Monday, April 28, 2008

In the News

Haven't been in the kitchen much, and have no food in my house after spring break. Until I get cooking again, here are some news items:

Power Scouts
These 12 year old girls in Minnesota decided to stop selling Girl Scout Cookies because the palm oil industry is killing orangutans. Now they have a web site and go around making presentations. These girls are so cool!

Global Food Footprint
This New York Times article about the environmental impact of shipping foods around the world is confusing, but worth reading. Like many articles of its ilk, it starts out identifying an issue (carbon footprint of our crazy global food trade), then gets a bunch of quotes of industry bigwigs denying that there is a problem, then adds a lot of complex conflicting facts, and leaves you thinking it's best to just walk away from this issue very quietly and never speak of it again. Still, worth reading.

Poisonous Blowfish, Anyone?
Cool Adam Platt article about his trip to Japan to eat the sperm sacs of the poisonous blowfish.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Ippudo Rocks

I went, I ate, I wanted more.

If you haven't read my previous post, and if you are not already obsessed with noodle soup in general and ramen in particular, you may not know that a new ramen joint, called Ippudo, has hit Manhattan and is being fawned over and welcomed and debated and dissed, depending on the circles you travel, by various food bloggers and eaters in the city. Being a typical white person who is obsessed with Japan (see #58 on Stuff White People Like), and also someone who is obsessed with food, I love ramen, and went yesterday, which was literally my first opportunity since hearing about it, to Ippudo.

Here' s a general rundown:
Pickles: too sweet. I hate sweet pickles. It didn't matter. I was so happy to be there, I dealt with the sweet pickles.

Service: friendly to the point of being surreal. When you walk in you run a gauntlet of grinning Japanese faces greeting you in some manner or other. Service was totally adequate in other respects.

Decor: weird and modern and sleek, with a mirror trick happening, where you're not sure at first glance if the people across from you are really there. I love the funky rundown aesthetic of places like Decibel, the sake bar on 9th street. Mismatched sake cups, Japanese hipsters grilled yakitori on a tiny hibachi. Or Rai Rai Ken, my first ramen joint here in NYC, which has all this funky cement work and mosaics and feels cobbled together in a homey-artsy way, which seems to go with ramen. Whatever, this place is sleek and modern. I'll deal with it.

Soup: crazy, crazy, weirdly good. Good like, you almost feel like you shouldn't be eating it. Like, what could be in here that makes it taste so amazing? It's so good. There is seaweed and a slice of sort of dry-ish pork, and a whole mess of thin long noodles. The broth is cloudly, which my friend suggested might be because they cook the noodles right in the broth, which I think was true. It also gave the noodles a slight SLIGHT gumminess, which was not perfect, but whatever. So damn good. Like all soups, it all comes down to the broth.

One problem: I could have eaten whole other bowl. I was not satisfied, even after a $13 dollar bowl of noodle soup. Just thirsty.

I'd like to go back tomorrow, or as soon as possible.

Hakata Ippudo
65 Fourth Ave., New York, NY 10003
nr. 10th St

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Ramen Alert: Ippudo

A Japanese friend told me about this new ramen place in the East Village.

When I first moved to New York 10 years ago I was so excited to have great noodle soup places. I have always been obsessed with noodle soups, and always been deeply disappointed with the reality of what the world had to offer.

When I first got here I lived in the East 20's, just a few blocks from this place on 3rd Ave called Sam's Noodles, or something like that, which let you choose your kind of noodle and all the fixings, and which totally sucked. Republic, in Union Square, had a couple decent soups. Getting Pho in Chinatown was always good. But ramen has always been pretty elusive here (just like good Thai food -- don't get me started, I have given up on Thai food in New York). Rai Rai Ken was great until it stopped being great. Settagaya I love. But now they're saying Ippudo is even more amazing.

Here's Ed Levine's take on Ippudo. I stole that picture of the soup from his post, which it looks like he took it from Flickr. When I go, I will replace with my own picture. But I just had to post, being so excited that there is new ramen available.

