World on a Plate

Exploring culture. One plate at a time.

Month: September, 2004

Friday Fry #4


Today is National Cherries Jubilee Day, a classic way to enjoy cherries.

I became a fussy foodie living on the West Coast of the United States. However I like to keep up on my hometown of Boston. My student days in Boston didn’t bring me much experience and knowledge beyond drinks known as ‘wharf rats’ and where to get great pizza. So I read with fascination this past Sunday’s Boston Globe Magazine that “Boston despite itself has become a foodie town.” The writer makes it seem as if Boston is full of a bunch of unsophisticated folks. He can’t possibly reflect a true Bostonian who travel, read and have been known to leave the state.

There’s a second article that features 54 restaurant dishes that should not be missed. There’s dishes such as Nine Zero Hotel’s maple-brined pork chop with lentils; the Cambodian Salad from Elephant Walk; an Afghani dish called kaddo at The Helmand and Jasper White’s lobster corn dog served at Summer Shack. I will tuck this away and pull it out as my food guide for my next trip back East.

Drive-in boulangerie? Paris? Mon dieu! A former gas station in Le Port-Marly, a suburb west of Paris customers can purr right into the building in their Renault and can view the bakers behind glass. How do you know what’s going on in the le banileu? This is a case that Slow Food needs to take on.

Anyone that’s traveled in the last few years to Europe knows how annoying those tiny 1- and 2-euro coins can be. Two countries, Finland and Belgium, are doing away with them. According to the Businessweek article, “The European Central Bank has no authority on the matter. While it’s responsible for setting the common currency, it can’t dictate how each country uses the coins. That’s up to each country’s Finance Minister, who orders the national mint to produce whatever number it deems appropriate for each denomination. However, each euro country will always have to accept the small coins as legal tender.”

And finally The Los Angeles Times writes about food bloggers. It’s a bit cutting at times. No Worldonaplate is not mentioned. I’m still flying under the radar it seems. It’s an interesting piece from the perspective of understanding what a blog is, what a few food blogs are like and yes, weaknesses and strengths.

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Viva Mexico


Last Thursday was Mexican Independence Day. The holiday marks the day in 1810 when Miguel Hidalgo, a priest in the town of Dolores, rang the church bells and called for rebellion against the Spanish. It also began a war that would last 11 years that would end Spanish monarchy.

Generations ago my maternal ancestors came from Mexico to California. I’ve been working on learning more about Mexico, it’s history, culture and of course the food. Celebration food always brings tamales to mind.

One of my favorite foods to indulge in are tamales. A tamale is a wrapped steamed bundle of corn dough with either a savory or sweet filling. The tamale was recorded as early as 5000 BC, possibly 7000 BC in Pre-Columbian history. Initially, women were taken along in battle as cooks. They prepared the masa for the tortillas, the meats, stews, drinks, etc. As the warring tribes of the Aztec, Mayan, and Incan cultures grew, the demand of preparing the nixtamal (corn) itself became so involved a process, that an alternative was needed for food on the go. Tamales were the next food evolution for revolutions. They could be made ahead and packed, to be warmed as needed by steaming, grilling on the comal (grill), over the fire, or placed directly on top of the coals to warm.

Tamales are simple enough to prepare but they are very labor intensive. Because of the time commitment in modern day Mexico they have become special occasion or holiday food. It’s also a way of extended family members, particularly the women, to come together a few days before the event and prepare and assemble the tamales and complex moles (sauces). The masa (dough) is prepared fresh and assembly, wrapping and tying of the bundles are done before steaming in large pots on the stove. It’s an epic effort needless to say so dozens are prepared what remains can be frozen for use at a later time.

Versions of tamales exist throughout Latin America with the recipe varying from region to region. Some filled with small, sweet beans and pineapple as they are in Sinaloa to shredded meat and red chili in Monterrey, and one of my favorites, the chicken and black mole found in Oaxaca. While the filings differentiate the types so do the wrapping–banana leaves mainly in coastal and tropical Mexico, corn husks in the north and central parts of Mexico. I’ve experimented with swiss chard with pretty good results.

Both Diana Kennedy and Rick Bayless write about huge three or four foot long tamales called zacahuiles found in NW Mexico they are made with very coarsely ground masa with flavorings of red chile, pork and wrapped in banana leaves. Holy Tamale!

