New Dish!

PPenh Chili

Chile in bowl, Phnom Penh

Things are looking different around here. If you’re new to Rambling Spoon, welcome! If you’re a repeat visitor, you’ll notice the shift in design. Perhaps you’ve also noticed the recent lack of activity here. That will change, starting now.

Greetings from a revamped Rambling Spoon. The new design should make this a friendlier reading experience no matter your device—desktop, laptop, tablet or phone. And the new pages, I hope, will offer something enticing.

Here’s what’s happened: in the past year or so, as my workloads piled ever higher and my outside life traveled in new directions, I found less and less room for Rambling Spoon. But that was odd. Because I wasn’t writing or thinking any less about food. I hadn’t stopped traveling. I hadn’t quit researching agriculture, cooking, climate, food safety, food policy, politics and all the other ingredients that combine to tell the human story of food.

I just didn’t have the right venue. I found the old design to be limiting, and I found my old system (using Facebook for posting tidbits on food news) ineffective. For one thing, Facebook controls who among subscribers will see any particular post (and who will not). Plus, the format isn’t always what I would choose, and it’s not the place to post copyrighted photos whose outcome I care about.

What I needed was a new tool, a new design that gives me freedom to post what I want in the way I want—with the aim of helping as many interested readers find what they want. This is just the start; I have lots of plans in mind. But for now, let’s get you started in navigating the new design:

VTE Food 26

Mekong riverside stalls, Vientiane

• Check out the new NEWS BITES link at the top. This is where I will post regular blurbs related to all things food (and environment, and people, and the intersections of all three). I’m doing this every day anyway, aggregating news and research from around the world. I’d posted some of these links to Facebook before, but that wasn’t doing the job. Think of the NEWS BITES page as your regular Rambling Spoon news service.

• Check out the new TRAVEL link at the top. This is where I will post travel stories, news, blurbs, bits & bobs, big and small, all about travel, all over the map, near and far. And of course, we always have to eat when we travel, so you’ll find plenty of food here, too.

• Do continue to check the Rambling Spoon FACEBOOK page. Like us if you haven’t already; spread the word to your friends. I will continue to post there—different items you won’t always find here.

• Do check out Rambling Spoon on INSTAGRAM. As you might already know, most of the photos you see here on site are taken by my talented husband, Jerry Redfern. He’s a professional. He’s been doing this photojournalism thing since the days of darkrooms and developer. But I have started my own Instagram account for fun stuff, for spur-of-the-moment shots on my phone and tasty little things I find in the field (literally, sometimes). I post these not for their technical merits (or lack thereof) but for the sake of sharing visual ideas as they strike.

• Check out the sidebar. This is where you will find the archive, blog post categories, my other Internet hangouts and journalistic work (which isn’t always related to food… but it usually is in one way or another). You’ll also find a few of my latest tweets.

• Stay tuned. I’ll be adding more features in the future – including video, audio and reviews (books, movies, foods & drinks).

• And do tell me what you think! Suggest other changes you would like to see. Tell me if you’d be interested in future offerings such as an annual calendar featuring Jerry’s food photos, or a Rambling Spoon recipe book with stories from the field. Or a podcast… the options are wide open.

Enjoy the feast!

Kulen Sticky Rice

Kids with sticky rice, Phnom Kulen, Cambodia

Navajo Art & Ai Weiwei, Fall Aspens, Tapas & Paella in Santa Fe

SFAspensA

If you’re near Santa Fe anytime soon, I highly recommend this itinerary:

Check out the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (MoCNA) for a documentary on the extraordinary, historic desert art installation collaboration between Navajo artist Bert Benally and Chinese activist/artist Ai Weiwei.

Afterward, take a drive up Highway 475 to see the aspens in all their color (but hurry!).

Then settle into an excellent set of tapas and paella, with sherry, at La Boca.

SFAspensC

SFAspensB

Cooking Lao Food for 40

ThaiPeppers

Fresh, hot chiles

THIS is why I love food, communal food: it has the power to turn a gathering of strangers into a collective event. It makes the foreign experience feel less so. It happens every time we travel to Laos, when villagers bring us to their kitchen fires or hand us glasses of Beerlao and insist we help them celebrate (whatever the celebration might be). That’s the spirit I’d hoped to share Friday night, here in Albuquerque. Thank you, Slow Food ABQ and the Center for Peace & Justice! Thanks to all who came and made our food tasting & presentation happen.

