MEME x 2

Although my track record with memes has been a little wobbly as of late, I do appreciate getting tagged. Someone wants to know more about me? Hard to believe – I thought everyone already knew more than they could stomach. But really, the reason that I’m not always very quick on the draw with memes is that I generally like to hoard tags and pretend they’re something like ‘get out of jail free’ cards in Monopoly, only that these are more like ‘impress readers with new content when I haven’t actually lifted a finger in the kitchen for a week’ cards. Yes, you see, when I haven’t had time to cook they’re a godsend – a way to keep the traffic flowing when the cookie jar is empty, so to speak, and so I was quite relieved to find I had two in the bag this week when various factors prevented me from my usual kitchen acrobatics. First there were those pesky final corrections on my thesis (it never ends, does it? well is has now since I did the corrections, they were approved, and all that’s left is to get the damn thing bound and delivered!), and then there were all the preparations for our imminent trip to distant and exotic shores (which shall remain a mystery for now – ooh, the suspense!). But really, you don’t want to hear all my lame excuses, do you? You just want me to cut to the chase and get to the juicy-revelations part. Okay, I get it.

Both of these memes have been making their way around the ‘sphere for a while, but the thing I didn’t realize until I sat down to do them is that they’re both all about the number five. An omen, perhaps? If so, I’d better figure out for what!

Thanks to Aoife and ASMO for the tags!


Five Things You Didn’t Even Know You Wanted to Know About Me

Since I have already or will probably reveal each and every last detail about myself that has even the slightest connection to food by the time I retire this blog, I’ll stick to non-food revelations here.

1. I am deathly afraid of spiders. It’s a true phobia, and I have tried almost everything to conquer it, including watching them, holding them (never again), reading Charlotte’s Web, and of course, squashing the living daylights out of them. Nothing has worked, and I am no better than I was as a child: I cannot sleep if I know there is a spider in the room, and in the rare case that one lays a hairy leg on me you’ll find me screaming and jumping around and giving new meaning to the word panic. One morning Manuel got up and I noticed the remains of a large, black spider smeared on the outside of his leg – he didn’t bat an eyelash but I very nearly had to go in for therapy. Oh, and I have laid awake at night more than once wondering what would happen if ever a spider were to crawl up my arm while I was driving a car. *Shudder*

2. Between the ages of 10 and 12, I wanted nothing more in life than to be a professional baseball player. Seriously, I was obsessed with baseball – I followed the San Francisco Giants as if my life depended on it, and I would have rather sacrificed a limb than miss a game. I also played for a little league team in Berkeley, and incidentally, was the only girl in the league at the time. I’m not saying I was particularly good, but at least my heart was in it. Speaking of which, I was also madly in love with the Giants’ first baseman at the time, Will Clark, and one night when he was a guest on a radio show I called in and managed to ask him a question. I asked "what do you think of the future of women in professional baseball?" I can’t remember exactly what he answered (I do have it on tape somewhere), but the gist of it was "well, since I love looking at all the women in the stands, I would love to have a woman on the field to look at too." Hmm, somehow I could never look at him in the same way after that. But it was just as well, since the following year I turned 13, discovered boys and lip gloss and forgot about baseball completely. If you handed me a bat now I doubt I would even know which end to hold.

3. I have three brothers. This always surprises bloggers that I meet in the flesh, since I invariably mention a brother or two and they always say "but you never talk about them on your site!" Well, I am now. They’re quite a bit younger than me: Brendan is 20, Rickey is 18, and Connor is 14. I love them dearly, but in all honesty our relationships are about anything but food, which is why they rarely make an appearance here. They’re all great guys, though I keep secretly hoping they will start to follow in their dear old sister’s footsteps and take less of an interest in girls and computer games and more of an interest in what they eat.

4. I was homeschooled for a year, in the eighth grade. Although I was supposed to have a standard curriculum, the school liaison we met with once a month was pretty easygoing and let me fulfill my requirements by doing things like taking pottery classes (yes, Ghost had just come out), and writing a screenplay for Star Trek: The Next Generation. I actually intended to submit the script on spec (the various Star Trek spin-offs were, as far as I know, the only television shows to accept scripts on spec from absolutely anyone), and got the thing to within 95% of completion (I was just missing one scene where there’s a lot of technical mumbo-jumbo that I couldn’t figure out how to write). But then Wesley Crusher left to go to Starfleet Academy and the whole basis for my episode crumbled, so I shoved it in a box and never looked at it again. Who knows – if Wil Wheaton hadn’t left the show I might be a famous screenwriter in Hollywood now! Then again, maybe not – that screenplay really wasn’t very good.

