lemon jelly

Class Distractions
October 22, 2008, 1:25 pm
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I have a bit of a confession to make. Sometimes, when I’m in lecture, brow furrowed, lips pursed, tapping away at my laptop, I’m not really puzzling over the ethics of proxy decision-making for incompetent patients or deliberating in my head about the role of belief in our emotions. Sometimes, I’m just thinking: “What’s for lunch/dinner?”

So, as interesting as court appeals and the issues of informed consent really are, I found myself in my bioethics class today fantasizing about the warm, crusty whole-wheat rolls and luscious lentil stew that were waiting for me at home. I couldn’t help it. Blustery winds, inverted umbrellas, and very wet feet have sort of been the norm lately, and I don’t see things getting better. I may as well take what comforts I can, and there’s little better to warm up with than a steaming bowl of stew on days like this.

The stew is something I made on Sunday with Steve, and it’s only gotten better since then. It’s a pretty quick recipe too. We were able to throw it together after dinner without too much fuss, even though neither of us really wanted to do anything except curl up on the couch with the cat.

Admittedly, I didn’t think that the stew looked like much on paper, and I really wasn’t sure about the dill, but I went along with Steve’s assurances, and sure enough, it turned out to be pretty lovely stuff. Its ingredients don’t look like anything too extraordinary, but there’s nothing banal about this stew. If you want a bowl full of warm fall flavours, this is it.

The whole-wheat rolls, by the way, are from the November/December issue of Cook’s Illustrated. It’s a fabulous magazine for its thoroughness and detail to method. I just wish it were more vegetarian friendly. My subscription is halfway through, so if anyone has any recommendations for good vegetarian magazines, I’d be open to suggestions.

Hearty Lentil Stew

Adapted from Gillian McKeith’s You Are What You Eat.

  • 2 cups brown lentils
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 cubes of vegetable bullion
  • 6 cups water
  • 5 large carrots, chopped
  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded, and chopped
  • 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 1/2 lbs mini white potatoes, halved or quartered
  • a few handfuls of watercress (about half a pound), chopped
  • 4 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
  • 2 tsp tamari
  1. Soak lentils in cold water for about 20 minutes. Rinse and drain.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large stock pot, warm oil over medium heat and saute onions until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute for 2 or 3 more minutes.
  3. Add the bullion cube, water, lentils, carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, and potatoes to the pot and bring to a boil. Let simmer 20-25 minutes or until lentils and vegetables are soft.
  4. Stir in watercress, dill, and tamari.

Serves 6-8.


Things to Re-visit
September 13, 2008, 6:39 pm
Filed under: food, philosophy, recipes | Tags: ,

For the most part, I expect a lot from myself. Maybe my obsessive revisions come with the philosophical territory – sometimes, it seems that you have to be either a genius or a perfectionist to succeed in this business – but, even so, pretty much everyone knows that the prospect of failure when I’ve done my best terrifies me. Rewind to last fall when I got my first and only paper back from Introduction to Kant, then, and it probably won’t surprise you that I dropped the class, turned tail, and ran when I saw the less than stellar grade. Metaphysics, an incomprehensibly wheezy and Scottish professor, and poor grades were just too much to handle in the midst of a bigger crisis of confidence at the time.

Ever since, of course, any mention of anything even remotely related to the transcendental aesthetic, pure reason, or a priori synthetic judgements has pained me – made me wince, grind my teeth, and wave my arms dismissively – that is, up until last Tuesday. At 1:00 pm that day, I bit the bullet and joined the class for a second time, still dreading raspy, brogue-addled run-on sentences and German obscurity but resigned to the fact that a philosophical education isn’t complete without a good grasp of Immanuel Kant.

It wasn’t that bad. In fact, it was splendid. I hung on to almost every word. Maclachlan’s Scottish mutterings made my head light up with the past year’s worth of formal logic, philosophy of language, and philosophy of mind. Things actually made sense! A little time and experience has made all the difference. Some things might just be worth re-visiting (we’ll have to see how the first paper goes…).

