Tuesday, February 24, 2009

An Oriental Adventure in Queens

I love ramen, I consider it as one of the major food groups. As I bought a few packs at Sea Land food market on Flatbush, the cashier asked "Ichiban, that's Japanese for number one, right?" I said yes. "So what's number two?" he asked again. I said "I don't know, I'm not Japanese. What's number one in Korean?" He replied "I don't know, I'm not Korean."

In New York we're surrounded by a rich diversity of food and culture, but much of our eats are misunderstood, or compromised to suit the neighborhood, for example: beef and cheddar negamaki with fries? Oi vey, the horror. To get the real deal one must stray from the usual path and abandon all diet plans.

Dan, Matt, and I made a mid-winter excursion to the food malls of Flushing Queens — a long journey to the end of the #7 line. Dan was a chef in another life, and Matt and I just love eating. Main Street was as crowded as a street scene from Blade Runner. As planes flew low over head, we walked past crowded food stalls that used every available space for steam tables, noodle stations, dumpling stalls, and grills. It reminded me of the markets in Hong Kong or old Makati Square.

The first stop on the map was at the Golden Mall for the elusive cumin lamb burger. The owner of Wang Zhen's Muslim Snacks is from northeastern China where lamb is the prevalent meat. We walked in, he said "Lamb Burgers" as if he read our minds — or maybe he read the glowing food reviews about his cooking, apparently Anthony Bourdain had beaten us to Queens, that bastard! The bread is similar to the ones used make Bánh Mì sandwiches, toasted but very soft and delicate. The lamb is spiced carefully and braised with a mildly sweet flavor.

He also recommended his own hand-cut chili noodles and the day's special, braised lamb spine. I'm sure it sounds better in Tianjinese, but never the less it was the best braised spine I've ever had, even Matt agreed. The total damage for three hungry men? $20. How can you beat that?

So the adventure continued to the next stall for smoke-cured pork, preserved beef, and chili-pork dumplings. One man asked why we were at this mall, so Dan showed him the printed article. He said that was he in the photo unloading supplies from the truck. He was impressed that we came all the way from Brooklyn for snacks. I asked him were the bathroom was. He pointed me the way, I followed the winding hallway but ended up in a Chinese DVD store. English is not readily spoken here. Anyone I asked for bathroom directions gave me a blank look and said "No!" in reply.

Onward, we meandered down the street through a few grocery stores and a home provisions shop to walk off the meal. Live food sat next to frozen and preserved foods. As frogs sat close in a tank next to the soft shell turtles and the live prawns, refrigerated cases stocked with chicken feet, pork belly, and different types of fish foretold their fate. Dan pointed out that much of the snack packaging had animal mascots that were more than happy to be eaten — most having two-word English translations such as Big Squid, Happy Anchovy, and Oriental Mascot. I didn't think anyone used the "O" word anymore. The home provisions shop had just about everything — travel gear, cooking equipment, traditional funerary supplies, a Hamilton Beach soy milk maker, and the like.

Shuffling through crowded main streets and side streets I wondered — if I stood in one place long enough would I have been knocked over by an old lady with a loaded grocery cart? Weary from walking we re-energized with a few more appetizers. Dan found a stall that sold Peking Duck by the piece — slices of crispy duck in a soft rice wrapper with Hoisin Sauce, cucumber, and scallion. He ordered six, Matt bought us some steamed fish balls while we waited in line.

The gorging didn't stop here. I suggested we take the train to Jackson Heights for Korean food. Instead we thought more sensibly and walked back to Roosevelt Avenue to the other food mall that we previously passed. And finally, a bathroom!

This mall was more low-key and a little English was spoken there — as in "No, pay now, then make! Sit now!" Dan and Matt pondered the menu: intestine with thin or thick noodles, fried chicken feet, Toa delight... they got two different noodles soups, chicken & beef, and pork dumpling respectively. We took a seat at the dumpling bar across from the large karaoke screen.

We split an order of beef and scallion dumplings, made fresh for us by the owner — this was the farthest thing from fast food. His wife rolled out each round thin wrapper with a dowel. He stuffed them and put aside to set. The tray resembled a minature armada of Portuguese Man of War — deliciously deadly on contact.

Technically these dumplings are not dim sum (served only as early tea lunch). The dumplings were pan-steamed until the skin was barely translucent. We dipped them in a light vinegar dressing and chili paste. Each bite had a taste of ginger, then scallion. Everything had such a delicate fleeting flavor.

Matt's pork dumpling soup was thick, it had a deeply smoked flavor but not overly salted. As we left he didn't want his soup to go to waste so he took it along on the train back to Brooklyn... then he went into a food coma. As we pulled out of the station I wondered if, like Shangri-La, all this would be gone when we return, leaving us wonder if it was all just a savory dream. Ordering Chinese food will be so disappointing from here on.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Knit PH a Freddy's: February 15 '09

Stephanie and I got up late and walked through Redhook to Ikea for meatballs and gravlax, She wore the earings I got her for Valentine's Day along with the Angora hat I made her for christmas. Later we went out Korean food, and rented "Pineapple Express." We were still laughing about the irate woman at Ikea who screamed "Ok people, Stealing is bad karma! Who took my cart!" at everyone as her shopping cart had been usurped. Happy Valetine's Day!

A brisk Sunday night, Naomi hiked it down from Greenpoint on the G, she just finished a show in Montreal. Meg caught the bus from South Slope to finish her green baby blanket over a beer or two. Naomi is now working on the other side of her Berroco sweater. I hate instructions that just read: Left side, mirror right side. I posted the square patterns on our Knit PH MeetUp page but I printed a few and put some samples on a table for the Afghans for Afghans blanket drive.

