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Pan

eG Foodblog: Pan - How to stop cooking and love life

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Hello, everyone! By popular demand, I am the blogger this week. Some of you know that I have previously been full of excuses for why I shouldn't blog -- mostly, that I almost never cook anymore. This in spite of the fact that some people who know me well enough to have experienced my cooking would tell you that I have good skills (some would say very good, but I wouldn't want to push it among this extraordinary assemblage of home cooks). If I knew an easy way to find it, I'd link to the place in the Dinner thread where I posted on my improvised Nasi Goreng (Malaysian-style fried rice) that caused my parents to say I hadn't lost any of my cooking skills at all (no pictures to document that, though). I think I'd be rustier if I tried to cook other things.

But having established that there will be no cooking in this blog, why should you read it? Well, no-one's forcing you! :laugh::raz: But seriously, because I will show you why and how it is that I enjoy food every day on a fairly frugal budget without cooking. Part of the reason I don't cook is that I'm a bachelor living by myself and prefer the stimulation of an appreciative audience, but that didn't stop me from cooking my own food almost all the time while I was in undergraduate school at SUNY at Purchase or in graduate school at SUNY at Stony Brook. You see, there were no good alternatives to cooking in those cases. Food on and walking-distance from campus ranged from inedibly horrible to barely acceptable, except for one upscale Italian restaurant across the train tracks in Stony Brook that would have bankrupted me if I had eaten there often. So when I wanted bistecca alla pizzaiolo, I damn well got the steak, the tomatoes, the onions, the garlic, the herbs, and the red wine and cooked it myself. When I wanted breakfast, I fried eggs in extra virgin olive oil, added a bit of sherry, and ate them over toast, or if I had more time, I made eggs scrambled with fried onions, garlic, tomatoes, green herbs, cheese, and pepper in wine sauce. Etc.

But now? Since 1996, I've lived in the East Village, smack dab in the middle of the greatest collection of diverse affordable restaurants in the city; most of them deliver, and some of the rest do takeout. Chinatown is about a 20-25-minute walk from here, as well.

In store for you all this week if things go according to my typically loose plans (as a musician who likes to play things by ear) are trips to several of my favorite East Village eateries, Chinatown, a visit to my folks' place on the Upper West Side (probably bearing takeout food from the local Grand Sichuan branch) and one day in Flushing, a distant neighborhood in Queens that I've spent a lot of time in. I'm an adjunct professor of music, and one of the places that's taken me is Queensborough Community College, a long freakin' commute from here (1 1/2-2 hours via two trains and a bus -- that's right: like many New Yorkers, I don't drive) through Flushing. I've made virtue of necessity by picking up breakfast/lunch in Flushing to eat on the bus and then having a sit-down dinner there after each long QCC teaching day. Now that I'm on summer vacation and might not be back at QCC in the fall, I welcome the prospect of an ~1-hour trip to Flushing just for fun.

In between times, I'll post a few photos of the neighborhood, to give some of you who haven't been here a little bit of the feel of this historic district, home of some wonderful architecture and some strange-looking people. But first, I need to free up some more space on my hard drive and take care of some errands.

One word of warning: I am not a morning person, especially since I'm on intersession now. So no "good morning" pictures out the window a la Lucy, but not just for that reason: All you'd see is the building next door. I face away from the street, which gives me more quiet but a boring view out the window. Not that I'm complaining, mind you: The least interesting view from the least interesting building on this block is still in the East Village. :biggrin:

Ciao for now.

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Pan, this will be a fun week indeed! I love to see what people cook but spying on them eating out is even more fun! Can't wait...........

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If I knew an easy way to find it, I'd link to the place in the Dinner thread where I posted on my improvised Nasi Goreng (Malaysian-style fried rice) that caused my parents to say I hadn't lost any of my cooking skills at all (no pictures to document that, though).

Here you go, Pan.

Have fun blogging!

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Oh, I love Manhattan! This is going to be wonderful. Very expensive dining there, so I'm sure you must be quite resourceful. On the occasions when I've visited, I've enjoyed street bagels and hot dogs, but not known the best places to try ethnic foods.

I'm definitely looking forward to seeing pictures of the city. :smile:

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Sounds great so far! I look forward to your "full disclosure" about the cheap but good restaurants in the East Village. I live in Manhattan, but the East Village is still pretty foreign to me. All those weird young people. :hmmm::laugh: I hope you enjoy writing this blog as much as I know I'll enjoy reading it!

