Wednesday, June 27, 2012

your blogger-powered stock pot and messy love life

One of the reasons I started blogging here again — the major one — is that it's a welcome distraction from health issues I've been struggling with for more than a year now. The problem with this, naturally, is that struggling with health issues often doesn't leave me with enough energy to do the actual blogging part; it's far more conducive to lying around, reading detective novels, and thinking about things I'll blog about when I'm feeling up to it. There is, however, at least a bit of amusement to be found regardless of whether I'm posting as frequently as I want to be or not, and that is my relentlessly weird search stats, the words and phrases that led readers (and harrumphing, chin-stroking, that's-not-it-at-all non-readers) here to my blog. I've written about this before, a couple years ago, but there are always new and unexpected delights among the prosaic "types of cucumbers" and "watermelon close up" searches. Such as:
  • "gonads smear in clams": I'm pretty nonjudgmental about people's private adventures but this sounds like a messy and terribly anti-climactic waste of clams to me. 
  • "tartar's lips": Surely this person has mixed up the Cream of Tartar in their baking-supplies cabinet with the native peoples of west- and central-Russia, but there is nonetheless something romantic about their confusion. I like to think they were (and still are) looking for a particular Tatar's lips they once caught a glimpse of and are desperately hoping to see again, even if it requires hours and hours of fruitless image searching. Captivating lips are hard to find and encountering a pair of them can be as memorable and as ruinous as a Mongol invasion, so I wish this person the best of luck.

I don't know where the sexy, brooding Tatar lips are, sorry.

  • "sasha frere jones quinoa recipe": A quietly effective way to mess with a food blogger's head. The thought that I might be a pawn in some sort of insidious viral marketing campaign to launch this guy's new career as a protein diet guru annoys me, but what annoys me more is the thought that if SF-J does have a quinoa recipe, I might write about it here. Because in actuality I probably wouldn't be able to resist having a dig at it. The fact that I don't even really like quinoa makes me a little uncomfortable about that. Fucking hell. I fear that my overweening squeamishness about debasing myself could be contagious, too, because I had to search for this one myself to see whether there is such a thing.
  • "stock pot / soup kettle 'powered by blogger'": This really isn't a big deal because Google only makes you do it for the first month. No one bothered me about it when I returned from my big hiatus and I just assumed they don't eat a lot of soup in their famous cafeteria. I signed a non-disclosure agreement that prevents me from depicting the proprietary hardware, but check this out and you'll get the idea:

  • Blogger-powered stock pots are stirred much like this.

  • "mark e. smith eating habits": This must've popped up after I'd written that first foodmusic post. The older I get the more I appreciate not knowing too much about people, and I'm more interested in knowing what other people think MES eats vs. what he actually eats. So far readers commenting here think he probably eats a lot of fruit and seafood and I don't disagree; I suggested a cockle conspiracy myself.
  • "paintings of great banquets": I'd like to see these too, especially depictions of the moment Jeffrey Hudson was presented to King Charles and Queen Henrietta Maria inside of a venison pie in 1628. He lived with them for the next eighteen years so he must've made quite an impression. Perhaps the lack of paintings of this event reflects a sense that 17th-century banquets were a snooze compared to the great banquets of the past; historian Linda Stradley writes that a 14th-century banquet for the Duke of Burgundy, for example, featured a pie with twenty eight musicians inside, plus "a captive girl representing the 'captive' Church in the Middle East." (This raises another possible reason for a dearth of great banquet paintings, beside the food spoilage problem: no one wanted to be captured for posterity while sweaty, disheveled, and wearing bits of pastry in their hair).

Jeffrey Hudson and Queen Henrietta Maria in a duller moment
from Wikipedia; Hudson's memorial from My[confined]Space.

  • "what kind of sauce did christine callahan use on her eggs in 'lucky jim'": Food descriptions in novels tend to stick with me for years but I didn't remember this and had to look it up. By "look it up" I mean rapidly flip through the book waiting for mentions of food to jump out at me, which they always do, the same way potentially dirty bits do. Stray toast crumbs, a bit of Alpine cheese idly unwrapped on a train, or a plate of kippers pushed to the periphery of a breakfast scene will catch my eye as reliably as an aereola, or a junior member of an orchestra nervously fingering his instrument while waiting for a more important character to arrive. Anyhow, the relevant scene in Lucky Jim is this one, fairly early in the book. Christine, you may recall, becomes the Love Interest, and for this reason I believe her sauce must be HP sauce. Because only savages put ketchup on their eggs.

