World on a Plate

Exploring culture. One plate at a time.

Category: Quick Bytes

Potluck Readings

Vikram’s Big Fat Indian Wedding  New York Magazine recounts the marriage of Indian playboy, hotelier (Dream and Time) and actor Vikram Chatwal to Priya Sachdev, a model and actor–a multimillion dollar, 10 days, 3 cities and 600 guests from 26 countries affair.   Guests included Deepak Chopra, Bill Clinton and Read the NY Times announcement.  I dream of attending a traditional Indian wedding.

Absolution in a Cup The real meaning of fair trade coffee. "High-end specialty coffees are the fastest growing sector of the industry, and Fair Trade is the fastest growing specialty coffee; demand for it has ballooned by around 70 percent annually for the last five years." Has the fair trade movement lost its way?

Project Runway is over.  I know. You’re surprised that I watch this show.  The attraction comes from the marriage of creativity and drama.  I’m also a huge Tim Gunn fan.  I’ve listened to the finale recap podcast twice.  It’s delicious. (This podcast is available through Itunes–search using ‘Project Runway’.)

How Oxo tools became the gold standard a downtown NYC location allowing easy access to customers and feedback, volatile meetings where "criticism is not just encouraged but venerated," and a lot of listening and watching. Recently I feel in love with the mango splitter which was devised by a minister who travels to underdeveloped countries.

Street Art  The ongoing discussion around graffiti and when it crosses over into art continues. I don’t know the answer but I’ve been a fan for years–mostly work that is illustrative vs. lettering or tags. Os Gemeos, twin brothers from São Paulo, who have shown here in SF took  Art Basel Miami Beach by storm. Their artwork is a bit Dr. Seuss mixed with a sensual and edgy attitude. So maybe it’s when a bomber sells artwork for $20,000 a piece?

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AllRecipes – All To Go

                                        Recipecard 

Allrecipes.com is a very, very large serving of recipes.  It’s a virtual cooking community where 10,000,000 home cooks from around the world come to share, rate and download recipes and meal ideas every year.  Now, if you find yourself at the grocery store and wondering what to make for dinner or perhaps curious about how what to do with an unfamiliar ingredient, you will hold a solution in your hand.

Now with your smart phone or web-enabled PDA along with free software from AvantGo all of the 28,000+ recipes, quick and easy search tools, real time personalized shopping lists, your personalized recipe box and more than 500 food and cooking advice articles are with you, ready to come to your rescue.

Most visitors to Allrecipes.com are predominantly in the 25-34 age group (72%), and  are female (77%). If you are female, and in this age group, tell me if this is something you would find useful.  Simply because I am missing something.  I suppose there’s a need for this, right?

Image: Knauss Food

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Kitchen Wisdom

                              Chowmasala2004_2441_2

photo: J.Brophy, 2004, London

Table Talk

The whole Wal-Mart issue keeps presenting itself in my life.  In the latest issue of Gourmet there’s an article on organics and Wal-Mart that made my head spin and my heart race. Over the weekend their was a family email thread that discussed the politics of the owners of Curves and Wal-Mart.  The Boston Globe has a huge article in the Sunday edition. The dialogue was spirited and would not surprise anyone raised in the Kennedy tradition.

By 2007 Wal-Mart is expected to control 35 per cent of food and drug sales in the U.S..  If for some strange reason this doesn’t freak you right the hell out you may not be breathing.  As a result of this relationship, the major corporate food companies are streamlining their product lines based on what sells and doesn’t sell at the shelves at WalMart. Sure you  might say that’s great we only get what we like. No we only actually get what the majority likes. How many of us like some small region food or microbrew.  What about a prescription or OTC drug that works for you but not for the other 80% of the Wal-Mart customer base. 

Homogenization is not my cup o’ tea. I appreciate Mom & Pops, regional products and local products.  It’s a tightrope act to act responsibly while keeping an eye on the checkbook.  As my brother articulated we vote with our wallets. And this can have a positive or negative impact.  We need to think about the long-term implications of our consumer behavior.  What we do today has a direct impact on tomorrow.

Politics aside here, there’s two blogs that I’ve been reading for the past few weeks that are focused on Independent America.  Two journalists, who are married to each other, set out from B.C. to travel America’s backroads–no interstates allowed–and produce a documentary on the issue.  The site is well-written given that the author has good cred having worked for NBC and CBC News for the last ten years.

Viva Epicurea is written by his partner in the effort and life.  The focus of her blog is local food in and around Thompson Okanagan.  Another one of their road rules is to eat at Mom & Pop or independent establishments.  There’s a post up now on a BBQ rib joint they ate at.   

Sustainable Food

Sustainabilecityrank_2 Without sounding like a cliche I love my city.  I’ve lived in and loved other cities, also. However, San Francisco reflects who I am and what I value today.  While there are certainly things that irk me and sometimes think I live in a large theme adult theme park. But I dig where I live–great ethnic diversity, a green city and a socially progressive agenda.  It’s a smart, savvy city.

