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You’re NOT Cooking With Gas

Lovely friends.  A new job for me meant a long absence from you.  I’ve missed you!  Also prolonging my absence has been the fact that my apartment building has an issue with irregular gas pipes and Con Edison has turned off access.  I’ve not had a working stove for a few months.  Sacrebleu!  What to do?  Armed with a toaster and with the microwave in heavy rotation I’ve subsisted on leftovers and toasts in varying degrees.  Don’t feel too bad for me friends.  New York City is one of the greatest spots to live off of leftovers and I am far from suffering.  That said, NYC rents don’t come cheap and cooking at home is a great way to save some dough.  So as I mentioned, toast has been my go-to.  It’s easy, cheap and infinitely customizable.  I’ve eaten cheese toast, and strawberry jam toast, and of course delicious, luxurious avocado toast.  But friends.  Oh friends.  Would you believe that you can up the luxury factor and have it be vegan?

When I think of luxury foods I think of caviar.  And Iberico ham.  And Kobe beef.  And when I think of seared foie gras, I begin to salivate.  Hold up, wait a minute…  I said vegan didn’t I?  Yes I did, and you can hold me to it, for I have discovered Faux Gras!

Faux Gras is a spread that is created in Brooklyn by Ella Nemcova.  She believes that vegan food doesn’t have to “taste like it’s good for you” and was driven to create vegan products that are unctuous and luxurious.  Boy did she deliver.  I’ve been eating Faux Gras on toast for the past few days, and I’m loving every bite.  I’ve been pairing the toast with yellow sun-ripened cherry tomatoes.  And of course a small drizzle of truffle oil never hurt anyone.  I hope you won’t begrudge me this decadent touch.  I’ve been without a stove for a long time!  I think you will really enjoy Faux Gras friends.  It’s something that only feels like it’s bad for you.  Indulge!

the vendy hungry caterpillar

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Illustration by Eric Carle

N, S and I have been friends for ages.  Back when S only used to eat Chef Boyardee, I never would have predicted that years later we’d enjoy a tradition of attending the annual Vendy Awards in NYC, sampling the diverse cuisine that NY food trucks have to offer.

The competition started in 2005 with just a few vendors and has since grown into one of the most fun, delicious events in the city and is usually sold out.  We like to support the Vendys because it is a fundraiser organized by the Street Vendor Project.  This non-profit organization works to protect vendors’ rights and obtain respect from corporations who do not value the contributions of vendors.  SVP is part of the Urban Justice Center which has provided pro bono legal representation and advocated for marginalized New Yorkers.  The Vendys also partners with local organizations that support the sustainable food movement and events have spun off into three other cities.  Participants are chosen for the Vendys through public nomination and there are several categories of competition:  Best Dessert, Best of Market, Rookie of the Year, Masters Cup, Vendy Cup and People’s Choice.  This year the Vendys were held on Governors Island and beverages were provided free of charge…  wines by Santa Cristina, lagers and IPAs from Brooklyn Brewery.

N, S, his bro and I got our tickets early.  Wanna know what we ate?  Let me tell you the story.

Rain clouds and the Freedom Tower from Governors Island

One Saturday morning, the grey clouds rolled in and pop, four friends took the ferry to Governors Island and stood in line to sample food at the 10th Annual Vendy Awards. They were as hungry as a certain very hungry caterpillar. Once the gates opened, they fanned out and started to look for food. 

That afternoon they ate through:

