BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Ripe for the Picking

Bursting with juice and teetering on the very edge of over-ripening, these ruby gems tumble off their vines effortlessly. Raining into waiting cardboard pints and open mouths, each edible jewel tastes like the summer sun itself. There is nothing I’d rather do on a warm July morning than lose myself in the meditative process of picking raspberries. Hours later, I’ll emerge berry-stained and stuffed, rich with a truly fruitful bounty.

Click on the photo to view it full size, and help yourself if you’d like to save it as a desktop wallpaper. Simply right click, select “Set as Desktop Background,” and choose either the “Fill” or “Stretch” option to properly fill your screen.


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Back and Better Than Ever

Returning for another round in the ring, the second issue of Laika Magazine is just as hard-hitting as the first, and even more inspiring. My big story this time around would ordinarily have been a big step outside of my comfort zone, but turned out to be just the opposite. Visiting Philadelphia for the first time in my life, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It seemed like a tough place on paper, rough around the edges and staunchly resistant of outside influence. Every last person I spoke with turned that preconceived notion on its head, not the least of which being Miss Rachel of Miss Rachel’s Pantry. I had never seen a more welcoming establishment, where hugs are dispensed as freely as the coffee, nor felt more at home in a completely unfamiliar place. I won’t spoil the rest of the article for you, but rest assured, I’m equally effusive about the food.

Also included in this issue is another edition of Taste Notes, covering a few summertime staples that would be right at home at any backyard BBQ. Once you’ve got all of those promising ingredients on hand, it would be a shame not to whip up my recipe for meaty, cheesy Grilled Jalapeño Poppers.

Those are my contributions this time around, but they’re not even the tip of the iceberg for all the material contained in this exciting new issue. You’ll just have to read it to find out the rest.


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Bits and Bobs, Odds and Sods

Spring is historically a time of fevered activity, as all walks of life resiliently bound back into productivity after winter and its oppressive cold has receded. Never before has this been quite so clear for me, so personally applicable, as this particular stretch of 2013. For all the craziness, it’s hard to believe that we’re still in the thick of it, not yet at summer’s doorstep. This isn’t to complain, though; Being happily occupied for the past few months has been a dream come true, yielding greater rewards through more satisfying work. On that note, you’ll soon be able to see the fruits of that labor in a few upcoming magazines…

Such as the July/August 2013 issue of VegNews Magazine! My thrice yearly column, My Sweet Vegan, is back yet again, this time with a few sweet sips in tow. Boba tea has been a growing craze, sweeping across the nation like wildfire. Though most mainstream options use some questionable additives, not the least of which being dry milk powder, the best way to ensure boba bliss is to take the reins and make it at home. Offering Creamsicle, Chai, and Coconut flavor variations, you’ll have plenty of refreshing options to help you keep your cool.

Now available both in the US and in Canada, the summer edition of Allergic Living is packed full of vegan-friendly inspiration as per usual, crowned by Alisa Fleming‘s irresistible ice cream recipes. No one needed to ask me twice if I wanted to take this photography assignment. Scooping up simple, dairy-free takes on Chocolate and Strawberry Ice Cream, Alisa also goes in-depth on how to make the most decadent sundae imaginable. The above photo was an outtake, but one of my favorites to style… And eat later.

Finally, though not printed or published, another photo of mine has been featured in an exciting way. My Mujaddara Onigiri photo is in the running to win a trip to Thailand! Hosted by Village Harvest Rice, it’s all a popularity contest now, so pardon my periodic reminders to please vote every 24 hours, and spread the word! Your efforts are not only greatly appreciated but beneficial: Just imagine all of the photos and stories I would come back with to share.


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Fictional Foods, Part Two

For part one and an explanation of the series, click here.

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen:

Melissa raised the plate on upturned palms. “Cupcakes,” she said. “Thought you might be needing some cupcakes in your life right around now.”

Not being theatrical, Chip felt disadvantaged around people who were. “Why are you bringing me cupcakes?” he said.

Melissa knelt and set the plate on this doormat among the pulverized remains of ivy and dead tulips. “I’ll just leave them here,’” she said, “and you can do whatever you want with them. Goodbye!’ She spread her arms and pirouetted off the doorstep and ran up the flagstone path on tiptoe.

The cupcakes were full of butter and frosted with a butter frosting. After he’d washed his hands and opened a bottle of Chardonnay he ate four of them and put the uncooked fish in the refrigerator. The skins of the overbaked squash were like inner-tube rubber…He lowered the blinds and drank the wine and ate two more cupcakes, detecting peppermint in them, a faint buttery peppermint, before he slept.

