Tabboulah

The first time I had this was in a Persian restaurant in Washington DC. What an incredible idea: a salad of parsley. It’s a bit of a pain to make, especially since I don’t like parsley stems, but foolproof.

For this version you’ll need:
• 1 1/2 cups bulgur wheat (medium or course)
• 2 big bunches of parsley
• 1 red onion
• 2 large tomatoes
• 1 cup lemon juice (4-5 lemons)
• 1/2 cup olive oil (I use Nunez)
• 2 tablespoons fresh or dried mint
• Salt and pepper to taste (I use Maldon sea salt and freshly ground Tellicherry pepper)

Equipment I used:
• 
Large mixing bowl
• 
2 cup measuring cup
• 
Mesh strainer
• 2 quart sauce pan
• Lemon squeezer
• Cutting board
• 8 inch chefs knife

Start proofing the Bulgur wheat. There are many ways to do this. I’ve settled on putting it into a mesh strainer fitted into a saucepan—shown above—and running hot water over it to wet the grains until the water reaches the top. I sit it by the sink and about 45 minutes later it’s all puffed up and you can just pick the strainer up and let the water run out.

While this is going on, get out a large bowl, the biggest one you have. Finely dice the tomatoes and put them in your bowl and sprinkle with the Maldon sea salt. Set aside.

In a 2 cup measuring cup, add a half cup of olive oil and stir in the mint; finely minced if using fresh. Squeeze the lemons and add to the olive oil.

Now finely dice the red onion and add it to the olive oil and lemon juice mixture.

Now the parsley. I don’t like stems so I painstakingly pluck the leaves and then coarsely chop them. But you can do this however you want.

Once the bulgur is drained and ready, add everything to the bowl with the tomatoes. Add freshly ground pepper to taste or not.

Watch it disappear in less time than it took to make.

Copyright © 2017 MRStrauss • All rights reserved

Japanese Loo

I have been eyeing the basket weave tiles I was seeing everywhere, but it didn’t seem like they would work for a large bathroom— I thought they would be too busy. I have wanted to update this ‘builders special’ half bathroom for ages and I knew the tile would work well and it wouldn’t really be at risk for stains from hair dye, nail polish, and whatever else my kids get into, because they never use this bathroom. It wasn’t until I got these reproduction woodblock prints in Tokyo that I had that magic flash of inspiration and it all came together!

Copyright © 2017 MRStrauss • All rights reserved

Oh, Christmas Tree

When I was little, I thought our Christmas tree was the most beautiful thing I ever saw. I would just gaze at the shimmer and light. It had garlands of silver and gold tinsel, lights that looked like icicles, metal flowers, snowflakes, little churches, musical instruments… and a lighted tinsel star on the top. I never thought about it being fake; it was way too exciting. When my Nana got a tree made entirely of silver tinsel, I thought it looked so pretty at night with its blinking multi-colored lights. It was so futuristic looking.

When I got older, we stopped putting it up and I didn’t bother until I had kids. I don’t know if they were as besotted as I was, our tree wasn’t quite as over the top as the one I had as a kid. I had more of a woodland theme. But we had a train to go around ours, an O gauge version of the Polar Express.

That’s when the thinking started. The supposed reason for never having a real tree had been my allergies. A lot of inconvenient things got pinned on that. But every year I would look at it and my inner voice would always say, “why do you have that plastic thing that looks like a tree with stuff stuck all over it in your living room?” Sometimes I would imagine explaining the whole thing to a visiting alien and realizing none of it made sense. “Yeah, well, it represents a tree.” The solution, I was sure, was a real tree. To be really real you would have to chop it down on Christmas Eve and decorate it with real candles, but that seemed like a fire hazard even I wasn’t willing to go for. And we don’t live in a forest. So there it was, the real tree. It took a few days for my inner voice to gather its wits. “Why did you allow a perfectly happy tree, living its perfectly happy tree life in the forest where it belongs, to be cut down, put up in your living room and covered in all this ridiculous ornamentation so that it can slowly die before being tossed to the curb.” What? The voice worked this point until the whole thing was over. Fine, I’ll get a potted pine and then plant it after Christmas where it can grow and be admired for years to come. It took the Voice a little longer this time. I thought Ha! Never mock the Voice. “So you’ve brought this dear tree into your home and hung ornaments all over it? Yes, it’s true you are feeding it and using spring water, but how would you feel if I put you outside for a month and stuck stuff all over you? Hmmm? You no more belong outside than this poor tree belongs inside.” Do you have nothing positive to say? She hasn’t said anything about the snow globes or the nutcrackers yet. Maybe they’re safe. A German feather tree maybe? A fallen branch?

