Square Burger: Great Addition to Franklin Park

Philly has some nice parks but none is more kid-friendly than Franklin Square. It has a merry-go-round and mini golf, and guys walk around making balloon animals for the kids. What it was lacking, until very recently, was good food. It is fairly close to Chinatown, so you could pick up food there and walk over, but there was nothing right in the park. Stephen Starr has opened a shack in the middle of the park called Square Burger. No, the burgers aren’t square, but they are pretty damn good.

Along with the tasty burgers the place has one of the few good specialty dogs in the city. Philly, for all of its great food, has no gourmet dog shops like one of my favorite spots in NYC,  Crif Dogs. Their Philly Dog is a good kosher beef dog wrapped in kosher salami with hot peppers, pickles, tomatoes and mustard. It satisfied a hot dog search in Philly that had gone hitherto unfulfilled. Square Burger’s fries are fresh cut and made to order. A bit on the salty side but very good nonetheless.

The drinks and desserts were pretty good as well. Sarah had a tasty lemonade and a sundae, while I had the Cake Shake, a butterscotch shake with Tastykake Butterscotch Krimpets mixed in. Very decadent and lowbrow – I loved it!

The only couple of complaints that I have are that it took quite a while to get our order and the size to price ratio. They were very busy and clearly still working out the kinks in the food prep. Also, the burgers are somewhat on the small side. At near $4 apiece, I wasn’t expecting a huge gastropub burger, but I would normally like a bit more that what I got. For this review I got both the burger and the dog so it worked out that I could finish both. But for most people who just want a burger these might leave you a little hungry.

Otherwise, if you are in Franklin Square, check out Square Burger. It’s good to have a high-quality fast food joint around while enjoying a day in the park.

I’m in the new Monthly Review

I’ve got an article in this month’s issue of Monthly Review!  It’s a review of Derek Wall’s book Babylon and Beyond, which attempts to survey the politics of the various wings of the anti-globalization/anti-capitalist movement(s).  The article isn’t available online, but I highly recommend picking up the issue.

If you’re not familiar with Monthly Review, it’s an excellent and venerable socialist magazine, founded  in 1949 by the late Paul Sweezy and Leo Huberman.  The first issue featured Albert Einstein’s essay Why Socialism?, and the magazine has continued in that tradition since.  The current editor, John Bellamy Foster, is a leading ecosocialist thinker– his Marx’s Ecology explores the subject in great depth, while Ecology Against Capitalism is a more accessible introduction to ecosocialism.

Enjoy!

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Recession Food: Recipe Bonanza, and Greek Bean Soup

Check out Shapely Prose for a great collection of readers’ favorite low-cost recipes for hard times.

This soup recipe from commenter Lisa sounds particularly tasty.  I haven’t tried it yet, but I plan to whip up a pot this week in honor of Greece, where people know how to register their anger with failed economic policies.

Fasolatha (Greek bean soup)

3 Medium Carrots Sliced
3 Celery ribs Chopped
1 lb Navy Beans, soaked overnight
1 Cup Olive Oil
3 cups water
1 Medium Onion Chopped
1 Pinch Pepper To taste
1 Pinch Salt To taste
1/2 tsp granulated garlic
1 Cup Diced Tomatoes
Directions:

* Soak the beans in water overnight.
* Strain the water and place the beans in a pot with new water.
* Boil for 2 minutes; strain. Repeat once more. This prevents the beans from causing gas.
* After boiling and straining the 2nd time, return beans to pot, add 3 cups water, and simmer.
*While the beans simmer, saute carrots, celery, and onion in a small amount of olive oil until onions are translucent. Add to beans, stir and continue to simmer until beans are tender, approx. 1 hour.
*Once beans are cooked, add tomatoes and olive oil. Simmer again. Add seasonings to taste.

At this point, the soup is ready. I often puree about 1/3 of the soup for a thicker consistency. This is an old Greek recipe; inexpensive, healthy, and very tasty.

I’m guessing you could probably used canned beans in a pinch.  This is vegetarian, dairy free and gluten free, and could easily be vegan if you use vegetable stock.

An Ecosocialist Manifesto

Happy New Year!

