Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Happy Happy

The presents are wrapped and my bags are packed...

...and I'm on my way home for the holidays! Hope you all are able to enjoy the time with friends and family as well. See you in a few...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Fully Stocked

After a successful purge a few weeks ago of the few freezer and pantry stocks that had overstayed their welcome, I was ready for total replenishment.

My first order of business was a refill of my most reliably vital freezer resident, meat stock. I like to keep both chicken and veal stocks around (oddly I never seem to find a great need for vegetable stock) so after stopping off at my favorite west village butcher for some bags of bones, I was off to the races.

I scrounged around in my freezer and refrigerator for any vegetable scraps that needed to be put out of their misery (I came upon a very sad head of frozen celery and the limpest bunch of parsley I've ever seen in my vegetable drawer) and threw them in my stock pot with the aforementioned bones, a carrot or two, a halved onion pierced with a clove (Patricia Wells suggests this and as it seems to produce good results I see no need to deviate), thyme and some peppercorns.

Covered with cold water, I let the pot boil and toil for a few hours and voila,

quarts of golden hued stock.

I do also think that it is important to keep the makings of a quick, satisfying dinner on hand, and I find that such a dinner often includes some sort of pork product and pasta. So while picking up the soup bones I also requested a few pounds of Italian sausage and some bacon.

I wrapped my porcine goodies in layer upon layer of plastic wrap (and used said wrap to partition the pieces, as a three pound hunk of frozen pork is of absolutely no use when you are looking to make a weeknight dinner for two). They are all happily ensconced in my freezer as we speak, and I draw considerable comfort from that fact.

Frozen meat and meat products now having been addressed, I felt the need to replenish yet another important staple: yogurt.

Now it may seem a bit compulsive to make yogurt at home, but I assure you that it could not be simpler and the results are delicious. Simply heat a quart of milk (not to be overly righteous but I do find that fancy organic milk tends to produce the best results) until it is just under the boiling point and let it cool to lukewarm (about 110 degrees if you're counting). Add two tablespoons of yogurt or the directed amount of yogurt starter to the warm milk and decant it into a container (preferably fresh from the dishwasher) of your choice. Put it in an oven with the light on overnight (or for 6-8 hours during the day) and you shall awake to a luscious pot of acidophilus.

And now, continuing in the somewhat breakfasty direction that the yogurt sent me, I felt the need to replenish my stash of muesli

(now this really is idiotically easy to make, there is no excuse not to...the taste is so superior to bought muesli I think). And then granola.

This poor container has been sitting empty on my counter for months now...it is so heartening to see it full once again.

And last but not least I like to have a few teacake-ish bread-like items stashed in the freezer. Not that I have all that many guests popping by for tea, but someone might and I can't very well let them go hungry now can I?

I gave Terry at Blue Kitchen's recipe for Cherry Orange Loaf Cake a try and was mightily impressed.

It was moist, tasty, not too sweet and with all that flax seed and the relatively low oil/butter content I think the loaf is actually fairly healthy as well. And if that is not the case please do not enlighten me. As you can see only a portion of the final product made it to my freezer.

I followed this first success with another...Bea from La Tartine Gourmand's Quinoa Banana Bread.

It was delightful, and is even gluten free (I feel that everyone seems to be gluten intolerant these days so it is not a bad move to have something for the poor souls to eat). Although I'll admit that I didn't have any rice flour sitting around (I'm not sure I ever have) so I substituted the evil wheat flour. Still delicious although not completely devoid of gluten. And it joined the cherry orange loaf in the freezer for some teatime in the future.

Now I'm fully stocked once again...just in time for me to go away for the holidays! Oh well, at least I will be starting the new year off on a steady footing.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Bit of Kitsch

It's a very poorly kept secret that I enjoy a good meal. And a good snack, hors d'oeuvre, what have you. Edible items if you will. But I have to admit that, despite the excellent restaurant options in New York, I do occasionally find myself feeling like I'm having the same meal over and over again, just at different locations.

Pioneered by the indominable Mr. Batali, there is a significant contingent of restaurants that serve rustic Italian food (not to be confused with American Italian of course). They insist on making their own pasta, always have an excellent meat ragu on the menu, and love their $9 contorni (i.e. vegetables which you used to get free with your dinner). Don't get me wrong, I can eat this food all day long, but not all day every day. And at a certain point I start to resent the $24 ravioli.

And there are the locavores. A noble ethos indeed, I can't say I don't indulge in it myself occasionally. But this whole "it's cooked simply, letting the ingredients shine" thing does get on my nerves. I can do that at home! I want complexity, I want fat, I want something I can't figure out how to do at home.

