Strawberry Fields Forever

At a certain point in autumn, many fruits suddenly become unavailable—unless they are flown in from Latin America or grown in greenhouses. Apples and pears still abound, and there are always oranges and grapefruits, though initially, these are not at their best.

One characteristic of my own diet is that I must eat fresh fruit every day. Sometimes, I’ll eat figs or dates or other dried fruit, but nothing quite matches the experience of biting into a piece of fruit at its best. Fortunately, February has great oranges and tangerines, and you can start getting really good strawberries from Ventura County.

From now until November, a new fresh fruit season has begun. It will reach its height in June, when cherries and apricots are at their height. And later in summer, the freestone peaches and plums are there, at least until September. Then, I must wait for the Fuyu Persimmons to come into season. And after the persimmons, I am back to apples, pears, and dried fruit.

I suspect I became addicted to fresh fruit because, In Parma Heights, Ohio, we had about twenty fruit trees in our back yard. They were great eating, though a misery when it came to mowing the lawn around all the fallen fruit. If my health can be said to be good, I owe it largely to eating habits developed when I was very young.

Tortillas de Maiz

There is something uniquely satisfying about eating the peasant cuisine of the area in which one lives. In the case of Los Angeles, that means chiles, beans, and corn tortillas. I even prefer honey in which the bees gather pollen from mesquite and desert wildflowers.

Today, I had chilaquiles for brunch with refried beans and eggs over easy at Gilbert’s El Indio Restaurant in Santa Monica. What are chilaquiles? You see the photo of corn tortillas above. They cut into wedges, fried, and cooked in a tomato salsa. I’ve had them—mostly for breakfast—all over Mexico, even in Yucatán. Nothing simpler, yet eminently satisfying when prepared by someone who knows what he or she is doing.

Gilbert’s El Indio Restaurant

The benefit of eating foods native to your area is mostly psychological, but my guess is it’ll do a lot more for you than any so-called “superfood” like kale, beets, or acai berries.

Pilgrims and Indians

I have always had my suspicions about the first Thanksgiving feast in 1621. There is no record of what was on the menu, only a few words by Governor William Bradford about the preparations for the feast:

Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the Company almost a week.

Were potatoes served at the first Thanksgiving? Not likely, as potatoes were a South American tuber originating either in Peru or Chiloe Island in Chile. And it is highly unlikely that the Spanish conquistadores made any contribution to the Pilgrims’ harvest feast. Were green beans available to the colonists in Massachusetts during November? I doubt it.

Cranberries and pumpkins might very well have been at the feast, along with various types of squash and beans.

Turkey may well have been among the fowl served, though there probably were a number of other types, not only of fowl but other types of meat as well, including, perhaps, venison.

Whatever you choose to have at your family’s gathering tomorrow, I hope you all have a good time. Just remember one thing: Do not, under any circumstances, discuss politics, even if everyone is likely to be more or less in agreement. As with religion, everyone has his own bête noire where governing is concerned.

Politics in America is one thing for which we have scant reason to be thankful.

Stuffed Cabbage

Not all my cooking creations are successful. The first time I tried cooking Hungarian stuffed cabbage rolls—a dish I was brought up on by my mother and great-grandmother—the rolls all fell apart. I didn’t know the trick of trimming the thick “veins” in the cabbage leaves, and I don’t remember parboiling and coring the cabbage.

This week, I got it right. First of all, I consulted with my brother, who is by far the best cook in the family. Then he sent me the recipe he uses. Here it is.

It took me five hours to cook the cabbage rolls from start to finish, though much of that time was waiting for the rolls to boil for 1½ to 2 hours. I used four different kind of meats in my recipe: smoked Hungarian gyulai kolbasz, Hickory smoked bacon, ground pork, and ground beef. Fortunately, there’s a great butcher shop at Alpine Village in Torrance which has several different types of kolbasz.

Once you make stuffed cabbage rolls, it’s easy to cook enough to feed a family for several days. Our lasted five days, with some left over that we had to discard because i have a rule that no cooked dish I make can be eaten for more than five days.

If you should try the recipe, be sure to get some fresh dill and some marjoram and—most important of all—real Hungarian paprika from Szeged, Hungary. The Spanish stuff has the color, but not the flavor.

Marketing Metastasis

It All Started with Coca Cola

In 1985, the Coca Cola Company came out with New Coke, which never really took off. To recover from their gaffe, they decided to keep the old formula as Coca Cola Classic. In the process, they discovered that taking over more shelf space with other products bearing the Coke logo was a win-win for the Corporation. So now today you can buy Coke with exclusive new chicken liver flavor, with crushed pretzels, with overtones of sulfuric acid, and with extra corn syrup.

At the same time, all the other old brands have similarly metastasized. Ritz Crackers. Doritos. Ocean Spray. Reese’s. Cheez-It. Cheetos. Triscuit. The list goes on and on. Note, however, that the brands involved in multiplying themselves are products with a long shelf life. You can’t achieve the same success with celery, parsley, Gravenstein apples, or dragon fruit.

When I had to buy some Ocean Spray cranberry juice a couple of weeks ago (it’s good if you have a urinary tract infection), I had a hard time find just plain original cranberry juice. Needless to say, I was not swayed by the new Clam*Berry flavor or the one with sauerkraut flavoring added.

I suppose the idea is to make smaller brands scared by the multiplicity of variations—though what happens when you run out of all the popular variants?

Even Trader Joe’s has gotten into the act, with a kind of dill pickle flavored popcorn. It really wasn’t very good.

