Years of Living Dangerously

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The Aliens Have Landed

In the ’30s, as Germany rearmed, we said, “Yeah, France can handle that.” Earlier this week, the Panzer Corps of climate change zoomed right around our Maginot line of denial, and we all became the retreating French.

The disaster we refused to acknowledge has arrived. And now, as then, many people are just giving up. “Oh, well,” countless friends and co-workers muttered Monday, “nothing to do now.”

Read the rest of this column here

Posted in Uncategorized

Cinco de Mayo, VB6-Style

Tofu Ceviche

In celebration of  Cinco de Mayo (this coming Monday), and the official release of my new book, The VB6 Cookbook (this coming Tuesday), below is a recipe (and here’s another one) for enjoying the holiday VB6-style.

Tofu Ceviche

Makes: 4 servings

Time: 20 minutes, plus pickling time

Tofu is made a lot like cheese, so it doesn’t require cooking. It does, however, benefit from marinating, and—within limits—the longer the better. There are so many ways to eat this refreshing dish: over greens, brown rice, or grains; with Boston lettuce leaves for wrapping; tossed with whole wheat angel hair; tucked into warm corn tortillas; or of course, all on its own.

Ingredients

1½ pounds firm tofu (1½ blocks)

½ cup cider vinegar or sherry vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoons salt

4 scallions, sliced

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 bunch radishes, sliced or chopped

1 cucumber, sliced or chopped

1 avocado, cubed

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ teaspoon pepper

½ cup chopped fresh cilantro

Directions:

1. Cut the tofu into small cubes. Put the vinegar, sugar, salt, and 1 cup water in a large bowl. Whisk to combine, then add the scallions, garlic, and tofu; toss gently to coat with the marinade. Refrigerate for as little as 15 minutes or up to 2 days.

2. Drain the tofu mixture, reserving the pickling liquid. Put the tofu mixture in a large bowl and add the radishes, cucumber, and avocado.

3. Toss the ceviche with 2 tablespoons of the reserved liquid, and the olive oil and pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more pickling liquid if you like. Sprinkle with the cilantro and serve.

Variations:

  • Greek-Style Tofu Ceviche: Use red wine vinegar instead of cider. Swap 1 small red onion for the scallions, 2 tomatoes for the radishes, capers or chopped olives for the avocado, and parsley for the cilantro.
  • Vietnamese-Style Tofu Ceviche: Use lime juice instead of the vinegar and add 1 or 2 teaspoons fish sauce (unless you’re being strictly vegan). Try fresh mint or Thai basil instead of the cilantro. Top with crushed peanuts if desired.

More Ideas

Make it even more herbaceous by tossing in fresh basil and mint along with the cilantro.

Posted in Uncategorized

Not Enough Cooks in the Kitchen

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Last month I ate at Camino, a Cali-Med-Asian (that is, no-holds-barred) restaurant in Oakland, Calif. Camino is funky and open, and its look, which lacks pretense, offers little clue about the delights that await. There are long wooden communal tables for you and 29 of your closest friends, over which hang chandeliers that could pass for medieval drying racks. There’s live fire in a wide-open kitchen. The whole effect is even more casual than the upstairs at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, which was perhaps the original setting for tablecloth-free four-star food. It was also the place where Russ Moore, Camino’s chef and co-owner, worked for 20 years.

Moore is a self-described half Korean, half “New England white mix.” He grew up in Redondo Beach and, he says, “ate almost exclusively Asian food, except for fast food and garbage like that.” At some point, he did a three-month stint at L.A. Trade Tech, which he quit to take a job at “a crappy Italian restaurant.” He eventually moved to the Bay Area, where David Tanis, who was then a chef at Chez Panisse, took him on.

Read the rest of this article here.

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Butter is Back

Julia Child, goddess of fat, is beaming somewhere. Butter is back, and when you’re looking for a few chunks of pork for a stew, you can resume searching for the best pieces — the ones with the most fat. Eventually, your friends will stop glaring at you as if you’re trying to kill them.

