Miss Ginsu: About/Bio


Hopping with anticipation

Remember the anticipation of childhood? The upcoming birthday. Christmas morning. Summer camp. Children are capable of an eagerness so passionate, you can almost watch them vibrate when they ponder certain approaching moments.

Of course, we soon learn that the anticipation is often strangely sweeter than the ultimate gratification.

But I must admit, I'm feeling some great, giddy excitement since visiting the Brooklyn Flea recently and picking up one of Brooklyn Brew Shop's dandy little homebrew beer kits.

Gallon Brew Kit from Brooklyn Brew Shop

Check it out: freshly cracked barley, yeast, hops, sugar and an adorable gallon-sized glass carboy that'll actually fit in a New York City-sized apartment. Genius.

You may be thinking I'm an alcoholic or wondering whether I'm unaware that NYC features both terrific beer pubs and excellent beer shops. Why make it when you could just buy it and be assured of a good product every time?

Valid thoughts across the board. But what I'm really amped about, that is, my true reason for excitement... well, it isn't really about the beer at all — it's the thrill of discovery. If this little kit produces a gallon of nice beer at the end of the process, that's just a satisfying bonus.

I chose the Belgian Tripel kit, though the Brew Shop also offers a Grapefruit Honey Ale, a Berry Red Ale and a Chocolate Maple Porter — which may be next on my to-do list if all goes well with the Belgian.

In this video, you can watch Brooklyn Brew Shop's gregarious brewmaster/millmeister Stephen Valand crushing (gently, so gently) my newly purchased Belgian barley. He'll also tell you why this is important to the brewing process.

I'll report back once my little yeasty beasties have done their work.

Miss Ginsu

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Black Eyes, Green Thumbs: Roller Derby Gardening

I'm convinced that if there's ever an apocalypse, you really want a roller derby girl on your side. Not only do they have rough and tumble skills and mighty muscles for fighting off the zombie hordes, derby girls tend to be some of the most ambitious, multi-talented people I know.

Case in point: Suzy Hotrod — talented photographer, guitarist in a punk band, speed demon on a flat track, horchata aficionado... and urban gardener.

Out Standing in her Field

Suzy recently took me out to her little plot in the Two Coves Community Garden in Queens.

Community Toolshed

Assisting with weeding and vine tending tasks before Suzy's Gotham Girls practice, I'm surprised to see that Two Coves is surprisingly roomy for a city garden.

Suzy's plot stretches out about 8 foot by 6 foot (roughly the size of a Manhattan apartment) and is home to cucumbers, sunflowers, tomatoes, watermelons, mint, basil, Swiss chard, kale, beans, pink flamingoes and jolly garden gnomes.

"I always forget to bring something to put the vegetables in, so I end up putting them in my helmet." She says, passing me a stack of kale leaves as she piles up a haul of godzilla-sized cucumbers and fat tomatoes.

Suzy's Helmet/Basket

But Suzy's not the only GGRD girl on the block. On the way back from the compost pit, she shows off the a neatly rowed plot maintained by Bonnie Thunders, the first derby girl to roost in Two Coves.

One of the garden locals helps diagnose an unfortunate case of low water pressure and invites us to take some fresh-picked green beans, cherry tomatoes and zucchini.

"I had two cute little pumpkins. You should've seen them," he tells me, shaking his head. "But they're gone. Stolen. Well — maybe next year..."

Suzy nods. "That happened to me, too. One of my gnomes disappeared."

Jolly Garden Gnome

Ah, and there's the downside of community living. The wounds inflicted by contact sports heal, but what's to be done with the pain dealt by squash-snatchers and gnome grabbers?

Well, there's always next year. Luckily, derby girls are also pretty great at shrugging off bruises.

Go see more of Suzy's urban gardening in the flickr set here.

Yours in Veggie Worship,
Miss Ginsu

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A Beautiful Bean Salad at the Brooklyn Food Conference

The call went out. And the foodies poured in.

The people who pickle and the people who vend kitchenware. The people who grow community gardens and the people who grow kombucha. The Slow Food people and the Just Food people. The vegans and the grass-fed meat vendors.

They came, they spoke and they distributed their recycled paper brochures.

Brooklyn Food Conference Expo

Disappointingly, the workshop I really wanted to attend (Permaculture: an introduction to ecological design systems fro sustainability) was stuffed to the walls with folks pouring out into the hallways of John Jay High School.

But the good news is, the lunch was delicious. The finest cafeteria food I've ever eaten in a high school cafeteria. (I realize that's faint praise, but it really is intended with the highest regard.)

Cafeteria Food at the Brooklyn Food Conference

Here you can see the tender mushroom quiche I couldn't keep my paws off (it was very much like the ones I make, actually) and the delightful bean salad. It had sauteed red onions and a savory sesame dressing. Simple and lovely, with a crunchy shout-out to spring.

You'll note that cafeteria serving tray is compostable sugar cane and the fork is fashioned of some kind of biodegradable corn plastic. Both went into the conference compost bins, although the napkin I used had to hit the trash can, for inexplicable reasons.

Though I can't share much of the food conference with you, I'll try to recreate that tasty salad for you here, dear reader. It seems like it'd be just the thing for a spring picnic: inexpensive to make and no worries of mayonnaise poisoning on a hot day.
Sesame Three-Bean Salad (Makes about 4 cups)
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium red onion, halved and sliced
1 cup fiddlehead ferns (or asparagus cut in 1" pieces)
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp cider vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
2 1/2 cups cooked beans (ideally, a mix of black, pinto and navy)
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half

1. Heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat in a medium-sized skillet. Add the red onions and fiddlehead ferns (or asparagus, if using), and sauté, moving constantly in the pan for 5 minutes or until tender-crisp. Remove from heat.
2. In a small bowl, whisk soy sauce and vinegar. Whisk in sesame oil slowly to incorporate.
3. Mix the onion mixture with the beans and sliced tomatoes. Toss to coat with the sesame vinaigrette. Taste the mixture and adjust the seasoning with a little more soy sauce or cider vinegar, to your taste.
4. Allow the flavors to mellow for several hours in the fridge before serving.

Thanks to the Brooklyn Food Conference for sponsoring the event, and even more thanks to whomever cooked lunch. You, anonymous anonymous kitchen worker(s), made my day.

Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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The Unsinkable Miss Molly

This week, Miss Molly Del Monte is all over the New York press for heading up the newly renovated kitchen at Vutura, the restaurant at Williamsburg's Rose Live Music.

But we knew her back in the day. Just a couple of years ago, this blog followed Miss Molly's zany adventures in Italy as a young cook struggling with everything from snarky kitchen politics to the quest for a well-formed strudel.

Miss Molly, with strudel

Miss Molly poses in the Montali kitchen with her very own strudel

Though it would have made for great reality TV, ours was old-school documentation: letters and pictures.

If you missed it the first time around, you can read the whole set below or just cruise through looking at the pretty pictures. I've organized them from her giddy first steps off the plane to the inevitable teary goodbyes.

Missives from Miss Molly:
The Culinary Adventures of a Young American Cook in Italy

Chapter 1: A Far-Flung Cook Lands
Chapter 2: The Daily (Espresso) Grind
Chapter 3: Hot Kitchen, Hard Times
Chapter 4: Siestas & Salty Snacks
Chapter 5: Dreams of Pulled Pork
Chapter 6: High Drama & Lasagna
Chapter 7: Lost in Translation
Chapter 8: A Taste of Traditional Tuscany
Chapter 9: 20 Questions & Limoncello
Chapter 10: Last Call at Montali

Hearty congratulations (and fat, juicy good luck wishes!) to the indefatigable Miss Molly!

Miss Ginsu

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Inside Google with the Girl Geeks

Maybe this is just a crazy quirk I have, but I'm always curious about what it's like to eat in the cafeterias and restaurants that loom behind closed doors.

For years, I've had great wonder about what it's like to dine at Google. A couple of my friends/co-workers who were hired on at their New York office told wild tales of all the wonders to be enjoyed... Celebrity chefs! Afternoon tea! Microbrew parties! Free food in the cafeteria!

Thanks to an affiliation with Girl Geek Dinners, a wonderful international organization that's dedicated to helping chicks revel in all things geeky and technical, I was recently able to satisfy some of my "what's it like to eat at Google?" curiosity.

Just in case you, too, are curious... I took photos.

First, the approach:

As one walks toward the 8th floor Hemispheres Cafe (past tons of security guards, I might add), one can't help but notice the walls lined with celebrity chefs who have cooked at the cafe.

Everyone from the more obscure cooks (Dave Martin from Season 1 of Top Chef) to the household names (Mario Batali) get their grinning mugshots up on these walls.

Just before the door, I was thrilled to find Google's "Don't Be Evil" motto in the form of a boxing bear, which is now my new favorite way to display company values. On bears. I'll be attempting to install this sort of thing at my workplace STAT.

Don't Be Evil
"Bear this in mind as you eat your lunch, people."

Hemispheres Cafe at Google
Approach to Hemispheres Cafe

Inside, we enjoyed an open bar with the standard wines, beers and sodas alongside long, thin breadsticks, and I connected with busy bloggers Rachel of Cupcakes Take the Cake and Caryn of Metsgrrl.com.

Girl Geeks
The Girl Geeks chat, chew and twitter it all.

Yes, that's the Empire State Building in the background of the photo above. There's a large outdoor area for noontime sunning. I'm so. very. jealous.

Diagrammed Google Meal
The dinner, diagrammed.

On to the main event:

So how was the food? It was good. It was very good for cafeteria food. The beef was juicy, the crabcake was tender on the inside, crisp on the outside. The green beans were tender-crisp. The garlic mashed potatoes were tasty, if over-seasoned. And the whole-grain bun was chewy and nutty, with a very nice crumb.

I was green with envy that Googlistas get gratis cafeteria food of this caliber. I think I'd get plump (and maybe even tan) working at Google.

And, as Google sponsored the event, they also gave all the girl geeks nifty thermal coffee mugs with baby pink versions of the Google girl logo, like so:

Google Girl Logo
Google Girl Logo

I think I would've been happy just eating the food, but the speakers that followed dinner were both fantastic. Corinna Cortes, Head of Google Research NY and Katrin Verclas, Co-Founder and Editor of MobileActive made the evening invaluable, thanks to their entertaining and informative speeches. (I know so much more about computer science careers and mobile technologies now!)

