Category Archives: food

the sublime maira kalman and my perfect french onion soup

maira kalman 1I made a giant pot of French Onion Soup for this cold, cold weather, and we ate it with the bread soaked in and the cheese bubbling over on top while reading The Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman out loud.  This is such a wonderful book.  Ms. Kalman is an illustrator of New Yorker covers who’s children’s books we read years ago before I knew anything about her.  Max Makes a Million has been imprinted on my brain for all eternity, I’m sure, after the number of reads we gave it.  She has such a whimsical, dear, funny, heartbreaking view of the world!  Every contact I have ever had with her work makes me adore her even more.

Principles of Uncertainty is kind of a memoir, a visual journal, a bit philosophical, asking the big questions in the most childlike way, very New York, and it is utterly, utterly charming.  It’s about being moved by the effort that humans make—the often bizarre efforts (funny hats!  superb tassels!) to just plain old walking when we are old and walking has become  a trial—to get through our days.  Life is so hard and yet it is also full of moments of beauty, and joy, and wonderful desserts…do we need to ask the big questions when they seem to be unanswerable?  (Yes.  Maybe.  I don’t know.)maira kalman 2

Highly recommended.  Will crack you open in a sweet, delightful way.

Then, after the soup and the reading , I found a piece of paper where Sophie had written:

When you misplace something you can’t replace, like setting down a a friend, like setting down a piece of yourself, don’t try to be someone you’re not, don’t pretend to have feelings you are not feeling, I try to be my best but I slip up sometimes.  Don’t we all.

…and it took my breath and made me remember when she was ten months old, TEN MONTHS OLD, and she told me about the rain falling on the window and on the flowers outside, and how it was pretty, using sign language, because we did that (it was awesome), and it was so astonishing to realize there were deep thoughts and powerful experiences going on inside that tiny person.  I mean, of course there are, but so often people are opaque, we can forget, and then the curtain draws back for a moment and we see inside each other…

Maira Kalman makes me feel like that.  She is all about seeing those glimpses.

Here is Maira herself, giving a talk about some of her work, simply delightful:

And here is my recipe for sublime French Onion Soup, seriously it is that good.  There are these remnants from when I worked as a cook in my late teens and early twenties, like the few George Winston songs my fingers can still somehow play on the piano.  Mostly I don’t cook now, but sometimes I pull something out like this and my family gawks at me like I’ve started speaking flawless Swahili.  Yes, children, your mother knows how to cook, she just prefers not to….

FrenchOnionSoupSublime French Onion Soup

Thinly THINLY slice several large sweet onions. (Number depends on how much soup you want.  I did 3.)

Melt a half stick of butter in a large, dutch oven or soup pot and stir the onions around in it until they are coated.

Cook these on low-med heat for a while, stirring occasionally.  Maybe 45 minutes.  You want them to caramelize and you want some nice brown crusties to develop on the bottom of the pan, the more the better.  Not black!  Brown.

When the onions are translucent and the bottom of the pan is mucked up with brown, pour a generous cup of wine in and stir, getting all those brown bits off the bottom and dissolved into the wine/onion/butter mix.  I used some cheap marlot.  White wine will work, too.  Add a few minced cloves of garlic and a couple of bay leaves.  Keep stirring until the wine is mostly absorbed.  Some people add a few tablespoons of flour to this step, to make a roux, but I like a more clear broth, so I leave that out.

Add stock, veggie for vegetarians (it will be a little less rich, but still wonderful), or beef if you eat meat.  Enough to cover the onions and then some.  Add a couple of pinches of dried thyme.  Add salt until it tastes good to you.  This will depend on how salty your stock was.  I also like a bit of fresh ground pepper.  Simmer until it starts to smell wonderful.

Dish out onions and broth (which should be a rich brown color) into bowls.  Put in thick slabs of hard-toasted French bread, and grate cheese on top, Mozzarella is lovely, maybe a bit of Parm.  Some people use Gruyere.  Melt under a broiler for a few minutes.

Eat.  Try not to burn your mouth (I always burn my mouth).  It’s amazing.  And not very hard.  Maira, if you are ever in North Carolina, please come over for some of this soup. You would be most welcome.

making muscadine wine, part 2…we actually did it, christmas wine, yum

I wrote here about my friend’s new house and the abundant grape vines that came with it, plus about how it reminded me of my Granddaddy’s wine.  Well, I turned it around in my head for a while, interviewed my dad and two aunts about what they remembered, and pieced together Granddaddy’s recipe.  Maybe.  Anyway, Sophie and I decided to give it a go.

First, Granddaddy’s old homemade grape masher and five gallon carboy were unearthed from the old barn.

wine making 5

I bought an auto-siphon and an air-lock.  And then my lovely friend gave us 15 lbs of grapes, the last of the season’s golden scuppernongs, a kind of muscadine native to North Carolina.

making wine 1Scuppernongs are this gorgeous bronze color, so pretty! 

First step, mash the grapes.  We did it in a five gallon bucket, food-grade plastic, from Walmart, on Halloween.  The grapes are super acidic so gloves are essential if you want to keep the skin on your hands.

making wine 3

Sophie and I liked squeezing the grapes one at a time, like eyeballs, squirt!, tres funny—but only doable with a small quantity of grapes.

Here is the mash.  It think we could have mashed it more, actually.  We kind of got bored.  Although you don’t want to mash enough to damage the seeds, which, apparently, will ruin your wine.

making wine 2

We covered the mash with cheesecloth and a giant rubberband.  No added yeast.  Granddaddy just used the yeast on the grapes, so that’s what we did, too.

