January 13, 2009

Hippie Science

Burger, Burger, glowin' bitchin'
On the counters of my kitchen,
If you give me one last taste
I'll glow green in outer space.
"Glowing green" is good I hope,
But if it's not I'm sure I'll cope.
I'm glad I got this off my chest;
Please consider my pale request,
Baby.

XOXO,
Clementine Zesterton

This poem was written for a very special veggie burger. A burger whose utter luminescence could only be scientifically engineered by the most new agey of hands. How does a burger glow without radiation, you might be asking? You add as many green-and-glowing vegetables and legumes to the mix as you possibly can, that's how. The superfood miracle I designed in my kitchen last night was so green, in fact, that it did have the power to make my body shine. Metaphorically speaking, that is. It shined with the light of holy, kale-fondled goodness.

Veggie burgers, in my opinion, have so much untapped potential. Often, veggie or bean burgers sold in the frozen food sections at most grocery stores are more fluff than nutritious, more bark than teeth-in-your-thigh. And, most often it seems like these frozen patties try so hard to look and taste and smell like their meaty counterparts that they lose all sense of who they really are, you know? I'm all like, "don't compromise yourself, girl," but the veggie burger just doesn't listen. She continues to mope in a self-medicating, meat-mirroring state like a girl who can't get over her first boyfriend. The thing is, that dude was never good for her anyhow. He lied, cheated, wore her bras, and thought work was something he "just couldn't connect with in a spiritual way." God--why doesn't she just get over him already and find herself! Why doesn't she become the veggie burger we all know (or, at least we think) she can be!

This is why I decided to experiment with some veggie-heavy variations of the traditional veggie burger last night in my own labratory. Since it is hard to find a veggie burger that does not don a soy mask in the name of "meat substitute," I decided to create my own green-glow monster. Before diving head-on into the realm of science, there were a few things I needed to assess:

Madness? [Check]

A method to that madness? [Say wha'?]

Science is tough, eh? It's not all lab coats and cute scientists. So, before jumping into the lab, I guess I needed to devise a scientific plan. Usually I say "ah, criminy" when it comes to devising plans, but this research was, well, how should I say this...this research could mark a shift in the path of hippie history. May no other hippie man, woman, or child be forced to consume another frozen disk infused with liquid smoke!

So, after eating a banana and pondering real hard, I came up with a research plan:

Research Question: Is it possible to put the "veggie" back in "veggie burger," or must one continue to remain in a vacuous state of greenlessness?

Research Tools: Lots of green stuff, beans, and state-of-the-art kitchen shit (like a bowl, skillet, and burger-flipping device).

Method: Mix loads of random stuff together, try to press said stuff into a patty, and grill said-said stuff.

Measure of Success: The following things will signal the acceptance of delicious molecules: my tongue, nose, brain. Neurons will probably fire. Other cellular functions and things will fire, too, I'm sure.

Margin of Error: 2%, give or take a few

Final Result: Wow, +/-2%

The experiment went off without a hitch! Well, until my eyes became a little blinded by all the brilliant green materials glowing from beakers and bowls. Confused and blurry-eyed, I accidentally added cloves (eeek!) to the mix instead of cumin. However, the end result was still delicious despite this research error. Whether or not the resulting success was at all affected by this error can only be determined by future research. Here's to a bright (hehe) and sexy future in veggie burger research, folks!

Veggie-Heavy Veggie Burgers
(makes about 5 or 6)

Ingredients:

1/2 onion, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
3 ribs of celery
2 jalapenos, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 TBS olive oil
1/2 tsp. of cloves
1 tsp. whole cumin seeds
dash of turmeric
2 TBS. sesame seeds
2 slices of toasted wheat bread, crumbled into pieces
1 package frozen peas
1 can black beans
a few handfuls of kale cut into small strips
salt and pepper to taste

1. Saute first five ingredients in the list in olive oil for 7-10 minutes on medium heat. When onions become slightly transparent, then you can add the cloves, cumin, turmeric, salt and pepper. Coate veggies in spices, and then add the sesame seeds and kale strips. Saute for another minute, and then remove from heat.

2. In a large bowl, mash together your black beans and peas. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the cooked veggies and toast to the mashed legumes. Stir until combined.

