Saturday, March 29, 2008

ode on a corporate cafe

as you may know, i have retired from the office life. several people have asked me, "hey julie, what will you miss most about work? also, you're looking fabulous today." and what i tell them is, "why, this old thing? aw, shucks, thank you! i just threw it on. and i'm really going to miss the corporate cafeteria.

free post-its are all well and good, but i don't think i'll ever get over the corporate cafeteria at my old office. it's that mythical beast: an affordable, reliably high-quality lunch spot in midtown with enough variety to keep you coming back day after day. not only in the neighborhood, but actually in the very same building as my sad little cubicle. that means no getting rained on or snowed on or frostbitten or sweaty just to get lunch! the salad bar was fresh and varied enough that it didn't take much willpower for me to stick to the healthy stuff, but for days when only a quesadilla or burrito would do, the friendly guy at the mexican station was always there for me with his generous guacamole ladle in hand. beyond those old stand-bys and the regular grill station, soup and sandwiches, there were always a dozen or so other options that changed every day. compared with my current daily rotation of omelet-noodles-cereal-bagel, it was a veritable cornucopia of food options five days a week.

i got the feeling that personal photography in the cafeteria is frowned upon (not least of all when the editors of certain high-profile weekly newsmagazines are treating their high-profile interviewees to a casual post-interview lunch), so i sadly have no photographic evidence of the dazzling array of options; i can, however, treat you to a beauty shot of the mouth-watering salad that kept me coming back nearly every day of my cubicle monkey career:
i've always liked salad bars for the freedom they give you to mix and match bites of this and bits of that as you desire. yes, those are monster chunks of feta and three kinds of beans and sprinklings of sunflower seeds. as a close-up, this doesn't capture the size of the beast, which was always very generous - i like a hearty salad, and at the caf's prices, i could have a true meal for $5 or less.

so if you're looking for a new job, i can suggest a truly delicious place of employment.


the next time you find yourself wandering the lower east side, hungry and/or thirsting for a creative cocktail, pop over to rayuela, the pricey but fantastic latin joint on allen between stanton and rivington. rayuela self-describes as responsible for the
first-of-its kind Estilo Libre Latino (Freestyle Latino) cuisine, which respects yet redefines contemporary Latin American and Spanish cuisines. While the basic structure of the traditional dishes will be maintained, the actual ingredients may be unconventional and may come from over a dozen Latin American countries including Peru, Ecuador, Mexico, Cuba, Colombia, as well as Spain.
i don't know what that means, but i understand YUM YUM YUM. one of our favorite uncles recently treated us to a latin feast while we were slummin' it down on the LES, and we invite you to come along for the ride (but don't touch anything. we're hungry too).

the cocktail list at rayuela is a little confusing, in a good way. their innovative approach includes ingredients as unexpected (and sometimes scary) as sage leaves and anjou pear (in the vodka drink) and lemon thyme (in the gin). we asked the bartender for his personal favorites (as we tend to do), and wound up with the vodka and sherry cocktails. the sherry cocktail (the bright red one in the foreground below) was a bit more potent and acidic than i expected, and it went down fine - one of those drinks that makes you say after every sip, "this is really interesting!" the vodka cocktail (the yellowish white glass behind the sherry cocktail) was smooth and spectacularly well balanced.

and now, i present to you: the unexpectedly incredible yucca flour buns that they bring you at the beginning of the meal: becca had been to rayuela once before, and warned me about these little melt-in-your-mouth taste rockets. she said, "they come with butter, but they don't need it." she was right, of course, but who am i to turn down high quality butter on anything? they were delicious on their own - fluffy but chewy, with a hint of cheesy flavor - but nothing short of orgasmic with a gentle schmear of fresh, creamy butter on top.

if venezuelans are the happiest people in the world, i think i know why: venezuelan arepas:
rayuela's version comes sweet and crispy with a plop of goat cheese and a drizzle of pesto, and tastes like a cheesy, corny dream.

