My, how precious!

Today’s New York Times business page had a piece about artisanal chocolate. Now I love chocolate as much as the next gal, if not more, but does everything need to be so, well, precious?

This is part of a bigger trend. First, there was wine. It wasn’t enough to know that red went with meat and white went with fish. No, no, no. You had to know about vintages. Regions. Soil. How much sun France saw that year. Sure, there are good wines and bad wines (and really, really good wines and really, really bad wines). But, it starts to feel a little like a fetish after a while, no?

But, okay, I mean wine has been made and drunk this way for centuries.

Then came coffee. Tea. Olive oil. Vinegar. Mustard.

And now, chocolate. Do we need this stress? Isn’t this why we eat chocolate — for a bit of simple, sweet succor? What is simple about this: "Pop the first half into your mouth, and chew it to check the taste and texture. Then pay attention to the aftertaste. Next, try the other half and see if the flavor changes." I want dessert, not the palate equivalent of an IQ test.

I’d prefer my food minus the side of precious, thanks.

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Eight crazy nights (more or less)

A couple sets up housekeeping together.  They get a menorah and a box of candles.  The candle box assures them that there are just enough candles for one Hanukkah.

But, instead, the box of candles lasts for eight years!

All right, I’m exaggerating.  A little.  This  is, in fact, the tenth year my husband and I have celebrated Hanukkah together and I can count on one hand the number of years I’ve had to buy candles.  I don’t think I’ve ever used up a whole box. 

It is the true Hanukkah miracle.

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Latkes 101

My husband loves my latkes.  He says mine are the best.  I highly doubt this is true, but I let him continue to believe it.  Anyway, I think it’s all in the technique.  Just about any recipe will work (try this one if you don’t already have a fave).  Here’s the secrets:

  1. The food processor is your friend. Don’t try to hand grate — what are you, some kind of masochist?  Hand grating onions is just plain silly, and by time you get all the potatoes grated they will have turned purple.  This is why food processors were invented.  No, I don’t care how your bubbe did it.
  2. Use the "S" blade.  Now, this one perplexed me at first: shouldn’t you grate using the fancy little grating blade that rests at the top of the work bowl? In a word, no.  It doesn’t work.  I’m not even sure where mine is anymore.  Use the "S" blade, trust me.
  3. You can’t overprocess.  Well, I’m sure you can, but you won’t.  Make sure all the big chunks are gone, and then let it go another minute or two, just in case.  Past the point you think is too long is just about right.  Big pieces of potato (or, worse, onion) are not appealing.
  4. Don’t be a sissy with the oil.  For goodness sake, we are celebrating the oil!  If you don’t hear glug, glug, glug, you haven’t use enough.  I’m serious.  (In a weird life imitates religion moment tonight, I came perilously close to running out of oil.)
  5. Make sure the oil is HOTNot warm.  HOT.  Otherwise, the latkes will just sit there soaking up oil and never get brown and yummy. 
  6. Resist the temptation to flip too early.  Especially in the first batches it’s tempting to want to flip after just a few minutes.  Don’t.  Let them sit a minute or two longer than you can stand.  If you flip too early you need to flip again to get them really brown, and that is never a good idea.
  7. This ain’t rocket science.   At the end of the day grated potatoes and onions fried in oil are going to taste good, even if they aren’t perfect.  Play around with them until you get the hang of it — even the worst batch will be better than the goop that comes of a box.

Happy frying!

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A Pair of Threes

I’m 33 today. Thirty-three.

I find myself thinking about when I turned 13. For some reason that felt like a BIG birthday to me. I made my little sister take some pictures of me because I wanted to remember EXACTLY what I looked like the very day I turned 13 (I still have them somewhere). It’s such a weird birthday because on the one hand you go from kid to teenager, with all that word implies. On the other hand, 13 is such a spooky number. Everything about 13 is, in a word, fraught.

