Photos From Today’s Adventures

I need to buy a little time regarding the class since I am suffering from extreme food coma from all the delicious food! Also, my photos didn’t turn out so well, so I’m hoping for back ups from my trusty friends (hint!). In the meantime, a little photographic preamble…

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The day began with me cutting my finger instead of the chicken leg I was prepping. Good news is I’ll live… and that nobody was there to hear me cursing! It got better from there… Our marketing tour of Chinatown was a great success! It began, as they all should with a visit to Tung Woo for my tau fu fa.
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As long as we were repeating my trial run yesterday, we decided buns and tea at Century Cafe would be a good idea as well… It was, but it did put us a tad bit off schedule. Oh well, wandering certainly does not imply sticking to an itinerary. So we ate (and had a great conversation with two Chinese women who highly recommend the chicken feet (called Adidas in the Philippines!)… next time!

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We actually did do some grocery shopping as well…

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Then came the class itself. I’ll write all about it tomorrow, promise.

At the end of the very long day, I never made it to Coney Island (weather & laziness prevailed). However, I did enjoy a couple of small indulgences with friends in the ‘hood…

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Wandering Chinatown

Just got back from a short but filling & productive walk through Manhattan’s Chinatown searching for ingredients and inspiration for tomorrow’s Filipino cooking class. My dear brother-in-law was kind enough to walk around earlier this week, providing me with a list of shops by name, address, and specialty – that was kinda like cheating, but in a good way!

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Like most of my Chinatown excursions, today started at Tung Woo Co., basically a garage door to nowhere at 232 Grand Street near Bowery. In front of this open garage door you will find two pots of hot, fresh tofu (tau fu fa) that you can purchase by the pint (served with a simple, sweet sauce) for only $1.00… hands down the cheapest aphrodisiac food in NYC! This warm, slippery, nutty, sweet, savory treat is well worth the nervous pointing, and fumbling through the long line of surly little Asian women to get the goods! Today, the lady behind the counter was hoarding a stash of handmade dumplings that she was showing off to some of her regulars – I managed to get her to sell me 3 for $1.25… The surprise treat was tender chewy and stuffed with pork, fresh water chestnuts, and shitake mushrooms. Don’t be afraid to ask!

Next door to one of the grocery stores we visited is the Century Cafe at 123 Bowery, just off Grand Street. This place was packed and only had a few obligatory signed in English; otherwise, we were on our own to point and hope for something delicious. We scored again! Taro bun, coconut bun, a flossy pork meal-in-a-bun… Oh my! So far a lunch buffet for two has not exceeded $10! I’ll be back to this place – they have a chicken feet bun that is calling my name! (Really!)

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Last stop on the feeding frenzy was Fried Dumplings at 106 Mosco Street… 5 fried pork dumplings for $1.00, sitting at a counter with a bottle of black vinegar, a bottle of siracha, and a view of 2 Chinese grandmothers making dumplings by hand – Priceless! (No photos, at their request)

Walking back to FCI, weighed down with several types of vinegar and soy sauces, frozen produce that is not available fresh in this country, and nearly a full container of tau fu fa, I made a fateful (and fairly expensive) discovery at one of the million produce markets… fresh, perfect texture, beautiful mangosteens! One bag cost more than everything else we ate all day, but so worth every penny! Memories taste so good!

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In Real Time: This Weekend’s Itinerary

Tomorrow is the Filipino cooking class for my blogging group. We’ll be joined by a group of Filipina expats, so expect an authentically good time!

Today I’m going to scope out the Chinatown shopping scene for tomorrow’s class… Lunch and snacks will be necessary along the way! From there, it’s off to work – another food & wine class tonight.

Tomorrow after class I’m off to Coney Island with an old friend for dinner… Been a long time since I’ve been there, can’t wait!

Hope you’ll join me along the way!

Rome Two Ways, Part II – With Family

My father has lived in Genazzano, a beautiful walled hilltop town east and slightly south of Rome, for about 5 years now. I’ve not visited nearly enough for my taste, and I’m sure not for his either!

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We are quite fortunate to have been adopted into his wife’s small but extremely generous family. From the moment we met on the terrace of their farmhouse, it was as if we had always been family. Their home in “campagna” (the countryside outside of town) is one of my favorite places to visit in the world… one of only two places that could ever take me from my beloved NYC!

