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July 06, 2012


I'm lucky, in that all the places I've ever spent much time in away from home (Japan, France, Italy) have cuisines I adore. But if I'm away from New York City long enough, I start to yearn for old-time Jewish deli food - pastrami, half-sour pickles, lox and cream cheese.

Not quite on point, but close enough: I (American) once spent 6 weeks in Japan, the first five and half in a small town in northern Honshu (Mizusawa). I stayed at a ryokan (the baths were memorable) and ate whatever was put in front of me. My hosts had no English, so not asking questions was easy--and the food was all good. At about week 5 I started having stomach pains, which got progressively more severe: I can still remember getting on the Shinkansen back to Tokyo not feeling at all well. My hosts in Tokyo put me up at a small business hotel located atop a McDonalds: I ate there and nowhere else for the last four days of my visit, and the pains cleared up.

Same thing only opposite for me, DCA: I eat a lot of plain rice at home, to keep my digestive system happy. Even one meal at McD's is flirting with gastrointestinal trouble due to the amount of salt and fat, especially animal fat.

When I'm on vacation and eating out all the time, the lack of unadorned carbs (rice, noodles, potatoes) starts to get to me after a while. At the end of a week I've been known to get home and have nothing but a bowl of plain rice, homemade hummus, and simple vegetables.

Because I eat out or even get take out so rarely, I notice shifts in what's available that may be too gradual for regular eat-outers to spot. For instance, in the couple of years the default for restaurant French fries has become the kind with a coating. They *are* extra-flavorful, but they're a lot less like *potatoes*.

The problem I have is not so much not getting a particular kind of food as not having access to the variety of food I'm accustomed to. The joy of being in (suburban) Northern California is that if I want to eat out, within a mile I can get anything from Col. Sanders** to Thai to Afghan to sushi to Mediterranian to pho to .... Well, you get the picture.

** I could also go to a McD or Burger King. But that, IMHO, is not food.

Pretty early in my 20 month stay in Japan, I was shopping in the local supermarket and realized I had a craving for something in my diet but I wasn't sure what. When I got to the dairy counter and saw the butter, cheese, ice cream in the freezer, I realized it was fat. At that point I felt like I could eat a whole piece of cheese or a stick of butter.

After that I made a point of stopping at McD's or Wendy's for lunch on my Saturday errands errands to have a surf and turf (Big Mac or Wendy's double with cheese setto with large fries and a fish sandwich on the side), and I was fine. I never ate fast food in the U.S. before or since, because an American diet gave me the amount of fat I was used to, but in Japan I needed the fat to maintain my system's equilibrium.

Y'know, I haven't found a food I don't love. Can have trouble eating eyeballs* -- bivalves excepted -- but otherwise there's not much I don't like. But as for foods that I love and which remind me of home, I have to represent the two states that I most regard as home.

Indiana: Beef, New York Strip, inch-and-a-quarter cut, medium-rare tending to rare, rub in olive oil and sea salt and nothing else.

Maine: First, get some peekey toe crab (formerly sand crab) and mix it with a little bit of Mayo, lemon juice, tabasco, chopped celery, and chopped onion. Second, get the classic New England hotdog bun, slather butter on both sides, and fry in a pan. Third, stuff the crab salad in the bun. Fourth, eat.

Either one: Heaven.

The irony is that I'm not "from" either of these states. Rhode Island, represent.

*Shrimp heads disturb me. Sure, they taste good ..... but those eyestalks. Tough to get past 'em.

I'm with Von, if it isn't poisonous or really unappetizing, it is edible usually with pleasure. I even enjoyed MREs for the first several weeks. By the end of several months, my desire was for a vegetable that would "crunch." I still remember the overwhelming pleasure of that first fresh carrot.
On the other hand, after several months of carefully avoiding foods that would lead to diarrhea, I chowed down on a big cheeseburger upon return to a stateside airport. I can say that the subsequent bacterial food poisoning was most unpleasant. It was the bacteria, not the meat.

Fresh oysters, like a mouthful of briny ocean splashing into the mouth.

Spaghetti and meatballs (veal, beef, and pork) with a marinara sauce.

Freshly made basil pesto by the spoonful.

