Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Rare Evening

I enjoy few things more than a great meal in pleasant environs with friends on a Saturday night.  Ideally, we arrive around 8 and don't get up from the dinner table until several hours later.

A couple of Saturdays ago Paul and I had just one of these (surprisingly rare, given the myriad of restaurant options in New York) evenings.

Two dear friends wanted to take us out to celebrate our (somewhat) recent engagement and we of course happily accepted.  As the male half of our little foursome was going to be out watching a band in Brooklyn during the early evening, Prime Meats in Carroll Gardens was suggested.  As it is run by the team behind the fabulous Frankies spots, I was more than happy to give it a go.

Paul, employing his exceptional powers of persuasion and adorable English accent, was able to reduce our wait for a table from sixty minutes to thirty, which left us just enough time for one (or two) of the expertly mixed cocktails.

Dave was enthralled by the homemade bitters and other potions that the bartenders relied on to make their intoxicating brews.

I personally was deeply enthralled with my drink, as well as the deliciously retro glass it was served in.  I know people frown upon those flat champagne goblets (they supposedly allow champagne bubbles to dissipate too quickly) but I don't care, I will love them now and forever.  But perhaps that is because I quaff champagne at an above average rate?

Presently we were seated at a prime outdoor table, relishing the warm mid-August evening.  Dave and Melinda are master orderers so we left them to it.  Our server, who was one of the most pleasant and knowledgeable waitresses I've come across in quite some time, was perhaps slightly horrified by the quantity of food we had coming, but no matter, we were up to it.

We started with big, freshly baked pretzels and, ripping them apart, dunked them in a variety of sweet and spicy mustards.  Living in New York, the land of horrible street pretzels, one can easily forget how good they can be when done right.  Prime Meats will remind you.

An "alpine tasting board", otherwise known as a germanic choucroute platter followed, then a few salads, and then the food started to come out fast and furious.  Roasted marrow bones, sauerbraten with red cabbage, a surkrut garnie (german version of choucroute garnie) and a very serious cote de boeuf (better than the twice as costly one at Minetta Tavern I might add).  All accompanied by a lovely pinot noir.

I was initially stumped by all of the appetizing options...

...but once I started tucking in to the grub I could not have been happier.

We were, sadly, far too full for dessert, so after a couple of espressos (me and Paul) and some light tisanes (Dave and Melinda), it was back into the car for the trip back to Manhattan and then, after a bit of a breather on the sofa, straight to bed, more sated, physically and emotionally, than I had been in quite some time.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

From the Days of Old

I always bristle a bit when I hear reference made to this thing with women and shoes.  It feels dismissive somehow, implying that all women have this frivolous relationship with inanimate objects, and that we lose all control over a good pair of stilettos.  But that said, when I think back on the memories I have from childhood, a striking number of them do include a pair of shoes.

I recall annual trips to the shoe store in Berkeley to pick up saltwater sandals, or perhaps some jellies, for the summer.  I recall being inordinately proud of my pair of pink sneakers with bits of pink satin on the outside of each foot, and I loved my little slip-ons from Esprit.  But the name that I recall as a standout in the world of children's shoes was Bass.  It evokes the sensible, well-made styles that my parents always approved of and were happy to provide to me and my sister.  And I have many recollections of my friends' moms wearing those leather criss-cross Bass flip flops, and my grandma wearing those cute little lace up leather sneakers that they make as well.

But to my utter shock, Bass is not only still around, but also has some surprisingly hip options for the adults that remember the brand from their childhood, or for those who simply remember the shoes from earlier days.

Bass is riding the resurgence of the brogue and the current infatuation designers seem to have with the 1950s with this cute little number:

At $69 the price is certainly right.

And can't you just see these on a downtown hipster paired with shorts, a blazer and a great pair of legs?

But my favorite is this one.

Ideally I'd be tromping through the misty moors of Scotland in this boot and a Barbour coat, but given my lack of a country estate, I'd settle for wearing these on a tromp through the east village on a nippy Sunday afternoon with a smart pair of rolled up jeans and one of those gorgeous sheepskin Burberry coats that I have been coveting intensely despite the steamy summer temps.  Now that there is the odd bit of fall in the air here and there, I feel the purchase is justified.  I'd better do it quick before the 90 degree days return!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Considering how obsessive and anal I am about some things in life (the cleanliness of my sheets and the orderliness of my dish cabinet for instance) it is perhaps odd how much influence I am willing to cede to third parties in other areas of my life, most notably when it comes to food and drink.

I am that irritating person who, in restaurants, asks the waiter what he recommends, whether he likes the steak or the fish, or perhaps the risotto is better?  My feeling is that having most likely eaten everything on the menu, the waiter is probably in a better position to choose than I, a mere visitor, would ever be.

