To read AND eat it!

Let me start by saying I never thought I would be ‘old-fashioned’ at such a young age.  I read the newspaper, if only on Sundays.  No, I mean the actual, printed newspaper.  I love it.  I devour it.  My favorite Sunday mornings involve spreading out the entire paper, and reading every section.  (Ok, sometimes, I skip the Sports Section!)  I hope they never stop ‘printing’ a paper.  It’s ironic, I know, that I profess my love for the printed word document on my BLOG.  Well, the New York Times isn’t yet accepting my work so I will work with what I have.

The opinions that caught my eye and held my interest were addressing an articlef rom the week before.  Verlyn Klinkenborg the lost art of reading aloud the written word.  I must confess this is exactly what I have been trying to stress to my students.  We read through recipes in every class that tell us how we will make each recipe come to life.  The angst of my students, the complaints and discomfort they express are generally met with my firm stance that the reading must be accomplished in order to move forward.

In a world of IPODs, Kindles, books on tape and (yes, I’m sorry, I must) the internet when do any of us in the course of our day read ANYTHING out loud?  If  our children aren’t given the opportunity to hear words read aloud, it makes it difficult to believe they may be able to read them aloud on their own.  In the age of all things electronic, and technology that moves faster each time we blink, this is one tradition that can be preserved with a little extra time and effort.

Think about this the next time you cook- don’t be afraid to read your recipe aloud if only to your Kitchen Aid mixer or your preheating oven.  Listen to the words, the language and let the rhythm carry over into the rhythm of your work.  Take it from me, I grew up with a mother who still reads to me.  It’s not merely the text, the language or subject, but the sound of her voice that I will carry with me no matter where I travel, what I read or how much I cook.  It all starts with words.

Give me some herbs!

I get jealous of outdoor space.  City living is great on so many levels- you are guaranteed to find some place open to eat at virtually any hour of the day or night, there is undoubtedly always something going on, and a number of products are sold right on the street- you don’t even need to venture into a store and pretend to like sales people in order to make purchases.  City living makes life quick, efficient and convenient to those of us who live our lives with our coffee in one hand, phone in the other and constantly operating in ‘fast forward,’ except maybe when it comes to one of those moments in life where you want to spend some time outdoors without leaving the comfort of your own home.  This makes city living slightly inconvenient if you don’t have the bankroll and property portfolio of say, Donald Trump.

I wanted to defy my lack of outdoor space, experiment a little, and most importantly, prove that I can grow something besides debt.  I started an herb garden, and it happened one day when I was clearly not thinking straight.  A while back, we had a basil plant, but it met an untimely demise when I knocked it over one morning in a rush of, ‘I-needed-to-get-out-of-this-house-and-on-a-train-five-minutes-ago.’  My significant other has taken to calling me a murder, declaring that we can never have pets or children until I can learn to take care of the plants.  (Yes, he is a little dramatic.) 

I bought simple all-in-one kits at Home Depot one day for Basil, Parsley and Cilantro.  I followed directions, I planted seeds, and I am proud to say I definitely see growth taking place.  Now comes the tough part: maintenance.  Never my strong point this idea of maintenance, mostly because it does not bode well with my short attention span but I thought I am making the effort.  A girl can dream, right?

Basil in the front, Cilantro and Parsley behind

Basil in the front, Cilantro and Parsley behind

My guys look pretty good, right?  I’m starting to get concerned about parsley, so I harvested some and we’ll see how that goes.  Cilantro was the first to sprout, and by far, the fastest to grow.  Parsley was like a child- one day it looked all short and awkward and the next day it was full grown.  Basil is always the difficult one, but sprouted after a while and those leaves are getting pretty big.  I must say after the seeds started to grow I got a little cocky and decided that I would work with my class to plant basil that they could take home.  This is my little guy, what do you think?  Pretty cute, right?

The youngest always screams for attention!

The youngest always screams for attention!

I am lucky enough to have some great light in my apartment, with an entire wall facing west.  We are not near any tall buildings so we are guaranteed direct sunlight for a good portion of the day.  Other than place them on a windowsill, I have merely watered them every other day.  (I stick the tip of my finger in the dirt, if it seems dry, I water.)   It’s been hot the past few days so I have been watering everyday. 

