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.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Paolo Antonio Barbieri - The Spice Shop, 1637

"The Spice Shop" by Paolo Antonio Barbieri
Oil on canvas

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Visit the Pinacoteca Comunale in Spoleto, Italy to see the painting up close. 

**Tonight, I think we deserve to look at something beautiful after the bombing in Boston, and the factory explosion earlier this week.

Friday, April 5, 2013


And they are marrying­...

It seems the limp, narrative poetry I penned in earnest all those years is slowly breathing life into my fragmented prose, flying it like bright, birthstone kites, waving it like a valliant flag, making fast soldiers of what for eons lay dead and charred on the railway.


Thursday, April 4, 2013

Pondering Life Choices Through Dessert

A few weeks ago, I had a fabulous trip to San Antonio, Texas, which Mark Twain declared one of the four unique cities in the United States. Since I've lived in the first two cities and within a two-hour's drive of the third, I think a move to San Antonio is on the table.

It offers the chance to live in a more affordable southern city near both my mother and another key person in my life. But until I make the physical move (I've got another year of grad school), I will ponder how the River City provoked me through food. For now, here are the pictures.

I purchased the small cinnamon roll from Los Cocos Bakery and ate it right away. It was delicious and is definitely meant for one. As it write this, I observe how nicely it fits on the small dish with the black and white leaf design. 

This next dessert amazed me. A classmate had told me about the cinnamon rolls from Lulu's Bakery and Cafe but I was astounded when I finally saw one. It weighs three pounds and is wider than most infants! I was only in San Antonio for a few days, so I couldn't bring myself to dig into it. It needs to be shared with several people so I've frozen it. I like the way it looks wrapped up for later. 

I've decided that appropriate names for these desserts are the Western Cinnamon Roll and the Southern Cinnamon Roll. They look good together, I think.  


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Shockingly Modern 600-Year-Old Poem, by Hafiz

Sharing this timeless poem, published most recently in Harper's. Not only is Mookie's Food Odyssey about food, it's also a way to demonstrate my commitment to reading and thinking about the written word, so that shortly after I'm finished with school I can get a related job, thereby feeding myself, thereby filling my soul. 

I'm delighted to now know Hafiz's work, copied below. Writers and scholars, I think, often worry that the works closest to their own hearts will degrade in meaning over time. Hafiz can rest assured we get him here, as if he wrote yesterday and not over 600 years ago. "Untitled" is succinct and accessible--the best kind of poetry.

I appreciate that he gives books lives, human qualities. His use of the word "square" is so close to the more modern way in which we might insult boring people that's it's uncanny. That's my read, at least.


Untitled Poem

by Hafiz (Persian, c. 1320-89)

All I want to do
is get drunk with my wife

An endless glass of wine
both of us on the floor

So what if squares
Look down on us?

Boring and misguided
are their miserable lives

When my wife is in the city
and I'm home
I want to cry

The moonlight
on the cypress tree
is a bitter light

No book has ever kissed me
like she does

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Central Valley Meat Co. and School Lunches

North Bay Cow
I saw this cow a few years ago while hiking with friends.
If you live in California you may already know about the elitism: many San Franciscans–and North-Bay dwellers as well, thumb their noses at the much muggier Central Valley where this cow, I might add, was lucky not to live.

I missed last summer's Huffington Post story on the closure and re-opening of Central Valley Meat Company after its employees were caught on video abusing dairy cows. Clients CostCo, McDonalds and In-N-Out Burger suspended or cancelled their contracts.

Perhaps the most important purchaser of meat from this company was the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), which later renewed its contract.

The plant's temporary closure affected some 450 people, a small number compared to the nation's fast-food patronage and consumers of NSLP.

An equally provocative story: At the start of the school year at Moss Bluff Elementary in Lake Charles, Louisiana, school administration announced a plan to expedite the lunch line by scanning student's palms. The school of over 1,000 students had had some complaints about student's being charged but not eating lunch. The scanner would act as proof either way and was entirely optional.

Some parents called it the mark of the devil, so I'm not sure where things stand.

Friday, March 15, 2013

So That Your Coffee Will Remind You of New Orleans

I've normally gone straight to the source for my coffee with chicory (CDM and Cafe Du Monde are good brands) but I figured it might be nice to manually combine the two things at home.

