Monday, October 08, 2007

variety is the spice of life



Here in NYC, I can eat pasta on Monday, Sushi on Tuesday, Thai food on Wednesday....but nothing is better than eating those foods in their original habitats. For me, a large part of travel is to learn the place with my taste buds.

But then sometimes a funny thing happens: sometimes I go to a place and the monotony of the food starts to get to me. And then I feel silly! After 10 days in Greece, I was craving something besides feta cheese. Last weekend, after four days of New Mexican food, in Santa Fe, I was tired of chiles and tortillas (a thing I never thought I'd say!).

New Mexican food is not quite Mexican and not quite Tex Mex, it's somewhere in between. There is a lot of ground beef--something you'd never see in Mexico--and of course, a lot of the native green chile.



Walking through the wonderful Santa Fe farmers' market, one is hit by the complex, spicy and smoky smell of the roasting of green chiles in large spinning drums, being turned by famers' hands. The roasted chiles are then chopped and sold in ziploc baggies, and the smell is intoxicating. The market has a warm, lively vibe that probably can only be created by a community of people eating that level of spice day and day out (at the dinner the night after the wedding I attended, I watched a small boy ask of his mother, before every bite of chips and salsa, "spicy?").

We ate a lot and we ate pretty well, the highlights being huevos divorciados at The Plaza Cafe, and an excellent breakfast burrito with chorizo and tomatillo salsa at Pasqual's.



But in the end, I was happy to come home to variety, the thing I know.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

i left my heart in south kakalakee

This post is long overdue, but chronicles the weekend I spent observing what's so great that it could draw my two friends away from NYC, possibly for good. It turns out that life in Columbia, South Carolina is full of lovely surprises, and it's hard to begrudge anyone's decision to leave the grit and grim and trade it for smiles and sunshine--I mean, if you're INTO that kind of thing.

Some food and farm (and other) notes from my travel:

1. Free refills of seet tea. it turns out they aren't kidding around with the "sweet" part (yowza!), but isn't that kind and generous? Eternal free refills offered with a big ol' grin?

2. Coca cola with ice, sitting by/in the pool. The pool right outside your apartment. Your big apartment, the one with a guestroom and room for your surfboard. The one with parking spaces out front for both of your cars. In South Carolina, no diet Coke, only regular coke will do.

3. Lizard's Thicket. A local breakfast chain that you cannot visit for brunch at 1 pm, because they stopped serving breakfast ages ago. And all the well-dressed church ladies, eating a late lunch will look at you sweetly, shaking their grey heads. But a bright and early brekkie of sausage, cheese grits, giant biscuit and eggs is a really marvelous thing. Cheap, too, i bet, but I have friends who are too generous to let me know what a "bill" in South Carolina looks like.

4. Chicken Salad. Apparently cafes around here are competing for the best chicken salad. Embrace the mayonnaise--you're in South Carolina now--and you might not regret it, 'cause this stuff is pretty tasty.

5.The farm. My hostess had the brilliant idea that Labor Day could best be spent visiting her new CSA farm outside the city. We drove to Five Leaves Farm, a very small and lovely operation run by a husband and wife named Kristen and Ben Dubard. Ben took time out of his day to give us the tour, ripping japanese cucumbers off the vine and breaking into crisp green chunks for us to eat, nipping basil leaves for us to smell, and grabbing one of the last of summer's melons for us to take with us. it's amazing to see how much food can be produced from a small plot of land, and it was cool to see the very soil that Cerry and Ethan's fall food will come from.

Come fall, they'll be all settled in, and here in NYC it will become gray and cold, and there, in South Kakalakee it will be bright and sunny. It might just be heaven on earth...

Monday, September 10, 2007

do any of us even know where we are?

My friend directed me to a bar I hadn't heard of, on Leroy and 7th ave, friend said. Leroy, yeah, I thought to myself, I think I know where that is. After all, I have lived in NYC since the first minute of my life. I know every inch of it like the back of my hand. Leroy, right.

I took the train from work to West 4th, planning to head downtown on foot. A flash of doubt: maybe Leroy is over there with Horatio and Jane, having a wacky name party up there in funkytown. I'll head uptown. Or not? I'll stop and ask someone.

"Hi, which way is Leroy?" I ask a young man smoking a cigarette.

