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Ellen Shapiro

eGullet Society staff emeritus
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Posts posted by Ellen Shapiro

  1. Why are good drinking-glasses so hard to find? In my house when you ask for a glass of water you'll get a glass of water. None of these little juice glasses that used to be shrimp cocktail from the supermarket in the 1970s. No yellow plastic cups leftover from frat parties. No square glasses that are impossible to drink from. You'll get your water in a heavy, copious glass that feels good in the hand and is a pleasure to drink from. But such glasses don't just grow on trees. You have to be on the lookout. Often you have to buy a whole set of glasses in three sizes, two of which are ridiculous, in order to get the good glasses. I hate that.

  2. I have a confession to make:

    Sometimes (usually?) I cut things without using a cutting board. I just hold whatever it is in my hand and cut towards my hand, or towards my neck, or in some other direction or manner that doesn't affect the countertops. Yesterday I cut up a whole watermelon without using a cutting board. I think I'll go cut a bagel right now.

  3. Is tablecloth one word or two?

    Do people use tablecloths anymore, other than for special occasions?

    What's the purpose of a tablecloth?

    Why are they so expensive?

    What are the cheaper alternatives? Bedsheets? Making your own? Making your own out of bedsheets?

    How do you care for them, get stains out of them?

    Any favorite old family heirloom tablecloths?

    Any personal tablecloth issues or stories to share?

    What kinds of table coverings can substitute for tablecloths?

    Unusual tablecloth tale: We knew a family in Vermont--with nine kids I think it was--who always used a tablecloth. A plastic-coated paper tablecloth. And all plastic utensils and paper plates and disposable cups. And at the end of dinner, they'd just gather up the four corners of the tablecloth and form it into an ersatz trash bag--with all the utensils, plates, cups, and napkins still right in there--and throw it away.

  4. I'm thinking to haul out a wedding-present-waffle-iron, never opened never used in this century, but can hardly remember anything about waffle-making. What to do? Are there tricks, tips, better and worse recipes, issues, factions, schools of thought?

    (Related topic: waffle irons)

  5. Here are a couple of links to previous discussions that have relevance here...



    I'll post some comments soon that are more carefully tailored to these specs (I'm just back from a backpacking trip myself, sorry to be offline for the long weekend), but let me repost one of my old posts as well...

    Responding to Heather in August 2001...

    If you have access to high-quality fresh cuts of meat, camp cooking is easy. It's extremely simple to cook fresh fish, steaks, pork chops, hamburgers, Tasmanian devil, etc. If fresh bread is available, great. If you can get hold of some lettuce and other salad vegetables, so much the better. Just be sure you have a full array of basic condiments with you (salt, pepper, olive oil, red wine vinegar, etc.).

    When good meat is not available, things get a little trickier, but there are still some excellent options. Eggs, which tend to be plentiful even in the most remote places, can form the basis of a nearly infinite variety of meals. Scrambled eggs, omelettes, fried eggs, and hard-boiled eggs are a major staple of trekkers and campers all over the world. Omelettes are particularly versatile because you can add so many different things to them.

    When I do backpacking trips that require in excess of a week of provisioning, we use up all the meat the first day, and all the eggs and fresh vegetables by day four or five. After that, you have to move on to canned foods and vegetarian items that can be dried and reconstituted. Rice and lentils both cook pretty quickly (I usually camp with groups, so we have two burners available). What I do at home in advance of the trip is portion them into individual zip-loc bags with all the necessary seasonings. So I'll put salt in with the rice and write on the bag "1 cup rice, add 2 cups water to cook," and I'll add salt, pepper, and various dried herbs and spices to the lentils. Split peas also work nicely. Actual beans aren't recommended in dry form because they take too long to cook and will exhaust most portable gas units. But canned beans are very good, provided you can get them with a minimum of additives.

    Canned fish products, such as tuna and salmon, are useful for lunches. All you need to add some olive oil, salt and pepper, and serve with bread or crackers. Also, if you can get good cheese and dried sausage products (salami, etc.), those make a good lunch served with bread or crackers. When all else fails, you can theoretically live forever on peanut butter and jelly.

    Breakfast is probably the most enjoyable camp meal. It's so easy to make pancakes, french toast, and eggs of all kinds. Bacon, ham, sausages, and the like tend to enjoy wide distribution. You wouldn't want to drink powdered milk but it works well as an ingredient in batters and such.

    Sweets are also easy, and doubly fun if you have a real campfire. I like to slit a banana down the middle lengthwise, stuff in a few pieces of bittersweet chocolate, wrap the whole thing in foil, and heat it for awhile. S'mores (graham crackers, marshmallow, chocolate) are also an American classic -- do they have these elsewhere?

