Archive for May, 2011

Hyperbolic Coral Reef

In keeping with the briny theme, do you know about the Crochet Coral Reef?  My friend, Judy, showed up at my door in December armed with a number of crochet needles and a project.  Not just any crochet project, mind you, but one involving the realization of hyperbolic space through needlework.  Sign me up! She spent the weekend trying to teach me to crochet, which I admit is a slow-going process.

She was inspired by Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef project started by twin sisters Margaret and Catherine Wertheim, who also founded the Institute For Figuring which, in their own words, “…is dedicated to the poetic and aesthetic dimensions of science, mathematics and the technical arts.”  In 2005, in response to news that the Great Barrier Reef was under grave threat from global warming and environmental pollutants, the sisters decided to recreate the Reef in fiber to draw attention to its fate.

As it turns out, crochet is the perfect technique to use in recreating an ocean reef.  In 1997, Cornell Mathematician, Dr. Daina Taimina (who is also skilled in the feminine arts of handicraft) discovered that through crochet she was able to create an actual physical model of hyperbolic space, something that had eluded scientists for years.  Of course, hyperbolic planes exist all over the place in nature, and all sorts variations can be seen under the sea in the form of coral and sea slugs.  Her excellent book, Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes, explores the history of hyperbolic geometry using the craft of crochet to illustrate her points.

The Reef Project, which started in the Wertheim sisters’ Los Angeles living room, quickly took on a life of it’s own, spawning satellite reefs  all over the world in places as far-flung as Melborne, Latvia, Croatia and New York.  Various reefs have been exhibited in several cities, most recently at the Smithsonian in D.C.  The project is ongoing and the IFF website contains information not only on how to get started with hyperbolic crochet, but how to join or start your own satellite reef.  It is the perfect intersection of craft, community, science and activism.
To learn more about sea slugs, crochet, and math, take a look at Margaret Wertheim’s kick-ass TED talk:

I am a totally novice at crochet (hell, I can barely knit), but this project inspires me.  I really don’t need any more hats, but bring on the sea slugs!


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World Without Fish.

Remember Orange Roughy? Doesn’t it remind you of the 80’s?  Growing up, there was a period of time that we must have had it once a week and I remember wondering about its funny name. Living in the midwest, our ocean fish came frozen and, frankly, “fish night” wasn’t my favorite night of the week.  In high school, I became a vegetarian and didn’t think about fish for several years until I moved to Portland, Oregon in 1994. Suddenly, a whole new world of fresh seafood became an option and my vegetarian convictions were shaken.  Back then, it was all about Salmon and Halibut.  Swordfish and Chilean Sea Bass were on every menu, too.   But no Orange Roughy.  I just figured it wasn’t cool enough. But I was wrong.

Last month, Mark Bittman wrote an excellent New York Times Editorial calling attention to the acidification of our oceans and the deleterious effect on fish, and ultimately on our ecosystem.  He followed it up with another column discussing the recent study by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature that says over 40 species of fish will disappear in the Mediterranean in the next few years.  We have already seen the effects of overfishing at the market with species familiar to us a few years ago now conspicuously absent.  Cod and Chilean Sea Bass are said to be making a “comeback”, but Bluefin Tuna and Atlantic Salmon may never return to their once bountiful numbers.

All of this can make choosing which fish to eat a somewhat stressful experience.  While there may be ethical issues with the raising and processing of meat and poultry, we are not at risk of running out of them.  But fish? That is a whole other story.  One that is beautifully written by Mark Kurlansky in his new book, World Without Fish.  A graphic novel written for ages 9 and up,  it covers the history of the fishing industry and explains how we got to where we are now – with our oceans acidifying and some of our fish stocks on the verge of extinction.  A fisherman himself, it is clear he has a deep respect and understanding of the ocean and those who fish for a living.  Not to give away the ending, but the story is a grim one.  There is a whole chapter devoted to the sad fate of the Orange Roughy (turns out this fish – which by the way is actually red – can live up to 150 years and doesn’t even produce offspring until the age of 20).  The intensive fishing in the 70’s and 80’s killed off most of the Orange Roughy before they even reached the age of reproduction, making them one of the most threatened species of fish within decades of their discovery by humans.  By chapter  five, you might decide never to eat fish again, but Mr. Kurlansky makes a compelling argument about why we cannot simply stop consuming fish to solve this problem.  Instead, he gives plenty of information about how to get involved both politically and as a consumer.  By choosing responsibly caught wild fish – and paying more for it – you are supporting the fisherman who are practicing their trade in a sustainable way.  But how do you know what fish to buy?  There are a few environmental organizations that are in the business of both supporting sustainable fishing practices and giving consumers the tools to help them choose well.

