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At least, [personal profile] morgan_dhu tells me it's of the gods. Since chili peppers and vinegar both make me sick, I can't attest to that myself. It's designed to be made in large batches and stored in the fridge to be eaten over several days.

There are two steps to this soup. First make the hot and sour broth (I usually make 4 or 5 litres at a time), then use that broth to cook the noodles in and add whatever else you're in the mood for.

NB: if you just use generic chicken broth, you'll have soup with tons of added salt. Even if you like salt and aren't on a low-sodium diet, try to get "no salt added" broth or bouillon. There's plenty of salt in the soy sauce, and you don't want salt to overwhelm all the other flavours.

The Broth:

1 litre chicken broth (or bouillon from cubes). If using cubes, use an extra cube above what the box calls for per litre of water.
125 ml red wine vinegar
10-15 ml soy sauce
10 ml pureed garlic
15 ml chili powder
15 ml ground black pepper
2.5 ml chili oil
2.5 ml sesame oil

Add everything except the vinegar to the broth, bring to a boil. Stir a bit and turn down to a simmer. After a few minutes, stir in the vinegar, turn off the heat, and allow to cool.

Once you can do so without burning yourself, strain the broth though a coffee filter to remove the gritty bits of all those spices -- use a reusable filter so you can agitate the liquid that will stubbornly sit in the filter and refuse to strain through. I have a filter that fits nicely in a funnel so I can filter the broth directly into bottles for storage. Put the broth in the fridge until you're ready to make soup.

The Soup:

1 batch of hot & sour broth (as above)
100g dry noodles
125 ml peas
1/2 cooked chicken breast, diced
15 ml pureed garlic (you can never have too much garlic)
1 green onion (thin sliced)
5-10 diced mushrooms

Put the broth in a saucepan and add everything else. I generally add the mushrooms last and just keep putting in more mushrooms until the saucepan is full, hence the vague quantity. Bring to a boil, then simmer covered 5 minutes, and put aside to cool and allow the noodles to finish softening before putting the finished soup in the fridge. This makes a thick stew-like soup with very little free broth. If you want a more soupy soup, cut back on the noodles.

If you prefer a tofu-based soup instead of noodle based, then replace noodles with tofu, add 20 ml of cornstarch (dissolved in 30 ml of water, then stirred into the broth), and stir in 1 beaten egg at the last minute before turning off the heat.
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I enjoyed the first two-thirds of The Omnivore's Dilemma. The last third had some good bits in it, and some bits that I just skipped completely. Which was pretty much the case with the previous Pollan book I read, The Botany of Desire.

In The Botany of Desire, Pollan talked about four economic plants not in terms of what humans got out of them, but in terms of how the plants have evolved in order to cause humans to spread their seeds throughout the world. I enjoyed the book until I got to the part devoted to cannabis, in which Pollan ignored the 8,000+ year history of cannabis cultivation (for rope and fabric and food) and focused exclusively on the plant's use as a drug in the late 20th century, and how the plant was transforming in the US and Europe from a field weed into an indoor hydroponics plant adapted to be grown under artificial lights. All because of Pollan's conceit that he was not discussing four plants, but rather four human desires that the plants were exploiting (Cannabis being "intoxication" or some such).

At that point, I found myself wondering how Pollan might have truncated or distorted the history of the other plants he talked about to shoehorn them into his artificial schema of desires, and I put the book aside unfinished.

In Omnivore's Dilemma, Pollan is once again creating an elaborate and rather artificial schema to compare U.S. factory farming to U.S. organic farming, and to contrast the mainstream way of food in the U.S. to the "slow food" movement. In each section, he traces a specific type of food from its origins as a crop to its final incarnation as a meal that he and his family/friends eat.

The section on factory farming ends with a meal at McDonald's; the section on organic farming has two meals, one made up of faux-organic food grown factory-style by the organic arms of big agribusiness companies and purchased at a chain health food store, the other made up of locally grown, pasture-raised meat and eggs and farmer's market veggies; and the final section of the book details Pollan's own hunting of pigs, gathering of mushrooms and gardening of veggies for a sort of "extreme slow-food" meal. I found the narcissism of the last part quite boring and skipped a lot, but there were some interesting bits in there about mushrooms and about the ethics of eating meat.

Along the way, I learned a great deal about modern factory farming and big agribusiness in the US today - the book filled in a lot of context, background, and missing pieces that other books I've read on the same subject (Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, Cook's Diet for a Dead Planet, Nestle's Food Politics) left out due to their narrower focus.

Overall, I think Pollan is really just too full of himself for me to actually enjoy his books wholeheartedly. But this time, he picked topics that I was already seriously interested in (factory farming and processed foods, and how they are destroying the world and us), and provided a lot of interesting information, especially a global overview, that I had not encountered previously. So I'm glad I read the book, even if I didn't fully enjoy it. And while I may regret this later, I have added Pollan's In Defence of Food to my want list.Read more... )
glaurung_quena: (comics batgirl)
Medieval monks spent time mortifying their flesh because they subscribed to the idiotic view that the only thing that mattered was one's soul, and the body was merely a corrupt and temporary container for the soul. While hair shirts and whips designed for hitting yourself on the back have mostly gone out of style, the idea that being cruel to ourselves is somehow virtuous still lingers on.

