Shannon and Jason Own the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Chili Pepper Festival

IMG_0922The advertising promised “5 Blazing Bands, 7 Hours of Chocolate Debauchery, 23 Years of Spicy Culture, 2 Legendary Fire Breathers, 52 Fiery Food Artisans, 52 Acres of Glorious Gardens.”

Fire breathers and free spicy food?  We’re there!

We visited every stall.  Every. Stall.  And here are our picks:

Shannon’s Pepper Picks:

Brooklyn Delhi: I cringe at paying $8 for a jar of salsa, no matter how good it is, because I could (and might very possibly) eat the whole thing in a single sitting with a spoon. But with achaar, Indian pickle, a little dab’ll do ya, and with innovative combinations like rhubarb ginger on offer at the Brooklyn Delhi booth, the price suddenly seemed entirely reasonable and left me wishing I’d packed some naan in my purse.

IMG_0925Queen Majesty: Do you know that the easiest way to catch fruit flies is with vinegar? That whole thing about catching more with honey is such a lie! Anyway, I love vinegar in many forms, and even though sweet-hot sauces seem to be all the rage these days, Queen Majesty makes beautiful vinegar-based ones that still have plenty of complexity. Try the jalapeno, tequila and lime flavor for a delicious tangy kick. Continue reading

Hello, Hunger, My Old Friend

The Void

It is not easy to find a visual representation of a lack of something. That is why Sartre book covers are so boring.

I have always been, as they say, a good eater, but I never thought that it was at the core of my being. Now I’m not so sure.

Certainly I have had the flu many times before, and while it’s always awful, I’m usually so nauseous that I don’t have the time to pause and reflect upon my lack of appetite. What happened on Sunday and Monday was different. I didn’t feel sick to my stomach (though that came later—a virus, maybe, or a latent Mexican souvenir), but I simply wasn’t hungry. It was startling. I’m almost always hungry. In the abstract, that doesn’t sound so bad (it sounds more like an ideal diet), but I’m not exaggerating when I say that I was completely unsettled by it. I wandered around aimlessly on my lunch break, confused by this sudden non-wanting. It was as though a thrumming engine that is always purring inside of me had dropped away. It was almost a relief when I started feeling ill; a presence rather than an absence.

Perhaps you find it silly or frivolous that I am equating a greedy desire for food with a cherished personality trait. But aren’t we all, to some extent, defined by our wants? They’re the heartbeats beneath our most vital decisions: this person or that person, Cleveland Indians or Cincinnati Reds, drama club or football team, crunchy or creamy. Continue reading

Why I Won’t Drink AB InBev or SABMiller “Craft” Beer


The Wall Street Journal, staying relevant with snazzy infographics!

I read in the news this morning that Anheuser-Busch InBev is making moves to buy SABMiller. I don’t know much about mergers or acquisitions or really anything relating to money, but I do remember something in Coach Kaple’s 11th grade economics class about monopolies and trusts and how they’re bad. I also recognize that the joining of these two enormous beer-making entities does not technically form either of these, but it does severely limit the diversity of the field. If I understand it right, that diversity is kind of what makes capitalism capitalism. That said, here are the reasons I personally will not drink an AB InBev or SABMiller beer.

Big Beer and craft beer have drastically different motivations behind brewing. AB InBev, like any business whose profit last year broke 11 billion, is motivated by one thing: greed. I read as much of a Bloomberg Business News article on the possible acquisition as I could without spitting my beer on the screen and drop-kicking my laptop. The article also notes that the dudes in charge of the money handling for Big Beer claim that by purchasing up smaller craft breweries, they are able to get craft beer out to more people. Oh now I see, it’s really a charitable thing. And probably tax deductible.

Craft beer brewers, on the other hand, are in it for, well — craft. This word implies care, quality, and men with long beards and tall boots. It also implies innovation, experimentation, and a passion for the art. The men and women of craft beer are not in it for the money. It’s the art at the heart of it all. The essence of Dogfish Head could never survive if purchased by any of the big guys. Can you imagine any brewery associated with Miller concocting a brew that involved the brewers’ own saliva? No, no they would not, though I’d love to see the board meeting in which this idea is introduced. The spirit is what makes it craft — and is why craft beer drinkers stay with the small breweries. Continue reading

Mushrooms of Mexico

mushroomsBefore I saw a man in the middle of the woods cheerfully offering me a fungus called Balls of the Bull on the tip of a machete, I don’t think I’d ever said to myself, “Mexico…that’s that country with all the mushrooms.” But then I actually went to Mexico.

