Miss Ginsu: About/Bio


FoodLink Roundup: 11.10.08

Cupcake's Link Roundup
Last week, Cupcake was called out (by everyone, seemingly) at a Gotham Girls Roller Derby home game. So, where in the world is Cupcake this week? Yeah, I know this one's a softball, but be a peach and post a guess in the comments anyway.

Feds try to get students to eat fruit and veg
"Not to brag or anything," 10-year-old Harrison Saling said, "but I've always been pretty good about my fruits." Hilarious...

'Clean-up' bees could save endangered hives
Scientists tinker with bees in the hope of saving agriculture. Go, Scientists, Go!

Purple Reign
Snapdragons + Tomatoes + Genetic Tinkering = more flavonoids?

When Money Is Tight, Eating Healthy Can Be a Struggle
Newsflash... healthful eating is a class issue!

Pizza From Scratch: First, Bricks and a Trailer
My friend Dave rocks the outdoor oven for the Times. Woot!

New food links — and another postcard from Cupcake — every Monday morning on missginsu.com

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FoodLink Roundup: 10.20.08

Cupcake's Link Roundup
Last week, Cupcake was reviewing flats of sweets in Istanbul, Turkey. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post your guess in the comments.

River Cottage Bramley lemon curd
A lovely photo series composed of lemon curd made with apples. Mmm...

i voted!
As if voting wasn't already its own reward... Now, there's ice cream.

Rancher’s Goat Meat Grabs Attention of Chefs
Niman dumps the cows, goes for the goat.

On recession gardens
The retro Victory Garden returns in new, credit-crunched clothing.

Credit Crunch Cooking
Cheap meats, thoughts of eating the pets and a return to MFK Fisher.

New food links — and another postcard from Cupcake — every Monday morning on missginsu.com

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FoodLink Roundup: 08.25.08

Cupcake's Link Roundup
Though he may have appeared to have been in Nova Scotia last week (a fine guess), Cupcake was actually located just down the way from Bonaparte Breads in Fells Point, Baltimore. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post your guess in the comments.

Conserving locally caught tuna, Italian style
Since I buy the Italian stuff by the case, it helps to know how to actually make it.

Not Just a Garden, but Cows
The latest thing in suburban status symbols: Jersey Cows.

The Essential Barbecue Guide
Duck, Venison... The Guardian's take on grilling looks a bit more adventurous than your standard US grill feature.

Dirt exposure boosts happiness
A little something gardeners have known all along...

Fish Tale Has DNA Hook
Teens testing restaurant dishes find some fishy business afoot.

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When Agritourism Attacks!

In Italy, where agritourism has been nurtured by government subsidies for decades, business is booming. Who goes to the Italian countryside anymore without participating in a farmstay? C'mon! All the cool kids are doing it.

In case you're new to the concept, it goes like this: a farmstay or agritourism vacation entails traveling to a farm, eating there and (often) staying at (or near) the farmhouse, as you would at a bed & breakfast.

Orchard-picked plums at the farmstay

There's generally participation of some kind in the regional rural lifestyle... Picking fruit in the orchards or vineyards. Observing or helping with food and/or wine-making processes. Currying the ponies. Milking the sheep and making cheese. Feeding the chickens. Stuff like that.

Farmstay in Sora, Italy

And on the off-chance you've managed to miss the press recently, agritourism may have grown up in Italy, but it's not just for European farmers anymore.

There's plenty of folks now betting on U.S. agritourism being big business for rural America.

Evening table setting at the farmstay

And why not? Thanks to renewed interest in food sourcing and a little press from some writer named Michael Pollan, some farmers are already cashing in.

Since I grew up on a tiny Midwestern farm, I suppose I still find the concept of paying (and in some cases, paying dearly) for participation in agritourism to be kind of a bummer. To my mind, it's a bit like paying for content on the internet.
"What? I have to pay for this? But the internet is free, isn't it?"

Realizing I sound like great-grandpa as I say this (type this?), when I was a youngster, farm chores were part of the deal. You didn't pay to do them. If anything, one's weekend spending money was based on completing those tasks.

A curious fellow in Sora, Italy

I understand why it all needs to be monetized. Like Big Daddy Kane says, "Farmin' ain't easy." But it still makes me a little sad if I'm only welcome to visit the countryside if I arrive with a fat wallet.

