August 30, 2008

Payday Sorbet*

Today I received my first paycheck in what feels like eons. Can you hear my sigh of relief from where you're sitting? If not, it sounds something like this: Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

It's been 2 months since I've been paid. Or more. At this point, I've stopped counting.

Like they say in Argentina when the wallets are light, "No tengo ni un mango," or, "I don't even have a mango." (Thanks to credit cards, however, I DID have berries. Lots and lots of berries. No mangoes, though.)

So, after picking up my first check from payroll, I did what any (fiscally irresponsible) girl would have done: I shopped like an aristocrat.

Forgetting, for just an hour, about my accrued debt, I loaded my shopping basket with the following items: strawberries, Mascarpone cheese, whole milk & whipping cream & butter from Maple View Farm (an NC dairy just north of Chapel Hill), red wine, Belgian beer, dark chocolate bars, organic thyme, etc.

My excuses for such exorbitant purchases are numerous, ranging from the celebratory to the, uh, celebratory? Whatever! I don't have to explain myself! I don't regret these purchases! In fact, I already have plans for all of these items, beginning with the dessert I created tonight that rings with the bells of celebration: Thyme, Wine & Berry Sorbet.

It's been hot and muggy in Wilmington the past few days, so I knew I needed something frozen to break the tension. My mind was instantly reminded of the blueberries and blackberries I had thrown in the freezer a few weeks back. Hmmmm...what goes perfect with berries? WINE! Of course!

This sorbet was still in need of a little umph. Berry sorbet? Good, but nothing new. Berry sorbet with wine? Yeah, sounds good...but not yet fantastic. Berry sorbet with wine and...thyme?! Yes! Thyme would be the herbal thread to sew together the dryness of the wine with the sweetness of the berries.

I love finding ways to bring herbs into the dessert world. Our pallets seem ever-surprised when they encounter a hint of basil in dark chocolate, or the sharp echoes of cilantro in a lemon bar. Thyme is one of those herbs that, in my opinion, goes great in just about any fruity dessert. I've used it before in apple tarts, peach pies, and mascarpone-berry parfaits.

There are also some delicious mojito recipes out there that call for thyme. Maybe part of my next paycheck can wander down this refreshing path.

What follows is the recipe for what I call Payday Sorbet, a yummy combination of thyme, wine, blackberries, blueberries, and pomegranate molasses.

Payday Sorbet


1 cup berries (I used blueberries and blackberries)
1 cup wine
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup water
5 sprigs of thyme
juice of 1 lime
2 t. pomegranate molasses (optional)

Mascarpone & Honey Whipped Topping:

1/2 cup Mascarpone Cheese
3 Tbs. honey
1 t. vanilla extract (optional)
zest of 1 orange (optional)
1. Simmer together the sugar, water and thyme in a 4-quart saucepan. Stir mixture frequently. Bring to a boil. Once mixture comes boils for 1 minute, set aside and let cool to room temperature.

2. In a food processor, puree the berries, wine, lime juice and pomegranate molasses. Blend for 1-2 minutes, or until berries are completely pureed.

3. Once sugary liquid has cooled, extract the sprigs of thyme (and maybe save for some roasted veggies!) Pour sugary liquid into the food processor that still contains the berries & wine, and blend for a few seconds. Once the thyme-infused syrup is combined with the berries, pour mixture into an 8x8 casserole dish.

4. After an hour, take the sorbet mixture out of the freezer and rapidly blend with a whisk. This will prevent your sorbet from crystalizing. Repeat this quick whisking every hour for 3-4 hours. Some recipes recommend putting mixture in a blender or food processor every hour, but I find this to be a hassle. Whisking works just as well.

5. While your sorbet miraculously transforms into frozen goodness, get out a small bowl in which you will blend your whipped topping. Whip the half-cup of Mascarpone cheese until it softens and smooths out. Add the honey, orange zest and vanilla. Whisk for 30 seconds. This delicious topping can be stored in a refrigerator for 2-3 days.

6. When your sorbet is ready to devour, scoop some into a cup or bowl, and then pile on as much creamy topping as you like. Maybe add a sprig of thyme to the dessert if you wish! This topping also works nicely in a fruit parfait.
Treat yourself to this decadent dessert on your next payday!

August 29, 2008

Beach + Fried Food = An Almost Perfect Formula

Last weekend I happily munched on these greasy morsels of breaded okra at Carolina Beach, just 20-something miles SE of Wilmington. While I never really considered myself a beachgoer, I must admit that North Carolina's sandy coastline is the perfect location to indulge in a bulging shrimp burger with a side of fried okra. (If only I had a bowl of fried ice cream to go along with this oil-icious meal!)

