Sunday, August 29, 2010

My Life Would Suck Without....Cheese

There is titillating pleasure in looking back at the past and asking oneself, "What would have happened if..." and substituting one chance occurrence for another, observing how, from a gray, barren, humdrum moment in one's life, there grows forth a marvelous rosy event that in reality had failed to flower. A mysterious thing, this branching structure of life: one senses in every past instant a parting of ways, a "thus" and an "otherwise," with innumerable dazzling zigzags bifurcating and trifurcating against the dark background of the past.
-Vladimir Nabokov (The Eye)

Does this quote have anything to do with cheese? No, no, it doesn't. That, however, is more than ok because one thing that I discovered this past week is that, wow, I'm really busy. It's now suddenly teaching time, which involves reading the books I assigned without ever having read (e.g. the above Nabokov text, which, sadly, is not as fun as I had hoped....I remain optimistic in thinking that my students will still enjoy it), working my normal 10 hours/week shift in the library, being social and seeing the people I care about and also writing that little thing called a "dissertation" that I tend to forget about while poring over cookbooks, food bogs and recipe clippings. :) Oops! The good news is that even if Nabokov were to disapprove of my extremely pedestrian reference to an absurdly titled Kelly Clarkson song (really, pop songs should not teach impressionable youngsters that romance has to include dysfunction; I nearly drove off the LA freeway when I first heard this song. No lie), I think he would appreciate that he gets to be the epigraph to a post about what was a very tasty and somewhat decadent meal. I kid you not--Greek Mac and Cheese courtesy of Saveur and the best cheesecake I've ever had in my life (courtesy of a friend's mother). The only thing that didn't have cheese in it was the one dish I wasn't responsible for (yes, I do love cheese and maybe a little too much!): Melitzanosalata! Yes, one might say that it was a Greek kind of know, minus the cheesecake. :)

I should note that if you, like me, are crazy about feta cheese (it's not for everybody as I had wanted to make this recipe back in June, but held off due to my mother's dislike of this very fine cheese..and, as you can see in the above shot, it's not the most photogenic of cheeses), you will want to try this dish immediately. There is, however, one thing you should know: Graviera cheese is hard to find, which was, for me, more than a little surprising. After all, I basically live in a food mecca, what my friends and I sometimes jokingly call "the land of plenty" or even "the land of milk and honey" (yes, we're a little snooty; I'm sorry about that, truly! Blame Alice Waters...), but, when it comes to Graviera cheese, we're sadly lacking. Wikipedia did tell me in advance that Gruyere would do as a substitute, but in my quest for 100% Greek-ness, I had to have just the right cheese (yep, I may have mentioned I'm not only a perfectionist, but also a little neurotic. This ties into my being a stickler for following the directions). Not only did I go to the local grocery store and ask about Graviera, but also, after failing to find it at location 1, I called location 2, which is about a mile away; again, major fail. As I needed to go to the grocery store anyway, I figured that I could go and check out location 2 anyway (neurotic people like myself believe that only we are capable of getting the job done; therefore the salesgirl's claim that Graviera was not to be found in her deli was not necessarily doubted per se, but was still worthy of a thorough investigation....hmm, I perhaps have too much time on my hands); considering that the girl had also told me she sold only fetas in terms of the Greek cheeses, when I saw another clearly marked Greek cheese, myzithra, I felt both that my instincts had been confirmed and, more importantly, that success was mine. I didn't count on myzithra being so salty, but, alas, if you're stubborn enough to pursue only Greek ingredients while knowing little about Greek cheeses beyond the standard feta and also refuse to heed the wise advice of the all-knowing WIkipedia, well, you get what you deserve. Luckily, in addition to liking cheese, I like salt. And I'm not too proud to admit that I peppered the hell out of the cheese after a search to "de-saltify" cheese failed me on Google. =P It was tasty and, honestly, I think I'd make it the exact same way the next time around...and there will be a next time.

