Monday, July 26, 2010

The Vegan-ing of the End

I lasted about a year as a vegan. I can't remember what year it even was at this point, because, all told, the experience was pretty forgettable. I remember less about the changes in my body, the experiments with new foods, the realigned social agenda than I do about my longing for pizza. So back to dairy I went, with barely little more than a "smell ya later" to the vegan ethos.

Meat, on the other hand, I've had no real longing for over the years. I've said it before, and I'll try not to hammer this point home too much, but I grew up hating the meat portion of tri-component meals (the ol' protein-starch-veggie combo). If there were a late-night commercial advertising a CD compilation of People's Reactions To My Meatless Diet, some of the greatest hits would include:

1) Don't you miss ___ [steak, burgers, hot dogs, bacon, sausage]?
2) What does your mom cook for you? (I was 16 when I stopped eating meat)
3) You'll stop being vegetarian eventually.

First of all, do those compilation CD's even still exist? There's a reason why "Jungle Boogie" is perpetually followed by "Lady Marmalade" in my head, and I think it has something to do with a little thing called Disco Fever, available for the low, low price of $14.95. In 1994. Second of all, Color Me Badd as Track #3 is on repeat.

With the increasing awareness of socially- and environmentally responsibly produced meat and dairy products, I wonder if more vegans and vegetarians are inclined to switch back to animal proteins. I wonder what the data is. I wonder if people really are buying more locally and humanely raised animal products. I wonder if locavores are the new vegans.

Hold your fire, vegan punk-rockers and PETA cheerleaders. When I think about my experience with veganism - personally and vicariously - I think about its unbreakable connection to the visual art, music, and social reform. Then I look at the small cheese producers, chocolate-makers, butchers and restaurateurs who are currently on my radar. The artisan- and local food movement of today feels a lot like the vegan an vegetarian communities of eight, twelve, and (from what I've heard and read) twenty years ago. - artists, hippies, punk-rock kids of all ages with a motivation to change shit up and make delicious dreams come true.

Lemme cut to the chase - last week, I bought and cooked meat for the first time in over a decade. I hit the Brookline Farmer's Market hard, snatching up plump corn, vibrant bell peppers, and precious, petite potatoes. With great trepidation, then a surge of conviction, I approached the line for River Rock Farm. They offer a selection of fresh, dry-aged beef for seemingly affordable prices. I bought the lest expensive and most approachable cut - kebabs, $8.95 a pound. I took home 1.23 lbs (which yielded three meals for two people). Not only did I take on cooking beef for the first time, well, ever (I seriously think I've only ever cooked chicken breast), but I also made my maiden voyage on the grill. Long story short - I kicked the ass of both meat and grill. Oh good golly it was so good. Sock it to me, patriarchy.

Stupid-Simple Beef Kebabs (From A Gal Who's Blind at the Grill)

1- 1 1/4 lbs sirloin beef, cut into manageable chunks (very technical, I know. if this hadn't been efficiently cut into chunks, I wouldn't have known what to do with it. I have so much to learn)
1/3-1/2 cup olive oil
juice from one lemon
a few splashes of soy sauce
3 or 4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
some chopped parsley or mint
assorted veggies cut into 1/2'' cubes (I used onions, bell peppers, and new potatoes)
sea salt 'n' groun' peppa

Soak some wooden skewers in water for a half an hour. Toss everything but the beef and veggies into a bowl; cover and shake or whisk to combine. Add the beef and veggies; toss to marinate. Refrigerate for an hour. Um, then the stuff goes on a skewers, the skewers go on a pretty hot grill, turn the skewers over and marinate frequently. When the veggies can be poked without too much give, they're done. When the meat is no longer alarmingly bloody, it's done (or something like that).

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Have We Me[a]t?

I didn't realize that I owed so many people an explanation until I started proclaiming my life changes on, well, Facebook. Cries of confusion and hints at heresy prompted a long-overdue post. I'ma just break it right down - after a twelve-year hiatus, I've started eating meat again. I made the decision to drop the edge in preparation for a two-week trip to Sicily to study, ahem, the food and culture of Sicily. I've traveled before, and always knew that I missed out on so much by not eating according to the cultural, environmental and economic constructs of the region. I didn't even eat seafood on the coast of Chile. Moron. So, for education, for experience, for Sicilia, I resigned to eat absolutely everything that everyone else ate. I steeled myself for the emotional transmission, and dismissed others' concerns about my health - "Won't you get sick?" Thought I appreciated the concern, meat-mouths and veg-heads don't seem to realize how much chicken stock, pork fat, and fish gelatin work their way into things as innocuous as lentil soup, home fries, and multi-vitamins.

