Friday, June 29, 2007

Waiter, There's Something in My...Dumpling: Wild Salmon Gyoza

Well, getting in just under the wire, I finally made my entry for June's Waiter, There's Something in My...Dumpling event. Isolationville may not have much to offer, but one thing we do have in abundance is salmon. Gorgeous, wild, deep red salmon. So I knew that my dumplings would be filled with salmon and I decided on an Asian flavor set. I had considered a European version, fried in butter and dill, but I stuck with a gyoza styling. When I play with a recipe for the first time, I tend to be pretty loose with measurements, so the following recipe has some approximations. I served it in an appetizer portion of five gyoza surrounding a small heap of mixed baby lettuce and spicy Asian greens, all grown in my garage. The greens were tossed with tiny drizzles of sesame oil, sushi vinegar, and a sprinkle of salt.

I also played a lot more with the photographs after realizing that this is why my digital camera has a macro setting. It was fun and I'm really happy with the triptych of the filling, the being filled stage, and the about to be eaten step. They were tasty and the process from beginning to end was very fun. Thanks to The Passionate Cook for hosting!

Wild Salmon Gyoza

1/2 - 2/3 pound wild salmon fillet, chopped or minced
1/2 cup chopped green onion/scallion
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 TBS minced jalapeno
2 tsp finely grated lime zest
1 tsp grated ginger
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
salt to taste
Gyoza wrappers

Combine all filling ingredients in a bowl. Set aside in the refrigerator for at least half an hour for flavors to blend.

Fill wrappers according to package directions.

Heat 2 TBS neutral-flavored oil over medium heat in a large frying pan. Add gyozas; do not overfill the pan. Fry until the bottoms are golden brown, add 1/3 cup of water, and cover tightly until the water has evaporated.

Serve with a sauce of your choice (soy and vinegar, sweet chile sauce, hot mustard, etc).


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Pizza by Force

Living in Isolationville, we do a lot of bulk shopping-and-shipping whenever we go to City. CostCo is our friend, and so our cheese tends to come in two or three pound bricks. I always promise myself that I'll pull out the vacuum sealer and break them into manageable pieces, but I almost never do. (The main exception was the lovely Maytag blue, which I was not about to risk losing to spoilage.) So I was searching in the fridge for something else yesterday morning when I came upon a sad block of mozzarella, starting to show mold on its cut surface. Somehow we ended up with two blocks open at the same time and that's just asking for the mold fairies to come visit.

Clearly, I needed to make something with mozzarella, and pizza usually wins in those situations.

I used to make a lovely pizza with loads of fresh chopped tomatillos, cilantro, and green onion. Tomatillos rarely make an appearance in Isolationville, but I did have the other stuff, so a Mexican-y pizza was dinner last night and lunch today. I was all set to take a picture, but quite frankly, it wasn't the prettiest pizza I've ever made, so I didn't bother. Tasty, yes, but not gorgeous in the least.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Salad Before and After

I've been growing greens under lights and finally had some mixed baby lettuces big enough to harvest for a salad last night. This is the before picture, prior to my scissor work. I'm really hoping that these greens do well and a cut and come again, as advertised. I've had good luck with that in the past, but I haven't tried this particular mix before.

There weren't really enough greens for full-meal salads for Husband and me, so I supplemented my tender babies with a bed of romaine underneath everything. Here's the after:

Along with the greens, we had cold cooked red potatoes, hard boiled eggs, red pepper, and parmesan shavings, all topped with a lemon-mustard dressing. It was lovely to eat some food I'd grown myself. Isolationville isn't all that friendly to gardening. Among other things, we can't compost because we have a dense bear population. Our growing season is extremely short and not at all what you would call warm, even if you (ok, me) desperately want to pretend it's summer. Indoor gardening is my main outlet now, so it was nice to reap some benefits.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

My Isolated Apron

I spied the announcement for Show Us Your Apron yesterday and decided that I had to enter this wonderfully insane apron I received for Christmas last year. Kudos for the photo and photo manipulation go to Husband. After braving the mosquitoes to take the pictures, we sat with our respective laptops playing in Photoshop -- geek out! My best attempt is now my profile picture, his is here.

We were with Husband's family shortly after Christmas this past winter and I was cooking something for a crowd and my mother-in-law suggested I put on an apron to protect something nice-ish I was wearing. I went to the cupboard and pulled this out, completely in love. She looked at me strangely, asked if I liked it, and when I said I loved it, she said, "Well, it's yours."