      • "can you eat raw enoki mushrooms cooked": It feels deeply unfair that this question should tip me towards existential crisis while the person who needed an answer appears to have been untroubled by the deeply troubling aspects of its nature.
        • "things gatsby would associate with daisy": Someone had a paper due! But someone always has a paper due, so to answer this using only things that have appeared on my blog, I will point to the sea-side clam cakes from April, 2010. In the right context they're a very real pleasure but you can't take them out of that context and expect anything other than disappointment. It may seem worth the risk, but disappointment can be more hurtful than you ever would have thought because it has a way of spreading itself around and reaching into the parts of the past you'd most like to keep it away from. You shouldn't try to analyze meals like this within their context either, because they're simply not about ingredients or technique or any sort of methodology, and you probably shouldn't even spend much time remembering them in the off-season because pleasures can get so distorted that way. This sounds very depressing and indeed it is, but if you can connect it all up for your teacher I'm sure you'll get an A. Or at least a B+.
        • "weather ganache recipe bonbons": Anyone who has ever worked with ganache knows the value of doing ganache stuff in an air-conditioned kitchen. So maybe this person was searching for a recipe for bonbons filled with weather rather than a magic formula for controlling ganache in miserably hot conditions. There aren't a lot of genuinely weird flavors left in the dessert world these days — lemon, banana and priprioca ravioli? ho hum — but I think weather has been relatively unexplored. Wet gravel after a summer storm, for example, is as distinctive a scent as any other, and a creative, hard-working chocolatier could surely find a way to capture something about it in bonbon form. And many people will admit that snow has a smell, even if most of the pleasure we take in noting it in the air is merely a pretentious attempt to sound outdoorsy. 
          • "pictures of movie stars with pizza": Of course there is a Tumblr of celebrities eating pizza, though reality show harpies seem over-represented compared to proper movie stars. I blame disgraceful pizza paparazzi.
          Sophia Loren making pizzas
          from Felix in Hollywood.
          • "jazzercise old saybrook": I have family in Connecticut very near to Old Saybrook and would not be surprised at all if there is still Jazzercise there. There are some jazzy people in Connecticut, and there are also pockets of the state seemingly untouched by modern times. Many of the restaurants there serve prime rib, for example, which has got to be at least thirty years more out-of-date than Jazzercise. I've repeatedly hit up the thrift stores in and around Old Saybrook in an effort to score the coolest elderly WASP clothes but all the elderly are still wearing them and I come home empty-handed every time.
          • "what is the meaning of pop rocks": In a Saussurean sense? If I was going to go in that direction I'd pick something other than Pop Rocks. The whole 70s-childhood-nostalgia thing has been picked apart to death.
          • "what happens when you put an irish potato in salt water for three days": It's hard to be sure but I think this searcher is a bit misguided. You've got to leave the potato in there much longer than three days if you want to keep your selkie lover from high-tailing it back to the sea. It takes more like a fortnight and there are other steps too, but this is not the place to discuss them.
          • "pubic hairstyles for mature people": This topic seldom comes up on food blogs. I've only ever almost-mentioned it myself, that time I wrote about my vintage 70s Viva magazines. I am all for mature people having active and fulfilling lives in every respect but I'm not really qualified to give advice on this matter. Probably best to stay away from anything billy goat-ish, though.
