Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Chickpea and Chorizo Casserole

The amazing Mel Camero, better known as the blogger "bitchincamero" has been at it again, posting recipes that beg to be duplicated, August heat or no. I am already a fan, partly due to my belief that hers has quite possibly the coolest food blog name ever.

Seeing as I already had chickpeas and bread in the pantry and most of a link of chorizo in the refrigerator I was a slam dunk to try out her Chickpea and Chorizo Casserole for myself. Especially since I had never attempted the sausage simmered in cider as she suggests as a must try preparation.

But man (or woman) does not live by casserole alone. Besides borrowing from bitchincamero's blog offerings, I also had plans to dip in to the Sue Bette stream on feelgood eats, taking as a starting spot her recent post about a fig, watercress and bleu cheese salad.

Ever since the other day when John McCain tried to bash Barack Obama by calling him an "arugula eater", I have been jonesing for arugula and wanting nothing more than to defiantly make a blue-gal-in-a-red-state rocket eating statement all my own.

Past that, it seemed I'd been reading about figs everywhere. Have you noticed that? When you are really craving an ingredient you begin to run into it all over the place, smiling, hanging out with other people, taunting you... I began thinking about the amazing combination of peppery lettuce, basalmic drizzled figs and tangy crumbled cheese, and, well, I just had to have me some. Stat!So with a bit of fear and trepidation I set out to answer the burning question. In this, the home of burly flagship Randall's, well muscled Central Markets and the Arnold Schwarzenegger of Whole Foods stores, would the 98 pound weakling Wheatsville Food Co-op even have what I wanted, no strike that, what I needed for dinner tonight?Turns out I trembled for naught. You can read more about me getting all mushy over my hot new food-love partner in another post. Suffice it to say here that I hit Wheatsville yesterday and found everything I needed to put the dinner I'd been dreaming about on the table. And here's how it went. I took Mel's original recipe and mostly just halved it, leaving me with this:

Chickpea and Chorizo Casserole (Serves 4)
8 ounces Spanish chorizo
2 cups sparkling cider
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
5 slices of crusty bread, cut into large chunks
2 eggs
3/4 cup 2 percent milk
1/2 cup chicken stock
pinch salt
4 ounces smoked gruyere, shredded

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a casserole dish.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the chorizos and cider. Simmer for 20-30 minutes or until the chorizo plumps up and absorbs the liquid. Remove from the pan and set aside.Add olive oil to the skillet and sauté the onions. When translucent add the chickpeas and cook for 5 minutes. Chop the chorizo into small chunks (and whatever you do for the love of mercy don't taste it at this point or unless you are a stronger person than I am you will be tempted to send your husband to the drive through while you hide in the closet and eat every morsel) and add them to the pan along with the bread. Let it sit for a couple of minutes, stir well, and then transfer to the casserole.

Whisk the eggs and milk and broth and salt and pour over the casserole, making sure to coat evenly. Top with cheese and bake for 30-40 minutes, until the middle is set and the cheese is browned and bubbly.

Serve with a green salad.The salad of my choice? Arugula and baby spinach mixed with pine nuts and crumbled Cotija cheese in a basalmic vinaigrette, topped with quartered fresh figs. I'd originally meant to use toasted pecans in the salad but discovered we are temporarily out, so the pine nuts had to pinch hit. They managed just fine, with a similar nice crunch and hint of their own sweetness to lend to the mix.

So how did it turn out? Mostly amazing. See for yourself, my casserole got a bit overbrowned, even though I checked it at 30 minutes.Next go round I believe I will put some foil over the casserole to begin with and take that off for the last 15 minutes to allow the top to brown (or run it up under the broiler). If that doesn't work, I might knock a few degrees off the oven setting. I didn't actually add the broth in last night, it was only going to add 1/2 cup liquid and the eggs I used were pretty large and I thought I could get away without opening a container just to use that teensy bit. Plus I got totally distracted by all the hooraw on PBS about the convention.When it came right down to it last night history was playing quite the trump card.

Distracted as an excuse or not, turns out the casserole came out of the oven not only a bit brown but perched right on the tippy edge of "too dry". When I reheat the two reserved leftover portions for another dinner in a few days I will introduce some broth into the process to correct for my oversight. I (barely) got away without using the broth this time but know to be sure to throw that in next time I fix this.

