036: I Guess This Is Growing Up
Travis Barker's vegan bone broth and other Poosh-approved adaptogenic treats
(SB) As a gold star Libra (sun & rising) I often struggle to make discrete choices that require forgoing one option, tending instead towards a “both and” philosophy that can result in feeling stretched thin at best or burnt out and uninspired at worst (JS: and that’s why we connect). That person in college taking one too many classes for fear of dropping anything too soon? That’s me. Interestingly, the closed loop of being mostly inside my apartment has had a clarifying effect on this pattern: I rarely want to crawl onto a zoom call to chat about anything, ever but some projects and people really do fill my cup despite it while others deplete it. (This often operates inversely with regards to my bank account, I suppose, but there you have it.) While my tendency is to shrug my way through that disconnect, this week I’ve been reflecting, once again, on the importance of being intentional about making free time.
At the risk of indulging in a perhaps tedious trope, my sourdough starter’s slow progress towards bubbling has offered me a nice metaphor for all of this. Rehydrated nearly two weeks ago, it remains reluctant to rise as robustly as it did in its first days of life. I dutifully feed it twice a day, and am rewarded with ever-increasing activity. It has started to smell more yeast-y than acidic, but doesn’t seem like it’s ready to handle a leavening of its own quite yet. Simply put, she’s slow and taking her time, but I hope that my dogged stewardship (and some better quality flour) might coax her to her full potential. As many of us in the humanities have been shouting, seemingly into the void: some things take a long time. This week, I’m resolving to create the conditions where my own projects might be given the same luxury to sputter and bubble, uncrowded.
Here’s what I ate while doing all this thinking:
I set out to make Dan Pelosi’s vodka sauce, balked at the butter/cream ratios at the last minute, attempted to pivot to Ina’s version on Jake’s suggestion, but found myself short on canned tomatoes. I split the difference with some tomato paste and ghee, and it turned out OK. Send me your favorite vodka sawce, please.
Twee little brunch bowls with bean soup leftovers with roasted Anaheim peppers and brown rice grits, topped with avocado and lots of salsa.
Pan-roasted salmon with samphire, inspired heavily by Ozlem’s Turkish Table, but featuring more olives and capers.
(JS) Sweet readers, this week I’m letting you in on a not so little and pretty open secret. Having spent the better part of a decade in the orbit of some of New York’s finest university and museum libraries, I sadly overlooked the more practical and even joyful aspects of my local lending institution (“like Netflix for books,” my coeditor deadpanned). Pre-pandora, the Grand Army Plaza branch of the Brooklyn Public Library was primarily a place to snack on “emergency” Four and Twenty slices to boost my energy while “writing my dissertation” a comfortable ten minute stroll from my living quarters (“it’s great to separate your workspace from your home,” they once said). I’d downloaded Libby, their official e-reader app, in a halfhearted attempt to read more on my commute (RIP), though this mainly resulted in my listening to more celebrity memoir audiobooks than I’d care to recount (though if you must know, start with the collected writings of Parker Posey, Gabrielle Union, and Gabourey Sidibe).
As it turns out, there’s also a veritable goldmine of cooking titles on the platform, both old and new. From James Beard to Nik Sharma, Libby makes it easy to try before you buy (hire me as a copywriter) in the case of authors you’d like to support (or fully exploit, in the case of P*t*r M**han; never shall he see a penny from me)! Of course, there’s no pressure to purchase anything at a library, and that’s perhaps why it feels like a scam in our late capitalist hellscape. (SB: Some have called my practice of reading the cookbooks on my iPad while scanning them on my phone “bootleg”; they lack my vision and commitment to ScannerPro.) This is all to say there are few greater pleasures than placing a handful of popular titles on hold, and then getting an unexpected notification a few weeks later that your long awaited cookbook is now available for download. Is my class privilege showing?
