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Posts from the ‘Textual Selfie’ Category

Still Summering

I’m almost back in the NYC saddle, after a not-super-food-focused vacation in Portland. Pricey, pop-up sushi was consumed (it was ok–ack, so jaded New Yorker), rural-suburban pizza that was such a hit I went back twice was the sleeper hit, Southern Thai was a charmer, no surprise to me since the city excels at new and shiny but not newfangled Thai food.


In the mean time, here’s an essay I wrote in defense of dining at chain restaurants abroad for Serious Eats while they were doing a paid experiment on Medium. It was previously un-linkable publicly, and now it’s not.

Taking the Cake

Two things became readily apparent after pawing through a shoebox of family photos I was recently reunited with.

One: no one took photos of food. At least not intentionally. (I do have a middle-school Christmas shot of me sharing a seat at the table with a bread bowl, one of my summer 2015 obsessions.)

Two: photography skills left a lot to be desired pre-digital. Nearly half were out of focus, the framing dubious, lighting wonky. Delete is now our friend.

The one exception to the food-free subject matter, I discovered, were birthday cakes. I don’t remember anyone ever taking pictures of them, but there they were, at least ten of them spanning from age seven to roughly 20. Because it’s Thursday I’m going to post them all.

monkey cake

Fairly certain this was seven. One of my aunts decorated cakes as a side hustle, or maybe just a hobby? I don’t know. She still exists. I should ask her.

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Some Foods Need Not Be Reinvented a.k.a. Keep Your Stuffed Peppers Away From Me

Because Miracle Mile came up in conversation with three friends separately in three weeks when it was still balmy (now it’s winter?), once after a dinner at Sizzler while driving past the diner used in the Anthony Edwards/Mare Winningham movie, I  became consumed by the idea that I needed to watch Miracle Mile because I never have, and as things do this quickly morphed into throwing a Miracle Mile viewing party with food from the 1988 release year. And also as things often do, I got stuck in the ideation phase and at the rate I’m going it will be a Miracle Mile-themed Thanksgiving (except now I’ve started obsessing over After Hours).

1988 proved tricky because most foods associated with the ‘80s are really more early-to-mid decade and because Oregon was a little behind the times, things I associate with the early ‘90s like sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese, artichoke hearts, and pesto were already old hat in more cosmopolitan enclaves. Plus, my interest for party food purposes has been more Good Housekeeping than Gourmet

That said, I’m on board with Boboli, Boursin-stuffed chicken breasts, pasta salad, black bean soup, designer pizzas (chicken and bbq sauce on Boboli), and cilantro where it might not belong like that pizza. 

Stuffed peppers, childhood despair in the form of stewy tomato-sauced rice and ground beef? Not so much, despite this ad being from 1988. (Don’t even click on this 1983 Beefaroni abomination unless you want to end up in tears.) And now I’m being haunted by those nightshade-rich nostalgia vessels.

I recently attended a screening of Over the Edge (1979) another film crying out for a viewing party, at Nitehawk. In one of the earliest scenes this sweet bit of dialogue occurs:

00:03:25 She’s too stoned to talk to, man. You can’t talk to that girl.

00:03:28 Hey, I’ll see you guys later.

00:03:31 Stuffed peppers tonight.

00:03:33 We don’t wanna miss that, do we, Johnny?

The actor stating interest in stuffed peppers, Tom Fergus, was in attendance, a totally Manhattan-raised kid, not a suburban hesher, who is now a good-looking dad living in Tribeca. That line came up on the Q&A. It was an ad lib. And most genius. But also nine years before 1988.

This morning in 2015 an Epicurious email announced in its subject line: “Make Stuffed Peppers the Whole Family Will Love.” 

And then I shut my laptop and decided I needed to leave the house lest I throw it across the room.

Summer Break

 evangelismOk, I will be in LA for the next week because I want to become one of those loathsome New Yorkers who moves, thinks they are doing something radical, shares their thoughts with the world and then becomes insufferable about Mexican food. I mean, I’m not moving, I’m just going to be doing a lot of eating probably.

