Sunday, November 28, 2010

Ode to a Star

In my masala you were good

And now it’s on to Bollywood

Your anise charms will so entice

You’ll steal the stage from Ginger Spice

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Travel Bite: Turkish Chestnut Vendors

In Istanbul, you'll see chestnuts roasting on an open fire even when Santa's not on his way. Apparently Turks love their chestnuts almost as much as their cell phones. I saw vendors like this all over the city, especially at large public attractions like the Blue Mosque.

This magnificent mosque, built between 1609 and 1616 during the rule of Ahmed I, is one of the most striking sites in Istanbul. It has six minarets (not all visible here), while most mosques only have four. Inside, the high ceiling is lined with 20,000 blue tiles, hence the name: Blue Mosque.

Turkey is a major producer and exporter of chestnuts, and they are traditionally served candied or glazed as a dessert. Candied chestnuts are made by boiling peeled chestnuts in heavy syrup that’s flavored with vanilla. They also process the nuts into flour or meal to use in pastries and other sweets.

This vendor was parked outside of the sprawling Spice Bazaar. You can see how a metal shelf sits on top of the cart with a round metal receptacle built into it for roasting. It has holes like a sieve, and below is the fire. Do you think this is what Mel Tormé had in mind when penning his famous song?

Related Links:

Thursday, November 18, 2010

An Overthinker's Guide to Saving the Planet

My name is Lentil Breakdown and I am an overthinker.
Pfew. It felt really good to type that. It's tough keeping all these unmedicated thoughts bottled up inside. So now that I've outed my brain, let me explain. There’s a fine line between being a conscious person and an overthinker. An overthinker is really just a conscious person who accidentally wanders into the next mental county when she’s too busy thinking to see where she's going.

One symptom of my affliction is how far out of my way I’ll go to save plastic. I have become so conscious of the natural resources we use and cavalierly throw away that on my way to the recycling bin, I’ve moved closer to the loony bin. But before I officially lose my mind, I want to share some of the conscious choices I make on a daily basis to illustrate my good intentions—along with proof of my impending insanity. Maybe you’ll start to think about what you can do to save resources too—without veering off to the funny farm. This is my daily 12-step program for saving the planet. I'm pretty sure it's too late to save me.

1. Committed I save any type of plastic bag from bread, rice cakes, tortillas, chips—even scraps of seran wrap—to put my cat’s litter-box jewels or old cat food in. Commit Me I can’t throw any plastic bag away. Pack rat + bag lady = plastic pack-rat lady.

2. Committed Instead of wasting a large piece of seran wrap to cover a bowl of leftovers or a cut melon, I’ll put a plate on top of it or invert the melon face down on the plate. Commit Me Water doesn’t grow on trees. How much H2O does it take to wash that extra plate? Would I be better off using the plastic?

3. Committed I carry my own cloth Eco Bags to the farmers’ market to put my produce in, but if I accidentally forget to bring them, I will refuse to use their plastic bags. Commit Me I didn’t grow up in the circus, so getting three pounds of loose apricots on the scale when you’re not a professional juggler is a bitch.

4. Committed I try to avoid buying produce in plastic containers, and when I’m at the farmer’s market, I take out the cherry tomatoes, strawberries, figs, etc. and give the containers back to the farmers. Commit Me With no formal box-boy training, my precious, pricey produce has arrived home smashed—and it didn’t even stop at a bar.

5. Committed When I see things in my shared trash bin outside that should be in the recycling bin, I get so mad, I rummage through the trash and take them out. Commit Me The neighbors refer to me as “the homeless lady that lives next door.”

6. Committed I don’t want to throw my kitchen scraps in the trash because they emit a lot of carbon, but I don’t have a yard to make a compost. So I’ll put the scraps in a container next to the sink and let them sit there for days. Commit Me A sourdough starter makes a lovely bread, but this type of fermentation? Not so much.

7. Committed I wash Ziplock baggies with dish soap and reuse them when possible. Commit Me See step #2. And if they’re so dirty they require too much water, I feel guilty and revert to step #1.

8. Committed I wash and reuse plastic containers from take-out food or yogurt—even styrofoam ones (since they are technically plastic). Commit Me Is it safe to reuse single-use plastics or do the plastics break down in your food? Will I get cancer from trying to be green? Bonus Neurosis: Is it weird to rent a storage locker for your plastic containers?

9. Committed I put my trash in a brown grocery bag inside of a plastic grocery bag (am still looking for that plastic alternative). When ready to be thrown in the dumpster, I’ll take the plain brown bag out of the plastic outer bag so I can reuse it with the next brown bag. Commit Me Wet garbage falls through the brown bag as I'm walking through my living room, and my carpet curses at me.

