043: Shamrock Shook
NYS senate suggests we should all just totally stab Caesar, plus Cynthia Nixon's unqualified lesbian aquafaba hacks
(JS) This week I’m gearing up to celebrate my second and maybe even last pandemic birthday — a monumental feat for anyone, but particularly for a pisces. I’d planned to open this letter with some lighthearted banter, offering reflections on my year of rest and relaxation and visions for a vaccinated near-future, then throw it back to an early Covid classic: nature is healing, we are the virus. Instead I find myself in another moment where humor — my default coping mechanism — feels both insensitive and insufficient. As we begin to envision getting back to business as usual, we must reckon with an ugly truth: the events of last night are neither un-American nor out of the ordinary, despite what prominent pundits may claim, and instead represent a return to normalcy in its most heinous form.
The past few months of racial violence have forced me to critically examine what it means to exist — both IRL and URL — as a white man of immense privilege, and while I’ve never self-identified as a “read more” type on social, committing to a weekly newsletter has been a delicate balancing act of deciding when and where it feels appropriate to weigh in, questioning the frequently reposted refrain that silence is complicity. At the risk of getting uncharacteristically earnest with you all, writing has helped me work through psychological damages of years of under-compensated or unpaid labor alongside the hierarchical toxicity of academia, reassuring me that it’s actually okay to take up space to express my opinions, and that those opinions might even have value! That being said, it would be foolish to try and contextualize the news cycle and publicly process with a much more qualified and nuanced Asian American historian at my side.
And now for an abrupt segue, here are some things I’ve been eating:
Picked up some seafood (while barely resisting the merch and tempting pantry provisions) at Cervo’s: head-on prawns, prepared something like this (with additional butter and garlic) and littleneck clams with chorizo and white wine, a decidedly summery dinner for a pre-spring Saturday
Managed to look past the major Joseph Beuys vibes of a strangely yellow frozen block to experiment with frozen and then thawed tofu; most was braised and amply doused with Padma’s chile crisp, the rest was thrown into an improvised kimchi jjigae
(SB) Dear readers, we made it through another week. I am often inclined to treat the space of this newsletter like an escape, albeit sometimes a reflective and pensive one. Sometimes the intensity of the world’s unfairness and sadness is nearly inescapable, and I am eager to offer a small break. Like me, I’m sure many of you have seen headlines and tweets about eight people, at least six of them Asian American massage parlor workers, who were murdered yesterday in Atlanta. Their lives ended abruptly in a moment of spectacular and haunting violence that is once predictable and also horrifying.
Most of us, particularly those of us in Asian America, are processing a lot of fear, anger, and grief. My brain has processed these feelings in a lot of ways, already. I feel an urge to historicize this spate of anti-Asian violence alongside not just the rhetoric of our last president, but decades of this country’s violence in Asia and against Asians in wars, ongoing military colonial occupation, and immigration policy. I want to remind you all about how Asian women in particular bear the compound stigma of racism and misogyny, often articulated in cruel and crude sexual innuendo. I want to tell you about how our short story anthologies and literature compilations are filled with stories of abuse, silence, shame, and resilience. I hope that we will take the time to reflect about the ways that migrant sex workers are often the targets of ruthless violence from members of their own community and the police, not far away but in our own backyard, and that this violence that is aided and abetted by a deeply broken and punitive immigration system.
I am also eager to take a minute to acknowledge the grief of racial trauma, and how hard it can feel to process all that hatred and fear. My impulse is often to intellectualize rather than feel, because the former is much less overwhelming. Today, I’d like to use my little corner of the internet to remind us all to spend a little time being intentionally kind to ourselves. We all know that we cannot self-care our way out of a police state, or racial capitalism, or lopsided danger that stalks some of us on the street. But, if studying so much mass death has taught me anything, it is that survival requires us to love ourselves more fiercely and stubbornly than the institutions and people that structure our lives might. I don’t know what this might look like for you, but here are some ideas: Friend of the letter George reminded me yesterday of the power of doing a little breathing and backbending in our seats; you might also consider his suggestion of beginning the day with a bath. My friend Ted says kind affirmations to himself out loud, in lots of daily moments. I deleted Twitter off my phone and like to wash my feet before bed every night. Lying on the floor is also yoga. If you are feeling all of this in your body and in your bones, and seeing tragedy and danger in the mirror and in the faces of your relatives and loved ones, I want to offer you permission to unplug for a while when you need. The world will still be there, teeming with injustice when you return.
I know of no better way to care for myself than to eat, and here’s some of what I enjoyed this week:
Threw together a ratatouille-inspired veggie bake with zucchini, potatoes, peppers, and several onions and shallots; served with some asparagus (just in time for False Flag Spring!) and a dollop of ricotta.
