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Updated: 2017-10-29T06:22:28.434-04:00

 



RSBC Week 4 (a lot late)

2017-02-27T02:18:26.836-05:00

I knew when I decided to host RSBC 2017 it would be a stretch. I knew that I had a conference to run (and it went swimmingly, thanks to the help of my co-organizer, Marianne de Laet, as well as a team of amazing participants and the support of a range of staff at Harvey Mudd College). I knew that 24 hours after that conference ended I would get on a plane to Berlin for a job interview. And I knew I was stretched a bit thin. Hence the pressure cooker proposal.

What I didn't anticipate (but should have imagined), was the inevitable physical crash that followed the above: a full-fledged cold + jet lag that had me at home as much as possible for an entire week. So I approach the end of February having run 26.2 , biked about 30 miles, and only looked at a swimming pool twice. I made black beans during week 1, and they were inedibly crunchy--my other half gamely reboiled them to no avail and then tossed them in favor of a can. When Kara posted her beet challenge I was at 30,000 feet, sans-pressure cooker. And here we are. With two days to go.

So may I suggest a bit of indulgence to end the month, as well as an extra week of RSBing, too (at least I'm going to take one)? Perhaps you may consider Melissa Clark of the NY Times (that venerable, albeit left-leaning to a fault, news source now suddenly deemed unworthy of admittance to White House Press conferences?!) suggestion that one bake chocolate pudding in a pressure cooker? I see no reason to not substitute in whole milk for the 1.5 cups of cream if you wish to have something a bit more reasonable along with your indulgent moment.  Short ribs sound nice, too.



RSBC 2017: Under Pressure

2017-01-29T19:47:16.662-05:00

Run. Swim. Bike. Cook. Nine years ago I, along with Julius of Occasional Baker, and Lauren of Genkitummy, launched the first-ever Run-Swim-Bike-Cook challenge. Blogs, and blogging, have come and gone in the meantime (Julius apparently stopped blogging in 2015, Lauren in 2013, me--more or less--a few years earlier), but somehow the thought of a February without an RSBC makes me sad enough to carve out time to dust off this mostly defunct blog and invite all my friends to come along on a four week journey of making February better. I believe that in the eight years I've co-hosted RSBC along with a range of amazing bloggers (one year off, thank you ACL repair and dissertation), I have only completed the entire challenge once. Once. "There's always just so much pressure," my brain reminded me when I last noticed this fact a few weeks ago, "papers to write, classes to teach, job search stress, conferences to run, congress people to call..." dismay spread through me, starting in my stomach and wandering up my throat, around my ears, and down to my toes. Yet pressure has potential. It can squish us (and bacteria, which makes high pressure processing a quite intriguing preservation technique I find seriously underused; for more, this Civil Eats article is a nice place to start), or it can refine us. I'm running again, and even completed a marathon--a nice comeback three weeks shy of the two year mark from when a car right hooked me off my bike and into a new awareness of bicycle advocacy. Even better, pressure can significantly decrease the amount of time it takes to cook something. So this year, rather than a superfood, Lizzie of the Mother Runner, Kara of What's Up With the Wheelers, and I have decided to challenge ourselves--and all of you--to try out a super technique alongside your running, swimming, and biking.To be honest, I have NEVER owned a pressure cooker. Nor have I used one on my own (culinary school fail!?!). Which means I'm going to spend some time with this useful YouTube tutorial, and will be borrowing my land lady's for the duration of the month, and offering her a new gasket in return.  So the cooking challenge for week 1: make beans (pinto, black, or otherwise) in a pressure cooker. I personally love Rick Bayless's recipe for smoky black beans with spinach and masa dumplings (recipe available at your local library in his book Mexico One Plate at a Time), but rarely make it as a last-minute dish because of the planning required for getting beans from dried to done. Here's the layout: You have 28 days to do one of the challenges, some of the challenges or all of the challenges. You decide based on your fitness level.Challenge 1: Run 26.2 miles (I suggest a mile a day)Challenge 2: Swim 2.4 miles*Challenge 3: Bike 112 miles**Challenge 4: Cook 3 of the 4 "iron-chef" challenges. Each Wednesday I--or my cohost--will post the week's challenge, and you have a week to figure out what you want to make.Now before you freak out and run screaming remember you have 28 days to do this in. Unlike the amazing Ironman competitors you get a whole month to do your triathlon. And this is no two hour competition with glaring lights and TV cameras and hyper announcers. Nope. This is you, your pressure cooker, and your kitchen going at it for seven days.Still not convinced? Let me sweeten the deal a bit more: you can do all your running, swimming and biking (and cooking!) inside. If you want to do it outside, feel free to come visit me in So Cal.Notes:* One water aerobics class = 0.4 miles**One spin class = 12 milesRules: Have fun. Send an email to the host for the week (week 1, me; christy DOT spackman AT gmail DOT come; week 2, kara DOT wheeler AT gmail DOT com; week 3, Lizzie AT motherrunner DOT com, week 4, me) including a link to your blogpost for the week which should highlight where you are in the event, and have a mouthwatering pic of your ironchef entry for the week.Previous challenges200920102011201220132014(no official 2015 challen[...]



