A finicky guy's exploits in finding gustatory (and other) satisfaction in his kitchen, his neighborhood, and beyond.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Bad Seed

A look back at yesterday's meals — A Tale of Horror

Hallelujah!  I slept through the night (a full 8 hours) and woke up feeling almost back to normal.  [The rainforests breathe a sigh of relief as my tissue usage drops precipitously overnight.  One more day of this cold could have deforested Brazil.]  Apparently my optimism in not canceling today's students — as I had done Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday — was not unfounded.   I was even feeling sufficiently healthy to return to my old breakfast stand-by, fruit and nuts with yogurt.

Happily, the meh fruits I'd been eating all week without enthusiasm (perhaps they were feeling under the weather too) gave way to a truly delicious bartlett pear, banana, and navel orange today.   They were accompanied by a few tablespoons of the world's most excellent yogurt (yay, Amish grass-eating cows!), some raw walnuts, and, as a rare treat, roasted cashews.  (Don't tell my friend Laura, who worries about my salt intake, but these nuts were salted as well.)

So how did we — who know about the health advantages of raw nuts and the potentially carcinogenic compounds into which the roasting process transmutes the nut oils — end up with a bag of roasted cashews?  Answer: Peter did the shopping.  He claims that Whole Foods was out of the raw cashews we normally buy and I suppose I believe him.  I also believe that the health dangers of "bad" foods are lessened when the healthier alternatives are not available.  (A corollary to this law is that if the deli person doesn't hear you say to go light on the butter and slathers a huge mound of it onto your bagel, this extra butter contains no cholesterol.  I have just about mastered the exact right volume of speech to not quite reach over the plastic counter at my bagel shop.)

Roasted nuts can transform a mundane bowl of fruit into a delicacy, if not an outright bar snack.  Because my fruit assortment was not even particularly mundane today, I had a real gem of a breakfast, which lifted my spirits and practically had me singing as I ate.

Until the last bite. 

[Cue ominous music]

I put the remaining yogurt-covered pear chunk and walnut half into my mouth, crunched down, and — blecccchhh — rancid nut!  Was this a message from the Universe that my burgeoning optimism was being overruled?  The memories of all those delectable mouthfuls quickly faded as I gagged on the bitter, sour, OFF taste of the bad seed.

Readers, does it ever happen to you that your final bite of something that has been otherwise delicious is spoiled by rancidity or other off flavors?   How does the bad seed escape being eaten until the very end?  I have two theories about this:
  1. A bad taste followed by a bunch more good bites does not lodge in my consciousness.  (Boring, this theory, but probably true.)
  2. Our sensory systems have evolved to shrink from bad-tasting morsels, which could indicate danger in the form of contamination or spoilage.  Some little-understood sensory function in our brains guides us to only the best bites, until there is no other option available.  Probably an alert "primitive" man would simply cease eating when the good stuff ran out.  Me, I just continue to plow through my bowl, on which I am only partially focused, as I am checking my email during breakfast, scarfing down both healthy and contaminated mouthfuls indiscriminately.  (Don't you hope this more glamorous theory proves to be true?)
For lunch, Peter and I shared the remaining Brooklyn bagel from yesterday, toasted with butter.  (I was not in the kitchen to monitor Peter's buttering, so this cholesterol didn't count either.)  The bagel was multigrain, a flavor we hadn't tried before, and tasted strongly of graham flour, which I liked and Peter didn't.  We ate the bagel with some delightful eggs that Peter had scrambled with cheese, and browned to just the right doneness.  Actually, there are for us a range of right donenesses; we usually eat our scrambled eggs on the runny side, but today Peter opted for a different treatment, and the change was quite pleasing.

Can you believe it — dinner started out with another bad seed!  It happened to both of us, on our very first bites of. . .but I'm getting a little ahead of the story.

First of all, you have to know that today NYC was hit with our second snowstorm of the season.  When we looked out of our windows, all was gloomy and monochromatic.  (I had some photos taken out of our windows to show you what I mean, but I accidentally deleted them, along with most of the pictures I'd shot while preparing dinner.  Just imagine the gloomiest winter landscape you can, then reduce the color level in your mental picture so it's even gloomier.  There — that's how it looked here today.)

