Thursday, November 20, 2008

Asian Smashed Potatoes

Yesterday morning was a stressful day. For those that know me, I have a pervert for a landlord and yesterday I knew I was going to have to see him, even if I managed to actually not speak to him.

I usually keep my breakfast at work and come in a few minutes early to wolf something down before I actually clock in (I also read the news and catch up on my Yahoo Groups at this time). But I wasn't at work yesterday morning (pervert appointment) I was scramblin to find something quick and yummy to eat and given I'm not picky, wound up microwaving a red bliss potato for breakfast.

When it popped out of the oven, I decided to do my usual thing, which is use toasted sesame oil and worstichiere sauce on top instead of butter. I was reaching into the cupboard for some salt and pepper when I had a flash of genius and spied my bottle of Ume Plum vinegar. Now the biggest problem with Ume Plum vinegar is it's salty, so I sprinkled some on instead of the pink Himilayan sea salt (that Sally bought for me over a year ago) with my pepper.

Wow. I'm talking toe curling wow. I obviously haven't worked out perportions or anything, but I can so see this being a smashed potato recipe with some 5 spice blend added. Now, I don't know a single person who would be willing to do an asian dish for Thanksgiving, but I'm going to try and spread the word.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Vampire Day

I have a secret. The reason I never went to medical school, or became a vet tech or worked in medicine is I hate blood and needles. I always have to the point I was terrified of my mother's sewing machine growing up.

Ever since 9/11 I've made it a point to donate blood on a regular basis to honor not only the victims, but also all those military personelle who risk their lives on a daily basis because of bad choices the rest of us keep making (about who should be president, etc.).

Anyway (and I'm about to start ranting in a moment) our job makes it easy. There about 4 blood drives a year, we get gifts, lots of free cookies, brownies, juice, fruit and a chance to win $100 gift certificates. And only about 50 people could be bothered to donate blood this time around. Okay, WTF. I know there are reasons not to donate. Hell, I had to take iron supplements for a year and couldn't donate, but out of over 1,000 people, more than 50 should be able to take the time to give a pint.

I am so freaking PO'd (not my first words of choice on the subject). Why is it I keep reminding people we are at war? Do you know what happens in a war? Bullets flying, blood splattering. Where are people's brains (our's not the soildiers who just got his splattered on the inside of a tank)? I'm so at a loss. I keep wondering if I set myself up to be disappointed in people. I might be a left wing liberal nut job, but at least I know the value of civic duty.

one thing my beautiful friend Filomena taught me (and yes, I spelled her name right) is that you need to lead your life as if the world is really the one you want to live in. That means you do the right thing, even though you know that it won't be reciprocated just because it's the right thing and you wish everybody else would join in. Then again, I also know why Filomena is depressed all the time.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Vote Early, Vote Often

I woke up 10 minutes to 6am in order to vote this morning. Never before have i waited on line, but this morning it took about 1.5 hours to cast my ballot. And my roommate and I were lucky we didn't have to wait longer. We arrived maybe 6:05 to find a line around the corner and nearly completely down the street. 1 hour on line listening to the stories of the neighborhood from those who grew up there (I might be a native Brooklynite, but I didn't grow up in Brooklyn). When we got through the front doors of the school, I grabbed my roommate and headed for our voting booth. Others had to spend at least .5 hours having their district looked up for them. We still had to wait at least .5 hours for the 5 people in front of us to vote. Again, lucky because some other districts had at least 25 -50 people on that line. We then headed for the coffee shop before going home.

My roommate showered for work and I designed and sewed up a tv remote pouch for us to hang off the coffee table. I'm still debating whether or not to staple this directly to the coffee table or use grommets and a grosgain ribbon. I think I'm gonna K-I-S-S this one and just staple it down.