Week 3

2016-02-23T02:23:53.803-05:00

I have forgotten, in a year of not blogging, what dedication and attention to the flow of time this practice calls for. Apologies.

For week 2, Kara suggested we work with temporalities, planning ahead so at some point in the next seven days we could have sauerkraut, as Erin and Kara decided to do. I planned on kimchi. It never happened. 

This week I request another moment of playing with time, adding in the vagrancies of temperature as you make yogurt. Melissa Clark happens to have posted instructions in the NY Times cooking section for making yogurt, a small irony given my most recent quasi failure at making this simplest of ferments.





Long, slow, and then let's go

2016-02-11T23:45:44.987-05:00

I sit here in the warm glow of my kitchen, the rumble of my father's voice overlaying the smell of meyer lemon marmalade simmering down into edible gold as I wait to fold my dough one additional time. I've made a lot of slowly fermented things this week, all from Sarah Owen's Sourdough cookbook: friendship bread, a pear buckwheat cake, and at the moment I'm working on butternut squash and cherry bread. This is, in part, a serious moment of procrastibaking. But it's also a bit of a love letter to my sourdough starter.

You see, I've had a few sourdough starters in my life. There's the one my mom has kept going for years that I've borrowed to make waffles. There's the starter named Hector (in honor of Hector the baker) that I inherited from my artisan bread instructor, and then lost. There's the starter from a friend in Chicago that had travelled across the ocean that didn't survive the move to New York. There's the NYC starter that died when I left for Europe for the summer. And now, there's the starter from a new acquaintance who, like me, loves bread. Luckily, this starter is still alive, still happy and bubbly and content to do all the things a starter does, which frankly, is make beautiful bread.

As far as I know, RSBC 2016 has gotten off to a lovely start. Kara made pizza dough from a poolish, Erin made yeasted waffles, and Julie has promised to update us via Instagram. Since I'm new to the Instagram thing, well... I'll figure it out.

For week two's challenge, head over to Kara's blog. I'm hoping you'll play along.

My update: Swam 400 meters, ran 3.5 miles (woot!), biked nilch.



Iron Man Meets Iron Chef: RSBC 2016

2016-02-03T15:05:02.215-05:00

Thanks to the twin terrors of recovering from ACL reconstruction and the final throes of dissertation writing, the thought of doing Run Swim Bike Cook last year was just too much. Until November 2014, being active defined me. I ran home in the evening after work, walked to Grand Central instead of taking the train, played frisbee in the park with friends, biked to work, hiked with family, swam occasionally, chased my nieces and nephews around parks, and plotted how I would be like my mom and her friends as they biked, skied, walked, and hiked their way into retirement.And then, one beautiful October day I decided to take a second test ride on a beautiful Masi Bellissima. Frankly, it was perfect, with fall leaves crunching under my tires and my skin prickling from that delicious autumn chill when the temperature hovers between warm and cool. It was perfect, until the light turned green and the car next to me decided to turn right with no warning, and took me along so I could learn the meaning of a classic "right hook" (see here for how to avoid this experience). After the fear, pain, shaking, conversations with the nice firefighters and the councilman who biked up to see how I was doing, learning that the guy who hit me had just packed up his life to move home after a failed marriage, and bandaging up by the great people at Capitol Hill Bikes (DC-ites, buy bikes from them. They are amazing.) came the frightening reality that something was very, very wrong with my body.Given the number of catastrophic injuries people experience in life, from the Boston marathon bombing survivors to the snow border crippled by a fall to my friend slipping off a step and shattering her ankle, the loss of an ACL and an integral meniscus is minor. That knowledge did not change the reality, however, haunting my nights and intruding on my days, that those things I defined myself by were no longer available. I deferred my half marathon registrations, boxed up my dreams of requalify-ing for Boston and running the annual Wheeler Wobble with my family, and found myself searching for a new way to define what it meant to be me.As I fumbled my way through recovery, my friend Kate said "be patient with yourself and the new normal. Honor your pain." I tried. My amazing therapist, Nod, promised me I would get better, and pushed me through the worst of the early days of learning to bend my knee again. My family loved me and made pie with me and let me be an idiot when I needed to. My colleagues lent me canes and put me up in their houses and made certain I didn't fall down on the ice. My dissertation committee cheered me on. And I slowly got better.Getting better doesn't mean going back to the same.To honor that reality, RSBC 2016 is trying something new. We're still challenging you to run 26.2 miles, bike 112 miles, and swim 2.4 miles over the next 28 days. But we're mixing up the cooking challenge.With the exception of last year's absence, each year's cooking challenge has included a "superfood" mystery ingredient or mixture of ingredients for you to try cooking in a novel way.This year we're going to embrace a different theme: microbes. Or, if you find it more palatable, we're challenging you to take on fermentation in all its myriad forms.This might be caused, in part, to the fact that Sandor Katz's Art of Fermentation is sitting on my desk.  It might be due to my recent acquisition of Sourdough by BK17 owner Sarah Owens. Or it might be attributed to the ongoing revision of a paper I started in 2011 (!?) about the kombucha "recall" imposed by Whole Foods due to concerns over alcohol levels. No matter the reason, I and my co-host, Kara of What's Up With the Wheelers, invite you--whoever you might be given the fact that this blog is having its own phoenix rising from the ashes moment--to join us in taking on the world. If you haven't played along before, this is the eighth annual Run Swim Bike Cook challenge (here for 2014, he[...]



