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February 26, 2006

Shawna's photostream on flickr

Check out Shawna's photostream on flickr! Bicycle bloggers are linking to them.

Posted by BKG at 8:11 AM

Shawna's photo

Shawna.gif One Thousand Words. Ignorance is disease. First-year medical students at McMaster University enjoy the opportunity to arrange an 8-week clinical elective in the location and specialty of their choice. This September, students donated photos taken during their electives to a silent auction at the International Women's and Children's Health Symposium at McMaster, raising over $1200 for "Save the Mothers," a Canadian NGO working to reduce maternal mortality in Uganda. CMAJ has selected 3 for publication. Shawna Silver took this photo during National Health Week in Wenchi, Ghana. We liked the feeling of empowerment in this beautifully composed photograph; this posed group seems, poignantly, to be ready to take charge of their own future. The photographer writes: "For one week a year, the University of Ghana medical school closes and the students spread across the country to provide health education. This year's topic was tuberculosis. I ... was sent to Wenchi and the Brong Ahafo region, about 350 km from Accra, the capital. Children were fascinated with my digital camera and even more so in seeing themselves on the screen. The writing is on the wall. They wanted to learn all they could. And, we were there to help." CMAJ, December 6, 2005; 173 (12): 1514.

Posted by BKG at 7:05 AM

February 16, 2006

Mayer is here

Dinner tonight in honor of Mayer with Jerry and Diane, Jonathan and Elissa. We're doing the last round of revisions on the manuscript for a March submission deadline. We went to see Brokeback Mountain last night at Mayer's suggestion. I wanted us to see Fateless, but it was on too late. We loved Brokeback Mountain.

For dinner tonight, I have:

* tofu "shtrudel" I bought in Chinatown, Buddhist vegetarian style (bean curd sheets wrapped around mushrooms, clouds ears, etc.),
* Persian spinach with black eye peas,
* roasted sweet potatoes,
* roasted white roots (turnips, celery root, parsnip),
* Halabi stuffed onions (learned how from Avinadav),
* Persian rice (a pilaf with lime and green beans),
* watercress and amaranth salad, with daikon shreds and my own sprouted mung beans.

Will figure out dessert later. Dessert is Max's top priority. It is the only thing he asks about the menu.

Posted by BKG at 7:44 AM

February 15, 2006

Crazy about plantains


Just ordered the E-Z Peeler, Tostones E-Z Smasher, and cookbook from Edwin Rodriquez's website Caribbean Food Implements, which includes video demos. Read the story in the NYTimes (2/2/06), complete with video.

An inventor-entrepreneur's adventures in plantains

New York Times News Service

Six years ago I received a call from a man named Edwin Rodriguez, an unemployed janitor. He had invented a plantain peeler and wanted to know if I would like to see it. A few days later Rodriguez's prototype arrived in the mail. It was carved from wood and painted green and lemon yellow like a child's toy - and was otherwise the most phallic cooking tool I'd ever seen. I quickly tucked it into my desk drawer.

But when I tried it out in the privacy of my home kitchen, it worked ingeniously. There was a blade for trimming off the ends of the fruit and cutting seams into the peel without harming the inner plantain. And at one end was a spade-shaped wood piece designed to mimic a thumbnail - the implement that, in the absence of a plantain peeler like Rodriguez's, is normally is used to wedge under the peel and lift it in strips. Peeling a green plantain is not like peeling a banana. The skin sticks, and if you're not careful you can easily split the fruit's flesh; you need a sharp paring knife and good knife skills.

I called Rodriguez to tell him I was impressed by his invention and wanted to write about it.

"Where can you buy it?" I asked.
"Oh, but we don't have a manufacturer," he said. With regret, I explained that it would be hard to write about a product that readers couldn't experience for themselves, and encouraged him to call back once it was in production.

One morning this past October, a man called and exclaimed: "It's Edwin! I have my plantain peeler ready!"

"Um, who?" I said. "And what?"
"Remember? The plantain peeler - I made the plantain peeler!"

Two weeks later I went to East 108th Street to meet the inventor.

Rodriguez, dressed in a blue sweatshirt and a pressed oxford-cloth shirt, met me on the sidewalk of a rundown block; he was relaxed, like someone who is taking it easy after a successful career, not someone on the verge of starting up a company.