The skins floated, the seeds sank.  The juice was in the middle.

A week later it was bubbling and smelling super grape-y so I decided to go ahead and siphon it off.  Granddaddy’s carboy seemed too big for the amount of juice we had, so we used a one-gallon jug that had had apple juice in it.  Siphoning went okay at first, but as the juice layer got thinner we kept getting seeds stuck in the siphon, very annoying, jamming the siphon and requiring us to stop and clear it out.  This part could definitely have been handled better, resulting in more juice obtained from the grapes (possibly twice as much, I would estimate), but we were the blind leading the blind.  Still, we got about 2/3 of a gallon of juice, enough to early fill our jug, so we called it a win.

Please take a moment now to appreciate how Lucille Ball that whole scene was, Sophie and I in our rubber gloves, holding overly-long syphon tubing all over the kitchen, which kept popping out of bottle tops, squirting juice everywhere as we tried to get juice from the bucket into the bottle—and then the siphon jams up again, and again, oh man, we were laughing so hard, shouting, covered in sticky mash.  It was a disaster.

Moving along!  After cleaning up, we added 1 1/2 pounds of sugar to the juice and about 1 quart boiled water to top off the jug.  Then we sealed it with the airlock (half vodka, half water inside) and waited.

Somehow I totally forgot to take a picture of this stage!  But I found this in the corner of another picture that included our ridiculously crowded kitchen counter, plus my morning coffee.  So here is a grainy image of our second-fermentation set up.

making wine 4

Yes, the stopper is upside down!  It didn’t fit, it and the opening both being exactly 2 inches.  I turned it upside down and jammed it on that way.  Oh well.  This is just how we roll around here.  Keep right on moving….

It bubbled actively for a month or so.  A layer of white developed on the bottom of the bottle, which I think is dead yeast.  The later of foam on the top turned sort of brown, kind of gross looking.  Slowly more solids fell out, leaving clear yellow liquid.  Maybe it was turning into wine.

By mid-December the bubbles had become tiny tiny and I decided it was probably done.  Solstice wine!

We opened it up.  Would it be undrinkable?  Vinegar?  Nasty?  Put us in the hospital?

To all of those: NO.  It was delicious!!!  Sweet but not too sweet (not as sweet as Granddaddy’s).  A lovely scuppernong afterflavor.  Kind of floral almost.  Not too strong.  Definitely alcoholic as a half glass got me tipsy.  I’m a total lightweight.

High five for me and Sophie!

We got three bottles from our jug and Sophie designed us a label.

winemaking 7

Grandharry’s Muscadine Wine!

I wish we had made more, it’s really, really yummy.  We took one bottle to the Lassiter family gathering last night and everyone had some.  Lots of congrats on the wine’s success, so I guess it worked.

One fellow, a vintner himself, said I should hide the recipe, haha, but I reckon I’m an open source kind of gal, thus this post.  If you’ve got 15 lbs of scuppernongs, I highly recommend trying it out.

wine making 6

I’m totally adding vintner to my resume.

manga food! in which we cook japanese kare raisu and slurp bowls of homemade ramen a la the wonderful manga, shinya shokudou

If you read much manga at all it won’t be long before you’re reading about food. Indeed, some of my favorite manga center around food and restaurants, stories like Antique Bakery and Dining Bar Akira…and most recently, Shinya Shokudou, by Abe Yaro. (Links are to my reviews.)

Shinya Shokudou is about an old-fashioned, all-night food stall and its proprietor, plus the many dishes he prepares to suit the tastes of different customers…and the funny, poignant, interesting stories of the regular patrons and their night-owl life-styles. Nominated for the 2nd Manga Taisho Award (2009) and the winner of the 39th Japan Cartoonist Awards Grand Prize (2010), the art is funny, quirky, and unusual—as are the stories and the characters. Sweet, delicate, no overarching plot, just short episodes centered around the regulars and their food. I was so sad when I came to the end!

I also SERIOUSLY wanted to eat.

Actually, tons of manga I read make me want to eat. All these pretty drawings of bento, or quirky food-stalls, or interesting regional dishes. Gah! I don’t even eat most of this stuff, fried pork cutlets or various kinds of fish everything, or sausages cut into the shapes of octopi. Still, it’s like cigarettes in manga. I have no interest in smoking whatsoever…but it looks so cool and awesome and sexy when some of these characters smoke (and many, many of them do)…it kind of makes me want to try it. A little bit. I mean, not really. But sort of.

But junky food, that’s not like smoking, I can try that on for a night or two, one meal won’t kill me….

All righty then! What is the single most common manga food that pops up over and over, eaten constantly by manga characters, about which I have become terrifically curious?

Curry Rice.

Or, as it is known in a strange around-the-world, English-to-katakana and then back to English again in the form of romanization: kare raisu.

There is this great story in Shinya about Yesterday’s curry (because curry always tastes better the second day) and a relationship that forms between two regular customers, so sweet and funny.

<—– Read right to left <——

Wait a minute. Japanese curry? Huh? Isn’t curry Indian? I know, I know, I was confused, too. But seriously, as far as manga is concerned, curry rice is like meatloaf in a contemporary Japanese family dinner line-up. Ubiquitous comfort food, eaten by the masses. The history of why the Japanese eat curry is discussed in this interesting article over at Tofugu and I’ll link it rather than quote at length. But suffice it to say, after reading about the 2oo,000th manga character eating kare, I had to try it.

