Archive for February, 2012

February 29, 2012

Face it! You know NOTHING about Africa.

by Kathryn Baldwin

My aunt’s newly released memoir, Ruby’s World, only solidified my worries: my knowledge of the African continent is as pathetic as a drooping, over-boiled asparagus stalk. Luckily, this knowledge is multiplying thanks to random African connections in my life (like when my boyfriend learned the word “lethargic” and suddenly everyone around him was using the word ten times per day for a month straight).

It started when I learned it took some people a 19-hour flight to get to the 2010 African World Cup. If they hadn’t passed out by the time they got there, extended periods of vuvuzela blowing got the job done soon enough. Some time later, I had to memorize the location and capitals of thirty African countries for a class at Saint Mary’s. Trying to ignore 2/5ths of the continent was so distracting and arbitrary that by the time I made my flashcards my pen had run out of ink. Then, my aunt, Karen Baldwin, got home, “a reviled outcast” after teaching in a rural Zulu school in the Provence of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Her experience skewered her life, leaving her paralyzed until she could work out all of her pending questions…which she did in her novel that just released this winter. She’s still removing that painful rod of confusion, but for me, her riveting novel tacked on a whole new set of questions about Africa. Finally, my brother and his fiancé spent this Christmas on an African, four-wheeling safari jeep, watching lions feed from five feet away and locking their sliding doors at night for protection from rogue African elephants. (I seriously hate them. Grr.)

Through all these recently fated encounters with Africa, some fun-facts I’ve learned include:

-South African wine tours are the new Napa, California.

-African political boundaries change often today because they were originally drawn by delusional, European white guys (during the 1880s) who seriously thought five tribes could share a single space.

-A particular African beetle pushes a ball of shit to his prospective mate as his biggest expression of love (only true love has no sense of smell, right?).

-The first acclaimed apparition of the Virgin Mary on the continent (Our Lady of Kibeho) happened in Rwanda in 1988; a warning right before a massive genocide.


…And finally, I learned this week, in preparation for my aunt Karen Baldwin’s book club reading at my house tomorrow that I know NOTHING about African food. I tried to make Khandvi Rolls (from my Ayurveda cookbook) …

…by whipping up a type of garbanzo-flour polenta, pouring it out to dry flat (even though I didn’t spread it thin enough) and then rolling little strips and topping with toasted seeds.

Their wiggly, squishy texture and gelatinous smell startled my tongue and confused my nose. Even my dad said they were… “interesting.” Then my mom held her tongue and said I was a “brave cook.”

If we love Mexican, Spanish, Italian, French, Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Peruvian, Argentinean (and more and more) food , why is African food so confusing?! Again, how pathetic! It’s time to build our African palates. What shall I try next time??!?!?

February 22, 2012

Revolutionary Groceries

by Kathryn Baldwin

Last Friday, I visited the newest grocery store in my area: Pleasant Hill Safeway in the Sun Valley Mall parking lot. Not only did I survive swarms of coupon crazies on opening day, but the new arrangement of the store forced me to look at the entire institution of grocery stores anew.

After finally scoring a parking spot, I marched into the sea of shoppers with my handful of coupons locked and loaded. 45 stressful minutes later, I was stuck in lines so long they had lottery incentives and Vegas-style pinwheels. In a dysfunctional checker line, I would normally be mindlessly drooling over the insanely skinny girl on the women’s health magazine screaming “Hey Thunder Thighs!”  at me from the rack right next to an Oprah slogan reminding me to “relax”. That type of irony usually provides me with enough mind-reeling, anthropological research to get me to, “will that be debit or credit?” This time though, with a cart full of $50 worth of free stuff, I stood in a 30-minute line and stared at the produce section: the organization of the store itself was enough to make my mind reel.

Where cereal, frozen pizzas, and diapers would normally be found, stood a giant constellation of produce stands highlighted by twinkling lights. These still patterns of orange, green, yellow, and red stood at the heart of the building, where the steady hum of water misters was like the store’s equatorial region. The boxes of Cheezits, rolls of toilet paper, bottles of Smart Water, bags of chocolate chips all surrounded the most organic pieces of the earth, as if to bow down to their superiority. Why was nobody else staring?! This was pure madness, and yet, ingenious at the same time.

At one point in American history, some wise guy had the idea of putting cheap junk food in the center of the store and people flocked to what they thought should be the core of their “nutritious” lifestyle. We’ve been tricked before by the center aisles filled with Campbell’s Cream of Chicken Soup and canned green beans. Today, a smarter wise guy (or girl), for whatever capitalist reason, has returned fresh fruits and vegetables to the core. Follow their advice people: allow vegetables to penetrate the core of your lifestyle. Let the Prime Rib and the Lucky Charms in your life bow down to the apples and the oranges.

