Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Another snow day??

I remember back when I was a regular classroom teacher in New York City and, overworked and underslept, nearly every winter morning I would secretly pray for a snow day as I leaned across the bed to turn off my alarm at zero dark thirty. I usually spent those rare, blessed snow days catching up on grading rather than sleep, but I wasn't all work and no play: there was the occasional Star Wars or Lord of the Rings movie marathon (while grading essays).

These days, as a part-time food educator, I'm chomping at the bit to get back into the classroom after a slow few weeks of work around the holidays. My first two days of teaching in the new year have been canceled due to snow. Boo. Though the unplowed bike lanes and off-street paths are too treacherous for riding (and, frankly, the sidewalks are almost as sketchy for walking to and from the metro), I'm not so secretly hoping school *isn't* canceled again tomorrow.

Meanwhile, there is snow art to admire in the neighborhood, at least.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Fraiche pasta?

Tonight, in spite of my best laid plans to heat up yet another batch of curried lentils and roasted root vegetables, I found myself holding a box of angel hair pasta and could not bring myself to put it down. Maybe it's the cold weather. Or the fact that most of my personal cheffing has been for a couple who are trying to cut out carbs. Or the ferocious cravings for hearty, comforting pasta that I've been having since, oh, early November since I resolved to cut gluten out of my diet.

(Obviously I've fallen off the wagon a few times during the holidays. And more recently when we had a Slow Food gathering at a local brewpub. And just yesterday when friends recently returned from Paris handed me a gift of smuggled, fresh macarons. But I do try, because my body seems to hurt a lot more when I indulge. I noticed a marked increase in low back pain this morning, likely due to my polishing off a half dozen macarons while soaking in the bathtub last night.)

At least this was a box of rice-based pasta in my hand tonight.

Now, I will say that most gluten-free food items that attempt to mimic the real, glutinous (and delicious) thing fall way short. Including pasta. The biscuits that I attempted a week or so ago were weirdly textured such that I actually attempted to pass them off as sweet potato scones. (True story. Embarrassing.) I don't even bother with gluten-free beer. (Oh, beer, nectar of the gods, I've been missing you!) But I digress (again). Tonight I had a hankering for pasta that would not quit, exacerbated by my stumbling across a delicious sounding concoction while I poked around online for inspiration for what to do with my leftover creme fraiche from yesterday's cheffing. (BTW, if I ever find myself in Indianapolis, home to the farm-to-table restaurant from whence this recipe hails, I'm totally going there for dinner.) It was so spectacularly tasty and simple, and for once I had all of the ingredients on hand (and it's likely you will, too), that I offer the recipe, slightly adapted and using way fewer dishes, here:

Lemony Fraîche Pasta

  • 8 oz. box dried angel hair pasta (gluten-free rice pasta is pretty good in this one!)
  • salt
  • 1-2 handfuls fresh parsley leaves, washed and finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and finely minced
  • zest of 1 lemon (have a microplane? use it!)
  • ½ cup crème fraîche
  • 2 TBSP olive oil
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 1-2 handfuls Parmesan cheese, finely grated (you can reuse the microplane here, heheh)
  • a pinch of red pepper flakes
  • freshly ground black pepper


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, according to the package instructions (usually 5-7 minutes, but if your package tells you to rinse the noodles in cold water after draining, please ignore that part).

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the parsley with the garlic and lemon zest, mixing until just combined. Stir in the crème fraîche with the olive oil and lemon juice until combined. Stir in parmesan and red pepper flakes. There, your sauce is done.

When the angel hair is cooked, use tongs to transfer it directly to the bowl with the sauce. Toss the spaghetti until the sauce coats the noodles evenly. (The pasta water clinging to the noodles will help to thin the sauce.) Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Dust with more parmesan if you like and devour while hot!

This pic was snapped before I dusted both pasta and salad with some fresh parmesan -- partly in honor of the winter storm's dusting of my city with snow earlier today, though just in case you're wondering I did not add 5-7" of grated cheese to my noodles.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A summer state of mind

Those are very summery looking cocktails, aren't they?

No, I'm not in denial that it's winter. Note the fireplace in the background. And lord knows I've been wearing multiple sweaters, and even multiple pairs of pants, when I head out of doors in recent weeks. (I mean, really, it was eight degrees Fahrenheit here in the District when I woke up to the weather report on Monday morning. Eight!!) But I've been craving warm weather things lately.