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excellent, pan...

i'm looking forward to your food suggestions to pass along to my bil who lives on the west side but works in queens :biggrin:

blog on with a budget...

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Cool.

I haven't been down there in ten years. Go for it Maestro! East Village denizens in full battle array!! Red-hot woks a-blaze!!!

What, if I may ask, do you have for a kitchen? Is it extra, extra small?

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Thanks for the words of welcome, everyone!

Therese:

Thanks for finding my post in the Dinner thread and linking to it!

Julia:

I loved your blog, and I'm glad you were able to get power back to post the remaining photos! It really isn't expensive to eat out in New York, unless you want it to be or don't know where to go for inexpensive-to-moderate food. It's easy not to spend a lot of money in Chinatown, the East Village, and to some extent Hell's Kitchen west of 8th Av. and Little Korea in the West 30s. And if you get out of Manhattan, that opens up various other areas.

Johnny:

My kitchen is also my livingroom. Little Tappan range, 4 burners plus oven. I use it mostly to heat water for tea. :biggrin:

Alright, gotta go off to Tai Chi (I've started taking lessons recently and this will be my fifth). I took pictures of my late lunch but have no time to deal with that now.


Edited by Pan (log)

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Great!! This is a treat to any New Yorker... a blog from New York's irreplaceable "good and affordable" food pundit. I can't wait to get on this great tour of the city...

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Oh what a treat! I love Manhattan, too, and always wondered what normal people ate.

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This sounds so fun! I don't know a thing about New York, but the real attraction for me is to see how a foodie, which I believe Pan to be, survives without cooking. It's unfathomable to me, so this will be very educational.

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Oh my! This blog is going to make me weep with nostalgia. I lived in New York for four years and loved every minute of it. I especially enjoyed the staggeringly vast array of great restaurants, cafes, eateries, bakeries etc at every price point.

I will brace myself for sighs of fond reminisces as I live vicariously this week through Pan's eating forays!

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Pan, you better go to Pan-ya, haha :biggrin: And then you can show Sunrise Mart, JAS Mart, Go Restaurant....Crif Dogs.... :raz:

Ooooh, and how about a falafel taste-test between Chickpea and Hoomoos Asli? Oh, and you could try the hummus at Hummus Place on St. Mark's.

Wash it all down with a cocktail at Angel's Share.

One might guess I like the nabe. :wub:

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Okay, Pan. I've never visited New York before, except for one cab ride from one airport to another airport in order to catch the last flight out to North Carolina back in 1987.

Here's your opportunity to convince this foodie from LA-LA land to give NY-NY a chance.

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Hi, everyone! Thanks for your patience.

I thought it was appropriate for me to start this blog at the diner around the corner, which I feel so lucky to have!

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Teresa's, which is in fact owned by a woman named Teresa, can be thought of as either a down-home Polish restaurant that also serves good diner food or a good diner with Polish specialties. Either way, it's got some really pleasant soups -- some in a weekly rotation as soups of the day, some available every day, and one seasonal one (cold red borsht, which is available only in the summertime) -- omelettes, pancakes, roast chicken, sandwiches, meatloaf, and so forth, but also pierogis, blintzes, stuffed cabbage, kielbasa, etc. I often get delivery or takeout, but this afternoon, I ate in.

I started with these items:

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The sesame bread is good to put in soup, though my cup of tripe soup was so packed with tripe today that I didn't use much bread. I like the raisin pumpernickle roll, though, and ate that.

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I love this flavorful soup, and add a good deal of pepper to it to further accentuate its pleasantly bracing character.

For my main course:

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The spinach pierogis aren't on the menu, but they're a regular special.

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As you can see, the specials are on a board. In addition to that, there are lunch specials that include a cup of soup, a choice of one of certain main dishes such as chicken stew (my favorite) and one side (I usually get beets, spinach, or sometimes cucumber salad or kasha) with coffee, tea, or a soft drink for $7.55. My lunch was more, about $13 plus tip. I'm sorry this photo didn't come out better, because the man you see next to the board is Maciek, the Manager, who was tickled when I told him why I was taking pictures. He's seen me come into his restaurant for many years, both before and after the renovation and laughed when I said that of course Teresa's was the first place I am featuring in my foodblog. For me, and for many others who live in the neighborhood or have some other connection with it, Teresa's is a kind of second home, where we can read the newspapers left in front for that purpose and have some hearty food, and when I'm sick, it's such a relief to be able to get delivery of a large order of their chicken soup. Thank you for making my life more enjoyable, Teresa's! :smile:


Edited by Pan (log)

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Speaking of renovations: The scariest words a New Yorker can see on a beloved shop or restaurant are "Closed for Renovations." Experience shows that places that close "for renovations" frequently never reopen. In fact, as Teresa once told me, that fate almost befell her restaurant, and caused needed renovations to take 5 months instead of 1. To hear her tell it, the landlord had hoped to find another tenant that would have paid way more for rent, but eventually gave up and settled. Boy, was I relieved when they reopened.

