Archive for January, 2007

A week in review (part trois): celebratory berry tart

Friday Jan. 19,


Hurrah!!! I’m done with interviews for the week! I need to bake some therapeutic tart…


Hungry. Trudged uptown for dinner at Sezz Medi with Ry. Hurrah! Food!




Proceeded to Fairway. Shopped deliriously because I was too excited.


Started making the tart, deliriously because I was too excited.


Anisa’s Delirious Celebratory Berry Tart (crust recipe from How to Be a Domestic Goddess)

for the crust:
7 tbsp. soft unsalted butter
1/4 cup sugar
3 yolks
1 cup + 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour

for the filling:
1 egg, separated
some amount of creme fraiche (probably 1 cup)
about equal amount of fromage blanc
enough sugar to make it tastes good (about 1/4 cup?)
strawberries, raspberries, blackberries or whatever fruit tickles your fancy

for the wine gelee/glaze:
1/2 cup whine wine (approx.)
enough sugar to make it tastes like moscato (if using nondessert wine)
1-2 tsp. gelatin powder

1. To make the pastry, cream the butter and the sugar together, then add the yolks one at a time. Stir in the flour to form a soft dough, then form a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and rest in the refrigerator for half an hour (or in the freezer for 15 min).

2. Once the dough has cooled down to play-doh texture, line a flat surface with a big sheet of wax paper, sit the dough on the sheet and cover it with another big sheet of wax paper. Roll out the pastry between wax paper to fit the pan. The dough is delicate so use the bottom piece of paper to help you carry your dough to the tart pan. Push gently down so that it lies flat at the bottom, leaving a little overhang. Put back in the fridge to rest for 10 min.

3. Preheat the oven to 350F. Roll a rolling pin (or an empty wine bottle if you’re ghetto like me) over the top of the pastry shell to cut off excess pastry. Line the pan with foil/wax paper and fill with baking beans. Bake for 15 min, then remove the beans and the paper and continue baking for 5-10 more min. Transfer to a wire rack and cool.

4. To make the filling, whisk the white until stiff but not dry and set aside. Beat the yolk with the sugar until thick and pale; you may think there’s too much sugar to make a paste, but persist: it happens. Add the creme fraiche and fromage blanc and beat until smooth. Fold in the egg white and pile and smooth this mixture into the prepared tart shell (that has sufficiently cooled down). Put in the fridge for 20-30 min to set.

5. In the meantime, cut the berries, make the glaze, steal a glass of wine and think of innovative noncircular ways to arrange the fruit (although you’re going to end up doing a circular design anyway because the tart pan is circular as James has pointed out to me. Thanks!)

6. To make the glaze, heat the wine in a saucepan and add a couple tsp. of sugar to make it tastes like Moscato. I happened to have a white Bordeaux so I used that. Ideally, I would use a still, aromatic dessert wine like Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. But anyway, let the wine simmer for a little bit. Then mix the gelatin powder with some cold water then pour the liquid into the wine pot. Stir and turn off the heat. Let cool.

7. The most challenging part! Arrange the fruit. Once you’re done, pour the gelee/glaze over the whole entire surface. Voila!


in full glory

I apologize for being unspecific with the quantity of certain ingredients. I was delirious and sort of playing and making it up along the way, so I forgot to jot down how much of each thing I actually threw into the mixing bowls. Use your senses =p. They’re the best measuring tools you’ll ever own.


 For the filling, I took inspiration from the creamy frozen dessert at Aquavit that uses a combination of creme fraiche, fromage blanc, and goat cheese. I know that using berries around this time is very unseasonal – Alice Waters forgive me. I was too fixated on the creme fraiche + fromage blanc combo and I knew it would go well with berries, (or they’re the most obvious complement and I was too delirious to think). The gelee/glaze idea came at the last minute. The occasion called for some alcohol anyway.


A pathetic attempt at plating

I love making tarts. They’re one of those things that seem deceptively complicated, but are actually fairly easy too make. You spend the most time on the pastry. The rest is just beating, cutting fruit, and putting it all together. The procedure is therapeutic and the product tastes good. Please give it a try.


Thanks to James for taking the pictures. Yay, I make semi-photogenic tarts!


A week in review (part deux): eating can take you places

Time:               Monday Jan. 15, 7:00pm 

Location:         West Chelsea, unassuming corner of 10th and 20th

Hypothesis:     I, the whiner, make poor life decisions (as Mi would say).

