happiness

Sure happiness might be a warm gun to the Beatles, but to me, it’s a piece of halva the size of a brick. I’ve been asked for more food pictures from Israel, but alas, I’ve shared them all.

A short post with no recipe — how dare I? Yet I write not just to be useful, but for poetry: for the love of food, and simply because it brings me joy.

This is the freshest halva in Syracuse. Light and studded in perfect proportions with pistachios. It’s so good, it’s worth waiting in line for (especially when the line runs next to about 15 open buckets of olives.  Today I was caught, thank goodness only by a mischievous old lady.)

When life sends those  sudden sweet cravings, halva comes in swiftly to the rescue. When I’ve got this much of it on hand, I know that things will be just fine.

curried pear and butternut soup

Before you quickly click away from this post muttering squash, AGAIN?? please humor me. If there’s any time of the year I’m allowed to indulge my love of all things gourd, it’s fall.

On Halloween evening I biked to the grocery store to procure a baguette. We were going to have it with Mark’s delicious Punkin Ale rendition of this Beer Baked Beans recipe. I rode home with my baguette sticking out from behind me, feeling like I was headed to a dinner party in Montmarte.

The best thing about that little jaunt though were the pumpkins. Dotting front stoops like jolly orange goblins, glowing as if they had invaded the streets of Syracuse, the rotund globes guided me all the way home. There’s something about a carved pumpkin that makes me smile every time.

Leaves crackled under my bike tires as I passed people in lawn chairs doling out candy. My twilight ride wove through neighborhood streets that grew more festive as the sun sank.

But my recipe today doesn’t have to do with beans, baguettes, or pumpkins, but another type of squash. I’ve posted about the silky, meaty butternut once before, but today it’s back, pureed into a low fat soup with pears and curry powder. Here it is pictured with a swirl of sour cream.

Some friends and I made this soup a few weeks ago as part of our newly founded “Estro-cook” nights. The semi-weekly Sunday evening cook-a-thon was named after a Winnipeg Folk Festival workshop called “Estro-Jam,” where women from different bands teamed up to play a daytime stage.

I just love how this picture shows off the sunny October afternoon I enjoyed it on. Having soup in the freezer is one life’s easiest pleasures.

This soup can even be dressed up with cubes of tofu and green lentils, as this cafe on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast did. I took this picture while I was solo cycle-touring around Vancouver island, and this picture reminds me of those days, spent largely alone, when a bowl of soup and a Moleskine journal could very well be a vagabond’s best friend.

And years later, though I am holed up in Syracuse as the fall wilts to shades of ochre, the dear gourd does it again.

Continue reading

when life gives you apples

A few weeks ago, on a Saturday saturated with the smell of fallen leaves baking in the sun, I went apple-picking. For for the first time. Ever. I know, I had a deprived, prairie childhood.

Sure I’ve plucked a few sour crab apples from the tree we had out back as kids. But that doesn’t count. This was good old-fashioned, eastern-style apple picking, right in the heart of the Empire state.

We debated the merits of Galas, Macs, and Cortlands. We ate fresh apple fritters, just out of their hot oil bath. We bought salty cheese curds and they squeaked against our teeth. We wandered the orchard in the feeble fall warmth.

Normally I don’t post photos of myself on here, but I got kind of a kick out of this one. It’s so posed, and I look so proud. With all the time I’ve spent in grocery stores in my lifetime, apples seem ubiquitous. Perfectly piled, row upon row, making ruby pyramids that greet you from the produce section.

Picking them from the tree is an entirely different thing. The apples, Empire in the case, appear like swollen purple grapes nestled in their spindly trees and pruned for prime production. You wrap your hand around one of the firm fruits, pull gently, and feel the snap of stem dislodged from its lifeblood. It’s such a simple gift of nature.

And when nature gives you apples, there’s just so much you can do. We ended up eating most of them raw, shined up on shirt sleeves, but I did managed to eek out a few containers of applesauce.

This stuff was a mainstay of our family’s dessert repertoire. Ladled out into bowls or over ice cream, the cinnamon-laced chunky brown applesauce was all the bedtime snack we needed. I’ve hated the baby food jarred stuff ever since; chunkiness and sauce go hand-in-hand in my world.

This year, the applesauce surprised me with its bright shade of pink. It must be those Empire apple skins, redder than a whole bushel full of blushing Republicans.

So many dear dear apples, straight from the tree into my pot. My childhood, slurped up from a silver spoon.

Continue reading

pave not paradise

I made the news! Well, we did. The web-news anyway . . .

