Soup Finger

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

So tired, no time to post. Archived post today. A favorite of mine. Hope you like it. 

So I have read about The Food Whore and her horror at how people act in buffets or other serve-yourself venues, but I had never experienced it first hand. I have certainly seen many, many, many other versions of stupid. Just not this specific example.

Until today.

I went to Safeway for lunch because I simply adore their soups. As in I will do a little dance for their delicious roasted corn chowder adore their soups.

They have plenty of pre-made containers of soups for purchase which can give you two hearty meals, but they also always have four piping hot ones for you to select in case you just can't get to a microwave or stove. They offer you ladles and little spoons and sample cups to help you taste and make your decision.

I already had my mind firmly placed on my booty shakin' corn chowder, so I figured I might as well have a quickie sample of the other four. I went to go get a taste of the Italian Wedding soup when suddenly a finger cut me off and dipped it's way into the soup, only to be quickly retracted with a high yelp to my side.

"Ow! It's hot!"

I just stared at the woman as she sucked her burnt Italian Wedding finger. I knew my eyes were as big as dinner plates. It was a full on stare.

She looked at me and angrily pleaded her defense, "It's too hot! This soup could hurt someone!"

I finally snapped it together, "There's a ladle and sample cups to prevent that."

"Well, I didn't want that much, just a small taste, but the soup is too hot."

I just kept staring for a second with my mouth open like a caught fish. Should I go into the health laws in place? The rudeness and utter disgust I was feeling? How she would like it if I stuck my fingers into her food? How she was a total fucking moron for touching something steaming hot to begin with?

I saw a Safeway worker some up and start talking to her as he took out the soup, but I didn't really hear what was said. I just grabbed my corn chowder and left. I did not taste the other soups.


What the hell is wrong with these people?

Rooster Killing and the Big Fat Greek Party

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Honestly, guys, really, I'm too drained to type. I really am. I'm physically and mentally exhausted. Today's post is simple. Links and images and a few bits of story telling. 

A few weeks ago I spent time with Hank, Elise, and Biggie killing roosters and learning how to break them down. I would write more, but honestly, Hank already did a phenomenal job doing it so I am sending you there. Elise and Biggie also took some amazing photos. (Please ignore my foofy hair in that one pic - I am in need of a haircut, it was windy, and I was trying to help catch a rooster with spurs from hell in the most ghettoesque pen you ever did see.)

More recently we all returned to Hank and Holly's for the Annual Big Fat Greek Party. A yearly gala where Hank prepares an insane amount of salads, pickles, cookies, and more meat than you can shake a stick at. 

I arrived early with a giant plate of baklava in tow (which I might ad was very well received to the point that people were refusing the store bough crap someone brought, this gave me joy) to help Hank do some set up. 
"Hold the legs here for a second will you?" I was asked. On the kitchen table sat a skinned and gutted goat, and next to it was Hank attempting to saw the greater part of the next off of it with a hacksaw (all the better for it to fit on the pit, mind you). I put the baklava and held the goat's legs. After the neck was off I sort of straddled the carcass so Hank could whack at the ribs as the connected to the spine with a clever in order for us to crack open the ribcage and, essentially, butterfly it. It's a monumental task requiring a lot of strength and an explanation as to why butchers' are so freaking huge.
Afterwards, Hank went to seasoning it with chili pepper, salt, pepper, garlic, and celery seed (the secret to seasoning wild game). While he generously gave me pointers and hints should I ever find myself with a spare goat carcass or with a spare leg of lamb to smoke I went about broiling some asparagus and chopping some mint. Work went well until a teeny tiny brush fire started. Thankfully it was out as quick as it had started.*

Soon we were joined by various friends, Elise of Simply Recipes, Biggie of Lunch in a Box with son and husband, Ashley, and my professor Helen (the one I've been doing meal research for), along with many others. Some hunters, some students, some cooks. A nice motley group. Biggie was kind enough to give me a nifty bento for work, a shibby mode of portion control and the thing is built to withstand the apocalypse so it should be able to endure my accident prone life.
The night was full of great food, good drinking, stories, jokes, and discussions on everything from the right kind of duck decoy to Denning's "The Cultural Front" in which I was shocked at how much I was able to actually recall and discuss without problem; I guess the education thing is working.