Big kudos to Girl Geek Dinners NYC for organizing and to Google NY for sponsoring. I encourage girl geeks everywhere to band together, learn together and dine together.

So that's one clandestine cafeteria that's a little less cryptic. I hope to infiltrate the UN cafeteria sometime soon, so stay tuned for that.

Miss Ginsu

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Video Treat: Dual Lion Dance in Chinatown

On a quest for a golden ox in Chinatown today, I ran into two lions. No lie. These things happen in Chinatown.

Sadly, I didn't find the golden ox I was seeking (not every quest ends in success) but you can see the lions for yourself — I caught them on video.

The dancers are from New York United Lion & Dragon Dance Troupe. I particularly like the way they flick their ears and pay attention to lion-like mannerisms.

No recipe today, but I highly recommend you stop over at Food for the Thoughtless and check out Michael's Misfortune Cookies. Hilarious.

Meanwhile, I'll be back on track next week with a whole load of pre-Valentine chocolate posts.

Miss Ginsu

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Pizza on a Flat-Bed Trailer

I cooked with Dave Sclarow at Tabla back in the day. He was always a pretty handy guy and a solid cook (he's now running the kitchen at Lunetta in Brooklyn), but he recently got in the NY Times and various other publications for what essentially amounts to a novelty act: he built a wood-fired pizza oven on a flat-bed trailer.

Voila! It's porta-pizza!

Dave Sclarow and his Pizza Oven

Pizza Moto

Dave Sclarow and his Pizza Oven

Now you can catch him at the Brooklyn Flea on Sundays. Mom and I were there for the first pie outta the oven a couple of weekends ago. Here's the quick and dirty how-to video:

I swear I'll someday feature something other than cheese-based foods in my food videos.

Miss Ginsu

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FoodLink Roundup: 10.27.08

Cupcake's Link Roundup
Last week, Cupcake was out on the links at Van Cortlandt Park Golf Course, America's oldest public golf course, in the Bronx. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post your guess in the comments.

measure for measure
What's in a pinch? Depends on your fingers.

A Choir of Turkeys
What's the sound of one hand clapping? Not sure, but it's probably nothing like 300 turkeys gobbling on cue.

The New Foam Meets the Old Foam
"I must say I don't really understand this thing you call an egg cream. It doesn't seem to go well with the pastrami, and doesn't have much flavor. And there doesn't seem to be any egg in it." ...Ed Levine takes culinary god Ferran Adria out to dinner. At Katz's deli, of course.

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

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Wow of the Week

Having missed the farmers' market today, I was at the Bowery Whole Foods picking up some eggs. And then I saw these beauties...

Ostrich Eggs
When you're in the mood for a truly remarkable omelette

Ostrich eggs. Local, even. You can see the quail eggs on the shelf above for size reference.

I'm told it takes a hammer to open one of these eggs... and a brave soul to harvest them.

To be honest, I'm not sure what's more impressive, their girth or their price tag.

Miss Ginsu

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Egg Cream: No Egg, No Cream. Still Good.

"When I was a young man, no bigger than this
A chocolate egg cream was not to be missed
Some U-Bet's Chocolate Syrup, seltzer water mixed with milk
Stir it up into a heady fro', tasted just like silk
You scream, I scream, We all want Egg Cream"
— Lou Reed from Egg Cream

If you ever move to New York — and lots of folks do just that each year — you are bound to encounter the classic beverage that goes by the name Egg Cream.

My coworkers graciously provided egg cream-makin' supplies for my birthday fest. Ain't they sweet?

If you don't see the egg cream in some ironic "deconstructed" form at a schmantzy bar, you'll meet it at a luncheonette or deli (the 2nd Avenue Deli makes theirs in a dairy-free version). Or maybe you'll try one at the Lower East Side Egg Rolls & Egg Creams Festival that the Museum at Eldridge Street puts on every summer. No matter. You'll find it.

Of course, you could always cut out the middle-man and make your own. They're mighty tasty. And as Lou Reed reveals, it's truly simple process: all you'll need is a glass, a spoon, chocolate syrup, milk and seltzer water.

But first, what's the deal with the misleading name? An egg cream does taste creamy, so that part of the term isn't much of a stretch. But as it turns out, there's some contention about the "egg" in an egg cream.

It's possible that the "egg" came from the Yiddish word "echt" (good), as in "good cream," and that's a popular theory — but knowing how common raw eggs used to be in cocktails and in the drinks at soda fountains, I suspect that original versions of the egg cream used creamy, frothy eggs in the raw... Rocky Balboa style.

I can almost hear the vigilant souls at the New York Health Department shudder as I type that.

But the modern egg cream has not a drop of egg, so relax and follow the authentic directions conveniently provided by Fox's on every bottle of their famed U-Bet Chocolate Syrup:

* Take a tall, chilled, straight-sided, 8oz. glass
* Spoon 1 inch of U-bet Chocolate syrup into glass
* Add 1 inch whole milk
* Tilt the glass and spray seltzer (from a pressurized cylinder only) off a spoon, to make a big chocolate head
* Stir, Drink, Enjoy

Miss Ginsu

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Mmm... Mercadito Cantina

I've never really been wild for flan. It always just seemed like some soggier wanna-be dessert next to the perfection of the divinely crisp 'n creamy, burnt-caramel goodness embodied by the crème brûlée.

And there's so many bad examples of flan out there in the world. But having just recently eaten at Mercadito Cantina, I have seen the light. I am now a flan convert (not that that's going to do anything good for my cholesterol level).

Dos Flans

J happens to have a friend who works there, and seeing as how the place opened months ago, we were loooong overdue for a visit and a taste-test of their fish tacos (so dear to my heart and tastebuds).

After our dinner (which I can't praise enough, by the way: so. very. tasty.), we were sent a duo of dense little flans. Vanilla and Goat's Milk. My goodness, people. A well-made flan is a smooth, rich, decadent delight. A real treat.


After freshly-made guacamole, killer salsas, a michelada that rivals my own, excellent fish tacos and sautéed mushrooms with huilacoche (not to mentioin generous bites of J's outstanding pulled pork taquitos), I was so full I couldn't even bear the thought of dessert.

And then it appeared... the little platter of tasty flanitos. One bite, thought I. But oh, mama. They broke my will. (Oh, what a thrill...)

Iban and the cooks

That said, if you want to visit for yourself, you'll have to be crafty.

Word is already out, and true to New York standards, the place is not roomy.

We went on a Tuesday, and they were well-filled by 8 p.m. I don't even want to see the crush on Friday. Early dinners and brunches may be a better bet.

4 spoons

Mercadito Cantina
Mercadito Cantina on Urbanspoon
172 Avenue B
East Village, NYC

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Old Mr. Boston's Bronx Cheer

Flipping through my Old Mr. Boston De Luxe Official Bartender's Guide (1960 edition, naturally...), I was struck by how many random place names pop up in the cocktails.


There's the Alaska and Alabama cocktails, but with no explanation, Old Mr. Boston gives no such honor to Arizona or Arkansas.

Baltimore represents in the form of both the Baltimore Bracer and the Baltimore Eggnog, but is there a Brooklyn? No. Sadly, there's not. No cocktail for you, Brooklyn.

New York rates two drinks, of course Manhattan gets its own (quite famous) cocktail, and even Fifth Avenue rates a drink, but strangely, of the boroughs Mr. Boston had available for cocktail honors, did he crown Queens? (That'd be a no.) Or stop by Staten Island? (That'd be a hell, no.)

Folks, Old Mr. Boston had it going for The Bronx.

Five cocktail listings for ye olde Bronck's Land. And why is that, anyway? A nod to the thicket of bootleggers and gangs that thrived there during the prohibition era? Does it go even further back to even seedier activities? Only Mr. Boston knows.

And, well, yes... Wikipedia also knows. (Or at least it sorta knows.) Apparently the Bronx Cocktail was the toast of 1934, devised either by Bronx restaurateur Joe Sormani, or perhaps whipped up on a whim in Philly and named for The Bronx's famed zoo. Aw!

Whatever the true origin story, we can appreciate the simple beauty of The Borough's namesake cocktail. All five variations focus on gin with various measures of vermouth, citrus juice and garnish. Easy to make, easy to drink.

I'll list out my two favorites — the straight-up Bronx Cocktail, and the evocatively named Bronx Terrace... where I envision 1934's newly retired bootleggers laid back, sippin' on gin and juice in the really, really old-school Bronx style.
Bronx Cocktail

1 oz dry gin
1/2 oz sweet vermouth
1/2 oz dry vermouth
Juice of 1/4 orange

Shake well with cracked ice and strain into a 3-ounce cocktail glass. Serve with a slice of orange.

Bronx Terrace Cocktail

1 1/2 oz dry gin
1 1/2 oz dry vermouth
Juice of 1/2 lime

Shake well with cracked ice and strain into a 3-ounce cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.

(Bronx) Cheers,
Miss Ginsu

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FoodLink Roundup: 07.21.08

Cupcake's Link Roundup
As surmised, last week Cupcake was visiting the handsome polar bear at the Musée d'Orsay. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Be the envy of your friends and the bane of your enemies by posting a guess in the comments.

Vertical Farms for Urban Areas
Critics question zucchini-in-the-sky visions: “Would a tomato in lower Manhattan be able to outbid an investment banker for space in a high-rise?”

Cutest. Spaghetti film. Ever.
I love this short so much. PES, you rock.

The Food-Truck Revolution
NY Mag offers up a handy map of NYC's most mobile meals... with recommendations, of course.

Red Hook vendors in the red
I know they mean well, but I kind of hate the health department.

felt egg cosy
I can't say I've ever had need for an egg cozy, but... OMG SO CUTE!

Is Eco-Wine Better?
An exploration of the "green" wine spin factor.

Parker's Wine Vintage Chart
A good "print out and take along" reference for the next time you're out wine shopping.

Fun with Toxins
MUG sends out a call to New Yorkers... Help keep consumer labeling on your milk!

Good Fish, Bad Fish: A Consumer Guide
Think wild Alaskan (sablefish, salmon) or think small: mussels, oysters, anchovies, sardines

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The Real Ricotta Makes the Real Cannoli

[to Rocco who has killed Paulie in the car]
Miss Ginsu: Leave the cannoli. Take the gun.

