Foodie Tuesday: Swim for It

If left to my own devices to raise or, more difficult yet, forage and hunt for all of my food, I’d soon enough be a non-meatatarian. I haven’t the patience or the skill for any sort of animal husbandry, nor the remotest chance of outsmarting anything sentient in order to catch it. But despite my pitiful showing as a junior fisherman alongside Gramps in days of yore, I think I could pull myself together enough to learn how to fish and forage the sea enough to keep my love of seafoods at least occasionally treated. Good protein, too.
Photo: Salmon Champagne Evening

Sometimes I am happy enough to have a rather plain fried, roasted, baked, steamed, raw, or poached piece of fish. When it’s pristinely, spankingly fresh and sweet, fish should probably not be made too fancy. Why mask perfection? At most, a dash of fresh herbs or a little zip of some lovely masala ought to be plenty of interest to vary the day’s meals. Even I have been known to identify and safely pick and consume wild sorrel, which is an excellent companion to fish in modest amounts. And of course, there’s nothing friendlier with a piece of salmon than citrus or ginger root or plain black pepper, if the foraging can extend as far as a grocery store. One thing I do think well worth the [negligible] fuss if I’m preparing salmon with its skin is to sear it, lightly salted, in butter or a high smoke-point oil before I cover its pan to finish cooking it through on cooktop or in the oven, because crispy salmon skin is delicious and its crunch a wildly beautiful complement to the velvety tenderness of the flesh. Once my palate was introduced to this marvel, I wondered how I had managed to enjoy salmon so much, so often, without having known what I’d been missing. Salty, slightly fat, salmon-flavored, and crispy? How could I not love it!
Photo: See Food

Of course, there are innumerable other outstanding ways to enjoy and indulge in seafood, if one does happen to have access to plenty of other ingredients. Seafood fried rice is one very flexible, quick to fix, and reliably delectable way to enjoy such things. Salmon in bite sized pieces, for one seafood treat, goes quite well with the contrasting grains of rice, lovely with rich that’s been cooked in either broth or coconut water or milk and filled with a delicate confetti of diced celery, carrots, onions, bell peppers, or peas, whether shelled or in sugar snap or snow pea form. But as you can see in the accompanying photo, I enjoy, along with salmon or other kinds of fish, those admirable insect imitators the crustaceans. Hardly anything, sea-based or otherwise, is more enticing in fried rice than crab (naturally, I vote for Dungeness first, every time), lobster, langoustines, or shrimps of various sizes. I would guess that some tiny, tender clams might be more than acceptable in this sort of dish as well, but truthfully, I doubt I’ll ever get quite that far, as long as any of the usual suspects are available. Never say never.

Meanwhile, back at the fried rice, I am still an old Occidental renegade when I make it, cooking it much too slowly for a wok-master’s taste and throwing in whatever I have on hand and am in the mood to eat, from the aforementioned vegetable ingredients, crisply sautéed, to seasonings like Tamari or soy sauce, citrus juice, fresh or candied or pickled ginger or ginger syrup (or all four, as I am an unregenerate ginger fiend), honey, shallots, and/or chile pepper flakes. All of these cook in gently, over low heat, while I’m stirring in an egg to scramble into shreds, and then letting the rice slowly develop a good crust amid copious lashings of fat—coconut oil, avocado oil, ghee, whatever I have on hand. All of this, until I can’t quite wait any longer. Must keep that seafood delicate and fresh. Until I can devour it, anyway.

Psychedelic Psanity (an Orison to Orange)

digital illustration from a photoI’ve been known to be loud. I’ve worn bright colors, I’ve shouted, and I’ve been opinionated. Much of the time I’m more modest and even occasionally somewhat self-effacing, and more often than not I’d rather anyone else be the center of attention, but once in a while I do just let
‘er rip and enjoy the noise.