One is the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  Their Seafood Watch Program is probably the best known and they publish their guides by region.  They even have a guide devoted to sushi.  You can either download a PDF their pocket guide here: (MBA_SeafoodWatch_NortheastGuide-1) or get the app to your mobile phone.  Keep it with your Clean 15 guide and going to the market will be a breeze.

The Marine Stewardship Council is an organization that developed out of a partnership between the World Wildlife Fund and Unilever, an international seafood retailer.  Their mission is to make the idea of sustainable fishing marketable by evaluating fishing operations and assigning labels to seafood products at the consumer level.  You have probably seen their logo at restaurants and grocery stores indicating that a particular fish has passed their rigorous environmental standards.

At the end of the day, Mr. Kurlansky points out that these guides, however helpful, cannot be completely accurate.  They label some fish as verboten that are, in fact, being fished sustainably in some places.  The only way to really know what you are getting is to choose a reputable fish monger, get to know him or her and start asking questions.  World without Fish empowers you to do this.  Buy it for your favorite 9 year old and read it with them.  You won’t be sorry.

In the meantime, I’m looking for recipes for sardines.  Any ideas?

Further Reading:

Four Fish: the future of the last wild food.  By Paul Greenberg

Cod. By Mark Kurlansky

The Big Oyster: history on the half shell. By Mark Kurlansky



On baking bread

“[Bread-baking is] one of those almost hypnotic businesses, like a dance from some ancient ceremony. It leaves you filled with one of the world’s sweetest smells…there is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of meditation in a music-throbbing chapel. that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread.”
M. F. K. Fisher, ‘The Art of Eating’

I had a nominal interest in food during high school.  I think.  Most of the time, I recall subsisting on Diet Coke, coffee and tea, but I do remember taking on some cooking responsibilities after my mom decided she just wasn’t going to cook every night anymore (who could blame her).  However, it wasn’t until the summer after my freshman year at college when I was living at home, dumped by my boyfriend, and employed at possibly the worst summer job ever – pulling the staples out of used airline tickets so they could pass through a “machine” (this was 1990) – that I got into baking bread.

  I admit to having had hippie tendencies back then. I was a vegetarian, working my way through the Moosewood Cookbook and Laurel’s Kitchen.  I had always romanticized the idea of bread baking, but had no direct experience in the matter.  If I was going to make a loaf of bread, I decided it should be whole wheat (obviously), so I went to the supermarket, bought a bag of whole wheat flour and used the recipe off the back of the package.  As I remember, the recipe called for shortening.  Despite the ingredients and after a few false starts, I got into the groove.  I loved making bread.  I loved kneading bread.  It was meditative while at the same time productive.  I was bad at pottery, but good at making bread.  It got me through a miserable summer.  When I returned to college that fall as a sophomore and lived in a food co-op (a place where many a bad batch of hummus came into the world), I focused on the bread.  Whole wheat and challah.  While I have dabbled in other breads – shortbread, irish soda bread, and the now infamous 27-hour no-knead bread, I still find a lot of pleasure in making the basic whole wheat loaf.  In the past few years, as my girls are a bit older and less physically attached to me, I have resumed the routine of weekly bread making (not all weeks, but many).  I have replaced my old recipe with a new one that calls only for flour (white + whole wheat), yeast, honey, butter, salt and water.  The simplest of ingredients.

Making bread is all about time. I usually do it on a Sunday morning, when I know I will be around for  at least 4 hours.  There is actually very little active time, so you can work it into a leisurely morning schedule.   Here is how it goes:

Step 1:  Get your ingredients together:

3 c. warm water (110°- you can use a thermometer)

2 packages of active dried yeast

2/3 c. honey

5 c. bread flour

3 tablespoons butter, melted

1 tablespoon salt

3 1/2 c. whole wheat flour

Step 2: Mix up the “sponge”

Put the warm water in a large bowl, add the yeast and 1/3 c. of the honey (saving the remaining 1/3 c. for later).  Next add 5 cups of bread flour (one cup at a time) and mix.  Cover with a cloth and let it sit for 30-45 minutes during which time you can go for a run, have breakfast, read the paper, take a shower, whatever.  When you come back, the dough should be big and bubbly.