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway:

I took out my knife, opened it, wiped off the blade and pared off the dirty outside surface of the cheese. Gavuzzi handed me the basin of macaroni.

“Start in to eat, Tenente.”

“No,” I said. “Put it on the floor. We’ll all eat.”

“There are no forks.”

“What the hell,” I said in English.

I cut the cheese into pieces and laid them on the macaroni.

“Sit down to it,” I said. They sat down and waited. I put thumb and fingers into the macaroni and lifted. The mass loosened.

“Lift it high, Tenente.”

I lifted it to arm’s length and the strands cleared. I lowered it into the mouth, sucked and snapped in the ends, and chewed, then took a bite of cheese, chewed, and then a drink of the wine. It tasted of rusty metal.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck:

And Tom brought him chicken soup until he wanted to kill him. The lore has not died out of the world, and you will still find people who believe that soup will cure any hurt or illness and is no bad thing to have for the funeral either.

Eat, Love, Pray by Elizabeth Gilbert:

Giovanni and Dario, my Tandem Exchange twins, are originally from Naples. I cannot picture it. I cannot imagine shy, studious, sympathetic Giovanni as a young boy amongst this—and I don’t use the word lightly — mob. But he is Neapolitan, no question about it, because before I left Rome he gave me the name of a pizzeria in Naples that I had to try, because, Giovanni informed me, it sold the best pizza in Naples. I found this a wildly exciting prospect, given that the best pizza in Italy is from Naples, and the best pizza in the world is from Italy, which means that this pizzeria must offer … I’m almost too superstitious to say it … the best pizza in the world? Giovanni passed along the name of the place with such seriousness and intensity, I almost felt I was being inducted into a secret society. He pressed the address into the palm of my hand and said, in gravest confidence, “Please go to this pizzeria. Order the Margherita pizza with double mozzarella. If you do not eat this pizza when you are in Naples, please lie to me later and tell me that you did.”

So Sofie and I have come to Pizzeria da Michele, and these pies we have just ordered — one for each of us — are making us lose our minds. I love my pizza so much, in fact, that I have come to believe in my delirium that my pizza might actually love me, in return. I am having a relationship with this pizza, almost an affair. Meanwhile, Sofie is practically in tears over hers, she’s having a metaphysical crisis about it, she’s begging me, “Why do they even bother trying to make pizza in Stockholm? Why did we even bother eating food at all in Stockholm?

Pizzeria da Michele is a small place with only two rooms and one nonstop oven. It’s about a fifteen-minute walk from the train station in the rain, don’t even worry about it, just go. You need to get there fairly early in the day because sometimes they run out of dough, which will break your heart. By 1 p.m., the streets outside the pizzeria have become jammed with Neapolitans trying to get into the place, shoving for access like they’re trying to get space on a lifeboat. There’s not a menu. They have only two varieties of pizza here — regular and extra cheese. None of this new age southern California olives-and-sun-dried-tomato wannabe pizza twaddle. The dough, it takes me half my meal to figure out, tastes more like Indian nan than like any pizza dough I ever tired. It’s soft and chewy and yielding, but incredibly thin. I always thought we only had two choices in our lives when it came to pizza crust — thin and crispy, or thick and doughy. How was I to have known there could be a crust in this world that was thin and doughy? Holy of holies! Thin, doughy, strong, gummy, yummy, chewy, salty pizza paradise. On top, there is a sweet tomato sauce that foams up all bubbly and creamy when it melts the fresh buffalo mozzarella, and the one sprig of basil in the middle of the whole deal somehow infuses the entire pizza with herbal radiance, much the same way one shimmering movie star in the middle of a party brings a contact high of glamour to everyone around her. It’s technically impossible to eat this thing, of course. You try to take a bite off your slice and the gummy crust folds, and the hot cheese runs away like topsoil in a landslide, makes a mess of you and your surroundings, but just deal with it.

Remembering Blue by Connie May Fowler:

Nick was never a picky eater but after suffering through so many of my culinary failures he was well within his rights when later that same day he poked at his food with a fork and asked tremulously, “What is it?”

“Tomato pie.”

