Sesame Noodles… guidelines

To say this is a recipe is pushing it. It’s mostly just a bunch of guidelines…

Sauté a bunch of finely sliced onions in sesame oil. Add a few cloves of crushed garlic and a hunk of grated ginger. Season with salt and pepper. Toast some sesame seeds and throw those in. Add a bunch of soy sauce and see how that tastes. If it doesn’t taste exciting yet or isn’t enough sauce, add some or all of the following: Rice wine vinegar, more garlic/ginger, red pepper flakes, fish sauce, sautéed scallions, etc. This last time, I even heated some brown sugar up with the rice wine vinegar and added that, too. The flavors you’re going for are a little sweet (onions and sugar and fish sauce), a little sour (garlic and ginger and fish sauce and rice wine vinegar), and a little salty (soy sauce and fish sauce). I also like a little kick (red pepper flakes). Once you get a good sauce, toss it with cooked noodles of your choice (rice works fine, I’ve also used regular spaghetti noodles and that’s been good too). If you’re being fancy, garnish with toasted sesame seeds and chopped scallions. You could probably also add in some green veggies to this and it would taste good, but I’ve never gone that far!

Easy Cucumber Salad

Ingredients:

  • 4 cucumbers
  • 1/2 or 1 whole white or sweet onion
  • 1.5 cups white vinegar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon dried dill (or more, to taste)
  • kosher salt

1. Prep the cucumbers and onion: Wash and peel the cucumbers (I like to be lazy and leave strips of cucumber skin, also because I think it’s prettier at the end). Slice thinly, using a mandolin if you want to be a perfectionist about it (just watch your fingers!). Ditto the onion. Set the cucumbers and onion in a colander, sprinkle liberally with salt, toss, add more salt, toss, etc. Put the colander in a bowl and set that in the fridge for about an hour to take some of the water out of the cucumbers and reduce the bite of the onion.

Wait one hour.

2. Prep the pickling. In a pot on the stove, combine the white vinegar, water, and sugar. Bring to a bowl and stir to ensure all the sugar has dissolved. Dump the cucumber and onions into a pyrex bowl (or similar — I like to discard the cucumber water run off and just use that same bowl for this next step) and pour the boiling pickling mixture on top of it. Add dill and stir to combine.

3. Let sit at least 3 (and up to 24 hours). Serve.

In summary: Easy, plus very refreshing and light — a nice thing to bring to a potluck or party where there will be a lot of heavy food. Theoretically you could even quarter the cucumber slices to make it even easier to eat, but that doesn’t bother me!

Stop donating food. (Donate time or money instead.)

‘Tis the season of seasonal giving. When many folks are busy buying gifts, the social narrative of capitalism says that we must think of those “less fortunate than ourselves” and work to “make a difference” in their lives. Often this manifests itself into food drives.

Note: I have strong thoughts about food drives. They are informed mostly by my work at a wonderful, fantastically-run food pantry in Western Mass and an internship at the also excellent Greater Boston Food Bank. While much of what I learned in those places informs this post, of course my opinions aren’t those of either organization.

Here’s the gist of it all: Stop donating food. If you really want to help your local food pantry, donate money or time.

 Here’s why:

1. If you’re giving random stuff out of your pantry… chances are it is old, unhealthy, or unwanted. That diet cereal you bought last January? Yeah, it’s way past its best-by-date. And while food pantries and banks are good at knowing what foods can usually be safely eaten past their marked dates, chances are what’s in the back of your cupboard has seen the end of its shelf life.

Also: Fun news flash: Most of the people who shop at food pantries are not there to get whatever calories are available simply so that they don’t starve. Most of them have preferences and tastes just like you and me. So… that gross cereal that tastes like cardboard? It’s not going to get eaten.

2. They do more good for the givers than the receivers. Everyone loves a good cause, and food drives are no exception. You feel so useful! You can see the effects of your labors! You can quantify it in pounds! So much goodwill! Look, I understand this. I have felt the incredibly surge of community goodwill that comes from unloading thousands of pounds of food generated by the USPS’ Annual Food Drive. It’s intoxicating. But when you do a food drive, you get a mishmash of product; very rarely do you get the things that most food pantries really need — basic canned goods with a good shelf life (proteins like tuna and beans, soups, tomato products, fruit, boxed pasta, etc).

