Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Summer Scoop (or What I’ve Eaten for the Past Week)

Now that July is one-third over, I’m finally, officially in SUMMER MODE. Bring on the watermelon, the potato salad, the macaroni salad, not the egg salad, the hotdogs, the fluffy white buns whose interior texture mimics modified styrofoam! Bring on the funnel cakes and cotton candy: the inevitable gut rot.

Our July Fourth picnic (“Snax 4 America”) was a rollicking success. I was going to say, “To be fair, most picnics are,” but that’s not true. An overcast sky, an absent corkscrew, or a shortage of potato chips can turn a good picnic bad. We had a corkscrew, a jumbo size bag of Rip-L-chips, and a collective good attitude. Also, we had sunshine. And Tecate, and friendship!

Clockwise, from left: Trader Joe’s 100% pineapple juice (sold in overpackaged four-packs); Smirnoff marshmallow vodka; Rip-L-chips, which were two-for-one at my local Walgreen’s; Twizzlers; Trader Joe’s Good-N-Plenty-style candies; and the cocktail of the gods.

I discovered my new favorite cocktail quite by accident. The cocktail includes an adequate pour of chilled marshmallow vodka; ample soda water; and a splash of 100% pineapple juice. If you’re so inclined, add two ice cubes and a straw. Sarah and I sipped these marvels while readying for our picnic and listening to DadRock (i.e., John Cougar Mellencamp, more J.C. Mellencamp, Foreigner, CSNY, et al). If you add the proper amount of soda water, the drink is just the perfect amount of sweet; if you skimp, you will incur all the toothaches/headaches/stomachaches in the world. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I have an ongoing, informal goal to bust out of the food ruts I settle in. I know, I know! I castigate myself far too often, and for what? Being a creature drawn to projects, especially of the self-improvement variety, I adopted this loosely formed resolution. This week, I actually stuck to it.

Friday, I made two new dishes: one I haven’t made for months, and one I have never made. Exhibit A: Black-bean tacos with mango salsa.

I know: this picture is exceptionally bad, even by my knuckle-draggin’ standards. I was hungry, though, and just wanted to eat! Had you been there in my living room with me, you wouldn’t have blamed me.

Preparing the black beans is the easiest: dump a can of black beans (liquid included) into a medium-sized saucepan. Add cumin, red pepper flakes, the juice of one lime, and two cloves’ worth of minced garlic to the pot. Stir occasionally, allowing the liquid to reduce. When the beans are the consistency you prefer, remove pot from heat.

The salsa, too, is easy. Peel a mango, cut it into strips of equal size, and dice those strips into tiny cubes. Halve a bunch of grape tomatoes. Mince shallots and finely chop parsley. Juice a lime. Combine all ingredients with salt and pepper, and you’ve got yourself a condiment.

The never-before-made dish was eggplant pomodoro, adapted from Eating Well’s recipe. I don’t remember the last time I bought an eggplant, but I snagged one last week because it was 99 CENTS! Duuuuuude: healthy food for less than a dollar! After the bargain rush subsided, I was like, “Damn, what am I gonna do with this eggplant?” Enter pomodoro. As luck would have it, I had tomatoes, olives, capers, EVOO, and the requisite seasonings on hand.

Aside from not having enough tomatoes — I’d used about half the carton making that salsa — I followed Eating Well’s instructions allllllllmost to the T. (Added more seasonings because I love me some spice.)

And? This dish was a winner! Hella quick to whip up, its flavor is elevated via the capers and olives. Moreover, the eggplant, cooked in a liberal amount of olive oil, was silky rather than tough n’ chewy. Finally, the pomodoro reheats well, which bodes well for an episodic kitchen slacker like myself.

There you have it: two new recipes and a picnic. Oh! And I visited Southpaw for the first time, too, but that’s another story for another day. Until then, keep on rockin’ in the free world. I’ll do the same, sandwich in hand.

The Victory Garden Strikes Back

Slowly but surely, I’m trying to work myself out of the food rut I now occupy. Here’s the thing about ruts: they’re comfortable, if not always glamorous or practical. There’s a reason I eat cereal with berries most every morning; that reason, aside from Cereal Tastes Good, is the ease with which the meal is prepared. Breakfast on autopilot. Certain situations call for not-thinking, for a series of motions that carry you from Point A to Point B without the need for higher cognitive functioning. Breakfast, for me, is one of those situations.