A fabulous time had by all. Thanks Hank and Holly!
*Aside from the fire issue a small water one occurred as well. Apparently, the water is fickle in their house so you shouldn't use the sink when someone is in the shower. Sorry, Holly.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

"Wait, you're in what?" I stopped. Brandon, my younger brother, a 6'10'' lanky giant with an artistic penchant and personality - the kind that can only be cultivated in Santa Cruz - is one of the few people in the world who, even though I know to expect odd things from, can stop me cold. Stop me, and cause me to just shake me head in dumbfoundry.

"I'm in a dumpster behind the grocery store."

"May I ask why, you're in a garbage bin?" At the current moment I am walking down Market in San Francisco, my friends have now stopped their conversation about who-done-what-drama and are now curious as to who I know would be wallowing in refuse on a Sunday.

"Well, they throw away a bunch of food that's still good. Only, like, a day after the expiration date or just baked the other day. We just got an entire sack of pastries from the garbage bin behind Starbucks."

Now, I was aware of the Starbucks. Back in high school he would raid their garbage as they had to throw out their pastries after 24 hours even though they were still good. However government regulations state they have to be tossed for consumer health. (Sanctioned American waste strikes again!) So he would go into their garbage bins and raid them so he could distribute the pastries to the homeless living by the railroad tracks. The pastries were all wrapped together in clean trash bags, so the food was fine (please don't have images of crullers stewing in coffee grounds and gum wads, indeed this isn't the case).

"Why not just grocery shop? I know you have a farmers market up where you live," I asked disparagingly. I knew the answer due to that same mystic ability you get by growing up with someone, even someone who is vastly different from you in nearly every way.

"Because it's free," as a matter of fact. Simply stated. Not a joke. He had become a freegan like so many other poor college students before him, myself included. I recall a few lunches in college created out of what I could pick from various fruit trees I knew of throughout downtown Davis. Oranges, persimmons, tangerines, even rhubarb is available if you know where to find it and don't mind the risk getting caught of sneaking onto someone's yard. Heck dandelions and arugula grew everywhere, so a salad was never out of reach on campus. Even today I raid loquats and kumquats from CSUS. Still, I never ventured into taking meat and dairy from behind the Safeway.

"Okay, well, be sure you cook it well. Don't take any dairy that's too warm. Check any eggs first to see if they're cracked. Avoid any veggies that aren't firm. Don't take any meat."

"No meat, got it."

"And Brandon, rice and radishes are cheap. Call me later we'll figure out a shopping plan for you," I said getting back into stride as my friends had begun to walk on without me. My brain had also got back into stride. Luckily his antics, for the most part, have trained me to be able to take any news without becoming shocked. Or if I am, only for a second.

"It's okay!" he chirped back.

"Whatever. Talk to you later."


"What is it?" I said.

"How do you make pasta sauce in a microwave?"

"Preferably, you don't. Call me back later, I'll try to guide you through something that should work." And I snapped the phone shut. I would need more patience to deal with that issue later.

Kumquat Spice Cupcakes

Monday, April 20, 2009

After a day of hurting my brain with homework I needed to charge myself with something sweet. I had a small stack of kumquats begging to be used, their little orange skins reflecting the waning daylight in a way that filled me with a citrusy empathy towards them. I decided to make a tiny batch of cupcakes - just six. A simple even number, not too many to have around the house or cart to work, but not so few I would be sad after eating the last one. Paired with a bit of cinnamon and allspice and a few bits of dried pineapple the cupcake was a hit. Its Pacific flavors were simple and complimentary and while a cream cheese frosting would have been best a basic butter frosting did great in a pinch.

Kumquat Spice Cupcakes
Makes 6 cupcakes

What You'll Need:
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla
1 egg, room temperature
1/2 of cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon of allspice
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup of chopped dried pineapple
6 large kumquats, seeded and chopped
extra kumquats for decoration, optional

What You'll Do:
1 Preheat the oven to 350 F. Cream the butter until light and fluffy. Add sugar and cream till light and fluffy again, scraping down the sides halfway through to ensure even mixing.

