Friday, August 1, 2014

Lazy Figger's Fig and Banana Sorbet

I'll come right out and say it: I'm figgin' lazy. Yep, I'm a lazy figger. So I took the easy route with this fig and banana blender sorbet. I also took liberties by calling this vegan, sugar-free, frozen fruit mixture sorbet since most sorbets are full of sugar. Some store-bought ones even have corn syrup. But my sweet thang doesn't answer to a sugar daddy. She's assertive, self-reliant and whole. And since I'm a healthy figger too, I didn't boil away her nutrients. I simply put raw fruit in a blender and called it a day. Then a sorbet.  

A tasty but figly (figgin' ugly) concoction 

But before I called it a sorbet, I called it a spoonie. You know, a thick smoothie you eat with a spoon. If you prefer it unfrozen this way, be my guest, but please don't call it sorbet. That would be a violation of Lentil Breakdown fruit nomenclature.

Being a cheap figger, I'd normally think twice about sacrificing a cup of precious, pricey figs to a lazy figger sorbet when I could just as lazily enjoy them au naturel, which entails no risk. But after I scored a flat of fresh figs from the California Fig Commission last year and made my chocolate-dipped figs with hazelnuts, I became emboldened to take more chances. And after attending this year's Figology Fest—a creative fig shindig hosted by Erika Kerekes and Judy Lyness, I received the fig bounty that made me the lazy figger that I am. There's no shame in being a lazy figger. Especially when your sweet thang's in the raw without her sugar daddy.

Fig and Banana Sorbet

¾ cup frozen banana chunks
1 cup fresh Mission or other brown figs cut up (not frozen)
2 TBSP canned light coconut milk
A few ground cardamom seeds from one pod
A handful of pistachios

Put frozen banana chunks, fig chunks, coconut milk and cardamom in the blender. Blend until smooth, but leave visible fig chunks. Top with pistachios.

Eat now as a spoonie or freeze in a pint container for sorbet.

Makes about 2 servings. 

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

My New Superfood is Gonna Save the World

It would be really super if you'd head over to Zester Daily and read my superfood article. Bon voyage! 

Y'all come back now, ya hear?

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Simple Truth: Marketing Gone Coconuts

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine who was going out of town gave me an open carton of Kroger’s Simple Truth coconut milk that he didn't want to go to waste. I glanced at the ingredients and blurted out, “You want me to drink this? Do I look like Vladimir Putin’s food taster?" Then I stood there reading the ingredients aloud with such oratory gusto, I could have been vying for the Toastmasters crown. 

"Coconut milk (filtered water, coconut cream, xanthan gum, carrageenan, guar gum), evaporated cane syrup, calcium carbonate, carrageenan, natural flavor, gellan gum, vitamin A palmitate, ergocalciferol (vitamin D2), cyanocobalamin (vitamin B12). 
Contains: Coconut!" I said with an ironic, final flourish.

He stood in stoic silence. "What did I ever do to you?" I said. "Was it the time I dragged you to that raw, vegan place? I thought you really dug the raw-sagna! Were you just faking it like that cashew cheese?" Suddenly he had to leave. Something about an ingrown hair he needed to take care of before his flight the next day. 

So I stood in stoic silence, holding a carton of coconut-like liquid that had violated my sensibilities. The simple truth is most of those faux milks are full of faux food substances in which I can easily detect the foe. Take natural flavor—that lab-concocted additive that adds flavor to prolong a product's shelf life. It tastes too real to be true. Yep, it’s got too much real in it. Frankly, If I wanted more real, I’d just have seconds on the real real. Oddly enough, this Simple Truth line of foods from Kroger and Ralphs goes so far out on a truth limb to brand itself as the healthy messiah, its message, Free From 101, is to tout all that it's not. Here's a screen shot from the website:

By emulating this brilliant marketing strategy, I figure that I can cash in with my own line of products. I haven't figured out what I'll sell yet, but I'm sure I'll think of something. In the meantime, my marketing copy is ready. Investors: get out your checkbooks. Cha-ching!