It’s possible that my sometime dislike of bright orange reflected my then predominant shy and introverted parts. When I was little and not yet worried about others’ opinions of me, I chose as my first self-selected garment a coat of the color in today’s illustration, and I wore it proudly and felt like a (miniature) queen in it. Now, ten years after beginning useful treatment for that nasty old anxiety-and-depression cocktail that had drizzled over me in the many subsequent years’ passing after that coat purchase, I appreciate bright orange again. But in that middle time I was a nervous and insecure type and orange was far too ebullient and exotic and full of uninhibited good cheer for me to even look upon it without a twinge.

You know what, though? ‘Orange’ and ‘twinge’ may end with the same sound, but they sure don’t rhyme, and I can’t think of much else they really have in common either, so why should I let the fact that I look awful in that color (never mind my generous childhood self-image) steer me away from delighting in the joy and sunshine that orange represents and just allowing that loud, reckless, gleeful color to shine all over me. Maybe even though I might not be able to be orange enough myself, I can reflect the joy and sunshine of orange a bit. Whee!

A [Mostly] Black & White Photoessay from the Road

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Farm Frames.
I loved the sweet repetition of gorgeous farms of all sorts, in parts of every state.

Some of the images yielded by five weeks and six thousand miles’ worth of rambling cross-country seemed to want expression in my old favorite black and white imagery. And, not coincidentally, this set particularly showcases my obsessions with seeing patterns, repetition and commonalities.

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Monolithic bare trees and sculptural bridges seemingly imitate each other.

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Twisted Trees
Driftwood. A helical trunk amid Douglas-fir and vine maple companions.

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AmeriCars the Beautiful
Car culture in the US may have long grown old, but it hasn’t stopped being a classic.

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Boarded Up
Fruit growers’ packing crates. A burned house.

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Shake Your Tailfeathers
Hawk? Maybe. Mallard, definitely.

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Sunday School
The old shed behind the parsonage, the inner workings of a portative organ, and a vintage church.

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God is in the Details
Small stuff, large impact.

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Spokes that speak for themselves.

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An older model pachyderm and an older model Packard? (Nah, I think it was a Rolls.)

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Strange Geometries
The wonder of a weird homemade aerial and the magic of a zebra.


Foodie Tuesday: Con Mucho Gusto

So many meals, Latin-inflected or not, are best enjoyed with a nice cold glass or two of sangria. Particularly helpful is the knowledge that sangria has so many tasty potential variations that it can be made the perfect complement to nearly anything. Or substitute for it, if such dire need should arise. But I’ll concede that the many magnificent flavors of the Latin cultures are also, often, what make the sangria so wildly delicious.

In addition, the simplicity of combining the marvelous ingredients for either the food or drink portion of such a meal adds the appeal of quick preparation. While a number of recipes, including many for sangria, are improved by a little time spent melding their flavors together with heat or chilling, the actual labor time might not be terribly lengthy nor the effort especially challenging. Just gather the supplies, put them together in a dish or bowl, and wait for them to come to full fruition. Fruit being, of course, a hallmark of a refreshing batch of sangria.

The dish of the day is so easy it can be assembled and heated in minutes. Even the slowest portion of the prep, the cooking of quinoa, can be accomplished with little trouble, particularly if like me you have a rice cooker. I use a brand of quinoa that requires no rinsing or soaking, and it works easily to prepare it in my rice cooker by combining cooking liquid (usually my ubiquitous homemade broth) with the grain in a 2:1 ratio. I do this in larger batches, refrigerating all but the day’s portion for later meals.photoNestled Eggs [one hearty serving]

In a microwave-proof bowl, put a cup of cooked quinoa and make a hollow in the center of the grain. Break two eggs into the nest and puncture the yolks a little; cover and heat the dish on High for two minutes. [A nice optional variation: stir eggs with steamed fresh spinach leaves that have had the liquid pressed out of them.] Remove the bowl from the oven and top the eggs with a handful of cheese (cotija, queso blanco or sharp cheddar, for example), re-cover, and continue to cook on High for another minute or two, until the eggs are lightly set. Spoon some nice chipotle salsa [see my semi-handmade chipotle salsa hack here] on top, add a tablespoon of cilantro-tequila pesto [just a bunch of fresh cilantro finely pureed with tequila] and some crunchy salt, and serve with a glass of cold sangria.photoCherry-Peach Sangria

Combine a Jeroboam [four bottles] of Cabernet-Merlot blend wine with a magnum [two bottles] of Riesling, one 32 oz bottle of Just Black Cherry juice, 2 cups of dark pure maple syrup, one orange, thinly sliced (including peel), and one 23.5 oz jar of sliced peaches in juice; stir gently to blend, chill, and serve.