I occasionally tore my lily-white hands away from the K*ndle this week to feast on humble fare, including the following:
Finally made it to Mel the Bakery, where I copped a truly exceptional cinnamon roll and Max’s loaf, a buckwheat porridge sourdough with just a dash of schmaltz
TRASH TALK: Cabbage Kottu
(SB) In the before times, when boyfriend of the newsletter Willis used to play rock-n-roll shows downtown, I was always a vocal advocate in favor of ending the night with a stop at either Punjabi Grocery Deli (iconic, needs no introduction) or Kottu House. The latter, which closed a few years ago and was often inexplicably staffed by chic white women in the front of house, served up some of the spiciest and most satisfying Sri Lankan food in Manhattan. The star of the menu, which featured rice hoppers, sambal, fries, and lentil patties, were the kottu roti, a Sri Lankan street food made up of ripped slices of flakey paratha, eggs, veggies, chiles and your choice of vegetarian or meat curry chopped together and sauteed in a wok over high heat.
Quickly clocked by Jake as “Sri Lankan migas,” kottu roti is also an excellent and flexible vehicle with which to make use of leftover rotis, curry, or the wan vegetables in your fridge (JS: real fans may recall I’m a fan of this category of dishes). Last week, uninspired and loathe to go to the grocery store, I found that I had all of the ingredients for Meera Sodha’s vegan cabbage and carrot based kottu roti while flipping through Fresh India on the couch. Though Meera’s version called for a more photogenic purple cabbage, I all but leapt at the chance to use the half-head of savoy cabbage that seems to always be loitering in the back of my fridge alongside three carrots that had seen better days.
The recipe comes together almost magically: begin by placing tomatoes, garlic, ginger, and chiles (I subbed in a jalapeño for finger chiles) in a blender and pulse into a paste. Then, sauté an onion until soft, adding in the paste, cumin seeds, and a little soy sauce. Add in thinly sliced cabbage and julienne carrots to the mixture, and cook until everything is feeling softer but still toothsome. Then, fold in some ripped up leftover flatbreads; I imagine Sri Lankan roti is ideal, but I used some cooked and cooled pre-made rotis from Patel Bros. Once this is combined, add in a couple of eggs beaten with salt, and toss until the egg is cooked. Top with cilantro, salsa, or whatever else your heart might desire.
I must admit that I wasn’t sure this was all going to come together when I first added in my eggs — but it did, cohering into a satisfying and meat-free dinner that even reheated well. The ginger, carrots, and cabbage worked particularly well together, creating something that was somewhere between your favorite fried rice and thoran.
SHE BY SHIRA-AE
(JS) Last week another boyfriend of the newsletter David lavished me with a dinner cooked entirely from Nancy Singleton Hachisu’s Japanese Farm Food, a compendium of simple seasonal recipes prepared by the author and her husband on their farm in rural Japan. He’d chosen this tome for our cookbook club (RIP) many moons ago, where we enjoyed dishes like salt-massaged cucumbers with sesame and miso and pork belly simmered in okara, the leftover pulp from soybeans that have been filtered to make tofu. (SB: We also, importantly, enjoyed each other's company, wine, laughter, etc... My yearning, it is strong.) Broadly speaking, the book is a veritable bible for those seeking to reclaim the label “soy boy,” introducing a whole host of bean-derived products beyond your run of the mill soy sauce (then again, there isn’t really run of the mill soy sauce). In addition to short ribs prepared in the aforementioned okara, last week’s dinner also included cauliflower with miso and sesame and a chopped daikon salad dressed with miso, rice vinegar and yuzu, but the sleeper hit for me was undoubtedly mustard greens with smashed tofu, a preparation also known as shira-ae.
Traditionally made in a Japanese grinding bowl called a suribachi, shira-ae mashes firm tofu with toasted sesame seeds and miso or soy sauce to create a paste-like dressing (those lacking a mortar can easily make their shira-ae in a ziploc, as shown in this delightfully mid-aughts clip from Sam Choy’s Kitchen). Creamy shira-ae pairs well with any number of vegetables – a quick google suggests some combination of carrots and spinach is especially common, but some versions fold in mushrooms, string beans, or even hijiki. Nancy’s recipe calls for flowering mustard blossoms, an admittedly niche product for those of us who don’t, say, live on a Japanese farm, but any number of bitter greens will make a fine substitute – I’ve since made it with chicories and am eager to try her suggestion of thin-stemmed broccoli rabe.