Also a reader told me there IS a Japanese dept store in NYC, just a few blocks from Pearl River. (Thank you Cay!)Muji apparently arrived in Soho last September. I can scarcely believe my good fortune: a new ramen shop AND a Japanese department.

All my posts will not be about all things Japanese, I promise.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Going Bento

One of the problems with living on the East Coast, is there are no Japanese department stores.

If there were -- or so I hear tell -- we northeasterners would be able to go to the bento floor and buy a lot of cute plastic stuff to pack our family's lunches. Okay, so this would be totally evironmentally incorrect... but it would be so fun. And who doesn't need a little more fun at 7:05 a.m., while cramming turkey sandwiches and yogurt squeezies into a couple of battered Tupperware containers that have seen better days?

But anyway, no dice. In New York, Pearl River is the closest we have to a Japanese department store, being a Chinese department store that sells Japanese stuff. I headed over there last week, having heard there were bento supplies. I'd heard wrong.

Pearl River does not have a bento section. They have rice cookers and Chinese pajamas and silk slippers and cheong-sams and litchi candy and journals and lamps and buddha statues and pretty everything else you can think of, but no bento section. But there are some lunch pails, and they sell some cute things for lunchboxes and for making rice balls.

Of the lunch pails, I couldn't resist this two-tiered melamine pail. It is the perfect size for my lunch at work. Every since I got it, I have been storing dinner leftovers in it. I put it in the fridge, and it's ready to go in the morning. Plus... so cute. I wish it had a sealed top, because I don't totally trust the metal contraption. I pack it in a plastic bag to make sure I don't get some kind of lunch-juice seepage. So far, so good.

The kids' version is pretty cute, too.

Just to clarify, I am not suggesting anyone -- most especially not myself -- turn into one of those type A-bento packers. Dude, I am not getting up at 5 a.m., no matter what kind of magic I might be able to spin with a couple sheets of nori and some hard boiled eggs. But if I can make our home-packed lunches a little more exciting, I'm all for it.

If you're ready for some of that 7:05 a.m. fun I'm talking about, check out Ichiban-Kan, a brand new on-line Japanese store.

You can go to one of my favorite lunchbox sites, Lunch in a Box, where Biggie gives her review of Ichiban-Kan's products.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Baum Forum on School Food

I went to Hilary Baum's Forum on Schools, Foods and Community yesterday up at Teachers' College.

I've gone to a few of these. The first year, Ann Cooper was the keynote speaker. She is this incredible activist-chef who is now working with Alice Waters out in Berkeley trying to figure out a good public school lunch program. She is a powerhouse. She was spitting mad, swearing up on stage, being radical, making huge unyielding demands. I left that conference walking on air, ready to change the world.

The next year was different. They went heavy on the city officials: Office of School Foods (OSF), Dept of Ed, Parks Department. It was one long day of powerpoint presentations, with a couple activists here and there. It was boring and depressing. According to the officials, everything had already been fixed, so if any of us still had a problem with our kids' school food, well it must be something wrong with us.

I wasn't going to even go this year, but I was asked to come and be a panelist, and to speak about starting a school food group. Well in that case, sure.

My first thought was to show a slide show of cooking classes and the CSA farm delivery we get at my son's school... but then I thought, that's bullshit! I hate seeing pretty pictures of what other people have done. It doesn't help me. I want to know how they DID it. Step-by-step instructions, please.

So instead of showing pretty pcitures, I talked about getting past the obstacles and how any social change movement is fraught with resistance, and that the more we were prepared and accepting of these obstacles, the more easily we could stay on course. (By "accepting" I mean like how people in New Hampshire are accepting of black flies in June, and how they swat them away and try fly paper, and try all different kinds of eradication methods, and talk to their neighbors and friends about how they are dealing with it and never stop being totally irritated and pissed off about them, but also never take them personally.)

Susan Rubin, one of the Two Angry Moms, was the moderater of our panel. She emailed me the next day supporting the message I was giving -- and seeming to share my annoyance at the confluence of officials and sales pitches. Our panel was basically three NYC moms, and two salesmen (one for the OSF, one for a private company that does great food service for private schools). One of the salesmen actually talked about how he couldn't believe that parents wanted to get rid of chocolate milk.


