Subversive Baking

Octopus A couple weeks ago I came upon the new octopus cake pan that had just become available at Williams-Sonoma.  I nearly put up a post about it, even, just because it was so nifty and the decorated sample cake pictured with the pan (image at left) was so pretty (and also because it reminded me of all the elaborately decorated shaped cakes my mother baked for my and my brother’s birthdays when we were kids).

Well, internets, I should have known we couldn’t give you anything nice without you ruining it in a spectacularly hilarious fashion.  Behold the awesomely clever demon spawn of the new octopus cake and the long historical tradition of the creepy, creepy doll cake:

The tentacle hentai birthday cake.

And it’s gluten-free and vegan!  I laughed for about ten minutes, and every time I look at the pictures I start all over again. No, I don’t think the development team had this in mind when that cake pan was manufactured. And strangely, you can’t buy the pan at Williams-Sonoma any longer….


What You Missed at the Market

Summer’s definitely starting to come to a close. The peaches and nectarines are seeing their last days; there are still plenty of plums, of course.

There are still grapes, too, and will be well into the fall. Fred Smeds of Savage Island brought the above Concord grape juice today. He says he likes it even better than the cherry juice his wife Paula also makes from their fruit. Having had both, I said it’d be hard to beat the cherry juice in my mind.

“The grape juice is good for everything, though,” he said.

“What, you mean like vodka…rum…” I raised an eyebrow.

“No, no, I mean good-for-you good for everything.”

“Ah, you mean like anthocyanins and resveratrol.”


“I bet it’s still good with vodka, though.”

I was telling Fred another one of my inane stories while I was picking out what will probably be my last Rose Concord grapes of the season, (one month with Rose Concord grapes…11 months without, sigh) that since I learned a few years ago that the grape industry term for the percentage of loose berries that fall off the bunch is “shatter,” whenever I pull grapes out of the bag and see the stragglers down at the bottom I hear Mick Jagger singing the Rolling Stones’ tribute to NYC.

The onions are starting to wane a little bit. Michele of K.M.K. brought purple and white last week, and this week, just white. Pretty soon I’ll have to turn back to supermarket onions – always a sad moment. The garlic’s going great as fall is coming on, though – I picked up more from Vine Ripe’s booth again this morning.

There are lots of peppers to choose from. I picked up these pasilla peppers from Angel Farms and some green peppers from K.M.K.

Also got some of these San Marzano-type tomatoes from Michele – these are great for skewering or cutting in half and roasting, as she suggests.

I talked to John of Flower Garden of Madera and he said he’d have some black-eyed peas in pods next week. Very exciting news to me! He said he mostly grows them for soil fertility – leguminous crops, are, of course, good for fixing nitrogen in the soil.

I took home some figs from Marchini Sisters for another fig sauce experiment. It’ll make it to the blog if it turns out.

Also grabbed some cucumbers from Il Giardino Organico for one of my customary cucumber-radish-onion-chickpea salads with the fall radishes that came in our box this week.

And I bought some eggplant, would you believe?

Last week when I had that eggplant in my CSA box I made something that turned out really well and I thought I’d try to improve on it a little bit before putting it to the blog. I picked up some of these white ones from Michelle to challenge myself. Will this be the eggplant revelation I’ve been looking for all these years? We’ll see. If it doesn’t turn out to be, Vachte from Cracked Pepper promises me that his Eggplant Napoleon will change my mind….worth a try.

What’s In the Box

In a moment, a note from the CSA newsletter about how Alice Waters says we’re awesome. This should help Fresno’s inferiority complex some.

Denesse said in this week’s newsletter that the heat wave we just had did a number on the crops – they lost entire plantings of beets, carrots, beans and chard, she related. It meant they had to bring in some outside crops to help fill the box this week. So we have:

Yukon Gold Potatoes
Vine-Ripe Table Tomatoes
Full Belly Farms’ Hosui Pears (an Asian pear type, from the Capay Valley west of Sacramento)
Soghomonian’s Muscat Italia Grapes (Three Sisters, Fowler)
Red Leaf Lettuce
Roma Tomatoes
Fair Hills’ Gala Apples (Paso Robles)
Mendrin’s Yellow Onions
Easter Egg Radishes

Tom has a wonderful note in the newsletter (PDF file) about his friend Alice Waters’ visit to Fresno on the occasion of the Slow Food meeting and Fig Fest. I’ll excerpt some of it here:

“What most stirred my friend’s emotion on this recent visit was the affecting beauty of Richard Erganian’s arched arbor pavilion, which so elegantly shelters the Vineyard Farmers’ Market. Alice maintains this is the only structure she has witnessed that sufficiently honors the sacrament of fresh food beneath it. Alice is above all else a visionary who conceives of food and fellowship at table as hallowed art and culture. Her recognition and blessing of our efforts to raise this kind of consciousness across the California ‘heartland’ are welcome and appreciated.”