    The trick with any good camp meal is to cook only one or two items and use unheated items to round out the menu. Also you should eat dinner early enough so as to be able to cook, eat, and clean by sunlight. Allow plenty of time. With limited equipment, everything goes very slowly.

    It helps to plan ahead so as to avoid waste. In the US, which I hear is just like Tasmania, there are huge supermarkets all over the place that have enough good ingredients to satisfy most camp-cooking needs. There's only one place where you never, ever find one of these supermarkets: Near your campsite. So what you don't want to do is set up camp and then go looking for a supermarket. You buy when you can so you can eat well when you need to.

    Given your cooking equipment, you want to stay away from anything that requires very long cooking (such as potatoes) or large quantities of boiling water (most pastas).

    Flip through some basic cookbooks before you depart. Things like Joy of Cooking, where the recipes are very basic. You'll be surprised at how many of these things can be cooked quickly on one portable gas burner with a minimum of hassle.

    In terms of sanitation, the most important thing you can do is keep yourself clean -- especially your hands. Pack a box full of antiseptic moist towelettes and use them on your hands before and after you handle food.

    Use zip-loc bags liberally to separate all your ingredients, and especially to protect meat.

    Use twice as much ice as you think you need in your ice chest, never let it get exposed to direct sun, and never let your ingredients sit in the sun.

    If you have the opportunity and extra fuel to boil water, that is of course the best way to clean and sterilize your utensils. When I lead trips for Sierra Club, this is our mandatory procedure. We just suck it up and take the time to get everything totally clean, and nobody has ever fallen ill on one of these trips. If that's too much, at least be sure you pack an antibacterial dish soap and clean your utensils under plenty of running water (I assume you'll be camping only where there is water, but if not you should always have a few gallon-size containers of water in the trunk of your car, one of which should be designated for dishwashing), then dry them thoroughly.

  6. As the primary coffee consumer in the Fat-Guy-Household I can say the home roasted product has really improved the coffee around here. I'm not confident enough to do the roasting myself, and once in awhile FG forgets so I have to fall back on Illy. It's always a disappointment to have to drink not-fresh-roasted. There's just something missing from the flavor, even though Illy is very good.

  7. When I was in college I ate a pint of Ben & Jerry's every day. I went to "Ben & Jerry's University" (the University of Vermont). We could buy Ben & Jerry's . . . factory seconds . . . in the campus bookstore . . . and pay with our UVM meal cards . . .

    I was also swimming competitively at the NCAA level. So I was at rough equilibrium. Then I stopped swimming. But I kept eating the ice cream. Talk about the Freshman Fifteen!

    Years later, when I was working in publishing, I was on the marketing team for Ben & Jerry's book. We went up to Vermont to meet with them and the first thing I did upon meeting Ben was I started yelling at him for causing all that weight gain in college. He must have thought I was nuts. Or maybe he had heard it all before. Little did I know then that I might someday be able to sue. :biggrin:

  8. I have PADI Divemaster certification which is a professional-level SCUBA certification. I never had any problem keeping up with the coursework. I'm a far better swimmer and as good a diver as many working professional Divemasters. Still I feel I spent a lot of money on that Divemaster certification based on a mistaken belief that there was something "better" about the professional certification as opposed to the top recreational certification of Master Scuba Diver. Since I've never led or taught dive groups much of what I learned in Divemaster certification was not relevant to me and I probably would have been better served by building the Master Scuba Diver certification out of five specialties. I don't exactly have any regrets, and it's always fun to pull out a Divemaster C-card at a dive shop when they ask for proof of certification, but it would have been nice for an experienced professional instructor to sit down with me and help me see the reality of my needs. Who knows if I would have listened, though!

  9. Orlando is almost 10% Jewish so somebody must know what "mensch" means but probably not anybody at Dolly's place.

    Every time I hear about Dolly I think of two things.

    One is the sandwich at the Stage Deli.

    (24) DOLY PARTON......................... 12.95



    The other is the time I was in Hickory, North Carolina, working on my furniture book and got to chatting with the super-friendly hotel desk clerk who eventually after numerous interactions asked if I was planning to visit Dollywood. Not wanting to be disrespectful I turned it around and asked him to talk about Dollywood. "Well I just love it. It's my favorite place on Earth. When I'm feeling stressed out by my job I just go on out to Dollywood and get closer to God."

  10. Food rationing in North America doesn't seem to have left its mark on many people, the way it did in the UK. In fact, I can't recall my parents or any people of that generation even mentioning rationing.

