Eating: A Gut Check

Ouch! Damn! Eeeaaaa! are some of the knee-jerk sounds I’m accustomed to making in reaction to my belly’s calls for help. Since childhood, I’ve always had a sensitive gut. And it didn’t even make sense! I ate well: Chinese, home-cooked, full of vegetables and shit. But despite my robust diet, I found myself resting my head on the TP dispenser, doubled over and waiting for the brutal gas pains of indigestion to subside. Over time, I’ve learned that I have food sensitives. And so I try to avoid wheat and white flour, excessive added sugar, coffee, cream/butter/cheese, and alcohol– in short, many of the major indulgences. Stress and immobility tend to make things worse, so I like to cook with or for others, move my bodayy, and do that yoga.

An additional issue for me is that I tend to make risky choices like eating roommate’s leftovers and other foods with questionable origins, which are at the end of their lifespans. Because I keep getting sick, my stomach and digestive system can’t seem to get a rest. I don’t need a cleanse, just a period of calm to deactivate all of my system’s alarm bells. To these ends, I’m wondering about broth, pomegranate juice, and “whole foods.,” three foods espoused in recent documentary put out by Amazon Prime.

If you haven’t seen it, Food as Medicine is a good opportunity to watch white people talk about about their diets. While the show lacks representation, it paints a clear portrait of how America’s food system, based on processed foods and added sugars is not great for any of our bodies. The film profiles individuals suffering from health disorders: auto-immune diseases, Multiple Sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis among others, which are made worse by the American diet. Those featured speak about feeling inflammation, pain, weight gain and other long-term consequences to their health and bodies. In one case, an MD goes from losing ever more mobility due to her MS, to once again being able to bike after changing her diet; from getting around in a scooter to peddling her way around the neighborhood, her recovery is astounding. This is not the norm, though. Others interviewed in the film struggle to consistently alter their eating routines and do not realize A to B turnarounds.

Despite making a strong case for the inadequacies of an unhealthy food system, the film doesn’t present a compelling alternative (at least in the first hour after which my attention went adrift). And clear paths towards recovery-promoting diets are far from straightforward. One woman, suffering from rheumatoid arthritis deliberates whether eating meat is beneficial for her after finding competing research. A key macro-issue is that the contemporary industrial food system is predicated on dealing products made with ingredients that compromise the integrity of our human relationship to ancestral history, health, and ecosystems- altering our social DNA along the way. What’s to be done to reclaim food pathways that are ethically grounded, just and sustainable? In an episode of a flavorful podcast, The Splendid Table, Francis Lam interviews Jorge Gaviria CEO of Masienda tortillas to discuss going back to basics: https://www.splendidtable.org/episode/647.

While making tortillas with Lam, Gaviria discusses the morbidity of the “modern” tortilla: a product divorced from the ancestral hands that domesticated maíz and the flavors that come along with- an image of a tortilla coming off a conveyor belt in a Diego Rivera mural come to mind. The tortilla is made shelf stable with acids and other preservatives, which bleach the tortilla, leaving it with a bitter taste and chemical smell. Truly, a gastronomical abomination occurs as byproduct of a mechanized supply chain; Gaviria and others are partnering with small-scale campesinos to recognize the inherent worth of Native Peoples foodstuffs. Though at the moment, these heirloom tortillas are beyond the reach of the average working Latino consumer’s reach.

So, how do we get to a healthier place as individuals and as interconnected eaters? What does it look like to demand food rather than value added products? I’m not sure; yet, in each body, family, and community the alternatives are waiting to be drawn from a broader imagination. The seeds are waiting to be planted and harvested. Though the FaM film suggests products from Whole Foods, not everybody need look to the conglomerate, as options like agua de jamaica (hibiscus tea), work just as well to lower blood pressure.

I begin a new job as a nutrition educator next week. I’ll be looking to build power and tap into “gut” feelings about what’s right for people gathering at a community table. Wishing you luck and a ferocious yearning to eat well and fight for a more wholesome American food culture.

