8.8.18

screen saver.














Above: here's the beach my screen saver showed me today. Below: here's the beach I went to today. That is the beach, right there with the backhoes on it, dismantling it completely.


Note the long fence below preventing you from going down there. At least I'd only taken a 38 minute train ride to get to this wasteland. I saw one family with kids, beach gear in tow. They did not reek of localness, in fact they looked very much like they had traveled very far to get here for some reason, they were actually tearfully clutching the fence in frustration, as if they had no idea the beach was going to be totally destroyed this summer. Seems like someone would've told them along the way.


















OK so it wasn't much of a "beach" anyway, they weren't really missing anything: about 100 meters of dirty sand leading to thick mud, but it is the closest "beach" to Groningen. But really, it was disappointing even for a Dutch beach. Anyone American who is roughly my age who has ever come to visit me in this country has said at some point, "yeah, there's a lot of good stuff here, socialized medicine, legal weed, beautiful womens, good jazz, liberal thinking, a society that tries to be tolerant of and help all peoples, but....yeah, the beaches aren't so good, are they."

On a good day Bloemendaal can be a lovely experience. I myself like Castricum as well. Bergen is kind of nice. Even Zandvoort is OK once you drop your expectations accordingly. And the dunes on the islands are serene and severe, in a good way. But if you've grown up with Florida and California, those are just a different kind of beach. Waves.

Anyway, I say all of this to say that Delfzijl, where I was today, was by far the most depressing beach I have ever been to in a country of really mediocre beaches. I am very sorry for you if you live in Delfzijl at this moment, I cannot believe the streets are not littered with suicides. On a tropically hot summer day, someone has decided to tear apart your sad little beach. I can't decide if it was sadder to not have been able to go to the beach there today, or would it have been worse if I'd actually been able to lay my towel down on the rocks and listen to the sucking mud in front of me and the highway directly behind me.

7.8.18

card death.














So I've been playing a lot of poker lately. And though I want to grind my teeth to dust whenever someone other than me repeats all or part of their previous sentence more slowly for emphasis, I'mma do it myself right here: I mean a lot of poker.

If I wasn't already pretty keenly aware of how much it's come to monopolize my, ahem, "free time", the two apps with which I spend my all of my waking hours thoughtfully keep track of some numbers that could conceivably help one chart/graph/etc his or her complete withdrawal from interactive human life. In the past two months or so, I've played 6,602 hands in WSOP and 5,060 in PokerStars. Considering that each hand takes anywhere from 30 seconds (if everyone folds to an opening bet) to 3 minutes to play (if everyone stays in and there's lots of thinking and raising), and if 5,000 minutes is roughly 84 hours...you can see that it's been a lonely, fixated couple of months.

As you can imagine, this kind of devotion is not without its glamorous rewards. For example, I'm currently ranked #1 in the Netherlands*:















* OK, OK, I'm #1 in "my league", which is called "Skilled I" (I've already maniacally plowed my way through all five levels each of the Starter and Novice leagues and have Master and Elite to look forward to).  And overall I'm 6,972nd in the world. This is not quite as unimpressive as it sounds. Supposedly there are 87,580 other misfits/shut-ins/quadriplegics playing on PokerStars at this very sexy moment.

+++

I'm sure I'll write much more about the nitty-gritty ins and outs of my thrilling new old man pastime; like the week I spent being a black woman instead of a koala and became totally convinced that people were less friendly to me. Or the wonderful tension of ending up with my koala avatar sitting next to Pipe'nigga (in 4th place above) and all the other very carefully-crafted and -researched Cool People Avatars you can choose from as your "poker face" (cleverrrrr). Or how I have pretty much played poker my whole life (since I was 9 or 10 maybe?) without a deeper understanding of how it worked, and that that is kind of one of the beautiful things about poker: you can learn the rules in 15 minutes and play happily at that level for your whole damn ignorant life. But! If you're the kind of person who likes to get into things deeply, there's another whole underlying or overlying art/science to it that you can probably spend that same whole life looking at.

No, but hey: the first thing I wanted to write about was a poker term which I have found myself considering very metaphorically lately: being "card dead". This is different than the nearly equally compelling "drawing dead", which is when you are in a hand, paying to stay in and receive new cards in an attempt to better your hand but in fact, there is no card which can help you because you've already lost. Statistically speaking. You just don't know it yet because you don't know what your opponent(s) have. This is one of the really sadistic moments in televised poker, because you know what everyone has. It's hard to think of another televised "sport" where you get to watch someone optimistically pour their efforts and money into winning when you and everyone else watching knows that they absolutely, mathematically can't. I would mention the Mets or the Browns here but etc.

