Tiburón -Shark- Žralok

Tiburón -Shark- Žralok: Writing Cooking Traveling

Friday, October 22, 2010

Excuses, excuses

I've been traveling, I've been writing for the paper, I've been watching Mad Men...

Here's is a recap of what I've had published this month.

Música 24/7: Cierran las calles. Empiezan con la famosa 6th Street, la calle de las barras, en Downtown. Poco a poco, durante la semana, el tránsito humano reemplaza el tráfico de carros por casi todo el sur de Austin, Texas. Y se desparrama la música. Baja por South Congress, cruza los puentes y se insinúa por South Lamar, la escuchas aunque no te lo propongas, aunque no estés viendo en el show.

Vibrante el East End de Londres:  Salir de la estación Aldgate East del Underground es ingresar al meollo de la acción y el bullicio. Decenas de personas de todas partes del mundo recorren con prisa, esquivando vendedores y promotores, las calles laberínticas del East End de Londres, donde se conectan los barrios de Whitechapel, Brick Lane y Spitalfields.

In One Cook's Hands: I grew up on carne mechada and fried plantains the way most American kids my age were raised on pot roast and mashed potatoes. My brother and I would get home from school and dart through the kitchen past Carmen, the woman who’s cooked and kept house for my grandmother since as far back as I can remember, as she flipped a fork-tender bistec (steak) as it sizzled or hovered over a pot of simmering beans that exhaled the smell of recao and garlic with the steam. Yet it never occurred to me to ask her how to make any of the soul-soothing comida criolla, or comfort food, she piled high on my plate. Puerto Rico is where I was born, where I grew up, and where I currently reside. But it’s not where I learned to cook.

Quiz Night at the Dial Arch

It’s amazing how quickly the brain sorts information, specially when lubricated with a room temperature ale at an English pub in Southeast London. The quizmaster—a thirtyish bartender with a microphone and a list of questions—made the rounds of the booths and tables, repeating the question, “What is the capital of Uruguay?”
My brain, a depository of useless information, ideal for activities such as this, went through the following process: map of South America, Uruguay is not Paraguay, Uruguay is across the river from Argentina, Buenos Aires is across the river from… “Montevideo!”
Five of us at the table, my friends looked up at me. “Are you sure?”

Friday, September 17, 2010

Los 3 Cuernos

Craft store by day, hipster bar by night, is probably the most concise description of the Old San Juan pub known as Los 3 Cuernos. This translates into three things: beautiful decor, limited space, and flavored chichaito.

Walking through Old San Juan at night, streets glistening after a recent rain as yellow and white streetlights reflected off the cobblestones, I made my way from the central square of Plaza de Armas down Calle San Francisco. I fell into pace behind a lady carrying several loaded bags of groceries, slightly hunched, and vaguely aware of someone following her, on occasion glancing over her shoulder discreetly. For some reason she felt familiar to me but I couldn’t place her. Soon the lights of Plaza Colón and the dark shadow of the San Cristóbal fort came into view but instead of turning down towards the plaza she continued past a crowd of twenty-something year olds hanging out of a narrow entrance, up a couple of steps, under a wooden sign with the words Los 3 Cuernos roughly painted on, and into a colorful cave where music played loudly while a few televisions showed old movies in mute. I went in behind her.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Crema de Zanahorias y Calabasa

Whenever Julia Child dropped something on camera or flipped a potato pancake too early or generally fumbled about the kitchen in a manner that made the BBC believe that she was drunk, she would look at the camera, her trademark smile fading for a moment.

"Never apologize," she said, looking the housewife taking copious notes of her deceptively easy recipes straight in the eyes. "Just smile and serve your food as if nothing was wrong."

Most of the time, no one except you thinks anything is wrong anyway.

Me, I cook with disclaimers. "Its too spicy, its a little messy, I know what I did wrong..." But heaven help you if you don't eat the damn thing.

Friday, August 27, 2010


Feels like all I talk about lately is New York.

Its like that scene in Mean Girls when pre-cocaine Lindsay Lohan is talking to her friend about how much she hates Rachel McAdams and that's ALL she talks about. I guess its not entirely inaccurate to say New York is that hot girl in school that's also a bully and who is absolutely fascinating for some reason.

