Friday, October 16, 2009

Here We Go...

I'm about to shut down this blog, as per request from the Daily News.

I hope you'll all visit me at the Daily News.

Thank you again. Happy eating!


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Moving the Mothership

It won't be as unwieldy as the title implies. At least, I hope not.

After three years of blogging on my own lonely little soapbox, I'm moving to the fast lane. The New York Daily News is picking up my blog. They're expanding their web lifestyle options, and my blog is one of the new ones they're welcoming on to the roster.

I'll be blogging about the same stuff-- kids, eating, school food, and ... maybe a little less of my own griping wanderings and moanings... (focus! focus!)... but it'll be five days a week. Good thing my kids are still picky and school food hasn't been fixed. I still have lots to talk about after all these years.

Thank you all for your visits here in these last years! I hope you'll visit my new blog, um, every day. Make it your home page?

We go live on Friday, so I'll post the link then. Thank you all for keeping me company here!

PS I'll squeeze in a few more posts until then, so keep checking in!

Monday, October 12, 2009

More Eggs!

The eggs keep coming. It is so exciting. There is something so magical about the whole experience.

Yesterday I noticed only four hens walking around the yard. Keeping panic barely at bay and trying not to check for hawks, I peeked into the hen house and sure enough -- one of the brahmas was sitting in a nest box. She was doing what my son has named the "hen sit" -- sitting focused and alert, with her tail up.

We tiptoed around outside (my son still in his pjs, with a blanket wrapped around him) like expectant parents outside the Delivery Room. Finally -- the egg.

Today I got a call at work -- two more eggs, and finally, one of them blue.

Our little Scrambles, our mystery chick, everyone's favorite hen, is truly an Easter Egger.

Here she is a chick, back when we deeply suspected she was an Easter Egger. I took this picture to send to the hatchery to ask them their opinion. They had no record of a substitution; as far as they knew, we'd gotten five Brahmas. But they did agree; she looked like an Easter Egger. The woman writing said she hoped so, since Easter Eggers were her favorite breed of chicken.

But Scrambles was not a Brahma; she was dark and mysterious, like the dark-cloaked woman next to the silly petticoated Brahmas. Now she is so friendly, she will come up next to us to dig through the compost for her favorite grubs. When we walk out into the yard, she runs up to us, like -- what's going on? What are we doing now?

The mystery is solved.

She's an Easter Egger.
We're all so proud -- of all of them.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Consider the Loss

I'm weighing in on the demise of Gourmet a bit belatedly. It's been three days, after all, since the the news broke. And this, the age of the internet. Where've I been, anyway?

(Jury duty, actually, but more about that some other time, or better yet, never.)

Anyway, back to the closing of Gourmet. When I heard about its closing, I was torn between two impulses -- First, sadness at the loss of an institution that has helmed our culture's love for food for the last 70 years.

Second, a misanthropic suspicion that magazines in general are one of the great evils of the world, and maybe it is a good thing that they are slowly dying off.

... And yet, I am not immune to the charms of many of the things I suspect are evil, and one of the many things I found charming about Gourmet was Ruth Reichl. What I loved about Ruth Reichl was that, as much as she could hobnob with the kind of people who want to know where to find multi-starred restaurant in Denver or Tokyo, she always brought it back to reality. She did not forget that food was about eating, and that sublime eating experiences often have nothing to do with money.

My favorite Gourmet moment came in 2004 when Ruth et al sent David Foster Wallace to the Maine Lobster Festival. What the hell were they thinking? Yes, he had brilliantly covered state fairs and leisure cruise lines for Harpers. Yes, he was an incisive and incandescant writer and observer of social events. But... for Gourmet? Even as I was reading it for the first time, I stopped in shock and imagined the staff meeting in which they must have discussed and argued over this unbelievably crazy idea.

He turned out this dark, funny, horrible, depressing, dark, moving, informative, fascinating, DARK essay. Did I mention it was dark? Suffice to say, Wallace was not a fan of the Maine Lobster Festival. He barely even mentions the actual act of eating lobster. Boiling the lobster, yes. Enjoying its taste, not so much.