There’s something about Anglicans and gardens in parking lots. My two most recent parish homes–St. Margaret’s back in Winnipeg and Grace here in Syracuse–have chosen carrots over Camrys in an attempt to secure healthy food for their respective communities

But don’t take my word for it. Check out MSNBC’s short vignette on “Seeds of Grace,” a humble garden that speaks loudly of the burgeoning desire for home-grown food.

May the vegetables who today share space with Fords one day point to tomorrow’s edible landscapes. Amen.

Read the article (and then click “launch” in the box on the right to watch the clip)

or Watch the clip

I’m the one in the green t-shirt.

comfort food

Comfort food is hard to define—that is, until you really need it. Last night was one of those nights. For most, comfort food conjures up visions of fat, sugar, cream, or chocolate—the classic no-no’s of health. But to my delight, I have found that in the world of food, comfort goes by many other names.

Comfort food in the winter is easy: just turn up the heat and heartiness and you’re set. And chocolate is a no-brainer, rarely failing to deliver a brief flirtation with other worlds.

But what about in the heat of the summer, when the wind has whipped the sweat off your skin for an hour and forty-five minute’s bike ride, competing with the sun to brand you its own—what then is comfort food? When you’ve run around all afternoon under the (blessed) heat of the June sun, carting things in and out of your car which you repeatedly curse for being black—what then will bring you relief? When you get told that a U.S. border guard made a mistake with your documents, rendering your recent 3-hour trip North just to re-enter the country to change your visa 99% pointless? When everything just seems to pile up on one lone innocent Monday—what then is comfort food?

I don’t know what you say, but I say Tostadas. Not one to call the whole thing off and resort to toast for dinner, I pulled some little corn tortillas out of the freezer. Since moving to the US, I’ve discovered (not only the true meaning of comfort food) the true meaning of Mexican food. Down here they go way beyond the sloppy burritos and “I could make those at home” nachos peddled by Winnipeg’s Carlos and Murphy’s imposters. But best of all, down here I learned the art of the tostada: quite possibly the world’s fastest, healthiest, friendliest supper for one.

While my two corn tortillas browned away in the toaster over, I dumped a half a can of black beans in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. A squirt of hot sauce, a glug of Dinosaur BBQ sauce, and a little mashing-with-the-spatula later and they were ready. Then it went a little somethin’ like this: toasted tortilla, sprinkle of mozzarella, black bean mixture, chopped tomatoes, torn romaine, a glug of red salsa and one of Wegman’s salsa verde, some green onions and low-fat sour cream–voila! Or shall I say, Ola! I was in the kitchen for probably about 8 minutes. It would’ve taken me longer to find the phone number for Alto Cinco.

Since I couldn’t be bothered with the pictures tonight (#1 way to tell if you’re a compulsive food blogger: eating a meal without a camera nearby = relaxing) I have provided you with some shots of the more accessorized tostadas we made for my folks when they were here in April. For these we fried the tostadas, but tonight I learned that toasted are just as good and of course, healthier. Tostadas are forgiving. Top ‘em with anything that brings you comfort: Grilled shrimp, chicken, cabbage, Cadbury Mini Eggs.

At the end of my exasperating day was a yellow-brick road paved with sweet, crunchy, chewy, leafy food. How simple a remedy; how basic the desire for true pleasure in satiety. Now for the chocolate—thankfully I picked up 3 Lindt Chili bars at Target earlier today—and if a 3 for 5$ decent chocolate sale isn’t evidence that life balances itself out, I don’t know what is. And Mr. Border Patrolman can go stuff himself with Hershey’s.

distractions for the caffeinated

A weekend full of antics with the parents screeched to a halt at a calm sunny Monday. Today, Central New York traded its fiery attire in for a more modest costume of breezy, sit-on-the-porch-all-day comfort. The weekend’s heat wave might have left us withered, but it also coaxed out that summer feeling. Hence a Monday where it was worth getting up before 7, running 7.5 miles, browsing for a dress to wear to a July wedding, and an hour of porch-sitting on a street much quieter than ours.

Getting our replacement espresso machine (scroll down for photo) was a close second to the thrill of having my folks here for a few days. But even the thought of waking up to this beauty every morning isn’t amusing me lately as much as this video. Feast your eyes, feminists and coffee geeks alike:

As with many cultural and historical anecdotes, this video amused and disgusted me. It got me thinking about a conversation I had with friends over wine last week about wanting recognition and appreciation, and how food often provides that — whether we like it or not. Women’s rolls have changed, that is certain. But I have no trouble admitting to a compulsion to feed people I love and be praised for it. Is this not a universal desire for food-lovers, regardless of their sex? I happen to have a darling partner whose quest for the perfect cup of espresso directly benefits me. And I would never, ever think of treating him like this fictional husband treated his wife. Maybe I can just hope it wasn’t actually like that. (Was it?)