I subscribe to the same theory when it comes to wine.  I love love love a glass of wine.  But, although I've occasionally tried to learn something about the stuff, my interest tends to wane when the tasting ends and the lecturing begins.  It just feels too much like school to me.

So I have to rely on great wine stores for advice instead.  One of my absolute favorite spots is Italian Wine Merchants, located conveniently enough just down the street from my office.  I went in there the other day in search of a red to go with sausage and pasta, and attempted to describe a bottle that I thought would be perfect that I had bought there some time ago and enjoyed immensely but the name of which I had of course forgotten.

The always helpful staff looked it up.  We honed in on the correct bottle using a combination of approximate date of purchase and my description of the label, only to learn that they were out of it.  As it turns out this was a blessing, because the woman told me she had a much better option.. She promised it drank like a $30 bottle, despite the $12 price tag.  Quattro Mani Montepulciano d'Abruzzo it was then.

And as I found out once I was home and cracked open the bottle, she had not steered me wrong!  The wine was smooth, mellow and the fruit was just lovely.  It is exactly what I want to be quaffing in the early evening with simply Italian food with a laid back group of friends.  Or in the early evening on the couch watching bad TV.  It's not only delicious but also versatile.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Back at the Market

It goes without saying that this is a fabulous time of year for those who haunt farmers markets.  Usually I wax on about my local greenmarket starting sometime around the end of June, but this year I was so distraught about missing cherry season that I just couldn't bring myself to even speak of the place.  By the way, I have no idea how I missed out on my favorite fruit this year...I was out of town for a few weeks of course, but was the season unusually short this year?  Anyone know?

Anyway, last Saturday the bounty was just too, well, bountiful, to ignore, and I felt compelled to buy up half the market.  I could barely carry all of my loot, the weight of it was so great.  I came stunningly close to hailing a cab rather than taking the subway, but my utter and absolute abhorrence of New York City cabs won out in the end and I struggled home like a poor beaten down pack mule instead.  But just look at the treasures I was able to gather.

I had lost a few window box herbs during one of my trips out of town, so picked up a couple of new thyme, marjoram and tarragon (out with the dead sage and lemon verbena).  They would be well pampered in the Lower East Side Ecological Center's potting soil...

...the product of all of those food scraps I bring every week to be composted.

And these San Marzano tomatoes from the ladies at Cherry Lane Farms were just to die for.

I later cooked them down into the sweetest, most delicious tomato sauce for a gorgeous pasta dinner.

I may have to start canning them though, they really are quite special.

It is clearly kirby cucumber season!  The cukes are all over the market, and the prices are incredibly low, not just by Greenmarket standards, but by any standards at all.  I picked up a few pounds for pickles.

As we speak I've got a massive jar of bread and butter pickles in my fridge and an even bigger jar of Michael Ruhlman's pickles fermenting in the bedroom (I put them on my side of the bed, let's just not tell Paul about them, shall we?  Last time I cured/fermented anything in the bedroom I hung various bits of meat from his bike and he was less than pleased).

The best peaches in the market are from the Cheerful Cherry.  Last summer it was a quirky older woman and her husband handing them out.  This year, I believe that, sadly, the woman has passed away.   But she quite oddly has been replaced by a gaggle of the most stylish English girls you've ever met.  Tall, thin, gorgeous and with impeccably unstudied style a la Kate Moss, they will I'm sure be discovered in absolutely no time.

Wonderful for them of course, but I will miss that je ne sais quoi that they add to the market experience.

These peaches and the intensely sweet blueberries (from a very nice vendor who's name escapes me) made it into just about every breakfast I ate for several days afterwards.

With ricotta and honey,

and then along with this incredible bread (a malted prune loaf spread with ricotta).

Often times Flying Pigs Farm has sold out of sweet Italian sausage by the time I get to them, but this day was different, so I happily picked up a package.

Now I find the sanctimonious free range people just as irritating as the next guy, but I have to tell you they do (annoyingly) have a point.  This humanely raised pork is really like nothing you've had before, and is completely worth the price.  I put one or two of these sausages in with some pasta and plain tomato sauce once and Paul proclaimed it to be the best thing he'd ever eaten.  I'm not sure I would go that far, but it was far better than such a simple dish had any business being, and I attribute that completely to the sausages.

Thanks to my very crafty sister I have the pleasure of a new market bag (my old one, which she also made for me officially died).

The outside is a natural canvas and the interior is lined with the cutest oilcloth (to avoid any persistent staining from overripe fruit you see).  She has occasionally threatened to make these bags en masse and sell them.  I think she should, don't you?

