In light of the news that the federal government has decided to end the use of private prisons (something folks in New Mexico continue to debate), it is fascinating to find that ramen noodles are now more valuable than cigarettes in US prisons. The shift is in part due to the deterioration of food quality in privately run prisons, researchers found

Ramen noodles, aka "soup," are so popular that one inmate wrote a book about them: Gustavo "Goose" Alvarez' book Prison Ramen is the #1 book in Amazon's Pasta & Noodle Cooking category. According to The Guardian:

[Alvarez] was inspired to write the book after a race riot in 2009 led to a standoff between a group of Hispanic and African American inmates. An older inmate quelled the dispute and the two groups resolved the tensions by cooking a feast together, largely with ramen noodles."

Here's what I know about ramen: First, I just went and checked and sure enough, there are two packages of it in the embarrassing pantry section I call "nostalgia corner." This is a for real, unstaged shot of our lazy susan:

Even though I purchased exactly zero of these items I will eat them if you put them in front of me. Because each of them turns me 8 years old as instantly as that ramen cooks.

Also, let's remember that ramen can be totally amazing. I actually had a bowl of insanely good lobster ramen (pictured above) just a couple of weeks ago at the Cull & Pistol Oyster Bar (inside Chelsea Market) in New York. It renewed my love for these noodles.

Meanwhile, closer to home, Paddy Rawal, the chef and owner of Raaga, has put out a cookbook, Curry, Korma and Kebab: A Culinary Journey of India. The hardcover book includes 250 recipes and 100 color pictures. You can get it at the restaurant (544 Agua Fria, 820-6440) for $33.

The owners of the Plaza Cafe are cooking up a new venture: Cafe Sonder is taking over the old Zia Diner space at 326 S Guadalupe St., with chef Jon Helquist dishing up a menu of what they describe as "locally driven contemporary American cuisine." Will that menu include this tempting calamari? More details on that to come.

Last week my dude and I were throwing together dinner on one of those weeknights that are just total chaos. Just before the chicken was ready to come off the grill, he looked at the little pile of purple and yellow string beans on the counter and said: "What are you doing with those?" And I was like: "Don't you worry! They'll be ready by the time you're back!" And he was all: <dubious>.

But string beans actually do really well in the microwave. I just throw them in a shallow bowl, pour a splash of water in the bottom, cover the bowl and zap them for like three minutes. (Try three minutes for a small pile of skinny beans that you want al dente, up to six minutes for a bigger pile or bigger beans. Experiment.)

Another technique you may have heard of is cryo-blanching. That means to freeze things like green beans that you might otherwise blanch (briefly boil), shock (in ice water) and jump (sauté just before serving). To cryo-blanch you can lay beans out on a tray or vacuum seal them, then freeze. When you thaw them it's as though they've been blanched. Pretty sneaky, sis.

So if you've got too much produce coming out of your garden right now, consider freezing some things you might otherwise pickle or can—or ignore until they're only good for the compost heap.

Got compost questions? The Santa Fe Master Gardeners are holding a composting workshop this Saturday from 9-11 am at their demonstration gardens at the county fairgrounds (3229 Rodeo Road). Want to keep the season going? Homegrown New Mexico offers a class on planting for a fall harvest, to be held on Aug. 28. Sign up here.

If you just need help figuring out what's eating your arugula or if it's too late to plant beets, you can submit your question using this online form and a master gardener will get back to you. Pretty cool.

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