It’s crunch time, 5:30pm the night before the start of a full week of relentless interviews. As other Wall Street hopefuls engaged themselves in some last minute immersification in this very very thought-provoking, life-changing literary piece called the Vault Guide to Finance Interviews, I, a very poor life decision maker, decided it’s about time to catch up with my dear mentor/friend Shar and responded to her post (Sorry Shar! It would be too selfish of me to not share this with other people. =p):


Single 21 yr old avid Miss Piggy who believes she has skills in the kitchen but mostly in consumption is responding to post made by Miss Hsieh on her Facebook. Petite, Asian, voracious eater and willing to travel far and wide for her food. Adventurous, discerning palate and an appetite that can beat a brontasaurus on certain occassions. Willing to detox liver in preparation for a night of alcohol consumption as well.

Look forward to a rambunctious evening filled with much ooh-ing and aah-ing over pretty, dainty fare, or of stuffing her face with comfort foods. Please contact the author of this post for more information, and feel free to invite other fellows and fellellas (female fellows) to join in the fun.

Dates available are Thurs. 01/11; Sat. 01/13 (evening only); Sun. 01/14 – Wed. 01/17 for breakfast, lunch, dinner, tea, or supper unless otherwise indicated. Reservations for dates are closed for the last half of the month of Jan. until late Feb./early Mar. Reservations for March can be made two (2) months in advanced but are subject to changes due to the author’s rather spontaneous flights of fancy and episodes of indecision. Please excuse any confusion that may result from this product of the author’s extremely boring life as a graduate.

(She really wrote this to me. hahaha. How can you not love her, right? =p )
As Shar and I toiled over where to go for our long overdue fantasmical, romantical dinner date, then all of a sudden – it was like a blitz episode of divine intervention – I was hearing all these voices telling me, “Cookshop, Cookshop.” How could I not heed the guidance of these mysterious deities (or more like Frank Bruni, Hal Rubenstein, and Sofia Leung who have raved and raved and raved about this little gem, and Sofia, please note that I put you in the same sentence as Frank Bruni, haha)? So merrily I skipped down to the subway station and off I went to meet up with Shar at the unassuming corner of 10th Avenue and 20th Street, our rendezvous for the night.

Because I am working on keeping each entry down to a 500-word-length (in response to all your much-appreciated feedbacks) and  because Mr. Bruni’s review of Cookshop is much more comprehensive and eloquent than any gibberish I could ever spew out, I’m just going to keep it brief here:


And I don’t have a picture of the spiced fried hominy, quite possibly one of the most addictive snacks in the City. Hulled kernels of corn get a dip in the batter then deep-fried and seasoned to perfection. Only 4 dollars! GET IT.

Then our entrees arrived (we weren’t even half done with the hominy!) Service was friendly and incredibly (also a little excessively) fast the night we were there. Shar got scallops (4 big hunks!!!), and I got duck (huge portion also). WORTH IT. GO NOW.


Maine diver scallops with romanesco cauliflower, lemon tahini, and pine nut-golden raisin gremolata


Catskill duck breast with wild rice, kumquat, pomegranate, and almond

WHOLESOME GOODNESS. The scallops and duck were so fresh and cooked perfectly. I’m usually pretty picky with duck breast because oftentimes they are overcooked and stringy, but Cookshop did it perfectly, and I was thankful for that. Besides the main stars themselves though, I was especially blown away by the vegetably, grainy, nutty concoctions that accompanied both the scallops and the duck – very innovative combination but still delicious and fresh-tasting – real palate teasers. The wild rice-kumquat-pom mix with its citrussy flavor and contrasting textures was probably one of the best duck accessories I’ve ever had – it kept the whole dish relatively light and enjoyable until the very end, which is not always the case with fattier or gamier protein like duck or lamb, or so I think.  


Winter fruit crisp with creme fraiche ice cream

And for dessert, we shared a fruit crisp comprising all the wintery fruity flavors – prunes, apricots, plums, to name a few. The warm crisp came with a small scoop of creme fraiche ice cream which complements the sweet and tart and crumbly crisp beautifully. The scoop was so tiny that we had to order second. Shar and I, bottomless pits indeed.

