Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Going Bajan, days 1 and 2...

Going to Barbados is the kind of trip that requires more than just a car and a roadmap, even if you do roll the windows up really tightly.  There are no rest stops at the bottom of the Atlantic, so it wouldn't matter how waterproof your closed windows made your car because you'd be screwed the second you tried to get out and pee.  

Therefore, a plane seemed much more practical.  Danny and I booked a nonstop flight from JFK on Jamaica Air for $470-something each.  It left at 6:50 in the morning.  Hooray.  We left my parents' house (who were kind enough to let us crash there) at 3 AM, stumbled into the airport, and tried not to lean too heavily on our fellow passengers as we vertically snoozed in line, periodically wiping the drool off our passports.

Eventually we got through security, picked our way through people lying on the floor in sleeping bags only to find that JFK is run by heartless bastards who put unmovable arm rests on the benches so you can't lie down across them.  To make everything worse, we then found out Air Jamaica was running 2 hours late.  We consoled ourselves with those airport muffins that look and taste as if they'd last for roughly 24,956 years with nary a loss of moist sponginess.   I'm going to echo Michael Pollan and say don't trust anything that bacteria can't get to.  If they can't digest it, do we really think we're capable of it?

(NB: Perhaps the people who study these things should look into the possible use of things like Cheez Wiz or any processed American cheese food product as the next super antibiotic, because damn.  How do we get fat on that crap?  It's basically sodium-laden plastic.  But it never, ever rots.  Seriously, kids, what have we wrought.)  

But anyway, we managed to get on the plane, and I realized I forgot gum so my ears were all funkified for a while.  But all was well.  We were high up in the wild blue yonder with fluffy interesting clouds all around us and periodic honking noise from a child seated immediately behind us who I thought was a functional autistic.  His dad was doing a good job of keeping him calm.  Then they served breakfast.  Airline food is an abysmal affair unless you're flying ElAl, the Israeli airline.  They're a bit brusque, but security is top-notch and the food is actually good.  Actually, if you have the chance on any airline, get the kosher option.  Whenever I've gotten it, people have always jealously eyeballed my food. 

 But we were just getting breakfast, so we figured, hey, how bad could it be?  It was definitely worse than elementary school breakfasts.  In fact, I don't want to talk much about it.  The best that can be said was the sodden greasy potato bits looked like they actually came from real potato tubers, and the omelette was nominally made of actual egg matter. 

Happily, we landed, and hooray!  We were in Barbados!  A little about Barbados:  Barbados is the most easterly of all the Caribbean islands.  The last time it was severely hit by a hurricane was in the 50's.  It's an interesting place.  It was formed not by a volcano but by a massive reef.  Before becoming an independent nation, it was a British colony, and English culture even now remains a heavy influence.  For instance, topless sunbathing is against the law, and cricket reigns supreme.  You see old ladies walking around in short sleeve dresses that fall past their knees with a neat belt around their waists, a straw hat, and sensible shoes.  But you also have the island culture.  Reggae, rasta, and surfing have a place in Barbados, too.  Barbadians are a resourceful lot, I'm sure due in no small part to a 97% literacy rate.  Unlike other former colonies, Barbadians pride themselves on making tourism into an economic venture that benefits a wide range of people.  The line between the haves and the have-nots is indeed present, but it isn't anywhere near as stark as it is in, say, Jamaica.  That being said, Barbados is still a third-world country.  (It's a rising star in the eyes of developed nations; everyone is watching to see where Barbados is going.  They have an educated resourceful population who take great pride in their country.)  

So, Danny and I are the first of all out friends, acquaintances, and families who've gone.  We took a leap of faith and jumped.  Take it from me, don't go for the $45 a night guesthouse.  We got there, and it turned out to be a hovel.  It was little more than a poorly constructed shed with a holey mosquito net over the bed.  A tent in a backyard would have been more comfortable.  The mini fridge in the room acted like a small space heater.  This would have been lovely in the dead of winter in New Hampshire, but in an equatorial region?  No.  Trade winds or not, it was miserable.  Barbados is strange in that despite a problem with dengue fever, which has gotten steadily worse with the end of DDT, there are no screens.  People just don't use them.  We looked all around the island, and they just weren't on any windows.  But anyway, after one night in the heated hovel, we decided to screw the deposit and find somewhere else to stay. 

