Tuesday, August 30

Governor's Island

I realize it is a little late in the summer, but go to Governor's Island!

on the western shore of Governor's Island

This particular island is just south of Manhattan.  There is a free ferry Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and free bike rentals on Fridays.  Governor's Island is lovely and flat, so it is the perfect way to enjoy those last few days of pleasantly warm weather before the chill creeps in.

More importantly, there many different events on the island throughout the summertime.  (Here is a list of this summer's activities, free and otherwise.)  My favorite by far is the Jazz Age Dance Party.  I accidentally stumbled upon this 20s jazz festival when I first visited Governor's Island.  Dozens of people dressed up as flappers and philosophers swarmed the island and danced on the grass to fantastic music.  The whole affair is presented by Michael Arenella and the Dreamland Orchestra.

Some things to look forward to as summer slips away: Rock the Bells Concert, the NYC Unicycle Festival, Rite of Summer Classical Music Festival, and Vendy Awards (for foodies!  foodies everywhere!).  If you cannot make any of these, mentally note Governor's Island for next summer!

view of Manhattan and Brooklyn

Sweetbox Cupcakes

Sweetbox Cupcakes, Guapos Tacos' roaming companion, also usually resides in the LOVE/JFK Park in Philadelphia.  Clearly the goods go fast; by the time Margaret and I talked each other into checking out the menu, many of the favorite cupcakes were gone.  This was probably a good thing because the two cupcakes we did sample were to die for and the decision process would have been that much more harrowing if we had had more options.

We bought a strawberries and cream cupcake and the other was chocolate hazelnut.  Each cost $3 (only $.25 more than a Magnolia cupcake!), but some of the other options were $2.50.  Either way, it was three dollars with which I easily parted.

Each cupcake was artfully baked and decorated.  Nevertheless, I experienced the slightest moment of skepticism when I saw the undeniable pinkness of the cake.  Oh, I of little faith!

The strawberry cake was clearly made with real strawberries because it somehow managed to convey the freshness of the fruit.  The chocolate hazelnut cupcake was just as good, if not as unusual.  Topped with chopped hazelnuts, the cake was chocolate and drizzled with a rich ganache.  It was the perfect combination of nuttiness and that deep chocolaty taste of which we always approve.

As we enjoyed our well-deserved treats, we listened to some incredible singers in the park.  For future reference, check this website for cultural events, performances, and exhibits hosted by Fairmont Park.

Monday, August 29

Guapos Tacos

I am beginning to think that food carts are going to take over the world.  From Portland (the land of food carts selling fried pie) to New York (the island of Wafels & Dinges and A-Pou's Taste Cart) and, as I recently discovered, Philadelphia.

Guapos Tacos, from what I can tell from their twitterings, generally plonks down in the LOVE Park (offically JFK Park) alongside Sweetbox Cupcakes (more on them later).  Margaret and I split an order of the Green Chili Chicken Tacos.  Unlike many other tacos, these were lighter although it is hard to explain exactly how.  The shells were not as fried-to-crispness and maybe that was it.  Or maybe it was the radish on top that completely threw me a loop.  Regardless, the meal was delicious and worth the wait in the line under the radiating sun.

green chile chicken tacos

The order of tacos cost $6, which we were only too happy to give to the food cart covered in a geometric pattern of beer bottle caps.

if the wait is a little long, try identifying all the beer caps

The High Line: Revisted

Remember this post?  Well thanks to the strategic Jack (who was actually the original person to tell me about the High Line), I read an article in the New York Times called "Walking On Air" about the High Line and the culture there now.

As it so happens, I had my own experience with the High Line and her artists.  During my first spring in New York, my mother visited me and we toured the city together between those pesky midterms.  We strolled through Union Square one day and spotted a man selling tiny photographs of the city.  It turned out that he made his own pinhole cameras (aka camera obscura) with little tins and old film canisters and then sold his work.  An amateur photographer who once developed her own film, my mother eyed the photographs and, probably remembering our string of extravagancies and acting with her usual consumer's hesitation, moved on.  I mentally noted the man and his wares and resolved to come back at a later date.

For the better part of a year, I made sure to glance at the artwork in Union Square on my way to dumplings or Italian pastries or the occasional performance.  Then, my roommate and I hauled our weary feet up the two flights of stairs to the High Line and slowly meandered above the street.

He was there!  I gushed and jabbered and told him of my search.  It would seem that Union Square had become too commercial for him (unsurprising, especially after six years of vending in the same location) and the High Line is now is regular spot.

