Monday, December 05, 2011

The story behind your food (or, what I’m reading lately)

Reading this article about bananas --and how they are stored green and hard in a big warehouse, then gassed to a soft yellow state, and then bought at a fruit cart, and then eaten by me on a peanut butter sandwich—is exactly the sort of food reporting I love. First of all, it’s damn interesting. You know on The Food Network how they have that candy show called “Unwrapped” and you get to see how Tootsie Rolls and Starburst are made? Even though it’s gross, it also scratches a very human itch to know the real story.

With candy, you know in advance that the story will involve wax and plastic and food dye and giant machines. What’s interesting about this here story is the complicated surprise of this simple fruit. This story is about bananas. Aren’t they just picked from a tree and put on a truck and then peeled and eaten? How much could they really need a whole article—or a whole “Unwrapped” episode to tell their story?

That’s why it’s my mission to help people find out the story behind their food. To help people develop critical skills and open eyes about where our food comes from and how it gets to us. Not to believe the simple story that is sold to us. To make informed choices. I still eat bananas (I try to get organic, I look for fair trade), even though I know they have a strange story, and that they have traveled millions of miles and hundreds of days before I eat them. But it’s so important to take the blinders from our eyes.

A few days after reading the banana article, I finally got around to the food issue of The New Yorker, and excitedly dove into the latest Calvin Trillin food piece (always a delicious treat). In his self-deprecating way, he talks about his limited cooking repertoire, how it consists of just a few items and in each case it seems to require little more than just buying or catching something really local and delicious and then just, like, cooking it or whatever. He mocks himself and in the process celebrates the great joke of it all: the simplicity of great, local ingredients and how they make the biggest of kitchen idiots into the most celebrated home cooks.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Neighborhood check-in

So it's been about 4 months in the new apartment, and I've paused to ask myself:

Why do you love this neighborhood SO DAMN MUCH. What have you been eating here? Where have you been hanging out?

To the first question: I love it because it is a neighborhood. When I wake up in the morning and look out the window there are people jogging, walking dogs, eating at the outdoor tables of the cafe across the street. There is a big tree outside the window and no UPS depot. When I move through the neighborhood, I bump into people I know and like. They are friends, and now neighbors. When I have the itch to go out spontaneously, there is someone nearby who is having the same itch. When there is a hurricane passing through, and everyone is bracing for the worst, there are neighbors--inside and outside my building--who want to hang out and drink and talk through it all.

To the second question: I have been eating at Hibino (so so delicious. the agedashi tofu is really special); Henry Public (so it's trendy, so they are precious and wear handlebar moustaches, so what; they are nice and they make great cocktails and a super burger and an awesome salad); Iris (we know how I feel about this place); Char No. 4 (bacon, bourbon); Mile End (brunch); Waterfall Cafe (Middle Eastern, cheap and cheerful); and my own dinner table sometimes, though less than I'd like.

To the third question: I have been hanging out at 61 Local (lurve), Floyd, and Building on Bond when Matt has a say in it.

It feels like a happy return.

Monday, November 07, 2011

I need coffee

In Barcelona I once got a perfect espresso from an airport cafeteria.

In Torino, any corner bar or cafe will make you a cappuccino to make your eyes roll back in your head.

In Cuba--Cuba! where food and drink are no luxury items--I was served a tremendous coffee in a tobacco farmer's kitchen. Plus we smoked hand rolled cigars, but that's a whole different story.

In NYC, city of gods (ahem), you can travel in a five block radius around your new office and be completely incapable of finding a decent espresso drink.


Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Inside my fridge

Ever wondered what's inside my fridge? No, I didn't think so.

Even still, you can sneak a peek and hear my deep thoughts on compost and processed foods. Check me out on Well and Good.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Baguettes and boules

Bread and pasta make my culinary world go 'round. When I close my eyes at night I think of baguettes and boules, spaghetti and fettucine.

I've written here before about my distaste for--and lack of belief in--fad diets. As well as my supreme devotion to carbs. Yet here I am, 3 weeks into a gluten-free experiment. Anyone read Michael Pollan's Q & A on the NY Times website last month? When asked about gluten free diets he said:

"It's hard to believe that the number of people suffering from these conditions has grown as fast as this product category. Gluten has become the bad nutrient of the moment, the evil twin of Omega 3 fatty acids. Could it really be that bread, a staple of Western civilization for 6,000 years, is suddenly making millions of us sick? I'm dubious."

I'm less dubious than he is. I was surprised by his lack of openness to it....and kinda surprised by own willingness to give all this a shot.

