Reasons why I don’t really mind spending Turkey Day as a guest of non-foodies:

1. No overeating.
2. No exhaustion from crazy cooking marathon, or the least dot of pressure to show up with the perfect side dish.
3. More appreciation for the fact that I eat like a fucking empress the other 364 days of the year.
4. Mashed potatoes are always good!
5. Budget-friendly! No extravagant ingredients, not even wine.
6. More time to build gingerbread houses with silly tots who end up eating half of the candy… I guess I’m not much of a disciplinarian, heh.

For some reason I was still really tired the next day, & after a hot bath crashed out for a FOUR HOUR NAP, the likes of which I haven’t seen since, I dunno, my college days? (Those big naps when you have the flu—or a doped-up broken pelvis—don’t count the same way.) It was kinda stunning really. Who knows how much longer I might have slept if my dear spousette hadn’t woken me up to drink some water. After that I was afraid I might be up all night, but no, I nailed it with another 7 hours! How decadent is that? I felt transformed! My skin even looked better. Now if only I could figure out how to make that happen on a regular basis, like maybe quarterly would be good.

Other leisurely 4-day-weekend activities included cleaning out the fridge, going out for brunch (blueberry pancakes!), loafing around the kitchen with the Sunday paper, swimming, & an overdue hair trim, how satisfying!

The only misstep I made was trying to watch Manufactured Landscapes, which follows photographer Edward Burtynsky as he documents some of the environmental horrors of China. I was awestruck by the opening pan, which tracks continuously, inexorably, through a ginormous factory for over 8 minutes. Unfortunately I only lasted another 7 minutes after that, not because there was anything wrong with the documentary, but because watching the factory workers doing their insanely repetitive jobs actually made my hands hurt! Truly these folks have jobs from hell. I totally get why you would want to run far away from that & fry eggrolls in Wyoming instead. Someday when I have a little more fortitude—or more emotional distance from my Bad Hand Ordeal—I’ll have to watch the rest of this thing.

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Save Sundays at Thai Temple!

(Thanks to angry asian man for the reminder, & for this image.)

Thai Temple feels so quintessentially Berkeley to me, in all the best ways: a cheerful jumble of everybody—Thai grannies & monks, Black kids from the neighborhood, Asian American Cal students, white hippies, foodies of all stripes, tots poking around in the vegetable garden—all of us together on a Sunday morning, grooving on yummy food at bargain prices. Yes, it’s a Buddhist thing, but really the true religion of the crowds is the food.

The food! Green papaya salad, mixed & pounded to order before your very eyes. Sticky rice & mango, with sprinkle-your-own toasted mung beans. Giant bowls of noodles. The long, long veggie line & the long, long meat line stretching side by side through the alley all the way to the sidewalk (best way to catch up with a friend, work up an appetite, & people-watch like crazy, all at once). Tender little coconut milk half moons paired face to face—I can never remember their name but they are heaven in your mouth.

I love to take a brisk walk down there on a summer morning while the fog is burning off. By the time we are all full & dawdling our way home past the rose-fragrant gardens of south Berkeley, our sweaters are tied around our waists, the sun makes our hair hot to the touch, & the afternoon stretches out luxuriously before us….

Please don’t let a few cranky neighbors take this away!



What to eat during a scorching November heatwave:

Arugula, the first satsumas, fresh new walnuts, pomegranate, sherry vinaigrette.

Don’t forget to drink plenty of water.

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I’m still all disoriented from the election. Eggbeater comes closest to capturing how I’ve been feeling, though I’ve been perhaps a tad less weepy. Weirder still, then, to fly to Arizona—McCain country!—for the weekend to visit my dear old granny.

Fortunately, it’s pretty much all about food from the moment you set foot in her house.

Beauteous fresh turnip cake:

Even better, fried the next day:

Her real obsession is what our family calls rice buddies, aka Chinese tamales. She cranks them out at a fearsome rate, & we schlep home mass quantities of them every trip.

That blur is her hands wrapping up a bottle of chicken juice. No, not soup or broth or stock. It’s essence of chicken, what you get when you shut two chickens (cut up, skinned & de-fatted) in an enclosed ceramic pot, put that pot inside another pot full of water, & simmer it for 12 hours(!) until all the chicken liquid is released into the bottom of the inner pot & the bones crumble between your fingers.

Granny speaks about a hundred words of English & I speak even less Chinese, so our communication is 90% psychic & contextual—not so hard when the main topic is food! But when she saw Obama on the TV, she asked me, “Is he good?”

I turned to her & beamed, “Grandma, he’s very good.”

Satisfied, she nodded, “ok good” & settled back to watch some more. I sat there in baffled wonderment at being able to give her such strange, hopeful news.

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I love election cartograms!

