Tasting the Feelings of Food

This past Fall, my good friend Monica who now lives in Toronto sent me a novel she thought I would enjoy: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Amiee Bender. She was quite right, I did enjoy it.

The basic gist of the book is this: The night before she is to turn nine, Rose Edelstein’s mom bakes her a lemon-chocolate cake. Within the first bite, she realizes that she tastes not only the flavors of lemon and chocolate, but the emotions of her mother in the cake, and they are not pleasant emotions, rather they are feelings of absence, hunger, spiraling, hollow, emptiness.

The story chronicles Rose’s life as she learns to live with this curse/gift in search of love. Along the way she can taste when her mom has an affair and finally she finds love in food from a little French café, where she ends up working just to be near the woman chef who pours love into her cooking.

Since reading the book, I have thought a lot about what it might be like to taste the emotions of the person who cooked our food. Specifically what would people taste when they ate my food? Bitterness? Anger? Frustration? Sadness? Loneliness? Happiness? Love? Contentment? Joy? Pleasure?

My hope/desire/longing would be that people taste love and joy and peace in my cooking. I know that is not always the case as there are days when I do not want to be at work. And there are days when I find it tough to heat up spaghetti sauce filled with love for fifth graders.

There will be many days in my life when I do not feel like cooking, but must because it is my job. What am I to do in such a situation? Trying to conjure up “happy, feel-good” emotions is not the answer, for I am tired of pretending, repressing and faking what I am truly feeling. Maybe it is simply opening to the Holy Spirit in truth about how I feel, and asking that I might be empowered by the love of Jesus to feed the people I must feed.

After all, my desire is not that they taste my love, but His Love. That as they give thanks, and break bread, eyes would be open to see Jesus in their midst even if but for an hour or two as they dine.

Black-Bean, Tomato and Corn Quinoa

Up until tonight I had never tried quinoa. No particular reason, I had just never gotten around to buying some and making it. Last week, however, I was looking at the Buzz Box (recipes that have been most commented on, for good or for bad, within a certain period) on Epicurious and came across this recipe which people raved about.

In case you are curious, quinoa has been a staple to Bolivian diet for centuries being rich in essential amino acids. The plant has only recently become popular in America and Europe. Quinoa is also not a grain, as I thought until today, but actually a chenopod, related to spinach and beets.

The recipe sounded flavorful, easy and healthy, which turned out to be true once I prepared it. Plus, all the ingredients cost pennies, another plus as newlyweds living on my meager salary and student loans.

I made a few additions to the recipe. I added a minced jalapeno that I had deseeded (unfortunately the jalapeno provided no heat). I also added some frozen corn that I roasted in a cast iron pan, which added a lovely sweetness to the dish. Finally, I cooked the quinoa in 1 ½ cups of vegetable stock. I rinsed the quinoa, then put the quinoa and vegetable stock in a 2 quart pot and brought to a boil, reduced the heat and let it simmer until tender for about 25 minutes.

The dish tasted so fresh and wonderful from the lime vinaigrette to the fresh tomatoes to the cilantro. It was a great, quick weeknight meal. You do not necessarily need to as quinoa is a complete protein, but if you feel the need to add more protein, a grilled chicken breast or fresh fish or shrimp would be great served alongside this dish.

Side note and maybe a little soap box: I came across this article on the NY Times website today about quinoa’s rising prices and the affect that is having on Bolivian farmers. Because quinoa has become so popular in America and Europe it has become too expensive for Bolivians to afford. While the demand for quinoa has been good for the economic growth of regions, the Bolivian government is seeing a rise in child malnutrition among quinoa farmers, according to the article.

The most disturbing part of the article for me was reading David Schnorr’s, one of the largest quinoa importers in the United States, response to the problem. He states, “It’s kind of discouraging to see stuff like this happen, but that’s part of life and economics.” I am sorry, but hunger and child malnutrition is never part of life and economics especially when the problem could be easily fixed, or so it seems to me. Why couldn’t part of the quinoa be set aside for consumption within Bolivia at a cheaper price?

