You know about the Mandela effect, right? A set of collective false memories about an object or event? It was named for Nelson Mandela, who died in 2013 while many people shared memories of him dying in the 1980s, but arguably the most widely known is the Berenstain/Berenstein Bears books. There are others you can read about if you want to get mad about human consciousness. Anyway, it had been so long since I’d seen a bag of Tyrell’s sea salt & cider vinegar chips in a store that my sisters and I were started to get concerned that they’d never actually existed, since we seemed to be the only people who remembered eating them. But I went into Lucky’s Bodega to cash in a scratch ticket on the way back from the library the other day, I saw a single bag of them on a display shelf and was so thrilled I almost burst into tears, even though the bag was so beat up I have to assume every chip inside is smaller than a bottle cap. It’s probably not normal for a flavour of chips to have so much power over me, but is anyone in a stable mental state right now?
I put on the movie Beetlejuice a few evenings ago, and when Adam says, “Barb, honey, we’re dead. I don’t think we have much to worry about anymore,” there was a part of me that, for a second, thought, wow… sounds nice. I’m definitely not tired of being alive, but I am exhausted of being in a constant state of background worry about everything there is to worry about. Money, the pandemic, climate change, that pain in my ankle, whether my ceiling above the dryer vent will leak the next time it’s really rainy, and so forth. So I think I can forgive myself for finding perhaps an unhealthy level of comfort in snack foods. If anyone needs me, I’ll be over here enjoying this bag of vampire tomato Bugles from China.
Last weekend, Jeff and I finally decided on a new mattress. We’ve needed one for so long and kept putting it off for a multitude of reasons, but we dragged ourselves to the store to try out a few and luckily, we were able to agree on which one felt the best. (If you’re in the market, I definitely recommend Mr. Mattress on Clark— you’ve probably seen their old-school logo or amazing hand-painted delivery van, and they are reasonably priced, locally made, independently owned, and not at all pushy.) I’ve gotten so used to being moderately uncomfortable all of the time that it feels normal, and it’s hard to imagine the possibility of things improving. The mattress is being delivered the same day this newsletter is published, so next week I’ll be able to report back if I am more rested and my bones feel years younger.
To celebrate our IKEA mattress-less future, we went to Strange Fellows Brewing just up the road. In my opinion it’s one of the breweries in Vancouver which consistently makes great quality, interesting beers, and the taproom’s narrow windows edged with ivy make it feel cozily dim inside. In their parking lot was a food truck I hadn’t heard of before, Top Rope Birria, but we were hungry, so while Jeff went in to order us some drinks and a soft pretzel, I checked out the menu. They make quesabirria tacos, filled with birria (a spiced meat stew, in case you missed the craze earlier this year) and lots of Oaxaca cheese, fried in oil. But we opted for the veggie version, with roasted oyster mushrooms (the menu also states this can be vegan, though I didn’t ask how). The amount of cheese was pretty staggering, but this was some of the best street food I’ve had in recent memory: a crispy tortilla full of delicious savoury, spicy mushrooms and veggies, with crunchy bits of lattice-y cheese that had spilled out around the edges. If you hit up this truck, definitely get a side of their house-made hot sauce.
The rest of this week I’ve been kind of winging it with my dinners, making familiar favourites or riffing on things I can cook without too much thought in order to use up what produce I have around. Poutine with gravy found in the freezer, and a mix of feta and mozza instead of cheese curds. Tomato sauce made with a shallot, a handful of Romas and some chopped mushrooms, tossed with linguine and fresh oregano. On a busy day, Korean-style gilgeori toast— an egg-and-vegetable sandwich that hits every mark (details here).
A loaf of sourdough I’d made was starting to get stale, so I chose grilled cheese sandwiches as the centre of the meal and figured I could make a soup to go with it. I had fresh chanterelles, so I chopped up those and some brown mushrooms to make the delicious Hungarian mushroom soup again, which I made pretty much as written about in this post, only I had coconut milk instead of soy. I like using chanterelles for this because not only is the flavour excellent, it’s also not a big deal if you overcook them (easy to do when sautéing because the tops are so soft) since, you know, it’s soup. Aged cheddar grilled cheese on crispy sourdough, with those deliciously burnt bits of cheese that had fallen through the holes in the bread, was perfect for dipping.