Right, that's drawing dead. Being "card dead" on the other hand is when, from hand to hand, you can not get good cards to save your life as they say. Time after time, you are doing everything right, technically speaking, but the cards refuse to help you in any way or show you the slightest bit of mercy. You know it's nothing personal, that it's "just probability", but after 25 hands of 6-3, 2-9, 9-3, 10-2, 2-3, 2-6, 7-3, repeat, you start to think "this can't continue".

So finally you get something barely bluffworthy and open with it because you think well it must be over now, I'm ok! and then you immediately (check out my new lingo) find you've gotten yourself into some postflop trouble by having over-aggressively reraised a late-position preflop raiser. Yo overestimated your hand, underestimated someone else's, and now someone else has the actual nuts that you've been pretending to have and the only way to keep looking tough is to just keep betting on your dead hand, not admit you made a mistake. But you're own your own buddy, you might as well be setting those chips on fire, the good cards aren't coming to rescue you.

Now, they also say that in Texas Hold-em, which is the game I mean when I say I've been playing poker, most of the time it doesn't matter what your cards are. And that poker is a game of skill, not luck. But good cards sure do help. More on this after a brief pause.

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26.6.18

the sweet smell of.

I was behind someone in the Albert Heijn today who smelled of loneliness.

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18.6.18

summer's kiss, part etc.























Featuring our old friends Mr. Tomato Sandweech and Ms. Ice-cold Melon. Not sure where they fit into the family tree but corn on the cob and bread and butter pickles should be knocking at the door any minute now.


30.5.18

16.5.18

this is vegetarian duck.























Supposably. This is me. This is vegetarian duck. Mister Fridges the refrigerator "broke" a week ago so I've been cooking through all of the defrosting toko purchases.

I put "broke" in "quotes" because, as a serial headphone destroyer, I know an abused cable when I see one, and all Mister Fridges needed was a new power cord. But like any good proprietary hardware scheme it's not the kind of thing you want to mess with yourself. So a Bosch man came today, five loooong days after we called them, and he replaced the power cable and now everything is happy time in the fridge agains. He also pooped in our bathroom. Which is fine, probably, because he didn't charge us anything even though the warranty expired two weeks ago. Tit for tat and whatnot.























So like I was saying. I cooked with these over the weekend. Tofu Skin Loempias. Mmmmmmmmm.  And they are just as dry as they look. And chewy. But really, totally edible, it's an even better wrapper for any kind of fried spring roll because it actually tastes like something. Although I have the same complaints Mark Bittman had here: just a little too dry and chewy.

So next time I'll try a braised version, to try and juice them up a bit. OK. I leave you with Restaurant Ufuk.


5.5.18

ternaard.








köln.



april.




wang's flavor.




14.4.18

hail, etc.

It's from Oh She Glows, and it was really really good. You need a real blender, not your budget zhoomer.

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caesar dressing, vegan.

1/2 cup raw cashews
1 cup water

1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 or 2 tbsp lemon juice, to taste
1 or 2 tsp Dijon mustard, to taste
1 or 2 small garlic cloves, to taste
1/2 tbsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp capers
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt and pepper, or to taste

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10.4.18

mfsdxxxxxx.

Time to reinvestigate MFSD. To quote, from our very own archives:
The basics of MFSDxiv are: mostly raw fruit and vegetables. A little fish. Very few grains. Very little fat, other than walnuts, almonds, olive oil, and avocado. No dairy. No sugar if I can help it, so this means that not all fruit is OK. Watermelon is OK, so all is not lost. Four or five quite small meals a day, the biggest being lunch. Nothing at all goes into the duck after 10pm. No alcohol.
I agree with all of this except no dairy. 4% fat cottage cheese is going to get me through this thing. There will be some attempts to introduce soy and hemp products, but mostly the goal will be to not really cook for myself, just put things in my mouse.

And how excited can I get about raw vegetables? Not at all. I will probably substitute pork a tiny bit.

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8.4.18

aiiiiiiiiioli.

So I was trying to have a stress-free day of cooking for company and wanted to have simple things on the menu. I made a condiment that's kind of the shit. I served it with grilled asparagus but it's good on literally everything so far.

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lemon-caper mayonnaise. 
2 tbsp capers
2 small garlic cloves
zest of one lemon
1 cup good Dutch mayo
1 tsp lemon juice or to taste

Zhoom everytthing except mayo and lemon juice, add mayo and then add lemon juice to taste. Serve with everything.

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24.3.18

we're back!

