034: And just like that... Digestivo continues.
Recipes for trying to have two kids on virtual school in a two-bedroom apartment, and then trying to do work yourself
(SB) Hi sweet readers — we’ve made it through another week. The last time we sent out this newsletter, we were a few hours from a bizarre attempted coup, a fact that I’m sure none of you have forgotten. It feels like a month has passed since then, almost as if going through the motions of daily pandemic life while simultaneously performing silent, constantly refreshing risk-assessments about what’s to come is really draining. I’m currently averaging a solid B- on my grand plans for self care: I’m mostly off Instagram, still struggling not to eat pure sugar by the handful during our nightly Seinfeld marathon, and working on moving my body in a yogic fashion on a somewhat regular schedule. It’s a process!
Strangely, it’s simultaneously hard to believe that we’ve been writing this letter, which we began in the heady Tiger King days of sheltering in place, for right around 34 weeks. If it were a fetus, it would be a cantaloupe-sized chronicle of the fact that we continue to eat, sleep, and do it all over again despite ever-increasing tumult. As I swirl around what feels like an energetic low point, I’d love to hear about what’s going on in all of your routines at this moment: What are you eating? What are you watching? Are you following the internal combustion of the state on CSPAN or NPR these days? I’m joking, but only kind of; please write in, we’re lonely.
Here’s what I ate during this involuntary weeklong masterclass in Robert’s Rules of Order:
Lucas Sin’s storied (get it?) tomato, egg, and noodle soup.
(JS) As I sat through my Wednesday afternoon Teams meeting, halfheartedly listening while scrolling through coup coverage on Twitter, I couldn’t help but wonder: in the scramble for hot takes, some pundits in the capital were claiming the town never knew such a hullabaloo, but was there in fact a long and documented history of white mobs and white supremacist political organization threatening American elections? As the second most qualified historian at this newsletter, I’d venture to say yes! I’ve been working my way through this work-in-progress reading list compiled by friend of the newsletter Sus and her friend Lucie, admittedly alongside a healthy cocktail of escapist audiobooks, premium streaming content, and a perfect 30-minute album to fend off the ever-imminent crisi di nervi.
Much like Salonee I’m curious to hear about what you’re doing to stay healthy these days, mentally or physically. Have our 65-and-older New York readers (or their tech-savvy kin, bound by filial piety and months of anxiety) made arrangements to get vaccinated? Friend of the newsletter Matt’s mom Kathleen tells us there are lots of appointments at Mount Sinai on Zocdoc! Mask up and prosper!
Here’s a bit of what’s been sustaining me lately:
Five spice roast chicken over cabbage; leftovers went into an improvised tinga for enchiladas and tacos
Eric Kim’s parmesan risotto with broccoli rabe; the remaining half of the rabe bunch was prepared in my standby style, lightly braised with garlic, anchovy and Calabrian chili
Braved the cold for a couple shawarma platters and excellent manakish at Ayat in Bay Ridge (eager to go back to try their mansaf)
IT TAKES TWO: KLADDKAKA
Seeking solace in the form of dessert, we took it upon ourselves to test out Magnus Nilsson’s kladdkaka, also known as Swedish gooey chocolate cake. The writeup on Food52 claims the batter comes together in roughly five minutes and cooks for about 15, meaning “you’re never more than half-an-hour out from a warm, fudgy slice.” Was it too good to be true? Read on and find out!
(JS) In past iterations of this feature we’ve opted to share the tale of our very first forays into a recipe. I’m here to admit that I’ve made kladdkaka twice since we decided to write about it, with some major improvements in version 2.0. In neither attempt was I able to find a 9½ inch springform. The first go around, I melted my butter and some semisweet Nestle chips in a makeshift double boiler, stirring everything together until smooth. I added in my other ingredients off the heat, cutting the sugar to 200 grams based on the comments, then scraped the batter into a buttered-and-breadcrumb-dusted pyrex. I first checked the cake at fifteen minutes, then again at twenty, both times revealing a center so jiggly I was sure it was raw. I kept the cake in for a bit over twenty five minutes. The result recalled the Katharine Hepburn brownies both Salonee and I grew up on — good, but not quite gooey and certainly not the swear-in-front-of-your-kids dessert promised in the comments. Perhaps most offensively, stirring with a rubber spatula didn’t quite homogenize the ingredients, so I ended up with a couple rogue streaks of rubbery eggwhite. I was disappointed but determined for a better kladdakaka.
