151-165/1000 Foods to Eat Before You Die

May 19, 2017 by

I’m currently in something of a holding pattern professionally, as I wait for some projects to kick off, some contracts to come through, and some stars to align.  This has led to long spring days of me giving myself lots of little projects — clean out the closet, sell that purse on ebay, reorganize the tupperware — so that I don’t spend whole days in front of my laptop, refreshing my email.  It has also led to a lot of anxious walking around NYC alone, staring into store windows, and stopping every now and then to check something off the 1000 Foods to Eat Before You Die master list.  So here we go — the fruits (and pastries, and beverages) of my nervous productivity.

One morning, a few weeks ago, I stopped into the famous Cafe Lalo on the Upper West Side to have breakfast, and refresh Twitter for updates on the looming WGA strike.  I had…

Croissant (151) — French
Espresso (152) — Italian
Mint Tea (153) — North African

Croissants are one of my all-time, top-10 favorite foods.  In fact, I’m a bit of a snob about them — I won’t eat them prepackaged (from a supermarket), or anywhere they’ve been mass-produced to be nothing more than chewy rolls (most coffee shops).  True croissants should be crispy, buttery, preferably warm, and make a flaky mess when you eat them, according to me.  AND I HAVE BEEN TO FRANCE AND AM THEREFORE AN EXPERT.  But let’s check in with Mimi.  “Properly done, the results will be quintessentially buttery and messily flaky, with a yellow-white interior that is just the least bit elastic as it is pulled from the center to be spread with dabs of butter and perhaps some fresh fruit jam.”  Yes, exactly.  Even more exciting — the pain au chocolat and almond croissant variations.  But those are too rich for everyday, in my view.  Though synonymous with France, croissants actually originated in the bakeries of Vienna, around the same time that Viennese introduced coffee to Europe.  And, I’d argue, we haven’t done much to improve upon le petit dejeuner since.

Because I was really excited about the idea of checking off a lot of items in one meal, I ordered two beverages.  The first, an espresso — made to perfection, according to Mimi: “The foam topping is considered perfect when it is tinted a creamy tan, never black (an indication of brewing with overheated water), and can hold a sprinkling of sugar for several seconds before it sinks.”  I must confess that espresso is not my favorite way to drink coffee — I would rather have a bigger cup and more diluted caffeine — but this one was very nice.

I also ordered a mint tea, a beverage so common that it might seem to have no place of origin. But of course it does, and Mimi is here to educate us that mint tea is: “A refreshing symbol of hospitality that is served (usually hot) throughout North Africa and in parts of the Middle East. … Mint tea is customarily offered to guests on arrival in homes, and when deals have been struck in old-fashioned shops and souks, it may be ordered in from a nearby café, as a symbol of goodwill.”  It sounds like, from Mimi’s recounting, the mint tea ceremony in Morocco and other parts of North Africa is really something to behold — and much more glamorous than my little bag in my little cup.  But the results are probably refreshingly similar.  I like mint tea a lot.

Cafe Lalo, NYC

Pasta (154) — Italian

Moving on to another part of the globe, let’s talk about some Italian foods I have made and eaten recently.  While I did, in fact, purchase some fresh handmade tagliatelle from Eataly last week in order to make this Food52 Genius Recipe, I wanna actually check this box off using the homemade ravioli that Miles and I made a few months back.  It started last July, really, when we went to a BYOB pasta-making class at Tastebuds Kitchen here in NYC — HIGHLY recommended for date night. It continued at Christmas, when my in-laws presented us with the pasta-making attachment for our beloved Kitchenaid Stand Mixer.  And it all paid off on Valentine’s Day 2017, when Miles and I decided to make ourselves a pasta dinner at home instead of going out to eat.  The results can be seen below.  Not too shabby, for a maiden voyage.  And they were pretty tasty, too.

