About the Rambler



Welcome to my ramblings on dinner & drink, people & places, our planet’s health & the future of food. I’m a journalist, author and media trainer. My kitchen forever smells of garlic and curry. And much like my mother, I start thinking of dinner long before breakfast….

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

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

Happy Holidays, With Chile Jam

RS Holiday Bird

Above, a view from Christmas past: Wisconsin 2012. From all reports, something similar is happening there this year. Meanwhile, we’re at home in New Mexico now, beneath bright blue skies with a bit of snow on the mountains and luminarias to light the streets at night. Wherever in the world you are, may the season bring you peace and love. May the year ahead bring wonder.

I spent a bit of time in the kitchen yesterday, before our family outing to the Nutcracker (colorful, playful performance, this one!). I’d had this idea that cranberries and citrus would pair well with New Mexico chiles for a sweet-spicy jam. And then I made something a little more Asian style. Enjoy: two chiles for a lively new year:

New Mexico Chile-Cranberry-Orange Jam:

Ingredients:
1 bag of fresh cranberries
2 cups dried red New Mexico chiles
3 juicing oranges
1 cup brown sugar
pinch of salt

Method:
Douse the chiles in boiling water and let sit until softened; drain liquid and reserve.

Juice the oranges, discarding seeds but keeping the pulp.

Meanwhile, boil the cranberries in 1 1/2 cups water (or as needed to cover the berries) for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and pour through sieve into a separate dish. Smash the cranberries through the sieve. Skins can be added to the juice if you prefer a chunkier, more rustic jam; otherwise, discard. Add sugar to cranberry juice and stir well while still warm. Add salt. Add orange juice and pulp, as well as the softened chiles. Blend well in a food processor or using a hand-held immersion blender. Add chile water as needed to achieve the consistency you desire.

Use with cornbread or pancakes, drizzled over vanilla ice cream, rubbed on grilled pork or…. ?

 

Southeast-Southwest Chile Paste:
This recipe blends flavors of the Southwest US and Southeast Asia

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups dried red New Mexico chiles
3 cloves garlic
3 lemongrass stalks, minced
1 large hunk ginger
salt
1 1/2 cups peanuts

Method:
Douse the chiles in boiling water and let sit until softened; drain liquid and reserve.

Peel and mince the lemongrass finely; if the pieces are too large, they will not mix well with the other ingredients.

Blend all ingredients in a food processor, or using a mortar and pestle or hand-held immersion blender. Add chile liquid as necessary to create a smooth paste. Add salt to bring out the flavors; you want the paste to have a salty flavor.

Use in grilling or baking chicken or pork. Rub on tofu for frying. Eat as a chip dip (perhaps adding a bit more chile liquid). Eat with rice. Stir-fry with vegetables. Or… ?

Chili Jam B

Lessons & Recipes from a Holiday Kitchen

This year, we decided to spend Thanksgiving at home, alone. Just the two of us. We don’t hate our families, we’re not anti-social. We’ve just had months and months of travels hither and yon, with multiple visits to relatives east and west, and more planned for Christmas. We were tired. Still are. But we . . . → Ramble More: Lessons & Recipes from a Holiday Kitchen

Olives & Everything.

It’s the little stuff, life’s petty displeasures—muddy floors, email glitches, lost time, lack of sleep, bikes with flat tires just when I want to ride—that ruffle me and make me that person I don’t want to be. The person who lacks perspective.

But it’s also the little stuff that does just the opposite: makes . . . → Ramble More: Olives & Everything.

A Borneo Food Diary

For use on Ramblingspoon.com ONLY - NOT FOR REPOSTING OR REUSE

Lunch, Day 10

I should never write a blog post while hungry!

If you’ve been coming ’round here for a while, you might recall a post I did several years ago, A Rural Lao Food Diary. We’d just come off a nine-day trip to the hinterlands in Phongsali, way up near the . . . → Ramble More: A Borneo Food Diary

What is Rain?

A woman gazes through a window at the Bario Asal Longhouse as rain pummels the area.

I started this post a few days ago, before this and this and this. Before nature smacked Colorado with a torrent of “biblical” proportions, a storm of the century, possibly the millennium. Here in New Mexico, . . . → Ramble More: What is Rain?

The Edible Jungle

There is a place in the hills where domestic meets wild, where humans meet jungle. Where the fertile valleys between forested mountains shelter villagers who plant fruit trees and rice and kitchen gardens across the acres they tame. But the wild – the jungle – also harbors a biodiversity that has long supplied the . . . → Ramble More: The Edible Jungle

Introducing: A Farm, a Website, a Recipe for Grilled Padróns

ACKKK!

Confession: every time I look at this site lately, I’m socked with guilt. Guilt, because I see the expansive gaps between my posts. Guilt, because I miss my time with food and words, words and food. We’ve been busy. We’ve had a gazillion things going on . . . → Ramble More: Introducing: A Farm, a Website, a Recipe for Grilled Padróns

Rhubarb & Rain

Rhubarb and strawberry sauce on yogurt with fresh mint leaves.

A summertime strawberry double whammy: berries topped with yogurt, mint and rhubarb-strawberry sauce.

Here in New Mexico, we are living in exceptional times – “exceptional” being the word weather monitors use to describe some of the nation’s worst drought conditions: rivers gone dry, ditches of dust. We’ve seen some relief this past . . . → Ramble More: Rhubarb & Rain