It’s been fairly low-maintenance thus far, so I am a little anxious about moving into the next stage with my herbs.  We are taking it one day at a time.  I notice they tend to move towards the sun so I turn them when they start leaning too much to one side.  I’d like to contain them by leaving them in their present pots, but I don’t want them to die.  (we have the room to grow bigger, I just prefer not to.)  Let me know your take on growing herbs indoors- tips, comments or even your own experiences are welcome.  I think I have an inkling of what new parents must feel like…happy eating!

Don’t be afraid…go meatless!

It was dinner time, and we had both just gotten off work.  We began to wander in search of something that we wanted to eat.  We are on a health kick these days, and trying to make smart choices when it comes to what we put in our bodies.  I have read so much about the mistreatment of animals that we raise in this country for food that the idea of meat has become so absolutely unappealing to me…more on that later.  Actually, my boy has been very supportive and has been happy to eat meatless meals with me.  Sweetheart, he is.

In Manhattan, you could walk for hours and not find something that appeals to you.  This is not helpful to one who is tired and hungry.  The food thing sort of has to happen IMMEDIATELY.  So he said, ‘I know this place- I have seen this and really wanted to eat here!’  Hmmm…really?  I like hummus, but it’s not on the list of things I am insanely happy about eating.  Ok, and I was a little hungover and tired and hungry…a nice bowl of mac and cheese would have made me smile.  Right- back to that whole idea of thinking about what I put into my body.

HummusPlaceHere’s a shot of the interior of Hummus Place located at 71 7th Avenue S. (at Bleecker).  I can’t remember the last place I went to that had such a friendly, yet not overbearing, wait staff.  They are genuinely nice in this place.  They will ask you your interests, make suggestions, even tell you where to buy the products if you are interested in making similiar dishes at home. 

We shared a choice of three appetizers for $8.95- falafel, roasted eggplant with tahini and quinoa salad with fresh tomato, parsley, and mint.  This was enough for two to share, and with that price it didn’t hurt the wallet either.  The whole wheat pita that they serve with the hummus is unlike anything that you could purchase at your local grocery store.   I had a bowl of butternut squash soup which was rich, creamy and satisfying.  We even went for dessert- a trio of baklava and malabi.  Malabi is an Israeli dish- it was flan with vanilla and rosewater served with toasted almonds, coconut and cherry sauce. 

I enjoyed it so much, we went back the next night for dinner, too.  I had the Shakshuka- a dish with garlicky tomato sauce with two over-easy eggs on top.  Wow-it was worth thinking about all day.  The pitas tasted even better covered in tomato sauce and egg.  The dessert the second time we went was to-die-for.  It is called kadaif.  It is crispy noodles (very thin) topped with vanilla ricotta cheese, halva and silan.  For those of you not familiar with halva it is a confection made from semolina flour and has a somewhat airy, chewy texture.  It differs slightly depending what part of the Middle East you are in, but always has a light sweetness to it’s base.  Silan is a natural date syrup.  This dessert tastes like heaven- seriously, crunchy noodles with the creamy, lightly sweetened ricotta, topped with the airy-ness of the halva and the sweet, sticky date sauce makes you want to lick the plate.  Beware if you are planning to share this dessert, fights may ensue.

This place will get you in and out quickly if that’s what you want or you can linger over several courses.  The decor is minimal, but fresh and the large windows make it a perfect place to watch all of New York watch by.  The large mirrors make it easy to watch regardless of which side of the table you sit on.  I can’t wait to make it back here to try some wines or freshly made beverages. 

Bring a group or go it alone.  For you carnivores out there, this place is hearty- you would be surprised how full you feel when it is all finished.  Be nice to your body today- try Hummus Place!

Just a little bit of Spring

This crazy, rainy weather has had me all messed up.  It’s cold, it’s rainy, and then in an hour it is warm and cloudy.  You gotta love springtime in New York.  It leaves you feeling like you don’t know how to dress yourself.  Do I bring the umbrella or not?  It’s sunny for one minute, and you buy up all the fresh veggies in sight and promptly leave them to rot in your refrigerator because the cold weather leaves you grabbing for some pasta!

I completely forgot there was asparagus sitting in my fridge from the weekend so I tried to recreate something that I had at a restaurant recently.  Of course, with a little twist.  Asparagus soup, friends.  Isn’t it gorgeous?

