We aim for epazote, not ESPN

Now, I have accepted that hitting a small, stitched ball with a long stick is an enviable skill. I also honestly find it impressive that people can zoom around on ice skates and manipulate a little disk with what looks like a bent spatula. I even grasp that it can be fun to watch one large man with padded shoulders and knees knock over another large man in similar dress of different colors.

But competitive eating?? What’s up with that?

How have we come to value sticking an entire hot dog down one’s throat without choking?

This is probably the first, last and only time you will see me write about sports. I am writing about it because this has to do with food—something I believe should be appreciated slowly and gently—and because I really am baffled.

When this happens, I always try my darndest to argue the other side. So here goes: I suppose we all love a hero, and we found that hero in Takeru Kobayashi–even if he earned that status by eating processed meat faster than anyone else. He also devoured matzo balls at a superlative pace at one point, so I should give a little shout out to him for his chutzpah. But just one shout. That’s it! My reticence prevails.

Now it appears that Kobayashi is having some issues. Can’t say I feel too bad for the guy. But I guess everyone wants to succeed at the thing they’ve set their mind to.

We shall see what happens next week at the annual contest.

So that’s my bit on sports. Tune in again soon for discussion of something more palatable… or maybe not quite palatable (yet) like epazote.  I really want to get into that stuff, but my first taste of it left me looking like I’d just watched the entire 12 minutes of a certain Nathan’s-sponsored stunt. We shall see, my friends.

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A recipe resolution

Whereas, it is the time of year for barbecues and picnics;

Whereas, vegetarians are often left out, or driven to the point of madness by questions like “so what do you eat at barbecues anyway?”;

Whereas, everyone I mention this site to asks with bright eyes if there will be recipes and I answer in the affirmative;

Be it resolved that I shall give you recipes that you can use this summer!

I now present Choose Your Own Adventure Potato Salad and Mac ‘n’ NYF. Continue reading

Fuzzy red hats

It’s nowhere near knitting season, but I’m thinking of thick, red chenille yarn. There’s something here that reminds me of a hat I made a couple of winters ago… velvety, soft, voluptuous. Yes — they’re raspberries! And oh my they’re good.

If you’re lucky enough to have small fingers and/or if you’re a kid, you can pretend that they (the fingers) are little people and put fuzzy red hats on their heads! And then scare the bejeezus out of ’em by biting them off. Ah, little finger people. How skittish you are!

Anyway, if you’re lucky enough to get a package of perfectly ripe, organic lovelies like I did, you will be very happy with the taste of the headwear.

Soup

I recently made soup, and got to thinking….

What is it about soup?

I mean, how does soup satisfy the entire range of human need, from basic sustenance to emotional comfort to medical wonder to artistic creation? How has it become so embedded in every aspect of our culture? You may be skeptical, but think about it. In literature, there’s the children’s book in the George and Martha series–you know, the one where Martha makes endless amounts of pea soup because she thinks George likes it, when really he’s just pouring it into his shoes? There’s also Oliver Twist, who holds up his soup/porridge bowl and utters the most famous and pitiful orphan line in human history: “Please, sir, can I have some more?” Indeed, in stories of orphanages, concentration camps, and refugees, there’s usually soup involved — a thin one, invariably involving cabbage.

One of my most vivid memories of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC was not the art itself, but the story my mother told about struggling actors and artists, in a down-and-out state, making tomato soup with ketchup and water that were available free in the museum cafeteria. (At first, I recalled this story as one of my ancestors when they first came to America. It seemed a little dubious that ketchup packets existed in the Ellis Island days, but I chose not to burst that romantic bubble. I recently got the correct story– it was starving artists, not relatives–but the fact remains that soup was a mainstay for the poverty-stricken). On the other hand, no prix fixe menu at a fancy pants restaurant would be caught dead without a bisque-y or consume-y affair.

Then there’s the whole Chicken Soup for the [insert marketable group here] Soul series (in college, I recall serious conversations about what the version for the vegetarian soul would be called). The reason the title worked so well, even if it did exclude us veggies, was the old soothing reputation of chicken soup. Jewish grandmothers (and grandfathers) really do make that stuff, and for generations, Jews and gentiles have been eating it when they caught a bit of a cold. The book series is where soup meets medical miracle meets pop culture. How do you do?