"Who?"

I cross the street and hit the ATM. Inside, a cute, likely gay for crying out loud, guy.

"Hi, is Leroy uptown or downtown?"

"To be honest...I'm not sure."

I leave the bank, tentatively head downtown. I see a couple standing and waiting for the light.

"Hi, I'm looking for Leroy--is it uptown or downtown?" They look up and down, then down then up.

"Uhhhh...."

What the fuck? Why do none of these people know where the heck they are??? Why don't I??? My last hope, a middle aged guy and his daughter. They look like they live here, right here in ye old West Village. They are not tourists, not NYU students fresh off the bus.

"Hi, I'm looking for Leroy. Is it up, or down?" The father points downtown, and I walk about 4 or 5 blocks, just enough to find myself about THREE BLOCKS FROM MY NEW APARTMENT. A humbling moment for the native New Yorker, mitigated only by the discovery of a new, wonderful little bar, Little Branch, hidden behind a small, unassuming door at the corner of Leroy and 7th Avenue South.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

je ne sais quoi

It's hard not to sound snobbish when you talk about "terroir." First of all, it's French-y sounding, and second of all, a lot of people don't know what it means. "Terroir" is a bit like "je ne sais quoi:"

I love this cheese, it has a certain je ne sais quoi.

Get a load of this honey, what is that I am tasting? A little...je ne sais quoi?

That sort of thing. Only, in truth, terroir is a way of discovering what exactly that "I don't know what" is. Terroir is the geography of a food, its location and environment that gets expressed through its taste. The je ne sais quoi in that cheese, is in fact the diet of the goat/sheep/cow that produced the milk for it. The je ne sais quoi in that honey are the flowers that the bees pollinated before going back to the hive. How cool is that?

Last Monday I attended a honey tasting at Jimmy's, an adorable basement bar on 7th street, that was hosted by Cecily and Amy. I had the pleasure of tasting an assortment of local honeys--the most interesting to me was to taste three batches of Roger Repohl's honey, harvested in a community garden in the South Bronx. Now you might think that the je ne sais quoi in South Bronx honey would be guns and grime, but noooooo, it's elder flowers and linden and all kinds of things, depending on what month it is. I tasted a honey from October 2006, from July 2007 and August 2007 and they were three distinctly different colors and three distinctly different tastes. Same bees, same location, diferent flowers. Terroir!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

hello again, after all this time

There were so many things I meant to write about this summer.

Like the weekend that L and I went strawberry picking and then made jam, jam, jam up to our eyeballs. I was going to warn you, my reader(s?), that if you don't cook it long enough it will be strawberry sauce, not jam, and though it will still taste fabulous, and although it won't negate that you had a wonderful time picking out there in the field with your friend, it won't really be "jam," per se.

Or my trip to Greece with A, and our favorite dishes there. Highlights that included zucchini fritters, marvelous yogurt, tremendously rich and creamy feta, and more karpouzie than I could possibly eat. If still giving warnings, I would warn that those nescafe frappes can be surprisingly strong.

Instead, I write finally tonight to share the dish I created this evening with the ingredients I have here in my new refrigerator in my new house. Let's call it "heirloom tomato surprise." It is unbelievably, amazingly, summery good. This is the kind of cooking I love because:

a) it involves making do with whatever's on hand

b) it isn't something I can eat a month from now or 6 months from now. I'll next be able to have it tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, and then not again for about 11 months.

Heirloom Tomato Surprise

Orecchiete pasta
fresh ricotta cheese
toasted pine nuts
various heirloom tomatoes, cut into small chunks
baby basil, chopped
salt
pepper

Cook pasta
toss with large dollop of cheese, salt and pepper
throw on tomatoes and basil
shake toasted pine nuts on top
(good with a spoon)

Thursday, July 05, 2007

god bless america


Some of you may have spent your July 4th swimming or surfing, biking or hiking. Me, I spent mine doing the most American thing I could think of, by which I mean the most passive, sedentary, voyeuristic thing I have ever done: I watched a guy competitively eat 28.5 hot dogs in 12 minutes. I mean, it’s not even like I did the eating myself.

