Head Lice: a Memory

The photos were taken exactly two years ago today, one day after Anker’s swoop of hair was abruptly shorn (to the no doubt insufferable accompaniment of a mother’s shrieky disgust). And two things strike me as remarkable.

One, he does not seem “so little, even though it seems like yesterday”: sure, it seems like yesterday, but he is basically as I know him today; wearing a shirt I love, which he still wears, and those jean shorts that still seem roomy. This marks a new era, I suppose, one in which two years no longer an exponential difference make.

And two—having lice is no big deal, it turns out. I remember the horror then, both of us, infested, repugnant, marked. And how Marta hastened to convince me, over Skype, that those chemical treatments are unnecessary and combing alone is highly effective, and how moments later Ola drove all the way from Piaseczno to drop off the clever ZapX™ C200 comb (with the “helical micro-toothed tubular structure” that “offers better efficiency without any use of aggressive treatments while protecting the scalp”)—and in mere days lice were eradicated, a phobia conquered. These days I take pleasure in observing that, before having lice, I would not have agreed to have lice for a million dollars, whereas now I’d probably agree for, like, five hundred bucks. Seriously, they never fall into your food, and it’s really an easy fix.

Fresh Pix

So it’s last Sunday and Magazyn Wino needs the photos, like, yesterday. They’re supposed to accompany my next piece, Kryzys, Czyli Szansa, which explores the food-and-wine side of contemporary health-driven diets (one such diet, in any case). So there I am and time is short and I need both an illustrative idea and presentable photos. If there’s cooking and plating involved, I need to hurry before I’m all out of daylight or stamina or both. And then it occurs to me to skip pretty much everything and go straight for the essence. Three fruity shots in, I’m loving it all: the pictures, my job, the article, plants as food, the gleaming kitchen counter that doubles as my photography studio—and month five of the elimination-rotation diet that has benefited much, much more than my thyroid. Here is a cross-section of those vibrant cross-sections I captured that day, to whet your appetite for the next issue of Magazyn Wino. In the meantime, I recommend the issue out now: a veritable coupage of wine-driven culture, including my piece on bisque-style vegetable soups, entitled Po Prostu Miazga.

All photos taken by the author using the Leica X1 and random shiny white paraphrenalia to harness the light. Edited in Lightroom, without which none of this would even approach the stock-level adequacy on display. All rights reserved.

A Food Writer’s Update

Freshly rolled cracker dough made with amaranth flour, ground sunflower seeds, grated beetroot, water, olive oil, chia seeds, poppy seeds, caraway seeds and salt. Image (and dough, and recipe) by the author, taken under the kitchen lights with the Leica X1.

Freshly rolled cracker dough made with amaranth flour, ground sunflower seeds, grated beetroot, water, olive oil, chia seeds, poppy seeds, caraway seeds and salt. Image (and dough, and recipe) by the author, taken under the kitchen lights with the Leica X1.

One year and seven essays into writing my very own column for Magazyn Wino, I am equal parts satisfied, grateful and relieved. I’m proud of the achievement, which is both more tangible than so much of the confidentiality-bound work that I do—and infinitely more mouth-watering. (It is also in Polish, and I seem to have passed what loomed as a long-overdue test in my non-English ability.) I’m grateful to the amazing team at Magazyn Wino, both past and present, for trusting me with the job and for the ways they’ve inspired me to produce essays worth reading. And I’m relieved to find the writing itself increasingly familiar and manageable. Sure, it’s still pretty overwhelming to get an article ready for review, but it’s no longer a nightmare to get started in the first place, or to figure out when I’m done.

Pictured below is my content in the final two issues of Magazyn Wino in 2016. One was a deep dive into stock, the other a scrutiny of the spice rack. Coming soon is my essay on cream soups, which I wrote in January, featuring a handful of inspiring ideas and a handy master recipe. Then, in the April issue, I’ll be divulging the details of an unexpected diet I’ve been following—and sharing a few recipes, possibly including the one for these amazing wheat-free beet crackers, above, which have become a dangerously addictive household favorite. But that’s an essay I haven’t even begun to start finishing yet. Hence this post, I guess: a wayward excursion away from the piece I actually need to be writing.

Essay and image by the author, published in Magazyn Wino 2016/5.

Essay and image by the author, published in Magazyn Wino 2016/5.

Essay and image by the author, published in Magazyn Wino 2016/6.

Essay and image by the author, published in Magazyn Wino 2016/6.

Making Millet Edible

Known to many only for its role in bird feed and pig fodder, millet is a gluten-free grain with some amazing health benefits. Notably, it’s rich in iron, hostile to candida and highly alkalizing (a boon in these over-acidified times). According to Ayurveda, millet counteracts cold and congested conditions by heating and drying the body. Then again, Chinese medicine puts it down as a cooling grain, though surely one with potential for a mid-winter meal.

Unfortunately, most of the time millet’s pretty camel-yellow beads wind up pasty, mushy or gluey when cooked. While some insist on defending this “creamy” texture, I find it insipid and incompatible with millet’s metalllic-tinged, slightly bitter flavor profile. In fact, what this grain needs most is fluffiness, nutty and sweet toasted notes and a tooth-engaging chew. Luckily there’s a pretty easy way to make it so.

The secret is to combine loads of pre-rinsing with some heating action before the actual cooking takes place. The best way, which I first discovered in The Splendid Grain by American natural foods expert Rebecca Wood, involves toasting, then rinsing, then cooking the grains using the absorption method in a covered pot. Another, related, solution is to use several changes of boiling water to give the millet the thorough rinsing it requires. (Obviously when the water is scalding hot, you can’t use your fingers to rub the grains gently together and rid them of their chalky dust; use a wooden spoon.)

To toast the grains lightly in an oven, try 5-10 minutes at 170°C, staying as vigilant as when toasting easy-to-burn nuts and seeds. Or use a skillet over moderate heat, stirring, tossing or shaking constantly. It’s important to keep the grains from burning or turning dark before cooking. Three minutes in a cast-iron skillet usually does the trick. If you burn a batch—save it for the birds and start over. Next, it’s crucial to rinse the toasted grains thoroughly in several changes of cold water. Get in there, use your hands; you want the rinse water to run clear. To cook, cover the strained grains with double their volume of boiling water, add a fat dash of salt and a spoonful of butter or ghee, cover tightly and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat, but let stand, covered, for at least 10 more minutes. Uncover, fluff, season to taste with plenty more salty butter and serve.

This is how we make one of the basic morning meals at our house, usually tossing in a few quartered dried figs and five or six green cardamom pods with the millet. We then add additional ghee, toasted nuts and honey or maple syrup at the table. Nutmeg and cinnamon make another great flavor combination, alongside a smattering of raisins. Or try chopped dried apricots (orange or brown) and pitted dates nestled in with a vanilla bean. For us, millet has become an archetypal breakfast dish, so we don’t experiment with swapping in olive oil and sweated onion for the butter and fruit, or stock for the boiling water. But that’s the way to go if it’s dinner you’re after.

As you can see, making millet edible is not only possible, but quite easy. Though I should probably mention that sometimes it also requires a lot of maple syrup, and maybe also the undivided attention of one who is willing to play Mikado ad infinitum.