Friday, January 29, 2010

Not by Soup Alone: Hold the "Rye" - J.D. Salinger, 1919 - 2010

One of the better obits on that one-hit wonder - and what a hit it was - J.D. Salinger...

Interesting that his father, the son of a rabbi, imported cheese and ham... And that after writing what became one of the greatest books in the world, that Salinger became such a recluse...

When I read "Catcher" as a smart-alecky teen, I fell in love with Holden Caulfield, his droll sense of humor, and devil-may-care attitude... When I read it as an adult, I wanted to help the Holdens of the world find something to care about... I wonder if I ever succeeded...

But the main thing is that it's one of those rare texts that is unflinchingly honest... And so true in fact that terms like 'the new 'Catcher in the Rye' have been applied to countless similar works since... Rarely have these efforts ever compared to the original in timelessness and candor... And I love the fact that Salinger would not allow "Catcher in the Rye" to be adapted to film... As he wrote:

..."Holden Caulfield himself, in my undoubtedly super-biassed opinion, is essentially unactable. A Sensitive, Intelligent, Talented Young Actor in a Reversible Coat wouldn't nearly be enough. It would take someone with X to bring it off, and no very young man even if he has X quite knows what to do with it. And, I might add, I don't think any director can tell him."

Holden would agree... His older brother D.B. - who he says is is off in Hollywood, writing screenplays, and he thinks that he is prostituting his talent by doing so, becoming a sellout...

If more authors felt this way, they would probably a) write better books and b) not be so eager to sell out just to make a buck... Maybe this is my biased L.A.-bred opinion, but most people here seem to be more impressed by a book when it becomes a movie than when it is just a really fine book...

As our hero says in chapter 14, "The goddam movies. They can ruin you. I'm not kidding."

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Not by Soup Alone: Hunger in Haiti

While the local news focuses on impending Brad and Angelina split, the New York Times is running human interest stories on Haiti... After the death tolls and the helicopters, this is what really matters: having to live day to day in the aftermath...

Photo: Maggie Steber for The New York Times

Speaking of Ms. Jolie, those who are not celebrities that adopt children from developing countries are not given the attention they deserve... Only the timeliness of the Haiti tragedy brought this family's story to light....

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Not by Soup Alone: New Stuff at Trader Joe's

McSweeney's Internet Tendency, the closest thing we have online to the Algonquin Round Table these days, has a column of "Reviews of New Food"...

I've taken it one step further and am now busily critiquing the names of new food from Trader Joe's...

Since Valentine's Day is coming and I'm a sucker for anything with hearts, I grabbed the shiny red and pink bag of what was most assuredly sweets and tucked it into my shopping bag without reading the label... When they pulled it out of my bag at the register, I could not stifle a laugh... I had ended up with Lovey Gummy Tummies... It was as if they had hired the doting grandmother of a newborn to name the product... Upon sampling, I found that they were the same gel-filled jellies as the Gummy Tummies Penguins that were such a disappointment last summer... Even my nephews wouldn't eat these and for them, "junky-junk" is an official block in their food pyramid...

That didn't stop me from eating them... Almost as good as real cherries is anything cherry-flavored... Except of course, cough syrup...

The other stunner from this trip to the store was the 3 Plus Blue... Is it a pizza?... Is it a flatbread?... Is it a line of jeans for the large and lovely?... The blend of Grana Padrano, Parmesan, Mozzarella, and Gorgonzola (the aforementioned "blue") was tasty, but overly reminiscent of the Jeno's cheese pizzas that I used to get on hot lunch day in the 4th grade at Our Lady of Guadalupe...

Not that that's such a bad thing... But you would expect a little more with such verbosity...

The snob appeal of Trader Joe's is sent up hilariously in this missive from "The Best of Craigslist"... The writer of this is spot-on with the characters you see at the store... Living on the Westside, I think that L.A. has a monopoly on pretentious and parsimonious (watch for these words on TJ's next incarnation of popcorn or dried persimmons) worshippers at the Temple of Joe... Apparently, they have their fair share in Seattle... Which is probably a lot like West L.A. but colder and from what I hear, with even more tattoos per square mile of human skin...

Nacho Cheese Tortilla Chips really threw me for a loop... Too straightforwardly described, the only concession to TJ-ness is the fact that they're baked and have no artificial flavors... I'm still waiting for the other food snobbery shoe to drop...