So, as 5 of you noticed, VDuck went dark for a couple of weeks. I was applying for a job with a challengingly perky young vegan blogger whose public disposition is laughably far away from that of your beloved VDuck. The application process was lengthy and borderline arduous, and just before I clicked on Submit I thought "let's have a quick look at VDuck to see just how footshootingly counterproductive it would be to have a potential employer read it."

So I had that quick look, aaaaaaand the second post out here was about my balls, so I decided, yeah, ok, ok, let's put things on pause for a couple weeks.

But! Then I failed. Was not hired. And so here we are againnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn

God, remember when a lack of punctuation at the end of a sentence was really mysterious and disturbing? I'm thinking of like the last sentence of a Jack Ritchie story in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine or an Alfred Hitchcock anthology or something, both of which I was thoroughly addicted to as a small child. Jeez, I get the heebie-jeebies just looking at the lists of stories. Anyway I seem to remember being totally spooked by that no-punctuation shit. 

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surprise.























This is not two slices of the worst-looking pepperoni pizza ever made. It's an unexpectedly good snack of roasted homemade sourdough, hummus, and Momofuku sweet pickled radishes. I'd serve it to someone.

18.3.18

sour notes.

3/4 cup starter
1 and 1/4 cup lukewarm water
1 tbsp maple syrup or honey
3 cups all-purpose flour, unbleached
1 and 1/2 tsp kosher salt

Instructions!
  1. Get two bowls. Combine the ingredients in one. Let rest for 10-20 minutes. While it is resting, lightly coat another medium-sized bowl with olive oil. The bowl needs to be a big enough to allow the dough to double in size.
  2. Work dough the absolute minimum to get things into a ballish shape, for me this was like 1 minute's work. You are not kneading. 
  3. Shape into ball and put into the oiled bowl, smooth-side down, and then flip it smooth-side up so that all sides of the dough are covered with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap.
  4. Let rise in a warm place at least 6 hours, folding every 30 minutes. 
  5. Form bread into a boule (a round loaf) and place on a square of parchment paper. With a wet serrated knife, cut a couple of slashes on the top. Cover loosely with a damp towel and allow to rise for 1½- 2 hours.
  6. In the last 30 or 40 minutes of the last rise, move your oven rack to the bottom third of oven. Put a cast iron Dutch oven with lid in the cold oven and preheat to 450º for 30 minutes. This temperature is a bit under debate, or our oven's ability to maintain this temperature reliably is under debate. Something is under debate. 
  7. Remove the lid from the Dutch oven and put the boule in by picking up the corners of the parchment and gently setting it in. Be very careful, don't forget that you just took the Dutch oven out of an inferally hot oven 10 seconds ago so it's probably still "warm". 
  8. Put the lid on the Dutch oven and bake for 12-13 minutes. Uncover and bake another 12-13 minutes.
  9. Remove and place on a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes. DO NOT slice the bread until it has set for 30 minutes, everyone insists that this is completely important, though it is wholly inimical to the enjoyment of bread.  
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13.3.18

sev puri.























I've said it before in these pages, and knowing me I'll probably say it again. I mean who can really keep track of everything they've said over the course of 13 years of jotting down over 2,200 compulsively-rewritten notes to themselves. In public. Who can even count the number of years or notes properly (EDITOR'S NOTE: actually Blogger does a pretty good job of that last part, yes scroll down, it's right there in the right sidebar...but right that was probably rhetorical, anyway, carry on).

Indian food may be the hardest cuisine to replicate in the home kitchen (I say this without ever reaallllly having tried to cook with anything in that challenging-smelling Chinese medicinal herb aisle in the supertoko). I was just thinking. There are two components to the complexity: 1) exotic/authentic ingredients, without which you are not cooking the real thing. And 2) the sheer number of ingredients and techniques involved.

Japanese cooking, for example, also requires exotic/authentic ingredients in order to taste "accurate": miso, kombu, sake, furikake, etc. But once you're cooking, the ingredient list is totally manageable, six or seven things. It's the rare Indian recipe that doesn't involve at least two recipes within itself (I'm including condiments), and each one involves several ingredients, we're not even necessarily talking about curries from scratch yet.

But: I blather on about all this not only to unspool my mind into a text box in order to hopefully put myself back to sleep soon, which is why probably mm half of VDuck was written, but in order to proclaim into the void that I am currently "better at Indian food" than I've ever been in my life. In that what I cook tastes vaguely like the original thing I tasted that made me want to cook it in the first place.

