Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Does Your Bacon Generate Electricity?

One of many reasons people become vegetarians is environmental concern; not only are forests cut down to create fields for raising livestock, but the emissions generated by livestock contributes to global warming. This article in the New York Times describes the way one farm in Sterksel, the Netherlands has dealt with the environmental impact of meat and dairy production:
That is why a group of farmers-turned-environmentalists here at a smelly but impeccably clean research farm have a new take on making a silk purse from a sow’s ear: They cook manure from their 3,000 pigs to capture the methane trapped within it, and then use the gas to make electricity for the local power grid.
I like that increasing awareness of environmental repercussions has lead to the development of creative and practical farming methods. I'd say "buy Dutch pork!" but the pollution generated by importing it would probably negate the pollution saved by the producers.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Vote Today!

David Lebovitz reminds us about voting and taxes:
We all hope to create a better world. I'd like to think most people would like to improve the quality of life for themselves, as well as others. Straddling two countries, I pay taxes in America (and France), which are part of my civic duty. I don't have kids, but I believe that by having a quality education, our young people will grown up to be better citizens. No one likes to pay taxes, but we're happy when we call 911, the police arrive. We're happy if there's a fire, the firemen arrive quickly. We're happy we have public libraries and schools, manned by people who are often unappreciated, but who work hard because they love and believe in what they're doing.
OBAMA for President.
NO on CA Props 4, 6, 8, & 9.

I am not sure what made me do it, but I made chocolate syrup before going to the polls this morning. It took about 20 minutes. I now have a pint of thick, not-too-sweet, delicious home-made chocolate syrup on my shelf. A report on that forthcoming, if the world is intact after this election.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Accidental Ricotta

I have been on a pancake kick lately. I like buttermilk pancakes but since I have to work with what I've got, I usually substitute regular milk that has been soured with vinegar for the buttermilk. Last night I heated some milk (as being at room temperature or slightly warm aids the souring process) and added apple cider vinegar to it, expecting it to just mix in. In a few moments, I realized that I had overheated the milk and the vinegar had begun to coagulate it.

For a moment, I didn't know what to do. Should I toss it out and try to sour another batch? Of course not. I put the lid on the jar that I had heated the milk in and shook it around, watching the small curds that were forming inside. Since the milk wasn't very hot to begin with, not very much cheese actually formed. I stowed the jar in the refrigerator and decided that I would still use it to make pancakes.

This morning I contemplated the jar again. I could see the curdy bits floating around ominously. I knew they'd be fine, but this was my first time experiencing the non way-past-its-expiration-date kind of curdled milk. Hesitantly, I used a fork to fish out a small sample of the curds and tasted it.

The vinegar flavor was strong, probably due to the lack of mixing, but the creamy texture of the cheese made me want to try more. For my next bite, I sprinkled a tiny bit of kosher salt on the curds. It was lovely and clean and the salt helped minimize the vinegar flavor.

I think I'll do it on purpose next time. Also, I had used 2% milk-- I know that this will be even better with whole milk.

I had always wanted to try to make ricotta at home, but it took a souring accident to make me believe I could actually do it. And this, this is why I love cooking: the happy and potentially delicious accidents.

Photo credit: Moritz*

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Attention Diverted

I haven't been posting much here because I've been diverting much of my writing focus to personal creative writing and to the blog I keep about life in Los Angeles: South of Downtown. I'm not going to shut down this blog, but my focus is diverted. As I get into a better rhythm, however, I'm hoping to begin posting here on a more regular (if not very frequent) basis. In the meantime, feel free to pay a visit my other blog!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Hilarity Ensues

Thank my friend Eric for linking me to these images from a Fabulously40.c0m article.

Strangely enough, he is neither 40 nor female, but he is fabulous.

These are but a few. There are many more at the original post!

So. Fabulous.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

New URL!

I've changed my Blogger URL to reflect my title-- please take note!