(Get Rich Quick Scheme, #496: Sell screens to the Barbadian people.) 

Sea Foam Haciendas, run by a very nice woman Phillipa (Phillippa?  Philippa?), was just the ticket.  We opted out of a place with full A/C because (a) we were on a budget, and (b) we're tough young'uns.  But our new digs had an air conditioned bedroom, a private balcony overlooking the startlingly turquoise Caribbean, and a BBQ downstairs on the shared patio by the ocean.  If I had more money, and I could afford something more than $130 a night (US dollars), I would probably go for full A/C for no other reason than it would keep the very militant mosquitoes out, although I think they got in with the cleaning people from the stairwell, not the windows.  Seriously, the mosquitoes would loiter, waiting.  They lurk in the shadows until you get there, and then they emerge, surrounding and buzzing you like fighter jets.  I would say Barbadian mosquitoes are more belligerent than Barbadian bums.  

However, if you're looking for Caribbean on a budget, Sea Foam Haciendas is in an ideal place.  Not only is there your own uncrowded stretch of beach and ocean in which you can spot sea turtles (it was totally sweet; we saw 2-3 sea turtles from the balcony a day), but you can access the supermarket (which sells all sorts of liquor), a bank, a roti place (The Ackee Tree), public transportation, and a nice bar, Mojo.  It's also close to St. Lawrence Gap, where nightlife happens.   And Phillipa is incredibly helpful with anything you may or may not want to do during the day.  

The second day before we relocated from our overheated hovel, we went for a morning surfing lesson with Zed of Zed's Surfing Adventures.  This was a whim.  I wanted to try it.  I'm a pretty rotten snowboarder although I do enjoy it, so surfing seemed the next logical thing.  I convinced Danny he should try it too, and we stood with the other members of the group and listened to our instructors explain how to stand up.  You can't walk without standing up first, and neither can you call it surfing unless you're upright. 

I discovered something that day.  All you have to do is listen to what they tell you, and then you do it.  And you don't think about it; you just get up and ride it.  Standing on a surf board is like fencing, just you stand still and no one's trying to stab you!  I stood up and rode my first wave all the way the hell in.  Danny and I rocked surfing, hardcore.  At the end of about 2.5 hours riding waves, tipping over and hard paddling, it was time to go in.  (Seriously, I can see why models and actors surf.  It is a HELL of a workout for your core and shoulders.)  As we loaded the surf boards back into the truck, one of the guys teaching us brought out a bag of the most sweet mangoes ever.  Warm, green, and incredibly fragrant, they beat you over the head with mango flavor, and we peeled and ate the fruit out of our hands with a bit of sea salt still on our lips.  

Upon returning to our new place, we decided the Ackee Tree was our next stop for a proper meal.  Curried goat rotis, a sort of West Indian burrito, were excellent.  Also, I think they may serve the world's best fresh pineapple juice.  It's hard to explain, but everything seemed exaggerated.  The sunshine was more intense, the colors more vibrant, houseplants that sat demurely in pots at home were tree-sized soil dwelling giants, sprawling over people's lawns, flowering and spilling scent into the street (the plumerias were of special note), and even the fruit flavors were somehow more concentrated and magnified.  

That night, as we retreated into our relatively mosquito-free air conditioned cave, the ocean serenaded us to sleep.  The fact that it was cool enough to endure being touched by another human made it worthwhile.  The waves were a welcome lullaby compared to the insanely hot fearful night we spent worrying about when we'd see the silhouette of a murderer coming through the bars on our door in that hovel.  Sometimes, losing the deposit (which was negligible when compared with not sleeping) is certainly worth it.  

Stay tuned for the rest of the trip report... 

Monday, June 16, 2008

The perks of graduate school! Yes, they do exist!

