Smells Like S'mores

Thursday, December 31, 2009

When a four-plex built in 1960 burns down it smells like s'mores. Sort of.

As I watched the roof of my apartment burn down with my neighbors it was one of the random thought that sparked in my head. The smell of burning asbestos (which, until now, I didn't know I had) and other, 50 year old, outdated building materials smelled familiar. It was hard to see the flames, my eyes were raw and sore, partly from tears but mostly from smoke. Yet as I watched the fire devour the roof it just uttered out the thought, "It smells like s'mores."

I was told later from one of the firemen that some of the old materials actually had some of the same sugars in their chemical compounds that marshmallows do (there's a pleasant thought). So when a marshmallow catches fire over the smoke of a wood campfire that scorching, charcoal, sweet smell is quite similar to the odor of natural destruction and chaos ravaging your life.


There were actually two fires that night. The first one was around 9 p.m. I was working on my thesis and BF was getting killed again playing Uncharted 2 on the new Playstation 3. Suddenly smoke poured in through the vent above the stove and the room immediately filled with a choking grey haze. People outside began yelling, pounding on doors, and screaming one word: fire.

As we gathered up the most important things - and it is surprisingly easy to figure out what those are when you have minutes to get the fuck out of a burning building; cats, computer, valuable document box - I could feel the smoke in my lungs. It burned and tasted like the chemicals used to sanitize a hospital, you could tell from the way it swirled and grabbed at your eyes and tear ducts that it was toxic.

After the fire department put everything out they deemed it was safe to go in. We had no power or gas, and the kitchen had flooded due to the copper pipes in the wall melting, but we were safe and, honestly, I felt more comfortable keeping my things from potential opportunistic vandals and thieves who might prey on an unihabited building safe by staying there.

BF and I picked up some water and flashlights, came back, and went to bed.

At 2 a.m. I woke up to the cats meowing and the now familiar toxic smell.

"Oh my God, is the fire going again?" There was a fog in the bedroom and I walked to the bathroom where there had been a tiny bit of fire damage from before. Between the lack of sleep, my general haze from waking up and the physical haze I was walking through I forgot all the fire preparedness lessons I learned in grade school. I didn't crawl on my hands and I didn't check the doorknob to the bathroom.

Describing fire as an animal may be cliche', but it's accurate. When I opened the bathroom door smoke belched out, washed over me and the entire upstairs, and then fell down the stairs into the living room like a lugubrious poltergeist bent on destruction.

The entire bathroom was on fire. The flames licked around the medicine cabinet before it fell from its place on the wall, the fire now exposing the rest of its hellish body made of twisted, curling flares. The heat blasted me backwards a bit, a miniture backdraft slamming me into the wall. My head crashed into the mirror behind me cracking it and leaving a small bruise. The fire roared. My god, it's a sound you can't forget. A dark and frightful voice bellowing as it devoured, ate, and consumed. A beast fueled by wood, brick, and schadenfreude. It would have the walls, it would have the bathroom, and given the chance it would have me.

"The fire's back! Get the stuff again and RUN!!!" I slammed the door behind me in an attempt to trap it the fire and smoke and, hopefully, slow it down. As BF and I attempted to dress in the dark and smoke we called the cats. We shoved them into a single carrier, grabbed the important things and ran out.

We looked up and saw the entire roof was on fire. My neighbors were all escaping themselves and onlookers gazed in horror as the firefighters came once again to put out the reflash that had taken over the building.


It's two days later. My roommate is back from San Diego and he and I are living with Elise at the moment who has kindly put us up.

The apartment is a charred out husk now. All ash, smoke, and debris. Due to the toxicity of the building materials we have been advised to only go in for a few minutes at a time as the air is unsafe to breathe.

I just met with the claims adjuster to talk about the damage. (I had renter's insurance, I highly suggest it if you rent and don't have it). All soft goods, i.e. furniture, clothes, mattresses, are totaled. Electronics are totaled. Bathroom is totaled. All food not in the fridge is totaled - either contaminated by smoke, asbestos, or they were boiled or burnt in their own canisters when the fire tore through the kitchen. Pots and plates survived. Due to my insurance everything of mine will be covered. Roommate did not have insurance, so for him not so much. Cookbooks and regular books and school books all survived and will be cleaned through some sort of ozone technology, so yay. Artwork survived as well.

I spent yesterday apartment hunting and just turned in an application. I have to, however, have the cats checked out at the vet as it has been a while since they had their shots or a check up and apartments seem anal about that now.

I'm in Borders using their free wifi and drinking a mocha - right now I survive on caffeine and sugar - and am writing all this out because if I don't I'm pretty sure I'm going to scream and punch a wall out of incoherent rage until my knuckles bleed.

"It could have been a lot worse." It could have. I actually broke down laughing when I walked in the apartment today because, holy crap, it's funny just how totally screwed you can become so quickly. However, I'm tired of hearing "It could have been worse." That's true, but the whole thing still fucking sucks. It fucking sucks a lot.

However, it could have been worse. Thing will get replaced. The cats will see a vet. I have a great support network of family, friends, and bloggers. I will be in Mexico next week with a lot of my blogging buds (I really need the vacation more than ever). No one was hurt, though my lungs hurt a bit and I still smell like smoke after two showers.

It will all work out. It always does.

And sweet, tap dancing, mother-fucking Christ, I never, ever want to eat, see, or smell a s'more ever again.

For the Modern Woman of 1965

Sunday, December 27, 2009

"Here's how the woman in a hurry will be enabled to plan her time and food resources to meet her increasing tasks expected of her and still give herself and her family all the necessary variety and attractive service modern mealtime demands." -The Culinary Arts Institute Encyclopedic Cookbook (pg. 900)

Not so much a cookbook, but a resource guide for the modern American woman. One who is new to the kitchen and is suddenly faced with cooking for herself as a single career woman or, most likely as the book expects, a new wife and mother. Culinary Arts Institute Encyclopedic Cookbook by Ruth Berolzheimer is by and far one the pinnacle cookbooks of the 1960's and 70's.

Published in 1965, CAIEC was intended to be "familiar, friendly, and exhilarating" and "provide sound knowledge of what a homemaker needs for herself and her family." The cookbook covers everything; from menu planning, to packing school lunches, to tables settings, and even has charts on the cuts of veal and squirrel.

Oh yes, squirrel.

While chicken, beef and pork are covered at length you will find no end to the number of American sourced meats such as opossum and reindeer and how to prepare every single organ in each and every critter that runs on the American plains. Tongue and cabbage salad? Done. You want calf brain fritters? You got it. Spinach rolled sweetbread? Why not?!

The modern American woman, of course, is one who is at least fourth-generation American (not an immigrant), white (no, white immigrants don't count unless you're maybe English), and middle class. A new generation without servants to prepare their food, a critical aspect of the cookbook as if you look in cookbooks older than this servants are a topic that are usually addressed. However, once or twice the topic of "if you have a servant" is addressed in CAIEC and it provides useful tips of how to put them to work in assisting you for cooking for that night's stylish cocktail party.

This cookbook is a product of the times, as referenced by these notes and others indicators such as the prevalence of jelled salads and the reference to "mechanical refrigerators" and "the recent discovery of vitamins." Still, this book gives Joy of Cooking a run for its money and addresses things that the 1960 edition of Joy didn't such as shopping lists, addressing what foods are high in certain nutrients like phosphorous and copper (in case you need more phosphorous in your diet).

However, one of the best little discoveries in this book are my grandmother's notes. Recipes that have been tried and crossed out, or others that have been edited with substitutions. As Ojai Grandma was a world traveler she begins to edit the book to make dishes more exotic in a time when curry powder and pizza were new and radical foods. In fact, the addition of ingredients like soy sauce, bonito, and chipotle peppers are noted here and there. Where a modern woman in 1965 procures these at the time rare, if not wholly unknown, ingredients in the middle of rural and cutoff Ojai, California is beyond me, but she was a resourceful girl apparently.

This is particularly noteworthy as the book focuses solely on classic Americana cuisine. You won't find tacos, chop suey, lasagna, or coq au vin. While I didn't find the lack of Thai curries surprising the intentional choice to disregard classic European dishes, especially French, that American cooks looked up to as the definition of refined cuisine, a culinary God to which virgins should be sacrificed, is surprising. The book is intent of keeping things American with a few choice exceptions such as a basic consommé or sauerkraut. This means praline ice cream, salsify patties, jelled lime and avocado salad, and raised cornmeal griddlecakes.