And not just any curry. I wanted the real stuff, the kind they make with the pre-packaged roux, made in a factory, constructed out of industrial strength MSG, spices, and palm oil.

Okay. So with that description in mind the kids and I headed off to the Asian Market! Where we scored this:

That’s not a giant chocolate bar, that is authentic S & B Japanese kare roux. So, it goes like this:

Saute a chopped onion in oil or butter until translucent. Add whatever you want in your kare, meat if you eat it, veggies, etc. We used the manga classic of potatoes and carrots, to which I added tofu and cabbage. Add some water and simmer for ten minutes or until everything is done to your liking. Add the roux and let it dissolve into a salty, spicy gravy. Serve this savory stuff over short-grain Japanese white rice. Like so. YUM. Vegan, even!

I don’t usually eat MSG so I was a little worried that I would get headaches or heart palpitations or asthma attacks…but I was fine. And this stuff was seriously tasty. Sophie, Paul and I licked our bowls. Luc refused to even acknowledge the curry’s presence in the yurt, of course, he doesn’t eat “weird food”. But I can see why they like it in Mangaland. Hearty, lip-smacking, make-you-want-to-eat-more in a homestyle junky food, but not too junky kind, of way.

Mission accomplished.

Well, if kare raisu is the number one (in my estimation) manga food, what is the number two? It’s gotta be ramen. (Or possibly instant noodles? But who wants to eat those?) But really, manga characters are constantly going out to ramen shops, passing through those doors with hanging down blue noren curtains, and it makes me crazy because at this point I soooo want to eat ramen from an all-night ramen shop like the one in Shinya, and I can’t. I swear, this has become my new travel-food fantasy. I want to have espresso in a Parisian cafe, and I want to eat ramen in an all-night ramen shop in Tokyo. In the rain. I don’t know why rain is important, but it is. It’s probably a Blade Runner thing.

Anyway. On the heels of my curry success, I decided to try to make some ramen, not, obviously the chemical packs you can buy in any grocery store (yuck), and not the REAL ramen where they boil beef bones for three days to make a broth the recipe of which is a secret passed down in the family for generations. But surely there was something in between? Surely there is some homestyle ramen I could made here in North Carolina that will satisfy my curiosity and manga-spawned cravings?

To Google!

Where I found this very simple recipe that was, honestly, quite delicious. Not vegan because of the dashi stock, and the egg. (You could make it vegan by using kombu seaweed instead of the dashi. And leaving off the egg.)

From the Asian store: fresh curly noodles (Luc’s name for them). Hondashi instant dashi stock (primarily MSG, plus dried fish). Shitake mushrooms. Scallions. Shiro Miso. Seaweed. Garlic. Eggs.

Boil the eggs, then then noodles (in the same water is easy). Rinse and divide into four bowls along with some of the seaweed and the peeled eggs, sliced in half. Simmer 8 cups of water with 2 tsp of the dashi stock granules, 1 T of soy sauce, plus the garlic and mushrooms, for ten minutes or so. Turn off the heat and stir in 4 T of miso. Ladle the broth over the noodles. Sprinkle with scallions and chilli flakes (for me because I love hot things). EAT.

I was surprised at how delicious this ramen was! Really, this was seriously tasty and light years better than those instant noodle packs that also go by the name of ramen. Even Luc slurped up his bowl, too busy eating to answer my “how is it?” He did manage a thumbs up after a minute, haha. Definitely a success.

I see there is a live action drama made from Shinya Shokudou.

I wonder where I could watch it? From this picture it looks terrific.

But of course, for the ultimate in Ramen Media, you have to watch the WONDERFUL 80s movie Tampopo. A really, really good film, highly recommended. It isn’t manga, but even I can branch out every now and then.

Irasshaimase!

strawberry fest 2013!

We went to our friend’s organic farm last Monday and picked 19 pounds of strawberries. Nineteen pounds.

Woo hoo!  We’ve been eating strawberries three times a day, my hands are stained red with strawberry juices, I’m telling you, it is All Strawberries All The Time.

Let’s see, we’ve had strawberry shortcake…

Strawberry Pancakes…

Strawberry Smoothies…

Strawberry Sundaes…

And my personal favorite…

Strawberry Cobbler!

I’ve waxed on about cobbler before on this blog, including our recipe.  Today’s cobbler, though, was a weird case: it just would not cook.  We kept waiting and waiting, checking and rechecking, but no.  Still goop.  Was the oven not working?  Was the pan the wrong shape?  Were the laws of physics not operating in our kitchen?  Finally, after over an hour, we couldn’t take it anymore and we ate it.  It was still awesome, with the vanilla ice cream on top, all bubbling and hot and cold and sweet and sour and crunchy and gooey…cobber contains all of these mysteries, does it not?  I don’t know why it took so long, but good things come to those who wait and all that shite.

Oh, and of course, we’ve also gobbled bowls and bowls of just straight-up strawberries.  The best are the ones you sneak while you’re picking, warmed up by the sun and sweet like candy.

But we ate the last of this year’s fresh-picked strawberries just now.  There are 10 pounds frozen in bags for later, but the fresh ones are gone, down the hatch.  And Luc just said, “You know what?  I’m sick of strawberries.”  Perfect time to quit.

Strawberry Pancake Man says….

“Peace out, man.”

Until next year….

the kim chee experiment part 2: in which i break my juice fast on kim chee and it is effing delicious

I don’t exactly feel this qualifies as truth-in-advertising, because honestly everything, including, like, dirt, tastes fucking fantastic after a fast…BUT, the kim chee I made last week turned out to be AMAZING. Dialing my enthusiasm down a notch to account for the post-fasting food mania and we’ll say, “Hey, the kim chee turned out pretty well.”