Here here.

And speaking of Alice’s visit to Fig Fest, here is a picture of two people at Fig Fest. One of them is Alice Waters. I am the person in the picture who is not Alice Waters and who is looking absolutely delighted to be standing next to Alice Waters.

Grocery Chain Wegman’s Grows its Own

ImagesThe always-innovative Wegman’s grocery chain is going a step beyond private label and has begun developing its own farm to supply some produce to its stores. The Wegman’s Organic Research farm is the subject of this article from the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.

The privately-owned Wegman’s chain is known as a grocery industry leader because they really know service – and they really know food.

From the Department of Yikes!

120pxpopcorn02For those of you who have been following the stories about lung injuries from diacetyl suffered by workers at popcorn plants ("Popcorn Worker’s Lung" – and it’s not funny; this has killed people), here’s the first report of a consumer with the same illness, which has been at least correlated to his twice-a-day microwave popcorn habit.

Apparently he liked the smell of the stuff so well that he would open the bag and take a big deep whiff of the escaping steam, inhaling diacetyl each time.

The story, from the New York Times, also notes that despite it being the likely cause of his severe shortness of breath, the man was "really upset he couldn’t have it anymore"…but since breaking the twice-daily popcorn habit, has lost 60 lbs.

Maybe somebody could teach him how to make it the old-fashioned way on the stove like I do? I haven’t eaten microwave popcorn in at least a decade; I started avoiding trans fats in the mid-90s and all of them were loaded with hydrogenated oil back then (pre-Newman’s Own with tropical oil) and it had come to the point where the fake-butter (diacetyl) smell gave me the heebie-jeebies anyway.

Though I use plain old non-microwave popcorn, for those of you who are landing here with Google searches about Newman’s Own and diacetyl, I wrote to Newman’s Own Organics to ask them if their "natural butter flavor" contained the chemical, and here is their helpful reply:


Diacetyl is not added to any of Newman’s Own Organics varieties of Pop’s Corn, however, it is a naturally occurring substance found in butter in miniscule amounts. I hope you find this helpful.

Peggy Westenhofer
Director of Customer Relations
Newman’s Own Organics

Then I wrote to Newman’s Own, at a commenter’s prompting, about regular (not organic) Newman’s Own microwave popcorn, and here’s the reply I received:

Dear Ms. (my last name),

Shuster Laboratories, Inc. is a technical consulting organization retained by Newman’s Own, Inc. to provide technical and quality assurance services.

Currently, diacetyl is a component of butter that is in the flavor. It is a potential hazard in concentrated form as inhalant to workers in manufacturing. All safety precautions are in place at Newman’s Own manufacturing facilities. Newman’ Own is working to remove the diacetyl from the popcorn. We hope you find this information helpful.

Newman’s Own Customer Service Team

So there you have it: Newman’s Own Organics microwave popcorn is currently diacetyl free (except for the minute amount naturally occurring), Newman’s Own microwave popcorn is in the process of going diacetyl free but is not there as of this September 9, 2007.

A Different Kind of Fried Green Tomato

Well, no, those aren’t particularly green, are they? They do look suspiciously red. (They were green when Michele sold them to me on Saturday; I just didn’t get to them fast enough and they reddened on standing a few days.)

That’s not what’s different about them, though.

Though I’ve had some food blogs put me in their Indian category when linking to me (I consider it an undeserved honor), I’m as pale as a marshmallow. I’m not Southern either – yes, I grew up in Virginia, but Northern Virginia, the D.C. area, which is a different state entirely from Virginia Virginia, the rest of the state. I sometimes tell people I’m from the “Fake South.”

Despite that, somehow this Indian-by-Southern food hybrid arose in my kitchen and has developed into one of our favorite summertime treats.

Most fried green tomatoes are made with cornmeal and use egg to bind the coating. These are made with chickpea flour, also known as gram flour or besan, which is a wonderfully versatile ingredient. In this dish, it fries up on the outside of the tomatoes with a smooth, crunchy (not gritty) crust, and it doesn’t require the slices to be dipped in egg before the batter is applied – which means they can be made vegan. (You can do fried green tomatoes without egg, but there is significant trouble in convincing the cornmeal to stay attached.)

I laced this chickpea flour batter with aromatic cumin, coriander, cayenne and ginger. The result is something like pakora, the Indian batter-coated vegetables or cheese – but I’ve never seen a tomato pakora.

They’re simultaneously crunchy, juicy, salty, tomatoey, spicy – and all-around delicious.