And, there will most definitely be a next time. The casserole is a wonderfully nutty meaty cheesy combination of flavors that tempted even our heat jaded appetites last night. We thoroughly enjoyed it.And the salad? My sweet hubbub remarked that he would be a happy camper with figs in his salad, anytime. Sure, I know, salads aren't technically "cooking", but I do have fun combining salad elements in ways that give us a little somethin' somethin' past dressed lettuce, you know?

I think a well composed salad works like a good choir. Every voice needs to have a certain strength on its own, but together they have to be able to blend in a way that takes the whole experience to a new level. La la laaaa.

As usual, many many thanks, Mel and Susan! You ladies hit the inspirational mark yet again. Thanks to all of the food hotties at Wheatsville as well. I can tell we are going to have a long and happy (if not slender) time together, celebrating good local healthy food (in our "easy fit" elastic waisted clothes)...

Panzanella with Sardines

I'll tell you how well the panzanella/experiment in liking sardines went. I nearly didn't get a shot of the dish before we cleaned our plates, that's how well it went.

I had a lot of fun putting this bread and tomato salad together. I found myself involuntarily humming old style popular Italian songs I recalled from my childhood.

MixwitMixwit make a mixtapeMixwit mixtapes

In case you don't have a head full of appropriate tunes, I took the liberty of putting together a little mix tape for you. Hopefully the music will transport you someplace where tearing bread with your hands and then squeezing the juice out of tomatoes seems just the right way to have fun while sipping wine and preparing a delicious dinner.I borrowed liberally from at least three different recipes I came across on the internet. Here is the blended version I ended up with, a perfectly delicious, summery evening panzanella that nicely filled us up without weighing us down. Served with a glass of slightly chilled red, it was a great finish to a leisurely day. I appreciated the way the mix of bread, tomato and herb colors fed the eyes first, as a dish ought to do.In a version of this using only white bread, you'd end up with a salad rendition of the colors of the Italian flag.  Che bella!

Panzanella with Sardines
3 cups hand torn pieces of hearty bread, half and half white and whole grain
1 1/2 teaspoons dijon mustard
freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 cloves garlic minced
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 small red onion, diced (about 1/3 cup
3/4 cup olive oil (including reserved oil from sardines)
5 medium to large heirloom tomatoes, mixed red and yellow
1/2 cup pitted large green olives (cured in oil with minced garlic)**
1 cup packed coarsely chopped mixed basil, thyme and sage leaves
1 tin lightly smoked sardines packed in olive oil

Drain sardines, reserve oil for dressing. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread torn bread on a baking sheet and toast until crisp, 10-15 minutes. Stir once halfway through toasting time. Set aside and let cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl, whisk together mustard, black pepper, garlic, onion and vinegar. Add the onion and let them bloom for at least 15 minutes. Add in the sardines, breaking them into the mixture. Stir in the reserved olive oil from the sardines along with enough oil to measure 3/4 cup. Whisk to emulsify.

Rough chop the tomatoes into a large sieve or colander, draining all liquid into bowl with dressing. Squeeze tomatoes slightly with your hands to juice as needed. Allow tomatoes to drain into bowl with dressing for 5 minutes.

Whisk dressing again and check seasoning. Add salt if needed. Stir in tomatoes, olives, fresh herbs and bread. Mix well and recheck seasoning, correcting with salt/pepper and/or additional oil or vinegar to taste. Serve immediately.
This is one of those nearly foolproof dishes where you can bend the rules and the ingredients list nearly at will. The key elements are day old or oven toasted bread to prevent sogginess, and tomatoes with great flavor to play against the natural sweetness of the fresh herbs and the salty tartness of the olives and the dressing.I am seriously thunking my brow over having waited so long to enjoy panzanella. I found it a fabulous delivery method for my first venture into sardine territory. I served this with a nice Italian Sangiovese (Santa Cristina 2005 from the Toscana region), but I think a Spanish table red would go equally well. This is simple food so the wine doesn't need to be showy or pricey - it only needs to hold it's own, which any decent Spanish or Italian table red ought to be able to do.**Most of the recipes I found calling for olives in this salad specified using kalamatas. I had every intention of scoring a cup or so of those from the olive bar at a local store I frequent, but they were out.I substituted large green Spanish olives that were swimming in minced garlic, so adjusted the amount of garlic in the dressing accordingly. I think the green olives provided a bright fruity top note that kalamatas would not, so was not troubled by the substitution long run. If I were making this salad without the sardines, then kalamata olives would fill in with that meaty salty taste nicely.

