Posted in Misc., Travel, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged camper vans, campers, car camping, caravans, custom campers, custom motorhomes, custom RV's, Eco-travel, green camping, green vehicles, gypsy wagons, motorhomes, RV's, Tonke Campers | Leave a Comment »
I just returned from a four-day business trip to a certain city in Texas. I’m not going to give its name, as I don’t wish to represent it. Let’s just say that due to its location on the border of Mexico, most Americans (self included) would consider it seriously sketchy if they didn’t know better.
I discovered on my second day there that it’s ranked the nation’s safest large city, a statistic I found pleasantly surprising. But it made sense to me, both logistically and emotionally. There’s obviously a large police force, as well as a strong military and border patrol presence. Yet most other border towns don’t share its low crime rate.
This specific city caught me off guard with its mellow vibe. My first day there, I found it so enjoyable, and felt so safe, that I took an evening stroll downtown (which is less than 10 blocks from the border, as was my hotel) and around the arts district, a portion of which is adjacent to the railroad tracks. If someone had told me I’d be doing that in any border town, but this one in particular (owing to the spectacularly high murder rate of its Mexican sister city), I’d have said they were smoking something that’s usually responsible for said murders.
I’ve prefaced the following story with this information because it provides a deeper understanding of the event at hand. Had I been in a place that was certifiably dangerous, or if I’d had a gut feeling that it wasn’t safe, I wouldn’t be writing this post.
We’ve all – travelers and homebodies alike – been witness to certain public situations that more often occur in private. I’m referring to domestic violence, child or animal abuse, and the like. What we choose to do in those instances depends upon a number of things: our location, the time, who we’re with (or not) and, at the risk of sounding judgy, our sense of compassion and moral code. If we’re traveling, even more factors come into play, such as cultural mores and penal systems.
There’s a name for those who take action in these situations; in some states and countries, it’s actually a law or act. I’m referring to Good Samaritans. I don’t harbor any illusions that I’m a representative of the moral majority. I do, however, think that I have a solid set of values, thanks to my parents.
As a result, as well as what I think is a reaction to being picked on as a kid, I have a fairly strong sense of … justice, as well. If I see someone taking advantage of another living thing, and I’m in a position to do something about it without obvious harm to myself, I’m going to take action. This doesn’t mean that I think I’m better than you, but we’ll get to that.
I’ve never been in a physically abusive relationship, but like most women, I have a very strong reaction to the idea of domestic violence. Sadly, it occurs every hour of every day, worldwide. If you travel or move a lot, you’re likely aware of this.
Getting to the point, the other evening, around 5:30 p.m., I needed to go to the drugstore, which was located about four blocks from my (very nice) hotel in this particular city. I was a few blocks away at the downtown plaza area. There were a handful of pedestrians about, and a slow but steady stream of traffic. As I often do, I’d left my cellphone behind, since I was just running down the street, it was daylight and I was in a safe area.
I saw a vagrant couple, around their mid-20s, and obviously high, having a volatile argument across the street. I was waiting for the light to change, and watched them begin walking down the street, still fighting. I decided it was best to stay on my own side, but we arrived at our respective corners at the same time. That was when I saw the female half of the couple, who stood around 5’3″, slap her boyfriend, who was easily 6’2″. Without a second’s hesitation, he slugged her in the face, and knocked her flat on her back. Yes, she initiated the assault, and I don’t condone hitting men. But there is something to be said about cause-and-effect, as well as the differences in size and strength between genders.
It’s hard for me to describe what went through my mind, because on the one hand, I (re)acted on impulse and instinct. Yet, I also assessed my own safety (Was this guy armed? Don’t get hit by a car.). While I was processing this, I was already racing across the street, screaming at the top of my lungs (to attract attention, as well as out of anger), “Get the fuck away from her!”
I knew other people had witnessed this event. I turned to a car waiting at the light next to me, and asked the female driver to call 911. She looked at me like I was nuts, and without a word, sped off. Meanwhile, the victim was back on her feet and hysterical, and her assailant’s attention and rage was now directed at me. “Mind your own business!” he spat, as I continued to yell at passerby for help, police, call 911.
By this time, we were on the same side of the street, and he began to advance toward me, menacingly. “You want some?” he screamed, while his girlfriend hung onto his arm, attempting to pull him back, apologizing to him all the while.
I darted back across the street, to a youngish, well-to-do-looking couple who had also been witness. I begged the woman to call 911. Her response? “You know, I’m sorry. But I really just don’t have time for this.” While I was talking to her, a couple of older derelict men passed by. The one said to me, “She slapped him first.” To which his friend replied, “That don’t matter! It ain’t right to hit wimmen!”
Meanwhile, the drama across the street continued, and I saw that I was next to the lobby of a business building. There were two security guards on duty, one of whom was a woman. She called the police, and we both went out to the street so that she could give them a location and description of the suspects. But the couple had vanished.
Then I saw the girl, running like the proverbial bat out of hell, across the plaza, her boyfriend giving chase. She ended up on a park bench, while he loomed over her, yelling and gesticulating wildly. We waited for five minutes, but the police didn’t show (god knows how many domestic violence calls a day they receive). The guard had to return to her post, and thus I was left on the sidewalk with a decision to make. Stay or go?
I felt I’d done my civic duty, and was about to leave when I saw four teenage girls sit down on the bench across from the couple. They were too young and naive to understand the inherent danger of the situation, and instead, they were goggling at the spectacle. I continued to wait. Then I saw the police car across the plaza. It drove right past the couple, despite the fact we’d provided them with a full description of the suspects.
I ran across the plaza, waving my arms, trying to flag down the car. Unfortunately, this also meant the assailant saw me, and knew the jig was up. I managed to stop the police car by leaping in the street and gesturing frantically. Two cops – a man and a woman – emerged. I explained the situation to them, and turned to point out the couple. That’s when I saw that the assailant was sitting snuggled up next to his girlfriend, arm around her shoulder (as a friend aptly said, upon hearing this, “This wasn’t his first rodeo”).
