Happy Freecycle Thanksgiving

November 25, 2010

All over America, at this very moment, people are peeling, chopping, roasting and baking, busily preparing traditional Thanksgiving meals. But one person in Brooklyn is seeking an alternative to expending all that time, effort and money via a Freecycle Thanksgiving.

Freecycle, if you are not familiar with it, is a simple, rather noble concept: those who have things they can’t use give them freely, as gifts, to those who need them. The object is to reduce waste, save valuable resources and ease the burden on landfills.

Freecycle members contact each other online using message boards operated by the Freecycle Network. While most members post messages describing the items they want to give away, a few request items they want but don’t have.

This “wanted” listing, posted the evening before Thanksgiving, struck me as particularly ambitious and audacious, and I can’t help wondering what type of response it will generate.

In any case, however you choose to celebrate the day, I wish you a happy Thanksgiving.

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The notice on the Freecycle Web site

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A closer view of the post

Freecycle
Freecycle Brooklyn

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I Bought it at Western Beef

July 10, 2010

Western Beef is a New York-based chain of warehouse style supermarkets. Despite the word “Western” in the name, and the cactus in its logo, this store is very much Eastern and urban; the highest concentration of Western Beefs is in the Bronx, with Queens running a close second.

The company, whose origins go back to the early 1900s, uses the slogan “We Know the Neighborhood.” They explain that

Through diligent demographic research and paying close attention to our customers, we have determined each neighborhood’s specific needs, by learning about the local population’s ethnicity and product demands.

In other words, the stores, many of which are located in areas with sizable immigrant populations, sell merchandise selected to appeal to the nearby shoppers. I bought these unusual soup mixes, manufactured by Grace Foods, in the Western Beef store on Brooklyn’s East New York Avenue, a largely Caribbean neighborhood.

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Logo on Western Beef shopping bag

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Fish Tea Soup Mix

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Pumpkin Beef Soup Mix

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Cock Soup Mix

Western Beef
Grace Foods


I Had to Notify Homeland Security …

May 25, 2010

You know how they say, “If you see something, say something”? I did it.

Today I saw something – a sign – that made me very suspicious. So I walked over and looked closely at the notice that was posted outside an Au Bon Pain coffee shop. Then I went in and questioned the staff. Yep, they said, it was for real. Free iced coffee, no purchase required.

I poured a cup for myself and I walked out feeling a bit uneasy, even though the man at the cash register assured me that they wouldn’t have me arrested for stealing the drink.

I was enjoying the refreshing drink when I rounded the corner and saw a group of Homeland Security officers who were patrolling the area. I heard one man tell the others that he was about to take a break and go buy a cup of coffee. I had to say something! I ran over and told the Homeland Security officers about the deal.

He thanked me for the tip, entered the shop (without his bomb-sniffing dog) and got a free iced coffee, too.

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Au Bon Pain


At Great Wall

April 2, 2010

Great Wall is the largest Asian supermarket chain in the Eastern United States, with branches in Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Virgina. Styled after major American food chains, Great Wall offers locally-produced groceries as well as those imported from all over Asia, with an emphasis on freshness, cleanliness and customer service.

These stores combine many of the features of traditional Asian markets (seasonal produce, medicinal herbs, live fish swimming in tanks, butchers ready to cut meat to order) with American tastings, discount cards, weekly circulars and sales.

There are always some things, however, that may seem strange to Westerners. I found this item in a refrigerated case at the Great Wall store on Northern Boulevard in Flushing.

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Looking into the refrigerator case

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A closer view of the label: Pork Blood

Great Wall


Greek Festival in Downtown Brooklyn

June 5, 2009

The metal signs were propped up on the sidewalk. The flags and banners were hung from the awning. The street was closed, the carnival attractions arrived and the tables and chairs were assembled outside the front door. Most importantly, the yayas (grandmothers) were cooking. And cooking. And cooking.

It was time once again for the festival run in Downtown Brooklyn by Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral. Now in its 32nd year, the annual week-long event is one of the biggest fund raisers for the church that has stood here since 1916.

The cathedral is more than just a place of worship; for nearly 100 years, it has served as the center of Greek life in Brooklyn. Many parishioners cheerfully put their business affairs aside for the week and devote their labors to ensure the festival’s success. The attractions include a “white elephant” sale and gift shop, music, kiddie rides and, of course, the food. The barbeques for gyros, souvlaki and grilled octopus were set up in the street, the trays filled with moussaka, pasticio, dolmades, spanakopita, keftedes and pastries — all based on old family recipes — were on the tables under the tent.

The music played, the kids giggled and ran, the younger people manned the grills, the yayas kept an eye on the money box while serving heaping helpings of everything and the men, just as they do in Greece, sat together swapping stories, making plans and watching the passing scene. Oopa!

