Flash in the Pan 

Welcome to my blender bender

Despite the fact that they may be completely accurate, the predictions we’ve been hearing about global warming are still only predictions. The details of how, exactly, certain events will play themselves out can only be written in real time.

Last weekend for example. While I had known the heat wave was coming, I wasn’t expecting to be tethered to my blender by an invisible leash. That leash was my barely manageable thirst.

It’s shocking to me how little latitude we have to operate at the high end of our temperature range. In winter it can be 10 degrees out, which of course is effing freezing, but if the temp drops to zero, well, it’s even colder. If it drops to 10 below, well, that really sucks. If it drops to 20 below, then wow, it’s really cold. And so on.

But with heat, it’s different. Can you imagine 120 degrees? 130? 140?

After last weekend, maybe you can. We seem to have caught a glimpse of something new. Going outside felt a little like going into outer space. Even small excursions, like walking to the mailbox, became carefully planned missions. I suited up with hat, shades and Camelback. I couldn’t stop drinking for very long or I’d slam into a dizzy wall of slow-motion delirium that rendered me essentially useless.

Where there is water, there is life. Here in the arid West, you could say that where there is water there is paradise. And while I’ve been making plenty of trips to the river, I’ve been doing most of my paradise-pursuing in a blender. Although water is all we really need to survive, as humans we seem to need art as well. We want the presentation of cooled water to stimulate our taste buds as it refreshes our whole body. And if the presentation includes electrolytes and vitamins to help our biological machines stay on kilter in this relentless heat, all the better.

The other day I started with ice, as usual, and then added a few spoonfuls of lemonade powder.

I should point out that I usually avoid any form of lime or lemon that isn’t directly squeezed from the fruit on-site. I have no use for pre-packaged lemon or lime juice, which inevitably tastes like dish soap. But I have to say that the lemonade powder (essentially just lemon-flavored sugar) they sell in bulk at the Good Food Store tastes the way I want it to, and proves completely indispensable in these blasting hot days.

So the other day, after starting with ice and lemonade powder, I tossed in some fresh strawberries and a few mint leaves.

I like the finished product to be completely blended, with enough ice to give it body and extended coolness, but not so much that you can’t pour it. If it’s too thick, add more water. I’m constantly tasting, adjusting the lemonade powder, fruit, ice, etc., until the perfect state of body and flavor is achieved. Some people like to use frozen fruit in their blender drinks, so you can use less ice. But what’s wrong with ice? It’s cold, and it’s 100-percent water, so I’m cool with ice.

And I was very cool with that strawberry-mint lemonade. So into it, in fact, that as soon as it was done I made another, this time with fresh raspberries, no mint. Then I made a basil lemonade, which is just ice, lemonade powder and basil leaves—which some folks prefer to strain out before serving. I enjoyed these fleeting drinks in my shaded hammock.

Then, although I was surely well hydrated, I still felt dizzy and slow. It was time for my afternoon ace in the hole.

I had a pot of strong coffee that I’d made that morning for especially this purpose, and had set aside to cool to room temperature (you have to let the coffee cool, otherwise it melts the ice). I loaded the blender with ice, the coffee, four heaping teaspoons of unsweetened cocoa powder, nearly as much evaporated cane juice and a big pour of “Very Vanilla” flavor Silk-brand soy milk, stuff so dangerously drinkable I call it “liquid crack.” I also added a couple teaspoons of my housemate’s protein powder, which is mostly powdered whey—a milk-based byproduct of the cheesemaking process that adds a nice creamy body to coffee smoothies.

This spectacular drink—which lasted about 12 seconds in my cup—temporarily extinguished the last trace of my body’s excess heat, while clarifying my clouded mental capacities. And the rich aftertaste, that earthy, gritty flavor of pure chocolate powder mixed with strong coffee and perfectly supported by cool, sweet creaminess…No doubt about it, my buzz was back.

Twenty minutes later, of course, it was like none of it had ever happened. So I went back to the well again, like an addict with his needle, me with my blender in my arms.

Ask Chef Boy Ari: The seedy side of gardening

Q: Dear Chef Boy Ari,

My garden plot is a little shady. According to the seed packet, my broccoli plants should be fine with partial sun. But they’re already starting to flower, having skipped the tasty head stage. Is there something I can do to stop them from flowering? What gives?


A: Dear Floretless,

Your broccoli plants want to make as many seeds as they can, and under good conditions they will grow as much as possible before flowering. A larger plant will make a larger “pre-floral organ”—aka “head,” the part you eat—which leads to a larger flower, and hence more seeds. Your broccoli went to seed early, probably in response to some kind of environmental stress.

If the plant gets a sketchy vibe from its environment—too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry, too long in a tiny pot before transplanting—it hits a panic button of sorts, sounding a systemic alarm that says, “Now or never boys, let’s go!”

Unfortunately for you, once its mind is made up, that broccoli plant’s determination to release its pollen rivals the average teenager’s, and no amount of pruning will change its mind.

But don’t stress out. You have options. You can, of course, buy broccoli on the open market, ideally the farmers’ market. But if you really want to grow your own broccoli this summer, you have one more chance. You need to find a local farmer—and there are many—who seeded broccoli starts for a fall crop. Those plants are about six inches tall now, and ready to be transplanted. Ask around at the farmers’ market. Someone will have them, or know someone who does.

And this time, treat that broccoli right.

Send your food and garden queries to flash@flashinthepan.net.
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