First fried okra experience: was okay. Sort of. Well...

While I can't say that I LOVE deep-fried okra, I enjoyed it more than the raw okra I tossed into my salad earlier this month. (Surprise, surprise!) This batch of okra from A & G BBQ really stood up to the fry, and I respect that. While some veggies turn limp or grease-logged when bathed in oil, my okra stayed crisp, fresh and flavorful. However, the gumminess I complained about in "Okra Confessional" was still present in the fried version, and maybe this is something that one eventually learns to love--like onions, or our parents' dog. On the other hand, maybe I just need to come to terms with the fact that okra just ain't the pod for me. I hope this is not the case.

To set the matter straight, I'm going to give fried okra another shot. The flavor of a dish as seemingly simple as fried food depends on many factors: the cook's preferences (and mood), quality of ingredients, amount of ingredients, region, season, etc. Taking these factors into account, I don't want to dismiss okra after only two tastings. After all, it took me months to enjoy yerba mate' tea, and years to finally be able to stomach Brussel Sprouts. After all the agony I endured while growing up with these mini-cabbages, Brussel Sprouts are now among my favorite vegetables. So, who knows--maybe okra will soon have a place at the top of my culinary list!

This Southern cuisine deserves another chance in my own kitchen. Third time's a charm, right? (Or, as with my experience with Brussel Sprouts, the 87th time might be the charm.) A co-worker shared with me her recipe for fried okra, and in a week I'll be stockpiling my fridge with my not-so-favorite--yet!--green pod.

August 24, 2008

(Kind of) Pretty Trash: Round 1

Here is my trash after a day of stuffing myself with South Carolina peaches, bananas, garlic mashed potatoes, coffee, coffee, avocados, roasted beets, and Lord knows what else:

Now, what does yours look like? Show me how colorful or utterly disgusting your own garbage is after a day of feasting.

Late Night Improv: Chocolate Berry Cake

The creative ideas expressed by fellow food bloggers inspire my taste buds on a daily basis. However, I usually find my cupboards to be lacking some of the essential ingredients needed to spontaneously recreate these dishes. Every time the title of a post unfurls its tendrils in my direction, I will grow dangerously excited: Honey Raspberry Semifreddo?! Lemon Almond Torta?! Avocado Coconut Ice Cream?! "Oh hell no," my brain will say when it hears of desserts such as these. Quickly that disbelief evolves into hyperactive desire: "Iwantthese-Iwantthese-Iwantthese!"

Then reality sets in.

When I read the list of ingredients, I usually realize that I don't have even half the stuff the recipe calls for. Since I make multiple trips a week to the grocery store to stock up on fresh produce, it’s usually not a big deal if I encounter a recipe for which I am missing an ingredient; what I don’t have today, I can surely hunt down tomorrow.

Sometimes, however, there arrives a late night desire to throw a recipe together, and we may find ourselves unable to gather all of the ingredients needed to satisfy that instant fix.

Such was the case for me tonight when I discovered a recipe titled “Chocolate Cherry Cake” on :pastry studio’s blog. Instantly, I was seduced by the images, ingredients, and soul of this cake. When my senses become seduced, my brain has little choice but to join them in their hypnotic donkey ride into bliss. “I wantthis-Iwantthis-Iwantthis,” my brain once again chanted. What could I do but offer my body this delight?

Still lost in entrancement, my eyes skimmed down to the list of ingredients, and I soon realized that this particular cake would be out of reach—at least for this evening. I was lacking bittersweet chocolate, cherries (hmmm…this could be a problem), lots of eggs, kirsch, and butter. In other words, I was screwed. After all, what’s chocolate cherry cake without chocolate…or cherries?

My body, however, remained in a state of yearning—it yearned for the marriage of bold cherry to courageous chocolate; it yearned for that soft pillow of vanilla, butter and milk whereupon cherry and chocolate would have their first make-out session; it yearned for the subtle, the delicate, the bitter and the sweet, all merging together into one, unified cloud of orgiastic delectation.

Translation of soap opera jargon: I was hungry.

So, what could I do? Well, I did have that quart of frozen blueberries (and a few blackberries) I stored a few weeks back: And, while I didn’t have bittersweet chocolate, I DID have Dutch-processed cocoa. (I know, I know—cocoa is a poor substitute for the real slabs of chocolate the recipe calls for, but I was getting desperate.)

