Sunday, February 24, 2008

"Cultural imperialist guilt"... the best line in this article from the NYT.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, the L.A. Times reports on shiso, a herb that's recently become trendy in the States. The article's courtesy of Mr. Sohovich, who asked if I had ever heard of it; I hadn't, but I've definitely eaten it: Korean restaurants include it as part of their banchan, the set of small dishes that accompany a typical meal. It's marinated and eaten leaf by leaf, and unfortunately, I'm not a fan. From what I've heard anecdotally, it's a love-it-or-hate-it herb.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

We know more than we thought we did?

Last weekend, I met up with Hank, who was in the Yard for a quiz bowl tournament. I was able to stick around to watch one of the rounds, and was proud that I recognized the plot of Fargo without ever having seen it (Minnesota, represent!). I became even more elated when I recognized Anthony Bourdain from various quotes, before the "clincher hint" that referenced his television show and book of the same name, Kitchen Confidential.

After dinner, I tagged along with him and a few of his teammates for dinner. Apparently all restaurants in Harvard Square are crowded at 8 pm on Saturday nights, or the influx of high school debaters (and coaches) that weekend just decided to fill up all the seats there (and those visiting prefrosh at Annenberg). After checking out Le's, Uno's, and Bartley's (still taking orders in a twenty-person line outside!), we settled on Bertucci's for the legit pizza and the free bread.

But Bertucci's was no exception to the horrors of a dinner line. When we asked for the wait, we were told "typically twenty-five minutes, but thirty-five for all of you" - which makes sense because we weren't the only seven-person group queuing up. So it was a long wait which became equally ridiculous when we realized that a) they only had one large-sized table, b) that thirty-five minute wait approached fifty-five minutes, and c) the servers told us that "we're running out of chairs" and couldn't put a spare chair up against a booth.

Service was fairly prompt - for having to deal with seven starving students who had to wait that long - although somewhat disparate; one waiter was significantly more helpful than the other. Good, but not ridiculously delicious, Bertucci's appeal lies in the free bread - hot, soft and not doughy with a crunchy crust - and the consistency of the food (although the tomato sauce is a little thin, the pizza crust was remarkably similar to the bread - which was a good thing).

The best part of the meal: not having to figure out how much to pay or how to calculate tip with six MIT students around - three of them who were math majors. Whew.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Food: The Lit Review

What Hilary Eats, Hilary Gets

We all know Mike Huckabee can pull off the barbeque bib, but can Hilary?

Hopefully, all the candidates will each get a gastronomic profile...not that it would sway my vote.

Keep Your Laptop in the Kitchen

This Strib article refers to online cooking communities and bloggers, but emphasizes how most people share recipes: over the Internet. I can't say I'm surprised - and I definitely can't say that I'm unhappy about it. Comparing uploaded recipes to handwritten family recipes is like comparing the Kindle to a well-read copy of The Great Gatsby: no one can replace the latter, but technology opens up these ideas to a whole new demographic. I'm incredulous at what you can do with it - for example, we improvised homemade salsa for my sister's Super Bowl party, but were able to cross-check the ingredients online.

Chocolate doesn't have that much caffeine...

so I don't feel as guilty posting an NYT article about it here that discusses milk chocolate's recent comeback against the yuppie dark chocolate trend. No longer declasse, it's gourmet. Admittedly, I was one of those percentage snobs (as you can see in a previous post), but since then, I've been working my way back to milk chocolate. That said, it's difficult; although I know that milk chocolate has a "better" texture than the brittle bitter, sometimes I find it too rich (and occasionally too saccharine). Not saying that dark chocolate can't be rich (case in point: Burdick's), but the bitter almost buffers that overwhelmingly one-dimensioned taste.

And seeing as I can't participate in the sponsored wine-tastings here, I guess I'll have to settle for describing chocolate with "hefty bouquet" terms.

(Last two articles were graciously provided by Mr. Sohovich.)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Note to Self

In the spirit of other friends' recent reminders to themselves on their blogs, I'd like to share a recent epiphany-resolution of mine from ten minutes ago:

For one week, I will not be drinking caffeine products (effectively starting 12 midnight, Saturday the 23rd, until 12 midnight, March 1).

