Mom’s Turkish Lentil Soup Recipe – for Rowena

September 18th, 2016

Lentil soup’s always been my favorite comfort food growing up. It’s thick, hearty, delicious, vegan, and easily modified with whatever ingredients I have on hand.

When a friend asked for favorite vegetarian recipes, I looked up lentil soup recipes online (it’s the most standard soup in Turkey), but wasn’t satisfied with any of them. So here’s how I make it with all fresh ingredients.

Lentil Soup

Ingredients:
– 1 cup red lentils (washed and drained). There are different kinds out there; I prefer the roundish, bright, smooth orange ones. Some are more yellowish, flat, and matte in appearance; don’t get those.
– 8 cups water
– 1 tablespoon rice
– 1 medium onion (whole)
– 1 carrot (diced)
– 1 potato (diced)
– 1 tomato (diced)
– 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
– salt to taste
– fresh chopped parsley (see ‘modifications’ below)

Preparation:
– Put all ingredients except the oil and parsley into a pot and bring to a boil with the lid fully or partly open. (Yes, leave the onion whole! It just bobs around.) Pay special attention; mixture tends to bubble up and boil over easily during this step.
– Once it’s boiling pretty vigorously, bring heat down to medium. Leave the lid partly open. Stir 1-2 times once every 10 minutes for about 30 minutes. If not stirred enough, the lentil tends to stick to the bottom of the pot and get burnt during this step.
– Add the oil about half hour after the boiling has started. Continue cooking and stir occasionally.
– Add the fresh parsley until the soup is nearly “done.” This is hard to describe in writing, but you’ll know it’s done when the lentils have nearly entirely dissolved into solution, smell cooked, and the soup has thickened. I’d say this take about 45 minutes after it’s come to a boil. As my mom says, “You’ll know.”
– Most people take an immersion blender to it at this point. I prefer mine left as is: chunky. You can blend the onion into the soup, or if you’re not blending it, just throw the onion out.

Modifications: (the fun part)
– I often add dried thyme and black pepper. Could also do rosemary, turmeric, cumin, bay leaves, etc. When adding dried herbs, add them early on.
– Sometimes I substitute chopped kale or collard greens, etc. instead of parsley. Go ahead and put in a large amount; it shrinks down considerably. Add it a little earlier than you would the parsley.
– You can throw in any other vegetable you think would go. In the past I’ve added bell peppers, mushrooms, celery, shaved brussels sprouts, etc. The possibilities are endless. Bell pepper, especially, really heightens the flavor.
– Sometimes I add chopped jalapeño (to everything).
– Some people use chicken stock or bouillons to add flavor. I think that’s cheating.

Azeri-inspired quinoa: a “recipe” without measurements

June 19th, 2016

Azeri-inspired quinoa

I traveled to Azerbaijan recently with my family. While we saw many parts of the country and took numerous pictures, what stuck with me the most was the subtle differences in the flavors and ingredients in the food. I ate more tarragon than I ever had in my life up to that point – it is not an herb that’s been in my family’s culinary repertoire. I loved the pickled sour cherries, especially when they were cooked into rice and soups. And, I noted that the flavors tended to lean towards more sour than spicy. I put these elements together in my mind with whatever I had in the pantry when I got home (except I had to go out and buy the tarragon). What came out has nothing to do with anything I ate there, but it turned out more delicious than I’d imagined it could be, and made me fondly reminisce about Azerbaijan.

I don’t want to put precise measurements here, because I made a small batch and “winged it” with the proportions for what felt right. You should do the same. I’ll just tell you how I made it.

Ingredients:
– quinoa
– olive oil
– Craisins
– lemon
– fresh tarragon
– salt

Procedure:
1. Sauté some craisins in olive oil, salt, and some lemon juice for a bit. Zest the lemon peel and add some of it in there, too.
2. Bring water (proportional to quinoa package instructions) to a boil and add it to the craisins.
3. Chop up plenty of tarragon and stir it in with the water.
4. Add quinoa and cook it.
5. I threw some fresh tarragon on top as a garnish, just to be a poser. You don’t have to do that. In fact, you don’t have to follow any of these instructions.