Asparagus Soup with Lobster Ravioli

Asparagus Soup with Lobster Ravioli

This was fairly easy, especially considering as I am steaming asparagus, I discover that I don’t have any kind of stock lying around or any way to make any.  (I am a total mad scientist-  I do not cook during normal business hours.)  I made do with what I could, but I do believe next time I would like some vegetable stock or chicken stock.

I started by steaming the asparagus, but ended up boiling them.  I wanted them super soft to puree.  Asparagus can be very woody, and some find the skin so unpleasant that they actually peel it.  I think all that is a little silly, and really- isn’t the skin that healthiest part of the vegetable for you? 

Upon boiling, I turned them into my food processor.  I know not why I own this aparatus.  I so seldom use it.  It is the Cuisinart 11-cup version, purchased less than a year ago.  If someone wanted to give me $100 for it, you would own a virtually new unit.  It’s just too big, and never seems to puree as fine and smooth as I would like.  Anyway, I was making do…I pureed until smooth, adding a little of the cooking liquid, and then turned it back into the sauce pan.  I then whisked in about 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese and added about 1/2 cup of milk to give it some body.  I plopped in a pesto cube from my freezer and just let it melt.  Added healthy amounts of salt and pepper and Voila!

Then I started looking at it, and I was bored.  This would not happen if it were not the main course of my dinner, but alas, it was.   So, I started digging in my fridge, and found fresh pasta!  Not just any fresh pasta, upon my morning walk on Tuesday, we stumbled upon a lovely pasta-making place in Morris Park.  (It’s uptown, baby, in the Bronx.)  I was so excited- are you kidding me- fresh pasta? 

It turns out Riviera Ravioli & Pasta Company makes two fresh pastas per day.  Just give them a call in the morning (718.823.0260) and they will let you know what they are making for the day, and even set your order aside for you.  They sell both Wholesale and Retail, so get a little or get a lot.  We ended up with a couple dozen LOBSTER ravioli.  That’s right kids, after stumbling upon ‘fresh pasta’ in the Bronx we actually walked away with a couple of dozen extra large LOBSTER ravioli.  We had to try a few as soon as we got home on Tuesday because we just couldn’t wait for dinner or lunch for that matter. 

I knew after inspecting my soup for a second- what would be better than a giant lobster ravioli floating in the center?  Tops with some seeded and chopped tomato.  Nice.  The weather may be unpredictable, but the climate in my kitchen is always perfect.

If you are need of some fresh pasta, get yourself to Riviera, 641 Morris Park Avenue (near White Plains Road).  Call ahead for the best deals so you can show up prepared (718.823.0260).  They were such sweet, helpful and knowledgeable pasta-makers.  Happy cooking, eating and writing and exploring!

If you haven’t been cookin’ in Brooklyn…

I regularly read the Tasting Table, and one of it’s recent new partner organizations is the Brooklyn Kitchen.  After doing some research on the web,  I decided to take a little field trip today.  It was the first nice day in a while here in NYC metro area so my lack of internal compass didn’t concern me at all- getting lost on a beautiful day=completely fine, getting lost on a crappy day=completely not fine.  (My lack of internal compass gets me lost no matter where I go.  I do not know how I manage to travel anywhere.)

The Brooklyn Kitchen is located just a short block and a half from the Lorimer stop on the L train, just under 10 minutes from Manhattan.  It is definitely worth the trip.  They have a healthy stock popular, quality brands like All Clad, Le Creuset, Shun, Cuisinart, Kitchen Aid, Rosle as well as others.  The unique part of this store is they provide provocative, unique cooking classes. 

Their collection of vintage pieces also gives the store space depth and history not felt in most cooking supply stores in the city.  On the counter next to the register sits a box full of recipes of days gone by, scribbled onto note cards now yellowed with age.  When  I asked the clerk where the recipes had come from, she said they had been in some old recipe boxes which had taken on new purposes in life, but they didn’t want to just toss the recipes out.  I like a store with a conscience. 

Sort of like the CSA posters around-the store is a distribution site on Wednesday evenings.  Increasing the availability of locally grown produce is not a cause taken up by any cookware producers or purveyors in national or multi-national chains.  Not only do they sell you the pan to cook it, but they will show you how to buy the best ingredients to go in the pan, and through a variety of classes, show you a myriad of ways to cook the that you bought to eat after cooking in the pan that you bought to cook it in.  Do you feel me?