I'm proud of my design. I used 2 $.50 napkins I purchased a few years ago during my first trip to a Target store (in Jersey with Filomena). I didn't want to rip the seams, so i used one for the back cut to the length of the table (1 raw edge) and the second napkin was cut the length of the pouch and then I cut off the side seams (3 raw edges). I then cut a fabric insert (so you wouldn't see the underside of the napkin and you'd have a little contrast in fabric) and straight stitched the top edge right under that top seam. I also sewed up the 2 bottom raw edges. Then I folded over the side edges for the back and top stitched those down creating one big pocket. I sized my remote pockets and sewed divisions leaving a large pocket for netflix DVDs and mailers (get them off the table please).

I did have to leave the thing on top of the table so that my roommate doesn't get home and go "what the hell happened to my DVDs and the remote controls". But tonight I guess I have a date with the staplegun (and Trader Joe's to pick up coffee).

Monday, October 13, 2008

The physics (or chemistry) of homeopathy

Got invited to an interesting lecture this past Friday given by the Amazing Randi. It was a last minute thing, and of course since i didn't have anything better to do, I thought I'd join the nerds for what seemed to be at least an interesting lecture. First, you'd be amazed at how many nerds showed up (including me). Definitely, SRO.

The Amazing Randi is a sceptic and famous debunker of spiritualists. This includes those Sunday morning faith healers as well as new age healers etc. Unfortunately, most of the lecture consisted of his old Johnny Carson tracks. But that doesn't mean you couldn't learn something. For instance, he pointed out that some famous marketing products make such ridiculous claims that he couldn't understand how the average educated person (high school by the way) would fall for them. For instance, he pulled out a advertisement for shoes with magnets in the soles to help the wearer with circulation (since Iron is a metal, the magnet pulls the iron in the blood and helps circulations). There was something about unipolar magnets in the ad and the Amazing Randi rightly pointed out that such a thing existed, it would win the noble prize (once again high school physics, no magnet can be unipolar).

The most interesting part of the lecture had to do with homeopathy and actually analyzing the claims. The idea behind homeopathy is that you can cure an ailment by giving a small dosage of the cause of the ailment. For instance (e.g. by Randi) homeopathic sleeping pills are made with caffeine. But as the Amazing Randi pointed out, based on the dilution used, if you calculate the molar properties, you would find that you would need to take about 1,000,000 homeopathic pills before you even managed to potentially ingest even one molecule of caffeine.

Hurray, for science.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Blind People and Wheel Chairs

I have been avoiding posting because I know I'm gonna write about my perverted landlord (or managing agent as the case may be) but this happened just this past week and I'm still so peeved.

When I get a day off, I try to schedule a day with my friend Cynthia and her mom, Bess. Bess is in a wheelchair. She isn't really that old, but as she ages, she gets frailer and frailer and she has had to rely more and more on others to get around. Despite this, she is still very independant and she has more strength of character than most people simply because she now has to rely on others for the most basic things, like help going to the bathroom.

When I first met Bess, she was using a walker and doing her best to remain active. She didn't want to give up her independence or have a stranger in her house. Suprisingly she gets out more now that she is in a wheelchair than she ever did on the walker.

Anyway, the reason I try to visit at least once a month is that my friend Cynthia cannot lift her mom's wheelchair, so in order for her mom to get someplace that isn't within walking distance, they need a 3rd wheel. I realized how important our "little adventures" are when I invited them to join me for a trip to Costco one weekend (on Amber's membership no less) and she put on lipstick for the event. Few placed in NY are wheelchair accessible, and adventures usually consist of shopping trips (what a novel idea, to pick out your own clothes) or the movies and dinner (Siam Orchid on Emmons Ave. is our favorite).

Anyway, Cynthia was in charge of a Big Politico Party at the NY Aquarium and she asked me to attend so that her mother would have a companion for the evening. Even though I had to leave work half an hour early, I said yes. Poor Cynthia was busy shmoozing with the likes of Marty Markowitz and me and her mom wandered around the animals until the Sealion show and dinner. (I'll digress for another moment and tell you Ayvek's baby boy looks just like him and I can't wait till he turns 4, Spook is off exhibit but doing fine at 46, Fonzie has been retired from show business but also doing fine and the Sea Otters [I could never tell Spanky & Danny apart] have grown to their full size and are gorgeous).

