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Sunday Night Special: Colombo Chicken Curry & Green Bean Mallum

Colombo chicken curry & green bean mallum

Yes, this is food from last Sunday. I’m not foretelling the future. I would forego mentioning this meal altogether (I document my cooking very infrequently because honestly it’s not that exciting and lately I just haven’t had the attention span) but Sri Lankan food is something different for me. I don’t know that I’ve ever cooked the cuisine before and I’ve only tried it twice in restaurants.

1080recipes A friend was savvy enough to find my Amazon wish list and order “Mangoes & Curry Leaves” for my birthday last month. Unfortunately, I wasn’t savvy enough to keep said list up to date and already had the book. No problems, that’s why I love Amazon. Even though I wasn’t the buyer, I was able to exchange it for the same authors’ brand new cookbook, “Beyond the Great Wall.”
I took the opportunity to add “1080 Recipes,” the supposed Spanish “Joy of Cooking,” into the order. Now I’m faced with some serious skimming. I realized that 1080 is a lot of recipes, but I had no idea the book would be a massive 2 ½ inches thick (yes, I measured it).

So, before delving into my two new acquisitions I gave “Mangoes & Curry Leaves” another look. Who knows when I’ll have a chance to get back to it. All I knew is that I wanted to make something using chicken because I had bunch of bone-in thighs that needed using up. Colombo Chicken Curry fit the bill and only required the purchase of cashews and two tomatoes.

I do way more Southeast Asian than South Asian cooking so I’m used to pounding lots of herbs and fresh chunky things in a mortar and pestle. This style is more about toasting and grinding. I was shocked that I actually had every spice on hand: cumin seeds, coriander seeds (and used every last bit) fenugreek, cinnamon sticks and cardamom (not the pods, unfortunately). Interestingly, a spoonful of white rice and three times as many cashews also get tossed into the skillet, browned, then pulverized.

The end result, stewed with chopped tomatoes, grated coconut and coconut milk is complex in a way that’s hard to describe. I wouldn’t say that it tasted Indian or Malaysian but it definitely hinted at both. Just like whenever I infrequently attempt Malay curries, the flavor is rich, spicy but slightly flat like something’s lacking. Part of this is my inability to salt properly but I think the big issue is freshness of ingredients. It’s not like I live anywhere near the Spice Islands. Who knows where my spices came from and how long they sat around before sitting around in my kitchen.

I took one of the side dish suggestions seriously and read up on Green Bean Mallum. I’ve never heard of this vegetable dish. Luckily, EatingAsia has reproduced the recipe using sword beans. You’re not likely to find anything that exotic in the NYC area or probably anywhere in the U.S. but green beans work just fine. Better than fine. I really loved this condimenty side, maybe even a little more than the chicken. I ate this with brown rice like a hippy during the rest of the week and it was amazing and super spicy.

I was wary about shredding the beans, ultimately using my so-so food processor, because I hate fiddliness. But the texture was necessary. Whole beans would’ve been too substantial and dominated the dish. Really, the grated coconut is almost equal in prominence. Which reminds me, if you hate coconut I totally don’t understand you and you’ll hate both of these dishes.

Essentially, you cook the beans, shallots, turmeric, grated coconut, green chiles (I didn’t have Maldive fish or recommended substitute bonito flakes so instead sprinkled a few dashes of fish sauce) illogically with no water or oil in a covered pot for ten minutes. That’s it. You could totally do this with carrots, which I think wouldn’t be wholly untraditional. Though soggier, you could probably use a shredded green like spinach too.

Springing Forward, Falling Back

I know I am wasting my breath (fingertips, whatever) but I must break this too-busy-with-work-to-post dry spell to state the obvious: summer is not over until September 21st. Right? Why do people insist on using three-day weekends to mark seasons when Memorial Day and Labor Day are nearly a month from the beginning of summer and fall, respectively? The weatherlady on channel 772 (Weather Channel HD) just said "today is the official end of summer." I'm not clear if people don't understand the meaning of the word summer or official.