Took full advantage of the briefly exuberant weather with two superb outdoor meals. The first, a shared sushi spread at Gen (me!! In Brooklyn!!) The second, dan dan noodles and spicy chicken strips from Public Noodles.
GLD: Lazy Mary’s Lemon Tart
(JS) Seasoned readers will have realized by now that there is considerable flexibility as to just what makes a Digestivo-certified gay lil’ dessert. Sometimes it's in the technique, harnessing the delicacy of a limp wrist for some manual flourish; in other cases, it’s a matter of flavors, teasing the palate with an unexpected floral or spice. And then there are the outliers, liminal treats defying these basic categories but undoubtedly queer all the same. Today’s recipe is an example of this third type, not particularly flamboyant in terms of technique or flavor, but inexplicably attributed to a so-called “Lazy Mary.”
I don’t know much about the eponymous Lazy Mary, but I can tell you that her lemon tart was a mainstay of my college years, a period associated with few responsibilities, considerable indulgence, remarkable metabolic ability, and an ensemble cast of homos, languid or otherwise. (SB: I’m about to start singing Roar Lion Roar.) The filling is a simple combination of four ingredients – butter, sugar, eggs, and a whole lemon – all of which get whizzed in a food processor until not quite smooth. As for crusts, the recipe specifies only “your favorite tart shell”; I need not tell you that my earliest iterations relied on store bought support, so that all I had to do was crack a few eggs, deseed a lemon, press pulse, and pour. If we were feeling particularly ambitious, we’d serve this some unsweetened whipped cream (or Haagen Dazs vanilla, for famously schlag-averse friend of the newsletter Margaret), simultaneously providing some richness to cut the acidity and a bit of air to lighten the filling, a sweet-tart concoction with a jammy interior and a crackly, caramelized surface. With or without cream, it was the perfect treat for if you were, say, extremely lazy and incredibly stoned.
Rapidly hurtling toward middle age, with significantly more baking experience under my belt and a markedly lower tolerance, I’ve often returned to Mary’s most reliable recipe, preparing it both with a proper pâte brisée and in bar form, layered over a shortbread base (most recently I had hoped to try it with Sarit Packer’s shortcrust, but unfortunately one boyfriend of the newsletter who shall remain nameless was lacking confectioner’s sugar). I love the way it makes use of the entire fruit, capitalizing on the bittersweet notes and heady oils in the rind alongside the fresh juice. Meyer lemons are optimal here, but you could certainly sub in a regular lemon if you’re ok with a little extra butchering – look for something thin-skinned and cut off the pithy ends, as if preparing to supreme, then proceed as written. I’ve been obsessed with page tangerines lately and may try making a substitution before the season’s over.
(SB) A few weeks ago, I heeded a few different recommendations and the demands of the Netflix algorithm and started watching Midnight Diner, a 2009-era Japanese TV show about a late-night diner, its charming proprietor, and the many customers who find themselves in it between 12 and 7 a.m. Adapted from a manga called Shin'ya Shokudō, Midnight Diner has everything I’m seeking these days: quirky characters with fundamentally/heartbreaking human desires, moments of near slapstick comedy, and endlessly cozy looking meals packaged in manageable 28-minute increments. After each vignette, Master and a featured guest appear on screen to offer helpful tips for preparing your own rolled omelettes or cat rice (JS: wasn’t sure where else to put this so I guess here will suffice). While I’m not usually not tempted by as-seen-on-cult-TV recipes, I haven’t been able to get many a Midnight Diner treat out of my head.
So, when winter made its unwelcome return this week after the briefest of spring teases, I decided that I might be able to find a silver lining it it all by attempting a rendition of tonjiru, the soup featured in the opening monologue. A quick search brought me to this extremely well-timed guide to tonjiru (and an Instant Pot compatible companion post) at Just One Cookbook. Nami, who writes the blog, does a wonderful job of laying out the flavor profile — a stew of thinly sliced (uncured) pork belly, root vegetables, dashi, and miso.
While traditionally made with Japanese gobo (burdock root) and smaller, hairy satoimo taro root and a kind of taro-jelly called konnyaku, this soup/stew is fairly adaptable: Nami recommends using at least three different root vegetables and suggests a host of possible additions, as well as tips for preparing proper uncured pork cuts at home. Since I didn’t have the time to make it down to an appropriate grocery store, I made a few substitutions: uncured bacon ends and pieces for the pork belly, and a combination of larger pink and white taro and yucca roots more easily found in my Dominican neighborhood. The most labor intensive portion of this dish is certainly the prep: taro must be peeled thoroughly, and you might consider a brief cold-water soak after chopping. Be careful to wash the slime off your hands, as many are allergic and easily irritated by it. While my taro soaked, I peeled and chopped a large sweet potato, a couple of yukon golds, and two big carrots, placing them all in one large bowl. I wished I had daikon, but forged ahead.