That said, I do live in the city now, I am starved for contact with the sources of my food, and I was very excited by the prospect of visiting a farm in Italy, breathing fresh mountain air, picking my way through an orchard and conversing with goats. And... I'm perfectly willing to pay for all those benefits.

Rooster water spigot at the farmstay

I'd just offer this advice to city slickers like myself who might be eyeing fertile fields: as more farms transform into tourist businesses, it's going to be increasingly more important to view them as businesses.

Different farms are going to offer different benefits, and like any commercial enterprise, some will suit you better than others, so do your research. Read reviews online before you go. Make sure you know what you'll give and what you'll get.

I have no doubt that the majority of agritourism farmers are truly lovely, generous hosts, but there will be those who simply want to milk you like they milk their cows. Caveat emptor applies as much to wholesome-looking farmhouses as it does to hotels, motels and B&Bs.

Yours in wanderlust,

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Italian Pecorino Cheese: A How-To Video

In my short career in video blogging, I've run through making fresh paneer cheese, watching the Salvatore Ricotta folks stuff cheese into cannoli and now, my latest clip documents the making of uber-traditional pecorino in the Italian countryside.

I'm afraid you'll start to believe I'm a bit cheese-obsessed. I assure you, the theme is entirely coincidental. I swear the next video will be about something other than cheese.

Meanwhile, I have to say, this is really my favorite clip yet, featuring some truly charming Italian sheep and goats I met in the mountains of Abruzzo while on a farm stay near Sora, Italy. They were excellent actors, all. Very cooperative.

Abruzzo, Italy

A very charming goat

Sheep stomach

You'll notice that, in making the cheese, the shepherd uses nothing more than milk in a big, black cauldron, a stick(!), some sheep's stomach and coarse salt. That's it. There's a campfire on hand for making ricotta, which is a byproduct of his pecorino processing.

Aside from the shepherd's snazzy threads, there's very little here that's any different from the way people have been making cheese for thousands of years.

Looks easy, no? But before you go and get yourself a herd of your own, know this: the shepherd and his wife get up before dawn every day to do this. Weekends. Holidays. Every day. There's no vacation from a herd of sheep and goats.

Meanwhile, I secreted a wheel of this very cheese back to the states in my luggage and am going to ask Anne Saxelby to nestle it in her cave to age for a bit. We'll see how it tastes after it's had a few months to rest.

Cheers, ya'll!

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FoodLink Roundup: 05.05.08

Cupcake's Link Roundup
Last week, Cupcake was located at the Sculpture Garden in Minneapolis, MN, scoring a hat trick for Hazard on correct guesses. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Wager a guess in the comments.

The Pie-tini Club
Old-school food vice: The Grateful Palate features a triple-threat of Pie, Cocktails and Cynicism.

30 Days to a Green Your Diet
I'm a bit suspicious of a few of these. (Replace all your spices? Good advice, but is it really greener?)

Do you need to stock up the bunker?
"New survivalists do not look like Rambo." The rise of the urban liberal survivalist.

Can't bear to walk a few blocks to your CSA drop site? Now there's a veggie box for the lazy.

Reformulated Oreo Scores in China
Make your product something the locals like. Seems like a big *duh* once you see the solution.

To Save a Species, Get People to Eat It
We need to save the Waldoboro green neck rutabaga for the name alone.

The days of uninformed seafood dining draw to a close.

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FoodLink Roundup: 04.28.08

Cupcake's Link Roundup
Last week, Cupcake was found (thanks to the sharp mind of Mr. Hazard) in the blossom-filled lanes of Prospect Park, Brooklyn. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post a guess in the comments.

A Guide to Bakeries in Manhattan's Chinatown
A handy guide for the gweilo, myself included.

Book-Beer Pairings
Slightly less reading comprehension, slightly more giggling while you turn the pages.

The In Vitro Meat Consortium
I've said it before: The future is yucky.

The All-Natural Taste That Wasn’t
“Isn’t it amazing how many additives it takes to make something taste natural?”
Oh, Pinkberry, you haz betrayed my tiny trust.

Manhattan Milk Company
All new... it's retro.

Guide to Kosher Imaginary Animals
A good "just in case" guide.

When Neighbors Become Farmers
Lawn? We don't need no stinking lawn.

The great British breakfast is a killer
Hilarious. Read through to the response at the end.

