Monthly Archives: October 2009

Michael Pollan and Will Allen on Good Food at PopTech

Sometimes you get really lucky when you’re randomly screwing around online. Exciting things are happening all over the world and every so often you happen to be there at the perfect moment to observe them. And by ‘there’ I mean ‘a very large ocean away’ from the PopTech conference in Camden, Maine, a yearly event that brings together ‘world changing people, projects and ideas.’ But thanks to live streamed video, timely Twitter updates, and the Miracle of the Internet, on Saturday I was able to watch, in real-time from 3,000 miles away, the inspiring talks of two of my favorite sustainable and good eating visionaries: Michael Pollan and Will Allen.

I’m psyched I managed to catch part of both their talks live because the full videos don’t appear to be online. However, you can see a brief minute-and-a-half recap of several speeches on PopTech 2009: Saturday Highlights and read well-written, comprehensive overviews on the PopTech blog as well. If you’re interested in food and don’t know about either of these guys, start reading now…

Read about ‘Michael Pollan’s Gospel of Sustainable Food’. His talk was full of great quotes – like how a vegan in a Hummer uses less energy than a meat eater in a Prius and how our generation in America will be the first to have a shorter life expectancy than our parents. Below, he grins next to a double Quarter Pounder and the equivalent 26 ounces of oil needed to produce the burger.  This is right before he dips a finger into the viscous black liquid in the glasses, sticks it in his mouth..and then tells the shocked audience that it’s actually chocolate syrup.

michael pollan at poptech

Read about ‘Will Allen and the Urban Farming Revolution’

Will Allen at PopTech

And while I’m busy linking, read about the talk given by Marije Vogelzang – a Dutch designer who does edible art projects and installations. I like that she got vegetable-hating preschoolers to eat their greens by gnawing fun shapes into their vegetables using their teeth. Play + Food = Fun and Delicious.  And it’s given me some good ideas for Rambling Restaurant…

You can read about the rest of the America Reimagined conference and watch some more videos here. And the PopTech website has tons of other amazing videos, blog posts, useful links, profiles of fascinating people and projects and companies, and an inspiring social innovation fellows program.  Click around the site and you’ll almost get overwhelmed with all the interesting material. So go check it out – you don’t even need to be in the right place at the right time. You could be in your underwear in your closet in the middle of the night and still learn about world-changing ideas at PopTech – now that’s the Miracle of the Internet.

UPDATE:  Apparently the quote on the vegan in the Hummer is not statistically accurate. Pollan acknowledges and chooses to refocus on the general message of the environmental concerns against industrialized meat. It’s basically just a pithy soundbite anyway…but too bad cause it was a good one.

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Food Tours of London, One Highly Excitable Eater at a Time

London is, without a doubt, a world-class eating city. The first week I moved here, I found myself within walking distance of an organic grocery, Chinese dim sum, Turkish gözleme, Caribbean jerk, Nigerian stew, and more Vietnamese restaurants on one short block than can be found in some American cities.   You can find food in London from all cultures and countries, of all price ranges, as down-and-dirty as deep fried street food on the corner and as elevated as a Michelin-starred molecular gastronomextravaganza. Sure, there’s bad food to be found, as is the case anywhere.  But put in just the tiniest bit of effort and you’ll never have to waste stomach space on inferior edibles. And when it’s good, the food here is oh..so…orgasmically…amazingly…good.

So why does the myth still exist in the States that British food is horrible? I’ve made it my personal mission to introduce every single one of my visitors to the wonders of London eating.  I’ve been lucky enough to have over  a dozen friends and family stop by the Hackney Hostel since I moved here and the tourist itinerary doesn’t involve Westminster Abbey or the British Museum. No, the most important sights of the trip are Borough Market for  toasted cheese sandwiches, Broadway Market for cupcakes and Ghanaian food and mushroom risotto, Gwilym’s coffee cart at Columbia Road Flower Market, Tayyabs for lamb chop and curried baby pumpkin feasting, the Breakfast Club for bacon butties (and mini-discos), the Brick Lane Upmarket for octopus balls and dulce de leche filled churros…and I’ll stop now because i’m getting very hungry.  Thankfully, every single one of my visitors cares about food just about as much as I do, which is probably a main reason we’re friends in the first place.  I don’t waste time with non-excitable eaters.

My friend Lex is one of these people.  She left just last week, after five straight days of talking about food, venturing off to procure food, deciding what to eat, eating, digesting, and then talking about what to eat next. In other words, my kind of girl. Oh yeah, and we cooked Chinese food for 20 strangers in my living room.  But although I always have to show off my favorite eating spots, the best part about visitors is opportunities to try new and exciting markets, cafes, and restaurants.

