May 2008 Archives

Public Pulse/Beer Tax
By Lydia on May 30, 2008 12:53 PM| | Comments (3)
From my Father's blog at http://www.publicpulse.blogspot.com:

"Now that the MI Republicans have weighed in for the summer gas tax holiday, it's time to propose a more meaningful alternative:

Summer Beer Tax Holiday

Seeing that no one can afford to take a vacation anyhow, why not a roll back on the beer tax? or maybe just a roll back on beers made in Michigan? Say Yes to Bells, Founders, New Amsterdam, Shorts and all the other fantastic breweries that are serving up an incredible range of Michigan beer!"

Granted, I think he meant "New Holland" not "Amsterdam," but wouldn't that make this, like, the Best Summer Ever? And what a way to stimulate some great local businesses. 

And, P.S. My dad's blog is a great page for anyone interested in Michigan politics who hasn't the energy to root actual news out of the GRPress. 
Curry/Party
By Lydia on May 28, 2008 12:07 PM| | Comments (6)
I started cooking a couple of years ago. I dabbled before that; I had a couple of specialties down, and I knew how to read a recipe. I come from a large family of really accomplished cooks. My grandparents owned a restaurant, and my mother to this day cooks dinner from scratch every night. My aunt is the baker (I mean, seriously, her username on the interweb is "piebakersue") and the sort of person to invite you over to "nothing special" tea, and greet you with scones, a bundt cake and some cookies she just whipped up. She literally gets up at 4 in the morning on Thanksgiving to make 8 pies. In my family food is central to everything, and yet, we all take it for granted. I always did, anyway. When I started cooking, it was kind of like "my turn, had to happen sometime." 

The family couldn't have been more pleased, and I was showered with eveyone's hand-me-downs and cast-offs. I don't think any beginner cook has ever started learning with more tough, seasoned equiptment than I. Dutch oven? Tongs? Vegetable steamer? 2 colanders? Angel food cake pan? I had it all. Cooking was fun. It was like making art, except with less pressure. Picked the worst possible spice combination for your made-up recipe? Who cares, let's throw it out and order pizza. Even mess-ups can feed you, and when you're done you never have to make it again. Or think about it again. Until you're at the bar the next night telling overblown stories about the Grossest Dinner Ever. 

Lately, though, Ive been cooking less. I attribute this to seasonal depresson and the departure of a live-in boyfriend. There's just something about cooking for someone else that makes it really satisfying. Its got to be the Jewish grandmother in me (have another rugelah, you're skin and bones.) With the advent of spring, though, I am determined to keep up with my project, the working title of which is "Be As Good of a Cook The Last Generations Were Without Having To Make A Big Deal About It To Their Friends On The Internets."

Basically, I am throwing a dinner party. I have high hopes for this one. I plan on not getting drunk while nervously waiting for anyone to show up. I plan on not pestering eveyone with questions about whether the saag has too much turmeric. I will clean up the same night! The menu is mostly Indian: Saag with tofu, masala subzi, samosas, raita, chutneys, broiled asparagus, and strawberry-rhubarb pie. This pie thing is a real strech on my part, pie crust and I are not quite on a first name basis, but the rhubarb at the farmer's market looked way tasty. 

Curry is easier than anyone thinks. Also, I think it is the easiest/tastiest way to appease vegans when you must bring something to a potluck. Start with a thumb sized piece of ginger and a head of garlic, and whip them up in the food processor, or grate them together. You can add chillis here too. I like serranos best. Fry that up  in a pan of olive oil until it browns a bit, and add a medium onion chopped fine-ish. Let the onion darken a bit and then scoot that all over to the side of the pan. Put a little more oil on the clean side, and dump your spices in. I like about a half-palm of cumin, half that of corriender, some turmeric and some paprika as a base, but you can get crazy with the cardamom and cinnamon if you want. Stir the spices into the oil until you can really smell them, and then stir the whole thing together. A wooden spoon is handy here, as you really dont  want the spices to stick to the pan and burn. Add a little stock/beer/water. Dump a couple cups of chopped veggies in and toast them a bit, then add a can of chopped tomatos. Add the tomatos early if anything seems like its about to burn. Cover and simmer till tender. Correct spices. I usually juice half a lemon in too. Add stock/water/beer  if it seems dry. I add a handful of chopped cilantro at the end, but some people think it tastes like dirty socks, so play that by ear. Serve with rice and plain yogurt. (Pretend you never eat yogurt if at vegan potluck.)

