Friday, March 28, 2014

A Tribute to George Washington Carver - the Plant Doctor, the Peanut Man

"Where there is no vision, there is no hope." – George Washington Carver

When someone does good work, it's worth acknowledging the person and the work again and again. Many months ago, I decided that Mookie's Food Odyssey would award its version of a Blue Ribbon to those with particular panache in the world of food. The first one goes to the late George Washington Carver (1864-1943).

Here's why. Not only did Carver come up with over 300 uses for the peanut–and every part of it, from fats, to oils, gums, resins and sugars–he also developed 100 uses for the sweet potato, and he worked with Henry Ford to derive an alternative fuel from soybeans! Hybrid-car drivers, please thank this man. Pioneering and persistent, Carver even attracted the likes of Thomas Edison, but "The Plant Doctor" said his services were needed elsewhere.

The nickname the "Peanut Man" is perhaps most useful for young history students. The designation "Plant Doctor" gives us even more information about Carver; this name is at the heart of who he was. He grew up an orphan and was often too ill for the more strenuous household chores, so he began taking care of the plants. He was so skilled in horticulture that his neighbors began to bring him sick plants which he would nurse back to health. And what was local, Carver made more global. Via his Jessup Agricultural Wagon, a moveable laboratory, he traveled the rural South educating farmers about sustainability. He encouraged crop rotation to conserve nutrients in the soil. What's more, he convinced many farmers to stop planting cotton–cotton requires extraordinary amounts of water–and to cultivate peanuts instead. And in this way he encouraged a departure, however slight, from the cotton industry which had effectively held the farming-South hostage.

Carver, who earned a master's degree in horticulture, was a scientist, a painter, a crocheter, and a pianist, among other things. He was a folk hero, even. You might say he encouraged a form of peace during wartime since U.S. soldiers began eating peanuts for sustenance as early as the 1860s. And soldiers of both World Wars continued to eat the legume.

Finally, although Carver may not have invented peanut butter all on his own, he certainly expedited the process by his repeated experiments in making peanuts spreadable. Peanut butter made its official debut at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, a few hundred miles from where Carver was born in the town of Diamond. 

For his progressive moves in the food world, bravo to Mr. Carver!

Now, let's eat.

Here's his personal Peanut Brownie recipe:

2 eggs
2 squares chocolate
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup melted butter
1/8 cup coarsely ground peanuts

Mix and bake in shallow pan in a quick oven*; garnish the top with nuts; cut in squares.

*What's a quick oven, you ask? 
I think the missing steps in the recipe indicate that he has faith in you. Go forth and bake. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

What's the Big Fat Deal?

A recent Huffington Post email headline reads, "American Fast Food Reaches Glorious New Low." I'd gotten so used to seeing the phrase new low in association with national employment stats or the stock market that I was prepared to read about a decrease in the percentage of fast-food consumers. Given that fast food and diabetes are strongly linked, public health officials might laud a departure from high-calorie eating as glorious, and a health conscious reporter, perhaps the one who titled yesterday's email, might reveal his angle–or her personal opinion–in such a food-related headline. 

As it turns out, though, the word glorious, at least in this context, seems to have meant "wow, that got my attention," and not, "I admire or love that."

The opening paragraph of Tuesday's article reads: "Americans may or may not be ready for Taco Bell's Waffle Taco. (Could we ever be ready for a breakfast sandwich of sausage and eggs wedged into the crevice of a folded waffle, then topped off with maple syrup?)." 

To which I say, "Don't be so incredulous!" At the restaurant where I work, we have a cheddar and bacon pancake that patrons douse with syrup and butter. They also eat scrambled eggs on top of their french toast, and they slather jam on savory biscuits.

If, for example, it's okay to pair berries with stinky cheese, then encase it in phyllo dough before baking it, then what's so bad about Taco Bell's waffle?

This new waffle (unless someone decides to put Velveta cheese on it) is nowhere near as gross as the Wrigley's mint chocolate gum that I saw yesterday. But, should the gum get more credit because it's sugar-free? I intend to sleep on that.