Copyright © 2016 MRStrauss • All rights reserved

Thai Beef and Basil Bentosh

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I keep a few well-wrapped packages of ground beef in the freezer for quick recipes like this. You could use any ground meat or tofu. I’ve tried it with both Italian and Thai basil. I like them both; the Thai basil is a little stronger. I have also used brown, Basmati, and Jasmine rice and I think I like the Jasmine best. Again, this would have been another good recipe for when I first lived in New York and had nothing but a two burner hot plate and a toaster oven.

For this four person version you’ll need:
• Around a pound to a pound and a third of ground beef
• Two cups Jasmine rice
• Around six cloves of garlic
• A half cup beef broth or water
• Two cups basil leaves
• Two to three carrots julienned or shredded (I use this Japanese julienne tool)
• Tablespoon of Canola oil (if cooking rice in pot)
• Half cup rice wine (optional)
• Salt and pepper
• Two red chiles or add chili garlic sauce at end
For the sauce:
• A quarter cup of soy sauce
• A quarter cup of fish sauce or oyster sauce or hoisin
• Tablespoon of sugar
To finish:
• One cup basil leaves (torn if big)
• Two to three carrots julienned or shredded (I use this Japanese julienne tool)
• Four to six scallions
• One lime cut into four wedges
• Chili garlic sauce
Cooking equipment I used:
• Ten inch frying pan for beef
• Pot for rice—I used a 3 quart saucepan, or rice cooker

If using frozen beef, get that started in the pan, breaking it up as it browns. Then make the rice how you want. I usually heat the rice up in a tablespoon of canola oil, stirring to coat, and then add a cup and a half of water for every cup of rice. Here, I used two cups of rice and three cups of water. Add salt to water if desired. Bring to a boil and cover for 15 minutes before fluffing. Put your bowls on the stove to warm up.

While the beef is browning, julienne the carrots, remove stems from basil, finelly slice the scallions, and take skins off garlic cloves. Stir the soy sauce, fish sauce, and sugar together. When the beef is browned, add the garlic. You can slice, finely mince, or put the garlic through a press and add to the beef. Let this work together for a minute. Deglaze the pan with a half cup of rice wine and let that almost burn off. Then add the beef broth and two cups of basil. When the basil is wilted and the sauce is bubbling, it’s ready! Put some rice in the bowls, top with the beef and basil, then divide the the basil and carrots, then drizzle over the sauce, and finally, sprinkle the scallions. Serve with lime wedges and chili garlic sauce.

Copyright © 2016 MRStrauss • All rights reserved

The Rolex

When I was in my early twenties and working in New York, a friend was promoted, after reading a million scripts and fetching a million cups of coffee, to producer. Her reaction was the sudden urge for pearl earrings—real pearl earrings—and so she invited me to come with her to pick them out. I said, “Sure, why not.” We went to what was the hugest jewelry store I had ever seen somewhere in midtown. It was like Aphrodite’s temple with marble columns and chandeliers and everyone speaking in hushed tones one usually associates with something illegal. Way too much padding in the carpets.

We found the pearl area and help arrived instantaneously. We sat down on the plush chairs and the salesperson began to ask her questions about what kind of pearls she wanted; she explained that she wanted ‘classic’ pearl earrings. “Ahhh, I see,” he nodded his head. He then opened up some sort of suede folio and began speaking, slowly and softly to her like she was made of the same glass those bastard Christmas balls are made from. Did she want Japanese pearls or Indian pearls or Tahitian, and going into detail about the different origins, the latinate names of the oysters, the tragic stories of divers who lost their lives seeking their beauty… I’m starting to glaze over, so I get up and wander around; she is so hypnotized she doesn’t even notice. Anyways, I see they have a room that has a plaque with ‘Estate Collections’ engraved in gold curlicue lettering. I didn’t know this meant ‘used,’ but I started to kind of figure that out because everything was mixed together. I saw this watch and I thought it looked really—I don’t know, sturdy maybe—and it wasn’t flashy; flashier than my Timex to be sure, but not blinding like some of them. Bling wasn’t a yet word. Magically, a salesperson appeared before me. Is there a secret door in the floor? Where did he come from? “Yes, isn’t that a classic watch? We just got that one in yesterday, let me show it to you.” If your gaze falls on something for even a small fraction of a second they see it. They also make you feel like it would be really rude if you said, “No thanks, I’m just looking around.”