So my first bite of flesh was lamb. I could scarcely recall the sinuous texture and incomparable savoriness of roasted meat, and I had never even tasted lamb. The experience was quite unparalleled. And to my surprise, I really, really liked lamb. Baaaa. It wasn't all easy. I wept openly before eating ham, and I thought that the chicken liver I tried was possibly the most foul substance I'd ever put in my mouth. But I gave it all a shot - beef, spleen, pancreas, snails, fritolla (pictured above, and captured by the unsinkable Lauren Bennett. I can't verify if it was re-introducing flesh into my diet, eating farm-to-table every day, or the Sicilian air (seriously, the simple act of breathing there was its own pleasure), but I felt stronger and more energized that I had felt since I was a little kid, spending my summers stumping through fields and collecting crayfish in the creek.

I've eaten some meat since I've been back, and this week, I even cooked it. At home. On purpose. I've had a lot of time to think about it and to feel... ok about my decision. Feel free to grill me, chew me out, get to the meat of it (see what I did there?), because I'm happy to talk about my revival of occasional carnivorousness. And to close, I thought I'd reaffirm my commitment to una vida llena de veggies. This is a picture of my my favorite thing that I ate in Sicily: a "peasant soup" comprised of pasta, broth, and and assortment of vegetables picked from literally right outside the kitchen. I never knew that zucchini leaves could sing before I ate this soup.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


I'm embarrassed to admit how long it took my arms to recover from this weekend. Embarrassed enough that I just won't say how long. Let me downplay my frailty by emphasizing my nobility – I enlisted to assist in a kids' cooking class on Italian food. Or at least what the under-ten crowd recognizes as Italian: pasta, tomato sauce, meatballs. Baddabing baddaboom. I signed on for this very short notice, knowing full well that 1) Though I usually like kids, I haven't babysat since high school, 2) I panic before setting foot in a professional kitchen (again, NOT A CHEF), and 3) I've always relegated pasta-making to the grandmotherly- or Williams-Sonomaly-types. But, rather than leading these tots off a culinary cliff, I insisted on trying the recipes out at home before taking them under my wing. Which meant making pasta for the first time. Like an old schooler. With my wrists and a rolling pin.

Usually any dough I touch turns to immalleable mortar, but this pasta cooperated, rolling out and cutting most obligingly. The kneading, shaping, rolling and cutting took me about forty minutes though, and by the end, the bones in my wrists were quivering like rubber bands. I've often read that homemade pasta is worth the effort. Maybe it was Chef Lisa Falso's flawless recipe, or maybe I just put enough courage into it. But I was ready to agree after tasting the fruits of my labor. My fettucini-like strips were still a bit thick, but tasted rich and wholesome and soaked up a basic garlic/olive oil/red pepper flakes/Parmesan treatment in a way the bland, boxed stuff only dreams. The next day I worked with the kids, and saw how quickly we turned out sheet after sheet of paper-thin, comically stretched-out pasta. Both my gang of rambunctious boys and I thought it was pretty much the coolest thing ever. And damn did it make me resent those Williams-Sonomaly types with their gadgets. I'd be doing this once a week with those labor-saving toys.

Homemade Pasta with Oven-Roasted Broccoli

a recipe of homemade pasta – really a combination of eggs, flour, and a bit of water. Bust out a KitchenAid pasta attachment, a pasta roller from a yard sale, or your floured-up hands. Try it, sweat and curse your way through it, and thank me later.

1 small head of broccoli, trimmed into small florets
1/3 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Parmesan shavings (I'd say at least ¼ cup, and you'll want to splurge on a nice cheese, like Grana Padano)
a generous few shakes (2 tsp-ish) red pepper flakes
a good pinch of sea salt

A note on the pasta: I've never salted water for pasta before. Criminal or judicious? With dried pasta, I don't think it matters. But when boiling fresh, whether you or Whole Foods made it, you should amply salt the water and bring it to a rolling, Biblical boil. Add the pasta and cook until it rises to the surface. I think mine took about 6 minutes. Drain it through a colander, or better yet (since it's a bit more delicate than the dried kind), remove it with a pasta spoon, shake off the access water, and place it in a colander until ready to toss with a sauce.

Preheat oven to 400F.

Steam the broccoli in a colander or directly in boiling water until barely blanched, just about a minute. Drain if necessary and wait until cool enough to touch. Toss the broccoli with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper in a small baking pan. Bake until darkened along the tops, about 15 minutes or so.

Heat the rest of the olive oil in a deep-sided pan over medium-low. When the oil is hot (test it with a sliver of the garlic), add the garlic and salt and swirl the pan around until the garlic is just cooked, less than a minute. Add the red pepper flakes and swirl a few times more. Add the pasta and toss it with the oil. Garnish each plate with the roasted broccoli and Parmesan shavings. Serves 4-6 (I think. I ate most of what I made).

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"Chow-dare?? Chow-dare??"

