BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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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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Broke Da Mout

Hawaiians simply have a way with words. Direct but gentle, and often spoken with a good dose of humor, every statement seems to come with a built-in smile at the end. Said in Pidgin with island inflection, “broke da mout” (“break the mouth”) is in fact a compliment to the chef. Not nearly as painful as it may let on, the phrase suggests that you’ve eaten something so unfathomably delicious, or eaten such vast quantities of it, that you simply couldn’t stand to take another bite. Ergo, your palate has been thoroughly spoiled, in the most satisfying way. I can report without hesitation that I thoroughly broke my own mouth to the fullest extent of the definition while in Honolulu.

Lured out by the familiar urge to discover new ono grindz (good eats), every step of my two mile walk to reach Greens & Vines was worth the effort. Born of the 100% raw vegan catering company Licious Dishes, this dine-in outpost is only a few months old, still glistening with that new restaurant shine. Glowing like a beacon on a dark night, the neon sign out front is quite arresting, especially for the unprepared. Already on my hit list, it was a sight I was unprepared for as I gazed blankly out the bus window.

“Oh, that’s the restaurant right there!” I exclaimed in spite of myself, to no one in particular. It would clearly require a more thorough exploration at a later time, especially without those lovely people sharing public transit who were now convinced of my mental instability.

After miscalculating the distance from my hotel rather drastically, it ended up being a later meal than anticipated, but gave me plenty of time to work up an appetite. Good thing too, since just one plateful of Kaffir Miso Pad Thai, composed of kelp noodles and topped off with a generous handful of crunchy cashews, left me feeling quite stuffed. Taking my time to luxuriate in every slippery strand, the effusively friendly staff made me feel more than welcome to linger, as opposed to so many other establishments that saw the single vegan diner as a burden. One gets a real sense of community here, proof positive that veganism is alive and thriving in all pockets of the world.

Although I already broke da mout on my main dish, the temptation of the dessert menu was too much to bear. Wrapping up a petite wedge of Tangerine Cheesecake to go, it became a most decadent midnight snack just a few hours later. Flawlessly smooth, creamy, and sparkling with citrus zest, its small size belied immense flavor. More than enough to satisfy even my voracious sweet tooth, what initially seemed like a scant portion turned out to be just right.

The raw movement may still be in its infancy in Honolulu, but endless other clean, green options can be readily found hidden in amongst the puka dog and saimin stands. Peace Cafe serves up well-balanced meals with a macrobiotic sort of slant, featuring otherwise obscure flavors like matcha and kinako to create vegan treats found no where else.

Speaking of which, the Iced Matcha Latte is an absolute must for any hot day, which is pretty much every day on the island. Lightly sweetened just to cut the bitter edge of the powdered green tea, soy milk lends body to the beverage, making it both refreshing and wholly satisfying. If only I had ventured out to this part of town sooner, I’m certain I would have found many excuses to return for a second and third refill.

Mochi brownies displayed alluringly on the counter did look like an awfully attractive lunch option, but the savory dishes are worth holding out for. Before ever setting foot in the shop, I already knew that I wanted the Heart and Seoul entree: Inspired by Korean bibimbap, a power plate of greens, both raw and cooked, beansprouts, shredded carrots, and either fresh tofu or TVP over a bed of brown rice. Ever indecisive, I stood there hemming and hawing at the counter, until the cashier helpfully broke my strained silence. “I could get you a little bit of both, too- How about that?” she asked sweetly. Yes, please; I felt like I really could have it all in that moment. Both were utterly delightful, but being the tofu-lover that I am, I would spring for a full portion of only that silky-soft bean curd next time. Topped off with a healthy dollop of very mild gochujang to mix and mash at will, the diner has the freedom to mix in as much of that salty paste as their heart desires. Naturally, I devoured every last smudge.

