Sunday, November 28, 2010


Sadly, I didn't make it back to the homeland this year for Thanksgiving.  

As alluring as the prospect of the holiday in California is, the airfares were verging on offensive this year, and between the travails of traveling at the same time as 100 million people and the fact that I'll be home in a few weeks for Christmas, Paul and I opted for a staycation this time around.

With all of the downtime the lack of travel afforded us, I had time to reflect, tritely enough, on those things in my life that I'm grateful for.  Tying for first place are my smart, hilarious and soulful boyfriend, my family who I like so much (love is a given with family, like is not always) that I miss them terribly when we're not together at the holidays, and my wonderful friends, a second family that more than fill in when the first one can't be around.

I'm also grateful for all of those cocktails in living rooms on Thanksgiving day, for the dinner at Five Points that we eventually made it to that night (especially that baked oyster appetizer), and for the apple pie that Paul brought home Wednesday evening so we could approximate leftover nibbling in the days after Thanksgiving.

I'm grateful that Paul and I get to throw a party for our nearest and dearest in a few months, that we get to go on a honeymoon to a faraway land together (any India travel suggestions by the way?) and that we get to come home afterwards to a comfortable home.

And I'm grateful for those of you who come here to listen to my ramblings, to exchange thoughts, to show me new ideas, new links, new concepts.  My life is so much richer for it.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Down in the Neighborhood

When I first moved to New York there was nothing I liked better than trying every new restaurant and bar that I could fit into my schedule.  But now that the "new" places feel less new to me (everything seems to recycle itself eventually) I'm becoming increasingly attached to places that I consider neighborhood spots, that one can become a regular at.

Paul and I have lived above Les Halles for years, and for us it is the ultimate neighborhood joint.  Cheap (sort of) and cheerful, I know the menu by heart and always order one of two things - moules mouclade (with fries, please) or merguez sausage.  And the desserts never disappoint.  For those nights when something more casual is in order, we can always count on the Roxy Diner across the street for a good grilled cheese.

But for the longest time I went without a regular spot near my office.  Perhaps because in past jobs I didn't go to lunch much, perhaps because office districts often have uninspiring dining options.  But now that I work in one of the most culinarily exciting spots in the city and my job performance is improved considerably when I know all of the gossip, which is most effectively gleaned over a good plate of food, I have no excuse not to find a place to make my own.

Novita, a mere three blocks up Park Avenue from my office, has become my home away from home during the lunch hour.

It is a perfect place to bring new acquaintances, as Italian food goes over well with most everyone, and can accommodate most every food idiosyncrasy that might present itself.  It is a perfect spot to gossip since it is quiet enough to hear and be heard, but lively enough that the table next to you can't eavesdrop too easily.  The crowd is decorous but not stuffy, and you do not get the feeling that the place was conceived of with expense accounts in mind.

The pasta is superb (as winter approaches I will be indulging in the fabulous lamb ragu more and more often), the fish is fresh and uncomplicated, and stalwarts like the veal milanese please even the fussiest of eaters.  But perhaps most refreshing of all, the portions are normal, not nouveau.  You order monkfish and you get hunks of fish, not medallions.  You order a pasta and it is a meal portion, not a pre-entree portion.  And I have never been presented with an up-selling waiter, encouraging me to order a multi-course lunch when all I want is a brief bite.  In fact, the same lovely, welcoming man waits on me each time I set foot in the place.  As it should be at your local.

And now that I've discovered that Mario Cuomo is a regular as well, I feel all the more smug having designated myself as one...

Thursday, November 18, 2010


I love giving gifts.  When I've hit on the perfect item for someone, I know it and I get joy from it.  I'm not someone who shops for Christmas all year long or anything, but I do put quite a bit of thought into each gift giving occasion and each gift recipient.

The first gift I remember getting for Paul was a rare-ish Tom Waits poster that I had noticed him admiring at Amoeba Records.  I picked it up for his birthday.  It was a tad more than I was used to spending on gifts at the time, but I've never seen someone appreciate a present more, and to this day it occupies a prominent spot on our living room wall, and I love it nearly as much as he does.

And last Christmas, I recalled that my dad was having a Richard Avedon moment, as he had visited the Avedon exhibit at SFMOMA not once but twice, so I chased all over town trying to grab the last copy of a gorgeous Avedon book, which brought me to a Barnes & Noble in Brooklyn in the end.  And he loved it, and I didn't mind the quest because he loved it.