One happy new find is the Bedales Wine Bar, tucked into a tiny storefront in Spitalfields Market. It’s easy to overlook with the sprawling chains like Wagamama, Giraffe, and Leon taking up massive real estate, but we ducked into this charming  little  spot to get out of the rain and were happily surprised by excellent glasses of wine, a bowl of fresh bread from St. John and a board teeming with multiple varieties of cheese, pickles, olives, and a piquant little bowl of ratatouille.

wine and cheese board in spitalfields market

Apparently you can purchase a bottle of wine and drink it there without the hefty restaurant markup…I’ll certainly return to prove that hypothesis (and eat more cheese…yum).

Another solid winner in our rapid-fire London food tour was the wooden-beamed, vintage-wallpapered, elk-skull-bedecked,  dreamy-design-geek-fantasy restaurant and bar The Elk in the Woods on Camden Passage in Islington. This miniscule  cobblestoned passageway is one of my favorite streets to show London visitors, both for its quaint historic charm and its abundance of tantalizing eateries.  We snacked on a potato and pancetta skillet with baked eggs, peppers, and tomatoes with toast…

pancetta and potato skillet Continue reading

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There are no old, bold mushroom eaters

“Hey, buddy.”

“Yeah, that’s pretty cool.”

“Mushrooms? what kind?”

“…Wait, What?”

“You ate a mushroom…but you don’t know what kind.”

“What do you mean it’s more like a fungus?”

“It was orange?!”

“OK, so let me get this straight.  You saw an unidentified fungus growing out of a rotting tree trunk, saw it was bright orange, and thought: hey let me put this in my mouth.”

“OK OK OK. Let me share something with you.  This is something everyone should know. An adage if you will. There are old mushroom eaters, and there are bold mushroom eaters, but there are no old, bold mushroom eaters…you idiot.”

“Chickeny? With a peppery finish? You are going to have a peppery finish, but that does sound kind of good. Well, if you’re still alive this evening let’s make a big fucking mushroom dinner.”

mushrooms outside

A few hours after that phone call, we learned that the mushrooms/fungus were in fact “chicken of the woods” and that our friend Amin had not come to a peppery finish. We decided to celebrate by cooking a delightful mushroom dinner.

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Tapas, Terracotta, and Tons of Tomato Sauce at Rambling Restaurant

Dining Room at Rambling Restaurant

A few weeks ago, Rambling Restaurant explored the world of tapas with enough food to feed a small Spanish village.  Chef foodrambler devised a wide-ranging, drool-inducing, and seemingly never-ending menu of tiny plates served in terracotta dishes, which give off an air of Spanish authenticity no matter what you put in there. That, and a flamboyant Spanish accent.  With a lisp. And castanets.

Kidding.  We kept the Spanish influence to the food. And of course the wine, which is why I have a bit of trouble recalling the menu. If I remember correctly, we served:

Fried Calamari with Capers and Black Pepper

Patatas Bravas (Oven Roasted Crispy Potatoes topped with a zesty tomato sauce)

Roasted Eggplant with Tomato and Bechamel Sauce (whacked back in the oven for a deliciously browned top)

Albondigas (M is for Mmmm and Meatballs)

Honey Glazed Roasted Beets with Thyme and Goat Cheese

Gambas al Ajillo (Shrimp in Garlic Sauce)

All served with lots of crusty bread for your tomato sauce and garlicky oil dipping pleasure.

crusty bread for dipping at Rambling Restaurant

Followed by Chocolate and Orange Torte with Raspberry Sauce and Cream for dessert. I thought we might have stuffed our diners to the point of no return with the unstoppable onslaught of dishes, but the pudding plates came back wiped clean. A true testament to the power of oozy gooey (goozey?) chocolateyness.

This was our first meal at Rambling Restaurant with just the two of us covering the kitchen and the dining room, leaving very little time for taking photos or other important activities like breathing. Luckily a talented guest photographer was to be found amidst the piled plates and scattered breadcrumbs  – my friend Amit straight outta Brooklyn.  Amit and I, along with our other friend Dave, spent most of his time across the pond eating a swath through East London and capturing it all on film.  This post is basically an excuse to showcase his lovely photographs since I really have nothing useful to say.

We’ll end, as all meals should end, with empty plates and full bellies. No more calamari. Sad face. Come back next time!

