February 2006

How I Don’t Get Bored

Lately, people have been asking me if I’m bored of my website or, more specifically, if it’s become a chore. Let’s face facts: when you’ve been writing about food for more than two years in a blog format, it becomes difficult to surprise yourself. It also becomes difficult to grow your audience beyond whatever audience you’ve achieved. When I started out I was a ball of needy energy: I wanted fame, glory, riches and free stuff. Now that I’ve gotten some of that, the question becomes: what are my blog goals? Where am I headed? How do I not get bored?

I’ll confess, I sometimes get bored with the routine I’ve adopted: take pictures of whatever I cook or eat out, load the pictures on to Flickr and somehow frame them into a narrative that describes–sometimes with a recipe–what it is I consumed. The excitement comes in figuring out new ways to frame the material. The post beneath this, for example, allowed me to feel creative while describing a French pizza with anchovies. Writing a play with a talking anchovy may not be the most professional way to tackle Pissaladiere, but it keeps it fun for me and hopefully for you. The trick is keeping things fresh. And after two years, that can be hard.

The one thing I miss about my blog is the sense of constant reinvention that was present in the early years. I did a Food Network Marathon, I started Carbohydrate Awareness Day, I did profiles of weird fruits I found at Whole Foods. These were the days of my reckless foodblogging youth; I hadn’t yet been absorbed by the larger foodblogging community (or, for that matter, the larger blogging community.) Things were more alive back then. I miss the electricity, man. It’s like we’re in a band that started out in punk clubs and now we’re playing Shea Stadium. We need to go back to our roots.

Ok, ok, I’m exaggerating. I still do weird stuff. I wrote a poem about peanut brittle that had the word “poo” in it and I still make movies and songs when I get the chance. I’m just sharing with you some of the “behind the scenes” thought processes that plague this foodblogger when he isn’t foodblogging. And I wanted to answer the person’s question who asked me if I get bored. Now you know the truth. And the truth stings like a viper. Now on with the routine… a grapfruit granita post… how can I make this interesting? [NOTE: Most likely, when you read this, the grapefruit granita post will appear above this. Keep in mind that this grapefruit granita post was created in reaction to this post so it should be filled with fun and charm. If it isn’t, you have permission to delete my blog from your blogroll.]

Pissaladière: A Play

Niçois Onion Tart Theater Proudly Presents the debut performance of


(or, “Fear of a Jarred Anchovy”)




Billy, The Anchovy Hater


Jacques, The Friendly Frenchman


PLUS: Special Guests!

Please take your seat. The performance will begin after the jump.

Inside every tea bag is a flower just waiting to bloom.

Maybe tea bags have low self-esteem. After all, most tea bags–once employed–become soggy and useless and are thrown in the trash without so much as a second thought. One dunk and you’re sunk: that’s what it means to be a tea bag.

Unless, that is, you’re an Adagio tea bag. If you’re an Adagio tea bag, you’re not a tea bag at all: you’re a tea blossom.

Adagio tea blossoms are taught at an early age to love themselves. “There’s a pink flower in each and every one of you,” they’re told.

“But we’re so ugly!” they reply.

“You may be ugly now but one day someone will boil you and a beautiful flower will emerge!”

“You’re a liar.”

“Read the friggin’ packet, Tea Blossom.”

I read the packet myself one night a few days after the box from Adagio arrived. (They sent me a free box to sample.) “Hand-woven tea cluster magically unfolds to reveal a pink flower hidden within…” Before I could ask, “Why?” the packet answered: “…infusing your cup with its delicate scent.” Hmmm…the delicate smell of flower in my tea. Sounds good. Let’s give it a shot!

A Blogger Breakfast at Balthazar

When Fatemeh of Gastronomie e-mailed me on Monday night and informed me that she was taking the red eye in for business and wanted to take me to lunch the next day at Pastis, how could I say no? Well, I did say no: not to the lunch, but to Pastis. I had a class at 1 pm that I couldn’t miss and there’d be no way I could get from the meatpacking district to NYU unless we started lunch at 11. Fatemeh was accommodating: she offered to meet somewhere closer to NYU. I suggested Balthazar because it’s owned by the same people as Pastis and we could meet for breakfast with plenty of time for me to get to my class. She gave the virtual nod and we planned to meet there at 10:30, Tuesday morning.

