Sunday, August 27, 2006

Donderos' Kitchen, International Deli and Market

My great-grandfather, hopefully, would be proud. Late in his life he ran his own business, Dondero’s Fruit Market, in Dover, New Hampshire. A hundred years later there is another food-related business in the family, Donderos’ Kitchen. But we are in Athens, GA, and specialize in international delicatessen food, catering, and kitchen and dining-related ceramics and gifts.

In 1861, Joseph (presumably Guiseppe) Dondero as a young man landed in New York from Genoa in northern Italy. Somehow he avoided being drafted into the Civil War, which was the typical fate of the Irish and German immigrants in those days (although his eventual in-law, Sister Elizabeth Keogh, a nun from Ireland, was a nurse with the Union army in Virginia and was later decorated by President Lincoln). Joseph married Sarah Byrne, the American-born daughter of an Irish immigrant family of millwrights and moved with them to Ontario to build grinding mills. Sometime thereafter, the Donderos (Donderi?), including my Canadian-born grandfather, moved to New England. Eventually two New Hampshire fruit markets had our name, one in Portsmouth run by cousins plus the one in Dover. Neither appears to have survived the Great Depression.

That’s not a typo in the name. The apostrophe comes after the “s” since there are three Donderos involved (Anna, Maria, and me) in addition to my son-in-law, Andrew Pearson. Christina has a pivotal role of frequently caring for grandson August, to allow Andrew and Anna to work. Andrew, who is the general manager as well as a principal driving force in launching the enterprise, preferred "Dondero" to his own surname, having heard it is a bad idea to give your first business your own name. That way if it flops, as do many new businesses, your name is not albatrossed with a failure. Thanks, Andrew, but our enterprise appears to be off to a successful start, in good part through your own efforts.

The market building, located at 584 No. Milledge Ave, began as a semi-abandoned, subdivided wreck, infested literally with pigeons and roaches, one staggering step above a crack house. But behind the eye-sore boxed-in sun porch, disintegrating cheap paneling, crumbling plaster, and hideously dog-shredded and urine-crusted carpeting lay a choice early 1900s house with 12-foot ceilings, oak and heart-pine floors, and three fireplaces. Maria, the youngest Dondero, who was then a Spanish co-major at UGA, plus four burly Mexican day-laborers known collectively as “Maria’s Marauders” gutted the place in four days, going through there like the proverbial dose of salts and overloading a huge dumpster. That structural catharsis began the morning after we closed on the property. With Andrew as general contractor and with Bona-Fide and other subcontractors’ skilled work (and, needless to say, plentiful dollars) the building was turned back into a beauty, with our deli and market downstairs and residential tenants upstairs. We won the Athens-Clarke Co. Historic Foundation’s outstanding rehabilitation award in 2006. The old residential kitchen, after passing through its war-in-Baghdad phase, was transformed into a licensed commercial kitchen, chock full of “my” toys, including a huge gas stove and convection oven under a massive vent hood powerful enough to suck to their death low-flying birds or high-flipped omelets. We also have the requisite commercial freezer, fridge, stainless steel counters, and the code-required four (count them, four) sinks.

We opened for business in October 2005. It has been fun developing the product line in the market, including our own coffee, “Cobbham Blend”, named for the historic neighborhood where we are located. I worked out the mixture, and it is roasted and blended for us by Jittery Joe’s, a leading Athens roaster. Food products are reasonably gourmet and imported, many from Greece and the Balkans. Perhaps the most outstanding and popular is “Ajvar” (eye’-var), a luscious roasted pepper and sometimes eggplant spread that we carry in several varieties from Bulgaria, Slovenia, and Macedonia. And our German “Kinder” chocolate has its regular paying enthusiasts, in addition to our top non-paying customer, grandson August, who specializes in Kinder Eggs, the neat hollow chocolates containing a clever toy to assemble.

Led by Maria, now a grad student in ceramics, we import selected pottery from Vietnam, Morocco, and from Puebla and Dolores Hidalgo in Mexico. We also carry original work by five Athens potters, including Maria and a UGA professor. We also carry other decoratively useful, and mostly imported, gifts for the dining table, including place mats, wooden bowls, table cloths, and serving implements.

