Oh, hey there!

October 28, 2010

It’s been a good long time since I’ve posted anything here –I’ve been swamped all this summer with two new gardens, a booth at a local farmer’s market, and getting ready for a crazy (though temporary) relocation.  The flat is full of boxes & general chaos, but slow progress is occuring.  I have lots to write about, but still not a lot of free time; I’m hoping that despite the packing mayhem that I will have more time as winter sets in to get some writing done.

In the meantime, I just wanted to share that I have some really satisfying obsessions which have kept me hopping (intellectually speaking) over the past year or so.  First, I must thank my lovely friend B. for pointing me at the whole River Cottage series of television programs.  The man behind all the RC goodness is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who left the city to become a smallholder in Dorset, in the UK.  He started with a small veg patch and a few chickens and pigs, and now he has a wonderfully robust 37+ acre small farm, a cooking school, several eateries, and lots of books and videos.  I’ll need to write another post about just how much I’d like him to take over the entire planet, but in the meantime: do your best to check him out; he’s great.

I have a few other current heroes:  Fergus Henderson and his lovely colleagues at St. John are both inspiring and helpful when it comes to the tastiest oddbits of the pig and other beasties.  One day soon I’ll write a post, replete with glorious pictures, of a roast half pig’s head based on his recipe.

Brian Polcyn is another amazing guy –he’s a chef, teacher, and one of America’s experts on charcuterie.  I’d give my eye teeth to take his class on charcuterie, but it’s in Michegan, and I’m in Vermont.

Jim the butcher.  A lovely guy over in Moreton-in-Marsh,  Gloucestershire, he didn’t bat an eyelash when a crazy Vermont girl called him about pig’s heads.  He was full of useful information which he shared happily, and he said anytime I had any sort of pig questions, that I’m welcome to call him.  I love humans 🙂

I may be coming into a whole slew (maybe a dozen) organic Tamworth pig’s heads, tails, feet, organs, and maybe caul fat if I’m lucky.  I’m so hopeful, and getting really excited about making headcheese, which is known as brawn in the UK, sylte in my native Denmark, and fromage de tet by the French.

Please do send happy pig vibes my way!  Here’s a picture of some beautiful Tamworth piglets:

Four Tamworth piglets

More soon, honest.


Know Your Mushrooms (2009)

January 10, 2010

Movie poster for Know Your MushroomsYou can view the IMDb entry for this film here

Synopsis: “Ron Mann investigates the miraculous, near-secret world of fungi. Visionaries Gary Lincoff and Larry Evans lead us on a hunt for the wild mushroom and the deeper cultural experiences attached to the mysterious fungi. The oldest and largest living organisms recorded on Earth are both fungi. And their use by a new, maverick breed of scientists and thinkers has proven vital in the cleansing of sites despoiled by toxins and as a “clean” pesticide, among many other environmentally friendly applications. Combining material filmed at the Telluride Mushroom Fest with animation and archival footage, along with a neo-psychedelic soundtrack by The Flaming Lips, this film opens the doors to perception, taking the audience on an extraordinary trip.” (Synopsis from Warsaw Film Festival via IMDb)

Review: It seemed clear from the synopsis and the few reviews of this documentary that it would be a lighthearted effort, and indeed, this film is light fare, but with enough worthwhile elements so that all-in-all I did end up finding it enjoyable and entertaining.  As an ardent mushroom hunter, I would have liked more solid data regarding the various mushrooms, and there were some disappointments, particular the sections devoted to morels.  I really wanted more information about morel habitats, for instance.  One little annoyance occurs early in the film when Larry Evans is frying up some mushrooms at the Telluride mushroom festival, where much of this documentary takes place.  They cut to Larry describing why he doesn’t like butter to fry mushrooms in, but it seems as if the editor chose to just miss Larry describing what fat he does like to use.  A small quibble, and one which could have been rectified so easily.

Know Your Mushrooms is peopled by a group of gently wacky hippy-like folks, a demographic in which I feel somewhat at home, even though I don’t altogether fit there.  Some of the opinions and beliefs espoused by the people in this documentary are ones which I’m familiar with, and which I don’t agree with or share, such as some of the mystical pseudo-scientific lore regarding the extraterrestrial origins of psilocybin (magic) mushrooms.  I do heartily endorse the passionate love of mushrooms as food, and I might even try a magic mushroom in the right context, but regardless of how magical the drug experience might be, I can’t see myself hopping on the extraterrestrial mushroom bandwagon.

