Coriander-Rose Ice Cream

One of my first memories of ice cream (actually, one of my first memories, period) was prostrating myself before the cold case of a Chapel Hill, NC ice cream parlor called Francesca’s. My cousin and I bowed our heads and extended our arms in mock reverence, chanting “I worship strawberry, I love strawberry, I marry strawberry!”

I still love good strawberry ice cream, though I wouldn’t call it my favorite: My love of ice cream is too wide-ranging to choose just one. What hasn’t changed, though, is ice cream’s power to inspire in me goofy displays of unfettered excitement and devotion. Ice cream is my go-to celebration food, comfort food, stress food, reward food. I crave ice cream, often so fiercely that I will go to embarrassing lengths to get it. There’s something about that harmonious meeting of fat and sugar, the unctuous cold sweetness dissolving on my tongue: It scrambles my brain’s pleasure centers, stripping away logic, causing me to lose my relationship with reality ever-so-slightly.

I love ice cream flavors with nuts and pieces and chunks of all descriptions. I also love pure, simple flavors. Dense, firm, American-style ice cream with no eggs, rich frozen custards, smooth, slippery gelato: I like it all. For my latest ice cream experiment, I used one of my all-time favorite spices, coriander, combined with dried rose petals. I started with David Lebovitz’s vanilla ice cream as my base recipe, omitting the vanilla and infusing the milk with a generous tablespoon of toasted coriander and a small handful of dried rose petals.

ingredients (yeah, there's five egg yolks in there)
ingredients (yeah, there’s five egg yolks in there)

The coriander flavor ended up being very pronounced (just how I wanted it) with bright notes of citrus and pine, and deep toasty underpinnings of earth and wood; the rose flavor was very subtle. I also added a teaspoon of Bulleit bourbon to prevent the ice cream from becoming too hard; next time, I’d use a neutral-flavored spirit, like vodka, or an orange liqueur like Cointreau, or – better still – a rose liqueur.

Although the ice cream’s good on its own, I’m planning to pair it with something – maybe an orange pound cake or some type of fruit crisp or tart.

a favorite toy
a favorite toy
ice cream.
ice cream.

I’m Racist.

There’s been a spike in hullabaloo about racism the last short while. Donald Sterling. That Bundy asshole. Saying what they think, what lots of old moneyed white dudes think, and getting flack for their raw honesty. Sure, what they espouse is unequivocally vile: but at least it’s out in the open. Racism is insidious. It thrives in the shadows. Exposure threatens its very underpinnings.

Then there was Macklemore’s clueless costume choice at a recent EMP appearance. I believe him when he says he didn’t know that it looked like a Jewish caricature straight out of Der Stürmer (which it really did). He messed up, a lot of people got upset, and he apologized. Being ignorant of history is silly when you’re a major pop star, but it’s eminently forgivable. It was interesting to observe the outcry on both sides: on the one hand were people who were outraged and offended. On the other were folks who thought it was no big deal, that people were freaking out over nothing. The latter group jumped to Mack’s defense, citing his great track record of political correctness and self-awareness.

Macklemore made a dumb decision. I don’t believe that he’s an anti-Semite: he’s  human, and humans make mistakes – all the time. Just because he made a song called “White Privilege” (reflecting on, you guessed it, white privilege) doesn’t mean that he’s perfect or exempt him from critique. At the same time, his very public fuck-up isn’t a reason to mercilessly excoriate him and indulge in shrill solipsistic huffiness. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of impeccable cultural sensitivity.

No one wants to think of themselves as racist. Even overtly racist people preface their malevolent spoutings with “I’m not racist, but…”. Fact is, though, that none of us are impervious to cultural imprinting, to the seething ugliness that runs through our species’ history and can rise up at any moment. Even those of us who are ideologically committed to equality, to the fight against prejudice and exclusion and systemic injustice, who like to consider ourselves open, ethical, and non-biased, are not immune.

But no one wants to admit it. It’s a whole lot easier to hide behind self-righteousness, to maintain, with smug certainty, that “I’m not racist!”

Following the comments on a few controversial Facebook posts on race, I’ve witnessed people (white people) vociferously objecting to charges of racism. The response usually goes something like this:

“I’ve traveled the world! My great grandfather was half Blackfoot! Of course I’m not racist, and I’m deeply offended that you would suggest that I am!”

