Friday, December 03, 2010

Fortune-Ate: Yogi Tea Edition

This edition of Fortune-Ate is a departure from the first and second ones I posted because I realized that fortune cookies are no longer the only food items that come with unsolicited wisdom/advice/absurdity. Yet another contribution of Asian Americana to mainstream culture!

Exhibit A:

The spicy ingredients in Yogi Cold Season tea intrigued me and I bought a box. When I went to brew the first cups for my friend and myself, we discovered that the little tags had messages on them.

This one was Allison's (who took these photos with her iPhone 4, which takes ridiculously high-res images):
This one was mine (please note the neat composition of these photographs-- the persimmons, limes, cherimoya, and torn packet):

Looks like I'll be expanding my "Fortune-Ate" series.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mark Twain

Mark Twain was born on November 30, 1835. Just in time for the tail end of cherimoya season (the fruit he and I both love). My parents sent me home with three of them after Thanksgiving. One of my roommates had it for the first time a few nights agoand described the texture as "buttery."

Creamy, tangy, and sort of chewy all at once. Kind of like Mark Twain's writing. At least what I've read of it.

I confess: I've yet to read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer all the way through. Maybe next year. Maybe I'll venture to one of my favorite used bookstores the next time I go down to Orange County and pick up a copy of my very own. Or someone could lend it to me. Or I could pick it up from the library.

Aside: I think it's time for me to finally become a Friend Of The Library. The library system is seriously suffering these days. From being ignored. Around my last year of high school, I started going to Barnes & Noble to study. I slowly forgot about the library as a resource even though I was practically raised in libraries (mostly Santa Ana Main & Brakensiek Branch). Support your local library. In all likelihood, it's in trouble.

Again, happy birthday, Mr. Twain. I hope you're getting all the cherimoyas you could possibly want in whatever life you're living now.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Google, You're So Cute

Did anyone else notice that you could hover over each of the dishes on the Google homepage and click for recipes of each of the items?

Nicely played, Google. I like ya. Now, please, be good. You know everything about me.

25 Foods I'm Thankful For

Thanksgiving falls on November 25th this year. It's been a while since that 25 Things meme came around. Let's go!

In no particular order, 25 Foods I'm Thankful For and probably could not (and/or would not want to) live without:
  1. Condensed milk. In Vietnamese iced coffee, of course. In any coffee, really. It was a revelation the first time I had shaved ice with bits of fruit, served with a squeeze bottle of condensed milk. Genius. Perfection. I could eat it by the spoonful. Sometimes I do. That's why I haven't opened the can in the cupboard yet.
  2. Almond Butter. Creamy. Lightly salted. This, too, I find myself eating by the spoonful. I like foods that fit in spoons. I also like foods that lend themselves to both sweet and savory dishes. Sweet? Spread over toast, sprinkle with cinnamon, add a dollop of blueberry preserves. Magic. Savory? Cook spaghetti noodles. Or any kind of wheat-noodle. While the noods are hot, add big helping of almond butter and soy sauce, and a not-too-conservative dash of sesame oil. Follow with your Asian (or not) pepper sauce of choice. Dinner.
  3. Half & half. Another item that lends itself to coffee augmentation. I can't help it. Since it's hard to eat by the spoonful, I don't. Sometimes I'm tempted to drink it by the glass. Shots of it would be nice. But I stick to coffee. I should become an athlete again. So that I can drink it by the glass without feeling guilty.
  4. Pomegranates. They're pretty. They're sweet. They're sometimes tangy. They're mysterious-looking. They're the stuff of myth and legend (literally). And after a day of cream puffs, rich potatoes au gratin, and general glut, they allow me to forget for a minute that I've devoured a week's worth of calories within a few hours. Almost.
  5. Black Pepper. Or, really, the four-pepper blend that I put into the peppermill a good friend gifted me a few years ago. I love being able to regulate the grind. I love the heat. I love-- I don't know. Black pepper is so ubiquitous that it's hard for me the describe the flavor. It's an earthy kind of fire. 
  6. Red Pepper Flake. It's not just for pizza. I don't feel right making any Italian pasta dish without a pinch of this in the oil along with the garlic and onion. A few weeks ago I forgot that my shaker was broken and accidently dumped 2 tablespoons into one serving of pseudo rice pilaf. I fed it to a gal with Louisiana blood. It caused her pain. She approved.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Goodness of Jamie Oliver

Now a decade beyond his days as The Naked Chef, Jamie Oliver is still at it, at as ambitious a pace as ever.

He has been criticized for all of his branding, his restaurants, his seemingly gimmicky product lines. I'd have lost respect for him if much of the work he's done didn't seem motivated by a genuine desire to help people eat better. And by "better," I don't mean lavish meals or making exact measurements or finding the exactly-right gadget-- I mean helping people learn about food and to build a real relationship with food beyond intake.