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A sign on Court Street

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Tables set up on the asphalt

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Cooking the meat for gyros

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Grilled souvlaki

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Assembling a gyro

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Yayas inside the tent

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A tray of desserts

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The carnival attractions help raise money

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The neighborhood kids love winning prizes

The Greek Orthodox of Cathedral of Sts. Constantine and Helen
Recipe: Moussaka
Recipe: Pasticio
Recipe: Dolmades
Recipe: Spanakopita
Recipe: Cat Cora’s Keftedes


I’m sick of seeing coq au vin

January 24, 2009

Whole Foods is an international chain of upscale supermarkets. Located in affluent areas and focusing on natural and organic items, the stores sell premium goods at premium prices; in fact, wags have dubbed the chain “whole paycheck.”

Whole Foods currently has five stores in New York City, all of them in Manhattan. The store in Union Square includes a message board where management replies to a selection of customer-submitted “rants and raves.” On a recent visit, I was struck by a complaint regarding the prepared foods section.

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The board

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The card

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The rant

Whole Foods
Whole Foods Union Square
New York Daily News: Whole Foods tries to shake ‘whole paycheck’ image
CNN Money: Whole Foods, The Whole Truth


I’m too chicken to eat this chicken

January 11, 2009

Go ahead, call me a wimp. A wuss. A spoiled city-dweller who couldn’t survive outside of my urban comfort zone. I admit it; it’s true.

While visiting a Chinese supermarket in Flushing, I saw some small, dark chickens for sale. They were so dark, in fact, that they were black. When I asked why the chickens were so dusky, I was told that the birds were silkie chickens, a breed that has naturally black flesh and skin. “Chickens come in different colors,” explained the poultry man, “just like people.”

I learned that the black chickens are considered a delicacy in China, so I bought one and brought it home, hoping to whip up a special meal. Of course, I could have prepared it like any other chicken, but an online search revealed a few recipes designed specifically for the silkie chicken.

I went back to the shops, assembled the ingredients, brought them home and began to prepare Chef Chai Chaowasaree’s Silkie Chicken Soup. I washed the chicken, leaving it whole, chopped the herbs and other ingredients, dropped everything into a large, black pot, turned on the flame and popped the lid on top.

Soon my home began to fill with delicious aromas, and I returned to the kitchen to take a peek inside the fragrantly steaming pot.

I lifted the lid and saw, to my horror, a pair of glassy eyes staring back at me.  I clapped the lid back onto the pot and ran from the room.

As I later learned, although silkie chickens are cleaned before they are sold, the head and feet are not removed; instead, the butcher folds them back and tucks them deep inside the cavity. While I rinsed the raw chicken off in the sink (something I’ve done countless times), it never occurred to me to look inside the chicken before cooking to see whether any body parts were hidden there. Apparently, my chicken’s head had become un-tucked during cooking and was now bobbing around in the bubbling pot.

I didn’t know what to do with the half-cooked soup on the stove.  I know that all sorts of things happen in restaurant kitchens, but I just couldn’t contemplate eating the little chicken that had stared at me from the big black pot. I was, frankly, just too chicken.

I decided that the best strategy would be to cool the whole pot down, then dispose of the contents. I emptied half the refrigerator to fit the still-bubbling pot inside, closed the door, and went out.

I returned a few hours later, looked into the pot again, and found that the chicken’s head was now surrounded by large yellow blobs of congealed fat, and that its eyes and beak had turned white. Yum.

I took a photo before the mess went into the trash and that night I dined on a simple, cold vegetable salad.

Chef Chai Chaowasaree says extracting the full benefit from a black chicken requires long, slow cooking. His method is similar to poaching, letting the chicken sit immersed in liquid over very low heat. “You don’t want to rush the heat, you want all the nutrition to come out slowly, slowly, slowly.”

He makes soup using ginseng, ginger and garlic, also believed to have healing qualities and which lend the broth a peppery flavor. Don’t bother peeling the ginseng or ginger, he says, and use whole heads of garlic, leaving the paper skins in place.

1 silkie chicken (about 2 pounds), whole or halved
3 thumb-sized pieces ginseng root
6-1/4 cups water
1 thumb-sized piece ginger, smashed
2 large heads garlic, halved
1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorns
Salt or soy sauce to taste
5 dried figs
Sliced green onion for garnish

Cut chicken in half if necessary to fit pot; otherwise leave whole. Soak ginseng in water 1 hour.

Place ginseng and its soaking water in pot; add chicken, ginger, garlic, pepper and salt. Bring to a boil and skim impurities. Reduce heat to a very low simmer (no bubbling at all) and cook until chicken is fall-off-the-bone tender, 2 to 4 hours. Or cook in a crock pot on low heat, about 6 hours. In last hour of cooking, add figs.

Strain soup and debone chicken if desired, or serve with root pieces. Garnish with green onion.

From the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 2002.


Black chicken in soup pot Posted by Picasa

 


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