Tuesday, December 29, 2009

In Praise of Food Kitsch

At Xmas dinner, chez B-B, I was served a long-forgotten favorite of mine:

Ruffles Potato Chips w/
Lipton Onion Soup Dip

Even David Lebovitz, a favorite food blogger/tweeter of mine has been tweeting it up about Lipton Onion Soup dip. Apparently he is serving it to guests at is home in France, alors, c'est a la mode, non?

It's insanely off-the-charts delicious. I couldn't stop; honestly, I had to push away.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Goodbye Decade, Hello Sumthing Good

Bring me sumthing goooooood, I say, and by "good" I mean tasty of course, but also bigger than that.

This decade began for me, quite literally, with a wail, and a howl, and a whimper, and a limp. It was not an auspicious beginning.

Foodwise, it began with one of the most delicious--if saddest--meals of my life. A New Year's eve tasting menu at the now defunct Bouley Bakery restaurant. Maybe that food was the augur, telling me that while this decade might kick my arse, it would feed me terribly well. It feels like a long long time ago, and this blog has seen me through a bit more than half of it.

Bring me sumthing good, I say. I'm ready.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Savory Rice Krispie Treats

Although we call it the avant garde restaurant, we've not gone terribly avant garde with the food. UNTIL NOW.

Behold ye: savory rice krispie treats as passed hors d'ouevres. A little snooping on the internets revealed I am not the first person to have this idea. Mainly, I was worried about the marshmallows--would they be so sweet that no amount of savory introductions could balance them out? According to what I read, no, this is not a problem. I stole some ideas, for sure, and settled upon two versions to try today.

I have named them Vaguely Asian Savory Rice Krispie Treats and Crunchy Salty Savory Rice Krispie Treats.

C.S.S.R.K.:
melt 2 T butter in a medium sized saucepan
sprinkle a pinch of turmeric in as it melts
once it's all melted add 2 cups mini marshmallows
stir until they melt
add 1 tsp garlic powder
then 3 cups 365 brand Brown Rice Crisps (or the trad'l Kellogg's Rice Krispies)
then 2 cups crushed salt and pepper potato chips
stir, then press out into a brownie pan, pressing down and flattening
then sprinkle generously with paprika

V.A.S.R.K.:
Same as above but skip the turmeric
once marshmallows and butter are fully melted add one TBSP soy sauce, 1TBSP sesame oil and 1 tsp garlic powder
then 3 cups of the cereal and 3TBSP chopped roasted salted peanuts and two chopped scallions (not the white part)
stir, then press out into a brownie pan, pressing down and flattening
then sprinkle generously with ground ginger

I think these things might rock, in a weird kind of way.

Come Conni's Avant Garde Restaurant next weekend and checkitout for yourself!

post-game update: we went with the V.A.S.R.K. and they were enjoyed by most, if not all. P.L. declared them "gross" but then couldn't stop eating them saying they were "weirdly addictive."


Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Soda news

You know I always come back to soda.

First things first: my Mama bought me a Soda Stream. Have been meaning to get one for oh-so-long now and am the happy owner of this spaceshipesque contraption. No more recycling of plastic seltzer bottles, a behavior that had been filling me with a lot of guilt. You can mix in flavor packets to your homemade seltzer, but I will not be doing that. That is weird. I will squeeze in a real live lemon.

And: speaking of a local supply of clean water, you might be interested in this op-ed piece from Jared Diamond about big companies--like Coca Cola--and how he doesn't think they are pure evil after all. We could go around the block about that one, I suppose. I myself believe in compassionate capitalism. Did I make that term up? I'll have my research intern check it out. OK, I have not research intern, you got me.

Anyway, it's really interesting to me how companies are getting in on the sustainability game because they damn well have to. Cocal-Cola is made of water, and water is becoming scarce in many parts of the world. Will Coke compete with agriculture for water use?

As Diamond explains: "Coca-Cola’s survival compels it to be deeply concerned with problems of water scarcity, energy, climate change and agriculture. One company goal is to make its plants water-neutral, returning to the environment water in quantities equal to the amount used in beverages and their production. Another goal is to work on the conservation of seven of the world’s river basins, including the Rio Grande, Yangtze, Mekong and Danube — all of them sites of major environmental concerns besides supplying water for Coca-Cola."

Marion Nestle takes him to task on her blog (I love her moxie and smarts and sass. Ahhhh): "We need some critical thinking here. If Diamond gave any thought at all to what Coca-Cola produces – bottled water and sodas – he would surely have to agree that less of both would be good for our own health and that of the planet."

Monday, December 07, 2009

What is your farmy restaurant really serving you?

This piece by Jane Black really caught my eye, especially in the wake of my attendance at a young farmers conference last week at Stone Barns. She examines a restaurant in the DC area called Founding Farmers and how they are riding the local sustainable gravy train--sometimes making good on their promises, and sometimes not so much so.

It made me think about a fascinating workshop I attended at the conference, one about the relationship between farmer and chef, and led by some of the kitchen staff at Blue Hill at Stone Barns--those cooks who are responsible for purchasing and building relationships with farmers. Let me start by saying that those guys are as real deal as it gets (if you ever accidentally step on a pile of money and decide to make it yours, treat yourself to a meal at Blue Hill at Stone Barns). This is not a post in which I expose them for being fraudulent or farm-washers.

That being said: I think a lot of diners there have misconceptions about the experience. Think all the food is grown there and at their Berkshires farm? Think again. A quick look at the math would help you see that they just can't produce enough food on site to feed all of their diners. As a result they are purchasing from an additional 40 farmers or so, give or take. And the seafood? Do you think there is seafood in Westchester? They are flying it in from Nantucket etc. Also flown in on a regular basis? organic but industrial carrots, onions etc. used to make stock.