The male cop then asked me his only question. “You say she slapped him first?” Then the two of them marched across the plaza toward the couple, while I beat a hasty retreat back to my hotel.
What did I hope to accomplish by a.) inserting myself into the situation, and b.) doggedly trying to resolve it? Well, as I explained, I acted partly on instinct. It’s never okay for a man to hit a woman. Period. As a woman, and a human being, I reacted to that.
Did I expect to help her or change her circumstances? Of course not. I’ve read about and heard enough statistics on domestic violence, as well as known people involved in such situations, to understand that my intervention wasn’t solving anything. Do I think his girlfriend was grateful to me for intervening? No. Even if she was arrested on assault charges, I honestly believe she was safer spending the night in jail than wherever she likely ended up.
The bottom line is that I witnessed something shocking, disturbing, and illegal that was causing harm to another human being. I had an emotional and intellectual reaction. But in its aftermath, what’s been far more upsetting to me is the apathy displayed by everyone else who’d witnessed it. When did we, as a culture, become this way? I can’t pin a date on it, but I can say with certainty that television and the cult of celebrity are largely to blame. Here, we celebrate bad behavior (or at least, don’t adequately punish it…I’m talking to you, Lindsey Lohan).
It’s four days later, and I’m still grappling with the sociological and geographical factors that determine how we react to these types of things. I could somewhat understand if it were a dangerous, crime-ridden city or a bad part of town or on the other side of the border. I’ve asked myself what I would have done if this had happened under any of those circumstances.
I’m not proud of it, but I’m quite sure I would have done nothing, aside from possibly telling someone in some position of authority who had the capacity to call the police (a bartender, for example). If we’d been in any number of other countries or domestic regions, I would have kept my big mouth shut. See, I told you I’m not better than you are.
I don’t think one should ever get involved in this type of situation if there’s a high likelihood it will result in compromising one’s own safety. All it does is put you, as well as others, at risk. Bear in mind, too, that in certain countries or cultures, it’s not an overtly criminal act (despite what the law might say) to beat your woman or animals. Most of the planet, fortunately, can agree that it’s fucked up to hit or molest children.
When I’ve witnessed animal abuse in Thailand, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bolivia, a part of me died inside, but I said nothing. As a visitor, and given the cultural differences and circumstances at hand, it wasn’t my place. It might have resulted in negative consequences for me. I would, sadly, do the same here in the States, if my speaking up jeopardized my safety.
Like everything in life, we must pick our battles. Sometimes, that means we may need to help others fight those battles. We’re fortunate enough to live in a country where it’s against the law to abuse women (and men), children, and animals. Think about that for a minute. These laws exist to help those who cannot help themselves.
It’s not about being a hero. It’s about doing the right thing. If the circumstances don’t prohibit us from taking action, I strongly believe it’s our duty as supposedly evolved homo sapiens to help. Wake up, America. Your values are calling.
Ever wondered what it’s like to visit a medicine man or woman? Now you know.
Last night I attended “An Evening with Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert: Good vs. Evil” in Boulder. Best quote of the night (and there were many…so many) was from Tony, talking about Guy Fieri (one of my own favorite targets):
“He looks like Ed Hardy fucked a Juggalo.”
That sums it up nicely, I think.
I’m going to preface this post with a disclaimer: I’ve spent the past decade exploring South America, and I keep coming back because I love it so much. I find the differences (and similarities) in countries and cultures endlessly fascinating, as well as the food, languages, geography, flora, fauna, and people. I’ve been in Bolivia for a week, and I’m smitten, if not a little culturally befuddled.
Like most of my writing, this will likely offend, so please let it be known that I’m merely taking the piss. Don’t even get me started on what’s annoying about Norte Americanos (self included). Now, adelante:
- Why do adults of both genders pick their noses in public? Like, a lot?
- Why do men of all ages also urinate in public, i.e. sidewalk, mid-day, full frontal? Yet last night, I got into verbal battle (en español) with a Bolivian man who’d just relieved himself along with two friends, behind a mound of rocks on the side of the road (our overnight bus was taking a 10-minute break at a restaurant). After they zipped up, I ventured over, and this guy started yelling at me to go pee in the bathroom.
I explained that the toilet (a seatless, shit-splattered number in a cement cell, with a one-foot gap at the top of the door that approximated the height of the average Bolivian male—about 5’7″) was in use. In reality, my nervous bladder wouldn’t function in there, and believe me, I tried. He was having none of it. From what I gathered, the issue was that said pile of rubble was part of the “construction” of someone’s “home” and it was bad luck for my (female? gringa?) urine to taint it.
- Why are 99.9% of cholitas (indigenous women from the Andean highlands; I’m specifically referring to those in La Paz) the size of Mack trucks? Proof: The city’s weekly event called Cholita’s Fighting.
- How is the human cheek is capable stretching to hamster-like capacity, in order to accommodate a wad of coca leaves the size of a tennis ball?
- Why do cholitas hawk with greater frequency and volume than the Chinese? I blame the noxious traffic fumes, since many of them are street vendors.
- What do the cops actually do besides eat, socialize, and look cool in uniform?
- Why, as in the rest of Latin America, is honking one’s horn repeatedly, even when at a standstill, okay? Rather than just being totally fucking annoying.
- How does listeria not develop in “fresh” cheese that’s been kept unrefrigerated for three days?
- Why am I still alive from eating said cheese? Because I seriously had no choice in the matter, or I would have caused grave offense. And sometimes death is preferable.
Ryan Dunfee, the editor at Curbed Ski, has made my week, because he’s left town. No offense, Ryan–you seem like a decent guy. But I’m happy you’re out on assignment, because you made me your fill-in.
That’s right, folks. I’m putting out this week, on behalf of the “Insider Intelligence for the Great North American Ski Towns.” I’m honored, and having a blast. Think drinking bourbon in the name of research, and dissing frat boys. Tune in throughout the week for more ski-tastic news, tips, gossip, crazy-expensive real estate listings , and lifestyle reports.
