Monthly Archives: June 2010



Pork Buns

Nom nom nom.

We made David Chang’s pork bun recipe last night, and boy, was it worth the effort — a day of pork belly curing and roasting, a trip to H-Mart for necessities and an experiment in steaming. They were almost as tasty as the originals I’ve had at Momofuku, which is saying something.

Putting it all together.

In the future I’d probably cook the pork for a shorter time (my oven is too hot) and make each little sandwich with half of the Asian buns, which are delicious but incredibly filling; the texture of the bun sort of overwhelms everything else that’s going on. I’d bought these buns frozen, but making them per Chang’s recipe seems like a good idea.  I just don’t have a mixer, which is probably a poor excuse as excuses go.

Pork Belly about to spend six hours curing.

I’d also recommend finding a skinless pork belly; I had to skin mine and while everything turned out fine, it was bit of a project and probably resulted in a slab of meat that was a little bit thinner than it ought to have been.

If I haven’t mentioned it already, the Momofuku cookbook is really good. Not just because so many of the recipes are actually within reach for the amateur (once you track down the necessary ingredients at an Asian market) but also because it does something few cookbooks do, which is include some narrative. The book is structured around each of Chang’s restaurant and begins each section with a couple thousand well-written words about the delights, challenges and fuck-ups involved with opening a new establishment.

I know, incidentally, that these pictures suck. I took them with my phone. Next time I’ll recruit a proper photographer.

The Chesapeake Room

I’ve been in a stagnant rut, unable to find a restaurant in the District that surprised or delighted me, but that ended this morning with an accidental brunch at the Chesapeake Room in Capital Hill.

I stumbled in with my sister to avoid a debilitating wait at nearby Matchbox, and happily finding an airy, wood-panelled room hung with paintings and a pleasant, open patio. Flatware, cups and even the seating and tables all worked together and betrayed a careful curation.

The food was exceptional: An omelet with seasonal mountain cheese, wild mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, pancetta, green onions and spring peas was incredible — the peas, which I’ve never had in an omelet, offered a texture and a splash of color (esp. in contrast with the tomatoes) that defeated the bane of omelets: blandness. It came with a crispy potato-cheese fritter that is apparently new to the menu but ought to hang around. A Bloody Mary, too, was unusual — vinegary, orange and sharp the same way a South Carolina barbecue sauce is. The rest of the menu is equally intriguing, and I’ll be back again.

The only drawback? Absurdly poor service which could have ruined the meal had not the kitchen been lightening fast in turning around our orders.  Hopefully that’s a one-off.

The Single Splendid Golden Beast.

The approach of the World Cup is now impossible to ignore, and the fine sport of football is gradually coming to the top of the news. I really enjoyed this article about English striker Wayne Rooney, and in particular the way about soccer and soccer players:

“Maturity is one of the final parts of a player’s development,” Manchester United Manager Alex Ferguson said. “You have to wait until their mid-20s before they get that authority, timing, the maturity, to do things that those qualities bring. This season, he accepted the fact that to get the best out of himself, he had to conserve his energies for the best part of the pitch — the penalty box area.”

Did you know that the English national team is known as the Three Lions, thanks to it’s triple-lion logo? Check out this description:

Despite their close association with England, the appearance of lions on coats of arms was originally derived from the House of Normandy, which arrived on our shores in the form of William the Conqueror in 1066.

The number of lions varied initially between the Norman pair, and the single splendid golden beast on a red ground adopted by Henry II in 1158. When Richard I (known to history as the Lionheart) came to the throne in 1189, the emblem was revised again to depict not one but three majestic creatures.

On the national football logo, which dates back to Victorian times, the three dark blue snarling beasts are interspersed with ten red-and-white English roses.

Magnificent. Rooney himself is a snarling beast.

Hark, A Vagrant

I read many more web comics than I’m comfortable admitting in polite company, but I did want to draw visitors’ attention to Hark, A Vagrant! It’s a comic strip by Kate Beaton that consists of wry humor, emotive line-drawings and a fair amount of history — I’ve never read more or better comics about Canadian history, the Glencoe massacre or Tesla. Word.

Making Bank

One brief bit of self-promotion: I wrote this piece for TAP’s June issue over several months this spring, and it’s — if I may so myself — a good look at an economic problem that is sincerely under-appreciated.  I hope you’ll give it a read.

Melrose, Bronx, is a world away from Wall Street, nearly 40 minutes north on the subway. Where the financial district’s bustle is contained within antiseptic lines of concrete and glass, here the skyline is lower and the storefronts colorful and haphazard; more people are on the street, buying and selling at sidewalk stands. A third of the neighborhood’s residents are unbanked, and half are low-income. In the eight blocks between the subway and the OFE’s local outpost, I count some six check-cashing stores and pawn shops. But there are just as many branches of regular retail banks scattered through the neighborhood.

The conventional wisdom about the unbanked is that they simply don’t have access — that banks don’t invest in neighborhoods where poor people live, and therefore poor people don’t have bank accounts. But a recent study of consumer finance in Melrose and in Jamaica, Queens, conducted by the Department of Consumer Affairs, turned up some counterintuitive conclusions. In Melrose and Jamaica, as in other places, there was no correlation between the number of bank branches per capita and the number of people with bank accounts.

That leaves another hypothesis: It’s not the access; it’s the products. The savings and checking accounts offered by banks weren’t meeting the needs of the residents of neighborhoods like Melrose and Jamaica. Low-income New Yorkers don’t need online bill payment, they don’t have direct deposit, and they are often the victims of overdraft fees that are poorly explained and nearly as usurious as the check-cashers’ policies. What they need is clarity, speed, and reliability, which are all things the check-cashers provide, at a cost. The 110,000 residents of Melrose and Jamaica are estimated to spend some $19 million per year in check-cashing fees alone.

It may seem obvious, but overpaying for consumer credit is a critical obstacle to escaping poverty. That isn’t the only downside of participating in the fringe financial system. At the most basic level, it’s not as safe; keeping cash on hand invites crime and makes a mugging or a robbery a devastating financial experience. Without savings and a bank account, it’s hard to build a credit score that would support a home or automobile loan that isn’t predatory; it can even be difficult to access rental housing. It can also be harder to get a job now that employers have started checking applicants’ credit scores as part of their interview processes. Even getting a cell phone is complicated with bad credit. This is a problem that affects low-income people generally and minorities in particular: Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation studies find that nearly 8 percent of Americans are unbanked, including nearly one-fifth of black and Hispanic households.

New Glasses

Just ordered these from the incredible Warby Parker. Can’t wait!