Monday, May 26, 2014

Happy Memorial Day

Clockwise from top: poppyseed torte, chocolate chubbie (from Donald Link's Down South), Pepperidge Farm Milano cookie, a bag of which I received on Mother's Day
In a bookstore yesterday I spent 30 minutes skimming Nina Teicholz's new book, The Big Fat Surprise. The premise -- that saturated fats have been wrongly demonized and are actually essential to good health -- is hardly new, but the book has been getting huge amounts of attention from the mainstream media. Having come of age in the 1980s, to hear that ice cream is probably healthier than sorbet is like hearing that pigs can fly.  What a stunning screw-up on the part of the public health establishment. If I'd ever actually succeeded in sticking to a low-fat diet, I'd be furious right now. 

Fortunately, I failed. I never bought skim milk, cut the fat of my steak, or made an egg white omelet. I wish I could say this was because I knew better, but can't. I didn't adhere to a low-fat diet for the same reason I've never cleaned our refrigerator coils. Seemed like a drag. Couldn't be bothered. Rebellious. Lazy. 

Did I feel guilty about it? You bet I did.

It's going to be hard for nutrition "experts" to get me to believe anything ever again.

Since the last post, I went to my 30th high school reunion (sweet), finished the audiobook of Catherine the Great (tremendous), started the audiobook of On the Noodle Road (not tremendous), and baked a fabulous poppy seed torte out of The Essential New York Times Cookbook. It's a moist, intensely flavored cake so full of poppy seeds it resembles chocolate. If you care, it's gluten-free. Highly recommend.

I haven’t been sticking to a cookbook agenda, which isn’t just a problem for the integrity of this blog, but for me as a cook. Too many options make me crazy. I start flipping through book after book trying to devise a weekly menu plan and hours later I'm still flipping. The one-book-at-a-time program has kept me sane in the past, so I’m recommitting. I'll make 5 to 10 recipes from The New Persian Kitchen over the next week or so.  

As I mentioned in a previous post, New Persian didn't impress the older Iranian ladies in the ESL class where I’m an aide. I think it's the "new" that's the problem. The author, Louisa Shafia, grew up in suburban Philadelphia with an Ashkenazi Jewish mother and Iranian father and it doesn't appear (at least as far as I've read in the book) that she's ever visited Iran. She used to work as a chef in a vegan restaurant and the book contains sentences like: “In general, you’ll find that the recipes here emphasize whole grains and gluten-free flours, use minimal amounts of oil and fat, and call for alternatives to white sugar.” 

None of this means The New Persian Kitchen can't be an excellent cookbook, but might explain why it didn't resonate with a group of Farsi-speaking octogenarians.

So far, the recipes have been solid. Wednesday, I served Shafia’s radish, rhubarb, and strawberry salad. It sounded fresh and unusual and was, though I would not in future put raw rhubarb in a salad or anything else. Raw rhubarb is bad and should not be eaten. Feel free to disagree, but I won't be budged. 

Strawberries, on the other hand, make a tasty addition to a salad, especially when dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I removed this delicious thing from the oven an hour ago, and strawberries dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar also make a tasty addition to a cake. (Note: If you make this, don't use a springform pan.)

Thursday night, I served Shafia's chicken salad with potatoes and olives which consists of chopped cooked chicken (rotisserie), green olives, yogurt, potatoes, and roughly 3 tablespoons of freshly ground coriander, fennel, and mustard seed. The tangy yogurt dressing contained just enough olive oil to soften its rough edges and the spices were magical. I'll say it again: MAGICAL. I couldn't get enough of this salad, though I'd omit the potatoes next time and stuff it inside pita bread with cucumbers and tomatoes.

It was just Owen, Mark, and me both nights, as Isabel is rarely home for dinner these days. If she isn’t at dance class, directing a play, or babysitting, she’s out with her friends. I miss her, but understand this is as it should be. Mark, Owen, and I have gotten in the habit of watching TV while we eat dinner and are currently into Game of Thrones, which we love, and Silicon Valley, which I'm ready to abandon. Fargo seems too realistically gory for mealtime, but Penny Dreadful might work. We have lots of fun watching TV together with our plates balanced on our laps, and there are fewer complaints from some quarters about the food. I've also noticed that a lot more salad gets eaten while attention is directed at the screen. All the experts says watching TV while you eat is terrible, but that’s what they said about cooking with butter and cream. I’m not listening anymore. 


  1. The poppy seed torte looks delicious, but can it be made without a coffee grinder? I was thinking I could maybe get away with smashing the seeds in a mortar and pestle. What do you think?

    1. You probably could do it with a mortar and pestle -- they weren't totally ground, just crushed. I have this little automatic spice grinder and I did it in 4 batches. It was REALLY good torte.

