Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Cure For What Ails

My sister is leaving on Wednesday and I'm feeling a little down about it.  Aside from her being excellent company, the woman is a great cook, and has been keeping me fed very well (and very vegan) during her stay.  But her talents do not stop at food.  She can mix a phenomenal drink.  

And as the weather has been a bit on the chilly side, and my parents and I have, at varying times over the past week and a half, been feeling a little under the weather, she has been mixing quite a few hot ones.  The two most successful?  Hot toddies and a special non-alcoholic concoction meant to chase away colds (although toddies do that quite well also).  For those upcoming chilly, drink worthy days, the recipes:

Robin's Hot Toddy
Serves 1

1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon honey
juice of 1/2 of a lemon
2 cloves
pinch of cinnamon (or if you prefer, a stick of cinnamon to stir)
1 ounce (or to taste) of whiskey, nothing too peaty or smoky, blended whiskey will do, 10-12 year Glenfiddich or Glenlivet is fine (nothing too nice is the point, but something drinkable)

Mix ingredients in a mug or teacup of your choosing, and fill remainder of cup with boiling water.  Stir and enjoy.

Variation:  In place of whiskey use rum, and in place of honey use maple syrup.

Robin's Remedy
Serves 1

2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon fresh chopped thyme
juice of 1/2 of a lemon
pinch of cayenne pepper

Mix ingredients in mug or teacup, and fill remainder with boiling water.  Stir and consume.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Shrunken Brain Cells Be Damned

So glad to know I'm not the only loser to have watched, rapt, both episodes of The City last night.

Robin spent most of the hour complaining that her IQ was declining by the second, but I think she secretly loved it. I very openly loved it. And I totally am into this whole uptown/downtown feud they've got going. Best rivalry since the Jets and the Sharks.

Must See

After our indulgent visit to Takashimaya on Saturday, Robin and I heeded our dear parents' advice to go see an early evening showing of the the French thriller/murder mystery Tell No One.

And may I just say, fan-freaking-tastic recommendation. I know quite a few people who openly consider foreign films a chore (and quite a few who, concerned about being seen as a philistine, not-so-openly consider them a chore), but this film is the farthest thing from it.

For those of you who have some rusty elementary/high school/college french at your disposal, you will actually be able to understand a great deal of this movie without the subtitles (this was a total thrill for me). For those who do not, just suck it up and read them.

The story is wonderful. The acting is fabulous, and the characters are sympathetic, horrible, funny, conflicted...just everything you're looking for in a straightforward, old-school, very smart, thriller. And, as a plus, I was totally inspired by Kristen Scott Thomas...can I please look like this when I'm 48?

She's so cool looking, so chic, and just seems like she's loving who she is. And I would bet a fairly considerable sum that she has had no work whatsoever done. I guess it comes from living in France for the past 20 years.

But as usual, I digress. It's playing at Cinema Village at 22 East 12th Street. Go quickly, waste no time, as it is they're only playing it once a day. I fear it will be gone soon!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Brown to Blue

This past Saturday, after a rousing visit to the Onassis Center to see the exhibit Worshipping Women:  Ritual and Reality in Classical Athens (many urns, most of which were in stunningly good condition considering that they are several thousand years old, in case you were wondering), Robin and I headed up Fifth Avenue, against my better judgment, and, as it turned out, against a massive tide of directionally challenged tourists, to one of my absolute favorite stores, Takashimaya.  I'm not sure why, perhaps it is due to the Japanese ownership, but every single object in this store is stunningly beautiful, stylish and unique, and shockingly, not all of them are out of my price range.  In fact, quite a few are well within my price range.

Anyway, we wandered somewhat aimlessly in the direction of the Shu Uemura counter (I feel much the same way about Shu Uemura as I do about Takashimaya...I love everything) and were greeted by a lovely, chic woman offering to show us some new colors.  I was ready to demur in deference to my sister, who is generally less than enthusiastic about makeup, but to my utter surprise, Robin accepted the invitation with unbridled excitement.  Hallelujah!  Despite her stunningly blue eyes, my dear beautiful sister insists on using brown eye shadow.  Don't ask me why.  It was time for a professionally mandated change.

And change she did.  The lovely, chic woman introduced Robin to the joys of baby blue (it looked good, I promise) shadow, slate shadow, silvery shadow, and the most beautiful shimmery slate grey eyeliner.  And to the joys of scant amounts of mascara (her eyelashes are so ridiculously long that a normal amount of mascara looks a little gratuitous).  And she did something amazing to Robin's skin, don't ask me what.  But you literally could not see the makeup.  So pretty:

The artist was so sweet and did such a competent job that I thought it worth revealing her name:  she's Keshonah, and she works Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.  However ladies, if you have big plans for New Year's Eve, she's also working this Wednesday so take advantage of her talents, and of course, buy something from her.  She most certainly is deserving of the commission.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Feeling The Love In Dumbo

Thank you Dumbo NYC for mentioning my post about Vinegar Hill House in the latest links of the week listing!  For those not familiar with this site, it is a great resource for information about the very special neighborhood that is Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass.  I don't suppose anyone was remotely impressed by that little show of acronym knowledge?  

Friday, December 26, 2008

Lifting Your Spirits

Our family had a lovely Christmas, I hope that yours did as well!

After a truly beautiful Christmas Eve dinner at Five Points (this really is the best possible parent restaurnt in New York by the way...gorgeous, mellow, reasonable noise level, polite waiters, wonderful food, not offensively expensive) we all wandered for a bit, taking in the Christmas-y-ness of New York.