I thought she was trying to give it to me just because I admired it, but it turned out that she actually had bought it for me, along with aprons for her other daughters-in-law, but then decided that I would probably hate it, so put it with her other aprons!

Needless to say, it came back to Isolationville with me. I like that it has a defined waist; I always hated the shapeless food service standard apron and would fold over the top and wear it just from the waist down. Even though I don't usually like wearing patterned fabrics, I love the riotous mix of pattern and color in this. It makes me happy.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Cocoa and Nostalgia on a Rainy Day

I'm sitting here watching the rain hit my windows with a cup of contraband at my elbow. Cocoa. Luscious, chocolaty, slightly salty cocoa. I was eating a slice of peanut butter toast, on bread I baked from my family recipe, feeling a little chilly on this gray morning, and feeling that a big something was missing. All my life, peanut butter toast and cocoa have gone together, especially when the weather is bleak. And, quite frankly, a rainy, 46-degree day on the day after the Summer Solstice? Bleak.

BabyGirl, however, really doesn't appreciate my drinking milk. For the half-year it's been since we figured out that she doesn't like it, I have avoided all milk and ice cream, and large quantities of altered dairy products like cheese and yogurt.

But this morning, I just couldn't take it. My peanut butter toast cried out for cocoa. And so I carefully poured out half a mug's worth of milk, stirred the cocoa, sugar, and salt into some water to boil, added the milk, and now, I sit, with only a small amount of guilt, drinking my half mug of rainy day cocoa.

It's delicious.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

What Was Lost is Now Found

Wheeeeeeeee!! I have been camera-less for two weeks now. No new food photos, which is tricky, as I really want to get going on the food blog events I've decided to enter. Husband had it while he was away and came home without it. I was starting to despair and was convinced that whoever found it decided to keep it. But it turned up today and will be back in our home in a few days! Yay!

In the meantime, I thought I'd share some photos of food in Mexico a few years ago. Just because they're already digitized, so I can.

The first is from an outdoor wholesale market I attended several times in southern Puebla. There were trucks full of radishes, cilantro, onions, tomatoes, and various other veggies and fruits. These nopales are just so lovely! From another wholesale, but formal, market, a lovely pile of chiles.

This radiant treat is a raspberry tamal. Such a delicious treat, and almost translucent, the maize was ground so fine. I bought these at a barter-market before dawn in central Michoacan. They made great snacks for a very long bus ride that day. They traveled surprisingly well. I had seen these in another market a few days before I bought these, but thought they were steamed beet slices, which I thought was a little odd. It made a lot more sense when I learned that they are actually raspberry tamales.

And finally, not exactly food really. This is some detail from a huge seed-art mural at the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. I have a weak spot for good seed art and this was just beyond brilliant. I wish I had had my digital camera when I was there because it has a great composite feature that would have let me stitch the whole thing together into one image.

I was in Mexico for research and the markets were a combination of work and fun. I have loads more photos, but a lot of them are slides. It's too bad because there are some lovely food photos among them.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Eat Dessert First!

When I was in high school, roughly two decades ago plus a bit, the choice for an after-movie hang-out was a cafe run by an Austrian (I think) woman. It was in a small stone house and there were three small rooms with cushioned arm chairs clustered (almost crowded) around small, marble-topped tables. There was almost always a line out the door on weekends, even in winter. It was carpeted and cozy and full of conversation. It was lovely.

It was also, apparently, ahead of its time. The menu was predominantly desserts, and that's what people came for. They did offer some lovely cheese and fruit plates and light sandwiches, and I even shared one of the cheese and fruit combos once, but for most visitors, it was all about the desserts. Decadent cakes and tarts and parfaits. Always too many choices that sounded good. One that I occasionally recreate was a chocolate pate served with shortbread cookies and apricot preserves. I loved that cafe and I was heartbroken when it closed. The rumors were that the owner planned to re-open in conjunction with a theater that was being revived across town (this, by the way, was thousands of miles from Isolationville; I'm a relative newcomer here), but it never happened.