1 Shrimp & Scallop Empanada and 1 Italian Sausage Meatball empanada from the Nuchas truck
1 bowl of spiced Vietnamese Chicken on dirty rice and 1 bowl of Loco Moco topped with a runny egg from
Big D’s Khao Cart
1 unbelievably fresh and crunchy Churro w/ Dulce de Leche from
Ricas Botanas Mexican
1 bowl of machete-hacked Puerto Rican Pernil and Rice w/ pigeon peas from
Lechonera La Pirana
1 creamsicle drink with a stripey straw from
Chickpea & Olive
1 glass of white wine and 1 glass of red wine courtesy of Santa Cristina wines
1 Thai Green Curry Asiancini (cute wordplay for their Korean version of arancini) and 1 beef Bulgogi Asiancini w/ gochujang aioli from
Zha Pan Asian
1 quarter of a Gribaldi Sandwich on a handmade English muffin from
GoGo Grill
1 Mini Chicken Pie w/ mash & gravy (skip the mushy peas), followed by a delicious shot of Counter Culture cold brewed coffee from
Dub Pies
1 sampler plate of German sausages, served with sauerkraut, German potato and a side of mustard from
Hallo Berlin
1 perfectly crisp vegan Pondicherry Masala Dosa packed with super fresh veggies and a side of sambar from
NY Dosa cart
1 Saltena: a baked empanada filled with stewed beef, and 1 Mini Chola: a pulled pork street sandwich from
Bolivian Llama Party
1 quarter of a Grilled Cheddar Sandwich kissed with Maple Syrup and a shot of gazpacho, followed by a shot of Cucumber Mint Shaved Ice at
Snowday
1 quarter of a Ramen burger (Yeah dude, the bun is a perfectly shaped cylinder of ramen noodles) from
Ramen Burger
1 Baja Fish Taco, and half a rolled Chipotle Pork Quesadilla from
Calexico
1 Dulce de leche cheesecake bite and a guava and cheese empanada at Nuchas (yes, we circled back around. Don’t judge. I mean seriously, I’m not even done with my list yet, so if you’re going to judge, at least reserve it till the end.)
1 plate of Chicken & Rice doused in spicy and white sauce from
The King of Falafel & Shawarma
1 tiny bowl of black tea ice cream with lemon charcoal caramel swirl,
1 tiny bowl of black currant ice cream drizzled with goat milk panna cotta and dusted with buckwheat streusel, and
1 tiny bowl of toasted milk ice cream with sea salt chocolate ganache swirl from
Ice & Vice
1 Game Changer: a chicken puri-bhaji with hot sauce from
Desi Food Truck
1 Chinese chive and Pork Dumpling & Mango Bubble Tea from Shanghai Sogo

That night they all had stomach aches.

Believe it or not, despite that gargantuan list, there were actually a few things that we didn’t sample. Among them were: 
Cinnamon Snail: serving outstanding vegan fare.
El Rey Del Taco: authentic spicy Mexican tacos.
Solber Pupusas: Salvadorian griddled dough pocket of beans, cheese or chicken, garnished with pickled slaw and curls of red onion.
Alchemy Creamery: Dairy-free, gluten-free, and vegan ice “cream.”  They works with custom blends of hazelnut, almond milk, and coconut milk so even the dietarily unrestricted can enjoy.
Craffles Food Truck: Crepes & Waffles (get it?) topped w/ Nutella, berries and banana.
Dough: Hibiscus and Dulce de Leche doughnuts
Ssam BBQ: Korean chicken, beef, and pork BBQ, marinated in their signature, house-made sauces

So, um, yeah… we ate A LOT, and you just read A LOT. Because I care about you, and because brevity is the soul of wit, I’ll try to quickly (too late) sum up my impressions.

Standouts to me were the Churro (simple, but the best I’ve ever had), the Asiancini (I’m partial to Thai green curry), the dosa (trust the Indian girl when I tell you that it was superb), the chola from Bolivian Llama Party (surprisingly tasty and they earned my vote for People’s Choice), the ice cream from Ice & Vice (so imaginative) and the Chicken & Rice (baffling how good it really is). There were other delicious foods, but if I had to go back for seconds (don’t be horrified, it’s just a saying) those are the ones I would pick.

As for regrets, I have a few. Namely not tasting food from the Cinnamon Snail which churns out such impressive food it’s hard to believe it’s all vegan. (They were serving Sage Tempeh Sausage Sliders, Korean BBQ Seitan Tacos and warm crème brulee doughnuts.  I mean come on!)  Also missed Solber who won the Vendy Cup a few years ago. I remember voting for them that year and I would’ve liked to see if they stood the test of time, but their line was never-ending. Finally the doughnuts from Dough looked really beautiful, but I was feeling like the Kool-aid man when we passed by their truck, so didn’t partake of their sticky, sweet goodness.

Calexico had the biggest plate of food, and Bolivian Llama Party had the best tunes blasting.  Snowday was the most polite, which was nice to note because I later discovered that they have a mission to train, employ and mentor formerly incarcerated youth in food service and entrepreneurship. The Ramen burger was the biggest “meh” but I would follow Freddy from King of Falafel & Shawarma to the ends of the earth for more chicken & rice… or at least to Astoria.

