Many Native Nations begin a Coyote legend with some variation of “Coyote Was Going There.” Trust me—Coyote? Still going. It’s about time ebooks caught up with that crazy Trickster.

Nolan, a Native American Storyteller and therapist, retells traditional stories he heard from his relatives, with cultural commentary, stories from his life, explanations of how he used the stories in teaching or therapy... and recipes!

Nolan has performed these stories in wildly varied settings, from Head Start programs in reservations to international psychology conferences. He interweaves the traditional stories with the stories of how and where he’s told them, and with stories of food and culture and the culture of food. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book quite like this.

I really enjoyed it. The stories themselves are great – funny, powerful, resonant—
as is Nolan’s commentary on them. In one story, Coyote orders his woven baskets to fill themselves with salmon from the river. Oh yes, Nolan explains, in those days baskets had feet. Like a duck’s. And could walk around by themselves. I am still cracking up at that image.

Nolan’s wry, humane, erudite perspective on the power of stories to illuminate and heal reminded me a bit of Jane Yolen. But I don’t think you need a particular interest the use of stories in therapy and education to enjoy this. It’s kind of “An Evening with Ty Nolan, Storyteller” in written form. Though he does not mince words when discussing injustice or loss, the overall feeling of the book is warm and uplifting.

As the preface explains, the book is arranged so that you can read just the stories, or the stories and the commentary. Some of the commentary would probably go over kids’ heads, but stories plus selected commentary would probably make a great read-aloud.

I think a lot of you here would like this a lot.

Coyote Still Going: Native American Legends and Contemporary Stories. It's a self-published e-book, so it won't be in libraries. But it's only $4.99. Support your probably-not-local author!
Chef Marcus Samuelsson was adopted from Ethiopia to Sweden when he was two years old, along with his older sister. His mother had died of tuberculosis, and her children were incorrectly believed to be orphans. (I'm using the passive voice because Samuelsson never found out exactly how this came about, or if any of his living relatives would have been willing or able to take him in had they known what was going on or, for that matter, if any of them did know.)

Growing up, he wanted to be a professional soccer player but was too small (later, he discovered that he was a year younger than everyone thought), so he turned to cooking, eventually becoming a successful chef in New York. Due to his sister's detective work, as an adult he discovered that their father, whom he had thought was dead, was alive, and that he had something like a hundred relatives he'd never known about. His visits to Ethiopia inspired him to start cooking Ethiopian food. He won Top Chef Masters with an Ethiopian meal.

Great story. Samuelsson is an excellent writer, and his story is atmospheric, thoughtful, and honest. He's definitely of the "warts and all" school of memoir writing, which I appreciate. He's particularly good on his cross-cultural experiences, the complexity of his unusual racial and cultural status, and the connections between food, family, and culture.

Yes, Chef: A Memoir
rachelmanija: (Gundam Wing: Heero falling)
( Feb. 20th, 2012 04:33 pm)
In addition to making a raspberry cake for the dinner tonight, I decided to surprise my Queer Narrative class with a special Rainbow Pride Cake, inspired by a jar of decorative rainbow ball thingies I spotted next to the baking powder.

It turns out that if you fold rainbow balls into white cake batter, you do not get white batter speckled with rainbow balls. You get purplish-brown batter, the color of a nasty bruise, speckled with white balls. If I'd had chocolate, I'd have dumped some with the hope of it turning into a normal chocolate cake (with white balls.) But I don't have chocolate.

I am going to ice it, dump the remaining rainbow balls on top of the icing, and bring it on on the theory that students will prefer funny-looking homemade cake to no homemade cake.
rachelmanija: (Savor)
( Dec. 7th, 2009 03:48 pm)
Yeah, yeah, I realize that 50 F and rainy is not "cold weather" for much of the world. Guys, I have only ever lived in Maharashtra and California, and mostly in hot parts of both! I am thin-blooded!

Currently in oven: chopped baking potatoes, red potatoes, sweet potatoes, and garlic. (What I had minus onions; I'm extremely sensitive to onion fumes and couldn't face them when I can't open a window.)

Awaiting oven: Chicken parts rubbed with brown sugar, cumin, salt, and pepper.

In refrigerator marinating: more chicken parts soaking in soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, and chopped garlic.

Contemplating: cake. Though that would require leaving house to buy milk.

Tell me of your favorite cold weather food, either ones you make or ones you just eat. (Recipes are great if you actually make them yourself.)
While house-sitting, I attempted a brine recipe for pork chops from the Lucques cookbook. It calls for dissolving 1/2 cup kosher salt and 1/3 cup sugar in 2 cups hot water, then adding three quarts cold water and various spices, then soaking the chops overnight.

I just broiled a sample chop. It is nearly inedibly salty.

1. What happened? The only alteration I made, other than omitting some spices I didn't have, was to use powdered rather than granulated sugar as the house didn't have granulated.

