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Ellen Shapiro

eGullet Society staff emeritus
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Everything posted by Ellen Shapiro

  1. Everyone is different in what they can tolerate both at home and away. I have never gotten sick--not in Egypt (I drank the water in Cairo), not in Nepal after countless visits (I've had the water there too on many occasions), not in Africa. I have an iron gut so I know I can get away with whatever I want to eat. So while I'm not "afraid" to eat anything, I'm what I call a "recovering vegetarian." I was a veg. for 12 years and though I now eat meat with abandon I get a little squeamish in developing countries when I see meat lying about on the street and on the ground, etc. I'm a hypocrite as it pertains to meat eating--I can eat it if it's put in front of me but when confronted with the reality of the actual animal and its parts, I find it difficult to consume. For me, abstinence from meat in these countries is not a scientifically based safety precaution but I've still got to wonder: This guy carried this meat in a basket from Tibet to Nepal and now its lying on the ground--who amongst you thinks your gut could withstand this? All the power to you.
  2. I revert to my old vegetarian status when I travel to developing countries. There are too many problems that can develop out of eating improperly kept meat and fish and I figure it's not worth the risk. After all, how often do you get to travel to these places--I'd hate to waste the whole trip sick in bed (or elsewhere).
  3. Further to what the Fat Guy was saying, often times it's the different bacteria in the food and water that upsets your system--it's not that it's bad, it's just different--and your body isn't accustomed to it so it goes into defense mode. Cipro is another good antibiotic to have along. I carry it with me for stomach ailments on every trip to Nepal. Thus far--never had to use it--but I have a cast iron gut.
  4. This is the silver lining of the "bad" meal experience--the whole point of "living to tell the tale" -- is that you actually get to tell the tale! That's how I've made it through more than one bad meal--as well as countless other events in life too--like being on two broken down busses in Africa with lots of people and chickens and I can't remember what else . . . in the same day. It's like a mantra--think of the story value, think of the story value.
  5. How about the biting the fork trick--you know, you get so enthusiastic about what you're eating that you forget to actually get the food off the fork and into your mouth before chomping? Okay, maybe it's just me. Let's just say--it isn't pretty.
  6. I've really enjoyed Laurie Colwin's books too and I agree that Home Cooking is the best. I don't remember the chapter you refer too "Repulsive Dinners" -- I'll have to go back and re-read it.
  7. Never was an issue in my house growing up--or now either, for that matter. Come to think of it, Steven's making himself a snack right now. It's 11:50 but I'm going to qualify it as a midnight snack.
  8. Steven started a topic about the best meal he's ever had in someone's home (I was there and I have to agree with him on his selection)--I, on the other hand, would like to hear the horror stories of the worst meals people have had in someone's home. No need to name names--but I'm sure we've all been there.
  9. You've got to be kidding me! No snacking--that's an outrage! Snacking and snack foods are one of life's great joys. I love snacking on fruit and lately, cold cereal--no milk. Chocolate is always great too--but only the "trashy" chocolate brands (like Hershey's miniatures, kisses, etc.) qualify in my book for snacking. If we're talking about Maison du Chocolat--that counts as a religious experience--not a snacking experience.
  10. Snacking is one of my favorite activities. I particularly like to snack late in the evening. What are your favorite snacking times? Do we have any morning snackers in the house? Afternoon snackers? Middle-of-the night snackers? Note the related topic of grazing may need its own thread because a grazer cannot truly be said to be snacking without real meals to act as reference points. Thank you for considering this important topic.
  11. I have to agree with Plotnicki (is that okay?) on the "stuff in the tea" issue. I actually like the "bubbles." I like the texture and I think they're fun (and a shocking surprise the first few times you sip one up through the big fat straw). But they end up being a distraction from the drink. It becomes all about the bubbles rather than about the tea. In essence, the bubbles take over the tea so it's not about the tea at all but rather about the bubbles. The bubbles themselves add texture initially (they don't impart flavor and they do obviously add texture), but that textural experience is when they first enter your mouth--after that it's more of an exercise in chewing and all thought (and taste) of the drink in which the bubbles were suspended is long since forgotten. So, is bubble tea about the solids or about the liquids (it is supposed to be a beverage, isn’t it)? Personally, after my first bubble tea experience (which I had in Richmond--the suburb of Vancouver, not the state of Virginia) I determined that it was fun once but the bubbles were too much of a distraction--I preferred the beverage on its own. At which point the entire concept unraveled for me because the bubble tea shop also had fresh squeezed fruit juices (to which they were adding bubbles) so I ordered my very favorite--papaya juice.