Her little cries of “gee,” and wanting to please others to the point of deprecation. Him calling the women at the office “girls.” Her squeals of delight when she finally gets his coffee “right.” The subtleties at the end of a promised reward for her job well done (wink wink, nudge nudge). Sigh. I’m not thinking we’ve got it all right these days either. I’m just thinking wow, they actually got away with that. What will future generations say about our commercials?

And for those of you who care, the latest addition to our colony:

machine

chomp on these

At social gatherings lately it seems there’s always one show-off. We don’t get out to eat a lot, and so when I hear tell of a place worth checking out, my stomach— hungry or not— immediately perks up. There’s always one, “you’ve never been to (insert name of life-changing restaurant)? You have to go…” You get the point.

Now it’s my turn to share a find: CNY Menus. The decor is a bit lacking, but they do have the most delicious list of Syracuse-area restaurants I’ve found yet. Next time you’re wondering where to go to eat in Syracuse or the surrounding area, do check out this site. It might just save you from the bad burger blues. Most of the restaurant entries come with pdf’s or links to menus.

For no extra charge, I wanted to also share a website that has been very informative for me lately: The World’s Healthiest Foods. With no commercial influence, the foundation offers relatively unbiased advice on nutrition and health. Wondering why avocado is just so darn good for you? This website will tell you more than you’ll ever need to know about any healthy food. Best of all, the foods they feature are all whole, “real” foods. From their website, they seek to “offer the latest scientific information about the benefits of the World’s Healthiest Foods and the specific nutrients they provide… we offer practical, simple and affordable ways to enjoy them that fit your individual lifestyle.”

That’s all folks. Hope I’ve been of some service, whether you’re a Central New Yorker or a health nut. Or both. Like me. For now anyway.

kombucha: the brew of champions

I first tasted kombucha (kom-boo-cha) tea at a dear friend’s house in Goshen, Indiana, a regular stopover on our Winnipeg – Syracuse jaunt. Our host possesses the kind of leisurely effervescence that makes our time together always feel too short. Last August while standing in her kitchen listening to the rain that had diligently journeyed with us across the Midwest, she burst in suddenly to ask, “have you guys heard of kombucha?

I had, but as is common with me, promptly forgotten about it. Maybe it had seemed like health store hype. But after lifting a glass of my friend’s brew to my lips and letting it fizz and bubble down my throat like an earthy hybrid of tea, beer and champagne, I was sure never to forget it again. But not without a brief moment of doubt:

It took me about eight months to find a suitable “mother” or SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast). I could have purchased one online, but like a sourdough starter or friendship bread, buying locally seemed part of the whole experience. I knew that if I was patient, someone in the Syracuse community would come through.

Yesterday I brought my baby home and left 6 liters of water to de-chlorinate for 24 hours (it evaporates off). Today I started the process of culturing my first, well, anything. Cultured as I may be, now I’ve got nothing on the kombucha fermenting away in my living room.

With some help from Wikipedia, I’ve patched together a briefer on kombucha for all parties: interested, incredulous, or somewhere in between. Kombucha works in a similar way to the old world process of making vinegar: sweetened tea is fermented by a solid mass of microorganisms called a “colony.”

The drink dates back to 250 BC China, where it was named the “Immortal Health Elixir,” for its ability to balance the spleen and stomach and aid in digestion. News of the beverage eventually reached Russia and Eastern Europe as tea became affordable for the average Joe (or Fyodor). The process of brewing kombucha was introduced in Russia and Ukraine at the end of the 1800s and became popular in the early 1900s. The kombucha culture is known locally as chayniy grib, and the drink itself is referred to as “tea kvass” or simply “kvass.”

I’ll keep the updates coming, but for now here’s the basic procedure:

1. De-cholrinate 6 liters of water by letting it sit for 12 hours.

2. Using 2 litres (8 cups) of your de-chlorinated water, make a strong, sweet tea: Boil water, then add 1/3 cup of black (fruit-flavored works well) and green loose tea. I usually throw in some dried hibiscus as well, for a nice rose tint. You can also steep dried berries in with the tea mixture. Experiment!  Stir in between 2.5 – 3 cups of white sugar (don’t use any other sweetener!) and stir until sugar is dissolved. Let the tea steep for 30 minutes.

