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sap-logo-nameI’m happy to announce the official launch of Strange Animal Publications!

Strange Animal Publications is an Independently Operated Small Press/Publishing Company based in Seattle, Washington. We will be offering works in multiple platforms– print, electronic (Kindle, etc.) and online. Our catalog will include unique and interesting works in the following categories:

  • Magirology – Cooking and culinary commentary, including unusual food writing and recipe collections.
  • Religion/Spirituality/Philosophy – Our focus will primarily be commentary, essays and instructional work, rigorously sourced and informed by current scholarship.
  • Speculative/Science/Weird Fiction – Interesting and unique novels and stories outside of the mainstream.
  • Reprints in all of the above – We will be scouring the public domain to bring you readable editions of fascinating and long-overlooked works from various sources.

Why these subjects? Primarily, because they’re all interesting and have broad appeal. Also, because in my interactions online over the past decade, I’ve learned that most people who are interested in one of these subjects are also interested in at least one of the others.

At the moment, we are focusing on building our catalog via self-publishing and reprints, but we anticipate calling for submissions in the Spring of 2014.

I hope you’ll follow us as we start to grow!

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It took this professional chef, who already owns a successful restaurant, eleven days to raise $39,000 to publish his cookbook, and people are STILL DONATING. It must be easier to raise funds if you’ve already got them to begin with.

We’re dead broke and we’ve raised $606 in 45 days; can we raise the last $2394 with 15 days left?

We can with your help!  Please consider dropping in and helping to support our little project. Any little bit would be fantastic!

 

Howdy to our Friends and Supporters! Thanks to everyone who has backed us so far– we’re $331 closer to meeting our $3000 goal. Of course, that means we have quite a way to go if this cookbook is going to be made.

We’ve reached the 30 day point, which means we need to average about $89/day between now and March 2. YIKES! Seems daunting, but WE CAN DO IT! Please consider helping by becoming a backer, or by sharing our little project with anyone you think might be interested.

ANY LITTLE BIT HELPS!

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1787931793/meat-no-meat-a-cookbook-for-the-biculinary

Please Help My Mommy and Daddy Write a Cookbook!

Join us on Facebook and Twitter, too!

We are writing a cookbook for the Biculinary: Vegetarians and Non-Vegetarians, called “Meat/No Meat.”  Instead of many vegetarian recipes, which simply substitute fake meat products for the meat found in standard concoctions, the recipes in Meat/No Meat are designed to duplicate the edible experience as closely as possible for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. We won’t be using expensive, sometimes hard-to-find fake meat you need to buy at the store; instead, we will be creating tasty substitutes with ingredients found in most major supermarkets.

Alas, our kitchen equipment is sore lacking, so we are trying to raise $3,000 in seed money to help replace some old pots and pans, and to augment the food budget so we can perfect and refine the recipes. To that end, we’ve started a Kickstarter page where interested parties can back our project.

Help make our dream a reality– vegetarians and non-vegetarians can eat together at the same table at last!

On the left, collard greens made with salt pork. On the right, collard greens made with eggplant “salt pork.” Can you tell the difference?

Help support Meat/No Meat today!

Here’s a little peek into the deranged brain of an Itinerant Omnivore.

My favorite market in the greater Seattle area is the 99 Ranch store at the (I did not make this up) “Great Wall Shopping Mall” in Kent. From their delightfully earnest website:

For thousands of years, the Great Wall of China was known to have been created to fend off the nomads and barbarians of Outer Mongolia. Today, we find the Great Wall Shopping Mall as a relic of not defense, but of gathering.

Awesome.

Anyhow, the 99 Ranch Store is the normal person’s version of awesome-but-touristy-and-crowded Seattle institution Uwajimaya. 99 Ranch is to Uwajimaya as, oh, let’s say Katz’s is to the Stage. They’re both terrific, but I think part of the appeal of 99 Ranch (other than the notable absence of wealthy middle class food snobs) is that it’s part of a chain, as opposed to a ‘specialty megastore’ like Uwajimaya.

