Tuesday, April 26, 2011

You've Got Snail Mail

Compulsive Mail Checker
Do you remember when stamps used to be 25 cents? I was 9 years old and I found mail to be so exciting. I knew what time the mail arrived and as soon as the mailman drove away I would run to the mailbox and bring the stack of bills and junk mail in. I never got any mail addressed to me but I settled for anything addressed to Resident. Publishers Clearing House was my best friend. It's a shame only old people won. I really thought I had a chance.

As I grew older and gained friends in school, I would occasionally get a postcard in the mail. In high school, we traded notes folded into origami during passing period. In college, distance became a challenge and we resulted to dropping letters in the mail. There were only so many calling cards we could go through in a week. Long distance phone calls were expensive, cell phone plans were just getting introduced, and e-mail hadn't quite caught on yet. I loved the letters that came through the mail. My friends were so creative. They'd draw, make collages, use sticky notes, stickers, pretty much anything to jazz up a piece of paper. Did I mention they were wonderful writers too? In three hand written pages, they had somehow painted a picture of their daily lives filled with gossip, cute boys, weird boys, new developments, and milestones I fondly remember only by re-reading the stacks I've piled away in keepsake boxes.

These days, communication with friends is done over Facebook, Twitter, one sentence e-mails, and texts. Not many people want or find the time to chat on the phone anymore. And snail mail? Snail mail is a lost art.

Greenwich Letterpress
I recently received this "Mad Props" card from a friend after I took care of her dogs while she was away. I find it brilliant. It's a shade of green that I love and it keeps it old school and traditional by using letterpress while staying with the times. Urban Dictionary defines mad props as an alternative to thank you. Mad props to my friend for picking out this card.

Night Owl Paper Goods
I gave this card to my sister for her birthday. It's an inside joke of how we hail taxis. It's genius how you can walk into a card shop and find the perfect card for someone. It's as if the card was made for you, or him, or her, or them.

This is a card one of my friends from California mailed to me just because. We're big fans of Fomato cards. They are pretty random and humorous. I was perusing their site and came across this one birthday card . Sick and I couldn't stop laughing.

I used to write beautiful poetic letters. I went through stationary as if it were college ruled paper and I was taking notes. I loved sending mail and getting letters. I don't write letters anymore and my e-mails are looking more like instant messages these days.

I think it's time to go back to handwritten letters and postage stamps. Call me sentimental or old fashioned but some things are worth preserving.

39 Christopher St.
New York, NY 10014

Paper Source
102 Smith St.
Brooklyn, NY 11201

Monday, April 25, 2011

Intro to Burmese Food: A Tradition in San Francisco

Burma, or Republic of the Union of Myanmar, is the largest country in mainland Southeast Asia. If it's so large, then why has every Burmese person I have met in my life (3) been so excited when they've met or heard of another? It seems as if Burmese people are a rarity. 

Burma borders India, Bangladesh, Laos, Thailand, and China. It's cuisine is heavily influenced by these countries and religion (Buddhism, Muslim). Vegetarian dishes are prevalent. With all these influences, burmese cuisine is still very unique. Common dishes include salads, curries, rice, noodles, and all sorts of meats flavored sweet, sour and spicy complimented with fruits and vegetables.

My first experience with Burmese food (other than samusas) was on a trip to the Bay in which one of my New York friends came with me. She is Burmese and requested that Burma Superstar be one of the places we visit. Burma Superstar is really famous in San Francisco. I immediately incorporated it into our itinerary.

We waited 40 minutes for a table and it was well worth it. My friend compared the food to her mother's home cooking and while some dishes were hits and others were better home cooked, she enthusiastically approved. We went with two other friends and their toddler. Even the kid loved the food! Especially the spiciness of the samusas!

As an introduction to Burmese food, my friend ordered quite a few dishes. We got the Tea Leaf Salad, Burmese Samusas, Salt and Pepper Calamari, Pork Curry with Potato, Okra Egg Curry and the Classic Burmese Chicken Casserole with Cardamom Cinnamon Rice. 

The Tea Leaf Salad is my favorite Burmese dish and I order it every time I go back. It has a spoonful of tea leaves all the way from Burma and is a mixture of lettuce, sunflower seeds, lentils, fried garlic, tomato, and sesame seeds. The salad is crunchy and full of flavor. I think the secret ingredient is fish sauce. 
Tea Leaf Salad
The samusas were spicy and served with an even spicier dipping sauce. It was addicting.
Vegetarian Samusas filled with curried spices and potatoes
The Salt and Pepper Calamari was ordinary and no different than what you could get anywhere else. Skip it if you want the true Burmese experience. 
Salt and Pepper Calamari
I wasn't a fan of the Okra Egg Curry being neither a fan of okra or hard boiled eggs but in terms of curry it was very subtle.
Okra Egg Curry
I would gladly gobble up the Pork curry any day. The pork reminded me a lot of Filipino Adobo. The pork was soft to the point where you did not need to cut it with a knife.
Pork Curry with Potato
The rice dish was like a Burmese paella. Fluffy biryani rice, almonds, raisins... It's all real good. The chicken and shrimp are buried in the rice and baked in the claypot.
Classic Burmese Chicken Casserole with Cardamom Cinnamon Rice
To top it off we ordered two desserts.
Coconut Fritters w/Vanilla Ice Cream + Strawberries
Platha w/Bananas + Strawberries
Every time I visit San Francisco, I make it a point to try new dishes from Burma Superstar. It has become a nice little tradition every time I go back to the Bay.

