Thursday, January 26, 2023

Clam Pancakes (Fritters)

Sometimes the best-laid plans go awry. I came across a recipe for a traditional Heiltsuk clam fritter recipe (more on the Heiltsuk below). This recipe, as with most fritter recipes, called for a heavy breading that gets deep fried in a lot of oil. The combination of heavy breading and deep frying did not really appeal to me. 

I thought I could make a couple of fairly simple modifications and I would end up with a fritter that did not have a thick breading soaked in oil. The principal change was to pan fry the fritters in less oil. That is where things started to go wrong.

The key to a fritter is to submerge it in oil so that all sides firm up almost immediately. When the same dollop is placed into a pan, it tends to spread as only the bottom part begins to firm. One then ends up with a pancake, as opposed to a fritter. 

To be sure, there are fritters that look like mini-pancakes. However, the picture on this particular clam fritter recipe displayed round, golden balls. Not flat pancakes. 

Alas, I lose points for authenticity. It is a little disappointing for my first chance to learn about the Heiltsuk, a native American people who have inhabited the central coast of what is now British Columbia, Canada, since at least 7,190 B.C.E. The Heiltsuk identify as being form one of five tribal groups: the Seaward Tribe (Wuyalitxv), the Calm Water Tribe (Wuithitxv), the Rosco Inlet Tribe (Wuithitxv), the Yisda People (Yisdaitxv) and the Northern/Downriver Tribe (Xixis). They are bound together by not just language, but something more. It is something that can be found just under the surface.

An ancient clam garden. Source: Univ. of B.C.
That something is the clam, which plays an important role in the culture and diet the Heiltsuk people. For example, the Heiltsuk had a "clam dance," which is a ceremonial dance performed by girls who portray supernatural clams that come to life in order to make fun of the clam diggers who turn up empty. 

While the Heiltsuk did dig for clams, they also maintained clam gardens, which were rock-walled, intertidal terraces built by the indigenous people (like the Heiltsuk) along the Pacific shorelines. These gardens provided a more stable way to manage the shellfish and, in turn, provide food for the people. Indeed, there is at least one study that shows that there is a greater biomass (meaning there are more clams, such as littlenecks, butter clams and cockles) in a clam garden as opposed to an exposed beach. Each clam garden was relatively small. Nevertheless, clam gardens lined the coast much like condos line the southern Florida coastline. After all, in both cases, the real estate has a lot of value.

Since my plans already went awry, I decided that I would prepare a wojape to go with these clam pancakes (fritters). I got the idea from my daughter, who loves to eat her pancakes with wojape. This particular wojape was made from blackberries and raspberries, along with maple syrup (instead of honey). The maple syrup was a nod to the fact that I was trying to make a dish from a first nation in what is currently known as Canada. 


Recipe from Raven Trust

Serves 4


  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 4 cups cleaned, diced clams
  • 1 1/3 cups diluted milk
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • Pepper to taste
  • 4 eggs, well beaten.


1. Prepare the breading. Sift dry ingredients together. Add beaten eggs to milk.  Pour egg mixture into flour and mix well. Add clams, mix well, then make them into small round balls.

2. Fry the fritters. Drop the balls into hot oil (350 degrees Fahrenheit). Then turn heat down low (250 degrees Fahrenheit) and cook slowly, browning both sides. Let drain on paper towel. 


Thursday, January 19, 2023

White Rice with Assorted Mushrooms

Every dish contains a lesson, yet, its teaching can often be overlooked or ignored. As part of my effort to incorporate Buddhist principles into cooking, I decided to make this dish -- White Rice with Assorted Mushrooms -- as part of a meal for New Year's Eve. The lesson that emerged from this dish became apparent, but only after the dish was completed and eaten.

I approached this dish -- and, indeed, the whole meal -- being mindful of the preparation of each ingredient for each dish. I laid out everything on the island in my kitchen. I went dish by dish, ingredient by ingredient, down the island until I had just about everything prepped. The kitchen island was basically one very large mis-en-place. 

