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Everything posted by zora

  1. zora

    Creme de Violette

    A friend of mine is looking for this violet-flavored French liqueur. Does anyone know if it's possible to get in the US? Any place to order it from? Many thanks...
  2. Any tips on making this? Smithy's query about Lebanese food in Cairo reminded me how much I liked this dish, which I often ate at a place in Mohandiseen. I recently tried to recreate it just from memory, and failed. Then I read some recipes, but all seemed nothing like what I'd eaten: little to no lemon and garlic, which I remember in abundance, and one didn't even call for baking anything... But I used to get it in a hot ramekin, with some crispy bits of pita, some chewy, and a layer of garlicky yogurt on top. In my experiments, my pita got all mushy and the yogurt completely dissolved. Also, I've seen fattet makdus on some Syrian menus, which makes me think there's a whole category of fatteh dishes, with fattet hummus being the most common...true? Many thanks in advance for grandmotherly tips...
  3. Hey Sarah-- Zmorod is in the Armenian quarter, kind of on the northwest side (I think, if I have the whole area laid out right in my head). If you're in the main plaza in the Armenian quarter, walk off the corner with the antiques store on the second floor, and I think make the first turn to your right. The street leading off the plaza has shops selling almost nothing but ridiculous handbags. And if all that doesn't work, pretty much any hotel in the area will known how to get you there. Have a great trip! I'm so envious! Would love to hear more about your Zmorod meal (and anything else) when you're back!
  4. Just realized I've been a little delinquent in reporting on this tour (though I know melamed, who originally asked, has seen my blog posts already), which I took back in May, and now all the details are a little hazy. If someone has specific questions, please ask--it might help trigger my memory! In short, great time and great food. The only real drawback was my personal frame of mind--I'd been approaching this as a major vacation, but the travel (and eating) schedule was very busy. And I'd never really been on a group tour before, so had to wrap my brain around that (I have to be at the bus _when_?!). The real highlights of the trip for me were: 1) a cooking demo at a woman chef's house in Aleppo, which was very down-to-earth and practical, to balance out a lot of the fancier dinners we had 2) a visit to the kitchens at a pastry shop, which was totally mind-blowing and Willy Wonka-ish. Oh, and 3) a passionate lecture from a man who insisted seasonal eating is the only healthy way to live...and don't get him started on artificial fertilization of plants! Best meals were probably at Zmorod, a new restaurant in Aleppo, and at the Club d'Alep (sorry, you regular travelers--it's private!), though it's hard to pick... The trip confirmed my suspicions that Aleppo is where it's at when it comes to food--everyone there just seems to care a wee bit more (which takes them often into crazy-passionate territory). I ate some good things in Damascus, but they were fewer and farther between. I'd also never really heard the theories before that Syrian food--especially in Aleppo--is influenced by Chinese, what with the sweet-sour and fruit-meat combos, and the spicy heat. Intriguing, and helped me pinpoint a little better what distinguishes Syrian food from Lebanese or Turkish. Also interesting: the woman chef we visited talked about how different things are used as souring agents depending on the season--lemon juice, verjuice, pomegranate syrup...as well as the perennially reliable citric acid. I knew these things were all used, but never quite grasped why/when you'd use one or the other. Citric acid, apparently, is often used in restaurant cooking because the flavor is stable and consistent over a day in a way that lemon juice is not. I also noticed that the "lemon juice" served with the fuul in the (very traditional, very beloved) Aleppo joint we stopped at was actually citric-acid water. Not in a bad way. (In fact, since coming home, I've bought my own bag of citric acid--goes very nicely in iced tea.) We ate desert truffles, which were satisfying in a richer-than-a-potato way. They were apparently all imported from Morocco this spring, because it had been a bad year in Syria--but this was lucky for me, because ordinarily they would've been out of season in mid-May. We saw akub (gundelia), which melamed asked about on another thread, but never got to eat any. Anyone have any recipes? I am intrigued by anything artichoke-like... It was also the season for rose-petal jam, served with salty string cheese. Yum. Oh, and now I can clearly say that Syrian sweets are the best. Why? They're just not very sweet--so your baqlawa and what-have-you are more a nut-and-butter experience, with a hint of sugar. Remarkable restraint. And maybe they're also better because I got to see them being made by giant burly men and a small army of 14-year-old apprentices! I packed my bag home with Aleppo pepper paste and pomegranate molasses, both semi-homemade (bought at the produce market), plus a bottle of mulberry syrup, which unfortunately is now all gone. This was my third trip to Syria...and instead of making me feel like I "did" Syria, now I just feel like there's so much more try. A nagging problem! Oh: photos and a couple of videos from the trip are here and here (pastry kitchen).