Apologies for any inconvenience this causes, I just thought it was about time to get rid of the confusing "groceryaddict" as my url while having The Grocery Fiend as my blog title.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Asian Steamed Sticky Rice Burrito

Forgive the less-than-artful title; there just isn't a more illustrative and concise way of describing this Southeast Asian creation. It is almost like an overgrown sushi roll, but I think of it as burrito because of its size. They consist of strips of pork belly, mung bean, and glutinous rice wrapped tightly inside banana leaves and steamed. I've seen ones that are humongous and square-shaped, but most are around eight inches long and two or three inches in diameter, depending on who makes them. (That sounds... funny.)

These "nuhm nsahm" (a phonetic spelling completely of my own fabrication) are ubiquitous on special occasions such as Lunar New Year, weddings, or my aunt's whim.

I don't really like them very much. I find them a bit on the bland side and the sticky twice-cooked texture of the rice doesn't really do anything for me...

when the very dense item is sliced and fried on both sides, to be consumed with soy sauce and Sriracha. That, ohhh, that is a completely different animal. Er, food.

Here's how the magic happens:

Monday, May 19, 2008

10 Uses for Condensed Milk

It's no secret that I love condensed milk. I will find any excuse to ingest it on any given day (and do, daily).

Ten ways to incorporate condensed milk into your daily intake:

1. Vietnamese-style coffee, preferably using Cafe du Monde ground coffee with Chicory

2. Drizzled over "Shredded Bite-size Wheats" cereal

3. Mixed into morning tea instead of milk & honey

4. Drizzled over torn baguette (note the drizzling pattern)

5. Drizzled over fruit and shaved ice (generally found at boba/pearl tea establishments like Guppy's)

6. Macaroni & cheese (I haven't tried this one yet but it sounds magical!)

7. Dulce de leche (Simmer an unopened can for 3 hours) on toast

8. My Pauper's pumpkin soup

9. Condensed milk fudge

10. Consume directly from spoon. There's no shame in it, really. I do it all the time.

Ironically, there is no condensed milk in my apartment right now because I polished off the last of it yesterday. Time to go to the bodega downstairs.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Please Excuse Me

I have been absent from my dear blog for weeks because of a combination of birthday events, travel, and general life-insanity. I am working on getting back into the blogging groove. This note is just to let my readers (yes, all three of you) know that I am still alive.

Also, in the spirit of letting this blog become more personal than I've let it be thus far...

A conversation this morning over AIM:

Me: i add condensed milk to my tea
Thomas: haha yes you would
Thomas: i'm convinced you run entirely off of sweet things
Me: 'tisn't true!
Thomas: Which fits my longtime theory that you are actually some fairy or spirit

Question: Are fairies/spirits really said to live off of sweets?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Where the Grub Comes From

I grew up thinking that everyone had a jungle of fruits and vegetables in their yards where their parents would go and get bits and pieces to prepare meals. Then I got a little bit older, and I thought that all Asian families did this. Eventually I realized that the sheer volume of things my parents grow isn't very common at all, and that my parents are amazing (and a little crazy).

Some snapshots of a few of the wonderful things they grow in their backyard:


The stuff that ends up in the Khmer version of scallion pancakes. It's pronounce "kuh-chai" and is sort of green-onion esque, but has thicker leaves and is not as sharp in flavor.

Chinese kale. I think.

The tenderest lettuce leaves you'll ever wrap around a spring roll.

Lemongrass. These will eventually grow into a chaotic jungle.

Lonely sugarcane. I think my dad might have planted these for a lark since I showed envy at the multitude of sugarcane in my aunt's backyard. (Yes, my aunt has this kind of yard, too. The whole family trades their respective bounty.)

Kaffir lime tree. I don't recall actually seeing any fruit on this tree, ever, though the leaves are used often in my mother's cooking. Her delicious, delicious cooking.

Dessert: tangerines! Or whatever variation of small orange citrus these are. They're tangy, and more sour than sweet, which is why I like them. One of my friends suggests that this means I must have a sour disposition. I don't think that's true. Jerk.

Things I left out: banana trees, a lime tree, pomegranate trees, persimmon trees, a guava tree, mint, and many other things for which I don't know the English names.

And this (along with lots of leftovers from family gatherings) is how I survive on $20-40/month for groceries.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Candlelight Cooking: Bacon, Beans, & Greens

It should be known that people who live alone tend to do weird things. We eat weird things, we prance around to music we generally don't admit to liking, we indulge our strange habits and idiosyncrasies because, well, who's going to say anything?