Blank pages.

2014-02-24T12:05:57.013-05:00

I'm sitting in the quiet of a Friday evening, listening to family banter about names--increasingly strange, silly, giggle-worthy names--and wondering what tomorrow will bring when the new little boy that my sister-in-law so bravely brought into this world comes home. Normally, I have a food for every occasion, but tonight I am blank. Perhaps a bit like this little person. Not yet named, a world of possibility awaiting him.

During my research last summer I spent a few days flipping through old menu collections. Some of them described lavish banquets, others detailed the mundane operations of corner bistros. My favorite, though, were empty of culinary content, but not entirely blank. Best described as advertisements waiting to become menus, these bits of paper, saved because the design itself captured someone's attention enough to collect them, stuff them into envelopes or cupboards, and then donate them. The collection at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs was especially strong for the Belle Epoque (1850-1920), resulting in a proliferation of maidens gathering water at the edges of the potential menu.

I think life is a bit like those menus: mostly blank, but in the margins a variety of things are already shaping how we are perceived and who we might become. Our family, our origins, all these things frame us. We just get to fill in the white space.

Given the pesky nature of image rights, I do not have my own images to share. To get an idea, however, of the blank menu, see these images (from Delcamp.fr).






RSBC Challenge Week 3: Are you squashed yet?

2014-02-18T08:26:25.128-05:00


I spent most of yesterday thinking about minerals, molecules, and microbes, and admit to totally forgetting about the Monday-ness of the day, and thus about the fact that it was time for the next RSBC 2014 culinary challenge. If you haven't yet seen the carrot & ginger creations, go bounce over to The Mother Runner and see what we've been up to. Or more accurately, what Kara's been up to. :) Go Kara!

This week, drawing from the edible sunshine AKA orange theme Lizzie introduced last week, I challenge you to incorporate squash and chocolate into something. You can use any squash, and any form of chocolate (cocoa powder, chocolate chips, etc). Being a sucker for baked goods, I made my grandmother's brownie into a squashy-chocolatey cake. Pretty good for hidden veggies.


These brownies take advantage of two useful characteristics of squash. First, it has a fair amount of dietary fiber that will add moistness to the brownie, allowing me to cut the amount of oil that the recipe calls for by a significant amount. Second, squashes tend to be fairly sweet, so if you want to reduce the amount of sugar you could certainly do so. Plus, I had squash in my fridge that was a bit too old for eating straight up, and I hate throwing food out.

Squashed Brownies
Oven: 350F
3 TBSP canola oil or melted butter
1 cup pureed cooked squash
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp almond extract
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
dash salt
handful of chocolate chips

Combine oil through almond extract and whisk together until combined. In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, cocoa and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, mix until just combined, and fold in the chocolate chips. Pour into an 8" round pan and bake for 15 minutes or until set just the way you like it. 





Beet greens, Eggs, and a whole lot of movement

2014-02-10T21:23:01.981-05:00

Week one of RSBC 2014 has come to an end, and the Beet Green and Egg-stra special (I can't resist a pun) contributions are in!

Brianna and Justin (who are looking to adopt, by the way) not only made a beet green and egg bruschetta, they made the bread, too!

Lizzie made a beet green and quinoa and egg salad (and ran a whole bunch, too)! Go check out her blog for this week's challenge.

Kara made a beet green frittata, did a spring triathlon, lost a diamond, and found one again. I'm just tired thinking of it!

I know there are a few more people playing along, but haven't heard from them yet. So here's to doing a full or half distance ironman effort over February! Get moving!





Warm Thoughts, mid-Winter

2014-02-07T14:56:37.193-05:00


My friend MBC has eloquently argued that for being such a short month, February is disastrously long. Each day seems to crawl forward, offering tantalizing hopes of spring, and then dowsing those hopes with cold, icy, fervor. So in-between cups of cocoa, ice-storms, and slush-puddle stomping, I offer you flowers. Happy Friday!



