March 28, 2010

High Art for Those with Low Standards

True artists refuse to be bound by the rules of society. In the face of Standardization, they spit fluorescent saliva. In the ear of Tradition, they whisper, "Thanks, but no thanks."

When it comes to vision, a true artist views his world not through the eyes of mainstream culture, but through the gaze of his own pulsating pupils--pupils that perpetually widen and constrict like the mouths of glow-in-the-dark sea anemone. Yes, a true artist stands alone, inventing and inventing and inventing with a brush that gives birth to the past, present, and future--all at once. And if a canvas does not exist upon which he can initiate that fantastic rupture in space and time, then he makes a canvas of his world.

Take, for example, Duchamp's famous urinal, aptly titled "Fountain"; or Frida Kahlo's self-decorated body cast; or even the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, TX. My friends, the work of true artists cannot be imprisoned by standard media.

Since I consider myself to be one of the truest, brilliantest, bohemianest bohemians of them all, I knew I had to think outside the box for artistic inspiration. So, I stepped outside of my box (literally--I'm so quirky and eccentric and artistic that I actually live inside a 4'x4' glass box; it represents the ideological boundaries created by society, culture, government, the media, and other, uh, stupid things), drove my homemade unicycle to the grocery store, and THERE found the unique canvas I had been craving: corn tortillas.

Two things stood out about corn tortillas in my mind, both of which assured me that this new artistic medium would make my work seem at once rebellious, playful, and, of course, deeply philosophical. 1.) Corn tortillas are circles, not boxes--of which I am trying to think outside, remember? 2.) Corn tortillas are edible! I will literally eat my art! This will really draw a new fan base for my work: the Buddhist, "art-is-impermanent" crowd. Like a god, I will give birth to, and then destroy, that which I create. Born-again Buddhists love that kind of stuff.

So, without further adieu, here is the high art you've been waiting for. If you wish to witness the great life cycle my great artistic hands have the great power to unleash, feel free to drop by my place/box any night for dinner. However, please be reminded that cameras are not allowed. Nor are cell phones, joyful attitudes, or personalities.

Jalapeno, Egg & Roasted Sweet Potato

Red Pepper Hummus and Horseradish Cheddar

Hummus, Red Pepper, Cashew & Olive Oil

Cinnamon, Sugar, Ground Ginger & Olive Oil

March 8, 2010

The Art of Persuasion

Red Curry Rhetorically Dominating the Shitake Masses

When a friend emails you a recipe, sometimes you pay attention, and sometimes you don't. After all, life is short; if a recipe presents itself to us wearing anything but a tight red dress and stilleto heels, what's to keep us from looking for newer, sexier, more scantily clad recipes? Answer: Nothing.

However, when a friend emails you a killer recipe, in addition to a stunning photograph of the dish in question, in addition to the rhetorically effective message below, chances are you might pay attention:

"Make this. It is totally a delicious noms."

I received this very message from a friend of mine, Matthew, last fall. This message--in addition to the delicious-sounding recipe & delicious-looking photograph--grabbed my attention by the balls and forced it to listen. I could not resist such artful use of rhetoric--the imperative "make this" followed by the playfulness of "totally a delicious noms." This was not a message I would soon forget. Like a tight red dress at a business meeting, this message/recipe was at once sexy and commanding, with a hint of fun woven into the threads.

If it weren't for my aversion to the idea of soup, I probably would have made Matthew's Curried Coconut Soup with Lemongrass immediately. Instead, I kept it safe in my inbox, knowing that one day--one day soon, when I felt cold and desperate enough to stoop to the prissy level of soup--I would break it out and be made whole again with its spice, its sexiness.

That day came at the end of February when, driven to the igloos of my wintery insanity, I needed to reignite the fire inside. It was there, that space between near-frostbite and frostbite, that I remembered Matthew's words: Make this. Make this. Make this. In moments of icy despair, one submits gladly to dictatorial commands. So, I heeded to Matthew's evangelism, gathered the necessary ingredients, and, with a cold & februaried brain, somehow managed to fumble through the soup-making process.

Prepping the Ingredients

Let me tell you, this soup will knock the icicles off your socks! It is everything at once: rustic, creamy, delicate, manly, spicy, acidic, pillowy, and woodsy. Just when you thought you couldn't handle another flat & icy minute of winter, this soup comes along and complicates the hell out of winter's one dimensional lameness.

Thank you, Matthew, for forcing my taste buds into soupy submission. Your message, albeit two measly sentences, resurrected the tired animal inside of me.

And now, for all of you, I have only one message: MAKE THIS.

A Very Persuasive Bowl of Soup: photo via Matthew

Curried Coconut and Lemongrass Soup
(From Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, with adaptations below. Thanks, Matthew, for the recipe images!)

Since my lemongrass was a little old (and, hence, tough), I decided not to mince & blend. Instead, I opted to infuse the soup with the halved stalks and removed them before serving.

Also, I added Thai rice noodles and 1 lb. of extra firm tofu to this recipe. The tofu was added at the same time as the stock, and the noodles were added with the coconut milk. I'm sure chicken, shrimp, or rice would be just as tasty!