What’s most telling about how vegan-friendly a city is, however, is not the number of specialty shops or isolated outposts. Rather, it’s what one can scavenge in the everyday eateries, even the mundane or most unpromising locations. While the Ala Moana Mall is no average shopping center, boasting hundreds of stores spread out for what seems like miles, the above platter is still an incredible testament to how open and accessible Honolulu is to the compassionate visitor or resident. Grylt Ala Moana, located in the Makai Food Court, is one of three locations within Honolulu. In true cafeteria style, you’re encouraged to build your own plate, picking between proteins, sides, and sauces. Grilled Tofu is the way to go to avoid animal protein, and incredibly, you can actually choose Olive Oil Mashed Cauliflower over plain white rice, if desired. For just 50 cents more, it’s more than worth the upgrade. Grilled Veggies are already so expertly seasoned with balsamic vinegar and black pepper, it seems a shame to cover them with any additional sauce, despite how bright and vivacious the Citrus Herb Oil was. Request it on the side to dip the tofu in, and you’ll have the perfect complement to all components.

Next, we’re jetting off to another island… The Big Island, in fact, for a stop in Hilo. Still more photos are being uploaded everyday, so please keep checking in to see all of my adventures!


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Biting into the Big Pineapple

Though its nickname evokes images of a more tropical rendition of New York City, Honolulu is truly beyond compare. A big city with the heartbeat of a small town, everyone seems to know each other, or at least treat strangers like family if they don’t. Shy and introverted by nature, it took a huge step outside of myself to embark on my first solo trip, and I can say with conviction that there was no better destination than this string of islands in the Pacific Ocean. Reaching out into the void, I was shocked by the genuine kindness that was placed in my outstretched palms. Hearing horror stories about Hawaii’s rocky past, including some lingering (and often justified) resentment against haoles, it seemed a sure thing that my sheet-white face was just asking for trouble. Never have I been so happy to be wrong.

Simple interactions, no matter how shallow, just felt warmer, friendlier than anything I had previously encountered. Smiles came easily, instantly, to every gentle face, and accidental eye contact no longer felt like a potential threat. For the rest of my life, I will never forget the mundane act of waiting for the bus in China Town. Midday sun blazing away, cooling trade winds no where to be found, it was a warmth that was impossible to comprehend for a January afternoon. Wholly unprepared for the heat, I rolled up my sleeves and sweated it out, checking and double-checking the schedule to make sure I had picked the right bus line. Out of the blue, a petite woman sitting on the bench struck up a conversation, noticing my discomfort.

“Yeah, I sure wish I had an umbrella like you,” I mentioned dreamily, nodding to her black-paneled parasol. “I’ve only thought of them for rainy days, but that’s such a good idea!”

Without missing a beat, she immediately offered to share her shade. “Come sit by me then! There’s plenty of room,” she indicated her vast abundance of space, patting the empty seat. And so there I sat, nearly 5,000 miles from home, cheek-to-cheek with a complete stranger, having rarely felt safer in the comfort of my own house.

It’s such a simple gesture, such a forgettable instance, but I’m still bowled over by that effortless generosity. It’s just not something I’ve seen anywhere else in the world.

The people are what truly makes Hawaii so special, but the food naturally ranks second on my list of reasons to visit. Shockingly, vegan options abound in Honolulu, with hardly a menu lacking one ready-to-eat option. Tofu reigns supreme here, thanks to the influence of many Asian cultures, thus making it the norm rather than the “alternative.” Not every morsel was the height of fine cuisine, but I had a handful of memorable meals that would be worth returning to the island for.

An unassuming little hole in the wall, Ruffage Natural Foods is located just a few short blocks away from Kuhio Beach in Waikiki. After a long day of sun and surf, the short menu of simple, wholesome entrees draws both travelers and locals alike. The Tofu Avocado Spring Salad was exactly what I craved, fulfilling my desperate need for fresh greens and a punch of protein. Despite the heat, I still couldn’t resist pairing that with a soul-satisfying cup of miso soup, filled with seaweed and tofu as well. For a no-frills healthy meal, I can’t think of a better place to drop by.

