Drink Sprunk!

If it were possible to have a crush on a website, I would carry a huge torch for Serious Eats.  I’ve waxed rhapsodically about them plenty of times before, but today’s example really nails why I so completely adore them.

Ed Levine, that clever cat, has taken the already-beloved (even though it only came out yesterday) Grand Theft Auto IV and dissected each of its in-game Liberty City eating establishments in an attempt to corrolate them with their respective New York City counterparts.

Yes!!!  My inner gaming nerd and inner food nerd are giving each other sloppy, dorky high-fives while grinning like morons as I type this.

While I haven’t yet purchased the game (because when that happens, no one will hear from me or my husband for days, so we have to make the proper notifications first), I’ll be out roaming the streets of Liberty City myself once I do, laughing as I make the patrons of The Bean Machine spill coffee on themselves and attempting to get Niko Bellic blitzed at the Steinway.  Games truly bring out the worst in us, no?

Read more of Ed Levine’s fascinating and hilarious article over at Serious Eats, and check out all the New York City restaurants and landmarks that have unwittingly made their way into gaming history.

Image courtesy of www.seriouseats.com.

UPDATE:  Even more locations spotted!

Culinary Capitals

MSN.com offers up an article today on U.S. cities that are considered the “capital” of a particular food.  Some are familiar and expected, while others come out of left field.

It should come as no surprise that Cincinnati is the chili capital of the world.  Even though chili is often though of as a Texan or southwestern dish, it was actually invented by a man from Cincinnati named DeWitt Clinton Pendery in 1890.  Granted, he moved to Ft. Worth shortly afterwards and brought his recipe with him, but Cincinnati’s claim to chili fame was thus born.

Cincinnati chili is wildly divergent from Pendery’s original recipe and from the more standard meat-and-beans based dish known around these parts.  People (yours truly included) may argue that the three-way, four-way or five-way sludge served by Skyline Chili and Goldstar Chili and their many competitors isn’t “chili” so much as strangely-sweet meat stew with spaghetti, but you can’t deny the fact that Cincinnati is all about chili.  After all, Cincinnati has more chili restaurants per capita than any other city in not just the nation, but the world.

More surprising entries in the food capitals article?  San Francisco is apparently the burrito capital of the nation — although one could argue that it’s more accurately the capital of Godzilla-sized burritos the size of a toddler, and not the burritos that Tex-Mex fans know and love — and that Hammonton, New Jersey, holds the widely-contested title of blueberry capital of the world.

Locally, several Texas cities have made boastful claims including the tiny town of Friona, Texas proclaiming itself the cheeseburger capital of the nation.  However, as the article points out, perhaps the boldest claim of all comes from Lockhart, the supposed barbeque capital of the world.  I’m not knocking Lockhart, by any means, but I hear that Luling would like a word with them outside…

What do you think?  Is your town a capital of a random food item?  Do you think barbeque is too great a conquest to be claimed by one master?  Share your opinions below!

Images courtesy of www.netitor.com and www.nataliedee.com.

I Scream, You Scream…

We all scream for $0.31 scoop night at Baskin-Robbins!

Tomorrow night, for one night only, from 5pm to 10pm, Baskin-Robbins is offering small ice cream scoops for $0.31 to benefit the National Fallen Firefighters Association.  Of course, the $0.31 is a creamy, delicious ploy to get you in the door, but why not consider donating to this very worthwhile cause while you’re there?

Baskin-Robbins is donating $100,000 to the fund, so round up your friends or kids or kids’ friends or friends’ kids and get down to Baskin-Robbins tomorrow night to take advantage of this treat and help out our nation’s firefighters!

More information can be found at Baskin-Robbins’ website.

Au Revoir, Chef Schmit? J’espère Pas…

Cleverley’s blog greets us with sad news this morning:  Philippe Schmit is no longer with Legacy Restaurants.

Most of you will remember the equally sad revelation this past November that bistro moderne was closing, as the Hotel Derek’s new management clearly had no idea of the quality and talent that they had under their own roof with Schmit and and no ability to appreciate that fact that bistro moderne had succeeded — triumphantly succeeded, at that — where so many other restaurants had failed in the past.

Houston foodies waited with baited breath to see where Schmit would land and when he took the rather unusual step of partnering up with Legacy Resturants (the company which operates Tex-Mex haven Ninfa’s and sandwhich chain Antone’s, among others), we cocked our heads but still sighed with relief: “He’s staying here!”