Today's case in point: bhel puri/sev puri. Back in the day (I just spent 10 seconds deciding if quotation marks or italics more clearly indicated that that is not a phrase I normally use), I used to make the 35 mile (57 km) drive down to Indian Delights in Decatur as often as I could manage the incredible boringness of the scenery and the dent that the whole enterprise put in your day's productivity. OK, two hours, a two hour dent. Doesn't sound like all that much at the moment for a chance to eat at Indian Delights. Luckily they didn't serve alcohol or the dent would've been twice that and significantly more structurally damaging.

Annnywayyyy. That was where I first tasted South Indian chaat, special thanks to Cliff Bostock, who sent me into all the dark corners of Atlanta's 1990-2000-era exotic food scene via his column in Creative Loafing. Indian Delights is, of course, closed now, so I can't even find a menu to look at (although Chat Patti's seems to be very similar), but yes, their bhel puri was the stuff my dreams were made of. Crunchy, sweet and sour dreams.

This week, in an effort to re-locate the ever-elusive Pleasure Button, I started looking at chaat again, and thought that sev puri seemed like a slightly easier/more fun version of bhel puri. And, having made it, I can verify that it is. Once you 1) find some chaat masala (which is really nothing like any other masala, if you've been trying to substitute for this do yourself a favor and find the real thing) and black salt and papdi and sev, and 2) make the chutneys, the rest is just assembly.

Each one of these (as pictured above) is roughly the size of a light and crispy golfball.

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sev puri.

1 recipe date-tamarind chutney
1 recipe cilantro-mint chutney
5 medium potatoes, boiled and mashed roughly
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp chaat masala

1 mango, diced
1 cup chopped tomato
1 lime, juiced

1 red onion, minced
bunch of mint, leaves stripped, chopped

20-30 papdi (somewhere between a kroepoek and a pappadam and a rice cake, puffy and crunchy, the size of a Pringle)
2 cups sev (the chickpea vermicelli sprinkled on top)
1 tbsp chaat masala
20-30 dots of sriracha

This makes enough for at least 20 bites. So, you make the chutneys the day before, you boil and mash the potatoes with the cumin and chaat masala the day before but make sure they're back to room temperature before you try and serve. You can cut the mango and tomato the day before as well, I left them combined in the fridge overnight with the lime juice and a shot of agave because neither was very good by itself.

The last thing that should be done is dicing the onion. Then, assemble: on top of a papdi you put a tsp of potato, a tsp of tomato/mango, a dollopette of each chutney, sprinkle the onion on, put a dot of sriracha on top, throw a tiny pinch of chaat masala at it, and top with the sev and mint. Serve immediately or they get soggy. Apparently if you don't like cilantro, you can also just use a mint leaf instead of the green chutney.

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28.2.18

bietenstamppot.























stamppot of red beets in agrodolce, spinach, potato, gorgonzola, walnut. 


1 kg potatoes
2 handfuls fresh, washed spinach

3 large beets, roasted, peeled and sliced
3 tbsp raw sugar
3 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 handful good walnuts, toasted and halved or so
1 tbsp butter

butter or olive oil
freshly grated nutmeg
freshly ground black pepper

blue cheese, crumbled

+++

This was also pretty delicious as a red-wine risotto with roasted cauliflower instead of beets. And rice instead of potatoes.

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21.2.18

school lunch.























Irrelevant picture alert. The above has nothing to do with the below recipe, the above is the pretty fancy-seeming app I made out of pre-cooked stem-on artichokes from the local Turk and Marcella Hazan's carciofi alla Romana concepts.

Then, also, later, and relevant to school lunches: this salad.

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carrot and quinoa salad. 

2 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp ground cardamom

salt
freshly ground black pepper

3 large carrots, thinly sliced
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup walnuts
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 cup dried cranberries
2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tbsp honey or ginger syrup

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18.2.18

age of aquarius.
























spinach and ricotta ravioli with brown butter, walnuts and gorgonzola.

enough ravioli for 3 people, in our case it was 16 or so
3/4 cup butter, preferably unsalted but it  don't really matter if you careful
1/2 cup good fresh walnuts, coarsely chopped
2-3 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, under no circumstances curly, chopped
1/4 cup heavy cream, go on, it's a special occasion
1 tsp fresh lemon juice, or "a squeeze of one half lemon into your seedcatching cupped palm held over the skillet"
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan, or slightly less, I mention this in case you're the kind of person who always says "we always run out of Parmesan so I better grate a little extra": this is so you don't run out, you don't need much
1/4 cup crumbled or very thinly sliced Gorgonzola, to taste, I went light, this is the light amount
sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

In a medium-sized sauté pan over medium or possibly medium-low heat, cook butter without stirring until it starts to darken to a golden color. This should take 5-10 minutes. Watch it, do not take your eye off of it. You are going for the point where you notice it is browning, and then like maybe 30 seconds beyond that. It should not be smoking or smell burned.