After taking inventory of the few edible items my kitchen had in-stock, I finagled with the original recipe just a bit—well, a lot. I’m sure it’s not as delicious as the :pastry studio version, but it definitely held me over until tomorrow when I can finally purchase the ingredients for the original cherry-filled recipe. My blueberry version of the recipe follows:

Chocolate Berry Cake
(adapted from :pastry studio's adaptation of David Lebovitz's recipe)

Candied Blueberries (with a few random blackberries):

1.5 c. blueberries
1 c. sugar
1 c. water
¼ c. red wine (any ol’ kind--I used a cheap Pinot)


1 1/2 c. unbleached flour
1/3 c. cocoa powder (though I would probably use 1/2 c. were I to make this again)
1 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1/3 c. olive oil
¼ cup rice milk
4 Tbs. sugar
2 t. vanilla
2 eggs

1. Throw the berries, sugar, water and red wine into a 4-quart saucepan. Simmer on medium high heat for 20 minutes. Once a foam (so purple!) develops on the top of the mixture, bring heat down to medium. Stir occasionally. When mixture is done, berries will appear wrinkly and sauce will be slightly thickened:

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt, and sugar. Set aside.

3. In a small bowl, stir together the oil, rice milk, vanilla and eggs.

4. When berries are deliciously soft & wrinkly, remove them from the saucepan with a slotted spoon. Set aside in a small bowl and allow to cool to room temperature. When berries are at room temperature, add to the oil mixture. Also add 1.5 cups of the syrup.

5. Combine wet ingredients with dry ingredients, making sure to stir quickly with a wooden spoon for 1-2 minutes. Pour into a greased 9” springform pan. Bake at 325 for 40 minutes.

6. When cake is done, allow to cool for 10 minutes. With a fork, make a few perforations on the top of the cake, and then pour 2 Tbs. of the remaining berry syrup onto the top. This will make the cake even more moist and flavorful!

August 19, 2008

Devil Tomatoes, Virgin Mary Banana Chips, and Much, Much More!

Have you ever found a cross hiding inside your Russet Potato? Has the olive oil you left heating in the wok ever transformed, miraculously, into the face of Satan--or Frank Sinatra? Has your fried chicken strip ever taken on the shape of a hippo?

If you answered "yes" to any of the above questions, then you will definitely get a kick out of the website I just stumbled upon: the Museum of Food Anomalies, otherwise known to the cool & cultured kids downtown as MoFA. This site devotes itself to "the art of regular food gone horribly wrong." Yes, some of it is very, very wrong...but I can't stop looking!

The galleries are divided into categories, ranging from the ever-popular "Conjoined" and "High Art," to my personal favorite, "Religious Artifacts." As a collector of all things Virgin Mary, I was pleased to find the piece titled "Virgin Mary Banana Chip." Sticking with gallery formalities, the MoFA addresses the media of each piece. For example, "Virgin Mary Banana Chip" is composed of the following: "Banana Chip. Holiness." "Tomato Diablo," on the other hand, was constructed out of the more traditional, though difficult to work with, "Unadultered Evil."

Finally, an institution that will support me in my endeavor to build corpora in the important (though terribly underfunded) field of Interpretive Corn Flake Studies! I was beginning to run out of space in my apartment for my Tina Turner-shaped CF artifacts...

Have you ever found any strange shapes or messages in your food? If so, please share!

August 15, 2008

Berry Country, USA

Muffins have long been a comfort food for me. Not only are they delicious in a grandma's-country-porch-in-the-summer sort of way, but they're easy as hell to make. When preparing muffins, it's hard to go wrong: mix the dry ingredients in one bowl, stir together the wet ingredients in another bowl, combine the wet with the dry, pour the batter into the tins, and 20-25 minutes later you have 12 moist, aromatic little pillows of deliciousness that will bow to the needs of your sweet tooth. Muffins are also extremely versatile, leaving much room for improvisation. From spices to fruits, vegetables to seeds, muffins can handle just about any ingredient you throw their way.

Yes, muffins provide me with the love and companionship I am unable to find in real people. (Wait...I should save this discussion for my future therapist.)

Nothing meshes better with the just-sweet-enough batter of muffins than the super-sweet pop of berries. Luckily, I currently live in an area where berries are not only bulbous and abundant, but they are also cheap! When living in Arizona, it was impossible to find a mere quarter-cup of raspberries, blueberries, or blackberries for less than $4! These high costs caused me many-a-berryless night. Oh, the agony! While I was sitting at home munching on grapes and old newspapers, I imagined the rich and famous over-filling their bathtubs with gooseberries, cherries, and acai. I'm not quite sure what these aristocrats would do with (or in) these berry-filled tubs, but that was not the point: the point was that many could afford such juicy luxuries, while I, poor and in desperate need of antioxidants, could not.

Until North Carolina.