Unless, of course, you tell people about it. Which I am doing now.

One night, I arrived home with eyes exhausted from staring into a computer screen for too long and I couldn't bear the thought of turning on any lights, so I spent the evening using only candles to illuminate my apartment.

And thus, the title of this post is explained. Not that it wasn't self-explanatory.


Yes, that is a milk-crate doubling as a counter. I laid it on its side on top of another milk crate, creating a fairly efficient shelving system. I've since replaced it with scavenged furniture. That little cutting board is actually concave on the other side for use with a mezzaluna.


Everything just looks better by candlelight, doesn't it? Especially onions glistening in saved bacon grease. Who's afraid of a little bacon grease? Not me. Not even in the near-dark.

The two pans:

Baby bok choy on the left, kidney beans on the right. I added some of the bacon-flavored onions to the kidney beans, and both dishes are seasoned with red pepper flake and a tiny dash of oregano. You shouldn't leave your kettle on the stove like I do, it's bad for it.

Pre-rice bowl:

This was such a simple and satisfying meal that I think I've become addicted to the combination of beans and rice as a result. I'm sure the bacon-y goodness helped, too.

Cooking by candlelight was relaxing; my sense of time slowed down and I was more careful and attentive than usual. I'm also very appreciative of the convenience imparted by electric lights since there were a few moments when I was tempted to turn them on. I refrained for the sake of my tired eyes.

This was just one of my less-embarrassing, more-delicious weird moments. There are many more-embarrassing, less-delicious (to most) weird moments that are better left unspoken.

More bean-y reading:
  • Mark Bittman's beans & rice on Serious Eats
  • Wikipedia has a surprisingly long entry on the combination
  • The Amateur Gourmet post that probably planted the idea of beans & rice in my brain long ago

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Chicory is Essential, Apparently

I had been making Vietnamese-style coffee with a dark roast from Trader Joe's, and while it was good, there was just something missing. It didn't taste quite right: it didn't have the same mouthfeel or color as the coffee I had and loved in Cambodia and in Vietnamese restaurants here. Yesterday I decided to pick up a can of Cafe du Monde Coffee with Chicory, and, lo-and-behold, this morning's brew was exactly right.

In Wikipedia I trust (for more about chicory).

The process of making coffee this way is worth it. I love watching the condensed milk swirl up into the coffee from the bottom of the cup. It reminds me of mornings in Cambodia and late nights in pho restaurants.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Anything + Pasta + Broccoli = Satisfying Meal

(Apologies for my amateurish, horribly blurry photography)

The title of this post reflects my general philosophy about leftovers.

First, I should explain that
I am shameless about eating leftovers. Completely. I think I get this willingness to turn odds and ends into edible (and generally tasty) meals from my mother, who is a sorceress when it comes to inventing ways to avoid wasting food.

I have no problem making large batches of pasta to eat over the course of a few meals. I find that shells or macaroni are easier to cook, store, and re-serve than long pastas like spaghetti or fettuccine. The small pastas are also easier to incorporate with sauce and to scoop up in small portions. (This is important to me because I like to use small dessert-size utensils to eat my meals; this is probably because, contrary to what some might say, I have a relatively small mouth.

Also, pasta is very forgiving: as long as you treat it half-way decently, it doesn't much care whether you use a cream sauce, a tomato sauce, or just some butter and olive oil and simple adornments. The key is to cook the pasta to the proper level of doneness-- when it will be mixed with a luscious sauce, it should be cooked slightly less than a pasta that will simply be tossed with a little oil and a few ingredients.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Big Fish Eats Little Fish, Gets Sick--Starbucks Buys Clover

I'm not just a grocery fiend, I'm a coffee fiend as well.

Listening to National Public Radio on 89.3 KPCC this morning, I found out that Starbucks has purchased the Clover single-cup brewing system manufacturer. I have never tried Clover-brewed coffee, but I am still saddened that Starbucks bought it because it narrows the distribution of wealth even more.

It seems that the coffee leviathan is trying to regain its hip, cutting-edge "edge," which I think is a mistake. I just don't think that Starbucks is where we look for the hip and cutting-edge any more-- people who are looking for a coffee experience are going to independently-owned shops, not franchises, and I'm not sure using $10,000 Clovers is going to help.