Here are a few fun facts about chicory, which may or not be news to you:
*It's a perennial plant that's been grown for centuries
*Cultivated much like sugar beets; also used in salads
*Economical–let's you brew half the normal amount of coffee
*Imbues coffee with a mellowness and accentuates the aroma

How to Add Chicory to Coffee 

Use half your usual amount of coffee grounds. For example, if you typically make 8 cups of coffee using 8 tablespoons of ground coffee, use only 4 tablespoons.

*Add the same amount of ground roasted chicory.
*Pour the full amount of water needed into the well of your coffee maker. For example, if you added 4 tablespoons of coffee and 4 tablespoons of chicory, add 8 cups water.
*Brew as usual.
Visit the Cajun Connection's site for chicory extract and chicory milk recipes. New Orleans Coffee delves into the history of chicory use. Interesting stuff.

Looking for chicory in San Francisco? Try Rainbow Grocery or San Francisco Herb Company. Back soon with more East Bay leads.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Williams Carlos Williams from 'Spring and All'

Chapter I
Samuel Butler

The farmer in deep thought
is pacing through the rain
among his blank fields, with
hands in pockets,
in his head
the harvest already planted.
A cold wind ruffles the water
among the brown weeds.
On all sides
the world rolls coldly away:
black orchards
darkened by March clouds–
leaving room for thought.
Down past the brushwood
bristling by
the rain sluiced wagonroad
looms the artist figure
of the farmer–composing–

I imagine a poem written from margin to margin down the page like a block and I can't abide it. With this poem, it's as if the words themselves ask us to re-imagine a certain familiar landscape.

What I love most about this particular William Carlos Williams poem is the alliteration and accessible imagery.

On all sides
the world rolls coldly away

black orchards 
darkened by March clouds–leaving room for thought

This is exactly the kind of poem that begs to be read, even by the non-poetry lover. The words are so simple yet so packed.

The collection 'Spring and All' was published in 1923 the year after T.S. Eliot's The Waste Landone of the most important poems of all time. Of note, William Carlos Williams translated some of Pablo Neruda's poetry into English.


Late Night of Vegetables and Folk Music II

Well, that was a rude awakening. I'd just published a post about mistaking late night Guerilla Organics deliverers for car thieves–for no good reason–and I also shared a cute vegetable song, but my original words are all gone now.

Google Blogger warned me that I had faulty HTML but I didn't know it was a fatal error and I was allowed to ignore the warning. Reminder noted: always save blogs into Word documents as well. First. Save them first.

The most important thing about my post is not my backstory about vegetable delivery. It's Steve Goodman's song, "The Vegetable Song (Barnyard Dance)". My babysitter sang it to me when I was a young girl. It's a good thing to teach the wee ones and you'll love it, too.

If his voice sounds familiar it's because he also sang "City of New Orleans." I get teary eyed when I hear him.

Enjoy your night, your vegetables and your folk music. I will enjoy my CTRL + S.

Lyrics to "The Vegetable Song"
by Steve Goodman

It was late one night by the pale moonlight
All the vegetables gave a spree.
They put out a sign that said, "The dancing's at nine"
And all the admissions were free.

There was peas and greens and cabbage and beans,
It was the biggest crowd you ever did see.
And when old man cucumber struck up that number
Well, you should have heard those vegetables scream.

Oh, the little turnip top was doin' the backwards flop,
The cabbage shook the shimmy and she could not stop.
The little red beet shook its feet,
The watermelon died of the cockeyed heat.

The little tomato, agitator,
Shook the shimmy with the sweet potato,
And old man garlic dropped dead of the colic
Down at the barnyard dance, this morning,
Down at the barnyard dance.

Oh the little turnip top was doin' the backwards flop,
The cabbage shook the shimmy, would not stop
The little red beet shook its feet,
The watermelon died of the cockeyed heat.

Little tomato, agitator,
Shook the shimmy with the sweet potato,
And old man garlic dropped dead of the colic
Down at the barnyard dance, this morning.

Down at the barnyard, late this morning.
Down at the barnyard dance.