So, why am I mad? You have no idea how badly the other guests treated Bess. The few people who spoke to us, talked to her like she's an idiot while the rest avoided us. Seating for dinner was open and we were given a prime table, but no others would join us. I'm not just talking about the guests (which included the new Army commander at Fort Hamilton) but Cynthia's co-workers (and my former co-workers). We were 2 people alone at a table for 8. I can also tell you, that if the former director was there (Paul Boyle) this would have never happened. He would have made it a point to join us for part of the evening along with his wife despite the big muckity mucks hanging around.

Now that is not to say me and Bess didn't enjoy ourselves despite the situation. I have a feeling she is used to it, but despite the fact I see it, I don't get it. When did an infirm body mean an infirm mind? In a world with people like Steven Hawkings, you would think people would get it.

Anyway, I was so mad, I was ready to volunteer at a VA hospital with wheelchair bound vets, until my friend Barbara pointed out that only way for me to do something like that would be between 2-4am every other Wenesday. Then again, I'm not the type of person who actually let's reality dictate how I spend my non-existant free time. Let's see what I can do.

Friday, August 8, 2008

A Tribute to Alison or How to Make Mush

My friend Alison has been a busy mom lately and she contacted me yesterday to ask about starting a lifestyle blog. Imagine her surprise when I told her I already did and it wasn't even that hard (although since this is a work computer I can't add pictures).

Anyway, Alison has money issues. Okay, the biggest issue is her sponging lazy in-laws and she wanted to include some money saving tips in her blog (how to prepare a dinner for 10 for $20) so this is for her.

Mush has a bad reputation thanks to the Little Rascals. You remember the scenes ("oh no, mush again" or "don't drink the milk, it's spoiled"). And across the pond it has an even worse reputation where they call the stuff gruel. But if you ask the average person they don't even know what either one is. Well, all this stuff is basicly the same thing as porridge, or farina, or grits or pudding or the countless of other names given to a thick pasty mixture made up of mostly water and a grain (even polenta counts).

The basic difference between all these different names is the grain used. Porridge is made from oats. Gruel can really be made from anything. Mush is made from ground corn meal and grits from ground hominy which is just dried corn treated with an acid (which basicly pre-digests your food for you). These are actually some of the cheapest, healthiest, easiest eats a person can get. Generations of people quite litterally survived the plague on this stuff. Where the gentry quite literally died from malnutrition due to a diet that consisted mainly of rotting proteins, the peasants managed to both work in the field and survive on this stuff (that could be whipped up in minutes and stayed good for days). Okay so I wouldn't want to have it every day for the rest of my life, but I can definetly see having it every weekday for a year.

Would you believe I was actually introduced to Mush by my "Tia Broncha" when I stayed with her in Puerto Rico. I was in my early 20's at the time and I couldn't believe that somthing so simple, easy and delicious had such a bad reputation.

Okay, I'll try and give approximate amounts here, but realize, like any traditional cook, I have no idea about measurements unless I'm following a written recipe (and my aunt certainly didn't write this down for me). But give it a try.

She put about 1/2 cup of corn meal (masa maize) into a pan on the stove. In a microwave safe dish she would put about 1 cup of water with raisins and 1/2 a cinnamon stick and heat until just under a boil. Once the water was heated, she would slowly pour over corn meal while stirring vigerously so you don't get lumps. In this case, it's important not to let the raisins drop into the mix until the end. Once smooth, she would add milk to get the right consistency (a thinnish oatmeal consistency) while heating the pan over the stove which made it thicker. Then she would sweeten (usually with sugar), but now is the time to add really anything you want and truly make it your own. Add vanilla, or more cinnamon, or cardamon, cumin, should know the drill.