Case in point: organic rye flakes. Not as popular as oat flakes, so the number of stores that carry it, and the number of distributors that provide those stores with stock, is limited. Most of the places that sell rye flakes around here sell a variety that contains a significant quantity of chaff mixed in with the rye. There's also a brand of rye kernels with a similar problem - significant quantities of weed seeds (which are much larger, so it's not that you can't separate them out by sifting) mixed in with the grain. Why? Not because we don't have the technology to separate out the wheat from the chaff or the weeds from the grain - after all, we've been doing that for 8,000 years now and have gotten kind of good at it. No, its because some benighted moron out there who is one of the few suppliers of organic rye thinks that organic foods should involve suffering. After all, if you're not picking bits of dirt out from between your teeth, how would you know it was organic?

Well, actually, the real reason is because it saves the distributor a few pennies to sell poorly winnowed grain. But the reason they can get away with doing that is because their customers think that it's OK if it's lower quality, because, hey, it's organic, and virtue should be painful. The same kind of mentality operates in the produce aisle: I cannot buy Ontario potatoes or carrots or actually Ontario grown anything at my neighbourhood health food store. Even during the summer and fall, when local produce would be in season, everything in their produce section is imported from California, except for the stuff that is imported from Mexico or central/south America. Because it's easier for the store to buy from a big distributor than to buy from a local farmer.

Now oddly enough, all of this California-grown faux-organic produce is rather markedly smaller than standard produce -- not because you need pesticides and artificial fertilizers to make food grow big, but because all of that imported organic produce is factory farmed. Those heads of lettuce are smaller than their non-organic brethren because the factory farms in California have to harvest those huge monoculture fields fast, before the bugs move in and chow down on the crop (or before the weeds grow up and contaminate the harvest). Likewise, "Organic" chickens that boast of being "grain fed" instead of "pasture raised" are smaller than regular chickens (and much smaller than pasture-raised birds) because they're factory farmed, crowded in thousands to the barn, raised as fast as possible and slaughtered before they're fully grown; if they were allowed to reach their full adult weight, the birds would start getting sick and dying from being raised in such cramped conditions, since they can't be fed antibiotics.

And people buy this organic-in-name-only produce and meat, paying far more for it than for regular food, without demurral over the obscene prices or the substandard sizes, because organic food is "good for you," and if it's good for you, then it has to be somehow inferior to regular food. Because, as a culture, we are still trapped by the hair-shirt, self-whipping medieval mentality that virtue must involve suffering. Meanwhile, the agribusiness companies that raise all that "organic" produce out in California make out like bandits.

Me, I'm going to start buying my produce at the organic farmer's market this summer. And I'm going to try to find a place that gets its rye flakes from a different supplier. One that understands this 8,000 year old technology known as "winnowing"

eta: added some comments about capitalism that I forgot to put in at first.
glaurung_quena: (Default)
For two people, to die for:

Squash, Stuffing, Roast Bird (chicken in our case), and spicy oven-roasted tuber bits.

Stuffing: cook 1 cup of wild rice in 3 cups of water. Dice about 5 slices of bread. Chop fine: 1 onion, 1 apple, A big whack of mushrooms. Put those in a big pot and sautee them with one big handful of sliced almonds (crush them before adding so they're in smaller bits) and another big handful of currants. Spice with basil, parsley, sage, pepper, and savory. When the chopped vegetables are soft and tender, add the wild rice and bread bits. Continue to sauté for a few minutes. Put in a baking dish (uncovered) and stick in the oven at the Magic Temperature (175 degrees C, 350 F) until there's a bit of a crust on the top (about half an hour or a bit more).

Squash: Skin and pith a butternut squash. Cut into modest chunks in a pyrex baking dish. Add frozen cranberries, maple syrup, allspice, and a bit of water. Bake at the Magic Temperature until soft (about half an hour).

While those two are cooking, prepare your bird and tubers (we don't stuff the bird around here because I am allergic to stuffing :{ ). Take your thawed bird and put it in a big covered roasting pan. Take your tubers (potatoes, yams, and/or carrots), quarter them, and slice them about 1-2 cm thick. Pour some cooking oil in a deep bowl and stir in lots and lots of pepper, basil and parsley. Dump a handful of tubers into the bowl, stir them around so they get lightly coated in oil and spice, pile them around the edges of the bird. Repeat until you run out of tubers or the roasting pan is full. Put any remaining spiced oil on the bird itself. Cover, make room in the oven by taking out whatever is done, and bake at the Magic Temperature (about 1 hour for an average chicken). With larger birds, I suppose you'd better bake the bird alone for a while first, then add the tubers.

Optional: just before serving, take the juices from the bird and make gravy.

Things we forgot to make this year: cranberry sauce (fortunately we had some PC orange cranberry sauce, so that worked out OK).

The oiled potatoes make for a very greasy cleanup job, but OMG is it worthwhile.

Things to be thankful for this year: Our new house. Having been smart enough to cash out my mutual fund last year in order to buy our house. My wonderful sister, who visited us over the weekend and brought her older daughter along (we finally got to meet Casey! Yay!). The fact that Canadians know how to hold an election in only five weeks, instead of taking two !@#$% years about it like the Americans.

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