On second thought, let’s not call it eating, let us call it something else. To me, eating is an act of pleasure, and an act of nourishment, and competitively scarfing down 28.5 hotdogs and buns in the presence of thousands of fans, and a few vegetarian protesters is not really pleasureful, nor is it nourishing. Hell, I am pretty sure these guys are throwing up a little, if not a lot, as soon as it’s over. Well, if they’re Kobayashi, five time world champion, then they threw up (“reversed”) during the contest itself—bummer! That’s two fewer dogs for you, my Japanese friend.

Yes, it’s true, on July 4th, 2007, through the good connections of my friend Julie, I was a judge for the Nathan’s hotdog eating contest on Coney Island. As I counted (and grimaced, and giggled, and groaned), it was Slow Food meets fast food, head to head at a vinyl covered table. I was nose level with five plates of freshly cooked franks, and at first, they smelled realllly good. After all, I hadn’t had lunch yet when the contest began, only half of a crushed-peanut-covered caramel apple.

When my contestant Hall Hunt ran out, I was charmed and surprised to see how young and cute he was. He had an ironic handle bar mustache, and a pair of aviators, and his slouchy shorts revealed a taut, muscle-y stomach. When he put his hands together for a pre-contest prayer, I noticed the two canvas bracelets he wore, one that read “Jesus,” the other, “WWJD?” Now, I am not particularly intimate with the thoughts and actions of Jesus, except in the most academic sense, but I feel fairly confident that Jesus would not inhale 28.5 hotdogs (and buns) in 12 minutes. He would turn the hotdogs into wine, or use them to build a beefy stairway to heaven, or something much more useful, and much less wasteful. Perhaps, in a very Christ-like move, he’d distribute them to the poor.

Which is exactly what Nathan’s did: a rep from City Harvest—after the “Save Coney Island” folk singer, but before the Clogtastic! Tap dancers—told us that Nathan’s had thoughtfully donated 15,000 hot dogs to shelters around the city. Let’s just hope that they were distributed evenly, one or two to a person, say, rather than 28.5 per homeless fella.

My partner judge was Ken, lovely, sweet Ken, who happens to be the sports commissioner for NYC. We made a mighty team, me counting dogs, and him flipping the pages on our counter so the official counting girl could record it. He even valiantly shielded me when Hall burped and spewed moist bun splatter. My job was no easy one, and the concentration it required kept me from watching the true spectacle further down the table—Kobayashi and Chestnut having an intense head to head.

But that’s the stuff you see on the teevee; what you don’t see is Hall Hunt cramming his once-cute mouth full of food, and doing a weird wriggly dance to help it slide down his throat. And you don’t see Julie’s contestant chugging Kool Aid with his dogs and then getting a mean case of the hiccups (he nearly reversed his pinkish red mush all over poor Julie, had to stop after 21 dogs, but still walked away with Rookie of the Year). Nor do you see the 63 year-old contender head back to the VIP section and eat an additional three dogs because he “wasn’t hungry per se, but he wasn’t FULL.” What you don’t see is how I simply could not look Hall Hunt in the face, because I was so repulsed by him, I feared I might have a reversal. Maybe the camera did show you the tiny Sonya Thomas, referred to as “The Black Widow?” She was a few people down the table from me, and while she may have looked pretty and dainty before the show, after the throw-down, her careful makeup was shmeared and she had the bleary-eyed, greenish look that all the contestants shared.

Is this our American food heritage? We created a nitrate-filled mystery meat capsule, with a refined flour and sugar bun, and we may not be able to win a Men’s semifinal at Wimbledon, but dammit! Americans are really, really good at stuffing this nasty food in our traps! And what did I do when the contest was over? I headed back to the VIP section with the 63 year old, and the burper, with the woman who was inside the giant frankfurter suit last year (too pregnant this year), and with Julie, and what did I do? I ate a Nathan’s hotdog of course (with fries).

God Bless America!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

sustainable, fish?

