May 22 2017

Is This Just Chatter?

As I continue to explore what role The Internet and social media should have in my life it feels honest to ask: is my writing just a record of chatter? That’s a difficult question for me to answer. The Internet seems to boost the ego and makes us believe what we have to say is important but maybe…maybe it’s not. Maybe we ought to save our bullshit for a night out at the bar with friends. Maybe that’s the most appropriate time to wax poetically about the different types of flour.

At the moment it feels like I’m just recording chatter. My earnest hope is that with time, practice, self-awareness, and patience my writing and content will improve.

Pancakes and Mothers

Pancakes aren’t a thing I particularly recall being a staple or even semi-regular meal in my family. If we did have them they were most definitely sweet and served with butter. My mom preferred Karo corn syrup instead of maple syrup. It’s funny to think back on that corn syrup. The stuff is almost certainly a modern invention; a product of cheap, subsidized, readily available corn, but to me it’s just my mom’s favorite pancake syrup.

Savory pancakes wouldn’t have even been considered at our Southern table, whether breakfast or dinner, but lately I’ve had this Taiwanese scallion pancake recipe in the back of my mind. These pancakes are often eaten as breakfast items in Taiwan. During a lull at Imagine on Saturday I ran to the market, picked up some scallions, and went to work. What I made was pretty decent but not perfect. The flakiness showed itself in the way a pie crust might. Through this practice I started to understand the idea of this laminated-ish dough.

As fortune would have it I was able to try a more authentic version of the scallion pancake that very night! After a few beers and listening to stories at SpillIt, some friends and I went to Mulan in Cooper-Young for a later night dinner. Browsing through the expansive menu I spotted the scallion pancake! The server confirmed with kitchen staff that it was vegan so I ordered one as an appetizer. My mind was blown at the flakiness of these pancakes! I’d missed the mark by a wide margin earlier in the day but after having these I’me ager to try my own again. The secret is in the rolling technique, allegedly. The ones at Mulan separated more like the layers of a croissant, these perfectly laminated sheets. Incredible stuff.

The next day I was able to see my mom, sister, aunt, cousins, and other family members. My sister’s Taiwanese friend came for the visit so I made plans with her to cook scallion pancakes the next time I visit their intentional community. That’s serendipity! Mother’s Day also offered a nice respite with my mother and an opportunity to take in my Aunt Pam’s gorgeous roses.

Thy Daily Bread

Of course I don’t eat bread daily but I think of this phrase to mean something more like “That which nourishes us.” This week we’ve had some incredible (and screwed up) nourishment.

Starting with a quick boil of hoppin’ John accentuated with a hickory smoked jalapeño that added the perfect amount of heat and some of the leftover strawberry/onion/beet quick pickles. My bread bakes for the week saw an attempt at 100% whole wheat and a couple of small khorasan loaves for friends. The whole wheat turned out very good overall but here are some things I’d like to tweak in the next go-round:

  • 85% hydration instead of 80%
  • longer initial rest time before autolyse (1 hour instead of 25 minutes)
  • starting with colder water (Chad Robertson writes in Tartine Bread that whole wheat ferments faster so colder water is ideal)
  • a longer bake time because of the relatively high hydration

The flavor was on point but skewed a little towards the sour side likely due to the warmer water I started with. I didn’t grab any photos of the khorasan loaves I made for our friends but they were really adorable, small loaves. I hope they tasted great!

Now, the failure: beet cured tempeh. It looked beautiful but I used WAY too much salt. There’s a dozen recipes online for beet cured salmon (the inspiration) so I won’t regurgitate that chatter, I’ll just warn you: pay attention to the weights/ratios. Getting the amount of salt correct will make or break this dish! In our case, it totally broke and I couldn’t eat more than a couple sample slices. The screw up may have been a nice soup based but I didn’t have the time to put that together.

New York, pt. 1

Back in New York and it feels amazing. We absolutely love this city! We’re incredibly fortunate to have friends here that like to take long vacations and need a dog sitter. We’re also super lucky to have friends back home who will help take care of our companion animals so we can make this trip possible. Our first meal was at The Cinnamon Snail where we got the baked ziti burger and seitan al pastor sandwich. Kenzie LOVES their burgers but the patty is too mushy for me so I always opt for something with seitan. They really do it up right! We had a good bit of time to kill before our friends left for their trip so we continued wandering around the city. Then I set my sights on Sullivan St. Bakery. Long ago I discovered a recipe for Jim Lahey’s pizza bianca and it’s pretty darn close to an Italian Schiacciata. I know there’s a few places in the city that serve up Sullivan St. Breads so I wanted to go directly to the source. We picked up a beautiful pugliese loaf and stayed for a hot tea. The bakery has a warm, yet modern feeling. I could spend a few hours there gazing at bread and filling up on coffee/tea.

The day after we arrived Kenz wanted to hit up Central Park at sunrise for some nice morning light. Up at 5:30 and in Central Park by 6:00AM for a cloudy sunrise at 6:15. The light was gorgeous but not what we expected, alas we snagged some beautiful photos from the day. Being in the park that early in the morning, while there’s still a bit of quiet…it’s moving.

For our midday snack we headed to Orchard Grocer in the Lower East Side. It’s a relatively new-ish spot headed up by the MooShoes folks. In fact: it’s right next door to MooShoes. I picked up an Edith (carrot lox, cream cheese, capers on an everything bagel) & Kenz got a breakfast sandwich. We also grabbed a Modern Love poptart and a Sweet Maresa’s macaron, both absolutely killer! We’re ready to go back.