  5. I live in New York, and here in the city of hype, it's hard to tell what's really happening anywhere else. I'm curious what the rest of the US--mostly the non-coastal parts--has got in the way of underground restaurants / supper clubs / whatever you want to call them (by which I mean people cooking in their homes for friends and strangers, and charging money). To hear the media tell it, this trend is all over the place...or is it? A friend just forwarded me a newspaper article from St. Louis, about the first underground restaurant there. Do you have them where you live? Do you wish you did? Are you sick and tired of them? Or sick and tired of hearing about them being the next big thing? Are you thinking of starting your own? This sounds like I'm doing some fishing for a trend piece of my own, but I'm not. But the question is slightly self-serving. I just finished writing a cookbook based in part on a supper club a friend and I have had for years. So I'm just trying to mentally prepare myself for the book's probable reception beyond my little bubble...
  6. Good to know--thanks! Atlanta is one of the places our publicists want to send us, but I know so little about the food scene there. Thanks again!
  7. I do speak Arabic, but kind of badly. When I first went to Syria in 1999, very few people spoke English, but now there has been a noticeable increase. And Syrians are incredibly helpful. I think you'd be able to get around pretty well, especially in restaurants, where you can always point! (And most restaurant menus I saw were translated.)
  8. Surprisingly enough......on the Left Coast here, we do, sort of. But here in SoCal, it's in the lower echelon, cost-cutter (read *upscale ethnic*) markets and only one chain. The large, mainstream chains do not. The first time I'd ever seen such an arrangement was at a Food-4-Less in southern Oregon when I was visiting a friend. Don't remember if it was in Medford or Central Point where she lives, but it was definately a Food-4-Less. At that time, Medford/Central Point (this was about 15 years ago......) was very rural, and very lower socio-economic scale. I remember watching in awe as Judi bagged a HUGE order of her groceries (she has a passel 'o' kids......). I was like........wow......at home we have "people" to do that. That's funny--now I remember bag-it-yourself was a "feature" of the early warehouse-like grocery stores, before Price Club/Costco/etc. Wish I could remember the name of the one we went to in Albuquerque when I was a kid. But yeah, it seemed exotic and kinda fun (for a kid).
  9. I usually bag my own stuff, but my local supermarkets (in a rare grocery-centric neighborhood in NYC) have a handful of very attentive cashiers. Occasionally when I'm bagging, I'll get a little frantic because the stuff is piling up and everyone in the line is kind of glowering in that New Yorky way, and start packing a little haphazardly. One time this happened, and the cashier--one of the attentive ones--started tsking, and took the stuff out of my hands and repacked it for me, very carefully. Very nice! (This is the same woman who, years ago, complimented me on buying so much fresh produce!) Not quite the same, but there's an excellent high-school-age girl at my other store who stopped me as I was laying things out on the conveyor belt. "I have a system," she said, as she unpacked my basket for me. Then she said, "Stand back. I go fast!" Whoa, she did! Her system involved putting all the like with like, and scanning _incredibly_ fast. So fast that I couldn't even begin to keep up with the bagging! So slightly counterproductive, but if I were in her shoes, I imagine I'd develop a similar game, just to keep the job mildly interesting. I wish, now that we're using more non-disposable bags here in the US, stores would install the little swinging dividers at the end of the belts like they have in Europe. All your stuff gets channeled down one side of the divider, so you can stand there and bag in peace while the cashier moves on to the next customer, whose stuff rolls down the other side of the divider. Does anyone have those at their stores yet?
