Friday, June 15, 2018

Flashback Friday - Fumetto #19 - Always Dieting Girl

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on March 22, 2012
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Friday, June 08, 2018

Flashback Friday - Where There's Smoke...

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on August 6, 2012
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Some time ago, my brother bought us a stovetop smoker. This one, to be exact. We used it exactly once, to smoke some pork tenderloins. We neither burned the house down nor filled it with smoke, so I suppose the first experiment was largely successful. Except that the meat didn't taste particularly smoky. Recently, I got it in my head that I should put the smoker to use again, this time smoking some vegetables. The Fourth of July was coming up, and on that day we'd be eating beef burgers flavored with the smoke from the grill. Portobello mushrooms make pretty good burger substitutes and I wondered if they'd be even better when smoked.

Mushrooms, buns, and poblano peppers were purchased during our usual weekly trip to the grocery store and hung around in the fridge awaiting the weekend. And then Mother Nature struck, knocking out our power for four days. The mushrooms got packed up with the rest of the contents of fridge and freezer and were transported to Dad's place, where we lived until BGE got the electricity up and running (I think they saved our neighborhood for last). Rather than let the mushrooms dry out and go to waste, I chopped them up and used them to stretch a bit of frozen pasta sauce from our freezer (a bonus - doing so made for two fewer things to carry home later).

Once we were back in our own digs, I was determined to make the smoked mushrooms, come hell or high water. (The temperatures around here sure did feel like hell.) I also smoked some thickly sliced onion that became a sweet and tangy jam for topping the mushroom burgers. I was pretty pleased with the results. While the smoked mushrooms would never fool a carnivore, they made for a fine meatless supper.

Smoked Portobello Burgers with Smoked Onion Jam

4 large or 8 small portobello mushroom caps
1/2 onion, sliced thickly

Place mushrooms and onion in a stovetop smoker and smoke according to manufacturer's directions for about 15 minutes. Allow to cool inside smoker. When cool, remove mushrooms and set aside. Place onions in a saucepan to make the jam.

Onion Jam

smoked onion
olive oil
pinch salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon smoked paprika (optional)

Add a teaspoon or so of olive oil and a pinch of salt to the saucepan of smoked onions. Cook on medium heat, stirring often, until the onions start to wilt and become translucent, about 10 minutes. Stir in brown sugar and vinegar, turn heat to low, cover, and simmer an additional 20-30 minutes, until onions are very soft and have caramelized. If there's too much liquid left in the pot, raise the temperature and cook, uncovered, until the juices thicken. If the onions aren't smoky enough, stir in the smoked paprika.

To serve:
olive oil
sliced cheese (optional)
Hamburger buns
mayonnaise
roasted poblano or red bell pepper, seeded and sliced into strips
avocado slices

Heat a bit of olive oil in a large skillet and add mushrooms. Cook on both sides for a couple of minutes to heat through. Top with cheese in the last minute or so of cooking, if desired, and cover pan.

Spread a bit of mayo on each side of a hamburger bun and add a few strips of pepper. Place one large or two small portobello caps onto the peppers. Top with avocado (tomato is nice, too) and a spoonful of onions.

Posted on Minxeats.com.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Sparkling Ice Cocktails

When offered the choice between sparkling or still water in restaurants, I take still every time. Unflavored carbonated water isn't my thing, but I do like sparkling flavored beverages, as long as they are somewhat sweet. I always keep a bottle of what I call "fizzy water" on hand, mostly to dilute my orange or grapefruit juice. While I'd love to guzzle a big glass of juice every morning, 8 fl oz of OJ has about 111 calories, which are probably better used on an egg and half a slice of toast. Instead, I pour about 2 ounces of juice (with pulp!) in my glass and add a few ounces of no-calorie lime fizzy water. I'm so used to drinking it that way that straight-up juice doesn't seem quite right.

In addition to saving a few calories on juice, I like to use my water to top off a glass of booze, especially in the warmer months when I don't want as much alcohol in a drink as I might in the winter. I'll take a Manhattan in January, but in June I'd rather sip on a spritzer. And while my usual generic grocery store brand fizzy water is ok for such applications, I have discovered that Sparkling Ice is even better. It's flavored with actual fruit juice, so it tastes better than the stuff I used to use,  and contains vitamins and antioxidants in the form of green tea extract. Sparkling Ice is sweetened with Sucralose, which means it has sweetness but zero calories.