Last Sunday afternoon, as I cut up a fresh pineapple -- see, I'm not a local food purist after all -- and reached for the compost bowl, I recalled a time back when I was living in sunny Mexico and my friend Maru showed me once how she saved her pineapple scraps to make booze. Didn't she just toss the rinds into a pitcher with some water and let it sit for a week? (My memory was a little hazy on the matter, more because it was nearly a decade ago, thank you, not because of overconsumption of said liquor.)

Kenton was all for the experiment, and helped me find a simple recipe and instructions online for making Tepache. Below is my slightly modified version, plus a recipe for a lovely cocktail you can make with your homemade brew.

Easy Tepache

  • Rind and core of one pineapple (those bits you were going to simply compost... until now!)
  • 2 cups raw sugar
  • 4 cups warm water (plus more to cover, if needed)
  • Pinch of baking yeast (optional)


Mix the sugar and water in a large container that is impervious to light and has a fitting lid. Make sure sugar is dissolved.

Coarsely chop the pineapple scraps (rind and core) and add to the sugar water, top up with water if needed to be sure pineapple is covered, add a pinch of yeast if it is winter or you are going to ferment it in a cold area, and then place the lid on.

Leave in the warmest area of your house from 3-5 days while avoiding taking the lid off too much (or else you may end up with some moldy fruit – I’m just sayin’. I kept mine in the kitchen, right in front of the warm air vent, and didn't even peek at it for a full three days before the initial taste test. What restraint! I know.)

Strain your notably pungent brew, discarding the pineapple scraps.

Taste, adjust the sugar levels, and then store the juice in the fridge for at least 24 hours until cold and fizzy, then enjoy with abandon. (The carbon dioxide being released from the sugar being converted to alcohol produces the fizziness.)

Note: The article cautioned that one should be sure NOT to leave the pineapple booze in a glass container in the fridge with a tight-fitting lid for any length of time, as there is a chance of explosion. Kenton and I aren’t sure what to do with that piece of information, so we’ll probably try to drink all of it this weekend just to be safe. On that note....

What does one use pineapple liqueur for, anyway? I'm not a big one for piña coladas, so last night I brought over a 3-day-fermented mini batch of the potent smelling pineapple beverage to my gentleman friend's, along with a can of lychees in heavy syrup from the corner market. We made some pretty stellar cocktails, reminiscent of the lychee martinis at our favorite sushi spot in the city, as follows:

Summer Anytime Cocktails
(makes 2)


4 lychees, peeled and seeded
3 shots tepache (fermented pineapple juice), chilled
2 TBSP simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water, dissolved) OR syrup from canned lychees
Pellegrino or other fizzy water


In each glass, place 2 lychees, half of the tepache, 1 TBSP lychee syrup or simple syrup.

Stir well, then top off the glasses with Pellegrino or other fizzy water.

Enjoy summer anytime.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

In need of professional help

So this winter, being rich in time but poor in funds, I got it into my head to give Ollie a tune-up myself. It seemed to make sense. Check the cables and screws, rewrap the handlebars in new tape. Swap in a new chain and cassette. I did work in a bike shop for a few months, after all. How hard could it be to do a little slightly-more-than-basic maintenance.

After some pre-surgery cleanup, I had the patient all ready:

I had my tools all laid out, including some odd looking new ones I'd purchased with a little birthday cashola from the bike shop up the street, plus the handy "chain tool" my cousin Laith had mailed me along with some other helpful knickknacks way back in 2009 when he learned I was going on a cross-country bike trip. (At the time I had no idea what the chain tool was or what it was for, so simply kept it in a gallon ziploc bag along with other mysterious but possibly useful bike paraphernalia.)

I decided to start with the comparatively simple task of replacing the chain (which only required the eponymous chain tool) before tackling the more complex task of replacing the rear gears (which I'd been advised would necessitate a chainwhip, lockring remover, various wrenches, and possibly a bench vise).

I spent much of Tuesday morning watching Youtube videos of mustachioed guys easily removing and replacing bike chains and rear cassettes. I spent most of that afternoon trying to get the dang chain off. Eventually I conceded temporary defeat, throwing up my grease-caked hands and scrubbing down as best I could before joining Kenton for dinner and hottubbing with friends out in Northern VA to ring in the new year.