The perks of grad school are far and few between.  But the best one is having student status when shopping for a Macbook.  Because now, if you're a student and you buy a computer, you get a free iPod.  But not just ANY iPod.  Now you can get an iPod Touch.  

For free!

With an Apple purchase!

With a DISCOUNTED Apple purchase!  Because I'm a student!  And I suffer a lot!  So I deserve it!  

(Yep.  I'm excited about a gadget.  I'm officially Danny's girlfriend.)  

I got the basic macbook - which I've been playing with for the last day or so.  I think I'm going to post a picture I just took of myself here.  Now you all know what I look like.  How narcissistic of me.  But anyway, my techno-items are mas awesome.  And the iPod Touch is pure sex.  I mean, here's a gadget that not only has 8 GB of memory, but its 8 GB of memory is flash, so that means when I jog or engage in another bouncy activity, I can listen to my music sans overtones of guilt for jarring my player's fragile insides.  My old mp3 player (which is roughly the size of a 6-inch Subway sandwich; it's a Creative Labs Zen Nomad Jukebox) has served me exceptionally well, despite its more traditional hard drive insides.  It has survived getting doused in the contents of a nalgene to regain full function; it endured a flying trip off the treadmill during which it shot across the floor and bounced a few times, and it has to stay in those rank mp3 player holders on the machines at the gym (which it does without picking up too much crud or breaking in protest).  I put it in there so it doesn't suffer from the mp3 player version of shaken baby syndrome.  

However, now I can strap the iPod Touch to my arm and leap on a trampoline if I so desire.  

But it's so sad... my old one has served me so well, and it still works beautifully.  Its memory is HUGE; I can fit multiple books on tape on it and still have plenty of room for music.  And it's resilient as all hell.  I can't bring myself to throw it away; I love it too much.  I think I may load it up with lots of nice music, and give it to my mom.  She teaches art, and recently the school prohibited access to any streaming websites, so that put an end to listening to the radio in her room.  She can't get radio normally, so my mom's got nothing.  I think that'll be the best way to give it a new life, so my guilt is assuaged.  Sweet.

Now, I'm confronted with another issue; what kind of laptop bag should I get?  There are some  colorful patterned ones that I really like, there are some purely utilitarian ones that are butt-ugly, casual ones that are just eh, and there are some gorgeous designer ones I'm salivating over but won't be able to afford pretty much ever.  The cute ones would be ok if I was in a creative field, but I get the feeling they would need to be matched to an outfit, which cuts down on the number of total possible uses.  I'm thinking something classic and leather with a lot of interior pockets under $100, maybe with a brilliantly colored lining so there's something colorful about it.  But I need to take the possibility of having to cart it with me to a talk or an interview into consideration.  I'm in science.  Socks and sandals are ok, but anything beyond Dockers and a polo shirt is totally unacceptable.  People look if you accessorize a white button down and a tan pencil skirt with a red belt.

And in other news, I'm going to Barbados tomorrow.  Danny and I found a guesthouse a 10 minute walk from the beach for US$45 a night.  It comes with a kitchen and linens and it's run by a couple, a scientist and an artist, German and Dutch expats.  I'm looking forward to some beautiful beaches, trade winds, lots of rum, eating a lot of very fresh fish and taking surfing lessons.  Oh yeah, and I'm going to try not to get a sunburn.  I'm so white I can be used to reflect sunlight and tan people at right angles to my body, but Hawaiian Tropics 60+ Ozone Sport practically promises to protect you from everything short of a full nuclear blast.  Other practical preparations included buying Army-strength bug repellant from Campmor.  

Oh yes, there was one other very important thing.  Purchasing a couple bathing suits with fixed cups.  You know how some bikinis have sliding triangle tops?  They are ideal for lounging, perhaps going for a ladylike dip in a pool, and soaking up rays and the stares of gentleman passersby.  However, they are utterly inadequate when you actually enter the ocean.  They are especially lousy when you're the kind of chick who hates sitting still at the beach and likes to bodysurf and swim.  I fund this out when I was at the beach with Danny and his brother.  I had just spectacularly rode a particularly violent wave which threw me all the way up the shore - I like to think of it as insta-exfoliation.  I got up, disheveled and laughing, flipped my hair out of my face, and Danny gave me That Look.  You know, the "I-UNEXPECTEDLY-SEE-BOOBIES" look.  I think in England they say "Phwooooaaaaarrr!"  It was the American version thereof.

