Eat Me. Drink Me.

Why We Eat. Why We Drink. Why We Write.

Month: June, 2010

The Spoon Stands Alone

by lyzpfister

A fork is just a spoon with holes.  How primitive, a set of little spears, to prod, poke, pierce, and rent.  Where is the elegance of the spoon’s soft curve, the spoon’s caress of a pumpkin soup, its languid dive into pudding, the easy crunch with which it drops onto the caramel hat of a crème brulé.  A fork is crude, a tine nothing more than a galvanized toothpick.  Give me the heft of a spoon’s curved bowl cradled in the hand’s palm, the sensuous glide of the tongue beneath its cambered base, the upper lip’s sweep into the lightly sloping dip.  How lovely, a piled stack of peas, pearls of tapioca suspended in pale pudding, a melting marble of ice cream lifted easily to the mouth in the safety of the spoon’s arms.  A steak, you say?  What good is a spoon for a steak?  None whatsoever, but for that I have my fingers.  What is a fork, after all, but a bourgeois approximation of a hand?  As if the hand were too delicate to grasp a breaded pork chop or a broccoli floret, as if the teeth weren’t meant to bite through veal or a tender medallion of filet mignon.  There is that crassness in a fork, a pretention that one shouldn’t feel the food one eats, a pizza must be prod and cut before it can be chewed, a tomato surgically sliced.  A fork is redundant as is a knife, but a spoon – a spoon extends the hand as if the palm were mirrored past the fingers.  How painstaking it would be to lap milk from a bowl of cereal or eat yogurt one finger’s sweep at a time.  A fork and knife are just reductions of what we already have; the spoon completes the hand.

Well Hello, Stir Fry

by lyzpfister

Sometimes, there are no words.

onion, garlic, carrot, baby bok choy, green pepper, mushrooms, cracked egg and pepper, soy sauce, fish sauce, udon sauce on white rice

Dips on Chips

by lyzpfister

A legitimate question: why have I never written about guacamole?  Because seriously, I make great guac.  I’m sitting at my desk right now, listening to sweet summer jams and munching on chips and guac.  I know it’s a little early for lunch, but I’ve been up since seven working on a writing project and running errands, and I just couldn’t resist that plump little avocado nestled between the onions and garlic saying, Eat me, eat me, I’m so squishy and green!

My passion for guacamole emerged out of on incredibly uncomfortable social situation, which occurred a few summers ago when I was leading backpacking trips with Davidson College.  At the end of each trip, the group would go to a Davidson employee’s house for dinner.  I don’t even remember who the employee in question was – all I remember is that she was in her late forties and worked in some sort of office and that along with us, she had invited her daughters and her new boyfriend to the dinner as well.  Her boyfriend, whose name was Jaun, was clearly at least ten years younger – they had met while Juan and company were renovating her office, or something like that.  Her daughters clearly didn’t like Juan and kept rolling their eyes at each other every time their mother said something about him.  Which was often, since she only talked about Juan, clearly to mitigate her daughters’ disapproval.  Juan didn’t say anything.

The dinner was something Mexican.  Juan is a really good cook. [Insert history of Juan’s family.]  Juan, Juan, Juan, Juan. [Daughters roll eyes. Backpacking participants smile awkwardly.  Juan smiles awkwardly.]  I made these enchiladas just like Juan’s mom used to make.  [Shoveling food into mouth to keep from having to make a comment.  Silence.  Longer awkward silence.  Eye rolls.]

Me:  Um, this guacamole is really good?

The barrage begins again:  Juan taught me how to make real guacamole.  In Mexico, they just make it with avocado, salt, lime, and chile.  That’s it.  That’s real guacamole.  That’s how Juan’s mom makes it.

And there it was: the magical formula.  Somehow I clung to this through the rest of that awkward dinner.  My recipe life raft.  For a long time I was fanatic about using this guac recipe.  I entertained arguments with proponents of other methods.  One of these arguments even led to a guacamole competition, which turned into a guac and mojito party (more fun anyway…).

Why I chose to believe this was the definitive method, I have no idea, but I became a guacamole evangelist. I brought guacamole to everything and made it on every occasion.  Before I graduated I was approached by not a few people asking me to share the secret of my amazing guacamole.  And I took on disciples to carry the torch of guacamole purity.

But the secret, I think, is not so much just using these ingredients, but picking the very best avocado.  I will not make guacamole until my avocado is just right and I only make guac with the small Hass avocados that squash submissively in my fingers.  The other secret is: you have to mash avocados with your hands.

I’m less of a fanatic now and admit that there are lots of ways to squeeze greatness from an avocado.  My current guacamole, the one I’m eating presently is this: 1 avocado, the juice of 1 lime, 1 serrano or habanero, ¼ finely chopped onion, handful of cilantro, 1 small garlic clove, and plenty of salt.

