did relay for life at the end of march~the luminaria ceremony was beautiful, the weather held up & lots of good friends were around :)
i've been running a lot lately too, longer runs about 4-6 miles each time! forest park is beautiful these days - trees budding, flowers coming up - green, and birds and just lovely. my new running path goes through some more woodsy areas, so it's really peaceful & perfect. h. & j.r. & i are hoping to do a 5k next weekend ~
baking less this semester, but still doing a bit ~ this was from a few weeks ago, lemon bars. more gooey than i'm used to, but good:
korean-inspired veggie pancakes - carrots, scallions, shrimp, onions in a simple batter of eggs, flour & water:
simple but satisfying: sliced, peppered avocado and colby on toast
stir-fried soba w/chicken, carrots, spinach, scallions & soy ~ surprised it actually tasted decent
fried rice ~ failure. tasted like nothing & grainy/chewy from ground turkey.
eggs scrambled w/avocado ~ creamy wonderful
reunited w/london flatmates @ t.'s birthday dinner :)
fluffy omelet filled w/sliced avocado + sauteed potatoes (still a bit raw unfortunately)
"fried" tomatoes, a recipe i learned from h. slowly cook up some garlic & tomatoes until soft & saucy, season w/salt & pepper. so good & simple. ate it with tortillas dipped in ...
tortillas left over from this delicious mexican "carnitas dinner" leftover from the night before. amazing pork... potato salad! impressed myself w/how good it was (despite the unappetizing photo). red-skinned potatoes, asparagus, egg, tuna, red onion, scallions, lemon zest + juice, capers, mayo & mustard.
tilapia on a bed of soba, shredded veggies (carrots, asparagus, mushrooms), turkey sausage - topped with a few slivers of gently fried scallions. really quite good, mmm...
back to the udon! hadn't had this in a while. shrimp, turkey sausage & about-to-rot mixed salad greens. good as i remember ^_^
k, good night : )
Jeffrey Steingarten has a thing for detail. Open up to any page in his first collection of essays, and you’ll spot the book title at the top of one page and the chapter heading at the top of the other. Flip through the rest of the book though, and you’ll notice that pieces of the title are gradually bitten off, such that what started out as THE MAN WHO ATE EVERYTHING in Part I has progressed to THE MAN WHO ATE EVERYTH (even a corner of the H has been nibbled off) by Part III, until finally, it is just THE MAN WHO ATE by the end of the book in Part V. Steingarten documents his unwavering quest for authenticity and his insatiable appetite for astoundingly good food in The Man Who Ate Everything: And Other Gastronomic Feats, Disputes and Pleasurable Pursuits. His patience for detail, his childlike curiosity about everything around him and his rigorous standards for historic, cultural and scientific precision serve him well, even if they do occasionally become exhausting for those around him.
It was back in 1989 that Steingarten entered the world of food writing, when the one and only Anna Wintour recruited him away from his career as a Harvard-trained corporate lawyer to fill the post of food critic at American Vogue. He was initially reluctant: “I thought food was too frivolous to write about,” he said, but he could not resist the temptation and soon discovered that food “was the most profound subject you could possibly write about. There is no aspect of human activity it doesn't touch.”
Interestingly, Steingarten’s first assignment was to write about the less-than-profound microwaved fish, trendy at the time among those in the “fashionable world that the rest of us can imitate but never enter.” Three months, two new microwaves and twenty microwave cookbooks later, his piece was complete, published in the March 1998 issue of Vogue and also reprinted in the book, in the chapter entitled “Fish without Fire.” In addition to recounting his numerous attempts at achieving a satisfactorily microwaved piece of fish, the essay includes a history of the invention of the microwave, a scientific explanation of how wavelengths and frequency determine the microwaves’ depth of food penetration and a tip on microwaving your wet Nikes (he cautions, “If you try to get it bone-dry, the rubber parts will bubble up and the instep will smoke and smolder”).