Lillian had given me the recipe and I followed it to a T. Four to five tomatoes, blanched for easy removal of the skins. Three quarters of a cup mayonnaise (feel free to use light but not fat-free). Pillsbury refrigerated crusts (bake the bottom crust for ten minutes in a moderate oven, otherwise you’ll have a juicy mess). As much garlic as pleases you (Nick, as you must know by now, loves garlic). At least one and a quarter cup cheese (I use feta). Plus fresh basil. Put it all together and bake at three hundred and fifty degrees for about thirty minutes.

I served it with a green salad and sweet tea. I watched out of the corner of my eye as Nick balanced a bite-sized morsel on his fork, lifted it to his lips, and discreetly sniffed. His face betrayed neither surprise nor disgust. Having gotten this far- even if the savory smell had offended him- he had little choice but to go ahead and eat. He popped it in his mouth and chewed tentatively but within seconds his eyes widened gratefully and his face relaxed in that way men have- you know, when they are suddenly and unexpectedly content (I have noticed that this phenomenon almost always revolves around food).

“This is really good!” he said.

“Thank you,” I said, ignoring the note of amazement in his voice.

That night, he chewed heartily. He ate two more pieces and I wrapped up what was left and handed it to him as he walked out the door.

Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood by Fatima Mernissi:

The winner of the race would receive a prize made by the last one to cross the finish line: an enormous pastilla, the most delicious of all of Allah’s varied foods. At once a pastry and a meal, pastilla is sweet and salty, made of pigeon meat and nuts, sugar, and cinnamon. Oh! Pastilla crunches when you munch on it, and you have to eat it with delicate gestures, no rushing please, or else you will get sugar and cinnamon all over your face. Pastilla takes days to prepare because it is made of layers of sheer, almost transparent, crust, stuffed with roasted and slightly crushed almonds, along with a lot of other surprises.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carol:

Soon her eye fell on a little glass box that was lying under the table: she opened it, and found in it a very small cake, on which the words “EAT ME” were beautifully marked in currants. “Well, I’ll eat it,” said Alice, “and if it makes me grow larger, I can reach the key; and if it makes me grow smaller, I can creep under the door: so either way I’ll get into the garden, and I don’t care which happens!”

She ate a little bit, and said anxiously to herself, “Which way? Which way?” holding her hand on the top of her head to feel which way it was growing; and she was quite surprised to find that she remained the same size. To be sure, this is what generally happens when one eats cake; but Alice had got so much into the way of expecting nothing but out-of-the-way things to happen, that it seemed quite dull and stupid for life to go on in the common way.

So she set to work, and very soon finished off the cake.

Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence:

When they had run and danced themselves dry, the girls quickly dressed and sat down to the fragrant tea. They sat on the northern side of the grove, in the yellow sunshine facing the slope of the grassy hill, alone in a little world of their own. The tea was hot and aromatic, there were delicious little sandwiches of cucumber and of caviare, and winy cakes.

“Are you happy, Prune?” cried Ursula in delight, looking at her sister.

“Ursula, I’m perfectly happy,” replied Gudrun gravely, looking at the westering sun.

“So am I.”


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Fictional Foods

Reflecting on half a semester’s worth of work now at midterm time again, my latest school photo project takes inspiration from the classics. Rather than tried-and-true recipes, the classics in question here are works of literature that have made their mark on readers and writers across the ages. Bringing snippets of each story to life in such mouthwatering clarity that viewers may be tempted to eat their books, the goal is to inspire an entirely new conversation about each featured novel. Even though few of the original writings themselves were focused entirely on the edible aspects of their tales, they can provide striking insights into cultural norms, personalities, and a character’s state of mind when food comes into the picture. It plays such a central role to all walks of life, so even when depicted in fictional works, it should be no different. Those who have never read the books featured should still be able to enjoy such a series if executed properly; no matter language barriers, age differences, or political associations, the appreciation of food is universal. As the playwright George Bernard Shaw famously said, “There is no love more sincere than the love of food.”

Dishes have been veganized as needed, of course! While I can’t claim to have the most accurate renditions of each passage due to this subversion, all “meats” are made of seitan or tvp, and no other animal products were employed in any other dishes.

In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust:

She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called “petites madeleines,” which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreary day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake.

No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin.

The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis:

The Queen let another drop fall from her bottle on to the snow and instantly there appeared a round box, tied with green silk ribbon, which, when opened turned out to contain several pounds of the best Turkish Delight. Each piece was sweet and light to the very center and Edmond had never tasted anything more delicious.