Ba Xuyen

Some foods gain universal adoration and acceptance, despite once being obscure. I understand why banh mis have such a stellar reputation. I’ve loved the mixed up sandwiches ever since I accidentally stumbled on a $1.50 Portland version what seems like a lifetime ago. I had no idea what it was at the time but the idea of something called a French sandwich in a Vietnamese takeout joint was too incongruous to pass up. I was hooked.
And they’re still a value at $3.75 in Brooklyn, even if that’s 75 more cents than my last posting on the subject. I forget the bounty of Sunset Park and really took living in the neighborhood for granted. Who knows, there might come a time when I look back fondly on the so-so Thai and French I’m surrounded by now. Perhaps I should soften my stance.

I don’t think I’ve had a Vietnamese sandwich once in 2008 and broke my dry spell this afternoon at my favorite, Ba Xuyen. And I hate hyperbole, but I swear the #1 was better than I remembered. I’ve experimented a bit and bought a #4 meatball for James, but I like the more is more approach. I also prefer everything bagels over plain or single ingredient.
Maybe because I’ve been eating lighter recently, but the one thing that struck me was how rich the pate was, like they added a little more than usual and mixed with the slightly sweet mayonnaise, created a new velvety condiment. It might’ve been overwhelming if it weren’t for the pickled carrots and daikon and jalapeno rounds lending sharpness. I’m honestly not sure what the different lunch meats are exactly, you can’t mind the cartilagey bits, though; they just add texture and the row of ground pork adds meaty springiness.
I only intended to eat half of my sandwich since this impromptu lunch didn’t take place until after 5pm and I was planning Sri Lankan food for dinner, maybe around 9pm. But I ate the whole thing anyway because it was that good. (And I have another one to look forward to tomorrow--I always buy a second sandwich to bring to work for lunch.) Ba Xuyen’s version is a bit heartier than some others so this might’ve been a mistake. I have zero interest in cooking now.
Ok, I could just leave my banh mi missive like that, happy go lucky and to the point. But I can’t or else it wouldn’t be me. I can’t because while waiting for my sandwich I encountered the convergence of two subjects that garner the angriest comments here: my impatience with know-it-all white foodies showing off their love of ethnic food and my suspicion and dismissal of the seriousness of food allergies. I rarely get comments period, I guess I’m more of a blabber than a cultivator of community, but yes, these are two topics that never fail to elicit vitriol from strangers. And this is how they come together in one interaction.

Twenty-something redhead: Does the #8 have peanuts?
Perfectly nice counter woman with adequate English skills: You want peanuts?
Twenty-something redhead: No, I don’t eat peanuts.
Perfectly nice counter woman with adequate English skills: The pork sandwich has peanuts.
Twenty-something redhead: I can’t eat peanuts. I have allergies.
Perfectly nice counter woman with adequate English skills: Allergies. Ok…
And this devolved into a back and forth with no resolve. The counter woman understood what allergies were but the redhead was getting more exasperated and sniped, “this is really turning into a drama.”
I think the problem was that the counter woman didn’t get what the girl was asking for. To me, it seemed that she wanted a different sandwich than the one she had ordered, sat down with and had started eating and now wanted to know which of the eight choices were peanut-free but she wasn’t really articulating this well. So then, her Asian-American (not Vietnamese, I’m fairly certain) boyfriend came up and reiterated the exact same thing like that would help matters, then announced that he’d just swap his #1 with his girlfriend’s #8 and that would solve peanut-filled sandwich problem.
While waiting for my sandwich, the counter lady was conferring with the cook lady in Vietnamese and every few words you could hear highly accented, allergy huffed with derision. I caught her eye and shared a smile—I didn’t want her want her lumping me into the difficult white lady camp. I’m no trouble-maker.
Sure, I’m guilty of being white and loving to eat food that I didn’t grow up with. I’m all for everyone sampling cuisines of the world. But I have issues with two types: loud, braggadocios who either have traveled extensively or lived in a foreign country and suck the air out of restaurants with their unbridled knowledge (not this couple’s M.O.) and the culinary explorers who expect all conventions of American, particularly neurotic New Yorker, eating quirks to be anticipated and respected.
As a diabetic, I’m careful about avoiding sugar but that’s my problem. If I blindly ordered a foodstuff from an inexpensive storefront, oh, let's say an iced coffee from a Vietnamese establishment, and the beverage I was handed was beige with sweetened condensed milk because that’s what Vietnamese ice coffee is like, it would be my own fault for not asking what it contained first. I wouldn’t expect the business to make me something else due to my mistake. I don't expect Danny Meyer levels of hospitality for $3.75.