Chicken, fried in sesame or peanut oil in a cast-iron skillet, with some ginger in the dredge.

I love cooking all manner of foods, excepting desserts, but those four will do me.

It's raining in Colorado, dousing the fires .... all people of good faith hope.

Here's some more utter crap from some of the usual right-wing suspects of bad faith regarding who set the fires:


I remember back in the 1990s when the Federal government and Bill Clinton were blamed for the big fires by every two-bit scum right-winger in the country.

Meanwhile, I'm pretty sure Republican psychopathic pyromaniac operatives from the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Michelle Malkin's original blog, taking time out from climate-change denial, were seen camping in the drought-stricken western forests flicking lit cigars provided to them by the Koch Brothers into the parched undergrowth and the beetle-kill.

These big fires always seem to happen before a Democratic incumbent President is up for re-election.

Seriously, PACs on the Left, protected by Citizens United anonymity should run ads accusing the Republican Party of physically setting the fires, with grainy video footage of the deeds.

Since we're all into unlimited free speech.

I apologize for returning. ;)

"I apologize for returning. ;)"

I missed you, I had to comment to fill up some threads.

Paul Farrell, an MSN Money columnist, but a capitalist, given to dark opinions on what might befall us:


Interesting the number of what were once considered Republicans (Brent Scowcroft, for example) he quotes regarding the daft but malignant danger the Ayn Rand Republican Party poses to the American experiment.

Maybe I'll get to like cat food, or even cats, if things get bad enough.

I'll take mine with a decanter of slightly chilled free speech, especially Gary Busey's.

Food for thought.

i'm a picky eater, with a possible shellfish allergy (since i don't like them, i get little chance to see how much of an allergy i might have), so i had a tough time in Japan.

our third day there, we asked the hotel concierge if he could write a little note for us that would explain to future hotel staff that i couldn't eat shellfish. he was a little puzzled, and said this will be hard because, he said, Japanese has no word for "shellfish". but we eventually got him to write ... something.

the next hotel, when we were being offered a full Japanese breakfast (millions of small dishes) for the next morning, i pulled out the little card and gave it to the clerk. he said "you cannot eat things that creep under the sea ?"

after six days of avoiding creeping things, we were very happy to find that the Japanese like Irish pubs as much as Americans, and I could get generic fish and chips any time of the day. my wife was happy, too, because, despite being a reasonably daring eater, she was craving something crunchy, greasy and salty too.

Freshly made basil pesto by the spoonful.

Count, I retract everything I ever thought while reading your posts. Anyone who appreciates pesto has definitely got a firm grip on reality. No matter other evidence to the contrary. ;-)

I made pesto yesterday, as a matter of fact. Probably have to make it again in a few days; barely trimmed the plant back to the point where it wasn't so burdened that it was snapping off branches.

Enchiladas, beef or cheese.

Reality is overrated and barely tolerable. ;)

Though I must say cooking grounds me in a meditative way, especially when reality in the form of sharp knives, gravity, the third glass of wine, and my bare feet interact.

Then for awhile, I discover the Higgs boson behind it all, as it were, and pay attention.

I once dropped the blade of my food processor (probably while making pesto) while in my bare feet in the kitchen and did a sort of modified spastic bolero across the floor with my arms flailing and caught a funny bone on the corner of the fridge handle and let out a stream of colorful fricatives, much to the alarm of my dinner guests.

The blade missed my feet but spun like a top around me, like Ginger Rogers keeping up in a bad rehearsal of a Jackie Chan/Busby Berkeley production.

Another time, at the very end of a six-hour marathon Thanksgiving cooking session, I had just made the most beautiful gravy in the history of gravies and in the process of bracing the unwieldy oven pan, gravy bubbling and sloshing, against my hips on the edge of the counter as a reached for a utensil, the pan upended toward me and the gravy sluiced down one blue-jeaned leg and across the floor in a tidal wave of flavor gone to waste.

I let out a howl, invented some new words at high volume.... all for the benefit of my in-laws (now former and deceased, unfortunately; no, dinner didn't alienate and then kill them, reality did) and a cast of family members who sat 15 feet away at the table peering into the kitchen waiting expectantly to tuck in, dinner being somewhat late.

