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Nika's Culinaria - Eat With Your Eyes: February 2006

Nika's Culinaria - Eat With Your Eyes

Culinary Photography

A Mardi Gras Memory (oxymoronic as that may seem)

Yes, a Mardi Gras Memory is oxymoronic. You would understand if you ever did Mardi Gras right. If done correctly, credit card receipts or liquor store receipts may be able to tell the story but actual memory should never be counted on. You might be able to say the same about my entire time going to school there in the mid 80's but that is quite another story.

To party in New Orleans, especially during the bloated days of Mardi Gras, one has to be a logistical master. You have to determine the minimal amount of money you might need, the maximal amount of provisions one can carry about during The Adventure, and decide on whether the excursion will be one of continuous relative consciousness or if a place will be needed for sleep. Clothing must always be layered with backups in the pack in case of unfortunate exposures to upchuck and beer spillage by nearby spectators. A buddy is mandatory, more than one is excellent. Do not ever assume, though, that you will always remain in contact with said buddies. Re-assembly locations must be agreed upon before taking off for the parade. My experience was pre-ubiquitous cell communications. Now all you need is to have your cell phones synched I suppose.

One last thing is primary in one's quest to do Mardi Gras right – a sense of flexibility.

You have to be flexible about one's physical well-being. You have to let go of any sense of comfort, your feet will hurt and you will begin to wonder why you are out grabbing for beads.

If discomfort or actual rational thought begins to vex you, it is time to take a drink.

You have to be flexible about who you are partying with. You may find yourself in a sea of strangers and you gotta go with it. Share a squirt from your boda bag, take a sip from theirs and like it, that's the essence of Mardi Gras.

You have to be flexible about what your body can handle alcohol-wise. Never, I repeat never, go out on a Mardi Gras experience without your own source of food (anything starchy to regulate how fast the alcohol gets on you) and your own source of alcohol. It's a bummer if you find yourself on Bourbon street, and all there is for your aching belly and spinning brain (that you can afford) is the Chinese Takee-Outee. The plastic food in the front window was always kept company by real roaches when I walked by.

My memory of Mardi Gras during my freshman year (drinking age was still 18 then, New Orleans held out a while on that) is properly hazy but it included a body that was in shape and used to running, hiking boots, a backpack with a whole 12 cans of some cheap beer, and a few bucks for the streetcar (where it was actually running). As we walked down St. Charles from Uptown down into the Central Business District, I stopped at Popeye's Chicken and bought a dozen of the most delicious and fatty biscuits known to mankind. I was now a self-sufficient Mardi Gras monster, ready for anything.

I enjoyed a raucous parade on Canal, half the time enjoying watching the police flirt with passing hookers and drag queens who were working the crowds ahead of the parade. I stood next to children and parents as the cops were as lurid as some of the worst in the crowds but no one really took it seriously, especially the cops. The parade passed; beads, coins, and cups were tossed. I mostly remember marveling at all the people and relative lack of civil discord. I don't like crowds usually but the strength of the cool police presence and the good cheer of the crowd made it a cozy place to be, for that one afternoon.

I steered clear of the truly impressive debauchery on Bourbon Street because, quite frankly, I didn't fit the demographic (being female and het). I also figured that you can always watch that scene on TV, like you might Times Square on New Years.

Many beers and biscuits later and my main Mardi Gras experience had played itself out. I think it took a week of quiet in a friends apartment that I crashed at (dorms close during Mardi Gras) to clear the beer toxicity.

The sad thing is that it is possible that this sort of Mardi Gras may never happen again or, at best, not for a long while. All those cool New Orleans natives, especially the cops, are now strung out across the USA, in impossibly uncultured places like Lincoln Nebraska or even LA, where this sort of living does not exist. In New Orleans, the party, living the party, being the party, sharing the party, its all at risk of fading away.

In the old days, at a certain point of the morning on Bourbon Street, mounted police slowly ride their large horses from the quiet end towards Canal Street, pushing people forward and out of the way. The horses are followed by street cleaners (machines and people walking along), clearing away the remains of that night's party. Those police and horses were patient, actually rather board, but persistent.

