The street from Rotterdam Centraal to the studio is nothing but tokos, Chinese/Surinamese restaurants, jewelry stores, Turkish bakeries and snackbar/kebab shacks. It's a food street. On Saturday there were three Surinamese beef tripe vendors within three blocks of each other, all selling bloedworst (blood sausage), bere (stomach), and fladder (intestine)...I don't even think Amsterdam is allowed to have mobile street vendors. Had I not had a show to do that night, would I have eaten street tripe? Probably, yes. The last time I had it was great, under even less sanitary conditions most likely.
Just to move that big-ass public transport sausage down the page: here's what happens at Cafe Sphinx when you forget to order your €3 broodje döner to go. You sit down and eat like a civilized person, with something recognizable as a meal in front of you, vs. what happens when you get one for takeout and ride around with it in your bag for an hour.
HEMAworst, €2 @ Centraal Station. Snap for days. Smoky as all get-out, but I still reaaally wonder what these would be like on the grill.
I wouldn't eat the whole thing at once if you plan on doing anything other than sleeping or drinking afterwards...I didn't (I mean I didn't eat the whole thing, I didn't even eat the bun, nor did I sleep or drink afterwards).
Holy shit am I busy for the next few weeks. You'll probably barely hear from me until I'm in Brussels (nine days from now) or unless I can't sleep, which, yes, is entirely possible.
Making a new Momofuku recipe or two tonight since I'm batchin' it and can eat things no one else likes. Tonight's gimps are kimchi and kohlrabi: I'm making that interesting-sounding fuji apple salad with kimchi and maple labneh (and bacon); plus I'm making a scallop with kohlrabi puree and pickled oyster mushrooms. Except I'm making some provocative substitutions, so provocative I'm embarrassed to talk about them. We see how it goes.
AND AFTERWARDS: Momofuku continues to win at the game of surprising interactions between unusual ingredients. The maple labneh was dreamy; the kimchi apples became some new third thing that tasted like neither of the components, etc. Put together on a plate (above), everyone became very good friends.
And then, a further surprise of surprises, my provocative substitution worked out wonderfully (that's it below, a few hours after the pic above and thus horrifyingly lit). But you would only think this if, like me, you have a secret guilty ability to enjoy surimi. But really, this was yet another delicious Momofuku recipe, and I would hope that Chang would approve of my white trash version, given his fondness for ghettofying things. It's all equally racist...and equally delicious!!!
white trash scallops with kohlrabi puree, pickled mushrooms, and furikake.
frozen surimi sticks (you know, "the good stuff")
Make the pickling liquid, put mushrooms in it for four hours or so. Cut the kohlrabi in rough pieces, boil for 20 minutes or until tender, season with smoked salt. Saute (or, very nearly, poach) your surimi in a few tbsp of butter, three minutes per side will give you a scallop-like (ok not scallop-like at all) nutty brownness on the outside. Serve over kohlrabi puree with pickled mushrooms strewn about, sprinkle with furikake and cut scallions. It was very Japanese-tasting.
Spent an hour on the phone with Yahoo! tech support tonight, they're doing this awesome thing where they don't tell you exactly how long your hold time is going to be, but that it's going to be "more than 30 minutes". But then that's the last you hear from them. No "you are number [computer voice] 14 in the queue", no nothing.
In case you don't have the nebulous "more than a half an hour" to sit around and listen to old Dave Koz CDs on hold, you can opt to have them call you. Awesome, right? Except they can't tell you exactly how long that will take either, their best guess tonight was "366 minutes". They couldn't come to the phone right now, but they would call me back in "366 minutes". I decided to wait an hour on hold with the Koz instead.
You may not know that Mara is a bit of a gadget person. True fact. I attribute this to persistent flashes of unvanquishable young-at-heart optimism and a related continuing hope for feelings of childlike wonderment. Plus a bitch just like new toys.
A few months ago she bought this "mini cupcake maker" for €7 at the drugstore. As always, we are a bit skeptical as to how well these bargain devices will function once they're home, but this one seems like a weener so far. Our poor cancer-ridden neighbor was having some more of herself removed this week and while we were feeding her cat yesterday we noticed a bunch of bananas symbolically going brown on the counter.