I say that if we're going to fault anyone for our interest in tasty but unusual combinations of food, let us talk to Ben and Jerry of Vermont. It wasn't until I started eating their ice cream that my own had anything other than a spoon, and maybe some nuts, in it.

Ben and Jerry's used to seem kind of expensive, and was a novelty for a while. Taco Bell's waffle, I fear, isn't quite as creative.

But people are eating it, and you won't find me shaking a finger. Having looked through the window of awe-inspiring restaurants like Las Vegas's Heart Attack Grill, which serves customers a Guinness-certified "World's Most Calorific Burger," I'm not easily shocked these days. I also acknowledge that my upbringing in New Orleans, with its giant muffuletta and Po-boy sandwiches, has shaped the way I view food. With Fat Tuesday less than a week away, I wish I could share a gluttonous meal with my New Orleanian friends and relatives.

Courtesy of WikiMedia Commons

Some of them, no doubt, will sample Food Drunk's King Cake Burger. Let them eat alone! Though I love a good king cake with cream cheese filling, never in a million years would I add cheddar cheese and beef to a sweet brioche roll. It's not that I'm a hamburger purist. You can add cheese and pickles (even sweet ones), and mayonnaise, and all that stuff. But I draw the line at icing and sugar sprinkles.

My biggest objection to the King Cake Burger is that it physically leaves no room for the plastic baby. In New Orleans, tradition dictates that whomever gets the king cake baby in her piece buys for the next party. No baby means no tradition and I'm stuck paying the bill for a bizarre meal which I may or may not have eaten alone.

I may be a food adventurist. I may have been a cornbread pusher during childhood. I may occasionally be desperate to prove something. At the end of the day, though, I don't eat weird stuff for free.

Instead, on a very rare occasion, I go to Taco Bell. I order one small bean burrito and an absurdly large diet drink.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Potential for Widespread Rumors about Pomegranates

It feels so good to return to blogging!

I admit it, I got burned out. Between working at the restaurant and trudging through grad school, there was only so much non-paid writing I could do. Now that my thesis is underway, and I'm confident that I'll graduate from the MFA in Prose (fiction) program this semester, I'm dabbling in other genres. If interested, check out some food blogs I posted last semester with the Mills College newspaper, the Campanil.

I had every intention of posting my Thanksgiving recipes on Mookie's Food Odyssey, but it felt a little awkward after New Years came and went with the black eyed peas.

In keeping with my tradition of highlighting what's funny about food, here's some correspondence I found online. I can't remember how I stumbled upon it--probably when I was helping a dentist with copy for her website. Anyway, it gave me a few laughs! For context, what follows is a Q and A between an orthodontist and someone who seems very confused about dental care. Check it out:


Friday, 05 May 2006 - answered by Dr. Seema T. Gupta

Consultant Orthodontist,
Incisor Dental Clinic, Agarwal Eye & Dental Care,
 New Delhi

Q: I am a 20 year old student. One day a doctor came to our college to explain to us about dental care. He said that if you brush your teeth with a stick of pomegranate, then it can cause leprosy? Is this possible?

A: Leprosy is caused by infection with Mycobacterium leprae and not by brushing with a stick of pomegranate. You can read more about Leprosy on our website. 


I'm gonna be straight up. I don't know a lot about pomegranate sticks (or how they help your teeth). But I do know something about leprosy (Hansen's disease). Some armadillos are naturally infected with the above-mentioned Mycobacterium leprae, and some have been injected with the disease for research purposes.

By the way, armadillos are edible!

Dr. Gupta is so nice not to have simply replied, "lady, are you trying to get my goat?" He probably thought it, and then changed his mind.

I'm no expert, and you didn't ask me, but my advice is to keep getting at your plaque with the pomegranate stick, and if you happen to eat an armadillo, spit it out right away. Just not on anyone else, in case it has leprosy.