Starbucks should have learned this after its acquisition of Diedrich's Coffee not only failed to prevent falling profit margins, but (at least for me) added to the evil-corporate-monopoly reputation that is the complete opposite of the counter-culture appeal it once had. It doesn't seem like a wise move to keep trying to do more rather than simply improve upon the services and products it is already providing. The purchase of Clover seems like nothing more than another step to dominate the coffee market, not a genuine move to better serve customers. They've become the McDonald's of the coffee world-- at least in terms of their products, as they treat their employees considerably better, from what I've heard.

Related coffee reading:

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Hezbollah Tofu: Veganizing Bourdain

I will admit that I am a not-entirely-shameless fan of Anthony Bourdain's smoking, swearing, bad-habit-and-filthy-manners- revelling style, and I am far from vegan, but I still think Hezbollah Tofu is an awesome idea.

Tired of Bourdain's oppressively vehement stance and abusive tirades against vegetarianism and veganism, the folks at Hezbollah Tofu have created "A Bourdain-Veganizing Collective" which will
enjoy vastly improved, veganized versions of [his] masturbatory, blood-oozing recipes. And then we're going to compile them, sell them in zine form, and donate the proceeds to vegan outreach organizations and farm sanctuaries--in [his]name. Anthony, I have to say, I'm really looking forward to the great work we're going to do together for veganism.

I'm by no means vegetarian or vegan, and I have to admit that some of the food I enjoy falls into that "masturbatory, blood-oozing" category, but I appreciate what Hezbollah Tofu is doing.

The audacity of the mission is, in a word, delicious. With the culinary creativity that veganism engenders, I'm sure the food will be, too.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Fruit Mark Twain & I Both Love

This fruit goes by many names: cherimoya, soursop, custard apple, strangealiendeathfruit. My love for cherimoyas is perhaps more intense than my love for mangoes, though less ardent than my love for the available-in-Asia-only mangosteen. (Ah, mangosteen--distance truly makes the heart, and stomach, grow fonder.)

These are widely available in ethnic supermarkets in Southern California; I'm not sure how available they are elsewhere. The one pictured above is actually from my grandmother's backyard. In stores, they range in size from as large as a three-year-old's head to the size of an adult's fist. A ripe cherimoya will usually be dark green (though this is dependent on the variety), have a loosening stem, and give to the touch in much the same way as an avocado. They can ripen on the counter but can also develop bruised and unappetizing spots inside the flesh if left for too long.

Mark Twain claimed that the cherimoya is "deliciousness itself!" and I can't help but agree. When a perfectly ripe specimen is sliced open and the luminous white flesh glistens with its juices, it's a moment to behold, akin to that of witnessing a sunrise or getting to third-base for the first time. I usually cut it into wedges and peel back the skin using my fingers or a knife, and sink my teeth in. The flesh of a good cherimoya is, as one of its names indicates, custard-like, with just a touch of fibrousness that reminds you that it actually is, in fact, a fruit. They can be sublimely sweet but I prefer them when they are still on the firm and tangy side. I particularly love the membrane that surrounds each seed. Yes, I'm weird, and yes, this fruit does involve the dreaded spitting-out-of-seeds process-- believe me, it's worth it.

, how it's worth it.

More cherimoya links:

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Leftover Crab, Part Deux: Crab Fried Rice

Ah, the fate of the rest of the leftover crab:

I could not pass up the opportunity to make crab fried rice-- it's one of those dishes I always order at a Thai or other Asian restaurant that always seems promising but often ends up with a disappointing crab-to-rice ratio. This would not be the case in my version.