Sparkling Ice comes in 16 flavors. The Lemon Lime is my favorite, because it's the most neutral and versatile (IMHO), but I'm also fond of the Pink Grapefruit, Ginger Lime, and Coconut Pineapple. Combine any of those flavors with a little white rum and a lime wedge and voila! Instant cocktail! But you could also add fruit juices and fancier garnishes and make perfect party drinks, like the ones featured below.
Tropical Flower Punch

1 cup of coconut rum
1 cup of mango juice
2 cups of orange juice
¼ cup of grenadine
2 cups Sparkling Ice Coconut Pineapple
Edible flowers, for garnish

In a large punch bowl, combine the coconut rum, mango juice, grenadine, Sparkling Ice Coconut Pineapple and stir. Fill glasses with ice and ladle in the punch, garnish with edible flowers serve.

Citrus Punch

2 cups vodka
½ cup lime juice
3 cups pineapple juice
2 bottles Sparkling Ice Orange Mango
1 tablespoon ground nutmeg
1 orange, sliced
1 blood orange, sliced
1 lemon, sliced
Pineapple slices

Pour the vodka, lime juice, pineapple juice, Sparkling Ice Orange Mango, and nutmeg in a large punch bowl. Toss in orange, blood orange, lemon slices and stir. Fill glasses with a ladle, garnish with fresh pineapple.

Pretty much any combination of liqueurs, juices, and Sparkling Ice would make a fine summer sipper. Try Deep Eddy Cranberry Vodka with the Ginger Lime, your favorite Sweet Tea flavored vodka with Classic Lemonade, or anything else you can dream up!

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Friday, June 01, 2018

Flashback Friday - Sichuanese Cookery

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on July 22 2009.
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Mr Minx and I went to H Mart last week to pick up some needed staples: Kewpie mayo; dark soy; noodles; Mexican chorizo. I also wanted to pick up some chile bean sauce to use in Sichuan cookery. You see, after reading Fuchsia Dunlop's excellent Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper, I bought her Sichuan cookbook, Land of Plenty.

The first thing I attempted was "ants climbing a tree," or, vermicelli noodles with ground pork.

I had eaten an excellent version at Grace Garden and wanted to recreate it. Unfortunately, this recipe didn't do the trick. My noodles were spicy and salty and that's about it - missing any nuance of flavors found in Chef Li's version. I kinda had an idea that would be the case, so I also cooked up a stir fry of scallops, langoustine tails (advertised as such at Trader Joe's but they sure taste like crawfish to me), oyster mushrooms, and gai lan (Chinese broccoli) in black bean sauce to go with. I love how gai lan is both bitter and sweet at the same time.

Next time I have a hankering for ants climbing a tree, I'll try this recipe. Or this one.

The second recipe I chose from Land of Plenty was for a family favorite, kung pao chicken. It was scrumptious, and my house now smells like a Chinese restaurant - sweet, meat, and garlic. I didn't use the "generous handful of dried red chiles" called for because 1) I didn't have them; 2) I like spicy food but I didn't want to hurt myself; I used cayenne instead. I'll definitely make this one again, maybe with shrimp next time.

Kung Pao Chicken (adapted from Land of Plenty by Fuchsia Dunlop)

4 chicken thighs, boned and skinned, cut into small cubes
2 large cloves of garlic, minced, and an equivalent amount of fresh ginger, cut into thin slices
5 scallions, chopped, white and green parts separated
2/3 cup roasted unsalted peanuts
cayenne to taste
Sichuan peppercorns

for marinade
1/2 t salt
2 t light soy sauce
1 t Shaoxing rice wine or medium-dry sherry
2 1/4 t cornstarch
1 T water

for sauce
3 t sugar
1 1/8 t cornstarch
1 t dark soy sauce
1 t light soy sauce
3 t Chinkiang or black Chinese vinegar
1 t sesame oil
1 T water