Happily, his brother (and most of Hilton Head, SC) missed the show.  But that taught me something.  Save the string sliding cups for lakes and cool weather sunbathing.  I will be going to Barbados with 2 lovely Victoria's Secret bikinis that will keep the girls locked in and loaded.  My need and resultant research combined with a free shipping and returns offer from VS made me admit they really know their bathing suits.  I figured they'd be for waify modelesque women, but they are actually well-cut and well-sized.  I'm not plus-sized, but for a 5'11" 24-yr-old, I'm a small on top and a large on the bottom in one, (I own a different pattern and it doesn't make your boobs look ridiculous; they feel more locked in, actually), and in the other, a small on top and a medium on the bottom (slightly skimpy in the rear, but the wide bands make it all ok).    They fit well at 152 lbs.  Nothing's squeezed or bulging over.  Truth be told, I'd like to drop back to 145-150 lbs (which was my competition weight when I was fencing in college and I was in badass shape), but I'm happy with how everything looks now, and I can envision them fitting well even after I tighten up a little more.

The only thing that's missing is a cute sundress/coverup.  I'm too tall for most things.  So, I'm making do with shorts and a shirt.  Definitely not as pretty, but, well, we can't have it all, can we?  I'm just happy I found bathing suits that have enough material to cover my butt top to bottom!  Plumber's cleavage in a bathing suit is just nasty.  

Thursday, June 12, 2008

It's all about the protein in the freezer, kids...

Yes, indeed. Protein in the freezer. The other day it was chicken, last night it was rockfish, and tonight, it looks like it's going to be salmon.

Last night, dinner was some sliced rockfish sauteed in olive oil along with some garlic, to which was added frozen corn and some Trader Joe's (TJ's) black pepper sautee sauce. That's it. And some broiled tomatoes with a sprinkling of chopped fresh parsley and some squeezed lemon. Took ~20 minutes, all told. No, really.

- Slice rockfish into strips (against the grain), and chop some garlic.

- Heat oil in pan, give garlic a head start, throw in rockfish, rotating when it's done on one side.

- When rockfish is almost done, add in corn. Let corn defrost in pan, and then add sauce. Heat through.

For the tomatoes:

- Turn broiler on high, put washed roma tomatoes in broiling pan (if you put foil down, you don't have a huge mess), and stick 'em right under the flame. Leave until they get some degree of char and leak juice. Slice in half, sprinkle with fresh parsley (or herb of choice), squeeze lemon, eat.

That's it.

Dessert was orange segments and 2 squares of TJ's pound plus dark chocolate (I think it's 72%?). Two squares dissolved in my mouth is about all I can take of that chocolate. It's brilliant for PMS, general anger, and things like that. I could have made rice, but... eh, I wasn't feeling it. The corn counted as veggie and starch at the same time, anyway.

...Man, I love broiled tomatoes.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Not food, but really cool nonetheless...

I found a link to the Harvard University commencement speech given by J.K. Rowling. As a more than avid Harry Potter fan, I had to listen. She is such an intelligent person. All my fan-gushing aside (and for the record my celebrity freebie would be Alan Rickman in character as Severus Snape - oh, his sexy slippery voice! his snarky sarcasm! his dungeon!), there is so much written into the simple syntax of her stories.

Anyone who is struggling with anything - finding him/herself, graduate school, body image, a clash with a family member(s) - should give Rowling a listen. No stranger to struggling herself, she very eloquently differentiates between often confused concepts; for instance, she says to simply be poor is not enobling, and in fact, it's degrading and stressful. But finding the strength to rise above it is what makes it a worthwhile experience, because had you not been poor, perhaps you may never have discovered the inner strength you do in fact have.