The adventure in crab fried rice entailed:
  • A solid half-hour (probably closer to 45 minutes) of breaking shells and picking at tiny cavities for every last morsel of crab meat.
  • Sautéeing of diced carrots, then onions in butter (yes, butter). The carrots ended up being slightly more than slightly burned, but I happen to enjoy the flavor of carbonized carrot, so no harm done, just some dignity lost.
  • Addition of cooked white rice, a tiny sprinkle of cumin, some white pepper, salt, and some of my mother's magical garlic dipping sauce for a balancing sweetness
  • Once the rice took on some color from the carrots and seasonings, I added the crab and scallions (sliced on the bias), and cooked through just a minute or two longer.
I would have liked to use curry powder in my recipe, but somehow the simplicity of all of the ingredients worked wonderfully. It tasted even better the next day for lunch at work than when it was completely fresh-- I couldn't stop eating it and ended up having it for dinner, lunch, then dinner. Addictive, it was.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Repost: Take a Good Look at the Diet of Each Country

An interesting series of photos that appeared in a MySpace bulletin today:

Take a Good Look at the Diet of Each Country

Italy: The Manzo family of Sicily

Food expenditure for one week: 214.36 Euros or $260.11

Germany: The Melander family of Bargteheide

Food expenditure for one week: 375.39 Euros or $500.07

United States: The Revis family of North Carolina (I really hope most American
families eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and less junk food than this family.)

Food expenditure for one week $341.98

Mexico: The Casales family of Cuernavaca

Food expenditure for one week: 1,862.78 Mexican Pesos or $189.09

Poland: The Sobczynscy family of Konstancin-Jeziorna

Food expenditure for one week: 582.48 Zlotys or $151.27

Egypt: The Ahmed family of Cairo

Food expenditure for one week: 387.85 Egyptian Pounds or $68.53

Ecuador: The Ayme family of Tingo

Food expenditure for one week: $31.55

Bhutan: The Namgay family of Shingkhey Village

Food expenditure for one week: 224.93 ngultrum or $5.03

Chad: The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp

Food expenditure for one week: 685 CFA Francs or $1.23

"Society comprises two classes: those who have more food than appetite, and those who have more appetite than food." ~ Sébastien-Roch Nicholas de Chamfort

The contrast between foods consumed by families in each country and the amount of money spent is certainly something to think about-- worth noting is how dominant processed foods are on the American table compared to others. I fear that this is not an exaggeration.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Leftover Crab, Part One: Crab Salad Sandwich

The closest thing to crab salad that I ever encountered before making it myself was the "Seafood Spread" sold in quart-size tubs at Costco, which I recall containing more "Krab" than anything else.

After spending a tedious half-hour or so painstakingly picking the crab from the main cavity and from just two of the legs, I added to the meat:
  • olive oil
  • red wine vinegar
  • kosher salt
  • black pepper
  • dried oregano
  • dash cayenne
  • tiny bit of dijon
  • green onions (sliced on the bias)
The flavor of the extra virgin olive oil I used was a bit overpowering at first but I remedied that by adding a touch more vinegar. Tweaking is the key to cooking. I enjoyed my first-ever crab salad on burnt toast. I should probably invest in a toaster instead of using my below-the-oven broiler.

I used only about a third of the leftover crab I had for the salad-- the fate of the rest is coming up.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

My Parents, My CSA

For a grocery fanatic/addict/fiend, I don't actually buy groceries very often, I know.

This is why:If my parents didn't have such a prolific garden in their backyard and if my mother didn't insist on creating little care baskets like this for me whenever I visit, I'd be able to give Community Services Unlimited my business in addition to my volunteer hours.

In this basket:
  • green onions
  • a single Spanish onion
  • tiny, whole, dried chiles
  • homemade pickled greens
  • 2 100-Calorie "Snack Packs"
  • oranges
  • a Fuji apple
And leftovers from this meal:

Between the produce and the prepared food, it is difficult to justify purchasing anything other than a head of lettuce here, some bacon there, the odd tomato or avocado.

I have to admit, my entry-level-non-profit-administrative-employee budget appreciates this immensely despite any culinary limitations I end up facing by constantly making sure I use up these gifts.

Feed yourself (more information):
  • Watch Alton Brown talk about and disassemble Dungeness crabs
  • What's a CSA? A good thing.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Shrimp Tacos & Messy Fingers

It all began with this recipe from the Pioneer Woman. She does a spicy broiled shrimp that is drowning in butter, hot sauce, pepper, and lemon. I happened to have limes and was inspired to eat the shrimp in tacos. (I've been eating mostly rice and pasta for weeks and a change of carbohydrate was in order. A diverse diet is a happy diet. A happy diet is a happy human. A happy human is a happy universe. A happy universe is happy.)

