Arabic Coffee

I don’t drink coffee. Scream, squeal, and sneer all you want, but I’m not changing my mind. I’m a jittery anxiety ridden spaz as it is and I’m not looking to add any extra fuel to the fire, but there are two exceptions that warrant the occasional dabble.

Coffee, in an Italian coffee shop, in Italy, made with an Italian attention to ritual is something I can never turn down. More than the taste it’s the ritual itself that has me risking extra caffeinated super overdrive. I like the tiny ceramic cups with matching wee saucers and spoons just longer than a pinky finger and real honest to God whole milk. If that’s not a religion to be worshipped, I don’t know what is.

Arabic coffee is my other exception. Now like foul, Arabic coffee means something different depending on who you’re talking to. The only place I’ve had it is at the Kharouba* household in Yonkers, NY. So to me Arabic coffee is a thick, rich brew, seasoned with that licorice-like flavor of ground cardamom and sweetened with sugar. It’s served at the kitchen table, to whomever is in earshot which could mean all seven of the Kharouba children depending on the day. I only have one brother myself, but I love big families. Arabic coffee is a treat for me because I like to pretend I understand Arabic and I like Mrs. Kharouba’s jokes. I like people talking over each other and I like the idea of coming together for bits of time even if there only a few sips long.
*Who are the Kharoubas? Sabrina Kharouba is one of my roommates from Rome. Visiting her family gives me a break from hectic NYC. Both of her parents are Palestinian so when I go, I get to eat homemade Arab food and learn a bit about the culture.

Pizza Do’s and Pizza Dont’s

Over Thanksgiving break I did a little underground border crossing to visit my old roommates from Rome, John and Abby.

In tribute to all or good times cooking together in Italia, we decided to bake up a couple of pizzas. Toppings were cut, wine was drunk and we were ready to go.

Abby started with a very ambitious white pizza with potato and zucchini. Fabulous idea, but tough to execute. The end result was as hard as a Michelangelo fresco and the toppings were all shrunk and shriveled. What we learned: When making white pizza, create craters in the crust with your finger tips and drown it in a shameful amount of olive oil. Pre-bake a bit and then add toppings.

I played it safe and made a half margherita/ half zucchini with red peppers and Abby’s homemade pizza sauce. Out of the oven my pizza had a nice presentation and anything topped with fresh mozzarella is gonna taste alright, but the crust on mine was a tooth chipping brick. What we learned: Don’t stretch your dough too thin and give it a chance to rise a bit before adding toppings.

And then in saunters John. He had spent his time in front of the television, watching a football game and playing with their baby daughter, Cora. He picked up where Abby left off on a puffed piece dough, then went completely traditional with a ton of sauce ( I was convinced that was a mistake), mushrooms and prosciutto. I’m telling you he did this all nonchalant and wouldn’t you know his pizza came out best. What he got right: work the sauce, don’t hesitate with the cheese, give the dough a rest and chillax.

Not Just Anybody’s Foul

“Everyone has their own way of making it,” says Dina. I have yet again barged my way into another friend’s kitchen intent on discovering new cooking techniques . Today we are making foul, a middle eastern dish pronounced like fool made with fava beans. This is not my first experience with foul and I’m starting to get the impression that it’s one of those recipe names with an identity crisis. At my friend Sabrina’s, whose family is from Palestine, it was more like a bean salad with tomatoes and onions. We ate it for breakfast at her house; I love breakfast at Sabrina’s. A few months ago, considering myself very worldly, I ordered foul with my hummus at a restaurant in the Arabic section of Jerusalem. Instead of a bean salad, I got a dark bean paste swirled into my hummus and there was no sign of tomatoes. Now here I am with Dina and a foul that looks like Sabrina’s salad, but is cooked like the one in Jerusalem. And did I forget to mention that Dina’s has hard boiled eggs? So like she said, everyone has their own way of making it, but there must be something in the name because I’ve enjoyed it every time.

Ah, foul means fava bean in Arabic; makes sense.

