Miss Ginsu: About/Bio


Bee Smart: 10 Things You Didn't Know About Honey

In honor of Earth Day this week, we'll be doing the Bee Sweet Bake Sale at work to benefit honey bee research.

With that in mind, I thought it might be fun to review some fascinating facts about our favorite bee-stuff: honey. Bet there's at least a couple you didn't know. (Unless you're a beekeeper, in which case I really hope you do know all ten.)

Bee Smart

1. There are four honey grades (Grade A = Good; Grade B = Reasonably Good; Grade C = Fairly Good; Substandard = Poor), and although the USDA sets up the standards, the way a beekeeper grades honey is completely subjective. So it may pay to give your honey an eyeball and grade it yourself before you buy.

Better yet, seek out and support your local beekeepers.

2. Untreated honey seems to have powers of preservation and protects against some kinds of foodborne pathogens.

3. Honey is an acid (with a between 3.2 and 4.5), which also helps prevent bacteria... yet another reason why you can keep it at room temperature in your cupboard.

4. Honey absorbs moisture and odors. So keep it sealed tightly and don't store it near smelly things.

5. Honey can be used in place of sugar in some recipes, but it's important to be careful with the quantities. According the the very useful guide on cooking with honey at the University of Minnesota, "if a recipe calls for 1/2-cup sugar or less, omit the sugar and use the same amount of honey instead." But be careful with larger substitutions. Honey brings both liquid and flavor to the recipe.

6. Research indicates that honey can be used to effectively treat minor to moderate burns, helping to bring healing up to four days earlier. That's good to know as sunburn season approaches...

7. Honey was used in ancient times to brew mead, a treat enjoyed across the ancient world from China through Scandinavia.

Here's an entertaining quote from The Theft of Thor's Hammer in World Mythology in which Viking god Thor, dressed in drag to pass as the goddess Freya, demonstrates an appetite worthy of an immortal:
"Evening arrived, and with it Thrym's beloved. The giants set a feast of food and ale before the bride. She quickly consumed all the sweet dainties that had been reserved for the women, plus a whole ox and eight large salmon. She drank more than three horns of mead."

8. Most of the world's honey is produced in... surprise! China.

9. Honey makes sweet guest appearances in the texts of the world's major religions. It's memorably mentioned in the Christian book of Exodus to describe the Promised Land as a place "flowing with milk and honey." It's key for Jewish celebrations at Rosh Hashanah, for Buddhists in the festival of Madhu Purnima and for followers of Islam, there is both mention of honey and also a chapter in the Qur'an called al-Nahl (the Bee).

10. Used in cosmetics since the time of Cleopatra (she was reported to bathe in honey and milk), honey continues to be a popular ingredient in skin and hair treatments.

The National Honey Board suggests you make like Cleo and add 1/4 cup honey to your bath water "for a fragrant, silky bath." Find more NHB beauty recipes at their Beauty Fact Sheet PDF.

Sweetly Yours,
Miss Ginsu

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A Dozen Ideas for Boiled Eggs

Ahh, Easter. Egg dying. Egg hiding. Egg finding. And then... a lot of hard-boiled eggs to use up in a hurry.

Blue Easter Eggs

I'm sure you know how to make a simple egg salad (dice boiled eggs, add chopped celery if you like and slather with enough mayo to moisten), but just in case you're long on eggs and short on ideas, here's a dozen other things to do with a hard-boiled egg.

1. Persian-Style Chicken Salad
Dice a couple of eggs with a few diced boiled potatoes, two cups of diced, cooked chicken, three tablespoons each of chopped pickles, diced celery, sliced black or green olives and fresh dill. Toss gently 1/2 cup of lemon-olive oil vinaigrette or mayonnaise, as you like. Season to taste with salt and black pepper and serve over lettuce leaves with wedges of tomato.

2. Simple Niçoise Salad
Fill a large bowl with four cups of mixed, washed lettuce or Boston lettuce, add a couple of sliced boiled eggs, two to three new potatoes, boiled and halved, about 3/4 cup water-packed or oil-packed tuna, 1/3 cup boiled green beans, two to three tomatoes sliced into wedges, two sliced green onions and a tablespoon of capers or oil-cured black olives. Toss with a vinaigrette of your choice.

3. Classic Deviled Eggs
I love deviled eggs so much. Just peel a dozen eggs, slice in half (reserve the whites, holes-up on a platter) and place the yolks in a mixing bowl with 1/4 cup mayonnaise, 1 to 2 tsp Dijon mustard, 1 tsp Worcestershire, 1/2 tsp hot paprika. Blend until smooth and season to taste with salt. Place the yolk mixture in an appropriately sized plastic bag. Clip off one of the corners. Squeeze the mixture from the bag into the hollows of the egg whites. Garnish with cayenne or paprika and serve immediately.

4. Serve with Smoked Fish
Grated eggs go well with smoked fish alongside chives and chopped radishes. On the same note, there's also the Scandinavian Sillsalad or Laxsalad, both of which combine cured fish with eggs, potatoes, apples and caraway.

5. If you have cash to spare, serve with caviar.
Grated eggs are a classic accompaniment to Russian caviar, alongside blini or toast points, diced red onion, capers and sour cream.

6. Scotch Eggs
Peel boiled eggs, cover each in a layer seasoned sausage, roll in breadcrumbs and deep-fry until the sausage is cooked. Decadent pub fare. Make a batch and eat alongside beer. And Rolaids.

7. Workout Snacks
As I mentioned back here, boiled eggs are the protein bar of the ancients. And they come in convenient, eco-sensitive biodegradable packaging, too.

8. Wilted Spinach Salad
Wash and dry four cups of fresh spinach. Place on two plates and top with two to three boiled eggs, sliced; four strips of cooked bacon, diced; two sliced green onions, one tomato cut in wedges. Drizzle with 1/3 cup hot bacon grease, sprinkle on two tablespoons tarragon vinegar or apple cider vinegar. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

9. Steamed Asparagus & Salmon Salad
Steam one 6 to 8 oz salmon fillet and one bunch of asparagus. Chop the asparagus into 1" segments. Flake the salmon. Combine in a mixing bowl with an apple cider vinaigrette (whisk together 1 Tbsp cider vinegar, 1 tsp Dijon mustard, juice of quarter of a lemon and 4-5 Tbsp olive oil) and serve over two sliced, boiled eggs and a bed of greens.

10. What's a bowl of ramen without strips of pork, a dollop of seaweed and a sliced, boiled egg? Just a bowl of noodles, nothing more.

11. Stinging Nettle Soup, courtesy of Nami-Nami.

12. The classic Cobb Salad.
Create a bed of romaine, iceberg or Boston lettuce and top with diced bacon, diced ripe avocado, diced cooked chicken breast, diced tomato, diced hard-boiled eggs and roquefort or your favorite blue cheese. Dress with a simple vinaigrette.

Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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The Most Stylish Meal of the Day

I couldn't help but notice that Esquire is into breakfast right now. I caught sight of their March issue, which contains a sixteen-page food porn spread of home-and-away brekkie delights chock-full of sexy, oozy breakfast glamour shots... so ya know, that's kind of a tip-off.

Bacon, Eggs & Sauteed Ramps

And why shouldn't breakfast be trendy? It's wintertime, and breakfast is comforting. Breakfast is important for good health. It's the most important meal of the day. And in a recession economy, going out with your friends for breakfast (or brunch) makes a lot more sense than going out for dinner.

So in honor of that king of meals, I'm offering a roundup of my favorite brekkie posts to help bring joy to your mornings.

