The Ancestral Table
My favorite things to talk about and think about and experience are, in no particular order: travel, trying to be an awesome human, and food. It was a delight to discover Russ Crandall’s web site The Domestic Man and find another food-loving traveler with a commitment to being a good person. Russ’s web site is devoted to honoring traditional international cuisines while adapting those recipes to fit into a healthier, paleo template (that also includes some dairy and safe starches like white rice and potatoes). Today is the release day for his delicious and elegant cookbook The Ancestral Table… Congratulations, Russ!
Look for a review and giveaway of The Ancestral Table later this week — or just go ahead and buy it now because it’s pretty freakin’ great. Last week, I made the apricot-infused lamb tagine, and tonight we’re sampling Loco Moco, a Hawaiian dish of cauliflower rice topped with a burger patty, fried egg, and gravy.
How does a book loving musician from Washington state end up influenced by world cuisine, speaking Russian, and saving a ship’s crew with the power of words? Read the Q&A below to get a few answers, then be sure to visit The Domestic Man to read Russ’s personal story.
Meet Russ Crandall
Do you listen to music when you cook? What’s your favorite song/type of music for that? Why?
I am a music addict. When cooking, I like catchy, mid-tempo rock music. So, think The Beatles, Miniature Tigers, or The Shins. Something to remind me that even if a recipe or photo doesn’t turn out, everything is going to be okay. One of my favorite bands to cook to is The Little Ones, a relatively unknown band from Southern California. They’re a family favorite, check them out.
What’s your favorite healthy meal/snack?
Easy! Sardines, white rice, and furikake. It’s by far my favorite breakfast; in fact, our whole family loves it and we eat it often. The fatty sardines (packed in olive oil) are very satiating, and the rice absorbs the oil really well. The furikake — a Japanese seasoning made with seaweed, dried bonito (skipjack tuna), and sesame seeds — adds a salty, tasty dynamic and a bit of iodine to boot. I should note that we cook our white rice in broth (whatever we have on hand) to improve its nutritional profile and tastiness.
Nutrition has no meaning in this scenario. It’s Friday night and you’re ready to watch your favorite movie. What are you eating?
Funny, because Friday night is actually the night that we usually don’t cook, and we grab something to take home and enjoy while watching a movie — what are you, stalking us?! If it’s been a long workweek, we’ll get Pho (extra tendon!) from our local Vietnamese place so I can get some tasty, nourishing broth in my system before the weekend. Otherwise, we’re known to partake in Chipotle, Korean takeout, and even the occasional Dominos gluten-free pizza.
You can have dinner with any characters from movies, TV, or books that you want. Table for 8. Who’s at the table?
Can I just say the main characters from LOST? Those punks still owe me some answers.
Garlic: Minced with a knife or crushed with a garlic press? Discuss.
Both! I cut the end of the garlic off, then cut it into quarters and put it through a press. Is that weird? I think throwing a whole clove into a press is messy, and mincing garlic by hand is a smelly exercise in futility.
What are your three favorite recipes that you’ve created?
1. Pesce al Sale (Salt Encrusted Fish) is one of my favorite dishes from The Ancestral Table, mostly because it’s dead simple and foolproof. Take a whole fish, cover it with coarse sea salt (mixed with egg whites), and bake it for 25 minutes. Comes out perfect every time. It’s the ultimate meal to serve when entertaining; nothing beats the satisfaction of cracking the salty shell open to find a perfectly roasted fish inside — and it’s not salty!
2. Another cookbook favorite is my Butter Chicken recipe. It’s the first Indian curry I ever tried, in a tiny restaurant in King’s Cross, Sydney, almost 15 years ago. It’s been a constant source of ridiculous cravings ever since. I was so happy when I nailed the recipe; it probably took a dozen different tries to get it right.
3. A favorite blog recipe is my Bourbon and Cider Braised Bacon recipe. You take an uncut slab of bacon and braise it for 4 hours, cool and refrigerate it, then slice it and sear on a hot stove. Its crispy outside and melty inside are a perfect pair. I developed it for a bacon-themed cook-off (“Baconpalooza“) this past September, where I competed against some great Paleo chefs like Paleo Parents, Diana Rodgers, ModPaleo, and more — and I won! It was truly an epic experience.