Now you ask, how does this have anything to do with the title of the post? Well, it has to do with the hypothesis I proposed in the beginning. Although the food was definitely worth the trip, I did suffer some serious guilt pang on my way back from dinner – maybe the timing really was off….maybe I should have stayed home…crap I wasted 3.5 hours…crap I have interviews tomorrow…

Well, I wasn’t remorseful for long. You see, I put food down as one of my interests on my resume. More specifically, the last line of my resume read, “Avid cook and amateur restaurant critic” (I know I’m silly). For better or for worse, a good number of interviewers noticed that and asked me questions about it. One interviewer asked me what my favorite thing to cook was (no favorites. It’s the means not the end, well at least if that’s how the question was phrased). A GS interviewer, whom I think was trying to test if I had lied about my interests (apparently people do that. what idiots?!?), asked me to pick a restaurant for a business lunch with his private client (Gramercy Tavern). He made me list out my reasons and asked how many times I’ve been there, in an inquisitive way (Yea, I didn’t like him too much). Then finally, an MS interviewer asked me to name my three favorite restaurants in New York. Man, that was a hard question, but I said Momofuku Ssam Bar, Fatty Crab, and Cookshop. Then another interviewer came back in from lunch break so the first interviewer relayed my answers to her, then she bursted out, “Oh my godddd, Cookshop was sooooo gooood. I went there for Sunday brunch. The brunch was sooooo diviiiinne. Oh my goddddd, I have to go there again.”

I knowwwwww. I love that place too. The dessert was soooooo gooooood. 

*instant connection*

So it turned out, I ‘ll be working at MS this summer. I’m sure that was not exactly why they picked me, but I like to think that it’s our mutual love for Cookshop that got me the job. It just makes for a much better story that way.

So no, I don’t make poor life decisions. I might go eat at the wrong time,  but it was the right place. I make good decisions. Hypothesis rejected with 100% level of confidence =p

156 10th Avenue
New York, NY 10011
(212) 924-4440

p.s. I’m going there again tomorrow for brunch. I really love this place!

A week in review (part une): an ode to David Chang / before the tempest

The tempest being one full week of relentless interviews, 6 in total. It was hellish, but definitely an invaluable experience. I learned a lot about finance, about the markets, and about myself (I’m sorry for being such a melodramatic fruitcup…but whatever). Thanks everyone for your continual support and encouragement. You guys are awesome. I have amazing friends! I’m dedicating the following three installments to all of you (like this means anything, haha).

If you’re a close friend of mine,  you probably know I have an elephantine chef crush on David Chang, the talented mastermind behind Momofuku Noodle Bar and Momofuku Ssam Bar. I don’t know what it is (well, actuall I know, it’s his food), but all of New York foodie aristocrats seem to be so smitten with him and just can’t stop talking about the dude. His speedy rise to fame is rather mindblowing, and really I don’t think there’s any other young New York chef who can claim to have gotten quite as much press as DC and his restaurants have in the past two years. The press absolutely adores the guy, and so does yours truly!

I think my first visit to Noodle Bar was during the summer of 2005. I’d just read all these rave reviews on NYT and NYMag, and suddenly everybody was gushing about the Berkshire pork and the pork buns and the ramen with poached egg. So one balmy day, my noodle buddy A and I made our fateful trip to the East Village premise. I remember ordering the Momofuku Ramen and watching DC preparing our noodles right in front of us. He was so stringent about serving the ramen at the right moment. I remember seeing him scolding his waiter for wanting to bring the bowl out too soon and then myself being so intrigued by that – someone who cares so much about his food! And then our two orders of Momofuku Ramen arrived. Oh, they were revelation. I remember marveling at the perfectly poached egg and thinking what a genius he was for pairing bamboo shoots and wakame seaweed with sweet corn kernels and fresh peas. Of course, the star was the Berkshire pork, so delicious and soulfully tender, and last but not least, the flavorful broth and the ramen itself. It’s like a tasty reverie in my mouth. Love at first taste! 

After that summer I went back several times, but no experience ever matched that first time when DC was there behind the counter. I tried the much-heralded pork buns and they were excellent; the pork was superbly fatty. The ramen, however, was never quite as revelatory as that first bowl that marked my rite of passage. The broth was starting to taste a little too salty even to my NaCl-philic palate. But again, I never saw DC there during my subsequent visits, so my suspicion was that his absence and the resulting looser quality control were causing the salt spill in the soup. Well, I loved him still.

