"Food had power. It could inspire, astonish, shock, excite, delight, and impress. It had the power to please me…and others. This was valuable information."

from Kitchen Confidential : Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdian

I asked the server what to get and he suggested this combination! The flavors combined perfectly! You must go if you’re nearby. Portland Bagelworks 500 NW 23rd Ave. Portland, OR 97210 (503) 227-2356

I asked the server what to get and he suggested this combination! The flavors combined perfectly! You must go if you’re nearby. Portland Bagelworks 500 NW 23rd Ave. Portland, OR 97210 (503) 227-2356

My School Lunch Experience from Thailand to Berkeley, California

When I attended elementary school in Thailand, I had some of the best meals of my life. I especially remember delicious roasted pork shoulder— I ate plate after plate! One of the schools I attended in Thailand is in Nonthaburi Province. The school had a kitchen as big as a gym. Everytime I walked by, I saw chefs sweating as they cooked. They always seemed excited to show off the specials of the day to the children. Every day, my class sent six representatives down to the kitchen to get our lunches. Four students would carry two pots back to the classroom: one pot with some sort of a savory dish and another with the main staple, white rice or rice noodle. The last two kids would carry enough plates for everyone in our class. Every day, every class in the school would do the same. The students would set up a buffet line in the front of the classroom and then serve food to their classmates and friends. Once we ate, we all walked to the kitchen to wash our plates and utensils. First we’d scrape off the leftovers, then we’d dip our plate in soapy water and use soap to scrub it down, and then do a first rinse and a second rinse. Then maybe we’d have 30 minutes of playtime before afternoon classes.

When the students carried pots from the kitchen, served food to their classmates,and washed their own plates, they learned important social etiquette. When young students eat wholesome (and delicious!) food at a young age, they are more likely to continue the practice into adulthood. There is a saying in Thailand that the teachers and schools are second parents. If kids aren’t learning something at home, the school is the place. Things seem to be a little different with my experience in the United States.

In my college days, I started to read about school lunch in the U.S. Who would believe there are webs of politics, power, race, socio-economics, class, and culture behind the food that the children (and all of us) are eating. At Berkeley High School in California, where I attended high school, there were never more than a few hundred of over two thousand students waiting in line for lunch or breakfast. The food there actually wasn’t bad compared to other public school lunches I’ve tasted. But it still wasn’t good enough for the teenagers’ taste buds. Apparently it also wasn’t  “cool” to wait in line in the cafeteria so students often didn’t eat or left campus to find something else to eat. Local businesses in downtown Berkeley are packed during lunch hour with young folks trying to get burgers, cappuccinos, bagels, burritos, sandwiches, and chinese fried rice. Soda and chips were some of the most popular snacks.  

When I came to the United States, I started eighth grade at Martin Luther King Middle School in Berkeley, California. Not surprisingly, I didn’t like the school lunches there; I didn’t like cheese, tomato, or bread— the pizza! The only time I really enjoyed my lunch was when my English and Math teachers took our class to the school garden, the famous Edible Schoolyard. I didn’t realize the significance of that school garden until years later when I was researching about school lunch in college.

The Edible Schoolyard is known as a prototype garden that aims to bring wholesome food back to children in schools. They want a real kitchen in every school and they want to bring produce from local farmers and not rely solely on the “market leftovers” from the USDA. They work to get their community involved with their children’s diet. They also integrate school gardens into classroom curriculums. That  was why my classes stopped by the garden a few times a year. That garden has a very nice homely kitchen. The times in the Edible Schoolyard were great because it reminded me a lot of Thailand: I got to cook fresh vegetables with soy sauce the way that I like. I felt comfortable in that environment. I learned later quite quickly that children around the country are not as fortunate as I am.

