Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Raw Slaw

I just came in from eating lunch outside. The sun was shining, sweet-smelling flowers were in bloom, the buzz of pollinating insects and gossiping college students surrounded me... Ah, bliss.

Seriously, I think I sat outside for mayyyyybe 35 minutes, and I got a sunburn. No joke. My alabaster skin (read: so white it's practically transparent) is definitely pinker than it was this morning. Part of this is my attempt to temper my skin (similar to what you do with egg yolks in an alfredo sauce or lemon curd) so I don't completely die of redness in Barbados or worse, of basal skin cell DNA mutations in my 70's. As things stand now, this is just pathetic. I might actually have to TRY TO TAN. The horror, the horror. I'm so bad at staying still. No wonder they kill the chickens before they're rotisseried...

That's actually quite morbid.

What I ate for lunch was a lot better. I made a red cabbage slaw sans mayonnaise. I'm not such a huge fan of mayo, truth be told. And I'm a giant Hellman's mayo snob, 100% fat of course. There's really no point in using that other stuff; it's revolting. Better a little bit of the real deal than a sandwich slathered in the spandex/polyester blend of sandwich dressing. I use mayo in tuna, egg, and chicken salads, spread sparingly on a veggie sandwich (bread, mayo, little bit of mustard, tomato, cucumber, alfalfa sprouts, one slice of cheese - it gets too gloppy for me with more - and slivers of onion), or a leftover roasted chicken/turkey sandwich (replace slice of cheese in above with fowl of choice). Mayo definitely has its place, especially in a kosher house.

But it didn't have a place in my slaw.

I finely chopped up a quarter head of red cabbage, grated ~2 carrots, sliced a small bit of onion, and threw in a chopped up pickle. Don't use those bright green fake WASP pickles. Get the sour, garlicky, salty, Jewish-style ones that they sell in the refrigerated section. Sooo much better. An acceptable alternative is the canned Mediterranean version. I dumped a little olive oil on top, chopped up some dill, and added some Trader Joe's unfiltered cider vinegar. Then I sprinkled on a spoonful of sugar to bring out the sweetness of the carrots and cabbage. I figured the pickle would bring the saltiness, and it was perfect.

I know some people salt cabbage to draw out the water so it gets less crunchy, but I didn't do that. I didn't feel like washing all the blasted salt off afterwards, and super crunchy = good. Also, I don't know if that leaches the red out of red cabbage. So big deal, I have to chew a little more. Who cares. My slaw is bright purple and orange. It rocks your pasty limp slaw hardcore, and you know it.

So... the purple slaw is a little sweet, salty, and sour, and it's very tasty with chunks of BBQ'd turkey thigh (courtesy of Danny's family's riff on the usual Passover seder foods) on top. As far as eating veggies and protein without too much accompanying garbage, it doesn't do too badly. Fiber, colorful foods, all sorts of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients along with protein... yeah, it's accidentally healthy. And mas delicioso. :)

Thursday, April 17, 2008


What with the sudden, rather random furor over bisphenol A (a/k/a, BPA), I decided to give a brief explanation of what a Nalgene addict is supposed to do in these carcinogenic times. This above all: do not simply desert Nalgene, makers of all things plastic and nonleaking.

Go the Nalgene website, click on "Nalgene choice," and select "ultralight HDPE." HDPE stands for "high density polyethylene." HDPE isn't as purty as polycarbonate (a/k/a PC), but this is a water bottle, people, not a fashion statement. Grab a bottle of Evian if you need to look chic, or any one of those newfangled "spa waters," delicately flavored with mint or lime or whatever (PS - a total rip-off).

Actually, I spoke too soon. The humble bisphenol A-free Nalgene, previously seen only in your friendly neighborhood biology and chemistry labs, is now OFFICIALLY a fashion statement. It is available in the suddenly-sexy verdant hue of environmentalism, in a bilingual multicultural show of Earth-love, or in the classic I-owned-this-before-it-was-cool-you-poser white.

And I eat my words yet again!

Coming soon to a Nalgene distributor near you, clear and colorful BPA-free water bottles although they aren't microwaveable. Hm. Actually, why not just check out their nifty comparison chart? You can choose for yourself. Like if you plan on dispensing drinkable liquids at temperatures of 274 F, plastic won't do it and you might need stainless steel. Although stainless steel is certainly not microwaveable, so that would be a no to hot broth at work/school in the winter when you're getting over a cold. At any rate, take a look at the chart and decide what works.

Problem solved, Nalgene emerges victorious, and everyone should be happy.