The freshly prepared food and deli items are predominantly from my recipes, which I standardized for volume production with our first two chefs during our training period a year ago. But our various chefs are also encouraged to use their creativity and knowledge in adding to the repertoire. There is a theme for each weekday for the “entrees” and, Athens being Athens, there are always vegetarian options. Monday is Thai day, Tuesday Italian. Wednesday is Asian other than Thai, Thursday is other European or chef’s choice, Friday is Middle Eastern or Indian, and Saturday is miscellaneous appetizers, tapas, and antipasti. We always have freshly made baked goods, sandwiches, homemade soup, and side dishes, including the very popular cold sesame noodles and hummus. Catering for banquets, conferences, and receptions has been busy, especially during the school year. Most of what we provide is international foods, laid out and garnished on huge platters. All this stuff is shown at our website,

As “executive chef”, I have worked on the menu and oversee from a distance, checking with our chefs frequently. Fortunately my day job has flexibility in timing, so that I can do a lot of the work in the evening or weekends, allowing me to get over to Athens occasionally to work in the kitchen when there is a particular need.

This all has been an adventure and, for me, a sort of wish fulfillment. But it has also been a lot of work for the entire family group running and supporting the project, along with our staff. I have a new respect for people who set up their own businesses. And I have some sense of identity with my great-grandfather, who died long before I was born.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

A Great, Cheap, Quick, Chicken Dish for Students

When a student friend who enjoyed assisting but could not really cook went off to grad school some years ago and realized he would be poor, busy, and away from home cooking, he asked me for a couple of simple recipes to save him from Ramen noodles. He now has his doctorate, is working and married, but told me he still sometimes makes this chicken dish. Maybe he was lying to be nice, and maybe I can’t remember quite what I wrote out for him. But to the best of my recall, and when I tested it just now, it tastes like what I aimed for back then.

This is quick because it is stir-fried from boneless, skinless chicken breast. It is also cheap if you get chicken breasts when they are on sale and freeze the breasts individually in zip-lock plastic bags. Then thaw out what you need overnight in the fridge, or carefully in the microwave just before you cook. But even if you get the chicken fresh at full price, a meal is still less expensive than a good commercial sandwich, and you can serve a friend as well as yourself plus have leftovers. You can judge whether it’s great or not. It is, however, quite healthy.

Middle Eastern Chicken Strips Tim (serves 2-4)
2 large chicken breast halves, boneless and skinless (about 1 pound); 1 medium-small red or green bell pepper; 1/2 medium onion; 2 tablespoons olive oil for frying. Marinade for chicken: juice of 1 medium lemon, 1 clove garlic, minced, 1 teaspoon cornstarch, 3/4 teaspoon oregano, 1/2 teaspoon paprika, 1/8 teaspoon black pepper, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon sugar or honey, 1 tablespoon soy sauce or 3/8 teaspoon extra salt. Pita bread or toasted bread (or rice) for serving.

Trim away any tough or fatty parts of the chicken. Lay the breast on a board and slice it across about 1/8-inch thick into strips. Marinate with the listed ingredients. Stir from time to time. Cut the pepper in half lengthwise, remove the core, seeds, and pith, and slice the pepper lengthwise 1/8-inch wide. Cut the onion lengthwise through the top and stem end, peel, and slice lengthwise into 1/8-inch wide strips.

In a large frying pan or wok, heat the oil and fry the pepper and onion, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are softened and just beginning to turn golden, 3-4 minutes. Add the chicken and its marinade, and stir constantly and fry until the chicken has just turned color from raw to cooked, 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Taste, and add a little salt if needed. Serve in pockets of pita bread, or on toast, or with rice. A little salad goes well with this. So does a beer.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Are You Kidding? Pre-Columbian Gazpacho?