If anyone wants to come have dinner, its at my house, 8pm. Comment for directions.
The Sandwich: A Retrospective
By Lydia on May 25, 2008 9:58 AM| | Comments (1)
I am a firm believer in the holy trinity of starches. Pasta, rice, and bread comprise probably 19 of every 20 meals I eat, but of these, the sandwich is definetly king. Today, for my inaugeral Scary Dinner-on G-Rad post, I'd like to take a look back on Lydia's Most Memorable Sandwiches in Chronological Order.

1. Tomato and Cream Cheese on Supermarket Whole Wheat. This is the sandwich of my childhood, which I ate every single school day from K-5 and beyond. My mama would pack my lunch bag, which embarrassed me because it was of the canvas, reusable variety and not a paper bag like all the cool kids had. Tomato and cream cheese is rivaled in its simplicity and deliciousness only by cream cheese and cucumber, which is lovely when you are sick of how commercial tomatos don't actaully taste like anything. 

2. Bread and Butter. This was the "special treat" sandwich when my mama made bread, and it got me made fun of in high school by people who think that butter is not a sandwich. My friend Rei has said that seeing my lunch once made him want to have kids, so he could be as cool as my parents. The lunch was this sandwich, an apple, one store bought cookie, one homemade cookie, and my mother had serialized a Pablo Neruda poem on the lunch bag. 

3. Sandwich at Arcadia Coffee Co. Greenwich, CT 1991. Arcadia was the first coffeeshop I ever saw, and I loved how all the chairs were different colors. I had my first italian soda there and remember being surprised by it tasting like fruit. This sandwich is somewhat blurry in my mind, the main point, though, is that there were artichoke hearts on it!!! I had always loved artichokes, but it was surprising and decadent to me that one could have the heart without the leaf-pulling process. Total eye-opener. 

4. Bocadillo de Tortilla Hispanola, Madrid, Espana, 2001. I went to spain with my sister when I was 15. One night we were drinking in the street with these suburban spanish teenagers who were telling us about how we really needed to go to the north and sit on a mountain and listen to Sublime, and the world would make lots of sense. Some people had set up card tables with homemade sandwiches for the drunkards, and I ate the first one I saw. It was tortilla, which I had never had, simply smushed into a baguette. It was the kind of transcendant experience one can only get from a really new sensation. Kind of like "wow! how did I not know this could exist?" And seriously, how can a potato fritatta on bread really be that delicious? Well it wasn't just the context, I make tortilla at home and its still the single best food when you're drunk. (Which apparently I do a lot. How wierd is it to hear of people being warned about your imbibition?)

5. Goat Cheese on Good Toast with Avocado. My sister and I like to eat goat cheese plain, off a plate, with our fingers, while watching the OC. This is the slightly more refined version, maybe appropriate for watching LOST? 

6. Roast Beef Sandwich with Roasted Garlic on Good Baguette. I come from a family that believes that meat sandwiches are to be reserved for the morning after the brisket, and the one day a year you give in and buy lunch meat. Also, we believe that cheese and meat do not belong together between bread. Too Much. Or maybe its our natural Jewishness showing through the secularism. In any event, the rare occasions that I buy sliced meat are worthy of the annoyance of roasting garlic to spread. I am of the garlic=yum school, so I tend towards, like, a whole head for one sandiwich. If the bread you get is really fresh and chewy this is kid of like a game to eat. Like tug-of-war with your food.

So, hi g-rad, thanks for having me. Next time I'll actually review something, promise.

Freezer Meltdown
By Lydia on May 20, 2008 10:24 AM| | Comments (1)
This is stretching the "its about food" premise of Scary Dinner, but today I am throwing caution to the wind! Last night I opened my freezer and what seemed like half of a polar ice cap fell on my head! Holy glacial slide, it was huge.

 Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usFree Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usFree Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