All of my veggies and dairy products were in the bag.  The milk was presently made into yogurt, the zucchini made its way into a few pastas, and those beets are destined for Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's beetroot and chocolate brownies.  What became of the tuscan kale?  This:

Turns out that if you've got good kale to begin with it is actually quite nice raw in a salad with a few other veggies, some pumpkin seeds and a nice garlicky vinaigrette.  And if you mix up a big batch of this, it makes a wonderful ready-made pasta sauce to have on hand.  Just throw the lot in a pan and saute, maybe with a few tomatoes if you have them around and some nice cheese and pasta and voila!  Readymade dinner.

Heirloom tomatoes are really starting to take over the market these days, as are the plums.  I fear the peaches may be on their way out soon, but I suppose that just makes room for other gorgeous things...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Summer Ennui

I think there comes a time in every food lover's life when a bit of ennui with respect to restaurants sets in.  Everything starts to seem the same, everything seems overpriced, no meal is as good as what you could make at home if you put forth a small effort.

After some delicious, terribly inventive meals at the likes of Ribouldingue while I was in Paris a few weeks back, I returned to New York and almost instantly became gustatorily bored.  Between a heat induced reduction in my desire to cook and a few mediocre and overpriced meals at restaurants that had been recently lauded by the critics, I was dangerously close to being "over" the New York food scene.  Tragic I realize, especially given the myriad culinary options here.  I assure you it was a temporary fatigue though.  It was The Hunger which yanked me out of it.

Not a rumbling in my stomach...but rather a pop-up restaurant.  A restaurant that forms for a few days at a time once every few months, in a different location with difference food each time.  After reading a quick blurb on Sunday Suppers about the newly available spots at The Hunger's second incarnation, and viewing the gorgeous photos of the meal that was served at its first, I was on the phone quick as can be begging for a spot for me and three friends.

The event was to be held in an undisclosed outdoor location in Soho and the theme was Argentinian BBQ.  Armed with this information about the likely prevalence of meat I easily persuaded some men (Paul and my friend Tom) to accompany me.  And because Elaine is usually up for just about anything, she happily joined our merry crew.

We arrived at The Yard at the Soho Grand and were faced with a bouncer, a list and a velvet rope.  I was baffled, saddened...had I totally misjudged this event?  Thankfully no.  All we had to do was walk through the very high maintenance Cosmo party to get to our little low key nook in the back.

An outdoor oasis in a sea of urbanity (with perhaps just a touch of faux edge inside of said oasis), it was exactly what I was in the mood for on a warm Friday evening.

After we got ourselves situated with some sangria, the food began to flow.

Everyone agreed that the fried cheese was just to die for, and that the salad was uncommonly good.

We were a tad concerned about what seemed to be small portion sizes of meat, but presently realized that after consuming what was handed out we were all perfectly sated.  I suppose this is what these french woman have been trying to tell us all this time, no?

The sides were a bit different than those you might encounter at most steak dinners, but they matched the light, summery feeling of the meal perfectly.

And eventually the dessert rolled around.  None of us had high hopes for the grilled oranges (Paul predicted they would be a bit boring) but I have to say we were mightily impressed.  Infused with the perfume of rosemary and set on a dollop of sour, thick yogurt, the orange was a delightful end to the meal.

Our senses pleasantly dulled from the sangria and our bellies just full enough, we all tripped home happily to our respective homes, uplifted by the time with friends and the inventiveness of the event.  It was official:  my ennui had ended.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Worth Your $12

Summer is, of course, traditionally the season of bad movies.  And we have had some pretty terrifically bad ones this year.  But we've also had some terrifically good ones, two of which I've just seen in quick succession and simply can't get out of my head.


On Saturday I dragged my poor friend Elaine from her enclave on the Upper West Side down to the Landmark Sunshine Cinema on the Lower East Side for a late showing of I Am Love.

I was predisposed to love this movie as I practically worship at the altar of Tilda Swinton, but I promise you it was indeed wonderful even if you are not quite so obsessed with the otherworldly beauty of this extraordinary creature as I am.

Ms. Swinton plays a Russian who has married into a wealthy Milanese family, the dissolution of which the movie chronicles.  But really, I have to admit that I paid more attention to the beautiful homes, scenery, clothes and people than I did to the story itself.

It all looked so rich that I wanted to dive right in.

The family home, an art deco specimen with a vaguely brutalist bent (perhaps due somehow to the fascist regime's influence?) contained a fascinating tension between lush but restrained modern decor (like that insanely gorgeous wood paneling in the photo above) and frivolous sparkle (chandeliers, heavy gilded bits of the Pitti Palace strewn throughout).