Now I don't want to imply that I always hit it out of the park.  There have been some rather big misses along the way.  I once knit my sister a hat covered in silver paillettes for Christmas, which she found in my suitcase and mercilessly mocked, thinking it was mine.  And then there were the tiny metal bird feet that I thought were so fabulously gothic and got for everyone one Christmas, and no one got them at all.  I got a lot of, "oh, I think perhaps we're missing a piece?" type questions.

But it really is weddings that I think are the ultimate gift giving occasions.  Marriage is a fabulous thing, and the love of a couple is something that should be celebrated with a lovely gift that can be cherished for years.  I have a rather bad habit of eschewing the registry...I can't ever imagine that people really want the casserole dishes and bar ware, so I usually go off script, probably to slightly mixed results.

I've given everything from cases of wine from Sherry Lehman to cookbooks with cards listing my favorite recipes from each to cash, if that is the preferred option.  I often go to the wedding before purchasing the gift, as sometimes I get an idea of what to give from the speeches or party somehow.

But at the last wedding I attended I was stumped, absolutely stumped.  Which was odd, as the groom is quite a good friend of mine so I in theory should know what he likes.  But I had no idea what the two of them would like, you see.  So I did what any sensible girl does in a pinch...I called my mom.  And she, always a favor of practical, high quality gifts, steered me in the direction of a Japanese knife store in Berkeley.

This probably sounds like an odd idea, but I assure you, a really good knife is one of the more ultimate luxuries around, and in that respect a really good knife makes a wonderful gift.  So I went on the website of Hida Tool, and began to browse.  And browse.  It took me a good couple of days to make up my mind actually.  I was so baffled by all of the choices that I went purely by looks.  So I ordered a sashimi knife, a chef's knife and a small petty knife, all gorgeous.

So I placed my order, and they called me to confirm it and get my credit card information.  I found myself speaking with a man who sounded old and Japanese, and by the time I had gotten off the phone with him I had a much more appropriate set of knives than what I had chosen originally, and was spending less than I had planned.  He talked me out of the sashimi knife (do they make sushi he asked?  No.  Don't get the knife then) and suggested I upgrade the chef's knife to a model that he seemed nearly to revere.  Such service!  Doesn't happen much these days.

Shortly thereafter, I received two incredible knives in the mail, which I promptly wrapped up and dropped by the new couple's apartment.  I was happy that they would have a good home, but highly depressed that I wouldn't be able to enjoy them and their oh so sharp blades and polished wood handles. I simply must make a trip to see Mr. Hida when I'm home for Christmas.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Estate Jewels

I have to admit that there is a part of me that finds the whole engagement ring tradition ridiculous.  I imagine that it originated in days when marriageability was a woman's main asset, when some sort of commitment from her intended was necessary in order to maintain an aura of propriety, or to indicate his ability to support a family.  It is a tradition that doesn't reflect the times in which we live now.

But that said, once engaged I was powerless against the societal pressure to have a ring, and I was nearly as powerless against the promise of beautiful jewelry adorning my hand.  Thankfully, Paul has excellent taste, so that promise was indeed fulfilled.

He found a ring that looks like no other engagement ring I've ever seen, that doesn't blatantly advertise its carats and price, but that I find to be endlessly elegant and beautiful and creative.  I'm sure that at some point I'll stop gazing gratuitously at the diamonds and emeralds that now grace my ring finger, but that point hasn't yet arrived, and probably won't for quite some time.

My only request was that I didn't want a ring that looked like everyone else's, that looked as though it had come straight off of 47th Street in the diamond district.  So he headed downtown instead.  Way downtown, to an estate jeweler on the lower east side called Doyle & Doyle, officially my new favorite browsing spot.

If the term "estate jeweler" conjures up visions of a fusty, uptight operation, I assure you that is not the case here.  The employees are all pretty young things working alongside a hipster sound track in a bright, open space.  The girls are utterly sweet...there were many oohs and aahs over my new engagement when I brought the ring in to be sized...and totally knowledgeable and professional.

The range of price points is wide, and perhaps best of all, the prices are posted next to the jewels on display, so you know right away whether a piece is worth your time to admire or whether it is too far out of reach to be pondered.  I love this attempt to take the intimidation factor out of fine jewelry shopping.

And as the pieces are almost all antique, you won't find yourself bumping into someone with your ring, necklace or bracelet, a tough feat in a town with such champion shoppers as New York has!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

All the Different Weddings

Since the day that Paul proposed I've been thrilled to marry him, but I have to admit we've been slow to plan the actual wedding.  When I tell people that the big day is in April, the question to follow is always, where are you doing it?  How's the planning going?  And when I tell them that I'm still in the "research" phase (but I have my invitations and flowers nailed down!) there's always a brief look of horror that crosses their faces.  I personally don't see a problem with planning what is essentially a small series of parties five months in advance rather than twelve months in advance, but this is New York after all.  People here like to do things to the extreme.