My feelings about Balthazar are very mixed. At its worst, I feel like it’s a trendy, snobby French “it spot” that treats the guests with disdain serving hit-or-miss food for outrageous prices. At its best, I think it’s New York’s most authentic French bistro, and if you catch it at the right moment you can find yourself transported across the Atlantic. Depends when you go, why you go and who you go with. Going for breakfast with Fatemeh, it turns out, is the best possible configuration.

I arrived before her and secured us a table near the door. When she walked in, I recognized her from her site picture (though she looks much younger in real life). I waved her down and she joined me in the booth. She was a bit tired from her red eye flight (she practically came straight from the airport). But we quickly got to talking, filling each other in on our respective careers (she sells things, I write things), and our respective cities (hers: San Francisco; mine: The Big Apple.)

When it came time to ordering, I logically suggested that we each get eggy savory dishes (instead of the waffles) so we could justify an order of bread. The bread basket at Balthazar is unmissable and Fatemeh inevitably agreed when they brought it out:


“Wow,” she said.

“I know,” I said.

“God,” she said. “I have a meeting this afternoon, if I eat all these carbs I’ll fall asleep.”

“Shh,” I said, “No you won’t. Just eat them they’re delish.”

We democratically cut the caramelized pecan roll in two; we tore at the almond raisin foccaccia-like bread (which was amazing) and tore at the brioche, which you can see in that picture: it looks like a hat the Queen might wear in Alice in Wonderland.

As we waited for our breakfast entrees, Fatemeh and I continued to dish–we did food blogger gossip (most of it centering around San Francisco), I told her about my family, she told me about her family–and then our food arrived. I had the eggs benecict, which was perfect and sinful in every way:


Fatemeh had the quiche which she raved over.


“You have to try it,” she insisted. “Usually quiche is really firm, but this is so moist.”

Indeed it was. And we could guiltlessly return to the bread basket whenever wanted because our entrees were so carbless. (Well, except the crust of Fatemeh’s quiche.)

Meanwhile, the waiter refilled our coffee mugs and our water glasses and we continued to chat. Fatemeh and I clicked really well: it’s amazing how foodbloggers can connect so easily (the same is true of all the other foodbloggers I’ve met thus far). I think the secret is a shared passion: there’s plenty to talk about when you love food.

As for Balthazar, I’m pretty sure Fatemeh would agree, it’s wonderful at breakfast. Not crowded, not noisy, and bright with the morning sunlight, the food is terrific and the prices are way reasonable for such a trendy, hard-to-get-into-at-night sort of place. I hear Judith Miller breakfasts there, why shouldn’t you? The prices are not so different, I bet, than 90% of other sit-down breakfast places in the city. In fact–and this will blow your mind–the omelet I had this morning at the Waverly Diner was only a few dollars less than the eggs benedict at Balthazar. Is your mind blown? I hope it is.

Anyway, I’m glad Fatemeh e-mailed me at the last minute, I had a great time. I hope I get to visit her and all the other San Francisco food bloggers on their native turf someday. We can have eggs benedict at the Zuni Cafe and Judy Rogers can yell at me for not salting my chicken long enough. Then I’ll jump off the Golden Gate bridge and everyone will blog about it. Such is the life of a food blogger!

Que Pasa, Bar Masa?

You may recall that last week my parents sent me a gift certificate for Williams Sonoma in celebration of my 27th birthday. I decided to parlay this gift certifiate at the Time Warner Center location since the one in Chelsea isn’t as lavish and I wanted the full lavish Williams Sonoma experience. On departing for the Time Warner Center, I decided to go hungry (this was lunchtime) because I knew that the Whole Foods there has lots of seating and a more eclectic buffet/salad bar than the one near me.

