Saturday, December 19, 2009

Its Cold in Pennsylvania!


Normally I spend my Christmas holiday in Belize. Warm humid air, coconut trees, parrots waking me up in the morning, rain pounding on the tin roof at night, and black fruit cake and breadfruit on the Xmas dinner table are all traditions that I hold dear. This year, however, my father had to have a surgery that involved physical therapy which he could not obtain in my remote part of Belize, so my parents stayed on in Reading, PA over the Xmas holiday. For my brother and me, that meant canceling our plane tickets home and heading to Central Pennsylvania instead of Central America for our winter vacation.

I'm not a fan of winter. I like sunshine. Winter is often dreary and grey and it gets dark at a ridiculously early hour. I like humidity. In winter the air gets so dry I wake up in the middle of the night with my skin tightening over my body like a sausage link on a grill. I love warmth. Winter, my friends, is COLD. Therefore, I do not like winter, and I greet its arrival with disdain and its departure with a level of exuberant celebratory happiness usually reserved for weddings, New Year's parties and lottery winners. The one and only thing I like about winter in the temperate zone is that I have an excuse to wear my awesome leather biker jacket. But I would give that up immediately if the alternative was bikinis by the pool.

Now for all those real Christians and secular (or, as I like to call myself, pseudo) Christians out there, Winter means Christmas and Christmas means food. Holidays often function like a black hole for custom, pulling in and retaining traditional practices and activities long after their meaning or the original cultural context has disappeared. This explains the continuing popularity of songs about horse drawn sleighs when ford tundra SUVs with built in back seat DVD players are more likely to be the suburban transport of choice. It also explains the preponderance of "traditional" family recipes around this time of year. In Reading, PA, which is only a stone's throw from Lancaster County, heart of Pennsylvania Dutch (really German) culture, this means masses of cookies, pies and other sweets along with the very important sours: pepper cabbage, three bean salad, sauerkraut and other vinegary foods that offset and complement the German sweet tooth. While I am missing my black fruit cake, rum po po (a very strong rum based egg nog) and other Belizean holiday treats, I am looking forward to chowing down on some sauerkraut real soon. In fact, I was lucky enough to enjoy some homemade sauerkraut at my last Food, Art and Identity class just last week and it has just primed my taste buds for more.

Today I was supposed to go help a family friend make venison scrapple, and I was planning on posting all about this regional delicacy right here, with pictures and all, but the snow has kept us from driving up into the hills to his house. So instead I wanted to ask you all what food or beverage do you consider absolutely essential to the winter season? Is it hot chocolate piled high with whipped cream? Peppermint candy canes? Sugar cookies sprinkled red and green? Your Granddad's famous beef stew? Or your Auntie's best black fruit cake?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Its been three months.


Its been about three months since I last posted on this blog. And I was beginning to think that I would never get back to it. Because on August 16th Jose and I drove 10 and a half hours from DC to Bloomington, Indiana. We arrived tired, headachy, and starving. I promptly hopped on the local wireless and did a search for "best pizza in Bloomington". Thus I found Avers Pizza, a Chicago style place, and ordered our first meal, a Deluxe deep dish.

The next day after crashing on an air mattress in an otherwise empty bedroom we arose at 7 AM to greet the moving truck and spent all morning and days afterwards moving into my new, suburban apartment. After living in the beating heart of downtown Washington DC it was quite an adjustment, and continues to be so, to live in a culdesac where at night it is completely pitch black outside. A 10 minute walk takes one to the strip mall, a grocery store and movie theater and many other suburban amenities, but it just doesn't replace my DC neighborhood.

So then why, one may wonder, would I leave DC for Indiana if DC is so wonderful? Well, as I have mentioned previously, its all about the PhD. Specifically, the PhD in socio-cultural anthropology with a concentration in Food and an outside minor in Human Sexuality (at the famed Kinsey Institute). The past three months I have spent trying to construct a new life, in a new (college) town, a new routine, new friends and a new focus: my PhD. I've also returned to DC several times already to see my friends that I consider family, and to eat seafood without feeling guilty. (Its just hard for me to eat seafood when living in a state that is soo freakin' far from the sea!).

