Back from Kenya! And The Atlantic!

Yesterday I got back from the Global Voices Citizen Media Summit in Nairobi.  It was a pretty epic trip all around and I’ll be writing more about it soon.

A few hours after I touched down, The Atlantic posted my latest article on internet regulations and the hacker folk devil.  My sixteen-year-old self just gave my 26-year-old self the biggest high five.

Summer Reading


Books came today! A chunk of my summer reading for Comparative Media Studies in the fall arrived: Alone Together by Sherry Turkle, the only required book, along with The Information and The Wealth of Networks, both of which are recommended. The other recommended books are James Carey’s Communication as Culture, John Fiske’s Understanding Popular Culture, Lisa Gitelman’s Always Already New, Paul Starr’s The Creation of the Media, and Internationalizing Media Studies, edited by Daya Kishan Thussu.  I don’t plan on finishing everything by September 1, but I’ll get through as much as I can.  I’ll be posting thoughts here as I go to keep all the words straight in my brain, so check back if you’re interested in discussing any of the above works.


And while I’m at it, here’s my non-academic/non-work reading for the summer.  I’m looking forward to the fiction keeping me sane.


Happy reading, everyone!

Snowpocalypse and Pudding

It snowed Friday night. Big fat flakes like ticker tape, here and everywhere else, it seems. Yesterday was Saturday, so nothing was canceled except for normalcy. People skied down the middle of the street. Dogs jumped in and out of snow banks like ecstatic golden fish. We went out to find Austin’s car, buried up to its headlights in drifts and plowed under. Not going anywhere. We went back inside, made coffee and oatmeal.

About a week ago, someone, we don’t remember who, bought a loaf of good crusty white bread and then forgot about it. It’s been sitting on top of the refrigerator, looking lonely, getting stale. So, because it was a snow day, which are days for making heavy, creamy concoctions that put you in a food coma till spring, I got out the eggs and the milk and the bain marie and made a pudding.

Bread Pudding of the Snowpocalypse

  • Stale bread
  • dried fruit (I used raisins, dried cranberries and apricots)
  • four eggs
  • three cups whole milk
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • one teaspoon vanilla
  • cinnamon
  • nutmeg
  • pinch of salt

Preheat your oven to 350ish. Butter your baking dish. Tear or slice your bread into one-inch chunks. The JoC says remove the crusts, I say I like them and the crusts stay on. It’s up to you. You should have enough bread to make five lightly packed cups. Dump the bread evenly in your baking dish and scatter your dried fruity bits on top. Fruit is what makes this healthy!
In a bowl whisk together your eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. No need to go nuts here, just ensure the ingredients are mixed thoroughly. Pour this mixture over your bread bits and let sit for 30 minutes. Occasionally squish the bread with a spatula so it absorbs the liquid better. Place the baking dish in a water bath and bake for about an hour, until a knife through the heart of the pudding comes out clean (like your conscience).

Serve topped with cream or milk. And small servings! This thing is dense and delicious. A slice, buttered and either pan fried or browned in the toaster oven, makes a fabulous breakfast in the morning.

Remixing Leftovers

In Bucks County, our fridge was full of two things: condiments and leftovers; a taxonomy of mustards and chutneys and bar-b-que sauces competing for space with stacks of white china bowls wrapped in plastic and filled with this or that congealing something or other. And then there was the freezer, crammed with icebergs that now only vaguely resembled chili or soup anymore

Leftovers are a staple in my house. There’s no time to cook during the week, so weekends I take over the kitchen and make huge quantities of something, most of which will be frozen and remade and remixed over the next fortnight.

This has been a week of odds and ends. The Great Cabbage Roll Assemblage left me with a couple cups of chopped cabbage, carrots, onions and most of a bag of Bulgar wheat. Half a bowl of mashed potatoes sat quietly congealing in the back. A container of chili in the freezer had been glowering at me for a few weeks and needed something done with it.

The art of leftovers is the art of reinvention. Yes, you could just reheat and serve them again (and again and again, like dinner in syndication) but that would be boring and make you bad person. But dinner is no longer dinner once it goes back in the fridge. Now it’s an ingredient.

So the chili ended up the base for a spicy tomato and papaya sauce, served with Israeli-poached eggs over quinoa. Last night in a fit of procrastination, the cabbage, mashed potatoes, Bulgar and vegetable leavings became a colcannon derivative, swimming in milk, butter and sour cream.