When your butter has been noticeably brown for 30 seconds, add the nuts and cook until the butter is definitely golden brown and the nuts are fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the parsley, cream, and lemon juice, and stir to combine. Cook for 30 seconds, stirring to integrate. Add Gorgonzola. Season with salt and pepper to taste. You can let this sit for 10 minutes or so while you do the next part if you're cooking by yourself, otherwise have someone else do this part:

Bring 3 or 4 liters of salted water (considerably less than "ocean salty", like half) to a full boil, reduce heat and then add ravioli. (if you add ravioli when the water is at a roiling boil, you risk having the ravioli pop open, nobody wants that). Have an occasional gentle stir to make sure the ravioli ain't sticking nowhere. Once water returns to a gentle boil, cook about 5-10 minutes, there's no way to be more precise b/c I didn't make your ravioli. Keep tasting for doneness. Drain carefully, or simply use a slotted spoon to remove the ravioli individually from the pot.

Spoon sauce over ravioli. If you likey, sprinkly more freshly grated Parmesany on toppy of ravioli.

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7.2.18

stovetop tajine.


















This picture of a pseudoghetto Sydney liquor store has nothing to do with anything, just needed a picture. Just liiiiiiike....last night, I just needed a dinner. Yeah, sorry, I've been reading and writing art history for 72 hours, I used up my brains. Here's an Anna Jones recipe that, as usual, sounded totally weird and mwah but ended up being pretty darn ok and yay. I'd make this again.

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chickpea, zucchini, dates, quinoa, lemon-coconut yogurt.

2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
2 leeks finely chopped
A generous pinch of saffron
2 teaspoons of ras el hanout spice
500ml of vegetable stock
a drained 400g tin or jar of chickpeas, or 250g home-cooked chickpeas
1 tbsp sriracha

2 courgettes, thickly sliced
10 dates, roughly chopped
200g of runner or green beans, chopped into bite sized lengths

100ml of coconut yoghurt
A sprinkling of dried chilli
The juice and zest of 1 lemon
A couple of tablespoons of sesame seeds
A few sprigs of fresh mint or basil

optional: 4 free range or organic eggs

Heat a good glug of olive oil in a pan, add the leeks and garlic and cook on a medium heat for 5 minutes until the leeks have started to soften. Then sprinkle the saffron and ras el hanout over top.
Next add the chickpeas and the stock and bring to a steady simmer and cook for 5 minutes until the broth has thickened a little.

Meanwhile, heat a pan with a little olive oil and add the sliced courgettes and the dates and sauté until the courgettes are browned on both sides and the dates have begun to caramelize.

Next turn the heat down a little add the green beans and cook for 8 minutes. Throw the lemon juice in.

Meanwhile mix the yoghurt with the chilli and lemon zest with a good pinch of sea salt and pepper.

Ladle the vegetables and broth into a bowl, top with sesame seeds a squeeze more lemon juice, herbs and the yoghurt for spooning over.

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30.1.18

tofutrix.























Been meaning to try this, finally did, it "works a treat" as someone says somewhere. What am I talking about. I've been meaning to try Andrea Nguyen's tofu-pore-opening treatment (henceforth referred to as the "Nguyen" process, or "Nguyenning" something) since oh about a year ago but I have successfully managed to not remember to do it one single time that I was in the kitchen preparing tofu because I am a total stupie. Last night however I was experimenting with a lazy-ass char siu tofu idea and, the whole Nguyen thing was fresh in my mind because of El Patat's excellent sauerkraut balls (post forthcoming), so this time, yes, I managed to remember to Nguyen my shit and, yes, it's the best-textured tofu ever.

The lazy-ass char siu recipe: I'm sure this is a thing people actually do in their Chinese homes, it was so easy and yet tastes like you did a lot of complicated shit. Well howdy doody, this is actually a char siu recipe that people actually do in their Chinese homes. I had no idea. Well they use pork. We're going to use tofu.

+++

char siu tofu, lazy version.
Basically you take a block of regular firm tofu, cut it into slabs, Nguyen that shit (pour boiling water over it, let it sit for 15 minutes, then drain and dry well). Then you slather the tofu with the brine/red liquidy stuff from a jar of red fermented tofu (called lam yee? nam yee? hóngfǔrǔ? Whatever, as you can see, mine comes from "Yummy House") and bake it on a lowish temperature for 30-45 minutes, you want it dry and firm and brick-red but not burned or blackened, and while you would never choose it over real char siu in a blindfold test, at least I wouldn't, it's "a good-tasting thing", and it's vegan.