Thursday afternoon, I returned to my apartment to find Ollie still wheels-up in my living room. I spent another couple of hours alternating between trying to use the chain tool to pop the pin out of various chain links, rewatching Youtube videos, scouring online forums (fora?) for tips on getting chains off of bikes, and swearing profusely. (I think Ollie was moderately scandalized, tilting her handlebars toward the window politely and pretending not to hear me. I hadn't cursed that much since we biked down the Pacific Highway.)

Friday morning, I awoke determined to get that bike chain off, so help me. After more video clip watching and forum research, I had a stroke of what I thought was genius and began to frantically scour Ollie's filthy chain for a "master link" -- kind of like a quick-release feature supposedly on some bike chains. I cleaned the chain (and the cassette, just because I was at it, and maybe my OCD was acting up) and stared intently as I slowly and repeatedly ran the chain around and around, looking for any sign of difference between one link and all of the others that might indicate it was the master link. After awhile, I threw up my hands (again) and started trying to crank out random pins with the chain tool (again). Oh, I broke something this time: the tool.

Guess I don't know my own strength.

There was no need to tell the bike shop, when I called late yesterday afternoon to check their hours and pricing, that I used to work in a bike shop. Since I'd damaged the chain too much to safely ride over, but not enough to get the stupid thing off, I walked Ollie over there this afternoon. I humbly returned the unopened tools I'd bought earlier in the week and forked over $20 (less than the cost of said tools) for a professional to install the new chain and cassette. I meandered over to Whole Foods to pick up some odds and ends for dinner, trying to comfort myself that while I may not be a crack bike mechanic I could still cook darn well. One can't be a professional at everything, right? We all have our talents, right?
Late in the afternoon, since I'd forgotten to bring along my helmet, I rolled my dear Ollie home with a shiny new chain and cassette. All ready for our ride to the farmers' market tomorrow.

Here's to smoother riding in 2014!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Winter warmers

Freshly returned from tonight's monthly ANC meeting, covered in a downy layer of snow, I shuffled into my kitchen with cold toes, wet sneakers, and a hungry belly. (What's that? Yes, snow! The first of the season! There was about an inch that had accumulated on the front steps over the hour and a half I was out.) I rummaged through my somewhat bare refrigerator and pantry to see what I might add to the delicious vegetable stock simmering on the stove. I hadn't eaten in a solid 3 hours and I had soup on the brain.

Okay, fine, mostly soup. While I was scavenging for ingredients in my snow-chilled state I may have heated up a little of the ponche left over from this weekend's apartment warming party -- Patricia's Mexican holiday punch was even more delicious rewarmed with a shot of brandy. And all of the fruit in there can only boost my immune system in preparation for tomorrow's temperatures in the single digits. (No, this is not the exact spiel I give to 3rd graders about eating more foods rich in antioxidants.)

Anyway, soup. While the cupboard was not completely bare, I found myself with a motley assortment of odds and ends. A couple of onions. Some stale bread. Cheese ends. A few fingers of marsala wine. A head of garlic. It was beginning to look like I had the makings for a vegetarian french onion soup. I poked around online as I sauteed some onions (and finished up the ponche) and came across this recipe. Here is an adapted version, which, incidentally, is as hearty as it is tasty and budget friendly.

Faux French Onion Soup

  • 8-10 cups of vegetable broth (make your own by simmering 10 cups of water + a bay leaf, some carrot and onion scraps, mushroom stalks, salt/pepper – strain to remove veggie solids before using)
  • a hearty handful of cheese rinds
  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • 1 TBSP butter
  • 2 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
  • a good splash of marsala wine (sherry would work, too)
  • 1 tsp red wine vinegar
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • a few handfuls of 1-inch chunks of stale bread
  • a small block of Gruyere cheese, grated


Warm broth with cheese rinds in a large pot. Keep at a simmer as you get the rest of the recipe together.

Heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat in a medium pot.

Add the onions to the pan, coat with the olive oil-butter mixture, and cook, stirring often, until the onions become translucent (about 10 minutes).

Add the garlic and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring constantly, until the onions and garlic begin to show some color (about 5 minutes).

When the onions are soft and show a good amount of brown, deglaze the pan with the marsala, scraping the browned bits from the pan’s bottom. Cook until the liquid is almost all evaporated from the pan.

Add (strained) vegetable broth, vinegar, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

For each serving, drop a handful of bread cubes into an empty soup bowl. Sprinkle the grated cheese over the bread. Ladle the soup over the bread and cheese in each bowl. Devour.