Ironman meets Ironchef: RSBC 2014

2016-02-03T14:19:51.918-05:00

Since I first started Run Swim Bike Cook, each year's cooking challenge has included a "superfood" mystery ingredient for you to try cooking in a novel way. This year, Lizzie and I have decided to mix it up a bit, thinking not only about foods that are chock-full of good-for-you-ness, but also about combinations of ingredients that can add up to an even more healthful, and yummy, culinary creation.  This idea came about, in part, because of recent articles in the NY Times on "The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food," the Daily Mail about twins giving up sugar or fat, and Scientific American on obesity as an addiction. All have highlighted the potentially negative impact of consuming certain food combinations. These surprisingly potent combinations of salt and fat or sugar and fat are, they say, as addictive as cocaine. Now, as a baker, I specialize in making foods that are powerfully-yummy: the types of things that you want to sit down and eat and eat and eat. I'm looking at you, gingersnap cookies... These foods, researchers say, activate our brain's reward centers. Eat them, and you get a dose of dopamine, that happy-feeling chemical our brains use to reward certain behaviors. While I think this research is certainly onto something (and c'mon, we all know a plate of cookies or really expertly fried batch of French Fries are a pleasure to eat), I also think the focus remains too intently on foods to avoid. This year, lets instead focus on food combinations to celebrate!For the inaugural combo challenge, I invite you to bring together beet greens and eggs in a way that makes you think "yes! I would eat this again!"  Failure is ok, success is more enjoyable. I leave it to you to pick your meal. I picked breakfast for my inaugural foray, sautéeing my greens and stems in just a touch of olive oil before scrambling in some eggs with a touch of dilled pecorino and some dried herbs. In addition, it is time to mix up our "ironman" moment. I'm still going to try to do one, and you should too, but this year we are adding a half-ironman component. Feel like the full is too much? Do the half!If you haven't played along before, this is the seventh annual Run Swim Bike Cook challenge (here for 2013, here for 2012, here for 2011, here for 2010, here for 2009, and here for 2008), hosted once again by myself and Lizzie of The Mother Runner. So without further elaboration, here is the layout: You have 28 days to do one of the challenges, some of the challenges or all of the challenges. You decide based on your fitness level. Challenge 1: Run 26.2 miles (I suggest about a mile a day) (half-ers: 13.1 miles)Challenge 2: Swim 2.4 miles (1.2 miles)Challenge 3: Bike 112 miles (56 miles)Challenge 4: Cook 3 of the 4 superfood "iron-chef" challenges. You have a week to come up with a dish that blows us away.Now before you freak out and run screaming, remember you have 28 days to do this. Unlike the amazing Ironman competitors, you get a whole month  to do your triathlon. And this is no two hour culinary competition with  glaring lights and TV cameras and hyper announcers. Nope. This is you,  your superfood of the week, and your kitchen going at it for seven days. Rules: Have fun. Send an email to the host (christy DOT spackman AT gmail DOT com) for weeks one and three's challenges, and to the co-host (lizzie AT motherrunner DOT com) for weeks two and four by the following Tuesday at midnight, including a link to your blogpost for the week. Your post  should highlight where you are in the event, and/or have a mouthwatering  pic of your ironchef entry for the week. [...]



Tumult: when Coca-Cola gets into the adult beverage business

2013-06-24T14:11:08.803-04:00

Although the "healthy" AKA functional beverage market here in France appears to have nosedived / bellyflopped / tripped / disappeared / evaporated / soured / (insert descriptive phrase) in the past two years, I strongly suspect that a new, and in my opinion, significantly more interesting trend is in the making.I first noticed a glimmer of this when watching one of Carpe Diem's promotional videos in 2010. Take a look. This ad came out right in the middle of a sticky, messy, absolutely fascinating regulatory/non-regulatory bump-up between the microbes that make kombucha (a fermented tea beverage), manufacturers of kombucha across the U.S., the major distribution chain for most organic foods in the US, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. You know, the people we normally associate with gun fights, not minuscule microbes. Long story short, kombucha, unpasteurized, contains living organisms. Those organisms, left in certain conditions, ferment. Twiddle your thumbs a bit and you get alcohol. Normally in small amounts, but if conditions are right, enough to push the alcohol limit past the legal frontier between non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages.The scuffle temporarily stopped almost all kombucha sales in the U.S. Small producers (my two hometown favorites are here and here) took advantage of the quiet from the big guy(s) and got to work on their manufacturing processes. Honest Tea pulled their kombucha line. Everyone shook themselves a few times, amped up and/or changed their production and monitoring processes, and we all forgot about the mess.Fast forward to spring 2013, when Coca-Cola (more accurately, their outsourced marketing team) casually rolls a semi truck up in front of the Pantheon, pops up the top, and gets to work getting the word out about their new(ish) non-alcoholic, low calorie, adult beverage.Now what in the world does this want-to-be beer, or wine, have to do with kombucha?Not much, at least on the face of things. But if you look at the label, you see that a key ingredient giving this beverage line its flavor profile is the result of fermentation.As a non-drinker with a penchant for sniffing my friends' glasses of wine, I know when I come across something that's gone through the fermentation cycle. And I can't help but imagine that part of the whole revamping of many lines of kombucha across the U.S. resulted in a few new technological tricks that allow one to exclude/ minimize alcohol content while maintaining the same flavor profile (and keep a microbial population intact).Sadly, the timing is a bit off for my speculation to intersect with reality. However, good ideas often come in bunches, and the good idea behind all of this is that maybe, maybe, there exists a population of people who don't want an alcoholic drink at happy hour or with dinner, and as a group, they are sick and tired of drinking kiddy-sweet Shirley Temples. It's about time someone figured that out.[...]



Unknowns

2013-06-05T09:59:40.144-04:00

What is this? We asked. Pouce-pied he responded, and we blithely ordered, convinced that anything with buerre noisette--the only thing we actually knew on the menu--must be lovely.

It arrived, all rock and shell and funny looking hat, and we stared. This was not food, our tentative fork pushes revealed. Arms waving, eyes wide, a red flush creeping up from shoulder to crown, we caught our waiter's eye and quietly, desperately, asked for guidance. Comment manger un pouce-pied?

