Coleslaw with daikon & radishes and creamy dill-almond dressing

Daikon, radish, dill colesalw

We got some daikon from our CSA. Of course, daikon always reminds me of the giant radish spirit in Spirited Away. The night we ate this coleslaw, I lay awake for a while thinking about the film, which I love, obviously – as I’ve said a million times, I love the idea of spirits all around us – spirits of polluted rivers and giant radishes, spirits of animals, food and people. It all begins with a meal. On their journey to a new home, Chihiro and her family take a wrong turn. They stop for a meal in a strange place, and her parents eat with ridiculous greed. They eat like pigs, and as a result, they’re turned into pigs. So Chihiro is stuck on an island of spirits. She’s remarkably brave, and she faces all sorts of strangeness with pluck and sass. She takes a job in the boiler room of a bathhouse, and works her way up to the baths themselves, where she meets strange spirits of every shape. Throughout the film, food has the power to comfort or transform. It becomes a part of each creature’s identity and it forms part of the judgement leveled upon them. Chihiro’s friend Haku offers her a small berry to eat when she’s becoming transparent, and this makes her more solid. When the spirits complain of her foreign smell, Haku says that once she’s eaten their food for a few days she’ll smell like everyone else. And he offers her rice to eat to build her strength after an ordeal. At the other extreme, we have a polluted river spirit, made ill by all of the junk and dirt he’s swallowed, and No Face, who eats everyone in his path and becomes so huge that only Chihiro’s magic emetic dumpling will save him. What and how people and spirits eat becomes as much a part of who they are as their name, and when they forget their name they forget their history. It’s such a strange and wonderful film!

I like daikon raw, so I decided to combine it with cabbages and radishes, also from the farm, and to toss them all in a creamy (vegan) almond dill and caper dressing. I liked it a lot! It’s a nice combination of sweet, sharp and savory. Isaac liked it, too.

Here’s Bob Dylan with Spirit on the Water

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Creamy vegan cole slaw

Vegan cole slaw

The first apartment that David and I rented together was the second floor of a two-story house. The first floor was occupied by our landlady. She was a nice elderly woman who was very very anxious about the well-being of her second-floor apartment. When it rained she would call and tell us to close the windows. When something broke, she would trundle up the back stairs with a big roll of tape and put it back together. “To tape!” she would exclaim, giving us an insight into her home improvement methodology. With admirable regularity, she cooked a dish that, apparently, took the whole day to make. Starting early in the morning, the fragrance would waft up our back stairs and wend its way into our open windows. We called it “rubber glove stew.” The smell got stronger as the day wore on, and it clung to our furniture for days. I’m fairly certain that the stew contained cabbage, and, to this day, the smell of over-boiled cabbage makes me feel a little queasy. Poor stinky brassica! I do like cooked cabbage in certain situations, of course – quickly sauteed and wrapped in moo shoo pancakes is always nice! But when we got a lovely head of cabbage from our CSA, I decided to keep it raw and make (more) coleslaw. I’ve made lightly olive-oil-and-balsamic-dressed slaws recently with various fruits, nuts and cheeses to mix things up a bit. This time I wanted to make something that tasted more like a traditional cole slaw, but with a creamy almond dressing instead of mayonnaise. I’ve been thinking about it for a while, and I think it came out really well! Nice and sweet and crunchy and tangy and savory. The slaw is something of a prototype, because I kept it very simple. You could easily add any other thing you generally like in coleslaw. You could easily add roasted garlic or herbs to the dressing.

Here’s Cab Calloway & Dizzy Gillespie with Pickin’ the Cabbage. According to the scholars of youTube this is Gillespie’s first composition! He was 22!
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Coleslaw with apples, sharp cheddar and hazelnuts