I was getting glum sitting here, watching the flakes coming down while monitoring the Chihuahuas as they performed their indoor winter fitness routine on their treadmill.  (If you beg me hard enough, I'll post a video of them working out.)  I thought to myself, "What could make it seem more like summer in the middle of this dreary January?"  And then it occurred to me: cook a summer meal.  So I did!

I had an extra half-hour between students this afternoon, so I raced to the freezer and dug out a few precious items I'd frozen during the growing season for just this eventuality.  From the very beginning of last summer, I had a frozen blob of garlic scape pesto I discovered way in the back of the freezer.  Then I found a ziploc bag containing some tomatoes from a week in early September when we received too many to consume.  (Ah, those days seem long ago right now.)  Just to complete my tribute to the entire growing season, I pulled out a few carrots from November's harvest.

Now I was ready to create my summer meal.  Luckily, I still had cooked penne left over from the eggplant bake of 2 days prior, as well as a little remaining mozzarella and plenty of grating cheese.  I grated 2 big carrots into my baking dish, dumped in the tomatoes, which I'd already chunked before freezing, and tossed them with a several tablespoons of the pesto and some extra olive oil.  (I had pictures of all these steps, but, sadly, they were deleted too.)

Next I added the pasta and mixed it all together.  Then I added the halved mozzarella balls and grated my own snowstorm of Asiago over the lot.  Oh, and a little fresh ground pepper.   (Up to this point this dish had taken only about 15 minutes of prep time.  Not counting the tasks I did pre-freezing back in the summertime, of course.)

I put the baking dish into Connie (my trusty convection oven) and set her temperature for 350 degrees.  Peter received his instructions to start her up at the appropriate time so that 30 minutes of baking would end just as I was finishing with my last student of the day.

Here's what the dish looked like when it was finished:

I'd had a few minutes between students to run across the street for a perfect summer wine to accompany this dish, coming home with a bottle of Riesling Spätlese (and a St. Emilion for sometime later in the week — yes, I know it's already Friday evening).

So we sat down to our lovely summer picnic, enjoying the wonderful scents wafting from our plates and our wine glasses, dreamily brought our first bites to our drooling mouths. . .and simultaneously spit out bites of rotten tomato, making dreadful grimaces.  Oops! I guess some of those tomatoes had turned before I got them in the freezer.  Anyway, the rest of the dish was delicious and free of rancidity.  I am just happy that it was our first bites and not our last ones of this dish that contained the off flavors.

I wish you all a sunny weekend, completely free of off flavors.


  1. I never knew you could freeze tomatoes. Do you have to do anything other than cut them into chunks? Do you freeze them first on a tray and then transfer them into a bag or just put them in a bag? The only cooking I know how to do is follow a recipe. I love that you throw in a bit of this and a bit of that. I'm working up the courage to give your method a try. Everything you've made sounds delicious. Maybe you mentioned in an earlier post. What kind of teaching do you do?

  2. That was an omelet, my dear. It just broke.

  3. @Liara: I'd love to know I'd inspired you to cut loose in the kitchen! Let me know what you come up with.

    I found out last summer that you can freeze tomatoes, either whole or cut up. I have one more bag left that I even added some chopped basil to, hopefully before the tomatoes turned.

    Check my profile for info on my teaching, or even visit my other blog if you like.

  4. @Peter: Oops, my bad. [Note to readers: We also had scrambled porcelain yesterday, when Peter broke his favorite bowl while preparing his breakfast. The poor thing must be exhausted from preparing for his sew-along.]

  5. So sorry to hear about the "bad bites"; it is always unfortunate when that happens. But your dinner sounds absolutely wonderful, and like Liara, I didn't know you could freeze whole tomatoes either. This will open a whole new world come late summer!

    And your choice of wine, I thought was stellar. I adore a good riesling as it always makes me happy. A perfect meal for a gloomy day like that :)

  6. Michael, I am a follower of Peter's blog and just the other day thought to myself, "how do these boys eat?" I mean Peter is always sewing (at least it seems) and I wondered how he fit any time for meal preparation or even eating into his sewing schedule. I pondered that since you live in NYC maybe take out was the norm.