P.S. Congrats to Jason Harrison (Flame, Four Seasons Vail), Cochon 555 Vail’s newly-crowned Prince of Porc. I was fortunate enough to be one of the judges last night, and my arteries and liver (see aforementioned bourbon) will never be the same. Countdown to the Grand Cochon June 16, at the FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen! Get your tix here.
Posted in Food, Meaty treats, Seasonal eating, Travel, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged arterioscleroris, Aspen, bourbon, cirrhosis, Cochon 555, Colorado ski resorts, Colorado ski towns, Curbed Ski, Flame, Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, heritage pork, Jason Harrison, ski industry news, ski town lifestyle, ski towns, skiing, Vail | Leave a Comment »
Just order this and present to your server. Et voila! You are now officially a total asshat, just like “entrepreneur” Brad Newman. Real food and travel journalists thank you for continuing to make our livelihood more difficult.
Thanks to Eater for the story.
Posted in Cooking, Drink, Food, Misc., Travel | Tagged Brad Newman, business ethics, Eater, food writers, hotel reviews, no pay no play, restaurant reviewers, restaurant reviews, servercards, travel reviews | Leave a Comment »
On January 20th, we lost a beloved and passionate member of the cheese industry. Ricardo Huijon, cheese buyer/monger at Oxbow Cheese & Wine Merchant, passed away at his home in Napa. I like to think he’s now drinking a cold one, and wondering how he can get his hands on a stash of raw Epoisses, or something similarly decadent. My condolences go out to his family and other loved ones.
Donations can be made in Ricardo’s memory, and to help offset expenses for his family in Mexico. The bank information is: Umpqua Bank, Account of MIGUEL C. HUIJON, Account #992497461.
The Fiesta de Huijon, a celebration of Ricardo’s life, will be held January 28, at the Oxbow Public Market, from 5-9pm, 644 First Street, Napa. Click here for an interview with Ricardo, which ran in culture magazine.
Posted in Cheese, Cheese for Dummies, Food, Misc. | Tagged cheesemongers, Napa cheese shops, Oxbow Cheese Merchant, Oxbow Public Market, Ricard Huijon, Ricardo C. Huijon, Ricardo Huijon Napa, Ricardo Huijon obituary | Leave a Comment »
As a native Southern Californian, citrus is in my blood. As a kid, I’d go on calls with my dad, a large animal vet, and we’d drive past mile upon mile of citrus trees. Without fail, he’d always pull the truck over, and we’d help ourselves to some tangerines or oranges. What’s a little theft in exchange for replacing a Holstein’s prolapsed uterus?
I came up with this refreshing, aromatic compote for a cooking class. This time of year, California farmers markets are flooded with a staggering array of citrus varieties, from rosy-pink Cara-Cara oranges, to tart, briny little finger limes. Regardless of what kinds you use, this dessert is a snap, and sure to evoke sunny skies and fragrant groves, with nary a strip mall in sight.
CITRUS COMPOTE IN GINGER-STAR ANISE SYRUP
5 cups water
¾ cups sugar
1 cinnamon stick
4 slices peeled ginger, each about the size of a quarter, smashed
3 star anise pods
3 medium blood oranges, peel and pith removed and cut into 1/8” cross sections (be sure to remove any seeds)
1 Navel orange, skin and pith cut away (follow the contours of the fruit with a sharp paring knife), and separated into segments by freeing the sections from the membranes holding them in place with paring knife
2 medium pink grapefruit, such as Rio Star, peel and pith cut and away and segmented, as above
3 kumquats, cut into paper-thin slices
fresh mint leaves, julienned, for garnish
Combine water, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and star anise in medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 15 minutes, reducing heat if too high.
Strain liquid to remove ginger and spices, and add liquid back to saucepan. Bring back to boil, then reduce heat to medium and allow liquid to reduce, about 15 to 20 minutes, until a syrupy consistency that just barely coats the back of a spoon (it will still be fairly runny). Remove from heat, pour into a glass bowl, and chill for at least one hour.
To serve, add citrus to four martini glasses or compote bowls, and pour syrup over fruit. Garnish with mint.
© The Sustainable Kitchen ®, 2000.
Posted in Food, Recipes, Seasonal eating, Sustainable agriculture, The Sustainable Kitchen ® | Tagged Blood oranges, Cara Cara oranges, citrus, compotes, dessert recipes, desserts, grapefruit, kumpquats, oranges, scurvy prevention, tangerines, winter desserts, winter recipes | Leave a Comment »
All due respect to Snoop Dog, or whatever the hell he’s calling himself these days, but gin and juice is no longer where it’s at. Gin and goat or blue cheese, yes. Or, if you’re feeling fancypants, sub gin for an herbal liqueur. Inspiration to be found right here.
P.S. A shout-out to Denver’s Euclid Hall, for serving me a lovely cocktail called The Calvin Broadus (Hendrick’s Gin, fresh grapefruit juice, honey habanero syrup, ginger beer) the other night. Hello.
Posted in Cheese, Cheese for Dummies, Drink, Food, Misc., Recipes, Seasonal eating | Tagged alternatives to Mad dog, blue cheese, cheese and cockatils, cheese and spirits, cheese pairings, cocktails, Denver restaurants, Euclid Hall, gin, goat cheese, herbal liqueurs, pairing cheese | 2 Comments »
Ever since I wrote a report on mushrooms in the fourth grade, I’ve been obsessed with fungi in all its glorious permutations. I spent many childhood hours tromping around after a rainfall, searching for elusive species. Yet, typical of my finicky palate at that age, I refused to even consider actually eating a mushroom. The horror.
Thankfully, things change, and some gluttons are made, not born. I now enjoy eating wild mushrooms as much as I love foraging for them.
Although this recipe long predates an epic chanterelle harvest I did in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, it’s still my favorite way to showcase these meaty, woodsy-tasting golden mushrooms. Hello, autumn.