I'm reminiscing about it today because of a long article in the NYTimes today about pastry chefs who are opening their own, dessert-centric, restaurants. Most of them seem to be offering a larger non-dessert menu than my beloved cafe did, but they are still looking for that crowd that wants serious dessert, even if they ate out somewhere without them. I always believe that one should know at least one restaurant in a town that is worth going to just for the dessert, and that doesn't object to having that kind of customer. I like going for a cup of coffee (decaf, of course, because I'm a tad insane if you add caffeine to me) and dessert after a movie or dinner at home or just because I happen to be walking past a dessert place. I've had a few standards for such visits in the various places I've lived. In case you hadn't already guessed, Isolationville has no such place. It's sad.

So, if pastry chefs across the nation want to start opening their own places, I'm all for it. It's a trend I'll watch, if only so I'll know where to look when I escape from Isolationville.

Blueberry Flavors

I've been delving into the world of food blog events over the past week. I used to do similar types of things with pizza with a small group of people online, but that's almost a decade in the past now and I miss it. So I've chosen two events to enter in the next couple of weeks: Hay Hay It's Donna Day #13 and Waiter, there's something in my...dumpling.

I was telling this to a colleague last night, saying that I really needed some cooking challenges because cooking in Isolationville is challenging, but not in a fun way. He responded that I must not be taking advantage of wild foods, and named one in season now. I challenged him to point to one spot where said food was available, and he admitted that you'd have to hop a plane to get there. I felt vindicated.

Don't start thinking that Isolationville is full of jet-setters. Not at all. It's just that the size of our isolation requires a lot of air travel.

I considered doing a fruit dumpling, but I have moved on to better ideas for that one. Fruit will definitely play into the sorbet treat for Donna Day #13, though, and today was a day for flavor experimentation. Last fall, I picked gallons of wild blueberries and froze about two-thirds of them. That's my base. I was cooking some up for Baby Girl's next food puree, and made a bit more than would fill the ice cube tray so I could play with some flavor combos.

There were several things I either wanted to try originally but didn't have on hand or now want to try because one of the combos I thought wouldn't work, did. If that makes any sense whatsoever. I would have liked to try honey, but mine was all sugared and no amount of play changed that and I got rid of it. I also thought about trying it with coconut milk, but I'm not sure how well the packets will keep once opened (I do powdered because of the shipping costs for canned goods). There were some combinations I didn't need to try because I know they work, but none of them were in the running for this particular purpose.

I tried the following, all with a little sugar and some with a little lemon juice:

Cloves: too strong and the flavors didn't complement each other at all.

Cayenne: I liked the heat. Husband felt it didn't add much interest.

Pine nuts: Again, I liked it, didn't love it, Husband really didn't like it. This was the combo that made him request a water chaser/palate cleanser.

Ginger: I liked it, didn't like it enough to carry a spoonful to my test audience, who doesn't like ginger anyway.

Salt: Specifically, pink Hawaiian salt. Or red. I don't know which it claims. I have to admit that this was a bit gimmicky. I do love sweet-salty combos, but part of this experiment was simply for the visual. The flavor was good, but it's not going to be added to lists of classic sweet-salty combos any time soon. It did look cute together! I was picturing miniature sorbet sandwiches with a rim of pinky-red salt. Won't happen now.

There were two other flavors I tried that I won't describe because one of them is going to be featured in my sorbet. One, I thought had a better-than-50% chance of being really nice. And it is. Really nice. Husband agreed. The other, I thought wouldn't work. I tried it just because it was there and I figured I shouldn't ignore it. I was very, very wrong. A lovely combo and it could well be the winner. Or I might make both. Again, this might not make a lot of sense, but I think the two flavor combos would be nice in the same bowl, but not in the same scoop. Strange that it should work that way, but I think it's true. I'd like alternating bites of the two different sorbets, but not the two flavors in the same bite.

We'll see how much time Baby Girl gives me when it's time to make the sorbet.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Dreamy Kitchens

My dreams about the perfect house always start with the kitchen. Many years ago, I thought that a herringbone brick floor and a wood-burning cookstove would be great. I was young. I was idealistic. I cooked frequently in Dutch ovens and tin reflecting ovens and brick ovens and wood-burning cookstoves. Things usually worked. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Luckily, it never got implemented and my dreams have evolved. The NYTimes has a series of profiles of kitchens in and around NYC earlier this week and that got me thinking about just what my dream kitchen is these days. There are a lot of fancy-kitchen trends that I don't love. I'm not that fond of granite counter tops. I don't really like sterile-looking kitchens. I don't feel the need for every new gadget under the sun.