Even though I grew up surrounded by rich cultures of food, I used to love junk food like no other. I loved Twinkies, or the “Undead Snack” as Mark Bittman calls them.  I bought one almost every day for breakfast and savored eating it with a glass of milk. The white cream in the middle was so delightful. I had Twinkies for breakfast for years. Then I learned that Twinkies never go bad. They have no nutrients, only fat. Even worse, the cream in the middle isn’t made of dairy products. I freaked out; what could Twinkies possibly made of!? Why were Twinkies even allowed on the market?! And why were such products doing so well? When I was a kid, those questions obviously didn’t occur to me.

After reading what Bittman had to say and doing a little research of my own, it was clear that millions of people loved Twinkies as much as I did too. Children grow to be adults. The majority of adults today still don’t know exactly what they are eating. When I tell my so-called “adult” friends facts like, Your food is radiated! Your apples and tomatoes have been waxed! The water you’re drinking from that bottle is pipeline-quality, not fresh spring water like they advertised! They say no way! They freak out. They don’t believe it. They get mad at me. I get tired and just tell them to google it!

Now I think I will just invest in a few informative books and share them with my friends (I will include a list of books and links below). A lot of vegetables went through radiation to kill the basic bacteria so they would store longer and look pretty longer in the supermarkets. Did you learn the fact that bacteria breaks down organic substance (think poop)? I hope so! If you get your produce fresh from the farm, most of it will go bad in about a week. If you get your vegetables from California farms when you live in NYC, there isn’t much freshness in there from the harvest time to your table so they had to do something about it, i.e., kill the germs (and more). Apples just look so much more attractive when they’re shiny and reflecting the market lights, don’t they?

Now, how many of you have seen passion fruit in a supermarket? Rare, very rare. We don’t see it because passion fruit gets really ugly a few days after picking. When it comes down to it, supermarkets will have a hard time selling ugly-looking vegetables despite health benefits. Consumers simply won’t pick out something with a bruise, yellowish-coloring, or welted with some exceptions (like plantains). So many of us love passion fruit drinks (which are almost always loaded with sugar!) but would never know what real passion fruit looks or tastes like. I’ll tell you, it is beyond your imagination. The  beauty of the flowers nearly kills the eyes. The fruit is round, an oval shape, in a soft yellow or purple color. You break the semi-hard shell, and then start sipping the seeds. The texture of the seeds is similar to chia seeds, if you know what those are. The tartness of the fruit will make you shiver in a very satisfying way. (By the way, there isn’t even passion fruit in your “passion fruit” drinks; they are engineered flavors!)

(A passion fruit flower. )

(A giant unripe passion fruit, almost as big as my head!)

The school gardens and healthy lunches, to me, keep things simple in children’s mind. They were learning when they thought they had been playing outside and they want more delicious food. Another school I attended before I moved to Berkeley was in Chiangmai, Thailand. It was a local school of about 800 students. They had an agriculture program for fourth to seventh grades. Almost weekly, the whole class would go to the school garden. There was an old man who looked after the garden living in a hut there. He would show us how to do things around the garden. Our class weeded the garden, grafted fruit trees, planted seeds in the earth, and fed the fish in the pond. We were being kids, humbly following adult’s instructions and having fun. My favorite part was when we shook the coconut trees so hard so the fruit would drop. A couple of my classmates climbed the trees and got us more. We used a machete to chop off the hard coconut shell so we could savor the juice on a humid afternoon. Like the Edible Schoolyard, we got to be active, build teamwork, and create friendships. I miss those days.

Read more on…

Edible Schoolyard Project Berkeley, California (http://edibleschoolyard.org/)

Edible Schoolyard New Orleans, Louisiana (http://esynola.org/)

Food Politics by Marrion Nestle (http://www.foodpolitics.com/)

Food Radiation (http://whyfiles.org/054irradfood/2.html)

Fruit and Vegetable Wax (http://whfoods.org/genpage.php?tname=george&dbid=175)

“Michelle Obama Reveals Her White House Garden Grows” by Marian Burros (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/29/us/politics/michelle-obama-writes-american-grown.html)

Passion Fruit (http://www.crfg.org/pubs/ff/passionfruit.html)

School Lunch Politics by Susan Levine (http://www.amazon.com/School-Lunch-Politics-Surprising-Twentieth-Century/dp/0691146195/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1343978438&sr=1-1&keywords=National+school+lunch+program)

“Twinkies, the Undead Snack” by Mark Bittman (http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/17/twinkies-the-undead-snack/)

As my obsession for coffee increases, I feel obligated to do more research about them. The Salt,  a new NPR food blog is fun to read. 

