Archive for March 2008

Cooking is good for the soul…

March 15, 2008

Cooking is good for the soul. I’m sure you’ve heard that before, but I can attest to it. Sometimes, when I have a moment to breathe, I have this unstoppable urge to cook till I drop, to make all the recipes that I’ve been thinking about for weeks or months, and sometimes more. When I really tune into the cook within, there is a lot of energy and knowledge that I have yet to explore. So I find it really fulfilling when I have the opportunity and the inclination to just set aside a big chunk of my time to cook, and cook, and cook, and cook. Which, you’ll no doubt guess, is what I’ve been doing for the last few days. I have made, in the space of two afternoons / evenings, three different soups, two kinds of green beans, a berry crumble, a puttanesca sauce, and a butternut squash, pancetta, and porcini mushroom ravioli. I have enough food to feed an army, thank goodness for the freezer; I mean I live on my own for crying out loud. I practically have to have a dinner party now to get some of this food eaten, though I’m sure I could manage it on my own if need be. I really don’t know what has gotten into me to be honest. For one thing, I often find it frustrating to try and prepare particular recipes in Philly because you invariably have to go to three or four stores, in at least two parts of the city, to procure all the necessary ingredients. If you don’t have the foresight to plan ahead for ingredients you’ll need for recipes you want to make, or the time / patience to run around to all the different places, then a person can be easily deterred from making something. But when everything falls into place and for whatever reason you have the time and energy to really spend in your kitchen, my what fun it can be. I have to say I love playing with food, I do it all the time now, whether out at a restaurant (my parents have been embarrassed to be seen with me on several occasions in recent memory) or in my own kitchen. But it’s such a tactile and, I would argue, intimate experience, the relationship we have with our food, or at least we can have if we choose to be aware of it. This is in part why I am so enthralled by food as a topic in general, what it means to people, how they see it as a part of their lives, and how they reflect who they are off of their food choices. But what I really wanted to advocate here was indulgence in the love of food through a closer connection between you and what you eat. I know that cooking up a storm in my kitchen is completely comforting and enjoyable, time that I feel I am taking care of myself. Just some things to think about the next time you step into your kitchen to whip up a new recipe or two.


Fruit Sticker Art

March 12, 2008

Ever think for more than a second about those stickers on the fruits and vegetables that you buy at the produce market or grocery store? Well neither did I until I happened to be watching the Food Network one evening and in an episode of Unwrapped with Marc Summers they had a segment about a guy who actually makes artwork with these colorful sticky circles. The artist in question’s name is Barry “Wildman” Snyder who is known as the “Almost World Renowned Food Sticker Mosaic Artist.” Here’s his website so you can see some of the amazing stuff he does:

And YouTube has the segment of Unwrapped with his segment here:

The Wildman even has a foundation called the S.O.S. Foundation for “Save Our Stickers.” This got me to thinking about these stickers and how I’d known people to have decorated their entire lunchbox with them growing up. It also got me to wondering what saving the stickers might reveal about where a lot of my food is coming from, whether it’s local or even produced in the United States at all. So I started saving my stickers this past summer (2007), and I’ve finally reached a point where I feel like I have enough of a critical mass that it’s worth sharing this with you all. Here’s a photo of the stickers:


I just tacked up a couple of pieces of paper on my wall in the kitchen and started sticking the puppies up there whenever I took a fruit or vegetable out of the fridge for use. I did the one on the left first, so you can see it’s a little less well organized.