1. Place chicken in a bowl with marinade ingredients, set aside.
2. Combine sauce ingredients in small bowl. Add minced ginger. Set aside.
3. Heat a large skillet and add 2 tablespoons of cooking oil. When hot but not smoking, add chicken and after chicken cubes have separated, add ginger and white part of scallions. Stir fry until the meat is cooked through. Season with cayenne and, if you have it, ground Sichuan pepper.
4. Stir the sauce and pour into the pan, continuing to stir the meat. When the sauce is thick and glossy, stir in the peanuts and remove from heat.
5. Garnish with scallion greens and serve with rice.

Serves 2 - 4, depending on appetite and side dishes.

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Monday, May 28, 2018

Instagram

Back in the day, there was a whole slew of food photography sites like Tastespotting and Foodgawker. Serious Eats even had a version that was quite a bit less-nitpicky regarding photographic standards, considering they accepted so many of my crappy images. But now we have Instagram, which allows anyone and everyone to post their photos online for the world to see. Most photos are pretty bad, and there are lots of selfies of moderately-attractive people who clearly have healthy egos. (I may or may not be including any and all Kardashians in this category.) Thankfully, one can follow whom one likes on IG, so my feed is full of photos of food and cute dogs. One of my very favorite accounts combines both: Popeye the Foodie is a mixed-breed cutie-pie who patiently poses all over Los Angeles with the most delicious looking foods. There's no way I could get my mutt to sit still with a steak in front of him! (He has his own account, too.)

I wasn't an early adopter of the IG, but a fellow food writer suggested that it was the thing right now and I had better jump on the bandwagon. (Ironically, she barely posts at all.) Once I got serious about it, my photographs improved and sometimes I actually enjoy it. It's certainly easier than blogging, which is why its so popular. One doesn't need writing skills or even an attention span to be an Instagram star.

But what makes an Instagram star? Or, as they're usually called, "influencers." Hell if I can figure it out! There are people with wildly popular accounts who get hundreds of likes per photo and almost as many comments. Some of these accounts are merely recycling the content of other accounts. I might see the same photo or video in my feed three times in the course of a day, posted by three different, unrelated, accounts. The original poster is often (but not always) credited. I think it's fine to repost an image if you want to bring special attention to the account holder, if it's a post about a charitable event, for example. I've had my photos reposted by the restaurants in which I have taken them; that's an acknowledgement that they appreciate the way I am promoting their establishment. And it's kind of an honor. But reposting a Buzzfeed Tasty video that received 1.2 million views seems like a cheap way to attract likes to your own account. Maybe it's ok to do it once or twice, but if an account's entire content is videos and images originally posted to other, more popular, accounts, that just seems wrong.


I also can't figure out why some photos are more popular than others. It does seem that certain foods will get more likes, regardless if the photo is good or not: pizza; tacos; burgers; ice cream; donuts; dumplings. Fattening junk food. Some might wonder about the sheer volume of these foods consumed around the world, but I fear much of it is discarded, having been used merely as a photo prop. Those cheeseburgers comprising 10 patties stacked precariously between layers of cheese and condiments are probably going to end up in the garbage can next to that mountain of tater tots topped with nacho fixins. For one thing, who can eat something like that without going into cardiac arrest? Sure, it can be shared among multiple people, but if multiple foodies are going out to eat together, you can be sure that each one of them will be ordering something that can be photographed. Which creates a lot of food waste.

I was at a media dinner not that long ago where an IGer ordered a deep-fried burger just for the novelty of it. He took one bite, then left the rest on his plate. He had no intention of eating the burger; he just wanted to photograph it because it seemed ridiculous. It reminded me of childhood mealtime admonishments about the starving children in China or wherever. But that's no joke. There are starving kids right here in the US that would love to have a decent meal, and we are throwing perfectly good food away after using it as a prop. It's shameful. And in all honesty, those over-the-top food images are not really attractive.