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I took a walk

Walking, the full range of emotions greets me.  There’s grief in acknowledging that the rapacious elements of humanity are leading a great destruction, and that, in significant ways the status quo is winning. Forests are being disappeared, as are journalists, teachers, and other dissenters (and those with a darker complexion, just for going to the mall or church).  Oil is extracted from the ground with glee as surrounding communities- from children with asthma to the bleached coral reefs- gasp for life.

Warnings go brazenly ignored and public attention diverted from sensing an unmistakable concern that confronts us; across state boarders, in the air, in the quaking ground.  I look down at the current coursing in the Minnehaha Creek; what will this water hold in the near future?

The cold running across my nose makes me cower and clam up. “Should I stop and turn around?”  Step, step, step.  Not yet- the same gusts that chill awaken me and send blood vessels cruising into muscles and pores like a school of minnows. I peer up at the sky, layered with pink and blue hues.   There are businesses alive with commotion- restaurants, crafts and trinkets and businesses that’ve closed doors, now abandoned marking the passing of time.  The tendons in my left Achilles are tight, a reminder of my limitations. Getting a bit older now, today I’m 30,  tomorrow I’m 40… then?  

On the way back, I whistle and skip and spin, though not simultaneously. Crossing over the same bridge, I peer down into the water and feel the inevitability of passing, crossing, joining. I am not separate from this- flow, movement, and return.

As I am to the water, to the past and future, what is it to be this close to people? To suffering, racism, exploitation, war, greed, and pain? To voices. To listen—to respond.

Man in the sky

Mulberries Burning

It’s been a stressful week y’all.  Inexplicable cell phone bills, kids’ cell phones dying as I’m trying to pick them up, and the humidity!  Nature has been grounding me, though, reminding me that contact with the living, breathing world around us invites a wisdom that moves through our finger tips as the brain catches up.  Trees are thoroughly generous being abodes offering sweet fruit, shade, and calm.  Each day, the tree in front of my home has been raining down purple berries- food for the flies, and shortly after, my chickens.

The falling juicy morsels are mulberries; they are ovalish- small and stretched out with multiple bumps that create a squishy surface.   Except for one section of the tree, which sits openly in the sun, and furnishes large, mouth-watering berries.  Picking them, your fingers turn purple, and it looks like you shook tentacles with a squid.  The question is: Nature having produced such abundant and admirable beauty, how does one then transform with heat and tools into something equally worthy of attention.

In the morning before work I pick from the tree in order to relieve the stress of logistics planning.  I run into my neighbor across the street, and after I mention that I’m trying to get kids to transcend their reticence and indulge in this tree’s gifts , she suggests I look up a jam recipe.  I do, and it’s straightforward: add a grip of sugar and a few tablespoons of water; cook on low heat.  With berries in pot and sugar on top, the heat coursed through as the berries burst open.  I feared they might stick to the pot, but the berries bubbled unabashedly in their juices brought out by the sugar.  We’re on track for delight, right?

Unfortunately, I rushed and pulled the youth in charge of stirring away from the task.  We sat together in circle to begin our program, and by the time we got through a sluggish check-in it was too late; the simmering sweet slurry slipped from my awareness.  When I came back to taste, not only did the sugar harden to my teeth like candy-coated filling, but the scorching product singed off the skin from my palm as I rushed to taste and fix the morass.  Angered and disappointed that I created an example of absent mindedness and an unsuccessful cooking experience, I had trouble letting go of the jam, relentlessly mourning all that fresh fruit now gone.

I am thankful that our brains remember and forget, and that I could put this err of judgement behind me.  Perhaps the jam, the trees are a reminder to slow down and let it all take its own time; simmer and burst when the moment is right.  In her breath-taking/breath-giving book Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer tells of the relationship her grandfather had with pecan trees, which become essential to her family’s survival as they were exiled from their native lands.   Writing from the perspective of her grandfather as a boy she tells this story:

There’s one and then another, and then another–so many he can hardly walk. He takes up a hard green ball from the ground and whips it through the trees at his borhter likea  fastball as he yells, “Pignek!  Let’s bring em home.”

