“Part of the secret of success in life to eat what you want and let the food fight it out inside.”

                                                                                                – Mark Twain

I’m working on a recently assigned piece about bizarre things I’ve eaten.  Now, I’ve never considered myself an incredibly adventurous foodie type, however, now that I write it out, I’ve eaten some strange, strange things.  For instance, sea cucumber, huge prawns/gambas with the heads and feelers still on, and various other creatures of the deep; a variety of small birds including pigeon (Americans usually think this one is weird), goat (I found it tasty but again, most Americans find this one weird), and assorted offal like tripe, sweetbreads, and even an eyeball (in order to win a bet).  I also thoroughly enjoy morcilla and most blood sausage, which is one more thing that my fellow Americans find odd at best.

Despite the fact that I’ve definitely eaten some sketchy street food in places where doing so is probably…ill-advised, I’ve never had any ill effects.  Of course, many of the things Westerner types think of as bizarre (e.g. goat) are perfectly normal or considered treats in other parts of the world, but really, I’m starting to understand why I got this assignment.

So, what are the oddest things you’ve eaten?

Now I’m not especially skillful in the kitchen, but I think this website is pretty cool.  Cookthink helps you figure out the perfect meal and discover new dishes through their Recipe Mapping Project – from their website:

“When you’re craving something to eat, what is it that you really want? Do you want a specific ingredient? Do you want a particular dish or the flavors of a certain cuisine? Do you want to feel a certain way?

Every recipe is made up of all these things. At Cookthink, we created the Recipe Mapping Project to figure out all the little bits and pieces that go into making a good recipe.

We break down the components of each recipe, analyzing dozens of characteristics about what goes into a dish — what it tastes like, smells like, feels like, and how it makes you feel to eat it.

You can tap into this process when you use the “cookthink it” tool to search by ingredient (pork chop, zucchini), dish type (salad, burrito) cuisine (Italian, Thai) and mood (exuberant, summery). When you “cookthink it,” we take what you’re craving and compare it to all of our recipes, returning the one recipe that best fits what you’re looking for.”

They also have an excellent blog and a newsletter, the Root Source, that examines a particular ingredient closely and offers a variety of recipes that use it.  My two favorite things about the site?  For one, they haven’t fallen into that overly precious trap that many foodie sites do – it is very accessible even if you’re not exactly a gourmet.  Second, they have lots of different suggestions from a variety of global cuisines (why not travel the world at your table?).  So check it out – and hey, who knows, you may end up cooking more and/or better food.

The French National Institute of Medical Research has found that caffeine consumption may slow memory loss.

“They found that women who drank more than three cups of coffee per day, or its caffeine equivalent in tea, retained more of their verbal and — to a lesser extent — visual memories over four years.”

Although they have yet to figure out the actual role that coffee played preventing memory loss, or whether current or former caffeine consumption made the difference, this article on Reuters detailing the study made me happy.  Now, when someone tells me that caffeine is unhealthy and addictive, I can just joke that I’m preserving my mental acuity. 

Now, why don’t they get to work on finding health benefits in steak frites or champagne – after all, it was a group of French scientists that performed the study.

I’m not a particularly good cook.  Sure, I can follow a recipe’s directions provided there are no complicated techniques involved, but in general, my culinary skills leave much to be desired.  This is probably because I like to try and amend the recipe to make it tastier – blame it on being a creative type.  Sometimes this works wonderfully, sometimes I wonder what in the world I was thinking.

However, I am very good at making salads.  Growing up, this was always my job, probably because no one else wanted to do it and it’s a difficult thing to screw up.  However, now I actually kind of enjoy chopping things up (insert “crazy knife wielding bitch” joke here) and I love coming up with creative ingredient combinations.  Also, the likelihood of me setting something on fire while making a salad is very low, and they are generally a healthy meal if you don’t add tons of meat, bacon or creamy dressing.

My current favorite combination is so delicious that I feel the need to share it, so without further adieu:

Toss together spinach, romaine lettuce, sliced strawberries, kiwi, and mango, and add slivered almonds, monterey jack cheese, and grilled chicken (I just get the prepared strips from Trader Joe’s, but if you’re more competent with fire than I am, grilling your own is much better).  Drizzle champagne-pear vinaigrette (also from Trader Joe’s, but raspberry vinaigrette is also good) on top, and you have a refreshing and light summer meal. 

Some Like It Spicy

June 10, 2007

Even though I currently live in Chicago, I circumnavigate the globe weekly, sometimes even daily.  How, you may ask?  Is that even possible?

Well, if you count eating an international diet, it is.  The right dish, and the right spices, can transport me to faraway lands, if only for the duration of the meal.  A sprinkling of zatar reminds me of souks and bazaars, saffron of life along the Spanish Costas, and the many different kinds of chili peppers evoke locales as varied as they are. 