For many years, eating fish has seemed like a no brainer: it's "healthy" and abundant. It turns out that factory raised fish is unhealthy (ever seen photos? they are as ghoulish as the photos of factory farm chickens and beef), and that many wild fish are being overharvested. It's hard to know which fish are sustainable and which are not. A few quick fixes for lack of knowledge/understanding include:

1. Go to the Monterey Aquarium's Seafood Watch site. I myself picked up a nifty wallet-sized guide to carry around with me as I shop and eat out.
http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/seafoodwatch.asp

2. Check out Slow Food USA's most recent issue of the Snail, all about this topic. www.slowfoodusa.org

3. Read the book "The End of the Line: How Overfishing is Changing the World and What we Eat," by Charles Clover.

4. Read this recent NY Time Editorial: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/27/opinion/27weds4.html and think twice about how and how much sushi you are eating. Fashionable, yes. Sustainable, no.

red hook ballfields follow-up

In response to my panicked message to the city about opening up the food contracts at the ballfields to bidding, I received the following (a somewhat reassuring response):

Dear Constituent:

Thank you for your email regarding the food vendors at Red Hook Park in Brooklyn.

The New York City Department of Parks & Recreation has been issuing "Temporary Use Authorizations" to two separate groups to operate a food market at the ballfields in Red Hook Park. We began the process a few years ago in an effort to legalize the vendors at Red Hook, helping them become a permanent fixture in the neighborhood, and the park users have benefited from their presence. They enhance and diversify the Red Hook neighborhood, and particularly our ballfields, by serving great food at reasonable prices. Unfortunately, once it became clear that the Red Hook markets would regularly be open for more than 29 days a year, we could no longer legally renew their temporary permits without opening up the concession to the public solicitation process.

I would, however, like to correct a common misperception that we are offering the site to the "highest bidder." In order to comply with the concession regulations in the New York City Charter, we will issue a Request for Proposals (RFP). This will allow Parks to evaluate proposals based on qualitative criteria such as operating experience and planned operations. We plan on releasing a RFP shortly for the operation of vending markets at the various ballfields at Red Hook Park; the term of the license will be six years. This process will give the selected vendors the permanence and regularity that they deserve.

We have received positive feedback regarding the Red Hook vending markets and we look forward to the active participation of the existing vending groups at Red Hook in the proposal process.

I appreciate your taking the time to write.

Sincerely,

Adrian Benepe
Commissioner

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

recipe

It's been a long while since I've posted a recipe--a sure sign that it's been a long while since I've cooked a meal. This past weekend I finally got around to entertaining and made use of several recipes torn out from magazines, and recipes stored in the nooks of my brain. From start to finish the meal was full of brand new things, including this cous cous salad which I made up based on a delicious version I had in North Carolina:

Lemony Green Cous Cous

1 cup cous cous
1 1/4 cups water
3 lemons
olive oil
salt
pepper
whatever greens you have handy (I had green garlic, spinach and arugula)

Finely chop green garlic and cut arugula and spinach into ribbons (we call this "chiffonade")
Put cous cous in a bowl
Boil water and pur it over cous cous
Cover the cous cous and let sit for five minutes
Remove cover and fluff with fork
Add a few glugs olve oil, the juice of all your lemons, salt and pepper to taste
Toss in all chopped greens

So easy, and so good!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

chapel hill, duma!

The best way, to learn a language, they say, is to immerse yourself in it. I spent the past few weeks learning Italian by traveling with a few, and sitting at dinners, and riding in cars, when the only words being tossed about were in a language other than my own. And it really works! I experienced the local, beautiful, delicious food of the Research Triangle (North Carolina) with una banda dei Italiani, and it was bene, molto bene.

In Chapel Hill, there is una piccolo piazza where all the food is terrific, "the corner of yum and delish," I like to call it. For breakfast, you hit 3 cups, local coffee haven, where coffee is shade grown, locally roasted and seriously good. For lunch, you can head next door to Sandwhich, where a sign prooudly announces that SLOW FOOD = GOOD FOOD. As you are sitting there eating your pancetta, mozarella and arugula sandwich, you can see one of the owners of the local Chapel Hill Creamery arrive with the day's delivery of fresh handmade cheese. Sit outside and enjoy the ridiculously good weather, then head around the plaza to Locopops, where they make a multitude of popsicles using local ingredients, with such flavors as Mexican Chocolate and Honeydew Balsamic Mint.