2. How can I salvage the remaining chops soaking in the brine? I don't want to throw them out. Should I rinse, then soak them in cold water? Or rinse, then soak in water with just granulated sugar added to try to make up for the part that didn't work?
rachelmanija: (Book Fix)
( Sep. 8th, 2009 12:26 pm)
The Alpha Box by Annie Dalton. Lonely teenager Asha finds a magic box, and is coached by the Goddesses contained within it to defeat the evil power of the nihilistic rock band, the Four Hoarsemen, who are turning teenagers into depressed zombie groupies (unsurprisingly, few people notice) as the first step in their plan to turn the world over to a flying saucer full of unseen aliens at a huge outdoor concert.

The realistic emotions and character interactions make this less ridiculous and more touching than it sounds.

Dustbin Baby by Jacqueline Wilson. A children’s book by a popular British writer. It’s been fourteen years since the newborn April was found in a dustbin, but she hasn’t remotely come to terms with her ignominious beginning. After a fight with her adopted mother, she sets off to try to connect with her past.

A sweet, poignant problem novel with at least one good surprise and a satisfying conclusion. The flashbacks to April’s childhood are darker than I’d expected, but since we know that things turned out all right for her, it’s probably not too disturbing for younger kids.

Don't Try This at Home: Culinary Catastrophes from the World's Greatest Chefs. An anthology of true stories of culinary disasters and panic in the kitchen, written by famous (and semi-famous) chefs. Like any theme anthology, some stories are better than others and many are similar to each other, but if the subject matter sounds amusing I can guarantee that it lives up to its theme. I often laughed aloud as I read.

In these stories, chefs are terrorized by rampaging meringues, make 400 French soldiers spit out their coffee, flood a car with gallons of Hollandaise sauce, accidentally contribute to the working of a medical miracle, discover new taste sensations when they drop the foie gras in the chocolate sauce, and (this happens several times) must come up with ingeniously hilarious methods of saving face when they drop or otherwise destroy a wedding cake. Remarkably, there is only one story about a food fight.

Some stories are gross and “This Whole Place is Slithering” is gruesome. Caveat emptor.
If I bought peanut-containing products (Delish salted peanuts and Reese's peanut butter chips) at Ralph's yesterday, they wouldn't be part of the recall, right? I checked a master list but it's a little vague, as some of the listings just say stuff like "Ralph's."

Note: Baking already in progress. Dammit.

ETA: Found the FDA search page. Looks like I'm OK.
I note merely for posterity that I have now commandeered someone else's kitchen to bake cookies because of a dream. Or, as Yoon said, the soul of the universe told me to.

Two nights ago I had a lucid dream in which I was on a shuttle bus in New York City. It was very dull but I couldn't escape. Then some dude on the bus started eating cookies, and it occurred to me that since it was a dream, I might be able to get my purse to materialize cookies. So I mentally commanded, "Cookies!" And I reached into my purse, and lo! Cookies! Entemann's English toffee cookies, which they might have stopped making because I can never find them any more. After that, I got my purse to materialize a bottle of water.

So I went to Yoon's place and demanded that we attempt to recreate those cookies. We used Hershey's Skor bars and a random recipe off the net that suggested Heath toffee. Maybe my dream was prophetic after all: they were delicious.
rachelmanija: (Fruit: oranges)
( Mar. 31st, 2008 12:56 pm)
While up at my parents' place yesterday, I offered to make dessert. Jokingly, Dad suggested a souffle. I pounced upon this idea like a rabid terrier upon a rat. Next thing he knew, we were buying souffle dishes and perusing ominous cookbook instructions which first assured us that souffles would not actually collapse into pancakes if you breathed in their vicinity, then said, "It is a difficult and delicate art."

We made the "Joy of Cooking"'s lemon souffle. Beat egg yolks with sugar and lemon juice and zest, whip egg whites, fold together, set in pan of hot water, and bake in oven. I was worried it wouldn't rise, so I was probably too careful not to crush the whipped egg whites, and in retrospect I bet I didn't fold it enough to really blend it.

Well... it did rise. It rose so high that the meringue burned against the grill. And the lemon juice separated out, forming a soggy lemon pudding over a base of lemon juice and a top of pure, non-lemon-tasting meringue. It was... interesting. I can't say that I'd ever order it again if I got it in a restaurant.

If I was on Top Chef, I'd be packing my knives and going home. Dad did, in fact, hand over the souffle dish to me before I went home.
I figured out why my cornmeal cake turned into a blunt instrument. I glanced at the recipe and apparently noted the proportions but misread the amounts of the two types of flour, so instead of using one cup of flour and half a cup of cornmeal, I used two cups of flour and one cup of cornmeal. Oops.

Definitely worse than Yoon's apple crumble disaster, in which she forgot to put in the sugar in the crumble topping, but I salvaged it, or at least made it edible, by adding more sugar and butter and putting it back in the oven. The cornmeal cannonball had to be flung into the dumpster, where it landed with an echoing boom.

Tell me about your worst cooking disasters.
I am doubling a cake recipe. I just added baking powder to the flour. I now can't remember if I remembered to double the baking powder or not. It is now, of course, inseparable to all the flour.

