Soba So Good

I have bad luck making grain salads at home. For vegans, these can be cooling whole meal salads, so it’s a big deal, especially in summer. They fail on me: Pasta salads either dry or gummy, rice salads that crunch. This soba salad, though, I’m starting to make weekly.

It’s Japanese in origin, with soba (buckwheat) noodles as the whole-grain carb. The dressing is fat-free, featuring miso, the Japanese fermented paste, usually with soybeans the main ingredient.

Credit Mark Bittman once again: adapted from his Soba Salad.

Soba is made from buckwheat flour or with wheat flour cut in. Generally the package consists of several tied or taped bundles of the short spaghetti-like strands that are 2-3 ounces each.

Soba noodles, as packaged
One bundle works for this recipe.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Why keep miso as a refrigerated staple? Why for miso soup, a quick hot lunch — bonus recipe follows the salad.

Buckwheat can an acquired taste. I loved it the moment I first made kasha years ago. There was a deja vu sense, maybe from the half to three-quarters of my blood that’s East European Ashkenazic. Kasha is buckwheat groats (whole but hulled) toasted then cooked like rice.

  • 2-4 ounces soba buckwheat noodles (1 bundle)
  • 1 medium to large carrot, grated
  • 1 cup frozen shelled edamame, no need to thaw
  • 1 cup frozen sweet peas, no need to thaw
  • 2 Tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons lime or lemon juice
  • 2 Tablespoons miso paste
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper AND/OR 1/8 teaspoon red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger OR 1 Tablespoon fresh grated (loosely packed) ginger
  • 2 Tablespoons warm water
  • 2 green onions, white and green parts, chopped, OR 1 teaspoon dried minced onion
  • 1-2 cups mixed chopped fresh raw vegetables such as bell pepper, mushroom, tomato (optional)
  • Salad greens, washed, drained and torn to bite size
  1. Bring 1 to 1 1/2 quarts of water to boil in medium saucepan. Add noodles and carrot, return to boil, then lower heat to simmer 2-4 minutes (or use soba package’s recommended time). Raise heat, add edamame and peas. Return to boil, at which point drain and set aside.
  2. Dressing. In medium mixing bowl, combine ingredients from soy sauce to onion. Whisk with fork to combine, breaking up miso paste. Add 1 or 2 Tablespoons of warm water to help smooth. Add to the bowl the strained noodles, legumes, carrots and optional raw vegetables, mix well in the dressing.
  3. Arrange salad greens on plates. Top with portions of the dressed soba mix.

Makes 4 servings. Noodles can range from warm to room temperature. Leftovers keep well, covered and refrigerated; stir before serving again, cold to room temperature, perhaps adding a little lime or lemon juice to refresh.

Notes

  • The legumes can be all edamame or all peas.
  • If the salad greens just look too dry or blah, dress them very lightly with a little rice vinegar or a simple vinaigrette, before topping with noodle mix.
  • Any variety of miso is fine.
  • Find buckwheat soba noodles at Asian markets or natural food groceries. Check the ingredients as the more buckwheat the more authentic the flavor. Also, prices from one brand to another range widely. These do not need to be expensive. Cook’s Illustrated has a good soba summary.
  • Another long pasta if thin and quick-cooking like thin or angel hair spaghetti can be substituted, perhaps broken in half before cooking. Or a gluten-free pasta. Buckwheat on its own by the way is gluten free.
  • Frozen edamame often are sold in their pods. Buy a bag where they’re shelled.
  • The mixed vegetable refers to those crunchy veggies often seen in salads, raw. If you’re more comfortable with, for example, peppers or mushrooms being cooked a bit, add those to the simmer when the beans/peas go in.
  • That cooking water? Consider refrigerating and using later as stock for a soup.

Miso Soup

This recipe is for 1 serving, double amounts for two. For 4 servings, keep the miso at 3 Tablespoons.