No more calamari

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Eat&Joy Maatilatori: A Market for Local Farmers and Producers in Helsinki

New cities are full of possibilities.  My first night in Helsinki, I spent several hours traipsing around the narrow historic streets and the broad tree-lined esplanades, getting a feel for this unfamiliar and exhilarating territory.  Exploring a cityscape in search of  quirky sights and unexpected urban landmarks to write a treasure hunt game often occupies my brain for hours until I realize that it’s gotten dark and it’s way past time for dinner.  But that brings me to the best part about traveling to new places – finding the most delicious and exciting local food to eat. And I was luckily enough to stumble upon the warm and inviting shopfront of Eat&Joy Maatilatori right by the central train station.  eat&joy maatilatori

Eat&Joy Maatilatori is a fantastic place that should exist in every urban space – it’s essentially a farmer’s market in a shop that sources local foods from all over Finland to bring to city consumers.  Offerings range from the very fresh (cheese and yogurt from nearby dairy farms, just-baked rye bread, fruits and vegetables) to the canned, jarred, and otherwise long-lasting (jams, jellies, chocolates, mustards, and more) as well as lots of baskets. Apparently Finland is big on baskets.

the inside of eat&joy maatilatori

Chatting with the man at the counter, I learned that Eat&Joy opened for a trial period beginning in June and after a successful three month stint,  would be opening as a permanent location just the next day.  The shop owners are dedicated to showcasing the best of small Finnish producers – some who might not otherwise reach a large consumer base – and apparently the public has responded with enthusiasm. Who wouldn’t be enthusiastic about Finnish riispiirakka, a palm-sized rye pastry filled with just-barely- sweet rice pudding?

riispiirakka

Especially when they’re place on beautifully designed Finnish tea towels.  As a brief segue…the graphic and textile design in Finland is, unsurprisingly, spectacular. I covet every single item in the Marimekko store and hope that someday my kitchen will be decked out in extremely expensive but oh-so-gorgeous tea towels and oven mitts and cloth napkins and tablecloths and I will be an enviable domestic goddess with pastries in the oven, decked out in a spotless Marimekko apron. Well, actually that’s not true.  I want to have a real, bustling, happy, full-of-life-and-love-and-food-probably-a-little-(lot)-of-mess kitchen. I don’t really want to live in the polished and gleaming perfection of the Marimekko store….

the marimekko store in helsinki

…or maybe I do.

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Street Food? So 2009. The Hot New Trend In Food Is Now Sailing Your Way…

Street food is big these days.  San Francisco has its Street Food Festival. New York has its street food Vendy Awards and its vendor turf wars. LA has taco and Korean BBQ trucks  so famous they’re getting profiled over here in London.

But I’ve just discovered the most exciting new movement in mobile food, coming to you straight from the South Harbor of Helsinki, Finland: BOAT FOOD.

this is sea food. boat vendors!

The smiling Finnish lady on the boat may not promote her whereabouts on Twitter, but she does a brisk business selling an array of smoked and fried fish off her quaint little craft. Despite a bit of a language barrier, she managed to convey her selection with broken English, pointing, and a bit of guesswork on my part: whole smoked whitefish, perch, and trout; burnished fillets of salmon;  and palm-sized morsels of fried herring.  I purchased a small piece of the herring with a very thin layer of crunchiness and a generous sprinkling of dill sprigs for the solid price of 1 euro.  It was the perfect street food snack: delicious, slightly greasy, very local, and ridiculously cheap.

fried herring from the boat vendor

Oops. Did I say street food snack? I’m still wrestling with the correct terminology for food sold from watercraft.  If we’re going for parallels, I suppose I should refer to the area about which these mobile food vendors hawk their snacks-on-the-go.  Food trucks move around the street. Food boats move around the water. But Water Food just doesn’t sound right. Sea Food? Ocean Food? Harbor or canal or river food? Bodies-of-water food? Although the exact nomenclature may leave something to be desired, I can’t get over the brilliance of this mobile fish snack vendor. Yes, I realize I have a somewhat overzealous love for boats.

But I’m certainly not the only one who likes boats  (T-Pain does too!). Boats make people happy and so does mobile food and more people should put the two together.  And there would be plenty of opportunities to sell…come to think of it, all of my favorite markets are located by bodies of water. The Ferry Building Farmer’s Market in San Francisco is on the Bay. Pike Place in Seattle is on Puget Sound. Here in London, Borough Market is on the Thames and Broadway Market is on Regent’s Canal.  Clearly, it’s time for all these markets to get with the program and adopt the newest market and mobile food innovation of the future.

Anyone else know of any boat food vendors? Or want to donate me a boat to kickstart this new movement?  I am accepting all generous offers and in return you can come snack on my boat.

Bodies-Of-Water-Food, your time in the spotlight has come.

