068: Oscars so not Italianx
Plus, my neck, my back, and other things experiencing acute pain on par with that of Stefani Germanotta
(JS) Greetings, my dear readers. How are you faring on this February morning? Here in central Brooklyn, my oft idyllic block remains laden with post-blizzard sludge and piles of trash, a look that speaks to the agita and waves of mental garbage that tend to consume me this time of year. Adding insult to injury, for the past couple days I’ve been weathering a sudden-onset and sort of generalized back pain, seemingly a cruel, corporeal reminder that despite my best efforts to participate in Euphoria discourse and burning the midnight oil scrolling Tiktok, I am actually thirty years old.
White slices to-go from Lower East Side newcomer Grand Street Pizza, gussied up at chez David with some chili crisp and a bit of honey
Lunar New Year Banquet with friends of the letter Viv and Ava: pork and shrimp dumplings, scallion pancakes, soy sauce chicken, hong shao rou, scallion oil noodles, young pea shoots, and steamed whole fish, plus tang yuan, nian gao (more below), and oranges aplenty
I remain firmly aboard the steel cut oatmeal train, thanks in no small part to my sweet baby Zojirushi rice cooker – sweeter preparations to start the day usually include spoonfuls of peanut butter and jam, while savory lunchtime versions stir in parm and black pepper
(SB) Sweet readers, late winter sure does stretch out for a while, doesn’t it? Like Jake, I too have been weathering a sudden and intense back pain (mine, less generalized and more acutely in the lower back). It feels a little on the nose for your two aging editors to be so laid up, but I’m not sure what I expected to happen after once again falling off the core strength wagon and the majority of my day at a non-ergonomic desk chair. Beyond my lumbar woes, the season has been feeling a bit of a drag. The air feels musty with too much work, not enough pay and recurring seasonal depression. I’m ready for a spring cleaning of the mind, soul, and body but can’t yet visualize what that will look like or when I’ll have space for it.
I’m never more optimistic than when I’ve eaten well, however, and I have luckily been doing that a good deal. Some highlights since we last spoke include:
Friend of the letter Senti prepared a spectacular kimchi jjigae for our viewing of the “And Just Like That…” finale. I contributed the Seema-politan; essentially a vodka negroni made with Aetna Bitter and a kashmiri pink tea and saffron infused simple syrup.
A rib-eye steak from the co-op, that Willis served along with mashed potatoes and pomelo salad for a little date night in. I followed it up with the spectacular “Sa Ka Fete” at Roger’s Garden… I really am excited for spring.
POT CHEF: Nian Gao
(JS) Sweet and chewy rice cakes called nian gao are a fixture of the Chinese New Year table – made with glutinous rice flour and then steamed and/or fried, they fall somewhere between sticky and bouncy and can exhibit considerable regional variety. Some incorporate ingredients like red bean or jujube paste, while others skew savory, whether rolled into cylinders or sliced into coins and stir fried with cabbage. Ever tickled by wordplay, I would be remiss not to share that nian gao (年糕, literally “year cake”) is a homonym for nian gao (年高), “higher year,” i.e. may you grow more prosperous every year. Fold in just a little cannabutter, and even those of non-linguist experience can delight in this almost too on-the-nose pun.
For my first foray into nian gao, I tried a sweet version from Monica Lo aka Sous Weed, whose highly (wink) forgiving recipe comes from her mother. A malleable batter not unlike butter mochi comes together quickly in a single bowl – whisk four eggs, then add a pound of glutinous rice flour (conveniently, an entire package), melted butter, baking powder, milk or coconut milk, sugar, almond extract and salt. I’d be keen to try it with different fats and sugars (brown butter and jaggery maybe?) and would maybe swap in some other flavorings – pandan or ube are the first to come to mind, especially for the color. Pour everything into a greased cake pan and bake at 350° for about an hour, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Monica removes hers from the oven around halfway through baking to sprinkle the top with crunchy blend of sesame seeds and pecans – FWIW, the surface of mine had already started to solidify such that the topping didn’t quite adhere, so I’d probably add it earlier next time around and tent with foil if necessary to prevent burning. I also suspect this topping mixture is flexible – toasted coconut, crushed peanuts, or anything in the realm of “brittle” might be nice. Running your nian gao under the broiler for a few minutes will help you get an extra crispy crust, but you might also take a tip from The Woks of Life and pan fry a slice – 加油 (go forth; literally “add oil”) and prosper.
My Coconut (Chips): Wild Rice Salad
(SB) There are certain press mailers that look so good, they inspire jealousy. There are others that inspire a certain eyebrow-arching bitterness. No one likes a green eyed monster, but alas, such was my state when Carla Lalli Music began marketing her second cookbook, That Sounds So Good. I would have loved to have reported to all of you that the abundant unboxing rituals of so many prompted me to run out and buy (er, “legally download”) the text, but dear readers, what sounded so good to me was the thought of receiving my own Food52 cutting board (JS: Say that). And so, I held out in a futile protest. Anyway, I digress, because I have indeed been thumbing (er, clicking) my way through this promising page-turner over the last few weeks. While some recipes have been misses for me (I’m over trying to cook my chicken and my rice in one Dutch oven now that I’m a rice cooker girl), others have been smash hits.