Oh yes... let me add my voice to the massive city-wide swoon over the brilliant new Brooklyn Flea. Part craft fair, part food festival, part reliquary of the bizarre, the Flea is my new favorite Brooklyn tradition.


Cool bric a brac

Enormous Clock

From pulp fiction to papusas, the Flea offers something for just about everyone. The roomie and I spotted a black leather analyst's couch, the jawbone of some large mammal (a horse?), 30's-era vintage fans and an enormous two-piece interlocking yin-yang couch (doesn't every rec room need an interlocking yin-yang couch?), among the host of treasures.

Salvatore Bklyn cannoli

Despite a huge lot filled with crazy wonders, my biggest find was undoubtedly the cannoli from Salvatore Bklyn. Ohhh, heavenly. Freshly piped into the crisp cookie shell, the smooth, creamy ricotta carries a hint of marsala and flakes of dark chocolate. Really nice stuff.

I was so impressed, I made a short video of the filling process:

I'd first encountered Salvatore's divine ricotta at Ms. Anne's Essex Street cheese outpost. While I've never been a big ricotta fan, this was the stuff of revelation: buttery-smooth, rich and creamy. In other words, nothing like the grainy grocery-variety ricotta I'd always known. J tells me the Salvatore ricotta is very much like the ricotta he's eaten in Italy. What a lovely addition to the Brooklyn landscape!

Sadly, the roomie and I had just dined on a lovely little brunch at iCi before we stopped by the Flea, but on my next visit, I'll arrive hungry and try out the tasty-looking wares at Wafels & Dinges and Choice Market.

If you're in the neighborhood, find your way to the Flea and get thee to a cannoli. If you're friendly, you can score yourself an iced coffee sample from the sweet kids at Crop to Cup in the booth next door. And yes, quality cannoli and quality coffee really do create one of those "So Happy Together" moments.

The Brownstoner's Brooklyn Flea
Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School
Lafayette Ave. (btwn Clermont & Vanderbilt Ave.)
Fort Greene, Brooklyn

BTW: I took about a dozen Brooklyn Flea shots, so if you're interested, you can see the full set at flickr.

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A (Much Tastier) Chicken in Every Pot

Though Herbert Hoover is often (and falsely) credited with a campaign promise to give the nation "a chicken in every pot," the phrase never sounded terribly enticing to me. Chicken was usually pretty disappointing in the flavor department.

Truthfully, when I was growing up, there wasn't much chicken around the house. After we moved off the farm, Dad thought the grocery store chickens lacked the appropriate oomph, so we ate lots more turkey than chicken.

Girl embracing chicken
Girl embracing chicken at the Red Hook Farm

But when I went to Paris last fall, I had a kind of chicken revelation. It seemed like every chicken dish we ate was made of magic. Every morsel was rich and robust. They tasted somehow twice as chicken-y as the chickens I'd known.

Discovering that, I ordered chicken at every opportunity. I mourned lost meals spent dining on tripe or crêpe when there could've been chicken Yes, indeed. Those were the chickens worthy of campaign promises.

After returning to the states, I considered the chicken. Why were French birds so much tastier? Not even our free-range, organic birds had the flavor of the average French chicken. On the internet, I learned that the answer could be in the breed. One internet source here in the U.S. promised to ship rich, delicious chickens just like the ones in France. I was quite tempted, but the price was dear.

So rather than ordering straight away, I procrastinated. Maybe it's for the best that I did, because last week, we were given a poultry miracle.

Crowing cock, Paris
Crowing cock, Paris

J's butcher, Jeffrey, gave us a rooster for our pot. A full-on, head-on, feet and spurs and all rooster. It was cleaned and plucked, thank goodness, and recently. One or two tiny feathers still clinging to his flesh told us he was a black-feathered fellow.

Our dinner rooster had been killed and chilled so recently, he had a fresh scent and his skin was dry and taut, with none of the sliminess I expect from standard store-bought chickens. After a 40-minute simmer with garlic, onion, bay leaf, salt and halved tomatillos? Juicy. Rich. Delicious. Best chicken either J or I have had since Paris.

From whence this miracle bird? Well, it turns out that Jeffrey scored some kind of exclusive distributorship for the heritage chickens from Bo Bo Poultry Market a Chinese outfit that raises the birds upstate and brings them down to Brooklyn for killing, plucking and local distribution.

For years, Bo Bo sold exclusively to the Chinese market. Later on, Latino buyers got in on the action. The mainstream buyer just wasn't interested in whole, fresh-killed chickens, and most shops and distributors found it cumbersome and costly to deal with them. But these days, there's steadily building demand for local, heritage birds from chefs, locavores and food lovers, so the market for Jeffrey's tasty chickens might be ready.

Jeffrey's planning to package and sell the birds to restaurants and shops, but if you happen to be a New Yorker, you can get them directly from him. I'm convinced he's one of the friendliest people on the planet. I hope this whole thing works out for him. With chicken soup as tasty as this, a chicken in every pot seems like a mighty fine idea.

Chicken in a Pot

I used a recipe based on a Caldo de Pollo recipe from Rosa's New Mexican Table. Muy delicioso.
Mi Sopa de Gallo (Serves 4-6)
For the soup stock
1 chicken
3 quarts water
1 large onion, quartered
1-2 tomatillos, washed and halved
1 head garlic, halved horizontally
2 bay leaves
1 jalapeño, halved
1 Tbsp salt
1 bunch cilantro stems (bound with twine)
1-2 sprigs thyme

Tasty add-ins
1 14oz can diced tomatoes
2 cups cooked rice (optional)
1-2 chopped green onions
1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves
1/2 cup chopped mint leaves
1 lime, cut in wedges (to garnish)

1. Rinse the chicken well and put it in a large stockpot with the water, onion, tomatillos, garlic, bay, jalapeno, salt, cilantro stems and thyme.
2. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer, and let the pot gently simmer, partially covered, for about 40 minutes. (Check for doneness by cutting into the thigh and peering in at the joint that connects it to the back. It should be free from any pinkness.) Skim the soup surface of any foam that may rise to the top.
3. Remove the pot from the heat and cool the chicken in the broth.
4. When cool enough to handle, move the chicken from the broth to a platter. Strain off the broth and set it aside while you strip the meat away from the bones. Chop any large pieces into manageable bites.
5. Return the meat to the broth, add in the tomatoes and cooked rice, and bring the soup back to a boil. Turn off the heat and season the soup to taste with additional salt and pepper, if desired.
6. To serve, spoon the soup into serving bowls, and garnish with green onions, cilantro, mint and lime wedges.


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Seis de Mayo: Brownie Tamales

So, Seis de Mayo. You might be thinking: Why not Cinco de Mayo? It's a perfectly reasonable question. As it turns out, Cuatro de Mayo was unreasonably busy for my coworkers and I, but we still really wanted an excuse to cook and eat a Mexican-themed potluck.

As far as potluck themes go, you really can't go wrong with Cinco de Mayo. I mean, c'mon... it's got the tasty built right in. Mexican and Tex-Mex foods are some of the most popular dishes in the nation. Salsa has surpassed ketchup as our national condiment of choice (judged via per-capita consumption). And nearly every American city now features excellent Mexican and Central American specialty foods.

Here in NYC, it's a cinch to walk into the Essex Street Market and pick up a stack of soft corn tortillas for practically nothing. Corn husks for making tamales are just a couple of dollars for a hearty fistful. There's baffling varieties of dried chilies. There's exotic sauce brands. The papayas, fresh tomatillos and cactus paddles await your salad-making pleasure.

Cheese quesadillas done up on the George Foreman grill seemed like a quick-and-easy winner for our slightly belated department holiday picnic this week, but I also wanted to try out something a little more ambitious.

Tamale in the Steamer

I found a delicious-sounding candidate in Rosa's New Mexican Table by Chef Roberto Santibañez, formerly of NYC's Rosa Mexicano restaurant... Brownie Tamales.

Having been burned by an unfortunate barbecue sauce recipe over the weekend, I was a little recipe-shy, but this one was actually created by Nick Malgieri, the many-times-published pastry chef who created the curriculum at my cooking school. Since I love Santibañez's instincts and I've had great success with all of Malgieri's recipes, I figured I couldn't lose.

Steam Bath Full of Tamales

I've doubled the recipe and made a few tweaks — I just can't leave anything alone — but it's pretty close to the original. You might want to plan for a little loss. I had a couple of blowouts. The failed tamales were still edible... just not very pretty.

Speaking of which, I highly recommend a sauce or ice cream to serve with these. They're quite tasty, but they're sort of homely on their own. Cinnamon ice cream would make an outstanding addition.
Brownie Tamales (Makes 12-14)
6 6-inch corn tortillas
3/4 cup butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
13 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
8 large eggs, at room temperature
2 2/3 cups ground pecans (8 oz)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
Grated zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
12 large dried corn husks, soaked (7" across the bottom by 7" long)

1. Tear each tortilla into small pieces and grind them in a food processor (you may have to do this in batches). The texture should resemble coarse cornmeal. Set aside.
2. Beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add in the melted chocolate.
3. Beat in four eggs, then blend in half the pecans and half the ground tortillas.
4. Add the remaining eggs, followed by the rest of the pecans, tortillas, cinnamon, nutmeg and orange zest. Fold in the chocolate chips.
5. Drain the corn husks. While they're still damp, flatten out a husk on the surface before you and stuff with 1/2 cup of the brownie filling in the center of the husk. Fold the sides over the filling. I find it helpful to gather up the bottoms and tie them with a few inches of twine. (The top end will remain open. Just fold it over.) Repeat to form 12 tamales.
6. Place two or three dimes in the bottom of a large pot (while it boils, they'll jingle, letting you know there's still water in the pot) fitted with a steamer basket and water that meets the basket's base, but doesn't rise above it.
7. Stand the filled husks (open-end up) in the basket, keeping them upright, but not cramped.
8. Bring the water to a boil, then cover the pot and reduce the heat to keep the water simmering gently. Steam the tamales this way for about 30 minutes, carefully adding more water if the level runs low.
9. After 30 minutes, carefully remove a tamale, unwrap it and cut into it. It should be moist and semi-firm. If the tamale is still overly soft, return it to the basket and steam a bit more. If it's done, turn off the heat and let the tamales stand for 5 minutes.
10. Serve hot in opened husks with a scoop of ice cream, caramel sauce or whipped cream.


