Miss Ginsu: About/Bio


A Potlucky New Year

I was always told that potlucks were named as such because you were lucky if everyone brought a pot of something to share.

Our department hosted a potluck to kick off the start of the Lunar New Year today, and I'm now wondering if the really lucky part of a potluck is actually less about having enough to eat and more about the discovery of new dishes.

The Golden Carp oversees our Lunar New Year potluck

Foodwise, we got pretty lucky. Ryn brought pork and sautéed pea shoots. Kate made a tasty cold peanut noodle salad, I brought dumplings and a candy-filled golden carp from Kam Man on Canal Street, Alvin brought custards and pork buns from an apparentmob-scene New Year crowd in the Flushing outlet of the Tai Pan Bakery. Kristin picked up some tasty green tea ice cream. And Tomi made a delightful tofu-ginger dish and a very tasty salad of chewy, crunchy, spicy burdock root... a veggie I'd never really used before.

We cranked up the traditional Chinese music for ambiance (thank you, internet!) and compared the various virtues of our signs in the Chinese Zodiac. Despite a dumpling mishap, a good time was had by all.

I think our potluck did, in fact, make us feel lucky. We were lucky to enjoy the company of our coworkers. We were lucky to have food before us. And I know I felt very lucky when Tomi said she'd share her burdock root salad recipe.

Gobi (Burdock Root) Salad

After lunch we got email from Ms. T:
I’ll try to approximate amounts as best I can... but this was always a ‘stand next to mom at the stove and watch’ kind of thing. I know she has a Japanese-American church bazaar cookbook with a recipe... and those amounts never seemed like enough to me.

I went online and found: In addition to its healing qualities, burdock is a good source of B vitamins, magnesium, potassium, folacin and fiber.

Having not had mama's salad or the church bazaar version, I can say we were all huge fans of Tomi's amped-up gobi salad.

And lucky for all involved, Ms. Tomi was kind enough to offer up not only her salad recipe, but also an accompanying poem from Ms. Shirley Kishiyama, her mum, which was published in American Tanka magazine, spring, 1999:

burdock root darkens

my fingers as I cut small sticks

bitter taste from my youth

I long for the taste of earth

I long for the crunch, crunch, crunch

Even if you've never had burdock and won't recall the taste from your youth or the crunch, crunch, crunch in your mind's memory, after trying this salad, I think you'll empathize (as I now do) with the longing. I think burdock is just one of those vegetables that encourages one to reminisce.

After you're through chopping up the burdock root, this salad looks simple enough to make. You could certainly turn down the heat if you're not a fan of spice.

I suspect the only tricky part for most people will likely be tracking down burdock root. You could probably use a root like celeriac as a substitute. Carrot would offer a slightly sweeter end result.

Tomi's Spicy Kimpira Gobo (or Kinpira Gobo)

3 stalks burdock (gobo) root, each about 2 1/2-feet long, cut into 2-inch long matchsticks. (I buy my gobo at Dynasty Supermarket @ the corner of Elizabeth and Hester.)

2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2-2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 to 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons shoyu (soy sauce)
1 cup coriander (cilantro) leaves, rinsed and dried
Large bowl of cold water
Large sauté pan

Working one half of a root at a time:

  • Peel burdock root.. there will be natural brown spots on the white flesh, but it's all gravy.

  • Cut the root into 2-inch lengths.

  • Cut each 2-inch section lengthwise into 4 slices.

  • Cut slices lengthwise into 3 to 4 matchstick-sized pieces.

  • Promptly put matchsticks in bowl of water to keep from browning — some browning will occur, but not to worry!

  • I like to give the gobo a second spin in some new cold water at this point, just to knock off any residual dirt.

  • Drain gobo in colander right before cooking.

1. In a large pan heat oil over medium-high heat until very hot.
2. Add gobo to oil and sauté.
3. As gobo is just beginning to turn translucent, add sugar and toss to coat. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring regularly so you don’t burn the sugar but get a nice caramelization goin’ on.
4. Add shoyu, toss to coat and cook until most of the shoyu has been cooked into the gobo or evaporated — approximately 5 minutes.
5. Add cayenne and crushed red pepper. Toss to coat and cook 3 to 4 minutes. Taste to adjust seasonings.
6. When all is said and done, you should see a nice, shiny, dark brown gloss on the gobo.
7. Let cool completely before adding coriander leaves. Serve at room temp or cold.

Gung hei fat choi!
Miss Ginsu

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The Second Day Goes to the Dogs

Dragons and lions will be set loose in the streets. Explosions will sound. Noodles will be slurped.