Although salt was called for in all the recipes I found, I didn't use any additional salt in my version of this. Between the mustard, the green olives, the garlic and the sardines, I thought it was salty enough. It is my understanding that many Tuscan breads (one of several regions from which this dish was popularized) were classically baked without salt in protest of the salt taxes levied by their neighbors.  My breads both had salt in them, so again, I was happy with the results sans extra.

With or without my new friends the sardines, don't wait to try this great summertime dinner salad for yourself.  You won't be sorry.   Buon' appetito!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

"Sliders!" is the answer...

So excuse please, remind me, what was the question again?

After doing a fair amount of electronic hand wringing about my huge backload of kitchen inertia yesterday, I decided to just suck it up and cook something, anything, for dinner.

I had some loved to death Maverick organic ground beef on hand. Seriously, ranchers these days are nicer to their livestock than I was to my kids growing up - just ask 'em. [My kids I mean. The cattle when last approached by the media apparently had no comment.] I had some leftover King's Hawaiian Rolls (packaged bread of the gods) beckoning. I had reasonable sharp cheddar on hand, some (teensy) home grown tomatoes from the one tomato plant that had actually stepped up to the plate fruit production wise this year, and a bastardized churrasco-style paste-ish thing I'd thrown together to use up a slightly tired CSA onion along with the entirety of my garden's currently underwhelming jalapeño harvest. Sliders for dinner it was.

A quick glance revealed the Hawaiian rolls had taken it upon themselves to go into antibiotic research while we were out of town for the past week. Yup, unfortunately these little slider wrap wannabes had gone over to the mold side of the Force. Now that I had finally made my mind up to cook, I was not to be easily deterred. I made certain I had an acceptable substitute slider delivery vehicle yet available, and got down to work.

Side note: Some days I am pretty smart in the kitchen and other days not so much. Before I left on the two day road trip with my youngest heading up towards where her law school lives, I know I should have put any bread I was interested in eating a week later into the reefer. Bread left out at room temperature in Central Texas in August lasts about 3 days, tops. Anything that doesn't mold in that time span is so shot through with preservatives you might want to reconsider eating it unless you are simply feeling short a few chemical compounds yourself. In which case there are other more enjoyable ways to get your chemicals, but that is another type of post altogether.

So. I massaged some Worcestershire sauce and the jalapeño/onion/garlic/basil paste into the beef with my bare hands, one of the indisputable joys of making sliders in my book, formed adorable little patties, quick sliced some red onion and glommed the onion bits into one side of each patty. I was all set. I fired up a hot skillet, prepped the buns with mayo, cheese and liberally salted and peppered homegrown tomato slices, and we were ready to rumble.I served these babies with our go-to kettle chips and that was that for dinner. Perhaps not the healthiest dinner imaginable but for somebody who was just remembering how to crawl in the kitchen, it sufficed.Anyway, I have plans to make up for that not so healthy dinner last night with a respectably healthy dinner tonight.

Tonight I will endeavor to put together some version of a panzanella, along the lines of this one featured recently on feelgood eats, substituting "I want to like you" sardines for the anchovies. More on those sardines in a moment.The list of ingredients is pretty straightforward, the recipe fairly unambitious.Day old bread, tomatoes, basil, salt, red wine vinegar, some red onion. This looks like a salad even someone like me, hoping to regain their kitchen chops, can attempt without undue fear or loathing. I already have a few heirloom tomatoes on hand that I bought at the market, leftover bread, basil from my garden and some slightly smoked sardines that I am endeavoring to love. Which brings me to my proposed Experiment in Liking Sardines.

Reading a list of the top 11 healthy foods we aren't eating enough of, and knowing what we can responsibly eat from the sea, that meaning mostly seafood sustainably harvested and not containing sufficient mercury to take your own temperature internally, I recently realized I will have to come to grips with my general aversion to fishy tasting fish. Namely, sardines.

Sardines are very good for you, they are not drastically decreasing in numbers under current fishing practices, and they are not hysterically expensive. Although there will never be a "local" version of sardines to buy, I know I need to find a way to eat them without holding my nose. Draining the oil off them (which yeah I saved for the dressing, relax!) they began to slightly break apart. They are sensitive, sardines are. Who knew? Realizing my palate has (ahem!) "matured" along with the rest of me, it is possible I might have given sardines a bad rap in the past.