He escorted me to his E-Z Peeler office on the second floor of a nearby tenement, where he introduced me to his wife of 37 years, Alba. The immaculate office featured a packing area in the center stacked with the first shipment of 3,400 peelers and a kitchen in the back, where Rodriguez cooks lunch every day for himself and the three people who work with him. "It's too expensive to go out for lunch," he said. More important, as I discovered later, he is an excellent cook.

Without money or connections it had taken Rodriguez, 58, more than 12 years to move his E-Z Peeler from concept to manufacture. The process began in 1990 when Rodriguez, who had grown up in Puerto Rico, was laid off from Public School 117 in East Harlem, where he had been a janitor.

"I said, I have to go do something," he explained. "I thought, I can cook pork." So he built a grill out of an old oil barrel, bought charcoal and, during the warm months, began spit-roasting pigs in an empty lot in East Harlem, selling it to people in the neighborhood. In the winter months, he fiddled with designs for new kitchen tools. (His wife, who works at Lord & Taylor on Fifth Avenue, paid most of the bills.)

One day, a friend - "a beautiful lady with nice nails" - complained to him that peeling plantains at the restaurant where she worked was ruining her hands. It occurred to him that there was a natural market for a special tool in Hispanic restaurants and homes, where plantains are a pillar of the cuisine.

In 1993, Rodriguez started working on a prototype, carving it by hand from a piece of pine. Eventually he knocked on the first of many doors.

He showed up on the doorstep of El Plastics, a factory in the Bronx that made plastic displays. The engineer in charge took a liking to Rodriguez and decided to help him.

"They gave me time," he said, "and I could go into my little shop and make it better and take it back to them. And finally they say: 'OK, you're ready for a blueprint. No more freebies. You have to pay.' " He had saved a little money, and for $2,700 he got the blueprint.

In 1995, Rodriguez got a patent, and in 1999 he entered the Hammacher Schlemmer Search for Invention contest, in which the E-Z Peeler was a semifinalist.

Rodriguez also subscribed to Inventors' Digest and studied it as if it were the Bible. "It said one product is not enough," Rodriguez recalled. "So I said, 'O.K., a tostonera."

A tostonera is used to flatten once-fried plantain slices before they are fried a second time and become tostones. To get the design just right, he headed to the kitchen, flattening and frying, flattening and frying. And this led to his third product: a cookbook, which, naturally, he wrote and illustrated. The book, "Loco con los Platanos" ("Crazy for Plantains"), is filled with precise recipes and instructional photographs for dishes as varied as chicken and rice, salt cod salad and plantain soup.

One night, while Rodriguez was having a drink at a bar on East 108th Street, the Hammacher Schlemmer sequence ran on the History Channel. He struck up a conversation with the bar's owner, Tito Santiago, who thought so much of his invention that he decided to invest in Rodriguez's fledgling company and become his partner. Together they formed Caribbean Food Implements, which occupies the second floor of the building. Santiago has since closed the bar to make room for a demonstration space for the E-Z Peeler.

When the East Harlem Business Capital Corp. granted Rodriguez a loan of $10,000 (it eventually added $20,000 more), it was time to get the E-Z Peeler manufactured. He was determined to have it made in the United States - "so I could have that label 'Proudly made in the USA'" - but the costs were prohibitive.

Another nonprofit organization, the Senior Core of Retired Executives, put him in touch with a retired factory owner who is an expert on injection molding, the plastic-forming technique needed to manufacture the E-Z Peeler. "He said, 'Listen, take your project to China,' " Rodriguez explained.

He has since sold 350 sets of peelers, tostoneras (which can also be used to form plantain slices into cups, for stuffing) and books (which come in either Spanish or English).

The E-Z Peeler is $12.95 at Caribbean Food Implements, 181 East 108th Street (second floor), (212) 348-8181, or at www.lococonlosplatanos.com; a set with the tostonera, the book and an E-Z Peeler is $29.95 at Caribbean Food Implements or $34.95 online, including shipping.