(Heck, I've impressed plenty of people by not dropping out of grad school after failing candidacy... although I didn't think about it until they told me. It was nice being told, though. :) )

It made me think about Harry Potter's beginnings. He was conceived in a station while Rowling waited for a late train. Think what she's done. She went from working in cafes on the public dole to speaking at Harvard commencement. Imagine if the next time we were stuck in traffic, waiting for a train, or sitting in a doctor's office we started letting our imaginations work, carry us off like hers did instead of letting ourselves sit and fume over the time that was being wasted. How much more productive and enjoyable it would be!

Ultimately, Rowling told a story of hope, tenacity, and love. We may not all be storytellers, and I'm no wordsmith myself, but we can still take note. And who knows what can be conjured out of a 45 minute delay and the right cocktail of events?

Bottom line? Listen to the speech. It's intelligent, interesting, and funny.

The Ancient Marinar-a

What do you do with a ton of leftover marinara so it doesn't grow white and blue fuzzy mold?

There is the obvious; dump it on pasta. There are the weird things that only I do; spread it on toast. And then there's the compromise of easy prep, adding some protein, and edibility in large quantities (because really, how much tomato sauce can you spread on a piece of toast?).

We decided to make chicken meatballs with some leftover boneless skinless dark meat that was languishing in the freezer. Danny has a meat grinder attachment for his stand mixer which is an awesome piece of multitasking equipment. He put the chicken down it, along with some matzah meal (in lieu of breadcrumbs), egg, a small piece of onion, some garlic, salt and pepper, and some dried thyme.

Caveat: chicken going through a meat grinder may and probably will splatter. Just an FYI. So maybe have someone there shielding with their hands or something. At the very least, you'll have someone to go "Ewwww!! Gross!" to as chicken splorts out, and then they'll help you wipe up afterwards.

Anyway, form the chicken mixture into balls, and cook in simmering marinara sauce until done. The meatballs stayed really moist and tender, and they are uber-flavorful. We didn't brown them or anything, just put them in. They made for an excellent post-fencing pre-bedtime snack on top of Trader Joe's sprouted wheat papardelle. And now I'm going to eat the leftovers for lunch.

Monday, June 9, 2008


The pizza and beer party was a success! Huzzah!

As much as I love and love to hate Alton Brown, his pizza dough recipe is excellent. Watching the Good Eats episode of it made me want to pull out his hair in a fit of anti-OCD rage. But then... he's kind of adorable. And he cooks. Nothing is sexier than a man who cooks. Especially a man who cooks well. Yet, on the other hand, he has too many gadgets. And a man who has too many gadgets... you can't help but wonder, does he need an excess of gadgets to do everything else? But then you get curious, and then you want to find out.

And so my periodic Alton celebrity pseudo-crush goes.

But back to the party! Of course, Danny and I made far too much food. We discovered that pureed tomatoes poured into sauteed garlic and onion with basil, oregano, hot pepper flakes, black pepper, salt, and sugar simmered until it reduces makes an excellent marinara. And we have like a gallon of it. However, when you make your own pizza dough and you keep the marinara super tangy and flavorful, the pizza tastes clean, fresh, and oddly healthy. We followed Alton's recipe for dough (we used bread flour, which achieved a very real-pizzaria chewiness), my own concoction for sauce (see above), and Trader Joe's shredded mozzarella. We cooked them at the highest heat Danny's oven would go, 550 F. We actually achieved crispy crust! At home!

The best part was the whole thing was super cheap. Because the party was on a Friday, I didn't have time to do the meringues, so we chopped up fruit and broke up one of those pound plus 70-something % chocolate bars from Trader Joe's and put the pieces in a bowl. We got zero complaints. And our beer aged really well. We cleaned out our bottles just in time to bottle our new batch, a Belgian wit beer spiced with coriander and curacao peel.

This new batch (some of which adorns the ceiling in Danny's kitchen) smells and tastes wonderful. We had to try some as we bottled. It was green and the flavors hadn't melded yet, but the promise was definitely there. The coriander and orange peel was lovely with the hops. Even at that stage, you can taste how it will be an incredibly refreshing beverage in a few more weeks, ice-cold in a glass with a slice of orange on the rim.

