Plus: home-alone fish and peppers, a great mess of greens, and an absolutely outstanding cookbook
Hello, Wednesday pals!
Earth Day, as you probably know, is April 22, and to reflect that, we’re rerunning our episode of Food with Mark Bittman with the one and only Jane Goodall, but we’re also introducing you to—in a separate, shorter interview—the inspiring Lauren Sweeney, the CEO and co-founder of DeliverZero, a network of returnable, reusable food containers.
Lauren is a working single mom, who often relies on the convenience of takeout and delivery, and as she became increasingly frustrated by how much waste came with each delivery—and questioned whether she could really recycle or compost the single use containers she received—she set out on a mission to make reuse easier and more transparent than recycling. She’s terrific, and working with a great idea.
“I think that when my seven-year-old daughter is an adult, the idea that we would ever use packaging one time and then just send it out into the ether is going to seem so weird; it will seem like smoking on an airplane.” — Lauren Sweeney
And Jane Goodall—I mean, come on, I can’t introduce her. So I’ll do it, instead, with a quote from our interview.
I also want to mention here that if you’re in the mood for donating on Earth Day (or any day), the people I donate most frequently to are called HEAL Food Alliance; they are working on food, labor, agriculture, and the environment, so more bang for your buck.
The recipe from today’s episode, Stir-Fried Beans with Asparagus or Broccoli, from Food Matters, is below. And recipes from the Jane Goodall Institute, Grilled Squash and Orzo Salad with Pine Nuts, and Pan-Seared Cauliflower with Garlic and Capers, can be found here.
Your weekly Marksisms, below. Thanks, as always —
This Week’s Marksisms
A Good Greens Problem
That picture of all that stuff on my counter? That’s this week’s Glynwood CSA share. The accumulation of root vegetables has slowed, and probably they’ll all get used in the next few weeks, but the onslaught of greens just began a few weeks ago, and this week it reached a breaking point. I’m dutifully eating a giant greens-only salad every day, and some of the flowering brassicas are irresistible, but there’s only so much you can do.
So yesterday (I’m writing this, as I do, on Sunday), I cleaned the fridge of all cooking greens, from kale to flowering mustard to bok choy to old white cabbage that refused to go bad (what a vegetable) to “stir-fry mixtures” of every damned thing, and I filled up the container of a pressure cooker to about the three-quarters point with those (washed, of course), along with about a cup of water and a big pinch of salt and a sole poblano chile that had been sitting there forlornly (and which I cut into strips) plus a few cloves of garlic, and I pressure cooked that for ten minutes, and then I cooked out the remaining water and added a little more oil and some lemon and look how beautiful it is, even with my sorry “presentation.” (We can call this “horta” if we want to be fancy, or “mess of greens.”) I’ve already eaten two bowlfuls and I’m confident I can get through it all, what with friends coming over tonight and all. It’s just going to start again, but this is a “problem” of abundance and I’m happy to have it.
Home-Alone Fish & Peppers
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The night before I had been pressured by a craving and an insanely low price (I shopped alone, so I alone am guilty) to buy four yellow-and-orange bell peppers and said poblanos, all obviously grown 10,000 miles away. Then I cooked a total of six peppers in oil and water (again, along with some garlic cloves, which effectively dissolved) until they were very soft, and then, when there was barely any water left in there, I lined the top of the cooked veg with four little whiting fillets (whiting, you should know, you can still get fresh and local in the northeast, and it’s so freaking good), and covered and steamed that for five minutes, and then ate the whole thing by myself. That was a treat: six peppers and four fish fillets and not much else. (Well, a green salad, of course.)
A Misnamed Cookbook?
Two books arrived yesterday. Cucina Povera is a term that gets thrown around a lot these days; it means, of course, cooking of the poor, and the subhead reads “The Italian Way of Transforming Humble Ingredients into Unforgettable Meals.” By rights, this should be a book about wild greens, legumes, pasta, bread crumbs, and anchovies, and indeed those things are in here, along with some very nice recipes for them. If that spirit were consistent, the book might have an original feel.
But the exceptions are many and glaring. The real poor people of Italy didn’t use Parmesan, or even eggs, in their pasta; pasta was flour and water and maybe oil and vegetables and bread crumbs if you were lucky. So a recipe like Passatelli with Parmigiano-Romano Sauce … well, it may be traditional, but it’s not poor people’s food. And when I saw squid ink risotto, I was disheartened; sure, if you were a squid fisher, and you happened to have some rice (the confluence of the two, especially “named” rice like Arborio, would have been very unusual in a poor household), it was humble enough, but it’s not humble now – simple, yes; easy, yes; a poor person’s dish, no. There are more than a few good recipes in this book but on the whole I don’t think that it represents its title.
And One to Love
Besides, it’s conceivable we have enough Italian cookbooks by now. What we don’t have enough of are books called Mayumu: Filipino American Desserts Remixed. This is a subject about which, unless you are Filipino-American or for some reason have been immersed in Filipino-American cuisine, trust me, You Know Nothing. It was produced by Abi Balangit, who blogs at The Dusky Kitchen, and lives in Brooklyn, and it loosely follows her family’s move from Pampanga, in the Philippines, to San Jose and Stockton and eventually to the East Coast, and her growth as yet another one of those examples of what actually makes America great – people embracing stuff of other people while not letting go of their own stuff.
It reminds me of Vishwesh Bhatt, whom we had on our podcast not too long ago. Bhatt wrote I Am From Here, a cookbook about what happens when a native of Gujarat moves to the deep South, wants to cook and, instead of opening an “Indian” restaurant, starts cooking “Southern” food, but uses his palate to expand the meaning of that food to create something new and honest.
This is in that vein. Balangit, and her mother, find American desserts generally appealing – mayumu means “sweet” in Kapampangan, and who doesn’t like sweet stuff? — but they also find them simplistic, one-dimensional. And so Balangit’s recipes take them to another place, using non-Duncan Hines ingredients like calamansi juice and fish sauce in shortbreads, and nougat and MSG in brownies, and sauteed bagoong (the shrimp paste kind) in caramels. Even if you know Filipino food, these are new and surprising and intriguing and appealing combinations.
Add to this the fact that Balangit is an original and engaging writer, that the book is filled with interesting anecdotes and observations, and that the illustrations and the design are bright and brilliant. (The photos are compelling, too, but they’re, you know, pretty much the usual.) Most of us know someone who’s going to make this their favorite cookbook — pretty sure it’s one of Holly’s already — and then we’re going to hope they cook from it for us, or we’re going to be forced to do it ourselves. Myself, I’m making those MSG brownies next weekend.
And Some TV
I’m watching, at the suggestion of my friend Charlie (who also suggested a show called Beef, which has potential), a show called Lucky Hank, based on Richard Russo’s Straight Man (which I’ve read, and enjoyed, but we are talking pretty much OWG literature here, just to be clear) and starring Saul himself (i.e. Bob Odenkirk), of whom I thought I’d had enough, but he is perfect in this show. You might try it, and I do think that within ten minutes you’ll know whether you love or hate it. (And if you know Saul, or Hank, or Bob, ask him if he’ll come on the podcast, please.)
Thanks for reading — see ya next week!