Category Archives: Food

Easy-peasy baking

Holy crap, did you hear that Google Reader is shutting down?? I am in shock and terribly sad about it. The only only good news is that it will clear my RSS-feed slate, as I probably won’t export willy-nilly. But that sounds like a tremendously boring time-suck. (When I first lost an AOL email account back in the 90’s, I stopped saving addresses into my address book. And when I lost my first computer in the 00’s, I stopped keeping bookmarks on any of my browsers.)

I’m drowning my sorrows in beer bread, buttery buttery beer bread:

IMG_2093

And while I had the oven on, and had already heated our little apartment beyond its capacity on a hot afternoon, I made Maple Olive Oil Granola as well to replenish our stock:

IMG_2095

Seriously, this granola is the best thing ever: I often give it as a gift to friends, and they concur — they always ask me for the recipe.

This is my favorite kind of baking: mix all ingredients in one big bowl and put in oven.

The beer bread tastes like the honey biscuits from Church’s Fried Chicken. The new secret to baking: pour gobs of melted butter over anything before you stick it in the oven.

I have all sorts of other serious stuff I should be posting about instead (Service Design Jam and SXSWedu), but I sort of knew they would be procrasti-posts:

“…the blog tends to fall into two categories : 1) LOOK WHAT I DID and 2) HERE’S HOW I FEEL. the look what i did ones are the only ones that cause me panic when i put them on my to-do list and then don’t DO them.” ~Amanda Palmer

Advertisements

Garlic Aioli

I don’t know why I’ve recently been drawn to making foods that are typically store-bought in my home. First bread, now mayonnaise. And I don’t even eat very much of either. But maybe that’s part of it — we buy a loaf of bread and struggle to finish it before it goes bad. A bottle of mayonnaise would last years and multiple moves in our house. So making my own means I can control the amount.

Though I suspect it’s some deeper reason that I will try to articulate here. Something about not taking for granted the pre-processed, pre-made foods we consume so much of? Of course buying bread and yogurt and pico de gallo and pasta sauce in a jar are easier and save us time and are more reliable than making things from scratch (it’s pretty disappointing when the bread you’ve spent a day tending comes out of the oven heavy, thick-crusted, and inedible). But we lose some connection with the fundamental process of nourishing ourselves when we fall into routines of assembling rather than really cooking.

Or maybe it’s about wanting to know the secrets behind these foods we take for granted. I’m drawn to the alchemy of seeing the ingredients change states before my eyes. It’s different than the stir-frying and pasta making I’ve been doing for years. What fascinates me these days is watching the egg yolk and olive oil thicken and become something new, something we call mayonnaise—and to know every ingredient and every movement that went into creating it. It’s a bit magical if I pause to notice the end result. I’m in awe of the chemistry at work behind the kneading and proofing and baking and steaming of gluten, and how adjusting those processes alters the final state of the bread we eat. I don’t understand all the science and probably never will, but I can be a part of the process and I can experience that wonder when I cook.

[You can find the garlic aioli recipe in this how-to video from Tamar Adler. I have her book “An Everlasting Meal” in my wish list, but I’m bummed that the (lighter) paperback cover doesn’t have the same cover as the hardback because I really like the photo cover.]

Sourdough magic

sourdough bread

Flour and water.
I can’t believe all that is is flour and water.
sure, a little salt and yeast too,
and a lot of time–
some mixing,
some resting,
some kneading,
some resting,
some baking,
some resting,
some eating,
some resting…

but still–
Flour and water turn into bread.
what alchemy,
what magic,
what life
is this.

[used a combo of this & that for the sourdough bread recipe]

Definition of a pragmatic vegetarian

Yotam Ottolenghi is a “New Vegetarian,” writes a column for the Guardian by the same name, and runs a restaurant known for its vegetables and grains. Many people were surprised that a new vegetarian wasn’t a vegetarian at all–he’s not the kind of vegetarian that eschews all meats from his plate 100%, though he respects those who do.

A second group of people, which is increasingly growing in number, are pragmatic vegetarians, those who have excluded meat or fish from their diet to some degree, but are not completely put off by the notion. This group would include people who are concerned with the health implications of eating meat. It also consists of people who would like to eliminate or reduce their consumption of meat and fish due to the environmental implications. They are put off by what mass-scale farming does to the land and the sea, how growing numbers of cattle herds contribute to the growth in greenhouse gases and the warming up of the planet. Many long for a time when meat was precious, a reason for celebration rather than a cheap commodity, a time when farm animals were highly regarded and their slaughter more sensible.

~Excerpted from the intro to Yotam Ottolenghi’s new book called Plenty: Vibrant Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi

It’s been easy over the past few years to be 100% pescatarian, and easy to just tell people I was vegetarian. In Austin I wasn’t tempted with as much readily-available, affordable, amazing, home-cooked Asian comfort foods–the kinds of dishes I grew up with and which bring back memories of my family and our heritage. Now that we’re in LA, now that we’re surrounded by the aforementioned Asian comfort foods (with the convenience of restaurant experience), now that we’re surrounded by a panopoly of ethnic restaurants in a foodie city, now that I’m looking at the food cycle with new eyes,…I don’t know what to do with myself–categorically, that is.

It’s easy to stick with the comfortable label of “pesky”. It certainly makes choosing a dish at a restaurant drastically easier, since it generally eliminates half to three-quarters of the menu.

But I’m changing. I eat meat on the rare, usually special, occasion. But mostly I’m still a pragmatic vegetarian who eats some fish. (P.S. OMG-yummy & sustainable sushi.) I don’t want to have to explain myself. So I won’t. I’ll just leave you with more of Ottolenghi’s words:

What I’m getting at is how lucky we are (although unfortunately not all of us) to be living and cooking in a world that offers such a spectrum of ingredients and so many culinary heritages to draw on. And this is what gets me excited—the multitude of ingredients cooked and processed by so many people in so many ways with so many different purposes.