We eventually ended up by Washington Square Park where everyone stopped to check out the menu at Babbo, as several family members seemed to have heard of this guy named Mario and wanted to check out his place. In fact, they were so engrossed in the menu that they completely missed Brooke Shields and her family on their way in, despite my discreet punches to their arms, to which my mother responded, "Oh honey, I'm sorry, am I in your way?". Oh well. Onward.

We're not a religious family, but we couldn't resist stopping in at the University Parish of Saint Joseph for some caroling (do not fear, despite the very Jewish last name, we actually are not far as we know anyway). This beautiful little church put on quite the show, with fabulous soloists (to the man who sang O Holy Night, sir you have the voice of a god), some of our favorite Christmas carols, and a crazy, seriously off-key homeless-ish woman sitting next to Robin thrown in for good measure. As lovely as the service was, we left before we could "get sucked into sitting through long prayers" as my mom put it. (Actually, as she points out, she wanted to leave before the mass started so as not to disturb the religious service)  Paul, who was raised by a devout Catholic mother, was suitably horrified when I relayed the story to him.

After a bit more wandering, we cabbed it back to my building, where we all tucked into bed in anticipation of the magical Christmas morning to come.

And come it did. We opened presents in the soft glowing light of my little tree, and ate poppyseed bread until we could eat no more.

It was probably the best poppyseed bread ever. At least, since the batch we had last year.

As I continued to eat, my sister decided to do some yoga.

As you can see in the background, the rest of us decided to watch TV. I believe it was a DVD of Robby Coltrane's show, Incredible Britain.

Then, after packing up the parents and taking a short stroll around, Robin and I packed them onto the subway to JFK. And then proceeded to be sad that they had left. On Christmas Day. Something about anything after Christmas morning being depressing and they might as well spend the time traveling rather than moping.

So Robin and I were left to our own devices to entertain ourselves for the rest of the evening. After attempting to find a movie to see in Union Square and failing (plus which Robin had forgotten her glasses so wouldn't have gotten much out of her $12), we opted to walk around the East Village for a bit.
On the way over, we passed by the most charming little Korean place on 9th between 3rd and 4th, called Su Ra. As it was cold and we were depressed, warm, spicy Korean food sounded perfect. So we went in.
And thank god we did. Sweet waitresses, beautiful place, excellent food, and oh so cheap. Now that Seh Ja Meh has vacated the storefront across from my building, I needed a new Korean, and I'm telling you, this is the place.
Our lovely, very stylishly displayed kim chi amuse bouche:

Robin with her kimchi and tofu stew, and my kimchi and tofu and pork stew in the foreground:

Those stone pots were so hot that the stuff was still boiling violently when it came to our table. Utter pleasure. And my giant piece of chestnut cake with whipped cream wasn't so bad either (although obviously not as transcendental as the main courses, which were several notches above good, and many many notches above what you get generally in New York).
The food lifted our spirits a bit, which were promptly crushed as we walked back downtown and realized that, based on the multitude of darkened windows in all of the apartment buildings we passed, that everyone had left the city. We were the only non-tourists in a five mile radius!
But we got home safely, comforted ourselves with several episodes of "The Secret Diary of a Call Girl", and all was pretty much well again.
I recommend this exact order of things...Su Ra and TV if you ever are feeling despondent, depressed or beat down. Or even if you're in a fantastic mood and just want some great Korean food.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Morning Confections

I've written about my love of breakfast, about my fanatical devotion to my family's traditional Christmas breakfast. What is this fantastic traditional meal you ask? Poppyseed bread. It's some sort of Austrian or German sweet bread, the recipe for which my grandmother originally got out of Volume 2 of "The Gourmet Cookbook" (page 541 if anyone has this ancient tome and wants to check it out) and has amended over the years.

My dad considered the poppyseed bread a major perk of joining my mom's family, and for many years he was the keeper of this tradition (mostly by making sure my grandma made it every year). Then for about a decade everyone fell off the wagon. No poppyseed bread in sight. Then a couple of years ago I realized that there was something missing from the family holidays and I began the enforcing. Mainly by making it myself, which I suppose is not really enforcement.

For those of you looking to have a cozy time around the tree tomorrow morning with your family, I bequeath the recipe to you:

Poppyseed Christmas Bread
Recipe on page 541 of "The Gourmet Cookbook", Vol 2, amended by Naomi Urban
Original recipe makes 2 loaves, but we doubled it to make 4

For dough:
2 packets dry yeast
1 1/3 cups lukewarm milk
2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 lemons
5 cups flour

For filling:
1 1/3 cups poppyseeds
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup milk
2/3 cup raisins
2 lemons

Dissolve yeast in milk with sugar. Let stand in a warm place until the mixture bubbles. In a bowl combine butter, sugar, salt and the rind of the 2 lemons. Then add alternately flour and the yeast mixture. Knead the dough well on a floured board, adding a little more flour if necessary to make a dough that is soft but not at all sticky. Turn the dough into a buttered bowl, cover it with a cloth, and let it rise in a warm place until it doubles in bulk (about 2 hours).

Meanwhile, combine poppyseeds, sugar, milk and raisins, and the grated rind of the two lemons. Cook over boiling water, stirring constantly, until the mixture is of spreading consistency.

