About three weeks ago, I noticed this Canada Goose nesting in a planter along the riverwalk a couple of blocks away. (The male is floating in the river just a few feet to the left of this picture.) The planter is in an out-of-the-way area next to a stairway rarely used during the colder months (like this entire year has been so far), so most pedestrians wouldn’t even notice the nest. I only discovered it while chasing some elusive rays of sunlight one afternoon.

I’ve been going back every day since, waiting for the egg to hatch, just taking a peak over the stairs. The goose seemed a little wary the day I took this picture, so I never got any closer to avoid stressing her.

Then today:



I didn’t mess with the nest, so I don’t know how many eggs the goose laid. According to Wikipedia, they generally lay between 2 and 9 eggs. Maybe there’s a new family out there, and only this egg was abandoned because they realized it wasn’t going to hatch. I saw evidence of at least one other egg in the nest (I didn’t want to disturb the nest by digging around in the down), so I’m hoping this wasn’t a complete loss.

Louisiana cuisine with jicama “rice”

I love rice. I grew up in Louisiana, which is the country’s third-largest rice producer. (It would be second, after Florida, if those idiots in California would stop growing water-intensive crops in the middle of the desert.) We never ate a lot of pasta when I was a kid. Rice was cheap – and local – so that’s what we ate.

Don’t get me wrong; I like a good spaghetti bolognese and lasagna and even (embarrassing confession ahead) canned ravioli. But retirement in Italy is not in my future. For me, pasta is nothing but a vessel for a thick, hearty sauce, and Italians focus way too much on the pasta rather than the sauce.

To clarify, I love white rice. I’ve tried my best to enjoy brown rice and wild rice, but they just taste too much like, well, grass seeds. And you can’t make a creamy risotto when all the starch is locked up inside a fibrous husk.

Unfortunately, white rice is calorie dense and nutrient poor. It has very little fiber and too many simple carbs, which is why you’re hungry an hour after eating Chinese food. So I’ve been looking for alternatives that will give me the illusion and function of rice without consuming the hundreds of mostly empty calories that come with rice.

A search for rice alternatives on the web gives you a whole list of options, but most of them are other grains or seeds like quinoa and barley. Those don’t even resemble rice, so they just will not do as a substitute in Louisiana cooking – which, let’s face it, is the best-tasting non-imported cuisine America has to offer.

Another oft-cited alternative is cauliflower. Pulse it in the food processor until it’s the size of rice grains. I confess I haven’t tried this yet – never been a big fan of cauliflower. I did try a recipe one time that used mashed cauliflower as a substitute for mashed potatoes in shepherd’s pie, and I hated it. So I’ve been hesitant to replace my beloved white rice with it.

Then one day recently I stumbled upon a raw food blog post that mentioned jicama “rice.” (I don’t remember the blog; it was just a link I followed from another blog somewhere.) After some more reading, I discovered it has about a quarter the calories of white rice and enough fiber to send the bacteria in the colon into a feeding frenzy. It was said to have the texture of a potato but could be eaten raw.

I got curious and headed to the grocery store, and there it was, sitting there next to all the other roots. I’ve probably passed it by a million times while buying parsnips and carrots and ginger root. I’ve skipped over it for the same reasons I’ve skipped celery root and rutabagas and turnips – no idea what to do with them (though now that I think about it, celery root sounds like it might be “rice-able” – I do like celery, which is the basis for a lot of Louisiana cuisine).

So I grabbed a small jicama and brought it home (after paying for it, of course). I first tried peeling it like a potato – with a vegetable peeler – but that was ineffective on the thick, indigestible skin. Turns out you can peel it like bark from a tree – cut into the skin then just pull it off. After I peeled it, I cut off a thin slice to taste it and make sure I wasn’t about to eat something that tasted like, well, brown rice. That’s when I fell in love. The texture resembled a potato but was easier to chew, and the flavor made me think of parsnips, which I love, but without the faint carrot flavor. Slightly sweet but still savory.

I chopped the jicama into large pieces and pulsed it in the food processor until it was about the size of grains of rice, just a few quick pulses. It really did resemble cooked white rice when I was done. A lot of recipes online mention squeezing out the water using cheesecloth, but the result is something that looks mashed rather than riced. That wasn’t appealing to me and would rather defeat the purpose of this whole exercise, so I left it alone.

I decided to try it out on my go-to meal when I’m too lazy to cook anything complicated – stir-fried chicken and vegetables (onions, celery, carrots, and strips of red and green bell peppers – or, really, whatever I happen to have in the fridge) seasoned with garlic, freshly grated ginger root, and soy sauce or orange sauce (orange sauce that night because I happened to have a bottle in the fridge). I piled the jicama on my plate and popped it in the microwave for about 30 seconds to warm it, then added the stir fry on top. I was in heaven – jicama was the perfect substitute for rice, and I wasn’t hungry again an hour later. I liked it so much, the next night I served it with chicken marsala.

Now comes the real challenge: making it work with traditional Louisiana rice dishes. A lot of recipes call for cooking rice as part of the dish rather than a side – it’s integral to the recipe, helping to absorb liquids and thicken the dish. I suspect jicama would just disintegrate during this kind of cooking, just like rice would if you cooked it too long, and jicama is full of water, so it won’t be doing much absorbing. I’ll have to make some modifications, probably just adding the jicama during the last five minutes, or taking it off the heat, adding the jicama, and letting it sit for a few minutes just to warm it.