We knew this was somewhere we could make a real difference, and immediately decided to turn this particular story of decomposing organic matter into a happy ending we could taste: we stole her damn bananas* and made this gluten-free bread that became cupcake muffins. Totally great, didn't taste one bit healthy.
* OK, she came home today and yes, we gave her some of the cupcakes.
+++ almond flour banana bread.
1 1/2 cups almond meal or almond flour
4 rather small eggs, beaten
1/3 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
3 medium bananas, mashed (about 1 cup banana puree)
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
Cream butter and sugar together, stir in eggs. Add mashed bananas, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg.
In a separate bowl, combine almond flour, coconut, baking powder and salt. Stir into banana mixture just until combined.
350F for about 20 minutes for standard size muffins or according to your budget drugstore cupcake muffin maker's instructions.
I've gotten to where I can squeeze a pretty darn satisfying fritatta out of 3 eggs, the idea being that it'll be healthier if I use fewer eggs, and if it came down to it I could make one in the morning and eat it all by myself throughout the day without having consumed 6 eggs before bedtime.
This morning's attempt, however, kind of negated itself in that department, it consists of: three eggs; a whole bag of kale (400g, good boy); last night's roasted parsnips, carrots, and onions (ok, use those leftovers); and yeah, the leftover bacon and reblochon from our tartiflette experiment last week (frown..yes those are leftovers, but...).
It's good enough to make again, I think I'd throw a clove of garlic in there next time, see what happens.
Well I couldn't be much prouder. I made gluten-free brownies that pretty much look and taste like brownies. And I was done before 8am.
I'm pretty sure this is my first time making brownies ever. I must say, I did some things you're probably not supposed to do when baking, and I can imagine they had some deleterious effects on the final product. For example, in the interest of dirtying one less dish, I threw my unbeaten eggs in the food processor with the sweet potatoes and cocoa and everything else. My results are tiny bit souffle-ish, and maybe this is why? No idea at all. It's a very weird feeling to be cooking and have zero idea whether you're doing anything right, or, more accurately, whether or not you're doing everything wrong.
For the rest, they could be denser and chocolate-ier, like I said they have a bit the texture of a supermoist cake, and I kind of wimped out on the salt b/c I put in almost enough, tasted, and it seemed too salty, but that was before I added the eggs, etc. You live, you learn ect ect ect.
But they're totally pretty good. I could imagine how they could be super good (cream cheese icing? Puccini chocolate chips?). And they have no butter, no flour, nothing bad except well 3 eggs and 100g of dark chocolate. I didn't have almond flour so I used twice as much finely ground hazelnuts and threw some whole ones in there just to use them up.
As always, cessation of alcohol results in Hulk-like inflation of Sweet Tooth. My other teeth are slowly, desperately backing away from the growing, pulsing abomination in the shadowy back corner of the (room? mouth? Sudden metaphor fatigue. Pretty sure the sweet tooth is located in the brain anyway and hopefully not green).
In an effort to prevent the Hulk from destructively snapping his restraints and metaphorically trashing the (room? mouth? brain?), I was thinking about trying to make something I might love but wouldn't make me feel like an ass and a half if I did have a bit of a sugar wipeout. Some Googling resulted in this, from My Paleo Life, which I've changed a little in advance.
sweet potato brownies.
100g pure chocolate (not unsweetened, but like 70-74% cacao)
2 medium sweet potatoes, boiled
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp almond flour (I ended up using 2 tbsp finely ground hazelnuts instead)
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
Melt the chocolate in the coconut oil in a double boiler. Puree the sweet potato in a food processor until smooth, making sure there are no lumps.
Add the other ingredients and mix until very smooth and creamy.
Transfer the batter to an oiled 8×8 baking dish.
Bake at 160C for 35 to 40 minutes. Test for doneness and check every 5 minutes until well it's done. After it's done, PUT MOST OF IT IN THE FREEZER.