5 years ago, over the course of a few months, my eyebrows fell out hair by hair. No doctor told me to look at my diet, or to cut out wheat. Then again, no doctor has been able to tell me why or to make them come back.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Between a beanbag chair and a warm embrace

What's the opposite of being between a rock and a hard place? I'm going with a beanbag chair and a warm embrace. That's how I feel these days. I am finishing up a job that has been a source of fulfillment, inspiration, stimulation, friends, food...

and heading over to one that has been and will continue to be a source of fulfillment, inspiration, get the idea. I've got a new job, that's what.

So I am working hard on a campaign I believe in--$5 Challenge-- and thinking ahead to FoodCorps and the road ahead.

In one week I wrote these two posts--they can give you a good sense of what cool stuff I get to work on, how lucky I've been....and how lucky I continue to be. To work on such important stuff and help tell the story of the incredible work that's being done out there to transform our broken food system.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Interviews past

I just had the occasion to scrounge up an interview I did nearly three years ago--with Slow Money founder, Woody Tasch. It reminded me that some of my favorite writing forays have been the chance to do interviews. Seemed like a good idea to repost some of them here.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Cuba Organic

A belated round-up of articles about my time in Cuba.

2. In this Long Island newspaper article I am quoted on my observations about Cuba, and am described as "NYC Foodie Jerusha Klemperer." Ayyyy, dios mio.
3. This NY Times travel section article is about our trip, and others that go to Cuba to study: agriculture, art etc. I appear in a photo making a "who farted?" face. Charming.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Oh the places I've been

Frank's Trattoria: the other night my buddy C declared herself in the mood for a good old New York slice. C is my old NY homeslice so this was a perfectly delightful and appropriate request. We used to eat NY slices together from age 6 on up, but these days we tend to hit more restauranty fare when we get together. We made our way towards one of my old childhood pizzerias on 1st ave just below 23rd street and headed back into the dining room, a place I hadn't been since about 1990. The pizza is classic perfection, and the best part was the 85 year old man who chatted us up and told us how he's been eating there for 30 years. "Me too!" I said.

Brucie: Soon my old neighborhood will be my new neighborhood again (and I'm super psyched). The other night I hit one of the newer places there, on Court street. Aesthetically it's pitch perfect, and the food hit several great marks. Awesome salad, and my friend's pasta was tops. Mine--tagliatelle with tomato butter & brussels sprouts-- was totally weird & totally off but I am more than willing to head back there and try more stuff.

Hecho En DUMBO: Boy was I pissed when I walked into my favorite after work taco place about a year ago and found out that I couldn't get guacamole. Not because they were out of avocados, but because the place had up and changed identities when I wasn't looking. I mourned the loss of Hecho en DUMBO and was thrilled when it reopened on the Bowery. The name is funny, since it ain't in DUMBO no more, but the food is as good as ever. Make a point to get the rajas con crema tacos. Or three of them.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Big New York Sandwich (Book)

What is bigger than a NY Sandwich? Pretty much nothing. Think of a Second Avenue Deli corned beef sandwich that people under 150 pounds (me) usually need to remove 6 slices of meat from, in order to consume it. There's your proof.

There's a new book out called The Big New York Sandwich Book. It's got sandwich recipes from dang near everyone running a restaurant kitchen. It's even got a page on how to make a "slow" sandwich, penned by yours truly.

I leave you with this, a Socratic dialogue on sandwiches, from "Friends."

Happy Birthday, McDonald's!

Don't be mad but I didn't get you anything.

Here's my love/hate letter to McD's, that ran on the HuffPost on the anniversary of the opening of the first McDonald's franchise.

Thursday, March 31, 2011


Reading this article about supertasters made me realize that I haven't ever blogged about what I call "my crazy tongue."

As a kid, when I would stick my tongue out at someone (not all the time, I wasn't a devil child, I swear) they would always remark on my super-textured tongue. When I got my wisdom teeth out the oral surgeon remarked on it, calling it a "topographic tongue." Cool--like a topographic map.

I started to notice that spicy food was pretty challenging for me, increasingly so over time. Certain chiles would make my tongue THROB. The taste is divine, but the sensation is murderous. The article on supertasters addresses this strange discrepancy, pointing out that spice is not a taste but a sensation--not sure I could have articulated that difference before reading the article.

I met a physician with a similarly affected tongue. She described it to me as the cracks and crevices of our tongues causing each taste bud to be more exposed to the food (more surface area) and therefore more sensitive. She confirmed that it gets more extreme with age. I forgot to ask her if she also sometimes tries to wrap her tongue in a flour tortilla as tears stream down her face. Didn't seem like Passover table conversation.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

I'm getting older too

Re: the title of this post, I've got "Landslide" on the brain, probably due to a "Glee" episode I watched last night. And apologies in advance if writing about lunch coop all the time is getting old. But this post is about getting old(er) so maybe that's a good thing.

