Compressed Food Blog

Books, Food, Poetry, Prose, Television, Theory and Criticism, Translation, Writing May 31, 2016


I would very much like a machine that compresses my fruit.

Idgaf about sous vide, but a fruit compressor. Yes, please.


I love cooking for people, but tend to be nervous about it. I also haven’t done much of it since I moved to Denver three years ago, but I usually do a good bit when I’m visiting my family in Bangalore. On my most recent visit I made my folks risotto with clams. My brother said, “It’s like khichdi but Italian.”


I cry almost every episode of Netflix’s Chef’s Table. I think it’s easily the best original series they’ve made.

If you don’t know, Chef’s Table devotes each episode to a different world-renowned chef. Some of them have Michelin stars, some don’t—but judging by Season 1, they’re all compelling, driven, philosophically-minded people. And some may not be as famous as other chefs who might have been invited to be profiled in this way, as this article on Ana Roš suggests.

There is something odd about having this relationship with fine dining when I really don’t fine dine. At all.

And something precarious too, because food as art only ever throws into relief food as utterly basic to living—not “a way of” of living, as though you could find a beautiful way to be destitute.

And yet I’m weeping over these chef’s creations, which I’m not ever going to eat. Part of it must be the honesty of it all, naked stories of struggle and triumph. And part of it is—not the dishonesty exactly—but what’s lurking under all of the very articulate—maybe over-articulated—philosophies which really are more like political statements.

Some of the weeping happened during the Dan Barber episode in Season 1, who comes off surprisingly unlikeable—not maybe in general, but to me. Barber goes into this thing about how he can’t really leave his kitchen in the hands of others and he has to be there, always. I think what I didn’t like about him is what I don’t like about myself.


Part Two of Chef’s Table ramble:

a. I just watched the first episode of the newly released Season 2, on Grant Achatz. There was some allusion to a falling out with another (older) Chicago chef, Charlie Trotter. Apparently I thrive on gossip even when it has nothing to do with anyone I know, because I then googled Grant Achatz and Charlie Trotter, only to find this horrifying list of tidbits about Trotter.

b. I very much looking forward to the last episode of Season 2, which focuses on Indian chef Gaggan Anand.


I am going to quote from my own poetry (!):

work, like eros, is
in the minutiae.

These lines come from a long poem whose first draft I wrote over the course of a month in the summer of 2014 and whose most recent draft has been living in the May issue of one FOLDER Magazine. By over a month, I mean that I wrote a few lines or sentences every morning. Many writers do this, but for me it was strange to write the way I brush my teeth or eat breakfast. I ended up writing several sections on being in rooms, or moving through rooms, or being in a kitchen or garden. When I came back to this poem recently—sending it out, going over galleys, etc.—I realized how very serious I was and still am about that statement.

Chopping vegetables (not so good with meat or fish) is one of my favorite tactile experiences. It’s a thing apparently that many don’t want to do or find boring—the uncreative aspect of cooking. But I love it. I’m not good at it, I love it. I love mincing garlic and ginger, I love getting mirepoix ready, I love attempting to get all the pieces the same size and failing.

It would be the opposite of the kind of glory Chef’s Table features (which makes me weep) but I want to write about this in some way. A kind of dailiness with cooking that’s necessary but in my cause not fraught with issues of poverty or eating disorders nor even inclination toward artistry. It would be about an experience of time, shaped out, but not alienated from, the time of my day.

A couple of things have focused this thinking a bit. One is Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life (trans. Steven Randall), which suggests “consumerism” as a practice that is actually productive—poetic in its making of things. It has a second volume, co-written with Luce Girard and Pierre Mayol, that focuses on Living & Cooking (trans. Timothy J Tomasik), which I’ll get to soon.

The other is the return of MasterChef Australia, which is plodding along in familiar, but less seductive, ways than in previous seasons (two, six, and seven being my favorites). Even before you get to the stage where everyone is making restaurant dishes, these amateur cooks really show how accomplished a home cook can be, what their range is. Much as I like trying new recipes, I don’t—or don’t any more—have that desire to expand my repertoire in any way that is remotely grand. I’ve even put aside learning how to butcher meat properly for a while. I still cook well, I think, when I’m in a comfortable place, especially with a good recipe, and often without any such thing. But I’m not an accomplished cook. Acknowledging this has really opened the whole thing out for me.


These are some of my most favorite ingredients to cook with:

cilantro/coriander, as an ingredient not a garnish
scallions, same
fish sauce
fermented banana
pork butt
bafat powder
freshly grated coconut
basil, which I used to dislike or think was overrated
puy lentils
green chillies
chicken skin
andouille sausage
extra-virgin olive oil
lemon and lime

What are some of yours?