Hunks of bread dripping with golden lacings of buerre noisette hid our tentative bites, as we learned through flicks of sauce and juice how to navigate this new culinary sea. 

A year later I wander the streets of the same neighborhood, looking for the familiar doorway off the canal that led to culinary mystery, but it has disappeared, slipped away with time like the twirled-mustache-trucker-hat-hipster French man at the table next to ours. Instead I glide through the markets, Tuesday's riot of Aliphs and Khas as the vendors remark on the weather, the man arrested down the street, the most recent match du foot; Wednesday's softer shoo shooings of those who grew that lettuce on their own corner of France instead of culling it from the halls of Rungis. A mountain of new adventures wait, should I care to take the challenge home with me. 





Sandwich time

2013-05-15T11:00:07.221-04:00

We came prepared this year: dried black beans, masa, cayenne, cumin. Unfortunately we forgot the chipotle peppers, but that didn't stop our valiant efforts to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. A little smoked paprika stood in for chipotle, lemon for lime, and we figured mâché and berro were a little related, at least in the small, green, leafy sense.

The best part of any feast, as the very ordinary footman says to the very ordinary princess in M.M. Kaye's most fantastic book, The Ordinary Princess, is the bounty left at the end. We made tortas with ours, combining baguette with black beans, avocado salsa, pineapple, and all the other good things you see peeking out. While there may be right ways to make a torta (perhaps Rick Bayless' suggestions or these recipes from the Huffington Post are a good place to start), this is our way. 


Needed:
Crusty bread 
Black beans, mashed up, spiced with cumin and cocoa
Tomatoes
Plain yogurt or crema
Avocado
A good salsa or hot sauce
Cucumber
Tomato
Cilantro
And if you can find it, quesillo Oaxaca

Cut your bread in half, pull out the fluffy bits you don't want. If desired, toastify the bread, otherwise, just go ahead and smear with black beans and layer on everything else that strikes your fancy. Eat.




Presentation

2013-05-13T11:00:04.509-04:00

Sometimes a simple thing is all one needs to shift perspective. Be it a pair of glasses to sharpen your focus, or a  cone of paper in a can as the basis for serving bread. So easy, but so appreciated.
For me, I think the perspective changing moment was my mom's laugh, rolling across space to push up against my complaining little self and say "this doesn't matter!" I may have wailed about doing dishes, but she wouldn't listen with the patient understanding I expected. Instead, she giggled. "Why was I complaining?" I would later wonder. Dishes are bad. But they are not that bad, in the big picture-just a daily bit of toil to illustrate the turning of day into night, a chronometer marking the passing from breakfast to lunch and back again.  Lucky me that she laughed, or I would still have a pile of dishes and not a single home made brownie in sight.



Urban Survival: It really is better in spring

2013-05-08T15:57:00.107-04:00

It sounds cliché, saying that Paris is lovely in the spring. But it is. Absolutely lovely. When you come, you might have to ignore the occasional grey, grey day, crop out the ugly buildings, and selectively step around the pigeon droppings (Inhabitat kindly points out that we should be collecting those valuable droppings, for more see Jean-Sébastien Poncet's site). Yet there will be that moment when the concrete sky is replaced by mashed potato clouds. Just wait. And remember to practice your selective looking before you come. Urban survival skillset, lesson one: look for beauty amidst the mundane. Mashed Potato Cloud Attack! (Ugly building cropped off from the left)The view as one sits on the steps of the Odeon Theater in the 6th.Parc Buttes Chaumont and my new haircut thanks to Space HairIt just requires silly poses.[...]



Dumpster Diving, Paris Edition

2013-05-06T17:02:49.529-04:00

Like most of the people I know, thinking about trash occurs most often in relationship with chores to be done, generally accompanied by a sense of disgust. I grew up in a house where we used four waste streams: we composted, recycled, donated, and discarded. Moving to the urban jungle made some of those activities more difficult (especially when a convenient garbage chute facilitated discard), while simultaneously encouraging others (one can leave a box of things outside the door and within hours most of it has found a new home).The first time I heard about dumpster diving was in an article in the Times magazine on Freegans making do in Buffalo. Weird, I thought. Followed by a surge of admiration and disbelief. How did they manage transgressing that boundary of boundaries? A few weeks or months later, one of my Food Systems students, in a discussion over waste and want, helpfully informed the class that Le Pain Quotidian regularly put out garbage bins full of bread in the evenings. Curious, I purposefully changed my route home one evening to verify her statement. She spoke truly: two green bins with shiny black plastic bags spilling out the top. I hesitated a moment, then squeezed the bag to determine its contents. The unmistakable shape of a baguette responded. That night I dreamt of bread. Two years later, my perambulations around any city involve a semi-conscious observation of the waste systems around me. Chicago hides its waste in allies, London gracefully spits it out for a mere moment before sweeping it away, and Paris takes a New Yorkian approach (or vice versa?) leaving trash visibly out at specific times, although nuanced by a more visible, and perhaps larger (if calculated per capita) cohort of sanitation workers. Despite an entire summer of walking the streets of Paris a few years back, I had never witnessed active scavenging and scrounging. Perhaps it was the neighborhoods I surveyed, or a strict sort of regulatory monitoring that kept small flocks of people from sweeping through the final minutes of Paris' many marchés. I looked, and looked, and until this sunny moment captured below, had never seen anyone shopping from dumpsters.Perhaps this, more than any article in a newspaper, illustrates the on-the-ground reality in France. Unemployment is high. So is rent. Sifting through the cast-off items from a supermarket or marché becomes more attractive when faced with tightening fiscal restraints.What really struck me, though, was the age of the people. This is not the twenty and thirty-something bobo crowd that lines the Canal St. Martin with pizza from Pink Flamingo. These appeared to be my grandparents counterparts.So next time you walk by a trash can, peek inside. Consider how a simple container can separate the edible from the off-limits, and if you're feeling a bit more venturous, squeeze the bag. You just might find a baguette.[...]