Bok choy, though, has definitely proved to be one of those things worth re-visiting. I went on this dirt-cheap six-day tour through central China last December, and I swear that greasy, bland bok choy was the only vegetable served on our tour circuit, lunch and dinner, from Nanking to Shanghai. There was even some at one of the hotel breakfast buffets. Not surprisingly, bok choy didn’t make my grocery list after that. But then, a couple of weeks ago, I saw one of my favourite vendors at the farmers’ market selling cute little bundles of Shanghai bok choy and couldn’t resist.

Stir-Fried Bok Choy

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large clove garlic, sliced
  • 1 tbsp fresh ginger root chopped
  • 1 fresh red chili, de-seeded and chopped
  • 1 small bunch Shanghai bok choy (about a quarter pound), separated into stalks
  • 1/4 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp cilantro, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp honey
  1. Heat oil over medium-low heat in a sautee pan.
  2. Add garlic, ginger, and chili to oil and brown, about five minutes.
  3. Turn up heat to medium, add bok choy, and stir until wilted, about three to five minutes. Add sesame oil.
  4. Remove bok choy from heat. Sprinkle with cilantro, drizzle with honey, and toss. Serve over rice.

Makes 2 servings.

Borrowed Pakoras
September 7, 2008, 2:25 am
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I got an email from Tahera Rawji this weekend saying that I could share her incredible recipe for pakoras here. She’s yet another reason that I wish I were on the West coast. I bet a cooking class with her would be amazing. I guess I’ll just have to make do with my borrowed copy of her cookbook. Did I ever mention that I’m really bad with returning loans?


Note: Eno fruit salt isn’t actually a salt at all. As the bottle says, it’s an ‘effervescing powder’. Look for it with the antacids at the pharmacist’s. I’ve been told that Ms. Rawji is adamant about using it in this recipe. It acts sort of as a leavening to make the pakoras light and crisp. Also, deep-frying is a method that unnerves me, but I have a few tips: heat your oil slowly, lower your heat once you’ve hit a good frying temperature and keep adjusting accordingly, you know that you’re good to go with the oil when you drop in some batter and the oil bubbles around it (see above).

from Tahera Rawji and Hamid Suleman’s Simply Indian, reprinted with permission

  • 2 1/2 cups gram flour (chickpea flour), sifted
  • 1/2 bunch spinach
  • 1 tbsp chopped cilantro
  • 1 medium potato, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • a few pieces of cauliflower
  • 1/4 tsp coriander seeds, split
  • 1/4 salt
  • 1/4 chili powder
  • 1/4 garlic, crushed
  • 1/4 tsp Eno fruit salt
  • 3-4 cups vegetable oil (for deep-frying)
  1. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, spinach, cilantro, potato, onion, cauliflower, coriander seeds, salt, chili powder, and garlic.
  2. Use a tablespoon to add water little by little to form a thick paste.
  3. Add the fruit salt.
  4. Heat the oil in a large pot.
  5. Form the paste into balls and slowly deep-fry them.

Serves six.

Modest Steps

Contrary to popular understanding, philosophy is a pretty modest enterprise. The days of grand, architectonic metaphysics are pretty well over. No one today is going to sit down with a pen and try with a little a priori deduction to convince you that God exists. One of the hallmarks of any grounded method or mode of inquiry is its practitioners’ recognition of the method’s limitations. Without it, you end up with embarrassments like St. Anselm’s folly. I think it’s safe to say that some hard lessons have been learned and that philosophers generally don’t entertain those kinds of pretensions anymore.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally get tripped up by overambition. I realised last night that I’ve probably been having trouble with my thesis because I’m not quite ready to settle the ongoing debate in liberal theory in twenty pages. So, today I’ve been scaling back and taking modest steps – in food and in philosophy.

A few nights ago, I made Daniel Pattern’s honey-glazed apricots, but lacking the requisite vanilla ice cream, I’ve been smushing the lovely sweet-tart apricot halves on toast for breakfast. At lunch today, I decided that that gooey goodness would work well with some old cheddar too. Grilled cheese, anyone? Unpretentious and completely doable.

