You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.
~Mae West

Homo naledi whose feet and teeth mimic homo genus but still bear human lineage were unearthed last month. These hominids with smaller than current brains and intracranial space have been dubbed a mosaic species due to their varied anatomical features. They are ancestors from some 2.5-2.8 million years ago, from the same genus which includes the famed Lucy. An average Homo naledi was about 5′ tall and weighed some 100 lbs.

Lithe, petite ladies — slender and agile enough to wriggle through the proverbial crack in the wall — snakily, shimmied and crawled down narrow limestone shafts and lightless tunnels in South Africa to gather fossils and skeletal remains bones and the like from the burial vault. It was breathtaking to watch how they adroitly slid down the scant walls and so carefully culled these bony artifacts from the dirt.

Paleoanthropology professor Lee Berger of the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg was seated on the ground above poised before his laptop watching them dive and eagerly awaiting their safe return with their trove. They did not disappoint, even though some expressed concerns about trampling on such delicacies. As Dr. Berger remarked, “…there is no substitute for exploration.”

In the Rising Star Cave, these underground astronauts encountered tombs where many of the Homo naledi were interred by rituals which perhaps avoided scavengers.

Bok choy which translates to “white vegetable” in Chinese is a member of the cruciferous vegetable family which also includes broccoli, kale, collard greens, cabbage, mustard greens, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. Not surprisingly, they are rich in vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin A (carotenoids), potassium, folate, vitamin B-6, calcium, and manganese. Bok choy have smooth, glossy, spoon shaped leaves that cluster with a small base.

In some realms, smaller is better.

BABY BOK CHOY

1 T soy sauce
3-4 T oyster sauce
2 T rice vinegar (unseasoned)
Pinch of raw sugar

1-2 T peanut oil
2 T plump fresh garlic cloves, minced
1/2 t red pepper flakes
1 t ginger root, peeled and minced
4-6 bunches of baby bok choy, with ends trimmed
3 T chicken stock

Combine soy sauce, oyster sauce, raw sugar and rice vinegar in a glass bowl and set aside.

Heat peanut oil in a heavy skillet (non-stick or not) placed over medium high heat until oil shimmers. Add garlic, red pepper flakes and ginger, then bok choy, and stir fry for about 2 or so minutes. Add stock to the skillet, then cover and allow to cook for a couple minutes more, until bok choy has softened some at the base. Toward the end, drizzle with the soy-oyster-sugar-vinegar sauce.

Remove bok choy and friends from the skillet and turn onto a platter or separate plates/bowls. We tend to serve bok choy sidled up to lemon grass chicken and jasmine rice or noodles (September 5, 2010), but it can be paired with a host of wokked, sautéed, roasted, or grilled main dishes, Asian or otherwise.

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Life itself is the proper binge.
~Julia Child

So, the conservative (J)ustices who reverently, or perhaps irreverently, have hailed their Catholic heritage were conspicuously absent for Pope Francis — Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito — should be wearing their usual political cloaks of shame with heads bowed. Please do not tell anyone, dear (J)ustices, that you had other commitments, as you were wholly transparent “no shows” to make an intentional, childish statement.

Are you that politically pugnacious, gentlemen? Will you, as does the House, not branch compromise? Will you value theatrical protest over governance, even as the “judiciary branch?” Will you seriously take a pass on this opportunity to hear words from the leader of your church?

Apparently, this was a “let-them-eat cake obliviousness to the needs of others” moment to quote Justice Scalia. Whatever his old man palaver means.

Even as an agnostic or atheist, you should feel utterly disgraced.

A simple, yet resplendent, meal — thank goodness, we can gracefully slide home.

MISO CHICKEN (TORI MISOYAKI — 味噌チキン)

4 T unsalted butter (1/2 stick), softened to room temperature
1/2 C red or white miso
2 T local honey
1 T “plain” rice vinegar (hon mirin)
1 T sake
2 t sesame oil
2 t ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 t garlic, peeled and finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper

8 skin on, bone in chicken thighs

Peanuts or walnuts, chopped
Cilantro leaves

Bok Choy (optional?)

Preheat oven to 425 F

Combine butter, miso, honey, rice vinegar, sesame oil, ginger, garlic and black pepper in a large glass bowl and mix well.

