food, time and tapenade with figs

 
A couple of months ago I started a cooking journal. Maybe to call it that is a bit of an exaggeration, but the idea is to keep a list of things I've been cooking. It isn't about recipes. There are no photos or illustrations. It is just a simple, straightforward list. An inventory of cooking and eating - the good, the bad and the ugly.

I was inspired by Georges Perec's "Attempt at an Inventory of the Liquid and Solid Foodstuffs Ingurgitated by Me in the Course of the Year Nineteen Hundred and Seventy-Four." Forever intrigued by archives and memory, Perec's inventory got me thinking about how we remember the larger picture. It is easy to flirt with details and to linger on a memory of one particular dessert, but how do we compose our memory of the whole?

I also like how one can read a list. At first it is like poetry, structured prose with pauses and stops. And then it becomes numbers and clear statements, such as that Perec drank 181 named bottles of wine, as well as an unspecified number of unnamed bottles, in the course of a year.

Now that, in addition to eating, I spend more and more time reading, studying, researching and observing how and what we eat and the cultural histories of food, I have less time to cook. This is precisely why I started this cooking journal of sort, this list, this inventory. I want to keep cooking, to record it, and better understand how I cook, what I cook, and how my cooking is influenced by the research I do about food.


Although I am not quite ready to record how many bottles of wine I drink, I like that this inventory will give me a clear answer should anyone ever ask how many times I cook pasta in a year.

I started my inventory in April. After a good start, my entries for June are rather sad. I am an exceptional list maker, so this does not reflect neglect in writing. Instead, it reflects a lack of cooking. June was, by far, the busiest month of the year for me, so I have been trying to make up for it by enthusiastically cooking my way from the end of June to the beginning of July.

In other words, I am sorry for the silence this past month. Please accept this Fig-Olive Tapenade as my apology.

The figs make this classic dish a little sweeter, a little more unexpected. Eat it with bread, crackers or pita toasts. Smear it on sandwiches or, as David Lebovitz suggests, even on grilled tuna steaks or chicken breasts. 

 
Tapenade aux Figues (Fig-Olive Tapenade)

adapted from 'The Sweet Life in Paris' by David Lebovitz

makes 6-8 servings

ingredients 

1/2 cup (85 g) stemmed and quartered dried figs
1 cup (250 ml) water
1 cup (170 g) black olives, rinsed and pitted
1 garlic clove, peeled
2 tsp capers, rinsed and drained
2 anchovy fillets
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp finely chopped thyme (or rosemary)
1 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup (60 ml) extra virgin olive oil
Coarse sea salt
Freshly ground pepper

Place the dried figs in a small saucepan and add the water. Simmer over medium heat, with the lid askew, until tender, about 10 to 20 minutes. Set aside to cool and then drain.

If using a food processor, pulse the soaked figs, olives, garlic, capers, anchovies, mustard, thyme and lemon juice to create a thick paste. Pulse in the olive oil unti the paste is chunky-smooth. Good tapenade should have a slightly rough texture, so do not overmix. Season with salt and pepper, if necessary, to taste.

If using a mortar and pestle, mash the olives with the garlic, capers, anchovies, mustard and thyme. Pound in the figs. Once the figs are broken up, stir in the lemon juice and olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. 

Guten!

* * * * * 

The summer issue of Chickpea has just been released online. Between great summer recipes, I've shared a story about snacking on palm sugar in Myanmar. The digital issue is available here, and the print issue is also available for pre-order.
 

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postcards from antwerp

 
The rain we expected. The forecast had warned us before we arrived, but we didn't expect the bursts of sunshine, interrupted by wispy clouds. 
 
Nor did we expect wanting to stay even longer. Antwerp is a city that one doesn't want to rush. 
 
The city is both relaxed and refined, a nearly impossible combination. Antwerp is cool yet chic. It is understated yet elegant. 

It is like that perfect black sweater that manages to be classic but not boring. It is mostly business as usual, but then one little detail, be it an exaggerated collar, cropped sleeves or an asymmetrical zipper, make it memorable. 

Or maybe I should say a grey sweater? In Malin's book The Bread Exchange she describes how on her first visit to Belgium, Antwerp welcomed her with a grey sky. "It is a special shade of grey you find in Belgium," she writes. "Imagine the colour of the fur of a Weimaraner dog. I call it Flemish grey. This grey has brown, earthy undertones. Close to taupe, but cooler (186)." 
 
