Vegan chocolate mousse, retired hand model’s feet.
“Humanity seriously needs your salads…” my dear friend Hanka said this morning as I thought about blogging some of the recipes some of my favorite people keep asking for.
My daily perusal of the headlines suggests humanity seriously needs:
- Concerted global action on climate weirding to keep fossil fuels in the ground and transition more or less immediately to clean energy use and infrastructure-building.
- Actual functioning international law on refugees supporting Good Samaritans and those silly little human rights the post-war international order was at least ostensibly built on, and without which the liberal democratic order loses the moral high-ground of first principles.
- More drastic redistribution of wealth from corporations and very rich people than has ever happened before.
- Novel solutions to classic collective action problems that successfully institutionalize checks on corrupt corporate interests in realms from infrastructure and arms to drugs and education.
- For that whistleblower movement that was brutally killed off by short-sighted prigs to begin to get the public support it deserves, starting with ending the mass surveillance that enables states to increasingly predict and restrict resistance to unjust government policies.
The usual: World on fire. Don’t see how to put it out at the moment. Sorry. Shall we tell our grandchildren that I went to the kitchen to think about it? Will future generations invent an A-scale to measure the supreme assholery of people acting (or not acting) like this (like me) in this time, the closing window in which at least significantly mitigating the collapse of global ecosystems and the civilization they support might still be possible? Much as the Frankfurt School of German philosophers responded to Nazism by creating the F-scale to measure Fuckheads (or maybe it was Fascism). But the F-scale, which evolved later into the Right-Wing Authoritarianism and Social Dominance Orientation measures that explained a lot of rising xenophobia in pre-Trump America, didn’t address the A-problem. What about all the assholes who just do nothing while the world burns? I’m no fascist. Just can’t figure out what to do. Fucker’s really going down, huh? Sorry.
There’s really not a lot of thinking out there (as far as I can see) about the possible positive or mixed role of acceptance in global crises. There are ways in which structural failures have positive effects by forcing change, as in the drop of global CO2 emissions during the financial crisis—the only time we’ve seen such a drop in recent history. And there are ways in which perceived personal failures, victimizations, or other tragedies have positive effects by forcing change as well, in people who are resilient to trauma. Maybe we do not need to save the world, to stave off various forms of collapse and systemic failure. May we need to accept that we cannot. Just as we accept that we cannot undo our worst mistakes, or change other people’s behavior, or prevent life from happening in all its random (beautiful, horrible) glory.
We are a cosmic miracle. We were not built to last. Although we may yet. Probably more through chaotic chance than planning, if we make it as a species another ten thousand years. If you want more certainty than that, go gamble against the house. Anything worth winning is uncertain. Yet, it’s good strategy to wait til you can win, to fight again.
Despite its rationality as a piece of sanity personal and political, acceptance is gendered female (marginalized, weak, receptive). It runs throughout Virginia Woolf’s work on what the fuck to do as a woman existing outside most systems of power, but rich in love and expression—and so both privileged and marginalized, as is so often more the case than one or the other. In A Room of One’s Own, Woolf presses for women to make their own space for intellectual life in a world that denies them equal educational opportunities, allotting zero-sum resources to boys’ instead of girls’ education. It is an acceptance of being outside, and a petition for making space within that. This resonates today with discrimination against girls who are good at math and science, with all sorts of pressures to self-sort into what seem to be safer spaces but are also much less well-paid and thus ultimately less safe.
Anecdata: I was convinced to leave the high school computer lab in Alabama in 1999 when it was suggested I could have sex for money, and excluded from my robotics team build because it turned into an all-male sleepover. Worse harassment followed me into STEM in college, and I changed paths. My postdoc appointments in Psychology/Government 15 years later paid roughly half that of an average Computer Science postdoc, although they were at two of the top four universities in my fields worldwide. I didn’t have health insurance at Harvard, couldn’t get my moving expenses effectively covered for two required cross-country moves in six months, and certainly didn’t have the time or resources to rebuild social networks in new places again and again to begin to give myself the strength to carry on when I was harassed and retaliated against, leaving America and academia in 2015, as I’ve written about elsewhere.
Informal social exclusion shapes girls’ and women’s choices in logical ways that reproduce structural inequalities, whether you think the data suggest women in the aggregate can be as good and happy in STEM as men in the aggregate, or not. Woolf’s problem of female exclusion from education is thus obviously germane in many societies globally today, but also remains relevant in the more so-called advanced ones (not that I include the U.S. in that subset—it’s a global outlier among OECD nations for backward outcomes from infant mortality and birth control access to police violence and infrastructure). Patriarchies killed off other societal models around the time of the industrial revolution. And patriarchies suck for females…
And a lot of other people. The boot on the neck of one is always, sooner or later, the boot on the neck of many. Social exclusion of girls and women often tracks with or mirrors exclusion of others (e.g., racial/religious minorities under authoritarian leadership, men who aren’t party members under communism). Exclusion doesn’t have to be a law to be a practice, and resistance doesn’t have to make you dysfunctionally unhappy since you can’t solve the problem (of society taking a less healthy but more currently evolutionary successful form) anyway.
