Sunday, January 24, 2010

Mmm...Still-Beating Cobra Heart.

Back to food instead of politics!  I finally finished "A Cook's Tour." Loved it! Anthony Bourdain has a really great writing style and his description of his adventures are great!  He brings to light everything that I enjoy about travelling and eating.  I love food, no surprise there, but when I travel, even if it's within my own state, I make it a point to try local specialties.  I ask the locals what they recommend.  For example, when I was working in northwest Kansas last spring, I drove through Plainville.  After I stopped to get gas, I asked the attendant where I should get lunch.  He recommended the the local livestock salebarn and he was absolutely right.  Sure, the restaurant smelled like lots and lots of cows, but my cheeseburger was extremely fresh and the steak fries were perfectly cooked and salted. One of the best I've had.  That's what I appreciate about Bourdain in this book.  As he travels through Vietnam, Cambodia, Morocco, Great Britain, Japan, and Scotland, he makes it a point to eat with the locals and to eat things that most tourists will never even have the opportunity to try if they don't make an effort to interact with the local people.  I think that's the biggest point to take away is that food is something that connects us all.  We bond with people that we eat with.  We gain insight into their culture, tradition, and everyday lives.  If you don't have the opportunity to eat at someone's home and instead just eat Western style buffets or fast food, you're really missing out.  He describes it as going to Egypt and neglecting to see the Pyramids, and I couldn't agree more.  Next time, my top culinary epiphanies... 

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Chuck Norris, Darth Vader, ninjas, and France's ban on the veil

When we were in Egypt, I bought a niqab and black chador.  I thought the niqab was about the coolest thing ever and I wore it a couple of times during sandstorms to keep sand out of my face.  Inevitably, Erik would say, "Oh my God, it's a ninja!" or start humming the Imperial March signifying that Darth Vader was emerging to walk to Falfela across the street. That was his very polite way of saying that he didn't like it.  Headscarf? No problem, he liked me better without hair.  Abaya? Just enough curves to add to the mystery.  One additional piece of fabric across my face and I became an epic villain.  Thus, I come to the French...

See, the French don't like villains like ninjas* or Darth Vader because they know at any given moment that if one of these guys shows up in France that the whole country is going to fall to the Empire or a ninja crime syndicate because they will surrender.  They always surrender. The US will show up and Chewbacca will become president of France because Americans love Chewbacca!  Worse yet, if ninjas show up instead, Chuck Norris may become president and everyone knows that the chief export of Chuck Norris is pain! Thus, niqabs and burqas make the French nervous.

The fact that France is willing to limit freedom of its citizens in the name of security and preservation is a contradiction in terms.  By banning clothing such as burqas, France has already began to lose the freedom that it so desperately wants to preserve. In a way, they're just doing the opposite of what the Taliban have done in Afghanistan, except forcing women to wear less clothing.  If the French want assimilation of Muslim immigrant populations, this ban virtually guarantees that it will never happen.

So, should women be forced to take off their niqabs or burqas?  Is this simply the cost of living in a non-Muslim country, or is it fair to expect freedom of religion in a country that considers itself free?

* I've had way too much caffeine today.  I can't believe I incorporated Chuck Norris, ninjas, Darth Vader, and Chewbacca into a post about France banning niqab.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Kitchen Confidential

So I’m still on a cooking kick (okay, I’m ALWAYS on a cooking kick, but more so than usual) that is not being helped by the lingering cold. I just finished reading Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. He is a great writer and the book, while a little repetitive towards the middle, was a very enjoyable read. What I took away from it is that while I would probably make a pretty good chef from a working point of view, I should NEVER open a restaurant because I would open a restaurant for all the reasons that he claims result in utter failure. 1) I am “passionate” about cooking and food, not business (a restaurant owner needs to be passionate about business first and foremost). 2) I just think it would be a hoot to open a patisserie and name it La Belle Aurore, just like in Casablanca, one of my favorite movies. According to Bourdain, many have tried this same variation of theme and failed on an epic scale because a snappy gimmick does not a successful menu make. I am currently reading Bourdain’s A Cook’s Tour and it is even better than Kitchen Confidential. He really came into his own as a writer in this book, in my opinion. In a way, it’s a lot like Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, if Gilbert had just stayed in Italy, got rid of her angst and instead got addicted to drugs, and didn’t whine all the damn time. I am really enjoying it. I’m not sure I could eat a soft-boiled duck embryo or stewed calf’s head, but if it were well prepared and looked to be relatively parasite free, I’d probably try it, just because he did. I’m sure I’ll be finished reading it in no time and I’ll have to update with a full review then. In the meantime, I’m trying to come up with a list of the culinary epiphanies of my life. Hopefully, I can share them both at the same time.

