Slimy Yet Satisfying

Like many great inventions, this recipe was borne of an abject failure. Any reasonable person would have admitted defeat and tossed the initial results without a second thought, but then again, no one has ever accused me of such distinction.

It all started with a used pasta maker, the catalyst for a deep-dive into all sorts of noodles, common and obscure, simple and complex, to see what I could churn out at home. After working through soba and pappardelle and more, I hit upon rokube. Served on Tsushima Island, this local specialty is made of sweet potato flour mixed with grated yams as a means of creating more nutritious noodles during times of scarcity. Though rudimentary recipes do exist, they aren’t well detailed, leading to some very questionable cuisine.

Obviously, sweet potato flour is different from sweet potato starch, and perhaps they meant actual sweet potatoes instead of what I assumed were nagaimo. Thus, my attempt was doomed from the start. Nagaimo are known for having a uniquely slimy texture when grated or pureed; also known as “neba neba” in Japanese. This gooey mouthfeel is difficult for many western palates to accept, so be forewarned that what follows may not suit all tastes.

So, merrily, I measured out all the wrong ingredients and was surprised to see that it didn’t work at all- What a shock! Though the dough seemed stiff and difficult to knead, it refused to come out of the nozzle and when at rest, it appeared to liquefy. It was such a bizarre consistency that it defies easy explanation.

This is where I should have given up, but thrifty and scrap-happy cook that I am, I racked my brain for any way to salvage the mess. How about… Drying it out in the oven? Sure, why not? Into a greased sheet pan it went and it did indeed set into a sheet of odd, floppy, white and translucent starch. Next, still stuck on the idea of noodles, it only made logical sense to slice it into ribbons and proceed as planned.

Shockingly, flying in the face of all common sense, it actually worked. The strands cooked up as intended, remaining intact yet tender, and incredibly, extremely chewy. Very neba neba.

Served chilled and topped with additional nagaimo, this is a taste experience for the adventurous, seeking something refreshing and cool that offers textures not otherwise found in most common cookery. Slippery, springy, and slightly gooey, you must be able to embrace slime to appreciate it. Other neba neba ingredients can be added to enhance the sensation, like natto and sliced fresh okra.

There are probably easier ways to arrive at such a result, but through the process of experimentation, I’m just happy to land at such satisfying end results. It never hurts to keep trying and pushing forward, no matter the questionable path!

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Good to Grow

Like painting or or singing, some people have an innate gift for gardening. Call it a natural talent that’s given at birth, I’ve seen sickly plants flourish under the right care. It seems even more magical to me, as someone who’s liable to turn that scenario on its head and drive supposedly indestructible vegetation right back into the ground. Described more favorably, you could say that I’m excellent at making compost.

This is the year that I’m changing all that. It’s no secret that I haven’t had the greatest luck with plants, laying to waste everything from succulents to bamboo, but that’s all in the past. Now, with a bit more experience and the right tools, I’m already the proud plant mama of some lush fresh herbs, thriving tomato vines, and even a few flowering pepper buds, ready to burst forth with fruit any day.

How is this possible, you may ask? As with most things in life, it comes down to dumb luck, hard work, and a few simple tricks.

Location, location, location! Make sure you start growing in a space that gets at least 8 hours of direct sun everyday to best suit most plants. You don’t need a ton of acreage or even a yard to start growing; any outdoor space can become a flourishing garden. Apartment dwellers would be wise to invest in a vertical planter to maximize limited balcony space. Lacking that, a window box planter can go anywhere, indoors or out.

Make it rain. Water religiously, even if mother nature does help out with a few showers. Make a habit of checking the soil everyday; if it seems dry, add more water. No need to go crazy, and you might not need to water everyday, depending on your climate. Set yourself a regular calendar reminder if you’re liable to get swept up in the daily madness and forget. Gardening apps like Planta and Flourish are brilliant for this and so much more, specific to your particular plants.

Feed me, Seymour. Like a pet, plants need good food to grow, too! About a month after the first sprouts emerge, add plant food to the soil. You can easily and cheaply make your own from Epsom salts and baking soda, an reapply roughly once a month. Just a little bit will do! Alternately, consider adding ground kelp or seaweed into the soil, which is a rich source of trace elements such as iron, zinc, barium, calcium, sulphur, and magnesium.