5. The year after I graduated from college, I had the tremendous good fortune to be one of the 50 or so people in the US to receive one of these amazing fellowships. Thomas J. Watson was the founder of IBM Computers, and when he died his family set up a foundation in his name. The principal activity of this foundation is to fund recent college graduates to take a year off and travel around the world researching a project of their choosing. Sounds pretty sweet, huh? It was indeed, and with the chunk of change the lovely Watson people gave me, I was not only able to research community responses to minority language endangerment in Spain, New Zealand and Peru, but I was able to tick about ten other countries off my to-visit list that year (and eat a lot of great food along the way). All they asked for in return was that I describe my experiences to them. If only life could have continued to be like that – people giving me money to travel, eat and write about it…

My Life in Leaps of 5

This meme asks me to look back at my life in leaps of 5 years. Compiling this list I was struck by the fact that it seems most of the really noteworthy things to happen in my life happened in years that did not end in a 7 or a 2 (apart from the whole being-born thing, but there’s actually not a heck of a lot to say about that, at least from my end!).

1977 – I am born in Berkeley, California, right on schedule and on the same day as a solar eclipse. This celestial coincidence gave rise to a very unusual middle name which I have never completely forgiven my parents for. To be honest, I don’t remember a heck of a lot more.

1982 – I am five years old, eating as much macaroni and cheese as I possibly can and
showing off my Sesame Street sandals at kindergarten. I actually have a memory from that year of looking at the calendar on our wall and seeing the numbers 1982 and wondering just how long it would be before we had to buy a new calendar with the numbers 1983.

1987 – This is the year I turn ten, which means I will soon be entering my tomboy baseball-obsessive phase (see above). I like the kind of food all ten-year-old kids like, namely junk, junk and more junk. For details, look here. I am also welcoming the first of my brothers into the world. He was probably the highlight of that year for me, seeing as I now had a real live doll to dress up with frilly lace and pink ribbons. And for that, he’s never forgiven me.

1992 – I’m fifteen. I have all three of my brothers now, and the year previously we packed up and moved all the way from the SF Area to Seattle. I’m at a new school, having to make shiny new friends. It’s a bit harder than I thought, though, since I don’t seem to quite fit into any category: I’m not quite grunge (not enough Doc Martens and flannel shirts, I guess), not quite hippie (though I did have some killer tie-dye pants), definitely not one of the bible-thumping/church-going crowd, and not athletic enough to hang with the jocks. Isn’t high school great? I was pretty brainy, I guess, and wrote poetry and joined an activist group that did things like protest Columbus Day, encourage people to recycle and hand out free condoms. Oh, and I was about as vegetarian as could be, eating cup-o-couscous and avocados for lunch every day.

1997 – I’m twenty, and a lot has happened in the last couple of years. I have lived in Spain, graduated from high school, started college in New Orleans, and this year in the fall I jet off to Trinity College in Dublin to begin my junior year abroad. On the emerald isle I learn how to drink five pints of beer and still find my way home, among other important life skills. I fall in love with brown bread and digestive biscuits, and even manage to warm up to the whole tea-with-milk-and-sugar thing, though it will never, ever replace my coffee (see above re:Seattle). I travel alot around Ireland, and three separate times in three different parts of the country I run across someone local who mistakes me for a long-lost school friend. On the day I turn twenty, I almost get killed slipping down a hillside in the Wicklow mountains in the middle of a fierce storm. I was hiking alone, and no, I hadn’t even told anyone where I was going.

2002 – I’m in the first full year of my PhD here in Edinburgh, and things are looking great because doing independent research means actually doing a lot of nothing and getting paid for it. In between bouts of doing nothing, I jet off to Germany to spend time with Manuel (with whom I’ve been together for four years already), and spend a fabulous month cruising around Hawaii with my family in a sailboat while eating laulaus and shave ice (lucky them – they spent a whole year on that boat). I’m also salsa dancing at every opportunity and loving the fact that living in student accommodation means having lots of people to cook for.

2007 – What has changed in the last five years? Well, I’m now married, I’m a doctor, and of course I have this blog (which will soon be turning two!). As it’s still early days, I don’t know exactly what else this year will bring, apart from a graduation ceremony in June, and hopefully some sorting out of life, career, relocation plans, etc. Oh, and I certainly don’t need to tell you what birthday is looming…!

Gosh, I guess I have to tag some people now, don’t I? I know this is technically two memes and that really I should tag separate people for each one, but I’m feeling lazy and therefore I’ll just tag people randomly and let them choose which if either of the memes they want to do (and if they just want to curse me under their breath I’ll understand too). I’ll tag Lindy, Lara, Lisa, Zarah and Joe. Bon chance, mes amis!