Here’s a list of the different regional names for tamales (tamal is the Mexican “singular” use):

Cuba, Mexico, South and Central America – Tamal

Michoacan, Mexico – Corunda

Veracruz, Mexico – Zacahull

Nicaragua – Nacatamal

Guatemala – Paches and Chuchitos

Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, Chile and Ecuador – Humita

Puerto Rico – Pasteles

Columbia – Bollo

Venezuela – Hallaca

I often don’t make tamales at home. In San Francisco the Mission is filled with good spots to pick up all kinds of fresh tamales. And given that this is California there’s a few healthier interpretations such as Donna’s Tamales. These delights are vegetarian, organic, and most of them are low in fat. I’m currently in a state of obsession with what is called an Enchamale. This enchilada-tamale hybrid has a generous helping of Straus organic Monterey jack cheese, sliced black olives and yellow onions and it’s covered with Donna’s enchilada sauce. Okay, this is probably not low fat who am I kidding. It’s too good to be.

A great book that got me introduced to the process–ingredients, wrapping techniques and variations on themes– is Tamales 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Making Traditional Tamales. Straightforward and friendly it builds confidence as you move along in the effort. There are many illustrations. The author, Alice Guadalupe Tapp owns Tamara’s Tamales in Marina Del Rey. One thing that ruffles my feathers a bit is that she suggests using margarine as the fat. Lard is the more traditional taste and use in the preparation of tamales. Some say that the lard is absorbed during the steaming process into the husk or banana. Experiment after all that’s what cooking is all about.

If you don’t have a Mexican neighborhood where you can pick up fresh masa or other supplies a good online resource is MexGrocer. They sell ingredients such as corn husks, instant masa and the essential cooking vessel for this effort the tamaleros or steamer pot.

The key is to be organized, allow yourself enough time, invite some friends to help out and enjoy!

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Green Goddess


Regional food specialties pique my interest as they are window into local lore. San Francisco has given birth to several, one of those being the creamy, herby dressing known as Green Goddess. In the 1920’s the chef at the historic Palace Hotel was inspired to create this signature dressing in honor of William Archer’s hit play The Green Goddess.

The lead of the play, an English actor and a legend of the silver screen, George Arliss, later starred and was nominated for an Academy award for his role as the Rajah in the film version of the play. He didn’t win for this role. He did win and was the first British actor ever to win an Academy Award for his role in the sound version of the play, Disraeli. He certainly commanded a presence didn’t he. No wonder the dressing was dedicated to him.

There are lots of versions of this dressing out there but the classic recipe typically includes, in one form or another: anchovies, mayonnaise, vinegar, green onion, garlic, parsley, tarragon and chives. Sometimes the anchovies are in the form of anchovy paste, and often the tarragon flavor comes is delivered in the form of tarragon vinegar.

It’s great with steamed artichokes, over fish or hard-boiled eggs. I’ve chosen Fanny Singer’s version. You may be more familiar with her as Alice Waters’ daughter.


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Friday Fry #3


A rags to riches story via Businessweek of liquor importer Sidney Frank caught my eye this week. He’s sold off Grey Goose to Bacardi Ltd. for $2 billion in June. Mr. Frank, he’s over 80 and going strong, also had great success with Jägermeister. Now he’s planning to launch a line of Sicilian wines and 50-proof cognac in flavors such as apple, pear, and orange, which he aims to call Tippet — the nickname of his first wife. As a marketing professional I like profiles such as Mr. Franks. As a woman, I disdain his other contribution to our culture, Jägerettes. I know there are Jägerdudes but well, whatever it’s all how people are wired in a bar environment. “I have great taste buds, and I keep them sharp — in food, wine, and women.” says Mr. Frank on his success.

A group of wine-growers from north-eastern Spain has asked permission to drop the name Costa Brava from their place of origin due to all the British package tours that flock to the area. The La Vanguardia newspaper, says, “It suggests apartment blocks, massed tourists, puke outside discotheques … no wine in the world wants to carry that around with it.”

As the organic food industry becomes more mainstream corporate food giants are getting in on the business. Something I watch as I am cynical by nature. Forbes features an organic food company slide show entitled “The Naturals”,

It’s short and simple but really draws out the market potential of this category. If you think it’s all mom and pops this will give you a context. It’s a fascinating category to watch. A few of the profiles offered here are

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Fresh Farm Eggs


As I mentioned in this week’s Crane Melon post I visited two organic farms this past weekend. While at Peterson’s I picked up a dozen eggs right from under the chicken’s feathers. Farm fresh eggs, I can hardly believe the taste difference. The yolks are vibrantly yellow and the egg carries a fuller taste. Stress-free chickens produce beautiful eggs.

