Friday, May 27, 2005

onward, ho!

yeah, that's me, callin' you a ho.

no, seriously. this coming tuesday is my last day at my job. it will be 5 years to the day since i started. 5 years since dad died, 5 years since MFA finished, 5 years at this job. as i said, onward, ho. no more job means no more (free) high speed internet access. i am not really sure how much i'll be able to blog from atlanta, let alone scotland. in truth i am not really sure if anyone reads this anyway, but it's fun to imagine there are scads of you. you imaginary crowds of people...check in from time to time as i plan to have all manner of madcap food adventures in atlanta and edinburgh. i am thinking i'll have some time to bake bread, or learn to make sausages by hand or something. do you have a restaurant in atlanta to recommend? are you one of the people who writes in comments and i don't know who you are? post a comment! i especially welcome advice, of the starting over/new frontiers/isn't life a kicker variety.

if you send me your home address, i will send you a postcard, or a letter. i think i am going to make it my mission these next three months to bring back the epistolary arts.

greek salad

yesterday i played hooky. went out to bergen county to visit my old work buddy, and see her new house. she is a great cook and an avid and conscious eater (by the way, not a bad way to be about most things: avid and conscious, an odd but good match). she brought me to a small, unimpressive looking greek spot called "greek village," inhabited by male servers in polyester black vests and bowties. this in a snack joint with linoleum floors--so odd.

we ordered a platter of fried eggplant, and two greek salads with grilled chicken. this seemed like a good plan since a) i like eggplant. i like it fried, i like it roasted, i like it pureed, i like it in pasta, i like it in stirfries, i like it any old way. even though i think my topographic tongue is sometimes made crazy by its acidity. b) i like greek salad. i like a greek salad even when it's a bad greek salad.

i'll give away the ending and let you know that this was a great greek salad. maybe the best ever.

the eggplant was terrific: thin half moons lightly battered and fried, sprinkled with parmesan cheese, and served with a mound of garlic dip. totally addictive.

the "small" greek salads were totally traditional, no surprises, except that in this crap-ass looking joint, every single ingredient was fresh and perfectly prepared.

not iceberg, thank goodness, but some kind of green leaf lettuce
fresh plum tomatoes, in half moons
small slices of crisp cucumber
paper think slices of red onion
thin sliced, small pieces of green bell pepper
terrific (pit in) kalamata olives
mild crumbled feta
dried oregano
a red wine vinegar dressing
a few stuffed grape leaves
a few of those pickled hot peppers that i pick off and leave on the side
and some honest-to-goodness chicken breast strips that had been grilled ON A GRILL
(with charred corners and all of the good things that come from true grilling)

put me in the mood to make greek salads all summer long. and a reminder that jersey has some surprises. and if anyone knows how to find the good food there, it's my buddy c.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

highlights

it's about time for a round-up.

1. balthazar bakery: it's not like i've found a hidden gem here, or anything, but it was my first time inside. it feels so authentically french, it's kind of a shock when the distinctly american staff offers to help you. i know from experience that the pain au chocolat and baguette are excellent, the real deal. everything else i spied (inluding the granola) looked very inviting. per a tip from chowhound, i asked for an oat scone (they're hard to spot), and a decaf latte. i sat on the bench outside and watched saturday morning soho pick up speed. the scone is perfect, barely sweet at all except for some sugar on the raisins, and a light sprinkle on top.

2. supper: saturday night i dined at supper, with s., p., and t. supper is my neighborhood joint, and has been for the three years it has been there on 2nd street. when i think about leaving the neighborhood this fall, i know that it is supper i will miss. i love their panzanella (tomato bread salad), their platter of grilled vegetables, and their spaghetti al limone or spaghetti cacio e pepe. when june rolls around, they'll have a fava bean salad with grape tomatoes and shaved parmesan, and i am sad at the thought i'll miss it. s., p., and t. let me order the appetizers, and as a result, all of my favorite supper dishes were on the table. hopefully that won't be my last time there as a regular.

3. chinese: i don't eat chinese so often anymore, mosty because i haven't really figured out which places to frequent. my family goes at least once a year for peking duck at the peking duck house on mott street, but otherwise, i am a bit at sea. last night i hit the chelsea grand sichuan with j. and r. i was unimpressed by the appetizers but we had excellent eggplant with garlic sauce--meaty(although meatless) and delicious, and a braised whole fish with scallions. The fish was truly succulent, and easy to eat because the waitress deboned it for us. the head, per our request, stayed on the platter, but only so we could make fun of it. no one was brave enough to eat it.