I think it's a question of, as a diner, removing blinders from your eyes. Just because you want to believe that the tomato on your burger is local and seasonal (because damn, a tomato slice on a burger is a fine thing indeed), just because you want asparagus risotto in January (a perfect dish when done right, no?) ask yourself: are tomatoes in season around here? Allow yourself to see the truth. Sometimes the restaurant is misleading you and sometimes you are contributing to the deception by misleading yourself.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Bits and pieces

The Lunch Lady wishes you a belated Thanksgiving (via wellandgoodnyc.com)

There's lots to love in this Thanksgiving piece by Maira Kalman. I wish it wasn't so much the same familiar people (Pollan, Waters and her egg on a spoon, Canard, Edible Schoolyard, etc.) but I love how Kalman plays with pictures and words. In my next life (I'm pretty sure I still have like 6), I will create pieces like that.

Good for getting all that tryptophan out of your system: sweating and soaking it out at Spa Castle.

Good for a laugh: reading all of Sam Sifton's Thanksgiving advice, dispensed on the NY Times' Diner's Journal. I find this guy hilarious. One gem: "That sounds harsh, I realize, but Thanksgiving isn’t just punk rock and cranberries."

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving redux


Thanksgiving was nice--small, casual, and full of ruckus (baby meets cat; cat runs away; baby searches relentlessly for terrified cats. Dog meets cat; cat runs away; dog searches relentlessly for terrified cats).

My first course was a tart I have served for two years running now. It's a riff on one I was served at my friend's house a few years ago. It might not be a perfect replica, but I think it comes close. And it's good, darn good. I started with a pie crust from Nick Malgieri's book "How to Bake." Them I sauteed one red onion in olive oil, with a dash of dried thyme, salt and pepper. So you roll the crust out, then make a bed with the onions. Then fan out one apple, sliced into half moons with the skin still on. I used a winesap, nice and sweet and crisp. Then I fill the circle in the middle with a generous crumbling of blue cheese--I used some Bayley Hazen blue, a little too dried out to eat by itself but perfect for baking. Then brush the crust with a little bit of beaten egg, then pop in a 375 degree oven, bake until crust is brown and cheese is melted and bubbling.

I neglected to take a picture of the SLAMMIN' turkey I made. Family pooh poohed last year's heritage bird (too gamey, too strange) so I went with a farm-raised, happy, hormone-less bird from Dickson Farmstand. I slathered it in Rosemary Maple Butter (holla!) per CC's suggestion, and you'll be shocked to hear that it was a VERY good idea. Even better on a leftover sandwich for lunch today.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Hearth, home

It's the night before Thanksgiving and rather than starting my cooking prep, I'm pensive.

I hit the farmers market on my way home from work, braving the rain and the premature darkness and the last-minute shoppers. I was there buying the finishing touches--not food, per se, but eucalyptus and apple cider, to make my house homey and wintery tomorrow when I welcome my family for our turkey feast.

I'm reminded of Thanksgiving three years ago when, on my way to my family's house on Long Island, I stopped at the house of some friends of mine. They welcomed me in out of the cold, showered me in hugs and kisses and plopped me in a choice seat in front of a roaring fire, placed a mug of hot apple cider in one of my hands and a toasted buttered corn muffin in the other. This, I thought, is hospitality. This is home.

I have a big, comfortable apartment, with bits of me all over it, especially in the open kitchen, where I love to cook meals for people. And it feels like home when there are people here, and I turn on the christmas lights and make them a cocktail and fill their bellies, and plop them in front of the proverbial/metaphorical fireplace. I have learned hospitality from pros.

Is it a home, I find myself wondering, when it's just me here? A friend has a framed piece on her kitchen wall, something about how home is where "you" are. Without a you--even with hot cider and eucalyptus and two cats snuggled at your bum--is it home? Can it be?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Welcome to Fall, F*ckheads!

It's always fall at my desk, winter even. In our office I sit by the window, by the A/C unit, bundled up in wool and hoodies all summer, all fall, all winter. That being said, in the great outdoors, where seasons really exist--even if they are all jumbled and pushed to unnatural extremes by climate change--it is finally fall.

I know this because I saw on the teevee, on a dunkin donuts commercial, that fall flavors have arrived; they even piled all the customers onto a hay-filled tractor and drove them off the farm over to a dunkin donuts so they could really taste fall in all its glory. True story.

I also know it's fall because of this f-ing hilarious piece in McSweeney's about decorative fall gourds (but really it's about so much more than that; I think that in its funny way it is also about xmas sweaters and window kreshes).

Another tell-tale sign the seasons are changing is that we have an office potluck on Wednesday and the theme is apples. I predict the presence of more bacon than apples, but so it goes.

Plus eucalyptus has arrived at the farmers market; I will perform my annual tradition of buying a ginormous bundle and plopping it on my dining room table for the next three months. At which point I'll look out the window (or turn on the teevee) and will see some other telltale clue that it's suddenly spring.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

September Diary

I was so busy being where I was, I forgot to blog.

What I've been up to:
Whatchoo been up to?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Be where you are

One of my favorite concepts (and practices) is that of eating place-based foods. Place-based foods are those that have a deep connection to the land where they grow. That connection is a physical one, as well as a historic one, and it is reflected in the taste, look, feel, and culture of the food.

Last weekend I spent my birthday--a milestone one, they say--on the North Fork of Long Island, and I focused my activities and my eating on place-based traditions.

I went wine-tasting and swirled in my mouth the product of the relatively new grape growing traditions of the East End. On the island only certain varieties grow well, and as a result, the menus are populated by Chardonnays and Merlots, with some Gruners and Rieslings mixed in. You don't go to Long Island to drink Pinot Grigio; be where you are. Drink where you are.

