March 31, 2011

Radioactive Milk (or: It's A Good Time to Be a Carnivorous Vegan)

Trace amounts of radiation from Japan have been found in milk in California and Washington. Not to worry though. The radioactive iodine would have to be 5000 times higher than current levels for authorities to intervene. A little radioactive iodine in milk never hurt anyone. (That we know of. Yet.) You might just want to cut back on it for a while though.

There is also radiation in the rain water on the East Coast. Don't worry about that either, because it's only a little bit, and that's all we're going to get, right? I mean, everything's totally under control in Japan now, so the wind will stop carrying radiation over our way in a couple of days.

March 29, 2011

March Madness and Bok Choy

A few years ago Graybeard told me that people who are not into basketball (a.k.a., girls) have just as much of a chance of winning the March Madness brackets as people who are into basketball (i.e., guys) because each team plays only one game, so there are lots of upsets. He said that girls pick teams by color or mascot, or school we've attended or some such thing. Apparently he's not the only one who thinks that: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/16/girls-guide-to-march-madness_n_836795.html.

This sage advice from Graybeard emboldened me to do my first bracket a few years ago, selecting by just that criteria, not even glancing at the seeds. I picked Texas, my alma matter, to win it all. And I came in last place.

Last year I wised up. I picked a little bit more by seed, in addition to color, and had Texas going almost all the way to the end, but not quite. I picked a number one seed to win it all, but I had tried to pick so many upsets along the way that I was tied for last place the entire time. Until the very last game, that is, when I won. Apparently nobody else in my bracket had picked Duke to take it. Suckers. $318 dollars in my pocket, thank you very much, and bragging rights that I have used with irrelevant abandon.

March 25, 2011

San Francisco Eats: Burma Superstar!

Burma Superstar. "Yikes," I thought when I first heard that name. How good can a place be with such a ridiculous name?

After eating there, I now know the answer to that question: pretty darn freaking good. The name fits the place and the food perfectly, I now understand, and I even feel that it deserves an added exclamation point.

On the one afternoon that Graybeard had a couple of hours for sightseeing, we went down to Fisherman's Wharf and did a wine tasting in Ghiradelli Square, where the bartender told us about Burma Superstar. So when a guy standing next to us chimed in with his glowing review, we were sold. We canceled our reservations for Zuni, yet another place with New American food, and decided to go to Burma Superstar! instead.

Join the Rally for the Right to Know - Tomorrow, Saturday, March 26th

I received this email yesterday from the Center for Food Safety:

"The United States may soon be the only country in the world that does not require labeling of genetically engineered food. In Spring 2000, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that labeling of GE foods would remain voluntary, even though there was no indication that any company would voluntarily label genetically engineered foods--and in the 11 years since, none have. Meanwhile, companies who have eliminated GE ingredients and added 'NON-GMO' labels have faced burdensome regulations, while the FDA lets other companies continue to use GE ingredients in secret. It is time to stand up and demand mandatory labeling of GE foods!

March 24, 2011

San Francisco Eats: Quince

The next night was Quince, where Graybeard smothered my creative inclinations. He wouldn't let me take pictures. It was a super fancy place, and I would've been embarrassed to pull out my camera anyway, so I didn't object. The decor: brown. Seriously, San Fran, what is up with all that brown? However, it was very elegant, with super high ceilings, and a hushed, classy atmosphere. I'm afraid we were a bit underdressed, with our layers of sweat jackets over our sweaters, under our inadequate coats (San Fran: weather! Work on it.) Yet even as they watched us peel off all the layers to prove that we were not total bums, they treated us like we owned the place.

The food, however: too fancy. They tried too hard to make it really complicated and different and yet tiny, and I wasn't impressed. It was fine. I would've preferred ribs and potato salad. However, the service was incredible, and the atmosphere, though brown, was very elegant. The complimentary amuse bouche and the free dessert bites were the best parts. If I could have had those in meal-sized portions, this would be a glowing review. Of course, they were all composed almost completely of milk products, so of course they were amazing, and I couldn't have ordered them anyway.

Next up, our last, and best meal in San Francisco: Burma Superstar!