Fortunately for me, desserts are a walk in the park compared to savory dishes, and making this cheesecake, despite its needing to be put in the oven no less than three times, was no exception! In fact, I was so keen on it turning out well that I followed the wise words of a fellow Columbia Lion (yes, I was inspired after reading our school's alumni magazine; go figure!) and went out and bought an oven thermometer. Needless to say, one of the best purchases I've made in a long time; I was shocked to discover a) how slow my oven was in terms of reaching the desired temperature and b) how it was off about 10-15 degrees. Even if you, like me, heart cheese in all of its salty and sweet manifestations, if you were to take one thing from this blog post, it should be "oven thermometer good; must invest." Signy's Cheesecake deserves it....

Speaking of cheesecake, I'm just curious, in your humble opinions, is it a cake or a pie? I firmly believe it falls into the pie category (as does jezebel), but there are those who would call it cake because, well, names, in all walks of life, clearly tend to be undeceiving.....riiiiiiiiiiight? I think the bigger question here is how in the world can pie, even if including cheesecake, trump cake....? Frankly, it's disturbing.

Signy's Cheesecake
Yields as many slices as you can restrain yourself from eating in one sitting (hopefully with help)

***Have an 8" or 9" springform pan

Part 1, for the crust:

-Crush 1 1/2 packs of graham crackers
-Mix 1/3 c. sugar, cinnamon to taste and 1/2 up melted butter with form.
-Press against sides and bottom of pan.
-Bake at 350 for 15 minutes.
-Cool a bit.

Part 2, cream cheese filling:
-Mix 16 oz. cream cheese, softened, with 2/3 c. sugar, 1 tsp. vanilla and spread onto crust.
-Bake another 30 minutes.
-Cool yet again.

Part 3, sour cream topping:
-Stir 16 oz. sour cream with 1/3 c. sugar and spread on top cream cheese mixture.
-Bake another 15 minutes.
-Cool and chill up to 12-24 hours before serving.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Peachy Keen Last Hurrah!

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
As she is famed to do, deceiving elf.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
Up the hill-side...
- John Keats, "Ode to a Nightingale"

Time has a funny way of disappearing on you; one minute it's there and the next, poof, it's gone! Even as I write this post, the sad truth is that yours truly is already living her life in the fall 2010 semester (yep, it officially started on Thursday). This past week I went and, like a good, yet somewhat absentminded instructor, bought the novels that I had somehow forgotten to place an order for back in April (I blame the PhD exams; it's a very convenient excuse for most mistakes made in the April-May period), I got my new "class pass" (i.e. my free ride on the city buses I wait obscene amounts of time for), and also had a hallway run-in with my dissertation chair (as no draft has been demanded or even hinted at thus far, life continues to be good), who seemed to be in fine spirits. And, ironically enough, the Bay Area weather, true to form, is finally delivering the lovely weather and sunshine I've been craving all summer...and just in time for my loss of freedom; really, you've got to love Mother Nature's sense of humor!

Despite the looming return to the classroom, which I must admit I'm actually quite excited about (my syllabus is awesome and I'm looking forward to finally teaching Sologub), life has been both good and fairly carefree lately. :) On Friday, a good friend and colleague decided to throw a party in honor of the beginning of the semester. Naturally, I took advantage of this opportunity to prepare one of the gazillion recipes I've been dying to try and made the Grilled Peach Salsa that has been on the back burner since mid-June when I stumbled upon an issue of Taste of the South magazine in a southwestern PA Giant Eagle. :) One reason I decided to go this route is that, whenever I make something sweet, this particular friend, who doesn't really care for sweets (yes, you did read that correctly), will ask for a tiny piece and then say, "Oh, that's good", with a look on his face that says he's being 50% genuine and 50% placating/indulgent. So as to avoid the latter 50% =P, I figured it was best to go with all fresh food and natural sugars (and, yes, it was good).

The happy times didn't end on Friday either; yesterday, I went with a cute Greek scientist to the Street-Food Fair in the Mission, which had many tasty morsels to offer, in addition to good music and big crowds (even though I hate crowds, to be fair, I must acknowledge that San Francisco does take its food seriously). I ate an amazing plate of Pork Sausage with a Butter bean salad at the Flour and Water booth, had a Japanese rice cake (onigiri) at the cleverly titled booth Onigilly (I would happily go back there for more; not only was the rice cake delicious, but I got to use the old rusty Japanese with the vendors) and had some pretty divine lemon cookie ice cream at the Three Twins booth. Considering the weather was lovely, we did a lot of walking and I recently discovered some new modes on my still fairly newish camera, I took plenty of pictures. It's always been my belief that it's polite to share. :)

But enough about my adventures; I owe you a recipe and one that you should capitalize on as soon as possible...After all, we're still in the heart of peach season.

