Category Archives: people

Hellwig Farm Market

I found a farm market run by a wonderful person just 10 minutes from my home in New Albany, OH: Hellwig Farm. As a member of Slow Food Columbus, I’m learning how to connect more directly to the food and farms that feeds us. This visit helped feed my mind and soul as well as my body.

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I had the pleasure of meeting Jennifer Bell Bowen at this year’s Fête en Blanc Columbus. She took a terrific photo of me at the event and I drove out to get a digital copy of that photo from her. I was surprised to find that her farm is as close to my home as my local Wal-Mart.

Jennifer is from a farming family and she is as charming and friendly as she is beautiful. A recent article in Edible Columbus provides a nice write-up on Jennifer and her work to provide free food for needy families in the area, so I won’t repeat that story here, but it’s heartwarming to know that there are people like Jennifer who care so much about her neighbors to help meet their needs with dignity. It’s wonderful that the proceeds from this year’s Fête help support these efforts.

We chatted while I copied Jennifer’s photos and she boxed up some produce. Then I started selecting various items for myself to take home, piling them on her counter. She gave me a  price for the lot. I don’t recall what the total was, but it was very little. Jennifer explained that she wasn’t looking to make a lot of money on her produce and that she doesn’t participate in the local farmers markets because she doesn’t want to undercut the prices of others there.

Only after I got home did I realize how much I had bought for so little money! And it was so healthy and delicious! Fresh sweet corn; young kale leaves (so tender that I just quickly stir-fried them like spinach); local honey made in New Albany (that should help ward off my hay fever allergy); raspberries (for only $2 for the pint!); mildly hot peppers; and heirloom tomatoes (so beautiful and delicious!). This load kept me eating fresh food for a week!

Two weeks later, I went back for more. I made a note of what I got this time: 6 ears of corn; 2 3/4 pounds of heirloom tomatoes; 1 1/2 pounds of beets; a 2 pound butternut squash; a 4 3/4 pound cabbage; 10 oz of fresh garlic. The cost: less than what I would have paid for the tomatoes alone at my local farmers market!

I’m a big supporter of the New Albany Farmers Market – it’s one of the best in central Ohio, with a wide variety of local offerings and friendly vendors. But while the season lasts, I’ll be heading out to Hellwig Farm first to see what Jennifer has to offer. And I’ll be eating very healthy for about the same price as supermarket food.

Hellwig Farm is open Wednesday to Saturday from 9 am to 6 pm until August 31st. “Friend” Hellwig Farm on Facebook to be informed of her limited opening hours after that.

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Julie & Julia

Though it differed from what I expected, I thoroughly enjoyed the new movie Julie & Julia. I was psyched for it, having just cooked a big dish of garden fresh Chinese Long Beans for my friends Roger & Sherran on Sunday. Following a week’s worth of media hype about the movie and the glowing reviews for Meryl Streep (and less praise for Amy Adams), I went out on Monday for a premium-priced showing ($9 vs. $7 regular price in Columbus, OH) of the film.

With my home theater system and over 900 DVDs, I don’t go out for movies very often. I usually wait 6 months, buy a used DVD, and get the same audio/visual theater experience (10′ projection image and 7.1 sound from a 2800 watt A/V receiver and a 2500 watt subwoofer), in the comfort (Ekornes Stressless chairs), and convenience (fresh-popped corn with known additives from flavorings and a wide selection of legal beverages – my wine cellar abuts my home theater), of home – at 1/3 the cost for me, plus no additional charge for guests. However, the foodie in me was allured to catch Julie & Julia now.

I grew up inspired by Julia Child on PBS. Her whimsical demeanor delightfully deflated the starched stuffiness of the French cuisine mystique. Combined with my father’s genes and his own love for food and cooking, Julia’s TV presence reinforced my expectations that cooking should be fun and the resulting food would be delicious.