My father-in-law had a habit of sitting with a fork in one hand and a knife in the other, both pointed ceilingwards, as serving approached, like a cartoon cannibal licking his chops over the contents of the boiling pot, and as I excused myself to run cold water over the leg (yes, it blistered badly) and change clothes, he followed my progress up the stairs, silently, with his lower jaw dropped in the full open position, cutlery poised.

Imagine the Galloping Gourmet and Kramer in one person to get the idea of what I must have looked like.

The meal was great. But I'll never get that gravy back.

If I had described all of that in a completely realistic fashion, it would have been boring, now wouldn't it?


Speaking of cooking, I watched some Food Channel while away, specifically "Chopped", another instance of "reality" show values ruining a perfectly good enterprise.

The chef contestants, in between dissing each other and claiming .... sniff, sniff ... culinary backgrounds that are hard to believe, given the burned, unseasoned glop they prepare on camera, not that I would want to be in their places, are given a basket of ingredients with which they must prepare a full course meal in roughly thirty seconds, with my late father-in-law peering down his nose at them, cutlery gleaming.

In one episode, the basket contained styrofoam packaging peanuts, ostensibly for a brunoise or chiffonade, three Scotch Bonnets, a quart can of two-stroke lawnmower oil, a slab of liver that looked like the stunt double from the Hannibal Lechter films (if directed by Jean Brillat-Saverin), and goats milk in its original container, a live Billy-goat on a tether, which was the challenging ingredient if you think about it for a second.

The goat promptly ate the can of motor oil in one swallow, leaving everyone scurrying for the olive oil in the fully stocked pantry.

Anyway, I was imagining this stupid, stupid show being brought to exquisite heights of reality, say, by instead of the bespectacled, vaguely fey host, and the grim expert judges, you could have the Goodfellas, De Niro and Pesci, hosting and/or judging.

"Hey, get ovah heah. You call this slop, food? Hunh? Gimme dat knife .. I'll show you what chopped means, you pompous eff."

Or, De Niro and Pesci could be contestants.

"Scuse me, four eyes," Pesci says. "Get a load of dis guy", he says to one of the judges for De Niro's benefit. "What did you mean when you said my dinna was unseasoned. No, you said, it was unseasoned to my face. You said it. What did you mean exactly? You mean it tastes like crap?. You mean I didn't use enough salt init. I'm not good enuf fuh you? What, you don't know what you mean?"

Bobby, bring me dat meat grinder from the watchchamallit, the "pantry" .. is zat what you frogs call it!"

Now that would be reality... and entertaining.

Chorionic villus sampling? Huh? What? It's a boy! (Or will be...)

What I mean to say is, I'm expecting my fourth child around the end of the year - a son, so I will have two of each of the two most common genders.

Aside from being out of my mind, I'm very happy.

Congrats hsh, life gets better with each one! (IMHO, no cite available) :)

hsh, that's wonderful.

HSH--that's awesome! We just learned that our first grandchild, due on Nov. 10, will be a boy. He will be the sixth in an unbroken line of Andrew's. We are delirious.

I don't need to tell hsh this, but you think you've got the whole parenting thing figured out, and the next one does everything different. You would think they were planning it, so perfect is their opposition. We passed on number 3 because the possibility that the 3rd one would be completely different from the other two had us wondering. I suppose when you get to 4, you are cutting down the space that they can differ, but I don't doubt the possibility that the next one will find another dimension to breakout in. I'm convinced that this is a Japanese proverb, but I have never found it so I may have made it up and assigned proverb status to it, but 'same field, same seed, different plant'.

In the voice of Perry Farrell, "Thank you, boys" (if that reference means anything to you).

lj, not only are my current three different from each other, my third managed to be completely different from herself as a baby once she got moving. We had her in early intervention for gross motor skills when she was approaching a year because she just sat there smiling, content to watch everything going on around her without moving or making a peep. By the time she was two, she was a loud menace, leaving chaos in her wake and performing any physical feat her mind could conjure. She's still sort of that way at four, only with more of a Broadway song-and-dance thing going on. In any case, she is no longer quiet, nor still.