Obviously the problem lies in both the importer and the Bolivian exporters. If American and European companies are willing to pay a higher premium for the crop, the Bolivian producers are obviously going to sell to those companies instead of trying to help their fellow countrymen. Hopefully by the NY Times shedding some light on the subject, a solution can be worked out.

But it also makes me stop to ponder what should my response be to such a situation?

Thanks for sticking with me. Here is the recipe.

Bon appétit!

Black-Bean, Corn and Tomato Quinoa

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons grated lime zest
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 (14- to 15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 2 cups frozen corn, roasted in a cast iron pan
  • 4 scallions, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Preparation

Whisk together lime zest and juice, butter, oil, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4teaspoon pepper in a large bowl.

Wash quinoa in 3 changes of cold water in a bowl, draining in a sieve each time.

Cook quinoa in a medium pot of boiling salted water (1 tablespoon salt for 2 quarts water), uncovered, until almost tender, about 10 minutes. Drain in sieve, then set sieve in same pot with 1 inch of simmering water (water should not touch bottom of sieve). Cover quinoa with a folded kitchen towel, then cover sieve with a lid (don’t worry if lid doesn’t fit tightly) and steam over medium heat until tender, fluffy, and dry, about 10 minutes. Remove pot from heat and remove lid. Let stand, still covered with towel, 5 minutes.

Add quinoa to dressing and toss until dressing is absorbed, then stir in remaining ingredients and salt and pepper to taste.

Fat Tuesday Cupcakes

Claire and I are participating in Lent this year. This is actually the first time for me participating in Lent. Not to completely blame my Evangelical heritage, but I do not believe that Lent was ever mentioned in the church. It is really unfortunate when you think about it as Lent is meant as a preparatory phase to contemplate the death of Christ.

Traditionally Lent is a 40 day fast beginning on Ash Wednesday and concluding on Easter. The 40 day period corresponds to Jesus’ time in the wilderness before his public ministry in which he was tempted by Satan. Most people who celebrate Lent do not count Sundays, as every Sunday is a mini-Resurrection Feast day.

Also within the Roman Catholic tradition, it is customary to fast from meat, excluding fish, products during Lent. As more and more Evangelicals participate in Lent, it is taking on a new form, which I think has some merits. As I have hared it framed, Christians are encouraged to give up a certain vice that is particularly a struggle for them. As Claire and I thought and prayed about it, we came up with the idea to fast from sweets and television (including movies and Hulu).

Fasting from sweets has been difficult at times. For one thing, working in a kitchen where dessert is served on a regular basis, means that I am seeing and plating desserts on almost a daily basis. Two, many times after a meal it is nice to have something a little sweet. But through this, Jesus is gently showing me how my heart desires sweets, and how little, at times, my heart desires Him.

So the day before Ash Wednesday, I volunteered to bring a snack to the small group which Claire and I joined through the church we attend. I had a number of ripened bananas in the freezer and when I came upon this recipe for Banana Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Frosting on Epicurious, I knew that this is what I wanted to make. It helped that I had most of the ingredients on hand, save for the sour cream and cream cheese. Plus who does not love the combination of bananas with peanut butter? It’s like being a little kid all over again, except better.

Everyone loved the cupcakes. The cake part was moist and light without falling apart with a great banana flavor. The sour cream added to the moistness of the cake, while also tempering the sweetness (I am not a fan of overly sweet desserts). The frosting was even better. First, I love cream cheese frosting, probably because of the sourness the cream cheese adds. The peanut butter was not over powering but added just the right amount of flavor. The frosting was so good Claire and I had to restrain ourselves from eating all of the leftover frosting straight from the bowl. I can only imagine how good the frosting would be on a chocolate cupcake.

A couple tips on cake making: as you incorporate the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients, be careful not to over-mix. Over-mixing the batter will develop gluten which will produce a chewier, tougher cake. While this is desirable in bread making, it is not desirable in cake making. The same principle applies to pancakes, muffins, cakes, and biscuits. You basically want to mix only until blended.

