Over the Liver, and Through the Veins

Happy Turkey Day!

Happy Turkey Day!

Over the river, and through the wood,
To my in-laws house we go;
We’re already late
I’ve forgotten our plate
And our gas is running low.

Over the river, and through the wood–
Oh how slow the traffic crawls!
Some jerk flips the bird
My swears go unheard;
So begin holiday brawls.

Over the river, and through the wood–
With wide open arms we’re met;
Please, no talk of kids
It’s all I’ll forbid;
On my vagina don’t fret.

Over the river, and through the wood–
For the family far and near;
I forget which cousin
is the republican
Toward talk of weather I veer.

Over the river, and through the wood–
Oh, what I’d do for a drink!
I check out the fridge
and want a high bridge;
I fear I’m nearing the brink!

Over the river, and through the wood–
Uncle Something winks at me;
Out in the garage
He’s fashioned a lodge,
We sip beer in his teepee.


The “Harvest Equals Party” Puzzle

wine queen

Have you met the Wine Queen?

The origin story of Thanksgiving is a little dubious, at least the most popular one that has a bunch of pilgrims and Indians sitting around eating turkey and smiling at each other. Better documented is the one that comes two centuries later, when Sarah Josepha Hale, a magazine editor and abolitionist, campaigned for a harvest celebration and day of thanksgiving, with hopes that it would make the country feel more united. Abraham Lincoln obliged her, making it a national holiday in 1863.

But we Americans are hardly alone in our desire to celebrate the harvest. Can you name which country offers up the delicious days of thanksgiving described below? In some cases, the festivals are specific to a city or region, so extra stuffing for you if you can name any of those.

  1. During Chuseok, families travel to their family’s homeland and set up elaborate offerings of food called charye for their ancestors. They also sing, wrestle and eat freshly harvested rice and rice cakes.
  2. After the newly-pressed olive oil is blessed by a priest, everybody digs into a medieval-style feast at a local castle. (Seriously! A castle!)
  3. The Yam Festival (also called Homowo), at the end of the rainy season, is celebrated with singing, dancing, parades, offerings, and, obviously, yam-eating.
  4. At the annual Fruit Fair, people build elaborate arrangements of colorful fruits like rambutan and mangosteen and stage a parade with floats made out of fruits and vegetables.
  5. Locals celebrate Lugh, or the god of the sun, while making a potent potato-based whiskey called poitín.
  6. At a four-day festival celebrating the gods of sun and rain, people make a sweet dish called pongal out of rice, milk and jaggery (a form of palm sugar) and eat lentils to signify the year’s bounty.
  7. The harvest has always been a time when priests would bless the first grapes of the season, but more recently it has become a major province-wide carnival, with parades, fireworks and performances, not to mention the crowning of the Wine Queen.
  8. For Trung Thu, people celebrate the harvest moon but also their children (a different sort of fruit, I suppose). Children are told traditional fairy tales and given star lanterns and sweet treats like mooncakes.

Don’t click Continue or scroll down until you’re ready for the answers! Continue reading

The De-fennel-stration of our Vegetable Drawer

onion and fennel risottoOur CSA with Windflower Farm is totally awesome. For almost half the year, they load us up with delicious veggies, and they never skimp on the good stuff. Every once in a while, though, they throw us a curveball, like in one of our last shipments of the season, when they gave us a big ol’ bulb of fennel. Fennel looks kind of like a multi-snorkeled Snork and has a name that sounds like a scheming butler on Masterpiece Theater. Needless to say, the CSA fennel offering kicked around in our vegetable drawer for quite a while.

And then—eureka!—the NY Times cooking section laid a solution right in my lap with this recipe for Carmelized Onion and Fennel Risotto. When I started to make it, I realized that I didn’t even know what part of the fennel to slice, and I had to watch some YouTube videos to school myself. Basically, you just want the layered part of the bulb; you can make stock out of the rest of it, but it’s too tough to chew. That means that there was shockingly little fennel on my cutting board by the time I was finished hacking away at it. Would I even be able taste it in the finished dish?

Because it is in my nature to meddle with even the simplest recipes, I made a few changes to the NYT version. Continue reading

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things: Beer & Cheese!

That about sums it up.

That about sums it up.

As a pair, beer and I have been going strong for many years now. Few couples have experienced the same level of success we have. Over all it’s been a smooth ride, with only the occasional hiccup. But beer is not my first love! World, there’s someone else I want you to meet: cheese.