Yet, when I arrived at the Time Warner Center, a new thought dawned on me. “We’re having a lavish day in honor of my birthday,” I said to myself. “Why not ride the escalator UP instead of down and check out those fancy places on the 4th floor.”

The 4th floor houses Per Se and Masa, two of the most expensive restaurants in New York City. It also houses Bar Masa, Masa’s more accommodating offshoot. Would I lunch here for my 27th birthday? Look at the green curtain, it is so enticing:

I studied the menu outside. The seasonal sushi selection was $35. That is very pricey for sushi, but–at the same time–this would be sushi made under the umbrella of the so-called greatest sushi maker in New York. Anthony Bourdain described his trip to Masa as a religious experience; maybe Bar Masa wouldn’t be religious, but perhaps it’d be secularly transcendent? Plus I had birthday money in my pocket from other sources, why not blow it on some excellent sushi?

My mind was made up. I entered the facility and a kind hostess showed me to a table in a long row of booths. That’s all Bar Masa is: a bar and parallel to the bar, on the other side of the room, a row of booths. I sat at a booth, a couple of old ladies sat further down to my left, and a young heterosexual couple sat two over to my right. This young heterosexual couple involved a domineering man who ordered for the woman, spoke the entire time and drank lots of beer. The woman had my pity.

But she did not have my sushi. At $35, I couldn’t spare a piece–this is what your money gets you at Bar Masa:


Very fresh, indeed. Real wasabi: awesome. But earth-shattering? No. Just very fresh, very enjoyable. Maybe it’s good I went here because if this is what the real Masa is like, at $500 a pop, I’d be sorely disappointed. This is like the test drive before buying the Mercedes. And now that I’ve driven it, I’m going with the Camry. [I’ve never been a car person anyway.]

Actually, in the world of sushi, you can have Mercedes quality fish for Camry prices at Tomoe Sushi in the Village. James Felder exposed me to this place and it remains my favorite place to get sushi in the city. For half the price of Bar Masa’s sushi sampler, you get one at Sushi Tomoe that’s just as good and served in a warmer, more bustling environment.

Bar Masa is very calm. So calm, in fact, that when it came time to pay I forgot to sign the check. The waitress had to chase me out.

But before that happened, I let her talk me into dessert, and I’m glad I did. For $5 (a steal!) I enjoyed this grapefruit granite:


As simple as it was, it was truly excellent. Fresh grapefruit slices adorned the slightly sweetened grapefruit ice. This inspired me to buy two grapefruits yesterday which I plan to juice, sweeten, freeze and scrape into a granite I can call my own.

As it was, though, I won’t be enjoying Bar Masa’s granite again any time soon. For a lavish birthday experience, it was memorable, but for a New York sushi-eating experience you can do far better.

Do Better Pans Make You A Better Chef? We Examine This Question With Two Dishes: Spicy Sea Bass with Olive-Crushed Potatoes & Sauteed Scallops with Wild Mushrooms and Frisee

Careful readers of this site will attest to the fact that in the two years I’ve been running it I’ve very rarely, if at all, sauteed anything for dinner. My primary method of food production is the oven: I like to roast. I like to bake. I like that you put something in looking one way and that it comes out looking another way. Sauteeing requires careful attention, masterful heat control and–perhaps most importantly–quality pans to do the job right. Quality pans don’t necessarily mean fancy pans (Mark Bittman argues for the cast iron skillet) but since I received fancy pans for my birthday, I figured I’d put them to work. And look, mama, what I made using them these past two nights:

Spicy Sea Bass with Olive-Crushed Potatoes [from “Daniel’s Dish”]

Sauteed Scallops with Wild Mushrooms and Frisee [from “Simple Italian Food”]


I can’t help but look at those pictures and feel like they rival pictures I’ve taken of dishes at some of New York’s finest restaurants. That’s not to say they rival them in quality–(the fish was undercooked, the scallops slightly–ever so slightly–burnt)–but they rival them in beauty. Or am I deluding myself? Am I just pan-happy? What exactly went down when I put my pans to work? Proceed: all the answers lie within.