One in particular is her recreation of yum sum-o, a Thai salad that features the delicate-fleshed, impossibly pretty pomelo with wild rice and cashew nuts. Packed with crunch and pungency, the recipe makes handy use of both wild rice– a food that always conjures the chilly Great Lakes region of its origins to me– and winter citrus, a reminder of the good to be found even in this season. While I’ll leave you all to find measurements from the source on your own, my (only slightly changed) version is below.
As recommended, begin by soaking wild rice for several hours before bringing it to a boil over high heat. Wild rice is one of those grains that is truly enchanting as it unfurls into an edible form: sweet, nutty, and fragrant. While the rice cooks, slice and fry a shallot until its rings turn dark brown and crispy in a neutral oil. This too should be sweet and fragrant. Transfer the shallot to a bowl with a slotted spoon, and use the same oil to crisp some cashews and coconut chips. I subbed in toasted maple coconut chips from the co-op, which I recommend if you have them on hand. Combine all three crisped items, salt, and set aside.
Next, tackle the pomelo. I had never really worked with one of these head-sized citrus before and was surprised at just how pith-y things were. I finally settled into a technique of working my way around the outer-edges with a paring knife and separating out flesh from membrane using my fingers. Place the hunks of pomelo in a serving dish and combine with freshly squeezed lime and a small sprinkling of sugar. I couldn’t resist adding some fish sauce and a finely chopped jalapeno; a Thai chile would also work well.
When the rice is cooked, spread it onto a baking sheet to cool off. When it’s no longer steaming, fold it gently into the pomelo mixture and then fold in the onion-cashew-coconut mix. Top with lots of chopped cilantro and shovel hungrily into your mouth. I’ll add, happily, that while the salad loses some of its crunch in the fridge, it does keep nicely and combines well with mixed greens for weekday lunch salads.
I would never (granola) bark for a man
(JS) Back in October 2020, I shared in our all things pumpkin issue (aply titled “Pumpkin Spice Up Your Life”) a slightly adapted recipe for what I called my favorite granola, an autumnal blend of pistachios and pepitas slicked with a rich blend of olive oil and maple syrup. While Ms. Clark remains our seemingly still unproblematic white woman fave, my honest truth is that another granola has since stolen my heart. The granola bark from Liz Prueitt’s Tartine All Day is a thing of beauty – a rich almost terrazzo-like slab of oats, coconut, seeds, and nuts emerges from the oven bronzed and toasty. The smaller pieces are great with yogurt, while larger chunks make for excellent snacking – it’s giving Nature Valley in all the right ways.
Adding a flour component into the base mix helps ensure maximal clumping – the original recipe calls for almond or hazelnut, but recently I started subbing in oat flour to try and use up a bag that had been withering away in the back of my cabinet. The resulting flavor and texture is honestly supreme, and I’ll never pass on an opportunity to overthink the alchemy of when two forms of the same ingredient can yield a third, more complex form (steel cut oatmeal made with oat milk… going✈️math lady). Liz’s ratio skews a bit sweet for my tastes, so lately I’ve been swapping the coconut sugar for malted milk powder to add another layer of flavor. The nuts and seeds are likewise flexible – I’ll fold in whatever’s kicking around the freezer in order to hit the total weight, ensuring a nice mix of flavors, textures, and sizes. I usually skip the vanilla extract, but sometimes I’ll add a pinch of vanilla salt or Aleppo pepper. I’ve tried rosewater, but it doesn’t really come through in the final product, and despite what the headnote claims, I don’t find the egg white to make all too much of a difference.
PERMANENT ROTATION: I (SB) recently realized I in fact misread one of our goop detox recipes and have been preparing za’atar (not sumac!) dusted onion slices ever since. (JS: Her mind? Toxic.) In any case, my mistake has been delicious– I recommend them on egg salad for a light lunch.
(JS) Once again I’m asking for your support as I wrestle with pulling the trigger on a limited edition DS & Durga drop. Sometimes you want to smell like a rich, Sicilian nut; sometimes you can.
(SB) I love a fruit subscription. At the suggestion of friend of the letter Ian, I’m considering investing in some Western Honeybell’s and Ruby Red Grapefruit from Al’s Family Farms this year and setting my calendar to join the Citrus Club next.
(SB & JS) After our trip to Bushwick’s second in age but first in quality meadery (sorry, Zak or Cody), we’re both feeling a little Meade curious. We wouldn’t say no to a bottle of The Athanor or a sparkling bottle of Charm from Enlightenment Wines, if you were looking to throw a treat our way,
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