Thursday, May 30, 2013

Found object

Here's what an avocado looks like after escaping from your grocery bag and dessicating in the trunk for a week or so.

Too bad I couldn't figure out a way to incorporate it into art.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Lima beans -- the secret revealed

One of our favorite restaurants is Mayan Cafe in Louisville, and my favorite item on the menu is Tok-Sel Lima Beans.  I don't know what Tok-Sel means in Mayan but the beans are great.  And apparently everybody else in town shares my opinion, because when the public library put on its annual How-To festival and invited Bruce Ucan, the Mayan's chef, to give a demo, they refused to let him fix what he suggested -- it was lima beans, non-negotiable.

Good news for home cooks: you can start with frozen limas if you don't have fresh (the chef does it all the time).  Defrost them but don't precook.

Put them in a hot frying pan with your favorite oil and sear them, stirring all the time, for several minutes till the beans are brown and roasted.  Add a lot of chopped parsley and chopped green onions and saute for another minute or so.

Then comes the secret ingredient: pumpkin seeds.  You roast the seeds in a 350 degree oven, then grind them in the Cuisinart.  When the beans in the frying pan are almost ready to serve, toss in the pumpkin seeds.  A spritz of lemon juice, and you're done.

Make a lot (the chef suggests a half pound for four servings).  I'd be happy to just have a triple serving and call it dinner.

The chef says the actual Mayans don't use lima beans; they prefer a big white bean such as Great Northern.  The traditional preparation is to sear the beans with hot rocks, which are then piled on top of the beans to keep them hot while awaiting customers for street food.  So if you like another kind of bean, you have his blessing to substitute it.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Most unlikely dessert

At the Vietnamese restaurant they post the daily specials by slipping pieces of paper under the glass tabletop.  The dessert special sounded awful -- black-eyed pea pudding -- but my adventurous daughter-in-law wanted some anyway.  Then she was gracious enough to offer generous tastes all around the table.

It was magnificent, smooth and lumpy at the same time like a rice or tapioca pudding, rich with coconut and cream.  Wow!  Wish I had the recipe, if only to dismay my dinner guests with the description before they tasted the dessert.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Vietnamese drinks

We went to the Vietnamese restaurant for Mother's Day.  After a great meal I was content to sip the last of my beer and call it a night, but the others had drinks and dessert.

I haven't drunk coffee in 43 years, but love to watch the elaborate rituals of coffee preparation.  Vietnamese iced coffee comes with the grounds and hot water already in a little coffee press, perched over a glass of sweetened condensed milk.  The coffee drips onto the milk.

Stir the coffee and milk together, then mix with the ice (provided in a second glass).

The proprietor came by as people were completing this step, and chewed them out for doing it wrong.  You're supposed to put the ice into the coffee glass, not the coffee into the ice glass.  (See what I mean about rituals?)

We also ordered an avocado milkshake for the table, which I helped eat (with a spoon), and a mango milkshake for Zoe, who didn't really want to share, but did give me a taste, since it was (grand)Mother's Day.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Do Real Moms cook? My Mother's Day rant

Today's New York Times had an article in its commentary section called "Real Moms Don't Cook."  The writer observed, "it seems that everywhere -- in commercials, films, books -- I find the conflation of parental love and cooking.  Somehow, we've come to believe that mothering can be smeared onto a sandwich, nurturing tucked between the wings of a garlicky roasted chicken."  Yet she begs to differ; her own mother, who never cooks if she can help it and subsists on takeout food, is the best mother ever.

She's right that we're reading a lot these days about cooking as an essential part of childrearing and family management.  That's because the ability to put a nutritious meal on the table is becoming an endangered skill, the consequences of which are often obesity, malnutrition and the loss of quality family time.

But the writer's wonderful mom, who lives in Manhattan and apparently orders only the best in takeout food, is not the mom whom the commentators are unhappy with.  Nor are they unhappy with any mom who manages to supply her family with healthy food, no matter whether it comes from the kitchen stove, the takeout window or the ready-to-eat counter at the grocery.  No, they're mad at the moms who feed their families an endless stream of greasy fast food, high on sugar and sodium and low on fruit and vegetables.

We must acknowledge that these moms may have lots of good excuses for their conduct.  Perhaps they're too busy at their jobs to cook real meals in real time.  Perhaps they have no access to fresh fruits and vegetables because they live in food deserts.  Perhaps they can't afford to take their families to restaurants with healthy menus.  But no matter what the excuses, these moms (or dads) are doing their families no favors.

I can sympathize with moms who at the end of a busy day don't want to spend another hour getting dinner on the table.  I have been there myself, when I came home from work exhausted and frazzled.  I can also sympathize with moms who just don't like to cook.  My own mom was like that, although she repressed her unhappiness and managed to put meals on the table every night.

Nevertheless, feeding your family good food is so important to their health and welfare that I think every mom and dad has to man up to the responsibility.  Perhaps the government should buy every family a slow cooker.  Even parents with minimal kitchen skills, long working hours and hardly any disposable income can fix beans and rice with tomatoes in a slow cooker, ready whenever you are at dinnertime.  It might get old seven nights a week, but so does cheeseburger with fries, and this would be much cheaper and much more nutritious.

Friday, May 10, 2013


They're absolutely right -- no consumption, no food borne illness.

Also no restaurant business.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Salad of the week

You'll probably never guess what's in this salad.

It started with a bag of cranberries that had defrosted and had to be eaten.  I didn't want to add sugar for cranberry-orange relish, and besides, I didn't have an orange.

I thought a carrot might add some sweetness, and guess what, there was a bag of baby carrots in the fridge that should have been eaten days before.  So they went into the cuisinart and got chopped up.

I added a bit of olive oil, but to our surprise, there wasn't that much taste.  Even the cranberries, usually so tart that they pucker your mouth, didn't seem to have much oomph.

But we had some very spicy green olives from the deli counter, so I diced them up and added them to the salad.  Finally, magnificence, as tasty as it was beautiful.