Okay, do you want to know the best part of this, as it gets cold, it thickens into a pudding. No, not the jello box kind, the real pudding stuff, blanche mange, the stuff they used to eat in Little Women and housewives used to make at home until Jello spoiled it all. All I can say is wow, and it's worth it.

Really give it a try. It'll make you happy and you can now eat pudding for breakfast too (and you don't have to be British or Irish and worry about the pigs to do it).

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Holy Trinity

As many people who I have regaled with my Christmas Epiphany story, I am not a religious person. But if your visiting New York you should take a peak at these places. If you live here and haven't yet indulged, then shame on you. This is something I wrote about a year ago, and have sent individually to many friends, but now I post for all the world to see (and eat hopefully)

Food on the upper west side : Each of these three places deserves and has their own special and excellent reputation. The only reason I’m putting them together is – well the whole is more that just the sum of its parts. The whole is pretty much an experience to be reckoned with and as a New Yorker I thank the lord I can reckon with it on a pretty frequent basis (did you ever notice the only time I ever get religious is when foods involved?). And I can say you pretty much have to thank the Jews for this incredibly delicious conflagration that managed to occur and survive.
I am not well versed in either the historical of sociological history of the upper west side, but I’m about to give you my opinion and analysis of how this amazing experience came into being. Just beware that this little story I tell is based on rumor, innuendo, old wives tales and just a little bit of family history to boot (okay, it’s bullshit, but it’s supposed to be funny bullshit so just read and enjoy). Back in the day when everybody kept to their own kind, the Eastside (Park Avenue, 5th Avenue, Madison Avenue) was over taken by the WASPS of the world. Needless to say, WASPS don’t eat and back in the day, they didn’t even bother to eat salad. But that’s not the point of this story, the point of this story is that WASPS took over the East side and kept anybody who wasn’t a WASP and who didn’t work for them and disappear into the woodwork, out.
What you may not have known is that one of the reasons Jews have been such successful business men in history is that part of the religion dictates that to be a good Jew you must teach your children to read the bible. In a world where illiteracy was common, this was a major step up from the general population. Another benefit is that the Hebrew alphabet is also a numbers system, so to learn to read involved learning math and hence the tradition of being an accountant was born. More importantly, unlike WASPS, Jews love to eat. This is often a over looked aspect of the religion because, let’s face it, the traditional Jewish holiday foods leave a great deal to be desired (e.g. leg of lamb so dry it reminds you of the desert, flunken that is about as appetizing as it’s name, and the ubiquitous gefilte fish and the gelatin that it’s found in that my sibs and I kindly called “fish snot”). Jews are also great bargain hunters and will forever search out where they can get the best bang for their buck. Hence thank the Jews who populated the west side giving rise to a multitude of wonderful stores that specialize in great food at good prices (or thank those WASPS who forced to Jews onto the West side to begin with).

Fairway’s – Okay, this is the original, my first and still my favorite although as it has grown over the years, I’ve found my passion for it fading just a little bit. What makes Fairway’s stick out on this tour is its’ produce. Okay, and the fact they were the first place in NYC I found carried Schrafenberg’s chocolate. The sale items line the sidewalk just tempting you every time you pass by. When you enter you are greeted by the yummiest of sights and smells. This is especially tempting on a chilly day when you can picture yourself in a kitchen cooking up a storm. The great thing about Fairway’s piles of fruits and vegetables is that you don’t have to wade through them in order to find that unbruised one or something a little fresher that won’t rot on you by the next day. It’s all good, it’s all fresh and it’s all great quality (and did I mention the variety, I seem to recall about 10 different types of apples). This goes for everything in the store. The Dairy case is stocked with some of the best varieties available and the prepared foods can be found in back (just ready for that picnic in central park or that impromptu party or get together with friends). There is an olive bar and the isles of the original part of the store are stocked with imported food items. The cheese area is divine and I can never pass picking-up a container of the grated pecorino Romano which is about a cheap as those imitation Parmisian cheese sprinkles Kraft keeps manufacturing. They also have a great collection of spices. Sure you can get dried basil anywhere, but only so many places carry smoked whole black cardamon pods. In the newer section you’ll find the fresh fish and meats in the back along with the frozen desserts (I would indulge in these more except that they melt before I get home to Brooklyn). The main part of this new section is the center aisles of regular branded staples like bounty paper towels, or Francesco Renaldi tomato sauce. Of course there are the more upscale brands peppered throughout these shelves, but in the end, it’s just regular grocery store items at not so fantastic prices.

