Monday, October 18, 2010

Oh, I KNOW there's an obvious joke that I'm missing.

I've been such a good girl lately. I'm cooking lots of healthy veggies and protein and stocking it up in the fridge and freezer, but not so much that it hinders my roommates, and I'm only eating ice cream for lunch like once a WEEK. I'm paying all my bills on time, and outside of a fixation on overpriced gazebo fruit, I'm not making impulse buys or anything no matter how much I Need (with a capital 'N') another Japanese novel because I've almost finished my first and it's only taken me three years! Don't ask how many loaves of bread I've been through in the last two weeks, thanks to a brand new fixation on toast and honey (or un-toast and brown sugar, but we agreed that you wouldn't ask, didn't we?), and it doesn't matter because I'm keeping my check book balanced and doing my laundry every week! Every! Week! At the laundromat, even. Wild stuff when you've grown up with a washer and dryer right downstairs.

So on Sunday, I was lugging my super clean, folded, almost totally dry (that's what hangers are for) laundry back to my apartment, and saw a chance to make due on my Grand Scheme to buy eggs on the way home. (Protein! Look, meat is complicated and beans and eggs are cheap.) There are a number of groceries on the avenue I was walking - as in, a few dozen per block, and I barely exaggerate - so I ducked into one at random, and that's where I met The Greeter, a teensy, barely grown tabby.

(Fun fact - for ages now, our laundry room has doubled as The Cat's Room. Come to think of it, the potential entry into the litter box's danger zone might partially explain why I've always been rather lax about washing my clothes. That, surely; not general sloth.)

"Hey, precious," I cooed, my standard reply to any greeter worth his whiskers. (That does NOT mean you, Walmart employee.) I reached down to offer a scritch, and he leaped up to swat at my fingers and pussy cat awwsies OH THAT'S A SWEETIE and, yes, I need eggs. (And bread, but we have an agreement.) I made my way to the fridge, and The Greeter followed, demanding the affection due to a businessman of his grandeur.

"You're a friendly little guy," I said, reaching out towards his little keppie once more. With great resolve, he lunged forward and nipped at my hand. Oh, so that's how we're playing.

"Hey, that's not nice!" I scolded him. "I don't like that." And then I opened the door to pull out my eggs.

The Greeter, clearly offended by my candor, crawled right inside and hid behind the milk.

Thus begat the awkward need for Amanda to call over the shop's proprietor and inform him that his cat was inside the refrigerator. The guy was mellow about it - in fact, he didn't seem particularly shocked. Apparently, he's got two feline residents, and while the girl keeps to herself, Mr. Greeter has a reputation for mischief. That said, I'm sure I'll be back again next week: the eggs were cheap, the employees can't be beat, and, well, we aren't asking any questions about bread.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Let's get this straight.

So, I'm living in New York. This isn't like living in Nagoya; that was Japan. This is every country on earth. Here, you walk a block and you're on another continent; you cross the street and it's a new ecosystem. Everyone has an opinion, and be it through tirades on the subway about sexual orientation; furious pontifications accompanying passing out of tracts at the station; snickering socialites huddled with signs protesting construction; or verifiable Jerks muttering under their breath at the Nerve of Some People turning My City into a Third World Country by Speaking Spanish; whatever the opinion, you're gonna hear it.

This is New York City, where I live two blocks from a hookah bar. Where I went for a walk yesterday, took the subway to China Town, and immediately found a grocer with a display of fresh fish, including live crabs in a bucket and whole sharks on ice. Where I then walked for all of ten minutes and found myself in a Whole Foods with conveyor belt sushi. Where every store has the world's best bagel, gelato, baklava, or whatever's on sale.

