First Person TM_FP_MANGO_FI_003_

There was a plate of sliced mangoes on our table. Yet again. For probably the twentieth day in a row. This was the tradition for as long as I can remember; mangoes were daily essentials during the spring and summer months in my Indian household.

“Eat mango every day so your body can stock up on fiber for the year!” my mom said to me. She said it like fiber was a tough thing to come across. Plate after plate, mango after mango. By the end of the season I was absolutely sick of them. My taste buds have been repelling mangoes, when taken in excess, for years. By day three of the three-month-long stretch, I’m usually scolded if I don’t finish the golden fruit.

“Finish your mango! They’re expensive and ripe only this time of year!”
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Letter From California TM_ORANGE_FI_001

I grew up in the frigid northeast, so I know what a jerk I sound like to all of you winter-locked folks when I tell you that, as of mid-March, the orange trees behind my Los Angeles house were in bloom. The flowers are early this year – according to the Porterville Recorder (the local paper for Porterville, CA, which is about 160 miles north of LA) an official citrus bloom isn’t usually declared until after April 1. But the recent summery temperatures have brought the bloom on early, and the small white flowers smell amazing. The scent reminds me of opening a bottle of Pond’s Cold Cream as a child – a deep, rich perfume that begs to be inhaled and re-inhaled.

Despite this lovely blossoming, most of the recent news about oranges has not been good. In fact, oranges have had such negative press recently, you’d think that they were Lindsay Lohan on a post-comeback bender*. There are a couple things working against the poor orange. First of all, orange juice sales in the United States have slid by 29% over the last decade. OJ has been losing its place as a breakfast health-food drink** – people have finally realized that juice can have as many calories and as much sugar as soda. And the scandals about how our orange juice is prepared don’t help, either. A few years ago, it was revealed that “not from concentrate” doesn’t mean that juice isn’t processed – in fact, that juice will sit in vats for up to a year, and before it goes to stores, it’s reinvigorated with a taste-boosting “flavor pack” that’s created from oranges, so it doesn’t have to be listed on the bottle as a separate ingredient.***
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DIY TM_DY_NUTRIGRN_FI_001

In 1999, a company named Breakaway Foods created a line of products called IncrEdibles. Packaged in tubes with sticks at the bottom, the IncrEdibles family consisted of savory, meal-replacing treats that could be heated in the microwave and then pushed from the tube and straight into one’s mouth. No utensils were required; all you needed was a food hole in your face ready to receive such appetizing tube products as Macaroni & Cheese, Chili Mac, and Scrambled Eggs with Cheese and Sausage. The IncrEdibles press release also used the phrase “push n’ eat” [sic]. Apparently if you don’t have time to eat food with a fork, you don’t have time to say the letter “i” either.
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Bookshelf

Into the Wild Brew Yonder

Jump into the wide world of small-batch brewing with True Brews

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My first encounter with homemade kombucha took place about 10 years ago. My younger sister had been brewing a batch in our parents’ sunroom when she was offered a last-minute job at a summer camp. She left her gallon of tea and SCOBY (also known as the symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) behind when she left to take the gig, and not knowing what to do with it, my parents let it sit. A month later, I came to visit and my mom asked if I’d help her dispose of the contents of the jar.

By that point, the bacteria and yeast creature in the jar had grown to be approximately four inches thick and had a disturbing flesh-like consistency. It took the liberal application of a serrated bread knife to free it from the jar and when I was finished wrestling it out to the compost heap, I swore that I’d never again tangle with something so otherworldly.

However, fast-forward a decade and you’ll find that I am now eating those words. I’ve been brewing kombucha in my own kitchen for the last six months or so and have found it to be easy, delicious, and satisfying. What’s more, it has made me deeply curious about the many other kinds of homebrews and liquid ferments I can make in my small city apartment. MORE

The Larder TM_TL_STRAWB_FI_001

When I was very young, I was entirely preoccupied by the color pink. I wanted all my clothes to be pink, played only with my Strawberry Shortcake doll, and longed for my meals to be exclusively pink. My parents responded to this phase by dyeing my pajamas pink, buying me a pair of inexpensive Strawberry Shortcake sneakers, and serving me a dish of strawberries with nearly every meal.

These days, I’m not nearly so mad for the color pink. In fact, the only vestige of my early obsession is the fact that come strawberry season, I go a little berry crazy. I buy pounds and pounds and make jams, purees, tarts, pies, salads, and dressings.
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Bookshelf

Higher Vegucation

Stuck in a veggie slump? Vegetable Literacy can help

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I have been in something of a cooking slump since mid-February. When the Brussels sprouts first arrived in late fall, I bought them by the stalk and brandished them joyfully. Now, I recoil slightly at the bin of sprouts at Iovine’s. I’ve been similarly unmoved by potatoes, kale, and dense winter squashes for weeks.

I thought it was simply a general weariness with winter that was causing my resentment towards the available produce. However, now I realize that I was simply suffering from the effects of a rut – because since a copy of Deborah Madison’s new book, Vegetable Literacy, arrived last week, I have found myself picking up beets, carrots, and onions with fresh inspiration and no small amount of giddiness.
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Kitchen Hacks TM_KH_FRYNG_FI_001

One of the rules I’ve come to adopt as a life tenet is that sometimes, you just gotta say f— it.