          • "why my recipe won't work anymore": As deeply interested in food as I am, if I thought the internet could answer questions this nebulous without me having to reveal any embarrassing details about my reasons for asking, I would be asking it about things other than recipes.
          • "amazing company turns lowly sandwich into rich banquet": The technology behind this sort of thing seldom interests me but I'm having a hard time understanding the basic idea here and could use a little help from the rich banquet engineers. I'm picturing a long sandwich that has cocktail shrimp filling at one end, pies-and-cakes filling at the other, and all the other usual stuff in the middle. Not all that amazing really. You could do it yourself with a very lengthy baguette.
          • "tiny bits banquet": Now this is far more appealing to me, a banquet comprised of idiosyncratic little whatnots, like thumb-bits. It's hard to know where to begin because the best way to compose these is to stand in front of an open refrigerator. It would be really fun to prepare a whole banquet this way, starting with a well-stocked commercial fridge.
          • "emeril layered leftover stuffing, turkey, mashed potatoes or yams, cranberry sauce and i think put a corn meal topping on all": I'm intrigued by the notion of internet-as-conversational-memory-repository (and actually it is that), but why bother tracking down a memory that's already so complete? Not to mention the casserole sounds slovenly. If I were to search for half-forgotten teevee meals this way I'd want to know more about what people were eating on public access cable in the 80s and 90s. I had a boyfriend once who had a NYC cable access show and when we'd get to the studio, we'd always have to wait a few minutes for the previous show to clear out. It was a mother and daughter chat show, both topless. I've long since forgotten their names but it would be fun to know what dinnertime at their place was like. They were both blonde but neither was the same as the topless blonde woman who would stand in a field and talk about Jesus. She was on very late at night, I'm sure of it.
          • "dessert suitable for anaemia": This is interesting because I seldom think about food this way. My own health issues haven't really affected my eating habits at all. Cooking in cast iron pans does add iron to your food, and the same source reports that vitamin C enhances the amount of iron you can absorb, so for anaemics I prescribe classic crêpes with lemon and sugar. I think it will probably take a lot of dessert to really help, though, so maybe it's best to also bake a fruit crumble or pie in another cast iron skillet and serve that along with the crêpes.
          • "for gastronomy crystal bells": I'm a big fan of lo-fi hippie-dippie stuff in small doses but this is too much for me. If you want to hang some crystal bells outside your pop-up yurt restaurant in the vacant lot where all its ingredients are foraged, fine, expect me around 8, but let's not pretend there is a gastronomic reason for them to be there. Maybe I'm just too jaded about hippie stuff and this person was looking for a cloche instead, to prepare pheasant under glass. There's a gastronomic reason; keeping the scent in is Doing Something. But what's the matter with ordinary glass unless you're trying to tune the vibrational frequency of the crystal to the chakras of the diner? Clearly the proper use of these obscure gastronomic devices is not going to be settled without an affable, grubby hippie vs. rich, high-strung hippie Yurt Rumble of Death. The drum circle doesn't stop until a winner has emerged.
          • "15 minute desserts apples chocolate powder": So specific. This person must have drawn the cooking straw in a poorly-stocked arctic research lab. It sounds stressful enough without the time constraint. Listen, no one is expecting culinary fireworks from you and things will be alright.  Just make some cocoa and serve the apples on the side and people will enjoy that
          • "tiny kabobs on toothpicks meat": I don't care what sort of meat you use, these sound really annoying to eat. One chunk at the end of a toothpick I could deal with, but any more than that and I'd feel like a hors d'œuvre victim. 