The trees speak to one another, communicating when is the right time to yield offspring- fruit.  And at that moment, all trees of the pecan council rain down nuts in unison. So, listening for that moment of yielding fruit, of trees inviting us to take their gifts and return their care, of holding onto sweetness even as the sugar encasing my berries once sweet burned and became bitter.  What a taste!  IMG_4767

Summer’s Bounty: keepin’ it green

As the soil warms and the weeds, grasses, fungi and perennials come back to life, the groundscape becomes edible yet again. Edible weeds abound including nettles, lamb’s quarters, clover, French sorrel, and purslane among others. Abe’s test kitchen- curated by me- has been experimenting with these greens with some tasty results. Though my go-to technique is the sauté/stir-fry, I’m curious about preparing produce in alternative ways that bring out their flavors and textures. Part of this impetus comes from recalling how my grandma would steam a variety of foods from fish to eggs and the near and dear to my heart, gor dong ti. For the nettles, I separated leaves from the stems and steamed them; somehow my farmer friends Taya and Seamus had already subdued the stingers, but if they’re freshly harvested I suggest wearing gloves or googling how to protect ya self. The warmth and mouthfeel of the nettles was indeed satisfying, but to give a little more flavaa, I added some olive oil, salt and pepper and sautéed garlic. The nettles were also rich delicious pureed in a soup in a miso base with slow-cooked onions, lamb’s quarters, seaweed, and some soy.

 

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Dish shown is different from the one cooked, but is still green

I also prepared a salad, which can just taste like a mouth full of lettuce or if done well can feature texture, tang, and an adventurous eating experience. For my dressings I use some kind of sweetener, e.g. reduced balsamic vinegar, blueberry preserves, or agave for example, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, citrus and sometimes an emulsifier such as mustard; I haven’t jumped into the world of the egg yolk, but let me tell you- that will be magic, or runny, but hopefully golden. To my salad I added pea shoots, quick pickled radishes, some tomato, freshly diced mint, and lentils I had cooked up earlier. The soup and salad paired well and made up a soothing and filling vegetarian meal.

 

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Steamed nettles with pea shoots and noodles

Shout-outs to Taya Schulte and Seamus Fitzgerald of Growing Lots Urban Farm who’ve been providing me with their delicious produce of the utmost flavor and freshness. At first, the box was overwhelming in its beauty color and variety, but as I begin to process the package of green abundance, munching along the way, the vegetables take are of themselves; don’t get me wrong, when I tried this 3 years ago I wasn’t prepared and had way too much produce lying around, but with some practice and research I’m getting more of the greens joyfully and skillfully into my belly and others’.

Recipes:

Nettles soup-

1plastic bag or bundle of nettles

¼ finely diced onion

1-2 cloves garlic- minced

1 T white miso paste

1 sheet Nori

Couple dashes soy sauce

Couple dashes xiao xing vinegar or whatever you have on hand

  • Slow cook the onions in olive oil while slicing up nettles and other greens you may want to add.
  • Add the garlic after the onions have started to sweeten and cook down. If you plan purée the soup, you don’t have to worry about chopping.
  • Add the greens and enough water to cover, and let the soup simmer
  • Break up your seaweed into small pieces and toss in.
  • Add the miso paste mixing in with a utensil. I usually grab a spoonful and stir in the spoon using chopsticks.
  • Add some salt and taste
  • Add your soy and then vinegar and taste
  • Serve hot!

Salad-

  • Slice radishes and toss into mixture of vinegar and water (mostly vinegar) with ½-1tsp sugar and pinch of salt
  • Wash greens and remove tough stems
  • Slice or tear larger pieces of lettuce and other mixed greens
  • Combine the produce, mix, and dress

Dressing-

1 T mustard

2 tsp agave

Olive Oil and Vinegar (about half and half, but you may like your dressing more acidic and pungent or more neutral and oily)

Sesame seeds

Squeeze of half lemon

Salt and pepper to taste

Finely diced mint leaves (a handful or less)

  • I don’t have any specific order but I might start with the mustard base and build up

 

For next time: baked rhubarb, it’s delicious!