And see #1 — you often get stuff that is old, unhealthy, or unwanted. So what makes you feel good isn’t really the best for the people that you’re trying to help. Don’t fool yourself; the food drive you’re giving to is really about alleviating your own guilt that you’re “not doing enough.” If you really want to help people eat, there are better actions to take. Which leads me to…

3. The food pantry can do SO much more with $5 than the $5 worth of food that you bought at the grocery store. To combat #1 above, lots of people go above and beyond. They ask their food pantries what they need. They do *specific* food drives, asking for newly purchased cans of tuna, for example.

And you know what? These are the very best kinds of food drives. They do real good — the food is new, healthy, and wanted. If you’re going to do a food drive, a specific one like this is the best. Especially if we’re talking about a school-based food drive, where part of the point is to teach kids about issues like hunger and sharing, this is a great way to go.

Another exception to this is fresh produce: If you run a farm and have a glutton of zucchini, there’s probably no better home for it than your local food pantry. (Again, remember that most people at food pantries are like you and me — think about what it would be like to get all of your food from a can or box. Try shopping like that for a week. It sucks. Produce starts looking like manna.) One of the happiest days of my time at the Northampton Survival Center was when a farmer drove in with 600 pounds of root vegetables. Our clients were thrilled to have access to fresh, local produce!

butternut squash

But most of the time, the very best way to help your local food pantry is to give money. And here’s why: Most of the food that food pantries and soup kitchens have on their shelves is not from a food drive. It’s from a food bank. That food bank is getting food from the food industry at much cheaper prices.

For example, let’s say that you’re looking to help a food pantry fill up its supply of canned tuna:

What you can do: You go to your local store and buy tuna on sale for $.50 cents a can. A normal can is about 12 ounces, so with $5, you get 10 cans, worth 120 oz, or 7.5 pounds. Cost is $.66/lb. Seems like a pretty good deal.

What a food bank can do: A regional food bank gets a donation of, say, StarKist tuna. Maybe it’s just one pallet of food. Or maybe it’s a whole bunch because they’re changing their branding and they don’t want the old stuff on the shelves. So the food bank gets all that tuna for free. (Companies like doing this because they can take the donation as a tax write-off. Very good for them!) Then the food bank sells that tuna to a food pantry, charging a moderate fee that covers operational cost, usually around $.19/lb. So for $5, the food pantry can buy over 26 pounds of tuna! More importantly, they can buy it when it’s truly needed! (For instance, in the summer when the tide of food and monetary donations is lower.)

food pantry volunteer

And if you can’t give money, give time. Donating your time to a local food pantry or soup kitchen is an all-around fantastic thing to do. Here’s why:

1. It helps the organization. Your labor literally ensures that people can eat. Whether it’s helping people shop during pantry hours, stocking shelves, or picking up produce/bread donations, the role that volunteers play for food panties cannot be overstated. For even a small organization, volunteers provide the equivalent of millions of dollars of free labor annually.

2. It helps you. Remember that warm and fuzzy feeling that you get by helping out with a food drive? It’s so much better when you’re at the organization, working to help ensure people get what they need.

But most importantly…

3. It helps the people who need the food. And I don’t mean because they walk away with food and you helped with that. I mean that if you really, truly want to understand what people who live in food insecurity need, then you need to meet them. You need to have conversations with them and listen to their stories (when they want to share them). You need to understand that the people who come to get food at your local food pantry are your neighbors and community members — there is not some separate species called “the hungry.” You need to see that food insecurity is like cancer — it can have obvious causes (some of which have simple solutions), or it can seem to strike out of nowhere, infesting all corners of your life and becoming intractable. That’s when you’ll truly be able to make a difference.

Donate or Volunteer — year-round!

find a food bank find a food pantrydonate your produce

My lunch was delicious and so can you.

Last night I decided that I wanted something delicious for dinner and then lunch today. And my friends, I succeeded.

Mediterranean Veggie Bowl with Quinoa (a soul-satisfying lunch!)

(If you want chicken, either start cooking the chicken first or buy some pre-cooked chicken.)