Divide the dough in 4 equal parts, punch down, and roll out each part into a rectangle 1/4 inch thick. Spread the rectangles with the poppyseed filling and roll like a jelly roll. Place the rolls on an oiled baking sheet and brush with beaten egg. Let them rise for 2 hours, brush them again with beaten egg, and bake in a moderately slow oven (325 degrees) for about 45 minutes, or until loaves are lightly browned.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Old Homestead...But With An Hour And A Half Wait

My parents are fascinated by Brooklyn. As much as they enjoy my little forced marches/tours through the sights of Manhattan, Brooklyn seems to hold some sort of mystique for them. Perhaps it is, for my history buff dad, the important Revolutionary War events that took place in Brooklyn Heights. For my mom, perhaps it is the fact that her father spent time at Floyd Bennett Field when he was a navy pilot during World War II. Who knows, but either way, I always try to squeeze a little BK time in on their trips here.

So when I saw a write-up by New York Magazine's Underground Gourmet on the new restaurant just north of DUMBO, Vinegar Hill House, I figured it was a must for this season's Kirschbaum Tour de Brooklyn. So I called the restaurant, asked whether early Sunday evenings were a good time to come from a waiting-time-for-a-table standpoint, and when I was told that it was one of the best times to come, immediately made plans with the family to trek out to the wild yonder this past Sunday night.

After a wonderful cab ride with the loveliest cabbie alive (how often do you hear that phrase uttered? Not too often would be my guess) over the idyllic Brooklyn Bridge (much excitement from the back seat when the route became evident), we arrived at what looked to be a totally residential block.

But, upon turning the knob of 72 Hudson Ave, we entered a convivial, candlelit space reminiscent of a farmhouse. Absolutely perfect on a frigid night when snow lays all around.

We were a tad shocked to be told that the wait was 45 minutes (apparently a few other people had read the write-up) but the bar looked cool, and we had brought a couple of bottles of wine with us (they are waiting on their liquor license, so in the meantime the place is BYOB), so we thought, what the hell, we'll hang out for a bit.

And we were especially unbothered by the proposition of waiting because we were right next to this:

The wood burning oven in the kitchen. Beautiful. As was the food coming out of it.

So the first forty-five minutes was fun. But then we began to get the sense that the wait would be significantly longer than forty-five minutes. And we were right. We ended up waiting for an hour and a half. And we seemed to be "next" for the last half hour or so. And we had to endure the indignity of waiting next to a totally empty table for six that was being held for a reservation that never came. I mean it was totally rude of the party not to show up (this table must have represented 20% of the restaurant's seats), but it was equally rude not to let us sit there after they hadn't shown up. But I chalk the whole thing up to the hostess, who was very pretty and sweet, being either untrained or inexperienced...or both, I suppose is the more likely option. Either way, this is an issue that needs to be addressed, because despite the utter charm of and wonderful smells coming out of this little restaurant, the whole getting a table episode nearly ruined the night.

But then, we finally sat. And we took a look at the menu. Total basic comfort food in the best way possible. And well edited. There were maybe four appetizers and probably five or six entrees. Everyone was happy (even my dear little vegan sister), everyone ordered something different and everyone liked it. Was the food transcendent? No, of course not. But it was quite good. It was competent, honest, American food. And the best part? It was competent, honest, American reasonably priced food. I think the most expensive thing was $16. How many places can you say all that about? So including entrees, a few coffees and a slice of their fantastic Guiness cake (this really is a must if you go here...chocolatey tasting but not too sweet, and with phenomenal cream cheese frosting) the whole dinner cost about $80 including tip. OK obviously the whole BYOB aspect contributed to the reasonable price tag, but still, $20 per person? So wonderful.

So overall, as long as they sort out the whole hostess situation (which really must be done post haste if they plan to make any money or retain my good feelings about the establishment) I am totally in favor of this place. Nice little road trip for Manhattanites, and a solid local option for the Brooklynites.

UPDATE:  Oh no!  Andrea Strong, of the New York food blog The Strong Buzz, did as I did and checked out Vinegar Hill House based on the New York Magazine review as well, and on a weekend night had a multi-hour wait and some not-so-great food.  Now since our food was good, I can only assume that this cute little place is a little overwhelmed by all of the attention.  Lets hope the early positive reviews don't crush it in its infancy!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Ah, La France

Did you see this article in the Times Magazine this weekend about street style photoblogs? They mentioned my (newly) beloved The Sartorialist, but also turned me on to the most wonderful Parisian blog Garance Dore. Unlike The Sartorialist, Garance also posts photos of faces in addition to full body shots, which, as a lover of portrait photography, is a nice variation for me.

As the Times rightly points out, this blog is further evidence that the French have a more evolved sense of style than us poor, simple Americans. I mean, look at this girl.

So beautiful, so casually chic. She looks like she doesn't care enough to comb her hair...perhaps because she's so stylish it is not necessary? And yet at the same time she looks totally put together. How do they do it?!!

Going Home Again

Despite my vaguely disturbing fascination with Martha Stewart, I'm not what I would consider a "crafter".  I don't make personalized canvas totes, or flowers out of paper or acorn pendants.  In short, I am not on Martha's "craft of the day" distribution list.

However, I occasionally enjoy making things by hand.  For instance, when the weather begins to turn cold, I suddenly feel the need to knit something.  But this is usually as far as it goes.  Except this year.