In the beginning, there were shrimp. De-veined with the shells on. I left the heads in the pan to add flavor to the final juices that I'd end up soaking up with tortillas. Crustacean brains are delicious.

In the pan:
  • 7 large shrimp
  • 1 tablespoon of butter, cubed (it might be just slightly more than 1-- use your best judgment)
  • Juice of 1.5 limes
  • kosher salt
  • many grinds of black pepper
I didn't have all of the components for a proper pico de gallo, but enough of them to fake it. It came close enough. I chopped:
  • 1/2 of a jalapeno
  • 1/2 of a plum tomato (had to conserve, only bought one!)
  • 1/4 of a small onion
I mixed these with the juice of another lime. Bless my parents for their prolific lime tree, for I am rarely without.

The shrimp were done after about 7 and 1/2 minutes under the broiler, a flip half-way through. Some were a bit more charred than the others and their shells had crisped enough to eat without peeling. Almost.

I got into a shrimp-peeling and taco-assembling groove and devoured it all in one sitting.

The consumption of this meal required only two or three paper towels. I am quite proud of myself for that.

To be honest, though, I am not a huge fan of shrimp tacos; the only seafood tacos I wholeheartedly, helplessly enjoy are the fish tacos from Los Cotijas on Euclid and Chapman in Garden Grove, California. That place has rendered me incapable of enjoying any other fish taco. Do not go to this place unless 1) you are visiting from way down south where "Ensenada Style" fish tacos are just called "fish tacos," or 2) you don't mind being disappointed by every fish taco you taste thereafter. Perhaps you will not be as blown away by them as I am -- it's your risk to take. Just don't come crying to me when Rubio's and Wahoo's tacos taste like bland mush afterward.

A guide for those who will venture there despite my warning (or because of it):

  1. Order only one fish taco, and the beverage of your choice. Do not order more than one at a time; these are at their absolute best when they are so hot that you can barely hold them. If you are still hungry after the first one, you can always go order another. Trust me on this, please.
  2. Be generous with the salsa from the squeeze bottle. I also like to squeeze more on each bite as I eat, but I'm a fiend.
  3. Once you pick the taco up, you've made a commitment. Putting the taco down will likely confuse and frustrate you as you attempt to pick it back up. Forget about using the taco hand again until you have consumed the entire taco.
  4. After consuming the taco, sit for a moment. Contemplate what you've just done, what you've just eaten, and whether you really want another. If you conclude that yes, you are still hungry, repeat steps 1 through 3.
  5. These tacos are great to-go, but you are doing a grievous disservice to yourself if you do not eat it for the first time fresh and hot inside the restaurant.
If you go, please take me with you.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Accidental Truffle

Disclaimer: This post by no means advocates the celebration of St. Valentine's Day through the conspicuous consumption of chocolate.

It does, however, present an excellent way to do it if you so choose.

Chocolate truffles are a decadent and satisfying dessert, and are also ridiculously easy to make. A homemade truffle may not match a confection from Jacques Torres (whose website background alone makes me salivate), but they will most certainly be a lusciously different experience than a mass-produced Lindor truffle.

I stumbled into making my first chocolate truffle by accident: I had made a sinful little pot of hot chocolate that I will now shamelessly admit was actually just slightly-thinned ganache. I drank part of the batch and, sated, stored the rest in the refrigerator. A few hours later, I discovered my chocolate libation had solidified. I took a tea spoon and dragged it through the surface of chocolate for a taste.

As the spoonful creamily melted and spread over my tongue, I knew that I had to make truffles, even if they would be too soft-- if I didn't, I ran the risk of consuming another entire mug-full of cold "hot chocolate" in one sitting. For the sake of my health and my dignity, I had to implement portion control.

I used the teaspoon and my hands to make approximately eight to ten small truffles, rolling them each gently in cocoa. They were rustic, misshapen, and absolutely wonderful.

I don't have a truffle recipe of my own to share since neither a bar of chocolate nor a pint of cream have ever again stuck around my kitchen together long enough for truffles to happen, but here are a few folks who do have recipes:
Photo credit: chocolate monster mel

Monday, February 11, 2008

Memory: With Our Fingers at Earth Cafe

I am reading Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone, and Phoebe Nobles' essay "Asparagus Superhero" triggered an old gastronomic memory.