RoastingPeppers

Chiles on the grill, for jaeow

I admit, cooking for 40 is stressful (despite my love of mortars & pestles, sharp knives, open fires and woks). Jerry and I might have shared a few terse words in the process. But in the end, it worked.

We guessed on the number, and we guessed right. Sticky rice, purple rice, laap, tam maak hoong, three types of jaeow, and pumpkin/mushroom soup—almost nothing came home with us. The room filled, as did plates and cups. We showed photos, mostly of Lao food and scenery, but also farming amid unexploded bombs. The crowd stuck around to ask questions. Lots and lots of questions—kudos to you, Albuquerque! Thank you for the chance to answer and explain.

PoundingRice

Pounded roasted sticky rice grains for laap

LotsaStuff

Prep time: a cluttered kitchen table

Several people asked about recipes, so I’ll try to point you in the right directions. We had sticky rice (soak the rice overnight, drain the liquid, then steam in a contraption like this), purple rice (cook in water like regular rice), tomato chile dip (jaeow mak len, recipe here), green chile dip (roast a bunch of New Mexico green chiles, then simmer and puree with lots of garlic and fish sauce), eggplant dip (jaeow mak keua: cook in a similar manner to the tomato dip, using roasted eggplants, chile, salt, roasted garlic, spring onions and cilantro); green papaya salad (tam maak hoong: David Thompson’s Thai version is a close and trustworthy approximation); minced tofu salad (laap: this version, without the eggplant or sesame); and pumpkin-mushroom soup. The latter is a northern dish, based on myriad varieties we’ve tasted in the hills:

Pumpkin-Mushroom Herb Soup, from northern Laos

Ingredients:
5 cups water
1 medium pumpkin or winter squash cut into bite-sized chunks (I used kabocha)
2 cups mushrooms, sliced
3 small, hot chiles, chopped (more or less to taste)
1 head roasted garlic
3-4 fragrant lemongrass stalks, cut into 5-inch sections, outer skin removed, bruised to release flavor
2 tablespoons fish sauce (or soy sauce)
1 2-inch section of galangal, cut into chunks
fresh lime juice to taste
salt to taste
hefty bunch of basil, dill, cilantro and spring onion, roughly chopped

Method:
In a large pot or crock pot add water, pumpkin, chiles, garlic, lemongrass, galangal and fish sauce. Simmer until pumpkin begins to soften. Add mushrooms and cook until flavors are balanced and pumpkin is soft but not disintegrated (the kabocha is nice because its firm but edible skin adds texture and helps keep the shape of the squash pieces). The pumpkin/squash will make the soup sweet; you want to balance the ingredients for a good mix of sweet, salty, spicy, tangy and that aromatic freshness from the abundance of herbs. Add more fish sauce/salt if necessary. Ladle the soup over a handful of chopped herbs in a bowl. Drizzle enough lime over the soup to complete the flavor balance.

RoastedGarlic

Garlic hot off the grill. Notice the G on the cutting board? Many years ago, we grew tired of our morning fruit tasting like garlic, so we started labeling our boards: G on one side, F on the other.

A Look at Land Rights on World Food Day

Heading to fields in Shan State

Danu tribal family farmers heading to their fields in Shan State, Myanmar

It’s World Food Day, an annual celebration marking the establishment of the Food and Agriculture Organization, which was founded  in 1945. This year, the day honors family farmers with the theme of “feeding the world, caring for the earth.” The United Nations named 2014 “The International Year of the Family Farmer” to emphasize the key role that small-scale growers play in global food security.

We’ve been taking a hard look at hunger in recent months, trying to get at the root causes of under- and malnutrition. The picture is not always as it appears. The world is not short of food. The reasons people go hungry are complicated, often political, and frequently misrepresented in the news.

For example: land titles. Not the most common subject of news reports on “how to feed the world” or “the future of food.” We hear about the need for new technologies, more efficient farming methods, increased production capable of feeding a planet of 9 billion people—all meaningful points. But in some parts of the developing world, land rights must come first. If a family loses its farmland to an industrial agricultural operation, it might not matter how much food that corporation produces; that family may very well go hungry. Or be forced to move and find new work. Or be incapable of paying for the food grown on the land the family previously farmed. Or all of the above, while the corporation’s food goes to someone else with more money.