Perhaps it is that certain shade of grey, and how it lights up in the sun, that makes the city so mesmerizing. That and its excellent beer bars (more to come on that soon).

* * * * *
 
In contrast to Antwerp's sophisticated shades of grey, the summer issue of Gather takes its cue from the colour wheel. The "Spectrum" issue itself is colour coded, organizing recipes by pigment and hue. Between recipes for technicolour dinners and desserts, I write about the eating designer Marije Vogelzang's and how she plays with both food and colour. 

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the temperature of spring: strawberry rhubarb clafoutis

 
To understand food is to understand temperature - which foods taste best hot and which ones cold. To cook is a game of controlling, listening to and observing temperatures. To cook well is to know exactly when to turn the heat down, or add just another second or two of scorch.

I thought about temperature last night as I snacked on very cold grapes. They were straight from the fridge. In An Everlasting Meal Tamar Adler, always a source of great wisdom when it comes to food, argues that most foods taste best at room temperature. I mostly agree, but I do think that there are some foods that taste best when their temperatures are extreme, like these grapes. When cold, they are firmer, intenser. Instead of chewing, it feels like your teeth are making them burst. 
 
I think that a stir fry is then on the opposite end of the spectrum. I try to eat it the moment I turn the heat off, when it still almost too hot. When ginger and garlic are involved (which they should always be), the sizzling heat makes the vegetables, like the asparagus I stir fried the other night, taste perky. Wait till things cool down and you run the risk of the vegetables tasting a little soggy, I think.
 
And then there is the decadent French dessert clafoutis that tastes best somewhere in between. Not too hot or not too cold, clafoutis tastes most like clafoutis (read: irresistible) when warm. Clafoutis, because of lots of eggs and, in this case, coconut milk, tastes like custard. The flavour may be rich, but the texture is light, which means that it is easy to eat half of a clafoutis without even realizing it. And, when served warm, one is tempted to eat it all. Why eat leftover clafoutis when you can eat warm, freshly-baked clafoutis?
 
 
This recipe comes from Sarah Britton's debut cookbook My New Roots: Inspired Plant-Based Recipes for Every Season. The book is a keeper, an absolute gem. Both the recipes and the design feel timeless. The rhythm of Sarah's ability to teach about food and what it does to the body while crafting recipes that are hard to get out of your head happens in a space that is far away from food trends or anxiety around eating. The whole book feels celebratory and inclusive. Some of the recipes might include a couple hard to find ingredients, but there are recipes for all - no matter the lifestyle you live when it comes to food.
 
I've already made a good dent in the book. I've made treats like Carrot Rhubarb Muffins served with Strawberry Chia Jam (a must this strawberry season - my beau refers to this jam as "liquified strawberries"), Freekeh Pancakes with Wilted Swiss Chard and Poached Eggs, Caramelized Fennel on Herbed Polenta (the best way to cook fennel, ever), Miso Sesame-Glazed Eggplant, Roasted Pumpkin with Black Rice and Tangerine Tahini Sauce, Salt 'N' Pepper Chocolate Chip Cookies, and Chunky Banana Bread Granola (Sarah writes that she has made many a granola before, but this recipe beats them all, and she is not kidding).
 
In other words, there are post-it notes both flagging pages and underlining recipe titles, recording adaptations and notes. Since the book is organized by season, I look forward to cooking my way through the rest of the seasons both this year, and many years to come. Bravo Sarah!

Sarah's clafoutis recipe calls for apricots, but when I make this clafoutis their debut at the markets in Munich was still a few weeks away, so I used strawberries instead. Strawberries and rhubarb is a safe combination, but always delicious nonetheless.


Strawberry Rhubarb Clafoutis
 
adapted from 'My New Roots' by Sarah Britton

serves 8

ingredients

3/4 cup (105 grams) whole raw almonds
2 3/4 cups (350 grams) strawberries
2 slim stalks rhubarb
coconut oil, for greasing the pan
2 tbsp flour (Sarah uses brown rice flour to make it gluten-free, I used spelt)
3/4 cup (90 grams) unrefined brown sugar (Sarah uses coconut sugar)
1 vanilla bean, scraped or 1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 cup (250 ml) full-fat coconut milk
pinch of fine sea salt
 
Preheat the oven to 350 F / 180 C / gas mark 4.
 
Spread the almonds on a baking sheet and bake until fragrant, roughly 15 minutes. Once toasted, remove from the oven and set aside to cool. Keep the oven on.
 