I haven’t decided exactly how I feel about 33. First, I love symmetry, palindromes, anagrams, and all those fun things with numbers. On the other hand, I’m really not 30 anymore. I’m in my thirties.

I keep reminding myself that Julia Child didn’t take her first cooking class until she was 36. I find inspiration in late bloomer stories. This is odd, since I am not, despite periodic self-doubt, a late bloomer.

For the most part, I’m on time for most stuff. I’ve been married longer than a lot of people I know (9 years in October). We don’t have kids — a number of my married friends do, but an equal number don’t. We are buying our apartment (Soon we will close. If you believe that there’s a nice bridge in Brooklyn I can sell you.), which feels both very grown up (we will own property, sort of) and not (it’s an apartment –somehow it seems a driveway would be required for full grown-up status).

And I’ve reached a point in my career where I get paid a decent amount to do a job that is very fun more often than not. This in stark contrast to my twenties when I made very little money to do jobs that were very much NOT fun more often than not.

So, I’ve decided I’m going to like being 33. Because, truth be told, what choice do I have?

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Barbie Says, Math is Hard

JupiterResearch recently released a study about teens online.  Among it’s many findings: teen girls go online younger than boys, and spend more time online.  This was reported in Direct magazine as surprising.

Really?  What is the assumption here that makes this news so surprising?  Today’s teenage girls didn’t get the memo that computers are supposed to be for boys.  No, they aren’t interested in gaming to nearly the extent that boys are (Jupiter reports that boys spend 150% more time gaming).  But are there people who still think computers are only good for games and spreadsheets?  What are some of the top uses of the Internet?  Email, chat, IM, and shopping.  Have the people at Direct met a teenage girl?  Personally, if the Internet had been around when I was in my teens I would have been in HEAVEN. 

I will concede that Google’s engineering offices are probably not heady with estrogen.  Yes, the interesting technology is still being built by boys and men, predominantly.  But the technology isn’t what’s interesting.  It’s what happens to the that technology in the real world. 

The average teenage girl in the real world likes to talk to her friends, buy pretty things, and read about what Hollywood stars eat, drink, wear, and buy.  When I was 16 I spent the majority of my waking hours talking on the phone, cruising the mall, or reading magazines.  If I were 16 today (perish the thought), I would be doing all those things, plus IM’ing and emailing my friends, checking out Delias.com, and reading gURL.com and Alloy.  The more things change …

So anyone who is surprised by this news has definitely missed a few meetings.  Yes, the engineers are still primarly men.  Yes, the CEOs are still mostly men.  But it is increasingly clear that these guys are working to benefit two big groups: teenage girls and the Moms who love them.

Frankly, I’m fine with you guys doing the heavy lifting.  Now where’s my Gold card?

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Bigger Tic Tacs, Smaller Big Macs

A few days ago I wrote about the new, 1.9 calorie Tic Tacs and the indication that the super size trend was without end.

Well, perhaps not. In fact, McDonald’s — the inventers of the term, if not the trend — announced Wednesday that it is doing away with gargantuan portions.

Does this signal a reversal of the trend toward mega-portions and instead toward a more rational approach to food?

I think it’s much too early to know. It’s worth remembering that Americans live in a toxic food environment, no less so, ultimately, because a a fast food chain serves us a handful fewer fries. But, the optimist in me has to see this as a hopeful sign that the trend is, if not quite reversing, at least changing.

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Take Your Kid to Vote Day

Fred Wilson wrote in his blog about taking his son to vote yesterday, inspiring me to write about my experiences with voting as a kid.

My mom used to take me and my sister voting with her all the time. She instilled in us the importance of casting your ballot. As a result, we both go out of our way to make sure we always hit the polls on election day.

I love voting so much that I often clap when I come out of the booth. Even if I can’t stand my candidate (too often, I’m afraid) I LOVE the process: the sounds from the band room next to the voting booths at the school where I vote, the college kids standing out in the rain handing out leaflets, the bubbes and zaydes who work the polls kvetching and gossiping about the neighborhood. It’s such a great experience!