Right. Well. Back to the title of the post. One of the nicer things about the 99 Ranch is its exceptional seafood section, far more varied and interesting than the same at similar markets. Although they have the usual selection of in-season fishies in tanks and a veritable tidal pool’s worth of shellfish and urchins, they also often feature nifty delicacies in fresh form that aren’t often found at your neighborhood fishmonger’s. The other day they were stocked to the gills (ha ha ha!) with freshwater eel, whole or pre-sectioned (recipe forthcoming in a future post). They also had skate wings the size of skateboards which I’m dyin’ to try on the grill sometime soon.

On our most recent foray, whilst perusing the pre-wrapped seafood section for cheaper fishy delights, I spied a fairly inexpensive but delightful looking package of bone-in catfish steaks (cut wide, perpendicular to the spine, instead of long like a fillet). Now, as a native of the American South, I loves me some catfish, but where I’m from it only comes in two forms: deep fried fillet in flour batter, or deep fried fillet in cornmeal batter. So, curious as to how it might taste unbattered but grilled, I adopted the package and brought it home.

I knew it was a gamble, based on the fact that these suckers can get pretty bony, but it looked so nice and didn’t have any noticable fishiness in the market– it was very obviously relatively fresh, as far as these things go. Alas, can anyone guess what happened when I opened the package? Yep, it was the dreaded catfish muddiness.

It Smelled Like This


Catfish, y’see, occasionally takes on a muddy smell/flavor due to its position on the literal bottom of the food chain. What should I do? Could I get rid of the muddiness? Is this safe to eat? Could this fish be saved? What does Harold McGee think?

Into On Food and Cooking, where we find the following:

[Muddiness is] most often encountered in bottom-feeding fish, especially catfish and carp that are raised in ponds dug directly in the earth. The chemical culprits are two compounds that are produced by blue-green algae, especially in warm weather (geosmin and methylisoborneol). These chemicals appear to concentrate in the skin and the dark muscle tissue, which can be cut away to make the fish more palatable. Geosmin breaks down in acid conditions, so there is a good chemical reason for traditional recipes that include vinegar and other acidic ingredients.

A-ha! So, get rid of the skin and bathe in acid. Right. So, I took two of the eight smallish steaks, trimmed and chucked the skin, and sat them in a bath of lime juice and Bragg’s Liquid Aminos for a couple of hours. No luck!

This had me stumped, since I still wanted to use the fish, but if an acid bath didn’t kill the muddiness, what could I do? Finally I hit upon an answer: instead of getting rid of the muddiness, why not try to incorporate it into something as a flavor?

I asked myself, what tastes good when it tastes a little like dirt? I guess maybe some kind of earthy salad would work, with a strong acidic component to cut into the muddiness even more. What if I did a faux-tuna salad, with the catfish and a nice bunch of wild sorrel I’d picked up at the Farmer’s Market for acidity and a mayo dressing? That should be pretty good, and easy, and tasty if it’s done right.

OK, so, let’s start by getting rid of as much ‘eau du peat bog’ as we can by covering the fillets in oil and baking them at 250 degrees for a couple of hours. When that’s done, we’ll change the oil and crank it up to 400 for an hour or so, so the flesh falls nicely from the spine. When the fish is well-cooked but not dry, we’ll shred it up, add the chopped sorrel, some chili oil, some mayo, black pepper and Sriracha to taste, mix well and stick it in the fridge overnight and voila!

The final product? The muddiness is still there, but definitely more of a component of flavor and less a deterrent. It’s good! The sorrel (stems and all) is like the more traditional dill pickle in flavor, and the more traditional celery in texture. Its tanginess mixes well with the flavor of the fish, making it more like earth and less like the bottom of a slough. The catfish is moist and flaky, and holds together in just the right way– it tastes and feels like a decent whitefish. Not miraculous by any stretch of the imagination, but passable for a week’s worth of lunches.

So, on Monday, I sit down to eat it for lunch, spread on Wasa bread, and find that, although fairly tasty, it’s FILLED WITH TINY PIN-BONES! Now while I eat lunch this week I have to spend half the time pulling little bones out of my mouth. Catfish, you have defeated me. You, catfish, win.

*Sigh.*

In conclusion, Just Throw The Damn Fish Away Next Time!

Great news for salty licorice fans in Seattle: Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream, Wallingford and a brand-spankin’-new Cap Hill location, have announced their new flavors, and Salty Licorice is one of the lot!

