Is it noshworthy?

Archive for November, 2009

Thanksgiving – The Great American Food Holiday!

Thursday, November 26th, 2009

Thanksgiving, the most American of holidays. It’s one of the first bits of history that they teach us in elementary school. It teaches us about sharing, compassion, and of course, the deliciousness of a feast shared.

Later in life, it becomes the official holiday of families. The reason that the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the busiest travel day of the year, is because so many of us are piling up in cars, trains and airplanes to head home and reunite with our families.

When I was a kid, Thanksgiving was always one of my favorite holidays. As a proto-foodie, the only thing better than my favorite foods, was a great variety of my favorite foods. And my parents shared the same philosophy.

It’s not uncommon for us to have a two or three course meal over a given week. One of the wonderful things about Thanksgiving is that it’s not uncommon to have a six, ten, or even twelve course meal!

Like a Las Vegas buffet, the trick to maximizing your Thanksgiving experience is in careful planning.  It’s very easy to see something yummy, and fall prey to the insidious “I love that dish! Gimme!” strategy, where you overload on one item.

Self-control is your friend.

One of the best things about Thanksgiving is the ability to go back for seconds and thirds. And remember, just because Auntie Mathilda’s ambrosia looks good, doesn’t mean that it actually tastes good.

Think of Thanksgiving like American Tapas. Have a bunch of tiny servings first. Then once you know what’s particularly appetizing, double up when its time for seconds!

thanksgiving_dinner_1024x768_3_800x600

Now anyone who has read my “Cookies are my Kryptonite” posting, knows that when it comes to cookies, I have absolutely no self-control. I’m only slightly better at resisting pie.

This is where your planning and self-control finally pays off. You see, unlike other occasions, a Thanksgiving meal may end with pumpkin, apple and pecan pie! Life is too short to only have one pie for dessert!

After my parents passed, I was “adopted” by two families. The Hacker’s in San Diego and the Hammer’s in San Mateo. They’ve made me family, and I’ve never been at a loss for where to spend my holidays. If anything, I have to carefully balance my time so that I can spend it with all the people I love.

The best thing about my situation (In addition to being well-loved!) is that both families put out amazing holiday feasts.

Which brings me to the last and most important part of this posting.

Leftovers!

No other holiday creates such an over abundance of food, that you’re almost always guaranteed leftovers.

And this is a good thing. A very good thing! 🙂

Even people who don’t like leftovers will put aside their biases for a chance to take home a plate of savory turkey, or honey roasted ham. Mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes, dinners rolls, and of course, pie, are all just as tasty the next day.

In my posting about good service, I talked about how good company always makes a meal better. And on no other occasion is it truer than Thanksgiving. Being around those you love, surrounded by a variety of heavenly food, one can’t help but enjoy a moment of bliss.

So as I come to an end of this post, let me take a moment to talk about what I’m thankful for. I am blessed with amazing friends and family. I live a “Laptop Bedouin” lifestyle that I really love. And I’m delighted to have an outlet like this blog to share my thoughts.

Thank you everyone for making my life the wonderful thing it is. My life doesn’t suck. Not even a little bit.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Cookies are my Kryptonite

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

I was at the drugstore today, buying the various sundries you get at the local Wallgreens. In the process of wandering around the store, I passed many cool and interesting things that would be fun to have, but I proved my willpower and passed.

“Naw, I don’t need a Snuggie”

“Look! A Clapper!”

“Hey! It’s a Chia Obama!!”

Having collected just the things I came for, I approached the counter to pay my bill.

“Wanna cookie?”, the cashier greeted me with a smile on her face, while showing me a box full of monster sized cookies.

“Do you have two?” was my immediate and unconscious response. Not only did it require no thought, I even automatically bought one for my roommate.

It was at this moment that I realized that cookies are my Kryptonite.

I mentioned this to my friend Tim at lunch. There were no questions or recrimination. Why was I surprised that I was tempted by this tasty treat? We immediately began a discussion about cookies, and started to plan an immediate trip to the supermarket to purchase cookie fixings.