WARM FINGERLING POTATO & CHANTERELLE SALAD
serves four as a starter
1 tablespoon + 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 lb. fingerling potatoes, parboiled and drained, and cut into 1/2-inch slices
3/4 lb. chanterelle mushrooms, wiped clean and quartered if large, halved if smaller
1 medium shallot, minced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Parmigiano-Reggiano, for garnish
Heat a sauté pan over medium-high heat, then add 1 tablespoon unsalted butter and the olive oil. When butter is foamy, add chanterelles and cook until golden and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Important: the first few minutes of cooking, the mushrooms will release their liquid- you must keep cooking until the liquid has absorbed and mushrooms begin to brown.
Add remaining half tablespoon butter, and sauté shallots and thyme with chanterelles for 1 minute. Add potatoes to heat through, being careful not to break them up as you stir. Remove from heat.
Allow salad to cool in large bowl for several minutes, then add Champagne vinegar, more olive oil, if needed, and salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Serve warm.
©The Sustainable Kitchen 2001®
Posted in Cheese, Cooking, Food, Recipes, Seasonal eating, The Sustainable Kitchen ®, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged chanterelles, Dunton Hot Springs, fall recipes, fall salads, mushroom foraging, mushroom recipes, mushrooming, salads, wild mushroom recipes, wild mushrooms | 1 Comment »
There’s a fine line between genius and freak, and I think British uber-chef /Mr. Magoo clone Heston Blumenthal has crossed it. His restaurant, The Fat Duck, is known for menus that read as whimsical to some, pretentious and/or ridiculous to others (Ex: snail porridge, Mad Hatter’s Tea Party with Mock Turtle Soup, Pocket Watch and Toast Sandwich; a risotto made with something called umbles).
Regardless of what you think of Blumenthal’s food, his recent interview with the Guardian is sure to offend. Apparently, Blumethal likes to use tampons as palate cleansers, as their absorbency allows him to taste “richness, creaminess, and sweetness more intensely.”
I’m not sure what I find more disturbing: the path that led Blumenthal to make this astonishing discovery, or the image of him in his restaurant kitchen, sucking on a Tampax. Coming soon to a menu near you: “OB amuse-bouche.”
Posted in Cheese, Cheese for Dummies, Fuzzy (and not so) critters, Misc., The Sustainable Kitchen ®, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged being a nerd, cheese books, Cheese for Dummies, dairy goats, goat girl, Goats, nerdy school kids, raising goats | 2 Comments »
Do you pride yourself on being the first among your circle of foodie friends to eat at the hippest new eatery in town? Possess no less than 100 different opinions on “the right way” to prepare coffee? Hoard different varieties of sea salt?
Then you should know that, according to no less a culinary authority than Nancy Grace, homo sapiens is the next big thing to hit the restaurant radar.
Allegedly, David Viens, a “well-known” California chef and the owner of a “fine dining” establishment, murdered his wife (and hostess) and “slow-cooked” her for four days in a “human crockpot.”
Viens then discarded his wife’s remains in the restaurant’s grease pit. I wonder how he determined whether a braise was preferable over pit-roasting (the ancient Polynesians were, of course, masters at this).
A heartwarming tale of love, passion, and highly efficient cost-control.
I’m in Boulder, Colorado, right now, having serendipitously landed a job thanks to a fortuitous encounter while doing a book signing. I now take back the many unkind things I said and thought during my 12 months of house arrest writing Cheese for Dummies. And yes, I will be moving back to Colorado in August, a dream a long time in the making.
Meanwhile, I’m spending this week looking for a place to live. In between imposing upon friends, I’m spending a few nights at the Boulder International Hostel. It’s a janky-ass place in the student ghetto that I’ve unfortunately had to stay at a number of times over the years, due to it being the only remotely affordable accommodation in town.
I did evade the hostel the year I was teaching a weekend-long cooking class at the now-defunct Cooking School of the Rockies, however. The school refused to pay for my hotel room at the last minute, and since I was broke, I elected to sleep in my car for four nights. This is why I get testy when people ask about my “dream job.”
Every time I stay at the hostel, something incredibly fucked up happens. One year, it was the weepy, morbidly obese, nymphomaniac crazy cat lady who told me all of her boyfriend problems…at 2am. Then there’s the inevitable drunken idiot frat boys who bro-out late into the night (the hostel is located on Greek Row).
One time, the hostel refused to let me book a room because I had a Colorado driver’s license (something that used to be verboten if you wished to be a guest). I was a California resident, but I’d discovered at the Colorado Springs Airport car rental counter that my license was expired. I was running late for a meeting that was three hours away, and I had to take a cab to the DMV, then go back and get the rental car. Several days later, in Boulder for work, I again ended up sleeping in my car. Arrgh.
This morning, however, took the prize. If you’re unfamiliar with Boulder, it’s essentially the Berkeley of the Southwest, only less militant, more beautiful, and with a higher collective resting metabolic rate. The first time I moved here, I had literally just pulled into town after a two-day drive, and stopped to pick up some groceries. I was standing in the pasta aisle, dazed, when I noticed a middle-aged woman next to me, dangling a crystal before the array of boxed goods. Apparently some people have trouble making decisions on their own.
Anyway. this morning I was in the bathroom–admittedly shaving my armpits in the sink–when I heard this curious noise, sort of like two people murmuring in the shower (which was running), or a mother and young child in a stall (except kids mercifully aren’t allowed). I had just seen a girl with cerebral palsy checking in down at registration, so I thought maybe it was she in the stall.
But no, that would be TOO normal for the BIH. Instead, out comes this girl of the yuppie hippie/I-just-got-back-from-a-yoga-retreat-on-an-ashram variety. I don’t know what she was doing in there (I didn’t hear any battery-operated devices) but she looked totally blissed out: eyes glazed, beatific smile. Drinking the Kool-Aid, if you will.
She crosses behind me over to the trash can, and I can see in the mirror that she’s holding something in her palms and quietly chanting over it. I then realize–to my utter horror, as I stand there, razor aloft, shaving cream congealing in my pits–that this psychopath is blessing her maxi pad before throwing it away.
