Archive for the miscellanea Category


Posted in miscellanea with tags , , , on September 6, 2009 by hoveringdog

So Galen wasn’t too keen on purslane. In his work De alimentorum facultatibus, he dismissed it as a fairly useless weed: “Some people use purslane as food, but what little nutrition it does provide is watery, cold, and viscous,” adding that it’s only useful property was remedying “sensitivity of the teeth through its lenitive viscosity.” In the twelfth century, Hildegarde of Bingen was even less impressed: “Purslane is cold. When eaten, it produces mucus and bile in a person. It is not beneficial for a person to eat it.” And in the twenty-first century, yours truly wrote, “STFU, old people, purslane is awesome!” Fresh Purslane

No, seriously, it’s true. Turns out that purslane is one of the best terrestrial sources of essential omega-3 fatty acids. In Queen of Fats : Why Omega-3s Were Removed from the Western Diet and What We Can Do to Replace Them, Susan Allport describes how “this ordinary plant, a weed in most of the world’s eyes, has an alpha linolenic acid content four times that of cultivated spinach,” which, I might add, is especially important for those of us who don’t eat our fishy friends.

And purslane is extra awesome because the stuff grows damn near everywhere. You may well have uprooted the edible weed from your flowerbeds or the cracks of your driveway without having known its value. Its ubiquity, in fact, made it a useful food for American frontiersmen. Ann Chandonnet in Gold Rush Grub: From Turpentine Stew to Hoochinoo describes boiled wild purslane among the foodstuffs eaten along the trail by those en route to the California gold rush. Likewise, it was also a useful food for the privileged proto-freegan and faux-frontiersmen Henry David Thoreau, as he described in Walden; or, Life in the Woods: “I learned from my two years’ experience that it would cost incredibly little trouble to obtain one’s necessary food, even in this latitude; that a man may use as simple a diet as the animals, and yet retain health and strength. I have made a satisfactory dinner, satisfactory on several accounts, simply off a dish of purslane (Portulaca oleracea) which I gathered in my cornfield, boiled and salted.”

Guess I shouldn’t criticize old Henry. My purslane was foraged from the produce aisle of the local co-op. But the pickling, that I did my own damn self, using a recipe from Linda Ziedrich’s The Joy of Pickling. I stripped the leaves and made a simple salad with olive oil and red wine vinegar, and pickled the stems with dill and garlic. The verdict? Tasted like pickles. Omega-3 awesome pickles. And now that I know what the stuff looks like, I might have to keep an eye out for it in the wilds of Olympia…


Cookbooks, cookbooks, cookbooks

Posted in miscellanea with tags , , , , , on May 31, 2009 by hoveringdog

I’ve been having so much fun cooking from the great vegan cookbooks published so far this year that I haven’t been very inclined to experiment with my own historical weirdness. It’s amazing to see how vegan recipes have evolved in only a couple of decades from obscure underground zines to glossy best sellers, andVegan Brunch the standard of the food itself from bog-standard grilled tofu dishes to a genuinely distinctive and varied cuisine. Here are a few 2009 cookbooks I’ve been exploring lately:

The lovely and talented Isa Chandra Moskowitz, author with Terry Romero of Vegan with a Vengeance and Veganomicon, has published Vegan Brunch, with more than 175 recipes for what is arguably the best meal of the day. She includes a handful of indespensible brunch items reprinted or slightly revised from her previous books, standards such as pancakes or tempeh bacon, but the bulk of the Tropical Vegan Kitchenvolume is filled with original and innovative brunch ideas, such as a variety of tofu omelettes flavored with the uncannily egg-like taste of black salt and several waffle ideas including gingerbread, peanut butter, and chocolate beer.

I love Donna Klein’s books Vegan Italiano and Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen because they include so many recipes that are quick and inexpensive. Most other cookbooks I whip out for special occassions or a random indulgence, but a number of Klein’s recipes have become my regular standbys. She uses very few obscure, foodie ingredients, just basic fruits, vegetables, grains, and other readily available staples. Her most recent book, Tropical Vegan Kitchen, is similarly quick and easy to use, with recipes from tropical locations around the world, Vegan Soul Kitchensuch as coconut tofu with spicy pineapple chutney or African black barley stew with okra and tomatoes. Her recipe for Bangkok-style basil sesame noodles has become a regular in my kitchen.

In Vegan Soul Kitchen, food activist Bryant Terry reinvents African-American cuisine with healthy, animal-free recipes like black-eyed pea fritters with hot pepper sauce, spicy mafé tempeh, and savory triple-corn grits. A nice added touch is the “soundtrack” with each recipe, suggestions like Toots & The Maytals’ “Water Melon” for the citrus and spice pickled watermelon rind or Booker T.’s “Green Onions” for the pan-fried grit cakes with caramelized spring onions, a gentle reminder of the intersection of food and other aspects of culture and community.

I’ve also been recently inspired to start pickling with the publication of the revised edition of Linda Ziedrich’s The Joy of Pickling. It’s not a strictly vegan book—there’s one short chapter in the four-hundred-page tome on pickled meats and eggs—but it seems to be an excellent primer on preserving vegetables. I say “seems to be” because I’m still awaiting the chance to deliver a verdict on the Japanese kimuchi that’s currently fermenting away and stinking up one of my cupboards.