Oaxaca, nestled in the country’s southern mountain ranges, is a wonderland of culinary delicacies: cheese, chocolate, mescal, an entire rainbow spectrum of mole sauces. Plenty has been written about all of these foods, though, and I wasn’t sure I’d be inspired on our recent vacation to add another blog post to the literature. But something I wasn’t expecting to find at the markets around town were the heaps of dried chanterelles and big bags of the delectable corn fungus that Mexicans call huitlacoche. Soon we were in a pleasantly fungal state of mind, so when our friend Joel, whose family we were visiting, suggested we take a guided hike up into the mountains to mushroom hunt, we jumped at the chance.

Our point man for this excursion was a small sinewy man of indeterminate age named Ilario. I told him, in my shaky Spanish, that I liked his hat. He told me, in his shaky English, that he used to live in Indiana. And then we packed into the back of his pickup truck and headed for the hills.

Mushrooming is really less of a hunt and more of a mental game, a slow construction of invisible mushroom goggles in front of your eyes. Continue reading

Ontario, CA Beers: Pretty Bland, Eh?

An Eight-pack?! Well, they got something right...

An eight-pack?! Oh…the metric system!

Canada: snow, hockey, lumberjacks, beer. That about sums it up, right? But yesterday, I said to my husband, “Hon, would you like some wine? I’m not really in the mood for beer tonight.” This is something rarely said in my home. However, the only beers we had in the fridge were in an eight-pack mixer from our vacation in Canada. I simply could not muster enough enthusiasm for my Canadian beers to pop open another 473ml can of meh.

My family and I have visited the balmy northern shores of Lake Erie every summer since before I can remember. The visit has always consisted mainly of reading on the beach, eating fresh fish and fruits, and (once I reached the Ontario, CA drinking age of 19) drinking copious amounts of beer.

I always took an inordinate amount of pride in knowing to order a Blue in Canadian bars, rather than a Labatt. Problem is, of course, that Blue isn’t all that good. It’s one of my favorite cheap beers, but I’m just not a cheap beer kinda gal. Drink it for a whole week?! You might as well make me go camping. Full disclosure: we brought up craft beer from the states. Continue reading

I’ll See Your Pesto and Raise You an Arugula

ASA pesto Every garden, every growing season, has its bumper crops, those wildly successful experiments that you can’t anticipate ahead of time. (Just ask my mother, who has been frantically cooking, freezing and foisting tomatoes upon anyone who comes near her. Actually, maybe you shouldn’t ask her, or even get near her, unless you’re prepared to make gazpacho.) In our household, it’s arugula that keeps growing and growing, almost faster than we can use it. So, to the rescue, comes one of our favorite new easy dinners: arugula pesto.

A delicious pesto is not the territory of basil alone. It’s true that you could substitute arugula for basil in the most familiar of pesto recipes (pine nuts, garlic, parmesan), but why stop there? In fact, pesto means paste, so you should feel free add any manner of deliciousness, blend it to a paste and call it pesto. I’ve come up with a couple of variations to get you started.

A quick word on measurements: one of the real pleasures of pesto is that you just keep dropping things into the food processor until you taste it and become convinced that you are a culinary genius. Far be it from me to rob you of that magical experience. So I’ll give you some very general guidelines for enough pesto for two big portions of pasta, but really, the best thing to do is to taste it frequently throughout until you feel like eating big gobs of it with a spoon. Then you’re done.

A.S.A Pesto (Arugula, Sun-dried Tomatoes, Asiago) Continue reading

Grilled Mustard Eggplant Burgers

We don’t grill a lot.  We don’t have a grill because we don’t have the space, and although there are grills in the community garden across the street, by the time evening rolls around I’m usually pretty much done with community until sunup.  But we had agrilled mustard eggplant burgers pretty purple-and-white speckled eggplant from the CSA and four ears of corn, and I’ll take grilled corn on the cob over any other variation any day.  And thus we created:

Grilled Mustard Eggplant Burgers

  • 2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 tbs Dijon mustard
  • 1 ½ tbs salt
  • 1 tbs cumin
  • ½ tbs chili powder

Mix marinade ingredients in a jar (I pretty much always eyeball stuff, so the measurements are give-or-take).  Cut 1 small eggplant into roughly ¼ inch-thick slices and lay them out in Tupperware.  Pour marinade over them and leave in the fridge for a few hours.  Then grill the babies, periodically brushing remaining marinade on the slices, for something like twenty minutes.  Serve on sliced sourdough bread with arugula.

