Monday, December 29, 2008

Upside Down Apple Walnut Pie (Inspired by Tarrantino's)

The end of the year is like the end of a meal: time for a celebration of sweetness that will help finish out the experience on a euphoric high note. One of our favorite desserts*, Upside Down Apple Walnut Pie from Tarrantino's, has gotten so enticing for Karen and me that we decided to make it at home. Okay, it was all Karen on this one. If' you haven't had a slice of this stuff yet, head on down there dig in (along with the best pizza in Richmond or whatever you might get from Tarrant's). Or, you could do what we did and try to make it yourself.

I know this looks like an enormous sticky-bun, but it's not. It's an apple pie that was assembled on top of a bed of spiced and sugar'd pecans (we substituted) and then inverted. To begin with, Karen needed a deep dish pie pan, cuz ours is too shallow to accommodate the pie and the layer of nuts. So, we started with a trip to that really expensive kitchen accessory store in Carytown. We don't normally go there since we're averse to sticker shock experiences. But we were walking Jasper one day and popped in on a lark. As luck would have it, they had a nice stoneware pie pan for $15. I think we were expecting $30-40 and would have instead wound up searching TJ Maxx and Marshalls, probably buying one for $10-12. A pleasant surprise is a good way to start.

You wouldn't know from looking at this apple pie that it's hiding a secret. After loosening the crust from the sides, we flipped it over onto a platter. It only left a tiny bit behind and that got put back in place. By the way, we cheated and used a pre-made crust that turned out really well. But the best part of this dessert is the walnut or pecan topping. I'm sure I'll get in trouble when Karen reads this, but the Tarrantino's walnut topping is a cut above what we got from this recipe. They're close, but it's really tough to duplicate the combination of toasted spices and intense syrupy sweetness that makes the Tarrantino pie really pop with flavor. The staff says that they sell whole pies routinely.

Just so you know that this is still an apple pie, here's a profile of my first slice (thin apple slices in seconds courtesy of the mandoline). This holiday season has been a series of decadent food experiences for me. I'm sure you can relate. This pie deserves good quality vanilla ice cream (Tarrantino's heaps it on). Some kind of hot beverage, like say... mulled wine - might be a good accompaniment (although I hope I never see the stuff again). Regardless, 2008 has come to a close and I hope that you found a way to go out with a bang. Personally, I've got some jogging to do next year.

* Our other favorite dessert of 2008 is the peanut butter pie from The Black Sheep. There's no way that we could even get close with that one.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Eat Me and American Pie: Two Food-lit Books

I got these two (not quite cook-) books for Christmas. As gifts, they're the highlights of my holiday. You might consider picking them up. I'm trying to read these two books simultaneously, hopefully before grad-school restarts in mid January. Here's what I think so far.

Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin

If you haven't seen the documentary, "I Like Killing Flies," do yourself a favor and rent it. I was delighted by the idiosynchratic behavior of the Shopsin family and the functional dysfunction of their Greenwich Village restaurant. By the end, I wanted to see (and taste) it for myself. Kenny Shopsin seemed to be operating from some higher understanding of food, a cross between Marx and Mario, with a touch of Mousalini to appeal to the masochist in each of us. But, like most movies, the subject faded from my mind. Well, on xmas day, I pulled back the wrapping on this book and Karen reminded me that this was a continuation of the story from the movie. I couldn't believe it. That movie was as distant as a dream (Shopsin's is a real place? Kenny is A real guy?). Before the day was over, I'd read through the forward, which was a 2002 New Yorker article that seemed to recap the movie. Wondering what could be left of the story to be told in this book, I turned the page to the introduction and started reading. I quickly realized that Kenny Shopsin himself was speaking to me directly and would continue doing so for the rest of the book. I stopped reading immediately. I'm not ready for this. The forboding mystique of Kenny Shopsin made me afraid to interact with him, even on paper. How is he going to throw me out of his restaurant, never to come back, with simple words on a page? It's only been a couple days, but I haven't picked it up since. The reviews say that Eat Me reads like being a fly on the wall at Shopsin's restaurant and enduring his endless philosophical rants and musings. And, the danger still looms, because Kenny "likes killing flies."

American Pie: The Search for the Perfect Pizza

After a couple attempts at making pizza on my new pizza stone, I began to crave a pizza making book. Rather than pick one up myself, or drop any hints to Karen. I figured I'd just wait until after the holidays to get something. Well, Karen was one step ahead of me. She found the perfect pizza cookbook that is also about the popular debate over what defines good pizza. The book's author, professional baker Peter Reinhart, traveled all over the US and Italy on a hunt for pizza perfection. After the first 30 or so pages, I felt like I'd been to Napels and Rome along with him and I'm better able to put my American pizza experiences into perspective. Next up for me is his comparison of New York, Chicago, and California styles (among others places). Then, I'll dive into the recipe section that describes the process of making 12 kinds of dough, various sauces, toppings, and baking scenarios. Thus far, I've had this feeling that I've previously been exposed to Reinhart's writing. He's got a handful of popular books on baking (and sometimes teaches baking at the Culinary Institute of America). Then, I found it. Reinhart wrote Sacramental Magic in a Small Town-Cafe: Recipes and Stories for Brother Juniper's Cafe. I've been reading that cookbook bit by bit for a couple months now (given to me by this guy). This really explains why I'm taking to this American Pie book so quickly. Reinhart was part of a monastic community back then (early 90s), but his writing style was whimsical and the spirituality was non-dogmatic and full of humility. Best of all, I really enjoyed his balance of perspectives on food and life in general. This pizza book was published 10 years after Sacramental Magic, and his writing has evolved. He's reeled himself in a bit. Based on the Amazon reviews, this is a good thing for home chefs who want accessible information and know-how about baking. So far, I'm more than a fan. I feel like I've found a kindred spirit.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Best of RVA Foodie

This may reek of self-importance, but I really just wanted to take stock of my blog's year and remember the good times. These are the posts that I think were most appreciated (or should have been). And since I think lots of people don't wanna sift through the baby pics and social commentary, I'll focus on the food posts (although every political prediction I made this year came true). Really, this post is to make up for the fact that my blog buries each entry after a couple weeks, never to be seen again). Let this serve as an easy reference for 2008 at Caramelized Opinions. I hope you enjoy it. I did. (and yes, the list is long, but I swear it's less than 5% of my posts from the year)

The Best of RVA Foodie's 2008

We Don't Belong at Verbena: Some folks wanted a more definitive opinion with this story. What can I say? You take the good. You take the bad. You take them both. And there you have, the facts of life.

Celebrating Richmond Restaurants: Broad Appetit sure was a big success. I wrote about nearly every bite, but the event didn't need my attention, which freed me up to pig out.

Richmond's Best Samosas: The debate didn't really get going, but it rages on in my mind.

