Jenny Famewhore

New York, Je t’aime

Posted in New York by Jenny Famewhore on October 26, 2009

Like the compendium of vignettes in the newly released film, New York, I love you, my eating activities on my weekend back in my beloved town was precisely like that: a little bit downtown and a little bit of uptown.

We started in Tribeca, the old high school ‘hood– walking past Terry’s where I used to buy a turkey, brie, and avocado on a french baguette and devour it down the end of the street at Battery Park. I had not had one since graduation, and I am unsure whether my constant praises of it is biased by nostalgia or whether it was actually a blissful polygamous marriage of rich, milky cheese,  generous heapings of select deli cuts,  and crispy fresh bread.

Terry's, by Google

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Godzilla burgers

Posted in Tokyo by Jenny Famewhore on October 25, 2009
Windows 7 burger from Burger King Japan

Windows 7 Whopper from Burger King Japan

The Whopper has a special place in my heart. Despite being extremely handicapped in terms of quality and flavor (unless you count the flavor of Heinz, the perennial hallmark of all fast food burgers,) the Burger King Whopper represents my Saturdays between the age of 11 and 14, where my father would futilely educate me on Chinese reading and then take me to the Burger King by our house for lunch every week without fail. I don’t know why we went so often– I disliked their food almost as much as I disliked being mind-raped by the weekly 50 Chinese characters/Kanji I was forced to memorize.

The limited edition Whopper, exclusive to Japan and only for seven days, consists of the usual whopper fixin’s pimped with 7 beef patties, each 113 grams. That is 1.74 lbs total of far below-mediocre meat processed into unnaturally gray, extremely dry hockey pucks of bovine product. It’s a monstrosity that the first 30 customers get to savor for ¥777 ($8.55), and the subsequent masochists can buy it for double the price.

"Beef Heaven"

I showed it to my roommates yesterday, excitedly watching for their reactions, and they cried, “How do those Japanese people finish it all? They’re all so thin!” Deja-vu. I had wondered the same, when the McDonald’s MegaMac (another exclusively Japanese product) was released in 2007. 2 Big Macs, 1 burger. So heinous that I could not stand to simply live vicariously through that ad– I had to experience it for myself.

It was bad, bad, bad. Never had I wished so much for a bucket of ketchup and mayo so that the extra-dry patties would actually make it down my throat. My digestive tract was probably plotting mutiny, and based on the utter disappointment that is the MegaMac, which is minor league by comparison, the Whopper 7 is the icon of artery abuse and dietary guilt. This is the point in history where all good judgement come to die.

Might want to avoid these series of Franken-burgers.

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MegaMac, September 2008, Shinjuku, Tokyo

Riddle me this: Is Japan surpassing America at its obesity game?

New New New York Times critic

Posted in New York by Jenny Famewhore on October 23, 2009

Clearly I have been hibernation too long from the food corner of the vast ‘net, because October 14th (my last update prior to entering exam purgatory and a cocoon of uni obligations) coincided with the release of Sam Sifton’s first review as the official Restaurant Critic, successor to Frank Bruni.

I greet this new guy with doubt and suspicion. I should be long past the age where I still believe in things like the tooth fairy and absolutes. But exceptions happen: I believe that Frank Bruni was the greatest food writer and restaurant critic for the NYT.

Frank Bruni to me, in his role as The Critic, was like what J.K. Rowling was to attention deficit children. His words, his invaluable insight on the food and restaurant industry were my magna carta. And the way that his (often blunt) observations slices through all the excess, the b.s., the irrelevance was a literary/psychological art comparable to the Japanese chefs disseminating a piece of toro. I am kind of in love: with his prose (with a hint of New Yawk sass,) with the insidery way he describes his experiences, with the magic he does with words in making them dance with imagery and transforming the mundane into the most vivid tableau.

My American government teacher at Stuy would constantly encourage her students to read the paper daily– it was an assignment I bullshitted my way through, along with cliff-noting all the great classical literature. Two years later, who would believe it, but Frank Bruni single-handedly created my addiction to the New York Times (albeit, the Dining section receives considerably more loving.) Frank Bruni inspired my love of food writing and increased my food literacy. Frank Bruni distends his belly and eats beyond human capacity for the sake of journalism. Frank Bruni rides unicorns along the west side highway and can divide by zero.

Sam Sifton isn’t expected to be Literary God of Food instantaneously (even instant noodle takes 3 minutes,) but this void in my hearts of heart isn’t going to fill itself.

Reading through his 2 reviews and stalking his bio (relationships must start somewhere,) I am pleased to note that we have similarities: he was a Bostonite (Harvard grad, but everyone moves back to NYC!!!) and employs excessive colons and parentheses (like this sentence.)

