Tag Archives: food

Immigration

I visited a Chinese restaurant with Alice and a friend of mine the other day. This is the restaurant that serves the stinky tofu, for fans of the original Sam’s Blog. I ordered it again, not with the intention of eating it myself, but of feeding it to Alice and seeing her reaction, which, unfortunately, turned out to be disappointing. What’s more the tofu made the whole table smell like horse manure and even when I wasn’t eating it threatened to ruin my meal. Nevertheless, I gritted my teeth and attempted to distract myself with the otherwise excellent food and conversation.

The conversation was, as it turned out, the most interesting part.  My friend, an immigrant from China, told me that she was against the DREAM act because she thought that we should be trying to help the countries the people were fleeing be better places to live instead. Certainly that does seem like a better long-term solution than just having everyone in countries with problems move to the United States, but of course it doesn’t seem particularly applicable in the short term.

My friend mentioned that she, who had come to the United States legally, was not a citizen, while the undocumented immigrants covered in the dream act would become citizens. She mentioned how her work visa renewal got in late and due to this bureaucratic mix-up she cannot get a driver’s license for possibly as many as three months. We had to pick her up to take her to the restaurant.

She went on to describe how China actually has immigration restrictions within its borders. In order to leave the province of your birth, you have to have sponsorship from an employer, for instance. China does this because it is so crowded that population centers like Beijing could not possibly sustain the number of people that would go there if they had free reign to do so, she said.

This raises the question – if everyone who wanted to live in America could just go and live there, what kind of a nation would we have? Could the famous breadbasket of the world support perhaps, let’s conservatively estimate, two billion people? I am fully in favor of housing refugees when their own countries have troubles, but the notion that we should just invite everyone to come live in our country indefinitely may be dangerous. Then again, keeping them out seems selfish and cruel, and making all of those countries great places to live is a tall order. Not to mention, we still haven’t figured out how to help all the people that already are here!  Once again the right thing to do is difficult to determine.

 

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Marinated Tofu

Here’s a picture of the various ingredients that went into my marinated tofu.IMG_20140706_211431404

Unfortunately, I was unable to find in Maine the extra-firm dry-packaged tofu I wanted, so I had to use water-packaged tofu instead.

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Then I pressed it and soaked it and made several flavors.

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From the top left and continuing left-to-right and top-to-bottom:

  1. General Tso’s donated by my aunt Rebecca.
  2. A1 barbecue sauce
  3. Miso ginger lemon
  4. Teriyaki sauce
  5. Pink Moscato Wine
  6. Bangkok spicy peanut sauce
  7. Bangkok spicy peanut sauce with olive oil
  8. Olive oil and something
  9. Olive oil and sesame ginger sauce
  10. Mustard and lemon
  11. Sweet and sour sauce and lemon

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Now they have soaked and I am baking them. Here is the first batch laid out on the pans. These are baking as I type. Here they are partly baked.

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As of this morning, a taste test of lemon-mustard has proved successful. My aunt Kate, my sister and my parents seemed to like it. Alice and I liked it, too. There was another one that only Alice and I tried that seemed to be egg flavored. I don’t recall making any egg-marinades…

The final product took two gigantic plates to display.

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Folks liked the tofu all right, but it seemed like opinions were divided along liking tofu lines. This tofu unfortunately was unable to break the tofu barrier. If we had been able to find the dry-packaged tofu it may have been different, or it may not have. Our pre-packaged sauces didn’t all seem to take like we would have liked, so maybe making our own sauces would have worked better. In any case, I will try and have another tofu-based feast sometime in the future when I have all the proper materials and see if I can win some converts

Panettone Tin

A few years ago I filled an enormous, beautiful tin with freshly ground peanut butter. A week ago, I emptied some very stale peanut butter from a spacious, lovely tin. Now I have a big, attractive, empty tin that smells like stale peanut butter.

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What can I do with this tin? Well, it just so happens that my tin reminds me of a popcorn container I had a long time ago. It had four different kinds of popcorn all in the same tin. The secret was putting paper or some lightweight separator between the different kinds of popcorn, making one single big tin into a veritable smorgasbord of snack food, one that would be very nice to bring to a party! I have some cardboard that could serve this purpose.