Last night, for lunch coop, I cooked up a spinach barley gratin (a riff on a Deborah Madison recipe) accompanied by Baked Miso Onions. I first had these onions at Laurie's house--in the first apartment she shared with Will, her husband of almost 15 years now. It was in Swarthmore, PA across from the ball fields.

I think the recipe is from "Laurel's Kitchen" a cookbook that seemed a little old and hippie even then. I fell in love with the onions, begged for the recipe, and have been carrying it around on a pink sticky note tucked into an old wooden recipe box ever since. I have brought that wooden box from apartment to apartment to apartment and every few years I pull out the recipe and make miso onions and marvel at their rich complexity and sweetness.

When I think of things like this I am acutely aware of getting older. Of having friends who have been my dear friends for 20, 30 years. Of being the kind of wise old soul who has a darn good recipe for every occasion. Of having a sticky note that is as old as my interns.

Baked Miso Onions (a la Laurel's Kitchen?)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Peel and cut 4 Spanish/sweet onions into quarters
Mix 4 tbsp red miso paste, 4 tbsp olive oil, 3 tbsp tap water and 3tsp dried thyme in a bowl
Place onions in a casserole dish and pour the mixture over the top
Cover with foil and bake for 35 minutes
Don't eat them now.
Put them all in a tupperware, pour the liquid from the pan over the onions and let it all sit in the refrigerator overnight.
Then eat them the next day, heated up, over brown rice, or noodles, or polenta, or...spinach barley gratin.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Lunch Coop update

As promised, I figured I'd check in about lunch coop and let you know how it's going. Mostly, it's pretty awesome. I go days on end without thinking about what's for lunch. I show up at the office knowing that someone will feed me, well.

But then there is that one day of scramble--and despite our google doc calendar, I have found it really sneaks up on me. Both times I stayed up way too late (and then slept in instead of making my morning gym journey) making food for myself and my coop buddies. We call this ACCOUNTABILITY. It is both the engine that drives the coop and the thing that is a royal pain in the arse.

I've cooked twice so far & both times I started my menu by thinking of my larder. First up was a giant batch of red lentils I had lying around. I picked a red lentil coconut soup from 101Cookbooks and then decided that would go really well with naan. Homemade naan. Because, hey, why keep it simple when you could keep yourself up til 1 am frying griddle bread and covering your entire kitchen with flour? Both were--dare I say it--delicious. I did struggle with portions though--7 is a very awkward number of mouths to feed.

Next time around I decided to tackle the bag of red quinoa I had. I was also inspired by a tweet from @MollieKatzen about a winter fennel/orange salad she made. Hence:

Fennel/Romaine/Ricotta Salata/Blood Orange/Pickled Onion Salad
Quinoa/New Potato/Roasted Carrot/Cumin/Shallot thingy

The salad is pretty straightforward (I made a vinaigrette with blood orange juice and white wine vinegar and nice olive oil); the quinoa thing went as follows:

I boiled the potatoes
I sauteed the shallots in olive oil and cumin
I roasted the carrots in olive oil with salt & pepper
I cooked the quinoa with water
I tossed it all together and added a little more salt

It was super simple but I actually liked it. And out of fear of not making enough, I basically drowned us in salad.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Lunch co-op

For years I have been tossing out this idea to co-workers: a lunch co-op in which we each make one giant pot of something just one day of the week and share it. That way I am doing same amount of cooking but instead of being stuck eating the same thing every day, I have variety. Even at my office, where nearly everyone makes their lunch and it is all very tasty looking, people balked.

Last week I published a piece (on both WellandGoodNYC and Civil Eats--spread the love) about my friend Christine. For five years now she has been making lunch with her friend Joanne. They get together on Sunday and make six servings of two different dishes. They shop together, cook together, split the cost--and they eat really well and really affordably.

Christine emailed me that she "hoped the piece would inspire some people" to follow in their footsteps. Well guess what, Christine: I reintroduced the lunch co-op idea to my now-entirely-new-bunch of fellow staffers, and they bit! 7 of us are launching our food-coop next week. The ground rules are as follows:
  • Food must be vegetarian, though meat can be provided on the side
  • No tunafish salad, please
  • Food shouldn't be too spicy
  • Food should be mostly from scratch
  • use farm-fresh ingredients WHEN POSSIBLE
  • There is a cost ceiling of $5 per person per meal (or $35). People should not feel they have to spend that much, but for now that will be the upper limit.
Updates to follow.