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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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Foodlink Roundup: 04.14.08

Cupcake's Link Roundup
Last week, Cupcake was, as surmised, in Bryant Park, Manhattan. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post a guess in the comments.

Cookie Monster: Is Me Really Monster?
McSweeney's takes a peek inside the mind of an addict.

Pacific Coast Salmon Fishing Shut Down
This year's low fish stocks mean bad news for salmon lovers.

This Is Just To Say
So long, and thanks for all the fish. One of my favorite food poems, re-imagined.

Ever Had a Nice Bottle of Greenpoint?
Garage bands, underground art scenes... and now, warehouse wine. (via WineHazard)

pintprice.com: the price of beer anywhere
A handy tool for comparing the true cost of living.

Carl Warner: Photographer
Click the orange box for the fantasy food photos. (Via MUG)

Who knew there were enough films and docs on food justice to fill up an annual fest?

Aqua Ban at NY Hot Spots
Bottled water, is like, sooo last year...

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The Donut Wars

I will preface this piece by letting you know this: I'm not a donut person, per se. That said, I will also tell you this: I love donuts in concept.

I love the way donuts are round. I love the way they curve in the palm of the hand. I love the hole in the center. I love that you can sometimes peek through that hole in the center and peer at the someone with whom you're sharing donuts. Maybe you also make a face or a silly noise at that moment. Donuts can be funny. But donuts also show up at wakes and church socials. Donuts can be somber.

Tres Leches Donut
The delightful Tres Leches Donut from the Donut Plant

What I love best about donuts is the idea of donuts and coffee. There's something so classically Americana about donuts and coffee.

The donut of my platonic ideal is the fresh-outta-the-fryer, crisp and steaming cake donut handed to me on a paper towel by an elderly someone who warns me that it's hot, and that I should be very careful not to burn my mouth. Said elderly someone has imbued this donut with his or her old-fashioned care, affection and pride. Needless to say, those donuts are rare as hen's teeth.

Donut Plant Dozen
A recent Donut Plant Dozen... Top left, clockwise: Pomegranate, Ginger, Coconut, Classic Glazed, Valrhona Chocolate, Rose Petal. In the back, Tres Leches, Blackout and another Valrhona.

My next-favorite donut is much more accessible. It's down at the Donut Plant and the cherubic counter man will sell it to you for a dear, but ultimately quite fair, price. Donut Plant donuts will not arrive hot from the fryer, but they are made with old-fashioned care, affection and pride as well as inspiring seasonal ingredients. Donut Plant donuts are taste adventures, and I like that in my food.

My boss liked Donut Plant donuts when I brought a tasting into work recently. He especially liked the Tres Leches donut. But what he REALLY likes are donuts from Peter Pan Bakery on Manhattan Ave. in Greenpoint.

After inhaling his first sampling of Peter Pan donuts just recently, he returned the next day. And the next. He demanded to know why I'd been holding back valuable Peter Pan donut insights for so long. It's not like I was plotting against his happiness. It's just that I'm not a donut person and because Peter Pan donuts were not my first-choice or second-choice donut, their little jellied and powdered gems made a much smaller blip on my personal radar.

One fateful day last week, my boss brought a stack of boxes into work. Boxes filled with donuts. Chocolate Glazed, Powder-Dusted. Some filled with berry jam. Some filled with Bavarian Cream. Cinnamon-Apple Cake Donuts. Strusel-Topped Donuts. Coconut-Flake Donuts.

A Mountain of Donuts from Peter Pan
A Mountain of Donuts from Peter Pan... Top left, clockwise: Chocolate-Glazed Eclaire, Cream-Filled Coconut, another filled eclaire, two custard-stuffed creampuffs, a Glazed Donut and a Strusel-Topped Donut

My coworkers went into a Peter Pan donut frenzy. They yelped. They swooned. They gorged. They ran to their phones and texted significant others with messages like: "OMG!!! We're getting up early Sat 4 DONUTS!" One coworker claimed that these were the long-lost donuts of her childhood, the like of which she hadn't seen in decades. She wrote to her mother about them.

And, yes... They're great donuts. Everyone says so. They're actually much closer to iconic American donuts, raised and glazed, fried fresh every day with good-quality fillings and (presumably) good-quality dough ingredients. (And they're dead cheap. This is Greenpoint, after all.)

The Peter Pan donut is probably very similar to the goods that the very first Dunkin' Donuts shop made waaaay back before they went corporate and started using cheaper fillers, cheaper sweeteners, cheaper fats and mass manufacture. The Peter Pan donut may not be available at every corner, but it really is the pastry of the people.

Admittedly, I felt crushed that my beloved Donut Plant donuts had so quickly rolled to the wayside in favor of a mighty Peter Pan onslaught. It was immediately clear that most people weren't really interested in pomegranate donuts, rose-petal donuts, Valrona chocolate donuts, ginger donuts, coconut-cream donuts or peanut butter and jelly donuts. They didn't want experimental donuts. They wanted donut donuts. They wanted tradition and comfort and sugary cream fillings.

So it seems the traditionalists won the war for the (clogged) hearts of my coworkers.

Down in the trenches, covered in a dusting of powdered sugar and sweating off the sugar-crash shakes, I reflect and find I've learned a few things.

I have strong donut opinions. I may have a delicate donut ego. And I guess I just happen to have a slightly off-the-mainstream donut perspective. And if I have all that, well... hell. Maybe I really am a donut person after all.

Peter Pan Doughnuts & Pastries
Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop on Urbanspoon
727 Manhattan Ave
Brooklyn, NY

Donut Plant
Doughnut Plant on Urbanspoon
379 Grand St
New York, NY

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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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The Seeds of Hope Within Dank January

Ever circle a toy in a catalog with a marker and imagine your future self loving and enjoying it? I imagine a lot of kids have done something like that. Of course, these days they probably just make Amazon wishlists or send out URLs of their favorite things prior to the holidays.

Here I'll file for the "weird kid on the block" title once again. For most of my life, the end of January has always created great anticipation of the season of seed catalogs.

Marker in hand, I'd circle pages and pages of tomato seeds, lettuce seeds, peapod packs, squashes, sunflowers and mystery flower envelopes. I'd puzzle over whether bicolor, yellow or Indian corn would look better growing up along our garage wall. I'd ponder their packs of live ladybugs and mantises. I'd grid the garden and feed the compost pit with starry-eyed anticipation.

I wonder now if seeds helped those ancient generations of pioneers survive cold northern winters prior to the age of reliable heat, merino wool and internet access. I imagine them looking at their seeds, dreaming about their summer gardens and filling up with hope, even during long months passed with nothing more than grandma's root vegetables and one unending game of gin rummy.

I know some of my darkest, dankest, most hopeless days of winter were annually made colorful and vivacious with pages of plantable potential. After all, hope is really what seed catalogs are all about.

Tragically, my Brooklyn apartment does not come equipped with a garden, and my Januaries tick-tick-tick along without those life-restoring seed catalogs.

CSA lettuces
Beginning of the CSA summer season

But lo! There's still joyful options for sad, cold city dwellers lacking access to both personal and community gardens. For me, hope arrives now in the form of my CSA, which I'm happy to report, I signed up for this very evening.

For any who don't know, a CSA is a community supported agriculture group, which essentially works like buying stock in a farm at the beginning of the growing season. CSA members (the investors) pony up some cash and determine their terms. The farmers return dividends over the course of the season in veggies and also sometimes (if the farmer/s have relationships with other nearby farms) fruit, farm-fresh eggs or meat and flowers.

Like the stock market, the vegetable market is variable and returns are not guaranteed. Sometimes there's nothing but lettuce. Sometimes the lettuce gets washed away and it's all kale and kohlrabi. It helps to have a good attitude about adventurous eating before joining a CSA.

Different CSAs are run differently, of course, but as half-share member of the amazingly well-organized Greenpoint-Williamsburg CSA for this season, I'll pick up my goodies once every other week from mid-June through mid-November at the appointed location and I'll volunteer for a distribution shift at some point during the season.

There's also the option of going on a field trip to the farm that's supplying my veggies, and there's apparently some other social occasions (Kohlrabi fest?) during the year.

Close of the CSA summer season

No, I won't be paging through seed catalogs this year, and I won't be plotting out my garden patch. I won't be puzzling over how to keep my beneficial insects from flying over into the neighbor's garden instead of eating the fat little aphids in my garden.

Chris and Eve Kaplan-Walbrecht will be doing all that. But I'm still supporting a sustainable, certified organic business and enjoying very competitively priced local fruit and veggies picked fresh off the farm. I'll pick up 12 nifty shipments filled up with color and flavor and life. And actually, I get nearly the same happy tingle of late-January hope just thinking about that.

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Hedonista Hundred, Part VI: 26-30

In which Miss Ginsu gushes about a run of wonderful, inexpensive pleasure places.

Yes, this is a project that's taking me forever to complete, but I press on... The Hedonista 100 is an ongoing list of 100 favorite food finds: cookbooks, snacks, tools, places, recipes, ideas & more.

Now, I could give you a thousand words each on these delicious entries, but I believe a pretty photo alongside an ounce of linguistic restraint might be a bit more in order. Thus, herein you'll find a five-pack of tasty photos and their corresponding source sites.

Brekkie at Le Pain Quotidien
26. The Grand Street (off Broadway) Le Pain Quotidien. A soft-boiled egg and bread with a cafe latte whilst sitting at the communal table, perusing the Sunday Times.

Shakshuka and Hummus Brunch
27. Shakshuka and hummus brunch at Hummus Place, 109 St Marks Place just off Tomkins Square Park. Don't miss their zippy, spicy green sauce. It ignites the tongue (in a good way).

Gingered Duck Soup at the Slanted Door
28. Gingered Duck Soup at the Slanted Door in the Ferry Market, San Francisco. Clean, sleek decor alongside fresh, flavorful food. Whenever I feel I'm teetering at the edge of a cold, I want this gingered soup in a bad way.

Pastries at Bonaparte Bread in Baltimore
29. Pastries at Bonaparte Bread (903 South Ann Street, Fells Point in Baltimore, MD) are everything a pastry should be: flaky, tender, buttery, lightly salted... among of the best you'll find this side of Paris.

