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Sunday, July 27, 2003

Gee, Arlene, those Ethiopian spice mixtures you used each involved about 20 ingredients. Don’t you sleep? More importantly, don’t you cook foods that NORMAL people have time to make?

Are you implying that I’m not normal?

Um, well… Not necessarily. Just that you seem to devote a lot of time to food, maybe more so than other people.

Oh, that’s just because I’m fanatical. But OF COURSE I make lots of foods that are really easy and simple to make. I work long days, often bike come home after 7 p.m., and I don’t have a lot of time before bed time to make and eat dinner. And dinner is important. So simple, fast, and easy foods are definitely regular parts of my diet.

Such as?

Quick and easy dinners, utilizing store-bought sauces, Chapter 1

Black bean garlic sauce is a fabulous Chinese concentrated paste made with soybeans, garlic, oils, and spices. My favorite brand is “Lum Kum Kee,” which comes in a red, gold, and green jar with a red lid. It makes a salty, dark brown sauce that goes will with several vegetables.

Recipe: broccoli and tofu with black bean sauce

Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the onions and garlic, and stir fry for a minute or two; then add the broccoli, stir well, and cover for 2-3 minutes on medium heat. Stir again, and check to make sure nothing is burning and that the broccoli is starting to turn deeper green. After about 5 minutes, add the tofu (which is very moist and will help steam the broccoli), stir, and cover for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the black bean sauce, stir well, and allow to cook for 5-10 minutes more, until the broccoli is as soft as you like it. Serve over steamed rice.

Recipe: Green beans, red bell peppers, and tofu in black bean sauce over steamed rice

Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the onions and garlic, and stir fry for a minute or two; then add the green beans and bell pepper. Stir well, and cover for 2-3 minutes on medium heat. Stir again, and check to make sure nothing is burning. After about 5 minutes, add the tofu, stir, and cover for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the black bean sauce, stir well, and allow to cook for 5-10 minutes more, until everything is as tender as you like it. Serve over steamed rice.

Recipe: bok choy with black bean sauce

Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the onions and garlic, and stir fry for a minute or two; then add the bok choy. Stir fry 4-5 minutes on medium heat. Add the black bean sauce, stir well, and allow to cook for 5-10 minutes more, until the bok choy is tender, but not mushy. Serve over steamed rice.

Vietnam-style chili garlic sauce is a popular sauce for cooking in many cultures, including Chinese and Vietnamese cooking. There are several good sauces, and they are all based on hot red peppers and vinegar, though some are sweet and some are very, very hot. One of my favorites is by May Lin China, which is a San Francisco Bay Area company that makes a very hot sauce. You should only use a little – perhaps a teaspoon for each serving.

The broccoli/tofu and bok choy recipes above are WONDERFUL with this sauce used in smaller amounts in place of black bean garlic sauce. Broccoli with tofu in chili-garlic sauce may still be my all-round favorite dish. The only thing that’s different is that you can serve it with soy sauce to add as you eat, because the chili-sauce isn’t salty.

Simple pasta sauce variations also add great variety to my diet. I buy an inexpensive but wholesome sauce, such as Trader Joe’s “Marinara Starter Sauce” (which is about $2 for a 28 ounce can!) and add it to sautéed fresh ingredients to make a pleasant sauce, and serve it with inexpensive, wholesome pasta.

Recipe suggestions:

Mushroom and garlic sauce: sauté two cups of sliced mushrooms per person along with 2-4 cloves of crushed garlic in a tablespoon or two of olive oil. When the mushrooms are tender and have given up most of their juices, add about a cup of the purchased sauce and allow to simmer for about 5 minutes. Serve over hot pasta.

Basil and garlic sauce: sauté 2-4 cloves of crushed garlic per person in a small amount of olive oil until it makes your whole kitchen smell MARVELOUS. Add the purchased sauce, and then add about half a cup of shredded, fresh basil leaves (you can just chop them wildly into little slivers with a big knife) and simmer for 5 minutes or so. If any of the leaves are especially gorgeous, garnish each serving with a few whole leaves. This dish is also good with about half an onion per person instead of garlic.

Pasta with olive oil, garlic, and parsley: is possible to just tossed fully cooked pasta with olive oil with a few cloves of crushed garlic that has been sautéed briefly in the oil, and then sprinkle fresh, chopped parsley leaves and a bit of grated pepper on it. This is very simple, and very good. It is especially good on flavored spaghetti, such as artichoke spaghetti.