It’s been quiet around the Real Potato lately, I know.  I’ve been doing freelance writing and editing, and it’s going better than anticipated– I have all the work I can handle right now, between freelance work and my full-time job.  I love working on this blog, but it doesn’t make my student loan payments, so I’m afraid it will be a lower priority until my plate is a little less full.  I plan to post more regularly in 2009, though, and I do have some forthcoming articles- I’ll post links as they appear!

I do want to let my readers know about the Ecosocialist Network, though.  They’ve posted a statement about capitalism, socialism and the planet that I endorse,  and I encourage anyone else who agrees to sign as well.  Full text below the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

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Book Review: The Fortune Cookie Chronicles

For Americans, Chinese food is ubiquitous.  We debate about authenticity and taste in Chinatown and in our favorite corner takeout joints.   I may prefer the subtle charms of hand-drawn noodles or the joyous free-for-all that is dim sum to a folded white box of General Tso’s Chicken– but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have General Tso’s for lunch yesterday.  We see Chinese restaurants everywhere, without giving them a second thought– the almost-identical menus, the red and gold signs, the isolated Chinese families who are sometimes the only immigrants in town.

Jennifer 8. Lee, a Chinese-American New Yorker and beat reporter for the New York Times, tackles the question of Chinese food in America in all its glory in The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food. It’s an exuberant book, enthusiastic and well-researched, and Lee’s passion for her material is evident on every page.

The scope of Lee’s research is astonishing.  She visits Chinese restaurants all over the world in search of the best one (sorry, no spoilers here).  She travels to China to visit General Tso’s home village, where the inhabitants are surprised to hear that his fame in the West revolves around a chicken dish they’ve never tasted.  She visits San Francisco and Japan in her efforts to track down the origins of the fortune cookie.  And she delves deep into the world of “snakeheads,” the smugglers who charge would-be immigrants their life’s savings for dangerous passage into the US and Europe, and compassionately relates the story of Michael, a Fujianese man who survived a shipwreck on his journey to New York.

What she finds is astonishing.  This isn’t food porn (though there are plenty of tasty descriptions), nor is it fluff (though it is a quick and enjoyable read).  It’s more like the Freakonomics of Chinese food.  Lee applies her crisp writing and sense of humor to the intersections of social justice, the immigrant experience, business, gastronomy, and my favorite topic, political economy.

For example:

Why are American Chinese restaurants’ menus all so similar, even though they’re not centralized?  McDonald’s strives for the kind of uniformity that the China Gardens and Golden Pandas of small towns across American seem to have achieved effortlessly.  Lee argues that Chinese restauranteurs have, in effect, been early adopters of crowdsourcing techniques.

Why are Chinese dishes in America so different from Chinese dishes in China?  (And why do people in China find them so unpalatable?)  Lee traces the history of Chinese cooking in America, from 19th-century mining camps to chop suey palaces, and shows the evolution of the cuisine as it gained popularity and adapted to American tastes.

Why are the delivery people from Chinese restaurants so routinely mugged, beaten and murdered?  What does this say about the position of Chinese immigrants in the US?

Why is Chinese food so popular among American Jews?  Lee explores a kashrut scandal that took place in a Washington, DC-area kosher Chinese duck restaurant and the effect it had on the community.

And the question that ties all of these questions together: What does it mean to be an American child of Chinese parents?  It’s the fortune cookie that brings this question to the fore for Lee:

Fortune cookies weren’t Chinese.

It was like learning I was adopted while being told there was no Santa Claus. How could that be? I had always believed in the crispy, curved, vanilla-flavored wafers with the slips inside.

It was through reading The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan when I was in middle school that I first became aware of the mass deception. In one tale, two Chinese women find jobs in a San Francisco fortune cookie factory, where one is utterly perplexed when she learns that the cookies and their cryptic messages are considered Chinese.

I asked my mom if she had known all along that fortune cookies weren’t Chinese. She shrugged. She said when she first got to the United States from Taiwan, she’d assumed they were from Hong Kong or mainland China. China is a large and fractured place. She had never been to mainland China. Neither had I.