And then we fast forward to August 2006. After much hype and speculation, Momofuku Ssam Bar opened to warm and welcoming reviews from, who else, the foodie aristocrats. It is such a novel idea on so many levels. First, Ssam Bar has a split personality: it’s a Chipotle-style Asian burrito joint by day, and a hypercool late-night grub bar with a style I can’t really pinpoint by night. Seriously, for my MS interview one of the interviewers asked me to name my top three restaurants in New York so I mentioned Momofuku Ssam Bar, and he asked what kind of food it was, and I couldn’t find a word for it…I ended up saying that it was comfort food but not in the traditional sense. It’s a mix of familiar Asian dishes tweaked to perfection and whimsical inventions that still hit the spot. Does that make sense? Yea, I can’t really put my finger on it…I ended up telling my interviewer to just go try it, haha. I hope he took my advice.

I can’t believe it took me that long to get to my point. I am so wordy. But my point is that I love the food there, even more so than Momofuku Ramen (much more so!). This is pure passion and creativity tranlated into edible terms. There’s really nothing like it. I’ve been there a few times since it opened, and the first two times I was there, the chef gave us free stuff! First time it was DC. He was busy tending to some dubious-looking pale green substance in the blender, so we asked him what it was. He told us he was doing a little experiment (Oh my god! I was so friggin excited. I was having a conversation with David Chang!!!) But anyway, we were too wrapped up in our ssams and so didn’t bother to ask him more questions.  Again, I know I’m repeating myself but the guy really is a genius, and the ssam that we were eating was one testament to his culinary vision. My Momofuku ssam (it’s like a burrito but with nontraditional fillings) was a yummy assemblage of his signature Berkshire pork, azuki beans, onion marmalade, kewpie mayo slaw, red kimchi puree, bean sprouts, edamame, rice, and I probably left something out. Once we were done with our food and ready to get our check, DC sent out a plate of raw diver scallops with a dollop of lemon rind foam (the aforementioned dubious pale green substance!) and kombu sprinkle. It was just so cool for him to give us a sample and ask for our comments. 

DC: Did I fail? 
AH: The foam is too bitter.
DC: It’s supposed to be bitter. Do I get an A+?
AH: It’s still too bitter. B+
DC: Hah, I don’t take anything below A+’s.

Ok, so this first installment is taking a little longer that I expected. But read on, my friends, delicious grub ahead. The second time we went there we actually got to try the late-night menu, and that’s really where the magic happens. Starter was oysters with a cooling topping of melon salsa. I didn’t like it too much. The oysters were too small and the melon didn’t stand up to the brininess of the oysters. We also tried the three terrine sandwich, which was really just an haute couture version of banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich) – perfection. We were debating between two apple salads (something with pork jowl? yes James?) so Joaquin (DC‘s partner) made us a sample of the other one we didn’t order (yay, more free stuff!). We also tried the dok dish, which is definitely my absolute favorite item on the menu. It’s a mixture of grilled dok (Korean rice cakes), kimchi, collard green, and ground beef/pork. This is comfort food at its height, in my humble opinion. I was a little disappointed that DC wasn’t there (haha), but Joaquin was so friendly he even gave us the contact number for the purveyor of their Berkshire pork. I think I still have it, so let me know if you’re interested.

So, I am getting to the real point now. Last Saturday D, Gilbey and I made our way to East Village for yet another helping of DC‘s delicious comfort food. It was very packed so we had to wait a little bit. Although the wait wasn’t that long, I think I’d definitely go on a weeknight next time – less crowded, no wait, and easier access to the prime seating (at the bar facing the kitchen in the center) which means full frontal chef-gazing.

But of course, now it’s time to order. By that time, the three musketeers were ravenous due to the 1-hour subway ride and 20-minute wait. First we got the grilled rice cakes with kimchi, collard green, and ground pork. My favorite! I know it doesn’t look too appetizing here, but it’s one of the most satisfying things you will ever eat.


Grilled dok with kimchi, collard green, and ground pork

Gilbey ordered this because he couldn’t eat pork. Ahh, but we’re in pork Disneyland! It was delicious nevertheless. Very clean and fresh, as D has noted.

grilled spanish mackerel

Grilled Spanish Mackarel with ume, lemon, pickled daikon, and ponzu sauce

This is my personal favorite also, a stew of beef and ox tongue with cinnamon, lemongrass, and…argh the third spice/herb’s name is eluding me. Anyway, the stew was a perfect hearty fix for the cold wintery night, and it came with crusty grilled ficelle for us to sop up the sauce with. The beef and the tongue, especially, were meltingly tender. We’re such beasts that we had to request for more bread.