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21.1.18

food roundup.























Faithful readers of this blog may have noticed that I've barely mentioned Australian food. I'm not sure exactly what my thinking was, somewhere in the back of my mind I thought I might just cram it all into one post. Maybe this is that post. Let's see, shall we.

I should probably say the food was great, really good, in a kind of "new comfort food" kind of way. Not heavy, but just like "stuff you liked". I'll try and explain better. We probably fucked up by not eating any Indian or Malaysian, or Chinese for that matter. But there were so many interesting "Australian" menus that we just didn't get there. Also our eating schedule kind of dictated a certain input: the first week or so we were getting up at 4am every day and asleep by 9pm, so most days we'd have two breakfasts, which worked out just fine because Australia has a bit of a serious breakfast obsession.

OK so here are some Australian things:

1) Sourdough bread. Possibly my single favorite thing about "Australian cuisine". It's real sourdough, tangy with a wide open crumb, and if you toast it properly you can hear the eventual crunch in the other room. Just great, great bread that I forgot I liked so much. So everywhere we went for breakfast had "slice of sourdough" as a menu option. They also almost always had some variation jams and jellies, and one with eggs, and some variation with avocado, which is so ubiquitous that they semi-annoyingly call it avo b/c they just don't have time for those other two syllables. Noooooo I think they just like making up fun names for things that end with O, probably because the Australian O is such an endearing feature of their spoken language. Yes I know avocado already ended with O before they shortened it, thanks.

Anyway, yes, sourdough every day. Possibly the best of these was at The General in Kangaroo Valley (above), homemade by a shadowy figure called Mrs Bread (no dot after the Mrs), served with unusually delicious hand-churned butter. This was a great omelette, too, Parmesan, kale and pine nut? Pecan? Some nut (EDITOR'S NOTE: hazelnut). Actually Nelson's breakfast was great too, sourdough rye with, yes, avocado, fresh cheese, tomato, and dukkah, which is going to be talked about again in a minute.

We tried to buy some of Mrs Bread's sourdough after breakfast but she hadn't baked that morning, we'd have to come back tomorrow, which...yeah we just weren't gonna do. We had a schedule. It was perfectly quaint that, had there been bread, it would've been on an unmanned cart with a box for you to put your money in, yes, using the honor system.

Anyway, we loved The General, and would've been back the next day if we could've.

2) Dukkah. At least one menu per day had some kind of dukkah on it. My own personal jury's still out on it. I'm not totally sure it improved anything it was served on, it might have just become a habit down there to throw it on things. Here's a kind of vapid HuffPost article about it, and here's a breakfast I had at the Hungry Monkey in Kiama called Purple Toast: "beetroot relish. Persian feta, free range poached eggs & monkey dukkah on soy & linseed sourdough."























3) Poached eggs. They really love their poached eggs. Which is great, because it means they're really good at poaching them. Again, every menu had them at least once. Below, The Serrano at Illi Hill: jàmon serrano, pecorino, watercress, walnuts, poached egg on white sourdough drizzled with truffle oil.























A wee bit overkilt, that one, the sourdough pretty much got lost, which is too bad b/c it sounded like a great sandwich. Wasn't bad at all, but better was this: Two Chaps' corn sourdough crumpets w/semi-dried tomato, rocket, cultured goat’s milk yoghurt and fermented tomato salsa. Plus a poached egg. Yes these are all still breakfasts.

4) Coffee. Man. It reminded me of Seattle circa 1995. Walking down the main drag in Kiama looking for a good front terrace to have a beer on and peoplewatch, you quickly realize a) there aren't any, you later find out it's because Australians do "beer gardens" instead, which are located in the back and serve a slightly different purpose, protecting you from the sun instead of helping you soak it up, and b) every other storefront is a coffee roaster.

You get kind of used to it pretty quickly, although the terminology was a bit confusing. But somehow it didn't have the sneery/snooty feel of hipstery bandwagon-jumping that 1990s/2000s America had, but who knows, maybe it was exactly the same. Anyway, at least baristas were very pleasant about us not knowing what anything was. Nelson finally figured out what her drink was a couple of days before we left: soy or almond latte with an extra shot. I drank long blacks. Yes I said that.