Berries thrive in this coastal environment. In fact, North Carolina's agricultural revenue relies so heavily on berries that in 2001 the General Assembly named the strawberry the official "Red Berry" of the state, while blueberries were named--you guessed it!--the official "Blue Berry" of the state. In 2005, NC strawberries brought in over $19,000,000 of revenue, while blueberries shoveled in close to $37,000,000. That's a lot of money...and a lot of gratifyingly stained fingers and lips!

In a fair economic market, local agriculture translates into better prices for the local consumer. 'Tis the case with the North Carolina berry. Just yesterday I found myself wandering around Harris Teeter, a grocery store found in 5 southern states, including NC. I approached the berry display with much hesitation. "Don't do this to yourself," my brain said in its all-knowing British accent. "Don't tempt yourself with these plump and succulent jezebels that your bank account cannot handle. No. No. No! Wait...what?! 4 quarts for $6?! Hellz yeah!"

I couldn't believe my eyes. Both blueberries AND blackberries were on sale: 4/$6. Unable to trust the 2 signs before me, I nudged the produce guy and asked, "Are those prices for real?" He gave me a confused, though assuring, "Uh, yeah. I guess."

So, needless to say, I stocked up. When I say "stocked up," I don't mean to imply that I spent $6 on 4 quarts. No. Unlike my paternal grandmother who stockpiles the shelves of her basement with dusty canned goods "in case disaster strikes," I am cheap (and apparently at risk). For a gal used to buying a mere handful of berries for a million dollars (plus the souls of my unborn children...and maybe even yours), "stocked up," in berry terms, means that I bought 1 quart of blueberries for $1.50. 1 quart is more than enough for now.

Think of all the things I could do with these berries in the future! Think of the pies I could bake, the sorbets I could blend! Think of the endless muffin tins I could satisfy with such goodness! And, most importantly, think of the bathtubs I could soon fill for no purpose other than, well, it might be good...and snobbishly delicious!

***By the way...did you know that a persimmon is a berry? Vedi intedesteeng!

Recipe Time:

A few weeks back, I came into possession of an unknown quantity of blueberries & a yet-undisclosed amount of blackberries. The coordinates of this purchase will remain top secret (mostly because my memory is bad & I fail to remember where the hell I bought these tasty fruits.) Anyhow, after suffering a mad muffin craving, I decided to throw both berries into the batter. Orange juice and zest were also added. The recipe follows.

Blueberry-Blackberry-Orange-Good Muffins
(inspired by Orange Blackberry Muffins at the blog Genesis of a Cook)

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup honey
1/8 cup of sugar
1/2 cup olive oil
Zest and juice of 1 orange
3/4 cup rice milk
2 eggs
1/2 cup blackberries
1/2 cup blueberries

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease the muffin tins with a little bit of olive oil.

2. Pour the orange juice into a large bowl, and pour in enough rice milk to yield 1 cup. Whisk in the eggs and honey. (I can see a little splash of wine working well in this concoction as well!)

3. In a large bowl, rub sugar and orange zest together with fingertips until the sugar is moistened. Whisk in the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and gently but quickly stir to blend. Stir in the berries. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups.

4. Bake for about 22 to 25 minutes.


August 14, 2008

Charred Mutton

Nathaniel Curley, a past student of mine from Dine' College (Tuba City, AZ), has volunteered to be the first guest writer for The Moody Kitchen! Nathaniel is not only a talented poet and fiction writer, but he also shares an intense respect and love for what he eats. In his short essay below, he takes time to reflect on mutton, a dish that connects him to both his family and Dine' culture.

At my grandmother’s home in Birdsprings, located 20 miles north of Winslow, Arizona, the best time for fresh mutton would be late spring, or early summer, but it’s not uncommon to get the meat at other times of the year. Most Navajos I know love to eat mutton, but mostly they just love to eat. I’m no exception. There is a sense of freshness when meat is directly processed in front of one’s own eyes. Since its inception into the Navajo culture, sheep has been greatly depended on as a natural food source.

Growing up on the Navajo Reservation, I have come to learn the value that these animals hold. They are a troublesome livestock to care for because of their constant need for more grass and water, which neither is abundant out here in the arid southwest. This habitual tending to the flock only makes the meat taste sweeter. There is an air of accomplishment when people comment on the thickness of fat on the ribs, or the tenderness of the meat melting into their willing mouths. As a kid, I didn’t give much thought as to how I contributed to the raising of the flocks, only that it was my job to know when to chase them in. In all that time of growing up, I observed that smiles were easier to make when the lips are lined with bits of mutton grease, or at any time when we ate.