Thursday in the Heights: Houston’s

Posted in Boston by Jenny Famewhore on October 22, 2009

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I had been meaning to go to Houston’s/Hillstone for a few weeks (for food, for career research, for writing), so I lured Larissa into being my partner in crime with promises of expensive wine and Frank Bruni (departing NYT critic) approved burgers, and it wasn’t until last Monday 5pm, did we go on our restauranting date. 40 minutes later, we were in downtown Boston, and two hours later, we were still noshing on sandwiches of the lard-laden beef variety, triple-dipping our thin-cut fries in wasabi dressing, drinking the sweet bounty of Napa Valley, schmoozing with the staff, and getting lectured on the psychology of men by a 40 year old antique (read: used) cars salesman.

(Thank you, Larissa, for being my pillar of strength!!!)

Admittedly, I was kind of nervous. Who knew there was as much prep-work and depth of thought involved in grilling other people as there is in being interviewed yourself.

I had read all the reviews on Houston’s on menupages, NY Mag, Citysearch, industry zines, hospitality student blogs– everything within the first 300 results on Google was under my radar. I went in with enormous expectations– a loftiness usually associated with NASA space experiments; it was almost unfair.

On that note, this is my first published restaurant review in the BC newspaper, The Heights! While I was back in New York City this weekend on fooding adventures with Eric, someone (in the industry?) playfully asked us, “so which one of you is a food writer?” Eric laughingly replied, “Well, we both are.”  Word.

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Cereal: I am so confused

Posted in Boston by Jenny Famewhore on October 14, 2009

If I had to predict, 70% of students (seniors/juniors who have kitchens and no college meal plan; slumming it in the real world) earlier this morning, rolled out of bed, and poured themselves a bowl of cereal for breakfast. Maybe even jazzed it up with some milk. Inhaled that crunchy, slightly soggy, sugary delight. I did the same, at noon, but it was a first this semester. Eating cereal, that is, not waking up at noon. I had even bought my own $3 box of Kashi’s honey toasted oat cereal at Walmart (Yes, I went to Walmart. Also another first.) It took three seconds. Burnt 3 calories making it.

It’s really not good.

IMG_4724Look at this. It’s like doggy kibbles– the same artificially molded, brownish gray, crunchy and requiring back molars to pulverize into a powdery dust containing 1g of soluble fiber, 100mg of green tea, 25mg of grape seed, 4g of protein, 95mg of potassium, 85mg of sodium, and 5g of sugar. Then there are the small print ingredient items. The name of the product has more natural ingredients than the actual cereal contains.

Addressing the elephant in the room… WHAT IS CEREAL?

Seriously. What are you?

You’re so processed, my brain can’t wrap itself around your existence. Does anyone else find you kind of creepy? You don’t need to be refrigerated, and have a shelf-life of 6 months. Not only that, but I also get hungry again 20 minutes after I’ve eaten you. You dominate an entire aisle in the supermarkets. Real food like oranges have to deal with sharing their space with the bananas. You’re easy. Too easy. You’re the “I overslept” food. You’re the “food I bought because it was a complete meal in itself for $3.” Explain yourself.

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Cooking style: The lazy chef

Posted in Recipes by Jenny Famewhore on October 6, 2009

The extent of my culinary training is eating a lot, occasionally watching my mother cook (in a peripheral, attention-deficit way– mentally wandering far from the preparations happening before my unfocused eyes), and indulging in a little baking thrice a year (on a good year.) Professional cooking: the balletic dicing of peppers, filleting of a sea bass, or the neat julienne of carrots, is a spectator sport to me, much like how football is a spectator sport that most Americans can passionately drone on about but in practice, relegate to non-committal dabbling.

My mother came from a fairly agrarian background, the countryside of southern China in a coastal town where people caught or bred their meats, planted their vegetables, and lived self-sustainably (what the urban food movements are ironically striving for). Her culinary training was not from recipe books, but rather, from memory, from learning from my grandmother, from trial and error and the natural process of learning by doing. As a result, she would impart her knowledge of how to make dishes like, 酸辣汤 (a spicy and sour soup), 醉鸡 (“drunken chicken” marinated in a white rice wine),饺子 (dumplings) to me not in the traditional form of ingredient-measurement, but rather in ingredient-proportion.

And that’s how I cook– on intuition that this amount of this goes with this amount of that. With passion, with the natural curiosity to experiment. With a million different inaccuracies, and a range of variations from one dish to the next. I cook spontaneously, with little patience for academically poring over the intricate recipe of a French cassoulet, a labor intensive Spanish paella, and anything that requires more than 10 minutes to digest the instructions and execute. I cook minimally,  and the result below is inspired by the taste boredom of eating re-heated take-out Chinese food ordered at 4AM (the notoriously dependable New Hong Kong!) and corporate presentation cheese-platters for two weeks before the food lover in me started slitting its wrists to seek attention.