Fried. Then Fried Again.

2013-05-01T05:10:29.314-04:00

For years my husband has extolled the virtues of the Belgian frite. "Fried once," he proclaims, "then right after you order, fried again. Perfectly crisp." Generally, these conversations are followed by a wistful murmuring of "Franco-Belge Friterie" while he wanders off into the annals of his past.

I generally think of waffles when my mind wanders to Belgium, so upon finding myself on a last minute trip to attend Food and Hospitals: An Historical Perspective, I knew it was time to do a little spousal taste spotting. When those 35 hours are bounded by 20 hours of conference attending, 3 hours of transit time (because I decided to walk everywhere), and 9 hours of sleep/ preparation, it's a bit challenging to eat your way through a city. I tried anyway.

May I present to you the small size frites from Maison Antoine, picked based on the fact that it receives fairly positive reviews and happened to more or less be on the path to Gare Midi. Carefully wrapped in paper, then drowned in what has to be about a half cup of mustard (my choice), they were mostly beautiful examples of frying magic. I pretended the under-fried ones (I'm not the first to notice) were accidental hitch-hikers and ate my way around them. One mustard-covered hand later I emerged onto the Grand Place to be stunned by a sudden burst of sunlight, then scampered off to barely catch my train.




A lingering chill

2013-04-06T17:47:47.901-04:00

Will winter ever end? I queried yesterday morning, lips slightly blue from the early chill of a house not yet warmed. "Not until the Winter Queen is dead," B. quipped.

Living in London in the midst of one of the colder winters in recent history certainly makes C S Lewis' imaginings of a never ending winter a bit more real. Mornings are cold. Not Chicago in the depths of January cold, just an achy sort of ongoing cold, like a headache that won't quite go away. I do jumping jacks (star jumps, my host family corrects me) to warm up, or push ups. And every morning, I drink a cup of chocolate.

Somewhere between last winter and this I discovered I don't like my cocoa so thick you can stand a spoon up in it. Rich, yes. Intense, yes. But to get that flavor, a mix of 50% water and 50% milk works best. Cream, if involved, should be in the dollop on top form, not as a main ingredient. And you should always start with ditched dutched cocoa ...





Sage, two ways. Or not. RSBC 2013 week 3.

2013-02-27T05:04:37.269-05:00

Sage, two ways, was much more difficult than I thought. Mostly because I kept forgetting to do it two ways. First there was the sausage, potato, kale soup with sage. I failed to remember to make a sage garnish, and then one-upped the forgetfulness by failing to photograph my creation. Then there was the sage baking powder biscuits with sage sausage gravy that only got made in my head, followed up by pork, apple, sweet potato & cheddar hand pies that only had sage one way. Oh well. A lot of cooking seems to be mistakes piled upon mistakes. I remember the first time I made sloppy joes: they looked wonderful until I took the first bite: salt overload! I had followed the recipe exactly as written, but that was the fault. The recipe as written, and the recipe in my mother's mind were cousins, not carbon copies. Teaching someone to make something unfamiliar requires somehow unravelling all your own invisible rules and putting them down. Impossible! Playing with new herbs, or playing with them in new ways, strikes me as being quite similar to picking up a new recipe and diving in. You're never quite certain how things will turn out. Kara, for example, made a pumpkin gnocchi with sage, and a sautéed broccoli dish, with sage Her sage, however, came from a slightly wilder place than the banane aisles of a supermarket.   Lizzie experimented with potatoes and sage and garlic, and has smashed her goal of running, running, running. If you missed her good news, go take a look!And Stephanie braved a smoke alarm and the one-bite-no-more reaction of her boys to make a lovely sounding butternut and sage pizza. [...]



Out & About

2013-02-22T04:17:52.275-05:00

I decided, when we arrived, that my weekends would involve a good bit of exploring. Mostly on foot.

So what have I seen?

Piles of licorice-like sugar snakes, near Sloane Square, on a chilly afternoon.


Rhubarb donuts, the creation of the fantastic commercial bakery for the St. John restaurant group. Like other ephemeral delights, only available Saturday mornings on Druid Street. Or, one could pay almost 50% more and pick them up a half a mile away at the Borough Market outpost of Neal's Yard Dairy.


Baked goods galore, peeking out of windows at all wandering by. Eat me, they call. These at Muriel's Kitchen.