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Espacio Kruz ¡Viva!  Family bonds furnished in the struggle for a campesino livelihood.

Planting corn is a family affair for the Cruzes.  When we went to visit their land, little did we know we were entering into an autonomous space called San Juan Chilateca.   Román and his family form the nucleus of a grassroots initiative called Espacio KRUZ- a local hub committed to self-reliance and the open dispersal of information on the illegal practices of mining corporations, which have detrimental effects on communally held land and people. The family farms their land by traditional means, while also incorporating new eco-technologies (eco-tecníqas), which they also share.   Yellow Corn

 

When our delegation arrived, we were greeted by Yasmín and Román, their daughter Quetzali, and their cousin Dora.  We passed by a large pile of corn waiting to be husked, two large bulls, and banana trees in mid-growth.   Behind the street view of hand-assembled fences, a space of respite and ingenuity was waiting to be revealed.   Espacio KRUZ (The Coordination of Resistance in Unity and Solidarity) occupies a small swath of land at the foothills of the countryside. Their home incorporates considerable eco-technology, where walls and roofing and tools are made from cañuela- a reed that functions like bamboo.   Here they grow corn, pumpkin, garbanzos and other legumes and are experimenting with new crops such as carrots. All members of the family help with la cosecha (the harvest) starting with Román’s father who has preserved  the oldest surviving corn seed in their family.   He also fashioned the yoke which sits over the neck and shoulders of the  family oxen used to plow their fields.

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As curious farm stewards we had many questions for Roman’s family about how they prepared the fields.  When do you plant the beans? How exactly are the fields plowed? When are the corn stalks cut? How do you replenish the soil, and with what manure?   The Cruzes still use a traditional method of preparing the fields, creating rows and furrows.   The corn and accompanying sister seeds are deposited into the furrows and then covered using soil from the rows upon reaching the shins/knees.  This planting system is called la milpa, which addition to staple crops, produces flowers (for consumption, pollination, and celebration) and edible weeds like quelites.  Each member of the family had something to offer, including Quetzali who shared that she chose to leave school after other students teased her, simply because her family worked the land.  She explained that she had pride in this work, and that it was important that she knew how to take care of the land when so many other young people had lost interest.

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The deep bonds this family has to one another and to tradition are readily apparent; yet interrupting this idyllic vision is the threat of rapid encroachment from mining companies predominantly of Canadian origin.  Oaxaca is México’s fifth largest state, and due to its rich supply of underground minerals and precious metals, nearly 15% of the land has been leased/granted for international “development.” This is a violation of México’s constitution, which is supposed to prohibit foreign companies from consuming its resources but was altered to make concessions for international investors.[1]  Though it is illegal for communally held land to be proportioned off without the consent of its inhabitants and of local forms of government, foreign enterprises employ a variety of  ethically devoid maneuvers to grab and go.   Román pointed out “Though we own what’s above the land, we don’t own what’s below.” “It’s the same up north, no?” Looking at a map of the Valles Centrales region, in the center was a large, ominous square—denoting land that had been guaranteed to mining companies, whose resources would be dispossessed from its inhabitants.

 

Before we move into this weighty conversation, we are welcomed with an immaculate meal based in local ingredients and family recipes.   The staple course is green mole with pumpkin seeds and a chicken that had been living on the ranch.   The mole carries a smooth consistency and has a rich texture that satisfies every corner of the palette.  Alongside the mole is a dish called chileajo (chile-garlic), which consisted of small cubed potatoes, red chile, and garlic.  A critical piece of the meal were the food carriers-tostadas and memelas-a thin crispy tortilla and a thicker cake covered with a thin layer of beans and cheese- both made of cornmeal they had grown and processed.  The corn husks had also been employed as fuel for the oven, which had been fashioned at one of the collective’s trainings.   We were also served a dish typically made during weddings- an egg bake called higaditos, named for the finely diced pieces of pig liver that flavored the dish.  And lastly, to cleanse the palette there were two kinds of fruit water- both pumpkin and tangerine.   Somehow, after eating we managed to rise from our seats and husk a basket of corn before diving into dialogue.

