Miss Ginsu: About/Bio


Resolution #3: Get Cultured

There's nothing like the zeal of the convert, and ever since I started getting regular doses of probiotics in my diet, I can't shut up about 'em.

After years of having a constantly grumpy tummy, the belly is soothed and I feel my overall health is better. Thank you, gut flora.

Fermented milk products like yogurt or kefir are an obvious way to get the probiotic party started, but not everyone eats dairy, so those folks can look to fermented plant products like pickled vegetables, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, miso and kombucha for their healthy bacteria.

Probiotic Party

I eat yogurt almost daily now and have a happy flora party rocking out in my guts, so as a good party host, I want to make sure my little guests have snacks they enjoy.

As it turns out, gut flora like soybeans, unrefined oats, wheat and barley and foods that contain inulin, like onions, garlic, jicama, burdock, Jerusalem artichokes, chicory root and dandelion.

So in that spirit, this wellness resolution is all about getting (and growing) my active cultures. I'll now be on the lookout for ways to boost inulin, like adding jicama to my favorite mango salsa. After all, what's a probiotic party without salsa?

Jicama Mango Salsa (Makes 6 to 8 servings)
1 lb jicama (1 medium root): peeled diced
1 medium cucumber: peeled, seeded and diced
2 mangoes, peeled and diced
1 small red onion, minced
1/2 jalapeno pepper, minced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 cup fresh lime juice (about 1 lime)
2 to 3 Tbsp olive oil
Salt, to taste

1. In a large bowl, combine diced jicama, cucumber and mango with minced onion, jalapeno and cilantro.
2. In another bowl, mix together the cumin and lime juice. Slowly pour in the olive oil, incorporating it with a whisk.
3. Dress the jicama-mango mix with the lime dressing and season to taste with salt. Spoon over grilled meat, chicken or fish, or serve with tortilla chips or tacos.

Two more wellness resolutions on the way...

To our health!
Miss Ginsu

Labels: , , , , ,


FoodLink Roundup: 10.06.08

Cupcake's Link Roundup
Last week, Cupcake was not in Las Vegas, but in front of the Louvre museum in Paris. Another good guess by Mr. Hazard. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post your guess in the comments.

Mackerel Economics in Prison Leads to Appreciation for Oily Fillets
Hold on... you're telling me this *isn't* a piece from The Onion?

Making Meals in a Rice Cooker
Brilliant. I love this.

Celebrity Chef Barbie
Just in case you didn't truly believe that "Celebrity Chef" is now a legitimate career... Dream big, girls!

Street Vendor Project
Advocacy for the little guy. Plus: the annual Vendy Awards. Mmm... social justice is tasty.

The Swill Is Gone
Dirty politics and a long, unappetizing history lolling behind the current Chinese milk scandal. Ew.

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

Labels: , , ,


Sipping Italy's Cups of Gold

Based around its fresh, local ingredients, Italy clearly boasts one of the world's greatest cuisines.

That said, it's not difficult for a hungry traveler to find a soggy slice of pizza, a vile vino or a poorly treated plate of pasta. Having just returned from a week in the regions of Lazio and Abruzzo, I can attest to a wide range of quality on offer.

Cup of Gold
Tazza d'Oro... a cup of gold

But Italian coffee is a different story altogether. Espresso on every corner. Freshly ground beans in every tiny village. Lattes, cappuccinos and macchiatos sipped by members of every social strata.

In Italy, superlative coffee isn't reserved for the well-born. It's drink of the people.

But why Italy? Coffee beans don't grow there. Wouldn't it make sense for the modern-day center of coffee culture be a little closer to the source of the beans? Like, say... Ethiopia, from whence the coffee bean is supposed to have originated?

Coffee Bags
Coffee bags from Crop to Cup

As it turns out, Italy may not be a source of coffee beans, but the country's been an enthusiastic importer for centuries.

The port city of Venice, Italy, sucked up goods of all kinds from North Africa, the Middle East and beyond. Coffee beans made their appearance there in the 1500s, and by 1645, the first European coffee house had opened (by this time the Turks were already old hands at the bean-slinging business, having opened Constantinople's Kiva Han, their first official coffee house, in 1471).

But clearly, this dark, bitter drink from foreign lands must have been the work of the devil. That's precisely what priests who petitioned Pope Clement VIII tried to claim in 1600.

Fortunately for coffee junkies everywhere, the Pope tried a cup and proclaimed it “so delicious that it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it.”

He determined to “cheat Satan by baptizing it,” and a bloom of European coffee house openings followed. Caffè Florian, in Venice, was established in 1720 and remains one of the oldest houses still in operation.