Not to mention the historic figure or two, forever immortalized not only in bronze on top of pillars, but also in paint on the side of walls.




A bit of sage: RSBC 2013 Week 3 Challenge

2013-02-18T17:50:18.334-05:00

Monday! A sure sign that another week has wandered by, perhaps aimlessly, perhaps with purpose. It also means we're at the half-way mark of RSBC 2013, the point when one starts to pick and choose what parts of the challenge they're going to actually finish. This year, I'm leaving the swimming out, due to a lack of swimming pool access that falls within my February budget (blissfully spent on a whirlwind weekend with the little brother in town).

When Lizzie and I discussed this year's series of culinary challenges, we decided to dig deep for our superfoods, looking back to past trends and ways of eating to inform our current approach. Some of this is influenced by my own maturing views on food: As a biological scientist, I love seeing the newest bits of research that investigate how consuming this or that exotic food might improve ones health (I probably have a bit of a bioprospector hiding in me somewhere); as a social scientist who dabbles in history, I can't help but recognize the bits of faddism and colonialism that often creep into these Latest! Greatest! discoveries. Yet in some, even many cases, the superfoods of tomorrow and yesterday share one key similarity: an indication that consuming these foods has an effect on the body.

Those effects may be good or bad. They may be measured by people in labs via blood samples and DNA analysis, or they may be anecdotal evidence of one or many people noting that consumption of this herb or that plant changes how they feel.

Which brings us to the secret culinary ingredient for week three of Run Swim Bike Cook 2013: fresh sage.

I picked sage because a good friend of mine recently found herself craving sage. She didn't know why, but it was the one thing that called out to her, it's pine-scented hit in the mouth, the fuzzy texture on the tongue, the calm that followed munching on a leaf in the autumn afternoon. Intrigued, I began occasionally munching on the herb myself. My challenge to you culinary alchemists is to incorporate sage two ways. Pick a meal or food-consumption moment (breakfast, snack, lunch, dinner, dessert), and bring fresh sage into it in two forms. This could be as simple as having sage show up in two different dishes, or in making sage vinaigrette drizzled over a salad with freshly chopped sage as a garnish, or a beautiful caramel cake with sage brown butter and caramelized sage leaves on top. Your meal, your fun. As a reminder, drop me an email at christy DOT spackman AT gmail DOT com by Tuesday next with a link to your post.



Rosemary Roundup: RSBC 2013, week 1

2013-02-15T02:58:38.375-05:00

Week one is long past, and we're well into week 2 of the 2013 RSBC challenge. What sort of interesting breakfast-y rosemary combinations showed up?Kara, from What's Up With the Wheelers made Rosemary Lemon Scones, something I imagine would go nicely with an afternoon tea part in addition to any breakfast.Stephanie of Food. Family. Health made a Turkey, Rosemary, and Potato frittata. My favorite part of Stephanie's post is how her kids responded to the frittata--go check it out!Erin from Small & Simple Things made not one, but two rosemary-based meals. Her Gourmet Breakfast Sandwiches, as they've been dubbed by the all-knowing critics circle from her house, would be quite lovely for breakfast, lunch, or dinner! Going above and beyond, she also made a rosemary, squash, & quinoa soup. I've been wondering about using quinoa in place of oatmeal for breakfast, and I bet one could easily swap out the savory elements such as chicken or veggie broth, add a bit of honey and a dash of cream, and this could easily re-imagine itself into your breakfast bowl.My Co-Host, Lizzie, made a mouth-watering batch of Rosemary and Brie Biscuits. I love all things biscuit, and think this combination looks like the perfect winter morning or evening treat.If you haven't yet started on Week's 2 challenge of using lentils in your meal, check out Lizzie's already inspiring post on Lentil Mushroom Burgers. I can't wait to try making these!Run, swim, and bike well![...]



