Octopus is often completely ruined.

Presumably there are ten million cows raised in the U.S. for food, and they all have udders, but you still can’t get one.

an interview with Jonathan Gold.

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It’s what’s for dinner

We’re heavily invested in trying out every typically American cut of beef since we came here. Listing them makes my mouth water:
– Flank Steak
– Hanger Steak
– Tri Tip
– Brisket
Oh, my. Yes! If you’re confused, follow my lead and order the Beef Made Easy chart from the Beef Store!


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Let them eat cake

Posted in Politisches, Speis & Trank. Comments Off on Let them eat cake


Cornucopia of the world – that’s what they used to call California when they were still trying to attract immigrants. And it’s true – with rare exceptions, everything grows here. So I’ve made a vow: Every time I go to Berkeley Bowl, I want to try one new type of vegetable or fruit (and blog about it, obviously!). I’ve already tried Jicama , a sweet kind of turnip that can be eaten raw. Boooring, right? Now, think of the most challenging plant that one can possibly eat. No, not celeriac (even I am not that crazy)… Here’s a hint for the German speakers out there:

Cacti! Who would be so crazy as to eat plants “that are armed with two kinds of spines; large, smooth, fixed spines and small, hairlike prickles called glochids, that easily penetrate skin and detach from the plant“? Mexicans, obviously! Now, you have a choice. You can buy these guys right here:

Read the rest of this entry »

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Jicama – [ˈxikama]

Among the many exotic vegetables and fruits in the Monterey Market’s second-last aisle, this amorphous blob was the least frightening. I picked the smallest one (as big as a cantaloupe, but heavier).

Its taste has been described as a “somewhere between an apple and a potato”. Disgusting, but I went ahead and bought it anyway! I am fearless!

The fibery peel reminded me of a Kohlrabi, which, by the way, are also available here, but at prohibitive prices, as a “European specialty item” just like white asparagus. Have I mentioned that (green) asparagus tips are cheaper here than whole asparagi? I buy them for 1.69 a pound! Madness! Back to the root:

To the refined palate, raw jicama tastes like a cross between a daikon radish and an apple – completely lacking the bite of radishes, less sweet/sour than an apple, but more crunchy than both. The consistency seems to be the main advantage. It tastes good dipped in Hummus, or made into a slaw (I put it in cole slaw instead of apples). Needs some lemon/lime juice. Very refreshing. A+++ would buy again. Would not cook/roast, however, because it probably risks turning into some kind of rubbery mega-rutabaga.

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Happy are those who are called to this supper

In the last ten years, the nearest I’ve come to communion was a few days ago when we ventured into Oakland to check out the famed Casserole House. This stretch of Telegraph Ave, by the way, has a handful of Korean places right next to each other, all competing for your palate with mouthwatering pictures of their food (much like the signs of rivaling churches along a suburban street with their promises of giving meaning to your life and/or rescuing your soul from eternal damnation). We had just sat down in a comfy, quiet booth when the waitress plonked down literally dozens of appetizers in little bowls – first, a Korean variant of potato latkes, then several types of tofu, sweet pickled beans, tiny oily fish, hardly bigger than matchsticks, sweet potatoes, broccoli, omelette, pickled bok choi and crunchy radishes, and miso soup. We could hardly believe our luck. Instead of going for cow intestines or squid as main dishes, we had made the scared beginners’ choice of beef and pork bulgogi – mounds of incredibly soft, fragrant, thin slices of meat, surprisingly light and almost fluffy in their consistency, not so boring after all all. But all this was just a preface to the meal’s real climax – the Communion rite.

Suddenly, a wise and friendly-looking woman appeared at our table and introduced herself as the cook. Between our main dishes – as the glorious centerpiece of the table – she placed a plate of Kimchi, and while reciting a litany about the virtues of said pickled cabbage (“Is four month old! Is special Kimchi!”), removed the lid from my rice-bowl and asked me for my chopsticks.

“(…) the priest breaks the host and places a piece in the main chalice; this is known as the rite of fraction and commingling.” (Wikipedia: Communion Rite)

She took the chopsticks from my hands, gingerly tore off a leaf of cabbage from the serving plate, placed it on my rice and mixed the two.

“The priest then presents the transubstantiated elements to the congregation, saying: “This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper.”

The sage/cook pointed at the printout of a newspaper article that hung in a frame on the wall above our table – it was a page-long ode to the Four Month Old Kimchi in front of us! And we were happy.

“Then all repeat: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” The priest then receives Communion and…distributes Communion to the people.”

She held up the Kimchi, cooed “Say Aaaaaah!” and then, with a friendly nod, placed the cabbage-and-rice ball in my opened mouth, and indeed I “bowed [my] head before the Sacrament as a gesture of reverence, and received the consecrated host on the tongue” (I stopped at the “Amen”, though, replacing it with a nodding “Mmmmmmh!”). A spiritual experience is one that one cannot be put into words. We’ll be back for the squid!

(Picture: Nagyman/Flickr)

Stranger In A Strange Land

A German restaurant just opened in Berkeley and I thought I should have a look at the relevant Chowhound thread before venturing there myself. It sounds authentic indeed:

“There was no hostess so people did not know how to get a table and were left loitering near the door (none of the servers bothered to pay any attention to the number of people standing around waiting for a table. Bizarre).” (breanac on Chowhound)

Oh my, poor Americans, standing there like third-graders whose mom forgot to pick them up from soccer practice…welcome to the third world, where people just sit down! This is how we roll in pre-civilization Europe. You’re on your own. People fighting over chairs and tables. Tushies lowered onto seats without a hint of official authorization. Couples hogging four-seat tables. In short, anarchy. Adjust your tip accordingly! Overall, the restaurant sounds OK enough to check out, even though it threatens to deliver “Cooking and Baking with a North-German Twist.