It’s the people in the film who make the film fun and enjoyable to me.  The wacky hippy demographic ( a term I use with affection) is one which seems underrepresented in either documentary or dramatic films, and yet they make up a large part of American society.  And regardless of their holding some opinions and beliefs which I don’t share, they’re a generous, warm, interesting, artistic, and politically diverse group, and they’re a pleasant contrast to the vastly more represented so-called American mainstream demographic.  So in part, my enjoyment of this film resulted from being allowed a glimpse of a culture which I don’t often get to see, at least in movies.  The soundtrack was fun, and there were some fun but overused animated sequences, given the relatively short run-time (74 minutes).  The sequences which used archival footage were all pretty fascinating.

So, there are a number of problems which keep this from being a great documentary, but with enough interesting content and sweetness to make it worth watching, particularly if you are interested in either mushrooms or alternative American culture.


1.  Do you have social contact with people or groups of people who are outside of the social groups that you consider your own?

2.  Do you believe that taking drugs, whether for simple enjoyment or as part of spiritual/religious/mystical rituals, can be a positive and natural part of modern life, or is it damaging and a scourge in society?  Is there some middle ground?

My Rating:  7/10.

Happy Girl’s Square Root Day!

March 3, 2009

Today is Girl’s Day, a venerable Japanese celebration that I learned about from Maki’s Just Hungry website.  Maki reposted a lovely piece about Girl’s Day, and about two kinds of sushi that are typically eaten to celebrate, and which fit nicely into bento boxes.  I am pleased with any opportunity to make special feast food, and I like girls!  I like a whole lot of girls, in fact.   It’s also Square Root Day today, and I think it’s just perfect to celebrate the two in tandem –geeky girl day!  Here’s the lunch I made:

Four hamaguri-zushi, two temari zushi (under the star-fruit strawberries), cucumber sticks clasping an umeboshi, a passionfruit bowl filled with passionfruit, steamed asparagus, and a little stack of star-fruit with a radish (root) cut as square as I could manage.

Four hamaguri-zushi, two temari zushi (under the star-fruit strawberries), cucumber sticks clasping an umeboshi, a passionfruit bowl filled with passionfruit, steamed asparagus, and a little stack of star-fruit with a radish (root) cut as perfectly square as I could possibly manage.

Square Root Day is a much more contemporary holiday which celebrates any day when both the day of the month and the month are the square root of the last two digits of the year.  Though I’m not a skilled practitioner of mathematics, I do appreciate and admire mathematics and mathematicians.  I carved a radish, which is a root vegetable, into as perfect a square as I could, and then I ate the square root, and as I did so, I imagined an afterlife in which Hypatia of Alexandria, Ada Lovelace, Maria Gaetana Agnesi, Emmy Noether, Sophie Germain, Sofia Kovalevskaya, Rózsa Péter, Julia Robinson, Olga Taussky-Todd, Émilie du ChâteletMary Cartwright,and Meg Murry sit around a table –chatting, laughing, arguing, gossiping, playing San Juan and drinking lemonade, beer, and Laphroaig.  Yep.

So, back to Girl’s Day.  The history of the Japanese celebration is tied up in social and cultural expectations and hopes that parents had for their daughters.  I expect that in the past many parents hoped that their daughter would make a happy and successful marriage, and undoubtedly some parents wish the same today.  But I can’t help but think that parents throughout history, and certainly today, have a broader range of hope for what their daughters might achieve.  Here’s hoping that parents around the globe are dreaming of their daughters becoming authors and astronauts and organic pig farmers and professors and painters, that these parents are hoping that they are raising loving girls and women, fiesty free-spirited saucy daughters, revolutionary and bold daughters!

Here are some of my favorite girls, in no particular order: Birthe, Karen, Min, Karrie, Giselle, Kate, Jane, Tara and her evil twin Dawn, Mesa, Carolyn, Anaan, Eclipse, Marzia, Julie, Rosie, Sylvia, Meg Murry, Maki, Lucy, Lyra, Mia, Elizabeth, Shannon, Becky, kt, Nora, Mush, Nora, Roanne, Amy, Octavia, Madeleine, Deb, Angelina, Zoe, Céline, Rebecca, Diane, Cici, Rachel, Anne, Nina, Pim, Lee-Ellen, Kerrie, Kerry, Sarah, Marcie, Francesca, Vibeke, Elise, Molly, Melinda, Theresa, Shae, Ellen, Kendra, Priscilla, Miss Darling, Emma, Gwen, Tonya, Jackie, Gerry, Maxime, and that nice lady at the Mobil station.