Before beginning at Vogue, Steingarten, like many of his fellow Americans, was burdened with a multitude of “powerful, arbitrary, and debilitating” food phobias, including fears of chutney, coffee ice cream, cranberries, falafel, kimchi, lard, swordfish and the cuisine (he puts quotes around that term) of the entire nation of Greece. He takes it as his journalistic duty to overcome these fears, and so he embarks upon a self-prescribed Six-Step Program, exposing himself to each phobia at least eight to ten times (he read in his research that “most babies will accept nearly anything after eight or ten tries”) and in the process, successfully becoming “a more perfect omnivore.”
A changed man, he devotes much of the first half of his book to dispelling all of the food suspicions Americans use to justify their finicky, irrational eating habits, which, he mourns, have interfered with “the sense of festivity and exchange, of community and sacrament” at mealtime. He weighs the health risk of eating raw oysters against the much higher risk of skiing injuries, tests out rigid fad diets and veganism, explores the scientific research on appetite and hunger, disputes the link between salt and high blood pressure and rails against salad as “the silent killer.” Each topic that Steingarten takes on is thoroughly backed by exhaustive investigation, whether it’s familiarizing himself with the scientific literature, reading classic cookbooks, interviewing leading experts in the field or experimenting furiously in his Manhattan loft.
Following him through his scrupulous study of every food item is grueling at times; not everyone’s eyes can be expected to light up at the mention of the molecular composition of proteins or the parts per million of sulfates found in drinking water. If one does not approach this book as a loose compilation of assorted works, instead expecting, as I did, a coherent, logically-ordered narrative that starts where it began, one can very easily get lost in the first half of the book: Each essay is dated with the month and year but not arranged in chronological order, bulleted lists that Steingarten seems to think excuse him of the need for organized thought are littered throughout the chapters and an only tangentially-relevant essay entitled “Sweet Smell of Sex” is tossed in for good measure.
Luckily, with the first line of Part IV, my confused wandering was transformed into infectious wanderlust: “When I awoke, the morning air was as crisp as bacon and as sweet as liver sausage.” The encyclopedic entries of the first half are left behind as Steingarten embarks on his “Journey of a Thousand Meals,” breathing life back into his book. The wit, elegance and levity hinted at in his writing in the first half come through full force in the second.
In the chapters that follow, Steingarten takes us along as he hunts for truffles in Albaretto della Torre, walks through the Pescheria at the Rialto market in Venice and treats himself to brioche dunked in coffee granita for breakfast at a café in Palermo. The descriptions of the white truffles he experienced in the hill country of Italy alone are dizzying: “plates of tripe and fresh porcini and a tiny green the size of clover, all hidden under paper-thin slices of white truffle,” “a wild-duck breast […] flavored with a sweet sauce of chestnuts and white truffles, and a large onion baked on a bed of salt, scooped out and filled with white truffles, meat broth, pureed onions, and cheese.” The descriptions of the food are tantalizing, the scenery, captivating and the characters, endearing – it feels as if you are sharing every meal right there with him. The obscure facts, tidbits of history and occasional lists evocative of the book’s first half are still there, but these elements are incorporated much more fluidly and thoughtfully. Steingarten makes no compromises in authenticity either, traveling long distances to get to the source to research each gastronomic delight. The value that he places on firsthand experience and hands-on experimentation is apparent. He learns from the men and women creating their local dishes, and he brings the knowledge back with him to New York, tirelessly working on recipes in his home kitchen so that his readers may recreate authentic versions in their own homes.