Soft-Boiled Egg & Latte at Le Pain Quotidien

It's kind of a Breakfast Bonanza, if you will, with everything from the mains to nice details and delightful drinks.

The Main Event
  • Wild Rice Breakfast Porridge
  • Easy-Peasy Granola
  • Zucchini Blondies
  • Pumpkin Spice Breakfast Bread
  • Dad's Sunday Morning Blueberry Muffins
  • Do-It-Yourself Pancake Mix
  • Moist & Sticky Fig Cake
  • Custard Baklavah (Galatoboureko)
  • Foraged Quiche
  • Homemade Beans on Toast
  • Nicomachean Eggs

  • Croissant & Latte at Cafe Grumpy

    A Few Nice Details
  • Blended Bacon Butter
  • Quick Lime Curd
  • Spicy Strawberry Compote

  • Hot Chocolate at St. Helen Cafe

    Breakfast Beverages
  • Coffee Concentrate (for Easy Iced Coffees)
  • Power Smoothies
  • Banana Batidas (Banana Shakes)
  • Hot Masala Chai Kit
  • Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix
  • Mulled Apple Cider

  • Of course, as much as I love all of the above, my brekkie of choice is almost always the McCann's Steel-Cut Oats. Simple. Tasty. Wholesome. Always satisfying.

    Any breakfast favorites you'd like to share? Let me know below.

    Yours in brekkie worship,
    Miss Ginsu

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    Chicken Soup 5 Ways

    Through an error in calculation, I robbed ya'll of a soup post last week. Mea culpa. I make good today.

    So we're aware there's more than one way to pluck a chicken... or make a chicken soup, for that matter.

    In addition to making a supremely simple homemade chicken soup from a rotisserie bird, I'm offering up five inspirations from points across the globe on ways to make that satisfying bowl of chicken-soup comfort entirely different. One for each day of the work-week.

    Chicken Soup Five Ways
    Around the World with a Rotisserie Bird

    1. Go Italian: Rotisserie Tortellini Soup (Serves 4)

    1 Tbsp olive oil
    1 medium onion, diced
    1 red bell pepper, diced
    3 fat garlic cloves, minced
    2 tsp fennel seeds
    1/4 tsp dried crushed red pepper
    1 cup tomatoes, diced
    6 cups chicken broth
    1 medium zucchini, diced
    1 lb spinach, chopped
    1 15oz can kidney beans or cannellini, drained & rinsed
    8 oz mushroom or cheese tortellini
    1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
    1-2 cups chopped rotisserie chicken

    Grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, for serving

    1. In a heavy stockpot over a medium-high flame, heat the oil. Add the onions and peppers and cook 8 minutes.
    2. Add the garlic, fennel and red pepper flakes and cook 2 minutes more.
    3. Add the tomatoes and chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook 20 minutes.
    4. Add the zucchini, spinach, beans and tortellini. Simmer 10 minutes.
    5. Add the basil and chicken and cook another 5 minutes to heat through. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning with a little salt and ground pepper, if necessary. Serve hot, with cheese to garnish.


    2. Go Greek: Rotisserie Avgolemono Soup (Serves 4)

    6 cups chicken stock
    3/4 cup orzo
    3 eggs
    3 lemons, juiced
    1 cup rotisserie chicken, torn in thin strips
    Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

    1. In a heavy stockpot over a medium-high flame, bring the the chicken stock to a boil.
    2. Add the orzo and simmer 20 minutes.
    3. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs 1 minute before beating the lemon juice into the eggs.
    4. Carefully scoop out 2 cups of the hot stock and pour it into the egg mixture in a slow stream, whisking vigorously to prevent curdling.
    5. Add the the egg-lemon mixture and the chicken strips to the stockpot. Stir well, season to taste with salt and ground black pepper, and serve.


    3. Go Mexican: Rotisserie Tortilla Soup (Serves 4)

    2 Tbsp vegetable oil
    1 medium onion, diced
    2 stalks celery, diced
    1 red pepper, diced
    1 jalapeno pepper, thinly sliced
    3 fat cloves garlic, minced
    1 15oz can kidney beans, drained & rinsed
    1 cup diced tomatoes
    6 cups chicken stock
    1 lime, juiced
    1-2 cups chopped rotisserie chicken
    3 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
    Salt & pepper, to taste

    Ripe avocado and tortilla chips, for garnish

    1. In a heavy stockpot over a medium-high flame, heat the oil. Add the onions, celery and peppers and garlic and cook 8 minutes.
    2. Add the beans, tomatoes and chicken stock, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook 20 minutes.
    3. Add the lime juice and chicken and cook another 5 minutes to heat through.
    4. Stir in the cilantro, taste the soup and adjust the seasoning with a little salt and ground pepper, if necessary. Serve hot, with tortilla chips and sliced avocado atop each portion.

    4. Go Thai: Rotisserie Tom Kha Gai (Serves 4)

    1 dried chili pepper
    1/2 small green chili, sliced thin
    1 medium shallot, sliced thin
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    1" piece ginger, peeled & minced
    1" piece galangal, peeled & minced
    6 cups chicken stock
    3 limes, juiced
    2 Tbsp Asian fish sauce
    1/4 cup sliced bamboo shoots
    2 stalks lemongrass
    4 kaffir lime leaves, shredded (optional)
    1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
    1-2 cups chopped rotisserie chicken

    Rice, for serving (optional)

    1. Give the lemongrass stalks 2 to 3 good, hard whacks with a meat tenderizer or a rolling pin.
    2. Heat a heavy stockpot (or a wok) and toast the dried chili in it for 3 minutes. Crumble the chili
    3. Add a little oil to the pot and saute the green chili, shallot, garlic, ginger and galangal for 3 minutes.
    4. Add the chicken stock to the pot along with the lime juice, fish sauce, bamboo shoots, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves, if using. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
    5. Cook 20 minutes before adding the chopped chicken. Cook for 5 more minutes to heat the chicken. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning with a little more lime or some salt, if necessary. Discard the lemongrass and serve hot, with rice, if desired.


    5. Go Indian: Rotisserie Mulligatawny Soup (Serves 4)

    2 Tbsp cup vegetable oil
    2 medium onions, chopped
    4 fat garlic cloves, chopped
    1" piece ginger, peeled & minced
    2 Tbsp garam masala
    1 tsp ground coriander
    1 tsp ground turmeric
    1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
    1 tart apple, peeled and diced
    2 cups red lentils
    6 cups chicken broth
    1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
    1 lime, juiced
    1-2 cups chopped rotisserie chicken

    Basmati rice, for serving (optional)

    1. In a heavy stockpot over a medium-high flame, heat the oil. Add the onions and cook 12 minutes.
    2. Add the garlic and cook 2 minutes more.
    3. Add the garam masala, coriander, tumeric and cayenne. Blend the spices into the onion mixture and cook 1 minute.
    4. Add the apple pieces, the lentils and the chicken broth. Bring the soup to boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the lentils are tender, about 25 minutes.
    5. Stir in the coconut milk, lime juice and the chicken. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning with a little some salt and ground pepper, if necessary. Serve hot, with basmati rice, if desired.

    Hoping you stay warm, dry and full of goodness,
    Miss Ginsu

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    Top Ten Tips for Recession-Proof Recipes

    The Cooking for the Recession topic recently came up at NPR's Planet Money blog, so I was compelled to comment, having written on the topic for nearly a year now.

