Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Kitchen Therapy

I've been making a lot of som tum (green papaya salad) recently. Actual green papayas -- not unripe regular papayas, but a distinct and separate papaya species that remains green even when ripe -- are hard to come by, and I generally only find them at H-Mart or other large Asian grocers. They tend to be big, so when I do get my hands on a green papaya it's som tum time for quite some time around here. (You can find the recipe along with one for paht thai here).

The thing about green papaya is that its flesh is really tough, and the recipe I use calls for tenderizing it via extended pounding in a mortar and pestle. Lacking a large enough mortar, I just pound the hell out of it in a giant Pyrex bowl using the pusher cylinder from my Cuisinart as pestle. It's quite the workout, really -- the whole recipe, which requires thorough pounding to mix in the seasonings as well as bruise the raw green beans, takes about 6-8 continuous minutes of rapid upper body exertion. It's a great way to work out any frustrations or tensions you may have carried through the day: it's not just dinner, it's an existential palliative!

Sometimes, however, even a thorough papaya pounding isn't enough to cure what ails and this morning I felt the deep need for Rice Krispie treats. I've been slogging through a rough couple of weeks, life-wise, and I've been craving them for quite a few days now. I believe in listening to the body and feeding what it asks for -- I mean, usually my body is asking for greens. (Seriously: my most common food cravings are kale, spinach and eggs. Go figure). But what about when your body says, hey, how 'bout some doughnuts?

So to both soothe my angst and stick to my dietary convictions, I've been trying to come up with a less evil version of RKTs -- using puffed brown rice, local raw butter and making my own marshmallows (more about that in a future post -- I have yet to conquer the homemade marshmallow learning curve). My first efforts were, in a word, inedible. The homemade marshmallow was definitely the problem -- once set, it refused to soften again to combine properly with the cereal. Instead of Rice Krispie Treats I had tooth-shattering brown nuggets that nobody wanted to eat, not even the squirrels after I chucked them out in the yard. And our aggressive mutant squirrels will eat anything left outside -- including pumpkin pie, bottled mustard and, once, the better part of a Coleman cooler lid.

This morning I just gave up the struggle and made some damned straight-up RKTs. I didn't do this on purpose but I did end up using just about the most vile ingredients possible -- WalMart brand crisp rice cereal that my mom brought over, plus supermarket marshmallows and some regular butter that's been sitting in the freezer. So this is truly a junk-fest of odd additives -- who knew there was blue food coloring in marshmallows? They're white, fer cryin' out loud -- and funky chemicals: bring on the tetrasodium pyrophosphate!

Making RKTs could not be easier: put 40 large marshmallows (or 4 cups mini mallows) and 3 tablespoons butter in a big bowl. Microwave for 2 minutes, stir, and microwave another 1-2 minutes untill completely melted. Stir again, then stir in 6 cups crisp rice cereal. Press into buttered 9x13 pan. Begin eating immediately.

I started the recipe at 8:50 and by 9 am I was chowing on my very own personal pan of industrial deliciousness. I guarantee they'll be gone by the end of the day, and yes I'll probably be feeling pretty gross, physically. But one-third of the way through the pan I already feel a little less bleak of spirit, a little more optimistic and energized (though that's likely due to the four different kinds of sweetener -- count 'em: corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, and sugar -- found in the ingredients).

Eating sustainably is crucial, but sometimes sustenance wears a weirdly different form. I almost never eat this way, but today I'm feeding not my body but my soul. And my soul apparently is solidly white-trash.

FOOTNOTE: I only got to eat the portion of the RKTs you see already missing in the photo. Shortly after posting this blog entry I spotted our babysitter's adolescent Weimeranar dashing out the front door of my house carrying an entire giant rice krispy treat in his joyful jaws. Dammit.


Heather said...

Something I learned from this blog, which I am embarrassed to admit I did not know: that marshmallow is something that people *make*, not something that *grows in the wild*.

I always thought marshmallows were a plant, growing perhaps in the same climate as pineapples, coconuts, and bananas. Seriously. I had visions of marshmallow trees, possibly in the Polynesian islands.

Murph said...

I think the color coordination between cereal box, marshmallow bag and pyrex pan brings a lot to this dish.

and from on, I might make my word of the day whatever i have to type in for "word verification" below to leave a comment. And thus, today's word of the day: phombaca!

Michelle Gienow said...

If it makes you feel any better, hon, marshmallows were originally made by boiling the root of an actual plant -- the herbacious perennial marsh mallow (Althaea officinalis), hence the name marshmallows.

I too once had lovely visions of marshmallow trees in the Polynesian islands, but then the hallucinogenic mushrooms wore off...

Michelle Gienow said...

Also: Murph: it's all about presentation.