Out in China Town, at the very bus stop where my most cherished conversation took place, the Downbeat Diner is also serving up some awesome meatless eats. Boasting a menu of comfort foods and classic diner favorites, they readily accept the challenge of veganizing each and every option should it not be naturally free of animal ingredients already. Since I came in a little bit early for lunch, the brunch options were most appealing, and they pulled out a solid Tofu Scramble indeed.

Squeezing in those greens again, this platter typically comes with potatoes, but can be swapped for a salad upon request. Mushrooms and onions added a savory complexity to the yellow-hued, seasoned bean curds, I cleaned my plate in mere minutes and would have licked it if not in public.

You won’t want to bypass the drink menu while you’re at it. My admittedly unusual request for a virgin Bloody Mary was met without any snark, and hit the spot perfectly. Lightly spicy, nice and salty, and packed with tomato flavor, I wish I could have ordered about a gallon of the stuff to take with me.

By complete accident or a crazy stroke of luck, however you’d like to consider it, I ended up staying at the very hotel where my top restaurant destination was situated. I had to compare the addresses at least five times before I believed it, but indeed, they were the same. Yuzu, crafting exquisite Japanese food in the ground floor of the Ala Moana Hotel, is not a vegan restaurant. Amazingly, they produce some of the most realistic-looking vegetable nigiri I have ever come across, and many other vegetable options are equally delightful.

You owe it to yourself to try the Vegetable Nigiri Sampler at least once in your life time. The height of edible art, though it may be a dead-ringer for fish at first glance, there’s not a scrap of animal protein to be found on this plate. The “tuna” slices are in fact peeled tomatoes, gently poached in vinegar to impart a uniquely bright, uncharacteristically oceanic flavor. Yuba fills one gunkan while a rich carrot mousse is piped into another. Lotus root is fried and covered with eel sauce, so cleverly hidden within its crispy shell that I would have never been able to identify it unaided. Mushrooms top of the remained of the pieces for incredible umami bites. Eggplant is typically included into the melange as well, but the chef so graciously provided a second tomato piece for me instead, accommodating for my sad eggplant intolerance.

Don’t leave the table without trying their hand-cut Veggie Medley Udon Noodles while you’re at it. Sliced fresh to order and lavished with all variety of garnishes on the side, they’re almost as much fun to eat as they are delicious. Slippery, chewy strands of wheat that twist effortlessly around the chopsticks, the noodles are a world apart from anything dried or store-bought. Each bite is a little bit different too, depending on how you load them up with scallions, sesame seeds, ginger, mushrooms, or crunchy tenkasu. A final splash into the soy-based dipping sauce, and the whole assembly goes down easily. My only regret is that I didn’t have time to return and try another dish or eight at Yuzu.

There’s still much more food to come, but in the meantime, keep checking my Flickr set for more photos!


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Take Me to Tofu Town

Dawdling along the main thoroughfare at the bottom end of the speed limit, our final destination still managed to elude us. Surely the GPS hadn’t been mistaken, but even after two slow drive-by searches of the suggested location, not a hint was found to indicate that we had arrived. Sequestered within a completely unmarked building about the size of a modest New York apartment, the average onlooker would never realize that they were staring right at the source of the best tofu in the tri-state area. One could easily walk right past it for years without a second thought, and yet on closer investigation, the tell-tall aroma of cooked beans can be detected wafting through the air, and hints of laborious activity glimpsed through the small windows. This is the factory for Bridge Tofu in Middletown, Connecticut- Not exactly a tourist destination for those who are in the know.

Arriving completely unannounced after a few inquisitive phone calls fell on deaf answering machines, it was clearly no place for curious bystanders, and yet I was immediately, graciously welcomed through the plastic flaps covering the doorway. A tour would have been superfluous, as all stages of production could easily be viewed standing right there in the entry.

Tons upon literal tons of soybeans piled into multiple barrels, hinting at the impossible volume of bean curd being produced in this tiny space. Committed to organics, their dedication to sourcing out the highest quality ingredients is one that comes through in the flavor.

An immense, metal-clad machine spit out silky white soy milk across the way, spewing out gallons by the minute. Every single drop is needed, condensed down further once coagulation is set into motion. Large rectangles press the curds into the largest slabs of tofu you’ve ever seen, to be cut into size once firm, but still creamy on the inside. It’s this incredible texture that truly sets Bridge apart from other tofu options on the market. Few would recommend eating plain, uncooked curd, but this is one that is genuinely delicious on a hot summer’s day with just a splash of soy sauce and handful of sliced scallions on top. It only comes in one level of firmness, but it’s a one size fits all style of tofu, seamlessly fitting into nearly any recipe out there.

Freshly severed small rectangles float through a final water bath before reaching packaging, a mere four or five meters away from where they were born. Each label is applied by hand, each bag sealed individually. It’s a painstaking process that is astounding to watch, knowing the reach of this one tiny producer. Available in Whole Foods Markets and independent health food stores for miles around, I could have never guessed that all of it came from such a humble beginning. First introduced to me through working at Health in a Hurry, it’s the only tofu we ever use, and it’s easy to taste why.

There’s a whole lot of passion going into those unassuming beige bricks. It’s not listed on the label, but easily detected in each bite.

Lest you think Bridge is a one-trick tofu factory, incredibly, they also produce the best seitan I’ve had the pleasure of cooking. If ever seitan shows up in my recipes, you can rest assured that Bridge is the brand going into the mix. Also churning out amazake and a tuna-like tofu salad, their home base may not be impressive, but what they manage to create within its confines sure is.


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Veggin’ Out with VegNews

Months race by with a quickening pace, exaggerated by summer’s dwindling warmth and a sun that goes to bed just a little bit earlier each day. 2012 slips through my fingers just a little bit more each day, as fluid and irrepressible as water trickling out of a leaky faucet. Since this is more than a mere plumbing issue with an easy fix, it’s at least decent consolation that the runaway months frequently bring with them a new issue of VegNews to pour over and forget all about the usual over-scheduling woes. The September/October issue may be dominated by compelling recipes for all things cheesy and unbelievably dairy-free, but there’s so much more nestled into those crisp, glossy pages, too.

There’s always a need for something sweet to balance out all of those salty snacks, and Beverly Lynn Bennett‘s Chocolate Pumpkin Bread Pudding fills in that requirement with ease. Lightly spiked with bourbon and redolent of warm, comforting spices, merely popping this dish in the oven does wonders to soften the blow of a fading summer season. Simple enough for the most novice baker to excel, it’s a recipe to hang on to for the coming holiday season. Plus, when served with the suggested sticky, gooey, Salted Caramel Sauce, it’s truly a dessert to remember.

Bringing in a healthy yet hearty option, Gena Hamshaw proves that raw food needn’t be contained to only the warmest of months in order to satisfy. Savory “Meatballs” made of mushrooms, sunflower seeds, and red beets top a generous mound of zucchini noodles, all smothered in a rich sun-dried tomato Marinara Sauce. A delicious departure from the standard fatty, heavy rendition of the concept, these uncooked balls pack incredible amounts umami into tiny little flavor bombs.

For an issue like this, the best part of the job is definitely “cleaning up” when each photo shoot is all wrapped up. Keep an eye out for your copy if you’re subscriber, or venture out to the local bookstore if you’re not, because this is one you’ll want to hang on to!


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Inedible



Tough as Nails

More than Elbow Grease

Roast Ducks

Fillet of Sole / Toe-fu
(All the credit for those titles goes to the subject herself!)

Cooking the Books

…And so ends another semester. Does it surprise anyone that my final project, even in a portrait photography class, ends up being about food? All of my lovely lovely models here deserve serious props- Thanks for being such good sports about cheerfully ruining your pans, books, and foot wear!

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