Store bought ravioli with olive oil, garlic, and parsley: the simple treatment of the sauce described above is especially good with tasty, fresh ravioli. My current favorite ravioli has artichokes, sun dried tomatoes, and cheese inside. It is too subtle and wonderful to cover in a complicated tomato sauce, so I just use the sauce described above. Or I just drizzle a tablespoon of plain olive oil over the cooked ravioli, and then put a few grinds of pepper or a sprinkling of grated parmesan cheese on them.

Pizzettas with any of the sauces above: a loaf of sourdough bread split lengthwise, a package of English muffins, or even pita bread can be quickly converted into a light pizza by using any of the sauces above and sprinkling them with the grated cheese (such as parmesan or mozzarella) of your choice and baking them briefly in the oven, until the cheese is melted and the edges of the bread become crisp. I DO NOT recommend the microwave – it makes breads gummy.

That’s it for now.

posted by Arlene (Beth)8:20 PM

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Some of those Ethiopian recipes I mentioned on-line are very good. I tried the collard greens and spiced cheese, and cooked with both spiced butter and berbere sauce to make spiced lentils, which was very similar to a good Indian dal. (all from I also used the butter and berbere to make an eggplant dish and later a squash dish of my own making, similar to what I've had in restaurants.

The mix makes my house smell just like an Ethiopian restaurant, but the food doesn't quite taste the same. There's something missing! I'll have to eat out at Ethiopian restaurants more. For science! Yes, that's it. Science.
posted by Arlene (Beth)7:50 PM

Friday, July 18, 2003

Speaking of eye candy, this Washington Post feature on A Day in the Life of Africa is gorgeous. It tends to show how people in Africa as exotic and different from so called Westerners (partly naked; in rural settings) rather than like them (stuck in traffic, wearing jeans), but is still pretty and educational.

I have the same tendencies to document difference everywhere I go: I just try to be aware of them, so I don't exoticize people unnecessarily.

Not only are the photos lovely, but there's text about FOOD! Now I'm wondering why I haven't tried Ethiopian shiro (chickpea flour mixed with spices, butter and oil) or aish (one of the world's most ancient breads).

This is a reminder that I have to try some delicious sounding Ethiopian recipes ( and other African recipe resources (Yale personal page).


If I haven't mentioned Nelson Mandela (Washington Post biographical feature) and his fabulous autobiography in a few days, let me mention it again. Yes, it discusses food (though obviously not PRIMARILY). I didn't realize while reading his descriptions of mealies ( that I HAVE had South African mieliepap (a sort of polenta) and other regional dishes in a local restaurant before. Sadly, I didn't draw the connection much while reading the book, because the food I ate was rather plentiful and luxurious, while Mandela's emphasis on food came in the most detail while he was in prison, and it was neither plentiful nor luxurious.

I suppose I haven't mentioned that Apartheid extended to prison food, with caucasian and Indian prisoners receiving different foods (including bread) than people of more ancient African origins did?

It's more proof that food is political.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:31 PM

I just realized I haven't published anything in the 'eye candy' department for a while. The most impressive photo I've seen today is of this wildfires in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado ( The scale of the smoke in the distance is amazing.
posted by Arlene (Beth)7:19 PM

Wednesday, July 16, 2003


Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah, Tour de France, Tour de France, blah blah blah blah St. Tropez, Tour de France, Tour de France…

Gee, Arlene, why aren’t you writing about food?

Sorry. I’ve spent several days obsessed with how much food the boys on the Tour de France have to eat. The riders burn 5,900 to 9,000 calories every day (New York Times), so they really have to eat steadily and seriously.

What, did you expect me to stop thinking about food? The Tour de France is about food. Of course it’s about food. EVERYTHING is about food!!

I’ve been reading about the feed zones ( where assistants called “Soigneurs” feed the riders by draping musette bags over them filled with tasty pastries and sandwiches. I’ve read elsewhere that the riders love to eat baked potatoes, because they’re easy to hold while riding. I also found a list from the 2002 Tour de France on foods to eat for recovery from cycling (Velonews), and another item on what LeMond ate, ( which is pleasantly thorough. Mmmmm, pasta. I like LeMond’s distinction between ‘liquid food’ and ‘food food.’

Six thousand to nine thousand calories per day. It’s just amazing. I can’t imagine eating or burning that much in a day, and I do little else BUT think about eating...