I can't seem to go out for a walk on the weekend without wandering into a street fair, and seriously, at first I was planning it that way but now I wonder why I even bothered. There are museums everywhere, bookstores everywhere, parks everywhere, bikers who defy fate and physics by weaving in and out of cars and other bikers who wear helmets and tight pants and zip down tidy dedicated bike lanes and where I live I have no choice but to do a little from column A and a little from column B. There are bento vendors - two of them - stopping by my office every morning, and trolleys and trucks selling fruit, pretzels, knishes, frozen yogurt, cupcakes, and I'm sure that if I speculate here that there's one out there with caramel apples and old fashioned lollipops, I'll come across it first thing tomorrow. Everyone's reading on the train, from magazines, free newspapers, library books and e-readers, and if they aren't reading, they're gabbing with each other in any of a dozen different languages.

And what still catches me off guard every time? Booze in the supermarket.

Trader Joe's sells wine! Seriously, New York, what is WITH that!

Pfft, I bet they make people pump their own $3 a gallon gas, too.

A girl from South Jersey and the Philadelphia area.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Re-re-regreasing the wheel.

Right, the colds!

Like it could be avoided. I'm in New York now, everyone! Taking the subway to work again. Shopping at corner markets with suspiciously cheap produce. Living in an apartment that doesn't allow cats, but apparently admits rodents free of charge. ("Better a mouse than a rat," to quote a brilliantly optimistic friend.) Enjoying twenty degree shifts in temperature every other day. I'd say a cold was inevitable.

I'm not even going to complain, because I've had worse. (Once, where my sinuses never even felt infected, but my nose ran constantly for a month... let your imagination do the dirty work.) Still, between that and the assault of other sudden changes in the past few weeks, I'm pretty run down. New York City is amazing - even for Amanda, who has zero interest in night life and is too busy reading manga on the train or plugging her eye sockets directly into her laptop to go out and just socialize, already - but if all I have the energy to do is cook, then cook I shall.

Even if cooking is limited to a very burnt grilled cheese sandwich. At least the soup on the side isn't from a can.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Something to talk about.

Just like that. I got a job.

It's in New York. Accordingly, I will be moving to New York.

A month ago, I didn't have a job. I didn't have to go live in New York.

This is kind of hard to wrap my head around.

I have a job at a Japanese bank. I need to remember how to understand Japanese. I need to remember math. I need to remember how to live with roommates in the city. I need to remember how to cook in a shoebox with compromised storage space for pantry staples.

Wanna hear about it?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

You know what's coming.

I'm all, "What to write about?" And... I'm drawing a blank. It's just a Significant Time in my life, now; I'm working on important things, Significant Things, and that's not what this blog is about.

(What is this blog about, by the way? I haven't quite figured it out.)

But, I need to write, and I thought, and I thought, and all I can come up with? Bananas.

Bananas! There's this banana commercial I saw the other day, about a happy banana taking a boat ride to the US of A where happy consumers can revel in its freshness, and besides the gall of SPOTLIGHTING the egregious carbon footprint of a single produce - the banana doesn't even look that good. They make it a bright, smooth yellow, capped with a touch of green right at the top.

Green, on a banana. Just seeing it makes me a little nauseated.

Green bananas are a little hard, not that sweet, and hard to digest. Green bananas are not tasty, and yet they're considered the holy grail of bananadom, while brown bananas are the pariahs, despite being mellow and pure cream in fruit form. Why, I ask, why are priorities so misplaced?!

(If you haven't guessed, the whole carbon footprint dilemma doesn't bother me too, too much. You're not about to find local bananas if you're in the Tri-State Area. I deal.)

Frankly, if I could, I'd buy all of my bananas right when they're perfectly yellow - I don't want bruises, but I want them brown within the week so that I can peel them, wrap them in plastic, and freeze them; or slice them to top cereal on the occasions that I forget just how dangerous the flaky stuff can be; or just mash them up as is and mix them with yogurt and maple syrup, and it's like eating pudding, or sorbet, and not nauseating even a little bit.

And then it got dangerous, because I was at Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia the other day, and ran into a Japanese friend who was shopping to make curry. He was grabbing ingredients, musing about what to add to this batch, and I lightly pointed out some pineapples. He got thoughtful. "I... was kidding," I explained. "No, no," he responded, "people make curry with fruit sometimes... pineapple, apples, bananas..."

My brain exploded.