And then there are the pork enthusiasts. Now I was with them in the beginning...pigs are really wonderfully diverse animals from a gustatory standpoint. They're delicious! Thanks for pointing that out, but we all know about it now, we don't need any more lectures on the wonders of the pork shoulder, OK?

Just for full disclosure, although it is getting terribly overplayed, I will love the ramen trend forever. Not the $20 ramen trend, but the $12 one. Ippudo, Rai Rai Ken, I heart you. And will even more now that the weather is cold.

But when I come across something that is distinctly retro, that doesn't even know these trends exist, I rejoice. Fanelli's for instance. A weathered bar and restaurant with chintzy red checkered tableclothes, it unabashedly serves cheap drinks and red sauce on spaghetti. Perfect for those nights when you're in the mood for vaguely mediocre pasta (and oddly I sometimes really am). And it caters to all kinds...to long-time neighborhood residents, new residents, the celebs who stay at the Mercer across the street...everyone responds to it.

The other night via a holiday gathering I was introduced to another one of these gems that I had been walking by for years, always curious about, but never curious enough to go in. And it has been my loss. El Quijote is officially my new obsession.

Photo credit: CityEntree.com

Housed in the Chelsea Hotel,

long a refuge for artistic miscreants, and more recently Ethan Hawke after he and Uma split, El Quijote harkens from the 70s in the best way possible. The decor is kitschy, the prices are low and the drinks are stiff (or as a stiff as a margarita can be).

The staff easily accomodated our group of twelve, the noise level was festive but I had no trouble hearing my dining companions and the food was good. Not great, but definitely good. I had to get the paella, and yes I got it with lobster. The seafood was all surprisingly fresh tasting, particularly the shrimp and the clams, and after I had eaten my fill, and I do mean that I was FULL, I was still left with two takeout containers full of what was to be my next three meals.

We all indulged in one too many margaritas and perhaps more than one too many glasses of sangria, and somehow the bill came to $36 per person. Including tip. I have no idea how this is possible but I'm telling you it happened.

The genius who suggested the location, one of those fabulous New Yorkers who has been paying $50 a month for a two bedroom apartment near Lincoln Center for the past thirty years and knows every hidden gem in the city, clued me into the lobster specials on Monday nights. She tells me you get two lobsters "for like no money". You'll know where to find me any lobster loving dining companions on Monday nights now!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Perfect Sorrow

At its best art arouses in us emotions that remain, in the normal course of life, latent. Wonderful novels or films or paintings incite these emotions to rise to the surface, insisting that we experience them, reminding us of the full scope of our humanity.

I recall that the classic young adult book Where the Red Fern Grows was the first work to arouse such a response in me. I must have been about nine years old at the time, and I remember reading the tragic end of the book late at night in bed, weeping uncontrollably at the loss of a loyal pet. Ponette, a French movie about a five year old girl's efforts to understand her mother's death, had my seventeen year old heart breaking at her insistence on waiting for her mother's return.

Bernini's gentle terra cotta likeness of a man who looked uncannily like my father on display in the National Gallery in Washington took the breath from my twenty year old chest. Fiona Shaw as Medea had my twenty-two year old body quaking in the face of her raw, unchecked insanity. And Ernest Borgnine's profound love for and devotion to his dead wife in a short vignette in the movie 11'09"01 had my newly in love twenty-three year old heart trembling and my tear ducts working overtime.

But I'll admit, since then it's been a bit of a drought. I've seen some wonderful concerts, movies and plays over the past few years, but none have touched me thoroughly enough to recall them easily as I write this.

But this past weekend, after reading Rafael Yglesias's sublime novel A Happy Marriage, the drought is officially over.

The novel (I say a novel but it feels incredibly autobiographical) is an unwavering look at a 30 year marriage, its awkward beginnings, blissful and passionate early years, and then the highs and lows of the relationship as it progresses, as husband and wife delve deeper into one another, eventually understanding and accepting those qualities in one another that had blocked and frustrated the relationship over time.

The story alternates between today, when Margaret, the wife, is in the last few weeks of her losing battle with cancer, and earlier episodes of the marriage, from courtship to child rearing, to adultery to comfortable middle age. The deft architecture of the novel allows a stunningly beautiful story to be told, commanding only total immersion by the reader.

I spent nearly four hours on Saturday morning finishing the novel, and spent nearly as long sobbing as I made my way through the story. Not delicate tears, but full bodied abject sorrow. And after I had finished reading the last scene, which is as touching an ending to any story as one will find, my sorrow did not abate. A stroll through my favorite neighborhoods did not lift my spirits. Another book, which I have since decided is utterly charming, only felt hollow and pathetic in the wake of Mr. Yglesias's tour de force. In fact, it took a full 24 hours for me to feel myself again.

