Monday, December 21, 2009

The time.

Wildspitz grilled cheese
For a little while, I thought could slip back in here without mentioning that elephant in the corner. Despite my swelling schedule (due mainly to holiday commitments, the odd extra shift at work and a long list of friends passing through town, which happily resulted in many delicious coffees and lunches out and about), I doodled countless lists of ideas, recipes, thoughts on seasonal entertaining and general to-dos. I wanted to share them, but I felt stunted by limited amounts of time in the kitchen. I found myself forced to keep things simple. Instead of indulgent mornings spent cooking and reading, I turned oddly agrarian. I topped quick pots of oats with toasted pumpkin seeds and maple syrup. I wrestled with cravings for flapjacks and fried eggs. Cooking variations of beans and rice and braised greens seemed decadent. One night out, I ordered (and devoured) a bowl of oxtail chili. Chili!

Then a few weeks ago, on the first full day I've spent home in what felt like ages, I treated myself to something special. I walked down the block to my local wine shop, where I selected a 1998 Rhone Syrah -- a bit lean, but full of leather, spice and tannins -- then I marched into Bedford Cheese Shop and said to the guy, "I wanna make the best grilled cheese ever." He offered up little slivers of several types of cheese before I settled on Beeler Wildspitz Bio, an organic raw cow's milk cheese with a gulp of goat's milk. The flavor is intense, not unlike traditional Swiss cheeses but way funkier. I thought it would be perfect sliced onto Amy's seeded wheat bread, generously spread with the butter. With some collard greens and jazz, the night was a success.

But it was more that that, too. That night affirmed not just my joy of cooking, it reminded me of all the other magic: the actual meal itself, the people and places that help create it. I love chatting with the guy at the cheese shop, the girl at the market, or any number of my friends about what they're dreaming up in the kitchen. I seemed to have lost that in the daily hustle and bustle, and I'm sorry. To the friends who weren't afraid of the elephant, thank you.

Monday, November 30, 2009


Delicata squash w/ apples, lemons
The other night, as I licked the last of my applesauce from my plate and contemplated the sauces of my future, my friend Tracy appeared, all smiles and a spunky new hat. Immediately, I felt guilty for not having saved her a bite, because this stuff tasted like a holiday party not to be missed. I confessed to feeling a bit piggish and promised to make more soon, before giving her a quick run down of my day in the kitchen. That's when she caught me off-guard with four little words: Do you ever miss. "That's funny," I laughed aloud. Do I ever miss?

I wish I could've answered her with an assured "no," but in truth, I'm forced to improvise often -- from lack of planning, lack of proper ingredients (file under lack of planning), biting off more than I can chew, distraction. I thought of a salad I made recently for the opening of a friend's gallery: crispy delicata squash and shaved apple salad. If it sounds good it's because it was, but it was not what I intended. I planned a roasted delicata squash and shaved apple salad, buttery soft bits of squash that would melt in mouths of art lovers, tart bursts of apple. Then I burned the squash, prompting an internal debate over whether -- when entertaining -- it's better to have a table heaped with snacks (some nearly blackened) or a less-bountiful spread that's a sure thing. To my surprise, I chose the former, arguing that despite the crispy edges of the squash pieces, the salad was very good. So good, in fact, several guests asked for the recipe.

Of course, I would not have served it if I thought it was inedible, so it wasn't quite a miss. But it was close.

Crispy delicata squash and shaved apple salad


Three medium delicata squash, halved, seeded, cut into 1/4" pieces (skins on)
Two medium red-skinned apples
1/3 cup parsley, chopped
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper, to taste

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

In large mixing bowl, toss squash segments in 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, taking care that each piece is lightly coated. If needed, do this step in batches.

Place segments in a single layer on two baking sheets. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast until underside of squash blisters and can be pierced easily with a fork (20-25 minutes). Allow to cool slightly (20 minutes).

Meanwhile, core and thinly slice apples. In a large mixing bowl, toss apples with lemon juice and parsley. Add cool squash, remaining olive oil and vinegar.

Season to taste.

Serves 10-12.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

When life gives you apples.

Some times, it's as if the stars have aligned for my taste buds, and today was one of those days. I awoke this morning with a serious hunger, the kind that inevitably follows an indulgent dinner the night before. In my case, it was an impromptu feast at Sfoglia, where I once worked for several years, first as head bartender, later as general manager. Sfoglia specializes in rustic Italian food, the kind -- they say -- you'd have at grandma's house. With no offense to any of my grandparents, Sunday dinner never once consisted of arctic char crostini with pickled shallot, or a Caesar-style salad of young arugula, shaved fennel and julienned watermelon radish. Nor did any one in my family make perfectly fluffy sweet potato gnocchi and toss them with braised oxtail, apples and leeks. And for that matter, while we did enjoy the occasional pork chop, never once was it smeared -- as it was last night -- with a spoonful of gorgonzola and a heap of bright green and gorgeous celery mostarda, a perfect marriage of tang, salt and sweet. Thank god, they sold out of the bread pudding before it came time for dessert. I'm not even going to start with the bread.

Apple sauce w/ cinnamon, red wine

Let's just say you go there. And the next morning, as you contemplate the contents of your fridge and weigh them against your previous night's meal, consider those two apples on the top shelf, the bruised and mushy ones you meant to throw away last week. Pull 'em out, because you're going to eat them, but first you're going to turn them into a quick and delicious apple sauce. With wine. This recipe takes less than 25 minutes, plenty of time to brew a pot of coffee, boil an egg, toast a few slices of bread and gather some reading materials. Relish the goodness of this meal: rustic -- like Sfoglia -- in a different vain.

Call your grandmother.