          Wednesday, June 20, 2012

          Vietnamese take-out party in yr mouth

          It's disgustingly hot in NYC today, currently in the 90s, and if the little weather box in my iGoogle is to be believed we could reach 102° F. If you are the type to fight heat with heat — as many people living in hot climates do — you should know about V-Nam Cafe's spicy bánh mì. It's made with sriracha and both jalapeno and serrano peppers and I opted to take a couple spoonfuls of yogurt afterwards, something I almost never resort to. Had I bothered to consult any reviews before trying it I would've seen the flaming-hot warning cartoon sandwich in the Village Voice, but it caught me by surprise and was all the more appreciated for it. I'll definitely order it again soon. The non-spicy foods seem well worth exploring too. So far I've only tried the vermicelli with spring roll, which could've used more herbs but was springy, fresh-tasting, and crisp in all the right places. I'm not perverse enough to go for pho today but as soon as the weather cools down a bit I'll try it.

          spicy bánh mì with optional fried egg

          vermicelli with spring roll

          Tuesday, June 19, 2012

          a new you at the Indian grocery

          A new you at the Indian grocery

          Fatafat fattie pills
          Developing your personality is important but don't forget the fattie pills.

          Kalustyan's is great of course but I still enjoy shopping at the Indian grocery in my old neighborhood, which is smaller, dustier and more cramped. It's in the East Village, on 1st Ave between 5th and 6th Streets. I've always called it "the Indian grocery" because it's had a series of names. It's presently called Dual but it was Dowel before that, and there are at least two other names I can't recall now. (I'm pretty sure it wasn't Dial or Duel but wouldn't wager on this). I went there this past weekend to pick up urad dal for the half dozen or so varieties of sundalwant to make right now, but don't get too excited because my fresh coconut (and my appetite) will likely be exhausted by two or three. As ever, I found myself distracted by the wide selection, and also came home with a fresh supply of cardamom (both green and black), asafoetida, Kerala vadu mango pickle, and "super Darjeeling." I didn't go for the digestive pills, though I do wonder if they banish momentary feelings of tubbiness. Instead I picked up a little jar of Tibet Snow, which I hope will give me a remote, frosty, mystical air on sweltering subway platforms this summer.

          Tibet Snow front and back. Related (and quick, short story) reading:
          "Tebic" by Sylvia Townsend Warner.

          If you are naturally remote and frosty and really only care about the groceries, you should know that Dual stocks my favorite rice, Lal Qilla basmati. (Kalustyan's has it too but only in ten-pound bags). I'm not a particularly skilled cooker of rice but it always comes out with perfectly separate grains like this, ready for its close-up. 

          Lal Quilla rice basmati rice   spiced butter

          Thursday, June 14, 2012

          strawberry letter 23

          all the latest news about emotional container gardening 

          My SPACE-GROTTO should be here any day now.
          Botanical monsters via JB's Warehouse and Curio Emporium.

          My Sorrento lemon seedlings are full of surprises. They keep coming, like clowns out of a clown car. It's been several weeks now since the first ones germinated, but every time I look at their little pot there's another just starting to make its presence known. At this point I have more seedlings than I had seeds! I started with twelve seeds, and as of yesterday morning I have sixteen seedlings. Look:

          Sorrento lemon seedlings

          Sorrento lemon seedlings

          Sorrento lemon seedlings

          There's no Catholic funny business going on, I can explain, sort of: They are apomictic. One of my sources of information on how to germinate the seeds tipped me off that this might happen:
          A interesting thing about citrus seeds is that you may get several seedlings from each seed. One of these will be from the embryo formed due to pollination in the orchard, but the others will be 'apomictic' seedlings which are vegetatively produced. That means that the apomictic seedlings will be exact genetic reproductions of the tree on which the fruit was formed, they are clonal seedlings. The one seedling produced by pollination will not be clonal as it will carry genetic material from the pollen parent (father) as well as the seed parent (mother). In any case, you should have a lemon tree, and it will very likely produce tasty lemons in about 15 years!

          - New Mexico State University College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences q&a
          Whoever the father is, he has really outdone himself. The oldest and tallest of my vigorous Mediterranean brood are very mature for their age too; they already have lemon-scented leaves (i.e., they're wearing plant-aftershave). I have no idea what I'll do if all of them survive infancy — raising just one lemon tree by myself in Harlem would be a challenge, and here I am with a whole fucking grove — but fortunately they seem to grow pretty slowly. This other blogger's two year-old lemon tree looks manageable, which means I have plenty of time to get things sorted out before harvest time. The same q&a I linked to above says that grafting a seedling on to a mature lemon tree can reduce fruiting time from fifteen years to five or so, but realistically I'll probably need more than five years to get myself settled somewhere more suitable for growing exquisite Italian lemon clones. In the meantime I'm thinking about spritzing their soil with chamomile tea, which I understand they like. After having learned a little something about their incredibly strange sex lives nothing surprises me anymore.


          Edith Wharton's Italian Villas and Their Gardens at AbeBooks.
          The lion is something I picked out at 1st Dibs. Let me know if you see a matching one 
          someplace because garden lions should be in pairs. I don't need it right away.

