By jwalsh (Flickr: IMG_6501.JPG) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
Achieving the perfect balance in a baked good is a difficult task. We all know the “perfect balance” when we taste it and look at it — that harmonious juxtaposition of a firm, textured glaze on the exterior, coupled with a moist, warm, chewy interior.

Yet it seems all too rare that we encounter such gloriously balanced baked products. This is due, perhaps, to the machine-like, yet artful, process of hands-on baking.

Baking is quite distinct from the art of cooking. Cooking is remarkably forgiving–chefs often seem to operate as much on spontaneity and intuition as procedure, adding a pinch of this, a dash of that, experimenting with a new ingredient.

You can frequently witness professional chefs brazenly pouring out litres of wine into a dish or hacking off giant swathes of butter into their sautees. Their talent is based less on precision and more on artistry and taste.

A baker, on the other hand, cannot get away with such wanton displays of creative abandon. If a measurement of any given ingredient is off, or if the oven heat is altered in any way, their final product may be unsalvagable. They must be precise in their measurement and procedures, much like a scientist in a laboratory.

However, this is not to suggest that there is no art nor creativity in baking. But this art is more subtle, more controlled. The art lies in creatively condensing a surprising mix of tastes and textures into a final product that is consistent and balanced in the manner aforementioned.

This may explain, then, the rarity in coming across a truly balanced baked good. Humans are by nature fallible–our measurements by hand will always be slightly different each time. Yet it must now be noted that wholly machine-generated baked products–while consistent and often quite tasty–are lacking in a quality that suggests that it is this very human individuation that lends the utmost quality.


A Summation and List of Colombian Fruits

If you’ve been bored enough to browse through my travels in Colombia, then you’ve most likely noticed that I’m infatuated with the cheap and plentiful jugos on tap most everywhere around here. I figured that it might be a fun and perhaps useful exercise to detail the various frutas that abound, both in jugo and non-jugo form, here in Colombia:

Guayaba – Ah yes, guayaba. Known as ‘guava’ to us estadounidenses, generally the only form we regularly find it in is a canned juice. Down here, they’ve got guayaba pie, various forms of guayaba pasteles, guayaba doughnuts, and guayaba paste. And of course, jugo de guayaba. The quintessential sabor tropicál.

Guanábana – If you live near some Latin American neighborhoods, you may come across this fruit, at least in juice form. It’s a giant green thing with little spikes on it, and it’s exterior is as soft as dough. On the inside is this slimy, white custardy fruit filled with medium-sized black seeds. The taste is pretty unique, sometimes a little bit weird depending on the state of ripeness. It’s probably best in juice form, but I can tell you from personal experience that picking out all the damn seeds from the fruit is a time-consuming and quite messy endeavor. The juice is reputedly very nutritious, so if you come across the stuff and are malnourished, go ahead and treat yourself.

Piñas – The lovely pineapple, these are pretty much everywhere in Colombia in juice form or sold in carts by street vendors, but for some reason not many of the folk have caught onto using it in their cookery. Gourmands most Colombians are not—but if you stray into a higher-end restaurant somewhere in Cartagena, you may find some entrada with a piña based sauce, such as salchicha en salsa de piña (sausage in pineapple sauce: interesting and tasty, if a bit strange).

Chirimoya – This fruit is the more delicious and voluptuous cousin of the guanábana. It has the same custardy, white interior dotted with thick black seeds, but the taste is much closer to that of a postre than that of a medicine. I fell in love with this fruit in Perú, but unfortunately have not seen too much of it in Colombia. If you ever spot one of these babies, rip it open and commence slurping.

Curuba – You’ll find this in juice form all over the place here. In leche, it tastes kind of like strawberry/banana, but there’s some other strange flavor floating around in it that complicates it, and a grittiness to it sometimes as well. I don’t really like this one very much myself, as that “other flavor” reminds me too much of the wet, muddy smell in the jungle.

Níspero – You’ll find this juice more commonly up around the Costa Caribe. Try this shit in leche. It tastes remarkably like a chocolate malt. No shit. It’s good. One of my favorite jugo treats. It still tastes reminiscent of chocolate en agua tambien. There’s a chalkiness to it that can be disconcerting, perhaps, at first, but just think of it like a malt and concentrate on it’s sweet caramel undertones.

Zapote – This seems to be a favorite up on the coast as well, also common in Medellín, usually mixed with milk. It’s got a subtle berryish flavor, but its taste seems to differ a bit depending where you get it. To me, it kind of has a strange taste that reminds me of the smell of new plastic toys, and so it’s not one I usually order. It’s definitely worth a try, however, as the locals certainly seem to dig it.

