Starting a fresh notebook (plus, checking out IFTTT Instagram to Tumblr script). #levenger #moleskine #noadds via Instagram

We have an ever-evolving “morning” playlist that we listen to most school days as we get the kids out the door. Bucimis performed by the extraordinary mandolin player Avi Avital has been on our morning playlist for almost a year now and I think it really sets the right kind of tone for frying bacon, making coffee and screaming at kids to find their jackets and bags.

I just came across this video for a performance of it. The percussion intro is a bit drawn out but worth it (though skip to about 1:30 if you want to get to the song). Plus, smoking accordian!

Enjoy!

This band, Real Estate, and their album Atlas, boy I’ll tell you what. It’s back in heavy rotation after I sort of forgot about it and it is STELLAR. Start with “Had to Hear.” Great sound, production, song writing.

MO’ BETTER LOVE BOWL

My experience of eating a vegetarian entree generally goes through three stages:

1.) The presentation stage where I see the dish I’ve just ordered and think There’s no way this is going to fill me up.

2.) The realization stage where three or four forkfuls into the meal I realize that this dish is way more filling than I originally thought.

3.) The boredom stage where I struggle to reconcile the fact that I’m still hungry with the fact that the food is so boring I could not possibly muscle my way through to keep eating.

And so I either end the meal hungry or trying to choke down something that stopped being appetizing several bites ago.

Because this is usually my experience with vegetarian food, the Love Bowl at Red Bank’s Good Karma Cafe was a bit of a revelation for me. The combination of rice, beans, greens and tempeh with flavors of coconut milk was new to me. It was filling and almost kept my taste buds in the game right through to the bottom of the bowl.

That being said, I knew after my first bite that it could be massively improved with some thin slices of marinated beef. The combination of sautéed greens, thin slices of pan seared beef and sriracha is something I stumbled on this past summer and whenever I have fresh greens from the garden, the dish is in heavy rotation.

And so I set about trying to improve upon the Love Bowl and this week we had it for dinner and it was spectacular. Credit is due to Good Karma for being the inspiration here. This is how I constructed the Mo’ Better Love Bowl from bottom to top.

  • Coconut jasmine rice
  • Cuban-style black beans with red onions, garlic and worchestershire sauce
  • Swiss chard sautéed in bacon and garlic
  • Thin slices of sirloin marinated in soy sauce
  • Drizzled with sriracha and topped with some crushed peanuts i toasted up in a pan.

Most of the above is probably self-explanatory. If it’s not, drop me a message for detailed recipes. NB a few tips about the coconut milk:

  • Substitute some of the water you use to make the rice with about ¾ of a can of coconut milk and add an extra pinch of salt to the rice. This gives the rice a really satisfying sweetness and creaminess.
  • Take the remaining ¼ can of coconut milk and stir it into the sautéed greens just before you take them off the heat.
  • Put about 1/3 cup of finished rice at the bottom of a deep bowl, add 1/3 cup of the black beans. Cover with a thin layer of sautéed greens, drizzle some of the green coconut milk over this.
  • Pan sear your thin slices of beef and put them over the greens.
  • Drizzle with sriracha and garnish with roasted, crushed peanuts.

Kat Edmonson

Ella Fitzgerald

Many years ago (just before Kelly and I went to Hawaii for our honeymoon if I remember correctly), my friend Rich Morris turned me on to a version of Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most by Ella Fitzgerald.

My wife and I ended up listening to it repeatedly while driving the road to Hana and it’s always been a great favorite of ours, partially because it’s a great melody and lyric but also because listening to Ella execute the vocal acrobatics required to perform the piece is just a joy.

Anyway, I went searching for it on Beats the other day and couldn’t find Ella doing it but came across this version by Kat Edmonson. I’d never heard of her. At times her voice is just a bit too cutesy for my taste but she tackles this one without accompaniment and it’s a real show of vocal dexterity and control.

Check it out for yourself on the Youtube

She also does The Cure’s Just Like Heaven which I didn’t care for too much though some of her other cuts like Lucky are good matches with her voice.

So, anyway, Kat Edmonson. Might be nice to put that on while you’re making dinner this week.

Note that when digging up the link above for Ella Fitzgerald’s version, I listened to both Ella’s version and Kat’s and boy, no one can compare with Ella.

2014 – the year according to my kitchen

Looking back through some of my photos from 2014 offers a fairly thorough rundown of some of the new food-related things I tackled. So, 5PM on NYE (as I write this) seems like a good a time as any to give some thought to what I accomplished this past year, here’s a brief list of the greatest hits:

The Brian Polcyn butchery and charcuterie course I took was probably the biggest food undertaking for me this year. I wish I had taken it 20 years ago, it probably would have changed the course of my life dramatically though I might not have been ready for it then, so who knows.

After the butchery course, I got even deeper into learning about pork this year and feel very confident in my ability to make something delicious out of fresh hams, pork bellies and large shoulders. My carnitas is some of the best I’ve tasted and I can’t wait for another opportunity to make my porchetta-inspired fresh ham.

Other high points from the year were that I received a very nice email from John Thorne. I read Thorne’s Outlaw Cook back when Kelly and I lived in Washington DC (seems like ages ago because it was) and i’ve read everything he’s written since. Thorne is the best food writer we have and just a great, great honest and sincere voice and I was really flattered by his kind words.

I made a few big deal-type dinners this year that went well: a bbq beef brisket for my brother’s birthday, a standing beef rib roast for Thanksgiving II at my mom’s, a fairly (too) elaborate sunday sauce for no particular reason – these were all as tasty as to be expected and I don’t think I would significantly change how I prepared any of them. The Sunday Sauce wasn’t quite worth the effort (I made A LOT of meatballs for this sauce), but it was good nonetheless. I will absolutely make a larger beef brisket next time.