To this point, it seemed like I was approaching my cooking with a certain mindfulness, especially with this dish. After all, it comes from the book that serves as my guide, Wookwan's Temple Food. The recipe seemed simple and straightforward - a variety of mushrooms, some dried and some fresh, served with rice. The key to the recipe can be found in the dried mushrooms. The water used to rehydrate the mushrooms is used to prepare the rice, imbuing the white rice with a flavor that is very similar to wild rice. The use of the water from rehydrating rice (or other dried ingredients) is not new to me. I have done it before, but, I was reminded about how much flavor can be added to a dish by using what is in front of you, rather than discarding it down the sink. 

As I continued to prepare and even cook this dish, I had not realized that the lesson was still to come. All of my focus, the entirety of my effort to be present in the moment, seemingly vanished in the final minutes of the cook. I soon became enmeshed in the completion of not just this dish, but the main course and other sides as well. My thoughts about how I would present this dish receded as the urgency of actually plating the dish gripped me. In the end, I fell back upon a traditional way I plate dishes, putting the rice in the center and the mushrooms around the side. It was not what I initially planned to do and it looks nothing like the picture in the cookbook. 

However, I was still mindful. I noted that my rush to plate the dish, and others, did not lead to what I had envisioned for this dish. This recipe could be an entire meal in and of itself. Mushrooms have many important health benefits, including (when eaten regularly) decreasing the risk of cancer, lowering cholesterol, promoting brain health, providing a good source of vitamin D, and helping to ensure a healthy immune system.

The lesson from this recipe is that there comes times when I lose my focus and my mindfulness. Those times occur when multiple things (like different dishes) are competing for my attention. I need to remember that, when my attention is pulled in different directions, I need to keep myself centered on the present moment and what I am trying to accomplish.  


Recipe from Wookwan's Korean Temple Food, pg. 35

Serves 3-4

Ingredients (for the mushrooms):

  • 1 cup short grain rice
  • 15 grams dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 15 grams dried white wood ear mushrooms
  • 50 grams king oyster mushrooms
  • 50 grams enoki mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon perilla seed oil
  • 2 cups water, for soaking dried mushrooms

Ingredients (for the seasoned soy sauce):

  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon perilla seed oil
  • 1 tablespoon roasted sesame seeds
  • 1 Korean green chile pepper, seeded and minced


1. Prepare the rice. Wash and rinse the rice. Soak in water for about 1 hour.

2. Prepare the mushrooms. Rehydrate dried shiitake and dried white wood ear mushrooms by soaking them in water. Save the water after soaking the mushrooms. Cut off the stems of the shiitake mushrooms and slice thinly. Cut white wood ear mushrooms into small bite-sized pieces. Slice king oyster mushrooms thinly. Cut the bottom of the enoki mushrooms, and tear it into thin pieces by hand. Tear oyster mushrooms by hand as well. 

3. Continue to prepare the mushrooms. In a mixing bowl, add all of the mushrooms except the enoki mushrooms. Add soy sauce and perilla seed oil. Mix well. 

4. Prepare the rice. In a pot, add rice and water from soaking the mushrooms. Add seasoned mushrooms on top. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low for about 10 minutes. Add enoki mushrooms and cover for 1-2 minutes. Turn off heat. 

5. Finish the dish. Stir rice gently. Serve with seasoned soy sauce on the side. 

This post is part of my project, the Mindfulness Foodways. To check out other posts that are part of this project, please click here.


Friday, January 13, 2023

Casanel Carmenere

The Romans most likely called it "biturica," but the French called it "Carmenere." It was one of the six noble grapes,  contributing flavors of dark berries and spice to the famous wine blends from Bordeaux. That was until 1867, when phylloxera wiped out most of the Carmenere vines.

After that devastation, Carmenere receded into history, as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec emerged as the predominant Bordeaux grapes for wine-making throughout the region. Carmenere's susceptibility to pests, as well as other difficulties (such as small grape clusters and inconsistent grape production) led winemakers to cultivate and rely upon the other varietals.

