Friday, December 3, 2010

Happy Belated Thanksgiving!

I know, I know, this post is so long overdue.  But I still wanted to share with you pictures, memories, and traditions of my most favorite holiday, the one dedicated solely to eating, Thanksgiving.

Our Thanksgivings usually begin with some half-baked ideas about what we're making and who's making what.

Then everyone comes over, usually around noon, with loads of groceries and booze.

The turkey goes in the oven (a little late), we get the apps started, and we begin eating.  And drinking.  And cooking while drinking.

Somehow, we manage to put out over twenty dishes, mostly traditional with a few Chinese ones thrown in for good measure.

The turkey comes out of the oven.  By five o'clock.  Seven, at the latest.

By the time all the dishes have been plated, we're all a little full from snacking, and a little more than a little buzzed.

We take an obligatory picture, sometimes of everyone, sometimes just the cousins (just cousins this year), and then we line up for the food, served buffet style.

We load up our plates, our eyes much bigger than our stomachs, and find the nearest empty seat, whether it's in the family room, the dining room, or the kitchen.

A moment of silence as we take our first bites.  More booze.  Before the tryptophan fog settles in, we make sure to go for seconds, serving ourselves anything that we might have missed on the first round.

We don't forget the jello mold.

Those of us strong enough go in for dessert.  We continue drinking.  At some point, people start to go home.  I pass out at 9 PM.

But Thanksgiving doesn't end there.  On Friday, we go to my aunt's house for day-after-Thanksgiving hot pot.  Hot pot at my aunt's house is a special event that takes place only twice a year, on this day and on Christmas.

She lays out a spread of shrimp, fish, fish balls, impeccably thinly sliced rib eye, sliced pork, tofu, Chinese cabbage, spinach, bean thread noodles, and other goodies.

To the side, there's different bowls of sauces.  We line up and make our own sauce.  I like mine spicy with lots of cilantro and garlic.

We gather 'round the hot pots, armed with chopsticks and ladles.  We begin by taking a piece of meat here, a handful of spinach there, a heap of dried noodles... and dunk it all into the bubbling broth.  The meat comes out quickly.  The noodles linger for a bit.

It all goes for a swim in my sauce and, you guessed it, into my belly!

Oh, Thanksgiving.  Oh, hot pot.


Best. Holiday. Ever.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Lunch Food Co-op, Round Three

First, I made a kale and brown rice salad.  Then, I made a pork loin roast with orzo. For the latest round of my office lunch food co-op, I made roasted chicken and butternut squash with couscous, and brussels sprouts with bacon.

I think this dish was my favorite thing that I made for the lunch food co-op.

As much as I enjoy cooking for my coworkers, and as much as I love the food that each person brings for lunch each week, the co-op is about more than just the food.

Though it's rare that all of my coworkers and I can all sit down together to eat at the same time, we still get to share lunch once a week.  We talk about what the lunch of the week is, we chat about our weekends, and we share cooking tips.

I honestly don't think this lunch co-op would have been such a success if I didn't love the people that I work with.  As it is, though, I actually consider my coworkers friends, and I couldn't imagine doing the work that I do without them.  They are a very supportive bunch, and we even have fun together outside of work.  I know that these lunches are something we all look forward to each week.

I feel very fortunate to work with people that I actually care about and look up to. And when I make these lunches, I feel as though I am thanking my coworkers for guiding me, for listening, and for being there for me, especially when I need a margarita after work!

Roasted Chicken with Butternut Squash

1 butternut squash, trimmed, peeled, and seeded, then cut into 1-inch cubes
1 large yellow onion, chopped
4 pounds skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs and legs
olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Toss cut butternut squash and onions with a bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Place in an oven proof baking dish.  Clean and dry chicken pieces.  Season with salt and pepper.  Arrange on top of butternut squash in dish.  Bake for about 45 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

1 pound brussels sprouts, cleaned, trimmed, and halved
1/4 pound bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
salt and pepper

Heat a skillet over medium high heat.  When hot, add bacon and cook until almost crisp.  Add brussels sprouts and brown, tossing frequently.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cover for 3-5 minutes, until sprouts are tender.  Serve immediately.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


The thing that I love most about exploring new cities is eating my way through them.  By way of food, I feel I can get to know the different neighborhoods in a city, the cultures of the people living in those neighborhoods, and even the geography of a city.  After all, restaurants, bars, and corner cafes make great landmarks, don't they?