Dina’s Family Recipe
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium red onion (diced)
3 plum tomatoes (diced)
2 cans fava beans
1 teaspoon Berbere (optional)
2 teaspoons cumin
3 hard boiled eggs (diced)

In a medium frying pan sauté onions in olive oil until wilted. Add tomatoes, reserving about 1/3 for garnish, and cook down until tomatoes begin to disintegrate, about 8 minutes. Add entire can of beans, including juice. Add spices, salt and pepper to taste, and simmer about 10 minutes or until beans are soft. Once beans are soft use the back of a spoon to smash them a bit but not completely. The result should be a smooth base with lot of chunks for texture. Add hardboiled eggs, reserving some for garnish. Pour finished product into a bowl and garnish with tomatoes, eggs and olive oil. Serve with warm pita bread.

Dinner with the Girls: Joe’s Shanghai

I’m sensing the beginning of a tradition or a routine or something. For the second month in a row, I’ve gone out to dinner with the girls and by girls I mean EJ, Catherine and Hwanhee. We are all interconnected by the two degrees of separation that is the New York fashion industry and our love for dining out. Last week Hwanhee, the most entertaining of the group, described me as being in an Asian sandwich and it’s true I guess. But Catherine, the understanding mother, pointed out that I didn’t mind and she was right. But I gotta say we do have an interesting assembly of characters.
Known for they're soup dumplings, Joe's was completely packed for a Monday night. The place is full of large communal tables with a lazy Susan spinners in the middle so you have no idea who you might sit next to.

While quiet yet opinionated EJ, didn't like the dumplings filled with pork and oozing with juice. Hwanhee, Catherine and I couldn't get enough.

On this night I actually ate a dish that required me to pry clams soaked in a black bean sauce from their shells and I liked it. I was so caught up in this seafood miracle that I forgot to take a photo. All the food at Joe's was really fresh and well made, which is a great compliment from me considering I have nearly sworn off all New York Chinese food. I guess you gotta know where to go. That's one of the reasons I like going out with these girls, they sort of pry me out of my little culinary shell. EJ practically forced those clams down my throat, but I should thank her for it.

Some of you may notice that I haven't exactly pointed out who everyone is, but I'm sure you'll figure it as read of our monthly dining extravaganzas if you haven't already.

Superfluous Tools

If you’re a cook you’ve got one. Maybe it takes up too much room in your cabinet or dominates a large corner of your kitchen counter, that one piece of equipment that makes your heart go a flutter, but you never really use. For some it’s one of those bread makers that were so popular in the 90’s or maybe it’s an asparagus steamer. Mine is a hand cranked vegetable food mill. I break it out every couple of months when I want to make the real Italian style pasta sauce I learned in Rome. The most difficult part of the recipe is scraping the remains of a masticated can of San Marzano plum tomatoes from the crevices of the mill. I really had no other use that thing until last week when I tried my first potato leek soup. With one more recipe under its belt, my mill has earned it’s tenure. I think we keep these pieces because they hold potential for greatness. In them we see fresh baked bread on a Sunday morning or bunches of veggies to be steamed before a summer dinner party.

Bringing Kitchen Bravado Back

Recently I have been feeling a little skittish in the kitchen. After a few not-so-hot-so creations, I really began to question my cook’s instinct and was using recipes for anything beyond the complexity of grilled cheese, but then came chili.

I like mine tomatoey with garlic, Italian peppers and corn. And as I chopped onions, and rinsed cans of beans, I realized that no one could get the ratios and layers of flavors I wanted but me. I eyeballed measurements, made up cooking times and even added a few splashes of canned corn juice to taste. There’s a reason chili is a frat boy special; anybody can make.

So in conclusion, if you need to add some pump to your cooking ego, go out and buy a couple of cans of beans and whip up a batch of chili. You can tell everyone you made it from scratch and it’ll be the truth.

Sourdough French Toast

We should all learn from each other’s mistakes. Here’s something I figured out this Sunday, sourdough bread is great and French toast is fabulous, but sourdough French toast…yuck. Maybe a savory French toast with rosemary infused butter could change all that. I’ll keep you posted.

They Say It's A Miracle

Whether it be a result of my innate optimism or the product of a blessed and hopeful upbringing, I must confess that the election of Barack Obama, the first president of color, was no miracle to me. Unlike so many generations that came before me, I believed this would happen in my lifetime.