Foodie Tuesday: Drink Me

photoShe may have had quite the colorful and sometimes even delicious adventures, but Alice never had so much good fun in Wonderland.

At least, it couldn’t have quenched her thirst in the same delightful ways. Because, of course, what I’m talking about is the titillating tipple. And perverse or subversive as that sounds, I mean only that I’m referring to some scintillating drink. There are a lot of versions of it out there! Many of them are ones I’m very happy to taste, test and share whenever I get the chance. There are even some standouts I’m willing to admit are probably quite fantastic even though I’d rather never drink them myself.photoThing is, I think few of us are as adventuresome as we ought, perhaps, to be. We don’t put as much thought into what we drink as we do into our eating. More’s the pity, my friends. Why on earth should we be dullards about food or drink when there is so much tremendous, dreamy, splendiferous stuff for the choosing? Me, I’m rather chuffed when I manage to remember not only to pay attention to the details but to enhance the food and drink by finding a great complementary pairing of them. Good food? Good! Good drinks? Goody! Good combination? Better yet!photoStill and all, I must say that no amount of clever combining will save the day if the drinks aren’t magnificent right from the start. Yes, let’s just get cut to the chase: good drinks are a benison and a crowning glory and a celebration altogether. Alcoholic or not, indeed. And I adjure you, when you are serving non-alcoholic drinks at the same time as alcoholic ones, be sure to make the ‘dry’ ones as pretty or impressive as the boozy ones or someone will feel slighted. Kids, especially, but why encourage either children or sober guests to covet that which they oughtn’t have? Differentiate clearly so that those who aren’t meant to have the tipsy treats can’t mistake them for the abstemious ones. But give everyone something equally delicious and glamorous-looking, and they’ll all be happier. I know I would, anyway.

Some drinks are so lovely as-is that they require no further doctoring than to get them, one way or another, from container to mouth. Even purely good, sippable liquids, though, can be friends in combinations that make them that much more spectacular.photoThis includes liquids that are stellar as individual drinks, from water right on up through numerous juices and nectars to the top of the drink charts. It would also, of course, include in my estimation a number of brews and elixirs and decoctions that combine those original ‘root’ ingredients aforementioned into singular teas, wines, liqueurs, beers or liquors that are magnificent drinks in their unadulterated forms. But sometimes I think people get a little too prissy, if not ossified, in their reverence for such beautiful things, thinking it sinful to even consider enjoying them in new ways or combinations. Even a modestly fine Scotch, for example, is often pretty expensive and gets people intimidated out of being imaginative with it when in a fabulous mixed drink it can actually get a little life-extension by sharing the stage with other ingredients and yet still be admirably present in the mix. And as for cocktails and any other kind of mixed drinks, I have the same attitude I was taught for food appreciation: don’t put into a recipe anything (with very few exceptions) that you wouldn’t happily eat on its own. Seriously–don’t put corn syrup based imitation stuff in front of me and expect me to choose that over pure maple syrup. (And while you’re at it, gimme Grade B–the more intense the maple flavor, the better I like it.)  Don’t cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink! Don’t make a cocktail with cheap and dirty booze! Garbage in, garbage out!