 

Román began his discourse by critiquing an ideology of descampesinización, or the removal of campesinos, which had begun before the imposition NAFTA as more land was placed into the hands of foreign companies.  He explained that millions of farmers were forced to leave their land as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The government has tried “Dispossess us of culture and place,” he said.  Román’s family stands in opposition to many community members who favor development projects such as paving roads, which they see as signs of progress in the context of modernization. Yet, to the Cruzes, the paved roads do nothing but facilitate water runoff and create a red carpet for mining trucks to pass through the community with ease.           

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Companies pay low taxes on their gains, can sue the government for any circumstance deemed impediment to their advance, and have limited if any accountability to upholding human rights.  In our trip to EDUCA, a nonprofit that works on advocacy and mobilization with indigenous communities, Neftalí and Felipe explained the consequences of NAFTA in relation to multinationals, namely the establishment of International Tribunals.  A lesser known outcome of NAFTA’s ratification was the Investor State-Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system, which was created to arbitrate financial disputes between companies and the foreign countries in which operations are based: https://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/04/opinion/when-corporations-sue-governments.html.   The tribunals are another means to protect companies, which sue host countries for losses in assets due to issues ranging from protest to further necessary environmental review.

The resistance is a constant David and Goliath struggle, which has not only placed indigenous and farming communities in a precarious position but also divided communities by those who favor mines, dams, and other development projects and those who advocate for local autonomy and land protection.  The stakes in México and in indigenous communities throughout Latin America are perilous, as multiple activists and local leaders have been assassinated due to their positions on the mines, including Óscar Venancio Martínez, Félix Misael Hernández,[2] and Honduran environmental activist, Berta Caceres among others.  The parallel can be drawn with our Minnesotan and indigenous communities where debates over the merits of mines, fracking, and pipelines where the plan for economic growth entails potentially irreversible harm to the land. Nevertheless, there communities have been victorious; in Magdalena Teitipac (above), community banded together to resist the entrance of a silver mining company, Mineria Real Plata, into their lands.  We can support these communities by following their lead and responding to calls for action against human rights abuses. Back home, there is also much work to be taken up in response to indigenous communities response to impositions on their sacred lands. La familia Cruz continues to fight with grace and love for one another in the place they reside and tend to.

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[1] https://cuslar.org/2017/02/23/mining-and-resistance-in-oaxaca-mexico/

 

 

[2] kantolibre.wordpress.com

 

Ramen

IMG_2884 (1)Noodles are the warmest, most comforting food to see eaten, cook, and write about.  Someday, I’d like to work my way through Japan slurping carefree through oodles of noodles in dashi and fishy broths (katsuobushi).  I grew up eating cheng fun (flat noodles), crispy noodles (what’s it called ma?), and glass noodles (sly fun); so I’m kind of a newbie to ramen.   But, it’s what the doctor, Doctor Ada that is, and my niece Valerie ordered.

I’m usually experimental with my broths, but they’re most often made with what I have in the cribo.  For this broth, I boiled a chicken thigh in hot water, to which I stirred in white miso paste.  You could also use vegetable broth.  While the broth was brewing, I minced up some ginger and garlic and sautéed them in some oil.  After that, I tossed in some button mushrooms.  In a separate pot, I heated dried shrimp and Shiitake mushrooms, which I’d strain for the juice.  Though mustard greens, shiso, or something with a kick would be ideal for this winter ramen, I had kale- yes, yess, we in the Midwest.  I added the greens to the garlic, ginger, mushroom mix, added the shrimpy-mushroom juice, and cooked them down.