The photograph I ultimately bought for my mother is black and white and was probably taken in Brooklyn.  Two adjacent apartment windows form dark frames, capturing the Brooklyn Bridge in one and the Manhattan skyline in the other.

mom with soon-to-be cousin Andrea

Sunday, August 28

Tommy DiNic's

The powers that be have decided that pork is forgotten more often than not, and that is a tragic situation that we here aim to rectify through lots o' pork.

Tommy DiNic's is in the Reading Terminal Market on Arch St and 11th St N in Philly.  They sell the best pulled pork in all of Philadelphia as demonstrated by the many framed and laminated reviews within sight of the register (one review proclaimed capitally, "PIG OUT!") and I cannot say that I disagree.

While I do not totally understand how pulling and shredding the pork alters the flavor, I think that the pork can be pulled is in fact a symptom of a slow-cooking process that tenderizes the meat in that succulent way.  If that is the case, the good ol' boys at Tommy Dinic's have mastered the slow-cooking process.

This was one of my first meals in Philadelphia, and it did not disappoint.  Each sandwich is huge and costs $7-$8.  Order from the man at the register who is a savant for orders and receipts and faces and proudly march to the bar, a table of your choosing, or out into the street.  Margaret and I preferred to stay inside to avoid the heat and listen to the pianist nearby.  We may or may not have scoured the surroundings from our vantage point for the next target (dessert) despite the ever increasing strain on our belts.

the italian sausage - just as good, not as famous
pulled pork with grilled peppers

Places I Wanted to Eat: Philadelphia & DC & Baltimore

Thanks mostly to my grandmother's wanderlust and tendency to settle in remote villages and my parents own traveling aspirations, I am fortunate enough to be twenty years old and fairly well travelled.  However, this is the first trip that I have planned, paid for, and embarked on by myself.

Notice the "paid for" part.  As a direct result, I managed to survive eight days on $32.04 worth of food.  In other words, I passed up on eating out.  It was not that difficult...  My meals were perhaps not balanced, but I was always satisfied (rice goes a looong way).  Still, here is a list of places to eat that I have yet to sample, although their reputations DO precede them:

(There may be a few cultural events or bookstores thrown in here as well because I cannot resist..)

so many books! so many books
that I am now carting across the coast!

Washington, DC
  • Ben's Chili Bowl (apparently they ship to all 50 states as well)
  • Julia's Empanadas
  • On the Fly (a fleet of eco-friendly SmartKarts)
  • Johnny's Half Shell
  • Chinatown Express
  • Dukem Ethiopian
  • Sundays 3-9pm in Meridian Hill Park for a drum circle and African dancing
  • The MLK Dedication.  I was heartbroken that Irene ripped this experience from me.
I actually did eat at Dukem Ethiopian

the good men of Tommy Dinic's
  • Tommy Dinic's
  • The Book Corner
Mercifully, Mary and Margaret were there in Philly to impart their wisdom and experience, so I will have to go again to expand my bucket list!  If that makes sense.

  • Red Emma's (a cafe and bookstore)
  • Faidley's crab cakes in Lexington Market
  • Free music IN Lexington Market
  • Batimore Farmers' Market
  • Zeke's Coffee (it truly is unbelievable what $14/lb coffee grounds can do)
motto? read, revolt
If you are ever in a position to do any of these things, do not hesitate!  These are recommendations from international travelers, hostel (hostile? hah!  No, everyone was really nice!) staff, and the local city-dwellers.

Tuesday, August 23

Coconut Red Lentil Soup

For my birthday this year, my mother gave me a stock pot (SCORE) because most of my pots at school are of the cooking-for-a-single-person size and one of the best, easiest ways to feed yourself is through massive, whatever-is-in-the-kitchen soups.  My grandmother has perfected this method of cooking and inspired me to learn.  One giant hurdle in this process has been lentil soups.

Lentils are apparently a type of edible pulse (a leguminous crop) that are incredibly healthy, but people also tend to be a little picky about flavoring and such.  Earlier in the summer, I spent one glorious day cooking with my friend Elizabeth, and we attempted this recipe.  Lordy, was it good.

Elizabeth took the photos, which
is why they are so good!