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FoodLink Roundup: 04.07.08

Cupcake's Link Roundup
Last week, Cupcake was located out in the black mining hills of Dakota. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post a guess in the comments.

Antarctic Cafeteria Chef Can Boost or Bust Morale
"Sally in the Galley" creates happiness (or misery) for hundreds with canned, dried and preserved foods.

Food riots feared after rice prices hit a high
Eight BILLION people rely on rice, now at its weakest stock level in 30 years. Kind of terrifying.

Frito-Lay Angrily Introduces Line Of Healthy Snacks
"It's a brand-new taste sensation unlike anything you've ever experienced, unless you've ever eaten sisal twine."

A chunk of feta keeps tummies in fine fettle
Beneficial bacteria wins again!

Whatever Happened to Sumerian Beer?
More proof that there's nothing new under the sun... Hamurabi's bureaucracy closed the tap on ancient beer production.

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FoodLink Roundup: 03.24.08

Link Roundup
Last week, Cupcake was romping in Barcelona, España (Yes, Mr. Hazard, you were right on with Spain!) Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Think you know? Post it in the comments.

The Fat Pack Wonders if the Party’s Over
Fellow NYC food blogger Jason Perlow gets diabetes, drops off the pounds and challenges the culture of excess embodied by some food media heavies.

The Myth of Food Miles
A backlash against the UK locavore movement. "The concept of food miles is unhelpful and stupid. It doesn't inform about anything except the distance travelled..."

Putting Dunkin' Donuts Coffee to the Test
I'd always suspected it was a viral marketing scheme (or perhaps an alien brain wave device?) that managed to convince a nation of Dunkin' Donuts coffee superiority.

The Turnip That Stirred Panic
“I’m now on constant alert against this and other rooted vegetables,” GiaQuinta said. Hilarious.

Leaving Behind the Trucker Hat
It's like a headline from The Onion: American Youth Flee Hip Urban 'Hoods for Country Backwaters.

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Nibbling at the Front Line

When I returned to the Upper Midwest last summer for a visit, I couldn't help but notice a change in the fields. The vast oceans of wheat and the fields of sunflowers were gone. In their place grew soybeans and corn.

And according to the National Corn Growers Association, spring planting trends will continue to favor corn.

So what's wrong with lots of corn? For one thing, it means that other crops become more scarce as corn prices go up and farmers turn to the big corn payoff.

Films like King Corn have attacked the environmental and dietary risks of our national corn obsession.

And on the topic of corn-fed beef, food writer Michael Pollan says: "The industry can always make the popular arguments, because they certainly make things cheaper. But is it really cheap? Think of the taxpayer, who's actually subsidizing every one of those burgers. All that corn requires an immense amount of fossil fuel. Corn requires more fertilizers and pesticides than other crops. It takes the equivalent of half a gallon of gasoline to grow every bushel of corn. [Almost] everything we do to protect our oil supply ... is a cost of that burger."

A very active athlete, J consumes New York City like Galactus chews through planets. Thus, he's bound to notice the effects of agricultural policy on food costs (and small-scale businesses) a little more quickly than I would.

Herein J reports on how things are going for those on the front lines: old-school vendors on the Lower East Side.

A moist, tasty muffin (for $2.25) from the Tra La La Juice Bar.
1. There's a fantastic dumpling shop in my neighborhood that has sold their pork & chive fried dumplings at 5/$1 for the last ten years. When I went in last night, the price had gone to 4/$1. I mentioned the change to the owner. She said, "flour tripled, $18/bag to $60/bag, and my other ingredients are up too."

2. A guy in the local covered market makes muffins. My favorite one has been $1.75 since I moved to NYC. It went to $2.25 a couple weeks ago. Explanation: "All of my ingredients have gotten more expensive. Using corn for fuel was the stupidest thing anybody could have come up with, 'cause now the price of corn — the root of all US agriculture — has shot up, taking everything else with it." He went on a tirade, talking about how biofuel has to be shipped in trucks that burn more biofuel rather via pipelines, &c.

I just stood there, listening and chewing my $2.25 muffin.

Just a little something to chew on the next time you see high-fructose corn syrup in your sports drink or corn ethanol at the gas pump.

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A Quick Bite of 1946, Anyone?

I think most of us have played the "would you rather" game. It's usually a contest of bad and worse. Would you rather be turned into a zombie or an oompah-loompah? Would you rather give up your firstborn child to Britney Spears or a tribe of cannibals? Would you rather eat a kitten or a puppy?

