On Food and Cooking, and procrastination

I fully intended, I swear, to do a post on caring for cast iron for you this weekend. However, not only did we have company most of Saturday, it was – and still is – over ninety degrees here in Virginia! Which I’m loving: although I dress in black and to me every day is Halloween, I’m all about moving to the tropics. However, even the climate-control-loving Smark hasn’t been able to muster up the wherewithal to turn on the A/C in April, and it’s positively sweltering in the house. So slaving over a hot stove wasn’t something I was really looking forward to. Another cast iron post is forthcoming, but probably not until later in the week when the temperature cools down to a more seasonable – and reasonable – 65 or so.

In fact, I don’t have a recipe to share with you today. Did I even cook this weekend?! I don’t remember. It was hot, I know that. What I would like to share with you, though, is a recommendation for On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee. Now, I read a lot; usually two or three books a week, but almost entirely fiction. I do tend to read cookbooks cover to cover as well, and I read a disproportionately large number of books about physics, but other than that I rarely read any non-fiction. I have been looking for years, however, for a book about the science of cooking. And have I ever found it! I can’t remember what brought it to my attention, probably a mention on a food blog somewhere, but I checked it out of the library and it’s exactly what I’ve been looking for. It’s fascinating! It’s huge! I’ve mostly been skipping around reading a section here, a section there, instead of reading it straight through, as it’s enormous and very textbook-like, but I’ve been marking many pages that contain topics I want to more fully explore or that have given me ideas for experiments I can try. It’s not a cookbook; the only recipes it contains are a few fairly incomprehensible Medieval and other old recipes in sidebars that illustrate the history of an ingredient or technique. What it is is an encyclopedia of what seems like everything there is to know about food and cooking. The history of all types of food. How nutrients are absorbed in our system. The hows and whys of all cooking techniques. How yeast works…. I’m flipping through it now to glean more examples of the range of information this book contains and it’s just impossible to narrow it down. I just opened to a cut-out diagram of the molecular structure of a plant leaf. Now I’ve just flipped to a page containing the heading “Unusual Fermentations,” which leaves me in danger of abandoning this post to go read it, given my love of fermentation. (They don’t call me Renae Ferment√© for nothing. Okay, no one calls me Renae Ferment√©. But they should.)

When I ordered the book from the library, I figured I’d end up just skipping over the meat and dairy chapters. However, I actually found the dairy section fascinating. (I haven’t read any meat chapters.) Although McGee does not advocate the avoidance of dairy, he points out that it is unnatural for humans to consume the milk of other animals, and that relatively few people on the planet do or even can. He also says that the recommendation by the US government that adults consume a quart of milk a day in order to fulfill their calcium needs is foolhardy and the product of the US dairy council’s funding. He points out that consumption of animal protein increases the need for calcium (meaning vegans actually need less calcium than omnivores), and that although milk is a “valuable” source of calcium, it is “unnatural” and not necessarily the best source and that the best way to prevent osteoporosis is to exercise, eat a well-balanced diet low in animal protein, and to eat a variety of calcium-rich foods including dried beans, nuts, tofu, and various greens. The point I’m trying to get across here is that this book is a great resource for completely unbiased information about why a vegan diet can be healthier than others, and even provides support on the moral issues behind it (by stating that it is unnatural for humans to consume dairy products). Often the most easily-accessible sources of data backing up a vegan diet are pro-vegan websites, which detractors won’t accept as a source because they have an “agenda”. So if you are at all interested in backing up your claims that your vegan diet is sound from a completely unbiased source, try On Food and Cooking.

But that’s not why I sought out this book. I very rarely bring up vegan “issues” because my goal is to present delicious and nutritious food that just happens to be vegan in an effort to show it’s not weird. I’m mostly loving this book for all the chapters about foods I do eat…which is most of the book, because even if you are omnivore, most of your food intake should be grains and vegetables. Did you know that cashews are related to poison ivy and that’s why you never see them in their shells? Their shell contains an irritating oil and must be removed without contaminating the seed. This book is going on my wish list: it’s the type of reference you need to keep in the house; borrowing from the library isn’t going to cut it!

That’s really all I have to say. It’s still hot so I don’t know if I’ll do any real cooking tonight, so no recipes right now. But here are some pictures of Brachtune to tide you over. She spent hours outside this weekend, in the morning and evenings when it wasn’t quite as hot. She used to be very nervous outside and only make short excursions totally inspired by jealousy that Tigger (who LOVED going for walks) was out and she wasn’t. Lately it’s like she’s been possessed by the spirit of Tigger and is doing all sort of Tiggerish things.

I love watching her walk at eye level. She just has the cutest paws in the world.

I also love those dark rings around her eyes. She’s like Cleopatra.

Sunday I planted some herbs: spearmint (I got a big plant of this, which I’m calling the mojito bush), regular and Vietnamese coriander (cilantro), thyme, tarragon, mizuna, rosemary, and sage. The bay leaf plant is the only one I have left over from my previous herb pot that I didn’t kill.

I also got a rainbow chard plant, because apparently it’s easy to grow and it’s “cut-and-regrow”. For $1.29, I figured I couldn’t go wrong. The leaf in the picture is just 2 1/2″ long right now: so cute!

I have to wait a week or two to get the tomatoes, basil, and shiso, and for Mark to get his peppers. I’m accepting bets on how long it takes me to kill these plants. Mark’s giving me six weeks, which is generous of him. I really wish I were better with plants. I try every year and every year it’s just a slow decline towards a painful plant death. Oh well. I generally get at least enough use out of them before they die that they pay for themselves by costing less than I’d have paid for a bundle of the same thing in the grocery store…if you don’t factor in the $37 I spent on dirt.

So other than spending time outside with The Toonse and planting my doomed herbs, I mostly spent the weekend when not courting guests melting in my chair reading. Here was my view:

Or, another view:

(I still have tan lines on my foot from the sandals I wore in Australia.)

Oh, that’s right. I did cook up some frozen tofu for dinner last night. Except I’m one of those people who cleans up as she goes along when making meals and I kept grabbing the tofu instead of the sponge. I think you understand why:

Which is edible?! It’s hard to tell; I’m generally not a big fan of frozen tofu. I only freeze it when I have it and it’s about to go bad. And I only break it out on days when it’s ninety-two degrees out and there’s nothing else in the house to eat.

Right, well, another cast iron tutorial coming your way very soon – I promise.

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