So for those that were wondering, that is where I have been. My first month here I barely cooked except for the occasional pasta. Even since then my cooking has taken a nose dive. Bowls of oatmeal, grits and cereal, pasta and canned sauce and quick one pot melanges of whatever veggies are at hand have been my mainstay during the past weeks, supplemented by eating out way too often for health or budget at cheap cafes in Bloomington.

But yesterday was my birthday and even though I am in the middle of my final papers (including a treatise on the role of terroir, sustainability and landscape in the debate over the meaning of Organic Agriculture), I have promised myself that I would start updating this blog again. It has been a source of great fun and fulfillment to me since I started it and I hate to see it fall by the wayside. So again, for those of you who have given up on me ever updating this little site again, I promise to be better in the future and try to put up at least a couple entries with photos and food every month. I will also probably share with you some of my work and discoveries about food and farming from my PhD projects. Thanks for waiting and I hope not to disappoint in the future!!

I thought I would share a picture of my food, art and identity class, where each Monday we discuss our readings, watch films and eat delicious food that we have brought to share:

Monday, August 24, 2009

New Orleans Sandwiches!!!

So I spent 8 days in New Orleans this July. New Orleans is just a culinary kind of town. Its impossible to say the name of the city without starting your mouth a-watering imagining crawfish and shrimp, etouffee and jambalaya, pecan pralines and crab gumbo. But one thing stood out. And that was the sandwiches. Two famous sandwiches call New Orleans home: The Po' boy and the Muffaletta/Muffuletta. Both are delicious. Both are indigenous to this unique city. And both got devoured by yours truly on my vacation to the big easy.

According to my friend Vincenzo, who has lived in New Orleans for a number of years now, the best muffaletta is to be found at an Italian diner type place called Franks, located in the heart of the French Quarter.

Here I am in front of the famous Frank's, which operates a bustling to-go service as well as serving sit-down diners.

Some of the delicious pickled olive salad that goes into an authentic muffaletta, on display in Frank's window.

Doesn't it just look delicious? Layers of cheese, Italian cold cuts and the most important of all: the olive salad. And dont forget, it should be warm upon serving!

This is a huge sandwich by the way. Frank's sells them whole or by the half. If there is only one of you, order a whole one and save the other half for dinner: believe me, this is a taste thats so good, you will want to enjoy it twice.

The other world famous sandwich from New Orleans is even better known: the Po'boy. Vincenzo took us to Mother's, a famous local spot that tourists rarely make it to, located near the business district downtown. They get a lot of lunch traffic from the nearby highrise office buildings as people hurry in to get the famous baked ham po'boys. The better known oyster, fish and shrimp po'boys are on offer as well, but its the meat the makes Mother's famous.

My friend Ted in front of Mother's.

Like any good down home joint, the menu is written on a chalkboard and the entrees are served up from a heat table. Almost everything is good, but we are here for the po'boys!


They only take cash.

The interior doesn't have to impress, the pictures on the wall tell the story of a place with staying power.


My sandwich. With the famous baked ham, as well as pulled pork bbq and roast beef. And coleslaw on the bottom. It was amazing. And mind you, this is only the half po'boy. Order the full size if you want enough calories to last you two days.

Vincenzo digging into his po'boy. If you ever go to New Orleans, don't forget to try these unique and delicious sandwiches out at these great locations. While there is always going to be plenty of argument about where the best muffaletta or the best po'boy can be found, I guarantee that Mothers and Franks both have excellent sandwiches. You wont regret a visit!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Culinary Madness at Fort Myer Army Base


As I mentioned in a previous post, my friends and I like to get together to do a little thing we call "Culinary Madness". This food-focused extravaganza can take place anywhere at any time and involve any number of people. This time we had an unusual locale: Fort Myer, an army base located next to the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, just across the river from Washington DC and about a 3 mile walk from my apartment. Fort Myer is home to the Old Guard, a prestigious group of soldiers who perform the funerals, stand watch at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and participate in many other ceremonial duties at Arlington National Cemetery.

