My new Mother Jones articles of note

I haven’t given OATS much love over the past few months, but luckily, I’ve been writing about food elsewhere.  If you haven’t seen them yet, please take the time to read two articles of mine in Mother Jones:

And, good news for those craving delicious, simple vegetarian recipes: I’ve been keeping a list of some great stuff I’ve been cooking up, and I am going to make a big attempt to add some of them to the blog over christmas vacation. Just don’t get too mad if I end up making another batch of cardamom truffles instead (recipe to come).

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The Marriage of Mushrooms and Scallions

As a vegetarian, mushrooms have become one of the staples of my diet. They are plump and meaty when sauteed, deliciously flavorful when grilled, soft and silky in soups. Mushrooms transform omelettes into feasts, and veggie sandwiches into more than satisfying fare. Toss a medley of wild mushrooms onto a flatbread with fresh rosemary, caramelized onions, and fontina cheese and impress any gourmand.

I chanced upon the Ferry Building Fungus festival back in November, and was offered a variety of shortbreads and candies made with mushrooms that exude the buttery sweet smell of caramel. Mushrooms are diverse; at the same Ferry Building farmer’s market there’s one stand called Far West Funghi with mushrooms of all different shapes and sizes, most resembling either forms of underwater flora or the tentacles of alien creatures. I wouldn’t call mushrooms beautiful, but they are most certainly mysterious. For anyone who can’t leave meat behind, I dare you to try eating mushrooms instead of meat for a week and see if you aren’t satiated. 

Robert Hass, my current favorite poet out of Northern California, meditates on the wildlife and horticulture of the region, often mingling his personal experiences with the landscape he reflects. This poem digs into both the mood of the foggy autumn day and the shadowy, musty body of the mushroom

Fall

Amateurs, we gathered mushrooms

near shaggy eucalyptus groves

which smelled of camphor and the fog-soaked earth.

Chanterelles, puffballs, chicken-of-the-woods,

we cooked in wine or butter,

beaten eggs or sour cream,

half expecting to be

killed by a mistake. “Intense perspiration,”

you said late at night,

quoting the terrifying field guide

while we lay tangled in our sheets and heavy limbs,

“is the first symptom of attack.”

 

Friends called our aromatic fungi

“liebestoads” and only ate the ones

that we most certainly survived.

Death shook us more than once

those days and floating back

it felt like life. Earth-wet, slithery,

we drifted toward the names of things.

Spore prints littered our table

like nervous stars. Rotting caps

gave off the musky smell of loam.

-Robert Hass, Field Guide

The pairing of mushrooms and scallions is a veritable marriage; the spice and delicacy of the onion combines perfectly with the depth of the mushroom. In particular, I find that portobellos and brown crimini mushrooms pair sumptuously with scallions. Here are two recipes that use both, one with a classic Japanese flair and one with a Mexican tilt.

Mushroom Udon Noodle Soup

I’ve had a horrible head cold and this, besides oatmeal and apple sauce, is literally the only thing I’ve eaten for five days straight. Adjust the amount of pepper flakes and ginger according to your liking, and even drop an egg in if you want a little extra protein.

  • 1/6 a package of uncooked Udon
  • 1/2 cube vegetable bullion
  • 1 T soy sauce
  • 1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
  • 1 T ginger, roughly chopped
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • 5 baby bella mushrooms
  • a handful of baby spinach
  • 2 tsp aleppo pepper flakes
  • black pepper

Cook udon in a pot of boiling water for 6 minutes, then drain and run under cold water and set aside. In a pot, boil two cups water. When boiling, add the veggie bullion and soy sauce along with the ginger, garlic, pepper flakes and mushrooms. When mushrooms are soft, add the spinach, scallions and noodles, stirring until spinach is soft (about 1 minute). serves 1-2

Portobello Mushroom Tacos

  • One portobello mushroom cap, thickly sliced
  • fresh thyme
  • shredded white cheddar cheese
  • Two white corn tortillas
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, diced
  • hot sauce
  • sliced avocado
  • fresh spinach
  • 1 lime

Sauté garlic in a bit of olive oil. Add the mushroom and thyme and cover; let steam for seven to ten minutes, or until mushroom is juicy and tender. On a separate skillet, melt cheese and scallions on the tortillas (better if you don’t use butter or oil but instead just put tortilla directly on skillet and cheese will melt). Prepare spinach and avocado, and assemble everything into the two tortillas when cheese has melted. Top with hot sauce or salsa of your choice and fresh lime juice. Serve with strawberry mint margaritas (see below).

Minimal Space: The Twitter Chef

Behold, the anti-blog. Maureen Evans takes recipes and condenses them to fit Twitter’s 140 word limit. Her recipes resemble riddles at first, but after a moment’s observation they are relatively easy to decode.

The exercise in brevity reminds me of creative writing exercises we did in workshops. The teacher would force us to shrink our precious paragraphs into a couple of sentences. The result? Most of the time I would realize how little I was saying to begin with. Shrinking does not always mean decreasing in value, and in Evan’s case it appears she’s packed a whole lot of content into just a few lines. It takes ingenuity to convey meaning without taking up a lot of leg room. Maybe Twitter isn’t so redundant after all…

Check out her recipe posts on Twitter or by reading Take 1 Recipe, Reduce, Mince, Serve in The New York Times.