So imagine my dismay when I walked past my favorite Bangladeshi spices and sundries store, Dowel on 1st Av. between 5th and 6th, and saw a "Closed for Renovations" sign on a boarded-up shop a day or two ago. This afternoon, a much cheerier sight greeted me on passing the store:

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All the members of the management team were there, setting up a small-scale outdoor nut-vending operation while supervising the renovations, which they told me would take about a month. Halleluyah!

Dowel is wonderfully fragrant inside, but I have practical uses for the place:

(1) I like to get roasted unsalted nuts (usually cashews or almonds) to snack on from time to time.

(2) I like the orange-colored sweet Bangladeshi yogurt they sell.

(3) I am the designated shopper of Asian items for my father. When he feels up to cooking, he cooks in Indian styles at least as much as any other, so before I come up to visit, I call him and ask what spices and such he's running low on. Ajwain seeds? No problem; how big a bag do you want? Basmati rice? I'll get you 10 lbs. Do you want regular or premium-quality? Kalonji? You bet! Black cardamom? Do you want regular or industrial size? The one spice they were out of for long enough that I went to Kalustyan's (the truly amazing Middle Eastern/South Asian purveyor on Lexington Av. in "Curry Hill") to get it was black cumin seeds. In any case, I look forward to the opening of the renovated Dowel, which is a fact that all the guys who work there know.

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Looks great, Pan. You must have developed quite a few relationships with the people who work in your local restaurants, eating out the way you do. Being a "regular" is a wonderful thing. :smile:

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Yeah, being a regular is nice. Though I'm not always so good about remembering people's names, we do recognize each others' faces.

On returning from my lunch and a trip to the drugstore, I had two packets (two wafers apiece) of these:

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There's a cinnamon flavor without any artificial flavors, which I prefer, but it's usually unavailable at my local Rite Aid. However, I have found no other drugstore that sells these wafers at all. They're fairly palatable and taste like biscuits -- nothing gourmet, mind you, but compared to all those horrible powders with tons of aspartame and dreadful, chemical-tasting artificial flavors, these are fantastic. On an average day, I have a few packets' worth, but I can usually go a few days without having problems even without them, especially if I make sure to eat a good amount of green vegetables on those days. If you need more dietary fiber than you can get just by eating fruits and vegetables, consider these wafers.

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I also had one or two candies from this bag:

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Ting Ting Jahe, an Indonesian ginger candy that packs a wallop, is one of my favorite candies. Last Sunday, when I was last in Flushing, I went to the humongous Chinese supermarket, A&C, and bought two bags worth. Any of you who are near one of the branches of Hong Kong Supermarket are almost sure to find the candy there, as well. I also buy it there when I'm in Manhattan's Chinatown.

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I met a dear friend and former girlfriend for dinner tonight. We keep in touch but because of life circumstances, hadn't seen each other in a few months, so it was a pleasure to take her to one of the newer, classy additions to the neighborhood. If I remember correctly, Pylos has been open no more than a couple of years, and I think just a bit less. A restaurant of that type could not have opened so far east 15 years ago; Alphabet City was too rough and the neighborhood was too poor. Nowadays, much of Alphabet City is chic and the whole neighborhood has gentrified more and more. But that gentrification has not yet come anywhere close to pricing me out of this neighborhood in terms of food and drink, though there are a small number of area restaurants I do avoid on account of expense. Pylos is not one of them. The food is worth every penny, and as you can see, they really gave some thought to the atmosphere:

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My friend and I were sitting on the street just outside of the dining room, and this was my view into that room. Isn't that suspended amphorae look cool?

The food at Pylos is rustic Greek, really superbly done.

Before we ordered, we were given fresh pitas right out of the oven (yes, they make their own very good pitas) with a fava bean spread:

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I made an effort not to fill up too much on pita, but my friend liked the spread a lot and ate a few more pieces of pita.