As serious as he is about his food, Steingarten does not take himself seriously one bit, his self-deprecating humor evident throughout the book. His numerous trips to Paris for dining marathons in the culinary capital’s finest establishments have not put him above digging into succulent barbeque ribs in Memphis or baking the Milky Way Bar Swirl Cake recipe found on the back of the candy bar package. Ultimately, whether he’s frying potatoes in Austrian horse fat, disproving pop-nutritionists, crafting homemade ketchup or perfecting an all-American piecrust, Steingarten is trying desperately to remind Americans how to eat again – to value quality ingredients, to appreciate local cuisines and to preserve time-honored food traditions.
i did squeeze in a bit of fun though - i baked these amazing chocolate chip cookies that would have been even more amazing had i had good-quality chocolate - and i can't believe i forgot to take a photo! they were big & generous & had layers of chocolate inside - & they were amazing, fresh from the oven.
one of my roommates also came to visit for 2 days ~ we walked all over d.c. & even saw obama's motorcade! thrilling! also drove her around baltimore & suburbs.
here we are in front of the white house:
i went to the national archives for the first time! i can hardly believe they let us see the original declaration & constitution & bill of rights! so awesome.
historic ellicott city :) took these as i was driving through.
oh, and ever since i've gotten back to school, i've been daydreaming of the beach... not necessarily tropical beach, more like outdoorsy, kayaking-in-obx kind of beach. le sigh. so instead i cling to daydreams of frolicking on the beach in thailand in june. le sigh.
yesterday was so nice here tho. high seventies & sunny. long lunch outside, then lazed on the grass catching up w/friends. campus feels so different when the weather's nice & everyone's out. these are the sorts of days i want to remember as my last in college. :)
had 2 large leeks & some heavy cream leftover from valentine's day, so cooked up a creamy sauce loosely based on this recipe, added peas & tilapia, and put it all on top of some fusilli.
next day, combined the leftover leek cream sauce w/ground turkey & some more peas. so delish!all the green of the leeks & peas reminded me of this from my closet :)these days, i've been constantly craving hot chocolate! it all started when, in my food class, my teacher read aloud an excerpt that james beard had written on making the stuff from scratch. that night, i picked up a small bottle of skim milk from the campus convenience store (i'd run out) - cute pink cap matched my valentine's day carnations:
and mixed this up at home w/my 85% cocoa dark chocolate (a bit too intense for this, but it's all i had on hand), milk, honey & some vanilla. not bad.
my friend & old roommate j.r. was having a birthday bash for 40+ people, so i offered to bake her cake! i love frosting things ~ the square layer cake is devil's food mix from the box w/homemade cream cheese frosting
and the cupcakes are funfetti mix from the box w/homemade buttercream using the recipe from magnolia, where we had our cupcake date last summer when i was in nyc for the 4th :)
okay, so this isn't exactly cooking, but it's at least... semi-homemade :P these are my fave store-bought dumplings, pork & shrimp w/chinese celery. i think i make pretty good potstickers.
t. & i went to this italian place for dinner - got the penne alla vodka - sauce had smoked salmon, dill & touch of tomato. the huge bowl of pasta arrived covered in glossy salmon-colored sauce. (no photo.) had some leftovers & tried cooking them up w/white wine, chicken breast & peas but the sauce just separated & it all became oily instead. made dinner w/j.r. salmon cakes, spinach gratin & pesto pasta w/peas
topped some leftover spinach gratin w/pesto pasta & sauteed shrimpgenerous heap of mashed potatoes - boiled up a potato (the one i used a while back to weigh down the cookie sheet when i baked the whole lemon tart), used up the heavy cream from the spinach gratin & tossed in some scallions. topped w/chicken breast sauteed w/leftover frozen chopped spinach (used for the gratin earlier), a splash of cream & some chopped red onion. surprisingly good!
good old omelet w/generous handful of scallions
From the time of Alexander the Great, Afghanistan, that “graveyard of empires,” has repeatedly been invaded by foreign armies and destabilized by war, conquered by many but enduringly controlled by few.(1) From afar, through shadowy swirls of hashish smoke, many imaginations have imposed an air of haunting romance on the country as only outsiders can, documented in their rolls of film or in the pages of a travelogue. Not since the 1970’s has the country been a favored destination for travelers, and even then, it was only the hippies.(2) Except for soldiers, contractors, journalists and the occasional adventurous tourist, few dare venture there these days. Despite its daily appearance in the news, Afghanistan has managed to retain an exoticism reminiscent of that recounted by early travelers, long before words like globalization and ‘e’-anything existed.