The eggs were multi-colored and when I asked Ella May the beekeeper and farmer about this she told me that eggs with colored shells are any more nutritious than white-shelled eggs. The breeds that lay white-shelled eggs are more prolific and eat less feed, so they were the more profitable choice for factory farming here in the States. I remember as a kid the moniker of ‘if you want local eggs look for brown shells.’

Egg production is directly related to day length. When the days are long the hens will lay more eggs, and when days are shorter, less. A chicken’s egg production cycle is roughly 25 hours long, and they will only release eggs during daylight hours. If on the 25th hour it’s dark the hen will hold off until daylight to deliver the egg. Conversely in the commercial egg production world artificial light is kept on the hens 24/7 allowing an egg to be deliver every 25 hours, no matter what time it is outside. More reason to buy organic, right?

Also as the hen has to hold an egg for a long time, the effort for the next egg begins. Occasionally the new egg will bump into the held egg and they merge causing a double-shell. When you break the shell of this type of egg it will appear to have two shell layers on the outside.

An egg when organic or better still when organic and farm fresh, really is a perfect natural food due to being unrefined and unprocessed. What a great way to start the day.

Crane Melons


This weekend I toured two Sonoma-based organic farms. The first was Grossi’s growing all things vegetable and well-know for their melons, particularly Crane melons. The second was Peterson’s Farm a great spot for kids as you can pet and feed the animals and learn about beekeeping and their specialty, honey.

Crane melons are a melon-cantaloupe cross. It’s a thick-skinned, teardrop-shaped, hold-it-in-the-palm-of-your-hand melon. This variety is exceptionally juicy and flavorful, but very hard to find outside of Sonoma County, California due to its rather fragile composition. In the 1920s, Oliver Crane planted a Japanese melon that had a reputation for growing well, unirrigated, in the adobe soils common in the Santa Rosa area. Four generations of the Crane family have raised these melons. During the 1990s the family lost their fight to restrict the legal use of “Crane” to only those melons grown on their farm.

Crane melons have been marked for preservation under Slow Food’s The Ark project. This preservation effort seeks to save social and cultural heritage, animal breeds, fruit and vegetables, cured meats, cheese, cereals, pastas, cakes and confectionery. I’d like to be on this boat of biodiversity for 40 days!

The Cook’s Thesaurus provides an overview with pictures of the various types of melons. Many don’t know that melons are in the same gourd family as squashes and cucumbers. This does explain why melons have similar structure to winter squash with thick flesh and an inner seed-filled middle section.

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FridayFry #2


Fry No. 2….a bit later than I wanted but that’s how life goes. I’ve started a new 3-month project that gets me up and out of the door at ‘dark o’clock’. It’s in the marketing department of large consumer electronic technology company very south of San Francisco. I’m managing the launch of a new consumer brand. I loved my IPOD before the commute but now with a few NPR subscriptions from Audible my life is enriched. On to the fry…

Greek food and the Mediterranean way of eating remains on my mind. Food & Wine has over a dozen pics and recipes highlighting the best of Greek menu items.

The Jewish New Year and the festive meals of Rosh Hashanah are full of a lavish array of food, each a symbol steeped in tradition. Pomegranate Walnut Chicken and Apricot Honey Cake are featured in this article on the cultural history of the Jewish holidays.

Being raised in the Boston area I have fond memories of Dunkin Donuts and their iced coffee. This past week in San Francisco has been very warm causing me to ingest more of the bev than usual. Here is DD’s tips for brewing and preparing good iced coffee at home

In the secret places to eat in Paris category, police in Paris have discovered a fully equipped cinema-cum-restaurant in a large and previously uncharted cavern underneath the capital’s chic 16th arrondissement.

Ella Windsor in the UK Spectator pans American food. And British food is better?! Exhibit A is The Cheesecake Factory and in her estimation, the most grotesque example of American food gone mad. Brad Edmonds responds to her diatribe. I submit the following recipe for Chili’s Peanut Butter Cup Cheesecake .