Now, is kim chee really the best thing to break an eight day juice fast on? Maaaaaybe not. But MAN. It had been sitting on my counter getting stinkier and more wonderful for three days and I just couldn’t take it any more. When Paul and I decided we were done fasting, I got out my chop sticks. Ferb, I know spy transmitter for mobile what we’re going to do today.

The first bite made my eyes roll back in my head. I don’t have vast kim chee experience, so I can’t say how it would hold up in a blind taste test against authentic kim chee, or chef-made kim chee, or Korean Grandmother’s kim chee, but…it worked for me.

And no ill effects today, so I suppose it was all right as a fast-breaker. HA.

Kim chee results: It’s really good. Bright, fresh flavors, eye popping. Spicy enough for me (but then, I’m drink-sriracha-out-of-the-bottle girl, so your milage may vary), gives a nice mouth burn by the end of an ice-cream-scoop size serving. A bit too salty. Next time I’ll try 1/2 cup less (that’s 1.5 cups total) red pepper flakes, not for reducing heat, but just improving the cabbage per spice-sauce ratio in favor of more cabbage. Plus, I’ll rinse the brine off the cabbage a bit more thoroughly to reduce the saltiness a hair or two. I mentioned wanting to add kombu, so I’ll do that, retaining some of the kombu soaking water to stand in for the liquid you would get from the fish sauce I did not include, and thereby making the chili paste more of a paste. My chili paste was a little dry, as is the kim chee, so I’ve added a bit of water to jars—once I ate enough out of each to make room for some, that is. On the whole, a success, and with some tweaking will be very, very nice.

Paul ate some. He liked it, although he doesn’t like kim chee, saying it is Poo of Alien Spawn. Could have been the post-fast effect, but he crunched several bites of it without turning his nose up. The kids, or course, would rather throw themselves off the balcony than eat kim spy – mobile cell phone & gps tracker prank chee. More for me! But with no one else to verify the goodness of my kim chee experiment, you’ll have to take my word for it….

Juice fast results: This was my third juice fast and Paul’s second. The numbers on the scale say I lost about 5 lbs and he lost about 15 lbs. Probably some of that is flux and just being empty of a couple of pounds of FOOD, so say, radio gps tracker 3 lbs lost for me and maybe 10 lbs for Paul. He lost 10 lbs in eight days! Is that even possible? Well, he looks thinner and his pants are loose in the waist, so I guess it is.

Plus our skin looks great. como espiar una persona en el bano Seriously, Paul looks ten years younger.

Most importantly, I just feel light and easy, no best spyware for iphone 5s puffy, tired, dragging feeling. Ease in my joints, no tight, swollen feeling. Light, springy yoga practices. I wonder what that tight, stiffness is from, salt? Coffee? Sugar? Inflammation response? Those seem like the most likely culprits.

We did MUCH better on the COST of juice fasting this time. Last time I went for seven days, just me, and it was about $175. This time BOTH Paul and I juiced for EIGHT days for the same amount of money! Buying crates of fruit and spinach at Costco is the answer to cheap produce!!! Kale I got at Whole Foods (no kale at Costco) and we got young coconuts at the Asian Super Mega Store for $3 bucks each instead of $4. It pays to shop around, I reckon.

Honestly, I don’t like juice fasting very much, I mean, it’s tolerable. The juice is delicious, but I do get bored of it, plus the first few days are uncomfortable with the hunger and the detoxing. It’s a psychological game more than anything. Having a fasting buddy helps tremendously. What I really love are the results.

And I really, really love kim chee. But maybe you got that already.

YUM.

the kim chee experiment, part 1: making it

Yeah, I totally made me some kim chee yesterday.

*struts around feeling all powerful and domestic*

It looks SO DELICIOUS.  I can’t wait to eat it!  But wait I must because 1) kim chee is a fermented food, and to ferment takes a bit of time, and 2) Paul and I are still on our juice fast.  Day 5, in fact.  I’m totally sick of it right now.  A couple of hours ago, however, I was all high and content.  Juice fasting is a ride, that’s for sure.

But back to the kim chee.

Kim Chee is, of course, Korean fermented cabbage in a chilli, garlic, ginger sauce.  It is marvelous—and supposedly super healthy for you, all those beneficial bacteria or something—even though it smells like stinky feet.  How can something smell so awful and taste so good?  I do not pretend to comprehend the mystery that is kim chee.

Normally I buy the stuff, but it’s damn expensive, $7-10 bucks for a small pint jar.  Too much!  This recipe came out to two quarts for about the same cost: much better.  To do it, I scoured the net for recipes (there are a billion), particularly looking for ease of application (for example, I couldn’t figure out the sweet rice flour step found in many recipes so opted for a variation that didn’t use it) and vegetarian options.  Traditional kim chee uses “fish sauce” or some variant to give it that complex umami flavor, but I wanted to leave out the poor little fish.  The recipe below is a bit of an amalgam of several, plus more garlic because there can never be too much garlic, but I particularly liked the looks of this one over at Instructables, based in turn on the recipe in the book Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz.  The comment thread on that post was pretty good, too.

Here we go.

3 lbs of Napa cabbage, about two heads, cut up into 1 inch chunks

2 carrots, julienned

1 large daikon radish, cut in 1/4 inch thick half-moons

1 bunch of scallions, sliced on the diagonal

10 cloves of garlic, minced

6 tablespoons of freshly grated ginger

2 cups, that’s right TWO CUPS of coarse ground Korean chilli powder, purchased on Easter at the Mega-Asian-Mart on the way to Grandma’s house. [EDIT: I’d adjust this down to 1 1/2 cups to make less chili paste total and improve the cabbage-to-chili paste ratio.]