Applesauce with cinnamon and red wine


2 medium red-skinned apples, cored and quartered*
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 pinch salt

Heat olive oil in a medium-sized sauce pan over medium heat.

Add apples. Cook, stirring every few minutes, until apples start to break down (5 minutes).

Add wine.
Cover and continue to cook until apples soften completely (10-15 minutes).

When done, apples will mash easily with a fork.

Stir in cinnamon.

Serves 2 if you're feeling generous.

* Note: I suppose you could peel the apples, but it's more work, and it is breakfast, and the skins help maintain a rustic charm.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thursday morning No. 9.

Caramelized onion cereal and table
A few days ago while waiting for my flight home from my other home in Portland, Ore., I bought a few novels at Powell's Books. Powell's is a Portland mainstay, a great "City of Books" within a slightly larger world of artists, baristas, beer lovers, bicycle commuters, chefs, dee-jays, fashion designers, foodies, musicians, outdoorsmen and women, strippers, revolutionaries and wine makers (to name a few). Growing up in the Portland-area, I used to relish my trips to Powell's, and when I was old enough to drive and later lived downtown, I'd go there several times a week -- to read, to see what other people were reading, to stockpile books for winter. At the airport location, I was drawn to a section devoted to literature of the Pacific Northwest. Sherman Alexie, David James Duncan, Stepahnie Kallos's Broken For You, which I devoured in a long day and night years ago. I picked up A Country Called Home by Kim Barnes and Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson (I passed, reluctantly, on Hard Rain Falling by Don Carpenter). I've wanted to read Robinson since she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2005, and I thought her first novel was a proper start. Barnes I knew nothing about, but the cover description of a pair of young lovers heading west in search of a simple life tugged at something in me good. So it was A Country Called Home that I reached for as my plane lifted east, and I didn't set it down until it was finished.

The novel is set in rural Idaho and is largely about relationships -- mostly familial, some platonic, a few romantic -- and I found them engaging. But it's the landscape that really drew me in. The vast potential of the land, and the meals that it inspired: coffee brewed over campfires, foraged berries and bitter greens, newly-caught fish gutted and roasted alongside rivers, tasting of earth and muck and salt. There were less-rustic meals, too: simple omelettes, steaming bowls of oatmeal, roast chickens and pies. In one chapter, a character inventories the various gravies cooked for him over the course of his childhood: "Redeye gravy stained with ham drippings and spiced with coffee grounds. White gravy thick with flour; brown gravy made rich with Floral Bouquet. Bacon gravy, sausage gravy, turkey gravy -- any bone would do, any carcass stripped, simmered, the broth set to cool, the fat rising and skimmed." Never have I craved biscuits so badly. The mention of fried apples made me weak in the knees.

It was no surprise, then, that I woke this morning craving something hearty, a camping meal. I thought again of fried apples and a bowl of farina, before remembering something better. I've been saving this recipe for curried oats with caramelized onions, waiting for the right day, the perfect mood, enough time. Caramelizing onions takes a good deal of it (mine took more than an hour), so I made a large pot of coffee to keep me company. And while I watched the segments turn from white to golden to brown then black, I reflected on my recent trip to Oregon, artisan coffee, the smell of wet leaves after a good rain, leisurely drives out to Dundee, toast. I was so entranced by memories and onions, I nearly forgot the accompanying grains. Instead of oats, I opted for farina, which I spiced with cinnamon, coriander, cumin and turmeric. A little salt. Then, at last, a heaping spoonful of caramelized onions. Crunchy and sweet, they bound to the farina for perfect savory bites. It was a special meal, and it left me warm, happy, thankful.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Welcome to The Stock Agency.

We're happy you're here.

Tonight we are celebrating years of dreaming and months of hard work. I designed this menu with Tamara -- a vegetarian -- in mind. Some of our best times have taken place around a table, breaking bread, trading stories.

All food is local (most is organic) unless otherwise noted:

Spiced olives, Grand Central Bakery baguette.

Roasted hazelnuts.

Rainbow carrots, sea salt.

Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog

Hummus, cracked pepper crackers.

Roasted beets, thyme, olive oil, sea salt.

Crispy delicata squash and shaved apple salad.

Sautéed shitake mushrooms, elephant garlic, parsley.

Autumnal sangria -- apples, brandy, pears.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Thursday morning No 8.

Travel lunch
Last night and this morning bled into one, the result of my tendency to over commit and plan with a little too much ambition. After getting off work around 1 a.m., I ducked into my favorite watering hole for a little company and a shot of whiskey. I was glad to find both while I rode out the night; about a month ago I booked a 7:30 a.m. flight to Portland, Ore., on a whim, and rather than go home last night for a few hours of sleep, I opted to dance with the dark (and save myself 50 bucks in cab fare). Around 2 a.m., I boarded a Manhattan-bound F train, eventually landing at Penn Station for the first train to Newark International Airport at 4:15. By the time I settled in at my gate, I was exhausted, famished and beyond thankful for the meal I packed for my journey.

Just thinking about airport food makes me grumpy, but that's not the only reason I travel with a sack lunch. Yes, I like to know where my food comes from, and yes, I like to eat as many fresh and unprocessed foods as possible. But I also prefer to eat on my own terms -- and often -- and I've found both difficult and expensive when traveling. On a recent trip home from Southern California, after downing the bag full of snacks I'd packed before take-off, I was forced, upon arriving in Dallas for my layover, to eat at Chili's. And it was awful. Shuffling unsatisfying bites of iceberg lettuce, mealy tomatoes and pre-packaged shredded cheddar cheese between my plate and mouth with a plastic fork, I vowed next time -- and forever after -- I would pack enough for several meals. The food I packed for today easily stretched into three.

