Umami Paste Review

I am mostly indifferent to sweets, but I absolutely love all things savory, so when I heard about a paste billed as “the ultimate cooking tool to enhance any savoury dish”, and more than that called “taste number 5 umami paste” — well, I had to buy it, even if it meant buying it on eBay and having it shipped from the UK.

taste-no-5-umami-paste

Umami is probably the most highly prized taste in Japanese cousine, the taste of salty meatiness. Interestingly enough in pure form umami can be mostly attributed to monosodium glutamate. Mostly – in the same sense that the addictiveness of cigarettes can be mostly attributed to nicotine. The overall picture is very complicated – there are many amino acids similar to MSG, I suspect just as “sweetness” can’t be attributed to a single molecule.

But back to the umami paste. When compared to dashi broth, which for me is an etalon of complex umami taste, Taste No. 5 is somewhat disappointing in its simplicity. There’s an overpowering taste of tomato – the primary ingredient seems to be tomato paste. The second strongest tasting ingredient is anchovy, which is great, but kind of stale. You can also taste olives, but for whatever reason these flavors fail to harmonize. The paste is a bit too oily as well.

A half-used tube of Taste No 5 sat in my fridge for a good while, but it’s far from a miracle ingredient, and is mildly disappointing. I think the main flaw is the heaviness of tomato taste. I give it 3 out of 5. A high quality tin of anchovies is a much more versatile ingredient, and so is a bag of kombu kelp.

uni

Did you know that you can buy a whole wooden box of uni for 15.99 in K-Town? Uni is sea urchin “caviar”, the creamiest ingredient in the world, the second most oohed and aahed over thing on the original Iron Chef show (after “broth of vigor” aka dashi), the thing that you overpay for at the fancier sushi restaurant where it is doled out in smallest portions ever?

Well, you can. It cures a mild bout of depression if consumed in one sitting, with good quality soy sauce and guttural cat-like growling.

Marzipan

When faced with a lot of stress I employ several coping techniques. There’s collecting pens ala officer Sorenson, watching New York’s pigeons(overweight and disheveled they remind me of myself), meditatively looking at cornucopias of goods in various retail store layouts and fixtures, and then there’s food.

Happiness derived from material things is fleeting, especially in the pursuit of the American Dream. But I grew up in the Soviet Union where the Socialist economy greatly restricted variety and quality of just about everything, and I have a slightly different perspective on materialism.

My friends who visited Cuba told me that people there are much happier than in the US: they have very little to aspire to in material goods, and thus live a life that is much less busy, and as a result much more relaxed and happy.

I frequently quote a paragraph from a letter by Carl Steinway to his brother Theodor in Germany:

“I cannot advise you to come here if you are able, by diligence and thrift, to make a living in Germany. People here have to work harder than abroad, and you get so used to better living that you finally think potato soup tasted better in Germany than the daily roast here.”

Carl and Theodor are two of the “Sons” in Steinway & Sons. Steinway Tunnel is named after the third one.

The variety of food that I had access to growing up was not that great, but I certainly had better fruit and vegetables than the majority of Americans have these days. I’ve asked my younger co-workers, and they are sure that strawberries sold in American supermarkets taste like strawberries. It’s a bit of a Matrix moment there (supermarket strawberries absolutely do not taste like real strawberries).

I had a childhood in which I only experienced hunger when dieting and cold when fishing in bad weather. On the other hand, my grandfather, who went through WWII, remembered the real hunger and the real cold. He was very glad that me and my father never had to experience hunger, and every time I would refuse to eat kasha, he would say – “so, you don’t want to eat kasha that your grandmother made you – what do you expect – marzipan”?

I would ask him what marzipan was, and he’d say – oh, it’s a very tasty French candy. He must have remembered marzipan from NEP times or maybe from his early childhood before the Revolution.

I always though that marzipan was something amazing and heavenly, the tastiest treat possible. I was also pretty sure that I’d never taste it. It was the gastronomic equivalent of the “sea rooster” fish (a very rare fish that I dreamt of catching in the Black Sea).

