notes on toast

Toast doesn't seem to generate a lot of debate or opinions. Toast is assumed to be just toast, with limited variation. 
Unlike the multiple answers that follow the questions "How do you like your steak?" I've never been asked how I like my toast. This is why I'm now writing about it because not all toast is equal. Toast, my friends, is not just toast. We should stop taking this kitchen staple, this saviour for stale bread for granted.
It has been years since I've had a toaster. Living toaster-less was the first spark for thinking about what makes toast best. As a kid, I lived in houses with toasters and toaster ovens, which is why I never had to think much about toast.
When I worked in a restaurant in Copenhagen, we served toast with breakfast and toasted breads for sandwiches at lunch but, typical to all restaurants, there was no toaster to be found in the kitchen. We just threw bread on the grill and called it toast. Lesson #1: Grilling bread to make toast is always a good idea.
Since then, I've mostly used the broiler to make toast. I turn the broiler on, throw in some slices of bread, and flip them once the top side takes on some colour. Business as usual.
Then I courted the stovetop method for making toast. You melt some butter in a pan, add a piece of bread and then weigh the bread down with a heavy lid. After two or three minutes, you remove the lid, flip the slice of bread and repeat. You can use coconut oil or olive oil instead of butter and it yields pretty great toast.
I took a break from the broiler, but then I read Edna Lewis' classic The Taste of Country Cooking. What follows is what she calls Country Toast: "We would slice some bread from our homemade loaf, butter it liberally, and place it in the oven. When cooked it would be browned in the areas where there was no butter and the buttered part would be golden and soft. This was the most delicious way of toasting bread. It can be done under the broiler as well, especially if the bread is placed on a hot broiler pan. That will crisp the underside of the bread and the top will be brown and crisp in spots where there is no butter. The combination of crispy brown and soft buttered bread is simply heavenly, (233).
Edna Lewis wasn't the type of woman to throw around words like heavenly. When she writes heavenly, she means it. The top is crispy and the bottom is soft. Who knew that bread and butter alone could yield toast that almost tastes like custard? Lesson #2: Butter bread before toasting.

I too don't throw around words, especially ones like game changer, so I think the next time you make toast, you should practice the wisdom of Edna Lewis.

I use the broiler and don't bother spreading the butter beforehand with a knife. I find that as it melts it spreads itself, plus this makes sure that some parts are without butter and get extra crispy. If you aren't into butter, coconut oil works as well.

Just like different methods yield better toast, so does bread. This method (and toast in general, I believe) works best with white sourdough. Dark breads just don't crisp up in quite the same way. 

My favourite bread in Munich come from the French bakery Dompierre. If you are lucky enough to snatch up a loaf of their dried fig and walnut bread, cut off a couple slices, butter them, turn on your broiler and be prepared to have a well-formulated answer to the question of how you like toast. 

* * * * *

If you fancy eating toast while drinking tea, then take a look over at MUNCHIES where I wrote about Rangoon Tea House in Yangon, a tea shop that celebrates the tradition of Burmese tea shops while refining the food. 


a pot of beans and a glass of wine

Although, one by one, the days are becoming warm enough to brave shoes without socks, the nights make it clear that it is not quite spring. 
It is the one time of year where it makes sense to eat a salad out in the sun for lunch and then crank up your oven at night to make roasts, crisp up root vegetables, or just melt a lot of cheese on your stove top, add some white wine, eat it with bread and call it dinner.
 In other words, it is the perfect time of year to make beans. Beans taste just as good at room temperature as they do hot from the pot. And they taste very good when cooked with red wine, rosemary and bacon, not to mention when matched with a glass of wine.

I came across this recipe over at the Casa Yellow, a blog that I think has writing that is equally as delicious as its recipes. Sarah wrote about a Melissa Clark recipe, one that forgoes the flavours that we usually pair with pinto beans (tomatoes, cilantro, spices and the like) and instead employs Mediterranean flavours. She is one smart lady.

The recipe begins with letting bacon, carrot, celery, garlic and onion sweat it out in the fat rendered from cooking the bacon for a couple of minutes ahead of the rest. Then you add the beans, water, salt and rosemary (or any other sturdy herb like sage or thyme) and let the beans cook. 

But what makes these beans sexier than most is, while the beans cook, the recipe has you reducing red wine in another pot into a thickened syrup and then stirring it in to the beans.

My pantry may have a lot of different dried beans, but pinto beans are not currently part of that collection. So I used lighter coloured kidney beans that I bought in the Republic of Georgia. They did not let me down. 