Cheese and I have been through a lot together: the Amish string cheese of my childhood, the Behold the Power of Cheese campaign in the late ‘90s, Papa John’s cheese sticks and the Freshman 15 in college, those little cheesy crackers with pecans my mom makes every Christmas that are as addictive, if not more so, than your standard crack.

For the longest time, though, I thought beer and cheese were incompatible, like those two friends you have that each think slightly less of you for liking the other one. I have never grown used to that sort of cattiness, having had the same loyal and honest friends since before I knew what beer was. So it was always with a little dismay that I kept the Jarlsberg tight in the meat and dairy drawer when I pulled an IPA out of the fridge. The manchego, too, waited for me to buy a cheap bottle of syrah. Why couldn’t we just all be friends?

Eventually I caved under the pressure of struggling to keep them apart. Dammit, you’re both such wonderful calorie delivery methods: just get to know each other! And lo, they got along swimmingly and the three of us have kicked some culinary ass ever since. Continue reading

Kung Pao Squash and Greens

kung pao!At my first job after college, there was a woman named Cynthia (a.k.a. Cyn-Bad), who, upon being asked what Chinese food she wanted to order, would always say, “Kung PAO!” and do a series of high-energy karate kicks. I believe she went on to teach first graders.

But I was always a little jealous of Cyn-Bad’s order, because takeout Chinese places almost never have anything fixed in a kung pao style besides chicken or maaaybe shrimp, so it’s a no-go for vegetarians. That’s why I was so excited when our friend Jeff (who, now that I think about it, would probably admire Cyn-Bad’s wicked karate stylings) forwarded us a recipe for Kung Pao Sweet Potatoes. What?! A whole new world of Szechuan deliciousness opened up to me.

I changed the recipe up a bit to match what we had on hand, which included a whole load of squash. As frequent readers of this blog might already know, winter squashes are really not my favorite vegetables, so this was a serious test, but the spicy sauce and the crunch of the peanuts helped that squash pass with flying colors. No doubt about it: it’s a meal glorious enough for a palace guardian, not to mention Cyn-Bad.

Kung Pao Squash and Greens Continue reading

That Smell: Crosswords and Cantonese Party Tricks

hong kong

Hong Kong: Smells delicious!

Quick, give me an eight-letter English word that means “smells good.” If you instantaneously came up with “fragrant” or “aromatic,” then you’re probably very good at crossword puzzles. But if you didn’t, you shouldn’t feel bad, because English is relatively poor in smell words. Plenty of days probably pass without you using the word “fragrant,” but apparently, Cantonese-speaking people drop their equivalent word, heung, into conversation all the time (thus, Hong Kong, or “good-smelling harbor”) to say nothing of their negative smell words, which range from meaning “the ammoniacal smell of urine” to “the rancid smell of old grain.” Any way you cut it, there’s just no easy way to fit those into an English crossword.

If you’re wondering where I’m getting these little chestnuts, it’s my mom’s fault. She gave me the fascinating book The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu by Dan Jurafsky, and now I’m at risk of becoming the person at a party who insists on telling everyone the Cantonese word for the smell of burnt hair. (It’s lou.)

Initially, the section on our lack of smell words frustrated me. English (arguably) has more words than any other language! How could we have overlooked smell words? And come on, Jurafsky, we have plenty of taste words, and it’s so hard to differentiate between taste and smell. And yet, I see his point; there aren’t many words devoted solely to smell the way there are words devoted solely to taste. That is, you can’t tell how sweet something is from its smell, or I’d probably be better at baking.

We’re not alone in this, by the way; most languages are poor in smell words. Continue reading

Strip Clubs & Craft Beer: Keep It Classy, Ohio!

John Glenn, First Hunk in Space

John Glenn, Ohioan & First Hunk in Space

By now you know I’m pretty proud of my little heart-shaped state. Ohio has a long list of firsts that contributes to my high opinion. I mean, we invented the hot dog, for goodness sake! (And many of us use the phrase for goodness sake often and without irony.) We also claim first in flight, which is hotly contested by those who actually give a hoot. We definitely were first to orbit the earth with John Glenn, who was also, much later, the oldest person in space — and this neatly conforms to my cartoon image of Ohio as a cantankerous old man who still won’t let anyone else shovel his damn driveway and always wears black knee socks, even in summer.

We recently earned another achievement: first state to have a combined microbrewery and strip club. Yeah, I know, right?! I made that face too! Though to be honest, strip clubs always make me more than a little squeamish, and it isn’t because they don’t characteristically have great beer selections, or even the nearness of naked bodies to open drink containers. But the issues I have with patriarchy and the commercialization of the female body can wait for another column, another day. Until then: what if someone looked at your sister like that?