These days I mutter curse words when I catch “sea roosters” – they are considered a throwback fish in NYC. And marzipan – well, it turned out to be yucky concoction of almond paste and sugar that appears on store shelves around Festivus. I buy it from time to time to remember my grandfather.

marzipan

And when I want to taste a tomato or strawberry that tastes good I have to spend a lot of time and money at farmers markets or take a trip to my hometown.

Super Dwarf Patio Banana Plant -Musa- SALE*

MUSA ACUMINATA SUPER DWARF CAVENDISH BANANA

Forget about huge banana plants that need a lot of room. This unique super dwarf allows for growing inside the home, on the porch, or close confines of a patio. Has a very symmetrical and compact appearance: 2′-4′ in height. Can produce tasty fruit inside or out. Has been used as ground cover around base of palms which provide strong vertical elements. Easy to grow in containers down to 8″ in diameter. Because of its size, our most versatile banana. Hardy in Zone 8 and higher.

Comments: This dwarf variety makes a great potted plant for any patio. It has an attractive mahogany colored trunk and will produce a small edible fruit even in a container. Light: Full Sun/Part Shade Bloom Season: All Year

How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else

In his fifties, Michael Gates Gill had it all: a big house in the suburbs, a loving family, and a top job at an ad agency with a six-figure salary. By the time he turned sixty, he had lost everything except his Ivy League education and his sense of entitlement. First, he was downsized at work. Next, an affair ended his twenty-year marriage. Then, he was diagnosed with a slow-growing brain tumor, prognosis undetermined. Around the same time, his girlfriend gave birth to a son. Gill had no money, no health insurance, and no prospects.

One day as Gill sat in a Manhattan Starbucks with his last affordable luxury—a latté—brooding about his misfortune and quickly dwindling list of options, a 28-year-old Starbucks manager named Crystal Thompson approached him, half joking, to offer him a job. With nothing to lose, he took it, and went from drinking coffee in a Brooks Brothers suit to serving it in a green uniform. For the first time in his life, Gill was a minority–the only older white guy working with a team of young African-Americans. He was forced to acknowledge his ingrained prejudices and admit to himself that, far from being beneath him, his new job was hard. And his younger coworkers, despite having half the education and twice the personal difficulties he’d ever faced, were running circles around him.

The other baristas treated Gill with respect and kindness despite his differences, and he began to feel a new emotion: gratitude. Crossing over the Starbucks bar was the beginning of a dramatic transformation that cracked his world wide open. When all of his defenses and the armor of entitlement had been stripped away, a humbler, happier and gentler man remained. One that everyone, especially Michael’s kids, liked a lot better.

The backdrop to Gill’s story is a nearly universal cultural phenomenon: the Starbucks experience. In How Starbucks Saved My Life, we step behind the counter of one of the world’s best-known companies and discover how it all really works, who the baristas are and what they love (and hate) about their jobs. Inside Starbucks, as Crystal and Mike’s friendship grows, we see what wonders can happen when we reach out across race, class, and age divisions to help a fellow human being.

Pour Your Heart into It : How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time

Since 1987, Starbucks’s star has been on the rise, growing from 11 Seattle, WA-based stores to more than 1,000 worldwide. Its goals grew, too, from the more modest, albeit fundamental one of offering high-quality coffee beans roasted to perfection to, more recently, opening a new store somewhere every day. An exemplary success story, Starbucks is identified with innovative marketing strategies, employee-ownership programs, and a product that’s become a subculture. Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a manager, a marketer, or a curious Starbucks loyalist, Pour Your Heart into It will let you in on the revolutionary Starbucks venture. CEO Howard Schultz recounts the company’s rise in 24 chapters, each of which illustrates such core values as “Winning at the expense of employees is not victory at all.”