Below are the links for the respective articles. Two out of three are about food (surprise, surprise). And, not gonna lie, pretty excited to go visit the city in October on the heels of my London trip.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

How to Fall in Love with a Place

The river split the city in two while ornate bridges worked like stitches connecting one half to the other. The spired Parliament building led the façade that eventually spread out into the tapestry of short, grey buildings that were Pest. Behind us on the Buda side, the red clay roofed houses suggested a fairy tale town that was more show than substance. I was sitting with Tünde, my Hungarian friend, at the top of Buda Castle, getting a run down on why Pest is infinitely cooler than Buda.

I tried to carefully observe all the miniscule structures that created the labyrinth that is Pest, the mix of architectures, the flowing river that reminded me of the Spree, the Seine, the Río Grande de Loiza— all while sitting on a Castle-Cathedral that was a distant cousin of the one I’d visited a few days earlier in Prague. That day my friend Nick had noted with frustration how impossible it is to see every beautiful thing, every detail, take in every element that together creates the whole that is immediately, but vaguely, beautiful.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Impressions of Amsterdam

“I watched the universe fall apart. Twice. When I went to Amsterdam,” was one of the first thing my now ex-boyfriend told me when we met. A concise, albeit dramatic, summary of what Amsterdam means to the uninitiated. Mushrooms are no longer legal in Holland, by the way.

Amsterdam is an idea, a threat really. When someone says, “I’m going to Amsterdam,” the first thing that pops into your head isn’t the Van Gogh Museum (for some it might be, some people have class), its brownies. Special brownies.

But if smoking weed is all Amsterdam is to you then the words of Wells Tower’s customer in a recent GQ article become unavoidably true: “For a visitor, there are two very happy days in Amsterdam—the day you get here and the day you leave.” Granted, I don’t like weed. But even I couldn’t avoid the fact that coming to Amsterdam meant making a certain type of commitment: the universe better f-ing collapse.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Drinking and Travel

Most nights started with a box of wine. They cost the equivalent of 50 cents down at the potraviny—the Czech version of a New York deli—and were the perfect pregame agents. My flatmates would cut a corner off the top and insert a straw, drinking it like a box of juice while they applied make up, swapped shoes, and tried on new dresses and shirts. When they eventually got to the club they would have a shot or six of becherovka or vodka, followed by several large pints of excellent beer. And this was their routine every night for four months.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

5 Food Places I Wish I’d Taken Advantage of When I Lived in New York

I don’t miss living in New York. It’s a difficult, cold city if you’re not head over heels in love with it. But I also think back on all the missed opportunities—the places I now wish were only a $2.50 subway ride away from me, the flavors and atmospheres I missed and the ones I should’ve been devoted to instead of wasting my time on… other places I don’t currently miss or even remember.

While I won’t get that era of my life back, I know where to go when I visit. And I visit a lot.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Fuera del Centro

So a second one means this is actually happening, right?


Here's my latest article for my column Escapadas (in Spanish), published in beautiful ink and paper on the pages of the De Viaje section of El Nuevo Día.

Basically its about what to do in Madrid once you're done being a tourist-- specially if you're looking to not sleep.

Oh, and I don't pick the titles.

De juerga en Madrid.

** I feel this picture pretty aptly describes what most nights in Madrid turn into.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Nothern Bohemia: Part Two


After searching Google using phrases like “coats shoes hanging from the ceiling” “mining town performance art czech republic” my efforts at finding exactly what it was Otto took us to in the Central Bohemian town of Kladno proved fruitless. I searched Kladno in the New York Times online which turned up stories from 1939 with headlines like “German policeman slain near Prague; Nazis punish area” and lots of news about the Kladno soccer team. I visited Kladno’s official website but they’re not exactly flouting the abandoned mining facility just outside town that gets taken over by experimental Eastern European performance artists once a year.

So for now I really only have a story and some cool pictures for you, which is really all I ever have for you.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Why I impulsively bought a ticket to London

Almost everyone I know who has traveled even a little bit has a I-was-in-a-party-in-London story. This is something that I want very badly.

OK, you're right, that doesn't quite answer for my 2am purchase of a ticket on Icelandic Air for a week in October doing God knows what in the capital of England .

Would the fact that its my birthday week help?