Hopefully, I haven't offended anyone. If I have, may you please remember my name!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

What Happens to the Bay Bridge Walker? (A non-food post)

It was a risk for me to text while driving on the Bay Bridge but I needed to let someone know about the strange thing I’d just seen: a woman walking East on the bridge, on the tiny strip of concrete not intended for pedestrian use. She hadn’t appeared frantic but as I drove further East I got increasingly anxious for her. She’d soon enter the Yerba Buena tunnel, and the sidewalk would ultimately recede, putting her right next to the speeding cars. When my sister called the California Highway Patrol on my behalf, they said the walker was news to them. It occurred to me that thousands of other drivers must have seen her before I did. This was late Saturday afternoon.

On Monday morning when I woke up, I was still thinking about the walker. I put a call into the Oakland CHP office. They reminded me that most of the bridge is located in San Francisco County, so I reached out to the folks at the South of Market office. A CHP employee–I’ll call her Ms. Carter–was happy to speak to me but she was unwilling to provide information on any bridge pedestrian unless I was a family member. Fair enough. I still wanted more information so I asked hypothetical questions about what happens to bridge-walkers once they’re picked up by CHP. Signs on the on-ramps seem to prohibit walking, but Ms. Carter said there is no set policy, and that if someone’s car breaks down on the bridge, the CHP gives them a ride, free-of-charge.

It was a busy weekend in San Francisco. I initially assumed that the woman was a tourist and hadn’t known the danger of crossing the bridge by foot. (Maybe she’d confused it for the Golden Gate?). When I saw her, she was still close to the Financial District, and I didn’t see a broken-down car. She could have been short on cash, simply trying to get home to Treasure Island or the East Bay. And there’s always the possibility that she was being political. Perhaps the Occupy Movement is not dead. This is my bridge and I’m going to walk across it!

Though I knew Ms. Carter at the CHP wasn’t going to give me any details on the walker–I wasn’t sure she’d even heard of her–she did tip me off to something that hadn’t occurred to me; she said the woman could have been trying to kill herself. I was shocked; I thought people only jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge, which rises much higher over the Bay.

“If I’m not mistaken,” the CHP official went on to tell me, “about as many people jump off the Bay Bridge as the Golden Gate.” I really don’t think this is true, and if it is, I have yet to corroborate it.

On Sunday, my obsession with the bridge walker could have been seen as voyeuristic. But now it seems to have grown into a larger public safety question. I’ve heard that when the new eastern span opens up, we’ll be able to walk and ride bikes on it. Unlike the Golden Gate Bridge, though, visitors to the new span will have to park their cars very far away, making suicide attempts less likely. And there’s the suggestion that the Bay Bridge doesn’t have the same draw as the Golden Gate, the allure of jumping into the ocean. This is all conjecture, though. We will have to wait until the new span opens up to determine whether people–Bay Area residents and visitors alike–will want to harm themselves on it. It will be interesting to see whether AB 755 passes in the State Senate. Even if it does, my guess is that suicide barriers can’t be made retroactive.

I will be thinking about the bridge walker for some time. Had my sister not called the CHP, it’s not clear how or when the woman would have been discovered. Unlike the Golden Gate, no one patrols the Bay Bridge looking for the vulnerable, talking some 80 people out of suicide every year. Let’s hope such a thing is never needed.   

It has been ten days since I saw the bridge walker. Yesterday, it was announced that the Bay Bridge wouldn’t open Labor Day weekend as planned but will be delayed several months due to some broken bolts.

(Note, though, that they may try to press forward with the original plan.)  

 Not long ago, someone asked me what I obsess about, and how it relates to my writing. These days, I am very interested in how we respond to danger and loss, and how related stories play out in public spaces.

Mookie's Food Odyssey is often a place for me to obsess about food, but as someone trying to write fiction I must obsess about people as well. 

Thank you for reading my non-food post!


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Deviled Eggs: Recipes and More

At the restaurant where I work every Saturday, we serve eggs at least seven different ways: scrambled, over hard, over medium, over soft, poached, sunny side up, and as an omelette. If you include the variations of scrambled (soft or hard), that makes nine different possibilities. One dish we don't serve is Deviled Eggs, also known as Eggs Mimosa. Excited that I'd found yet another food that can be made without an oven, I whipped up a batch using Joy of Cooking's Pop's Deviled Eggs recipe, reworded below. 


Place six large, room-temperature eggs in a medium saucepan. Cover with cold water.