  10. Ooh, I loved that too! I didn't realize Eno was into food in any way. It all starts to make sense...
  11. Last month I had to go to the hospital for the first time in my life--for what I thought would just be some heavy-duty antibiotics to treat endocarditis (tip: If a doctor tells you out of the blue that you have a heart murmur, and you have strange swellings in your extremities, don't wait six more weeks while the doc figures it out). It ended up being more complicated, and I had to stay incarcerated for a whole week, transferring hospitals mid-week. And then a few days later, I had to go _back_ to the ER--but used a different hospital this time. I'm now relatively OK but have to have surgery sometime down the road. The point is: I had to eat a _lot_ of substandard food. Luckily, I had a couple of very good friends who brought me dinner pretty regularly, but still. It was bleak. And I'll have to be back in the hospital for a while, post-surgery. Bad food is just one more reason why being in the hospital is actually _bad_ for your health. I'm pasting my impressions from my blog below, but am curious to know: what are others' hospital food experiences? Tips and tricks for surviving? Most horrifying moment? Most surprisingly good? Does quality of food really correlate with quality of medical care (my impression)? Here's what I wrote last week: Let me first admit: I have a soft spot for airplane food. The little individual compartments and containers are very compelling to me (but maybe that's just my OCD talking). I have never had a completely inedible meal on an airplane, and once, in Delta biz class, I actually said "Yum!" while I was eating. So, that said, I didn't find the hospital food that bad--at first. I'd been actively fearing it because several years ago I went to a restaurant-supply convention here in NYC, where I stood mesmerized and morbidly fascinated in front of a robotic food-dispensing machine for use in "institutions such as prisons and hospitals" (suggested the demo video). A huge stainless-steel box contained Nutrient Gloop A, and it was pumped through springy tubes, then squirted in precisely measured portions onto trays running by on a conveyor belt. I was scared straight, as they say. But fortunately there was no Nutrient Gloop on my tray in Forest Hills. Most food items were recognizable. The separately heated entree dish and coffee mug provided the familiar reference point of dining in the sky. The trouble with the airplane-food analogy is that I've never been on a plane for more than three meals. My first hospital stay, eight days total, would be the equivalent of jetting to Australia and back four times in a row. In the hospital, you get a special jiggly bed that ensures you won't die of deep-vein thrombosis, but the stewardesses aren't the least bit cute. And, at least at LIJ in Forest Hills, you don't even get a choice of beef or pasta. And what your menu says rarely correlates with what's on your tray. Best example: a promised chicken cacciatore took the form of tuna casserole with tricolor rotini--very jarring if you're expecting chix with mushrooms. Some items required a little imagination to match them up with their labels. At first I thought "Chinese-style roast chicken" was another case of a failed menu writing. Then I realized the little scallion slices and the brown glaze signified "Chinese-style." And then some things were just straight-out weird: one day I got some beef stew with mandarin oranges. Yes, the ones you get in the syrup in the cans. This was a Jewish hospital--was this perhaps some institutional interpretation of Passover brisket? That's the only real-life foodstuff I could peg this concoction to. Additionally, there was a disturbing lack of concern for nutrition. Partially hydrogenated spread was the norm. I, a heart patient, got coffee for breakfast every morning. And dessert portions were always physically larger than entree portions. Which I guess was supposed to be a perk, but only seemed to reinforce the miserableness of being in the hospital, as the big bricks of gooey cake practically screamed, "You poor hopeless sickie! Here's a treat!" After a few days of this, I was living that dumb joke: The food is terrible, and the portions are so small! At every meal, I'd been diligently cleaning as much of my plate as I could before I was gripped with utter despair (I drew the line at the margarine), but on the morning of the third day, I was weak and dizzy with hunger. Fortunately, Tamara started the daily dinner delivery that night, but by then I'd already been carted down to the special heart-monitoring floor, as I gasped, "It's just low blood sugar...need REAL food badly..." Getting transferred to LIJ in Manhasset was a step up, because there at least I got a little menu to choose entrees from each day. Again, descriptions rarely gibed with reality, and chicken broth, a plastic mug of tasteless murk, accompanied every meal. One morning I just started crying right off the bat; I was crushed by the task of discerning actual oatmeal bits amid the starchy pap. I felt like Oliver Twist, but without the pluck or, of course, the desire for more. But the green beans weren't so mercilessly boiled, the dessert portions were a bit more moderate, and fresh fruit made an occasional appearance. One night I got a thimbleful of real butter, but the bread to put it on was like mattress stuffing. I rubbed it on the ubiquitous green beans instead. After all that, Mt. Sinai was like Babbo, Le Bernardin and Jean-Georges all rolled together. The nightly bulletin applied a bit of hyperbole to the next day's choices--though to be fair, a "seasonal" green salad in December would be iceberg lettuce and carrot shreds. Otherwise, I felt like I had a new nutritional lease on life, with my choice of butter or margarine (duh), salad and fruit options galore, and dinner entrees so edible that I fortunately can't remember any of them.
