Monday, September 27, 2010

Fiber Fail


Crotchety Monday Musing
Okay, technically not a fiber fail—there’s plenty of fiber here.  Rather, I should call it a fiber vehicle fail.

Used to be, cereal makers pitched sugary cereals to kids.  Maybe they still do—I haven’t watched the morning cartoons in years.  But I do still get a daily newspaper delivered.  This weekend it arrived on my porch with a sample box of cereal and a cereal bar.  Or what General Mills calls a ‘chewy bar’.

 chewy bar

General Mills ‘Fiber One’ products seem to be marketed to adults who are interested in being healthy.  The packaging includes phrases like ‘51% daily value of fiber’ and ‘Excellent source of antioxidant vitamins A and E’.

cereal ingredients 

But look at the ingredient list.  The cereal has 22 items listed (if you don’t count the sub-items it takes to make ‘crisp oats’, ‘toasted oats’--who knew it takes 6 ingredients to make toasted oats?--and ‘wheat bits’).  It also contains many sweeteners: sugar, brown sugar, high fructose corn syrup, honey, and molasses.   The chewy bar has 23 items, including many sugars, and various processed oils.

chewy bar ingredients

I don’t know why anyone would buy this cereal; there are plenty of better choices with fiber available.  As for the chewy bars, I suppose people like the grab and go aspect of the chewy bar. 

prunes and almonds

You want grab and go?  Put some almonds in your pocket.  Wrap a couple of prunes up in a piece of waxed paper.  It doesn’t get much easier/cheaper/healthier, not to mention more satisfying, than that.
(5 prunes + 1 handful almonds = about 7 grams fiber)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Star Anise and Plums and Mace

mace and nutmeg 2
 Whole mace

A couple of years ago an independent spice store showed up in my neighborhood.  I found it the old fashioned way: looking for a parking place, I turned off a main street (NE Alberta) and noticed Spice Road Market.

An aside: have you ever noticed how much some spices resemble sea life? Whole mace looks a bit like miniature dried squid, and star anise, with all its broken limbs reminds me of the sea stars scattered on Oregon beaches.

Back Camera
(sea) star anise and whole mace (dried squid)

Spice Road Market was a wonderful place.  Not only did they sell all sorts of spices and spice blends (ras el hanout, anyone?), but they sold them in bulk.  Finally—a place where I could find mace for my favorite quick mace cake.  But wait.  Not only did they sell mace in bulk (so I could always get just enough, and have the freshest possible), but they ground it to order.  Inside the jar were the lacy pieces of mace, which is the outer covering of nutmeg.  (Check out this recent Guardian article about nutmeg)

mace and nutmeg 1
To understand the scale here, those are nutmegs, not cantaloupe

But like so many good things, the spice store soon came to an end.  A sign on their door said they’d be reopening at another location, but as the months passed, so did my hopes.

This spring things looked up again here in Portland.  First, a Spice and Tea Exchange franchise opened up in downtown.  Located a block north of Pioneer Courthouse Square (Portland’s ‘living room’), finally there was a place where I could pick up a small package of mace.

And then, early this summer, Penzeys opened a second branch in Portland.  I’d been meaning to visit the first for a long time, but hadn’t made it there.  Their second branch is much more convenient.  As in it’s practically kitty corner to Powell’s bookstore.  I’m not sure which place I’ll use more often as an alibi for the other.

Sadly, Penzeys doesn’t sell bulk spices.  But they do sell small packages, and they have both ground and whole mace for sale.  They also have intriguing items, like smoky black cardamom pods.

