And Then There was Curry Thursday, Jan 21 2010 

Ok, so besides the risotto I’ve made twice in the last week to a) hone it into a coherent, workable recipe (or at least the beginning of one), and b) eat it for as many meals (four) as was humanly possible, I’ve been eating a lot of Indian food.  No, not because I’m pining away for the take-your-breath-away spiciness of Brick Lane‘s cuisine (although I am).  No, not because in the last few days, I’ve bought five or six spices I’d never used (or been able to pronounce) before.  And no, not because I’ve renounced my love of gnocchi and red wine.

In fact, it’s all this man’s fault.  Actually, it’s largely this man’s fault as well.  See, for Christmas, Boyfriend really went all out with the cookbooks.  He took every hint I’d been subtly alluding to blatantly bombarding him with for the past several months and bought me the two cookbooks I’d wanted most.  He also gave me my own cookbook, which he created from the content of this very blog.  I guess I’ll have to keep him around, huh?

Anyway, he’s either trying to tell me that he loves me and wants me to be happy in my little food-crazed bubble, or he desperately wants me to learn how to cook Indian food and bake lots of bread.  I’m going with the former, though he has seemed a little distraught that I’ve been cooking things without his being around to taste-test.

So I’ve made a lot of curry in the last few weeks, and honestly, it’s been fantastic.  I was a little wary of the book to begin with, as there are spices listed in these recipes that I’ve never even heard of, let alone tasted.  But the writing is so clear and descriptive that there’s little room for error – and even in my I-want-to-change-recipes-I’ve-never-cooked idiocy, I’ve yet to screw one up.  And trust me, I’ve done some major substitutions so far.

So look forward to seeing some curries up here in the near future (don’t worry, we’ll get to the bread, too) – and start checking your grocery store for curry seeds, paneer, tumeric, saffron, fenugreek, holy basil, jaggery…

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Revenge of the Chili Peppers Tuesday, Sep 15 2009 

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Alrite, alrite.  Lesson learned, jalapeno gods.  Thou shalt not touch peppers with bare hands.  Got it.  LOUD AND EFFING CLEAR.

What happened to make me blog-shout at you, you ask?  Well.  Let me just tell you about my arrogant ignorance and the consequential smackdown the chili pepper gods laid out to teach me just how much power they have.  And it was a good one, as I now bow to their infinite wisdom.

Here’s how it all went down: last week, I got a book in the mail.  I didn’t buy this book, or chose it, even.  I won it during the July blogging contest over at Culinate.com.  But anyway, this book, called Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It, is awesome.  It has recipes for marshmallows, graham crackers, cheese, and assorted (yum) infused vodka and brandy drinks.  And also, it has a recipe for hot sauce.  Mmmmmmm, hot sauce.  Boyfriend and I are both the kind of people who will eat food so hot that it actually causes pain.  We use excessive amounts of crushed red pepper flakes on pretty much everything, and favor cuisines like Indian and Spanish, where there’s a lot of heat to be had.  So obviously the first recipe I went after was the hot sauce.

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Now, I want to give Karen Solomon credit, because she’s a smart woman, and I’m a dumbass, and I did not heed the large-print warning at the top of the recipe about wearing gloves.  I cook with jalapenos all the time, my cocky internal voice scoffed smugly, it’s not like I can’t handle the heat for a minute or two. Not an hour later, that internal voice (which I am vowing to never again listen to about anything) was weeping and eating every last one of those words as my fingers, my poor, innocent-bystander fingers, were ablaze with that devil oil that lives inside the peppers.

And here I sit, twenty-four hours later, and my hands are (I kid you not) still tingling.  I did not sleep.  I soaked my hands in ice-cold milk for so long that they were shriveled beyond recognition.  I took Benadryl.  I used rubbing alcohol.  I used lemons.  I pounded a glass of wine that I literally did not even taste because I was in so much pain.  Never again, self.  Never forget.

A rational human might have read over the recipe in this beautiful book, heeded the warnings therein, and created the same (lime-green, sear-your-face-off) hot sauce that I did.  That same person may have even taken the cautionary steps of, oh, I don’t know, seeding the peppers.  Or using all jalapenos instead of replacing half with the smallest, most lethal little buggers the farmers market had.  Or even, gasp, using bell or poblano peppers just to be safe the first time.  But I think I’ve mentioned on more than one occasion that I am not particularly rational, and that foresight is, well, not always a strong suit.  And if you come back to this blog for no other reason, I can promise you that this will not be my last error in judgment, and that, if nothing else, I promise you at least a few more good laughs.