Here, in honor of small-scale farmers worldwide and their struggles to keep and maintain their own land, I am posting a few images and snippets of stories we have encountered this year:

Chhek Sambo Cambodia

Cambodian Chhek Sambo stands on the land she is fighting to secure. Her village is embroiled in a longstanding dispute over land titles, ever since a local official sold their fields out from under them. It’s a complicated story. Sambo and her neighbors settled this property years ago, at the end of the Khmer Rouge war. There were no legal titles then, just the permission of a local official. But now, wealthier investors want the land—as the villagers struggle to feed themselves while simultaneously fighting the legal battles necessary to get an official title. More to the story here, in Slate.

Riths former farm

But even a proper title doesn’t necessarily mean the land is secure—not in Cambodia. Here, our good friend, Rith, a journalist, stands with his son, Soseth, on the land that grew their family’s rice for 30 years—until a Taiwanese company built a factory on the edge of his fields. Rith says he doesn’t know who really owns the factory or what it will produce, but a powerful company broker has successfully persuaded several nearby farmers to sell their fields at a cut rate. Rith, like a few others, refused. The company built walls around the surrounding fields—nothing but dirt now—and dug giant holes that caused several fields to collapse. Other plots, like this, are smothered in runoff. Rice will no longer grow here, Rith says. Local officials want him to take a substitute parcel of land in another area. But Rith says that is not a proper solution. He has a legal title to this land, which he worked and farmed for decades. No more.

Beans in Shan State

Picking Beans Shan State

In Shan State, Myanmar, Danu farmers grow green beans for their own families. What they don’t eat, they pack into sacks and transport (by foot or motorbike) to the nearest small town or village with a train stop. It’s not a lucrative job, but this type of small-scale farming has long sustained rural life. Villagers say most people don’t accumulate much money; many don’t have bank accounts. They often trade the foods they grow for the supplies they need. They and their ancestors have occupied this part of Shan State for generations, and here the people are not afraid of losing their land (in other regions, the story is very different). But there is another problem. “The land is tired,” villagers say. As the population grows and families expand, farm fields are divided among more and more people. Farming becomes more intensive. It requires more chemicals (in decades past, none were used). Insects are constant threats, and village elders wonder what will happen in the future. They have land—but it’s not enough for the people or their livestock. What will the people farm next? Where can they turn, when “the land is tired”?

Worker lunch Kampot

Garment wroker lunch PNH

The people pictured above are on lunch break from their day jobs. They are obviously not farming—but chances are, they once did. Many still do. They plant their fields in the countryside, then work in garment factories or construction jobs in the city until it’s time to harvest. This is Cambodia. This is the story of many countries in which family farming is a constant struggle for survival. In previous years, people say, they needed very little money to survive. It’s different now. Yes, some of today’s money goes toward cell phones and motorbikes and new clothes. But it also goes toward bribes, and the fees that teachers charge in order for their kids to pass from one grade to the next, and the exorbitant interest paid on loans taken out when a family member gets sick and the doctor requires payment before offering treatment. If debt becomes overwhelming, many are forced to sell their land. And then they end up here, in the city, with nothing to plant or harvest. For many of the world’s poorest family farmers, a simple problem can lead to years of struggle. The above two photos indeed depict an image of modern-day family farmers: working off the farm, away from the land they once maintained.

Phonsavanh Food 11

A Celebration of Lao Food & Farming

 

Phonsavanh Food 11

Farming in Laos

Khao niaw, sticky rice. It’s the lifeblood of lowland Laos. The Lao phrase “to eat” specifically implies eating glutinous rice. To some, sticky rice is an integral part of national and ethnic identity.

Many Laotian meals are designed around glutinous rice, which is taken with the right hand and formed into little balls for dipping into sauces, salads, soups and stews. Most basic, most pertinent to the Lao table are jaeow—a pounded chile paste with endless varieties of herb and spice combinationsand padaek, fermented fish paste, a staple ingredient of many dishes.

In the highlands, it is mountain rice that sustains the farmers who plant steep slopes in an array of grains, ranging in color from red to brown to purple. Laos maintains one of the world’s highest per capita consumption rates of rice: somewhere between 247 pounds and 395 pounds a year, depending on the study and its methodology. More than 70 percent of Laotian families grow their own rice. In Laos, dinner depends on the land close to home.

