Saturday, August 28, 2010

Ratatouille Made from Goodies from the Stillwater Farmers' Market

Our blogging hero first heard the expression "farmers' market" many years ago when listening to Neil Young's "On the Beach" album. (It is a fantastic record; you need to listen to it if you haven't already.) On "Ambulance Blues", Young sings

I'm up in TO, keeping jive alive
and out on the corner, it's half past five.
The subways are empty, and so are the cafes, 
except for the farmers' market, and i still can hear them say
 "You're all just pissing in the wind..." 

The (back then) young Swede was puzzled. TO clearly referred to Toronto, Young's old hometown, and he was describing an early morning in that Canadian city in the world-weary tone that permeates the entire On the Beach album. But what was the farmers' market? The literal meaning was clear, but there seemed to be a concept behind it. This had to be looked up! Enter Wikipedia: 
This sounded great, the Swede thought, that's where I would my produce if I was living in America!

Many years later, when the Swedish mathematician's move to Stillwater, OK, had been decided, much time was spent searching for information about the town online. Is there a good cafe? (There is!) Are there any good music venues? (Well, maybe.) And is there a farmers' market?-indeed there is! Stillwater Farmers' Market is open Wednesdays and Saturdays 8am-1pm, just off Main Street, and even has its own website:

The popular music nerd writing this blog realizes that he should probably spend less time listening obsessively to depressed white men with guitars laying bare their Feelings, and, as the popular saying goes, get a life. (It could be argued that doing math is not necessarily a recipe for success, viz. Jaak Peetre's unpublished memoir "Ett liv förslösat på matematik".) Clearly, feeding yourself is a part of any get-a-life program! And as a first step, a visit was paid to Stillwater Farmers' Market, and a dinner was cooked using goodies purchased there! 

Voila la ratatouille, as the French would say. Note the very cute pocket sized eggplants, purchased from a very nice old lady, and the ordinary sized onions, grown on the plains of Oklahoma! Potatoes are not really part of a traditional ratatouille, but they were left over from the Aloo Gobi (the previous post) and I wanted to finish them. They also help turn the ratatouille into a full meal on its own.


a couple of small eggplants
a couple of small potatoes
1 (normal-size) onion
1 green bell pepper
2 ripe tomatoes
2 cloves of garlic
1 dried Chili pepper

olive oil
salt & pepper

Peel the potatoes. Then cut them into halves (if they are small, otherwise quarter the potatoes). Chop the onion and the garlic cloves. Slice the dried chili pepper. In a frying pan, saute the potatoes, onion, garlic, and chili pepper in olive oil with some salt and pepper, and just a little cumin. Turn down the heat and wait a little for the potatoes to get brown around the edges and the onion to get soft.

Meanwhile, chop up the eggplant and the bell pepper. Add them to the pan. Some maintain that the eggplant (and zucchini, if you're using that too) should be prepared separately. I usually cook everything in the same pan-which is good since I've only got one of them in Stillwater. Sprinkle a little salt, cumin, and thyme over the contents of the frying pan.

Next are the tomatoes. Chop them up, and don't let the juice go to waste! I was lucky to have two really ripe and juicy tomatoes. Add the tomato chop to the pan, and turn the heat down low. 

Let the ratatouille stew. Wait, and stir it a little. Repeat. Wait some more. Done! Now ratatouille is often served as a side dish but I was not very hungry so I had only the ratatouille, with a slice of bread.

Serving suggestions: "Really" by J.J. Cale on the side, a Lakefront India Pale Ale from Milwaukee, WI.

Oh and J.J. Cale is not depressed, you can Call Him the Breeze.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Cilantro strikes back; or, Don't fear the cumin.

As is well-known, owning a car often makes life, and in particular shopping, somewhat easier when living in the Southern United States. Regrettably, the Swedish mathematician of Polish descent who is the mastermind, or hack, behind this blog has not yet purchased an automobile. Why, you might ask. Maybe his love of walking everywhere is just too ingrained, maybe he has not had time between preparing his classes this fall, performing computations, and visiting the fair city of Austin in the neighboring Lone Star State. Perhaps he is not sure he really wants to own a motor vehicle on this, or indeed any, continent, perhaps he has just been lazy. Take your pick.

Luckily, our hero has been able to procure a $50 bicycle from a student who is about to graduate from Oklahoma State University and return to his home country. Using this bike, our aging mathematician has been able to extend his shopping trips to include the southern part of downtown, where new finds include: several used & rare book stores, Brown's Bottle Store (carrying a large selection of beers and ales), a musical instruments store, and Territory Western Apparel (for all your Stetson hat & Wrangler jeans needs).

One would not be too far off in guessing that the average patron of Territory Western Apparel would identify with the stereotype of the Oklahoma Cowboy or Cowgirl. Now, the sympathies of this temporary OK resident, when watching John Wayne movies, have always been aligned with Native Americans, or in less precise and appropriate language, Indians. While our hero knows very little about Native Americans preferred traditional meals, he is certainly a fan of Indian cuisine! He recently got treated to an Indian meal at his favorite Swedish/Indian couple's house in Austin, reminding him of the deliciousness of the cuisine, but  he lives in Stillwater, OK, where Indian food does not seem to be readily available in restaurants. The discovery of an anti-cilantro webpage provided additional inspiration to attempt a pale imitation of one of his favorite Indian dishes, Aloo Gobi. For some reason this recipe does not include the gobi (cauliflower)-but it does cilantro, this most noble of plants.