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon low-salt vegan vegetable broth powder (optional)
  • 1/2 cup shelled edamame OR diced tofu
  • 1 cup vegetables, chopped if needed to bite size
  • 1 Tablespoon miso
  • 1 green onion, top and bottom, chopped (optional)
  1. Boil water in saucepan. Stir in optional broth powder. Add edamame/tofu and vegetables. Reduce heat and simmer 4-5 minutes.
  2. Remove from heat. Place miso paste in small bowl. Add a few Tablespoons of just the broth to the miso and stir until smooth. Pour the warmed, liquified miso into the soup pot and mix well. Ladle into soup bowl(s), optionally sprinkle with green onion. Serve hot.

Notes

  • Miso paste loses some magic if overheated. Do not mix it into boiling water. Get the soup off the burner and let cool no less than 2 minutes before completing the recipe.
  • The ratio of vegetables to broth is no more than 1:2. (My soups otherwise tend to be on the stew-y side.) The first vegetable to consider are mushrooms. A cup of vegetables isn’t very many, that might just be 2-3 button or baby bella shrooms. Diced zucchini, tomato and/or celery are great, too. Frozen veggies do well here.

Décolletage but Above the Neck

Week before last I was in an office for an appointment. We each observed physical distancing and wore cloth face coverings. We had an animated discussion. As the young professional talked her mask tended to slip down along her nose, caused by her jaw moving no doubt.

In larger enclosed spaces, stores to be clear, I get offended by people being half-assed about their Covid-19 protections. It’s either on or off, buddy, any other way makes you susceptible to any of MY germs but mainly I’m worried, with your attitude, about what YOU might be spewing toward me.

That’s not what I found myself thinking about her, though.

My shy self so far has never confronted people in stores to mask up. I’m there for peaches not provocation. Get my groceries and get out. A couple of times I’ve just left for another store. The first rule in real martial arts is when facing a confrontation and whether to fight or flee, first choose the latter.

That earns me a black belt in the art of chicken.

My second feeling in her office turned out to be empathy. She had a lot to say, forcing her to keep adusting her mask to stay up. Can’t be helped, and she knows the need for all of us to follow health guidelines.

Actually, my inclination was to study her nose and cheeks. Nice skin. Do I remember what her lips look like, her chin, from previous appointments? So I tried to picture her whole face.

That brought on guilt. These face coverings turn out to cover bodily contours, rendering them interesting if not, ahem, attractive.

It brought to mind a great line from Seinfeld: “Looking at cleavage is like looking at the sun. You don’t stare at it, it’s too risky. You get a sense of it then you look away.”

Later, reflection. In the days since, while my wife and I stay home as much as possible, we risk excursions occasionally. I’ve been looking at people with a new focus: What’s under the mask? Would I like to see? Sometimes the answer is, oh yeah.

As far as I know, and I’ve been worried about this for years, face to face you can’t read my thoughts any better than I can yours. Unless you’re obvious with the drooling.

That appointment that brought the revelation that the novel coronavirus 2019 has brought something else to ogle. I know she saw me staring at the top of her patterned cloth mask, but for all she knew I was mentally criticizing her for not using a fully strapped-in, molded Puritan sort of mask.

I hope.

Never suspected the separation of nose to cheek is a form of cleavage (PG-13 Wikipedia entry). Ogling is a form of harassment. I’ve been guilty of it.

There are places where looking at bodies is normal and expected for anybody, both men and women — watching acting, music shows, beaches and pools. …

I saw the legitimacy of discrete ogling ages ago. We were in San Diego with my sister-in-law and her late husband, watching a suburban performance of Noel Coward’s Private Lives. One of the stars wore a tailored white silky dress. The production got boring, so I spent some time simply enjoying her dress. Shame on me I guess, but the costume was deliberate, to emphasize her attractiveness. Indeed. 

Until limits are crossed. At a grocery entrance yesterday, a mom, dad and two children walked past me with the woman obviously referring to our governor’s new face-covering mandate, muttering to her spouse: “Monday they’ll start making us wear them.”

As I continued through the store I spied two women, separately, with their masks covering only their mouths, their virus-aerosolizing noses fully exposed.