My husband already likes sardines plain, mashed up on saltine crackers. I am hopeful this salad will strike him as a slight improvement on that. I am optimistic that in this wonderfully summery combination, the salty fishiness of the sardines will meld together with the bread, tomatoes, basil and red onion in a way that will have me smacking my forehead for having waited so long to try the little fishes in the tin.

What the hell, I'm going for it. I get to approach sardines respectfully as a healthy ingredient, and prepare dinner without heating the kitchen up. I figure to start with a nice glass of slightly chilled red wine (again, it is August in Texas so just keep your little disdainful gasps of horror to yourself). The wine will serve to inflate my smug sense of self righteousness for being so open minded about trying tinned fish. That sure can't hurt. As a bonus I get to mash tomatoes with my bare hands. Being a little smug, playing with food with my bare hands...can you imagine having much more fun while fixing dinner than that?

I'll get back to you with how this little Experiment in Liking Sardines #1 goes. Could it be I've unreasonably avoided this piscine delicacy all these years? Has my "bésame no go" policy towards my occasionally sardine breathed husband been a case of unwarranted aversion? Time, and the next installment of this blog, will tell.

In the midst of all this summertime plenty, there are folks everywhere who are existing without enough food to eat. Here in Central Texas, 1 in 4 children faces hunger every day. Area wide our Food Banks are finding themselves with increasing demands and empty shelves. Many area churches and grocers have bins set up to accept nonperishable donations for local food banks such as the Hope Food Pantry at Trinity Methodist. Whenever you shop or worship either one, please consider buying/bringing a little something extra for those who might otherwise have to do without.

Monday, August 25, 2008


An interesting aspect of being away from home is that you get to eat without cooking or cleaning up after cooking as part of the daily routine. You might try new foods, or rely upon comfortable chains when speed and predictability are called for, but you are only responsible for finding and ordering and paying. No prep work enters the picture.While I usually miss the cooking a bit, especially when I am paying high prices for a dish I know I reliably turn out better than what is on my plate, I never (ever) miss the cleaning up afterwards part.Problem is, after I've been gone from my kitchen for long enough, I tend to fall prey to what I call "cookamnesia".

After a day or so of whatever steps it takes travel wise to return home, I re-enter my kitchen, typically half exhausted, where I am confronted with a relatively empty refrigerator and/or pantry. I stand there staring into cabinets and my refrigerator and wonder.What in the world will we do for meals now that we are back at the mercy of my skill set? What will it take to rekindle my willingness to extend myself along culinary lines? It is a bit disconcerting to finally stand back in my own sweet kitchen, take a good look around, and rather than experiencing joy at the reunion, feel more a strong desire to grab my keys and head back out towards the closest source for take out.

And that is centrally it - cookamnesia. A dissociation that occurrs between marshaling the energy towards planning and executing a meal and the eventual reward of the good food personally prepared to share with my family. Usually cookamnesia is short lived and after a couple of easy entry level meals I am once again filled with ideas and energy to tackle the challenges of eating well while maintaining a certain level of health, fiscal and social responsibility.

This go round I have been away for six days, helping my daughter get settled in to new digs in Ann Arbor prior to starting law school next week.I made sandwiches while in Michigan one time, the closest thing to a home cooked meal we had there and the closest I'd gotten to planing and preparing a meal for the entire trip.

The first of the two flights it took to get back home to Texas was diverted to another field for refueling which added in another two hours of "sitting on the runway inside the plane fun" into our travel day. Once we finally got here, my husband and I stopped for a very late fast food dinner on the way home from the airport. The next day in between laundry loads and a run to the grocery store, I made an oriental chicken salad for lunch and then a dolled up frozen pizza for dinner.

So here we are, two meals in, and so far I've done nothing that really counts as cooking. And somehow, rather than gleefully anticipating putting something wonderful together for dinner tonight, I am finding excuses for even thinking about what I'll do.

Folks, I am going to the well, throwing down the bucket, and coming up empty.

As I sit here now trying to work up any enthusiasm for planning tonight's dinner, I have about decided to give it up and take it easy on myself. I may have to accept that offspring resettlement residua, travel fatigue, and the ambient heat of Texas in late August all in combination mean it will take more than 24 hours for a kitchen enthusiasm rebound.

