What are you eating lately?
The quarterly Juke smorgasbord is all about FOOD! Jump into the comments and join us!
Hey everyone! We have a bunch of new subscribers, so let me explain how this works. Every three months, I ask all our Juke contributors to answer a question for me. In the summer, it was “What are you reading lately?” Then in the fall, I asked “What are you listening to?”
Now it’s winter and I assume we’re all following the traditional winter over-eating rituals, so I wrote to all our contributors and asked them, “What are you eating (or cooking) lately?”
Everyone takes the question differently. Everyone responds with a different level of seriousness or brevity. That’s half the fun. The other half is when our readers jump into the comment section and join in! So, once you’ve read what we have to say, please put your own two cents into the comment section.
Okay, I’ll start…
I am always (ALWAYS) eating bread, and I’m always trying to get enough greens and fruit and all the crunchy, twigsy stuff. But, on the micro level, I go through phases with food. Well, with everything really, but we’re talking about food right now. I’ll get a particularly good apple (Macintosh, to give a recent example) and I’ll eat one every day for weeks. Then, one day, I won’t want one and that’s it for apples for a while. Or cheese. A couple years ago, I was really into the monterey jack from Trader Joe’s. That phase lasted a long time, until last summer, when I completely lost interest in monterey jack and switched to a pecorino from Murray’s cheese shop in New York. It was fantastic paired with fig jam and soda crackers. But, of course, after too many servings of the pecorino, I went off cheese entirely. (I’m not worried. Something will catch my eye.) And then there was the month of acai bowls. I ate one every day in late August and early September. Somehow, they always sounded appealing. Actually, they still sound appealing.
Lately, I’ve been into California dates from the Imperial Valley. Did you know you can get boxes of them shipped anywhere? They’re wonderful, just a few as a snack, and they keep for months. They make me think of that drive between El Centro and Palm Springs, along the Salton Sea. Out where the sun bleaches your bones. I could use a little sun-bleaching this time of year. And the date shakes at a particular Cathedral City health food cafe were pure decadent heaven… Anyway, the dates are still in, but I think tonic water is on the way out. For months, I’ve been drinking one every night with a squeeze of lime, and it doesn’t feel like a treat anymore. Also, I’m thinking about switching my morning coffee for black tea. Not permanently. Only for a while. I just don’t have the heart for permanent changes.
Lately I have been eating oatmeal, the grand old man of foods. I like oats prepared simply, with no fuss. I heat water in a small pot to a rolling boil and pour in the oats. I cook them for three or four minutes, stirring occasionally. I next place a lid on the pot and let them rest. I rest the oats off the heat for a couple of minutes, but I don’t want the oats to absorb all the water. At this point, they are cooked enough for me. Some folks like to cook them longer, to a point where the oats get a porridge consistency. Eat them however you like. I pour a little milk over my oats, but that’s all—no sugar, no honey, no nuts, no fruit. I eat oats because they are a sticking food. They stay with me. We have cold days up where I live, and my mornings are short. With a bowl of oats, I am good to go. Through the cold, through the dark, through whatever needs doing that morning, the oats give me protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. But I can’t eat a big bowl of oatmeal. It’s too much. To eat a big bowl of oatmeal would be like walking through a bog. Otherwise, oats it is, a small bowl, unadorned, enough, for now, to try again.
My first inclination, as is often the case, is to say something pithy, such as, “Who needs food, anyway?” But that would have been dumb, even for me, and my standards for stupidity are low.
So I’ll say this: I’m somewhere south of Slidell, Louisiana and north of Marrero and little else matters. I’m drinking strong coffee, eating King Cake that’s ungodly good - pushing great hunks into my mouth and then staggering for the next hour from the sugar rush, vowing to take it easy next time, then doing it again an hour later. Much like doing cocaine in the 1980s. Or maybe now, except I don’t know what they do now for drugs, with drugs, or on drugs. I can only speak with authority about King Cake.
And Vietnamese pho - is there any other kind? - fried catfish sandwiches, spaghetti and cheese - Baton Rouge style, peach cobbler, strange versions of egg sandwiches that you can only seem to find in this city founded by the French, the Spanish, and possibly the demons of rich food, the ones who come at you from all directions and don’t stop until you’re reeling and having strange dreams from all the strange stuff circulating through your blood stream.
There is more. There will be more, but at this moment, my deadline approaches and I’ll leave it at that.
As the great Satchmo used to sign off on some of his letters,
“Red beans and ricely yours”
I love you all. Time for some King Cake.
Well, it’s the Holiday season, so I am eating things that I would normally avoid; cookies, fudge, triple cream cheeses and charcuterie boards, too much wine and way too much of everything.
Several years ago I came across a Food Network episode of chef Anne Burrell making her Bolognese sauce. I was instantly in love with this recipe. I love pasta and I love a recipe that takes its time developing into yummy goodness. This one has it all. I made it, loved it, and passed it on to my sons who now make it often. Our family has taken ownership of it. You need to plan ahead when making this. Total time is over five hours. It takes that long to develop its depth of flavor. And it’s worth it.
So when we were planning a post Christmas dinner with the whole family of fourteen I offered to make a double batch of Anne’s Bolognese. Now I am talking a ton of Bolognese here. The original recipe calls for a pound of pasta to feed six to eight, with left over sauce for freezing. But in my family a pound of pasta feeds four, we are big pasta eaters! The recipe makes a lot of sauce, enough for much more than just a pound of pasta. Luckily it freezes beautifully.
