Monday, June 27, 2011

Momdals - Sandals for Moms

I seriously needed to revamp my sandal collection this year.  I had been wearing the same pair of black Nine West wedge sandals for four summers in a row, and the wear-and-tear was definitely beginning to show. 

My main concern in finding a new pair was comfort.  I walk a lot – at least a mile or two a day – running errands and pushing my daughter in a stroller.  It’s great for keeping in shape, but can mean painful blisters if you’re not wearing the right shoes (and I only wear tennis shoes when I’m actually exercising for exercise sake). 

So, what’s a woman to do?  I headed to DSW and began to try on pair after pair.  The great thing about DSW is that there’s so much to choose from, and I don’t have to wait for staff to go find out if the chosen shoe is available in my size (8 ½ or 9, depending on the brand).  I wanted a dress sandal for, well, dress wear, and an every day Momdal for walking around, playing with my toddler in the park and running errands.  
I was disappointed because Clark’s, which I knew were good shoes, turned out to fit me funny (and their sizing is way too big…something has been lost in translation, I fear).  Bjorn sandals, which I also had high hopes for, were too narrow and the thingy that fits between the big toe and second toe was always too uncomfortable. 

Then I found the Merrell momdals.  They were higher than I wanted, but they have a cushy, Vibram rubber sole.  I like black sandals, but the black ones had black suede soles, which have been known to dye the bottoms of my feet black.  I walked for several minutes in a brown (officially known as “Earth” color) pair of Merrell Alyssums (like asylum, but for a woman named Alyssa?  Who knows.)   I liked the fact that the sandals are leather AND leather-lined (most cheaper brands use vinyl lining, but still get to call them leather since the top part is real leather). 

They were comfortable, but I was a bit worried that the molded insole would chafe the bottom of my foot, or that I’d land on it wrong.   I was also concerned that the price, $69, was a bit steep for an off-price shoe store.  (DSW is really not that cheap.  They’re not giving the shoes away.)  But I didn’t want to skimp on quality, since I knew I’d be wearing them every day of the summer.  I went ahead and bought them, and finally got around to wearing them a few weeks ago.

What’s the road report for these Momdals?  Very good, indeed.  I can walk two-plus miles without any blisters, chafing or foot pain.  They have very good arch support and the soles are super-cushioned.  On occasion, when walking on uneven pavement, my ankle turns just a little bit due to their height (2” heel in the back), but I haven’t had any falls or anything painful.  They’re very sturdy feeling.  For me, the pleasure of long summer walks has been found anew.  They’re not going to win any fashion awards, but they are attractive enough for every day use.  Yea for my new Momdals.  Rating: ****

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My Korean Deli – Book Review

Ben Ryder Howe’s memoir, My Korean Deli: Risking It All For a Convenience Store, was a delightful, fun and, at times, poignant read. 

Ben is a self-described WASP, of Puritan lineage so pure that he can trace his ancestors back to the Mayflower.  His wife, the daughter of Korean immigrants, has a remarkably different upbringing, family and cultural traditions—differences that he both relishes and suffocates under as the couple live “temporarily” in the basement of his in-laws’ Staten Island home.  Kay, his Korean-born mother-in-law, wants to open a deli in Brooklyn.  They decide it will be a family project, and invest $120,000 in a Boerum Hill deli that resides between the projects and gentrified new developments in the neighborhood.  The deli takes over their lives -- morning, day and night shifts turn their schedules and family life upside down, while they soon realize that bringing in over $2,000 a day in revenue is a mere fiction.  There are bills to pay, back taxes, shady regulars and the occasional fine for accidentally selling tobacco to minors. 

Ben’s other life is more WASPy, in location, culture and attitude:  he’s an editor at George Plimpton’s fabled Paris Review.  The scenes with George are full of personality, revealing a lonely, aging man, who still wants to be the life of the party, if not New York’s literary scene.  Ben must juggle his ‘day job,’ (which to many would be their dream job), and his ‘night job,’ pulling in shifts at the deli a world away in Boerum Hill.  By day, he’s reading short stories plucked from the enormous ‘slush pile’ of unsolicited manuscripts in the downstairs section of Plimpton’s posh townhouse.   At night, he’s holding down the deli fort, hoping the regulars won’t disrobe in the aisles, watch horror movies for two hours on the deli TV or get in drunken brawls with Dwayne, the deli’s own bouncer/long-time employee who’s always packing heat.  It’s an amusing and absorbing tale of two cultures—and one that’s not without sadness and pain. 

But in spite of the pathos, there are a lot of ripe details and stories that are deliciously retold.  Howe’s writing style is humorous to a fault, and at times I found myself laughing out loud. He also managed to make a book reading with Jamaica Kincaid and Robert Pinsky sound as suspenseful and exciting as a high-speed car chase—I kid you not.  