30. Banana batidas and tasty arepas at Caracas Arepa Bar, 91 East 7th St in the East Village. Always crowded... and with good reason. They just keep putting out awesome food at reasonable prices.

Miss out on the previous 25 wondrous food finds? You'll find them at the archive page.

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A Tale of Three Ramen

Like a lot of American kids my age, I grew up with an imposter. Fool that I was, I loved it with an unreserved passion.

To my great shame, I still distinctly remember turning down countless opportunities for actual food in favor of plastic pouches of pasty-white ramen noodles.

Oh, how strange it now seems. I was held in a spell, rapt in blind adoration of a bunch of airy white bricks that magically transformed in hot water. Three minutes... and voila! Tender, wiggly noodles steeped one of eight or ten nearly indistinguishable monosodium glutamate flavor packets. Pure comfort-food bliss.

Despite a winning name, Top Ramen really wasn't the star player in my affections. For my personal ontology, noodle bricks weren't even in the same genre as the ambrosial Nissin Cup o' Noodles. Many happy childhood memories involve warming my hands atop the smooth paper barrier that retained precious steam for those three mystical moments between shelf-stable starch and ramen.

Now that I'm slightly more worldly, I know that real ramen holds very little resemblance to either the starchy brick or the salty cup.

I've come to discover that real ramen doesn't involve MSG packets. It isn't even really about the noodles. Real ramen is a sensual experience closer to poetry.

Between the pork and the seaweed, the mushrooms and the egg, the scallions and the broth, the noodle and the steam, real ramen is about comparison. It begins just breathing in the aroma of the bowl. Then the exploration: One bite is briny sea, the next is rich, savory earth. This one is bracing and vegetal. That one, creamy and smooth. This one is chewy, that one, crisp. Real ramen is revelation.

I'd intended to present a comparison of three Manhattan ramen shops, but I find myself torn between them.

Momofuku Ramen
Momofuku Noodle Bar (163 First Ave, near 10th St.)

Momofuku Noodle Bar, the critics' darling, was big, bold, meaty ramen with thick, sturdy noodles... a very American ramen experience. They make it with Berkshire pork and serve it alongside crisp Hitachino ales. It's luxe, crowded, efficient, expensive and oh-so-very NYC.

Momofuku Noodle Bar on Urbanspoon

Setagaya Ramen
Setagaya (141 First Ave., near St. Marks Pl.)

Ramen Setagaya is very clearly a US outpost of a slick Japanese chain. From a strangely mesmerizing wall display of Japanese food TV to the focused menu and overwhelmingly Japanese clientele, entering Setagaya felt more like a entering a teleportation device that dumped diners off in the midst of suburban Tokyo. The ramen, too, was transportive: tabletop to forest floor, rocky cliff and seaside farm.

Ramen Setagaya on Urbanspoon

Rai Rai Ken Ramen
(Rai Rai Ken Ramen House, 214 E. 10th St.)

Rai Rai Ken Ramen House is a dim closet behind a red curtain. Dark wood and a skinny ledge. The counter is high. The ramen is passed down from on high by a stoic staff of skilled young men. Chat with your companion. They're there to cook. The ramen is steamy, satisfying and dead cheap. Workers, students and hungry strangers approach needy and leave restored. This is a noodle shop for the proletariat.

Rai Rai Ken on Urbanspoon

Each of these ramen stops is within a stone's throw of the others. And each seems to represent a different aspect of the modern ramen experience. When I sat down to consider which might be considered the one true ramen experience, I really couldn't pick just one. It's situational.

Now, I'm no ramen expert, but I have a theory.

Setting the starchy grocery-store ramen aside as the phony junkfood it really is, the "best" ramen is less about single noodle bar or a single noodle bowl. It's really about the ramen bowl for who you are and how you're feeling at a particular time. Sometimes, the dark cave presents the right bowl of ramen. Sometimes it's the ramen on the slick countertop with the pretty servers.

So here's my thought: don't let anyone tell you they've got a line on the ramen. Top ramen is a state of mind.

Miss G.

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Eating local. Like, really local.

Busy Bee Pierogies

Chez Ginsu is currently located in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and contrary to what that moniker might lead you to envision, large swaths of this place are dirty and decidedly industrial.

Though certain sectors of the 'Point are hip these days, my end of the hood remains cheap and old-school (in good part because we sit squarely in the middle of the largest land-based oil spill in U.S. history. But hey... cheap rent).

My closest thoroughfare, Nassau Avenue, features a charming Luncheonette, a couple of pizza joints, several examples of the ubiquitous Chinese takeout counter and a fleet of Polish eateries.

Polish food has never been one of the world's most beloved cuisines. Ask anyone — even those who are fairly well-versed in food — to name all the Polish dishes they know. The most you'll likely get from them is pierogies, kielbasa and maybe Zywiec, Greenpoint's Pilsner of choice (though most are unlikely to pronounce it correctly... the company's begun advertising the stuff as "Z-Beer" for the tongue-tied American market).

So although I'm a big fan of local food sourcing, eating locally (as in, eating in the neighborhood) hasn't exactly topped my priority list.

Recently, I wondered if maybe that position was wrong-minded. I decided to give some serious examination to local foodstuffs. Making a stop at Nassau Ave's Busy Bee Food Exchange, I purchased meat pierogi (pierogi z miezem) and beet-horseradish condiment (cwikla). The Bee deli case also featured a few creamy salads and pints of "bigos," which is supposed to be a hunter's stew made of beef stock and sauerkraut.

Pirogi, for the uninitiated, are Eastern European dumplings... tasty little dumplings filled with a variety of substances.

When I lived in Minnesota, we frequently went out for Friday lunches at the Ukrainian Catholic Church gymnasium in North-East Minneapolis. There, little old men served endless cups of coffee and took orders while little old ladies tirelessly produced phyrohi (potato, kraut-pork or plum... your choice). It was great. Cheap, tasty comfort food made by little old ladies. You really can't beat that.

Those memories flowed back to me as I prepared my pierogi. Pierogi can be served boiled or pan-fried, like potstickers. When I tested The Bee's meat pierogi, I pan-fried 'em and was very pleased with the results. Served alongside the bright-magenta cwikla with a cucumber & sour cream salad? Good eats at a good price.

Of course Stella, my Polish landlady, instantly knew I'd been sullying her building with store-bought pierogi. Polish landladies have special radar for betrayals of that ilk.

The very next day Stella knocked on my door bearing a look of supreme confidence and a plate covered in three types of freshly boiled pierogi she'd just made: cabbage-bacon, potato and sweet cheese. I intended to eat just a few and share the rest with my roomie. But they were good. Really good. I ate them all.

As it turns out, local eating is good, but really, really local eating... now that's superb.

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Gelato Throwdown

il laboratorio del gelato: Avocado Gelato
The avocado gelato at Il Laboratorio del Gelato

Sometimes the food is about more than just the food.

Flavor is a factor, of course, but given food experience is also influenced by the ambiance, the price, the service, the level of love involved in the operation and the convenience factor (not to mention the quality level when compared to other available options).

Recently caught the grip of a sultry spring evening, and J and I trekked up to Grom, the first US outpost of an Italian chain that's fast become the Upper West Side's must-have sweet fix. Not surprisingly, so did hundreds of other New Yorkers.

Milling about in a line that stretched down to 76th street, we compared notes with our fellow line lizards. The couple ahead were true believers, back for another fix. The couple behind questioned the collective intelligence of sixty people who would wait in line upwards of 30 minutes for pricey cups of gelato.

The verdict? Grom is good. Their menu promising seasonal change is appealing. Their Slow Food-approved flavors are compelling. And their rich, dark Ecuadorian Extranoir Chocolate was probably the best flavor of the sampling we tried.

But truthfully, my perennial favorite, Il Laboratorio del Gelato, is still better. A spoon-to-spoon comparison of Grom's pistachio vs. Laboratorio's pistachio revealed more richness and more ka-pow pistachio flavor for a significantly lower price. (A small cup runs $3.50 at LdG vs. $4.75 (plus 8.375% tax) at Grom.)

For some, Grom's uptown location and conveniently late-night hours (Laboratorio closes around six — unbearably early for those with impulsive post-dinner cravings) may outweigh the benefits of Laboratorio's creamy superiority. I respect that. But for my purposes, I'll make the effort to stock the freezer with Laboratorio in those few sweet hours when they're open.

Grom's not bad, but thankfully, there are better options. This girl does not live on Grom alone.

three spoons
GROM (Gelato Come Una Volta)
Grom on Urbanspoon
2165 Broadway (betwn 76th & 77th)
Manhattan, NY

four spoons
Il Laboratorio del Gelato
Laboratorio Del Gelato on Urbanspoon
95 Orchard St (below Delancey)
Manhattan, NY

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Tilapia Sandwich and a Tra La La. To go.

tra la la muffin

I wasn't going to say anything. I mean, when you find something good, you don't necessarily want the whole world showing up for their piece of the action, right?

And yet, discovery was inevitable. Last weekend while I was at the Essex Street Market, I couldn't help but see the signs.

Literally. They've gone and hung big, colorful vendor signs in the aisles. In the past year Essex has gone from dead-cheap produce, meats and fishes to a market that additionally features two wee gourmet food shops and an American artisanal cheesemonger.

The neighborhood is on the make, and the change is in the air. Or maybe that's just the scent of fresh-baked Tra La La muffins.

Ron and Ira run Rainbo's Fish and Tra La La Juice Bar, the improbably delightful dual-purpose shop at the north side of the market that features fresh-squeezed juices, my platonic ideal of the muffin genre and... fresh fish.

They're fishmongers by trade, and on many happy occasions I've gleefully forked out a pittance in return for their hot, fresh, meltingly tender fish sandwiches slathered in a tangy-creamy tartar sauce.

J writes today to tell me that he's been spying on the progress of their new prepared food counter. His Mission Impossible-style surveillance skills reveal they'll open their gates on Thursday. According to his report, they'll be featuring:
Fish and baked goods, of course, but also other prepared foods. They gave me a sample of a savory (and slightly spicy) cornmeal waffle yesterday that will become a serving platform for some kind of seafood stew or sauce or something (scallops were mentioned).

Alas... It looks like I'll lose my super-secret cheap-and-tasty fish sandwich + muffin shack (and my not-so-secret urban market) to the inevitable tide of hungry humanity.