While it’s still summer and tomatoes are at their peak, it seems subversive, if not just silly, to talk about a white gazpacho. But the concoction from southern Spain we know as gazpacho, now rich with tomatoes and peppers like a liquefied salad, actually goes back to the old Spain, Moorish-Arab Spain. And guess what, Columbus was not yet born and the “new” world was unknown to the old world, and with it were also unknown the plants of the new world, like tomatoes and peppers and corn and potatoes and beans and squash and chilies and peanuts and chocolate and vanilla and tobacco. (How did the old Europeans survive?) Modern gazpacho is derived from a basically Arab soup pureed with a mortar and pestle from almonds, water, olive oil, and seasonings, and thickened with stale bread.

A type of cold white gazpacho has had a novelty mini-revival as “ajo blanco” (“white garlic”) and has even been discussed by Martha Stewart. The recipes I’ve seen include ground almonds, bread, garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice, topped for some reason with green grapes. (Sort of cries out for a little vodka or gin, doesn’t it?) But who knows what the “original” gazpacho was like, and in the absence then of written recipes (at least that I can find) and in the presence of oral tradition, there were probably many variations for that pre-tomato and bell pepper soup.

The lack of an authoritative method is hardly a deterrent, and indeed for me is permissive, from trying to recreate what might have been. Hey, who can say I’m wrong? Based on ingredients that would have been available in southern Europe and north Africa before Columbus, and informed by some of the ways gazpacho is now made (but without the Prozac they put in in the Spanish film classic “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”), and finally just using what I pictured as tasty, here is a recipe for a bracing cold summer soup. (Martha, eat your heart out!) Parsley, used for an optional garnish, is very common in Spain, and cilantro (coriander leaf), the other option, is an ancient herb in the Mediterranean, used since the time of building the great pyramids.

White Gazpacho Tim
Put in a food processor and grind finely 1/2 cup blanched almonds (such as slivered). Add 1 medium-large clove garlic, 1/2 a small onion, 1/2 stalk celery, 4 medium cucumbers – peeled, halved, and seed cavities scooped out, 6 slices stale white bread (such as Italian) with crusts removed, 6 to 7 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1-1/4 cups water, 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper, 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon salt. Liquefy in the processor. Add 1 cup crushed ice and blend again. Taste, and add salt and lemon juice, if needed. Chill in the refrigerator for the flavors to mellow. To serve, stir, taste for salt and add if necessary, pour into bowls or glasses (sometimes wine glasses for gazpacho in Spain!) and top with a little freshly chopped parsley or cilantro and a drizzle of olive oil.


Saturday, August 12, 2006

Evening at Emory: 8 years teaching international cooking

It's been over eight years now. A fleeting idea back then to teach cooking other than just to friends and family has since become my official sideline. That summer I was in Atlanta alone for several weeks with family far flung. The idea hit me as I was listening absentmindedly to NPR and an announcement mentioned Evening at Emory's "Mini-Medical School". It would be undignified to say what precisely I was doing when the light struck me, but our radio was in the bathroom and, unlike St. Paul, it was not a horse I was sitting on. (No kidding, he really was on a horse.) My ears perked up at the announcement because a non-science type student friend had recently told me that he took the Mini-Medical School, which seemed odd since he graduated in economics and Latin American studies. (He has since been to medical school, and is a third-year resident in emergency medicine.) Suddenly I thought maybe I should try to teach cooking at Evening at Emory. I cold-called the E@E director, Steve Stoffl, and told him about my idea, sketching out a sort of curriculum for a vaguely "educational" course in international cooking. To my delight he said, let's give it a try. I had an Emory faculty connection at the time, totally unrelated to food, and Steve said he was trying to get more "Emory people" into teaching at Evening at Emory. If he had other motives, was simply desperate for instructors, or couldn't figure out how to say no, he never let on over the years as we became friends.

E@E offered every sort of course imaginable, from academic subjects and French and Spanish and Italian and Chinese, to finance and investments, to real estate appraisal, to repairing your own computer, to belly dancing, to fencing, to book publishing, to the always optimistic "I Will Be Married in a Year". I named my course "Adventures in International Cuisine", inspired by Karl Haas' NPR war-horse, "Adventures in Good Music". To my pleasant surprise, this lofty course name got me listed first in the culinary section of the catalog, due entirely to alphabetic merit. Only "Abstaining from Calories" or, maybe, "Aardvarks Worthy of the Plate" could now preempt my choice spot for visibility to prospective students.