If after a couple of days more I am still not finding the energy or imagination to put together anything that goes past "edible" for a main meal, I suppose I'll look around for some form of kitchen intervention and seek professional help.Perhaps a nice quiet restaurant dinner in combination with a Food Network marathon will rekindle the culinary flame.Has this ever happened to you? When you get back home from a trip do you arrive raring to go, kitchen wise? Are you filled with new recipe ideas and things you know you want to try? Or does it take you a day or more to get back into your own kitchen zen zone? I'd really like to know.

Friday, August 8, 2008

To Link or Not to Link? The saga continues...

A not so short story to illustrate how messy this whole attribution of recipes thing can get.You recall that shampoo commercial where a smiling model (with perfect hair) coos on camera about how she tried a particular product ? She talks about how she told two friends (here the screen shot of her smiling faces doubles)..."and they told two friends" (the screens quadruple)...her voice over continues "and so on...and so on..." as the television screen progressively fills with multiple shots of her smiling face with her impeccably styled blonde hair and the sound tracks multiply to reinforce the effect.Then there is that HBO feature, "The Buzz". Celebrities are interviewed about their upcoming shows, about what they are watching, all intended to build interest on the part of the general public in whatever HBO is up to. The graphic for the feature is another illustration of how word of mouth multiplies, spreading the buzz throughout, well, throughout the "hive".

Yup. The hive. That'd be you and me, fellow honey bee.Recipes are similar, the enthusiasm about them spreads just like the excitement generated around a new show or a great hair care product.

Good recipes spread by word of mouth, or now more likely by post of blog, as each person posts, another person reads that, tries it and posts it, then more people read it and try it and post it and so on...and so on....

Case in point. Today I received email notification of a new post to a favorite blog of mine, "Feelgood Eats" written by Sue Bette in which she recaps a recent Canned Tuna "Quest for the Best" challenge, and shares a great summer salad recipe featuring tuna and green beans.(photo credit:FeelGood Eats)

Feelgood Eats appeals to me not only because Sue Bette keeps an eye on the nutritional content and benefits offered by recipes, but she also demonstrates a consistent regard for the sustainability of the resources involved. She connects the dots for folks, showing the impact on the environment for eating certain foods or using certain products.

I share her concerns and deeply appreciate that she goes to the trouble to investigate and educate her blog readers as to why they should be concerned too. Feelgood Eats is all about whole, seasonal, and local foods. It is a great resource, accessibly written, and presents precisely the type of overview we need more of in food writing.

But back to the linking issue. I'd read the Canned Tuna Challenge and have some responsibly fished canned tuna already in my pantry. I was primed to make "tuna something".In today's post, Sue Bette presents a recipe that looks tempting to me but represents a combination my family wouldn't ordinarily go for. However, at the end of the post she has featured links to three additional recipes, one of which (Pasta with Tuna, Arugula and Hot Pepper) caught my eye immediately as a great prospect for dinner tonight.

So I point and click and voila! I am taken to another regularly visited and referenced blog, this one called "Simply Recipes" , featuring the writing of four different authors, including the originator Elise Bauer, who seems to be the writer behind the posts I am typically drawn to. (photo credit Elise Bauer Simply Recipes)I check out Elise's post about tuna and pasta (referenced by and linked to by Sue Bette's post) and the second sentence reads "I came across this recipe on Sher's What did you eat? blog, where she got it from the San Francisco Chronicle."

I went back just to check, and the SF Chronicle recipe was featured on March 7, 2007. Sher's post on it was written several days later. Elise posted on it this March 14th, about a year later, and I just stumbled across this daisy chain of links to the recipe today, nearly five months later.

I am sitting in Central Texas in August of 2008 getting ready to gather ingredients to prepare a recipe that was originally printed in a San Francisco newspaper in March of 2007.It will be a delicious dinner tonight, but it would never happen without people sharing the information, in this case via a series of linked blog posts.

Some would maintain that this increasingly typical manner of roundabout recipe sourcing potentially violates intellectual property boundaries, but I heartily disagree. I believe sharing is at least half the reason to formulate a recipe in the first place.

The original recipe in the SF Chronicle article as written by staff writer Janet Fletcher was printed specifically for people to use. Fletcher is the author of several books on food and wine, and her column has won several James Beard awards. I do not own her books and have not read them (yet) but feel secure the focus of her writing is to encourage people to eat and drink and enjoy doing so.

