Thursday, July 29, 2010

Mama's Little Baby Loves Shortnin' Bread

The song starts at about 3 minutes and 40 seconds in...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Life is a Feast

Today marks the one year anniversary since I started writing this blog. On July 27 of last year I wrote of it being “A Time to Eat,” a moment where we should be free to engage in the pleasures of food, to truly taste and appreciate all that food has to offer.

One year later it still is a time to eat, and yet my perception of food has changed over the last year. Sitting down to write about food a few times a month has further engrained in me, not only an appreciation for food, but all that motivates that desire for and the appreciation of the flavors of both food and life.

It is also a time of change. Much has changed for me over the last year—there have been ups and downs, love and anger, laughter and tears, and stress and relaxation. I finished my master’s degree, got myself accepted into a doctoral program, traveled to new places, reconnected with many old friends and made some new ones as well. Now I’m preparing to leave my job, relocate to a different state, and start a new chapter in my life.

And food has been there the whole time. Despite all the changes in my life it still remained a time to eat. I continued to engage with food on a daily basis and found that I could pour desire, confusion, or whatever emotion I was feeling into cooking or eating or discovering something new about food. I recognized that food has been used this way for ages, that it is a means to connect with people around the world and in the past. That it is a way to discover insights into the minds and stomachs of people who live far away or existed long ago.

Over the past year I also realized that a dish of food could be deconstructed—that each component could be traced back to different roots and that they carried different stories. Each bite can offer something along the lines of time travel into the past of each ingredient and the memories inherent in different foods.

I’ve traveled and written of travels and how food informed me about a place. In Albany I dreamed big while attempting to glean the gems of the Albany dining scene—the restaurants that help to satiate the growing foodie population in the Capital Region. In Hawaii I experienced perfection on the beach. In New York I tasted decadence. I reflected on delicate Loch Fyne oysters in England. The world quivered in each bite in each dish in each restaurant or kitchen—it filled the food with connections to lives and loves and births and deaths. Each little ingredient reacting to and experiencing the circumstances of the world until it eventually make its way to be eaten by you.

On this blog I also introduced the songs and quotes of the week to feature others who have reflected on food or created art that is crafted around the experience of eating. We’ve read the words of people throughout the ages who have waxed eloquent on food and eating, and we’ve listened to songs by musicians whose topics ranged from strawberry fields to eating grits for dinner to cooking breakfast for the one she loves.

For restaurant reviews I linked my blog to Urbanspoon, which has yielded over a thousand views by complete strangers. The numbers are bit mind boggling to me, as the current count is 789 views of my Hawaii restaurant reviews, 68 for Albany, and 308 for New York City, but I have to admit it’s pretty sweet.

I wrote of food in the context of various topics, such as sex, painting, and memory. Is there anything that food can’t be connected with? Does it not weave seamlessly into our lives? These connections will continue to be topics on this blog, and I’m always open to new suggestions from all you foodies out there.

Overall it’s been a good year for writing about food. There have been plenty of tasty meals, great people, and amazing times in my feast of life. And I’m sure there’s much more of it all headed my way…

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Going camping is a great way to spend time in the summer, but just because you’re roughing it in the wilderness doesn’t mean you can’t eat well. I recently went camping with my sister in the beautiful Shawangunk Mountains of New Paltz, New York, and we cooked ourselves some fabulous meals over the campfire.

When cooking food while camping tin foil is your best friend. You can wrap almost anything in tinfoil, throw it in the fire, and soon have a meal. We wrapped up everything the night before, stuck it in a fridge, then transferred it into the cooler before we hit the road, and when Friday night came after a day of hiking and waterfalls, we were ready to cook and eat.