Yes, the Lunar New Year (celebrating the Brown Earth Rat) celebrations begin this week on Thursday and run for 15 days. Here in New York, that means parades out in New York's new Chinatown (Flushing, Queens) and many a dumpling consumed down in Manhattan's old Chinatown.

I've been doing a bit of research, and it turns out that New Year traditions are pretty involved: clean the house, burn the kitchen god, visit the old folks, light up lots of fireworks, give the kids red envelopes full of money, cook whole fish and dumplings, remember which days are unlucky for visiting the relatives, etc. etc.

In all, it's a pretty exhausting list of tasks, but I'm particularly charmed by a few details, including the tradition on the second day of the New Year, which is reserved for being sweet to dogs. Apparently, the second Lunar New Year day is the birthday of all dogs. Awww!

Attack Pugs

I don't have a pup of my own at the moment, but there's certainly some four-legged friends I love quite a lot. Here's a recipe for homemade Lunar New Year pooch treats just in time for your second-day celebrations.

Make up a batch of all-natural bites for some cutie canine you care for, and wish 'em a happy birthday for me.

Lunar New Year Doggie Crunchers

2 2/3 cups whole-wheat flour
1/3 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup mashed squash or squash baby food
1/4 cup vegetable oil (or reserved bacon fat)
4 crisp-cooked bacon slices, crumbled

1. Preheat oven to 300°F.
2. Blend flour and wheat germ in a bowl.
3. Mix milk, egg, squash and vegetable oil in a separate bowl.
4. Combine wet and dry ingredients and mix in bacon crumbles.
5. Roll out dough on a floured surface to 1/2" thick and cut out shapes with your favorite cookie cutter (or the open edge of a juice glass).
6. Place cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 50 minutes or until crisp and dried.
7. Transfer to a baking sheet to cool. Store in an airtight container.

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A Field Guide to Lions and Dragons

After moving to NYC, I began seeing lions (or were they dragons?) in the streets. Dancing lions. Lettuce-eating lions. Colorful, big-headed, nimble-footed creatures with long eyelashes and beguiling expressions.

In J's neighborhood, lions materialize year-round with roving drum corps. They dance and gyrate to help provide auspicious openings for shops and bakeries. That said, prime time for both lion and dragon sightings is really during the Lunar New Year (year 4706 on the Chinese calendar) which starts on February 7 this year.

For a few years, I was seriously confused about what constituted a lion and what constituted a dragon. Thankfully, J is a Kung Fu practitioner, so he was able to clarify the genres for me. Now I feel like I'm a qualified amateur lion-dragon spotter... so of course I'd like to pass on that information on to you, dear reader.

Let's start with the lions. Lions come in an array of colors, based on symbolic meaning, and one of the first things you'll notice about lions is that they're not as long as dragons.

Of course, if you don't have a dragon on hand for comparison purposes, this may not be a helpful measure, but you can look at the feet. Lions generally have two sets of feet, whereas dragons have many, many more.

Secondarily, there's context. During the Lunar New Year, lions travel en masse, often down commercial streets, with drummers and other hangers-on. Lions, in other words, have posses.

As it turns out, lion dances are the community service projects of Kung Fu schools.* Kung Fu students work out lion dance choreography, drumming and theatrics (and of course, they're strong and acrobatic enough to execute the dances well). Shopkeepers, in turn, offer the lions red envelopes filled with donations as thanks for the privilege of hosting those lucky lion dances.

Finally, there's one detail that really separates lions from dragons. Just keep an eye out for lettuce. Lions eat lettuce. Whole heads of it. They go through lettuce like Cookie Monster tears through cookies. Dragons, on the other hand, don't touch the stuff. So the appearance of lettuce is a very reliable lion indicator.

In general, you'll find that dragon sightings are much more rare. I've only seen them during the Lunar New Year celebrations, and they don't typically hang around shops. That's just not how they roll.

A dragon will often be seen undulating through the streets chasing a golden pearl. And no, he'll never catch the pearl. The pearl symbolizes wisdom, and we all know wisdom is about the journey, not the destination.

Dragons are sometimes an auspicious red, sometimes a harvest green, sometimes yellow or gold and silver. And yes, as you might expect, the longer the dragon, the luckier the dragon.

Just remember: Short creature with a posse and a salad frolicking around a business? Lion. Long creature undulating down the street after a pearl? Dragon. Now go forth and spot with confidence! Gung hay fat choy!

*Dragons are often the creations of Kung Fu schools as well, so this isn't a hard-and-fast difference; You may, indeed, see a dragon with a posse.

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