For those unfamiliar with salty licorice (“Salmiakki”), it’s like regular licorice, but also flavored with ammonium chloride, which is almost but not quite entirely unlike table salt. It’s not quite an acquired taste; this is one of those items that you either lovelovelove or ABSOLUTELY despise. If you don’t like regular ol’ licorice, or are one of those crazies who toss the black jellybeans, do yourself a favor and don’t even think about trying the salty stuff.

On our recent trip to Europe, me an’ E had a layover in Copenhagen. Since salty licorice is a Scandinavian delicacy, I ended up bringing a plethora of the delicious stuff back with me in various forms (E thinks it’s nasty).

My favorite so far is “Turkish Pepper”– the hard, licorice shell is filled with about a teaspoon of pure salmiac, and once you’ve cracked in, it explodes in a spicy, savory, sweet sensation that must be experienced rather than described:

In the non-salty category, I procured some Skipper’s Pipes, which I suppose must be the Danish version of candy cigarettes:
skipper's pipe
The strangest non-salty confectionary, however, may be the licorice fudge:
licorice fudge
It’s exactly what it sounds like: black blocks of candy that have the exact consistency of fudge, but are flavored with licorice. It’s actually quite nice; the licorice flavoring is rather mild, and those with whom I’ve shared it have pretty unanimously enjoyed it.

If you live in Seattle and enjoy licorice, and would like to give the salty kind a try, you can find a fairly small variety at Olsen’s Scandinavian Foods in Ballard. Or, you could wait until this weekend, and look for me at the closest Molly Moon’s!

A thoughtful and timely essay on the foie gras debate, from the website of Incanto, a San Francisco restaurant. This essay makes some exceptional points and is well worth the read. Excerpt:

The reality is that bringing a forkful of food to the mouth of a human in our world, be it meat or plant, is usually as much about destruction as it as about creation; sustainability merely speaks to whether there is a balance between the two. Animals are raised for human consumption, then unceremoniously slaughtered, butchered, and packaged into sometimes unrecognizable forms. Vegetables are ripped from the soil or cut from the stalk at harvest, sometimes by machines that unintentionally claim the lives of innocent wild animals along the way. Remnants are tilled under to make way for new crops. The cook takes ingredients and submits them to knife, fire, and all manner of further manipulation to transform them into something that is chewed, digested, and passed into oblivion, usually with little thought of the significance.

Make no mistake: with the possible exception of the small number of practicing fruitarians – bonus points if you know what that is – some amount of destruction is inherent to the process through which most of us derive our nourishment. If we can manage our journey through the food cycle without leaving the planet worse off, we pat ourselves on the back, give ourselves a cookie, and call ourselves sustainable.

But sustainability does not change a fundamental fact: that the food system almost all of us are a part of not only tolerates violence – and yes, sometimes even cruelty and death – it anticipates and embraces it. Though one can appreciate the argument that a vegetarian diet imposes a smaller footprint on the world, the responsibility for this relationship rests not solely with carnivores, but with all of us who feed at the trough. Even the farming of grains and vegetables is undeniably responsible for the loss of animal life: farms displace natural habitats, farm equipment unavoidably intersects with wildlife, and even organic fertilizers may contain animal products (blood, bone meal). Food morality is not as black and white as we like to believe: it’s possible to raise animals sustainably and it’s possible to raise vegetables unsustainably. Neither side has a monopoly.

The notion of a society accepting an unpleasant trade-off between something valued within that society and death of innocents is not exclusive to food production. It is virtually a defining characteristic of collective social order, whether among humans or other animals. Each year in the United States, for example, more than forty thousand people are killed and more than two million injured in transportation-related accidents. Yet we accept the level of violence and suffering wrought by this human activity, with little or no ongoing debate. Why? First, because vehicular travel is convenient and interwoven with our way of life. But also because our country is founded upon the notion of personal liberty, which includes freedom of movement and freedom to choose how one travels. Even when that activity carries with it the certainty that thousands of people, including innocent by-standers, will die each year directly as a result, we implicitly accept this terrible cost in exchange for the opportunity to move around fast with relatively little hindrance. I have searched for an association of human rights activists that is protesting this senseless violence and calling for a ban on all mechanized travel. I have not yet found one.