Discussing food for travel last week with a chef friend, she mentioned that she likes to use pre-packaged cartons of arugula to pack her travel meals; I love and recommend this tip. I don't often buy packaged greens, but many come in bio-degradable containers, which make them perfect for care-free travel (no need to worry about finding a recycling bin, or getting your favorite piece of Tupperware home). To build my lunch, I removed half the arugula from my container to make room for other food stuffs. I then added one cup of raw almonds, one cup of oil-cured olives, a few ounces of fresh goat cheese, some prosciutto and a whole lemon. It was like a bento -- a super-sized bento -- but still… Because I did not dress the greens, the arugula stayed crisp and delicious. I ate some wrapped in a slice of prosciutto with a dollop of chevre and a few olives. Later, I bought a bagel and made a sandwich. Along with a cup of Earl Grey tea, I was just as happy as I would've been at home. I admit I would've preferred flatware, but a plastic knife is surprisingly effective against a whole lemon. I cut the tip off mine, then pierced the flesh with my fork to release a little juice for my greens. When I was done, I used a little more lemon juice to clean my hands before attacking a bar of chocolate I brought along. Nibbling on a few squares, I found myself thinking ahead to next week and my trip home. What could I add to spice things up? What would you pack?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Looking forward.

Birthday Manhattan
Despite purchasing a new MacBook, I have been largely offline the past few days; instead I've been celebrating Halloween, some birthdays and the visit of a good friend. I haven't cooked a lick, which makes me sad, and I'm going out of town tomorrow, so that won't be changing. But I have had many meals out lately, some at my favorite haunts. They were meals that inspired new ideas and triggered unexpected memories. As I look ahead to the remaining fall and the arrival of winter, I hope to continue celebrating some of my favorite things (epicurean, and otherwise):

Bike rides
The Brooklyn Academy of Music
Dinner parties
The Paris Theater
Pasta fagioli
The Russian and Turkish Baths
Sweet and sour (onions, raddichio, soup, etc.)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thursday morning No. 7.

Simple breakfast
Some days -- if I'm still -- I can feel the Internet getting the best of me. I once mistook it for the World, but now I know it's really the Internet. We hang out here an awful lot, and -- seeing that it's limitless and all -- it can feel pretty daunting. I don't know how to walk away, nor do I really want to; so much of my life is connected to this thing I only sort of understand (I have good people who explain the complicated parts to me). I rely on it for so much, and I am thankful for the family and friends it keeps close despite distance. I am thankful for the new ideas and people it introduces to me. I am beyond thankful for the opportunities it provides, the infinite possibilities of my own life, re-imagined through its cyber lens.

I received a text message the other day from a friend that reminded me to "smile eat walk love." Then: "there's nothing more than that." So simple, and so true. Sometimes we need to go the simple route, like I did this morning. A full French press and my new coffee set, two slices of perfect sourdough toast, generous pats of butter and my aunt's triple berry jam. WNYC. And because few meals feel complete without a little company, my old friend the World Wide Web.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Anything pasta, even with eggplant.

Fusilli with eggplant, rapini
Around this time of year a few years back, I remember thinking that if I never saw another summer squash, I'd be fine. I'd had my fill, so to speak, and frankly, I was running out of ideas on ways to use the abundant vegetable. This year, I feel the same way about eggplant. Don't get me wrong, I love both. But how much of either can a person eat? A fairly creative person, no less.

Last week, faced with more eggplant from my CSA share, I attempted a pasta dish similar to one typically served in early summer, at the beginning of eggplant season. Spaghetti di melanzane, or spaghetti in eggplant, is a delicious, light and simple pasta perfect for warm weather. At Sfoglia, where I once worked, they top theirs with ricotta salata, and it adds a nice tang to an otherwise earthy dish. I didn't have any ricotta salata, and I was out of spaghetti. But I did have some hearty whole wheat fusilli, and I thought it would hold a chunky expression of this dish nicely.

I started by roasting several eggplants -- thinly sliced, skins and all -- in extra-virgin olive oil with a few whole cloves of garlic. After 35 to 40 minutes, they were almost oozing and I removed them from the oven, transferred them to a mixing bowl, and smashed them with a little more extra-virgin olive oil, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a little pasta water. Then, I added my al dente fusilli and some crushed red pepper flakes. The whole wheat pasta made for a much heavier meal than the one I recalled. But, it was perfect for a mid-autumn night: filling and flavorful. I just might make this one more time. I do have a few more eggplants, and a mean hankering for anything pasta.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Hot apples for raw kale.

I can confess to a many odd food tastes: I salt and pepper melon, and I don't care for dessert. I think most meals -- including, at times, breakfast -- are better when started with soup. My roommate says I have an uncomfortable relationship with expiration dates, and by that he means I don't think they exist; I have no problem scraping mold off cheese, or bread for that matter. I think a corn dog with yellow mustard is the world's best guilty pleasure, and I love raw kale more than any other leafy green. Of all these quirks, this last one gets the most criticism. Some say raw kale is too tough and can feel almost waxy on the tongue. Others question why I wouldn't quickly sauté or steam the vegetable when it makes such an easy difference. I have no good excuse, I just like it. And I think I've hit upon a recipe that might make the naysayers like it, too.

Sauteed apples

Over the weekend, I was sautéeing some apples, intending to put them atop hot cereal. But when my roommates arrived home with our CSA share, and in the bag was a gorgeous bunch of kale, I changed my plan. After washing and drying a few leaves, I cut them into chiffonades. Then, almost spontaneously, I poured the hot sautéed apples -- extra-virgin olive oil and all -- into the salad bowl. I added a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lemon, and I tossed the salad a few times. The heat from the apples softened the raw kale ever so slightly, and their sweetness combined wonderfully with the earthiness of the greens. The lemon kept things bright, the salt honest. If I'd had some walnuts, I would've toasted them and added them for texture. Raw red onion and a little chevre might find their way into the next incarnation. And there will be many more incarnations...

