Mooncakes for the fall equinox

Friend A who I went to grad school with (also likes cheap/free food, has been climbing with us recently) gave us some mooncakes she made! :’) They were presumably for the Mid-Autumn Festival, which happens around the autumn equinox and is coming up! The days are definitely getting shorter.

The mookcakes are actually the “snow skin” version (recipe that Friend A used), which uses a mochi-esque wrapper. Apparently snow skin mooncakes are easier to make than the traditional baked kind, so a better choice for at-home creation.

The inside is coconut milk , sugar, cheese, and salted egg yolk, the middle layer is coconut milk, sugar, butter, flour, egg, and salted egg yolk, and the outside is rice flour with milk.

Bagel shop (I see many in our future)

Over the weekend, we visited Russ & Daughters, a famous and fairly old (1920, continuously run by the original family and at the original location) Jewish “appetizing store“, meaning that they sell things that go with bagels, along with bagels. We went right before Rosh Hashanah, so the main shop was super busy — 45 min just to go into the store to order! We went around the corner to their café location instead. The café also had more meal-food selection.

The busy original location.

We got blintzes (we’ve made them at home too), latkes, and a bagel with cream cheese, lox, onion, tomato, and capers.

Y’all know I don’t love bagels. This one was about standard. Kinda expensive ($16!!).
The latkes were better than expected. I think I like the soft ones better than the crunchy ones.
Bit too sweet overall, but blueberry jam was really good and tart! Must’ve had a lot of lemon in it.

Garden update!

I got a melon!!! I didn’t even see it until the other day.

Really tiny melon, maybe because the plant is dying (unknown cause). I’m not sure if it’s ripe — we will see!
The sweet potatoes are super vigorous. The bushiness is convenient for keeping wind-blown trash out. Unclear if I’ll be able to leave them in the ground over the winter. The mint, broccoli, and carrots are hanging on. The remaining kajari melon (care info) is doing well, but I’m not sure if it’s set fruit yet. The tatume squash is just starting to send out vines. I hope there’s enough warm weather left for it to make some squash.

I started the garden pretty late this year, so the plants didn’t have a super long growing season and had to deal with hot weather early on in their lives.

The late start might have also made bug threats worse. The radishes mostly succumbed to some small gray bugs. I was able to harvest three bottoms but the leaves had been sucked dry.

The fence needs some shoring up, especially at the curb. Cars aren’t very careful with their doors and the fence isn’t incredibly sturdy…

Cobbler with streusel

Modified from The Joy of Cooking (1973) “quick cherry crunch”. I made this to use up some really tart apricots and old peaches with a bad texture. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of it, but it was really good!

Recipe
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2-2/3 cup sugar (use the smaller amount if fruit is already quite sweet or has added sugar)
  • 1/2 cup melted butter or other liquid oil
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • Some milk (I didn’t measure, maybe 1/3 cup?)
  • (Optional) 1 cup nuts (either soft/oily ones like walnuts and pecans, or thinly sliced if harder, like almonds)
  • 3-4 cups chopped fruit (use the smaller amount if fruit is quite sour)
  1. Mix all ingredients through baking powder. Split in half.
  2. Mix one half with the egg, milk, and nuts. Put in the bottom of baking dish (~9″ x 9″ x 2″).
  3. Add fruit. Top with other half of streusel mixture.
  4. Bake 35 min at 350°F.

The original recipe just put half the streusel below and half above the fruit, no milk, egg, or nuts added.

Arepas

J and I saw several arepa stands at a street fair. They didn’t look amazingly high quality (at least one stand was just heating up pre-packaged arepas), so J took it as inspiration to make our own!

Arepas are Venezuelan and Colombian, mostly. We made the simplest variety, which is a cornmeal pancake cut in half and stuffed with mild cheese. The cornmeal has to be either pre-cooked (masarepa; the traditional way) or nixtamalized (masa harina; will be slightly less fluffy) to form a dough properly. You can’t just use regular old cornmeal, but instant polenta might work.

Recipe
  • 2 cups warm water
  • 2 cups masarepa or masa harina
  • If using masa harina, some baking powder to add fluffiness
  1. Mix everything together. Let rest for 10 min. Dough should be moist and able to form balls without cracking, but not stick to your hands too much.
  2. Form into patties (standard thickness is 1/2 in). Deep fry, OR pan fry ~3 min on each side and then bake for 15 min.

Falafel pitas

Falafel with homemade pitas in the background! I used the normal dough for the pitas, but cooked them in preheated cast iron pans in the oven instead. They almost made pockets.