Ruts are behavioral shortcuts that can, in the right dose, streamline one’s morning routine: one’s life.

Such streamlining can lead to complacency, though, and I know this firsthand. My diet has become borderline snooze. Friday, I felt itchy to eat something I’d never eaten before. I worked under the additional consideration of wanting to use materials I had at hand. (Note: I may or may not have been wearing loungewear on Friday afternoon — a sartorial choice that may or may not have influenced my resistance to hit up the Safeway.)

I began with a pound of carrots, The Victory Garden Cookbook, and a dream. Half an hour later, I had a batch of marinated carrots: tangy, tender-crisp coins that are perfect mixed with fresh greens or just eaten with a fork, even.

Out of respek for my main lady Marian Morash, I’m not going to post the recipe here. Really, you all should own The Victory Garden Cookbook: not only are the chapters divided by ingredient (which, helllllllllo, ease of use!), but the book features photos of rad, early-80s fashions — the perfect accompaniment to any cooking project. Or any project. Not normally one to preach about what y’all should/should not do, I do encourage the purchase of cookbooks, especially those central to one’s formative years.

Be advised that these carrots are totally noshable. I found myself sneaking back to the Tupperware, picking out a coin, returning the container to the fridge, and beginning anew. Bonus v 2.0: the recipe is exceedingly simple to prepare. I prepared it while talking on the phone and halfheartedly listening to this Chuck Berry album I bought for $1 on the street, and if my carrots turned out well, I’m sure yours will, too.

Bottom line: if you’re feeling lazy, making marinated carrots will make you feel like more of a functional adult. If you’re not feeling lazy, you’ll be pleased at having made a healthy, colorful side dish in 20 minutes flat. We’re all winners here!

With a Twist: Banana Chocolate-Chunk Muffins

G’day, Garkyfriends! Not sure how your week is panning out, but mine is A-OK, despite climatological gloom + a persistent headache. You know what, though? Gloomy weather makes working indoors seem like less of a task, and this headache will surely be dispelled with some ibuprofen + coconut water. Voila! Attitudinal magic works wonders.

These past few months, I’ve been really into buying flowers. Not only do blooms brighten the common spaces, but buying cut flowers seems like such an adult thing to do. I mean, it is an adult thing to do, but some actions — dry-cleaning delicate garments, scrubbing the bathtub, turning in early on a weekend night even though you don’t have to wake up early the next day — seem robustly more adult than others.

Fridays, returning from acupuncture, I stroll past a wholesale floral shop; it was there I got the red bouquet, plucked from a flimsy plastic bucket and cradled for the duration of my trip.

Friday flowers are becoming a ritual. Establishment and practice of rituals — small and large alike — is what drew me to writing. Likewise to cooking. I am, by nature, a collector, and these activities fortify my amassment tendencies.

Banana bread was my mom’s go-to baked good. She made it for PTA meetings and potlucks, gifting foil-wrapped loaves to the neighbors. As a kid, I wasn’t crazy about the bread — my extreme sweet tooth wasn’t sated by its subtle flavor — but I’ve come around. Flavorwise and associationally, banana bread is a gem. It’s quick to make, and it offers an outlet for the scratch-and-dent bananas that would otherwise land in the compost bin.

Instead of baking one loaf, I made muffins, which bake more quickly (20 minutes!) and are easier to store and eat. I made a few other mods to mom’s recipe, namely reducing the amount of sugar and oil, adding a bit more banana mush, and tossing in some coarsely chopped, sea-salt-flecked dark chocolate. This tinkering yielded delicious results.

Sweetish but not cloying, toeing the line of wholesomeness, these muffins are a new standby.

Banana Chocolate-Chunk Muffins (makes 12)

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • Two eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/4 cup mashed bananas (appox. two large)
  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar (I used Turbinado, but use what you have on hand!)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • One high-quality chocolate bar, roughly chopped

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease a muffin pan (or line each cup with cupcake papers — you do you!).
  2. In a medium bowl, combine oil, eggs, and bananas.
  3. In a large bowl, mix well all dry ingredients, including chocolate. Once dry ingredients are mixed, add wet ingredients, mixing just to combine.
  4. Spoon batter into the muffin pan, filling each cup only 2/3 full.
  5. Pop the pan in the oven, set your timer for 20 minutes, and clean up (or not). Muffins are done when a fork inserted into one comes out clean.