Sweeney Todd and the String of Pearls by Thomas Preskett Prest:

“What a strange manner of talking she has!” said Jarvis Williams to himself, when he found he was alone. “There seems to be some singular and hidden meaning in every word she utters. What can she mean by a communication being made to me, if I neglect my duty! It is strange, and what a singular-looking place this is! I think it would be quite unbearable if not for the delicious odor of the pies, and they are indeed delicious – perhaps more delicious to me, who has been famished for so long, and has gone through so much wretchedness; there is no one here but myself, and I am hungry now – frightfully hungry, and whether the pies are done or not, I’ll have half a dozen of them at any rate, so here goes.”

He opened one of the ovens, and the fragrant steam that came out was perfectly delicious, and he sniffed it up with a satisfaction such as he had never felt before, as regarded anything that was eatable.

“Is it possible,” he said, “that I shall be able to make such delicious pies? At all events one can’t starve here, and if it is a kind of imprisonment, it’s a pleasant one. Upon my soul, they are nice, even half-cooked – delicious! I’ll have another half-dozen, there are lots of them – delightful! I can’t keep the gravy from running out of the corners of my mouth. Upon my soul, Mrs. Lovett, I don’t know where you get your meat, but it’s all as tender as young chickens, and the fat actually melts away in one’s mouth. Ah, there are pies, something like pies! – They are positively fit for the gods!”

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens:

The room in which the boys were fed, was a large stone hall, with a copper at one end: out of which the master, dressed in an apron for the purpose, and assisted by one or two women, ladled the gruel at mealtimes. Of this festive composition each boy had one porringer, and no more–except on occasions of great public rejoicing, when he had two ounces and a quarter of bread besides.

The bowls never wanted washing. The boys polished them with their spoons till they shone again; and when they had performed this operation (which never took very long, the spoons being nearly as large as the bowls), they would sit staring at the copper, with such eager eyes, as if they could have devoured the very bricks of which it was composed; employing themselves, meanwhile, in sucking their fingers most assiduously, with the view of catching up any stray splashes of gruel that might have been cast thereon. Boys have generally excellent appetites. Oliver Twist and his companions suffered the tortures of slow starvation for three months: at last they got so voracious and wild with hunger, that one boy, who was tall for his age, and hadn’t been used to that sort of thing (for his father had kept a small cook-shop), hinted darkly to his companions, that unless he had another basin of gruel per diem, he was afraid he might some night happen to eat the boy who slept next him, who happened to be a weakly youth of tender age. He had a wild, hungry eye; and they implicitly believed him. A council was held; lots were cast who should walk up to the master after supper that evening, and ask for more; and it fell to Oliver Twist.

The evening arrived; the boys took their places. The master, in his cook’s uniform, stationed himself at the copper; his pauper assistants ranged themselves behind him; the gruel was served out; and a long grace was said over the short commons. The gruel disappeared; the boys whispered each other, and winked at Oliver; while his next neighbours nudged him. Child as he was, he was desperate with hunger, and reckless with misery. He rose from the table; and advancing to the master, basin and spoon in hand, said: somewhat alarmed at his own temerity:

‘Please, sir, I want some more.’

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving:

[A]nd he passed the fragrant buckwheat fields, breathing the odor of the bee-hive, and as he beheld them, soft anticipations stole over his mind of dainty flapjacks, well buttered, and garnished with honey or treacle, by the delicate little dimpled hand of Katrina Van Tassel.

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez:

The harmony they had longed for reached its culmination when they least expected it, at a gala dinner at which a delicious food was served that Fermina Daza could not identify. She began with a good portion, but she liked it so much that she took another of the same size, and she was lamenting the fact that urbane etiquette did not permit her to help herself to a third, when she learned that she had just eaten with unsuspecting pleasure, two heaping plates of pureed eggplant. She accepted defeat with good grace, and from that time on, eggplant in all its forms was served at the villa in La Manga with almost as much frequency as at the Palace of Casalduero, and it was enjoyed so much by everyone that Dr. Juvenal Urbino would lighten the idle hours of his old age by insisting that he wanted to have another daughter so that he could give her the best-loved word in the house as a name: Eggplant Urbino.

To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf:

An exquisite scent of olives and oil and juice rose from the great brown dish as Marthe, with a little flourish took the cover off. The cook had spent three days over that dish and she must take great care, Mrs. Ramsay thought, diving into the soft mass to choose an especially tender piece for William Bankes. And she peered into the dish, with its shiny walls and its confusion of savory brown and yellow meats, and its bay leaves and its wine and thought, This will celebrate the occasion…

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