Feasting on the burned bits at the bottom

This afternoon while the toddler napped and my mother texted me about family in Colombia, I read Lynn Johnston‘s essay about burned rice, which appeared in The New York Times.

You might not know about crispy burned rice, the beautifully golden-brown color it takes on after just the right amount of time, the way it crunches in the teeth, the way it brings back one’s childhood. If you haven’t had that childhood, or positive experience with this foodstuff, then yeah, you don’t know about it in the way others do. I’m sorry.

Growing up with a Colombian mother meant that burned rice at the bottom of a pan is as much a staple and talisman in my life as is anything. And Johnston, a literary agent based in NY, is not Colombian, but as she shared her own experience eating crispy rice as a child in Saigon I felt all the same things about city and place and familiarity and comfort as she described in her essay.

I cried, people. I cried. I so wanted to be in Colombia multiple times in the last year, but especially over the holidays. Reading how Johnston has weathered the pandemic with rice, how she has connected (or not) with her mom over rice during this time, and how she has bonded with her own child(ren) through rice made me so nostalgic for my family, my origin story and my people on this first day of the new year. If a bit of burned food can do that for me, what can this metaphor do for the rest of the world?

Could the metaphor of burned rice allow us all (those reading, at the very least) to see how much we have, and how we’re all capable of “getting through” the fires that engulf us?

I had rice with the in-laws this evening, and as I watched my sister-in-law fret over the perfection of the rice, I marveled at the stress with which one might view this part of a meal. Yes, rice as a staple in so many peoples’ diets is worth perfecting, but what of the experience that comes with the hard bits at the bottom?

What if we could all appreciate the darkened bits as they coat the surfaces of our lives?

There’s no way of knowing what 2021 has in store, but I ask you to be on the lookout for the crunch and crackle of things and see them as new experiences, as new flavors that add to the dish that is your daily life.

The beautiful imperfect

close up photo of peeled orange

Photo by Robin Kumar Biswal on Pexels.com

Another one from Chicago. Circa 2009, I think. #ThrowbackThursday

The man comes into the co-op singing a song and talking to himself. He wears crisp orange pants and a fitted jacket that matches. There is a slice of lemon shirt peeking out between the folds of chest and stomach, and all he needs is a top hat to perform in a three-ring circus.  But he’s not a performer; he’s just part of the neighborhood.

As he saunters about the store, the man tells my co-workers that he’s a scientist, that he “deals in the rainbow,” and they laugh. The co-op is host to all sorts of zany life forms: pluots, seitan, people; and we too, deal in the rainbow, if you can look at fruits and vegetables and see the sun and the rain that such a spectrum needs.

This man makes me think of peaches, their strange, fuzzy warmness, or maybe nectarines, and the way sunlight is banded on their skin and glowing in their flesh.

He goes through the crate of apricots, and we could lose one to his sleeve — not because he’s that kind of shyster, but because the match of pigment is just too perfect to catch. He could hold the fruit up next to his body, and as if shrouded in a cloak of invisibility, it would be gone before we’d  ever see it leave.

But he doesn’t snag the apricots, small as silver dollars, and worth a little more, nor does he contemplate the midnight darkness of the bin blackened with ripe plums. These delicate, bruise-beautiful orbs held our attention all summer with their cleavage.  And why not? It the perfect hiding place for soft, green mold, for delicious juices to catch.

We have no air conditioning where I work, and when days and nights and then days again pass before these fruit are sold, we cup them gently in our hands, examine each unique crease for the liquid seepage that becomes home to spores. We do this with all the produce, hold its individuality in our hands, digest the difference in the colors from one delivery to another. This scrutiny is like getting to know someone intimately, seeing the wax-paper crinkles of passing seasons line a face you have come to love.

And then, before you know it, the moment is gone. The apricot is out the door with the orange sleeve; the summer sun is set and gone behind trees throwing flames of leaves. The passing of the days and the fruits and the seasons is so beautifully imperfect, and so fast we miss it if we’re not paying attention.