The recipe for pasta and arugula, along with several other really good preparations for greens (I encourage reading the whole article) was provided for folks to actually prepare the dishes and enjoy the meals, not just to read about it and forget. Further, the recipes allow readers not only to prepare the dish once and enjoy it, but to duplicate that experience on demand, and to share that freely.

The bottom line for me is this: a recipe holds and even gains value based upon it's utility to reliably produce an enjoyable dining experience. Aside from wonderful anecdotal surrounds several authors are known for, and the occasional line drawings or beautifully photographed food stylings included, published recipes exist to be put into practice, not admired as an art form.

As opposed to the recent dust up over that kitchen gang who seem to feel they can perfect a recipe so that it can only be used with credits and links by their permission and without any alterations or substitutions, most of the reliable sources for recipes are more than happy to have their recipes used, shared, and enjoyed.

Sure there are those exceptions, legendarily stingy local cooks who will share their recipes on request only to delete some key ingredient or technique note to insure that they and they alone are able to reproduce the results.

Is that you? I hope not. That's not me.

Enough is enough already. I propose we allow common sense and decency to prevail. Be honest, play nice, give credit where credit is due, but for heaven's sake when you come across a recipe that is great, don't keep it to yourself. Share it so others can benefit. Isn't that what writing about eating is good for?As the saying goes: Woes shared are halved. Joys shared are doubled. A good recipe is a joy. Share it!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Weakest Link

Note: Occasionally worlds collide. I am posting this on two different blogs because the topic of blogging in general and the furor occasioned by activity in the food blogging world recently has this applying equally to both./TD

Do you remember that show on TV? The one where at some point somebody was ushered off to the scolding tones of the host "You are the weakest link. Goodbye!".

In the online world, there seemed to be no such thing as a weak link. In most blogger's minds, a link, representing as it does the potential to reach a new group of people who will view and share content and comments, is generally considered a boon.

I read blogs and log into websites representing large communities featuring articles, threads and posts routinely garnering dozens to hundreds of comments. As somebody who regularly checked (and rechecked) my posts for comments of any sort in vain, I was envious of the attention.

On some level I craved that exposure, that audience, those accolades. I wished for nothing more than to log in, check my blogs, and see a respectable double digit down there in the "comments" section. That, I thought, would be it, baby. The real sign that I had arrived.

Over the course of the past two weeks, two things have happened to shift my thinking.

Coming a bit late into the blogging game, I'd been doing some checking around to determine the proper etiquette for taking somebody's recipe, tweaking it, and then writing a post about it.

Recipes evolve. It is their very nature to do so. Each recipe represents an attempt to take available ingredients and transform them into a dish that will provide nutrition in a way that is pleasing to the palates of the intended audience. When availability of ingredients shifts, or when an intended eater's requirements vary, a recipe must be adjusted accordingly in order to survive as more than a historical or social anachronism.

As best I could see, common practice for food bloggers was to credit all recipe sources specifically, link to them if possible, and reprint the original recipe only if it represented what you were writing about preparing. As I understand it, if I am taking somebody else's recipe and changing it around for whatever reasons, I link to the original, credit the source, then reprint the recipe as I actually prepared it, noting any changes in amounts, substituted ingredients, or alterations in time required or technique.

As part of my research I stumbled across an online drama unfolding over the past couple of weeks that illustrated the perils of my assumptions. An individual food blogger posted a recipe containing modifications, credited and linked to the original recipe although doing so without directly granted permission. This original recipe came from a commercial source. The blogger was reportedly contacted by a publicist from the source of the original recipe who asked her to remove both the link and the modified recipe from her blog. The blogger questioned the need for such a move and a lively email exchange ensued which the blogger then posted.

This exchange between the commercial enterprise and the individual has been picked up by other bloggers who linked to her post and to each other (not unlike what I have done), and a perfect storm of comments grew, as folks debated copyright issues, intellectual property, propriety on the net, fair use, corporate blindness, and various other fascinating issues generated.

I am not here to enter the debate. Consensus seems to be that a recipe cannot be copyrighted or patented. Actual recipes, lists of ingredients with the basic instructions on steps to prepare or combine, are not considered exclusive domain. A particular way of describing how to prepare a dish, including a style of commentary or a very instructive or radical departure in form or order in steps, or in adding ingredients, should be considered exclusive and thereby is (theoretically) protected. Along similar lines, a particular technique or process can be patented.

