Bald Peanuts?

Bald Peanuts on the Dock

When I first heard my uncles rave about “bald peanuts”, I imagined Mr. Potato Head-like legumes with receding hairlines. It was only after my first taste of these soft, briny nuts, while sitting on Folly Beach in South Carolina, that I realized my uncles, in their southern drawls, had been talking about “boiled” peanuts.

Sign for Timbo's Peanuts

These nuts are typically southern and have become the official snack food of South Carolina and a beloved Charleston street food. They’re made from “raw” or “green” peanuts that are full-sized, but not completely dry, which are boiled for 2-4 hours in salted water. Sometimes other flavors are added to the brine, such as beer, ham or spices. While the smaller peanuts have a nuttier flavor the larger nuts take on a bean-like flavor and texture. So this Tuesday David and I decided to taste Timbo’s boiled peanuts, reputed to be the best in Charleston.

Timbo's Boiled Peanuts in Charleston, SC

Timbo mans his graffiti-covered boiled peanut stand, nestled beneath the drooping oaks of highway 61, everyday but Tuesday—although the stall is still open. He sells three flavors: original, ham and Cajun for $3 a pound. Cajun, a blend of Tabasco, red pepper, and slices of jalapenos is mildly spicy and leaves your lips tingling. It’s Timbo’s most popular flavor.

The flavoring doesn’t permeate the actual nut, but rather it flavors the salty boiling liquid, the shell, and imparts an aroma as you chomp on this perfect summer snack. When we tasted each of the three flavors, it was only by cracking the whole shell in our mouth, not the individual nut, that we could differentiate flavors.

So, how do you eat a “bald” peanut? You throw the whole peanut in your mouth, crack it gently with your teeth and suck the briny, flavored liquid out. Then, grab the shell, open it up and eat only the nuts inside. Their saltiness (and spiciness) makes them the perfect partner to a frosty beer.

When I moved back from China in 2003, I had forgotten how to communicate in English (I couldn’t really speak in Chinese either) and I craved Chinese street food. I spent hours on the internet tracking down recipes, testing the authenticity of cookbooks I discovered, and traipsing from Brighton Beach to Manhattan and Queens and back again to indulge in the flavors I missed. I had some hits and misses (one miss involving a very hungover friend and a 45 minute subway ride on the Q train and some dismal food) and some delicious rewards. And while these experiments were fun, I would have killed for this brilliant interactive map and feature in today’s NY Times about the Chinese food in Flushing.

Chinese street food is clearly a popular topic for a newspaper feature as the Olympics are around the corner and hundreds of previously uninitiated tourists are about to taste Chinese street food for the first time. The Star wrote a Beijing Street Food Top 10 List. While I don’t think a list of ten can do Chinese street food justice, this list does show the brilliant breadth of Beijing street foods and its origins from Xinjiang to Wuhan.

I used to work in fashion (before I quit my job last month) and a big part of my job was figuring out what trends would take off and ensuring we had enough inventory to support those sales. I’m no longer concerned about fall’s hem-length, but having recently seen a slew of street-food inspired restaurants open and TV programs exploring exotic street dishes launched, I’m quite certain we’re in middle of a street food trend.

Some of the street-food inspired events, news and restaurants that seem worth checking out…

Slow on the Go: Alice Waters is bringing her Slow Food Nation to Fort Mason and the Civic Center in San Francisco. With events over Labor Day weekend that promote sustainable, fresh, and organic street food, the $45+ tix don’t seem too expensive.

The New York Times has reviewed sweet mobile treats in its $25-and-under dining section and a few weeks ago wrote a round-up of fried milk street foods around the globe.

In San Francisco, Kasa Indian Eatery opened to rave reviews, introducing Bay Area foodies to kati rolls—an Indian burrito-like street food staple. Further north in Portland, Andy Rickter is the chef at Pok Pok which serves Thai street food and won the 2007 Portland Restaurant of the Year. Great blog post about Andy at the rambling spoon.

In NYC, Tuck Shop sells authentic Aussie street food—meat pies—in midtown and Macondo, named after Gabriel García Márquez’s fictional town in One Hundred Years of Solitude, recently opened downtown serving up-scale Latin American street food. Check out this Times article to create one of Macondo’s cocktails. If it’s Venezuelan street food you’re craving however, East Village staple Caracas still impresses. And I’m pretty much willing to sell my soul for the recipe of their spicy sauce…

Al Jazeera has a program exploring street food around the world and if you don’t have access to that channel, check out the shows online. And of course with the Travel Channel’s No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain, there’s no lack of street food programming.

If you’re in Jackson Heights, Jim Leff has created a Google map of obscure street food.