  12. I have often thought that we could make peace in the Middle East if we just got a bunch of mothers and grandmothers together from Arab and Israeli populations to cook a big feast and then everyone would sit down to eat together and instantly be friends. I cannot tell you how many gaps I’ve bridged with seemingly hostile people by simply introducing the topic of humus and inquiring about the person’s personal recipe. Inevitably, at the end of the conversation, the person laughs at me and chuckles over the turn in conversation and the dissipation of all hostility. I make my humus from scratch just like I was taught in Nazareth in a friend's kitchen by her mother. My friend is a Christian Arab. The recipe is not measured or precise. Her mother makes it the way my father makes chicken soup -- a pinch of this, a palm-full of that, blend to taste and add more if it needs it. And her mother’s humus, like my father’s chicken soup, is always the best. I’ll share, in a similar fashion, my humus recipe from my friend's mother's kitchen. Start with 1 bag of dried chick peas (I use a bag, they buy it in bulk at the market -- my bag is 12 ounces). Go through the chick peas and remove any stones and pebbles. Also remove any overly dried chick peas and unattached skins. Place the chick peas in a stock pot (I use an 8-quart pot) and add water. Some will float to the top, most will stay on the bottom. Add plenty of water because a great deal will boil off and it will also boil and bubble over so watch the heat. Add 1 tablespoon of baking soda and bring water to boil, occasionally stirring (the baking soda may or may not be necessary; I'm told that chickpeas as farmed today don't need it but it doesn't hurt and could help improve their texture). When boiling, turn down heat and simmer until chick peas are soft -- depending upon the size of the pot and the number of chick peas, this usually takes approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour (sometimes even 1 hr. 15 minutes). As the time of readiness approaches, taste a chick pea. It is important that the chick peas are soft but you do not want them to be mushy -- that will ruin the consistency of the humus. At the same time, if the chick peas are mildly undercooked, it will be difficult to get a satisfactory creamy consistency. As the water boils, it will also likely foam. Remove the foam from the top and discard. Add more water if necessary. Stir occasionally. When the chick peas are ready (before you remove them from the heat, taste a couple to “spot test” to be sure that they’ve all cooked) remove from heat and strain. If there is residue, rinse. I haven't found that removing the skins makes a difference, though I pick out any loose ones. Put the chick peas into the food processor. Blend chick peas. Drizzle tehina into the processor while blending. I generally use ½ of a pint container per 12 ounce package of chick peas. Note: Before adding tehina, be sure the tehina is well blended. If the oil has separated out, mash/blend vigorously first with a fork until the parts are mixed, then with spoon until smooth. A few turns in the food processor is also helpful for smoothness. I try to buy the tehina in the plastic container from Lebanon at a store that sells to a Middle Eastern clientele. High turnover is critical to freshness. Never use the tehina in the metal containers. It tends to have a slightly metallic taste (and also tends to be a slow selling item in the stores that carry it). Add ½ of the allotted tehina to the blending chick peas. Squeeze in juice from 2 lemons (don’t forget to remove the seeds -- they add bitterness when blended into the mix). Blend then taste. Add cupped palm-full of salt (about 1 teaspoon or a bit more) and blend -- stop blending and taste. Add two cloves of garlic minced. Blend on medium speed watching for smoothness. Taste. While blending, drizzle in ½ of the remaining tehina. Add the juice of 2 lemons, one clove of garlic thinly sliced and blend. If the mix tastes bland, add more salt. The salt can make the difference between a mediocre humus and a great humus. At this point, it is a matter of taste and how the ingredients have blended. Because you are tasting while you are blending, you will notice the difference that each of the ingredients adds to the mix. If something is missing, add that ingredient to taste. At this point, I usually add the juice of one more lemon, the rest of the tehina, one additional clove of garlic and a bit more salt. If the mix is really rough (gritty or even a bit chunky -- usually because I jumped the gun and pulled the chick peas off the flame to soon) you can drizzle in a minimal amount of water (I take a measuring cup with a spout and slowly drizzle water in while blending and watch the consistency for smoothness). Oil is another way to smooth the humus out and lighten it up a bit but I consider that cheating. This recipe for humus will produce a thick authentic humus similar to what you will find in the Middle East. To me, the humus tastes best when it’s just out of the food processor and still a bit warm from the cooking. I take a scoop of humus, flatten it out on a salad-sized plate with a spoon and make a moat around the plate in the middle (the salad plate is now divided into thirds by thickness—the humus on the outside of the salad plate, the depressed, thinner racing track of humus in the middle of the plate (made with the smooth depression of the spoon) and the thicker island in the middle. In the moat I add a drizzle of flavorful olive oil 360 degrees around the plate, top it will a sprinkle of paprika and even one leaf of finely chopped parsley to the island. If you have company, each person should be served one of these plates with some piping hot pita bread. A few sprinkled pine nuts are also a nice addition (though it isn’t part of the recipe). Taste that and then tell me we couldn’t achieve world peace and solve world hunger in one fell swoop.