One of our close friends happens to be an Old Guard soldier who was not allowed off base on this lovely weekend in late June. What made this particularly frustrating for him is that his only sister was in town specifically to visit him, yet he could not leave Fort Myer to spend time with her. So instead we brought the fun to him in the form of a Culinary Madness BBQ!



That morning I had visited the Dupont Circle Farmers' Market, where I picked up new potatoes, cross cut lamb leg steaks, zucchini and sweet onions. The fruits at the market looked tempting and I bought the season's first peaches, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and the juiciest most delicious apricots I've ever eaten.

A stop by the grocery yielded the rest of our ingredients. Back at my apartment I cut the leg of lamb steaks (which are basically a cross section of the lamb leg) into kebab pieces and marinated them in garlic, fresh rosemary, olive oil and salt, a touch of cumin and a dash of smoked paprika. Then we loaded everything into my friend Sophia's car and drove across the river and through the security checkpoint up to our friend's barracks. There we found the bbq pit and set out to make the best grilling action that Delta Company had ever seen!

Our work space consisted of a wrought iron table next to the grill:




Check out the new potatoes, which we dressed simply with salt and olive oil and cooked in foil packets on the grill:



Yum!




This is our soldier friend's famous fruit salad which he concocted with the Farmers' market fruits. Macerated in a touch of sugar and topped and with whipped cream they made for a fantastic dessert.





Sophia's plate. Note the yogurt-mint-garlic sauce to complement the lamb, and our handy wine "glasses".






The siblings chowing down on some kebab with music from our barracks-blaster aka a blackberry perched above them:


Me dancing to techno and cutting veggies for the kebabs:



As we were cooking people from the company circled around and some ended up sampling our kebabs. Here our friend (to the far right) and some of his buddies pose with lamb.


It was a good day: we had great food and enjoyed the outdoors and our friend got to see his sister:



Enjoying good Food, Friends and Family, that's what Culinary Madness is all about!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Healthy Garlic Bread


Ok, those of us in love with the allium family know all about the glory that is garlic bread, right? Hot, crispy around the edges, dripping lashings of butter, fragrant with garlic, just asking to be torn to pieces and stuffed into one's hungry maw....


But one thing garlic bread isn't is healthy. Most recipes call for tons of melted butter. This one is made with heart-friendly olive oil, scads of Garlic, fresh herbs and large grained sea salt. If you are watching your sodium intake just omit the salt, its still delicious!

Healthy Garlic Bread
Serves 6 as a side dish. The choice of herbs is up to you, I list here the ones that I am partial to. This is a wonderful recipe to showcase fresh herbs from the garden.

1 (preferably whole wheat) baguette, split length-wise and then cross wise into 6 pieces total.
1/4 to 1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 to one large head garlic, minced or squashed
1 small handful basil leaves, minced
1 or 2 sprigs rosemary, minced
2-3 sprigs of oregano, minced
1 heaping teaspoon large grained sea salt (optional)
Optional: while not quite as healthy, the addition of 2 tablespoon of freshly grated parmesan or reggiano cheese contributes another layer of flavour to the garlic bread.
several grindings of fresh black pepper.


Procedure:
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut the bread and mince the garlic and herbs.
2. Mix the garlic and herbs with the salt, pepper and olive oil in a small bowl. Stir in cheese if using.
3. Place the bread face up in a bake pan and using a pastry brush or a spatula, spread the cut surfaces with the garlic-herb-oil mixture.
4. Place the garlic bread in the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes or until the edges get golden. A couple seconds under the broiler can toast the surface further if desired.
5. Serve immediately. Perfect with a fish or steak dinner along with a side salad or grilled vegetables.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

It's been a while...


Those of you who follow my blog probably have been wondering what the heck happened. Where did she go? And whats this with no posts AT ALL for the month of April? I think I've hit a record high for not keeping up with my bloggerly responsibilities.