Phonsavanh Food 17

A market vendor sells fritters in Phonsavanh, Laos.

Slow Food ABQIf you are in New Mexico, please join us Friday for a special celebration of Lao food and farming, hosted by Slow Food Albuquerque. (Click on the link to RSVP.) Festivities begin at 6:30 pm at the Center for Peace and Justice. We’ll have sticky rice, jaeow and a spread of Laotian foods for you to try (as well as a very special variety of tea).

Many people ask me how Lao food compares to Thai food, which is better known in this country. It’s similar… but not.

Phonsavanh Food 15

Most every Lao meal includes chiles—fresh or pounded, in sauces and pastes.

Lao food is typically less sweet, often spicier, sometimes bitter (bitterness can connote nutritional and health benefits), typically herbal and earthy. Traditional country food is home-grown (or hunted or foraged), hand-picked and freshly prepared. In Laos, a soup or stew will often come with a mound of fresh herbs, as we might see spinach or lettuce piled high in our own kitchens.

Phonsavanh Food 07

Fresh herbs and lime accompany many Lao dishes.

Please come—we’d love to share this food with you. Take a plate, then watch and listen for a while as we give a multimedia presentation on Lao farming and the long-term effects of war on the land. If you’ve been reading this blog or my other writings for a while, you probably already know the numbers: between 1964 and 1973, in an offshoot of the Vietnam War, US forces flew more than 580,000 bombing missions over Laos. Millions of pounds of bombs were dumped across the country in the equivalent of one bombing raid every eight minutes for nine years. Today, millions of unexploded bombs remain, making farming a risky endeavor.

Perhaps you have already seen one of our slideshow presentations on unexploded bombs in Laos. This will be different—more food photos, more color, more flavor.

We would love to see you on October 17.

VTE Food 22

A typical Lao assortment: pounded fragrant mushrooms with herbs and chiles, served with cabbage and boiled greens, to be eaten with sticky rice.

Hard Truths about Farming & Gardening

Spotty grape leaf 1

A few weeks ago we attended a screening of a documentary, “Growing Cities,” about the rise in urban farming across America. From rooftops to empty lots, from New York to Oregon, people are growing their own food (as humanity did for millennia until relatively recently on the evolutionary scale). The evening, hosted by Slow Food Albuquerque at the Skarsgard Farms warehouse, attracted a modest crowd of locals with coolers in hand, brats for the open grill, and cash for Skarsgard’s own hard cider. The rain came down and lightning lit the sky. It was a pleasant night in the big open room beneath the warehouse awning.

But a little something nagged me. Just a little bit.

I’ve watched hours upon hours of food documentaries through the years, and I’m always eager for the next one. Urban farming: it’s a good thing. Right? We want more of it. Right?

Yes, of course we do. But in order for that to happen, I think we need a little more truth.

Just a little bit.

Farming isn’t easy, and neither is gardening. Yet I find myself leaving so many of these documentaries feeling upbeat and energetic, ready to conquer the raised beds (or, rather, smooth talk them into abundant production). But then I start digging in the dirt and I find an endless tangle of bindweed. I start inspecting our grape leaves, and I find this:

 

Spotty grape leaf 2

I look a little further, and I find fruit that’s starting to show an ugly side…

Spotty grapes 2

…and strange little creatures huddled on the underparts of our pepper leaves (does anyone know what these are??? I haven’t been able to ID them).

Pepper bugs

Every day in the dirt is a battle with and against nature. We are rewarded with tomatoes (when they actually survive) and peppers (when they actually grow), bundles of basil (fingers crossed, two years in a row), and oodles of mint (people call it a weed but I welcome it). But day in and day out, the work grinds. There are at times more failures than successes. It’s a lot like journalism that way.

I wish more of these new-future-of-food documentaries would be a little more honest about the grueling effort it takes to grow a single head of lettuce—let alone enough to fill the family pantry. Farming isn’t all sunshine and roses, gardening isn’t all peaches and cream. Many people give up, and I don’t blame them. They’re tired. The Earth is tired. (That, in fact, is exactly what Shan farmers told us during our trek through the hills there: They love farming but the land is tired, the insects are thriving, and consequently farmers are responding with more and more pesticides.)