Clearly, cookies are Tim’s Kryptonite as well.

Obviously, chocolate chip cookies are on my favorites list, but its not alone in it’s ability to bring a smile. And like the old axiom, “There’s no such thing as bad pizza. Even when its bad, its usually pretty good”, you could easily replace “Pizza” with “Cookies” without much argument.

There’s a tasty sandwich chain called Panera that differentiates itself from the Subways and Quiznoes of the world by the quality of its baked goods. You generally go there because the bread is so good.

The last time I was there, I ordered my sandwich and drink and was ready to pay my bill.

“Wanna try one of our new Toffee Nut cookies”?

“Of course!”

Yes, I think I’ve been trained like Pavlov’s dog. Ring the bell, make the dog salivate. Offer me a cookie and I’ll always say “Yes!”

One has to wonder if state secrets have ever been purchased with baked goods.

In parallel to the entire “What type of pizza is best” debate (The answer is thick crust, of course) is the “How do you like your cookies?” debate. But unlike the pizza, there is no clear answer to the Crispy/Chewy debate with cookies.

I think it’s contextual.

Planning to dunk it in milk? You need a crispy cookie!

Want to eat it fresh from the oven? Soft and chewy of course! I can’t wait for an hour for these puppies to cool down. What are you thinking? If its crispy coming out of the oven, its burnt.

The problematic part about cookies (What? How can something so yummy be problematic? Wait for it…) is related to the inability to say no to a cookie. If one cookie is good, obviously two is better.

There is no such thing as self-control in the face of cookies.

You know that social contract where you leave the last item of something for someone else? “No, you have the last hot wing”. “That last piece of pizza is yours.” This contract does not apply to cookies.

The only question that comes to mind with the last cookie is: “How long do I have to ignore the last cookie before it’s socially acceptable to grab it?”

I’m beginning to think that it’s good that I don’t know state secrets. All it would take would be a plate of peanut butter cookies, and you could ask me anything you like.

That’s not true. I’d also need a glass of milk. 🙂

Why I love Good Service…

Friday, November 20th, 2009

On the news today, they reported that a couple was arrested for not leaving a tip.

http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/…

The Reader’s Digest version is that a couple went to a pub with six of their friends, and had to wait at their table for over an hour for their food. They had to go to the bar to get their own refills, and even had to get their own utensils and napkins.

Needless to say, they didn’t feel that a tip was warranted. They paid their bill, minus a tip, and left.

Now like a lot of restaurants, the Lehigh Pub has something on its menu that says, “18% gratuity for parties of six or more”. When the couple didn’t pay the tip, the pub called the police. Since the tip was printed on the receipt, the police proceeded to arrest the couple for theft.

This is an example of both bad service, and a business that doesn’t understand the meaning of bad publicity. Needless to say, prosecuting your customers over a $16 tip is going to cost you a lot more than $16. Especially when the pub freely admits that their service was running slow that night.

Oddly enough, this episode made me reflect on how much I appreciate good service.

On one of my first business trips, my friends and I went to an amazing restaurant in San Francisco called Etrusca.

This was the best meal that I had ever experienced at that point in my life. The food was amazing!!! The main course was a complete fish, buried under a pile of salt. Like a plaster mold of a person’s face, the waiter pried open the resulting shell with two tablespoons, then deboned it the same way.

Not only was it both moist and flavorful, the fish also had no salt flavor at all!

The waiter was not only skilled at impressive presentation, but was everything you’d expect from a professional. He knew which wines paired with what foods. Knew what dishes were extraordinary and which were off that night.

And his recommendation of the “Italian Ding Dong” for dessert was downright inspired!

I was twenty-two at the time, and it has forever made me appreciate good service.

If you really want to experience superior service, it’s been my experience that the best place to go is someplace that hires professional wait staff. Usually a high-end steakhouse, or a world-class restaurant will do the trick.

It seems appropriate that a special occasion kind of meal comes with a special level of service.