That is too much skin.

Copyright 2020 Ben S. Pollock Jr.

Subtotal Recall

Of all the things I might remember about fifth grade — that would be age 11 plus-minus — why does the state-mandated Arkansas history semester stay in my noggin? Before today, I thought it was because this was the first and last time I cheated on a test.

Arkansas map showing county boundaries
Here’s your test, class: write the name of each county of Arkansas, and the county seats, so that teacher can read it!
Credit Wikimedia Commons

Not because I needed to. The smart kid getting away with murder, well cheating, would be revenge on what I took to be a lazy teacher. Yes, that’s me at 11, some 51 years ago, thinking like that.

Besides going through the textbook, Mrs. Floyd had us memorize the names of all 75 counties and their county seats. Now what practical good is that? It’s not even conceptually pedagogical, when you could be tested on crops or ores or prehistory or famous authors or the stars on the flag.

My memory, for normal uses of recall, remains good. But rote memorization scared me then (and makes me squirm now). That weakness also was part of my anger, worried I would not be able to ace the test.

For days I stuck a playing card on the clipboard I liked to write on, splaying it across the tabs on either side of the clip. On the day of the test, the card had taped to it a scrap of paper where itty bitty I wrote out the counties and their seats.

I wasn’t caught. I didn’t feel good about this afterward, nor did I regret it. My friends never knew, probably.

In today’s Sunday editions of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, though, journalist Bill Bowden reports that the Arkansas history textbooks used through the 1960s were not merely pro-Confederacy on that aspect of the state’s story but pro Ku Klux Klan, “Arkansas History Books Carried Rebel Slant — Lessons Reflected Lost Cause Views.”

My friend’s detailed article has plenty of quotes from the handful of authorized textbooks. None rang a bell at least directly, but something clicked this morning. Back then, I read the local and Little Rock dailies and the weekly magazines my parents subscribed to. Yet I still was a young child in 1968 or ’69. Maybe this state history claptrap did not sit right, causing something to lock in my cranium.

“The Klansmen told the Negroes to be good and to stay away from the polls on election days. Negroes who refused to obey were visited a second time and taken out and whipped.”

Our Arkansas, published in 1958 by Walter L. Brown, reported by Bowden

A Democrat-Gazette photograph shows four of the hardback books. Their cloth covers (no dust jackets) are red, green or orange. I remember though our state history was dark blue. I might be mistaken.

I wish I could claim prescience on the factual presentation or my perception of cultural evil. Nah. I’m nearly over the hill here in 2020 and still must work to increase my empathy and understanding of people and peoples.

It’s just odd that I remember sitting in that near-basement classroom of Mrs. Floyd in Ballman Elementary School, toward the right and toward the front. Half my friends were there, and the other half in the other fifth-grade class, that of Mrs. Gossett. Mrs. Floyd was prim and not quite young, Mrs. Gossett older with gray curls and a little sloppy. There are Mark, Dana, Richard, Keith, Kevin, Jim, Cici, Gae Von, Ann, Cindy and so on. I was the last picked for kickball teams at recess, so Mark and I read outside when we could get by with it. I recall no anecdotes about the reading and math we were taught, nor the topic of the other semester that preceded state history.

Maybe though we slogged through Arkansas history in the fall.


Coda: In 2015-16, I worked as a substitute teacher for Fayetteville and suburban Farmington public schools. At one middle school one day, the history teacher’s lesson plan had me help the students go through a section on Reconstruction.

This was only a couple of pages. As we started I saw the components on why Reconstruction failed were wrong factually. There wasn’t time for me to Google on my cell phone enough facts to put this in perspective for the students. And should a sub do that, ethically? All I could do was tell each class how complicated that period was and encourage them to look the topic up after school for the full story.

Pooh-bah Ben’s Haroset

This is a combination of Sephardic, Near Eastern, Middle-Eastern and Israeli recipes. This is a large recipe — about 8 cups/2 quarts — but halving all ingredients amounts works fine. As it freezes — and thaws — nicely, it’s a good idea to freeze leftovers as the fruit relish goes bad after a couple of days. Then it can be enjoyed later in the eight days of the Jewish holiday.

