Thursday, January 31, 2013

Pablo Neruda, on Food and Water

Ode to Water 
by Pablo Neruda

Everything on earth bristled, the bramble
pricked and the green thread 
bit, the petal fell
until the only flower was falling.
Water is different,
has no direction but beauty,
runs through all dreams of color,
takes bright lessons 
from the rock
and in those occupations works out 
the unbroken duties of the foam.

That we should all have the artist's lens of the late Chilean poet, who found beauty in the simplest things. In his Memoirs, he said he left his native Chile "to go singing through the world." Certainly his odes to various foods (excerpted below) have the power to pique anyone's interest, whether you have an appetite for poetry or not. 

Ode to the Lemon
...In the lemon
knives cut
a small cathedral,
the hidden aspe
opened acid windows
to the light
and drops poured out
the topazes,
the altars,
the cool architecture...
so when your hand 
grasps the hemisphere
of the cut 
lemon above your plate
you spill a universe of gold,
a goblet yellow
with miracles...

Ode to the Tomato
...The tomato
luminary of the earth,
and fertile
shows us 
its convolutions,
its canals,
the illustrious plentitude
and the abundance
without pit,
without husk,
without scales or thorns,
the gift of its fiery color
and the totality of its coolness.

Ode to the Artichoke

...and the gentle artichoke 
stood there in the garden
dressed as a warrior

Do read the full length versions of these poems and also Neruda's other odes: to watermelon, salt, onion, and the like.

Unfortunately, I think the pieces are too long to include in a single post. Read and/or listen to them in Neruda's native Spanish. Here's a challenge: find a decent Spanish-language version of these poems on You Tube. I, for one, didn't like what my search produced.

(I did, however, come across a video of my beloved Ralph Fiennes reading Neruda's Ode to the Sea. You may have heard this poem in the 1994 Italian film Il Postino, which features a fictitious Pablo Neruda. I'm still deciding what's more beautiful: Neruda's Ode to the Sea, the Italian language, or the gods and goddesses who act in the film.)


The text from which I've quoted includes both the Spanish and English versions of the poems.

It is Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon. Selected Poems of Pablo Neruda. Translated by Stephen Mitchell. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

To Repel and Intrigue the French

San Francisco: Circa 2006

Eric and I were at the San Francisco restaurant Le Garcon on the day Eric was to return to his native France. Though the restaurant doesn't seem to offer brunch anymore, we'd been served up something delicious: croque monsieur or croque madame. Je ne me souviens pas ('I don't remember') which it was.

We had a noticeable language barrier. Eric and his friends–he'd been a waiter at Le Garcon–would often speak to one another in French, a language I can only understand in baby bites. I felt left out, embarrassed. I wanted to pretend I was somewhere else yet at the same time strike up a conversation with Eric, so I engaged him about his mother country, which I'd visited nine years earlier with my grandfather. I grabbed his attention by mentioning my train ride from Florence, Italy into Nantes, France.

"...and, you know, it was a big deal to finally be on that train since the railroad workers were striking," I said to him. He perked up in his chair but said nothing, so I carried on.

"I was so proud of and scared for my grandfather. He'd banged his knee while we were trying to climb into the sleeper beds. He was getting old by that point....but he had such wits about him. He'd been to France so many times it was almost as if he knew where we were in time and space without even looking out the window."

And this was where I got confused.

"...You know what else, Eric. He was coherent enough in the middle of the night to tell me we were crossing over Corsica."

He raised an eyebrow at me.

"It means he was with it, mentally."

"I know. But were you?" He asked, laughing. All I could do was chug my iced tea because I knew something bad was coming.

"Corsica is an island," he reminded me.

Of course, I'd mostly known that, but somewhere in my mind a small tip of the island had snuck into our train route. It was just a matter of semantics. I'd meant to say that we'd traveled near Corsica but I didn't want to give Eric the satisfaction of knowing how stupid I felt. We finished our meal in silence and as we were leaving he asked me about my plans for the weekend. If Eric wasn't headed out of the country,  he told me, he'd go hear the L.A.-based metal band Brujeria, playing later that night in San Francisco.

Hmm. Brujeria.

"Gotcha," I said to myself. Whereas I'd just fumbled the ball with Corsica, and, frankly my world geography was a bit lacking, my word recognition was pretty decent.

He wouldn't leave my country thinking I was stupid!