I don't just like Jamie Oliver for his catch phrases or his blond hair. I like him because he seems truly excited about food, about showing people how accessible it can be, and doesn't make too much of a fuss about cooking. While I can appreciate the exactitude with which some cooking shows demonstrate recipes, it doesn't strike a chord with me the same way at all.

He's done a lot of shows since The Naked Chef. He has a veritable empire of products, books, shows--even a magazine. His Wikipedia entry is extensive.

Yet the theme from the very first Naked Chef still resonates in everything that has come since. The title sequence of The Naked Chef has him as a rascally young twenty-something with a big mop of blond hair laying on a sofa rather indolently saying "Naked's what I call my way of cookin'... It's gotta be fresh, it's gotta be fun, it's gotta be fast, it's gotta be tasty.--It's not me, it's the food!" Each episode of practically every show of his that I've ever watched (and that's nearly all of them) is bent on making cooking seem like just that-- fast, fun, tasty.

The best way I can think to describe his way of cooking and teaching is that it is just utterly no-stick-up-yer-ass methodology. His hands get dirty. He never makes things seem complicated-- he just does them, maybe says something is a little tricky, but he never, ever makes cooking anything but accessible. At least for me.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Fortune-Ate: How you look

Sometimes fortunes don't make much sense. That's one of those things about life we just have to accept. And love. Because they came out of a sweet, crunchy cookie.

Well, yes, how I look does depend on where I go. Literally and figuratively, I suppose. Since it's a hundred degrees in California, I look pretty wilted and scruffy.

I thought the intense heat would come in August. It waited until October. That's alright. I can't stop thinking about fudge pops. Maybe I'll try out this recipe.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

It Ain't Pretty, But It's Tasty: Avo Toast

Sometimes, food looks as gorgeous as it tastes.

Sometimes, food doesn't look all that special, but once it's in your mouth, it's undeniably special. Case in point:
Trader Joe's Ciabatta loaf, split and toasted (at "4" on our Star Wars Darth Vader Toaster-- no joke). Ripe avocado, sliced rather un-carefully. (I roughed up the avo on the left a bit to see which texture I'd like better. I think I liked the feel of my teeth sinking through the slices more than the chunks.) A little sprinkle of kosher salt. That's it.

Maybe you're wondering why I didn't butter the ciabatta instead. Gasp! Has the Fiend acquired anti-dairy sentiments!?

Well, hell hasn't frozen over yet, so--no. 

There are a couple of reasons for swapping avocado for butter:

1. My mom (you know, my CSA) gave me avocados that I needed to use up before they became dry, hard shells of what they once were, or worse-- mushy, decomposed blobs of once-loveliness.

2. The texture of the ciabatta (crisp crust, chewy, lots of air pockets) was dying for something a little more substantial than butter, and since avocado has a super high fat content-- well, it just felt right. And I'd seen the combination on simply breakfast back when I used to prowl around there a lot, so it was worth a try.

It was oh, so good. Hot, toasty bread. Cool, smooth avocado. The tiny bit of kosher salt makes the tastebuds tingle and provides a contrast to the mildness of the avocado (gotta love those ionic bonds). 

Yeah, we can talk about how avocado is great for the skin or cholesterol levels, what with all its monounsaturated fat, but really, the point here was pleasure. It tasted damn good. And it felt good: the avo provided better protection for my mouth from the delicious, pointy parts of the ciabatta than butter could have. And, really, it's kinda pretty, too (and I love commas).

I don't care what kind of eater you are--herbivore, omnivore, locavore, vegan, macrobiotic(-ist?), raw foodist-- please, enjoy what you eat.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Eating Fat Doesn't Make You Fat

"...Eating too much makes you fat!" - Common sense from Michael Ruhlman in his TEDxCLE talk (below).

Ruhlman discusses the importance of cooking in this TED Talk organized independently in Cleveland. I liked that when he talked about it shaping division of labor between men/women, he added "for better or worse"-- mindfulness of possible problems with gender binaries is a plus.

"When you buy crappy food that's been cooked for you in a factory, you're asking for more of it. When you buy good food, food you need to cook, you're asking for more of it."

Voting with your dollars is not a new concept-- the old rule of supply and demand. More people want to buy hybrid cars? More companies start manufacturing hybrid cars. More people want to buy organic food? Wal*Mart, of all places, starts to sell organic groceries. (Though "organic" is a totally loaded term.) More people want to shop at farmers markets? More farmers markets are organized in our communities.

Prioritizing cooking is not easy. Being able to afford organic or locally-grown groceries is not easy. But in this time when we have to worry so much about health care, isn't eating well part and parcel for health? To ignore the link between health problems and the amount of fast food, sugary soft drinks, and salty snacks we consume is egregious negligence.

The old adage "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" comes to mind. Would I rather spend time and money now on real, good food, or would I rather spend it later on hypertension meds or insulin shots? When I think of it that way, the extra time and money doesn't feel quite so inconvenient.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010


My great appreciation for the whimsical is even greater when the whimsy is wrapped in something sweet and edible (even when it might be cheesy, strange, or in Engrish) like fortune cookies.