Adaptation of Israeli Haroseth, Egyptian Haroseth Ashkenazic Charoset recipes from 1983 and 1984 articles in the Dallas Times Herald, which ceased in 1991.

  • 2-3 cups loose (not packed) dried, pitted fruit, perhaps 1 cup figs, 1 cup dates and 1 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup wine or grape juice
  • 1 cup nuts, such as walnuts, pecans and sunflower seeds, or a mix
  • 2 oranges, washed
  • 2-4 apples, depending on size
  • 2-4 bananas, ripe but still firm
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  1. Chop dried fruit into raisin-size pieces. Plump with wine or grape juice in bowl for 15-60 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Zest orange. Mince zest and add to large bowl. Peel oranges. Dice and add to bowl.
  3. Core apples, peel if desired, dice and add to bowl. Stir with oranges to prevent apples browning.
  4. Peel and dice 2 bananas, add to bowl.
  5. Chop nuts that need chopping to raisin-size pieces and add to bowl.
  6. Stir in cinnamon. Stir in rehydrated dried fruits along with their soaking liquid. Cover and refrigerate at least an hour for flavors to marry. Stir and taste, add another chopped banana or two to sweeten if needed.

Note: I’d advise against hard nuts such as almonds. Nutmeats here should be more a soft chew than crunchy or crumbly.

Thanks, Giving

Here is a Thanksgiving menu that I’ve been refining the last three years. It’s low-fat whole-food plant-based vegan. We’ve found that when you reduce the oil to near-zero you can move around after the dinner rather than lumber with groans over to the TV room.

First is the “meat” or the protein-focused entree. It’s a veggie Neat Loaf. Most years I stuff a pie pumpkin or another winter squash with a favorite veggie dressing, but you can skip the gourd and just bake the stuffing. I have a great cranberry sauce but my family likes canned; if you find canned cranberry sauce without high fructose corn syrup let me know. The leftovers from these are pretty obvious, but if you have an unused can of pumpkin puree, here’s November Chili for the long weekend.

Otherwise, take a look at Scratch Green Bean Casserole, Mashed Potatoes and Gravy, and Yammy Rolls.

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No Scents, Nonsense

A "Danish dough whisk" is a wise investment.

Coronavirus Disease 2019? We Don’t Have Much Time So Call Me Covid-19 for Short

News from a few days ago alarmed me until I thought it through. In June 2017 at the Fayetteville Farmers Market, I brushed against a rosemary bush for sale and found I couldn’t smell that strong scent. I checked myself for the next days. Basil I could distinguish. Chocolate had diminished — still sweet and fun but dimmer. Similar for other food odors and tastes. As it was smell, my taste was muted, too, maybe by a third?

My physician gave it a name, anosmia, but also had me take meds to lower allergies and cure any thrush. The drugs had no effect, so he suggested an ear, nose and throat doctor. The otolaryngologist ordered an MRI of my neck and head and found no “unusual abnormalities.” He recommended a neurologist to see if it was nerve-related. I chose to live with anosmia but kept the names he recommended.

Some smells and tastes have returned in the last couple of years but not at full depth. Every so often the an odor comes through full strength, and I rejoice. Even when it’s animal poop.

Anosmia has joined fever and dry cough as a symptom of coronavirus 2019 disease (though Slate.com is skeptical). Wait, was there a Covid-17? No, not one that caught, so to speak.

Let’s chalk up the dulling of my tongue and nose to being on the far side of middle age. I started needing hearing aids 15 years ago. Eyeglasses were prescribed for this boy at age 8. I’m getting old.


I have a couple of the risk factors for getting hit hard with Covid-19 but not the worst ones. So My Beloved and I work on computers from home, thankful for jobs that allow that and with them health insurance.

I am sure I will get infected at some point despite the recommended precautions of cleanliness and distance. I go a hair further in caution at her insistence.

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