A panel of judges voted for the winners; among them were Chef Alex Guarnaschelli from multiple shows on the Food Network and Adam Richman of Travel Channel fame. The winners were: Vendy Cup – Cinnamon Snail, Masters Cup – Calexico, Rookie of the Year – Snowday, Best of Market – Zha Pan Asian, Best Dessert – Ice & Vice and the crowd voted for the People’s Choice – Nuchas

The Vendys are truly the Oscars of Street Food. And the pictures… Oh! The pictures! Now’s your chance to indulge.

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Nuchas offered different types of empanada: Veggie (squash, goat cheese, quinoa, green chile, oregano, whole wheat dough), Shrimp and Scallop (shrimp, sea scallop, shallots, Merken Nantua sauce, turmeric, sesame black dough or regular dough), Argentine (Pat Lafrieda’s ground beef, onions, peppers, scallions, potatoes, and olives with white dough), Braised Lamb (lamb, garlic, tomato sauce, parsnip, onions, thyme, lemon zest, and parsley), and Italian Sausage Meatball (Italian sausage, San Marzano tomatoes, garlic, fresh basil, and Parmesan cheese dough).

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Vietnamese Chicken over dirty rice and Loco Moco: a traditional Hawaiian dish of rice topped by a juicy burger patty with gravy and a runny egg from
Big D’s Khao Cart

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best churro I’ve ever had

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Roast pork and rice with pigeon peas from Lechonera La Pirana.  Angel Jimenez from Lechonera chops his pernil with a machete.  It’s quite a site… and you can see it here.

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Stripey straw in my creamsicle drink

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pour me another
    
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Thai Green Curry Asiancini and beef Bulgogi Asiancini w/ gochujang aioli – I am a fan!

Garibaldi sandwich
Pulled pork, slaw and aioli in a handmade English muffin.  This ain’t Thomas’ people!
 
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New Zealand style savory Mini Chicken Pie w/ mash & gravy (skip the mushy peas)

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Hallo Berlin’s sampler plate:  Pork Bratwurst, Bavarian veal Wurst, Berliner Currywurst, and beef-pork Bauernwurst, served with red wine cabbage, sauerkraut, and a trio of string bean, cucumber, and German potato salads with a side of mustard

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Pondicherry Masala Dosa packed with super fresh veggies and a side of sambar

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Bolivian Llama Party got my vote with their spicy and original food.  Left is the saltena:  a baked Bolivian style empanada of amaretto flavored pastry encasing a filling of stewed beef, chicken, quinoa, and house made cheese.  Right is the chola: a Bolivian street sandwich packed with pulled pork, cured pork belly, and flavored with chuquisaca bacon, bacon and roasted garlic aioli, salsa criolla, pickled carrots, chiles, and hibiscus red onions.
   
Snowday Clay Williams
Grilled Cheddar Cheese Sandwich kissed with Maple Syrup and a shot of savory gazpacho

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The original Ramen Burger

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Beer-battered Baja Fish Taco w/ spicy slaw and mango salsa, homemade plantain and tortilla chips with a trio of dipping sauces, and half a rolled Chipotle Pork Quesadilla w/ pickled red onion

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Dulce de leche cheesecake bite and a guava and cheese fried mini empanada

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Oh that 7 spice chicken and rice from King of Falafel & Shawarma… sigh
  
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Tea Dance (pictured above): a Nigiri black tea ice cream with lemon charcoal caramel swirl.  Also sampled: Farmer Boy: black currant ice cream drizzled with goat milk panna cotta and dusted with buckwheat streusel), and Milk Money: toasted milk ice cream with sea salt chocolate ganache swirl

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chicken puri-bhaji with hot sauce

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Chinese chive and Pork Dumpling & Mango Bubble Tea

The End

the-very-hungry-caterpillar

April is National Poetry Month


I was in the car with my mom this past weekend and I mentioned that April was National Poetry Month.  In response she began recounting snippets from poems that she’d learned in her youth. My mom has a great memory. I just love listening to her lilting, accented voice. When N and I were young my mom had us memorize poems from the “Treasury of Golden Memories” poetry book. Most of the time I sat down grudgingly, though I dare say at the end of the hour, or however long it took me to memorize the work, I felt oddly accomplished, and deep, deep down I may have realized that poetry was beautiful and enriched my life. It wasn’t a conscious thought at the time; more a hint of realization that has grown more and more concrete as I’ve matured.