Yet, more than ten (10) years before the Carmenere disaster in France, another story began to be told. The story emerged nearly seven thousand (7,000) miles away from the Bordeaux vineyards ... in the valleys of Chile.

Chilean growers had brought Carmenere vines to their country in an effort to produce wines locally. The climate in Chile is well suited for Carmenere vines, which began to thrive. However, despite its resurgence, the Carmenere grapes were mistakenly referred to as Merlot grapes. It was not until the 1990s - more than 140 years later - that experts were able to reveal the grape's true identity. 

Since that time, Carmenere has emerged elsewhere around the world. One such place is within the Middleberg AVA (American Viticultural Area), where Casanel Vineyards & Winery produces an estate Carmenere. (In fact, Casanel is the first vineyard to successfully grow Carmenere on the east coast of the United States.)

My beautiful Angel and I visited the winery a while back, where I had a chance to try the Carmenere. I liked the wine so much that I decided to buy a bottle to take home.  

The Carmenere pours a crimson red or dark raspberry. The aromatic elements are more fruit forward than I expected. People often associate raspberries, plums and other dark fruit with a Carmenere and I think that provides an apt description of this wine's aroma.  I had thought that I would find some earthiness or pepper in the aroma, because one of the quintessential elements of a traditional Carmenere wine is spice or pepper.

That black pepper or green pepper element was not very pronounced in this wine. The more forward elements consisted of the dark fruit, such as those raspberries and plums. This is not a criticism, as some modern day Carmeneres have moved away from sharp peppercorn tastes of the classic wines. While I really liked this wine, I wish that I had experienced some more of the pepper notes, because that is one of the main reasons why I like Carmenere wines so much.

The wine is available from Casanel Vineyards, where it sells for about $55.00 a bottle. 


Friday, January 6, 2023

Cranberry Persimmon Chutney

I have never prepared a dish with persimmons ever in my life. That seems like a strange statement to make. Persimmons are found around the world and many cuisines use the fruit in various dishes. I have seen them in grocery stores and simply continued to walk past them. 

So, when my beautiful Angel recently purchased a lot of persimmons, I had absolutely no idea what to make with them. I had to do a lot of research, mostly on the internet, to find recipes that I could make. 

One recipe caught my eye almost immediately. It was for a Cranberry Persimmon Chutney. My love of South Asian foods, from Nepal to Sri Lanka and everywhere in between (which basically includes Bhutan, Bangladesh and India), drew my attention to the word "chutney." The fact that the Thanksgiving holiday had just passed got me to thinking, "I have cranberries." It seemed that everything was coming together for me to make this recipe. 

Chutneys are a very old food, whose history can be traced back centuries on the Indian subcontinent, to at least 500 B.C.E. The historical preparation involved taking uncooked fruits, such as apples or mangoes, and adding an acid base, like vinegar or tamarind juice. These chutneys were meant to be consumed fresh, alongside other dishes. This is a practice that continues today, with generally made with fresh fruit and some spices that, much like sambals or sambols, are served with almost every meal. 

The combination of persimmon and cranberries, along with the use of mustard and cumin, provided a balance of sweet and tart, along with some earthiness. The use of agave syrup heightened the sweetness in the chutney, while the vinegar provided some more balance to the overall dish. After finishing this recipe, I began to think that I should have been buying persimmons rather than just simply passing them up at the grocery store. 


Recipe from Robin Asbell

Makes about a cup


  • 1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup cranberries
  • 1 medium persimmon, peeled and chopped
  • 1/4 cup agave syrup
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt


Put the spices in a small saucepan and dry toast over medium high heat until fragrant. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cook, stirring often, until thick. 