Writer/director Nora Ephron has woven together two memoirs – Julia Child’s story of her cooking and cookbook-writing beginnings in France, and Julie Powell’s year of cooking and blogging her way through Julia’s cookbook – to provide a delightful comparison and contrast of their lives. At the start of their stories, Julie is actually a better cook than was Julia. But Julia’s life was certainly more glamorous and intriguing, with her living the leisure life of an American diplomat’s wife in France, settling into a luxurious Parisian apartment, while Julie and her magazine-writing husband have just upgraded to a 900 square-foot apartment above a NYC Queens pizzeria. Julia’s need to occupy herself leads her from hat-making classes, to bridge lessons, and finally to cooking school at Le Cordon Bleu. Julie needs a release from her 9-to-5 phone-bank job helping NYC’s 911 victims, so commits herself to cook every one of Julia Child’s 524 recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year and blog daily about her experience. Both husbands are lovingly supportive, through their own trials, as are their friends. The development of these very different yet similar stories, intertwining 8+ years of Julia’s life and 1 year of Julie’s, carried me along, savoring every scene.

Meryl Streep’s portrayal is absolutely marvelous. I’ve experienced two memorable portrayals by an actress of a celebrity. I recall being mesmerized by Zoe Caldwell’s portrayal of Maria Callas in Master Class on Broadway in 1995. It took all of 30 seconds for Ms. Caldwell to have me believe she was Maria Callas – another notable personality from my high school years – on stage, right in front of me, conducting a master class with aspiring opera singers. Ms. Streep never had me believing she was Julia Child, but her absolute mastery of her craft had me admiring, for the entire 2 hours and 5 minutes, how well she could invoke my fond memories of Julia without ever having me feel she was presenting a caricature of her. And somehow, through the magic of film and the film maker, she always came across as the full 6′ 2″ that Julia Child was, instead of Meryl Streep’s own 5′ 6″, hence never breaking the spell.

I must confess that in the 1980s, I really didn’t like Meryl Streep as an actress, despite friends who swooned over her performances. Several years ago, however, I found my opinions completely reversed over the Metropolitan Opera tenor, Richard Leech. For over a decade, I had seen him perform the role of Pinkerton in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly – and I really didn’t care for him. Then I saw Mr. Leech perform as Romeo in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette – and I realized that what made me dislike him all those years was that he portrayed the role of his character so well, he had me believing he was the despicable Pinkerton! In that same sense, Meryl Streep conveyed Julia Child, as she did all the characters that I didn’t like in her earlier films.

While the critics seemed to share my adoration of Ms. Streep’s acting prowess, they were less kind to Amy Adams. I don’t know her work (I’ve seen a couple of movies she’s been in but don’t really recall her), and came to expect little after the reviews of Julie & Julia. Well, I was pleasantly surprised. Since I don’t know Julie Powell, Ms. Adams had different challenges portraying her to me. It’s hard to say why Julie wasn’t as clearly defined or nuanced as Julia. Was it the character (by her own definition, not the goddess on a pedestal that Julia Child is as Julie’s muse), the book, the screenplay/direction, or acting? It’s hard to blame Ms. Adams; she may have played the part perfectly. Certainly, Ms. Adams quickly had me feeling she was Julie and got me sympathetic for her.

But to my real surprise, this wasn’t really a film about food. There aren’t any salivation-generating scenes of irresistibly alluring dishes. Even Julie’s year-long intimidation of her known need to eventually tackle de-boning a duck was laughable to me, given the fact that my father taught me to de-bone not by slitting the skin down the center, as Julia instructs, but to remove the bones through the duck’s vent to retain the skin’s shape and minimize the stitching required to enclose the stuffing.

Julia’s story is initially about learning to cook, but then moves to her years of working with the original authors of the would-be first English-language French cookbook and the re-writes needed to get the magnum opus published for the American housewife audience. Julie’s story is about her self-imposed need to get through preparing Julia’s 524 recipes in 365 days and the affect this quest has on her life and marriage. There are nice insights into the impacts and changes of the times – from the McCarthyism of the 1950s to an unknown’s blogging of today leading to fame and presumed fortune.

More, it’s about two individuals persisting to fulfill their dreams – of maintaining their happy marriages and of completing their self-assigned challenges. In this era in which so many of us require immediate gratification of our desires, Julie’s commitment of a year to complete her task may seem to be a lot. Yet the underlying contrast with Julia’s 8-year work on her cookbook – and celebration of her $250 advance from a publisher – shows how much times have changed.