March 22, 2011

San Francisco Eats: Radius

Our second night in San Francisco we were really excited to go to Radius in SOMA, which sources all of its food from within a 100-mile radius of the restaurant. Awesome.

Radius, though not sharing the same owners at Cotogna, did share the simple and brown decor. What's with the brown, San Fran?

We ordered the oysters (yum), and even made our friend Doug try one. It's fun making people eat oysters. We always think that they are going to have a slightly transformative experience, like we did when first trying them. I swear, oysters just make me feel better somehow. (Maybe I'm just really proud of myself for daring to put such a disgusting looking creature in my mouth?) Anyway, no one ever does transform into a glowing ball of light in front of us. Why? Thoughts on oysters? Love them? Hate them? Do they make anyone else feel just a little bit inexplicably happier?

San Francisco Eats: Contagna

Contagna came highly recommended to us by one of Graybeard's coworkers, so we had great expectations. The decor was brown. As it turned out, every single restaurant we went to for dinner in San Fran was in shades of brown. Granted, two had the same owners, so presumably the same designers. At Contogna it worked though. There are huge windows, simple decor, and great lighting, all of which somehow made people the decorations, which was kind of a cool effect. We could only get reservations on a Thursday night for 10:30pm (expectations mounting... ).

Our hotel was on Nobb Hill and, not knowing how to get around in SF without a car, we decided that Contagna was close enough to walk to, and would give us a peek at Chinatown. The trek was uphill both ways in the rain (literally). Holy geez, those hills are steep.

As for the food, we were not impressed. Service wasn't that great. The food was actually kind of not good. However, Graybeard was mesmerized by the wood-burning oven. So there was that.

This was my unmemorable dish:

March 19, 2011

San Francisco Treats

Despite its weather, San Francisco does have some pretty great things going for it. I came upon the following on my trip last month:

1. Vegan doughnuts.


I found these in the Ferry Building Marketplace, which is like Chelsea Market in NYC. Pepples Organic Donuts make these beauties. I had the one on the bottom left in the above picture. It tasted just like a cinnamon roll, only the texture was denser--more bready. So pretty.

March 16, 2011

Crisis in Japan

I was moments away from purchasing plane tickets to visit my big brother and sister-in-law JC in Japan when news of the earthquake and tsunami arrived. Big Brother and JC live in Okinawa, where Big Bro is an officer in the Air Force. We were so looking forward to seeing them and getting to experience such a foreign place with our family, who we miss very much after their move across the world. Our plan was to start in Tokyo and wander around a bit, probably to Kyoto, possibly to Nara, and then arrive in Okinawa just as BB and JC got back from their own tour of the mainland. Of course that has all changed.

Normally when such disasters happen I watch the news and my heart breaks for the people in the disaster zone, but there’s a certain remove. The people are so far away, in a place I’ve never been, and after I shut off the TV the news doesn’t stay at the forefront of my mind. This time, however, my family is there. And while they’re hundreds of miles southwest of the epicenter of the earthquake and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant (thank God), the deteriorating conditions there are frightening, and I’d rather that they be much farther way than they are. I cannot stop watching the news coverage and thinking about them.

So I’m learning a lot these days about how nuclear power plants function, as I'm sure you are too, and about the Japanese people and their remarkable dignity in the face of such devastation and looming catastrophe. There is a word for this, I learned today: gaman. “Gaman is a Japanese word for endurance with grace and dignity in the face of what seems unbearable.” There is no rioting, no fights, no apparent panic or chaos. I am learning so much about the Japanese during this crisis, and I am in such awe, and have such a respect for them, for their gaman in response to what they must now endure, the extent of which is still unknown, but looking grimmer by the day. People have lost their families and their homes, their workplaces. Many of them have nowhere to go, and do not know what to do. And then there are the people as far away as Tokyo, who have to face the decision of whether to leave their homes, bring their children to a safer place, or stay, iodine pills on hand, and hope that the government is watching out for them, telling them everything they need to know to make an informed decision, not waiting until it's too late for them to escape.

If it were me, I’d take my gaman, iodine pills, personal radiation detector, and a suitcase full of the things I couldn’t bear to lose and go on a long vacation and hope for the best but plan for the worst. But where can they go? Japan is not a huge island, and they can’t just hop in a car and drive to the next country over, leaving their jobs and all their possessions, not knowing whether they’ll ever be able to return.