Coleslaw with apples and cheddar

Hello, my dears! We’ve been in Cape May for a few days. For those not familiar with Cape May, it’s a small town on the very southern tip of New Jersey. It’s a shore shangri-la! Unlike many places at the shore, it had a bit of shade. It has lovely gardens and shady streets, and it also happens to be a place that birds, well, flock to. You have your shore birds, of course, and you busy house wrens, with all of their chattering, sweetly bubbling drama, you have your migratory warblers. And I could swear I saw a magpie! Of course we don’t have magpies in New Jersey, but as the bird books will tell you, birds frequently accidentally or casually visit Cape May. I love the idea of an accidental visitor, especially if the visitor is a bird. We were casual visitors to Cape May, and we had a lovely time. Malcolm is a reckless & graceful water dog. If he sees the water, he must be in it, and he’s a natural at swimming in waves. Isaac, who can’t swim yet, is far more cautious. I worry that he’s absorbing my anxieties, because for some strange reason, for the past few years I’ve had a strange fear of swimming in the ocean. I didn’t used to be this way! I don’t like being turned upside down, and discombobulated. I don’t like my feet pulled one way, and my head the other, and my whole self powerless to keep my bearings. Well…you know what’s more fun than doing something you’re comfortable with? Doing something you’re a little bit scared of, but you know is fun. Malcolm explained how to do it. You watch the waves for a while, to understand their pattern. Then you walk sideways, feeling with your left foot, to the point where the sand drops off a few feet. Then…you…leap! I was so happy! It was a really heart-poundingly ecstatic feeling, being in the waves with Malcolm and David. The water was lovely, cloudy celadon green, the sky round and vast and clear. There were dolphins playing a hundred yards out. We were swimming in the same water as dolphins! If you stood with your arms out, and your toes just touching the ground, the swell of the wave would lift you gently and rock you, and you’d hang suspended and breathless, until it softly set you in the sand again. Sometimes two waves would come in quick succession, and you’d hover in the water, waiting to be set down, but delighted to be lifted up.

I could go on and on about it (and I probably will!) but it’s back to life, back to reality, back to work, so I’ll keep it brief for now.

I’ll tell you about this simple coleslaw. This is a nice summer salad, because it’s supremely easy to prepare, and it’s light and clean, but quite substantial, too. It’s good to take to the shore, because cabbage, apples and carrots all travel well in a cooler. Apples and sharp cheddar are a classic combination, of course, and they’re nice here with the sweet bite of cabbage, and the nutty crunch of hazelnuts. I dressed this really simply, with olive oil, white wine vinegar, salt and lots of pepper. You could get fancier, with maybe a little dijon or honey or lemon, but I think the grated cheese added enough creaminess that a traditionally creamy dressing would have been too much too much. Isaac called this the “white salad,” and he liked it a lot. First he picked the hazelnuts out. Then, when everybody else had left the table and we were cleaning up, I glanced outside and saw him finishing it up. He cleaned his plate.

Here’s Summersong from The Decemberists. And summer arrives with a length of lights!
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Coleslaw with tart cherries. Or, a brief and muddled history of food photography.

The Guardian and the NPR website recently had articles about amateur food photographers. You know, those annoying people who take pictures of every meal they make and post it on every available social networking site, so that you just can’t avoid … D’oh! That’s me! I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize profusely to all of my friends who are not reading this because they started hiding my posts about six months ago when I began on this strangely obsessive blog.

The articles got me thinking about food photography over the years. It’s not a new thing to photograph food – in fact people have been painting pictures of food for centuries. Food is pretty! Food is inviting, and sustaining and necessary and temporal and symbolic. A meal can be so carefully and imaginatively prepared, so eagerly anticipated, so happily consumed. (And then comes the washing up.) I like the idea of crystalizing that one moment when everything is perfect, after all the work, before all the enjoyment. Before the creation of one person is shared with others. Photography’s great appeal is that it can capture a fleeting moment in a world where nothing is permanent. Everything passes, decays, or is consumed.

[I seem to have gone on and on, so the rest is after the…jump!]
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Napa cabbage salad with raisins, cashews & capers

Napa cabbage salad

Can cooks concoct comestibles containing cabbage, cucumber, carrots, cashews and capers? Certainly they can! And it will be mother-flippin delicious! And kid-flippin, too as it happens, because my boys both went crazy for this salad. That’s right, my…boys…went…crazy…for…a…salad. (Although, to be honest, after Isaac took his third helping, I noticed he was mining out the cashews, raisins, and “flavor dynamite,” as they call capers.) And, don’t judge me, but I ate the leftovers the next day right out of their little tupperware holding pen, and then I drank the dressing. It’s true, I drank the dressing that was left in the container. Well, I couldn’t just pour it down the drain, when it tasted so good!! And the really shocking thing about this revelation is that Malcolm had wanted to take it for lunch, but I told him it wouldn’t be a good idea because the salad might be mushy by lunchtime. (Which, in fairness, it would have been in his warm little lunchbox.)

I suppose, to be precise, as Thompson and Thomson would say, this is a slaw. But it’s a light slaw, because it involves no mayonnaise. It’s incredibly easy to make, and very versatile. You could add other vegetables that you like, sprouts might be good! Or you could add cilantro leaves or fresh basil. If I’d had fresh basil I would most certainly have added it. This dressing for this salad is a step in my constant journey to find a balance of sweet, spicy, tart and savory flavors.

I’ve realized, recently, that I describe lots of food I make as “bright.” I use the word a lot! I’d better find a new one. In the meantime, here’s Horace Andy using the word in True Love Shines Bright. What a voice!!

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