So why put oneself through such trauma? All I can tell you is that I am still thinking of the book days later, marveling at the ability of words on a page to make me feel so intensely.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Home Fries

The "silly season" seems to have materialized this year suddenly and with a vengeance. I had nary a moment at home last week which, for one who appreciates the draw of the hearth as much as I do, was a bit discombobulating. Now don't get me wrong, I love a good party just as much as the next girl, but to go an entire week without eating at home is rare for me indeed.

Last Monday Paul and I attended, along with a couple of friends, a dress rehearsal of Sting's concert at St. John the Divine (the cathedral, which embarrassingly I had never set foot in before, was indeed divine). Our host had warned us ahead of time that there would be no hits played, and a sneak peek at the set list revealed that not only would there be no hits, but there would not be one song any of us recognized played that evening. I won't lie, I was nervous.

It turned out to be a delightful evening of wintry folkish songs in the end. Some sort of baby bagpipes were played by a fetching young woman who doubled as a extremely able fiddler, a lute made more than one appearance, and we were even serenaded by an adorable boy's choir from Newark. And Sting, decked out in a sexy version of Victorian men's garb, conversed with the audience. A very different vibe than I recalled from the Police tour a year or two ago.

Anyway, in his introduction, which the New York Times appropriately dubbed PBS-like, he described the draw of winter as being the idea of a cozy home serving as a oasis amidst the inclimate winter weather. Now when I think of cozy I think of fires in fireplaces. Tragically I do not have a fireplace. So my thoughts meandered to the warm spot in my apartment...the oven, which is quite heavily used in the winter months, and by extension the kitchen. And then obviously, my train of thought, as it so often does, settled on food as an endpoint.

As were were uptown, quite far from home, our need for food ended up being satisfied with some of Charles Gabriel's fabulous fried chicken even farther uptown. Mr. Gabriel's talent with a fry pan and extraordinary hospitality went quite a long way towards replicating the pleasures of home, but I was still craving something from my own stove.

So in a brief stolen moment at home I, thinking back to Sting's wise words, opted for something warm, unchallenging and fortifying. Potatoes are by far the most inspiring item at the farmer's market at the moment (I am not being sarcastic here, the varieties that Paffenroth brings week after week boggle the mind) so I had (and actually, still have) massive quantities of them on the kitchen counter. Home fries seemed the obvious choice. With such fabulous potato specimens why not let them shine, relatively unobscured?

I started with an onion sliced in half moons, and fried it slowly in olive oil until the pieces were meltingly tender. Next, after a bit more olive oil, I threw in some boiled potatoes, cut into healthy sized pieces, to fry away. After a few crusts began to form, I sprinkled over half teaspoon or so of smoked paprika...a spice I have to admit I still haven't gotten all that into but which I love with potatoes...and tossed in some chopped parsley for freshness.

And then I defiled the whole carefully calibrated endeavor with ketchup. It was perfection.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Great Indeed

Assuming you actually read my righthand sidebar, you may have noticed that I have been reading Daniel Okrent's Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center for a long time. And you may, incorrectly, assume that it a book that requires slogging, that I was reading it out of some sort of imagined obligation rather than out of any real interest. But rather, my time with Great Fortune was interrupted by a book club selection, so you see the extended timeline was most certainly not the fault of Mr. Okrent.

This weekend, after some not so subtle prodding from the very patient librarians from the New York Public Library, I finally completed the tome.

And, for the record, loved it.

I'm not exactly a history buff, but I find the history of places that I know to be fascinating. It's just much more relevant for me to know that a train once hit a cow on 58th Street before Park Avenue was built than to know that Magellan sailed around the Cape of Good Hope. I suppose that in the same way I find my family history to be interesting...because I like to know who and what came before me...I like to know the ancestry of the places I have lived and those that I now reside in.

And so I loved the stories of the obstinate land owners, the self important heads of cultural and educational institutions, the ego-centric but brilliant entertainers and artists, the brave and original architects and most of all, the courage and civic-mindedness of the second and third generation Rockefellers, who conceived of and completed, respectively, what is still the most complex, imaginative and well-designed real estate development in New York's history.

It got me to thinking...where are all of the scions of great fortunes these days? It seems they are particularly positioned to add to society...the first generation spends all of its time making the money, and the next generations can spend time thinking of creative and powerful ways to spend it. So who's it going to be?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Cleaning House

Spring cleaning seems to get all of the attention but I have an equally strong desire to clean house just as winter is falling as well. Last weekend, fueled by leeks, I went on a deep cleaning rampage. Rummaging through my cabinets and freezer only served to remind me of how sad a state my kitchen is in. Supplies (although now very well organized) are running low, and any impromptu guests who might stop by would be distinctly out of luck in the food and drink department. During the holidays this just seems pathetic.