I didn’t realize how fast the pepper flakes would pour out into the broth, which made me shout “Rooster sauce!!”  I used It was just a little too spicy, but once we added the noodles the soup swimming pool cooled down to a comfortable level of heat safe to the touch.  Being gluten free, I used rice noodles, which are about $1.99 at the Asian grocery store, $5 at the coop- don’t let the secret out!

One of the most important parts of ramen, besides the broth has got to be the toppings.  I read that the eggs should be soft-boiled for 6 minutes to preserve the running of the yolks.  I cooked them for 7 minutes, because the water didn’t start off at a rolling boil, and alas they were overcooked.  But, with a drizzle of sesame oil and the magical spice mix (crushed nori, sesame seeds, and anise), the eggs were in mint… (seaweed)? condition.  Make sure to slice/ mince your scallions delicately.

To the boiling broth, you can add your mushroom, garlic, ginger, and greens mix.  Serve with a healthy amount of broth, a bit of toppings and one or two egg halves. Oh yes!  I forgot to mention, we also pickled daikons in vinegar and sugar, which mellow out and funkify the ramen; they add a tangy sweetness.  Experiment with toppings to see what you like!

Backyard Birdwatching

There’s a Chinese creation story about humankind emerging from an egg.  This isn’t why I decided to get birds; I only hoped for yellow yolks- no humans or magical forces.  But, chicken rearing has lifted my yin in times of yang.  No matter how tired or uninspired, I’m pulled toward creation observing my birds.  They just do their thing, scraping back leaves and nipping at blades of grass or shaking their butts in the dirt.  The sensory experience of bird bearing has been stronger than a fresh cup o joe.  Chicken poo is fowl and potent, and the outdoors is no place for a scented litter box.  It’s not all plugged noses, though.  Each day I get to run my fingers over the shells, picking off lingering bits of hay and noticing rough spots or patches.  Each egg is different.  And each chase to bring the girls home to rest proves to be a ritual in love.  Holding their plump bodies to my side, taking feathers to the face, I think ahh, to be a dad.

Here they are approving designs for insulation, which they would later snack on.  She’s all, yeah, it looks fine, move it along.  

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Pecking at their new brightly colored feeder.

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Strong yolks means better stability for food-objects.  No, unfertilized eggs don’t make new birds.

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Celebrating my 29th día de cumpleaños: selections

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Birthday Food: Fried rice, yucca con mojo and curried broccoli

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Cooking with the kids: didn’t realize our garden was so Italian

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Farmer’s Market Potato Hash with garlic, sage, and cajun seasoning

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Garden breakfast with salad mix from Growing Lots Farm!

Woking Across Cultures

She said her people were the best cooks, and I had to make a case for mi gente.  I wanted to make something Thai…. Granted, Thais and Chinese are different people with different culinary traditions, but it’s all one wok of life.  There are also certain flavors and smells that are similar including fermented pastes, dried shrimp, and certain herbs.  In Thailand I got my first taste of local, traditional food, which was quite different than stuff you’d find at Amazing Thailand.  The flavors of the North (Esan) are highly spicy and tangy and the smell of fish sauce and grilled meat linger in the air.  In villages, fresh herbs gathered from the local environment and sticky rice were served with most meals.  Bangkok is known as the street food capital of the world, though it’s up for debate.

For me, the whole experience: the smells, the heat, and the sweat made for one slippery situation, and that’s when I wasn’t being covered with baby powder and sprayed down with water (see Songkran). Changing living environments- cBee-Laoollege campus to the landfill to the mountains to the hospital- being sick and overheated like an Acura running on old vegetable oil, was both enlivening and overwhelming.  And because I was going through so much, I didn’t have the head (or belly) space to fully appreciate the food.  Though, I did enjoy playing the fool.  Thankfully, 7 years down the road, my friend and colleague in creativity, Eyenga Bokamba, dropped a copy of Bangkok Street Food in my hands, and I took it to the Y-dub hot tub, where I read it with a mimosa.