You're right, its my birthday every year and unless I happen to be in a foreign country-- like when I studied in Prague-- still not a good enough reason for why I would decided this year I want to celebrate it in London where I hope my ex's friends will invite me to a party to fulfill my desire for a good story.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Northern Bohemia: Part One

Mosquito Mountain

Northern Bohemia is a region north of Prague where fourteen NYU film students spent 48 hours they would have otherwise spent in clubs and bars. But when our professor Otto Urban—a Czech art historian and curator who is as cool as his name—told us he was taking us to Northern Bohemia, it didn’t set up much in terms of expectations. When we pressed him for details he said things like mosquito mountain, bone chapel, mining town performance art piece… In other words, we really just had to trust his judgment on this.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

I has a column

Not that I don't love my blog but I have to plug the first issue of my new column Escapadas now in El Nuevo Día, the largest newspaper in Puerto Rico. The theme this week was The Caribbean so I wrote about one of the best vacations I ever had there: St. John in the US Virgin Islands. Its an awesome little island for camping, hiking, beach-going, and has a few decent pubs, as well as their own brewery.

I'm a little nervous about it obviously since its my first piece fully in Spanish and its my first piece so think of it as an early Simpsons episode: the animation is still a little weird, the characters aren't quite there yet, but hopefully it'll have a long run.

If you get the print edition of the newspaper check out the spread in the De Viaje section. Let me know how you like it and any improvements you'd like to see.



Friday, July 9, 2010

Middle of Nowhere Little Towns

Sprawling metropolis are always fun, as are days out in total wilderness, although small islands with perfect beaches probably head the list of desirable destinations. But few are the accounts of those little in-between towns, the one-road, semi-suburban dots that connect on the road to the big city or the big mountain. For road trippers and bored twenty-something year olds with a car, those middle of nowhere little towns are pure traveler anecdote gold. Here are some of my small town stops, what are some of yours?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Guánica, PR

The best beaches are the ones the pirates used to dock in.

Cruising down the southern highway of Puerto Rico you speed down a road flanked by empty green mountains and farmed valleys, as large vultures called Guaraguaos glide in slow circles overhead. Pass Yauco—a coffee town painted pink and orange against the mountain— and take exit 116 onto a narrow road that seems to go on forever. Walls of trees, cacti, and green brush create a tunnel around you until eventually you hit la Central de Guánica.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Cheat Sheet: the Caribbean

In honor of my new column, Escapadas, and the theme of the week in the De Viaje section of El Nuevo Día here's a cheat sheet on travel basics for the Caribbean. Simple enough to follow and they will make your travel experience that much more awesome.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Soup & Sandwich

Lunchtime in Puerto Rico sounds like this:

“Me das una medianoche.” (“I’ll have a midnight.”)

“Un Cubano, para llevar.” (“A Cuban to go.”)

“Nada, un bocadillo y un café.” (Eh, just a little bite and some coffe.”)

Like most things, when translated literally the above phrases become almost comical but if you’re a resident of Puerto Rico you’re probably really hungry after reading that list.

The rest of your order might sound like:

“También me das un Mondongo.”

“¿Tienen Caldo Gallego?”

“Y un sancochito.”

Mondongo, Caldo Gallego, and sancocho are Puerto Rico’s answer to broccoli cheddar, chicken noodle, and clam chowder. Except there’s nothing light about having a soup and sandwich for lunch in Puerto Rico.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Block Island, RI

“I love Block Island!” bellowed a half-drunken hillbilly wearing brightly colored shorts, a cowboy hat, and sunglasses. Crowds of people flowing onto the dock cheered back their consensus as the locals snickered and rolled their eyes. It was noon and the tourists were already drunk while everyone else was just relieved to finally be “on the island.”

Block Island, that is. On Memorial Day weekend I stepped off the New London ferry onto Rhode Island’s answer to my island’s Culebra. BI is where New Englanders go to drink and eat by the beach, but for many Rhode Islanders—the “locals”—this is their second home, where they come eat and drink by their houses and occasionally the beach. My friend Willis’ family had very graciously invited me up for the weekend and I’d jumped at the opportunity. Despite this being my first time here, Willis assured me, “Don’t worry, you’re a local.”