5) Vietnamese food. This was the only immigrant cuisine we successfully interacted with. Marrickville had more Vietnamese restaurants than almost any other kind of business. We had plans to go to Hello Auntie, but like so many other promising targets on this trip (Bloodwood, Hartsyard, Love Tilly Devine, Dehli O Dehli, Pete's Music Exchange), they were closed for "the holidays". At least we had a banh xeo and an interesting curry in Kiama, and I had a super banh mi from Marrickville Pork roll.

6) Corn. It kept showing up in surprising places. Especially baby corn. OK not that surprising I guess. Like we never saw it driving a car or delivering a TED talk. It was always on a plate in a dining setting.

Anyway. We went to Yellow because they have a fancy-ass all-vegetarian menu. Fancy-ass meaning expennnnnsive. The water was expensive, that kind of expensive. If I'm moaning a bit, it's not about the expense itself. People should get paid. And I guess baby vegetables are more expensive than their parents. I'm just saying you know how this kind of thing affects expectations. Like if you charge me 6 bucks for water then damn, your baby vegetable game and miso crumbles better be on point.

Everything we had was at least "good", cooked with care and designed with craft, it just wasn't very comforting or homey or I guess welcoming in any way. Like I'm not sure this is helping sell a plant-based diet, this kind of semi-ascetic, clinical cooking. I know, what's the other end of the spectrum, every hippie vegetarian cafe ever since the 60s with overcooked and underseasoned everything. I guess I'm saying "close but", one fraction more warmth or lusciousness or decadence wouldn't have hurt.

But back to corn. The best thing I ate that night was "baby fennel + chickpea miso + buckwheat streusel", very close to delicious. I'm pretty sure it was in fact. And the most interesting thing was "baby corn in the husk + miso milk crumb", because you ate the whole charred husk and everything (below, and below that the baby fennel), which felt weird but tasted pretty good.
























7) Simplicity. In pretty stark contrast to Yellow, this describes everything we ate at Stanbuli and Continental. Two places run/owned by the same people that were so good in every way they made you want to have a restaurant too, because this is the way it should be done and they made it seem totally possible. The food was either simple and perfectly executed or slightly less simple and also perfectly executed. And just done by somebody who loved to eat. The service was awesome, super-attentive yet extremely casual, really trying not to be part of your night. And the look and feel of both places was almost painfully ggggghghhhhhhh I hate to say it, but it was.....cool, OK? But you didn't mind at all because everything was done so well. I'm gushing, I know, sorry. It was kind of inspirational though. Even the fonts and graphic design were ok, YOU FEEL ME?

At Continental, two outstanding things, maybe the most outstanding things I ate on this trip. 1) "fennel, charred green beans, peanut pesto & chilli", and 2) "risotto with zucchini, roasted tomato & béarnaise sauce." The fennel was mandolined and dressed with great olive oil, lemon juice and chili flakes as far as I could tell. No idea what was in the peanut pesto. And the risotto. Boom. Half because it didn't taste anything like a risotto, really, it was just a warm and gooey tongue-hug of goodness.























Stanbuli was totally different, but just as good. There was a line outside the door at 5:50pm for their 6:00 opening. Somehow we got a seat, just like the night before at Continental. Here's the outside of Stanbulli, which someone just fell in lllllllove with:























And here's what we had, according to the menu:

Ekmek
Village style Bread, Humus and Cypriot style marinated Olives

Pancar Salata
Roasted Beetroots in Vinegar, Garlic, Mint and Coriander

Karnibahar Kizartma
Fried Cauliflower, Tahini Sauce, Yoghurt and Chilli-Herb dressing























None of it sounds amazing on paper, but it was how you say "in the mouth": you could tell they cooked every bit of it from scratch. Someone roasted the beets, they didn't have that "everybeet" thing that all the pre-roasted grocery store ones have. Someone skinned the chickpeas. Someone baked that super duper bread.

And someone made the goddamned chocolate baklava. With cinnamon ice cream. Ohhhhhh shhhhiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiittttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttt. Someone at my table "orgasmed*" like four times during this.























8) Cocktails. Earl's. Kittyhawk. Corridor. Mary's. Ms. G's.

9) Service. What a pleasant surprise this was. I think from our very first meal we were raising eyebrows and being all "what's this, then" about how fucking professional everyone was. As if they'd been trained and were taking their job seriously. With the exception of anywhere near a beach in or around Sydney. That was kind of like 50% as good. But in general, great, and, they weren't doing it for tips, so no over-friendly desperation weirdness.

* not a valid sexual verb

+++

preparing for a trip to australia.



















That is a picture of a deadly, deadly stingray. That I snorkled with. And yes, this post title is my gambit to the stairway to the stars, or some better constructed string of mismatched cliches. So yeah. Here are my travel tips.