I ate corn. Lots of it. The North Fork's sweet summer corn is outstanding, and extra good when grilled in its husks by your big brother (hypothetically speaking, of course). I ate homemade lobster rolls, made with local lobster--Una's recipe, via Ethan, and outstandingly simple and good. Also, local wild striped bass, more than once, and tomatoes, tomatoes tomatoes (blight be damned). There were no local peaches, because it turns out all those peaches at Union Square all come from Jersey. So, I guess you don't go to Long Island to eat peaches; be where you are. Eat where you are.

And the birthday thing: I think I am meant to be scared by this birthday, by the fact that I haven't figured out my whole life yet, by the fact that I am getting older and nobody lives forever. But instead I walked on the beach, and I rode bikes with my friends, experiencing what it must feel like to be a kid in the suburbs, learning to feel comfortable on a bike, thrilling at the freedom of exploring the neighborhood, tooling around with your buddies, baking in the hot sun.

My birthday mantra: maintain a place-based tradition. Be where you are.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Julie & Julia

6 years ago, after reading an article about it in the NY Times, I checked out a blog called "The Julie/Julia Project."  It was my first time reading a food blog, and I was sucked in from the start.

At the time, I myself was sitting in a cubicle, half in my body, half outside of it--working on theatre projects, writing plays at my computer.  Also, I was reading blogs, many of them, and after beginning with Julie Powell's, most of them were about food.

Tonight I watched the movie version of Julie Powell's food epiphany, how Julia Child--and writing about it--pulled her out from under the metaphorical waves as she (metaphorically) drowned.  It gave me the opportunity to think about the time that's passed since I read her blog, and since I started mine.  

I was on the heels of a break up with a boy, and on the verge of a break up with my life as I knew it.  Since then a lot has changed: I am grateful for what I have figured out since then, and a bit baffled by the things I still haven't. 

For Julie and for Julia both, the journey was one in which they discovered the joy they find in food--and me, too, I suppose.  Why do I cook? At the end of an exhausting Avant Garde Restaurant run, 330 meals later, that joy is the only reason that has any legs. 

In the meantime, my blog hasn't landed me a book deal, but it did help me find my food voice, and maybe helped build the bridge for me from where I was, to where I was headed.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

52 Small Bites

The brilliant Amy has a new blog called "52 Bites; a site to help change the way you eat." She, along with everyone else I know, recently moved down South and has been exploring how to eat fresh and local on a budget, in a place that isn't totally obsessed with fresh and local like her old home (Seattle) was.

It's a nuts and bolts guide and breaks down menu planing in a way I find really helpful. I myself go to the farmers market, grab random things that look tasty, then scramble about to turn them into meals. I shop at the supermarket haphazardly and overwhelmed and then do crazy blog-fueled experiments like "Eating down my larder."

Amy is here to help.

As she describes the new venture: "Weekly advice on changing the way you eat over the course of a year. Healthier, cleaner, kinder, better - and without breaking the bank."

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Doing things a little bit weird

This summer I learned to ride a bike.  Most regular folks learn to do this in childhood and then spend their days as a youngster, tween, teen etc. tooling around the neighborhood on their hoopties, getting into trouble and feeling the freedom that comes with having their own set of wheels.

What was I waiting for?  It turns out that not only is it easy but it's crazy fun.  I remember I finally tried a mango when I was 21 years old and I couldn't stop kicking myself for waiting so long.  All those years of missed mango eating! Sheesh!

Here I am again, whooping it up on the bike and kicking myself at the same time. 34.5 missed years of bike riding! I might be the stupidest person I know. Or, I guess I just do things a little bit weird.

A BLT is a classic, but because I guess I like to do things a little weird, tonight I made something I'll call:

BLT in a bowl
  • Several varieties (different colors, shapes, sizes) of summer tomatoes
  • Fresh basil leaves
  • Bacon
  • Summer corn
  • oil
  • baslamic vinegar
  • salt
  • pepper
Cut up tomatoes and dress with oil, vinegar, salt and pepper
Cook the corn and scrape the kernels from the cob
Rinse and then chiffonade the basil leaves
Fry up thick cut bacon (or, like me, random bacon chunks left over from sliced bacon, sold by Flying Pigs Farm) and slice it up
Toss everything together
Eat with a spoon

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Milk and Soda


This news that Coke is marketing fizzy milk is, at first, revolting. I look forward to the future articles debating whether “New Coke” or “Vio” was the more misguided effort on the company’s part. Only time will tell.

And yet.

As a child, I drank something my parents and brother and I called “milk and soda,” in improbable quantities. As I understand it, it was a “Laverne and Shirley” thing (and let us now take a moment to thank Mom and Dad for resisting the urge to put me in J monogrammed sweaters every day of my youth).

This is how you make it:
  1. Take a tall glass
  2. Fill it about an inch up with Coke, or Diet Coke (Laverne, listen up: Pepsi is not acceptable)
  3. Fill the rest of the glass with skim milk

Once, at a friend’s house, her parents tried to make me feel at home by offering me my favorite drink. I took a sip and, horrified, spit it out. It was not Coke, it was seltzer and I was amazed at their stupidity. Had they never SEEN a milk and soda before? I finally understood at that moment (I was 6) that most people had not, as it turns out, seen this drink nor tasted it; I also understood that this was going to be the beginning of having to explain strange things about myself, like my crazy name and the elevator pass I had at school because of my screwy knees.

It was my parents’ way to get me to drink milk, just like I imagine it is Coke’s way to get you to drink milk, though not for the same reason--parents: healthy bones, Coke: milk is cheap right now. It just seems like a lost opportunity on their part. Why not mix the milk with the soda? It tastes so damn good.

