31 March 2010

Eating Glatt Kosher

I have never gone glatt kosher, but this year Ezra did, adding a new layer to the already complicated preparations for the Passover seder. Keeping kosher requires complete knowledge of both the ingredients and the method of raising and slaughtering animals that become those ingredients. Orthodox and some Conservative Jews generally keep kosher. The ultra-Orthodox, however, always keep glatt kosher as well. Keeping glatt kosher requires that your kosher food never touches a plate, utensil, or cookware that itself once touched a non-kosher food item. The only exceptions involve some cold foods.

My mother's house is full of non-kosher cookware; Bill and I attempted to kasher some of the cookware so that Ezra could use it, but we found that plastic and glass could never be kashered; those materials must be bought new. Used baking sheets need to be blowtorched! But we could boil some metal and wood items. As long as every part of an item had been boiled for 30 seconds, it was pure.

As you can imagine, kashering even part of a kitchen is a complete pain in the ass. There is no reason to do it unless you truly believe that it is God's will that your cookware is ritually pure. I in fact don't believe this, but Ezra does, and I feel it is important that all Jews should be able to comfortably stay and eat at each others' homes. My plan is to reserve a small amount of cookware for vegetarian cooking and to buy some kosher food at Trader Joe's when a glatt kosher Jew stays over. Also, raw fruits and vegetables are always kosher, and luckily I always have those around.

Note: My great-grandmother and great-grandfather (a rabbi) ran a glatt kosher restaurant in Michigan for years!

12 March 2010

The Gross Grossness of Glop

Recipe FAIL. So disgusting but at the same time tasteless. I'm pretty sure that this dense glop—the kind that makes a sucking sound when you wrench the spoon from its maw—contains a black hole at its center. That's why no matter how much salt or pepper or curry powder I added, the glop continued to have zero flavor.

It's not entirely the fault of the recipe's author that this recipe failed so hard. Nor is it George's fault for buying me frozen crushed basil by Dorot instead of real fresh basil. Nor is it totally Dorot's fault for crushing basil into revolting frozen teaspoons. Nor is it completely my fault for choosing a recipe destined to achieve epic repellent proportions. We can all share the blame together.

I'm sure you're on the edge of your seat, dying to know what goes into such a terrible food. Well, nothing obviously dangerous: ordinary lentils, brown rice, water, bay leaves, basil, spinach, garlic, salt, and pepper. I thought it would be invigoratingly healthy! Thomas used to make soup pots of lentils and rice on our camping trip—although come to think of it, the soup tasted pretty blah until he added broth cubes and a ton of dried mushrooms. And carrots and onions and potatoes. Anyway, pretty much everything tastes amazing when you've been huffing and puffing up and down mountains all day. That's no standard to go by.

The recipe is called "Lentils, Brown Rice, and Spinach," and it's from a New Haven, Connecticut cookbook called Claire's Corner Copia Cookbook. I've been to Claire's several times; it's one of the successful vegetarian restaurants in New Haven benefitting from Yale's large, ravenous student population. Claire's makes absolutely delicious vegan chocolate cupcakes and Mexican hot chocolate. The cakes always look scrumptious and the entrees seem comfortingly home-style. I'm not saying it's haute cuisine, but it's at least normal. So this recipe should have worked.

It started to go bad when I added the brown rice and bay leaves to the lentils and water. The lentils got mushy, the brown rice absorbed too much water and also got mushy, and then the two glued themselves to each other, vacuumed up the remainder of the water, and gradually achieved the intense inner gravity of a dwarf star. I knew something was wrong when I could no longer budge my wooden spoon. A struggle for the spoon ensued between me and the stew. When I managed to liberate the spoon, the stew gurgled loudly in protest. It had evolved a dim consciousness.

In a separate pot I had been sautéeing fresh spinach in garlic and basil but not fresh garlic and basil. In Berkeley we were able to buy frozen crushed ginger by Dorot, which I thought was great because I was always using just a pinch of fresh ginger and then the rest of the ginger would go to waste. Or I would try to peel and grate frozen or refrigerated ginger, a huge hassle! We don't have frozen ginger here but George decided frozen garlic and basil would be just as good. Well, maybe in small quantities, but the truth is that there were a lot of things like soybean oil, salt, and preservatives added to the frozen herbs to make them behave properly. I needed 1/2 Cup of basil, so I used an entire container of the frozen basil. The pot acquired a disturbingly synthetic greasy quality.

At this point I felt like retching when I looked into (or smelled) either pot, but I also nurtured the desperate hope that if I combined the two, magically the result would be totally fine.

This did not happen.

George fed it to his compost worms this morning.

02 March 2010

Springtime in the Guest Room

Why was George rushing about excitedly this morning, smiling while he ate his squash and showered? Because the seeds he planted and stuck under a grow light in the guest room are beginning to peek their green keppies above the soil.

The winners of this race are red komatsuna and red lettuce. I have never cooked with red komatsuna, a Japanese leaf that is supposed to taste like a cross between mustard greens and cabbage. I hope I figure something out so that we don't waste all of George's hard work. Readers, do you have any recipes?

Red komatsuna is supposed to go well in broth with agedashi dofu (deep fried tofu in broth). I'm guessing that something with bite will go well with mild-flavored savory fried foods. Also little bits of it, like arugula, might provide a nice contrast in a leafy salad.
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