Beef and ox tongue stew with cinnamon, lemongrass, and mystery herb

Gilbey also got the organic chicken ssam. After his first bite he said, “this is like an explosion of flavors in my mouth!”


Organic chicken ssam

In addition, we also got the signature Berkshire pork buns, which seemed to get fattier and fattier every time I tried it, but no complaints here.

It took us about an hour to get down, twenty minutes to get seated, but only forty minutes to inhale everything, like everything.


So, my point is…

how can you not love the dude when he makes food this good???

 I ❤ David Chang!

Momofuku Ssam Bar
207 2nd Avenue
New York, NY 10003
(212) 254-3500

10 min carbonara, 20 min clams, and 30 min scones

 (And Rachael Ray can kiss my ass.)

You know, life is hard. And sometimes after a long day at work strapped in that crappy, backache-inducing chair which you have tried to screw down and up and down again but neither direction seemed to improve your position so you sat back down glumly and started complaining to your friends, on aim or gtalk, about how all of sudden you’re buried beneath an avalanche of work and whether you should go see a chiropractor because the unpleasant tension in the left-hand corner of your upper back was beginning to affect your typing speed and because you earnestly believed that your back pain was hindering you from leading a fulfilling life, yes (please excuse my long prepositional phrase), after a long day like that, all you really want to do is to just collapse on a couch, stretch your limbs, and unwind, with a glass of wine preferably. But then, your stomach starts growling, and you’re really tempted to order in from some mediocre nearby place…resist that urge! There are so many yummy things you can whip up in your own kitchen in less than 20 minutes, or even 10 minutes, way faster than the average waiting time for delivery. Cooking doesn’t have to be time-consuming or labor-intensive all the time. Your day was backbreaking enought so let’s just keep it simple, shall we?


Spaghetti carbonara with smoked salmon

Spaghetti alla carbonara is a classic Italian dish. It’s so simple I swear it can’t take you longer than 10 minutes (unless you have a sucky pot that doesn’t conduct heat very well, then it’ll probably take you longer to boil the pasta…) Alla carbonara literally means “in the manner of the coal miners,” and according to legend, the dish was popular among the charcoal miners because of the few ingredients it required and the fairly uncomplicated cooking method. Traditionally, you would make this dish with eggs, pecorino romano cheese, and pancetta (no heavy cream!). Some recipes substitute parmesan or parmagiano-reggiano for the pecorino or use a combination of cheeses, and some also substitute bacon for the pancetta. Use whatever your heart desires. I personally like pancetta better, but sometimes when I feel like changing the flavor profile a little bit, then I use smoked salmon instead of pancetta.

Spaghetti alla carbonara with smoked salmon (1 reasonably portioned serving)
enough spaghetti for one reasonable portion
1 egg
1/4 cup parmesan cheese (or parmagiano-reggiano or pecorino)
3-4 slices of smoked salmon
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp. olive oil
Salt and peper
1 sprig of parsley

1. Start boiling the spaghetti. The remaining steps can be done while the pasta is being cooked.
2. Smash the garlic. Heat the oil in a skillet at low to moderate heat. Toss in the garlic and let it sit there for 5-7 minutes (make sure it doesn’t burn). This will allow the garlic to release its aroma and the result is very flavorful garlic infused oil.
3. While the oil is being infused, cut the salmon into strips and crack the egg and mix it with the cheese. Season the egg mixture with salt and pepper (not too much salt because the cheese and smoked salmon are already salty).
4. When the oil is ready, add the pancetta and saute for about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat. By this time, the pasta should be just perfectly al dente. Drain the pasta and add the hot pasta into the skillet. Pour the egg mixture into the pasta and stir like a mad woman, making sure you’re not stirring too hard that you’re breaking the spaghetti. If the pasta takes longer than the pancetta, turn off the heat on the skillet anyway and wait for the pasta.
5. Season the pasta generously with freshly ground pepper. The liberal use of black pepper is a modern-day metaphor for the specks of coal that would inevitably drop from the miners’ clothes to the plates of pasta (isn’t this story so neat?!?). Then garnish with parsley.