    What joy to see that YOU are the one with the zest for cooking. I can't wait to read more. I used to own a restaurant and catering business and love cooking myself, although most of my blog posts are about "vintage recipes" which clearly did not have heart health in mind. Best of blogging to you. Lisa aka Sassy Lassie

  7. Glad you're feeling better!

    Mmm, I love fresh fruit with yogurt and nuts (or granola). Sometimes I drizzle a little honey over it all. Yum.

    Sorry about your "bad bites." I have my own, slightly different, "bad last bite" story to tell. Years ago, I studied in Beijing, China (best food I have EVER eaten, btw). Many mornings I ate jian bing (google it for description, pics and video) for breakfast, bought from a vendor just outside the gates of the college. Soooo good!! The morning of my last day there, I went out to buy one last jian bing before leaving China and bit into it to find that the egg was still raw -- booo!!! :-(

  8. Oh, I love baked "fresh" tomatoes and cheese! So glad the rest of yours after that first bite turned out well. Glad, too, that you're feeling better and the tissue consumption has diminished.

    Off to the sewing room — I have a muslin to work on!

  9. @Melissa: I just googled Jian Bing and now I'm craving one! Would you believe I have my own Chinese bad surprise egg story? Mine takes place in Bremerhaven, Germany, where I lived in the late 80s. I had just visited my local Asian food market, where I'd asked if they had any special sweets for sale, and been given some sort of Chinese cake. (Mind you, the whole transaction was conducted in a sort of pidgin German that allowed at least some communication between me and the Far-East-Asian shopkeepers. In retrospect, I'm not sure they were aware that I was seeking a DESSERT.) Later that night, after dinner, I was sitting on my couch watching TV in the otherwise darkened room. I began to nibble at my Chinese cake, which I'd saved for a late-evening treat. First bite, not so sweet to my American taste buds, but not bad. I continued nibbling and watching TV, not paying much attention to what I was consuming. . .until I bit down into a whole hard-boiled egg which had been baked into the cake. That might not sound all that disgusting as you read about it, but the surprise element kicked this over into a total gross-out moment. I think I spit that egg-bite clear across the living room. Moral: Pay attention when consuming unaccustomed delicacies.

  10. @Debbie: Good luck with that muslin! ;-)

    To any non-sewers out there, a muslin is a practice run-through with a pattern using any old fabric, before attempting it on your good fabric. The muslin Debbie wrote about is for — I can't believe how lucky I am — a shirt for ME. When I receive the final product, it will get bountiful bloggage. Debbie, you're the best!!!

  11. Too bad about the spoiled bits, the rest sounded good though! And German wine! Well, in all honesty I don't know the first thing about wine, which is a shame since I'm smack in the middle of wine country(my mother is German btw, which is why we moved back here while I was a teenager. We finally settled down after my dad retired from the military).
    Your fresh fruit breakfast sounds delish. I really need to up my fruit intake and that might be the way.
    Enjoying the blog, keep up the good work!

  12. It's much better to just add some of this and some of that to cooking. It's pretty much how my kitchen is run, although I try to write it down nicely and make it seem all planned and organized, fearing appearing to be a doofus.

    Remember, "bad" things don't count if they're unintentional, like "just a bite" of someone else's cheesecake that turns into a half a piece!

  13. Really enjoying your blog Michael, I'm waiting with baited breath for 2 things :
    1. The story of Connie's acquisition.
    2. The video of the Chihuahua workout (even if no one else will beg you for it ).
    Btw, my wife follows mpb religiously and put me on to your blog. Keep up the good work!

  14. Actually, Michael, that does sound quite disgusting, especially in a cake. Thanks for sharing!

    New R/C Enthusiast, if I'm not mistaken, there is a video of the chihuahua workout on MPB, though it certainly wouldn't hurt to have on here too.

  15. Hi. (wandered over from Peter's blog) Wow, that's a bad luck day. Maybe the taste buds are particularly sensitive on the first AND last bites? I totally subscribe to your methods at the bagel shop, by the way.

  16. Not to get off topic-but- how is the counter top convection oven at baking? I've considered the purchase but not sure I want to make the jump.

  17. Ew. Your bad bites remind me of blackberry picking this summer. I would be going along, munching on all that wonderful blackberriness when I would hit a moldy one. Yuck. Next time I'll pay more attention to what I stick into my mouth.

    I'm glad you're feeling better! Being sick when it's snowy out is the worst, IMO. Yay for a (mostly) delicious summer meal to help you out.