All hashed up: Sweet potato, apple and rosemary

2013-02-08T05:27:06.509-05:00

Rosemary in my breakfast food. This sounded easy at first--Nigella Lawson has a fantastic-sounding Rosemary Cake that could easily be morphed into morning muffins. Or I could play around with my blue*berry scones, swapping in rosemary for the ginger I normally use, and a bit of candied orange peel and dried apple. However, all of those things require a serious time commitment in the morning kitchen, and right now I'm rolling on the fast(er) weekday rink: muesli with yogurt, for example. When stumped, I strongly believe in turning to the piles of food sitting around one's kitchen. Yet, ironically, I'm not actually using my own kitchen at the moment. We've temporarily relocated to London so I can take advantage of a fantastic fellowship that required my presence in the city of Big Ben and the all-seeing Eye. This essentially means that I've a completely new, occasionally unfamiliar, set of tools and flavors to work with. But it feels a bit odd to rummage about someone else's kitchen, and use someone else's food, to make something just for me and mine. Which left me with sweet  potatoes, "normal" potatoes, leeks, a gala apple, and some rosemary, all left over from the past week's culinary shenanigans. Hashbrowns!Normally, I like my potatoes precooked and chilled, but last-minute hashbrown making doesn't allow that. Precooking pulls some of the starches out of the potatoes (if boiled), and definitely changes the starch structure (if roasted). Both types of precooking help prevent a gummy, gluey mass of hashbrown, which no one likes. You can achieve a similar result with multiple hot water rinses of your shredded raw potato, but that's a lot of work for the morning. What to do, then, when faced with raw potato and a desire to munch on hashbrowns?Microwave!It's not quite as effective, but it did the trick.Sweet potato, apple, and rosemary hashServes 2 as a big breakfast, 4 as a side1 leek1 medium sweet potato2 small starchy potatoes1 medium gala appleSalt and pepper to taste1-2 tbsp olive oil1 tsp chopped fresh rosemaryCut the root bottoms off the leek, and remove most of the green top (save for stock, if you wish). Cut the leek into quarters length-wise, and run under cold water to remove any sand. Chop leeks, set aside.Wash potatoes, cut into quarters length-wise, then halve the sweet potato so all the potato bits are more-or less the same size. Place in a microwave proof bowl, add 2 tbsp of water (or so), cover, and microwave on high for 5 minutes or until fork-tender.If you've got fingers of steel, shred those potatoes right away. Otherwise, run them under a bit of cold water to cool them down, then shred them.Rinse the apple and shred it (I keep the skin on, but feel free to remove it)Heat a large cast-iron skillet or non-stick pan over medium-high heat, add the oil, then add the leeks and saute until tender, about two minutes. Remove the leeks, add a bit more oil if needed, and sprinkle the hashed potato and apple into the pan, then add the leeks back. Allow to cook until the potatoes have started to brown, then turn the hash about using a heat-proof spatula, so another part can brown. Repeat as needed. Flavor to liking with salt and pepper, sprinkle rosemary all over, and serve with eggs, sausage, or whatever else strikes you.RSBC update: Ran: 10 miles Walked: 20 miles Biked: 50 km [...]



Ironman meets Ironchef: RSBC 2013

2013-02-01T18:34:30.224-05:00

My cousin got engaged a few weeks ago. To a guy who has actually completed an Ironman.Over Christmas, my family--which is composed of runners, runners, more runners, runners in training, and parents of runners--invited said cousin and her Fiance over for dinner. The pre-invite discussion looked a lot like this:Me: Is it ok if we invite cuz and her fiance, the elusive Mr. F, to join us for dinner on the 27th?  Brother 1: (Just don't invite Mr. F to the jingle-bell jog, whatever you do!!!!) Brother 2: Of course! And DEFINITELY don't invite Mr. F to the jog... I wanna ween! Haha. JK. He's totally welcome. It takes a lot to intimidate my brothers, but the Ironman, that intimidates us all.However, I think we all have a bit of an amazing, push-yourself-more athlete hiding around inside us. What better time to discover that then February?Enter the sixth annual Run Swim Bike Cook challenge (here for 2012, here for 2011, here for 2010, here for 2009, and here for 2008), hosted this year by myself and Lizzie of The Mother Runner.For those of you who haven't taken part before, here's the layout: You have 28 days to do one of the challenges, some of the challenges or all of the challenges. You decide based on your fitness level. Challenge 1: Run 26.2 miles (I suggest a mile a day)Challenge 2: Swim 2.4 miles*Challenge 3: Bike 112 miles**Challenge 4: Cook 3 of the 4 superfood "iron-chef" challenges. You have a week to come up with a dish that blows us away.Now before you freak out and run screaming, remember you have 28 days to do this. Unlike the amazing Ironman competitors, you get a whole month  to do your triathlon. And this is no two hour culinary competition with  glaring lights and TV cameras and hyper announcers. Nope. This is you,  your superfood of the week, and your kitchen going at it for seven days. Still not convinced? Let me sweeten the deal a bit more: you can do all  your running, swimming and biking (and cooking!) inside. Or outside.  Your choice.Notes:* One water aerobics class = 0.4 miles**One spin class = 12 milesRules: Have fun. Send an email to the host (christy DOT spackman AT gmail DOT com) for weeks one and three's challenges, and to the co-host (lizzie AT motherrunner DOT com) for weeks two and four by the following Tuesday at midnight, including a link to your blogpost for the week. Your post  should highlight where you are in the event, and/or have a mouthwatering  pic of your ironchef entry for the week. For our first Ironchef challenge, might I introduce a long-standing "superfood"--the humble mediterranean staple, rosemary. Chop it up, mix it in, and spin out the perfect rosemary containing breakfast food.After six years of playing around with this idea of superfoods, I find myself both convinced that certain foods really do more in the body, and that a lot of the superfood hype is exactly that--hype. Yet of the currently hot foods, herbs carry about quite a bit of culinary and historical luggage. Rosemary may soothe, it may excite, it may fight cancer. No matter what you think it does, it most importantly brings a bit of beautiful green into the drab of winter.[...]



Supermarket ethnography: or, what we can learn from baby food

2013-01-29T02:58:53.962-05:00

No matter your opinion of supermarkets, might I propose them as the perfect site for learning about whatever culture you are visiting? Let's conduct a brief case study: baby food.Look at the flavors, various concepts in packaging, assumptions about feeding habits, and then go to your own supermarket and compare. Happy thinking![...]