I can't help but think that Katrina and Rita have walked their horses down the streets of New Orleans and cleared out the irreplaceable and intangible detritus of a complex culture that grew organically, in situ, for 100s of years.

That sort of loss is unimaginable.

A mesclun spring?


I went shopping yesterday and was considering those foods which would be season appropriate for my area (its snowing outside as we speak). Those foods would be old leathery potatoes, cabbage, rutabagas, turnips, and carrots that you would dig out of the damp sand of the root cellar.

It is a whole lot easier to be high and mighty about eating seasonal food if you live in California than if you live in Massachusetts, thank you very much!

I walked on past those cabbages doing my best I could to not wollow in the memories of the pain I always experience from eating cabbage.

I was seduced by spring greens, heads of lettuce, springy bunches of romaine, and boxes of fresh mesclun *sighs*. My body thanks me but my interest in eating seasonally remains a vague and abortive fantasy. No doubt, mid Februrary in Massachusetts is the WORST time to consider this way of eating.

Cheese Sandwich Day 2006! More Food - Less Whine

Seems I have missed out on some excitement recently. As I ease back into blogging while I eat my saltines, I will write about something that doesnt require me to take new pics of foods :-)

I am in the camp that believes that the whole print-media-passing-judgement-on-food-bloggers is wacked.

Dude, yeah you paid food writers: I think you retain your credibility if you comment on the existence of we food bloggers but dont make the mistake of putting yourself into our league. Save us all the trouble.

We do not blog for glory or money, we blog our lives. Thus, what we do is so completely outside of your purvue that it is embarassing even to see you make the mistake of judging us. It shows how much you do not understand this new trend in food, the grassroots self-enablement of food publishing.

We are not blogging to compete with food mags, as if! Stop trying to compete with food bloggers. We CAN exist in the same eco-system. It just takes a little ego-adjustment, me thinks.

So in honor and solidarity with other food bloggers across the b'sphere, I post a few less-than-fabulous pics of a grilled cheese sandwich I ate recently. Grilled cheese aint supposed to be purty but they are some of the most essential comfort food, and simply authentic.

Sorta sounds like alot of blogs I know too.

Making it:

grilled cheese sandwich heaven

Serving it up:

lunch - grilled cheese sandwich

Stick that in your toaster oven and turn it on high.

Another update on Nika's Culinaria

I apologize for the lack of postings recently. I have been quite sick and the sight or thought of food has been very difficult for me! I hope to be on the mend in very short order. - Nika

Sunrise Citrus

orange 2: close up best viewed large

Now with order restored I am looking forward to being productive again. I have taken a break from the chocolate and have found the most delicious California navel oranges.

More than just being pretty, I have in mind a way to use these as an accent in some spreadable white chocolate that I am developing. I will share that with you when I am done.

Ghirardelli chocolate

orange: close up best viewed large

Machines back up and running! Back to food blogging

fixed machines!

Whew, our baby-safe office (nothing fancy) has been cleaned up and the fixed machines replaced! I have a better view now too :-)


update - Machines are down


Just a note, my machine that has Photoshop on it is down for today (has been for a few days) and am hoping to be able to get back to blogging my shots in the near future (tomorrow?!)

Sorry for the delay.

Does My Blog Look Good In This 2006 #1

New brie triangles - new photoshop version

Oh my gosh, I am so amazed that one of my December photos (above and from this post) won THIRD PLACE in the "Does My Blog Look Good In This 2006 #1" blog event. Andrew and company ran this months contest over at Spittoon Extra. I thank him and all of the judges for their kind words and considered criticism.

I completely agree with their decisions regarding 1st and 2nd!

In first place was Mahanandi with a dreamy shot of an indian food called Murukulu. It sort of looks like super skinny churros, would love to try them one day!

In second place was Fred Kitchen with a soothing and attractive shot of something called "Compote de Noël".

The DMBLGIT 2006 #1 team also chose several category winners, as follows:

Winner in Edibility - Culinary Fool

Joint Winners in Aesthetics (3)
Beyond Salmon
Belly Timber
Lucillian Delights

Winner in Originality - The Laughing Gastronome

Thanks again to the judges for their work on this!

Make sure to enter your best January photo at the DMBLGIT 2006 #2 site! LoveSicily is up on deck for the next contest!