  2. I love this post. It made me laugh. Some of our most pleasant meals with our four-year-old have been those in which we're all grabbing nachos off a mound on the coffee table. Some day we'll be watching Game of Thrones when this happens. For now, it's The Incredibles. Sometimes it's just nice to not have to fight with your kid to eat. It's exhausting. I'm excited to hear your thoughts on The New Persian Kitchen. I have it, but haven't cooked from it yet.

    1. I just chopped up watermelon to make the tonic -- its very hot here. I'll let you know how it is. The date shake was great.
      We're not quite 100% ok with Game of Thrones yet. The 13 y.o. always gets up and leaves the room when a sex scene threatens. Not what he wants to watch with his parents, I guess. Imagine.
      We had a long Incredibles phase.

  3. I love this post, too. Love, love, love.

  4. I did give up fat in the 80's for health reasons, promptly chubbed up and was always hungry, so I began to educate myself so I could make my own decisions, then ran back to the butter aisle. I am so much happier when I eat fat. The poppy seed torte looks marvelous, and the breakfast cake looks like a complex cousin of the olive oil cake from Food 52, which I literally ate all by myself in a week. Not something I should probably admit to doing. Please let me know if the breakfast cake has the problem of olive oil sinking to the bottom after the first day. It did not detract from the taste of the cake (obviously!), but it changed the texture of the cake and would not be something you would want to serve to others after the first day, unless they were good friends or family. Raw rhubarb? Yuk, we are in total agreement. Your dinner hour sounds like ours. Have you watched the Australian and original version of Rake? Hilarious, seriously. If you do, start with season one. I started to say that you might want to screen it to see if you wanted Owen to watch, but it's probably no worse than GoT.

    1. I think a week is a very respectable time frame for eating a cake by yourself. It could be a lot worse.
      Rake. I'll look it up. We're always in the market for stuff to watch together.

  5. My spouse, who isn't Persian but has spent time in Iran and speaks Farsi, loves "The New Persian Kitchen." He says the chelo with tadiq (which is in the book and on her excellent blog) is the best he's ever eaten. It's tricky to get that perfectly golden, crunchy bottom on the rice, but it's amazing when accomplished. Her instructions on how to achieve it are very clear.

  6. By the way, the rhubarb salad you didn't like is typically eaten not by itself but during a multicourse meal that would include a sweet rice dish that usually contains candied orange peel and raisins, and in that context the salad works. The book doesn't do a great job of explaining how individual elements of a Persian meal work together.

  7. Wow! Something is more gory than Game of Thrones?. I love GoT but could not dine while watching. I was always skeptical of the low fat philosophy. I come from a thin family who ate lard, bacon, raw milk, steaks, and butter (none of it from factory farms) and everyone was normal weight. I went on a low fat diet circa 1989 because a doctor told me my cholesterol was too high and I put on 10 lbs in about 3 months - all with the help of oatmeal, rice, bananas and Snackwells. I quickly went back to cheese omelets and whole cream in my coffee and the weight came off. My family typically lives into their mid-80's and early 90's and no one has died of a sudden heart attack or stroke. A dear friend of mine has been a vegan since 2002 and recently had a heart attack while out on a hike. Her doctor recommended she put fats back into her diet. I would never eat raw rhubarb on purpose.

  8. Keep us posted on your family shows. My boys are about that age - we are having a Star Trek Next Generation marathon. How do you like Penny Dreadful? We loved first episode, but the second with Billie Piper was kind of meh. Have you tried the British show Misfits? So good. If Owen can take GoT, he'd probably be ok with this one. Some sex, but also much sillier.

  9. As I'm sure you know, I agree with you and The Big Fat Surprise about the low-fat movement. I'm happier having cream in my coffee and whole eggs. I could never stomach an egg white omelet. I tried Weight Watchers for a little while, and I felt like an idiot eating ReddiEgg when I had laying hens in my back yard. Your torte looks so good I wanted to make it even before the photo had fully loaded. The chubby chocolate cookie looks great too. I've been longing to watch Game of Thrones forever, but I don't know how to get at it without subscribing to HBO. Have you seen Moone Boy? I want to watch that series too. Lovely post! I'm ashamed to admit that yours is the only food blog I follow.

  10. Nina Planck's book "Real Food" was a game-changer for me. She is, admittedly, off the wall on some other topics, but spot-on in RF. So I bravely switched to whole milk (for the first time ever! -- I was already a butter convert) and full-fat yogurt, much to the delight of the rest of the family.

    That chicken salad sounds wonderful. You (or The New Persian Kitchen) had me at tangy yogurt dressing + green olives. I would actually just eat that!

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