2 Add the egg and vanilla. Be sure to scrape down the sides after each egg to ensure even mixing.

3 Combine the flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and allspice in one bowl. Add one-third of the dry ingredients and mix, then add half of the milk. Continue alternating with the wet and dry mixtures, ending with the dry. Stop mixing once just as the ingredients become incorporated; do not overbeat.

4 Fold in the chopped fruit. Scoop into cupcake papers about one half to three-quarters of the way full. Bake for 18-20 minutes, rotating the pan after the first 15 to ensure even baking. Be sure to check with a toothpick to see if the cupcakes are done. If the toothpick comes out of the cupcake clean, then they're ready. Allow the cupcakes to cool for a minute or two in the pan, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Frost when cooled.

Basic Frosting
4 tablespoons of butter
heaping 3/4 cup of sugar
1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Put together in a bowl and cream the hell out of it.

Stocking Up

Sunday, April 19, 2009

So I have a new habit of storing every little scrap of food waste in my freezer. Onions skins, asparagus woods, chicken carcasses, carrot nubs, garlic paper, you name it and it's in my freezer. The reason being is I've developed a penchant for making stock out of everything. Oh, and I mean everything.

I now have:
2 pints of chicken stock
1 pint of Vietnamese chicken stock (my name for it)*
6 pints of asparagus stock
1 pint of cheese stock
2 pints of mussel stock

I also have two rooster carcasses and their feet from Rooster Killfest 2009 (future post).

I think the reason is because stock is just so fucking easy to make. So why wouldn't I just save every scrap and get the most out of it? Furthermore as I usually spend my weekends locked up at home studying or writing, it's simple enough to just turn on the damn stove and let it go for a few hours. Plus, when I feel the need for risotto or soup or braising or whatnot then I have some of the best tasting stock in the world. Seriously, my Vietnamese stock is so good it'll knock your socks clean off and into the washer.

As for the mussel stock, I have no clue what to do with it. Something cheap and affordable. Any ideas or suggestions? Bouillabaisse is out as it requires to much seafood for me to be willing to purchase (I could, I'm just too goddamn stingy), so I am please leave any thoughts in the comments.

*Ah, someone has asked for the Vietnamese Chicken stock. Just make chicken stock as you normally would, but rather than leeks and carrots and celery use the following: 1 cinnamon stick, 2 star anise, some black peppercorns, some fennel seed, some coriander seed, salt, 2 chopped up sweet onions, 3 garlic cloves, and a few bruised up sticks of lemongrass. If you have some makrut lime on hand use that too. This is just a general guideline, I usually just throw this together based on what I have in the pantry.

A Letter to God About A Girl and Wasabi -or- The Tale of the Burning Bush

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Dear God,

While normally I shake my fist at you for creating a society full of stupid people that mistake me for a hooker, give their children scalding tea, or think carrots grow on bushes. However, sometimes, they do provide me with a modicum of amusement. Sometimes that stupidity rolls over into a moment of inexplicable, deliriously funny, eye-watering hilarity.

I guess I was just lucky I went to pick up the sushi for the office that day. I guess I was just in the right place at the right time picking up my rolls. Maybe you knew I was having a tiring day and needed a really hard laugh to just make everything better.

Though, God, it seems cruel to make someone that stupid but yet give them just enough ability to function through life, albeit abysmally so. Like an elk with stubby antlers or a cross-eyed kitten, it's sort of pathetic but in an almost adorable way where you just want to pick up the creature and say in a comforting tone, "There there, no one blames you."

So when I walked into the sushi place and began to pay, a girl at the table next to me voice rose and said in a slight panic, her eyebrows wide with worry. "Ow. Ow! Shit. Hold on. I think I still have some wasabi in my vagina. Ow. Damn it!" and then took off to the bathroom. After which her entire table and a few surrounding ones just stared at her wide eyed. You would think we would laugh but you would be wrong. Everyone was just confused. (I did laugh in the car though. Lord, did I laugh.)

So Lord, how does a girl get wasabi in her vagina? Was wasabi maybe code for a fiery STD which was having a flare-up? Maybe slight of hand from one of her dining companions? ("You see the spicy tuna roll in my hand, and now *wave of the fingers* it's gone!") Is she really just that bad with her chopsticks? Is she unaware where exactly food goes (at least in the case of eating it?)? Really, God, really, how does someone in a crowded sushi bar get wasabi up, on, or around her vagina? I can't figure it out.