While the almonds are roasting, cut the strawberries into halves or quarters, depending on their size, and the rhubarb into thin slices. Use a little coconut oil to grease the bottom of a tart pan (one that is about 9-inches or 23 cms). Scatter the strawberries and rhubarb in the pan.
 
Once the almonds have cooled down, place them in a food processor or blender and pulse until they are finely chopped. Do not over pulse or else you'll have almond butter! Add the flour, sugar, vanilla seeds or extract, eggs, egg yolks, coconut milk and salt, and blend until smooth.
 
Pour the batter over the fruit and bake for 45 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Serve warm.
 
Guten!

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on the move: blood orange and cacao nib muffins


To my left are a pair of ballet slippers. They are the first pair that I have bought in years. Unlike the pair I just threw out, they look unbelievably delicate without any stains, holes, or strange black smudges. I just need to sew on the elastics. To my right is a pile of books. A couple have bookmarks stuffed in pages towards the end and one is so new that it makes squeaky sounds when you open it.

When I was in high school my classes in math and English were flanked by dance classes, mostly ballet. I went to a performing arts school, so I studied anatomy and ballet terminology just as much as I studied punctuation and fractions. Ballet is, therefore, something that I very much associate with school in general. 

After high school, I continue to dance for a couple of years during university. I packed my leotard and tights when I moved to France, Denmark and then back and forth to Canada, but at a certain point my dance clothes lost their spot in my suitcase. 

But now it feels like I've come full circle. You see, last year I dug out that old leotard and started dancing again. It has been just over a year, and now I find myself with a tote bag full of books, notepads and ballet clothes. As of yesterday, once again I am a student. It feels right that as I start studying once again, ballet is a part of my week. 

So I should be sewing or reading, but instead I'm writing about muffins. 


Homemade muffins are as good as it gets when it comes to snacking on the go. I'm always impressed by how they require minimum effort to bake and yet it is oh-so deeply satisfying to be on the bus, or in between meetings or classes and pull a muffin out of your bag to snack on. To me, anything baked in individual portions and is easy transportable is money in the bank.

The most popular recipe I've ever shared here is for Chocolate Banana Muffins made with left-over almond pulp. I'm excited and humbled that so many have used this recipe to confront the masses of almond pulp in their own freezers.

So I thought that it was time to share another muffin recipe: Blood Orange and Cacao Nib Muffins. This recipe skips the almond pulp (although you could certainly substitute half of the flour with it) and relies on blood oranges, instead of bananas, to freshen things up.

These muffins are hearty, thanks to the whole wheat flour, bright, because of the blood orange, and just a little sweet with the maple syrup. They taste best slightly warm with a very generous slab of butter or coconut oil.  


Blood Orange and Cacao Nib Muffins

yields 9 large muffins

ingredients

2 cups (260 grams) whole-wheat flour
pinch of salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 cup (54 grams) coconut oil, plus more for the pan if needed
3/4 cup (175 ml) maple syrup
grated zest of 1/2 blood orange
1/2 cup (118 ml) freshly squeezed blood orange juice
2 eggs
1/3 cup (75 grams) cacao nibs

Preheat oven to 350 F / 180 C / gas mark 4. Either line a muffin tin with muffin cups, grease the muffin tin with coconut oil, or get out thick muffin cups (as pictured).

In a large bowl mix together the flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Set aside.

Melt the coconut oil and whisk in the maple syrup, blood orange zest and juice and eggs. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and stir until just combined, making sure not to overmix. Fold in the cacao nibs. 

Spoon the batter into the muffin cubs, dividing it evenly.

Bake until the tops of the muffins are golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean, about 30-35 minutes.

Let the muffins cool. If you are using a muffin tin, let them cool in the pan for ten minutes and then transfer them to a wire rack. Once cool, store in an airtight container for a couple of days. 
 
 Guten!
 

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notes on toast

 
Toast doesn't seem to generate a lot of debate or opinions. Toast is assumed to be just toast, with limited variation. 
 
Unlike the multiple answers that follow the questions "How do you like your steak?" I've never been asked how I like my toast. This is why I'm now writing about it because not all toast is equal. Toast, my friends, is not just toast. We should stop taking this kitchen staple, this saviour for stale bread for granted.
 
It has been years since I've had a toaster. Living toaster-less was the first spark for thinking about what makes toast best. As a kid, I lived in houses with toasters and toaster ovens, which is why I never had to think much about toast.
 