    As I typed it out, I realized I should probably do a similar top-ten roundup herein. And so, voila!
    Top Ten Tips for Recession-Proof Recipes

    1. Roasting makes just about anything taste rich and decadent.

    2. Full of vitamins, protein, fiber and flavor, beans are your new best friends.

    3. Homemade soup stock is a classic way to use kitchen scraps to make thrifty meals. When I worked at restaurants, we used nearly every vegetable scrap for the stockpot, leaving out only the potato peels, lettuce cores and broccoli stems.

    4. Look to the world's peasant foods for delicious inspiration on the cheap. Soups, sandwiches, quiches, casseroles and omelets taste luxe but cost little.

    5. Use extenders -- inexpensive ingredients that stretch out the use of other, more expensive ingredients. (Rice, pasta, bread, croutons, etc.)

    6. Eat in-season produce. It's generally cheaper and tastier at its peak.

    7. Don't pay a labor upcharge. Chop your own single-serving fruit/vegetable finger foods and mix your own workout drinks in reusable containers.

    8. Stewing/braising turns cheaper, tougher cuts of meat and uglier vegetables into delicious dishes.

    9. Inexpensive, flavorful sauces (peanut sauce, roasted red pepper sauce) can help you bring joy to noodle dishes, entrées and salads.

    10. Double your batches of dinner and brown-bag the excess for your workaday lunches.

    Soup Week!

    You'll notice that the recession-proof theme offers up a lot in the way of soup — just in time for soup week! I'll be blogging all about soup this week, so tune in tomorrow for more warm comfort.

    Happy eating,
    Miss Ginsu

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    The 2008 Top-Ten Tastiest

    The end of the calendar year is a fine time to cast a glance backward before we press on into the new frontier. What went well? What didn't go so well? How can we improve? What should be cast away, never to be spoken of again?

    And so, before we recycle the upsie-downsie pages of 2008, here's a rundown of what we'll call:

    The 2008 Readers' Choice Top-Ten Tastiest Posts
    (as judged by total web traffic)

    10. Faux Yo... in which the distinguished food scientist Harold McGee weighs in on active cultures in fro-yo.

    Susky Banana Rama

    9. A Scoop of Nutella-Bacon Swirl... because we love the bacon — even in our ice cream. :)

    Bacon Ice Cream

    8. What, Me Bitter?... discovering the delight of homemade bitters.

    Homemade Bitters

    7. For Love of Chocolate Almond Daim Cakes... in which we attempt to recreate an IKEA classic.

    Daim Cakelets

    6. I Drink Your Milkshake... after all, who doesn't need a creepy baby bib?

    Milkshake Bib

    5. Snuggle Up With a Good Label... in which we consider packaged foods vs. whole foods.

    Food Guide

    4. Top Ten Real-Food Workout Foods... a list of healthful snacks for active folks.

    Chickpeas in the Park

    3. Bacon + Cake = Yay!... a much-loved post on the combination of bacon and chocolate cake.

    bacon cake!

    2. Unlock the Salad Code... the secrets of stellar salads revealed!

    Salad Chart

    And finally, the number-one post of the year, as judged by web readers...

    1. On Bread & Butter Alone... a shoot-out tasting of nine rich and creamy contenders.

    Nine Butters

    Thanks again to everyone who stopped by and "voted" at MissGinsu.com with your eyeballs this year! It's great to know there folks out there peeping and reading.

    To 2009! Cheers,
    Miss Ginsu

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    We Gonna Put it Down on the Big Beet

    Big Beet

    I'm thinking they should have called beets "groundhogs" and called groundhogs something different. Why? Well, beets really are the swine of the vegetable world.

    Hogs and beets share big flavor, big character and you can utilize every little bit of both of these tasty foodstuffs... nose to tail, as they say.

    I'll start at the top — though most folks don't.

    Every time I go to my farmers' market, I see people asking to have the tops chopped off their beets, and it just about breaks my heart.

    But then I ask if I can have some of that massive pile of beet greens, and after I get a sackful, all is repaired again.

    I contend that beet greens are some of the tastiest of greens. In addition to the tender leaves, beet greens sport that line of crimson stem running down the center, and that's sweet and rich like the beet root itself.

    Simple Beet Greens

    Just wash everything really well, chop the stems into 1/4" segments and keep 'em separated from the leafy parts. You can chop the leaves wider (2" to 3" strips works fine).

    Heat a tablespoon or so of fat (bacon or olive oil, as you like) in a heavy-bottomed pan over a medium-high flame, and add the stem pieces first. You'll want to give them a head start of about 5 to 8 minutes before you add the leaves.

    Wilt down the leaves for about 3 to 4 minutes, adding a pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper or a dash of chili pepper flakes. Give the greens a little drizzle (maybe two tablespoons) of cider vinegar or red wine vinegar. This will steam up and help them braise a bit.

    Serve 'em up hot. Greens from one bunch of beets usually feeds two as a side dish.

    As for the big, sweet bulb at the bottom, there's a wide variety of things a person could do. Here's five:

    1. Peel it, slice it into 1/4" pieces and pickle it.

    2. Cut it into 2" to 3" chunks, rub with oil, salt and pepper, wrap in foil and roast at 375° for about 45 minutes or until tender. Cool, peel (mind that juice!) and use in a salad with feta or goat cheese or blue cheese. Add some walnuts and/or orange slices if you feel like it.

    3. Use it raw in a salad, a' la Adriana's very tasty-looking Raw beets & Toasted Cumin Almonds or maybe in an Alton Brown-style slaw.

    4. Borscht!

    5. Beet Crisps Beets are like any other root. You can slice 'em super-thin and fry 'em up crispy. As long as you're not afraid of hot oil, it's easy to do.

    Just heat 8-10 cups of peanut or canola oil in a heavy-bottomed stockpot to 350° to 375°.

    To the hot oil, add paper-thin beet slices, just a few at a time, and fry until the edges begin to color and curl up (about 3 to 5 minutes). Do this in batches skimming out the cooked slices and moving them to paper towels to drain.

    Sprinkle the cooked chips with salt and fine-chopped tarragon or rosemary, if desired.

    Serve when cool.

    All that, and they're good for you, too. Pass the groundhogs, please.

    Miss Ginsu

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    What to Buy For the Eater

    After getting a few nifty gastronomy-centric gifts for my birthday this year, I realized another Miss Ginsu gift guide might be in order.

    Thus, I give you: What to Buy for the Eater

    The basic philosophy is this: if you already know your recipient loves food, all you have to do is just select one of the secondary characteristics listed below and voila... they're gift-ified! (And since most of the stuff here costs less than $30, you shouldn't have to smash the piggybank to make 'em smile.)

    The Coolest Temporary Tattoos

    Does your foodie have a sense of humor?

    Food Lovers' Tattoos

    As Seattle's home of the goofy, Archie McPhee has always been a rich source of gifts for foodies, thanks to clever classics like the toast clock and the freeloader fork. And in keeping with our bacon-saturated times, there's even an entire page of bacon items.

    But the recent addition of temporary tattoos for food lovers may be my favorite thing yet. All done in the retro "Sailor Jerry" school of 'tats, these sweet slicks are tempting arm candy... no commitment required.


    Handmade Mesh Produce Bags

    Is your foodie a farmer's market farmers' market fiend or co-op junkie?

    Mesh Produce Bags

    Ooo! I know just the thing...

    I bought a pack of reusable mesh produce bags off Etsy.com in the early spring, and I've been enjoying them all summer long.

    They're cheap, too, so consider including a nice market tote bag. (And no. I'm not ashamed to recommend my own.)