I would definitely recommend My Korean Deli – I was sad when it was over; I wanted it to keep on going…wanted there to be a second adventure.  Maybe running a Korean nail salon will be next?  Rating:  ****1/2

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Mashed Potato Throwdown - Reviews

The best mashed potatoes are homemade; that's a given.  However, sometimes I don't have potatoes on hand, or I don't have the time, or I don't have the energy to make them.....  So I've been known to buy a few shortcuts.   Here are my personal reviews for three brands.
#1 Bob Evans Original Mashed Potatoes are my favorite of the group.  They're easy to heat up, the container doesn't contain BPA, the flavor is great, they're smooth without being too pureed, and the seasonings are pitch-perfect (not too salty, nice homemade flavor).  They're around $3.99 retail, but I usually buy them on sale.  In my grocery store, they're refrigerated next to the chicken nuggets and fresh pasta.  It's odd, since the Simply Potatoes (seen below) are in a different section of the store.  Rating: ****

#2 Simply Potatoes Traditional Mashed Potatoes come in second.  Points off for a BPA #7 plastic container.   The flavor is good, real butter is great, but I think the texture is a bit too mashed (as if they use a giant blender) to seem homemade.  They do taste good, and taste even better on sale (they're usually $3.89, but I've bought them on sale for as little as $1.89 or $2.50 at Key Food.)  I've found that heating them in an oven instead of a microwave makes them taste even better...but then there's the issue of time.  This method works well when I'm baking chicken in the oven already, so it's already hot.  The Simply Potatoes are refrigerated, and in my grocery store, they're next to the eggs, butter, and refrigerated dough.  Why?  I don't know.  Rating: *** 1/2

#3 Ore-Ida Steam n'Mash Cut Russet Potatoes come in last, way last.  I was disappointed.  You may have seen the ads...a woman so frustrated by the prospect of peeling all those potatoes...but along comes Steam n'Mash!  Now she just has to mash them, add milk, add's almost as much work.  But the real issue I have here is taste.  Ore-Ida has over-salted these potato chunks to the point that I find them almost inedible.  Although I like being able to adjust the amount of milk and butter to my liking, I find it quite frustrating that they are over-salted.  Also, the texture of these potatoes is all wrong.  They seem stringy or gritty...or a little bit raw.  There's something off, even though I cook them for the whole required ten minutes in the microwave (another draw back--that's a lot of energy!).  It seems like they are undercooked.  Steam n'Mash potatoes are in the freezer, next to Ore-Ida frozen French fries.  I usually buy them only on sale, and then only out of desperation, for $3.33 (or 3 for $10, but I never buy 3).  Rating: **

Friday, June 3, 2011

Through the Eyes of a Child - Toddler Photography

My daughter is about to turn three years old.  She loves to get into everything, including my desk, and take out and play with anything she can find -- staplers, tape, paper clips, you name it.  One her favorite 'found toys' is my digital camera.  I used to stop her in her tracks, but now I just let her play with it.  She actually has figured out how to turn it on and take photos.  It took her awhile to figure out how to keep her fingers out of the viewfinder and take an actual picture of something other than blurry fingers.  Here are just a few examples... ;)

Still Life with Sippy Cup

Little People's Precarious Tower

Her Room, with Training Pants hanging from Hamper

Moose on the Loose

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Chicken Pad Thai Recipe

One of my favorite Thai entrees is Chicken Pad Thai.  I used to only get it in restaurants, since I had a hard time making it at home.  After several years of varying success, I've finally come up with a recipe that is light, has a nice saucy flavor and actually tastes like Thai food.  I think the secret ingredient is Thai Tamarind Concentrate .  It gives it a sweet/sour/savory component that sets it apart from other noodle dishes and is available either online or in most Asian grocery stores.  I like mine with lots of veggies, so I've added zucchini and carrots to the mix.  Hope you enjoy!

Chicken Pad Thai

1/2 pound dried rice noodles
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 cloves chopped garlic
1 lb. chicken breast, thinly sliced and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 zucchini, cut into matchsticks
1 carrot, peeled and cut into matchsticks
2 tbs. tamarind concentrate, diluted with 2 tbs. water
3 tbs. fish sauce
1 tbs. low-sodium soy sauce
2 tbs. creamy peanut butter
1 tbs. brown sugar
1/4 tsp. dried red pepper flakes (optional)
1 egg, beaten
4 green onions, chopped
1/2 c. chopped dry-roasted peanuts
1 lime, quartered into sections
1 handful of fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped

Set a large pot of water to boil for the noodles.  Meanwhile, do all of the prep work in advance -- chop the peanuts, zucchini, carrots, cilantro and garlic.

When the water is boiling, add the dried rice noodles and remove from heat.  Let them sit for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally so they don't stick together.  When the time is up, drain in a colander and rinse with cold water.  Add a splash of vegetable oil and stir gently so they don't stick.  Set aside.

Slice the chicken into small pieces on a separate cutting board and set aside.  (I didn't take a photo because I didn't think many folks would like to see a mound of raw chicken, eh?) Prepare the sauce in a small bowl -- whisk together the tamarind concentrate, water, fish sauce, soy sauce, peanut butter, brown sugar and red pepper flakes (if you like a bit of spicy heat).

Heat the 3 tbs. of vegetable oil in a wok or large frying pan over medium-high heat.  (I used a 13" French skillet, seen below.)  Stir fry the garlic until just sizzling, but not brown -- less than a minute.  Add the chicken and stir fry until opaque, but not brown.  Add the carrots and zucchini matchsticks.  Saute a few more minutes until cooked 'til the vegetables are al dente.    Add the parboiled rice noodles and stir.  The noodles will continue to cook a few minutes -- stir until they curl up a bit and whiten.  (The bite test is recommended -- again, I like them al dente -- mushy noodles aren't good, but then again hard noodles are too chewy.)

Add the egg.  There are two methods you can use -- either push aside noodle mixture and scramble egg in the same pan with a touch more oil, or scramble egg in a small bowl with a tsp. of oil and microwave for 35-40 seconds.  Cut into small strips and add to pan; stir.  Add chopped green onions and stir fry just a minute or so.

Garnish with the chopped cilantro, chopped peanuts and lime wedge.  Voila!  Homemade chicken pad thai.  Enjoy.