I believe it is called Gochutgaro.  The kind we got is Assi brand, 1 lb for $4 bucks.  It smells lovely and is very flavorful and sweet, not very hot, if I put some on my tongue.  I’ll report back on the hotness level and flavor once I eat some of the final product.

You also need around 8 tablespoons of coarse salt for the brine, more about that in a moment.

Okay, first you take your veggies (cabbage, daikon, carrots) and salt them.  You go for about 1 T of salt per cup of water.  It took 8 cups of water to cover our veggies in my crockpot crock (the largest non-reactive “bowl” I could find in the kitchen) so I used 8 T of salt.  Salt all the veggies and cover with the water and let it sit in this brine for many hours.  I waited 3 hours, but I think you could let it sit for longer, maybe overnight.

Soaking in brine wilts the veggies, making them soft for eating.  It also kills any bad bacteria and sets up a good environment for the good bacteria you want.  But of course, you don’t eat all that salt!  So, after they’ve soaked, it’s time to RINSE.  Some people seem to rinse really well (one video I watched had this lovely Korean lady rinsing vigorously for ten minutes, as if she was washing the sin out of that cabbage), while others barely at all (people who like their kim chee salty?).  Perhaps this is a matter of taste, although, if you don’t rinse some, the salt will inhibit the fermentation, so…moderation, perhaps.  I rinsed pretty well.  A test piece of cabbage tasted pleasantly, but very mildly, salty. [EDIT: I’d rinse a bit more thoroughly than I did, to take the saltiness down a bit.]

Next you make the chilli paste, mixing up the garlic, ginger, scallions (you could also use leeks or onions), and pepper powder.  Here is where you put in the fish sauce and since I wasn’t using it, the “paste” was a little dry.  But I think it still worked.  Next time I want to try adding some soaked Kombu, a kind of seaweed that has a lot of those natural glutamates that brighten the flavor and give things that certain something, that umami flavor…to stand in for the fish sauce which is similarly full of glutamates ( like MSG).  Napa cabbage has a bunch already, but Kombu has even more.  I was going to use Kombu this time, but it turned out I was out.  Bummer.  Next time.

I seriously did not believe it was 2 cups of pepper powder and I looked at a LOT of recipes to confirm this quantity.  Some do less, some do more, but it’s definitely in the CUP range, not the tablespoon range.  Tasting is recommended because hotness won’t change that much with fermentation, so if it is not spicy enough now, you can add more.  I started with one cup first and then added another—I mean, you can always add, but you can’t take it back out once it’s in there, right?

Next, you mix the rinsed veggies and the sauce.  Use gloves if you use your hands or the pepper starts to burn (seriously).  Once it is well mixed and a lovely red color, pack it into jars.  I suggest wide-mouthed jars, for ease of packing (and later, getting it back out to eat).  I also suggest the non-reactive plastic screw-on lids.

When I first chopped everything, I thought, oh dear, it will never fit in the jars I’ve got.  But the wilting process  reduces the volume of the cabbage by nearly half.  By the time everything had soaked, it all just fit perfectly.  I did cram and press it in there with the back of a wooden spoon.  Packing it in is recommended by the various recipes and some people even put weight on the top, such as rocks or bowls of water.  I opted out of that because any tower on our tiny kitchen counter is going to get knocked down, probably taking a few nearby towers with it.  Not good.

I put the lids on loosely, just sitting them on top, really—do not seal’em tight because fermentation EXPANDS and your glass jars will bust.  I also put the two jars on a tray with a lip because sometimes, as they ferment, they can overflow a bit and I don’t want stinky kim chee juices all over my counter.

And that’s it.  Pretty easy.

All that’s left is to wait.  That’s the step I’m on now.

I hate waiting.

As an experiment, I put a little juice from some store-bought kim chee in one of my jars to see if, like yogurt, a bit of starter helps the fermentation along.  I’m probably a bit too interested in this whole kim chee thing.  Blame it on the juice fast.

Here is what the kids are doing while they wait:

One big t-shirt + one pair of giant pajama bottoms + 2 kids = Siamese twins!   They were trying to walk and fell over….

Oh!  And look at this cool thing we also got at the Asian Market:

It’s called a dragon fruit!  There is some savvy marketing right there, because we were all over buying a “dragon fruit.”  We were quite delighted when we sliced into it and discovered this crazy interior!  The color of that pink layer is AMAZING.  Oddly, the pink layer tastes like a carrot.  The inside, that white part with the seeds, is similar to a kiwi.  Okay, the flavor was a bit of a letdown after the dragon and the gorgeous colors, but, oh well.  Might not have been a super ripe one?

*drumming fingers*

Kim chee!  How I long for you!  I’ll post the results when I finally get to eat it….

Part 2 is HERE.

happy easter! and also, we’re doing juice fast the third and i’m craving kimchi

Happy Easter!!

And….yeah, so, somehow I, the chocoholic, planned a JUICE FAST with Paul for the week-end of chocolate bunnies.  I am stupid.  It was because Paul had some time off from work and it seemed like that would be a good time to do it and I totally forgot about the whole Easter thing.  Oops.

The kids did not forget.  They were brutal with us this morning, flaunting their Easter-haul, “want to taste this?  Oh right.  Sorry. *maniacal giggling*”  Oh, hilarious.  Despite this abuse, Paul and I are finishing up day three and….man.