I also want to offer my prayers and thoughts into the world to Haiti and those affected by yesterday’s horrific earthquake. I just read that the capital, Port au Prince, is in utter ruin. For a country to have been through so much just to suffer this is devastating. God be with them and may they find comfort and recover as quickly as possible, insh’allah.

Ways to help:
International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent
Wyclef Jean's Yele Haiti: or text yele to 501501 and $5 will be charged to your cell bill
American Red Cross: Text HAITI" to 90999 to donate $10, also charged to your cell bill

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Boeuf Bourguignon- Le style Danielle, and hello from the Central Pole!

My friend and fellow Muslim Jessica just started a blog about her life in Saudi Arabia, which as I told her, reminds me that I need to update my blog more often. It is much easier to blog when you have a little community of people that are also blogging. Everyone sending their thoughts out into the world. Of course, my blog is decidedly less exotic. However, with all the snow and cold we've had, I can just pretend that I'm blogging from the Arctic Circle. Our temps. Thursday night were actually a little colder than Bakers Lake in Nunavut, Canada and Barrow Alaska, which are both on the Arctic Circle. Today temperatures were in the double digits and I'm not kidding, it felt balmy.

Since we've been stuck indoors, I've been trying to break my cabin fever by cleaning and organizing, reading, watching movies, and cooking. I tend to get a lot more "culinarily" adventurous in the winter because I like to cook fattening, rich recipes and those types of recipes lend themselves well to being adventurous. Even if they suck, they're probably slathered in butter, which makes everything worth eating. However, I made the mistake of watching "Julie and Julia." Judging by my inability to find a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, or any cookbook put out by the Culinary Institute of America at the library (if I don't want to wait three months) or in the bookstores, a great many other people have also made the same mistake. Since then, I have been on a hunt to find adventurous recipes that are elegant in their simplicity, yet remarkable in taste. Of course, the preeminent recipe of the film was Boeuf Bourguignon (Beef Burgundy*). I haven't tried Julia Child's recipe for one reason; I like my version, no matter how unorthodox it is. It is very good and very simple. Here it is:

Boeuf Bourguignon
1 lb. cubed steak or stew meat
1 tb extra-virgin olive oil for browning
1 onion, chopped
1 can (8 oz) of cream of mushroom soup
1 small can of mushrooms, or 1 cup of sliced fresh
1/2 cup of burgundy*
2 tb unsalted butter
Salt and pepper, to taste

Dry the stew meat with a paper towel. As Julia says, if it's not dry, it won't brown properly. Heat oil in pan just until the oil looks like it wants to start smoking. Don't crowd the cubes of meat or they also won't brown properly. Remove beef from pan and let cool on paper towels. Using the same oil with the crispies, cook onions until translucent. Add the beef back into the pan, and then add the soup, mushrooms, burgundy, and butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Place in an oven-safe dish and bake at 350 degrees for approximately 45 minutes. Serve over wide egg noodles (my choice), or mashed potatoes, as is traditional for Boeuf Bourguignon. Bon appetit!

*I should point out that Beef Burgundy uses Burgundy wine, and because the recipe cooks out the alcohol, I use real burgundy (yes I know, another dark mark on my soul!) However, Burgundy is very dry so just use a very dry grape juice and I suspect there will be very little difference in taste.