Cleverley made a rather prescient observation in her blog about the move back in January:

In culinary terms, this is a rather unconventional relationship move for Schmit. I am reminded of another top-level, high profile, fine dining, celebrity Houston chef who formed a relationship with a mostly non-fine dining group with promises of his own signature restaurant in the future. When he found himself cooking Tex-Mex in a trailer, he hit the road – quickly. This happened a few years ago and it all turned out OK for this chef. He is doing superbly now. Now I’m not drawing any comparisons, I was just reminded of this story.

I think she could start a psychic business on the side if this whole restaurant guru thing didn’t work out for some reason.

So here we are, back to November again, waiting and hoping that Schmit will remain here, in the city that loves him, despite the way it’s treated him in the past year.  Stay with us, Philippe!  We promise we won’t hit you no more, baby!  We’ll change!  And, hopefully, give you that signature restaurant you’ve long deserved.

Image courtesy of the Houston Chronicle.

Batali and Bastianiches!

Attention Houston-area fans of Italian cuisine!

In case you weren’t already lining up outside Central Market, pup tent under one arm and dog-eared copies of Molto Italiano and The Babbo Cookbook under the other, Mario Batali, the great lion himself, and Joseph Bastianich (restauranteur, Batali’s partner in crime and son of the sainted Lidia Bastianich) will be greeting fans and autographing books this Thursday, May 1st from 2:30pm to 4:00pm at the Central Market at Westheimer and Weslayan.  For more information, check out Central Market’s website here.  Tickets can be picked up at the Guest Services desk, one per person.  Your ticket is good for you and one friend, so choose wisely.  According to Alison Cook, there are only a few tickets left, so hustle on over there!

If you’re in Dallas or Austin, and also want your chance to meet some Italian culinary legends, take heart: Joseph Bastianich and the patron saint of Italian food, Lidia Bastianich, (squee!!!) will also be at the Dallas Central Market on Friday, May 2nd for a meet-and-greet and book signing (contact store for more details on tickets and times at 214-509-9215).  Dallas foodies: I am so jealous of you right now.  That might be the only time you ever hear me say that, too, so note this for posterity.

Austinites won’t be able to meet Mario or Lidia, but will be treated to an event that I think is just as special: a wine class with Joseph Bastianich at the North Lamar location this Wednesday, April 30th from 6:30pm to 7:30pm.  Tickets are $20.00 per person, and I imagine the class will fill up pretty quickly (if it hasn’t already).  More details can be found here.  Bastianich will also be signing books that afternoon in the wine department, from 2:00pm to 4:00 pm.

Images courtesy of Wine Spectator and New York Magazine.

Sunday Evening Coming Down

Two recent discoveries of differing importance yet similar amusement level:

  1. Viet World Kitchen: a vertiable online Bible of Vietnamese cuisine, recipes, techniques, history and even pronunciation (huzzah!).  If you are even one bit interested in anything to do with the intriguing and intoxicatingly rich culture of Vietnamese food, you will love this website.  Click on the “What’s Cooking” section for a list of interesting articles that will keep you occupied for days.  Of special local interest, the author of the website makes note of the fact (under the “Shopping & Dining” section) that Houston not only has one of the largest Vietnamese communities in the United States, we are also home to the Southeast’s (I’ll let that one go…) largest Asian indoor mall, the popular Hong Kong City Mall.  She notes something I’ve always found odd: although it’s named after Hong Kong, the mall actually houses mostly Vietnamese stores and restaurants.
  2. Apparently, God and I don’t have all that much in common after all: he hates onions on pizza (caution: NSFW language ahead).  I also happen to prefer my Patrick Swayze in Donnie Darko instead of Roadhouse.  But that’s a discussion for another day, and probably another blog.

Hope you enjoyed your weekend, folks!

Image courtesy of www.visithoustontexas.com.

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P.S.  If you’re wondering about the title for some reason, listen to this and relish the man’s talent.

P.P.S.  If, after that, you’re still in the mood to take my music recommendations, buy this right now.  You’ll never look back.

Manna Which I Ate In The Desert

For Christmas, my mother gave me an anthology called American Food Writing, which I’ve been happily devouring.  Some passages are excerpts from larger books, such as My Antonia or Kitchen Confidential.  Some are reproduced magazine articles from the 1940s or 1960s.  Still others are portions of autobiographies or historical records, such as The Journals of Lewis & Clark.  And, of course, my favorite food writers are well-represented: MFK Fisher and Ruth Reichel.