The best thing about professional waitstaff is that they really are professionals. They know the food, the temperament of the chef, what other people have enjoyed, what dishes take the longest to prepare. And when they do their job right, they make it seem effortless.

Not that professionals have an exclusive on providing excellent service. I’ve been treated well by many waitresses working their way through college.

As luck would have it, I’ve developed a perfect yardstick for showing good service. I call it, “The Iced Tea Test”.

You see, I drink an extraordinary amount of liquids every day. Definitely measured in gallons. As such, my drink of choice is Iced Tea. No matter where you go, Iced Tea is one of those drinks that restaurants are happy to pour infinitely.

So here is how you perform the iced tea test.

  1. Go to your favorite restaurant
  2. Order an iced tea
  3. Drink it immediately.
  4. See how long it takes for the waiter to refill it.
  5. Repeat steps 3-4

How many times did they refill your glass over the course of the meal? How empty did your glass become before the waiter refilled.

It’s been my experience that someone providing excellent service will not only exceed my ability to drink more, but seldom lets my glass drop below half-full.

By this definition, I’ve had great service in places as wide ranging as pie shops to Gary Danko’s. And each time I was delighted to tip accordingly.

Good service makes any meal more enjoyable, as does good company. Good service should be rewarded and appreciated.

Next time you get good service, don’t just tip well. Tell them that you appreciate their work. Tell their boss how good the service was.

Hopefully the Lehigh Pub will come to realize that an 18% gratuity is earned, not something you need the police to enforce.

Why I love Comfort Food…

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

After having fought off Swine Flu and numerous colds and flus, I was reminded of the role comfort food plays in making us feel better.

In my twenties, I was finally old enough to need my own doctor. Fortunately, a friend recommended a sweet old doctor named Dr. Robert Brunst.

Dr. Brunst was a family practitioner who addressed every problem with the question, “Did you try chicken soup?”

“Doctor, I broke my leg.”

“Did you try chicken soup?”

“Doctor, I have a broken leg.”

“If you haven’t tried the soup, how do you know it wouldn’t have helped?”

From that point on, whether it was a cold, flu or injury, I always had a bowl of chicken soup before making my appointment.

“Doctor, I have a cold.”

“Did you try chicken soup?”

“Why yes. Yes I did.”

“And you’re still sick? You’ve obviously done something wrong. Let me check.”

Regardless of whether not it was a cure, there was no denying that the chicken soup made me feel better.

Even without an endorsement from the AMA, there’s no denying the medicinal effects of certain foods. Is there any mood that doesn’t improve with a bowl of ice cream? Does stress have a chance against a warm, chocolate chip cookie? Doesn’t your day get brighter when you taste a creamy Mac and Cheese?

Personally, I’m convinced that a good, chocolate brownie can cure cancer.

So what makes something a comfort food? Personally, I think it has to do with fond memories.

When I was a kid, we drove out to Chicago to visit my Grandma. The day we arrived it was raining, so she bundled us up in a pile of blankets, and we sat out on her covered patio and watched the rain. And while we watched the lightning and counted the seconds from it to the sound of the thunder, my Gram served us Lorna Doones cookies and glasses of Ginger Ale.

Now whenever it rains, nothing makes me happier than a box of Lorna Doones and a glass of Ginger Ale.

For whatever reason that something becomes a comfort food, its good to know that we can always depend on some things to brighten our days, and sweeten our dispositions.