Teach me to not check ObWi more often. As an American living in Norway I don't actually miss all that much. The Americanization of Norway is quite far advanced. It was the little things at first, like decent mustard or mayonnaise (the mayo here is very sweet). But they even sell French's mustard here now and Hellman's is everywhere.

We don't eat out often as it is insanely expensive (a meal at McDonalds will run you 12 - 15 bucks. A decent pizza costs 30 dollars or more) but I wish we had a decent Mexican place. Norwegians love tacos but apparently only at home. A really good hamburger is not easy to find (sadly, possibly the best burger in town is at TGI Friday's. Or at my house, according to friends). We finally got a Subway this last year.

Candy is the other thing that we usually miss. Reese's are very hard to find. As are M&M's. The kids love Hershey's, probably because it is sweeter, but I prefer Norwegian chocolate (as does everyone we give it to.). Mountain Dew is also nearly impossible to find.

What a fun thread.

I'm learning to cook.

I am learning from a cookbook i bought at the grocery because the illustrations are lovely. My approach is to pick an attractive picture and decide, "I'll make that!"

So far I've been pretty successfull, but I have discovered an odd thig about the cookbook: the directions give the scratch preparations for things I could just buy if the recipe indicated with more clarity what I was making. For example I amde a beautiful shrimp/cashew/st4eamed veggies on rice dish spiced with coriander, cummin, red cayenne pepper...most of you have probably figured out that it was a curry dish. I didn't figure that out until after I had the spices all mixed togehter. I went out and bought all the spices separately because I did not realize that I was making curry and could just get some curry power! Now I have enough coriander to last the rest of my life.

I inadvertanlty made scratch pesto the other day, too.

Well the recipes are tasty, so there's thhat.

Not all curries are the same. It may well be that you could use a prepackaged curry powder, but maybe not. It's probably worth a try, though.

I don't cook anymore, my wife prefers to cook while I spend time with the kids, cause it is much more relaxing for her. But to make up for that, I spend a lot of time using recipes in my teaching, because I think that the way to build up from a simple list of ingredients to a series of steps to a presentation format is a helpful way for students to learn English, and there are now so many cooking shows, that one can get really interesting clips to go over in class. My students are now all English language and literature, but when I was teaching medical students, they didn't really respond to recipes in the standard format, so I started using cooking for engineers, which they really liked. The site is still there, and always a fun read.

Mu husband and I eat separately most of the time but twice a week we have date night. On those nights either he cooks for both of us or I do. We eat together, watch somethig on Netfix, and finish off with wine and cigars on the deck. He has three thigs he cooks: pasta and veggies, salmon, or a quiche from the bakery.

I enjoy cooking. Once I get the basic idea of what is needed for a particlualr recipe, I enjoy makig variations. I am also learning the quirks of the authors of my cookbooks. One, for example, has a prejudice against salt so the recipes always come out, to my mind, tasteless unless I add some. That same book had a recipe for an Italian dish consisting of ricotta cheese and spiinach stuffed into tubes of pasta. The author wanted me to put in waht seemed like an undue amount of nutmeg. I halved the nutmeg and it was still too much. Infact I think their usggested amount might be a typo. I guess every cookbook auther has his or her own idiocyncrasies.


If you visit Sweden, try a Plopp.

Yeah, Plopp, the five-inch roughly cylindrical chocolate candy bar.

I ran across it about 8 or 10 years ago on a trip, along with other hilarious (to the bleary-eyed American and his young son driving through Sweden and both convulsing in completely inappropriate laughter in a Swedish convenience store/gas station; perhaps lj remembers the story --- I think I related it here once or at TIO) candy bar brands.

My son was the perfect age, 12 or 13, and I still am, for that kind of silliness. For weeks afterwards, I could catch his eye in company and quietly say something like "I could use ... a Plopp .. right about now. Couldn't you?" and the milk he was drinking would shoot from his nostrils.

"Dumle" was another. There was a third. I guess "Mounds" sounds silly too.

The kid is actually in Croatia right now, headed for Greece and Turkey, the lucky stiff.

Croatia might have a candy bar called the "Balkan", probably bits of disparate-flavored candy jammed into one package.