After the carbonara Tuesday, the backche still persisted, but so did my need for food. I happened to have soppresseta and littleneck clams on hand, so this recipe instantly came to mind. I love the combination of cured meat and shellfish here, and when I tried it on Wednesday, the result was very pleasing. The soppreseta and the crushed red pepper lend a nice spicy edge to the otherwise classic French dish of clams/mussels in whine wine broth. I used a white bordeaux and vermouth as called for in the recipe and served it over a mound of fettucine, although this would also be really nice with some crusty grilled bread to sop up the deliciously flavorful broth. Because of the minimal chopping, this only took me about 20 minutes from start to finish. Please try it!


Littleneck clams with soppresetta and sweet vermouth

And here’s a look at the soppresetta…


I think I had more than 3 slices during the course of cooking, but hey, they made good amuse bouche. My mouth was definitely amused =p

Last but not least, I made some scones yesterday before going to dinner. Yes, for better or for worse, my life revolves around food.


Sundried-tomato and basil scones before going into the oven

If you know me, I put sundried tomato and basil in a lot of things, like a lot, but I can proudly say that this is my original recipe. I came up with this, hah! Again, these are so easy you can do it in less than 40 minutes. The scones are good for breakfast or late night snacks or anytime!  They are savory and buttery and reminiscent of pizza. Pizza! I think that’s why everybody loves them. One warning though, these babies are definitely not for dieters or people with weight/heart problems. Ok now that that’s cleared up, I have no liabilities.

Sundried tomato and basil scones  (16-20 scones)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 pinch salt
1 stick of cold butter
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup grated parmasan cheese
1/2 cup tightly packed chopped basil (approx.)
1/2 cup chopped sundried tomatoes (approx.)

1. Preheat the oven to 400F. Mix the flour, baking powder and salt together. Sift.
2. Cut the cold butter into small cubes. Add them to the flour mixture and and mix it with your fingers briefly, briefly being the operative word. Stop mixing when it gets to wet sand consistency. So what if you overmix? The consequence here is grave because you will end up with heavy and cakey scones, which can’t really be called scones since proper scones have to be light and flaky.
3. Add in the heavy cream and grated cheese. Mix briefly to form a dough. Then add the basil and sundried tomatoes. At this point you can break and bake whichever way you like. I like to roll mine up in wax paper with a bamboo sushi roller, so I end up with a long cylinder, which makes it easier and faster to form uniform looking scones.
4. Bake the scones at 400F for 20-25 minutes. Because the flecks of sundried tomatoes and basil always burn very quickly on the outside, I like to lower the heat to 325F after 15 minutes, so the scones don’t look too unappetizing.

And very very lastly, I haven’t forgotten about my eggs! I’ve been playing around with them, and I will post an epic entry on them soon. It will be interesting.

 Now go make scones and don’t forget to eat locally and buy from farmers’ markets. =)


My Fairway organic eggs that have been trucked in all the way from Wisconsin. Buying from farmers’ markets will decrease the amount of petroleum wasted on transportation.

p.s. I take horrible photos. I’m sorry.


As a way of showing my sincere respect and heartfelt appreciation for this great Japanese feat, the oodles of noodles known as soba, I am making this entry a silent entry, meaning there’ll be no chatty yap yap yap like usual.


Actually it’s because I’m tired and delirious as hell…hah.


Shiso-wrapped chicken tempura with ume salt


Uni soba with grated yam


Ice cream trio: honey wasabi, black sesame, and yuzu (left to right)


Everything I had there was excellent, especially the toothsome buckwheat soba, hearty and light and refreshing at the same time – very satisfying.

I’ll probably come back to add more comments later, but bed for now.

229 E. Ninth St.
New York, NY10009
Phone (212) 533-6966

Omnivore’s dilemma

My trip to Fairway today took a little longer than usual.  No, I wasn’t doing grocery for a grand slam 7-course dinner party for 10 people or anything like that, but the extra time was spent on eggs. Yes, chicken eggs. I just finished reading Michael Pollan’s  The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which took me quite a while to get through, and now I’m left a little disoriented. Well, first of all, to echo all the 2006 books of the year lists, The Omnivore’s Dilemma is a must-read. Mr. Pollan is thoroughly intelligent and a delightful writer. His book is so jam-packed with myriad relevant information that upon finishing it, you feel both enlightened and burdened by the surfeit of new knowledge. Like what Pollan himself said of his experience reading Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation, I feel the same way after reading his book: you either have to look away (from all the problems that are now apparent to you and pretend like they don’t matter) or you change.