Don’t be a pest. Pull out weeds and other odd interlopers, of course, but don’t get sentimental over your own dying sprouts, either. If any of your plants are on their way out, remove them before they have time to rot, attract bugs, and potentially spread disease. If you suspect an infestation, don’t panic, and don’t pull out the toxic chemicals. Depending on the pests, there are many natural remedies you can make from household ingredients.

Slow and steady wins the race. Be patient, don’t overdo it, and celebrate the small victories. Especially if you’re starting from seed, it will be a while before you can reap the fruits of your labor, so buckle in and get comfortable for the long haul. Personally, the actual fruits and vegetables are a bonus at this point; just seeing greens living and thriving under my care, growing bigger and stronger by the day, is something to celebrate already.

Worst comes to worst, if your best efforts still end in barren earth, you’ll still end up ahead of the game. You’ve just enriched your soil for even better growing conditions next year! Your future plant babies will thank you for it.

Let It Snow

It’s the icing on the cake, the spoonful that helps the medicine go down, but sometimes, it’s better when sugar doesn’t instantly disappear from view. Rather than hiding in the background, doing all the heavy lifting behind the scenes, certain recipes can benefit from a delicate dusting of powdered sugar, gracing the surface of crackle-top cookies, coffee cakes, and flaky pastries like freshly fallen snow.

Sucre neige, also known as “snow sugar,” is scientifically formulated to be impervious to moisture or temperature. That means it won’t melt or dissolve on top of doughnuts, cookies, fruit tarts, and or any sweet treat you can throw at it. A light sprinkle will look as fresh as a pristine mountain peak, even after a day in the sun. Though it looks identical to conventional confectioner’s sugar, it’s made from dextrose rather than sucrose, which is considerably less sweet. The tiny particles are coated in a thin layer of palm oil, which acts sort of like a culinary raincoat. Titanium dioxide is usually added to keep it shining bright and perfectly white.

Considered a specialty item found in professional restaurant supply stores rather than the average supermarket, it’s frustratingly difficult to find at a moment’s notice. Happily, there is a way to make your own! It won’t have quite the same refinement as the impeccably processed commercial variety, but it will contain considerably fewer chemical additives, and cost a good deal less. Now you can have a brilliantly white Christmas, any day of the year.

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Bundles of Joy

This blog post is sponsored by iHerb but as always,the opinions and experiences expressed in this post are my own.

Pandemic or not, the holidays must go on. They may look a bit different, but the sentiment is all the same. We’ll spend time together, even if we’re physically far apart, spreading joy, creating memories, and of course, giving gifts. The beauty of online shopping is that your selections can arrive on your loved ones’ doorsteps with contact-free, hassle-free delivery. What can you send that will satisfy the foodies in your life, and where can you find it all? Consider iHerb your personal Secret Santa, or perhaps, Mystery Maccabee.

Delivering holiday cheer to over 180 countries across the globe, iHerb boasts over 30,000 natural products, from supplements to pantry staples, guaranteed at the highest quality and lowest prices possible. Free or discounted shipping ensures that your presents will arrive on time for the big event; no excuses, no empty stockings. If you ever need help, you can talk to customer service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in 10 different languages. Plus, do I have to remind you that all this shopping can be done from the comfort of your own home, happily ensconced in fuzzy slippers and warm pajamas? That’s a big present you’re giving to yourself right there.

After almost a full year under varying degrees of quarantine, we’re all getting a bit restless. Anyone who enjoys spending time in the kitchen is undoubtedly clamoring for a new project. After you’ve made your hundredth batch of banana bread and thousandth dalgona coffee, what’s left to try? Here are some fun foodie bundles to kick start brand new edible adventures.

Sourdough is almost too obvious to include, but still, too good to ignore. There’s a reason why this once uncommon approach to bread baking has risen to mainstream fame in recent months. The satisfaction of cultivating wild yeast, kneading dough by hand, watching it slowly come to life and rise of its own accord; the whole process is incredibly soothing, gratifying, and of course delicious in the end. Sometimes it’s not easy to create your own starter though, which is where the handy Cultures for Health Sourdough packets come in. They have options for Whole Wheat, San Francisco-style, and even a Gluten-Free blend! Pair that with some fun flours for your budding baker to experiment with, like rustic spelt or rye from Arrowhead Mills. Don’t forget to include primo sourdough food, since these yeasty beasts thrive on sugar. Consider Madhava agave nectar to develop a greater depth of flavor while fueling that starter the right way. Accessory options are endless, from nice bread knives to cutting boards, but you can never go wrong with a nice pack of colorful Full Circle dish cloths to both cover the growing dough and clean up after. Bonus points if you can rustle up a proper banneton bead proofing basket for fun and functional packaging.

