The Only “Best of” List You Need This Year: My Top Food Moments of 2018

Every time I run into someone I haven’t seen in a while, one of their first questions is inevitably, “You still doing the food thing?” Assuming they are talking about my interests and not whether or not I’m still eating regularly, yes, I am still pursuing my master’s degree in food studies (you can check out this earlier post if you’re confused about what that is). But I’ve done a really poor job of keeping up with my writing, which is a shame because it brings me a sense of purpose and immense joy.

Now that Christmas is over and the flood of “New Year, New You!” marketing is upon us, I am setting a goal and declaring my intention to the universe. In 2019, I will write more, whether that’s on this blog or, hopefully, more mainstream publications. There are so many important discussions happening in the food world, and it’s not all Shake Shack vs. In-N-Out (although that topic has its merits). From farming and climate change, to culinary diplomacy, to massive acquisitions of organic foodstuffs by old guard mega-producers, there are many topics that deserve your time and attention.  

Before we dive into the new year, I first want to look back at some of my personal favorite defining food moments of 2018: 

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1. Sqirl’s Ricotta Toast

I kicked off the year in Los Angeles at Sqirl, an influential and “healthyish” breakfast and lunch spot that is undeniably Instagrammable. Look at this fucking Brioche Toast with Ricotta and Jam.

2. Mole Tasting

In March, I took a week-long course with my classmates in Mexico, learning about the influence of maize in the region. More about that here, but the culinary highlight was this mole tasting in Puebla, the birthplace of mole poblano.

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3. Peter Luger’s Burgers

Peter Luger is known for pricey steaks, but we made a pilgrimage just for the burgers. It was absolutely worth it, and a much more economical way to get in the door and still celebrate a special occasion.

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4. Homemade

Strawberry Pie

I baked a lot of pies this year, but this Memorial Day strawberry lattice pie was my favorite, even if (or maybe because?) it looks like it’s bleeding.

5. Table on Ten’s

Peach and Corn Pizza

In July, Piyal and I took a weekend trip to Table on Ten, a farm-to-table pizza restaurant in the Catskills with a renovated upstairs hotel space. This peach, corn, and mozzarella pizza sounds weird but was probably the best thing we ate all summer.

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6. Make America Dinner Again

As part of my studies this past semester, I worked with non-profit Make America Dinner Again, an organization I wrote about for Civil Eats here. Their mission is to bring liberals and conservatives together over a meal to find common ground and re-learn respectful discourse. Here is the group that I hosted three dinners with, but more to come on this in 2019.

7. Cooking Class Paella

When visiting Barcelona this fall, Piyal and I took a cooking class that lead us through famous market La Boqueria to collect ingredients and then prepare them in a small-group setting. We made this paella with a lot of very potent ingredients, including the squeezed leftover contents of a cuttlefish liver. As I’ve mentioned before, pungent seafood is not my favorite, but I’m proud of myself for trying it.

8. Celebrity Cruise’s Animated Meal

In probably my strangest food moment of 2018, I went on a short Celebrity Edge cruise with my family and dined at an interactive restaurant experience called “Le Petite Chef”. The dining tables and plates were set up below projectors built into the ceiling. Before each course, an animated show danced on and next to our plates to tell the origin stories of each dish. See for yourself at this link.

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9. Classmate’s Indian Feast

At the end of the semester, Piyushaa, an exchange student from London Business School, prepared a heartfelt spread of her family’s Indian recipes for a small group from our class. Moments like these make me grateful to have found the Food Studies program and all the thoughtful, talented people that come with it.

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10. Homemade Rainbow Cookies

Last but not least, I made these fucking rainbow cookies from scratch. Look at them. They’re breathtaking. But still not sexy enough for the two nights I spent baking them. I probably won’t do this again. Lesson learned.

On Mexican Crickets, Hypocrisy, and Shame

“If you want to be more adventurous and get more crunch, try the larger crickets.”

I did not want to try the larger crickets. I did not even want to try the smaller crickets. But in Mexico, on the second day of a week-long academic adventure with my classmates, I was being asked to face one of my fears head on, or more accurately, antennae on.

My fear is not of eating bugs, but rather of being found out as a small-minded hypocrite amongst my peers. Friends and family know me for my enthusiasm and passion for food, which has lead me to pursue a graduate degree to study the economic, social, and cultural aspects of the topic. But only those very close to me know one of my deepest, most shameful secrets: I am not an adventurous eater. I am not into offal, or steak tartare, or oysters. The thought of splitting open a lobster does not excite me – it confuses me with the amount of effort required for so little reward. Spicy foods are unpleasant at best, and brutally painful most of the time. I don’t even like sushi.

