Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Fall Up

I mean fall up the way I mean listen up, smarten up, eat up; these things are commands when I say them. Lately I've been shouting in my mind, "Fall up already!" to no one in particular. It's been hot, dry, fiery, and certainly not the autumnal mildness that I crave when I only get to have a few hours of daylight a day. If the sunshine is going away, can't the heat too? I mean, c'mon.

My district gives this whole week off for a much-needed Thanksgiving break, so I've had free time lately to search for the fall that I haven't felt.

I looked closely for it in my garden.

The garden was growing and happy and full of cool-season vegetables, but it wasn't enough to make me feel that autumn was here. Since I had to keep looking, I went for a walk up into the canyon.

The animals all seemed to know that fall is here, but I still wasn't convinced, so I went to my kitchen to try to trick myself that it was.

To force the season in, I braised red cabbage. It was really, really good, but it didn't make fall feel like it was here.

So I kept muttering, to no one in particular, "fall up, fall up, fall up."

Finally, finally, autumn arrived in a way that I believed. Last night, I fell asleep to the sound of the rain falling down.

Darn prepositions.

Braised Red Cabbage with Star Anise
Star anise stole the culinary show on my recent trip to Washington, DC. I ate several dishes at different places where the brilliance of each depended on this star. Inspired, I wanted to try cooking with it at home. Although I often associate it with Asian flavors, this recipe does not really work as an Asian side dish. The star anise takes the traditional French and German side to sausage, pork, and duck to a different place, a place where it can still easily serve as the side to these meats (or grilled salmon, wouldn't that be good?), but it will no longer feel the same. It's like putting sexy undies on under one's flannel pajamas—the combination of comfort and surprise is mighty alluring.

You will need:
2 tablespoons of fat of your choice (butter, oil, bacon or duck fat . . .)
1 small red onion, peeled and diced
1 medium head of red cabbage
2 sweet-tart apples, peeled and diced
2 clementines/tangerines/whatever you call those small, orange citrus in your neck of the woods
6 tablespoons red wine vinegar (or more, if desired)
2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
1 star anise
1 small bay leaf
salt and pepper

To make the cabbage:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Heat the fat in a large, heavy, ovenproof pot (such as a dutch oven) over medium-low heat. Toss in the onion, stir to coat the onion pieces with the fat, and sprinkle a little salt over the onions.

While the onions are softening on the stove, cut the cabbage into quarters and cut out the white core from each quarter. Slice each quarter across the narrow side (not length-wise) into 1/8 inch strips. When you've finished, toss the cabbage and the apples into the pot and stir the cabbage into the onions and fat. Raise the heat to medium-high and continue to cook for another couple of minutes.

While the cabbage, apples, and onions are cooking on the stove, grate the peel off of the clementines. Place the peel in a small bowl. Juice the clementines and stir the juice into the bowl with the peel. Stir in the red wine vinegar to the bowl with the juice, add the dark brown sugar and whisk to combine, then pour the acidic mixture into the cabbage pot on the stove. Add the whole star anise and the bay leaf at this time as well. Sprinkle a little more salt over all, a twist of black pepper, and stir to combine all the ingredients. Finally place the lid over the pot and remove it from the stove to place it in the oven.

Cook the cabbage for 2 hours. After the first hour, check every 15 minutes to see if you need to add liquid. Most likely, you won't need to—only add a splash of water if the mixture is drying out or sticking to the bottom of the pot. Once the 2 hours are up, remove the pot from the oven and taste. The cabbage should have absorbed all the liquid and now be melted into silken, spicy, sweet-tart goodness. If the cabbage needs it, add another splash of vinegar or a sprinkle of sugar. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Eat up.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Oh Boy

I didn't know it could be done.

But it could.

And I could do it.

I followed these directions to the T and ended up with New York in my kitchen on a balmy SoCal day.

Now that I've done it once, I'll be experimenting, and I promise that sometime soon, A Thinking Stomach's very own version of homemade bagels will grace these pages.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Thinking in the City

We had walked for hours already, but my legs felt light and independently powered as I clambered up the stairs of the Lincoln Monument. Step after step, one after the other, the gravity of Lincoln pulled me upwards until I stood in front of him once again. Two people faced me, posing in front of Lincoln's statue for a picture. Together, they formed an interracial couple. Watching them smile and embrace before Lincoln, my eyes fevered to happy tears.

This summer, SWW turned 30. To celebrate 30 years of my friend's existence, I put together an autumnal trip to Washington, DC for a long weekend visit. That visit finally rolled around this weekend, and we were able to bask in the golden light of fall while the frees flamed in color around us.

