Twitter And Marketing: Get Him To The Greek (Yogurt)!

I’m fascinated by the use of Twitter as a consumer outreach tool. Obviously, to some extent, it’s what we all do online: sell our persona and then do market research on the results. For instance, I’d like to think that a side benefit of me joining Twitter is that people think of entertainment journalists as a personable lot. We preview your favorite TV shows and films and we’re, as Lil0 & Stitch‘s Stitch would say, “cute and fluffy!” But there’s also a sizable portion of Twitter users (and Facebook and Tumblr) who are literally using the platform to sell themselves or a product. “Buy my book, see my band, watch my show!” And it can go one of two ways: cheerfully right or laughably wrong. I experienced both this week!

The flavor I actually tried!

First, the upbeat example: Chobani, which I tweeted about this morning.

@badnecklace Having Chobani Greek yogurt for breakfast instead of Fage. I wanted the Blackie Parrish yogurt but they didn’t have any. #freeblackieparrish
@Chobani: What do ya think?
@badnecklace Jury’s out about the fruit on the bottom, but the yogurt is smooth and delicious! RT @Chobani What do ya think?

I was so tickled by the simple question that I responded honestly, with an RT so my followers could see the exchange!

Less delightful, and more of a head-scratcher, was my Aug. 20 trip to the movie theater to see Fright Night. During the “AMC First Look” portion of the previews, we got a glimpse at the upcoming remake of Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen this particular bit, so I felt pretty comfortable tweeting my thoughts (I swear I’m not one of those people who uses their phone during movies — the lights were still on!).

@badnecklace STRAW DOGS looks awful. And I’m not just talking about James Marsden’s hair.

Not ten minutes later, when the lights actually were off for the previews, my phone buzzed…

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A little salt, a little fat, a lot of bliss!

This week a friend and I tried out a new small plate restaurant in Sunnyside, Salt & Fat. It joins fellow newbies Molly Bloom’s and Cafe Marlene — slightly upscale establishments in a neighborhood that could definitely use more options besides Thai restaurants and pubs! Don’t get me wrong, I love Thai restaurants and pubs, but it’s nice to be able to have an inventive meal without hiking into Manhattan and paying Manhattan prices. Salt & Fat is a surprisingly large space for this neighborhood, narrow but long. White walls accented with stone help give it an airy quality. But it’s the food that really lights things up!

S&F starts you off with a little bag of popcorn popped in bacon fat. Jen and I practically demolished the serving as we pored over the menu. We picked four dishes to split, and it actually proved to be too much for us to finish!

We started off with the utterly sublime “crack” and cheese — fried gnocchi in a cheese bechamel sauce, with this amazing thick-cut bacon interspersed throughout. We instantly decided that regardless of what else we ate, that alone had made the trip worth it. The gnocchi was airy, the cheese perfect, and the smoky bacon the perfect accent for it all.

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Hungry like something that’s not a wolf.

It’s amazing how a rainy — okay, thunderstorm-y — day can so thoroughly impact one’s mood. All I want to do is be home with comfort foods like mac & cheese, watching Bollywood movies all day while the rain pounds against the windows. Sadly, that is not an option. So, instead, I’m going to drink dishwater-flavored coffee from the office’s Flavia machine and keep the TV on low volume while the rain pounds against the windows.

I haven’t done a recap of my recent trip to L.A., but one of the significant things from that trip was that I finally got on the sushi train. We went to The Geisha House, an uber-trendy sushi place in Hollywood, that made me surmise that the more trendy and upscale you are, the less lights you have on in your establishment. We had to ask for another candle to help us read menus, and I wound up twisting around to the little artsy twinkle lights behind my banquette. And oy, did the waiter have attitude about our lack of ability to see in the pitch darkness. At any rate, I got their “Cherokee” roll, with salmon, avocado, cream cheese, and asparagus with a tempura coating. I did actually enjoy it quite a bit. So much so that I’ve returned to the city with a yen for sushi and I had a salmon avocado roll from Washoku Cafe on 37th between 5th and 6th for lunch on Friday. I’m not exactly an expert on sushi yet, obviously, but Washoku’s prices are remarkably reasonable for the lower edge of Midtown and the salmon tasted fresh. I’m also hopelessly addicted to wasabi and candied ginger.

Another recent experience was a relatively new Australian-themed bar in Kips Bay, Van Diemen’s, which earns automatic points from me for having my “diet beer” Amstel Light on draft. Their drink specials are pretty good as well. Their menu is pretty standard American bar & grill fare with a few Aussie-themed dishes thrown in as well. The day I was there, I wasn’t particularly hungry, so I really want to go back and fully appreciate the Moroccan Chicken Salad Wrap I had and try some other things. T. had their Aussie Sliders, which she really seemed to like.