As soon as Isela said that she loved Seafood, I knew it was on.  Tom Yum is a highly aromatic soup, brought to life by notes of lemongrass, galangal, chili paste, and lime leaves; most of these ingredients can be found at your local Asian market.   The flavors are diverse and pack a punch.  Start chopping and drop it like it’s hot pot, and  your kitchen will go from from earthly ordinary to a paalace for the devattas.   There is also the mundane, yet satisfying work.  Isela deveined the shrimp with a steady hand- make sure you save those shells- we’re gonna need em’ for the broth!  Man, I just remembered going around to local food stands to collect shells for our school garden in Khon Kaen; it smelled fishier than the Boston Harbor at night with Whitey Bulger escaping on a kayak under the moonlight.  We didn’t have quite the right chili paste, but mashed up chiles with garlic (Isela’s idea), and some leftover red curry paste did the trick!  I also recommend smashing the lemongrass before adding, which will bring out its essence.

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Back to the loo loos, as my gramma called em…  Singapore noodles reminded me a lot of fried rice with a few differences: obviously noodles are used rather than rice and the seasonings are a bit different- curry powder – is rarely found, if at all, in Chinese cuisine.

To begin on this dish, we have to start with the noodles; you don’t want vermicelli common in Vietnamese dishes (glass noodles) but something with more texture and flavor and/ or the capacity to absorb flavor.  The recipe I used calls for Jiangmen noodles, which is an administrative prefecture in southern China in the province of Guangdong- where my family is originally from.  Guangdong is a huge area, and I’ve noticed that many Chinese restaurants and retailers share this root of Cantonese cuisine.  Recently, I realized that a local food distributer called Kwung Tong foods, is a romanization of Guang Dong (广东).

Over at United Noodles, there is a woman I always bump into.   She has a huge smile and wears those sleeve stockings that protect your shirt from soot.  She reminds me of one of my aunts who has since passed on (Big Yi).  I always wish I could speak to her

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Not the woman, but he does have the sleeve protectors…

more in my Grandma’s tongue of Toisan, but I have to mainly get by on my Mandarin.  I asked her, where are the noodles from Guangzhou?  Shi cong Guangzhou lai de!?  I asked her.  These ones are from Guangzhou??  Shi a, she replied- sure are!  I was thrilled to see the red package with shrimp on it.  IThe noodles cook quick! Only 3-5 minutes in boiling water will do.   They’re also versatile and can be covered with a bunch of sauces- chili, hoisin, curry, all yummy!  To the noodles you can add shrimp, tofu, or bbq pork (char siu).  I would definitely recommend using whole shrimps, at least medium in size.  You can also choose to fry the egg separately or do it like my gramma did- get the wok nice and hot, make a well in the middle, drop the eggs in, then quickly mix with the rice.

The first bite of this dish blew my mind.  The second bite of egg tomyumnoodleswhich was soft, warm and the most absorbant took me to heavenly cloud surrounded by fragrant steam where I kissed my grandma on the cheek, and she smelled of Jasmine rice.  It was, shemazing!  The curry powder absorbed into the noodles and danced with the tang of xioashing cooking wine (only $2.50), and was further enhanced by the salt from the soy sauce, mmm, mmm, mmm, can you say hoo sek!  And then there was, Isela’s Tom Yum.  Honestly, I didn’t love this dish in Thailand, but making it in the home, wow.  The confluence of lime, spice, and fresh seafood, with the refreshing elements of pea pods and tomatoes took me back to my home waters- “You cahn’t beat that!” as my uncle Nundoi would say.  I know Isela, the comal and molcajete are fundamental, but so are the wok and cleaver!

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Below, you can find the recipes for the dishes we prepared.

Tom Yum Recipe: https://www.eatingthaifood.com/tom-yum-soup-recipe/

I would suggest 2-3 cloves of garlic and also using red chili curry paste in addition to the chili peppers *Make sure to add this last, so that the spice and punch is adjustable!*   Sweetened condensed milk or coconut milk is optional; I prefer it without.

