. Add molasses and egg yolks; beat well. Beat in milk and vanilla. Add flour mixture to butter mixture; stir with a whisk just until blended.
4. Place egg whites in a medium bowl; beat with a mixer at high speed until stiff peaks form. Gently fold egg whites into batter; spoon over figs in prepared pan. Bake at 350 fot 55 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool 15 minutes in pan on a wire rack. Loosen cake from sides of pan using a narrow metal spatula. Place a plate upside down on top of cake; invert onto plate.

September 19, 2008

Edible Weekend Magic

After a stressful week at work, nothing calms my spirits more than spending some time in the kitchen. Come Friday afternoon, I'm tired of thinking, speaking and analyzing. I'm ready, instead, for magic. Real magic. Edible magic.

Such magic works like this: throw plants & minerals & potions together in one big bowl, blend them together with possessed hands & wrists, and toss this chemistry into the oven to complete the nearly-final step of this alchemical process. Of course, the final-final step is to take the baked-broiled-braised-roasted food into our bodies. Chew. Swallow. Digest. Live.

Nothing comes closer to magic than this. (Well, some would argue that Richard Simmons is more magical, but I'll save a discussion on his brand of magic for a later post.) Cooking is one of the only (Western) arts that allows us to become the thing we have created--literally. Unlike other art forms that are designed and manufactured to stand the test of time, we accept food's pregnable fate. Its destruction is inevitable. We add colors and decorations and fancy names to our food to ensure this destructibility.

However, I'm not so sure "destruction" is the right word to use when describing the act of eating. Sure, the act of eating involves the breaking down of matter into smaller and smaller pieces until, finally, we can no longer see certain parts of the original whole. Our bodies are gifted with minerals and vitamins and emotional comfort, none of which we can see with the naked eye. These chemical processes, charted to some extent by Science, depend on our collective suspension of disbelief. This scientific stuff happens inside of us, we think, but the fact that it does happen is also part miracle.

No, the act of eating is not a destructive act, but a magical one: one thing collapsing so that another thing can live. This is magic, a magic we perform on a daily basis--no microscopes or awkward scientists needed!

Here are my magical-alchemical-superradical plans for this weekend:

1. Lavender extract: While I won't get the chance to actually use this extract for a good two months, I will begin the infusion process this afternoon. The recipe is simple: 2 tablespoons of lavender buds + 1 cup of vodka. (I'm sure I'll find other "culinary" uses for the remaining vodka. Is "drunk" considered a culinary use?)

2. Fig Upside-Down Cake: Brown sugar, molasses, figs, ginger, cloves, butter... How could this recipe do me wrong, baby?

3. Lemon Quick Bread: One of the loaves will be reserved for a coworker of mine who's expecting his first baby in less than a month. I thought that the soft & spongy texture of the bread + the sharp wails of citrus would work well to represent everything that is baby.

4. More French Toast: I can't get enough of this ginger-cinnamon-maple-milky-moussey goodness! I feel like I've devoted an entire loaf of bread to my French Toast endeavors this week. I tried throwing blueberries onto the skillet the other day while the toast was browning, and the berries magically melted into soft pearls of creamy sweetness. Pour them over the top of your toast, and you've got yourself one helluva breakfast (or lunch, or dinner). Yum.

5. Pear & Thyme Tart: If time permits...

What do you hope to find on your plate this weekend?

September 13, 2008

Lavender Cupcakes

Most of my friends know about my love for purple food. I eat purple food any chance I get: potatoes, cabbages, plums, heirloom tomatoes, cauliflower, blueberries, etc. Tonight I get to add a new purple food to the list: lavender.

Tonight was not my first experience with eating lavender, but it was definitely my most memorable encounter so far. Lavender Dagoba bars have long been among my favorite chocolate bars on the market. Since these bars also contain dried blueberries, however, the lavender flavor always seemed to be overshadowed by the 59% dark chocolate and the zing of the berries. In other words, lavender plays more of a supporting role in these bars. It might even be the prop guy or dog-star washer. We know it's there behind the scenes, but we forget about it once the show begins.

For tonight's dessert, I wanted to give lavender the opportunity to finally put on the evening gown and reveal herself for the entertainer she really is. No supporting roles. No fancy lighting. No Governors of Alaska dissing on community organizers. Just one light shining down brilliantly on Lavender.

Since I had yet to bake with flowers, I didn't know how best to incorporate them into the batter. I could do many things to infuse the cupcake batter with the flavor of the buds I recently purchased. At first I considered making homemade lavender sugar or lavender extract. While making both is quite simple, I would have to wait 2 weeks to 2 months to use either. I could make lavender butter, but I wasn't sure if the resulting flavor would be strong enough. (Or, did I not want it to be strong?) I decided to infuse rice milk with about a tablespoon of the dried lavender. After bringing the milk to a boil, I could toss in the buds and let their floral flavor seep into the liquid. This method seemed the most promising. It would make it easy for me to guage by smell just how strong the potion was. If too strong, I could add more milk. Likewise, I would be able to add more flowers if the scent were too weak.

Below is the recipe for my Lavender Cupcakes. Since I have many, many buds left, I have plans in the works for making lavender extract. Just imagine a touch of this potion added to pancake batter or whip cream!

In other purple food news, I bought some delicious-looking concord grapes this afternoon. With wine. Do I smell another purple sorbet?!?! Maybe I can find a way to work lavender into that recipe. I think I would explode into purple vapor at the first bite!

Lavender Cupcakes with Lavender Cream Cheese Frosting
(makes 12)

1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
2/3 cup cane sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. culinary lavender buds
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup rice milk

Lavender Cream Cheese Frosting:
1/2 cup cream cheese
1/2 cup butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 lb. powdered sugar
1 tsp. culinary lavender buds

To make lavender infused rice milk (or any milk of your choosing):
1. Bring milk to a boil. Remove from heat and add the 2 tsp. of culinary lavender. Allow
mixture to sit for 20 minutes.
2. Once mixture has cooled, strain. Set milk aside for the batter.

To make the batter:
1. Cream sugar and butter together until smooth.
2. Add eggs, one by one, until mixture is foamy and airy. Add vanilla extract. Whisk with a
hand-held whisk.
3. In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients with a whisk.
4. Go back and forth between adding the lavender milk and the flour to the creamed sugar.
Once all ingredients have been added, whisk mixture for 1 minute until smooth. At this point I
also added some of the buds that had simmered in the milk.
5. Distribute batter evenly into muffin tins. Bake for 18 minutes at 350.

To make frosting:
1. Beat the cream cheese and the butter until smooth.
2. Add the vanilla extract. Beat until all ingredients are evenly mixed.
3. Slowly add the powdered sugar until the frosting reaches the consistency you desire.
4. Finally, add a few lavender buds if you like. Fold buds into the mixture.

Once cupcakes are done, give them an hour to cool before adding the frosting.

Unlike Lavender Dagoba Bars, there's no denying the main ingredient in these cupcakes! Every bite is lavender romping on stage in a sequins dress, her hair a great purple afro!