One of my favorite lines comes from a foot note concerning the very nature of travel:

To be a mass tourist, for me, is to become a pure late-date American: alien, ignorant, greedy for something you cannot ever have, disappointed in a way you can never admit. It is to spoil, by way of sheer ontology, the very unspoiledness you are there to experience. It is to impose yourself on places that in all noneconomic ways would be better, realer, without you. It is, in lines and gridlock and transaction after transaction, to confront a dimension of yourself that is as inescapable as it is painful: As a tourist, you become economically significant but existentially loathsome, an insect on a dead thing.

Awww, shit. Come on now. Why'd you have to say that?

It was maybe my favorite essay I've ever read in a food magazine or maybe ever. It is everything I've ever wanted an essay to be. It kind of hurt to read.

Re-reading it, knowing that Wallace committed suicide, is a sobering and sad experience. (Did he not know how brilliant he was at essay-writing? Why did he mess with the novel form, and all that fantasy shlock? Did he not consider how many lobsters he saved?)

But on first reading, back when he was still alive, I was blown away. Finally! A food essay that was not just window dressing, but really delved into an experience, really asked questions, really gave information, and made me laugh at the same time.

I'm a little bit embarrassed to admit I haven't eaten lobster since I read it.

It got more mail (much of it of a hateful nature) than other essay in the history of Gourmet.

Here is is.

Sorry, Gourmet. Sorry, Mr. Wallace. You'll both be missed.

BPA Bloop

The Sigg bottles really had a good thing going, providing us with BPA-free bottles right as the whole BPA scare was happening. Too bad their BPA-free bottles were actually lined with BPA, according to this report by the Environmental Working Group.

If you have a Sigg bottle you can return it... and, as EWG points out, get... a new SIGG bottle.

I'm pretty sure that my stainless steel water bottles will turn out to have something wrong with them. Just waiting to hear...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

We Got an Egg!

We are no longer egg-less around here. Our chickens can now be described as free-ranging, rather than free-loading. Er, at least one of them can.

We're just not sure which one.

Whatever, we're just thrilled to get an egg!

We had worried that it would be April before we saw an egg. Our chickens are now 6 months old, old enough to start laying, but it's October and getting darker and colder by the day. Who knew eggs were seasonal? But they are, and we've learned that chickens often don't lay eggs in the winter unless the coop is artificially lit to simulate summer daylight hours. Which we're not doing.

So we did not have high hopes for eggs this season, but last weekend, just to be sure, I put a blown-out egg into the coop, just in case, to nudge the hens into using the nest boxes for their intended purpose, which was not as a receptacle for chicken poop, just in case they were wondering.

This morning my kids mentioned that they thought Scrambles, our smartest and most precocious hen, was ready to lay. They said they felt an egg in her, whatever that means, and that she was acting weird, whatever that means. But we were late for the bus, and nobody bothered checking the coop.

This afternoon my son and I thought of it, and ran out to check. There, lying in one of the nest boxes, was a little, tiny, light-brown egg. It was like a miracle! the hens -- things like kitchen scraps and dry grains and worms and gravel and other things you have no use for -- and finally they produce this incredible little construction, this miracle of nature. That you can EAT. Or make omelettes or cake or souffle or pancakes or pasta or poached egg salads with. The incredible. Edible. Egg.

Now the only question -- other than life's vast and general mystery -- is -- whose egg is it? If it's Scrambles, why is it brown? She is an Easter Egger, which means she should be laying blue or green eggs. (Here she is eating a fig -- their favorite food -- while the other hens space out just inches away from her. It's always like that. ) She did everything earlier than they did, and is light years smarter than the others (climbs the ladder, recognizes the cats as a threat and chases them away, yearns for the other side of the fence...). So we just assumed she'd be the first to start laying.

And yet, the egg is brown. That means it was one of the Brahmas (the other four hens, the blonde bodalicious ones). Which is encouraging, as maybe the rest will start laying soon too.

Anyway, whatever! Who are we to question a miracle? Look how little and sweet!

It feels like magic.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Boro Magic

Last week we went to Flushing, to Chinatown and also to Little India.
I left the trip -- three hours of walking around and eating -- exhausted, awed and also bewildered that I don't make the trip off my usual paths more often. We live in one of the food capitals of the world, and you don't have to be loaded to enjoy delicacies and treats from all over the freakin world. What is wrong with me? Why am I not having soup dumplings and samosas and kimchee all the time?