So he takes it out and he asks me if I’ve ever owned a Rolex before. I said no. I didn’t even know what a Rolex was. His eyes widen. “This watch is a tremendous value, the previous owners took great care of it; we have all of the papers concerning its authenticity from Rolex and if you purchase the watch the registration will of course be transferred to your name.” I was going to ask why it needed to be registered, but I didn’t want to sound, you know, ignorant. Shit. I’m trapped. “Can we see what it looks like on your wrist?” he said optimistically. “No, I’m fine, I’m just here with a friend who’s getting earrings and I was just wandering around, just looking, you know, around.” Will you shut up. “Oh that is perfectly fine, there is nothing wrong with looking but you are also perfectly welcome to try it on, there is no charge for dreaming.” Did he just tell me I can’t afford it?

When he puts it on my wrist, I catch a quick look at the price: $2,100. Dollars. I feel slightly faint. I didn’t pay that much for my car, plus the insurance, plus gas, plus a year of food. I have a car on my wrist. What could they possibly put in a watch that would make it more expensive than a car, a used car to be sure, but a whole car! The watch is heavy. He starts telling me the legend of Rolex, he explains that it is the Lady Datejust and, yes, that it is stainless steel and 18k gold and the lens is sapphire and it is kept in perpetual motion by the movement of my body. I really wanted to say, “Are you insane? There’s no fucking way I’m spending $2,100 dollars on a watch,” but then I remember he’s just trying to do his job, he probably has a family to support and a timeshare somewhere so I say, “Thank you so much for showing me the watch, but I’ll have to think about it.” With a teasing smile he replies: “Very well, my name is Lucien and it has been a pleasure talking with you today and if you have any interest in anything, I would be more than happy to show you, even if you are just looking.” He had a slight accent of some kind and he drew out every syllable. I thanked him again and said I needed to get back to my friend since I promised to help her. I backed out of the room.

She, meanwhile, had narrowed it down to two choices: “Should I go with the 4 millimeter or the 5?” I’m looking back and forth at them and for the life of me I couldn’t tell them apart, so I said the five. “That’s what I thought too!” While she’s in the throes of affirmation, out of the corner of my eye, I see Lucian coming towards me, he has the manager with him. Don’t ask me how I knew it was the manager. Lucian introduces the manager to me and tells him how the watch is perfect for me. Oy. And he, the manager, proceeds to tell me that they just got the watch in, it’s in excellent condition and they would like to extend a very special offer to me since I have never owned a Rolex before. It would be $1800 and they would pay for any servicing it would need for a year and this would be Rolex factory servicing, just in case I had any idea what they were talking about. They form a triangle with me. Why can’t I just say that it is an absolutely outrageous amount of money to spend when you can buy a Timex for ten dollars that does the same thing? And then Lucian hits the mark: “This timepiece will last you a lifetime.” He must have caught some micro expression on my face because he looked like he took a hit. So that is how I got my Rolex. Plus, I got another $100 dollars off for being a loyal customer.

Copyright © 2016 MRStrauss • All rights reserved

Salmon Teriyaki

better-teriyaki-salmon-1-of-1

The only part of this recipe where measure matters is for the rice and even there I haven’t found the need to be too precise. Perfect rice is perfect for you: add more water, less water, more salt, oil, a bay leaf, a chopped onion. In time, you’ll have a lot of perfect rice. I like baked brown rice— it turns out with a little more bite left to it. This also works well if you are roasting the asparagus since you can make double use of the heat your oven worked hard to get. I do try to make extra rice since it is so useful for so many things— even plain for a quick snack. But sometimes everyone is really hungry and the only thing left is a small prize of rice scrapings for whoever is cleaning the dishes. If you need to adapt this for a tiny kitchen, you can bake the salmon in a toaster oven and do the rice and broccolini on a two burner stove. Or do the rice in the oven and pan fry the salmon.

Broccolini options: You could use any greens here. I have made this with something called ‘Chinese broccoli’ and also with baby bok choy. All steamed. But stir frying the vegetables would work too.

Salmon options: I have been seeking out wild Sockeye, King, or Coho salmon because they have the deepest color. I’m not sure what goes on with farmed salmon, but they look like I do after a long winter—pale. Some even have natural color added. Something added is never natural. What color was it before? I would rather have a smaller piece of a salmon that lived the salmon life. And here you don’t need a big piece. I might try arctic char the next time. Also you can either pan fry the salmon or bake it at 275ºF until it reaches 140º (about 30 minutes for a one pound piece.)

