Venturing into the Unknown and Suspect
Around the same time, I came across a recipe for Moroccan chicken that called for preserved lemons as an ingredient. A vegan acquaintance raved about these lemons as a staple in her diet in salads, vinaigrettes, and anything else she felt needed some zing.
She made preserved lemons sound like the perfect little black dress, good dressed up or down, with a few different accessories. So I decided to try on some preserved lemons in my life. It marks the pursuit of something new, a shift in moving away from a Midwestern diet to other diets that are lighter or provide more interesting nutrients.
My Egyptian uncle-in-law once picked his California grown lemons off the tree in his yard and pickled them like his mother used to do. He let me try them, and I enjoyed the pleasantly explosion of sweetness vying with sourness in my mouth from one slice of that lemon. It perked me up almost in the same way a good espresso does. The pickling solution was familiar, and so those lemons fell within my comfort zone.
A fully brined lemon though, sounded overpowering and maybe in some ways unhealthy, like a high blood pressure producer. Despite this thought, I put aside that bias in order to learn something about authentic flavors in Moroccan cuisine. I wanted a new staple in my refrigerator ‘wardrobe’ that I could mix and match with more things and feel great about it.
A new problem has surfaced in agribusiness. ConAgra has decided that sweet potatoes are the new potato. And it isn’t good enough. Orange is the new white, I suppose.
There was a time in life when I grew sexy, plump non-GMO tomatoes in the back of my Cambridge, Massachusetts condo. In my urban haven, an oasis of herbs and tomatoes existed to make my solitary Sundays bright with rituals of biting straight into a tomato like an apple. For contrast and salt, I enjoyed shaved parmigiano reggiano drizzled with olive oil to savor between the luscious, juicy bites. These tomatoes were always better than anything I ever bought.
My long office hours as a corporate biotech attorney felt balanced by that small connection with nature in my morning walk around to check on my tomato plants, pressed into the soil and covered with mulch or newspapers to prevent black bottom fungus. Each day, I watered them like a child tipping the watering can further and hoping for immediate growth. I breathed a little deeper and reflected a little longer about the beauty of watching this plant life transform from day to day—deep greens first matched plant stems until the unripe tomatoes turned into a mélange of greens and orange until finally giving way to blaring reds that announced the arrival of August’s ripeness.
I had known for a long time that different companies were using genetic engineering to manipulate plant genes for increased harvests. In culinary school, we read about the science “breakthrough” of splicing a tuna gene into the DNA of tomato plants to protect their fruits from frost. My friend, a leading biotech partner in Boston, and I spoke about food occasionally in the corporate cafeteria. With all that we had learned through our work with biotech companies, neither of us wanted any part of tomatoes with tuna genes.
Philosophically, I’m okay with using technology to help us determine which types of plants of the same species can be cross-bred effectively to produce a stronger plant. If it would happen in nature and technology only helps us select the right plants faster, it seems like technology-based Darwinism. It’s the unnatural being sold as the natural that bothers me. The shaping of life to fit what seems to be an agribusiness need.
A student once taught me how to dress up a deviled egg like a diva. Granted, the deviled eggs her family recipe called for were more likely a light pink. Other versions of this Midwestern favorite hors d’oeuvre call for soaking the whole eggs only long enough to create a pink and white swirl effect.
I say, if you’re going to color the eggs, might as well take the deep dive into fuschia. There’s something unnatural looking about it, but also still alluring. If you’re going to do something different, you need to commit. That’s probably the theme for my life right now.
A letter of gratitude to Jacques Pepin.
As I embark on teaching a French cuisine course for the first time, I want to say “Thank you, Jacques Pepin.” You are the teacher of all teachers when it comes to so many things French, including a great pate à choux.
Your recipes always work, and for that I’m eternally grateful. As my Saucy Guy partner always says, “His recipes are foolproof.” They are perfect for me, a self-declared non-baker, who bakes only what she likes to eat and only as part of a practice in the discipline of measurements and mental clarity. Your recipes always give me confidence and calm reassurances at every stage. The final products always look good enough for any local patisserie.
I recently read The Cat in the Hat to my son, Daniel, and found myself thinking that there was some similarity in the absurdity of the story and our political reality that could work to describe the sad political events of late.
Maybe someday soon, I would try to explain this history to my son who is too young to understand. The absurdity of each day’s new information sometimes makes life and our POTUS feel unreal, hence, the more mythical representation in my cartoon drawing.
Part of my job as Mom is to doodle for Daniel’s delight. Since I declined an offer to continue as Associate Dean in order to have more time with Daniel, I have more time for odd, creative expressions. Needless to say, the drawing could use more work.
Gosh, I feel badly that this post isn’t about food; but I recently decided to allow myself some creative freedom in July, and the poem below showed up.
As a mom of a multi-racial child, it is important to me that something different happens in 2020. Share if any part of this tribute to Dr. Seuss (I heard somewhere that he started as a political cartoonist) and a desire for change, resonates.
Lines from The Cat in the Hat are italicized and quoted below as much as possible.
If I were ever tasked with mainstreaming Filipino food into U.S. culture, there would be two foods on that campaign trail that have never failed to please crowds: chicken adobo and lumpia. Chicken adobo is the equivalent to the pot roast of the Philippines and well-worth knowing how to cook.
I’ve shared my mother’s chicken adobo recipe multiple times with friends at parties and on-air, in an old public access cooking show. That being said, I’ll share it again in this blog, because I recently made it for a last-day-of-the-semester, class potluck party. It got great reviews and just confirmed for me that it really is an easy dish to like. In addition, it is very inexpensive for college students and families. It’s easy to make big batches and also easy to freeze, if needed.