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What are you eating lately?
It's our quarterly contributor smorgasbord! We're talking about food this time and everyone is invited to join in!
“Enjoy every sandwich.”
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. Our first question, over the summer, was “What are you Reading Lately?” That conversation was such a joy, I decided to repeat the process in the fall, with “What are you listening to lately?”
Now, after nine months of Juke-itude (*I’m resisting the urge to make a pregnancy joke here*) and, given the food-heavy nature of the recent holiday season, I wrote to all our contributors and asked them, “What are you eating (or cooking) lately?”
Everyone takes the question differently, and 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…
Lately, I am eating road food. I have been traveling for a few weeks. So, unlike every other holiday season of my adult life, I have NOT been cooking up a storm (unless you count the tuna salad I whipped up the other night.) I have eaten zero mashed potatoes, no casseroles, no turkey or ham... You know, I realized a while back (shamefully long ago, actually) that I'm not wild about traditional holiday foods. I always did like the feeling of accomplishment after standing in the kitchen for eight hours straight, and the heft of a full countertop of prepared dishes. I liked knowing I *could* cook all that stuff successfully. But then it was a real pain to try to eat it.
Maybe I'll find the idea of a big Christmas meal appealing again someday. I don't rule that out. But, for now, it's a pleasure to eat like it's 80 degrees and sunny out, which it is in Miami.
I don’t have a normal food routine on the road. I eat weird stuff from places I wouldn’t normally choose. A few weeks ago, I picked up veggies and cornbread (and mac 'n cheese, of course) from a Cracker Barrel, of all places, (which wasn't as terrible as I thought it would be. It was good, actually. Try the baked apples.) And there was an inevitable Waffle House while passing through the deep south. I've had crummy fast food a few times—McDonald's, which was a mistake. A few misguided slices of pizza. Taco Bell has become my best "fast" option, now that I realize I can avoid their meat, which I find inedible. The spicy potato tacos are decent, and there's a veggie "power menu" bowl that would be worth eating even when I'm not looking for a meal of last resort.
Speaking of bowls, though, at a taco place in an otherwise crummy part of Tampa, I ate a bowl of beans and rice with fresh blackened grouper fish and guacamole. Ever since, I've been trying every Mexican "bowl" thing I can, in hopes of re-creating the experience. I'm a little haunted by it. The other discovery of this trip has been to limit my Thai orders to places that only serve Thai food (you'd be amazed how many Sushi-Thai and Chinese-Thai storefronts that nixes from the list.) I've been rewarded with the greatest Pad Thai and Massaman Curry and, oh god, the mango sticky rice... Plus, now that I'm in Miami, I’m obsessed with the Cuban bakeries—a morning cafe con leche y una tostada con mantequilla and, oh, an occasional pastelito de guava...
Otherwise, I eat out of grocery stores. Greek salads and roasted veggies and tuna sandwiches. Apples with cheese, oatmeal with bananas, and enough Florida tangerines that I should be turning orange. But no holiday foods. Not this year.
Well, okay. Unless you count pie.
Is there more to life than cornbread?
Between fantasies of eating scallops stuffed with dark truffles and a side of Pemaquid oysters topped with Regiis Ova caviar, I mostly consume a lot of coffee and popcorn. Coffee because I’m addicted. Popcorn because it invites a kind of madness. I do not eat microwave popcorn. I do not have a microwave. If I did, I still wouldn’t eat microwave popcorn. I think of my father’s uncle, Uncle DF. He lived in Louisiana and was poor. He raised wire-walking chickens and wrestled alligators and kept turtles and a giant tortoise that the grandkids could ride. He and his wife got older and naturally more frail. Their children worried about them. To add convenience to their lives, their children purchased them a new dryer, refrigerator, and microwave. None of them lasted, however. DF didn’t want any of those contraptions in his house, so he hauled them outside and made worm beds out of them. No microwave for DF, though he probably wasn’t a man who ate popcorn, no matter how it was cooked. I’m a different case. I eat popcorn like a lunatic. Think of a dog scarfing down a steak. Back in September, my friend Megan MacDonald and I were driving around northern New York, scouting locations for a film. We stopped to get gas, and I bought a bag of popcorn. Bag popcorn is the worst, but I ate it alright. On my way through the bag, I came up for air to see Megan staring at me. Mind you, she was driving, but she was staring at me. Her face was somewhere between wonder and disgust. I would have grinned, but my mouth was too full of popcorn.