*Coconutmilk ingredients listed are for the sweetened one. The one in my photo is no longer on the website.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

American Empire Abroad, Part 2: Portugal

American emperor Ray Kroc brought his golden arches to Lisbon, displacing the natives from their terraced territory. 

The golden-arched empire brought golden glitz to the city of Porto in a strategy to convert the regal Port wine region into high-fructose cola territory.

The Kroc empire nabbed Italy's national beverage, brought it to Portugal, and anointed it the "Big Mac-chiato".*   

The empire then pillaged France's pastry with the "Big Mac-aron".*  

An American “Caesar” invaded Portugal, only to be ensconced in a power grab with his Mediterranean rival.

An American aggressor landed in Portugal, unleashing targeted submarines all over the country.

In what is commonly referred to as the "Dummy Diaspora," American Dummies were expelled to Portugal, although the majority still remain in their homeland.

*Big Mac-chiato and Big Mac-aron are the intellectual properties of Lentil Breakdown.

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Monday, June 9, 2014

Fugly Lentil Hummus

Lentil Hummus may not be as popular as her cousin, Garbanzo, or as pretty as Beet and Edamame, but she's got a great, protein-packed personality. Truth be told, her cousin, Black-Eyed Pea isn’t much of a looker either. But have some compassion. Fugly needs love, too.* 

So to all the wallflowers sitting in the fridge on a Saturday night:

You are so beautiful to me
You are so beautiful to me
Can’t you see?
You’re every bean I hoped for
You’re every pea I need
You are so luminous
Luscious and leguminous to me

* Lentil hummus may be portrayed as "fugly" to compensate for blogger's food-styling skills.

Lentil Hummus Recipe

1 cup dried brown lentils
Salted water
Bay leaf (optional)
3 cloves garlic
3 TBSP tahini
3 TBSP lemon juice
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp salt

Boil the lentils in a pot of salted water (and add bay leaf if using) for about 20-30 minutes until chewy, but not mushy (start checking them before they turn to mush). Drain lentils and let cool.

Place cooked lentils, garlic, tahini, lemon juice and spices in a food processor and purée (if you want it smoother, purée more). If too thick, add a little water for the consistency you like. Adjust spices. Hummus will keep for about a week in the fridge.

Meet the family:

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Wanted: Fruit Plaintiffs for Class-Action Lawsuit

I spent the last week and a half waiting for my papaya to ripen. Oh, sure, I filled in the gaps with a few other activities here and there, but mostly I waited. It takes time for a papaya to get moldy and dimpley and soft enough—right on the cusp of rotting, yet at its sweetest, most succulent peak. Those tricky effers are hard to gauge, making them high-risk investments. I spent almost $4 on mine. But what happens when you cut into a pricey piece of fruit that doesn’t pay off? Who should be held accountable—the store, the grower or the buyer? 

In my papaya-ripening experience, I have observed moldy + mushy = bright orange, luscious papaya on the inside. And while this papaya was moldy, it wasn't mushy yet. But I refused to put my knife on hold any longer with all that mold accruing, so I cut into it, only to find it lacking in the bright-orange, peak-lusciousness department. It was pale and still kind of firm in places. I tried timing it right, but maybe this was all my poor papaya was ever meant to be. Maybe it was merely the little papaya that couldn’t. 

Should I have felt compassion for this underachieving piece of fruit? Perhaps, but after plunking down $4, plus a week and a half of waiting, I was pissed. All that painstaking patience, and for what—a pallid, underperforming papaya. So I decided to sue Monsanto for damages. I don't care that it was a Mexican papaya—and Hawaiian papayas are the ones that are genetically modified. I've wanted to sue Monsanto for awhile, and now is as good a time as any. Think of it as bombing Iraq for 9/11. Saddam Monsanto had it coming. And I have the WMD.

If you, too, were traumatized by a Weapon of Mass Disappointment in the past 180 days, you can get in on the action.