          Chamomile tea
          Have you thought about giving your seedlings chamomile tea? It prevents something called
           damping off because it's got anti-fungal properties. I don't believe the tea needs to be
          the same nationality as the seedlings; this is just my tea.

          My window box full of berries is moderately less productive than my magical everbearing lemon plant pot, but there's nothing disappointing about it. In fact I'm going to hold back in describing the way they taste, for fear of sounding like an annoying Alpine strawberry-munching asshole. I can't really hide it though: They're sensationally, toes-curled-up good. The best among them have been as good as my finest hypothetical mental strawberries. There haven't been many of them yet, and they've been a bit mushy because of all the rain and humidity, but they've been tremendously exciting. I'm guessing that the mushiness is due to the weather because the farmers' market berries I've bought to supplement my small harvests have been mushy too. And, unlike my berries, insipid. I would go so far as to describe my strawberries as the most exciting breakfast to be had in all of Harlem but one never knows what neighbors are up to. 

          I've been getting a lot of berries that ripen while still very, very small, but just now I'm starting to get larger ones. I've read about other people's home-grown strawberries magically starting to do this in June too.

          Alpine strawberry ripening

          Alpine strawberries

          Alpine strawberries

          Yellow Wonder strawberry
          My Yellow Wonder strawberries have been the slowest producers so far but
          the arrival of June seems to have had an effect.

          Shuggie Otis, "Strawberry Letter 23"

          There's a fruit vendor on a corner of 57th St. who often tries to get me to buy some fruit on my way home by calling out, "hello lovely miss lovely fruit!" It puts a smug little spring in my step to think that if he had any idea what sort of fruit I'm getting at home he'd blush at the inadequacy and futility of these overtures. 

          I've been so excited about harvesting a few berries every other morning that I haven't been observant about comparing the various varieties I'm growing. Now that they're producing more and larger berries I should be able to do a thoughtful taste test soon. 

          My borage and lovage are doing well too, though not anywhere near ready to harvest yet. I planted them in the same bucket-bag a couple weeks ago and had long since lost track of which side is what, but yesterday I spotted some borage cress adorning dumplings in the Times and realized that the bigger leaves must be the borage. I'd never heard of borage cress and wondered whether it wasn't simply immature borage — the Times photo only shows its leaves, which look identical to what's on my fire escape right now — but apparently it is indeed a separate thing. A specialty grower in the Netherlands says that full-grown borage leaves are "simply too hairy to use in dishes" and the cress "only has the good parts from this beautiful herb." I've mostly only got the good, hairless parts at present  but as you can see I do have some hairy leaves. I went to the fire escape for a taste and they're very cucumber-y! And semi-surprisingly, kind of mushy. Hopefully at some point this summer it will stop raining every single day.

          borage seedlings
          borage seedlings

          lovage seedlings
          lovage seedlings

          My success with lemon seedlings inspired me to try germinating some other seeds I happened to have sitting in a little dish on my desk — a hint, they rhyme with merry sauna — using the same paper towel method I used for the lemon seeds. I started them just the other day and I already have one small seedling! I don't think these are particularly difficult seeds to germinate; my excitement stems from the fact that these are very distinguished seeds. And that I'd never before found so much as a single one in this particular merry sauna. To have found four of them during a spell of perfect germinating weather strikes me as an auspicious sign. I'm not planning to grow them myself, I'm much more likely to see them through the seedling stage and give them to a botanically-experienced friend, but who knows. Regulation of merry saunas is changing rapidly these days, and I remain hopeful that by the time my itsy-bitsy seedling(s) have gotten big enough for anyone to care about, it will become OK in NY State to have one's own merry sauna for personal medicinal use. In fact I would like to become an advocate of merry saunas on behalf of the emotional container gardening community. It's something I believe in.

          Now the bad news. Naturally there is a bit of it; life in the Tiny Banquet Horticultural Subcommittee Lo-fi Gardening Research Center isn't all sunshine and peppermints.

          notebook for keeping track of stuff
          via AnOther mag

          My chile pepper plants are acting like little assholes. And this time it maybe isn't me. There are flowers all over the place on both of them, but they don't set fruit. Instead the flowers simply drop off, over and over again, as coy as can be. Both plants are steadily getting bigger and they look perfectly happy, but it's all just a tease.

          rocoto pepper flowers

          rocoto pepper flowers
          Coy bullshit flowers. They look perfectly capable of setting fruit 
          and even give the impression they might be into it, but don't be fooled, this is
          nothing more than posturing. You can tell that busted, crumbly-looking little flower 
          on the left there is going to drop right off. Presumably out of ennui.