    These little guys are great because they're light, see-through, easy to open, they help you avoid collecting excess plastic... and they really do make you the envy of the farmers' market. I can't tell you how many times I've gotten envious looks and remarks on the lines of, "Oh! Those are so cool! Where'd you get them?"

    Though the supplier I bought mine from is currently pursuing other things (i.e. has a life) there's lots of other folks who are selling them now in lots of pretty colors.


    Do-It-Yourself Cheese

    Is your foodie the hands-on/DIY type?

    Ricki's Cheese-Making Kit

    I saw Ricki Carroll's sweet little Mozzarella and Ricotta Kit at Grand Central Market and immediately knew I needed to look her up.

    As it turns out, Ricki's the "Cheese Queen" of the interweb, and does a lot of cheese-making education.

    Her kit seems like a really fun, accessible way to introduce food lovers — especially younger ones — to the pleasures of cheese-making.

    Then again, if the easy-cheesy mozzarella kit seems a bit elementary for your advanced DIY-er, consider a kit for making homemade soda, wine or beer or maybe even a mustard-making kit.


    Supremely Cute Salt & Pepper Shakers

    Is your foodie a museum-lover? Possibly even... artsy?

    Hugging S&P Shakers

    The food geeks who are also design geeks are powerless in the face of designware from the MOMA shop.

    A little caveat, since I realize any gourmand worth his or her, ahem... salt uses a pepper grinder instead of a pepper shaker for that freshly-ground goodness. I'm a sucker for the cute. And this Hugging Salt & Pepper set has the real cute. Oh! I am helpless in the face of its cuteness.

    But if you know your gift recipient is way too sophisticated to be buffaloed by cuteness... you should probably go for the supercool Index Chopping Boards instead.


    One For the Road

    Is your foodie sentimental?


    Consider a food gift that acknowledges a taste of reminiscence.

    For those with a sweet tooth, Oldtimecandy and NostalgicCandy both feature retro packs that coordinate to the era of your recipient's youth.

    Homesick former New Yorkers might appreciate things like the Frrozen Hot Chocolate from Serendipity 3, a classic deli-style lunch with the pastrami sandwich kit from Zingerman's or the ceramic version of NYC's ubiquitous We Are Happy To Serve You paper cup.


    Yum on the Run

    Is your foodie active? Maybe even... sporty?

    Happy campers (or boaters, or hikers, or picnickers) will love something practical (and cool-looking) for their alfresco dining.

    REI has fun stuff in general, but I really like their Light My Fire Meal Kit, which comes with a compact set of two plates, a lidded cup, a crazy spoon/fork utensil, a little waterproof box (for berries?) and a colander/cutting board.

    Pretty colors (a whole range of 'em), recyclable, no metal to freak out the TSA staff at the airport... and it floats.

    For the bean-worshipers, REI also features a nifty French Press Commuter Mug, which comes in a variety of colors and serves as a combo coffee press, travel mug and coffee caddy. Pretty slick.

    Miss Ginsu

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    Quick Bites: Rome

    Buongiorno! Welcome to Molto MissGinsu week. (After all, why should Mario have all the fun?)

    Molto MissGinsu!

    Arriving back in the states after a recent quest to the Italian regions of Lazio and Abruzzo, I realized there was just far too much in the way of tasty sites and flavors to sequester the lot into just one post.

    So for this week, a special multi-part Italy feature splashes across missginsu.com like a paper sack filled with sun-ripe tomatoes.

    Tomorrow we visit the goats and sheep in the mountains, but today we'll check out a few of the varied glories of Rome.

    Emperor Constantine's Toes
    Emperor Constantine's toes at the Roman Capitoline Museums

    Hail, Scooter!
    Hail, Scooter!

    Vine-on tomatoes
    Vine-on tomatoes from the market. So sweet! So rich!

    A ripening pomegranate
    A pomegranate ripens in a random park.

    Market-fresh melons
    Market-fresh cantaloupe at the Mercato Esquilino.

    The Big View

    In Rome, the ever-present tourist season reaches its teeming height in the summertime. I honestly can't imagine why. I hit town on the first of July because J had a conference to attend, but given the choice, I think most any other month would've been preferable.

    Simply put, Rome in July is hot and crowded. Think Times Square in July with fewer LEDs and better architecture.

    But it's really true what they say... there's something special about the light in Italy.

    Buttery mornings. Toasty yellow afternoons. Peachy-pinks every evening.

    For the traveler, Rome is expensive, chaotic and occasionally frustrating (transit strike, anyone?), but it's also beautiful, multilayered and quite often, delightful.

    While in the city, we stayed at The Beehive, a conveniently located spot that offers friendly, affordable lodging as well as a vegetarian cafe with really tasty cappuccinos, yoga classes, wifi, a quiet garden for reading and Ingmar, the very purr-y resident cat.

    The 'hive is situated close to the centrally located Termini Station, a hub for trains, trams, the city's two subway lines and enough shops that you might mistake the place for a shopping mall.

    The Bites

    From Termini, it's just a short walk to Nuovo Mercato Esquilino (Via Principe Amadeo between the Termini and Piazza Vittorio metro stations) a well-stocked covered market that vends cheap threads in one building, and in the other, all manner of inexpensive fish, veggies, antipasti, cheese, meats, fruits and grocery dry goods. It's great option for fresh fruits or for self-catering, if you happen to have a kitchen on hand. (Go in the morning. They close in the afternoons.)

    There's good (and not-so good) eats across the city, of course, but our very favorite Roman meals consisted of:

    * The luscious multi-course flavor bonanza at Il Posto Accanto... After, You Sing at Via del Boschetto 36/a. Vegetables are kings here, but they also serve excellent pasta and a meltingly luscious steak with mushrooms.

    * The good, simple fare and gorgeous wines at Via Cavour 313, at 313 Via Cavor (naturally). Made with love and located conveniently just 'round the corner from the Colosseum.

    * The light, cracker-crisp, artisanal, by-the-slice delights at Come Manna dal Cielo... Like Manna from Heaven at Via del Latini 68/70 (Tel: 06-44362242) in Rome's hip student neighborhood, San Lorenzo. (We stopped here on three separate occasions, so I'll swoon over this spot yet again in my upcoming Roman pizza post.)

    * And just down the way, Da Franco ar Vicoletto, San Lorenzo's very no-nonsense, prix-fixe, working-class seafood resto at Via dei Falisci 1/b. They'll offer you clams and mussels in butter sauce, whole fish on platters, the house white wine (ideal with fish!) and dozens of boisterous Italian families enjoying dinner together.

    The Takeaway

    A lot of the beauty of Italian food is based in its good, locally available ingredients. While there, I couldn't help but notice that many of the vegetable sides were simply (deliciously) done up with a drizzle of olive oil and maybe a squeeze of fresh lemon.

    So the takeaway for this trip is a supremely simple recipe for Romi-inspired sautéed zucchini (which happens to be in season at the markets right now)... but gosh, you could use this easy, tasty olive oil/lemon juice trick to accent just about any green vegetable, whether sautéed, roasted, grilled, broiled or boiled.

    Just use good, fresh olive oil with good, fresh veggies and maybe add an herb like chopped parsley, mint or basil. Molto fast, molto easy, molto mouthwatering.
    Zucchini Di'Lazio

    1 tsp olive oil for cooking (+ a little extra for drizzling)
    1/2 clove olive oil, minced (optional)
    1 medium zucchini or yellow squash, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
    Salt and pepper to taste
    1/2 fresh lemon
    A few fresh basil leaves/flowers (optional, to garnish)

    1. Heat 1 tsp olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and add the garlic, if using. Cook for 1 minute before adding the zucchini or squash.