Monday, January 18, 2010

Tom Yum at Daisy Mint, January 17, 2010

Yesterday, Ally and I braved then rain and trekked to Pasadena to attend the ultra-swanky Pasadena Bead and Design Show ... While doing the preliminary sweep of the neighborhood (which means that Ally wasn't sure where the Hilton was and I was absolutely no help), we ran across a little cafe on Colorado... From the look of it and the name, we assumed it was some sort of cupcake emporium...

When we returned after the show, we thought we would buy pastries at our new find and then go on to Dona Rosa's on Arroyo Parkway for pozole... But upon entering the restaurant from the pouring rain, we discovered that Daisy Mint was actually a very chic Thai cafe...

The first thing I needed was hot tea, and fast... Ordered a flowering green tea, with the dried "blossom" of leaves that opens up in hot water... It was kind of dark but this is the best I could do with a photo...

Ally chatted up a couple of older Japanese ladies - mostly in Japanese... They recommended the pad thai... Of course, we had to have tom yum, the zingy lemongrass scented soup...

We ordered the shrimp version, which was heavy on the lemon zing, but good, with nice big prawns swimming in it... Ally had the catfish salad, a whole filet served with a subtle green apple slaw... I went for something warm, salmon in red curry... Or was it yellow?... In any case, it was very good...

As were the leftovers the next day at work, warmed up in my bowl by Flower Pottery... Mike Flower told me that his bowls were microwavable but I was too chicken to try it... But I didn't have anything else to heat up the fish in, so I went for it and it worked like a charm...

But back to Sunday and the bead show... The find du jour has to be these recycled glass pendants by Recycled Loot...

As we sauntered out of the bead show at its end, shooed away by weary vendors and bleary-eyed from too many booths with their harsh lights to make everything blingier, we spotted this booth... Genevieve Church, the artist, was very congenial and allowed us to shop while she finished packing up... So we did...

The shapes are made from recycled glass that she culls from broken objets d'art... Already made in wonderful color combinations, she takes the shards, heats them and rejoins them into a ring to make these delightful pendants... The colors just make me happy...

The other quarry included a ton of keshi pearls, those irregularly shaped gems that look like potato chips... Or rose petals... Here is my latest creation, a book-shaped locket with pearl "roses"...

Good food and creativity?... There's got to be a connection... This from last week's LA Times proves it...

Not by Soup Alone: The Incredible, Edible Egg, January 18, 2010

In 1951, the song "How D'Ya Like Your Eggs in the Morning?" was written by Sammy Cahn and Nicholas Brodszky for the musical "Rich, Young and Pretty"... Nearly every weekend for the last few months, Seiji and Kenzo - who may not be rich, but are definitely young and handsome - and I have formulated our Sunday ritual of three different kinds of eggs...

It's really only two kinds: scrambled and hardboiled... But I have to note that Seiji likes his scrambled eggs plain: no salt, no cheese, no kidding... Kenzo prefers "round eggs," meaning hardboiled eggs with the yolk removed and Japanese Cupie mayonnaise on the side for dipping...

After juggling this operation - boil K's eggs for 13 minutes, make Seiji's seasoning-free eggs, which he has to let sit and cool for about five minutes while watching the latest episode of Shinkenger, Chaotic, or Kamen Rider... I make my own scrambled eggs, with salt, ground pepper, and Trader Joe's 21 Seasoning Salute...

When Jolene and I were kids, before school every morning, we breakfasted on softboiled eggs (which I hated), toast, and Ovaltine... As adults, we grew to appreciate the qualities of the egg yolk, especially when used in quiches, Chinese pastries, and other sweets...

Now that we're older, cholesterol - and ease of preparation - are a concern... Jolene's stylish solution to both is her microwaved egg whites with olive oil and green onion...

Take a small Pyrex ramekin and brush the inside with extra virgin olive oil... Sprinkle chopped green onion and add a sprinkle of ground pepper and salt... Then pour in three tablespoons (the equivalent of one egg's white) of Trader Joe's Liquid Egg Whites and cook on high in the microwave for about a minute...

Chicken Little approves!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Arroz Caldo, January 16, 2010

Found this cool blog, Burnt Lumpia that features a recipe for arroz caldo, also known as lugaw...

Similar to the Chinese congee that is served at dim sum, arroz caldo, as we called it at our house, is a chicken and rice porridge flavored with ginger and scallions...