Then there’s Claret, a wine bar that opened in Sunnyside a few months back. As one might expect, it has a really, really decent wine list with a good range of both whites and reds from California, Chile, Italy, France, South Africa, and Australia. They had a Pinotage so, naturally, I had to have that. My only complaint, and I guess it IS a major one, is that their cheese and meat plates are a rip-off. For $12, you can choose three items…and they bring them out on a long rectangular platter. The presentation is lovely, but once you look at the plate you realize how skimpy the offerings are. There’s crackers, a few pieces of French bread, and really barely enough cheese and meat to warrant the price tag. In comparison, Riposo 46, a wine bar in Hell’s Kitchen I also visited recently, has more expensive wines but they do NOT skimp on the food.

And since I’m over in the area, I must mention a surprise find: The Hourglass Tavern. It’s literally a hidden gem on the bustling, busy Restaurant Row, because I can’t even tell you HOW many times I’ve walked past it without even really registering its presence. It’s under new management and currently in “soft open” mode, as they continue to refurbish the place and make it their own. Like all of the places on that stretch of 46th, it has a prix fixe menu. You get salad or soup, an appetizer, a main dish, and then coffee and dessert. Their range of dishes is really quite diverse and my three friends and I all got very different things and were each happy with our orders. The place itself is a charming, three-story restaurant. Each floor seats about 20 people and has a really intimate feel.

God, now I really want to eat something!

Please, Sur, can I have some more?

I think I have an unhealthy addiction to the empanadas at Sur. Located at 45-57 47th St. in Woodside, I have the fortune/misfortune of passing Sur on the way back from work every day. You’d think I’d learn my lesson and take another route if my problem is so bad, hmm? Ah, well.

So, I stop in there once a week, if not twice, for their highly addictive butternut squash soup (they ran out tonight! woe!) and 2-3 empanadas. I’ve tried all but five of their regular varieties — one of which I’ll never try because I’m allergic to crab. I think my favorites so far are probably the chorizo, salteña, and ham & cheese.

I need an intervention.

What’s cookin’?

After a brief hiatus from all things culinary, I’m finally getting back on the cooking horse again…as much as I ride, that is. So, to make sure I haven’t turned into a complete idiot, I decided to whip up my Technicolor Dream Rice, which I probably haven’t made in at least six months.


Not bad, right?  You can’t quite see that it’s actually a pale yellow color from the turmeric, and lest anyone get squicked, the things that look suspiciously dark and insect-like are actually dried cranberries. The finished product actually tasted quite good… after a little extra salt. I still haven’t mastered the art of casually throwing spices in and getting the amount magically correct. LOL.

I’ve also been tinkering with a mac and cheese recipe. Nothing particularly complicated there, but still a work in progress. Maybe one day I’ll be able to actually foray back into cooking…meat. Gasp.

Holy De Mole.

So, I’ve officially been a Sunnysider for nearly seven days now, commuted to and from work successfully for three out of those seven, and am generally settling into the neighborhood. Naturally, for me, that means checking out the food. Unfortunately, Menupages.Com only covers Manhattan and Brooklyn, so I’ve had to resort to Yelp.Com to familiarize myself with the local cuisine.  It’s one thing to walk past a storefront and take note of the name, it’s another thing entirely to know if the kitchen is worthwhile. The Yelp reviews, while limited, do help a bit. Several new places have sprung up since I last lived in the area, and, of course, there are several old places that I’m not familiar with because I was such a basketcase when I moved here initially that I didn’t venture beyond a three block radius. 

This time around, I’m determined to be more adventurous.

I have actually made the effort and gotten takeout twice this week (I know, I know, not cost effective. Sue me.). First, from Dee Thai at 46-17 Queens Blvd., because I was craving Thai food liek woah. I have a basic Thai restaurant test: The pad thai test. If you screw up something as basic as pad thai noodles, odds are your restaurant isn’t worth a damn. And I think I’ve mentioned before that I have bizarre standards, thanks to being spoiled rotten by Phan Shin, the local go-to in my hometown. So, the last time I had pad thai, from Red Curry in the city, it scarred me for life. It was pathetic. Luckily, the same cannot be said for Dee Thai’s version. It was delicious. The portion lasted me two nights. The chicken was perfectly cooked and in small pieces in so as to mix with the noodles and the sprouts, not sit there like chunks on top. I also got fried tofu, which you’d have to pretty dumb to screw up. It came with a delicious peanut chili sauce that might have to go on my Condiment Lick list. Further testing must occur. ;)