For the science of cooking, an endlessly fascinating book for perusal is "On Food and Cooking -- The Science and Lore of the Kitchen" by Harold McGee, and lots of time can be spent contemplating flavor combinations and affinities in the "The Flavor Bible" by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg.

Laura, you might want to use the latter for ways to include your coriander in soome new dishes.

Cooking for engineers? Don't they get the mashed potatoes all over their slide rules trying to line them on the plate with the meat course and to construct gravy reservoirs.

That last was for Slart, who I believe once made a picture-perfect souffle using little more than a nail gun and a plumb line.

I highly recommend The Cook's Illustrated Cookbook for highly shortcutted but still-delicious recipes. I would love to whittle that book down to a selection of recipes that I would actually prepare on a regular basis, but I have done several of them and they've been uniformly good. Also: they preface each recipe with what they were looking to do, and what shortcuts they attempted and what finally wound up working and why. The last thing I cooked out of that book was quite good; definitely a do-again, and fairly quick to throw together.

Don't let the name throw you; this is a cookbook that works for novices and experienced cooks alike. If some of the recipes look daunting, pick another.

Cook's is great.

I read the magazine at the grocery store.

FWIW I consider myself a competent but not highly talented cook. I've done quite a few things out of Magnolias: Authentic Southern Cuisine (although definitely not the dish shown on the cover. I have a friend who has done that one, though, and it's absolutely wonderful) and Norman's New World Cuisine.

As with many other things, the key is to get comfortable with what a particular dish is all about, flavor-wise. Then you can do variants, shortcuts, etc. For instance, Magnolias has a recipe for coriander-encrusted tuna steaks on potato pancakes with a spicy mango salsa and sauteed escarole. The first couple of times I made it, I did everything (I thought) just like the recipe stated, but the coating on the fish was WAY too salty. So then I cut back on the salt, and it improved. What really improved things, though, was going back over the start of the cookbook and reading that when the recipe asks for coarse sea salt, use that. Don't substitute an equivalent amount of table salt, because table salt is much saltier than sea salt. Which sounds wrong, but the last couple of times I've made it with sea salt in the recommended amount and it was just right.

Also: there's a lot that you can do in advance. If you try to prepare dinner from scratch, you're going to be in a rush and maybe even stressed. So: try the recipe out a few times, think about it, pick some things to prepare in advance and then do those the night before. You can make the mango vinaigrette the night before and no one will be able to tell. Also: the potatoes for the potato pancakes you can prepare the night before; you can even form them into pancakes the night before. The coating for the fish you can do the night before; you can even coat the fish and let the coating sort of act as a marinade (because it's coriander and pepper and the like).

And then you can experiment around with substitutes. We were on vacation and had brought some of our habaneros from our garden, and so we used that instead of jalapeno in the mango vinaigrette. Now that we've done that, we're going to do it that way every time unless and until we find an even tastier variation. And of course the side dish (sauteed escarole): it's hard to find escarole in the market most times of the year, so you can do kale instead, or even collards and the like.

For me, the point of cooking is to eventually be able to cook delicious meals and have fun while doing it. On the 4th I spent literally all day cooking, and I loved it. Our dinner was pulled pork with Carolina Barbecue sauce, corn relish, a salad with Caesar dressing, and dirty rice. In other words, it was a pastiche of different items from Magnolias.

A couple of days later I wanted to use some of our oversupply of collards, and I looked through all of our cookbooks until I found a recipe for White Beans, Chorizon and Collard Greens Caldo, which is a very hearty and spicy soup that is also very easy to make. Hot tip: if you can't find fresh chorizo, or don't like chorizo, use spicy Italian sausage.

So. I've been a busy boy.

Cripes, now I'm starving.

I did my grocery shopping yesterday at the usual chain places for the bargains, then did a quick walk-thru Whole Foods and noticed the fresh chanterelle mushrooms are in season, so I picked up a quarter pound (paying at gunpoint; talk about force!).

Last night I made some creamy scrambled eggs with some of the shrooms, fresh thyme, shallots, a little cream, chicken broth, white wine. Add a simple arugula salad with a tiny bit of red onion and a flesh lemon juice and neutral-tasting oil and yum-de-dum.