My grandfather, Ashe K. Yazzie, as it is spelled on his Arizona ID, taught many of us grandchildren to butcher by letting us participate at a very young age. I have yet to master his level of slicing and dicing of the feeble sheep, but I don’t think I’d ever starve if I ever were to become stranded on deserted island where sheep flourished. Active participation in butchering carries with it a sense of pride that fills me with gratitude that I might, someday, be able to provide food for my family. Butchering has taught me that mankind has a powerful responsibility of respecting life, especially animal life, because we can easily take it. When we do make the decision to take the life of an animal, it has to be for the purpose of good like quenching hunger, and not for the mere intention of profit. I don’t mean to be preachy, but there is a difference when it comes to killing for the sake of feeding your family, and killing for a franchise chain, or for sport. There is a means of closure when a kill is done where every part of the animal is use for a different specific purpose. When my grandparents butcher, every part of the sheep is used, from the meat to the internal organs to the skin. I want to convey the purity or sacredness of killing an animal for human consumption, because not many things come close to cooking a fresh kill over an open flame.

***All photographs were taken by Nathaniel. Since I a still trying to figure out how to incorporate captions, I'll include Nathaniel's captions here:

Figure 1: Roasting mutton and Navajo tortillas
Figure 2: No caption
Figure 3: My grandmother's flock
Figure 4: My grandfather, Ashe K. Yazzie, roasting fresh butchered mutton

Thanks, Nathaniel, for contributing your writing and images to the Moody Kitchen!

August 12, 2008

Okra Confessional

My knowledge of Southern food is, well, limited. Very limited. Here is my confession: My name is Jada, and even though I write a food blog about food, the pleasures of eating it, and the things I know about it, I must embarrassingly admit that, before last week, I had no idea what okra was. I (maybe) knew that okra was food, and I (probably) knew that it was green; otherwise, okra was a fuzzy mystery that my mouth had never experienced.

And maybe it should have stayed a mystery…or, at least my version of it.

Craving a fresh and meaty peach, I drove over the river to Eagle Island Fruit and Fish Market for the second time in one week. The wide variety of this market is fantastic: South Carolina peaches bursting at their fuzzy seams, quarts of freshly picked blackberries for $2.50, and all the catfish, night crawlers and moonshine-flavored pancake syrup a gal could ever want!

In addition to these beautiful, (mostly-) tasty & edible products, Eagle Island also sells okra—and lots of it. Whenever I move to a new place, I find it necessary to sample whatever I can of the local cuisine. I had never tasted okra, and there it was piled in glorious (yet intimidating) piles in front of me. Since I am not yet fluent in okra, I chose a few of each shade: light and airy green, to the confident and presumptuous pea green. Some carried the bruises of maturation, while others bore the daring gleam of teenagers.

After purchasing these furry pods of varying shade and experience, I began worrying about how to prepare them. Should they be steamed? Fried? Eaten raw? Should I bread them with cornmeal? Flour? Should I give them names and tuck them into lettuce-leaf sleeping bags before bedtime? (My neuroses has hit a new high.)

Like any other computer-dependent 20-something, I directed these questions to the most valuable, wizardly source available: the Internet. There, I found out that frying my okra was not the only option; I could also chop it up and eat it raw. This relieved me, as I usually don’t like to dunk my food into a pool of oil unless, of course, I’m making eggrolls. Or frybread. Or breaded cauliflower. Or fried cheese. Or…

OK. So I DO enjoy fried food. But, if I’m sampling a food for the first time, I’d like to taste the entire idea of the food before baptizing it in oil. The act of frying sometimes compromises the integrity of a dish. I wanted to save the delicious degradation for later.

(Note: Sometimes real live people should be consulted before the Internet. Especially when working with okra. And especially if the Internet is telling you to eat okra raw. Remember that the Internet does not have taste buds, and should, therefore, not be the ultimate authority on food preparation.)

So, since I had a lot of other delicious vegetables on-hand—turnips, broccoli, red bell peppers, snow peas, etc.—I decided to make a fresh chop salad with a balsamic & pomegranate molasses dressing. After happily chopping all of my vegetables, I unveiled my okra pods from their plastic sheath. They looked stunning: long, sleek pleats ran from stem to base; fine furs softened what, otherwise, could have been a stiff and cold demeanor.

I chopped the first pod with much enthusiasm, and just when my glee was at its peak, I tossed a piece into my mouth. It was then that I felt it: the jelly-like innards oozing to the back of my tongue and down my throat. The sensation was fun, but not appetizing. Who knew that a pretty and respectable pod could so quickly transform into disreputable slime! This same gel is actually what makes for a good gumbo. During the cooking process, okra releases this sticky substance, which, ultimately, works to thicken the gumbo.