But sometimes, when there’s just too much going on in my life and my clouded head needs a little metaphysical Windex, I look to my first guacamole love: avocado, salt, lime, and chile.  And that’s all.

Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle…

by lyzpfister

Everything I might have learned on the rum tour I promptly forgot at the tasting session, where our Hawaiian shirt-bedecked tour guide shot generous splashes of Cruzan rum into plastic cups.  Coconut, mango, guava, raspberry, some scary-looking molassesy black label concoction, cream rum…  If only we hadn’t gotten there right before closing time.  Though maybe that was for the best.

Cruzan rum is manufactured on a smallish plot of land on the western side of the island of St. Croix.  The whole walking tour takes about fifteen minutes, from the office across a pebble-strewn lawn to an open warehouse with giant bins of fermenting alcohol, past a tower, storage facility, and trucks.  The occasional chicken clucks past, and the whole operation looks more like grandpa’s moonshine still in the backyard than a legitimate rum factory which turns out something like 575,000 opaque, tropical cases of rum each year.

The fermenting house is really a raised platform built around large metal vats of water, yeast, and sugarcane in various stages of fermentation.  The smell of raw alcohol sweetness, like mashed apples and burnt sugar, is overwhelming, especially in the heat.  From these vats, where thefermenting liquid spends about two days, the mash is transferred to a tall tower where it undergoes something called five-column distillation.  In this process, the mash is pumped through a series of columns which remove aldehydes, esters, and other various trace compounds.  This process also removes fusil oils, light oils formed during fermentation that accumulate during distillation and are often blamed for hangovers.

We say, “So we can drink as much Cruzan as we want and not have a hangover?”  Our tour guide says, “I’m not saying that.”

After fermentation and distillation, the rum is cut with rainwater and placed in handcrafted wooden barrels for aging.  Around 23,000 charred oak barrels of maturing rum line the shelves of an extensive aging warehouse, where the rum just sort of hangs out for at least two years – and up to twelve – thinking about who it wants to be.

Aged rum is dumped and diluted to 80 proof.  This is what dumping is like:  In a room off to the side of the aging warehouse, a guy with a metal pipe hits a barrel of rum and pops out a wooden cork and spills the rum into a trough lined with charred wooden chips.  This rum is fierce – we all dip our fingers in the stream and taste.  It evaporates in my mouth and tastes a little bit like petroleum and rubbing alcohol.

Here more than anywhere else I’m impressed with how rustic this process is.  There’s just a guy, whacking a barrel, and rum flowing out of a hole in the barrel.  It’s very Pirates of the Caribbean.  The factory puts out an impressive amount of rum – and very good rum – but it all comes back to this guy whacking a wooden cork out of a barrel.

I’ve had a lot of Cruzan rum this week – nothing says tropical vacation better than pina coladas with coconut rum, mojitos, mango and strawberry daiquiris complete with pink umbrella, and other fruity frozen concoctions.  And every one of those pretty bottles came from an open-air factory where geckos scuttle over railings and each barrel of rum is opened by a guy in a sweat-covered green t-shirt swinging a stick.

The rum is bottled and flavored in Florida rather than St. Croix, which means that each clean, colorful bottle of rum has been shipped to the mainland before it gets to come back to the tasting room at its own factory.  I would like my own trajectory to be like Cruzan’s.  New York is great, but there’s not enough water, not enough sun, and not enough rum.

Cruzan Mojitos
Muddle the juice of ½ lime, about 1 tsp sugar, 4 mint leaves in the bottom of a glass, then add a healthy jigger of white rum and ice, then top off with tonic.

That’s When I Gave Up My Writing Career to Make Tacos

by lyzpfister

Here’s something I’ve gotten really good at, as the title implies:  making tacos.  I’m not really sure what inspired these beauties, but I have a feeling a conversation with a coworker of mine started the whole thing.  I was raving about my first trip to La Isla, a tiny storefront on Flushing where you can get a half chicken, rice, and beans for $5.25.  Whoa, right?  Enough chicken, rice, and beans to last for four meals anyway.  I was talking about maybe making tacos when she mentioned this Honduran crema she makes for her family – sour cream mixed with heavy whipping cream and a little bit of salt to taste.  Yes, please.

The whole delightful combination on a corn tortilla: diced tomatoes, slivers of jalapeño, shaved cabbage, a bit of melted cheddar, and cilantro on rich, salty rice and black beans mashed with juicy chunks of roasted chicken and topped with crema.

So it’s not traditional or authentic – but if it’s good, does it have to be?