I have written in the past about my love of Indian black tea, hot and iced. Even in the heat of summer, I love to start the day with a pot of Darjeeling, Assam, or Ceylon—or my personal blend of same. In the picture above, you can see my cheap Japanese metal teapot, which has an insert for the loose tea leaves so they don’t end of floating in my cup.
Of late, I have drunk my breakfast tea with either mesquite or desert wildflower honey, and a squeeze of fresh lime.
Accompanying it is usually one of the following:
Quesadillas with pickled rajas de jalapeño chiles
Huevos à la Mexicana: Scrambled eggs with chopped onions, garlic, serrano chiles, and (when available) tomatillos
Toasted English muffin with melted cheddar cheese and Indian red chile powder
Slices of cheese with crackers, the type of cheese varying with the season
Jimmy Dean’s frozen biscuits with sausage
Steel-cut oatmeal with dried cranberries or cherries and a dash of maple syrup
Hominy grits cooked with a chicken bouillon cube with butter, sausage, and fresh ground pepper
Sourdough toast with butter and garlic (for when I have a sore throat)
I would love to have grapefruit, but, like many men of my age, I am on Lipitor (generic Atorvastatin) to reduce cholesterol. It doesn’t work when you eat grapefruit.
Accompanying breakfast is my home-delivered copy of the Los Angeles Times. I scan the national, international, and local news, but spend most of my time with the puzzles and comics page.
When I have a good breakfast—and I usually do—the rest of the day starts of on a good footing.
My last meal in Mérida before returning to the U.S. was at a grungy little seafood dive on Calle 62 called the Blue Marlin (Marlin Azul). It was a raw fish dish called ceviche de pescado that is “cooked” with the addition of fresh lime juice. Also it contains cut-up tomatoes, chiles, and cilantro. It is served cold and is an ideal lunch dish.
In Progreso, a few days earlier, I had a ceviche de pulpo made with the same ingredients, except that octopus replaces the fish. I was in hog heaven.
Actually the seafood dish I ate the most in Yucatán this last trip was filete de pescado veracruzana. It was a grilled filet of fish in a tomato sauce with onions, olives, and capers. I never got tired of it, especially when I was near the sea and knew that the fish was super fresh.
During this awful coronavirus outbreak, I dream of traveling by bus between various seaport cities in Baja California and living on fish tacos and other local specialties.
Baja Style Fish Tacos
When I was growing up in Cleveland, I didn’t think much of fish. Lake Erie, the shallowest of the Great Lakes, was for all intents and purposes a body of water noted for dead fish floating on its surface. I have had some good seafood in Los Angeles, but avoid shrimp and lobster, as I seem to be allergic to them—possibly because of the pollution of the Pacific Ocean around the coast of Southern California.
Traveling to places like Iceland or Mexico where the seafood is so fresh and interesting makes me dream of travel again. Sigh.
Today I had two meals that featured Hatch chiles. For breakfast, I scrambled three eggs with onion, garlic, and one green Hatch chile. At dinner time, I prepared a vegetarian chick pea curry with potatoes, spinach, sweet red pepper, and one Hatch chile turning from green to red. (You can get the recipe by clicking here.)
There was a time in the late 1980s when I had three consecutive vacations in New Mexico. Not only did I learn about Hatch chiles, but whenever I tent camped I would prepare a meal with rice, onions, and a Hatch chile. It was simple and always delicious.
What is so special about Hatch chiles? For one thing, they come from the area around Hatch, New Mexico, along the Rio Grande, roughly between Arrey to the north and Tonuco Mountain to the south. There’s something about the soil of this region which produces chile peppers that may or may not be spicy hot, but which always taste good.
In the late summer or early autumn, my local Ralphs Super Market carries the chiles either loose or bagged; and I always buy more than I end up using. (Martine does not tolerate spicy foods well.) The loose Hatch chiles are not always hot: I chopped one up with scrambled eggs last week that was no hotter than a regular green pepper, but even then was more flavorful.