Now that I've discussed a way for people to hydrate AND avoid endocrine disruptions as a result of BPA mocking estrogen, I have to say I can't believe it took this long for word to get out. My labmate's wife went to a conference like 6 months ago where they discussed the dangers of bisphenol A-laced polycarbonate, and when they bought themselves HDPE Nalgenes, I jumped right in with them. Sure, I liked my cheerfully colorful clear one, but let some greasy molecule potentially mock estrogen while I dutifully hydrated? No thanks. I had that water bottle so I could be healthier. The last thing I need is some crap getting in the way of my attempt to be nice to my insides.

And if you still feel the need to show a little chic via your bottled water choices, grow some peppermint (99% of the time it self-propagates like a weed), and throw a few leaves into your new, BPA-free, very reusable Nalgene. Home-grown spa water (I still can't figure out why it's called that; it sounds to me like the dregs of a drained jacuzzi) in a reusable Earth-friendly vessel. The new hOttness.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Honey, you so sweet, sugar got a long way to catch you...

I used to hate honey. It was gloppy, sticky, and while it was all right on bread with peanut butter, I much preferred raspberry jam.

Recently, I've rediscovered honey. First, when you have a cold and your head is clogged up, tea with lemon, honey, and a generous glug of snake-bite medicine unclogs EVERYTHING and is a hell of a lot more fun than Sudafed. It's also more versatile. You can drink it on a Saturday night with your friends AND on Sunday morning with your grandmother. The tea part makes it all ok.

Then I started adding honey to salsas - just a bit to round out the tangy spiciness and to bring out the sweetness of the veggies - and it was very good. I have vague memories of my dad's dad coming to visit from Israel, and he brought jars of it. I had never tasted honey as intense as that. So when I saw buckwheat honey at My Organic Market, I bought it. Let's talk about buckwheat honey for a minute because it rocks.

Buckwheat honey is to honey like Arnold Shwarzenegger is to Danny DeVito in Twins. It tastes a bit like buckwheat (I guess I'd describe it as rich and kinda smoky), the honey flavor is really intense, and it's a dark brownish-amber in the bottle. It tastes like it was made by
bees in the image of strong burly Ukrainian farmers harvesting grain and singing folk songs, after which they'd gather for a huge meal and drink vodka.

The farmers, not the bees.

(Actually, before the Russians came in, Ukraine was a hugely fertile farming region. I might have to read up on that; I wonder how they're doing these days on that front...)

So how else would I eat it? Honey on yogurt is going to be the next big thing. Drizzling just a bit on yogurt makes for a strangely delicious dessert. "Dessert?" I can hear you looking quizzically at me. "Isn't yogurt for 'dessert' solely within the realm of recovering anorexics?" Not with buckwheat honey and some almonds on top. Especially on Greek yogurt. Even the fat free Greek yogurt is irrationally rich; nothing that healthy should be that creamy, but happily the Greeks know how to foster some killer dairy and bacteria relationships. They've certainly had a lot of time to perfect it, that's for sure.

Honey on yogurt is coincidentally healthy enough to enjoy for breakfast. Scarf it down, run out the door with an apple and a small bag of nuts in your hand, and bam. You're set to start the day. Some calcium, some protein, and buckwheat honey. It's tasty.

Perhaps even more tasty - and I find it a little more filling - is a big slice of bread (I like mine toasted) with a generous layers of peanut butter, sliced bananas, and a drizzle of honey on top finished off by a glass of milk. To reference a probably soon-to-be revived bit of hippy-era wisdom taught to me by my mother, peanut butter and milk form a complimentary protein. What I think this means is together peanut butter and milk contain enough amino acids for a complete serving of protein. While I don't advocate total veganism or even total vegetarianism, it's not a bad thing to eat a little of everything and subscribe a little bit to a lot of different food philosophies.

So basically, buckwheat honey is awesome. You can cook with it like normal, but I find it so tasty, I'd rather have it as unadulterated as possible. As Erykah Badu sang, "Honey, you so sweet, sugar got a long way to catch you."

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Alton Brown en papillote...

I assume Alton Brown is pretty well-known. On one hand, he irritates me with his excessive gadgetry and obsessive-compulsion, but on the other, I not-so-secretly find him ridiculously attractive, erring on the side of sexy. It's probably the geek/food factor, but I'd definitely have a one- or several-night-stand with him. Just long enough to get one-on-one with him in the kitchen. But the sad truth is I'd be gone pretty quickly. OCD is so not my thing.