Prions present tense, future uncertainty

It seems that there has been some discussion on prions over at eGullet recently. I found it interesting that there were so many eGullet regulars that are actually scientists. There are also a few people that seem to contribute to be contrary (and have knee jerk bias against any sort of warning against a food supply).

As some of you know, I am a scientist, a Cell Biologist to be specific. I thought it might be of interest if I did a mini-non-scientist's review of Prions and how they might affect our food. I will be working on this in the coming days and hope to post it up here and at the Well Fed Network.

Stay Tuned.

Porcini infused Alfredo Pasta

Pasta Alfredo with porcini flakes

The other day I came across this new product at the local supermarket (new to me at least) - a Porcini Mushroom Mill. (below) I grated some over our Alfredo Pasta (above) and it added a nice accent flavor. Was so tasty, even the toddler ate it!

I recommend it!

Porcini Mushroom Mill

How-2 guide on how to make Platanos (fried plantains or tostones)


How-2 Guide on the making of Platanos. People in countries outside of Colombia call them tostones and I am not sure what else! They are nothing like what you buy in bags at the store in the "Goya" section. Those hard plantain chips are scary, I almost broke a tooth on one! Real homemade platanos are a bit crispy on the outside and moist on the inside and should be eaten hot out of the oil, well salted. I suggest also poking a few holes with a fork and slathering it with butter (yum). Go to the bottom of this post to learn about a neat tool, the E-Z Peeler, that will make you a plantain-peeling pro.

I am producing this series into a How-2 guide for purchase as well, stay tuned!




Cooking Oil
Heavy pot, for frying.
Heavy pan or board covered with foil or plastic and well-oiled.


As many large platanos "pintones" as you desire (these are green plantains that are starting to show a faint yellowing, but not much, along the ridges). If in doubt, use large all-green platanos.

Heat oil in the heavy pan.

With a sharp knife, cut off the two ends of the platano. Then score down vertically along one of the ridges, start peeling aside by flicking the knife edge under the peel along the cut edge.

Note: This works really well if the platano has NOT been refrigerated.

After you have peeled the platano, cut it into 2 inch pieces.

Place the pieces in the medium/hot oil and continuously turn until they have turned a golden color.

Remove the pieces from the oil to drain on a paper towel. Let these pieces "rest" for at least 15 minutes.

Using a sturdy well oiled plate, smash the pieces flat.

Return the flattened "patacones" to the hot oil for another 5 minutes until lightly browned, then remove to a paper towel.

Salt to taste.

Serve immediately, or they will get tough.

How-2 Photographs


Start with green plantains.

Patacones: Step 1

A sharp knife is run along the length of a green plantain.

Patacones: Step 2

Green plantain is stripped of it's skin. Be careful about not loosing the flesh of the plantain as you wrestle with it. See bottom of this post for information on a handy tool that will help you with this step, its like a dream!

Patacones: Step 3

This photo summarizes the process from unpeeled plantain to the chunks you should cut.

Patacones: Step 4

Fry these little beauties to a golden brown. Notice that I use my dutch oven with a heavy bottom. You do NOT want to use a cheap pot for frying anything. You need to distribute the heat evenly.

Patacones: Step 6

Cut up portions of platain are deep fried to a golden color. These need to rest something like 15 minutes before crushing.

Patacones: Step 5

Cover a heavy pan (this one is cast iron) with foil. To be used to crush the fried plantains chunks.

Patacones: Step 7

The fried plantain chunk is crushed with the foiled pan. Some crushed ones are seen to the right.

Patacones: Step 8

The patacone has been crushed flat and is peeled gentle off the bottom of the pan. This will be fried after a short rest.

Fry them to a golden color, enjoy!

Patacones: Step 9

This photo shows the progression from chunk to crushed and fried.

Get the E-Z Peeler so that you can peel platanos better than my grandma and have platanos on your plate even faster!

I do not know the people who invented this awesome tool (I hope to get to know them) but I admire Edwin Rodriguez's ability to commercialize this tool with nothing but commitment and sweat (and love of platanos). They were written about in the New York Times (link) and their site is at this link.

Visit, buy (support immigrant inventors dammit :-), use, let me know how it goes!

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