Feeling not much the student, not much the cook, but ever much the desk jockey has not been good on my psyche. I never imagined that taking a job at what is arguably BU's most rewarding but misunderstood red-headed stepchild of a department has taken its toll on me. Consequently, I've decided to take a semester off from class. Hey, mad props to the grad students who pull it off with two kids, an hour commute to class, an aging parent, a needy spouse, our any combination therein, but frankly, I think life is too damn long to justify driving myself crazy. So, my thinking cap rests perkily and patiently in the corner until I'm ready to put 'er back on.

In the meantime, it's time raining. It's cold. It's winter – still (oh, haven't you heard?) But after a surprisingly early end to the work day, I was in good spirits. An icy, soggy walk back from the train had me prepped for my first afternoon nap in ages, a cup of
hot chocolate, some quality time with Murakami (who gets funnier the more I get to know him), and then a look through my cookbooks, some of which I haven't had time to open since I got them. One of them was Barbara Lynch's Stir, which was apparently a big hit by the end of last year. Now that I've finally opened it, I see why. The writing is funny and sassy without being obnoxious (I imagine it's a way of pushing her nails-tough/whip-smart Southie wunderkid angle), and the recipes are simple, thoughtful, and often genius. Her Creamy Potato Leek Soup with Bay Scallops (p. 93) prompted me to close the book and take to the kitchen. I was called to a mission to make myself a similar creation, knowing full well that I had no cream, no milk, and definitely no seafood. Ah well. This is was I came up with. Starch creates a creamy base for soup, hence the potatoes and beans. Without the butter, this could be a decent vegan chowder. I don't normally advocate for a bright, summery ingredient like corn in the throws of winter, but it was in my freezer, and these are desperate times. It came out surprisingly delicious – maybe my thinking cap snuck its way onto my dome.

Wintertime Corn Chowder

1 large shallot, minced
12 oz cannellinni beans, rinsed
1 large russet potato, peeled and cubed
2 cups vegetable stock
2 tablespoons butter or oil (olive or canola)
½ cup frozen corn kernels
2 scallions, mined into rounds
plenty of salt and freshly ground black pepper
fancy olive oil for drizzling

Heat the butter or oil in a stock pot over medium-low heat. Add the shallot and cook until tender but not browned. Increase the heat to medium dd the beans and stir for a minute or two. Add the potatoes and stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until the potatoes are just tender, about ten minutes. Puree the soup with an immersion blender until very smooth. You may need to add a bit of water and stir the pot around, especially to break up the beans. Stir in the corn and thaw in the hot soup for a couple minutes. Season with a big pinch of salt and, oh, a dozen grindings of black pepper. Serve in a bowl topped with lots of chopped scallions, a pinch of course sea salt or fleur de sel, and maybe a drizzle of buttery olive oil. Serves 3-4.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Apparently, "I" Like It

One of the few, unsung glories of working in (slaving to?) "academia" is a magical time of year called "intersession." You might know it as winter break. Ten glorious days off a work-a-day schedule, no pending paper deadlines, and if you're lucky, a snowy landscape against a kitchen that begs for some use and abuse. This recipe accounts for both. I got really into making breakfast over break (poached pears over french toast, a savory bread pudding that needs some revision), and this frittata was on the line-up. Maybe I was inspired by recent breakfast-y posts. Perhaps it was five days of listening to tapas mastermind Deborah Hansen demonstrate tortilla española to middle-schoolers. Or, more sheepishly, maybe great minds really do think alike.

Anyway, I fixed this beast up for breaky. Yes, I am white. Yes, I dig on breakfast (I know, I know, my whiteness is showing). I just DON'T get into "going out for breakfast," contrary to popular blogpinion. Five years in the coffee-filling, eggs-back-to-the-kitchen-sending business will do that to you. I'm delighted to cook breakfast when I don't wake up twenty minutes before I need to catch the bus, a luxury I had over break! The filling for this morning delight was inspired by one of the best dishes at my old restaurant, an apple and cheddar omelette. My friend John used to order it for his shift meal, but he'd up the ante by adding spinach (or sausage if we weren't sharing that day). Either way, it was a winning combination. The only trouble with my attempt was that I used a tragically UNseasoned cast-iron pan, and this mother burned like a 13-year-old's face in the "coming-of-age" talk. I peeled off the blackened bottom layer and salvaged the leftovers. My advice: oil the hell out of the pan and keep the heat to a very modest low after you add the eggs. You'll save more face than I (or your barely-pubescent self) did.

Apple, Spinach and Cheddar Frittata

6 eggs
splash of milk, cream, or non-dairy milk (anything with vanilla is lovely)
good pinch of salt a a grinding of black pepper

1 tbsp. butter

2 cups or more fresh spinach (baby leaves or stemmed grown-ups)
1 apple, cored and cut into small cubes
3/4 - 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese (I love Wisconsin)

*If you like your eggs plenty done, heat of the broiler and adjust your oven rack if needed.*

In a bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, salt an pepper until the yolks are just broken an incorporated with the whites and milk.