Sauteed apple and kale salad

Kale with sautéed apples

One bunch kale, washed and dried
5 medium apples
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons sucanat
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

Chiffonade kale leaves -- removing stems -- and set aside in large salad bowl.

Core and quarter apples, immediately tossing with juice of half a lemon to prevent discoloration. (I prefer to leave the skins on.)

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium-sized skillet over medium heat, add apples. Cook, stirring every few minutes, until apples start to break down (5 minutes). Add the 1 teaspoon of salt and sugar. Continue to cook until apples soften completely (10 minutes). The olive oil, lemon juice from the apples and sugar will bind into a loose sauce.

In a large salad bowl, combine kale with hot apples. There should be enough liquid remaining in the pan to dress greens. Add remaining lemon juice.

Salt to taste.

Serves 4.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Something different.

I've been spending way too much time in front of my computer, mostly doing nothing important. I had wanted to write about apple pie and grilled cheese sandwiches, but both will have to wait. I'm taking myself out for ramen, before heading to work for what promises to be a busy weekend. In the meantime, some thoughts:

Everybody's talking about Jonathan Lethem, while I'm reading poetry.

And listening to and loving "Album" by Girls, especially this song.

While sighing over photos at The Blue Hour.

And sipping the ultimate fall cocktail, rechristened The Second Line, exclusively at Buttermilk Channel.

All the while longing to go to Paris, but beyond excited for Portland.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Thursday morning No. 6.

Eggs and beans and collard greens
It was a rough morning and I accept full responsibility. I stayed out late last night celebrating a friend's birthday, and I arrived home later -- via the G train, no less -- to the reality of recycling day. I was cranky and hungry (and a little tipsy and tired). I didn't want to eat because of the hour, so I drank a glass of water and called it a day. It's no surprise this morning I was ravenous. And I should've done the easy thing and gone out to breakfast. Instead, I got lost on the Internet for an hour, started making coffee, got distracted by the pile of dirty dishes in the sink, then took a phone call from my brother. I was feeling excessively emotional about the 16 egg yolks I wasted because I had not stored them properly. We only had sliced bread. And old coffee, the stuff I turn to sheerly out of desperation. Worse still, I felt, for the first time, the pressure of my Thursday morning routine, and I was ashamed to write about yet another omelette.

Sometimes, I get ahead of myself. And that's when I take a deep breath (mom, that's for you).

Next, I put the kettle on for coffee. While waiting for the water to boil, I rinsed and chopped two gloriously large collard leaves. These things were bigger than my head, and I knew they alone contained the power to heal. But I went further. In a large skillet, I warmed two tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil and added the ribbonlike greens. There were faint pops and sizzles, as they softened in a pinch of salt. After three minutes, I added a minced clove of garlic, and after a minute more, the juice of half a lemon. In a separate pan, I quickly soft-scrambled two eggs in a dollop of butter (all you have to do is stir them a few times over medium heat; I like to add a little salt). I had some kidney beans that had been cooked in a million herbs. They were part of an incredible soup, but today they were strained and piled atop my greens. The eggs followed, with three twists of the pepper mill. Breakfast, at last, was bright, buttery, crunchy, earthy, salty and sweet. It made me feel alive. I easily forgave the unfortunate toast.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A twist on tabbouleh.

Tabbouleh-style quinoa
Whether it be for a picnic or a dinner party, I never plan a meal without considering my guests. When planning the vegetarian option for my New York Cares Day lunches, I wanted something more interesting than a veggie sandwich or pasta salad, something volunteers would be excited to receive and nourished by. For obvious reasons, I needed the lunches to be hearty and satisfying, and I needed items I could make in advance and that did not require refrigeration. Because they are both vegan, hummus and tabbouleh fit the bill. Along with a hunk of Sfoglia bread, an apple and chocolate cookie, it's a lunch I'd eat any day (and I often do).

Shopping my neighborhood markets, I had a hard time finding bulgar. A friend suggested I use couscous, but I prefer quinoa to most grains for its nutritional benefits. I was able to find gorgeous local onions and parsley at the farmer's market, but I was forced to buy mint and tomatoes at the supermarket and so scaled back on both for this recipe. This made for a tabbouleh-style salad with considerable more bulk. Although I typically eat salads such as this one in the summer, especially a green-heavy tabbouleh, variations are still possible for the coming weeks. I plan to make a version that eliminates mint and substitutes raw grated beets for tomatoes. Finely chopped kale and even apple make delicious additons, too. I like to make grain-based salads in advance, and package them in individual servings for a grab-and-go lunch.

Tabbouleh-style quinoa salad


1 cup dry quinoa, cooked and cooled to room temperature
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
1/4 cup mint, chopped
1 bunch parsley, chopped
1 medium firm tomato, seeded and diced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt, to taste

In a large mixing bowl, combine quinoa, onion, mint, parsley and tomato. Toss lightly.

Add extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice. Toss until coated.

Season to taste.

Serves 4.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Unsung heroes.

Green market return
Last week consumed me, and it was intentional. I am not sure where to start, other than the beginning, which occurred roughly two weeks ago -- almost three -- when a friend asked if I'd be interested in making a few lunches for some volunteers as part of New York Cares Day, one of several annual city-wide days of action in which unsung heroes help rebuild New York communities. Earlier that day he'd visited the school he was assigned to manage and was discouraged -- but not surprised -- to discover little in terms of lunch options. There was a McDonald's and a Taco Bell nearby, and I think he mentioned a fried chicken joint. Wouldn't it be nice, he reasoned, to provide people with healthy, nourishing lunches? And wouldn't it be fun to write about? Without thinking, I agreed. Had I thought it through for a minute -- even a second -- I would have realized how much work I was committing myself to. I would've recalled a commitment I had on the day of the event, not to mention a potential date the night before. And really, do I need more subjects about which to write? Well, that's neither here nor there...