Since my boyfriend and I began dating about five years ago, we’ve been compiling a list of wise saws to live by. (My secret hope is that one day, if/when we live together, I will crochet this list into an heirloom wall hanging.)

So far, we have a whopping total of three. 1. The above. 2. Listen to some good music every day. And 3. Don’t be an asshole.

For a former overachiever, the first has been the hardest to accept. But I know, deep, down, that truer words have rarely been spoken (or yet crocheted).

It goes for food, too. Sometimes, a nice salad or a lovingly braised chicken is just not going to happen. So sometimes my friends, you just gotta say, fry it.
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Kitchen Hacks

Just Desserts

Fruit, the whole fruit... and a few sweet extras.

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Poached pears
If a couple weeks ago you earnestly pledged yourself to some New Year’s resolution, I’m a little annoyed at you. This is for several reasons.

One, chances are, your resolution involves getting in shape. Not to discourage in-shape-itude here, but the thing is, when all of you, the Resolved, suddenly descend on the gym on January 2nd in your new white sneakers, you take up all the good treadmills before I get there. Then, I get stuck on the old one that squeaks, behind the guy whose butt is exposed, plumber-like, atop his ill-fitting basketball shorts. Yes, this only lasts about a month before you let your memberships languish, but still. Not cool, guys.

Two, resolutions as we know them set us up for disappointment. If your resolution is to abstain from dessert, then the instant you cave and eat an Oreo sometime in February, you feel like a loser and go back to your old ways, inhaling whole sleeves wood-chipper style. And so I’m annoyed at you for depriving yourself of the chance to genuinely improve your relationship with dessert.

So, instead of convincing ourselves we can swear off sweets for good, let’s spend 2013 enjoying a better kind of sweet. The kind the planet invented all by itself.
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Baking

Sour Power

In search of a desirable grapefruit dessert

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A pile of juicy grapefruitWhy are there no classic grapefruit desserts? We love orange souffle, Key lime pie, and lemon bars (and cookies, cake, tart, curd, pudding, ice cream), but the only grapefruit dessert that springs to mind is grapefruit sorbet. Which doesn’t count. Sorbet is extremely cold juice, and however delicious, it is not really dessert.

Is the dearth of grapefruit desserts because people associate the fruit with misery and dieting, not pleasure and indulgence? Or is there something in the nature of a grapefruit that doesn’t lend itself to dessert?

I decided to try grapefruit in different dessert formats. Here with the results:

Cookies. By substituting grapefruit (zest and juice) for lemon in a basic Martha Stewart recipe, I ended up with a tasty cookie that made peoples’ mouths tingle and tasted like Fresca. In a good way! But while all the cookies were eaten, no one begged me to bake them again. MORE

Booze TM_BZ_GFRUIT_FI_001

I simply love grapefruit. For me, the complexity of its bitter-sweet-tart flavors puts it head and shoulders above any of its citrus cousins. Oranges, lemons, and limes: Admit it, you all wish you were grapefruit. Clementines and blood oranges? You have your moments, but they are fleeting. I know star mixologists have fallen in love with the Meyer lemon, the kumquat, the yuzu. But those are just novelty acts.

When it comes to booze, it’s hard to beat the grapefruit for sheer mixability. Gin and aquavit, brandy and bourbon, amari and herbal liqueurs: You name the spirit and there’s a fabulous drink calling for grapefruit juice.

What stands up to smoky mezcal? Grapefruit. In Jalisco, Mexico, where tequila is produced, the favorite local cocktail isn’t a margarita with lime juice. It’s a Paloma, which can be made with grapefruit juice or, via the quickie method, with grapefruit soda.

What was in Ernest Hemingway’s signature drink, the daiquiri variation called the Papa Doble? Well, that would be rhum agricole, maraschino liqueur, lime juice and then a little something else to bring it all together: Grapefruit juice. MORE

The Larder TM_TL_FBUTTER_AP_001

The first summer I started canning in earnest, I made a lot of jam. I used more than fifty pounds of sugar and filled hundreds of jars. Many of those half-pints became favors for my wedding, but even with all that giving away, I still had a whole lot of jam left to consume throughout the year.

As much as I liked having a full pantry, I came to realize that it was too darn much for the just one jam lover to manage (no matter how much I try to convince him of their virtues, my husband does not cotton to the sweet spreads). And with all that sugar, this girl just couldn’t live on jam alone. What was a newly obsessed canner to do?

I quickly discovered that the answer was to switch my allegiance from super sweetened jams to fruit butters. Fruit butters start life as fruit purees or sauces (no dairy products are involved). You cook them slowly over low heat, concentrating the sweetness of the fruit and creating a spreadable texture by evaporating out much of the water. In the end, they need only a touch of sweetener (sugar, honey or agave nectar all work). On occasion, I also add a squeeze of lemon juice and a bit of cinnamon and nutmeg. MORE