Most Filipino food was strange to us, but arroz caldo was a big treat when my sisters and I were growing up, perhaps because the flavors are gentler, the rice comforting, and the chicken less subtle than the all-meat-all-the-time cuisine that is more typical...

Will try Burnt Lumpia's recipe soon... Would be great for the rainy weather that is ahead...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Not by Soup Alone: The King Meets the President, 12/21/1970

Couldn't help but be charmed by this historical tidbit in the LA Times today...

(Borrowed from the National Archives)

Since I was only about five years old, I was barely aware of this historic meeting, but in later years, found the famous photograph of two of the biggest icons of that time strangely reassuring... Although the 60s and 70s were turbulent times indeed, for some reason they still hold a sense of innocence that we no longer possess now...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Santouka, 12/31/2009

On New Year's Eve, my last bowl of soup in 2009 was shio (salt) ramen at Santouka in Mitsuwa Marketplace in Torrance.

Ramen is the ultimate Japanese comfort food. It has the ubiquitous reassurance of noodles, subtly flavored broth, and various toppings. Santouka is notable because as the Rameniac says, it is topped with absolutely buttery slabs of roasted pork, the kind of pork that a character in the foodie film "Tampopo" greets with a loving "See you later," as he places it at one side of the bowl to savor at the last.

So it is fitting that as a chronic procrastinator, I end the year with this salty, self-indulgent, porky treat.The food experiences of 2010 happened faster than I could write about them, especially toward the end of the year when I was distracted by the holiday vortex. Here are some of my fail-safe standbys and treats under the heading of "Not by Soup Alone":

Roasted Veggie Turkey Soup... After the Thanksgiving foodfest, I "wrasseled" what was left of the turkey - which was a lot - into a pot and boiled it into stock. Sadly, the end result was not as good as this photo. But at least I got to do something with the alphabet pasta that I found at Whole Foods after a surprisingly long and seemingly fruitless search - who knew that alphabet pasta - much like the traditional English language - was almost extinct?

Nordstrom Cafe's Tomato Basil Soup... I have a bowl of this this almost every week when I make my pilgrimage to Ziba in the Westside Pavilion. It is served with Parmesan-covered crostini to die for, and has a truly balanced tomato flavor and a creamy/foamy texture similar to the soup that Violet Beauregard in "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" tastes in the chewing gum that is flavored like a three-course meal. Thankfully, I don't turn into a giant blueberry every time I eat it!

Hiro's Paper-Wrapped Trout with Bacon... My brother-in-law, Hiro, who outdoes himself at the holidays in the kitchen, surpassed all expectations with this restaurant-quality treat from an Italian cookbook that he and my sister bought at Costco. Each parcel revealed a whole rainbow trout seasoned with bacon, onion, olive oil and green olives. Even the lacto-ovo-pesco vegetarians in the family overlooked the pork product, the dish was too gorgeously delicious to pass up!

Din Tai Fung... On Dec. 27, after two very lovely parties in a row at the house (Christmas and Kenzo's birthday), Jolene and I met Joselyn, Todd, Shiho and Jason at our favorite dumpling house in Arcadia, Din Tai Fung

Since it was Jos and Todd's first visit, we ordered almost everything. The consensus among the meat eaters was that it's all about the juicy pork dumplings. The alternatives were noteworthy, although the chicken was surprisingly better than the fish version. Even though we could barely eat another bite after about a dozen trays of dumplings among us, we had to close with the sweet red bean dumplings for dessert.

It's already the 12th of January as I write this and some of the post-holiday glow is gone. The best thing about the holidays was that ability to just live and cook, eat, hang out with family and friends, and cook and eat again.

Meals have to nourish the psyche as well as the body. Whether I eat with others or alone, every meal has the potential to rejuvenate. I think that's why I started GMS, in order to salvage some emotion out of even the most hurried meal.

This holiday season was marred for many by an overwhelming despair over the economy. Sadly to some extent, the commercial aspect of gift-giving was underscored even more than usual as people bemoaned the fact that they could not give as many gifts as usual, and some, none at all.

If I could have any gift in the world, it would be to have more time to appreciate people and things much more than I have in the last few years. I'm hoping that as we all tackle the challenges of living with less, we can see it as a challenge to actually live with more: more imagination, more regard for each other, more peace of mind.

An empty bowl is not necessarily a sign of deprivation. It's a space that has the potential to be filled.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Alice's Mom's Menudo

Every year, Alice's mom makes menudo for their family's New Year celebration. Shiho and I went to her house to watch the painstaking process as she made a special poquito batch for "Girl Meets Soup!"