Given its location along the Silk Road at the intersection of continents and its multiethnic population, the traditions of Afghanistan are storied and rich. At the center of it all, at once foreign and familiar, is the country’s cuisine, which has incorporated recognizable influences from Persia, the Middle East, Greece, Central Asia, China and India.(3)
In this still largely rural society, the people’s diet is very much dependent upon what is available regionally and seasonally. Staples such as wheat, rice, barley and corn form the base of the diet, and they are complemented by an assortment of fruits, vegetables and nuts.(4) One can begin to get a sense of the richness of Afghan cuisine upon seeing the diverse abundance of fruits and nuts grown in the country: melons, pomegranates, apricots, peaches, mulberries, cherries, apples, oranges and plums, alongside pistachios, walnuts, almonds and pine nuts.(5) When fresh fruit is unavailable during the winter months, it’s replaced with dried. In fact, the country is particularly famous for its grapes, which are usually dried into raisins. Since the Muslim diet forbids pork, halaal chicken, lamb and beef are the favored meats. Dairy products such as yogurt, cheese and buttermilk are also an important part of the diet.
From a personal perspective, one of the most foreign elements of Afghan cuisine is the extensive array of spices employed. To enumerate all of these spices is to conjure up images of the region’s ancient spice trade: anise, cardamom, cilantro, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, fenugreek, mint and saffron. Harmony of flavors is emphasized; spice is balanced by sweetness. A mortar and pestle is a necessity in the Afghan home; besides grinding spices, it’s also used for crushing garlic, onions and herbs.(6)
Most cooking and eating takes place within the home – Afghanistan traditionally has not had much of a restaurant culture. As in most societies, the kitchen is the women’s domain. Hospitality is highly valued; guests are treated with tremendous respect and offered extreme generosity. Mealtime, particularly when entertaining guests, can be quite an elaborate ritual. Women may spend the entire day cooking, since unexpected guests are often to be expected. The possibility of more mouths to feed, on top of the usual bounty showered on guests, makes it not uncommon to find enough food prepared to feed three times as many people as are expected.(7)
Diners are seated cross-legged on the floor, atop colorful cushions encircling a large cloth, called a daster khan, on which the food will be placed. While the men wait for the meal to be served, they sip on cardamom-infused green or black chai and nibble on sugared nuts. In place of utensils, hands are typically used for eating, so a child in the family will go around to each person with a pitcher of water and a basin for hand-washing. Once the food is ready, it is set out all at once, with care that the special dishes are within easy reach of the guests: nan, pilau, qorma (an onion-based meat stew), pickles, salads, chutneys and fruit comprise the usual spread.
Pilau, a dish of basmati rice combined with meat and vegetables, is one of the best-known dishes in Afghan cuisine and is typically made to celebrate special occasions.(8) In fact, Qabili Pilau, a variation that traditionally includes lamb, onions, carrots, raisins and a mix of spices, is often regarded as the national dish.(9)
Never having tasted Afghan cuisine myself but feeling adventurous, I decided to try my hand at Afghan cooking, and I ambitiously resolved to give the country’s signature Pilau a go. I figured that my entrée into this new realm of food was an occasion special enough to warrant the dish, and so I selected a recipe from Saveur magazine, “Kabul-Style Lamb and Rice Pilaf,” or Qabili Pilau.(10) Now, the addition of “Kabul-Style” to the name is probably one of those romantic flourishes, since the recipe was virtually identical to others I’d found for Qabili Pilau non-specific to Kabul. Still, the addition worked and a fantastical vision was spun – the capital city of Kabul is the former home of Afghan kings, and it is said that their royal chefs were recruited from all over the empire, charged with the task of melding together different cooking styles and perfecting authentic Afghan cuisine.(11) I was captivated.
