Fractals: It’s What’s for Dinner

Romanesco broccoli from the Mt. Pleasant farmers' market, Washington, D.C., 10 October 2009

Ever since I read that romanesco broccoli was a fractal I’ve been on the lookout for it. It finally turned up along with all the varieties of cauliflower at the Mt. Pleasant farmer’s market, so I snatched it up and tonight I broke that fractal down into-a little-a tiny cubes and fried it in olive oil, salt and pepper and white wine.

(My picture is nowhere as cool as this New York Times picture of the day from 7 October 2009)

First Naan

My first attempt at naan, a vegan cilantro version, 20 August 2009

My first attempt at making naan. I used cilantro instead of garlic and made the usual vegan substitutions to the first hit on Google, the AllRecipes naan. It came out listing a little in the direction of focaccia, but good.

Improvisation: Any of the family of pan-based breads are good for me as the entire six years I’ve lived at this residence, the stove has not worked. I don’t own a rolling pin so an empty wine bottle had to substitute.

Early bread making lesson: if you used the last of the flower in the dough and don’t have any left to dust your rolling surface, pin or hands, then you must abort. Thankfully the “Convenient Mart” (that’s what the sign says) stocks more than the usual quick food items.

Dumpling Soup

Last night I had a dream that I was making a dumpling soup.

So today I made one.

Until very recently I’ve never used anything more than a few tablespoons out of a bag of flower for a roux or a thickener. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of very flower-centered work in the kitchen, despite not having had a working stove for the entire six years that I’ve lived here (see “Tyler Durden’s House,” 15 April 2007). But tonight was the first time I’ve ever made anything that required me to knead and allow rest.

My first product requiring kneading, 28 July 2009

I could almost hear Alton Brown’s voice explaining the formation of the gluten structures and the importance of the right balance of kneading and rest to texture.

Anyway, cut off spoon-sized pieces, ball them up, drop them in the boiling pot and violà:

Boiling dumplings in soup, 28 July 2009

Dumpling soup.

Frenetic Fojol Cusping on Celebrity

It’s been a big couple of days for the Fojol Brothers. Thursday was their weekday lunch debut and they were back again on Friday (I parenthetically hedged, though they said right there in their tweet that it was their first weekday daytime appearance).

Fojol Brothers, Lamont Park, Mount Pleasant, 19 July 2009

Today they were in my neighborhood on the corner of Lamont Park in Mount Pleasant. And it was quite a show. There are two new Fojol sisters, Mewshah and Bhujaja. The AcroFiends were there, just to eat though, Peter / Kipoto, girlfriend in tow, was there out of costume as it was supposed to be his day off from Fojol.

Kahn, Howie, "Keep On Food Truckin'," GQ, August 2009, p. 34

On Thursday they told me that they were getting profiled in GQ. On Friday Justin / Dingo had the issue with him and they got the introductory page to a whole piece on food carts in various cities.

Seattle's Maximus Minimus pig truck

As is often the case with such articles, it’s somewhat arbitrary in selection. For instance, I have no idea how GQ could have missed Seattle’s mind-bogglingly tricked out Maximus Minimus (website | twitter).

After wrapping up in Mount Pleasant today, the Fojol Brothers tweet that they will be at Eastern Market all day tomorrow.

Fojol Do Lunch

Fojol Brother Peter Korbel, weekday lunch in front of the IMF building, 16 July 2009

Fojol Brothers had their first (at least since I’ve been following them) weekday lunch. They parked at the corner of 19th and Pennsylvania Avenue, at Edward R. Murrow Park in front of the IMF building, necessitating a bit of a hike on my part, but always worth it.

While ordering, Peter (above) told me that a picture of me was included in their write-up in Brightest Young Things (Nicholson, Alex and Dakota Fine, “Hitting the Streets With: Fojol Brothers of Merlinida,”, 13 July 2009). This is not a surprise since they asked if I would pose for a food shot. I’m the guy in the bike helmet in the first large photo. Oddly enough this was my first time catching the Fojol Brothers. In the photograph accompanying my first post on the Fojol Brothers, I think that the guy in the foreground turning around to look back is Dakota Fine, the photographer for the Brightest Young Things piece.

I think that the Fojol Brothers have so far been limited to nights and weekends by their other commitments. I hope this is an indication that things are viable enough where they’re going to be doing it a lot more.

Fojol Brothers and the Changing Face of Washington, D.C.

The Fojol Brothers traveling culinary carnival, 14th Street, just south of U Street, 20 June 2009, 1:45 AM

I’ve been following the Fojol Brothers traveling culinary carnival on twitter for approaching two weeks now. I just happened to choose the wrong time to follow them as there’s been no activity since that time. Then tonight I go to P and 21st and am oblivious that that they are catty-corner at 20th and Q, but they tweet that they will be reestablishing themselves on U Street at about midnight. I’m constantly refreshing my twitter feed to get the news. At about 12:30 they tweeted that they are serving food at 14th and U Street NW. I jumped on my waiting bike.