I finally got a CineVille pass (€18/month for unlimited films in 19 of the Randstad's most interesting independentish theatres, including our neighborhood stalwart The Movies), so we headed east to see Django Unchained yesterday at Kriterion. Be aware that if you show up for a 5:40 movie, the kitchen is closed (lunch is over at 4:30) and your only food choices are candy bars, chips, and "nachos". In Amsterdam "nachos" means "tortilla chips with 1/4 the amount of salsa you need".
Django: I reeeeally liked the first half, no one else makes movies like that. But it all needed editing and in the second half the entertaining wordiness and cheery surreality kind of dissolved away amidst all the necessary bloodshed, leaving us pretty much with Kill Bill,Vol 4. Spellchecker is trying to tell me amidst is not a word. Amid? Amidst is totally a word.
Coming up: a post on healthyish desserts even I can make. For instance I want to do something with roasted bananas, date syrup, hangop(English please? Strained yogurt or buttermilk, but there must be something that sounds better than that), and toasted hazelnuts. Also an attempt to clean out our "miscellaneous flours/grains" cupboard. Millet? Buckwheat? I'm looking at you.
I saw a butterfly drown today, slowly. One of the sadder deaths I've seen lately, though frankly there have not been a lot. Maybe "drown" isn't the right verb form, should be "drowning": I didn't/couldn't actually watch the whole thing, but the trajectory was grim indeed over the twenty or so minutes I was around. I did look around for an extra-long tree branch or something to use in a daring rescue attempt, but the victim was too far out in the canal for me to do anything about it without me probably becoming a statistic myself.
In other news, I opened up Notepad just now to write some, well, notes, and instead of taking a second or two to open, it just popped to the front as it does when it's already open. Which means that at some point in the last 24 hours I made these notes to myself:
Really, I've got no idea. Hopefully a cat walked across the keyboard.
In our kitchen, it's a wonderful thing to get a new cookbook (especially a free one!), because it doesn't happen all that often. Of course you hope that every new addition to the library becomes a Momofuku or an Ottolenghi, somewhere you can always turn for a novel but solid twist on familiar ingredients, or the opposite, a traditional approach to unexpected inputs.
But obviously, a book doesn't automatically make it to the "let's make something fun...grab Momofuku" level without a few smashing successes. And in our kitchen, for test-driving a new cookbook....there's a problem, and that problem is: we wants some delicious food. We never ever want to spend time in the kitchen making something that's not delicious.
I guess that's why we don't review cookbooks rount here. I never want to spend an hour chopping and peeling and dirtying utensils and dishes and then wait another hour while something cooks, only for it to come out of the oven and make us frown...what possible satisfaction could be gained from this. I understand that this is a job some people have, recipe testing, people do this for a living, but god how depressing does that sound (unless it's some kind of perfection-oriented quest like ze Cook's Illustrated)...
So in the interest of this necessary deliciousness we can't actually review a cookbook properly. We start out by trying to test or follow the recipe, but if something is counterintuitive or unclear to the point of possibly fucking things up ("8 potatoes, thinly sliced" can result in some pretty wildly varying amounts of potatoes, no?...give me grams or cups, or at least a potato size), then we cross-reference some other trustable recipe sources to get a better idea of what's supposed to happen in terms of ingredient proportions.
If, when we're cross-referencing, we see that Nigella or Bourdain or Julia or Bittman or Marcella or Wolfert says to put a splash of white wine in there, then we probably will. If the original dish is filled with bacon but the adapted recipe we're looking at has zero smoky elements, then we're likely to season with smoked salt and throw in a pinch of pimentón instead of paprika. And if enough things accumulate that don't sound delicious, then we just switch to rescue mode and "start cooking".
So after looking at the recipe for Home Made Winter's tartiflette with cod today, we knew from the outset we were going to throw some bacon and white wine in there just to be safe, but really, we changed a lot of things. And our end result was delicious, but I'm sure it's quite different from whatever the original instructions would've resulted in.
tartiflette with cod.
