Wednesday, April 30, 2008

What should we do?

I was moved and inspired by this post by a blogger whom I greatly respect and admire. This is the boldest reaction I have seen from anyone in the food community in response to the global food crisis. The worlds' poorest nations are running out of rice to eat, with no relief in sight, and the New York Times is running articles about luxury airport food. The shortage is so widespread that even the United States is affected--consumers have seen price increases on basic food items, and I heard on NPR that Costco is limiting its sale of rice. I wonder how far it will have to go before the US actually does something to help alleviate the hunger of other countries. I write this with all four burners working, simmering and sauteing, the smells of simmering beans and vegetable stock filling my kitchen, fully conscious of how lucky I am to be so choosy about what I eat. We live in a country where people define themselves by what they don't eat, rather than by what they do. And I ask, what should the "foodie" community do? How do we respond? Do we donate money, or stop buying rice? What do some of the most privileged eaters of the most privileged nation do during a global food crisis?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Pots of Beans

Mmmm...anasazi beans on toast with cheddar for dinner.

I think I finally have the hang of this bean cooking thing. It's a bit embarassing to admit that until this past week, I had yet to make a truly respectable pot of beans. I don't know why. The crock pot method didn't really work--I came home to a stinky house and a crock of nasty, mushy beans. But I gave it another go on the stove top and was very pleased with the results. I have made two very successful batches on the stove this week and I am now sold on home cooked beans.

I consulted a few different sources. Mark Bittman has a few things to say about beans, the most valuable of which is that you don't have to soak them. I rarely attempted beans before because I couldn't commit to a two day ordeal, or forgot to put them in water in the morning, or figured that the beans would be ruined if I didn't soak them long enough. Soaking can shorten the cooking time (although not by much), especially if your beans are old, but it is not a necessary step. Several other cookbook authors confirmed this.

I learned another tasty bit of advice from the Rancho Gordo website. Adding the dried beans to a base of onions sauteed in some kind of fat (oil, butter, or lard) yields a flavorful pot of beans.

A friend at work who is a bean cooking pro told me to keep a steady level of water in the pot. Not so much that the beans are deeply submerged, just enough to keep them loose and barely covered with water. Stir and add more water as they cook.

And of course, don't salt too early or too late. If you salt your pot of beans at the beginning, they are still too hard to absorb any of the salt. If you salt them at the very end, you end up with salty water and salty tasting beans, rather than beany tasting beans. I like to add some salt half way through cooking, then let the beans absorb some more water, taste, and salt again if need be.

So, here's how I have been succesfully cooking beans. I've haven't been cooking very many at a time, maybe a cup, as they plump up quite a bit during cooking. Saute half of a thinly sliced onion in some oil until soft. Add beans, two or three peeled and smashed garlic cloves, and enough water to cover. Cook until beans are tender, beginning to salt halfway through. Towards the end there will be a lot of tasting a stirring and salting.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Little Red Bike Cafe

I found the Little Red Bike Cafe blog by clicking around on another favorite blog of mine. I thought the name was cute and so I checked it out and oh my, it happens to be written from Portland. The blog is co-written by the owners of the North Portland eatery of the same name. The blog is a sort of chronicle of their experience running the cafe. It's a fun look into the inner workings of the restaurant, with some tempting photos and teasers of what is to come on the menu. I was sold the first moment I actually looked at the menu, and put it on the official list of Things To Do On Weekends, but it took me about a month to actually get there.

Tim and I went last Saturday for a post farmer's market brunch, because looking at all that food made us hungry for the second time in one day, and were very pleased with what we found. The bright and sunny cafe has a subtly retro diner feel that is not over the top. It is an intimate and cozy space, with some tables and bar seating looking out the window. The specialty of the Little Red Big Cafe is fried egg sandwiches, most with bike themed names, with additional sandwiches and a few other breakfast offerings. We ordered and payed at the counter and took a seat at one of the few (six? eight?) small tables.

These are no ordinary eggy sandwiches my friends. They are made with fresh, local, organic meats and dairy and come on a delicious, lightly floured ciabatta. Almost everything on the menu had equal appeal. We split two egg sandwiches between us, the Messenger and the Honeymoon, and loved both of them. We may have loved the Honeymoon a little bit more, with its prosciutto, ricotta, basil, egg, and Oregon huckleberry jam filling (it was meant to come with fig spread, but they were out). I was tempted by the homemade ice creams, but decided I was too full to try one this trip.

We had already had our fair share of coffee that day so we didn't have any there, but I was won over by the ginger tea. It was pure ginger, nothing else in there mucking it up and muting the ginger flavor, producing a strong and simple tea. My own personal heaven in a cup. Mmmm...

So, the next time you are up on North Lombard, do stop in and have a fried egg sandwich, or try the ice cream. Even if you aren't up in that neighborhood to begin with, it is well worth the trip.
As an added bonus, they even have a bike through window (!) which we did not frequent, unfortunately, as it was pouring rain. But come summer, that's where we'll be.

To check out their menu and get directions, go to the website.