Enjoy your girls!

Bento giveaway over at Not Exactly Bento!

February 26, 2009

One of the merry band of Bento Challenge people is creating excitement in the Just Bento forum and beyond with her Bento Giveaway.  Jenn decided to celebrate that soon she’ll have made 200 bento meals.  How great is Jenn!

I’m crossing my fingers.  I’m glad to use my recycled boxes, but an actual cute bento box?  That would be super fun to take out on the town.

Go check out Jenn’s blog, which has lots of yummy bento box lunches to look at, and join the giveaway fun.  Or, send me giveaway mojo vibes 🙂

I think this was my first actual boxed bento lunch

I think this was my first actual boxed bento lunch

Japchae with dangmyeon noodles or 잡채

February 25, 2009

I learned this dish originally from my friends Insook & Huang, and it’s one of the dishes I love the most even though it is a labour intensive cooking project in my less-than-fabulous kitchen.  A gleaming mound of transluscent sweet potato noodles shot through with jewel-like bits of bright vegetable colour, smelling deliciously of toasty sesame and sweet-savory soy.  It’s delicious either chilled or at room temperature.  Not bad hot either 🙂

A bowl of japchae goodness

A bowl of japchae goodness

A few friends hadn’t heard of it, so here is the recipe I made yesterday.  It’s adapted from one I found here, but that one needed a little more intensity for my taste.

This is one of those recipes where you want all your ingredients prepped and in place well before you start heating your wok up.  In addition to this, keep a little bowl of sugar, your bottle of soy sauce, and your dark sesame oil and cooking oil within easy reach while you’re cooking this dish.

This dish is nice in that it is cooked in stages, so I can use my relatively small cast iron wok, but a large heavy skillet would work too.  I heartily recommend using a good sturdy wok spatula; it makes it easier to do the vigorous stir-frying and scraping up that’s necessary.  You’ll also want a few bowls to put things in as you cook them, and a large bowl (like the one you soak the noodles in) to assemble and toss the finished dish in.

This recipe makes 9 8oz servings.  For me, this means 9 bento-sized servings, or 4-5  bento-sized servings and a couple of dinner-sized servings.  Nutrition info follows at the end.  Note that T means tablespoon and t means teaspoon.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 12 oz dangmyeon (sweet potato starch) vermicelli noodles

For the Yang Nyum Jang Sauce:

  • 6 T soy sauce
  • 3 T sugar
  • 1.5 T honey
  • 1 generous T sake or other rice wine or, in a pinch, dry sherry
  • 1.5 T dark sesame oil
  • 1 T gomashio *
  • 3/4 t ground pepper, green if you can get it
  • 2 scallions, minced
  • 2 t minced garlic
  • 2 t minced ginger

The meat & veggie ingredients:

  • 3/4 lb lean beef, cut into strips 2″ by 1/2″  by 1/4″
  • 5 large or 9 small dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 hothouse or English cukes worth of skin (use cuke itself for sunomono)
  • 2-5 carrots, to make 1.5 cups of fine long julienne
  • 2 large peppers, to make 3 cups of pepper strips
  • 2 more t minced garlic
  • 3-4 good-sized scallions

Start by placing the noodles in as large a bowl as you have.  The noodles are often dried in a U-shape, and they’re very long.  They’re too hard to snap or cut in their dried state, but since I like them shorter in the finished dish, here’s what I do: I tie a piece of kitchen string around the bend in the noodles, i.e., in the center of their length.  I put them in a shallow big bowl, and I pour on enough boiling water to cover.  Let them soak for 20 minutes or so, turning them carefully once so that everything gets equally soaked.  Use scissors to cut the noodles in half, around where you tied the string, and then rinse and drain the noodles in a sieve or colander.  Set aside.

Put the shiitake mushrooms in a bowl with warm water to cover and set aside.

Put all the yang nyum jang ingredients in a pint jar or bowl and stir well.  The honey will dissolve, honest.