Grilled Peach Salsa
slightly adapted from Taste of the South magazine
Yields 6-8 servings

***If you have a grill, great! If not, however, use your oven's broiler instead. The results will basically be the same.

7-8 fresh peaches, peeled (remember that the best way to do this is to blanch the peaches; the skin will then come right off), cut in half and pits removed
1/3 cup fresh cilantro
1/4 cup diced onion
3 Tbsps. minced fresh jalapeño
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 Tbsps. fresh lime juice

-Preheat grill to medium-high heat, or, if you, like me, are grill-less, turn the broiler on!
-Grill/broil peaches over direct heat for 5 minutes per side.
-When cool enough to handle, chop peaches into small pieces.
-In a large bowl, combine peaches, cilantro, onion, jalapeño, garlic and lime juice.
-Place in the refrigerator or serve immediately.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Windy City Wedding

Loving Chicago is like loving a woman with a broken nose.
- Nelson Algren

Have you ever received a text message from your friend's fiance (whom you've never met) asking you to help him with a little surprise for the bride-to-be? My guess is probably not; however, let me assure you that these things do in fact happen. Or at least they happen to me. :) Trust me, you wouldn't believe how surprised I was upon receiving said text message; it took some real craftiness for him to sneak into S's cell phone and get my number! I was intrigued by the idea of helping with a surprise and eagerly texted back, thinking that he wanted me to pick up something for her, or to organize photos from our college days or something along those lines (I've always been tickled pink by the thought of espionage and top secret errands meant to bring people great happiness)...and then it became clear that the surprise was going to be me (I know, I know, it's not only highly complimentary and kind of glamorous, but also romantic and sweet gesture towards S on his part. In that moment, this fiance/groom whom I had never met instantly became a keeper; male readers, I hope you're taking notes!) :). You may be wondering why I had to be a surprise guest, rather than an actual guest, but the fact of the matter is that they wanted a small wedding (as in 14 guests; yes, small, intimate weddings are still possible in this day and age) and, when the planning was undertaken, it was unclear whether I would be able to make it, so, for the sake of keeping numbers small, another college friend was chosen as the representative of our dearly departed Columbia days. Needless to say, I was excited about the surprise, about going to Chicago for the weekend (my last chance at humidity and, boy, did it deliver!), about taking part in my friend's special day and also about meeting the crafty groom.