250g raw lean bacon, cubed, or lardons
3 cups mandolined red-skinned potatoes
3 medium yellow onions, mandolined
2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup dry white wine
250g fresh cod filets
1 and 1/4 cup cream (full cream, anything less will curdle)
1 tsp black pepper
tiny pinch pimentón
tiny pinch smoked salt
200g reblochon cheese
So yes we added bacon. Saute the bacon until it's given up all of its, ehh liquid, and has lost almost half its volume, as bacon tends to do. Set the bacon aside and get rid of most of the fat in the pan.
We decided that something in this recipe should have some direct contact with a hot pan and the onions weren't quick enough to escape. We threw the onions in with the reserved bacon fat, sauteed for a bit then tossed the wine and bacon and maybe half the thyme in there when it got dry. We sauteed a little more.
Then we tried to assemble everything in layers in a buttered baking dish. We did season the cream as the Home Made Winter (hereafter HMW) recipe suggested. We did not grate the reblochon as suggested because we'd still be trying to get it out of the grater if we had: seems like a cheese you'd want to freeze a little before grating. We did use the rind as everyone suggested.
HMW says to layer your cold ingredients (our onions were hot), cover your dish with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Then uncover and bake for 15 more.
Based on our results, there may be a good reason why almost every other recipe we saw including Bourdain and Nigella has you pre-cook your potatoes before layering and baking. It took our potatoes a full hour to cook the HMW way, which is pretty much exactly what Cook's Illustrated told us would be the case (they start you instead with bringing your potatoes to a simmer in a pan (5 min), simmer till they're tender (15-20 min) and then bake for 20 minutes and rest for 10-15 minutes.
It's not a big deal, right? We added some extra ingredients, one or two seasoning tweaks, did some extra cooking, and things turned out delicious. It just makes me put Home Made Winter back on the shelf for now instead of looking for the next thing I'll cook out of it.
Above: me on my second night in Phoenix last month, in my room watching Lost in Translation on Netflix at 4:21am (tiny red numbers on alarm clock in back left), when onscreen Bill Murray is lying awake in his Tokyo hotel room also at 4:20am. Yes, it took me too long to find my camera in the dark to get us both with our clocks at 4:20am in the picture, thanks for pointing that out. And no I didn't then give up on sleeping and go have a drink and smoke cigarettes with Scarlett Johansson in a ritzy bar downstairs. I probably did go have a drink and go smoke a cigarette though, cause it sounded way better than any other option. Needless to say this is a voice that should not be listened to.
Since my get-your-shit-together insomnia/life manifesto was only delivered yesterday (and only the first installment mind you), and this is only my second night in Amsterdam after a month in America, I'll try, try, try not to beat myself up too too badly for being up at 4:21am not having solved the "what is the most productive thing for me to be doing right now" question (I was asleep by midnight, btw).
Productive or at least non-destructive elements of what I'm doing right now at 4:21am include: no eating; no alcohol; no marijuana. I am, however, on the computer, which is not really the plan of record. I need a big slow book that doesn't evoke any triggery emotions in me, some chamomile tea, and a woolly blanket, all of which sounds boring as shit, but this is very much a work in progress.
For the last hour, instead of playing book blanket bingo I've been trawling Serious Eats, my go-to late-night food porn distractionizer that I've been using at just these sorts of moments for years now. It is essentially porn, but a porn that feeds back into something marginally creative, so I feel less despicable and pointless about it than I might if I ever, you know...used the real thing.
For example, seeing this entry on vegan bao gives us a couple new bao directions to play with, that is if we can ever stop eating these fucking Momofuku English muffins long enough to get excited about any other carbohydrate. Fuuuck, these muffins are something else. The smell as they're toasting!!!! Then when you add butter!!!! Ahhhh (hangs head, slumps shoulders). I completely understand why Mara made 60 of them, we just need to do a better job giving them away sooner next time. Or do we. I feel like Gollem and The Ring. I took pictures of them for you with the Olympus, but...no. The pictures aren't what I'd call informative.
Flipping through the well-thumbed slideshows and centerfolds of SE always tickles my orange cheese fetish a bit, and reminds me that I somehow either forgot or failed to properly photograph two of the best things I put in my mouth in Arizona. The first was an Aidell's Smoked Chicken and Apple Sausage, covered with with a melted and bubbly thick-cut slice of Land O'Lakes' extra sharp cheddar, topped with a handful of crisp, chopped sweet Vidalia onions and a shot of Stubb's Spicy Barbecue sauce, my favorite BBQ sauce cause it ain't got no BS in it. I had this for breakfast a few times. Possibly four.