Just curious.

Thanks God.


*I wonder how many readers I scared off forever with the post title?

Mussels in Belgian Ale Broth

Monday, April 13, 2009

When Kate, her husband, and I ate at Tuli recently we all moaned and gushed over a dish of mussels. Brewed up with Belgian ale, smoked ham, onions and dijon mustard all proper manners went out the window once the plate was set down. Sure we were provided with dainty forks but nimble fingers picking through broth and shells and scraping out the bits of sweet meat with our teeth was embraced with gusto. The spicy sweet broth was eagerly soaked up with whatever bread we could find, indeed, the waitress couldn't bring it fast enough. An insouciant dish, bohemian-chic even; one that's perfect for a Sunday brunch or impressing your guests. Plus, mussels are crazy cheap and sustainable, a perfect dish for a budget dinner party.

*Forgive the picture, but my roommate and I were ravenous and the steam kept screwing up the lens. You'll have to take my word that the dish is to die for.

When purchasing mussels be sure they smell like the ocean, not fishy. Be sure not get get any where the shells are cracked or open or any that refuse to close their shells as they're dying or dead. Try to cook them immediately, but if you have to wait place them in a bowl and cover them with a damp towel so they can breathe.

Mussels in Belgian Ale Broth
Serves 2 as a meal, 4 as an appetizer or side dish

2 lbs. Mussels
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 small shallots, minced
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1/2 cup of diced pancetta or ham
2 cups Belgian or other ale (I used Fat Tire)
1 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Dash of cayenne pepper
chopped fresh parsley
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Place the mussels in a bowl of cold water to allow them to filter out their grit and sand. let them sit for about 10 minutes. Wash and scrub the mussels and throw out any that are open and refuse to close as these ones are dead. Looking over the closed mussels, see if any still have their beards (long hairy byssal threads which help anchor the mussel to surfaces) and pull them out, yanking towards the hinge of the shell. Place them in another bowl of fresh, cold water and let sit for another 5 minutes to allow them to clean themselves again.

2. Place a large pot over medium heat and add the oil until glistening. Add the ham or pancetta and cook for a few minutes until fragrant and slightly browned. Add the garlic and shallots and cook until slightly translucent, about a minute. Add the onions and cook for another minute or two.

3. Add the ale and chicken stock and bring to a boil.

4. Place the mussels in a steaming basket over the boiling liquid and cover. Steam for about 3-5 minutes or until all the mussels have opened. Set the mussels aside for a moment, allowing the liquid to boil down for about 4 minutes. Discard any mussels that didn't open (they were dead before you cooked them).

5. Add the butter, Dijon mustard, and two or three good dashes of cayenne pepper and allow to boil until the butter melts.

6. Add the mussels back to the pan and boil for 2 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Pour the whole thing into a large serving bowl, garnish with parsley and serve immediately with crusty bread. I suggest putting a bowl to collect the mussel shells on the table so as to keep some room on your plate.

Note: Save the mussel shells. Wash them under cold water. Add them to a large stock pot with onion, celery, carrot, parsley, shallots, and whatever spices you like (I think I used bay, thyme, and peppercorns) and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and reduce for a few hours into basic mussel stock perfect for soups and risottos.

A Critique of American Dining Customs

Saturday, April 11, 2009

So recently I have been working on a paper discussing the meal as a cultural indicator of societal norms. Now I promise, this post won't be me waxing on about my research. It will however talk about a hilarious book I found. The book, Dining Customs Around the World, by Alice Bonzi Mothershead, is phenomenal in various ways. The premise of the book is simple: a portrayal of the various dining customs in countries around the world.

The book takes a majority survey of each country, so it doesn't, for example, describe the indigienous Shinto customs in Japan, just the dominant customs. As such, identity concepts such as religion, race, class, etc. are rarely taken into account and if they are are only covered briefly. However, the book is meant to be the most basic overview, so it does get the job done somewhat.