During my third year at UC Irvine, a couple of my food-enthusiast friends introduced me to the Earth Cafe, an independent shop tucked away in a strip mall next to Ralphs on University & Michelson. Its neighbors included a pho restaurant, an IHOP, and a Korean barbecue restaurant. The cafe served luscious fresh-fruit and yogurt smoothies as well as a variety of vegan baked goods. As a staunch omnivore, I wasn't sure that I'd be at all interested in a place that would deny me butter in my pastries--and I wasn't. I was won over by the tropical "Fatbuster" smoothie, made with fresh papaya, pineapple, honey, and lemon.

My friend Joanne was particularly fond of the place and went often enough to be acquainted with the owner, Alen. One lazy, warm afternoon, Alen came out of the kitchen and sat near our textbook-strewn table with a plate of steamed asparagus. Instead of studying, we talked with him; I can't remember what it was about, probably something relating to our futures and what we were planning to do with the rest of our lives after the glorious years of college were over. That's really irrelevant now. What I remember is Alen eating those fat, end-of-the-season asparagus stalks with lemon-pepper salt, and offering it to us.

We took the cold stalks, dipped them into the little pile of salt, ate them with our fingers. Alen would periodically dip his licked finger directly into the salt to deposit more in his mouth. Two things startled me: the fact that the asparagus was overcooked, and the intimacy of the insanitary double-dip we were sharing with Alen. Something loosened in me since then and I am less fussy when sharing food casually. I also learned that it's very hard to ruin an asparagus tip.

I called to see if the cafe is still there and was greeted by the ominous operator's I'm sorry, the number you have dialed has been disconnected.

Photo credit: Itsjustanalias

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Tip: PB & J Plus C

One of the realities of living on a tight budget is the simultaneous joy and sense of hopelessness that comes from sustaining oneself on the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

A PB & J on its own is generally satisfying, but it's nice to take a hint from the "gourmet peanut butter" people like P.B. Loco and make things just a little bit more interesting:

  • Add a dash of cinnamon (or cayenne if you're feeling more adventurous).
  • Toast the bread on only one side: this adds some integrity to it, making it easier to spread on the PB, and it also creates more texture and flavor
Transportable, easily assembled, and cheap--armed with one of these during a trek through the city, I'm able to stave off the urge to spend money on a snack.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Shopping Report

Today I bought:

  • 1 avocado, 1 plum tomato, 1 jalapeno, and 3 dozen tortillas
  • Total: $3.20 (I have no idea what the breakdown is, I just trust the cashier at my bodega.)
I have to be careful about these little impulse buys for dinner-- they could add up and throw my budget out of whack. In a way, it was a necessary purchase... I had some shrimp in the refrigerator and I just couldn't imagine having them with rice or pasta per usual. Instead, I made this:

The recipe is forthcoming.

Feed yourself more (information):

Is Cheap Meat Worth It?

The following video is from the Human Society website and is extremely graphic. I strongly advise against watching it if you are weak of heart or stomach.

The footage captures dairy cows too sick to walk being shocked, beaten, and terribly abused at the Hallmark Meat Packing Company in Chino, California. The men are torturing them to get them to stand because US law prohibits the slaughter of cows that are too sick to stand or walk on their own: such cows heighten the risk of mad cow disease and E. Coli entering the food supply. "Downed" dairy cows are supposed to be humanely euthanized-- these cows are being taken to be slaughtered.

In one instance, a cow is being led to slaughter that "has been lying in manure for hours."

As if it weren't enough that these sick animals are being tortured or that they will be fed to people, but they are to be fed to children: this slaughterhouse provides meat to the second largest supplier of ground beef to the National School Lunch Program, Westland Meat Company.