Eating Well on a Budget: Mjadara: This may be a guest blog entry, but it's one of my favorite foods and it should be yours too.

Whole Fish (baked in salt) on Turkey Day: I'm so glad I tried this and I'm glad that I documented it.

Introducing Darling Octopus: This isn't a food related post, but giving Karen's freelance design gig some business would put food on our table.

Fickle Freakout at Farouks: This place has been stinking it up so long, I'm really hoping that my feeble attempt at feedback contributes to some kind of change over there.

Whole Foods in Five Parts, by Bike and Car:
Everyone talked about the arrival of this grocery store. Probably none more than me, or in quite the same fashion.

Lactation Cookies Really Work:
Well, that's what Karen says. They don't work on boys. I should know. I ate enough of them to nearly nurse Jasper.

My Famous Grilled Tomato Salsa
: Now, it's your recipe too.

Black Sheep was a Star in 2008:
I hate bandwagon jumping, but I'm glad I made an exception for Black Sheep.

Discovering Rowlands Brunch:
This one is significant for two reasons...1) Potato latkes from heaven and 2) My picture wound up in Richmond Mag's Dine insert.

It wasn't until Piet starting pointing out the homogeneous nature of Richmond's new restaurants, that I realized that I'd previously lumped them together in one dismissive post.

Finally, Decent NY Style Pizza (with a smile): Tarrantino's pizza kicks ass. Crunchy crust, spicy sauce, stringy cheese. Eat it hot! I'm just sayin'. (Arriana's is runner up, since there hasn't been any drama with that wing of the Piccola/MaryAngela franchise).

The Month of March:
This was my most productive and significant month of blogging (Bacchus, Bayless, Cajun Bangkok, and bicycles just for starters).

Macarons and Madness at the Market:
You just have to read this if you haven't already. I'm calling this one my proudest moment in blogging in 2008 (oh, besides Jasper's birth).

Breaking the Trader Joe's news:
Even though not everyone is wowed by TJ's, it's still a big deal for the region and I was glad to be a part of the hype machine.

Preaching (not practicing) Weight Management:
I started the year telling everybody how to lose weight. In the end, I think I gained 5 lbs. But, hey. What do you expect from someone who gave himself the nickname "foodie"?

Creative Date Night on the Cheap: A quick list of places to go for an informal night out.

Middle Eastern Food Cluster-post: From the debut of the Phoenician fantastic falafel to the Mediterranean Market's cheeses and baba ghanouj and foul mudamas, for me, this year was all about Lebenese, Syrian, and Egyptian fare. Peace.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Affordable Parmigiano Reggiano?

I love this cheese, and not simply because Mario Batali calls it "the indisputable king of all cheeses" every time he mentions it. For about a year now, I've been making sure to always have a wedge of it in the fridge. It's simply a perfect condiment, like sriracha, or truffle oil, ranch dressing, or grey poupon, or spicy mayonnaise (hope you're into at least one of those). It makes bad food good and makes good food truly memorable. (and I'm gonna need it, since we're having spaghetti on Christmas) But, this cheese ain't cheap!

The last time I went to Kroger, they were charging $19.99/lb for two year aged parmigiano reggiano. Now, I'm used to biting the bullet on this ingredient. I accept the sacrifice where I otherwise wouldn't (yall know I'm cheap, right?). But there is no way in hell I'm paying that price. I looked online and found $15.99/lb at, but they wanted $13.99 for standard shipping (because it's food and has to be packed just so). Surely there must be a better deal out there? I asked at Belmont Butchery and they don't carry the stuff. Where do you buy yours?

Update: after writing those two paragraphs, I found myself at the new BJs near Regency Mall. I've bought parmigiano reggiano at BJs in the past, but never scrutinized the price. This time, it was $12.99/lb!!!! I bought 1.5 pounds and ran home to tell you all about it. So, here's my confession. Even though I just found a deal that was $7 cheaper per pound, I'm still not satisfied. That's an $18 block of cheese. Luckily, it'll probably last me a month or two.

Xmas Dinner: Spaghetti with Meat Sauce?

Karen asked her parents what they wanted for Christmas dinner. "Spaghetti with meat sauce" was the answer. You've probably found me complaining about their finickiness on this site - that baby Jasper is a more adventurous eater than his grandparents. They don't use the internet, but if/when they do then I'll be in trouble. There is no pleasing them except to serve them what they've grown accustomed to for years. Anywho, initially, Karen's mom wanted a rib roast (and we usually spend all day on whatever piece of meat she requests). But, this time Karen asked her to think of something that we could all eat. She said, "Spaghetti with meat sauce."

My wife is really good about avoiding conflict, isolating the problem, and making lemonaid when life gi... you get the picture. She's picked out a highly rated bolognese recipe for her parents and a vegetarian sauce for me. It's probably for the best that our meal is extra easy, as it's gonna be all about Jasper and his new toys all day long. Oh, and maybe some steaming hot glogg.

You're probably wondering what I would have suggested for dinner, since I'm being a total snob about our xmas cuisine. How about this? Or, how about something out of this book ? (stay tuned for a post about it, to be called Iron Chef Battle Vegan).

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Shut Up and Blog! (about Glögg)

It can be hard to maintain that holiday cheer when everybody is stressed out all around you, beating you to the bargains in the clearance isle at Marshalls, and making mean-spirited comments on the blogs (the chickens do come home to roost, don't they?). But rather than give you a list of my pet peeves (they're better rationed out as full fledged blog features), I'm gonna take a piece of advice that I've seen a lot lately (see title) and share this instant smile tonic with you.

I got this bag of "Swedish Glugg Spices" from the "Manager's Special" bin at Kroger. That plastic bag contains raisins, orange peel, apricots, almonds, prunes and spices (basically a deconstructed pumpkin pie spiced fruit-cake). At first, I thought "glugg" was like a hot cider drink, but it turns out that you've got to add three kinds of alcohol and it's closer to a mulled wine or a hot Long Island Iced Tea. If it sounds familiar, you've probably seen cases of the non-alcoholic variety at the Ikea checkout area. Basically, glugg/glogg/glögg is a popular warm drink during the winter months in Nordic countries.

From the Drunken Blog:
Glogg is basically a type of swedish mulled wine, the ancient form of recreational pharmaceuticals designed to make one forget that no one bathed, it was cold as hell, you couldn't go anywhere because of the snow, and your home was made of stones and straw and poo. It is in Glogg's nature to knock you on your ass before you're aware of what's happening, so do plan accordingly for what this will do to people.
This guy's "Oh Glögg, You Devil" entry includes a much more detailed recipe than the back of Grandpa Lundquist's sticky package of spices. The drunken blogger also tells of a technique where you set fire to a pan full of sugar and brandy before adding that into the mix. Sounds really good, as long as you do this BEFORE consuming a bunch of drinks. Can you tell that I've never flambe'd? Maybe I'll start this weekend. The gist is to let all those spirits (and some water) simmer for an hour or so. It smells up the house real nice and puts a smile on people's faces.