(This comment makes me doubt the overall qualification of the contributors to this forum, though. I will not take this kind of abuse from the inhabitant of a country where “fresh joe” is routinely served from something fittingly named a “coffee urn” sitting on the counter, filled with a fluid so obnoxious that “refill” sounds like a death threat to anyone with taste buds or even just an innervated tongue.)

Let Them Eat Arugula

A few days ago, Mark Bittman was known for his brilliant, accessible recipes and his adorably crappy kitchen. Now, he’s suddenly turned into (yet another) full-time “food activist” who churns out legislative suggestions under the heading “A Food Manifesto For The Future”. While some of his ideas, e.g. reduction of corn/soy subsidies, seem reasonable, most of them are unsubstantiated, misleading, and questionable.

Like many of the modern priests of foodie-ism, he rails agains “processed” food. I do not know what that means, and I think he doesn’t, either. If the metric is supposed to be that a lot of technology is necessary to make “processed” food – and if there’s  actual scientific proof that this is a Bad Thing -, then, by all means, let’s throw out the Cheetos. Let’s also throw out cheese, beer, wine and bread, which do not grow on trees (Have you tried making cheese lately? It involves chemistry. If you don’t do it right, you end up with a highly toxic end product). And while we’re at it, let’s throw out all modern plant varieties that were genetically engineered over centuries to suit our needs. There were, for example, no big juicy red apples in paradise, contrary to what some faulty illustrations of the scripture would like you to believe – only malus sieversii, whose taste Michael Pollan, another Born-Again Foodie Priest, describes thusly: “imagine sinking your teeth into a tart potato, or a mushy Brazil nut sheathed in leather (“spitters” is the pomological term of art here), and then tasting one that starts out with high promise on the tongue—now here’s an apple!—only to veer off into a bitterness so profound that it makes the stomach rise even in recollection.” Lots of technology and “processing” was needed to turn the inedible crap Mother Nature usually serves us into Braeburns and Fujis. Whether food is “heavily processed” or not is a red herring. The quest for “natural” food seems to simplify food choices – in reality, it makes them simpler than they are.

The opposite of “processed”, in Bittman’s terms, is “real” or “actual” food. His categories of “processed” and “real” seem to be metaphysical rather than based on physical reality (much like “kosher” and “treif” or “halal” and “haraam”) – only this time, there’s no God upstairs who hands out these food rules and tells us to obey them for his sake. There’s only food itself. “Real” food takes the place of a the spiritual cure, the saviour. I like food as much as the next person, but I find this icky.

On a less philosophical note, Bittman analyzes the failing of government agencies over the last decades and attributes a big chunk of the American problem with food to misguided nutrition advice. Not really a new idea. The only surprising thing is his solution to the problem: More power to (other) government agencies, more nutrition advice and reeducation – let’s just get it right this time.

And that, for him, means advocating for a largely vegetarian diet, because: “It’s difficult to find a principled nutrition and health expert who doesn’t believe that a largely plant-based diet is the way to promote health (…)” – While this may be true, it is also true that fifty years ago it would have been “difficult” to find a “principled [probably means “mainstream”?] nutrition and health expert” who didn’t believe that a vegetarian diet is unhealthy. The data on the long-term, large scale effects of diet is extremely sketchy. This has not changed over the last 50 years, simply because a behavior as complex as human nutrition is extremely difficult to observe, even more so if we want to apply the usual principles of empirical science. If you don’t believe this, just go ahead and try doing a double-blind randomized longitudinal study of a “plant based diet” in humans (I’m waiting!). Even more sketchy (or non-existent) is the data on effects of large-scale nutritional intervention, like the reeducation programs, subsidies, “truth in labeling” and “legislation curbing relentless marketing” Bittman suggests. They might help. They might cause harm, because they might not have the intended effect, or if the intended effect turns out to be unhealthy after all. Finally, they might cost a lot of taxpayer money and do nothing at all. And this would be bad, because poor nutrition, I believe, is not a result of moral turpitude, stupidity or (to use more friendly, modern reformulations of the same principle) misguided advice and ignorance, but largely caused by a lack of money in the individual. The effects of this lack of money – a.k.a. poverty –  are, by and large, not mitigated by reeducation or telling people to behave differently, but by giving people money or at least not taking it from them to print posters which tell them to feed their kids more broccoli.

Lastly, I have always envied Bittman for his way with words, and for his talent to write short, simple recipes that are surprising, educational and mouthwatering at the same time. His food writing does not need pretty pictures – it speaks for itself. His political writing, on the other hand, is abysmal: “Reinvest in research geared toward leading a global movement in sustainable agriculture, combining technology and tradition to create a new and meaningful Green Revolution.” Man, I wish he would step down from his pulpit and write about food again.


Today's harvest

Europe, you may not rule the world anymore, but you still have culture. Like the famous Bulgarian buttermilk bugs, and all those other microbes that make life worth living, crawling through our world-famous cheeses, wines, beers and independent movies. Note the qualifier:

I walked all the way to Monterey Market and carried you home in my hand-woven shopping basket, in order not to spoil your exquisite OLD WORLD STYLE with américain behaviour. But alas, I was disappointed. The little butter pieces are missing. (Still very refreshing when blended with ripe Mangoes.)

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What to do with Zucchini

They don’t really taste of anything, probably because they are 99% water. You can stuff and bake them. If you forgot to harvest them in their cute stage and they have managed to (within hours!) swell to gigantic proportions, you can still shred them and make mücver or bread. But is it worth it? I say: Just keep them lying around on your kitchen counter, they will come in handy at some point!