Because most of us are pretty adept at concealing the unsightly and misshapen and wounded parts of ourselves, instead displaying glossy avatars of what we want to be, it’s easy to maintain denial. The truth of the matter is that all of us have, to one extent or another, internalized the discourses that swirl around Otherness in our culture. Everyone’s a little bit racist. Even me. Sometimes hideous, hateful words explode, unbidden, into my mind. Terrible words about race, gender, sexual identity, religion, age, size, ability – you name it. I identify as queer and Jewish, and still struggle with internalized misogyny and homophobia and anti-Semitism. Yep: the distorted stories about “Others” that suffuse what’s still, by and large, a  patriarchal, white supremacist, appearance-obsessed society have left their mark on me.

I am the recipient of major privilege based on my phenotype. My dad is dark skinned and was admonished not to play in the sun, lest people mistake him for a schwartze. He was taunted and bullied for being a Jew, and as a kid, longed to have fair skin and straight hair like the “normal” kids. Sometimes I cling to this facet of my family history in order to feel connected with communities of color, to claim my own spot in the “oppression Olympics.” But the fact remains that I’m fair and straight-haired and got the dainty nose my dad prayed I would inherit from my mother. Like it or not, I’ve got layers upon layers of privilege; white privilege is just one.

I’ve wrestled with the implications of this privilege. I never asked for it. Sometimes it makes me feel like shit, and I think I don’t want it: as much as it’s benefited me and made my life easier in many ways, it can suck to look like the Oppressor. I’ve read widely, participated in activism, worked to expand my mind and to listen to a variety of voices, to become aware of the ways in which I’m ignorant and impaired. Awareness of my privilege hasn’t make it go away, though, and sometimes I mess up. This doesn’t make me a bad person. It doesn’t mean that the prejudices that have seeped into me through cultural osmosis are at the heart of who I am, or that they circumscribe my fundamental value. What it does mean is that it’s important to stay humble, to acknowledge my mistakes and learn from them. As Macklemore seems to have done.

I’m done with trying to protect a precious image, to project a sanitized, prettied-up version of myself that maintains a prim distance from the complicated, messy, authentic dialogues that challenge our most cherished notions. I’m done with trying to inoculate myself against accusations of prejudice by flaunting my Otherness as a queer Jewish woman, because these identities don’t define me; nor do they obviate my privilege. And we all have some level of privilege. Responding to prejudice by clinging ever-tighter to our marginal identities, vying to see who’s struggling under greater oppression, is not freeing. It’s just another way of distancing ourselves from our fellow human beings, of perpetuating stories of Otherness that helps hatred to thrive.

Racism (any “ism,” for that matter) is an environmental contaminant: like it or not, there are traces of it in your system. It’s a disease. And, as with any disease, the first step in treating it is realizing you’re infected. Indignant denial doesn’t help you to grow, or to heal: rather, it shuts down dialogue and drowns out the voices of those who ask to be heard.

So: can we please drop the bullshit, admit we’re imperfect, be real, and actually listen to each other?

Toast Your Own

Toasting spices unlocks their potency and gives their flavor its fullest expression.

Pre-ground spices are pretty much worthless: the volatile compounds that give them their flavor are released (and begin to dissipate) as soon as they’re ground. While their convenience is seductive, pre-ground spices contribute very little, flavor wise; in order to make your food taste like anything, you have to add enough insipid powder to make it downright gritty.

There are exceptions, of course: it’s not practical to grind cinnamon yourself. But in most cases, toasting and grinding your own is the way to go.

Don’t be intimidated: it only takes a few more minutes than opening a jar. Plus, buying spices in bulk saves you money. Use a heavy skillet (preferably cast iron, definitely not non-stick). Add your spices when the skillet is still cold, and shake it gently from time to time. Your spices are ready when they’re fragrant; if you wait until they’re smoking, they may scorch. When toasting seeds, like cumin and coriander (two of my favorites, and stalwarts in my kitchen), you may hear them popping when they’re done. As with anything else, spices will toast up much faster over gas heat than electric. Because the difference between beautifully toasted and burnt is a matter of seconds, it’s important to stay vigilant, especially during the last minute.