Why I love Fish Tacos…

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009
“peter ‘was’ here…”
Why I love Fish Tacos…
When I eventually write about “Foods that sound disgusting (but are really quite yummy!)”, Fish Tacos will play a prominent role. But since they straddle so many categories, including Mexican, I think they deserve a post of their own. Don’t you?
Perhaps you don’t agree. And that is another reason why the venerable fish taco deserves its own post.
Being born in San Diego, I was raised on Mexican food. My best friend in elementary school was Fernando Anquiano, and I practically lived at his house. And due to the incredible cooking talents of Mrs. Anquiano, I was exposed to a wide variety of homemade Mexican food. My love of tamales will forever be equated with her culinary skill.
So it was from a position of moral superiority (At a level of self-righteousness reserved for 17 year olds) that I was certain of two things. Gravity exists, and tacos are made with shredded beef. If you were feeling a bit saucy, then you might use chicken.
Under no circumstances would you ever put fish in a taco!
This is where my old high school friend, Mark Campbell comes into the picture. You see, Mark has a unique form of charisma that inspires you to do things that you’d never do under normal circumstances.
For instance, when Mark wanted me to jump out of a perfectly good airplane, he didn’t bludgeon me with macho tirades like, “Don’t be chicken!” Instead, he came into work every Monday, giddy with enthusiasm about how much fun he had that weekend, jumping out of perfectly good airplanes.
The thing about infectious enthusiasm is, well it’s infectious. Three weeks later I found myself jumping out the door of a Cessna, as my agnostic friend Mark sat in the corner praying to God that we wouldn’t die!
This is very similar to how he introduced me to the fish taco.
You see, Mark frequented a little taco stand run by a guy named Ralph Rubio. And for days, Mark would show up at work with the classic white Styrofoam box, filled with two fish tacos, refried beans, and a pile of tortilla chips.
As he devoured his “Pesky’s Combo”, the yummy sounds he made permeated the room like the delicious aroma of lightly fried thresher shark.
And just like skydiving, his infectious enthusiasm got the better of me.
After several days, my righteous indignation faded and the enthusiasm made me question my die-hard belief that fish had no place in a taco. And as good fortune would have it, that day Mark brought me a Styrofoam box of my own.
As you may or may not know, Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill is now a major fast food chain, with restaurants from California to Colorado. This entire enterprise was built on the deliciousness of the Pesky’s combo. And I was about to understand why.
A “Fish Taco Especial” consisted of thresher shark (although now I believe they use North Atlantic cod), battered in beer batter, covered in cabbage, white sauce, guacamole, as well as jack and cheddar cheese.
I tentatively bit into my first fish taco, the savory deliciousness wrapped around my cerebral cortex. Like a zombie, my brain was flooded with the singular thought, “Pesky’s combo… Pesky’s combo…”
I would never be the same again.
Needless to say, my prejudice had been set aside, and I became a life long convert to the ways of the fish taco.
Since that faithful day, I’ve had hundreds of fish tacos. For example, there’s an amazing seafood place in Half Moon Bay called the “Flying Fish Grill”.  Not exactly Mexican food, but the fish is so fresh and good, that it’s a unique and wonderful variation on the theme.
I believe that many of the most enjoyable things we’ll ever experience, come from taking a risk and pushing the bounds of what we find comfortable. Food should allow us to be adventurous whenever we like. Sometimes it pays off remarkably well.

When I eventually write about “Foods that sound disgusting (but are really quite tasty!)”, Fish Tacos will play a prominent role. But since they straddle so many categories, including Mexican and Seafood, I think they deserve a post of their own. Don’t you?

Perhaps you don’t agree. And that is another reason why the venerable fish taco deserves its own post.

Being born in San Diego, I was raised on Mexican food. My best friend in elementary school was Fernando Anquiano, and I practically lived at his house. And due to the incredible cooking talents of Mrs. Anquiano, I was exposed to a wide variety of homemade Mexican food. My love of tamales will forever be equated with her culinary skill.

So it was from a position of moral superiority (At a level of self-righteousness only possible in a teenager) that I was certain of two things. Gravity exists, and tacos are made with shredded beef. If you were feeling a bit saucy, then you might use chicken.

Under no circumstances would you ever put fish in a taco!

This is where my old high school friend, Mark Campbell comes into the picture. You see, Mark has a unique form of persuasion that inspires you to do things that you’d never do under normal circumstances.

For instance, when Mark wanted me to jump out of a perfectly good airplane, he didn’t bludgeon me with macho tirades like, “Be a man!” Instead, he came into work every Monday, giddy with enthusiasm about how much fun he had that weekend, jumping out of perfectly good airplanes.