I want some KIMCHI.

Who can explain these things?  Why even try?

So we  went to the Asian Super Store Market and bought a pound of Korean hot pepper powder so I could make some.  I am STOKED.  I love me some kimchi, and, as a craving goes, that’s a pretty good one, right?  I could be craving Big Macs or hot fudge sundae’s, but no.  I want spicy Korean fermented cabbage.  If I make it now, it might be totally ready for eating by the time I am no longer fasting.  Mmmm.  Yeah, it smells, but I.  Don’t.  Care.

So, while the kids eat chocolate eggs, I’m sipping my carrot juice.  I have incredible will power.

A few juice fasting notes….

1) After the super-expensive second juice fast, we decided to go about it differently this time and bought cases of fruits and veggies from Costco.  WAY cheaper.  Sorry Whole Foods, but I can not afford you.

2) Number One thing noticed after only three days on juice: my skin is remarkably different.  First, I woke up to find my face super-soft.  And then, Sophie looked at me this morning and said, “Your eyebags are almost completely gone.”  It’s true!  The bags under the bags under my eyes have vanished.  And the bags under my eyes are at 50% or less.  I’m telling you, my eyes look ten years younger.  If you have any issues with vanity *coughmecough* then if you want better skin, JUICE FAST.

What the heck is going on in my body with my regular not-horrible eating that makes the skin under my eyes just collapse?  I mean, what is up with that????

3) Fresh squeezed grapefruit juice is AWESOME.

I’ll make a post-juice-fast post and let you know how it goes.  And how the kimchi experiment turns out.  I’ve never tried to make kimchi before, so, you know.  Adventure!

aeropress coffee maker, or, i am a coffee whore

I know, I know, not that long ago I was going on and on about my moka pot and the delicious syrupy goodness of a well made cafe cubano.  Well, I, too, thought I was content with the status quo.  Seriously, I was not in the market for a new coffee maker.  But then it happened….

For Christmas this year Santa gave me a bizarre looking device called an Aeropress, and, despite my certainty that I didn’t want another coffee maker, I had to at least give it a try.  I couldn’t offend Santa, could I?  Much to my surprise, the Aeropress turned out to make simply terrific coffee, very strong but with zero bitterness.  Tres delicieux!  Since then, quite by accident,  I find I’ve abandoned all other coffee paraphernalia, the various pots and filters sitting mournfully on their shelf , casting spiteful, jealous glances at the new favorite….  But when I want fabulous, strong, smooth, delicious, fast, coffee, I keep reaching for the Aeropress.  What can I do?

The Aeropress was invented by the same guy who invented a frisbee thing called an Aerobie.  I guess frisbee people love coffee, too.  But maybe this is why, as the fellow over at Sweet Maria’s says, the Aeropress has all the visual charm of a piece of medical equipment.  Sad but true.  This is not some elegant silver Turkish coffee pot, or even a cute moka pot the size of my hand.  This is a plastic syringe.

Yeah.

Romantic, it ain’t.

But the coffee it makes!  Incredibly smooth but super intense, coffee that makes you kind of gasp when you take your first sip, like, Oh!  That is soooo gooood…..  And no bite.

No, I am not getting a kick-back on this post.  Oh, but speaking of money, this thing costs about twenty bucks.  Cheap, fabulous coffee!

But how the heck do you use this thing?  To Youtube! Because Youtube is the fountain of knowledge.

And…there are a gazillion videos. Tons of people including famous baristas have made how-tos with the Aeropress—and every method is different.  I think this proliferation is because you can control every variable of the coffee making  with this thing, the grind, the steep duration, the water temperature, the quantity of coffee, the quantity of water, etc.  So some people go for a longer brew, coarser grind, more like a press-pot, while others a finer grind and lower water temp, while others use more coffee and less water, etc etc. Anyway, me being me, I tried them all and made notes.  Lots of notes.  I’m obsessive about my coffee, plus, I’m avoiding my novel.  But hey, now you can benefit from my insanity because what we have below is the method I came up with that makes perfect coffee every single time.

Here’s how it goes.  That white circle at the bottom of the above picture is a paper filter.  It’s about two and half inches across and very thin.  You get about six months of them with your Aeropress, so you’ll have to buy more some time next year.   You start your kettle and when it’s nearly boiling, you screw the black cap + paper filter onto the tube with the numbers and put it on your mug. Run some nearly boiling water through to warm your cup and rinse the paper taste out of the filter.

See the steamed up tube from the hot water?  Okay, once that’s drained through, maybe 10 seconds, your kettle is probably boiling.  Unscrew the black cap thing and set it aside.  Insert the rubber-ended plunger into the number-tube and balance the whole thing upside down on the top of the plunger.  Make sure the numbers are upside down and that the threads for screwing the filter back on (not yet, in a moment) are at the top.  I’ve made the mistake of having the threads on the bottom so you don’t have to.  (Look at the picture below to see the threads-up position.)

Okay.  Next pour finely ground coffee into the upside down section, but still leave off the black cap and filter.  I use 1 scoop of beans with the scoop they provide with the thing, which seems to be two tablespoons.  I scoop the beans with the scoop and grind them right before use—but of course!  It should look like this:

See the ground coffee in there?  See the upside down numbers?  Next, pour in water just off the boil up to the top of the tube.  Stir the grounds/water for 15 to 20 seconds.  Full immersion of the grinds, swirled freely in the hot water, makes the best coffee!  I stand there going, “one mississippi, two mississippi….”  Fine grind and full immersion means you don’t need a long steep.  A short steep means NO BITTERNESS.  Yay!