I am always saddened when the fresh Hatch chiles are gone. If I were fanatical enough, I could order them frozen from a chile pepper supplier in New Mexico; but I will probably just go back to serranos, jalapeños, and California chiles. I actually like being surprised by the range of hotness in my fresh Hatch chiles. It is something worth looking forward to.
During this hyperextended coronavirus quarantine period, I have picked up a few good habits. Perhaps the best of them is taking authenticity more seriously in my cooking. I have been making Indian vegetarian dishes for over thirty years, but now, thanks to YouTube, I am more serious about trying to cook them approximately the way a resident of India would.
For one thing, that involves a more serious attention to the spices used in Indian cooking. Fortunately, there are a number of Indian groceries in Culver City along Venice Boulevard, my favorite being India Sweets & Spices. Just to give you an example, here is a list of spices for Chickpea Pulav, which I will be preparing later this week:
Cumin seeds (jeera)
Bay leaves (tajpat)
Ginger (I use a bottled ginger/garlic paste from Laxmi)
Mango powder (amchoor)
Garam Masala (which is mostly cardamom)
In addition, I will also be adding a few additional spices not called for in the recipe, including powdered red chile, cumin powder, cilantro, and coriander powder.
If you are interested in Indian vegetarian cooking, I highly recommend Manjula Jain’s Cooking with Manjula, 2nd Edition, which can be obtained for $5.00 in a downloadable format. (In my case, it turned out to be Microsoft Edge PDF, which took me a little while to learn how to print so that it doesn’t stretch off the page.) There are approximately 150 pages of recipes, which make it a good deal for the cost involved.
I highly recommend you try the Chickpea Pulav first, which Manjula calls a “Spicy Rice with Chickpeas.” I am going to be busy trying her other recipes, which you can also find on the web and YouTube. Here’s the YouTube recipe for the Chickpea Pulav: Click here.
You Can Learn a Lot About People by Visiting a Supermarket
Today being Monday, I had to restock my groceries. Every Monday I cook a dish which serves as our main meal for three, four, or five days. That’s usually true, but Martine is suffering from another round of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, so she’s reduced to eating foods that do not have vowels in their names. My dish for today was ratatouille, a vegan stew of onions, tomatoes, eggplant, tomatoes, and squash. Today I ate it straight; the rest of the week, I’ll eat it with pasta.
It’s always interesting to visit supermarkets in other places. I remember the ATAC market near the Place de Clichy in Paris, where Martine and I shopped for our breakfasts for the four or five days we stayed in the area. The market wasn’t huge like many American chains, but it had good food—especially the Petit Billy goat cheese.
Compared to ATAC, Ralphs Supermarket at Olympic and Cloverfield in Santa Monica is loaded down with frou-frou that I would never consider buying, like expensive boxes of sugary breakfast cereals. Is it so much trouble to add sugar that everything has to come pre-sugared, and “fortified” with corn sweeteners as well. There are many aisles in the supermarket that I never visit, because they have nothing that interests me.
And why are there so many varieties of certain foods? I looked for my Jif Extra Crunchy peanut butter and had to settle for a large size because there were about ten different varieties of Jif Creamy for adherents of various loony dietary regimens. Thanks, but I don’t want any peanut butter with kale and quinoa. There are easily a hundred different brands of potato chips, and almost as many of corn chips (though I always have a difficult time finding Santita’s Corn Chips, which are perfect even though they are now owned by FritoLay.
During my months-long quarantine, I have been sustained by five things:
My relationship with Martine
Playing chess with the computer
Watching movies on TV and my computer
That last item deserves some explanation. I have always enjoyed cooking, but I never was able to give it the attention it deserved. When I was working, I cooked good food, but I shied away from recipes that required some sophistication and a lot of time. Now that I am retired and quarantined, I am able to take the time to make some really good meals.
Mostly for Martine’s benefit, I got my hands on a cookbook by a convicted mafioso, Henry Hill, featuring the Italian cooking of the New York/New Jersey area: The Wiseguy Cookbook. Although Martine was born in France, she was mostly raised in Northern New Jersey (in Oceanport). As a child, it was New Jersey Italian food that she loved most. That was before she came out to Los Angeles and fell for Hungarian food.