This brings us to an issue – on the philosophical basis of pragmatism, at least – of less significance: the debate over whether our society should permit the force-feeding of ducks and geese, for the purpose of enlarging their liver for human consumption. In short: the debate over foie gras….

Ironically, were it not for the streak of deeply destructive vigilantism present within the anti-foie gras movement, Incanto and many other restaurants may not have actively chosen a side on this issue. After all, Incanto is an Italian restaurant, not French. And the brand of carnivorism we espouse at Incanto tends toward championing the lesser-appreciated offal cuts, rather than the few like foie gras that are already regarded as being worthy of alta cucina. In the past, foie gras never really fit in at Incanto. Even if it had, with Incanto’s daily-changing menu, it would hardly last for more than a few days.

Nonetheless, after San Francisco chef Laurent Manrique was targeted in 2003 by anti-foie gras protestors, this equation changed. Unknown persons vandalized Chef Manrique’s home and shop and sent threatening letters, along with a videotape taken of him with his wife and child at their home, directly threatening their safety. The sheer depravity and hypocrisy of this attack served as the catalyst for first considering foie gras for Incanto’s menu. It did the same for other restaurants around the country, raising the other side of the issue: whether or not as a society we will permit the views of a vocal minority to trample our personal right to choose what we will and will not eat.

Reasonable people can disagree over the ethics of one’s chosen diet and the various practices of farmers, whether those farmers produce meat, fruits, or vegetables. Fundamentally, we believe that individuals ought to be free to determine how to live their lives, including their diet. If we live in a society that tolerates the death of 40,000 people to die each year for the right to convenient travel, how can we sacrifice our right to taste, to choice, and to dietary self-determinism?

Awesome, and well worth reading in full.

My friend Ran Prieur, one of my favorite philosophers, has a new essay called “How to Eat Better” that pretty much sums up what I’d consider my own “Ideal State” dietary plan. Essentially, it’s Eat Local, Listen to Your Body, Don’t Eat Processed Crap, etc.– a lot of the same stuff Michael Pollan says, but in less space for us lazy folk. Some nuggets:

Fruit juice is better than sugar water, but it is not a health food. Ideally you should eat whole fruits. There is no consensus on agave syrup, brown rice syrup, barley malt syrup, real maple syrup, or honey, but they’re all certainly better than white sugar. High fructose corn syrup is probably worse. “Unrefined” sugar, including turbinado and demerara, is missing only the last step of refinement….

Look at Ingredients Lists. And look critically. The companies that make these products are out to deceive you, or they are in competition with other companies that are out to deceive you. If the honest product says “white flour” and “white sugar”, while the deceptive product says “wheat flour” and “evaporated cane juice”, which one will sell for more money? Some other tricks: “Yeast extract” is basically the same as MSG. “Wheat bread” is usually white bread with a bit of whole wheat flour and some brown food coloring. Almost any ingredient that ends in “-ose” should be read as sugar. “Natural” means almost nothing. Being sold in a food co-op guarantees nothing. Many products, like chips and granola, are made with only their most visible ingredient organic. Any farmed ingredient that doesn’t say organic isn’t. I once saw a non-organic product with the brand name Oganic….

Make Food a Higher Financial Priority. In the 1930’s, Americans spent more than 20% of their income on food. Now it’s down under 10% (graph). Of course, to spend more on food, you have to spend less on other stuff: haircuts, new clothing, the latest technology, having a nice view. I wear socks that I collected from an abandoned shed that I once tried to squat, and I’m drafting this on a computer that I bought used for $200 in 2006, but I just ate eggs that cost $4.70 a dozen, because I don’t think there’s anything better to spend money on than the quality of stuff that goes into my body.

Expand Your Concept of Food. Humans are dietary generalists. Our ancestors ate tens of thousands of species of plants and animals and fungi and insects, most of which modern people no longer recognize as edible, even though they’re better for us than processed corn and soy, and often free. Some of the most common garden “weeds”, including lamb’s quarters, dandelion, and purslane, are more nutritious than greens grown intentionally. Small animals like squirrels and raccoons are not hard to hunt and typically unregulated. All birds are edible, although most are not worth the trouble. Insect larvae are a great source of fat and protein, and taste surprisingly good….