As a child when I was told I could be anything, I knew it to be true. I shut my ears to those who said the American dream was a lie and now we all have our proof. Proof that difficult does not mean impossible.

The election of our 44th president means so many different things to so many people, but my hope is that it inspires us all to be more and expect more from each other. With so many victories to be claimed, we need to seize the opportunity to be better people and better Americans.

The artwork above was created by my friend and artist Phil Fung. It was shown at this year’s Democratic National Convention and was later sold. More of Phil’s work can been seen at

The Vacation Dead Zone and Raw Food

Vacation kills blog posts. I’ve seen it on other people's sites, but I never thought I would sit down and write one of those I’m so sorry I have written in X amount of time posts, but I have to say my friends it is all too easy to get caught up in the blog abandonment vortex. One minute it’s, wow that Peruvian internet café looks shady and the next minute it’s, geez all that catch up work at the office has totally muted my creativity. But I have broken free, there’s just too much to talk about like, like like raw food for example.

Here’s what I ate last week at Pure Food and Wine, a 100% raw food restaurant. All of these photos are alla camera phone because I had to be stealth, too bad the high beam like flash lit the whole place up like a Christmas tree on fire. Stealth and I just don’t get along.

Plate of Assorted Dr. Cow Nut Cheeses with Pistachio Crisps.

A key raw food principal is no dairy, but it wasn't missed here. Our "blue cheese" was made with a blue green algae, which is purported to cure everything from fatigue to digestive issues. True or not, I really did forget that I wasn't eating dairy made cheese. The texture was a little like melting play dough on the tongue, but in a good way.

Salad of Compressed Heirloom Tomatoes and Hass Avocado
Nothing too out of the box here, but the presentation was fancy.

White Corn Tamales with Raw Cacao Mole To be considered raw, food cannot be heated over 116 degrees F because higher temps kill the natural enzymes. These corn tamales with cashew nut sour cream were creamy, room temperature, enzyme packed little envelopes of goodness.

Open Spanikopita Tart with Marjoram Marinated Spring Vegetables

The key to this plate is way back in the corner of the photo. Though I could find very few similarities with spanikopita, this little quiche like tart warranted a much bigger part in this production. Those upstaging veggies were nothing to write home about, but the dill cucumber yogurt played a great supporting role.


By the time we got to this one, I stopped caring what I was eating and just enjoyed. This was like a parfait of avocado, pineapple and tomatoes. Doesn't sound like it goes, does it? Well it totally goes and it looks like high beaming the place and asking way more questions than most people has it's rewards because this little number was on the house.

Someone please tell me how a non-dairy raw foodist makes an ice cream sundae that tastes this good. I tried to watch the stuff to see if it would melt, but the whole eating thing distracted me. The carrot cake was like any other carrot cake, but the flavours were explosive like ginger POW, maple BANG...that kinda thing

A multi course raw food meal feels like eating a salad, but tastes like...well you just have to try it for yourself because it is an entire experience.

Altitude Sickness Wreaks Your Appetite

On every trip I learn a few lessons; like in Israel, I learned that just a single drop of Dead Sea Water splashed in the eye can sear with such ferocity that screaming and running in circles is perfectly acceptable and only mildly interesting to onlookers. Peru taught me a lot about altitude sickness. Before I left I was convinced that like e coli outbreaks or the flu, altitude sickness was only harmful to the very old, very young and to those with suppressed immune systems; I was wrong my friends, very wrong.

The picture above is me at 4200 meters which is the equivalent of being at the top of a 1400 story building. The smile on my face is completely for show. Moments before, I had experienced my own personal episode of the Twilight Zone and had yet to come down from the experience.
I was on a two day guided tour of the Colca Canyon and my guide explained that we would soon be reaching the highest elevation point on our trip, but before, he encouraged that we drink a little coca tea to ward off sorocha (altitude sickness). I’m always up for eating and drinking and I figured the tea would completely knock out any minor reaction to the altitude I might have. I totally drank the Kool-Aid and was convinced that I was 100% sorocha immune which is why when we reached our 4200 meter destination, like a sprinter out of the block, I dashed off that tour bus straight for the bathroom busting to use the ladies room. This will come as no surprise to those acquainted with my thimble sized bladder.