In Spanish, brujeria means witchcraft, which one may blame for getting embroiled in some political brouhaha. Of course, a long, crappy workday is always ameliorated with some creme brule. Some folks may go for broiled egg sandwiches. The French may put their meat in un brulure. They may also have to brule un feu rouge (run a red light) in search of food.

These conversations with Eric didn't all happen on the same day and I kept most of my linguistic revelation to myself. And though it's fair to say I had zero promise as a European Tour Guide of any stripe back then, I could easily navigate my way around different languages, even ones I haven't mastered yet.

"Je me debrouilles," I said to myself as my friend left the country.
In French, it means "I manage." Because I will; I have since high school.

**Another note on failure: I owe the French words their proper accents, which I'll add later**

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Whole Foods Tuna Salad Re-mixed

I was never a huge fan of relish in my tuna salad, so I finally borrowed a recipe from the New Orleans Whole Foods, circa 2004. I later tweaked it to make it cheaper to replicate.

I'm sort of loose about the quantities. If I'm making the tuna salad for my sister, it gets more mayonnaise. If I'm feeling puffy, I go lo-fat. I fold in onion until it all tastes right.

My recipe, briefly
  • Canned Albacore tuna
  • Canola mayonnaise
  • Red onion, finely chopped
  • Dill
  • Fresh squeezed lime juice*
  • Salt and pepper and/or Tony's Chachere's seasoning
If you're not sure how to combine these various things, please beg your roomate or significant other to show you. Then, sit for five minutes in a dark corner and worry you'll never make a good parent. Just kidding. I know a bunch of kids who won't go near the stuff.

The big secret to my tuna salad is that I haven't used fresh dill in years. I never quite mastered not water-logging it in the strainer. I use freeze dried herbs from a company called Litehouse. Their online prices seem fairly comparable to what you'll find at the market. Though I've only prepared my tuna salad in a household kitchen, I'll bet freeze dried dill is great for camping, and even better for the Alaskan Iditarod, should you fly that way.

I bought my jar at Whole Foods, about as long ago as I face-lifted their recipe, trading out lemon for lime, and going cheap and practical on the dill.

Back in college, I babysat the children of a New Orleans heath and fitness expert. His personal chef substituted olive oil and vinegar for the mayonnaise. If you're feeling skilled–which I rarely am–go for it. And let me know what the outcome is.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Going Whole Hog in the Foothills

When Sous Chef Edgar first started at Rumbo Al Sur­ in Oakland, CA, it was serendipitous that his boss, Executive Chef Matt Colgan, had begun a tradition Edgar knew from back home. That is, smoking a whole pig and leaving little to waste. In Yucat√°n, Mexico where Edgar’s from, all the smoking is done underground. The pig is first covered in spices, wrapped in banana leaves, and then eased into a casing of metal sheets that are perforated to let in air­. No flames are visible above the surface. Stone and wood keep the fire going. 

Inherently, the roasting process looks a bit different on busy Park Boulevard in the Glenview District. Is there some sort of regulation against cooking underground? I’m not sure. Whatever the case, Rumbo plays it safe with their above-ground outdoor oven or Caja-China, available for about $300. Or, let’s call it $150 each if we go Dutch on it.

Pig in the oven

The afternoon of the roast, I’d walked by the parking lot several times before I found out what was in the big wooden box. I’ll be honest: I had to blink once or twice to get Wilbur out of my mind. But somehow, all my pseudo-vegetarian neurons pardoned me and I went for it. After all, what was in the Caja-China had been marinating for two days in more than twenty juices, spices, and herbs. And it’s true that a whole pig roast is far off the beaten path. I, for one, endorse this kind of big-picture-dining: I’m a waste-not kind of eater these days.

Rumbo’s servers don’t present the whole pig on a platter,­ as is done in say, a luau. Instead, the chefs plate both dark and light meat­–shoulders, thighs and all­–along with moist corn tortillas. Garlic, oregano and epazote black beans jibe nicely with coconut rice. Fresh chicharones­–or fried pork skins­–round out the offering, along with pineapple salsa. It’s a savory, spicy, and mildly sweet dining experience, and if you’ve never eaten the thigh of a pig, a mysterious one as well.