1) Don't sweat that whole Border Security thing. I mean: don't bring anything illegal and if you do, declare it so they can either shrug and let you through or make you throw it away. But my point is, there are so many more suspicious-looking-than-you people there, like the emaciated man with jailhouse tattoos drunkenly wheeling an Epson printer box around on a shopping cart, a Epson printer box that is half papered-over with hand-drawn Chinese characters and dripping ominously with some viscous yellowish fluid. These are people who have plainly not watched Border Security.

2) Don't sweat your visa either. I mean, assuming you're not going to violate the terms of it. Just do it via the website and forget about it.

3) Buy an Australian pre-paid SIM card for your phone and avoid your own provider's roaming charges. Possibly the smartest thing I did on this trip, but the competition was not super stiff. $20 AUS (14 euro or something) included the SIM and 20 bucks of data, which lasted me at least two weeks. I never did run out.

4) Use Uber. We met 10 or 15 pleasant, talkative, inquisitive Australians (and one crabby alcoholic one) by just trying to get around Sydney. Introduce yourself, sit in front and don’t try to tip. In fact, don't try to tip in general in Australia, it's just easier.

5) If you're in NSW, get an Opal card and use the transit app. It’s good for the ferries too, and we really did see a ton of the city from the buses. Don't forget to signal the bus driver that you want to get on.

6) Also drive. We got to lots of places by car that would’ve been day-ruining by bus, Avalon and Parramatta for example. If you're renting, whatever you do, don't pick up a car from Hertz at the Sydney Airport. 2 hours in line.

Oh right, the whole steering wheel on the right side thing. Yeah, it's probably best if you're traveling with someone who's done it before. I myself drove the car for about 30 seconds and really didn't enjoy it at all...you really cannot see a fucking thing that's going on behind your back left bumper. I was trying to park, in reverse, so it was an issue. Also you shift gears with your left hand, so it might be worth it to get an automatic.

7) Do the coastal walks, but not on the weekends. The Kiama walk was one of the best things we did on the whole trip, but I’m sure much of this had to do with us being alone almost the whole time. 

8) Fucking sunscreen. The Kiama walk was the most sunburned I’ve been in a long time, and it was a totally overcast, drizzling day. 

9) Don't be afraid. Sure, this is the tip that could get you killed, and Australia is by all accounts an extremely deadly country, but we ourselves never did really have any close brushes with death that we knew about. Sure there's that horrible thing that someone said to us about never being more than 10 feet from a spider (the reassuring pull quote from that article is "Australian spiders have a fearsome reputation, but our bees typically pose more of a threat." Ah, great).

Sure, Tamarama could have killed us if we’d gotten caught in the Backpacker Express, thank god we didn't know it was "Sydney's Deadliest Beach" or we'd never have gotten in the water; sure, if we’d actually run into a swamp wallaby on our very isolated Kiama walk we’d have been disemboweled, etc. Sure, snorkeling could’ve involved a stingray needle through the heart. Etc. But it didn’t. The closest we came to getting killed was almost being crushed by a cement truck on the highway, and that could've happened anywhere. So do stuff.

+++

19.1.18

australia, day 15+: transit.




















Surprising things about Qatar Airlines, Doha and “that morning I spent in the Middle East”. 

1) The Doha airport was totally open at 4:00 am. Food was being served, people were buying shitty baklava and tasteless hookah looking things from souvenir shops, antacids were dispensed. Try this at almost any American airport at 4:00 am. 

2) There was nothing even vaguely Middle Eastern about being there. There was a W. H. Smith. There was a Burger King. People spoke English, and spoke it just as well as they do at American airports. Breakfast items were basically eggs and/or croissants. I think the coffee and tea options may have been lightly exotic, but otherwise you could’ve been in Minnesota. 

3) American women continue to dress as if they have absolutely no idea that women’s bodies are kept covered over there. I saw a braless hitchhiker cause two simultaneous pedestrian traffic accidents, possibly one with each frantically oscillating boob. 

4) The Qatar Airlines crew members all look like movie stars, for real. You can barely believe they're talking to you.

5) There's a picture below that looks like it's of an airplane window, but it's actually of the city skyline you can barely make out in the distance. Here's what it really looks like

5) It’s a real challenge to bowl over 200. This means you pretty much have to close every frame. I hadn’t ever really realized that. 

6) After powering through a 14 hour flight and a 3 hour layover and a 7 hour flight, you then have to stand in the Passport Control line. And wait for your oversized baggage. And wait for the nonstop train to G-town. And then nod in and out of consciousness for the 3 hour train ride. Etc. I’m saying that the trip home is a challenge.