Being Extra: the sauce of life

I am an extra.

I am a non-speaking character in a coffee shop background sipping coffee and staring at my laptop. There are raindrops on the windows, a blade of grass moving in the wind outside, cars moving past on the road, murmuring conversations, a large orange sculpture, a concrete floor, a sneeze, a ding, words, a child’s cry, salt and pepper shakers, iphones, mugs, music wafting above the hum of mid-morning conversations, a green shirt, smell of eggs and coffee, fingers on the keyboard, people behind the counter waiting, people behind the counter making lunch, yellow road signs, an itch on the neck, words on the wall, wood tables, metal chairs, stripes and me.

I don’t despair being an extra. Extras in books, movies or television are never credited with names, just actions, like, “shop keeper” or “crying child.” I am a silent actor in your story, a voiced actor in mine. You can only see my actions, my role as an extra. You don’t see my inner monologue, my struggles, my joys, my worries or my guilt. Recognizing that I am an extra in the world, a silent actor is surprisingly empowering. As you walk by my table where I type, I can trip you or smile, I may not change your story but I color it with my actions. I don’t have to be the main protagonist. The main character depends on the extra. That is the secret: we are all extras. Being extra. I came to see myself as an extra and found an extraordinary life. I stopped trying to be named, stopped trying to be the main character, a proper noun.

Philosophy, art, religions all try to address our longing to connect to something larger, more meaningful than us. This is another attempt. An extra attempt.

We all share the small things, like coffee cups, salt, phones, chairs and walls and the big, like cities, roads, landscapes, clouds, and water. How we focus shape how our individual perspectives live and interact. You are an extra in the stories of almost everyone you meet today. You can probably count the people in your life who are essential on your fingers.

You are an extra.

Moving beyond identity politics, religion, gender, into object-hood into being extra. Being both more and less. Being Extra.

Depending on your outlook you could interpret the title “Being Extra” as either as being more, extraordinary or being waste, extraneous. We are always both: extraordinary and extraneous. It depends on your taste.

I arrived at this question when reading Adolf Loos’ modernist manifesto Ornament and Crime. All sauces he said was ornamental. The modern man eats roast beef. From my South Asian perspective, beef was ornamental, mostly used as a flavoring for curries and only the main component twice a year, weddings and celebrations when a sacrifice was offered. Always ritualized and associated with a momentous occasion.

Adolf Loos’ food example to explain modern architecture and design stuck in my thoughts.

What are your favorite sauces? Your favorite extras? Do you add spicy hot sauce to your dishes, maybe sweet-salty honey mustard, or maybe tart-sweet bbq sauce? How do you flavor your life?

Dessert is always extra, more than, beyond functional, ornamental and as a habit, dangerously unhealthy. Maybe that’s why we crave it. A British Toffee Pudding Cake draped in sweet toffee sauce is definitely extra. Here is a recipe.

Wishing you extra,





Gift of Eggs and Kimchi Fried Rice

My friend, Linda gave me a dozen fresh eggs this morning. My obessive love of eggs is no secret. What a happy gift!

At the end of the morning yoga session while everyone was enjoying a peaceful savasana, I was planning lunch. My leftover rice from last night already had quiet ambitions of becoming a kimchi fried rice topped with a fried egg. Now, I had fresh eggs to make that dish sing.

I first learned about Kimchi (a Korean cabbage pickle) with rice watching Food Network. Thank you, Ina Garten and guest.

My version is simply leftover rice, mixed with kimchi, heated and then topped with an egg. The pickle is spicy-tart and makes the rice moist, crispy and flavorful. The deep orange yolk of the fresh egg works as a sweet-salty sauce.

So simple, so good.

Thanks to Linda, lunch was fantastic.

Wishing you a happy lunch,




Date Night and Duck Breast with Pomegranate-Chile Sauce

It is spring break for schools in the area. The girls abandoned us to brighter places with their respective other parents.  I can’t remember the last time I cooked for Jim. Just Jim. So…on an unusual weeknight dinner date at home, I decided to make

Caesar Salad, Duck Breast with Pomegranate sauce, Mushroom Risotto and Chocolate Creme Brulee.


Most of this I had never made before. It was a risk. But, if it turned out badly we could always just order pizza. There was no urgency or expectation. Perfect for cooking experiments for a forgiving and kind loved one.

What I learned:

The anchovy paste I used tasted bitter for the caesar salad dressing. Next time I’m sticking with the canned anchovies. I like those better.

The Duck Breast was perfectly cooked thanks to the Epicurious Roast Duck Breast with Pomegranate-chile Sauce  recipe. Dear Ms. Selma Brown you are an artist.