Virginia Woolf accidentally explaining why COINTELPRO is a totally fucking awesome idea.
So in her later Three Guineas, Woolf suggests a more radical answer to this problem—more a society than a room of one’s own. But she accepts building that takes time, and small efforts from many people acting chaotically rather than in concert. Eventually she goes on to take her own life because, arguably, she cannot either bring a more humane society into existence for herself, or survive in the one she criticizes. She loses her acceptance, and so gives up in a worse way. (I would like to have read more of her writing than she got done before giving up; but refusing to attempt to live through something you know you cannot survive is also a perfectly respectable choice.)
What would our grandchildren’s A-scale have to say about Virginia Woolf? How will this A-scale work? What does it buy us? No idea, really. I wonder, though, how people are faring now mentally and emotionally in juxtaposition with how much of the world burning they know about, tune into, and accept. I wager there is a three-by-two matrix wherein
- well-informed and tuned-in people who accept chaos and powerlessness in a psychologically resilient way are happier and better socially (and thus politically) functioning than,
- misinformed or simply tuned-out people, who have on average probably higher acceptance but not of actual reality, and who are probably happier than,
- well-informed and tuned-in people who do not have this acceptance.
There are lots of problems with testing this. You are not supposed to say some of your prospective research subjects are objectively wrong in their understandings of the world in interesting and important ways, for instance. You are also supposed to make more open-ended hypotheses about stuff we really don’t know, cos then you can say “I was right!” and be more likely to have your results published (sigh). Basically, you are not supposed to have any balls.
But I don’t have any intention of testing any of this stuff anyway. I’m just wondering how to keep being happy and healthy, making good people good food, and square that with watching the world burn. Because it doesn’t actually feel wrong to me to be doing zero world-saving right now. Although I’ve always lived in a guilt-rich internal ecosystem and so this choice of mine puzzles me, striking me as something I understand intuitively better than I do cognitively, at the very least. It just feels right to make cold food on hot days and love the dear ones whom I love. Maybe humanity does need my salads. I certainly do.
All the recipes here are gluten- and-dairy free. None require heat; one requires meat. Enjoy.
As a cool, refreshing side to breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner, mix:
- rinsed handfuls of fresh greens (feldsalat—what is this in English or do all greens really translate “salad” and all cuts of meat “steak”?!, romaine, rucola, whatever’s pretty)
- throw in a bowl with a quarter lime, freshly squeezed
- drizzle with balsamic crema (high in sugar—don’t look—but some sugar turns out to be not so poisonous after all)
- drizzle with olive oil (which is more religious rite than cooking, if you have the right olive oil)
Done. Somehow over the summer it’s a very easy habit to be in, to make a basic salad 2-3 times a day with another bit of food. It helps you feel full to get the extra fiber and water, when it’s really too hot to eat. Plus you get dietary karma points for greens.
Big chunks of different-colored bell pepper or cucumber, pieces of endive or olives, dried tomatoes or artichoke hearts on top add easy variety.
If you want to be fancy or need more variation, you can add some coconut aminos or cajun spice mix (see my Roast Chicken recipe at McSweeney’s for directions) to the dressing. If you want something more filling and don’t feel like making another dish, flash-fry a steak to cut up, or some seafood (scallops, shrimp, dear God sous vide fish) to throw on top. Good meat on good salad needs only a little salt and pepper after cooking in good oil. (What is good meat? Idk: Ask people in your area, forage, and find it. What is good oil? People have different opinions about this because of omega 3:6 ratios, smoke points, and such. I like what tastes good, which is mostly not smoke point winner coconut oil or heart-healthy olive oil, but a blend of sunflower, rapeseed, and linseed oils, even though you’re not supposed to cook with linseed oil cos heat degrades it. Tastes lighter than the others, works for me.)
This is so simple I’m not sure why I’m even writing it up, other than people suggest they want these things, and I am suggestible.
Like the green salad recipe above… This is not even a recipe. It is more of a protocol. Go to a good food market, grocery or biostore. See what fruit is pretty. Rinse it and cut it up in a bowl. Again with the fiber and water, and the being too hot to eat. Now you have two salad bowls on the table: green salad and fruit salad. People are starting to look happier as more bowls appear. Making people happy is fun.