I’ve already issued instructions to friends and family that I be euthanized immediately should I become one of them. You know, in case it’s catching.
I am so not a baker. I’m also of the school of thought that it’s either in your DNA or it isn’t, unlike cooking, which can be learned. Don’t believe me? A culinary arts degree, pastry internship at Chez Panisse, two years of employment at an Oakland bakery, and a brief stint filling in on pastry at The Providores & Tapa Room in London speak otherwise.
Sure, I can make pretty decent quickbreads and cookies; I’ve even made a good cake or two. But when it comes to anything more complex that sifting and measuring, forget it. I can’t even ice a cake to save my life, despite the Nazi-like anal retentiveness of my European pastry instructor in culinary school.
At Chez Panisse, I managed to gain enough trust to be allowed to prep fruit and make truffles, but my tart-making privileges were quickly revoked. The last attempt I made at bread was nothing short of pathetic (I was also distraught after discovering that the 100-year-old sourdough starter I’d been given had exploded in my refrigerator…I’d killed history).
So I’m always in awe of people who can deftly crimp pie shells or turn out flaky croissants. When I first met my friend Kate Leahy, it was while working at aforementioned bakery. I was just a counterperson, which meant that I had to scale out cookie dough, make sandwiches, and fold tart boxes in my spare time (having failed at tasks that involved actual baking talent).
I would watch Kate–all five-foot-one of her–hucking around 10-quart mixing bowls for the standing Hobart mixer nearly as tall as she, or blithely crafting wedding cake roses out of fondant. She learned to bake “the old-fashioned way, through trial and error, but my parents were very kind, especially when I got carried away with the baking soda.”
On a totally random, but incredibly awesome side note, Kate lived in the Philippines as a young child, because of her dad’s job. She once told me about the time a sewer rat came up out of their home toilet, an incident that would leave me permanently constipated. In fact, that’s my worst nightmare, right after a cockroach nesting in my ear.
After the bakery, Kate went on to culinary school, and has worked as a line cook at some of the nation’s most prestigious restaurants, including Radius (Boston), Terra (St. Helena), and A 16 (San Francisco). Then, not satisfied with conquering the savory side of things, she got an MS in Journalism at Northwestern.
After working as a food editor and freelancer for a number of years in Chicago, she co-wrote 2008′s IACP-winning A 16 Food + Wine cookbook (don’t let the other names on the cover tell you otherwise) and on April 3, her latest book, written with acclaimed Chicago chef Paul Virant (Vie), The Preservation Kitchen: The Craft of Making and Cooking with Pickles, Preserves, and Aigre-doux, was released.
Kate–I swear I’m not her publicist–also has another major cookbook coming out, SPQR: Modern Italian Food and Wine (SPQR is A 16′s sister restaurant), written in collaboration with co-owner Shelley Lindgren and executive chef Matthew Accarino; release date October 16.
Anyway. The point of all this is that Kate is awesome and talented and you should buy her book. What’s it about, you ask? I’ll let her describe it:
The premise behind the book is giving people a fresh way to think about preserves. We weren’t just concerned with providing recipes that challenge cooks to think beyond strawberry jam, but also giving readers ways to use the preserves in meals. When you can turn a pickle into a sauce or vinaigrette, it becomes much more than just a condiment. Paul summarizes his strategy like this: ‘I eat what I can and what I can’t, I can.’”
I asked Kate for a summery recipe and she generously provided me with a cake that even I can’t screw up. Now let’s see if she can solve my sewer rat issues.
RASPBERRY BROWN BUTTER CAKE
Recipe from The Preservation Kitchen: The Craft of Making and Cooking with Pickles, Preserves, and Aigre-doux, by Paul Virant with Kate Leahy (Random House, 2012).
What separates this cake from similar creations is the brown butter, which gives it an almost savory edge, and the vanilla bean, which is infused into the hot butter. While delicious with tart, fresh raspberries, you also can make this cake with frozen cranberries and lemon zest in the fall and winter. A spoonful of summer berry jam added to the batter also works as a stand-in for fresh fruit.
6 ounces salted butter
1 vanilla bean
1 cup sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour
1½ cup raspberries
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan or small rectangular pan.
2. Melt the butter in a pot over medium heat. Split the vanilla bean in half and scrape out the seeds with the tip of a spoon. Mix in the seeds and bean and continue to cook the butter until it browns. (It will turn amber in color and smell like toasting nuts.) Immediately take off the heat to prevent the butter from scorching. Remove the bean and reserve for another use. Cool the butter to room temperature.
3. In a medium bowl mix the sugar and flour together. Whisk in the eggs, and then drizzle in the butter. Scatter half of the raspberries in the bottom of the cake pan and pour the batter on top. Scatter the remaining raspberries on top. Bake for 35 minutesor until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the top no longer looks raw.
Posted in Cooking, Food, Misc., Recipes, Sustainable agriculture | Tagged A 16, canning, canning cookbooks, canning recipes, cookbooks, Kate Leahy, Paul Virant, pickles, preserves, SPQR, The Preservation Kitchen, Vie | Leave a Comment »
In honor of
National Grilling Memorial Day, I’ve decided to rerun this post on how to make the most kickass burgers you’ll ever taste. Really. Happy holiday weekend!
I have Depression-era parents. That’s why I grew up eating freezer-burned heels of bread, and why there are spices in my mother’s pantry older than I am. One useful culinary thing Mom did teach me, besides making braising liquid for pot roast with Lipton’s Onion Soup mix (totally trailer, but so good), is to stretch my pennies by mixing egg and breadcrumbs into ground meat when I make hamburgers. Not only does this make for a lighter, juicier burger, but they taste pretty kick-ass when you liven up the grind with minced shallots, garlic, and chopped fresh herbs.
So, now that summer is finally here (yes, I realize it’s September but I live in Seattle), I thought I’d celebrate by firing up my metaphorical barbecue (I also live in an apartment at the moment), and share with you my tips for making a better burger.