  1. Score the duck breast.
  2. Cook skin side down on a dry pan (it won’t stay dry for long).. 7 minutes.
  3. Flip cook other side for 1 minute.
  4. Bake in preheated oven at 400 degrees for 5 minutes.
  5. Let meat rest for 5 minutes. Slice and serve.

I adapted the sauce [now my new favorite!]

1/2 cup sugar and 1/3 cup water. Simmer until caramalized.

Add 2 cups pomegranate juice and 2 cups chicken broth.

I didn’t have dried California Chilies. I did have dried Carolina Reapers…I simmered one-half in the sauce for five minutes. It was HOT….even for me. I was afraid that I would injure Jim with this lovingly prepared lethal sauce.

Reduce until thick. About 25 minutes.

Add one and half teaspoon of Chipotle in adobo sauce and Balsamic vinegar each. This gives the sauce a surprisingly beautiful smoky warmth along with the fruity sweetness.

I strained it. I was left with this deep red, translucent sauce with a honey consistency and spicy hot strength. Amazing. I want to bottle it and share.

It held when I drizzled the sauce on the plate but once I added honey in an effort to tame the angry heat…the sauce sort of dissolved. Maybe next time I’ll drizzle the honey on the duck breast itself and leave the red drizzle alone. Regardless, this was easily one of the best duck preparations I had. Complex flavors, crispy skin, tender meat. Each bite felt full. Next time maybe add some greenbeans to the plate.

The Mushroom Risotto was perfect company for the duck. Next time I need to remember to add more liquid before I serve. The rice had tightened up a bit and lost its creaminess. Basically, every cup of rice needs about 3-4 cups of water.

The Chocolate Creme Brulee was a grown-up cross between chocolate mousse and pudding. I adapted it from Michael Symon’s recipe. Didn’t use a tart shell. The salt in the salt and coffee in the recipe add a……hmmmmm…this is different but familiar taste.


Jim helped with the salad, slicing the duck and torching the creme brulee sugar.

We were both very happy with dinner.

Wishing you delicious dinners with your beloved,





Baklava – Testing Michael Symon’s Rose Water Recipe

Making baklava was MUCH easier than I thought it would be! Its magic really… sheets of thin pastry, nuts and syrup add up to simple deliciousness of honey sweet and buttery tastes delivered by nutty and flaky textures. Everyone in my chopped and blended nutty family liked it! Except for chocolate chip cookies, that doesn’t happen very often. Its a miracle people!

I generally followed the recipe except I used a mix of walnuts and pecans and added a bit more lemon juice. I also didn’t cut the pieces as small. It would’ve been better smaller. As you can imagine the dessert is very rich and sweet. Cutting the raw baklava was making me nervous as it started to tear. I think the only rule of baklava making is: build FAST. The dump and simmer syrup needed the longest preparation time but necessary to get the sticky consistency.

I know people like baklava: nutty, sweet and just flaky enough to be fun. Like Baklava they are perfect for large parties. Invite a few and serve them some.


Food Network Baklava Recipe Courtesy of Michael Symon

For the syrup:
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon rose water (optional)
For the baklava:
1 pound chopped walnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts and/or almonds (about 3 cups)
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of kosher salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
18 sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed

Make the syrup: Bring 2 cups water, the sugar and honey to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to medium low; simmer until the sugar is dissolved and the syrup is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 20 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and rose water. Pour into a large liquid measuring cup or heatproof bowl and refrigerate until ready to use (or up to 1 day).

Make the baklava: Position a rack in the lower third of the oven; preheat to 375 degrees F. Pulse the nuts, confectioners’ sugar and cinnamon in a food processor until coarsely ground. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the vanilla and salt.

Brush the bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with melted butter. Trim the phyllo to 9 by 13 inches with kitchen shears (fig. A); cover with a damp towel. Lay 1 sheet of phyllo in the prepared baking dish and brush with butter. Repeat with 5 more sheets of phyllo, buttering each sheet. Scatter about 3/4 cup of the nut mixture evenly over the phyllo stack. Top with 2 more sheets of phyllo, buttering each sheet, then top with another 3/4 cup of the nut mixture. Repeat to make 2 more layers (use 2 sheets of buttered phyllo and 3/4 cup nut mixture for each layer), then top with the remaining 6 sheets of phyllo, buttering each sheet (fig. B). Scatter the remaining nut mixture on top.

Cut the baklava into 32 triangles (fig. C). Transfer to the oven and bake until golden brown and crisp, about 40 minutes (tent with foil if the nuts are browning too quickly).

Remove from the oven and pour the prepared syrup evenly over the top. Let the syrup soak in, at least 2 hours.