The wacky world of Foods 1946 presents us with this conundrum:

Would you rather spend more time in the kitchen and eat a sustainable, locally sourced, home-cooked meal of ham & pureed vegetable soup, roast goose with roasted vegetables and a side of applesauce, mashed potatoes and turnips, fresh-baked corn muffins and then plum pudding and fresh-ground coffee to finish, a'la 1846. (Click into the image for the larger view.)

A Winter Meal of 1846


Would you rather spend less time in the kitchen and enjoy a meal composed of packaged foods: split pea soup (from a mix), canned ham, minute rice, canned asparagus tips, canned artichoke heart salad, corn muffins from a mix and a last course of strawberry shortcake (from frozen strawberries and a biscuit mix) served with instant coffee, a'la 1946.

A Winter Meal of 1946

Granted, I could go for some strawberry shortcake right about now, but I think you see what I'm getting at here.

The world of 1946 was so sure that your answer to this "would you rather" query would favor speed and cheap processed foods, they'd most certainly be floored to hear that 2007 voted "locavore" as the word of the year, that people around the globe ware increasingly more interested in Slow Food or that Community Supported Agriculture programs were thriving and growing.

Oh, 1946! Everything was so plain, so clear and so logical for you, wasn't it?

Tomorrow, just a little more fun from Foods 1946.

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The Long Tail of 1946

Yesterday I introduced the weird, wild, wonderful world of Foods 1946, but to really understand where 1946 was going, it's important to take a quick look at 1945.

Our friends at Wikipedia tell us that 1945 "was a common year starting on Monday. It is most widely known for being the end of World War II. It is also known as the beginning of the Information Age."

But just scan down a very brief list of events that 1945 contained...

America's President up and dies
Hitler and Goebbels kill themselves
Berlin falls
The UN is founded
We see the first atomic bomb testing (quickly followed by the first horrible, horrible atomic bomb usage)
The second World War ends
The first ballpoint pen is sold (for $12.50... ouch!)
Ghandi shouts down the British Empire
We see the dawn of the cold war
The Nuremberg Trials begin
The Cubs are actually in the World Series

... 1945 was HUGE, people.

Frozen meals testing
Hot dog! Frozen meals are promised soon!

With all that in mind, the crazy investment optimism put forth in Foods 1946 seems well-founded. America had survived so much by the time 1946 rolled around. 1945 was dramatic and terrifying. Who wouldn't be tempted to dip into some good, reliable, long-storage processed American food to welcome better days in 1946?

That's why Foods 1946 is actually a love letter to a young, optimistic processed foods industry. The good people of 1946 were looking to America's food industry to offer good, cheap, easy canned, frozen and otherwise manipulated foods to attack the very real monster gnawing at the periphery: famine.

Have a look at the following chart from Foods 1946 of average global caloric consumption as measured in the summer of 1945. (Click into the image for a closer view.)

charting calories consumed, globally, as of summer 1945

You'll notice two things:

1. Half the listed world is starving (creating a handy market for American foods)
2. Americans are averaging waaay more calories than they need*

Is it any wonder that most of the processed food companies featured in Foods 1946 are now international food processing behemoths?

And it any surprise that we're currently dealing with a national obesity crisis? America started gaining weight in 1945 and hasn't stopped in over 60 years.

Tomorrow we'll explore yet more interesting discoveries contained in Foods 1946

(*Nutritionists generally recommend about 1500-2500 calories per person day, depending on the subject's weight and activity.)

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What 1946 Hath Wrought

"The world today looks to the American farmer—To all the American People—for the very means of life. It is a challenge and an opportunity that we shall not shirk."
-Foods 1946

On a recent foraging tour in my new favorite junk shop, Puntaverde Brooklyn's own The Thing (they have a popular myspace page, natch), I came across this irresistible bit of history:

Foods 1946

It's a 1946 edition food processing securities brochure, courtesy of Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Beane. It's essentially profiles and financial information on the major food processing companies of the day: Archer-Daniels Midland, Wesson Oil, Sunshine Biscuits, General Foods, John Morrell & Company, Pillsbury Mills, Inc., and dozens more.

Though that initially might sound as exciting as a sink full of dirty dishes, I can assure you — treasures await.