After checking with mom if I could steal the book away from the dusty shelves in her library I now have the book at home with me and plan to start cooking from this and exploring some of the book's particular quirks and chapters on the blog.

This will be a little mini-series exploring what was expected of a modern homemaker in 1965. One that, hopefully, will result in some great recipes and some insight into the home cook of America's past.

Note: Click here to see the photos in an album rather than a slideshow.

Menu for Hope 6 Update

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Menu for Hope raffle continues until the 31st! We've already raised over $53,000 help us make it in the final stretch to $55,000 (Or even $60,000? Can it be done!?). Bid on the Beanilla bid item and win a vanilla package that will make you the envy of every cook and chef you know.

A basket containing:
1 x 25 - Madagascar Vanilla Beans
1 x 25 - Tahitian Vanilla Beans
1 x 25 - Bourbon Vanilla Beans
1 x 25 - Mexican Vanilla Beans
1 x 25 - Organic Indonesian Vanilla Beans
1 x 25 - Indian Vanilla Beans
1 x 25 - Tongan Vanilla Beans
1 x Bourbon-Madagascar 3-Fold Vanilla Paste, 1 oz.
1 x Tahtian 3-Fold Vanilla Paste, 1 oz.
1 x Tahitian Vanilla Fleur de Sel, 2 oz.
1 x Tahitian Vanilla Organic Cane Sugar, 6 oz.
1 x Organic Indonesian Ground Vanilla, 1/2 oz.
1 x 2-Fold Madagascar Vanilla Extract, 4 oz.

How awesome is that?

The bid item code for the Vanilla Garlic vanilla package donated by Beanilla is UW13. There are no shipping restrictions, so you can bid no matter where you are.

You can see a complete list of hosts for the many different bid items and other bits of info about Menu for Hope at Chez Pim. Check back on Chez Pim and here on Monday, January 18 for the results of the raffle.

To see more information about Menu for Hope click here or go to Firstgiving and begin your bidding!

"The Twice Baked Christmas" A Holiday Nursery Rhyme

Thursday, December 24, 2009

-A little annual Christmas tradition on Vanilla Garlic. Happy Holidays everyone!-
"The Twice Baked Christmas"Sitting down on the couch while reading a book
I enjoyed a moment of silence, something I had forsook.
Earlier that day I had been baking all kinds of bread,
For this Christmas I had dozens who had to be fed.

There were crumpets and muffins, with berries by the pound.
Croissants and cupcakes where the frosting did mound.
The challah was braided, the sticky buns rolled,
All wrapped up so pretty it could have been sold.

The last batch of cookies were cooling on racks,
The kitchen been cleaned, the trash all in sacks.
When from my sweet reading I heard noise! Such a clamour!
It sounded like the plates were being smashed with a hammer!

I ran to the kitchen to see what had caused racket this hour
When there was a black cat all covered in flour.
The cookies all eaten, the crumbs on his face,
He was so full and so fat he could not move a pace.

The wrapping paper shredded, the goods all devoured,
The cat he then saw me and thus he so cowered.
He then took off like a bolt, a dark streak of light.
I could not have caught him, it was pointless to fight.

I called out, "Kitty-kat, what have you done!
This food was for family and friends, every bun!
They cannot eat nothing, it's Christmas today!
They all will be hungry, this sad holiday."

He then sulked on in, the fatty feline,
He felt guilty for eating all that had taken such time.
Meowing, "I am so sorry, I couldn't resist.
It all smelled so tempting, tastes I couldn't have missed!"

"Please let me help make all the pastries again,
Together we'll bake up a hundred times ten!"
I agreed and accepted his apology
And so we began our late-baking spree.

The next morning we finished, the flour all spent
The eggs had been cracked, the sugar had went.
But that Christmas day, the bread was all gifted
Bellies were full! Spirits were lifted!

And so that here ends a near holiday disaster,
A good thing, it couldn't have been solved any faster.
And so from the two of us, we hope you do take
A lesson which is this: Watch everything that you bake.

Happy Holidays from Garrett and Eat Beast!
Picture by Janelle Persinger

Kumquat Mojito in 82 December

Sunday, December 20, 2009

-Rum+Kumquats+Orange+Mint=Very Merry Christmas-

Southern California winters are vastly different from Northern California winters, or indeed any other winter in the world. The leaves on the trees don't change color, but rather retain their verdant foliage. Defiantly, they dance in the balmy wind making laughing sounds as they flutter into one another. "Ha ha, Earth! Ha ha, Sun! Take your solstice and shove it!" they cry.

BF and I actually stripped down to t-shirts, jeans, and flip-flops to walk Faith, my mother's dog, a spirited and well-behaved Weimaraner whose only real fault is being unable to comprehend that, no, the cats do not want to be your friend. The sun was high and bright, blinding you like the light over the dentist's chair. A breezy wind was always at our backs gently pushing us along to see as much of this Mid-Winter Spring as we could. It was 79 degrees outside.

82 Fahrenheit. December 20th.

I'll let this sink in for a bit.

Seriously, So Cal has plenty of issues, but the weather is not one of them. I wish I could pack the sunshine and verdant air into my luggage and bring it back with me. Growing up here made me a total wuss to any other weather which causes me to expire and complain in whiny pitches so high only animals can hear me bitch with contempt, "Sweet Rum Sucking Christ, it's too damn hot/cold." Having recently escaped the snow inducing temperatures of Nor Cal it's good to be back in my native system where my body can rejuvenate.

This land of eternal sun puts you in a Summer mindset. I'm ready to bust out the BBQ (indeed, we'll be throwing some flank steak on the grill for Christmas dinner) and I have a hunger for freshly churned custard heavy ice cream, and the sensation of having a plum's juice trickle down my arm and ripple off my elbow after taking a generous bite. Sadly, the produce isn't quite as agreeable and willfully follows the tilt of the earth.

-Little capsules of Spring spring up surprisingly early in Orange County.-

Still, citrus is abundant here and the warm weather has allowed my mother's mint plant to thrive like a small invading army ready to conquer the yard. I found a fresh supply of kumquats - though I was reticent to pay for them as I'm so used to getting them for free from my tree - and decided a refreshing mojito would be the perfect drink to go along with reading in a patio chair outside.

Simple, easy, light. A perfect, citrusy-tart sweet drink in the middle of Winter. Or faux-Spring. Whatever it is for you.

-Why is all the rum gone? Because I drank a bunch of these mojitos.-

Kumquat Mojito
4 kumquats, sliced
juice of half of an orange
4 mint leaves, torn
1 teaspoon of sugar
2 ounces white rum
2 ounces of club soda
crushed ice
slice of kumquat and sprig of mint for garnish (optional)

1. Put the kumquats, orange juice, mint leaves, and sugar into a glass and muddle them.

2. Add the rum, soda, and ice and stir. Serve.

-Why do I not do more drinks or cocktails on this blog? Because I drink faster than I take pictures.-

Maple Sweet Potato Cake

Thursday, December 17, 2009

-Sweet potatoes and maple syrup make for a delightfully seasonal and simple cake during the winter.-

It’s quiet outside. The cold seems to have settled and decided to chill everyone into what seems to be a predestined order. Everyone walks quickly, with precision, moving to a singular point of destination and with every step only takes up as much space and energy as needed making the brisk space outside more vast, more empty. A winter void of sorts that sits in perfect control of all things.

We don’t really have this sort of winter here in Sacramento. There’s chilly air that smells, even tastes, like Tahoe air; air that inexplicably will bring ice in the middle of the night. Days where you wake up icy-blue skies that leave no evidence that there were clouds except for the snow on the ground. The air is so crisp you could bite into into it like an apple and expect it to have the same juicy snap.

Oh yes, the snow. We don’t get snow in Sacramento. Until, suddenly, we do.

It snowed in Davis once, nine years ago, back when I was new to Northern California. I was living in the dorms and suddenly people were pounding on my door telling me to wake up at 5 a.m. After some obligatory swearing I looked outside to see nothing but white. Minutes later I was in my best winter clothes (a heavy sweater and jeans as I had no snow gear, why would I?) and was outside making snow angles and stocking up snow balls that I would use to rouse the people still in bed who refused to come out and play. Still, it was only an inch and by 8 a.m. it was well on the way to melted.

This recent snow has piled high. Frozen pipes. Knocked down power lines. Closed schools to the overwhelming joy of children only for them to learn what shoveling the walk really means. (Lucky for me I avoided this lesson growing up near the beach.) Five miles away people are trapped indoors. My neighborhood has a bit of frozen water on the sidewalk. The worst I’ve suffered is waiting ten minutes for the frozen water to thaw off my windshield and a sore ass after taking a dive on some black ice in the parking lot at work.