Lulo – Ah, lulo. This is another one of my favorites in juice form, and you will pretty much find it everywhere. I generally like it mixed with water, as it has a unique taste that doesn’t require sweetening, and it foams up quite nicely. It has a kind of citrusy, limey kind of taste, with some tropical tartness thrown in that makes it unique and tasty. You’ll also find a beverage made from lulo in the Valle de Cauca region called lulada, and I recommend giving that a try as well; it’s got whole fruit chunks in it, and you get to spoon them out and eat them in-between slurping up its seedy juicy goodness out of a straw.

Maracuyá – This is another favorite, and a regular on the scene in Colombian fruit circles, much like the guayaba. We know maracuyá as passionfruit here in the States. You will regularly find maracuyá jam, maracuyá doughnuts, maracuyá ice cream, etc—and of course, the delicious juice, mixed in water. You can also eat the fruit directly out of the rind with a spoon and some sugar, as it is rather tart. Make sure you try this requisite tropical treat. The taste kinda of reminds me of one of those Big Stick popsicles, which I suppose means that there must be hints of cherry and pineapple in there.

Tomate de Árbol – This fruit has an interesting taste that is reminiscent, as the name suggests, of tomato, but is wilder and tarter. You can scoop the fruit out with a spoon and eat it with some sugar sprinkled on it, or in juice form. I’m not a huge fan of the juice myself, but it’s not bad.

Granadilla – This is a close cousin of the maracuyá, and looks the same, with the same gloopy clump of seeds on the inside. This is another fruit that I’d fallen in love with in Peru. I definitely recommend giving this one a try, just for the experience of eating it alone. You won’t find this one in juice form, but it is plenty sweet all on its lonesome straight out the shell.

Pitahaya – This little weird yellow, spiky football-shaped fruit is a tasty little snack. As I mentioned earlier, it tastes pretty much like a watermelon, but it has a completely different type of fruit—it has this clear, white tinted fleshy fruit with little black seeds in it. I think it is supposedly a diarrhetic as well, so restrain yourself from consuming too many at one time.

Borojó – This is an interesting little fruit. Supposedly it’s got some viagra-like properties when mixed up properly. Otherwise, it’s a zesty and strange little juice that is packed with nutritious vitamins and what not. Try it both in agua and leche and see which you like best. There’s an interesting spiciness underlying its berry flavors that comes to the fore in water, but the berriness come out more in the milk.

Feijoa – Another interesting juice, if you can find it. It’s pretty weird tasting; about the closest way I can describe the juice is that if you took a bunch of the green, leafy tops of strawberries and blended them up together, then you would have a taste similar to feijoa. It’s a kind of tart, woody, grassy flavor.

Limonada, naranja, mandarina, manzana (apple), fresa (strawberry) – These are all pretty self-explanatory, but just a quick word on the jugo de naranja—it’s not the type of oranges that we’re accustomed to in the states (or it may just be that they use them when they are green, I’m not quite sure). Here the juice is much more tart, but I think it’s kind of refreshing in the morning to have that little wake up punch in the mouth.

Papaya, Banano, and Mango – I won’t even bother going into these fruits, as we are already quite familiar with them in the States. Suffice to say that they are everywhere, in the form of fruit, juice, and otherwise.

Coco – Coconut. On the Caribbean coast, you can buy them from street vendors, who will chop off the top and stick a straw into it and viola! You’ve got yerself some fresh coco juice. Nice refreshing snack on a hot day. Also ubiquitous in candies and cakes and such, as it should be. You will also find it mixed in with rice on the Caribbean coast, which is one of the few little tasty variations that the typical cuisine will indulge in.

Fruits which I did not get to try, because I either did not spot them anywhere, or were out of season or something, because the juice places would never have them even though they were listed on the menu (¡Que triste!) – mamuncillo, chontaduro, piñuela, uchuva, caimon, trombolo, and some “p”-word fruit that I can’t recall the name of.