Giant sandwiches

I am not a chef, nor have I ever claimed to be. But having worked in my fair share of restaurants, I wasn't going into this thing blind. First, I wrote a menu: brown bag lunches gone gourmet. I'd make turkey sandwiches on Sfoglia bread with meat and cheese from Urban Rustic, and my salt and vinegar potato salad. I'd buy apples from the green market, and bake cookies (this is -- by far -- the funniest part, because I hate following directions, which makes for horrible baked goods; I literally googled "Orangette easy cookies" to find this recipe, and it still proved taxing). I needed a vegetarian option, so I dreamed up little containers of homemade hummus and tabbouleh-style quinoa, along with the aforementioned apples and baked goods. I envisioned my lunches to be a grown-up twist on a childhood favorite. They would be delicious and healthy and sourced locally. Best of all, they would be affordable, costing $7 per person. It sounded so good and easy, until I realized how little could be done in advance. Fresh equals good, which meant the food needed to be prepared within 48 hours of the event. There was no way I could do that by myself. That's when my heroes stepped in.

Purple potato salad

There was Chris, who helped carry 50 pounds (maybe more) of produce home from the Union Square green market. On Thursday, while he and our friend Alex shopped for paper goods, I made 25 pounds of potato salad, and there was a moment when, squatting over two stock pots, mixing the stuff with gloved hands, I thought I'd break down then and there. When I confessed this to my coworker Jon later that night, he offered to help the next day, his day off. And he did; he chopped and listened and stuck around after I scolded him for being messy. With his help, I baked roughly 120 cookies, and packaged 51 containers of potato salad, and 12 containers each of hummus and tabbouleh. Later that night, my brother delivered fresh-baked bread, and Chris returned to help with the sandwiches, which we layered with olive oil, red onion and watercress. After they were wrapped, I sent Chris to bed, and I packaged the brown bags and grouped them accordingly. This ended up taking the most time, because I needed to be careful not to break the cookies and I wanted them to be beautiful. And they were. Almost too pretty to eat, and just like the ones my dad packed me as a kid, full of goodness and love and even a little hope. Another friend, Seth, helped transport them, and Chris reported them a success. I got word as my roommate Michael was reviving me with coffee and washing the dishes I dirtied.

Unsung heroes New York over, I could not have done it without you. And believe me, I'll never do it again.

Chocolate cookies

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Thursday morning No. 5.

I haven't eaten so much butter in one sitting since my trip to Portland, Maine. It was at Becky's Diner, where I enjoyed an honest meal of two eggs scrambled, hash browns and an English muffin, washed down with plenty of diner coffee, the meth of the java world: cheap, easy and always leaving you wanting more. Today's breakfast was a stark contrast, save one ingredient. And even though the mushroom guy told me I could cook my wild hen of the woods mushrooms in extra-virgin olive oil, I knew butter would be better. Yesterday, I sautéed them with parsley and salt. Today I added a clove of garlic, and a little more salt. In a separate pan, I browned some more butter before adding two beaten eggs. They cooked into a perfect blanket for my mushroom filling. Two pieces of sourdough toast (spread with a little more butter), a spoonful of my aunt's triple berry jam, a cup of French press coffee and The Clientele. I've heard it's cold outside, but I wouldn't know. I'm swaying on a mushroom cloud over eucalyptus branches.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Some hints of gladness.

Table w/ eucalyptus
Midway through today I could no longer control my urge to shout from the rooftops: "New York, I love you!" And so I did the next best (and possibly more-effective) thing: I tweeted about it. "Experiencing an intense I love New York day. We've got a real winner, folks." And how! Morning coffee led to several hours poking around the green market with a friend, where we acquired roughly 50 pounds of produce (more on that later this week). I also picked up a small bunch of wild hen of the woods mushrooms, and when we returned to my house I sautéed them in butter with parsley and salt. I toasted some bread. I reboiled the last of my soup. I plated the mushrooms atop the toast with a little more butter. I discovered some feta cheese in the fridge. We feasted. It was a simple meal made more exciting by the fragrant bouquet of eucalyptus I had spied at the market and decided to buy last minute. Fresh flowers (or, in this case, branches) are a real treat for me, my roommates and our guests. They give a space an air of being well-cared for, even loved. They seem to beckon, and to quote Mary Oliver: "give off such hints of gladness. / I would almost say that they save me..."

Table w/ eucalyptus detail 1

Mushroom toast

Just when I thought things couldn't get better, I received an invitation to afternoon tea, complete with fresh-baked scones, jam and whipped cream. I plucked several branches of eucalyptus and bundled them with twine. I grabbed a sweater and I set out. Walking through Tompkins Square Park to my friend's I kept thinking, almost singing, Oh, how I love the goodness inspired by days like this one, days when my own lust for life catches me off-guard and I'm left smiling like a fool at any stranger willing to make eye contact.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Editor's note.