That sounds like a plan to me. Let's toast the new year with holiday cheer.

Is this picture out of focus, or is the Glögg starting to kick in?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Pull the Tail with Your Mouth, Baby

This really made me happy to be home from work today.

He's more coordinated with his mouth, than he is with his hands.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Momofuku and Other New York Foods

Karen and Jasper and I went to NYC for five days last week. Here's what we ate (not including baby food). It starts on a travel day, upon our arrival at the Fulton Street subway stop in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn.

  • Late lunch was a couple mediocre NY slices, five garlic knots, and a Jamaican beef patty (for Karen).
  • After a long walk in the bitter cold, we made some miso tofu soup and watched a really awful movie on the couch.

  • Brunch at a dive in SoHo (my huevos rancheros were nachos with two eggs and Hormel chilli on top). A crappy joint, totally out of place in the boutique shopping Mecca, but at least we had no qualms feeding Jasper at the table.
  • Dinner from a Bed-Stuy Trinidadian restaurant, Folukie. Discovered "roti," a kindred spirit to the mission-style burrito (a la Chipotle or Cafe Ole).

  • Breakfast in hipster haven Bedford Ave in Williamsburg. It was a crunchy granola style coffee shop with some really tasty tofu scramble on a so-so bagel.
  • Late Lunch: A fantastic $3 falafel w/pickles and cabbage
  • Dinner at Momofuku in the East Village. This was a major birthday present for Karen. The experience was so fantastic, I'm going to try and describe each item. But first, about the context... this place is in the restaurant district and it was one of the only places that wasn't empty. Since Momofuku is a noodle bar, it's not fine dining. Seating is cramped, with strangers squeezed into short communal tables and/or the bar. Despite this, we each ordered a beer (mine was a 22) and got comfortable, really excited with expectation (check out the press section of their site to find out why):
  • Seven spice potato chips: hand cut and perfectly seasoned, kinda tasted like "crab chips" but asian.
  • Egg with soy sauce: Not believing that they would really bring me an egg topped with soy sauce, I agreed to the $2 price tag and ordered it. When it came out, the soft boiled egg was cut in half and there was rich sauce on top adorned with sauteed garlic. Delicious!
  • I ordered the ginger scallion noodles with seasonal vegetables. The sauce was insanely good. No idea what they put in it. The noodles were hearty. For $11, it may have been the only item without animal products, but it was very satisfying.
  • Karen ordered the skate wing with brussel sprouts, kimchi and bacon. She was blown away by the caramelization on the sprouts. The fish was cooked better than I've had it before (even though it's been great at Edo's and Baccus), with a crispiness on the outside and really tender and slightly chewy on the inside (that's a defining characteristic of skate). Her plate was freakin' profound. She especially liked the use of bacon, although it wasnt' evident in the skate, mostly the sprouts/kimchi.
  • For dessert, we split an order of smoked maple soft serve ice cream with praline topping. If this sounds strange, you might have to taste it to get it. Think balsamic on strawberries. The sweetness and smokiness really played off one another. Neither of us could believe what we were eating. This dish had us floating out the door with our heads in the clouds. (update! I totally forgot the pumpkin horchata that was sweet, light, and delivered the essence of pumpkin without the predictable spice blend). Momofuku!

  • Breakfast was skipped, but Karen heated up some Morningstar Farms sausage links.
  • At Chelsea Market, we had cupcakes from Elenora (maple walnut w/cream cheese icing was our favorite). Bought a $12 bottle of truffle oil (100ml), cuz the last one lasted me a year. We picked up a couple panini's for a snack while running between Times Square and FAO Schwartz.
  • Stopped in Greenwich Village for Thai food (pretty good stuff) and a round of Stella Artois. We also popped into Murray's famous cheese shop to pick up some apps for dinner at home that night. We got a baguette, misc. olives, a head of roasted garlic, a small wheel of a brie-like raw milk cheese called "Constant Bliss" from Jasper Hill Farms in Vermont. Also, a bit of goat cheese rolled in crushed red pepper. By the way, cheese is going to become a theme on this blog, so I hope you're ready for more.
  • Did I mention that this was Karen's official birthday? To celebrate, we bought four creme puffs from Beard Papa's bakery (you have to visit the link to understand how this French bakery run by Japanese women, got its name). Later, we put candles in them and chowed down. The puffs were out of this world.
  • Back at the house, Kyong's roommate made a big batch of Indian lentils, spiked with coconut milk for extra richness. Really tasty. Jasper was coaxed into sleeping by himself, and then everybody got drunk.

  • I made some eggs and soysauge. We went for a walk in the rain and picked up savory chive and cheddar scones from a bakery in Clinton Hill. Back home for more lentils and then we headed to the airport. Since our flight was delayed, we ate a cold sandwich at the terminal and fed Jasper some apple sauce from the snack bar.
The End.

Friday, December 12, 2008

CDs that I Wanna Hear

I love year end music critic top ten lists. Soon, Metacritic will be unveiling their distillation of opinions. There's also a podcast of the best albums according to my favorite reviewers over at Sound Opinions. Since I use eMusic for most of my music needs, these 'best of' lists usually remind me about the albums I'm missing out on. Here' s a list of 2008 CDs that I don't own and really wish I did (although some are just up there for curiosity's sake). If you have any of these and care to share, let me know through the contact info on my profile page.

I want these. Do you have them?
  • The Magnetic Fields: Distortion
  • Erykah Badu: New Amerykah Part One: 4th World War
  • TV on the Radio: Dear Science
  • Protest the Hero: Fortress
  • Kanye West: 808s and Heartbreak
  • The Bug: London Zoo
  • Lucinda Williams: Little Honey
  • MGMT: Oracular Spectacular
  • Lil Wayne: Tha Carter III
  • Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds: Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!
  • Wolf Parade: At Mount Zoomer
  • Opeth: Watershed
  • The Breeders: Mountain Battles
  • Nas: Untitled
  • Hercules and Love Affair: Hercules and Love Affair
  • Guns N'Roses: Chinese Democracy*
  • Bob Dylan: Tell Tale Signs

*Don't let this one distract you. I was raised on MTV and Appetite for Destruction.

Baby Pictures from New York City

We spent five days in New York City, dragging Jasper through every subway between Brooklyn and Manhattan. We stayed in Bed-Stuy with our buddy Kyong, a former Richmonder. It was just like my favorite movie, Do the Right Thing, except it was cold, not hot, and we never saw Da Mayor or palpable racial tension (except for hipster gentrification of trendy Williamsburg). We did, however, see lots of Kodak moments. So, here's a rushed run-down:

Jasper poses with Obama (in cupcake form) at Chelsea Market,
where many Food Network shows are filmed.