A food blog with no recipe? For shame! I course correct:


I’m obsessed with these noodles!

I found this recipe in David Chang’s Momofuku cookbook. He credits someone else with the original recipe (can’t remember who) which he then tweaks. It goes something like this: mix together 2½ cups thinly slices scallions (greens and whites), ½ cup finely minced fresh ginger, ¼ cup grapeseed oil, 1½ tsp usukuchi, ¾ tsp sherry vinegar, and salt to taste. Then taste everything. I usually add more usukuchi (a light soy sauce) and vinegar. And salt. You let this mixture sit for about 20 min. You can also refrigerate it for a couple of days (longer too, imo). Then you toss it with hot ramen noodles and other stuff you like. Under other stuff you (may) like, Chang suggests: bamboo shoots, pan-roasted cauliflower (YES, get it nice and brown), quick-pickled cucumbers (2 kirby cucumbers, 1 tbsp sugar, 1 tsp salt), toasted nori, and oh yes, more scallions. Also: I have trouble finding ramen (not the instant, creepy-flavored ones) in Denver. Maybe I need to go to a proper Asian grocery. I can’t find it at Sprouts, Whole Foods, or Natural Grocers. I use udon for this recipe and it’s pretty great.


Someone recently asked me why I didn’t have a food blog, probably because I was rattling on about some food-related thing, which always makes people think you know more than you know, which is also a professional skill, being wot I am, a PhD student.

Anyway, my answer was that I did once have a food blog but wasn’t properly committed to it. Also that it is very hard to distinguish yourself these days, the food blog industry being absurdly competitive (on this point, I am fully serious) and desirous of sexy photography skills and/or an Iphone. I do think there are lot of great food blogs out there already and can’t imagine what I would add to them.

But here are some recipes from food blogs I like (I can, you know, pass on recommendations):

a. Smitten Kitchen’s spring salad with new potatoes, asparagus, radish, picked scallion, and some other stuff, is wonderfully seasonal for now, though it’s getting to be summer. This salad actually works as a meal, because it’s not just a bunch of leaves tossed together—a bit finicky though, as you can’t just chop and throw things in. The mustard vinaigrette actually celebrates mustard (never understood the point of ½ tsp mustard disappearing into a pile of food). Pickled scallions forever.

b. This is for the nostalgic Mangy Catholic who safely guards her packet of bafat powder but doesn’t have time to be grinding masalas and doesn’t even have (imagine!) a mixie: bachelors’ chicken sukka (lol at the name, I know). This recipe is an abomination to trad Mangy Catholics who cook in clay pots and grind masala in stone urns and grate fresh coconut every day and have a curry leaf tree in the yard; however, it is delicious. Also: I’m happy to oblige anyone in Denver who would like to try out some bafat powder, which is a spice blend from my “community” (= Mangalorean, from the coastal Indian town of Mangalore + Catholic)’s cuisine.

c. I have regular shawarma cravings; it’s one of my favorite street foods in Bangalore. I’ve had a couple of recommendations for shawarma in Denver but: no. Maybe the Indian version is, well, too Indian, but I remember eating shawarma in Dubai too and it was so delicious. The Denver stuff is not. You might as well eat a chicken sandwich minus the mayo. But in a strange way, this recipe for oven-roasted shawarma satisfies my cravings. It doesn’t taste much like the shawarma I grew up with, or like the Dubai one, but it has so much flavor. It doesn’t even need all the condiments listed in step 3, though I do make an ignorant sort of white sauce with yogurt, tahini, minced garlic, and lemon.

d. Kimchi grilled cheese sandwiches! Recipe: put kimchi in your grilled cheese.

(Aside: “put” is such an underrated verb, and woah, you can use it intransitively. Going to say that all the time.)

e. I’m looking forward to the summer berries being summer berries and also for my second-/third-most (depending on my mood) favorite fruit in the world: peaches. I eat them fresh and also bake pies. Also this goat cheese custard with strawberries in red wine syrup.

f. Dirty rice is no biryani but it is dirty, I said on my twitter a couple of days ago, having just followed this recipe for Lake Charles Dirty Rice by Donald Link and Paula Disbrowe. I will admit I increased the quantities for chicken liver and ground pork by three, and used two jalapeños instead of one, with seeds. Also, I don’t understand why you would advertise a recipe by saying “the liver taste is not overpowering.”

g. I did actually once put a recipe of my own on this site: date and walnut cake.


A cool picture from my former food blog; photo credit: Natalie Baldeon.

Nectarine and strawberry mascarpone tart (2)

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