Information about the Tour: [Update 7/19/03: all these links work again. My apologies - I strayed from notepad and was sabotaged by curly quotation marks!]
-Bicycling magazine's Tour pages
-BBC's Sport: Cycling page (with great links on lots of events); their 2001 A-Z Tour de France guide (2001), which is a good resource; and 2003 Tour de France stage 9 photos
-ESPN's Tour 2003
-Winner of the 2001 San Francisco Grand Prix, yet too busy cycling to maintain his web page during this important time, George Well, okay, it’s partly about food: George likes eggs over easy with rice before rides, just so you know.
-Lance Armstrong on-line, 2003 Tour links page. While there are lots of links about all aspects of the sport, my favorite two are to food features: Lance’s coach writes that ”The Tour Marches on its Stomach”, with such details as Lance’s 70% carbohydrate diet, how many of the fats in the riders diets come from how the food is prepared (rather than eating fatty foods), and how the riders need to consume huge amounts of fluids, about half of which are sports drinks. I like the fact that Lance’s coach thinks of sleeping as “an 8-10 hour fast.” WOW. And you think I’m a zealot? Also, retired cyclist Dylan Casey provides a full menu, featuring my personal favorite SF Bay Area local Peet’s Coffee!!!
-New York Times’ Sports Special on the tour, complete with all sorts of Flash animations, maps, revised standings, photos, profiles of the riders, and more
-Outdoor Life Network's coverage, which includes the wonderful, fabulous, let’s watch that crash again, ouch ouch ouch Outdoor Life Network video archive! YES!
-And finally, all the tour basics, including how they pee and who wins what, from

This is probably the only male-monopoly sports feature you’ll ever see me write about, so enjoy it while you can!! I’m very partial to the reporting at the site of multiple world champion cyclist Nicole Cooke, and will be even more so when she writes about food as well!

posted by Arlene (Beth)10:01 PM

Thursday, July 10, 2003

Recipe: cabbage with ginger and garlic.

-two tablespoons of chili canola oil (regular is okay; just add a dash of chili powder or crushed red chilies)
-a tablespoon of fresh ginger root, minced
-three or so cloves of garlic, minced or crushed
-half of a green cabbage, chopped into bite-sized pieces
-minced green onion, about half a cup
-about a teaspoon of sesame oil, or more to taste
-soy sauce to taste

Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the ginger root and garlic when the oil is hot, and stir every few seconds until the ginger and garlic have started to brown near the edges. Add the cabbage, stir, and cover. The cabbage is moist, and it will shrink a bit and release liquid that will steam it. Stir and turn over the cabbage bits every few minutes. After about 10 minutes, add the minced green onion and a few dashes of sesame oil. Recover, but then stir more frequently. When the cabbage appears REALLY tender and perhaps slightly brown here and there, the dish is done. Serve with cooked rice or noodles and soy sauce.

posted by Arlene (Beth)10:36 PM

List of fresh spices I grow: rosemary, oregano, lemon thyme, chives, and cilantro.

Fresh spices I buy or get through my Community Supported Agriculture program: garlic, basil, rosemary, thyme, majoram, chives, lemon verbena, chili peppers, "lime leaves," curry pastes (many kinds!), tarragon, and lemongrass. [Amendment from 7/19/03: ginger root!! I use it nearly every day, and completely forgot it. I was thinking of it as a veggie, rather than as a spice...]

posted by Arlene (Beth)10:35 PM

I have more than 30 spices in my spice cabinet.

That seems rather excessive, but I use most of them. S makes fun of me for running out of spices despite having large, oversized jars that I fill at bulk spice bins at the health food store. He mocks me on the grounds that no one else he knows ever finishes those dinky little bottles they sell at supermarkets, and yet I regularly need to refill my larger jars.

He just doesn't know the right people.


Allspice. Used in cookies.

Amchur. A sour mango powder, used in exotic Indian dishes, including fruity/spicy soups.

Asafoetida. Oniony, garlicky, and slightly odd. It's popular in traditional dishes for yoga practitioners attempting to avoid being overstimulated by actual onions.

Basil. Dried isn't good for as much as fresh is, but my crop in the yard is unhappy and stunted. But dried is passable in long-simmered sauces. Fresh is good in garlic pastes, on heirloom tomatoes and fresh mozzarella under a drizzling of olive oil, fried until crispy with eggplant in Thai dishes...

Bay. A lovely leaf from a lovely-smelling tree. Good in winter soups and stews.

Cardamom. Whole green ones are great in chai, cracked enough to let the flavor out of the pods; dried is good in curries, soups, and sauces.

Cayenne. Wonderful in black bean chili, curries, and in salsas.

Celery seed. I only use this in barley soup, but it's PERFECT for that purpose.