Awwww yeahhhh. ;)

Thursday, June 5, 2008


I had 2 hefty zucchinis sitting in the fridge, and nothing is more revolting than rotted zucchinis. Even when they're fresh, they have a hint of sliminess. Kind of like, "Heh heh heh, if you leave us long enough, we will ooze ALL OVER YOUR FRIDGE..."

So, I decided to take action before the fridge microbes reduced them to a puddle of glop. (As if we need further convincing that wasting food is bad.)

But anyway, here're two ways to take care of zukes.

One way involves a grill. Slice the zucchinis lengthwise into strips (roughly 1/4" thick; perfection is not key). Have some soy sauce in a dish with a bit of oil and a brush (or spoon) on hand. Put the slices on a hot grill, and either brush or dribble the oil/soy sauce over them, turning them when they get a little cooked and have grill marks. Apply oil/soy sauce to the other side, cook a little more, and then eat. We call them snakes.

You could put teriyaki on them or even a curry-based marinade, and they'd taste great. This is the most stripped down quick way to do it. You could probably even cut them into cubes and skewer them, alternating with tomatoes. (Grilled tomatoes are very underrated. As are grilled onions. You know who has the grilled veggie thing down? The Persians. They know what's what in the grilled veggie department.)

Actually, this just came to me... if anyone is vegan or has friends who are and you're throwing a 4th of July party, take the vinaigrette from this recipe. I tried it with tofu which I sauteed, and it's fresh-tasting and I kind of want to drink it. It would probably rock with tempeh, which has more chewiness and flavor than tofu. I'd marinate the tempeh, and alternate tempeh chunks on skewers with zucchini, tomato, and onion. (Or just grill the tempeh in burger-sized pieces; incidentally, Trader Joe's sells tempeh as do most crunchy hippie health food stores.) Judging by how the tofu came out, you'll have to beat the meat-eaters off the tempeh. I don't have a BBQ at my disposal - hooray apartment living - but if anyone tries this, I want to know how it comes out!

So... the other way to cook zucchini requires an onion, several cloves of garlic, a can of tomato sauce (so I just realized I have no idea how big said can was, but it's the size of cans that beans typically come in), and dried oregano, basil, and chili flakes, or whatever herbs you like. Cut your zucchinis (I think I probably had somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 pounds) in half lengthwise, and then slice into 1/4-1/2" slices. Chop your onion and garlic. Heat some olive oil in a pan, sautee the onion. When it starts to turn brownish-translucent, throw in the garlic and the zukes. Sautee until the zukes start to turn bright green, get limp, and start to turn brown. Throw in the tomato sauce and your herbs (I have no idea how much; ~2-3 dashes), cover the pot, turn the heat down, and let it simmer until the flavors have time to mix. Done.

You can skew the ratio of veggie chunks:sauce in favor of the veggies and you have a side-dish, or if you like 'em saucy, it can top pasta. I had mine over some ravioli, even though it was more zucchini than sauce, but I like zucchini. And this typically tastes even better the next day.

(As a side-note... zucchinis will probably be tastier and more plentiful a little later in the season for those of us in the northern hemisphere. So enjoy!)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


I am one of those people who performs secret arcane fermentation rituals in order to make my own beer just the way I like it in large quantities for cheap. Also, it's just cool! I mean, there's all that science involved, plus a whole new vocabulary of funky words that never developed beyond the old English from whence they sprung. Like "sparge" and "wort" and "kreusen" (I think kreusen is actually German, but English has some pretty deep German influences anyway).

The best part is you can get as into the science as you want. I think they could teach Biochemistry II in its entirety from the perspective of fermenting your own beer. All the metabolism is there; aerobic and anaerobic, as well as the importance of various minerals and compounds to proper yeast function. And then there's a smattering of organic chemistry; the conversion of one compound to something totally different to generate a scent of cloves, for instance. Even different species of yeast produce different chemicals, and the beer you get is highly impacted by what strain of yeast you toss into the muddy syrup that is your wort.