“You must not have had good sushi before,” a shocked new friend will inevitably inform me.

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It’s not that I haven’t tried. I’ve sampled all of these items once or twice, and I try sushi about once a year, just to silence the skeptics. But it is never a pleasant experience. The raw fish, rare animal parts, and tongue-tingling delicacies that delight my classmates and friends just don’t appeal to me. My list of favorite foods sounds like the last meal request of an American inmate whose palate stopped developing at age seven. Give me cheeseburgers, chicken fingers, waffles, and chocolate ice cream with sprinkles, and I’ll die an unimaginative, but happy, death.

I knew that going on an international trip with the specific intent to study another culture’s gastronomy with some seriously passionate and open eaters was going to push me out of my comfort zone. While most Americans think of nachos and burritos when they think of Mexican cuisine, the traditional fare is a rich blend of ancient and modern, with many culinary traditions originating from pre-colonial indigenous cultures. Chapulines, or crickets, are fried, tossed in a variety of spices, and eaten as a crispy snack in the outdoor marketplaces that dot the bustling streets of Mexico City. They are also incredibly healthy and sustainable – crickets are high in protein, low in fat, and require much less fuel to raise than traditional livestock. Even though insects have been notably absent from the diets of North Americans and many Europeans, a recent article in Forbes says 80% of countries in the world already feature them as a normal food staple.

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As growing economies like China and India develop middle classes with a taste for meat, many scientists believe eating insects is the key to solving the world’s upcoming protein debt. Entrepreneurs worldwide have started betting on their success with the use of cricket flour for baked goods and processed cricket meat for nuggets. At an academic and environmental level, I am a huge supporter of eating insects. They are nutritious, better for the planet, and can be raised and sold by nearly anyone, regardless of social class or land-owning status. But the “ick” factor still radiates from the base of my throat whenever I think about consuming them myself. How do I reconcile such strong cognitive dissonance between my brain and my mouth?

I turned towards Nico, our handsome culinary tour guide, and surveyed the spread of insects on the silver tray he held with his outstretched arm. “I’ll just try a little one,” I said in a tiny voice, pinching the crispy legs of a critter that had been cooked in salt and garlic. I tossed it into my mouth, chewed just long enough to get a hint of flavor, and swallowed quickly, clearing any extraneous body parts from the inside of my cheeks. It tasted a little nutty and had the texture of the burnt, overly fried bits you find in the pan after making hash browns. It certainly wasn’t terrible, but I wasn’t rushing back to pick up the larger insects and risk feeling the separate thorax, legs, and antennae swish around on my tongue.

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As my classmates began nodding excitedly and chatting about their enjoyment of the morsels, I flashed a quick smile and stayed quiet. I survived another day of my contradictory existence as an unadventurous food lover, and my secret shame remained hidden with me.

Whole Foods 365 Opened in Downtown Brooklyn And It's Actually Cheaper Than You Think

There are few things I love in this world more than a good supermarket. One of my favorite ways to de-stress after a hectic day is to stroll through the neatly stacked displays, alone and anonymous, feeling thankful to be present in this moment in culinary history. Five kinds of extra sharp cheddar, pre-spiralized butternut squash noodles, Root Beer Float flavored Chips Ahoy - what a time to be alive! In this blog, I've previously written impassioned announcements of the arrival of Trader Joe's and Wegmans outposts in New York City locations:

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Adding to my collection of real and poorly edited images with markets, join me in triumphantly welcoming Whole Foods 365 to Downtown Brooklyn!

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Whole Foods 365 opened this past Wednesday in the bottom floor of 300 Ashland, one of the myriad of luxury high-rises in the area. The budget-friendly store is a smaller version of its big brother, Whole Paycheck. But is it actually easier on your wallet?

I compared the prices of staple items here to my normal grocery store, the Stop and Shop at Atlantic Terminal, five minutes away from 365. Much to my surprise, 365 is beating Stop and Shop in pricing for nearly every item. See below for a detailed breakdown:

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In addition to being cheaper, 365 is downright classy. Here's a photo tour of the new digs:

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Saige C., who lives in East Flatbush but works in the area, struck up a conversation as I devoured a quick dinner from the hot bar.  When I asked her how she felt about the store, her feelings were mixed.

"I'm proud of the jobs the new store is creating," said Saige, "but I think their use of Fort Greene all around the store is unnecessary. We're in Downtown Brooklyn, which is already pretty gentrified. They should stop trying to make Fort Greene part of their brand."

But if your sustainable seafood doesn't come from a neighborhood with tree-lined, brownstone speckled streets, is it even worth buying?

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