They’re saying on CNN that people have not been donating as much to Japan during this crisis as to other recent disaster zones elsewhere. Apparently in the first four days after hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and after the earthquake in Haiti, much more money had been raised for disaster relief, probably because Japan is an industrialized country, and we think that they can afford to take care of their people. But the government has its hands full right now, and the Red Cross and other non-profits can get in there and make a real difference. Let's all give if we can, and pray if we can’t.

March 11, 2011

Hell has frozen over (so let's eat asparagus rollups)

You mean you didn't notice? You assumed that the cold weather last Saturday was just another winter's day? Well it wasn't. It was slightly colder, due to hell freezing over and all: Graybeard cooked me dinner.

Never had this been done. I didn't think it could be done. In five years it had never happened. Now, Graybeard is good at everything (except drawing, as I like to remind him in order to keep his head small enough to be supported by his neck). However, very early in our relationship he laid the groundwork for shucking all kitchen duties by asking me whether canned corn needs to be refrigerated. As in, an unopened can of corn. I was incredulous at his lack of knowledge of all things kitchen, and he has perpetuated the ruse with great tenacity, asking me questions such as "How do I heat up this soup?", "How do I defrost an English muffin?", and "Why is it cold inside of a refrigerator? And what's a refrigerator anyway?" (Though it is possible that I'm remembering that last one wrong.)

To Graybeard's credit, he has heated up frozen burritos all by himself, and occasionally he pours his own cereal.

Once, about a year ago, his facade did start to crack when we discovered Diaya. One day he decided that he wanted a grilled (vegan)cheese sandwich badly enough to make one himself when I was busy. The sandwich looked so good that I asked him to make me one too. And it was fantastic. He (vegan)buttered both sides and somehow grilled it to golden perfection. At the time I thought it was a fluke, beginner's luck, as a grilled cheese sandwich is relatively easy to make. Though it was then that I began to suspect that I was being duped...

And now I know I was. This Valentine's Day we were too busy packing for our San Francisco trip to celebrate, so we postponed it until last Saturday. Instead of taking me out to dinner, Graybeard decided to cook for me. Big mistake. The remains of the facade have crumbled. He is a fantastic cook and now I know it.

So in this installment of The Carnivorous Vegan I will be sharing Graybeard's recipes. He started with an appetizer:


Prosciutto and melon, which we ate almost every night during our honeymoon in Italy. Ingenious. Simple, yet fancy and tasty, calling to mind memories of death-defying rides up winding mountain roads in Positano, worth it to sit high in the hills overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea eating prosciutto y melon. All he needed to make this was prosciutto, cantaloupe, and a knife.

And then a second appetizer:


Asparagus rollups. There were more, but we ate them. Graybeard even adapted a recipe to make it dairy-free, which I've included below. He can't remember exactly how much he used of everything, so adjust the recipe to your own taste.

Then a salad:


You can't see them, but in the salad are cranberries and pecans.


Simple, yet delicious, marinated chicken, steamed broccoli, and a baked potato.

Best Valentine's Day ever. I felt so doted upon. It was wonderful to be cooked for by my sweetie pie. Graybeard went a little overboard with the amount of food, but that just meant leftovers to be enjoyed the next day.

Oh, Graybeard. Just keep in mind that you're not good at drawing, okay? And can Sundays be your night to cook from now on?


Asparagus Rollups

1 dozen asparagus spears
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
3 Tbsp fresh parsely
2 Tbsp fresh basil
pinch of crushed red pepper
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
12 thin slices of prosciutto

Bend the asparagus toward the end until it snaps and discard the bottom part. Steam the asparagus until tender, about 5 minutes.

In a food processor, blend garlic, parsley, basil, and crushed red pepper, adding olive oil a little at a time until the mixture becomes paste-like. Some small chunks are okay.

Lay out the slices of prosciutto, and spread about 1 tsp paste on each one. Roll one slice around each asparagus spear. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

For you dairy eaters, this recipe also called for 2 Tbsp of Parmesan cheese to be blended into the mixture, and 12 slices of provolone cheese, which you lay on top of the prosciutto and spread the paste on before rolling around the asparagus.