“Damon,” she said, “what the fuck?”
“I like popcorn.”
“I mean, what the—"
“The way you eat popcorn!”
I shrugged. I mentioned that I was like a parakeet in a seed bag when it comes to eating popcorn. Megan laughed her wild Scotswoman laugh, and I finished off the popcorn. I don’t remember if I offered to share. I hope I did.*
I have tried to imagine life without coffee, but it doesn’t make any sense. It’s possible there was a period in my life when I edged towards being a coffee snob, but it was a false alarm. Get around the true believers in coffee, beer, wine, any of it, and you are likely to discover that you barely make the ranks of an amateur. Like most people, I want to believe my taste in foods and libations isn’t bad, maybe even decent in some arenas, but the times I’ve spent drinking coffee with real coffee drinkers, I haven’t enjoyed the coffee all that much. Real coffee people might remind me of the citrus notes in better coffee. What they call citrus, I call bitter. Yet I’m as willing as the next galoot to rush out and pay measurable money for a double latte at the jazziest coffee shop in town. All that rich, deep coffee goodness with whole milk and a leaf or heart carved into the foam! Add to that someone charming across the table or snuggled up close and you got yourself an event. As Wes Hodges tried to teach me in my younger and more vulnerable years, “a sandwich isn’t just a sandwich, son, a sandwich is an experience.” And when I am in the United States, I look forward to convenient store coffee. Some convenient store coffee is plain bad. It can taste like abandoned leather spackled with shit you hope comes from a horse. But at a busy truck stop, the coffee is hot and fresh. There are bright bottles of syrups. There are flavored creamers by the gallon, surrounded in pretty colors, too. I don’t use that stuff, but after I draw off a coffee in one of those truck stops, I saunter over to the counter like John Wayne with a lady upstairs and horse outside.
I admit that sounds a bit like I am dreaming. Maybe I am. American truck stop coffee and John Wayne and horses and ladies. Truth is, it’s already late here in the north. The logs in the woodstove burn warmly, and I’m starting to think about what poems I’ve forgotten. Coffee would be agreeable about now. Maybe I’ll make popcorn later. They don’t go together. Doesn’t bother me though. Never has.
*I wrote to Megan, wondering whether or not I had, in fact, offered to share the bag of popcorn. Her response: “’You did not, by the way. I believe your exact words were: "’Uh-uh, lady. This bag's mine. Get your own.’" Which sounds about right.
As we enter another year of absurdity at home and abroad, I am planning to enjoy these profiteroles by the Dadaist artist Emmanuel Radnitzky, more famously known as Man Ray. This recipe was originally published in Vogue magazine in February 1, 1965.
Profiteroles Man Ray
3/4 cup water
2/3 stick butter
3/4 cup flour, sifted
1 pinch salt
1 teaspoon sugar
3 large eggs
Bring the water, butter, salt, and sugar to a boil in a good-sized saucepan. Remove from the fire and dump the flour into it. Stir vigorously and return to a low flame. Keep stirring hard until the dough makes a ball in the center of the saucepan. Remove from the fire and add the eggs one by one, beating briskly with each egg. The dough should be glossy and elastic. Preheat oven to 375°. Oil a cookie sheet. Pack the dough into a pastry bag and squeeze out thirty-five to forty mounds, each the size of an olive, onto the sheet. Leave a good inch of space between mounds for profiteroles to swell. Bake for fifteen minutes or until no moisture shows on puffs. Prick with a fork for steam to escape.
I’m eating pizza and ice cream, sometimes in the same sitting.
I’m eating bread and cornbread, usually toasted, but sometimes not. Usually with butter and jam, but sometimes not, and occasionally grilled with cheese, but often not.
I’m eating cheese, sometimes in unadulterated form - meaning sliced off the round or the block, but sometimes melted and sometimes sprinkled on pasta.