Exhibit 1, my usually stuffed but now terribly vacant freezer:

Before replenishing my stocks I feel a burning desire to purge myself of the old foodstuffs. I want a blank slate for the new arrivals, so I'm on a mission to devise ways to use up the motley crew of edibles I've collected over the past few months.

Odd edible #1: fava bean cream. I was getting a massive amount of fava beans in my CSA box in the spring and early summer and as much as I love them mashed with olive oil and mint and spread on toast, even the best of dishes can become a tad old after the twentieth tasting in a month. So I turned to Eugenia Bone's excellent book Well Preserved for advice. And she advised fava bean cream. Pureed favas with stock, pine nuts, garlic, salt...and frozen for future use. And of course I forgot to use it. Until now.

I went back to Ms. Bone and she suggested fava bean cream risotto. I do as I'm told.

I liberated the fava cream from the freezer and set it on the counter to defrost.

And I dug into the freezer for a container of shrimp stock I had made ages ago from some shrimp shells and the remnants of a fennel bulb. Again, totally forgot about it. I mean, what does one use shrimp stock for anyway? Risotto, that's what. Into a pot to warm it went.

I gently sauteed an onion in olive oil, threw in some arborio rice (which I'm also trying to use up as I'm told that carnaroli rice is the risotto rice to use...I wonder if I'll be able to tell the difference?), tossed in the last bit of a bottle of sake in place of white wine (one random container of consumables down!), and let it bubble away.

Then I did the whole add a little stock, stir, let it evaporate, repeat thing a few times until I had a lovely creamy mass. Handfuls of parmesan were added (the parmesan is now gone as well!), salt and pepper and a bit of chopped parsley and then, after a copious drizzle of delicious olive oil dinner was served. On the couch. With a glass of wine. In front of 30 Rock.

Bliss defined.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Life has been frenetic lately, and there has been precious little time and space for my mind to wander. No surfing the internet, no wandering the streets of the city aimlessly, no languorous, involved cooking...a dearth of inspiration has been the result, and my apartment has begun to feel a bit cold and lifeless as well. I suppose that is what time crunch weeknight cooking and a lack of visitors will do to a place.

So I was pleasantly surprised to come across a few bookmarks I had set aside back when I had expanses of free time available...all visions of warm, well lived in homes.

Without fail my coziest times of day is breakfast. The city still feels soft in the early light, the quiet suggests the promise of the day ahead, and I get to stand, warm mug of tea in hand, alone with my thoughts or newspapers, depending on my mood. Jen Causey must be a kindred spirit, as she captures this calm, content moment every morning at her blog Simply Breakfast. I'm consistently tempted by the meals themselves (she's got me convinced that I should start eating greens in the morning after a few particularly appetizing photos), as well as the beautiful dishes the food is served on (I am seriously coveting the mug from November 16th and 17th) and the linens that accompany each meal. Each photo is the definition of a life well lived.

And given my distinctly domestic bent, it baffles me that I've gotten along so long without Remodelista, but it wasn't until relatively recently that it became a must-visit site for me. I am always swept away by their backstage tours of various hotels, inns and pensiones...you cannot tell me that you can resist the charms of the Cotswald home Temple Guiting Manor, now can you?

I do believe that, despite the twin beds, I would have one of the best night's sleeps of my life in this room:

I simply must find a gabled apartment with timber beams to live in at some point in my life.

Or perhaps you would prefer the Italian Alps at the Pension Briol? I adore the vaguely ramshackle but well maintained vibe of the exterior.

And the wood and the white just makes it all feel so soft and easy and clean...exactly as an ideal room should be. Or at least my ideal room.

As winter approaches I've been considering the possibility of a new rug for the living room...somehow my sisal rug does not provide much warmth or comfort once the weather turns cold. I have turned to Woven Accents for my rug fantasies and find myself quite taken with the bird in flight.

But my odd hide obsession continues...perhaps a cowhide carpet from the fabulous Horne would be the more satisfying option? I do love their linens and textiles...why not their floor coverings?

And lastly, for my poor neglected kitchen, the always fascinating site Put Up Or Shut Up, a blog devoted to the art of canning, provides a myriad of ideas, even at this time of year when fresh produce is scarce. I now have two excuses to buy those intensely fragrant and floral quinces that I've had my eye on at the Union Square Market. Paradise Jelly and quince paste? It's all too wonderful. I'm clearing time on the schedule and space on my stovetop immediately.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The New Austerity

I adore the holiday season, but more out of anticipation for Christmas and the attendant celebrations than out of any particular affection for Thanksgiving. In recent years I have tended to celebrate the gorge-fest in New York more often than I have with my family in California, which I suppose is due at least partially to my frugal, health-conscious family's ambivalence towards a holiday that at this point seems predicated on gluttony more than anything.