Still, this cold, this chill so uncharacteristic to Sacramento, a white phantom descending onto the town overnight, is taking a toll. I was raised in Southern California. I’m not used to 26 degrees Fahrenheit. (I can hear many readers scoffing at 26F.) I’m inside and bundled and baking for warmth, both inside and outside. One thing to say for my ancient oven, it heats the place but nicely. What comes out of it though is even better, for with heat comes the sweet smell of cake.

I decided to bake up a simple loaf cake using whatever I had sitting around which, admittedly, wasn't much. I found some leftover sweet potatoes that had been roasted and pureed the night before and decided to base the cake off this. Winter vegetables for a winter cake to battle the winter cold; a reasonable start to a reasonable cake. Staying within the season I decided to toss in a heap of maple syrup to add some richness and sweetness.

The resulting cake is sweet, sticky, and dense. A rich maple colored body with a self-lacquered crust. Cake that's delightful when smeared with butter and served with over-steeped black tea. While delicious when warm out of the oven, the flavors develop the longer it sits making it better the next day.

-For those maple fiends out there, this cake is your new drug of choice.-

Maple Sweet Potato Cake
This cake is easy to throw together, especially if you have a can of sweet potato puree. Use Grade B maple syrup if you can as its flavor is much stronger. A dark Grade A will work in a pinch as well.

1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of brown sugar
1 cup of pureed sweet potatoes
1/2 cup of olive oil
2 eggs
1/4 cup of maple syrup (Grade B, preferably)
1 tablespoon of water

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Prepare a 9x5x3 inch loaf pan by spraying it with baking spray or lightly buttering and flouring it.

2. Sift together the flour, salt, baking soda, and sugars. Set aside.

3. Whisk together the sweet potatoe puree, olive oil, eggs, maple syrup, and water. Mix in the flour mixture.

4. Pour into the prepared baking pan and bake for 60 minutes or until a cake tester comes out of the center clean. Turn out of pan and cool on a wire rack.

-When the air is cold and crisp, this bread is warm and soft.-

Menu for Hope 6 - The Most Vanilla Bid Item There Is

Monday, December 14, 2009

Yes, it's time again for Menu for Hope, the biggest and most important food blogger event that's held every year and spearheaded by the truly delightful, and even quite noble, Pim Techamuanvivit. This campaign raises money, almost a quarter of a million dollars over the last few years, to support the good work of the UN World Food Programme (WFP). WFP is the world’s largest food aid agency, working with over 1,000 other organizations in over 75 countries. In addition to providing food, the World Food Program helps hungry people to become self-reliant so that they escape hunger for good.

This year, we are supporting a new initiative at the WFP called Purchase for Progress (P4P). P4P enables smallholder and low-income farmers to supply food to WFP’s global operation. P4P helps farmers improves farming practices and puts more cash directly into their pockets in return for their crops. This will also help buoy local economies by creating jobs and incomes locally. We food bloggers understand the importance of buying locally and supporting our local farms, P4P helps do the same for farmers in low income countries around the world. More on P4P can be found at

What food bloggers do is offer up a dazzling and delectable array of food-related bid items for the Menu for Hope raffle. People (this means you) buy raffle tickets to win them. They can range from signed cookbooks to meals at the most prestigious and famous resturants, to rare food and cooking equipment. For every $10 donated, you earn one virtual raffle ticket to bid on a bid item of your choice. A pretty sweet deal considering the worth of the items you're bidding for. At the end of the two-week campaign, the raffle tickets are drawn and the results announced on Chez Pim.

The campaign takes place from December 14 through Christmas. A perfect amount of time for you to drool over the various bid items we're offering and make your bids (maybe a Christmas gift for yourself?).

Now, We know our readers trust us, but we also want to be completely transparent in our fundraising. So, we use a very good online fundraising company called FirstGiving, who has worked with us since the first Menu for Hope years ago. FirstGiving collects and processes the payments and, at the end of the campaign, transfers the donations in one lump sum to the WFP. The bloggers don't touch the money and WFP benefits from the money raised getting one huge lump sum that they can distribute amongst farmers in need.

By now you're probably wondering what sort of bid item Vanilla Garlic is hosting. If you're a regular reader then you know by now that when I describe something as "vanilla" I don't mean it to be boring. Vanilla is no Plain Jane playing some game alone in the corner. No, here "Vanilla" refers to the fantastic, flavorful, and intriguing. If I describe something as vanilla, it deserves all of your attention because, damn it, it's vanilla!

Thus, I present what I consider to be one, if not the, most vanilla bid item during this year's Menu for Hope. I dropped a line over to my buddies at Beanilla, one of the top vanilla bean companies in the world, and they were all over the idea of donating something for Menu for Hope. Together we've put together a vanilla package of the likes you've never seen.

A basket containing:
1 x 25 - Madagascar Vanilla Beans
1 x 25 - Tahitian Vanilla Beans
1 x 25 - Bourbon Vanilla Beans
1 x 25 - Mexican Vanilla Beans
1 x 25 - Organic Indonesian Vanilla Beans
1 x 25 - Indian Vanilla Beans
1 x 25 - Tongan Vanilla Beans
1 x Bourbon-Madagascar 3-Fold Vanilla Paste, 1 oz.
1 x Tahtian 3-Fold Vanilla Paste, 1 oz.
1 x Tahitian Vanilla Fleur de Sel, 2 oz.
1 x Tahitian Vanilla Organic Cane Sugar, 6 oz.
1 x Organic Indonesian Ground Vanilla, 1/2 oz.
1 x 2-Fold Madagascar Vanilla Extract, 4 oz.

Oh yes, that's 175 vanilla beans of 7 different varieties. Some super intense vanilla pastes which are, in my opinion, wonderful in baking where you need vanilla to really kick any other flavor's butt. Vanilla Fleur de Sel is a sea salt scraped from rocks off the coast of Brittany, France and combined with premium ground vanilla beans. Sprinkle this onto some brownies or rub into meats for an intriguing new savory vanilla taste. Vanilla sugar makes for perfect cookies imbuing them with intense aromatic vanilla tastes. You can use ground vanilla for spice rubs, teas, or any other creative culinary concoction that needs that sweet orchid scent.

Enough vanilla to last you a lifetime. Can I get a "Hell, yes,"?

You know you want your vanilla fix. If you're here, you're a bean junky like me. So do yourself a favor and bid. You'll have a shot at the ultimate vanilla package, plus many other awesome items hosted by the many other phenomenal food blogs. But, more importantly, you'll be encouraging local procurement and help low-income farmers produce food for the people who need it most. This is your chance to help feed others, improve local economies that need it most, encourage agricultural productivity in striving regions, and help solve the root causes of hunger in the world. Take a moment this holiday season and give back to those in the food world who need a little extra help.

The bid item code for the Vanilla Garlic vanilla package donated by Beanilla is UW13. There are no shipping restrictions, so you can bid no matter where you are.

To Donate and Enter the Menu for Hope Raffle

Here's what you need to do:

1. Choose a bid item or bid items of your choice from our Menu for Hope main bid item list.

2. Go to the donation site at Firstgiving and make a donation.

3. Please specify which bid item you'd like in the 'Personal Message' section in the donation form when confirming your donation. You must write-in how many tickets per bid item, and please use the bid item code.
Each $10 you donate will give you one raffle ticket toward a bid item of your choice. For example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for EU01 and 3 tickets for EU02 - 2xEU01, 3xEU02.

4. If your company matches your charity donation, please check the box and fill in the information so we could claim the corporate match.

5. Please check the box to allow us to see your email address so that we can contact you in case you win. Your email address will not be shared with anyone.

You can see a complete list of hosts for the many different bid items and other bits of info about Menu for Hope at Chez Pim. Check back on Chez Pim and here on Monday, January 18 for the results of the raffle.

Happy holidays everyone!

My Cop Out Cookie Post

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Finals week. I'm sitting at home putting together an argument for why I believe it's important to instruct in rhetorical grammar in the classroom. If not that, then I'm writing about the development of practical literary pedagogies for the classroom. If not that, I'm reading up on my Foucault for my thesis. If not that, I'm sleeping. Thus, no time to cook or blog.

As such, I'm sending you over to Simply Recipes where you can find some of my other stuff which is totally all super awesome for the holidays because 1) cookies = Christmas, and 2) baking cookies warms your place and makes it smell all tasty-like.