Watch me play “D”

January 9th, 2016

This piece isn’t new. I completed in 2009, but the recording I made at the time was poor. I’ve been meaning to re-record it for years now, and I finally did it!

This time, I added an extra challenge of recording it on video simultaneously. This meant that I had to play it perfectly in one take. I had my doubts at times (I mess up a lot), but I knew it would happen sooner or later if I kept doing it over and over again.

It reminded me of my piano lessons as a child, when my piano teacher would make me stop and go back to the beginning every time I played a wrong note.

It’s not perfect, but all the notes are right. And, overall, I am happy with the phrasing and dynamics in that take. It will never be perfect, but this is the closest. It was take number 78.

Wasteful

September 11th, 2015

amazing cup

Ever since I moved out of my parents’ house a year ago, I’ve been more conscious of the waste that I generate. Much of this self-reflection was inspired from the book Plastic: A Toxic Love Story, which was recommended to me by a coworker. The book is a fairly unbiased survey of the origins of plastic, how it completely changed humanity in the past century (in both good and bad ways), how its disposal is managed, what it means to be “green,” and what lies ahead. I found it fascinating and would recommend it to anyone.

Two of the biggest takeaways I got from the book were that most plastic can’t be recycled, and paper bags actually have a greater cradle-to-grave environmental impact than plastic bags. Therefore, minimizing the amount of trash generated is the best route to go. When I examined my life, I found simple solutions for reducing the overall amount of waste I generate, plastic or otherwise, by making only small changes to my lifestyle.

Here are some little habits I changed in the past year:
– I unsubscribed from almost all magazines and brochures I kept getting in the mail – since most of these are unsolicited, it’s a continuous process. For some, the only way is to send a letter to their headquarters with the customer ID number written on the back of the catalogue, but it’s well worth the effort
– I bring my own travel mug to coffee shops whenever I can. I used to do this before, too, but I plan ahead more aggressively now
– I avoid bottled water unless absolutely necessary
– I eliminated almost all ziploc bag use by packing snacks and sandwiches in tupperware instead
– I always use my own mugs at work for water, tea, coffee, etc. and I use real silverware whenever possible
– I always bring reusable bags when I go grocery shopping
– I tell shopkeepers to skip the bag if the object is small enough to fit in my purse
– I reuse shopping bags as bathroom trash can liners, or for compartmentalizing shoes and underwear in my suitcases
– I save gift bags and re-gift them
– I buy items in bulk as often as possible, especially non-perishables. This also means foregoing items of convenience such as pre-sliced fruit or individually packaged single-servings of yogurt, etc.
– I fully consume pretty much all food I buy and try to generate minimal food waste. You can tell from my waistline…. haha, just kidding.
– I print double-sided, and go as paperless as I can. For example, if I need to reference a map or document where I won’t have phone reception, I save a screenshot or pdf of it on my phone to refer to later
– I almost forgot: KEURIGS are so wasteful, and their pods can’t be recycled. I make my own coffee at work now, but if I ever have to resort to those things, I use the reusable pods, which is graciously supplied by our admin at work

The journey isn’t over yet, of course. Below are future steps that I haven’t gotten around to yet:
– Figuring out a way to unsubscribe from credit card offers from other banks – they give you a number to call to stop receiving the mailings, but the automatic answering machine asks for your social security number to remove you. That’s too sketchy for me, so I’ll have to investigate if there’s a better way to do it. You may think I’m crazy for obsessing over this, but I get SO many of these junk mailings.
– Eliminating/minimizing those thin plastic bags when I buy produce. The cashiers don’t like it when you put the items on the conveyor belt rolling all around freely, and I buy so many fruits and vegetables that the number of bags I use irritates me. What do you do?
– Composting. Everybody does it in San Francisco. It’s not as widespread in LA, it kind of grosses me out, and I wouldn’t even know what to do with it afterwards. I live in an apartment and have no garden that I could put it in. Oh well, whatever. Maybe I’ll worry about this later… much later.