March 3, 2010

Doing Right by Accident

Proof of Happy Accidents

Most accidents don't end happily...which is why we call them accidents. Take these two accident scenarios, for example:

Example 1: You accidentally send your boyfriend an email that was meant for your lover: "Please don't let Steve, your brother and best friend and godfather of your three children, know that you and I are madly in love. Even though I can no longer stand Steve and his ridiculous addiction to Kim Kardashian, he is rich, and that I can stand. After I marry Steve next week, I can empty our then-joint bank account and finally run away with you. I love you." There's a good chance Steve will not see a silver lining on this particular cloud.

Example 2: You accidentally forget (and by "forget" I mean "are too drunk to remember") to feed your sister's cat (the cat she lovingly refers to as her "soulmate") while she's away on a three-week vacation. She returns from the jungles of Cambodia to find that Frederick, her loving feline, is no longer a part of this world. No matter how many times you say, "I'm sorry, it was an accident"--even if tears of holy-Virgin blood pour from your eyes--this is not an accident your sister would soon recall with joyful sentiment.

It's accidents like the ones above that give accidents a bad name. Sometimes the rancid flavor of such accidents can linger on our tongue for weeks, years, or even eternity. (Yes, Steve may still refuse to forgive you even in the afterlife.)

The accident I made a few days ago, however, left a much less rancid taste in my mouth. In fact, the taste was pretty damn cosmic, in a blackberries-and-cream sort of way.

Blackberries, Cinammon, and Sugar Awaiting Transformation

You see, I had plans to make a clafoutis. (Just so you know, "clafoutis" is a fancy-sounding French word that means "to fill up.") Basically, a clafoutis is a custard-like thingy that you "fill up" with fruit, usually fresh cherries, before baking. (Just so you know, "thingy" is not a fancy-sounding French word.)

Anyhow, after baking my berries, prepping the creamy batter, and whipping up the meringue, I realized that my 8x8 baking dish had gone missing. Not really wanting to mess with ramekins, I instead opted to break out the 8x13 baking dish. It looked like I had enough berries & batter to fill 'er up; plus, I figured that by using a larger dish, I could reduce the baking time and, hence, enjoy my clafoutis even sooner! "Good save," I thought to myself, not knowing that an accident was lurking underneath all that positivity.

These maneuvers did, ultimately, lead me into Accident Territory. The clafoutis didn't puff to its normal 3-4 inch potential; instead, it was as thin as a crepe (which is a fancy-sounding French word that means "curled"). ("Curled" is an English word that sounds fancy enough to be French.)

Don't let this "accident scenario" fool you into thinking the resulting dessert was poor, however. In fact, despite this recipe's lack of flour and butter, this accidental crepe was the most cumulus-like crepe I've ever clafoutied my mouth with! (Get it? Clafoutied? When will this fun French wordplay ever end? "Hopefully soon," you say? Lame answer.)

If you're hankering for a airy, marshmallowy, gluten-free crepe that turns purple overnight with the summer-infused blood of blackberries, then this is the recipe for you! I jazzed the batter up with a little jasmine extract, which you can find at most Asian markets. In place of the jasmine, you could just as well add a teeny bit of almond extract. Both extracts go a long, long way, so be very conservative with your dose.

This dessert stands as proof that our contemporary understanding of "accident" is antiquated. Give this word new life in your own kitchens by making accidents of delicious consequence!

What happy accidents have you created in your own kitchens?

Accidental Blackberry Clafoutis Crepe
(inspired by the Alice Waters recipe for Cherry Clafoutis in the Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook)
-1 lb. blackberries (I used pre-packaged frozen berries, and they tasted GREAT!)
-juice and rind of 1 lemon
-a sprinkling of cinnamon
-1/4 c. sugar
-2 eggs, separated
-5 tbs. sugar
-1 tsp. vanilla extract
-1/4 tsp. jasmine extract
-1/3 c. heavy cream
-1/8 tsp. salt
1. Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease an 8x13 baking dish with olive oil. Arrange the blackberries on the botton of the baking dish. Sprinkle them evenly with the juice, rind, cinnamon, and sugar. Bake for 8-10 minutes.
2. While the berries are baking, beat the egg yolks and sugar in a medium sized bowl until well blended. Whisk in the vanilla, jasmine, and cream.
3. When the berries have softened a bit and are beginning to release their juices, take them out of the oven. Drain the juice into a container, and set aside. Once again, spread the berries out on the bottom of the baking dish, and set aside. Increase the heat to 375.
4. In another medium sized bowl, beat the egg whites with the salt until soft peaks form. Fold the meringue into the cream-and-sugar batter very delicately. Stir slightly until blended. Pour this batter evenly over the berries, and bake for about 15 minutes. Check on this dessert every 5 minutes or so; when the top has browned, it is finished.
5. Allow to cool 5 minutes or so, and then dig in! The juicy blackberry cinnamon syrup that you set aside earlier can be used as a sauce. Pour sauce over the clafoutis crepe right before serving. This desserts holds up really nicely overnight if you refigerate it. I ate it chilled for breakfast the next morning. It peels off the bottom of the baking dish with much ease, just like a crepe.