This city never fails to delight all the senses.

I went to college in this city, and while here, I worked at a florist where delivering flowers was occasionally part of my job. Because of that, I know my way around the city pretty well. However, my brother puts my DC-familiarity to shame, as he still lives here and previously worked as a bicycle courier—no one knows one's way around a city like a bicycle courier. But for these four days, much of the city appeared new to me. I think even my brother, as he spent most of the weekend with us, occasionally saw this city with fresh eyes. Entire neighborhoods had reblossomed in the decade since I had lived here, and streets that had once been sketchy to walk down in the evening, now hopped with upscale nightlife. The shiny, newly healthy neighborhoods gleamed in the autumn sun; this weekend's weather, combined with the city-wide excitement over our recent election, made neighborhoods appear noble and government buildings downright regal.

(When I write that the city is excited over the election, I am guilty of a huge understatement. The city is purring loudly, thrilled with itself and its future.)

While many things have changed, some things about DC and my responses to it have stayed the same. I cannot spend time here without thinking. I visit museums and think. I visit galleries and think. Monuments. Gardens. Historic sites. Wandering through this city and its sights reminds me of my responsibilities to the world, in the smallest and largest sense. Let's put it this way. Who can spend hours in the Holocaust Museum without forcing herself to face what she should have, could have, would have done if caught in the middle of the death of over 6 million innocent people? It's pretty easy to say what I should have done, a little harder to say what I could have done, but terrifying to say what I would have done. And facing that, finding the weaknesses and doubts in myself that are easy to hide in a comfortable world, forces growth. Yes, this city houses corruption, injustice, and greed, but it also offers forgiveness, opportunity, and tools for transformation. Just as the city constantly metamorphoses itself, it is constant in its ability to inspire metamorphosis.

As Washington, DC encourages individuals to think about their place in the political world, upon visiting the city an ardent eater (like myself and presumably you as well, as you're taking time to read a blog named A Thinking Stomach), will examine his or her place in the food world as well. The nation's capital is home to some darned good eating, and much of the best of that eating is locally grown and produced.

In Washington, DC, eating is as political an act as any other.

If you'd like to learn more about Washington, DC's food and food culture, I encourage you to explore the following sites. You'll find beautiful recipes, remarkable foods and beverages, and inspired ways of thinking about food's connection to policies and politics.

The WHO Farm: The White House Organic Farm Project
Future Harvest: A Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture: Sustainable farming practices in the DC area.
DC Foodies: The Politics of Dining: A blog about eating in the nation's capital.
DC Area Farmers' Markets: Check out Dupont Circle's market for wonderful local produce, meats, and cheeses. This time of year, you'll find at least 20 varieties of apples alone.
DC Area Breweries: Get good beer locally.
Virginia Wine Country: Virginia isn't just for lovers, it's also for some great wines.
The Slow Cook: A blog about choosing food thoughtfully in Washington, DC.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Better Than Cough Syrup

I haven't yet kicked the cold, and my snotty state makes cooking less-than-inspiring. I have, however, been sincerely enjoying the home remedies that readers have posted on my last entry. Here are my two favorites:

1) From Anonymous: Bake a lemon (loosely tinfoil wrapped) in the oven until it pops. Squish it open like a baked potato and cover it with honey. Use the tinfoil as a wrapper/holder . . . slurp up hot honey and lemon pulp.

That not only sounds effective but also delicious, and it is just my kind of medical treatment. One baked lemon, stat!

2) From Another Outspoken Female: I've been known to gargle chili vodka. Homemade and potent.

Brilliant! I love this comment for multiple reasons. First, in its sincere extremity, it is funny. Second, man, now I have to make homemade chili vodka. I have yet another use for next summer's chili bounty.

Here's another "remedy" to add to the list. It's sure to open up those bronchi like only alcohol can, but its good-for-you ingredients make it seem a little more healthy. But most of all, it is just fun. Various recipes present this drink various ways—some with straight honey, some with vodka, and some with sour mix rather than the good fresh stuff. It's an old, Prohibition-era recipe; apparently the honey originally masked rotgut gin. Luckily, all that is in the past nowadays with today's bright, herby-cucumbery gins. The incarnation below is the simplest, best way to make it, as well as the most delicious.

The Bees' Knees
2 oz gin
3/4 oz honey syrup (one part water to one part honey, heated just until combined, then cooled and kept in the refrigerator)
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice.

Shake all the ingredients with roughly-crushed ice cubes and strain into a glass.

Sip this, shimmy into your beaded dress, toss some brassy jazz on the Victrola, and step out of your head cold and into a different time.