I’m eating lots of pasta, usually with pesto, but sometimes with tomato sauce. Sometimes I cook it and sometimes I shovel it into my mouth from a store-bought plastic container. I never travel without some titanium sporks and if you think I’m joking, you don’t know me very well.
I’m eating various vegetables, often charred black after being baked in olive oil.
I’m eating scrambled eggs often enough, usually in combination with some type of shredded or home-fried potatoes. Can you say “Waffle House?” I thought you could. Sliced, smothered and covered. Now we’re talking.
And I see from this snap inventory, I am NOT eating enough fruit and veggies. Not even close. Does a little apple cider or watermelon juice every week count?
I need to elevate my food game. Vitamins are not a replacement for veggies. Nor are they for pizza, either. There IS no pizza vitamin. You must eat fresh pizza that you catch in the wild.
I enjoy white rice and plain yogurt - a mix that some may find bland, but which I find complex and evocative of my youth, minus the homemade yogurt or my grandparents’ presence.
I’m eating breadsticks, the best that I can find, but in small quantities. I just discovered that you can dip a fine breadstick into some creamy, degenerate salad dressing and not suffer too many deleterious effects. I also like fig newton type cookies, but not with salad dressing.
I’m TRYING to eat salad, but IT’S SO MUCH FUCKING WORK. Now that I just said that, I have to eat a helping of “don’t be a crybaby pudding” and begin to think about shutting my mouth.
I do like most puddings and should investigate that fork in the road of life, but they take too much preparation, so the lesson is that I’ll usually eat whatever is easy and close at hand. I’ll eat what’s in the fridge or whatever crosses my field of vision, especially Dairy Queen cones dipped in chocolate.
Did I mention pizza and ice cream?
I love to paint. And I love to cook. My husband says I cook like I paint, and I know I paint like I cook. I am a messy painter, and I am a messy cook. I like to improvise when cooking. A friend gave be a an Italian cookbook years ago that did not have amounts of anything in the list of ingredients for a recipe. There was just a list of ingredients with a general guideline, "sauté mushrooms, add cream, simmer and add to pasta with parmesan cheese.” Love mushrooms, use more, want to add other veggies, go for it, dont like cheese leave it out. It taught me to cook without a recipe, to use what I had on hand in the fridge or pantry and be innovative and creative with tastes and ingredients to reflect my own tastes or ingredients in season. (That does not work with baking, at least for me, baking is chemistry, and I usually follow directions closely).
In painting, I will start with a scene, or a photo of a scene or place that I have experienced. I know what I want to express, and I am open to experimenting with textures and colors to see what works. I like to be open to spontaneity and the unexpected moment where the painting tells me what it needs. That can happen when cooking. Adding another layer of flavor or spice to liven the dish or add flavor.
With both cooking and painting I want to create something unique, and share it with others. I do love to eat, so I mainly cook for my tastes and what I think would be good. The best is then to invite friends over, set the table, open some wine and enjoy the moment, savoring the joys of sharing time with friends around the table.
Here is an easy recipe that is the perfect comfort food after the binge eating of the Holidays. It is a more personal dish, one that I make mainly for me. The soup is very easy and lends itself to improvisation. Make it as is with no embellishment, and it is fantastic. But, you can easily add chopped carrots and celery. Sausage for extra protein, brown rice or another grain like farro. The one ingredient not listed, that I highly recommend, for this or any vegetable soup or stew is a parmesan rind. I buy chucks of Reggiano Parmesano cheese at Costco and freeze the rinds. They add a wonderful umami layer of flavor to the dish. Do yourself a favor and double the recipe for freezing.
The Easiest Lentil Soup (New York Times recipe)
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
1 large onion, diced
11⁄2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
1 quart chicken, beef or vegetable stock, preferably homemade
1 cup brown or green lentils, rinsed 2 thyme or rosemary sprigs
1 to 2 garlic cloves, finely grated or pushed through a garlic press
1 teaspoon white-wine, sherry or cider vinegar, or lemon or lime juice, plus more to taste
1⁄2 cup thinly sliced radicchio, or red or green cabbage (optional)
1⁄2 cup parsley leaves, chopped Toppings (see Tip)
Heat ¼ cup oil in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Stir in onions and ½ teaspoon salt, and cook until onions start to brown at the edges, stirring frequently, 6 to 9 minutes.