Add bird to the bowl and carefully massage the miso, et al., blend into it. Marinate in a large ziploc bag for a couple of hours or overnight, turning occasionally.

Place the chicken in a single layer in a roasting pan and genteelly slip (skin side up) into the preheated oven. Roast for about 40 minutes or so, turning the chicken pieces over twice with tongs, until the skin is golden brown and crisp, and when pricked the juices run pale from the thighs. Serve over rice or rice noodles and top with chopped peanuts or walnuts and cilantro with baby bok choy as a side.

Salmon on Cedar

February 13, 2010

I’ll love you dear, I’ll love you till China and Africa meet and the river jumps over the mountain and the salmon sing in the street.
~W.H. Auden, As I Walked Out One Evening

The Vancouver Winter Olympics have been unleashed, albeit with a tragic opening on the luge course. Young slider, Nodar Kumaritashvili of the Republic of Georgia, suffered a fatal crash on a training run on day one. A sad, somber start to these games which are so brimming with hope and passion.

First Nations refers to the indigenous peoples of what is now Canada, with the exception of the arctic Inuit and peoples of mixed ancestry called Métis. The Pacific Coast First Nations refer to those those that trace their ancestry to the aboriginal people that inhabited the land that is now British Columbia prior to the European invasion and brutal colonization of the Americas. Centuries of scorched earth policies and ethnic cleansing followed. Indigenous civilizations under European occupation were severely dismantled, many eliminated, and vast numbers of the people exterminated.

A sumptuous pairing of earth and ocean, cedar plank grilled salmon likely originated with natives in the Pacific Northwest, including those who inhabited Vancouver Island. The name sockeye is actually believed to be derived from the Coast Salish name “sukkai,” translated as “fish.”

Typically, salmon are anadromous: they are born in fresh water, migrate to the ocean, then return to fresh water to reproduce. So, natives would spear or club the then plentiful salmon from the shores of inland streams during the annual spawning runs in the late summer or early fall. The fish were brought back home for cleaning and smoking, then stored for the hard winter months ahead. The catch was hung over open fires or tacked to native cedar slabs and then slowly cooked, absorbing the natural flavors from the smoke, fire and wood. Later, huts were built to collect and further intensify the flavors and aromas.

The earliest written recipe for plank cooking appeared in the Boston Cooking School Cookbook in 1911, authored by the venerable Fannie Farmer.

MISO GLAZED GRILLED SALMON ON CEDAR

1/2 C red miso
1/2 C mirin
3 T unseasoned rice vinegar
1 T honey
3 T soy sauce
1/4 C green onions, minced
2 T fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced
3 T sesame oil
1 T wasabi powder
Pinch of cayenne pepper

4 salmon fillets, 8 oz each
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Whisk together the miso, mirin, rice vinegar, honey, soy sauce, green onions, ginger, sesame oil, wasabi powder and cayenne in a medium bowl. Reserve enough of this miso glaze in another bowl to brush on salmon while grilling.

Remove any remaining bones from salmon fillet. Rinse the salmon under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels. Generously season the salmon with salt and pepper on both sides. Place the salmon in a baking dish, pour the miso marinade over, and turn to coat well. (You may prefer to use a heavy, zippered plastic bag.) Cover and marinate for at least 2 hours in the refrigerator, turning a few times.

Meahwhile, soak cedar plank in salted cold water for no less than 2 hours, totally immersed, then drain.

Prepare grill for indirect grilling and heat to medium high. Arrange salmon, skin side down, on the cedar plank and then place in the center of the hot grate, away from the heat. Cover the grill and cook until cooked through, around 20 to 30 minutes. Brush with miso glaze once or twice during the grilling process.

A tandoor is a cylindrical clay pot used in south Asian cuisine, notably (but not limited to) northern India and Pakistan, in which food is cooked over hot charcoal or wooden fire at high temperatures. The earthen oven is commonly sunk neck deep in the ground. Strictly speaking, Tandoori simply describes a dish cooked in a tandoor, which can include meats, fish, poultry or breads…but, in western parlance the term has seemed to have been enlarged to include a spice mix, which varies from kitchen to kitchen. Not having a true tandoor at hand—which would no doubt violate numerous building codes—this is the closest we can get.