 

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Happy (Belated) Donut Day!

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Happy Day-after-National-Donut-Day, friends! And a fine National Donut Day it was here in SF: sunny, breezy, not too cool. Post coffee and pre acupuncture, I wandered through Noe Valley and snapped the above picture to document the lovely weather.

Confession: I almost didn’t partake in NDD festivities. I KNOW, I know: totally blasphemous thinking, but when I yawned and stretched and made myself coffee, I was more in the mood for a bagel than anything else. But you know about the bagel situation in this city; if you don’t know, rest assured that the bagel scene here is nonexistent. (Note: Haven’t tried bagels from Wise Sons yet, but it’s at the top of my to-do list.)

Like a champ, I rallied and headed to the Jelly Donut.

I knew before I reached the counter which donut I’d order. That’s one of my strengths, you know: Extreme Donut Decisiveness. As last time — as always — I selected the oblong buttermilk fritter cloaked deep in chocolate frosting. Here’s a visual:

Big as a lumberjack’s fist, this lit’l guy called to me from the display case, beckoning with a heavily frosted finger. The cashier threw in a few (three) donut holes for my snacking pleasure, and I was on my way.

I settled into one of my whiskey barrel chairs and ate slowly, using a fork and knife. Silverware wasn’t the best idea. The donut crumbled under the pressure of the knife, but no matter — I scooped up the frosting crumbles because, as we all know, frosting waste is to be avoided at all costs.

Another confession: I couldn’t finish my donut. (I’m expecting you all to be like, “What happened to you out there, Baumer?”) The truth is, the donut was just too much: too big, too sweet, too oily. Its frosting was half an inch thick, and as much as I love frosting, I love my tooth enamel more. To my credit, I ate about 2/3 before throwing in the towel. Alas! Next year, I’ll have my game face on and select a less formidable opponent.

I’ve gotta hop in the shower and prep for a picnic, but happy belated National Donut Day to you all!

A Day In the Life

When I say I eat like a frat guy, I’m not kidding around. I thought of this a moment ago as my glance lighted on the plate that, just minutes earlier, had held BBQ-chicken frozen pizza and a s’mores Pop Tart. (Yep, it was that kind of night.)

As an ode to tried-and-true features in women’s magazines everywhere, I thought I’d post a tru-lyfe account of my day in food. Ahem!

I allllllmost bought these, but resisted. #admirablerestraint

8:30: Woke up; a bit rugged. Put coffee on before I showered and, post-shower, horqed said coffee and a small bowl of hippie cereal (feat. flax, pumpkin seeds, oats, etc.)

1:00: After a leisurely Target jaunt during which clearance wine, cat litter, and a king-sized box of Cheez Its were purchased, it was lunchtime. Klassy dames that we are, Sabina and I hit up the adjacent Hooters, where I enjoyed most of an order of boneless buffalo wings and half a plate of fries. Also a bloody Mary: Grey Goose and extra olives.

It should be noted that our lunch visit coincided with a casting call for the show “Bad Girls Club,” which I’ve never seen. Our waitress described the show’s premise as “ghetto girls fighting with each other.” I don’t understand the absence of an apostrophe in the title. Moving on!

6:00: Returned home, where Sarah, Brent, and Kent were sippin’ Tecates. In solidarity, I also sipped one.

6:47: Hunger strikes! Noshed Cheez Its while chatting with mother on phone.

7:47: Dinnertime. Rather than cooking Actual Food, I succumbed to my baser urges and popped in a frozen pizza. Ate half of said pizza while scanning my G-reader and listening to The Kinks. For dessert? A s’mores Pop Tart straight from the freezer. Frozen Pop-Tart filling has a consistency similar to that of saltwater taffy, which is one reason I like the treats frozen rather than cooked.

***

There you go: a day in the dietary life of Garky. I’ll admit, I wrote this post mainly to amuse myself, but if y’all gain secondary enjoyment from reading about my simple-carb consumption, all the better! Perhaps A Day in the Life will become a recurrent feature? We shall see.