Everything but the tortillas

After such a hearty meal, most people would be satisfied and skip dessert. But I just couldn’t leave without trying their Margarita Pie, which is better than any Key Lime I’ve ever had. I even offered some to a new neighbor seated at the bar. Some. Not all. A final sip of a margarita and I was on my way home after my first pig roast. It was an education.

The night before, when I was still reluctant to dive in, a front-house manager named Erin put me at ease. “I’ve seen my fair share of smoked pigs,” she said, “and [Matt Colgan’s] is definitely the best.”

If you won’t take her word alone, I’m sure her colleagues Elmer, Rick, Ali, Patrick or Matt B. would back it up. Even at their busiest–with customers like me asking for a drink, a meal, and dessert to go–the staff fulfilled my wishes with a smile. It's the food and the service. No wonder they're so packed Tuesday through Sunday. (They're closed on Monday).

Enjoy Rumbo's 'southbound journey'
4239 Park Blvd
Oakland, CA

Visit their Facebook page.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Dessert First Tonight

I've just been to a pig roast at the local Rumbo Al Sur! Tomorrow, I'll have the story up, along with a photo or two. As I continue to salivate over Rumbo's Margarita (Key Lime) pie that I'll shamelessly finish for tomorrow's breakfast, I've become nostalgic about eating with family back home. I've only been gone a month, and already I miss them.

Friday night, I read Joyce Maynard's beautiful and poignant "Pie," an essay about how baking transformed a tense mother-daughter relationship and so I'm inspired to share a found-photo. I have no idea what the pie was–I'm guessing Cheesecake or Lemon Merengue–and I'm not sure of the occasion, but I do know the dessert was a loving gift from my mother. She takes such good care of everyone around mealtimes.

We're all well past thirty now, but still at Christmas brunch my mother and stepfather offer us grapefruit halves they've delicately cut the night before so we have less work to do with our grapefruit spoons. They even individually-wrap our bowls in Saran Wrap. In the morning, they often add a Maraschino cherry. Perfectly centered, by the way. How I love their finishing touches.

Is there a certain meaningful dessert in your family? One longstanding recipe on my mother's side is frozen fruit salad, a sort of sherbet-tasting dish of cream, peaches, bananas and nuts with a dollop of lemon curd. A perfect combination of creamy, tangy, cold and chewy. I hope you'll try your hand at it some time.  Happy baking, cooking, freezing. All that jazz. 

Frozen Fruit Salad (circa 1950?) 

  • 2 small packages (3 ounces each) cream cheese
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 cup heavy cream, whipped
  • 1/2 cup maraschino red cherries, quartered
  • 1/2 cup green maraschino cherries, quartered (or use all red)
  • 1 can fruit cocktail (16 or 20 ounce size), drained
  • 2 1/2 cups diced marshmallows, about 24 marshmallows
Beat together the cream cheese and mayonnaise. Fold in whipped cream, cherries, drained fruit cocktail, and marshmallows. Pour into a 1-quart freezer container. Garnish with additional maraschino cherries.
Freeze fruit salad until firm.
Frozen fruit salad serves 8.

Note: This isn't my mother's recipe, but I think you'll get the gist.

Friday, January 25, 2013

When a Widow Gets the Party Started

It seems every party has at least one mysterious couple. You know, that handsome '007 who passes up refills of the house wine, treating his own drink as if it's liquid gold. His willowy guest, of course, shares his champagne flute. Her long dress sweeps the room like a decorative train for a private ceremony they're about to hold in the corner. He feeds her finger-food. She begins to rub his back. The flustered host points insistently to a bedroom, but the pair simply walk out the front door, the sun bouncing off a champagne bottle in the woman's purse. Everyone in the room is aghast. Dialogue becomes stilted and many guests complain of thirst. And then, it dawns on you. The couple was drinking Veuve ("Widow") Cliquot, otherwise known as the champagne that made bubbly famous.

What strikes me as most interesting about the rise of Veuve Cliquot is that a 19th-century woman was behind it. Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin married Francois Cliquot and when he died of typhoid fever–for which champagne was, ironically, a popular antidote–she was left at the young age of 27 to operate a business alone. Never mind that the embers of the French Revolution were still settling: the Widow went whole hog. In fact, after Napoleon's reign came to an end, she arranged for boats to push through a naval blockade in what was then Prussia to ensure that Cliquot was drunk by as many celebrating soldiers as possible. Whereas the American Revolutionary Tea Partiers said, "No taxation without representation," the Widow may have said, "No toasting the end of terror without the real deal, and that's from my winery." When Cliquot reached St. Petersburg in 1811, Czar Alexander gave it a ringing endorsement. And so grew the Widow's empire.