But its been a busy and exciting time for me. So I have excuses. Tons of them. Pages and pages of them. Books full, in fact. Starting with my Archaeology text books, and moving on to my Linguistic Anthropology text books (which ironically talk about, among other things, texts, intextualization, contextualization, detextualization and retextualization)and finally to a huge stack of fascinating work by Anthropologists from Latin America for my Anthropology of Latin America class. From the really frigid and dark depths of winter I have read, written and studied my way to the warm and sunny days of spring, past the cherry blossoms and into those fresh clean green days of late springtime when the weather demands that you rush outside and play. And now, I'm done.

As of mid-May I turned in my final paper and have found myself enjoying the joys of not having to read anything I dont want to, not having to write except when I feel like it and not having to get up at 6:30 in the morning and spend all Friday in front of books, notes and my computer just so I could justify a night of dancing instead of studying. I graduated with my Masters in Anthropology on May 18th and I couldn't have been more ready.

But thats not the end of it. As some of you know, I applied to various schools last fall to enter a PhD program in Anthropology. I even did a post all about Bloomington Indiana where Indiana Univeristy, with its PhD in Anthropology with a concentration in Food Studies, is located. As March turned in April this year I waited anxiously to find out where I got in. And finally I got the news that not only had I been accepted at Indiana University, but I got a full scholarship as well. So this August I will be moving to a whole new region of this fascinating country, where, no doubt, I will experience culture shock all over again, but will also eat some new and delicious food and have some great experiences.

In the meantime I am trying to enjoy every moment of my time with all my friends here in Washington DC. This has involved a lot of eating out, but there has been some cooking via a program we call "culinary madness". I'll be talking a bit more about that in my next post. For now, I leave you with a picture of the graduate celebrating at the Cheesecake Factory where I had possibly one of the best vegetarian sandwiches, an amazing eggplant sandwich, that I have ever consumed. I know, I can't believe it either! The cheesecake factory is not exactly known for fine cuisine but this was scrumptious! And a perfect celebratory meal after standing in drizzle on the National Mall for several hours of graduation commencement.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Some ideas for your next one pot dinner.

Its that time of year again. Asparagus time! The farmers market down at Dupont Circle is full of bunches of green and purple tipped sprouts, fat and tasty, just waiting to be chopped into a salad or sauteed with olive oil and lemon. Here is a great one pot spring dish that is flexible enough to be adapted to your left-overs. Turkey, Orzo, Fresh Asparagus, Lemon Juice, Olive Oil, Parsley and Capers dress up this spring "stir fry" in my version but feel free to substitute barley, wheat berries, brown rice or some other grain for the orzo, omit the turkey entirely or use ham or chicken instead.

Orzo with Asparagus, Lemon and Turkey
About 2 cups turkey meat chopped into bite-sized pieces (or chicken or ham or omit entirely)
2 large bunches of asparagus, washed and cut into sections.
2 cups cooked orzo (or substitute brown rice, barley, wheat berries or other cooked grains)
1/2 cup feta cheese, or to taste (you may use low or non-fat feta if prefered)
Zest and Juice of one large lemon (organic of course)
1-2 tbsp capers or to taste
around 1/2 cup of white wine
about 1/2 cup minced flat leaf parsley
2 medium cloves garlic, minced or smashed.
1 large bunch green onions, chopped
2 tsp-1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
Red pepper flakes to taste

Procedure:

1. Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan to medium heat. Sautee the green onions and asparagus, add the garlic and half the parsley and cook for a minute.

2. Add the cubed turkey meat and brown for a minute or two.

3. Add the white wine, capers, lemon zest and half the juice. Stir in the cooked orzo or grain of your choice. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook for several minutes, stirring regularly.