Back to the important matter: Ba Xuyen makes the most awesome banh mis in the city. Just watch out for the bbq pork, a.k.a the #8—it’s sprinkled with crushed peanuts. (8/25/08)

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But Can She Carve a Turkey With Those Paws

Oh my, this video encapsulates all of my loves: chubby Siamese cats, crazy ladies and well, food. When was the last time you saw a feline eating with chopsticks?

via Guanabee


I feel like I can’t talk about places and things without photographic backup. People, including myself, don’t have time for words anymore. It’s all I can do to scroll through my work RSS feeds during the day while trying to squeeze in a few non-work feeds on the side. Particularly with food blogs, photos and headlines get the point across, and then you move onto the next.

I didn’t even start taking snapshots until 2006 and I’ve been writing on the web since ye olde 1998 so it’s creepy that photos have become so essential so quickly. Yeah, yeah, it’s all about video now…well, that’s never going to happen on my watch.

Maybe I’m regressing (some would say evolving) or maybe it’s just the lazy days of August when all NYC media tries to make you believe that the entire city is summering someplace full of fresh air that’s insanely fun (I’m indifferent to fresh air) but I haven’t been inclined to detail everything I eat and drink digitally.

I didn’t take as single shot at Grand Sichuan last week and only two or three at Boca Junior on Saturday. I did attempt a few pictures of my negroni at newly opened Botanica in Red Hook but flashless photography is futile while drinking outdoors at night.

Yes, there’s already a perfectly established bar with the same name on Houston Street, so that is weird. And yes, old-timer fave, Sunny’s is just down the street. I don’t see why the established and the new can’t coexist. No matter how much gentrification talk gets bandied about, the neighborhood is hardly bursting at the seams. The streets are still dead at night. Three cats prowling around the sidewalk at intervals was about the sum of the foot traffic I witnessed this weekend.

I’ve never felt more like I was in Beijing while ordering a drink at Botanica. Well, there weren’t any mute assistants with bowl haircuts working behind the bar when I was in China, but in both places I experienced pricy cocktails for the environs painstakingly made, i.e. slooowly from a binder of recipes. I’m all for perfection but the trick is making it appear seamless. I tend to be a bit twitchy and nervous as it is; I can’t spare the stress on my heart to be nervous for others too.

Now that I think about it, the awkwardness might’ve been compounded by a lack of bar seating and a big unfilled space between the bar and the row of tables against the wall. It feels strange to be standing eye to eye with a bartender when the room is nearly empty and you’re the only one at the counter. Or maybe it was the quirky African (or was it African-influenced? It was most definitely wasn’t Vampire Weekend, thank God) music playing that threw me off.

Normally, I’m violently opposed to sitting outside but Saturday the temperature was abnormally tolerable while the bar itself was hot and stuffy despite all doors being open and nary a crowd emitting body heat. My only fear was being targeted as a douche for drinking a double-digit-priced cocktail at a candlelit (make that glowing plastic votive thing) sidewalk table on Conover Street. And funny, because I overheard one table trading war stories with another table about the good ol’ days when the area was so scary it was safer to walk in the middle of the street.

The emphasis appears to be on freshly muddled fruit. A row of martini glasses filled with blackberries, cherries, and the like are prominently displayed on the bar (like this). I wasn’t up for a blueberry martini or anything sweet so I went completely bitter and dry with a negroni. Those herbal aperitifs like Campari have only recently begun to grow on me. Maybe it’s an aging thing; James mentioned that his father’s favorite drink is a negroni and the man is twice my age.

Botanica hasn’t hit its stride yet, and one drink was sufficient to get the gist. $10 lighter and seven mosquito bites later, we moved onto Brooklyn Ice House (formerly Pioneer Bar-B-Q). I do prefer beer and Van Halen chased by a free shot.