Which is why, when I woke up on Friday morning at 6:22 a.m., I nearly had a heart attack. My flight was leaving at 8:15 a.m. from Oakland International and, as I was planning on taking public transportation, it seemed like I wasn't going to make it on time or, at the very least, would be cutting it quite close. You may be wondering how in the world this happened or why I hadn't planned better? Yeah, you and me both. I would like to say two things on this front: 1) The day before I had finally upgraded my phone (the Samsung Reality is absurdly chic; I love it) and, though I did a test run with its alarm mode, the new phone ultimately failed me. I had set it for 5:33 and it never went off....This added to the sensation of having been shot and pulled back into the waking world against my will, yet with great urgency (it probably doesn't help that I had seen "Inception" the night before and so my mind was preoccupied with dreams) when my internal alarm went off. Needless to say, I moved like a rocket (don't know if I've ever moved that fast in my life) and was out of the apartment--even having quickly showered--by 6:38. Yeah, it was remarkable. Somehow things aligned and the 57 came, which got me to BART, then the Dublin/Pleasanton train appeared fairly quickly and then I was at the airport. I don't consider it to be that coincidental that "Don't Stop Believin'" came on my iPod as I made it to the final stretch at the airport. I hate to say it, but I pulled the "cute girl in distress" act, smiled winningly and even allowed a little bit of southwestern PA twang to enter my voice as I explained the situation and cut everybody in line. Were my toiletries in a plastic bag? No. Were they above 4 oz? Yes. But did they take them away? Nope; the stars were on my side. I then got to the gate at 8:05 only to discover that the flight was delayed by 15 minutes--a true godsend--and why? Because the captain was late, having been held up in traffic on I-80 after a tractor trailer flipped over. I've never been so happy that I decided to abandon the idea of taking a cab in a time of great need. This also leads me to point 2: despite my general Type A personality, absurdly organized life and love of punctuality, I've always been careless when it comes to airports/flights. I once went to the wrong airport in Japan (oops) and missed an international flight to China after foolishly having decided to take a cab (the most expensive cab ride of my life and all for naught;there was half an inch of snow on the roads and, by Japanese/Kansai standards, this is a blizzard, so we weren't going anywhere); my travel agent's advice to cry at the ticketing counter didn't do me any good; the ticket agent had a heart of stone and told me to come back on time the next day. I've also missed a flight to Madrid, had a plane wait for me in Shanghai and run like a madwoman at JFK when returning from a conference, scaring the daylights out of a child who happened to be in the way. My most recent flight experiences having been largely drama-/adrenaline-free, I had thought I had overcome this flaw, but apparently, there's still a little work to be done. Ultimately though, all that matters is that I made it; after all, this wasn't just about my escaping to Chicago for a weekend....This was about the wedding, my role as surprise guest and there was no way, faulty alarm or not, I was going to mess that up. I won't lie: I was again willing to cry at the ticketing counter, although I must confess that both my dignity and I are happy it didn't come to that....I boarded, read Saveur's Greece issue ;) and a little Soseki; the only punishment I suffered for my lateness was the lack of food I had in my bag, which led to my eating the gross crackers with fake cheese in the center. It was a low culinary moment for us all.

Despite the minor trials and tribulations, it was completely worth it; being there was truly, to steal a word that a friend just said to me in an email, "splendiferous"! Chicago was beautiful, S was sooooo surprised to see me (P and I were successful partners in crime), the wedding was lovely, the groom's friends were wonderful (thanks, Ellen, for becoming a follower! :P), we all got along and ate oh so incredibly well (no fake cheese once I landed)! I even finally got to say something I've long wanted to say to a cab driver when the bride left the groom's wedding ring in the hotel and I was elected the person to go back and get it (in 15 minutes, I went up and down Michigan Avenue no less than 3 times): "You're going to have to step on it because I have a wedding I need to be at in 5 minutes." While the cab driver was a little taken aback, he delivered and was tipped amply for his fine city driving. Plus, Chicago really is quite the food city. At each meal, people kept asking me, "Are you going to take pictures for your food blog?" (good news travels fast and, honestly, the food was too beautiful not to photograph). Besides walking around and taking all of our meals together, we also swatted mosquitoes off of each other in the park where the ceremony was being held (it's a funny thing to see people in fancy clothes smilingly smacking each other, but keep in mind that this was done out of love) and all tried to dodge the bouquet that the bride insisted on throwing at the 4 unmarried people in attendance (I tried not to catch it, really, I did, but the damn thing made a beeline for me and to have let the bride's bouquet hit the ground would have been poor form. So, like the good sport that I am, I jumped, reached and caught it. It, however, means nothing).

Really, at the end of the day, a wedding--especially one as small as this one was--is much like taking a trip together; you can't help but bond.

Now for some food highlights!!!

From the "rehearsal" dinner at Amelia's Bar and Grill, which, while a little off the beaten path, was totally worth it. I've never been so happy to see a plate of food in my life....and the fact that this plate included shrimp, pumpkin mole and sweet plantains (camarones ala pipiana) made my earlier necessary consumption of fake cheese fade away like a bad memory.