4. Add salt and pepper, red pepper flakes and lemon juice to taste. Stir in remaining parsley.

5. Turn off the heat, stir in the feta cheese, adjust seasonings if needed, add more lemon juice if necessary. Serve with a side salad and a nice glass of wine.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Monday, March 16, 2009

My Grandma's "Raisin Breakfast Biscuits"


My Grandma is famous for these delectable breakfast breads, which she has been making since the early sixties, when she had 8 hungry little kids begging for them on special occasions like Easter and Christmas and their birthdays. My Mom always called them breakfast cookies, and that is an apt name, as they are sweet and moreish. One simply can't eat just one of these tasty brunch treats. They are a staple at Grandma's house when relatives come to visit, and so it was no surprise that we enjoyed them this week during my spring break visit with my mom, aunt, uncle and cousin.

My Grandmother got the recipe from a magazine proudly toting the virtues of California Raisins. It is easy to make and relies on pre-made biscuit dough. You, however, are welcome to substitute a recipe of your favorite biscuit dough if you would prefer to make them from scratch. Simply roll and cut the biscuits and then proceed as below. This recipe makes enough topping to cover at least 30 biscuits, but you can simply store any leftover topping in a tightly closed container until you want to make some more. And believe me, you will want to make these regularly!


Mix together the 1 cup of brown sugar, 1 cup of chopped nuts and 1 cup of raisins. My cousin hates raisins, so my grandma always mixes up a bit of sugar and nuts (sans the hated dried grapes) for her. If you are in the no-raisin camp, you can simply use 1 and 1/2 cup brown sugar and 1 and 1/2 cup of chopped nuts, or replace the cup of raisins with dried cranberries, blueberries, cherries or chopped dried fruit of any kind. You may also flavour the topping with cinnamon, ginger or other spices or add a bit of minced candied ginger if you so desire. Personally, I love them just the way they are, but that won't prevent me from future experimentation.

The pre-made biscuits.

Patting them out.

The magic mixture!

Ready for the oven!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Inauguration and A Glance at DC Dining...


It is getting on towards the end of February and I know that makes it a bit late to be talking about the inauguration, after all, that was so last month! But here in DC we are still getting used to having someone in the White House that we actually voted for (something like 94 percent of the city votes Democrat), and the civil rights history of Washington DC gives Obama's presence in our town a special meaning for those Washingtonians who saw the marches, riots and struggles for equality first hand.


The inauguration was a time of hope, celebration and insanity as roughly 2 million people descended on Washington DC. Restaurants and bars were given special dispensation to stay open for 24 hours at a time and many took advantage of the crowds, hoping to make enough over the weekend to keep from going under in this time of recession. Personally I hosted friends from New Orleans, who made us a mean jambalaya one evening, but we also enjoyed a couple of restaurants that are worth mentioning (I'll get to them in a bit).


The morning of the inauguration itself we headed to the World War II Memorial, which is located on the National Mall on the end further away from the Capital. We knew we weren't going to catch a glimpse of the first lady and president in person, so we settled for a less crowded area where we could watch the ceremonial events on an enormous video screen with a bunch of other freezing, excited folks. Some people had already been on the mall or along the parade route since 5 in the morning. We weren't quite that extreme, sauntering down past the national guardsmen and the security blockades at a decadently late 9:30 AM.

A friend and I in the crowds at the National Mall.

The folks standing to our left.


It was cold out there and by the time the swearing in had occurred, certain of our party could no longer feel their feet. So we hightailed it back to the warm apartment and settled down with hot cocoa, tea, orange slices, tortilla chips and salsa, pretzels and other snacky items. Soon phone calls came from frozen friends and it turned into a little post-inauguration get together as other people dropped by to warm up on their way home.

Maybe it was all those hours standing out in the cold, or maybe it was the food, or the pre-inauguration parties the night before, but some ended up staying longer than they expected. Snack-time turned into a mid-afternoon slumber party. The cat whole-heartedly approved.

But enough about the inauguration, let us talk about dining out in Washington DC! During that exciting week I ate out a couple times, once at Mourayo, a fabulous, somewhat upscale Greek restaurant in Dupont Circle, where we enjoyed attentive if unsmiling service, grilled pita with an excellent olive oil, a beautiful octopus appetizer and hearty and filling bowls of goat stew, and once, as a very belated birthday present, at the famous chef Michel Richard's relatively affordable bistro, Central. There I sumptuously dined on the most delicious tartare (of filet mignon) that I have ever eaten in my life, and a very tasty salmon and lentil entree. I left vowing to return just so I could have the tartare experience again. The service was wonderful-when the waiter saw me staring over a half wall to catch a glimpse of the cooking action, she offered to re-seat me and moved us to a table right next to the open kitchen.