By now you'll be ready for dinner, and you'll head into Lantern Restaurant. Really, you are not allowed to eat dinner anywhere else, go to Lantern, go directly to Lantern (Do not pass go, do not collect $200). Chef/owner Andrea Reusing is creating completely local, seasonal, Asian infused American food. Every single thing on the menu is a homerun. I recommend everything, and since it's seasonal, the things I had won't be there when you go, but whatever is there will wow you. Start with a Junebug (it's a cocktail), and if you can, do like we did and share all of your appetizers. Don't be shy about taking the last boccone (bite) of the pig's head terrine shmeared on hot pane (bread) served wrapped in a banana leaf. And don't be scared of the sea urchin sauce on the scallops sashimi--I promise it's wonderful (taste the crack of sea salt as you bite in).

If anyone, Italian or otherwise, invites me back to this neck of the woods (I didn't even mention the pickled pig's ear salad I had at the BBQ, or the emu in balsamic and fregole (strawberry) sauce I had in Raleigh), I will say without hesitation: Si! Andiamo! Or as the Piedmontese say, Duma!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

le pigeon

Going to a new city is a chance for reinvention. In NYC I often think it would be nice to go to a restaurant and sit at the bar by myself. To treat myself to a nice meal and a nice wine, and maybe eat in silence, and maybe become BFFs with the bartender, and maybe make a new friend. The reality is that if I am not out with friends, I try to eat at home--it's the thrifty thing to do, and it insures that I cook at least now and again.

With a few hours to kill in Portland, OR, I had the opportunity to be the eater I always mean to be but never get to be. I did some reconnaissance and scoped out a hot new culinary mecca called Le Pigeon. I sat at the bar, and watched the two chefs work their magic. Barely breaking a sweat as they danced around the hot grill, they flipped and salted and toasted and sprinkled with panache.

It was a terrific meal--innovative and delicious, both simple and new. I started with a raddichio salad dressed with a mustardy vinaigrette, follwed by a delicate and pink rabbit on a bed of wild mushrooms, and polished it all off with--get this--honey apricot BACON cornbread with maple ice cream and BACON. Dessert + BACON = : )

And I drank my Riesling and I had good conversation with the patron next to me (another local chef, a hoster of supper clubs, and a maker of his own salami), and I was fabulous. And then the cab took me straight to the airport and I arrived back in NYC rumpled and stiff-necked, and back to my old tricks.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

eggstravaganza

Ever the symbol of spring, regeneration and new possibility, the egg is also delicious and versatile. You may not know, unless you attended the eggstravaganza at my office last week, that more than about 5 eggs in one sitting isn't a great idea. In an effort to showcase the turkey eggs my colleague got her hands on, we designed a potluck lunch centered on the theme of eggs. We had frittata, caprese with hard boiled eggs, deviled turkey eggs, egg salad tea sandwiches, bread pudding, meringues, key lime pie, homemade cinnamon ice cream, and flan made with turkey eggs. This induced a coma-like state in nearly everyone present; the office was very quiet that afternoon, and none of us have touched eggs since.

The egg salad sandwiches were mine, and they were made special (and tasty) by the addition of fresh lovage from the farmer's market. Lovage is an herb that smells a bit like celery, looks a bit like flat leaf parsley and tastes not quite like anything else I know.

Egg Salad Sandwiches

Hard boil 10 fresh chicken eggs
Peel off shells and chop eggs in coarse chunks
Spoon in several tablespoons of mayo, to desired consistency
Stir in minced red onion
Stir in one tbsp of coarse grain dijon mustard
Stir in chopped lovage, about a handful
Salt and pepper to taste

Use a whole grain pumpernickel type bread (something dark and nutty)
Watercress is a nice addition
Cut into rectangle or small square shapes
Eat with your pinky out, all fancy-like

Sunday, April 15, 2007

roundup

There have been some new finds of late, and although one or two were in Chicago (props to Chef John Bubala at Timo!) there are some in NYC as well.

1. Takashimaya: When C suggested we go there for tea, followed by a visit to MOMA, I was suprised and delighted. Usually our weekend plans involve an EV or LES brunch and some good old fashioned retail. Nestled in the windowless basement corner of this jewel-box Japanese department store, Takshimaya's cafe has many charms. The first is that it brings you to this beautiful store. Not that I or anyone I know could afford a sock in this place, but it is one of those places that just knowing it exists and taking it in, makes your world a more beautiful place. I imagine I'll be 60 and dreaming: "when I grow up and become a millionaire...I'll buy this frock...." Anyway, it is quiet and serene down there and the bento box is terrific and I am happy to report that it goes well with champagne. The meal was so good, it comforted me through the sad surprise of hearing that my dear friend C is moving away from NYC.