What I do like in a kitchen? Personality, practicality, and fun.

I had a friend in high school whose mother had a red kitchen. Every pot, implement, appliance, and surface that could be found in red, was. It was fun! It was also practical because she liked to display a lot of those red things, so implements and pots were on open shelves, on racks, and in jars, and were, therefore, easy to grab when needed.

I don't think I'd want a monochrome kitchen, but I do want color. Greens feel very fresh and vibrant, two qualities I associate with kitchens, so I'll definitely stick in some green, probably in the floor with something like a watermelon or evergreen Marmoleum. Although, in a small space that requires definition, I wouldn't rule out something like this wave or block style. Marmoleum is a mostly natural product, often listed on green materials sheets. It's got some give and doesn't stain easily, making it a good choice for kitchen flooring.

I've been fascinated recently by PaperStone for counters. I cannot get their website to load today no matter how many times I try, but it's a recycled paper and resin combo that looks a lot like chemistry lab counter tops, but in lots of colors. They've been moving away from petroleum based resins, so, again, a relatively green product.

Cabinets will probably come from Ikea. I write that as if I'm in the midst of actually designing a new kitchen that will be built sometime in the near future. I'm not, of course. Isolationville is not a permanent living, we hope, and we don't plan to own a home here. And we don't have any money for a moderately expensive kitchen remodel/build anyway.

Now Ikea won't let me choose my dream cabinets without downloading the newest version of whatever. Light wood, nothing fancy, simple hardware. That's the goal. They do have the loveliest interior cabinet and drawer organizers ever, though, and that would be necessary to kit out good pantry spaces.

The other details? It would depend on the kitchen and the amount of space. A double sink, preferably very deep, is a must. Gas stove, also, a must. Almost everything else is a little bit optional. Well, I need to have a fridge, I'm just not as picky about that as I am some other things about my kitchen. At least, I think I'm not now. If and when I actually get to design the kitchen of my dreams, it might be a whole different story.

But in the meantime, a girl can dream.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Food Bargains Come to Isolationville

I can't quite remember if I kept the post that discusses the cost of food here in Isolationville. I claim my coming-of-age ceremony here as the day when my reaction to my grocery bill was, "Is that it? Really?" That's in deep contrast to my previous reaction, which was always, "How the hell can five items cost that much?!?" I noticed yesterday that milk has gone up. It's now $7.89/gallon. Not that there were any gallon containers, mind you. That shelf space was barren. The half-gallon I bought for Husband (Baby Girl objects when I drink fresh milk) was $5.09.

So imagine my thrill when my bill came to only 38 bucks and change! I had bought (for Friday junk food nights) four cheese pizzas, a big beautiful red pepper, three zucchini, four jalapenos (hmmm...I'll bet I can use diacritical marks if I spent two minutes learning how; I'll save that for next time), a package of onion rolls, and the aforementioned, not cheap half-gallon of milk. For under forty dollars. I was babbling to the check-out girl, I was so happy about my savings.

Understand that normally, those four pizzas by themselves would have set me back more than forty dollars. They were way, way, way on sale, which is where all the savings came in. Each of those little pizza puppies would normally have been around 11 bucks, but they were on sale for two for ten dollars. And they actually had cheese pizzas. They haven't had plain cheese pizzas any time I've checked in the last three months. It was serendipity.

How sad is it that my food purchasing thrill of the week is that I got cheap frozen pizzas? I mean, a frozen pizza as a very occasional guilty pleasure is one thing, but it's a sorry state of affairs that I'm this excited about FROZEN PIZZAS. I feel like my secret foodie identity card is going to be taken away if this continues. Right now, I'm living on the credit I built up through years of growing a lot of food, making tons of stuff from scratch, introducing new people to my former home's food secrets, and just generally being obsessed with food on many levels. I did make The Bread yesterday. And I've got lettuce that will be ready to harvest in about a week. But the cheap frozen pizza thrill is taking a serious bite out of my credentials.

But until I exit Isolationville, I say, pass the red pepper flakes and dig in!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Cheese Tortellini with Asparagus

When the asparagus came to Isolationville a couple weeks back, I made a nice pasta in addition to the asparagus pizza I posted about earlier. Inspired by Once Upon A Feast's Presto Pasta Nights, here's the recipe and photo.