And if none of these street eats are nearby, enjoy Thomas Swick’s ode to street food.

From hogs roasting in back yards to roadside, mobile smokers, BBQ is a central Texas specialty. But with only one day in this roast meat heartland, I needed to taste what Gourmet magazine ranks one of the best joints…even if it wasn’t necessarily street food.Smitty's Meat Market

Entering Smitty’s Market on a 98-degree day is like visiting hell on the way to heaven, and the ultimate reward surpasses any promised paradise. A line weaves from the door through the smoke room where open fires are constantly stoked, ensuring an endless supply of cooked meats for the waiting customers. Smitty's Smoke Room

The menu is simple: Cold Sausage, Hot Sausage, Lean Beef (Shoulder), Fat Beef (Brisket), Pork Chops, Prime Rib, Pork Ribs. You can order by slice, rib or pound and your meat is wrapped in thick butcher paper with Butter Krust sliced white bread thrown on top.

Smitty's Condiment Bar

Clutching our paper-wrapped meat, we made our way into the blissfully air-conditioned dining room, where large communal tables were packed with diners devouring their sandwiches. As you enter this second room, there is a counter of condiments where you can buy homemade pickles and peppers, cheeses and avocados, and a selection of side dishes from a tangy, sharp slaw to meaty, but bland, baked beans. This is where the local regulars turn their orders into handcrafted, customized sandwiches.

Smitty's Meat

We ordered two ribs, ½ a pound of fat beef, and two hot sausages and started with the ribs. They were some of the best I’ve ever had: smoky, slightly sweet and caramelized on the outside but meaty with no cloying BBQ sauce to intrude on the flavor of well-seasoned pork.

The sausage, wrapped in a slice of Butter Krust was rich, juicy and spicy with a satisfyingly taught skin. Topped with the homemade, not-so-hot hot sauce (found on the table) I fell in love with the unadulterated flavors of slow cooked, smoky meat.

The brisket was good but not near the top of my list…it was tougher than I expected with less flavor that the other meats we ordered. The fat beef was good but it needed a compliment—when I looked round at the other tables I understood the beauty of the condiment bar. Clearly we were the out-of-towners—the tattooed bikers sitting next to us were attacking their stacked sandwiches of meat, cheese, avocado, pickles and hot sauce.

Were I to return, I’d probably spend more time at the condiment counter trying the myriad sandwich variations, but with just one meal to enjoy I wanted to eat my smoke-infused meat without any distraction…except of course for my two-dollar Lone Star beer.


Smitty’s Market

208 South Commerce
Lockhart, Texas 78644

Telephone: 512-398-9344

Mon-Fri 7am – 6pm
Sat 7am – 6:30pm
Sun 9am – 3pm

Food Shark, Marfa Tx

Bon Appetit ranked The Food Shark of Marfa, Texas sixth in its Hot 10 US street food vendors.

But when I happened upon the Food Shark, after a few weeks of fast food and veggie-lacking desert meals of Arizona and western Texas, I ranked the Food Shark’s ambrosial hummus wrap ($6.99) number one.

Minimalist artist Donald Judd relocated from New York to Marfa in the 1970s, laying the foundation for this desert outpost to become an artistic Mecca by buying up abandoned buildings and offering artists space to work and exhibit. The New York Times cemented Marfa’s cultural role with its 2005 Art Land article, which touted the tourism that bypasses now-decrepit towns all over western Texas.

Abandoned Building Outside Marfa

Located on I-90, 75 miles south of Van Horn—a town that’s been reduced to an I-10 rest stop where 28 percent of the population lives below poverty—Marfa, with its beautifully restored Arts and Crafts buildings and deco details, is an oasis for billboard-weary travelers.

David and I had time for only a walk along Marfa’s main square, marveling at the brilliantly stocked bookstore—the perfect place to pick up a Cormac McCarthy novel before heading North to his Las Cruces base—and the local newspaper office before spotting Food Shark nestled beneath a corrugated metal structure in a square by the railway tracks.

The metal roof shades large, sculptural, communal tables—the Shark’s “dining room”—where a collection of locals, artsy hipsters and tourists mingle. We sat next to a chatty art historian who was in Marfa for the summer to archive Judd’s papers, tantalizing us with the thoughts of perusing this library ourselves.

As I had just cooked dumplings 30 miles before, we weren’t hungry. But seeing the inexpensive menu of Mediterranean-inspired local food, I ordered the hummus wrap, which was packed with crunchy greens, juicy garnet-colored tomatoes and thickly textured hummus. Accompanied by cold, unsweetened tea, our desert-driven thirst was finally quenched.