2. Grand Central Oyster Bar: Do you have a friend who lives in Westchester? Do you struggle to find a place to eat together when she comes in to Grand Central Station? Does the thought of eating oysters in said station give you the giggles? or, the heebyjeebies? Well, get over it, because it turns out that this strange place, caught in time, is a really good place to get--yup, you guessed it, oysters. Crazy, right? Make sure to use the bathroom, because it affords you the opportunity to pass by the old school countertops and then through the saloon. Wacky.

3. Palo Santo: It's all well and good to drag my old friends on my food quests; they are mostly a game bunch, humoring me, and eating well along the way. But it is also fun to make new friends, people whose priorities line up more clearly with my own (1. food 2. wine 3. everything else). One of these friends brought me to Park Slope new-ishcomer Palo Santo, on a strange stretch of Union Street, just east of Fourth Ave. It's Latin-Mediterranean fusion, nestled in the ground floor of a refurbished brownstone. Counter-seating with a view of the kitchen is fun, but so is the back room with three communal tables and windows looking out on what appears to be a Zen garden. Go for appetizers and wine--the food changes almost daily but there are, according to my friend, a few repeat appearances. I loved everything, especially the pork belly with fennel grapefruit salad and the octopus with cilantro and jalapeno. Damn!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

slow food mexico

It turns out, I really like spas. This might seem obvious--trite almost, like announcing one's love for chocolate, or...freedom, let's say. But it really suprised me how well I took to a life of leisure. It was leisurely, yes, in the way of lying by the pool, of lying in a hammock, of reading The New Yorker while in a hottub, yes. But also it was leisurely in a Trivial Pursuit kind of way; you know, the orange pie slice that stands for "Sports and Leisure."

I hiked. I yoga'd. I tennis'd. I pilates'd. I foam rollered. I worked my abs and back.

OK, but we are here to talk about food. I am fond of lists and so I will list for you the many miracles of food (and of slowness) that exist at Rancho La Puerta.

1. Chef Jesus Gonzalez: Slow Food devotee, miracle worker. A handsome, sweet and talented chef who turns fresh Mexican produce into healthy, low-fat, delicious gold. He even did a demo and J and I learned how to make a kickin' soba dish, and lowfat guacamole (there's a secret ingredient and if you ask, I will tell).

2. Organic garden: Rancho La Puerta has its own organic garden and it is a marvel. I don't know how they keep the bugs away but they do. The produce is lush and abundant. After a hike there, and a beautiful breakfast, the head gardener took us out into the fields, and as both a farm cat AND a farm dog rolled at our feet, the gardener grabbed stuff right from the earth, cut off hunks with his pocket knife and passed them around to the group. I can still taste that fennel...

3. You can make Mexican hot chocolate with butternut squash puree. Isn't that weird?

4. It turns out, that if someone cuts it up for me every morning and puts it out in a bowl, I can eat untold quantities of fresh papaya. I didn't even know I liked papaya before this trip.

5. Los Amigos: If you ever find yourself in Tecate, Mexico, and I hope you do, ask someone to take you to Los Amigos, the taco stand across from the McDonalds. The tacos con carne are excellent (especially after 6 days of spa diet) and the quesadillas are outstanding. We chickened out of the horchata (ice cubes...local water...) but I will attest that these treats taste great washed down with a Coca-light.

In conclusion, I urge you to save your pennies and get your hide to Rancho La Puerta. They open a cooking school this July and I think that will only make the place that much better. And should you find you need a friend to go with you, or someone to climb into your suitcase and make sure the airport workers don't steal your stuff, I would happily take that on.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

the farm bill

Greetings, friends after a too-long hiatus. I am guessing for most of you, this meant you were holing up with a box of Lucky Charms, beacon-less in the world of food.

Well here I am, with a bit of edjamacation. I am here to tell you about The Farm Bill. Some of us like to call it the Food and Farm Bill, because this helps non-farmers realize that the issues covered in the bill pertain to them as well. The Farm Bill is a multi-year bill that gets reauthorized every four years--and that year is now. It covers everything from commodity crop subsidies to land conservation to food stamps. For those of you who have read Pollan's "Omnivore's Dilemma" and are freaked out by the overwhelming dominance of corn in our food supply, then you might be interested in this here bill.