I got to the little stone hut restrooms with their little grass roofs in no time, but then I started to hear wind chimes in my ears. The corners of my mouth were dry and I really couldn’t feel the ground under my feet. The only part of my sensory that seemed to be functioning properly was the one that kept saying, I have to pee, I have to pee, I have the pee. I got to the opening of the ladies room just in time to catch another tourist mid stream and take inventory: no door, no toilet paper, no toilet. I had peed into triangular holes cut in cement before, but the altitude was messing with my problem solving skills. I could not figure out how to get the tissues that were in the purse around my neck into my hands. After about a minute of concentrated deep breathing my thoughts came together enough for me to do my business, but not enough for me to remember to take a blog worthy photo to go along with this piece.

For the next few days, I continued to suffer at the hands of the sorocha no matter how much tea I drank. And I’m still not sure if my ultra frequent urination was a symptom of altitude sickness or a side effect of the cure. What I do know is that it was hard to keep up my normal wolf it down eating schedule. Though I did manage to try alpaca and quinoa and a $1 a plate of street food that included: chicken, spaghetti, french fries and rice. That’s a lot for $1.

Dispatch from Peru

It´s been 36 hours and I´m already in my second city. Yesterday was Lima and today is Arequipa. Yesterday was all about misty rain, musty hotel rooms and getting my traveler´s legs. It was also my first encounter with ceviche. Surrounded by shops with whole chickens hanging from huge metal hooks (feet, heads and all) was a set of lunch stalls. There Zack and I split an ear of corn with kernals the size of dimes and a plate of raw, lime marinated, fish. Zack said it was great and I want to agree, but I´m still new to the fish world so what I can say is, it was fresh, beautiful and completely non-fishey.

We flew into Arequipa this morning and after viewing a mummy frozen from the time of the Incas, we went to a festival gastronomic. There were lots of free drink samples. Instead of Peruvian we ate Thai and falafel, but it was great to practice Spanish. Tomorrow is Colca canyon which is said to be much deeper than the Grand Canyon, we shall see.

Sorry, no USB port so no photos. Photos will come later.

Ciao from the land of alpachas, cuy and... and I will have to fill in that last one after a few more days getting to know the place.

Breaking Fast

Last Friday I spent my evening doing something quite unexpected. I was invited to a Ramadan fast breaking feast. I am not Muslim and after my pancake breakfast, and chicken and rice lunch it would be ludicrous to even suggest that I fasted, but I was invited none the less. My neighbor Dina is Eritrean, but grew up in the U.A.E and now lives in New York so the food was an international blend of pasta dishes, mango chicken, hummus, salads, potatoes, breads etc. It was a real feast and the most interesting part is that she made almost everything herself and she made it all without tasting a thing. The rules of Ramadan dictate that for thirty days practitioners cannot eat or drink anything from dawn until sunset. Despite the handicap, the food was great and an abundant dessert followed. I feel so many of us know so little about the Muslim faith, but sitting in a room chatting with friends while eating tortellini is something we can all understand.

To learn more about Ramadan go to:

Alcohol is off limits during Ramadan so we quenched our thirst with a drink made from hibiscus flowers soaked in water and sweetened with sugar.

Deep Fried Guinea Pig Debate

There is a scene that continues to enter my mind. It’s a picture of my childhood pet Millie, on her back, with each of her four little feet clenched into post mortem, post fry-o-later fists. Her skin is as crisp as a roasted duck and she lies peaceful in a bed of lettuce. Imagine this little vision popping into your head as you scramble for a seat on the subway or apply toothpaste to your brush at night and you understand what I’ve been going through. In ten days I’m going to Peru, I’m a food writer, and in Peru they eat the pig. The question is, do I eat the pig, too? I will not even attempt to answer this question right now. I just want someone to tell me what it tastes like.