Monday, March 4, 2013

Let Go and Let Goat Cheese Salad

The term "Let go and Let God" doesn't fit when you hear a friend of a friend has cancer again. He's a loving husband and the father of a toddler. And so many other wonderful things.

Some people summon their faith, first; my childlike sense of humor summons me.

Let Go and Let Goat Cheese Salad
1/4 c. pecan halves or pieces
1/2 c. cranberries
2 medium apples
About 3 cups Spring mix
-baby lettuces, greens and radicchio-
goat cheese
balsamic vinaigrette dressing

*Toast the pecan halves in a frying pan–no butter–or in an oven @ 350 degrees until aromatic. Takes about a minute in a frying pan, and about 5 in a toaster oven. Set aside.

*Place 3 cups of Spring mix in a large bowl, careful to evenly distribute the various greens.

*Peel, core and chop the apples into bite-sized pieces.

*Mix pecans, cranberries, and apples with your greens, and finally toss with salad dressing and top with goat cheese.

A great appetizer for two.

Let Go and Let Goat Cheese Salad

Optional: My friend often sprinkles cooked rice pilaf on top of her salad. It's delicious and keeps you full longer.

Don't skimp on the goat cheese!
It has less fat and calories than cheese made from cow's milk. I also learned that like other cheese, it contains tryptophan. (And I thought it was the turkey's fault I fell asleep at the table.)

But do you have to peel the apple?
Though the skin has some nutrients the fruit doesn't, you still should peel it. Some supermarkets coat fruit in wax. Also, apple skin contains a fair amount of insoluble fiber that's hard to digest.

For me, the final so-what about this salad is that after I tossed in the dried cranberries, I noticed on the non-organic Ocean Spray packaging that my berries are infused with pomegranate flavor.

It's been said that the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden was a pomegranate, and not an apple. Though it's different from faith, a little mystery goes a long way.

Eating to live is good, I say! Eating to learn works, too.


Thursday, February 28, 2013

Pork, Pears and Parsnips: The 3 P's combined anew

I never liked the word loin, but in this case I approve of the usage.
This is a delicious and easy way to prepare pork.

Sage-Brined Pork Chops with Brown Sugar Glaze: 
2 cups water
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons minced fresh sage
2 1-inch thick, center cut, boneless pork chops
2 tablespoons brown sugar
Olive oil

Heat one cup of the water to a simmer either on the stovetop or in the microwave. Add the salt and sage, and stir until the salt has dissolved. Mix in a second cup of cold water to cool the brine down and let stand until mixture is lukewarm.

Place the pork loins in a shallow dish and pour the brine solution over the top. The brine should completely cover the pork. If not, either transfer the pork to a smaller containter or flip the pork halfway through brining. Cover and refrigerate for 1 to 3 hours. I let mine sit for at least three.

When ready to cook, place a cast-iron, stainless steel, or other oven safe skillet in the oven on the center rack. Heat the oven to 400 F. Remove the pork loins from the brine solution, pat dry and let them warm on the counter while the oven is heating. Discard the brine.

Carefully remove the hot skillet from the oven and place it over medium high heat on the stove top. Rub the pork loins with vegetable oil and lay them in the center of the pan about an inch apart. Sear for about 3 minutes or until the underside of the pork chop is golden.

Flip the pork chops and spread a tablespoon of brown sugar over the surface of each chop. Immediately place the pan in the oven. Bake for 5 to 7 minutes, until the center of the chops are just barely pink and register 140 to 146 on a thermometer. If the brown sugar hasn't melted all the way, run the pan under the broiler for a few seconds.

Remove the pork chops from the pan and cover with aluminum foil while you plate the rest of your meal. Don't leave them in the pan or they will become tough. Spoon some of the pan juices over the pork chips just before serving.

(Recipe: by Emma Christensen.)

While your pork chops are brining, I highly suggest making the following side dish as an accompaniment. Plus, it is a great recipe for so many different things.

Gingered Pears and Parsnips:
2 Bosc pears, quartered
3 parsnips, sliced
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 tbsp. butter
juice of 1 lemon
a few slices of ginger
1 bay leaf
a pinch of sugar and red pepper flakes

Combine everything, partially cover and boil until liquid evaporates and the pears brown, about 20 minutes. Stir in a splash of water.