I used to crack the cookies open for the fortunes and leave the manila-folder-colored shards on the table, usually only taking a nibble or two. The problem, I didn't realize until later, was that the cookies were often stale.

A stale fortune cookie is even worse than a stale fortune. When they're fresh, though, fortune cookies can be a pleasure--light, crisp, gently sweet.

Truth be told, though, I'd rather have chilled orange slices. The problem with those is that rarely are enough served for each person at the table to get more than one or two slices.

I have a deep, deep love of citrus fruit. Mmmmmmm.

Okay, back to fortune cookies.

I've always had a fascination with the fortunes, with the ways they might resonate with my life, even when they are ridiculous. At some point, I decided to start keeping the fortunes in my wallet. Because they were good reminders, or because they made me laugh, or because I'm just a sentimental fool. Since I don't have Chinese (or insert-Asian-ethnicity here) take-out very often, the fortunes are a rare treat.

Except I've gotten two in the last week because my roommate came home with about a dozen fortune cookies which she'd scavenged from work.

This was a long way of saying: I collect fortunes from fortune cookies and I'm going to start sharing them here.

This is one of the first ones I ever kept:

It's one of my favorites. You can tell it hung out in the little driver license window in my wallet for a while.

Until next time. Make big plans.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

How My Mother Got Me To Like Walnuts

Out of all the nuts, walnuts have always been one of my least favorite. Okay, my very least favorite. Okay, I actually kind of have an aversion to them, generally. Okay, "aversion" is too strong a word, really. I tend not to really avoid any foods; there are just some foods that I take much, much less pleasure in eating than others.

So you won't find a small pile of raspberry-vinaigrette-doused walnuts left in my plate after eating a salad or anything. I can't make any promises about a can of mixed nuts, though. Something about their bitterness has always turned me off.

Walnuts have never been something I've ever eaten for the mere pleasure of eating them. I devour cashews and chocolate covered walnuts ravenously. Walnuts? No, thank you.

Except, well, my mom. Mothers. They're sneaky.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Buttered Toast Musing

Good bread with some chew to it, liberally spread with sweet, rich butter. It's a comfort food.

Few things give me as much simple pleasure.

The current fashion seems to be how many different flavors can be piled incongruously onto each other, and while I appreciate clever composition, sometimes--oftentimes--it just seems excessive. And USAmerican culture, at least, seems to be obsessed with it. Sites like This Is Why You're Fat are shining examples of our fixation with just how horrifyingly gluttonous we can be.

(Food pornography has a sort of class system, too-- from sites like Grocery Eats to Michael Ruhlman's blog. Each with a different voice and audience and perspective, different ideals and purposes. Which is hardcore and which is softcore probably depends on whom you ask.)

I've been chided at times for my use of butter and bacon. This is bizarre to me in a culture that gets excited by This Is Why You're Fat. I don't understand. Using butter to make a grilled cheese sandwich is indulgent while staring longingly at sausage wrapped in bacon dipped in batter and deep fried is completely acceptable?

I think we need a change in perspective here.

What's real food? What's good food? What's healthy? How has industry changed our definitions and understandings of it all?

Photo from jovike

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Poem About Leftovers

I mostly write at Long Cool Hallway these days, so I've badly neglected this here blog, but that's the nice thing about the Internet: things can languish here unattended for extended periods of time and then be resurrected! Or tossed a bone once in long, long while.

I'm going to try to post here more. Because I do, I do, I do still have a great love for food.

Let's kick off 2010 with a poem about leftovers (original here) inspired by my now-and-then work as banquet server:

The Rest Goes

I used a heavy silver fork to push
half-eaten filet mignon, lobster,
scallops, halibut
into a large round trashbin,
their respective sauces
swirled together with the discarded
swizzle sticks, lemon twists, lime wedges

the bin became a cornucopia of scents:
cream mixed with Crown Royal,
Bearnaise with Grey Goose,
citrus juice and Red Bull,
red wine and chardonnay and champagne–
the aroma of what money can buy,
what money can throw away.

I think about how my mother
was always so careful to pack up uneaten food,
her stories about starvation,
how she lived for years on
thin rice gruel and what she could forage.

After the Khmer Rouge regime finally fell,
after years of working nine, ten, twelve hour days,
after years of being able to afford
more than enough food to feed our entire family,

she still does not waste a grain of rice, a slice of beef,
always ready with a plastic container, a sheet of foil, a plastic bag,
she remembers what it was to want

With every porcelain plate whose
decadent leavings I pushed into that bin, I cringed
wondering what my mother would think.

It makes sense now
that expensive, “high-end” food
comes in such tiny servings–
the rich rarely take home doggy bags.


And all my online presences are now connected even more obviously. I'm going to be optimistic/positive about this.