Red Wine Beans with Bacon

makes 4-5 servings


1 cup dried beans, soaked for 4 hours or overnight
3 slices of bacon, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 celery stalk, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
1 tsp salt
3 1/2 - 4 cups water
1 cup red wine 

for serving

a drizzle of good olive oil
freshly grated Parmesan
black pepper
a pinch of red chile flakes

In a heavy bottom-pot, add the diced bacon and cook over medium-high heat until the bacon begins to turn golden but isn't totally cooked, about 5 minutes. Add the carrot, celery, garlic and onion and stir occasionally until the vegetables become tender, about another 5 minutes. 

Drain the beans that you've been soaking and give them a quick rinse. Add them to the pot, along with the rosemary, salt and water. Give everything a good stir and then let it come to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Let simmer gently until the beans are cooked through, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Pour the red wine in a small pot and then place it over medium heat. Once the wine comes to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and let cook until the wine has been reduced to about 1/3 of a cup. This takes about 20 minutes.

Once the beans are tender, remove the rosemary branch, add the reduced wine and stir well to combine. Bring the beans back to a simmer and let cook for another 10-20 minutes more for the flavours to meld.

To serve, spoon beans in a bowl (on their own or with polenta or rice or any grain). Drizzle with some olive oil and top with freshly grated Parmesan, black pepper and a pinch of red chile flakes.
Store leftovers in the fridge for a couple of days. Either serve warm or at room temperature. 

* * * * * 
Remedy Quarterly just released a new issue around the theme of taste. Between stories about adventurous eaters and those who are afraid of mushrooms, I've written about the genealogy of taste and an Icelandic cake made with prunes. 

The digital spring issue of Chickpea was also just released and the print issue will follow in just a few weeks. It is another beautiful issue, and one that will make you forget all about winter. Germans celebrate spring by obsessively eating white asparagus and, if you want to follow their lead, I have contributed a couple of vegan recipes for green sauces to drown your asparagus in: Wild Garlic Pesto and Frankfurt Green Sauce.

When I was in Delhi, I met up with owner of Mizo Diner, the only restaurant serving food from the state of Mizoram in the capital. If you're interested, you can read about how offering pork on the menu goes hand-in-hand with creating cultural awareness of India's North East over at MUNCHIES


on tea and travel

The henna on my left hand is fading. The patterns - intricate grids and swirling lines - are now just bursts of marbled orange, no longer legible as a design. 

This fading means that a week ago I got back from India. It amazes me that one word - with a mere five letters - refers to so much space, so many cultures, so many people.

India is complex, chaotic and challenging, and that's why I hope to be able to keep returning again and again. Amongst all of its dust, traffic and honking, I always seem to manage to find a certain calm.

Maybe it just takes lots of noise for me to find quiet? 

Maybe it is because it forces me to let go. I like to be organized, prepared and neat. I try to be on time and to know exactly when I need to leave my apartment to catch the bus. But India forces me to let go of that. It forces me to relax and to be okay with being late for a meeting, or unsure of how to get from point A to point B. 

It never makes me feel like I'm too rushed to stop for a fresh coconut water or cup of chai on the side of the street.

Being stuck in Delhi's traffic jams gives me time to think and reflect.

It used to be my aim to share a recipe, or at least some words and images, every week, but now I'm aiming for a slower pace.

I continue to value having this space to just write, to write about food and travel, to tell stories and ask questions, and anything else that strikes me, really. To write without word counts or deadlines or checklists. To just write. 

If you haven't read it already, Heidi has churned out some thoughtful words about maintaining a long-term blog. She brings up a lot of important points, as does Tim in "You're Boring." The former is about the potential of blogs, an ode to the creative space that they provide. The latter is a call to critically think about the stories we decide to tell in those spaces and how this relates to the main narratives in the food world at large.

As the food industry has grown, so has the uniformity in which we talk about food. But it shouldn't be like that! Food writing should tell as many different stories as possible. After all, food is the most democratic medium we have. Everyone has to eat. Yet, we hear so many stories about the same kind of eaters, the same kind of food.

When I travel, I find that strangers always want to talk to me if I ask a question about food. To be curious about food is to be curious about culture and people. It demonstrates interest and respect

No matter where I am, food is always my entry-point. It always opens doors for me and starts conversations.

This is why I love writing for MUNCHIES. Leave it to VICE to try to challenge the boring standards of food writing. MUNCHIES isn't just about food, it is about the stories around food. 

Over at MUNCHIES, I just told a story about peanuts in Myanmar. One single legume brought up so many questions about agriculture (industrial and subsistence agriculture), the role women play in it, and how changes in food mean changes in society. 

So although I plan to be posting here a bit less than I once did, I hope to be able to tell even brighter stories, share the thoughts and recipes I want to remember (and question why I don't want to remember others), and to keep developing my perspective on food. 

Thank you so, so much for joining.

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