Working lunch
This can of worms I opened, it was an accident, I assure you. Yesterday, in writing about my faux ribollita, I alluded to being a vegetarian. On my beloved pastime of clipping recipes from the newspaper, I wrote: "I started in college, when I was forced to learn to cook. I wasn't particularly good at it, but being a vegetarian made mastering a few dishes easier." I see how this can confuse. The "I started in college" is a reference to clipping recipes, the "I wasn't particularly good at it" a reference to cooking, and the "being a vegetarian" simply an argument for why, as a novice cook, it was easier for me to "master a few dishes." To clarify:

I am not a vegetarian, and, at the moment, I have no interest in being one. In my late-teens and early-20s, I was a vegetarian for a split second, and looking back I see my commitment was half-hearted and ill-informed. I lacked conviction. I sometimes ate fish, and I doubt when dining out I ever inquired about exact ingredients and stocks and such (I assure you, as a service professional, vegetarians should always inquire about the stock used in their food). I ate a lot of starch and dairy, and I might've been slightly anemic for it, although I did take iron supplements. I know, for sure, that I've been eating meat since 2001; I remember the steak and bottle of Zinfandel that did me in.

That said, regular readers may have noticed I eat a lot of vegetarian -- even vegan -- meals (above is a picture of my lunch: mizuna and radish in buttermilk dressing with roasted purple potatoes). I live with a devout vegan, a pescetarian, and my other roommate is a lot like me: we'll eat meat, but it's not a priority. I'm rarely inclined to do so at home, because I like to cook things that we can all enjoy, and I've learned so many ways to do that. Eating meat is certainly not something I think a lot about, except when I'm entertaining guests or I feel like I'm eating too much, which might amount to four or five servings per week.

I've heard all the arguments in favor of vegetarianism and veganism; they make sense. Eating a plant-based diet is better for your health; it's also better for the environment. I'm all for both, and eating a mostly vegetarian -- largely vegan -- diet makes me feel good. But right now, at this point in my life, mostly is the best I can do. I'm open to eating all things, especially if I know where they come from. That goes for my dairy, eggs, fish, meat and vegetables. Being an educated consumer is a big committment and one of my top priorities. It's guided me to the place I am today (as a writer, thinker, cook and engaged citizen), and I expect it will continue to do so in the future.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Soup re-imagined and reboiled.

It's funny to think that -- once upon a time, and not too long ago -- I saved recipes from the daily newspaper. Like clipping coupons, it seems outdated and even quaint. With the death of print magazines (or, because of it), saving favorite issues makes some sense. But newspapers dirty your hands and the print fades. They pile up quickly and are outdated by press time. Most of the good ones are archived online. Saving them (nostalgia aside) seems pointless. Yet, I used to enjoy -- even look forward to -- doing just that, especially recipes (coupons inevitably went unused). I started in college, when I was forced to learn to cook. I wasn't particularly good at it, but being a vegetarian made mastering a few dishes easier. I still cook many of the same things: grains and legumes and simple pastas. I remember the first time I made soup from scratch. I felt triumphant. And all I had to do was follow some instructions.

Faux ribollita

Those instructions, memorized and long-ago re-imagined, are the basis for most of the soups I make today. I start with an onion, a few carrots and a couple stalks of celery, then I add whatever is on hand. The other day, I had a bag of bok choy from my CSA share, and I gambled on adding it to the pot. I had some radish greens, too, and as I watched them wilt, I envisioned cannellini beans and tomato. Cans of both went into the pot, along with two bay leaves, a handful of dried basil and a few sprigs of fresh thyme. The result was a simple and hearty faux ribollita, one I've been enjoying more and more every day. The bok choy retained a wonderful crunch, while the tomato and white beans are sweet, a little buttery and comforting. I like the idea of having a pot of soup on the stove at all times, one like this one; it's vegan, so can sit out all day, and it can be added to and reboiled. Maybe it's a little old-fashioned. But so are coupons and newspapers and many other things I love.

Faux ribollita


1 large yellow onion, diced
2-3 medium carrots, scrubbed (but unpeeled) and sliced into rounds
2 stalks celery, washed and sliced
1 to 2 pounds leafy greens, washed and trimmed
2 15-ounce cans of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to finish
2 tablespoons dried basil
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 tablespoon salt, plus more to finish
2 bay leaves

In a medium-sized stock pot, heat extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat, add onions and a pinch of salt. Cook until onions become translucent (2 to 3 minutes).

Add carrots and celery. Cook until they begin to soften (3 to 5 minutes).

Stir in leafy greens. When the greens begin to wilt, fill pot with water (or stock) until the water line is roughly two inches above vegetables. Bring to a boil.

Add basil, bay leaves, thyme and remaining salt. Simmer 30 minutes, then cool.

Add beans and tomato, and reboil. Salt to taste.

Serve with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a nice piece of bread.

Soup will reduce and thicken with each reboiling.

Serves 6-8.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Thursday morning No. 4.

Waiting at Egg
I awoke this morning with an unmistakable craving for my childhood. I wanted my mom, and a certain breakfast she used to make called milk toast, which consists of buttery toast, dusted in cinnamon and sugar and soaked with warm milk. It's not unlike hot cereal, but because it's made with toast, it's better. I use to love it, and my craving was so intense earlier I almost ran to the store to buy the ingredients. Instead, I took a long hot bath with a little baby oil (I loved this as a child, too), and when I emerged I was back to my savory breakfast-craving self. I didn't want milk toast, I wanted eggs. And I wanted someone else to cook them.