Now is the time to cut your beef into strips, and in a bowl just large enough, mix the julienned beef with 5 tablespoons of the yang nyum jang sauce and set aside.

Prep all the vegetable ingredients and set aside in little piles or in bowls or on plates.  I just make little piles on my cutting board.

For most stir-fry dishes, I do my onions thus: peel, cut in half, and then make thin slices lengthwise.

For the cucumber skins just peel them, then julienne them, put in a little bowl and sprinkle with salt.  Before using, rinse with cold water, and gently squeeze them dry.  The original recipe calls for 2 cups of these, but I only had the one cuke, so I had about 3/4 cup before salting & squeezing.  Certainly make sunomono salad or agurk salat with the cucumber itself!

I used sweet pepper strips which I had in the freezer.  I just rinsed them and put them in a colander to drain, and they were room temp by the time I got to cooking them.

Slice the scallions, both green and white parts, finely.

Last of the veggies, squeeze as much liquid from the shiitakes as possible.  Cut the stems off with scissors or a sharp knife, and slice into 1/8″ to 1/4″ julienne.

Save that mushroom reconstitution liquid as it’s soup-making gold which you can refrigerate for a few days or freeze for a month or so.

Okay, now we’re ready to cook!  It all goes very fast now ..

Heat your wok over med-high heat for a few minutes.  Swirl a tablespoon of peanut oil to the wok, and add the seasoned beef.  Spread it out and let it sizzle there for a minute or two before stir-frying; this will make the beef have a nice carmelized side.  Then stir-fry until the meat no longer shows any red.  A lot of juice will have formed, and this is fine.  It’ll add nice flavor to the dish.  Scoop meat and juices into a bowl and set aside.

Add a scant teaspoon of peanut oil to the wok and swirl around.  Add approximately 2/3 of your yang nyum jang sauce to the pan along with 1/3 cup of water.  Add your drained and cut dangmyeon noodles and stir-fry vigorously.  You’ll be turning the noodles over and over so that they all have a chance to soak up the sauce & water, and so that they all get some of the heat at the bottom of the wok.  If the noodles stick a bit, just stir-fry faster, and scrape the bottom of the wok with your wok spatula.  Faster!  Faster!

When the noodles have all changed from opaque (milky and not see-through) to transluscent (like pale amber glass), transfer to your Big bowl and spread out as much as possible so they can cool quicker.

Swirl a teaspoon of peanut oil into the wok.  Add the julienned shiitake mushrooms and add a teaspoon-sized splash each of soy sauce, sugar, and sesame oil, plus a pinch of pepper.  Stir-fry for 3 minutes or so, until the mushrooms are fragrant and a bit carmelized.  Sprinkle over the noodles in the big bowl.

Another teaspoon of oil into the wok, and add the onion slices.  Stir-fry for a minute, sprinkle on a 1/2-teaspoon of salt, and stir-fry a bit more, maybe 3 minutes in all.  You want these scorched against the hot part of the wok, but not limp or soft.  Add to the big bowl.

A half-teaspoons worth of oil into the wok, and add the cucumber skin julienne.  Stir-fry for 2 minutes and add to the big bowl.

Another teaspoon or so of oil, and add the carrots.  Stir-fry for a minute, add a half-teaspoon of salt, and stir-fry for an additional 2-3 minutes, until softened but not altogether limp.  Add to the big bowl.

Another teaspoon or so of oil, and add the sweet pepper strips and 2 teaspoons of minced garlic.  stir-fry for a minute, add a generous 1/2 teaspoonful of salt, and stir-fry for an additional 2-3 minutes, until the peppers are just softened.  Turn off heat, and add the scallions.  Toss to combine, and then add to the big bowl.  Add the beef to the big bowl, and the rest of the yang nyum jang sauce.  Mix well, and enjoy your first bowl right here and now.  You must be famished!

As I said, it’s a lot of work, but it makes a lot of really delicious food.  I like that it’s well-suited to my bento box lunches, and it is chock-full of nutritious veggies.  And it’s pretty.

Yesterdays lunch with japchae

Yesterday's lunch with japchae

Each 8oz serving contains 349 calories, 47 grams of carbohydrates, and 14 grams of fat.

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February 22, 2009

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Friday the 13th

February 14, 2009

K came for dinner, and our usual viewing of Top Chef & Iron Chef America. We ate good food, called a sudden-onset crush and left love-voicemail, and were glad to wave bye-bye to Leah.