I think the discussion threads themselves are mostly healthy examinations of how to properly use such a public form of discourse and how to properly credit sources.The rest of the hooraw seems to center around whether or not this blogger crossed a line in reprinting her email exchange with the company representative, balanced by considerations of whether or not she was treated fairly by the commercial enterprise. The question is raised, is it a good idea for a commercial enterprise to respond in such Big Brother fashion at the risk of alienating scores of the their targeted market?

In this case there is a lot of attention that has been generated for both the blogger and the commercial kitchen. There are, not surprisingly, nearly as many opinions on the various questions raised as there are folks commenting on the situation. In the fuss however, the recipe itself, a basic potato salad, has gotten completely lost in the shuffle. So when does a lot of attention become too much? At some point does a comment thread overshadow and render irrelevant the post it relates to?

The other item that has me rethinking the desirability of attention and comments is this article from the NY Times Magazine.

Sidebar: Although themselves a commercial enterprise, the New York Times displays permalinks for their articles with this explicitly printed understanding, "To link to this article from your blog, copy and paste the url below into your blog or homepage. Using this link will ensure access to the article, even after it becomes part of the NYT archive." Granted, they generate income from advertisers apart from subscribers, but their granting permalinks for articles represents a shift for them, coming after a trial of both reserved content for subscribers held aside from freely accessed online material, and altering a previous policy of charging for article access from archives past a certain time span.

I admit to residual naivéte about the internet and all the consequences of having personal content distributed and existing independently for all eternity, searchable, and available to anybody with an internet connection. I' will also admit to previously expressing amusement over how some recent college graduates were chagrined to find their employment prospects dimmed by the unfiltered material they had posted on their social networking sites.

I read with significantly less amusement the August 3, 2008 article in the NY Times Magazine by Mattathias Schwartz that takes a closer look at the world of online trolls. Another feature in the Times asking for comments on the article took on a life of its own as well, eventually veering from responses to the topic of the article itself to commenting on the comments, and finally speculating whether or not the article's author had himself been "trolled". In a bit of holding up the mirror to admire its impact, the Times also runs a feature listing blogs posting to their articles.(image credit:Country Shrink.Com)

So far the "Malwebolance:The Trolls Among Us" article itself has reflected a lot of attention back to the Times. If it is attention they wanted with this article, so far so good although there are a host of seasoned voices questioning the wisdom of shining any additional attention on the trolling community who seem to crave precisely that - at any cost.

With internet access so common, with online threads such a regular feature of our daily lives, they are most certainly subject to the same caveats as with any other endeavor. You are looking for attention? Be very careful what you wish for.

cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Monday, August 4, 2008

In Defense of Corn-This Omnivore's Dilemma

[Sidebar: Is imitation the sincerest form of flattery? I sure hope other food bloggers think so. Most of my recipe inspirations come from the things other people are trying out on their sites, and whether I tweak a recipe or reproduce it step by step, I link to the original and give credit where credit is due. Could I call anything I am currently cooking an "original" recipe? Probably not. How about you? Onward!]I am one of those people who often carries guilt for many of the offenses of the world, whether I am directly involved or not. Once I find out about some transgression I feel implicated by my knowledge - my own version of "ignorance of the law is no defense".After I read Michael Pollan' Omnivore's Dilemma and understood how prevalent corn, or more accurately, processed corn by-products, have become in the manufactured pseudo-foods behind a lot of today's health crises, I thought back to all the corn on the cob I had enjoyed growing up, and I felt more than a few pangs, honestly. 

Clearly corn itself is not at fault, those honors go to agribusiness and a tendency towards ignoring ingredients and placing blind trust that we wouldn't be sold anything that would hurt us, to eat. But this is about an emotional response, not an intellectual one, and the demons behind my temporary avoidance of corn looked like that old familiar guilt by association. 

While avoiding corn might be prudent during cold weather months, we are eating seasonally around here, and once local summer corn began to show up in the market I knew I needed a killer corn recipe to exorcise those avoidance demons and get me back into the game.  Cob of Evil or not, I really truly love love love corn.  