With the numerous male-dominated vineyards in nearby wine country, it's refreshing to learn that a woman actually got things started for bubbly. What we hear is that the only authentic champagne comes from those sacred grapes in France and that Dom Perignon created the drink. But, as the Widow reported, bubbly was actually stumbled upon. When many winemakers were trying to get their product to stop fizzing, the British were drinking still wine with Bourbon, the precursor to the sparkling kind. Nobody invented champagne. It was a glorious accident. 

Not only was Barbe-Nicole a fearless businesswoman, she had excellent advice for her granddaughter: Be bold and let intelligence direct your life, she said. 

Indeed. And though I have a night of writing ahead of me, and I wait tables tomorrow morning, a large bottle of bubbly smiles down on me from my bookshelf. I've had it for six months now. What's another few weeks? Mardi Gras is around the corner, and no one will be sober enough to notice that what we're drinking isn't the Widow. Except me.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Endorsing the Sweet Potato Odyssey!

The Sweet Potato Lover's Cookbook will soon arrive at a postal box that my sister kindly shares with me for large orders. This book has over 100 recipes! It will be nice to have on hand, as one of my goals is to expand my student diet to include more than just carrots, hummus, Nilla wafers and Club crackers. 

Perhaps more interesting than my own journey is that of the sweet potato. NPR reports that although Cristoforo Colombo–yeah that's how they spell it in Italian–likely helped introduce tomatoes to the Italian foods we eat, and hot peppers to Chinese and Indian repasts, he was less integral in the sweet potato's international debut than we'd previously thought. 

Sweet potatoes originated in Central and South America. Captain Cook's sweet potato remnants (which are housed in a London museum) are linked by DNA to the root vegetables in Ecuador and Peru. But, some Polynesian sweet potatoes date back several hundred years prior to that, meaning that Polynesians likely went by boat to South America to get them. Proof's in the language. The Polynesian word for sweet potato, "kuumala" is very close to "kumara," or "cumal," the words for sweet potato in Quechua, the native Andean tongue. 

This gives me an even greater  respect for those orange root veggies, traveling countless miles between Polynesia and South America before so-called civilized people braved the treacherous waters. I find myself on my own odyssey for the vitamin-rich tuber. Had I my druthers at the restaurant where I work, we'd replace the Idaho or Russet Burbank with the sweet potato.

But, folks like their salt and I have a feeling price is partly to blame. Restaurant Depot's San Francisco Produce associate tells me that Idaho potatoes cost $6.95 
for a five-pound bag whereas sweet potatoes ring up at $14.95 for the same quantity. 

In my wildest fantasy, I walk into a McDonalds and say, 'it's the economy, stupid.' But, the cashier would probably be in their early twenties and not get the reference or care about my health. 'What's your order, stupid,' I'd hear back from them. I'd then have to sulk over to Burger King for sweet potato fries or just order a cone of McDonalds soft-serve. I can never turn that stuff down.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

White Bean Dip with a Mint Chaser

Try this excellent white bean dip followed by a refreshing minty treat. You'll need a food processor for the former, but not the latter, and perhaps a glass or two of Cupcake Prosecco to calm your nerves. Cook with your romantic partner tonight. A friend is fine. Anyone with whom you can share what you've made, what you've learned.

  • 1 (15-ounce) can white beans (Cannellini, Great Northern or Navy)
  • 2 cloves garlic 
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 
  • 1/3 cup (+ 4 tbsp.) olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves
Blend in a food processor to your desired consistency. Pairs nicely with toasted pita. Or, you can slather it on a veggie burger. Really, however you'd like it. Salt and pepper are probably in order. 

Due to the garlic, you may find yourself looking for a breath freshener. If your toothbrush isn't within reach, perhaps your Listerine Strips have fallen through a hole in your pocket. Look around!

One of the key ingredients in these bad boys isn't plastic, as it is in some chewing gums. It's actually pullulan, a fancy word for fungus slime. That's right, you heard me. Fungus slime. 

This is a tough pill to swallow. Earlier in the day I'd wanted to impart an appreciation for mushrooms (also fungi), but this one just throws me for a loop. 