3/4 pound asparagus
1 1/2 pound package frozen cheese tortellini (or something better if your non-Isolationville location offers)
5 large cloves garlic, peeled
3 TBS olive oil
2 TBS fresh lemon juice
3 TBS heavy cream
2 oz freshly grated parmesan
salt and pepper to taste

1. Set a large pot of salted water to boil for the pasta
2. Trim an inch off the ends of the asparagus, peel the stalks, and cut each into thirds
3. Place asparagus and garlic in a steamer and steam lightly for 4 to 7 minutes
4. When the asparagus is crisp-tender, remove from steamer and set aside
5. Combine steamed garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice in a small processor and process until smooth
6. Cook pasta according to directions and drain; return pot to stove
7. Over medium heat, cook the garlic-oil mix for a few minutes. Add the asparagus, toss to coat. Add the pasta, toss to coat. Add cream and half the parmesan cheese, toss to coat.
8. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Sprinkle each serving with some of the remaining cheese.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Popcorn and Chocolate Chips

The title isn't a recipe suggestion, just a description of my evening snacking. I just can't get it together recently to cook real food, which sucks. I've been working until 6, coming home and feeding Baby Girl and getting her to sleep. Then I go next door to play with and feed the NeighborDog (taking my baby monitor with me!). And then I get to feed myself.

So tonight, I started with an English muffin with salsa and pepperjack. And a big glass of juice. That wasn't so bad. Then I moved on to some freshly popped, very lightly buttered popcorn. Also not that bad. Not that great, either, but as snack foods go, it's a decent option. Then I started dipping into the monster bag of chocolate chips. Dumb move. They're addictive. I had fruit at breakfast and veggies at lunch, so overall, the day wasn't a complete loss nutritionally speaking, but I am a nursing mama and I feel that I should be eating better. I'm just having trouble finding the energy.

The saddest part is that I love veggies. I love salads. I love fruit. I just can't get decent versions of such things here in Isolationville and so I have to be creative to get my basic five-a-day. In summer, I usually have no trouble getting ten-a-day, but here, it just doesn't happen naturally. I have to work at it and some days, it just doesn't happen.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Ah, Convenience Foods!

Sometimes I feel the need to sing the praises of almost-instant foods and this week has been one of those times. Husband is away on business and I am working an extra 24 hours while he's gone, so it's a double whammy of no help around the house and having to take Baby Girl to work with me every day for a few hours, getting us home about half an hour before she wants to go to bed. These are the days when I'm happy to rip open an envelope and dump the contents into some boiling water/milk combo and be done with it.

Except, not really.

Those things have little flavor and no redemptive nutritional qualities, so I add stuff. The other night, I added a cup or so of frozen peas and two chopped-up veggie breakfast sausages to an otherwise uninspired pot of garlic/parmesan noodles. They needed a little something-something, so I also tossed in Tabasco and a little Worcestershire sauce. If I had had five minutes more of energy, I would have grated some actual parmesan, but I didn't, so there you are.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Cooking Intimidation

Husband is a perfectly competent, and occasionally excellent, cook. He makes the world's best egg and cheese sandwiches. He has the gift of getting inspired by a recipe while browsing a cookbook, especially if it's got good food porn photos of each dish. And yet, he doesn't cook very often. It's ok, because I love to cook and he steps up when I need him or really want him to cook. When we talk about it, he says that he's intimidated by my cooking skills and doesn't think he can measure up. It makes me a little sad, because he really does cook well, and would improve if he cooked more often and expanded his repertoire.

At least he's not alone. Today's NYTimes has a story about this phenomenon. The article actually covers it from both perspectives: the foodie couple in a group who feel that they must keep up the high standards they have set for themselves and the other folks in the group who feel pressure to live up to the high benchmarks, too.

I really love to cook for people. Almost no matter how many or few people, what kinds of foods they like -- I just like to cook for old friends and new acquaintances. Here in Isolationville, I don't have a lot of chances to do that, but I have friends actually coming all the way here to visit in July, and I've already started thinking about the menu. She is always so good about trying new recipes when I stay with them, so I'm feeling like I need to have put some thought into it and I really want to do one sort of fancy meal. How exactly I'm going to get the ingredients, I'm not sure, but the salmon will be running then, so at least I have a high-class base for the meal!

