Sunday, June 6, 2010

Attack of the Killer Pine Nuts.

A few days ago I made a "pantry soup" of carrots, celery, onion, 2 beets, cut into small dice and white kidney beans, all cooked with spring water, salt and pepper to taste, and a strip of kombu to add some nice amino acids. Because a little vinegar is necessary to combat the sometimes jelly-bean like taste of beets, I made a pesto of 1 clove of garlic, a few black peppercorns, 1/4 cup fresh oregano, 1/4 cup fresh mint, and 1/4 cup fresh basil. (This is the base to my "go-to" pesto, the oregano and mint really add some unexpected dimension to pesto.) In this case, since the soup was almost a borscht, I wanted something "pseudo creamy" to finish the soup so I added about 2 tablespoons of toasted pine nuts as a binder, and then mashed all this up in my mortar and pestle. I then finished the pesto with vinegar and lemon juice and water, instead of oil.

This makes a creamy nut-butter based pesto that thins out to an almost sour cream consistency when added to the finished soup, and the vinegrette-like flavor of the pesto vinegar hybrid went very well with the beet soup. It was exceptional and one that I thought should go on the food blog when I got a chance.

But that's not what I am writing about today.

I love pine nuts. If I toast any, I always toast up an extra tablespoon or so with salt to snack on while I cook. "It's good to be the cook!" I think to myself in these cases. Because I love pine nuts, I ALSO loved the pesto, it came out perfectly and I added an extra dollop to my bowl, because there was a lot of it and Optimistic was using it sparingly. I then went back and had another bowl, and added two dollops to that one, as well.

Not that day, not the next day, but the third day after eating the soup, I woke up and had a bowl of cheerios with blueberries, and then I made an espresso as I normally would. I had started a new can of coffee, and because of my financial situation, I had switched to a lower grade of coffee from Italy, and not my beloved Blue Bottle Roman Espresso. The cup of coffee was the WORST I have ever tasted, and I put the coffee aside thinking that I would take it back to the store, because assuredly it was bad. This cup was even more terrible than the carrot-cappuccino I made a few years back.

It tasted... Bitter. Not just a little bit bitter, but bitter like Satan had stuck his finger in my mouth. Bitter like Bitter married his sister, Bitterina, had an ugly baby, Bitterino.

That kind of bitter, but worse.

A little later on I ate lunch, and here is the odd part, it tasted... BITTER, which was strange, because it was a tofu dog and not normally bitter in the least.

In fact, everything I ate, (and everything I am still eating,) tasted bitter, and a persistent bitterness hangs out at the very back of my throat AT THIS VERY MOMENT.

I know that intensely bitter flavors are generally a biological warning, much like the color red on mushrooms. Three things are generally intensely bitter: 1) Italian after dinner aperitifs, 2) Poison, and 3) Bile, an indicator of liver malfunction. Since you don't mess around with the second two, I had the bright idea of Googling "Bitter aftertaste in my mouth after everything I eat, please by Odin's Beard make it stop."

This is how I found that a plague of second rate pine nuts has swept the nation, like a blight of tasty tasty toads, inflicting a vile, persistent aftertaste that exhibits three days after eating a largish dose of pine nuts, and lasts as long as two weeks. Some say that the nuts in question come exclusively from China, but I have no indication of where these particular nuts sourced from. Others say that any pine nuts that are old or have gone rancid will do this, and this could indeed be the case, since they were in a sealed bag in the produce section of Faletti foods and could have been there for time immemorial as far as I know. I do know that pine nuts of the past, sourced from Rainbow Grocery's bulk section, which has an incredibly high turnover, never produced such a bitter aftertaste before, so freshness is the culprit, in my opinion. (Chinese nuts coming over in steerage, are probably stale by the time they get to these golden shores.)

So how does one alleviate the suffering? Alas, I do not know, but others have suggestions. Mint tea and oranges are supposed to help. (This is not suprising, since mint and orange oil both contain terpines, or natural solvents, which might "cleanse" the palatte in a very literal way,) but the help is supposed to be temporary, lasting only until the next meal. (By the way, pine nuts ALSO contain terpines, and this may be the problem, they are not water soluble.) Alcohol is supposed to help, but I can vouch that it does not, red wine combines with the bitter flavor to make a taste kind of like bleach.

In any case, further reports as the situation develops. In the meantime, enjoy reading the following links reporting similar pine nut attacks.


Sensation of bitter taste in mouth What could it be?

Pine nuts left a bitter taste in my mouth.

The Pine Nut Menace

The Great Pine Nut Mystery

Bitter Taste After Eating For DAYS

The Bitter Aftertaste of Chinese Pine Nuts

Insidious Chinese Pine Nuts

EDIT: 07 Jun 10 San Pelligrino Aranciata soda does a really good job of neutralizing the bitterness for an hour or so.

Friday, June 4, 2010

When Life Gives You Mushrooms

king oysters

A friend whose husband works at an organic farm recently asked if I liked mushrooms. Of course, the answer to this is a resounding "yes." I like mushrooms like cats like cheerfully destroying the only thing that you have left that reminds you of your grandfather.

So the next day she came in with a bag stuffed full of king oyster mushrooms. "I hate mushrooms," she said, "and my husband is allergic. These were the leftovers that his farm couldn't sell. They give them away to the workers, and if you don't take them, no one will."

Of course, with king oysters currently fetching $18.99 a pound at Rainbow Grocery, I am going to gleefully say yes to this offer of a Big Bag O' Fungus. Of course, now the obvious question becomes, what do you do with a big old pile of free mushrooms?

Fortunately Eric Tucker of Millennium has answered this question on page 151 of his cookbook, "The Artful Vegan." He suggests "Oyster Mushroom and Tofu Remolade Po' Boy," which calls for a few metric tonnes of mushrooms.

Of course cooking from The Artful Vegan can sometimes be tricky as the recipes tend to unfold like those Matrushkas, those little Russian nesting dolls, with layer upon layer of awesome. What at first seems simple, turns into a mystery, wrapped in a riddle, surrounded by an enigma. Or in this case, "Millennium Oil Braised Garlic" (page 212,) wrapped in a few cups of "Tofu Aoili" (page 213,) surrounded by aforementioned Remolade (page 151) and you find yourself in the kitchen for two and a half hours for want of a sandwich.

But once those mushrooms are dipped in that aoili and then in breadcrumbs and dry fried:

deep fried king oysters

OH, what a wonderful sandwich they make! (Seen here minus an ecstatic bite taken by Optimistic.)

deep fried king oyster sandwich