Cheese making may not be the first activity to have crossed your mind, especially if you too have vegan leanings, but fear not! The handy Real Cheese Kits from Cultures of Health can be made with dairy-free milk, too! Take your pick from Paneer & Queso, or Mozzarella & Ricotta, or both, because you can never be too cheesy. Make the process foolproof by including Now Foods Soy Milk Powder, so your lucky recipient doesn’t need to worry about schlepping home a few gallons of liquid before getting started. Soy is also a great option for this kind of application, since it has more protein to better mimic that of cow’s milk, creating better curds. Add in a lovely cheeseboard or slate along with a cheese knife to really fancy up the package, along with snacks to pair with the completed cheeses. I happen to love the contrast of sweet, chewy dried fruits, particularly Made in Nature Dried Apricots, but do cater to your beneficiary’s tastes. All-fruit preserves could be a nice alternative, as would a bottle of tangy pomegranate nectar for a bolder acidic hit. Crackers are mandatory; Simple Mills makes a variety of flavors, but I happen to love the basic Sea Salt variety to let the cheeses themselves shine. Now that’s a [small, outdoor, socially distanced] party waiting to happen!

Kombucha is also bubbling up to greater acclaim lately. Every state can boast local, micro-batch brewers, and your lucky friend could soon be one of them! Procuring a proper scoby is more than half the battle. Happily, Cultures of Health has got this one covered too, with a Kombucha Start Culture to begin the process from scratch. Every bit as easy as making pickles, it doesn’t take much to kick off a bubbling batch of fermented tea, though there are certainly some particular additions that can make the process even easier. Simple cane sugar is essential; no fancy alternative sweeteners need apply. Go for Wholesome’s Organic Sucanat to take advantage of the rich molasses flavor and trace minerals to bolster the brew. The options for tea are truly limitless, so it’s nice to include a variety of options to provide a range of different tastes to try. The Fruit Tea Sampler from Celestial Seasonings is a great place to start, offering five distinctive herbal teas to chose from. Contain your excitement, and presents, in a handy Now Foods Sprouting Jar, which is ideal for housing the budding beneficial bacteria, too. The mesh top will allow the scoby to breathe while keeping bugs out, so there’s no risk of infestation.

Make a list, check it twice, and then visit iHerb. Shop now to get 5% of your purchase, no minimum order. Spread joy, not germs, and give a gift that everyone will happily stay at home to enjoy.

Scoby Snacks

While the rest of the world came down with a serious case of sourdough fever, I remained immune. In San Francisco, of all places, where starter was almost literally growing on trees, nothing could convince me to try taming the wild yeast once again. Multiple attempts have proven that I’m just the neglectful sort of child that would repeatedly kill their own mother, and the last thing I needed was more heartbreak. Watching bakers boast of plump, golden loaves all across the internet, I was impressed, but remained unmoved. The only living organism I wanted to tend to was my beloved fur baby, and maybe myself, I suppose, on my better days.

Then, out of the blue, a kind neighbor offered extra kombucha scobys for free. Far less demanding dough-mestic responsibilities, all you need to do is brew a big pot of tea, plop in a disc of fungus, and forget about it for a few weeks. I could do that!

More accurately, a scoby is not a mushroom, but a “Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast,” thus the acronym. Touted for its powerful probiotic quotient, the yeast is what converts sugars into CO2 and ethanol, and the bacteria then convert the ethanol into amino acids, trace minerals and vitamins. Though the resulting flavors are quite complex, the procedure is not. The most important ingredient is time, which was the only thing I had in abundance at the beginning of quarantine. After 2 – 4 weeks, you have a refreshing brew to quench your thirst, and a brand new scoby to do it all again.

After a few batches, of course, the scobys start to stack up. It’s wise to keep backups in a scoby hotel if everything should go awry, but even with robust reserves, there’s bound to be excess eventually. There’s no such thing as a useless scoby, however! I may not kill my mothers anymore, but sometimes, I will confess to eating them.