          Sometimes one longs to say to a plant, "fine, go live on someone else's windowsill then," but where is the satisfaction in it if the plant is already, in its passive-aggressive little way, doing its best fuck-you-too? I might do it anyhow though. Get rid of them, I mean. It's an unusual step to actually get rid of a houseplant by choice rather than by accidental murder (for me, at least), particularly one started from seed, but my ex-boyfriend put the idea in my head the other day and now I keep visualizing myself putting the pepper plant pots outside on the sidewalk. And I feel free and good when I think this thought! He wasn't suggesting that I get rid of my pepper plants but my avocado plant instead, which he thinks is monstrously large. (It's five feet tall not including its pot, which I think is perfectly appropriate). This same ex once had a pencil cactus that grew bigger and bigger and bigger until it blocked an entire window, at which point he found a cactus weirdo on Craigslist to come take it away, so I understand his concern about my avocado. But the avocado — which I also started from seed, about three years ago — is doing exactly what it's supposed to whereas the pepper plants aren't doing squat. It seems altogether possible that months and months of inattention and animosity on my part have permanently withered their natural pepper-making impulses. Botanically-speaking I'm not sure exactly how that part works, but it seems intuitive to me that one can't throw shade on a plant for such a long time and expect a little friendly attention and a modestly more spacious new pot to just magically make everything alright. The other possibility is that all the humidity my lemon seedlings seem to be thriving on is making the peppers unhappy. I've read conflicting things about chile peppers and humidity and I have a feeling my particular peppers actually aren't all that fussy about it. But maybe I'm wrong; the consensus does seem to be they don't like it. (Exhibit A; exhibit B). I don't think I've been over- or under-watering them because the leaves look healthy. I'm going to try repotting them both again, more generously this time (they do seem to need it), and I've started spritzing their leaves with a bit of Epsom salt diluted in water, which lots of other growers say they like. (It's the magnesium). If they still don't have their shit together in another month or so they're probably going to get the heave-ho. I'd really like to get them to make some peppers but right nothe reality is they're taking up a lot of space and requiring a lot of effort I'd rather give to plants I like more, and that like me more. I'm a highly emotional gardener but not a sentimental one.

          Epsom salts
          Epsom salts have all sorts of gardening uses I didn't know about until recently.
          I'm hoping they make my grouchy pepper plants ecstatic but I'm not going to hold my breath waiting on it to happen.

          The Secret Life of Plants, a 1979 documentary on the sentience of plants.
          It's on Netflix too. Via Dangerous Minds, which also reports that chile peppers send each other mysterious signals. More information here. I could hardly be less surprised because mine are obviously conspiring against me, in their half-assed way.

          Related reading: What a Plant Knows by Daniel Chamovitz, via Brain Pickings.
          I haven't read it yet so I can't tell you how it is that my pepper plants know 
          that I know that they know precisely how ambivalent I feel about them.

          my smallest plant
          My smallest plant is non-edible and lives between other, bigger plants.
          A hopeful note to end on: I think that fluffy little ball of needles 
          on the right is going to become a new appendage.

          Previous posts about my container gardening are here and here.

          Tuesday, June 12, 2012

          foodmusic no. 2

          FYI if you're on a device that won't load Flash, there's a player here.

          Lio, "Le Banana Split." Ba-na-na-na, ba-na-na-na. Apparently this song was a hit in Europe in 1979.  There's a pretty good video for it but the only copy of it on YouTube begins with an ad so I didn't want to embed it. By "pretty good" I mean that another blogger who saw it as a 14-year old boy fondly recalls that "[r]ight after the song ended I suddenly had to run upstairs to my room." Put on your vintage European banana hammock and watch here

          Smell the top banana! I can't understand why so few other bloggers are 
          using Google's scratch-and-sniff technology. I feel it really adds something.