It was so cold in NYC that we bundled him in this fleece coverall.

Karen and Kyong push Jasper to the subway in Bedford Stuyvesent, Brooklyn (cameo appearance made by camera strap).

I know Karen and I look crazy here, but Jasper just exclaimed something complicated and exciting... so we responded. Thirty minutes and two breakfast sandwiches later, Jasper spilled a full glass of water on Kyong.

At the play area of a bourgie (and really awesome) coffee shop where Williamsburg nannies bring toddlers to frolic.

Jasper hits Times Square so he can go to Toys R' Us (that's it in the background). We didn't buy anything there, if you can believe it.

Posing in front of Louis Vitton's xmas display.

Local Santas boogaloo for money. Really impressive acrobatics.

The ceiling inside FAO Schwartz while on the escalator.

One of us is pretending to be asleep.

What could I add to this?

Monday, December 08, 2008

Eating Well on a Budget: Mjadara

While Karen, Jasper and I are in New York, it is my pleasure to bring you a special guest blogger, Muna Hijazi. To help you cope with hard financial realities, I've wanted to do a story on foods to cook at home on the cheap and mjadara is the first thing that came to mind. It's one of my favorite winter comfort foods, and no one makes it better than my old friend Muna. Some of you might remember her selling her cuisine at the Farmers Market in 2003/4 under the name, Muna Food. Either way, you're in for a treat. Make this once, and you'll have a new addictive and easy meal in your repertoire.

This is Muna and her mjadara recipe/background-story:
Mjadara is a true staple for Palestinians, and popular throughout the Arab world. Infinitely affordable and incredibly delicious, it's made from simple, hardy ingredients that are dirt cheap, easy to find, and even easier to store for long amounts of time. This dish has sustained many generations of Palestinians through war, displacement, curfews and trade embargoes. There is no vowel sound between the M and the J. Pronounce the M the way you would say "Mmm" with the first whiff of a wonderful meal, then say the rest of the word as transliterated and you'll be just fine.

My favorite version is adapted from one the first Lebanese cookbooks published in English, written by Madelain Farah in 1975. When I first started making the dish, I tried to wing it -- I mean, how hard could it be? It's just lentils, rice, and onions. But I could never get it right.

I finally looked it up in this book passed down by my mother and was in disbelief at the prescribed 1/2 cup of oil used to first fry to crucially crispy onions, then to in effect season the lentils and rice as they cook. The oil makes all the difference. Do not skimp on it. You'd be doing a great disservice to this already very healthy meal.

Regarding those crucial onions: This is everyone's favorite part. Fried until just-past-golden brown and spooned on top, you can never have too many of these. Make sure you do actually use two huge red onions (other hues will do, but red are the tastiest), and if they are not enormously bulbous enough, definitely supplement with more. If you lapse on this, be prepared to break up the fights over the last few delicious strands.

Here's the recipe:

1 cup uncooked brown lentils
4 cups water
2 large red onions, julienned
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup uncooked white rice
(basmati or jasmin is recommended)
1 tablespoon salt

Rinse the lentils and add to the water. Bring to boil and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, saute the onions in the oil until just-past-golden brown. With a slotted spoon remove the onions from the oil to drain on newspaper.

Add this onion-seasoned oil to the lentils, along with the rice and salt. Bring to a boil, then drop the temperature to as low as possible. Cover with a tightly fitted lid and cook for 20-25 minutes. Use a fork to test it -- the mjadara should not be mushy or sticky, but rather each grain should cleanly pull away from the other.

Place on a serving platter, with the fried onions. Mjadara is traditionally served with a dollop of whole milk yogurt and a fresh Arabic village-style salad of equal parts finely chopped tomato, cucumber, and onion (and jalapeno if you're truly Arab), mixed with lemon juice and salt . I for one cannot eat this dish without these two elements. It would be like eating spaghetti without the sauce.

Now for the most important part, a real truth passed on to us from Kahlil Gibran:

"If you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half a man's hunger."

No meal is complete without the care it requires in its preparation. That is the real trick to how sustaining this dish is during hard times. I made this dish with several other of my family's favorites under the banner of Muna Food for people at the 17th Street Farmers' Market, gosh, I guess about five years ago. Muna Food was wildly popular, but I stopped when I felt like I wasn't able to put enough care into the dishes anymore, given the demand.

On another note, I've just recently finished reading M.F.K. Fisher's "How To Cook A Wolf". MFK is perennially by far my favorite food writer, full of grace, wit and good taste. She wrote this book as America emerged from World War II. The title wolf is the metaphor used throughout the book for the panic and fear that real hardship and poverty inspires in everyone who must, one way or another, put food on the table.

Aside from interesting recipes, it is full of wonderful advice and fascinating asides. I'm just about to update my page with quotes from the book. One of my favorites puts in context our current economic woes:

"As for your icebox. (It is easiest to take for granted that you still have one, and that it works, and that it is not an annex for the local Red Cross and filled to bulging with blood plasma)."
Can any of you readers help me interpret this icebox quote? Muna? Whenever Karen wants to go to the grocery store, I say, "Why don't we just eat something from the freezer?" Anywho, I think cheap eats like this are a common thread among all cultures. Caramelized onions help bring people together. So, no antagonistic comments about the Middle East peace process in the comments. In my world, the best way to promote peace is for people at odds to sit at a table and appreciate each other's favorite foods. Of course, folks in the Jerusalem might throw down over mayo vs. tahini in the baba ghanouj. If you feel like you need to taste mjadara in order to know how to make it (that's how I tend to cook), just head over to the Mediterranean Bakery and Deli on Quioccasin for the best stuff in town (since Muna doesn't deliver).

Friday, December 05, 2008

Give the Gift of Hipness

Karen's freelance designs are starting to pop up on the blogs and I just hafta gloat. Having been an original fan of Ipanema since before it was hip from the moment it opened, it's especially satisfying to see my wife collaborating with Kendra on some graphics. This list of holiday gifts sounds like a lot of fun for both the giver and receiver.

Karen's designs mostly come about while Jasper is occupied on the Boppy. It's some serious multi-tasking. She also designed the certificate that you give as the gift itself. It's nifty too. I can't show that one to you. Duh, you have to buy a gift off that list. Sounds like reason enough to me. The "beer dinner" would just be the icing on the cake. For more info: or (804) 213-0190.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Taro Slush Boba Tea F-ing Rocks!

In my world, this has been a fact since 2004.* But I didn't have a blog then and only the people within earshot heard me yappin about this delicious drink. However, I've finally revisited my favorite supplier of boba tea (the good folks at TT's Bubble Lounge* on Cary by VCU) and it was just like yester-year - same awesome slurping satisfaction.