Here were our mezethes:

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Saganaki and breaded, fried calamari. The saganaki is very pleasant at Pylos, though one does miss the song and dance provided at some establishments. When I went to Molyvos, the waiter said "Opa!" and lit the ouzo tableside. However, a dinner at Molyvos would cost about twice as much. Squid and octopus are cooked absolutely perfectly at Pylos -- I've never gotten them rubbery. They're cooked through, succulent, and delicious!

For main dishes, we got items properly described on the menu as "Greek Comfort Food." My friend ordered moussaka:

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I ordered pastitsio:

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I've had the moussaka before and really enjoyed it, but tonight, we both agreed that the pastitsio was better. I loved the perfume of spices in it -- some powdered cloves, for example.

I drank a Greek white wine with the meal whose name I forget. It was light and fruity with a nice little aftertaste, basically a table wine but sufficient to satisfy me in context. My dining partner did not drink tonight.

For dessert, I wanted the Greek yogurt with walnuts and honey, but I didn't see it on the menu. Instead, I saw a dessert of yogurt with baked nectarines. It turned out to have way less yogurt than I wanted. The two fruit halves had some yogurt on top of them, and they were sitting on a piece of filo dough surrounded by what I think was a sort of nectarine-lemon curd, with red wine sauce around the circumference:

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There was also some very strong mint that I liked per se but didn't really belong. I can't say the dessert was bad or anything; it just wasn't what I thought I was getting.

I've had friendly service on previous trips, but the waitress we got tonight was very brusque. That couldn't spoil the pleasure of the good food, good room, and good company, however. At $80 including tip for two, it's probably my splurge of the week. I look forward to the next time, whenever it is, but I hope I have a different server. :biggrin:

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Finally, I had one of these:

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This is hibiscus tea. I started drinking it because I heard it lowered blood pressure. Now, I drink it at least as much because I like it. It's got a bracingly tart taste, and I like to drink it straight. I also drink cold water in the glass that still has the hibiscus petals in it, in a teaspoon that was one of the practical birthday gifts my friend, eGullet Society member ankomochi gave me last year. I use the fine-meshed tea spoon almost every day.

Well, it's 5 A.M. and I've spent the last few hours manipulating images and so forth. I'm finding out more about how powerful a program Photoshop is: The light was so low where we were eating, just outside of the dining room at Pylos, that I was afraid all those photos would be total losses. That I was able to save photos of everything at least to the extent of improving them to a level of visibility seems amazing to me, but the process is certainly very time-consuming.

See you in the afternoon, Eastern Standard Time, I expect. Goodnight from the City that Never Sleeps.


Edited by Pan (log)

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Loving your blog, Pan.

The food all looks great, and you're very lucky to have such variety close by.

There are downsides to eating in (or from) restaurants all the time, of course, as you illustrate with your pic of Metamucil wafers: not enough, um, roughage. I use those wafers when I travel---they're compact, tasty enough to sub for a breakfast if I wake up jetlagged at 2:00 AM, and good for my tummy and my temperment.

Another great option along these lines is Fiber One cereal: 14 grams dietary fiber per half cup serving (60 kcals) vs Metamucil wafers' 6 grams dietary fiber per 2 wafer serving (120 kcals).

The disadvantage from the non-cooking perspective would be the requirement for a bowl, a spoon, and milk. You do have a fridge, right? Hmm, maybe we need to see the inside of your fridge...

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Aaargh.

Restaurants everywhere. Good ones. Affordable ones. Interesting ones.

How can you do this to (I will say "us", the ones who live in the land of good-cheap-interesting-restaurant emptiness, but really, I mean ME) us?

Please, I beg of you, somewhere along the way show a photo of a line at the post office or an overflowing trash can on the street? Please. Please.

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Hot damn! This blog is starting to look like a round-the-world gustatory tour. Great stuff!

That tripe soup's making my mouth water. Tripe is one of my favorite foods, and I would love to try the Polish preparation. So far I've only had Chinese style, in pho and menudo.... There just isn't enough tripe on restaurant menus.

I wonder if there's any stuffed Foochow biscuits in the future of this blog...

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Hmm, maybe we need to see the inside of your fridge...

Ahem.

If I may be brazenly presumptuous, owing to our fearless bloggers apparent routine it is conceivable that this request may yield disturbing results. If I went out at this frequency, I think the only reason to OPEN my fridge was to deposit doggy-bags (leftovers for you foreigners). Back when I lived a pell mell, urban existence, my doggy-bags began resembling other forms of... well, life. :huh::wink:

I bet I'm wrong but I couldn't help projecting the image :rolleyes:

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