This year was no different. Paul and I opted out of the mass migration to the airports and instead chose to enjoy a beautiful dinner at Five Points with friends. As an aside, I cannot recommend this restaurant enough for holiday meals. I had a perfect Christmas Eve meal here last year with my family, who decided that a Christmas in snowy New York would be more fun than one in sunny California,

and Paul and I enjoyed an excellent Thanksgiving meal there a few years ago. He was desperately sad that they had run out of brussels sprouts by the time we sat down, but all was forgiven this year when a platter of the tiny cabbages was presented along with our turkey, suckling pig and squash lasagna.

But I found myself no less stuffed after this restaurant meal than I would have been after a home cooked meal. In fact, when I really thought about it, after a few too many nights out, travel and the requisite restaurant meals that accompany it, it had been several weeks since I had actually been hungry! Appalling. So I vowed a weekend of austerity.

I have so little experience with the austere that I had to turn to an outside source for guidance: the very slender, perfectly groomed and disciplined author of French Women Don't Get Fat, Mireille Guiliano.

I attended a book signing of hers when the book first came out (I believe she has since written several more) at the Alliance Francaise, and recall marveling at the simplicity of her advice. She counseled women to get off their butts, eat less and pay more attention to the true pleasures in life (wine, for instance). She was very charming and I found it absolutely amazing that after the event an entire auditorium of women took the stairs rather than the escalator, a move she had encouraged in the "get off your butt" section of her talk.

A good part of her book revolved around the magic of leeks. She uses them frequently in dishes, but also reveals that (some) french women take a weekend out to eat nothing but leeks as either a kick-off for a diet regime or as an occasional tune-up when their clothing begins to feel snug. As I was in need of a tune-up and my clothing was feeling snug, I decided to give it a try.

I set out on Friday morning (still full from the meal the night before and therefore having skipped breakfast, a virtually unheard of occurrence for me) in search of leeks. I returned home with two pounds of them, cleaned them and, after cutting each one into 3-4 inch sections, I simmered them until they were just tender, about 10-15 minutes. Dinner consisted of leeks drizzled with a bit of olive oil and sherry vinegar, strewn with chopped parsley and Maldon salt. It was surprisingly delicious, as was the warmed cooking water that Ms. Guiliano counsels one to reserve and then drink periodically throughout the day.

I awoke the next morning to an unfamiliar sensation...a growling stomach. Hallelujah! I had officially given my body a break.

Now as much as I enjoy leeks, I simply could not face them for breakfast. Without eggs the idea just seems odd. In anticipation of this, I had taken a page from Laura's Paris Cooking Notebook and made a simple apple compote the day before. I happily had a full drawer of apples that had gone mealy but not bad, which made them the perfect candidates for a cooked mush. I cut up the 6 or 7 apples I had, peeled them and threw them in a dutch oven with the barest bit of water, a scant dessert spoon of turbinado sugar, a pinch of salt and a couple of cinnamon sticks. I covered the pot, set the heat to low and after twenty minutes or so I had a gorgeous applesauce (or compote if you prefer).

It made for a stunningly good breakfast. And then I was back on the leeks. By Saturday afternoon I was feeling lighter and more alert than I had in weeks. I embarked on a cleaning rampage, scrubbing out and reorganizing all of the kitchen and bathroom cabinets, dislodging grime from various tiny crevices, and polishing everything in sight to a high gleam. Perhaps the leeks are in fact magical?

By Sunday afternoon I felt a break in my semi-fast might be in order. After a ham and cheese sandwich and a cup of lentil soup at the Brooklyn Larder with Marissa, the deed was done. I felt unbelievably full, and was back to the leeks for dinner. I have to admit, I'm enjoying the austerity...for now.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Week in the Desert

Day 1: Arrive in Vegas late in the evening. Wait for ages for airport shuttle, unsure why I am doing so as I am saving approximately $5 by not taking a cab. Discover that the MGM Signature suites are much nicer than I would have imagined given expense account restrictions. Meet up with colleagues, wander several hotels aimlessly attempting to find restaurant open past 10:00 p.m. Eat at a Chinese buffet on a facsimile of a New York street. Less said about meal the better.

Day 2: Meet colleagues in lobby, go en masse to breakfast event. Walk into hotel ballroom to find group of Elvis impersonators performing. Amusing, but perhaps too much for 8:30 a.m.? As is the illusionist? Would have enjoyed food rather than performers. Rest of day spent inside under fluorescent lights. Severe dehydration sets in. Gulping water incessantly. Feet hurt, but day is productive. In evening head back to hotel to jacuze. Bliss. Love hotel robe. Head out with colleague and walk Strip, stopping along the way to admire Bellagio water show, which was special, despite cheesy music. End at the Venetian, find other colleagues at blackjack tables, both on winning streak. Head up to Bouchon for dinner. Vow to order something light to counteract effects of terrible food during the day. Trout with cauliflower sounds promising. Is delicious, but sauced with brown butter. So much for purity. Wine is perfect, colleague is loving her martini and mussels. Salad is oddly amazing as well, considering it is made of up only of lettuce and herbs. Discover gondola rides are closed for the day so head back to beds to collapse.