Anyway, here are some highlights from the trip. Some of the photos -- the nice ones -- were taken by my classmate Stephenie Stolp. I've marked the ones that were by her. Thanks Steph!

Joe's Shanghai
136-21 37th Avenue

This was one of the most delicious stops, the original of the Joe's Shanghai chain.

Soup dumplings.

What else can I say? You hold them in your spoon, you pierce a little hole, you suck out the soup, you eat the dumpling. It's done, it's perfection. There's nothing I can add to that excellent experience.
(Dumpling photos by Steph. )

Hong Kong Supermarket
3711 Main St

We went to Hong Kong Supermarket, which has an outlet in every Chinatown in the city. The Manhattan one is more touristy, the Brooklyn one is more ramshackle, and the Flushing one is more upscale. They all have incredible deals on fish sauce and noodles and fruit-flavored beef jerky. Also live frogs and fish, congealed blood, produce both exotic and tame, and... seaweed knots. Should you have a need. Which you may.

Ten Ren Tea and Ginseng
3518 Roosevelt Ave, Flushing

At some point in the blur of the day, we went to TenRen Tea Salon and got bubble teas. Here's another in my long list of shameful confessions eking their way out on this series of food tours: I've never had bubble tea before. I've known about it for years, and yet, had no great desire to slurp up gelatinous balls of probably genetically-modified tapioca in a highly sugared, artificially flavored drink. I'm funny that way. But, here I was on this food tour and imbued with a great spirit of adventure. So.... slurp slurp. Delicious! They really are.

I especially liked the Taro Root. With a name like Taro Root, how bad can it be? Okay, never mind, that's a rhetorical question. Lalalalala, please don't anybody send me the ingredients of bubble tea!
I also tried the Coffee Tea, which was made with Nescafe and... tea... and was also quite delicious.

Han Ah Reum
141-40 Northern Blvd

This was one of my favorite stops. It was like Hong Kong Market in that it had all the noodles and soy sauce varieties I could ever dream of, but also every Korean item, plus more Japanese items, plus gallon tubs of kim-chee and an entire aisle of grains and beans that, were I able to read Korean, I strongly suspect I might have recognized the word "organic" written all over them. The packaging had that brown paper Whole Foods, zen look to them. Also, everything was beautiful. They are open 24 hours and have a parking lot. Just something to keep in mind.

Thank you, Hanh Ah Reum, for putting in the little green grass strip with the mackerel. It's those little touches that will make it worth the trip out to Flushing.

I love this fish soup combo.

Subzi Mandi
7230 37TH Ave

This grocery store stocks most of the foods you'd need to make an Indian meal. After the snack food of Hong Kong market, it was a relief to see vast aisles of nuts and all the gorgeous russet and ochre hues of the spices.

Also, how can you not love a store named Subzi Mandi?

The produce was beautiful and exotic.

And I love the labels of Indian foods. There are this tradition of sweet, old fashioned illustration that is still being used everywhere.

This one was a little scary. Non-stop energy, eh? And that's... a... good thing?

After Subzi Mandi we went to a "sweet shop" across the street. Sweets means snacks, both savory and sweet. We got these plates of tidbits, got off our aching feet and snarfed it all down. Delicious. I love this food! Why do I not eat Indian food more often?

(all the LIttle India photos except the two close-ups of the labels were by Steph.)

By then I had to run to make it back to Brooklyn to pick up my kids. I brought them a 'sweet' -- a very un-sweet samosa -- to stave off the usual after school starvation. My son took one very game bite, recoiled in horror and handed it back to me, shaking his head frantically. My daughter wouldn't even try it. I think I just remembered why I don't go for Indian all the time.

But we are definitely going for soup dumplings.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Food Field Trips!

I am taking a fun class this semester in the Food Studies program at NYU. It is called Urban Foragers, but I think of it as Food Field Trips. Every week we go out into a neighborhood and sample the food, and do readings on the neighborhood's "food voice", ie: how its people have expressed themselves with food through the years. The food is great and it's also reviving my love for the city, which always flags a bit this time of year.

Yesterday we toured the Lower East Side, where there is this charged mix of the remnants of old Jewish tenement life, coexisting with new flashy glam NYC marketing. Here are some of the highlights:

Donut Plant
379 Grand Street
This place falls into the category of New LES -- Valronha Chocolate, swanky font, hipster name, etc -but garners some old LES street cred because the owner uses his grandfather's recipes to make incredible donuts, both yeasted- and cake-style.