When fresh berries are pretty and affordable, use fresh berries. When melon is, use melon. Passionfruit—don’t be afraid of the wrinkly brown and purple ones. The ugliest ones are the best. Kiwis. Pears.
In the summer, I tend to save apples and citrus for fresh juices. At least, the fresh juices I make lots of since I accepted the ketogenic diet has super cool research behind it but does not work for me… And then a cool nutritionist convinced me that fruit is not evil just because it has sugar and is thus not ketogenic.
My body agrees with the nutritionist. My body says fresh fruit is magic. It also says fresh juice is magic. And it feels really good to make (“make”) and feed (feed) these things to good people. It’s not ketogenic and it might somehow contribute to climate weirding, I know, I know. But I can’t game it out, man. I’m not even gonna try. I’m gonna make fresh salads and juices and be with the people I love. Turns out I’m really good at loving people. And then it turns out there are a lot of really good people to love—or at least, more than I thought. Yes yes yes, world burning. But—salads, juices, sit.
My favorite juices currently are a green one involving fresh greens like spinach (three rinsed handfuls) plus a tin of fresh herbs like basil, a few celery stalks and carrots, a peeled lemon and lime, orange and apple—in a slow (green) juicer… Or a simpler citrus one with orange (for most people), orange and lemon (for me because I like it tart), or clementine (when I lazily arrange for grocery delivery and bags of random things show up but I can’t complain because this food came directly to me). If you don’t have a slow juicer and a citrus juicer, buy a citrus juicer. They’re cheaper and easier to clean, and there are lots of other ways to eat greens (in eggs, salads, wilted, soup, etc.).
Chilled herbal teas are the best thing to drink on a cold day. At least, if you’re allergic to the milk and cream that should go in a proper iced coffee (of which you would otherwise drink approximately five a day)—can’t stomach straight black tea or bubbly things either—and don’t of your own volition drink enough tap water to hydrate although you know that you should. (Did I say alcohol was a tasty cooking ingredient and side dish? Alcohol is poison.)
Rose, chamomile, and black with lemon and honey are my favorites. But it pays off to experiment, since things tend to taste different cold than hot. You might like chilled green tea even though hot, it’s not your thing.
The big problem with chilling herbal teas is that the best way to drink a lot is to vary the flavors. But then you end up with five cups of tea in the fridge, and no space left for salads and mousses (important). One solution to this problem is to brew fewer flavors in bigger pots, half-filling them with boiling water and double tea bags for as long as they need to steep, then topping up with lukewarm water and refrigerating so you add fewer containers and less heat to the fridge. You still couldn’t do this as a commercial kitchen—it’s too space-inefficient and the heat might degrade other, industrial-sized containers of stuff. So I understand why I can’t get this at a restaurant. But I’m not running a restaurant, so I don’t care.
Although it is so hot you need many salads, juices, and herbal teas to survive, you may or may not still sometimes roast a chicken anyway because we are men and not beasts, or women and also beasts, but you know what I mean. If you do, great. If you don’t, no problem.
Pull any leftover chicken off the refrigerated bones of the roast if it exists. Break it up into bite-size pieces. Boil the bones for stock by night, when the heat won’t add to the heat of the day. Set chicken and stock aside.
Dice one raw chicken breast per person (say, 2-4). Heat oil in a pan, add the diced raw chicken, and pour over some mirin rice wine vinegar and tamari (gluten-free soy sauce). Turn down heat from high to medium-high, breaking up meat with a spatula as it cooks together in clumps. Sprinkle spices over meat as it cooks—salt and pepper, plus garlic powder, cayenne, and paprika if you like, and fresh or dried oregano, thyme, and sage if they’re ready to hand and you like them. Flip and cook until both sides are done. Remove from heat and set aside.
In a small bowl, break up a bunch of walnuts and pecans by the handful (say, 3 handfuls each). Pull out any shell pieces. Dump into a larger bowl.
On a clean cutting board, slice rinsed grapes (say, 4 handfuls or 2 bunches). For some reason, I like white grapes better with the other green stuff in this salad. But you could also use purple grapes, frozen pomegranate pips, blueberries, dried cranberries—anything small and sweet. Add to large bowl with nuts.
Rinse and dice celery stalks (3-4), fresh dill (2-5 fronds), and chives (2-5 handfuls). Add to nut and grapes.
Add cooled chicken (both freshly cooked and leftover if you had it) to large bowl. Top with mayonnaise (about 8 squeezes or spoonfuls, but I always eye it) and mustard (1 spoonful). Add salt and pepper to taste.
If you don’t have something (e.g., fresh dill), improvise (e.g., add more dried spices or don’t worry about it). In this way, none of my recipes are recipes. They constantly change because my cooking is not that precise. It’s more meditation than anything else.