Chili powders and whole dried chilies. In addition to cayenne, I have others. They are good in just about everything. I use them entirely too much, and whenever my tummy bothers me I abruptly realize that I rarely have a chili-powder-free meal. But I change nothing, and then the tummy trouble passes anyway. These include New Mexican Red; 'Seasoning from Hell' which includes habanero powder; cayenne; chipotle; Thai dragon; super chili; Bulgarian carrots; and serranos. And some chili negro of indeterminate age, which is hotter than I'd expected, but not in a bad way.

Cilantro. I grow this in my garden, but bought some dried in desperation. The dried stuff isn't the same. It doesn't make your hands excude herbal freshness for the rest of the morning. Fresh is best.

Cinnamon. A staple of fruit pies and cookies.

Cloves. Good on sugar cookies. Periodically good in curries.

Coriander. I am always pleasantly surprised how fabulous this makes my soups.

Cumin. WONDERFUL in enchiladas and Mexican-inspired stir fries.

Curry powder. Hot. Glorious. Good in soups, on cabbage, and on potatoes. Mmmm.

Fennel. I only use this in certain Indian dishes, and am not sure what these seeds taste like on their own. Except when they're candied, and then they taste just like those pink and white candies... You know which ones I mean. Were they called good and plenty? Hmmmm.

Foenugreek. Known for being an 'aquired taste,' I only use small amounts in Indian bean dishes.

Garam Masala. Essential in soups and Tibetan dishes. Oh, and Indian food.

Ginger. Good in peach pies.

Majoram. Good in many places basil is good, yet somehow under appreciated.

Mustard. I use it up, but I don't know how.

Nutmeg. For creamy, hot beverages. For apple pies. For pastries served with coffee. For many good things.

Oregano. I grow this in my yard, too. Good with tomatoes and Italian food; a secret ingredient in some of my Mexican-inspired dishes.

Paprika. I sneak this into potato dishes.

Pepper. I have several kinds of this. I grind it onto just about everything. Black pepper, the most popular American market pepper, isn't as interesting as white Szechuan pepper, but is easier to spell. I like the mixed peppercorns in green, red and white best.

Rosemary. Wonderful in winter soups and on potatoes.

Sage. Essential for stuffing (though I don't stuff anything with it). Yum: cornbread stuffing.

Tarragon. A secret ingredient in that green goddess dressing I was so into as a kid. Yummy in vinegar. I'm not sure what do to with it that doesn't involve salad dressing, though.

Thyme. Great in quiches, with winter vegetables, and especially with mushrooms and onions.

Turmeric. The spice I use the most, largely because it's great in soups and with potatoes.

posted by Arlene (Beth)10:28 PM

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Dinner: potatoes and green beans in pesto sauce.

Recipe: You'll need
-2-3 potatoes per person
-a handful of green beans per person
-a cup of parsley leaves
-a cup of basil leaves
-about six cloves of garlic
-1/4 cup of parmesan cheese (optional)
-1/4 cup or more of olive oil
-salt and pepper.

Wash the veggies. Chop the potatoes into largish, bite-sized pieces; break the stringy ends off the green beans. Steam the potatoes in a conventional steamer (you should have one!) over about an inch of boiling water until they are tender, about 12 minutes. Put them in a mixing bowl, and then steam the green beans until tender but still slightly crunchy, about 7 minutes. Put them in the bowl with the potatoes.

In a blender, puree a cup of fresh parsley leaves, a cup of fresh basil leaves, six crushed/pressed cloves of garlic, 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese if you like that sort of thing, and enough olive oil to make the blender work. You want a thick paste that you can't pour. You'll need to press down in between blends to get everything incorporated.

Mix about half of the pesto in with the steamed potatoes and green beans. (You can use the other half of the pesto sauce to decorate heirloom tomatoes and fresh cheese later in the week.) Add a bit of salt and grind some pepper over.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:29 PM

Monday, July 07, 2003

Today: a long ramble on people who are maladjusted about food.

I have pleasant food associations with many people. I fondly remember laughing in dim Indian restaurants filled with tandoori smoke; romantic little Italian restaurants with quiet, smiling wait staff; ultra-spicy banquets shared with six friends that made our eyes tear and noses run; plentiful breakfasts on sunny mornings with lots of potatoes; long, emotional discussions about life and loss over creamy chai… Breaking bread with people is a lovely ritual, and I fondly remember many such rituals with my friends and relatives. A couple of S’ friends are coming to town, and I can’t help but think, as I so often do, about my food associations with them.

These associations are not very good.