Lee’s quest to understand the origins of the fortune cookie becomes a quest to understand her own origins, and she handles it with intelligence, compassion and grace.  It’s a story relevant to every American (hyphenated or otherwise), every immigrant, everyone who’s ever sought a new life.  Whatever nonsense the Republicans and Democrats are spouting about barrier walls and guest-worker programs, it’s stories like the ones Lee brings to life that are the true lifeblood of this immigrant country.

Marion Nestle on African Agriculture

Everyone’s favorite left-wing nutritionist Marion Nestle continues to be amazing.  Check out her Q&A with Eating Liberally on the fallout from her recent talk at economist Jeffrey Sachs’s Earth Institute.  It seems Sachs took exception to Nestle’s contention that perhaps a “Green Revolution” isn’t all Africa needs:

American and European food and agriculture companies that exist for the purpose of earning profits for stockholders are not going to be able to do much to help poor farmers in Africa make a living. For one thing, Western companies depend on government subsidies to keep the prices of their products down and this undermines the ability of African farmers to sell crops at a decent price.

Check it out, it’s worth reading the whole thing.

You know you want me…

…as your editor.

That’s why I’ve launched a website to advertise my wordsmithing services on a freelance basis.  I’ve been doing freelance copyediting, transcription, proofreading, resume writing, tutoring and coaching as long as I’ve been working– over ten years.  I’ve also spent those ten years using those skills in jobs ranging from health care to law to translation.  I’ve worked with texts translated from dozens of languages; texts written by non-native English speakers from all over the world; large technical documents, political treatises, marketing materials and advertisements.  I work quickly, thoroughly and well, and there’s absolutely no reason not to put those skills to use bringing in a little extra cash, living as I do in student loan purgatory.

If you think I write well, and you’ve got some work that needs to be done, check it out at greyediting.wordpress.com.

Recession Food: Matzo Brei

Yes, folks, now that the financial sector is in total collapse and we’re staring down the very real possibility of a new Great Depression, it’s time for another installment of what will clearly be our ongoing series, Recession* Food!  Those of us who didn’t make millions running banks into the ground are tightening our belts, cashing in our change jars and wondering about that seven hundred billion dollars (!!) we’re being told we’ll hand over to the rich, so I’m afraid I won’t be reviewing many fancy restaurants on this blog anytime soon.  Seriously, a loaf of bread, a block of store-brand cheddar and a bag of Lay’s chips just cost me eight bucks.  It’s going to be a rough winter.  I will, however, be creative at finding ways to make tasty, nutritious food as cheaply as possible.  After all, that’s what most of the six billion people on this planet try to do every day.  Which brings us to matzo brei (or matzah brei), a Jewish favorite with Ashkenazi origins.

I’m not Jewish, and it’s been only recently (thanks largely to the lovely folks at the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation) that I’ve been introduced to the joys of Jewish culinary traditions.  So my introduction to matzo brei came from a book: the delightful Garlic and Sapphires, former New York Times restaurant critic Ruth Reichl’s memoir of her adventures in dining.  In one chapter toward the end of the book, Reichl is describing a period when the backbiting and snobbery of the food world began to get under her skin.  She reacts one night by cancelling her reservation to a lofty temple of haute cuisine and staying home with her two-year-old son making matzo brei, his favorite.

This matzo-and-egg dish is incredibly simple, quick and cheap.  (It’s also vegetarian and very Crohn’s-friendly, with its high protein and easily digested matzo.**)  I used Manichewitz ‘everything’ matzo, which, like the ‘everything’ bagel, has bits of onion, garlic and poppy seed for some added flavor.   There are lots of versions out there, including one that’s closer to a fritatta; there are also sweet versions with fruit and sour cream.

This recipe is meant for two, but Joe and I found that it took three crackers and four eggs to satisfy us.  Enjoy for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  This takes five minutes to make.  Really.

Matzo Brei (recipe by Ruth Reichl)

2 matzo crackers

2 eggs

Salt

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Set a colander inside a bowl (to catch the crumbs) and break the matzos into little pieces, dropping them into the colander.  Remove the colander from the bowl and hold it beneath running water until the matzos are damp.  Allow them to drain; then put the damp matzos into a bowl.