    2. Sauté for 5-8 minutes, stirring up the slices frequently to prevent over-coloring.

    3. Add salt and pepper to taste before transferring to a serving plate. Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and a garnish of basil leaves/flowers, if using. Serve immediately.

    And, of course, I took a bunch of lovely photos (mostly food, of course) that reside here in the full Italy photoset at Flickr.

    Ciao for now!

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    Supping Outside on the Lower East Side

    Dear Miss Ginsu,

    It's so beautiful this week, I really can't justify going indoors. Can you recommend any good restaurants with outdoor seating on the Lower East Side?

    -Sun Seeker

    Dear Sunny,

    Have you considered enjoying some impromptu take-out in one of this city's fine park spaces? Sadly, the spots you source seem a scanty selection! And, frankly, I want them all for myself. But in the spirit of generosity and good karma, I offer up what I know:

    Side of sunshine with that slice?

    Outdoor Tables
    Tables that have legitimate air, either on the street or in a garden.

    Outdoor tables, French-Moroccan delights and fresh, lovely cocktails. I normally visit for a quiet brunch. The place is positively teeming with sexy, sweaty nightlife and beautiful people after dark.
    Les Enfants Terribles
    37 Canal St (at Ludlow St)

    Friendly wine bar with really good coal-oven pizzas, roasty eggplant, nice salads, They have a sweet little backyard area.
    and sidewalk seating.
    Lil Frankie's
    21 1st Ave (at 1st St)

    Effortlessly cool, Epistrophy offers panini, salads, coffees and simple Italian treats. Dine outside. Lounge inside. Have a drink and start wishing you could maybe just move in and live la vida dulce 24/7...
    200 Mott St (btwn Kenmare St & Spring St)

    The food's nothing to write home about (think Germanic sausages and cheese) but this place has a lovely garden and an ace beer selection.
    7 Rivington St (at Bowery St)

    Simple sandwiches, coffees and breakfast fare. A handful of outdoor tables on summer days and another row lined up along the windows.
    88 Orchard
    88 Orchard St (at Broome St)

    Back in the day, you could enjoy the delightful brunch and dinner options (and probably the best latte in the neighborhood) in this precious jewelbox of a spot. These days, you'll enjoy the same, but you'll be supremely lucky or perfectly timed if you happen to score a sunny seat here on the weekends.
    61 Hester St (btwn Ludlow St & Essex St)

    A little North of the LES and always packed, this spot has good French-North African cuisine, lots of pretty people and some sidewalk seating, if you're lucky.
    Café Gitane
    242 Mott St (at Prince St)

    Outdoor-ish Tables
    Tables in spots that have lots of open-air/open-window dining, if not actual outdoor dining.

    Lots of big, accordion-syle windows on a corner lot. Great beer list and really tasty pub grub. A bit pricey, but tasty enough to be justifiable.
    Spitzer's Corner
    101 Rivington St (at Ludlow St)

    All full'a windows and sparkling with pretty people on a corner lot across the street from Spitzer's (above). The fare is simple Italian and the vibe is more for well-dressed wine lovers than the down-home beer crowd across the way.
    98 Rivington St (at Ludlow St)

    Great food, delicious cocktails, sexy vibe. Understandably stuffed to the gills on a beautiful night. You might be able to hit brunch, but good luck trying to stuff yourself in the door after 7 p.m.
    Barrio Chino
    253 Broome St (Btwn Orchard & Ludlow)

    Just down the way from Barrio, the ladies of Little Giant offer upscale seasonal, local cuisine and inspired cocktails. You'll sit on comfy cushioned seats along airy windows and admire the fashionably dressed New Yorkers that surround you. Make a reservation and try the Swine of the Week.
    Little Giant
    85 Orchard St (at Broome St)

    A little north of the LES, you'll find the masses lined up around Café Habana chewing cheese-sprinkled grilled corn cobs on hot summer nights. The restaurant is airy, the cuisine speaks to the sultry heat of a summer day.
    Café Habana
    229 Elizabeth St (at Prince St)

    Good luck!

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    Recession-Proof Recipes: Black Bean Soup

    Last week when I started up this series on good eating for bad financial times, I mentioned roasting, which magically makes just about anything tastier on the cheap. This week, I want to throw in a good word for beans.

    fresh chickpeas

    Packed with protein and fiber (nutritionists love 'em!), readily available, totally cheap (even cheaper if you soak and cook the dried ones), vegetarian-friendly and delicious for breakfast, lunch or dinner, beans are classic in haut cuisine and poverty fare alike.

    I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that legumes/pulses have sustained generations of people across this planet for thousands of years. Why not try to work a few extra into your diet?

    Here's ten classic ways to make beans a part of your week:

    1. Chili
    2. Lentil Soup or Salad
    3. Hummus
    4. Beans on Toast
    5. Bean Dip/Spread
    6. Channa Masala (Chickpea Curry)
    7. Minestrone
    8. Bean Burritos
    9. Vegetarian Cassoulet
    10. Beans & Rice

    And here's one more just for good measure: Black Bean Soup. It's what I'm eating this week. It's really easy to make this one vegetarian or meatetarian, as you prefer.
    Black Bean Soup

    2 cups dried black beans, washed
    1 bay leaf
    4 strips thick-cut bacon, diced OR 1 Tbsp olive oil*
    1 fresh jalapeño, sliced into rounds
    2 large onions, diced
    2 green bell peppers, seeded and diced
    4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
    1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
    Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste

    Sour cream or plain yogurt (optional), for serving
    Chopped cilantro or scallions (optional), for serving

    1. Soak the beans overnight.
    2. The next day cover the beans with additional water to bring the level by 1 inch above the beans. Add the bay leaf, cover and bring to a boil.
    3. Turn down the heat to a low simmer, and cook until the beans test tender, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
    4. *If using bacon, cook that now, remove it from the pan (to drain) when done, and use the bacon fat to cook the veggies instead of using olive oil. If making a vegetarian soup, add the olive oil to a deep skillet and heat over a medium flame.
    5. Add the onions and green peppers and sauté until softened, about 12 minutes. 6. Stir in the garlic and cook a few minutes more.
    7. Add the tomatoes and simmer 10 minutes.
    8. When the beans are tender, add in the vegetable mixture (and diced bacon, if using). Let simmer another 20 minutes.
    9. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream, or refrigerate and reheat the following day to enjoy it after the flavors have melded a bit.

    Happy eating!

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    FoodLink Roundup: 03.17.08

    Link Roundup
    Last week, Cupcake turned up in Muir Woods, CA. Where in the world is cupcake this week? Got it nailed down? Post in the comments...

    Guinness good for you... officially!
    Just in time for St. Patrick's Day, Guinness gets the backing of some scientific research. Sláinte!

    Roundup Bonus: Check out the glowing ad copy in this old-school Guinness advert.

    Can the World Afford A Middle Class?
    Consequences of the global consumption boom? We all pay more for bread, milk and chocolate.

    Restaurants Feel the Bite
    The stay-at-home mom trend hits the restaurant industry.

    More Than Salad
    This looks to be a great travel resource for veggies on the wing.

    Jack: an occasional restaurant
    A fellow NYC food blogger opens an "occasional restaurant" in the totally cool Brooklyn Lyceum.

    How the World is Eating...
    As food costs rise, some families share how they're dealing with dinner.

    10 New York classics
    The Guardian fires back after New York Magazine issues its latest list of food & drink favorites.

    Red Hook Vendors Get 6-Year Permit
    Hooray! Soccer tacos for everyone! Or at least, everyone in Brookyn...