*Remove your ground meat of choice from the fridge half an hour before you plan to make your burgers. You’re going to be adding stuff to it, and it will bind better if the meat isn’t too cold. Allow about one-and-a-half pounds for four people, depending upon what else you plan to serve. It’s always better to prepare too much than too little, and leftover burgers are great crumbled into stir-fries, pasta sauce, or scrambled eggs.
*Open a beer (personally, I prefer cocktails or wine but raw meat flecks and smeary fingerprints on glasseware is just not sexy).
*Dump the meat into a large bowl. Add one egg and one or two largish handfuls of panko or breadcrumbs; make them yourself with leftover bread or score some discounted day-old stuff from a bakery or local dumpster. Storebought stuff works, too. Add another egg if the mixture seems too dry. The point of these two ingredients is two-fold. The egg adds moisture and acts as a binding agent, while the breadcrumbs increase your yield and ensure your burger won’t end up festering in your colon for the next several months.
*Be sure to wash your hands after handling the egg and raw meat, and keep them separate from any utensils or ingredients you plan to use on raw food. E. coli is also not sexy.
*Add to meat one large shallot, minced, and at least three cloves of garlic, also finely minced. I always add a dash or four of soy sauce or Worcestershire, for added flavor. Throw in a handful of chopped Italian parsley or chives. Ground lamb with mint is also wonderful.
*Season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and mix well using your hands until all the ingredients are fully incorporated. To determine if your seasoning is right on, fry up a pinch of the mixture. Form into one-and-a-quarter-inch-thick patties by scooping the meat into your hands and gently! patting them into shape. Resist the urge to fondle too much, as it will compact the meat, making for a dry, tough burger. If you make them slider-sized, you’ll be able to double fist, clutching burger in one hand and beer in the other. I may not like greasy glasses, but I’m a huge advocate of eating and drinking ambidextrously.
I always make a slight indentation in the center of each patty, because that’s what my mom did to prevent “shrinkage.” I have no idea if this is true or not, but it does make you look like a wise old kitchen sage. You can make the burgers up to a day ahead; if you’ve got a crowd, place a sheet of parchment paper or plastic wrap between layers to prevent them from glomming on to one another. Bring up to room temperature before grilling.
*Preheat your grill or flat-top. Have another drink while you’re waiting.
*When coals are ashy and white and you’ve got some flame going, lightly oil the grill using a damp rag dipped in cooking oil. If you’re using a pan, get it smoking hot and brown both sides of the meat for better flavor. Try to refrain from cooking past medium rare if you’ve thrown down cash for good meat.
*Toast your buns. Artisan or Wonder Bread, they’ll taste better and it will help prevent the condiments from making them soggy.
*One more drink. Eat. Enjoy. Make friends or significant other clean up.
Depending upon your budget and the state of your arteries, you can opt for lean ground beef (around the eight- to ten-percent fat range), or go big on something 20- to 25-percent fat. Hamburgers are not the place to skimp on fat–it’s a necessary component, whether you use ground chuck, sirloin, or round. I recommend grassfed- and -finished beef for health, humanity, and flavor reasons, but bear in mind it’s lower in fat and shouldn’t be cooked past medium-rare.
Chuck is the most popular and economical, and provides a good fat and flavor balance. When purchasing, look for a bright, pinky-red color, and if cellophane-wrapped, avoid anything gray, leaky, smelly, or otherwise bio-hazardous. Tempting as it may be to purchase the preformed, opaque-packaged, phallic “chubs,” refrain. Saving a few bucks isn’t worth eating gussied up pet food.
If you’re on a tight budget, however, even if you buy the $2.99/lb. ghetto
grind, it will be vastly improved by the addition of a truly great egg. Pasture-raised chickens snack on foraged bugs and decaying vegetation (Those of you with McNugget crumbs around your mouths shouldn’t look so horrified) and the results are exceptionally rich, orangey-yellow yolks packed full of all kinds of that healthy antioxidant crap. They’re a great, inexpensive protein source on their own, and so much better than pale, watery, flavorless commercial eggs that are god knows how old.
[Photo love: burger, Flickr user Adam Kuban]
Posted in Cheese, Cooking, Food, Humane livestock management, Meaty treats, Misc., Recipes, Seasonal eating, Sustainable agriculture, The Sustainable Kitchen ®, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged barbecuing; grills, bbq, beef, burgers, cheeseburgers, grassfed beef, grilling, hamburgers, meat, organic beef, sustainable meat | Leave a Comment »
People often ask what inspired me to become a food writer and cooking instructor. I think they expect to hear heartwarming recollections of a childhood spent beside my mother at the stove, and reminiscences of glorious holiday repasts, table groaning with the bounty from our garden. They anticipate my memories of milking goats, and tangy chevre on homemade bread for an after-school snack. They imagine my Russian grandmother frying latkes for breakfast (using eggs I’d collected from our flock of Rhode Island Reds).
And, to a certain degree, there is truth in these examples. Looking back, I’m quite certain my formative experiences with food are what shaped my career. But the reality is that, while I grew up on a small ranch, the daughter of a large animal veterinarian and a former barrel-racing-champion-turned-homemaker, my own culinary education had a few…inconsistencies.
I did watch my mom cook sometimes; she still has a way with instant mashed potatoes and cracks open a mean jar of Prego. Our neighbors had a garden, and at the age of ten, I established a roadside produce stand, yet Birds-Eye was still a staple at my own dinner table. The eggs I gathered each morning (when I wasn’t being held hostage in the henhouse by our sadistic asshole of a rooster) my mother whisked in a microwave-proof bowl, before being nuking them into rubbery oblivion. I was in college before I learned that scrambled eggs aren’t traditionally made in a microwave.
My paternal grandmother was the daughter of a Russian émigré. Grandma Miller possessed a heavy New York accent, and she was—my dad will agree—the worst cook this side of Minsk. The (real, not instant) potatoes in her latkes were an oxidized grey, the resulting pancakes flabby and greasy from improperly heated oil. Small wonder I was the pickiest eater on the planet, utterly exasperating my Depression-era parents who, let’s face it, were only trying to embrace the advent of convenience foods.