That’s lesson number one when visiting an island, any island (mine included): you always want to be a local.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Things Change

Things change, and one thing that seems to change consistently is the name of this blog. And I’m not going to apologize for that. Currently its taking on its third and probably most drastic transformation, which only makes sense since 2010 has so far, for its author, been a year of drastic transformations.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Cheat Sheet: Spanish Bakeries

Medianoche: pork, ham, swiss cheese with mustard and pickle on yellow egg bread. (Light)
Cubano: pork, leg ham (some places serve it with sweet ham, Altamira included), swiss cheese, mustard, pickles, sometimes shredded lettuce and sliced tomato on pan criollo (soft, baguette-like bread).
Choripan: Spanish chorizo, sweet ham, swiss cheese, on pan criollo.
Caldo Gallego: a Spanish stew consisting of shredded cabbage, diced ham, chorizo sausage, white beans, potatoes, and greens.
Mondongo: tripe soup.
Sancocho: a Puerto Rican stew with lots of root vegetables, shredded chicken, and ham.
Croquetas: Deep-fried, cylindrical pieces of heaven made with a seasoned flour batter and stuffed with either ham, chicken or fish.
Quesitos: Sweet puff pastry full of sweet cream cheese and glazes with sugar. [see picture]
Pastelillos de carne: Savory puff pastry stuffed with picadillo—seasoned ground beef.
Pan Sobao: a very soft, sweet white bread.
Pan de Agua: a soft, baguette-style bread
Café: generally means coffee with hot milk, if you want it black then ask for a Café Negro, if you want it with cold milk, then you’re in the wrong place.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sleeping and Eating

Hi. You may have noticed this posting says it was put up around 4 am, and you may be wondering why. Well, currently I'm sitting at my computer, having just finished off a delicious frittata and decided this is it for me in terms of what you mortals like to call "sleep."

While I don't usually wake up in the middle of the night and cook myself a lovely meal, I do often wake up in the middle of the night. This 3 am in particular, though, I was inspired. I haven't had those flashes of recipe that keep me up for long after I should've drifted off, thinking of variations I can make with ingredients I have since Brooklyn and the CSA. But more to the point, the past few weeks-- between the family reunion, my trip to New York (to attend a Food Network event), my brother visiting, and Mother's Day-- I haven't had ingredients to daydream about, just endless days of pork, fried things, and cakes.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

How to Slow-Roast and Carve a Whole Pig

When roasting a whole pig on a spit, the first step is to organize a family party. Any party constituting less than 15 people with the same last name is not considered a family party, its considered Saturday or the night you all go watch the boxing match. A real family party happens no more often than once a year, ideally at someone's farm. If you do not have a farm, a large beach property near where your grandparents grew up will also do. Otherwise, you'll have to go to Florida and then you won't be able to roast the pig properly.

The second step is to acquire the pig. If you are at the farm, then this should be part of the package, if you are not, then there are farms that will sell you a whole pig. Make sure it is slaughtered, gutted, and cleaned when you pick it up. You will then use your family's particular adobo recipe-- this usually include garlic, ajíes, salt, pepper, onion-- and rub it all over the pig the night before the party so that the flavors penetrate the skin and muscles.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Easy Pizza at Home

My Dad is an honest man. He's I-want-to-hit-you-over-the-head honest. Yes-you-look-fat-in-that-dress honest. So I value his input on the things that I make because I know he's not going to sugar coat his opinion or take into consideration my, you know, feelings or obsessive desire to please. So here's a recap of my culinary exploits and my dad's subsecuent review of them:

- Libyan Spaghetti-- "I don't like it, it tastes weird."
- Fried Rice-- "Its too spicy, why did you make it spicy?"
- Salad-- "Doesn't taste like much."
- Cassoulet-- "You added way too many beans." (He repeated this to me at least ten times over the next day or two.)
- Moroccan Stew-- "I don't like that it has a sweet smell, I'm going to have a steak."

So you can imagine my relief and feeling of utter triumph when last night he finally, really, truly, without reservations or critiques liked something I made: Pizza.

Friday, April 16, 2010

My Grandmother's Cooking

My grandmother might be one of the best cooks around but I wouldn't know it. While my brother and I were raised by my grandparents on endless portions of vibrant and savory rice and beans, fresh tostones made from both plantains and pana, fork-tender meat I've never seen anyone be able to reproduce, and chicken that actually had flavor and depth, my grandmother didn't do much more than reheat it in the microwave and serve it to us. All my childhood food memories, and my current lunches on Tuesdays and Fridays, come from one of the best cooks I know: Carmen.