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food in finland, part three: the beautiful market square of helsinki

beautiful buildings and market square

I absolutely adore markets. I love farmers markets with overflowing stalls of freshly dug, dirt-spattered vegetables and sun-ripened fruits.  I love prepared food markets with sizzling grills and enticing smells and people shoveling food into their mouths on the street corner.  I love talking to producers and sellers and seeing what people have made and grown and created and trucked all the way in from the countryside in the middle of the night to sell to people as the sun rises.   I love how the identity of the location, the culture of the area and the possibilities of the landscape all come together in the items sold for consumption and enjoyment.

Unsurprisingly, I loved Helsinki’s Market Square.  Bags still in hand, I serendipitously stumbled upon this maze of bright orange tarpaulined stalls on my way from the central train station to my hotel.  Entranced by the brand new and exciting foods and the absolutely incomprehensible Finnish signage, I had to tear myself away to go check into my room and get some work done, my heavy suitcase bounce-bounce-bouncing forlornly against the cobblestoned streets as a reminder of all the tasks at hand.

But not to fear – over my three days in Helsinki, I returned multiple times daily to conquer the as-yet-undiscovered foods of my edible explorations. Next to the old world of blueberries lay the uncharted territories of mistletoe-red lingonberries and mango-bright cloudberries…

blueberries, lingonberries and cloudberries Continue reading

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food in finland, part two: a market picnic on the islands of suomenlinna the sea fortress

finnish cheese and smoked reindeer on suomenlinna island

As if the Old Market Hall in Helsinki weren’t amazing enough on its own, it can also boast of a beautiful location just on the water overlooking the South Harbor. Enormous cruise ships loom as tall as skyscrapers and as large as city blocks, dwarfing the little local tugboats and ferry boats that zip through the harbor and around the coast and islands. In the helpful visitor’s centre just by the Market Square I bought a 24 hour travel card that included unlimited travel on the trams, buses, and most excitingly, the ferry to the islands of Suomenlinna. Let’s be quite frank –  I will never, ever, fail to be highly entertained by being on a boat

Of course lots of rye breadwhen setting off on an island adventure, one must always think ahead to provide sustenance for the daring and dangerous trip ahead. Unlike most other stranded islanders foraging for coconuts and dead bugs,  I had the luxury of departing from a ferry stop a mere four minutes walk from the Old Market Hall so I stocked up on Finnish treats for the voyage.

I started with a mini loaf of classic Scandinavian rye bread (100% ruis!)  and bought some strong Finnish cheese that I can’t even begin to pronounce but is spelled viinitarhurin.  Brushed with wine and aged for six months, the cheese reminded me a bit of a comte or gruyere with its smooth slices crumbling into nutty shards.  Add a bit of  deep burgundy colored and intensely flavorful Rudolph the delicious cold-smoked reindeer and it’s a ridiculously adorable little Finnish sandwich of love.

love is bread, cheese, and reindeer meat

Snacks in hand, I boarded the ferry for the 15 minute ride across the harbor to Suomenlinna

the ferry to suomenlinna island Continue reading

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food in finland, part one: the old market hall in helsinki

whitefish with rose pepper on rye bread

Thanks to the Old Market Hall in Helsinki, I started Thursday morning with a stunningly good Americano and an open-faced sandwich of whitefish, rose peppercorns, and fresh sprigs of dill on rye bread that looked like Christmas and tasted like the ocean.  Thanks to the Old Market Hall,  I purchased a variety of traditional Finnish delicacies and ate them on an island with a historical sea fortress and the only combination lighthouse/church in the world. Thanks to The Go Game,  I’m in Helsinki staying just a few cobblestoned streets from the Old Market Hall. Sometimes I have the best job in the world.

Of course, it’s not all fun and games and market-hopping as I’m just coming off  some intense work weeks with no time even for blogging!  And running on startup funds means a lack of finances to take advantage of the Michelin-starred gastronomic temples to Nordic cuisine sprinkled around the Finnish capital. As several locals mentioned to me, food is pretty expensive in Helsinki. But I most enjoy simple (and delicious) pleasures and am soul-satisfyingly happy buying a loaf of bread and a wedge of cheese and sitting on a bench overlooking the ocean and the Helsinki skyline. I don’t need  long-stemmed wine glasses and 80 euro tasting menus to experience Finnish food…not that I’d turn it down if someone offered. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

the old market hall in helsinki

Let’s  get back (figuratively) to the Old Market Hall, which I went back to (literally) every day I was in Helsinki. Our client fortuitously selected a starting and ending location across the street from the Market (also known as the Vanha Kauppahalli) and I was on my way to check out the venue when I walked by the Hall, idly glanced in a window, and noticed an abundance of hanging sausages. Unquestionably a detour was in order…
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