My stomach’s been squidgy and unhappy of late, so I’m trying to cheer it up with this rice porridge made with fresh eggs, some soy sauce, and just a little toasted sesame oil. Eating it with the Hamtaro spoon helps, too.
In 2004, my husband and I were in Amsterdam, rushing down the street (as fast as I could push an umbrella stroller on cobblestone sidewalks without rattling my kid’s brains right out, anyway) to meet up with his family for dinner. On our way there, we approached a greengrocer’s stand selling some tiny, unfamiliar fruit, still clinging to thin branches. Smaller than blueberries and an amazing crimson color, I quickly realized they were red currants.
I had never actually seen them before, other than in jam form. I gawked—for as long as I was able—at their amazing translucent skin that seems to catch the light in way my photo does not do justice to at all. I meant to go back and buy some, but I never quite got around to it and went home without having tried them.
This love-at-first-sight-in-a-faraway-land story must be the reason I keep buying them… because it’s certainly not for the taste. You think of summer fruits and berries and oh, they’re all so juicy and sweet, right? Red currants, as I seem to willfully forget each summer, are shockingly tart. Sweeter than cranberries (although not by much) and without the bitterness of pomegranate seeds, but still quite tart. They’re not really a fruit I can just pop into my mouth and snack on without wincing a little.
Currants are closely related to gooseberries (also quite tart) and, unsurprisingly, are a good, mouth-puckering source of Vitamin C. If you’re planning on getting your RDA from currants, though, better bring a checkbook—a tiny pint can often set you back $4 to $6 around here. Just for the sake of not wasting money, I tried to will myself to love these currants (yum, they’re so… lemony? oh god, who am I kidding?), but they slowly shriveled in my fridge until I conceded defeat and composted them.
Next summer, when I will have almost certainly forgotten everything I’ve just said and fall in love with some beautiful currants again, I’ll be ready. I’m not a fan of cooked summer fruits; I’d much rather enjoy them as they are (and who wants to turn on the oven in an already 80-degree house?) but red currants supposedly mellow considerably when cooked. I think I’ll try my hand at redcurrant buns or maybe a bread pudding with currants. Next year, I won’t be quite so dazzled by their good looks again.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Sushi Popper.
Let me begin by saying: I am not a snobby sushi jerk. I am no stranger to the lure of supermarket sushi. But this? Previously frozen sushi in what is essentially a Push Pop tube?
Maybe it was just these specific tubes (which were being handed out at Japan Day this past Sunday) that were disappointing. Despite instructions on their site saying the tubes need 1-2 hours at room temperature to defrost, the people manning the table were handing them out almost entirely still frozen and telling people give it a minute or two before eating it. After waiting in line for at least 30 minutes, waiting even longer to eat was not paramount.
The rice, mushy and salty, defrosted before what was rolled up in it, leaving me with chunks of frozen cucumber to contend with — which was probably for the best. I can’t imagine cucumber, being about 95% water, would defrost especially well. The frozen chunks of avocado and crab in the California rolls did not taste much better.
But more than that, even if this had been kind of good sushi, do we really need sushi on-the-go? Is the world really crying out for the junk-foodification of sushi? Hands-free sushi to be found “at local stores as well as school cafeterias, campuses, in drive-thru’s [sic], airports, on airplanes, beach resorts, and more”? Can we really not spare the ten minutes it takes to scarf sushi sitting at a table, chopsticks optional?
If this is your sushi revolution, I think I’ll stay home.
Although I cook without meat a majority of the time, I am completely powerless when it comes to chicken thighs. Tender, juicy little pieces of meat on not-too-much bone, they’re virtually impossible to screw up — and even better, they’re almost always cheaper than other chicken pieces.
My favorite way to prepare chicken (or turkey) thighs is to make Filipino chicken adobo. There are about as many recipes for adobo as there are cooks, but they all rely on a combination of soy sauce, vinegar, and garlic, at least, and usually a little sugar, bay leaves and black pepper, too. After a fair amount of trial and error, here’s the recipe I use.
Chicken (or turkey or pork) adobo
Combine 1/2 cup mushroom soy sauce, 3/4 cup vinegar, 3 tablespoons honey, 3-5 cloves of minced garlic, 3-ish bay leaves, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper with 1.5 cups water. Bring to a boil and add 3 pounds chicken thighs. Cover, and reduce to a simmer, adding more water if needed to keep the meat covered. Simmer for about 30-40 minutes. Remove from the sauce and set aside. At this point, you can fish out the bay leaves and bring the liquid to a boil until it reduces by at least half. Set a grill (or frying) pan on medium-high heat and grill each piece, skin-side down, until the skin is crisped. The sugar helps caramelize the skin but it will also help it burn faster, so watch out. Serve (with a little of the reduced sauce) over white rice or shredded cabbage or whatever suits you.
Some notes: this recipe is based on what I usually have on hand. The mushroom soy sauce isn’t exactly traditional, but because it’s so thick and dark, you can use much less and get the same result that you’d get with about a cup of regular soy sauce. I usually use cider or rice vinegar, but I’ve used red wine or even plain white vinegar in a pinch (just don’t use balsamic) and swap in any other sugar for the honey. (You could also use boneless and/or skinless thighs, but… meh.) Oh, and definitely make the whole three pounds of chicken because the leftovers are heavenly.
The first indication something was wrong with me was when I ate a sprouted lentil salad at a local raw food cafe and I spent nearly an hour in a gas station restroom afterward. I had been sick after eating lentils once or twice before but I’d never made the connection before the gas station incident: I was definitely allergic to lentils. No big deal, though, right? Lentils are easy enough to identify and live without.