My first course was in the fall of 1998, the first evening featuring Thai food. (The recipe for my first main dish, Thai Panang curry, is below.) The course drew a crowd, and I was invited back. I typically teach four to five courses a year now, each of two or three classes. You can check out my current offering(s) online by going to and navigating to Evening at Emory, then to Food and Beverages.

Much has changed over the years, including going from being the new guy teaching cooking to now being the longest-affiliated instructor in the E@E Food and Beverage group, as the older hands have retired, moved away, or gone to prison. (Just kidding, Steve!) When I started, Emory had a demonstration kitchen in one of the School of Public Health buildings, established to teach diabetic and other special needs cooking. That noble idea was scuttled by office space envy, and after several tries by Emory at relocating classes to commercial venues, I wound up teaching, with Emory's encouragement, in my own kitchen. While it means some clean-up, I no longer have to anticipate, bring with me, then carry in from the parking lot each item needed, like a teaspoon of sugar or a good frying pan. Evening at Emory itself had to move, as their old building was wiped out as part of constructing the new country club known as the Emory Clairmont Campus. They inherited new space in the Briarcliff campus in what used to be the Georgia mental hospital. (I won't touch that one.) Steve Stoffl, has moved up to a higher position, and two delightful new people now manage E@E. My recipes, which reproduce as best I can dishes I have enjoyed from around the world using available ingredients, equipment and reasonable cooking time, have gotten more professional in format. With occasional happy exceptions, I focus on three geographic regions, Southeast Asia, Eastern Mediterranean/Middle East, and Western Europe. Several years ago I added regional wine tasting (Australian and New Zealand wines and/or Thai beer for the Asian foods), after noting that the wine left over from cooking French or Italian was gobbled up. Originally I taught solo but gradually added assistants, all volunteers and mostly student friends or work colleagues. The meals seem more ambitious now, and we fix double recipes to have enough food for all the class participants plus assistants. But somehow, looking back, I was doing pretty complex meals alone in the early days. Classes include discussion, cooking demonstration, garnish preparation, and a buffet meal of the dishes and the paired wines.

The classes are always an adventure, but a few highlights stand out like the proverbial dandruff on Superman's cape. When I began, I had no idea if there would be a second course. When that happened, I assumed I could use a small cadre of good recipes and change my audience. But a mother-daughter team, the Quinns, came to my second course then came to all the subsequent courses for three or four years, forcing me not only to call them my girlfriends, but also to keep changing the menu and to develop more and more recipes. Neighbors and family enjoyed guinea pigging the trial dishes, but preparing for a new set of classes took time. However, as a result, I have a repertoire of about 200 developed, kitchen-tested, and classroom-demonstrated recipes. Another highlight occurred when, teaching alone at an off-site location, I cut my finger slicing an onion. Immediately a class participant, a pediatrician and colleague from my day job, pulled a bandaid from her shirt pocket and wrapped it on my finger. Delighted but amazed, I asked do you always carry bandaids? She said, no but I did this time after I saw you cutting last week. One very gracious older man took the class a number of times, bringing various members of his family over the many months. He responded to my question about how much cooking he does saying grandly, oh I don't cook at all, but I like to have you cook for me and the dinner and wine are cheaper than going to a restaurant.

On my first class eight years ago my first student turned up half an hour early, as I was desperately trying to prep. I had little idea what to expect in terms of types of students, but he definitely was a surprise. A ruggedly handsome, muscular guy in his early thirties, Barry was a stud. He looked like he would be more at home racing dirt bikes over a dune than sprinkling herbs into a saute pan. But he was friendly and talkative. I asked him how he got interested in the course. He said "my girlfriend says my cooking sucks, so I decided to take a class", and the Thai panang curry that was the first night's featured dish was something he particularly wanted to learn. He was active in all three class, then turned up three months later for my next course. I asked him how his cooking was doing and how his girlfriend liked it. He said the panang curry was great and he made it frequently, and that he had dumped the girlfriend and now had more time to cook. (Hey, you can't make this stuff up!) Here is the original recipe for the Thai panang curry that I taught in my first class. Maybe I should dedicate it to Barry. But then again, maybe I should think about that a little.