I’m not going to go into details with the book because you should read it. But basically, The Omnivore’s Dilemma explores the politics, ethics, and business of food production. One thing though, Pollan is not telling us to all become vegans–even he himself is still an omnivore at the end of the book. What he’s trying to say is that eating is naturally and unavoidably a political act, that everytime you go into a grocery store you are voting with your dollars and what goes into your cart has real repercussions on the future of the earth.

So now we come back to Fairway. There I was, in the grocery store, smacked in the middle of my own omnivore’s dilemma. You see, I come from a frugal family, so shopping for produce has always abided by one easy rule: eggs are eggs; they’re all the same, so you go for the cheapest eggs. And today at Fairway, I was trying to both maximize the value of my dollars and vote with my cart, simultaneously. Who am I kidding with? Cognitive dissonance?

I definitely did not have ignorant enough of a mind to avert my eyes completely and just forget about what I read (and actually agreed with), but I sure wasn’t prepared to take a big leap. I enjoy eating meat too much to give it up, and I  can’t afford to buy all my produce organic right now, although I do plan to do that after graduation when I’ll have a stable income. One thing I did buy organic today though was the eggs, thanks to Mr. Pollan who so dutifully described the inhumane practice that went on in the industrial egg operations:

The fate is reserved for the American laying hen, who spends her brief span of days piled together with a half-dozen other hens in a wire cage on the floor of which four pages of this book could carpet wall to wall. Every natural instinct of this hen is thwarted, leading to a range of behavioral “vices” that can include cannibalizing her cage mates and rubbing her breast against the wire mesh until it is completely bald and bleeding…And when the output of the survivors begins to ebb, the hens will be “force-molted” –starved of food and water and light for several days in order to stimulate a final bout of egg laying before their life’s work is done.

Not very happy hens, eh? Unable to erase that image off of my mind, I dragged my cart to the elevator and ascended to the upper level of Fairway organic heaven. So this is why it took me longer than usual: now that a dozen of eggs was going to cost me more than $3 instead of the measly $0.79, I had to do a little more work to make sure that I was still maximizing my dollar value. In this case, that would mean some kind of a warrant that the hens that my eggs came from were indeed happy hens who once led happy lives roaming in a small organic, preferably family-owned, farm (as opposed to industrial organic, because there’s a huge difference between those two). In the end, I wound up with Organic Valley’s Organic Large Brown Eggs which cost me a cool $3.99, just about four times more expensive than its conventional counterpart. I picked Organic Valley because I was drawn to the words advertised on the cartons like Cage Free, Family of Farms, and free-range hens. The little drawing of an idyllic farm with a red barnhouse on the hill helped too. Call me a marketing victim, but I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt in exchange for a notion of happy hens. As I made my way to the register, I realized that there wasn’t any meat in my cart except for a quarter-pound of pancetta and a quarter-pound of soppresetta (a sort of a high-end cousin of pepperoni).

Shit. Am I turning vegetarian?

This will probably go after a week…

Feeling all virtuous from my $4/dozen egg purchase, I smugly hailed a cab home and proceeded to cook a simple, wholesome meal with D. I settled on vegetable ragu with polenta, and to make up for the lack of meat, grilled portobello with balsamic reduction. It’s just one of those nights when all you want is something warm and comforting, and polenta definitely ranks near the top of my comfort food list. Mr. beefy portobello also enjoys a very special place in my promiscuous heart, so there you go.

polenta and with chunky vegetable ragu

Ok, so this wasn’t completely vegetarian; I actually snuck in a few slices of pancetta (cured meats and I, our love runs deep). First I sauteed some garlic and onion with the pancetta, let everything sweat and brown for a little bit, then added the tomatoes, zucchini, carrot, eggplants, yellow pepper, and basil. I used the no-stir recipe I found in Gourmet for the polenta: bring 4 cups of water with a pinch of salt to a boil, add the polenta in a thin stream whisking for 2 minutes, let simmer at low heat covered, stir every 10 min for the next 45 min, then finish with 2 tbsp. of butter. This is the best polenta recipe I’ve tried to date. So creamy with such minimal effort! Cooking the polenta covered allows condensation to build up, which eliminates the need for constant stirring.

As for the mushroom, I massaged it with some olive oil, garlic, and thyme, put it under the broiler for about 7-8 min each side, then topped it off with balsamic reduction (should’ve been a drizzle, but I overpoured the balsamic so the mushroom was drowning a little bit…oh well.) D brought a cabernet, which I thought went really well with the portobello. Thanks D!

And we’ll see what becomes of my organic happy hens’ eggs…



January 2007
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