**Three recipes at the end of the post.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Ick Factor

For strictly research purpose, I've been watching old episodes of Julia Child's The French Chef show. Needless to say, its amazing. As RX (R's new title on the blog), once pointed out, "She could not get on television today." And its true. She couldn't even get on television in Britain back when she was a star (they thought she was drunk on camera). What's wonderful about her show is all her quirks and the overall lack of polish (except when it comes to the food, of course)-- she's out of breath halfway through the episode, she drops things, and she often forgets what she's going to say and glares directly into the camera. I'd like to think the sheer amount of butter and oil she pours into everything would make modern cooks blush but then Paula Deen, or as I like to call her, Satan, does unfortunately exist in this world. (Deen is the inventor of the Lady's Brunch Burger.)

But what blew me away about Julia's show is her embrace (girly as it is) of what I've dubbed the Ick Factor. She starts off the Boulaibasse show with a close up on a giant fish head which she then rips the gills out of to show why you shouldn't cook with them (they're full of "impurities"). In the same show she tosses whole fish into broth and continually refer to them as cute. When a live lobster protests against being boiled alive by slapping Julia's fingers with its tail she turns it into a little goof by adding sound effects-- pampampampam! Yes, adorable. In the age of icanhascheezeburger and Hello Kitty, cute as edible wouldn't exactly fly on mainstream television and neither would putting a face to what you're eating. At least not for your standard American audience.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Spanish Hamburger

I'm not really a vegetarian. R's stepmother was the first to point this out to me during a rather tense dinner during a rather tense trip to Bali. My sweet, charming "mom-in-law," who I got along with as famously as territorial cats get along with each other, said she didn't see how only eating fish qualified me as a vegetarian because she also only ate fish and didn't call herself a vegetarian. I decided to give her match point and ordered the filet mignon. I try not to be a sore loser.

But she did make a point and I think many "vegetarians" such as myself have tried to cover up the ifs and buts and onlys of their diet by inventing all sorts of terms like "pescaterian" and "locavore." At the end of the day, you're still killing an animal for food and crowning yourself humane just because its not a cow. So why did I, and to an extent still do, call myself a vegetarian?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Food Nazi

Yesterday I engaged my family in a mini-WWIII. As a card carrying CSA member and vegetarian who makes exceptions for humanely raised meat, I'm firmly anti-processed foods and I've joined the party seeking to eliminate them from the face of the earth. Stepping off the plane in my knee-high boots and black coat, venturing into my Burger King obsessed homeland with unusually straight posture, the food nazi in me decide it was game on.

I stormed my parent's house like the Gestapo, proclaiming everything in their fridge an offense punishable by death-- I'm not exactly exaggerating since processed ham and cheese products, "Whole Wheat White" bread, and sugary box cereals are in fact killing the US... but I digress.

But my Dad, the Winston Churchill of daily meat intake and ice cream doused with cognac, armed a defensive strike against my blitzkrieg by making fun of me and shaking his head while laughing at my young, hippie ways. The processed ham would stay. The family fridge officially became Poland.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Lunatic's Harmonious Recipe

Aside from food writing, my other preoccupation is film production. Its what I studied, its my long term relationship, and even when I've broken up with it I can't help but come back for one last hook up.

So, of course, my first instinct when I moved out to Austin was to look for freelance film work, preferably on set and paid. In no time, I had a UT student film shoot lined up. And that, my dear reader, is what I've been doing most of today and what I will be doing all of tomorrow.

If you know me personally, then you're probably aware of the fact that I am a crazy person. Not a take medication, see a shrink (though I should), hear voices kind of crazy, but the irrational, puzzling, why on earth are you doing this, kind of crazy person. I like to think its part of my charm... (Cough)

Friday, March 12, 2010

And We're Back...