I’m not trying to be a downer or a whiner. I just think we all need to appreciate more the turmoil that happens behind the scenes… in the many hours between those lovely shots of planting seeds and the joyous smiles of farmers reaping great harvests.

It’s hard. If you know anyone who tries to grow food on a big or small scale, give that person a hug or a handshake today. And praise the little creatures that help them along, like this predator found on a stalk of lovage:

Praying mantis 2

(By the way, it turns out our grapes apparently were thirsty, despite abundant rain and ritual watering. Even a downpour that floods the surface of our yard won’t necessarily reach the extremely long taproots that grapes and other plants have developed.)

On Gardens Near & Far. And Summer Squash Soup.

Danu girl with tomatoesA Danu girl sorts through her family’s home-grown tomatoes in Shan State, Myanmar.

Hello there. It’s been a while. I apologize for my absence from this space—not that I’ve forgotten it, or you. It’s been on my mind a lot in the last many weeks. But you know how life takes us in multiple directions and we can’t always be everywhere, do everything, we’d like. Sometimes, the immediate needs our attention. Sometimes, we really can’t multitask. But then, if you’re like me, you eventually feel a nagging need to “catch up.”

Yet I dislike that term because it’s packed with negativity and the implication that we are somehow failing, somehow falling behind, even when we pour every ounce of ourselves and our energy into the hours and days as they pass. “Being in the moment,” as they say, attending to timely needs. Is that failure? It shouldn’t be.

So, let’s not catch up. Let’s just be, here, now.

Here, for me, is at home in New Mexico once again after a three-month journey through Asia. This trip felt longer than others. Longer—but busier, more intense. Just a few weeks ago, we trekked through Shan State and talked to farmers about their lives (thanks, in part, to SEJ’s FEJ grants). Now we’re home, digging our hands into the summer soil in a garden growing abundantly, thanks to new rain. Worlds apart, but not that different. There is a universal connection among people who work the land to grow food on a small scale. There is something unifying in that purpose. Though our histories and cultures and languages differ dramatically, every small-scale farmer, gardener and garmer understands how to watch the sky and feel the soil. We all fear pests and drought. We all cheer for good harvests.

Pa-O garlicGarlic stored in the home of a Pa-O family, Shan State, Myanmar.

I took the snapshot above on the ground floor of a Pa-O house in a village where just about everyone grows garlic. Garlic lay in mounds on the living room floor. Garlic scented the air. Garlic, everywhere. Farmers worked the fields on steep slopes across high mountaintops. Where garlic didn’t grow, ginger and turmeric and peanuts did.

Here at home everyone grows chiles, of course. Chiles along with corn, beans and squash—the three sisters (although we’re growing none of the sisters this year). We started our garden late, but already our first jalapeno has arrived….

First jalapenoOur first garden jalapeno of 2014, New Mexico.

…and the farmers markets are abundant in squash. One night shortly after we got home, I inadvertently stumbled into a new (to us) way of eating calabacita squash: grilled and puréed with complementary spices. I’d asked Jerry to grill the squash, envisioning thin slices lightly toasted. Instead, he’d sliced them in half lengthwise and charred them, akin to eggplant. So I cut away the char and scooped out the flesh. Then I mixed it and mashed it with a bit of onion, garlic, oregano, salt and olive oil. It was delicious, and we ate it with steak tacos.

Grilled mashed calabacitasGrilled & smashed calabacita squash.

Last week, we applied the concept to yellow summer squash soup with plentiful garden herbs. Here’s what happened. I recommend it for those summer weeks before other veggies come in and everywhere, it seems, there is squash to be devoured:

Grilled Summer Squash Soup

Ingredients:
2-3 large summer squash (I used yellow but any will work), split lengthwise
several cloves of garlic, minced
1 white or yellow onion, chopped roughly
1 healthy handful of fresh sage leaves, minced
1 healthy handful of fresh oregano, leaves minced
1 handful of sundried tomatoes, diced
a healthy sprinkling of dried chile powder (heat to your liking)
a dash of cumin powder
cooked sausage, chopped (optional)
butter or oil for frying
glug of white wine
water
salt & pepper
drizzle of olive oil
crème fraîche (1 dollop per serving)

Method:
Grill the squash until skin is charred but flesh is soft and smoky-sweet inside. Times will vary depending on squash size and grill temperature. When ready, remove from heat and let cool. Scrape away blackened skin and discard. Roughly chop the remaining squash and set aside.