Also, if you have it, you can use cake flour in lieu of AP Flour, which will also produce a fluffier, lighter cake. I used ½ cup cake flour and ¾ cup AP Flour. In case you are curious, cake flour is typically 7-9% protein, AP Flour is 10-12%, and bread flour is 12.5-13.5%.

Bon appétit!

Banana Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting

Makes 12 cupcakes

Ingredients

Cupcakes:

  • 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 very ripe large bananas, peeled
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk

Frosting:

  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup smooth peanut butter (do not use old-fashioned or freshly ground)
  • Chopped lightly salted roasted peanuts (optional)

Preparation

For cupcakes:
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Line 12 standard (1/3-cup) muffin cups with paper liners. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Mash bananas with fork in another medium bowl until smooth. Mix sour cream and vanilla into bananas.

Using electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in large bowl until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg and egg yolk and beat until well blended. Add flour mixture in 3 additions alternately with banana-sour cream mixture in 2 additions, beginning and ending with flour mixture and beating just until blended after each addition. Divide batter among prepared muffin cups (generous 1/4 cup for each).

Bake cupcakes until tester inserted into center of each comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer cupcakes to rack and let cool completely.

For frosting:
Sift powdered sugar into large bowl. Add cream cheese, butter, and peanut butter. Using electric mixer, beat mixture until smooth. Spread frosting over top of cupcakes, dividing equally. Sprinkle lightly with chopped peanuts, if desired. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

French Onion Soup

With a freezer stocked with chicken and beef stock, the only reasonable thing to do was to make soup. A couple of months ago, I had received an email from America’s Test Kitchen containing a link to a video in which they demonstrated how to make French Onion Soup. Both Claire and I love French Onion Soup, and after watching the video a couple of times to write down the recipe, a free Sunday seemed to be the perfect day to make the soup.

The soup will feed six people, and will take 3-4 hours to make.

Here is what you will need:

  • 4 pounds yellow onions
  • 3 TBSP butter
  • 1 ½ tsp salt, divided
  • 3 cups water, divided
  • ½ cup dry sherry
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Toasted baguette slices
  • Grated Gruyere cheese

Preheat oven to 400° F. Coat a dutch oven pot with cooking spray to prevent onions from sticking (I have a 5 quart and it worked fine). Put the 3 tablespoons of butter in the pot. Slice the four pounds of onion pole to pole ¼” thick (see photograph for illustration) and put all the onions in the pot. This is definitely the worst part of the whole experience, as I found myself tearing up a lot. Power through as the end result is definitely worth the little pain. Top the onions one half teaspoon salt.

Cover the pot and roast for one hour. After the hour, remove the pot from the oven and give the onions a stir, making sure to scrap down the sides.

Roast the onions for another 90 minutes, stirring and scraping after an hour, cracking the lid for the last 30 minutes. (I forgot to cover the onions which resulted in the onions being slightly burnt.)

After 90 minutes, cook the onions on the stove over medium-high heat for 15-20 minutes making sure the onions do not burn and the bottom of the pan does not turn black. The pan will look quite ugly, but the goal is to develop fond, which is good flavor, as long as it is not burnt.

Deglaze the pan with ¼ cup of water, waiting until most of the water has evaporated, about 6-8 minutes. Repeat another 3 times, using a total of one cup of water.

Deglaze the pan with ½ cup dry sherry, again waiting until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes.

Add 4 cups of chicken stock, 2 cups of beef stock and 2 cups of water, or any mixture thereof (more beef stock will result in a richer soup). Add another ½ teaspoon of salt and the bay leaf. Simmer for 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Ladle the soup into oven/broiler safe bowls, top with toasted bread and grated cheese. Bake in oven until the cheese is melted and slightly brown.

The soup turned out quite amazing. It had a rich onion flavor and did not require much cheese. The soup is rich enough to serve as a meal, which would be great accompanied by a side salad. I would definitely recommend making the soup, and it shall make another appearance in the Camp household.