The big questions are if I can avoid grain bowls, avocado toast, hour-waits for egg sandwiches, pizza no matter how hot shit (this is where New Yorkers are insufferable) and if I should care about poke? Like how does raw fish become some city-wide (ok, nation-wide, if I’m to believe today’s Zagat post) trend? Oh, and if I’ll be able to remember how to drive, and figure out how to pump gas. (I know, right? But I grew up in Oregon and all my NYC car experiences involved getting gas in New Jersey because it’s cheaper.)

I hope to return wiser and fuller of tacos, In-n-Out burgers–and er, Malibu Chicken. (I’m dead serious about my love of Sizzler. In fact, it was sort of the impetus for the trip.)


Nice Rack

Tangentially related to food and drink, I’ve created yet another certain to be updated only sporadically (unless you send me submissions–and please do) Tumblr to distract me from the important things in life. Don’t be afraid to take a look at Nice Rack, my attempt to document dish drying racks on screen. My newish dishwasher-free existence has been painful, but perhaps these reminders will keep my grounded during this difficult time.

Whither the Food Blog?

Recently on Facebook I was asked by a friend’s acquaintance whom I haven’t seen in over a decade for names of food bloggers to invite to what sounded like a cool event. After a few minutes’ thought, though, I was stumped because food bloggers as I think of them are a dying breed.

In 2015 there are online publishers like Serious Eats, Eater, Grub Street, Tasting Table, and all of the myriad offshoots of print publications that mostly digify content like the ever-changing Bon Appétit to recent entrants like Lucky Peach. None of these are really blogs (though Grub Street is maybe the closest).

On the other extreme are the unsung home cooks and amateur restaurant critics who may or may not have the engaged followers that excite PR types. But a lot of the impulse that originally spurred this activity can now be satisfied through Instagram, Pinterest, or Yelp, splintering to social platforms. Others who may have gotten into food blogging as an outlet are now cooking for the public or putting on events. Editorial wasn’t necessarily their endgame but a way to connect.

The middle, and what I imagine this event planner was interested in, consists of people who blog about food, consistently, with a strong point of view and have some sort of readership. It’s more or less the revolving roster included on Eater’s “In the blogs” section of reviews on Wednesday (which I haven’t been included in for the last few months–what gives?) In NYC I would put Chopsticks & Marrow in this category. Immaculate Infatuation, the Infatuation, or whatever those guys are now calling themselves, I would not. Quality of prose or photography doesn’t necessarily define this genre.

Nor does a reliance on the personal, despite that always having been my preference–and the characteristic I’m mourning the loss of here.

It’s high time to bring it back.

I often hesitate to tell acquaintances or coworkers that I’m a food blogger, and usually don’t at all, because then they’ll show up here expecting a bunch of SLR shots of Santina or a breakfast sandwich roundup, neither which are out of the realm of possibility but not what drives me to keep on posting.

This is my segue into saying that if old-school food blogs are dying, then why not go full-on obsessive and nuts? Who needs more lists and service journalism in 2015? Going forward, I hope to do my part in killing blogs dead by writing more about things that only five people have interest in. That may or may not mean casual dining chains in New Jersey, bars for old women, Pizza Hut attempting to reenter Africa, and as always, delicious things in Queens.

See you soon.

Me, Elsewhere

Do we really need more places to post and share stuff? Probably not. I decided to give Medium a whirl anyway, so don’t be afraid to click on my attempt at writing about something other than food (well, it does mention Houdini obliquely). In a nutshell, a yet-to-air Fox show triggered strange, possessive feelings for Ridgewood, Queens, a neighborhood on the verge.

Loose Ends

Ugh, I managed to practically lose the entire month of June, and July is already escaping me. Can I talk briefly about a few unrelated things that aren’t new?

Fireball Whiskey is apparently a thing among the cocktail set. Punch said so, and then posted this more pedestrian Williamsburg evidence today. I’m pretty sure I bought my sister a bottle of Dekuyper Hot Damn! for one of her birthdays in the early ‘90s, but until recently that had been the extent of my cinnamon-flavored liquor knowledge. Fireball was rampant in New Orleans, and I finally caved at Twelve Mile Limit when faced with a French 75 twist called the Spitfire (just add champagne–probably prosecco, in reality–and lemon juice). It’s easier to take risks on cocktails when priced in the single digits, not $14, the new $12. No, the picture is not great. Maybe it’s the inverse of “camera cuisine.”

Should I care about endless appetizers at TGI Friday? I don’t really.

I do care about NYC’s first Melting Pot. Why is no one talking about this? Maybe it’s too hot to think about melted cheese.

I wouldn’t go all the way to Florida for the experience, but I definitely need to see one of these new re-modeled-for-millennials Olive Gardens.

Smith & Wollensky is opening its first international location in London.

Maza Loukouma and Espresso Bar, a Greek coffee bar, is supposed to open in Greenwich Village next month.

Jackson Heights has a new international chain Pastes Kiko’s, which I’m excited about because turnovers not tacos, obviously, but also because it’s just four blocks away from my new co-op (I’m going to scope the hell out of the neighborhood come September).

I could take or leave the healthy Belgian chain Exki that also recently opened. By the way, my sporadic Serious Eats column, “Fast Food International” was a victim of the recent site revamp. Anyone dying for some amazing NYC-centric international intrigue?

I thought Bolivians hated fast food—it’s the country that’s always trotted out as being McDonald’s-proof—but I guess now that we’ve depleted all of their quinoa, they’ve been forced to embrace KFC. Wow, Ventura Mall is clearly where it’s all happening in Bolivia. There’s a new Sbarro too.

I’m pretty sure this is the first food commercial exploiting normcore fashion (just the white guy, to be specific). Sensible since it doesn’t get much more normcore than Chex Mix. Enjoy.



Top 8 Pre-Portlandia Restauarants

Before there were vegan strip clubs and chickens named Colin, cinnamon-and-sugar crusted elephant ears were the only thing you order from a trailer in Portland (while shopping for rainbow kites and jewelry forged from bent spoons at Saturday Market, of course) and shunning animal products meant ordering drive-thru 7-layer burritos without the sour cream and cheddar cheese. Yet despite the last millennium lack of barrel-aged cocktails, foraged lichen or whole animal butchery, residents managed to dine out every now and then.

In fact, some of these old guard establishments are still in business and presumably maintain a loyal following. Presumably, because I’ve only been back to Portland three times in nearly 16 years so it’s not as if I’m keeping tabs on the current state of near stalwarts. And this is not exactly about the food anyway; longevity and memories count for something too.

Don’t worry, FWx kids. Someday everything you once loved will also disappear. First small plates, then communal seating…and then we’ll all die. Ok, bye!

P.S. RIP Quality Pie, Circus Burger, Pizza Oasis, Yankee Pot Roast, Macheezmo Mouse, and Taste of Bali.

P.P.S. No one ever uttered or wrote “Keep Portland weird” in my multi-decade Portland lifetime.

Photo: 10best

Photo: 10best

Old Wives’ Tales is totally where the feminist bookstore womyn would eat, yet also could function as a meeting place for your meat-and-potatoes mom. In retrospect, it seems a little crunchy though at the time it just felt like a regular restaurant. The brightly muraled kids playroom and muted mint green and dusty rose color palette is still in effect and would somehow be more at home in a second-tier city in the state or the Oregon Coast.  Frankly, the food is kind of boring—I only ever ate the Hungarian mushroom soup and salad bar and rosemary chicken sandwich. They appear to have added a Mt. Hood painting to the facade and attempted to cool-up the name with the acronym OWT. That is too much.

La Sirenita’s arrival on N.E. Alberta when it was still a dead zone, taking the bus out there seemed sketchy and prostitutes would approach my car at night, marked the dawn of New Portland. I rarely eat burritos now that I’m civilized, but no one ate tacos at this taqueria, which was actually Mexican and not gross spinach, brown rice and non-dairy cream cheese hippie-mex. In fact, there was no rice at all in these burritos (though the menu now indicates otherwise) or even cheese. They were also not Mission-style, nor any style I’ve since encountered. Maybe five inches long, and nearly as wide, these flour tortilla parcels were crazy dense and filled with lardy refried beans and meat (carnitas always) so greasy it would ooze orange through the bag and onto every surface. I don’t think these burritos cost more than $3 either; even  now they are only $4.



Rheinlander A million years ago I wrote about Rheinlander and how the long-time accordionist Victor Meindel made me cry (not food-induced tears of joy) when I was in my 20s. Instead of demurring when solicited for a request like I normally would, I asked for “Consider Yourself” from Oliver, a movie that has always skeeved me out, but that I knew he always played in the ‘80s. This was the next decade. The earnest serenading coupled with his goofy grin sent me into nervous hysterics and then tears began seeping out. I have no idea of Victor is still there; he was probably in his 50s at the time of this incident. (This is the only other photo I can find of him.)

victorRheinlander is where we would occasionally have family celebrations and where I went for my high school graduation dinner. My oversized Tasmanian Devil t-shirt-wearing former step-sister that I’ve had no contact with for over a decade once asked for more sautéed mushrooms with her jagerschnitzel like a methy Oliver Twist and they actually complied. This was only slightly less humiliating than her uncle who insisted on a beer-whisky drink that he’d had in the service even though the non-German waitress had no idea what he was growling on about. Rheinlander’s selling point was a sharp cheese fondue served in a cast iron pot, which I now know is Swiss not German, but whatever. The even more TL, DR version here.

Hung Far Low gets attention from its unintentionally ribald name. It’s not even in Old Town/pseudo-Chinatown anymore (which isn’t called Old Town anymore—Pearl District what?) and lost the classic chop suey sign, which means it’s kind of dead to me, but I will always think of the dark vinyl booth lounge (no one ate in the restaurant) fondly. It was my specter of a boyfriend’s (I’m not even dating 44-year-olds now) haunt where we’d drink whiskey sours (me) and greyhounds (him) and eat late-night General Tso’s chicken. You would always run into someone you knew here. When I fell and broke my tailbone and was off work for over two weeks, I recuperated enough to go out but didn’t tell anyone and was spotted at Hung Far Low by a coworker like in those hidden camera workers’ comp sting operations.

Photo: Google+

Photo: Google+

Chu’s Eatery Frankly, I’m beyond shocked that this column A, column B Chinese-American restaurant still exists. In middle school, I briefly lived in the divorced families apartment complex across the street, but was too young to dine on my own. By driving age, and back in a two-parent house, my sister and I would occasionally visit for a cashew chicken combo that contained more chopped celery and carrots than meat or nuts. The adjoining lounge always seemed a bit tawdry and not in a kitschy way. This wasn’t a tiki-era relic, but firmly a product of that ‘80s Northwestern bark dust moat, wooden slat style, in this case fueled by Bud Light and video poker. Because Gresham is/was a small town, I heard from a non-friend high school classmate that her mom had been at Chu’s and was upset by a group of rowdy kids with skateboards including me. She was wrong, though; the weirdo we were with was a 25-year-old man. During this period I also started my first job bussing tables at a restaurant very much like Chu’s called Hunan Garden. Crab rangoon is in my veins.

My Father’s Place This would be as if Chu’s lounge was just one big restaurant that served reuben sandwiches and was patronized by proto-hipsters. I imagine it’s exactly the same now minus the proto part.

Taco Time Burgerville is the local chain that gets the most attention, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t rebrand as fresh, seasonal and sustainable until the 2000s. It used to be a burger joint plain and simple. Taco Time describes itself as an “upscale quick service restaurant chain that specializes in freshly prepared, home-style Mexican fare” on its website, which is completely untrue. You go there for tightly rolled fried burritos, half flauta, half chimichanga, now called Original Crisp Burritos, and lightly spiced tater tots a.k.a. Mexi-Fries.

Montage Technically Le Bistro Montage, the restaurant, which I never thought of as Cajun, but kind of is,  is currently located in what’s now called the Central Eastside Industrial district. It used to be on Belmont and was kind of a big deal to be open until 3am on weekends, considering bars and most everything close at least an hour before that. With white tablecloths and non-paper napkins, Montage seemed like a fancy restaurant—and certainly a step up from burritos and egg rolls—but wasn’t expensive. It was also the first place where I encountered foil animals for leftovers.

There is also an argument that could be made for Higgins, Wildwood and Paley’s Place, but those were far too grown-up and expensive for me to have any first-hand knowledge.

Winter Inspiration

natural tofu seafood soup

The winter edition of Real Cheap Eats is out, and much to my surprise features a Polish bread bowl. If that’s not reason enough to take a look, my contribution is a Korean seafood stew in Sunnyside that I would kill to eat right now, especially considering I’m on day three of leftover roast chicken, turnips and brown rice (I can’t take any more even though it was great the first dinner).