I died all over again each time a shot of this front door came on the screen, but it was the steps which provided a setting for great drama towards the end.

This is not to say of course that the story was not engrossing in its own certainly was, as were the characters themselves.  There is always something terribly compelling about a behind the scenes look at the way a dysfunctional wealthy household works.  But with visuals like this (I include Ms. Swinton in this category) the remaining components hardly stand a chance.


The New York Times reviewer of Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work wondered, after having seen this movie, where the great dame had been all her life.  I have no such lament.  I have loved Joan Rivers for years.  I enjoyed her as the center square on Hollywood Squares, I watched her daytime talk show religiously (I was a bit bored in middle school and took a slightly ridiculous number of sick days as a result...her show always made me "feel better") and in college my roommate and I would never miss her red carpet interviews.  We adored her in the way that you might adore a dotty aunt with a filthy mouth.

So it made perfect sense for the two of us to head down to the west village for an early evening showing of her year in the life documentary.  We came out of it loving her even more deeply than we had before, vowing to find tickets to one of the standup shows she seems to do periodically in New York.

We came away impressed by Joan's wisdom, her compassion, her wit, her humor and her work ethic.  I would say she's fearless except she apparently does have one intense fear:  no work!  She's a workaholic in the extreme.  As she says, "I work so I can live well.  I could live carefully and not work, but that would be ridiculous."  And she does live well.  I believe she said that her apartment is where Marie Antoinette would have lived if she had money, and she is not far off.

The movie is at times absurdly funny...we were certainly not the only ones howling out loud at ten minute intervals.  But at the same time, Joan lays bare her wounds, her insecurities, her hurts and her regrets.  And it all rings true, perhaps because the movie doesn't seem to have an angle.  It is not critical, it is not fawning.  It is just a year in an incomparable character's life.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Odds and Ends

This summer my time in New York has largely been spent indoors, avoiding the wall of heat just beyond my front door.  Rather than skipping through the streets in sundresses and kicky sandals in the pure bright sun, my activities have resembled those I might undertake in the deep of winter more than in the height of summer.  So to that end, I have spent most of the last week immersed in DVDs of Season 1 of Friday Night Lights, which is my excuse for the light posting this week.

I came to this show late...Season 4 I believe...but became instantly obsessed.  A friend of mine from Texas turned me onto it, promising that the show resembled his adolescent experience in the great republic to a frightening degree.  Watching Season 1, seeing where it all began for the cast of characters I've come to know and love, is like listening to a successful yet enigmatic acquaintance with a knack for storytelling reveal to you how they got to where they are today.  Engrossing and illuminating in equal measures.

But that said, the crippling heat has broken, which means that I can tear myself away from the TV and once again face cooking.  This time of year makes me yearn for full vegetable drawers, counters piled with delicate summer fruit but oddly, a relatively empty freezer and pantry.  I like to stock up when the cold weather is approaching, and I like a clean slate against which to do it.  Which means that I spend a lot of time over the summer months trying to figure out how to use odds and ends in creative and delicious ways.

There aren't too many food traditions in my family...everyone has always like to experiment so repeated dishes were few and far between.  But I have inherited the delicious poppyseed bread recipe, a love of farmers markets and the inability to throw out a banana.  The majority of my family members have almost always got a bunch of blackened overripe bananas in the freezer.  I am of course no different, so the other day set out to figure out a home for a bunch of my own.

I was also trying to figure out a use for a stray bit of quinoa, so turned to my favorite source of whole grain quickbread recipes, Deborah Madison.  She of course had the perfect recipe...quinoa muffins.  I made a loaf rather than muffins and threw in some bananas in place of some of the yogurt.  Perfectly crunchy exterior, golden (in look and taste) interior, I was very pleased with the home I'd found for my dwindling supplies.

Quinoa Banana Bread
adapted from Deborah Madison's Quinoa Muffin recipe

1 cup cooked or 1/2 cup raw quinoa
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup quinoa flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup butter, melted, or vegetable oil
3/4 cup yogurt or buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 ripe bananas, mashed

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Spray or oil one loaf pan.

If cooking quinoa, rinse it well, put it in a small saucepan with 1 cup of water, and bring to a boil.  Simmer, covered, until the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes, then drain.

Meanwhile, combine the flours, salt, soda and sugar in a mixing bowl (sift if you so desire).  Beat the egg with the oil, buttermilk and vanilla, and then mix in the mashed banana.  Stir the wet ingredients into the dry, add the quinoa, and mix with a spatula, scraping up from the bottom so that the flour is mixed in thoroughly.  Pour the batter into the loaf pan and bake until firm and light brown on top, 50-60 minutes.
Blog Widget by LinkWithin