Tomorrow I’ll start with something simple – red beans and rice. This is a classic Louisiana dish where you don’t cook the rice with the beans, so it should turn out nicely. Then I’ll try something more challenging, like jambalaya. I’m certain I’ll have to reduce the liquids in my usual recipe significantly since I won’t be adding uncooked rice, which absorbs twice its volume in water. I don’t want to remove all the extra liquid, since the extra time required to cook the rice allows the flavors to blend. I’ll start by cutting the liquid in half and letting it cook longer so the liquid boils away and the sauce thickens – and the flavors still have time to come together.

I’ll see how it goes and post my successful recipes. I’m even thinking about picking up a celery root now.

By the way, even though the so-called experts tell you not to put jicama in the fridge before you cut it, I’ve found that it rices better when it’s cold. I just throw it in the fridge  a few hours or overnight and rice it the next day. The starches are not going to turn to sugar in a day, and who really cares if they do? And even though jicama is kind of expensive (about $1.29 a pound locally and it’s heavy for it’s size), it makes a lot of “rice” – I’d say it practically doubles in volume when you rice it, though I could be exaggerating a little. And since it’s filled with fiber, you’re not going to eat as much in one sitting as you would rice.

And hilarity ensues

the_queens_nutsI guess it was a slow news day or something, because everyone seems to have lost their minds. I’ve been buried in work all week, so I haven’t kept up on the news much, just the highlights. I finally sat down to see what’s going on outside my frigid ‘hood, and I just can’t stop laughing.

A six-year-old boy was charged with sexual harassment because he kissed a classmate. Now, reading the story, I totally agree with the misconduct claim, but calling him a sexual predator? At 6? Come on. I can’t stand children, but even I wouldn’t be so crass. I’d just send the kid to bed without supper or, you know, drop him off at a fire station and head for the border as fast I could. Don’t label the kid before he has a chance to discover that he’s really gay and just wants to borrow the girl’s clothes.

The Queen’s pissed about her nuts. Wow. I know nuts are expensive, but they’re not really that precious. She can afford as many nuts as she wants. Why not share them with anyone who wants them, especially the police officers who – at taxpayers’ expense – keep her safe from the real sexual predators out there? If she’s gonna be stingy, I’ll share my nuts with them.

Also in the news, North Korea’s esteemed leader had his uncle executed because, among other rather insignificant reasons, he “was engrossed in such factional acts as dreaming different dreams.” They really put that on TV? State-run TV? The government issued that statement? They sound like the Republicans from the last presidential election.

handshakeSpeaking of Republicans, they’re all up in arms over President Obama shaking hands with Raul Castro at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service the other day. Mandela was all about forgiving and moving forward; it’s why he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. And let’s not forgot that Obama received one, too, in the hope that he would change America’s attitude toward the world. Of course he knew what he was doing. It’s time for the United States to stop bullying Cuba just because they’re communists. We engaged with Russia and with China. We shouldn’t be picking on Cuba just because they’re too small to fight back. Raul Castro is already making significant changes after decades of his brother’s iron-fisted rule. An influx of cash from American tourists could only make things better.

This is wrong

frozen_riverThe Chicago river isn’t supposed to freeze until January. Last night’s low on my balcony was 1 degree (I have a digital thermometer with a 12-hour min/max memory). The past week has been the 8th coldest period in 143 years of record keeping. That’s impressive.

It’s going to be a long winter.

Siri just got useful

siri1I was cooking dinner earlier this evening and discovered I only had two more stalks of celery left. I knew I’d forget to add it to my shopping list (and if it’s not on my list, I won’t remember to buy it), but I was in the middle of cooking and my hands were dirty and I didn’t want to stop.

Then I thought about Siri. I have a list called “Shopping List” in Reminders on my iPhone, and I wondered if Siri could figure that out. My iPhone was sitting on the counter, so I used a knuckle to hold down the home button and bring up the Siri prompt. Then I said, “Add celery to my shopping list.” Sure enough, Siri found the Shopping List and offered to add celery to it – all I had to do was say “yes” when prompted to confirm.

siri2I also discovered that I can say “Show my shopping list,” and Siri will bring up the list, complete with radio buttons I can tap when I’ve added an item to my basket.

This is actually the most use I’ve gotten out of Siri since I upgraded to a Siri-capable iPhone over the summer. Mostly I’ve just used Siri to be stupid and have fun. I changed the voice to male and asked if he was gay. He responded with, “I can’t answer that.” Ask him why not, and he just says, “I can’t say.” (I bet there are a few celebrities out there who wish they had Apple programmers as their publicists.)

Other people get a lot more use out of Siri than I do. I was riding in a car with my aunt a while back, and she asked Siri for directions to Midway Airport. (Yes, while she was driving. And no, I don’t know how to get to the airport – or anywhere else – by car. I don’t drive, so I don’t need to know “how” to get to my destination, just “where” it is.)

I’m glad I’ve finally found a use for Siri. I was starting to feel left out.