Then, tonight, I broke down and made the trek down to De Mole, on the corner of 48th Avenue and 45th St. It has tons of reviews on Yelp and is apparently considered THE best Mexican restaurant in the area. Now, with a reputation like that, how could I not try it out? I actually have to give myself credit because I’ve been looking at restaurant write ups for the last four days and it took me that entire stretch of time to break down and hightail it to De Mole. I tried to resist, I really did. I paced. I angsted. I told myself I could eat a variety of Lean Cuisines I had in my freezer. But, alas, the lure was too great. So a brisk five minute walk took me to the tiny but really cute and neat restaurant. It’s not a hole in the wall at ALL. I kept my order basic (at some point I clearly have to try their mole sauce, see if it’s lickable, etc.), and just got tacos pastor, which were pork and pineapple tacos, and guac and chips. Is the guac as good as El Rio Grande’s? No. In fact, it could benefit from some more salt and chilis, but it was still good. And the homemade chips had the salt that the guacamole didn’t. (Cautionary note: If you have paper cuts or you clipped your nails too closely, the chips will sting.) The tacos, meanwhile, were great. The marinated chunks of pork had a distinctly pineapple-y flavor, there were bits of actual pineapple, too, along with chopped onion and cilantro, and there were two soft tortillas on each taco instead of just one, which definitely helped the structural integrity. Verdict? Muy bueno! Definitely worth the hype. It’s good, it’s cheap, and it’s filling. I’ll be going back to try other dishes, like their enchilada con mole poblano, their coconut flan, etc.

But not that soon. Freezer. Lean Cuisine. Etc. I must try to be strong and space my fits of gluttony out.

Every once in a while I experience a culinary triumph.

I’m happy to say that I have graduated from the “Pasta ala Mala” school of throwing together Ragu sauces and Starkist tuna and actually delved into being a little more desi in my cooking attempts. This came about because I had a bunch of jasmine rice in the cabinet from when my mom visited last year and a package of frozen vegetables when she visited a few months ago. I’ve been perfecting the recipe for a while and I think I’ve finally got it down.

Mind you, this recipe is just a guideline. I like to think that it’s impossible for Indian home cooking to involve exact numbers. We’re very much a school of “just throw stuff in, and then throw MORE stuff in.” So, no matter what the amounts for the spices are below, just assume I kept randomly adding in more at various points in the process. LOL.

Mala’s Technicolor Dreamrice

A ten inch diameter nonstick frying pan.
A nonstick hatha (what the Hell is the English word for ‘cooking spoon’?)

1/2 cup uncooked white rice (long grain, jasmine or basmati)
1 10 oz package frozen peas & carrots
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns
desired amount of dried cranberries
desired amount of unsalted, dry roasted peanuts

After a thorough rinse, soak rice in lukewarm water for ten minutes. While rice is soaking, heat oil in frying pan at medium heat. When the oil is hot enough, unwrap the frozen vegetables and jump back three feet to avoid being splattered. Let the veggies thaw, stirring occasionally to break apart the ice and ensure it cooks evenly. Add the turmeric and a 1/4 teaspoon of salt. (Make sure you don’t add too much turmeric. It’s solely for color and tastes very bitter.) Sautee! Once your veggies stop looking all frozen-y and raw and actually seem to be browning, drain your rice and dump it into the frying pan. Add two parts water to how much ever rice you have and turn up the heat a little. Add the remainder of your spices and bring to a boil.

Once the rice comes to a boil, reduce the temperature to a simmer and cook until all the water is absorbed. (If you’re like me and you taste as you go, you end up adding more ginger, more salt, etc.) Add peanuts and cranberries and stir until thoroughly mixed.


Mala's Technicolor Dreamrice

Mala's Technicolor Dreamrice

I usually end up with enough for three meals. I pair it with George Foreman-ed chicken or steak (not very Indian of me, I know!) or eat it all by itself.

Prep time: 20 minutes max!

May the Schwartz be with youuuuuuuu.

I will concede that there has been one, small advantage to the calorie count revolution: My new fixation with frozen yogurt! See, prior to this cruel twist of regulatory fate, whenever people would talk about Pinkberry or its various knockoffs, I would just tune out. It seemed to be such an obsession with the pseudo-health conscious gym rat set that I figured, okay, as a chick who drinks Yuengling, loves steak, and adores chocolate, what the Hell do I care about yogurt? I even give Tasti D-lite a wide berth. Give me the real deal or GTFO, you know?