I highly recommend both locales. If you go to Mourayo, get the octopus appetizer, and Central's filet mignon tartare, if you aren't a vegetarian, is really to die for. Mourayo recently expanded their space so it is almost twice its former size and the atmosphere has improved as a result. Central is chic to the max, and the best deal, so they tell me, is to sit at the bar, get a famous cocktail from their mixologist and order one of the hearty appetizers (like the tartare), which are really a meal in themselves. The inauguration may be over, but if you come to DC for some other reason (and if you don't currently have a reason to come to DC, these restaurants should be excuse enough), these are two dining options that you don't want to miss.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Butterhead Lettuce and Orange salad with Pepitas and Cranberries


I was in Orlando, Florida for a brief couple of days in January, before my final semester of graduate school began. While I was there I went by the local citrus shack with my Grandmother to pick up some fresh squeezed orange juice. The place is nothing more than a little wooden building and gravel parking lot with sacks of enormous oranges and grapefruits displayed on rough wood stands next to the doorway. Out back the packing shed attaches right onto the retail store, which contains fresh citrus of all kinds, bottled key lime juice, marmalade, fresh juices and kitschy coconut and seashell themed food gifts for those deprived of the Florida sunshine. They have free juice samples and cut up fruit to try, which we always do, and they ship boxes of fruit all over the country.

My Grandmother regularly ships grapefruit and oranges to her ice-bound offspring in the far north. I thought this was a good idea and so I ordered half a bushel of oranges for myself while I was there. They arrived in DC about 3 days after my return and you could smell them through the heavy corrugated cardboard as I lugged them from the front desk of my apartment building.

I unloaded them in my kitchen-huge navels the size of mutant softballs, heavy with juice. Soon every nook and corner of my fridge was stacked high, but I still had half a box sitting open on the floor. For the last 2 and half weeks I have been eating oranges everyday, starting my morning off with a big bowl of the cut up fruit. Faced with a surfeit of quality citrus, I did the only thing I could do-began inventing recipes.

I know it is the depth of winter for those of us in the cold north, and salads are probably the last thing on your mind. But this salad is a flu-preventative all by itself. Packed with flavour and colour, vitamin C, fiber and healthy fats from the pumpkin seeds and olive oil, this salad will cure what ails you and is a great way to use the nice oranges that can be found in most markets this time of year.




Butterhead Lettuce and Orange Salad with Pepitas and Dried Cranberries

Serves two generously, 4 as a side salad.

Roughly 4 ounces of butterhead lettuce, washed and torn into bite sized pieces (about 1 medium or half a large head of lettuce)

8 ounces of orange, either supremed or merely peeled and chopped into bite sized pieces.

2 ounces of red onion, thinly sliced. (about half a medium-small onion)

3 tbsp dried cranberries

2 tbsp toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds-you can use your own or buy them shelled if you prefer)

1 tsp olive oil

Juice of half a large lemon

Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper

About 1/2 tsp smoked paprika (to taste)

Optional: 2 ounces of feta (I use fat free. This makes for a more substantial, meal-like salad)

Procedure:

1. Tear up your lettuce and place it in a large bowl. Cut up and add the oranges and any juice that comes with them. Thinly slice and add the onion. Generously salt and pepper your salad.

2. Toast your pepitas in a frying pan or cast iron pot over medium heat until them begin to smell good and make popping noises. Add them and the dried cranberries to the salad.

3. Squeeze over the lemon juice, add the olive oil and smoked paprika and the feta cheese if you are using it. Toss the salad well and serve. The orange tends to migrate towards the bottom of the bowl, so make sure to dig deep so everyone gets the citrusy goodness.