Recently, the Bay Area green group SustainLane, ranked 25 U.S. cities based on sustainability practices.  San Francisco, Portland, Berkeley and Seattle took the top four spots (in that listed order). Each burg was examined and evaluated on 12 criteria, including air quality, transportation, green building, and land use. 

While the entire report is fascinating (if you are into the big overall picture of sustainability) I was naturally drawn to the food-related aspects of the report: 

"Another exciting trend is the national explosion of farmers markets, which according to the US Dept. of Agriculture grew at a clip of 106% from 1994 through 2004. Farmers markets generate $888 million in yearly revenue across the United States (USDA 2005 estimate), and work to bring the consumer in direct contact with those that grow their food. This trend quickens the movement to understanding the complex connections between our daily lifestyles and consumptive habits (the food we prepare and eat every day). As communities become more knowledgeable about sustainability issues, daily individual practices change, and this citizen engagement in turn helps cities move closer to becoming cleaner and more productive environments."

And then in the San Francisco recap: 

San Francisco’s Ferry Building Marketplace has become a major attraction for tourists and locals. At the Marketplace’s Ferry Plaza, about 100 local and regional food producers operate year round. It’s one of the nation’s most influential urban food markets, showcasing a $100 million dollar privately financed urban redevelopment project on the Bay waterfront (the city ranks a #11 in overall local food). Community gardens do flourish in San Francisco, and it ranks #5 in this per capita measure.

So, what does this all mean?  Frankly, I was surprised that overall SF is only #11 in overall local food.  Heck, my home town of Boston did better and they have a brutal winter.  Berkeley ranks #3. And #1 came as a big surprise to me–Pittsburg.  There are seven farmers’ markets, or about 2 for every 100,000 people, and all of them accept food stamps. An incredible 188 community gardens means that there is one for every 3,097 people.

The report also shows intent and possibility. Imagine the impact of collective power if we all asked where our food came from, how that meal in the restaurant was sourced.  While eating organic is good for health reasons, you can do one better by eating local organics.  It’s better for the local economy, better for the environment and it tastes better.

Asking and seeking out local and organic is important put preserving our environment is actually the answer to "why."  Yeah, it’s hard–I like imported artisan chocolate hazelnut spread from Italy and French butter, too.  It’s not a wholesale change–it’s a consideration to decrease your overall footprint on the bigger problem.  Small steps, taken by many, will not go unanswered.

By the way, I’ve also got to taste that Mt. Hood water–as it’s ranked as tops in tap water.

SustainLane Full Report

Table Talk

Stack_1  I don’t consider myself a serious reader. Oh, I read. There’s always something going on the nightstand, by the sofa, in the bathroom.  But there are others in my life who are dedicated readers.  I dance from non-fiction to fiction with a short dip into magazines.  But it seems that I don’t make headway.

So when I came across this Boston Globe article on Steve Leeven, the co-owner, along with his wife of Levenger, who is out promoting his new book (with the longest-ever title) ”The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life: How to Get More Books in Your Life and More Life From Your Books,"  well, I felt as if someone had tidied the bookcase a bit.

His approach boils down to the following:

    1. Develop a reading list – "Decide what you’re deeply interested in, and assemble a list of the best books — what Leveen calls ”the library of candidates" — on that subject, and then acquire the books."  This takes some investment but your return in the long run will be higher than if you don’t.  Two of the most voracious readers I know are my friends S & K. I think one of the things that drew them together is their love of the written word.  With K. a book isn’t out more than an hour and it seems that it’s on his "on-deck" pile. He’s quite varied in his reading. However, when anything is published on Proust it’s purchased and read. In my mind that’s a commitment that will be rewarding over time.  His life partner S., a writer himself, has gone his own way realizing that it’s a losing proposition to keep pace with K.  However, if there’s a well-turned mystery in the British or contemporary vein be assured that it’s on the radar. There library is remarkable.
    2. Don’t feel obligated to finish a book – ”This is a tremendous barrier to people," he said. ”They think there’s something wrong with them" if they don’t want to finish a book.  If it doesn’t float your boat in the first 50 pages, give it the heave-ho."  I’ve become better at practicing this over the years. The way I rationalize it is that if the book isn’t engaging me after 100 pages my time could be spent on something that will be worth the while.  It’s a bit like having an unfulfilling affair.  Isn’t it always better to move along once you realize that the relationship isn’t going anywhere?
    3. Listen to audiobooks–ignore those who say it’s not reading.  ”Audiobooks are a wonderful experience that is unique to our age. They’re just an adaptation of storytelling, which has been around for thousands of years. In some cases, an audiobook is a better literary experience than a printed book."  Note–narration quality can vary and influence the experience.  Middlesex is well-narrated.  Candy Freak is not. You’ll learn these things through trial and error. The intersection of my IPOD and Audible has increased my reading not to mention the quality of my urban walks and daily commute.
    4. Join or start a book discussion group–I’m always looking for one.  A friend just started a Jane Austen book group.  We’ll meet in mid-June for the first time.  The strict focus might make my attention span wander. But, it’s all new people each with their own perspectives. And Ms. Austen has only six books.