On a recent visit, after spending several days alone in Rome, my father brought me directly from the train station to the house in campagna for a welcome lunch. As you can imagine, this was no simple lunch! Spaghetti with spicy red clam sauce, merluzza (cod) with tomato sauce, wild quail braised in white wine, and  fagiolini (a type of green bean) baked in béchamel, served with three types of local wines… then on to fresh fruits, cakes, espresso, and grappa to finish it all off… and this was a “simple” lunch!

After such a glorious welcome lunch, the late afternoon begged for something quiet and peaceful. My father’s wife is an architectural historian (to simplify the description) and the best personal tour guide to the ancient towns around Rome (and the city of, for that matter) that you could possibly ask for – and she speaks perfect English (unlike the rest of the family, who speak as much English as I speak Italian – you can laugh now!).

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We spent the rest of the day in the ancient town of Palestrina (all you ancient-Rome geeks, eat your heart out!) visiting the Museo Archeologico Prenestino – the National Archeological Museum of Palestrina that is housed in the former Palazzo Barberini-Colona built upon the ancient temple to Fortuna. The ever-growing collection of impeccably preserved mosaics are well worth the trip… private family tour guide not included!

Thursday’s Media Review: More Reasons to Wander

Wednesday is the day most of the major newspapers in the US publish their food sections. That’s why I chose Thursday as a “media review” day… it usually takes me that long to read everything I’m interested in. By the time I catch up, I’m so inspired by one thing or another, or several, that I want to share my thoughts with whoever will listen, or read along, as the case may be (that’s where you come in, dear reader!).

This morning, a couple of articles on the New York Times online Dining and Wine page caught my attention. Both taunted my inner gypsy with new places to wander both near and far.

As for the “near,” there was a piece on five upcoming NYC food festivals in an article by Dave Cook called “A Little Taste of Somewhere Else.” The Indonesian Food Bazaar in Astoria, Queens unfortunately conflicts with the Filipino cooking class I’ll be teaching on Sunday; and now I am torn between the Paella Parade at Water Taxi Beach and the Philippine Independence Day Festival in Midtown next Sunday – decisions, decisions! I’m sure it won’t be difficult to convince my Swedish friends to accompany me to the Swedish Midsummer Festival near Battery Park on June 19; and I’m sure I can find some curious water-gun-packing partners in crime to join me for the Rakhaing Thingyan Burmese New Year Water Festival on July 12. I can cover several continents within a month without ever getting on a plane… hope you’ll join me!

As for the “far,” an article originally published in the Arts section, “Food Vendors: A Thai Tradition With a Twist of Innovation” by Brian Mertens, has renewed my longing for a visit to Thailand… and all the talk of innovative street vendors can’t help but make me think of Singapore as well. Time to look into getting an Asia Airpass and finding a way to make some long-held travel dreams come true!

Rome Two Ways, Part I – Alone in the City

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As I mentioned in a previous post, on a recent visit to Italy, I decided to spend a few days alone in the city before heading south to Genazzano to spend time with my father. My last day in the city, I wandered from piazza to piazza taking in the sounds, smells, and more than my fair share of gelato. My time alone in Rome was quite a contrast to my time with family in “campagna”… here’s an example.

One of my stops was the market at the Campo di Fiore, one of the most popular sites with tourists that is equally popular with locals. As I marveled at the heaps of exotic (to me) puntarelle and the bushels of purple-tinged artichokes in all sizes, I wished for a kitchen and a large group of friends and family to feed the many dishes my mind was preparing in a fantasy of olive oil and fresh pasta.

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I stopped for real Roman pizza at a small bakery at the far corner of the piazza then purchased a bag of olives “nero al forno” (roasted black olives) to bring back to my room. Later that evening, I relaxed with a bottle of Frascati, the local white wine, and my treats from the market sat on my small terrace in the back of the Hotel Artorius. The view was of the rooftops and tiny yards behind ancient buildings – laundry and flowers hung from every available perch. This now trendy neighborhood was an ancient slum even at the time when Julius Caesar purchased an apartment building here for his daughter as a wedding gift! Places like this always “speak” to me on a deep level; some things must be appreciated alone.