Hilary Baum, if you read this? Next year can you put the officials and the DOE people and the OSF people and the salesmen into the audience, and make them listen to us? Please?

Friday, April 4, 2008

The Exquisite Humiliation of Bento

There's nothing like a well-packed Bento Box to make you realize what a totally inadequate lunch-packer -- and let's face it, parent -- you are. Thought you were doing a good job, did you? Putting a lot of love into it? Thinking about what your kids like and how to maximize the moment of suprise and happiness when your kid opens up his or her lunchbox and sees -- aww, a yogurt-squeezie! Maybe a fruit leather!

That's okay. I'm more than willing to realize my inadequacies as a lunchbox-packer (and parent) so I am able to fully enjoy the art of Bento. Or Face Food. Or let's just call by its best name: Bento porn.

These pictures are from
Another favorite, more american version is

In between bouts of awe and shame, I have garnered little tips from the Bento-packers, like trying to fit everything into one box (sometimes) so that everything is visible at once. This also means you can put in a few little things, like a couple cherry tomatoes, a couple carrot coins, or whatever.

AND ... I've adopted the Octo-DOG. This is a classic lunchbox fixture in Japan. My four-year old loves these. I stayed away from hotdogs because - yuk, hotdogs! - until a friend at my son's bustop told me she was using organic chicken dogs with no nitrates.

So.. voila: my daughter's new favorite lunch time treat (posing here as an afterschool snack)

If I hadn't shown really amazing awesome Bento before I showed mine, would my octo-dog have been more impressive? Luckily, my daughter has never seen the real stuff.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Recycle Your Fat

The New York Times has a piece today about cooking with stewing chickens -- roosters, and egg-layers that have passed their prime. This used to be so normal. Now it is like boutique cooking to use every part of the animal, and every part of the farm process.

At the Coop where I shop, they sell stewing chickens. At $5 each, they do not make a cheap soup stock, but they do make a really astonishingly good one. I used to use the chicken meat for my dog's dinner (You've never seen a dog run so fast to her food bowl as when she's getting meat from a stock.)

But in the article they talk about chefs using the leftover meat to fill dumplings, or using the stewing chicken itself to make a coq au vin. Usually in the U.S. we cook coq au vin for an hour. With older chickens you have to cook them for longer. The article says Jeffrey Steingarten, Vogue's food writer, cooks coq au vin for 5 hours. Whoa. (Other chefs are not so extreme.)

Anyway, the part I like the best in the article is where Jacques Gautier -- actually a Park Slope, Brooklyn, chef (at Palo Santo) -- says he browns the chicken for his coq au vin in the fat left over from making soup stocks. "That's our recycling program," he says.

Yea, I love this! Because -- what do you do with the fat? I used to be really baffled by the thick layer of fat when I made soup stocks from organic grass fed beef bones. It was so white and pure and just seemed...valuable. I didn't know what to do with it. I kept one batch in my freezer for a while, thinking -- can I make, like, soap? WHAT do I do with this? I felt almost the same way about chicken fat from soups, and bacon grease...

When I was little we kept bacon grease and used it for cooking pancakes. Then the whole low-fat thing hit and we had to throw away all our fat, and go start a whole new fat industry (oil.) It seems so weird.

My friend Nicole, who spent her summers growing up on her grandparents' farm in Western Canada, remembers her grandmother making big farm breakfasts every day, then putting the giant cast iron pot that fried the bacon onto the back of the stove. For the rest of the day, any time she needed fat for cooking, she'd scoop out a little bacon fat. At the end of the day she'd clean it out and start over again. Why is this not normal to us, still?

Did you know pork fat has more mono-unsaturated fat in it than saturated fat? (And that olive oil is 14% saturated, and that all fats are a combination of saturated, mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated?) (And that some people think frying in saturated fats is safer because they're more stable?) I use my bacon fat now. I use my beef fat.

Here are butternut squash chips fried in lard (organic, grass-fed, of course, duh!), the way chips, and everything, were fried for hundreds of years, before the invention of Crisco.
I think our modern low-fat ways are not only making us fat, they're making us wasteful.