What to to do with the remaining mushrooms, you might well arsk.

Well, I'm thinking a corn chowder with bacon and lump crab, more thyme, lots of mushrooms. Fresh, sweet corn off the cob -- the cobs then heated in some chicken broth and cream to extract flavor and discarded.

I bought some fresh white sea bass on sale too, so maybe pan saute that and place it on a bed of creamy white polenta with mascarpone and saute the mushrooms for over top.

The sea bass recipe I have calls for a bed of pureed roasted red peppers with chives, but maybe I'll do both -- one on one half of the plate and the other on the other half.

Left over shrooms will go into a wild mushroom pasta tomorrow.

Where to start?

I'll be right over, Count. That all sounds better than good. I'm going to have to Google mascarpone, though.

yesterday i harvested our first batch of shishito peppers. these are little green Japanese chilies which (other than a few sneaky individuals) have absolutely no heat at all.

cooking them is as simple as can be: pan-fry in a little oil until just brown, then sprinkle with kosher salt. eat the whole thing (except the stem). they're awesome as an appetizer, or as a garnish.

today i think we'll be plucking our first tomatoes (first ever!)

mascarpone -- a sweet, creamy Italian cheese, found in a container in your cheese section.

Usually used in desserts, like cannoli, along with ricotta.

Also found something new -- for me -- a mango nectarine. They come in the shape of a nectarine but are the color of green/yellow mango. They taste like either mangoes or nectarines, can't remember which the label said, but I'll find out once they're ripe.

mascarapone -- small, chalky, vividly-colored savory cakes.

Trouble is, when you talk about mascarpone or marcone almonds, or m & m's, who cares about the recipe? The ingredients are gone before it's made!

"flesh" lemon juice?!?

Has anyone been reported missing? I came to this morning, but I swear I know nothing.

Or, do I have Sebastian disease?

Mascara pony.

What Mick Jagger and David Bowie rode together in 1970.

Try a douche burger.

This guy, as of seven minutes ago, is my new favorite person in the known universe.

Among other brilliant enterprises designed to stem my boredom, he runs a food truck in NYC.

Asterisks added for the f*cking servers.

"The 666 Burger is a custom locally sourced grind, grilled to juicy, mouthwatering perfection. An extreme level of deliciousness that all burgers should strive for, but which only 666 can attain. The Douche Burger costs $666.00 and consists of a f*cking burger filled and topped with rich people sh*t. Kobe beef patty (wrapped in gold leaf), foie gras, caviar, lobster, truffles, imported aged gruyere cheese (melted with champagne steam) kopi luwak bbq sauce and Himalayan rock salt. It may not taste good, but it will make you feel rich as f*ck. Douche."

Also, they wrap the thing in three $100 bills, so when the douche who buys and eats it is done, he's left with three greasy, and probably useless, three hundred dollar bills.

Thus "douche".

It's like a sub-prime mortgage on a bun, the perfect compliment to financial douchegheddon.

I'm thinking the guy is Presidential material.

Read the whole thing. Hat tip to Sullivan.


For Slart's benefit, I'll post the link at TIO on the LIBOR thread, so's he can click.

Yep, I made that link live, because I really want one of those Kim Jong-Il t-shirts.

I used to spend a few months a year for several years in Tokyo. I never really had a problem with finding American-style foods: Denny's, McDonalds, KFC, Domino's, Wendy's, TGI Friday's, Outback, etc. restaurants aplenty. I generally avoided them though, prefering local sushi, noodle shops, izakayas, teppanyaki, yakitori, etc. Also, japanese fast food chains like Yoshinoya or the ubiquitous beef bowl (whose logo is a pair of circles one inside the other).
I was in Minato-ku, so I fairly regularly ate at La Fiesta (Tex/Mex) and Pizzakaya (US-ian style pizza that isn't frakking Dominos) in Roppongi. Good eats for the homesick yank.
What I really loved about Tokyo was the wide variety of restaurant/cuisine from around the world. Besides every type of Japanese cuisine, Italian, French, Spanish, African, Indian, Chinese, Korean places abound, especially in and around Roppongi and Akasaka, the "gaijin ghettos" of Tokyo.

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