But I'll try to be a good sport about this whole affair. My loss, your gain.

three spoons

Rainbo's Fish and Tra La La Juice Bar
Essex Street Market
Corner of Delancey and Essex
Manhattan, NY

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Get thee to The Donut Plant

tres leches donut

Hola, todos y feliz Cinco de Mayo!

Should you happen to be in New York City today, I highly recommend you stop by The Donut Plant. And I'm not even a "donut person," per se. That said, I am a Donut Plant person.

Always in touch with the tiny details of seasonal change, the sandwich board outside The Donut Plant is my reliable source for what's timely. In the autumn, the specials mature from apple donuts to pumpkin donuts to cranberry donuts to chestnut donuts. In the spring, the sign bounds from ginger-chai donuts to Meyer lemon donuts to the first berry donuts of the new season. And, big bonus: the round-faced fellow who mans the counter is boundlessly friendly.

Today, the sandwich board goes Mexican-style churros and a tres leches donut that's crisp on the outside and lightly sweet on the inside with silky pockets of creamy vanilla pudding. It's heaven alongside a café con leche.

How do they put tres leches inside donuts that have holes? I don't know. They're magic, those Donut Plant people. I don't attempt to replicate their sweet sorcery. I just eat it.

4 spoons

The Donut Plant
379 Grand Street (near Essex)
Manhattan, NY

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Tell me again why I'm here.

terrible martinis
Terrible martinis at the Time Out Eat Out Awards. Amaretto, vodka and lemon sour. Blorg. For the record, I really don't understand what's wrong with a standard olive-studded gin martini.

Saxelby Cheesemongers
Cheese Mongeress Anne Saxelby and the Saxelby Cheese Gang pose for their album cover.

It's widely known that bloggers are the media's ugly stepchildren. Actually, it's worse than that. Bloggers are the stinky kids at the edge of the playground that the traditional media is eventually forced to select for their teams.

Knowing this, I was (reasonably, I believe) torn about whether I should go to the Time Out New York Eat Out Awards last night.

Good reasons against going: It's not really my thing. No plus one allowed. Not really dressed for cocktails. Knew I'd have to admit out loud that I, ahem, blog.

Good reasons for going: Free drinks. A possibility of chef-spotting. Monday night.

So yes. I sent in my RSVP. I printed my invite. And upon arriving, I went for my nametag. That's when I discovered I wasn't on the list. That's when it hit me: not only was I illegitimate media, I was illegitimate party-crashing media. Sad and sadder.

After forcing me to spell out the name of my blog (rather more loudly than I would have preferred), they let me in (as a nametag-free pariah) and I was handed a drink. Well, kind of a drink. An exceedingly sweet martini that made me remember why I don't pay money for such beverages.

The place was crammed with the NYC food industry... bar people, restaurant people, front of the house, back of the house. Made me wonder who was running the city's bars and restaurants until I remembered nobody goes out on Monday anyway.

Feeling slightly ridiculous, like an underdressed interloper, I looked for someplace to ditch the "martini." The inner critic handed me twelve good reasons why I'd be better off at home. Just then, like a calming patch of blue sky in a sea of storm clouds, the crowd parted to reveal the good kids from Saxelby Cheesemongers in the Essex Street Market.

And I knew I was safe. Why? Because people who care, deeply, about cheese, are also people who love the world's underdogs. They're the compassionate souls who would pick the stinky kids at the edge of the playground for their teams because they really, truly believe in the potential of those stinky kids.

I know this about cheese people because cheeses are the food world's underdogs. They are funky, stinky, runny, barnyard-y, lumpy and sometimes covered in spotty molds. They're not pretty, shiny and colorful, like apples or immediately beguiling, like barbecue. Cheeses are not the popular kids. It takes a brave and loving soul to look beyond their surface textures. Truthfully, many cheeses need extra time and care to become exquisite. Not everyone has that kind of patience.

Despite our earnest catcalls, Saxelby Cheesemongers didn't win the Reader's Choice Award for Best Cheese Shop. That honor went to Murray's. Again. The friendly folks at Against the Grain didn't win for Best New Bar, either. So after the show, the cheese losers, beer losers and one tag-along media outcast packed into cabs and sped away to Grape and Grain (the tiny, homey eatery next-door to AtG).

We drank wine, we toasted each other and we ate, lavishly, by candlelight. We had a grand time. And at some point I realized the best reason of all to go to a food award night: It's a reminder that even in as large a city as New York, the community of dedicated food people is small and intertwined.

As much as the restos, bars and food shops compete with each other, they also necessarily, support each other. Whether Murray's wins or Anne Saxelby wins, the community of cheese lovers grows. And I think that bodes well for all of us.

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Podunk: a nook for tea and decorum

Tea at Podunk
Cream Tea (scones, fresh whipped cream, berries, strawberry jam, apple butter, cream and sugar) at Podunk

When we walked into Podunk, a tiny tea shop on a strangely quiet block of 5th Street, J and I were desperate for cardamom cake.

The proprietress seemed tickled that such a craving might force people to canvass the city. She asked if we'd found her shop via Google. Indeed, we had, but more precisely, we found her shop through Halldór Laxness, an Icelandic writer (and Nobel Laureate) with a talent for food description that drove us drooling mad with cardamom-infused daydreams.

The Citysearch reviews for Podunk were puzzling. A flood of gushing praise (cute decor! lovely owner! amazing cakes!) peppered with venomous tales of a witchy woman who flies into rages and throws customers out into the street.

Our experience had been so thoroughly positive (and the cardamom cake so unequivocally delicious), that we left puzzled. That sweet lady in the apron and disheveled bun was obnoxious? A mad woman? It seemed improbable.

On another occasion, strolling past 5th Street, we were taken by a sudden whim for tea cakes. We stopped by and found Espeth (the afore-mentioned tea mistress) brandishing the last piece of her apple chai tea cake — a surprisingly spicy confection layered with chunks of fresh apples. We talked about that day's sudden autumnal yen for apples and spice. Though the piece was much too large to offer as a single slice, and slightly too small to divide, she gave us the whole grand thing for the price of a single. Rude service, indeed!

On our third visit, we arrived for the tea. Nestling into chairs, we reviewed the menu, ordered the cream tea, and looked through a few of her vast array of children's books. The tea service arrived lush and beautiful. Her strawberry jam packed a peppery whollop in the back of the throat. The scones were airy, crisp and tender. The whipped cream was freshly whipped and begging for juicy berries.

As we sipped, a woman burst through the front door, fresh off her cellphone with that unmistakable air of patented New York impatience. We looked up from our steaming cups.

"Can I get a coffee to go?" she asked.

"No," said our tea mistress, "We don't have to-go cups. There's a Starbucks around the corner."

And that's when I resolved the Jekyll and Hyde mystery. Podunk is a reflection of what one brings to it. You don't walk in with self-importance, irritability and an enormous ego yearning to break free.

Tea is a civil occasion. It's a quiet nook in the day for sipping, nibbling and practicing good behavior. Present yourself as well-mannered, warm and friendly. You'll be greeted in kind... and discover some really fantastic tea and cakes in the process.

But honestly, whether there's cakes in the bargain or not, isn't that simply a nicer way to approach your fellow man?

Podunk on Urbanspoon
231 East 5th St (Btwn 2nd & Bowery)
New York, NY 10003

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If I only had a brine...

Happy Pickle Day
Happy Pickle Day from missginsu's photos at flickr

Pickle history
Pickle history from missginsu's photos at flickr

Lineup for Pickles
Lineup for Pickles at Guss' from missginsu's photos at flickr

Why is it that we nationally celebrate Christopher Columbus (a man generally acknowledged as a less-than-stellar individual), and not the pickle?

I’m wondering, of course, because yesterday was International Pickle Day on the Lower East Side. People enjoyed informational displays, samples, cucumber-green balloons for the kids. It’s an annual celebration of all things pickled. Bread & Butters. Kim Chi. Chutneys. Sauerkraut. Oshinko. The good old kosher dill. How great is that?

Pickling is one of the oldest known methods of food preservation. Pickles have sustained and enriched people’s lives across the globe for a few thousand years. They kept folks alive on long voyages. They offered something vegetal during those long, cold winter months on the plains. They dress up salads. They brighten sushi. They’ve made the Chicago Dog a stunning ballpark snack. Do they have a big day of observance and celebration? Of course not. Pickles get a sunny afternoon on a single city block.

Columbus has parks, schools, streets, expensive statuary and a national bank holiday. As far as I know, Columbus was simply a sea-faring prospector. He reported back to the Spanish royal court about a continent that all kinds of people already knew pretty well, while simultaneously delivering disease and slavery to the people he “discovered.”

What about public displays of pickle pride? I'm all for endorsing Pickle High School, Kim Chi Circle and West Gherkin Boulevard.

Am I saying there’s direct correspondence between old Chris having a day of celebration and a sad underrepresentation in food preservation? Nope. Just want to point out the inherent lack of consistency at work in our government-sponsored observances. Why shouldn’t we link national celebrations to values that are thoroughly worthy of celebration? I also think Election Day should be a holiday, but that’s a topic for another post…

You’ll never know whether one of your great forbearers was fed and nourished with pickles, but it’s likely. You may, indeed, owe your existence in some small part, to pickles.

Pickles save lives.* Pickling evokes the technology of our ancestors. It represents thrift and good planning. And a jar of pickles humbly, eloquently symbolizes the concept of hope. Think about that the next time you twist the top on a fresh jar of pickles and hear the peppy pop. That’s the tiny, briny bang of pickled preservation... a noise I can't help but feel is worthy of pomp and fireworks.

* As an added bonus, having recently watched a very silly customer service video at work, I can assure you that pickles not only save lives, they also inspire people to treat each other with common decency (a value that, sadly, may not be not all that common.) Go on… Give ‘em the pickle.

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Caracas Arepa Bar: Now featuring twice the yum.

Hot, crispy arepas

banana batida
A batida that's built for two

There are only a handful places that I feel meet the test of "consistently delicious bang for the buck," and that's kind of a shame.

I know it's tough to run a restaurant day in, day out, while maintaining high quality, infusing the food with love, and making everyone feel welcome and valued (not to mention trying to turn a buck in the process), but as a diner, that's what I'm seeking. I have high standards, namely: I want them to care about the food, and I want to feel as though the food is as delicious as (or, gosh, maybe even better than) what I could make at home.