I feel like these pictures dont look quite as astonishing as I would hope...
Palace of India Part 2
By Lydia on May 16, 2008 11:44 AM| | Comments (1)
I was invited out to dinner today by some charming gentleman friends. Actually, they called me when they were at the restaurant looking at an empty seat, and I am having a hard time being genuinely flattered. But call me they did, and I turned off Charmed and raced over like a silly little girl to the Palace of India for Episode 2. Palace of India seems like god's gift to ethnic food in Grand Rapids. Finally I can turn my back on Bombay Cuisine for good. Its like when you get dumped by your boyfriend and the next guy you date is really really hot. You sort of want him to find out that you can get your kicks somewhere else? I feel like writing Mysoginist Bal of Bombay a taunting greeting card with the Palace and I on it making out. I ordered an old Bombay standby, baingen bhurta, or mushy eggplant dish, with a standing agreement with Andrew to share his saag. I must say, the Palace's menu is huge. The appetizer list dwarfs Bombay's and Taste of India's, and there are far more vegetarian options than at either. This pleases me to a funny extent. I am an unapologetic meat eater. I have admitted that I don't understand veganism. In most indian food, though, the meat is the least interesting, delicious part! We got paneer pakoras and samosas for starting out with. I didn't really care about the paneer, but then, I wouldn't. The samosas were ok, but I like mine better. All the food was awsome. My eggplant was really fresh tasting and it had a great texture. Let the record state, though, that when I ordered "somewhere between medium and spicy" it came out decidedly mild/medium. Spicy it is from now on. The naan was not great. Half of it was too thick, re: doughy, and the other half was burned on the bottom. Dissapointing, but tandoors are tricky, and this isnt really damning. I can see them improving over time. Ooh, guys I really like this place!
Urban Mill (shudder)
By Lydia on May 15, 2008 6:29 PM| | Comments (0)
Some people live the high life. I run around like a fool while friends of mine get paid to review take out. Yesterday I got to accompany Troy on assignment pre-Mujapedeen meeting for carry-out on the Grand Rapids Press. We hit up te Urban Mill on Michigan by college and I had a abd feeling about it right from the get-go. Think faux-euro-boho-coffeeshop with a heavy emphasis on appealing to suburbanites. I had a terrible time trying to figure out what to order; nothing looked appealing at all. I ordered a half a roast beef sandwich and Troy got a chicken pesto cliche. We both got fancy blended coffee drinks, but I call them milkshakes. We packed up and rode to the Pickwick to eat. Ok. I know I exagerate frequently. I say things like, "oh my, I worked a million hours today," or, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the best TV show EVER!" So I want to be perfectly clear when I say now that the sandwich I had from the Urban Mill was the Single Worst Sandwich I Have EVER HAD. It was also one of the Least Satisfying Meals Ever, and let me tell you, I have eaten gross and bizarre sandwiches, and many unfufilling meals. The sandwich, which came on some flaccid marble rye (dry!), was dressed with one 3 millimeter thin slice of pale supermarket tomato, some strings of onion, lettuce, and one half-folded piece of meat. Seriously, what deli puts one piece of meat on a sandwich? Troy and I spent some time trying to come up with things he could write about it. "Almost post-modern in its simplicity," "Minimalism in action," "A unique dining experience," "Exceedingly well-packaged take out." The press won't write a bad review, but that's why I'm here! Urban Mill: Don't Bother EVER!
Palace of India
By Lydia on May 10, 2008 9:49 AM| | Comments (1)
Every time I drive down 28th street I am overcome with giggles. Why is every business named something excessively literal? World of Floors. Mattress World. Auto Zone. House of Blinds (and Drapery!) It seems like ethnic restaurants follow the same pattern of christening. We have Little Africa, Little Mexico, Bombay Cuisine, Pita House, and now Palace of India. Not that I am complaining too stridently, I am really damn happy to have another indian spot in moped-riding distance, especially one I didnt get fired from, but really guys, work on the names? I went to Palace of India on the rainiest tuesday ever. Andrew and I walked from our houses and met up on Fulton to get there. We were both soaked, though I had an umbrella. We attempted to share the umbrella for the remaining walk, which was innefective as Andrew thought I wasnt as wet as he was, and kept inching the unbrella from over my head. The Palace was pretty crowded when we got there, though we got a table immediately. We were, I think, scarily gleeful. Side note about my feelings on lunch buffets, and buffets in general. Ok, obviously the food isnt going to be as good as food prepared individually for each customer. That is a fact of food service. Apologies to Ming Ten and Old Country Buffet and hell, the San Chez Mothers Day Buffet Bullshit, but this is true. Making and holding huge quantities of food just does not do much for quality. That said, buffets can be fun, and they are a great way of using up leftovers in a kitchen! Just douse them in sauce and pawn them off of the luch crowd! Given this, the buffet at the Palace was good. There were six curries, rice, tandoori