Good for the gumbo, but bad for me.

When I told some of my co-workers about my experience, they, too, seemed disgusted that I had disgraced the okra by not frying it before consumption. Frying, a process that I had earlier assumed would compromise the okra, actually, according to okra-professionals (or at least the people who eat it, cook it, love it), might enhance its qualities after all. While in the fryer, okra’s gel infuses and strengthens the breading, making for a jelly-free meal! (According to a reputable source--human, not Internet--cornmeal makes for a better breading than flour.)

Hopefully this weekend I will get the chance to plunge my hands into the okra bin once again, and if all goes well, I will learn to love this furry, gelatinous pod. If there’s anything I’ve learned so far in Coastal Carolina, it is this: if you don’t like it, fry it!

*I apologize for the lack of photos on this blog. I will soon be purchasing a digital camera, which will make for a prettier page.

August 9, 2008

Ode to Papalote

I love burritos. In fact, I sometimes consider myself to be somewhat of a burrito snob. It seems a strange thing to claim to be a know-it-all of a food that, when translated from Spanish to English, means "little donkey." Yes, while some people are connoisseurs of fine wine, moose milk cheese, and rare melons (a black melon just sold in Japan for over $6,000!), I like to think of myself as a connoisseur of the widely popular (though culinarily underestimated) "little donkey." My snobbery only costs me, on average, $2 to $5 a pop. This is a snobbery I can afford.

Burritos have long been considered a dish of the people: they're cheap, they travel well, and when stored properly, they can stay fresh and delicious for days on end. What's even better is that the options for filling are endless. While some prefer their burritos to be stuffed with eggs, burritos, and black beans, others might prefer wine-marinated shrimp, Soyrizo or tiger prawns. If it's edible, chances are it has been stuffed into a burrito.

But even if it seems impossible to ruin the delicious, populist fare that is burrito, I am sure that all of us, at one time or another, have been a little less than impressed with the results. Sometimes the cook skimps on the main ingredients (which, in most cases, would include the fillings with the most protein: beans, meat, tofu or eggs). Other times the many ingredients are not evenly allocated before the cook begins the ever-artful wrapping process; as a result, one end of your burrito might contain all the lettuce and cheese, while the other end is heavy on the beans and guacamole. In any case, a dish that seems easy enough to master can go wrong in a number of ways.

Papalote, however, was very right. When I visited my friend Jaime in San Francisco last January, she told me she had a new obsession: a local burrito joint by the name of Papalote. Jaime's obsessions, more often than not, soon become mine. Over the years we have shared a love for Virgin Mary knick-knacks, Frida Kahlo paintings, and Tarot readings. If she loves it, I know it's cool. So, I was a little more than eager to sink my teeth into a burrito from a place she was tauting as "her favorite burrito joint--ever."

Boy, was I impressed.

I ordered the wine- and butter-marinated shrimp burrito, which also came loaded with black beans, rice, avocado, tomatoes, lettuce, and cheese. Mexican street food usually comes with a number of free sides, including salted cucumber, radishes, and pickled carrots; I was pleased, therefore, to find my plate adorned with radishes, melon and mango. The contents of the burrito were evenly allocated, so that with every bite my teeth sliced gently into a succulent, deliciously seasoned shrimp. This is rare; in the past when I have ordered a shrimp burrito, the pieces of shrimp were few and far between. Not with a Papalote burrito. Each bite gave me just what I wanted: juicy shrimp, Monterrey Jack cheese, black beans and rice, all fused together in both taste and texture. The flour tortilla was lightly toasted, which made the burrito much firmer and easier to handle--not to mention, tasty!

7 months have passed since I devoured this burrito, and I am still obsessing over it. The only problem is that there are over 2,500 miles between me and Papalote. Damn the size of this country...

While researching San Francisco burritos, I found that many residents of the Bay Area have intense feelings regarding local burrito history and culture. On Wikipedia, there is even an entry for "San Francisco Burrito"! Interestingly enough, San Fran burritos are noted for being loaded with rice (unlike traditional Mexican burritos) and hefty in weight. Many Bay Area blogs devote themselves entirely to the burrito. I admire their obsession with and respect for a meal that I hold close to my heart--and mouth.

August 8, 2008

Pineapple Coconut Cookies

Here's my daily understatement: Summers in Coastal NC are hot.

A more adequate description of a Wilmington summer would sound something like this: Summers in Coastal NC are &%$*-ing hot as @#$%. (This description would inevitably continue, touching on such issues as the &%$*-ing humidity and the &%$*-ing mosquitos.)

