Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ode to a Chocoholic

I'll miss the way we'd binge together

Afterwards we'd need a feather

Rest in peace, my bittersweet dove

Our chocolate-filled days were rich with love

For Mom

b. October 4, 1927

d. December 10, 2009

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Last Butterscotch: In Memory of My Mother

My mother had a way of letting you know when you were hungry. “It’s been two hours since you’ve eaten,” she’d say. “Aren’t you getting weak?” It didn’t matter that you were still having reflux from the all-you-can-stand buffet she goaded you into going to with her just two hours ago. The kind that made you pine for a Roman vomitorium so you could purge not only the meal, but the long-lingering shame that accompanied your bloating.

You could always count on mom to be readily equipped with the antidote to your hunger—hard candy. “Do you want a butterscotch?” she’d ask, as she desperately tried to stave off Ethiopian flies from your soon-to-be distended belly. Us kids—and later as adults—found this form of nagging to be intrusive and annoying, but if that was the extent of her yenta-ing, we’d just have to suck it up, along with the butterscotch.

Mom was not a heavy woman. She just ate like one. But mostly, she liked talking about eating. About you eating. Or you not eating enough, rather. And she had a penchant for taking home leftovers like it was nobody’s business. She carried baggies in her purse because a restaurant could not be entrusted with providing something as precious as a foil-lined paper bag. She started her ritual in the days before the ubiquitous styrofoam container became a mainstay of the dining scene. Back then, it was up to proactive women with too much plastic and twist ties on their hands.

Yes, my mother was the reigning doggie-bag queen. There was no leftover too small to leave on her plate. I remember the time in a restaurant when she had two bites of meat loaf left and asked the waiter to wrap it up. Beet-red with embarrassment, I wondered why she had to take home two measly bites. Was it from living through the Depression? Was it because an animal should not go to waste? Did she merely want to be reminded the next day of how much she enjoyed the previous night’s meal? Or did she do it to piss us off? Who knew. But that night, those two bites got lost in the restaurant's kitchen (probably mistaken for blowback), and when she found out they were never to return, the look on her face conjured up the horror in the song, MacArthur Park: “Someone left the meat loaf on the plate, and she’ll never have those last two bites again. Oh no…” Needless to say, that was the last time mom left her leftovers to fate. From that moment on, it was paws off, except for hers.

Sadly, my mom died two weeks ago, unexpectedly. When I started going through the clothes in her closet, I noticed that she had about 40 shirts, all with two pockets. The left pocket of every shirt contained three items: a folded Kleenex, a folded baggie, and a piece of hard candy. She lived in a retirement home and didn’t get out much, so chances are, she was only going downstairs to the dining room for her three meals a day. But apparently, it was far enough that she thought she might need sustenance on her journey down the elevator.

Now, with all that's happened in the past two weeks, I'm feeling kind of weak. And even though I ate a big meal just two hours ago, I could really use a butterscotch. I would give anything just to hear her ask.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

No-Feel-Awful Falafel

These baked falafel patties will have you gloating, not bloating.
Sure, deep-fried falafel is tasty, but afterwards you’re stuck with that pesky self-loathing. With this healthy version, all you’ll gain is a wholesomer-than-thou attitude.
This divine interpretation came after reading a variety of recipes and then tweaking Joan Nathan's My Favorite Falafel to match my vision. When it's baked, you can really taste the herbs, spices and garlic, but the traditional kind seems to lose all that freshness in the deep fryer.
Not only is this version delish, it's nutrish. The garbanzos aren’t even cooked. All you do is soak the raw beans in water overnight, and they plump up and are ready for grinding in the food processor the next day. Add the fresh garlic, onions, parsley, cilantro, cumin and coriander, and it’s a party in your mouth. The kind where you’ll be able to look at yourself in the mirror the next morning without wishing you were Kate Moss. Well, no more than usual.


1 cup dried chickpeas
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 - 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 TBSP fresh parsley, finely chopped
2 TBSP fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
3 - 4 TBSP AP flour, GF flour or garbanzo flour (this works really well)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp olive oil

Put the chickpeas in a large bowl and add enough cold water to cover them by at least 2 inches. Let soak overnight, then drain. Or use canned chickpeas, drained.