(Disclaimer: There are always safety concerns when cooking with leftovers. Cooked food spoils faster than raw, so if you’ve no plans to reuse something immediately, freeze it. Use common sense. Don’t eat anything that’s acquired a fur coat, become discolored, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah. Behave like the reasonable adults I know some of you are.)

By changing a few words and references here and there, what I’ve written here so far could easily be transformed from a minor primer on the awesomeness of leftovers into an essay on remix and appropriation in popular culture. At the heart of it is the idea that there is nothing final about the final presentation of something, be it a meal or a movie. If something has further utility, it should be used, creatively and well.

This applies to recipes as well as an actual fridge full of leftovers. The art of cooking and communities built around it embrace remix and open source philosophies naturally. The comment threads of popular recipe blogs and websites are filled with additions, edits, remixes, versions and suggestions from the audience/user/consumer. The Rombauers have yet to pelt me with DMCA take-downs, though most of the recipes I post are re-visionings of ones that appear in The Joy of Cooking. Cooking’s open-source (for what is a recipe but source code for food), sharing and teaching-based philosophy works to everyone’s advantage. When a recipe or technique gets released into the wild (either online, in a book, or by word of mouth), it not only improves the skills of the people who encounter and use it, but the recipe itself gets better. Those pages of comments, all those different versions of creamed spinach or pumpkin curry make the original recipe more valuable and useful; the most valuable recipes are the ones that get used the most, that have collected the most input from the community.

I have slightly idealized the prevalent cookery culture with regards to IP law. But the focus of the community has and continues to be on attribution when it comes to the use and reuse of existing recipes, not payment and control. Cooking communities encourage derivative and appropriative creativity and knowledge sharing as good creative practice. It’s all just so damn intuitive, isn’t it?

So, to paraphrase a t-shirt I wish I had: Get excited and make things out of other things.

Poached Eggs with Papaya-Chili-Tomato Sauce and Quinoa

Leftover chili/tomato sauce
dried whole chili peppers (not necessary if you’re a spiciness wuss)
dried fruit (I used papaya and raisins, but I’ve used apricots before with equally delicious results
one can diced tomatoes
six large eggs (two per person)

Combine your leftover base in a heavy bottomed pot with the diced tomatoes, chopped fruit, and chili peppers and bring to a healthy simmer. Crack in your eggs, reduce the heat and cover. Stir gently and occasionally to prevent the eggs sticking to the bottom of the pot and burning, but otherwise, ignore until the eggs are set.

When eggs are set, spoon them out with a healthy portion of sauce and serve over quinoa. Discard the chili peppers.

Pseudo Colcannon

chopped cabbage (because this was leftover from making cabbage rolls, what I had was already cooked. You may want to blanche yours.)
mashed potatoes
one small onion, chopped
(this is where the pseudo comes in. Traditional Irish colcannon contains cabbage, potatoes, leeks and cream. But I was more concerned with using up my vegetable stash than with historical verisimilitude. So, for the purists, not real real colcannon. Real pseudo colcannon.)
chopped carrots
frozen peas
Bulgar wheat (I had less mashed potatoes than I originally thought, so I added the Bulgar wheat to give the dish more body. The added vegetables made it unnecessary, though, and I’ll omit it next time.)
whole milk
sour cream
salt, pepper, thyme

Basically, combine all the above in a pot, simmer, stir and serve. Add the sour cream, salt, pepper and thyme last, to taste. Peter insists on eating this topped with cheddar cheese, but then again that’s how he eats damn near everything.

Chocolate Chip Cookies and Fail Brownies

Peter has been baking like mad recently.

He comes back to the apartment, sneaks the Joy of Cooking off the shelf and then doesn’t let me in the kitchen for an hour and a half while he does something with flour and sugar, loud crashes and his sister’s bright red KitchenAide mixer.

A week ago it was chocolate chip cookies with cashew butter.

Last night it was Fail Brownies.

Maybe he mixed the batter too long, or maybe he didn’t let the melted chocolate cool long enough. In any case, what came out of the oven was not, strictly speaking, brownies.

Instead of one dense cakey layer, there are two. There is a thin top layer, like a coffee-colored cloud of meringue. It’s dry and chocolatey, sweet and dense. It lifts more-or-less cleanly off the bottom layer, which is like the wonderful moist inside bits of a chocolate bread pudding.

We stood around the stove in the kitchen, and ate it out of the pan with spoons.

Whatever his mistake was, I hope Peter makes it again. And soon.

Carbonnade a la flamande

Carbonnade Ingredients

Peter’s presence in the kitchen was an accident of timing.

