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."