Place the drained, uncooked chickpeas and onions in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the parsley, cilantro, salt, garlic, cumin, coriander and oil. Process until blended but not puréed.
Sprinkle in the baking powder and half of the flour, and pulse. Add enough flour so that the dough forms a small ball and no longer sticks to your hands. Turn into a bowl and refrigerate, covered, for several hours.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Form the chickpea mixture into 1 1/2" balls and slightly flatten on an oiled baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes on each side until nicely browned.
Serve with pita, tahini sauce, tomatoes and cucumber.
Makes about 16 patties.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Ode to a Sushi Chef

I watch your rice and seaweed grace
The flesh and fins in your embrace
You could be a wealthy surgeon
Yet you're rich in roe and sturgeon

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Tofurducken: Accept All Substitutes

I’ll make no bones about it. I’m soon to be the darling of the veg set with my ballsy, brilliant brainstorm of an idea: the Tofurducken—the vegan turducken. The Tofurducken is going to be the mother of all faux meats.

We’re not just talking Tofurky. We’re talking a tricked-out Tofurky on rbST-free steroids that ate two other Tofurkys. Here's how it works: First you stuff an imitation turkey with a pretend duck. Then you stuff the pretend duck with a mock chicken. Then you make a stuffing out of wild rice and Fakin’ Bacon. And voila—it’s an original genuine fake.

Wait till faux agribusiness gets wind of my tagline, which by the way, is available for purchase:

The Tofurducken

Three times less cluckin’

Friday, December 4, 2009

Potato-Fennel Soup

You say potato, I say po-tah-to and fennel.
This low-fat, rich-tasting meal in a bowl is peasant fare at its finest. I don’t actually know what constitutes peasant fare, but I'd venture to say any peasant would give his last potato and fennel bulb for this.

I’ve been making this enchanting soup from Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook for years, and it just keeps getting better with age (that makes one of us). Browned onions, potatoes, minced fennel, and caraway seeds are a truly inspired combination.

I’ve made a few tiny tweaks, but nothing major. Since caraway seeds play a large part in the soup’s complex character, I double what the original Mollie Katzen recipe calls for. I also like to maximize the delicious, aromatic fennel flavor as a counterpoint to the caraway, so I up the ante there too, with 1 to 2 cups. (One can never have too much boiled fennel. Am I wrong?) I usually just get the largest bulb I can find and don’t fuss with the measuring. I'm telling you—this soup has so much flavor from so few ingredients, you’ll be peasantly surprised.


1 TBSP butter or olive oil

4 cups thinly sliced onions

2 tsp salt

4 medium potatoes (average fist-size), not necessarily peeled, and sliced into thin pieces 1 to 2 inches long

1 - 2 cups freshly minced fennel bulb (the largest bulb you can find)

1 tsp caraway seeds

4 cups water

white or black pepper, to taste

Makes 4 - 5 servings

Heat the butter or oil in a kettle or Dutch oven. Add the onions and 1 tsp salt. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the onions are very soft and lightly browned.

Add the potatoes, the rest of the salt, the minced fennel bulb, and the caraway seeds. Sauté over medium heat for another 5 minutes, then add the water. Bring to a boil, then partially cover, and simmer for about 45 minutes (the potatoes should be tender and almost falling out of their skins).

Taste to adjust salt; add pepper. Serve hot, topped with a decorative swirl of thinned sour cream and/or minced feathery fennel tops.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Travel Bite: Xochimilco Snack Vendor

A few years ago, I photographed this colorful snack vendor as I was taking a boat ride at the floating gardens of Xochimilco. This area of waterways on the outskirts of Mexico City dates back to the Aztecs, and the word Xochimilco means “lower field place" in Nahuatl. I had been there as a child (in my Aztec youth), and it was really unkempt, but they spiffed it up, and now it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The boat vendors have an unusual array of offerings, from candied apples and homemade potato chips to fresh corn they grill on floating hibachis. Chiclets, anyone?

On weekends and holidays, Xochimilco is a popular destination for families to rent these festive boats, or trajineras, and enjoy food, libations, drifting mariachis—or whatever else floats their boat.