For example, you could be eating these mapletastic maple cookies:

If you want to break outside the mold you could nibble on some chocolate peppermint bark cookies:

If you want something a bit brighter then try these orange poppy seed cookies:

You'll find a total list of my cookie and other recipes at Simply Recipes here. You can also find a list of cookie recipes on Vanilla Garlic by clicking here. Hope you enjoy, and happy baking.

Photos by Elise Bauer.

Chocolate Lime Madeleines (aka: I'm Pissed Off)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

-Chocolate lime madeleines are a great way to work off the edge. Vodka works too.-

"No. I'm not okay. I'm cranky and I'm just a short push away from pissed off."

At this point it was best for BF and the rest of humanity to just leave me the hell alone. It's rare for me to brood. I obsess like a crazy person. One of the best obsessors you'll ever meet. I'm able to hamper, hover, worry, and fret to the point where I nervously pace at such a speed that I might actually spin the world under my feet and turn back time via the first Superman movie. Cranky, however, is something I rarely do as I'm usually able to stay somewhat level headed, and while I may worry at the drop of the hat it takes a lot for me to become upset.

Pissed off is simply a rare personal phenomenon. My personal aurora borealis but with more punching the wall and less pretty light.

Today was one of those occasions where somehow the stars had aligned and pulled at my personal poles. My emotional tides were high. My chakrahs misaligned and directing my energy through negative channels. I was ready to scream out in frustration. Smack a pillow. And at any moment I might simply snap at someone and verbally eviscerate them to the point that I would frolic in their blood and ichors. Or choke a bitch. Either way, someone would have to die.

There's plenty to blame my mood on. The pressure of finals. The stress of thesis deadlines approaching like quicksilver down a greased up, supersonic water slide. The annoyance of having to brave Walmart and Target (Pandaemonium and Hell, respectively) in an attempt to price shop for a new television to replace the ancient tube device that finally kicked it after 6 years. Top that off with general work stress and the panic of preparing for vacations and holidays and, yes, it's enough to get me riled up a bit.

It's times like these I need to work my anger out in the kitchen. I've had this recipe sort of sitting at the bottom of my to-do list for some time. Chocolate and lime are, in my opinion, a highly underrated combination. Fruity, dark, and a bit salty from the lime it seems to mingle well with bitter chocolate with a high cacao percentage.

Bitter chocolate to match a bitter mood.

Did it alleviate my stress? Not entirely. Only time and finishing up a few of my current commitments will do that. However, something to snack into takes the edge off, which, sometimes, is all you can really ask for.

-Not pictured: My seething rage.-

Chocolate Lime Madeleines
Makes 12 madeleines (one tray)

6 tablespoons of butter, plus extra to grease the pan
3 ounces of chocolate, 70% cacao
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of one lime
2 large eggs
1/3 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of flour, sifted
pinch of salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Use some butter to generously grease the madeline pan.

2. Place the butter and chocolate in a microwave safe bowl and melt in the microwave at 30 second intervals, stirring after each interval until completely melted and incorporated. Stir in the lime zest.

3. Whisk the sugar, vanilla, and eggs together until thick and the batter falls off the whisk in a long, thick ribbon that is slow to dissolve. About 5 minutes.

4. Beat in the flour and salt.

5. Fold in the chocolate mixture.

6. Spoon or pipe into the madeleine tray slots. Bake for 12-14 minutes. Remove from the tray and cool on a wire rack.

Pigeony Goodness

Monday, November 30, 2009

-Pigeons: carrying your messages and your meal all in one feathered package.-

Pigeons aren't exactly what we would call haute cuisine in the United States. For the most part they're seen as dirty animals. Rats with wings. They carry disease and spread plague. Which is odd because I can't say I can name a single disease carried by pigeons (maybe bird flu, but that we can't place that burden solely on the shoulders of pigeons). I can't recall any great health disaster that was due to pigeons, unlike say the fleas and rats who were the initial carriers of the Black Death or mosquitoes and their ubiquitous association with malaria.

It seems then that pigeons have gotten a bad rap in the food world amongst Anglo America. They're a pariah. A guest most unwelcome to dinner either as a guest or the main course.

Yet for the most part, many of us have happily eaten it anyways. Ah, the power of nomenclature. It's far easier to sell Patagonian Toothfish as Chilean Sea Bass as it doesn't have that barbaric image recalling ideas of gnarly fishes with awful spines and slimy flesh. A bottom feeder of the like that would butcher you in the water given a aluminum bat and half the chance. Chinese gooseberries sound foreign and odd, like that aunt no one ever wants to talk about. Repackage those bastards as kiwis - much cuter! Far more profitable as well!

I speak, of course, of squab, the more pleasant name for pigeon.

Then there is the case of doves. Doves, hierarchically and scientifically categorically speaking, are only a stones throw away from pigeons. They're in the same family, Columbidae. If you're talking about one then you're most certainly talking about the other.

If pigeons are dirty it's more likely due to the gross amount of human food and refuse they ingest than anything else. Who would want to eat anything raised on tossed bits of cheese puffs, Wonder bread, and strewn bits of Cheerios that failed to make it into a toddler's mouth?

Assuming we look at wild pigeons and doves then we can see their main diet consists of a variety of seeds and fruits. The perfect diet of a creature whom you would like to eat. This equals dark and tasty meat that, when stuffed with citrus and grapes and tossed over a grill (see, Hank, I pay attention) can equal some of the most delightful tasting bird you've ever tasted. Gamey, sprightly, and a bit woodsy in flavor.

Furthermore, it's more and more common for people to begin keeping them in roosts for food even within major cities. Uncommon are the days where city chickens, ducks, and geese were a novelty. Urban farming and bird raising for the purpose of eggs and meat has become a regular scene. It only makes sense that pigeons be as well.

And why not? Rock Pigeons, Wood Pigeons, turtledoves, and white doves are all now commonly kept in roosts by all sorts of families within the United States, though mostly by immigrant groups. In fact, the Passenger Pigeon is extinct in North America due to it's being hunted out for its tasty breasts by white settlers, so Anglo Americans have a history of eating pigeon meat.

Aside from these reasons there are plenty of religious ones to feast on these tasty turtledoves. According to the Tanakh, doves and pigeons are totally kosher (and perfect when rubbed with kosher salt, seared, and tossed into the oven). Second, within the Jewish faith they're the only birds that can be used for a korban (a type of sacrificial offering described in the Torah).

I recently was able to talk to my friend Sheng, the author of the only Hmong cookbook ever published, about the subject. Her family keeps a pigeon roost in their backyard for food. They're sustained on a seed mixture and a variety of healthy breads and bits of leftover fruit and vegetables. This, plus a large roost that gives them plenty of space to exercise makes for huge, hearty birds with lots of fat and meat to them.

The only thing dirty about them was their cage, which was totally, completely covered in bird shit. I mean were talking about a good multicolored crust of bird shit on the ground. But that's what kept birds do. They shit on stuff. If you want to call that dirty, then you're being cynical as all pets do this and as their owners we pick up after them. True, you might not eat Sparky so doesn't that make pigeons different? Not really, you have to pluck and clean the birds as it is, therefore cleaning any outside filth off. The birds are perfectly clean.

Tasty too.

Overall, I'm not sure how much of an authority I can really be on the subject. You should read Hank's blog for all things animal as he can better communicate the awesomeness of pigeon raising, hunting, cooking, and eating. I just know that if offered I'll never turn down pigeon.

-I shall name you Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snack, and Extra Meal in the Day When I Get Bored and Begin to Eat Out of Habit.-

The Bushy Tail Mafia

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Finals time at school right now. Enjoy a little piece about the Bushy Tail Mafia.

Have you ever met the squirrels over at Sacramento State or the ones at the state capitol (referred to as capitol squirrels)? They aren't so much tame as they are ballsy. I mean these guys got no fear of people when it comes to food. Undaunted by our size, they rely on their adorable outfits, rambunctious play, and adorably chittery sounds to lure us in and feed them.

And they know we will. It's a sweet racket they have going here. Absent are the Forest Rangers and signs reminding us the lesson we all know well: DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS. I do feed them happily... everyone does. Feeding the squirrels is the adorable bridge we're all jumping off.

Still, I try to be better about it than most. I avoid handing them cookies or bits of bleached white bread, rather I raid a few kumquats from the campus tree and give those to them. Some accept and curiously nibble them. Others toss them aside and go in hunt of an undergrad with a supply double stuff oreos (but for those, hell, I'll chitter on my hind legs for ya').