Alton, baby, it could have been beautiful, but it would have never worked out regardless of how many batches of lemon curd we licked off each other. I just can't stand the fear of getting dirty in the kitchen.

Anyway, I digress. He has a recipe for fish en papillote, or fish cooked in parchment paper. You can fix the recipe to be single serve with fillets or whatever... you can mess around with it so it becomes the ultimate healthy fast food. Have a piece of fish thawing in the fridge, get home, throw some veggies, salt, pepper, spices, cooking liquid (wine, broth, whatever), and couscous in a piece of parchment paper, bake it, and there's dinner. It's a beautiful thing. And ever so elegant and classy served with a glass of wine.

Danny (my current partner-in-crime) and I have made this using a whole fish (red snapper) before with delicious results. This last time was a riff on a very harmonious theme....

I had some kumquats from Trader Joe's (the best place to buy food in possibly the entire universe). For anyone who doesn't know, kumquats are nifty little orangey things the size of large grapes. The peel is sweet, the interior is an intense blast of sour, and you shove the whole thing in your mouth unpeeled for the ultimate explosion of citrusosity. (Chinese celebrate the New Year by letting kumquats sit in sugar for a week before eating; they signify a sweet new year.)

I love them raw and untainted. Danny doesn't.

So I decided to include them somehow in a salsa of sorts to put on top of some oily fish. I reached this obvious conclusion as I ate lunch one day. I had some tomatoes and basil alongside some stirfry we had made. After I ate, I had a couple kumquats for dessert. Then, I burped. My burp was delicious. It was tomatoey, basilicious, and kumquaty, with a touch of onion. This was my inspiration, I kid you not. A burp.

Wolfgang Puck better watch out...

Anyway, Danny and I went to Whole Paycheck, er... excuse me, Whole Foods for some fish seeing as the fish guy we usually go to closes at 6 PM. The lady told us the perch we purchased was oily and more fishy than not. Perfect. Omega-3 and kumquat bliss.

We went home, washed the fillets, rinsed some whole wheat couscous (another delicious Trader Joe's product), sliced some onion, lemon, garlic, and tomato as per Alton Brown's lovely recipe. We then sliced up the remaining kumquats into thin little rounds. Some went into a salsa bowl with a few chopped tomatoes, basil, onion, and a little pepper, and some we set aside. 3 fish fillets (we had 6) went down, and we put a bunch of lemon slices, onion, garlic, a sprinkle of kumquat slices, salt, and pepper. 3 fillets went on top, followed by more onion, lemon, garlic, kumquats, and pepper. Then we put couscous around the whole thing, threw some tomato chunks, sliced good olives (we didn't have artichokes although they would have totally ROCKED), and more kumquats on the couscous. We put wine over it all (more on the wine later), sealed the paper, and baked it up (425 F for ~30 min.).

We sandwiched the fillets to simulate a whole fish, and it worked really well. Alton tells you to discard the lemon and onion from inside the fish cavity if you do use a whole fish, but when sandwiched between fillets, it gets all cooked and jammy and is really delicious with everything. So we had fish and couscous with my pseudo-salsa which almost blew my head off because it was so tasty. Something about unadulterated citrus and basil full blast in my mouth is totally freakin' sweet.

(Side note: I want to make kumquat basil gelato.)

As it was, the fish wasn't as fishy as I thought. The kumquats were the power flavor, and I would not hesitate to use them with the fishiest of fish, like bluefish or mackerel. If you're not rocking the omega-3's hardcore, when you cook kumquats, they get much, much more mellow and blend in, but raw... be careful. They'll dominate.

So, about the wine for the fish... use a white you'll want to drink. We got a bottle from the Vouvray region. I've completely forgot what the name was, but it was one of those dangerous wines. You know what I'm talking about, wine with low acidity and uber smooth enticing flavor, especially when cold. It's the kind where you always want another sip. You could drink and drink, and never notice a thing until it's too late.

The whole meal was excellent. I think it was healthy, too. I would have maybe added more veggies, but we were low on tomatoes so the salsa couldn't be expanded very much. Ah well, next time, right?


So, I've decided to start blabbing somewhere about food. Currently, I talk to anyone who will listen about food. I love food. I was raised in a culture where food = family, gardening, celebration, relaxation, nutrition, treats, health, and a way to impress anyone who needs impressing.

Hence, I love it. My dad spent a large part of his life in Israel, and as a result, I think I grew up eating the "Mediterranean Diet" but I never cared enough to go read the book to verify the classification. Regardless, my family ate more salad than anyone else I know, and I was always the kid in school who ate the weird, ethnic, smelly sandwiches at lunch. Do you have any idea how hard it is to explain baba ganoujh and pita to bland WASPy kids, Americanized blacks, and jappy children of doctors and lawyers?