At some point, a lot of these *NEW* flavors will be duds. Then maybe we won’t be presented with so many weird options.

A Modest FODMAP Success

Here’s the Skinny on What You Must Avoid If You Have IBS

Although Martine keeps telling me not to worry about cooking for her, I feel challenged by the difficulty of preparing a meal that she can eat without triggering her IBS. So I made a ground sirloin and fusilli dish with celery, sweet red pepper, Chinese eggplant, fresh tomatoes, and tomato sauce with basil.

Missing were onions and garlic, which are two baddies. I naturally thought that without onions, the dish would be as yucky as last week’s ghastly FODMAP stew, consisting of ingredients that just didn’t belong with one another. I actually didn’t miss the onions, and I added garlic powder to my portion.

The big surprise was the quinoa pasta that actually tasted pretty good. I’ve had quinoa soup in Peru and Ecuador and liked it. This pasts contained no wheat or rice or corn, yet it was acceptable.

I can’t guarantee that all my FODMAP cookery will please Martine. At least, it shouldn’t disgust either of us.

The FODMAP Follies

Big No-Nos on the FODMAP Regimen

With the very best intentions in mind, I tried to prepare a beef and vegetable stir-fry for Martine as a first attempt at creating a FODMAP-free dish. It consisted of shredded beef, eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, and a yam. But no onions, garlic, or chiles to give it flavor.

Never before had I cooked a dish that I didn’t want to taste. For myself, I just had buttered corn on the cob, while Martine bravely confronted the tasteless muck I prepared for her. I called it FODMAP Stew. I will never make it again.

I realize now that seasonings are important in a dish with multiple ingredients, and that the best seasonings are expressly forbidden.

I think that in future, when Martine needs to adhere to this regimen, she should have a piece of meat (most are OK) plus a steamed vegetable, such as carrots, squash, and some rare Himalayan herb that can only be found on the northern slope of Mount Everest.

If you haven’t read yesterday’s post, which explains what this is all about, I urge you to click here.

How I Like Them Apples

Bags of Apples from Green Mountain Orchards in Putney, VT

The best apples I ever ate were from Vermont and New Hampshire. Sorry, Washington State, but you’re a distant third. I remember when Martine and I went to New England and Quebec in September 2012. We flew to Boston, rented a car in Salem, and drove to Green Mountain Orchards in Putney, Vermont, where we bought several bags of apples. I swear that for the next three weeks, our car smelled of the tangy Vermont apples.

As good, when we could find it, was unpasteurized apple cider from Vermont and New Hampshire. The pasteurized stuff is just like supermarket apple juice—a big yuck!—whereas the unpasteurized stuff had a tang and a bite that went down well. We indulged at the cost of diarrhea during the early part of our trip, but it was worth it.

We hoped to find good apples in Quebec, but we were sorely disappointed. I guess there’s something about the soil of the Connecticut River valley that separates Vermont from New Hampshire that makes for great apples.

I dream of going back and spending more time in Northern New England.

The Only Way To Be a Vegetarian

Chick Pea and Spinach Pilau

I am a frustrated vegetarian, mostly because Martine wants me to cook more meat dishes. But every once in a while, such as when her irritable bowel syndrome acts up, I will prepare for myself a vegetarian curry dish redolent with chiles and other spices.

Why do most people become vegetarians? I suspect the answer is that they feel a certain Yuck Factor when it comes to meat. At that point, they usually turn to the boringly bland and unimaginative diet that seems to characterize many Americans. I’m talking about lots of salad (which Martine calls “rabbit food”) and plant-based meat imitations.

To me, it makes more sense to use an existing vegetarian cuisine which is flavorful and exciting. That describes Indian cooking to a tee. I like food that is rich with layers of flavor. Coming from a Hungarian background, I find most bland food more than slightly offensive, as if no one cared to make it good.

When I visit Latin America, I have no trouble settling into a comfortable routine of vegetarian food and my one meat craving, fresh seafood. I remember an octopus ceviche in Progreso, Yucatán, and a filete de pescado Veracruzana in Champotón that sent me into ecstasy.

In Ecuador, I fell in love with the soups, particularly an avocado-based soup in Quito and an egg soup in Cuenca. Insofar as salads are concerned, in Latin America I love the fruit salads.

The Quarantine Makes Us Boring

An Empty Restaurant

Things being as they are, I have a hard time thinking of interesting things to write. During the quarantine, I am involved primarily in four activities: food shopping, cooking, reading, and film viewing. There isn’t much I can write about food shopping and cooking, primarily because of Martine’s irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), most of what I cook is pretty bland. When I cook a dish for myself, I tend to go crazy with spices and chiles—because I can!

I would love to write more about places that I have visited recently. Except I have not visited many places recently. There are two reasons for this:

  1. Restaurants are usually closed, and the weather does not encourage picnicking.
  2. If you have to go to the bathroom, you pretty much have to buy gasoline.

I’d love to go driving in the local deserts, but I am uncertain as to filling these two basic needs which all travelers have. Let’s say I want to go to Boron, California, home of the Twenty-Mule-Team Museum. Not only is the museum closed, but I have no idea where I can get food locally, and whether the local restaurants are serving diners outdoors. There is just too much uncertainty.

Sometime this February, I will pay another visit to my brother in Palm Desert. My last visit there was at the end of October. There are some places we can go, and he knows which local restaurants are serving food. (Though the best food there is likely to be cooked by my brother.) To be sure, I will take my camera and try to find some places I can write about.

Until then, you will hear more about my reading and film viewing.