Rice options: Instead of brown rice, you could use white rice, quinoa, couscous…

Sauce options: I have been using bottled teriyake sauce. The Whole Foods brand has a pretty good one.

Time note: If you do the baked rice, it will take about 10 minutes to prep and boil the water and 50 minutes in the oven. Everything else will come together within that time. I usually manage to clean up the kitchen and check messages, email, etc. while things are cooking.

For this four person version, you’ll need:
• Around a quarter to a third of a pound per person for the salmon
• 3 cups of medium grain brown rice
• Two bunches of broccolini
• Around a half cup teriyake sauce
• Around four or five spring onions finely sliced to garnish
• Salt, ground pepper, olive or canola oil
Optional: sea salt flakes, fresh cracked pepper

Cooking Equipment I used:
• Frying pan for salmon (I used a 12″ pan for four pieces of salmon)
• 4 quart pot with steamer insert
• Anchor Hocking 11 cup covered baking dish or 9×13 baking dish with foil to cover for the rice
• Four cup Pyrex measuring cup for boiling water

Get the oven going at 375º.

Next, get the rice going. This is my big, hoping for leftovers portion, but you can cut it in half or thirds:
• Mix 3 cups medium grain brown rice and 3/4 tsp table salt in the baking dish
• Bring 4 2/3 cups water to a boil in a pot or microwave in a four cup Pyrex measuring cup (it will fit the extra 2/3 cup) or other microwave safe bowl.
• Add the boiling water to the rice
• Stir in 2 tablespoons of olive oil
• Cover and bake for about 50 minutes.

Once the rice is in, put the bowls on the stove to warm up and cut up the broccolini in roughly 3 inch pieces. Discard (or compost) any really woody ends. Set aside until you get the salmon in the pan. Prepare the pot and steamer. Add about a cup to cup and a half water and set on low.

When the rice has about fifteen minutes left, set a pan or a griddle on the stove and let it get good and hot. Prepare your salmon: rinse, dry, remove any bones, season with a little table salt and ground or fresh cracked pepper. You can cut into serving sizes or leave whole.

Turn the steamer up to high. Put the broccolini when the salmon has about four minutes to go.

Sear the salmon flesh side down, turning after it releases from the pan and has a little crust; I don’t find that I need any oil here, I just have to wait for the pan to let it go after a few minutes. Sear the other side a few minutes and let the skin crisp up, someone at the table will probably love a side dish of crispy salmon skins. Turn the heat down and let it finish cooking, anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes depending on how thick it is and how done you want it to be. Sneak a peek with a sharp knife at the thickest part if you’re not sure. I always do this because I’m never sure. When the salmon is almost done, take out the rice and uncover the broccolini

It’s ready. Remove the skins from the salmon if you want. Or leave them on. Coat the salmon with the teriyaki. Assemble your little bowl with as much or as little as you want. Top with spring onions.

Why a bowl? You can use any kind of dish, but I like a bowl. I like to cup my hand around the bowl while I’m eating to share a little of the food’s warmth with my hands. The best part is at the end: holding the bowl helps you get every last bit out. Also it’s easier to make food look nice in a bowl.

Notes: For olive oil, I use Columela, for sea salt flakes, I use Maldon, and for pepper, I use the Tellicherry variety. I use table salt for anything mixed in or cooked and save the sea salt flakes for finishing or roasting. Using these ingredients adds a little extra flavor to the dish and they’re getting much easier to find now.

Copyright © 2016 MRStrauss • All rights reserved

The Great Tidal Wave of 1974 (revised)

When I woke up I knew something was horribly wrong. I was in my bed looking at the yellowed plastic window shade flapping and making a thwacking sound; then it would get sucked onto the screen, then it was flapping again. I ran out onto the porch and saw the sky covered with grey clouds, completely covered. They were thick like the cotton padding in the first aid kit and they were rolling super fast across the sky. I looked out to the ocean; it was dark grey, but not the metal or the flannel kind of grey— more like grey mud. There were no waves; the sea was just kind of undulating up and down and it was up way higher than it usually is. That’s when I knew a tidal wave was going to hit really soon and wash everything away. I had just watched a TV show about tidal waves, so I felt pretty sure I knew what to look for; I vividly remember the promo for the documentary showed a ship being swallowed by the wave and then some big city being flooded. I ran to tell my mom—she was still sleeping— but she said we were not going to be hit with a tidal wave because we don’t have tidal waves here. She’s really gonna be sorry.