On the menu was barbecue chicken, potatoes, and corn on the cob. For the chicken I opted for pre-cut wings. I wanted to use the small pieces to help speed up the cooking process, and since all the pre-cut wings are close in size it would ensure they all cooked at the same speed. In a bowl we tossed the wings with barbecue sauce. Now usually I try to avoid pre-made sauces that are loaded with high fructose corn syrup, but I have to admit that something about Jack Daniel’s barbecue sauce has a hold on me. We mixed together two different kinds—original spicy and hickory brown sugar, coating each wing in the sweet and spicy sauce. Then we piled the chicken into the tinfoil and stuck it the fridge so all the flavors could melt into the meat overnight.

Similarly, we tossed baby red potatoes (again opting for a small size to help speed up the cooking process) in olive oil, salt, and pepper and wrapped them in foil. For the corn we set out squares of foil and rubbed a stick of butter on one side of the foil and sprinkled it with salt and pepper. Then we carefully wrapped up each cob so it would be coated in the butter when it cooked.

When it was time to eat we built the fire and let some coals form, I moved the sticks out of one section of the fire and placed the chicken and potatoes in the heat. I knew the corn would take less time to cook, so I simply placed them on a rock by the fire and moved them closer when the other food was nearly done. Because I couldn’t tell how hot the temperature of the fire actually was, I simply had to guess on the cooking time. After twenty minutes I rearranged the chicken and potatoes, hoping to ensure an even cooking process. After another twenty minutes had gone by I decided to check to see if they were done, and voila, they were perfect! The meat was just cooking through and fell delightfully off the bone. The potatoes were nice and soft on the inside and crispy on the outside where some cinders and found their way into the foil packet. And the corn was perfect—sweet and buttery and perfectly cooked.

We swallowed it all down with some Sailor Jerry’s dark rum mixed with just a splash of home-made lemonade, appropriately sipped in Dollar Store Christmas mugs. The dinner was a success, followed by a dessert of toasted marshmallows and a late-night snack of Jiffy Pop.

For breakfast I woke up and stirred the still-hot ashes, placing just a few sticks and twigs to get the fire going again. After we got some hot coals we threw in the remaining potatoes so they would heat up again. Then we placed a small pan on the coals with just a bit of olive oil. I cracked in four farm-fresh eggs and stirred them up. They fluffed up beautifully with rich white and yellow colors. After a little salt and pepper they were done.

Breakfast requires coffee, even when you’re in the woods, so we made cowboy coffee. In a small pot we added coffee grounds and water and set it on the hot coals. It took a very long time, but eventually the water began to bubble and the grounds sunk to the bottom of the pot. Although it’s best to use a ladle to scoop out the hot coffee, we didn’t have one, so instead we just poured in out of the pot right into our mugs. Despite a few grounds in the coffee, it was dark, rich, and tasty. After a hearty, campfire breakfast we were ready for more hiking and swimming and the general awe-inspiring beauty of the Shawangunk Mountains.

So foodies, don’t fret! Even in the woods you’ll be okay without your caviar, shaved truffles, and extra virgin olive oil. Some of the best food is cooked simply over an old-fashioned campfire, so pack up your tents, sleeping bags, hiking boots, and a cooler full of fresh ingredients and tinfoil, and get cooking!

A Merrier World

"If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world."

--J. R. R. Tolkien

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Louis' Lunch

While doing some historical research at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, last month, we took one of our lunch breaks at a fabulous little spot called Louis’ Lunch. This burger joint has been around since it started out as a lunch wagon in 1895, and it holds the title of the oldest hamburger restaurant still in operation in the United States. The menu is simple—burgers, chips, and soda. The burgers are more like burger sandwiches on two slices of white bread rather than on a big, thick bun. Each burger is made to order, which accounts for the crowded atmosphere as hungry customers wait in lines that creep around the restaurant and out the door.

The Web site for Louis’ Lunch claims that their “burgers are made fresh daily; hand-rolled from a proprietary blend of five meat varieties and cooked to order in the original cast-iron grills dating back to 1898.” The Lassen family, who has owned and operated Louis’ Lunch for four generations, “hold firm on their desire not to offer any condiments. The Louis Lunch experience is about the taste and simplicity of a fresh burger grilled to perfection. Cheese, tomato, and onion are the only acceptable garnish.”