Continue reading “A Different Kind of Fried Green Tomato”

What You Missed at the Market

I was awakened this morning by a lack of air-conditioner noise. Most of the time, we turn the poor beleaguered thing off at night (so the hamsters that power it last longer), but on days when it’s forecast to be 105 or hotter, running it at night gets the house cool enough that it’s easier for it to keep up during the day.

I looked at the clock. It was dark. I got up, got my watch – it was 6:45 – and looked around the house. Indeed, the power was clearly out.

The power having gone out wasn’t that big of a surprise, given our unexpected summer rainstorm on Thursday – which roused me, startled, out of bed at 3 a.m. to check the radar as I could hardly believe my eyes when I looked outside. (It Does Not Rain here between April and October.)

When it rains here, things tend to break. The power goes out because various pieces of electrical equipment fill with Valley dust over time, and when the dust gets wet it makes nefarious electrical-equipment-shorting mud. Our phone service seems to go out at least once a winter by the same mechanism.

Since it hardly ever rains here, nothing really seems to be constructed to withstand it.

As previously mentioned, however, the forecast today had been for high temperatures – between 107 and 110, depending on what source you checked. No power would mean the temperature in our apartment would be untenable for Jocelyn-the-hothouse-flower by mid-afternoon.

I called the PG&E outage line. They were aware of the outage but didn’t have a projected repair time yet. Chimp happened to be awake. We agreed we’d pack the cats up and go to a hotel around noontime if the power wasn’t back on. We’ve done it before.

That decided, I went back to bed to rest through the worst of the morning M.E./C.F.S. discomfort, and when I could stand to stand up, cleaned myself up and headed out to the market. There wasn’t much shopping for me to do today. We’re a bit backed up on produce because Chimp spent much of the last week on campus, but I still wanted to have my morning outing. I think there was some part of me that thought maybe by leaving the house or by buying more food I would motivate the power to come back on. Thank goodness I already have a fridge full of food sitting there getting warm, I thought as I pushed the garage door button. The door didn’t go up. I pushed it again. It still didn’t go up.

Then I remembered, oh yeah, the reason I have a fridge full of food sitting there getting warm is the same reason the garage door is not going to go up automatically.

Sometimes I wish I could drink coffee.

I drove up to the stoplight and found a PG&E guy sitting in the cab of his truck on the far side of the intersection, talking on the phone.

That can’t be good,
I thought. If it was simple to fix he’d be out fixing it, not talking on the phone.

I promised myself I wouldn’t buy anything that required refrigeration, which pretty well cut my list down to onions and garlic.

But as always, when you get to the market, there’s something you absolutely have to have that you haven’t even thought of.

Michele of K.M.K. brought the first avocados of the season! This is the Mexicola variety.

I remember when I saw these on her table for the first time last year. I was awestruck. I’d never lived anywhere I could get a local avocado before. “How long will you have these?” I asked her, thinking I’d stumbled on an evanescent treasure – a week, two weeks at most to enjoy.

“Oh, until March or so,” she replied.

I think my jaw must have dropped wide open. And that was the beginning of a whole winter of avocados.

These are a little trickier to ripen than the Hass variety most people are familiar with. I like to let these go until they are a little wrinkly and definitely soft around the stem end. Because the body of the fruit is small, it’s tougher to get a read on their ripeness by squeezing that part, so I go with the way the top feels. Michele says that if you find you’ve cut one too soon, you can squeeze it back together, wrap it in plastic and it’ll keep ripening.

I also walked up to Vince Iwo’s table full of plums and asked him if he was harvesting Angelenos yet. (Angeleno plums are the big last hurrah variety for the plum harvest.) Nope, he said, give it at least a week or so. Then I looked down at the green-yellow fruit and said, “Wait – are these still Flavor Golds?”

“Nope,” he replied, “Emerald Beauts.” I was surprised at first, having gotten that whole box two weeks back because I thought I was missing the variety’s harvest. I’m perfectly glad he’s taking his time – it just means his fruit will be coming to market longer. So even though I wasn’t supposed to buy fruit, because there’s plenty in the fridge to be dispensed with, I bought more Emerald Beauts. Just a few, though.

And Moa’s had the cutest little eggplants – truly egg-sized eggplants. No, I didn’t buy any, because, again, I wasn’t supposed to be buying anything that needed refrigeration, and also because I had a big eggplant from our CSA box to use.

When I got in the car I pulled out my phone to see if, by chance, my absence from the house had worked its magic and gotten the power turned back on. It had – and on my way back I opened my sunroof, waved to the PG&E guys, who were now up in the truck’s bucket and yelled, “Thank you!”

They smiled and waved back.