When I worked in a restaurant in Copenhagen, we served toast with breakfast and toasted breads for sandwiches at lunch but, typical to all restaurants, there was no toaster to be found in the kitchen. We just threw bread on the grill and called it toast. Lesson #1: Grilling bread to make toast is always a good idea.
 
Since then, I've mostly used the broiler to make toast. I turn the broiler on, throw in some slices of bread, and flip them once the top side takes on some colour. Business as usual.
 
Then I courted the stovetop method for making toast. You melt some butter in a pan, add a piece of bread and then weigh the bread down with a heavy lid. After two or three minutes, you remove the lid, flip the slice of bread and repeat. You can use coconut oil or olive oil instead of butter and it yields pretty great toast.
 
 
I took a break from the broiler, but then I read Edna Lewis' classic The Taste of Country Cooking. What follows is what she calls Country Toast: "We would slice some bread from our homemade loaf, butter it liberally, and place it in the oven. When cooked it would be browned in the areas where there was no butter and the buttered part would be golden and soft. This was the most delicious way of toasting bread. It can be done under the broiler as well, especially if the bread is placed on a hot broiler pan. That will crisp the underside of the bread and the top will be brown and crisp in spots where there is no butter. The combination of crispy brown and soft buttered bread is simply heavenly, (233).
 
Edna Lewis wasn't the type of woman to throw around words like heavenly. When she writes heavenly, she means it. The top is crispy and the bottom is soft. Who knew that bread and butter alone could yield toast that almost tastes like custard? Lesson #2: Butter bread before toasting.

I too don't throw around words, especially ones like game changer, so I think the next time you make toast, you should practice the wisdom of Edna Lewis.

I use the broiler and don't bother spreading the butter beforehand with a knife. I find that as it melts it spreads itself, plus this makes sure that some parts are without butter and get extra crispy. If you aren't into butter, coconut oil works as well.

Just like different methods yield better toast, so does bread. This method (and toast in general, I believe) works best with white sourdough. Dark breads just don't crisp up in quite the same way. 

My favourite bread in Munich come from the French bakery Dompierre. If you are lucky enough to snatch up a loaf of their dried fig and walnut bread, cut off a couple slices, butter them, turn on your broiler and be prepared to have a well-formulated answer to the question of how you like toast. 

* * * * *

If you fancy eating toast while drinking tea, then take a look over at MUNCHIES where I wrote about Rangoon Tea House in Yangon, a tea shop that celebrates the tradition of Burmese tea shops while refining the food. 

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a pot of beans and a glass of wine

 
Although, one by one, the days are becoming warm enough to brave shoes without socks, the nights make it clear that it is not quite spring. 
It is the one time of year where it makes sense to eat a salad out in the sun for lunch and then crank up your oven at night to make roasts, crisp up root vegetables, or just melt a lot of cheese on your stove top, add some white wine, eat it with bread and call it dinner.
 In other words, it is the perfect time of year to make beans. Beans taste just as good at room temperature as they do hot from the pot. And they taste very good when cooked with red wine, rosemary and bacon, not to mention when matched with a glass of wine.

I came across this recipe over at the Casa Yellow, a blog that I think has writing that is equally as delicious as its recipes. Sarah wrote about a Melissa Clark recipe, one that forgoes the flavours that we usually pair with pinto beans (tomatoes, cilantro, spices and the like) and instead employs Mediterranean flavours. She is one smart lady.

The recipe begins with letting bacon, carrot, celery, garlic and onion sweat it out in the fat rendered from cooking the bacon for a couple of minutes ahead of the rest. Then you add the beans, water, salt and rosemary (or any other sturdy herb like sage or thyme) and let the beans cook. 

But what makes these beans sexier than most is, while the beans cook, the recipe has you reducing red wine in another pot into a thickened syrup and then stirring it in to the beans.

My pantry may have a lot of different dried beans, but pinto beans are not currently part of that collection. So I used lighter coloured kidney beans that I bought in the Republic of Georgia. They did not let me down. 


Red Wine Beans with Bacon


makes 4-5 servings

ingredients

1 cup dried beans, soaked for 4 hours or overnight
3 slices of bacon, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 celery stalk, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
1 tsp salt
3 1/2 - 4 cups water
1 cup red wine 

for serving

a drizzle of good olive oil
freshly grated Parmesan
black pepper
a pinch of red chile flakes

In a heavy bottom-pot, add the diced bacon and cook over medium-high heat until the bacon begins to turn golden but isn't totally cooked, about 5 minutes. Add the carrot, celery, garlic and onion and stir occasionally until the vegetables become tender, about another 5 minutes. 