My professor was saying something about the architectural miracle of Donut Plant's square jelly donut...
but in my book the Carrot Cake Donut was the real miracle, the one that, while I was eating, I was thinking -- I'm coming back here after I pick up my kids. We are coming back TODAY...

Sorry, no pictures of the actual carrot cake donut. This was our first stop, and you try to get in front of a pack of hungry students descending on a huge tray of cut up donuts. Or, rather, you choose between taking a picture of a donut, or eating a donut.

That was kind of a problem through the whole tour, actually. You'll see. (Laboratorio del Gelato did not even get a single picture, of storefront or gelato, which tells you a bit about where my focus was when we stopped there.)

Kossar's Bialys
367 Grand Street
Our next stop, just a few doors down was Kossar's Bialys.

Question: why did bagels catch on, to the point that bagels have come to symbolize America, and bialys are a cultural artifact stuck in the Lower East Side? My professor theorized that bagels last longer. I theorize that they also taste better. Bialys are floury. They're good, and really tasty with cream cheese. But not as amazing as a really great twisty chewy bagel.

And yet, even as I so brutally dismiss the bialy, you may observe that my camera was apparently crammed deep in my pocket when my actual bialy landed in my hand. Nice pictures of the store front and some bialystock inside. No pictures of the bialy I actually ate with a schmeer of vegetable cream cheese.

Pickle Guys
49 Essex Street

This was a great place. What's not to love? Okay, I didn't love that the pickled carrots were made with baby carrots. Ew. You mean they didn't grow their carrots and have a surplus that they had to pickle? Wait, is all of this made from industrially-produced non-organic produce? Oh. My. God. Okay, whatever. The pickles were GREAT! I loved the pickled okra. I loved the pickled grape tomatoes. I loved the half-sour bright green pickled cucumbers. The olives were great, too. Everything was great.

Economy Candy
108 Rivington Street
Next stop: Candy Land!

I have already blogged several times about my nostalgic love for old-fashioned candy shops. This one -- the sole survivor of a what was once an entire row of candy stores back in the day -- rises above the others I've visited for its sheer NYC-dollar-store-style of crazy over-abundance of every kind of crappy- and high end- and nostalgic- and novelty- candy product in the world. Foot-high Pez dispensers. A boxed set of Wizard of Oz collectible Pezzes. Lollipops the size of mid-90's dinner plates. Jordan almonds in every color, Miso Pretty chewing gums, dried fruit, Clove Gum, old-fashioned marshmallow cups, re-issue lunchboxes, high end chocolates, pastilles in beautiful tin boxes, candy necklaces so long you could double-loop them... I dream of setting my kids down in this place, just for the perverse pleasure of watching them flip out and go on overload.

205 East Houston Street
Here's where the big guns came out. No more mincing around with bits of donuts and shared bialys. Our next stop was Katz's deli, home of the overstuffed deli sandwich, the weird ticket system, and the egg cream. It's also where Harry and Sally had their famous orgasm conversation.

First, a confession. I've never been here.

And okay, let's get it out right off the bat. No, I did not sit at the Orgasm Table.

We sat in the way back, the better to unload our smuggled in pickles. There were about 15 of us, so we got platters of pastrami, tongue, sauerkraut and bread. Not sure if the make-your-own-sandwich is a normal option, but I was into it. One of the reasons I've never come here is because I don't really want a sandwich with four inches of lunch meat. An inch, maybe. But I have to say, the pastrami was amazing.
So was the tongue. So was the sauerkraut. Yes, this is heart attack fare. But, once in a while...? Come on.

The egg creams were great too. An egg cream, as you may already know, is made of chocolate syrup, milk and seltzer. Some people think its name comes from chocolate et creme. Get it? Et creme? Egg cream? There are lots of other theories, including one guy who says his father's soda fountain in turn-of-the-century Brooklyn invented the egg cream and used eggs in it. Who knows? Anyone, I have great plans to turn my kids onto this old-fashioned soda. ("Chocolate soda?" my son said with disdain. "No. That's just wrong." We'll see.More on that later.)