I want to tell you it's a beautiful periwinkle color, but it's not. It's lavendar, but I look beyond that (preferring blue to purple). What gets me is the seriously rich flavor and texture of the taro slush accompanied by the whimsical little tapioca balls that fly up the straw for a brief bounce around in the mouth. Are you ready to go and try this yet? Don't worry about the weather. They'll serve you some yakisoba if you need to warm up.

*maybe it was 2005

*check out the reviews at the link where customers heap praise on TT by comparing it to the bubble teas of the world. Right here in Richmond. Who'dve thunk it?

Black Friday Made My Baby Non-Vegan

On the Friday after Thanksgiving, Karen woke me up at 6:30 am to say that she and Jasper would be heading out to do some shopping, I didn't think they really needed me (so I stayed in bed for another three hours). Low and behold, Karen says the sight was eerie: a totally empty Babies R Us. She scooped up doorbuster sale items without any competition, including huge boxes of diapers for pennies per pamper. Karen also grabbed cases of Earth Best Organic Baby Food at 50% off.

"First chicken, then humans!"

Well, wouldn't you know it, the cases of baby food included a chicken dish. Karen confronted me with this news saying that, "We're going to have to decide if we're going to feed Jasper meat." I'm thinking, "well, it's almost decided now since it's been purchased" (and I hate to throw away food and my ethical choices often take a backseat when bargains are concerned...). On the other hand, the matter isn't settled. No. Not until the internets have had their say. So please do chime in. We need input. (FYI: Karen eats meat, sparingly, and I don't - seafood, dairy, and eggs are my only animal products)

For a little background, and to help get your debating juices flowing, Jasper is eating all kinds of veggies and fruits and momma's breast milk. The only thing that sticks out is yogurt. That's Stoneyfield Yo Baby organic stuff and yes, it was ripped from the utter of another species (intended for baby cows, no less - just sayin'). But, Jasper loves the stuff. He sometimes refuses all other food until we give him yogurt. Does that make Jasper a junkie for animal products? Who knows. Is it a slippery slope that will make it impossible to feed him veggies and one day result in him eating "meat and cheese only" as I once required as a child? Or as an adult, will Jasper become one of those non-adventurous eaters who thinks they need to have meat on every plate? Do any of you have vegetarian babies? If so, how are you handling this stuff?

Preemptive update: don't make me post ground-rules for this discussion. Keep it cordial, use "I statements," and have a sense of humor. Cheers.

I Ate at The French Laundry*

*Okay, no I didn't. But MessyCuisine did. And with a restaurant as "important" as the French Laundry, when one Richmonder dines at a world famous eatery, I think we should all feel privileged by extension. This kind of vicarious living is very common, like thinking you have a sex life because you read Jack Goes Forth. Only in this case, you'll save lots of money and in the other case you save trips to the free clinic.

So, my point was that Messy, a largely under-appreciated food blogger, lists every bit of food (13 courses!) and delivers descriptions in his uniquely stilted way. It's followed up with a really insightful epilogue on the whole experience and a critical take on Thomas Keller's renowned cuisine. Not too long, unlike my laugh riot of a review of The Inn at Little Washington (which gave birth to this blog over two years ago). We shared one thing in common from our five star experiences: a tummy ache from too much rich food. Here's hoping that affordable nutritious food will be "in" and expensive painfully pretentious food will be "out" in 2009. But, I'm still totally jealous of Messy.

Monday, December 01, 2008

"I'm Pooping Right Now"

The little guy isn't always pooping, but he has started making these hand motions while he's babbling.

Karen says this is the best evidence that Jasper and I look alike. What do you think?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Maymont's Otters Entertaining My Baby

Not even a cute little baby can upstage the otters at Maymont. Jasper took in the turtles and the intimidatingly large fish. The whole thing was dizzying for the little guy, especially the backflips and curliques of our neighborhood otters. If you haven't visited in a while, this video will bring back some memories.

Whenever we walk Jasper to the Nature Center, he falls asleep before we get there and he misses out on the exhibits. Today was no different. As we approached the parking lot, Jasper was starting to slump over in the stroller. Karen and I kept yelling his name and waving our arms to keep him awake. Finally, Karen picked him up and carried him into the dark tunnel that begins the parade of aquariums. Slowly, Jasper perked up until he finally arrived in front of the otters. He definitely followed them with his eyes, but as you can see in this video, he lagged behind most of the time. Hence, I point out the bubbles trailing behind as Jasper's consolation prize.

Here's a much longer shot of the otters and Jasper:

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Clap Hands Little Man

These days, when Jasper wants to impress, he makes a bee-line for the clappins. For months, he's been transfixed whenever he saw/heard us clapping. Every thing he sees, he smacks like a drum. And now he's started putting his own to hands together and watching our response.

Here you can see that Jasper tends to hold one hand steady while swinging his other hand (dominant hand, maybe?) Awe heck, just go ahead and watch the video. But don't get a crick in your neck. We probably shouldn't have turned the camera on its end.

Has anyone seen Jasper's lower lip. He seems to have misplaced it. Or, maybe this is a cabbage patch doll in place of my baby.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Whole Fish (Baked in Salt) pt. 2

Too often, Thanksgiving takes us through familiar culinary paces, a tired turkey routine and other half-hearted traditions. A total bore, that I usually eat too much of all the same. But not this time. While watching my in-laws reenact the usual dishes, I pursued my own inspiration by attempting salt crusted whole fish for the first time. Check out the previous post showing my preparations for the event.

This pictorial story could serve as a "how to" on salt crust fish baking, but before you go out and mimic my technique, read closely for the many details that I wish had gone differently (and the numerous links in the previous post). In the end, I was glad to have given this a shot and I'm sure I'll be doing it again soon. Next time, I want to use a larger fish and a larger pan. Two at once in a small pan is a tough scenario for a first-timer. The lighting for these shots was awful (and flash doesn't help food fotos much - see sauce pic below), but thanks to Karen for taking pictures while my hands were covered with salt, oil, and fishiness.

I stuffed them with lemons, rosemary, thyme, garlic cloves, peppercorns, fennel seeds, and as many olives as I could fit in each cavity. That's the Royal Dorade on top and the Branzino on bottom. Both are just over a pound. In case I needed to pick them up out of the salt, I put down a little parchment cut-out like a fish beneath each of these guys. They got slathered in the sauce (described below) before burial.

I almost didn't have enough salt to cover the two fish. In retrospect, I don't think I needed that layer on the bottom, at least not that thick.

While the mound baked for 30 mins, I stirred my olive oil together with fresh lemon juice, parsley, (no sage), rosemary, and thyme, capers, garlic clove, a few dashes of white wine vinegar, and some lemon zest. Actually, I did this over night, but I adjusted the juice/oil ratio to get the flavor right at the last minute. Karen says it was almost as good as D'aqua.