So where do all these thoughts get me? Hm. I don’t actually make or buy soup that often. But I do know that soup is inspiring and necessary at once. And that I must occasionally invoke it by simmering a few ingredients in lots of seasoned water. Let us not try to understand it. Soup just is.

I learned to make soba noodles!

After years of eating these tasty buckwheat creations, I learned to cook them the proper way. This is how you prepare them so they’re al dente–the way they’re supposed to be eaten:

In a medium to large pot on high heat, boil water (as much as you’d normally use for pasta). Add noodles to the boiling water and cover.

When it comes to a boil again, add a cup of cold water, cover the pot.

The third time it boils, add another cup of cold water and cover.

When it comes to a boil once again, the noodles are done. Remove from heat, drain, and rinse in cold water until the noodles are cool. Toss with toasted sesame oil.

Serve at that temperature with a soba dipping sauce. Tamari or soy sauce with garlic, ginger, and wasabi works well if you don’t have any ready-made stuff.

Nummers!

Herb-an gardening

I’m growing herbs! Take that, you pavement haven! Take that, 5-story apartment building! That’s right — I’m gardening.

Granted, it is a window box of herbs that I keep on my friend’s balcony, plus a potted lemon balm plant (see below) and a very sad-looking sage plant. But still! Fresh herbs in the urban jungle! Ha!

Proof:

lemon balm

So in the window box, I’ve got basil (both Thai and Italian), thyme, marjoram, sorrel (though not for long — it needs more space than it can get there), dill, more sage, and probably a few other things I’m not thinking of. I got the plants as small seedlings from my CSA.

And speaking of the CSA, today was the first pickup! I had a moment of panic thinking I could never use all of those veggies — mezuna, pok choi, kohlrabi, sorrel, garlic scapes… and that’s a small order at the beginning of the growing season! But I already managed to deal handily with some of them. I steamed the pok (bok?) choi ever so slightly so it’s still a little crunchy about the stems. I sauteed the mezuna and other tough salad greens with the garlic scapes, regular garlic, and olive oil. I was going for the feel of Chinese sauteed watercress and I think I got it. Then some of the sorrel went into my simmering black-eyed peas.* Oh, and I got herbs, too. They will serve as good role models for the little ones I’m growing.
*I haven’t done a recipe in a while, so here goes:

Black-eyed pea and sorrel stew

What you need:

2 Tbs olive oil

1/2 large or 1 small onion, diced

a few cloves garlic, minced

3/4 cup dried black-eyed peas, picked over for stones and aliens

Enough water to cover the peas and then some

A few inches of kombu seaweed (optional)

1 handful sorrel leaves, coarsely chopped
Salt, to taste

What to do:

Heat oil in a medium saucepan on med-high. When hot, add onions. Cook for a few minutes, stirring occassionally, then add the garlic and stir again for about 30 seconds. Add the peas, water to cover the beans plus another 1/2-1″, and the kombu.

Cover and bring to a boil. Let simmer for 25-35 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding water to keep the water level about 1/2-1″ above the roiling stew. Oh, add the salt somewhere in there, preferably when the beans are getting soft and not before. Check the beans for doneness and cook more if necessary. Adjust salt and add other seasonings if you so desire. Add the sorrel and simmer another 2 minutes, then remove from heat.

 As far as the kombu goes, when the stew is done, I recommend fishing it out and then either chopping it up and throwing it back in or eating it right then and there. You can also throw it away. At that point, it’s done its job of adding flavor to the beans and making them more digestible, but I think there’s still more life to it.

That’s all, folks! Enjoy this stew over rice or just dig in with a spoon. I predict you’ll feel very Southern.

Imitation crustaceans

I bought a package of frozen vegetarian shrimp in spite of the somewhat hefty price (about $5.50 for 10 or 12 of the pink and white shrimpy looking things) and the recent scares about food imported from China. This was kind of a treat for myself and also a way to satisfy my curiosity. Of all the many versions of cold cuts, chicken nuggets, sausage, turkey, and steak I’ve seen, I had never laid eyes on fake crustaceans. Considering the news about imports with questionable ingredients, I had some hesitation. However, I happen to know that the most fun imitation meat and fish products come from China, and as a wise man once said, “to flirt with danger is to invite disaster, but also the possibility of a tasty un-shrimp pad Thai.” So the package went into my cart. Continue reading