Panelle, Roof Optional

Rosemary Panelle (Sicilian Chickpea Fritters) 

I like eating my meals with knife and fork as much as the next person. And apart from the occasional bite of leftovers in front of the open fridge or piece of fruit slurped down over the sink, that’s how I normally do eat: table, chair, plate, silverware. It’s a time-honored formula for meal consumption that keeps our fingers and clothing clean and provides a framework for both polite socialization and the daily reinforcement of family bonds. Nevertheless, it’s not by any means the only way to eat, nor is it always the most fun. If it was, why else would street food be so perennially popular?

Street food is inarguably one of humanity’s great common denominators. From the fish and chips of Scotland to the fish tacos of Baja, it’s made – and eaten – by everyone. Of course the specifics may vary; in some places, such as much of Asia, a huge variety of food is prepared and eaten directly on the street, sold from mobile carts and makeshift kitchens that may be here today and gone tomorrow. Elsewhere permanent structures house the operations, offering a nearly restaurant-like experience except that you’re expected to clear out and enjoy your meal somewhere else. The types of street food on offer varies too – in some countries the sheer variety surpasses that of restaurants and home kitchens, while in others only a limited repertoire of foods is deemed worthy of munching on the go. But whether it’s meat or vegetables, salty or sweet, messy or clean, hygienic or not, one characteristic seems to unite street food everywhere: it’s nearly always remarkably good.

I have various theories about why street food seems so much more reliably tasty than, say, restaurant food. One has to do with the ‘fresh air makes things taste better’ factor. You’ve probably experienced how a meal eaten while camping or picnicking, even if it’s the same thing you’ve eaten day in and day out for years, tastes ten times better in the great outdoors. The only weakness to this theory is that an exhaust- and traffic-choked street – the scene of many a great street food experience for me – is hardly the great outdoors, and somehow the food is always just as good. Another theory, then, is what I like to call Culinary Darwinism. It goes like this: in the street food business, without the fallbacks of great service or atmosphere to lure in paying customers, the food is everything, and since bad food unequivocally spells economic failure, in the grand scheme of things there must be a lower proportion of bad street food than bad restaurant food. Makes sense, no? Of course there are other things at work here too, like the universally low cost of street foods – I, for one, find it much easier to appreciate subtle nuances in flavor if I’m not preoccupied with feeling ripped off.

Then again, I’m kind of partial to the notion that street food is so tasty because so much of it is fried. Frying seems to be the ideal way to make food portable – it seals in messy fillings, it’s quick and requires minimal equipment, and it can be done à la minute. And did I mention that everything tastes better fried? Certainly chickpeas do, or as I should more rightly say, chickpea flour does, as the Levantines have proved with falafel, the Indians with pakoras, and the Sicilians with their crunchy-soft, light-yet-toothsome snack called panelle. Panelle are the southern siblings of a street snack called panisses in southern France, and are made by cooking chickpea flour and water into a stiff paste before plunging strips of it in oil until they sputter, puff, and turn a nutty golden brown. In Sicily they often layer the freshly-fried panelle between slices of bread to create a delicious, economical sandwich; in Nice they sprinkle them with sugar just as often as with salt. And while the chickpeas alone lend a full, hearty flavor to these fritters, I also like to think of them as a blank canvas. Here I’ve added rosemary for a delicious woodsy fragrance, but I imagine you could be as creative as you want with these, experimenting with all kinds of nontraditional herbs and spices. The only thing that’s obligatory is to serve them hot and crisp, straight from the fryer.

Knives, forks and plates – not to mention a roof – are of course entirely optional.  

Rosemary Panelle 

Source: adapted from Clarissa Hyman’s Cucina Siciliana
Serves: 8-10 as an hors d’oeuvre  

2 cups (250g) chickpea flour (sold in Indian shops under the name besan or gram flour)
3 cups (750ml) water
1 rounded teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
olive or vegetable oil for frying
lemon juice and freshly-ground black pepper, for serving

Oil two large baking sheets and set them aside. 

In a medium heavy saucepan, whisk together the chickpea flour, water, salt, and rosemary until completely smooth. Place over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture thickens to the consistency of polenta or a thick porridge, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk vigorously to get rid of any lumps, then quickly pour the mixture onto the baking sheets, dividing evenly. Working quickly, spread the mixture out, smoothing the top as best you can, to a uniform thickness of 1/8-1/4 inch (4-6mm). Let cool completely.

Using a sharp knife, cut the firm chickpea mixture into triangles or rectangles 2-3 inches (5-7cm) long.

Heat 3/4 inch (2cm) oil in a deep, heavy skillet until it registers 375F/190C on thermometer, then fry the panelle in batches, turning occasionally, until golden and slightly puffed, 3 to 5 minutes per batch. Transfer to paper towels to drain. You can keep them warm on a baking sheet in the oven while frying the remaining batches.

Just before serving, sprinkle with lemon juice and pepper. Serve immediately.