Category Archives: Background and General Food Thoughts

National Ice Cream Sandwich Day

The three days of 90-degree-plus temperatures this past week (more than 35 Centigrade) qualify as a heat wave, per the meteorologist for my local news channel. Good thing, then, that this past Thursday was National Ice Cream Sandwich Day according to Slashfood. I have to admit that, despite all the great gourmet-handmade-ices/gelatos/small-dairy-production things available today, sometimes, the only thing that hits the spot is a simple, elementary-school-style ice cream sandwich or one of those cone things with the chocolate and the peanuts on the top.

I won’t apologize for it. Instead, this week, I chose to embrace it as you see from the photos above. By way of complete disclosure, I actually bought two, yes, two ice cream sandwiches from the bodega half a block from my apartment while I was on my way home on Thursday. I’d been fixated on them all afternoon and couldn’t convince a co-worker that our team really needed to take a break, so he should really go and get them for all of us. The ice creams were 75 cents apiece. That’s a far cry from the 15 cents I used to pay in elementary school, but then it has been quite a few years since I was there.

Like the theory for the best way to eat a sandwich cookie, there are also several ways that people eat ice cream sandwiches, as well. Peel off the top and eat it while saving the bottom cookie with ice cream for afterwards. Or, do the first step above and the try to break the bottom ice cream cookie layer in half to have a sort of double-stuffed ice cream sandwich.

My personal favorite way, developed when I was in elementary school, is to lick around the sandwich to get to the extra soft vanilla ice cream first. This is also a way to test if the ice cream is too melty. Then, finish it off via one of the above options or eat as you would a normal sandwich between two layers of bread, trying to race against time as the ice cream grows softer and oozes out the sides.

The key to any one of these methods of devouring this dessert/snack/dinner (so, I ate them for dinner the other night), is to get one of the ice creams at the optimal “meltiness to frozeness” ratio. Too soft and it is messy to eat and the cookie slides around. Too hard and chomping on it makes your teeth freeze.

As for me, the moment has passed. I’m saving myself for the next ice cream holiday. Per this website link, it is National Creamsicle Day on August 14. Now, how many years has it been since you’ve had one of those?

Buon appetito!

Getting the Recipe Chaos Organized

As much as I like to try to think that I am a super, pulled-together, organized individual, there’s always that little something lurking in the background that undermines me. Sometimes, it’s the over stuffed closet I really should clear out at some point. Others it’s the kitchen cabinets that I need to go through and de-clutter or the place where I store oils and vinegars just to throw away the items that might be past their prime or have gone bad.

Which brings me to the current nagging sore spot in my apartment. Remember this photo from my New Year’s resolutions post?

The overflowing recipe idea box

As I’d said, one of my goals for this year was to go through this box and put some order into the chaos. So far during the first five months of 2007, what had actually happened was that said box had moved from one end of the living room to the other and back again and then across the living room, where its home had been for the past couple of months. Finally, with the impending arrival of a friend who is relocating to New York and who needs a place to stay for a little bit, push had come to shove and I really needed to get this sorted out (or to throw it away).

How best to do this? In my parents’ house, The Recipe Box (or The Box) is consulted as the font of all Knowledge as well as the Repository of the Family Favorites. It has such cult status that most of us have written down recipes from the tattered and stained 3″x5″-inch index cards to take with us when we’ve moved out of the family abode. I even copied from many of them to create a little family cookbook for the younger of my two little brothers when he got married.

These recipes (and the handwriting on the cards) mark various culinary periods and tastes. There’s everything from the mayonnaise-heavy Ambrosia Salad which marks 1970’s era potluck suppers to Hamburger Macaroni (Why is there a recipe for this in there?) – a staple during the evenings when my brothers had to go to scout meetings in the evening; to stews, salads, cookies and candy (mmm…Peanut Butter Balls – that one has my jr. high-era handwriting on it). It’s sort of a little treasure-trove of the development of my taste buds.