Now it is possible that you have three salads on the table along with cold juices and teas. People are happy. People are getting fed. Healthy food is going in good people and this is form of serving justice in the world, except love is not justice and my kitchen is not the world. I’m ok with that.
It’s easier to impress friends with this if you make everything but the juice ahead of time, and just pull it out of the fridge like a rockstar at the last minute. But people’s sense of time is also distorted by heat and stress, and you don’t really need to impress your friends. Although it can be fun.
This is the first recipe that is really a recipe, although it is not the first recipe people have been asking for. Most gazpacho recipes have bread. This one, like all my recipes, is gluten- and dairy-free. So it does not have bread. You could add bread. But I’m not sure why you’d bother, cos this is so good.
2 cloves of fresh garlic, peeled and sliced
1 spring onion
6 medium, ripe tomatoes
2 red bell peppers (efficiently de-seeded by chopping off top and bottom, and then striking out the white parts from the sides—h/t Milo)
1 large cucumber, peeled but not deseeded (for some reason the seeds are essential to the flavor—do not believe the recipes that tell you to de-seed)
1 handful fresh parsley
1 handfuls fresh cilantro (if you have the gene mutation wherein cilantro tastes like soap to you, I am sorry; you are cursed; some people will make you gazpacho with basil instead, but I am not one of those people because cold basil tomato soup is just wrong; but I can make you a caprese instead)
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
a sprinkling of garlic powder, paprika, and cayenne pepper
a more generous sprinkling freshly ground salt and pepper
This looks like a recipe. But actually it is also not really a recipe. It is a list of ingredients you gather and throw in a blender. Then you press a button. Presto. Gazpacho. This is not cooking so much as disassembling fresh food into pureed form. I’m not knocking it. I’m just not sure what to call it.
You can add a variety of things on top to dress up gazpacho—chopped chives and crumbled feta cheese, drizzled balsamic crema and sliced bell pepper, a chorizo smiley-face. But good gazpacho doesn’t need any dressing-up. It’s crisp and refreshing, not too acidic but very bright and fresh.
Like the chicken salad above and sorbet below, this recipe feeds: two people if it’s all you’re making, three people if you have some more dishes to go around, and four if you’re making a bunch of other stuff. (To feed 5-6, it’s better to make two batches ahead of time. Like a lot of chilled, spiced dishes, it gets even better after a day in the fridge.)
a package of frozen sour cherries (what I find here is usually about 300 grams)
3 spoonfuls xylitol (a sugar substitute a bit sweeter than sugar with fewer calories that seems to be better for your teeth)
a few sprinkles of salt
a glug of almond extract
Again, this is not a recipe so much as a list of things you can put in your blender to subsequently eat and feed people when it is too hot to actually cook. It reminds me of the red shaved ice desserts I used to get special from shady vans over the summer as a kid. It reminds my dear friend Gerben of a childhood cherry-flavored candy. I think the cherry flavor probably reminds a lot of people of a lot of childhood things, because cherry was a common junk food flavoring back when junk foods had real food flavors. But this is not junk food. It is mostly cherries. Who knew? Nostalgia can be high in antioxidants.
You can try other variations of the same idea—frozen raspberries with fresh mint and lime juice (plus xylitol and salt), frozen strawberries with fresh basil and balsamic crema(plus xylitol and salt), frozen blueberries with vanilla extract and cinnamon ((plus xylitol and salt), the more sour frozen berry mix you can buy here in Germany (plus a tad more xylitol and melted chocolate drizzled on top). The simple cherry sorbet is my favorite, but playing with new things is fun.
Vegan Chocolate Mousse
1 block tofu (I think the one I got was 400 g and said something about silk on the package)
100g 90% dark chocolate (Lindt, from the enormous box my dear friend Arjen sent to aid in my recovery from illness because I have the best friends in the world)
3 tbsp + a splash maple syrup
splash (1 tsp or so) vanilla extract (I might try vanilla sugar in place of xylitol plus vanilla extract next time. It’s hard to find alcohol-based, American-style extracts here in Berlin—they’re available over-priced at boutique and bio stores, so I usually buy them online… And my love R doesn’t like the flavor so much. I like it more than freshly scraped vanilla bean in desserts though, since it’s what I’m used to—the flavor is stronger.)
pinch of salt
Melt chocolate in microwave, stirring every 30 seconds until smooth. Blend it all. Top with cocoa nibs and chocolate hearts.
Chill in the fridge overnight for best results (or a few hours if you’re desperate). The added bonus of chilling overnight is that then you have a healthy (ish), chocolatey, cool summer breakfast. Also, if your dinner company has left by then, you have more for yourself… Not that I would ever think of anything but the greater good.