Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Magic of Fair Trade

See here for my good friend Andrew Slack's Huff-post on chocolate, fair trade, and Harry Potter. They go together better than you might think.

Also, just because this is my 666th post doesn't mean that I think Harry Potter is satanic.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Mimi and Me

See here for my Q&A on the Forward's food blog with former NYT restaurant critic Mimi Sheraton, who was a pleasure to speak with.

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Quote of the Day

From this NYT article:

"The end of the meal caused some confusion. A sweet custard seemed to conclude the meal, but it was followed by a salty sea slug topped with green chilies."

So that's where Calvin went: Chengdu.

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Neither Tea nor Food

I have evolution and selective breeding on the brain as I'm finally reading Guns, Germs and Steel, which answers all those questions you never thought to ask, like "Why didn't we domesticate zebras?" (Answer: they bite and don't let go.)

And so when I last took my dog to the field across the street from our new digs in Northampton, MA, I couldn't help but think the following: after thousands of years of survival of the fittest, learned behavior and so forth, dogs have scored an extremely secure niche in the human world. For proof, consider the (shameful) existence of cupcakes for dogs.

Formerly dogs had to be good hunters and guardians to earn a spot at the campfire, as well as the bones and scraps of the kill. But today's dog earns its keep by doing goofy stuff like this.

My dog Oli, the pinnacle of canine evolution, has perfected his meal ticket by perfecting his desirability in terms of companionship. Because who could answer "no" to the question so clearly posed by the above photo: won't you be my pal?

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Cinnamon-Chili Braised Brisket

There is only one word to describe the cinnamon-chili braised brisket I recently made: "uf."

Though I've used a Jewish word to describe it ("uf" is as Jewish a word as "Jewish"), this one was not cooked with tomato paste, carrots and the other accoutrements that so often accompany this cut of meat when served by members of the tribe. This brisket was a little smoky, a little spicy, a little sweet, and a lot delicious.

It was a Southwestern fantasy brisket, perfect for a day of watching Southwestern fantasy movies. My friends and I holed up for a Sergio Leone movie marathon, and as we've learned before, braised meats are a movie marathon's best friend; just thinking about it makes me want another pork butt pancake.

I like to think that I did for brisket what Leone did to the Western: I took something already very good, ignored genre, added some foreign flavor and weird music. So maybe I didn't add the music, but it did come in later.

Three days before I defrosted a three pound hunk of locally raised, grass fed beef, which by the way cost as much per pound as "natural" supermarket meat (about ten bucks). I believe that we should all be cutting down on our meat intake, but I also believe that there is nothing quite like an enormous piece of raw meat to stir one's blood. Quinoa just doesn't have the same effect on me.

As I prepared the meat my dog wandered in with a dazed look on his face, like he was getting a contact high from the aroma. I made him a little dog agua fresca by pouring the juices from the bag into his bowl.

Neither he nor I could leave the kitchen while the meat was around. I tasted a piece of it raw. I tasted a piece of it seared and unseasoned: pure cow. And then it disappeared for several hours into a dutch oven inside of a non-dutch oven. I could have done it in the crockpot, but this way the radiant heat from the oven would also warm the house, killing two birds (and one cow) with one stone.

For spices I used cinnamon, whole dried chiles and black peppercorns, chipotle powder, an absurd amount of cumin that still wasn't too much -- when have you ever thought "this has too much cumin?" -- some coconut sugar and cider vinegar that was still fermenting, so somewhere between cider and cider vinegar. It simmered with all of the above plus a little water and several seriously browned onions.

After a few hours in the oven-within-the-oven, the meat had become tender and the liquid, onion and spice mixture reduced to fantasy beef candy. I pulled the meat, keeping the strands as long as possible (I love brisket for that -- meat noodles) and put it back into the pot to marinate for another two days with all of the goodies.

During one of the Leone movies we reheated it and then ate it on slices of Iggy's with sprigs of cilantro and a little smoky bean dip I'd made as well.

And then the weird music did come in. It was the squealing of our ecstatic stomachs.


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Friday, November 5, 2010

Slow Food

Watch as much of this as you possibly can. If you can't handle it, skip to the three minute mark.

Sometimes you have to slow something down to realize how weird it is. For contrast, here's the original.

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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

I've Gone Soft

It's been said that life is what happens when you're making other plans, but I think that statement rings more true with a few tweaks: life is what happens only when you plan it.

When I was a touring sketch comic, life was interesting by default. A little too interesting, which is one of the many reasons I'm no longer on the road. Now most of my days are spent in front of the friendly little robot on which I'm currently typing (R.W. Apple called his "the piano"), and if I don't force myself to get up, get out and go stumbling around the woods just for kicks or for wild edibles, it doesn't happen.

Last Friday I was reflecting on how long it had been since I'd slept outside, and so Elise and I hastily factored in a camping excursion for that night. What I wanted was to scale a mountain with everything we needed on our backs, but that wasn't going to happen with only a few hours' notice, so we settled for car camping at a nearby state park. Of course campfire cooking would be part of the allure.

We arrived at dusk and barely had time to set up the tent and find firewood, so it was a good thing we didn't plan anything elaborate for dinner, else we wouldn't have eaten for hours. Instead we had burritos I bought that afternoon. We nestled them in the fire pit to warm up, protected by their aluminum second skins.

Breakfast the next day consisted of foraged tea -- hemlock, not to be confused with Plato's last beverage -- bacon cooked over the fire and eggs cooked in the bacon fat. Yeah, we went there.

Even though we had a cell phone and a car and were parked just off of a paved road that led back to civilization, the trip felt rough. It was cold, the ground was hard, and the dog kept waking up and shifting around throughout the night, and in a tent as small as ours it was impossible to not notice.

Also impossible to not notice was the howling wind and the howling coyote that got us up in the middle up of the night and made us wonder about whether the tent was a strong enough psychological barrier against predators, since it certainly wasn't much of a physical one.

In the morning I realized I'd been on edge since we got there, either because I was cold, busy coaxing flames out of damp wood, or just unused to unfamiliar surroundings. As the title of the post says, I've gone soft.

That's when I decided I had to turn things around. I took a swig of the bright, warm hemlock tea, straining the leaves out with my teeth, took off all of my clothes and jumped into the pond.

The air temp was in the 30's, and since there wasn't any ice on it I'm guessing the pond was in the 40's. I remember one instant of opening my eyes under the frigid, murky water, and it seemed that if I lingered any longer my head would implode from cold. I dried off with my pajama pants and sat on a piece of cardboard by the fire, watching my feet steam. Until then, I didn't know that feet could steam, and I wouldn't have learned that from sitting in the apartment watching Netflix.

As an 18th century Hassidic mystic once said, "Just as the hand, held before the eye, can hide the tallest mountain, so the routine of everyday life can keep us from seeing the vast radiance of and the secret wonders that fill the world. "

Just as a computer screen can hide from view the nearest state park, so can jumping into a freezing pond remind you why it's important to plan the good stuff.

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