I admit that I am not as big of a treehugger as some people; there are some comforts I’m not willing to give up just yet, like q-tips and other sanitary products. But I’m sure there are other potentially simple changes that I’m overlooking. I’m curious to hear if any of you have any “quick wins” you’ve applied in your own lifestyle lately to reduce trash.

Note: The photo above is mine from sometime last year. I was fascinated by how tightly this cup was sealed!

Jetlag

June 23rd, 2015

Imagine that it 5am and you’re in a bed somewhere thousands of miles away, wide awake in a pitch black room. Or, don’t imagine that. But at least take these 10 minutes to do nothing but listen.

I hadn’t made an electronic piece (or any music, for that matter) in a while. This one is a little softer, a little more delicate than the others. Headphones recommended.

Savory Kumquat Mint Oatmeal

April 8th, 2015

I thought of this experiment to get rid of the rest of the kumquats before going on vacation. The results were so fantastic that I had to share.

Ingredients (for 1 serving – scale as needed):
– A handful of kumquats (about 6-8)
– 1/2 onion
– ~2 tbsp finely chopped fresh mint
– Olive oil (I think I used 1-2 tbsp)
– Oatmeal and water, amounts following package directions
– Salt, as needed (I think I used 1/2 tbsp)
– (egg, avocado)

Directions:
1. Dice the kumquats and onions and sauté them a little in a saucepan with olive oil and salt.
2. Once the mixture is mushy and juicy, add the mint. Continue cooking until the onions caramelize a bit.
3. Add the water to the mixture and bring to a boil.
4. Once the water begins to boil, stir in the oatmeal and simmer as long as needed, following package directions.
5. Once all the water is absorbed and the oatmeal is perfectly mushy, transfer onto a bowl and top with a poached egg and avocado. Garnish with fresh mint.

Savory, tangy, and delicious… I don’t know if I can top this one.

Note: Kumquats are rare, so I’m wondering if I could substitute a 1/2 lemon in their place next time… peel and all. It’s worth a try!

LA Pigeon Show 2015

February 4th, 2015

Last Friday, I got woken up by two separate friends texting me to inform me that there is a large pigeon convention happening on the weekend. So they had heard on the news. Naturally, I moved my dentist appointment and made it happen. I spent three hours looking at hundreds of pigeons and taking pictures. I also learned a few tidbits like the word grizzle, “almond” to describe pigeon color, and how to properly pronounce the word Jacobin (JACK-obin).

A lot of people don’t know that pigeons are bred to compete, much like show dogs (except they just sit there and look pretty). There are so many cool recessive pigeon genes that come out when they’re selectively bred over centuries. The pigeons looked healthy and happy for the most part. There were only a few breeds that I felt bad for; they had some difficulty moving around. These were only a small portion of the birds.

The pictures were hard to narrow down. So many of the pigeons had so much character and posed well for photos. So, I put the rest of the pictures in a Flickr album. Go look!

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If you like these photos, you’ll love the book Extraordinary Pigeons by Stephen-Green Armytage. I like it so much that I have two copies (one I bought myself, one gifted to me by a friend). I keep one at home and one at work!

Two Savory Oatmeal Recipes

December 29th, 2014

Oatmeal is so boring. For years I thought that the only way to make it palatable was to douse it in brown sugar or honey, and I’m more of a fan of savory foods, so I wasn’t interested. I never really thought of making savory oatmeal until a friend Sam posted a photo of oatmeal with a poached egg on top back in 2012. I was intrigued, but didn’t bother to try it until I had a place of my own this year.

These are two pretty simple recipes I’ve experimented with so far. I am now an oatmeal convert.

oatmeals

Kale and Onion Oatmeal

This one’s very quick to make in the microwave in those weekday mornings when you’re rushing to work (given that you’ve done the prep work!). Therefore, the recipe below serves one and utilizes the microwave.
You can do this stovetop and with multiple servings, too, obviously. I made a pot of it for my friends yesterday, and they all loved it.