Also, I made pizza last night, and it was delicious.

On the left, plum pizza with caramelized onion & (Mike’s leftover Lucky Boy) bacon. On the right, marinated artichoke hearts, olives, and garlic. Both with Mark Bittman whole wheat crust.

How to Cook Your Life

When I hear lectures or see video of Zen Buddhist masters, they are usually full of joy, easy to laugh, wise, and relaxed. All of their work has led them to this place of seeming peace and infinite wisdom. It’s easy to desire their state of being. It’s difficult to think of them as human like the rest of us.

One of the great things about listening to Pema Chodron’s lectures is that she weaves stories from her daily life into her talks. She talks about the time she is ready and excited for an upcoming personal retreat, but then her mentor asks her to become the director of a Center. In her frustration and anger that this new position is going to prevent her retreat, she’s caught up in her emotions, stomping around her room, and the sleeve of her robe catches on fire from a candle. It stops her, brings her back to the present, and she has to admit: “Okay, I get it.” Even a great teacher and nun like Pema Chodron can get caught up in her emotions and her story and her desires.

Even more powerful for me, I watched this documentary called How to Cook Your Life. We see chef & Zen Buddhist Priest Ed Espe Brown when he’s laughing and when he’s meditating–but also when he’s impatient with a bottle of olive oil that is dripping too slowly, and when he’s stewing in his anger in the corner by himself.

He’s so fully wonderfully human, that it made me realize (to KNOW and not just to know) the truth that everyone (even Zen Buddhist priests, even masters of meditation, probably even the Dalai Lama himself) continues their practice every day. Open heart, beginner’s mind, compassionate heart, living with groundlessness–these are not destinations to be reached, not goals on a checklist to be completed and then forgotten. They are the path, they are the journey, they are the tools we carry with us in ongoing practice, they are the readily accessible heart of the universe around us and within us. And dammit, sometimes they feel out of reach, or they feel as if they’ve abandoned us. But they’re always there. Just waiting.

What big ag is trying to hide

People often ask me why I’m a vegetarian. It sort of just happened, but here are the reasons I often cite:

  • Turned off by what I had read about factory farming (Can’t remember which specific sources now. I think watching the documentary Food Inc. clinched it.)
  • Generally healthier
  • Better for the environment
  • Didn’t like cooking and dealing with clean-up of raw meat
  • Stopped craving meat

It just made sense to be at the time, so I sort of just went down that route. I’m not a hardcore vegetarian. Some might call me a pescatarian since I eat fish. Some might call me a flexitarian because I make exceptions for meat when it comes to really good Chinese or Vietnamese food (which is pretty rare in Austin and much less rare in Los Angeles). And while people in Austin know me as a vegetarian now, I get to choose again as a newcomer to LA. What are my new rules in LA—with its abundant foodie culture, food trucks, and diverse ethnic eats? (It’s not an on-off switch, as Jonathan Safran Foer says.)

I’ve been flirting with meat again—at dim sum, chicken wings at a new friend’s house, the bacon in the “Best Burrito in LA” around the corner from our new place.

But I still don’t crave it. And I’d rather eat vegetarian if I can. And at home, we’re definitely not buying or cooking any meat.

Then, today, I saw this article/graphic video of what happens in “factory” pig farms.Big agriculture is fighting for legislation that would ban any photography/video-filming at these agricultural facilities: ag-gag laws. (More details from Bittman.)

I know it’s hard to watch, but it’s important if we are to be conscientious citizens and responsible eaters.

And it strengthens my resolve to stop flirting with meat again. The greatest thing about eating is appreciating the diversity of tastes in our food, and I know vegetarianism has opened my world to all kinds of foods, grains, vegetables, restaurants, and farmer’s markets that I wouldn’t otherwise have explored if I was eating the same types of meat-heavy comfort meals that I had become accustomed to during college.

The biggest misconception about becoming vegetarian is that it’s about deprivation and finding replacements for meat; on the contrary, it’s about exploring the world of food!

For me, the most difficult thing about being a vegetarian is navigating the social terrain of eating with non-vegetarians. But most people are pretty accommodating when they know your preference, and being okay with fish helped a lot. I’m more committed now to making sure I can offer to bring a dish if we’re invited to dinner—and to make it super-yummy, vegetarian, and filling.

(The second hardest is traveling or road-tripping, but finding grocery stores along the way and packing meals with you when you can are key.)

I always feel heartened when I hear in the discourse that we shouldn’t worry about the labels of “vegetarian” or “vegan” or whatever. Unless you have strict food allergies, the labels are less important than the mindset. And it’s not a war of meat-eaters vs. vegetarians. If everyone ate less meat, it would still make a tremendous difference. And if everyone were conscious of the impact of their food choices and were aware of where their food came from, that would also go a long way.

Anyway, food for thought (har har). “Is it right to eat animals given the ways we are actually raising and killing them?”

Watercress

Watercress is a hardy, perennial, European herb (Nasturtium officinale) which grows naturally in wet soil along and in spring brooks, dithces and pond margins and is cultivated under such condition for use as a garnish and a piquant salad. It must be harvested before flower buds appear or the leaves become too rank in flavor to be edible…

Store this stuff in the refrigerator with its stems in water and the leaves loosely covered with a plastic bag. Most Westerners eat watercress raw. In the East it is blanched, the moisture wrung out and then chopped and tossed with a light sesame oil dressing. Chinese often stir fry it with a little salt, sugar, and wine or use it in soups.