So, the box in my apartment has been taunting me. I’m not sure (other than the advent of the afore-mentioned houseguest) what was the motivating factor that finally made me dive in and tackle this project. I’d been to Staples® the previous weekend to pick up binders and tabs. That was as far as I’d made it. I couldn’t focus on it.

Beginning the process
Mid-way through – it looks like a mess but there is a method there

I even managed to throw a bunch of papers away

The final product – Don’t they look so nice?

Buon appetito!

New Year, New Cafeteria Aggro

Ah,…the start of a new year. New resolutions, a fresh start on those dietary and exercise goals, more promises to myself to stay away from the candy machine when the mid-afternoon slump hits. What?! What’s this? They took our holiday break to redo the company cafeteria and institute pricing changes that effectively jack up the cost of our subsidized lunches? There is something really wrong about that.
I’ve worked in quite a few places that didn’t have an on-site facility for meals so to me having a quick, cheap place to grab breakfast, lunch and/or snack is a bit of a luxury item, if it can be called that. I know, I know, they usually carry the same old boring standard fare. Most of you who’ve had access to them could recite the menu without ever having set foot in the one that I patronize most days between the hours of 12 noon to 2:30 p.m.
The folks who run this particular establishment, however, actually have tried to liven up the usual salad bar-sandwich bar-hamburger/grill-pizza/pasta station format. There’s theme days (although I’ve been to some of those countries and never seen what is served here), an Asian stir-fry stand, and one that rotates tacos, chilis, Mediterranean, and noodles. The real treat is the so-called “Chef’s Table” which bi-weekly has a sushi chef come to visit. On that day, the line is so long, you’d think that some major giveaway like free open gym membership, luxury apartments and speedboats for everyone had happened.
But it was the change in how they priced the food by the pound – it’s now by the ounce – and the fact that the set price for a hot entrée and 2 sides went from $5.00 to by-the-ounce and became self-serve in the process that has people talking. You’d have thought that they’d asked us to travel to the moon, or at least to Jersey, to purchase our lunch, which we’d have to pay for in Euros and then convert our change back into dollars [not to pick on the Euro-regions but you get the point]. We’d been living in our subsidized-lunch bliss world for too long.
Still, we are resilient. We will overcome these pricing changes. We will most likely still continue to grumble while at the same time continuing to eat there (although I really hope that the guy who sits in the group next to mine cools off on this topic soon as he’s been obsessing about it every day this week). And, I still have hope that somehow, I’ll find something more interesting to eat for lunch each day….
Buon appetito!

Resolving Some Things for the New Year

Yes, ‘tis that time of year again, the period in which some of us sit down and make lists of things we’d like to change in our lives. In keeping with the theme of this blog, I decided to narrow the field of my resolutions for 2007 to culinary-oriented ones.

1. Keep a closer watch on those “things in the back of the fridge” so that fewer foods go bad before their expiry dates and turn into missing science experiments
2. Make those recipes that I’ve been pulling from magazines and sort through the ever-growing pile of interesting ideas
I really need to spend the next rainy weekend on this!
3. Check spices for freshness – don’t end up with anything in the cabinet that looks like this:
Sorry to pick on you, Mom, but no one can remember when McCormick spices were 69 cents
Even McCormick suggests throwing things away after a certain point

4. Go through my cookbooks and use more recipes from them (and donate or get rid of the ones I will never use)

This is just a tiny sub-set of how many I own
5. Learn new culinary techniques – broaden my skills set
6. Try more restaurants to which I’ve never been and revisit ones I haven’t been to in a while

I really need to start crossing places off of my list
7. Visit some of the other great food markets in the city – Essex Street, Arthur Avenue, Jackson Heights, etc.
8. Work on my food photography skills
9. Blog more and have fewer gaps in posting
10. Attempt to make mayonnaise again!
It’s a long list, but I think it might be doable. I’m a little hesitant about #10, as those of you who read my post about that adventure will understand. If I get one thing accomplished this year, and that is it, I think that 2007 will have been a success.
Buon appetito!