Oops! I dropped my dignity in this giant mug of beer!

Oops! I dropped my dignity in this giant mug of beer!

The Pinups & Pints gentleman’s club features one beer brewed there plus, “Daytons [sic] hottest entertainers.” Their logo is a cute pinup girl in a Air Force uniform of sorts — heralding back to Dayton’s history in flight — holding a frothy mug of beer. According to a column on The Beer Blog, a daily-updated blog about Ohio beer, the business started brewing out of necessity. The owner was getting a liquor license to save the floundering club, but wanted to stand out from the crowd — watching gyrating nudes while drunk on Bud Light just ain’t gonna cut it any more, I guess. Continue reading

Peter Piper and Me

pickled peppers

Let’s just call this a peck, shall we?

Never had I stopped and considered exactly how much of something constituted a peck until I was out in the garden in the dark, wiping cold rain out of my eyes and trying to locate hot peppers with a flashlight.

This project had started, of course, with grander visions. I had gotten nostalgic about the giant jars of whole chili peppers swimming in vinegar that used to grace every table in Cambodia, and I had convinced Jason to stick a single hot pepper plant in the corner of our community garden plot. Then, Peter Piper-style visions dancing in my head, I waited. And waited. And waited. Our pepper plant grew to mammoth proportions but was an exceedingly late bloomer. Finally, just this month, it sprouted loads of peppers, though most of them remained green, probably because of the chilly weather.

pepper picking

Trick or Treeeeat!

But then again, the peppers in Cambodia had always been a wide variety of colors, and ours were, indeed, hot, as evidenced by the weird panting noises that Jason made after I fed him a little piece of a raw one, so I decided that maybe the greenness wasn’t that big of a deal, and I should proceed with the pickling as planned. But the clock was ticking; it had gotten awfully late in the season, so late that it’s dark by the time I get home from work, which is why, last night, I was arming myself with a flashlight and trying to convince myself that it would be kind of like trick or treating, before heading out to lurk around the muddy garden and probably creep out all of the neighbors.

Man, it sure seemed like I picked a lot of peppers, yea, perhaps even a peck of pickled peppers. A peck is a quarter of a bushel (or eight quarts, for those of you who don’t regularly buy things by the bushel). My crop ended up filling two tiny jam jars, so I may have come in a little shy of my target. But boy, do they look delicious.

Here’s how you can pickle some of your very own: Continue reading

A Double Dose of Allium Soup

IMG_1555Is there anything better than walking in your front door and being greeted by the scent of garlic and onion sautéing in a pan? For one, it smells delicious, and it also means that someone else is on top of dinner. Jason and I both took a turn at cooking up the ol’ alliums this week (the family that includes both garlic and onions), he with a healthful, cold-fighting garlic soup, and I with a not-so-healthful-but-seriously-super-delicious French onion soup.

Jason got the skinny on the garlic soup from his yoga teacher, who made it for her sick child. Garlic has long been a home remedy for warding off the sniffles, to say nothing of its reputation as a worthy adversary of arthritis, heart disease and some kinds of tumors. You could argue that garlic is not a miracle drug…or you could just eat some of this garlic soup and be happy. And you can trust me on this count: the garlic in it is well-cooked enough that you won’t leak garlic from your pores. I was sort of looking forward to getting a seat to myself on the subway afterward, but I smelled no more like a salami than usual. You can find the recipe at this very earnest website.

french onion soupHealthfulness is a noble ambition, but I had other things on my mind when I made my allium soup. Namely, the fact that the day I figured out that most French onion soup is made with beef broth was a very dismal day in my vegetarian life. Once, I was listening to an Australian woman rant about her travels in America. I was with her until she said, “My God, you put cheese on everything! I ordered soup and it came covered in cheese!” That’s the moment I discovered I had nothing more to say to this woman. If you can’t see the beauty in a heap of melted Gruyere, well, then…perhaps you better scoot on back to your former prison colony of a nation.

So when we got a couple big ol’ white onions in our farm share, I looked up a recipe and changed it a little for vegetarians. It involves making big Gruyere-coated croutons that you float on top. This might not be quite as impressive as blanketing the bowl like restaurants do, but it’s easier and it ensures that not a shred of cheese is wasted. Good for a cold? Maybe not, but it’s good for the soul.

Vegetarian French Onion Soup Continue reading