1. SET UP QUINOA: Measure out one cup of quinoa. Rinse under water in a strainer, then add to a pot with a glug of olive oil. Cook for a couple minutes until the water evaporates and the quinoa starts toasting. Then add two cups of veggie broth, or water if you are lame. Bring to a boil, reduce to low, and cover. Set your kitchen timer for 15 minutes.

2. MAKE HOUSE SMELL TASTY: Chop an onion. Add to a pan with a glug of olive oil. Add salt & pepper. Add some dried oregano that you once bought to put on pizza but otherwise forget to use. Add some red chili pepper flakes because, like cheese (more on that in a minute), they make everything better.

3. ACTUALLY MAKE THE FOOD: Saute your onions periodically while you chop up one zucchini. (Even though zucchini is boring and gets excessive in the summertime, I had a weird craving for it last night.) Once the onions are glassy, add the zucchini. Saute periodically while you also chop up a small container of pitted kalamata olives (a small container by which I mean when you go to the deli they have two sizes, small and large — you want the small). Add the kalamata olives to the pan. Keep sauteeing while you also chop up a bunch of feta cheese. (If you are more lazy, the pre-crumbled stuff works well.) I got about a fist-sized block and used about half. Each to their own.

4. PUT THE FOOD IN TOGETHERNESS: Once the zucchinis are soft, the dish should be done. Make sure your quinoa has no more water, and then mix it all together in tastiness. Show it off to your wife when she gets home. Eat it for lunch the next day and revel in your culinary success.

Thanksgiving Leftovers Salad

I couldn’t eat another plate of leftovers, but when I transformed the leftovers into a salad, I suddenly had my appetite back. Mixed one of my standard salad dressing bases of lemon juice, olive oil, and salt & pepper with a hefty dose of cranberry sauce. (If I hadn’t been lazy/anti-making more dishes, I would’ve added garlic, too.)

Then added several generous handfuls of arugula, topped with shredded turkey meat and some delicious stuffing (heated up first). Made for a fantastic salad! I served it to myself with a glass of apple cider mixed with seltzer.
Yum!

Banana Avocado Dip

We were hosting a banana-themed dinner party recently, and I was in search of an appetizer. (What, doesn’t everyone host banana-themed parties? No? Well, that does explain some of the looks I got at the grocery store checkout line!)

For the meal itself, we were contributing an Indian plantain curry and banana-stuffed french toast. However, I’d recently acquired some banana chips, and I was sure that with the right banana-based dip, they would be a big hit.

Martha, of course, had the answer. A banana-avocado dip. (Of course, she assumes that one would make one’s own plantain chips. Naturally. Because who doesn’t have a deep-fry thermometer? And obviously everyone loves that great, post-fry feeling of oil all over everything.)

Right, so I had the chips already. What complex, insane thing could Martha make me do for the dip?

Ripe avocado + ripe banana + fresh juice of a lemon + dash of salt. Mash everything together and serve.

It sounds weird, but I kid you not, this dip (which I literally made as guests were arriving) was a huge hit. Kids would love it. Tastes kind of like something that’s bad for you. Sweet, light, and perfect with the chips.

ps. Oh and hey look, it’s vegan, too. How about that!

What to do with your leftover keg of beer

Look, obviously if you have a keg at a party and the party ends and there’s still beer left — OBVIOUSLY you are going to try and drink it. This is reasonable. But there is a limit to one’s individual beer consumption, even if you invite all your neighbors and friends over. So the natural question is: Now that the keg’s no longer ice cold, what do you do with the beer?

Enter: Beer chicken!

Beer Chicken: Take however many filets of chicken you want. (I took three out of the freezer, but fresh would work as well. You could also use drumsticks, wings, whatever.) Marinate the chicken in beer. The meat should be fully covered. I just threw the frozen fillets into the beer and stuck it all in the fridge. Let sit at least overnight. Then, preheat the oven to 375. Coat all sides of the chicken with spices (I used a Cajun seasoning mix.) Pour some of the beer marinade into the roasting dish to keep it all moist. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 25-30 minutes until cooked through.

Then eat, and delight in not having let that delicious beer go to waste.

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