no tour of amazing aperitivos would be complete without a mention of the tuna rellena: shrimp, crab, and avocado wrapped in sliced tuna served with cucumbers in a soy vinaigrette. we were so excited for this dish that we dived right in and were halfway done when i remembered to stop and snap a picture. but, i think you'll get the idea:drooling yet? i don't want to overwhelm you, so i'll just leave off with the paella de coco. according to the fine folks downtown, their paella contains "valencia rice infused with lemongrass, coconut milk and ginger, served with shrimp, calamari, scallops, octopus, manila clams and peas. served with langoustines and ginger oil." it's a bit more work than the other dishes - you get to dig the meat out of the shells for most of these mollusks and crustaceans - but it's more than worth it.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

speaking of unspeakably foul...

i know this is a food blog, and we're supposed to post appetizing things, but i think a certain amount of disgusting helps you realize how good all the good really is. ergo, i present to you: pickle popsicles.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Fish Extravaganza

A visit to the Tsukiji Fish Market at 5 am in Japan followed by running around for an hour looking for an atm that works followed by 9 am sushi breakfast feast definitely falls under top five coolest life experiences. I got home three weeks ago and am still dreaming about this morning feast and the auctioneer with green hair.

To do this truly right you have to arrive at the fish market at sunrise after staying out until 3 am the night before. If you have trouble finding it follow your nose, and the noise of a bustling marketplace through the dark alleys of knives and dried weird fishes. When you are almost run over by a man driving a scooter with a big oil barrel on the front you are there! But this is just the start; you have a maze and stands to go before the Tuna auction. Make your way through the aisles and aisles of eels, blowfish, clams, weird things, and more weird things. Through the puddles, beware of the men on carts, follow the yelling and suddenly you are there! Men running around and tagging big tunas. Bigger tunas. Frozen tunas! In each section of the vast building a different auctioneer waving his arms screaming as though he is conducting an elementary school orchestra.

Lessons learned:

  • Don’t forget your rainboots!

  • If you speak Spanish to the tuna from Mexico the fish guy still doesn’t understand you.

  • There is lots of live stuff that is cute soon to be dead (like turtles!) Be prepared.

  • The fish people don’t mind all the gaijin (gringos) pointing and taking pictures, but be considerate because they have BIG knives.

  • As amazing as the market is, you can see how we are overfishing our waters!

According to Wikipedia: The market handles more than 400 different types of seafood from tiny sardines to 300kg tuna, from cheap seaweed to the most expensive caviar. Overall, more than 700,000 metric tons of seafood are handled every year at the three seafood markets in Tokyo, with a total value in excess of 600 billion yen (approximately 5.5 billion US dollars). Tsukiji handles over 2000 metric tons of seafood per day.

fabulously foul

i think it's time to express my profound appreciation for the food network behemoth that is paula deen. for the uninitiated (all five of you), paula is the saucy, southern, probably-drunk host of "paula's home cooking" on our favorite basic-cable channel. and boy, are her creations revolting.

occasionally, i will look at something she's made and find myself improbably drawn to it, in that comfort-food, yucky-but-still-really-good kind of way (e.g., three cheese hot artichoke dip). but most of the time, that shizz is straight up icky. i mean, this is a woman who unironically prepared (and, presumably, served, to some unsuspecting human) cracker salad (fyi: if the name doesn't get you all revved up, just have a look at the picture. who doesn't want to eat something that looks like a pile of vomit on a lettuce leaf? it's vegetables, people. think of your health).

but perhaps paula's crowning moment - so far, that is, as she is really just getting started - was when she took a hunk of macaroni and cheese (admittedly, one of my favorite indulgences), decided it wasn't quite cholesterol-y enough, wrapped it in a strip of bacon, and deep fried the sucker. that, my babies, is high cuisine. if deep-fried, bacon-wrapped mac and cheese isn't enough to get your heart palpitating, i don't know what will. perhaps some butt roast?

as i said, paula is really just getting started. but eventually, we will have to come to terms with her aging, probably pickled liver drawing her away from the heavy workload she currently seems to juggle with such grace. never fear! she is already training her hunky sons, bobby and jamie, to run the family business. along with frequent appearances on both of paula's shows (speaking of which, please do catch paula's party, wherein she cavorts for, and hilariously harasses, a live studio audience), they apparently have a show of their own, road tasted, that i have never seen. it's probably bad, but hopefully one of you will find out for sure and fill me in so that i never have to watch it myself.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

hopelessly devoted to food

dearest readers, as you may realize, it's not just for this blog that we obsess about food. rather, we have this blog because we obsess about food.
Becca: [someone] invited me over for dinner tomorrow. she is making gnudi and salad. what would be a good impressive but not too hard appetizer i can bring?
me: what is gnudi?
me: YUM
Becca: yes
Becca: marinated mushrooms?
any other ideas?
me: artichoke dip and pita chips
Becca: i was thinking that too
me: ok this obvs is too much work but how good does it look?
me: i know, right?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

michael pollan: omnivore, hero, hottie

after slogging through michael pollan's life-changing tome of an article in the new york times magazine last year, unhappy meals [get it? har, har.], i couldn't not buy the omnivore's dilemma, his even-longer book. it changed my life. and though i haven't yet gotten my hands on a copy of his newer book, in defense of food: an eater's manifesto, i am VERY eager to. so, if you're like me and you just can't get enough MPo, check out this interview from last month (oopsie!) and learn why eating almonds (probably) won't make you live forever.

Monday, March 3, 2008

MiniMart Showdown

In high school, I discovered the Wawa and believed to have found the greatest place on earth. Hot pretzels. More machine sweet coffees than you could ever drink. Candy. Chips. Ice cream. Big mugs- BIG MUGS that only cost $0.99 to refill. In true appreciation we went as far as mapping out a WaWa roadtrip through WaWa homeland of Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Alas, the WaWa did not reach north to Boston and I would long for it through my four years at school…until on a trip to St. Louis I was introduced to QuikTrip and a battle soon ensued! Best mini-mart? Who could believe more machine coffee options could possibly exist? And beer sold at a minimart!?!?!

My recent trip to Japan led to the discovery of AMPM and FamilyMart and the quest for world-wide mini mart domination is back on! Soft Serve ice-cream. Rice triangles. More canned drink options than imaginable. Crocksocks for your warm canned drinks. Pocky.

To decide a winner, I’ve created a Pro/Con list. Unfortunately, this battle may never be solved. All thoughts are appreciated!


Hot pretzelsHot DrinksCanned drinks
WaWa brand- ice cream!Hot DrinksRice triangles
MugsAccents of employeesSoft serve machine
Working ATMWorking ATMPocky
Hot drinksBeerBeer & Sake individual size
Candy under $0.25...Surprise items (chocolate may be red bean!)
......Soft Serve flavors: green tea and caramel!


Doesn’t sell lottery ticketsPoor prepared food selectionATM doesn’t work
Difficult to access by footSells BeerDon’t know what half of the items are
...Not accessible by footChocolate filled items may turn out to be red bean
......Octopus balls


big, cheesy shout-out to my lovely lass parsiri, who designed and created the fabulous new header you see up there. (yes, up there. look up. there ya go). if you have any brill ideas for elements that we should add to our kickin' site, or life in general, please don't hesitate to let us know! and swing on by parsiri's place for beautiful tips on fun designs and - sometimes - food!


The partner in crime is back! While these last few weeks I have not been doing any food writing, I have been doing much food eating- from Tokyo to the Essex market in the Lower East Side out to Brooklyn, I have tasted tempura fish guts to omakase sashimi at nine am to seared scallops in shitake sauce and roasted brussel sprouts cooked by your two resident bloggers.

While there will be many blog entries and pictures highlighting these culinary adventures, in the spirit of this blog I would like to take a moment to pay a tribute to cheese. A wise woman once said at the end of the long day skiing, “There aren’t many things, but taking off ski boots is definitely better than sex.” I have thought about this a lot, and have come to the conclusion that in this case, she is not even close to correct. However, this weekend’s cookfest lead to the discovery of orgasmic cheese! A small piece of this truffeled smooth sheep’s milk cheese may cost a fortune, but it is worth every cent. (You can pick some up in Essex Street Market) Each bite brings a new intense flavor, from creamy and mild to tangy to OOO OOO OOO truffle. Seriously. Orgasmic. This may be better than sex. Or better yet, eat before and after sex.