I hope I'm not jinxing my good luck as I type this, but Caracas has always delivered the goods. On nearly every occasion I've had opportunity to visit their cozy East Village shop, there's always been a line of the hungry salivating just outside the door. After getting through the skinny door and squeezing behind a tiny table, I've always found the breathless staff to be friendly folks with agile bodies that maneuver with masterful elasticity between tight bag-filled corridors and stabbing table edges.

The arepas — crisp corn cakes opened like steaming round envelopes and stuffed with all manner of tasty fillings — are fresh, hot, and made to order, as they should be. The salads are crisp and inviting. There's food for my vegetarian friends and food for my meat freaks. The batidas (light shakes) are thick, cool and creamy. The lunch specials include fresh juice and your choice of arepas with a side of either soup or salad, all for slightly less than a ten-spot. (Why, oh why do I work in Queens when such delights beckon in the East Village?)

Leaving Caracas, I slide out the door (seeing the patiently hungry on the outdoor bench eye my newly emptied table) and stretch out in the sunshine on the nearby corner at 7th Street and 2nd Avenue feeling satisfied. Full, but not gluttonously so. Satiated and ready to take on the afternoon.

And now, Caracas is doubly delightful. With expansion in a storefront just two buildings away from the original nest, there's extra seating and reduced waiting in the new spot and a to-go counter in the old (though it seems you can still grab a table and eat there for lunch).

Best of all — despite nail-biting nervousness over potential growing pains in one of my favorite spots — success appears not to have spoiled the magic. Ah do believe there's still a great deal of love in them there arepas.

4 spoons

Caracas Arepa Bar
Caracas Arepa Bar on Urbanspoon
91 East 7th Street
East Village, NYC

2008 UPDATE! There's now a Caracas branch in Williamsburg, BK (291 Grand St.) More space, same great food. Yay!

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Food Quote Friday: Ed Levine

"Labor-intensive handmade food is under siege in contemporary culture, but it’s still thriving in Brooklyn, and the infusion of hipsters has reinvigorated it. They recognize the value in old style, third-generation bakers and sausage makers because they’re searching for things that are real. In part thanks to them, Brooklyn’s still full of honest food."

-Ed Levine, quoted in Edible Brooklyn

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Spring, and cheese shops are abloom

A note from my operative on the Lower, Lower East Side:

"The new cheese shop at the Essex Street Market opens tomorrow.
They have an interesting mission: stock only artisanal American
cheeses. I recommend a visit for a bit of wine and, of course, cheese."

This new enterprise joins the freshly formed Essex Street Cheese Company — a charming Comté-only outpost run by Jason Hinds of Neal's Yard Dairy in England and Daphne Zepos (formerly a cheese heavy at the Artisanal Premium Cheese Center).

Sensing some market competition? Cheese wars afoot? Nay. It's all friendly on Essex street. Apparently, those who love curd, love community.

Another of my food scenesters reports that Ms. Zepos is acting as consigliere to the new spot's young proprietress. Perhaps cheese maturation mellows the fromager as much as the fromage.

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I (heart) Hot Chocolate

Zucco dishes it up schnazzy.

I realize this is one of those far-from-controversial opinions.

Proclaiming a passion for hot chocolate falls in along the lines of revealing a long-held affection for large-eyed puppies.

That said... wouldn't you agree that it's still about the best thing winter has to offer?

Ice Skating and Hot Chocolate
Courtesy of this week's Manhattan User's Guide:

Skate: Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers
Hot Chocolate: Le Gamin, 183 9th [21st] 212.243.8864

Skate: The Pond at Bryant Park
Hot Chocolate: The Pond Snack Bar

Skate: Rock Center Rink
Hot Chocolate: Cafe SFA at Saks.

Skate: Wollman Rink
Hot Chocolate: Serendipity

Skate: Lasker Rink
Hot Chocolate: Hungarian Pastry Shop, 1030 Amst [110th/111th]

Skate: Riverbank State Park
Hot Chocolate: You’ll have to fill your thermos for this one – Jacques Torres perhaps...350 Hudson [King] 212.414.2462

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The Leftover Lovers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Insert Your Wurst Pun Here

Ketchup? Check. A peck of mustard? Yep. Hot sauce? Sure. Cumin-pineapple relish? Well, why not?

All that's on offer at the condiment counter. Still, of all the tempting tastes at Broome Street's spanking new Broome Doggs, the most exciting was indubitably the currywurst sauce. Tomato-y, zippy, earthy. Like ketchup after a trek down the spice trail.

"They're all over the place in Germany. They're crazy for them there," attending dog slinger Todd told us, slopping a generous portion of spicy red glaze across a steaming dog. "Really. Look it up on the web. Just type in 'currywurst' and you'll find all kinds of stuff."

Todd did not lead us astray. Said to be one of VW's biggest products (at least in Wolfsburg), the saucy, spicy currywurst is apparently the most popular fast food dish in Germany. Berlin even goes so far as to host a Currywurst Museum, and a documentary homage exists within "The Best of the Wurst."

My favorite of the Currywurst worship pages might be this one, in which we discover that, "First you learn german (sic), then you may have a Currywurst." Brilliant incentive program.

Folks with DIY impulses should investigate one of the many recipes out on the interwebs.

Broome Doggs
250 Broome St.
(Btwn Orchard & Ludlow)

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Hey, Hey, Babycakes!


Aw! A cupcake mosaic on the front stoop of that spanking-new Lower East Side bakery! Adorable.

Oh! The pretty shopgirls all wear obscenely cute candy-striped pink pinafores. Sweet!

Whoah! Vegan? Really? No, wait... Not just vegan but sugar-free, gluten-free and all-natural? Daaaamn!


Yes, my LES operative reports that the mint-lemonade is refreshing, the lemon cake is tasty and the menu is... well, confusing.

Imagine! A whole shop filled with baked goods whipped up with no cream, no refined sugar, no eggs, no white flour and no butter. In short, a traditionally-trained pastry chef's worst nightmare.

And yet... they have muffins. They have poundcakes. They presumably have cupcakes. So what do they use to construct their sweet treats?

J. reports it's spelt and garbanzo flour sweetened with things like fresh, farmers' market fruits (local peaches, for example).

He's sworn to eat his way through their menu for the sake of science (and those friendly gals in candy-striped aprons). Brave man. We await his report.

248 Broome St.
(btwn Ludlow and Orchard)

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Beer. Garden. Sausage. What more could you want?

A sausage in Astoria

For the few New Yorkers not heading out of the city for the weekend, the City conspires to treat you to its richest display of hospitality. Stinky piles of garbage? Gone. Stuffy, crowded subways? Fuggetaboutit. Stifling heat and humidity wafting up from the asphalt? A fuzzy memory.

The weather promises unparalleled beauty, the streets will be uncharacteristically quiet, parks and restaurants will be joyfully unpopulated and Czech beer will flow in a big backyard in Queens.

Sit under the trees, observe the rich cross-section of humanity at nearby tables, eat a juicy sausage, drink a cold beer and offer up a toast to yourself. You've had the foresight to realize that zipping around on the subway is superior to sitting in a hot metal box on the L.I.E.

Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden
29-19 24th Ave
Astoria, Queens

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Yes, you really do want this.

Would a ceviche in the light of bright day tickle the palate so sweetly?

Presenting... the evening's hand-written menu, deftly snatched up and tucked away by my delightful dining companion.

Charmingly erratic capitalization and punctuation left intact. My own garden-variety dining annotation included.

The Queen's Hideaway
DINNER: August 26, 2005

1. TART: crab and corn custard with side of smoked cherry tomatoes; bush basil. 12 (ed note: Sprinkled with rock salt. The smoked tomatoes made the dish.)
2. Albacore Tuna ceviche with Avocado, currant tomato & fresh fried tortilla. 12 (ed note: As seen in the photo above. These folks are not afraid of the pepper grinder. Very nicely seasoned.)
3. BBQ Italian Sausage with Flaky Biscuits and savory summer berry compote. 11
4. Buttermilk & chive marinated Flounder fillet, coated in cornmeal & fried. With hushpuppies, coleslaw & hideaway hot sauce. 12
5. Fried chicken/salt potato Salad on a bed of mesculin(sic). Sides: sauteed okra & sweet sweet Melon. 11

1. Peaches roasted in duck confit with triple-cream KNNiK(?) cheese. Yes, you really do want this. 5 (ed note: oh.god.yes. But why only half a peach? Still... heavenly.)
2. Heirloom cucumber salad with vinegar & dill. 4
3. White corn on the cob. With butter. 2
4. Bobolink diary stinky cheese plate with chicken paté & beautiful seedless grapes. 5 (ed note: Holy cats! Ah do loves me some stinky cheese!)
5. Jersey maers with butter, chives & sea salt. 3

1. Golden Peach & Raspberry Pie 5 (ed note: None left. A deep sadness, indeed.)

1. Coconut/Lime Soda 3

[The Queen's Hideaway has A Bottle Fee (ed note: endearingly scribbled heart appears here) ]

The Queen's Hideaway
222 Franklin St (at Green)
Greenpoint, Bklyn

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Brown + Orange = Breakfast Bliss

Brown Cafe
Baked Eggs
Latte at Brown
Wheelbarrow Tomato Plant

To those who might secretly harbor notions that Paris or Milan have already cornered the market on enchantment, I submit Brown — a shoebox cafe on the Lower East Side with fantastic fresh food fare.

Details are affectionately observed. Fussiness is turned away at the door. Coffees and brunch are crafted with love and presented with the most quiet, subtle panache.

If you're curious about the food you'll be eating at Brown, simply stop by its petite next-door specialty-shop sister... Orange. Here's where you'll see the walls loosely lined with exotic, imported oils; the counter lineup of rich cheeses supplied by Mitica, the savory, fennel-scented sweet Italian sausages; the delightfully spicy chorizos; the juicy, organic cherry tomatoes. Lucky you... these are the components you'll soon see on your plate.

Morning sunshine. Outdoor seating. Eggs baked in tiny skillets. Idyllic, yes? Better yet, my dining companion informs me that a third sibling will soon be added to the taste triumvirate.

A sweet shop, he thinks. Guilding the latte, I think.