I for one eat everything on my plate, which is how I have achieved my rotund physique over the years. I won't order anything that I wouldn't enjoy, and if it happens that there is too much food on the table (because there were too many good choices on the menu and I couldn't control myself), the leftovers are always taken home. And if you don't believe that we don't eventually eat them, check out my feed and read the captions. If I've recycled leftovers, I mention it. Just the other day, I used leftover aromatic shrimp from Szechuan House in a pasta dish. There was a ton of barely cooked bell pepper, onion, and garlic in the container, and there was no obvious exotic-flavored sauce to the dish. I used all of it, along with more fresh veg, a can of clams with their juice, and lots of fresh herbs, all tossed with squid ink spaghetti. It was great, and didn't taste like leftovers at all. But I digress.....


Another thing that irks me--people who use filters on food photos. IMNSHO, food looks good when it's completely natural. Best with natural light, too, but that's not always possible. There are plenty of editing tools in IG to bring out the best in any photo (the highlight and shadow tools are the most valuable and most under-utilized), so there's no reason to apply Aiden or Nashville. If it's a shitty picture, nothing will help, certainly not making the whole thing look more brown or washed-out. Also, people who think it's attractive to rip a donut apart to see the gooey chocolate cream inside (sorry, it looks like poop) or a raspberry-filled croissant (it looks like blood and guts). Especially in a video.

Do I have a problem with Instagram? No. If I did, I wouldn't be fiddling with it on a daily basis, worrying if I have any good food photos on my camera and attempting to come up with the occasionally interesting caption (not that anyone reads them). I just have a problem with some users. But I have a problem with some people. Or people in general.

Feel free to ignore my somewhat pointless rant. I'm sure you will.

Posted on Minxeats.com.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Flashback Friday - Tea for Two

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on February 20, 2008.
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Did you know that a venti drip coffee at Starbucks contains 480mg of caffeine? Even their decaf has 20mg. Because caffeine tends to give me heart palpitations, I've started to drink more tea (an average cup of tea has between 40 - 60mg), particularly rooibos (caffeine free).

I've always liked a good cup of tea. Ok, I lie - not always. When I was a kid, the only tea we had around the house was that familiar red and yellow box of Lipton's, and it was always served with sugar and lemon, or when someone had a cold, honey and lemon. Lemon was a constant. Now, I think it's fine for iced tea, but I abhor it in hot tea. When my family visited London for the first time in 1976 and tried English Breakfast with sugar and cream, it was a revelation. I could get into drinking tea this way! It was like dessert in a cup, sweet and creamy, but also the tea flavor was bold and not obscured by the strident flavor of citrus. And to this day, that's the way I prefer my cuppa camellia sinensis.

Some teas aren't meant to be had with milk, or sugar for that matter. Over the years I've come to appreciate herbal teas, served neat, and always have tea with Chinese food (jasmine or hurn peen) or sushi (green, preferably genmaicha). It aids with digestion, and somehow just seems right.

I'm drinking more tea than ever these days and have been exploring different brands. Our supermarkets carry the usual suspects: Twinings, Celestial Seasonings, and the ubiquitous Lipton's. I do like some flavors of Celestial Seasonings, particularly the Madagascar Vanilla Red and the impossible-to-find Roastaroma. We keep tins of loose Twinings Earl Grey and English Breakfast tea in the cupboard, but their quality seems to have declined a bit over the years. Lipton has a place on the shelf as well, but only for use in iced tea. Mr Minx and I like to brew up a few plain orange pekoe bags along with several flavored tea bags (usually CS Zingers) in a saucepan of water, and dilute it with enough cold water to fill a gallon jug. This is our usual summertime libation.

As for new and different teas, I stumbled upon the difficult to pronounce Tea Gschwender, a German company that sells its wares here in the US via a shop in Chicago and online. They have a large selection of teas, from black to white and everything in between. I particularly like their red, or rooibush teas. Not actually a tea, rooibos is a member of the legume family, the leaves of which are used to brew a tealike beverage that is completely caffeine-free and full of beneficial phytochemicals.

Another recent discovery is Zhena's Gypsy Teas, an all-organic, Fair Trade product. The rose-flavored Gypsy Love is delicious, with or without milk and sugar.