…and when you visit the center of this revolutionary Safeway, pick up some Kale for an equally revolutionary smoothie: 1 part chopped Kale, 1 part fresh or frozen mango, 1 part water. (A beginners recipe by Victoria Baoutenko, author of Green Smoothie Revolution). It’s earthy enough to ground you back to the core, yet sweet enough to keep you from running back to the aisles on the periphery.

February 15, 2012

Burn: “verbal ownage”

by Kathryn Baldwin

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I can’t help but think of the man I’ve been in love with for five years. You may be thinking, “Yeah right! This girl wasn’t in love at 16,” and you might be right, but that’s not the point. The point is that I’ve known Isaias long enough to be sure his favorite dessert is flan. After charring a layer of sugar and leaving a burnt amber puddle around my first attempt at a rum-flan recipe, I can’t help but think about all of the burning I’ve accidently attempted.

According to, the verb “to burn” is defined as “slang for verbal ownage.” The concept seems simple but I have it all wrong.

For example: My whole family is squashed hip-to-hip in the back of the Suburban, cruising down 680 with Isaias riding shot-gun and I miss the exit. So what do I do? I scream “Why didn’t you tell me to get off?!?!?!!?” at Isaias. Was it Isaias’ fault. Yes! Ok, No. I was driving, but the “burn,” or verbal ownage, that I attempted was so passively absorbed that I’ll never forget how inappropriately I reacted. I basically burned myself. Another example: the Thanksgiving dining table is lined with guests perched cross-legged, blotting their mouths between long-winded stories, aerating more wine and showing zero signs of movement. I take a few dirty plates into the kitchen where I find Isaias checking the score of the game. “You better not have left your F*%king  plate at the table!” I sternly blurt into his face…to which Isaias calmly answers, “I already rinsed my plate and put it in the dish washer thank you very much.” Not only did I treat him like a child, but in an attempt to belittle him I simply burned myself.

Having a boyfriend that absorbs word vomit like a friggin’ Bounty-quicker-picker-upper is the most pure form of karma. Throwing burns at him is like dropping a bomb and not running away; it’s like using a flamethrower on your own stinkin’ shoes.

Yesterday: I want to make Isaias’ favorite dessert to express my mid-February love in the form of baked milk, but what do I do? I burn the caramel.

On his way home from night school, Isaias stops by to taste my gift. Between smiling spoonfuls, he comments on the flan’s perfect texture and flawless presentation. He thanks me for all of my hard work, for trying so hard to make him happy on a busy day disguised as a holiday. The darn thing was drenched in rumified, liquid firewood. I heated the sugar much too impatiently yesterday, but did I burn Isaias today? No. I only burned my own ego. That’s how you know your boyfriend loves you. And that’s how you learn to turn down the heat.

Valentine’s Day Recipe: Rumified Flan for Isaias

Use a generic flan recipe and add about four tablespoons of rum to your heating milk (I think rum makes it more exciting, plus I already had some on hand). Oh! And when you’re heating the 3/4 cup of sugar in a saucepan, pause the Bachelor instead of laughing at Courtney and burning your caramel at the same time.

February 8, 2012

An American Staple Food

by Kathryn Baldwin

Have you ever tried to pinpoint the top American Staple food? While I was in Peru, it took me 9 hours to realize that the number one Peruvian food is the potato (all 4,000 variations). In Mexico, if you don’t have tortillas then you are apologizing profusely to every guest that arrives. Both of these are simple selections of “the most commonly or regularly eaten foods in the country.” Which brings me to my dilemma: what can’t we live without in the U.S.? I know there are corn and soy products in practically everything on the shelf at Safeway, but that’s more of a staple crop or staple product. Plus, I’m not sure they should count since they rarely appear in true form on the table.

Your “average” American is likely to argue with another “average” American about what food they couldn’t live without. How about cow? I personally wouldn’t mind if I never saw beef again, and my boyfriend wouldn’t drink a glass of milk if you paid him. Butter? Pff. We have an obsession with olive oil and the yellow, “I Can’t Believe It’s Not…” substitution tub. Petrolium? As soon as Sarah Palin and Friends find a way to make gasoline palatable, this could take the cake. The famous, frozen Thanksgiving Turkeys? Maybe one day… and one week of leftovers…per year. McDonalds? I refuse to admit this as a possibility. One staple food could be a harder answer for Americans to agree on than healthcare and gun control combined.