I picked it up thinking I'd have some fun clip art for the site. There was no way I could resist the proud visage of the post-war American farmer gazing on the face of global famine... and global opportunity. But let me just step aside and let Foods 1946 speak for itself:

"For thousands of years food was raised and eaten in the same community. Famines forced some migration and spices from the East permitted some improvement in food preservation, but generally, our ancestors spent most of their time seeking something to eat and if they did not find it they starved. Food was coarse and plain, there was seldom an abundance and when there was, very little could be kept.

In the past fifty years there has been a world revolution in food."


So this week, I'll guide you through the wonderful world of 1946. We might just discover revealing things about the present. It's a crazy thought. But one never knows...

Tune in tomorrow. Same bat time, same bat channel.

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The Leftover Lovers

The Gleaners
The Gleaners, by Jean François Millet 1814-1875

In my youth, I was a drainpipe spelunker, a dumpster diver and a wild berry forager. "DISCARDED" loomed large in my early memories, stamped across the worn covers of my storybooks in a black serifed font.

I turned over piles of rotting leaves looking for morels, climbed trees to cut down the oyster mushrooms, sorted out asparagus stalks from the field grasses, plucked prairie turnips from the soil. I bought my housecat gently used, found my job on Craig's List and furnished my Brooklyn apartment with castoffs and curb produce.

Maybe that's why gleaning holds such appeal for me. Having recently watched the French film Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse (The Gleaners and I), an exploration of those who live off the discard pile, I discovered I'm not alone in loving the leftovers.

Not only is there a rich cultural history woven into the forgotten harvest, there's legal and biblical justification as well.

As Leviticus 19:9-10 instructs its devotees,
"When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all
the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your
harvest. You shall not pick your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen
fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the

Allowing a harvest of castoffs makes sense morally and logically, but as Agnès Varda reveals in her film, many of the stoppages in modern gleaning come down to a lack of information and distribution.

Taking advantage of their established connections, the folks at America's Second Harvest and New York's CityHarvest effectively work as modern gleaners. Their gleaning armies organize daily gathering expeditions and distribution runs in an attempt to fill up America's empty bellies with the mountains of food that would otherwise rot in dumpsters.

For those of us hungrier in spirit than body, there's something primally satisfying in doing one's own hunting and gleaning. Out on the Left Bank, similar ideas brew: fallenfruit.org is an organization founded by three CalArts professors after they discovered a forgotten Los Angeles city law that designates as public property any fruit that hangs over sidewalks.

Their website promotes access to the city's free produce via Fruit Alerts and Fruit Maps. New Yorkers can check the Department of Sanitation's collection schedules for nights to rummage in the dark or the free section on Craig's List for an array of pickings.

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The Butcher Who Broke My Heart

Free-Range Duckies

Occasionally, my job has unusual perks. Last week they sent me out to visit a free-range duck farm on Long Island with the butcher, the photographer and a few important decision-makers.

The ducks were healthy, terribly clean, seemingly happy and surrounded by grass, trees, sunshine, spring water, fresh breezes... all the stuff you'd hope a duck's life would entail.

Sadly, the less uplifting part of the story is that these little guys are a meat commodity. Their lives are short (just a few months) and after their speedy dispatch (a quick cut in the jugular) the ducks get dipped in parafin, stripped of their feathers (which are cleaned and used in pillows and coats) and prepared for sale.

Whole ducks for Chinese markets are prepped "Confucian-style" (whole, organs and all) and frozen, while breasts and legs for standard sale are trimmed by a loyal staff of workers who've been with this family business for years. Tongues and feet are also beloved by the Chinese restaurants, so they're frozen for sale by the pound.

This was such a meticulously clean and efficient farm, I came away with a feeling of satisfaction. My post-vegetarian guilt was assuaged. The ducks have short lives, yes, but their handful of numbered days seem pleasant, unlike the crowded, stifling chicken mills and turkey barns I've had the misfortune of encountering.

The butcher, a self-described "man at the top of his game" with more than thirty years in the business, left the farm shaking his head and sighing. "I hope someday in the future we humans won't have to do this," he said. "It's different when you get the meat on my end. You package it, and it's a product."

"But when you're here and you're looking at them... I mean, this is a beautiful farm, you know? It just seems so barbaric that we have to do this."

In competition for the deeper soul, I think I was out-hearted by the man who deals in death. I'm still not sure if the water rimming up in my eyes was more about fate of the ducks or my own loss of innocence.

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