PS: Totally listened to “A Day in the Life” while writing, natch. Hadn’t heard the song in years but man, has it held up.

Joy of Joys

I’ve been gone; I’m back now, if only brief & flittingly. I’ve got no real excuse for the non-posting, my only sort-of excuse being the visiting of family, the suddenly warm and breezy weather that makes me want to abandon all my formal tasks and just walk.

Though I wasn’t posting them, I gathered a lot of meals & stories these past few weeks, one of my favorites being a simple quinoa salad that I dressed up with a new vinaigrette. Besides the grain, the dish contained roasted chickpeas and sweet potatoes, bathed in olive oil, s&p; salt-and-pepper pecans; golden raisins; fresh snap peas, cut into sections; roasted grape tomatoes (not yet burst); a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, s&p, dried tarragon, and fresh mint; and, finally, goat cheese, mixed in after the salad had cooled a bit.

Yes, I just spelled out the ingredients list for that salad, that’s how satisfying it was. I’m going to replicate it; I have just the sweet potato prepared.

My favorite story, though, is my first trip to The Jelly Donut. Since I first saw it, perched at 24th and South Van Ness, I’d longed to go. I put off visiting, in part out of fear that the donuts might not meet my expectations (what if they tasted like old grease?). Really, though, I enjoyed the longing: the anticipation of the day I’d cross the bootscuffed threshold and pause before the display case.

My history with donuts is a long one, more storied than you might assume. I’ve waxed nostalgic for Hans’ Bakery, the donut shop of my youth where you could get a glazed donut as large as a plate, its interior lighter than spun air. I’ve also mentioned my fond feelings for Swedough’s, whose burnt-orange decorating scheme and aging clientele make one feel as though they’ve fallen into a wormhole and landed in 1976. In both cases, I love these donut shops not simply for their wares (though DAMN, do I love donuts), but for the experience they provide: temporary relief from the exigencies of daily life.

My first Jelly Donut experience was wholly unexpected. Having eaten dinner and had a cocktail, Alex and I faced a long wait for the bus. Rather than sitting in the [relative] cold, A. suggested we get a donut. And, despite having just eaten, the lure of fried dough was irresistible: time and time again, I’d passed by that smudged plate glass, only to walk on past, but not that night. “OK,” I said, when I really meant, “Oh HELL yes!”

I knew immediately which donut I wanted: that one, the chocolate-covered behemoth pictured above. When in doubt, I opt for the largest-available, chocolate-frosted treat. (When not in doubt, I opt for the same thing.) My standby didn’t let me down. I undid the golden dough from the coils into which it had been fried, trying not to get chocolate all over my hands and face; mostly, I succeeded. Contrary to my initial prediction, the donut did not taste like old grease — in fact, it was airy and not-too-sweet, though the frosting may have given me insta-diabetes.

What I enjoyed most about the trip — indeed, what I enjoy about most donut jaunts — was occupying the dining room. Those well-wiped tables and serviceable chairs make me feel I could be just about anywhere. Donut places have about them a certain desolation, a silence that isn’t replicated in other establishments, even those with a similar price point and customer base. There’s a loneliness, a desire for a moment of peace and quiet; it’s reflected in the charred-coffee smell and the fluorescent lights’ flicker and the pleasant detachment of the woman running the till. It’s a mild, meditative disengagement from The Routine: a respite I’ll never give up, despite the barrage of bad news about refined sugars.

I don’t have a donut shop here (“my” shop). I love Bob’s, but it’s too far away to establish itself as a haunt. The Jelly Donut, though lacking some of Bob’s charm, has a solid product and a grittiness that resonates with me. It’s miles closer, too, and open late. I foresee more J.D. trips in the future: the late-night future, replete with unpopulated muni rides, wind-whipped scarves, adventure.

Semi-Homemade: Thoughts on Convenience

This morning, I came upon Emily Matchar’s Hairpin article The First Sandra Lee: Poppy Cannon and Her Can-Opener Cuisine, and my brain perked up. I thought I was in for a real treat — the rhetorical equivalent of a triple-layer chocolate cake, cemented with layers of buttercream and lovingly scattered with flakes of chocolate. And I was in for a treat, though one by no means as decadent as the one I imagined — more of an intellectual sponge cake, soaked in low-rent rum and sprinkled with the zest of a shriveling orange.