In general, though, I have tended to do more meals for large groups rather than fancier stuff for just a few couples. Some of my favorites are theme meals. I've done soup parties with great success. Usually, I make three soups (one vegetarian, one vegan, and one fishy, usually) and make bread to go with. When people ask if they can bring something, I ask them to bring a nice wedge of cheese, which rounds out the meal. I've also done mix and match pasta parties: two shapes of pasta plus a cheese-stuffed pasta with two or three different sauces and often roasted veggies or other add-ins. One of my favorite dinners to do that way is a grilled pizza party. Individual-sized crusts can be par-grilled before guests arrive, and then everyone tops their own and puts it back on the grill for five minutes to finish it off. Very fun and popular.

The joy of this style of dinner party is that even if people rave about the soups, the fact that it's a serve-yourself-from-the-pot meal keeps reciprocal expectations pretty low. And, quite frankly, it doesn't allow me to get competitive with myself either. Because I probably would, otherwise. Each time a particular group was over, I would feel like they expected me to outdo the last meal. I'm not really interested in getting into that kind of cycle.

Someday, though, I would like to have the required elements (like a big table and plenty of chairs, maybe even matching ones!) to have larger sit-down meals. I once had access to a borrowed apartment for events like that and I had so much fun with the meal planning. The Times article profiled a couple who spend whole days shopping and planning for each dinner they give. That's my idea of a day spent well. In cities where it's possible to visit cheese shops and specialty shops for fresh pasta and farmers' markets for local produce and bakeries for the bread and...

Now I'm just torturing myself because even if I were to fly to The City, I wouldn't find most of those things.

Someday. Sigh.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Winter Wheat, Spring Wheat, Summer Wheat...Always Wheat

The NYTimes Science section has a story today about attempts to breed a perennial wheat. Agricultural researchers in eastern Washington are currently working on the problem. They see it as a solution to a variety of problems including global warming's effects on food production, erosion, and the high fuel costs of plowing and planting every year. I think it's a great goal and I hope they stick with it despite the funding problems mentioned toward the end of the article.

I have a few bones to pick with the article, though. (Please remember that I did warn in my introduction to my newly overhauled blog that I would occasionally stick in a wonky post. I just couldn't resist this.)

First bone is that there seems to be an underlying assumption that there is nothing else farmers could do to decrease erosion, particularly from wind. That's simply not true. They want to keep the economy of scale they get from having enormous expanses of unimpeded wheat fields. I understand that. That field arrangement, however, comes at a high cost. There is nothing to break or slow the wind, nothing to catch blowing soil before it leaves the farm. Windbreaks of mixed-height trees would make a huge difference. Even strips of unplowed wheat stubble would help. Yes, it would mean more time on tractors and combines because the farmer couldn't just drive for half a mile down the field with no interruptions. Sometimes, for the good of the planet, you just have to make a few sacrifices.

Along similar lines, I really hate that the author says that annual wheat can't compete with annual weeds and therefore needs herbicides. I was, in a past career, an organic market gardener. Most plants that conventional agriculture says need herbicides and pesticides and artificial fertilizers simply don't. Do they need them to achieve ridiculously high yields? Sometimes. Do they need them to produce a crop in most years? No. It irks me that agriculture in the popular press is consistently discussed as if large-scale industrial farming is the only option.

Last bone is the tossed-in comment about the ancient farmers who "chose" wheat:

The problem with annual wheat is that farmers selected it for domestication because of its high grain yield, which means the plant sacrificed other attributes to maximize the amount of seed.

Part of my "thinking about food" involves researching prehistoric agriculture. (What can I say? I'm a food geek. I'm ok with it. You?) It's really hard to justify statements like "farmers selected it for domestication because", especially when you're talking about wheat. Who know why people ten thousand years ago did anything? There are hypotheses, some with more support than others, for why people did some things, but human motivation is a tricky thing. Why is it especially problematic for wheat? Wheat was one of the very first plants domesticated, possibly the first, although it's looking more and more like rye was domesticated earlier. So the people who "domesticated" wheat didn't have some end-goal in mind because they had never seen the end-goal before. They relied on wheat in their diet, quite possibly because of the high grain yields (see, I'm willing to go along with the author's choice of motivation to some extent; I'm not unreasonable). Experimental research in high-density stands of wild wheat have shown that a family could harvest a year's worth of wheat in a relatively short time. There's a lot of debate about just how the genetic changes that define domestication came about. One of the most-favored hypotheses says that simply by harvesting wheat in the way they did -- with sickles, favoring characteristics like simultaneous ripening and holding onto grain tightly -- people selected for the genetic stock of our modern domesticated wheats.