Frutas and Such

fincasky.jpgFrutas tropicales

Ah, frutas. This morning we ate maracuyá, granadilla, tomate de arbol, and a pitahaya. I’d already eaten a granadilla before in Perú, but was more than happy to eat another one (and will happily eat an infinite amount more). In the same passion fruit family as the granadilla is also the maracuyá, which looks the same and has the same seedy, mucousy interior. However, it is a little more bitter, and is best in juice. The tomate de arbol looks somewhat like a roma tomato with more coloration, but tastes more like a pomegranate, and needs sugar added to it, like the maracuyá. The pitahaya is a crazy looking football-like yellow-orange thing with spikes on it, and inside it has a clear-white flesh with many small seeds. I kept trying to place the taste of it, and finally figured it out: it tastes and has texture quite similar to a watermelon. Not bad.

As for the finca, it is a little paradise. We are pretty much just relaxing and enjoying eating homecooked meals and fresh juice on a dining table out on an open porch, listening to the brahman cows bellowing, the chickens screeching, the insects whirring, and the multitude of birds whistling their various calls. We are situated in a dense thicket of platano trees in a house made of guadua (bamboo). There is no internet there and we have to get into town to use it, so my posts will be scattered for the next week, but stay tuned for more info on this paradise in the mountainous jungle soon, as well as more pictures.

Oh, and one more thing: not only have I now eaten a guava pie, but now also a guava doughnut! Yes! At Dunkin´Donuts no less, in the terminal de buses in Bogotá. I was quite happy to have a tropical fruit doughnut. The meeting of northern and southern Americas in one fried piece of dough. . .

El Día de Gracias

HummingBirdDinner at Andres

¡Feliz día de gracias! We celebrated Thanksgiving Day by eating lunch/dinner at Andres Carne de Res, which was over an hour’s drive outside of the city, but well worth it. This is the place in Bogotá to go and get your beef, drink, and dance on, replete with funky decorations, a full selection of every kind of form of beef or chicken you could desire in extreme moments of bestiality, as well as full of a drink list as you could wish for (whether Colombian or otherwise), a group of entertainers/musicians roving about bestowing customers with crowns, kerchiefs, and necklaces and handing them sparklers and commencing to play impromptu songs, and a giant dance floor to boot. The meat is excellent, served on a sizzling platter along with a bib to protect your formalwear from splatter. I had 2 beers and an aguardiente, and I was quite drunk, due to the altitude. The servers did an excellent job attempting to speak English and accomodate our faltering gringo contingent, and my parents thoroughly enjoyed themselves. My father claimed that it was the best hamburger he’d ever laid chomp to. Not a bad way to pass a Thanksgiving day.

Speaking of food and drink, if you ever come to South America, definitely get yourself some hot chocolate. It’s a way of life down here. One of the typical presentations of such is chocolate santafereño, hot chocolate served with cheese and bread, which I imbibed today as a snack.

Yesterday, I ate (or tried to) a giant serving of sancocho de gallína, which was a hearty stew served with a giant piece of chicken sizzling in a broth with yuca, papa, choclo (corn on the cob), and platano. I also ate a couple of arepas as an appetizer, which is another typical little Colombian snack, a kind of glorified pancake topped with cheese and some salsa.

I also had a piece of guava pie, or pie de guayaba, which was tasty and exotic. I’d never thought to have guava outside of a juice drink before. I definitely hope to eat some more of the tropical fruits that I’ve enjoyed down here before, such as maracuya, guanábana, and granadilla.

Fed Up with Food Research

Anyone else other there get fed up with the constant research detailing specific vitamins and other nutrients that can be found in different fruit or vegetables? Oh, look there’s Vitamin K in leafy greens! There’s lycopene in tomatoes! And so on, ad nauseum. Then they start putting little exclamatory snippets on products like cereal saying “heart healthy omega-3s!” or on ketchup like “contains lycopene!” as if these little magic scientific phrases are supposed to make you leap into the air with joy at the utter healthiness backed up by research that you are consuming.

Who cares what specific nutrients are contained within fruits and vegetables, and which ones benefit your colon, and which ones benefit your eyesight, and which ones enhance your spleen? Isn’t it sufficient to say that it is rather obvious that a healthy balanced diet consists of natural things, as in food that grows in real soil? Isn’t it obvious that animals that eat healthy food and lead a healthy life provide better meat?

Why do we need research to back up commonsense? Sometimes I wonder about all the money that is going into this “research.” Couldn’t they be studying something more useful . . .  like how to save humanity from itself?

