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Buckwheat. How Can It Be This Good?

July 5, 2010

Buckwheat.  Not buck-related in any way.  And not wheat.  It’s not even a cereal.  It’s more like a teeny-tiny sunflower seed.  And the “buck” is a corruption of Middle Dutch “boek,” (beech tree), because the kernels look like little beech nuts.  According to K.A.H.W. Leenders, the grain was first cultivated in the Lowlands in 1389, but can be found in Iron Age settlements, suggesting that it was harvested in the wild and mixed with other grains.  Seriously old-school.

Fun facts about buckwheat (as usual, for a given definition of “fun”).  It is gluten-free (but in noodle form, it’s usually mixed with wheat flour, so read your label carefully).  It was a major crop in the U.S. throughout the 18th and 19th century, as part of the pre-nitrogen fertilizer crop rotation.  Americans ate it primarily in the form of yeast pancakes, which were a breakfast staple well into first decades of the 20th century, but which have now completely disappeared.  Another U.S. foodway lost, alas.

Russians eat it a lot:  kasha porridge, kasha varnishkes (buckwheat and bow tie pasta), and in the stuffing of all kinds of pies and dumplings.

And in Northern Japan, it’s transformed into noodles, soba.  Where buckwheat is still eaten, it carries a lot of cultural baggage.  It’s soul food, peasant food–real food.  The mystique of soba is huge:  the best soba is homegrown, hand-milled, and made at once into noodles to be eaten on the spot.  I’m happy to report that even commercially-produced soba from a gigantic chain grocery is delicious, though, and makes the best hot-weather supper imaginable.  I like mine with sauted greens on the side, which is not authentic.  But a tangle of kale, chard, broccolini, beet greens, and mustard greens (from the ever-blessed csa), washed, roughly chopped, and quick-fried in olive oil, made an astringent and lovely accompaniment to a cold bowl of these.

Cold Sesame Noodles (adapted from Nigella Lawson’s indispensable Forever Summer, which is for my money her best book)

Toast 1/2 cup sesame seeds in a dry frying pan over medium heat till they are dark golden brown and glistening.  Pour them onto a plate to cool.  DON’T LET THEM BURN!

In a largish bowl, whisk together 1 tablespoon rice vinegar (not the seasoned kind), 2 tablespoons tamari, 1 tablespoon honey, and 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil.

Cook an 8-ounce package of dried soba according to the package instructions, or snag a couple of vacuum-sealed packets of fresh soba from the refrigerator case of your grocery, and pass them quickly through a boiling water bath and then (in both cases) into a big bowl of ice water.  Drain thoroughly and dump them into the sauce.  Toss gently, cover, and refrigerate for as long as you can wait.  An hour is good, if you can manage it.  If not, put it in the refrigerator, wash, chop and saute your greens, and pull the noodles out as soon as the greens are limply crisp and toothsome.  Put greens and noodles into a bowl, cover with sesame seeds, and enjoy.  It’s especially tasty eaten outside.

If there’s any left over (good luck!), it makes a great bento item.

New Menu; New Serving Size

July 3, 2010

As I have mentioned in passing, my darling wife lives with a chronic and debilitating illness.  Luckily, it can be managed with a somewhat baroque regimen of medications (which are compounded of melted gemstones from other galaxies, judging from their price).

If you are a comic book reader, you will already know that no alien technology is an unmixed blessing.  In this case, the side effect is “metabolic syndrome X.”  No, seriously.  That’s what it’s called.  Look here.  See?  I wasn’t lying.  Left to its own devices,  MSX becomes coronary disease, hypertension, and diabetes.

And it turns out that what works best to control metabolic syndrome is .  .  . a Mediterranean diet, with extra walnuts. Which means more hummus, Greek salad, and whole wheat pita, and a lot less cake.

Bear with me as I shift gears.  Looks like the csa was a good investment.

Stupid Bundt Pan.

June 3, 2010

I have nothing else to say at this time.

Last-Minute Cookies

May 31, 2010

These little charmers are known as “Dino Poops” at our house, thanks to Tuxedo Boy’s early immersion in the Walking with [Digitally-Animated and Horribly-Doomed Creatures of the Past] series.  Among more civilized people, they are called No-Bake Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies.  In my childhood,  we called them “Gayle Cookies,” after the family friend who first made them for us, the summer I was eleven.