Step 3: Add the rest of the ingredients and knead

Now, mix in your 3 tablespoons of melted butter and the second 1/3 c. of honey.  As you stir, the dough will fall a bit. No worries.  Next, start to add the whole wheat flour a cup at a time.  After two cups, you should be able to turn it out onto a floured surface where you can start to knead in the rest of the whole wheat flour. This is where you get to know your dough – you want it to be elastic enough to spring back out if you poke your finger into it. I usually knead it for about 8 – 10 minutes.  It’s the kneading that activates the gluten in the flour and gives it its texture. Depending on circumstances, you can add another 2-4 cups of flour until the dough has some body, but is still sticky to the touch.

Step 5:  The Second Rise:

Butter up a bowl and place your dough in side, turning it over the entire surface gets good and greased up.  Cover with a towel and let it sit in a warm-ish place for 1 1/2  – 2 hours until it has doubled.  During this time, you can:  go on that run, clean up your house or catch up on the last three episodes of Modern Family you have on your DVR.

STEP 6:  Make your loaves:

Wow, time flies right?  Suddenly your dough has risen and you realize you’ve spent the last two hours on Facebook!  Now is the time to shape your dough into three loaves.  Punch your dough down (note: kids somehow love to do this) and knead it a little bit.  Next, take a knife and divide it into three equal parts.  There are a number of ways to make a loaf, but I usually flatten my dough into a rectangle the width of the loaf pan and then roll it up into a loaf, folding the ends down.  Place the loaf, seam side down into a greased loaf pan.

Step 7: The Last Rise:

Cover your loaves with a cloth and let them sit in a warm place until they have risen above the top of the loaf pan.  Depending on the weather, this can take anywhere from 1 1/2 – 3 hours.  By this I mean, if you let it go longer than 1 1/2 hours, nothing bad will happen.  This is your last chance to do something worthwhile this morning!    Besides the making of the bread, I mean.  Organize your closet.  Call your mother. Play UNO with children.  Write that screenplay.  Preheat the oven to 350° (close to the end of the rise).

Step 8: Bake your Bread:

Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, making sure not to over bake.  It was through the process of weekly bread-making that I came to realize that my oven is actually 50° hotter than it says on the knob.  I was frustrated by over-baked bread until I got myself an oven thermometer and solved this mystery.  When the bread is perfect, take it out of the oven and cool completely before eating.  While it’s cooling, you can whip up some fresh butter, if you’re really feeling it.

With three loaves, we eat one right while it’s fresh, freeze the second, and give away the third.  The random giving away of fresh bread just doesn’t happen as much as it should these days, so let the change start with you!

P.S.  It is ironic that I am writing this post, as I have just found out I may have a gluten intolerance and need to lay off of all things gluten for the next three months, if not forever.  Bummer, right? But that doesn’t mean you have to, so take up the torch and go out there and make some bread!  In the meantime, I will be perusing my new favorite blog, Gluten-free Girl and the Chef, and exploring the brave new world of teff, amaranth and millet.  She makes it sound awesome, so please let that be true.  Don’t worry, I still have a few gluten-y things up my sleeve to share, but I will also be writing about my new adventures in the gluten-free world, too.  Wish me luck.



URBIO – The Urban Vertical Garden

Urbio is what happens when three talented designers get together to create a solution for the would-be indoor, small-space gardener.  Their project is part of Kickstarter, the largest funding platform for creative projects out there.  Today is the last day to help fund this project if you are so inclined (although I believe they have definitely achieved their goals).  For your trouble, you will get an Urbio to call your very own!  I’m looking forward to getting mine.

For more information, take a look at their video:


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6-Course Lunch on the L Train.

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Hola Aguaymanto!

Awhile ago, my friend came back from a trip to Peru and brought me some fresh Aguaymanto (Physalis Peruviana).  They looked like little orange tomatillos and are, indeed, related.  “Aguaymanto” is the Peruvian name for this fruit that is native to the Andes, but it is known here as the Cape Gooseberry and can sometimes be found in farmer’s markets in Autumn.  The fruits – which are high in vitamin C –  are a bit tart and filled with tiny seeds.   They are popular in South Africa and New Zealand where they are often made into jams and pies.  I was looking for a recipe, but just ended up eating mine before they spoiled, so I will be on the lookout for these little gems come October.  In the meantime, if anyone has an idea about how to use them, speak up!