He’d come over in the afternoon to help with the grocery shopping. With more than one overnight guest arriving in the next few days and start of term on Wednesday, supplies were needed beyond the tin-foil wrapped slab of cheddar and the last slice of bacon which were all that remained on my side of the refrigerator. So he’d come to help carry the milk and bread and eggs and juice and bags of vegetables home through the snow, which was lovely of him. But now he was in My Kitchen. Hanging Around. Trying to Be Helpful.


I don’t let anyone help me cook. I’m more likely to drive you from the kitchen at the point of a paring knife than I am to let you touch anything more important than a potato peeling while I’m working in my kitchen. This makes it sound like cooking alone, for me, is about quality control. It’s true that the last thing people often hear as I shoo them away from the cutting board is, “You’re doing it wrong.” But that’s mostly rhetoric to keep them from coming back.

Like painting, cooking is about touch, motions, and sensations which can only be translated, imperfectly, into words. Learned motions, chopping, stirring, spinning from the stove to the counter top and back, become instincts. The physicality required knits your senses together so that scent, taste, sight and sound become a vibrant whole, rather than disconnected, atomized sense packets zinging about your brain and mostly ignored. Beyond instruction, words here just get in the way, trying to be indispensable where they’re simply irrelevant.

Other people bring words with them. The air get clogged with Directions and No-Not-There’s and How-Do-I’s and Where-Do-I’s. Words demand attention, and your senses fall apart again, turning back into background noise.

So I prefer to cook alone. Sometimes, if it’s something simple or with a lot of down time, I’ll turn on a podcast or audiobook. But usually it’s quiet, except for the sounds of the activity itself.

So Peter, wedging himself awkwardly in the dusty alcove between the stove and the cabinets, trying to be Helpful, was going to be a Problem.

I asked him to set out the ingredients and I pulled out my camera, a small, silver, point-and-shoot thing. Peter made coffee and I snapped a few shots of the ingredients pile, rearranged some things, took a few more pictures.

“Here,” I said. “Hold these carrots tops and look dubious.”

carbonnade 3

“…I meant dubious about the carrot tops. But I suppose you captured the moment.”

I have a rhythm of sorts when cooking-to-blog. Chop. Take a picture. Arrange. Take a picture. Fiddle with settings. Take another picture. In the middle of this, I looked up from my viewfinder.

“Is this weird? With the camera and the cooking? Because I think it’s fun.”

“Honey, as long as you’re cooking for me, I don’t care how you do it,” Peter said. “Unless you could somehow work in high heels and an apron.”

I threw a potato peeling at him. He laughed and handed me a cup of breakfast coffee (milk, two sugars).

He washed vegetables, tended to one thing while I tended to something else. Then, when I had settled into the happy wordless instincts of my kitchen, he slipped out without me noticing.

I slipped the last of the ingredients into the simmering pot, covered it, turned the blue flame down low. Peter was wrapped in blankets on my bed, sipping his coffee, paging through the book he’s been reading for about a month now.

“Hey you,” I said, sliding in next to him and kissing his forehead.

“Dinner time?” he asked.

“Dishes time,” I said.

“Boo,” he replied.

And then the lights went out.

Outside, the night sky was orange with ambient light, but all down the block the houses were dark. We flipped open our cellphones long enough to find candles, but then turned them off, trading their cold blue glow for warm flickering tea-lights we held in our hands.

“Does this mean we don’t have to do the dishes?” Peter asked.

Carbonadde 10

…we went to the bar instead.

Carbonnade a la flamande

Traditionally, this dish contains only beef, onions and garlic, served with boiled new potatoes. However, I’ve added more vegetables and generally serve it over egg noodles to make it go farther. The more traditional version can be found in your Joy of Cooking on page 480.

Three red potatoes, chopped
Two small onions, chopped
Three celery stalks, chopped
Handful of mushrooms, sliced (I used shiitake, though any not-boring mushroom will do.)
Two or three garlic cloves, diced
One lb. lean stew beef
salt, pepper, herb de provence, bay leaf
Beer! (The darker the beer, the more intense the flavor will be. Too dark a beer will leave a bitter aftertaste. This can be remedied with a spoonful of honey or by adding a caramelized onion to the stew at the end.)

Coat the stew beef with flour, and brown it in frying pan with butter, salt and pepper. When the meat is browned, put it in the stew pot with the garlic, onions and about half a bottle of beer. Bring this mixture to simmer and cover.

Deglaze the frying pan and quickly saute the carrots, potatoes and celery with butter, herb de provence, salt and pepper over medium high heat. Add to the stew pot with one or two bay leaves.

