Category Archives: food

dark magic

ImageCoffee is one of my favorite things in the world. When I was in college, and young and stupid, I used coffee for its caffeine, which gave me the fortitude to pull all-nighters and write ridiculous papers in Spanish. As I got older, I fell in love with the sweet and creamy beverages at Starbucks, adulterating my coffee with sugar, cream, syrup, “flavor”, and whatever else they had on offer. To be fair, if you’ve ever had an actual cup of Starbucks coffee, you’ll understand the need to hide in amongst all the fluff. But Starbucks, not unlike the tobacco industry, has managed to create a brew that nearly doubles the traditional dosage of caffeine in a cup of coffee and in the process created a new generation of supposed “coffee-lovers”. Continue reading

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realismo magico

Santiago de Cali

Santiago de Cali

Despite an incredible backlog of posts here for my life in Ireland, I’m interrupting the daily grind to bring news from Colombia, la tierra de realismo magico. I’ve been in Colombia almost a week, initially for a meeting and now just for fun. I’ve been in Cali, where I’ve had some incredible experiences and met great people, and in another day I’ll head to Bogota and then places beyond.

Colombia gets a bad rep. Everyone thinks it’s funny (or maybe they are being serious) to say “don’t get kidnapped” upon hearing I was traveling here. Years ago, that might have been some good advice (we’ve all seen “Romancing the Stone”). These days, though, unless you head into some really remote areas (generally to the south), you’ll be fairly safe, at least from terrorism. Regular crime (muggings, mostly) are a completely different matter. Continue reading

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happy easter

photo (7) Yahoo! told me recently that carrot cake is a traditional Easter dessert. Easter is kind of a big holiday here, with bank closures on Friday and Monday (and some businesses too). I assume everyone will go to church tomorrow, but I like the idea of celebrating in a culinary fashion (tonight I’m apparently having fish pie). I’m not a big fan of carrot cake, but I do love the cream cheese frosting. So I thought I could see if I could figure out a version that I’d find tasty. I’m not sure what I don’t really like – I think it’s the weird stringy carrots and the greasiness. Plus it’s so super sweet. I’ve also discovered recently that I’m not really a cake fan – I much prefer denser chewier pastries (flaky pastries excepted). Continue reading

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emergence

It’s been almost 6 months since I last posted, and I have no excuse except that life got busy with the new job, after a year or so of a low-key lifestyle.  The difference between life “over there” and “over here” is stark.  In Mongolia, I had a small community of friends, limited social activities in a smallish town, and lots of free time to experiment in the kitchen, wander the city, or take a few weeks to head into the countryside.   Some things fell by the wayside – my yoga practice wasn’t regular, for example – but I did get a chance to do lots of things I’ve always wanted to do.

The biggest difference, I think, has been in the kitchen.  In Mongolia, I got to spend time making things I’d never think about making – so long as I could find the ingredients.  And when I couldn’t, I learned to substitute.  And when you are forced to make something “imperfect”, and have it turn out ok, I think that slowly starts to penetrate other parts of your life too.  Frankly, that’s a lesson this control freak could stand to learn many many times.

But here, we have everything again, and I don’t have to think too hard about making something.  In fact, sometimes I don’t have to think about making anything at all, as evidenced by the other day when I ordered baked pasta for delivery.  A simple 4-ingredient dish and it was much easier to order in than to go to the store and buy the ingredients and make it myself.

So I’m trying to get back into the habit of cooking, because I like to do so, and because it’s healthier.   I’m experimenting in different ways now – instead of trying to figure out substitutes, I’m making creative dishes with disparate leftovers of ingredients before they go bad.  The results have been not too bad – putting feta in polenta, brussels sprouts in risotto, persimmon in cookies, candied ginger in bran muffins, parsley and soy sausage with whole wheat pasta, etc.  Freezing overripe fruit for smoothies.

The latest attempt tonight was cranberry ginger bran quickbread.  The recipe started as muffins, before I realized I only had a small muffin tin.  So I used a shallow loaf pan instead, and it baked up beautifully.  After it cooled, I sliced it up and have frozen half of it for morning breakfasts (maybe with a little peanut butter?).  The cranberries were dried and sweetened, but I might try fresh ones next time.  The ginger I candied myself, and keep stored in the fridge in its own syrup (which I added to the recipe).

So here’s hoping this is the start of a new old habit again…

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and…. back to asia

After 3 weeks back in the US, I took off for Asia once again.  This time, I’ve headed to Thailand, for 10 days of detox yoga on Koh Samui.  I’ve been to Thailand before, but the last time was 12 years ago, and I’ve never been south.  This time around, I arrived late at night at the airport, and flew out relatively early the next day, thereby bypassing Bangkok in the midst of politics and violence.