The thing about infectious enthusiasm is, well it’s infectious. Three weeks later I found myself jumping out the door of a Cessna, as my agnostic friend Mark sat in the corner praying to God that we wouldn’t die!

This is very similar to how he introduced me to the fish taco.

You see, Mark frequented a little taco stand run by a guy named Ralph Rubio. And for days, Mark would show up at work with the classic white Styrofoam box, filled with two fish tacos, refried beans, and a pile of tortilla chips.

As he devoured his “Pesky’s Combo”, the yummy sounds he made permeated the room like the delicious aroma of lightly fried thresher shark.

And just like skydiving, his infectious enthusiasm got the better of me.

After several days, my righteous indignation faded and the enthusiasm made me question my die-hard belief that fish had no place in a taco. And as good fortune would have it, that day Mark gave me a Styrofoam box of my own.

As you may or may not know, Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill is now a fast growing fast food chain, with restaurants from California to Colorado. This entire enterprise was built on the deliciousness of the Pesky’s combo. And I was about to understand why.

A “Fish Taco Especial” consisted of thresher shark (although now I believe they use North Atlantic cod), battered in beer batter, covered in cabbage, white sauce, guacamole, as well as jack and cheddar cheese.

I tentatively bit into my first fish taco, the savory deliciousness wrapped around my cerebral cortex. Like a zombie, my brain was flooded with the singular thought, “Pesky’s combo… Pesky’s combo…”

I would never be the same again.

Needless to say, my prejudice had been set aside, and I became a life long convert to the ways of the fish taco.

Since that faithful day, I’ve had hundreds of fish tacos. For example, there’s an amazing seafood place in Half Moon Bay called the “Flying Fish Grill”.  Not exactly Mexican food, but the fish is so fresh and good, that it’s a unique and wonderful variation on the theme. I’ve learned to keep myself open to new food experiences.

I believe that many of the best things we’ll ever do, come from taking a risk and pushing the bounds of comfort. Food allows us to be adventurous whenever we like.

And sometimes it pays off remarkably well. 🙂

Why I love Las Vegas…

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009
Why I love Las Vegas…
I originally thought about calling this post, “Why I love Big Food!”
I just came back from an amazing birthday weekend in Las Vegas. No matter how you define “food capital”, it fits. If you define it as cheap food, no one can beat Vegas for an all-you-can-eat, $5 buffet. If you’re a die-hard foodie, every celebrity chef has opened a mega-restaurant somewhere along the Strip.
Upon our arrival, my friends and I went in quest of dinner. You know how certain songs get stuck in your head? Well the deli equivalent happens when someone mentions pastrami. Or as a die-hard Seinfeld fan might say, “The most sensual of all the salted cured meats.”
I seem to remember that there’s a Carnegie Deli at the Mirage with amazing pastrami. Although I can’t be sure, since I had imbibed several glasses of MacAllans 25-year-old Scotch on Facebook’s tab that night, so my memories are a bit suspect.
If anything, my inebriated memory hadn’t done them justice. Three of us ordered sandwiches with pastrami. None of us could have been picked up our “sandwiches” without a forklift.  Tim’s consisted of a potato knish, piled high with two pounds of pastrami, and then completely smothered in Swiss cheese.
For breakfast Saturday, we went to a restaurant called Hash House a Go-Go. Not a place for someone with a small appetite. My Chicken Benedict was an 18-inch plate, covered with sage fried chicken, fresh spinach, hardwood smoked bacon, tomatoes, a blanket of grilled mozzarella cheese, scrambled eggs, all smothered in chipotle hollandaise sauce.  Tim’s meal was appropriately named, “The Tractor Driver”, and Brian’s chicken and waffles could have fed the entire Smurf village. Nothing in this restaurant was small.
So what is it that possesses us to purchase meals so gigantor in size, that they can easily feed an entire class of fourth graders? What is it about places like Hash House a Go-Go and All-You-Can-Eat buffets that make us believe that we can consume a six-pound burrito all by ourselves?
In some ways I think its like Las Vegas itself. We all sit at the Blackjack table or slot machine, with fond dreams of winning a fortune, knowing that the math isn’t on our side. Something about huge portions makes us believe that if one tasty bite makes us happy, 200 bites will make us even happier.
With gambling, winning twenty dollars makes us so happy that we forget about the hundred dollars we lost.  We may only get through nine-ounces of that monster pile of pastrami, but boy did it taste good while we were eating it!
Las Vegas is about embracing the excessive for a short period of time. Julia Child, the Patron Saint of food always said, “Everything in moderation”. Every once in a while, isn’t it great to enjoy gluttony in moderation? 🙂