Oh Hungry Devil

The day after I conceived of this blog, I was packing up my things from the classroom where I help teach journalism and gazed up at the bookshelves. The first title to become clearly legible was The Ravenous Muse, by Karen Elizabeth Gordon, which turned out to be a collection of passages from writers, philosophers, and artists all relating to food and eating. The front of the book sports a greedy raven scrambling to demolish a plate full of books, and the cover design plays with severe shades of blacks and reds, giving it a demonic air. 

 

A Table of Dark and Comic Contents, a Bacchanal of Books

The Ravenous Muse pieces together quotes and passages from mostly European and Slavic writers such as Balzac, James Joyce, Nabokov, Flaubert, and Rilke. Gordon interlaces these passages with mischievous descriptions and annotations, lending it a personalized cohesiveness. The subtitle of the book, “A Table of Dark and Comic Contents, a Bacchanal of Books,” hints at its hedonistic tone. However, while many of the quoted characters revel in the pleasure of imbibing, such as Toulouse-Lautrec when he asks his mother: “Has the goose-liver season started? If it has, remember to have a dozen tins sent to me,” many of the selections also deal with food metaphorically, as a tool to unlock the poetry of the everyday. René Char, a living French poet, uses allusions to bread and baking to delicately characterize his lover: “Woman! On her mouth we kiss the madness of time; or side by side with the zenith cricket, she sings through the winter night in the bakery of the poor, under the softness of a loaf of light.”

Gordon supplements her collection with a generous heaping of subtitles and a section of witty and unusual biographies of each writer at the end. I enjoyed stumbling across the collection as it united two of my passions, and made them seem inextricable yet bizarrely foreign to one another, depending on the quote.  Gordon’s selections sway between absurd, comical, eerie, and romantic. Sometimes they invoke the authors we’ve known and studied and shove them into a new light. “Is there not a sweet wolf within us that demands its food?”, asks Emily Dickinson, and we smile to imagine her in a stark, solitary house with a hungry canine as a companion. Gordon establishes an intimacy with us and draws out our appetites, addressing us in her introduction: “Since you are here, you too must be a bibliogourmand, taking sensual as well as cerebral pleasure in the act of reading. And that’s what’s on the table here: creation caught in the act, writer and muse in flagrante delicto, biting each other’s mouths.”

Foodies and farmers often seem fixated with the material substance of food, but it’s interesting to also consider it’s place in literature and culture, as a metaphor and a delightful participant in many surrealist fantasies. The Ravenous Muse does not claim to explain food’s importance in literature, but it’s exploration of authors and their depictions and musings on victuals will surely satiate.

Now Serving, My Weekly Morsels

This isn’t my first blog, but it’s certainly my first of it’s kind. My first blog was for a creative writing class, and the rest of them sprung from adventures around the world and my desire to publish parts of my travels. Those blogs are dormant because the adventures are over, for the time being. And now I’ve begun a new adventure–moving to a new city, not knowing where I’m headed, living independently–and I feel ready for a new format. I get to set a new design theme, color palette, title, and font. Writing is easy when you’re sinking into a new structure. Inspiration strikes more often, and the words want to try out their new environment. It’s like getting a haircut and feeling like you suddenly smile more.  

Oats is a blog that’s been begging to be let out. About two years ago I began to take more interest in food, ingredients, and cooking. During my senior year of college, I was lucky enough to live with two unique ladies who also loved to cook and were also thinking a lot about food. We had allergies, dietary concerns, budgets, and partialities, but somehow we managed to make beautiful food together. We owe a lot of it to Marie Claire’s Spicy cookbook, the Middlebury Co-Op, Tracy Young’s culinary ingenuity, and finally living off-campus. After a year of fancy experimentation, failed baking and fabulous cocktail mixing, food just keeps getting more interesting. 

My burgeoning interest in food hasn’t died down, and suddenly I find myself in the epicenter of foodie-ism. San Francisco is replete with gorgeous and delicious food. Lush asparagus and glistening navel oranges greet me at the many organic corner stores. Farmers Markets happen daily and year-round. Restaurants for every ethnicity and budget beckon in every neighborhood. If you’re living in San Francisco, I don’t need to tell you how lucky you are. If you are elsewhere, believe me when I say, no exaggeration, this is food paradise. 

But food is not a static entity. It is not simply the tasty fuel we imbibe, digest, and expel. These days, where food comes from is quickly becoming the hottest question in both kitchens and congress. I am interested in food writing because  food connects to much larger-scale issues. Food relates to culture and regionalism and family. To taste and tradition and history, to science and biology. Perhaps most importantly, food is very simply an important part of pleasure and happiness. It pervades the environmental and agricultural problems that urgently demand our attention around the world. In September, Michael Pollan wrote a poignant letter in The New York Times to the then-future president about the need for drastic reform in our agricultural policies. If you are still reading this post, please take the time to read Pollan’s letter: “Farmer in Chief” 

I know by now that it’s cliché, but I can’t help but rave about Michael Pollan. It’s writers like him that illuminate the interconnectedness of food and personal, community-based, and global concerns. I plan to include more articles like this one in my blog, and I look to Pollan, Slow Food, The Ethicurean, Epicurious.com, Mark Bittman, Wendell Berry, Bill McKibbon, Alice Waters, and other food-writing pioneers as supplementary material. 

I want this blog to address stories and experiences and ideas that relate to food. But I also want it to be about writing, not just as something being written but as something that is conscious about writing and concerned with literature and language. I am blending a tangible, tactile thing with a very abstract one. We’ll see where the recipe takes me. Keep reading!