Banapple bread

I have the best of intentions with bananas, buying them as I cruise the fruits/veggies section at the grocery store,  thinking I’ll have a healthy, portable snack for work in the week to come. But I hardly ever get the whole bunch  taken care of (I buy like, 3 at a time) before they go all Mr. Burns on me. So I freeze the things, they pile up in the freezer like dead slugs, and I eventually decide to make banana bread or some other variation of banana food stuff.  Well, this week I had 2 apples going all soft and wrinkly too, so I decided to dice up the apples and dump ’em in with the naners.

Behold,  banapple bread. It tastes pretty much like regular banana bread, but there’s an added  moisture, and an added sweetness. I used my food processor to  dice up the apples real fine, but next time think I’d like to have a bit more mass to them.

I used my favorite banana bread recipe, from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, then just added my apples into the  wet mix that goes into the dry.  Since I made muffins instead of  a loaf, I only  baked the batter for about 35 minutes.

Banapple bread

2 C flour
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1/4 t cinnamon
1/8 t nutmeg
2 eggs
3 ripe bananas
1 C sugar
1/2 C cooking oil

First, mix all your dry ingredients except for the sugar.  The above recipe is the BH&G one, but I always add some ground ginger to my mix, about a 1/4 or 1/8 t.  In another bowl, mix the wet ingredients and the sugar.  Since my bananas came from the freezer, they had thawed and  were very wet. If you use this method, make sure to drain some of the liquid from the bananas before mixing all the other ingredients in. In addition to the above, you’ll also add your diced apples– I had 2 on hand, so that’s what I used, but I think the other elements of the batter would be ok if you had another apple or two.

Once you’ve mixed the wet ingredients with the sugar, dump that into the dry ingredients’ bowl, and stir. Batter will by lumpy, but you don’t want any flour clumps, either.  After you’ve given it  a few good mixes, spoon your batter into muffin tins or a bread loaf. Bake about a half hour (give or take, depending on muffin size, altitude, etc.), and voila! Banapple bread. Slather with butter and consume heaven.

Baco-chip cookies

This weekend is  BaconFest, a local fundraiser event hosted by our local roller derby team, and even though I’m not taking the bacon & maple cheesecake I’d hoped to experiment with (I didn’t experiment with anything of the sort), as I’d intended, I still have this bacon idea on the brain. And a slab ‘o meat in the fridge that needs cooked up too.

So, as experiments go, here’s the results of this one:

First, dredge 5 strips of raw bacon through gently heated brown sugar ( I zapped mine in the micro for about 20 seconds, til it was warm and sticky but not “wet.” Put your pig parts on a cookie sheet and pop into a 375 degree oven for about twenty minutes, or whatever it takes for the bacon to become crisp and carmelized. Let it cool, then snap it up into little bite-size pieces. It’s a good thing I used five strips as two of them burnt beyond that carcinogenic yumminess crispy bacon has, so I didn’t have quite as much as I wanted. Oh well.

Next I made a regular chocolate-chip cookie dough, thank you Better Homes and Gardens for your recipe.

Mix 1 1/2 sticks butter and 1/4 C. shortening. Add 1/2 C. sugar, 1 C. packed brown sugar, 1 tsp. vanilla together.

Add 3/4 tsp. baking soda and 1/2 tsp. salt.  Add 2 eggs and beat until combined. Mix in 2 1/2 C. flour, then add your chips (I used 1 C. chocolate and 1 C. white chocolate ) and then add dried cherries or cranberries (that’s not part of the BH&G recipe).  Add the bacon. If you want to add nuts, dump them in now.

Give ‘er a good mix, then spoon out onto your cookie sheet in little ball-shaped mounds.

Bake for about 8 minutes and let cool a bit on the sheet. By my estimate this recipe makes about 30  cookies.  The bacon flavor wasn’t as noticeable throughout in the cookie I sampled, but I think it would have been, had I not lost two pieces of bacon to the overzealous oven. When I did bite into that perfect  intersection of chocolate, white chocolate and bacon however, the combo was delightful.

Tofu-Oatmeal cookies

Back when my friend Kristen and I lived together I used to make these tofu cookies with dried cranberries and white chocolate  chips. That  was a good 5 years ago, and the other day Kristen, who is now 7 months preggers, called me and said “I’ve been having a real hankerin’ for those tofu cookies you used to make. ” We had made plans to hang out on Sunday, and we figured we’d spend the day baking something. When she called, we hadn’t decided on anything yet, but I knew we’d have to bust out  some of these   yummers.  They are the white cookie on the right.