TRY IT. You’ll like it.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Preserving the Dying Art of Cooking

My latest on the Huffington Post.  

Most of the comments are from people who somehow think that I don't know how to cook and are berating me for it.  Which is confusing, since, um, I am saying the exact opposite in the post.

Monday, July 13, 2009

What the f-uh? Real food.

In response to those of us encouraging people to learn about where their food comes from, to THINK about their food choices: here cometh the grammatically incorrect, anti-thought advertising campaign from KFC.  "Unthink."

Before I start knocking Starbucks' "real food" campaign, I should actually go in there and try some of their new food, all HFCS-free and whatnot.  Only problem is I can't bear to go buy any of that stuff--scarred by a few unsavory airport meals. 

Hellmann's, too, is getting in on the action, having launched an ad campaign in Canada that touts the localness of their shelf-stable mayonnaise. The website is super creepy, in that you can't tell at first that it's a Hellmann's site.  Apparently a few years ago, they were going for realness, too. Ummm, ok.

I know what's real, thank you very much.  Like my lunch today:

early Long Island summer tomato. check.
greenhouse Long Island basil. check.
Tuscan olive oil.  splash of Katz's wine vinegar. salt. pepper. checkkkkkk.
heaping tbsp Calabro ricotta.
Mix it all up in a bowl.
Almondine baguette.
Voila--le sandwich!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Obama, Healthcare, Food

Check out my latest on the Huffington Post.

Some good news: right after I posted it, Obama did speak up saying “It also means cutting down on all the junk food that is fueling an epidemic of obesity, putting far too many Americans, young and old, at greater risk of costly, chronic conditions. That's a lesson Michelle and I have tried to instill in our daughters with the White House vegetable garden that Michelle planted. And that's a lesson that we should work with local school districts to incorporate into their school lunch programs.”

Let's just watch and see if this is a whole lotta B.S. or what.
I'll be holding him to this quote.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Singaporean dessert

Before it's too late and I have forgotten everything, I must write about dessert.  Dessert in Singapore/Malaysia/Indonesia is not like anything I have ever had before.  Wheat flour makes few appearances, same with chocolate.  You would think then that there was nothing good left to eat for dessert, but this would not be true.

Picture this:
a bowl full of chopped gummy bears, sweet corn, and beans. Topped with Italian ices.

This is called ice kachang and it's the picture I led with when I began this series.  Here's another closeup so you can see the corn and stuff.  Maybe it was all the satay and beer I had before it (or the week-long food orgy leading up to this, my final night in Asia), but this wasn't my favorite thing I had.  My favorites were in Kuala Lumpur...

At a sweet little restaurant
 called Precious, in the Central market, we had chendal, sago melaka and bubor chacha.  The whole Malaysian gang I was with were very very excited to see these things on the menu and declared these renditions to be "very very very good."  I myself had nothing to compare them to.  They looked like nothing I had ever seen and I thought they were OUTSTANDING.  

The one at the top of the pic is, I believe, the sago melaka, a divine mound of glutinous rice balls submerged in a sweet coconut broth. Does this even do it justice? Chendal is stranger, also incredible--a mound of shaved ice, with that same coconut liquid, and some brown stuff--brown 
sugar? and then topped with these glutinous green stringy things.  how do I make this sound appetizing?  My food writing skills are failing me.  You'd have to eat it to understand.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Weird Stuff (Street Food)



In Bahasi Malay and Indonesian, warung means stall.  I am a sucker for a food stall, as we all know. Like my hero Calvin Trillin, I've got the gene that makes me love buying street food and eating while standing up.  In just 10 hours in Kuala Lumpur, I ate like a king.  Malaysia beckons me back....I had goreng pisang (battered and fried banana, right), and some thin crispy crepe with peanuts (see below).

 In Indonesia, I showed some uncharacteristic caution and resisted all food carts except the grilled corn being sold at the top of the mountain where we went to look at Mount Merapi (oh man what was that place called again...?).

In Singapore, the street food is housed inside, in hawker centres, where things are clean and tidy, and handily grouped all together. Calvin Trillin wrote famously about them in the New Yorker, and there's a guide to them you can pick up while in Singapore.  I trusted Claire and Huzir as my guides, and didn't go wrong. 

Highlights: 

Carrot Cake.  Which is not at all what it sounds like.  Glutinous chunks of what Claire reported to be "grated root vegetable," sauteed in garlicky soy sauce.  I couldn't stop eating it despite my overly full belly. 
Teo Chew (braised duck with rice noodles): Man alive. So flavorful.
Rojak: We had a version of this peanut-sauced fruit salad while in Jogja, but this one was stranger and more delicious.  I will list the ingredients but you'll think I am joking.  Sliced guava, cucumber chunks, mango(?), and a few other fruits and vegetables, with chunks of giant fried churro.  Doused in an incredible peanut sauce. Oddly, inexplicably divine.
Chwee Kueh (steamed rice cakes with minced something or other on top): There is no end to how many ways I can enjoy rice products, apparently.
Apologies to Huzir for not calling the Char Kway Teow a highlight.

Weird Stuff, part 3 (Rijsttafel)



Rijsttafel meaning "rice table" in Dutch, ends up meaning a kind of lunch smorgasbord.  Or that's what it meant for us, anyway, as we sweated it out in the courtyard of the Hotel Mertua, gorging ourselves on a series of small Javanese plates.

Sitting atop our beautiful Jogja batik table cloth, they included the local salad teran chan--fresh grated coconut, ginger, sliced long beans, bean sprouts, and something else or two; homemade tempeh, which we were having for the second time, and is on a level that industrial tempeh just can't touch; serunding--another grated coconut dish, this one spiced and toasted I think; various satays; fried rice, noodles, etc.  