As you may remember, because my family came to me for the holidays this year, I erected my first Christmas tree ever last week.  And since it was my first, I had virtually no ornaments.  And since I didn't feel the need to spend vast sums on new ornaments, I was forced to get a bit creative...crafty, if you will. 

Now the only craft store I've ever heard mentioned in general conversation is Michael's, which from what I understand is a national chain.  But as New York is a somewhat difficult environment for big box retail to establish itself in, there is no Michael's in the city (or at least not yet, I hear that one will be opening in the new year).  So I was forced to turn to Google, and with minimal research discovered that there is a crafting mecca by the name of Lee's Art Shop at 220 West 57th Street.  Score!

And when I got there, what did I discover?  The most magical place on earth!  Endless aisles of glitter, ribbons, yarn, feather boas, glue, paper, lights, framing materials...the inventory seems almost infinite.  At four floors, the store really does hold an extraordinary variety of items.

And perhaps most importantly, the prices are all totally reasonable.  So for about $35 I got all of the materials necessary to decorate my whole tree (or at least the half of it that faces the living room, I will admit that the back is rather barren).  And with the help of my very lovely friends, I actually was able to produce all of the ornaments that I had conceived of.  For instance, a 49 cent foam snowflake covered with silver Martha Stewart glitter (I know, I know, I talk about her ad infinitum, but I'm telling you, her glitter really is quite superior, much finer and sparklier than the competition), produced this dramatic effect:

And some 35 cent papier mache forms combined with glitter and Greg's artistic flair created these adorable little adornments:

And some wide grosgrain ribbon along with a needle and thread (along with some inspiration from Martha's latest issue of her magazine...I told you my fascination is a bit much), produced this cute sunburst:

And the final product?  Here:

OK, probably would be more impressive if I had something other than my Blackberry to take pictures with.  But trust me, it is the best tree ever.

I'll admit I did not create the star at the top, that was a wonderful find at Kate's Paperie.  And by the way, if you're there for the star, you should absolutely pick up some of the beautiful and adorable rhinestone reindeer silhouette ornaments.  (Thanks to my sister, who also brought me a gorgeous painted ball from Scotland, and my parents, I am now the proud owner of two of the  sparkly reindeer and I love them more than is really appropriate).

Anyway, back to Lee's Art Shop.  A leisurely wander around the store is the ultimate antidote to a soul-crushing, or simply a marginally bad, day.  The abundance of frivolous, eye catching items will transport you back to the best parts of your childhood (assuming you enjoyed the kindergarten art project phase), and you will rediscover your child within.  At least until you exit the store, throwing yourself back onto the frigid streets of Manhattan.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

You Go Gwyneth!

As I have mentioned before, I am a subscriber of Gwyneth Paltrow's oft-mocked lifestyle newsletter. More often than not, I find it completely laughable. But some weeks, the woman really hits it out of the park. I find that generally those weeks tend to coincide with the topic of cooking, so I am convinced that she really ought to change the focus of the site to food, but that's neither here nor there.

This week she publishes her holiday recipes, and I swear I want to make each and every one. What I'm loving about the collection is that together it does not make up a Christmas dinner feast. As she rightly points out, Christmas dinner is essentially Thanksgiving dinner, and everyone just published a ton of Thanksgiving recipes so people are a little burnt out on that stuff.

Rather, she offers up a recipe for roast fish with salsa verde (excellent for either Hannukah or an Italian-leaning Christmas Eve), potato latkes with salmon (this I can take or leave, but this has more to do with my wariness regarding smoked salmon than anything), and a bunch of delicious breakfast options.

Now I am a huge fan of breakfast in general, and am the Nazi in the family when it comes to preserving our Christmas breakfast traditions (grandma's poppyseed bread, yum!), so I have a predilection in this direction already. But I am all over Gwyneth's homemade turkey sausages (although it is vaguely annoying that she calls for a pinch of a particular salt available only in London), and it looks like, with the simple egg replacement described in this recipe, her pumpkin walnut bread can be made vegan quite easily so as to serve my recently arrived vegan sister!

Excellent work, dear girl, excellent work. Keep it up...this is soooo superior to your hotel recommendations from last week...cause we all know that the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Bel-Air are excellent hotels!

Vicarious Hotels Stays

I absolutely love to travel. I grew up taking family car trips throughout the American West. Name a small crappy town in any state west of the Rockies, I've been there. Bend, Oregon? Oh sure, we had ice cream sundaes in that dust bowl. Buttonwillow, Arizona? Uh huh. We were planning to stop there for lunch but then found that the entire town consisted of one rock shop. I am not exagerating. One building. But I've been to virtually every National Park in the west, and love them...they are breathtaking.

There were also the odd exotic highlights...Costa Rica when I was thirteen (well before it became the tourist mecca that it is today)...OK I was just about to write Canada as the other exotic travel highlight of my childhood which I guess means that Costa Rica really is about it.

Once I went away to college I got a little more adventurous...visiting tiny towns via local buses in Mexico with my sister, wandering around Florence, again with my sister. After college came Istanbul (sister again), France (and again) Slovenia (yep, you guessed it), England (my family and later, Paul), Belgium (with Paul), the Czech Republic (Paul again) and Spain (entire family).

And grad school offered the perfect opportunity to go on a plethora of wonderful trips that I couldn't afford. Argentina, China, Brazil, Dominican Republic...all good times with fantastic friends.  By the way, if I could split my time between Rio, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, San Francisco and New York I would be the happiest person alive.  Oh and Paris.