After all these years of loyalty, I'm now completely suspicious of these breath fresheners, and you should be, too. I'm really sorry I had to tell you this now. But, please. Do try that white bean dip. There's nothing scandalous about it. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Urban Gardening for Justice

President Obama took the Oath of Office today, placing one hand on the Bible used by President Abraham Lincoln at his first inauguration, and the other on the Bible used by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

Given the 2009 inaugural snafu when Chief Justice Roberts and the President weren't on the same page, and including yesterday's Constitutionally-adherent ceremony, Obama will have been sworn in four times, all told. I congratulate him, and ask that he keep at the forefront his commitment to Reverend King's hard work.

While I'm enticed by the various online recipes proposed to honor MLK–chocolate pecan pie, crawfish etouffee by a Birmingham chef, and various soul food dishes–today, Odyssey (Mookie's) highlights micro-movements forward, beginning with our young people.

Eat GRUB started with four helping hands and a tiny seed. As students at Mandela High in Oakland, California, Salvador Mateo and Julio Madrigal wanted to eliminate community food deserts: areas where residents have more access to liquor stores and fast food chains than produce markets. So, with the help of Ashoka's Youth Ventures Dream It. Do It. Challenge, they built a raised-bed garden and planted ten trees on their school's campus. And then they got funded to do it elsewhere. With income from people who can afford to pay full price, they hope to donate to people who can't.

Hopefully, at the first Kid's State Dinner held at the White House last August, First Lady Obama had our East Bay entrepreneurs in mind, too. Young chefs are a creative inspiration. But, arguably, stakes are highest for our inner city farmers.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Quinoa Crazy–When Our Hunger for Health Taxes South American Farmers

Sometime in the late 90's when my mother was still buying most of my groceries, a curious new carbohydrate snuck into the household palate. Quinoa ("keen-wa") was all the rage. Here in the U.S., it became a culinary mainstay at Buddhist retreats. The Skinny Bitches promoted it. The Quinoa Diet lauds it for its low glycemic content. Did I mention it's gluten-free? Move over brown rice. Hello round, slightly crispy miracle vegetable-grain, a relative of beets and chard, first cultivated by the Incas hundreds of years ago.

Vegetarians love it for its high protein content (14% to 18%) and hard-to-find amino acids. As a three-quarters vegetarian myself, I certainly support trying to get vitamins through food, rather than in pill form. But, quinoa can't help me here. It's not on my shelves right now.

After what I learned today, I'm glad I haven't been eating the stuff. Much of what's on supermarket shelves comes from Bolivia and Peru, countries whose farmers are on a hamster wheel of Western demand. It's a terrible irony: South American harvesters can't afford to eat something that used to be integral to their diets so they've turned to our fast food for sustenance. Enter one of the downfalls of free North-South trade. According to Alternet, in Lima, Peru, a chicken is cheaper than quinoa, which has tripled in price since 2006.

This food, which seems to flow freely in U.S. and European markets, isn't the only strain on South American agriculture. In Peru, the asparagus capital of the world, some farmers have abandoned their water hungry crop all together. Though I've read that a group of non-profits is devising water standards that will serve as fair trade measures, I haven't seen any related details.

Around the time I started eating quinoa, I began to hear the phrase, "Think Globally, Act Locally." Since American farmers are now hip to the crop–it grows in places like Colorado and Oregon–I put a call into my local Whole Foods to see if they carried a brand I'd feel comfortable eating. The clerk thought for sure he did, and put me on hold to examine the package of TruRoots organic quinoa. "It's from Livermore, California, but certified organic in Oregon," he said. That could work! I rushed to the Tru Roots website only to read that "TruRoots Organic Quinoa supports the livelihood of small family farms in the Andean plains." 

Hopefully, sometime in 2013, the Year of the Quinoa, I'll find a farmer's market where the grain is cheap and home grown. And as I sit down to dinner, I'll thank tillers everywhere.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Skip the Ham Hock, Split Pea

In my hometown–New Orleans–meat is a key ingredient in some of the tastiest dishes. So when I went 'pescatarian' at age thirteen, only to quit at twenty-one, I had to work hard to replace the flavor meat so readily provides.