Read more at:

In a different mode, I also tested gluten free flour (krusteaz brand) in baking banana bread. It worked out well. Familiar texture, nice crunchy crust on top and moist. There was a slight bitter aftertaste possibly from the sorghum flour. What are your experiences with gluten free flour?


Wishing all of you happy weekend eating ahead,









Weekend with Ina Garten Recipes

It was a very cold weekend and we needed comfort. Tasty, delicious, feel guilty later, put on a few pounds to keep warm comfort. Perfect attitude for testing a few decadent recipes. Food Network nobility, Ina Garten (a.k.a the Barefoot Contessa) to the rescue. We tried three of her recipes.


Cranberry Orange Scones

The butter chucks may not have been small enough to process in the stand mixer. I had a lot o flour flying all over and the butter didn’t quite arrive at an uniform grainy stage. Didn’t matter, the scones were flaky and light. I also didn’t shape the scones into beautiful rounds. The cut triangles worked just fine. Didn’t have the patience to wait for the scones to cool enough for the icing. Again, didn’t matter, still tasted wonderful. Despite my veering off the recipe multiple times, Ina’s guidance did not steer me wrong.


Brownie Tart

This recipe yields a magical combination of cookie like chewy consistency on the edges, fudgy gooeyness in the middle and cakey brownie in between. We swapped walnuts for pecans. May have over mixed the batter, may have not cooked it long enough for the cake to puff up, may have, may have. Without having a sense of how it was “supposed” to be, the dessert just was….. delicious. Sometimes, definitive expectations can be limiting and counter productive. Happy to test this recipe, again and again, in search of tart perfection. Whether I ever get there is irrelevant.


Turkey Lasagna

This may just be my new favorite lasagna recipe! The goat cheese adds a gentle complexity to the taste. The turkey sausage sauce was very flavorful. I did follow the advice from the comments sections and reduced the amount of salt. Her technique of soaking the noodles in hot water for 20 minutes before layering is genius.  I was skeptical and worried that the noodles wouldn’t cook. She proved me wrong. This is the way I’ll be making lasagna from now on. The fresh mozzarella, fresh basil and parsley, the goat cheese all added a brightness to the rich lasagna.

Small deviations and additions to a recipe make it mine. But, these detours from directions also show me ways to redefine familiar dishes like lasagna or brownies in method and taste. What makes a recipe better or worse? Meeting expectations, good taste, ease of preparation, new techniques?

From the scones, I learned that as long as the proportion of fat (butter and cream) to flour is maintained all else can be variable.

From the brownie tart, I learned that chocolate whether liquid, chewy, soft or hard is delicious. A tart contains all the states of chocolate.

From the lasagna, I learned that layering light fresh ingredients with ricotta, tomato sauce and noodles, the unusual with the usual challenges lasagna expectations.

From now on, I  will trust the Ina.

Alton Brown, Philosopher-chef?

Alton Brown, a philosopher-chef? Yes. According to Georgia Tech Professor, Ian Bogost, by attending to to the specificity and complexity of ingredients Food Network star Alton Brown is engaged in alien phenomenology. Bogost explains that “Brown’s cakery embraces tiny ontology. The cake exists, to be sure. So does the Kitchen-Aid 5 quart stand mixer, the preheated oven, the mixing bowl, and the awaiting gullet. But to do so the sugars, the flour granules, the butterfat crystals, the leavener, the gas bubbles. And they do not merely exist – they exist equally, and Good Eats proves that flat existence entails equal levels of potential worth. The relationship between fat crystal and sugar, leavener and batter is just as fundamental as that between cake and and sugar, leavener and batter is just as fundamental as that between cake and mouth. The dispersion of gases that rises is surely interesting and useful as it relates to the end product (a light and fluffy cake), but Good Eats also presents the gas bubbles and the flour granules as their own end product, worthy of consideration, scrutiny and even awe.”

Alien Phenomenolgy is according to Bogost, the practice of specific speculation that helps us imagine Alton Brown attention to the interaction of ingredients, tools and process allows us to think about the relation between things or ingredients independent of our needs. While the cake maybe delicious to us, the specific interaction of heat and batter occurs independent of us. Our need for a delicious cake only sets up the conditions but the active combination of flour, sugar and heat make the intention reality.  This culinary moment is significant for design disciplines. It shows the capacity of attentive construction processes to promote an object orientation that is attentive to inorganic agency. Design that considers opacity, complexity and process of things can maintain at least a partial object orientation. It gives us an appreciation or process and elements beyond the end product, the delicious cake.  Bogost’s culinary example about Alton Brown’s poundcake shows us how things relate through complex encounters that we both don’t and do control.

(From my recent publication in the Journal of Speculative Philosophy entitled “Black Noise: Design Lessons from Roasted Green Chiles, Udon Noodles and Pound Cake”)