10. Committed If I’m eating out and want to take home leftovers, I’ll ask for a piece of foil rather than use a plastic or styrofoam container. Commit Me Waiters find it an odd request, so I confess to them that I’m on a plastic-saving crusade. They think that’s even odder.

11. Committed I save paper towels in my kitchen that have only been used to dry my clean hands, and I’ll use them later to dry produce or wipe up spills. Commit Me If anyone needs proof to commit me, I’ve left a paper trail.

12. Committed Sometimes when I’m at a public function, I’ll sit there dehydrating rather than drink a bottled water or use a hard plastic cup. Commit Me Even my bladder thinks I’m crazy.

Geez. Now I’m feeling T.M.I. remorse. And that was only the tip of the insanity iceberg. What “unusual” things are you doing to save resources?

Related Links

What's Your Plastic Footprint?

My Bladders' Carbon Footprint

The Plastic Eater

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Roasted Tomatillo Salsa Tell-All

True confessions of a tomatillo virgin.
I just lost my tomatillo virginity. In fact, I was so green, I didn’t know tomatillos were purple. I bet you're thinking, “You did the salsa once, and you’re already dishing this tomatillo tell-all? Who are you to tell me how to do a tomatillo?” Well, let’s put it this way. If there was a reality show called The Apprentice: Tomatillo Salsa Maker, I would have been hired—maybe even running my own empire by now. But back to my chaste beginnings.

I had always seen tomatillos at Latin markets and wanted to try them, but I was too timid. They were exotic and mysterious—from the other side of the produce aisle—and I felt naive and awkward. But when I happened upon these little ones, they were so cute, I couldn't help myself. So I took them back to my place and they said, "Do things to me like you've never done to any other salsa." Ooh. I liked it when tomatillos talked dirty to me. So I slipped into my apron and slowly slipped each one out of its husk (this seemed to go on for hours, and since there were so many, I was feeling kind of promiscuous). And when all that sultry purple skin was revealed, even the oven got turned on. So I roasted those bad boys along with some garlic and onion in olive oil. When we all cooled down, I put them in the food processor with a chile and cilantro. And after my deflowering came the devouring.

One bite, and I knew I wasn't a virgin anymore. I had never felt this way about tomatillo salsa before. With each mouthful, I screamed, "Tom! Oh Tom!" I had expected the tomatillos to be tart, but the caramelization from roasting them brought out their sweetness. It was a complex sweetness with great depth of flavor—not a cheap, easy one full of sweet nothings. This was the richest, most vibrant tomatillo salsa experience of my life. I was infatuated. I wanted it again. So I threw some in the freezer so I'll be able to relive my first time. I hope the second time is just as good.


1 ½ lbs tomatillos, husked

1 small onion, peeled and sliced

4 garlic cloves, whole

2 – 3 TBSP olive oil

1 roasted whole green Anaheim chile, skinned and seeded

½ cup cilantro, chopped

1/8 tsp salt (optional)

¼ lime (optional)

Preheat oven to 400º F. On a baking tray, roast tomatillos, onion and garlic in a few tablespoons of olive oil for 30 - 40 minutes or until they are soft and caramelized. Roast chile separately on the stovetop or at a higher temperature in the oven (or use a canned whole green chile).

After the roasted vegetables have cooled, put them, along with their juices in a food processor. Add the chile and cilantro. Pulse mixture until well combined but still chunky. Taste for seasonings, and add salt and lime to your liking.

Related Posts:

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Cultural Musings on Día de los Muertos

Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos, dates back hundreds of years to an Aztec festival dedicated to a goddess of the dead named Mictecacihuatl. Celebrated on November 2, it's a joyful holiday filled with food, family and crafts that's made me realize just how different our two cultures are. So today I have tried to answer the question:
Why do Mexicans celebrate death while Americans fear it?

Mexicans will have food delivered to them in the hereafter.
Americans fear it's their final to-go box.

Mexicans know they’ll be reunited with their familia.
Americans fear they’ll be reunited with their in-laws.

Mexicans will receive sweets and breads from their loved ones.
Americans only get flowers, and daisies are a poor substitute for chocolate.

Mexicans think skeletons are funny.
Americans think skeletons make them look fat.

Mexicans enjoy making skulls out of sugar.
Americans find that high-fructose corn syrup does not lend itself to the decorative arts.

Mexicans know they won't be deported.
Americans fear they will be departed.

Happy Día de los Muertos, y'all!

*These photos were taken at various festivals throughout Los Angeles.