Snapshot from my freaky sunshine rainbow family childhood:  my parents, a Marine Corp Captain and a Quaker hippy, had seven children–four biological and three adopted children of several races and with a variety of disabilities ranging from moderate (Perthes Disease) to very severe (fetal alcohol syndrome).  The summer we drove 14 hours  to the Washington coast to visit Phil and Gayle, we were 11, 9, 7, 6, 5, 5, and 2.  Their kids (they were also a rainbow sunshine family) must have been about 10, 8, 6, 4, and 2.  We spent a whole week at their place.

12 kids under 12.  It makes me shiver.  I remember it being a blast, but I was 11, and used to being the oldest of a raft of unkempt hooligans running wild–what the hell did I know?  Later, when I was 13, we were stationed at 29 Palms Marine Base, or Hell on Earth, as I like to call it, and they came to stay with us.  We all went to Disneyland.  The next day, four of us came down with chicken pox, just in time to give it to our house guests.

But enough of this nostalgia.  Yes, Dino Poops are ugly.  And they’re artless:  chocolate, peanut butter, oatmeal.  But kids love them, they take under 10 minutes from start to serving, and crumbled up, they make a great topping for an ice cream sundae.  You could do a lot worse.

Dino Poops

2 cups sugar
6 tablespoons cocoa
1 stick butter
1/2 cup milk
pinch salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups quick oats (don’t try this with regular or old-fashioned oats.  Or those little packets of instant, come to that)
1 cup crunchy peanut butter

In a heavy saucepan, bring sugar, cocoa, butter, and milk to a boil, stirring constantly.  Boil hard for one full minute.  Take off heat, and stir in remaining ingredients, mixing thoroughly.  Drop by tablespoons on waxed paper or parchment.  Allow to cool.  Eat.

And there you have it:  Dino Poops.

Project: Project Gutenberg: The Ivory Child

May 27, 2010

[Project:  Project Gutenberg–where I’m reading and reviewing public-domain fiction from Project Gutenberg from A to Z]

My little world has more than its share of disappointments right now.  Spring changed its mind:  it’s cold and rainy and miserable here.  And Joan has flown off to New York City without me, to attend the Lambda Literary Awards.  She was nominated in the lesbian mystery category, but alas, did not take home the prize.

And my Project:  Project Gutenberg read for the letter “I” is a disappointment greater than any I have yet encountered–and that’s saying something.

The Ivory Child (1916) is H. Rider Haggard at his most racist/xenophobic and at his most mechanical and repetitive.  In fact, it’s such a stinker that I can’t really bring myself to review it.   All I want to say about it is this:  demonic African elephant uses telepathic powers to force a circus elephant in London to snatch a baby out of his pram and step on him.

I’m not angry.  Just disappointed.

Look Upon My Works, Ye Mighty, And Despair.

May 26, 2010

Behold the awesome power of  my Zebra Cake, (as presented by my friends at King Arthur Flour).  This is a hoot to make, particularly if you like finicky silliness like pouring alternate blobs of chocolate and vanilla cake into a cake pan to make trippy concentric circles of batter.

Unlike many similar recipes, the cake is also good–moist and flavorful–with a tender crumb.  Next time, I think I’ll flavor the white cake with some vanilla, and top it with a mixture of sweetened whipped cream and sour cream.

I recommend you get yourself a slice as soon as possible.

Snooping at the Library

May 22, 2010

I spend a lot of time at our local library–it’s the epitome of what a small-town library should be, from the excellent children’s reading room to the hilarious glass display case where local clubs mount seriously old-school public relations campaigns.  I’m talking scrapbooks.

Plus, everyone in town rolls through at one time or another, which makes it a great place to loiter.  Like the grocery store, the library is a great source of observational data.  Who’s getting what audiobook?  Who piles up the cheap mysteries, the angel and baby romance anthologies?

Today, though, I found someone else’s book receipt in my copy of Asian Dumplings: mastering gyoza, spring rolls, samosas, and more. A whole new window on someone else’s life.  Whoever it was not only checked out the dumpling book (which is excellent, and has fired my ambition to make steamed pork buns at home–watch for more on this), but also Cheesemonger:  a life on the wedge, which I checked out two weeks ago and wasn’t that impressed with, and the dvd of  Soderbergh’s “Che.”

Aren’t people peculiar?