Drain the beans that you've been soaking and give them a quick rinse. Add them to the pot, along with the rosemary, salt and water. Give everything a good stir and then let it come to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Let simmer gently until the beans are cooked through, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Pour the red wine in a small pot and then place it over medium heat. Once the wine comes to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and let cook until the wine has been reduced to about 1/3 of a cup. This takes about 20 minutes.

Once the beans are tender, remove the rosemary branch, add the reduced wine and stir well to combine. Bring the beans back to a simmer and let cook for another 10-20 minutes more for the flavours to meld.

To serve, spoon beans in a bowl (on their own or with polenta or rice or any grain). Drizzle with some olive oil and top with freshly grated Parmesan, black pepper and a pinch of red chile flakes.
Store leftovers in the fridge for a couple of days. Either serve warm or at room temperature. 

Guten!
  
* * * * * 
Remedy Quarterly just released a new issue around the theme of taste. Between stories about adventurous eaters and those who are afraid of mushrooms, I've written about the genealogy of taste and an Icelandic cake made with prunes. 

The digital spring issue of Chickpea was also just released and the print issue will follow in just a few weeks. It is another beautiful issue, and one that will make you forget all about winter. Germans celebrate spring by obsessively eating white asparagus and, if you want to follow their lead, I have contributed a couple of vegan recipes for green sauces to drown your asparagus in: Wild Garlic Pesto and Frankfurt Green Sauce.

When I was in Delhi, I met up with owner of Mizo Diner, the only restaurant serving food from the state of Mizoram in the capital. If you're interested, you can read about how offering pork on the menu goes hand-in-hand with creating cultural awareness of India's North East over at MUNCHIES

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on tea and travel


The henna on my left hand is fading. The patterns - intricate grids and swirling lines - are now just bursts of marbled orange, no longer legible as a design. 

This fading means that a week ago I got back from India. It amazes me that one word - with a mere five letters - refers to so much space, so many cultures, so many people.

India is complex, chaotic and challenging, and that's why I hope to be able to keep returning again and again. Amongst all of its dust, traffic and honking, I always seem to manage to find a certain calm.

Maybe it just takes lots of noise for me to find quiet? 

Maybe it is because it forces me to let go. I like to be organized, prepared and neat. I try to be on time and to know exactly when I need to leave my apartment to catch the bus. But India forces me to let go of that. It forces me to relax and to be okay with being late for a meeting, or unsure of how to get from point A to point B. 

It never makes me feel like I'm too rushed to stop for a fresh coconut water or cup of chai on the side of the street.

Being stuck in Delhi's traffic jams gives me time to think and reflect.

It used to be my aim to share a recipe, or at least some words and images, every week, but now I'm aiming for a slower pace.

I continue to value having this space to just write, to write about food and travel, to tell stories and ask questions, and anything else that strikes me, really. To write without word counts or deadlines or checklists. To just write. 

If you haven't read it already, Heidi has churned out some thoughtful words about maintaining a long-term blog. She brings up a lot of important points, as does Tim in "You're Boring." The former is about the potential of blogs, an ode to the creative space that they provide. The latter is a call to critically think about the stories we decide to tell in those spaces and how this relates to the main narratives in the food world at large.

As the food industry has grown, so has the uniformity in which we talk about food. But it shouldn't be like that! Food writing should tell as many different stories as possible. After all, food is the most democratic medium we have. Everyone has to eat. Yet, we hear so many stories about the same kind of eaters, the same kind of food.

When I travel, I find that strangers always want to talk to me if I ask a question about food. To be curious about food is to be curious about culture and people. It demonstrates interest and respect

No matter where I am, food is always my entry-point. It always opens doors for me and starts conversations.

This is why I love writing for MUNCHIES. Leave it to VICE to try to challenge the boring standards of food writing. MUNCHIES isn't just about food, it is about the stories around food. 

Over at MUNCHIES, I just told a story about peanuts in Myanmar. One single legume brought up so many questions about agriculture (industrial and subsistence agriculture), the role women play in it, and how changes in food mean changes in society. 

So although I plan to be posting here a bit less than I once did, I hope to be able to tell even brighter stories, share the thoughts and recipes I want to remember (and question why I don't want to remember others), and to keep developing my perspective on food. 

Thank you so, so much for joining.

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