Gooey Grilled Cheese with Smushed Apricots

  • two slices multigrain bread
  • softened butter for slathering on bread
  • thin slices of aged white cheddar
  • 2 honey-glazed apricot halves or 1 tbsp of apricot jam (see above)
  • a pinch of sucanut or brown sugar (optional)
  • 5 or 6 medium basil leaves
  • fresh ground pepper
  1. Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Butter each slice of bread on one side and flip over. Top one slice with half the cheddar. Layer with apricot halves and smush with a butter knife until fruit breaks out of skins. Spread fruit evenly over cheese. Sprinkle with sucanut if using.
  2. Smash basil leaves with the end of a wooden spoon to release oils. Stack leaves one on top of the other, roll up from stem towards tip, and slice thinly to get curled shreds. Layer basil on apricots. Add pepper to taste, followed by the remaining cheese. Top with second bread slice, buttered side up.
  3. Grill sandwich on skillet, 3-5 minutes per side, flipping when bread is golden. Slice on a diagonal and serve immediately.

Distractions and a Salad
August 8, 2008, 8:13 pm
Filed under: food, recipes | Tags: , , , ,

I’ve been reading a lot lately. I’m at 9 journal articles, 12 chapters from 4 books, and counting for my lit survey. That’s probably only about 500 pages at most, but give me a break – I’m a philosophy undergrad. I consider anything more than 30 pages to be a lot of reading. Of course, I’d have read a lot more by now if it hadn’t been for certain distractions.

Rather than reading Eamonn Callan’s Creating Citizens while at the library yesterday, I found myself browsing wistfully on the Anthropologie website. Isn’t the peacock dinnerware just adorable? The 3-D Toile Full Apron is quite fetching too. I don’t think I can quite justify spending the $108 or so it would cost to purchase just two sets of the peacock dishes, but I do need a new apron…

I’ve also devoted an unusual amount of thought to quinoa over the past couple of days. I’m not very keen on its natural nutty flavour, but, with all of its nutrients, it’s not something to pass up. I really liked the porridge I wrote about a few weeks ago for its use of cardamom pods, so I thought that maybe another spice infusion would be the trick to making quinoa a little more palatable. I also had a little bit of homemade peanut butter left from Heidi Swanson’s amazing vegan peanut butter cookies – clearly the beginnings of a tangy peanut sauce. Throw in a few fresh things from the farmers’ market, and you’ve got a salad with substance.

Summer Quinoa Salad

Note: The 1/2 tsp of chili flakes adds a touch of heat to the salad but isn’t necessary. I enjoy the kick. The vegetables I used were the ones I just happened to have picked up at the farmers’ market yesterday. I’m sure that a number of other summer veggies would work just as well – maybe some blanched broccoli florets or fresh corn kernels or cucumber slices.

  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp dried chili flakes (optional)
  • 1/2 cup quinoa, well rinsed
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tbsp crunchy peanut butter
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp maple syrup
  • 1/4 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • zest and juice of a lime
  • 1/2 a red bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup green string beans, blanched and chopped
  • handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
  1. Heat oil in a medium sauce pan over medium-low heat. Add coriander and and chili flakes and toast until their flavours begin to release, about a minute.
  2. Add quinoa and water, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn the heat down to low and let simmer for 15-20 minutes or until most of the water has been absorbed.
  3. Meanwhile, stir together peanut butter, soy sauce, maple syrup, sesame oil, lime juice, and lime zest. Add sauce to the cooked quinoa. Stir in bell pepper and green beans. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
  4. Garnish with cherry tomato halves and serve at room temperature or chilled.

A Pre-emptive Apology
July 29, 2008, 8:13 am
Filed under: food, recipes | Tags: , ,

I would do outrageous things to be in San Francisco for Slow Food Nation. It would be perfect: the weekend of my 21st birthday, the end of my internship, California, and a festival of food, thought, and action. Of course, I don’t have the money for that kind of weekend getaway, so I’ll have to rest content with beer, friends, cake, and mischief.

Between now and then, though, I don’t think I’ll be cooking and experimenting as frequently as I have. Instead, I foresee for myself many hours at the library devouring books and journal articles on civic virtue and public education and then writing, writing, writing. There is also the not-so-small matter of grad-school and scholarship applications to consider. Because philosophy is my first love, then, I offer my apologies in advance and a recipe to appease.