Lemon Chicken Marinade

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 Tbsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
4 cloves garlic, chopped

Put everything into a food processor until well blended. The mixture will be opaque and kind of thick. Marinade the chicken in the mixture for 4-8 hours. Simple, yet very flavorful.

March 8, 2011

How Sweet It Is

...to know what to do with my brick of brown sugar. Aunt J. and my sister-in-law S.C. have not only provided me with ideas about how to prevent brick building, but also about what to do about my current brick:
  • Put it in the microwave until it becomes moist and soft (while watching it carefully). Easy!
  • Use Terra Cotta brown sugar disks (http://www.brownsugardiscs.com/shopfront.htm). Intriguing! I might just have to try one.
To prevent the need for either of those, they recommend the following:
  • Put a slice of bread in with the brown sugar.
  • Keep your BS in an airtight zip top bag. (And your brown sugar too.)
  • Put the bags in the freezer.
  • Toss a couple of large marshmallows in with the BS.
In the past I've tried adding one marshmallow in what was presumably an airtight resealable bag and it didn't work. However, NYC apartments are hot and dry in the winter, so maybe a marshmallow or zip top bag will do the trick in a more humid climate, like Texas, ya'll.

Thanks for the great ideas, Aunt J. and S.C.! (P.S. What would you ladies like me to call you on here anyway)?

March 1, 2011

Super Easy Apple Cake

When I was a tween (though it wasn't called that at the time), I realized that everyone collected something: baseball cards, sea shells, coins, tee-shirts from the Hardrock Cafe, stickers, posters, baseball caps, toe nail clippings. Or, if you're Graybeard, bellybutton lint. I decided that I needed to collect something too. But I only had my baby-sitting money, and I was saving that up. (For what, I didn't know at the time.) I didn't want to spend money on junk just for the sake of collecting something, so I decided to collect movie tickets; I was a kid, and what else do kids do but go to the movies? By the end of high school my senior class mug was filled with movie tickets. Now what? Sure, I had quite a collection, but I never looked at them and didn't care about them. (I had briefly collected Chris O'Donnell posters after seeing Scent of a Woman, but I didn't buy enough Bop magazines for my pictures of him to count as a collection.) I clearly didn't get the rationale for collecting things.

Now, however, I get it. I collect recipes, and they provide me with wonderful meal after wonderful meal. As a bonus, each recipe fondly calls to mind the person and story that brought it to me each time that I make it. This recipe for Apple Cake came to me through "Rachel" (my best friend's bar name, when she didn't want guys to know her real name), which came to her from her mom, Sue. What a boon. Thanks, Sue!

I've made this many times for my in-laws (again, such a negative-sounding word, for such lovely people. Can anyone think of a more positive substitute?), and it is their most-requested treat. Until last week, I made it exactly according to Sue's recipe. Lat weekend, however, I discovered in the last hour that I had only ¼ cup of sugar, not the 1 cup called for. So I substituted brown sugar for the rest, and it turned out wonderfully. From now on, brown sugar it is, even though the darn stuff always gets hard as a rock in my cupboard, and I end up smashing it to bits with whatever happens to be the heaviest item in my kitchen, most likely seriously alarming my neighbors. Worth it. Though if anyone knows of a way to keep brown sugar moist for an extended period of time, please share.

Super Easy Apple Cake

½ cup (1 stick) butter (or Earth Balance if you're milk-free)
1 cup brown sugar (white sugar is also fine)
1 egg
1½ cups whole wheat flour (white is fine)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp salt
2½ cups chopped Granny Smith apples (about 1½ medium-sized apples) (Most should be finely chopped, but I like to leave about ½ cup in slightly larger chunks.)


Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a bowl, cream butter and sugar.

3. Beat in the egg.

4. Thoroughly stir together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.

5. Add the dry mixture to the butter and sugar mixture a little at a time until well blended.

6. Mix in apples. I find that this easiest to do with my hands. It seems like a whole lot of apples, but, trust me, it works. They make the cake super moist.


7. Put batter into a 9x9x2-inch baking dish.


8. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.


For you weird-o milk eaters out there, Sue says to serve this with whipped cream or ice cream, though I don’t think it needs it.