Now as a relatively frugal person, I tend to travel very cheaply. There are wonderful little places that can be had for quite a bargain in many cities (I think my two favorites in this category are a bed and breakfast in Florence that was housed in a 15th century townhouse...$75 per night or thereabouts, and an absolutely fantastic bed and breakfast in Salvador, Brazil that was housed in two perfectly appointed homes, maybe $100 per night if I remember correctly for a giant, virtually full floor room with a view of the ocean).

And the cheapest I went, and I do mean cheap, was in a youth hostel in Paris that made you rent towels and had the showers on a timer so you couldn't use up more than forty-five seconds worth of hot water.  I think during my entire week-long visit I spent a total of $400 on everything including accommodations and food.

But despite my cheapskate tendencies, I do like a bit of luxury. So on pretty much every trip I go on, I make a point to hang out in very nice hotels for at least some period of time. Whether it's coffee in the Four Seasons in Istanbul, afternoon wine at the Emiliano in Sao Paulo, or afternoon tea at the Peninsula in Hong Kong, I require these little respites from my responsibly frugal existence.

But where to get your fancy hotel fix when you are chained to a desk rather than galavanting freely over 15th century cobblestone streets?  Dahhhling, you simply must visit Tablet Hotels.  Although not quite as fun as getting buzzed at inappropriate times of the day in fancy lobbies, Tablet Hotels' descriptions and reviews of some of the world's most wonderful hotels do let you fantasize about beautiful vacations in exotic locales in exquisite accommodations.

I love the site's top ten lists, mostly because I feel like you don't end up with the usual suspects.  There's a great mix of venerable fancy-pants hotels, hip hotels, and hidden gems.  And best of all?  There's a pretty good range of price points.  For example, Tablet Hotels users recommend hotels such as Hotel des Academies et des Arts, which I am currently obsessed with (and rates are as low at 150 euros per night right now!):

And are you kidding with these views, La Mineretta?  I want to go to Sorrento...

...and rates are as low as 180 euros at the moment!  This would totally be my splurge spot at the end of a long Italian trip.

Beyond all of the simple hotel-oogling, Tablet Hotels has some quite fun features to explore, my favorite of which is TabletStars, which is a list of celebrities that have offered up their opinions on accommodations in various cities.  The celebrities tend towards architects (Richard Meier, Thom Mayne) and designers (Derek Lam, Christian Liaigre) so the picks are quite cool, but these are people who are already fairly established, so you don't run into the problem of too many annoyingly hip or gimmicky choices.  

Perhaps with the exception of Richard Meier's choice of the Delano in Miami.  I mean sure, beautiful hotel, but for the love of god the music in the lobby?  Blech.  But then in the interest of full disclosure, I hate the vast majority of hotels with music playing the lobby.  Hotels should envelop you in luxury and serenity.  Techno music in the lobby is neither luxurious nor serene.  

Interestingly enough, my tastes seem to be most in synch with those of Ben Kingsley.  I don't what this says about me...he is a sixty-something man and I am a twenty-something woman...seems like a bit of a disconnect but then I've always been a bit of an old soul (i.e. I can be more crochety than actual crochety old people are).

Anyway, when the news is getting you down, when your potentially disappearing job is getting you down, treat yourself to a little online vacation, however fleeting it may be.  Go ahead, you deserve it.  

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

My Second Favorite Cookie

For a self-proclaimed cookie hater, I seem to be writing about cookies a lot lately. But, 'tis the season. Christmas you say? Oh no, a far better season: Mallomar season.

Mallomars are something I never ate growing up, or even saw in the grocery store, but I feel like I heard about them alot from my grandparents, who are originally from upstate New York, and my mom, who spent a very brief time in upstate New York as a child before my grandparents decamped for greener pastures (i.e. Southern California...warmer pastures I guess, not so much greener).

But the first year I lived in New York, as the weather began to cool, I saw these wonderfully retro packages of Mallomars popping up in stores.

They seemed to be from a different time, I simply had to have them. And what did I find? A little slice of heaven, that's what. Some sort of round graham cracker type cookie topped with a fluff of marshmallow covered in a dark chocolate shell. Yum.

I'm usually annoyingly snotty about packaged foods. I think this comes from growing up thinking that only very silly, unhealthy people ate them...I remember being absolutely horrified to find, in the second grade, a friend of mine whose father was a doctor eating a Hostess cupcake at lunch one day. I ran home that afternoon to tell my mom, who I think may have been equally horrified.

But in this case I say go forth, eat the industrially produced food! And quickly. They disappear from the shelves as the weather gets warm. Apparently Nabisco isn't able to ship them in hot weather without the chocolate shell melting so they are only produced October-April. I think I love them even more because of this.

First, because it means they are using actual chocolate in the shell (not particularly easy to find anything real in packaged foods these days, much less real chocolate), and second because it feels like a bit of a treat. Like fruits and vegetables, Mallomars have a season, and are meant to be enjoyed only during that season. And given that 70% of the Mallomar sales are in New York, I suppose that if you live here, indulging in Mallomars could be considered a locavore, seasonal eating move. So you can feel morally superior as you chomp on your sweets. If only Nabisco wasn't a multi-national conglomerate, you'd be all set for the soapbox.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Mild Temps in Dubai?

I'm sorry, but an air conditioned beach?!!! Has anyone in Dubai been reading the news lately? All of this ridiculous stuff is supposed to be over now that the world economy has fallen off a cliff!