  13. Since when is KC's gone? I was just there in November, 2001 to feast on KC’s salad (I know, they're famous for sizzling steak but I LOVE their salad and it’s iodine fresh). Perhaps the person who told you this was thinking of the place that used to be across from KC's the place with the amazing cakes--Helena's? In 2000 when I arrived in KTM I was devastated to find Helena's gone but it has re-opened since (I feasted there on many occasions in October and November 2002). If KC's is gone, the only thing I'll really miss there is the salad--and maybe the veg. lasagna--well, the fruit curd at breakfast too. But certainly go to Helena's. If you're facing the KTM guest house Helena's is down the road to your left (and on the left hand side). The cakes are AMAZING and the breakfast is good too. I like the roof top dining as well as the super deluxe tippity top roof top sitting area too (but it's some climb--even after 3 weeks of trekking). Another good place is either just before or just after Helena’s (I think just after) and it’s also on the left hand side (if you’re coming from the KTM GH; and yes, all directions in Thamel are still based upon proximity to the KTM GH). You will be attracted by the little bakery on the corner (just like the cake window that stops you dead in your tracks every time you walk by Helena’s). It’s got windows all around. This is one of KTM’s better bakeries and you can either buy baked goods there to take away (good for early morning departures and all baked goods go to ½ price after 8:00 pm) or select something in the bakery and sit in their garden or best of all, you can sit in the garden, order off the menu and also order things from the bakery from your waiter. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner but I mostly go there for breakfast and sometimes lunch. Where are you staying and when are you going?
  14. He meant everything he said. Jason I've started a topic on best digicams for amateur food photography. See you there.
  15. Looks like a good product but I'd like to see some photos taken with it. Maybe you'll post some on another thread. Should we start a digital cameras for food photography thread? You probably didn't need 5 megapixels (!) and of course you're giving up the convenience of a small camera. When you unsheath that thing in a restaurant people will run! But I wish I had one.
  16. Yesterday Steven and I were going to the movies with his mother and we got a very strange call—did we want a cream cheese and jelly sandwich. We looked at each other in disbelief. Does anyone like cream cheese and jelly sandwiches? I know it’s a relatively common sandwich for kids but really—does anyone actually like that combo?
  17. Singapore Airlines has most certainly declined in the last five years. It used to be that flying in coach class--even over a stretch of 24 hours or more--was bearable. The seats were roomy enough, the service was friendly, the food was interesting (Singaporean specialties) and somewhat edible. Unfortunately, I noticed a clear decline about three years ago and they've been sliding downward into the heap ever since. I will say this, I was able to use the Business class lounge in Singapore in transit to KTM and home again and it was downright luxurious. Of course, 12-15 years ago I had the opportunity to fly BA from London to the US in coach and it was an utterly pleasant experience--decent meal and more importantly, Belgian (?) chocolates for dessert with our after dinner drinks! Did I mention this was coach? I haven't flown BA since but this year I will have the opportunity to fly American to London and BA to Delhi so we'll see how the two compare and how BA holds up to the old standards.
  18. Jinmyo thank you for your kind words about my photos, however I should explain that they are not up to the standards I'd wished for them. The original plan was to shoot slides with my Leica R equipment for the duration of the project, but the newspaper folks changed gears early on and asked that we do all digital photography. This left me with several unusable bags full of film-camera equipment and one Kodak DC4800 digital camera that is only a small step above the point-and-shoot level and takes photos nowhere near as good as my Yashica T4 and Rollei Prego film point-and-shoots. Don't get me wrong, the DC4800 is a decent piece of equipment by the standards of one year old "semi-pro" digital cameras. With nice natural light and a composition that supports the camera's lens characteristics you can get a 3.1 megapixel photo that blows up well enough to fill half a newspaper page as we did on several occasions and Kodak digitals render realistic images sometimes more so than film cameras under some conditions. Equipment is overemphasized by photographers on the whole as you can see if you look at the great photos the photographers of old took with crappy cameras and film but still for me on this project with one lens and a tiny on-camera electronic flash, every photo especially indoors was an uphill battle given the camera's super-slow shutter and horrific performance at close range. This combined with my skillset (I usually shoot adventure-travel stories, not food stories, and all my formal training has been in nature/outdoor photography) made it a big pain. Not to mention we had no time to do digital image manipulation on the road and neither it seems did the newspaper people for the most part so what you see here are almost all straight-from-the-CompactFlash-card-images. There was also a question of focus and I mean that in the literary sense. We spent two weeks in British Columbia shooting aimlessly until just a couple of days before the deadline we got some clear instructions as to what the photo editors at the newspapers were looking for. Watch the progression of the photography as the series travels across Canada. At first the emphasis is on food photos because we thought this was food journalism, then you will see a migration to a lot of photos of Steven with his trademark goofy smile raising a glass to the camera surrounded by food because it became clear early on that Steven was to be the story and the food was to be fodder (remember we were also doing television cross-promotion the entire time), then you will see some attempts at more interesting compositions but still with him in the shot, and at the end you will see the signs of exhaustion!