I recommend to you www.farmandfoodproject.org, which is a website representing the point of view of a coalition of groups seeking to press for policy change in this version of the bill. In their words: "This broad and growing alliance believes that by working together, it can make real progress toward supporting family farms and local communities, improving health and nutrition, ending hunger, and increasing biodiversity and improving the quality of our soil, water and air."

You can sign on to their statement "Seeking Balance," and then maybe even contact your local reps and let them know that you have signed on. You may think that if you live somewhere urban your reps won't care, but in fact they need to know that urban folks care just as much as rural folks about these issues.

OK, off the soap box now.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

the single life

More and more I am coming to realize the best gifts are experiences--giving your loved one(s) an experience they couldn't have on their own. Sometimes that means taking someone to an out of the way restaurant, sometimes to your house in the country--providing them with respite from urban life. Sometimes it's taking your friend, a mother of two, out to dinner in the West Village, sans kids, but avec martinis.

Last Sunday, Laurie and I tried to eat at the Little Owl, but were boxed out by an eternal wait. We ended up instead at Blue Ribbon Bakery, where we accommodated her food allergies (though she missed out on their bread basket--a highlight of a meal there), and ate like kings. Marinated artichoke hearts, bone marrow, endive salad and duck confit. Everything was delicious, as it always is, and service was pleasant and generous. If I lived around the corner, I'd eat there a whole lot more.

And now, Laurie owes me an experience. She's got six months to cook something up. Tag, Laur, you're it.

roundup

I haven't done one of these in a while. These are my favorites from the past week.

1. lemony lemon: after a hot Mos Def concert at BAM, two girls were parched, so two girls went to Franny's and had homemade meyer lemonade. It was perfectly tart, and a little bit sparkly. And they wished they hadn't eaten earlier because the menu looked so damn good.

2. chat: Ever since this girl had samosa chat for the first time, as done by Mina, she was smitten. It turns out that the Indian Bread Co. on Bleeker, an unassuming and not otherwise outstanding grub shop, make a terrific aloo chickpea chat. It's that tamarind sauce, I think, that makes my tongue go wild.

3. chupe doop: Two girls go shopping. They follow it up with impromptu dinner at the service side of East 7th street's Caracas. In addition to the usual terrific arepas, they have the special soup, "chupe" something or other. It is a slightly creamy, chicken, corn, avocado soup. DIVINE.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

meat lovers

Loving a person can be hard; loving a meatball is the easiest thing in the world. Sounds like some good new hallmark card text, no? Anyway, I have found love elusive at times, but love of meat is something I have never struggled with, even when I was a vegetarian.

On Tuesday, over at the Slow Food USA offices, we celebrated "meat lovers (and chocolate lovers) potluck," in honor of St. Valentine's Day. We had lamb kofte balls wiht meyer lemon juice, rice salad with bacon, turkey meatloaf, boeufs en bandeaux (a variation of pigs in blankets--beef hotdogs from letsbefrank.com, wrapped in homemade biscuit dough), chili, and meatball sliders.

Oh, and also beet and goat cheese salad with caramelized cocoa pecans and chocolate chunk brownies. THIS IS MY OFFICE, PEOPLE. Is your office like this? Finally, the lone man in our midst brought a platter of bagels and two jars of nutella, and the lunch devolved into people taking hunks of bagel and smearing with the chocolate hazelnut spread, and then...smearing nutella on chocolate chunk brownie. Erika declared it "unctuous."

The meatball sliders were mine, and I was proud. They came from the recipe in New York Magazine two weeks ago, from the new-ish restaurant. "The Little Owl," and are trad'l Italian meatballs, made with veal, pork and beef. I had never made meatballs before so this was a good way to break myself in and learn the basics.