Thai Panang Curry Tim
2 pounds boneless chicken thigh
1 can (4 ounces) Panang curry paste (available at Asian groceries)
1 tablespoon oil
1 can (14 ounces / 400 ml) unsweetened coconut milk (Thai) -- shake well before opening
1 can of water or unseasoned chicken broth
Asian fish sauce to taste (about 1 tablespoon) (available at Asian groceries), or substitute salt
3 teaspoons sugar
1 hot red chili pepper for garnish
Either 4 double kaffir lime leaves (sometimes available at Asian groceries) or 12 sprigs fresh
cilantro (coriander) leaves, for garnish

Trim chicken of any fat or tendons. Place chicken flat on cutting board and cut into pieces 1 1/2 by 1 inch and about 1/4 inch thick. In a large non-stick frying pan with a teaspoon or so of oil lightly fry a portion of the chicken pieces at a time, turning frequently, until the outside of the meat is starting to seal and to become slightly golden in color -- 2-3 minutes. Remove the chicken to a bowl as it is fried. Add a little more oil to the pan, and over low heat fry the curry paste, stirring very frequently, until fragrant and the oil separates out a little (1 1/2 -2 minutes). Add several tablespoons of coconut milk and stir it in well. When combined and bubbling add more coconut milk, a little at a time, letting the sauce return to a bubble after each addition. Gradually increase the heat and add the coconut milk in larger quantities, followed by the water or chicken broth. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add about a teaspoon of fish sauce plus the pre-fried chicken. Stir to combine well and simmer about 5 minutes. Taste, and then add fish sauce until just salty enough. Add the sugar. Simmer 2 more minutes (do not overcook the curry or the chicken will become dry). Remove from heat. Taste the sauce and add a little fish sauce or sugar as needed, making the sauce slightly salty, because the chicken will absorb some salt. The sauce should also have a slight sweetness. Let the curry sit at least 20 minutes (better overnight, in refrigerator).

Before serving, reheat gently (a microwave works well) with occasional stirring, just until it reaches a boil. Remove from heat. Check saltiness and add a little salt if necessary. If using kaffir lime, stack the leaves up and slice crosswise into fine threads. Stir half into the curry. Serve the curry in an attractive shallow bowl garnished with thinly sliced red chili pepper plus either the remainder of the shredded kaffir lime leaves or the coriander leaves picked off their stems. Accompany with white rice and a stir-fried vegetable dish.

Monday, August 07, 2006

A Great "Marinara" (and why would you waste calories on something less?)

Italian food names embed some wicked and quirky humor. "Mostaccioli", the fat, ridged tubular curved pasta, means "mustaches". "Ziti", the smooth, medium-width, 2-inch long straight pasta tubes, inexplicably means "bridegrooms". Inexplicably unless you have a creatively dirty mind and realize the original ziti were 8 inches long. "Penne" (feather quills), by contrast, is reasonably descriptive, as are "vermicelli" (little worms), "linguini" (little tongues), and "farfale" -- which we call bow ties -- (butterflies). Then there are the sauces and styles of preparation. "Fra Diavalo", from the title for a monk and the word for devil, in other words "Brother Devil", is a well-balanced dipping sauce I last had at Alfredos on Cheshire Bridge Road (a fine restaurant the critics seem to miss but the people don't) to accompany their delicate fried calamari. "Alla carbonara" (charcoal maker style), or "alla cacciatora" (hunter style), or "alla carrettiera" (wagon driver style) seem mundane, if odd, compared with "alla putanesca" (little whore style) -- suggesting, perhaps, cheap and spicy or, maybe, easy to make). (Do they do ziti alla putanesca?) My favorite has to be "strozza preti", or "priest stranglers". But better yet is the Sicilian cookie, "minni di Sant' Agata" (St. Agatha's nipples), honoring one of the island's patron saints, an early Roman virgin martyr whose breasts were cut off by the pagans for her celebate devotion to Christ. Hey, with such classical themes in Italian cuisine, you have to wonder why the Vatican lets themselves be provoked into giving Madonna lucrative publicity, as they're doing now, by denouncing her second-rate, contrived blasphemies. She's a twit compared to Italian culinary tradition. Or even not compared to anything.

