When Mara and I are in the kitchen we talk about all kinds of things. We talk about our families, what is happening in our community, politics, art, music and of course, food. We also often work quietly and listen to the radio.
Last week we listened to The Splendid Table on NPR and they had a guest on who was all about cherries. Sauted cherries, compote, jam and other treats. It got us thinking.. what about cherry kimchi? We are thinking apples, plums, lemon, spicy peppers and a hint of garlic.
Hmmm, we will let you know how it turns out.
Hong Kong actor/director Stephen Chow made it into the mainstream US consciousness with 2001’s Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle 2004. Both films were solid examples of Chow’s already well established comedic styling. Hong Kong movie makers are no slackers IMDb lists 68 separate movie appearances for Chow, he’s definitely a seasoned pro. There is something about his earnest and soulful depiction of the underdog that cannot help but win your heart, especially when one is wiping away tears of laughter from his zany, over the top slapstick humor. God of Cookery holds a special place in my heart. Long before there was Top Chef, long before anyone in the US even knew what Iron Chef was this film rocked my world. Combining two of my favorite things, supernatural kung fu movies and insane attention to detail in food. One of the central precepts in this movie is one of my own life mottos. Every one can cook. Actually my motto is “if you know how to eat you know how to cook”, but it’s pretty close – we all know how to eat.
Chinese language characters are dense in meaning the two characters in the title of this movie can translate as “the god of cookery” but could also translate as “the spirit of cooking”, “the spirit of eating” or “eat god”. I like the last version of this translation because it is at once sublime and also ridiculous. There are beautiful circular references in this film where the same words are spoken on separate occasions to both the highest and lowest form of self, where lowbrow food is made into unforgettable food, where simple ingredients are imbibed with subtle life force. Nods to magical Taoism and Buddhism somehow sit easily side by side with some of the crudest over the top and simply stupid situational humor imaginable. It’s a rollicking good time and even though I’ve seen this film so many times, somehow, a few minutes in and I am committed and ready again for the ride.
Why Should You Eat Cultured Foods?
Here are a few pointers:
- Fermenting foods is an age old way to preserve food. It was a way to use all the access produce from the summer and keep eating it all year round. This in itself is a great process to connect to seasonality and keep the strength of the food in tact.
- In addition to preservation, fermentation also makes food easier to digest, creates new nutrients such a b vitamins, folic acid, niacin, riboflavin, thiamin and biotin. Some ferments have antioxidants principles and also create omega-3 fatty acids- which we know are key to a healthy immune system.
Basically, fermented foods help supply your digestive tract with cultures that are necessary to break down and assimilate nutrients. Our Ozuké all contain Lactobacilli and that is what makes them not only food but good medicine too.
No this post is not about a boob job gone awry.
In Chinese there are three melons which have directional names. East melon a.k.a dong gua or winter melon is a simply enormous white fleshed thick green skinned melon that is often used in medicine and in soup making. West melon or xi gua is watermelon and nan gua, south melon is the pumpkin. There somehow is no north melon, perhaps in northerly climes the growing season is not long enough to produce a melon of any kind, perhaps I’ve simply not heard of it yet. Coincidentally the Chinese phrase meaning “stuff” is dong xi, literally translated as “east west” and I suppose that it can be interpreted as – everything in existence is the difference between two opposite directions. The extremely simple recipe that I came up with finds a meeting place between east and west, that is east melon and west melon.
Summertime often finds us with plenty of watermelon hanging about in the fridge. I’ve had so much fun with this melon in the past, straining it’s juice and mixing with limes (and occasionally vodka) to make a most refreshing beverage, I’ve made watermelon and heirloom tomato gazpacho which is simply delicious. This year I’ve extended my admiration for this prodigious melon to its skin. As a kid we used to go on boat trips in the summer and after a full day of goofing around in sun and salty sea we would use watermelon peel as a rub for sun exposed skin, a quick and juicy cool off. I can feel it now the balmy meeting of cool watermelon with heat kissed skin. As nostalgic as I might get about cold fruit meeting hot skin I had not until today thought of cooking this particular fruit.
Winter melon is prized because when one braises it in soup it softens to translucency and becomes inundated with tasty broth. I thought why not do the same thing with the watermelon skin.
- Starting with a simple mirepoix (onions, carrots and celery) gently sweat the vegetables until they are fragrant then add a chicken broth. Mine was made from the bones of a store bought roast chicken. My watermelon skin had most of its red and green removed (sometimes however little flashes of color are nice) and I chopped it into bite sized pieces.
- Add your watermelon skin and simmer until the skins are soft and their white color becomes transparent. This chicken soup is finished with a couple scoops of cooked quinoa or whatever your favorite soup grain might be. The watermelon skin lends a quiet sweetness to this simple dish which I accented by garnishing with a handful of course chopped fresh mint and parsley from the garden. I made something akin to east melon out of west melon, the rind pieces were a truly delightful explosion of broth and there was something almost meaty, hearty and satisfying in the interesting textural juxtapositions: liquid and solid; hot and cooling; slippery and chewable, east meets west.
I hope you enjoy it… I found it to be captivating “stuff”.
Tom Robbin’s novel, Jitterbug Perfume, begins with these immortal words. ” The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious.” Then he wanders in his marvelous bohemian prose for awhile and lands at my favorite lines about our dear beet: “The beet is what happens when the cherry finished with the carrot. The beet is the ancient ancestor of the autumn moon, bearded, buried, all but fossilized; the dark green sails of the grounded moon boat stitched with veins of primordial plasma; the kite string that once connected the moon to the Earth now a muddy whisker drilling desperately for rubies.” Tell it, Tom.
One of our early inspirations for this business was the book “Wild Fermentation” written by the very inspiring Sandor Ellix Katz. In an early section of the book he says, ” We can merge our appetite with activism and choose to involve ourselves in food as cocreators. Food has historically been one of our most direct links to the life forces of the Earth. Bountiful harvests have always been occasions for celebrations and appreciation of the divine.” Katz suggests that through creating and enjoying cultured foods you “build your body’s cultural ecology as you engage and honor the life forces all around you. ”
We could not agree more!These are some wild plums that we harvested and then experimented with preserving in salt to make something resembling the Japenese umeboshi. The result was a fascinating, lively, bubbling plum pickle which Mara reports eating for breakfast leaves her feeling great all day long.