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    Five Favorites: Soup For What Ails Yeh

    Just about everyone I know has a cold right now. They snuffle, they sniffle, they choke and cough. And I know what they need. They need soup.

    For those of us without the foresight, fortitude or free time to make and freeze quick stock for quick soups (and yes, I often find I've left my freezer lacking at exactly the wrong time), New York City provides many delicious options. (Thanks, New York!)

    Here's my Top 5 NYC soup fixes for those days when I'm feeling horrid and lacking the time and energy to make soup:

    Takeout Pho

    1. Pho Grand (277 Grand Street, between Eldridge and Foresyth, close to the Grand St. B/D stop)

    My truly favorite sick-day soup is pho (which looks like it might be pronounced foh but is properly pronounced more like fuh), a gingery Vietnamese beef broth with noodles. It's traditionally served alongside wedges of lime, crisp bean sprouts and sprigs of fresh mint and Thai basil.

    You dress it as you like it with the garnishes so it's always to your taste (and I usually stir in a teaspoon of Sriracha sauce because I adore the heat).

    I get my pho at Pho Grand because I dig the proximity to J's place and the Vietnamese diner feel. At Pho Grand, the pho is both delicious and cheap, and they'll make you up a quick pack for takeout. They have lots of variations, but my fave is the Pho Bo Lui because it comes with sesame beef.

    2. Cafe Medina (9 East 17th Street, just west of Union Square)
    Tasty, inexpensive soups and a nice variety of 'em. Choices vary by day. Walk all the way to the back to find the soup station. Ask for a taste if you're undecided. I recently had the chicken chowder and the eggplant-lentil. Both were very satisfying soups.

    Rai Rai Ken Ramen

    3. Rai Rai Ken Ramen House (214 E. 10th Street, near 2nd Ave)

    I love Momofuku and Setagaya ramen, of course, but fashionable and loud or frenetic and bright are not what I'm looking for when I'm feeling low. What I want is a large, deep bowl of steaming ramen soup with dim light and low music. I want it full-flavored, filling and cheap. And I also get a huge kick out of the crazy white and magenta surimi disc that floats on top of a bowl of Rai Rai Ken ramen.

    4. The Soup Kiosk at Fanelli's Cafe (94 Prince Street, west of Broadway)

    A good bunch of good soups. Too bad they're only open during the day. But you're probably taking the day off work anyway. Choose one off the short list here and take it home where you can convalesce in peace. Or better yet, send someone reliable to go stand on line for you. After all, you're sick. You need your rest.

    5. The Soup Spot (220 West 31st Street, between 7th & 8th Aves)

    If you happen to be closer to Penn Station than Soho, you'll be better off hitting this soup shack. Unfortunately, they're also a lunch-only option and you won't be the only one standing in the soup line. But in this case at least, business also happens to be a reliable indicator of goodness.

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    The Food FEMA Forgets

    Two years ago, in the midst of Avian Flu scares, I typed up a quick Foodie's Apocalypse Kit... a nice grouping of emergency preparedness items I felt (and still feel) FEMA and the Red Cross really missed the boat on.

    Now that two years have passed and the flu scare headlines have been replaced with the terror du jour, folks may have forgotten their annual apocalypse kit freshness review. So... How're those expiration dates looking? National holidays ought to correspond to the practical needs of the citizenry, so shouldn't the second Thursday of January always be Check Your Apocalypse Kit Day?

    As we all take a moment to take stock of our stockpiles, I think it's particularly appropriate to plan for a very practical emergency preparedness component that FEMA forgets: Vice.

    Tucked in alongside the 10 Essentials, addicts of every stripe need to lay in stock for their needs. Stressful times are not the right moments to quit smoking or try to kick the caffeine.

    There's three underrated bug-out bag essentials I'm thinking about at the moment: Coffee, Chocolate and Hard Liquor.

    apple martini

    Coffee is a no-brainer for bean-worshipers like me. It's le soma quotidien. I feel ooky without it. Ooky is most certainly not what I want to feel if there's anything that's required of me.

    Chocolate isn't much of a mental stretch, either. If there's a disaster, you're probably going to feel very unhappy and uncomfortable. For most people, chocolate is something soothing and pleasant. A staple diet of brown rice and canned beans might keep the body working, but a nip of good chocolate is food for the spirit.

    I've already mentioned the liquor in brief, but as it's still not on any emergency preparedness list I've ever seen, I'm pressed to make my case with more persuasive detail.

    Even if — like me — you're no fan of clear liquors like vodka (or whiskey, or rum), said fluid should be de rigueur for nearly anyone's go-bag. Aside from obvious benefits as a mental balm during hard times, liquor is endlessly useful:

    • It sterilizes wounds and cleans tools.

    • Liquor preserves foods.

    • It's a local anesthetic and disinfectant. Use it on cuts and broken blisters.

    • For painless bandage removal, rub a vodka-soaked cloth on the bandage to dissolve the adhesive.

    • Liquor can be used as an accelerant.

    • I've not tried it, but vodka's rumored to take the sting out of jellyfish encounters and poison ivy incidents

    • Liquor is a commodity that maintains its value. Trade it to the neighbors for something you want or need.

    I was around for the Northeast Blackout of 2003, and I can tell you with great certainty that in the sudden absence of electricity, people become very interested in clean water, long-burning candles and a good, stiff drink.

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    Goal 6: Unlock the Salad Code

    My boss loves it when I make salads for our department lunches. He's not really into vegetables (he usually claims his favorite veggie is either the potato or the onion), so it's kind of a nice compliment when he takes a big portion of salad.

    I find it disturbing, however that he believes there's some kind of magic behind making a good salad. Shouldn't a set of basic salad skills be one of the rights and responsibilities befitting a modern citizen? (Just behind the our rights to participatory government and free speech, of course.)

    Salads shouldn't be relegated to the corner as "virtuous" food alongside culinary misfits like alfalfa sprouts, rutabaga and wheat germ.

    Though they invariably contain heaps of healthful vegetables, salads are often quite fatty. In my book, salads really have more in common with the food of jubilation than the food of deprivation.

    Granted, while I worked in a garde manger position, I did spend nine months of my life doing little more than making salads at high speed. One could say I have a certain expertise in the area.

    The thing is, most people have been buffaloed into believing salads are not only virtuous but maybe even difficult.

    I'm here to tell you it's not true, and I'll prove it with an infographic. Whee!

    I've broken down some popular salads based on their major components. You'll note that the pattern is pretty easy to follow...
      1. Take a bowl of the lettuce of your choice.
      2. Sprinkle on a sweetly savory component, such as roasted red peppers or cherry tomatoes.
      3. Chop up an herbaceous component.
      4. Add crumbled/diced cheese or boiled egg.
      5. If you wish, add cooked beans or a diced protein.
      6. Dress with a harmonious vinaigrette.
      7. Toss and serve.

    Salad Chart

    Just remember... every salad you make is an opportunity for a party on your plate.

    Miss any of the previous resolutions? You'll find #1, #2, #3, #4 & #5 linked here.

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    Goal 5: Eat In Season

    January is a grim season for locavores. I try to eat locally whenever I can, but there's no way I'm going to pass up a juicy Pomelo in January or a sweet box of clementines in December. Thankfully, citrus is in season during the winter months, even if it does have a lengthy sojourn on the way here.

    If you live on on the West Coast, you have a few more options. Om Organics has a nice chart of what's growing when in the Bay Area.

    For those of us out here in the East, things are pretty sparse at the farmers markets. What should you be eating now? Broccoli. Cauliflower. Root Vegetables. Pumpkins. Citrus fruits and all manner of hearty greens.