For myself, I have become more interested in the vegetarian cuisine of India. Fortunately, Youtube has some excellent and very authentic recipes by Indians, Pakistanis, and others featuring Indian cuisine. This week, I made the following:
Manjula presents us here with a recipe for Chick Pea Pulav (aka Chole Biryani). The followed the recipe exactly, except that I added half a chopped onion and some extra hot Indian red chile powder. The only change I would suggest is to use one cup of water rather than a cup and a half. The dish is superb.
Fortunately, there is a nearby Indian foods store in Culver City called Indian Sweets and Spices. In better times, there is a little café on the premises with vegetarian-only curries; but there is also an excellent selection of teas and such hard-to-find items as mango powder, foenugreek leaves, garlic/ginger paste, and asafoetida.
For someone who is basically unsympathetic to Trump and his followers, I spend a lot of time reading Southern literature, particularly during the summer. Now that the days are getting warmer, I look forward to reading some more William Faulkner, who is by far my favorite 20th century American author. Joining him will be novels by John D. MacDonald (particularly the Travis McGee series), James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux novels set in Louisiana, Tennessee Williams, and Charles Portis—to name but a few. To that will be added one or more histories of the Civil War.
That also goes for Southern cooking. I love grits and sausage, and tomorrow I will prepare some jambalaya for Martine and me. (It won’t be authentic, as I do not use roux as a base, but it will be recognizable.) In fact, I may share the recipe in a future post.
Tomorrow, I begin reading Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury for perhaps the third or fourth time. I will have at my side several reference books that will help me track down some of the author’s more obscure references. Difficult as the book is, I will enjoy it immensely, just as I did before.
Some day, when travel once again becomes possible, I would love to visit New Orleans—preferably for the two or three days of the year when the weather verges on the tolerable. It would be fun visiting some of the better Cajun restaurants and the sights of a city that has flown so many flags during its history.
It all started with Hungarian food. That’s what I was raised on, good Magyar chow cooked by my mother and my great-grandmother Lidia Toth. Along the way, I also started to like American food, particularly hamburgers and hot dogs.
But then something happened when I came out to Southern California. It started with Mexican food. When I lived in Santa Monica, there was a Mexican buffet around Wilshire and 12th Street called Castillo’s. One of the girls behind the steam table was quite cute, and I remember eating there and ogling her.
That was only the beginning. Then I moved to Mississippi Avenue between Sawtelle and Corinth, which was in the middle of a small Japanese neighborhood. I dined regularly at the Osho Restaurant and the Futaba Cafe. When my miso soup has tofu in it, I naively thought they were cut-up shark fins. Before long, I was eating sushi—despite the fact that, while I lived in Cleveland, I saw fish only as dead things that floated on the surface of polluted Lake Erie.
When I worked at Urban Decision Systems at Santa Monica Blvd and Barrington Avenue, we frequently ate Chinese food at the Sun Kwong Restaurant, which was a very high quality Cantonese place. But then Szechuan cuisine invaded, plus I became a chili-head whereas before I went for bland foods. My tastes kept developing to such an extent that my parents—God rest their souls!—thought that I had betrayed my Hungarian heritage.
Well, it’s still with me, along with a whole lot of other cuisines. I drive poor Martine crazy with the weird spices and condiments I introduce into my cooking. At the same time, I try to make sure she gets plenty of the foods she particularly favors. These can usually be described as bland American food.
I Have Shown Myself to Be Ignorant of Facebook Security
If you have tried to follow the links to my brother’s recipes, you will have found out you can’t see any of them because you are not a friend of Jennifer’s. I have not given up hope: I will investigate how to get around Mister Zuckerface’s security. Stay tuned to this spot in the coming days.
Spending time with my brother Dan and sister-in-law Lori is my niece Jennifer, who has wisely chosen to quarantine with her family. Fortunately for me, and for everyone who loves good food, Jen has filmed Dan giving cooking instructions for some of his favorite dishes. Now I have mentioned before that I admire Dan’s cooking and am somewhat jealous that I am nowhere near so proficient as he is in the kitchen.
So, straight from Dan’s kitchen in Palm Desert, here are some wonderful dishes you can prepare at home: