Category Archives: Eating my feelings and paying for it

Jersey girl in LA

Believe it or not, this is my first time in LA since I was a child, and it looks nothing like I remember… probably because the only thing I remember about my first trip was going to Disneyland, which I remember thinking sucked compared to Disneyworld.  It’s so funny – the people I’ve met here are shocked when I tell them that this is my first time to LA.  I keep asking, “well have you ever been to New Jersey?”  They don’t seem to think it’s a valid parallel for some reason.

Jersey girl that I am, I had breakfast at a diner this morning.  It looked just like the diners in New Jersey, except that my waiter looked like a model.  Not that I’m putting down the fine diner folk of New Jersey, but let’s be frank… they’re not models.  Something about being in an LA diner made me feel differently about what I wanted to eat, too.  Instead of my normal extra bacon and cheese omelette with a side of gravy-cheese fries, I felt the urge to order an egg white omelette.  Pick up your jaws, you read me correctly: an egg white omelette… with spinach and mushrooms… And instead of home fries, I decided to get cottage cheese with my omelette.  Damnit, pick up your jaws again!  I know, I know…  Oh, and instead of a bagel or toast, I got fruit.

If you’re still reading instead of closing your browser window in horror of my breakfast, I’m going to stun you again and tell you how much I enjoyed it.  I kid you not – the omelette was awesome.  It wasn’t greasy or swimming in oil the way so many diner omelettes can be.  I usually don’t like cantaloupe or honeydew, but for some reason, I kind of enjoyed pieces of them slathered in cottage cheese.  I didn’t even need my second cup of coffee…

Oh, and I ate 2 tables away from John Voight… that’s right, Mom, I ate 2 tables away from Angelina Jolie’s dad.  So surreal.  That has never happened to me in a Jersey diner.

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Happy Friday Hour

Ok, I’m at a crossroads trying to figure out what to do with my culinary life. One road leads to potential disaster, and the other road leads to even greater potential disaster… So typical. I know what you’re thinking: “Mindy, just see what your gut tells you to do and then do the opposite.” I’ve tried that, but then I second guess myself and think, wait, is that what my gut is actually telling me? Or is doing the opposite of what my gut is telling me what my gut is telling me, thereby making the second gut choice the wrong one?

Whenever I’m faced with tough choices, I turn to my friends, family, and a good cocktail for counseling.  Normally I enjoy something with whiskey or bourbon in it.  However, with my friend, Angie, in town, I started reminiscing about my trip to see her in San Diego – land of sun, tacos, more sun, and a little (mega) place called Extraordinary Desserts (and reminiscing about food always helps distract me from important decisions, allowing me to partake in my second-favorite past time: procrastination through tangents). This place is genius – giant, whimsical desserts that bring ALL of San Diego running to try their salted-caramel ice cream and Angie’s favorite, chocolate croissant bread pudding.  At Extraordinary Desserts, the smallest portion served is the size of my giant, doughy face.  Yeah, extraordinary.

hibiscus kir royale

You’re instantly transported into childhood, specifically girlhood inside this upscale, Oompa Loompa-free Wonkaville.  So as Angie and I sat at the bar and watched as the all-girl gaggle down the row ordered a round of sparkly, bubbly rose-tinted cocktails with something slightly gilded bobbing around inside the bottom of the champagne flute, our inner Marie Antoinettes forced us to order a pair for ourselves.  Sparkling white wine was popped just for our beverages and two, Candied Hibiscus Kir Royales were delicately placed in front of us.  Hibiscus syrup gently rested at the bottom of our flutes, delicately supporting candied and gold-leafed dried hibiscus flowers, while sparkling white wine floated on top.

These cocktails were desserts in themselves.  At something like $14, they should have been.  Some of that $14 cocktail, of course, ended up on my shirt as I tried to shimmy the yummy, mildly sweet, chewy hibiscus out of the glass and into my mouth…  It was like the most expensive gummy candy that I’ve ever had.

 

Angie eyes the decadence

Angie eyes the decadence

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Happy 3rd Anniversary – I ate all your ice cream.

Yesterday, my husband and I celebrated our 3rd anniversary of wedded bliss.  In a surprise move of overt romanticism, my husband made a reservation for dinner at Anthos to help recreate our Greek honeymoon.  I promise that I am not being mean at all when I say a “surprise move of overt romanticism.”  My husband is many things: brilliant, sweet, kind, loving, funny.  He is NOT romantic.  Just doesn’t get it.  Our engagement was… well, it happened and I said yes, which basically sums up the story.  The fact that he actually called and MADE a reservation ANYWHERE is extremely romantic for him, and then when he explained that he picked Anthos because of our honeymoon AND the fact that he remembered how much I love Michael Psilakis’s Kefi – I just about swooned.

I decided to wear “heels” yesterday – 1.5″ heels to be exact.  Once upon a time, I used to wear dress pants, skirts, dresses, cashmere sweaters, etc. and at least a 3″ heel to go to work.  Lately, skinny jeans and whatever top is clean makes the cut.  Footwear consists of old kitchen clogs that I retired when I was forced to buy a cleaner, more supportive pair.  So when I threw on a slightly dressy, drapey cowl neck top, skinny jeans (I debated a skirt, but just couldn’t do it) and nude kitten heels, it felt like “killing it” Rachel Zoe style.  Unfortunately, it’s been a while since I’ve worn feminine footwear.  I’ve gone from a girl who 3 years ago changed out of her 4″ satin stilettos to throw on another pair of 4″ sparkly stilettos to dance at her wedding reception to a nightmare that fell no less than 6 times yesterday because of 1.5″ of extra height.  In fact, I fell at least 3 times during wine class – basically every time I stood up during that class I fell… and LOUDLY.  The other students in the class thought I was drunk from wine tasting…  Nope, just a giant klutz.  I also made a little bit of a extra commotion when I had to take a picture of lucky little “wine diamonds” – little tartaric acid crystals – in my glass of Gewürztraminer. Look! Diamonds on my anniversary! And they’re the only diamonds that I want – the kind that you find at the bottom of a glass of wine!

"wine diamonds"

"wine diamonds"

Oh, and apparently I didn’t pull myself together so well, either.  A friend at work who basically wears a black cardigan over a black shirt, black ankle trousers, and black loafers every single day wished me a happy anniversary and then asked, “Are you going to change before dinner?”  When I told her I wasn’t, she then said, “Oh… well maybe throw on a little makeup?”  Nope, I don’t wear makeup if I can help it.  “No?  Not even some lipstick?”  Nope.  How about chapstick?  “Oh, ok…  maybe just do something with your hair?”  Uh, maybe I’ll unclip it?  “Sure… maybe some perfume, too?”  What the hell, lady???  How bad do I look and smell???  I wish this were a joke, but I kid you not, I actually got this little talking to.  Next time you see me, please tell me if I actually do look that bad?

Luckily, my husband may not be overtly romantic, but he thought I looked just fine over a candlelit dinner at Anthos.  We did the mini-tasting for $65, which is a damn good deal for a tasting menu.  There’s also a Chef’s Tasting for $95, but sadly my budget just doesn’t allow for those types of splurges.  Who cares, I had wine dripping with diamonds!  Not to mention that our mini-tasting was absolutely a dream.  If you don’t get the tasting, you don’t get the Sheep’s Milk Dumplings…  trust me, you WANT the Sheep’s Milk Dumplings.  I’ve had the Kefi ones in a spicy tomato and lamb sausage sauce that’s incredible, but it doesn’t highlight the sheep’s milk ricotta just bound together into delicate, tender little puffs as well as Anthos’s simple, lightly-tossed-with-cream sauce dish does.  Heaven.  What absolutely knocked me over (and almost knocked my glass of wine over, too, when I grabbed for my boss’s camera that I’d borrowed) was the Roasted Lamb Loin.  Holy Cheez Its.  I feel like I didn’t know what medium-rare was until I saw this lamb.  Did I understand how well simple salt and freshly ground black pepper complimented lamb before this?  I don’t remember.  There was a paper-thin crust of seasoned-deliciousness that cracked when eaten the way that bruléed sugar does on top of crème brulée.  I felt like the Greek Amélie.  Heck, I felt like Mindy!  Desserts are great, but DAMN!  Give me that lamb ANY DAY OF THE WEEK.

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lamb loin on top of sauteed green beans and a just-enough-spice leek puree

Cruel trick at dessert time, though – I asked what was on the Artisanal Cheese Plate and was told that there would be Constant Bliss!!!  What luck!!!  I should have known better.  When the cheese plate came out, the one cheese that they’d run out of was of course, my Constant Bliss.  Fine, fine, fine…  No worries.  No Constant Bliss, but no worries, either.  Besides, I had ordered Mastic ice cream, too!  If you’ve never tried Mastic or Mastiha before, you’re missing out!  It’s a resin that’s used a lot in Greek and Turkish cooking, and I’d fallen in love with it while in Greece on our honeymoon.  Yay!  It actually tastes the way resin smells – very faintly piney with hints of cedar.  Blended with cream (or Greek yogurt – hollaaaa!), those potentially overwhelming flavors are perfectly complimented and balanced.  True to form though, after I took a picture of a spoonful that my husband very willingly held up for me and took another minute to put away the camera, I returned to an empty plate.  Where was that perfect quenelle of mastic ice cream???  Gone.  My husband thought I was done after I tasted the “model” spoon.  He claimed it was melting… in an air conditioned room… in under a minute…  I just stared at him.  Then he said, “Happy Anniversary, my little sheep’s milk dumpling.”  How can you be angry after that?  Nicest compliment I’ve ever gotten.  And I didn’t even have to put any lipstick on.

the only taste of mastic ice cream that I got

the only taste of mastic ice cream that I got

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Last Chance: Brooklyn Beer Experiment

Just a reminder to get your tickets and then get yourselves to The Bell House tomorrow to be a part of the 1st ever Brooklyn Beer Experiment.  How can you pass up the chance to try home-brewed beers while feasting on recipes, all of which include beer in their ingredients?  The impressive Guest Judges sure aren’t going to miss out on this opportunity!

How about just going to have a great time.  Anyone who puts an audio clip of Bob Barker giving away “fabulous prizes” in the form of toasters and luggage on their prize page will definitely organize a rioutous event!  I’ll be there helping out and then helping myself everything that the Beer Experiment has to offer.  I promise to be a very willing test subject.

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How to eat a soup dumpling without burning your lips off

Remember how I said I would post about eating soup dumplings without burning your lips (resulting in a pucker like Angelina Jolie) next week? Well, not only am I off the juice boat, but now I’ve launched a missile at it and sunk that juice battleship.  Hayley and I went to work early yesterday to juice again, deciding that we would continue on a modified juice diet – you know, handful of nuts here, maybe some broth there, and everything else would be the juice.  So we made more Green Juice, but this time added mint, cilantro, and substituted cucumbers for the apples, agreeing that after a while, the first Swamp Thing was a little too sweet.  We made some beet, apple, lemon, ginger juice that was surprisingly delicious, although juiced beets always have a little bit of a dirt taste…  better described as “earthy.”  Doesn’t that sound more appetizing?

The highlight of juicing yesterday was our strawberry-almond milk.  I’m slightly lactarded, so I usually avoid drinking straight milk.  I’ll take one for the team where ice cream is involved, but straight milk is a little tough unless it’s that Lactaid stuff that stays good for like 3 months (which always freaks me out).  This was my first time having and attempting almond milk and I’m a freaking convert.  This stuff was creamy and delicious, and when we added juiced strawberries to it, there was nothing diety or cleansing about it.  ‘stuff was just goooood.  Basically, you soak raw almonds overnight in 2x as much filtered liquid.  Then you drain and rinse it several times before blending the hydrated almonds with 2x as much filtered water again.  Once puréed, you dump it into cheesecloth and (here’s the not so fun part) milk the bag, draining out all of the nutty milk.  What’s even better is if someone else does it for you so that you don’t end up with claw hands.

All of that juicing and milking was exhausting…  so Hayley and I looked up at each other over our pints of Slime Jus with a “my ancestors/parents didn’t come to this country for me to diet” look.  Before I could even get the words, “do you want to go grab lunch” out of my mouth, Hayley had somehow changed out of her chef whites into street clothes and had her purse ready.  We had to do this.  My parents came here so that I could be raised with equal (though sometimes racist) rights and a better life than they had!  And that better life includes solid foods, damnit!  Especially soup dumplings!

If you look at the vertical sign in back, it still says "New Green Bo"

If you look at the vertical sign in back, it still says "New Green Bo"

We went to Nice Green Bo, formerly New Green Bo.  On principal, I have to love a place where when they changed the name (probably for legal reasons), they only changed one word so that they could just replace that one word on the sign vs. the whole sign itself.  And I also love that it’s a backlit sign, so when it’s lit at night, you can still see the outline of “New” under “Nice.”  Economical.  Oh, and a disclaimer about how to eat soup dumplings: although this method works, I have to admit that I always forget to do it.  Every single time.  I’m usually fine right up until I order, and then my body and mind know that soup dumplings are coming and they go crazy.  My stomach growls wildly and my mind just chants, “soup dumplings, soup dumplings, soup dumplings…” over and over again.  So by the time they arrive, I’ve lost it and just bite in, always burning my lips, which are then sensitive and raw.  Once I throw spicy, ground chilis in oil on my dumplings and take my next bite, slathering the capsaicin-goodness all over my mouth, I end up with giant, Angelina Jolie-esque lips.  Fine by me, but my mother is strictly anti-Angelina.  She just can’t forgive her for stealing Brad Pitt away from Jennifer Aniston.  No soup dumplings for Angelina!

crab soup dumpling

crab soup dumpling

Anways, we ordered both the pork and crab dumplings with a delicious side of tender, sautéed pea shoots (highly recommend you try).  You can taste the seasoning of the wok – I want to steal a well-seasoned, Chinatown wok so I don’t have to wait the 5 years it takes to create that kind of yumminess.  When the soup dumplings arrived, I tried to warn Hayley, but she bit right in and burned her lips.  She’s my kind of eater.  After that, I took her through the steps:

picking up a soup dumpling

1) Use your chopsticks to carefully pick up the dumpling from the top of the pouch, where it’s thickest and there’s no liquid.  This way, you don’t pierce into the dumpling and loose all of that delicious trotter broth.  Place the soup dumpling in your spoon.

pork soup dumpling

pork soup dumpling

2) Bite just the top of the dumpling off where the steamed dough is gathered.  This is where I always get hasty and bite too much, resulting in hot trotter broth burning my face.  This bite should only have steamed dough.  If you end up sealing the sides of the dumpling by biting it, use your chopsticks to gently open the dumpling back up to expose the pork/crab and broth inside.

crab soup dumpling open and ready to be garnished with vinegar, soy sauce, and spicy chili

crab soup dumpling open and ready to be garnished with vinegar, soy sauce, and spicy chili

3) The open dumpling can now cool while you replace its heat with crushed thai chilis in oil, and further season it with soy sauce and vinegar (mixed for you, but being the salt and tanginess-fiend that I am, I always add a little extra).

hayley biting off the top of the soup dumpling

hayley biting off the top of the soup dumpling

4) Point the spoon towards you and take a bite, allowing delicious, spicy, tangy trotter broth to pour into your mouth with your crab/pork dumpling.  Chew.  Enjoy.  Be happy.  Be thankful you’re not on a juice diet.  Don’t slurp out all the broth on that first bite, or you won’t have enough for that second and final bite of happiness.

delicious pork soup dumpling.  had to really restrain myself to eat half and take this picture before downing the whole thing.

delicious pork soup dumpling. had to really restrain myself to eat half and take this picture before downing the whole thing.

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What I’m planning to eat when I “stop the insanity”

My friend, Nick, is throwing a HUGE cookoff event at The Bell House in Brooklyn this Sunday.  It’s called the Brooklyn Beer Experiment and will have both a home-brewer’s competition and a cooking competition with beer as the main ingredient, à la Iron Chef.  Nick’s like the Cookoff King – he’s been competing for the last year and placing Top 3 every time.  He decided it was time to break off and do his own thing and true-to-form, is taking the Cookoff concept to new heights his first time out of the gate.

I’ll be there helping out, so I hope to see you!  If you can make it, please remember to buy your tickets before you go as it’s selling out quickly: The Brooklyn Beer Experiment

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Espresso & Fish Tacos: keeping me human

Um, how do you take it when someone tells you that you remind them of Liz Lemon from 30 Rock?  Not Tina Fey, but actually Liz Lemon?  I mean, I love her, but is that really fair to Liz Lemon?  She’s actually successful, remember?

I do relate to Ms. Lemon, though.  I often see things (FOOD) that looks good and then go comatose, staring wide-eyed and drooling at the object of my desire (FOOD).  I then say, “I want to go to there.”  In fact, I did that the other night in the middle of a panel discussion of ACTUAL bloggers (not just people pretending to be, like myself).  Teach pulled up one of the blogger’s websites, which had a delectable picture of Coq au Vin, and I just blurted out, “I want to go to there.”  Yup, I got looks, but what else is new.

So the other day, my friend, Angela, and I went to this magical 1,000 ft radius section on Mott St. between Spring & Prince.  Within this magical circle, you can find some ridiculously good coffee on one side and then damn good fish tacos on the other side.  This will definitely go on the mini-miracle list next Monday, because how much better does it get than to find both coffee and tacos with minimal walking/exercise in between???  Maybe this is like cosmic makeup for me spilling coffee all over the place on Wednesday.  This place was meant for me – check out the names: “Gimme Coffee” — yeah, exactly!  Gimme Coffee, damnit; and “Pinche Taqueria” — apparently, it may or may not mean f*ing taqueria.  I kinda hope it does.

My coffee love is genetic.  I’m Vietnamese, and coffee has been part of our culture ever since the French came and crammed it down our throats along with their imperialist, colonialist ways.  When they left and burned down all of our libraries, at least they left our coffee.  No hard feelings, though…  I grew up drinking coffee – I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love the smell of coffee beans being ground or brewed. Anyhoo, I need at least a cup a day to leave my apartment and at least 2 cups to be a functioning human… I guess “functioning” is open to interpretation.  So when I slid up to the bar, trying to be nonchalant, and ordered a double espresso for $2 and change, I almost fell backwards when they said that their “espresso” on the menu is a standard triple shot.  Oh.  AWESOME.  Rich, good acidity, and that awesome, almost-alcohol aroma that floats out of your nose when you drink it.  Sooo good.  I further blew my cool taking numerous photos of my cup, only one of which was decent.

Gimme Coffee Triple Shot

The only other component needed to keep me from having rage blackouts is keeping my blood-sugar up.  People always make fun of me for two things: 1) how much salt I crave and consume (it’s a medical-necessity, people!  I have really low blood pressure!) and 2) how quickly I go from civil to killer if I haven’t eaten in a while.  There’s no real way to gauge when it’s going to happen, but my husband, my family, and now people I work with seem to be able to tell when I’m about to blow.  Maybe it’s because I get a little quiet and the temperature in the room drops ever so slightly…  yeah, it’s that frightening.  No problem, right?  Just give the girl a candy bar and back up slowly, not breaking eye contact.  Not so easy – when my blood sugar does drop that low, I get unreasonably cranky (my husband is reading this and thinking, I didn’t know that she was ever reasonable) and ONLY want specific foods.

I didn’t form my addiction until I went to visit my friend, Angie, in San Diego.  She’s my food-soul-mate — if she tastes and loves something, I can feel it halfway across the world and have an instant craving.  When she took me for fish tacos, we ate in silence, nodded every once in a while in reverence to the deep-fried fish, crunch sweet lettuce, nose-running hot sauce, and house-made corn tortilla.  I know Eric Ripert put Pinch Taqueria 4th on his fish taco list, but now that I’ve eaten at 4 out 5 of those restaurants, I’ve got to disagree.  But, it may also be because while I loved Toloache, I don’t want to eat a freaking fish taco in midtown at a sit-down dinner.  I just don’t.  I want my damn fish taco in a place that doesn’t make me feel underdressed.  You can’t beat the ambience at Pinche.  I know, I don’t usually like Tilapia’s dirty aftertaste, either, but I swear it wasn’t a problem at all.  The fish was well-cooked and the salsa verde and guacamole were perfectly tangy, spicy, a little avocado-creamy, and induced just the right amount of nose run, which I didn’t need to feel embarrassed about because there’s an endless supply of paper napkins.

Pinch-yeah!

Delicious Fish Taco

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Thank you, Sakagura & Karaoke for making me feel 29

Right now, everything seems loud.  The usually pleasant, tapping sound of typing is now making me close my eyes and rethink waking up this morning and deciding to post.  And for the love of Pete, that kid upstairs who enjoys just running laps back-and-forth, back-and-forth, back-and-forth, BACK-AND-FORTH on my HEAD for hours is driving me nuts.  At first we called him Speed Racer and just chuckled at the fact that we could hear him running and wondered what exactly he was doing.  Now I don’t care what he’s doing, I just want him to stop.  I don’t know what the deal is, but if his parents don’t want to take him outside to run around, I’m happy to babysit and just take that kid to the park with an extendy leash thing.  I’m trustworthy.  I’ve seen Dog Whisperer.  Exercise, Discipline, then Love…  Ok, seriously, I’m taking a break now and burying my head under eight layers of pillows. Continue reading

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Birthdays still blow…

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Last night, I had a late dinner and cocktail at l’école’s bar.  What started as a simple and quick bite quickly became a late birthday surprise.  Michelle Kwak, FCI Culinary student, but Pastry all-star baked a special chocolate chip cookie that made Jacques Pepin remark on its deliciousness.  In fact, he gently touched her on the cheek and told her how good it was… that’s like being blessed by the cooking pope.  As if that weren’t enough, when we ordered dessert of Chocolate Bread Pudding, Caramelized Bananas, and Coconut-Ginger sorbet, it came with yet another birthday candle and “Happy Birthday” written in chocolate sauce.

But… that wasn’t the best “birthday candle” of the night.  Matt, one of FCI’s fabulous bartenders, fired up the Red Hot Poker and made me a Red Hot Manhattan.  He made it extra-special by flaming it so long that when he stopped, his protective mitt smelled like it had been cooked “well-done.”  I definitely needed it since every time I celebrate my birthday, it MONSOONS outside.  And I was so happy that I’d had it when I got into a cab and sat in a puddle of what I hope was rainwater.  Good thing I was wearing light-gray pants that thirstily soaked up the water and left a giant dark water stain on my butt when I walked into my husband’s office building to pick him up.  Good news is that I think the rain water washed away the wine splatter that I hit myself with while opening bottles for wine class a few hours earlier.

Oh, and deep apologies to Angela for hitting her with my bag, stepping on her, and elbowing her during dinner…  Listen, dining with me is “at your own risk,” people.

Try blowing out this birthday candle:

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Where else would I be on my birthday?

  

Technically, I already posted on Shorty’s .32, but damnit, it deserves more attention! My husband, Chris, was working late and so my friend (and awesome cook), Nick, took me out for my birthday on short notice. I had the choice to go anywhere at all… So where did I pick? Shorty’s .32. With my history of bad luck, I needed to do everything possible to guarantee a great meal on my birthday – I was in no mood to be anything less than thrilled. Remember what I said about my family being cheap (even though it did pay for college)? Well there’s nothing more offensive than paying for a meal that’s mediocre! Shorty’s is like a sure-thing (not in the Kentucky Derby way – it’s actually a safe bet). They should have a sign that says, “Send us your tired and hungry and we will return them fat and happy.” This is one of the few restaurants in the city that make me long for my old, six-figure life. If I were still pulling in the Benjamins, I would probably eat at Shorty’s every damn night. Actually, with prices so damn reasonable, I could even eat there for half of that. Unfortunately, I’m making a fraction of half of that: a lot more Lincolns than Bens, and I’m talking about the copper kind.

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