Somehow I was always in too much of a hurry to consume this thing, or I kept thinking "oh there'll be a next time, there were six or eight in the package", we have no photo. Instead we have a picture of my dear mother and her sweet dog Lulu.
Now I don't want y'all to think it's all gone be woe is me time around here. I mean it is a little, but man a duck gots to relax too know what I'm sayn.
And how do a duck normally relax? Dass correck: by messin' up his speech and then bitchin and complainin about some dang fool thing (it just entertains me to no end).
Well I'm not really complaining here too much. I won something. I entered a contest on Serious Eats, b/c it took me all of two seconds to do, and I won me a damn cookbook which I had literally just been ogling at the American Book Center here the day before, something I do maybe once a year. So yay, cool. It came in the mail while I was in the States, and in the flesh it's a beautyful presentation by Irish/Dutch food writer/food stylist Yvette van Boven called Home Made Winter.
Now about that gift horse (gift horse explaint). Having taken a poke at one of the savory recipes today, I'm a tiny bit afraid that it looks and sounds sooo good that the recipes themselves don't quite live up to the pictures, plus HBF also took a poke at one of the oft-published baking recipes back around Xmas and said yeah it needed a few tweaks (now that also don't mean there's anything wrong here: in a Pepsi Challenge [uhh, definition #3] with just about anyone's baked goods I'm taking HBF's shit any ol' day of the fkn week).
I'm just sayin...we gone be taking a good hard look at this sumbitch sometime soon while it's still winter and everything. And really, all kidding aside, you know we're hoping for the best, it seems to be a thoroughly charming book.
Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please, there will be an equipment change on this morning's flight: instead of the peppy and useful Nikon Coolpix we've been smudging the LCD on for the last few weeks, we'll now be switching to the Olympus Thymus 1010, a camera so technologically backwards, functionally unintuitive and just generally difficult to take good pictures with that we've had not one but two of them donated to us by two different people. Fucking given to us, freely. Here, take it. You want any money for that, it must have been expensive? It was, but nope, just get it out of here.
Hmm, maybe deciphering the interestingly-translated manual for it is something productive I can do late at night.....(cue segue music)....
Herewith begins a series that's a bit of a first in these pages: we are going to try and address in a relatively open and unfiltered way all of the major problems in VDuck life, because VDuck don't want to live like he been living anymore. He ready for Version 4 if there is one (if Version 1 was the arrogant and ironic incompetent introvert suburbanite dreamer aged 14-24; Version 2 was the suddenly acccidentally competent and mostly-responsible Internet superstar aged 24-34 who believed he could do anything; Version 3 was the overconfident, ignorant, and subsequently demolished, disillusioned, and anxiety-crippled fat old alcoholic insomniac, aged 34-44, worsening).
How interesting this will be for the hypothetical reader is frankly unpredictable and ultimately of no consequence. Why share at all? Why not keep it to hissssself? 1) Cause hisself is not a word and 2) Oft times the Duck has been cruising around the internets in need of solace and found someone's personal ramblings on dark nighttime subjects and it inexplicably soothes a bit that some other poor fucker is consumed with the same shit. And 3) blogging is the only way I know how to write creatively or with any precision anymore.
BIG PROBLEM #1: What to do in the middle of the night.
There are definitely deeper psychological problems and anxiety-related suckholes that need addressing in detail very soon but on his first night back in the Pod, it became clear that the most unavoidable habitual, practical problem that Version 3 encounters on a daily basis has to do with late- or middle-night insomnia and anxiety. It was noticeable from the moment Mara put in her earplugs (which I should emphasize happened in bed, at bedtime, not like when I first walked in the door that morning, "Oh hey, Mara I'm home....Mara?") that suddenly there was no one to talk to except himself, and this is not a conversation that has led anywhere good in a really long time.