Day 3: Early breakfast event, this time serving food! Big breakfast sets me up well for the day, or as well as can be expected given poor quality of sleep the night before and the lingering dehydration. Another day spent inside under fluorescent lights. Certain my vitamin D levels are heading dangerously low. Dear friend with considerably less restrictions on her expense account arrives in Vegas...take her up on generous offer to share fancy room at the Wynn. At end of day I switch hotels. Arrive at Wynn and find that she is as exhausted as I.

We sprawl out on lovely bed

and chat for a bit. I resolve to track down pillows and purchase them for my own bed at home. We each head out to dinner with our respective colleagues, she for steak downstairs and I for fish at the Mandalay Bay.

Dinner is convivial and tasty, particularly those oysters! And, as often happens when groups of colleagues get together, gossip is exchanged, stories are told, accents are made fun of. We eventually get down to work, discussing and preparing for next day. Get back to room, find friend in a deep sleep and follow suit.

Day 4: Up very early and after a shower and a bit of time in front of the vanity,

which I also vowed to replicate in some future living quarters (love sitting down and putting on makeup!), I was out the door in a jiff. Head back to fluorescent lights. Morning goes well and by midday I, along with rest of colleagues, was on verge of collapse.

Some began taking leave (flights beckoned) and presently I follow suit. Head back to hotel room to catch up on work that had been neglected during the week in the plush seating area in the room.

Couldn't resist doing so in a fluffy bathrobe. Not often that I get to return phone calls and emails in such luxury! As much as I am loving room and incredibly helpful and friendly staff at hotel, I am tired of being tired and thirsty so am not a bit sad when the time comes for me to leave for airport. A brief detour to visit my dad, sister and post-operative mom in Bay Area is exactly what doctor ordered. Get on the plane, fall asleep, wake up in San Francisco. Thrilled to see mom in good spirits and then, that established, fall into bed at 9:00. Delightfully deep sleep.

Day 5: Freezing. Light fire, close ingenious heat saving curtains by entry hall (they keep the heart of the house warm as entry has way too many single pane windows),

and eat breakfast. Go grocery shopping as the food supplies have run a bit low. My dad had apparently been living on...well, I don't know what he was living on...while my mom was in the hospital. Relax, start dinner, sister comes over after work and family dines together. And then sits by fire. In bed by 10:00. Again, deliciously deep sleep.

Day 6: Mom: Maybe you and your dad should have a day out today? Me: Oh no, we can stay here and hang out. Mom: No really, go. PLEASE. Dad and I make way over to San Francisco to check out fabulous Richard Avedon exhibit at SF MOMA. Become obsessed with the portraits of his father for some reason. And portraits of prominent figures circa the bicentennial. Donald Rumsfeld used to be quite good looking! Swing by Ferry Building for Acme bread, some herbed fromage blanc from Cowgirl Creamery and Blue Bottle coffee and then head home. For a nap. Take out Indian for dinner, a quick drink out with sister and her boyfriend (officially become re-obsessed with Lambrusco), and then home for bed by 11:30.

Day 7: Eat wonderful breakfast prepared by dad. Bacon, mushroom shallot and parmesan scramble and my favorite Acme bread toasted with butter. Peruse Sunday papers, putter around house preparing for imminent trans-continental flight, eventually head off to the airport, excited for New York but not for the dehumanizing airplane experience. Back to reality.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


My predictions, as of Sunday night, about my little Vegas adventure:

1) I have spent no more than $20 gambling so far this week - I say this because I'm cheap...the only time I spent any real money at a table was in Macau, and that I think only came about because the money was foreign and I had no concept how much I was spending

2) I have become very familiar with the inside of hotels, ballrooms and conference rooms

3) I have jacuzzi-ed at least twice since arriving

4) I have taken a gondola ride at the Venetian, after kicking myself for ages for missing such unabashedly cheesy fun last time

5) I am looking wistfully at the fake Chrysler building, pining for the real one

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Oddly enough, after surviving for several decades without ever seeing the lovely town of Las Vegas, I am now, as you read this, visiting for the second time in a month.