3. Strain the strong tea into the rest of the de-cholrinated water (shown above).

4. Set the SCOBY safely aside in a bath of already fermented tea (shown above).

5. Let the tea-and-water mixture come to room temperature

6. Gently, and always with clean hands, place the SCOBY into the jar of fresh tea. Pour already-fermented kombucha into the jar (you’ll need about 10% of the final amount to be this “starter.”)

7. The SCOBY mother will either sink or rise, either is OK.

8. Cover with fine cheesecloth and set aside in location with good air-flow and medium light (no direct sunlight or dark closets).

9. Wait 2-3 weeks. Depending on the ambient temperature, the tea will ferment at different paces. Test the PH levels (most people like a tea of between 2.8-3 acidity) or scoop some out and taste to your liking. As time goes by, the PH will fall and the mixture will get more acidic and less sweet.

10. Repeat the process, saving some fermented tea to use as a starter in the next batch.

Resources:

The Happy Herbalist, though not a well designed site, offers some really useful tips

WikiHow on Kombucha

A thorough article on the drink

He wrote the book

The New Homemaker likes it too

Taste before you culture

Review: Lao Village

It’s not that I expected bunnies and tulips on the first day of spring, but snow? How horribly anticlimactic. The vernal equinox rode in on roaring winds today, with just a tease of sunshine dueling for a hold over the late afternoon. In an attempt to counter the dismal reality of a persistent winter, we gathered up some friends and sought hot food from climates far more vernal than our own.

p1010841.jpg
curry puffs, or samosas Laos-style

A generous Canadian friend treated us to Lao Village, a restaurant we’ve heard nothing but raves about. This diminutive downtown Laotian and Thai restaurant exceeded our expectations. I immediately noticed the simple and cheery presentation. I know that good food can redeem even styrofoam, but I am quickly won over by good food beautifully accessorized. That’s why going out to eat is so special. Not only should it (hopefully) be food you’d struggle to make as good at home, but it should tug your aesthetic heartstrings a little as well.

Mark’s “I don’t know, something with chicken,” firepit-hot Thai something or other

The vegetables, as we had heard, were fresh, bright and crisp. Each dish had a distinct assortment of textures and spice. The rice was plentiful, helping to counter the tongue-tearing heat of some of the dishes. I had the Massaman Seafood Curry, on the recommendation of my little bro who is traveling in Southeast Asia. The cuisine seemed authentic, adorned with fresh basil, lime leaves and sliced chilies. But what do we know?

p1010844.jpg
only one of us was brave enough to order a “traditional Laotian entree”

Service is friendly and very accommodating, and it’s such an obvious pick over the Subway next door I wonder how the sandwich franchise stays in business. Dinner entrees are between $6.95 and $11.95. If you live in the Syracuse area, be sure to check out this local gem. They offer lunch, take-out and dinner service.

Lao Village (I’m not sure where the “s” went off to either)
208 West Genesee St.
Syracuse, NY
13202
(315) 435-8151

Review: China Road

Before I begin, I must say thank you to all my readers for 1000 hits. You inspire me.

China Road has been on my list of nearby eateries to try since I’ve been living in Syracuse. On International Hallmark Appreciation day last Thursday (aka Valentines), the husband carted me out to Mattydale to sample some fine Szechuan fish heads. Or one anyway.

p1010700.jpg

We start with these spicy marinated radishes, fried wantons with sweet sauce for dipping, and tea. You would’ve thought they didn’t want us to order any more food!

p1010703.jpg

After sharing a bowl of hot and sour seafood soup and some pillowy soft Szechuan dumplings, the Sea Bass arrives, cloaked in breading and still steaming from its hot oil bath. All around it lay the makings of a perfect Chinese meal — swollen garlic cloves, shitake mushrooms and scallions, suspended in a thick brown pool. I have a staring contest with the fish, and he wins. He lets me win when he realizes I hold the knife.

p1010702.jpg

The Sea Bass behaves very well for a series of close-ups, hardly complaining about it being his bad side.

p1010705.jpg

The snow pea shoots (recommended by our server) were probably the only dish to grace our table that were even half deserving of low cholesterol status.

China Road is a great place to try breaking away from chicken balls and fried rice. Their authentic Chinese menu allows diners to choose between the standard American-Chinese fare and the stuff the owners are really proud of. It was apparent that others thought so too, as there wasn’t an open table in the house.

2204 Brewerton Road
Mattydale, N.Y. 13211
Tel: 315-455-5888