A couple of weekends ago, I went to visit my good friend Dan in Philadelphia.  He's in grad school there, and I had been meaning to visit him for some time, but just never booked a ticket.  The minute I did, I set out to search for the must-eat places in Philadelphia.  I read online about the famous Reading Terminal Market, and where to find the best cheesesteak.  Well, I read about a lot of people's opinions on where to find the best cheesesteak.  Knowing Dan, I knew he would be up for doing almost nothing but eating. And Dan, knowing me, knew that I would have these things that I wanted to do, so he left the weekend wide open.  Like I said, he's a good friend.

Just like eating your way around a city is a good way to get to know it, eating with a person is a good way to get to know your friend.  Dan is a great person to eat with.  For one thing, he loves to eat.  For another, he loves to eat bacon.  (Remember Baconfest?  Dan was my partner in crime!)

Our very first stop in Philly was to get some cheesesteaks.  As Dan drove us toward our destination, he explained that we were going to Pat's and to Geno's.  We would get one cheesesteak from each.  The thing was, though, we couldn't be seen at one place with the cheesesteak from the other.  So we split up and got our cheesesteaks, both whiz-with, meaning cheez whiz on top, with onions.  We brought them back to Dan's place, cut them in half, practically inhaled them, and made our decision.



It was unanimous.  Pat's had tastier steak, better bread, and more cheez whiz.  We both agreed that Pat's was the winner.

The showdown!

The next day, we headed to Center City, where we were planning on going to lunch at the Reading Terminal Market.

City Hall

I had heard from various sources that Reading Terminal was the place to go in Philadelphia for food.  And boy, was it ever.

Reading Terminal was definitely my favorite part of our tour around Philadelphia.  Bustling with tourists, visitors, and regulars, Reading Terminal is a veritable food lover's paradise.  Shoppers crowded around every food stall, restaurant, and display case; not a single vendor lacked customers.  After walking around a bit and assessing our options, Dan and I stopped at the Grill at Smuckers.

I went for the pot roast beef sandwich, while Dan opted for a breakfast sandwich.  A breakfast sandwich that, he claimed, was the best breakfast sandwich he had ever had.  In his life.  Now that's saying something!

We waddled out of Reading Terminal stuffed and content, and honestly, we didn't do much else after that.  We sat in the park, taking in the last bit of sun the season had to offer.  It was a lovely day.

The next morning, before my bus back to New York, we headed to Chinatown for lunch.  I spotted a sign for handmade shaved noodles, and dragged a slightly reluctant Dan towards it.  Inside, we found a full house and a limited menu.

However, when beef brisket noodle soup and noodles with peanut sauce are on the menu, not much else needs to be going on to draw a crowd.  Not to mention the one guy turning pounds and pounds of flour and water into hand pulled noodles right in front of your eyes.  I was mesmerized.

Three generous portions of noodles later, Dan and I found ourselves waddling once again out on the streets of Philadelphia.

Eating and waddling, waddling and eating.  Not too shabby.

After a quick pit stop for some Japanese candy, we headed towards the bus station.  I bid a fond farewell to Dan, and to Philadelphia, the friend and the city that had fed me so well.

Friday, October 15, 2010


Don't you love this weather?  It reminds me of home.

Last weekend, a couple of friends and I went apple picking.

We also picked eggplant, butternut squash, acorn squash, tomatoes, and other delicious veggies.

Apple picking, check.  Next up: pumpkin carving, cider drinking, and murder mystery party going.  Oh, fall.  Don't you just love it?

A Recipe for Fall: Stuffed Acorn Squash
The stuffing for this dish is really addicting.  The mushrooms add that umami deliciousness, which compliments the sweet squash just perfectly.  Cooking this will warm up your apartment and make it smell like Thanksgiving.  When it starts to get cold out, you just want something that will warm you up, something comforting and soft, light but hearty.  This is that dish.  One bite of it is, in a word, fall.

1 large acorn squash
1 large vidalia onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound white mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed, and diced
1 cup red quinoa, cooked
1 cup red lentils, cooked
a knob of butter, vegan or not
olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Cut acorn squash in half (from top to bottom) and scoop out the innards.  Discard seeds and pulp.  Grease an oven proof baking dish large enough to hold the two halves of squash.  Season halves with salt and pepper and place face down in the baking dish.  Cook in the oven for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until tender enough to pierce with a fork.  Remove from the oven and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium heat.  When hot, add a turn of olive oil to the pan.  Add the diced onion and cook until the onion is tender and translucent.  Add the garlic and mushrooms and saute until the mushrooms are cooked through.  Add the cooked quinoa and lentils and mix well.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Once the acorn squash halves have cooled a bit, scoop out the squash flesh.  Be careful to leave the squash shells intact.  You can even leave some of the flesh intact, for scooping and eating with the rest of the filling.