HELP! What do I do? If I double it again and I already doubled it, what happens? If I fail to double it and it turns out I baked a cake with half the required baking powder, what happens? Which would be worse?

Doubled quantities were supposed to be four cups flour, 4 1/2 teaspoons baking powders.

ETA: I could also just dump out everything, but that seems so wasteful. Is there anything one could do to four cups of flour with an unknown quantity of baking powder in them?

ETA II: I hadn't mixed anything yet, so I scooped out the top layer and threw that out, then re-measured the flour and added correct amount of baking powder. I think.
My friend Halle and I have a ritual: on Wednesday nights, I come to her place and we cook dinner, then watch Lost. (After the interminable early episodes with the boring Kate, the meh Sawyer, and the detestable Jack, the show suddenly became interesting again by focusing on the far more intriguing everybody else. In my opinion, anyway.)

Last night we sauteed pork medallions with leeks, roasted carrots (beautiful ones from the farmers' market; unfortunately, we spaced out and burned them), and, most notably, baked a cake from scratch.

The basis for the dessert was an old "Joy of Cooking" recipe for a "whipped cream cake," in which whipped cream and whipped egg whites go into the batter. This created two thin cakes of an extraordinarily light and fluffy texture. (If you try this, I would reduce the amount of sugar in the batter. I would have liked it a bit less sweet.) "Joy's" suggestion was to fill the layer with jam and ice with icing. Instead, we filled the layer with whipped cream and chopped strawberries, and iced with whipped cream. Our idea was to recreate this incredible berry cake from a local gourmet cake shop, "Sweet Lady Jane."

Alas, ours did not come out quite like theirs. One layer fell to pieces when we tried to extract it from the pan, and we didn't have enough whipped cream to ice the entire cake once we'd filled a layer, but had to just dollop the remainder on top. If you try to attempt this, you will need two pints of whipped cream if you want frosting, not one.

However, the result looked a bit amateurish and messy, but tasted like the world's greatest strawberry shortcake. Plus... I baked a cake from scratch! How cool is that?
This weekend I went for a walk with a friend who shall remain nameless, with her two dogs. It was very hot. We stopped at a Starbucks and got a glass of water for the dogs to lap from (we had both left our wallets in her car, so we had no money) and continued walking with it. Five blocks later, she was so hot and thirsty that she took a swig of the dog water.

Later, we collected her young son and had lunch at a fancy lunch place. I had the egg salad sandwich, elegantly presented on open-faced wedges and tricked out with green olive oil and capers. It was good, but not as good as the more traditional one at Clementine. She had the hummus platter, which was delicious, with swirls of olive oil and about five kinds of bread. Raisin bread is surprisingly good with hummus. We both had minted lemonade.

Then she stole an open jar of Belgian praline spread from a table whose occupants had left, and we had that spread on the rest of the bread for dessert.

This week I am going to attempt (with the same friend) an Autumn Feast. I have always wanted to try a recipe from the old Joy of Cooking for apples stuffed with sausage meat. (I think you can buy sausage meat at a butcher shop?) We will have that with lentil soup flavored with ham, and apple cider. Perhaps we will also attempt a ritual invocation of fertility and abundance, and our TV shows getting picked up.
A blonde, blue-eyed surfer dude sushi chef in Santa Barbara recommended THE SOUL OF A CHEF to me, saying that it he thought it presented a better and more realistic picture of what it was to be a chef than Anthony Bourdain's books, which he thought were overly macho and too much of the author and not enough cooking. (I love Bourdain's books, by the way, but macho is certainly an apt description.)

THE SOUL OF A CHEF is Ruhlman's second book, but the one I read first. It's in three parts, essentially three extended essays.

The first section is the best and worth the price of the book. Ruhlman follows a handful of candidates testing for the grueling ten-day Certified Master Chef exam at the Culinary Institute of America. This part has all the suspense of a Hitchcockian thriller, the sort where you watch, half laughing and half in horror, as the characters make terrible mistakes which will doom them. A bit where a female candidate has one last chance to make up for previous mistakes by cooking a perfect seafood terrine is the most edge-of-your-seat sequence I've read in a long time. This essay should be required reading in classes on the art of non-fiction.

The second essay is only mildly interesting, about a somewhat innovative chef in Cleveland.

The third essay, while not quite up to the level of the first, has some of the most luscious food descriptions you'll read anywhere. It's about Thomas Keller, the legendary genius chef at the French Laundry. Although a lot of the ingredients of his creations do not appeal to me (oysters and tapioca; cauliflower panna cotta) the way everyone swoons over them make me really want to try it some day. I don't suppose anyone reading this has ever been there?

THE MAKING OF A CHEF, about Ruhlman's training at the Culinary Institute of America, was a huge disappointment. It lacked the thrills and characterization of the CIA story in SOUL, and by the one-third mark I was skimming. Ruhlman's writing skills clearly improved greatly with time and practice.


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