It is worth mentioning the distinctive taste of Javanese food.  Before we left Singapore we were warned by one person that the food's no good, assured by another that it is good, but very simple. I agree with the second person, though truth be told we ate only at our lovely hotel, the Bale Raos royal restaurant at the Kraton, and here.  And it's true--no sauces, nothing fancy, just simple ingredients, most of which we saw growing at some point, whether it be in the rice paddy fields in the local villages or up in the terraced mountains near Mt. Merapi. 

Thursday, May 21, 2009

weird stuff, part 2 (breakfast)


My first day in Singapore, not 2 hours off the plane, we headed to Chinatown for dimsum.  I earned my stripes sucking bbq sauce off of chicken feet. Slurping red bean steamed buns and shrimp dumplings, blinking off jetlag and enjoying my new discovery: non breakfast food for breakfast. 

For the next two days, I drooled over nasi lemak: coconut rice with chili paste, little dried crunchy fish and then a big fried fish on top. Also good for breakfast is nasi goreng, javanese fried rice. Between all the breakfast rice and, well, the lunch and dinner rice (not to mention dessert rice--more to come on that), I am now basically one giant rice ball.

First day home and I am back on Cheerios and milk. What's up with that?

Another Singapore specialty is kaya toast, a kind of coconut custard spread on big fluffy white crustless bread, and lightly toasted.  We had this only the once, but it was delicious, and compelling.




Wednesday, May 20, 2009

you eat weird stuff, part one


For centuries, travelers and "discoverers" have encountered new countries and new cultures and they have thought or said: "you eat weird stuff here!"  Some of those intrepid swashbucklers then add: "Can I taste?"  I am one of said intrepid discoverers, leading with her tongue.

I have just returned from nearly two weeks traveling Singapore, Malaysia (for 10 food-filled hours), and Indonesia.  Claire and Huzir took pains to introduce me to all of the important dishes, fruits, and tastes on offer.  As Huzir feared I would, I am now publicly declaring that I have met my match in those two. They love food journeys as much as I do.

I took pictures of nearly everything, and will chronicle it all here in such detail that your eyes will bleed. Or your stomach growl.  Whatevs.  I begin tonight, when I should be asleep already, with:

DRINK.


Upon arrival in Jogja (that's the island of Java, hey now), our houseboys greeted us with a welcome drink.  Last time I saw such a maneuver was on "Fantasy Island," and the gesture was lost on me.  Suddenly, on that hot Indonesian patio, I understood why we greet visitors with a taste of their new home. This drink sought to transform us from the inside out, sending streams of rose syrup, cinnamon, tamarind and lemon grass through our veins, synching our pulses with those of the Javanese.  This isn't it pictured here, but it's something similar.

In fact, at every turn, each time I reached for a Coca Light (see my recent HuffPo post on that ol' silly habit), Claire pushed me to try something new.
Including:
cincau: seaweed jelly cubes in syrup--was that coconut?

avocado "juice": basically an avocado smoothie. hello!

fresh squeezed sugar cane, with one of them mini limes

kickapoo joy juice: this is not a name I have made up. Seriously.
and the list goes on. 



In fact, I took a pic of a menu at a coffee shop (not what we think of when we say coffee shop. Something else) and it gives you a sense of all the crazy beverages they've got going on. 

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Going Local/Going Abroad

Local:
The reason I love the restaurants I love (generally of the seasonal ingredient-driven sort) is not because the politics line up; not because they have a super relaxed yet lovely vibe; not because I imagine the people in the kitchen have more fun, learning how to make new things all the time, even though all of that is true.  It's that I love not knowing what I'll find there next--the menu changes with each day or week or season, and I am surprised every time.

I haven't yet written about Back Forty, Peter Hoffman's downscale East Village joint, a place that despite not always getting it right, has made it onto my short list of loves.  The first time I went was last summer, on one of those sunny and amazing days--the pork jowl nuggets were not my thing; the lobster roll couldn't hold a candle to all the classic lobster roll joints we have going these days.  But other things were excellent, and the beers were carefully chosen and crisp and cool.  And the waitstaff was friendly and the vibe was excellent.  So I have returned and each time I get better at ordering and each time I have things I adore.

Last night the toasted fregola salad was off the hook and there were ramps everywhere--which I am gathering must have been brought up from the Carolinas.  Chicken liver mousse with pork cracklins, amazing rosemary french fries.


Abroad:
I am off to Asia in a few weeks and I needed some good travel guides.  I am terrible at pre-trip reading.  In fact, I have never visited a travel bookstore before.  I was running errands in Chelsea this past sunny Saturday and the map on my iphone led me to Idlewild Bookstore on 19th street. The store is a quiet 2nd floor haven, replete with cute bookish sales guys, Tom Waits tunes and a lovingly curated selection.  I love the way it's organized--it reflects an interdisciplinary style that I've long favored as a tutor.  Categorized by country/region, there are, alongside the traditional travel guides, related fiction and non-fiction titles mixed in.  Also, over by the travel writing, cookbooks.  Also, they sell globes.  I got 2 slim Singapore guides and a Nell Freudenberger short story collection set in Southeast Asia.  24 hours of plane ride to kill, and now, 3 books to read!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Carolina Gold


2 months ago I went to visit my peeps in Columbia, South Carolina, and took a moment to visit Anson Mills (see my photo gallery on the SFUSA blog). Glenn Roberts--heritage grain genius, artisanal food entrepeneur, and all around great guy--handed us bags of rice on our way out, bags that have been idling in my freezer until last week's potluck lunch at the office.

I made two iterations; the first was the filling in Mark Bittman's stuffed peppers (or as I like to call them, "Amy's stuffed peppers"). The second, I made up, and darned if it wasn't good. Mostly, I think, because it showcased the rice-beautiful Carolina Gold.