I set up the swift and winder and soon the rest arrived for beer and balls. Zuri and the EMT crew asked if they could share the room with us. Why not — it would be win-win if we had a craft-related malefice. Marci and Meike are the resident hookers — Maggie crochets as well. She showed us the hat and scarf set she made. Meike is a minister, she also plays fiddle and follows a few blue grass jams in the city. I told her about the Old Time Jam at Freddy's — lately it's been all about fiddling.

Petra sat at Tomo and Harp Girl's table. I hadn't seen Petra in a long while, she's been in Argentina while her band Gaijin A-go-go is on break. I coached Pat along with the oblique knit square. She sat with Charolotte and Maggie.

I've made 12 squares so far — just 8 short of a baby blanket. Marci said she would get started after she finished current project, but didn't want to break a new skein. So I tossed her a freezer bag of odd balls. I guess that makes me a craft bully.

We have two new guys in the group, Stew is new and Zack is now our resident sock guru. Meg chatted him up for sock advise, she wants to something small that she can make on the subway. There sure is a lot of good self-patterning sock yarn out there.

Although I use MeetUp register to RSVP, I never enforce it at Freddy's. There's lots of room to spread out in the back room. Elfe brought some friends along, they were reacquainting themselves with a pattern in the corner booth. We had a good crowd of 17 people and few oglers. I guess we're all sick of staying at home to avoid the weather.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Knit PH at Perk: February 10 '09

58° on a February evening? I'm not complaining. Amanda arrived first, then Tomo. I ordered a hot cocoa and split an almond croissant with Tomo. My plan to lose some of that winter weight involves sharing my snack guilt — half a pie, half a bag of chips, half an order of fries, half-rack of ribs, etc.

I did some mid-winter apartment cleaning — that included downsizing my yarn stash. I'm helping Eliza organize the Afghans for Afghans charity blanket drive. We're getting good responses from the group. The squares are simple and make good use of odd balls that I don't want to throw out. So far I've knit 2 and crocheted 3.

Patty brought her friend Jan, but showed up without her dreads — I do like her new micro-fro. She needed some help with the knit instructions I wrote for the blanket drive. Jan is reacquainting herself with crochet, "It's been over 9 years."

Lisa stopped by briefly to show Eliza her new plum sweater while her dogs were tied out front. Lola and Rudy howled away impatiently. Emily's finished a very tropical looking shawl. She said it was a quick knit, only took about two weeks. She asked if there was a way to measure yardage without using a yardage counter.

I told her how I used to do it. I had a gram scale , I tried to manage my weight by weighing my food. That became tiresome, and it made me want to eat more than the recommended point system allowed. Anyhow, if you have a "mystery" ball here's what you do with a gram scale:

First weight the ball of yarn, this is variable A. Now measure out 50 yards with a ruler and weight it on a gram scale. That's variable B. Therefore (A grams ÷ B grams) X 50 yards = Your total yardage. Sounds good right — but I was always off by 10 or 15 yards. I told her to show up at Freddy's this Sunday, I'll bring the yardage counter.

Tomo made drink sleeves with a heart motif as Valentines Day gifts. Adrienne finished her Fiddle Head mittens and modeled them proudly. Marina is starting a baby blanket for a friend who is due very soon. I just worked on more squares.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Afghans for Afghans: Charity Blanket Drive

Hello Brooklynites,

In a collective effort to help those less fortunate than we, Knit PH is asking you to dig into your hearts and even deeper into your yarn stash. We are organizing a blanket drive for Afghans for Afghans, a humanitarian and educational program that sends knit and crochet goods to the people of Afghanistan. To learn more about their cause visit their web site: http://afghansforafghans.org/

The thought of one person making a whole blanket can be daunting, but if each of us made one or two square, the task would take minimal effort. Through the month of February Knit PH wil be collecting knit or crochet squares and assembling a sewing team. Our goal is to make at least 4 children's blankets (40" X 32"). Each blanket will need 20 squares.

Blanket Square Instructions:
1) Use any medium weight wool or wool-blend yarn.
2) Download these PDFs with basic knit and crochet instructions for an 8" square:
3) Drop off your work at Prospect Perk Cafe before March 31.
4) Sewing date around April 7

You can use your own pattern as long as it measures 8" X 8". Afghans for Afghans guidelines state not to use representational images of people and animals in your pattern. This includes human faces and religious symbols. Flowers, abstract, or geometric patterns are acceptable to Muslim culture.

Please e-mail ahead if you will be contributing so that we can keep track of our charity project.
e-mail: theyarnmonkey@yahoo.com
Subject: Afghans for Afghans

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

It's Summer In Australia

It must be 14° out there, and the damp wind doesn't help. I had one of my refrigerator-clean-out lunches today — tuna and chicken pasta. I call it "Beach and Barn." I wished I'd made more leek and potato soup. What I really wanted was good smoky BBQ.

You can count the number of businesses that have closed on Flatbush by the large sheets of ice in front of stores. I slipped on the ice the other day, right in front of the pool hall. All I know is that I saw my feet in the air and yelled "oh nooooo!" Is it really worth stepping out to buy a pack of cigarettes in this weather?

"It's Summer in Australia." says my friend Anna Copacabana. That's also the name of her latest show. Anna is an Aussie ex-pat and modern-day vaudeville artist. I make props for her show such as this ginormous papier machier flower head.

I've only seen her show live a few times, but I usually catch her on YouTube. Anna is ridiculus fun.