Brown & Orange
Brown on Urbanspoon
61 Hester St
(btwn Ludlow & Essex)
Lower East Side, NYC

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Oh! Sweet. Fleeting. Spell...

Brunch is a safer bet if you really want to score a seat.

Barrio Chino on the NYC Lower East Side:

  • A rich, smoky reposado tequila, flanked by sangrita, mango and jicama.

  • Exposed brick walls that float fancifully suspended cocktail umbrellas.

  • A cool mojito with coconut. Take it sweet or savory. They mull your mint and pinch your juicy lime wedges to order, naturally...

  • Fish tacos the like of which you haven't seen since that week on the Yucatán.

  • Sangria that rolls heady and silken across the tongue with easy, even balance such that a first sip is enough to renew your sense of wonder at how people can drink — much less claim to enjoy — the world's lesser cocktails.

Arrive at 7. This laid-back shop of delights is all yours. But don't get smug. You'll find your little treasure must be soon be shared with the rest of New York, all of whom will attempt to press their shapely frames through the door within two hours' time. Sip your nectar slowly and savor the moment while you can.

Barrio Chino
253 Broome St.
(Btwn Orchard & Ludlow)

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Quick Bites: HerringFest

Herring Salad

I'm now officially in love with the herring. A trip last week to Grand Central Oyster Bar's Herring Festival struck me smitten with the briny, oily flesh of these little guys.

You see the split display with chives, egg and radish above, but my favorite item was the apple, beet, sour cream, dill pickle and herring salad off the appetizer menu. A gorgeous balance of sweet, salty, creamy, fatty and sour. Brilliant.

The herring run occurs in the late spring, and there's mere days left in the fest, so if you're herring-inclined, don't delay...

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Ladies & Gentlemen, the BBQ will be televised...

Oh yes, my friends... it's that time of year again.

Here's my tips for surviving the 3rd annual Big Apple BBQ Block Party in NYC this weekend.

The Susquehanna Tool & Die Company sweat in their costumes before hitting the stage.

Don McLemore (Big Bob Gibson's grandson) slings smoky piles of pig at their mobile pit. McLemore, his wife, Caroline, and their son-in-law, Chris Lilly, have braved this madhouse event three years running.

Eleven Madison provides chocolate-chocolate cupcakes with cow and pig sprinkles.

Early attendees scarf down swine samples on the wing.

1. Show up before it begins at noon. By the time the dinner bell rings, you'd better be in line. With cash. (There's always that $100 Bubba Fast Pass for those who have money to burn, of course... and if you happen to know any of those people, please be a doll and send 'em my way.)

2. If you'd like to sample multiple 'cues (seize the day, people!), divide and conquer. Send someone out to each pit you want to taste. Have 'em buy multiple boxes.

3. Bring your own bottle of soda or water (or, hey! lemonade!) in your bag. No sense in paying a premium price and then having to carry it around. You'll need your hands for barbeque.

4. Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen.

5. Bring a blanket and stake out a spot in the shade on the lawn. From there, you can listen to music, revel in your superior attack plan and pity all the poor, sweaty masses queued up for 'cue.

Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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The Birth of an Entrée

Alas... my digi camera is dead dead dead. Mourning its decline, I perused my archives and thought y'all might enjoy this little "back of the house" tour from the perspective of a veg cook (one of my kitchen stations back in the day).

Keep in mind, we're not talking short-order slapdash here. This ain't no Denny's. This is how it's done in a *good* kitchen.

It's the foundation of your station. You never find a line cook in a high-end kitchen just standing around. There's always something to chop up or clean up. This is Davey making quick work of a ginger julienne.

Mis en place (mees-ehn-plahs).
It's all about prepwork and organization, folks. In this cooler drawer (called a lowboy) we find lovingly trimmed turnips, boiled potatoes, lamb bits, braised squash with mustard seeds, toasted coconut, blanched green beans and brussels sprouts, and on the upper left, roasted shallots, turnips and cauliflower, methinks... I can't remember what that reddish-colored stuff is. The meat cook made that.

On fire.
When you hear the order come in, down go the pans. This is a chickpea panisse for the lamb dish. You'll note the blue "side towel" in my friend's hand here. You don't see hot pads or oven mitts in professional kitchens. You see side towels, and god help you if you don't have a dry side towel, because you'll learn the conductivity of water in a heartbeat if you grab a hot handle with a wet towel. Zow!

The lineup.
These plates just came out of the warmer, so they're still pretty warm on the fingers. The veg generally goes in rings to shape it while it waits for the meat cook to finish slicing and fanning out the meat.

The product.
Here we see the lamb veg (turnips, potatoes, leeks and bits of lamb roast) and the afore-mentioned chickpea panisse just before the meat cook makes his addition. You'll note that my veg plays backup to that juicy spread of lamb. All this dish needs is a drizzle of sauce, a garnish, and an approval by the chef. I'm actually hungry just looking at it...

Chef puffs his cheeks, deep in thought.
Nothing goes out without scrutiny from the chef or whichever of his sous chefs happens to be manning the front line. He's got a whole palette of funky garnishes he can use to give your entrée a finishing touch. You know... stuff like finely chopped chives, cilantro chiffonade, mint chiffonade, microgreens, fried ginger, fried lotus root strips and the like.

Just in case any of this makes you hungry, all these photos were taken in the kitchen at Tabla (Corner of 24th & Madison, NYC). The chef is Floyd Cardoz, and the disembodied hands belong to my brother in arms, Dave S.

Miss Ginsu

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Cream-Filled Puff, a Cup of Joe and Thou.

Cream Puff and Coffee
A quiet moment with Papa.

For every trying moment in which the city is cruel and mean, there's another full of bliss and whimsy that makes my heart thump with love.

Sometimes, on a chilly March morning, all it takes is a perfectly crisp and airy cream puff, a hot cup of coffee and a bright, clean shop populated with cheery Japanese girls in sunny yellow neckerchiefs.

Thanks, Beard Papa. You saved the day.

Beard Papa's
740 Broadway
New York, NY

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Tangerines, I Say.

NYC restaurants are on a saffron kick these days, all aswirl with excitement over Cristo's miles of billowing fabric. I went today, and indeed... in the right beam of sunlight I could see saffron.

It's not that I don't love saffron. Truth is, I'm just mad about saffron. (heh...) But what I saw was tangerine. Miles and miles of tangerine. Flattened Clementines strung up in sheets. My eyes thus attuned to the color, I saw it everywhere for the rest of the afternoon. Tangerine scarves, tangerine subway seats, tangerine balloons and sweaters and traffic cones.

The Gates
The sun shone, the wind subsided, and all of New York stuffed into a few miles' space to gawk at The Gates.

So, in honor of The Gates and the tangerine, which both have a fleeting season that will soon end, I offer up a tangerine salad reminiscent of thousands of orange sheets against thousands of bare trees.

Tangerine-Frisee Salad

3 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp coarse-ground pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 small red onion, very thinly sliced
3 large tangerines segmented with peel and pith removed (or five small tangerines, peeled and segmented)
2 bunches frisee, stemmed, cut down, washed and dried

1. Cover the onion slices with ice water and let soak 30 minutes. Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette by whisking the vinegar with the mustard, pepper, salt and sugar.
2. Pour in the olive oil in a thin stream, whisking constantly until all the oil is incorporated.
3. Drain the onion slices, pat dry with paper towels and separate into rings.
4. Mix the tangerines, onions and the frisee lightly. Drizzle in vinaigrette and toss to coat. Serve immediately.

Miss Ginsu

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The Year of the Cock

Ugh... A Blogger publishing issue erased my post, and I'm too depressed to recreate it right now.

Here's the short version: Chinese New Year. Golden Unicorn restaurant in Chinatown. Awful Service. Decent Food. And a good time was had by all.

And... a photo of the Peking Duck Sandwich preparation for your viewing pleasure.

Peking Duck

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The Hipster/Domesticity Link

Enid's (2nd Annual) Apple Pie Contest

I imagine being a hipster must be so trying. I mean, the trend-spotting, look-innovating, show-hopping (so you can be the first to be bored by any given up-and-coming band), cheap-beer drinking and “I’m so done with all the mainstream bullshit” attitude maintenance must be exhausting.

That same cool-factor fatigue must account for the packed house last night at Enid’s in Greenpoint, Brooklyn (oh-so close to nearly-played-out Williamsburg) for their 2nd Annual Apple Pie Contest. Enid’s, home of cheap beer, satisfying Southern-style brunches, old-school arcade games and hipsters aplenty.

I brought a pie, thinking the competition would be easy pickin’s. I mean, please… I live food and couldn’t imagine the Enid’s population in my neighborhood producing much more than frozen pies and limp little tarts on a random Tuesday night.

Boy, was I ever wrong.

Through that double-door poured pies. All kinds of pies. Guys with bushy beards and tight cardigan sweaters carrying pies. Girls with dresses over jeans (yeah, I know you hate that look, K…) carrying pies. Cute little gay boys with their boyfriends carrying pies. At least twenty pies and a half-dozen judges. Everything from a cream-topped apple-peanut butter pie to a domed dessert with a Halloween-pumpkin style face (that one took top honors… damn good!).
Flat pies with crumble tops, one in a casserole dish, and an apple-pizza pie with olives and sausage (surprisingly nice).

The judges tasted. They tested. They rated. They raved. They convened, argued, re-tasted and reconvened. My own humble pie was among the group of re-tastings. The roomie squealed in delight as they picked at the crust and sampled an apple chunk.

I analyzed the judges with a fellow pie-maker, Mason (co-father of the PB-Apple pie), who observed, “It seems like hipsters are really into domesticity lately. Everyone I know is knitting or crocheting and baking. I mean, look around.” Indeed. The place was chock-full of the hip. They circled the pie table like sharks with plastic forks, waiting impatiently to dive in for the kill.

My pie (Granny Smith and Macintosh apples, standard crust, pastry vines and berries with an egg-wash and sprinkled turbinado sugar on top) garnered the “prettiest pie” prize… a title with honor, a T-shirt and two drink tickets.

The winner, one of those bushy-bearded lanky guys in Mason’s posse, looked dizzy with excitement. He gripped his recycled bowling trophy and free brunch tickets. He grinned like a child. And lucky for me, he happily spilled his pie-making secrets with all the passion of a hipster who’s found the coolest new thing.

All I can say is: I’m ready for next year.

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