Bentley Cocktail: 1 part Calvados or apple brandy + 1 part Dubonnet Rouge
on the rocks. That’s the simple classic version. But why not play with the idea and enjoy the apple aspect further by garnishing with a sprinkling of apple pie spices? Or serving the drink with salted dried-apple crisps? Or, as with many apple-eating delights, by offering sharp cheddar crisps (did you know you can make those by simply oven-browning small heaps of grated cheese and cooling them on a rack or paper to absorb released fats?) alongside to complement the apple sweetness? You can make a fair non-alcoholic facsimile of a Bentley simply with substitutions of, respectively, strong freshly pressed apple juice (I’d use unfiltered for the fullest flavor) and cream soda or birch soda.

Gimlet [‘Vodka & Lime’, as it was introduced to me in London when I was a stripling, is my favorite version rather than the gin original]: 1 part Tito’s vodka + 1 part Rose’s lime juice on the rocks. This is essentially a grownup version of a very old-fashioned fountain drink that I loved as a kid and still love, the Green River Phosphate. So for nonalcoholic versions of it you can easily either buy Green River soda right off the grocery shelf, make a homemade version with any of the online recipes easily found, or you can even be more extravagant and make homemade lime simple syrup, simmering both juice and zest into the sugar water, and mix it with carbonated water or soda. If you’re going that far, it only makes sense to use the same lovely syrup for both the ‘hard’ version and the other drink, no? And again, why not emphasize the clean lime taste with a little complement or contrast, and consider visual impact as well as taste; classic presentation is not the law, only a set of codified cues. I’m not against even playing with frozen slices of carambola (star fruit) for the rocks in a gimlet because they have a bright citrusy taste with the added element of a surprising grassy note, they look like stars, and they keep the chill in the glass in a cheery green way without diluting the drink as they thaw. The kid in all of us, alcohol-aged drinkers or not, likes a starry surprise once in a while. I can imagine it being both entertaining and tasty to put together a simple little tribute to the tertiary color triad: a sprightly, lime-y Gimlet garnished with a bold twist of orange zest and served with a batch of sweet and salty beet crisps.

Scotch and Ginger: 1.5-2 oz. Scotch poured over ice in a tall glass, then filled with ginger ale or ginger beer (sodas, sometimes fermented). When going to have a Scotch and Ginger, I’ve seen folk shudder with horror at the very idea of adulterating decent Scotch with soda, but as you can see, my attitude toward such things is more of the [OK + OK = just more of OK] vs. [Good + Good = Better] variety. The optional iterations are so many that one could drink nothing but S&G and hardly ever have the same drink twice. I think perhaps my top choices for experimentation with this might be something like the following:

S&G 1: The Macallan 12 year old Sherry Oak Scotch + GuS Grown-Up Soda Extra Dry Ginger Ale vs.

S&G 2: Laphroaig 10 year old Scotch + Vernors ginger ale (a particularly sweet and gingery soda, it’s the oldest US ginger ale still in production)photoThese are, of course, existing and well-known mixed drinks, and among the simplest of them as well. The more numerous the ingredients, the more a drink recipe can be tweaked for fun and pleasure. It’s no wonder the new recipes never cease to, ahem, pour forth. And luckily so: I know I’ll always be thirsty for more. Here’s looking at you (through the bottom of my glass)!

And Now Let Us Pause for a Commercial Break, or at Least Some Blessed Radio Silence

photoIf You Must be Tedious,

at Least be Mellifluous about It

In the immortal poet’s phrase,

No matter if the topic strays

From strictly epic or romantic

Off to something dull, pedantic

Or illogical, it sounds

Quite lovely in the swooping rounds

And swinging curvature of thought

The poet’s pretty words have got,

So if you must tell boring tales,

At least make sure that each regales

Us with its language so we won’t

Care if you say great things, or don’

Zero in, Zero out: I’m Done Thinking, Now

Vast emptiness and silence and that sucking black-hole sound,

Sheer nihilistic nothingness and open space abound,

But nothing has prepared me yet to deal with absent thought

So far as getting something Meaningful from it; I’ve not.

So, Nothing, nothing, nothing: that’s all I have to say.

If you want more, you’ll have to come back on another day.