Ingredients:  9 small potatoes
                   1/2 onion (the enormous American variety)
                   2 ripe tomatoes
                   1 green chili fruit
                      large quantities of cilantro

                      salt & pepper
                      cumin (and plenty of it!)


Begin by cutting the potatoes into quarter pieces or halves, depending on how big the potato is. You want the potato pieces to be roughly the same size. Chop up the onion into pretty large pieces and slice the green chili. In a frying pan, fry the potato and the onion chunks in generous quantities of butter, salt and pepper, and more cumin then you've ever dared use before. Add more cumin. Keep stirring the pan until the onion is soft and the potato pieces are brown around the edges. Throw in the green chili slices. Add more cumin.

Turn down the heat a little bit and wait for a few minutes. In the meantime, chop up the tomatoes, without spilling any of the precious tomato juice. When the potatoes start getting a little softer, add the tomato chop. No passed tomatoes this time either-you might want to add a little water, depending on how juicy the tomatoes you use are. This is also where the cilantro enters. Wash it and just throw those little leaves in there!  I used about 1/3 of a standard bundle; you can't really go wrong if you use a little bit more-but make sure to save some for garnishing later. Add more cumin, and then let the sauce simmer.

In the meantime, boil the rice. Use your favorite method, or follow the instructions on the package. It is not difficult, but make sure you use regular white rice or possibly jasmine rice for this dish.

Periodically check the sauce, possibly adding more cumin. It should simmer, not cook, so turn the heat down if necessary. Be patient and wait until the tomato, onion, cilantro, and chili sauce is suitably "goopy", and the potatoes are soft. Add more cumin, maybe. Done! Serve over rice and garnish with cilantro.

Serving suggestions: "The Suburbs" by the Arcade Fire on the side, with a bottle of Basement Batch Pale Ale-an excellent pale ale brewed in Krebs, OK.

PS. No, the green bell pepper did not make it this time. Add more cumin instead.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Pasta Oklahomana--an introduction.

Many years ago, a young Swede of Polish extraction decided to pursue a PhD in mathematics. Last fall, when it became increasingly likely our young, well, by now old, hero would indeed graduate with a degree from KTH, he decided to apply for postdoctoral positions in the United States.

And so it came to pass that our hero found himself moving to Stillwater, Oklahoma, in August 2010, there to take up a visiting position in the Mathematics Department at Oklahoma State University (OSU). When told about the impending move, most friends of our recent graduate reacted with considerable surprise over the chosen destination, perhaps expecting to hear of a relocation to a more mainstream town like New Haven, CT, Cambridge, MA, or indeed, New York City. After their initial surprise had passed, most friends next suggested that a blog, a travel diary, or some other suitable presence on the international computer network known as the Internet should be established by the aging mathematician so that his doings in the States might be followed from a distance. Either that, or they hummed a few lines from the famous Rogers & Hammerstein musical, viz! The Swede was skeptical, feeling that he did neither wished to discuss trivialities like the weather (yes, it is very very hot here) online nor that more specific issues like mathematical progress (or lack thereof) or Feelings merited a spot in the glare of the Internet.

A smart friend then proposed our hero should focus instead on a specific aspect of his day-to-day life, one that might be of interest to all manners of acquaintances; namely, how a somewhat snobbish Swede with a propensity towards Mediterranean dishes attempts to feed himself on the plains of the Sooner State. Writing about food was something our hero felt he could do with a minimum of embarrassment, initial target group reaction was favorable, and thus, the Swedish-Oklahoman food blog was born!

Now, while Stillwater is a small town (around 50.000 inhabitants) it is, by Swedish standards, rather spread out, making grocery shopping and hence advanced cooking difficult without access to a car. Fear not, dear reader, with the aid of Southern kindness to strangers, our Swede has managed to purchase a bare minimum of goods and tools needed to feed himself these first few weeks.

Our inaugural post presents a suitably simple dish. Quick and easy to make, yet very tasty and satisfying,  a variant of what is sometimes known as Pasta Napolitana, we give you--Pasta Oklahomana!

Ingredients: 1 onion
                   1 yellow bell pepper
                   1 large & ripe tomato
                   olive oil
                   salt & pepper
                   pasta penne
                   2-3 slices of mozzarella cheese

Dice the onion and the bell pepper. Chop up the tomato and pour the tomato chop into a bowl, without spilling any of the precious tomato juice. In a frying pan, saute the diced onion and pepper in a generous amount of olive oil.

Wait until the onion is soft and the pepper starts getting brown edges, then add salt and pepper. Wait for a few seconds, then add the tomato chop. Turn down the heat and let stew. "No passed tomatos on top of that?" Nope- the tomato contains enough liquid to make a great sauce if you let it stew for a while.

In the meantime, cook the penne. Follow instructions on package if unsure of how to do this. It is not difficult, but make sure the pasta is al dente. Cut off 2-3 slices of mozzarella. Mix the penne and the sauce in a bowl, put the mozzarella slices on top (it will melt deliciously) and add pepper. Done!


Serving suggestions: "Harmacy" by Sebadoh on the side, a can of Budweiser.