Stir in stock, lentils, thyme and remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook until lentils are tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Discard thyme sprigs.
Stir in garlic, and remaining 2 tablespoons oil, and use an immersion blender to purée the soup to the desired consistency, keeping it chunky or making it smooth. (Alternatively, ladle it into a blender and blend in batches.) Stir in vinegar, then taste and add more salt and vinegar if needed.
In a small bowl, toss radicchio, if using, and parsley with a drizzle of oil and a sprinkle of salt. To serve, ladle soup into bowls and top with a small mound of radicchio and parsley, and/or any other garnishes you like.
Dairy (yogurt or sour cream, crumbled feta or goat cheese, or grated Parmesan); spices (toasted cumin seeds, chile flakes, or garam masala); savory vegetables and tart fruit (cubed avocado, browned leeks or onions, grated citrus zest, diced tomatoes, diced orange or grapefruit segments, diced roasted red peppers or pickled jalapeños); or salty finishes (croutons, chopped cooked bacon, sliced olives, crumbled nori or dried seaweed snacks, sesame seeds and sesame oil) are all worthy toppings.
Source: NY TIMES
And, here is a no-recipe recipe. This is my favorite kind of dinner. Comes together easily if you have roasted tomatoes in the freezer. (Or just use drained San Marzano tomatoes, or sauté cherry tomatoes for ten minutes and proceed with dish.)
Hot Italian Sausage and Roasted Tomato Pasta. (Adjust amounts depending on number of people to feed)
Roasted tomatoes: Cut one to two or more pints of cherry tomatoes in half and spread on large rimmed cookie sheet. Sprinkle with a little sugar and dried red chili pepper flakes if desired. Pour 1/2 c. olive oil over tomatoes (or more depending on the amount of tomatoes) slow roast in 300 degree oven for an hour or more, stirring once or twice, til reduced and beginning to caramelize. Remove from oven and layer in a small bowl with salt, fresh basil and chopped garlic, between layers, pour olive oil from the pan over, and let sit for several hours, then refrigerate for up to three days or freeze.
In large skillet, sauté chopped onion, add hot Italian sausage (bulk or remove skins) and cook until browned, add tomatoes and some additional red pepper flakes, chopped garlic, 2-3 tablespoons of pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, and/or olive tapenade if you have some. Simmer for 5-10 minutes. Add 1/2 - 1 cup chicken stock, or more to thin the sauce and simmer for 15- 30 minutes, add more stock if it thickens. Prepare any kind of pasta, al dente, reserve some of the salted pasta water. When pasta is ready, add some ricotta cheese (1/4 -1/2 c), grated parmesan cheese (1/4 - 1/2 c) and some butter (2-3 Tbsp) to sauce. Toss with pasta, simmer another minute or two, adding pasta water to thin if needed (I like a thinner sauce). Stir in some chopped fresh basil and/or Italian parsley.
Serve in pasta bowls with extra grated Grated cheese.
(Leave out sausage for a meatless pasta - mushrooms and/or artichoke hearts are a great addition, just add what you have on hand or like)
I was slow to come around on vegetables. A lot of that had to do with the fact that my mother, who grew up during the Depression, had a tendency to overcook everything. Or worse yet, serve us canned vegetables. Also overcooked. On the nights that she began setting the food on the table, and we saw a big bowl of canned rutabagas, the complaints would start before we even dished up our food.
But Brussels sprouts were not far behind on the list of vegetables that brought the gag reflex. These sour, mushy lumps of almost cabbage did nothing to please my palate. It probably didn’t help that Brussels sprouts was one of the taunts I had to endure during my early years of grade school, along with ‘Rollin’ rollin’ rollin’, keep them doggies rollin’. And ‘Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ on the river.’
Thankfully, I am capable of change, and in recent years, the lowly Brussels sprout has become a staple in my household. One of my favorite restaurants in Billings, Montana, where I live, serves a deep-fried version that is lightly coated with yeast, and served with an incredible pasty tomato sauce that has been one of their most popular dishes since the day they opened. I have introduced this delicacy to many visitors to our fine city, and not a one has been disappointed.