In the same pan, quickly saute the sliced mushrooms and set aside. These will be added to the stew at the last stage.

The stew should simmer over a low flame for two to two-and-a-half hours, or until the meat is fork-tender. Hopefully, your power won’t go out.

Before serving, add the mushrooms and cook for five or so minutes. serve over egg noodles if you’re feeding a large number of people, boys, or you’re a college student on a limited budget.

First Dinner of the New Year

Today’s dinner: Sautéed winter vegetables with shredded chicken and celery greens over quinoa with a raspberry-mustard glaze
Cooking soundtrack: The snow falling outside
What I’m avoiding by cooking: Watching the sun go down

Sauteed vegetables with shredded chicken, celery greens and quinoa

Two days ago, through an unfortunate confluence of holiday exhaustion and minor sickness, I went to bed at 5AM and awoke at 5PM. Went to sleep in the dark early morning, woke up again in the dark early afternoon. A minorly panicked call to Peter brought him to my doorstep an hour later with a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store, which we picked at greasily while watching British crime dramas. But Peter was tired after having worked all day, and I was Very Much Not.

So soon he went home and I wore a couple finger-deep furrows in the carpet pacing back and forth, trying to think of Something To Do.

The day-night swap meant it was some time in the afternoon for me, and meanwhile back in the world the bars had all let out.  I walked around the block, enough time to realize how under-dressed I was for the snow still on the ground.  There is a gay bar and three more bars a block from my apartment and I walked passed the tall stacked of chairs and the neon still on outside dark rooms and the knots of late-leavers smoking in inhospitable, locked doorways. I prodded the buttons on my cell phone, ineffectually as no one else was awake, and after I crunched up the crystalizing stairs to my apartment I discovered that no one was awake on the internet either.

I poked at the typewriter, which has a design flaw I haven’t yet decided how to correct. I opened the book I’m reading, and closed it again without getting anywhere. I sighed more than was reasonable. Everything looked dreary and dull and when I finally fell asleep it was in the company of dull, dreary dreams.

It is a whole year today that I’ve been in Pittsburgh. It’s been a dense year, filled with Stuff and School and Figuring Things Out. At the end of it I find, despite the bad days that seem to have cropped up at the close the semester, I have the faint tracings of a future career, wonderful friends (thought they are not always where I would like them to be), and more people who support me and who are proud of me and my work than I reasonably know what to do with.

Two years ago today I was carrying the worst hangover I’ve ever had on a strange trip across Texas to eat black-eyed peas, which I don’t like, with people who didn’t particularly like me. This time around I was in a warm house with good drink and good friends. I have a wonderful boy who puts up with all my nonsense with grace and understanding. Despite the occasional night-bound bad day, 2009 was a wonderful year. I’m very glad it happened all the way it did.

For all of you reading along at home, I hope your 2009 was just as wonderful. And I hope your new year is filled with good food and kind faces, that you find something and learn something, share something and make something, and that your bad days, when they come, only make your better days brighter.

Sautéed winter vegetables with shredded chicken and celery greens over quinoa with a raspberry-mustard glaze

One small red potato, chopped.
Two small onions, chopped.
Two medium carrots, tops off, chopped.
Three celery stalks, chopped, and greens.
Leftover chicken, as much as you like, shredded.
Raspberry jam
Whole grain mustard
Olive oil
salt, pepper, herb de provence, bay leaf

Swirl a small amount of olive oil in a frying pan and set over a low flame. Toss in the onions, carrots and potato with salt, pepper and herb de provence to taste. Add one bay leaf and cover. When the carrots and potatoes can be easily pierced with a fork, add the celery stalks and shredded chicken.

I find that one quarter cup of quinoa with one half cup of water makes more than enough for me. But I have been rightly accused of eating like a bird on more than one occasion, and you might enjoy greater than chickadee-sized portions. So take as much quinoa as you like with double that amount of water and put that in a covered pot over a medium-low flame. Check it periodically, and when the water has all been absorbed, turn off the flame and set the quinoa aside, still covered.

The best celery greens are found at the center of the stalks. They range from a pale yellow-green to light green with a fresh, peppery taste. Trim the stems, wash the leaves carefully in cold water and set aside.

Take a spoonful of raspberry jam and a spoonful of whole grain mustard and mix together with a small amount of olive oil. Pour this mixture over the sautéing vegetables and turn the flame up to medium for a few minutes.

Serve the vegetables and chicken over the quinoa with the celery greens set atop the whole mess at the last minute.

Sing a little song to yourself because it’s New Year’s Day.