Moving from New York to Austin has sort of shut this operation down for a while. But no more excuses, if for no other reason than because Austin is an incredible food town. Sure, it doesn't have the range and scope of New York or its eccentricity, charm, and outlandish pricing, but Austin's food cart-local/sourced/awesome-Tex Mex restaurants have kept me very happy these past two weeks. Below are some highlights of my new home.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Culintro Panel Series: The Future of Food Journalism

Print is dead. Film is dead. We might as well be all-inclusive: media is dead. As a former filmmaker, I’ve heard similar laments: the future of sitting in a dark room with a large screen is constantly being questioned and the coming of YouTube was hailed as the end of a profession. Now an aspiring food writer, I recognize a similar environment of fear and doubt present in the publishing world. As Bob Dylan aptly pointed out, “The times they are a-changing.”
To get a better perspective, I recently attended a panel called The Future of Food Journalism, hosted by Culintro. I was particularly intrigued by their choice of panelists. Rather than sitting down the editors of Conde Nast’s food magazines or former restaurant critics, Culintro invited the food editor of Time Out New York Gabriella Gershenson, senior food editor of Salon.com Francis Lam, Tasting Table creator Nick Fauchald, and Edible New York/ Brooklyn/ East End magazine’s Brian Halweil. Young, niche, community-based writers and editors in the midst of a changing industry so I felt hopeful about what news they would bring from the trenches.
Understandably, though, the moderator, food historian Andrew F. Smith, began the evening on a bit of a gloom and doom note by talking about the folding of Gourmet magazine. The big question was the first question he threw at the panel, starting with former Gourmet editor Francis Lam: Is print dead?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Tito- Cuento ganador del Certamen de El Nuevo Dia

This story won the Certamen de Cuento de El Nuevo Día 2009, along with Cezanne Cardona's El silencio de Mefisto. You can bug him to put his on his blog. Here for your enjoyment (Spanish-speakers only, I'm afraid) is Tito.

Por Andrea Moya
Titubeando por el calor húmedo de una ciudad ajena, Tito fuma sin inhalar. El cigarrillo le guinda del labio como el palo de una paleta le guinda a un niño haciendo como si fumara. Los letreros en chino son una anomalía cotidiana que nunca fallan en hacerle sonreír sin proponérselo. Es la persona más alta en su canto de calle y se mueve a un ritmo distinto al torrente de personas que chocan contra sus piernas, sus brazos, se lo llevan por el medio.
Desde el primer día se había sentido en su casa aunque fuera de su casa. Él era así desde chiquito, más cómodo tirado en el sofá jugando con el Playstation de su amigo y cenando con los vecinos, que estando en su propia casa, comiendo con su propia familia. Nueva York lo llevaba esperando con los brazos abiertos hacía tiempo ya. Al fin decidió tirársela por eso de, y a ver cómo se las hacía para no perder la cordura, el sabor y el ritmo, y el anhelo del regreso que es patrimonio de su cultura fugaz.
Porque a Tito disque no le importa eso. Tiene el cool muy alto, muy desarrollado para sentirse extranjero. Por eso, después de aterrizar en Kennedy, Terminal 5, JetBlue, se metió en Chinatown, el pueblo de inmigrantes donde todo el mundo viene de otro lao, y nadie pertenece. Es como un pueblo transitorio que lleva ya cien años en transición pero sin llegar a un acuerdo en cuanto a donde coño quieren ir. Vino ese día a comer perro con salsa soya y tofú y se quedó. Después de cuatro meses fumaba más para protegerse contra la peste a pescado y basura que por adicción. En ese rincón de todo lo sucio y olvidado en Nueva York tenía su casa, un estudio más closet que cuarto, donde un matres, un tocador y un “hot plate” compartían el piso sucio que no barría nunca porque no le cabía una escoba. No era su casa en Dorado ni la casa de sus padres en Montehiedra pero era pleno Manhattan y completa libertad. Esa libertad que se forja cuando uno voluntariamente abandona la comodidad.
Caminando por la calle empinada y estrecha, casi solo, con la excepción del vagabundo que yacía casi vivo junto a sus Adidas, le entra uno de esos toques filosóficos que transitan con las brizas contaminadas de esa ciudad de artistas y financieros. Todos pagamos un precio por lo que ya nos pertenece, se dice sin rencor ni malas mañas. Todo en la vida es alquile, se dice sonriendo.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Future of Food Journalism

With an imminent relocation from New York to Austin, monthly metro card to auto insurance, from aspiring filmmaker to aspiring food writer, I bought a seat to a panel called The Future of Food Journalism. I wanted to know what I was getting myself into and, with a cocktail hour preceding the event, I thought maybe I could make some connections on the way. I even packed some business cards (the ones for the company I no longer work for, still, business cards). But the mass of people I came upon when I came through the glass doors of Culintro, the venue hosting the event, put a stop to any delusion I had of talking to anyone that night. Not while wearing snow boots and a shirt from K-mart anyway. This panel was already proving to be informative.