But then the storefront on the corner of 34th and 3rd began making its transformation from Latin Corner (which had barely been there a year) to something called Red Mango. I love mangoes. They’re my favorite fruit. They remind me of hot summer days in Kolkata, eating aam and wrinkling my nose at the red, earthen containers of mishti dahi, sweet yogurt, that Mom would have brought from the nearest confectionary shop. Mangoes, I liked, but yogurt…? Not so much. So, anyway, even here in the States, we’d have mangoes whenever they were in season. I love mango ice cream and mango margaritas… I pretty much like everything mango-related except mango lassi.

So when I saw the Red Mango going up, I was immediately intrigued, and immediately had to Google and see what the store was. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be a Pinkberry-esque fro-yo place. Now, I have to admit here that when I heard the term “frozen yogurt,” I had two mental pictures: 1)It was just soft serve ice cream, which is what would pass for fro-yo back in Ohio, or 2)It was your Dannon variety yogurt, just a little cold. It turns out that it’s somewhere in between! AND it’s good for you. A small serving, which is more than enough for me, is less than 100 calories.

Yes, I have succumbed. I have tried both the original and green tea flavors, and the tart tang is unmistakably that of “real” yogurt, complete with active cultures. But, somehow, the fact that it’s cold and whipped makes it more palatable. Then, there’s the toppings. At Red Mango, you can get everything from Cocoa Krispies (totally tried that!) to various fruits. Would you believe that it took me until my third visit to realize that they actually had mangoes? (What can I say? I’m not always very smart.)

So, just a few days ago, I did what Fate had no doubt been waiting for me to do… get the original, sweet yogurt, garnished with mangoes. Mishti dahi and aam. And, lo, it was like the Heavens parted and a troupe of apsaras began dancing in my mouth. I finally get it. I finally get why the two flavors go together. And my sense of nostalgia for Kolkata was all wrapped up in those tart-sweet bites.

Hot summer days in New York aren’t quite the same, but thanks to Red Mango, they’re a little closer to home.

The obligatory calorie count rant.

New York state forcing all chain restaurants to post calorie counts? Sucks. I can say this with personal authority because the policy has thus far ruined my enjoyment of Baskin Robbins, Chevy’s, and Ruby Tuesday’s. I’m sorry, but anyone who goes to a restaurant in general is probably not going there to eat healthy… unless you’re going to some frou-frou health joint and drinking wheat germ. When I go out, it’s with the expectation that I’m going to be a little bad, and I really don’t want to know how bad. Seeing these calorie counts that rank well past 1100 and into the teens for chicken dishes, for burgers… it just made the idea of eating dishes I normally would have enjoyed er, unpalatable.

I now look to the lowest count when I hit the Baskin Robbins ice cream counter. I had a Corona Light at Chevy’s while waiting to get into Dark Knight at the AMC Empire, because the thought of drinking a 500 calorie margarita made me cringe. At Ruby Tuesday’s, I narrowed my choices down to dishes that were all in the 500-600 calorie range, my jaw dropping at some of the numbers for their much-touted burgers. And it’s not that I’m stupid — I know full well how bad some of these dishes must be, but for the purposes of going out and enjoying a meal outside my house and my bevy of Lean Cuisine dishes and three days’ worth of homemade biriyani, I really just want to exist in a pleasant state of denial.

If a handful of people are dumb enough to think McDonald’s is good for you, how is that the problem of the rest of the residents of this state? The rising obesity rate is not the restaurant’s fault; it’s the fault of people who don’t control how often they eat out and what they eat when they’re out.

I never considered myself some kind of crazy hedonist, someone fond of excess and into flouting the rules. But when it comes to food? Just back the hell off. There’s too many countries where people don’t even have the option of chowing down on a Smokehouse Burger. Worrying that, oh noes!, some privileged Westerner is going to add a few inches to their waistline unless someone tells them how many calories there are in the damn thing is stupid and condescending.

I’m SO sick of this generation of Americans refusing to take basic responsibility for themselves and then our government stepping in to fill those gaps. Everything has to be regulated because god forbid someone make their own, mature decision. We’re going to tell you how bad or good your food is for you, we’re going to tell you which TV shows are appropriate for what ages, what books you shouldn’t read, what medication you shouldn’t take, and everybody’s going to be hypersensitive and politically correct because god forbid we hurt someone’s feelings. It’s ridiculous that citizens are being reduced to children — and willingly so. Yes, please, put parameters and constraints on my stomach, my uterus, my brain…

Pretty soon people won’t have to think at all. And is that the future we’re headed for? Orwellian? Where we’re a bunch of automatons, brainwashed, sanitizing our history and sleepwalking through our present and future?

Is a  big ol’ margarita, a double scoop of rocky road, and a cheese-laden chicken dish really that detrimental to society? Come on.