          The latest banana music is produced using actual bananas. BBC News reports that MIT students Jay Silver and Eric Rosenbaum have released a kit called MakeyMakey that can turn any object that conducts electricity into a keyboard. Naturally cats have been early adopters of this technology ("[a]n animal-rights group contacted by the BBC did not express concerns"), but at present we are focused on bananas. Here is Stanford grad student Beau Silver rehearsing for the first public performance of his bananamaphone:

          If you're interested in making your own bananoog or bananatar or just a basic bananapiano, he's generously shared info and links on YouTube here. I think this is an excellent use for bananas because taste-wise most of them are disappointing. I do like a good banana — remember the banana salsa but the ones we get here in the U.S. are mostly all the same, and they're flavorless compared to the bananas people elsewhere on the planet are eating. I discovered this when I was studying in India as a college student. After completing my work there I did a period of independent study in Nepal with a handful of other students, and rather than fly into Kathmandu we chartered a little bus. Roadside restaurants were few and far between so we ate an awful lot of bananas along the way. Nearly every time we pulled over for a stop, whether to eat or pee or wait for the driver to fix our grubby bus, someone would hand us bananas, excellent, creamy bananas full of flavor, bananas that made me wonder why the bananas at home were such crap. Other people have wondered about this too, and if you're curious about the reasons for it I recommend this article by Dan Koeppel in Saveur. (The short answer is that the vast majority of bananas destined for the American market are the Cavendish variety, a hybrid favored more for its disease-resistant properties than its taste). There's an interesting list of select banana varieties that goes with the article but good luck finding them at your local grocery store. Related additional reading: "Spaces of Banana Control" at Edible Geographies, which explains how NYC bananas are ripened. I've been keeping an eye out for good-looking bananas for a couple months now and the only ones I see regularly are the red ones and the little baby ones. I tend to buy my usual bananas at Commodities because they always have organic ones and I think they taste marginally better than non-organic. I think it's time for me to start going on banana-hunting expeditions to Latino and South Asian neighborhoods to see if anything more interesting has turned up in the two years since the Saveur article was published.

          In the meantime here's a recipe for kitchen sink banana muffins. (In addition to bananas they've got carrots and candied ginger in them, and can probably happily handle whatever complementary ingredients you'd like to add). It's based on Mark Bittman's recipe for whole wheat muffins from the Feb. 5, 2010 New York Times. 

          I feel like I get the best banana flavor in baked stuff if the bananas are frozen first. Specifically, if I wait until they're good and ripe — meaning quite brown and black on the outside, full-on ugly in the way that prissy banana-eaters seem to have a problem with — and freeze them then. They're even uglier when I pull them out of the freezer and I just don't care.

          frozen bananas

          Cuter bananas in syrup form, €12 at Colette.

          The original recipe calls for 1 cup of mashed fruit but I don't think there's any need to actually measure it for something like this. I used two ordinary bananas and two little bananas because that's what my banana stash contains, but if you just have two ordinary bananas I'm sure that's fine. Three might be pushing it in terms of fruit content but I feel like that would probably be fine too. (I've made these muffins with various spontaneous combinations of fruit and have never had a problem yet, though my pumpkin-blackberry ones were a bit too dense for my liking).

          banana-carrot-ginger muffin

          kitchen sink banana muffins

          2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
          2 teaspoons baking powder
          1/4 teaspoon baking soda
          1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
          1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar, depending on taste (I like a lesser amount)
          1/4 cup maple syrup, preferably Grade B (it has a stronger flavor)
          2 regular bananas, or more to taste (see above), mashed with a fork
          1 heaping cup shredded carrots
          1/2 cup finely chopped candied ginger
          1/2 cup melted butter, plus a bit more for greasing your muffin pan if needed [ the original recipe calls for unsalted butter but I use salted for pretty much everything these days ]
          1 egg, beaten
          1/2 cup buttermilk

          for optional but recommended crunchy topping:
          1/4 cup oat or barley flakes
          1/4 cup sunflower seeds
          2 teaspoons melted butter
          2 teaspoons honey
          pinch of fine sea salt

          Heat the oven to 375°F and grease your muffin pan with butter if necessary. (I use a silicone pan so I don't bother with this step). Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl until just combined. Stir in the bananas, carrots, and everything else until ingredients are thoroughly combined. Don't over-stir because supposedly that's bad for muffins.