The trick is to cut the cardboard short enough to fit in the tin. One carboard wall should be taller than the other. Cut a vertical slice nearly all the way up the taller cardboard, far enough to fit the other cardboard wall in, but leaving enough room for the taller wall to remain stable. Then stick the taller wall on the smaller, and voila!

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Your very own multi-snack tin! Now, what to put in it? Four different kinds of popcorn? Four different kinds of peanuts? Four different kinds of Chex Mix? Individually-wrapped candy? A medley of different snack foods? That’s up to you! Fill it up and take it to a big party! See if people can empty such a massive container as hard as they try! Fill it with different variations on a favorite recipe and see which runs out first (provided you have a recipe for dry snack food)! If you put foods with a long shelf life in you can keep this tin around as a treat for guests! That is, if you have a tin like this to start with like I did.

To Overeat or to Waste?

My eyes were bigger than my stomach this evening. I made some taco salad ( a la ChefScript) and filled a small baking dish with it. It turned out that I didn’t actually need a small baking dish’s worth of food, but I ate most of it anyway and felt uncomfortably full for a few hours. The food I didn’t eat I put in a tupperware to eat later. Now let’s imagine I did it right. Let’s imagine I ate exactly as much as I needed and then put all of the rest in the tupperware. Sounds easy, right? No? Join the club.

Let me bring up my sister now. If we think of  my sister, me, and food, usually one of the first points to come up is that she eats much less than I do. However, we are in fact much more similar than an outsider might expect. Recently my family received a collection of many different kinds of cookies from a friend of ours. It took only moments for us to figure out which were the best ones and which were less exciting.

One of the less exciting items was a small collection of homemade fig newtons.  People ate it and enjoyed it, but one was still left laying on the table still waiting to be eaten a week after it had arrived. One day, my sister came to me holding this last fig newton, and asked if I wanted it. I said she was welcome to it, and she said, “no, I asked if you wanted it. I was only going to eat it if nobody else wanted it.”

I responded, “if you will not get pleasure from that newton you should not – are you already eating it?”

My sister had started picking apart and eating the fig newton that she didn’t like before I could even finish talking.  This eating of food just to be rid of it appears to be endemic to all of my immediate family besides my mother. My father is the worst of all, making it into a dubious talent, dubbing himself the “human garbage can” and eating everything that is left over after dinner so he won’t have to put it away. He has a habit for throwing excess fruit and desserts into a blender and making a mystery smoothie. These smoothies are actually pretty delicious. He and I are the only people who will drink them, though.

My point, though, is that it is unwise to eat unhealthful food that one does not like just to be rid of it. If it’s good food like kale, it makes sense to eat that. We can store food when there’s a lot of it left, but things that won’t keep or are bad enough they might never be eaten must be handled in some other way, or we doom ourselves to being, well, human garbage cans. If we simply allow food to go to waste, though, maybe that’s even worse than eating a little bit more than perhaps we need.

What can we do with the food that we have now decided not to force ourselves to eat? Here’s what I suggest:

  1. Repackage it into something else. Kale ribs, chicken bones, onion skins, garlic peels, all of these things make great soup. You still discard them eventually after making the soup, but at least you’ve gotten closer to using it all effectively. Dad’s leftover shakes are a pretty good example of this as long as they’re actually good, which they almost always are.
  2. Compost it. Nature’s recycling always has been and still is the best around. If you don’t have space for an official composter, just find an area without a lot of traffic near where you live and make a compost heap there. If people start complaining, yeah, you’ll probably have to stop doing it, but hey, nobody’s said anything about my compost heap yet.
  3. Give it away. Obviously the efficacy of this is limited when we’re talking about leftovers, but excess cookies? My sister almost had the right idea when she tried to foist the last fig newton on me, although she would have been better served by just leaving it on the table where it would have probably found someone to enjoy it on its own.
  4. Feed it to your pet. Be careful with this one. An excess bit of meat could be good for a dog or cat, and a rabbit might enjoy some carrot greens, but for the most part you should probably steer clear of #4. Actually, for liability purposes, let’s say that Sam’s Blog’s official stance is Don’t ever do #4.
  5. Throw it out. Maybe, just maybe, certain foods are better off wasted. Take a twinkie for example. What is a twinkie? Maybe tossing junk food out with actual junk isn’t such a moral travesty as one might think. Obviously lovely cookies from a neighbor do not fall under this category.