Are you a fruit buyer who waited patiently, only to be the victim of a fruit-ripening malfunction? Did it refuse to ripen? Was it rotten? Or do you just want to sue a nefarious corporation? Let’s hold Monsanto accountable!  
If you bought a piece of fruit from a retailer in the last 180 days that underperformed, and you still have your toxic BPA-coated cash register receipt, you are eligible to sue Monsanto for a refund, plus pain and suffering for wasted time and heartbreak accrued during the ripening process. 
Don't let the terrorists win! 
Please send receipts to the law firm of Lentil Breakdown.  

Well, I better get going. There’s a green mango on my counter, and I've got lots of waiting to do.

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Saturday, May 10, 2014

Exclamation Points and Green Garbanzo Beans

I may not be the most punctual blogger, but I am the most punctuational. I can't stop myself from using commas. As de rigueur as it is these days to be a comma minimalist, I am old school and do what I was taught in my old school—place a comma between two independent clauses that are connected by a conjunction. I just can’t seem to shake it. Whenever I try, I see my teachers rolling over under their perfectly punctuated gravestones. But the same set-in-stone rule doesn’t apply to exclamation points. The only rule is discretion. Some loudmouths abuse this privilege by overexclamating; thereby, offending grammarians, librarians, and food-blogging authoritarians.

Why do some people use exclamation points when casually writing “hello,” while others save them for when their hair is on fire (which incidentally, is a little odd that they’re still typing while engulfed in flames)? Is the overexclamator a certain personality type? Do they naturally have more energy and joie de vivre, or is it merely an attempt at branding oneself as upbeat? Perhaps they are sincerely misguided in their inappropriate emoting, but I'm thinking there's a vast network of cokeheads in dank basements, and these exclamation points are cryptic cries for help. Betty Ford Center: take note. You could glean names for your mailing list by trolling punctuation marks.

Why all the hullabaloo over such a trivial point? An inappropriate exclamation point not only sets the reader up for disappointment by diluting its power when used again, it dumbs down the now. You might as well just dot your “i” with a daisy, make a paisley apostrophe, and call it a day. I’m not trying to be overly pedantic or semantic, but just as Gwyneth and Chris made a conscious uncoupling, I think people should practice conscious unexclamating. If you exclaim indiscriminately, it will ruin it for all the other exclamation points. 

Case in points from two Seinfeld characters:

Newman: Hell-oooo, Jerry.
Uncle Leo: Hell-oooo, Jerry!
Newman: Hell-oooo, Jerry!
Uncle Leo: Hell-oooo, Jerry!

See my points?

If you’re wondering what these grumblings have  to do with green garbanzos, I'll tell you. After spending 20 minutes at the store, meticulously picking out the freshest, firmest ones, I harrumphed myself home, only to embark on 40 more minutes of masochism, shelling the beans. Thank god for the tequila that miraculously appeared in my shot glass to lessen the pain. Note to garbanzos: I would like my hour back. You were fresh and lovely, but for the time spent, I could have given a TED talk, pontificating on the perils of overpromising through overexclamating. Instead, I got a cup of effing beans. Let me repunctuate. Instead, I got a cup of effing beans!


1 pot water
1 cup effing beans

Boil the effers for three minutes and enjoy (if you haven't already hung yourself).
Salt and eat like edamame, or do something else with them.

Maybe you could sautée the effers with broccoli, garlic, marjoram and pasta in olive oil. 

Wanna know more about green garbanzos? Be my guest. 

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Monday, April 28, 2014

Ode to an Elph

R.I.P. Canon Digital Elph, born 2005; died 2014

With auto and macro from Krakow to Fes
We captured the world at medium res
In markets and cafes and shoots on my table
You needed no tripod to prove you were stable 

My fierce little workhorse, I was your jockey
We conquered the courses from sushi to gnocchi
I traveled so light with you in my pocket
When bloggers donned giant ones, I said “oh, fock it”

You didn’t cry any time you were dropped
You didn't curse me when I Photoshopped
You didn’t sneer when I cooked gluten-free
You just kept shooting and rooting for me

Thanks for the mem’ries, we journeyed so far
My diminutive, elfin un-DSLR  
Goodbye old pal, now rest in peas
But who will be there when it's time to say cheese?