We were following a recipe for baked tofu pitas and I decided to make it more difficult and more delicious by making falafel instead. Buuuut our only chickpeas are old and don’t cook super well even with soaking and an hour of pressure-cooking, let alone being fried. So I substituted with red lentils instead.

I was trying to figure out what legumes are safe/traditional to cook in this manner. Seems like lentils are fine, as are chickpeas of course, urad dal (used in Indian breads like dosa and idli), mung beans (used in Korean bindae-tteok), cowpeas and black-eyed peas (used in akara), and fava beans (used in another version of falafel).

This recipe is pretty good. The cooking notes are useful and the intro has interesting historical info.

Accompanied by homemade yoghurt, mint, lettuce, tahini sauce with lemon, salt and pepper, garlic, and water to thin, and tomato-cucmber-onion salad with vinegar, oil, salt, and pepper.

Ricotta gnocchi + sauces

To use up some leftover ricotta, I combined the ideas and instructions from Cook’s Illustrated’s spinach gnudi and a revision of their ricotta gnocchi.

Gnocchi

  • 16 oz ricotta
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs (panko preferred)
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan or other aged, salty, hard cheese of that sort
  • 1-2 Tablespoons flour
  • 1 egg
  • pepper
  • salt
  • (optional) 2 Tablspoons fresh minced basil or some dry basil
  • (optional) 1 bunch of kale or spinach or other green
  1. Remove liquid from ricotta. Can strain overnight in a mesh strainer or cheesecloth. Fast way: spread in a thin layer on a kitchen towel (smooth weave, not terrycloth) for 10 min.
  2. If using greens, blanch, squeeze very dry, and chop finely.
  3. Mix all ingredients. Let rest for 15 min in the fridge (cool temps makes the dough stiffer, apparently desirable so it doesn’t fall apart when cooked). Dough should be tacky and stick together.
  4. Form into balls (~1 TB each) — scoop and roll method or log and cut method recommended. Boil 2-4 min, until the gnocchi float.
J wanted wheat pasta in addition to the gnocchi. I wasn’t able to convince him that gnocchi is already pasta (especially since my explanation of it was “ravioli without the pasta”).

Sauce ideas:

  • Classic browned butter with sage, shallots, and lemon juice. Brown butter in a pan (should smell nutty). Remove from heat and add other ingredients, lemon last so other items can cook in residual heat.
  • Tomato confit. Cook garlic in butter. Add large-diced tomatoes or halved cherry tomatoes, salt, red chili flakes, and a splash of vinegar. Cook until tomatoes are “wilted”. Top with fresh basil and grated parmesan.

Intro to my garden patch!

Each of the street trees in New York has a little patch of dirt around it (“tree square”). The NYC Parks department owns them, but officially sanctions adding plantings around the tree to reduce erosion and runoff (as long as you don’t kill the tree).

My local tree squares were sadly bare, so I took them over after seeing a guy down the street planting tulips! Competition is non-existent. In fact, I get a lot of weird stares when gardening 🙂 I was fortunate that the closest tree square is quite large (around 50 sq ft), although the tree, a red oak, has lots of shallow roots that get in the way.

The main garden layout. Seeds were donated by sibling C. Bearded irises were from my mom. They should be quite hardy. Mint was transplanted from an indoor hydroponic garden setup. The sweet potatoes were grown inside from a couple sprouting grocery store sweet potatoes.

The fence was used (“for parts”) on eBay. Apparently it was from a junk yard. It was the cheapest fence option I could find.

Side view. I’ve been encouraging the melons and sweet potatoes to vine around the fence.
I planted a few squash seeds in the next tree square down the street. The one in the center is doing well (although I have to trim back the weeds occasionally to make sure it gets enough sun), but the one on the side got trampled and never recovered.

I’ve decided that I’m willing to eat street-grown food, but only in cooked form. Who knows what goes on in the tree squares!

Disposing of old drugs

I’ve been struggling to “properly” throw away some old medications recently. You’re not supposed to put them down the drain because they aren’t removed in the water treatment process and can end up contaminating your or downstream areas’ water supply. The landfill seems fine to me (they are pretty good at keeping things contained), but drug disposal programs apparently incinerate everything, which is better.

I figured that most pharmacies would have take-back programs, but I guess not! I visited a handful of places, chosen for their convenient location or because an (out-of-date) city website listed them. Some of the pharmacies I tried to go to didn’t even exist at that location any more!

I finally had luck with a DEA drop-off finder tool (thanks for finding it, J!). The drop-off I went to only took pills, though, no liquids.