          If you're making the optional crunchy topping, stir all the ingredients for that together in a small bowl.

          Fill your muffin pans and spoon a half-tablespoon or so of the crunchy mixture on top of each muffin before baking. Bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until a toothpick poked in the center of your test-muffin comes comes out clean.

          crunchy mixture
          alternatively, just eat the crunchy mixture with a spoon

          Makes at least a dozen muffins, possibly more depending on the size of your pan. (I use a "mini" muffin pan that isn't very mini at all and I got seventeen).

          Foodmusic no. 1 is here.

          meiji banana candy
          meiji bananas, coming soon in Japanese Candy Quarterly Review

          Friday, June 08, 2012

          fête de la carotte

          My apologies for seemingly drifting off again; I've been feeling under the weather. A phrase I almost didn't want to use, but in a rained-upon sense it is correct. Let's take a carrot-centric field trip to the west coast of France while I'm recovering.

          Créances, Normandy is the site of an annual fête de la carotte in celebration of the uncommon carrots grown there in sandy soil, A.O.C. carrots cultivated under the influence of salty seaside air and nourished, somehow, by the proximity of seaweeds. (In this respect I identify deeply with these particular carrots; seaweeds do something for me too). The fête happens in August so you've got plenty of time to plan your trip.

          Créances carrot elders at the 2009 fête
          via The World Carrot Museum

          sandy carrot display, carrots for sale, carrot medal, and carrots growing 
          in Créances also via The World Carrot Museum

          fête de la carotte 2011

          I don't speak French but I believe this says that proximity to
          green seaweed elevates the flavor of even industrial pork, and
          is engaging for boys on vacation.
          From Greenpeace France.

          carrot women from Elizabeth Gordon's 
          Mother Earth’s Children: The Frolics of the Fruits and Vegetables
          via City Farmer News

          Cooks who wish to hold their own carrot festival may be interested in the recipe for Rikers Island Carrot Cakewhich calls for twenty five pounds of the carrots of your choice. In lieu of inmates to grate them, why not make the festival-goers do it? People will do pretty much anything if there's a prize given at the end. 

          Rikers Island baker by Michael Appleton for The New York Times.
          I'd like to think the carrot cake-baking inmates are the only ones
           who get to wear orange striped jumpsuits but the article doesn't say.

          Less ambitious carrot-munchers may be interested to hear that spicy carrots are very nice in a sandwich. I'm not talking about a few shreds in your bánh mì, I'm talking about a proper carrot sandwich.  I'm a huge fan of the recipe for Tunisian carrot puree (omi houriya) in Claudia Roden's New Book of Middle Eastern Foodwhich calls for boiled carrots to be pureed with harissa, ground caraway, cumin and ginger, and a splash of both olive oil and wine vinegar. You could certainly use the same treatment for grated or sliced cooked carrots if those seem more suitable to your sandwich needs. Cozying up to leftover grilled lamb, for example. (I do think the carrots need to be cooked for most sandwiches, even if grated, even if only blanched for a few moments). I also like this recipe from Gourmet for sandwiches of Moroccan carrot salad, goat cheese, and green olive tapenade. The sandwich belowas made with the carrots from that recipe — spiced with cinnamon, cumin, cayenne pepper and sweet paprika — and squeaky little pillows of fried halloumi cheese. Mint leaves on top and whole wheat sourdough below.

          sandwich with spicy carrots and halloumi cheese

          As long as we're on the subject, I feel compelled to mention that my all-time favorite carrot recipes are: Marcella Hazan's braised carrots with Parmesan (yes, they really do take so long to cook, just try it), Madhur Jaffrey's carrot cake with cardamom and pistachios (with more pistachios for sure, plus some grated coconut if you're into that), and this simple-but-incredibly-good crème crécy, all of which I have been making for many years. If you make the soup don't be tempted to use vegetable or chicken stock in place of the water; I've tried that and it muddles the flavors.