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Salmon + Tequila = delicious gravlax

Who hasn’t thought about curing fish at one time or another?  Making your own gravlax is easier than you might think.  It doesn’t take much more than some salt and some time.  As in, if you want to serve it at your brunch tomorrow, you’d better get yourself to Zabars.  But if you are planning ahead for next weekend, let’s go!

Gravlax – which translates roughly as “buried salmon” – is thought to have originated in Scandinavia during the middle ages when fisherman would preserve salmon by salting it,  burying it in the sand, and leaving it to ferment into something presumably delicious.  Today, traditional gravlax is made by “burying” the salmon in a combination of salt, sugar and dill.  The moisture in the salmon combines with the dry ingredients to create a brine.  Over a few days, the brine will cure the fish into something spectacular that is best served on a bagel.  The basic cure can be altered to include items like aquavit and juniper berries to enhance the flavor.

I came across this recipe for Tequila and Lime cured Gravlax back in 1996 when I received a cookbook that quickly became a favorite:  In Julia’s Kitchen With Master Chefs, the companion volume to Julia Child’s 1990’s PBS television series where she invited various awesome chefs to hang out in her kitchen and cook (let’s take a moment to contemplate just how sublime that must have been).  The directions seemed simple enough, so I thought – why not give it a try?  The truth is, gravlax is so easy, it’s like the gateway drug for wanting to cure everything else.  The whole process takes from 3-5 days, but most of that is waiting around.

DAY 1: The Dry Cure

The first step is to purchase about 1 1/2 pounds of high quality salmon.  Bring it home.  Wash it off and run your finger over it to find any bones, which you can pull out using tweezers.

Next, take 1 1/2 cups of kosher salt and 3 cups of brown sugar and mix them together in a bowl:

That was super easy.  Now, take out a jelly roll pan and a some plastic wrap.  Line the pan with plastic wrap in both directions:

Fill the lined pan with about 2/3 of the salt-sugar mixture (leaving the remaining 1/3 for later):

Add the salmon, skin-side up:

Cover the salmon in the salt-sugar mixture:

Now. take the plastic wrap and pull it tightly over the salmon to make a little bundle:

It needs to be weighted down with about 4-5 lbs, which is a good way to use the exercise equipment you have lying around. Or you can use canned goods if you sold your dumbbells at a stoop sale because you realized you never, ever used them:

Take the whole crazy set-up and refrigerate for 24 hours.  Make sure you don’t have more than 5 lbs of weight total on the fish or it will squish down in an unpleasant way.

DAY 2: The Wet Cure:

After 24 hours has passed, take the salmon out of your fridge, unwrap it (discarding the plastic wrap and wet cure) and you will see it is well on its way to becoming gravlax:

But we’re not there yetNext up is adding the liquid cure:

In a bowl, mix:

1/2 c. tequila

1/2 c. fresh lime juice

the zest of one lemon

zest of 1 orange

2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds, crushed

3 sprigs each of fresh dill, mint, and basil, with stems and roughly chopped.

You will now need a new jelly roll pan set up with plastic wrap just like the first time. Only now you will add the liquid cure first:

Next, add the remaining dry cure set aside from the day before:

Put your fish back in, skin side up, re-wrap it and replace the weights.  Back in the fridge it goes for another 24 hours, after which you will take it out, carefully unwrap it and feel it from one end to the other.  The flesh should be firm (but not too firm) and a deep red color.  If it is too soft, put it back in the fridge for another day.  Be careful not to let it go too long, however, or you will end up with salmon jerky (I have had this happen and it’s quite depressing).  I also recommend taking the weight off the fish for the second day of the wet cure.

When you feel your gravlax is ready, take it out and slice it thinly starting at the tail end and using a very sharp knife.  This takes some practice and I am not very good at it, but I can get the job done.  Only slice as much as you plan to eat and you can store the remaining gravlax in its cure for up to 10 days in the refrigerator.

I make this a few times a year, but always at Passover.  It’s a festive appetizer and you can even get kosher-for-passover tequila (yes, they actually make that!).  It’s delicious on matzoh with a little honey mustard, but even better on a bagel or a slice of pumpernickel all year round.  With Cinco de Mayo coming up in a few days, just think of the possibilities!

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