Can I just say that Chicago is a great city? People are friendly, it's pretty and it has lots of interesting local events that aren't ridiculously crowded and unbearable to be at. For example, after the ceremony, two of the other guests and I meandered through the park and stumbled upon the Chicago Summer Dance Festival, where they were selling Sangria and offering salsa dancing lessons...Unfortunately, we didn't get to partake in the dancing, but we helped ourselves to some overpriced Sangria. :)

Onto the delicious three course wedding dinner at Sweets & Savories; my selections were the Heirloom Tomato and Mozzarella Salad, the Roasted Pork with Corn Pudding (what can I say? I've recently developed a liking for the other white meat!) and the Blueberry Cobbler (there was, after all, wedding cake as well; I had to get my fruit groove on before I could indulge in chocolate-y deliciousness):

And now for a headless glimpse of the happy couple (this blog, I'm afraid, is faceless and will remain so) and the pièce de résistance , the Chocolate and Hazelnut Wedding Cake from Flourish Bakery, which basically was like a good old-fashioned spoonful of Nutella *happiness*:

A post-wedding brunch at Yolk, where I was thrilled to have a plate of bleu cheese deliciousness with some bacon, tomatoes and spinach thrown in (to be fair, I balanced the pure fat content by making it an egg white frittata....Moderation is always key!):

And just a few more shots of lovely Chicago (yes, I do love my urban landscapes!), which, if this is what a woman with a broken nose looks like, then I'd be more than happy to break my own. =P

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Little Taste of My Kind of Christmas

"He who doesn't want to knead, sifts for ten days."
-Greek saying

I may have mentioned that I'm a bit of a procrastinator. It just happens; you start watching "Dollhouse" and can't stop (a-ma-zing), you decide to watch "Pushing Daisies" (gorgeous cinematography and adorable) and, before you know it, you find yourself at the end of season 1. Maybe you could be writing, but instead you choose to get books out of the library (a worthy and necessary task) and attempt to read all of the pertinent articles (rather stupidly, but also, to look at the other side of the coin, ambitiously) because, hey, you'd like to write a well-researched and thoughtful prospectus. However, just like when watching a season of television, when reading from a random array of sources that just might end up being useful and pertinent, you sometimes hit upon the worst thing ever: what I like to call the "pertinent clunker" that you know you must read in its entirety, yet dread doing because, god help us all, it's so very, very dull (just for the record, that was not a deliberate attempt at rhyme). In short, my current plight with Dmitry Merezhkovsky, author of the collection of essays entitled "Sick Russia" (doesn't that say it all?); there are moments that, I'll admit, are blazingly good and perfect for my project, but they come maybe every other 7-8 pages and the language is hard, dense, repetitive and also mind-numbingly overwrought. So, what's a girl to do? Make a cup of tea and write a blog post about the tasty green tea cream pie with sweet red beans and strawberries you made this past week.

Yep, it hasn't all been about the Merezhkovsky.

What was the inspiration for this decadent dessert? 1) A recipe I saw for Strawberry and Banana Cream Pie on Joy the Baker's blog, and 2) a friend and I had long ago planned a cookbook exchange--my Chinese cookbook for her Indian cookbook --and, after making said exchange, she invited me over to cook up a Chinese feast of Fish-fragrant bean curd and spicy boy choy with her (deliciousness has abounded this summer, as well as the joy of cooking with friends). As the Chinese aren't really into dessert (this tradition is changing, but fruit tends to be the norm), I decided to use my Japanese know-how and love of all things green tea flavored to whip something up that would complement the meal and suit the American need for sweet things after something savory.

Will this kind of dessert be for everybody? While my guess would be probably not, my deep-seated belief is that it should be. Eating this pie I was reminded of the mile + trek I would make to the local grocery store from the high school I used to work at and how, upon arriving, I would eagerly look at all of the desserts and choose some tasty-looking green tea bun with red bean paste (anko) inside or how, when I would go shopping with a fellow JET and close friend in Kyoto, we would sometimes make our way over to Gion for the best (the Japanese have an obsession with the best or, in this case, ichiban oishii, most delicious) green tea ice cream in town. Those were good days, good times and I was glad this past week to have this pie as a little afternoon getaway from Merezhkovsky. A slice of pie and an episode of "Pushing Daisies" (featuring a character known as Ned the Pie-Maker) embodies what summer afternoons should be.