Making spring rolls for dinner with my roommates! 
Look at those cute leopard print plates!

Making spring rolls for dinner with my roommates! 

Look at those cute leopard print plates!

Homemade Brown Rice Chicken Paella
I’m sorry I haven’t been posting any recipe. I hope this picture of delicious brown rice paella make up for it! I hope it also inspires you to cook something delicious using tomatoes before the end of the season. I used Creole tomatoes to make the sofrito. It was unbelievably tasty :)

Homemade Brown Rice Chicken Paella

I’m sorry I haven’t been posting any recipe. I hope this picture of delicious brown rice paella make up for it! I hope it also inspires you to cook something delicious using tomatoes before the end of the season. I used Creole tomatoes to make the sofrito. It was unbelievably tasty :)

Gazpacho, a raw vegetable soup with Creole tomato base!



I can’t believe I just discovered gazpacho, a soup made with a blend of raw vegetables. This dish is commonly served cold so it is perfect for a hot summer day! Gazpacho is renowned in Spain. I don’t enjoy eating salad, but I’ve been wanting to start eating more raw vegetables (I’m aware that salads can be tasty and people have become very creative, but I still can’t get my taste buds to love them yet!). I think gazpacho is appealing to me because I can add familiar flavors of Thai cuisine such as garlic, cilantro, basil, and lime juice.

After reviewing numerous recipes and talking to my friends, I learned that some of the main vegetables in this soup are cucumbers, tomatoes, and bell peppers. A friend told me that you can make gazpacho whatever color you want based on on the colors of the vegetables you are using. I like mine red so I got some meaty Creole tomatoes from the farmers market (currently in season in Louisiana!) and red bell peppers. I like mine just a little spicy and very citrusy, so I threw in half of a jalapeño and juice of one and half limes for two cups of tomatoes purée. 

I won’t include a recipe here since it was my first time making the soup and I barely did anything creative to it. Check out recipes from the Food and Wine MagazineSpanish Home Cooking, and Alton Brown’s recipeIna Garten’s recipe from the Food Network. 

What are Creole tomatoes? Chow’s visitors have answers for you. 

For cooks out there, I promise you will love this basil chicken recipe!

    ”You don’t have to know the taste of your ingredients. You must listen to your              ingredients” ~Francis Trocellier from “Seven Fires” by Francis Mallmann

                               My Favorite (Thai) Basil Chicken Dish

Basil, garlic, and shallots are some of my favorite herbs. Lucky for me, they are the key ingredients to this Basil Chicken dish.

This famous Thai dish certainly became a new American favorite, so much that Cook’s magazine spent time experimenting with it in their kitchen. I cannot recall any details of the article since I read it in a library months ago. However, I would like to suggest one tip that Cook’s magazine didn’t offer for stir-fry lovers out there: invest on a non-stick flat bottom wok.

I purchased my first decent wok from a college grocery store for $18 and it was worth every penny. The bottom fits well on my cheap electric stove, the heat travels evenly, and it is so easy to clean!

Also get a couple of wooden spatulas along with the wok. Plastic will eventually melt (unless you spend a ridiculous amount of money on a good brand)! Metal ones will scratch the bottom of the wok and there would be no point in having a non-stick pan after all.

To begin prepping ingredients, I minced the chicken thighs with a cleaver but you will get an even better texture if you grind it with a food processor. Ground turkey, pork, and beef or fresh (peeled and deveined) shrimps are other great options.