Hopefully this list has given you some ideas how you can handle your excess food without forcing it into your own stomach. Actually following that advice is harder than it might initially seem for some people, though, so just keep working at it and maybe you’ll find that you like not being a garbage can. Maybe you never had this problem in the first place and it really is only my sister, my father and me. If you’re among us, do post a comment and let us know how you resolve your need to do away with excess food in your own stomach.

Encapsulation as Applied to Taco Salad

Not content to make just a cooking post or just a computer science post, here is my  post of computer science as applied to cooking. Hopefully this will provide an approachable introduction to the computer science concept of encapsulation while providing some modest amount of entertainment for those of you already in the know.

Ok, let’s begin. Today we make taco salad.

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Here are some of the basic ingredients of a taco salad: Kale, tofu, tomatoes, and an avocado. These don’t represent the proportions of each item, just the items used. You also may be thinking at this point that this isn’t much like what you think of as a taco salad. You’re welcome to debate what is and is not a taco salad in the comments. I have computer science to teach.

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This is the star ingredient. What looks a bit like I dipped an enormous tupperware in a rocky swamp outside my house is in fact a thickened bean soup! This bean soup I made earlier using parmesan cheese rinds, kale ribs (the part that’s left when you de-leaf the kale. They soften nicely in the soup), dried tomatoes, oil, salt, vegetable broth, and black beans stewed for five or so hours in a slow-cooker. The beautiful part is, though, all that matters is that it is a thickened bean soup. I believe that most thick bean soups will work well in this recipe, and so I don’t provide instructions to make bean soup, but encourage people to make whatever kind of thick bean soup they want and then try using it in this recipe.

The thickened bean soup (TBS for short) is encapsulated in that the recipe does not know or care about the details of how it is made. As long as it has the properties that it is bean-based and is a thickened soup, no other details matter very much. For more terminology we can say this recipe is independent of the recipe for creating the original TBS. If you’ve seen a recipe say to saute or broil something, this is similar. Even the steps involved in a saute involve abstraction of various complexities like what oil should I use, or how hot should I turn the stove? These themselves are based on prior knowledge such as how to make a stove hot or what is oil, and where do I get it? Because we humans have a shared cultural knowledge base, the entirety of our communication is based on these abstractions and assumptions.

In computer science it is much the same, except the first step of building a program is generally to manually construct these assumptions and give them to the computer. To build complex software we start by building simple programs, or functions, and combining those functions to make more complex functions, much like one combines knowledge of pans, oil, and stoves in a particular way to define saute. We can continue combining and becoming more and more abstract until the previously daunting software only takes a few lines of the functions we’ve been constructing. Obviously, it is possible to make a thick soup of beans that is absolutely revolting while still meeting the criteria set in this recipe, so encapsulation isn’t quite as clean in cooking as in programming, but the general notion is very similar. In any case, let’s continue.Image

Finely chop the onions. Cook them in oil until they are lightly browned. I like olive oil for this.

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While the onions cook, chop tomatoes. They do not need to be finely chopped, as they will soften as they cook and can be mashed. It may be easier to mash them if you chop them more finely ahead of time, but that is up to you.

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Tomatoes have a lot of liquid. The more of this you can steam away without burning anything too much, the denser and more flavorful your taco filling will be. Watery taco filling is not as bad in a taco salad as in a regular taco, but if the salad ends up unflavorful because you didn’t boil away enough water, you’ll have only yourself to blame.

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Add some TBS! You’ll notice I threw in some cilantro, too, for color! If your filling is still looking watery, keep boiling it!

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Next is the kale! I recommend washing and spinning it after removing the ribs (save them for soup!) You can do this while you’re boiling away the enormous amount of excess liquid in your taco filling from the fresh tomatoes. If you dump out the liquid, you’re dumping out the flavor as well, so it must be boiled!

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Finally, place a little kale in the bottom of a bowl. You may want a large bowl for this. Throw on some cubed tofu, then add your taco filling. Add some cheese if you like. I like Cabot Creamery’s “Seriously” sharp cheddar. Avocados are a must for me, but I understand there exist people who do not like them, so add them or not according to taste. A dab of salsa on top makes for a nice flourish and if sufficiently spicy start your meal off with a kick. Serve promptly.

Everybody who makes this recipe, let me know in the comments what TBS you used and how it worked for you!