I “invented” a few quick, simple dishes this year that I’ll definitely be making again next year. My garden yielded a never ending crop of kale and chard and mid-summer or so, I started whipping up a steak, kale and sriracha stir fry with small pieces of whatever cheap beef trimmings I could get from one of our area butchers.

Also, one of our neighbors turned me on to grilled raddiccio this year. I would quarter it (leave the stem in so it doesn’t fall apart) marinate it herbs/balsamic/olive oil and grill it with some thinly sliced steak and onions. Truly delicious and makes me wish for summer and fresh produce.

This year also marks the year I stumbled upon the Lusty Lobster’s occaisional “ready-cooked” lobster sales on Facebook. Occasionally, when this great seafood store has an event and steams too many lobsters they put them on sale at the fish counter for really, really cheap. That resulted in multiple rounds of Lobster BLTS as well as a good freezer full of lobster stock which I’ve made a lot of good fish curries from this year.

And then there was my bacon experiment. I bought 12 pounds of duroc pork belly and cured it in two batches (one bourbon, one maple+coffee) with the hopes of giving it out for christmas presents to friends and family. I bought a cold smoker contraption and ended up smoking the belly way too much. The family loves it but it’s too bitter for me and I couldn’t give it as a gift and feel good about it. We’ve used just about all of it up and the scraps/trimmings (useful as lardons, especially when blanched) are just delicious. So I’ll need to try that again and this time not smoke it so long.

A good year of eating I’d say. i learned a lot and learned I have a lot to learn.

Keep The Cooking in Thanksgiving

In the preface to his book of essays, “Mouth Wide Open”, food writer John Thorne writes that our widespread adoption of cooking-as-entertainment is bringing about the death of cooking itself. I just happened to read this as I was putting together our Thanksgiving menu and realized that much like the “Keep Christ in Christmas” message, we probably ought to have something like “Keep the Cooking in Thanksgiving.”

Thorne says before the radio, people learned to sing and play instruments if they wanted to hear music. “Entertainments like Iron Chef and the Food Network are similarly transforming kitchen work into spectacle.” In other words, instead of learning to play instruments and sing, we fire up a track iTunes and instead of learning to cook “we’ll pop a favorite chef’s signature dish into the microwave,” writes Thorne.

“Cooking is a metier that demands that you learn to think with your senses and articulate with your hands. Tasting, smelling, prodding, kneading, even listening — at bottom, kitchen work is just not a verbal activity.” He’s referring here to how difficult it is to learn to cook from a book. Learning to cook requires direct hands on experience, getting down, “mano a mano with the onions and potatoes.”

In this way, cooking —real cooking — is like meditation. You can read about meditation all day long and it won’t have nearly the effect of actually sitting and watching your thoughts and you breath for five minutes. Naturally there is an entire industry dedicated to emptying your pockets in exchange for books and such about meditation because at the end of the day it’s easier to read about meditation than it is to actually meditate.

And so it goes with cooking. Thorne writes that after a hundred years of massive commercial effort being invested to create more things for you to buy to make cooking easier, even the word “cooking” has been twisted. “As the prepared-meal counter at markets like Whole Foods gets longer and longer, ‘cooking’ becomes a matter of selecting something among all this food to bring home for dinner.”

When writing food stories, I greatly prefer writing about home cooks over professional chefs. Most of the professional chefs I’ve interviewed are very, very self-aware—too self-aware to lose themselves in the interview. But I’ve found that the best home cooks are not worried about their image as “chefs” or worried about entertaining.

Just as the best musicians disappear in service to the music they are creating, the best home cooks disappear in the kitchen and mostly are preoccupied with being true to what they are making. Whatever other chaos or madness may permeate their day-to-day life, when they are in the kitchen explaining how to make something dear and personal to them, these home cooks become like Zen masters, vessels for the direct transmission of enlightenment.

Thorne says that as cooking becomes entertainment it becomes easier to let other people do it for you. Of course where the pace of modern life intersects with the convenience of modern, prepared food options, every family has to weigh their priorities.

If getting down “mano a mano with the onions and potatoes” is not as important as soccer practice or whatever other commitments are on the calendar, prepared foods are going to win out.

And so, as I was reading this on week leading up to Thanksgiving, I’m thinking that there’s no soccer practice on Thanksgiving, right? This is our country’s only holiday that is based on sharing food together (there probably ought to be more of those) and many of us will be lucky to be at home with our families.

In reading Thorne’s essay at this right time of year, it occurs to me that this holiday is the perfect opportunity to be mindful in the kitchen. No matter what we do in the kitchen the rest of the year, the very essence of Thanksgiving is to be mindful and grateful, especially if we have families to share that gratitude with. I can think of no finer way to do that then to be rubbing elbows at the counter while we get “mano a mano with the onions and potatoes.”

The Shortness of Life: Seneca on Busyness and The Art of Living Wide Rather Than Living Long

The Shortness of Life: Seneca on Busyness and The Art of Living Wide Rather Than Living Long

How Would Buddha Organize Our Cutthroat Modern Economy? | Blog, Perspectives | BillMoyers.com

How Would Buddha Organize Our Cutthroat Modern Economy? | Blog, Perspectives | BillMoyers.com

Paris Review – The Art of Poetry No. 83, Billy Collins

Paris Review – The Art of Poetry No. 83, Billy Collins