I’ve been reading the book in fits and starts, haphazardly reading one piece from the front, then the back, then the middle — wherever the book opens to, really.  And this morning I wanted to share with you all my favorite passage so far.  This comes from a chapter in Mary Antin’s memoirs, The Promised Land, and showcases everything I love about food writing:

All this came to me in that instant of tasting, all from the flavor of ripe strawberries on my tongue.  Why, then, should I not treasure my memories of childhood feasts?  This experience gives me a great respect for my bread and meat.  I want to taste of as many viands as possible; for when I sit down to a dish of porridge I am certain of rising again a better animal, and I may rise a wiser man.  I want to eat and drink and be instructed.  Some day I expect to extract from my pudding the flavor of manna which I ate in the desert, and then I shall write you a contemporaenous commentary on the Exodus.  Nor do I despair of remembering yet, over a dish of corn, the time when I fed on worms; and then I may be able to recall how it felt to be made at last into a man.  Give me to eat and drink, for I crave wisdom.

Happy weekend, everyone.

Yelp

Because I can’t be all things to all people at all times (nor can most of my other fellow Houston bloggers), a site called Yelp has stepped in to fill our gaps.  Think Citysearch, but more in-touch and with a cleaner interface.  It also has the added bonus of allowing users to add local events and happenings, not just reviews of restaurants and other attractions around the city.

For example, Sur La Table is having a spring tapas party this evening at 6:30 at the River Oaks location.  For $69.00, you and your friends can learn to make a variety of tapas and learn shortcuts and timesavers in the kitchen to help you spend less time at the stove when guests are over.  Sur La Table  — like Williams-Sonoma — offers classes like these nearly every night of the week, so check out their calendar to see if any of them sound fun to you!  Next Tuesday is “cooking with beer” night!

As far as I’m concerned, there aren’t nearly enough foodie events listed yet.  But the good news is that the way that websites like Yelp, along with Citysearch and b4-u-eat become successful and reliable is by people like you and me adding information, events and reviews and participating in discussions.  So go check Yelp out when you get a chance and start adding your two cents!

Paging Dr. Chef

NPR had an interesting story this morning on a chef turned doctor who’s making it her business to spread the word about healthy cooking and eating to fellow healthcare professionals.  CIA graduate Michelle Hauser, who’s now in her third year of medical school at Harvard, teaches courses on fresh, quick and inexpensive ways to prepare healthy meals through a collaboration between the Culinary Institute and Harvard University.


Image courtesy of NPR.

The result of the courses are doctors  who are taking the information to heart not only for their patients, but for themselves.  So many healthcare professionals that I know don’t have the time or energy outside of work to research and prepare good meals for themselves.  And many more doctors simply don’t encourage a healthy diet to their patients that actually makes sense for the patient’s lifestyle and budget, or — worse — barely mention healthy eating habits at all.  It’s one thing to encourage wellness, but if you’re not supporting it with concrete and attainable methods (such as working with a patient to develop a health plan and outline a diet for them), then that encouragment will end the moment the patient walks out of the doctor’s office.

Food is such an integral part of who we are and how we live — healthily or not.  It’s our fuel.  And yet hardly anyone gets asked about their diet — not whether or not they’re ON one, but about WHAT they eat on a daily basis — when at the doctor’s office.  It doesn’t take a genius, or even a brain surgeon, to realize that what you put down your gullet each day affects your overall health in ways other than blood pressure or weight gain.

A recent and close-to-home example occurred when my grandfather was put on Coumadin by his physician.  The doctor never bothered asking my grandfather about his dietary habits, or warning him about excessive Vitamin K consumption while taking the Coumadin.  If he had, the physician would have found out that — as part of our typical Southern diet — my grandfather ate a lot of spinach and other greens, all bursting with Vitamin K.  When he started to feel sick after taking the Coumadin for only a few days, we called the doctor, who — again — neglected to ask about or mention any possible interactions and said just to let it work its way through Grandaddy’s system.  Thankfully, my mother took it upon herself to research Coumadin and found that it interacted very strongly with any foods that contained Vitamin K.  We took all the dark greens out of my grandfather’s diet and all was restored to normal.  When presented with this information, his physician was nonplussed.

The NPR website has more information to supplement the story, including some delicious-sounding recipes that Michelle Hausman uses in her presentations.  Here’s hoping that more courses like these take off, as a benefit not just to the doctors themselves but also to their patients.

UPDATE:  I should mention, before my friend Dr. Q gets here to defend her profession in the comments section, that not all doctors are such schmucks.  I feel that’s the way this has come across.  Dr. Q, for example, is a very holistically-minded physician and I’m sure that she takes things like this into account when treating her patients.  Then again, she’s an ER doctor, so…I don’t really know from squat.  If you, too, are lucky enough to find a holistically-inclined doctor — that is, one who takes into account the fact that you are many parts that all work together, not just a foot, not just an esophagus, not just an inner ear — then you stick with that doctor, my friend!  They are a rare breed, indeed.