See, pineapples and apples are a little bit tart, and firm enough to hold their shape, so I have no doubt they would add a fabulous complexity to the spicy, savory curry. Bananas, though? I'd never have considered. Bananas, in their spotted apotheosis, are - see above - creamy, mellow, and sweet. I love bananas, and I love curry, but for the life of me, I cannot imagine them together.

Yet, others have.

So if I can't imagine it? I have to taste it.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Salt Cake. (It isn't salty.)

One thing I love about (in case you haven't noticed, I'm a bit hooked at the moment) is the "Most Searched Keywords" bar at the top. See, I noticed the themes from the start. First thing in the morning, everyone's looking up "breakfast," or "toast"; in the spring, you start seeing searches for lima beans and komatsuna, just like around Valentine's Day, "chocolate" tops the list. So, I figured, people base their searches mainly on times of day, times of the season, that sort of thing.

No, wait, pop culture!

The moment of realization came after I watched an episode of the anime, "Chibi Maruko-chan." (It was one of my favorites since it met the notable criteria of A: being animated, and B: being on while I was awake.) In it, the main character tastes her first baked apple (an unusual treat in Japan, where ovens aren't standard to many homes), and becomes fixated on recreating the recipe. So the next morning, I fired up Cookpad, and what do I see at the very top? "Baked apple." I felt in the loop, all right.

Since returning to the U.S., I've enjoyed keeping up with food-related trends by checking oddly specific keywords. Sometimes it's a member, introduced on talk shows like "Hanamaru Cafe"; sometimes, a specific, even brand-name, ingredient. Most are transitory, but others linger. I'm still waiting on trying a recipe for baked doughnuts, which dominated the site for a while earlier this year. Right now, the boom seems to be something called "Keiku Saré." Clearly, this was a Japanese pronunciation of a foreign word, and the recipes themselves appeared to be a savory baked good, but I had no frame of reference beyond that.

It took some Googling and guess work, and I'm still not sure what initiated the popularity surge, but it turns out the recipes are for "Cake Salé," and it's French. This is bizarre on numerous counts: usually, the Japanese word for cake is "keiki," not "keiku"; and more importantly, as far as I had known, the French adamantly refuse to use loan words. But there it is: "Cake" is, according to Wikipedia, the French term for "fruit cake." More specifically, there are two varieties: "Cake sucré," or sweet cake... and "cake salé," the savory version. Both are quick breads, baked in a loaf pan and leavened with baking powder, but the savory version swaps dried fruit and sugar for vegetables - "salé" being French for "salt." Not that there isn't salt in fruit cake, probably, not that I'd know for sure, since we were always busy with latkes that time of year. Latkes, too, being on the savory side.

What a great idea! I mean, sweet is great, but it's not really an anytime food. I eat a slice of banana bread, and I sort of feel like I spoiled my appetite for the day - sweets just leave me wanting to nosh. On the other hand, a loaf full of spinach and sauteed onions, maybe topped with some goat cheese? That's breakfast.

So, of course, I need to find a recipe, and it needs to be in Japanese, and it needs to allow me to play Mad Kitchen Scientist. Voila! "Cake Salé * Basic Recipe," by a user calling herself "Witch Diner in the Station," calls for a few basic ingredients and free choice of vegetables. So, you take:

120 grams flour
2 eggs
50 mL skim milk
1 tbsp olive oil
70 mL vegetable broth
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

and whatever vegetables you have on hand; you mix the wet ingredients in one bowl, then the dry in another; you microwave the vegetables for a few minutes, let them cool, then drain whatever liquid came out; you mix the dry ingredients with the wet; you pour a little batter into a small loaf pan (this doesn't make much), add most of vegetables, and add the rest of the batter; tap the loaf pan on the counter a few times to even everything out, then sprinkle on the rest of the veggies; and bake for 30 minutes in a 180° C oven.

Ew, weights and metric. I could have made that easier, couldn't I? Okay, scroll to the end for that, but anyway, I was sitting there thinking, "What vegetables would work?" We have corn, and I decided I wanted corn. What else? Well, we didn't have many leafy greens at the time, but there were some jalapeños, always good. Corn and jalapeños; well, why not make this salsa-like? No tomatoes, but... black beans...?