Year One is Done

Well, hard to believe, but my baby blog is now a year old! It’s been cutting its teeth and going through some growing pains, much like any child. I’ve tried to give it room to develop and grow while attempting to guide it along in a positive and healthy direction.
I appreciate everyone who has read it, commented on it, and given me suggestions for it (but, no, Jon, squirrel melts will not be featured here). I hope that you all have enjoyed watching the process unfold as well as I’ve learned more about the food world and food writing. In 2007, my aim is to continue to work on content that everyone will enjoy and developing more recipes for you to use.
It would be great to hear from you more as well. I know that everyone is leading incredibly busy lives, but hopefully you can take time out for yourself and make catching up on this blog a part of that.
Here’s a toast to the next year – more food, more photos, more meals!
Buon appetito!

Volunteering During the Season of Thanks & Giving

Bagels to be wrapped up for delivery

On Thursday of last week, most of us gathered around tables loaded with treats and feasts. As part of our national tradition, a moment of thanks is usually given, perhaps with heads bowed in prayer, maybe with the youngest member of the assembly lisping sweetly through “The Lord’s Prayer.”  The Thanks part of my holiday this year was spent with an abbreviated version of my family. It has been a good while since we’ve had a more Norman Rockwell/mythical American form of this meal. I enjoyed it but it also brought to mind the fact that I’d read recently about how many folks aren’t even getting all the benefits that they could to feed their own families.

Volunteer team cutting up carrots
There are still lots of people in this country who depend upon assistance in order to nourish themselves every day. This isn’t to get super-preachy to everyone, but just to highlight that, in this season where we give Thanks for what we have, hands are reaching out to ask us to remember the Giving part by helping donate to those who have even less.  One of the things I enjoy about living in New York is that there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer. Somehow, though, I’d never really put that energy into food-related projects. It’s not even that it is difficult to find ways to help out, as my church lists the days that the local food pantry needs folks and a volunteer newsletter I get each month always has several sessions at local soup kitchens.
Vat of chopped carrots

It took my joining my new company, and finding out that I knew the project’s team leader, to wake me out of this malaise. Finally, I put my culinary interest to some good use. I signed up to help with meal prep for an organization that serves food to those who cannot feed themselves due to severe and debilitating illness. I’d prefer for privacy reasons to keep the organization’s name mum, needless to say, they are very well-known. Our few hours one Sunday afternoon a month, make sure that the raw materials of what goes into many meals are ready for the cooks that the organization employs. The volunteers don’t do any of the actual cooking, but these photos are of some of the fruits of our labors on one recent visit.

Tub of chopped celery

Most of what we do is chop, peel, chop, and chop some more. If you ever wondered what industrial-sized, 50-pound bags of carrots looked like when they are cut up, check out the photo above.  There is a certain rhythm to the chopping and a nice rapport that develops with our fellow prep cooks. We chop, we chat, we tell stories, we get to listen to 80’s tunes I haven’t heard in years via the radio that always seems to be blaring, no other volume allowed. Having viewed others’ techniques, I’ve decided that, while my knife skills could use some work, I am definitely not at the bottom of the ladder in that department.  On this occasion, after carrots, as you can see, we had celery. Another group was doing onions, lots of onions. My guess was that we were creating the basics for soup, as we were dicing everything. After that came peppers (see below).

Pile of chopped peppers
This was by far the easiest of the food items we’d ever had to cut. I think that there was a general group consensus that we need to do more peppers and fewer root vegetables (last time we’d had turnips). Not that we actually do get to choose, mind you.  So, in this season of Thanks and Giving, I am going to pledge to try to do more of the latter, especially to organizations that feed others. I am also going to give lots and lots of Thanks that I haven’t been put on onion chopping duty…as yet.
Buon appetito!