Tuesday, February 23, 2010

recommended reading

I don't write much about food-related ethical issues here, largely because I suspect I'd be preaching to the converted — if you're a regular reader you're not coming here for tips on how to fancy up frozen factory-farm chicken fingers, and you are probably well aware that self-actualized chickens do not in fact have fingers. If you are a NYC reader we may have even unknowingly elbowed each other at a farmers' market while reaching for the same bundle of local greens. Another reason is that I think these issues are better served when they're covered by people dedicated to news-gathering and to journalistic writing, people like the ones who contribute to The Ethicurean. Nonetheless I want to urge you to read this extract from Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals in today's Guardian.

click here to go to the article

It's about fish (both factory farmed and wild-caught) and fish tend to get overlooked when people talk about how or why they do or do not eat animals. Lots of people say they are "basically vegetarian but eat fish." Sometimes I've been one of those people. Increasing numbers of meat-eaters seem to be paying attention to which varieties of fish they prefer in terms of sustainability, but the yes or no decision whether to eat any fish at all seldom gets discussed in newspapers. It's worth reading and thinking about, and this concise extract is a great place to start.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

exactly what you've been looking for

Even when this blog is dormant, there is a small but steady stream of new readers: people who've gone searching for something else entirely and ended up here. StatCounter tells me so.  I always enjoy seeing what brought them here and which particular page they landed on, and wondering how they may have responded to what they found. Sometimes I've written about just what they were looking for, but to my frustration some of the most common search terms lead people to things I wrote back when hardly anyone was reading and I was still sorting out what I was doing. (What to do with a cast iron cookie mold is always popular, for example, which makes me wish I'd been more thorough at the time; I've always wanted this site to be more of a cook's journal than an instruction manual, but I think I'm capable of striking a better balance now). Anyhow, some of my favorite internet discoveries have been the things I stumbled over on my way to something else, and I like to think some of these people enjoyed and/or were completely bewildered by their rest stop here. The following are some of the search terms that led readers here:

  • "why are there more snails on rainy days": Poor kid, just wanted to know why snails like rain and instead found some vintage cookbook instructions on how to get them good and stoned in advance of killing and eating them. For the record, my guess is that snails like rain because it keeps their slimy parts slimy. Twice now I have found tiny snails in my farmers' market lettuce, and I kept them in a dish with some damp lettuce to munch or hide under until I could take them down to the community garden and liberate them. They seemed happy with these arrangements. 

  • "how to pronounce deviled eggs":  Dee-viled eggs. No matter what the other picnic-goers tell you, the -viled sounds just like wild, but with a v. You're welcome. 

  • "what did the Aztecs eat": In addition to the Aztec hot chocolate pudding I once wrote about, they also ate lots of maize and peyote, and they chewed on the noses of their enemies, which they stored in vessels like this after all the flavor had gone out:

    little round man

    If you use this information or the photo in your report, be sure to credit me. Your teacher will want to know where it came from. 

  • "man-pleasing recipes": Oh, lady! You are invited to come over and listen to Patti Smith records with me. I'll bake some special brownies just for the occasion and you can take the leftovers back to your men-folk. 

  • "how to season canned corn": I was trying to be light-hearted and here we are in a dark place. I haven't eaten canned corn since I was a child and I can't understand why anyone who has any say about what's set in front of them (i.e., anyone but prisoners, children, and the infirm) would eat it voluntarily. If my memory is correct, no matter what you season it with it's still going to taste like the can it came out of, with notes of the dingy-looking water that it sat soaking in for months. Frozen costs about the same and the texture is much better. Somewhere in my archives there's a great Madhur Jaffrey recipe for corn but it's so easy you don't even really need it: sauté the corn with grated fresh ginger (at least a rounded teaspoon, more if you like) and minced green chile pepper (to taste) in a little butter or oil, just until it's starting to brown in spots. Then salt & pepper to taste. If you've got cumin seeds, sizzle a teaspoon or so of those in the butter or oil just before you add the other ingredients. I've only ever made this with fresh corn but I'm sure frozen would be ok. Sort of ok. More ok than canned, definitely. 

  • "where does the world's skinniest cow live": This seeker ended up on my post about pancakes for the skinniest skinnies. I'd never thought about the world's skinniest cow and now it worries me a little. Wherever it lives, I really hope it is not subject to the lurid gaze of too many admirers. I also hope it's not feeling faint due to some silly crash diet or other deprivation. 

  • "walker brothers blueberry pancake recipe": This person ended up on that same post because I mentioned Scott Walker in it. I would LOVE to have a pancake recipe from him and I would politely feign interest in John and Gary's too. (They probably all have different ones because they weren't really brothers, you know . . . ). In the meantime I use the recipe I wrote about here. 