But this posting was supposed to be about "marinara", that ubiquitous and much-abused red tomato sauce that somehow got named after sailors and fishermen. In American usage, "marinara" sort of means red and vegetarian. But, in fact, in southern Italy anchovies, or even tuna, can be included. Maybe that's the marine connection. I've seen recipes that include ground meat and chopped carrots or celery, but that's "bolognese" ("in the style of Bologna"), not marinara. A great marinara is, to me, bright red, vibrantly fresh with tomato and garlic highlights, and only very lightly herbed. And it is also easily made. Really. I'll show you.

My mother, who was not at all Italian, nonetheless made a mean red sauce for our weekly spaghetti. She learned, she said, from her half-Genovese father-in-law, my grandfather, plus from an Italian colleague in her social work days, a woman with the lovely name of Maria dellaRippa. But Mum's sauce always had meat in it, lucious garlicy meatballs plus -- her requirement for a "good" sauce -- Italian sausage. The sauce simmered for hours until the surface gleamed with a rich brown crust of caramelized tomato and olive oil. I started out making sauce like that. But then I encountered really great marinara at small chef-run Italian restaurants I could afford as a student, "Jenny's" in pre-gentrification Haymarket Square in Boston (who didn't ask age before serving red wine), "Joe's" in Ithaca, and finally "Acky's" (for Acchiavelli) in New Haven. Gradually and increasingly my recipe got simpler, and more intensely focused on tomato. Some years ago I had spaghetti at my brother-in-law's, and I really liked it with all the meats. When I complimented him, he said you ought to like it, it's your recipe. It was, indeed, an earlier, forgotten stage in my red sauce's evolution, flash frozen in time so to speak, a sort of living fossil. This accidental paleogastronomy showed me how far I had come, yet it reassured me that I used to eat good stuff even though my tastes have moved ahead. The sauce I now prefer is a streamlined, purified descendent of what I once made, but it retains one key element of Mum's savory staple from my childhood. The Italian sausage (Sicilian, actually, where I grew up) that my mother considered the necessary base of a good sauce has left its core seasoning with me, the mildly licoricy spice fennel (which is "jintan manis" in Malay-Indonesian, in case you missed how I named this web log). Whole fennel seeds are the essence of what is Italian sausage to me, and infusing some fennel into the tomato sauce gives that wonderful yet fleeting fragrance that characterized the sauce I grew up with. It was the trick that my mother didn't realize she had.

OK, that's a long lead-up to get you to the recipe. Below is my (current) method of making marinara, my overall favorite Italian sauce. This is a beautiful dressing for pasta, as well as a topping for pizza, lasagna, eggplant parmagiano, and warm meatball sandwiches. The deceptive simplicity of the sauce lets the intense, fresh taste of the tomatoes emerge, enhanced subtly with the fragrances of garlic and fennel. Be sure to remove the garlic after gentle frying, leaving its essence in the olive oil but avoiding the heavyness of the fried garlic itself. Also, pay attention to the quality of the tomatoes you use. And no tomato paste is allowed, which would make the sauce taste sodden and overcooked. Incorporating Romano cheese into the sauce was something my mother did, and while I often leave it out depending on the sauce's intended use, it was recommended again for this particular sauce by an Italian-American physician friend in Athens who has a very refined palate.