The grinds will bloom (foam) and absorb some of the water so I always top it off to full after stirring.  Now, finally, screw on the the black grid/filter.  It looks like this:

See it balanced on the plunger?

Important: pour OUT the mug-warming hot water from your mug before you press the plunger!  Don’t make coffee into the mug-warming water, if you do, you will be very sad.  I was.

Now, the exciting part.  Flip the whole thing onto your mug.  That’s right, Flip!  Sounds tricky right?  It is!  But the hot coffee and grounds don’t spill because the plunger is holding it all in with a weak vacuum.  I have yet to spill and I am a total clutz.  You should be safe.

Next: Press the plunger!  The coffee is forced through the grounds, through the filter, and into your mug.

There is my toast-to-be in the background…nutella toast and coffee, mmmm….  I’m toasting and spreading as I do all the rest of this.  I’m a multi-tasker!

You use firm but gentle pressure, all the way to the bottom.  If feel like you have to use a ton of force then you try backing off and pressing more gently.  Or possibly your grind is too fine, or you accidentally used two filters—easy to do, they stick together.  Another mistake I’ve made, that you don’t have to!

Clean up:  See that buffer of air between the top of the coffee and the black rubber plunger?  When you get to the air, you hear it hissing out and you know you’re done.  You unscrew the filter, hold the Aeropress over your compost or trash, and press the plunger the rest of the way with a POP.  The grounds and filter leap out in a compact disk.  Rinse the flat end of the plunger and you’re done!  Clean up is SO EASY.

Here’s what you get:

This mug is giant, so it only gets about 2/3 full, hard to see with the weird perspective on this shot.  Super strong, espresso-like coffee!

Sidebar.  Yes, I drink my coffee in this pink heart mug.  And yes, perhaps fittingly, it has a crack right down the side.  Like my heart.  Paul gave me this mug for Valentines day years ago.  We call it the Love Mug.  It functions even with the crack.  Like my heart.  End of sidebar.

But wait!  I have another trick!  The Frieling hand powered milk frother!  Ta da!

I put a bit of milk in, not too much, and sit it right on the gas stove on low heat while I’m doing the rest of this.  Ever now and then I give it a swirl.  By the time the coffee is made, the milk is steaming, nice and hot.  So you put  the lid on the top and pump the up and down thing 20 or 30 times, forcing the milk through all those holes and poof….foam!

It isn’t the super micro-foam you get with a good steam wand.  But it’s foamy and delicious!  You pour it on top of your Aeropress coffee and yuuuuum, it’s really, really, really satisfying.

Cappuccino!

I’ll do just about anything for a cup of this stuff.

Even get out of bed in the morning.

I leave you with an assortment of videos with a variety of methods. These are only a few of the videos out there, I mean, holy cow, people like to talk about their Aeropress.

Famous barista Gwilym Davies…

This fellow talks a bit about why Aeropress coffee is so good…

Here’s the Sweet Maria’s guy. I have a soft spot for them because I used to buy green coffee beans and roast them myself, back with I was childless and had time for such frivolities.

This fellow gets the award for most precision gadgets, scale, thermometer, timer, etc. Nice kitchen, too.

And finally, this one has the best animation graphics!

Enjoy your coffee!

juice fasting, round two: show me the money

I’ve never had a particularly strong constitution, but ever since I had children I’m prone to feeling very, very tired.  One could easily say, yes, parenthood takes a lot out of you.  But then I did that juice fast last year and wow, did it make a difference in my energy level.  And since I’ve been feeling exhausted lately, I mean, just wrung out,  I thought I’d revisit the juice thing.  See if I could do anything to perk my tired self up.

So, I’m on day four.  Which, if experience holds, is the end of the hunger and the grumpy weak feeling, and the point after which things start to get good.  Then better than good.  And hey, I got all the way to euphoria last time, around day nine.  Can I hang in there long enough this time around to similarly soar the emotional highs of not eating?

We’ll know in a week.

At this point I’m kind of on automatic with the juice making. I’ve got a system.  Five juices (well, four plus a coconut) per day, made in two batches so I only have to wash the juicer out twice a day.  Kale-orange, carrot, spinach-apple, the coconut water (my hands down favorite), and a V-8 sort of concoction made of tomato, carrot, spinach, celery, garlic, red bell pepper, and parsley.

Note: I’m NOT putting forth my juice-related choices and experiences as those to be emulated based on my superior results or their magical health giving properties.  I’m just trying things out, you know?  Your mileage may vary.

So anyway, what with this standardized juicing system, I got curious on my last trip to the grocery store just how much this was all costing me.  Someone with a garden, someone juice fasting in the summer who had a garden, that someone could do all of this for a heck of a lot cheaper, thought I.  But as it’s nearly winter and I have no garden, it’s Whole Foods for me and just how much does 16 oz of kale-orange juice cost, anyway?

Here’s what I’ve roughed out for one day of juicing:

Bunch of kale $3, three oranges $3, one and a half pound of carrots $1.25, a bunch of spinach $3.50, two apples $3, one coconut $4, two smallish tomatoes $2, half a head of celery $1, half a pepper $2, a bit of parsley $1.

That’s a total of $23.75 (plus tax) per day.  Let’s call it $25 a day, or about $5 per glass.  In ten days, I’ll spend a whopping $250 on produce.  Of course, I seem to remember I wanted less juice as the days went on, getting down to maybe three glasses a day, so the total will be less.