Mr Minx and I tend to like our tea on the strong side. A tea bag dunked in water just doesn't do it, and we don't mess around with cutesy pots and infusers. Instead, we use our trusty 4-cup Mr Coffee. Two bags in the basket, or a couple tablespoons of loose tea in a coffee filter, brews up quite a nice pot. Several pots, actually. Sometimes I can get two or three out of a single batch of leaves before it starts to taste weak. My current favorite is Winter Magic (pictured above), a rooibos from Tea Gschwender, with cinnamon and almonds bits, cardamom husks, red sandalwood, and cardamom seeds.

I still drink coffee a couple of times a week - decaf - but have really started to prefer a cup of tea most mornings. What's your favorite caffeine-delivery method?

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Monday, May 21, 2018

New Designs at Redbubble

Not only do I write about food and take photos of food, I use those photos to create fabric designs. The four below are some of my latest designs and can be found on everything from travel mugs to duvet covers and more. I particularly like them on scarves, tote bags, and sofa pillows.

Check out the links below every photo to see my whole line, sold by Redbubble.com.

Good Morning

Koreatown

Little Italy

Taco Tuesday

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Spotlight On - Cafe Gia

Not sure if anyone knows, but I've been writing a restaurant column for the City Walker App Blog. The purpose of the app itself is to give visitors a local's-eye-view of a city, so they are able to experience it in the same way residents do--on foot. (Not that anyone actually walks anywhere anymore.) The blog offers a bit more detail; I have endeavored to take users on a stroll through the city while pointing out restaurants along the way. In addition to the walking posts, I have been writing others that put certain favorite restaurants of mine in a spotlight. I thought I could share those here with you.
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The brick building at the corner of President and Fleet Streets--currently home to the Baltimore Civil War Museum--has seen a lot of action over the years. Originally a train station, it was involved in the Baltimore Riot of 1861, a skirmish that produced the first casualties of the Civil War. President Street Station was also the terminus for scores of Italian immigrants who had originally entered the U.S. through Ellis Island in New York and took the train to Baltimore. They came from all over Italy--from Genoa and Naples on the mainland, Palermo and Cefalu in Sicily--and many settled down virtually at the station’s doorstep in the neighborhood that became known as Little Italy.

So it came to be that multiple generations of the same Italian family lived in the same small rowhouse with hopes to raise future generations in the same place. Today, most of the neighborhood is still of Italian descent, but there are folks of other ethnicities living here and there, drawn to the neighborhood’s warmth and staying power, and its proximity to downtown. The Aquia family are relative newcomers to the area, having only arrived in Baltimore from Cefalu, Sicily, in 1953. Matriarch Giovanna has said, “at a time when no one liked to move around, our family traveled 3500 miles and we haven’t moved 200 feet since.” Gia Fracassetti, Giovanna’s daughter, is first-generation American and the third generation to live in Little Italy. She decided she wanted to own a restaurant that honored not only her family’s long association with the neighborhood, but also with their Sicilian homeland. She and her Mom opened their eponymous restaurant in 2006 in a corner building embellished inside and out with colorful murals, some depicting life in Sicily, including a replica of the wedding portrait of Rosa and Pasquale, the first generation of the Aquia family to settle in Little Italy. Painted images from old advertising posters decorate the interior, and even the tabletops sport colorful illustrations, all done by local artist Yuri Fatkulin who sadly passed away not long after he finished painting those tables.