When we arrived around 1 p.m., Mrs. Picado - who is also named Alice - put six pounds of beef tripe on to boil in a 20-quart pot, the kind that people use when they make tamales, another traditional holiday dish.

But while tamales involve an army of revelers to prepare, the menudo was less labor- intensive. The waiting was the hardest part, but it allowed us to sit and chat leisurely with Alice, who was home from Wichita for Christmas and her mom. And since it takes four to five hours to prepare, we had plenty of time to catch up, eat tamales that a relative had made, and work our way through a platter of cookies that I had brought. The assortment of sweets included my latest endeavor, rainbow cookies made with almond paste and Jolene's adorable and tasty chocolate gingerbread 3-D kawaii Ultraman cookies.

After a couple of hours, Mrs. Picado put the tripe (which is also called menudo) in a smaller pot. The slow cooking had made it tender and it showed pale pink vestiges of meat clinging to it. She then put in a half of a gallon can of Juanita's hominy and more water.

Mrs. Picado said that she uses the whole can of hominy and leaves the menudo in the huge pot that the tripe is cooked in when she makes a big batch for New Year's Day. She also started to kick it up a notch with the spices.

Like any good cook, I know what I cannot possibly improve. In this case, that would be the main course of the day: precious and rare time spent with old friends and the laughter that ensues. What follows is part of the afternoon's conversation we had: Mrs. Picado's menudo tutorial, family lore, the melting pot of international similarities when it comes to soup, and how we "Spice Girls" like it hot!:

Girl Meets Soup: Is this similar to pozole?

Mom: Pozole, a lot of people make it from other parts of the little piggy, like ears and snout.

Alice: They do?

Mom: Yes, but I don’t. You can cook [menudo] with pig’s feet too. I like it better with beef [feet], because it’s richer. (to Alice) How does that look with the hominy?

Alice: My favorite part is the broth. If I could even just make a big pot of that, and just throw some onions in there… (laughs)

GMS: Did you learn how to do this from watching your mom?

No, my dad cooked it. Mom never made menudo.

Uncle Ray (coming in from the living room): She didn’t know how… according to Dad.

(Mom is reaching for large Costco-sized bottles of Mexican oregano, California chili and New Mexico chili in the cupboard)

Alice: I can get it down for you, I have longer arms.

Mom: (crushing oregano into the pot against her palms) I’m going to finish off this chili (pours remaining 1/8 cup of California chili powder into the pot)

Alice: The California chili is mild, but the New Mexico is really hot.

(The broth is turning a deep brick color)

GMS: That's gorgeous.

But to me, that’s not red enough. I’m going to put a little bit more. And then my "Jewishness" comes out (laughs, putting in a healthy pinch of kosher salt). It's more mellow and you don’t need to use as much.

Alice: So that was like a tablespoon of kosher salt...I like it really spicy.

GMS: And a cup of chili powder... I love it!

Mom: I’m going to put in a little bit of the New Mexico chili. You guys like spicy? I don’t want to make it so hot that you guys can’t eat it.

GMS: We like spicy!

Mom: I’m going to bring it back to a boil and let it finish cooking.

What part of Mexico does menudo come from?

Mom: I’m not sure. My parents were from northern Mexico, so that’s how they ate it, that’s what we were brought up with. What do you think, mija?

Alice: Looks good…

Shiho: So you go by color, basically?

Mom: Yeah. It looks a little white to me because when I make the broth with the [beef] feet, it looks a little bit darker. That was a little over five pounds of menudo and it shrinks down a lot. You could put maybe a couple of those one-pound cans of hominy. You could start with two, and then maybe put more in it. Some people like lots and lots of hominy.

Does the starch from the corn thicken the soup?

Mom: It kind of thickens it a little more.

Alice: The [beef] feet make like, a weird gelatinous thing that sticks on your lips.

GMS: This is almost like a stew…

Alice: The way we make it. I kind of like just having a lot of broth. Before, I used to like having a ton of hominy.

Mom: (Mom is putting little dishes of condiments on the counter) Then we serve this on the side: the oregano, minced onions… Some people like to put cilantro in it. I personally don’t like to put cilantro but some people like it. And lemons or limes.

Alice and GMS in unison:
“The lemon!…” (reference to an old Winchell’s Donut commercial from 1980)

Mom: I like it with lemon. If you try it with lime, it really tastes different.