So when I felt a cookie craving earlier this afternoon, I thought hard about how using the oven would shoot my already-steamy apartment up another 10 degrees. I didn't know if I, or my cat, would be able to handle more heat.

However, my cookie cravings are strong--like, really, really strong. Really.

So, I gave in. What's 10 more degrees when in the end your sweat and exhaustion will be rewarded with pineapple coconut cookies? These cookies sound summery enough, and what's better is that the recipe calls for only 5 ingredients. Less ingredients equals less bowls, less mess, and, ultimately, less prep and clean-up. These cookies are beginning to sound summer-friendly after all! I mean, think of all of the bending and kneading, stretching and straining involved with preparing a chocolate chip cookie. The ensuing suffering would surely send me into a sweaty rage!

It didn't take me long to justify my impractical summer craving: "5 ingredients. Summer-friendly. 5 ingredients. Summer-friendly." Pretty soon the idea of making pineapple coconut cookies on a hot, summer day made more sense than wearing flip-flops to the pool.

This recipe is adapted from David Lebovitz's blog, and you can find the original recipe here: DL Pineapple Coconut Cookies. I made a few modifications, including the addition of 1/4 teaspoon of ginger and 1/2 teaspoon of cumin. Yes, cumin. I find that cumin pairs nicely with coconut-flavored treats, but you could just as easily ignore this modification.

Pineapple Coconut Cookies (original recipe with slight modifications)
(Additional spices should be added to the bowl of ingredients early in the mixing process. Keep in mind, though, that adding more ingredients to this recipe may result in heat exhaustion. Modifications should, therefore, be avoided in tropical climates unless your craving is beyond control.)

1 twenty-ounce can of crushed pineapple (in it's own juice)

4 cups unsweetened coconut

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar

3 large egg whites

1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoons powdered ginger

1/2 teaspoons cumin

1. In a large skillet, preferably non-stick, heat the crushed pineapple and its juice over moderate heat until the liquid has evaporated. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the pineapple gets sticky and begins to brown and caramelize. Remove from heat when it's reduced to 2/3 cup.

2. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the coconut, sugar, ginger, cumin, egg whites and vanilla extract.

3. Mix in the pineapple.

4. To bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 375 degrees and adjust the oven rack to the center position.

5. On a parchment-paper covered baking sheet, form the dough into 1 1/2-inch tall pointed mounds, squeezing the dough with your fingertips to form little pyramids.

6. Bake the cookies for 14 minutes or until the cookies are browned up the sides, rotating the baking sheet midway through baking (the tips may burn slightly, which is fine).

7. Cool the cookies before serving. These are best served the same day they're baked.

Yield: about 36 cookies.

Preaching atop the Cracker Box

(Pardon the preachiness that follows!)

As a child, I wasn’t much interested food. I mean, sure—I loved to eat. I ate every day. I ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I ate snacks before meals and in between meals. Sometimes I ate until I was sick, and other times I ate only to be left with the desire for more. When in the company of friends or strangers, I ate with a fork, a spoon. When alone, I ate with my hands. I ate ravenously. I ate quietly. I ate with precision. I ate with love. But if asked how I felt about food, my answer would have been indifferent at best: "Uh, well, I guess I like it."

Most of us, I think, can agree on one thing when it comes to the act of eating: we like it. Simple as that. We will always need food, and we usually view that daily responsibility not as a burden, but as a source of ritual happiness. The relationships we have created with food have just as much to say about our identities as they do with the biological imperative to survive. We are what we eat, and we eat to live.

Eating is something that all of us do on a daily basis. We need food. For our hearts, brains, and cells to continue beating, thinking and dividing, it is imperative that we put nutrients into our mouths. These careful acts of consumption, of course, fulfill a necessary process, and, as a result, our bodies live. This biological performance is nothing less than magic—real magic.

Unfortunately, when we begin to think about the process of eating as being equivalent to gassing up our Toyotas or charging our computers, we risk losing a part of ourselves. When we break food down into a scientific formula (vitamins + minerals + water = survival), we can’t help but view ourselves as the logical result of a boring equation. Where is pleasure in such an equation? Where does magic reside?

It is so easy to fall into this trap that the rhetoric of science and health has created. A simple trip to the grocery store offers proof of how deeply this rhetoric has altered our relationships to food. Shiny boxes speak loudly of what’s to gain by consuming 1 serving of the miracle they hold inside: Fiber! Antioxidants! Protein! Vitamin B6 AND B12! Omega-3s! Calcium! This list of fiery, Ginsbergian proclamations goes on and on. We are seduced by such promises. We can’t help but think that a little boost of flax seed protein or potassium is just what our bodies need to get back on track. But, what does it mean to get “back on track”? From what shady, disease-ridden alleyway do our bodies have to return? Why did we consider our bodies to have derailed into dangerous territory in the first place?