On the weekend I’d made chana masala and had chickpeas left over, so I used them for taco filling. Not sure why I can’t recall having done this before, considering I use other beans or lentils for tacos all the time. I was inspired by the chickpea cooking method in this Smitten Kitchen dish which I made a lot in the summer, since anything that adds a bit of crisp texture is generally a great choice in my books.
After pan-frying the chickpeas, I tossed them with lime zest, garlic granules, cumin, chili powder, and salt. I had some leftover vegan queso to use on the tacos, but sour cream would work too, and I made a quick slaw out of red cabbage, jalapeño, and lime juice. The hot sauce from Top Rope was so good I’d brought the remainder of the container home, so I had that to put on top, along with a little chopped tomato and a crumble of feta. Sadly I forgot slices of avocado, which would have added a nice creaminess and colour contrast, but these were still really good— salty, spicy, acidic— I’d definitely make chickpeas like this again.
I have no problem writing in my cookbooks. Usually in pencil, but still, any book I use regularly will eventually become stained with turmeric or tomato juice, pages slightly wavy from accidentally dripping vegetable broth overtop. So it’s silly to pretend to be protecting the book’s integrity by not writing in it, when the notes are sometimes more useful to me than the recipe itself.
I recently had a craving for a rosemary chocolate chip cookie from Isa Does It which I’d made in the past and really liked. But when I opened the book and saw my angry scrawl about how it doesn’t make anywhere near the amount of cookies it claims to, I glanced through the recipe and wondered why the ingredients were so different from her other tried-and-true vegan chocolate chip cookies (in Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar). I think these were aiming for a fluffier texture that flattens out less when baking, but the trade off is that if you use any oil that isn’t solid at room temperature like coconut oil is, you’ll end up with an insufficient amount of dough.
I did the obvious thing and just made the more traditional chocolate chip recipe, adding a tablespoon of chopped rosemary to the batter, and a sprinkle of fleur de sel on top of each cookie before baking (extra salt is a must for chocolate chip). And my reward was some of the best cookies I’ve ever had: soft and chewy, perfectly salty, and with an herbal quality reminiscent of chocolate-mint, but not so intense. After a couple of days when we’d eaten most of them and the last few were starting to dry out, I remembered we still had a little pistachio ice cream left from Thanksgiving, and you can probably see where this is going. This was an ice cream sandwich fit for the gods: rich, fragrant, and totally unique, while still giving the necessarily nostalgic contrast of soft cookie and creamy ice cream. It’s perfect that there was only enough ice cream to make one of these for each of us, because it was the sort of experience you can’t repeat too soon.
I read this beautiful essay by Joseph Hernandez for The Philadelphia Enquirer for National Coming Out Day, on loneliness and finding comfort & strength in cooking. It’s short so I won’t say too much about it and instead let you read for yourself, but anyone who’s ever felt that particular queer isolation, or anyone who’s tried to drag themselves out of a depressive state by rabidly cleaning their kitchen, might find this resonant.
A much less personal piece that blew my mind this week: Tammie Teclemariam for Gawker on how to properly open a can of tomato paste. It seems like something that shouldn’t need an explainer, but she details the best way to make sure that, when you need more tomato paste than a tube will offer, you get as much out of that can as possible by opening it at both ends. Even if your can opener is like mine and the lid won’t fit inside the can for the ‘push pop’ trick, you can still much more easily get everything out with a spatula this way. She also includes the best way to store any leftovers (better than my current method of throwing it all into a container and freezing it, hoping that next time I’ll need the exact ¼ cup that’s in there). I’ll allow you to have your mind blown too by not telling you what it is.
Thanks for reading— if you enjoyed this newsletter, please share it with someone new! I like providing this to you for free, but it does still involve time and effort, so donations I can use towards cookbooks or future treats are much appreciated. And this week, we observe an important anniversary.