If you are in the mood for a day-brightening, time-traveling, cooking wonder show, visit the Brooklyn Kitchen at 616 Lorimer Street, between Conselyea Street and Skillman Avenue.  Maybe they can sell you a pot or a pan or whatever you need to conquer your culinary endeavors.

Randomness…complete randomness

I saw the most random of randomness while writing yesterday.  I just had to share.  I don’t drink gallon-size cups of coffee.  (Ok, slightly overstating here, but when your coffee cup is larger than your head, you should think of down-sizing.)  Here was a gentleman, in his mid-fifties is my guess, with a young man, probably early twenties (looked like his son).  The gentlemen had one of those huge coffees…with a cover…and a straw in it.  I never put a straw in my coffee, but I don’t wear lipstick.  I thought that was what straws were for…

This man, he wasn’t wearing lipstick.  He was wearing a suit.  He removed his jacket when his gallon-sized coffee arrived.  With it’s straw.  Then he proceeded to wrap a napkin around the coffee.  (It’s hot, it has a LID.  Not sure why he needed a straw AND a napkin.)  He then proceeded to tuck a napkin into the collar of his shirt, and another into the top of his pants…WHAT??!?!?!

So, let’s recap: semi-normal looking man in his mid-fifties.  He is dressed in a suit and with a twenty-something, who appears to be his son.  He gets gallon-sized coffee (probably a medium or whatever they call it) with a cover and a straw.  He proceeds to wrap a napkin around said coffee, then napkin number two is tucked into the collar of his shirt, and napkin number three is tucked into the top of his pants.

How many napkins does one really need to DRINK COFFEE?  Talk amongst yourselves….

Books, Memories and Food

I wanted to expand a little on my previous post in regards to our food beliefs and rituals and how they develop. I’m sure each reader can imagine a time, place or a distinct smell that conjures up a specific food memory. The smell of fresh cookies or the feeling of a holiday dinner for some, others respond to the smell of food on the grill or the taste of the first ice cream cone of the summer, but whatever it is, it came from somewhere. Do you know where? Do you ever stop to think about it?
I have been thinking about it a lot lately, obviously. I found myself at the library today perusing the cooking section. (Yes, I said the library. Yes, people still go there. In these wayward economic times, we should all find ourselves spending more time at the local- read free- public library!) I have a habit of looking up books, not writing down the exact call number and wandering an entire section for hours. I did this today, much to the chagrin of a young man trying desperately to reshelf books. I really mean drift, and I’m sure to anyone trying to navigate around me that it is super-annoying. I do it anyway.
What amuses me during my wandering is what books catch my eye, and I generally lose complete track of what I was looking for in the first place. I admit it- I am a mess. The first books I pick up are one about living and eating in Tuscany, one about church suppers, and one about a New York tea shop. Each included recipes and rhetoric, which by the way, are my favorite to read. I love stories about recipes, families who cook, travel involving food, and just food in general. I enjoy when someone’s prose can expertly describe a roast to the point my mouth is watering, and then follow with the recipe so that I can try it out myself. How great is that?
Each of the books I picked out did exactly this, and they are a tribute to food memories of my past. My Nana used to take me to church suppers in New Hampshire and across southern Maine. I heart brown bread made in New England, and pretty much anything created by the Church Social Club. Church suppers remind me of my Nana, who I miss dearly. Tuscany is- an undeniably beautiful landscape, friendly people, great wine, and food that is to-die-for. I spent a brief period of time there shortly after college and am drawn to anything mentioning the region, as if it is time-stamped on my soul. The teashop happens to be a favorite spot in Manhattan. Before I lived here, each time I visited I requested that my friend take me there. When I first moved to NYC, I used to get lost trying to find it, and haven’t been in quite some time. Immediately upon seeing the book, I can taste the tea and scones with clotted cream.
I am drawn to stories- food with history, recipes that carry their past with them, and rituals handed down through generations. My favorite birthday gift was given to me by my mother last year. She poured over recipes and books to make a culmination in the form of a recipe book of handwritten recipe cards from a number of recipes she wanted me to have. Some old, some she’s made for me a thousand times, and some she just thought I would like. It was so endearing- I am a total sucker for a recipe handwritten on a 4×6 or 3×5 recipe card. She gave me a whole book of them. My hope is that this little book lives on long after the two of us, and gives someone something to talk about decades from now. Who can tell, perhaps someone will find it when wandering the cooking section at their local public library…