Where do pastas (and by extension, all noodles) come from?  Mimi quotes Vincenzo Buonassisi: “the origins of all flour and water combinations are as remote as prehistoric man himself.”  She goes on to tell us that, world-wide, no food matches pasta in popularity.  Wherever it is found, it is comfort food — the perfect vehicle for sauces, meats, herbs, and even more fanciful garnishes.  I don’t eat  lot of pasta myself, and I prefer filled ravioli or tortellini to noodles in sauce, but even I have to admit that when the urge strikes, nothing else will really do.

The maiden voyage of our pasta attachment.  Success!

Affogato (155) and Ricotta (156) — Italian

Whilst still in this Italian frame of mind, I stopped into Indie Café before seeing a show, and grabbed a little nosh.

Affogato is vanilla ice cream “suffocated” in a bath of hot espresso.  I have had many previous chances to try this dessert which I have passed on, believing that the combination of those two things would decrease my enjoyment of both (much like the combo of bourbon and ginger ale).  And I was correct.  Mimi regards this combo of hot/cold, bitter/sweet as majestic in its simplicity, but I would rather enjoy the two items in separate containers.  Mimi tells us that this dessert originated in Turin and became popular stateside in the late 90s, because it’s so easy to prepare and lovely to behold.  I can understand the appeal, cognitively.  But I’m not a convert to the combo.

Ricotta cheese turns up sometimes as an ingredient in things I like to eat (pancakes, for one), but I wanted to wait to check this box until I ate some ricotta that was easily identifiable as itself.  And here we are.  Simple food: ricotta spread on bread, topped with honey.  So, so good.  Ricotta is really a very versatile substance — good alone, or in recipes, it pairs easily with sweet and salty foods.  Mimi says, “Creamy yet enticingly grainy, sweet but with an alluring tang, ricotta is Italy’s elegant version of cottage cheese — though it’s so luxurious and delightful that the comparison seems inapt. … To get technical, ricotta is not actually a cheese but rather a cheese by-product made from whey that is left over from other cheese making.  Once this whey is collected, it is reheated… until curds form and a soft white mass emerges.”  Well, who knew!  I used to think I wasn’t a fan of cheese curds, but it turns out I am!  But they have to be Italian curds.  Because I’m full-time fancy.

Indie Café, NYC

Gelato (157) — Italian

My tour of Italy continued right across the street, albeit on a different day, when I snapped up some gelato at Épicerie Boulud on the Upper West Side.  I got vanilla bean flavor with a cookie crumbled on top, because it was a hot day and they had run out of nearly everything.  When I have my druthers, I like to be adventurous with my gelato — I gravitate toward flavors like ‘black pepper olive oil’ and ‘lavender’, found at divine eateries Paciugo and Black Dog Gelato in Chicago.  But this was good on a hot afternoon, to accompany sitting in on a park bench and talking Danielle’s ear off about how afraid I was that all my projects were falling apart.  Mimi tells us what separates gelato from other frozen milk desserts: “[Gelato is] denser in texture and far richer in flavor than any of its relations.  Traditionally made with milk blended with egg yolks, it is also cooked, rather like a pudding or custard, before it is frozen… because it is made in a machine that churns relatively slovely, gelato also has less air whipped into it than standard American or French ice cream.”  Chicago and NYC gelato are great, but gelato purists say that Sicily is still home to the best in the world.  Only one way to find out…

Épicerie Boulud, NYC

Blood Oranges (158) — Italian

And finally, back home.  Blood oranges are going out of season, so I bought some whilst I could.  Mimi educates that, “Sicilian farmers weren’t trying for an exotic fruit.  Sometime after the 1400s, they reported that the fruits began developing in the groves on their own, the unplanned offspring of blond sour oranges and sweet oranges.”  I’ve had many blood-orange-flavored drinks and dishes in the past, but never cut into one and eaten it all by itself.  And let me tell you… there was carnage.  THESE ARE VERY HARD TO PEEL.  And it doesn’t help that, as you would imagine from the name, it looked like a fruit massacre in my kitchen when I finally got done.  Mimi tells me, somewhat unhelpfully after the fact, that the juice tends to stain.  Luckily, the fruit inside the stubborn rind was delicious.  Now I have a whole bag of them in my fruit bowl, so I’m looking into this Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake recipe for the weekend.