    There's rationing and there's rationing! The UK and Europe had it a lot worse than the US, for a lot longer, and their civilian populations were in the line of fire. But my father, who came of age in the WWII era in New Haven and served post-war in Keflavik, has talked about rationing my whole life and it has rubbed off on the family and our attitudes about food.

  11. On the flip side, is there any place that you only eat one dish? I have a few regulars that rarely divert from their regular meal.

    There are some restaurants like Union Square Cafe, which when I eat there (almost always for lunch) I am guilty of this very thing. I always plan to order something different but when I get there, because I don't get to eat there often, I always end up ordering the tuna burger. It's so good and I enjoy it so much and, to make matters worse, it's so good that all other tuna burgers pale by comparison so that's the only place I eat them. I might as well give up and just acknowledge that at lunch at Union Square I'll only ever eat tuna burgers. There, I've said it.

  12. I guess I can’t emphasize enough how personal (animal?) the farm is—I was so happy when Jonathan introduced us to each cow by name. When he introduced us to Heike, I chuckled to myself as I have a friend from Germany named Heike and I had never met another Heike before I met the herd. Now I know two lovely Heikes. After we were introduced to the first row of milking cows, he corralled us over to the other side saying “You haven’t met the other cows yet. This is Eeyore and this is . . .” I didn’t even know that Chanticleer was Chanticleer until Jonathan posted on his behalf.

  13. Ellen, the photos are GREAT! Chanticleer the Rooster, as always, stole the show. Glad to know that the cheese makes you laugh: Fat-guy might have died laughing, though.

    I'm glad that the happiness of our critters comes across so clearly: it is the one and only "secret" to the quality of our cheeses.

    Nina and I hope that you'll come back on a baking day, so we can see that aspect of the farm through your amazing eyes.

    Yes Chanticleer cracked us up! We spared you our rooster story (I guess we can save that for next time--and our crowing as well) but every time he crowed, we'd glance sideways at each other grinning.

    We'd love to come back for baking day--especially since we got to watch you build the fire. I'd suggest we throw a couple of extra loaves in the oven on our baking day--considering what we did to your left-overs yesterday! Sign me up for the raisin bread.

  14. We spent the day today with Jonathan White ("curdnerd" on eGullet) at his Bobolink Dairy in Vernon, NJ. Jonathan's land is right on the NJ/NY border--literally, the farm consists of land in both states--but the address is NJ so this is going in the NJ forum.

    Camaraderie, recreation, and personal interest were the primary purposes of the visit, so we didn't take notes or ask a lot of probing interview-type questions. I did take a bunch of photos, however, and perhaps the curdnerd, the Fat Guy, and others will chime in and elaborate on what the pictures show.

    We began in the milking barn at around 8:00am (which required a 6:30am departure from Manhattan). Jonathan introduced us to each cow by name. Here are his ladies.


    It's impossible to overemphasize how well Jonathan treats his animals. Many of them, he rescued from factory farms and nursed back to health. You can see it in their bearing and attitude, and especially in the behavior of the happy and inquisitive calves.



    The calves feed out of a simulated-udder contraption imported from New Zealand (much of the equipment for the kind of sustainable farming and grass-feeding that Jonathan practices comes from NZ).


    In the dairy, the curds are cut.


    Then they hang out for awhile until Jonathan decides it's time to put them in molds.


    Most of the whey is drained off (it will be fed to the calves). Today Jonathan was making blue cheese, so to the drained curds he added salt and bits of bread containing wild cultures. Then the curds are hand-packed into molds. An entire day's milking (actually half each of two days because it's the evening milk from the night before plus the morning milk from that day) at Jonathan's farm currently makes 8 blue cheeses of about 10 pounds each. He will grow (the farm is less than a year old and he is expanding the herd), but not by much. Now that's artisanal.





    The newly made cheeses go on racks in the dairy for a day or two (these are the previous days' efforts).


    Then they get moved into Jonathan's ripening room, which is one of the neatest places on the planet to hang out.


    Curdnerd, Fat Guy, and I tasted a bunch of cheeses, and it's no exaggeration to say that of the seven or eight that we tasted, all were superlative and three were better than any cheese we've had in the US and as good as any we've had in Europe--and significantly better than most. These are all raw-milk cheeses, aged the legally required 60 days (longer for blue, cheddar, and the like), and they rule. They're so good you laugh when you taste them.



    We also engaged in miscellaneous other tasks around the farm. Jonathan is the consummate multitasker. He has chickens and a rooster (Fat Guy was given the task of letting the chickens out of the coop; you should have seen the quick look of panic that came over him before he quickly recovered and put on his poker face.)


    Yes I know that's the rooster and not a chicken.