Which brings me back to the prompt.  “Spicy” can also mean hot, fiery, and bold.  Amongst other things (hey, I’ve got to keep this blog relatively PG), I like my food hot.  I add pepper, tabasco sauce, or salsa to nearly everything.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that salsa, not bananas, is the world’s most perfect food.  Besides the usual suspects like burritos and enchiladas, I’ve been known to put salsa on everything from egg rolls and burgers to pizza (it works especially well on pineapple pizza). 

I even make my own on occasion.  A salsa verde with very few, but ideally very fresh, ingredients – roasted tomatillos, a habanero or two, onions, cilantro, and garlic, all ground together in a blender and topped off with a little lime juice.

*Check out this week’s Sunday Scribblings for more spicy writing.

Because after reading some of the Top Five Lists on Problogger, I’m in a list-making mood.

1. Get a book(s) published.  Preferably more than one.  Like every former English major, I have the bones for several novels on my hard drive.

2.  Climb a mountain.  A real mountain, maybe Kilmanjaro. 

3.  Live for a least a year in a foreign country.  Getting completely outside of your comfort zone is an amazing challenge and learning experience.

4. Teach English as a foreign language.  This will probably coincide with #3.

5.  Read every book on my list.  I started keeping an Amazon wishlist of the books that I’d like to read, and there’s several hundred on there and I seem to add more everyday.

6.  Travel the original Silk Road – from Istanbul to Shanghai – overland. 

7.   Attend the couture shows in Paris.  Hopefully while John Galliano is still designing for Dior, because he is a genius.

8.  Get really, really good at chess, and other games that require lots of strategy (Risk, Stratego).  I’m already decent, but one can always improve.

9.  Run a marathon.  Similar to #8, I’m in fairly good shape, but not marathon-ready. 

10.  Learn how to cook beyond just following the directions in a recipe.  The kind of cooking that involves knowing what flavors will work together and how ingredients will blend.  Or least not setting off the fire alarm every time I turn on the oven.

11.  Fluency in at least one non-English language.  Not the ability to just get by as a tourist, but to be able to hold extended conversations and read books in that language.

12.  Heli-skiiing.  Because it’s just awesome and I have a certain fondness for semi-dangerous activities that involve heights.

13.  See my alma mater win a national championship for football, even if I have to sell a kidney to be at the game.

14.  Start some kind of nonprofit charity or other organization – I’m not sure what yet.  I already volunteer my time and skills for other organizations, and I’m kind of a hippie (perhaps the result of working with Amnesty International or just spending too much time in the “People’s Republic of Ann Arbor”).

15.  By the same token, become more involved with Couchsurfing and Book Crossing, because they are both such great projects.

It’s finally warm enough to eat outside in Chicago, and that means that restaurants, cafes, and bars are opening up their patios and setting up tables on every available inch of outside space.  In a city that only has pleasant al fresco dining weather from May-September, people clamor to eat and drink in the great outdoors. 

In honor of the fabulous weather, here is my authentic sangria recipe.  A pitcher of ruby red sangria is truly one of the finest possible outdoor libations, so go pick up some cheap red wine and lots of fruit and get to mixing.

You will need:

A large pitcher or other container for the sangria.  I suggest something transparent so you can enjoy the attractive hue of the finished product.

Plenty of red wine.  In Spain, it’s usually made with cheap Rioja, but here in the States, I use two buck chuck from Trader Joe’s.  This is not the time to invest in a nice bottle.  White sangria, although sometimes delicious, is the Americanized cousin of the real stuff.

7-up or Sprite.  You can use the diet versions if you want, but there’s enough calories in the rest of the ingredients to negate their effects.  In Spain, they use Casera, which is a citrusy clear soda.

Sugar.  Yup, diet soda is definitely a waste of time.

Triple Sec or Cointreau – some kind of orange flavored liqueur.  I once used Stoli O (orange flavored vodka) in a pinch.  Learn from my mistake.

Fruit – green apples, oranges, lemons, limes, tangerines – pretty much any citrus fruit you have available is A-okay.  I’ve also added mango, kiwi, and different kinds of berries to no ill effect, but then you’re getting away from the whole authentic thing.

The secret ingredient: a cinnamon stick.  Do not use the brownish powder that’s been moldering in your spice drawer, find a grocery store that sells the actual sticks.  You only need one for a gallon or so of sangria.

You will mix:

First of all, it’s best to let sangria sit for about 24 hours so all the flavors can meld.  So plan ahead.  Next, you want to achieve a 3:1 ratio with the wine and soda (3 parts wine to 1 part soda), so combine those and add sugar to taste.  I only use a little, but I’m not a fan of ultra sweet things, so adjust accordingly.  Then add the orange liqueur – about one shot for every liter of wine you used.  More if you’re trying to get someone drunk.  Finally, cut up all the fruit into bite sized pieces (do not peel it! the rinds add flavor) and toss it in, along with the cinnamon stick.  Keep it refrigerated overnight, and enjoy! 

Sangria tastes best when it’s shared, so make a lot and have a party.

Note: I’m a horrible cook and baker (can you tell I hate to measure?) but I can mix excellent sangria.  My parents must be so proud.