chicken, pakoras, salad, kheer and chutneys. All this was 8.99, about 4 dollars less than Bombay. Also, on a weekday at Bombay you do not get the chutneys included in buffet price, but must pay 2.99 for them if you want them. Starting from the begining, here are my capsule reviews. Salad: Not a green salad: very indian. So cut up veggies is what you get. Hard to review. Tandoori Chicken: Moist enough, which is difficult to accomplish as it tends to dry out quite a bit on buffet, but less flavorful than I'd like. Needs to be garnished with more lemons. Butter Chicken: Good, if not my favorite thing. Creamy and tangy, and carries just a touch of heat. Goat Curry: Large chunks of meat on bone. Sauce is incredibly rich, I am guessing that is the bones talking. Goat is tender to point of falling apart in your mouth. Really good. Saag Paneer: Canned spinach, I believe, which is pretty standard. Again, nice touch of spice. Paneer chunks are softer than I am used to, and this makes me like them more. Here is a secret, I don't really like paneer. It reminds me of tofu and I don't really like tofu. Its ok and all, but I always feel like "why bother?" Veggie Korma: Again with the spice. I love that the Palace has the balls to put some chillis in their buffet. Veggies seemed frozen, and there was a dominant flavor of corn, which I didn't care for. Texture of vegetables left something to be desired, they tended toward mushiness. Daal: Its daal, what do you want from me? Soupy as all hell. Soy curry: Spongy tofu-y balls that made me want to spit my mouthful out. Yuck. Just yuck. Kheer: Seems to be made with half and half instead of regular old milk. Decadence? Sickening? You decide! Also, they let us buy a plate to go! Bombay wont let you do this! We brought goat curry and saag and such to Herm, and he told me the next day the he had dreamt about how good it was!! This is a glowing review!! So generally I like this place. I am very excited to see what the dinner menu looks like. I need some more basis for my judgments, but I think it is going to be awsome.
Pho Soc Trang & the Birth Of Pedicoat Junction
By Lydia on May 1, 2008 9:58 AM| | Comments (3)
Lunch Wednesday was a good day for food. George and I got in my shambly car and make the trek to the Far South to scope out any and all pho options. We drove up and down S. Division between 28th and 44th twice or three times (carbon emissions be damned, we're doing research here!) pointing out places and stopping evey now and then. Hey, what's that notice on the door of this one place? Condemned by the city? Ok, we'll go somewhere else! We ended up at what George calls "Gateway Pho" also known as Pho Soc Trang, a part of this mall-like conglomeration by 42nd. He admitted under his breath that the name refers to how there are usually more white people than Vietnamese eating there at any given time. The restaurant was typical in decor, lots of bright wall hangings in a flourescent-lit space with bare tables and fish sauce. I got the house special (I figure its special for a reason) and George ate of pho with "brisket well and rare." When it came we both doctored it to personal specifications; George goes light on basil and hot sauce, I'm more heavy-handed on both. Actually, my broth ended up orange, but it looked a lot spicier than it was, allowing me to play tough. We each had a boba-tea milkshake thingy as well, and as George seemed excited about taro I chose the same. Turns out taro tastes like puffed corn. In a good, if confusing way. Its always funny eating with someone new. George seemed concerned whether I would think it bad manners to drink broth from the bowl instead of using a spoon. Slurp away, George! Color me unconcerned with consumptive niceties! We went after lunch to the grocery connected to by way of scary hallway to the Trang. We both kind of geeked out, George with different sorts of tofu, me with dried anchovies and "intimidating vegetables." Shopping exhausts me. Birthday Ice Cream I drove home to meet Esther for 18th birthday ice cream. Happy Birthday again, duck! We went to Sweet Connections on Cherry, right across from the Green Well. I was so full I got a blue slurpee. Es got frozen yogurt of the "tangy" variety. This is a newish thing in Grand Rapids, though its been popular on the coasts for a long time in the guises of Pinkberry and Red Mango. The yogurt was odd at first, almost too thick and creamy. I think I'll have to go back to see if i like it. Don't ever get the slurpee, eek. Ice cream done, we drove downtown to the Van Andel Museum. Though it was 4:55, they let us in to ride the carosel, and we ran like crazy people to get on. Best sister birthday ever. We went home, post-ride, and kind of exhilirated, to watch Fox Network situation comedies on my bed. Then Esther went off to a school function and I rode the moped to Founders for a meeting of "Pedicoat Junction." Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us
Pedicoat Junction Troy and I have been riding around, and we decided we need a name. Wednesday it was as above, tomorrow who knows? We are so cool our name is fluid. We had a couple and rode around for a while. There were stops and ping-pong involved. Long story short? Founders sandwiches are amazing. Troy and I shared a "Big Easy." I remember olive spread. It was warm, a little spicy, and they gave each of us a pickle. I definitely went on for a few minutes about the pickle, how it straddled the perfect balance of vinegar and crunch. Went home happy.