Monday, April 14, 2014

10 Things I Ate in Portugal

When I was in Vasco de Gama territory, I became a culinary explorer and threw dietary caution to the wind. Like 10 Things I Ate in Morocco, they weren't all healthy or sustainable, but at least they were local. I wanted to leave all my issues behind, but that's like the pope trying to be an atheist when he leaves the Vatican. Not that I'm comparing myself to the pope. Nope. I can out-eat him any day.

1. Grilled Fish
My first meal in Portugal was this grilled dourada in a charming, neighborhood Lisbon restaurant. The fresh, simple ingredients among a backdrop of mellifluous Portuguese chatter made for a truly memorable dining experience and was a portent of Portuguese cuisine to come. Sharing the same coast as Morocco, sardines also reign supreme here, but grilled dourada—aka gilt-head bream—had a starring role on the menus of the day. I felt a little gilt-y not knowing if it was sustainable. But I knew it sustained me. Until dessert.

Top row: grilled sardines and dourada; bottom: grilled dourada and mackerel

Hey, side-dish czar of Portugal: How did you decide that boiled potatoes would be the national accompaniment for grilled fish? Not that I'm complaining. Just questioning fish authority.

2. Portuguese Vegetable Soup

This delicate yet hearty vegetable soup was served with almost every meal I ate except breakfast. But if it had been, I wouldn't have complained. Much like Morocco’s harira soup, this really bowled me over in a simple, soul-satisfying way. While it was slightly different each time, I’m surmising it was some combination of puréed potatoes, carrots, onions, leeks, cabbage and kale.

Top row: vegetable soup; bottom row: vegetable soup

Don’t let those motley colors fool you. Although it was alphabet-free, I swear it was the same effing soup, give or take a few effs. 

3. Bacalhau

Bacalhau is dried, salted cod that’s a mainstay of Portuguese cuisine. It was introduced by sailors around the discovery of the New World before refrigeration, and there's said to be over 1000 recipes for it. Since Portugal is a huge seafaring country, it’s ironic that all of the bacalhau is imported from Norway, Iceland or Newfoundland. Every grocery store has a whole department devoted to this big, gray, dried-out salty specimen (bottom left). A contender for the fugly fish award, I could only bring myself to eat it camouflaged in the cod cakes and cutlets that populated every menu.

Dried codpieces (from Middle English: cod, meaning “scrotum”); cod balls; cod cutlet

It may have taken balls to make bacalhau the national dish, but truth be told, it was very tasty, thanks to something called a deep fryer

4. Baked Octopus

Just when I thought it was all about grilling and frying, a baked octopus went and threw me eight curves in a rustic little restaurant in the city of Porto. This terra cotta cookware was brimming with silky-soft octopus parts, potatoes, turnip greens and carrots in a delicate, locally grown olive oil broth—the key to its sublime flavor and succulence. The waiter had told me the baked octopus was their specialty, and sure enough, he wasn’t pulling my arms.

Octopus always kind of creeped me out until I had it swimming in fresh, fragrant, fruity Portuguese olive oil. Sheesh. To think my whole life could've been different.

5. Cataplana  

No, it’s not a big plate of pussycat. Cat-a-plana is a popular seafood dish from Portugal’s Algarve coast. It’s also the name of the cookware used to prepare it, like a tagine is both the name of the cooking dish and the cooked dish. Traditionally a cataplana is made of copper and shaped like two clamshells hinged at one end and clamped on either side. This heaping platter of 'plana was chock-full of shrimp, clams, mussels, white beans and served over rice. The beans aren't a traditional ingredient, but I guess the chef knew I was a rebel.

It was earthy, oceany, heavenly, and humongous. Afterwards, the ocean called. It was out of crustaceans. 