After your spices are toasted you can grind them by hand in a mortar and pestle or a suribachi (a Japanese mortar and pestle, the very best), or use a coffee grinder. Most people recommend using separate grinders for spices and coffee. I used to do this, until my spice grinder gave up the ghost. Now, I use the same one. I’m not a purist.

coriander, suribachi
coriander, suribachi

Workhorse Spice Blend

2 T cumin seeds, toasted and ground

1 T coriander seeds, toasted and ground

1 t cinnamon

1 t dried oregano

½ t cayenne

I use this combination of spices in pretty much everything. You can use it to flavor soups, stews, and sautéed vegetables. You can use it as a rub for grilled or seared meats. You can up the cinnamon for a North African-inspired flavor, add a little chipotle for Mexican food, or add toasted sesame seeds and chopped hazelnuts or pistachios for a homemade take on duqqa, ­a dry condiment served with bread and olive oil.

Soylent: It’s Not People

My life revolves around food, and it pretty much always has. When I was a little kid, I gravitated to instances of food and eating in books and TV shows and movies the way other kids get excited about cars, say, or ponies. When my parents took me to a restaurant, I always wanted to see the kitchen. I was the opposite of a picky eater, ever eager to try new things and experiment with novel flavor combinations. I ate briny nori sheets with Nutella and raw oats with cream. Whenever I went somewhere with my parents, I was disappointed – crushed, even – when there was no food. I sought the reassurance of a gumball machine or a little dish of hard candy in the midst of the grim sterility of banks, car dealerships, doctors’ offices.

These days, my routine is punctuated by the pleasure of mealtimes. My disposable income gets spent at restaurants and bars. Cooking is a joy that never grows tiresome. I love reading about food, talking about it, writing about it. I think about it incessantly. As with any obsession, sometimes it’s slightly burdensome. But, for better or worse, it’s my thing: Food is inextricable from my identity and my experience of the world.

That’s why I felt personally affronted when I read a recent New Yorker article entitled “The End of Food,” about a food replacement substance called Soylent, created by a twenty five-year-old tech entrepreneur. When I started seeing stuff about Soylent popping up on my Facebook feed, I assumed it was a joke and didn’t give it a second thought. I grew up with the understanding that “Soylent Green is people!”, and it didn’t occur to me that someone might try to market a real product under that name.

But, as I learned from the New Yorker article, Soylent, is, in fact, a thing. Rob Rhinehart and a few of his buddies had funds for a tech startup, but their plans to make inexpensive cell phone towers fell through. Instead, Rhinehart, who finds food – procuring, cooking, and eating it – an onerous chore, came up with the idea of a food substitute. According to the article, before the advent of Soylent, he and his roommates subsisted on frozen quesadillas and the like, purchased in bulk from Costco. But they were broke and unhealthy; despite their best efforts at frugality, food was a major part of their budget. Wanting to cut costs, save time, and optimize his nutrition, Rhinehart decided to make a food replacement from vitamins and minerals procured in bulk from the internet.

Soylent’s formula is open-source, meaning that anyone can access the recipe, tinker with it, and come up with their own version. The New Yorker article describes a group of engineering students at Cal Tech who subsist almost entirely on their own iterations of Soylent.

Can you live on Soylent alone? The evidence suggests that you can. According to the article, Rhinehart has been consuming Soylent pretty much exclusively for a year, and is in glowing health.

My visceral reaction to the piece – feelings of anger and defensiveness – don’t have to do with the health claims made by Soylent’s proponents. If anything, I find the idea of a nutritionally complete meal-replacement slurry more compelling than the numerous fad diets that extol the life-changing health benefits of ditching gluten or dairy or corn. Instead, I felt that Rhinehart was attacking the thing I love most, dismissing it as inefficient and superfluous.

Don’t get me wrong: I can see how eating can be perceived as inefficient. Sipping all the nutrients and calories you need, without having to take the time to prepare and eat a meal, is a huge time-saver. Food can be troublesome: Many people, me included, have complicated relationships with food and eating. Food is messy: ethically, health wise, literally. Agriculture accounts for many of our contemporary environmental woes. Many diseases are the result of improper eating – too much, not enough, the wrong kind. In my own life, I struggle to strike a balance between enjoyment and health. Sometimes I eat too much and loathe myself for it. I eat more sugar and butter and refined flour than I probably should. But these challenges are far outweighed by the pure joy of food, and vastly preferable to the bland utilitarianism of drinking beige sludge.