For my second take, I upgraded my chocolate to a chopped bittersweet varietal and opted for cultured butter, whisking my ingredients instead of stirring, and baking it in a 10½ inch springform for just seventeen minutes, underbaked fears be damned. “Bitch,” I murmured to no one in particular, savoring my first bite. What my kladdkaka lacked in height, it made up for in deep chocolatey flavor, and a texture that’s somehow both fudgy and light, perfectly complemented by a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream. TL;DR: follow the Ina doctrine and use your best ingredients; fear not the jiggly cake, for she will solidify upon cooling.
(SB) While I tried valiantly not to swear in front of Mona, this cake did convince me that there’s a strong case to be made for sending the Swedish immediately to jail for creating something so decadent and simple to make, smug and secure with their Nordic metabolisms. Justice, I say! Somethings gotta give!
Of course, I kid. I decided to jump on the kladdkaka train somewhere in between Jake’s two attempts, and was thus armed with some of his wisdom before I began. Ever organized, I discovered that I was out of sugar shortly after melting my vaguely upmarket grocery store semi-sweet chocolate (s/o to my ladies at Ghirardelli Square) in the last of my butter. I hadn’t bothered with a double boiler, because I am lazy in addition to sometimes being disorganized. Since turning back was no longer an option, I took the mixture off the heat and opted to sub in a full 250 g of coconut sugar, which tends to be less sweet than the cane stuff, mindful of a handful of commenters that found their results cloying. Using a wooden spoon, I stirred in some whole wheat pastry flour and my beaten eggs, all of which incorporated nicely, and scraped the mixture into a ghee-d and breadcrumbed springform pan.
Since Jake’s first attempt had been over baked, I started checking on mine at 15 minutes and found the center looked untenable jiggly until around minute 21-22 in my (potentially underperforming) oven. I brought it out to cool when it was clear the edges had set but the center remained pretty molten. I was already pretty excited about the Hepburn vibes emanating from the crinkly-shiny crust along the edges. The cake was indeed stupendous, easily popping out of my spring form and conjuring a particularly beloved lava cake of my youth (rip). As far as subs go, the coconut sugar worked nicely: my finished cake didn’t lack for sweetness, but any sweeter would have been over the top. We couldn’t stop eating it, breaking off hunks multiple times a night with a butter knife Miranda Hobbes-style — me, with twee little servings of whole milk alongside.
TRASH TALK: SOUR MILK CORNBREAD
(JS) Although I opted out of black eyed peas to ring in the New Year, I tried my hand at another traditional southern recipe to make use of some milk that had seen better days: Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock’s sour milk cornbread. I am not especially particular when it comes to what goes into my cornbread, nor do I confess to have the facts about regional and racial preferences at the ready (though if that’s what you’re looking for, I’d direct you to Michael Twitty’s The Cooking Gene; some of his findings can be gleaned from this Munchies article on cornbread dressing, as well as his quotes in this Charlotte Observer piece). I’m simply a semi-lactose intolerant guy who every so often buys a quart of milk for a particular recipe and then suffers crippling decision fatigue trying to figure out what to do with the rest of it.
Many an historic diva (Cleopatra, Mariah Carey) has sung praises of the (sour) milk bath, but I’m hardly a bath person to begin with, and Digestivo diehards will recall I’m firmly on the Fenty Skin train (those intrigued can read more on the skincare benefits of lactic acid over at Creamline). As it turns out, sour milk is also a great choice for baking – the acid imparts a bit of tang and naturally reacts with baking soda to provide additional leavening power (same goes for buttermilk). Throw some into your pancake batter for an extra fluffy breakfast, or try it in my favorite banana cake. Dana Gunders, author of The Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook, suggests that as long as your sour milk is pasteurized it’s unlikely to make you sick; the increasingly acidic environment is “unfriendly to microbes that might cause illness.” Go on, live a little! When it comes to raw milk, however, the nose knows.