The finished product doesn't look much different than it did when it went in. One recipe said to cook until the salt turns golden brown, but that makes no sense. It's 15 minutes per pound of fish (at the most). I stuck a thin bladed knife in to test the temp against my lip, a la Eric Ripert. That's the hole there. To my surprise, the salt was rock hard, just as the recipes say. The knife was HOT. And the edge of the salt was in fact golden brown. (for those cooking along with me, I used egg whites in the top layer of salt, but I hear you don't have to)

After hacking through the scalding hot igloo made of salt, I found these two fishies. They were super hot and it was a real pain to excavate them without getting salt on the meat. The high sides of the pan didn't help. I'm sure it gets easier with practice, but... next time less salt and a bigger pan with low sides.

The skin comes right off, either with the salt or after you take the salt off. One time, on Iron Chef, Bobby Flay put parchment on both sides to make clean up and plating quicker and easier. I think that's cheating, but maybe I'm just determined to get it right according to the traditional method before incorporating shortcuts.

I coulda swore I buried a couple fish in this here pile of salt. Seriously though, this is what was left after I transferred them to another plate where Karen and I could de-bone without four pounds of salt in our way.

Here's the dish as it went to the table. That's the dorade in the front. We decided we liked it best (firm "chicken-y" meat that's a little sweet and nuanced). The branzino (at the top of that pic) was very mild and maybe slightly overcooked. Perhaps it didn't need as long as the dorade, but they were both buried and resurrected at the same time (another miscalculation). The olives from the fish cavity were extra succulent. Both fish, as predicted, were unbelievably moist. Hey! Ya know what that dish of fish needs? "Good quali-y oli-oil," says Jamie Oliver. Don't mind if I do. Happy un-Turkey Day, yall.

Moments after this picture was taken, Jasper soiled three diapers in five minutes and everyone got a little less hungry.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Whole Fish (Baked in Salt) on Turkey Day

Every year, my in-laws get spiral cut ham for Thanksgiving dinner and I'm generally left to fend for myself. To make the meal special for this ovo-lacto-pesca vegetarian, I decided to try the salt crusted method of cooking fish. I've done a lot of planning and gathering of supplies. This right here is basically all I need to bring with me to the in-law's house tomorrow:

If you don't know what I'm talking about when I say "salt crusted," just picture a fish buried in a big mound of salt, kinda like you would bake a fish fillet in a sealed parchment/foil pouch (and it steams while it's in there). They say there's nothing like the moistness of salt crusted fish. Here are a few sites that have inspired me so far (some of them have pics of the bizarre-ness):
My first big decision was to pick out a fish. But, since you want the freshest possible fish for this preparation, it's hard to know who's gonna have what on the day before Thanksgiving. I called PT Hastings. I visited Tan-A. And I was prepared to go to that awesome place at Hull and Belt Blvd (can't remember the name). But, I wound up going with the sure thing: the otherwise prohibitively expensive Yellow Umbrella on Patterson (price was less of an barrier considering the occasion, and the fact that they speak English - but for red snapper or rock fish/striped bass, hit up Tan-A). It was really an easy choice, since Matthew Tlusty (of Limani fame) has sorta endorsed the Yellow Umbrella as the best/freshest fishmonger in Richmond (supplied by the same distributor as Limani - RIP). I went with a Branzino (lupe de mar, the one in the back) and a Royal Dorado (the fatty in the front - which I can't find any info about online).

The only other time I've had fish baked in salt was Branzino at D'aqua in DC and we liked it a great deal. One of the best parts was this sauce they drizzled over top of the meat when plating. At Karen's request, I'll be trying to duplicate that sauce. All we know is that it had EVOO, lemon juice, lemon rind, and herbs. I'll be adding some capers in my rendition and maybe a couple other things. The most important component was surely "good quality oli-oil," as Jamie Oliver says). So, since it's a special occasion, I splurged on the pictured bottle of Lucini from Kroger. It's really fruity and peppery, almost as good as my favorite EVOO from California. I'm so glad that it lived up to the hype, because there was a wide variety of brands and prices at the store (including some Rachel Ray yummo crap).

I'll be cramming the insides of the fish with lemon slices, fresh thyme, garlic cloves, parsley, rosemary, olives, peppercorns, fennel seeds, and probably some crushed fennel seeds. Hmmm, maybe that's too many of the ideas from those links above. It's up in the air, really. This is a "before post." I'll bring my camera to the spiral ham fest and amuse myself by documenting my cooking process.

Come on back later in the week! (here's Part 2)


“Royal Dorado” (or Tsipoura or Aurata/Orata or Gilthead seabream) is extremely moist with a mild sweet flavor, firm and flaky flesh. For way too much info about this fish, click here, or here for a recipe.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pizza from the Home (Depot) Hearth

Karen asked me what I wanted for Christmas and I said, "a pizza stone." Then, I thought about it and surfed the net and changed my request to "a rectangular pizza stone." After scoping out the models on Amazon, with their varying sizes, I said, "a 16 x16 pizza stone, cuz ya know, I like big pizzas." Each time I updated Karen I worried that she'd already bought my present. She hadn't.

A little more surfing and I discovered that any hardware store would have ceramic tiles of all sizes (virtually the same as the product sold as a pizza stone). All I had to do was find an unglazed and untreated one in the size I wanted and bring it home for cheap. I called Karen one more time and asked her to hold off while I looked into this option. The retail pizza stones run from $20-50 (not including the $70 All-Clad model). At Lowe's, the tile isle was comparatively cheap and the options were dizzying. I didn't bother the staff with my confusing request ("You wanna do what with a floor tile?!?!"). Luckily, they had a natural stone tile or two (or several dozen, actually). I chose a 18 x 18 square to bring home in the hopes that it would fit into my cheap-ass Hot Point gas oven. Instant brick oven effect!

For me, the biggest catalyst in my decision to create a hearth for baking was the crust at Tarrantino's Pizza. The bottom of the crust is divinely crisped (same effect at 8 1/2 - and neither of them have brick ovens!). I want that. My pizzas suck in the crust department, even when I do them right on the rack (okay, if I grill the crust, then they're good). The solution is a piping hot rock to slide my pizza onto. It will absorb the moisture and sear the dough, to make it crisp and chewy. In the picture above, I achieved the crispy bottom crust effect and it was just the first time using the "pizza stone." Definitely a good sign.

Anywho, there's another story to be told about how I have a lot of work to do on my pizza dough technique (the yeast didn't activate much and I over kneaded the dough). But, I'm too excited to share the news about my new pizza stone for under $10 and the beginning of my new pizza making journey. Two more dough balls in the fridge. Any suggestion on how I should top them?

Monday, November 24, 2008

No Carrots. No Green Beans. No Acorn Squash.