Macaron Update!

One of my new favorite food blogs is David Lebovitz, which is written by none other than David Lebovitz, a former Chez Panisse pastry chef living in Paris. He seems to share my minor, verging on major, obsession with the little french gems that are macarons, so I feel a certain kinship with the man. However, our connection has become a bit tenuous based on one of his recent posts...he laments the fact here that the genius Pierre Herme has fashioned a foie gras and chocolate macaron, thus creating the one and only macaron he could never consider eating. Sacre bleu! There is no such thing to me as an inedible macaron.

I mean, am I totally alone in thinking that this combination would be kind of amazing?

Love the Independents

My adoration of french macarons has been well documented here. They are the perfect morsel, cloud-like and gently flavorful. And like so many food items, the best are found in Paris. By the way, how amazing is this packaging? Pierre Herme, apparently, according to Dorie Greenspan.

I have dreams of finding out how to make them like they do over there, thereby supplying myself with only the creme de la creme of the macaron world despite my inferior location (this is the only context in which I would ever deign to call New York inferior, by the way). Obviously, given that even professional pastry chefs don't always seem to get these things right, it is unlikely that I will.

However, this beautiful book from the maker of some of the best macarons in gay Paris makes me think that I might have a shot in hell of making it work.

It is, unfortunately, only available here, at Amazon France. Boo. Expensive shipping and handling, and a pain to return if I end up not liking the book, or if it turns out to be in French (by the way, I am not stupid, I realize that it probably will be. It is a joke. Realistically, I would like to take a gander through and see if my rusty french will be of any help at all in deciphering one of his recipes).

What to do? Thankfully, New York, despite the encroachment of some truly horrid big box chains, does still have some wonderful independent stores around. One of the most unique is a bookstore called Kitchen Arts & Letters on Lexington between 93rd and 94th Streets that is dedicated entirely to cookbooks and books about food.

The store is tiny, but it is packed to the ceiling with books about all types of foods, in all languages and on all subject matters. They even carry a fair number of out of print titles. The owner is an absolute treasure. Go in and ask for a recommendation and he will give you a very informed one. The man is responsible for buying all of his stock, and takes that role quite seriously, so you can be sure that every book is there for a reason. It is unusual to go in there and find the blockbuster books, for instance. In fact, I remember reading somewhere the he only buys 25% of the new cookbook titles that come out in a given year, which I believe speaks very well to the selectivity of the inventory.

If you have any interest in food, even if you are not a cook, you cannot miss this place. Browsing here is the perfect rainy afternoon activity. Just make sure you do not have any appointments to attend to, as it is easy to get lost in the collection for hours on end.

The next foul day that falls on a weekend, am I making the trek uptown in search of the book that promises macaron nirvana.

UPDATE: They stock this book! It is unfortunately sixty some-odd dollars, but I'll at least take a look at it.

Monday, December 15, 2008

If You're Still Christmas Shopping...

...Riedel wine glasses are on sale at Century 21!

At $44 for four glasses its not pulse quickeningly cheap, but still, better than retail.  And for that impossibly cute couple on your list, they have a "wine for two" set for $29 that includes two glasses and a decanter.

Beta Carotene, Please

I'm generally a pretty balanced, healthy eater. But last Friday, I realized that it had been days, nearly a week since I had eaten vegetables in any significant quantity. I don't know how this happened, but between houseguests, work and a busy extra-curricular schedule, it did.

With Paul out of town, I was having one of those wonderful, solitary Friday nights in. Mine generally consist of wearing Paul's big, ugly Marks & Spencer bathrobe, eating things for dinner that under normal circumstances wouldn't strictly be considered dinner (i.e. red velvet cake, bread and cheese, peanut butter, etc.) and watching guilty pleasure TV. Winter is a perfect backdrop for these nights, I find they don't tend to happen much during the summer.

Anyway, I was casting about for something to eat, and the only vaguely vegetal thing I had was an acorn squash. Given that I'm not the hugest fan of squash (I like the flavor but generally not the texture, so unless it's pureed I tend to give it a pass) it was a little odd that I had it at all, but I guess I must have been won over by its autumnal cuteness at the Greenmarket or something.

I was racking my brain for squash recipes that included something other than cutting it in half and roasting it, as that is a preparation I'm a little bit over after months and months of roasted cold weather vegetables (mostly beets, carrots, sweet potatoes and potatoes). But at the same time, I was eager to get to the task at hand (sitting on the couch), so was not interested in anything particularly complex.

I recalled a recipe that I had seen Mario Batali make on TV a while back that consisted of sauteeing butternut squash with red wine vinegar, honey and thyme. I had tried to make it myself based on the five minutes of the show I had caught, and let me tell you it was one of my most disastrous cooking experiences EVER. It took several days to get the burnt on crap off of my favorite sautee pan. But, I do remember liking the idea of the vinegar with the squash. And I also remember thinking that Ann Burrell's idea of cutting the squash in slices crossways was a nice way to get some caramelization on a larger than normal proportion of the surfaces.

So I preheated the oven to 400 degrees, cut the thing such that I was left with bicycle wheels of acorn squash, cut out the seeds in the middle of each slice, rubbed olive oil on each side of each slice, laid them out on a cookie sheet, and sprinkled Maldon salt and a bit of pepper over the lot. After 45 minutes in the oven, these slices were gorgeous. Browned and soft.