Cestrian Pleasures

It’s been a while since I wrote about our recent trip back home to England (Richard’s home, not mine).  I’ve been busily parsing through the ridiculous amount of photos I took and trying to cull the best ones out of the lot.  They aren’t all food-related, but neither was our vacation.  Today’s trip back through Chester is simply an assortment of my favorite photos that I wanted to share with you.

Chester Street 
Tudor-era timbered buildings and the Eastgate Clock.

While I don’t consider myself that worldly of a traveler — I’ve only been to a few countries in Europe, briefly took jaunts into Canada a couple of times, and have visited Mexico about as often as you’d expect any other Texan to — I still found myself utterly dumbfounded when it came to Chester.  It was unlike anything I could have prepared myself for, and unlike anything I had thought it would be.  If you’re planning a trip to England any time in the future, I can’t emphasize this enough: go to Chester.  You won’t be disappointed.

St John's Church
St John’s Church, outside the city walls.

Chester was originally founded in A.D. 79 as the Roman city of Deva Victrix.  Deva was originally built as a fortress, but a civilian settlement eventually grew up outside the enormous walls that the Romans built around the city.  As such, Chester has an assortment of ruins and artifacts that most other English cities do not.  There is, for example, an excellent amphitheatre that is still being excavated, as well as a very well-preserved section of Roman baths.  The thick, fortress walls that the Romans built beginning in A.D. 120 stand to this day; Chester has the most complete city walls of any other city in Britain.  Although the walls have been repaired and entire sections were rebuilt during medieval and Victorian times, they are nonetheless shockingly imperious and impressive.

Richard and Wall
Richard about to climb up to the walls and begin our walk around the city. 

One fantastic way to observe Chester is from the walls themselves. You will get an unparalleled bird’s-eye view of the city as you orbit from your stony path.  Any time you feel like going down and visiting a part of the city that appeals to you along the two-mile walk, simply exit through one of the many sets of stairs down into the mad bustle below.  A visit to Chester can be split into simple parts this way; most things can be reached while walking along the walls:  The Rows (the main shopping area), the Chester Cathedral, the River Dee and the Roman ruins.

Chester Rows
The Rows.

The Rows are perhaps the most important visual representation of Chester.  They are very unique in both their design and their antiquity.  The best way to describe it would be:

They consist of buildings with shops or dwellings on the lowest two storeys. The shops or dwellings on the ground floor are often lower than the street and are entered by steps, which sometimes lead to a crypt-like vault. Those on the first floor are entered behind a continuous walkway, often with a sloping shelf between the walkway and the railings overlooking the street.  — courtesy of Wikipedia

In the picture above, you can see the white picket railings of the “continuous walkways” and the tops of the signs for the shops below them.  The walkways ingeniously allow you to shop and walk throughout the city while keeping dry, since rain is an ever-present (although not unpleasant) part of life in Northern England.  The Rows themselves date from the 17th century, although most were built far more recently, in Victorian times.

The Crypt
The Crypt, a pub in The Rows dating back to A.D. 1180. Yes, it really was a crypt at one time.

This part of town also houses the most exquisite restaurants and pubs.  Richard and I had a terrible time choosing where to eat lunch and finally settled on, of all things, a French bistro that was absolutely heaving with people.  By this point in our trip, we’d had plenty of meat pies and heavy ales and desired something a bit lighter.  French bistro food sounded ideal.

Easter Time
We shall never forget what time of year we visited England…

We found a table for ourselves on the first storey (second floor, to us Amurricans) of cafe f.b., Boulangerie et Cafe Françaís on Northgate Street.  Their menu was simple and straighforward: an assortment of freshly-made sandwiches served with the soup du jour, potato-leek.  I went with the bacon and Brie sandwich, along with a cup of tea to warm my bones back to normal body temperature.  The sandwich was every bit as delicious as you’d expect something with those ingredients to be: toasty French bread, with thick, dusky strips of English bacon (so different from our own) and hot, bubbly hunks of Brie on top, melting down to the plate.  The potato-leek soup was heavy yet fresh, thanks to the strong taste of the leeks.  It was the perfect meal to fuel us on a cold, rainy English afternoon with much more walking ahead.

Fruit Stand
Fruit stands throughout the city, at every turn.

Second part of our Chester trip to follow tomorrow…