Grill Monster

On Getting Old: Archiving Your Membeeries

Little Old, Pink Notebook o' Beer

Little Old, Pink Notebook

I can hear my parents bickering through my window as they approach my door. I tell them this when I let them in and my dad yells, “We’re old and can’t hear a damn thing anymore!” My mother bustles through laden with bulging tote bags and tupperware. Dad says, “get the beer,” and gestures with full arms at the two six-packs on the ground. When I lock the door my mom turns around on the stairs, “We’re old and can’t hear anything anymore!”

My mother just returned from Pittsburgh where she visited a beer store whose name is now forgotten. Because she doesn’t know much about beer, she purchased a mixed sixer of IPAs whose labels she didn’t recognize and a six pack of an IPA from Pennsylvania. I only recognized one of the singles, so she did good.

While Mom gets dinner dished out, my dad says, “I say we start with one of these,” he rips off a can from the six-pack for me, “and then these,” gesturing at the mixer. I picture us both on our backs, passed out, and my mother leaning over us, irate. This is how we do tastings in my family.

Recently I’ve been looking at the technological side of beer tasting. There’s a surprising number of beer-related apps, for example. Everything from a virtual encyclopedia of beer abvs to rating “communities” to next drink recommendations. I checked out my little old, pink beer notebook that I kept pretty religiously for a few years. Most beer entries went like: Name / percentage & state of origin / bar or circumstance. Then mixed in among these are phone numbers with no name, band name ideas, email addresses for people I don’t remember. The handwriting gets more expansive as it moves down through the night. Does BeerAdvocate have a data field for bartender name and level of attractiveness? Continue reading

Happy National Farmers Market Week! August 2-8

taco trio

Squash and okra and mushrooms, oh my!

That’s right, everybody, it’s time for a holiday you probably didn’t know existed but won’t mind celebrating. After all, why shouldn’t we give some props to farmers markets, which bring fresh, healthy, local food to cities, where lots of people need and want it? And if you’re wondering how exactly to celebrate, I’ve got some suggestions.

Why not try out a market you’ve never been to before? This past Sunday, I visited my friend Mignon in D.C. and we hit up the DuPont Circle farmers market, a first trip for both of us. The wealth of samples won me over immediately. It reminded me of when my grandma and I used to form entire lunches out of the samples at Sam’s Club, except here it was oh-so-fresh peaches and cubes of artisan cheese. As if that wasn’t enough, we also indulged in the taco trio at the Chaia booth. Summer squash with dill sauce and goat cheese in a hot-off-the-griddle tortilla? Yes, please! Okay, sure, I was so in love with the market that I almost missed my bus, but if you told me I’d have to sprint through Union Station every time I ate one of those tacos, my decision would remain unchanged. Continue reading

You’re a Star, Green Bean: Loubieh B’Zeit

loubieh2Eggplant has eggplant parmesan. Spinach has spanakopita. Even the humble cabbage has cabbage rolls. But green beans too often get cast in only a supporting  role, shuffled off into perpetual side dish territory. And that’s too bad, since beautiful green beans are pouring in these days, from both our CSA and our own garden.

Luckily, there’s a delicious Lebanese dish that gives green beans their moment in the spotlight. It’s called loubieh b’zeit, and you can find many, many versions of it (and almost as many different spellings) on the ol’ Internet.  I used some combination of them to come up with my own. Most recipes call for Lebanese Seven Spice, but if that seems way too exotic for your neighborhood grocery, you can make a pretty good simulacrum from spices that are probably already in your cupboard: equal parts black pepper, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, allspice and coriander, all ground up together. (I think the real thing has fenugreek, but this will get you pretty close.)

Another great thing about this dish is that it’s often served cold or room temperature as a mezze, which means it’s practically begging to be a leftover. Stuff some the next day in a pita with some tzatziki sauce and you’ve got yourself a mean sandwich. And you know how I feel about sandwiches.

Loubieh B’Zeit Continue reading