Botanica * 220 Conover St., Brooklyn, NY

A Riblet and a Dream

If I were more of an MBA go-getter type who craved a c-suite title (and wore dark-framed glasses half-way down my nose) I would want Julia Stewart’s job. I mean, could it get any better than CEO of Applebee’s and IHOP? Remember, this is the woman whose claim to fame is inventing stuffed French toast.

Today for some inexplicable reason the dining section of the New York Times has run a profile of Mrs. Stewart a.k.a. the “Velvet Hammer.” Choice quote: “Everybody has a quesadilla, but no one has a bruschetta quesadilla.” So right, and if memory serves Applebee’s also has a cheesecake chimichanga.

I vote for a chicken alfredo burrito or moo shu potato skins.

Up in Smoke

New smoker I don’t know a lot about barbecue, smoking, grilling, curing, any of it. And I’m just not wound up enough to learn the nuances. (I ate at Dinosaur BBQ last weekend after seeing the kind of long and confusing Dark Knight in Edgewater, NJ, and I didn’t even feel compelled to update my old write up. Not because barbecued meat isn’t great but because I don’t have much of anything to say about it.)

Smoking meat But James bought a smoker on what I think was a whim. I’m convinced that he’s trying to keep up with a coworker who owns a whole building with a deck and yard. It’s hardly a contest. We had to set this smoker up indoors, downstairs, just near an open door…in the same space my damp laundry was hung to dry. My pants now smell like a campfire. And the coworker with the bigger smoker just up and bought a caja china so we’re screwed.

So, I didn’t participate much in the creation of our smoked ribs. And I don’t even know if we did this right. It might’ve been a disaster but the end result wasn’t too bad, the meat was just a little tough and maybe even a little too smoky, dare I say cigarettey (that woman on Tyra last week who loved eating cigarette ashes would’ve been happy). I think the instruction book was full of shit and had us cook the ribs first. Smoked ribs and corn Are you really supposed to cook meat before smoking it? And do you bake or grill? And if you grill, that's a lot of rigamarole to smoke on top of that process. Does smoking cook meat? I’m totally confused and promise to read up on these matters before a second attempt.

The pork was rubbed with a mysterious spice blend–celery salt and ground mustard were the only ingredients I caught a glimpse of–and sauced with a combination of Daddy Sam's Bar-B-Que Sawce and Rancho Gordo Rio Fuego hot sauce.

The corn was freshly shucked and sauteed with scallions, red pepper, jalepeno and given a squeeze of lime. And no, none of it came from the greenmarket.

This smoking venture needs more investigating. Lamb might be fun, or cheese, maybe nuts? I’m not quite ready for the stuffed and smoked moose heart yet.



While settling into a post-birthday dinner at Tailor with my friend Sherri, conversation turned to her recent Portland excursion. I am from Portland. She is not. I was wowed by all of the photos of trendy restaurant food she had taken because it’s not my Portland. It’s not that upscale dining didn’t exist pre-1998 (though the food scene has hipified radically), it’s probably more that I tended towards the “grubbin’” side of cuisine. Horrible, horrible word, but it conveys the message: cheap, filling drunk/stoner food, exemplified by rice-filled (abhorrent) burritos big as your forearm.

To say Tailor is anti-grubbin’ is an understatement. Which isn’t to say that it’s not enjoyable. If price were not a concern, I could’ve sampled peculiar ingredient combinations on plate and in glass all evening long. It’s fun. I even gave into a bell pepper dessert (not so the bell pepper lemonade), despite the sad vegetable being on my bad side (strangely, the green menace had also shown in my Pret a Manger gazpacho at lunch earlier).

Tailor hibiscus highball and bazooka

Cocktails, kind of Tailor’s selling point, were an immediate must. A lightly sour, gender-neutral hibiscus 7up, rye and key lime beverage for me and the insane prettiest pink Bazooka, that yes, relies on bubblegum liqueur and tastes exactly like it looks though maybe one notch less sweet. I do wonder where the color comes from. Could it possibly be natural?