Till then, I leave you with the hot pepper graveyard, and remind you to beware of its vengeance.

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Real Food. Period. Wednesday, Jul 8 2009 

Since I basically majored in Reading and Writing in college, it comes as no surprise that I enjoy a good book.  But between my job, much-needed gym time, Boyfriend/family, sleep, and the countless hours I use to peruse food blogs and watch Iron Chef (Fine. And the Real Housewives. So what?), I don’t often get a lot of free time to lounge around with a new book (Last week’s guide book doesn’t count.  I can always make time to read about vacation). 

 

Fortunately, the time I spent on the train, in the airport, and on the plane to NOLA last week provided a perfect excuse for me to borrow a few books from the library (Plus Boyfriend just left the state for three weeks, so I have some time on my hands.  Not that I’m bitter. No, no. Where would you get that idea?).  I managed to restrict myself to four books, two of which I insisted upon packing in my suitcase:

 

Boyfriend: Why are you packing two books?

Me: Because I need something to read on the plane.

Boyfriend: Kate, we’re going for four days. And we’re not checking bags. I think one is enough.

Me: Yes, but one is non-fiction and one is a novel and what if I feel like reading a novel sometimes but then reading the non-fiction at others and then I’ll regret not having both and…and…

 

I’ll spare you the rest of the conversation – suffice it to say that it started to sound very Rory Gilmore-ish and both books made it into the suitcase, which did fit in the overhead bin, thankyouverymuch.

 

Unfortunately, by Sunday’s return trip, it turned out that Boyfriend was right.  I’ll let that sink in for a minute, because I’m stubborn and don’t admit that I’m wrong very often.  Boyfriend. Was. Right.

 

Anyway.

 

I started with the non-fiction one, and the reason I’m even sharing this story (since I don’t ordinarily share stories in which I am proven incorrect) is that the book was about (you guessed it) food.  More specifically, Real Food: What to Eat and Why is about eating like author Nina Planck and her family did on their farm in Virginia – fresh fruit and vegetables, raw milk, pastured chickens and eggs, grass-fed beef, etc.  It’s blunt, it’s to-the-point, and it’s completely and totally enthralling in an ohmigod-what-have-I-been-putting-into-my-body kind of way.

 

The book begins with Nina’s own food journey – omnivore, vegetarian, vegan, and back again – and why her family’s farm-fresh approach to consuming food in its most natural state, regardless of the fat, calories, or carbs it contained, is the healthiest way to live.  She then breaks the food pyramid down into chapters (Real Meat, Real Fruits and Vegetables, Real Milk, Butter, and Cheese, and so forth) and explains why our bodies thrive on the foods that we’ve eaten for millions of years…not the over-processed, commercialized, and “low-fat” varieties that have become so popular of late.

 

Possibly the most helpful part of the book, for me, was the short list of bullet points she develops to sum up the ideas of each subsection.  Didn’t quite understand that extended blurb on where the magical 300 milligram-per-day limit on cholesterol came from?  Too grossed-out to read that passage on the shortcomings of grain-fed beef and industrial chicken farms?  Never fear, Nina has condensed it into a few points that provide the underlying principles of the chapter – if not its in-depth justification.

 

Now, I won’t lie to you, I use Splenda in my coffee, and I don’t exclusively buy organic anything, but after reading Nina’s book, I’m definitely sitting here reconsidering my outlook on my diet.  Maybe the two squares of dark chocolate I ate after lunch, unable to squelch a sweet tooth, are preferable to those two teaspoons of chemical-laden Splenda every morning.  Maybe an organic apple is worth the additional cost if it saves my body from the pesticides.  Maybe these “natural foodies” are onto something…    

 

The great thing about Nina’s book is also that it lacks the preachiness of many health nuts – she understands and acknowledges that we all don’t live on a farm or have access to raw milk, but she gives valid points for switching from, say, vegetable oil to coconut oil, or which vegetables to buy organic if you can’t buy them all that way.  So while I don’t think I’ll be relocating to a farm anytime soon, it certainly does make me consider a little more closely what I put into my mouth – and the price I’m willing to pay for it. 

 

Even if you don’t think it’ll change the way you look at store-bought chicken and you could care less about the pesticides modern, commercial farms use, it’s worth a read just for the history lesson.  Anyone know what Crisco and candles have in common?  How about the basis for the mandating of pasteurization, or the reason why the makers of margarine were, at one time, legally required to dye it pink?  Nina Planck does, and now, for better or worse, so do I.