Anyway, I promise I’ll tear myself away from these books sometime soon and get back into the wonderful Victorian world of boiled celery on toast. On second thought, I might just spend a little more time with my new cookbook purchases…


Posted in miscellanea with tags , , on May 1, 2009 by hoveringdog

An ex-girlfriend of mine described my compulsive need to find an answer to any random question that occurs to me as “Research OCD.” And it seems to me an apt enough description. It’s what made me a mediocre research student—my doctoral thesis was a painfully drawn-out affair because I got too easily distracted by other interests—but what I hope will make me a tolerably decent librarian once I’m through with my most recent reckless foray into postgraduate education.


So when I discovered today that the grocery store had acquired a stock of strange and wondrous new mushrooms, including the white beech mushrooms I ultimately bought, I began to wonder about the history of fungiculture. I assumed that eating edible wild fungus dated well back into prehistory, but when did humans start cultivating ‘shrooms for themselves?

I was surprised to find that with all the food-related microhistories written in recent years on everything from cod to coffee to corn (just to name the C’s), I couldn’t find a comprehensive history of fungiculture. Hallucinogenic mushrooms, yes, and a book about truffles, but not the plain old edible ones. I did put my research skills to work, though, and found a few interesting historical tidbits.

Turns out I had assumed correctly that the consumption of mushrooms goes back quite a way: traces of puffball mushrooms have been found in Stone Age settlements. In ancient Egypt, only pharaohs were allowed to consume mushrooms, which the Egyptians regarded as “sons of the gods” sent down to earth on lighting bolts. Apparently, this wasn’t an isolated notion: Roman folklore also perpetuated the strange association of mushrooms and lightning, claiming that mushrooms sprung from the earth in places where lightning had struck.

Actual cultivation of mushrooms, however, turns out to have been a much later development, in the West at least. The technique to cultivate the common button mushroom was discovered in France by mid-seventeenth-century melon farmers. By the mid-eighteenth century, mushroom cultivators had discovered that mushrooms could be more easily grown in subterranean caverns, where the factors of temperature and humidity were less variable. The US didn’t catch on until the latter half of the nineteenth century when fungiculture was introduced to the US from England and small-scale efforts at cultivating mushrooms began in New York’s Long Island.

So anyway, today’s mushroom purchase was destined for the wok, where I stir-fried them up with some carrots and snowpeas and my own spicy miso stir-fry sauce. Here’s the formula I used, after the fold:
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Guido Dogs

Posted in miscellanea with tags , , , on October 28, 2008 by hoveringdog

I’m still alive. I’ve just been too stupidly busy to cook anything historical worth posting about, but I did indulge recently in a nostalgic moment from my own personal history. Back in high school, I had a good friend who inexplicably went by the nickname Guido. And after a long, hard day of D&D or tabletop wargamming, we’d sit back, watch some Monty Python, and eat what he called “Guido dogs.”

Vegan Guido Dogs

Guido dogs were, as far as I can recall, a mixture of sliced hot dogs, beans, pico de gallo, and mayonnaise, spooned into toasted hot dog buns. I’ve replicated the admittedly disgusting sounding but surprisingly palatable concoction with LightLife Smart Dogs and Nasoya Nayonaise. It looks and sounds foul, I know, but it’s really quite good. Perfect with a large helping of Flying Circus and whatever cheap booze your friend Guido can lift from the liquor store. I kinda miss high school sometimes.

Grow Your Own

Posted in miscellanea with tags , , , , , on July 30, 2008 by hoveringdog

I’m rather amused by the images in Northwestern’s World War II poster collection, and more than a little surprised at just how much currency their suggestions still retain. I mean, the US government was telling Americans to reduce their meat consumption, to raise their own vegetables, to can and preserve their homegrown produce, to car pool, to reduce unnecessary petroleum consumption, all those conservation strategies for which contemporary tree-hugging liberals are so often derided. Of course, the government was trying to conserve supplies for the war effort, not protect the environment or conserve natural resources per se, but the contrast still reminds me of just how decadent a nation the US has become when the present administration’s reaction to economic troubles is to give everyone a little extra cash for that shiny new toy, rather than encourage values like frugality and thriftiness.

Anyway, here are some pics of vegetable and herbs from the garden here at home and a pasta dish I created with some of the harvest. Nothing particularly historical and no formal recipe today, but hell, pasta with vegetables is about as forgiving a dish as you can imagine, so I don’t anticipate you need explicit instructions. More details on what I made after the fold…


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World Carrot Museum

Posted in miscellanea with tags , , on June 7, 2008 by hoveringdog

Nothing says pretentious hipster foodie...

I love vegetable geeks. While searching around the Internets for information on whether carrot greens are edible, I stumbled upon this site, a virtual museum all about the humble Daucus carota. And yes, it turns out, carrot greens are edible. According to the physician Pedanius Dioscorides (c. 40-c. 90), carrot greens were ingested among the Greeks as a remedy for cancerous tumors, but apart from any dubious medicinal benefit, carrot greens aren’t too bad tasting either. They’re slightly bitter but have a flavor reminiscent of parsley and so work well to bulk up your soups, stews, and pottages. And they add a fair amount of vitamins…