Buttery Stuffed Mushrooms

Inspired by Melissa Clark’s Squid with Snail Butter.

Note: You’ll end up with far more butter than you actually need for the recipe, but this just means that you get to be indulgent with your other meals for the next few days.

  • 2 tbsp parsley, chopped
  • 2 tbsp basil, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1/2 a medium shallot, diced
  • 3/4 tsp coarse sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 slice of whole-wheat bread
  • 20-25 small button mushrooms, stems removed
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Combine parsley, basil, garlic, shallot, salt, and pepper in a food processor and pulse until minced. Remove half the mixture from the food-processor bowl and set aside.
  3. Add butter to the remaining herb mixture and pulse until soft and thoroughly combined. Remove butter from the bowl and set aside. This will keep fine in the fridge and can be done a few days in advance.
  4. Pulse bread slice in food processor until you have crumbs.
  5. Fill each mushroom cap with breadcrumbs and daub a bit of herb butter over the crumbs. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
  6. Garnish each mushroom cap with some of the reserved herb mixture and serve immediately.

The Luxury of Choice and What It Affords
July 23, 2008, 1:40 pm
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Between chapters on consociation at work yesterday, I came across an interesting article in The New York Times entitled “A Locally Grown Diet With Fuss but No Muss.” For the most part, it reports on the entrepreneurial activity that has sprung up recently in response to the sudden trendiness of locavorism. Such services as organic-fruit home delivery and backyard-organic-garden development/maintenance are being offered by a growing number of small businesses for people who would like to enjoy the benefits of organic or sustainably grown produce but can’t be bothered to visit the farmers’ market or start a garden of their own. However, the article also provides some analysis of mainstream motivations for eating locally. It identifies locavorism as a trend comparable to that of organic food – a movement popularised by food aficionados and environmentally conscious individuals alike.

Naturally, this got me thinking about the relations between luxury, morality, and choice. Adherents of ‘food movements’ like locavorism and vegetarianism are often accused of being self-righteous and overly moralistic. It is said that they fail to recognise the real problems of the world in over-complicating their own lives of privilege, that they are just being finicky about the details. Of course, this kind sneering antagonism irks me to no end. Yes, it’s true that the people who subscribe to these movements are the people who can afford to. Organic produce is significantly more expensive than its run-of-the-mill counterparts. I haven’t baked a single batch of cookies since beginning my little ‘vegetarian odyssey‘ because paying nearly $10 for four sticks of butter would be in my case just a bit outrageous. However, the fact that eating ethically is limited by the expenses associated with it, a luxury even, doesn’t mean that it isn’t a legitimate practice. What it does demonstrate is that moral action is constrained by choice, and that with respect to dietary practices, choice is a luxury. The people who can afford to buy organic/local and do so aren’t necessarily more moral than those who don’t. Rather, these locavores, vegetarians, and organic enthusiasts are simply meeting the extended set of responsibilities that come hand-in-hand with the privileges afforded by more choice.

This isn’t moral relativism. Moral obligations are only legitimate insofar as the people to whom they are prescribed can in fact carry them out. So, the fact that these new food ‘isms’ might only be realistic for a limited number of people right now doesn’t make them any less of an obligation for this number. The real point of contention is whether you, me, or Jones belong to the category of the exempt or the obligated.

Obligation isn’t so bad, really. Will another recipe persuade you? I didn’t grow these cukes myself, but I at least made it as far as the farmers’ market.

Cucumber Salad with Toasted Sesame and Ginger

Note: Cucumbers are pretty water-laden suckers, so this isn’t the sort of salad I would recommend making in advance. Cutting the cucumbers and letting them drain in a colander with a teaspoon of salt for half an hour might help, but I was racing to get to work when I made this.

  • five Kirby or pickling cucumbers cut into matchsticks
  • 1 scallion, green and white parts finely sliced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp mirin
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp freshly grated ginger
  • 2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
  1. Whisk together olive oil, mirin, soy sauce, sesame oil, honey, ginger, and sesame seeds in a medium bowl. Add cucumbers and scallions. Toss and serve immediately.