Food Shark's Hummus Wrap

I didn’t expect that two weeks after leaving San Francisco I’d find myself making Chinese dumplings from scratch on the side of a Texan freeway.

I-90 Dumpling Stop

Reading through my street food Google Alert, I was thrilled to discover that the theme of The Spice Cafe’s Monthly Blog Patrolling (MBP) was street food, hosted this month by Sia of Monsoon Spice. The task: make a street food recipe from a fellow blogger, write a post, and link to the original blogger. Having only just begun Streats and having a long list of bookmarked recipes to try, I was game—except that I was in the middle of a cross-country roadtrip.

The day after reading the MBP, David and I drove east from Tucson to New Mexico, and then South into Texas along I-10. We spent the night in Van Horn, a dumpy highway town where over half the single-story brick building had long-since been abandoned. Our motel, the Economy Inn, was economy—$41 for a room that reeked of cheap perfume and backed onto the train tracks. It was too unhygienic to even consider making the jiaozi and guotieh recipe I’d been aching to try from the Asian Grandmothers Cookbook blog.

In 2002, I lived in a small town in China and taught English to 5- and 6-year-old xiao pengyou (lit. little friends). I lived on jiaozi, guotieh and other street foods, hence my interest in the genre. Since my return, I’d yet to replicate the crisp, brown bottoms and doughy skins of this Chinese staple, but the Asian Grandmothers Cookbook blog looked set to change that with its insistence on home-made dough.

Economy Inn, Van HornNot certain how I’d participate in the MBP, I doubted the quality of the only market in town, two blocks north of the motel on the desolate road running through Van Horn. With afternoon thunderstorms approaching, we trekkedNew Mexico Chilies to Pueblo Market where I was happily surprised at the variety (if not quality) of its produce and the myriad of local New Mexican chilies. Yet I still refused to cook in the Economy Inn.

Leaving Van Horn on I-90 East, the scenery changes dramatically as the highway cuts through yellowed fields which abut old volcanic hills. Twenty miles on, I saw a shaded picnic spot—that was where I’d cook dumplings.

In Van Horn, I’d bought the ingredients needed for the dumplings but not the dipping sauce as, during my time in China, I became very partial to my own dipping sauce—Zhenjiang Vinegar, a famous, sweet, back vinegar from a neighboring town with chopped chili, ginger and cilantro. As Pueblo’s was lacking in the Zhenjiang Vinegar department, I made my dipping sauce using soy as a substitute. It lacked the sweet tang of the vinegar, but the local chilies gave the sauce its requisite kick.

Cooking in a picnic stop on a propane stove wasn’t easy, but the filling of the dumplings was straight-forward, and my makeshift cooking surface (a cookie sheet I’d bought and washed) worked. The dough kept drying out in the 90+ degree Texan heat as there’s no humidity that far west, resulting in clumsily shaped dumplings.

But, as David and I sat down in our picturesque spot with trucks and Border Patrol rushing past, and dug into freshly made dumplings, I knew I’d found the recipe I’d been craving since I left China.

Dumplings in Texas

Recipe From Asian Grandmothers Cookbook Blog (My photos from Texas)

Ellen Chou’s Pot Stickers

Time: 1 to 2 hours (depending how nimble your fingers are at making the pot stickers)
Makes: about 40

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 to 1 cup lukewarm water

1 pound ground pork (2 cups)
2 cups finely chopped napa cabbage (half a medium cabbage)
1 stalk green onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger (about 1/2-inch)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons plus pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3 tablespoons vegetable oil

In a large mixing bowl, combine 2 cups flour with 3/4 cup water. Mix well with a wooden spoon until it starts to come together, adding more water if necessary. With your hands, form dough into a rough ball. You want the dough to be pliable but not stick to your fingers. Sprinkle a little more flour if dough is too wet. The dough won’t feel smooth at this point. Set the dough ball in a bowl, cover with a damp towel and let it rest while you make the filling.Chopping Ginger

Place cabbage in a medium bowl and sprinkle 2 teaspoons salt. Mix well. Taking a handful of vegetables at a time, squeeze water out. Or wrap cabbage in batches in a cheesecloth or non-terry towel and wring dry.

In a large bowl, combine pork, cabbage, green onions, ginger, soy sauce, salt, white pepper and sesame oil. Mix well with Makeshift Workspacechopsticks or a set of clean hands. Set aside.

Make the wrappers. Knead dough for several minutes until it is smooth all over. Divide it into 4 balls. Knead each ball individually for about 30 seconds. Roll each portion into a log about 5-inches long and 1/2-inch in diameter. Pinch off 9 or 10 even walnut-sized pieces. Dust with flour as needed.