(The WASPs and jappy girls were THE WORST.)

Genetics and diet being what they are, I got skinny and tall, played basketball, and after enduring the nadir of my existence in middle school, my "cool" stock began to rise because I was definitely the first person of all my friends to not only know what hummus was, but to be able to make it myself. My parents did well, but they weren't wealthy, so salad and legumes somehow became my comfort foods. There's this little produce store down the street from my parents, M&M Farms. It is my opinion that everyone should have an M&M Farms. The store was patronized by Indian women in brilliant saris picking through cilantro, people of Caribbean origin negotiating through piles of bright fruit, workers of unidentifiable Hispanic descent deftly emptying boxes of apples onto already heaping piles, old Jewish couples buying a few bananas for the week, and me, often struggling to squeeze a cart with at least one wheel permanently stuck in the wrong direction through the weekend shoppers to keep up with my mom or dad and not lose my little brother. It was cool just to people-watch there, never mind the dirt cheap produce.

My mom can best be classified as a reformed hippy. She is a product of the Bronx, went to NYU to study art, and was one of the people dancing barefoot to international folk music in Washington Square Park back in the day. She evolved into a gardener extraordinaire, able to coax wild and very uncontrollable growth from flowers, fruits, and vegetables much to the delight of my brother and I. The flower beds routinely need to be beaten back so they don't take over the lawn, which is my mother's fervent wish despite my father's enjoyment of the presence of grass. I think my mom is using incrementalism cum manifest destiny; every year the flower beds gradually expand to accommodate new acquisitions. My dad is actually pretty tolerant of it. He complains, but I think it's just because he feels he ought to. So, my father went through the Israeli military as a medic. He was the kind of person who when everyone was sick of eating army food, he convinced someone to stand in for him while he went "fishing." This entailed tossing hand grenades into the Suez Canal and collecting the stunned fish while Egyptians were taking shots at anyone who showed themselves from the other side. Like I said, I grew up loving food, and I'm pretty sure nature and nurture played equally important roles.

Back to the gardening... seriously, you can't say you hate vegetables unless you've had them fresh-picked from a garden. You can practically taste broccoli arming you against cancer. Did you know broccoli can be spicy? Tomatoes are softer and squashy, but they have a fabulous flavor completely different from the wet pink styrofoam supermarket varieties. Cucumbers are cucumbery, you don't have to peel them, and zucchinis grow like mushrooms in the rain.

Occasionally, we'd have a bumper crop of something. One year, we had so much cilantro which self-seeds and grows like a weed, my mom sold armfuls to M&M Farms. Another year, we couldn't eat zucchini fast enough. We grilled strips marinated in soy and garlic, my dad sauteed it in tomato sauce and onions, steamed it with salt, pepper, and lemon, and my mom baked loaves and loaves of zucchini bread. I'm skipping over how much we gave away. This other time, it was cherry tomatoes. That was my favorite. Our variety of choice is Sweet 1 Millions. My mom would enlist my brother and me to pick them all, and we'd get bags and bags of them. Tomato salad (tomato, basil, garlic, lemon, salt, pepper), tomatoes in regular salad, grilled tomatoes on skewers, tomatoes as snacks... seriously, my brother ate so many he gave himself a stomach ache. But I couldn't blame him. Sun-warmed and fresh, they're the best. You stuff yourself.

As my bro and I got older, we went to college (he's still there), and we got to try those foods we were banned from as children. I'm not talking pizza or fried food or Chinese food; we ate all that. Dessert, too. We got a cookie in lunch, a piece of cake after dinner (but only after we had a fruit). It was just that those were things to be enjoyed in moderation. Truth of it is, I can taste sodium benzoate. I hate it. Kosher meat and poultry tastes better than nonkosher products. When bread falls apart as I spread peanut butter on it, it irritates me. I literally go to the supermarket and poke every brand. The least squashy loaf makes it into my basket.

So anyway, this is why I like food and where I'm coming from. Currently, I'm a grad student in biochemistry, trying to live on a below-minimum wage budget. My boyfriend (also a grad student) is a hell of a cook, and we eat really well given our age and current jobs. Ramen is an emergency-only food. :)

Truth is I don't know what I'll include here yet. Maybe recipe summaries when we make something of interest, in the style of Mark Bittman at the NY Times (check out his blog which is one of my favorite things to read). Maybe some rants on the state of food now. Who knows. I always have something to say.