The rest of Thailand is untouched by the happenings in Bangkok, and nowhere would that be more evident than in the islands, where an entirely different Thailand resides.  Here, the main currency is tourism, and foreigners flock to the resorts, bungalows and beaches for some R & R and/or late-night partying.

Koh Samui is popular, but it’s possible to avoid much of the crowd by staying in some little retreat or hideaway tucked away from the beach.   In this case, I’m at Absolute Sanctuary, home to some great yoga and a fantastic kitchen.

I’m doing 10 days of yoga and good food, no caffeine, no alcohol, and very little of the outside life, internet not withstanding.  We have a TV, but it’s small and not really worth watching.  There’s a gorgeous pool, a nice view of the ocean, and did I mention that kitchen?

So, Day 1 consisted of some pranayama and two low-key yoga classes.  Breakfast was some amazing vegan concoction involving tofu and peppers and divine spices, plus some coconut-based yogurt and tropical fruit.  And pineapple juice with ginger.  Lunch was even more yummy, with fresh corn in a sweet potato soup, spicy papaya salad, the most amazing sauteed kale, and a wonderful coconut curry over brown rice.  I am sure dinner will be fabulous too… but before that, it’s time for my daily massage.

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heart and seoul

Seoul is my city.  I could live here.  I think people do nothing but shop, eat, and hike mountains.  And work, of course. Maybe a lot more than I’d like.  But that’s just to earn money for the shopping and the eating, and the shopping required to go hiking. 

The city is plugged in and wired up, and everything is easy and comfortable and convenient.  Of everything, I think my biggest culture shock will come from trying to navigate the DC metro, after the pampering on the  Seoul subway (and I was only here for 6 days!).

The food is phenomenal.   Traditional Korean food is probably one of the world’s best cuisines, a culture that has poured its heart into the kitchen and produced some amazing culinary delights.   But modern Korean fusion is fantastic too, and the same care and vision that goes into Korean fashion and design finds its way into food too.  After a year in Mongolia, where it sometimes feels like taste is an afterthought, it’s welcoming to spend a week in a country that pampers the taste buds, along with your soul.

So of course, I ate. A lot.  And I shopped.  Not a lot, though enough.  You could spend hours exploring the cute little neighborhoods, each with their own personality, finding little stores in hideaway alleys where handmade jewelry, tea sets, and other knickknacks made by someone’s sister abound. 

I didn’t hike any mountains, though I did visit the DMZ, which deserves its own post (if only for the space required for my ramblings on foreign policy and history).   I think, as I end my travels, that I’ve hit a bit of travel fatigue.  I could continue traveling, of course, but probably can’t muster the energy to do more than eat and shop and maybe relax in the spa.  Which, really, is the perfect type of activity for Seoul.

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candied ginger

I’ve been experimenting with cooking lately, and a few weeks ago, I made some crystallized ginger.  The recipe is simple, but requires a bit of precision.

The best way to make it is, of course, with a candy thermometer, so you can get the sugar syrup to the right proportions.  But I don’t have one, and can’t be bothered to get one, so I went with the eyeball test.  Basically, I cooked the syrup until it was the consistency of thin honey, and left it at that.  I’ve also heard that you can take the syrup and drip a bit in a glass of cold water.  It should form thin threads but not congeal into a ball.   Cook it any longer, and you’ll have hard candy.

The process is pretty simple:

  1. Take some ginger, peel, and slice thinly.
  2. Boil in plain water for 10-15 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  3. Take equal parts sugar and water and mix in the pot. Add a touch of salt, and the ginger slices.
  4. Cook until the liquid is the consistency of hot thin honey.
  5. Let rest for about an hour or two.

One can leave the ginger slices as is, at this point, or, while still warm, remove and roll around on a plate of sugar.

Once cool, I store either in the syrup, or drain out of the syrup and store in a ziploc.  If they’ve been sugared, I’ll brush off the excess sugar and store in the ziploc.

The sugar syrup can be used for other things, like perhaps with a bit of sparkling water or soda, or maybe even added to some champagne and orange juice.

You’ll notice there are no measurements in this recipe – I think it depends on how much you want to make.   The rule of thumb is that you need enough sugar syrup to cover the ginger pieces, but that can also depend on the size of your pot.  In my most recent batch, I used 4 pieces of ginger about the size of thumb, sliced thinly, and cooked in 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar.

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