Tailor veal, marrow beads, parmesan crumble, huckleberry

Despite ultimately sharing, I picked out the veal, which came thinly shaved and cured like prosciutto. The whiter more gelatinous spheres were marrow, rightly rich and fatty, the denser orbs were composed of parmesan. Once again I was taken with color, apparently so much so that I can’t even recall what ingredient created the intense emerald green swoosh. The culprit was obviously herbal and tasted like a shot of wheatgrass. Paired with huckleberry drizzles and purple leaves, the result was pleasingly foresty, nothing like this scary forest.

Tailor coriander fried sweetbreads, citrus puree, salsify, white beer

Coriander-crusted sweetbreads were more straightforward and creamy almost like foie gras. A salsify base was neutral while the beer foam added bitter punch.

Tailor skate, purple tater tots, malt vinegar mayo, sweet ketchup

There are very few things more compelling than pork belly. Normally, those fatty striated slices would’ve been my first choice but the starchy component of “skate frites” snapped me to attention. Tater tots would’ve been good enough on their own because I love them (though not quite enough to craft a vest from Ore-Ida bags). But purple tater tots?! This had to be seen. To be honest, they didn’t have much flavor but they came atop a pool of ketchup and well, the looked pretty cool. The skate was formed into scallops and accompanied by a mayonnaise tarted up with malt vinegar and pickled shallots.

Tailor pork belly, miso butterscotch, artichoke

If mixing and matching were allowed I would’ve tossed a few purple tater tots into the pork belly bowl and created a giant plate of awesome. The butterscotch miso is the perfect blend of caramely and savory, almost like a salted palm sugar. I can see why Dale copped it for his own on Top Chef; unfortunately, it led to his downfall. Even the addition of artichoke made sense when bathed in this sauce.

Tailor bell pepper cake, cornbread ice cream, sweet pea

I’ve said it before, but I am fairly conservative when it comes to desserts. Herby granitas and poached fruit bum me out. But that’s primarily because they’re unfun. I don’t really mind cerebral as long as I’m entertained. So, I gave into the bell pepper cake with cornbread ice cream topped with a pea frond. I mean, it makes sense that this trio would be compatible. Cornbread is frequently sweet and cake-like anyway. This could just have easily been a starter.

Tailor kumquat confit, caraway ice cream, soy caramel, pumpernickel

In some ways, the kumquat confit finisher was more challenging because I have a hard time associating deep, brown European caraway and pumpernickel flavors with sweets. All it needed was the addition of dill or sauerkraut and I might’ve lost it. The candied fruit paired with thin crisps and earthy rye-like ice cream made me think of what would happen if I took my usual Wasa crackers and slathered them with jelly instead of laughing cow cheese. I don’t think I’ll do that anytime soon.

Tailor mate sour and blood & sand

The flavors of these two cocktails have merged in my brain because I was drinking them at the same time (don’t ask). On the left is a maté sour using yerba mate and while tea-like at first, an astringent, not unpleasant dirt-like aftertaste stuck with me later. The other is a blood and sand using scotch, sweet vermouth, cherry ale and an orange foam, which was smoky and orange peel bitter.

Tailor * 525 Broome St., New York, NY

Sometimes Apricots and a Banana Are Just Apricots and a Banana


Photo courtesy of my friend Sherri.

What’s Next, Thai Me Up?


Gourmet never disappoints, and their alfresco tableaus grow more perplexing by the month. Some Enchanted Eating? I think they might just be fucking with me at this point.

August finds us in a woodland fantasy bereft of picnickers and composed of bric-a-brac that might’ve been dragged into a clearing by hoboes with an affinity for cool, cerulean-olive tones.

Tarnished silverware?  A patchwork leather ball? I suppose…but…wicker rockers and a plastic-paneled television, black and white, most likely? Now, I’m starting to get scared.

The feeling is damp, maybe a little dank. If this were the Northwest, which it doesn’t appear to be, logs would be covered in moss and slugs would be having a picnic of their own using toadstools as tables. The climate doesn’t stimulate my appetite at all—frankly, it freaks me out a little.

Perhaps I’m just taking the eerie setup too personally. It brings to mind the Enchanted Forest, a musty amusement park of my youth.