Caffe Machhiato
Caffè Macchiato

That said, I'm told that Captain John Smith, one of the founders of the colony of Virginia, brought coffee to Jamestown in 1607, and I know that The Boston Tea Party the New York Stock Exchange and the Bank of New York were all conceived in the New World's early coffee houses, so why do I still find weak, insipid coffee as I travel these United States?

I have no firm answers, but my best theory is this: we expect less.

When cloth sacks of green coffee beans sailed into Venetian ports all those centuries ago, they were probably a just few weeks old. By the time those beans traveled through Europe and overseas to the colonies, months had passed. They'd grown older, less nuanced and all the more expensive.

Colonists in what would eventually become the United States grew accustomed to a weaker cup.

That's what they made, and that's what generations thereafter recognized as coffee. The drip machine in the break room. The diner pot resting on the hot plate. We milk it and sugar it. And why not? We usually can't taste the coffee bean's more delicate flavors anyway.

Some claim the Caffè Americano (espresso with extra water added) was created as a more palatable beverage for American soldiers who marched en masse through Italy during World War II. It's probably an apocryphal story, but it sticks around because it illustrates an important point.

Drinks at Cafe Grumpy
Cortado and Cappuccino at Cafe Grumpy, Brooklyn

Though at least 54% of Americans sip coffee every day, the drip pot still reigns supreme. We don't need our morning cup of joe to have delicate flavor. It's about the caffeine.

But in the wake of the Seattle coffee revolution of the '70s, espresso-based drinks are far more widely recognized and consumed in the States. That seems like good news. As a nation, we're learning more about the bean, where it comes from and the subtlety it can show.

And who knows? With any luck, in a few more decades, we might begin to find proper espresso machines posted in all the truck stops and diners of rural America. Four hundred years after good coffee became working-class in Italy, everyone from miners to meter maids might regularly enjoy all that a fresh, well-treated bean has to offer.

Hey, a junkie can dream, right?


Labels: , , , ,


The Wisdom of Food Proverbs

Whenever I cook with tomatoes, I remember what my dad always used to say: "Where a tomato appears, basil is welcome." And you know what? It works. Bruschettas, sauces, lasagnas, salads, soups... When the tomato is involved, I add the basil and it's nice. This method might work less well in a salsa, but honestly, it wouldn't be bad.

That got me thinking about other food proverbs or traditional sayings.

Perhaps I'm just leaving a treasure of wisdom sitting out on the front stairs by ignoring the supposedly Polish proverb: "Fish, to taste right, must swim three times — in water, in butter and in wine." I generally just encourage my fish fillets to swim in a nice pool of olive oil, but I don't doubt that a few generations of unnamed ancient cooks are on to something.

There's certainly great truth in Benjamin Franklin's "Fish and visitors smell in three days." I've always tried to keep that notion in mind when I shop as well as when I travel.

As I poked around the internet, looking for food proverbs, I came up with "Talk doesn't cook rice," commonly credited to the Chinese, and "A nickel will get you on the subway, but garlic will get you a seat," credited to anonymous, pithy New Yorkers. Both seem like very sensible, very practical notions.

Garlic Bulb
One free seat on the subway, coming right up.

And what about "There's no such thing as 'a little garlic'"? Much as I love the stuff, I've found that it really does proclaim itself the king of any dish in which it appears.

I think I'll have no trouble abiding the merry Czech proverb: "A fine beer may be judged with only one sip, but it's better to be thoroughly sure." On the same tip, we find the Egyptian: "Do not cease to drink beer, to eat, to intoxicate thyself, to make love and to celebrate the good days." As an amateur hedonist myself, I couldn't agree more.

Most endearing among the food wisdom I found was this one, credited to an anonymous Chinese author: "When you have only two pennies left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one and a lily with the other."

I like that one a lot. It says a great deal about the value of beauty, and I'm going to try to remember it so I can keep it close at hand in my daily life.

Bread and Butter at Les Enfants Terribles

One last food proverb I found (commonly credited to an Arab source) seems less useful for developing culinary prowess, but ominously valuable as a life lesson, or rather, a warning: "He who eats alone chokes alone."

Have a favorite? I'd love to hear it. Post in the comments and you can share with anyone else who happens along this way on a quest for food wisdom.

Cheers, all!

Labels: , , , , , , ,


Food Gaming a National Sensation. Who Knew?

Despite the fact I live in one of the world's largest cities, I somehow wonder if I'm not simultaneously living under a rock.

Case in point: The pack of popular food and restaurant-based video games that have apparently surfaced over the last five years. Somehow, thousands and thousands of people are loving food-related games, and I've missed the whole thing.

I was just reading an article at Forbes.com about women's increasing interest in gaming.