Here’s some of thing things that I can tell you from this experience:
• I eat a heck of a lot of fruit and not too many vegetables, though it’s not as if I needed a sticker wall to tell me that. I have always been more of a fruit person. If you look closely there are probably 90-95% fruit stickers.
• There are a heck of a lot of stickers that simply denote that the fruit (I’m just going to call a spade a spade here) is from the USA, no further information provided as to specific state. Some of them say things like Washington apples, or California or Florida citrus, but we could probably guess that. I guess I had always imagined that the state would be identified on the fruit so you could know how far, roughly, it was traveling. Just goes to show you how closely I’ve been paying attention, and how far the stickering industrial powers are going to mask the transport costs.
• There are a large number of non-US stickers including: Chile, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Costa Rica, Columbia, Ecuador, Canada, and New Zealand. Now I buy a lot of bananas, so it’s of little surprise to me that these warmer climes appear, but there sure are a lot represented and they’re not only shipping bananas, New Zealand was there for the kiwis and organic apples.

If I really wanted to break it down, there is a lot of information stored up (& hidden behind) these little stickers that we generally throw away, and admittedly sometimes take an unwitting bite of. I learned a lot from this little exercise and though I haven’t yet decided whether I’ll send the stickers on to the Wildman, maybe you should consider starting to save your stickers, just to learn a little bit more about where your food is coming from.

Modo Mio – Italian food ‘perfection-style’

March 5, 2008

I had a nearly perfect meal for dinner last night at Modo Mio on Girard Ave. in Philadelphia. Everything about the meal made for a fantastic evening at this small, homey, welcoming restaurant in Northern Liberties. We went there on a recommendation of one of our dining partners who had heard nothing but rave reviews about the place and boy were those people right. I would really urge anyone who is looking for a great meal out on the town to head in that direction immediately. Now I know certain people who don’t think that going out to eat Italian food makes a whole lot of sense, yes you can make pasta at home, but there is no way you will be able to reproduce the quality of meal that you’ll enjoy at Modo Mio without a gargantuan amount of effort on your part, and unless you really want to go to all that trouble, why not let the experts do what they do best?
The restaurant has a prix fixe menu for $30 where you can order an antipasti, pasta, secondi, and either a dolce or contadini, they’ve christened it the “menu tourista.” I would really recommend this option. Not only do you get great value for your money, but there are no restrictions on the options, you can literally order anything on their menu when you choose the prix fixe. They have between 6 and 8 options in each of the categories and several specials each night. The menu also changes every six weeks.
I’m not going to get too much into the details of the actual meal here since I tried some of everything that landed on our table and every single dish was amazing, but I will give you a little run down of my own meal choices and then include the pictures so you can see for yourself the kinds of beautiful food they’re bringing out of the kitchen at this place. For antipasti I had an octopus salad with white beans, raisins, and slivered almonds. For both the pasta and secondi I ordered the specials which were a torteloni stuffed with broccoli rabe and some wonderful cheese, also served with raisins and then a lamb stew served with feta. The range of flavors that we experienced during the course of the meal was really wonderful. Everything from the little amuse buche at the beginning – their homemade bread with gorgonzola cheese, prosciutto, and aged balsamic vinegar – to the sambuca at the end was perfectly flavored and just danced on your palate.
Now we all know that any good meal out at a restaurant is not due solely to the powers of the chef, the ambiance and the serving staff are also critical players in how much you enjoy the night. Well you should have no complaints at Modo Mio. The staff were so friendly and welcoming and made you feel very comfortable, a great deal of laughing was done by all. Our waiter was particularly charming and made the meal that much more memorable because of his attentiveness and lighthearted conversation throughout the evening. The timing of the plates coming out of the kitchen was also quite well orchestrated, with pauses between courses to allow you to take a break and to get into some good conversation. The point of the prix fixe menu and the entire way the restaurant is set up is to allow friends to come out for a nice, leisurely meal and to enjoy the food, ambiance, and company of their dining partners. They have succeeded absolutely in this goal as far as I’m concerned, I have not had a more impressive or pleasant meal in recent memory. We even shut the place down on a Tuesday night and were able to meet the chef, Peter, who was born locally and extremely nice. He and our waiter, Ernesto, really made the night. As I said, you really should get yourself out to Modo Mio as soon as may be, you deserve to treat yourself to such a fantastic dining experience!

Modo Mio
161 West Girard Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19123

ph: 215-203-8707