Ingredients:
– 1 bunch kale*
– 1 onion*
– olive oil
– salt
– microwavable oatmeal of your choosing
– egg

* I usually make a big batch of sautéed kale and onions and add it to my food over the course of the week. Don’t eat it all at once, unless you are throwing a big oatmeal party!

Directions:
1. Chop up the onions and sautée them over a wide pan for a little bit in olive oil.
2. Chop up the kale and add to the onion. Add salt as desired. Put the cover on and cook it until you’re happy – I like mine pretty wilted, so it may take over a half hour.
3. In a bowl, put in as much oatmeal/water as you want (or as the packaging suggests).
4. Throw a few spoonfuls of the kale/onion into the oatmeal/water mixture, add a dash of salt, and stir the concoction.
5. Follow packaging instructions for microwaving.
6. Stop the microwave 30 seconds prior to the time running out, crack an egg on top, then put back into the microwave for an additional 1-1.5 minutes.**

** I’ve found that the egg cooks faster when it’s closer to the edge. If it’s still runny, just stab it a few times once it’s out of the microwave; the oatmeal will be pretty hot and it will cook instantly.

Tomato, Onion, Thyme Oatmeal

This one’s a stovetop recipe and serves one. I wanted something filling to make it through most of the day, and it hit the spot!

Ingredients:
– 1/4 onion
– 1 tomato
– 1 teaspoon or more thyme
– oatmeal of your choosing
– salt

Directions:
1. Chop up the onions and sautée them over a little saucepan for a little bit in olive oil.
2. Chop up the tomatoes and cook with the onions until the tomatoes are soft and mushy. (Or, cook more until they caramelize a little bit.) Add salt and thyme as desired.
3. Add as much water as the packaging suggests, mix it all together, and bring it to a boil. (I boiled the water in an electric kettle because I was impatient.)***
4. Add as much oatmeal as the packaging suggests and simmer until it’s done, stirring occasionally.
5. I garnished this one with Greek yogurt, but you could also slice an avocado and/or poach an egg on top.

***I made a rookie mistake and attempted to use milk instead of water. Don’t do it!! Tomato is acidic, and it curdled the milk when I boiled them together (duh, in retrospect!). I googled the problem and apparently this is a common issue when making creamy tomato soup. Some sites suggest adding baking soda to the tomato, which neutralizes the acid. You could also add the tomato slowly into the milk. Makes sense, but I was too lazy/hungry to experiment with it this time.

Anyway, I hope this inspires you to take a foray into the world of savory oatmeals! I had googled a few examples when starting out, and my own recipes are simpler and way tastier than a few I found in “wiki-how”-type websites.

My First World Premiere!

December 22nd, 2014

Last Saturday I flew in to Dallas to see a world premiere performance of my choral arrangement of Carol of the Bells. It was performed by the Cedar Hill High School Forte Vocal Ensemble, directed by Chris Rhodes. Mr. Rhodes was my choir teacher back in high school about 15 years ago! It was great to reunite with him and see one of my pieces come to life for the first time.

The carol’s mainly in 19/8 meter, which tripped up the choir a bit as they were rehearsing it, as you can gather from my two favorite testimonials from the weekend:

“Singing your piece made me feel like I have Tourette’s!” – a tenor in the choir

“This is like walking a tightrope across Niagara Falls.” – Mr. Rhodes

In the end, it turned out sounding pretty good! Here’s the first performance, with a cool introduction by Mr. Rhodes and the choir demonstrating how they learned the piece and put it all together:

Here is another performance of it during the choirs’ winter concert the following Tuesday:

I’d written this carol back in 2010 for two voices and piano, then arranged it for a 6-part choir the following year. It was so fun to meet the choir and watch them sing. A few came up to me and told me that it challenged them, but that they enjoyed the song. Now I’m all pumped up to write more music!

Self-Portrait 12/10/14

December 13th, 2014

Self Portrait 12/10/14

Sometimes, it comes out perfectly the first time.