Green Tea Cream Pie with Anko and Strawberries
Yields 1 9" pie
Partially adapted from the above Joy the Baker link

Red Bean (Anko) Filling
-Soak beans (1 1/4 cup) for 12 hours
-Drain and rinse
-Add to pot and cover with 5 cups cold water
-Bring to boil, simmer for about an hour and 10 minutes or until beans are soft and falling apart
-Add 8 teaspoons sugar (or, depending on your taste, more), and mash with a fork
-Beans will keep for up to 3-4 days in the fridge

Green Tea Custard Filling

2 cups 2% milk
1 teaspoon vanilla (I used 1/2 tsp., but should have used 1; don't make my mistake!)
3 Tablespoons butter
1 heaping Tbsp. matcha powder (best to whisk first to remove lumps)
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
Pinch of salt

-Bring the milk to a boil in a small saucepan.
-In a large saucepan, whisk the yolks together with the cornstarch, brown sugar, and salt until well blended and thick. Whisking without stopping, drizzle about 1/4 cup of the hot milk into the egg mixture, warming the eggs so they don’t cook and curdle. Still whisking, slowly add the rest of the hot milk in a steady steam.
-Place the pan over medium heat and, whisking constantly (even the edges of the pan), bring the mixture to a boil. Boil, still whisking for one minute before removing from the pan from the heat. Mixture will be thick and silky (watch out, once the mixture starts to boil, it will thicken very quickly). Don’t be afraid to remove the pan from the flame to whisk it smooth.
-Whisk in the green tea powder and then the vanilla extract.
-Whisk in the butter, stirring until fully incorporated and the custard is smooth and silky. Transfer custard to a medium bowl, cover it with a lid or plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold throughout.
-Custard can be refrigerated up to three days.

Tart Crust (the beauty of this was that there was no rolling pin involved!)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoons (9 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cold or frozen, cut into cubes
1 large egg yolk

-Put the flour, powdered sugar and salt in a food processor fit the the blade attachment.
- Pulse a few times to combine. Scatter the pieces of cold butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in (there will be pieces of butter that are the size of oatmeal flakes and butter the size of peas).
- Beat the egg yolk with a fork and add a little of the egg yolk at a time to the flour mixture. Pulse for 10 seconds at a time. When the egg is in, process in longer pulses until the dough forms clumps and curds. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and, very lightly and sparingly, knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that may have escaped mixing.
-Butter a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Press the dough evenly over the bottom and the sides of the pan.
-Press the crust so that the pieces cling to one another, but not so hard that the crust loses its crumbly texture. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes before baking.
-Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter the shiny side of a piece of foil and fit the foil, butter side down, tightly against the frozen crust. Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake for 22-25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil. If the crust is puffed, gently press it down with your fingers.
-Bake the uncovered crust for 3 to 5 more minutes (depending on how brown the edges are; the goal is GOLDEN) on the baking sheet.
-Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before filling.

-When ready to assemble the pie, slice strawberries (about 8-10) and place on cooled pie crust, reserving a few for the top layer.
-Whisk the cold custard to loosen and then top the strawberries with the custard.
-Add red beans, making sure to arrange it so that the green tea custard is visible (it's pretty!)
-Place a the remaining strawberries on top of the pie.
-If you feel compelled to add another layer, whipped cream would work nicely here. :)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Ch-ch-ch-changes: Zucchini Fest, Part Deux

"...would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life."

-Rainer Maria Rilke ("Archaic Torso of Apollo")

Last week I received the last line of this poem in an email from my local and most frequented yoga school; the "teacher spotlight" was on one of my favorite instructors, a Japanese woman whose class I've been attending since last August. In the blurb she had written about herself and her teaching philosophy, she discussed the recent trip she had taken to Italy with her husband and children and how, when they saw Michaelangelo's "David", this poem had immediately sprung to mind, particularly the last line, which had always puzzled her. I should mention here that, while an enjoyment of poetry doesn't exactly come naturally to me, I a) actually surprisingly enjoy poetry in the context of yoga (i.e. applying it to life and learning some lesson from it, rather than subjecting it to an academic dissection and/or debate about its significance) and b) despite my general reluctance, I'm really trying to like it (some people attempt to teach themselves to enjoy mushrooms, others try to learn to dance. Me? I sit around attempting to make sense of and identify things trickier than iambs. Clearly, the point is that we all have our burdens to bear). And something about this poem, as cheesy as it'll sound, really "spoke" to me in that moment. So, besides lots of other good and worthwhile things (from planned recipes and Thanksgiving travel plans to a travel grant and a finished prospectus), change is officially on the menu.