I would check the parsnips frequently while making this; mine became a little mushier than I wanted. I do like a nice crunch to my parsnips. The leftover sauce is so yummy I saved it and poured it over the pork as well.

(Food Network Magazine)


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Dreams of Retaliation in a Basement Kitchen

For those of you who don't know, Mookie's Food Odyssey was born, in part, out of a longing for a better kitchen. I don't have a traditional oven and I plug my stove range into the wall. I knew this, of course, when I chose to move in, and I was also aware I'd be living below my landlord. What I didn't know was that she and her daughter–and now a young male cousin–would be so loud. They yell in the morning. After school and work they bound up the stairs. They often forget to turn on the heat and when they do remember, the stale smell of their leftovers wafts through their vents into my apartment. This stinks most when I'm trying to go to sleep. 

This morning, I woke up to the usual noises and pondered how I might respond in the kitchen. How might they smell me?

Aha! Copied below is a recipe for Bob Blumer's dishwasher salmonAlso, check out Tom Scott's instructional video.

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 6-ounce pieces salmon fillet
¼ cup fresh lime juice
kosher salt and black pepper
1 lemon, cut into wedges
heavy-duty foil

(1) Grease the shiny side of two 12-inch squares of heavy-duty foil with the oil. Place 2 pieces of fish side by side on each square. Fold up the outer edges of the foil (to contain any liquid) and drizzle the fish with the lime juice. Season with salt and pepper.

(2) Fold the foil closed to form 2 airtight packets. (To test the seal, press down on a packet gently with your hand. If air escapes easily, rewrap.

(3) Place the packets in the top rack of the dishwasher. Run a normal cycle. Remove the 
fish from the foil and serve with the lemon wedges.

Serves four: Me, landlord, daughter, and nephew. Score!


Sadly, I can't make the recipe this morning because I have neither fish nor dishwasher. But, I do have a crock pot and one day soon I will slow-cook tilapia. And no, as much I'd like the landlord to find me formidable–like the Godfather–I won't leave a dead fish on her doorstep. 

Instead, I'll share my home-cooked meal with her! Where I come from, even the most unreachable person can be reasoned with on a full stomach.

My question is: does my landlord even like tilapia?

More importantly, is she willing to don these ridiculous fish slippers when she stomps toward her own decked-out kitchen? 

I hope so. It'd sure make my morning.  


Thursday, February 21, 2013

"Stick it to the Man" Soy Chorizo Pasta

Soybeans - Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

On Tuesday, 75-year-old Indiana soybean farmer Hugh Bowman brought a lawsuit before the Supreme Court, and lost to agribusiness giant Monsanto. His lawyers asserted that Monstanto's patent on Round Up Ready soybeans–engineered to survive the ubiquitous weed killer Round Up–had been exhausted, and that long-time customer Bowman hadn't infringed their patent when he went elsewhere for seed mixes for his late-season crop.

In a nearly unanimous decision, the Supreme Court disagreed with the farmer's defense team. Mr. Bowman will pay Monsanto more than $84,000 in fines.


It's as if everyone involved in this case was trying to hold onto something: a fruitful harvest, a patent (90% of U.S. soybeans are Round Up Ready), a lawyerly reputation. Such high stakes make me appreciate my no-cost blog, and of course encourage me to eat something I can share with you.

This week, I cooked with soy chorizo for the first time. I wanted to invite the Indiana soybean farmer to dinner–austere times are on his horizon–but rumors suggest he's throwing soybeans at the younger union members back home, asking them why an old geezer has to stick it to the man alone! (I'm JK).

Now, it's your turn to revolt. Get yourself to the kitchen. Stick It To The Man Pasta makes enough to serve several of your friends, colleagues and superiors at work. Be careful sharing the recipe with teenagers, though. Indignation is for family chefs and farmers, only.

"Stick it to the Man" Soy Chorizo Pasta
16 oz. fresh green beans
10 oz. soy chorizo
10 oz. penne pasta
18 oz. marinara sauce

-Simple Steps-
Green Beans
Cut in half or into thirds, removing stems
Bring 1/2 inch of water to a boil
Add green beans, a pinch of salt and two peeled garlic cloves
Steam for about 5 minutes
Set aside

Boil the pasta for 10 minutes or per instructions listed on box.