Blood oranges from Trader Joe’s

Bacon (159) — American

Yeah, yeah, yeah bacon.  People are obsessed, and obsessed with how obsessed people are.  Luckily, the real ‘bacon moment’ we were having a couple of years ago seems to finally be dying down — there was a time when it seemed you couldn’t get ANYTHING, even desserts, without bacon on top.  This did not escape Mimi’s notice: “In recent years, bacon has become so fashionable (almost ridiculously so) that it’s been used as a flavoring for everything from ice cream to vodka.”  I like bacon okay, but I rarely eat it and almost never seek it out.  However, the other day, I walked past a Shake Shake* on the Upper West Side that had no line, and it’s actually a law in NYC that if you pass a Shake Shack without a line, you have to go in and get a burger.  I went for the SmokeShack burger, which features Niman Ranch (very happy, nitrate- and preservative-free) bacon.   I don’t have to tell you this thing was delicious.  We all know bacon gussies up pretty much whatever it is added to, and has since humans started curing pork meat in 200 B.C.

*Note: if you’re like me and you only eat responsibly-raised meat, the Shake Shack policy is: 100% all-natural Angus beef, vegetarian fed, humanely raised and source verified. No hormones or antibiotics – EVER.  So get you a burger!!

Shake Shack, UWS, NYC

Dijon Mustard (160) — French

Spicy mustard on a giant pretzel?  Yes, please!  But what IS this enjoyable stuff?  “One of nature’s happy accidents, the sharp, brassy spread came into being when a gaggle of grapevines and yellow-specked mustard plants tangled up together in the hills of Dijon” sometime in the Middle Ages, Mimi educates us.  Mustard actually dates as far back as the Roman Empire, but it was the creation of Dijon that really made this condiment take off.  It became popular in the US in the 80s, which had a lot to do with those Grey Poupon commercials we all remember so well.  For my money, I prefer the depth of flavor in a Djion mustard to the simpler taste of something like French’s Yellow or honey mustard.  Especially on pretzels.

South’s Bar, Tribeca, NYC

Pistachios (161) — Iranian, Turkish

I, like most sane people, love pistachios.  And pistachio-flavored foods.  I even crush them up and put them in my guacamole when I make it at home (it is an awesome addition — trust).  Mimi describes the nut as, “an ancient pleasure beloved for its exotic flavor and its naturally salty essence. … Its flavor, distilled into a gorgeously perfumy essence, is a famous enhancer of ice cream, candies, cakes, cookies, and on the savory side, of Middle Eastern stews.”  Pistachios are also a superfood: high in antioxidants, amino acids, and monounsaturated fats.  So snack away!

From the bodega, NYC

Popcorn (162) and Salt Water Taffy (163) — American

One rainy recent day, my anxious wanderings lead me to check out the Food Hall at the Plaza, something I’ve always wanted to do.  It is… pretty much a fancy underground food court, albeit one where you can get a lobster dinner instead of a Sbarro slice.  I’d recommend Chelsea Market instead if this is the atmosphere you’re looking for, especially on a weekday when it’s less crowded.  But I did take the opportunity to pick up two snacks from the American section of the book.

First, popcorn: my husband’s favorite snack, but not one I’m partial to.  Even at the movies, I just want one handful, and I’m good.  But Miles could eat the stuff every night, made old school — on the stovetop, not in the microwave.  And he’s not alone.  Mimi calls popcorn America’s “national addiction.”  But it isn’t a food as young as the US — popcorn has been popped in the Americas for at least 5600 years, and both Native Americans and Aztecs incorporated the popping of corn into their rituals and festivals.  The large, fluffy variety we are most familiar with today came to us courtesy of food scientist Orville Redenbacher, who cultivated a variety of corn in 1965 that expanded twice as much as other kernels.  And though his brand is synonymous with microwavable bags, Rendenbacher himself insisted that the only acceptable way to pop corn was in oil, on the stovetop.  I tried this birthday cake variety from Hammond’s, hoping to make checking this box more exciting (plus, I’ve had regular popcorn about a billion times — I know what it tastes like).  This bag was sweeter and prettier than the OG stuff, but still popcorn.  A hearty meh from me.