From there, this soup came together swiftly and deliciously in my Instant Pot: begin by sautéing your sliced pork belly (or bacon) in a slick of sesame oil, adding in sliced onions when no longer pink. Next, add in daikon, carrots, and your chosen roots. Stir to coat in oil, and add enough dashi to cover the mixture (about 6 cups for me). I sealed my Instant Pot, set it for 29 minutes and confidently went to a meeting. When I returned, I discovered both an error message (“SR 7???”) on the screen and pot full of perfectly tender root vegetables in broth. Unmoved to investigate my good fortune further, I followed Nami’s instructions, I scooped up a bit of the broth in a ladle and threw in a hefty scoop of white miso, stirring to loosen before incorporating it into the pot. My potatoes had made the broth rather thick and starchy, so I ended up adding a little bit of hot water to my ladle-miso to help things homogenize.
The soup rested for a few hours before we sat down to eat it with steamed white rice. In that time, it thickened and emulsified, turning into a rich stew — a little sweet and intensely savory. It also made me a lot less mad that it was hailing outside while we ate.
USE A CONDIMENT: Dulce de Wheyche
(JS) Let me preface this feature by saying I actually don’t love caramel. If we’re talking sundae bars, I’m unquestionably a hot fudge loyalist. As far as candy bars are concerned, I’ll allow it but it should be relegated to a supporting role. Perhaps I’ve been burned one too many times by overly saccharine applications. At the very least, I need a hit of sea salt in any caramel to make it worth my while (throw some soy sauce into the mix and color me intrigued). What we’re ultimately looking for is complexity, readers; gimme that funk alongside that sweet, that nasty, that gushy stuff (sorry).
All that being said, I found myself with a couple cups of whey after last week’s experiments in paneer and humbly appealed to the innovators at Never Ending Salon to ask about their favorite applications. I’ve baked with whey before and tinkered with tonics, but the most enticing suggestion came from Berlin-based artist and pastry chef Eliza Mozer: whey caramel, which she described as “nice and funky… like a deeper cajeta.” I was sold.
I did a little googling and came across a few different whey caramel recipes for guidance. Most suggested reducing your whey by at least half to thicken before adding your sugar. It took somewhere between 45 minutes and an hour of simmering to reduce my initial two cups, stirring periodically for fear of scorching – can one even scorch whey? To be honest, my general apathy towards caramel is accompanied by a sort of agnosticism/idiocy when it comes to technique. I’ve read many a primer on how to make the best version and it seems that for every approach, there are staunch arguments for and against virtually every detail. In the spirit of transparency I’ll admit it took me two attempts to get this caramel right. I added my sugar and stirred, more than occasionally but less than constantly, for another 45 minutes or so, watching the mixture bubble and foam, then gradually darken from off white to brown. Upon reaching what seemed like the desired color and texture, I pulled it off the heat and added a heavy pinch of vanilla salt; I don’t know precisely what happened but it crystalized as it cooled, eventually hardening to sugary rocks.
With a quart of whole milk in my fridge and a dream in my heart, I bravely soldiered on, preparing another round of paneer (and that exceptional chile crisp), straining off the whey, and immediately setting it back on the stove to reduce. For no particularly scientific reason I decided to skip stirring my second batch, simply swirling my pan to agitate once or twice during the caramelization process. As we once again neared a comfortable amber and syrupy consistency, I pulled it from the heat, adding vanilla salt and, out of an abundance of caution, a splash of heavy cream (Eliza suggested creme fraiche), whisking to incorporate. I poured my caramel into a storage vessel and, lacking a further plan, proceeded to dip my finger into it every few minutes to ensure it was neither crystalizing nor poisoned. I’ve since enjoyed some twice over some lightly freezer burnt vanilla ice cream: first with a sprinkle of olive oil granola, then with a dollop of Lao Gan Ma.
(JS) It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for all forms of auntie advice and the wisdom that comes with age and experience. I’m therefore intrigued by Grand Dishes, a new book edited by Iska Lupton and Anastasia Miari compiling time-perfected recipes and stories from witty grannies across the globe. And if I may be so bold as to ask for two wishes this birthday week, we’re publishing another issue of Lunch Rush tomorrow; I would simply love it for you to read and maybe even subscribe!
(SB) Despite all signs to the contrary, summer is coming, and I feel the urge to adorn myself. The algorithm has me coveting some delicate anklets and birthstone rings from Automic Gold, a trans-affirming, POC owned jewelry purveyor clearly vying for my stimmy check. No comment on the ills of engagement ring culture, I can’t even engage with that can of worms atm.
(JS & SB) Never ones to pass up an opportunity for a new tote, we’re positively smitten with the latest offerings from Heart of Dinner, Moonlyn Tsai and Yin Chang’s mutual aid project fighting food insecurity and isolation experienced by Asian American elders.