3. Form mixture into patties, and then grill over medium heat. My burgers sort of fell apart, which is what future research in this burgeoning field will hopefully rectify. However, don't fret. Just eat the pieces that fall up during the flip. Cook about 2 minutes on both sides, and then serve on your bread of choice!

(Unfortunately, the brilliance of these burgers was so intense that the pictures developed all blurry and postmodern. And I take yet another step toward digital photography...)

January 10, 2009

Sturdy-Woman Winter Vegetables & Two Recipes

Do you hear the mandolin-legs of crickets somewhere in the distance? Is the ivy threatening to stretch its arms all slender & sexy-like up your white picket fence? Are you waking to the ribbon-songs of robins and finches and sparrows? Are you galloping around your house naked, making deer-leaps from the coffee, to the bowl of fresh strawberries, to the spotlight of sun beaming through your kitchen window?

No? Crap. Me neither. Truth is, we've got a ways to go before springtime seduces us from our wintry slumber.

However, there is no need to fret! Until those first dew drops of spring arrive, we've still got plenty of delicious cold-weather standbys to feast upon: root vegetables, pumpkins, citrus fruits, stored grains, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, artichokes, avocados, etc. Winter is the season of hardy-woman food--food that nurtures us despite the ice-blasting elements in which it is made to survive. For some reason, when I think of winter food--and when I try to compare this foodstuff to a woman, which, as you know, I love to do--I think of my Great-Grandma Larrair. Even though my great-grandmother died before I was born, I feel like I know her through the stories told to me by my mom and grandma. I'm sure these stories are often more legend than truth, but I like believing in them. They paint a picture of a fiery, opinionated, big-boned woman who stood her ground, loved many men, and kept things (and people) alive with her hands. In my imagination, those hands are charged with electricity: sometimes they are planting maple saplings around the perimeter of my childhood home, while other times those hands are smacking the ass of my mom's horse as a way of prodding it to "Go, son--move!"

And still other times, those hands are proofing yeast, or draining bacon grease into an old coffee canister, or stirring the chicken & dumplings just one last time. Her hands are never still, never resting--they're always moving and rattling and creating and digging. They have to, almost, because this woman would not stand for anything less than energy and surge.

Winter vegetables are much the same: they're either rooting deep into the hardened soil, or they're trying hard to preserve themselves in jars, sacks, freezers and cellars. In any case, they last. Even after their thick-armed roots have been ripped from the soil, they can last for months, or sometimes even years, if stored properly. And it's that ability to endure that sustains us through even the most blizzard-stricken of seasons. (Well, I guess we can also thank Safeway and the global marketplace for our winter survival, too...but, whatevs. Gotta give props to those yonder-year methods from time to time!)

Like those leathery root vegetables of winter, my great-grandmother's memory has proven itself capable of long-lasting preservation. While I may not need that root-memory for my physical survival, it sure doesn't hurt to have a whiskey-loving, no-crap-taking woman in my family tree whose roots, I hope, can channel a little of their lifeblood into my own branches from time to time!

Below are two recipes sure to fill you with comfort and warmth as we ride out these last few months of winter. These dishes are chock-full of some of the best sturdy-woman winter staples: potatoes, winter squash, beets, oranges, sage, and flour. What's so great about these dishes, though, is their delicacy, their emotional appeal. Despite the fact these recipes rely on some brawny ingredients, they become something softer when manipulated by our own hands. My great-grandmother wasn't all gruff, I'm sure--and these two dishes, I feel, make me understand the woman underneath the iron-and-steel into which legend has preserved her.Butternut Squash & Potato Dumplings with Sage-Butter Sauce
(In the Midwest, which is where I'm from, we'd call these starchy little treats "dumplings." However, you could just as easily call them "gnocchis," which is what potato dumplings are called in Italy--and throughout many parts of the U.S. nowadays. "Dumplin'" sounds more cozy, and we need all the comfort we can get this time of year!)

For Dumplings:

1 lb. butternut squash
1 large russet potato
12 sage leaves
Egg Yolk
3 cups white flour
1 tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper

1. Roast 1 medium butternut squash for 45 minutes at 350. (Or, use 1 can of butternut squash.) The real thing is cheaper, though, and it yields way more meat!

2. While squash is roasting, boil peeled chunks of potato in lightly salted water. When potato is tender, drain it and allow it to dry.