6. Roasted Chicken 

They love their crispy, succulent chicken in these parts, so as a practitioner of livin' la vida local, I pigged out on Portuguese poultry. Apparently half a chicken is the new single serving, and when I had it in the seaside city of Cascais, I split it with my dining companion. But when I ordered it again in Lisbon, I was flying solo, so I adhered to my conscious culinarian credo: never waste an animal and shared it with my imaginary friend.

The waiter must've seen my imaginary friend since he brought the chicken out on a serving platter with an extra plate. But since my friend turned out to be vegan, I ate his too. Don't judge. I walked it off in search of a Pastéis de Nata.  

7. Pastéis de Nata 
Pastéis de Nata at a Portuguese bakery

Pastéis de Nata are Portuguese custard tarts, customarily sprinkled with powdered sugar and cinnamon, that are in every bakery. They were introduced at the beginning of the 19th century by monks at a monastery in Lisbon’s area of Belém. It's said that convents and monasteries used a lot of egg whites to starch clothes and they used the leftover yolks for cakes and pastries, resulting in Portugal’s many confections. The original custard tarts, called 'Pastéis de Belém' (pastries of Belém), became a business next door to the monastery in 1837 that still exists today. The recipe is still a secret, known only by the master confectioners who handcraft the pastries in Belém.

Pastéis de Belém from the original shop

Pastéis de Belém’s to-go container; the original location; packets of sugar and cinnamon

The original Pastéis de Belém shop was swarming with tourists, but I endured the hungry masses and got a six pack to go. I wolfed a few down that were still warm, but I thought the “mutt” varieties of Pastéis de Nata from other bakeries seemed just as tasty and less greasy at room temperature. Take a virtual tour of the Pastéis de Belém shop.

8. Pastel de Tentúgal

When I was in Coimbra (Portugal’s third largest city after Lisbon and Porto), I saw this curious pastry that came from the nearby town of Tentúgal. The recipe was conceived in a convent in the 16th century and its laborious preparation hasn’t changed in 500 years. Made from a dough similar to filo, the filling is a cooked egg yolk and sugar mixture known as doce de ovos. An eight-pound lump of dough made of flour and water is set in the middle of a white room with a white cotton-covered floor that looks like a germophobe asylum. The dough is stretched to 15 feet, becoming so sheer, you can see the crazy right through it. Watch the fascinating process.

Apparently the church didn't count sugar as one of the deadly sins—unless you binged on a box of Pastel de Tentúgal. Read David Leite's sweet account of this pastry steeped in history and egg yolks. 

9. Ginjinha

Technically, this is something I drank and not ate, but is there a law against counting the cherries? I sampled this traditional cherry liqueur in a celebrated Lisbon hole-in-the-wall ginjinha bar from 1840 that's still owned by the original, fifth-generation family. Invented by a friar in Spain, ginjinha is made from ginja berries (sour Morello cherries), aguardente (Portuguese brandy), sugar, water and cinnamon and is produced in the region of Estremadura just north of Lisbon. It may have tasted like an artisanal NyQuil, but by the time I got to the cherries, the medicine had kicked in and I was feeling no pain.

They ask whether you want your ginjinha with or without the cherries. That's like asking if I want olives in my martini, to which I'd reply, "Hold the martini. I'll have a glass of olives." See the bar in action.

10. Port Wine

A tawny Port apertif served before my baked octopus

Again, technically this is something I drank, but last time I checked, grapes were a food. The city of Porto is famous for its Port wine, produced from grapes from the Douro River valley—the oldest protected wine region in the world. A fortified wine, Port is richer and sweeter with higher alcohol content due to the addition of a neutral grape spirit called aguardente (the same one used in ginjinha) to stop the fermentation. Served as both an apertif and dessert wine, the most common varieties are ruby, tawny and white. I crossed the Douro River to see the caves where the wine is aged and took a tasting tour of Calem that included an authentic fado music performance among the musty oak barrels and old stone arches.

As I drank in the mournful notes of the fado bouncing off those majestic barrels of Port, I knew Porto was my kind of party. 

A traditional boat that once transported Port barrels down the Douro River 

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