A Chili Birthday

Friday September 12th I celebrated my twenty-eighth birthday in style by forcing my friends to join me at one of the most ridiculous restaurants in New York. I have to confess that I am a big fan of the forced fun. Give me an annual office Christmas party any day of the week, cause I love it baby.
About the size of a city bus and completely determined to fit as many people, I’m sure this restaurant has a name, but it’s best known as The Crazy Indian Place. The entire ceiling is covered with a 3” thick layer of chili pepper Christmas tree lights, about every fifteen minutes an Indian rendition of happy birthday throws the entire place into a deafening round of clapping, and it’s just fabulous.
The food is not award winning, but the joy; the joy is abundant. So what if you have to crawl over your neighbor’s lap to go to the bathroom, who cares, that in an effort to turn tables, your waiter will literally pry your fork from your hands. The lights are bright, it’s BYOB, and it’s everybody’s Birthday!

I Can't Believe It's Not Meat: Revealed

No, it is not some kind of beef jerky or weird hot dog. If you looked closely at that plastic yellow tip on the end, you might have gotten a better idea or you might not have, cause it didn’t help me much. This little rod of wonder is actually tamarind candy. Ok, problem solved check in on Friday for next week’s item. Alright, just kidding unless you live in a tropical climate like the Caribbean, you probably have no idea what tamarind is.To me it kinda looks like giant bean pods. The interior is ground into a pulp that’s used to make candy, flavor drinks and in Thailand it’s even used to clean brass. I actually really like the sour taste of tamarind, but this piece of candy seemed to be mixed with salt and chilies. Lots of flavors in the mouth, maybe a few too many.

Bodega Finds: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Meat

Coming out of the subway in my Brooklyn neighborhood is like stepping into a foreign country because most of the people living here recently emigrated from places like El Salvador, Mexico and Colombia. Which makes walking into my local corner store to pick up the odd quart of milk, feel less like an after work errand and more like a mini exchange student program. For one thing, there is so much produce. I mean in the average American 7/11 the closest your gonna get to fruit is Snapple lemonade. Here the selection runs from cactus meat to cilantro. But there are those odd things here and there that I can’t even identify and that’s where you come in; I will provide the pictures if you can provide the answers.

Below is a photo of this week’s find. Do you have any idea what this is? No, I’ll give you a hint: I found it on the counter next to the cash register. So what is it? I’ll let you know on Monday. Happy guessing.

How Jamaicans Do Chicken

Let me begin by saying I love chicken. And let’s put all stereotypes aside because if there is one thing that my travels have taught me, is that there is no place for our dirty little bird to hide. From Bangkok to the cookbooks of Rachel Ray, it just screams sauce me, grill me, sauté me with white wine. Give it up to the vegetarians of India for offering asylum because the rest of us have lost our minds. My recent trip to Jamaica only helped to confirm my theory. Here’s what the Jamaicans have to offer in the way of the bird.

P.S. I was in Jamaica for my bi-annual Maybin-Freeman- Martin-Brown family reunion. And yes, sometimes we wear matching t-shirts with the family logo. You got something to say about that?
Jerk Chicken

Infamous and delicious I picked this one up on the side of the road. That white wedge on the top is bread fruit. I can definitely understand where it got its name. It dense, not juicey and has very little taste; it’s strange, like a sponge.

Curry Chicken

When you do curry chicken Jamican style, you gotta get the chicken cooked with the bone in. This was a boneless batch and was a little lack luster. Lesson learned, the bonier the better.

Stew Chicken

Stewed in a brown tangy gravy like sauce this dish was riddled with bones and had the great flavor to prove it. I picked this up at a roadside restaurant for about $3. I also learned that in Jamaica it’s proper etiquette to hold all those tiny bones in your cheek like a squirrel.

Smothered Fried Chicken

The sauce on this chicken had a tang, too. This dish was ordered by my cousin so to get I second bite I would have had to wrestle her to the ground. It was nice sauce, but definitely not worth bodily harm.

I liked these all so much that I picked up a couple of bottles of sauce in the local supermarket so I could recreate at home. These were then swiftly confiscated by a mean and bitter security officer at the airport. What ever happen to Jamica no problem? I’d love to try to recreate anyway. Does anyone have any recipes I could try?