The first time was a mere stopover with a bit of entertainment thrown in, this second time a lengthier stay with more work than fun involved. But at least this time I've got a room with a jacuzzi...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Coming Back Home

I have always been the type of person who gets out of the house to explore. I don't necessarily make it to the far flung parts of the outer boroughs (although often, when in need of some good food and a change of scenery I do), but I tend to be out and about for at least a little while most evenings after work and on the weekends. I suppose I'm what you'd call a stroller. One of my great indulgences is to forgo the subway and walk from my apartment north, twisting and turning as I please, getting up close and personal with the odd side streets I wouldn't normally seek out. I stroll through familiar neighborhoods with an eye out for new additions, but also to stop by favorite haunts.

But lately for some reason, I know not why, I've found myself heading to specific destinations for specific purposes rather than vaguely ambling in some direction, any direction. It began to take a toll on my disposition...my imagination seemed to have all but shut down!

Vowing to get back in the groove and loosen up my brain cells a bit, I recently opted to start out with a saunter through one of my old favorites, the area joining Nolita, Soho, Little Italy and Chinatown. Home to my favorite library, bakery and bookstore, it always feels like home. And the heart of that home is the cookbook nook at the back of McNally Jackson Bookstore.

Much to my delight, it had been so long since I had been to said bookstore that I was faced with a raft of new options, with the cookbook section offering a particularly rich array.

Of course, given the fawning press surrounding Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc At Home

and David Chang's Momofuku

I was not surprised to see them on the shelf. But I was a bit taken aback by how much I liked the look of the books. Particularly Momofuku...I have heard that the text is laced with some salty language, and although I am certainly in favor of the occasional well placed choice word, I find their overuse to be grating. But a quick flip through the book had me imagining scallion ginger noodles in the afternoon, slow cooked pork at night, and steamed buns in the morning.

I was also thrilled to see a reissue of M.F.K. Fisher's classic translation of Brillat-Savarin's The Physiology of Taste with an introduction by Bill Buford.

For some reason I had always recalled this book to be of an imposing length, but the one I saw seemed quite manageable. I may finally have to read this classic text!

I had heard vaguely of Clotilde Dusoulier's new translation of the classic french cookbook I Know How to Cook

and after flipping through it I am totally smitten. Something about the easy elegance of the fish recipes grabbed me and still hasn't let go. Ever so french to give mere housewives the tools to live a completely refined life.

How to Roast a Lamb has been on my mind ever since I read about it in the New York Times recently,

and seeing the book in person has only served to increase my desire to get my hands on these delightfully unfamiliar recipes.

Perhaps the best thing about my little literary haven is that I am always introduced to titles I have never heard of, and this trip was no different. I have officially been turned on to Stephane Reynaud's French Feasts: 299 Traditional Recipes for Family Meals and Gatherings,

a collection of rich French weekend dishes. I have images of leisurely multi-course midday feasts dancing in my head as a result.

I am also mightily intrigued by Artichoke to Za'atar and by The Iraqi Cookbook.

When the weather is blustery and cool as it is now, I find the warm mellow spice of Middle Eastern food to be the perfect antidote. Which I suppose is odd as the cuisine was born of sunny warm weather. But I suppose there's no accounting for (my) taste!

So which should be the first purchase?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Grown Round

Spherical fruits and vegetables seem to be having a moment right now. Winter squash of all sorts are in abundance...acorn squash, turban squash, hubbard squash and of course the iconic pumpkin...they're all spilling out of crates left and right, one last gasp of bounty before the chill sets in. Lovely apples hold the promise of autumnal tarts, crisps and pies, as do those last Italian plums that have stuck around so tenaciously this year.

But I have to admit, as odd as it might sound, that it was the cauliflower that caught my eye most recently. At the market this weekend there were buckets and buckets of what may have been the largest specimens I have ever come across. For reference (and I suppose I should mention that I have quite big feet):

I commented on their heft to the friendly vendor and he proudly replied "They're lookers aren't they!" I couldn't help but bring one home, what with Paul's intense love for all vegetables cruciferous.

It almost looks like an Old Master still life, doesn't it?

Now the first thought that I generally have when I bring produce home is "What dish shall I make?" But with this monstrosity the question is not which dish, but which dishes.

A bit less than half of the hulking head went to a batch of Insalata di Rinforzo,

a few handfuls went to diversify the mix in my favorite green Thai curry, and the rest...well, the rest is currently on standby in my refrigerator. Any ideas for the remnants of the great beast?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Les Mouclades

I used to watch quite a bit of PBS. First Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers, then the cooking series from the 80s like the Frugal Gourmet and Jacques Pepin, and then those wonderful David Suchet Poirot episodes and other assorted Masterpiece Theater shows. I adored Diana Rigg's Masterpiece Theater introductions almost as much as my parents enjoyed Cookie Monster's (or rather Alistair Cookie's) Monsterpiece Theater skits.