However, the chapter on the U.S. was enlightening. Humorous. Spookily on the mark many times. I decided that the only way I could really show you is to transcribe some of what Mothershead writes out. It's writen for an audience that is not familiar with American dining customs. However, keep in mind how we define "American dining customs." There is obviously more than just one set standard, try to think about what groups Mothershead is describing and if this information is helpful, misleading, accurate, and so on. What is the country's current mindset about food and food production? The book was written in 1982 so place yourselves in the right mindset (feel free to go do a line of coke and whip out a poster of Reagan). Mothershead, I believe, is American born, but this is conjecture on my part.

"In the United States, wives and mothers often lead very busy lives and have little time to spend in the kitchen. This does not mean, however, that many are not superb cooks. In more recent years the interest in foods has changed drastically and many foreign recipes have been translated or blended into American preparation. The hamburger and 'fast foods' are foods which you may buy at drive-in or easy stop restaurants and are increasingly popular. These are prepared quickly while you wait and may be served to eat the the restaurant or in your car. Potatoes are usually French fried and put into little paper bags, hamburgers are half-wrapped in paper to hold them while you eat. Beverages are usualyl milk shakes or soft bottled drinks. This kind of meal reveals Americans as a nation of people who are always 'on the run' for they are consumed in a hurried lunch hour, on a work break, or while on a motor tour." (142)

"Men have become interested in cooking and in some homes the [sic] may cook as much or more than the women. Always there is a plethora of pre-prepared or frozen foods, some of which are quite tasty and wholesome. From a country of 'meat and potato eaters', the United States has, for various reasons, including many military involvements overseas, become a nation of gourmets. The popular pizza, for instance, was brought from Anzio, Italy by the soldiers in the Second World War. Wines, especially those of California, rival the French, Italian, German, Chilean, and others. Wine is now used in cooking, as a beverage at meals, and often in the place of the former strong cocktail before dinner. The turkey is a native bird to the American continent and is used extensively, especially in the traditional Thanksgiving meal. Corn-on-the-cob, southern fired chicken, and barbecued meats and very popular in certain sections of the country." (143)

"Catsup, or Ketchup, a thick tomato base sauce, is used extensively with these meals, not only for the meat, but also for the French fried potatoes. It may surprise you to see someone dip the potatoes in this sauce before eating them. These meals tend to be starchy and seldom are accompanied by vegetables or fruits.

If you are visiting in a home and the hostess cooks the meals you may find that part of , or all of the ingredients are deep frozen and already prepared. These are simply heated until cooked according to the directions on each package. Sometime a hostess will add spices or finish the preparations for certain dishes, but the main effort of cooking will have been done by the company which sells the product. As many women will have such a busy day that there is no time to cook a meal, these meals have become popular and the choice of dishes is extensive." (144)

That's a few paragraphs. I did leave out the discussion of cocktail parties and picnics, but mainly included passages I felt were the most revealing about the author and her perceptions of American dining customs. Feel free to discuss.

Bee Article - Hank Shaw

Thursday, April 9, 2009

I'm a little late in writing this but I wanted to make you all aware of an article that appeared in the Sacramento Bee today. Many of you, I presume, have been reading along at Hank Shaw's blog Hunter Angler Gardener Cook. A blog that follows Hank - a mountain man gourmet of sorts - and his edible adventures. If you aren't reading it then, well, you should be. His garden is diverse (who else is growing sorrel, 8 kinds of onions, and borage?) and for the most part sustains him and his girlfriend Holly, a woman with keen journalistic talent and a toga-perfect personality and poise. Furthermore, he catches almost all of his own fish and hunts most of his own meat. The few bits he buys he picsk up from local purveryors at various Farmers Markets. He lives in a complete food cycle that most of us could only dream of living up to. Eating an animal nose to tail is one thing, going out, killing it yourself, preparing it, and cooking it up in a haute fashion with vegetables and herbs you grew yourself is something else.

However, Hank did something no other personal food blog did. He was nominated for a James Beard award - something even the great names of Food Blogging weren't able to do. Hank's keen (though at times delightfully juvenile) sense of humor, Trotsky-esque goatee and glasses, fabulous cooking style, and intelligent writing will immediately endear you to him. Even the wandering vegan, who may bear slight antipathy to us meat eaters, will find his meaty pursuits noble in the way he respectfully approaches eating animals.

I encourage you all to go and read the article and then go read his blog. =)


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Some English Student: So you're reading about Harvey Milk?