And then there are hops, which are really polarizing. I love the smell of hops. Danny simply tolerates it. What starts out smelling a bit like very pungent and strong lawn mower clippings ends up giving the beer a citrusy floral smell, some bitterness, and antimicrobial properties. The antimicrobial thing I find really interesting, because it allows the wort, which is a sugar, vitamin, and mineral-rich broth made from steeped grains, to stay sterile long enough for the yeast to establish themselves as the dominant organism. For instance, India pale ales (IPAs) are more bitter. Why? The beer was more heavily hopped up because it had to stay microrganism-free in the heat and humidity of India for the British soldiers stationed there. Drug companies should take note. :)

Alternatively, you can say "Screw the science!" and just revel in your personal ability to get yourself drunk.

From scratch!

Which I do. I couldn't tell you how much alcohol was in either of our 2 batches of homebrew. I do science at work. Brewing is nifty fun that gets me drunk and keeps my madd food science skillz honed.

The thing is, I really enjoy alcohol in all its forms. I love vodka and gin and tequila and rum, good wine is always highly appreciated, and I love good beer and even cider. (I'm not talking Woodchuck brand, but more along the lines of this. You know, cider that actually tastes like apples. Liberty Spy is a good one to try. One day, Legacy won't be sold out, and I'll get to try that one.) Distillation is borderline against the law. The rules vary state to state, sometimes small quantities are legal, but I can brew beer with impunity. As much as I'd like to try to make my own applejack (one of my uncle's patients made him some and it was like someone concentrated the essence of Apple - and I don't mean Gwyneth Paltrow's kid - into this incredibly alcoholic liquid fire; drinking it was practically a religious experience), I fear the law too much.

So, I stick with beer brewing. Ommegang 3 Philosophers will put you under the table, and one day I'd like to try something as insanely complex as that, but right now Danny and I have had enough on our hands trying to do a spiced Belgian wit beer, in the image of Hoegaarden. Funny story about this one. After we poured the wort into the fermenter, we added the yeast. Typically, you have a blowoff tube to release the pressure from the carbon dioxide the yeast produce. The first 24 hours, the fermentation was so rigorous, at some point in the night it clogged the tube, the cork exploded off the fermenter, and beer crud spattered all the way up the wall onto the ceiling. There was a 1-foot blast radius on the ceiling which actually looked quite funny. We'll know how the beer turns out July 4th weekend. We made it so we could bring some homebrew to my family's July 5th party at my grandma's house.

Anyway, this weekend is a beer-and-pizza party, but Danny and I made the beer ourselves (it was our first batch, a nice mellow ale), and we're also going to make the pizza. It's not that hard. We'll do the dough the night before and let it rise in the fridge overnight. We have a huge can of tomato product that we'll transmogrify into a nice tangy sauce, and I might make some meringues to go with fresh fruit for dessert. (Nice contrast to the heavy beer and pizza.) It should be quite tasty... :)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Mo' fruits, mo' veggies...

A short while ago, the NY Times published an article on how best to cook your veggies to get the most out of them. Long and involved story short, you can't get everything from eating them prepared only one way. My response? Duh.

As for a solution? Eat some fresh, eat some frozen ones thawed, eat some steamed, and eat some sauteed. So in other words, cook your own food, and don't eat the same thing all the time. Different preparations, from a simple chopped salad or a tomato sauce simmered all day, free up different good-for-you things in all that produce. Even dumping a little olive oil on your salad or throwing a splash of red wine into your tomato sauce can change the bioavailability (aka, what can be easily absorbed by your body) of different things.

Actually, I'm embarassed to admit it, but in completely neurotic form, I used to rotate milk. One week I'd get skim, the next 1%, the next 2%, and the next whole. Occasionally, I'd throw in some soy milk. I knew about bioavailability in college, and to keep my calcium intake high, dispel any fears of not getting enough vitamin A or D (vitamin A is fat-soluble), and keep my arteries squeaky clean, I figured I'd just switch it up every week and cover all my bases. I know, totally ridiculous. Older and wiser - but only slightly less neurotic - I stick with 1% these days.

