Compiled by Jess Daniel, Steamy Kitchen intern
1) This week I had some old friends come visit. After spending some time on the requisite farm-y tasks: pulling carrots, communing with chickens, picking blackberries for jam, they convinced me to leave my island for a day to venture out into the big city. So Sunday night, we hopped the ferry to the mainland and hightailed it for Jerry Traunfeld’s SEATTLE RESTAURANT, Poppy. I’ve been cooking out of Traunfeld’s Herbfarm cookbook for the whole summer and have fallen head-over-heels into a serious food-crush, so I couldn’t help but dress up nice and spritz on a little extra L’Instant de ‘Guerlain beforehand. And let me tell you, Jerry did not disappoint. What happens when farm, fisherman and culinary genius collide? Answer: my thali platter. Truly, just the qualicum scallops and pork belly with corn sauce were enough to make me swoon.
2) Oh, to be Jerry, concocting magical food adventures for the masses, but, alas!, I have other goals that take up lots of energy — like becoming Dr. Daniel (the PhD kind), and cleaning 300 lbs of potatoes in just a couple of weeks. There are days when I’m exhausted and I just can’t imagine peeling a beet or soaking a tamarind pod and other times when I realize I’m on an island where there are no kaffir lime leaves for miles and miles! But I still want good food, so at times like those, I have to admit, I cheat . My current favorite quick route to food bliss is packets of pre-packaged sauces and mixes for whipping up all of my favorite SINGAPOREAN SPECIALTIES. Yes, they have Hainanese Chicken Rice (really, that one’s not so hard to begin with), but they also have Beef Rendang, Laksa, and an all-time favorite, Chili Crab. You’re in charge the raw ingredients, these Prima packets bring the party: squeeze, stir, mix and serve over rice.
3) Speaking of packets of intense flavor, what do you all think about FERMENTED BEAN CURD? Fragrant, amazing, yummy, or do you have the reaction of this guy? This week, Robin Eckhardt of EatingAsia had some gorgeous photos of bean curd doing its thing in the hot sun in Meinong and it made me nostalgic. I first started using the super pungent, sour stuff when in Cambodia — in dipping sauces for beef dishes and grilled meats, and as flavoring for stir-fried greens. It’s got a cheesy “ripe” flavor (not to be mistaken for “Cambodian cheese,” aka Prahok, aka fermented fish) and its best eaten in small quantities as a condiment.
4) So this month, I’ve done a lot of sitting in the barn, scrubbing away at potatoes with a piece of burlap sack to get them clean enough to store for the winter. There’s a certain meditative quality to cleaning potatoes, scrub scrub scrub, turn, wipe wipe, scrub some more. But eventually, when I can no longer amuse myself with thoughts of gnocchi or latkes, I pull out my trusty ipod and turn on my virtual buddy Jon Steinman. Steinman is a Canuck who hosts a radio show and podcast called Deconstructing Dinner. It’s a show all about, you guessed it, FOOD — and all the whos, whats, whens, wheres and whys of our food that you’d never ever think to ask. Some of the episodes are pretty Debbie Downer (food companies supporting child labor, anyone?) but my favorite parts are when he highlights farmers and sustainable food businesses and chefs and talks to them about why they do what they do.
5) If he was on this side of the border, Jon might have reported this month on the slew of “Eat Ins” that happened in schools across the US this past Monday to call attention to what’s on the plates of many of the kids here in the States. I have not-so-fond memories of Jr. High featuring second-rate bean burritos, personal pizzas, and dry bready bagels. I’ve heard from friends who were on the inside (lunchroom aides!) that our school kitchen didn’t feature much more than a microwave, so I very much appreciate Slow Food USA’s efforts to influence the Child Nutrition Act and beef up school kitchens and train kitchen staff to do more than “nuke and serve.”
6) This week too, we got our first nationally recognized green restaurant certification standard. Soon, you’ll be able to choose your restaurant not just based on its deliciousness, but also on its friendliness to the environment. GREEN SEAL the certification organization, will have a three tiered system: Bronze, Silver and Gold. I wonder if this’ll make it into Yelp reviews?
8) I wonder if this kind of thing would recruit more people to become FRUIT GLEANERS? It’s already a pretty cool thing to volunteer with an urban fruit gathering organization. Folks have got fruit in their backyards going to waste; others go pick it, give some to the fruit tree owner, take some home and distribute some to those who need it. Win, win, win. Buuuuuut, I think I’d be even more likely to volunteer to pick fruit in a neighbor’s backyard if it was shaped like buddha, or a smurf, or what about those funny treasure trolls? Anyhoo, perhaps I’ll send an email to the Portland Fruit Tree Project, or these guys in Toronto.
9) Last random thought for this week. COOK WITH TEA . It’s not something I’ve thought much about, but last week I had some extra figs and ended up making Fig-Star Anise-Tea bread, inspired by a recipe from Jenny of JennyBakes. It sounded amazing and ended up tasting even better and ever since I’ve been hooked on random tea-based recipes. The latest: cornmeal blackberry muffins with Earl Grey infusion. Next up, Real Simple’s earl grey cookies. I’ll bet there are some yummy savory dishes that feature tea too. Have you made something yummy with tea? I want to know!