  12. Rogelio, just wanted to say huge thanks for the Casa Joaquin recommendation! I had the best teensy garlicky clams there, and fried monkfish liver. Still one of the standouts of my trip. Unfortunately didn't get to Alejandro or FM, but am going back to Granada next month, so can at least make sure I hit the latter.
  13. I'm going to Spain for work at the end of March--I've got three weeks in Granada and Almeria provinces. (Alas, not headed to the "foodier" parts of Andalucia!) So, suggestions appreciated this area--restaurants, local food producers, etc. Doesn't have to be fancy--just crazy-delicious. [edited to take out ref to Madrid--will re-post query in dedicated Madrid thread... Mod, correct thread title if you like.]
  14. I've been to Syria a couple of times, and would love to go back and take some kind of cooking classes. Does anyone know of anything? I speak half-decent (Egyptian) Arabic, so I could muddle through in that language if necessary (my food vocabulary is disproportionately large, so that's a start). I could also handle French if necessary. Thanks for any leads...
  15. How fuddy-duddy of me...I've done all my research on Syrian food in books! Thanks for these sites. I'm hungry now!
  16. That Guardian story is how I found out about her tour in the first place! I feel like I'm wading into a swamp, talking about the difference between Syrian and Lebanese food. Not sure how to pinpoint it, but I definitely feel like I've eaten differently in each place. Maybe figuring out how to articulate that is my goal for this trip!
  17. I know her only through her cookbooks. I'll definitely post here after my trip. The Gaziantep trip sounds great too...
  18. And can I just add that I'm super-depressed to hear about the lack of butchers out there? I knew it was bad, but not quite so bad. This is really tragic... Wandering OT, but I wonder if the carnicerias will wind up filling the gap? Mexican butchering is sooo different, though. I could tell when they started hiring Mexican guys instead of Egyptians at my fresh-kill poultry place--my chicken came out in totally different pieces!
  19. I'm working on a cookbook that I want to be pretty accessible. But I live in a very ethnically diverse part of New York City, so it's easy to lose sight of what ingredients are common or hard to come by. My only other frame of reference is my hometown of Albuquerque, which just happens to have a ginormous international foods market, which solves just about every cooking conundrum. But I don't know whether other smaller cities have the same diversity--whether for "ethnic" groceries or items that are considered high-end gourmet. So, eGulleteers in non-coastal cities, can you let me know which of these things you can find easily (or not)? --Pomegranate molasses --Sumac --Aleppo pepper (Turkish-style red pepper) --creme fraiche --Mexican crema --Spanish smoked paprika --miso paste --sherry vinegar --duck (fresh or frozen) --duck fat --pancetta --less common pig parts: trotters, unsmoked hocks, cheeks, slab bacon, skin I guess it would help if you also defined "easily"--supermarket, or only at a specialty store that you just happen to know about? I'm also curious: how many people actually have specialized butchers to visit? (As opposed to just the meat case in the supermarket...) Thanks a million!
  20. Slightly OT, but one of our enterprising recipe testers made her own pomegranate molasses, by boiling down 4 cups pomegranate juice, 1 cup sugar, and 1/4 cup lemon juice until it was super-syrupy. I haven't tried this yet, but it's worth a shot! ← Which you should try and, if it works, add to your book. ← Oh, I definitely will! She just emailed me with her testing notes--so haven't had a chance yet to try...
  21. I lived in Bloomington 12 years ago! It most definitely did not have a slow-food scene then...but I sure did appreciate the international food stores.
  22. Slightly OT, but one of our enterprising recipe testers made her own pomegranate molasses, by boiling down 4 cups pomegranate juice, 1 cup sugar, and 1/4 cup lemon juice until it was super-syrupy. I haven't tried this yet, but it's worth a shot!
  23. Wellll, if you can wait till October, I'll have two pomegranate-molasses-using recipes for you! (Hint: goes great with lamb. Also with lentils.)
  24. Gah, I love the Trade Fair! It's one of the reasons I moved to the neighborhood. Now, for the record, the rival Key Food has kosher chickens, just to even things out....