So, in addition to my exhaustive research on restaurants and party spaces (which I really am doing, I promise) I have also, in a nod to the wedding gods and over involved acquaintances, entered the vortex of wedding blogs.

For those uninitiated, these blogs feature "real weddings" from around the country, with a few DIY tips and the like thrown in for good measure.  While reading such postings I alternate between a feeling of total alienation (I struggle to identify with the couples who pose running through fields of wildflowers towards their masses of matching bridesmaids) and total intimidation.

I mean, how could my wedding ever be as fun as this one,

where a hilarious friend officiated and Brazilian dancers were only one of many bits of entertainment?

And how could my food ever be as good as at this one,

where nearly whole animals were roasted in a gorgeous outdoor scene?

And how could my venue ever be as spectacular as this one,

where the bride and groom celebrated with their nearest and dearest in a picturesque town in France?

They're all so...ugh...perfect.

All I can say is thank goodness for East Side Bride.  When I came across this site I breathed a huge sigh of relief.  Today she's talking about man tea parties (apparently they involve scruffy guys from Brooklyn and tinned sardines), the other day she was convincing a panicked bride to be that planning a wedding in two months was no big deal (I know, right?!), and a while back she was advocating for tie dyed wedding dresses.  But only if your husband to be will think you hot in it.  I love her irreverence, her non-conformist tendencies, the lack of professional wedding photography on her website.  After I'm done panicking at the sight of all the new incredible "real life weddings" each day, her site provides me solace and sanity.  Thank you kind East Side Bride lady.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

British Preserves

I have a particular weakness for british cookbooks.  I like that the food is just that little bit different, requiring slightly exotic items like golden syrup to make slightly exotic things like sticky toffee pudding, I love that the quantities are quoted in weight rather than measure (with a digital scale on hand I cannot tell you how much easier this is than all of those measuring cups) and who can resist the descriptions of vibrant markets in London or charming countryside establishments that invariably make their way into the text accompanying the recipes.

I have long avowed my love for Nigel Slater, Nigella Lawson, and the River Cafe ladies, but my deepest British crush at the moment is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, thanks to his incredible beet chocolate brownie recipe in River Cottage Everyday.  So when The River Cottage Preserves Handbook, named after Hugh F-W's homestead, was recommended to me, I nigh ran to the library to pick it up.

Now I will tell you that my mother has a major complaint about the various River Cottage handbooks...their format is perfectly suited to a handbook, but ill suited to a cookbook...and as a result she has practically boycotted them.  She does have a point.  The volumes are quite small and the binding does not allow them to fall open, and remain open, on your favorite (or any) recipe.  But this is a flaw that can be overcome with a can of coconut milk (in my case) lain across the binding to hold it open.

Once this solution was employed, I was free to enjoy the recipes.  And boy did I.

pickled spiced pears

Oftentimes when I peruse preserves books at anytime other than high fruit season I find myself depressed.  But this book has got more gorgeous recipes for the cool months than it does for the warm...pear chutneys, apple curd, dried fig mostarda...River Cottage has made cool and dreary fabulous (although I suppose that given the book's English provenance this could be called making a virtue out of necessity).  How cute are my pickled pears?  So delicious.  Tangy and sweet, I am determined to bring them home for Christmas to be eaten alongside roasted meats.  I can't wait to give the mulled pear recipe a try next.

I always love the hot peppers from the folks at Oak Grove Plantation at the Greenmarket, but this is the first year I've really had anything to do with them.

chile pepper jam and apple lemon curd

This chile pepper jam is absolutely to die for.  It tastes like an haute version of that sweet chile sauce that you sometimes find in Chinese restaurants, and would be fantastic on a turkey sandwich the day after one of the upcoming holidays.  And the apple lemon curd alongside it?  I've been spreading it on toast for breakfast nearly everyday since I made it.  Tart and just sweet enough and rich and luxuriant, I have, embarrassingly enough, resorted on occasion to a spoon in the jar while standing in front of the refrigerator.  

This is one of those rare books that continues to intrigue long after I've made the first few recipes...I've got visions of pumpkins and quince and beets and onions and plums in my cupboard in the form of compote and relish and chutney and cordial and marmalade, courtesy of the brilliance of the River Cottage.
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