Here is a link to the recipe, including the video of Anne making it. Pay attention to her directions for browning the veggies and the meat at each phase, it’s what give it the rich depth of flavor. And don’t go with cheap wine. If you wouldn’t drink it don’t cook with it. A good big red is what you want here.
current (transient) menu --
Baby bok choy
Steamed tofu with Luchini olive oil
Lushan green tea
Eldora 100% chocolate
My husband, Jeff, spent his teenage years living with his sister and her Persian husband. Every Sunday, they would host an open house, bringing dozens of Iranian friends to swim, converse, and eat a luscious banquet that included tadikh, a dish where rice is cooked in a way that produces a tasty crust. We loved tadikh, but only by accident was I able to make it.
My culinary roots were wrenched from the soil of Denmark. Mom taught me how to make her rice pudding
by cooking a batch while I stood beside her. She was the only one among her very successful sisters who could make this dish without cooking the eggs. It has become our Christmas Eve dinner tradition, served with buttered toast, cheese, and sliced meats. Jeff eagerly awaits this special dinner each year.
In fact, he loves rice so much, he finally declared after 41 years of marriage that he wanted more rice dishes for dinner. I could feel my waist expanding, but agreed to make a better attempt at cooking rice. It's always been a trial and error process for me and continues to be. The poor man! I tried cooking a Persian dinner for him decades ago, using a his sister's cookbook. It was so arduous a process, with a disappointing result, I gave up.
So, after all the boxes and wrappings were put away, we went in search of a rice cooker. Actually, I was spurred to take this route because of a video by Brain Poirier, producer of AdventureVan Man on YouTube. He cooked a whole meal of rice, meat, and veggies in a small rice cooker. Hey, I could do that.
We chose a model with no bells and gongs. Simple is good is our family motto. I read the two pages of instructions and tucked them behind the rice container. The cooker sat nearby. And the cup and spoon included with the cooker got lost among the dishes to be washed on the opposite side of the kitchen. Granted, it's not a big kitchen, but there you go.
A few days later, I got up the nerve to try it out. I'm usually intimidated by new appliances, but this only had an On switch that would turn to Warm automatically. What could possibly go wrong?
I reread the measurements per amount to be cooked. Got it. Fill water to first line for one cup of rice. I grabbed the cup that sits on the rice container, rinsed the rice as per instructions, and dumped it in the cooker. Then I started washing dishes and found the cooker's measuring cup.
Within moments, the rice started to boil … a lot … so I tipped the lid to moderate the heat. It continued its witch's brew bubbling and boiling until I could see fluffy rice churning to the top. I turned the whole thing off and let steam cook.
To my joy, it tasted pretty good. ALL the grains were fully cooked rather than al dente. Larger amounts of garam masala, ginger, and curry were needed, but it satisfied Jeff's palate. He suggested we use the leftovers for scrambled eggs.
Next morning, I served up breakfast with grape tomatoes thrown in for color. YUM! His craving for savory dishes was secured for the future. And next time, I'll use the proper measurements. As he took our plates back to the kitchen, I had to laugh at a remark he made the week before as he devoured yet another bowl of rice pudding.
"Hey, does Valerie know how to make this?"
"So far, she isn't interested, but if she asks, I'll show her how to make it."
* * * * *
Brian Poirier demonstrates making a full meal and saving propane with his rice cooker (at minute 10:28) in his Christmas 2023 video of AdventurevVanMan:
From England, via text, my friend informed me that this would be the year she really learned how to make some good soups. Only weeks earlier, at Thanksgiving, she had sat and sighed at the sad fact that she would never really cook. I’ve known plenty of people who think chopping is exhausting. I’m convinced that vegans must have a pre-determined penchant for chopping since it’s a natural by-product of all of that vegetable eating. The point is - to each his own. Our texts about soup continued intermittently through our busy day. She inspired me with suggestions of a carrot and ginger soup. I sent her my recipe for sausage tortellini soup and I told her to buy three kitchen staples on her soup journey - Better than Bouillon, jarred minced garlic and a submersion blender. That ought to be a good start. I was reminded that it is about this time of year that I make myself a cabbage soup and try that diet. I generally never make it past day three. But let’s not talk of diets. If there’s joy to cold weather, it’s to be found in warm things: fireplaces and blankets, sweaters and long sprawling text-streams from friends, socks and soup.
My wife Tracy doesn’t cook much. In fact she only cooks three things, and she does them perfectly. She makes a mean Latte, delicious, buttered toast, and the world’s best dark roux.
A dark roux is essential to making a good gumbo. Together, we make andouille sausage, and smoked chicken gumbo. She makes the roux, and I do everything else. It’s our time together in the kitchen, which is rare. The two of us work together and create a big ass batch of Gumbo Love!!!
It takes balls to make a dark roux. It’s just fat and flour stirred forever over a medium heat. Cook it too hot, too long, and it dies an ugly death. Don’t cook it enough and it ain’t a dark roux, it’s blond roux and a blond roux just doesn’t cut it in gumbo.
Yesterday was Sunday. The NFL playoffs were on. The Cowboys were losing, as they usually do in the playoffs. It was freakishly cold outside for Texas.
The day called for a warm bowl of Gumbo Love.
In September, we spent a not quite yet cool Saturday afternoon picking apples and pressing cider among the Palouse hills of Eastern Washington. We were after Macintosh apples because they make the best cider, according to the seasoned cider makers. Macintosh apples have the right level of tannins and sugar to hold up well to the fermentation process. Fast forward three and a half months, and the gallons of cider have finished their two fermentation cycles. The first glass of cider after months of patient anticipation tastes particularly good. Some of it will be put on oak for another 2 months, some will be reserved for tasting next year, some will go into the refrigerator for enjoyment at the end of the day!
As the temperatures drop and drop and drop, my mind turns to the golden garlic soup that they serve at Chez Lulu here in Birmingham. It's like savouring a bit of the sun in the midst of winter's chill.
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