So, a plan: Version 4 needs to first do all of the things that it knows help it sleep better: sunlight/exercise during the day, minimized computer time, proper dosage of helpful supplements at 9pm 9pm 9pm every night why the fuck do you refuse to do this? Because you think you don't like to go to sleep before Mara. But you also don't like it when Mara goes to sleep first and you're too awake.
Essentially what you'd be trying to accomplish here would be maximum possible sleep; minimal accomplishmentless awake time. For example, let's look at the generally accepted practice of being up for another three hours after Mara goes to sleep, not really accomplishing anything except the fabled "winding down" from 11:30 to 2:30, something that you think you like and find relaxing but is in fact a big part of your problem.
Because during this time you're not actually "winding down", you're "filling your mind and distracting yourself until you can't stay awake anymore", then you wake up again at 5:30am when the cat starts meowing and again you're stuck 1) awake and wanting to kill the fucking cat and 2) not really being able to accomplish anything until you go back to sleep at 8:00am.
So ideally you'd be asleep around midnight. If for some reason you couldn't go to sleep then you'd have something productive to do that wouldn't be invigorating or exciting (what could this possibly be). If you wake up at 3:30am, same deal. 15 minutes of trying to go back to sleep, then getting up and having something to do which relaxes you, is not porn or alcohol, and doesn't make a whole bunch of noise. Or can be done down the hall in the rather cold and charmless Studio B.
Further endless revision necessary and forthcoming. An addendum that needs addressing soon is "what is the optimal time to feed the cat in order to minimize overall meowing and thus prevent eventual cat murder, deboning, etc."
(ADDENDUM/UPDATE: updated research seems to suggest that biting the bullet with one and only one feeding between 5:30am and 6:30am may result in the most peaceful morning. And then just blasting the shit out of them with water pistols if they make the slightest sound after that. We seriously need drones. The ASPCA suggests two feedings a day, 6am and 6pm, I'd like to see us try that, talk about fomenting a rebellion. Maybe we could get away with 7am, 3pm, 11pm.)
This is a photo of the wonderful new International Terminal at Atlanta's Hartsfield Airport. A mysterious and beautiful place that you for some reason cannot reach by MARTA (Atlanta's rail system). According to signage at the MARTA exit, you need to be driven there in a suspiciously thrown-together-looking International Terminal Shuttle van by a man resembling Notorious B.I.G. in both stature and voice. A ride that somehow takes almost 20 minutes, even though you know this new International Terminal is physically connected to the rest of the airport.
Well it is connected, it's just that to drive there from the main terminal where MARTA lets off, you have to leave the airport, like you're going home, yes get back on the highway, and then re-enter the airport at the new offramp for the International Terminal.
But eventually you hopefully arrive at the elegant modern design wonderland of the International Terminal, wonderful not only because of its state-of-the-art amenities (charging stations! nap areas! a Varsity!) but also in its lack of passengers and therefore lines. Unfortunately after going through security you may see signage that says that your particular flight is not quite international enough to depart from the International Terminal; rather, you will depart from concourse E. The signage informs you that you now need to take a train to Concourse E, a train which, and this will surprise no one, a train which you could've just as easily taken from...........yes, the MARTA station where you first arrived.
Hey man...at least they're trying. And if the Delta website had tole me what gate I was leaving from before I left the house, well...I probably still would've done the same thing. But in theory...
Welcome back to real life. A real life which we will, one last time, possibly even right here in these very blog pages, hereby try to unfuck.
While I'm far away from you my baby I know it's hard for you my baby Because it's hard for me my baby And the darkest hour is just before dawn Each night before you go to bed my baby Whisper a little prayer for me my baby And tell all the stars above This is dedicated to the one I love (love can never be exactly like we want it to be) I could be satisfied knowing you love me (and there's one thing I want you to do especially for me) And it's something that everybody needs While I'm far away from you my baby Whisper a little prayer for me my baby Because it's hard for me my baby And the darkest hour is just before dawn -The Mamas and The Papas, 1967.
This version below is way more tongue-in-cheek than is my placing of the lyrics here, but the below version is the one that recently reminded me what a fantastic song it is and that it could be sung by four real modern humans and have more life than some old (classic) studio confection.