Table Talk

If you want someone to know you, well you’ve got to do a bit of sharing, yourself.  From time to time I come across something that doesn’t exactly fit into a food posting.  But it would make good dinner conversation.  Most of these mentions will fall into my other areas of interest, travel, books, film, the arts–dance, photography and cultural commentary.

The LA Times piece on the state of art criticism–with digressions into wine and restaurant criticism. 

Over at the Telegraph Arts BOOKS section this week was a thought piece on the  "the distinction between novels and short stories."  Journalist, critic and author, Philip Hensher states that the purist definition of a novel and a short story "is becoming blurred."  He noticed the shift about 10 years ago as a competition judge.  In his view, in the past short stories were

"pretty clearly a succession of separate entities. Some collections were basically put together out of whatever the writer had been doing recently and given a unity only by one man’s recurrent preoccupations – William Trevor’s Angels at the Ritz, say, or most of V S Pritchett’s. Other writers preferred to give their collections a deliberate unity; perhaps, as in James Joyce’s Dubliners, by staying in a specific place; some, like Raymond Carver, by not venturing from a specific tone, a specific social flavour. The distinction, for readers, between the novel and the collection of short stories seemed pretty clear."

Siting examples such as Ali Smith’s Hotel World, David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas he suggests that these books are more of a succession of near-unrelated narratives.  So if literature serves as a reflection of our current state the whys offered by Hensher are worthwhile reading particularly if you enjoy a good book.

Merriam-Webster posts their top ten words not in the dictionary such as

confuzzled (adj): confused and puzzled at the same time

chillax (v): chill out/relax, hang out with friends

…but after roaming the site I uncovered some food-related new words:

onionate (v): to overwhelm with post-dining breath

smushables (n): the groceries that must be packed at the top of the bag or separately to avoid being mangled by the time you get home

spatulate (v): remove cake batter or other substances from the side of a mixing bowl with a spatula

And a cheaper America doesn’t necessarily equal an increase in overseas travelers.  CSM states that "the problem is not economic, but political. A poor US image abroad, coupled with overblown concerns about visa and security hassles, is keeping international visitors away." Couple this with the US losing market share to other nations doing more marketing.

She’s a Winner!

Browniebliss There are women that I envy. And Camilla Saulsbury PhD is one of them. Just look at her author bio:

CAMILLA V. SAULSBURY is a native of the San Francisco Bay area. A food writer, food scholar and recipe developer, her award-winning recipes have appeared in SOUTHERN LIVING, BETTER HOMES AND GARDENS, VEGETARIAN TIMES, COOKING LIGHT and SUNSET. She earned her B.A. from Bryn Mawr College and her doctorate in sociology from Indiana University. She currently lives in Bloomington, Indiana with her husband. 

And this isn’t the end of the bio.  She’s written two cookbooks, Cookie Dough Delights and the just-released Brownie Mix Bliss.  This past week her winning chicken recipe placed first in The National Chicken Cooking Contest.  An entree of chicken breast meat cut into cubes, broiled on bamboo skewers and basted with a sauce containing sugar, mustard, hoisin sauce and vinegar, served over mashed sweet potatoes, and drizzled with chimichurri sauce. In addition to her food and academic career, Dr. Saulsbury is an exercise instructor and personal trainer. I want to meet her only to know how her secrets to doing it all.

I’ve written before about cook offs and in particular, The National Chicken Cooking Contest which is the oldest continuously held cooking competition in the United States, having started in 1949.  I love cooking contests.  I’m not confident enough to participate but they do offer a window into America’s kitchen diversity and creativity. So if you are feeling ambitious they are still accepting applications over at the 43rd Pillsbury Bake-Off or for something simpler try Camilla Saulsbury’s first place dish.

Mahogany Broiled Chicken with Smoky Lime Sweet Potatoes and Cilantro Chimichurri

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Stamp Out Hunger

2005cartoon Tomorrow is your chance to help those who may not have enough to eat. And it couldn’t be any easier than leaving your cans of nonperishable, by your mailbox for the members of the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) as part of their annual food drive.

Stamp Out Hunger, now in it’s 13th year, is quite possibly the largest organized food drive.  Roughly 30 million people face hunger every day in the United States, including more than 12 million children. The timing of the drive helps in stocking local food bank pantries when children who rely on school lunches are on summer recess.

The food drive was started as a volunteer effort by letter carriers who became aware of the needs of their communities by virtue of being there and walking the streets of the local neighborhood each day. Today almost 1,500 postal branches in all 50 states, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands will be involved in the one-day drive.

Come on you know that you can part with at least three cans of beans, vegetables or soup.  Place the goods in a bag near the mailbox before your mail drop.  You’ll feel good inside.

“STORE WARS”

Storewars_logo From Free Range Studios, makers of The Meatrix, comes another epic
sci-fi mini-movie not to be missed:

                  STORE WARS

Meet the heroes of the Organic Rebellion: Cuke Skywalker, Ham Solo and
Chewbroccoli. With guidance from wise old Obi Wan Cannoli, this small
band  of vegetable puppets (yes, vegetable puppets) is battling against
Darth  Tader, evil lord of the Dark Side of The Farm.

May the Farm Be With You.