Well, perhaps they are more ‘absent’ than anything else. You see, these friends of his live in a town about a six hour drive away, and at least twice they have invited us up to stay with them and celebrate some event in their lives. And each time, they have been unwilling to eat with us.

No, really. I didn’t believe it myself. My upbringing makes this rather inconceivable. My mother’s people are Polish, and if there’s anything they like to do, it’s make offers of food or just ply you with beverages and snacks over your protests. My father’s people are from the south, and they’re not satisfied until you’ve gained 10 pounds. They do not accept no or ‘I’m not hungry’ as an answer. Many of my peers growing up were from countries with similar traditions, and I learned quickly about how to be appreciated on casual visits by baking something, or picking up a few loaves of bread and some soft cheese on the way over. Some of my high school friends were forbidden to come over my house by their parents unless their parents MADE US LUNCH and had my friends pack it over to us on the bus in their backpacks. I’m not alone in my belief that food SHOULD BE shared as often as possible.

So the idea of inviting someone to your house, knowing that they have spent six hours or more in a car, and then not offering so much as a glass of water is… just not of this earth.

The first time I went up, the only thing I consumed in their home was a cup of coffee. They offered this to me on the second day of the visit, after one of them ate a full breakfast with a roommate and pretended that S and I weren’t there. Every other meal I had eaten out, WITHOUT THEM, with the semi exception of seeing them snack at a pot luck party they asked us to attend and another friend’s house (and buy and bring food to, which we did), but then they decided not to stay, and we wound up leaving before having our fill. When at home, they claimed to be ill, and said they needed rest, and when we came back, there were a few dirty dishes in the sink. It was surreal.

S claimed that his friends had not been raised by wolves. But I wasn’t so sure.

Fearing a repeat, the last time I went up to visit I pre-baked a full pan of my lasagna, and filled a cooler with it plus all the ingredients for a salad, including dressing. I was glad I did: the food I brought up served as the only two meals we ate while there (dinner and breakfast. Really.). It also allowed me to watch my hosts eat my cooking, which they did, proving that they do eat, and can do so in the presence of other people.

So I left CERTAIN they were raised by wolves, and kept careful watch over my backpack to make sure they didn’t spray it to mark it as their territory or bury it in their den.

After an incident at a family-style Asian restaurant where they wouldn’t share the dishes they ordered with a friend they had brought with them, I concluded scientifically that these people are hopeless freaks, and wolves are too social to have raised them. I asked friends from their region if their behavior would be considered normal for the area. One said that freakdom is common in the region, but neither considered such behavior normal.

S has since visited them without me and has a new theory: they are embarrassed that they eat meat at every meal. Though I didn’t notice, he claimed that during earlier visits while they weren’t eating with us they spoke highly of vegetarianism. He observed something very different during a recent visit. Also, they know I’m a foodie, which he thinks may intimidate them.

WHATEVER!! But I’m telling all readers out there: don’t let this happen to your friends! Bring them into the warm embrace of civilization and teach them how to eat with people! The social life you save will earn you points at the buffet in the next life!

posted by Arlene (Beth)9:41 PM

Sunday, July 06, 2003

My box from the Garden Project this week: a bouquet of flowers, especially dahlias; ultra-fresh young garlic, so tender that paper hasn’t yet formed between the cloves; red lettuce; romaine lettuce; broccoli; cabbage; beets with lush greens; fresh basil; and robust green onions.


The broccoli is especially good lightly steamed and tossed with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, green onions, capers, Kalamanta olives.

The beet greens are especially tasty sautéed with garlic and onions in olive oil and sprinkled with parmesan cheese.

The beets themselves I’m not so fond of, even with lime vinaigrette. I’m considering pickling them, but that seems like cheating, somehow.


S is amused that, instead of going out and buying what I want to prepare, I'm instead pleasantly surprised each week by whatever is in the box, and then work out my plans from there. Our diets have been VERY different from usual as a result. I've been pleasantly surprised at how my experiments with the less common veggies have worked out. (Except for the beets. I'll work on that.) Now I look forward to mustard greens and hope for lemon verbena for tea, things that weren't in my diet before.


I haven’t been writing very much because I’ve been too absorbed reading Nelson Mandela’s autobiography. It is stirring, impressive, inspiring… It’s amazing that he was always convinced that change was possible, and always committed to doing his utmost to bringing that change about. Even during his 27 years in prison for his politics, away from his loved ones, he never stopped trying to make things better for his people, including his fellow inmates.

Read it! Read it now! You know you want to.

posted by Arlene (Beth)9:58 PM

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