Back Camera

And powdered star anise.  It’s time for prune kuchen again, my consolation for summer’s end.  I’ve posted a prune kuchen recipe before (you’ll need to scroll down).  It’s a fall regular around here.  This cake comes together quickly.  Melt the butter in a saucepan, add milk and egg, toss in the dry ingredients.  A quick cake.  Halved prune plums snuggle together on the cake, and, in the original recipe, a healthy amount of cinnamon sugar is sprinkled over the top.

plum cake anise 2
 Plum Kuchen with anise sugar

Yesterday I decided to make it with star anise sugar instead.  I used the same ratio (1/2 teaspoon powdered star anise to 1/4 cup sugar), and the finished cake was delicious.  Anise and plums make fine companions.  They also make an excellent dessert.  Next time I’m going to try it with cardamom sugar.

plum cake anise 1

Prune Kuchen Recipe (scroll to bottom of the page)

120 NW 10th Ave, Portland, OR 
(503) 227-6777

Friday, September 3, 2010

Sekanjabin: Mint Flavored Vinegar Syrup

Sekanjabin: A Refreshing Drink for the Lingering Summer

sekanjabin 3

Traditionally summer ends on Labor Day.  Kids go back to school, people stop spending long evenings on their porches, and life goes back to ‘normal’.  Who was the genius who decided lazing around thinking about the next BLT or slice of peach pie shouldn’t be ‘normal’?

But technically we’ve got nearly a month of summer left, and I don’t intend to miss it.  Especially since I live in Portland.  We had a late start to summer this year, and even though we managed a few sultry evenings, I feel a little cheated.  The tomatoes are slow in coming, I’m afraid I missed the blackberries, and somehow I haven’t eaten anywhere near my summer quota of ice cream.

sekanjabin 5

Sekanjabin is an Iranian mint flavored vinegar syrup that I first came across in Claudia Roden’s A Book of Middle Eastern Food, which you might still find in used bookstores.  There’s also a recipe—slightly changed—in Roden’s The New Book of Middle Eastern Food

The sugar syrup balances the vinegar’s bite.  Diluted with water or seltzer, it’s the perfect hot weather drink.  The one to have on your porch when it’s a little early in the day for a gin and tonic (in case the neighbors are watching).    It reminds me a bit of the drinking vinegars at Portland’s Pok Pok and Ping restaurants—only I don’t have to wait in line for it. 

sekanjabin overhead

Most recipes use red wine vinegar, some use white wine vinegar.  All the recipes I found were flavored with mint.  But why stop there?  Besides the traditional batch with red wine vinegar and mint I also made some with champagne vinegar.  I flavored half with borage flowers and half with bay leaves.

borage vinegar syrup

The delicate borage flowers fade in the hot champagne vinegar syrup from blue to a sweet pink.  They’re so pretty, you might as well leave them in the syrup, and add to the glasses.  Their flavor is faint; a couple of handfuls gave off only a hint of their cucumber flavor (and I may just have been in a suggestible mood).  But no matter, the champagne vinegar sparkles.

The bay leaves lend their unmistakable flavor to the syrup.  The vinegar and sugar provide a contrast that plays up the bay leaves’ sweetness and tames any bitterness.

borage sekanjabin

The red wine vinegar and mint pair perfectly.  With a splash of seltzer water and a few blackberries (first for garnish, then stirred in for their sunny flavor) it may just be my favorite summer drink.  Well, after a solid gin and tonic.

 sekanjabin 1

I’m going to enjoy this three-day weekend.  Not by saying good-bye to summer, but by asking it—ever so nicely—if it might not like to stick around just a bit longer.  Hopefully it won’t rain at the baseball game (the Portland Beavers last ever, but that’s another story, and a sad one).  

And hopefully it will be hot enough, at least one day, to sit on the porch, with a glass of sekanjabin to quench.

Sekanjabin Recipe

Adapted from Claudia Roden’s A Book of Middle Eastern Food

This is the recipe for the red wine vinegar and mint version.  In a second version I substituted champagne vinegar, and flavored half with borage flowers (watch out for the bees!), the other half with bay leaves. 

Next time I'll try using sherry vinegar (seems like that would make a nice drink to enjoy with a handful of almonds).  But what I’m really dreaming about is a float made with the original recipe and olive oil ice cream.  To be eaten after a big green salad.