The chef at Cafe Gia is Gianfranco Fracassetti. Gian, who hails from Lombardy in the northwest of Italy, worked for a few Baltimore restaurants before ending up at Cafe Gia in 2009. After eight years there, he’s a member of the family. Literally, as he and Gia are married and have added a fourth generation to their Little Italy legacy. Chef Fracassetti’s specialty is homemade stuffed pastas, but he’s no slouch when it comes to anything else on the menu. On a recent visit, hubs and I were able to sit outside on their shaded second floor deck and enjoy the pleasant sunny weather without actually coming in contact with the sun. We ordered a special that evening, a flavorful tuna tartare with the crunch of fresh white corn and a healthy dose of garlic from the pesto aioli that bound it together. We also enjoyed a beet salad, which is not to say a green salad with a few token beets on top, but a great mound of tender cubed red barbabietole (a fun word pronounced “barh bah BYIH toh leh”) in the lightest of dressings, with a lacy garnish of finely shaved fresh fennel. I was intrigued by a pork shank braised with beer (a Flying Dog IPA) and peaches accompanied by a risotto with walnuts and broccolini. It was a dish that managed to be both rustic and elegant in all its many flavors and textures, from the porky depth of the man’s-fist-sized shank and the light sweetness of the rich sauce, to the perfectly cooked rice with vaguely asparagus-like broccolini and crunchy nuts. I loved it. My husband went classic; his order of tender veal saltimbocca had a pronounced sage flavor and just the right amount of cheese. It came with sides of roasted multicolored potatoes and green beans slicked with olive oil. A cannoli for dessert (though we were sorely tempted by Giovanna’s delicious tiramisu) and glasses of Sangiovese rounded out our meal.

On past visits, we’ve enjoyed the grilled octopus served with garbanzo beans, the super-tender sous-vide calamari, the beefy Bolognese sauce over house-made fettuccine, and the eggplant Parmesan. Also recommended are the polpette di Luca, meatballs made with ground bison and ricotta. Though bison is a leaner protein than beef, these meatballs are very moist and tender and remind me of the ones my aunt made. She wasn’t Italian, but her father-in-law was, and his recipe made the very best meatballs on the planet as far as I am concerned.

You may, of course, prefer to have a cocktail or a glass of wine with a few nibbles rather than a full meal. Next door to Cafe Gia is Pane e Vino, a sweet little wine bar owned by Steven Blatterman, Gia’s brother, but definitely a family affair. We love their specialty cocktails, our favorite being the Spicy Sicilian, a sprightly combination of pepper vodka, limoncello, kumquat syrup, and lemon, but the vodka/grapefruit/ginger flavors of the Charm City Girl and the tequila, blood orange, and ginger beer concoction called Redheads Have More Fun are tasty as well. The full Cafe Gia menu is also available at Pane e Vino, in case the crispy chickpeas on the bar whet your appetite for more.

Cafe Gia
410 S High Street
Baltimore, MD 21202
(410) 685-6727

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Friday, May 18, 2018

Flashback Friday - Cantaloupe Gazpacho

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on August 16, 2013.
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There's nothing like a cold bowl of gazpacho to cool one off on a hot summer day. Ok, maybe an air conditioner does a pretty good job, too, but you can't eat an air conditioner. :)

We had a couple of pretty large cantaloupes on hand and they were ripe. I figured we could eat one as-is, and do something, wasn't quite sure, with the other one. We also had a wilting red bell pepper in the fridge AND a cucumber, so I thought that was a sign to make gazpacho.

I checked the Interwebs for gazpacho recipes and most of them included tomatoes but excluded peppers. Bah - I'd just make up my own.

Cantaloupe Gazpacho

1 red bell pepper
1 medium cantaloupe
1 cucumber
slice or two of bread, crusts removed (optional)
sherry vinegar
champagne vinegar
pinch coriander
toasted pumpkin seeds
mint leaves
black walnut oil

Roast the bell pepper over a gas flame or under a broiler until charred in spots. Put in a paper bag or in a covered bowl and allow to cool. When cool enough to handle, remove as much skin as possible, stem and deseed the pepper and cut it into pieces.

Cut the cantaloupe in half and remove the seeds. Scoop out the flesh into the container of a blender. Add the red pepper pieces. Peel the cucumber, cut it into chunks, and stuff it into the blender with the other stuff.

Puree the fruit and vegetables. If it seems too watery, add some of the bread, broken into small pieces before pureeing, until the consistency is acceptable.

The soup will be sweet, so add as much or as little vinegar as you think it needs. I put in a tablespoon of both sherry and champagne vinegars, but you can use one or the other. I also added a pinch of ground coriander, but that's entirely up to you. If you prefer cumin, go for it.

Serve the soup well-chilled. Garnish with toasted pumpkin seeds, mint if you have it, and either a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, or black walnut oil. I like Hammons, which adds a whole new and interesting earthiness and is available at Nuts.com.

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