Now, I don’t make your “standard” anything very well. I fuck up chocolate chip cookies every time I make them (I think I overstir the  ingredients), and I usually make omelette scrambles instead of straight up omelettes.  But I’ve never ruined a batch of these guys, and I think my Quiche always turns out lovely.  The point is, these cookies sound exotic, but really, they’re  pretty simple.

Kristen came over, we dished about the men in our lives (her husband, my boyfriend), our family members) and I handed her the recipe card. She’d been eating these cookies often enough that I figured it was time for her to make them.  Now you can too.

Mars”s Tofu-Oat mealcookies

2. 1/2 C plain oatmeal

2 C flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 block of silken tofu

1 stick butter  softened

1 C brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla

12 oz (or whatever you have) white chocolate chips

a couple handfuls of dried cranberries

preheat oven to 375.

process oatmeal till crumbly, but not fine. Add to a small bowl, add flour, baking powder and soda. Set aside while you process the tofu until smooth.  In another larger bowl, beat the butter for 30 seconds, then add sugar. Beat in the tofu and vanilla next. Add as much of the dry mix as possible with  mixer, then stir in the remainder. Add your chips and fruit; nuts too (a handful), if you want.

Roll your dough into little balls, then flatten them between your hands. Bake 8-10 minutes on a cookie sheet. If you want cookies larger than a slightly large Oreo, make larger  dough balls, as these don’t expand much and are the perfect bite-size cookie.

Stay near for the next recipe, Chocolate-cherry crunch cookies (those dark lovelies to the left of the tofu snackers above).

Couscous, Crimini mushroom and Red Pepper burgers

I love making mistakes. Well, mistakes like the couscous mushroom and red pepper burgers I made last night. Yes, it was an accident, but damn if these falafel-like patties aren’t tasty.  Being someone who does eat meat, but also loves the nutrition of veggie burgers, I was planning on experimenting with couscous, mushroom and red pepper burgers when I messed up a batch of artichoke hummus.

marinated artichoke hearts

marinated artichoke hearts

My blender wasn’t cooperating with me, and the chickpeas were not pulping up as nicely as I wanted them to. So with chunks of chickpea staring me down, I combined the mash, the red peppers and mushrooms I already had cooked, and some couscous hanging out in my fridge. Yes, that’s right, I added leftover couscous to this stuff too.  I wanted to use all of these leftovers, and had it turned out terribly—or not at all—all of these foodstuffs would have gone in the trash. Which I hate.END OF AUGUST 016

I didn’t use any egg as a binding agent, so these patties were threatening to fall apart in the pan as I cooked them, but they did stay together to the very end. Eaten plainly as a patty these are quite tasty, throw them in a pita with some hummus or ranch dressing, and you’ve got yourself a hell of a dinner.

My ingredients are all eyeballed, but I think this is pretty close.

1 c. Crimini mushrooms, diced

1/3 red pepper, diced

Three large circles of onion (probably ¼ cup), diced

2-3 large cloves garlic

2 c. chickpeas, cooked and drained

1 c. cooked cousous

¼ C. marinated artichoke hearts

2 tbsp tahini

1 tbsp lemon juice

½ packet taco seasoning mix

1 tbsp flax powder

1/8-   ¼ tsp cumin powder

1 C. breadcrumbs

Oil for frying

1/8- ¼  tsp paprika

Process chickpeas, artichoke hearts, tahini, lemon juice, 1-2 cloves garlic, cumin and paprika until mostly smooth but not perfectly.

Set aside.

Saute onion, red pepper, mushroom and 1 clove garlic in olive oil until nicely browned but just a bit crisp. Add this to the chickpea mash, add the taco seasoning, flax and the couscous. Stir until combined.

Form patties about 3 inches in circumference, 1 in. or less in thickness. Roll these in breadcrumbs and fry in about an inch of hot oil. Cook about 2-5 minutes each side, depending on how well they’re staying apart (seems like a bit more heat helps them stay together).