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Then there are the many experiences that would not exist if it were not for large groups of loved ones! More on that in the next post…

Diva Toscana

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I originally wrote this in October 2008, I’ve edited it a bit for this, but the heart of the story remains strong. I’ve been thinking about my friend Sandra quite a bit lately – especially since I know I recently missed her infamous “Fish Night”! This, as she will not be surprised to see, is all about her (isn’t everything, Bella?!).

 

Group photo from Josh

Under the guise of a business trip, I left the Roman countryside for three days and nights at the Tuscan seashore. My plan: to visit a vacation cooking school called Toscana Saporita  on the Camporomano estate near Lucca, where owner Sandra Lotti has been holding court for over a decade. Despite the scenery, the fabulous food and wine, and the beautiful men (more on that in a bit!), meeting Sandra was the highlight of my journey.

As I planned my trip to Italy, Toscana Saporita was recommended by a colleague who had visited in the past – our schools have an ongoing relationship; several of our alumni work, or have worked, with Sandra over the years. In preparing me for my visit, I was told, “the woman who runs the school is a real Diva”… given the source of the remark, I considered this high praise and looked forward to the visit even more! This certainly did not prepare me for the whirlwind of energy, knowledge, and passion for life in a blonde wig that is Sandra!

To say she is deeply knowledgeable and passionate about her culture and sharing it barely scratches the surface. Diva-hood is a big part of her charm (no wilting flower here) – she has a heart of gold and a tiara to match! Sandra does not simply teach, cook, and write of Tuscan food and culture, she exalts it… she preaches with the zeal of the most devout evangelist… from food selection to the cooking vessel to accompaniments chosen, she has a sermon for each step of the way. Then she feeds you – before the primi is over, you are hooked for life!

Like any good Diva, Sandra does all this surrounded by a crew of talented, passionate, warm-hearted, fun, and incredibly beautiful young men! During my visit, each played a role in a well-orchestrated interactive performance that drew the guests into their inner circle of private jokes, familial play, friendly competition, and absolute passion for good food. I’d never leave my kitchen if I shared it with these guys!

I mentioned a blonde wig. Sandra recently completed chemotherapy for breast cancer and is eagerly awaiting the return of her hair. In the meantime, she dons a sassy blonde wig that has a personality all its own! To me, everything about Sandra was inspiration enough already… the fact that she is a breast cancer survivor who continued to inspire students each day throughout her treatment, and continues to live life at a level of passion and intensity that would exhaust the average person, only make her more fabulous!

As I mentioned, this was written last year (in October)… since then, Sandra’s lovely locks have returned in full force… she’s even blonde again, and seems sassy as ever! I can’t wait to see her again someday soon!

Americanization of Immigrant Cuisine

Big words! Especially to me, since that was basically my Master’s dissertation subject. After all those months of studying Chef Boyardee, Ragu, and Stouffer’s Lasagna I wondered how I would translate it into something a bit more readable to the masses. There’s still hope!

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Today’s drizzle of hope came from, yet another New York Times article… “A Chili Sauce to Crow About” by John T. Edge (a gastronome’s hero, of sorts). It is my belief (as you may read in my dissertation, if you are a sucker for punishment) that, when immigrants arrive in a new country, they bring with them the flavors of memory and that this is not always a reliable reflection of what they truly ate in their own countries. From there, the flavors are reproduced using foods available in their new homes (in the US, California seems to play a huge role in sourcing flavors, as you can read in Edge’s article & my dissertation). As demand increases from the immigrant population, the product becomes mass produced and discovered by those in the “host culture” (native foodies). The native foodies adopt the new product and eventually disperse it throughout the mainstream population rendering it all but recognizable to the original immigrants and completely unrecognizable to those in the country whose migrants created the product.

In “A Chili Sauce to Crow About,” Edge takes us on this journey with one of the most popular chili sauces on the market in the US today – Sriracha (aka Rooster Sauce). Technically, Sriracha is as American as it gets… it’s creation is a contemporary “American dream” scenario of a Vietnamese immigrant creating a sauce flavored to mimic his memory of home for an immigrant community. He makes this product in a former Wham-O (frisbees and hoolahoop) factory in Southern California from American ingredients, names it after a town in Thailand, and sells it to American chefs who make French-sounding sauces from it!

The story ends with the ultimate Americanization… Sriracha is now used in menu items, as well as as a condiment in the most American of American Applebee’s (as well as P.F. Chang’s and some red-states chain called Roly Poly)… it is also available at Wal-Mart!