The hot dogs were kind of a revelation. Have I just been eating turkey dogs all these years? Was it the whole wheat buns? Is it the nitrites? Or are Katz's hot dogs just really amazing? God, I don't know, but this was the best hot dog I've had in ages. I can't describe it without sounding like I am writing porn. It was so good.

You would think we would be full. We were. But we were not finished. We had now been walking and eating for about three hours. But we still had one more stop.

Russ and Daughters
179 East Houston Street

This is the kind of place that could make you weep, if it caught you at the right time. It is just so beautiful. Smoked fishes, dried fruits, citrus-colored candies, everything gleaming and gorgeously arranged. It's like a working shrine to food. It's like when you go to Italy for the first time. Here you've grown up in the US used to seeing art kept in its special place in the museums, and then, in a totally separate sphere, the throngs of lowly humanity going about its business on the streets. And then you go to Italy and you can't believe it but the throngs of people are doing their usual disgusting business -- eating, praying, kissing, spitting, etc-- but all the while within reach of these gorgeous masterpieces. R&D is like this. How can something so beautiful and sacred, this sparkling jewel of a place, sit on this dirty profane street and be used and eaten and partaken of by any schmuck with five bucks and a hankering for a bagel with lox spread? And yet that's what's so great about it.

Every time I go in there I think, I need to come back here ALL the time. Maybe that is what it is like for people who go to church regularly. Or the gym. My life would be so much better if I came here all the time.

This is Mark Federman, one of the sons of the daughters. He was a lawyer, but then he came back to the business. He gave us a whole charming spiel about the place, pointed out his daughter and nephew behind the counter, and sold us all even more on the place.

That's it for the tour. I'm still full.

Next week: Chinatown in Flushing!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

10 Things to Do with Zucchini

My mother has a cookbook that warns that, around this time of year, it's best to keep your car's windows rolled up and doors locked, in case some "friend" unloads a bag of zucchini in your front seat while you're in the post office.

In gardening parts of the country, it's zucchini-overload season. Being an upstanding urban locavore, I feel compelled to pretend that I, too, am overloaded with zucchini. It is, after all, plentiful, cheap and grown within 500 miles. What should I do with it? How can I possibly use up all this local produce?

Grilling and sauteing are the obvious choices, but here are some other ideas:

1. Make a gratin. I like to layer zucchini with skinny eggplants and plum tomatoes. Unlike this Fine Cooking recipe for summer vegetable gratin, I add bread crumbs. My kids don't eat this. Neither does my husband, since he doesn't like eggplant. But I love it.

2. I love this breakfast: Grate a zucchini and scramble with an egg or two. Cook slowly in olive oil. I like to top with strips of nori and a dash of gomasio (sesame seeds, seaweed and sea salt).

3. Make Zucchini-Carrot Cupcakes. I used to start off my cooking classes with this recipe. Kids were all -- eeeuw, zucchini cupcakes?! But they loved them. It was always the most requested recipe at the end of the class. (But don't use confectioners sugar in the cream cheese frosting! Maple syrup is so much better.)

4. Stock up for the winter: grate or chop a whole mess of zucchini and place in big freezer bags. Lay flat and use a chopstick to score into a tic-tac-toe pattern. This way you can break off a square of zucchini, instead of taking a hatchet to a big frozen hunk.

5. Use in soup. Adding chopped zucchini to a summer minestrone soup (or any soup) at the last minute makes the soup bright and fresh. (Fresh tomatoes, green beans, or a splash of lemon juice or vinegar do this too.)

6. Chocolate and Zucchini Cake, courtesy of where else?, the Chocolate and Zucchini blog.

7. Zucchini Goat Cheese Pizza. This looks delicious. If your kids aren't likely to eat it, you could do a regular pizza for them at the same time.

8. Zucchini-cabbage saute. Slice into half moons and saute in olive oil with sliced cabbage -- slowly -- until soft. One of my mother's usual one-stewpot recipes, but this one is strangely, alchemically delicious. Under poached eggs, over rice, or just plain.

9. Sneak into spaghetti sauce. I usually am opposed to the sneaky-deceptive method, but this is the original move, the method the whole empire was based on. You don't even have to sneak it. You can just say that's how you make spaghetti sauce-- with grated zucchini. Which magically disappears.

10. Zucchini pancakes!