Filling DumplingsRoll each piece into a ball and flatten into a disc between your palms. Place flattened disc on a well-floured surface. Starting at the bottom edge of the disc, use a Chinese rolling pin* [I used a Yosemite mug] and roll from the outside of the circle in. Use your right hand to roll the pin as your left hand turns the disc anti-clockwise. So the sequence goes: roll, turn, roll, turn. Roll each disc into a circle about 3-inches in diameter. Don’t worry about making a perfect circle. Ideally, the wrapper will be thickerCrimping Dumplings Shut in the middle than on the edges.

Spoon about 2 teaspoons of filling into the center of wrapper. Fold wrapper in half over filling to form a half-moon pocket and pinch shut.

Repeat until all the dough or filling is used up. Set pot sticker down firmly on a parchment-lined tray seam-side up so that dumpling sits flat.

Heat an (8- to 10-inch) non-stick skillet overFrying Dumplings medium-high heat. Swirl 3 tablespoons vegetable oil into the bottom of pan to coat evenly. Place about a dozen dumplings in a single layer seam-side up in the skillet and brown for 1 minute.Frying Dumplings

Add 1/2 to 3/4 cup water to the pan, depending on its size. Cover immediately and steam 9 to 10 minutes, until all the water evaporates. The bottom of the pot stickers should be golden brown and crisp but not burned. Remove pot stickers with a spatula and serve on a plate with bottom side up.

Hot, Hot, Hot

Nellie\'s Cafe Sign

Scoville-craving heat junkies flock to New Mexico for its capsicum bounty. Leaving Arizona on I-10, we had one Las Cruces destination in mind, Nellie’s Cafe.

Nellie\'s Menu

Nellie’s began as street food. Nellie Hernandez and her husband Danny sold burritos from a cart in 1962, but the quality of their burritos and the stellar chile sauces quickly had people clamoring for more—soon they were selling 200 chile-laden burritos a day. The cart became a mobile kitchen and by 1967 the brick-and-mortar Nellie’s Cafe was established.

We were welcomed by friendly waiters, some of whom are the Hernandez’s children who now run Nellie’s since Danny passed away in 1998. Agonizing over the inexpensive menu, we were advised to order combo platters “Christmas” style topped with both red and green chile to taste the widest breadth of the cafe’s offering.

I ordered the #1 Combination Plate with an enchilada and taco, along with refried beans and rice, smothered in meaty red and green chile sauce ($7). David ordered combo plate #2, which was combo plate #1, plus a chile relleño ($8).

Combo Platter at Nellie\'s

Nellie’s cooks very good New Mexican food and starts each table off with hot fresh tortilla chips and spicy green salsa, but the two meat chiles elevated the meal to something worth planning a road trip around. Tangy, citrus-y, sharp and imbued with cilantro, the green chile was the spicier of the two while the red chile offered a meaty, sweet balance to the green. The red chile, with its combination of capsicums and the rendered pork fat from the meat stewing in the sauce, was an elegant braise.

New Mexican Sopapillas

Following the lead of fellow diners, we ordered two Sopapillas with honey for dessert ($3) and reveled in their lightly fried exteriors and warm, doughy interiors.

After a week and a half on the road, this was a meal to delight in.


Nellie’s Cafe

1226 West Hadley

Las Cruces, New Mexico


Hours: 8am-2pm, Tuesday-Saturday

Crater LakeWhile the logical route from San Francisco to South Carolina involves heading east on a highway straight through the center of the United States, I didn’t want to leave the west coast before exploring the oft-praised foodie-haven of Portland. So from Post Creek we drove further north, with a quick stop at Crater Lake (the stop would have been longer but the trails surrounding the lake were still under 8+ feet of snow!).

Portland Farmer\'s MarketWe arrived in Portland with lists of food suggestions but only a short time to explore. We ate excellent comfort food at Mother’s that evening and then began the next morning with a trip to the Wednesday Farmer’s Market at Shemanski Park in anticipation of our drive through Utah deserts and the accompanying dearth of fresh, organic produce. There were tables stacked high with the first tomatoes of the season, which were juicy and sweet but retained the tartness of the vines they’d just been picked off, along with stalls of petite, sweet strawberries and Salmon at the Portland Farmer\'s Marketlusciously rich cherries. I bought fresh bread and raw goat’s milk cheese, and exotic pestos—chipolte and cilantro-pistachio. We bought garlic stalks and were instructed to roast as we would asparagus. I also discovered that while the west coast salmon stocks had collapsed and were closed to commercial fishing, Native Americans were exempt from the ban. I was torn…I love salmon and had avoided buying it as I detest the slimy vapid taste of farmed salmon and I didn’t want to further encourage fishing of these depleted stock of fresh fish. And, quite frankly, I can’t afford the wild Alaskan salmon as demand has driven up the price. Taras Grescoe wrote a brilliant op-ed article in the New York Times about this issue. But here is was, beckoning to me. While I understand and appreciate the exemption of the Native Americans to this fishing ban, I still couldn’t quite bring myself to buy the salmon as, thinking back to my economics major, increases in demand with a limited supply will further increase prices, or people will find a way to increase supply potentially involving illegal fishing.