But I have also found a recipe for my own version of Brussels sprouts that I make at least once a week. It is especially brilliant for its simplicity. All it takes is a handful of sprouts, and for me the bigger the better. I cut them in half lengthwise, then heat up some olive oil and toss them in the pan. Once they start to turn bright green, I pull out my trusty garlic press and give it one nice-sized clove, then sprinkle a healthy dose of sea salt over the sizzling veggies. I always turn all the sprouts over to cook the flat side first, browning them just a little before I stir them up to make sure they’re cooked all the way through. If I get the timing just right, they are soft for the first couple of layers but crunchy on the inside. When I bite into these half-orbs, the slight hint of garlic and salt is the perfect accent to a flavor that has become a favorite
I had an uncle who was an expert on international agriculture, working for many years as a financial consultant for US AID, but he also grew up on a farm and knew a great deal about produce, and he told me a few years ago that sometime in the past couple of decades, they figured out a way to raise Brussels sprouts so that they aren’t as bitter. I have no idea whether he was right about that, but it seems to be true. And I dare say we have all benefited from the work of those scientists. And today, I offer my gratitude for their innovation, but also for the fact that we are all capable of finding joy in things we once abhorred.
I spent the summer in Northern Norway working on a documentary film and eating a tasty variety of seedy flatbreads (knekkebrød). I returned to Spokane to find a far more limited cracker offering with only wasa and wheat thins on the grocery shelves. In my culinary frustration, I did what all great bakers do. I consulted the internet and found a recipe. After a couple of adjustments, less cornstarch and more salt, knekkebrod is now a regular offering in my kitchen.
A few weeks ago I received this text from my brother-in-law:
Hi there. Remember when you brought over those noodles when J— had her shoulder surgery? If I recall you said they were pretty bland so they didn’t upset her stomach? Anyhow, they weren’t bland and they were f#$@ing delicious and I keep forgetting to ask you if you could share the recipe? There’s a bunch out there but I need yours if you still have it?🙏🏼😬
He was referring to my mom’s chicken tetrazzini recipe that involves frozen onions, cream of chicken soup, chicken, linguine and shredded cheese. That’s about it. It’s a midwestern, white bread sort of staple. It’ s the kind of thing you throw into 2 13x9s and bring to whoever needs it along with a side salad and some bread. I’ve found that it’ s usually the men who are thrilled by it and who eat as if they’ve been deprived. But it is comforting and easy, and it is bland in the sense that you don’t want to bring a spicy chili over to someone who’s just had surgery.
The recipe I really want to brag about though happened last week.
I, like many, have been attempting to broaden my at-home culinary horizons over the last few years. I still cook a lot of boring stuff, but I use lots of fresh onions and even my own herb garden in the non-winter months. I’ve tried more vegan cooking too and I find that the comfort in preparing a dish with a million colors and bright flavors is equal to if not exceeding that of the old standbys.
The old standbys, however, still very much suit my children, so I put a frozen pizza in the oven for them. Then I set to work making Roasted Honey Nut Squash and Chickpeas with Hot Honey. It’s a nice sheet-pan dinner that wasn’t difficult to make.
The tang of vinegar with the sweetness of the squash - and then the honey! I made one change to the recipe (cheeky). I didn’t have hot honey so I mixed honey with Chili crisp that I bought at a farmers market under the pretense that it would change my life. Well, I hadn’t used it as I hoped, but it helped make this dish so good that I brought a bowl across the street to my sister and made her taste it. It does not have a single flavor associated with our childhood. Not one. But it has so many flavors that I nearly burst with pride eating it.
Some days I think maybe I haven’t progressed as a cook at all, after all of these years, and then I do something wonderful like this and I can’t heap enough praise on myself. Of course all I did was chop and assemble and have the right ingredients on hand, but we all know that’s a coup in itself most days.
Meanwhile, I forwarded pictures of my mom’s chicken tetrazzini recipe on to my brother- in-law who responded with this lovely gif which sums up my own feeling any time somebody likes what I’ve fed them.
Happy Cooking! Happy Eating!
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