If I had wanted to sound more impressive, I could also say - with equal truthfulness - that I won't be consuming anything with caffeine for the rest of the month. I share this with you because it is highly likely that I will - or come very close to - breaking this rule, and I'd appreciate some enforcement as it would be highly entertaining for me. It could also be highly entertaining for the rest of you if you had a betting pool going on this, but I digress.

I'm fairly confident that I am not dependent on caffeine. Although I do enjoy drinking coffee, my main reason for doing so is because of the taste and not because of the energy boost. I imagine that any hyperactivity on my part from drinking coffee comes from the sugar that's been added; I was raised on decaf. And really, for me, coffee is a craving for Starbucks, and not the cadaver-grey fluid from the d-hall (even if it is free trade).

That said, I may have developed some tolerance through my daily consumption of tea. While I do reduce the flavor by using soy milk as a buffer (more about this amazing combination later), the entire process of making a spot o' tea has become an ingrained habit, which brings me to my reasoning for why I'm missing out on the caffeine:

Because Wheaties is the breakfast of champions, and I got dressed at 11, I missed out not only on cereal but also on being a champion today. My bad, especially since today, being a champion is synonymous with "finishing my Expos draft." Because my brainpower wasn't fueled with the necessary fiber, I couldn't think - all the way until 2:30, when I resolved to pick-myself-up with a little caffeine.

But then, my mind-tongue connection slipped and I asked for an expresso.

The cashier put on her matronly face, raising one eyebrow, but didn't ask questions. "Here you go, honey."

I looked down at it. It was tiny. And then I realized why I needed to memorize coffee menus by heart; by definition, an expresso is the shot-sized cup with concentrated coffee. Not the Americano I wanted (watered down expresso in a larger cup), not brewed coffee, not even a ghetto latte that would have frozen my hands on the way to the library.

It was too late to switch orders, and while I marveled at the size of the cup ("It's so cute - the perfect size for my five-year-old son!") I had no idea how to drink it. Maybe like in communion - taking it down in a beat?

Oh, but I was not so brave. It took me three sips, but only one to realize how bitter it was; even an hour later, the aftertaste is still on my tongue.

So in conclusion, forgive my increasingly incoherent post and remind me that there was a direction this caffeine jolt was supposed to take me: towards the conclusion of my paper.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Coolio, Literally.


I hope you clicked the Newsweek link - I can't tell if I'm somewhat appalled, amazed, or just laughing so hard that I don't know what I'm typing. The interview is hilarious.

I'd like to think that I'm amazed - despite my dislike of celebrity chefs, it's hard to dislike someone who acknowledges him as a celebrity first and cook second. It does feel tongue-in-cheek though. Coolio is almost winking at the camera, really...

That said, Coolio brings up a good point when he talks about affordability, although he exaggerates a bit. (While Kobe beef would make my day, a terrible chef can't just add truffles to their dishes to make a masterpiece. It'd be expensive; it'd still be crap. If I might add to my own cred, I'd paraphrase that as "it's not about the bling.")

We watch the Food Network and cooking shows for two reasons: 1) to be amazed by what we cannot do, and 2) to learn. Coolio's show leans toward the second...but we do become amazed by his entertainment. And who wouldn't try Blasian or Ghitalian food?

Friday, February 15, 2008

"I'm sorry, I can't make out with you..."

...when you have steak breath." (Courtesy of Tara.)

If you clicked on the NYT link above, then wonderful; if not, go back above and read it. The gist is that vegan-omnivore couples have to accommodate each others' dietary preferences, but since people have different standards, it makes for easily-make-and-break relationships.

A few particularly interesting snippets from the article:

Vegans, who avoid eating not just animals but animal-derived products, take it further, shivering at the thought of kissing someone who has even sipped honey-sweetened tea.

See post title above. Also, I vividly remember a similar sentiment from a previous article about searching for vegan relationships...
Judging from postings at food Web sites like and
, people seem more willing to date those who restrict their diet for health or religion rather than mere dislike.

Typical sentiments included: “Medical and religious issues I can work around as long as the person is sincere and consistent, but flaky, picky cheaters — no way” and “picky eaters are remarkably unsexy.”