    Eating peak-season produce is a great food resolution because it's cheaper, it's more nutritious and when you buy locally, you support your farming neighbors. And that's just plain old good karma.

    I've made up a chart here to keep those of us in the Northeast region on track throughout the year. (Anything that's not grown locally is indicated with an asterisk.)

    Apples to Cabbages
    Apples through Cabbages

    Carrots to Grapefruit
    Carrots through Grapefruit

    Green Garlic to Sweet Onions
    Green Garlic through Sweet Onions

    Blood Oranges to Wild Ramps
    Blood Oranges through Wild Ramps

    Raspberries to Turnips
    Raspberries through Turnips

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    Goal 1: Hydration

    I love resolutions. In fact, I love 'em so much, I tend to make biannual resolutions, because sometimes the things I resolve in January make less sense six months later.

    Thus, I'm embarking on seven days of healthy food resolutions this week.

    Each goal will support good health with good food without wrecking one of my other goals: saving money so I can pay down my student loans.

    Goal 1: Hydration

    One of the cheapest, most sensible tips I've found for maintaining a healthy weight and a happy body is bizarrely simple: Stay hydrated.

    There's so many compelling reasons to keep ample fluids in the body. When you drink enough water, you give yourself the gift of nourished skin, better breath, more energy, happy bowels and kidneys, easier digestion, more brainpower and very probably a decreased caloric intake (dehydrated people tend to snack).

    There was a period in my life several years ago when I didn't drink water. Ever. I drank milk, juice, sodas, tea, cocoa, lemonade... anything but water. To be honest, straight-up water kind of bored me.

    In retrospect, it's not surprising that I also had chapped lips, often felt dizzy and passed out in public places with concerning frequency. (They called an ambulance when I passed out in the Rainbow Foods checkout line.) My doctor took blood tests and did an EKG to try to figure out the fainting spells, but came to no conclusion.

    At some point, I realized I'd never really paid any attention at all to that whole "drink 6 to 8 glasses of water a day" rule. I gave it a shot (though I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that the experiment was more for the promised energy boost than anything else).

    Suddenly, like the forgotten plant on the windowsill... water brought me back to life. Random headaches, swooning, dry skin, constipation and dry mouth? Gone. Turns out I had low blood pressure thanks to a mild, but chronic, dehydration.

    I haven't had a dizzy spell since, and I now begin every list of annual resolutions with this one simple statement: Drink more water.

    Washable Water Bottle
    Your ally in the war on dehydration

    There's a few easy ways to make this resolution stick.

    1. Figure out how much you need.

    Honestly, that whole six to eight glasses of water a day rule might not be right for you. If you exercise heavily, that's probably too little. If you drink a lot of other fluids, six to eight glasses might be too much. The proof is in the loo. Do Is your urine clear or pale yellow? You're probably doing fine. (Though it's important to note that B vitamins and some medications change the color of your fluids.)

    2. Get yourself a water bottle you love (and a brush to keep it clean).

    Most people are probably aware by now that disposable plastic water bottles are an environmental nightmare, so gift yourself a nice reusable water bottle. I've got a quart-sized Nalgene bottle on my desk at work and a smaller one that goes in my purse. Keep in mind that a bottle brush is key... nobody loves funky water.

    3. Bored by water? Cut it with a little juice.

    I mentioned this one a few months back in my post on workout foods, but somehow, it's even more valid in the winter. For some reason, I always think water tastes better in the summer. For the winter months, like to I hit my waterglass up with a wedge of lemon, lime or orange.

    4. Take pride in your city tap water.

    J was on the Staten Island Ferry recently when he overheard a young lady telling her friends, "Omigod, you guys... I am so broke. My parents didn't give me anything this week. You guys, I drank water... out of the water fountain!"

    First, it's funny. Then, it's sad. I realize not every municipality has tasty water, but darn it, I really believe New York City has some of the finest water in the country. (In fact, Jeffrey Steingarten had a great chapter on this topic in his book, The Man Who Ate Everything.)

    If your city water is horrible, then buy a tap filter and make it your civic duty to protest loudly, angrily and often. Bad city water needs to be an outrage, not a reason to give more money to Coke or Pepsi (Pepsi's Aquafina and Coke's Dasani bottled waters are processed from municipal taps).

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    2007's Best of Miss Ginsu

    There's what I think and then there's what you, the blog-reading public have to say.

    Sometimes we agree. Sometimes there's a slight difference of opinion. There's no throwing pans or shouting. Just a quiet variance in our preferences. That's what makes it all so interesting, don't you think?

    So before we don our gay apparel and take a cup o’ kindness yet for auld lang syne, let's have a quick look at the things you, John and Jane Q Blogreader, ranked as top content on missginsu.com this year.

    power smoothie

    Top Posts as Determined by You! (through help from Google Analytics)
    Excellent posts all, but if it were me, I might have swapped out Kritamo, Toy Food or Daim Cakes with some of my own 2007 favorites:
    What should we deduce from your fickle favorites, dear reader?

    You like sweets! You enjoy recipes. You like to hear about food explorations and food discoveries. And in a happy moment of cosmic alignment, it happens that I really love those things, too.

    So cheers to you, cheers to me and have a joyous New Year’s Eve!

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    Top 10 Tasty Tales of Childhood

    James and the Giant PeachI was a lucky little kid. I had parents who read to me and bought me lots of books. Early on, they introduced me to the wonders of the public library and taught me to read, which cracked open the whole world's opportunities.

    As an adult I still carry around a whole heap of warm, fuzzy nostalgia for the stories of Rudyard Kipling and Theodor Geisel, the weird poetry of Edward Lear and Shel Silverstein.

    Not surprisingly, most of the works that resonated strongly were the ones that featured food.

    I vividly remembered poor Ellen Tebbits, yanking up an enormous beet from the mud for her classroom show & tell. I fully empathized with Winnie the Pooh's honey obsession and puzzled for years over Eeyore's ascetic thistle diet.

    Recently I ran across the Pennsylvania Department of Education's very thorough list of children's books about food and was pleasantly reminded of the wealth of beautiful illustrations and luscious stories still wrapped up within the folds of my brain.

    Therefore, in no particular order, I share:
    My Top 10 Tasty Tales from the Rosy Days of Childhood
    1. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
    A town that rains food! Best. Place. Ever. (Or maybe not?)

    2. James and the Giant Peach
    Roald Dahl's descriptions of fresh peach are so mouthwatering. Take my advice and don't read this book unless it's peach season. (Now is a good time.)

    3. Charlie & The Chocolate Factory
    Dahl again. Amazing. Creepy. Tantalizing. All at the same time.

    4. In the Night Kitchen
    The mind of Maurice Sendak is such a treasure. As a youngster, I remember this book being a bit scandalous for its full-frontal nudity... as if depicting a joyful nude was something base. Silly puritans.

    5. Green Eggs & Ham
    Who doesn't love Green Eggs & Ham? I don't want to meet that person. I remember back in the day when Jesse Jackson read it on Saturday Night Live. Hi-larious.

    6. The Tawny Scrawny Lion
    A skinny lion that's never full. A rich, delicious stew. A lovely little book.

    7. The Poky Little Puppy
    Poky. Clumsy. And absolutely greedy for dessert. That's my kind of puppy.

    8. The Little Red Hen
    She's a go-getter, that little red hen, and she really promotes the whole "dining at the source" concept years before it was cool.

    9.Stone Soup
    It's a classic tale that's been told many times, but this is the tasty version I remember.