Break the eggs into the bowl and stir with a fork just until mixed.  Add salt to taste.

Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat.  When the foam subsides, add the matzo-egg mixture and cook, stirring constantly, for about 4 minutes, or until the egg is cooked and there are a few crispy little bits.

Put on plates and serve at once.

(Note: This might be blasphemy, but the spice lovers in my household ate this with a generous dollop of Sriracha hot sauce.)

*Stay tuned, I may have to rename it “Depression Food” and start offering recipes for roadkill and bathtub gin if this keeps up.

**Celiacs, you can buy gluten-free oat matzo, or try this recipe.  I haven’t tried these, so I can’t comment on their quality.  For those with wheat allergies who can tolerate spelt, though, I have eaten spelt matzo and it is freaking delicious.  Both are available from MatzahOnline.com.

Pic-a-nic in the Park

Sarah and I have been planning on taking a nice afternoon and going on a picnic in Penn Treaty Park. [where:19125] We had discussed just bringing sandwiches (boring) or a roast chicken (time consuming and heavy). Sarah had the idea to do bruschetta because we have all of these awesome heirloom tomatoes from Greensgrow Farm in our neighborhood.

So, I seeded and chopped about six tomatoes of varying sizes (about four cups’ worth), tossed in three finely chopped cloves of garlic, the juice of one lemon, a quarter cup of good extra virgin olive oil, a splash of rice wine vinegar, some fresh basil and thyme from the herb garden, a handful or two of shredded mozzarella, and salt and pepper to taste. This went into the fridge while I grilled some olive oil-rubbed bread. I used some Italian baguette-sized bread cut on the bias to maximize surface area. The bread went on a cooling rack so they would stay nice and firm.

We packed up the bread and the bruschetta topping along with some fruit and cheese that we also bought at Greeensgrow and headed to the park on a beautiful late afternoon on Labor Day.

The complexity of the flavors in the heirloom tomatoes was a wonderful change from the standard red tomato. It had tart green finger tomatoes, semi-sweet reds and this awesomely sweet yellow tomato (it made Sarah and me remember that tomatoes are fruits). The bruschetta was visually appealing as well. The varying colors combined with the cheese and herbs excited the eyes as well as the taste buds.  I wish we had a camera so I could show you the beautiful colors.

We decided that this would be our picnic staple from now on.

This is, of course, vegetarian and it could be gluten free eaten with some GF bread. Also, I know you are saying, “This sounds yummy, but heirlooms are so pricey!” One, I would say that it is worth it for a time-to-time treat. And two, if you live in Philly, get yourself over to Greensgrow Farm on Cumberland Street in Fishtown/Port Richmond. They are only $1.75 per pound there, as opposed to the normal four to five dollars a pound most places that you go. We are won to the place and we plan to buy a share or half share next year so we can have their great produce all of the time.

Slow Food Nation: What Does That Mean?

All right, so it’s kind of killing me that I’m not at Slow Food Nation in San Francisco this weekend– if you’re anywhere near the Bay Area, go check it out!

There will be plenty of coverage by every food blogger with the cash for a plane ticket, but so far my favorite is this appeal by Serious Eats’ Ed Levine:

I have always found the Slow Food movement here in the U.S. to be more about nonspecific soaring rhetoric and less about specific actions we can all take that actually further the cause of slow food in America. Eating delicious, sustainable, artisanal foods and calling attention to those foods is laudable, but it is not enough.

Because right now in America there are hundreds of artisanal food purveyors under siege, threatened by the mushrooming homogeneity of our food culture and the march of “progress.”

Go read the whole thing.  It’s an impassioned plea for concrete action to help the people who keep traditional American foods alive.

I think that should absolutely be a plank in the Slow Food platform.  Ultimately, though, the movement will have to deal with the question of how to rebuild the food system.  Between global warming, peak oil, natural disasters and serious safety failings in the mass production of food, we need a way to ensure that should the food distribution system be disrupted, people are still fed.  Building a locally based, organic food system will drastically reduce energy use and change the way people think about food, which can only be positive– but it’s also an insurance policy against hunger.

There seem to be some promising political meetings on this topic at Slow Food Nation– I hope we’ll be hearing more about this in the near future!

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