Matchar begins with an introduction to Poppy Cannon: food editor, cookbook author, and lady about town. Cannon was no dolt; she knew good cuisine when she saw it, yet she elected to write about can-opener cooking. Such a decision brought criticism upon Cannon, who didn’t care — after all, she was makin’ money and livin’ the dream. (All together now: money talks and bullshit walks.)

Further into her post, Matchar compares Cannon to modern-day frozen-foods whiz Sandra Lee, who, like her predecessor, has come under heat for her “recipes.” Superficially, at least, the women are similar: both faced adversity as children and longed to get the hell out of Dodge; both profited enormously from their advocacy of quik-n-easy foodstuffs. But there the similarities end. Where Cannon was an innovator, Lee is merely upcycling a decades-old concept, repackaging it in a millennial-friendly manner.

At the time Cannon was writing, convenience foods were a relatively new concept. Canned foods had been around for a while, but TV dinners were viewed (so I’m told) as a miracle product — a way for housewives to provide their husbands with a warm, nourishing meal without spending hours in the kitchen.

Today, of course, heat-and-eat foods aren’t viewed with the same impunity. Reviled as junk and made the target of class-focused arguments, frozen meals and components are the red-headed stepchildren of the food world. Not as nutritionally void as Pringles, Twizzlers, and Pizza Rolls, frozen and canned foods are almost worse off; by asserting themselves as nutritive, they draw more contempt and cynical evaluation than they would otherwise.

But I’m not here to hate on canned foods; I’m here to examine the critical difference between Poppy Cannon and Sandra Lee. Matchar draws comparisons between the women to illustrate her point about convenience-food haters. She quotes chef Michael Ruhlman, who claims that cooking with other people and eating homemade food is “part of what makes us human.” Retorts Matchar, “unlike Ruhlman, both Sandra Lee and Poppy Cannon understood that some full-blooded human beings actually find cooking a giant pain in the ass.”

Which is true — some people do find cooking a major pain in the ass. I’m not one of those people. What Matchar fails to acknowledge is that Sandra Lee doesn’t cater to people who truly find cooking a pain in the ass. Those individuals have available to them a glorious array of fully prepared, fairly nutritious meals; every supermarket has a frozen section filled with fully prepared meals, and more and more markets have salad or hot bars with entrees ready to be eaten. People who actually hate cooking rely on these options. Or they eat at restaurants. Or they wait for others to cook for them.

On the contrary, Lee targets people who like the idea of cooking, who view the process as something valuable, but for whatever reason don’t want to engage in the process from start to finish. If Lee’s target demo didn’t care for cooking at all, they’d open a can of Dinty Moore and call it a day. Even the title of Lee’s show (Semi-Homemade) acknowledges the value of a homemade meal. Matchar miscategorizes Lee’s audience and, as a result, weakens her argument.

Cannon, who aimed her book at “working girls,” was writing at a time when women had recently gained the option to enter the workforce. The necessity of balancing work life and domestic tasks was a new one for many women. Not so for Lee’s audience. That is to say, many women (and men) still struggle to balance their work and home lives, but the struggle itself is nothing new.

Lee’s purpose isn’t to alleviate the struggle; it’s to stoke the self-esteem of people who want to make homemade meals but are too lazy. Her recipes occupy a strange doldrummy space: hideously unappetizing, they require a decent — but not an overwhelming — amount of prep. They yield products that are pointillistically “homemade;” get closer to the table and you’ll recognize that that gorgeous pie is really just graham-cracker crumbs topped with cherry sludge and Reddi-Whip. Failing on the levels of nutrition and taste, Lee’s recipes are little more than window dressing.

Maybe Cannon’s are, too, but they’re the window dressing of an earlier era, a time during which such a classification held different cultural associations. Food snobbery has always existed, but its targets were different in 1951 than currently. Matchar’s primary oversight is her failure to acknowledge the very different cultures in which Cannon and Lee worked.

Matchar is right: there are people for whom cooking is a giant pain in the ass. There are also people for whom cooking is a semi pain in the ass, and those people are the followers of Lee.

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Image sources: [1], [2], [3], [4]