Sunday, January 1, 2023

A Mindful Journey For the New Year and Beyond

As I recently announced, I am taking my food blog in a slightly different, but exciting direction. I am going to incorporate  mindfulness into the preparation, cooking and eating of everything that I make. The mindfulness that I am drawing upon comes from Buddhist principles. However, I am not a Buddhist; and, as the few who follow this blog know, I definitely don't eat like a Buddhist. 

Still, I am inspired by the words of the Dalai Lama, "do not try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist; use it to be a better whatever-you-already are.

That is my path going forward. It is a path guided by Buddhist principles, which I hope will lead me on a journey that will improve my footprint on this planet, as well as improve my own health. The journey involves the incorporation of Buddhist principles (to varying degrees) into everything that I do when it comes to cooking and eating. My destination is a better "whatever I already am."

The starting point on my path to culinary mindfulness begins with the book, Korean Temple Food. The author, Wookwan, is a Buddhist nun and the head of the Mahayeon Temple Food Cultural Center. Wookwan gives an excellent explanation of the principles of Buddhism as they relate to the preparation and eating of temple food. The term "temple food" refers to the everyday good that is prepared by Buddhist monks and nuns for their own consumption, but also for those who visit Buddhist temples. As Wookwan explains (at pg. 13), temple food is religious food, which means that "the entire process of farming, foraging, preparation, cooking, eating and even cleaning, is considered part of the Buddhist practice and meditation." 

Source: Korean Cultural Center

Wookwan further describes (at pg. 14) the three overarching principles that apply to the preparation of temple food: clarity, flexibility and compliance with the Buddha-Dharma. A brief explanation follows given these are going to be my lodestars.

First, clarity itself has multiple levels of meaning. There is the clarity in one's heart: "the one who cooks the food, and the one who consumes the food, must all have sincere and pure hearts and mind to achieve ultimate clarity in food. (Wookwan 14.)  But clarity also incorporates cleanliness, both in terms of ingredients and cooking space.

Second, flexibility "is the ability to create harmony in any given situation and setting" with ingredients and cooking processes. (Wookwan 14.) This flexibility brings balance in the dish. That balance includes its size, textures, and flavors.

Third, compliance with the Buddha-Dharma requires both the cook and the guest to understand that humans and nature are one, just as the mind and body are one. Wookwan further adds, "everything must be done in a righteous way, from obtaining the ingredients to cooking, serving and enjoying the food...." (Wookwan 14.) This requires each ingredient be handled with care and to avoid polluting or harming nature. 

Illustration by Lasha Mutual. (Source.)
Applying these principles would require a dramatic change in what I prepare and eat. Take, for example, the Buddhist principle that each ingredient be treated as a living being. When it comes to actual living beings, that means a largely vegetarian diet. Buddhists believe that every living creature - not just humans - can achieve enlightenment. Thus, meat can only be eaten when the animal is not killed for the sake of consumption. Another example involves what are known as the oh-shin-che  or the "five spicy vegetables." Buddhist cooking restricts the use of those vegetables, which are green onions, garlic, chives, leeks, and onions. The reason is that, when cooked with heat, those vegetables increase one's earthly desires, and, when eaten raw, those vegetables are said to bring anger. (Wookwan 13.) If implemented, these restrictions would result in a massive overhaul of this carnivore's love of Italian and Indian cuisine, both of which utilize a lot of oh-shin-che, as well as a fair amount of meat. 

As I have previously mentioned, dramatic changes are not long-lasting ones. So, the process of change will be gradual. This pace is important because I also want to continue my efforts to learn more about the cuisines from around the world, many of which use meat and onions in their dishes. My hope is to balance those dishes with ones through the incorporation of Buddhist principles (such as in the sourcing of ingredients to ensure that they are more environmentally friendly), as well as others derived from cuisines around the world. The dishes inspired by or incorporating these principles, or just dishes made by Buddhist monks and nuns, can be found at my ongoing project, The Mindfulness Foodways.

All of this is a work in progress. There will be times when it seems like I have gone off course, such as when I post a barbecue recipe. My focus is on the overall journey. I hope that you check back every once in a while to see where I am on that path. Until next time...