Makes about 3 cups syrup, enough for 8+ servings

1-1/4 cups water
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup red wine vinegar (or champagne vinegar)
4 big sprigs of mint (or a very generous handful of borage flowers or about 8 bay leaves)
  • Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves. 
  • Add the vinegar (don’t breathe in the fumes unless you want to clear your sinuses), and simmer gently for 20 minutes.
  • Take the pan off the stove and submerge the mint in the syrup.  Let cool to room temperature.
  • Remove the mint (I left the borage flowers and the bay leaves in the container), and refrigerate. 
To serve, put about 4-5 tablespoons in a glass with ice cubes, and fill with seltzer.  Roden suggests adding a little grated cucumber to the drink, which sounds nice.  Or add a few blackberries.  Do garnish with mint. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Iced Oatmeal Cookies: Back for Seconds

oatmeal cookie 2

Iced Oatmeal Cookies from Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain
Back for Seconds: Deja mangé?
I was minding my own business, eating an oatmeal cookie (more on that later), when I was struck by a powerful deja vu.  Deja mangé?

Back in the  mid-1970s I was a junior high student in Berkeley, California at what was then called Martin Luther King Junior Junior High School.  We just called it King.  Today it's called King Middle School, and is somewhat famous in the world of food.  King was the school that Alice Waters famously challenged to fix their food program.  King was the school that famously fixed their food program, with The Edible Schoolyard.

I went there for two years, but don't remember once stepping foot in the (now) famous cafeteria (actually, they moved the cafeteria to another building nearly 10 years ago).  Instead, my friends and I brown-bagged it on the benches surrounding the interior courtyard (which was not quite as lovely then as now) of the Mediterranean style school.

king entry 2

Entrance to King’s interior courtyard: a secret garden
But our snack break (yes, we had an actual 15 minute break in the morning, for getting a snack) was passed generally by the freestanding snack bar (now gone) out back.

Friends from those days tell me we could get milkshakes there, and strips of French bread dripping with butter, or, as one friend remembers it, butter-like substance.  But all I remember were the plate-sized oatmeal cookies, gently spiced and warm from the oven (yes, I think they actually baked them on-site).  The cookies came in a waxed paper bag, and on days I felt flush I would buy one and eat it on the sloped concrete snack area.

King Snack Bar Site 2

I was back in Berkeley a couple of weeks ago for my high school reunion.  It was the perfect ‘Back for Seconds’ weekend—lots of familiar faces and buildings, gently aged, but still comfortingly recognizable.

A quick trip to King seemed like a good idea.  The school’s gardens have filled in an area that I remember as being depressing, and nearly barren.  When I was there, the gym was across the concrete grounds from the school.  On the day I visited I was shocked by the view that I didn't remember ever noticing, much less appreciating.  If I had turned my head just a little to the left on my way to P.E. class, I could have gazed at a view of the Golden Gate Bridge that tourists stop and set up tripods over.  I didn't even remember it.

king Golden Gate
Yep, that’s the Golden Gate Bridge I should have admired every morning
But the cookie?  I remember that.  And earlier this summer, I tasted it again when I baked Kim Boyce's iced oatmeal cookies from her book, Good to the Grain.  They remind Boyce of Mother's brand oatmeal cookies.  I was more of an iced-raisin cookie girl, so that taste didn’t come back to me.  But I know what she means--there's something familiar about the nutmeg and cinnamon scented cookies, though these are made with oats and a mix of all-purpose, whole wheat, rye, oat, and millet flours, and glazed with a cinnamon icing. 

They also remind me of the cookies used to make It's Its, the ice cream sandwich that originated at Playland at the Beach  in San Francisco, as well as the oatmeal cookies drugstores used to keep in those glass cookie jars that always sat next to the cash register.

But what they most reminded me of were my snack break  cookies at King.  Maybe it’s the familiar spices.  Perhaps the nubby crunch.  But probably it was just the treat of an unusually large (in my house anyway) cookie in the middle of the morning.  I did turn my head a little to the left, but there was no Golden Gate out the window.  Just the neighbor's photinia, due to be ripped out later this week.

Iced Oatmeal Cookie recipe, adapted from Good to the Grain by Tasting Table

My Culinate review of Good to the Grain 

More on Playland at the Beach:
Playland articles, with links to interviews and home movies
Article about documentary, ‘Remembering Playland at the Beach’
Trailer for ‘Remembering Playland at the Beach’ (that slide was so much fun!)
Related Posts with Thumbnails