But this saltwater taffy from Salty Road?  RUN, don’t walk, folks.  I’ve had many salt water taffies in my day (my mom particularly enjoys the stuff), and while I’ve never disliked it in the past, it’s never been at the top of my dream-candies list.  But THIS stuff?  From THIS box?  It was a whole new level.  I shared it with a group of girlfriends who got together the night I bought it, and they all agreed — this was the best salt water taffy they’d ever had.  There are actual, visible, taste-able clusters of salt inside, which give it the sweet/salty combo taste it’s probably always supposed to have.  And it was perfectly chewy — not gluey, and not a rock, which are the two textures I usually find.  Of course, I wanted to know more about the company that makes the stuff.  So I scooted over to their website, and found out that Salty Road was created in Brooklyn in 2011, and that their taffy is so good because:

“Most taffy makers make one ginormous “white” batch, divide it and add different artificial colors and flavors to it.  We use all natural flavors — for the vanilla we start with a real vanilla bean, dry it out on low in the oven, and pulverize it to bits.  Making vanilla dust this way we use the whole bean and get even more of that amazing vanilla aroma into our taffy.  Our way takes longer and uses expensive ingredients but you can really taste the difference.

Many taffy makers don’t put any salt in their taffy.  We use large grain sea salt in all of our taffy.  It creates a balance with the sweetness in the candy and enhances all of our natural flavors.  And don’t forget the amazing crunch it adds. It is one the most unique things about Salty Road apart from your hum drum taffy makers.  Yay salt!”  (https://www.thesaltyroad.com/pages/faq)

Would Mimi approve?  Saltwater Taffy dates back to the Atlantic City Boardwalk in 1885, and our author advises that “it is singularly tender and chewy, a junky food that’s easy to love and, one you’re hooked, hard to forget.”  I think we have a winner.

from The Plaza Food Hall

Tuna Salad Sandwich (164) — American

Mimi calls upon us to eat a tuna salad sandwich, but who would do that when you could order a tuna melt (basically the same, plus cheese) at one of NYC’s famous diners?  This is from one of my favorite diners in the city, Good Stuff Diner on 14th Street.  This place has a huge menu, great food, amazing pies, and a full bar.  What more do you want?  And as expected — they make a mean tuna melt.  According to Mimi, “For first-rate tuna salad, the best choice is solid albacore, packed in light oil that won’t fight with the mild flavor of mayonnaise.”  She prefers her tuna salad to have large chunks of fish mixed by hand, instead of “ground to oblivion in food processors.”  She also says to skip the slice of tomato (don’t have to tell me twice), as its juices mess up the works.  Mimi would approve of the tuna salad at Good Stuff Diner, I think.  I know I do.

Good Stuff Diner, Union Square, NYC

Ginger Beer (164) — West African  

And finally, we end on a happier, calmer note than the one on which we started.  The day after I got the news that a big deal I was very anxious about had closed on great terms (thanks, team!!), Kate and Danielle took me out for drinks and nibbles at The Nomad Bar.  Below, please find a dark and stormy, one of the best drinks on the planet, made with ginger beer, molasses, lime juice, and rum.  Mimi says  that ginger beer (which is non-alcoholic on its own) is, “A forerunner to ginger ale; this so-called beer is a lightly astringent palate awakener.”  And great for celebrating with friends when a ship finally does come in.  Cheers!

The Nomad Bar, NYC

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1 Comment

  1. Jean Marcantel

    You HAVE been busy!
    Two comments:
    *Soooo, Little Miss Muffett was eating Ricotta!
    *I’m going to be Googling Salty Road!

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