1 leek, washed, trimmed, and sliced into thin half moons
1 cup Anson Mills Carolina Gold rice

2 cups water

3 tbsp Kerrygold butter
fresh basil leaves, chiffonaded (ribbons)

the zest and juice of one lemon
salt, pepper


In a big saucepan, saute the leeks in 2 tbsp of the butter until soft and transluscent, salting a bit as you go
add the rice, stirring to coat
add the two cups of water, bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to a simmer
cook 15 minutes or so until rice is moist and fluffy
take of heat and toss with remaining butter, lemon zest and juice, basil ribbons
more salt and pepper to taste
if you don't like it, add more butter!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

2 Breads whose Roots are Twin*

Many a time I've wondered what the scoop is with Sullivan Street Bakery. One day I woke up and it looked the same in every way, down to the crumble of each and every bread, except it was called "Grandaisy." But they were still selling bread in Sullivan Street Bakery bags at Murray's, so it clearly wasn't a rebranding.

I heard rumors of a divorce.

Then, because I am slow like that, I finally just read an article from October's Atlantic Monthly, written by Corby Kummer, called "Half a Loaf," in which he explores what happened in this situation--as well as the larger issues including who has the rights to a recipe, who can claim a signature delicious loaf (especially if it is merely a subtle riff on a European classic).

A great read.

(Plus, Corby's got a whole new food section on Atlantic Monthly's website and it rocks).

* An oblique reference to an Alice Walker poem I love..."I am the woman offering two flowers whose roots are twin. Justice and Hope/ Hope and Justice/ Let us begin."

HuffPo

Check me out in my new gig as a contributor to the Huffington Post blog.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Sustainable Farmers=Rockstars

It's a sign that at least one thing is going right in our crazy world when small organic farmers get treated like rockstars. There's Rosie Perez....and Mena Suvari....and that giant gorgeous Inuit supermodel from the 90s...and a bunch of girls in stilettos drinking cocktails and not eating the marvelously artistic passed hors d'oevres...and my high school buddy Anna's rough-hewn and lovely portraits of sustainable farmers in the Pacific Northwest, shirtless in the fields, the center of all the fuss.

Last Thursday I attended the launch of the USA Network's Character Project, a photo exhibit, and a forthcoming book, as far as I can gather. And there were Anna's pics, alongside the works of luminaries such as Sylvia Plachy and Eric Ogden! The exhibit has left NYC but you can check it out in other locations.

And to gaze at more of Anna Mia Davidson's farmer portraits, including one of her husband John, click here.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Put your Insidious Big Ag Ads Here!


Thanks to my buddy Jack for this one. We both agreed that these series of high fructose corn syrup ads that have hit the airwaves and the magazine pages are kind of douche-y (as in Massengill ads from the 80s, though also kind of douche(bag)-y as well).

Friday, March 06, 2009

Missing

Sometimes I miss things so intensely, it's hard. It's such a basic human emotion, I realize, but it can be futile, especially if the person or place you're missing ain't ever coming back.

I miss Brooklyn.

But I work there! But I hang out there! But it still EXISTS! Can I still miss it? Well, I do.

Last night after work I headed deeper into Brooklyn with one of my favorite food buddies to Buttermilk Channel for a cocktail and some bacon nuts and other treats; then walked up to Black Mountain (a little gem) and sat by the fire eating truffle-y, mushroom-y mac and cheese and sipping red wine.

It was awesome, because how often do you get to scratch the missing itch like that?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Go Meat- and Dairyless One Day a Week

From an article in the latest Mother Jones:

"According to a 2008 report from Carnegie Mellon University, going meat- and dairyless one day a week is more environmentally beneficial than eating locally every single day."

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Eating From my Larder


As posted on CivilEats.com today (and as pinged by Mark Bittman on his blog today--sweet!):

The fact that the cabinet door to my “pantry” is suddenly busted has made ignoring its contents difficult. For example: two cans of tuna packed in oil, and I cannot remember the last time I ate canned tuna. My concerns about seafood (un)sustainability have made me shy away from eating fish lately. When did I even buy those cans, and why?

Then there’s that half bag of quinoa. Um, how long until quinoa goes bad? Half bags, too, of pearl barley, lovely little green lentils, couscous, risotto….the list goes on.

Also, there’s the matter of my freezer, which given other freezers I’ve seen (like the one at my Mom’s house—sorry, Mom) isn’t so bad. But it’s got two big bags of corn kernels I froze in late August, and if I don’t eat them soon, they’ll be losing a competition against fresh summer corn at the market. Also, a plastic liter seltzer bottle full of whey, and about a dozen bagel halves from my nephew’s bris (n.b. he was born September 20th).

Eating what you have on hand has been a much-discussed topic these days for the food obsessed. For example, I’ve just discovered that our editor here at Civil Eats is also participating, via the Washington Post's blog "A Mighty Appetite," in what Kim O’Donnel is calling "Eating Down the Fridge," a title I like.

I discovered the idea on the New York Times Diner’s Journal blog, which alerted me to a contest brewing on eGullet: “National Eat the Stuff in our Freezers and Pantry Week.” I don’t have the stocks to participate in this contest full on (I love eGullet because it’s hard core—these people have boxes of Parmalat, powdered milk even, for crying out loud); but I decided to read about the contest and shadow, as best as I could.

First, there are rules, as explained by the staff at eGullet:

1 - No stockpiling.

2 - No endangering your children.

3 - No making yourself miserable.

4 - If you decide to participate in this experiment, you’re making a commitment to chronicle a week’s worth of meals starting on whatever day you normally shop.

5 - Have fun, and keep everyone posted on your progress!