So I took them out, drizzled red wine vinegar over them, and settled in for my non-dinner on the sofa.

Somehow, I think because there were so many lovely brown bits, the texture didn't bug me at all, and the vinegar adds an unexpected fresh note, and also cuts what can sometimes be a cloying sweetness.
It turns out I may actually like squash after all! But I'll keep in mind that it is best eaten while vegetating on Friday nights.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Food Sense

I know that this whole "the government subsidizes corn, which means it subsidizes high fructose corn syrup which means it subsidizes obesity" drum has been beaten to death already, and the case has already been laid out very well in books by the likes of Michael Pollan.

But in his editorial last week, Nicholas Kristof puts a slightly different spin on it that I think makes for some worthwhile reading.  He adds details, such as the fact that he, as an owner of farmland in Oregon and a successful journalist, is paid $500 per year by the government not to farm his land.  And he calls for some fairly concrete change with respect to the Agriculture Department by the Obama administration.  Interesting stuff, and nice to see it in a mainstream publication such as the New York Times.

Holiday Cheer

My family is making the trip out to New York for the holidays this year, so it falls to me to create the festive atmosphere in anticipation of their arrival.  Hardly a chore, for I love Christmas.  I'm not particularly into holidays generally (do not even get me started on New Year's Eve and Valentine's Day) but Christmas is different.  It's a real holiday with real traditions and they are traditions I can get behind.  Family, gifts, and live trees indoors.

So yesterday, in honor of his 30th birthday, Greg (along with Zenia) accompanied me to Union Square to pick out a tree and help me carry it home.  OK, in actuality Greg was just being nice and agreed to do it in spite of it being his birthday.

Anyway, it being New York and me being cheap, the subway was our mode of transport for the tree.

Me carrying said tree on the subway platform (Greg is just out of view, but I love how it looks like I'm doing it all by myself):

The two of us making an effort to green the 4 train:

By the way, if anyone is in the market for a tree, I highly, highly recommend those from Van Houten Farms at the Union Square Greenmarket.  You can get a pretty decent-sized, beautiful, freshly cut tree for $30-45.  Now, the Cadillac of Christmas trees is probably at the stand in the southwestern area of the Greenmarket, but at twice the price of Van Houten, I couldn't really justify it.

Anyway, several years ago I had a weird Martha Stewart-esque fantasy of collecting one beautiful ornament per year (preferably on the after-Christmas sales) so that on the day, far, far into the future, when I would be hosting my own Christmas and having my own tree, I would have a complete set of ornaments.  Well of course that never happened so I had to enlist Zenia and Greg to help me make some.  We did quite well with our Martha Stewart glitter and foam snowman cutouts.  Combined with my Walmart lights that I got on wonderful trip to rural Pennsylvania last weekend (hi Vinay and Ellen!), the tree is looking pretty damn festive.  Not quite done yet, but we're getting there.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Christmas Shopping...

I've written before about my affection for UGallery, an online art gallery for students.  Well, I'm happy to report (actually, Habitually Chic reported it, but I'm passing the info along) that the site is having a sale.  20% off the entire collection until Sunday, December 21st.  Perfect for that art snob friend of yours who's seen it all before.

Gift Wrapping Galore

My family tends not to go too overboard with gifts.  We don't buy each other plasma TVs for Christmas or expensive jewelry.  We tend more towards books, particularly good strainers and sturdy rain boots for presents at Christmas and birthdays.  My parents are very generous when it comes to graduation presents though, which I suppose explains why both my sister and I have multiple degrees.

But this year especially, it seems as if small, less expensive gifts are in order.  However, that doesn't mean we have to be overly dour about it all.  The answer to small presents?  Big wrapping!

And great wrapping calls for something beyond the flimsy wrapping paper and synthetic ribbon from your local Walgreens.  

Lately, my favorite spot for gift wrapping supplies has been the Container Store.  Wonderful thick wrapping paper like this hammered copper

paired with this lovely satin ribbon from Charles Clay & Sons make for a very classy gift. 

And the fact that these can be found in the same store that promises complete domestic organization (which I am constantly striving for but never quite seem to achieve, and guess is the reason I love the store so much...the eternal promise of greatness) is a very good thing.

If you want to move into a broader array of wrapping options, if you are ready for more advanced gift wrapping, it's time for Kate's Paperie.  As the name implies, there are papers galore, and really beautiful, unique ones, such as this pattern:
And how luxurious is this?

And I find these so retro and cheerful
OK, now that you've got your paper, on to the ribbon.  There is an absolutely amazing store in the Garment District called M&J Trimming.  Located at 1008 Sixth Avenue, it is dedicated entirely to ribbons and other types of trim.

You will be amazed at how many kinds of ribbon there are:


hand dyed silk ribbon

  pleated satin

So go check it all out, put some thought into your wrapping.  It makes Christmas sooooo much better.  Plus your tree will look amazing with all of the Martha Stewart-worthy packages beneath it.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

On The Cheap

I feel like everytime I go out to dinner with groups of friends these days, my companions always request "someplace cheap". But no one ever wants to go anywhere "dingy", which I guess precludes my uber-cheap go-to Doyer's Vietnamese. The food is excellent but I will admit the basement location in Chinatown leaves something to be desired.

But what ends up happening is that we go somewhere kind-of-cheap-but-not-really-because-I-don't-want-to-waste-a-night-out-on-so-so-food, everyone orders as if they are a damn Rockefeller, and then are annoyed that it ends up costing $80. People, you are in need of an Oprah aha moment, and I am about to give it to you.