Singapore Noodles: http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2015/05/singapore-curry-noodles-stir-fry-recipe.html

Notes:

For more on chili oil as a condement, see: http://thewoksoflife.com/2015/08/how-to-make-chili-oil/

 

Local, Native, Alive

Tonight,  I relied more on boiling than usual and kept it real simple.  I started by heating up corn that I had previously roasted over coals to go alongside some rice along with some lentils.  A normal meal, though heavy on the grain, with a few exceptional notes of emphasis.  The corn belongs to the Oneida nation, a tribe originally from New York who migrated to Wisconsin; it was grown at a community garden in Minneapolis that honors native heritage.  The wild rice is from leech lake, an area inhabited historically and presently by the Ojibwe.  Moreover, I got both the wild rice and the corn as a gift from the Four Sisters Farmer’s market, which operates just outside of Pow Wow Grounds-a Native-owned coffee shop on Franklin Ave.  This meal was steeped in tradition and heritage and connection to Minnesota and the Americas.  

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All I did with the wild rice was add hunk of garlic and a bay leaf.  The smell of the wild rice steam was robust.  I emptied the remaining broth and sipped it quickly *medicine for my soul*  The rice itself was painted by the place it came from; stains of brown soaked into the long grains.   I added in Peruvian purple potatoes & golden sweet beats, sauteed with olive oil and herbs from my garden – rosemary, dill, and oregano – along with salt n’ peppa.  I seasoned the lentils with a mix of curry powder, toasted cumin seeds, and tarragon– a leftover rub from a mediterranean vegetable medley.  Despite not having meat using any tactical enhancements such as sugar, bottled sauce, or fat to carry flavor, the meal was deeply satisfying, complete, though in some ways I felt conflicted.    

There’s an origin story about the Ojibwe coming to the place where the food grows on water; this place is Minnesota where the wild rice, a grass, grows on lakes and is harvested with knockers, annually.  I can only imagine what it is like to harvest this crop as a Native person holding on to tradition and resisting invasion.  Wild rice, like other native resources, is under threat from multiple angles of exploitative economic origin.  It must be understood that wild rice is culture, livelihood, and a sustainable source of capital to Native Minnesotans.  Yet, the harvest has repeatedly been contested by American industry.

There are the oil companies and miners wanting to run pipelines or build tailings ponds near the lakes.  There are the university researchers who have patented wild rice, and then there are the producers who sell paddy-grown wild rice while appropriating employing Native American images as seals of genuineness, and even going so far as to call their rice Native grown (this is now illegal).  And in additional to chemical contamination, there is the risk of genetically modified wild rice coming into contact with indigenous varieties, forever altering their make-up and adaptation to local the local environment.

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Corporate wild rice: harder, black, takes longer to cook

Winona Laduke, an Ojibwe activist from White Earth has a great article that puts these issues in their historical context.  In this article, Laduke cites Albert Jenks, a U of M professor from days passed,  who labelled the traditional way of harvesting wild rice as primitive.  Apart from being incredibly racist and arrogant, casting Native agriculture in this light was a means to enable corporate ag to take the process of growing and harvesting out of indigenous hands.  I wonder, given the strength of the corporate ag(riculture) and oil lobby, what is the fate of the practice of harvesting wild rice?  On the one hand, I see Dakota, Lakota, and Anishanabee people reclaiming land and space, and on the other hand I am cognizant that 90% of the world’s diverse crops have been lost.  Preservation  of the food and the traditions are critical.

Wild rice is alive, and around it, traditions and cultures are sustained.  When you smell, taste, chew this food from the source, you are instantly know the difference.  And how do we value this food for what it is versus what the market wants it to be.  Will it become another commodity like quinoa, taken out of its native context and rendered inaccessible to the people who treat it as an ancestor?  Will future generations get to taste it?  Food is political, and though I attempt enjoy the meal fully in the moment, I am aware that it is a privilege sustained in a precarious moment.