Heading back to the topic of fruits and veggies, I got to go to M&M Farms when I was visiting the parents and stock up on insanely cheap produce. I got a couple mangoes and a cantaloupe which I chopped up and had for breakfast today with some brie (Trader Joe's has some pretty cheap Canadian double creme brie; it's awesome). Tonight, I'm going to fix some baba ganoush, Israeli style.

I guess now would be a good time to talk about baba ganoush. Get a nice sized eggplant. Poke holes in it with a fork. Turn your oven broiler on high or crank up the grill. Insert eggplant (on a broiler pan if it's in the oven; it's a deceptively juicy vegetable), and grill, turning occasionally until it has completely deflated, resembles a dead thing, and has some char on the outside. The more char, the smokier the flavor, but don't totally torch it. Remove from the oven or the BBQ, and set it in a dish. Pick up the eggplant from the top using a heat proof holder of some sort, and leaving the top intact, slice it the long way from the midpoint to the end. Put it back in the dish, and tilt the dish so the juices drain out. Let it drain until it's cool enough to touch. (Draining the juices minimizes the bitterness.) Now you have a roasted eggplant to do with what you please!

Take the cooled eggplant, split it the rest of the way up the middle (the long way), and slice off the top with the stem. Take one half, and scoop out the guts onto a cutting board with a spoon. If some skin shreds end up in there too, no worries. Do the same to the other half. Now comes the fun part! Take a nice chef's knife and reduce the pile of eggplant guts to a pile of even mushier mush by chopping the crap out of it, flipping and rotating the mush with the flat of your knife and again chopping the crap out of it. Dump the mush into a tupperware.

As with pretty much all middle Eastern food, you need garlic and lemon. And in this case, tahina. For one eggplant, I'd start with 1 small clove of raw garlic, juice of 1/2 lemon, and like 1 or 2 spoonfuls of tahina from the jar. Crush the clove of garlic, juice the lemon, and throw it in with the tahina and a pinch of salt. Mix and taste, and then adjust everything. Also, you can cut the tahina with some mayonnaise, or totally replace it with mayo. I'm a fan of 100% tahina, but sometimes I cut it. Tastes good either way. Usually I end up putting in a little more lemon and salt to make the flavor really pop, but it's up to you to make it as strong you want it. Same goes for the garlic, but be careful, because you can end up with very potent anti-vampire concoction if you're not careful... :)

Another thing you can do with a roasted eggplant is roast and mush it like above and set it aside. Take half a small onion and chop it very, very finely. Take some cilantro and chop that finely, and add some lemon and salt. As with pretty much everything else, adjust it to your own personal taste. For some reason, I grew up referring to this as simply "eggplant mush." Baba ganoush was baba ganoush, but this was eggplant mush. No idea why.

Does anyone know what it's actually called?

Anyway, I just ate lunch at the food co-op, which was taco casserole. They serve vegan friendly bean mush in various guises on a daily basis. Today, it was a glop of beans, brown rice, whole wheat tortillas, tomatoes and tomato sauce, peppers, and vegan bacon and multiple spices. Despite its nondescript glop appearance, there was a hell of a lot of flavor in there. Then I opted for a chocolate Fruitfull frozen yogurt bar. It was ok for what it was. But I think I can do better... I need a set of these. When I was a kid, we used to blenderize fruit on the verge of going bad and freeze it into pops, with the occasional addition of honey or sugar or mint. Sometimes we'd make chocolate pudding pops. Very tasty.

I bet making adult pops with the addition of some alcohol would be really awesome. Like sangria ice pops. Or strawberry daquiri. Or any blenderized fruit with rum, tequila, or vodka. I bet a minty cucumbery one with gin would be so refreshing... a riff on this awesome drink, The Cuke. Unconventional, yes, but if the summer drank, this would be its Cosmopolitan. Trust me, try it. Your internal body temperature will fall instantly.