Oddities and Obsessions

box-of-loquats.jpgI think I’d heard of loquats before, but I’m not sure. They certainly don’t grow anywhere I’ve ever lived (Michigan, Ohio or Massachusetts) and if I’ve seen them as I enjoyed the beaches and tropical drinks of warmer climates, I didn’t know what they were.

Recently, I was invited to participate in a Sweet Potato recipe contest for bloggers, sponsored by the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission. The deadline was coming up quickly, and I felt serious pressure as I rejected all of the usual offerings - sweet potatoes with marshmallow topping, sweet potatoes candied, or my standard sweet potatoes boiled and mashed with Indian spices. It had all been done. Thinking “Iron Chef: Battle Sweet Potato” I went all Bobby Flay on the problem, and considered a sort of hot and spicy Southwestern version of the tuber involving maybe, a sweet sticky substance like honey or jelly, and some diced, fresh chile peppers. If I had actually had the ingredients and been able to let the games begin, I might have worked through it and come up with a side dish to make the angels sing while flames shot out their tiny pink ears. Instead, I kept coming up with reasons that nothing new could possibly be invented. I thought about being sued for stealing a recipe I didn’t know about and winning the competition. I thought about the judges reading my recipe, smiling knowingly at each other, and burying it under the pile of Truly Brilliant Submissions. I gave up.

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ImageThere’s no denying it – I am a pork-man through and through. Though I am not one of these 20 or 30 something dudes with a pig’s head tattooed on his forearm who from time to time is adoringly featured on Food Network, pigs and me go way, way back. Though I am a Jew, blade-cut pork chops, pickled pigs feet, Canadian bacon, rolled pork butt, breakfast sausage and the piece du resistance of my childhood – spare ribs (usually slathered in Duk Sauce – a sugary, vaguely fruity tasting, thin jelly with chunks of plums and something I later learned was ginger, that came in a tall jar with a label featuring a racist caricature of a smiling buck-toothed Chinese man wearing a coolie hat and sporting a queue [the Chinese government abolished the queue in 1911 but it seemingly persisted on labels of Duk Sauce at least through the early 1970’s]) were a staple of my New York childhood.

I carried on my affair with pigs when I went to the pork bastion, North Carolina, for law school. One Saturday in the fall of 1974, I was invited to a ‘pig pickin’ in Chatham County, outside of Chapel Hill. I arrived early in the day, fascinated by the prospect of actually witnessing the roasting of a whole hog – a feat that had fascinated me since my mother told me the story about how the Chinese created roast pork.

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flavor1.jpgI first heard of flavortripping last summer. I read an article in the New York Times about a substance that altered tastes of reality. People were going to underground parties for the experience. At these parties they would consume Synsepalum dulcificum, the Miracle Fruit. Once eaten, the fruit tells your taste buds to taste things differently. It makes everything sweeter sweeter.

Over the last year, I was passively trying to find a flavortripping party. I expected that my band of foodie friends would have a hook-up. Alas, nothing panned out. So I decided to take my tongue into my own hands, and I sought out the mister responsible for these berries.

11 keystrokes into a search engine, yielded quick results: Miracle Fruit Man. He supplied the participants at the party covered by the New York Times. His plan was simple. If you send him 40 dollars (plus $28 s/h) he’d two-day express you 20 frozen berries.

I just wanted one.

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ImageI’ve always been a sucker for colorful vegetables. But hand me another dark, drizzly day, and you’ll find me going gaga at the grocery store for anything chartreuse…or fuchsia…or sunset orange. I need the color to stimulate my senses.

But sometimes I get myself in trouble. Take this whole green cauliflower thing. I love this stuff, which I happen to call Broccoflower®. Because that’s what it’s labeled at my grocery store. I included a side dish recipe for it in Fast, Fresh & Green, and developed a pasta recipe with it for my next book. The problem came when I asked my cross-testers, Jessica and Eliza, to go find Broccoflower in their grocery stores. Initially they both said they couldn’t find it. But both had the presence of mind to call me from the grocery store and describe what they did see. So after cell-phone exchanges and emailed photos, we determined that what both of them found was a very similar vegetable labeled “green cauliflower.”

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monestoms10-15  medium size tomatoes (Early Girls or even plump Romas will do) - thinly sliced
1 cup sun dried tomatoes packed in olive oil thinly sliced
1 bulb garlic - cloves mashed
2 medium onions thinly sliced
1 cup minced kalamatas
Juice 1 lemon and zest 1/2 lemon
1 heaping  teaspoon smoked paprika
1.5 teaspoons salt
3/4  cup  sake or dry white wine

Olive oil

This is best cooked in a 12-inch nonstick fry pan but a smaller one will do.

1. Heat under medium heat a good amount olive oil to thickly coat pan. Add tomatoes and onions.

2. Turn heat down after 10 minutes to low and add all ingredients but sake; cover and cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

3. After one hour remove cover and add sake - taste and add more salt if necessary and turn heat to medium - cook until all sake has evaporated and turn heat down to low and cook about 5 minutes stirring to keep mixture from sticking.

4. Serve in bowl - schmeer on thick sliced bread or if you can control yourself, refrigerate leftovers and serve as a sandwich spread  

Paul Mones @ 2013