Then I noticed whenever I ate Indian food, I would have a panic attack. Or so I thought. Indian food has never been my first choice, so Indian food was usually reserved for dinner with friends who really wanted it. Each time, I thought I must have been especially anxious about seeing these particular friends again, but the last time I ate Indian food, the friend I had dinner with emailed me a photo the waiter had taken of the two of us (in the middle of what I thought was me having an anxiety attack). My face was flushed bright pink, like I’d been sunburned, and my neck and chest were splotchy. So, definitely not a panic attack. Okay, I thought, I’m allergic to curry as well?
I saw an allergist after that. She was, coincidentally, Indian, which was helpful and a little embarrassing at the same time. She listed the typical ingredients in curry, but I knew I’d cooked with almost all those ingredients before — why would I be allergic to them now? Her answer boiled down to well, kid, shit happens, and advised me a.) to keep track of what foods bothered me and b.) call 911 if I needed to. Jesus.
Not long after that, I was at IKEA with my kid, sharing a plate of Swedish meatballs, when the usual allergy symptoms kicked in — nausea, numbness, dizziness, heart pounding — along with a new one: panic. The allergist’s 911 recommendation had stuck with me and now there I was, alone with a 5-year-old, at least an hour from home. I took two of the Benadryl I’d started carrying with me and rode it out. At least now I knew what it was I was allergic to, the only ingredient common in curry and Swedish meatballs: cardamom.
Things started to snowball after that. I ate a big bowl of bean thread noodles and found out the hard way that mung beans and lentils are closely related. After years of feeling sick after eating too many raw carrots, I found out there’s an allergenic protein in carrots that breaks down with cooking. In a brief moment of finding the silver lining, I was almost relieved to find I was allergic to brown rice so I finally could eat white rice without feeling whole-grain guilt about it. But the worst, the absolute worst, was yet to come.
I had made pasta with anchovies and garlic for dinner one night, after not having made it for a while. After two bites, the inside of my mouth went all numb, like I’d just gone to the dentist, which is usually my first sign of an allergic reaction. But it’s anchovies! I thought. I’ve eaten this before! Recently! COME ON! But no. Anchovies, once my fishy friend, were now my body’s enemy. So long, cuisines like Thai, Indonesian, and Vietnamese that use fish sauce. Goodbye, Caesar dressing, Worcestershire sauce, and salades niçoise.
If I stop to catalog even half the foods I can’t eat any more, it makes me so angry and sad, but I think what kills me the most is that my allergies are all SO DUMB. I mean, who’s allergic to brown frigging rice? Does that even sound like something people are allergic to? Not to mention the yeah, right factor in having an obscure food allergy. You tell someone “I’m allergic to peanuts” and people take you very seriously. You say, “I’m allergic to cardamom” and people look at you like pull the other one, sister; it’s got bells on.
I know compared to other food allergy sufferers, I have it pretty easy. I’m not allergic to any of the really big ones: milk, wheat, eggs, shellfish, soy, peanuts, et cetera. But as someone who loves to eat and write about food? It sucks. Really, truly, fucking suuuucks. Eating out, particularly with any cuisine that’s even slightly Asian-ish, now comes with a side order of mild terror. With every bite, my brain is chattering, is my mouth going numb? yes? maybe it’s just spicy? no? should I keep eating? should I stop? shit, was that a bean sprout or a noodle I just ate? FUCK!
I’ve been hanging on to this draft for at least two weeks now, trying to come up with some kind of pithy insight or witty rejoinder — a nice, tidy kicker to close this post. Well, I haven’t got one. I guess like me and my allergies, this post is just how it is and we’re all going to learn to live with it.
I come from a long, proud line of compulsive sale shoppers. Because I live in a 750-square-foot apartment, I simply don’t have the room to indulge my sale fetish as much as I could (unlike, say, my grandfather who would regularly send me home with cases of soda or several boxes of cereal he’d bought on sale and had tucked away) but I did recently buy a pound of strawberries and two pints of blackberries which were going cheap at the supermarket.
It didn’t seem like a lot of fruit at the time… until it started to languish in the fridge. It got to a point where it was not exactly at its peak of freshness, but not really compost scraps yet either. I also had a pile of fresh mint that appeared to be headed down the same road and I knew there had to be a way to combine the two.
I had taken this month’s Martha Stewart Living (whose usual purpose is to remind me anew each month how much domestic shit I will never, ever manage to do) to the park with me one afternoon, and there it was: a recipe for fruit syrup. Using that as a general guide, I came up with this:
Combine 3 cups berries with 1/4 cup water and 1 cup of sugar. Bring to a boil and let simmer for at least 10 minutes (or longer if you want a thicker syrup). As it simmers, crush berries with a wooden spoon or potato masher. Once syrup is the consistency you want, turn off the heat and add 2-3 sprigs of mint, then let cool. Use a mesh strainer to strain out the seeds and pulp. Makes about 2 cups.
Although it’s runnier than honey, it’s about the same level of sweetness, and I’ve been using it in place of honey in a number of things — tea, yogurt, etc. — but my favorite use has to be combining a couple tablespoons of syrup with some ice and seltzer.
Oh yeah. Summer can not get here soon enough.
I’m a little obsessed with the different varieties of crema you can get in my neighborhood. In the past couple years I’ve lived here, there’s been a subtle shift in the population — Dominicans, once the overwhelming population of the neighborhood, seem to be gradually moving out, while more people from Mexico and Central America move in, which is reflected in the products for sale in the small supermarkets here. I think the Crema Salvadoreña is my favorite so far: so thick as to be almost butter-like but with a fantastic sour creamy tang.