Combine soy chorizo and marinara sauce and cook over medium heat for 5-10 minutes.

Mix everything together, and top it with your favorite cheese. Sour cream curbs the spiciness. It's like bolognese sauce with a twist.

Soy Chorizo and Green Bean Pasta

Okay, that looks great, but in what way have you 'stuck it to the man', you might ask?

It's true: you're not pulling the wool over any one person's eyes. But, if you've bought soy chorizo from Trader Joe's, you've got half of it left. It lasts for weeks and weeks. What's more, you're not bankrupt by keeping leftovers for yourself! You haven't made the landlord mad. In fact, it's by legal means only that you secretly hide your plastic bag of soy chorizo like the important discovery that it is. You're prepared for vegetarians. You're ready for a power outage after an earthquake. Ritz crackers are for your nemeses. You'll enjoy pasta instead.

Some advice: do not try to plant the soy chorizo in your backyard. It won't yield anything. And, who knows where the big seed brother lurks.


Monday, February 18, 2013

Keys to Food Safety

Given the continued discovery of horse meat in hamburgers in Britain, I felt compelled to get serious about food safety. And in my rapid-fire research, I discovered that about 75% of the new infectious diseases trace back to animal products. See the slideshow "10 Facts on Food Safety" compiled by the World Health Organization. (The link is in bold print; scroll down their web page).

By the WHO's estimates, foodborne and waterborne diarrhoeal diseases kill about 2.2 million people annually, 1.9 million of them children. Food trade and production is increasingly international which forces a constant and careful eye on food handling. The WHO's Zoonoses* and Food Safety department counts itself among the watchdogs.

See the organization's Five Keys to Food Safety. Some of the tips may seem second nature, but I for one didn't know soups should be served at around 70 degrees C/ 160 F or hotter.

Print the slick flyer and slap it on the wall of your nearest industrial kitchen, and on your own refrigerator. Although alone we can't keep horse meat out of burgers in the E.U., strict adherence to food prep guidelines offers us at least some control in our own homes.

*Zoonoses–a new word for me–refers to infectious diseases that are naturally transmissible between vertebrate animals and humans.

Friday, February 15, 2013

How to Stomach the News in No Time

I've had Shakespeare on the brain.

Plot spoiler alert: In Titus Andronicus, which I just finished reading for school, there's a vengeful people-eating feast. As if thinking about a cycle of violence perpetuated through pie isn't shocking enough, this week I also listened to several hours of the NPR story about Christopher Dorner, the former Los Angeles police officer who was on a murderous path when he, himself, was killed. If I linger too long in my feelings of horror, the stories of school shootings and gang violence glob onto a meteorite that explodes over Russia. Then, passengers stranded after their ship catches fire become candles on my Mile High Pie which melts before I can find a spoon. 

If I'm an artist–pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree–how do I respond when the world news makes a mess of me? The version of Titus I just read doesn't contain a lot of stage directions: simply "Stab him [Bassianus]." No action, reaction, no looks of horror, no dying groans. The story of violence is powerful enough, I think, that readers don't need their hands held.

I'm a big fan of the Theater of the Absurd (i.e. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead), so my culinary response will be in this vein. We can all agree the world is screwed up at times. Here's a casserole in its honor. Seven ingredients correspond, however loosely, to U.S. food history, fun facts and social commentary. I have no ethical suggestions about the Seven Deadly Sins, just that you should avoid them.

-Fun Friday Frittata-

First, the ingredients:

Apples (Wrath)
Entire orchards ravaged, blamed for making us drunk. I mean, they did, but we bottled the cider in the first place.

Eggs (Greed) 
Food: Billions are stolen from mother hens every year. 
Fertility: Two million sperm applicants for a single willing egg. 

Whipped Cream (Sloth)
Can you name the last time you did anything productive on a day you ate this stuff from a can?

Purple Corn from Utah (Pride)
Imagine what the boastful Mormon farmer says of his eight acres of land: "I'm so happy my crop isn't gay!"