Now, I must confess: As eager as I was to faithfully recreate this dish, I could not bring myself to overcome my aversion to lamb, particularly in large chunks and pervading every grain of rice as this dish entailed. So, in its place, I quietly slipped in the boneless, skinless chicken breast ubiquitous in the American diet, knowing full well that it lacks the fat content and strong flavor of lamb. In my defense, chicken is “the most common and abundant of meats” in Afghanistan.(12) But anyways, to resume on my foray into Afghan cuisine –
After picking up a small package of basmati rice, a yellow onion, some carrots, ground coriander and ground cloves from the store to supplement what I already had at home, I set to carefully following each step in the recipe for Qabili Pilau.
The rice is first allowed to soak for at least twenty minutes to ensure that the grains do not stick together when cooked. The generous chunks of meat are then browned in a large, heavy-bottomed pan, and the same is done with the chopped onion. Together, after some water is added, the onion and chicken are left to simmer. In Afghan cuisine, food is often cooked slowly so as to draw out all the flavors of the ingredients. When the lid is raised after an hour of simmering, a rich, caramel-colored broth is revealed. The chunks of chicken are removed, and the rice, as well as a mix of coriander, cinnamon, black pepper, cumin and cloves are added. With a few more cups of water, the rice is allowed to cook until fluffy. Finally, it’s topped with the chicken and sautéed carrots and raisins, along with some more of the spice mixture. The entire process takes more than two hours, but the heaping mound of Pilau is reward enough.
When I stick my face in my bowl and inhale, the aroma is deep and warm, earthy and soothing. I can see that every grain has been flecked with the ground spices, and shoestring carrots peek out from the mound. In my mouth, each grain of rice is soft but distinguishable, and all have been infused with the meaty flavor of the chicken broth. The onions have virtually melted away, but they, along with the plump raisins, slightly caramelized carrots and sprinkling of cinnamon, add sweetness to the dish. Melded together, the spices are mild and almost impossible to tell apart, but I can detect a smoky finish – cumin, the likely culprit. A gentle tingling lingers in my mouth, the aromatic spices balancing the sweet notes. As expected, dry chunks of chicken stud the rice like land mines, but even they cannot ruin the otherwise perfect dish.
I deem this jaunt into Afghan cuisine a resounding success. I am surprised by how quickly my senses have taken to the unique flavors of the spice blend, by how comforting a good whiff of the complex aroma is. I begin to grasp the intricacies of Afghan cuisine and its varied influences – the sensations seem vaguely familiar and yet stimulatingly new; I recognize certain ingredients, terms and philosophies in the cuisine, and yet they are combined in a way that produces unfamiliar results. All this thinking is too much though, so I close my eyes, inhale deeply and savor slowly.
(1) Helene Cooper, “Fearing Another Quagmire in Afghanistan,” New York Times 24 Jan. 2009, 09 Feb. 2009 http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/25/weekinreview/25cooper.html?partner=permalink&exprod=permalink.
(2) Joshua Hammer, “The Mysteries of Kabul,” New York Times 21 Jan. 2007, 08 Feb. 2009 http://travel.nytimes.com/2007/01/21/travel/21kabul.html?partner=permalink&exprod=permalink.
(8) Sher Dil Qader, “Rice Pilaf with Lamb, Carrots and Raisins,” Gourmet, Oct. 2007, 09 Feb. 2009 http://www.gourmet.com/recipes/2000s/2007/10/rice_pilaf_with_lamb.
(10) “Kabul-Style Lamb and Rice Pilaf,” Saveur, Issue No. 109, 07 Feb. 2009 http://www.saveur.com/article/Food/Kabul-Style-Lamb-and-Rice-Pilaf.
(11) “Afghan cusine,” Wikipedia, 06 Feb. 2009 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afghan_cuisine.
i had leftover carrots, so i made carrot-apple-raisin-blueberry muffins for breakfast, loosely based on this recipe.