Adapted from "Loco con los Platanos" by Edwin Rodriguez (Caribbean Food Implements)

Time: 1 hour
For the ajilimojili sauce:
1 head garlic, peeled and minced
5 Scotch bonnet peppers, seeded and minced
18-ounce can Spanish-style tomato sauce
Juice of half a lemon
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon sazon sin achiote (without annatto) seasoning (optional)
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon honey
Hot sauce (optional)
For the tostones:
4 cups vegetable oil, for frying
3 green plantains
For the shrimp:
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds medium shrimp, shelled and deveined, each cut into 4 pieces

1. Prepare ajilimojili sauce: Place garlic, peppers and tomato sauce in a medium sieve set over a bowl, and mash with a spoon or ladle to push them through. Repeat twice more. (Alternatively, use a food processor to mince garlic and peppers, and blend with tomato sauce, but the traditional method provides a better texture.)

2. Transfer to a saucepan over low heat, and mix in the lemon juice, salt, sazon (if using), olive oil, butter and honey. If desired, season with hot sauce to taste. Simmer 2 minutes. Remove from heat, and allow to cool. Transfer to a sealed glass container, and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

3. Prepare tostones: Place oil in a high-rimmed skillet, and heat to 250 degrees. While oil heats, peel and cut plantains into 1-inch medallions. Fry medallions until lightly golden on all sides, 6-8 minutes. Remove from oil, and immediately flatten with a tostonera or a kitchen mallet until about 1/4 inch thick. Increase temperature of oil to 350 degrees, and fry a second time until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain, and sprinkle with salt to taste; keep warm.

4. Prepare shrimp: Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, and sauti 1 minute. Add shrimp and 1/3 cup ajilimojili sauce. (Reserve remaining sauce for another use.) Mix well, and simmer until shrimp are opaque, 6-8 minutes. Season with salt to taste. Serve shrimp with warm tostones.

Yield: 4 servings.

Posted by BKG at 7:04 AM

February 12, 2006

One bite and I almost swoon...

Oi, Barbara

This bread!! One bite and I almost swoon, really--it is the bread of my childhood. This special sourness and the color of the flour are amazing. I could not stop taking small bites of this precious bread--my Proustian madeleine. Mark is my witness and could barely believe his eyes and now he does not dare take a bite, it's all mine. So, now, I am going to beg you to let me know when is the next time you will do it and let me come and watch and do it with you. I would love to see a recipe in the meantime... love to you both, Greta

Posted by BKG at 2:32 PM

February 8, 2006


Having put Forklore on hold--it is just too tantalizing--as the semester gets started and writing deadlines loom, I'm back, with short entries, waiting for the summer to blog in earnest. Gave a talk in the music department and my new colleagues there took me to the most delightful dinner afterwards, delightful first and foremost for the company, but also for the inventive Japanese-Jamaican (yes, jerked chicken sushi) cuisine at Aki. Michael ordered the monkfish liver, one patty of which was coated in chocolate. It was delicious!

Chef Nakanishi has cooked in Jamaica, and he brings a Caribbean palette to the table here. An appetizer of uni, scallops and roe in coconut cream is unexpectedly delicious, as are yellowtail, mango and avocado rolls. The banana-tuna maki is an ambitious near-miss. Aki's tuna tartare, with raisins, coconut flakes and a dark chutney-ish sauce, easily holds its own in the contested NYC tartare standings. All the fish here is superlatively fresh. The majority of the clever inventions are wild successes, and even the standard fare is terrific. From CitySearch
Chef-owner Siggy Nakanishi used to cook for the Japanese ambassador to the West Indies, which accounts for freaky fusion rolls like spicy tuna with fried banana. But fanciful sushi isn't all you'll find at this brick-walled aerie four stairs removed from the West 4th Street hubbub: There's also the daily roster of off-the-wall specials, every bit as inventive as menu staples like the eel napoleon with fried tofu and mashed pumpkin and the salmon-mozzarella-and-basil summer roll with a tiny gravy boat of balsamic sauce. — Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld. From New York Metro.

Recommended dishes
Tuna mille-feuille
Toro tartar
Caribbean roll
Dino roll
Shinoda bag
Tofu etranger
Eel napoleon (fried tofu and mashed pumpkin)
Eel mango roll
Banana tuna roll
Green tea tiramisu.
Half avocado stuffed w/ real crabmeat and topped w/ tobiko
Chef's special sushi ("it's a party in your mouth")
Jerk chicken roll

181 W 4th St
New York, NY 10014 View Map
(212) 989-5440
Cross Street: Between Barrow Street and Jones Street
Directions: A, C, E; B, D, F, V at W 4th St

Here is a report from A Full Belly.

Posted by BKG at 7:21 AM