I know that there are many people who feel differently than I do. People like Rhinehart, engineers, scientists, artists, so caught up in their work that eating is a distraction. Or, people like a former coworker of mine, who claimed that he just didn’t like to eat. Unlike me (and most of the people I’m close to), they eat food as a strict necessity, consuming it for fuel, rather than for pleasure. I, on the other hand, would eat even if I didn’t have to (and often do).

Some people are obsessed with optimizing their nutrition and perfecting their bodies. I can understand that too; as a person who loves to be physical, to feel strong and stay active, (not to mention one possessed of a mile-wide vain streak), the allure of a diet that lets you precisely control your caloric intake while giving your body exactly what it needs to stay strong and healthy is not lost on me. There have even been times in my life when I’ve resented my body’s need for food, and wished I didn’t have to eat.

Here’s the thing, though: The times when I haven’t cared about food have been my lowest times. Deep in mourning for a lost friend, crushed by the end of a long relationship, reeling from the loss of a job I loved, I felt disconnected from my self, from my body. I didn’t want to eat, just smoke cigarettes and get high.

My true self, my healthy self, the one that embraces joy and wants to be in community and is kind and empathetic and seeks justice and strives to drop judgment in favor of compassion, loves food. The sensual enlivenment it brings, the power it has to solidify allegiances and bring people together and bridge differences, the love that’s expressed through it.

I don’t deny that food is problematic, that food insecurity could be (at least partially) addressed with a product like Soylent (although that in itself is an extremely dicey proposition, as thoughtfully addressed in this article), that there are some who might legitimately choose to give up eating in favor of pursuits that are more meaningful to them. My argument is with the idea of food as the enemy, food as a sub-optimal, inefficient anachronism, or as a guilty indulgence.

At one point, the author (who experiments with a Soylent-only diet as part of her research) sees someone at a coffee shop ordering her former regular breakfast, a bagel with butter, and remarks on “how many daily indulgences we allow ourselves in the name of sustenance.” Sure, I guess you can look at eating a bagel as an unnecessary indulgence (you could, after all, have a kale smoothie or a bowl of quinoa or a glass of Soylent instead).

By that logic, though, romantic love is also a mere indulgence that’s not that great for us. It’s highly distracting. It is responsible for a massive amount of inefficiency and grief and hardship and poor decision-making. It causes people to lose their minds! And yet, it’s an irreplaceable part of the human experience, one I wouldn’t want to forgo, despite the pain and disruption it often causes.

Soylent represents an asceticism that seeks to systematize a feature of human life that is unfathomably complex. Food is central to culture, to memory, to a sense of family and home and identity. It is freighted with profound meaning, a barometer of our collective preoccupations and aesthetic tendencies. It is a rich vein running through literature and art and science.

In this way, Soylent is a posthuman project. It aims to optimize something we need and obviate all of its inefficient trappings. People could drink Soylent in space. Soylent could feed a hungry, resource-scarce, culturally and aesthetically impoverished Earth. But food and eating are an intrinsic feature of our humanity, and the end of food also represents the end of an essential feature of human life. Soylent isn’t people; without food, neither are we.

Sweet Seattle Suntime

For a moment I forgot what year it is, and started to write “12” instead of “14” in my journal.

Sitting at the coffee shop, the sun is glorious and the birds are going crazy. Noisy fans from the coffee roaster downstairs and the roar of passing cars don’t dampen the paradisiacal aspect of the scene, but throw it into relief. A smell of roasting coffee beans, of old cracking plastic waking up in the sun.

My unwashed hair stands out stiff and goofy-looking from my forehead. I’m wearing leggings in public. I don’t care.

I imagine going to dinner with friends, sitting outside on the patio at Revel, drinking cold bubbly wine, eating spicy dumplings, and my heart soars.

Sometimes I anticipate meals with mingled excitement and dread. Excitement because, duh. Food is the best thing on earth, the greatest joy of my life, a transcendent pleasure that sings of timeless magic in the midst of temporal embodiment. Dread because each meal must come to an end. Because my gluttony often fills me with regret. Because part of me (the worst part) wants to have zero fat on my thighs.

But today, I feel only excitement. The sun is out. The air is warm. Ayla is sprawled peaceably under a bench. I like my job and don’t mind that I have to go. I’m really lucky.