I’ve come to the conclusion that if my culture doesn’t have a staple food, it’s time I start adopting other cultures’ staple foods. Isn’t that what being American is all about? Take, for instance, the tortilla: (The recipe for the tortilla follows. At this point you can put anything on your tortilla. Try veggies, potatoes, avocado and salt, butter, a hot dog wiener; who cares. Worry about trying to cook foreign, non-staples later. If you don’t have a tortilla press, you could probably use a giant, hardbacked book like a Dicitonary. If you’re lucky and have a huge, flat or electric skillet, you could warm a bunch of these puppies at once. Literally, ruining ten tortillas probably costs you the amount of money you waste losing pennies around your house. Don’t take the process too seriously. After smushing and heating two tortillas you know exactly what works and what doesn’t. Who cares if you have deformed circles, that’s what homemade is all about!)

Buy some corn flour at any grocery store. Follow the English or Spanish directions on the side of the bag to make the “masa” dough.


Mix the flour and warmish water in a bowl and add bits of water just until the glob sticks together (two cups flour+1.25 cups water=16 tortillas). Knead it around until it’s not so sticky and cover it with plastic wrap so that it doesn’t dry out. You could even break the glob into golf-ball sized pieces before covering it so that it’s ready to go when you are.


Heat a skillet at medium heat or so. Dampen a dishtowel with warm water and make a warm landing zone for your finished products. Rip a large Ziploc or find another clean plastic bag to use as an envelope in which to smash your masa ball.


Squish down the tortilla press until the tortilla looks how you want it. Take the smashed masa-enclosed-in-plastic over to your skillet, pull off one side of the plastic, then lay the naked side in one hand while you peel off the other side of the plastic.

Release the tortilla onto the pan. Wait 15-20 seconds. The tortilla will slide around your skillet easily by this point. Flip it. Wait 15-20 more seconds. Then, Flip one more time back to the starting point and wait 15 more seconds. This is my favorite part because, if I’m lucky, some bubbles will form and the scene suddenly becomes 3D as my tortilla takes on a unique personality. I don’t know why, but when they pop up like that it makes me feel like the tortilla is as excited as I am to eat tacos.

Then poke the tortilla into your warm zone and move onto the next one.

February 1, 2012

Where the heck can I get “local meat”?

by Kathryn Baldwin

“You mean to tell me that the meat in the meatloaf sandwich I’m woofing down came from an actual animal from an actual farm tended by an actual farmer in SONOMA COUNTY CALIFORNIA?!!” During my food-writing class’ field trip in the Gourmet Ghetto we discovered a new Berkeley business that is attempting to bring the simplicity of “Local Butcher” back in style. (

Let’s face it, the amount of times in my life I’ve known the origin of the meat I ate can be counted on one hand (once in Mexico, once in Peru…). Until about age ten, I called every single piece of meat “chicken” when it arrived on the plate in front of me; either the origin didn’t matter or the preparation technique was more important.

Anyways, the night before the field trip, I sat down with my skeptical, penny-pinching father and my complacent boyfriend to watch “Food Inc.” If you want to see your chicken raised in half the normal time, breaking its legs as it tries to tread through the mound of shit courtesy of a million chickens crammed in a dark warehouse, watch this movie… and then go buy that chicken from your prim and proper Safeway. When the movie was over, my father blurted out “Ya, well where in the heck am I supposed to buy beef that came from cows that grazed on a perfect farm?!” The next day, licking my fingers after finishing my grass-fed beef sandwich, I couldn’t wait to tell him the news.

After five years working at Chez Panisse, Aaron Rocchino and his wife Monica were annoyed with two things: they never spent time together (story of mine and my boyfriend’s lives) and they couldn’t find enough local, hormone/antibiotics-free, pasture-grown, meat in Berkeley. The Local Butcher Shop filled both of these voids as of just six months ago.


Having matured since my age-ten chicken confusion, thank the lord, I now know the difference between chicken and lamb, beef, pork, and duck. Still, having a local butcher that can cut up a quail in front of me while describing where it lived and which piece tastes better grilled, is still new and exciting for me…and apparently it’s new for my father as well.

According to my mother, my great-grandpa would slaughter a pig for family feasts. A few generations later, I don’t know that I will be raising and killing pigs at my house, but a nearby farmer delivering it to my favorite butcher down the street seems like a step back into the right direction. Great-grandpa Joaquín would be impressed.