Monday, May 23, 2005

holy crepe!

sometimes it's fun, when creating the titles for my entries, to imagine myself as a NY Post headline writer. obviously, today was such a day.

on friday night, i made crepes--both sweet and savory--for the girls. i have many friends who are girls, but j., c., z., and (in absentia) a., are"the girls." or "my girls." we started with wine, cheese, grapes, olives, and slices of grilled chicken sausage until j. arrived.

in advance i had made crepe batter (easy: one cup flour, two eggs, 1 cup milk, 1 tbsp. oil, 1 pinch salt), grated a heap of gruyere, and sauteed up some spinach with garlic, salt and pepper. making crepes in my new non-stick crepe pan was truly simple:

a ladleful of batter, swirl it around the lightly buttered pan
dump the excess back in the bowl
cook until bottom side is brown, flip
wait a minute, turn onto an ovenproof platter.

once all the crepes were made, i rolled them with filling, and popped them into a 400 degree oven to melt the cheese and heat up the spinach. i served the crepes with a simple tomato salad and the asparagus from the farmer's market. by dessert, we were stuffed (and tipsy), but managed to toss back crepes filled with blackberry verbena jam, fig plum conserve and nutella, all dusted with powdered sugar. these were jams i had ordered off the internet from june taylor jams in berkeley california, and they were delicious.

i hope i don't forget to make crepes again; heck i bought the darn pan.

Friday, May 20, 2005

not about food (or: seven-card stud)

last night i saw the broadway revival of "streetcar named desire." i can't write about the crappy piece of over-cheesed pizza i ate across the street beforehand, or the truly awful and overpriced salad i ate at eatery afterwards. instead i write about the play, because williams' script is a perfect meal of words.

everything was conspiring to ruin this performance. three cellphones went off in the first act alone. three people in the row behind us got up midway through the act, and in the process of leaving, tromped on the paper shopping bags of the woman directly behind us. sirens blared outside studio 54. subways rattled underneath. at the climax of act one, as blanche recounted to mitch her emotional and horrible past marriage, the sound technician accidentally cranked up the mike "to eleven" for a few seconds. to close the act, natasha richardson as blanche, said one of my alltime favorite lines: "sometimes there's god... so quickly." before she even hit the last syllable, before the lights had even begun to fade, a loud weird "BRAVA!!!" was heard. let the woman say her line for cryin' out loud!

i was, apparently, in the middle of a three-ring circus. but it mattered not one bit. and the odd casting choices? who cares. and the awkward sound design? whatever. this play is a thoroughbred horse, that cannot be stopped (by the way, this play has now been a meal, and also a horse. let's see what else i can come up with). i could read it/act it/study it/watch it again and again and again.

tonight i am making crepes for the first time--savory and sweet--in a new crepe pan, with artisinal jam i bought online from june taylor preserves. on monday, a full report.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

produce

the noun, not the verb.

i remember, age 15, sitting at my friend k.'s kitchen table. she asked if i was hungry for a snack. when i told her i was, she produced a huge gorgeous summer tomato, cut it into thick slices, sprinkled it with salt and pepper and a dash of balsamic vinegar (not such a staple in 1990 as it is now), and put it on the table. this was for me a revelation. that tomato was my madeleine of sorts, for it triggered in me a realization that there was simple exquisite joy to be found in food, that each meal (even a casual kitchen snack) could be special.

that summer, during a week at my parents' house upstate, i focused on produce. this was probably much to the delight of my father i imagine, who himself was obsessed with produce. because he was dad though, he didn't obsess, didn't talk about it, didn't write about it--just purchased it in large quantities, and sliced it up for his kids and wife to eat.

today i hit the small farmer's market across from my office and practically wept at the sight of bundles of asparagus. there are now two at my feet under my desk, begging to be steamed/roasted/whatever. they are thick stalks, which is not the "desirable" thing--thinner is fancier. i myself love the thick stalk: white, pale green, darker green, flecks of purple, as you travel up the stalk. if i were an artist, i'd paint them. since i'm me, i'll eat them.