3. In a large bowl, mash your potato with your squash meat. In the middle of mashing, add the nutmeg, salt, pepper, egg yolk, and 2 minced sage leaves. A dash of olive oil wouldn’t hurt, either! Continue mashing until well combined.

4. Begin adding the flour in stages, and stir. Your mixture should begin looking like dough, and you should be able to knead it without it sticking to you. You might need to add more than what the recipe calls for depending on how much squash and potato you had to work with. (I added close to 3 cups, I believe.)

5. When dough is ready to give into your fingers, place on a floured surface, and knead for 1 minute. You may need to flour your fingers, as the dough can become quite sticky at this point!

6. Tear off a third of your dough, and begin rolling it into a long strip, about 1 inch thick. With a sharp knife, begin cutting off little 1” squares, and set aside on a strip of parchment paper.

7. Bring a pot of heavily salted water to a boil, and then drop in your dumplings. They should be fully cooked in 5 minutes! Remove with a slotted spoon, as dumplings are quite tender.

Sage Butter Sauce with Mushrooms

-1/3 cup butter or margarine (I used Earth Balance Spread)
-1 cup sliced mushrooms
-handful of fresh sage leaves
-pinch of nutmeg, salt and pepper1. In a large frying pan, stir butter over medium heat until it begins to bubble. (I used a non-dairy spread instead of butter, but either would work.) Reduce heat just a tad, and toss in your strips of sage. I used about 10 leaves, but feel free to add more! Next time I plan on using around 20.

2. Slice mushrooms of your choosing, and toss into the pan. (I used the cheap white ones.)

3. Once mushrooms begin to brown, add salt and pepper to taste. A touch of nutmeg wouldn’t hurt either!

4. Pour over warm dumplings, and serve immediately! Your heart will melt into buttery/margariney heaven…

Orange-Glazed Beets
(for 1 or 2) Adapted from Isa Chandra Maskowitz's Vegan with a Vengeance

1-2 beets
juice of 1 orange
zest of 1/2 an orange
1 tsp. maple syrup
1/4 tsp. salt
ginger (optional)

1. Cut beets into small pieces (about 1/4 inch bits), and toss into a saucepan with the other ingredients. Bring to a small boil, and cover for 10-12 minutes, until beets are tender.

2. Uncover, and stir. Increase boil for 4-5 minutes until liquid reduces and thickens to a glaze.

3. Serve warm or chilled. Achieve nirvana.

January 3, 2009

Feasting on Hemingway's Hunger

Hunger is good discipline and you learn from it.
--Ernest Hemingway, Moveable Feast

When Hemingway said that that cutting back on eating and drinking could make one write more--and better--it was obvious he didn't have a food blog with which to concern himself. While reducing the amount of food that we consume can, I found, sharpen one's focus with the pen, it certainly doesn't produce many exciting morsels for food writing. In other words, there is little room for creme brulee or wine sorbet or orange-walnut brie when adhering to such a regiment.

Which is why I've been a delinquent food blogger as of late, folks. But, don't blame me...blame dear ol' Hemingway.

I feel like I picked up Hemingway's Moveable Feast at a magic moment. The perfect moment. Kinda like when a guy sees his unknown twin brother from the window of his departing train and knows then, at that exact moment, that he is not alone. That he has another half somewhere out there in the world. That's exactly (and by "exactly" I mean "kinda") what my experience was like when sitting down to read Hemingway's collection of essays he wrote while a young-buck expat in Paris.

In the essay "Hunger Was Good Discipline," Hemingway tauts the mental benefits of cutting back on food. At first, I thought that such "hunger" would leave one in a constant state of want. I mean, doesn't "hunger" imply that there is a genuine lack of something considered necessary? When we delete the things we love, will we not mourn those losses? And, depending on what our bodies are made to do without (food?!), won't our bodies weaken...or die? These are questions I thought I knew the answers to before embarking on my own journey of Hemingway's brand of hunger.

First, before I begin sounding insensitive, allow me to clarify what I mean by "hunger" in this context. For many--MANY--we know that hunger is not a choice. To say that "hunger is good discipline" to someone who has no choice but hunger is nothing less than cruel and ignorant BS. Hemingway did not literally "go hungry" in Paris. Even though he wasn't exactly living the champagne-and-truffles life of a literati when he wrote these essays, he certainly had the means to provide (very) basic food for himself and his family. Unlike the way we usually speak about hunger, Hemingway's version of "hunger" was neither forced nor life-threatening.