Enter the Exorcist: Grilled Corn Salad with Cotija Cheese and Lime

As so often happens, the inspiration from this sprang from a recipe from another food blogger on the web. This recipe for Grilled Corn Salad with Queso Fresco and Lime, was a recent post I spotted at a site I recently bookmarked as I found myself checking it near daily, the visually striking bitchincamero blog, written by the irrepressible Melissa Camero Ainslie.As Mel is currently living in Miami, Florida and I am in Central Texas, the weather and population mixes are proving similar enough that most of her recipes are suitable for our temperatures and typically call for ingredients I can easily find. Win/win.

I find her approach to food and eating similar (she's not afraid of bacon or ice cream), and her recipes avoid the need for hours spent in the kitchen or expensive single use equipment. Beyond that I sincerely appreciate that she goes to the trouble to explain the process behind preparing each dish, often breaking it out step by step, which helpfully guides a first try for an amateur like me.

Last but not least, in her write up of this salad she mentioned how she appreciates a recipe where you can have tongs in one hand and a beer in the other. She had me there. After reading that I knew I had just the right recipe to banish my corn guilt.

I didn't recall seeing a number of servings given, but guesstimated that 1 ear of corn would generate one serving of salad. I wanted enough for two so I began by cutting the ingredient amounts roughly in half.

If you've read here much, you know I am all about using up what I have on hand. So for starters, while I was willing to buy the corn, I did a quick pantry/refirigerator survey to see what I already had and what might sub in for ingredients in the original recipe. I determined I could swap out cotija cheese for queso fresco, an organic sweet onion remnant from the last CSA basket for the green onion, a home grown jalapeño for the serrano and and some basil also from my garden for the cilantro.So here is my version of the recipe, prep notes included, which I served on a bed of baby arugula fresh from the Farmer's Market, alongisde a reheated chimichanga and pieces of one of our few (the proud!) home grown tomatoes. The peppery arugula was a great base for the sweet-salty salad, and tempered the bite of the lime dressing perfectly. Here goes:

2 ears of corn, husks on
1 tablespoon olive oil
juice of one medium lime
3-4 ounces of crumbled cotija cheese (I am a big cheese fan so I didn't halve this one!)
1/4 cup finely chopped sweet onion
pinch salt
1/2 jalapeño pepper, seeded, membrane removed, minced

Set your grill at the appropriate heat for roasting vegetables. Know your grill - if you are using an outdoor grill, medium heat is suggested. I used an indoor grill so I set it at the highest heat. While the grill heats, soak your corn in water to wet the husks.

Place the corn, husks on, on the grill and cook for 5-6 minutes, or until they develop grill marks, turning every minute or so.While corn is grilling, combine other ingredients in a medium sized bowl. Remove corn from heat, peel back the husks, and return corn to the grill, cooking until a nice brown char develops all around. Turn the corn every 1-2 minutes. In the original recipe it was suggested that this would take another 7 minutes or so. I found it took twice that on my grill, although in a real Homer Simpson "D'oh!" moment I switched the orientation of the cobs from laying them horizontally across the grate to vertically so the corn would settle in closer to the heating element and not roll so easily.Once your corn is nicely colored, [patience here - the grilled corn taste is what all the fuss is about] remove from heat, let cool a bit, and remove the kernels from the cob. bitchincamero's post linked to Simply Recipes, another great food blog written by Elise and three others, a place I regularly drop in for inspirarion, for some wonderful tips for corn kernel removal here.Toss the kernels with the other ingredients and serve.Serves 4 as a side [or 2 if you are me and my husband and nobody is watching]

Because the star of this salad is the grilled corn and my substitutions were very close to the original ingredients, I was pretty confident the results would be good, but would they be great? Would this salad merit the ranking bitchincamero gave hers in the title of her post of "favorite"? .I'd say ohhhhh yeah. We ended up with such a delicious result for our lunch yesterday that my husband fetched the rest of the salad not originally plated right out of the kitchen in it's bowl and then we sat and devoured the rest of it on the spot.

I'm still not in favor of using corn as the generator for by-products to sweeten, thicken, and otherwise modify nearly every processed food in your neighborhood supermarket. Nor do I support taking corn out of food production to fuel vehicles. I am still not OK with the idea that our federal government should subsidize the fence to fence planting of genetically modified corn and I think the use of pesticides and fertilizers to support those farming practices has to stop.

On the other hand, a few ears of summer corn, especially if you can get them from a local farmer, is part of what makes July and August a special time of the year for seasonal eaters. All things in moderation, yeah?

Turns out maybe I can have have some sweet corn, and eat it too.