SobaAddict70 shares a list of everything he had, and whoah—this dude must live in the suburbs, because where would I put all that? Steven Shaw (aka “Fat Guy”) discusses the merits of freezing milk and I feel like I am back in the scary wilds of my mom’s freezer; I may have a dozen bagels from 2008, but darnit, I have my limits.

OK, so first things first, I decide to use the quinoa. I cook up a half box and it makes an insanely large bowl of quinoa, more than I can imagine eating this year, let alone this week. I douse it with sesame oil from the pantry, and toss in some peanuts from my freezer (I keep a lot of nuts in the freezer: pecans, pignoli, hazelnuts, walnuts). It was pretty dull. The prospect of eating 85 servings of this makes me very sad indeed. So I go out and buy out-of-season-but-organic scallions and red bell pepper, and a small bottle of sake in which to sautee some onions from my fridge drawer. The first assignment and I have already broken the rules! In fact, these past few days, I keep learning this sad lesson again and again. I try to use the things in my larder, and to make anything halfway decent, I need to buy more things. And then to use those things, I need to buy even more things. It’s a vicious (if often delicious) cycle.

I take comfort in the loosey goosey goings-on over at eGullet. Plus, the photos are riveting. I cannot believe all the cool (and, well, strange) things people have kicking around. It kind of makes me want to live with some of them, or at least you know, hang out together at mealtime. One person harvested dandelion greens from their backyard in Texas! Also worth mentioning there seems to be a deep love of Costco over there on the boards.

OK, next dish. With the corn, a peak-of-summer corn chowder with a fridge drawer potato, some fridge drawer onions and celery, and the remainder of the red pepper. Then I buy some fresh basil—doh! I am really very bad at this indeed. (But, but, but, remember how Mark Bittman said dried basil is bad? I had agreed with him, but now I wish I had some so I didn’t have to transgress like this….)

But all is not lost; tonight I will defrost the pork chops from Bradley Farm, and with the rest of the frozen corn, a little of the precious remaining milk I’ve got, as well as the half bag of Wild Hive Farm stone ground cornmeal from my freezer (ohhh yeah, cornmeal and flour go in the freezer at my house) I will make a corn pudding.

I may not have much of a larder, and I may be buying a lot of supplements, but I am a) having a blast following the contest and b) doing a fine job of clearing out my stores, and c) spending less money as I do it.

This week I have made egg salad (very tasty on ancient toasted bagel); I have used those frozen overripe bananas to make a banana bread for my new parent friends; I have eaten down my fridge. I have looked it in the eye and shown it who’s boss.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Not about food but who doesn't love puppies?


I heard that sites that have porn or post wacky pics of kittens and puppies get a lot of hits, so, uh, here goes. I don't know what you do at your job but at my job we play with puppies.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Avant Garde Restaurant Hits the Big Time

It is with pride that I direct you to this piece in Time Out New York!

This weekend's event is sold out but I hope you'll come chew the scenery with the AVGR in April...?

PS also check out TONY's David Cote's blog post with our Butternut Squash soup recipe.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Peanut, peanut butter


I am a good American, inasmuch as I really like peanut butter and I eat it an awful lot. As you can imagine, for this and other reasons, I have been following the peanut recall with more than idle curiosity.

Please see the Slow Food USA blog today for my woefully belated Peanut Butter Recall Redux.

Also, please see my old post, from the early days (4 years ago!), on Peanut Butter Bumpers. n.b. this week Whole Foods was having a sale, and now the top of my fridge looks like a PBB convention.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Death of a Salesman

A few weeks ago, the peeler guy from the Union Square Greenmarket died. Yes, I bought peelers from him, and yes, they work really really well.

I already miss his shpiel.

I spent my childhood watching my father's alter ego--antique book salesman--and admiring its unlikely bravado. My weekday policy/finance Dad wore a suit, carried a briefcase, and went to an office. I don't know exactly what his work persona was like--though a memorial service last year gave me the sense that he was more outgoing and more gregarious than I ever imagined--but his salesman persona always seemed like a funny role he was playing.

"Antiquarian bookseller" sounds genteel, I realize, but ofttimes this involved selling at streetfairs (back when NYC streetfairs were eclectic and interesting, not just sweatsocks and funnel cakes). On certain occasions, he was a carnival barker, calling passerbys to his booth, promising 50% off. I was usually plopped on a lawn chair at the front of the booth with my mother, making sure nobody stole anything, making transactions, and watching my father doing what he loved.

Somehow I think Joe Ades the vegetable peeler seller reminded me of that unabashed salesman spirit I used to see in my Dad...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Chocolate, chocolate, meat

I have a dream job, and what you do in a dream office is have potlucks, ones where everyone who brings stuff in are really, really good cooks.  Cool, right?

This week we had our 3rd Annual Meat Lovers and Chocolate Lovers lunch (in honor of Valentine's Day), for which Jenny and I made Sausage/Broccoli Rabe panini.  It's a good thing, too, because everyone else practically brought chocolate (remember the old Sesame Street episode where they have a potluck picnic and neglect to plan who will bring what?  Everyone brings watermelon.  This wouldn't happen at our office because, hey, watermelon is NOT in season.  But chocolate, chocolate is always in season).