Eggs Rothko at Egg

I love my Brooklyn neighborhood for many reasons, but especially for a handful of restaurants I would gladly eat at daily. One of them -- Egg -- is my go-to for breakfast, and not because it's a block away (although that is very nice). I like Egg because they give you crayons and your own French press with coffee so strong it makes you spin (that's a good thing). I like their pretty staff and the music they play while I wait (today it was Pavement). I like that the restaurant runs a farm outside the city on which they grow their own produce, and today there were little table tents announcing farm news (the lettuces are thriving and they torched their blighted tomato plants!). I love their menu. It's simple and honest and consistently great. They call my favorite dish Eggs Rothko, and it's essentially a grown-up version of what most people know as Eggs in a Basket. To make it, you need a thick piece of brioche with a hole cut in the center. Cooked in that hole is an egg, and melted on top is a slice of Grafton cheddar. I normally fry my mine, but Egg's version is easy-cooked and light. The Rothko is served with a gorgeous spoonful of broiled sweet tomatoes, and a choice of meat or seasonal vegetable. I opted for the latter, which today was sautéed ribbons of kale in a little olive oil. It was a delicious and far cry from milk toast, and yet so heart-warming. The only thing missing was mom.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Everycook of the future.

The end of a good meal
Last night, while my roommates, a couple friends and I sat around our dinner table, picking at our unplanned Asian/Italian fusion dinner of two kinds of salads (arugula and mizuna with balsamic and mixed seaweed) and two kinds of noodles (spaghetti with marinara and egg noodles in peanut sauce), sipping wine and later Scotch, and chatting about our days, I asked their thoughts on Condé Nast's morning announcement to close four of its publications, including Gourmet, the high-gloss and -- some say -- high-brow picture Bible of all things epicurean. I'd spent a good part of the afternoon reading news articles, blog tributes and surprisingly emotional tweets on the subject; it seemed to be all anyone was talking about. When my inquiry was met with blank stares and more questions (mainly "What?"), I was first caught off-guard and then put in my place. Food news is a big deal for me; I follow some 70 food bloggers, journalists and industry personalities on Twitter. Most of them would have us convinced that U.S. food culture, by way of food education and standards, is on the rise. Yet, here were five young, professional New Yorkers -- three of whom belong to their local CSA, three of whom are ardent vegetarians, one of whom is a former restaurant publicist, and all but one of whom like to cook -- and none of them had heard the news. When they did, their reactions weren't all that passionate; they were pragmatic.

By now, those who care about Gourmet's fate know the reason the magazine was closed is purely a matter of economics. The New York Times reported today Gourmet's ad revenue was down 43 percent this year, and its circulation was roughly two-thirds of Bon Appétit, its in-house rival who survived the cut despite being, in the minds of many of aforementioned bloggers, journalists and food industry personalities, the lesser magazine. Bon Appétit is for the Everycook, Gourmet for the, well, gourmand. "In choosing Bon Appétit over Gourmet," The Times said, "Condé Nast reflected a bigger shift both inside and outside the company: influence, and spending power, now lies with the middle class." Are we to assume, then, that the middle class isn't on the same page as the rest of us?

I consider myself to be very much a part of the middle class, and the idea of a luxury magazine not appealing to me is absurd on many levels. First and foremost, to me Gourmet was not a luxury magazine. It appealed to food lovers and travelers on a deeper, more sensual and serious level; if that's luxurious, so be it. Taste exists outside of class (surely there are New Yorker readers who did not go to college, classical music aficionados with nothing more than a keen ear for what they know to be good). I once attended a cocktail party at which a middle-aged textile designer was lamenting the string of designer budget lines being sold at Target. In his eyes, good design was not for the masses, but for the well-appointed. To that I shouted, Garbage!

The real sadness, for me, is the closing of another publication for which I will never write. That's what I raised my glass to last night (and that inspired a whole other conversation about the future of print media, in general). Clearly, I think blogs are important, but if they are the death of print media, then shame on me and all of us. Show me a blogger who wants to go it alone, and I'll show you 10 just looking for a way up and out. Yes, I write about food because I love both food and writing. Both make me very happy; both inspire and motivate. But I also write a blog hoping someone will take notice, and hopefully take a chance on me. With each magazine closure, an audience dies. And with it, they take a little of my hope that there is a future -- not just for me, but for all of us -- in this business.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Making haste.

Quick kraut
My Saturday routine is in desperate need of a shake-up, because lately it looks a lot like this: snooze, snooze, snooze, run to claim my CSA share, cappuccino, home, where I rush to put away my vegetables, lament the amount of uneaten food in my house, embark on a totally unrealistic cooking project, abandon said project in favor of looking half-way presentable for work, rush to work... It's hardly the pace at which I want to live my life, but it is my current pace nonetheless. On Saturdays, at least.

Last weekend, I revolted by making sauerkraut. Not much of a revolt, I know, but I had this head of cabbage that was in desperate need of use, so I used a quick sauerkraut recipe I'd read a while back. All I had to do was shred the cabbage, pack it into glass jars, add a little salt and a little sugar, and top it all off with boiling water. Easy enough, but after I'd made my sauerkraut my friend Amy posted about wild fermentation. Clearly I'm not an expert on these things, and Amy's wisdom shows me I have a lot to learn. Still, my brief venture into the world of fermentation -- even if it now feels like cheating -- was sort of empowering. Over the next couple of weeks, I'm adding "check sauerkraut" to my Saturday to-do list. And when I have the time, I look forward to trying things Amy's way.

Quick, easy and shameless sauerkraut


1 head cabbage
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper, to taste (optional)

Shred cabbage (I use a food processor).

Pack cabbage into a large glass jar.

Add salt, pepper and sugar.

Fill jar with boiling water.

Allow to ferment four to six weeks.

From here, recipes differ. Some end. Some say do a water bath. I will be sure to address this in a couple weeks when my kraut is finished.

Friday, October 2, 2009

About that breakfast...

Amidst yesterday's hustle and bustle, I did manage to treat myself to a good breakfast. It was a meal I've been thinking about for weeks, and last Tuesday I took the time to acquire the proper foodstuffs to pull it off. From Marlow & Daughters, I got a bag of flint corn polenta, so flaky and golden it could pass for confetti. I'd also picked up a few cans of San Marzano tomatoes and eggs. From my CSA share, I had some beautiful purple potatoes that I'd roasted over the weekend with some dried rosemary. There were only a few wedges left (they were almost as good as French fries), so rather than reheat them, I moved them from the refrigerator to the counter to bring them to room temperature. Then, I set to work on the polenta.