Tamale Stand at Portland Farmer\'s MarketMy friend Jen, whom we were visiting and who was a fellow teacher with me in China, raved about the street food scene in Portland–cheap, plentiful and varied. With only one morning, I had a limited time to eat and contented myself with a tamale from the farmer’s market. I ordered the Yucatan Chicken ($5) and can safely say it was the best tamale I’d ever eaten. The steamed cornmeal dough was hearty and moist without the dense, glue-iness I’ve often encountered. The shredded chicken filling was red and smoky and the spicy salsa had a wicked kick. These tamales have already been discovered by the people of Portland, so arrive before 11:30 to avoid a line but I’d have to say, the tamales are well worth any length of line.

Yukatan Chicken Tamale

David and I packed up and left San Francisco last Sunday. We’re moving east and spending the summer in Charleston, SC with my parents before embarking on an international trip. So we decided to spend a few weeks exploring the US on the way home

Researching, as I do before any trip, I found we could rent a fire lookout from the park service. Post Creek Lookout sounded divine on the www.recreation.gov website.

Post Creek Lookout

It was. Except that it was a 100 mile round-trip detour off the highway that involved a rock-slide strewn, 13-mile dirt road winding past steep cliffs which my ’98 Volvo, ladened with our possessions, only just managed. But for $43 a night…the view was hard to beat.

Post Creek Lookout 2

Home-made Sauerkraut

Last week I moved from my little cottage in San Francisco, and for two weeks before the move, our cottage stunk of rotten, moldy towels. It would be easy to imagine that the stench was due to a damp towel forgotten in a dark corner of my bathroom during the in the craziness of moving and quitting my job, but truth be told, the stench was emanating from a dish on the top of fridge. I was making sauerkraut.

I’d read that home-made ‘kraut elevated even bland, rubbery dogs and their Heinz-made, generic accompaniments to something worth craving. Clearly I love my dogs, and since I wasn’t about to attempt this forecemeat dish from start-to-finish, I settled on testing out sauerkraut.

The recipe is simple. I modified it from this site:

1. Boil utensils and crock pot (or glass dish as I used) to sterilize.Cabbage for Sauerkraut

2. Slice/chop cabbage and mix with salt at a ratio of 1 1/4lbs cabbage to 1 tbs of salt.

3. Mix thoroughly as the salt will draw water from the cabbage, creating its own brine. If there is not enough brine, mix 1 quart of water with 1 tbs of salt to made additional brine and add to the cabbage. (I needed no extra brine)

4. Once cabbage is ready and the brine has formed, lay a thick plastic bag across the surface of the kraut and then place a plate (sized to rest on top of the sauerkraut) and weights (tins of food work well) on top of the plastic. This weight will ensure the sauerkraut stays submerged in its brine, keeping it from molding.Submerged Sauerkraut

5. Ferment from 1-4 weeks depending on the temperature in your kitchen. Aim for a 65-75 degree kitchen. I fermented for two weeks at about 75 degrees.

I followed the directions, adding sliced organics carrots and two arbol peppers for some kick, yet my kitchen stank.

Two weeks later, when the smell was unbearable, we headed up to Sonoma for a weekend away and decided on grilling–the perfect chance to test the sauerkraut. As I was unsure that my ‘kraut was even edible, I found another “live” sauerkraut at Whole Foods and discovered a jar of Safeway brand in the back of my ‘fridge–enough ‘kraut for a taste test.

3 Sauerkrauts

While the stench of the fermented sauerkraut was overpowering, the flavor was divine. It struck a nice balance between, tart, funky and salty with a satisfying crunch that store-bought brands miss. In comparison, the Safeway sample tasted blandly of vinegar. You’d never have guessed that there was cabbage in the jar of lank, beige strips. The “live” Alexander Valley Gourmet Sauerkraut was so salty it could have been mistaken for seaweed–far from lust-worth. The home-made condiment was the clear winner though I’m not sure how often I can test my boyfriend’s patience with a stinky house.