A number of wider issues can be extracted from this appalling news:
  • In our hunger for affordable meat, what costs to our health are we incurring?
  • There is an obvious problem with the agribusiness industry: how can we change it to make sustainable and humane farming more profitable?
  • How can a school lunch program be effective if it provides such low-quality food?
  • We know which kids from which schools in which neighborhoods end up eating this food-- this is not only an animal rights issue but a social justice issue.
I have never seriously considered becoming a vegetarian and I'm not sure if I will ever reach that point. However, I do consider the origins of the meat I buy and seek alternatives whenever I can. This could be part of the reason why the bacon I bought last night was the first meat that I've purchased from a grocery store in weeks. I will not be a hypocrite and say that everyone should go out and buy only organic, grass-fed, free-range, sustainably-farmed everything-- that's just not fiscally feasible for many, many people, myself included-- but I do believe it is important to maintain a consciousness regarding these issues, even if we cannot always act upon them.

More information:

Shopping Report

Today I bought:

  • Bimbo-brand whole-wheat bread: $ 1.99
  • Ralphs 2% Milk: 1.89
  • Ralphs Thick Sliced Bacon: 4.39
  • Total: $ 8.27
As sparse as it may seem, this is actually a luxurious list for me. I could easily go weeks eating rice, noodles, and pasta, and bacon isn't a usual staple in my kitchen. Still, bacon-- ohhh, bacon-- is among my greatest gastronomic weaknesses. I've not had bacon at home for months now, and it was about time to treat myself to some homemade BLTs, if only to avoid succumbing to a moment of weakness and paying six dollars for one from a restaurant. I've been neglecting to buy milk lately, and having it again means that I'll be making creamy steel-cut oatmeal, soothing milky tea, and will have the proper accompaniment to a PB&J. I'll also be getting some more Vitamin D in me in case the sunny weather we've been having hasn't helped me synthesize enough.

Feed yourself more (information):

Friday, February 08, 2008

Pauper's Pumpkin Soup

After neglecting this blog for two years of insanity at university, I find that I once again have the time and energy to post my culinary antics again. I am now a college graduate who is two months into the terrible reality of repaying student loans. I'm reviving Grocery Fanatic in order to record the culinary creativity that comes from empty pockets and good-natured gastronomic desperation.


Since I'm trying to save as much money as possible, I've been forcing myself to really use up all of the odds and ends that my mom piles onto me when I visit instead of going out and buying lots of groceries-- I did, however, have to go to the market downstairs to fetch a couple of onions for my pantry.

Two weeks ago my mom gave me a tiny pumpkin from my aunt's garden. I think I was supposed to steam it with a chunk of palm sugar on top (which she also gave me), but instead I decided to make pumpkin soup.

So here's what what I had in my kitchen:

  • Diced and sauteed half of an onion in a tablespoon of butter, with a half-pinch of kosher salt until softened.
  • Added some diced ham to the pan and cooked over medium-low heat.
  • Laboriously split, seeded, and peeled the small pumpkin, chopped it into 3/4" chunks, and added it to the pot.
  • Allowed everything to cook together, stirring occasionally, for eight or ten minutes, added a tiny dash of cinnamon, a few grates of fresh nutmeg, a few grinds of black pepper, a half-pinch of red pepper flake.
  • Once the pumpkin was soft enough to partially mash with a spoon, I added a can of chicken broth + a 1/2 can of water.
  • Simmered everything over low heat for about thirty minutes while I ate rice with leftover roast pork. (Thank you, Lunar New Year feasting!)
  • Used a potato masher on the already-falling-apart pumpkin, then realized that pumpkin soup just has to be pureed, unless it's a component in one of the Asian soups my mom makes.
  • Pureed the hot soup in the blender, half at a time, holding the top with a cloth.
  • Tasted it, decided to add-- yes-- about 1/3 cup of condensed milk to the entire batch. Lovely. Trust me.
Ingredients break-down:
  • 1 small pumpkin (about 1.5-2 lbs)
  • 1/2 medium onion
  • 1/3 c condensed milk
  • ~4 oz ham (will cut back on this next time)
  • 1 14-oz can chicken broth
  • 7 oz water
  • ground cinnamon
  • fresh nutmeg
  • red pepper flake
  • salt & pepper
I would break down the cost of this soup but it was virtually free considering I would have most of the ingredients around anyway. I did have to pick up onions, though, which came out to 70 cents.

Ah, soup-- cheap, delicious, (generally) nutritious, and perfect for the winter.