  • "tiny bookshops cooking": I, too, would like to know what the people who run tiny bookshops cook to fortify themselves for doing battle with Amazon. I would even buy a cookbook on the subject. My favorite neighborhood bookshop is St. Mark's Bookshop, which isn't exactly tiny but it's not very big. The people who work there probably cook up some interesting stuff because there are two Japanese grocery stores very close by and East Village Cheese is right across the street. I am guessing that a lot of tiny bookshop cooking is inspired by the shop's surroundings that way. 

  • "chance of receiving rare tiny plastic from lucky surprise eggs": The odds are probably against you, so it would be interesting to know how many you've opened thus far.

  • "why won't my pie crust recipe work anymore": I haven't written about pie crust much. I'm pretty content to not reinvent the wheel with the basics so I turn to my cookbooks when I want to make some. Tamasin Day-Lewis is particularly good, so check out her books on both pies and tarts. Maybe your wrists and fingers are to blame?

    Handling pie crust too much will toughen it but that's all the more reason to be mindful of dexterity and remain limber. Is it possible that you mixed up your flour and used bread or cake flour rather than all-purpose flour? Different flours have different levels of protein in them and some even have leaveners already added. Even the same type of flour can vary depending on where it's grown, when the wheat was harvested, etc. If you are buying store-brand flour, local preferences might be something to think about too. It's possible that the flour you're using lately doesn't have the same properties as the ones you've used in the past. Take your reading glasses when you go shopping for flour and do the finger and wrist exercises above while you are reading the labels, and again when you're ready to make pie. People will think you are a very serious baker, to the point that they might even overlook the flaws in your pie crust.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

a question about Valentine candy

Which is more exciting, cheap n' nasty or luxurious and tasteful? The more expensive stuff tastes better, of course, and its ingredients won't make a lab rat of you, but that doesn't stop the cheapest of the cheap from being a vulgar little thrill every once in a while, highly unnatural colors, acrid tastes, crinkly wrappers and all. Here's to a heap of candy hearts and daft dimestore lips.

Clicking on these photos will take you right to the goods.

wax lips Bluestocking Bonbons Raspberries de Pizan

red wax lips vs. Bluestocking Bonbons Rasperries de Pizan (made with NY State raspberries, organic fair trade chocolate and other great stuff, named after a 15th century Venetian feminist);

squishy Peeps hearts Woodhouse Chocolate Hearts & Domes Box

squishy Peeps hearts vs. Woodhouse Chocolate Hearts & Domes Box (which includes, among other things, hearts flavored with saffron, rose-water and cinnamon and domes flavored with passionfruit);

ring pop Ladurée Langues de Chat cookies

ring pop vs. Ladurée Langues de Chat cookies;

Pop Rocks Payard Pop Rocks truffles

Pop Rocks vs. Payard Pop Rocks chocolate truffles (which also have champagne in them, so you can go out with a bang Mikey-style);

Valentine Pez Vosges Haut-Chocolat Gatsby Collection

Pez vs. Vosges Haut-Chocolat's Gatsby Collection (things didn't go very well for him and Daisy but let's not dwell on that...);

candy straws for candy snortin' Bond Street Chocolate tequila ganache bonbons

candy straws for candy snortin' (although who knows what generic Pixy Stix are cut with these days...) vs. Bond Street Chocolate tequila ganache bonbons (infused with Herradura Blanco);

choco lips Maison du Chocolat heart-shaped box

cheapo choco lips vs. Maison du Chocolat's heart-shaped box (dibs on the Bacchus piece, which is dark chocolate ganache, flambé grapes and rum);

grape/strawberry Nerds Bluestocking Bonbons pink box

grape/strawberry Nerds vs. Bluestocking Bonbons pink box (raspberry-balsamic chocolate truffles, also coriander-beet, fennel-apple, and pomegranate-rose petal... like the other pick from this chocolatier, vegan and impeccably sourced);

rainbow heart lollies Mast Brothers Chocolate bars

rainbow heart lollies vs. Mast Brothers Chocolate bars (a variety of flavors available individually via the link above, or a lovely stack of all flavors directly from the chocolate-makers here)

Smarties hearts Woodhouse Chocolate filled hearts

Smarties hearts vs. Woodhouse filled chocolate hearts (how to choose among red ones of milk or dark chocolate with caramel and fleur de sel, Claddagh ones with dark chocolate truffle, and floral ones of milk or dark chocolate with elderflower, orange blossom or jasmine tea?)

Chupa Chupa pops strawberry swirl pop

Chupa Chupa pops vs. handmade strawberry swirl pop.

{Minor update: I re-arranged the contents of this post a bit after I published it. My apologies if it shows up in your in-box or your feed reader with twice twice the candy candy.}