These questions demonstrate exactly why a language of science is so problematic when it comes to how we think about food. When a cereal product claims it is rich in fiber, for example, we stop looking at the food as a whole. We may not care so much if the cereal tastes good. We might not concern ourselves with such things as texture, aromas. We might not care so much about the healthiness of the ingredients—the long list of alien words on the side of the box that we are unable to pronounce. We see FIBER!, and we see it as The Word.

In sum, we are beginning to look at food as merely a means of mechanically transmitting energy to the vehicles of our bodies. We are seduced by the energy these food “products” have to offer. We may see our bodies as lacking what it needs and are compelled to purchase a product in order to satisfy that need: Am I not getting enough fiber? Will one bowl of this cereal in the morning be enough of a boost to reach the 30-gram-a-day recommended serving? After I eat these 8-grams in the morning, where the hell will the rest of my fiber come from? Oh God—am I not getting enough? Will I ever get enough?

While these questions may exaggerate our neuroses just a bit, the point I’m trying to make is that the food industry has a way of speaking about food that could potentially damage the emotional and cultural relationships we so desperately need with what we eat. A box of cereal, to me, should mean more than merely accomplishing 1/3 of my daily fiber intake. These fractions leave us in perpetual want—there is always more to achieve, more nutrients to consume, more regions of our bodies that could perish if we don’t fulfill the daily checklist. We need to resist the image of food that has been shaped by a purely scientific clay.

In his 2007 book In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, Michael Pollan analyzes what he sees as being a shift from viewing food as a product of nature to viewing food as a product of science. Such a shift causes us to view what we consume as “edible foodlike substances”: substance A, B, and C must be consumed in due proportion, and then—and ONLY then—can you expect to achieve optimal health. Are you up for this mathematical challenge?

Viewing food through this scientific lens takes food out of the field from which it grew, out of the Polaroids of our memories. It yanks food out of our fingers, our bodies, and our spirits. Through this new lens food becomes something that we can no longer touch, taste, and enjoy; instead, we are encouraged to download it with the systematic rhythm of a computer. Our gears buzz and our files multiply, but can we describe the delight experienced by slipping small squares of dark chocolate into our mouths? Do we have the language needed to narrate the drowsy way it melts on our tongue? Do we know what it tastes like to kiss the chocolate-infused mouth of another? I don’t know if these are questions that science can answer, but I know, for sure, that these are questions I never want to stop answering.

Our bodies know what we want, what we need. If we listen to our cravings and pay attention to the gentle rhythms of our own systems, we can gift our bodies with what they need to live. There is much joy to be had by loving food without a calculator dictating, to the decimal point, how much that love should weigh.

Welcome to The Moody Kitchen!

Food is an obsession. While it goes without saying that we all eat to live, we cannot argue that most of us also live to eat. We love the sensation of popping a blueberry between our molars, the electric-purple juices exploding into the mysterious caverns of our mouths. We are comforted by the gentle combination of cheddar and pasta on a cold night. We recall, with much trembling satisfaction, the calculated rhythm of appetizer-entrée-dessert presented to us on a first date. We try with all of the power our fingers can muster to create the same triple chocolate cookies our grandmother made for us when we were young. Yes, food is all things: body, therapy, sex, and memory.

This blog is a naïve attempt to capture the many dimensions of food. While I accept and respect the scientific perspective on food—vitamins, minerals, daily caloric intake, half-a-cupful and no more, etc.—I think that our relationship with what we eat is much more complex than these rudimentary measurements are able to express. Contemporary discourse on food has much to say about cells, health, and logic, but I would also argue that food offers us other elements that fuel our survival in equally important ways: poetry, escape, intimacy, culture, and history. Sure, we could survive without these elements, but what type of existence would this be? I prefer a world full of crunch, spice, and texture.

Food feeds more than our bodies—it feeds our desires, our sense of adventure. Every time you throw on an apron and thrust your hands into a warm bowl of yeast, sugar and flour, you are entering a process that gives your whole body pleasure. This blog is a naïve attempt to explore and document that pleasure—to try to explain why something tastes/looks/smells/feels/sounds so damn good, and why that goodness is important.

This blog is the result of many people taking time out their busy days to ruminate on the excitement of experiencing something delicious or wholesome. If you have an experience with food you would like to share, please send it my way: I want this blog to be a collaborative foodie journal. Recipes, poems, stories, photographs, and manifestos are encouraged!