We wrapped up that Saturday with a meal at 00 + Co. For starters we ordered the sweet potato bruschetta (featuring smoked almond cheese, fried sage, and chili flake atop Sullivan St. Bakery’s pugliese) with a white corn pizza for the main. The meal was on the pricier side but I believe worth it. I’ve read people comparing this pizza to others and complaining about it. It seems a bit unfair, to be honest. This pizza is a different type of pizza, it’s not comparable to a Screamer’s slice. They’re both good but in their own ways. I appreciate the work Matthew Kenney & company do in elevating plants to new levels.

Before leaving Memphis we realized there would be a VegFest happening our first weekend in town so we got in touch with some co-workers and signed up to help work a booth at the event. We snacked on some tasty shiitake sliders while waiting in line for Screamer’s pizza. Totally worth the wait! They were out of the buffalo cauliflower when we got our slices so we opted for the porker pie slice and there was no disappointment in our bellies.

I’d also recently learned about Yeah Dawg! vegan hot dogs and really wanted to try these while we’re here. Lucky for us we were just two tables away from their booth at VegFest! They’re really, really good but I do wish the texture was a little more bouncy(?). We got the Viva Dawg: pineapple pickle, chipotle mayo, coconut bacon. It’s really rad to see these homegrown vegan businesses doing so well, keep going!

Fortunately for this trip Kenz agreed to let me bring my starter (I think sometimes my bread obsession is a little annoying, oops)! I pinched off a little before leaving and brought along for the ride. I’m incredibly happy to have it with me and it’s already back to life with some Farmer Ground Flour from here in New York state. At the time of writing I’m preparing a small loaf to do a test bake, so we’ll see how this goes! I don’t have a scale with me so I’m doing a lot of the preparation by sight & feel, hopefully no disasters await.

The Internet vs. Food

I’m going to lump an experience from VegFest in this section because it feels relevant.

While standing around gawking at the line for an ice cream & waffle stand I get approached by this really tall guy. He shakes my hand and starts having a conversation with me like we’re old friends. I’ve never met John Lewis (Badass Vegan) in real life but that interaction felt totally normal and…real! It’s possible he mistook me for some other white dude with a beard (because let’s be honest there’s too many of us) that works for PETA but I’m inclined to think he just recognized me from Instagram. That feels pretty weird, right? Fortunately John is NOT at all weird and is incredibly nice. I totally understand why people love him & can assure you (even from that small interaction) that his online personality isn’t a front: he’s a genuine guy and I appreciate that very much. He was also pretty exhausted from traveling and speaking so get some rest John! Even badass vegans need a nap 😉

At any rate, the point is that The Internet is changing our lives and our brains. John and I had some familiarity with each other because of The Internet. That feels like a good thing to me; we have a shared interest, a common ground to start from. I feel like I have a new friend, that without the aid of The Internet, I may have never met. That feels right to me and it’s not just because he’s popular, I have several other dear friends I wouldn’t have made without The Internet and social media. Dudes like Arlton in Little Rock, Gabe in…(where are you Gabe? Hawaii? Portland? Seattle? IDK). People and relationships I value have been created and fostered thanks to The Internet.

But, what else is The Internet doing to our relationships? Specifically: our relationship with food? Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Eating Animals” was pivotal in my journey to veganism. In that book Jonathan explores food from the base of storytelling and it’s really beautiful. Everyone needs to read that book. I believe there is truth in his words: our food tells a story. I’ve also come to believe that technology shapes us, quite literally. Our brains make physical changes; the use of a tool to extend some part of our body in turn seems to numb the natural function of that part.

What natural function of our food stories might we be numbing with our use of The Internet? I’d posit that we’re moving further away from moderate diets, that the pendulum swings to the extremes and has little room to stop in between. As we curate our feeds to show us bread or extreme junk food or daily smoothie bowls with macha & chia…how might this be changing our brains? What does this do to our perception of food? Our relationship with food?

With easier and easier access to junk and gourmet…are we better off? I don’t have the answers but my initial thought is: no, we’re not better off. Services like Blue Apron bug me in particular. It feels that we’re moving towards an error free form of cooking. We give ourselves no quiet time to think or reflect on what made the meal so good or too salty or totally inedible. I hope the future of recipes & cookbooks skews more towards methods & guides rather than strict recipes. When there’s no margin for error: do we learn anything at all? Do we just learn how to mimic something? I don’t know.

Take my beet-cured tempeh as an example: if I didn’t screw that up, if it was all delivered to me in a neat, perfect little package, would I be able to recall and know how much salt is too much? Probably not. I think my brain and cooking are better off for having made that mistake. I think yours would be too.

Things, People, Places, Events Mentioned in This Post

MulanSpillIt MemphisThe Cinnamon SnailSullivan St. BakeryFarmer Ground FlourOrchard GrocerMooShoesNYC VegFestJohn Lewis – Badass VeganYeah Dawg!Screamer’s Pizzeria00 + Co (Double Zero)Modern Love BrooklynScallion Pancake RecipeEating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

My photos from NY thus far

Mother’s Day Photos (including my Aunt’s beautiful roses)

Pictures of the People, Places, Things, Foods Mentioned in This Post

Hoppin’ John with quick pickles

The beet cure mixture

Beet Cured Tempeh beginnings

Beet Cured Tempeh finished, but terrible.

My whole wheat bake

Seitan al pastor from Cinnamon Snail!

Proudly holding that pugliese.

Sullivan St. Bakery pugliese

The poptart & macaron from Orchard Grocer

The Edith from Orchard Grocer

The bruschetta from 00+co (my pic of the pizza isn’t great so we’ll omit it)

My starter with Farmer Ground Flour.

Shiitake sliders snack

Screamer’s Porker Pie slicees! So good y’all.