Ode to The Donut Man

I originally wrote this post back on September 6, 2008 after Ty and I tasted the amazingness that is the Peach Donut from The Donut Man in Glendora, CA. Strawberries are starting to come into season here in California, which means the return of the Strawberry Donut. My wife, being awesome, brought home a donut for each of us to enjoy. Thus I thought it only fitting to republish my Ode to The Donut Man.

Bon appetit!

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I have seen and tasted the Promised Land of Donuts, and it is very good. The Promised Land of which I speak of is the Donut Man in Glendora on Route 66, a thirty minute drive from my house in Fullerton.

You are probably wondering, “What makes these donuts any different than the donut shop five minutes from my house? And is any donut really worth a thirty minute drive? After all, aren’t all donuts the same?” Those are good questions and they deserve an answer, especially since up until today, September 6, 2008, I had not had a donut in over a year.

The Donut Man is a little hole in the wall place where you simply walk up to the window and order your donuts to go. I had heard distant rumors of these donuts, especially the donuts that are filled with a pile of either fresh strawberries or fresh peaches. But Ty and I were not without our doubts. Sure people speak of these donuts as the greatest in the world, but how good could a donut really be?

My friend, Ty, and I arrived and I began surveying the racks of donuts, but I could not find the donuts for which we had made our pilgrimage for, and I began to think that the drive was all for naught. But at that very moment, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a heavenly glow of freshly baked and glazed donuts stuffed with beautifully ripe, golden peaches.

Ty and I quickly each got one, along with a few others to eat as we watch college football. But the peach filled donuts were not going to wait. They had to be eaten immediately. Our donuts were packaged up in a box. We found a little grassy knoll that was perfect for eating a donut.

When we opened the box, I think a heard a faint sound of an angelic choir. We examined the donut realizing that these donuts required full commitment on one’s part. The only way in which these donuts could be eaten were firmly grasped with two hands, which would obviously lead to hands covered in sugar.

I picked up my donut to examine the heavenly bliss that awaited me. First the peach slices were in all different sizes and shapes, which simply confirmed that these were peaches that had been hand-peeled and hand-sliced just for the donut. Secondly, the peaches looked perfectly ripe—neither too soft in which case they would simply disintegrate with the sugar nor too firm in which case the peach would not be sweet enough. Nor were the peaches covered with a gelatinous glaze in which all you would taste was the glaze. Rather they looked as though they were simply lightly sprinkled with some sugar. And finally the smell…oh, the smell…the smell of fresh peaches that signal the end of the summer and a fresh donut that smells of a lazy Saturday morning.

The time had come to take the first bite, and it was then that all doubts were vanquished from my mind. Ty and I simply looked at each other and started laughing and almost crying…I kid you not. No words needed to be said between the two of us, for we both knew that this experience transcended words. We both began to wonder if this donut was what Paul saw and experienced when he was caught up to the third heaven and heard and saw things that were inexpressible in words. This was no ordinary donut that we were eating.

The only way to possibly describe the marriage of flavors that danced through my mouth would be this: imagine taking a bite of a perfect peach and then taking a bite of a fresh donut. Neither of us had ever tasted something so simple yet so amazingly profound. I began thinking that fresh peaches and fresh donuts were made for one another, and yet for 27 years, I had never been introduced to these flavors. The slightly tang of the peaches balanced the sweetness of the donut, so that there was no fear of this donut causing a diabetic coma.

We savored every bite of the heavenly donut, and neither of us minded that our hands were slowly being covered in the glaze of the donut, and knowing that there was no way until we got home to get it off. Any slight discomfort from being sticky was well worth it.

The ride home we both reminisced about the experience we had just shared together, and really could not wait to introduce more people to The Donut Man. Sadly, peach season is coming to an end, so there are only a few more weeks to enjoy these donuts.

One more thing: during strawberry season, The Donut Man does the same thing with strawberries as he does with peaches. I shall be counting down the days until those arrive back on the racks of the Donut Man.