If you manage to find the elevator and squeeze in to get to the second floor you can experience the organic food section which is huge. This is litterally a store within a store and has it’s own produce, dairy, bulk and frozen foods sections (also it’s own checkers with shorter lines than found downstairs. And did I mention the prices. Although organic in general can be pricey, these are some of the cheapest prices in the city. I usually stock up on tempee here.

The second floor also has a little café restaurant. Again, good food, good prices and if I remember correctly a liquor license (which explains why all those WASPS can be found luncheoning here). I wouldn’t pull out your knitting unless it was a very usually uncrowded day. This place is too crowded and your likely to get something spilled on a project

Downside – over the years they have discontinued making my 2 favorite salads. A salad nicoise that was in the prepared food section made with real pan seared tuna and a grated carot and raisin salad dressed with their dijon vinagrette instead of that yucky yogurt gook other places seem to use. Both yumm and I want both to come back.

West Side Market – The most grocery like of the stores in this collection. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve just walked past this store between my shopping sprees at Fairway’s and Zabar’s thinking “how could this place even compete”. A roommate actually got me to go in one day and now it’s a regular on my route. Alright, so part of the reason I love this place are all the freakin different types of potato chips they carry. But if you can get your eyes past the all those bags of chips that line the store you’ll notice the most important things. Produce is fresh, a necessity given the competition and prices are also great. Cheese selection is incredible and if you go on a Saturday morning they often have samples to try and did I mention the prices are great. Prepared foods that are definetly yumm (I always pick up stuffed grape leaves/dolmas when I stop by) and did I mention the prices are great.

Zabar’s – Cheese glorious cheese. Cheese, cheese and more cheese. Okay so they do have the smoked fish and bakery sections which aren’t slouches either, not to mention the olive bar, prepared foods and upscale grocery section (with lots of exotic spices as well), but don’t come here unless your prepared to indulge and buy cheese (most cheeses freeze pretty decently, especially if you plan on cooking with it after defrosting). And you’ll never have to worry about quality here. Zabar’s will take a loss and not sell an item if it’s not up to their standards (which I am sure is more educated than my palate any day). This fact is legendary and true and has probably earned them more loyal patronage than their incredible prices on cheese ever did.
Zabar’s has the biggest international reputation of the three and therefore you will squish and bump through their narrow isles with the most tourists and their lines are as long as Fairways but simply not as fast. Make your way upstairs if you want to drool over the best cooking impliments. Their prices aren’t bad either considering the quality. I did buy my silicone baking pads here because they were at least a few bucks less per than anyplace else, including the internet (these items are imported from France for some reason and are expensive). However, I leave the $5 linen dish towels alone (I guess it’s plain ole cotton for me) and simply ogle all those copper pots and kitchen appliances that I dream about actually owning one day. Oh, and I can’t forget the knives. They have the most incredible collection of knives and brands. And there really is a difference between a good knife and an ordinary knife in the heft and feel.

Next door is Zabar’s café. More of a place to pick up your bagel (with a shmear) and a cup of coffee, than to sit down and indulge in a full meal, but who’s complaining. Again, keep your projects tucked away unless there is a big snow storm and you happen to be one of 5 people in the place.