If we do a "shallow text analysis" of this, we can see that being vegan is linked with infidelity, thanks to the juxtapositions of "picky cheater." Also, unsexiness.
Could it be that pickiness stems from a person's unwillingness to change? And what does that say about my removing cilantro from everything?

To defend myself, I would say that taste is subjective and that I've also been exposed to cilantro for most of my life. The acquired taste clearly hasn't kicked in. I think you could make the same argument with simply picky eaters, as long as they're not declaring moral superiority as their sole reason for going vegan.

So, next question: would I date a vegan? The answer is no. I'm not going to use the "different cultures" argument, because to say that would undercut the importance of learning from others and even diversity. But if we do consider veganism to be a lifestyle - or even for some, a religion in its own right - then it makes sense to not date a vegan if our value systems - and not simply cultural backgrounds - are incompatible.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

New York, Day 3

My final day in New York consisted of redemption at the Peking Duck House (28 Mott St./
New York, NY, 10013/212.227.1810
and 236 East 53rd St./New York, NY, 10022/212.759.8260), where we had originally planned to eat Saturday night. But thanks to the Fung Wah stop's location, we just happened to be in Chinatown.

Having arrived for a late lunch, we went straight into the main dining room (there was another one downstairs). The full length window of the Peking Duck House was shrouded by a red curtain, but the interior of the restaurant was not the hole-in-the-wall that I had expected.

We promptly got to work with the menu. Of course, Peking duck was on the list. The restaurant offers an Peking Duck Dinner special ($26.50 per n persons for a Peking duck and n-2 dishes - I couldn't explain it without the 'n's...), but we opted for the actual dish ($40) because we wanted to go a la carte. For other dishes, we chose homemade noodles with beef ($9.25) and more hollow vegetables (ordered 'off the menu' - in any case, it's usually there in Chinese restaurants).

Another habit - before Peking duck is served, it is shown to the customer so that he or she can approve of its size and how it's been cooked. (I might that Peking duck is notoriously hard to make - we actually talked about this while we waited for lunch. My sister's friend had prepared one, but had to hang it in his kitchen for three weeks.) This time, the chef actually hacked (in politer terms, I mean cut - not hax0rz) the duck in front of us, although he left a significant part of the meat on the duck, probably for someone else's duck soup.

The duck was placed promptly on the table with pancakes, cucumbers, green onions and hoisin sauce...which shouldn't be confused with duck sauce nor plum sauce. We wrapped all the ingredients in the pancake (really a very thin tortilla), and it was amazing that I might've as well hummed. The cucumbers were refreshingly crisp as was the duck skin (not quite as red as it is in Minnesota) against the chewy pancake, which was a little bit more thick than I would have liked. On the other hand, the dark meat was rich, deeply flavored, and the oil that mingled with it made the pancake taste better.

As for the noodles - I had expected brazenly shaven handcut noodles, similar to that of Joy Restaurant (one of my favorite restaurants in the Bay Area). At Peking Duck House, though, what homemade noodles seemed to mean were metal noodle cutters wielded in Chinatown. That said, the preparation is still legit in my opinion. Although the noodles were thin, they were well-textured and tasty - it didn't resemble the same shape as chow fun, but since it contained bean sprouts, beef strips and onions, it sure tasted like it. Finally, the hollow vegetables were delicious. They weren't particularly special, but they had been cooked in clean oil, and instead of the typical garlic stir-fry, scallions had been added to the mix.

Overall, the meal was a little pricey for a regular lunch - there was definitely a 'duck premium' added, but it was well worth a trip. We then headed over to Tai Pan Bakery. Again, mistaken assumptions - with its purple exterior and metal covered lunch counters, I thought it was a bakery for tourists. It turns out that it's a well-known Chinatown establishment...and that it was packed. I took a sesame ball for the trip (that's not my picture, though). It was two-point-five-inch-diameters of fried goodness, and the oil got on my fingers, even through the wax paper slip it came in. When I bit inside, there wasn't a lot of red bean paste to be found though, but even after two hours on the bus, it was still, weirdly enough, simultaneously crisp and chewy...but not crunchy.

And well - that concludes this short intersession trilogy. Stay tuned.