I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t vote. How crazy is that? My sister is a business agent for a union that represents a lot of state workers and she is shocked by how many of them don’t vote. But, she has a simple rule: If you don’t vote, you don’t get to bitch. She and I feel very entitled to our bitching!

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Why Americans Are Fat

I was recently in a supermarket in Florida and I noticed the Tic Tac display.  Tic Tacs, I learned, are now 30% larger, for "More Enjoyable Freshness."  (No, I don’t know what that means either.)

Like most Gen Xers, I grew up with Cherly Tiegs extolling the virtues of the "1 1/2 calorie breath mint."  So, of course, the first thing I did was flip the box over to scrutinize the nutrition information.  These new, bigger mints now have 1.9 calories.  Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, eh?

Ok, sure, no one is getting fat from an extra .4 calorie per Tic Tac.  (Has anyone ever eaten fewer than a handful anyway?)  But it’s part of an overall super-sizing trend that simply isn’t good for us.  I keep thinking the pendulum is going to swing in the opposite direction — micro-portions or something.  Instead, every few months I see a new, and frankly more absurd, example of the "if some is good, lots is great" ethos.  But bigger Tic Tacs might just take the cake (which we undoubtedly will have and eat.)

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You’re getting warmer

It’s cold in New York. Bone-chilling.

This weather calls for hearty fare. No mamby-pamby salads. No sushi (raw, cold fish? Are you kidding?).

No. This weather calls for beef stew. Full fat, big, huge portions. Don’t worry — your body is already burning off all the calories to keep your extremities from freezing off.

So, on Saturday I made this one from O, The Oprah Magazine. Make this dish, now. It’s SO good.

I did have to make a few substitions. My market didn’t have applewood smoked bacon, so I used double smoked. My market also didn’t have beef chuck that hadn’t already been ground. The butcher assured me that rump roast would work, and be better. I’m normally not a fan of animal parts labeled “rump” but when the butcher gives advice, listen. And, he trimmed it and cut it into the appropriately-sized chunks (they all do this — ask!). I used regular canned tomatoes — rather than plum. Finally, I also couldn’t find horseradish mustard, so I mixed a few tablespoons of horseradish into regular Dijon.

A few other notes: I used Courvoisier cognac. It’s good enough for a rap song, I figure it’s good enough for me. When I poured it in, I was hoping for flames. I like a little drama when I cook and nothing adds drama like fire. Next time perhaps I’ll set it on fire just for the heck of it. For the wine I used Ravenwood Old Vine Zinfandel. Yummy, spicy. Perfect for a cold night.

This was one of the most divine dishes I’ve ever eaten. My husband, initially skeptical, wholeheartedly concurred. It definitely had a French country feel with deep, complex flavors. And it did stick to the ribs — but I don’t know who they are kidding when they say it serves six. Six children, maybe.

This stew became a meal with a loaf of crusty bread and a salad of arugula and spinach dressed with sherry viniagrette. It made a frigid night feel toasty.

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I found a better burger

I’m a red meat-eating kind of gal.  But I also like to pretend that I eat healthy.  Enter Better Burger.

Everything is antibiotic, hormone, and nitrate free.  The beef burgers are organic.  And fantastic.  Not in the mood for moo?  They also have turkey, chicken, tuna, soy, veggie, and even ostrich burgers. 

The "fries" are air-baked, also organic, and also yummy.  They also have smoothies, salads, hot dogs, and chili.  Mostly, it’s the little gourmet touches that make this a lunch above ordinary — condiments included Cajun ketchup, chipolte-honey mustard, and spiced wasabi sauce. 

In the mood for a sweet?  They have high-protein brownies and high-energy cookies.

Being bad never felt so good.

Better Burger
178 8th Ave @ 19th St
NYC
212-989-6688
www.betterburgernyc.com

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