Yes, you can eat your scobys! They look like disgusting sheets of phlegm, but trust me, their culinary value far outshines their initial appearance. (Notice I did not include a photo of my scobys. I just can’t make that look appetizing.)

Puree any amount to seamlessly weave it into your daily diet, particularly in:

  • Smoothies
  • Blended Soups (especially chilled soups, like gazpacho)
  • Fruit Leather
  • Baking (Use 1/4 cup scoby puree to replace 1 large egg)
  • Creamy Dressings or Vinaigrette (Use 1/4 cup scoby puree to replace 1/4 cup oil)
  • Dog Food or Treats

While brainstorming new ideas for using up this bounty, it’s most useful when I think about it like yogurt. Once blended, it’s thick and somewhat creamy, sour and tangy, and works well as a binder. Given its origins, I typically pair it with tea or coffee flavors by default, which is how this verdant verrine came about.

A fresh batch of green tea booch inspired this simple layered snack. Excess scoby is blended into the matcha base along with non-dairy milk for a creamy, pleasantly bitter, subtly sweet start. Set with agar like conventional Japanese kanten, a second stripe of translucent kombucha gel rests on top, almost like an adult Jello cup. Since each component is only lightly cooked, brought to the brink of a boil just to properly hydrate the agar, you’ll get the greatest benefits from all those live probiotics, and the freshest flavor from the tea.

There are some things in life you can never have to much of: love, fresh air, chocolate… And now, I’d like to add kombucha scobys to that list. Before you start cooking, don’t forget to spread the joy with your neighbors. You can cut a scoby into pieces and each fragment remains as potent as the whole for kick-starting a new brew. If you’re nearby in the area, hit me up for a scoby fix to dive into this fuzzy ferment yourself! Otherwise, it’s just as simple to start from scratch with store-bought culture. I promise, it’s much easier than sourdough, and the results are just as gratifying.

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Quick Picks

Inundated by the staggering volume and variety of summer’s bounty, even the veteran gardener, cook, and farm stand enthusiast can easily become overwhelmed. The sudden flood of fresh produce can shift from blessing to burden overnight. That extra pound of cucumbers, so crisp and refreshing, the impulsive addition of pinata-striped sweet bell peppers, the peppery little bundle of Easter egg radishes, didn’t seem like much in the shopping basket, but add up in a big way back at home.

Now those prime, promising assets transform into ticking time bombs, turning brown and limp with every passing day. Use it or lose it! they cry, languishing in the back of the fridge. Delay the inevitable and freeze what you can, but don’t forget, there’s an even better method of preservation that’s served our forefathers and mothers well before the invention of the ice box.

Yes, we can. Canning and pickling, stocking up while enhancing natural flavor, is the only way to go. To the uninitiated, there are four barriers to entry into the pickling game. Old fashioned techniques sound too hard, too time consuming, too confusing, and require a bunch of equipment. On the contrary, anyone, young or old, seasoned or inexperienced, can make pickles in 10 minutes or less.

Allow me to introduce Aunt Pearl and Uncle Johnny, the inspiring figures behind Pearl and Johnny. Guided by the motto that “real food is beautiful,” their all-inclusive pickle mixes have nothing to hide, and a whole lot to share. Complete with reusable glass jars to showcase your perfect pickles, all you need to do is supply the vegetables and vinegar. Seasoning blends are as unique and diverse as the fans eating them up, from classic dill to piquant jalapeño-horseradish. Only organic, non-GMO ingredients make the cut, showcasing simple, honest foods at their finest.

The only limit is your imagination. Beyond the standard cucumber, there’s nothing on earth that doesn’t benefit from a bit of brine. Green beans, okra, cauliflower, and zucchini were my picks for this first shot, but far more creative opportunities are at your fingertips. Have you ever eaten pickled avocado? What about whole cloves of garlic? Have you even heard of pickled peaches before?

Consider these easy kits as pickling with training wheels. If you’ve never had the joy of reveling in a root cellar fully stocked with homemade preserves, Pearl and Johnny are here to hold your hand for a proper guided tour.

This review was made possible as a collaboration with Pearl and Johnny. My opinions can not be bought and all content is original. This page may contain affiliate links; thank you for supporting my blog!