That the worm is turning became increasingly evident a couple of weeks ago, when a meta-analysis published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine found that there’s just no evidence to support the notion that saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease. (In fact, there’s some evidence that a lack of saturated fat may be damaging.) The researchers looked at 72 different studies and, as usual, said more work — including more clinical studies — is needed. For sure. But the days of skinless chicken breasts and tubs of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! may finally be drawing to a close.

Read the rest of this column here.

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The Magic of Masa

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If you’re interested in a serious project, you can make the best tortillas you’ve ever had by soaking and washing dried hominy — corn that has been treated with slaked lime — then grinding it to produce masa, or “dough.” Then you press out small discs and griddle them. Do that, and you’ll have my admiration.

Or you can do what so many people do: Start with masa harina, or “masa flour,” which you mix with water and a little fat. The dough takes five minutes to make (it’s better, but not essential, to let it rest for a while), and the pressing and griddling is simple and fun. If you buy a handy tortilla press, you can skip rolling or hand-pressing, but you don’t need one. (You can also buy freshly made masa, sold at many Latino supermarkets, which will also save you a step, and whose quality is usually quite high.)

Read the rest of this column and get the recipes here.

Posted in Mexican

The Unhip, Unexpected Joys of Cruising

I have an embarrassing admission to make: I like cruises.

This is, of course, among the least hip things one can say. My friends look at me with incredulity. I feel the glare of the late David Foster Wallace, who in his 1996 Harper’s essay “Shipping Out,” later retitled “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” exposed cruises for the torturous, un-fun things they can be. So be it.

There is a qualification here: I have worked on cruises, as part of the “entertainment staff.” (Though I’m not very entertaining, I may actually be funnier than the so-called comedian.) This comes with the very real benefit of not paying, although there is the downside of having to work, and being bossed around a bit. So I may miss a few hours of time to myself in order to give a lecture or prep ingredients or demonstrate recipes. Or even get cornered by curious fellow passengers, asking things like “Oh, you’re the celebrity chef?” (Which I’m not, but close enough.) In short, I’m less busy than the servers, but more obligated than the average passenger.

Read the rest of this essay here.

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Exploiting California’s Drought

The San Joaquin Valley in California can be stunningly beautiful: On a visit two weeks ago, I saw billions of pink almond blossoms peaking, with the Sierra Nevada towering over all. It can also be a hideous place, the air choked with microparticles of unpleasant origins (dried cow dung, sprayed chemicals, blowing over-fertilized soil), its cities like Fresno and Bakersfield sprawling incoherently and its small towns suffering from poverty, populated by immigrants from places as near as Baja, Mexico, and as far as Punjab, India.

This year, much of its land is a dull, dusty brown rather than the bright green that’s “normal” here, even if “normal” is more desire than reality. With water, this is the best agricultural land in the world. Without it, not so much.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics

Food News You Need to Know

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The government’s new nutrition labels — the first in 20 years — will let families know whether their food has added sugars for the first time, and reflect more realistic portion sizes.

Related: New W.H.O. guidelines recommend that sugar make up only 5 percent of your daily calories. That’s 100 calories, which at four calories a gram would be 25 grams of sugar.

This is why we’re unhealthy, Buzzfeed explains in a video. For instance: The average person consumes 19 tablespoons of sugar a day, the maximum recommended amount recommended by the American Heart Association is 6 to 9 teaspoons.

Get the rest of the links here.

Posted in Food Politics

Rethinking Our “Rights” to Dangerous Behaviors

In the last few years, it’s become increasingly clear that food companies engineer hyperprocessed foods in ways precisely geared to most appeal to our tastes. This technologically advanced engineering is done, of course, with the goal of maximizing profits, regardless of the effects of the resulting foods on consumer health, natural resources, the environment or anything else.

But the issues go way beyond food, as the City University of New York professor Nicholas Freudenberg discusses in his new book, “Lethal but Legal: Corporations, Consumption, and Protecting Public Health.” Freudenberg’s case is that the food industry is but one example of the threat to public health posed by what he calls “the corporate consumption complex,” an alliance of corporations, banks, marketers and others that essentially promote and benefit from unhealthy lifestyles.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics