Honey-Do List

I think we can all agree that the end of year 2020 cannot come soon enough, for all its trials and tribulations. However, I’ll settle for striking a line through the year 5780 for now. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year arrives at sunset tonight. Offering an opportunity for a fresh start, rebirth and renewal, the significance of this holiday feels especially salient this time around.

Apples and honey are practically synonymous with the occasion, expressing edible wishes for a sweet new year. There’s usually a loaf of challah on the table, a lustrous golden crust shining beside tall pillar candles, perfumed with that same nectarous syrup, too. In celebrations past, maple syrup was the default replacement, and plain bread the only alternative. Now we have truly ambrosial bee-free honey, either store-bought or homemade, and egg substitutes galore.

Rather than simply veganizing the classic round loaf, I felt that we could all use an extra measure of sweetness to rebound from such a miserably bitter 12-month cycle. Honey cake is a common addition to the festive table, but probably not like this one.

Kasutera, the Japanese interpretation of Portuguese castella sponge cake, is the perfect non-traditional dessert for Rosh Hashanah. Light and fluffy, yet still dense and rich, it glows with a golden interior crumb singing with floral aroma. The top and bottom are deeply caramelized from the high sugar content, but the interior remains as bright as a sunny day. Having the opportunity to enjoy such delicacy, tenderness, and indulgence strikes me as an ideal catalyst for a truly sweet new year on he horizon.

Chag sameach! Sweetest wishes for the year 5781!

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Achieving the Impossible

Nothing is impossible anymore, now that Impossible is more prevalent than ever.

When The New York Times published an article by J. Kenji López-Alt breaking down the best ways to cook Impossible meat in full scientific detail, I bookmarked it in about a hundred places.

My friends are just as crazy as I am, and one particularly special man sent me a package of this high-end meatless ground as a present. Perhaps in this current era, true love is receiving raw vegan beef in the mail. Distribution has increased exponentially recently, through Trader Joe’s and Walmart, in addition to online sales. Never has the meatless miracle been more accessible. Mere months ago, when it was scarce in local markets, I was mining every possible resource just to get one bite of the action.

I had been saving it for something really special, not sure how to make the most of its full potential. When it suddenly became one of the few fresh proteins I had on hand thanks to early COVID-19 shortages, that was its unexpected opportunity to shine.

The recipe for vegan Turkish kebabs with sumac onions and garlic-dill mayonnaise in that same piece turned out to be perfect. I had to make some modifications, using all dried herbs instead of fresh, and forgoing the cherry tomatoes in a moment of forgetfulness. I also cooked them in my air fryer at 370 degrees for 13 minutes instead of pan-frying, for the sake of simplicity, and less splatter.

Admittedly, my experience with animal-based protein is limited at best, but these skewers were unmistakably meaty; deeply savory, rich and fatty in the way that no basic vegetable substitute could achieve. Pulled off the skewers, I could easily see these nuggets happily tangled in a nest of spaghetti, treated as finger food for [small, socially distant] parties.

Would this recipe taste as good with any of the other comparable competitors? Quite frankly, it’s Impossible to say for sure.

Rose Gold Standard

Restless nights turn into bleary-eyed mornings, turn into days of drudgery and afternoon lulls. Better double up on the coffee just to keep going, right? It’s a satisfying quick fix with reliable results, but a hasty solution that often comes back to haunt as nighttime drags on. Sleep becomes more elusive, more coffee is needed to fill the gaps, and so the vicious cycle deepens, like the cavernous craters beneath furrowed brows and tired eyes.

Don’t get me wrong; I love caffeine, but it’s clear from our long, tumultuous relationship that it does not love me back. Though I’d never contemplate relinquishing my morning shot of espresso, it’s the second and third pull that get me into trouble. I’ll start shaking like a leaf long before my brain gets the message to wake up, which only arrives when I turn in for bed.

Nothing can replace a full, proper night’s rest, but that’s at least more feasible when caffeine isn’t interfering with normal sleep cycles.

Basic hydration can do wonders for mood regulation and overall health, so just drinking enough throughout the day goes a long way. That’s why I’m drinking more turmeric lattes, served over almost equal parts ice while the summer heat is on, please.

We all know that turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting free agent, but it takes a team to win at this daily game. Coconut milk brings medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) to the playing field, which are easily digested as an immediate source of energy. Maple syrup on the other hand, offers a slower burn than processed white sugar, to prevent a deleterious crash later on. Spices like ginger and black pepper are simply invigorating flavors, like lemon juice, which can brighten any recipe.

Rosewater, delicate flower that it is, may seem like an inauspicious recruit, just like the tart and tangy hibiscus blossoms included in the brew. Sustained energy is all about playing the field, and these two make up a killer defense. We’re talking antioxidants galore which may lower blood pressure and help regulate glucose. Though they failed to turn my drink a blushing shade of Millennial pink, their subtly sweet flavors reinforce the meme-worthy title.

Most importantly, no matter how much (or how little) uninterrupted sleep you enjoyed last night, this canary-yellow latte is downright delicious. The subtle, natural energy boost is just an extra little win.

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Lump Sum

The first time I heard the term “lumpia,” I thought it was a quirky insult. As in, “yo mama’s so lumpia…” and fill in the blank. The real insult is that lumpia aren’t well known throughout the US to begin with. Culinary trendsetters keep proclaiming that Filipino food will be the next big craze, year after year, but I just haven’t seen it take hold as promised. While you can’t walk a full city block without passing at least one pizza parlor or sushi bar, you’d be lucky to stumble across a single Filipino restaurant in an entire metropolitan area.

What gives? Why aren’t kids begging their parents for sizzling platters as a Friday night treat? Where are all the long-simmered stews and punchy, vinegar-spiked sauces? So many of the classic staples share Malaysian, Indonesian, Indian, Chinese, Spanish, and even American influences, so why don’t they translate the same way overseas?

Lumpia should be considered the gateway dish, an easy introduction to this true melting pot of flavors. Like common spring rolls or egg rolls, the concept itself is highly flexible. Fillings can be either sweet or savory, bundled together in thin wheat wrappers, and served either fresh or deep-fried. Let’s be real though: The best, and most popular sort are fried to crispy, golden-brown perfection, and dunked into a sour, salty, and savory dip of vinegar and soy sauce.

This particular recipe comes from Chef Reina Montenegro of Nick’s Kitchen, one of the very few vegan Filipino eateries I know of, boasting two locations in San Francisco proper. Traditionally, the most popular sort of lumpia combines vegetables like bean sprouts, string beans, and carrots with cheap cuts of meat, but you’d never miss the animal addition here. Mushroom powder makes up for the umami essence in spades, and honestly, any filling would be delicious once anointed with bubbling hot oil.

Take a bite while the rolls are still steaming hot, caramelized exteriors instantly shattering upon impact, and you’ll immediately understand the appeal. You can eat with your hands, call it a snack or a meal, and easily convince picky children to eat a rainbow of vegetables.

If this is your first introduction to Filipino cuisine, welcome to the party. Next up should be Chef Reina’s famous, unbelievably eggless tofu sissig silog for breakfast,… If I could ever needle that secret formula out of her. You work on those lumpia, and I’ll work on that subsequent recipe.

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