The notion of being a ‘green consumer’ suggests that by making more thoughtful purchases, we can effect wider change. But Spiked-Online asks if buying green is really about saving the planet and individual health or just about our personal self-image. Does it matter how we get to environmental nirvana. We all need our own personal motivators who are we to say that one is better than the other. Good green food for thought.


Harissa is a red chili paste originating with the Berber people in Tunisia. The harissa sauce (pronounced huh-REE-suh) is made from hot chiles, garlic, cumin, coriander, caraway and olive oil. Harissa is served with cous cous and is also used in soups and stews. Commercially-produced <a href="harissa in tubesand jars can be easily purchased in Middle Eastern grocery stores.

It can be served as a dip for cooked meat or stirred into casseroles and soups to give a fiery kick. Stir a little harissa into natural yogurt to make a tasty marinade for chicken and pork dishes. Harissa can also be added to couscous to give a spicy flavor. Mix a little harissa with some mayonnaise or stock and serve it as an accompaniment to thick vegetable or fish soup.

Tunisians mix it liberally with almost every dish, while Algerians and Moroccans prefer to serve it on the side, adding it according to individual taste. The kick of your harissa will depend upon the variety of dried chile peppers used to make the harissa. If you are ambitious and want to make it yourself for a mild harissa choose a New Mexico red or guajillo; for medium, pasilla or a chipotle; and use cayenne or habanero for a fiery flavored harissa.

Clifford Wright the writer and scholar of Mediterranean food writes about “harisa” in A Mediterranean Feast:

Harisa comes from the Arabic word for “to break into pieces,” which is done by pounding hot peppers in a mortar, although today a food processor can be used. This famous hot chili paste is also found in the cooking of Algeria, Libya, and even in western Sicily, where cuscusu is made. In Tunisia it would be prepared fresh in a spice shop.

Harissa is worth having in the kitchen as it elevates the ordinary to something special and unique. At about $3.00 a tube it’s money well spent.

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Indonesian Coffee Shake


When it’s hot nothing picks me up more than an iced coffee. The combination of caffeine and cold is revitalizing. And it was warm this weekend in the City by the bay. Several days of over 90 degree temps. So what you say? Well, there is not a lot of relief to be found here as air conditioning is not prevalent. It’s never been needed until recent years as we’ve had significantly longer and warmer spells. It might be a worthwhile study to document ice coffee sales for same period for the last 7 years and correlate it to global warming numbers.

In anticipation of a possible winter trip I’ve been reading about Indonesian and Southeast Asian cooking. I came across this most unique combination of ingredients for a milkshake. Surprisingly tasty. The color was vastly different than the one in the cookbook. While mine was pea green the other was a nice latte color. I don’t think I would have made a pea green drink.

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Peachy Reading

For many of us, a peach is quintessential summer. It’s all that’s best about summertime. Long, sunny, hot days–homemade peach ice cream, a BBQ beginning with peach sangria and finished with peach cobbler, or just simply fresh from the farmer’s market barely blushed, tree-ripened with a burst of sweet juices running down your chin.

I find the peach to be sexy with its downy, velvety skin blushed with red and voluptuously curvaceous shape. Good peaches awaken all the senses.

Although Georgia may have the immediate association to peaches California is the largest peach source, growing more than half of the world’s supply.

One of those California growers is David Mas Masumoto, an organic peach farmer, philosopher, in Central California who writes about his practices and peaches in several books.

<a href="Epitaph for a Peach: Four Seasons on My Family Farm, describes life on the farm and his family’s work to save the juicy, flavorful Sun Crest variety of peach. Alice Waters in <a href="Chez Panisse Fruit states, “I cannot imagine how anyone could fail to be charmed by Sun Crest’s lovely golden skin overlaid by a brilliant red blush.” This non-fiction book won the 1995 Julia Child Cookbook Award, among other honors, and earned him a loyal audience of people hungry for writings on finding a deeper connection to the land, and to an agrarian way of life.

Over the weekend summer has finally arrived in long hot form here in San Francisco I sat in front of a fan reading David Mas Masamuto’s 2003, <a href="Four Seasons in Five Senses: Things Worth Savoring. Throughout this collection of short essays we embark on a lyrical literary journey through the senses on the ups and downs in a year of growing peaches. We come to love the land, peaches and develop an appreciation and understanding of what the farmer goes through during a day, month and year. As romantic as this may sound our lesson here is that by saving a peach, a farm is saved and in turn family, community and a way of life.

We need more everyday heroes like David Mas Masumoto.

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