What was your worst recipe fail?
There is a dish that I have been trying to get right for years. And it’s not even that hard! It’s called Bubur Cha Cha, originally a Nyonya (Chinese immigrants in Indonesia/Malaysia) recipe. Basically, it’s coconut milk, honey, sweet potatoes, and tapioca balls, served as a dessert. Easy, right? Those dang tapioca balls are the bane of my existence. I can never get them to be cooked through without falling apart, and I’ve tried all sorts of tapioca balls, too. I’m just not cut out for this recipe, I guess. Also: every attempt at baking = epic fail. Hence, no baking recipes on my site.
Do you have any advice/tricks for people who are thinking about changing their eating habits but need a kick-in-the-pants to start?
I hear from a lot of people that would like to eat better, but are overwhelmed by the idea of giving up some of their favorite foods. My advice is to start with the easiest adjustments, and move up from there. I have five small steps that will improve your health with minimal sacrifice. First, swap out your oils; get rid of those pesky vegetable oils and pick up some coconut oil or ghee, and cook with real butter instead of margarine. Second, try eating more berries instead of sugary fruits like bananas and grapes. Third, drink better stuff: water, coffee, tea, kombucha, iced tea. Fourth, make a goal to cook at home for a whole week straight. Fifth, try doing a day without gluten… then a week, and see how you feel. My guess is that if you do these five steps, you’ll feel better, and will get curious enough to see how much better you can feel after taking a more drastic plunge, like the Whole30.
Got a favorite quote?
There’s a great little book called Ishmael by Daniel Quinn, which I first read about 15 years ago. It addresses ideas like overpopulation and humankind’s place among the animal kingdom. The main idea is that we once lived as part of nature (coincidentally, while we were hunter-gatherers) but once we started controlling our food supply (through agriculture), we distanced ourselves from the rest of the planet, and the very essence of our civilization will eventually be our downfall. That’s some heavy stuff for a book that is actually a fairly simple read, and really, there is a lot the Paleo community could learn from some of its ideas. Anyway, all that’s to say that my favorite quote is from that book — “With man gone, will there be hope for gorilla?” — which is a clever double entendre that questions humankind’s relationship with our fellow animals.
What else do you like to do that doesn’t require firing up the stove?
Cooking definitely isn’t my only pastime. Many years ago, I wrote for a music, film, and video game blog. These days, I hardly have the time to listen to music, watch movies, or play video games, let alone write about them! But the (now defunct) blog helped me to work on my writing and figure out this whole blogging thing well before The Domestic Man appeared.
Music has always been huge for me. I played bass, guitar, and sang in punk rock bands as a teenager, then indie bands in my 20s. In fact, my wife and I used to play together in a band – I played bass and she played drums. Here’s a link to our band’s old page; my wife is going to kill me for sharing that. I’ve mostly hung up my songwriting hat (parenting will do that).
One thing you will not, cannot, do not want to eat…
I’m kind of up for anything. There are definitely some foods that I don’t particularly care for (onions!), but nothing really repulses me. Funny, but I have a hard time eating offal when I prepare it myself, I guess I don’t like seeing the cooking process. If it’s offered at a restaurant? Game on.
You hinted you have some “funny stories,” what else can you tell us that we don’t know about you?
So, up until recently I didn’t tell anyone that I have quite a demanding full-time job; I’ve been active duty Navy for the past 14 years. I serve as a Russian translator, and I’ve been teaching Russian for the past few years. I like to focus on etymology, the origin of words, and I think that shines through on my blog, since it’s so focused on history.
My job has taken me all over the world, and I’ve had some pretty crazy adventures while translating Russian, and my secondary language, Indonesian. Once in Indonesia, we came across a ferry boat stranded in the middle of the ocean, with its crew members starving. They flew me out from a nearby ship so that I could act as an interpreter for the crew as we towed them to the nearest island in the archipelago. But when we pulled into this tiny little island, the locals (Indonesian Army soldiers) were outraged at us for sailing in their territorial waters, and took us to their headquarters (basically a small hut) for questioning. It got pretty hairy, and I was the only guy that knew what was going on. Imagine: a bunch of armed sailors and soldiers on both sides, and little me with my pocket dictionary! Thankfully, I got us out of there and the ferry crew was saved.