Me: What? Oh, uh, no. Here.

I hand my copy of Milk: The Surprising Story of Milk Through the Ages over to fellow student.

SES: Why would you want to read about milk?

Me: Because it's interesting to me and it might help with my thesis.

SES: Well, why not read about Harvey Milk, he was a gay rights activist.

Me: I know. Don't really know much about him though. I just honestly don't have much interest.

SES: Aren't your kind supposed to care about this kind of stuff?

And now we reach the point where my eyes widen just enough to let him know that I'm struggling to hold back verbal abuse and viciously beating him with a wooden chair.

I've learned in the past few weeks that I'm now apparently known by people in the English department as "the Food Guy." Literally. I've actually met people for the first time in my department who have heard of me and now refer to me this way. "Oh, you're the food writer." It's also known I'm gay. What else is being circulated, I'm unaware. I prefer to keep it that way.

However, this "your kind" crap is a bit out of line (by which I mean completely). Now this may be a joke but from the tone of voice I have no idea. It could be an honest question, it could be friendly sarcasm, maybe he's trying to be offensive, or it could just be plum stupidity. Even if it is supposedly friendly I've only shared words with this person once before. I wouldn't even call him an acquaintance. To be this frank and offensive without any proper context is either dumb or he really is just in need of a good
ass kicking lecture.

Me: Uh... well, I've been busy.

SES: Well, I guess as long as it's one kind of milk or another I guess the gays are happy, right?

Fellow student laughs. Normally I just wave crap like this off. For some reason, today, not so. I. Am. Enraged.

Me: Fuck you. The book is about milk because I'm interested in the history of the subject. Furthermore, I don't even have time for the rest of what you just said and just what was so 'effed up about it! Just...

My voice trails off. I gather my backpack and walk out and away as fast as possible. My entire self is balanced between exploding in anger and violence, breaking down and crying, and dying of embarrassment. I'm literally so pissed off that for once in my overly verbose and talkative life I can't actually speak anymore. My brain tells me to bolt out of the building. To hide. I need to hide. I do not want to prolong this or have a second encounter.

I exit the building and hide behind a giant piece of what I assume is air conditioning equipment or a generator the size of a mac truck. I attempt to remind myself to breathe, my lungs beginning to suck in air greedily and push it out as fast as possible without lapsing into hyperventilation. Quietly, I swear to myself in a chain of colorful language that would peel paint of a wall and cause babies to cry.

Slowly, my anger subsides. I was never able to hold onto a bad mood. A good thing I guess. However, being around me during the 10 minutes I'm pissed is inadvisable, many innocents have been tongue lashed to near death. However, the fire burns out quickly and my rational mind kicks back in. I simply cannot stay angry at a situation or person for very long.

I am now left with 23 minutes before class to figure out 1) how people can be this stupid, 2) when I can see the Milk movie because, sadly, I really don't know jack about the guy, and 3) how someone can confuse a book with a giant milk bottle on the cover for a biography about a dead politician.

The Typical Military MRE (Meal, Ready to Eat)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

When the BF said he was going to cook I was intrigued. I hadn't yet seen any kitchen skills though he said he was good with a BBQ. A skill he said with such pride on his face, only to be crushed at my admittance that I had no such means of cooking. Considering where I live, a BBQ might get stolen. So when he said he brought dinner and tossed me a small camo-green weather proof pouch labeled "Menu No. 5 - Chicken Breast" I was taken a wee bit off guard. 
Brian, as you may have guessed, is in the military. He had left work a bit early and snagged one of the MRE's (Meal, Ready to Eat; oh the military loves their acronyms) for me as he figured I would be amused. 

I was. 

Apparently each of these are between 1000-3000 calories, designed to be eaten once a day (though many soldiers eat three or four and subsequently return home with a bit of pudge). This particular meal was, according to Brian, "Not one of the best, but not so bad as the instant tuna casserole." This particular one contained a chicken cutlet reminiscent of the ones you were probably served in a school cafeteria, jalapeño catsup,jalapeño cheese spread, a piece of wheat bread, a spiced pound cake, M&M's (naturally), and some minestrone. Plus, tea, vanilla cappuccino, salt and pepper, mints, utensil, and a moist towelette were throw in. 