The one time my mom tried making yogurt and cheese from our goat’s milk (she was having an early 1970’s back-to-the-land moment), the results were not exactly edible. In retrospect, I don’t think she realized the milk required starter cultures. So we instead drank goat milk by the gallon, and in the process my family became huge caprine aficionados. We bred our Nubian doe, Go-Go, every year, and ended up keeping several of her doelings; the bucks we donated to Heifer Project International. For my part, I adored our goats. Even when I fed Go-Go an uninflated balloon, it was with the best of intentions (it was Easter, and I thought she’d appreciate its pretty pink color).
In sixth grade, I decided to follow in my older brother’s footsteps and raise goats for a 4-H project. I bounced out of bed each morning to milk Rose, a distant relative of the late Go-Go (who died of natural causes, not from ingesting peony-hued rubber). Despite my rural upbringing, our property was located in a peaceful canyon only a couple of miles from what is today a populous, yuppified bedroom community of Los Angeles. There were a few other families with children up the road, but I was the only one living on a ranch.
The rooms at Westlake Elementary School were packed with upper-middle-class, mostly white kids, and it turned out they didn’t share my goaty enthusiasm. It was Jason Racinelli, a criminal in the making if ever there was one, who dubbed me “Goat Girl.” It was the first week of school, and as part of our “What I Did for Summer Vacation” oral reports, I’d waxed poetic about Rose and the wonders of lactation. If memory serves, I even passed around Dixie cups of her milk for my classmates to taste.
I was waiting for my mom to pick me up from school in our elderly, wood-paneled station wagon, when Jason appeared by my side. He looked me up and down, a sneer on his handsome face. “Hey Goat Girl,” he drawled, leaning in close and taking a long, exaggerated sniff. “You smell like a goat. Why would anyone want a goat, anyway? Why do you even go to this school? Why don’t you go back to your stupid farm?”
Mercifully, my mom arrived at that moment, but before I could escape to the safety of the car and the slobbery kisses of our three dogs, Jason yelled, “’Bye, Goat Girl! Don’t forget to wear your overalls tomorrow!”
I think it’s pretty safe to say that someone, somewhere, eventually kicked Jason Racinelli’s ass to Kingdom Come or incarcerated him. Unfortunately, before that could happen, I essentially became known as Goat Girl for the remainder of the year, and developed several nervous tics that abated only after we sold Rose and I instead concentrated on raising rabbits (fuzzy, rodent-like creatures were apparently on the list of “cool” pets to own). I don’t recall exactly when I allowed my goat obsession to resurface, but suffice it to say, I’m now a contributing editor at culture: the word on cheese and live in Seattle, one of the few cities in the U.S. that allows residents to keep backyard dairy goats.
So, while my somewhat dichotomous culinary upbringing played a large role in my career of choice, I usually opt for a shorter, easier, wholly truthful answer. “I became a food writer because when I was eight years old and walking my brother’s goat at the county fair, a middle-aged man asked me, “What type of dog is that?” It was at that moment I realized: most people don’t have a fucking clue where their food comes from.”
Thanks, Mom and Dad. And yeah, you too, Jason Racinelli.
Posted in Cheese, Cooking, Food, Fuzzy (and not so) critters, Sustainable agriculture, The Sustainable Kitchen ® | Tagged 4-H, cheese, Cheese for Dummies, cheesemaking, cooking, cooking schools, farm tours, goat cheese, goat dairies, goat milk, Goats, Laurel Miller, rabbits, ranches, yogurt | Leave a Comment »
My mom and I were reminiscing the other day when I mentioned Cocoa, a Shetland pony we briefly had when I was four.
“You remember Cocoa?” she asked.
“Sure. We sold her to the Olafssen’s.”
This was my best friend Ingrid’s family down the street. Her dad Leif was a jolly, strapping fellow and Swedish immigrant; they had about a million kids.
Mom: Yes, well, we gave her to them. She was permanently lame, so that’s why we had to get rid of her. And then, of course, Leif was going to eat her.”
Me (incredulous): Say what?
Mom: He was planning to feed her to the family. Dad didn’t know that when they took her. He just thought they wanted a pet.
Me: Mr. Olafssen was going to cook Cocoa?
Mom: Well, he asked Dad how long it would take to fatten her up enough to feed the family.
Me: Oh, come on. Leif was always kidding around. I’m sure he was joking.
Mom: Nooo…he grew up eating horse meat, and he had a lot of kids, so he was just being practical. Dad told him, “I think you’d better talk to your family about that idea, first.”
This, of course, led me to wonder what would have happened if Mr. Olafssen had actually carried out his unholy plan. I’d burst in their front door, as I did every afternoon. “Hey Ingrid! Let’s go visit Cocoa!”
“Um…..how ’bout a ’roast beef’ sandwich?”
The first time I realized that horses may be something other than beloved family pets/forms of transportation occurred when I was ten. My dad—equine vet, breeder of Quarter horses and mules—had taken a sabbatical and my mom, brother, and I were spending the summer in Europe, traveling around in a borrowed, pea-green VW camper van.
We had just arrived in Paris, and were wandering the Left Bank in search of a suitable place for dinner (meaning, an establishment that served french fries, because that’s one of the few foods I deemed acceptable at the time).
I was dawdling behind my family, taking in the strange Parisian sights, sounds, and smells. I heard a racket coming from a brightly-lit shop with a wide glass window and open doorway. And that’s when I saw it. I was looking straight into the back room of a boucherie chevaline, where a freshly-dispatched bay horse–hide, mane, tail, and all–dangled by its right hind leg from a hook on the ceiling. It was so big, its velvety nose nearly scraped the ground. A portly man in a white apron and rubber boots stood next to the carcass with a large knife, ready to do unspeakable things.