Miss Lewis’ sour milk cornbread recipe is fairly straightforward; I used yellow cornmeal and subbed in lard for half the butter to no ill effect. I also used commercial baking powder rather than her homemade hack, a mixture of cream of tartar and baking soda. The result was, as the headnote suggests, “a genuine all-purpose cornbread,” decidedly not sweet by itself but friendly to honey butter and jam alike. I was enjoying a slice with peach jam when I came across this impromptu cornbread strata from Kia Damon; inspired but lacking andouille, I very loosely followed this recipe from Sohla el-Waylly for a lunch strata streaked with gojuchang and provolone.
FERAL FEAST: BOQUERONES TOAST
Every now and then, a person can feel a little feral. Maybe it’s because you’ve been alone in your apartment for a few too many days, or happen to be hitting the news cycle particularly hard. Maybe you’re simply very tired of trying to look attentive on Zoom. Who can blame you? Things are really not going very well in the world! For moments like these, we introduce Feral Feasts: features about the sometimes unhinged and often delicious meals we’ve found to satisfy our inner garbage raccoons over the years.
(SB) I’m sure few in the highly sophisticated crowd we count as our audience are strangers to the world of European tinned fish. The market has basically exploded in lockdown times: cockles in vinegar, ready to be enjoyed with a crunchy chip, vinegared mussels that work beautifully in pasta; endless cans of tuna. It was Jake, however, who first introduced me to the wonders of fresh (ish) boquerones — little vinegar and oil packed white anchovies, preserved in refrigerated plastic tubs, and technically meant to be consumed within 10 days of cracking the seal.
Unable to get them out of my head, I dabbled for a few weeks with picking up a couple of the boquerones pricy, canned cousins from Tannat, before throwing caution to the wind and investing in a 2 ½ lb tub for my own personal consumption from Pierless Fish (JS: I got mine from Baldor, arguably 2020’s easiest way to blow $100 on bulk gourmet pantry paraphernalia). It has now been well over 10 days, and I hope I don’t tempt fate when I share that the boquerones and I are still going strong (JS: Hilaria could never). In part, this is because I frequently find myself wishing that I had thought more seriously about lunch around 3 pm — close enough to dinner that cooking would mean an early bird special type of scene, and far enough from breakfast that I am ravenous. Enter: boquerones toast.
Infinitely adaptable, I highly recommend adhering to basic “salt, fat, acid, heat” guiding principles while assembling one for yourself. I like to begin by rubbing my well toasted bread with garlic, and then slicking on a little mayo (“poor man’s aioli” vibes.) Then, I layer on several boquerone filets, shaking off most of their oil but leaving a little on. I am very careful to use a clean fork because I don’t want to tempt fate too much. If I’m feeling fancy, I may throw on a handful of arugula, some thinly sliced shallots, or some ripped cilantro leaves (JS: my vaguely restaurant-y minimalist approach is olive oil, boqueron, lemon zest, and black pepper; Sichuan pepper is slightly less minimal but no less welcome). Then, I sauce again, most recently with some salsa roja from Tortilleria Nixtamal, but often with a sambal/mayo combo. Enjoy with plenty of paper towels.
PERMANENT ROTATION: A new (to us) sweet potato trick from Lucas Sin: freezing your sweets before slow roasting yields smoother texture and more pronounced flavor. “A lot of Chinese technique is to force the water out of something so that what’s left behind is the more concentrated essence of that ingredient,” he explains. Is anyone else sort of turned on?
(SB) My tendency to turn towards astrology and luxurious organic bath products for comfort in times of strife is surely some sort of questionable collaboration between my cultural background (Hindu, Santa Monica High School graduate) and late stage capitalism. This week, I’ll almost definitely be dropping some cash on these beautiful little Birth of Venus soaps and a Saturn Return tincture from Portland-based Sea Grape Apothecary. Thanks to friend of the letter Beans for the hot tip :)
(JS) It may come as no surprise that I, the unofficial gay lil’ desserts evangelist, am also an enthusiast for gay lil’ floral ferments. This limited run Fujian Jasmine Green Jun (a cousin of kombucha, brewed with green tea and honey rather than black tea and sugar) from Unified Ferments sounds perfect for sober goths, the dry January set, and anyone else who’s… you know...
(SB & JS) We feel stress in our guts at this newsletter (not exclusively coup-induced). We’ve been eyeing this four-week long miso and koji making workshop from the good people at Community Cultures so that we can expand our repertoire of friendly ferments.
Follow us on Instagram — we kinda fell off our weekend grid post game but there was “a lot going on” so…