SEARED YELLOWTAIL TUNA TANDOORI

1/2 C extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon, juiced
2 T tandoori spices*
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
4 (4 oz) yellowtail tuna filets, fat and skin trimmed away
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1/2 C rice wine vinegar
1 T honey
1/2 t mirin
1 C extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1 C cilantro leaves
2 C watercress
1/2 C arugula

Lemon zest

In a small bowl, whisk together rice vinegar, honey, mirin, salt and pepper. In a steady, narrow stream, slowly drizzle in olive oil, whisking constantly. Set aside.

In a bowl, place olive oil, lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of the tandoori, salt and pepper. Rub the top of each filet with the smashed garlic, season with salt, pepper and the rest of the tandoori on both sides. Then dip the filets in the bowl, coating both sides evenly. Reserve the remaining flavored oil for sauce.

Place a heavy skillet over medium to medium high heat, and sear the tuna filets gently, approximately 2 minutes on each side. When done, the tuna should be rare in the middle but not cold. (Alternatively, the tuna could be grilled over a charcoal or wood fire prepared to medium high heat to loosely imitate a tandoor.)

Toss greens with vinaigrette, arrange tuna over, and then drizzle reserved sauce over the top. Grate a touch of lemon zest over each filet before serving.

*Tandoori Spices

2 T coriander seeds
2 T cumin seeds
1 T cardamom seeds

3 T sweet paprika
2 T turmeric
2 T sea salt
1 T freshly ground black pepper
1 T ground ginger
1 t ground cinnamon
1 t cayenne pepper

Strew the coriander, cumin and cardamom seeds in a dry heavy skillet over medium heat and roast for a few minutes until essences are released. Place in a spice or coffee grinder and reduce to a powder. Then, place in a bowl, add remaining ingredients and mix well. Stores well tightly covered in a cool, dry place.

Hae mul pa jun, hae mool pa jun, haemul pajun, hae mul pa jeon, haemool-pahjun, haemul jun. This scallion pancake is a flat delectable app and speaks to the Korean sea culture. I tend to make both dipping sauces, fine balances between sweet, spice and acid—as they can be used with other dishes, fishes, finger foods and keep fairly well in the fridge for a day or two.

HAE MUL PA JUN

2 C all purpose flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1-2 T canola oil
1 1/2 C cold water

6 scallions, green parts only, cut into 3 inch lengths and sliced lengthwise
8 chopped scallions
1 medium carrot, peeled and grated
1 small to medium zucchini, trimmed and grated
6 oz fresh squid, cleaned, rinsed and thinly chopped
1/2 lb shrimp, peeled, rinsed and chopped

In a medium bowl, mix flour, eggs and oil with water until a smooth batter is formed. It should be a tad thinner than traditional buttermilk pancake batter. Stir chives, carrots, zucchini, shrimp and squid into batter.

Place a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, then coat bottom with oil. Ladle in about a quarter of the batter and spread it out evenly into a circle; if first pancake is too thick to spread easily, add a little water to batter for remaining pancakes. Turn heat to medium and cook until bottom is browned, about 3 minutes, then flip and cook for another 2 minutes. Repeat with remaining batter.

As each batch of pancakes finishes, remove and drain on paper towels.

Cut pancakes into triangular wedges and serve with dipping sauces.

RICE VINEGAR & SOY DIPPING SAUCE
1 T rice vinegar
3 T soy sauce
1 t sugar
1 t red pepper flakes
1 t sesame seeds

In a small bowl, mix together the vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, red pepper flakes and sesame seeds.

RED CURRY PEANUT DIPPING SAUCE

1/4 cup roasted salted peanuts
1 T brown sugar

2 to 3 t Thai red curry paste
8 to 10 T water
2 t peanut or vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 C finely chopped shallot (about 1 large)
2 fresh Thai or serrano chilies, including seeds, thinly sliced crosswise

Finely grind 3 tablespoons peanuts in a food processor along with brown sugar. Finely chop remaining tablespoon peanuts by hand.

Stir together curry paste (to taste) and 6 tablespoons water until paste is dissolved.

Heat oil in a heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté garlic, shallot, and chiles, stirring, until golden, about 4 minutes. Add ground peanut mixture and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in curry mixture and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in chopped peanuts.

Cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes, then thin with water, 1 tablespoon at a time, to desired consistency.