Given my love of all things bready AND all things planet-friendly, I certainly hope they find ways to make wheat more suitable to lower-impact farming. I also hope that Congress wakes up and recognizes that agricultural research subsidies should be going to people who recognize that our agricultural practices are going to have to change with the climate.

Monday, June 4, 2007

The Joys of Fake Meats

Eating a (mostly) vegetarian diet here in Isolationville isn't always easy. For example, our grocery hasn't carried cheese frozen pizzas in months. And sometimes, I have to admit, Husband and I just want to toss a frozen pizza in the oven on a Friday night. There's no pizza joint, and I don't always want to make pizza from scratch. Besides, I actually think of frozen pizzas as a completely different food group; let's face it, it isn't really pizza.

But that isn't the point. The point is that we eat a fair variety of meat-substitutes. Large coolers of frozen foods as checked luggage are part of our lives. Our freezer contains reasonable quantities of Morningstar Farms, Boca, and Quorn products. Tonight's meal combined two of them. We had a lovely avocado ready to be eaten, thanks to Baby Girl's fondness for avocado in her new role as a solid-food eater. I may not be willing to pay through the nose for an avocado just for Husband and me, but Baby Girl gets special treatment. She ate a little mashed avocado thinned out with a little breast milk (TMI? So sorry!). We ate French bread rolls (kind of insipid, but they are the right shape and weren't so bad once I crisped them up in the oven) with a mayo/roasted garlic combo, avocado, Quorn chicken breast replacement, and Morningstar Farms bacon. Mmm-mmmmm good! Now that was a sandwich! A side of roasted potatoes and onions rounded out the meal. Sorry there's no picture; it wasn't the most photogenic of meals.

Sorry also for the brand-name fest. I'm not much for providing free advertising, but there are real differences in quality of texture and flavor among the various brands and the sandwiches wouldn't have been the same with different products.

When Asparagus Comes to Town

Produce is expensive, limited, and past its prime in Isolationville, so it's always a treat when someone leaves for a little while and comes back bearing fresh, interesting veggie treats. Most recently, a friend went to The City for some dental work and returned with asparagus in return for some cat care I did. I had planned pizza for that night, so asparagus pizza it was!

I had a head of roasted garlic in the fridge, so I broke the cloves up with my fingers and spread that around the crust. On went a layer of freshly grated parmesan. That went into the oven until the cheese was about to brown. Meanwhile, I had lightly steamed some of the asparagus and cut the stalks in half lengthwise. The asparagus went on the pizza with a light topping of grated mozzarella. Then back in the oven to finish off. It was very tasty and looked very spring-like. A nice touch, because this was a little over a week ago and Isolationville was most definitely NOT looking spring-like. It is now and that makes my heart happier.

Also in the happy heart department, my lettuce mix and spicy greens mix are sprouted and about to have their first true leaves. Salad! Salad is a few weeks in my future! The herbs haven't shown themselves yet, but they've all got longer germination periods than the greens, so I'm not too surprised. Husband and I are very fond of big dinner salads with cold cooked potato, hard boiled eggs, cold grilled fish, olives, etc, in many different combinations, so it will be nice to have options beyond the tired iceberg and romaine available in Isolationville's grocery.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

More on The Bread

As noted in the previous post, many serious foodies have read about or tried the NYTimes no-knead bread already. If you haven't read about it, or haven't yet given it a try, here's what the result looks like. This was probably my seventh or eighth loaf. Isn't she a beauty?

I made a loaf the other day and we ate it with roasted garlic and pesto smeared all over the slices. The pesto is part of my anti-Isolationville-food-boredom stash of very strong flavors. Food choices are limited here, so anything that can provide variety and spice are most welcome. Some of my other must-have items in this category are very good olive-cured olives, dried chiles and chipotle in adobo, tubes of ginger and anchovy paste, Thai curry paste, a variety of potent Asian condiments, and powdered lime juice and coconut milk. A well-filled spice drawer courtesy of Penzey's helps out, too. My freezer holds little blister packs of basil, cilantro, and parsley from Trader Joe's, which definitely are not nearly as good as the real thing, but when there's no other option, they'll do. Those get carted around in a cooler through several flight changes any time I return to Isolationville from anywhere that has a Trader Joe's remotely nearby.