In a deep pot or pan, heat the onion and garlic in butter or oil. Add squash and wine. Stir frequently until ingredients soften, then cover with cool water. Purée mixture with hand-held mixer or in a food processor. Return to low heat and stir in sage, oregano, tomatoes, chile, cumin, salt and pepper. Mix well. Add chopped sausage if using (I added a leftover brat from the 4th of July). Drizzle with olive oil if needed for taste, and serve with a dollop of crème fraîche.

CowBoy

Hungry Farmers Are Losing Land

©2014/Jerry Redfern

Meet Chhek Sambo. She lives in a village not too far from Siem Reap, a burgeoning town of tourists who flock to the ancient Angkor temples. It’s a hip place to be, routinely noted as such on lists of the world’s top tourist cities. You can get a $2 hour-long foot massage, drink $2 happy hour cocktails and eat $1 tacos. On the other hand, you can drop $100 on a Siem Reap dinner any night—pick your cuisine, this city will have it.

But Sambo lives in a different universe down the road, where she and her neighbors are fighting to keep their land. All their lives, they have grown their own food. Farming is the only job they’ve known. It’s all they say they want to do. But a previous village chief sold their land, without their consent, to a wealthy buyer. Now, the villagers are fighting for land titles that would give them legal standing in this struggle.

©2014/Jerry Redfern

It’s a story played out ’round the world, every day, by family farmers whose biggest aims are to feed themselves.

CowBoy

Sambo and her neighbors raise chickens, geese and cows. They grow plentiful mangoes…

MangoNeighbor

that cling to their shady trees. It’s not an easy life, but it’s a life they say makes them happy. Still, they hunger. Some days, dinner is nothing more than rice with chile paste…

ChiliRice

This fight to keep their land exacerbates their troubles.

It’s popular these days to talk about feeding the world, and a future population of 9 billion people. Ask Sambo what she needs to secure her future, her food, and she is clear: It must start with land.

She is not alone. You can read more about this issue in my story for Slate.

Cold Coconut Cheers

NewYearCoconut

Happy New Year to all! We are here in Southeast Asia as the masses celebrate the end of one cycle and the start of a new. In typical dry-season fashion, it’s a scorcher of a month. We spent yesterday playing tourist, tromping about the Angkor temples with 63 million of our fellow peeps. (OK, 63 million might be an exaggeration, but it felt like such a crush of humanity.) I can say with 100 percent assurance: there is nothing so welcome, so necessary as a cold coconut after a hike up a stone temple in the mid-day heat. $1. One coconut. Two straws. This, friends, is the wondrous coconut water that has so many health-conscious Westerners in a craze. Here it is, straight from the tree.

And here we are, in Cambodia. Not what we’d originally planned—but many a wise person before me has said it: Life is what happens while you’re making other plans. A travel snafu had us switching course (if you’re interested, you can read my thoughts about it here). And the new blog design was muffled in the mess. More snafus. The new look is still coming… but not just yet. Right now, we’re on the road, working, living, gathering stories. We both want to be in the moment doing that—not fixing design glitches. So I will continue posting bits and bobs here, and I will post blurbs to the Facebook page and Twitter, until our course shifts again and we’re in a spot where we can devote attention to our computers.

If you’re interested in everything else that’s been keeping us so busy these months, have a look here and here and here and here. Further: Jerry’s adding new tidbits to 63Beds.

AngkorFriends

Meanwhile, best wishes to all for good health, peace and happiness in the next year.

P Bakheng

Blueberries w:chevre & Naga chile chocolate

Hot Naga Chile-Chocolate Sauce, Oh My

Naga chile half

Hello readers,

I’m here! (Some of you have asked.) I haven’t abandoned you, or this site, or my commitment to food. But the year so far has kicked me in the pants with deadlines, book promotions, travel prep and plans for a little shake-up here at Rambling Spoon.

The next time you come around, we should be on our way to Yangon. And you’ll find a little something different here on the site. I’m thinking more interactive, more video, more sounds. And more opportunity for a mix of long-form stories with daily blurbs.