I am so exhausted. Are you tired? Everybody seems to be in a kind of election hangover. Months of stomach-pretzeling anxiety, then all that euphoric weeping delirium when Obama won, & the catharsis of finally giving the Republicans the pounding they deserved—well, actually they deserved much worse than that, but let’s not get into that here—now I can barely do anything. The Prop 8 disappointment throws a weird contradictory layer of angst into the mix; rather emotionally confusing. I was in my pajamas last night before 7pm.

Good thing I had this recipe up my sleeve for y’all. I’d been working on it for a while, & on the 4th try it worked well enough to share with the Witch for Halloween (her favorite holiday, of course). The Witch is the most food-limited of my friends, by which I mean there’s hella stuff she can’t eat without getting walloped by a migraine. Luckily she’s a great cook & not afraid to experiment with obscure alternative ingredients. I was really proud to come up with a dessert she can eat!

Chocolate Coconut Tapioca Pudding
aka Pudding of Earth & Eyes of Newt (no sugar! no dairy! wheee!)

Throughout this recipe, whisk pretty much constantly!

Soak 1/3 cup small tapioca pearls in 2 to 3 cups of water for a few minutes, then bring to a gentle boil & simmer for about 15 minutes.

Drain off the gloopy water & reserve about 1/2 cup of it. I do this by pouring through a sieve into a bowl, then dumping the tapioca pearls from the sieve back into the pot.

Add about 1/2 can of coconut milk to the pot, whisk to distribute the tapioca, & simmer for another few minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together in a separate bowl:
the rest of the coconut milk
2 T. good cocoa powder (I use Green & Black’s)
1/4 c. maple syrup
1 t. vanilla
pinch salt

Add the chocolate mixture to the pot, along with 4 to 6 T. of the reserved tapioca gloop. Continue to simmer & whisk another few minutes until tapioca pearls are completely clear. At this point the pudding is still quite liquid but should have thickened ever so slightly. If not, add a little more of the gloop.

Remove from heat & let cool a little, then refrigerate for at least 5 hours.

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The phonebankers are HUNGRY! If you’re not cut out for talking to strangers about politics, consider feeding the folks who are. I know myself well enough to realize that it wouldn’t be doing anybody any favors to put myself on the phone—or knocking on doors, eek—with the intention of swinging votes toward Obama. But I also realized that I’d better do something in order to 1) not be a nervous wreck during this crazy pre-election moment & 2) not hate myself if, goddess forbid, the election goes the wrong way.

So. I can’t call & I can’t knock on doors. They also need people to do data entry, but that’s a really bad idea for my hands. So what can I do? Well, I can cook. (I can also carve punkins, apparently, but who am I kidding? Every available surface of Berkeley is already plastered with Obama’s name or face.)

Pasta for Obama:
2 lbs. dry rigatoni (on blowout special at the Bowl!)
3 small yellow onions
most of a bunch of celery
most of a pound of carrots
2 enormous zucchinis
a bag of mushrooms
1 large can of Muir Glen crushed tomatoes
1 can tomato paste, also Muir Glen
8 or 9 fat tomatoes from Plastic Lam’s aunt’s garden (thanks!)
olive oil, salt & pepper, oregano
flat-leaf parsley, chopped & sprinkled on top for garnish
fresh grated Parmesan (optional)

Grocery bill: $13.94, plus $3.28 for the cheese

Follow usual tomato sauce procedure (in short: onions, celery & carrots first, then mushrooms & zukes, then all tomatoes, then simmer up to 2 hours, boil pasta & combine). To save time I cheated a little & used the food processor for the onions, celery, carrots & tomatoes. I had to boil the pasta in 2 shifts. When it was all done it was too heavy for me to lift, so Donna slid a cutting board underneath it & helped me schlep it off to the Obama office along with bowls, forks & napkins raided from our party supplies. Don’t forget the cheese, & a serving spoon!

When we got there, the place was stuffed full of about 100 people sitting cheek by jowl with a phone on one ear & a finger plugging the other. Some folks had been there all day, nibbling on nothing but scones & leftover Halloween candy. About what I had suspected. I ladled out the pasta & Donna walked around delivering it with the Parmesan in her other hand: “cheese?”

27 small servings vanished so fast it made my head spin. People were very happy to get real food & tickled at being served. (That’s where the cheese pays for itself. Donna sprinkles it with a lot of care & love—sorta fancy waiter meets storybook mom. You think I’m kidding!) We probably coulda brought twice as much. They also said that sandwich fixings would be very welcome, so if you don’t have all afternoon to simmer tomato sauce, just drop off some cold cuts & bread & I’m sure they’ll be thrilled.

Today I think I’ll bake taters, steam broccoli, fry bacon, bring cheddar & sour cream & let people assemble their own. Just two more days!

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