How does this compare to how much I spend feeding myself on a typical day?  I don’t really know.  Fair trade coffee, soy creamer (I’ve gotten used to it), local bakery bread, green smoothies, fruit, bowl of pinto beans, corn chips, big salad with an avocado, bit of chocolate for medicinal purposes….  But if we’re still roughing things out, we feed four people a week on maybe $125-150 normally, while if all four of us were eating all this produce, it would be $700 a week on groceries!!!!  Holy shit.

Produce is insanely expensive!  It’s a hell of a lot cheaper to eat crap!

I guess eating produce is cheaper than triple bypass surgery or Type 2 Diabetes.  But still.

I’ve got to get me a garden.  And a gardener.  Because that person is probably not going to be me.

I’ll let you know I am able to achieve euphoria.  Stay tuned.

the #1 reason to do a juice fast

Ten days, no solid food, just water and fresh made juice from fruits and veggies.  [insert Rocky theme music here!]  That’s right, Paul and I did it, and we didn’t tear each other’s heads off, nor did we slather kids in butter and sugar and eat them.  Although we were tempted.  Several times.

Here’s how it went.  I made the juice.  Paul took out the compost.  It’s hard to say which was more work.  There was a lot of compost and I wished I could have Fed Ex-ed it to our goats at their new farm, because they would have been in heaven.

The juice: we found we liked starting with something citrusy, grapefruit and orange, maybe a few carrots.  Then a veggie mix for lunch—I found a V-8-like combo of tomatoes, greens, onion, garlic, red pepper, carrot, more greens, and celery that we like a lot.  For dinner we tended to go with a greens/apple combo.  And somewhere in there would be something new, coconut water, or cucumber juice, or watermelon juice.  It’s amazing how fast we got into a routine, actually.

Truth: the first four days were awful.  I was hungry, grumpy, tired, snotty, and thinking about food all the time.  Paul wouldn’t stop talking about steak (his craving) and I couldn’t stop talking about chocolate and bread with butter (my cravings). I’m sure the kids thought we were nuts.

Then around the fifth day, something shifted and suddenly we just weren’t hungry anymore.  It was weird.  Even drinking the juice seemed kind of optional.  Hunger left.  After that, being on the fast was quite easy— except when I was cooking meals for the kids and the food was right there in front of me.  But really, even then, not eating was not a problem.

It wasn’t until day 8, however, that I actually started to feel GOOD.  And day 9 I was downright euphoric.  As in, wow, life is great!  I have so many blessings!  I’m going to go do X and Y and Z and isn’t the sunlight pretty today!  I wouldn’t have minded more of that.  Looking back I kind of wish I had extended the fast a day or two just for more of that feeling.

But our ten days were over and I started eating again and the euphoria left.  Sigh.  For the first day we stayed liquid, just moved from the juicer to the blender for several meals, drinking green smoothies and raw soups, basically the same stuff plus the fiber we had been removing before.  The second day we added salads with plain dressings like lemon juice and a squirt of Dr. Braggs.  Then we started munching any fruits or veggies and added a little oil into our salad dressings.  My stomach had become tiny and could only hold a small amount the first few days.  I’d feel stuffed after eating an apple.  We’re one week off now and still no grains, but we’ve had some cooked beans with our twice a day salads, green juice for breakfast, and raw soups for snack.  The goal is about 90% raw fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds, for a month or so, to see what that’s like.  Oh, and I had a little raw chocolate yesterday that blew the top of my head off.

Because here’s the thing: when you come off a juice fast food tastes INCREDIBLE.  My taste buds found even the most humble piece of lettuce to be a revelation!  A plain salad with some lemon juice and a half an avocado was a symphony of flavors and textures!  A rich feast!  I couldn’t believe how amazing vegetables could taste.

And THAT, my friends, is, in my opinion, the #1 reason to juice fast.  Everything tastes so good right afterwards, it is an EASY moment to improve your overall eating style.

I mean, it can be pretty freaking hard to choose a pile of lettuce over a slice of pizza when lettuce tastes like bitter grass clippings to you.  But after a fast, lettuce tastes wonderful, making forgoing the pizza suddenly much, much easier.  Taste buds change, and a juice fast is a super efficient way to get them to hurry up and swing in the favor of healthy plant-based foods.  It’s like getting a leg up.  And from what I can tell, the longer I go eating unadorned plant foods the farther along my taste buds come in just liking them.  Because the biggest hurdle I have ever had to eating better is that I have not liked vegetables.  A juice fast turns that around.

So that’s my # 1 reason, but there are, of course, other reasons to juice fast.

Paul lost 14 pounds.  I lost about 5 (weight loss wasn’t a goal for me, as I’m already pretty skinny).

Our skin changed texture—actually, on the eighth day, all of a sudden, my skin got super soft, like, over night.  That was weird.  Sophie noticed it.

The euphoria thing was pretty cool.  I’d say this was the highlight for me.

Oh, and my yoga practice was fabulous—doing a vinyasa felt like lifting pieces of styrofoam instead of wood planks or cement bricks.  Bendy styrofoam.

Allergies were non-existent.  Sleep was deep.  We both felt brighter, more awake, and had more energy.

And more positive.  That was a surprise.

Basically, you just have to power through that first hard part, those first few miserable days when you think “this is the stupidest thing I have ever done, why the hell am I doing this???”   Just suck it up and hang in there, and the rest becomes easy sailing.

If you’re healthy, and curious, I’d say go for it.  I’m sure we’ll do it again.