Julia Child’s efforts made her an icon. Julie Powell’s efforts made her a movie character. It was an enjoyable movie – one that I look forward to seeing again when I buy the used DVD for my collection.

Love of Eating and Cooking: Pop’s Cold Sesame Noodles


My father developed my foodie tendencies and from them, my love for cooking. From Pop, I learned to love to cook for my love to eat! Alas, I don’t prepare fancy, home cooked dinners much anymore – and never got up to Pop’s standard of preparing gourmet Chinese cuisine – but I still enjoy preparing specialty dishes for gourmet cocktail parties, picnics, and dinners at friends’ homes. Having grown up with so many happy memories of home cooked meals, it’s been wonderful to recreate these dishes – some that I haven’t had for decades.

I usually carry around a camera to catch pictures of dishes I’ve eaten and enjoyed sharing them in my holiday letters and more recently online. The pictures help me remember the wonderful meals I’ve had and let me recommend specific dishes and restaurants.

My friend Kaity Tong’s blog has inspired me to go further and share the recipes of my favorite dishes. I’ve enjoyed reading her stories about her mother’s recipes and salivated in anticipation of trying them out.

I recently learned how important it is to share recipes, even amongst family members. While visiting my sister, I found she didn’t know Pop’s recipe for cold sesame noodles; she had been using Mom’s recipe. While I love my Mom, she’s not the great cook that Pop was! The simple cold sesame noodle recipe proves this.

So here’s the first of what I plan to be a series sharing the recipes I use – recipes I’ve collected from watching Pop cook (and taking measurements as he did, since he never had to measure anything), to others I’ve collected from the Internet. I’ve tweaked these recipes along the way (with great hubris, in some cases, daring to modify recipes by chefs as legendary as Thomas Keller of French Laundry fame), to make them what I think is clearer and more foolproof. While those modifications make the recipes longer and look more imposing, I’ve found they help me avoid mistakes that I’ve made in trying to follow the original recipes. Enjoy!

Norton Chu’s Cold Sesame Noodles

1 lb dried noodles or thin spaghetti
2 T sesame oil

SAUCE:
¼ c sesame paste (tahini) or peanut butter – or both
¼ c sesame oil
1 T sugar
¼ c soy sauce
¼ c Worchestershire sauce

OPTIONAL TOPPINGS:
1 peeled, julienned cucumber
2 c shredded chicken
1 c dried shredded pork
2 T toasted sesame seeds

1. Cook noodles in salted water until tender, but still slightly firm.

2. Drain and rinse cooked noodles in cold water to stop cooking.

3. If serving immediately, chill noodles in ice water. Drain well.

4. Toss noodles in sesame oil. Chill in refrigerator.

5. Put sesame paste and/or peanut butter in mixing bowl.

6. Stir in sesame oil to make a smooth paste.

7. Slowly stir in sugar, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, making a smooth sauce. Chill.

8. Toss chilled noodles in sauce, thoroughly coating the noodles.

9. Serve with optional toppings.

NOTES:

This recipe is so quick and easy, it makes a terrific snack even just for one serving, after cutting down the proportions.

I prefer the texture of plain white Chinese noodles, available in Asian grocery stores in 5 pound boxes. Spaghetti also works well, though.

In addition to adding flavor, the sesame paste and peanut butter act as binders. Mixed with the watery soy and Worcestershire, the resulting sauce clings to the noodles and prevent the ingredients from dripping onto diners’ clothing.

If you use the long English cucumbers, you can julienne the skin too. It adds an interesting textural difference (a little tougher, but still tender), and beautiful color.

Using a mandolin makes easy work of julienning long strips of cucumber that make a wonderful presentation (they look like green noodles).

The optional toppings add interesting textural and visual contrast to the noodles, but for a snack, the noodles don’t need any toppings.

This dish works very well for tailgating. The ingredients are less prone to spoiling, so they keep well in a cooler for an after-game snack while waiting for the traffic to clear out.