But then for a good ten years I all but abandoned the network. I suppose this coincided with the rise of bad reality TV, to which I am tragically addicted. But recently, inspired by Terry over at Blue Kitchen's enthusiasm for the current crop of cooking shows on PBS, I've become a bit of a public broadcasting devotee.

First I began to DVR Lidia Bastianich's show and now as a result know more about the starch content of carnaroli rice (better than arborio apparently) than I ever thought I'd care to. The latest Ken Burns mini-series appeared (although I've been to Yosemite countless times the national parks special has ignited in me a great desire to go back again), and Eric Ripert's show Avec Eric has got me all concerned about the seasonal nuances of my olive oil.

But perhaps my favorite PBS discovery is Ruth Reichl's new show Gourmet Adventures With Ruth. In each episode she visits some fabulously informative food person with a famous, but not too famous food-oriented friend of hers. The amount of entirely new information (to me at least) that is conveyed in these shows is unbelievable, and quite heartening really. There's so much to learn!

On her seafood show, set in Seattle with Tom Skerritt and an unbelievably knowledgeable fisherman whose name currently escapes me, she and her gang demonstrated a mussel cooking method that intrigued me...just throw them in a dry hot pan and wait for them to pop open!

Faced with one of those delicious evenings where I had no plans to go out, the apartment to myself, no errands or household tasks planned and sufficient energy to cook a relatively involved meal for myself, I opted to give the mussels a try.

After scrubbing a pound and a half of Prince Edward Island mussels, I threw them in a screaming hot cast iron skillet.

As each mussel popped open, I removed it to a large bowl with a pair of tongs.

There were a few holdouts...

...but eventually, after much sizzling, they relented.

I took Alex Guarnaschelli's very good advice to throw in a little crunch in the form of toasted bread crumbs (I have been loving panko lately...irrationally I find making breadcrumbs to be totally onerous) and some freshness in the form of parsley and mint.

By the way, I would never have considered mint as a good pairing with mussels but the idea is genius.

I've eaten a lot of mussels in my day, but these were special. Delicate but just a tad smoky from all of the scorching. And tender beyond belief...perhaps because I plucked eat one out just as it was done so there was no overcooking?

I was in an oddly European mood so I followed my wine, mussels and buttered baguette with a bit of salad and Tomme de Savoie. And then blew the whole thing with a Whippet at the end...the Canadian version of a Mallomar in case you are not familiar, as I was not until I saw them on the shelf at Citarella. Why Canadian cookies are being sold in New York I know not, but regardless they are delightful, both alone and as the cap to a lengthy meal.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

All Hallows Eve

The scent of deepest autumn was undeniable this weekend. The bouquets of flowers at James Durr are quickly giving way to tangles of leafy boughs, and I couldn't resist picking up a lush bunch of eucalyptus for my front room. With my nose involuntarily buried in the fragrant leaves the whole way home (crowded subway cars rarely provide such lovely aromatherapy experiences) I couldn't help but relish the change in weather, in scents and in routine that the progression of the seasons induces.

So perhaps fittingly, Paul and I chose this weekend to break our strict "no fun on Halloween" tradition. There was a party that promised to be great fun to attend, so Paul dragged out an outfit he had bought in Dubai recently and I got to work cobbling together a costume using a gold lame leotard leftover from a costume party in graduate school and a pair of track pants as a base.

I figured my best bet was one of those interpretive costumes...the kind where you just wear something odd and let others determine who it is you have dressed up as (the consensus from absolute strangers seemed to be Lady Gaga...sure, might as well). Coming up with my own idea was much too stressful on such short notice! So I swung by the makeup mecca that is MAC to pick up some oversized false eyelashes (and immediately vowed to come back in short order for more browsing and playtime...it is a truly inspiring store) and then braved the Ricky's madhouse in search of a wig.

Presently, it was time to go. Paul looked very imposing in his caftan and head scarf (although he was a tad apprehensive about going out in the get-up for fear of offending someone) and I looked shiny.

Just outside of the party we looked across the way and noticed a man standing in the street wearing Paul's exact same outfit. Paul was a bit miffed..."Is he wearing it better than I am?" he wondered. I looked closer...he was an older man with those 1970s big square glasses with thin wire rims..."Babes I think he's an actual Arab." "Really? Are you sure?". And then he got into a Bentley and drove away. "Yes, I'm sure."

We enjoyed an evening full of sword eaters and fire jugglers and women on stilts with friends and a couple of bottles of champagne. The festivities eventually wound down and we made our way home very slowly on the subway, as cabs were simply a lost cause.

Paul removed his kaftan shortly after we arrived home, but I have to say I was really feeling my wig and eyelashes and couldn't stand to toss them aside quite so soon. I spent a good while taking photos of myself to delay the inevitable return to normalcy.

Perhaps I could entertain a second career as a drag queen?
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