I stood, frozen, on the sidewalk; I probably resembled a midget version of “The Scream.” Then my parents yelled at me to hurry up, and I ran after them, too traumatized to mention what I’d seen. It didn’t help when, while they perused a menu minutes later, I alone noticed a gentleman emerging from yet another boucherie (was Paris nothing but dead animals?). The furry, comically large feet and hind legs of a hare protrouded from a paper bag in his hand (I also raised champion show rabbits–not for the table–at the time, so this added yet another session to my metaphorical therapist’s couch).
Allow me to explain: I wasn’t in the least bit disturbed by the concept of eating horse, and I’d actually had rabbit before. What bothered me was seeing these creatures in such a raw, primal (aka dead) state. While a whole lamb carcass wouldn’t have caused me to bat an eye, there’s something very disturbing about seeing a 1,200 pound horse on a hook. Ditto the intact hare; as an American, even one who lived on a ranch, I had a hard time identifying with the purchase of something resembling road kill for dinner.
I’ve always been very matter-of-fact about meat; I think it comes not just from traveling as a child, but from assisting my dad with necropsies of his former patients from the age of about eight on. A good time was Dad and I, dissecting one of my rabbits, trying to figure out what mysterious circumstances had caused her to keel over and die in the night. Boast-worthy was overseeing the necropsy of Lynda “Wonder Woman” Carter’s pet pony (for some reason, my classmates didn’t think it as cool as I did).
No, my issues with meat have and always will lie with the treatment of said animal in life and handling before what should be a quick, merciful death. But that’s a whole other topic altogether.
What I really want to address is horse meat. Viande chevaline, basashi (think horse sashimi ), or lo’i ho’osi (Tongans apparently do have an appetite for meat other than SPAM); whatever you call it in your country of origin, the fact remains that much of the EU, Central Asia, Latin America, and Japan have the good sense to eat horse. It’s delicious, with a slightly sweet flavor and bright red color, lean and low in cholesterol. Why the hell can’t Americans get onboard with the other red meat?
Blame anthropomorphism and our fervent equestrian culture. Horse meat had a brief domestic moment in World War II, when beef prices rose and supply dwindled. By the eighties, however, it was no longer okay, even if purchased for “pet food,” and in 1998, California Proposition 6 outlawed horse meat and slaughter for human consumption.
When I was growing up, however, there was a well-known horse abbatoir in Chino, in Orange County. As with many countries that don’t consume horse meat, the U.S. still slaughtered them (the old and sick, as well as retired racehorses and wild horses and burros) for export to countries that do, although the meat was also used to feed zoo animals. In 2007, the last horse slaugtherhouse in the U.S., in DeKalb, Illinois, was shut down by court order, and that was that–but new legislation suggests that horse slaughter could soon become legal again Stateside.
But hold your horses (sorry). Is this a good thing? The result of these closures means that there’s no outlet–humane or otherwise–for horses that can no longer be used for work or pleasure. Few people can afford to keep horses as pets due to age, illness, or injury, and horse rescues are at capacity or struggling to find funding. It’s also necessary to thin wild horse and burro populations to keep them sustainable (as well as protect their habitat from overgrazing and erosion); starvation and predation are cruel deaths. Fortunately, these animals are protected species and legally can’t be sent to slaughter, so they’re put up for adoption. The downside? What happens to aging and unsound animals, now that rescues and sanctuaries are at capacity and struggling for funding?
I’m not disputing the lack of humanity previously displayed by auctions and transport companies taking horses to slaughter. Fortunately, the 1996 federal Farm Bill mandated more humane conditions. Unfortunately, it didn’t go into effect until 2001.
Humane treatment aside, the loss of horse abbatoirs is a divisive issue. I’m of the opinion that it’s unbeneficial and inhumane to not have an outlet for surplus horses. This, of course, assuming the transport and facility abide by regulations; I’m also not a fan of large abbatoirs, which I believe cause undue stress to the animal.
Isn’t it ultimately more kind to put an end to their suffering, and make good use of the meat? Proponents frequently make the comparison to the millions of dogs and cats that are euthanized daily in the U.S., because their owners were too irresponsible or lazy to spay or neuter. Where do these sad creatures end up? Cremated. What a waste, in all regards.
“Right,” I hear you saying. “As if you would eat dog or cat [assuming it hadn't been euthanized and was fit for human consumption]!”
Actually, I have eaten dog, and it’s really not a big deal…with the glaring exception of how those animals are raised and treated. But as a food and travel journalist, I also have a job to do, and at times, that means your personal ethics need to keep their big fucking mouth shut.
It never fails to amaze me when “food writers” refuse to eat what’s put in front of them simply because they find it personally distasteful. Allergies are one thing, but a refusal to at least taste is a. rude, and b. lacking in journalistic integrity. Have religious limitations? Then you probably shouldn’t be food writing for the general public.
The incident that led me to this opinion occurred on the final night of a very high-end press junket to Parma, Italy. One of the city’s finest restaurants had organized a special dinner for our group, to commemorate the anniversary of the Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano-Reggiano. The chef had prepared a set menu: ten courses of Parmigiano-enhanced regional foods, specifically chosen to impress and show us what Emilia-Romagna was all about.
The seventh course was fileto di giovani cavallo, a rosy filet of young horse. As our trip organizer translated what was being served, an uneasy silence fell over the table. “My Friend Flicka is on the menu?” asked an editor, her voice trembling. Within minutes, eleven of my twelve tablemates had requested beef as a substitute. I was mortified.
Believe it or not, Seabiscuit tasted pretty damn good.
Posted in Cooking, Food, Fuzzy (and not so) critters, Humane livestock management, Meaty treats, Misc., Sustainable agriculture, The Sustainable Kitchen ®, Travel, Western U.S. lifestyle | Tagged abbatoirs, dog meat, horse abbatoirs, horse adoption, horse meat, horse rescue, horse sanctuaries, horse slaughter, horse slaughterhouses, horses, humane animal slaughter, humane livestock management, mobile abbatoirs, mustang rescue, mustangs, slaughterhouses, wild burros, wild horses | Leave a Comment »