The following split pea soup recipe uses nutritional yeast, also known as brewer's yeast.  It's high in protein, low and calories, and is loaded with B-complex vitamins. I usually find the yellow powder or flakes in the bulk bin at the health food store. The yeast supplement offers more of a cheesy or nutty flavor than a ham-infused one, but I find it does the trick. Here's the deal on gluten-free: if the yeast you use is a by-product of beer, it contains gluten. However, yeast made from sugar passes muster. Check with your local health food store.

Vegetarian Split Pea Soup
-makes 6 cups-

1 1/2 cups dried split peas
4 cups water
1 cup chopped onions
3/4 cup carrots
1 tsp. each: garlic powder, cumin, salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 tbsp. nutritional yeast
1 tbsp. olive oil

*Wash peas thoroughly in cold water, discarding any foreign matter or discolored peas.
*Combine all ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, simmer for one hour or until peas and vegetables are soft. 
*Garnish with cilantro and sour cream if you'd like. I usually sprinkle on a little parmesan cheese and I always add a dash of Tonys Chachere's (pronounced "Tony Sacheries") Original Creole Seasoning. Available at supermarkets, and online along with 'Slap Ya Mama Cajun Seasoning.' Enjoy in peace. 

Recipe inspired by The Going Vegetarian Cookbook by David A. Gabbe (1997).

Friday, January 18, 2013

Lessons from the 'Other' Gourmet Ghetto

In North Berkeley a restaurant collective called the Gourmet Ghetto offers walking tours where foodies can chum it up with chefs while tasting homemade salami, cupcakes and specialty chocolates. Sounds enticing, right? It's $75. In other words, a dollar a minute. As I contemplate the outlay, I draw inspiration from other more accessible ghettos, starting with rapper Coolio's kitchen, by way of his cookbook, 'Cookin' with Coolio,' 2009.

In its original incarnation, the word ghetto–a friend reminded me–wasn't necessarily synonymous with poor. Coolio's a lot better off than he used to be, but he does have six children. So, when he throws a dinner party, he's feeding at least seven. Eight including his woman. In his cookbook, which I grabbed today from the library, the rapper calls himself "The Ghetto Gourmet." But shouldn't he be lauded the Ghetto Gourmand? I guess it doesn't matter. He had me at his opener: " specialty is making something out of nothing. That's a direct result of growing up poor as a mothe$f*@!#er." In real life I try to correct people's foul mouths, but swear words in a cookbook put me in stitches.

Coolio's Table of Contents offers a glimpse into the tone of his oeuvre. How to Become a Kitchen Pimp; It's Hard Out There for a Shrimp; Vegetarians? Okay, Whatever!; Sweet Treats for that Sweet Ass. 

When I opened his cookbook, I'd already made tonight's delicious meal on the cheap. But his Hot Fruit Sandwich tempted me. He created it in a panic just minutes before TV executives–he was shopping out his cooking show–arrived at his house for dinner. Hot Fruit Sandwich was a kitchen sink dessert. And it looks good! Sometimes, the book is part memoir. It's as if the rapper's talking straight at us.

For the men out there, cooking Coolio's way almost ensures you'll snag that fine woman you're after. But he doesn't neglect his female readership in the slightest. "Nothing's sexier than a woman who can cook," he says.

Which brings me to the summer of 2008. I remember eating a lot of pasta with putanesca sauce–tomatoes, black olives, etc. My then-boyfriend who was making many of the dinners–or rather, heating them up–told me that putanesca is 'Whore's Sauce' or 'Streetwalker's Sauce' because Italian prostitutes used to leave it as an enticement in bordella windows. I'm quite sure my boyfriend had never visited Italy, so he probably learned this tidbit on The Daily Beast. Or perhaps he was trying to tell me something. Too late to find out now. God knows who he's eating pasta with these days.

Tonight's theme is culinary boldness amid austerity, and if Mookie's Blue Ribbon actually existed, there'd be a tie between self-supporting Italian putas and Coolio's get-down attitude in the kitchen. Try their recipes and decide. See you with a spatula in your hand. 

>>Rachel Ray's recipe for Putanesca Sauce 
>>Find Coolio's book on Amazon. You can buy it for me if you'd like. We'll share.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Dinnertime with Headache Powder

To follow up on my last post in which I linked to a Dupont pamphlet for farmers, I have to admit that I haven't quite answered just when or how the use of dynamite in agriculture fell off. I wore my waitress hat most of today, trying to ignore the sour smell of tar at the construction site next door. A headache began brewing at about 2 p.m.