Add the squash insides to the mushroom mixture and combine.  The squash should be tender enough that you can break it up as you add it to the mixture.  Test for seasoning again and add more salt and pepper as you see fit.  Stir in a knob of butter for good measure.  Scoop this filling back into the squash halves, stuffing them and then overflowing them.  (There will be extra.  There's a reason for that.)  You can then throw them back in the oven to heat them up a bit, or just eat straightaway.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Food for Thought: School Lunch

This week, the organization I work for is hosting a huge conference in New York City.  I've been running around all week, to and from different sites, escorting our international guests, helping backstage at a performance, waking up way earlier and coming home way later than I normally do, and just generally trying to keep the chaos at a minimum.  I. Am. Pooped.

And here we are, Wednesday night, at 10:15 PM, and I'm trying to fit in a Food for Thought before my battery runs out, or the clock strikes 12, whichever comes first.  So apologies in advance for a flustered and perhaps inarticulate post.

The upside of this hell week, of course, is that I'm meeting a lot of cool people and learning a lot of cool things.  In fact, today, I got to visit the Cypress Hills Community School in East New York.  The folks over there are doing some pretty innovative stuff, involving lots of parent activism and youth collaboration. Which brings us to the theme of tonight's post.

When our tour guide led us down to the school's brand spankin' new cafeteria, memories of my own middle and high school lunches washed over me.  In California, at a private all girls prep school, I was very spoiled in my education, and especially in this aspect of my experience.  Our cafeteria was full of fresh vegetables and outfitted with a very caring staff that encouraged us to learn, even in the dining hall.  You don't have to be a food news junkie to know that the lunches served in American public schools today don't exactly meet those standards.

As it happens, Mark Bittman just posted about this very situation, citing this NPR article and starkly pointing out that, when it comes to school lunch, Brazil's underdeveloped towns are doing better than we are.

On the same day, however, Marion Nestle posited on her blog that perhaps New York City can begin to lead the way in the movement for better school lunches.  And just last week, the folks over at Serious Eats provided a great summary of the positive effects of Alice Waters's Edible Schoolyard campaign.

What does this have to do with Cypress Hills?  Well...

As part of the Cypress Hills Community School (CHCS) permanent facility design, CHLDC staff and parents have long envisioned the school cafeteria as a place where students, teachers, and parents can all eat together, and where the food is fresh, delicious, nutritious, homemade and locally-sourced. CHLDC is excited to announce that the Community School kitchen + cafeteria will be outfitted with the necessary equipment and supplies to make this dream possible. We are also developing programming with NYC School Food, East New York Farms!, and Wellness in the Schools (WITS) to ensure that the kitchen + cafeteria will be a healthy, welcoming, and educational space for all of our students and staff.

I had the wonderful opportunity to meet with the staff and participants, including youth leaders and students, of this amazing organization.  And let me tell you, seeing their enthusiasm for their new facilities and feeling their contagious excitement for learning only served to keep my spirits up and bring me hope that maybe, just maybe, things are beginning to change.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Food for Thought: Book Review

Have you ever read the blog Orangette?  No?  Do yourself a favor, dear reader.  Go check it out.

Awesome, right?  Got a big fat blogger crush on Molly Wizenberg?  Me too.

Recently, I picked up her book, A Homemade Life, at the Strand.  It's pretty awesome, too.

Ms. Wizenberg is a wonderful writer, and every story she tells and every recipe she shares just makes me want to get right into the kitchen and start whipping something up.

And I did.  First, I made a blueberry-raspberry pound cake for my cousin's birthday.  I brought it to the bar where she had her party and served it to all her guests.  Then I made banana bread with chocolate chips.  I gave some to my neighbor.  I couldn't stop.  For my coworker's housewarming, I made him the Winning Hearts and Minds cake.  My colleagues and I licked our plates clean.  Literally.

You guys.  You know I don't bake very often.

But you guys.  These recipes are too good to keep to yourself.  So, if you're ever in the mood for sharing something sweet, I suggest you take a leaf out of Ms. Wizenberg's book and get that oven preheating.

Blueberry-Raspberry Pound Cake, which I topped with some homemade chocolate ganache

Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips (I omitted the crystalized ginger because I didn't have any on hand)

Winning Hearts and Minds Cake.  It does what it says it will.  Trust.

Let me know if you want to borrow my copy.