A cheeseburger with tomato and onion (known as the “Cheese Works”) was precisely what I ordered. The bread was nice and toasty, the meat was perfectly cooked, the onions were just right, and the tomato was a thin slice of delight. All these components were held together with gooey melted cheese. I enjoyed my Cheese Works immensely, all washed down with a ginger ale made from a soda company in East Haven called Foxon Park.

As we dined, a sign above us indicated that we should not expect to get things our way. Rather, we would get things their way, and we would like it:

Apparently the person I was with didn’t take the sign seriously enough and attempted to ask the cooks for ketchup. They told her it was a bring-your-own-ketchup place, which seemed to perturb her a bit. I, however, was very satisfied without any ketchup at all.
For a reasonably priced, delicious, and historic burger you should definitely check out Louis’ Lunch in New Haven, Connecticut. And even when the line is out the door, it’s still worth the wait!

Louis' Lunch on Urbanspoon

I Shall Remember that Sundae

"I shall remember that sundae all my life. In a sumptuous confectioner's shop, light, airy, full of fragrance, we were served with a mountain of coffee ice cream, sprinkled with cream and scattered with walnuts, honey, peanuts, and various fruits. When I carried the first spoonful to my mouth…my taste buds experienced a violent ecstasy. A whole opera of sensation rolled off my tongue…"

--Henri Troyat

Mamoun's Falafel

The last time I was down in New York City, my sister and I took a jaunt to Mamoun’s Falafel in the East Village. She claimed it was the best and yet the cheapest falafel around, so I knew I had to try it out. She was right—it was amazing.

For $2.50 I got a falafel sandwich with falafel, tomato, lettuce, and tahini sauce all wrapped up in a little pita pocket. The falafel was still warm and rather than being placed in the pita as fully formed spheres of fried chickpeas, it was chopped up into little pieces with just the right amount of crunch paralleled with perfect softness. The veggies accompanying the falafel were cool, crisp, and refreshing, and the tahini was delightful.

I also tried some of their hot sauce, which Mamoun’s Web site claims will make anything taste magical. Now, just to warn you, their hot sauce is actually hot unlike some places that claim to have “hot” sauce when it’s actually tamer than a stroll through the park. I have a pretty high tolerance for heat and spice thanks to living one summer in the city of Chengdu in Sichuan Provence, China, where hot numbing peppers and other intense spices abound in the cuisine. But Mamoun’s sauce blew me out of the water. My sister warned me it was very hot and said just to use a little. Knowing my high tolerance I put on what I thought was just a little. The flavors were incredible in the sauce, but when I took a big bite of a particularly drenched section of the falafel it was just too much. My eyes started watering and my nose running and the sauce burned the outside of my mouth where it had smeared. Luckily I had a cool beverage, but truth be told I had to avoid that section of the falafel for the rest of the meal. My advice is to take a bit of the sauce and just dip the falafel pita into it so that if it’s too hot for you, at least you’ve salvaged the rest of your sandwich. It was, however, quite magical.

Despite my overheated incident, the falafel at Mamoun’s was truly the best I’ve had. It’s difficult now to fork over seven or eight bucks for an inferior falafel, but since the East Village is a bit of hike for me right now, it looks like I’ll be waiting a while for more fabulous falafel. If you find yourself in the area, definitely take a walk over to Mamoun’s Falafel for some of the best, and cheapest, falafel out there.

Mamoun's Falafel on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Spoonful of Sugar

A Table Without Love

"A table without love is like beef without mustard, an insipid dish."

--Anatole France

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Roast Pig and Independence

"But what was most remarkable, Broadway being three miles long, and the booths lining each side of it, in every booth there was a roast pig, large or small, as the centre attraction. Six miles of roast pig! And that in New York City alone; and roast pig in every other city, town, hamlet, and village in the Union. What association can there be between roast pig and independence?"

--Frederick Marryat, describing a Fourth of July celebration (1837)