What Hemingway meant when he said "hunger is good discipline" was that if we resist overindulgence in some realms of our lives, we can devote more focus and energy to other areas of our lives. In his case, he believed that cutting back on over-eating and over-drinking (Hemingway?!) would make him a more disciplined writer in a world where he had a LOT of brilliant competition. And, according to his essay, such a regiment seemed to work. He underindulged (like this new word?) in food so that he could overindulge in his art--and the art of others:

"[A]ll the paintings were sharpened and clearer and more beautiful if you were belly-empty, hollow-hungry. I learned to understand Cezanne much better and to see truly how he made landscapes when I was hungry."

When I began leafing through these essays in early December, I had already begun to change some of my eating and lifestyle habits on a whim. (I am a frequent whimmer, which means I might "whim out" of some of these habits soon. Ah, well.) I cut out dairy. I began eating more uncooked veggies. I started running. And, lo and behold, I had much more energy for reading and writing. Maybe that energy was born out of a refusal to overindulge--a sort of "hunger," a happy lack. (Or, maybe it was merely an end-of-semester spurt of optimism.) In any case, I was feeling very, very satisfied. So satisfied, in fact, that I had no desire to eat all of the tasty, buttery, melt-on-your-tongue holiday delectables that usually appear at work and home and dreams come mid-December. I was willing to sacrifice the taste of those treats for the taste other things.

I could get all new-agey and say that I was "present" or "in a metaphysical sphere wherein I finally got a chance to look at myself in the mirror & when I looked I waved not to myself but to my twin brother. From a train." But, no--all I'll say is that things were/are good...and maybe Hemingway's "hunger" deserves all the credit.

However, this blast of Good also left this blog a barren wasteland devoid of sweet delights, save my mom's pretty banana split poem. (Thanks, Linda Lee.)

So, where does this new-found hunger leave the blog? Same place it was before! Except, I'm not so sure you'll be seeing any deep-fried cupcakes or cream cheese pound cakes anytime soon. The gears are shifting, but the direction of the vehicle is still undetermined. Here are some goodies I am currently looking forward to experimenting with and blogging about in 2009, however:

-Yeast breads
-Veggie stews
-Homemade wine
-Vanilla extract
-Lavender-walnut whole wheat pancakes (nope, I'm not giving up on lavender just yet!)
-More food poems and stories!
-Veggie sushi
-Anything with turnips--my new favorite grab-and-go treat
-Stuff infused with tea--I'm thinking muffins, scones, etc.
-Anything with hominy
-Vegan ginger cookies with home-crystallized ginger bits
-Meatless cabbage balls (representin' Hungary!)

In conclusion, I apologize for forgetting about food in December. I was eating--don't get me wrong. But, I'm not so sure raw turnips (hellz yeah!), avocado on toast, or yet another bean burrito (can I get another hellz yeah!) was Moody Kitchen material.

I'm not going to leave this post without offering up something delicious for you to bake, however. Below is a recipe for Sparkled Ginger Cookies from Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Vegan with a Vengeance. I baked a big batch of these cookies, plus some pumpkin muffins, for my students during Final's Week.

Happy 2009, lovelies! (And congratulations to Grieve & Co.! I can't wait to visit you in your new home overseas.)

Sparkled Ginger Cookies
makes 2 dozen
Ingredients:

-4 Tbs. turbinado sugar
-2 cups flour
-1 tsp. baking soda
-1/4 tsp. salt
-2 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
-1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
-1/2 tsp. ground cloves
-1/2 cup oil (I use olive)
-1/4 cup molasses
-1/4 cup rice milk
-1 cup turbinado sugar
-1 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease 2 cookie sheets. Place the tablespoons of turbinado sugar in a small bowl.

2. Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices.

3. In a separate large mixing bowl, mix together the oil, molasses, rice milk, sugar, and vanilla. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet and combine well. Roll into 1-inch balls, flatten onto a 1 1/2-inch-diameter disk; press the cookie tops into the turbinado sugar and place 1 inch apart on a prepared cookie sheet.

4. Bake 10-12 minutes, let cool on cookie sheets for 3-5 minutes, and transfer to cookie rack.