It's all about smart ordering. If you do it right, you'll end up feeling like you just ate a luxurious dinner, but your wallet will beg to differ. And I'm telling you, based on a dinner that Zenia and I had there a few months back, Lupa is the best place in New York to indulge intelligently.
There are two key moves: split dishes and don't order ten thousand glasses of wine. Because Lupa has excellent service, you can do both of these things without feeling cheap or cheated. They will split dishes between two plates without you even asking, which makes it feel as if you are actually eating your own, full meal when in fact you are eating half of one. And they serve wine in quartinos, which works out to two smallish glasses, which means you also can share wine, again with your own glass so you do not embarrass yourself with extreme frugality.

So here's what you do. Order two pasta dishes, each to be split two ways. When Zenia and I were there, it was spring so we had the gorgeous asparagus ravioli, and let the waitress pick the other for us. Now it was unfortunate that she suggested the cacio e pepe (why is it that every Italian restaurant feels the need to promote this as the underrated dish that is so great but nobody orders? Hello, it's pepper and pasta! And maybe some parmesan! Nothing earth shattering!) but it was tasty enough so we didn't hold it against her for too long. Zenia was miffed that they took the orecchiete with sausage off the menu, and that we are both still annoyed about, especially since they still haven't put it back. But moving on.
Main course. Get big heavy meat. Split it. Balsamic pork shoulder if they have it. It is far and away the best thing we had that night, and the best thing that any of the diners in our immediate vicinity had that night.
And dessert? Totally up to you (I can't remember what we had), but for the love of god, split it.
On to wine. Have them pick it for you, a different quartino for every course and split the quartino. This way you're essentially getting a wine pairing, but only paying for a fraction of it.
So we enjoyed a four course meal with a wine pairing for $55 per person, including tax and tip at one of the most delicious restaurants in Manhattan. Ridiculous. And I was perfectly sated and pleasantly buzzed, not stuffed and drunk. The Europeans would be proud...or at least that French Women Don't Get Fat woman would be.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Food Blogs Galore

If any of you are into food blogs, you must must must check out Bon Appetit's Blog Envy Slideshow. They describe, and feature a recipe from, about twenty sites, about 70% of which I'd never heard of. I'm already obsessed with Dorie Greenspan, Blue Kitchen and Food Junta. And I have long been obsessed with Chocolate and Zucchini (her tarte tatin with salted butter caramel is ridiculous). So go forth, explore.

Another Fun Google Analytics Fact

Big (Green) Apple has just overtaken I Hate Cookies as the most popular post! I wish Guide: Greenmarket in the Fall and Public Service Announcement were read by more people...are they not hugely informative? And because I love the place, I wish Truffles in the East Village got a bit more love as well.

Shattering the Ceiling

So this blog has been flirting with the 1,000 pageviews per month mark for quite some time now, but today is the day we finally met and surpassed...1,015 pageviews in the last thirty days! I was exceedingly excited until I realized that blogs that are only mildly popular have several hundred thousand pageviews per month. But nevertheless I'm still happy that you all are reading. It's nice to know I'm not blogging to myself here.

Vegetarians, Avert Your Eyes

I have a bit of an obsession with Michael Ruhlman. He's sort of an undercover food celebrity (is that an oxymoron?) who also happens to be a fantastic writer. He's co-written all of the Thomas Keller cookbooks (French Laundry, Bouchon, Under Pressure), a few of his own food themed books (The Making of a Chef, The Elements of Cooking, among others), and a few non food books (I particularly enjoyed House: A Memoir). He also happens to be Anthony Bourdain's occasional partner in crime.

In fact, I think the first time I saw him in action was on an episode of Bourdain's No Reservations that featured the cuisine of Cleveland (Ruhlman's hometown). The two of them bought an entire pig and proceeded to butcher it quite expertly in Ruhlman's kitchen, producing, among other things, a beautiful cassoulet. I found it totally fascinating. There are so many parts to a pig! And so much to be done with each part, as Ruhlman details so well in his book Charcuterie.

But based on my reaction to whole chickens, I'm not sure how great a job I'd do of disassembling a whole pig. Plus which I don't think my two feet of drainboard space (non-contiguous) would really be sufficient for the task.

However, I continue to dream about at least trying. And with Ruhlman's most recent blog post, I can dream in just a little bit more detail. Just think...pork belly, pork chops, bacon, sausages...all forged with one's own hands from a gorgeous healthy pig from Flying Pigs Farm! I don't know if there's been an uptick in news stories about horrible slaughter houses or industrial agriculture lately, but something about knowing with absolute certainty where my food is coming from is very appealing to me these days.

And how great is this photograph that his wife (a fantastic photographer by the looks of the images on his website) took?

The pig almost looks content...maybe beautific? I believe he must have had a happy life with a face like that.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Gossip Girl Makes Me Die

If there was still a question in anybody's mind about whether or not Gossip Girl is the best show on TV (it is), last night's episode should have tipped everyone into the "yes" category. Death,

scandal, love (I think last night all of it was unrequieted except for Mrs. Waldorf and the very short man), a lack of pants at a funeral,

the move from headbands to headbows,

the lame Brooklyn artist seemingly on his way out,

the Waldorf's maid as a bridesmaid...digest it all here at New York Magazine.
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