Networking is the bread and butter of the freelancer and I was learning how to do it by making a series of mistakes. Lesson one: dress well. Lesson two: bring writing utensils. Lesson three: get your business cards up to date. Lesson four: talk to people. While lesson four was being forced upon me (someone sat down next to me and started talking to me, prompting me to respond) the panel, finally, started.

The industry professionals who would be talking to us tonight included: Gabriella Gersherson from Time Out New York, Nick Fauchald of Tasting Table, Francis Lam of Salon.com, and Eric Halweil of the Edible magazines. It was the quality of the panel that had sparked my interest in the first place. I was expecting very gloom and doom prophesying on the death of food writing (akin to my professor David Leite's slap across the face to my food writing class: "You can't make a living doing this.") but hoped for good news. The moderator, Andrew F. Smith, gave a short intro centered around the folding of Gourmet magazine and started off by asking Francis Lam, a former Gourmet editor, if he thought print was dead. Francis' answered with another question, "What is print? Do you mean paper?" Or writing in general? This was an interesting distinction that became a central topic during the discussion.

Food writing is more popular than ever (similarly film box office numbers broke records during a horrible recession yet people are still lamenting the death of film) and what's been happening is that the industry is reinventing itself by embracing new tendencies in the demands of their readers (which in turn satisfy the needs of advertisers):

Shorter attention spans (because of getting most information from a screen) means shorter articles. The days of 5,000, 10,000, 15,000 word pieces and leisurely entering into a story are over. "You gotta give them the sex upfront," said Nick Fauchald, whose entire publication is email-based. Now you get 800 words if you're lucky.

People now want to experience/make/visit what you are writing about rather than just be satisfied reading about it. This has in turn given way to the success of smaller, more community-based publications, niche publications, and an abundance of recipe resources. The Edible magazines, which are small city by city magazines are basically given away at strategic locations but are doing very well economically. Meanwhile, bigger, national publications are straining under their own weight as subscriptions are down (because so much is available for free on the internet) and advertisers go with the numbers. Which leads to the next point...

He who fails to embrace the web is destined to perish. Even Gabriella Gershenson, who is food editor for a print magazine (to which R and I subscribe to) admits that while she received Gourmet in the mail, she read it mostly online. "I'm both helping and killing this medium," she admitted. Gabriella told of when she was hired as a staff writer at Time Out (a position that rarely exists anymore, ergo the need for networking) and how different the goals and priorities of the magazine were back then. She remembers having no web responsibilities whatsoever. But where Time Out has succeeded (and where Conde Nast has failed) is that they did not go into denial about the power of the internet and how important it would be to their magazine's survival. They recognized that print and web are friends. They feed each other and there are things you can do on the web that you simply can't on paper. It's telling that the day Francis Lam was let go from Gourmet (along with the rest of the staff), he was hired by Salon.com.

Those were some of the key points about how food writing was going to live on, but inevitably the question of money, and specifically paying writers came up. Food writers are famously underpaid, having to teach, write books, and become editors (or marry rich) to be able to do what they love. Things have only gotten worse because of the free for all that is the internet. Tasting Table and Salon pay their freelance writers but that's an anomaly. Most websites want writers to work for free, paying them $50 is they're lucky. Meanwhile the bigger publications have brought their rates down considerably. While this question wasn't fully addressed (its hard to answer something nobody knows yet), I did get the impression that we're that much closer to the answer. That the panel was composed of (young) people who were making a living at this particular profession and who have embraced the change of tides that come with innovation, is a clear indication that its still possible to make a living as a food writer. There's also the fact that with the New York Times setting up a paywall on their site, a precedent may be set that, if it sticks, might be what the web-publications need to be able to shell out cash for better work. More importantly, a demand is in place for the product food writers peddle and people are working with creating new ways of selling it (I think Tasting Table is a great example of that).