Oh, you may be wondering how we cooked all this. Well, thanks to the process of advanced chemical engineering, the military has that figured out. To cook the chicken we inserted into a plastic pouch a packet with heating powder. The powder, when mixed with an ounce of water in the pouch, creates a chain reaction that basically boils the water on spot, poaching the chicken which is in it's own pouch (the reason for that is the chemical and the water are both slightly toxic. "Do not eat chemical heater or its water byproducts!" says a warning). While poaching you have to prop it up against a "rock or something" according to the diagram. Seriously.

Here it is cooking:
So what does the final meal taste and look like? Well, the chicken cutlet when smeared with the catsup isn't horrible. It tastes like Middle School. It's also the only food Eat Beast ever begrudgingly ate. He tasted it. Spit it out. Looked at me. And then, realizing he would get nothing else, proceeded to eat it. It was a first. 

The spiced loaf was tasty, decent even in flavor, but the slightly powdery consistency was... odd. The bread, apparently universally detested by soldiers (though better than the crackers that can come with it) was like moist cardboard. It was a crime to bread everywhere. The cheese spread, a whopping 300 calories, was bad. It was bad. Like movie theater spicy nacho cheese, but unmelted, and with an undertaste of art paste. The minestrone was surprisingly good, had it actually some broth or something it would have been downright tasty. However, it was basically cold minestrone casserole.
How our boys and girls eat this I have no idea. All I know is I am going to contact the USO to send a care package with many tasty things inside it to someone who needs it. I highly suggest doing the same if you can. Our military deserves better than this.

Other Care Package Links:
OMP Care Package Information
Guide to Packages

Book Review - "A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes From My Kitchen Table" by Molly Wizenberg

Thursday, April 2, 2009

I can’t say I know Molly personally at all. In fact I believe our entire communication history has simply been one or two e-mails about book publishing long, long ago. However, I believe I know her now, at least in a sort of separated, distanced way similar to the way I used to know a pen-pal I had in D.C. back in fourth grade (I still can’t recall her name after all these years). Molly has become a confidant, telling me her secrets, and recounting snippets of her life. Indeed I feel we even have things in common, and though I never had a smoky eye makeup phase we both had a penchant for wearing a dog collar in college.

The reason for the familiarity is due to her new book, A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes From My Kitchen Table. Molly Wizenberg, the prolific writer of Orangette, one of the gods of the food blog pantheon, puts to paper rather than the publish screen on blogger, the various events that shaped her food focused life. And just like her blog, the stories are artful, poetic, and vivid, capturing in each single sentence the emotions of the moment and their meaning. So sirenesque is her song that I found myself shirking all responsibility to put away all three hundred some pages in a two days.

My only slight complaint, if you can even call it that, is that each chapter is only about 2-5 pages followed by a recipe. It reads much like her blog. This then purports the question, “Why should I pay $25 when I can just read her blog?” As for me, I only read Orangette every so often. Once a month or so and usually just the most recent post. If you’re like me then the book is a fabulous introduction into her prosy and pithy writing style. Her words carry you in and embrace you to sit down in your most favorite chair, sip some tea and just ahh… relax. Each little vignette is what an old professor of mine would call “As long as a piece of string.” The stories convey the emotion, people, and points in the right amount of words. Still, I found myself wanting more simply because it was all composed so well.

Still, while this is a memoir, I would call it a cookbook. While many food memoirs have recipes in them, oftentimes they seemed crammed in there with little introduction or relevance to what was being discussed. Rather Molly uses her experiences and people and defines them through a particular dish. She doesn’t simply say, “We made this,” but details the recipe’s history and emotional significance. Take for example the chapter "Like Wildflowers" where she describs her interactions with a close friend named Keaton and uses it to introduce the recipe for cranberry chutney with crystallized ginger and dried cherries:

For six months we palled around Paris, teaming up for research projects and sharing packets of Peanut M&M's from the metro vending machines. She was with me when I met Guillaume, and when he disappeared, and when we came back to the States, we drew together in the campus housing lottery and wound up sharing an apartment. It was a dark, gloomy building on the edge of campus, but we did our best to make light of the brown shag carpet and the mold on the bathroom ceiling. I taught her how to sear tuna in a cast-iron skillet, how to roast Brussels sprouts and potatoes, and how to make my family's favorite cranberry chutney with crystallized ginger and dried cherries. She shared her formula for spinach salad with green apples, toasted walnuts, and blue cheese and made me giggle every night when she put in her mouth guard (she grinds her teeth when she sleeps) by saying "I love biscuits," which came out as "I love bis-CUSTH." I love that girl. (208)