However, what does this have to do with today's recipe? Everything. And nothing. In any case, I just thought you should know; after all, don't readers generally keep an author honest?

A few of these proposed changes (I have a thing for lists--lists that often turn into paragraphs [whatever!]; just bear with me. And, yes, with the above photo, I'm shamelessly trying to tempt you to keep reading):

1) Take better advantage of my proximity to the fine city of San Francisco, which I already started doing these past two weekends by first going for Mexican food and doing some shopping in the Mission (ok, yes, we also snuck off to Bi-Rite because the Salted Caramel stole my heart long ago and I've never gotten it back) and then by attending the "Birth of Impression" exhibition at the de Young and walking around Golden Gate Park (see above photo). When you leave your personal bubble for a day, you realize how much there really is to explore! Try it; I bet you won't be disappointed.

2) Don't let stupid things affect my mood. For example, let's say you run to the bus stop, get there just as the bus pulls up to the stop sign no more than 3 feet away. You smile winningly and mouth, "Will you let me on the bus"? She mouths back with the stern and surly face of a person working for bus line facing a major deficit and serious service cuts, "No." Do you want to rail at the heavens for being so brutal and unfair? Absolutely. Do you give into the urge? Absolutely not. Babies are reactive; adults aren't. That doesn't mean, however, that you can't spend your insanely long wait for the next bus eating an ice cream cone or getting a Mexican hot chocolate to comfort your somewhat bruised ego. Time should always be used wisely. At least that's what my professors say. :)

3) Don't rigidly stick to the plan, recipe, agenda; have discipline, but allow room for the daily possibility of adventure. With a friend today, I took a literal detour and we ended up at a gold mine of blackberries hidden away on our campus. Yep, after a filling lunch, dessert will sometimes find you. And, more importantly, there are clearly some things in this life that are still free.

4) Try to be more consistent about posting! What can I say for myself? I got swept away by Valery Briusov reading. Trust me, after reading about his romantic exploits and tortured love affair (an affair during which he sent a letter to his main rival for his lover's heart in the shape of an arrow warning him to stay away and that his "dark" influence would prevail; yes, these people were crazy, but glamorously so) it could easily have happened to you too. Plus, I've barely been home these past few days since I now wake up every morning at 8 am to union demonstrations against AC Transit and the chant: "We're the mighty union, the mighty, mighty union! What do we want? CON-TRACT! When do we want it? NOW!" I kid you not. This is all true. And once they bring out the horns and police sirens, no work or cooking can be done. And when something like this is disrupting both your life and concentration and you can do nothing to change it, the only thing left to do is flee.

I could list a gazillion more of my proposed goals (yeah, I don't do things in a small way; I should have been born in Texas), but instead, for now, I'm going to give you the zucchini fest finale, which, considering how good these were, should represent a change in all of your dinner plans for tomorrow. They're that good. Also, being easy to prepare, they represent the kind of change that is easily within everybody's reach....

Zucchini Cakes with Green Onions, Cheese and Herbs (Kabak Mucveri)
from Classical Turkish Cooking: Traditional Turkish Food for the American Kitchen

Yields 6-8 servings

1 1/2 lbs. zucchini, coarsely grated
5 scallions, chopped
1/3 cup chopped fresh dill
1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 Tbsps. grated onion
1/3 cup grated Kasseri cheese
3 eggs, lightly beaten
3 Tbsps. flour
Freshly ground pepper
Olive oil for frying

-Sprinkle zucchini with salt and let it sit in a colander for at least 20 minutes.
-Squeeze dry (this may take more than one squeeze and can be quite taxing) and mix in a large bowl with the remaining ingredients, except for the oil.
-Season with salt and pepper.
-Heat 1/4 cup oil in a nonstick (I repeat, nonstick) frying pan, drop tablespoons of the mixture into the hot oil, and cook until golden brown on both sides.
-Drain on paper towels.
-Dish can be served hot or cold.


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