K & I made dinner

K & I made dinner

K left me with lots of delicious salad and a fancy chocolate roulade cake that was So Tasty.

Chocolatey mmm from The Bakers Studio

Chocolatey mmm from The Baker's Studio

The bento challenge over at JB ended yesterday, but I’m looking forward to continuing the challenge on into the spring, summer, and beyond. I made a lunch to take along north today; I’m off in a few with bento and a cake I made for C’s birthday. Big party & fun are promised 🙂

inarizushi, carrots with vanilla salt, simmered shiitake, and fruit salad

Today's lunch: inarizushi, carrots with vanilla salt, simmered shiitake, and fruit salad

Cook’s treat

February 13, 2009

I have a particular fondness for cook’s treats of all sorts, and last night I had cook’s treat in spades.  I roasted a small chicken for dinner, and I was just going to have it roasted simply, slathered with fresh butter,  with a slice of mom-bread, and a dollop of grainy French mustard on the side.

This wasn’t a fancy chicken, just a so-called `natural’ chicken from the local super market.  When I was washing the chicken, I took the little packet of offal from the cavity and set it aside, dried the bird off, trussed it, salted it, and put it in the hot oven.  I had taken the two little fat pads on either side of the cavity, and I put them in a little fry pan to render; mm schmaltz.

When I turned to the packet of offal I was shocked, upon opening it, to find seven whole hearts!  Seven!  There was also one fat liver and a neck too, and while I do love liver a lot, this heart bonanza was such an unexpected treat.  So I seared the liver quickly, and ate it with a sprinkling of vanilla salt in one happy bite.  Then I added the seven hearts, and fried them quickly, rolling them around.  Another sprinkle of the salt, onto a pretty plate, and happy innard bliss was mine.

Seven delicious chicken hearts

Seven delicious chicken hearts

I just remembered the pizza

February 12, 2009

Good day.  Long day, and I’m exhausted.  And I just remembered that I forgot knitting club last night.  Feh.

I visited Cedar Mountain farm today, picked up mom’s CSA & our milk, swore more than usual while chatting with farmer Kerrie, and headed north.  I sat in the parking lot at the Tip Top cafe and ate my tasty lunch, and waited for Petunia to show up for her one o’clock appointment with laoshi.  Sure enough, 3 minutes before 1pm, she showed up, and she sweetly offered to bring the second bento up to laoshi.  Lunch was good.  When I came back later for my appointment, laoshi gave me an empty box.  *beam*

I stopped at Listen (our local Salvation Army-ish store) and found some cute heart-shaped molds which will manifest themselves in a bento soonish.  I also found a little.. thing, a thing with three half-spherical depressions which will, I think, be good for small round onigiri.  It’s original purpose is altogether a mystery to me.  I hope it wasn’t some whacky toilet plumbing part, but I’m encouraged by the fact that I found it on the kitchen-stuff shelf.

Mystery object which will now mold things

Mystery object which will now mold things

After laoshi I went to mom’s and delivered her CSA veggies.  She made PIZZA.  From SCRATCH.  It was GOOD.  I also beat her & Carl’s pants off at fem hunerede.  It was GOOD.

I got home late, lugged my forty-billion pounds of groceries, CSA yummies, milk, and various crap into the house, rowed my second 10 minute piece of the day, and now it’s time to be supine.  Only I’m peckish, see.  And then as I lay here wondering what to write, I remembered that mom sent me home with a few slices of her mongo scrumptious pizza.  Life is good 🙂

I rowed!

February 9, 2009

1503 meters in 10 minutes, but seeing as I haven’t rowed since.. well, over a year I reckon, I feel super satisfied.  I’m doing the Concept2 Valentine’s Day Challenge, which is to row 14,000 meters between today and February 14th.  Back in the day I’d row that in a single session, but times, they sure have changed.

I’d done a huge house-keeping whirlwind organizing session this morning, and it just worked out that I concentrated on cleaning up all the junk that was around and on top of the rowing machine.  Then I got batteries for the little onboard computer so I can track the meters/time that I row.  Then I had lunch and was exhaustomundo.

I was sitting thinking: “I think I’ll have a smoke.  Hm.  Maybe I’ll row that 10 minutes and THEN have a smoke.”  And I did!  Two birds with one stone, too, ’cause I didn’t feel much like smoking after the row.