But in response to the question of print, of magazines, of paper, Francis told the story of a man he met at a bar who spoke very sensuously (Francis admitted the man may very well have been trying to pick him up) about the experience of reading magazines and his love of magazines. And when the audience was asked if they would take the iPad to bed to read, barely anyone raised their hand. When asked if they would take a magazine or a book, it was almost unanimous. What gives me hope is knowing that these questions are not exclusive to one particular form of media. In film, the question of 35mm versus HD, seeing movies in a theater versus on Blu-Ray, the rebirth of indie film without studio involvement, hell, the moneyless film world of Youtube, are all weighing down on the industry but people are figuring it out. The music industry still exists, even after Napster and Pandora.

Overall, it was a very informative evening and while of course there are still questions up in the air, I had a sense that I knew what to expect, both in my pursuit of food writing as a career and as a networking freelancing writer. After the panel, I walked into Grand Central station and couldn't help stopping by the newsstand and showing my support. $10 for two magazines, how much cheaper do you want it to be?

Saturday, January 9, 2010


A few weeks ago I attended my first ever cooking class. We prepared nothing, no oven or burners were lit, we did not consume anything during or after class (except for some female hipsters I was unfortunate enough to share a metal counter with who kept munching on the raw produce in the way rabbits would if rabbits were annoying), we in fact did not cook at all during this cooking class. Because this was a cooking class about one of the most elemental aspects of cooking: knife skills.

The class took place in a converted-warehouse space in Williamsburg with a butcher/cooking supply shop in the front leading to two classrooms, one on the ground floor and one upstairs, their entrances just next to the meat counter. The space was once a mattress storage facility that little by little was being transformed into a teaching kitchen. On polished metal kitchen islands set diagonally in front of a large counter space, about ten cutting boards lay side by side awaiting the arrival of knife-toting students wanting to learn how to cut things more betterer. Our teacher was fairly young, a professional cook with a thick Brooklyn accent a la Joe Pesci (you-know-what-I'm-sayin'), a fun sense of humor about cutting into arteries, who was completely and cleanly bald, with tattoos peaking out from under his long-sleeved shirt and a really wonderful ability to explain things quickly and understandably.

In a little under two hours Joe, as I'll call him, went through a number of French cutting techniques with us that were life-changing. Dinner will be ready that much quicker, be cooked that much more evenly, look that much better and our carpal tunnel syndrome will not get worse. Those 90+ minutes were an emotional roller coaster ride, comparable to some of the best action films like Independence Day or The Poseidon Adventure. There was fear at first, German steel flashing as we learned how to realign the knife's teeth (more on that soon) to a perfect 20 degree angle on an iron. Then enlightenment when banging our knives down on defenseless vegetables became easy gliding blades. Surprise at the ease with which we could now make plateaus, juliennes, and itty bitties (forgot the proper French name for these) and humor when Joe pointed at the plateaus "$12 salad," the juliennes "$14 salad" and the itty bitties "$18 salad, add some truffle oil and you got a $22 salad." (It was funny to us.) Then there was the turning point, a whole new perspective on life as Joe showed us a move that should be patented in how obvious yet not obvious it is. It involved an onion, that's all you get for now.

The class itself was a lot of fun and the things learned were worth every cent of those $40. If you are interested in a Knife Skills or even a butchering, pickeling, wine making, or any number of other potentially life-chaning one-nighter cooking classes like this one check out Brooklyn Kitchen Lab (look for the cow outside, you'll see what I mean).

But now the...

Friday, January 1, 2010

Three Ingredients, Three Recipes

While I know I owe all you all a knife skills posting (have yet to take the pictures to go with it, I promise it'll be ready next week), I just got back from PR. This means I have done little to no cooking, so upon our return R, moreso than I actually, was excited to get me back in the kitchen. Unfortunately, we only had a handful of things available for me to cook with, namely onions, garlic, and Parmesan Regiano cheese. I'm setting these guys apart from my regular kitchen staples like rice, pasta, bread, olive oil, butter, and so on. And while I've often denounced the college student diet of carbs and cheese, here it was staring at me in the face. Luckily I knew what to do.

If you ever need to go Iron Chef on your weekday dinner, here are three simple, highly delicious recipes that go very well with a poached egg on top or, if you're feeling fancy, a side salad. And wine. Remember, we're never too broke for booze.