Therein I discovered that a game called Diner Dash, released in 2003, was not only one of the top downloadable games of 2004, but the makers, PlayFirst, spun the game and its indefatigable heroine, Flo, into a series popular sequels: Diner Dash 2: Restaurant Rescue, Diner Dash: Flo on the Go, Diner Dash: Hometown Hero.

Diner Dash
And Flo follows her food service dream...

For the eduction of those troglodytes like myself, Flo is apparently a former stockbroker who burned out, dropped out, tied on a pair of zippy sneakers and took up in the diner business.

The game involves doing some mind-reading, analyzing different customer types and single-handedly running various food service enterprises. You can play all night with no risk of sore feet at the end of your shift. ('Course, there's no fat wad of tips for all your troubles, either...)

And it turns out Flo's not alone in virtual service work. Now there's so many food-tie in games, you can pretty much pick your poison: Turbo Pizza, Coffee Rush, Burger Rush, Go-Go Gourmet, Family Restaurant, Chocolatier and Chocolatier 2, Cake Mania, Burger Island, Pizza Chef, Betty's Beer Bar...

Having worked for so many years of my life in the food industry, I must admit the initial appeal was a little lost on me. Endless shifts? Cranky customers? No chance for financial gain? How does all that add up to a recipe for a popular leisure activity?

Burger Rush
The Burger Rush origin story.

That said, the more I think about it, the better virtual business ownership sounds. Restaurant simulation gaming offers all the fast-paced drama with none of the real restaurant risks... things like permanent bodily injuries, drug-addicted employees, violent or drunken customers, unreliable suppliers, liability issues, mob interactions and bankruptcy threats.

Here's a thought... Maybe culinary schools and restaurant business programs should run potential students through a few rounds of Diner Dash before allowing those bright-eyed would-be entrepreneurs the opportunity to lay their unmarred hands on a pile of application forms. Give 'em an opportunity to feel the heat before they drop a bundle on tuition fees.

Yours in simulated burgers and virtual fries,

Labels: , , , ,


The World's Lunchboxes

You may be aware that today marks Boxing Day, a tradition that's commonly celebrated in the UK and several of its former colonies.

Dating back to the middle ages, the day after Christmas has traditionally been marked by the giving of gifts (boxed, of course) to employees and the poor.

Boxing day also means post-Christmas sales (hooray!) and the start of a handful of sporting events. (Though, interestingly, boxing doesn't seem to be among them...)

Boy Scouts boxing
A cigarette collectors' card (published ca. 1903-1917), featuring boxing Boy Scouts.*

One of the etymological explanations for Boxing Day roots in a tradition that had servants boxing up Christmas feast leftovers for their home visits and their masters eating boxed meals while the help was away.

For me, all this brings to mind the great diversity of food boxes across the world. Just for a little Boxing Day fun, I'll illustrate a few solutions to the lunch-toting issue herein.

Star Wars Lunchbox
The Star Wars lunch box... a classic!

In the modern U.S., the simple brown bag, the more deluxe insulated cooler bag and the metal or plastic lunch box are popular food transport solutions, though in a bygone era, people would have brought their food with them in baskets, pails or knotted kerchiefs.

The interrupted picnic
A detail from The Interrupted Picnic.*

Pupils at Lunch, 1927, Tinela, Ala
Pupils at Lunch with their lunch pails. Tinela, AL, 1927*

In Japan, bento boxes, those cute, convenient multi-compartmental trays, were traditionally made with durable, beautiful woods and metals and wrapped for travel in a furoshiki cloth, which acted as a dual bag/place mat. Modern bento boxes are often made of disposable materials.

Black Bento Box
Black lacquered bento box from Pearl River

Similar to the bento, the Indian tiffen-boxes (also called dabbas) are a multi-chambered lunch system, but while bentos are horizontally divided, tiffens are tiered.

In India, tiffins/dabbas are carried by tiffin wallahs or dabbawalas, a crack team of heavyweight lunch-luggers, each toting loads averaging 175-200 lb.

Blue Tiffen Box
Multicolored plastic tiffin box via Pearl River

It works this way: wives, servants or caterers pack tasty lunches into tiffins and give them to the wallahs, who transport them the hungry workers. What's really stunning is their accuracy rate — apparently, they average one mistake in every 16,000,000 deliveries.

Honestly, I'd quite like a wallah. The food delivery culture is mighty in New York, but it's sure not like a lunch packed with homemade love.

Anyone know of other lunch transport methods? Jars on heads? Fish in slings? If you know, I'd love to hear about 'em. If you've got anything, throw it down in the comments... in the meantime, a very happy Boxing Day to you!

*Found via the superb NYPL.

Labels: , , , ,