Put the pan over high heat. When it comes to a rolling boil, remove the pan from the stovetop, cover, and let sit for exactly eight minutes.

To cool the eggs, rinse under cold water or in an ice bath.

To shell, gently crack the eggs all over by tapping them gently on a hard surface. Then, roll the eggs in your palms to losen the membrane. Look for the small air pocket at the large end of the cracked shell and gently peel the eggs entirely, discarding the shell.

Cut the hard-boiled eggs lengthwise in half. Remove the yolks carefully to a bowl. With a fork, gently mash and fold in the following ingredients:

3 tablespoons of mayonnaise, homemade or store-bought.
1 1/2 teaspoons chili sauce
(3/4 teaspoon curry powder)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon celery salt
1/4 teaspoon mustard powder

Spoon the smooth mixture back into the hollowed whites. You can also use a pastry bag; it makes the filling come out prettier. 

Chill for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Garnish with:
Chopped fresh parsley
Smoked paprika

**Note: Because it's all I had in my kitchen at the time, I only used mayonnaise, mustard, parsley and a sprinkle of paprika. I thought my eggs turned out perfectly edible. I'd like to try them with all the right ingredients but for now I'm happy to know that "deviled eggs" can mean different things to different people. Check out these recipes submitted to the Southern Foodways Alliance.

Some general tips on eggs, from various sources

Shell color: This has nothing to do with food quality, and brown eggs are not inherently organic. In general, a white egg comes from a hen with white feathers. Brown eggs are laid by brown or red hens. There are even blue eggs! A Chilean chicken called the Araucana lays them. 

Storage: Though it's true that eggs can last several weeks on the kitchen counter of a Trident submarine when there's no room in the refrigerator (random trivia, I know), it's best to keep them chilled and in their original styrofoam or cardboard container. The plastic refrigerator egg holders don't do anything magical and may quicken the decay of the egg.

Deviled eggs are great to bring to a picnic, and perhaps more sanitary than a vat of egg salad for plopping on sandwiches. If you're anything like me, though, you want the meal you share to have perfect presentation. I've found that it often doesn't, and that I just have to get over myself.

What follows is a photograph of the same plate of eggs, the first with no flash, the second with a flash. Knowing little about professional food photography and whether shadows are optimal/acceptable, I have to say the first photograph is still enticing, while the second one is wholly unappetizing.

My point? Just eat the thing. Taste is more important, and it may just be the lighting, after all.

Party eggs: The filling looks fluffy!

Eggs to eat alone. Don't be sad.
Food only looks pretty BEFORE  we eat it!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Define "Marinate your Attitude"

The first set of academic essays I helped grade this semester focused on "Tips for Incoming College Students." The young writers at City College were to pretend they were giving advice to someone who'd soon be in their shoes. A particular sentence has stuck with me for four months. It was clearly not written in academic English but it still holds a lot of meaning.

The sentence: 

College is a place that teaches young people to be more responsible, and it's also a place where students can marinate a better attitude.

It's an odd metaphor but it makes some rhetoric sense, right?

Marinating is an amelioration of a food that often tastes okay–perhaps just average–before the process of seasoning. Good flavor can turn a cut of meat or a helping of vegetables into something exceptional, sometimes offering the taster a flavor that's never grazed her taste buds before.

The question is, how long does the attitude have to sit in all the herbs, spices, oils, etc., before it comes out the way it's supposed to? 

Who decides the ultimate worth? The chef (student) or the food-critic (teacher)?

I think every day offers an opportunity to improve one's attitude, and I thank this student, whom I'll never meet, for his inspiration, however bizarre. Given all the institutional instability our City College students have faced the past several months, I'd say this young rhetor developed a great attitude, and I think he deserves a second helping of whatever meat he marinates at the next family gathering.

I thank him for his odd sentence. It has encouraged me to have a better attitude toward such writing.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

P. I. E. An Essay-Making Acronym

Follow this formula, especially when you're stuck. Do it for every paragraph.

P  - Make A Point

I - Provide an Illustration

E - Elaborate

I didn't make it up.  : ) More soon.

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