Hallelujah, We’re Back on Google

As many of you may remember, a few months ago I was completely dropped from Google without explanation. In the era before I was dropped, you could Google things like “Il Laboratorio de Gelato” and my review would be on the first page of results. (This got me into trouble, actually: I wrote a negative review the first and only time I went there and the owner left a comment on the post–a nice comment asking me to come back. So I guess that’s not so much trouble as exposure.) I was a mighty man on Google. Clotilde conjectured that my success had to do with the number of sites that linked to me and the frequency with which I updated. All of this meant nothing, though, the day I was dropped.

I can’t pinpoint that day exactly but I felt the aftershocks: my hits started to drain. Not so much that I’d lose my Miss Popularity crown, but enough to know that I could be getting significantly more hits than I was getting. More importantly, I was losing a huge influx of new readership: many of my readers discovered my blog doing Google searches. Without Google, I was preaching to the choir, so to speak. [Sorry, loyal readers, but you are my choir!] And though other search engines exist–Yahoo, ummm, Yahoo–they don’t have the impact on the world that Google does. Case in point: the browser I’m writing this in (Safari) has an automatic Google search feature built into it. Google is important.

So getting dropped sucked and I did everything I could to get reincluded. I wrote e-mails to Google, I asked questions to techies, I read hundreds of thousands of letters (ok maybe 10 or so) from loyal readers who desperately wanted to help me out. Then, last week, one of these loyal readers–Ann–sent me a link to this post written by a Google employee. The post explains how to file a reinclusion request for those who’ve been dropped. Simply figure out what you’ve done wrong, correct it, and go to the Google support bin (it’s all detailed on the post) and fill out a form explaining what you’ve done, how you fixed it, and that it will never happen again.

My biggest dilemma during my Google crisis was figuring out what I’d done wrong. Many people e-mailed me the list of Google’s Guidelines. I didn’t feel (and I still don’t feel) that I violated any specific one, but the tone of the Guidelines suggested to me that perhaps my greatest claim to fame was the source of all my woe.

My Janet Jackson Breast Cupcake (which basically launched this website) sort of “tricked” Google users who simply were searching for cupcake recipes into seeing an image of Janet’s giant breast. At the time before I was dropped, if you Googled “cupcake” mine was the first result. It occurred to me at this late date (last week) that perhaps this was why I was dropped. It’s as good a reason as any other. So I went to that post, deleted the picture of the giant breast (but kept the rest of the post intact) and e-mailed Google saying what I’d done wrong (“Misled users searching for cupcake recipes”), how I fixed it (“I deleted the picture of the breast”) and that I’d never do it again (“I promise never to do it again, Google, I swear.”)

The site says you won’t see a result for a few weeks. But just yesterday my web redesigner, Ralph, e-mailed me to say I was back on Google. And it’s true. Google “The Amateur Gourmet” and there’s my site: the #1 result. I’m back…back with a vengeance!

The only problem now is regaining my Google prowess. I don’t know how this happens. As it stands, reading my stats and referrers, here are some Google searches that will take you to my site: [I was going to link you to the searches themselves, but that’s against Google’s policy and we don’t want me to get dropped again, do we?!]

– “Mario Batali” asshole [I’m on the 2nd page of results for lyrics to a Ben Folds song]

– Janet Jackson breast [3rd result, 1st page]

– Iron Chef America tickets [This is weird—it has an excerpt from my Iron Chef post but takes you just to my main page. What up with that, Google?]

– it says someone came googling “eat uncooked weed” (for my “Toking with Toklas” post) but when I clicked to the Google results, my site wasn’t listed. Again–what up with that Google? Why are you so whack?

Sorry for calling you whack, Google. And sorry for any other wrongs I may have committed in the history of our relationship. I could go on a rant here about how powerful you are and how scary it is that you wield so much power, but I’d rather just kowtow before you. Look at me I’m kowtowing, Google. Please don’t ever drop me again…. You are mighty and powerful and I love you. Amen.

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