Alice: I don’t like it without the lemon or lime. It’s okay, but it’s plain.

Mom: This menudo (she means the tripe) is really good because see how it doesn’t have fat. It’s very lean. It was very well cleaned.

My nephew’s wife is related to the Juanita’s. I think her father’s great-aunt or something like that… you know, Joanne. My brother was telling me they had gone to a family reunion – it’s funny – he says there were cans of Juanita’s menudo.

Alice: That’s funny… So she’s not like Rosarita, she’s real. But when I eat that out of the can, the meat’s all chewy and weird. I end up picking out most of the meat and just eating the broth.

Mom: Do you want more hominy in here?

Alice: No!... No, that’s fine… I like the broth…

We can put more hominy. I can put a little more water in here…

Alice: No! (laughs)

GMS: How much longer do you cook it?

Just long enough to cook the chili [powder]. See how it’s kind of gritty? You can see it in there, the chili is still raw. Then it will kind of blend and dissolve.

GMS: Will that make it thicker?

Mom: I hope so. I haven’t made it like this in years without the beef feet. So when you make it, get some beef feet and precook them.

Alice: It’s like when you make the chicken soup with the bones versus just… chicken. It would be thin.

Shiho: There’s an Okinawan recipe with pig’s feet too.

Mom: I would just get one foot for this. When you use that, that broth comes out really rich because of the bone marrow.

Alice: How are you supposed to clean that? It’s already got to be super-clean when you buy it…

Mom: You wash it and cut off any…

GMS: (horrified) Hair?

Mom: Yeah, you shouldn’t have that. You have to watch what store you buy it at. At this place, it’s really runny…

Alice: Running? (laughs) Gross…

Mom: If you have a pressure cooker, it’s good to put the beef feet in the pressure cooker because it cooks real fast. I put garlic and salt when I cook it in the pressure cooker.

Alice: So you didn’t put any garlic in there?

Mom: I put five cloves. If they’re big cloves, then use less. The bigger the pot, the more cloves you use. For my big pot, when I make 20 pounds of menudo, I put at least six to eight cloves, good sized cloves. It gives it a good flavor. I don’t mess around with the little ones. They just dissolve anyway...

GMS: What typically is served with menudo?

Mom: Corn tortillas. A lot of people have salsa at the table and they put more salsa in it.

Alice: I like to put salsa in my albondigas now.

Shiho: You make albondigas?

Alice: Yeah, I haven’t done it in a long time. It’s pretty easy. It’s just making meatballs and cooking it. You just put water in it and it cooks the meatballs and makes the broth. As far as I remember. I don’t think I’ve cooked it in about three years. It has tomato and onion just chopped up, you put it into the meatball. I think I put tomato and onion into the soup pot too.

Shiho: Garlic?

Mom: You can.

Alice: I don’t remember. I just get on the phone [to Mom] and go, ‘What do I do?’

Mom: My grandmother never made it like that. Just the meat and the rice.

GMS: What’s caldo?

Mom: Caldo means ‘soup.’ It’s like caldo de res is the beef soup with pieces of beef and potato, maybe chayote and carrots and onion. Or like chicken soup.

Alice: It’s like the soups we had at La Especial, just basic soups.

GMS: What did we have, some chicken soup?

Alice: They have a soup called Tlalpeno, T-L-A-L-P- en-yo (laughs)... But it’s just like, their chicken soup. They put chipotle in it, and some avocado.

Mom: It has garbanzo [beans]in it too. Know where I got that recipe? From Martha Stewart. I saw it on her show. I remember I made it first and then we had it at that restaurant.

Alice: That’s their best one, I think. The other ones are okay. I don’t like the albondigas there because it tastes like meatloaf. They put green bell pepper in it and between that and the beef, it has flavors like meatloaf. It doesn’t taste bad, it’s just not what I’m expecting to taste.

But when you guys ate albondigas that your grandmother made, did you put salsa in it? Or did you just eat it plain?

Mom: No.

Alice: I have to have something spicy in it. Janet took me to… I don’t even remember why we were there but we went to Green Burrito or something in Long Beach and at that particular one, they made albondigas. It was cold and raining and I was like, ‘Ooh, let’s try it.’ They must have put salsa in it, that’s what it tasted like to me and I said, ‘This is good, I’m never going to eat albondigas without salsa again.’ But I think I just like spicy soups.