*insert dirty joke*

Anyways, I am finding that they're becomming aggressive in their begging. Bold. Intelligent. I think they are actually planning.

Take my last encounter with them as an example; after getting to the campus far too early, I decided to kill some time by laying on the grass and throwing a few kumquats to the furry fiends. I made a few chittering sounds, the speaking squirrel equivalent to adding "o" at the end of English words in an attempt to "speak" Spanish. It seemed to work though as one squirrel perked up and then came over me in gleeful bounds and hops. All very adorable. Cooing at them ensued.

I tossed him a kumquat to which he analyzed, turned over a few times, and began to eat in a furious nibble. Once finished he looked at me, "Have any more?" he seemd to say. I held one out to him. He cautiously looked at me. Looked at the kumquat. Looked at me. Then again at the kumquat. Carefully he moved, a pace at a time, then reached out and snatched it from my fingers.

A proud look on his face, he made a triumphant squeak.

I watched him complacently and then took notice of his friend bounding up to my left. I thought I'd give him one too. I turned to the small pile of kumquats on my right and then stopped. Three more squirrels sat staring at the small kumquat pile. I reached out for the kumquats and they all began to squeak at me.

Nervousness set in. Looking back to my left, the squirrel now had a friend. I turned my head. Another behind me.


The first squirrel was a decoy. He'd sent out the call. I'd been set up. I was surrounded.

I turned back to the pile of kumquats which the squirrels were already running from, each with a little orange globe in their mouths. They had planned this little raid and were successfully pulling it off. It was like the velocoraptor scene in the first Jurassic Park movie. But cuter.

I got up and abandoned the fruit. I figured they might call others, and I couldn’t recall when I last had a rabies shot. I was totally outnumbered and they were smarter than me when it came to getting snackies.

It's only a matter of time. Screw the computers taking over. It's gonna be squirrels.

Image from

Eat Beast Update #10: And So It Gets Worse

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"I think your cat is bleeding?"

"What?!" Even in a feverish haze those words are enough to spring me into an adrenaline rush. My mind and body and now synched up along a perfect axis and I am now in concerned pet-parent mode. Regardless of the fact I've been unable to even crawl out of bed without becoming exhausted I have now thrown off the blankets, jumped over the couch and run up the stairs at blinding speed. Whereas three seconds ago my brain was mushy lump it now buzzes with the energy of a Tesla coil focused in on a single point.

As I reach the top of the stairs I look down to see small drops and pools of red liquid across the carpet. "Which cat?" I ask.

"Mace," the roommate points him out in my room. Inside Mace, aka Eat Beast, is sitting on the floor his back turned to me.

"Mace? Mace Face? You okay?" As I reach out to pet him he quickly turns away. I instinctively grab him and pull him close. Normally, Mace is about as relaxed as hell. He'll let me rub his tummy, use him as a bench press weight, or throw him over my shoulders like he were a feather boa. Physical inspections have never been a problem. For him to want to get away he has obviously done something wrong.

My tone changes. "Maaaace, what did yo-" A small cranberry falls out of his mouth. "The heck?" I look at Eat Beast as he licks his lips his eyes begin to stare into the corner. There, behind a broken, old television I've been meaning to toss out I see the hidden bag of cranberries.

Apparently he had stolen the entire bag from off the counter, dragged it upstairs, and had begun to eat them. After eating too many he had then thrown them up so he could make room for more cranberries. The spots all over the floor weren't blood, but bits of cranberry stained red blobs of saliva and cat vomit.

He wasn't bleeding, he was just binge eating. And binge purging.

My cat now has two eating disorders.


Clove a Cold, Feed a Fever

Saturday, November 21, 2009

(I'm writing this in bed with a cold. I'm awake and needed to do something productive. If it gets a bit incoherent, well, you know why. I'm doing my best just to stay conscious as I read over this.)

I didn't quite expect that sucking on cloves would make my mouth go a bit numb but there it is. Still, my cough was gone and my nose wasn't flushing like the storm drains outside.

After attempting to push through the day at work I was sent home after having sweat right through a t-shirt and sweater due to fever. Over the past few days when I was coming down with it I had become a bit of a pariah as people began to shoo me away from their desks and paint lamb's blood over their office doors in an attempt to ward away my sickness. Taking the hint I packed myself up and took off much to the relief of everyone else.

In order to help speed up my recovery I decided to swing by the market for a bit of food. A firm believer in "Feed a cold, feed a fever" (I find no reason to starve either, unless you're throwing up) I decided a bit of nourishment might be in order.

I meandered around the market trying to get in and out as fast as possible. A fresh chicken to roast and then later break down into stock for chicken soup and, more importantly, curry - curry being my go-to sicky food. A bag of tangerines (water and vitamin C), some hummus and pita bread (something to nibble while watching bad movies in bed), and some decaf chai tea (to keep me hydrated and focused).

Now of course, this doesn't explain why I was anesthetizing my lower jaw. I've always been willing to try more natural means of healing myself; I'm a preacher of honey for chapped lips and believe gargling salt water is the cure all for sore throats. Now the other day I had been informed that cloves had incredible antifungal, antiviral, antibiotic, and anesthetic properties. Doing a bit of research I found that indeed clove oil was a main ingredient in most dental anesthetics and sinus related medications. Often home remedies argue for making tea with cloves, roasting them and then chewing them, or sucking on them in order to help with coughs, runny noses, or even toothaches.

Since I was already going a bit out of my way in order to feed my fever, I figured that I might as well try to feed my cough as well. Digging through my spice drawer I pulled out an ancient jar of cloves and plucked one out. I opened my mouth and snugly placed it between my gum and cheek and anxiously awaited for results.

About seven minutes later my nose had stopped running and my cough was gone. I was dizzy with amazement, or fever, but either way I was impressed and a little off balance.

Ten minutes later I lost feeling in my lower right jaw. Those anesthetic properties of cloves? Yeah, you'd be surprised how effective they over over prolonged exposure. The inside of my right cheek and gums were now completely numb, feeling cottony to touch and lazy to respond. But at least my breath was aromatic and spicy. I was a germ packed aromatic welcome wagon of the holidays - like a spice scented candle in a public bathroom.

This is not to say I wasn't still pleased with the results. For the first time in two days I could breath through my nose without sounding like a truck downshifting on a highway. Furthermore, this anesthetic side effect could prove useful someday.

I went and grabbed one of the tangerines from the bag and plopped myself on the couch like a sack of old laundry. Burying myself in blankets and two cats eager for attention I turned on a rerun of Kill Bill and began the healing process. As I bit into my tangerine, I tasted bright citrusy flavors. And cloves.


Later my roast chicken also tasted like cloves. My hummus? Delightfully spicy with a slight hint of cloves. Pita bread? Cloves. Chai tea? Oh, you bet it tasted like cloves. My breath smelled like so much cloves you'd think I was at a goth club all night smoking them while wearing too much black eyeliner.

So, cloves for sickness. My final word? Go for it. It works. Just learn to deal with the side effects in stride.

Crapload of Cranberries

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

-Cranberries, ginger, orange, and shortbread. It's normal for you to be a little aroused by that.-

"I'm sorry, how many cranberries do you have?" I asked having been caught off guard and needing to make sure.

"A crapload," Kristy, my classmate, responded flatly.

"You have a crapload of cranberries?" I was amused at the meter and alliteration of her statement, and yet disgusted by the mental image in my head. "That's... lovely."

"So what can I do with them?"

"Uhh..." she had caught me in the middle of an argument between my various inner voices as we/I debated our/my schedule and how all final papers and assignments would be time budgeted. I silenced them all down as quickly as I could and began to stumble out what seemed to be a cohesive response. "Uh, well... let's see. Um, what kind of recipe are you looking for? I guess, I have a great one for cranberry sorbet."

She gave a frustrated sigh. "I don't have an ice cream maker. Not all of us cook like you do. I need something quick and easy - preferably dessert - that I can slap together a few times over the next few months. My dad brought me like three bags of the things and I dunno what to do with them." As she said all this her hands gesticulated so erratically I wondered if she might accidentally slap some poor passerby unconscious.

"Hmm, well it is a bit early for cranberry sauce I assume?"

"Yeah, and honestly I'm not a huge fan as the canned stuff turned me off as a child," she said, her face contorting into a sneer as her tongue slithered out in an show of disgust.

"Let me get back to you on that, I'll see I can figure out something easy." She thanked me and as she went to her desk and I went back all the different aspects of brain voiced their opinions in heated debate once more.