  19. Robert, I'm a committed off-season traveler and there are always pros and cons to doing it that way. Shoulder seasons are complex phenomena but one thing you can almost always say for sure is that opening week is better than closing week. Closing week at a restaurant, hotel, or attraction is usually a disaster. People are exhausted and at the ends of their ropes. Opening week people are fresh. If they are into what they do, which is usually the case at the better establishments, they are gung-ho at that time. So I wouldn't worry. Steve P., maybe this should go on the wine board, but my experiences tasting wine in France have been mostly non-fantastic. Unless you can make a connection with a winemaker you get shunted in with the tourist masses and they give you dreck and often charge for it and then they pressure you to buy, buy, buy. That's why in general I like to visit developing wine regions. If you show up at a remote vineyard in South Africa or even Oregon, you get treated like visiting royalty. So it's not Burgundy. So what? Do you have tips on how to get the most out of a wine tasting trip to France and if so can you post some probably on the wine board?
  20. Wolf, I don't mind being Mrs. Fat Guy. Sometimes Steven gets addressed as Mr. Shapiro. No biggie. What is it about that burger in Nebraska that's so good? I'm already salivating but I need more to go on than that. Fill us in.
  21. This is something I'm just not very successful at. The people at Domino Sugar ("We'll always be your sugar") say put it in a microwave-safe bowl, cover with wet paper towels, cover that with plastic, microwave for 1.5-2 minutes, separate it with a fork, and use. http://www.dominosugar.com/baking/faq.asp Isn't there an easier way to address this common annoyance?
  22. "Yes you can still get Fish and Chips and meat pies in Oz" Tony, I've been to Australia and New Zealand a total of seven times (three plus four) in the past decade and can say with some authority that fish and chips are a consuming passion for a large segment of the population. I would argue that far more people eat fish and chips on a regular basis than eat at or even want to eat at the Tetsuya-like restaurants in Sydney. Not to mention the best fish and chips I have ever had have been Down Under. I am sure our Australia-based hosts could say something about this. I'm not familiar with the immigration statistics regarding Australia. I was not under the impression that the nation was chock full of English recent arrivals.
  23. For more interesting and fun filled facts about the pommelo (and all sorts of other nifty fruits of the jungle) check out these two links. http://www.foodsubs.com/FGFruit.html http://gourmetsleuth.com/pomelo.htm
  24. Holly, you must have gotten some bad pommelos because they're actually quite good. I first had a pommelo the year I lived in Israel and have had them on subsequent visits (including fresh off the tree across the road from the Dead Sea). The flesh of the pommelos I've had has always been white. The texture is like a hard grapefruit. The appearance of the sections is the same as a grapefruit, though the slices are a bit thicker and longer. The exterior skin is so thick, there's no way to peel it without the assistance of a sharp knife. The interior skin between the sections is tough--I peel each section in order to fully enjoy the sweet fruit behind the bitter skin. On a hunch, I've never bothered to eat one here--now I know why. Same goes for persimmons. In Israel I eat them like candy, never bothered to have one in the U.S.
  25. You all are causing me a tremendous amount of pain and pleasure. Ah, the marathon bar. I remember that one. It was a long braided caramel candy bar covered in chocolate. I haven't thought about that in years--now I miss it terribly and I wonder if I will recover. Has anyone encountered the "Mr. Big" bar? It's Canadian (go figure) and happens to be really good but I bought it for Steven many years ago because of the humor element. The slogan "when you're this big, they call you Mister" puts it over the top. In the past year or two, they removed the slogan thereby turning the candy bar into only a moderately appealing confection. I got more mileage from that candy bar--had I only known the Canadians would become as Puritanical as we are, I would surely have stocked up!
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