    Jonathan also has a massive stone oven in which he bakes bread on weekends. He also teaches baking classes on some weekdays, so we got to watch him build a fire today in preparation for tomorrow's class. Here's Jonathan standing before the beast.


    And here he is out in the pasture checking on the readiness of the hay.


    Also in the pasture, Momo (our bulldog) and the cows enjoyed one another's company, engaging in several prolonged staring contests.


    Not sure what they were thinking as they watched him walk off the field.


    Finally, the makings of our lunch and cheese-tasting, which we enjoyed with Jonathan and his very lovely dance-instructor and business-manager wife.


  15. What's there to say about them???

    I'm glad you asked.

    For example, I was assuming that with the company being named "Just Born" and making all that Easter stuff and being located in of all places Bethlehem, PA, it must be some kind of Christian fundamentalist thing. But check this out: in the pages and pages of Peeps information, there is a history of the Just Born company. Turns out Born is the founder's last name. This guy, Sam Born, was I'm guessing a European Jewish immigrant, especially given that his brother-in-law and co-founder of Just Born was a guy named Irv Shaffer. So that's one pretty interesting tidbit.

    Oh, how did they get to Bethlehem, PA? Well, they actually started the business on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1923, but in 1932, with the Depression putting so many factories out of business, they decided to move into a closed-down factory in Bethlehem, PA, where they remain to this day.

    And I'm just getting started!

  16. I was reminded today of a wonderfully charming speech given several years ago at a friend's rehearsal dinner. His father, from Taiwan, spoke of how he had in his life had "many happy day," but of those "many happy day," this day was surely the happiest. Well, I won't go so far as to say that yesterday was the happiest of my many happy day, but it does rank right up there because I received in the mail yesterday . . .

    . . . free Peeps!

    Upon opening the carton (yes, carton) of Peeps samples from the Just Born PR department, all doubts I ever had about my decision to become a journalist evaporated. Sure, money can buy you all the Peeps you want. But that's not the same as free peeps. And no matter how much money you have you can't get some of the Peeps I got unless you buy the company, because I got not only the Patriotic Peeps (which you can get in the store now) but also PREVIEW PEEPS! Yes, I have advance samples of the Peeps they'll be selling for Halloween 2003 and Christmas 2003.

    I am also now in proud possession of the MOTHER LODE OF PEEP INFORMATION. I have pages and pages of it, and also information (and samples) of Mike & Ike and other goodies made by Just Born. I will be releasing this information bit by bit so as to keep this topic lively for days, weeks, months, years to come!

  17. The really fun thing about really cheap wine is that if you run out of things to talk about during dinner you can always fall back on, "I can't believe this cost $4; how can they even make the bottle for that much, no less the actual wine?" That's always good for a few minutes of filler or a diversion from an uncomfortable subject. "I mean, they have to grow the grapes, harvest the grapes, make the wine, put it in the bottles, and ship it all the way here from Australia on a boat; how is this possible?" "And it's pretty darn good too. I bet if you put this in a blind tasting against a $20 bottle most people couldn't tell the difference." "If they sold this for more money, more people would probably buy it! They'd think it's better!" "I can't believe Costco has such a great wine department. Did you know they sell more Dom Perignon than anyone else?"

  18. The TravelCenters of America (TA)--those mega-multi-purpose installations found on so many American highways--just released a list of the 5 things people look for when road-tripping:

    According to TA, people on the road want five basic things, whether they are traveling for business or pleasure:

    - Clean Facilities. Highway travelers demand cleanliness, especially in


    - Convenient, One-Stop Shopping. Travelers want to fuel up, enjoy a meal,

      buy whatever they need for their trip, relax and possibly even check

      e-mail -- all in just one stop.

    - Dining Choices. Travelers want a variety of meal choices, both in terms

      of the way they get their food (fast food, food to-go, or a full-

      service restaurant) and the food itself (from traditional fare such as

      burgers, sub sandwiches and steaks, to more exotic choices such as

      Cajun and Chinese). Meal choices are especially important to families

      on vacation, where what appeals to Mom and Dad might not be what Junior

      wants to eat.

    - Low Fuel Prices. With the volatile nature of fuel prices, consumers are

      always shopping around for the best deal. TA has found that

      consistently offering among the lowest-priced gasoline has contributed

      to its popularity among motorists.

    - Friendly staff.  Travelers have a choice in where to stop when they're

      on the road, and they prefer to stop at places where the staff

      appreciates their business and lets them know it.

    I personally almost never have a meal at a place like this--I use them mostly for snacks (sodas, chips, candy; mmm...candy), gas, and bathrooms. What about you?

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