We've been having a lot of fun feeding Jasper his first solid foods. Thanks to a few good books, we've been confidently preparing our own organic baby food for pennies on the dollar compared to the jarred stuff from the store. Successful feeding modeled here.

The routine goes like this:

  1. Pull out a cube of frozen veg and microwave it briefly (testing temp with one of those indicator spoons).
  2. Slide him into the high chair and put a toy in front of him.
  3. Wrap Jasper's neck in a bib and endure his frustrating grunts.
  4. Prepare a dessert of yogurt or baby oatmeal mixed with pureed bananas/pears.
  5. Shovel spoonfuls of veg into Jasper's hungry mouth while making cooing sounds and goofy faces.
  6. If he rejects the veg, try some dessert (usually yogurt), and then switch back.
  7. Continue until the food is gone or he won't open his mouth anymore.
  8. Try to wipe Jasper's face without making him cry.
Thus far, Jasper has basically loved everything we've given him (after the first few bites). Sweet potatoes, mmmmmmm. Pears, aaaaahhhhhh! Butternut squash, oh yeah.

However, there are a few foods that Jasper rejected initially and then agreed to eat while furrowing his brow. He seems to have set some rules, although we're breaking them every chance we get.

No Carrots. No Green Beans. No Acorn Squash.

My next project is to feed Jasper this entire pumpkin.

A Kitchen Renovation for $129

A better way to describe this would be, "in lieu of a kitchen renovation, get this for $129." The story is that Karen and I have had designs on a new kitchen ever since we bought our house in 2005. Every time we put money in the savings account, we both fantasize about a continuous grate stovetop, or a built-in pantry, or soapstone countertops. Alas, the economic conditions for a major renovation haven't come about. In fact, the housing market has probably stifled the value of our house, and Karen's hours got cut at work (with her boss currently hatching plans to eliminate her position all together), and then there's Jasper's future expenses. It's probably not prudent to drop $7-10k on a chic canteen.

Nonetheless, we must progress. Despite all of the external factors, Karen and I are hellbent on improving the quality of our lives, incrementally, at least. So, to tie us over for while, we decided to upgrade a kitchen accessory that that would be more user friendly and maybe counteract the dumpy feeling that is creeping into our cookhouse (probably due to the black burlap backsplash that's bubbling up and becoming soiled).

It happened at Ikea. We were carrying a fussy Jasper through a throng of shoppers and Karen and I both nearly had a nervous breakdown. We planned on looking at the faucets, but had missed them in the confusion. At this point, we were trying to choose between stopping to feed him or abandoning our energy efficient light bulbs and $5 tupperware and heading home. We chose to feed him and collect ourselves and we were even ambitious enough to go back and peek at the faucets. It was an act of defiance, more so than fortitude.

At Lowes and other stores, the fancy modern faucets are usually over $200 - a real turn-off. But at Ikea, the designs were mostly attractive and reasonable.* We agreed that a single handle would be key, considering that we've often got Jasper in the other hand. The tall arc of the nozzle allows us to get the Brita pitcher under it easily, and stock pots, and the dog's water dish. One night last week, after Karen and Jasper went to bed, I spent some time huffing and puffing under the sink, taking out the old faucet and affixing this new one. Ever since, I've been walking around with a sense of accomplishment. The thing works beautifully. Every time I use it, I am reminded of the importance of periodic upgrades, no matter how minute.

* the link takes you to the model with the pull out nozzel (for an extra $30)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Jasper says Da-Da, Stands on His Own

It was a week of firsts for Jasper Diego Guard. On Wednesday, he was given a box of toys. To see inside of it, he pulled himself up. Now, he's doing the same move every time he gets a hold of anything.

Shortly after chowing down, the little guy started babbling. One of his favorite sounds now is "Bla-bla-bla." Karen has been responding to him by saying "Da-da." On Saturday, Jasper considered this response for a moment before delivering his rebuttal, "Da-da-da." We're counting those first two as Da-da, in other words, ME! (kind of a leap there)

When we say Da-da to him, Jasper lights up. I tap his chest and say his name and then tap mine and say Da-da and watch it sink in. Now, he's starting to reply in kind and we're loving it. All the books say that if you stick your tongue out, your baby will then do the same. Not Jasper. His tongue stays in his mouth for some reason. But, Da-da is coming out all over the place.

Moments like these make me forget about all the fussing and wailing.

(for those of you wondering where all the clever food blogging has gone, I don't have a good explanation... school, work, baby, household budget cuts, not going out to eat or cooking anything too exciting. I'm sure I'll find more time over the holidays)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Dems Wrecking Democracy in RVA?

I've waited for a week to let the Obama afterglow wear off so I could bring up a critique of this past Nov. 4th election (and I even posted about food to appease my fellow foodies). The topic here is the influence of the local Democratic Committee in Richmond's City Council, School Board, and Mayoral elections. In short, I think it sucks. To put a finer point on it, my experience with this (and previous presidential elections) leaves me with the impression that the Democratic party is undermining democracy in Richmond. As a voter who went straight down the line recommending that we unseat incumbents and install new leadership from Pennsylvania Ave to Broad Street, I found myself going upconfronted with an ally and an obstacle to accountability in the form of the local Democratic Committee.

Important points:
  • Local candidates should forget party affiliation and talk about the job at hand.
  • Richmond needs to promotes early voting and/or make the poling places more organized and less of a playground for the entrenched political machines.
  • The Democratic Committee of Richmond needs to STOP MEDDLING IN LOCAL ELECTIONS.
  • The "Virginia as battleground state" phenomenon may be harmful to Richmond's local government and school system.
  • Steps should be taken to ensure that local candidates earn every vote they get, rather than riding the wave of state and national campaigns (banning sample ballots, maybe).
  • Schedule Richmond City Council and School Board races on any year BUT the same Tuesday's in November when we elect a new president (duh!).

As you may or may not know, candidates for local office in Richmond generally do not declare a party affiliation. However, since nearly 80% of Richmond City residents vote Democrat, it's pretty much a non issue. That is, unless there is a presidential election going on. Then, running as a Democrat and billing oneself as THE ONLY Democrat option on the ballot, becomes very important to local candidates, and getting elected on one's merits takes a back seat. It's an unfortunate distraction when school board candidates try to equate their opponents with George W. Bush and the neo-cons in order to come out on top (meanwhile, both candidates are lifelong Democrat-voting civic activists who could be engaging the public about meaningful issues).

To give you an illustration of when this tactic proved especially effective, and was actually true for once, BillPantele came from behind in the 2nd district City Council race to beat Tom Benedetti by labeling him as a Bush supporter in 2004, because he worked as a fundraiser for the Republican party. Pantele's election-eve attack ad mailers featured Benedetti's picture alongside Bush's and the saying "The Apple doesn't fall far from the tree Bush." You'd have to see the pretty design to believe it (and you'll see that I'm not claiming that my household is exempt from participating in such partisan behavior).