Nancy’s shira-ae recipe is fairly straightforward: drain your tofu then press with paper towels under a weight for at least an hour to extract as much water as possible. While you’re waiting, blanch your greens – she uses water, but some versions call for dashi – then shock in an ice bath to stop cooking. Dry the greens and chop into bite size pieces, squeezing them by the fistful to remove excess moisture. Toast a couple tablespoons of sesame seeds in a dry pan until fragrant, then remove from heat and coarsely grind them with a mortar and pestle. Add a couple tablespoons of miso and rice vinegar to blend, then add your drained tofu, breaking it into crumbles and creating an emulsification. Season to taste then toss with your blanched veg. The miso sesame paste amplifies the creaminess of the tofu, which plays nicely against the peppery notes of the greens – think non-dairy ricotta (or perhaps ricotta salata, depending on your textural pref), but not in, like, a sad and watery way.
(SB) As Jake mentioned last week, we both participated in a spirited recipe exchange at the beginning of this quarantine journey. Each recipe was fun to read and novel, but I quickly discovered that I had exactly zero energy to try any of them until partway through the summer. I had, however, instantly clocked friend-of-a-friend-of-the-letter Amy Joseph’s name (as likely being Malyalee) and recipe for fish molly (as likely being delicious) right away. It was the first thing I went scurrying back to look into the depths of my inbox for once I got my hands on some good cod.
The recipe is simple and addictively delicious: marinate two pounds of you preferred flaky white fish in white vinegar with thinly sliced onions, garlic, ginger, and some salt for about thirty minutes. Drain and pan fry the fish until browned but not hard, and set aside. Add some oil to the pan, and fry four sliced onions, about a head of thinly sliced garlic, chiles, and some ginger until the onions are translucent. Though against the instructions, I couldn’t resist adding some of the onions that had been soaking in vinegar as well; I like to live on the edge. Add a scant teaspoon of turmeric, a little salt, and stir until incorporated. Then, slowly, add in 1-2 cans of coconut milk (JS: what is this, “the stew?”), using your best judgement about how creamy and sweet you’d like your curry (JS: to be clear, I want it). Add back in the fish and some chopped tomatoes to the curry and cook for a few more minutes.
Amy recommended eating this with warmed tortillas, which I enjoyed very much. I also enjoyed it with Kerala red rice and some yogurt, and a helping of parathas. It only got better with time in the fridge, making leftovers more a delight than a chore.
PERMANENT ROTATION: Friend of the newsletter Matthew’s Portugese avó throws literally all of her food scraps into an old pot which she calls o caldeiro and eventually feeds it to her dog. Touched by this simultaneously bucolic and grotesque image but seeking a little more direction in our caldeiro, we’d recommend this Portuguese-inspired sausage, kale and potato soup instead.
(SB) I have been eyeing the coco podi from Chicago-based pop up Thommy’s Toddy Shop for months, and it just got back in stock. I’ve snatched up my bottle, so I can now breath easy as I share the tip with you all. In case we have any fans living in the Windy City: does anyone want to ship me some Inji Hot Sauce and Tomato Thokku?
(JS) Facing a one two punch of winter dryness and persistent hand washing, I’m looking for ways to keep my grubby little paws buttery soft. Friend of the newsletter April turned me onto Biafine, primarily marketed as a burn cream, but in practice an all-purpose remedy beloved by French beauty bloggers which is (sadly) difficult to come by here in these United States. It smells great in a sort of neutral way and comes in a metal tube, which is undoubtedly my favorite vessel for ointments. I’m nearing the end of my current supply and am trying to figure out how to reup. If you’ve got a guy, LMK SVP.
(SB & JS) It looks like this panorama isn’t ending anytime soon, and what better way to acknowledge that reality than wrapping ourselves in $295-345 of Shenzhen’s finest quilting? We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: please sponsor us, Off Hours!