Obsessions, Pt. 2

As anyone from school will tell you, broccoli is one of my favorite foods and probably the thing I eat the most of, pound per pound. I like it best raw or steamed in the microwave with Tabasco, but I've also come up with at least a half dozen go-to recipes for when I serve it to other people. So here is my recipe for broccoli with balsamic vinegar and caramelized onions.

This is ridiculously easy but beautiful in a serving dish on the dining table. The other night my dad cooked steaks to celebrate my sister's graduation and me being home for the summer, and I thought I would do something "special" for a side dish. The awful thing is, last summer I would do this every night. Now, I work 8 to 5 all week, and I'm just too tired slash I get home too late to get up the energy to cook for the whole fam. (Also, we have different eating habits; I don't eat very much meat or dairy any more, and they don't like the same things I like. Ok, in full disclosure, I like everything; they are less adventurous.)

Long story short, this cooks up in about fifteen minutes, and everybody likes it. I wish I had taken a picture, it is such a pretty dish... Oh, and I used brown sugar instead of granulated at first because we were out, but after tasting it I would use it again because it adds some richness to the otherwise pretty light recipe.

Broccoli with Balsamic Vinegar and Caramelized Onions

  • 1 or 2 heads broccoli, cut into equal sized chunks
  • 1 onion, quartered and cut into half moon slices
  • 1 tbl butter
  • 1 tbl brown sugar
  • 2-3 tbl balsamic vinegar
Steam broccoli with half a tbl of balsamic and 1 tbl water until about half-cooked and still bright green (microwave for two-three minutes depending on how much you have). Set aside.
Over medium heat, melt butter. Add onions and cook, stirring, until they're nice and sweaty, then add brown sugar and leave them alone. Stir again as necessary but only as necessary to prevent them from burning; too much stirring and they won't caramelize.

When the onions are golden and just barely "charred" (I don't know how else to describe the little dark brown--not black--spots on the onions that add so much flavor), deglaze with balsamic. Add broccoli and cook until broccoli is fully cooked but not smooshy; it should retain its nice green color but take on a bit of brown or purple from the onions and balsamic.


"Food, Inc."

I saw this Wednesday at the Crest Theater, at a pre-screening event. Go see this!!! I know it's obnoxious to plug this on my blog, but as a foodie, and a human being, I think it is important to know what we are eating and how it affects us and the people who provide it to us. The movie synthesizes information from many other sources, but if even if you don't have any background in the field of food advocacy or sustainability, you will enjoy "Food, Inc."

The movie comes out in June or July depending on where you are, but if you want to do some reading before then, I'm going to suggest a couple books:
  • The Omnivore's Dilemna, by Michael Pollan,
  • The End of Overeating, by former Surgeon General David Kessler, and
  • The Art of Simple Food, by Alice Waters.


Victory Garden!

I planted a garden at my house in Sacramento last Sunday. It took all afternoon. In 60 days, I will have tomatoes (two kinds of cherry, two kinds of heirloom), japanese cucumbers, sweet green peppers, and basil, oregano, chives (cold weather herb; please don't die!!!!), and lastly, CILAAAAAANTRO.

This is what it looked like before:

And this is after:


Obsessions, Pt. 1: The Perfect Cookie

The Perfect Cookie, or TPC, is the obsession that inspired this whole blog thing. And now that my friends and I are all splitting up for a while (and some of us for a VERY long while, Deepa and Solaaaaara!) the theme has lent itself perfectly to a more travel/cultural thing.

For me, the perfect cookie has always been the classic chocolate chip, though I have a weakness for peanut butter and mint chip, and anything with oatmeal, too. My main goal this summer is to duplicate the Nolan's cookie, the monstrous creation of my dorm cafeteria. It is everything a chocolate chip should be: chewy, crunchy, thick, and simple. The huge chocolate chunks and doughy center are perfectly complementary, and the thick, crisp outer edge fits perfectly in my hand.

Sometimes I will have a cookie dinner. A $3.69 charge on my credit card is invariably the Nolan's Chocolate Chip Cookie and a large diet pepsi, which are more than filling and oh-so-satisfying.

"Cafe Q"-nundrum

First: Pictures of my favorite spot in Baltimore, the sculpture garden of the Baltimore Museum of Art. I wish I could say I come here all the time, but it's kind of my secret, stress-relieving place. I only come here a few times a semester, when I really need a break. It all started when my ecology teacher told me there was a hybrid tree there, a maple and an oak, and I naively thought I would find it and fall in love with it. I pictured a small treehouse even, or at least me sitting against its trunk, furiously scribbling in my little red moleskine brilliant new story ideas.

I took these with my Blackberry earlier this week, at the height of my finals madness.

**Needless to say, I never found the tree.**

This will be turning into a travel blog soon enough, so I'll hold onto my food-roots while I still can. In that spirit, I would like to describe to you a little place we call Cafe Q.

Picture a typical collegiate coffee stand. It's definitely outdoors, probably on a quad with benches and elm trees and arbitrary plots of grass, and its wheels have rusted into the asymmetrical cement slabs that pave the area. The umbrella (there has to be an umbrella) is some primary color, or generic green, and there are Styrofoam cups and a glass or plastic box full of greasy, brown-sugary baked goods... The coffee, you'd imagine, is bitter, thin, and a little bit metallic from the ancient carafes it comes out of. Taste it: bright and weak, it hurts your teeth, and if you leave it sitting for too long, sediment will settle on the bottom and grit across your tongue when you drain the last cold dregs--which will invariably come at the same time as a slamming shut of a book or laptop as you get up to leave. You're late for Frisbee or beer pong or something.

This is not Cafe Q. But somehow, the proprietors of the Milton S. Eisenhower Library have managed to take that most holy of finals traditions, the tooth-yellowing, cringe-inducing, legal stimulant we call coffee, and label it organic, and sell it for ten times its worth at our five story library.

We don't have an outdoor coffee stand or a paved quad with elm trees; we have Cafe Q, and the MSEL Terrace (tables, umbrellas, on an admittedly panoramic corner between the library and the language science building). The only Frisbee I've seen played is competitive Ultimate Frisbee on the practice fields or the freshman quad. And, well, we do have beer pong. We have lots of beer pong.

The logic of Cafe Q is simple: fake college coffee = fake college experience. Th eironic tip jars are a nice touch, and so are the hip baristas. They even have fake classy sandwiches and fake classy italian sodas. (The whole concept is a little thin-strung and confused; is it meant to be classy? is it meant to be pure fuel? why does it taste so bad if it's organic?) Disclaimer: the amaretto gelato is amazing.

But why, Johnny Hopkins, why torture us so? Is mammalian evolution or comparative politics not confusing enough? Now we have to decide between organic french roast and organic guatemalan? Between a waxy, dispoable cup and a $5 refillable mug? Between the man in dreads and the girl with the nose piercing and orgo books?

I maintain that the entire venture is a distraction. We want to have the egyptian salad and the turkey and brie sandwich, but we also want two dollars of coffee that tastes like pure caffeine, to get us through applied math or advanced french. So while we, students of Johns Hopkins University, are sitting inside the library at 4 pm (or am) on a Wednesday (or Friday), we can at least have a taste of our preconceived notions of college life, if we can't live it.