Just the other day a friend emailed to tell me that he heard someone speak of a ‘vorpal blade’ and so he thought of me. I don’t recall the time we spoke of it, but I’d obviously mentioned Lewis Carroll’s “The Jabberwocky.” The same friend had once unknowingly quoted “If” by Rudyard Kipling during a department meeting. Astounded that he quoted one of my favorite poems without knowing the original source, I later emailed a copy to everyone who was present at the meeting. And last November when I was walking in the back yard with our landscaper he suggested that we could plant daffodil bulbs in our newly cleared woods. I mentioned the poem by William Wordsworth and when he challenged me to recite it I did so, on the spot. He gave me a quizzical look but I think he was pretty impressed, given that when Spring rolled around he held a contest at his nursery where anyone who came in to recite “The Daffodils” walked away with a free tree or shrub to plant in their garden.

My life is more vivid, filled with amusement, and clearly enriched with poetry in it. Of course poetry doesn’t have to be so highbrow to be enjoyed. I am partial to limericks, be they clever or crude. The good Dr. Suess and his silly rhymes were a particular favorite when I was a child. And so, to celebrate, I’d like to share my favorite poem about food with you. It is by the charmingly whimsical and immensely funny Shel Silverstein.

I Must Remember

I must remember…
Turkey on Thanksgiving,
Pudding on Christmas,
Eggs on Easter,
Chicken on Sunday,
Fish on Friday,
Leftovers, Monday,
But ah, me—I’m such a dunce.
I went and ate them all at once.

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Happy National Poetry Month everyone! I would be delighted to hear your favorite poems in the comments section, even if they have nothing to do with food. And should you ever ask me, I would be happy to recite “The Daffodils” for you.

Yum Pang

I am a theater fan.  I love straight plays, but I adore a good musical.  This love was cultivated at an early age by my parents who would borrow movie musicals from the library to watch with N and me.  I vividly remember snuggling under a blanket on our brown plaid couch with my mom in hysterics after listening to Eliza Doolittle trying out the new “small talk” at the Ascot races.  I recall the look of pure enjoyment on my dad’s face when Captain von Trapp sang Edelweiss.  To this day, one of the things that I love about my dad is that he unashamedly enjoys musicals.  I don’t recall when it started becoming uncool for guys to like theater or musicals, but the men in my life better be on board with this passion because my love for theater runs deep.  Being a huge theater fan, I am lucky to live less than an hour away from “The Great White Way.”  Brooooaaaaaaddwaaaayyyyyy!  (Imagine me belting that out in an Ethel Merman voice).

 My weekday theater routine has been to catch the Metro-North train into Grand Central after work.  The challenge then, has been to find a spot for dinner that is conveniently close, tasty, and inexpensive – because honestly, Broadway tickets ain’t cheap.  I’ve discovered a place that fits the *ahem* Playbill nicely.  (Ok.  That was terrible pun.  I apologize).  Num Pang is a chain of Cambodian sandwich shops in NYC.  There are currently 5 locations, and the most convenient one when attending a Broadway show is the one in Times Square.  It’s an energetic little place with hip hop music pumping and graffiti-decorated walls.  You can grab a stool or stand at the high counters that ring the seating area.  The sandwiches they are churning out are DELICIOUS.  Bon Appétit, The Village Voice, Zagat and many others happen to agree with me.  A fulfilling meal is inexpensive, it’s fast and boy is it tasty.  You basically choose your main filling which gets piled onto a toasted semolina baguette, topped with pickled carrots, cucumber, cilantro and homemade chili mayo.  There are year-round classics, and seasonal sandwiches.  I’ve had the Grilled Khmer Sausage seasonal sandwich twice recently because it was that good.  I tried the Blood Orange Lemonade once… but it was a little bitter for my palate.  I LOVE that N and I were able to eat here on a Friday in Lent thanks to options like the Roasted Cauliflower sandwich, Peppercorn Catfish sandwich, Coconut Tiger Shrimp sandwich and even a Spicy Organic Tofu sandwich.  There are salad options for the carb conscious.  A few soups and some sides round out the menu.  I read on their website that they’re working on dessert offerings. 

No pictures for this post kids.  Sorry about that.  You can find plenty of pics on Yelp or at http://numpangnyc.com/.   Anyway, I’m fairly certain that I’ve started hoovering my sandwich before I’ve thought to pause and snap a pic.  The only thing I may have paused for would be to drizzle my sandwich with extra Sriracha – oh yeah, bottles of the stuff dot the counters for your drizzling pleasure.  Cash is king at the Times Square location, so stop by the ATM before you go.  Then, enjoy the show!

 Xx,
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 p.s.  You know my penchant for a pun by now… so you get the title of this post right?  Tee hee!