Steam the spinach until just wilted... in a microwave, colander in a covered stock pot, or right in a saute pan, covered, with a couple tablespoons of water and a pinch of water. Squeeze of the excess water, then add the spinach, apple and cheese the egg mixture. Stir a couple times to mix.

Generously oil a deep-sided cast-iron skillet or saute pan. Heat over medium and add the butter. Rotate the pan to coat with butter as the butter foams. When the butter has just melted, add the egg mixture. Reduce heat to *low,* cover, and let the eggs cook for about 8 minutes. When you pull off the lid, the eggs will have puffed up and the top will be foamy. Slide onto a plate, cut into wedges and serve. If the frittata resists release, cover the pan with a plate an invert it. If you want a browner, more-done crust, throw it in the oven you've preheated and broil for a minute or two (no more). Serves 4-6.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

'Mmm 'Mmm Flu

This was not how I was planning on honoring the conclusion of the semester. There was suppooosta be a lot more Christmas shopping and beer-drinking involved. Instead I've spent the last forty-eight hours drifting in and out of consciousness like I had an oxy habit, hacking up archaeological remains from my lungs that would make Indiana Jones swoon, and catching up TV-via-the-internet. Several hours of the Daily Show later, I have to say that I'm shocked that the naughty-language-no-no crew is ok with Jon and Co.'s rampant use of “dick,” “dickishness,” and “assface,” but puts the iron fist down on “cock” (eehheheheh, á la Peter Griffin). I mean, at least “cock” has a counterpart in the animal kingdom. But who am I to question? I'm just a helpless recipient of third-party infotainment.

Between fits of feverish delirium and picking up the graveyard of used tissues on my bedroom floor, I followed through with hankering for something similar to chicken noodle soup. It started when my amazingly matronly sister brought me some velvety-delicious red lentil and rice soup on Thursday. I ate half of it and it got my wheels turning in the way-back direction of my mom heating up some Campbell's with Ritz crackers when we were young and sick. Of course, even when I was little, those dark, globular, pseudo-chicken bits freaked me right out. So, I have an updated, chikless response that has lots of immuno-boosting goodness. It's got all the tiny minced vegetables of the original, but it replaces the mystery meat with lentils. It took me a day and a half to finish it. I kept crawling back into bed over the effort of standing. Hopefully health input will balance out the net energy output.

Sick Day Noodle Soup

1 quart vegetable stock
2 cups water, or more as needed
1 carrot, finely diced
1 celery stalk, finely diced
1 large onion, diced
1 bell pepper, finely diced
a whole mess of garlic (six cloves or more), vertically sliced
2-inch piece of ginger, grated or minced
olive oil for saute
1/2 cup lentils
salt and fresh pepper
hot sauce
1-2 ounces spaghetti

Heat the olive oil in a stock pot. When it's warm, add the onion and saute for a couple minutes, until just translucent. Add the garlic and saute for another minute. Add the carrot, celery, pepper and ginger and saute for a couple minutes to soften. Add the stock and water, raise the heat, and bring to a boil. Add the lentils, cover, and cook until the lentils are cooked, about 20 minutes. Check the liquid level and add more water if it starts to look more sludgy than soupy.

In the meantime, cook the pasta and set aside. When the lentils are cooked, add the pasta an season the soup with a good pinch of salt, several grindings of pepper, and as much hot sauce as you're up for. It's good for your sinuses.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Cocoa Cram Fest

By no rights whatsoever should I be interrupting my researching/writing cram session to write a blog post right now. But of course in the frantic twilight of the semester we have the first legitimate snowfall of the year. As the sunlight reached my window and bounced the vibrance of fresh, fleeting snow through the glass, I finally put the academics on life support to go for a quick walk. It was lovely out there; the Jamaicaway looked more like the interior of a snow globe than one of the more suicidal tracks in MarioKart. I came back invigorated, ready to focus – only after satiating one relentless craving for hot chocolate. It was a perfect storm of needing to make something, and actually having everything I need to make it. And as I write this and fish out the last cinnamon-y, cocoa-y bits from the bottom of my mug (so?), I feel prepared to take my sugarized, caffeinated brain back to business.

Cinnamon Hot Chocolate

½ cup almond, rice, or soy milk

1 tablespoon cocoa powder

sugar to taste (I used about a teaspoon, since I used sweetened almond milk)

½ teaspoon vanilla

1/8 teaspoon spicy (Vietnamese, Saigon) cinnamon

1 cinnamon stick

Heat the milk in a saucepan over low heat. When it just starts to steam, add the rest of the ingredients and whisk constantly for a minute, checking to make sure that the cocoa doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan. Pour into one or two (but really one) mug, garnish with a cinnamon stick.