So I rummaged through my refrigerator, for bits ‘n scraps, and somehow, something taste-bud rocking, healthy, and perfect for the lazy cook (the oven does the heavy lifting here) was born:

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What’s in it:

  • 3 lb “kosher” chicken (segmented into 8 pieces by the able butchers at Trader Joe’s)
  • 3 tomatoes (I got 3lbs worth of tomatoes for a $1 from Haymarket two Saturdays ago!!!)
  • 1/2 clove of garlic
  • 1 onion (I used to have them frozen before I chopped them– which is one way to prevent inconvenient weeping, but that was rather unintentional and a trick learned in a slumdog millionaire manner. The refrigerator in my Tokyo flat had only one temperature setting, so I had to defrost everything from strawberry jam to daikon radishes– which were creepy because the water would crystallize in between the meaty parts of the radish, so when the water melted, the daikon deflated and wrinkled like a fetus.)
  • 1 lime’s worth of juice (also, another brilliant 10 limes/$1 investment at Haymarket. Best time to go is around 4-5pm, when all the workmen want to go home and are eagerly getting rid of their leftover wares for way below production value.)
  • a handful of chopped parsley
  • olive oil (enough to coat chicken in a thin layer of the Mediterranean, and so the parsley/additional seasoning adheres more readily)
  • liberal amount of salt and pepper (as you wish)

How it becomes dinner:

Preheat oven to 350 — the hardest part of making this actually. It’s the easiest step to forget.

Put everything in a baking pan and mush it all together. This is my favorite part.. getting all in there, the front lines, fingers coated with oil and raw ingredients. Bake for ~45 minutes, then open the oven and turn the pieces of chicken over. Might as well move around the tomatoes in the drippings/sauces so they don’t dry out. Bake for another 10-15 minutes.

Serving Size: 4 extremely ravenous people.

Food Cost: $13 (opportunity costs/trade-offs: one dessert at Finale Desserts; 2 pork buns at Momofuku; or 3 McGangbangs.)

Lazy points: 9/10 (Subtract 1 for having to peel garlic. What an annoying prep necessity.)

Referenced Locations:

Trader Joe’s
(various locations)
1317 Beacon St
Brookline, MA 02445
(617) 278-9997

Haymarket
Blackstone Street, around the corner of Quincy Market
Boston, MA
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Confessions of a hater

Posted in New York by Jenny Famewhore on October 2, 2009

While I forget what situation it was in when I encountered this statement that slowly integrated itself into my life philosophy, it redefined my perception of hate and what the word means to me:

“People hate the things and attributes that they can also see in themselves.”

I can’t help but see how it manifests itself as truth in many circumstances. Like, the whole Kanye-Taylor Swift MTV awards drama, everyone rushed to condemn his actions (as I did as well) and it’s so easy to judge and to criticize and to hate. To be honest, what Kanye did, albeit on an epic level, is what I’ve seen plenty of people do here in America, land of rugged individualism. Observe how Americans (and possibly other cultures, but I’m going to stick with what I know here) interrupt each other all the time (of course this became only a more apparent contrast when I had stepped out of this social climate for a bit, and lived in a country where everyone nods and smiles and waits a second to make sure you’ve finished before continuing). There were several times in the past month when I was in the middle of a story, and someone interjects, “OH YEAH, BUT THERE WAS ALSO THE TIME WHEN I…” Hi thurr, did I enter a time warp? I was still talking.

Of course, I’ve fallen back into the habit as well, so I hated what Kanye did. What I do. What everyone does.

And again, it’s so easy to judge and criticize others at a moment’s thought.

I was laying in my bed last night,  trying to get over a wine-induced insomnia, thinking about how much I wanted Eggs Benedict for Sunday brunch, which then segued into thoughts of all the times I’ve eaten eggs benedict. Then I remembered that one crispy fall morning two years ago at Taverna Banfi in the Statler Hotel, Cornell University, where the eggs on the eggs benedict was served to me with a solidified yolk and not poached as it should be. I sent it back, and despite the restaurant being nearly empty of customers, it took another twenty minutes before  another a soggy failure came out in a small ramekin.

People, I was angry because I felt entitled to have the eggs benedict of my dreams. The kind where the egg should be properly poached as exemplified at Momofuku— a yolk that is liquidy and hot suspended in the middle of the perfectly oval, snow-white solid (I’ve asked the Momofuku chef once how such perfection is achieved, and he replied that their poaching is done by a machine, a bit like a centrifuge, that spins the egg in its shell at a specific temperature, specific acceleration, for a specific time.) In retrospect, maybe two years belated, I forgive them.. after all, the Statler is staffed with students in the Hotel school, possibly a pimply freshman poaching for the first time in his culinary career.

(Not to dump on the Banfi. A dinner I had there was fantastic.)

If you’ve never poached eggs before, it is difficult to not mess up. It’s been said that you can tell the skill of a chef by observing their basic skills, and making Really Good Eggs is one of those tell-signs. I remember that later that year, after the Statler Incident, when I endeavored to make eggs benedict at my house one morning, it took an hour to poach 6 eggs– the toasted english muffins were growing cold and the hollandaise sauce started collagulating from sitting too long. I broke down halfway in frustration, threw a hysteric fit, and my boyfriend at the time took pity and finished poaching the rest. I realize then, feeling profoundly humbled, that I can’t jeer at people who can’t poach eggs unless I’ve mastered it myself. I’m only hating on sucky egg poachers because their shortcomings are an extension of mine.

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