I’ve spent my great invention quite completely and prefer

To take a break, relax, sit back, and hope you will

“It’s Complicated” with Orange

blurred taxi photo

Any color is fraught with meaning, and all relationships are fraught, yet . . .

Maybe it’s a little odd, my having an eccentrically complex relationship with that simple secondary color. Not that I dislike it; the fabulousness of a flaming sunset at the end of the day is hard to argue, and a spectacular orange koi is a worthy showstopper. Lots of things I really admire, even crave, are orange in fact. After all, the orange fruit and all of its showy tangerine and kumquat cousins are pretty, cheery, and refreshingly delish.

But orange still has some slightly off-putting associations for me that keep it as a color generally restrained from entering my go-to list of favorites. The aforementioned fruit might even share in the blame. I’m sure I’m not the first kid in history that thought oranges and mandarins exceedingly tasty except for those pesky un-chewable and indigestible segment membranes. But I may have been in the minority when my solution to that problem was to bypass them, not by spitting empty membranes out indecorously or rudely refusing to eat the food proffered by my kindly parents, but by squirreling them away in my cheek and not swallowing them. Clearly it can’t have been a particularly delicious solution, since the least desirable part of the treat was what remained the longest, but apparently I was too prim and simplistic to have thought the whole procedure through. Further, how I intended to cope with the skeletal remains in the long term if I wasn’t gutsy enough to just spit and throw them away I cannot quite imagine, but clearly the extended timeline was an abstraction beyond the scope of a person of my then so limited life-experience. All I can say is that the experiment was short-lived. When I arrived home after a whole morning’s outing and, on being parentally interrogated about my assumedly pleasant adventures, remained mum, a quick investigation revealed the impacted concretion of orange-leavings jammed up like snus by my gums. I was given a quick course on the proper technique for eating a whole orange section, which to my dismay involved actual swallowing and digestion of the part I didn’t much like. Ah, well, I managed to overcome my disappointment and learn to love the fruit in a slightly more grown-up fashion after that.

Though we are taught at a reasonably young age to watch out for those mercilessly careening yellow and orange cars that make up the majority of the (somewhat heedlessly) speedy American taxi fleet, I’ve certainly never been directly menaced by one–and there are times when there’s no more welcome sight that one hustling to my rescue when it’s wanted. Still, l have moments when the color, seen just peripherally on the move, gives me an instinctive urge to throw myself headlong into a safe ditch or behind a brick building. It might at least prove highly entertaining to those nearby, but it makes me just a bit more paranoid than it ought to when I’m on a city sidewalk.

Another youthful experience that may have colored my feelings about the color orange involved my initial foray into fashion. The first time my parents let me choose my very own garment, the object of my affection was an orange coat. Not just any orange coat, mind you, but a pint-sized, short-length, fake fur trenchcoat-styled warmer in brilliant Safety Orange. You know the color: they make road cones that color to keep you from driving your pickup truck into the sinkhole that just swallowed Highway 2. The warning tape quarantining an anthrax zone is that color. Deadly toadstools warn off marauding fauna with that color. And I chose a coat that was not only that color, but loudly and proudly so in plush fake fur. I must assume that it is the clearest possible confirmation of my parents’ unswerving and unconditional love of their offspring that they not only allowed me to have the coat but to wear it and be seen with them in public. Though children can reasonably be said to look cute in pretty much any old thing they do or do not wear, I think it’s also fair to say that no color has yet been invented that was less likely to flatter my skin tones, let alone give me the air of sophistication I imagine I was expecting from the thing.

That, however, is just what is so odd about my orangey-astic feelings. I felt myself a modern and cosmopolitan woman of distinction in that coat. My adult recoil at picturing the silliness of it in no way matches the love that I remember having for that ridiculously orange fur blob of a coat. No sight is more pleasing than that of a friendly orange taxicab pulling up to the curb at my command. My irritation at eating something with the flavor and consistency of strapping tape in no way diminishes my craving at certain times for a luscious juicy segment of a perfectly simple ripe Navel orange.

I’m complicated that way.