And then I remembered the black bean salad. The one that I made for memorial day, and everyone RAVED about it, and proceeded to ignore in favor of bowl after bowl of dry cereal. (I've stopped buying it. I have a problem.) Here was my chance to give it its well deserved comeback. Even better, since it had been sitting a while, I hardly needed to microwave it to ensure that it had shed just about all the juices it had to shed.

And then I imagined a poor, forgotten loaf with a single slice removed, gathering mold in a plastic bag or freezer burn as it hid in foil. So I made muffins.

The muffins... wow, were wonderful. They were! The beans kept them moist, the seasonings made them interesting, and the batter held enough filling together that they were really and truly FILLING. (This, incidentally, prompted certain household members to snub them entirely, but, meh, more for me.) Except, they clung fiercely to the paper wrappers, and were a bit spongy, and oh, yeah, they didn't brown. I left them in the oven a good five minutes extra before giving in, taking them out, and remembering that, oh, yeah, sugar makes things brown, doesn't it? No sugar, no pretty color. Crud.

Lucky for me (us? No, just me), this recipe makes all of seven muffins, so, do-over! This time, I decided to throw in some molasses, just enough to cross my fingers and hope for a Maillard reaction. (Science is fun!) I also needed to use corn meal to up the corniness (which, in itself, makes this post a little cornier), and to use whole wheat cake flour for no other reason than that it's in the fridge and I'm me. And then I ran out of salsa halfway through, but still had cubes of cheddar cheese from a previous recipe, so that, too! Finally, I ditched the muffin cups in favor of nonstick cooking spray on a nonstick pan. I upped the temperature a tad, crossed my fingers, and went upstairs to get dressed.

This is the recipe you're getting. Because it was amazing. And because, seriously, I'm not safe with cereal anymore.

Black Bean Salsa Corn Muffins
Adapted from
Note: I measured by weight, but I'm including volume measurements since it's the only way most people will try these out. Just be warned, I haven't tested it that way!
90 grams (3/4 cup) all purpose flour, cake flour, or whole wheat cake flour

30 grams (1/4 cup) cornmeal
2 large eggs
50 mL (or a bit under 1/4 cup) milk (fat free should work)
70 mL (or a bit over 1/4 cup) vegetable broth
1/2 tbsp molasses or sugar
1 tsp baking powder
About 1 cup black bean salsa, homemade or bought; or, 1/2 cup black bean salsa + 2 oz cheddar cheese

1. Preheat oven to 360° F. Cut cheese into 1/2" cubes. Lightly grease a nonstick muffin pan using additional olive oil or nonstick spray.

2. Whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. (Add sugar, too, if using.)

3. In another bowl, combine eggs, olive oil, broth, and milk, plus molasses, if using; whisk after each new addition.

4. Pour wet ingredients over dry; stir just until combined with a rubber spatula.

5. Place 1 tablespoon batter into 6 of the muffin cups, then top each with 1 tablespoon salsa. Add another tablespoon of batter, then top each muffin with another tablespoon of salsa or a few cheese cubes. Don't mix! If there is batter left over, repeat with additional muffin cups. (I got seven, but better to play it safe.) The cups should not be full to the brim.

6. Bake in preheated oven for about 30 minutes, or until muffins are lightly browned. Don't bake over 30 minutes, though; they'll be done when they're firm to the touch.

7. Allow to cool in pan for about a minute, then gently remove from pan and finish cooling on cooling rack.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I sat up for the typing part.

Smoky Duck doesn't care that I've had a knot in my back since last night.

It matters not to Mr. Duck that no amount of stretching or massaging will assuage the pain in the slightest, and in fact, it's simply migrating further towards my tailbone.

He does not consider it his concern that even the sight of anything but a straight-backed wooden chair now makes me wince at visions of stale, salty pretzel spines.

All that my little cat knows is, I'm lying on the tiled floor while he's curled up on the sofa.

As it should be.