    10. The Giant Jam Sandwich
    Peril! Terrified villagers! If only all such problems could be solved with a giant jam sandwich.

    Have a treasured food story from your childhood bookshelf? Do share!

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    Tantalizing toy food finds

    Parents and kids often have very different ideas about what constitutes a "good" toy. I remember the year I so desperately wanted the Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine. I'm not sure why I skipped the E-Z Bake Oven (also popular at the time) and went straight for Sno-Cones, but my five-year old brain was obsessed with visions of making and sharing syrupy day-glo Sno-Cones in the livingroom.

    Sticky syrup, brightly colored food dyes, garish commercialism... After all these years, I finally begin to understand why my father was horrified by the request. Needless to say, he didn't buy me the Sno-Cone machine. Instead, dad settled on the far more practical art set.

    I imagine there are gobs of households filled with children who beg for art sets and receive, instead, items that more closely represent that household's parental hopes and dreams. Tiny doctors' bags, for example. Itty-bitty briefcases.

    No, dad didn't try to force me into medicine or law. And yes, I used the art set. A lot. But I never forgot my Sno-Cone Machine dreams.

    Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine

    My food production fantasies turned to other outlets... I shaped the backyard mud into loaves to be baked on stones in the sun. I made salads of yard grasses and tried to feed them to the cats.

    I coveted the adorable set of tiny plastic packaged foods and the toy cash register that belonged to another little girl whose name I remember only as "Kelly." As I recall, Kelly and I played grocery store over and over again until she gave me lice and then we broke up. She, much to my disappointment, kept the grocery store.

    Later in life, I heard from other kids that the Sno-Cone Machine kind of sucked. The ice was always too hard for the flimsy grating device, and it mostly just dripped. Small vindication.

    Several years ago, I finally enacted my revenge on a world that had seemingly plotted against my involvement with food commerce. I enrolled in cooking school. I took jobs in kitchens until I could no longer afford to pay both rent and school loans and had to quit.

    Sudden career diversion, $30,000 in culinary school debt, a few bad marks on my credit... could all this have been avoided with a Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine? I can't say. Such mania may be inevitable.

    Wooden Sushi Toys

    Then again, today's toy food is ten times more compelling than the cartoon tie-ins of yesteryear. See, for example, the work of award-winning toy company Melissa & Doug.

    I recently tripped across these items while paging through a copy of New York Family in the dentist's office. One peek at the orderly bento boxes sent me to the web, where I found the charming "Look, mom! I'm a sushi chef" play set, and a "nutritionist-in-training" wooden food groups assortment.

    What food geek — whether five or fifty — wouldn't be dying to play?

    Some favorites:
  • Sushi Pretend Food
  • More Wooden Sushi Toys
  • Sushi Slicing Kit
  • The Food Groups (in toy form)

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  • 5.20.2006

    The Foodie's Apocalypse Kit

    With pandemic paranoia pulsing in the press, the time seems ripe to discuss one of the treasures reaped from a recent bookshop foray: How to Develop a Low-Cost Family Food-Storage System by Anita Evangelista.

    Sounds dull, right? The low-budget 1940s-era clip art on the cover might not convince you to give it whirl, either. But just wait until you find out what's on page two: Eleven Reasons to Store Food.

    1. Severe seasonal weather, with road closures, power outages, and supermarkets depleted by panic buyers.
    2. Natural disasters such as earthquakes, tidal waves, hurricanes, volcanoes, or tornadoes, with supermarkets unable to restock shelves.
    3. Ecological disasters, such as the Three Mile Island nuclear facility's failure, and the contamination of foods.
    4. The possibility of nuclear holocaust with all food deliveries suspended.
    5. Tainted foodstuffs, either by purposeful maniacs (as in the "pain-killer poisonings") or improper processing (as in the glass fragments found in baby foods or the salmonella bacteria in dairy foods.
    6. Riots, civil insurrection, collapse of local or regional governing bodies, gang warfare, looting, racial incidents; inability to shop at all.
    7. Long-term illness.
    8. Loss of employment and inability to secure a new job.
    9. Strikes, either by truckers, food processors, food pickers or supermarket employees.
    10. Destruction of standing food crops in farmers' fields, either willfully or by natural calamities.
    11. Collapse of the currency system, and inability to purchase needed goods.

    Wow! Choose your poison — that's enough paranoia for everyone!

    Evangelista tours readers through the various practical traditional and non-traditional food acquisition systems (shopping, gardening, foraging, gleaning, etc.) and food preservation methods before pulling out the really fun stuff in Chapter Five: Where Do I Put It?

    I was particularly interested in this section, thanks to my teensy New York apartment. What's a budding packrat to do, given a cramped kitchen and no closet space?

    The easy answer? Five gallon plastic buckets. The path of dedication? Camouflage your booty by opening up the walls, installing interior shelving, replacing the wall and slapping on patch and paint 'til the evidence is invisible.

    I know... you're saying to yourself, "I hate making trips to Home Depot. Why would I bother with all that?"

    Ask anyone who's ever worked as a waiter or waitress whether they've found people to be on their best behavior when they're hungry. Now imagine a city full of cranky, hungry people. Now imagine a bunch of cranky, hungry neighbors busting into your nest and rooting for your neatly stored cans of black beans and your tasty treasure trove of apple sauce and your shiny silver cans of Le Sueur Baby Peas.

    Good thing you plastered those cases of SPAM and light-syrup pineapple rings into your wall, right? Trust me... You'll thank Anita Evangelista later.

    In all seriousness, there really is a chance that avian flu could wreak havoc (it happened in 1918), in which case it's good to have extra water and canned goods stuffed into your limited closets. Here's the Flu Wiki and advice from the Red Cross on all the stuff you should already have on hand anyway.

    In addition to a solid first aid kit, a lot of water and all the items from FEMA's boring list of staples, from my personal apocalypse kit, I can recommend:

    • Tasty Bite Dinners.
      Indian and Thai curries! Far more flavorful than the standard shelf-stable MREs.

    • Amy's Kitchen organic soups.
      Soup is good food.

    • Desert Pepper Black Bean Dip.
      Because I'm an addict, okay?

    • Frontera Chipotle Salsa.
      This stuff could make cardboard taste good, and if I'm reduced to roasting rats, I want something nice to dip them in.

    • Jacques Torres Wicked Hot Chocolate Mix.
      It's yummy, and disasters are always short on yummy.

    • Orange-blossom honey and fruit jams from Sarabeth's (or homemade).
      Delightful with Carr's water crackers

    • Sardines in Hot Sauce or Mustard (Bumblebee sardines are good).
      Mmm... Sardines. I eat these even when I have fresh food around.

    • Muir Glen Crushed Tomatoes.
      So versatile, so delicious. And the cans are lined, so they don't have that awful "can" flavor.

    • Jars of spicy Spanish olives, oil-packed Italian tuna and jars of roasted red peppers.
      I reckon this'll make for good post-apocalyptic tapas.

    • Praline spread from Le Pain Quotidien.
      Again, seriously delicious. And yes, this stuff would make even my homemade hardtack edible.

    • Quality tea and coffee in factory-sealed containers.
      Lack of caffeine is a disaster unto itself.

    • Aseptic packs of Parmalat milk, Ceres fruit juices and Silk chocolate soy milk.
      Open a fresh container after the spare daily ration of rice and water grows tiresome.

    • Bottles of vodka and bourbon (or your favorite hard liquor).
      Barter with the neighbors for some of their Slim Jims. Disinfect a wound. Preserve fruit. Or just have a consolation drink. Liquor is endlessly useful in hard times.

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