Marinara Sauce Tim: 3 extra-large or 4 large cloves garlic, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 large (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes (Hunts brand strongly preferred, especially their new "organic", which has been excellent so far), 1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds, 1/4 teaspoon paprika, 2 teaspoons sugar (or more, depending on the acidity of the tomatoes), salt to taste (1/2 - 1 teaspoon, or more), 2 large whole fresh basil leaves, 2 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano cheese (optional) for cooking into the sauce, plus more for topping the sauce. Crush the garlic (press under a drinking glass or with the side of a knife) and remove the skin. In a stainless steel pot over low heat, fry the garlic slowly in the olive oil until just starting to turn golden. Remove and discard the garlic pieces (or salt them lightly and eat on toasted bread for a treat). Add the tomatoes and fennel seeds. Bring to a rapid boil, stirring frequently, and let boil 3 minutes. (Partially cover the pot, since the tomato splatters, and remove the pot from the heat before stirring, to reduce splatter.) Lower the heat and add the paprika, sugar, and some of the salt. Simmer 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Stir in the basil and the Romano, if used, and remove from the heat. The sauce is best if made ahead and briefly reheated before serving. (It stores in the refrigerator up to 5 days or freezes for up to several months.) If serving with pasta, accompany with grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese. If using on pizza (or on split pita bread substituting for pizza dough), dust lightly with dried oregano and drizzle with olive oil before baking.


Saturday, August 05, 2006

Getting started

This is written on a warm summer evening in Atlanta on a full stomach. Dinner was the country produce of the southland, lucious corn on the cob, young summer squash, and fresh field peas, plus a dessert of northwestern cherries, making an amazingly satisfying meal. I am writing accompanied by a glass of pretty good Spanish red wine (La Legua 2003 tinto, d.d.o. Cigales), fairly heavy and not as fruity as I would like, but hey it's poured. I was inspired to try blogging by the example of two friends who are young enough to do this sort of thing when they travel. Now on my first posting I am guided by the writing of one of these friends in particular who created a blog he told virtually no one about, feeling they could link into it, should that occur to them, from his face book (thus limiting readership, I guess, to those aged well under thirty who might even know to look for his face book, or what the hell a face book is). At any rate, he began his stealth blog with a virginal posting containing musings about what he was doing, how he chose his blog name, and the fact that he was probably only writing to himself. I don't know how far off was his presumption of no one but him reading his skilled phrasing, but since I may be in the same place in terms of readership, I'll borrow his model for getting started.

So why me? I like to write. Why does anyone blog, or write anything publically? Maybe it's mostly exhibitionism and self-amusement. I've tried writing before, drafting up articles for a freelance newspaper column, which were not eagerly received by the AJC food editor who had an abundance of young writers trying to make their careers. I write recipes for my international cooking classes for Evening at Emory, with explanatory headnotes. And I'm often writing out recipes for friends and family who requested one thing or another. So, whatever psychological underpinnings drive me or my two blogger friends, or the broader array of people who put their words out for others to read or not read, I find this an amusing way to share some observations and opinions on food and places I like to eat, occasionally some recipes and, with luck, some humor.

Why now? Well, I'm just back from vacation with family in the far north Adirondacks near the Canadian border. My non-culinary day job, while continuing, is now funded through a new mechanism, with a very different admistration I am stumblingly getting used to. It's a new school year, which affects which of my student friends are accessible in Atlanta, with several old friends back and several friends, sadly, moved elsewhere. Plus our food-related family business in Athens is starting its second year as UGA and the other schools come back into session, which hopefully means a spurt of new university-associated business which we were getting into in April and May. So much is transitioning, restarting, professionally and personally, it's maybe nudging me toward trying something new.

Finally, "JintanManis"? When we lived in Malaysia for those 7-1/2 years and I learned to speak Malay-Indonesian, food names in the local market where I did a lot of the shopping were in Malay, unless you spoke Chinese, which my wife did but I did not. I loved spices even back then, and with Malay, Indonesian, Indian, Chinese, and Thai food, there were plenty of seasonings to relish. Jintan means a spice seed. Manis, literally "sweet", is the adjective for "jintan manis", which means fennel seed, one of my favorite spices. Close behind were jintan puteh (white), or cumin, and jintan hitam (black), which is the black cumin used in some north Indian and Kashmiri dishes.

Those aged over 25, if there are any of you reading, will implicitly recognize that trying something electronic like this is subject to sudden loss with the wrong click or switch nudged, especially as the wineglass gets refilled and redrained, and thus I need to close down this first posting and see if I can get it "out there" successfully. This is still a trial, so I'll launch now and check what happens. More will come if this works. A threat or a promise.