Whiskey (Lust)
What liquor may inspire in you...

Sockeye Salmon (Envy)
Cast your fishing line and tear apart a set of fish twins as the older, better looking one escapes upstream. (Wait, is there even twinning in fish? I'm no scientist).

For a touch of Gluttony, add Quinoa from the Andes.

You may want to mix lust and sloth (whiskey and whipped cream) together for dessert. Also, note that these ingredients can be combined in a casserole dish and baked the following day. 

So, what's your recipe, please? I'm busy sorting out my own.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Crock Pot King Cake Fail. Well, mostly

Nobody's ever told me not to make a crock pot king cake–or shown me how for that matter–so last night I tried my hand with a conventional Epicurious recipe. And I had no trouble with the kneading or braiding the three separate pieces of dough. It was when I was putting it all in the crock pot that I saw it would be a challenge to keep the desired hole-in-the center form. 

Still, I set it to slow-cooking (4 hrs. is the shortest cycle on my crock pot) and got ready for bed. In less than an hour, a hunch propelled me into the kitchen where, sure enough, the failure was already in process. The outside of the dough was getting crispy and the inside was still very moist.

Why, I wondered, had I mostly botched the job?
I think it's clear there was too much dough. I also think it makes sense to bake any crock pot bread in a loaf pan, and this was news to me until this morning. 

I remembered that one of the best things about my favorite king cake is that it forgives a lot once you slather it with icing and sprinkles. So, I scooped out the middle of what was in the crock pot and baked it in the oven. The result was amateur, but delicious, as you might imagine. 

I'd like to mention some advice a doctor gave me a few years ago. After I'd run several long distance races, a podiatrist looked at my x-rays and said to me, "I'm not going to tell you to never run again, but you know the consequences if you do."

I'd say the same thing to anyone interested in making a crock pot king cake. It's doable, but be prepared for disaster.

If you want to keep it simple, try these mini baked king cakes or split the Epicurious recipe in half, plug in your slow cooker and watch it like it's your newborn child. I'm not sure how that's any more convenient than simply baking king cake in the oven, but it certainly builds character, something Catholics will need in the coming season of sacrifice.


Saturday, February 9, 2013

Saturday Aristocrat Pancakes

As a child, I had the great fortune of having my grandfather whistle while he made breakfast for my sister and me. He often combined three or four different cereals with chopped apples, grapes, and whatever berries were around. In fact, his next door neighbor–a passionate amateur chef who railed at Emeril–was my first cooking inspiration. They've both passed away, and so if I find it too quiet on a leisurely morning when I'm at the stove, I tune into NPR. Today, I almost mistook the back-East accents of Tom and Ray Magliozzi for Big Easy Mardi Gras revelers.

This morning, while across the country my mother was draped in shiny beads, I whipped up a brand new recipe of pancakes with bananas, Bosc 'the aristocrat of pears,' strawberries and yogurt. No purple or green streamers but a mint garnish is in order next time.

Saturday Aristocrat Pancakes

Here's how it's done:

Saturday Aristocrat Pancakes
-1 c. of your favorite pancake mix
-3/4 c. milk (I use 2%)
-1 tablespoon oil (try olive oil)
-1 egg

topped with
-1 banana, sliced
-1/2 cup strawberries, quartered
-1/2 Bosc* pear, cut in small pieces
-1/8 c. low fat plain yogurt
-Maple syrup
-A sprinkle of granola

*I recommend a Bosc pear since it's denser and crisper than the Williams or D'Anjou. Also, I was nervous about substituting extra virgin olive oil, but it's much healthier than many of the alternatives, and I couldn't taste the difference. I'm making a permanent switch. 

1. Heat a lightly greased skillet over med-low heat or an electric griddle to 375 degrees.
2. Combine ingredients until smooth; do not over-mix. Let stand 1-2 minutes.
3. Pour 1/4 c. of batter for each pancake
4. Flip when pancakes bubble and bottoms are golden brown.

Since you're not cooking fruit inside the pancakes, the quantities are up to you. Nuts can also be added. Lemon curd or whipped cream can be used instead of yogurt, but the latter has more protein and less sugar. Have your favorite coffee nearby.