You could have given her the cranberry cake recipe! Who uses the word crapload? Why would someone not have an ice cream maker? That's a stupid question! I want to do something new! Who has the time? I wonder what would happen if she actually had slapped someone?

And so on. Eventually we/I came to the decision to make some cranberry shortbread bars.

I had tried one or two recipes in the past and found them to be somewhat disappointing as most tasted like soggy pie dough with overly sweetened cranberry sauce sloped over it. Joy of Baking's recipe, whose shortbread base I found inspiring due to the dumplette-like use of it on top of the cranberries adorable and for it's tender texture and old-fashioned flavor, was where I decided to start in developing a new cranberry bar. I took the basic cranberry filling recipe, the same for most any cranberry bar, and then decided to perk it up a bunch.

This filling is a small dose of brown sugar to make the flavor a little darker. An insane amount of grated ginger and the zest of an orange are added to add personality. The result is a cranberry bar that's enticing; one that wears a slinky red dress and beguiles your senses in spicy, citrusy smells.

The next day I brought over the cranberry bars to her desk.

"OMG!" because she doesn't say "Oh, my God," "These are so good! Is there ginger in this?"

"Yeps. I also threw in some orange a pinch of cinnamon and some vanilla too because, you know, why the hell not, right?" I shrugged and smiled. "So these work? Supe easy to throw together and it'll use up your cranberries. Though you will need to pick up some fresh ginger and oranges."

"I'll just throw in some ground ginger and toss in spoonful or orange juice. I have the rest I think."

My brain sighed just a little and I almost said something about her suggested substitutions but decided to leave it alone. More than likely I would choose to do the same if it came to it.

"So when can I get the recipe?"

"Just check my blog in a few days."

And so, here it is.

-All the voices in your head will agree that this cranberry bar is awesome. However, the cranberry bar is unable to make them shut up about it.-

Ginger Cranberry Bars
Makes one 8X8 pan - adapted from Joy of Baking

Cranberry Filling
2 1/2 cups of cranberries
1/3 cup + 3 tablespoons of sugar
2 tablespoons of brown sugar
1 tablespoon of freshly grated ginger
1 tablespoon of orange zest
3 tablespoons of water
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Shortbread Mixture
2 cups of flour
2 tablespoons of cornstarch
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon of ground ginger
1 cup of butter
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1/3 cup of brown sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350F and lightly grease an 8X8 (or 9x9) inch pan with butter or cooking spray.

2. Place cranberries, sugar, brown sugar, ginger, orange zest, water, and vanilla extract in a 2 quart saucepan and place over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and boil for 5 minutes until it becomes reduced and syrupy. Be sure to give the mixture a stir once in a while to ensure the mixture does not burn; be gentle though as you don't want to break the berries but keep them whole. Take off heat and allow to cool.

3. Sift together in a separate bowl the flour, cornstarch, salt, and ginger.

4. In an electric mixer cream the butter with the brown sugar and vanilla. Slowly add in the flour mixture until just incorporated.

5. Press two-thirds of the dough into the prepared pan. Then evenly spread the cranberry filling, leaving 1/4 inch of space on the sides. Crumble the remaining dough over the top. Bake for 30 minutes or until top begins to brown around the edges. Cool on a wire rack, then cut and serve.

-This is what a crapload of cranberries looks like in bar cookie form.-

Tastes Like Way Back When

Saturday, November 14, 2009

-This is a ride on the way-back machine for me.-

"I really, really, really need a slice of that right now! Ok, who am I kidding? I could eat half at this very moment!"

This was the response that the recipe you see above elicited from my blogging buddy, Matt, after he had edited the image for me. It is a common and expected response when it comes to Oreo cream pie. One taste is all it takes before you become willing to submit yourself to the weeks it will take to jog a slice of this off year after year.

My mom clipped this recipe from the back of a box of Oreo cookies back in 1970. The retro tablecloth peeking out above, the positioning of the pie, its perfect rim of crust and piped whipped cream just jive right with me. It's a pie that tastes like listening to The Kinks belt out "Lola" over the radio. It tastes like watching the flow and ebb of neon orange blobs in a lava lamp. It tastes like nights up late lying on the floor gossiping with friends. It tastes like laughing till you cry at a dirty joke with your family around the dinner table.

-A more updated photo of this groovy pie.-

For me this pie is about as seasonal as you can get. It can only be served during the coldest days with coffee strong enough to strip your floors. If you happen to have a tree twinkling with tinsel and an aluminum star in the background too, even better. This pie is more than just tradition for me - it's memory suspended in thick cream and marshmallow. Nostalgia in an Oreo cookie crust.

I recently called and asked my mom if she would send me a copy of the recipe. She scanned it in and E-mailed it over to me within the hour, along with a reminder not to add the whipped cream and cookies to the top until moments before I serve it. After getting over how trippy it was that she scanned me an image of a recipe clipping from nearly 40 years ago I went to the store to get the supplies.

This pie is about as simple as it comes: butter, milk, cream, Oreo cookies and marshmallows. A dessert with enough fat and sugar that a diabetic will explode upon contact with it. I switched out the margarine for butter and added a smidge of vanilla to update it a bit (remember that in the 70's America thought margarine was going to save us all?). Overall though it's the same pie as ever. Simple and delicious; and one that mom, Matt, and I'm sure Lola, would approve of.

Oreo Cream Pie
Makes one 9-inch pie

41 Oreo cookie
1/4 cup of butter, melted
24 marshmallows
1/2 cup of milk
1 1/2 cups of heavy cream
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

1. Roughly chop 10 of the Oreos and set them aside. In a food processor or using a rolling pin finely grind the remaining Oreo cookies into a sandy consistency. Mix ground Oreos with the butter and press into the bottom and sides of a 9 inch pie plate. Place in the fridge to chill.

2. In a 2 quart sauce pan place the marshmallows and milk. Place over medium heat and mix with a spatula until melted and smooth. Do not leave unattended as mixture can easily scorch. Take off heat.

3. Whisk the heavy whipping cream and vanilla together until it forms stiff peaks. Fold 2 cups of the whipped cream into the marshmallow mixture. Fold in the chopped Oreos. Spoon into the chilled pie crust. Chill for 4 hours. Pipe on remaining whipped cream and add extra Oreos for garnish if desired before serving.

-It's a pie that walks like a woman and talks like a man.-

Racial Slurs and Citrus

Thursday, November 12, 2009

In North America it's generally considered ignorant, offensive, and inappropriate (hell, downright racist) to call Brazil nuts by their colloquial nickname, "nigger toes." The first time someone brought it up to me I was shocked and appalled. Who on earth would say such a thing?! Indeed, I believe the first time I ever heard this word pronounced out loud was in pejorative slang for these otherwise tasty nuts.

The term is - for the most part - all but forgotten. A closed chapter in North American foodie history; one relegated to be forgotten in the assumption that racism is extinct. (How sadly untrue it is).

Still, for this reason I am surprised to find that we still refer to a certain ingredient so nonchalantly. We mention it over the table and in the store without care or reference. I and many others have said the word boldly without any any sort of retribution or consideration.

I speak of Kaffir limes.

First, you have to understand that in many countries, the term kaffir is equivalent to the word "nigger." They are, on an international translational and dialectical level, interchangeable. Indeed, within parts of African and Asia, the limes are called "K-limes." Even the Oxford Companion to Food suggests that it should be referred to as the makruk (or makrud) lime.

So what does Kaffir mean exactly?

Kaffir was, and in some places still is, used in reference to native southern Africans and utilized by Indians and ex-Pat whites living in parts of India, Africa, and Southern Asia. The term originated from the Arabic word kafir which means "ingrate" or "infidel" or "unbeliever" and was used to refer to people who did not believe in God or Muhammad as the prophet. It was a derogatory term that eventually moved across cultures and gained new meaning.

The term was eventually used within apartheid Africa and India where it referred to the native black population or those who had been displaced by the slave trade. Called kaffirs, they were considered dirty, uneducated, and ugly; people to be considered less than human compared to other classes and races.

Much like the Brazil nuts, racially nicknamed "nigger toes" due to their dark color and their - to some - unappealing appearance when in the shell, the kaffir lime is similarly named to reflect attitudes towards a certain group of people. Kaffir limes are bulgy, mottled, and supposedly not as pretty as the smooth and glossy skins of other varieties of lime such as the silver or Persian lime. From this was born the reference to the less aesthetically appearing lime as the "Kaffir lime."