If you follow the Rambling Spoon Facebook page, you know that’s where I like to post daily tidbits on all things food—the politics of what we eat, threats to farm and field, people who grow our goods, recipes that make our kitchens come to life. (You’ll find some of these things on Twitter too. Come join us on Twitter if you haven’t already!) If you’ve followed the Facebook page for a while, you might have noticed… that you’re not noticing it as often anymore. That’s a problem, and this explains why. The Facebook gods aren’t showing you everything there is to see, and they’re hoping folks like us pay to change that.

Well, that’s not what Rambling Spoon is about. Frankly, I give enough of my heart, soul and—yes—dollars to the work I do and the issues I think important. (Eternal Harvest never would have come about, had we not paid out of pocket for the reporting that went into it.) So rather than pay Facebook to reach you, I’m going to reshape this space to accommodate the content I want to offer—short reads, long reads, links, blurbs, tidbits, quotes, comments, photos, videos, sounds and snippets from the world of food. (I’ll still keep the Facebook page too, but you’ll be able to start using this site as a regular source of newsier information.) It’s not all set in stone yet, the wheels are in motion. But soon, very soon, Rambling Spoon will offer something new.

FIRST, though, I want to tell you about the Nagas and the chocolate.

That photo up top is half a Naga chile, grown last summer in our New Mexico garden. We’d purchased two bhut jolokia plants from a local vendor after several unsuccessful previous attempts to grow what once was, not so long ago, the world’s hottest chile. (If you’ve been around this spot for a very long time, you might recall the story we did for Gourmet in 2008, traveling to Nagaland to meet the farmers who grow those wicked-hot chiles.)

Well something in the air, the water (or lack thereof) last summer worked wonders…

Naga chiles in basket

…and we ended up with a bumper crop of Nagas. Pequins, too—those little guys beside the biggies in the basket above.

Bunch of pequins & Naga chiles

The pequins I like to crush into just about anything. They’re fruity and aromatic, with just the right amount of heat to appease my spice-liking taste buds without overpowering. But the Nagas present a dilemma.

We have a whole jar of them, dried and waiting. But this isn’t the sort of chile to just crumble into a morning smoothie (as we do pequins) or toss into a stir-fry with the tofu and veggies. This chile’s a killer. (Read the story.) We’re talking more than a million on the Scoville scale. We’re talking bleary eyes, scorched tongue, dizzy head and borderline dementia.

What do you do with a chile like that?

Chocolate.

One day last month, my dear sister-in-law arrived with a jar of her version of “5-Star Hot Fudge Sauce,” based on a recipe belonging to a longtime family friend. Except Joanna’s recipe used spices and chile, and it had kick. But here’s the thing: she took the chile out after a few minutes in the pan. It merely mingled with the cream and sugar, just long enough to infuse the mixture with flavor (and plenty of heat).

Hungry yet?

Here’s the recipe. Thank you, Joanna (and Mrs. Ess).

5-Star Hot Fudge Sauce with Chile & Spices
Based on a recipe by Conni Ess

Ingredients:
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
8 ounces bitter or semi-sweet chocolate
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
3 teaspoons unsalted butter cut into bits
2-3 teaspoons dark rum, if desired
1 Naga chile (if you dare)
2-3 smaller, less potent chiles such as pequins
1 cinnamon stick
seeds from 2-3 cardamom pods

Method:
In a medium-large saucepan, cook the cream, spices and chile over medium-low heat until it is reduced to about 1 1/2 cups (about 15-20 minutes). Do not let it boil. This requires some attention and stirring to make sure the fat stays incorporated.

Once the cream is reduced, whisk in the brown sugar until it is smooth. Remove the pan from heat. Strain the spices and chile through a sieve to remove them from the mixture.

Put the cream mix back in the pot, and add all the chocolate. Stir until it is all melted (over low heat, if necessary). Do not boil the mixture at any point.

Whisk in the butter until smooth. If using, add the rum.

This makes about 3 cups of (Joanna’s words) “amaze-balls fudge sauce.” Keep in an air-tight container in the fridge if you need to store it. Great with ice cream or straight out of the jar.

Or…

with blueberries and honey chèvre, served in a cocktail glass. Like this:

Blueberries w:chevre & Naga chile chocolate