Carmen Sandiego Tip
I often wonder what other people are doing when they're up at the crack of jack.
Several summers ago, I visited Cadillac Mountain in Maine which, because of its height at around 1,530 feet is the first place light hits the continental U.S. October 7 through March 6. I didn't go to Jordan's Restaurant, but I will next time. It opens at 5 a.m.!

Lexi-Lingo Tip
There's some debate about the pronunciation of Mt. Desert Island on which Cadillac Mountain sits. Champlain called it the "Isle of the Desert Mountains" for its uninhabited, bare mountains. But I've also heard locals emphasize the second syllable "de-ZURT," as in sweets on a weekend morning.


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Show Me Your King Cake Baby

The Adventures of King Cake Baby cracks me up!

I wish I'd taken this photo!
-Visit the Adventures of King Cake Baby on Tumblr-

Also, see Zazzle's Sumo Wrestler and King Cake Baby mousepad!

What's that, I heard? 

A 14-foot-tall king cake baby in the desert? 

The video is a bit lackluster but the story's fun: Baby Bon Temps Brulee at Burning Man. If I ever go to such trouble, I promise everyone will get to eat before the fire. Speaking of crazy, I'll attempt to make a crock-pot king cake this coming week. Stay tuned and cross your fingers.

Assuming the recipe pans out, I'll need to insert a king cake baby, but I don't think they're sold anywhere in the Bay Area. Last year, I used a fava bean. I hope to find some edible paint, and at least give my baby a smiley face. 

Want to celebrate Mardi Gras but don't live in New Orleans? Bay Area folks should put their orders in at Arizmendi

Though it sounds like their king cake is unconventional, with candied orange peel and pecans, I'll endorse it if it has the purple, green and gold.*

As the work week comes to a close, I wish you justice, faith and power* at the office but most importantly, in the kitchen.

You know, I'm a bit uncomfortable signing off with the standard laissez les bon temps rouler since it's a Cajun construction. The French might instead say 'que la fĂȘte commence or 'que la musique continue...' 

(More or less--let the party begin; let the music go on).

Or, they might simply say bonjour, since as I finish this post it's about 7 a.m. Paris time.

So, bonjour, France et bon nuit, California. 

Happy Mardi Gras block parties back home! 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A New Way To Love Chard

My cousin was working for a business mogul who dealt in broccoli–among other things­–when she tipped me off that the stems have more nutrients than the florets. And to think I’d snubbed my nose at whole-plant offerings at the school cafeteria! Though, in the end, my cousin’s broccoli boss turned out to be an oppressive jerk whose tip I've yet to validate, I did appreciate what he was driving at. When I became sophisticated enough, I took a break from broccoli for beet’s taller, brighter cousin: chard. I assumed it would be a bigger hassle and produce more waste than food, but I proved myself wrong.

Tips and facts

*There’s nothing Swiss about chard; I have no idea where that came from.
*To maintain freshness, wash soon after purchase.
*Store in refrigerator in a sealed plastic bag.
*You should wash and eat the entire plant. The stems are a bit like celery, with a twist. Note that the same cooking instructions apply to chard of any color.

Chard with Garlic and Olive Oil

  • Thoroughly wash the chard.
  • Pull or cut leaves from the stems.
  • Finely chop the stems. Don’t mince.
  • Saute the stems in olive oil and garlic, salt and pepper. They should be slightly tender, not mushy. Set aside.
  • To cook the leaves, boil them past wilting for 3 to 4 minutes. 
  • Drain thoroughly in strainer.
  • Puree the leaves, adding a pinch of salt.
  • Optional: add a splash of milk or cream. Surprisingly, almond milk works as well. And you can get away with a pinch of cinnamon or nutmeg.
  • Sprinkle sauteed stems on top and eat.   

The beauty of this antioxidant-rich food is that it can be boiled, wilted, steamed, braised or microwaved. It goes well with sweet potatoes, with eggs, with rice and pasta, with baked fish, with cream or Parmesan cheese. It can be served as a side dish or hidden in your children’s lasagna. You can tell them it’s frozen spinach but they’ll catch on sooner or later.

Red chard! My lasagna recipe is coming soon.

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