The basics are:
Mix the ground meat (equal parts three diff kinds) with a few eggs, some panko or regular bread crumbs, chopped parsley and salt and pepper.
Form the meat into little golfballs
Fry them in a half inch of vegetable oil until they are browned on all sides.
Drain them on a plate, do them in batches
They will fall apart a little; my officemates assured me this is normal
Use the fat and meat drippings as the base for a sauce
Sautee Spanish onions and garlic in the meaty oil
Add whole peeled tomatoes, fresh basil and some water to create a sauce which you boil and reduce for about 30 minutes
Add the meatballs back in and simmer for another 30 minutes

They are extremely delicious and very easy to love, eaten on a mini brioche roll smeared with dijon mustard.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

spring awakening

there was a time when it was theatre, not food, that made my pulse race. it was the houselights going down and the curtain raising that gave me shivers and made me weep, feeling pleasure and warmth, and the sense that all things are worthwhile and possible.

over time theatre has left me less and less sated, a meal that always sounds better on the menu than it does in execution--both onstage and off. today it was a complete repast for me at a sunday matinee of "spring awakening." i felt 12 again, mouth agape at what can only be called (no avoiding the cheese) the magic up under the lights in front of me. raw and electrifying, surprising and exciting.

lobster five ways

The perks of the job started rolling in last week; I was able to snag an invite to a dinner at the James Beard House, hosted by wisconsin chef/proprietress and slow food supporter Tami Lax. She and Justin Carlisle, the chef from her Madison restaurant, Harvest, prepared lobster 5 ways, with a wine pairing.

The Beard House is an awkward space, ill-suited, it seemed to me, to host the sort of dinners they are trying to host. That being said, it was one of the top 5 meals of my life.

amuse: lobster financier, uni, micro shiso
paired with: tempier bandol rose, france 2005
[very interesting lobster flavored pastry like base with uni cream/foam]

first course: sashimi of spinny lobster, vanilla, wasabi, fine herb salad
paired with: moon rabbit sparkling sake
[astonishing! raw lobster--a first for me. smooth and strange, like tasting sushi again for the first time.]

second course: lobster and salsify tapioca
paired with:zind-humbrecht pinot d'alsace 2004
[absolute favorite, surprised me since i didn't think i liked tapioca balls. a chowder of sorts, rich and toothsome. the wine was musky and wonderful, a perfect complement.]

third course: roasted lobster tail, truffle spaetzle
paired with: fevre chablis champs royaux, france 2005
[straightforwardly delicious. huge truffle slices]

fourth course: lobster and pleasant ridget reserve fondue
paired with: belrondade lurton rueda blanco, spain 2002
[rich and cheesy, with a hunk of lobster of a skewer]

hard not to be drunk as a skunk after 5 glasses of wine. not too drunk to realize lobster is good all ways and any, but especially good as prepared by these talented folks from Madison.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

avant garde

Those of you who know me have probably wondered when I'd get around to fusing my two passions. When would I write a play about pea soup or cook a meal in three comedic acts? Perhaps you wondered these things with a bit of dread. Connie, and her illustrious band of pranksters have provided that venue-- a delectable evening of food and, um, theatre. As of now I am on board as resident menu planner and co-cook.

I don't want to say too much about this venture, because the joy of attending as an eater and audience member is not knowing what to expect. However, please save the date --March 17-- for the next installment of Avant Garde Restaurant. New Year's Eve Eve's show had a menu of

Assorted Appeteasers
Curried Butternut Squash Soup
Celery Root/Green Apple/Walnut/Gorgonzola Salad
Wild Mushroom Quiche and Swiss Chard Quiche
Make your Own Sundae

We seek to use seasonal ingredients, and make food that tastes good. And to make you eat and drink until you plotz. Also you will laugh, maybe dance maybe make a few new friends.

The three keys to a good quiche:

1. Buy a good crust (unless you are a gifted crust maker, which I am not).

2. Buy a good cheese, such as gruyere or smoked gouda. What's nice about smoked gouda is that it gives a smoky taste that convinces the eater that they are eating ham or bacon. A great vegetarian trick.

3. Use cream.

And so:

Saute your vegetables in butter, garlic and generous seasoning (salt, pepper, thyme)
Grate the cheese and line the bottom of the crust with it. It provides a shield from the wet ingredients so your crust doesn't get soggy.
Beat about three eggs with some whole milk and some cream. Salt and pepper the egg mixture.
Place vegetables over the grated cheese.
Pour in the egg/cream/milk mixture.
Cook at about 375 until quiche is firm and golden on top.
Eat hot, cold, room temp, whatever.

See you on the 17th.....

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