(Needless to say, as a vegetarian, E’s a little less open to the idea of eating insects than I am– as in, no thank you never never never.)

The point about making food a higher financial priority is especially valuable, and will become more of an issue as the economy gets worse and worse. The fact is, buying processed food because it’s cheaper at the moment will likely cost you more in medical bills down the road. Buying organic costs a little more, but is absolutely worth it. J’s rule number one for eating well: never skimp on food. It’s a matter of budgeting, but it can be done.

I might make an additional point, which is that vegetables grown out-of-season carry a higher cost than those in-season. If you’re lucky enough to have access to a farmer’s market (we have quite a few in Seattle) and you buy stuff that’s in-season at the grocery store, you’ll find it *far* more cost-effective than buying conventional, out-of-season veggies. Asparagus is a spring/fall veggie. Buying asparagus in December might give you a needed ingredient in a recipe, but it’ll be very costly and likely about 3/4 unusable/woody.

Another point I might include is that when cooking anything, consider each ingredient a bison: try to think of all of the possible uses for your ingredients. For instance, buy beets with the greens still attached and you can use the beets *and* the greens. Toss the scraps from veggies with ‘discardable’ parts, like onions with skins, carrot tops and greens, potato peels, eggshells, etc, into a freezer bag and when you’ve collected enough, use them to start a simple veggie stock. Drain the scraps, add some spinach, beans and noodles, and you have soup! The same goes for meat trimmings, bones, after-dinner scraps, etc.

Another note: I call Ran’s list “Ideal State” because although theoretically most of us are in the position to eat this way at all times, it can be difficult from a practical standpoint, especially for those who might not be used to eating this way.

In addition, if, like me and E, you enjoy eating out, unless you can perform a detailed kitchen tour before each meal, or restrict yourself to a very small number of restaurants, you can’t guarantee that you’ll be getting local, sustainable ingredients in each meal. You have to choose your battles. Still, being educated about this kind of thing will at least improve your chances and give you better opportunities to make smart decisions. To use an example from above, try not to order the asparagus dish in December.

No, not that kind of animal testing– the *cute* kind!

At CooksDen, we decided to apply the scientific method to that important question. We brought in an unbiased test subject — one who has superior taste buds, is unaffected by marketing hype, and is unafraid to express her opinions publicly.

Meet Hammy the Hamster. Hammy was kind enough to participate in hours of rigorous testing in order to get to the bottom of this critical issue. Read on for the results — they just may surprise you.


Obviously this was a very rigorous scientific experiment, that mainly proves something most of our readers probably already knew: Organic Food Tastes Better.

Don’t take our word for it! Try this simple experiment:

1) Hard-cook two eggs, one conventional (factory farmed) and one organic (and cage-free and free-range and grain-fed).

2) Peel. Add a smidgen of salt. Taste the conventional egg.

3) Drink something to cleanse your palate.

4) Add a smidgen of salt. Taste the organic egg.

If you’re like me (which you may or may not be), you will discard the conventional egg and never again buy into the notion that such eggs should qualify as “food.”

You can also try this experiment with green peppers, which will reveal conventionally farmed peppers as odious waxen objects filled with bitterness, and organic peppers as delicious vegetably goodness. Indeed, these two examples alone should convince the lover of food that the slightly higher cost of organic stuff is money well-spent.

Let us learn from our friend the Hamster, and go taste something organic today!

This could be a delightful event, especially as J’s abuelita was Cubana and he grew up on frijoles negros and platanos. Per the ubiquitous Wallyhood blog, we find that the Seamonster Lounge (admittedly never an EE favorite) is already serving Cuban food, and may soon extend its hours to include lunch and dinner!

The chef’s blog can be found at http://pequenahavana.blogspot.com/, and features a menu. Sadly, the menu is sorely lacking when it comes to vegetarian entrees! I admit to finding this a bit odd, as frijoles negros con arroz could easily be an awesome (and inexpensive) veggie entree with a side of plantains, or a “tapas” soup.

In short, looks as though J will have plenty of options for a full meal, while poor E will be restricted to “tapas.”

We’ll post a review if we visit. Meanwhile, my grandmother’s recipe for frijoles negros may appear on this site at some future date.