I ran downstairs to my friend Sheila’s apartment to warn her since they are on the first floor of our apartment building and they are sure to be in much more danger, but she wasn’t home. Maybe they already knew and left for higher ground, so I ran back upstairs. I decided I really needed to get ready for this. I searched the whole apartment before I saw my pink plastic bathtub from when I was a baby. It was filled with toys which I quickly dumped out. I could still fit in it—with some room for supplies—if I sat with my legs tucked up. I decided I would put it on the porch so that when the wave came, I could float out on it; I didn’t want to get stuck and drown in the apartment. Now I had to get what I needed in my boat quickly. I decided to pack a change of clothes, underwear, and an undershirt. I could wear my raincoat and boots and hold the see-through bubble umbrella Aunt Jean got me that was my favorite thing next to my Barbie Dream House. I decided on some band aids, since they don’t take up much room, one row of Ritz crackers, a grape drink, a can of tuna, and a fruit pie— which I didn’t really like because it had fruit in it. I also took one Barbie doll— which took me forever to decide on and then which outfit she should wear. I didn’t have a raincoat for her, but I had a kind of short shiny pink jacket and some little white boots. This was about all I could fit with me in my boat. I was ready.

I sat in my boat and waited; I put it so I could see the ocean through the rails on the porch. I waited a really long time, so I ate some of the crackers and drank a little bit of my juice. Then it started to rain; the wind was blowing the rain onto the porch and all my stuff was getting wet. I decided to bring the boat inside but keep it really close to the porch door so I could get out quickly. I stood there for a while, but I got kind of tired, so I decided to sit on the sofa and draw for a bit. I could still kind of see the ocean and keep an eye on it. My mom came out from the kitchen to tell me that she heard on the weather report that we weren’t going to have a tidal wave today, just rain and wind. I didn’t believe her; grown-ups always lie, always— and she would never tell me if something like this was going to happen anyways. Why would she? I waited and waited. I got so tired that I had to go to sleep. I tried to see if I could sleep in the boat, but my legs fell asleep first and I got pins and needles. Then I decided to lay on a blanket next to the boat, but the floor was super hard so I got in my bed. I decided to keep my boat next to my bed just in case. When I woke up it was almost dark. I was hungry, so I ate the rest of the Ritz crackers and finished the grape juice. Thank god I didn’t have to eat that pie. My mom came in and fished out the tuna. “How were you gonna open this?”

Even though this was a long time ago and I’m all grown up now, a small part of me always feels like some tidal wave is still coming. And I need to make sure I always have a can opener.

Copyright © 2016 MRStrauss • All rights reserved

Insalata Caprese with Smoked Mozzarella and Basil

Caprese 1

This is almost too simple to put here, but I love this version with smoked mozzarella. All you need to do is slice or cut your tomatoes however you want, sprinkle with sea salt flakes and let sit for a few minutes while you cut up the mozzarella and basil. In this recipe, the mozzarella is more of an accent than a equal player; sometimes I do little cubes, sometimes sticks. If I have enough basil florets, I’ll use those; if not, I’ll do a chiffonade. The trick here, for me— and maybe this is just my imagination— is pouring the balsamic vinegar over the tomatoes before putting the mozzarella on top because I think it makes the cheese go tough. Weird. Also, some folks think adding vinegar is a travesty, but I think a little works well here. So, to taste and depending how hungry you are, tomatoes, salt flakes, olive oil, balsamic vinegar (you need very little of this, probably around teaspoon for a cup and a half of tomatoes), fresh cracked pepper, smoked mozzarella, and basil. Pair it with garlic bread and corn on the cob and voila! And a big glass of ice water with lemon, double voila!

Copyright © 2016 MRStrauss • All rights reserved

Mono No Aware: Tomato Jungle

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Just a few short weeks ago, the garden was tripping over itself. I used to pluck and trim my tomato plants like Bonsai, but after a few years of awesome tomatoes, I had a run of bad luck: hard tomatoes, yellow leaf disease, spoiled blackbirds who ate but one bite of each. After giving up for a season, I decided to let the plants grow as they pleased and they made themselves a jungle. Now, after the most enormous haul of tomatoes ever, they have given in to exhaustion.

Copyright © 2016 MRStrauss • All rights reserved