The maneuver of trying to "out Democrat" your fellow Democrats isn't the real transgression against voters that's being perpetrated here. Sure, incumbents are often impossible to unseat once their operation generates enough money, favors, and loyalty to manifest a formidable political machine. That's an election reality all over the country. Signs appear everywhere. Opponents' signs mysteriously disappear. Businesses start brandishing enormous expensive placards that make the challenger look amateurish. Palms are greased behind the scenes. It's a fight, no doubt about it. But, we need to protect against short cuts and impertenant attacks in favor of our democratic principles. We're trying to hire the best public servant for the job here.

And then there's the circus of election day...

In many Richmond districts, the polling places on election day are swarmed with campaign workers. A quick survey will probably show incredibly lopsided representation of incumbent/Democrat-backed vs. the challenger: seven to one, ten to two, four vs. none. To a voter just hoping to spend 10 minutes there while voting, it almost seems like the election were "brought to you by" the incumbent candidate or the Democratic Committee backed candidate. And they generally do their best to give the impression that their information is official and unbiased, handing out Democratic Committee sample ballots like they were instruction manuals. Hey, if you were doing a good job in office or running a convincing campaign, would you need to resort to cheap tactics and circumvent a substantive discussion of the issues?

Of course, with Democrats generally being in power in Richmond, their information is somewhat official and helpful when it comes to the state and national races... but not the local elections. That's where it gets nefarious.

The content of the campaign workers materials gives the best indication of undemocratic behavior in Richmond's local elections. In Richmond, each candidate hopes to get endorsed by the Democratic Committee. With this valuabledistinction , a candidate can put their name on the local Democratic Committee sample ballot that so many voters use to vote a straight ticket, often without any knowledge of the performance or platforms of the candidates for municipal office. As every voter on their way into the voting booth is handed one, two, and sometimes three or more Democratic Committee sample ballots, it becomes pretty clear that the playing field is not level. Feelings of party loyalty are at acrescendo on voting day, especially during presidential elections. And so, if a local official wants to compensate for lackluster performance, or a series of public debacles, or simply coasting and not campaigning, then it's a big relief to simply ride the coattails of the top of the ticket Democrats.

These aren't big "what if" scenarios. The school board and city council elections are currently set to take place every four years, at the same time as the presidential races. From here on out,the presidential race will cast a long shadow over our local elections and without attention on the local issues to be decided by voters, the local Democratic Committee will virtually decide each race before the voting actually takes place. The impact of the significant surge in voters who are
uninformed about the local races has been significant. On November 4th, I heard some campaign workers for Dwight Jones saying that even though their candidate was endorsed by the Democratic Committee, his opponent BillPantele was advertising his own name on Democratic Committee sample ballots (or were they just look-alikes? not quite sure). Does this offend you? Should it? Maybe more candidates should have thought of this move. (I determined my mayoral vote before the endorsement, although that's irrelevant).

So, what is the criteria for endorsement by the local Democratic Committee? I have a guess, largely based on my own observations. TheDems are trying their best to activate their base on national election day. So, they throw their support, and their get out the vote funds, to the candidate with the best capacity to turn out scads of likely Democrat voters. For this reason, established names likeincumbents, or School Board candidates who are virtually appointed by their City Council rep (the Robertson/Smith ticket, anyone) become obvious choices for
Democratic party support. And merit has nothing to do with it. A track record of community activism, service to the constituents, and professional performance have little to do with the Democratic endorsement. Even if the school system is maligned for every day of your term in office, the Democratic Committee will overlook such things as the education of Richmond children, so they can continue to build their brand. The public interest seems like just an afterthought, half-heartedly pursued between election seasons.

Does this sound jaded? Well, that's what it feels like to have a democratic victory tinged with undemocratic electioneering.


Since this rant is totally unpolished and didn't benefit from my full attention (baby-work-school taking precedent), let's get into the meat of this topic in the comments, shall we?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Fava Beans and a Nice Chianti

After posting about ful medamas, Egypt's national dish, I've been craving the stuff intensely. On Saturday, I decided to put myself in Abraham's capable hands over at Mediterranean Market on Meadow Street. At the counter, I was greeted by Mus, Abraham's gregarious partner. After describing my favorite Philadelphia food, Mus nodded and pointed at the pictoral menu on the wall. There was a picture of glistening fava beans on a bed of lettuce among the other 20 or so featured dishes (um, I've been meaning to talk to you about the food fotos, dude...).

Mus went on to tell me about how the ful is eaten in Syria and how it is spelled "foul" (um, yeah. I should talk to you about that too...). I described the smooth consistency of the ful beans that I'd grown accustomed to. The diced jalapeno peppers, melted butter topping, and french bread. Mus viewed this description with some suspicion (especially when I told him that it was an Ethiopean interpretation of the Egyptian dish). He urged me to try his version, with olive oil, onions, tomatoes, cumin on top, and a piece of toasted pita bread. Deal. Lemme have it.

While I waited for my dish, I picked up a bag of dried fava beans and a jar of tahini. Mus gave me some advice for cooking my favas.
  1. Soak for 24 hours
  2. Boil for at least an hour with garlic and salt
  3. Put it in the fridge in a sealed tub, still soaking the brine
  4. Take servings out from time to time to make dishes
How long can I leave them in the fridge, two weaks?

"Eh... not quite. Then you'll have to change the - "

Chang the water?

"No, the beans!"

Okay, so I guess I'll be eating quite a few fava bean dishes this week.
The "foul mudammas" dish (as spelled out on their menu) came out and I took it back to my house. On my couch, I opened the foil container and observed the mashed means swimming in olive oil. Soft diced onions were among the beans and tomatoes were sitting on top. The smell of garlic was intense. With plastic fork in one hand and pita bread in the other, I started scooping and chewing my way through the dish. The strong musky flavor of the beans were rivaled by the aromatics and the tough skins of the beans were largly pliable, if not ready to disintergrate. Together with the generous olive oil and the toasty bread, the dish was quite good. It's in a different ball game from the dish I had in Philly, but it's just another take. Mus had never even heard of ful being treated as a breakfast dish. "It's an anytime thing." Street food, he said. Everybody does theirs differently (link to fat free ful bean dish). Speaking of which...

I simmered my beans for a good long while today (pretty pic of boiling beans to come when camera agrees to release said photos). They already taste good. I can't wait to spread them among my menu for the rest of the week. If I try to do them up Abyssinia style, I'll probably saute onions in lots of garlic, with cumin and maybe a little harisa and then add some of the beans and give it a whack with the immersion blender (to smooth it out, but still leave some chunks here and there). The rest is a matter of plating, but the oil/butter and diced pepper topping is going to be about as crucial as an absorbant bread for scooping.

I'm really looking foward to it. Oh, and a nice chianti.