I also recommend beef with mango and platha. Platha is pan fried layered bread. Other dishes I have tried are the Nan Gyi Dok (burmese rice noodles with a mild chicken coconut curry sauce, eggs, split yellow pea, and fried onion) and Garlic Noodles. The Nan Gyi Dok was similar to Filipino Pancit Palabok but with curry and the Garlic Noodles were more like Chinese Chowfun. Both were great as we love our noodles but I think the Cinnamon Rice and Pork Curry are better main dishes.

I can't wait to have Burmese food again. Like the few Burmese people I have met, there just as few Burmese restaurants around. We found another (Pagan Restaurant) down the street from Burma Superstar on Clement Street and heard of one on Mission. I am curious to try the one lone Burmese place in Manhattan Cafe Mingala. San Francisco is too far to travel for Burmese food!

Photography Credits: Jennifer Cheng

Burma Superstar
309 Clement St.
San Francisco, CA 94118

Sunday, April 3, 2011

I Wonder What The South Thinks of All of This

Ever since the cupcake came to town, red velvet has been as common as vanilla. I've had red velvet in a variety of forms from red velvet twinkies and red velvet ice cream to red velvet whoopie pies and Sprinkles red velvet cupcake mix sold boxed from Williams Sonoma.

The fascination for me has always been more fad than taste. The origins of red velvet are hard to pinpoint. Is it Canadian? Was it born out of food scarcity during World War II? Is it now back in style because of pop culture references? There is no doubt that red velvet is a hit. The cocoa undertones have always been secondary to me in terms of it's overall flavor. Red velvet, when done right, is a darn good cake. It is often paired with a cream cheese frosting. Together it is finger lickin', fork lickin', and bite-tastic!

I recently attended a baby shower where there was a photocake ordered from the famous Lords Bakery in Flatbush. Lords Bakery was one of the first bakeries on the East Coast to offer photocakes. What is a photocake? I'm sure you've seen then advertised in your local grocery bakery. Submit a photo and voila! The image is printed on an edible sheet of icing with the consistency of fondant and gum paste. It's strong, chewy, and the image will hold as if it were printed on paper.

Imagine the excitement when we found out that it was a red velvet cake. The cake was gigantic and all ours! We did not have to wait in a line with a cupcake bouncer nor did we have to travel far and wide for this sugary sweet confection. Then came the squeals.

It can get pretty gruesome when you cut into a red velvet photocake. The knife to the face reminded me of Sylar's signature move from NBC's now defunct Heroes. Mmm my what tasty brains you got there. Nonetheless, the cake was absolutely delicious. It was perfectly moist, rich, and had a healthy slathering of cream cheese frosting. Of course the Cake Man Raven was brought up in comparison but when what you've got on your plate is Lords Bakery, there is only one winner: Lords.

The red velvet photocake got me thinking. The last time red velvet made national headlines was a year ago when American Cupcake in San Francisco debuted red velvet fried chicken. The internet article spawned a week long vacation to the Golden State for my friend and I with American Cupcake being our first stop right off of the airplane.

How far would you travel for some fried chicken? I must admit I felt a slight bit of smug satisfaction knowing that we lucked out and got the last servings of chicken. American Cupcake makes a limited amount each day. The recipe calls for marination and the result is the perfect balance between sweet and savory. The Red Velvet Fried Chicken was similar to Chinese roast pork. It shares the same dyed effect of pink flesh but have no fear of the outer color. This chicken is cooked. Some say the chicken looks burnt. It isn't. The batter of the chicken becomes crispy, protects the inside from drying out, and the coloring darkens when fried. The Red Velvet Fried Chicken is worth having if you ever make a trip to American Cupcake. It also comes with a side of cream cheese mash and cocoa vinaigrette cole slaw.

Cupcakes and goody, goody gumdrops aside, American Cupcake is more of a grownup place where grownups stop by to eat real food like truffle parmesan popcorn, Heirloom tomato salad, and red velvet fried chicken. The desserts are paired with beer and wine samples. American Cupcake is a fully functioning restaurant and bakery complete with a chef, sous-chef and all.

As much as it is popular and of the moment, I think red velvet is going to stick around. It's just come a long way from the form of an armadillo groom's cake. Did we think that was tasty back in 1989?

Photography Credits: Rox, Jennifer Cheng

Lords Bakery
2135 Nostrand Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11210

American Cupcake
1919 Union St.
San Francisco, CA 94123