Snippet of Happenings



Day off yesterday; slept in til 11:30 and then hung out with a buddy and smoked nargilah and drank dark coffee. It came upon us that rather than going out for dinner with girlfriend and her guests as planned and blowing a bunch of cash on some shit that some faceless hairy men in dank back rooms had cooked, that we should cook up a fat meal ourselves, because why not? And because we actually like to cook. Said friend is a cook by profession and I am a cook by fantasy and inclination, if not always by deed. Having recently attended some classes on Indian cookery, I at first thought to conjure an Indian feast, replete with samosas, bread, and curries. However, it seemed a bit daunting and we were unsure as to where to start. So we threw out that idea. But we knew that we wanted something spicy, because spice is necessary and good. Corn seemed to be a necessary component to this spice factor that spring afternoon, which immediately pointed us in the direction of southwestern cookery. So we hopped on our bikes and made the rounds to the local free-range meat market for chicken and a bottle of port, thence onward to the local organic store for fresh vegetables and 100% cacao dark chocolate, then finishing up at the supermarket for residual items such as habaneros, mango, and pineapple.

The meal became evident as items were acquired. A sweat inducing pineapple-mango-habanero salsa with brown rice and black beans. Chicken cooked in a marinade of apple cider vinegar, chili powder, cinnamon, cumin, habanero, thyme, rosemary. Red chile tortillas. Ripe avocados. Red wine. Pineapple and mango slices as the womanfolk waited to be served. Conscious r&b, reggae, and hip-hop blazing on the Bose stereo. Small kitchen space and multiple pots and pans simmering and spitting.

The meal was delicious and right on time, just as tummies were grumbling. The red wine was polished off, the dark chocolate passed around, the port sipped and pineapple slices finished. Satisfied, full, and righteous. This is the way that meals are meant to be made. For many people to share, sitting around with some music and some fermented grapes.

I realized just how important such an act is. To be a community, sharing something so simple and revolutionary as food. As communal good times. Feeling good. Riding high off spices and dark chocolate. We could conquer the world. So we collected ourselves and went off to party, drinking too much gin and tonics and dancing because it felt good. Because to shake of the booty is to express and partake of joy and divinity and indefinable beauty. Good times.

Hot and/or Spicy

I wanted to bring to your collective attention a dire misconception which has transpired in the North American lexicon: the words “hot” and “spicy” have been rendered nearly indistinguishable. We use the words completely interchangeably. The problem with this is that to be “spicy” really does not necessarily translate into “hot”—although of course it can (ideally). Spicy, according to Mirriam-Webster’s online dictionary, refers to “having the quality, flavor, or fragrance of spice.” Spices vary from nutmeg to cumin, from chile powder to coriander. There’s a lot of spices. And not many of them are hot.

Of course this misconception is understandable, given that our culture was founded by puritans who liked sitting on cold, hard wood seats and flagellating themselves with the sins of humanity. Spices other than black pepper, to such people, must have seemed to be heated with satanic tendencies—making people want to dance, sweat, take off a layer. Spices have never really been incorporated into our cookery, until very, very recently, with the advent of “California cuisine” and then “fusion.” Strange that we ignored Mexican cookery, considering that we stole half of their land from them. It took the popular incorporation of Thai and Indian foods to introduce us to the glory and complexity of varied spice mixtures.

Indian food has been generating complex spice infused concoctions since the BCs. Much of their food is “hot.” Most of it is “spicy.” But let’s get this straight here: you can have a spicy dish without heat. Yes, you can. Would you really want to have a spicy dish without heat? I certainly wouldn’t. But it’s possible.

Being Americans, we aren’t immediately sensitive to this distinction, simply because to use fresh, multiple spices in any given dish is pretty foreign to us. Using sage, rosemary, and thyme is already getting too deep.

I hit upon this topic of blog post when perusing a barbecue sauce bottle that was broken out to dip the bloated ends of our frozen pizza into, lacking ranch dressing. This bottle states that their product is “hot n’ spicy.” And I suddenly realized that most of us would perceive no real distinction between the words. As I began expounding upon the differences, my girlfriend told me that this was a blog post waiting to happen. So here it is. She also had the memorable quote of stating, in reference to the lack of spice awareness on the part of early American colonizers, that North America was “on the slave trade route, not the spice route.”

I’m hoping that it’s not too late to make the distinction between hot n’ spicy. The most fundamental difference that I want to convey here today is that to be simply hot, all it takes is a straight shot of chili peppers. Like “hot” sauce. (Although there can be some good hot sauces that also generate good flavor.) To be spicy implies a level of complexity of flavor. There are depths in mixes of spices that are akin to the depths found in an ecstatic spiritual experience. At least our early Shaker forefathers would have approved, had only they eaten some hot n’ spicy curries instead of had mini-epilepsies all over the church floor. . .