Furthermore, the recipes are simple, clever, and engaging. I rarely find a cookbook that I flag so many pages of with the direct intention of making the recipes. The recipes are diverse, offering something for everyone from lemon yogurt cake to an intriguing salad (via husband Brandon) of arugula, pistachios, and chocolate; and a simple French snack of bread with butter and radishes, which when made was met with resounding approval from the roommate and me.

Molly does seem to wax on about marriage and love and whatnot (this is not a book to read right after a nasty break-up, you'll just end up bitter), and, depending on your point of view, it’s either chick lit. or cleverly written appreciation for all that life and the people in it have given to her. I find it to be the latter.

Molly’s writing has been called reminiscent of MFK Fisher. I love Fisher, I do, but to compare them is silly. Molly’s prose possesses a different air, a sort of witty frankness to it that reminds me of those people in college I envied because they were so humorous and poignant in everything they said. Sure both Fisher and Wizenberg spent time in Paris and found love in their marriages and food, but its apples and oranges. Out of all the food memoirs out there, Molly stands out with the greats like Fisher, Bourdain, and Steingarten. It’s a memoir and cookbook that will be read and re-read for years to come as part of the great and ever growing canon of food memoirs.

Making Sausage: A Post of Dirty Implications

“You two together are a scatological nightmare.” I read the words again in the succinct little e-mail from Elise. I chuckled to myself.

It may be a bit true, and by a bit I mean when you get Hank Shaw and myself together in a room I simply guarantee that the conversation will be jovial, entertaining and educational. We hold thoughtful discussions about the various theories and practices of food. We muse over preparation techniques, the use of ingredients, and who is doing/cooking/writing what. Stories are shared about everything from previous meals prepared to angry squirrels (and possibly meals of angry squirrels).

It all starts very Socratic and Watersian, but sooner or later the conversation breaks down into “fart and poop jokes” as Elise puts it. Unfortunately, or fortunately as it entertains me to no end, poor Elise is always caught in the middle of it. Our raucous conversations start well intended and thoughtful, but sooner or later scream down a supersonic waterslide into jokes and puns that you would expect to hear from boys on a grade school playground or the high school quad. Such a range I know, but we’re able to somehow bridge the liminal space of the two and cover every inappropriate topic plausible in the colorful rainbow of lewd conversation topics.

This last weekend, the whole process was only exacerbated as Elise, Hank, and me sat down to make and stuff sausages. Let me say it again: STUFF. SAUSAGES. Let your brain roll that gobstopper around a little more. Suck on the flavor of that for just a second. Stuffing. Sausages.

Just from that, the foul trenches of your mind spring to life and start bandying jokes that you would never utter around grandma. Let’s face it, the second I lift my eyebrow and smile in just that particular way and say I spent my entire day stuffing sausages, well… you’re going to start giggling to yourself.

So yes, we were joking non-stop about stuffing sausages, packing and beating meat, pounding hamburger, and forcing it into a tube. Whenever the meat was done chilling I had to go and whip it back out. At one point we all argued about the proper size of a sausage patty since, let’s face it, size matters. Of course, it only got worse when Hank started to actually push the sausage into their casings. The sounds… Oh, the sounds! Splut, spurt, blurt, sport, splut, thbbbbbblllphbt! My lord, we didn’t even have to say anything to start laughing.

The taste of these sausages was quite exquisite. They were some sweet, sweet Italian sausages that were just so spicy and savory and sweet. We moaned as we ate them, relishing every single drop of juice that squeezed out of them.

It should be no surprise that for every culture that makes sausages they have jokes that go right with it because, truly, the sight is just a little bit too that way.

So yes, it’s inevitable, allow boys into the kitchen and be prepared to participate, put up, or cover your ears.* Especially when they're stuffing sausages.

*But seriously, you should hear my mom or my friend Kaiti. They can be worse than me. They put the boys to shame.

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