Monday, May 16, 2005

leave it to the experts

last night i had terrific chinese food, prepared by my new chinese relative h. i had heard tales of her (and her non-chinese husband's) terrific meals, and was really pleased to be included and taste the goods. i sat at the kitchen island and watched the experts at work. when i asked "what kind of oil is that?" and got "chinese oil" as the answer, i had an epiphany.

don't treat this like a cooking lesson in hopes of recreating it later--leave chinese cooking to the chinese. drink your belgian beer, and breathe in the chili smell in the air, and behave nicely so you can get invited back again. but don't try to learn what to do. you will never do it right.

this worked out well, and i very much enjoyed my incredibly spicy meal. i mean one dish was literally potatoes and chopped jalapenos. i cried, i sweated, i shook, and i loved it. there was also cabbage/bacon/chilis, celery and spicy red pepper, pork and eggplant, and a delicious hot and sour soup. and port for dessert.

all plates went in the middle of the table, and everyone had his/her own bowl of white rice. we helped ourselves in small portions, moving the food from the table plate to our personal bowls. anything that involves bowls, chopsticks, and communal eating really appeals to me, so this made me happy.

in closing: does anyone know what you call your sister-in-law's brother and your sister-in-law's sister-in-law? this isn't the set-up to a joke, i really am wondering if there is a name for such a thing.

Friday, May 13, 2005

highlights

time for a round-up.

1. my new breakfast obsession.

i go through cycles where all i want for breakfast is one particular thing. i am someone who wakes up hungry and often have a spoon in my mouth before my eyes are fully opened. some people i know find this humorous. for long stretches the obsession has been bumpers (see earlier post). sometimes it's marshmallow maties (also, see earlier post). for some various stretches it has been whole grain toast with boca sausage patties. for a while it was whole grain toast with peanut butter and jelly. this week it has been oatmeal. really incredibly good oatmeal. on a whim at the east village cheese shop, i bought a box of mccann's quick cook oats. i have been making them, per the box instructions (but adding a pinch of salt as well) with milk, drizzling with maple syrup, topping with crushed walnut pieces and raisins, and lordy if it isn't delicious and filling.

2. una pizza napoletana.

a few months back, after reading all the hype about this 13th street pizza joint, i tried to go on a monday. i found it shuttered. i went back on a tuesday. i found it shuttered. i was on my way there on a wednesday when i discovered it would be shuttered again, that they are only open thursdays through sundays. from 5 pm until "the dough runs out." i worried it would be a trendy mob scene. instead i found an incredibly low-key place, that smelled fantastic. my friend k. and i were able to sit and relax over wine and beer, and individual pizzas. this pizza is truly wonderful, and comes in only four varieties. we went basic and had the margherita and the bianca. the crust is perfectly crisp yet chewy, with very noticeable bites of sea salt. the fresh basil leaves (which give the place its aroma) were a great touch. sauce: great and sparingly used. cheese: excellent, also sparingly used. this is kind of a delicate pizza. i ate the entire thing. this was a mistake; it was too much food, but only by a little. my only complaint was that the place is full of four-tops, which means that when a duo is sitting, they are using up 4 seats, and that's kind of a waste of space. but this is a very small complaint.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

shortcuts

because i am a dilletante, i am always looking for and appreciating mental shortcuts, especially when it comes to cooking. black beans...cumin. peas...mint. gorgonzola...pear. bacon...anything. lime/cilantro/peanut...asian. tomato/basil/oregano...italian. you catch my drift.

a few weeks ago, i tried a curry dish for which i'd found the recipe on chez pim (see sidebar). it involved making a rice/leek dish (i used sticky though she recommended jasmine), searing some scallops, then spooning over it this delicious coconut curry. it's a perfect dish. i made it three nights in a row. then i started using the sauce in a tilapia papillote dish. which i ate for three nights running (cooking for one can create odd circumstances sometimes, especially when it comes to using fish while it's still fresh).

it involves mixing a quarter teaspoon or so of red curry paste with about a tablespoon of coconut milk over a low heat in a saucepan. once those are well blended, add quite a bit more coconut milk (4 or 5 more tbsp i think), and a teaspoon or so of fish sauce. and a pinch of sugar.

i really can't think of anything this wouldn't taste good over, except maybe ice cream. and, it's a great new shortcut for me to keep in mind.

Monday, May 09, 2005

bk, usa

i spent the greater part of this past weekend exploring brooklyn, by way of my stomach. it was such fun.

first stop was baked, a new bakery on van brunt. the F train to smith/9th street, then the B77 bus to van brunt. a super cool space with a brown and orange theme, and a spectacular carved stag mirror behind the counter. a. and i proceeded to eat a peanut butter chocolate chip cookie, and an oatmeal cookie that she proclaimed "the best one she had ever eaten" (it had flecks of coconut). accompanied by two cafe con leches. and good times.

i had only ever been to red hook once, at night, at the liberty heights tap room. during the day, it is so appealing...crumbling brick facades with traces of old painted lettering, stray cats and tumbleweeds, rusted out car parts, and then a hidden gem of an antique shop, and the waterfront in view, and some cobblestone streets. also, in the air: grilled meats. seriously. i was really disappointed that i had not brought my camera; there were so many good things to see.