The Gospel According to Starbucks: Living with a Grande Passion

Introducing the life you’d gladly stand in line for

You don’t stand in line at Starbucks® just to buy a cup of coffee. You stop for the experience surrounding the cup of coffee.
Too many of us line up for God out of duty or guilt. We completely miss the warmth and richness of the experience of living with God. If we’d learn to see what God is doing on earth, we could participate fully in the irresistible life that he offers.
You can learn to pay attention like never before, to identify where God is already in business right in your neighborhood. The doors are open and the coffee is brewing. God is serving the refreshing antidote to the unsatisfying, arms-length spiritual life–and he won’t even make you stand in line.
Let Leonard Sweet show you how the passion that Starbucks® has for creating an irresistible experience can connect you with God’s stirring introduction to the experience of faith.

Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art

When it was first published, Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art changed the way the culinary world viewed Japanese cooking, moving it from obscure ethnic food to haute cuisine.

Twenty-five years later, much has changed. Japanese food is a favorite of diners around the world. Not only is sushi as much a part of the Western culinary scene as burgers, bagels, and burritos, but some Japanese chefs have become household names. Japanese flavors, ingredients, and textures have been fused into dishes from a wide variety of other cuisines. What hasn’t changed over the years, however, are the foundations of Japanese cooking. When he originally wrote Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art, Shizuo Tsuji, a scholar who trained under famous European chefs, was so careful and precise in his descriptions of the cuisine and its vital philosophies, and so thoughtful in his choice of dishes and recipes, that his words–and the dishes they help produce–are as fresh today as when they were first written.
The 25th Anniversary edition celebrates Tsuji’s classic work. Building on M.F.K.Fisher’s eloquent introduction, the volume now includes a thought-provoking new Foreword by Gourmet Editor-in-Chief Ruth Reichl and a new preface by the author’s son and Tsuji Culinary Institute Director Yoshiki Tsuji. Beautifully illustrated with eight pages of new color photos and over 500 drawings, and containing 230 traditional recipes as well as detailed explanations of ingredients, kitchen utensils, techniques and cultural aspects of Japanese cuisine, this edition continues the Tsuji legacy of bringing the Japanese kitchen within the reach of Western cooks.

What It’s All About?

I recently picked up “It’s Not About the Coffee: Leadership Principles from a Life at Starbucks”.

As you might know, I am a bit of coffee coin-a-sewer, owning a $2000 espresso machine and such. You might also remember the only popular blog post I’ve ever written – the one about the Starbucks logo. I was always very interested in everything Starbucks. The reason? Well, I really could not understand how a company with coffee that is so bad could be so popular.  I mean, have you tasted the stuff?

“It’s Not About the Coffee” – wow, I thought, this should clear some things up. Because, I for sure know that it’s not about the coffee. I’ve had good coffee. It just can’t be about the coffee. 

The first sentence of the book (int the A Note to Readers) reads: “Although this book is titled It’s Not About the Coffee,  of course it is about the coffee–it’s about the people and the coffee.” Leadership lesson number one: start out with a lie, then weasel out. 

Cloying, sacchariney  corporate doublespeak only got worse on the following several pages, I am not even sure I can get through the book at all.  There might be some interesting Starbucks anecdotes further down, so I’ll keep trying. Meanwhile I get a weird feeling about Howard Behar – the same I used to get about Soviet Politburo members: I could not understand if they believed themselves in the ideals that they extolled. 

Ok, I read a couple of more pages, and was instantly rewarded by learning this interesting, although disturbing fact: besides the coffee passport, which I knew about, there’s a piece of corporate propaganda known as the “Green Apron Book.”  Almost like Chairman Mao’s “Little Red Book”. Neat.

All of this reminded me a story that I’ve read somewhere about a North Korean student at a Moscow university that used to carry around with him a little portrait of the Great Leader, Kim Il-sung. He would meditate, looking at the picture for hours, and even used it instead of a mirror while shaving. When asked – how could he shave without a mirror, he said – this is better than a mirror.

I guess, if you can make people shave in front of a portrait, you can make them believe that Starbucks coffee is tasty. There are ways…