I’m not picky with basil; I use whatever is available in the market. They all taste pretty darn good to me! If desired, you can add extra vegetables such as string beans, bell peppers, and broccoli. Make sure to not put too many extra vegetables because they can easily overcrowd the wok and overpower the taste of basil leaves. Don’t forget to adjust the spice according to your tolerance!

Get these ingredients:

1 lb minced chicken thigh
1/2 tablespoon olive oil or vegetable oil
1 head minced shallot (can be substituted with red onions but it won’t be as delish)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1-2 tablespoons chopped bird eyes chili or jalapeño  
1 cup loosely packed basil leaves
1/3 cup thinly sliced bell peppers, I recommend using yellow, red, or orange bell peppers
1/3 cup thinly sliced chopped white onions
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon fish sauce
1/2 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons of water

Ready?

Combine fish sauce, dark soy sauce, and sugar in a small bowl. Set up the wok on a medium-high heat and add oil. Once the oil is hot, (please no fuming hot oil, we don’t want the herbs to burn) add garlic, shallots, and chili.Stir the herbs continuously for about 15 seconds then add the chicken. Allow the chicken to cook for a minute or two then add the sauce that was mixed earlier. Keep your eyes on the wok and keep stirring. When chicken thigh looks cooked ( it turns into a white-ish color), add the vegetables and cook for about one more minute. The yellow bell peppers and onions do not take more than a minute to cook so make sure you time it right so they won’t be overcooked. I personally enjoy my vegetables a little crunchy so sometimes I even cook it for about 30 seconds.  Add some water to increase the sauce’s volume. Once the meat and the vegetables are well done, turn off your stove, then lightly tossed in the basil leaves.
I’m in favor of eating this dish with a nice warm jasmine rice!
Content:
All literary works and photos are my original works otherwise stated. They cannot be reproduce in part or in whole unless prior consent from me, or appropriately mention of the source
I made this wonderful lunch with my boyfriend yesterday. We picked out some of the freshest vegetables from a farmer market. Together we made barbecue chicken, pico de gallo, sautéed kale, and yellow rice. So much yumminess! And look at the colors!

I made this wonderful lunch with my boyfriend yesterday. We picked out some of the freshest vegetables from a farmer market. Together we made barbecue chicken, pico de gallo, sautéed kale, and yellow rice. So much yumminess! And look at the colors!

"Good food ends with good talk."

Geoffrey Neighor, Northern Exposure, Duets, 1993

The Quote Garden

HAPPY NEW YEARS EVERYONE! THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT THIS PAST YEAR! I can’t wait to see what 2012 will bring!

Dinner Lab Nola

This Dinner Lab Christmas edition was made at Cambria Martinelli’s house. Please follow me here and twitter! www.lalitamangotree.tumblr
.com & Twitter #lalitamangotree. 

The dinner was for 4.0 Schools Organization found by Matt Candler.

Photos are taken by Amanda Thomas from Humid Beings

Dinner Lab was mentioned in
Where Y’At 

Thank you for your support!

"People don’t know what they want! Right? As Howard loves to say, "The mind knows not what the tongue wants." It’s a mystery! And a critically important step in understanding our own desiresand tastes is to realize that we cannot always explain what we want deep down. If I asked all of you, for example, in this room, what you want in a coffee, you know what you’d say? Every one of you would say "I want a dark, rich, hearty roast." It’s what people always say when you ask them what they want in a coffee. What do you like? Dark, rich, hearty roast! What percentage of you actually like a dark, rich, hearty roast? According to Howard, somewhere between 25 and 27 percent of you.Most of you like milky, weak coffee. But you will never, ever say to someone who asks you what you want — that "I want a milky, weak coffee."  This is a part of the transcript from Malcolm Gladwell’s talk on "Spaghetti Sauce" 

My Weekend Breakfast

On Saturday morning, me and my friends roamed over to a farmers market and got three pounds of fresh shrimp and a warm loaf of ciabatta bread. 

Obviously, this is the weekend when I found the weights to be most useful!

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