Coconut Red Lentil Soup
from 101 Cookbooks

1 cup yellow split peas
1 cup red split lentils (masoor dal)
7 cups water
1 medium carrot, diced
2 tbs fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 tbs curry powder
2 tbs butter or ghee
8 green onions (scallions), thinly sliced
1/3 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup tomato paste (this is one of those little cans)
14 oz canned coconut milk
2 tsp sea salt
one small handful of cilantro, chopped

Rinse the split peas and lentils and put them in a large soup pot with 7 cups of water.  Bring it to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer.  Add the carrot and a quarter of the ginger.  Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the split peas are soft.
In a small dry pan, toast the curry powder over low heat.  (This will open up the flavoring in the curry powder - just don't let it burn.  It is going to smell delicious.)  Set the curry powder aside.
Melt the butter in a pan (let's be honest... you should just use the same pan as the curry powder - without the curry powder) over medium heat, add half of the green onions, the rest of the ginger, and the raisins.  Stir constantly and let it cook for two minutes.  Next, add the tomato paste and cook for another one to two minutes.

green onions

Add the curry powder to the tomato paste, mix, and add it all to the simmering lentils with the coconut milk and the salt.  Uncover and simmer for another 20 minutes.

final product with the chapati that I love so much

Sadly, I don't remember what music was playing at the time, but we're going to go with some Red Hot Chili Peppers today.  This is the classic "Zephyr Song":

Swanson, Heidi. "Coconut Red Lentil Soup Recipe - 101 Cookbooks." 101 Cookbooks - Healthy Recipe Journal. 15 Mar. 2010. Web. 14 June 2011. <http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/coconut-red-lentil-soup-recipe.html>.

Monday, August 22

Vik's Chaat Corner

Somehow the entire summer passed by me while I went from cooking daily to not cooking at all and eating chickpeas out of a can (that wasn't actually me, but it conveys my point).  Much to my culinary consternation and gastronomical aggravation, I had no time to cook for eight weeks.  My time was ever so delicately sucked up by three bridge-crossings a day because of a class at UC Berkeley four days a week and work at UCSF five days a week.

my house is in this valley, SF is the little bubble of buildings
on the horizon, and Berkeley is on the far left of the horizon

The class (Data Structures and Programming Methodology, for those of you that care) was made entertaining by my more than delightful lab partner, and I was grateful for the chance to make some money this summer.  However, the endless cycle of driving, working, driving, programming, driving, homeworking, and sleeping was a little tedious and I started to lose a bit of my sanity.  I subjected my lab partner to sporadic bursts of maniacal laughter and, as a considerable portion of my job entailed removing staples, I started to hoard my mangled staples in a small box in a drawer.  I turned into a strange human hybrid, alternating between Cruella de Vil and Milton from Office Space, depending on my location in the Bay Area.

Point is, I survived those eight weeks.  (Was it that short?)  I am now on a weird, unintentional tour of the eastern part of the Mason-Dixon Line before I return to New York City and all that entails.  At the moment, the charming Mary and Margaret are letting me crash in the suburbs of Philadelphia.  Wednesday I continue my way to Washington DC, Baltimore, Delaware, and finally New York.

But wait!  Before I left, I made sure to indulge in a couple of my favorites: Sol Food, Good Luck Dim Sum, Puentez Taqueria, and, for the first time this summer, Vik's Chaat Corner.

gotta love the hard-core, spandexed biker dudes

Vik's started out in the warehouse district of Berkeley.  When I was younger, I was always shocked by the bustling restaurant after driving through the empty streets.  Since then, they have changed locations to the corner of 4th St and Channing Way and added a market that sells all the ingredients needed for delicious Indian food.

it still has this warehousey feel

Their menu is a little intimidating at first, but everything is more than worth a chance-ordering.  (Apparently "chaat" literally means "to lick," as in, "I will now proceed to lick my plate.")  I recommend the Cholle Bhature (that big puffy thing), the Samosa Cholle (lamb samosas), the plate of Mixed Veg Pakaros (spicy nests of vegetables), Lamb Baida Roti (...lamb roti), Chicken Biryani, and their Mango lassi.  Never, ever forget the mango lassi.

I did not forget the mango lassi

As for the desserts, Gulab Jamun (Indian donut-like things soaked in a sugar syrup... I would compare them to the Greek loukoumades) is always a popular choice.  If you're in the mood for something a little more unusual, I would recommend Kulfi Falooda.  As a disclaimer, it took me the better part of six months AFTER eating this dessert to decide that I liked it and to start to crave it.  That said, kulfi falooda is composed of saffron ice cream that is topped with vermicelli, basil seeds, and a rose syrup.

the kulfi falooda in its elegant to-go container

Everything is decently priced (I bought a meal for 5 for about $25) and the Berkeley-ites that stream in are entertaining as only Berkeley-ites can be.  As an added bonus, Vik's offers vegan and gluten-free options and makes a solid contribution to greenery with compost bins and compostable utensils as well as environment-friendly plumbing and architecture.