Ironically, the makrut lime (as we shall refer it for the rest of this post) is a surprisingly diverse and multi-purposed fruit. The fruit is often used for its medicinal qualities in stopping infection and cleaning wounds. The oil from its skin acts as a natural insecticide. The double leaves are used as a spice in African, Indonesian, Thai, and Malaysian cooking. It is, needless to say, a diverse and talented plant that produces makrut limes and leaves. In fact in Indonesia the fruit is referred to as the jeruk obat or "medicine citrus."

So we are left with a decision to make, both as individuals and as a food community as a whole. How do we refer to this fruit, leaf, and flavor? Given, most people in North America (and maybe Europe? I don't know...) have no idea about the history of the word kaffir. However, I doubt anyone will know what I'm talking about if I go to Whole Foods and ask for some makrut lime leaves. Is it my place to preach, or should I just simply lay back and accept it? From Brazil nuts to now makrut limes, where do we draw lines from acceptance to education, from offensive to absent mindedness and lack of information? Now that the word and leaf itself are such a part of food dialogue, can it ever be changed?

Honestly, I feel that at this point in time, trying to shift everything over to calling it a makrud lime is impossible. However, relaying the information and history of the fruit's nomenclature is not. Indeed the education should be encouraged.

I would love to hear comments and further dialogue from readers about this topic so please feel free to leave your opinion in the comments or shoot me an e-mail.

A Note: I am using the "N-word" in whole to simply make my point. By refering to the word as "N-word" the impact of the offense of the word Kaffir in comparison would be lessened and, therefore, use of the word "nigger" gives more meaning to the argument. Furthermore, fear and societal repudiation of a word in itself only gives the word more power over our linguistic freedom and empowers the word's meaning. I mean no disrespect or harm in any way.

Photo Copyright © 2005 David Monniaux

This post was originally posted back in 2007.

Crusty Bastard, Perfect Pie

Monday, November 9, 2009

-Pear, maple, ginger pie in a buttery, flaky, pie crust. Totally swoon inducing.-

Pie crusts are bastards.

They're persnickety. Wishy-washy. Temperamental. Most of all pie crusts are a natural curiosity. How can something as simple as butter, flour, a sprinkle of sugar and salt, and some cold water go so incredibly wrong?

My history with pie crust is a tumultuous one, a long haul over unfriendly terrain where many times I've left stranded in the middle of nowhere, arms raised to the heavens and screaming to the gods in frustration about how once again perfect pie crust had eluded me.

My first ever pie crust was mush. It lay apathetically under rhubarb and berries and when moved became like a petulant child going limp when you tried to pick it up. Once it was in your mouth it aggressively stuck to the roof of your mouth in protest. Warm hands, hot water, and no chilling in the fridge had ensured it would be crust most contentious.

My second, third, fourth, and even fifth weren't soggy but rather sheetrock-like. I can't really say that one was actually worse than the other but only because no matter how you slice it the three others were identical to it. Though I do believe that at one point when I tried to cut thought the crust of the third, a cherry pie if I recall, that when my fork finally punched through it it sent one piece flying across the room splattering red juices across my white wall and couch. This was fighting crust. A bastard of a crust.

However - unlike with violin lessons I took as a child - I did not give up. This last weekend I decided I would make pie crust. Again. I had watched Elise make it plenty of times before. I didn't have a fancy-shmancy food processor to do the work for me, but I had gusto and a pastry cutter. Bring it.

During the process the dough had issues. The butter stayed clumpy, it wouldn't form into a ball, I was adding way too much water. It seemed that my crust was bust. In fact, I almost took the whole thing and threw it in the trash, but as my crumbly dough filled hands hovered over the trash can though I decided that, heck, maybe I'll get lucky and it would turn out. I mushed it into a disk as well as I could, then wrapped it up in plastic wrap and popped it in the fridge to chill.

-Sure, it may not be fluted or anything, but I'll take tasty over pretty.-

The next day I rolled it out. I half expected it to suddenly crumble to dust but nothing happened. It... it just rolled out. Like nothing was wrong with it. I curled it over the rolling pin, flopped and shaped it into the pie plate, and I placed it in the freezer to set.

I was... confused. All was going too well. Still, I had little faith. The other doughs had been just as malleable, but this one felt different. The thickness, the texture, its heft of flour and dotted blobs of butter all seemed to be aligned in some cosmic baking way as if the spirit of Saint Betty Crocker was somehow guiding my hands.

I prepared a quick maple pear filling one similar to the pie recipe I did at Simply Recipes (where Elise made the crust and I made the filling) and spread it into the prepared crust. Into the oven it went.

Forty-five minutes later I had a finished pie. But was it a good pie? Was this another failed crust? I held the Pyrex dish to the light inspecting the bottom and sides to look for signs of seepage or breaking as if somewhere I would find the key clue to solving a horrific crime scene. There was none.

Sixty minute later it had cooled. I cut out a piece, plopped it on a plate, and let my fork dive in. There was a bit of resistance and then the sound of aluminum tines striking ceramic. *tink* Not mush, not sheetrock.

I took a bite. It was flaky. Sweet. Buttery. It was perfect pie crust. Holy shit. I finally fucking made perfect pie crust. I. MADE. PIE CRUST! That didn't suck!

Sure it might not have been the prettiest thing (we'll call it rustic), but the texture and flavor were dead on what it was supposed to be. Oh lord, it's true what they say, I can't go back to store bought. This pie crust wasn't a bastard but a sweet, darling, buttery pastry angel.

I'm still not sure if the whole thing was a fluke or not. It very well could have been. Still, I've had success now. I'm more than willing to try again and again until I can do this with my eyes closed. After all, homemade pie dough may be a crusty bastard, but when right it makes for perfect pie.

-What kind of angle does a pie crust have? Don't be obtuse, it's a delicious angle.-


The recipe I used for this pie was this one I did at Simply Recipes. I didn't have a deep dish pie plate so I cut the filling ingredients by a third. Elise's pate brisee recipe is fabulous. I know I'll be using it again.

-Booty shot.-

Snack Habit

Thursday, November 5, 2009

-Two seconds before I inhaled this lonely persimmon chip.-

-half a package of mint M&M's
-a few spoonfuls of pomegranate seeds
-a quarter of an onion bagel
-a pear
-far too many Cheeze-its (aka: the snack that proves God loves me)

I ate all of this between the oatmeal I had for breakfast and my late lunch of a simple salad of bok choi salad with croutons, oil, and vinegar.

Snacking has become my new bad habit. No longer a conscious act, it's become totally reflexive. Simple potato chip syndrome: my hand mechanically moving in a perpetual cycle between snack and mouth. Half the time I don't even realize I'm eating.

Worse is the control issue; like a salt hungry zombie I'll shuffle over to the kitchen in a daze and bust our a bag of kettle corn and bring it back to the couch where I'm working. Five minutes later, it'll dawn on me that, holy crap, I'm eating popcorn! Again! Ten minutes after I just put it away!

What's scary is the speed and quantity I shovel it into my face. Like a disciple of Eat Beast I just shove it into my maw in such quantities, my God, it's surprising my jaw doesn't just unhinge like an anaconda. Certainly, I was hoovering it in so fast enough that somewhere starving orphans spontaneously broke out into tears without understanding why.

In a huff of frustration I gathered up all the evil snacks in my house and put them on the community table in the kitchen at work (I'll be damned before I throw out go food, so instead I'll just take everyone down on the train to Chubbyville with me). No more chips and sweets for Garrett.

Still, let's be honest, stopping a bad habit cold turkey isn't that simple. Smokers use patches to ween themselves away from their sweet siren nicotine. I had to do the same.

Fruit, usually, are the snacks that our mothers gave us. A big bowl of pomegranate seeds is always swell, but quite a bit of work and not the stuff of a simple snack. Pears are great, and to help ease the pain I put a huge bowl of them at my desk. Sadly, it's not uncommon for one or two to go missing thus leaving me hungry. (Note to coworkers: I WILL find out who keeps purloining my pears.)

I have plenty of persimmons though, a fruit that I have an awkward relationship with. For me, persimmons are like someone you always go on bad dates with but always have great sex with afterwards. I hate persimmons cut up and served straight; they're far too sweet, like biting into floral, saccharic flesh. However, when cooked, dried out, baked, or candied they're awesome. In other words I only enjoy them in certain instances for specific reasons.

I decided then that I needed to make a sweet and easy snack using these persimmons. Something I could prepare ahead of time then whisk to my desk or to work to nibble away at uncontrollably sans guilt.