Sausage/Broccoli Rabe Panini
Sweet Italian Fennel Sausage  (OR John's homemade spicy italian sausage)
a little white wine (or red wine, whatever you have)
olive oil
broccoli rabe
garlic, minced
red pepper flakes
salt/pepper
thinly sliced fontina cheese
sliced sourdough
panini press

begin by blanching broccoli rabe in boiling water for about 2-3 minutes
drain
saute chopped garlic in olive oil
add cooked broocoli rabe, pinch salt, and one shake of red pepper flakes
toss to coat, cook 1 minute

at the same time (because multi tasking is fun) in a separate pan, heat a little more oil
add sausage links, letting them brown on all sides
add 1/2 cup white or red
cover, turn down heat and let cook fro about 12 minutes

assemble sandwiches: one layer cheese, one layer of sliced sausage, one layer of broccoli rabe
put on a lightly oiled, heated panini press and cook until cheese melts and bread crisps and browns.

cut into thirds and eat with 2 kinds of chocolate mousse, 2 kinds of chocolate cake, chocolate chip cookies, and a strong antacid.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Recreating Food Memories

I have written here in the past about the the process of following my taste buds into the market, back into the kitchen, in an effort to recreate a delicious and meaningful dish. Once, it was my father's Chicken Chow Fun; this weekend it was the minestrone I had on the farm in Tuscania, rich with the property's wild boar and cheesy with parmigiano rinds.

Now the soup I ended up with does not taste like Laura Caponetti's minestrone, not even close, but yo it's really good!!

1/2 bag dried beans (I used Ojo de Cabra, kind of like pinto)
1/2 box orecchiete or any kind of smallish pasta
1 smoked ham hock (mine came from Ray at Bradley Farm, up near New Paltz)
1 rind from a wedge of parm.
1 can tomato paste
1 bunch kale, ribs removed and leaves chopped
4 carrots, peeled and trimmed and diced
3 stalks celery, cleaned and trimmed and diced
2 small onions, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 bay leaves
water
salt and pepper
olive oil

The night before, I soaked the beans in a bowl on my countertop
The next day in a very tall soup pot I sauteed the onions (in oil) until glassy and translucent
then added the garlic
After a minute I added the carrots and celery
After another minute I added the tomato paste and stirred it all around
Then I put in the giant ham hock, the drained beans, and about 8 cups (?) of water, basically up towards the top of the pot
And the two bay leaves, and the cheese rind
I brought it to a boil then down to a simmer
Cooked it, covered, for about 2 hours
(About an hour in, I added the kale)
Then I removed the ham hock and used a fork and sharp knife to remove all the meat from the bone and put the meat back in the soup
then I added a lot of salt and pepper and cooked it uncovered at a boil for another 30 minutes
Then I put in the pasta and cooked it, uncovered at a boil for about 12 minutes

Pull out beans, taste 'em--are they done?
Do you like the salinity?
Don't be afraid to taste your way to what you like...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Cabbage: past, present, future

I am finding gift giving increasingly difficult. Between the recession and the fact that my family and I all have what we want, Chanukah felt challenging, until! One Sunday afternoon Steve mentioned a lost dish from his youth, his Grandmother's Hungarian comfort food--something with "egg noodles and cabbage."

A quick Google search revealed what mostly seemed to be called Haluska, a simple dish made awesome by copious amounts of butter. So, for Steve, for Chanukah (in addition to my annual potato latkes), a big bowl of Haluska.

Then, 2 weeks later, a fermentation workshop with the King of Fermentation, Sandor Katz. After an overview of the basics of fermentation, a lesson in basic sauerkraut, made from 2 kinds of cabbage, some carrots and some radishes.

Only problem is, cabbage now finally seems to be gone from the farmers market, goshdarnit, meaning the dead of winter is really totally finally here, and cabbage has to be shipped in from rosier climes. So, I am learning about sauerkraut now, so that next late fall I can preserve 09's cabbage Sandor-style.

Sandor Katz's Basic Sauerkraut
See his website and/or read his book, Wild Fermentation!

Haluska
1 bag egg noodles, cooked
1 large leek, white and light green parts only, well cleaned, halved lengthwise and sliced into half moons
3/4 head green cabbage, cored and diced
1 stick butter
several tbsp chicken broth
1 tbsp milk
salt
pepper

Melt the stick of butter over med heat
Saute leeks until soft
add 1/3 of the cabbage, and a pinch of salt, let it get soft
Add the next 1/3 and some more salt, let it cook down until soft
Add final 1/3 and a wee bit more salt and let it cook down
Then add the stock and the milk and let it cook a little longer, thickening and getting good
Then mix with the cooked noodles
Salt and pepper to taste but you really might not need any more salt

(you can make this with less butter and it will still taste good, but--is this too obvious to mention?--it's way better with all that butter).



Friday, January 02, 2009

More, with less

Happy New Year, ye few faithful readers. As a reward for your staying power, a few links and a recipe (for CJR, who has always asked for more recipes):

We are in a financial panic, underemployed and underfunded, finally ready to stop shopping and do more with less (or as my buddy Woody Tasch said in his New Year's poem over on powells.com "Let us imagine a consumer putting down the purse").

For me this means trying to make new food out of old leftovers, though I haven't quite perfected this--every dish I want to make with leftovers requires the purchase of slightly more food, and the cycle persists.

That being said, old bread is a marvel (oh and speaking of bread, do check out the travel blog of the newest employee at my office, who spent last year on a Watson fellowship studying bread around the world. For real.)

Savory Bread Pudding (a riff on 101cookbooks asparagus bread pudding)

You've got half a loaf of Grand Daisy filone petrifying on your countertop. And half a head of Savoy cabbage in your crisper, starting to sag. Enter, milk/eggs/cheese to the rescue.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees
Cut the bread into cubes (you might feel like Rodin, chiseling at stone)
Beat three cups milk and 3 eggs and a cup of chicken broth
Shred the cabbage and cut a few shallots into slivers
Toss the bread and cabbage and shallots into the egg mixture
Grease a casserole dish with butter
Pour the mixture in
Cover with a generous layer of shredded Gruyere
Bake for 45 minutes

Seems to me you can do this with just about anything, from kale to asparagus, to mushrooms to whathaveyou.

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