And yet, like a dog sniffing tree roots blasted with gunpowder, I found a thing or two. Last week, I visited Point Pinole, the former site of the Giant (Atlas) Powder Company which used to manufacture dynamite and gunpowder. The company's first site was at Glen Canyon in San Francisco. There, it experienced a dangerous explosion and moved twice more, taking over its last location on the shore of San Pablo Bay at Point Pinole. I'd forgotten dynamite (Greek for powder) was invented by Alfred Nobel. As in the Nobel Prizes.

But what's this got to do with headaches, or more importantly food, you might ask? Stay with me. In 1888, when Alfred's brother Ludvig died while visiting Cannes, there was a mix up in the French media. The newspaper mistakenly prepared an obituary for Alfred Nobel, writing 'Le marchand de la mort est mort (the merchant of death is dead)'. This had to have been unsettling to Alfred. The prizes undoubtedly helped him ensure a better legacy.

It's curious: nitroglycerin–the explosive part of dynamite–is both capable of blowing apart concrete and effective in treating agina: pain due to coronary heart disease. It doesn't work, however, if a heart attack's already underway.

When Alfred Nobel's doctors wanted him to eat nitroglycerin to ameliorate his own angina, he refused. He said he'd skip what he knew as the yellow liquid's nastiest side effect: headaches. He'd suffered plenty during explosions in laboratories.


I sure hope that if–like me–you find yourself eating medicine for dinner, you'll look to Goody's Headache Powder, around since 1935. It works! It's aspirin, acetaminophen and caffeine in one slick packet. But, if you don't want to look like you're carrying cocaine in your wallet, perhaps you'll come drink a mug of coffee at the restaurant. People rave about it. It wakes you right the hell up. "There's a little rocket fuel in here," one customer said.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Farming with Dynamite? Research Question #1

Excuse me? We got to look into this guys.

Intro to Mookie's Food Odyssey

We're born, we die. Hopefully, in the end we've loved and paid taxes, no more or less than our share. But, to leave it only at this seems a bit blase.

(Insert 80's record scratch).

We're born. We cry. (Or, we don't; I didn't at first ). After the cord's snipped perhaps our backs are rubbed and we're  cooed over. (I bet you were). Soon, a breast is heaved at us and we begin to eat. We eat and eat. We need more and more food. Our parents are mystified as they try to figure out what we like, when we're hungry and how much we want. And then as we grow up, we change our minds. For example, I used to hate apples because those offered to me by the After School teacher were mealy. I adore them now. I usually can't abide by red onions on a sandwich, but I do serve them minced in my tuna salad, a recipe I 'borrowed' from the Whole Foods in New Orleans. They've since changed it.

I'm here to answer questions!
What did our grandparents' supermarkets look like? Why don't we serve sweet potatoes at the restaurant where I work? How many ways did my neighbor's family prepare cream cheese and olives during the Depression? Who eats bear, raccoon? Gross. Don't astronauts recycle urine into drinking water? Does anyone eat thistles anymore? With butter? How does a sea cucumber get nourishment?

Why do my potted basil plants always croak after four months? Why's it been assumed Eve ate an apple when it was probably a pomegranate? What kind of craft services did Shakespeare provide? 

Herbs in the wild, herbs for your skin, mushrooms, good and bad. Best roadside berries for bikers, please. Pass the sunscreen. 

Several months back, when I was particularly broke, and had gone down a pants size or two, I said I was on a recession diet. The name's not really accurate, of course, since we can gorge ourselves on the cheap at any number of chain restaurants. But the theme surrounding food still holds. I try to eat carefully, and I'm no stranger to the second coming of teenage appetite lost. What fuels Mookie's is a renewed curiosity about food, for I was once a childhood chef who taught younger kids how to properly burn cookies. 

Mookie's is about making something from very little. At home, I have a low-wattage microwave, a crock pot, two hot-plate burners, and a shoestring budget. I'm not a professional food writer or chef. I've got some of the coolest cookbooks around but seldom have all the ingredients to create a prize-winner. But we must begin somewhere, and I did. Cooking is about faith and failure. So, too, with writing and reporting, the latter of which may be terribly scarce. In fact, it could morph into The Onion of food blogs. But I do seek some truth, I will take some photographs, and I hope to bring more than just what Wikipedia offers. You can quote me on that.

This will be a grand adventure. I look forward to hearing from you.

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