Recalling a simple recipe for persimmon chips I went to work while restraining myself from sneaking a piece of cranberry cake as I prepped. A quick bath in some simple syrup and then baked on low heat for a few hours (not all of us have dehydrators) and the persimmons would become a crunchy sweet snack that would keep my mouth and hands occupied.

If you're planning to be around your home doing house work or writing a blog post or something these are the perfect background recipe for you. Very little work with tasty payoff. A novel solution for any other snackers out there.

-I believe that snacks are tastier when they're nice to look at.-

Persimmon Chips
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of water
2 persimmons
1 lime
kosher salt (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 200 and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silpats.

2. Using a sharp knife or a mandolin set to 2.0, make thin slices of persimmon. Place in a bowl and toss with the lime juice.

3. Bring the sugar an water to a boil and then bring down to a simmer over low heat. Place in the persimmon slices and let cook for two minutes.

4. Using a slotted spoon or a fork transfer the slices to the prepared baking sheets. If you want give them a tiny dash of kosher salt, being careful as too much will cover up the delicate taste of the persimmon (personally, I prefer them with no salt).

5. Bake for 2 hours then flip the slices over and bake for another 30 minutes. Cool on wire racks.

-Not quite a cheeze-it. But they're both orange so close enough, right?-

Know Your Vanilla - A Guide to Vanilla Varieties

Monday, November 2, 2009

I recently decided it was about time to update the vanilla variety guide which I originally wrote back in 2006. You'll find that I've now added Indian and Indonesian vanilla to the list and added to each a few recipe ideas that would best utilize the vanillas. Furthermore, I've noted a good base recipe with which to better identify the subtleties of flavors between them. Enjoy.

-Unbeknownst to most, happiness can be measured by the amount of vanilla beans you have.-

"Package came for you," I looked up to see my co-worker Shanette holding a box for me. "Now will you stop hovering and looking for the mail guy?"

"YES! Thank you!" I snatched the box from her hands with gusto. I had been waiting eagerly over the past week for this to arrive - a box with what I assumed to be a small sample of sweet vanilla.

About a week before I had received a letter from Beanilla where a guy named Rob had inquired if I would like to try a some of their vanilla beans, and if I enjoyed them if I might write about them and if I didn't then no worries. I told him I would love to and that since this was the first offer of anything due to the blog I couldn't have been more ecstatic.

That is until I opened the box. The second the box opener sliced through the tape a gust of vanilla surrounded me. Rushing out of the box like Pandora's demons they quickly engulfed my office and everything was redolent with sweet, creamy, and spicy vanilla aromas.

Rob had sent me well over 200 vanilla beans of varying varieties. So many that I even called over all of my blogging and cooking friends and offered them free vanilla beans. Even after all the gifting, giving, and mailing I still had more than enough to last me years. In fact I still have a jar full of beans from that original shipment and since each bean can be used so many times I doubt I'll run out any time soon.

-Oh yeah, that's the good stuff. Right. There.-

Since that post went up I ran across Indian vanilla beans - India now becoming a major exporter of beans that possess a dark rummy scent that hints of cherries like the Bourbon variety. In addition, Rob recently wrote me and asked if I would be down with trying some new beans imported from Indonesia. I agreed and he once again sent me a large package of beans, along with a few samples of vanilla paste and extract (the paste now becoming my choice of vanilla for blondies, bread, and other rich baked goods). The beans themselves were strong, the scent reminiscent of sweet prunes and cinnamon. One of the most unique vanillas I've ever encountered.

I decided to run a new test to try out some of these vanillas. Looking at my old notes I decided to make a few batches of sugar cookies and whipped cream, two nicely blank slates which would best be able to show off the flavor of the vanillas. While at first I was curious if each would be just the same old vanilla once baked, each demonstrated a prideful arrogance in its individual flavor profile. One cookie had a a slight creamy flavor to it, while when sniffing the other I caught a slight boozy scent. One whipped cream was classic vanilla, and the other a smokey hint of tobacco seemed to linger in the background.

Once again, varieties of vanilla had proved themselves to possess particular flavor qualities that should be taken into consideration when purchasing vanilla.

-Knowing the differences in the various varieties of vanilla beans may make you a vanilla snob. You'll learn to be okay with that.-

Madagascar - Dark, full bodied, and rummy with a hint of tobacco, just like Rob told me it would be. Perfect for recipes that might be flambeed or if you need a vanilla to stand up to powerful flavors that might overshadow it.

Bourbon - Bourbon is defined by its fruity profile. Your nose may detect scents of figs, papaya, persimmon and cherries. Its diverse qualities make it good all around variety, but I personally prefer it with cookies and cakes where I want the vanilla to add dimension and complexity.

Mexico - This vanilla is sweet, smooth, and creamy; designed for infusions in milk, pastry cream, whipped cream, and all manner of ice creams. My personal favorite.

Tonga - This variety reminds me of cherries and of autumn, very brisk and felicitous. More of a delicate flavor. I've dedicated this one to using in developing fruit sauces for adorning meats as it seems to compliment the savory tastes of chicken and pork and at the same time enhance the fruit.

Papua New Guinea - Subtle notes of chocolate and red wine define this vanilla. Not a favorite as often it seems to disappear in the background of other more prominent ingredients, and when I want vanilla to stand front and center I usually want something a bit bolder. Still, for delicate tea cakes and that ilk of pastry this is a choice vanilla.

Tahiti - Generally floral, with hints of licorice and fig. I found that I prefer this vanilla in jams and preserves as it adds a floral bouquet to the overall taste. In addition, that slight licorice taste makes it choice for developing your own chai mix or spice rubs where you wish to include vanilla. Some Tahitian species are grown in other places that actual Tahiti. Tahitian strains actually grown in Tahiti have a darker, chocolate-like flavor.

India - The beans are huge and very oily, with a very muted, woodsy quality. A good vanilla that would stand up well to spices with a more heady comportment in a dish where the presence of cloves, rosemary, cinnamon, or thyme (and other such flavors with a dominating flavor) may threaten to eclipse other vanilla varieties.

Indonesia - These beans are thick, oily, and pliable. One of the mightiest of beans in physical presence. Also, it's one of the oddest. The scent of vanilla is somewhat fermented and the overall scent profile is one you would associate with prunes. In fact, I would say they smell more like prunes than vanilla. However, when cooked the vanilla flavor becomes more pronounced. Perfect for stewing fruit, or in pies and compotes.

Tahitensis & Planifolia Blend - The most typical and assuring of the vanillas - a genetic Wunderkind. This is what you might assume "typical" vanilla to smell like. A bit of a one note wonder, but because it possesses such a strong and reliable vanilla flavor that doesn't change with cooking it's my regular go-to vanilla variety. Probably the one I use more than any other - particularly for making vanilla extract or vanilla sugar. It's also one of the cheapest varieties.

So which one to pick? I suggest going with one or two that intrigue you the most and starting with that. As I noted earlier in the post sugar cookies are a great way to test the flavor profiles of vanilla. Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream are other good options. Whatever you do decide to use be sure that vanilla is the only and predominant flavor.

-Sugar cookies are one of the best ways to try out vanilla beans.-

Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies
Adapted from Anita Chu's Field Guide to Cookies
Makes about 5 dozen

3 cups of flour
1 teaspoon of baking soda
pinch of kosher salt
1 cup of butter, room temperature
1 3/4 cups of sugar
1/4 cup of brown sugar
1 vanilla bean
2 eggs

1. Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a bowl. Set aside.

2. Cream the butter and sugars together at high speed for about 3 minutes.

3. Cup open and scrape out the contents of the vanilla bean. Add to the butter-sugar mixture and mix in for 30 seconds.

4. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for 30 seconds between each. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and mix a bit more.

5. With the mixer on a low speed slowly add the flour mixture. Mix until just incorporated.

6. Cover dough and refrigerate for 45 minutes. While it chills, preheat the oven to 325F and line some baking sheets with parchment paper.

7. Roll the dough into balls about 1/2 to 1 inch in diameter. Place them on the baking sheets and give them a small press to flatten them.

8. Bake for 9-10 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Allow to cool on the sheets for a minute before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

-Picking the right variety will help you enhance your cooking and your cookies.-

Thanks again to Rob at Beanilla. You've given me a chance to explore one of my favorite flavors and share that knowledge.

-This is about as artsy-craftsy as we get here at Vanilla Garlic before I get frustrated and throw things. This knot took me, like, ten damn minutes.-

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