I originally thought about calling this post, “Why I love Big Food!”

I just came back from an amazing birthday weekend in Las Vegas. No matter how you define “food capital”, it fits. If you define it as cheap food, no one can beat Vegas for an all-you-can-eat, $5 buffet. If you’re a die-hard foodie, every celebrity chef has opened a mega-restaurant somewhere along the Strip.

Upon our arrival, my friends and I went in quest of dinner. You know how certain songs get stuck in your head? Well the deli equivalent happens when someone mentions pastrami. Or as a die-hard Seinfeld fan might say, “The most sensual of all the salted cured meats.”

I seem to remember that there’s a Carnegie Deli at the Mirage with amazing pastrami. Although I can’t be sure, since I had imbibed several glasses of MacAllans 25-year-old Scotch on Facebook’s tab that night, so my memories are a bit suspect.

If anything, my inebriated memory hadn’t done them justice. Three of us ordered sandwiches with pastrami. No one could have picked up our “sandwiches” without a forklift.  Tim’s consisted of a potato knish, piled high with two pounds of pastrami, and then completely smothered in Swiss cheese.

For breakfast Saturday, we went to a restaurant called Hash House a Go-Go. Not a place for someone with a small appetite. My Chicken Benedict was an 18-inch plate, covered with sage fried chicken, fresh spinach, hardwood smoked bacon, tomatoes, a blanket of grilled mozzarella cheese, scrambled eggs, all smothered in chipotle hollandaise sauce.  Tim’s meal was appropriately named, “The Tractor Driver”, and Brian’s chicken and waffles could have fed the entire Smurf village. Nothing in this restaurant was small.

So what is it that possesses us to purchase meals so gigantor in size, that they can easily feed an entire class of fourth graders? What is it about places like Hash House a Go-Go and All-You-Can-Eat buffets that make us believe that we can consume a six-pound burrito all by ourselves?

In some ways I think its like Las Vegas itself. We all sit at the Blackjack table or slot machine, with fond dreams of winning a fortune, knowing that the math isn’t on our side. Something about huge portions makes us believe that if one tasty bite makes us happy, 200 bites will make us even happier.

With gambling, winning twenty dollars makes us so happy that we forget about the hundred dollars we lost.  We may only get through nine-ounces of that monster pile of pastrami, but boy did it taste good while we were eating it!

Las Vegas is about embracing the excessive for a short period of time. Julia Child, the Patron Saint of food always said, “Everything in moderation”. Every once in a while, isn’t it great to enjoy gluttony in moderation? 🙂

Welcome to the Happy Omnivore!

Monday, November 16th, 2009

Hello FoodieFriends! ™

I love food. 🙂

No, not in some strange way (Although I have eaten some strange food).  But when you think about it, few things in our lives bring us joy every day, like food.

Have you ever had a really bad day, that just completely evaporated when you ate a cookie? Does the smell of baking bread, freshly made cookies, or vanilla, bring a smile to your face? Then this may be the blog for you.

I want this blog to be about the things I love, that make me smile and keep me happy. I may occasionally mock or kidd, but my purpose is to share what’s good in the world, and perhaps help others discover a few of the wonderful things in life.

So stop in, look around, and let me know what you think!

Welcome to the HappyOmnivore.com!

Peter