the next stop, via a rambling exploratory walk, were the soccer fields in red hook, to partake of the mexican and dominican food stands that line two sides of the park. you'll find these stands at clinton and bay. so much like mexico, the ad hoc stands were grilling up meats, slicing up fresh fruit, and frying up arepas. i grinned with the realization that, unlike in oaxaca, i could here eat everything including the produce without a worry of bacterial infection. probably.

we were full from the cookies, but managed to pack away fried sweet plantains, fried yuca, a chicken and cheese arepa with pickled cabbage, and a sweet corn tamale with sour cream. for dessert, a bag of incredibly fresh sliced mango, eaten with a plastic fork, as we walked up clinton street all the way to brooklyn heights. clinton street is an architectural marvel, and seen with blossoming trees, a cool breeze, sunshine, sliced mango, and a good friend: priceless.

i then headed back to red hook, hoping to meet up with a new friend at le'nell's spirit shop for a bourbon tasting. i did not find my friend there. instead i found a hipster bluegrass band outside and a calico kitty. red hook is SO LOVEABLE.

dinner with h. and k. at beast, the new tapas bar in prospect heights, where we had fried manchego bites, olives, bread, wine, salad, ribs, burgers and brownies. i loved this place.

sunday i cheated on brooklyn and had lattes from mud, and then brunch at 9th street market. always delicious. headed out to the brooklyn design show with c. and saw many incredible things, including the poeple who designed the stag mirror i had loved so much at baked the day before. brooklyn is small like that, in a good way. i will not break down the design show because there are many other blogs better suited for that (see design sponge).

mother's day dinner in brooklyn heights at e. and a.'s was excellent, as dinners at their house always are. lamb, flageolets, cabbage salad and roasted asparagus. a cornucopia of simple, delicious dishes. low on the carbs, high on the flavor. plus a chance to get all the families together and every one had a good time.

by this time, my heart and stomach were swelling with love for brooklyn and all it has to offer: coffee, cookies, tapas, architecture, design, stray cats, and the home of my brother and sister-in-law. not bad.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

your slightest look easily will unclose me

Monday night I had Thai food on Montague street with some dear folks. S. mentioned my blog, specifially that while he appreciates the content, he does not appreciate the lack of capital letters. Out of deference to S., I am using capital letters today, grudgingly.

My love of lowercase letters comes from an obvious place. I have loved ee cummings since the very first poem. My memory tells me that "somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond" was that first poem, but I will concede, it might just be that this one's my favorite, not my first.

An example of what I love:

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands.

This particular poem makes me me feel sad and hopeful all at once--there is love and loss, worship and adoration. Part of why I don't cook more (and hence why I don't blog more), is that cooking for one is difficult, and not that joyful. But reading a poem like this one reminds me the kind of love I can look forward to the possibility of (how's that for a badly constructed sentence?).

So thank you, S. for reminding me to look again at one of my favorite poems, for giving me the opportunity to read the words "your slightest look easily will unclose me," and get a chill up my spine.

Monday, May 02, 2005

pizza pizza

making a pizza at home is fun. as a child, english muffin pizzas were a staple of my diet: thomas' english muffin, aunt millie's jarred sauce and polly-o mozzarella. those are three products i wouldn't really eat these days, but updating that easy-to-make classic is a cinch.

this past year i made a lot of pizzas, and it is easy to realize what a tabula rasa that dough can be. i'd like to say i made my own dough but when you live near a good pizzeria (sal's on avenue A and 7th street) and they sell the dough for $3, it's hard to get motivated to go to the trouble of making your own.

this weekend i made one based on a recipe in a new cookbook my friend gave me (an impromptu gift--the best kind!). i think the book is called "entertaining for a veggie planet," and it is really great. she calls this "henry's pizza" because her cat henry likes to eat it. this is weird to me, not because her cat eats pizza but because this pizza is so good, i simply would not share it with my cat. all for me.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH ONION PIZZA

preheat oven to 350 degrees
peel, seed and small dice a butternut squash
toss with olive oil, minced garlic clove, salt and pepper and place in a baking dish
roast for 20 minutes or so, or until soft and brownish

bump oven temp up to 490 degrees
slice one or two large yellow onions
saute in a pan with olive oil for 15-20 minutes until caramelized
finely chop about ten sage leaves

take pre-bought pizza dough and stretch to fit your pizza tin, poke some holes
cover with butternut squash, then onions, then sage, then some crumbled goat cheese
sprinkle with the grey sea salt you keep by your stove
bake for 20 minutes (ish--just keep an eye on it)

this pizza rocks.
even the next day.
and the next.
i know from experience.

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