As I was leaving the house, I considered knocking on the door of the upstairs neighbors to ask if any of them wanted to join me (it would be safe to count on a significant portion of them to be awake and ready for spontaneous adventure at that hour). Turns out it was unnecessary. I had taken about two bites of cauliflower and potatoes when Duff walked up. He had played a gig on U Street. He got some Fojol Brothers food too and we leaned against the windows of the fast food places on the corner and talked for a few minutes. He commented that he keeps on finding little enclaves in the city that don’t feel like D.C. anymore. I concur. A similar thought struck me twice — I guess Fojol Brothers included, three times — just today. Increasingly I am seeing people who seem to be other than the usual social climbers, and engaged in activities outside the norm of the straight and narrow required by the power and influence track.

When explaining what’s wrong with D.C., I often tell people that it’s a one company town and that the imprint of the government is on everything in the whole city. D.C. just might be cusping on that critical mass where it starts to develop a culture autonomous from that of the strictures of political power.

On the other hand, a few years ago I had a Capital Hill barkeep, something of an institution himself, tell me that D.C. was a different town when the Democrats were in charge, that it was just more fun. Maybe the city independent from the government still sucks, it’s just that the government has upgraded.

I talked for a few minutes with one of the Brothers. They’re very much in promotional mode right now. He’s a lifelong D.C. resident and the son of a D.C. activist couple. His childhood meals were always strategy sessions of civil rights leaders or dialogues between Israelis and Palestinians and it’s that spirit of people coming together under extra-ordinary circumstances, but around food, that he hopes to create spontaneously on the street and in the virtual world. He talked about a getting together with other street food venders for a street party and his plans to work with District at-risk youth programs to have some of their kids join the Brothers in their culinary carnival (Anthony Bourdain profiled a similar program, the D.C. Central Kitchen, when No Reservations was in D.C.).

If the Federal Government has become more fun, the District remains determined to squelch any outbreak of unsanctioned quality of live improvements. At about 2:30 AM the po-po showed up and asked to see their street vendor’s license, which they promptly produced. But the officer began to sweat tem down over how this was non-vending zone and how they were past the hours allowed according to their permit. They quickly folded up shop and took off. I sent them a message later that evening encouraging them not to let this get to them. They messaged back that they’re still figuring out how things are going to work, but that they don’t intend to give up.

Television Disbelief

First, I can’t believe that Man v. Food is going to Beth’s Cafe. Gawd, I spent some of the best nights of my life there. Second, I can’t believe that Travel and Discovery have scheduled No Reservations and Man vs. Wild head-to-head. I have no idea how I’m going to decide between Anthony Bourdain eating a whole roast pig and Bear Grylls eating a decomposing boar.


Durian, a large, spiky fruit of Southeast Asia known for its pungent odor

I first encountered the durian as I was studying for a 2006 Thailand vacation. I was eager to dig into the local food and the tropical fruits especially excited me. It turned out to be not much of a culinary vacation and I ate a lot less fruit than I would have hoped. I certainly never got the nerve to try the durian. Since then my fear and ambivalence has only grown, especially after this SLOG story

(Spangenthal-Lee, Jonah, “Adventures in Food with Ari and Jonah,” The Stranger, 20 April 2007) and an episode of No Reservations where Anthony Bourdain described the durian as being more like a pungent French runny cheese than fruit.

But then, on Wednesday night, I was at a dinner party where the Vietnamese host announced that there would be two disserts after the dinner: one a usual dessert, the other a challenging dessert. I had already seen the cake on the galley counter so that was known. The challenge dissert was to be a surprise. After the cake was brought to the table, our host disappeared into the kitchen and returned with the surprise dessert: durian.

I have to say that its smell and appearance are deeply intimidating. I roiled with conflicted desire: the adventuresome side desperate to taste it, my distance-operative senses sounding the alarm that this was not food and not to be put in my mouth.

So of course I tried it. Once you get it past your nose it is a wonderfully complex and delicious fruit. It has an arduous flavor that comes in a number of phases. If you divide it into four rough phases, the third quarter is the fruity high point with a wonderful, light, fresh taste characteristic of tropical fruit at the top, reminiscent of the aftertaste of strawberries as it wears on. It has a long sour tail like cheese or butter, but with an ever so slight element of rancid gym sock.

Our host explained that if you buy the durian in the husk, you never know what you’re going to get until you open it up. He recommended the packaged durian, because someone else opens it and then it only gets packed if it’s good. Good being sulfuric in this case.