Creamy polenta

Confession: until last week, I'd never made polenta. It's always seemed so labor-intensive, and in that unpractical. In college, I would buy pre-made polenta to fry, but my vision involved creamy polenta, the kind that satisfies like steel-cut oats and wouldn't seem too out of place alongside poached eggs and coffee. My craving was fierce, and so I had no choice but to turn to the Internet. Turns out, making polenta isn't hard; it's boring. Other than salt and water, it requires only constant stirring, so I was forced to stand attention over the stove for roughly 30 minutes while the grains congealed. While I did this, I warmed a tomato sauce I had made days earlier by sautéeing (in extra-virgin olive oil) half an onion, one red pepper, and a healthy handful of washed, dried and chopped braising greens. Once these had cooked down, I stirred in one can of peeled and whole San Marzano tomatoes, which broke down into soft and tender chunks. I seasoned this to taste. (Sauces like this are easy to make and store. I prefer chunky sauces for their versatility -- they can be used atop pastas, polentas and other grains, and they make great bruschetta, too.)

Tomato sauce

As my polenta neared completion, I brought a small pot of water and a few dashes of vinegar to boil for poaching eggs. While they cooked (2 to 3 minutes), I smeared a generous spoonful of polenta onto a plate and topped it with a spoonful of tomato sauce. The eggs nestled perfectly into this, and -- when broken -- married the flavors in the exact way I'd hoped. It was comforting, savory and a little sweet, too. Most importantly, it was hearty, and some days demand a hearty breakfast. Considering the amount of time it took to prepare, I don't think I'll recreate this one too often. That said, yesterday's was my third helping.

Creamy polenta with tomato and egg

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Deather of Thursday morning.

Among other things, I'm a bartender. I don't think I've let this little fact slip through, and the only reason I mention it now is because Tuesday night was a big one for me. A month ago, I was invited to participate in a cocktail contest for "the" Rachel Maddow, host of The Rachel Maddow Show(s) on Air America and MSNBC. The invitation alone was a thrill, a sort of I-can't-believe-this-is-happening-to-me moment that inspired conceit and jitters and -- ultimately -- fear that I'd fail horribly and "the" Rachel Maddow would not come over to my house to hang out and watch Keith Olbermann. Hosted by the fine folks at Gothamist as a follow-up to this interview, the event was an intimate gathering of bartenders (nay "mixologists"), Gothamist staff, Ms. Maddow and a smattering of friends. The parameters for the contest were loose. We were asked to create a Scotch cocktail, and we were told Maddow was interested in moving beyond the Blood and Sand (a reference to the Prohibition-era cocktail made with Scotch, sweet vermouth, cherry brandy and orange juice). Knowing this, I veered away from sweeter liquors and created a riff on the classic Sazerac. I named my drink in honor of a current Maddow joke (which, I am pleased to report, made her laugh).

The Deather

2 1/4 ounces Scotch whiskey
1/2 ounce Lillet Blanc
2 dashes Highland Heather bitters*

Muddle one cube sugar and a wedge of fresh lemon with bitters.

Combine with ice, Scotch and Lillet.

Stir, and pour into an chilled, absinthe-rinsed martini glass.

Garnish with a lemon twist.

Gothamist reports the contest a tie, but I still feel like boasting. I got 5 minutes with Rachel Maddow. Rachel Maddow made me a cocktail. Perhaps the best news: The Deather will be featured on the fall cocktail list at Buttermilk Channel. For political reasons, I may have to change the name. The Maddow has a nice ring to it, no?

* Note: Artisan bitters made for Buttermilk Channel in Brooklyn. Can be replaced with the traditional Peychaud's Bitters.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The eggplant experiment.

Sweating eggplant
Earlier this year, while visiting my mom in San Luis Obispo, Calif., she paid me a compliment I carry with me. It hides beneath my mess of hair, about an inch from my ear, nearly in the back crook of my neck, so it's easy to forget about completely. But every once in a while, it asserts its presence in a whisper: "Who would've thought," mom said, "that my daughter would be a great chef?" Her pride simultaneously warmed my heart and filled me with anxiety, because even though I've come a long way since I nearly burned the house down attempting to cook bacon for the first time at age 14, I feel like I'm harboring a dark secret: most of the time, I have no idea what I'm doing. I don't think I'm supposed to say things like that, but it's true. My brother says I'm an idea person, which means simple thoughts often lead to hours spent online researching how to pull said ideas off, or asking around to get a feel for what people I trust might do. I usually do things my own way, despite my findings, and lately I've been lucky.

Silver-dollar eggplants

A few weeks ago, confronted by a dozen or so eggplants from my CSA share, I asked a coworker if she knew a way to preserve them. She suggested pickling, which sounded like a fine idea, except I've only quick pickled a few things -- garlic and watermelon rind -- so, of course, I had no idea where to start. My online research turned up a wealth of recipes and stories; like so many age-old recipes, each was slightly different. That, of course, empowered me to do what I do best. So, I took to the kitchen, and began to experiment. I used four or five small eggplants, thinking it would yield more than one jar; I should've known they would shrink. Ever the optimist, I reasoned it was good my test batch was small. It might, after all, taste awful, or worse make me sick (in all my reading, I found only one mention of botulism, and it was brief, essentially suggesting following the proper precautions and consuming eggplant within a few weeks. I also read that, if stored in the refrigerator, pickled eggplant is good for up to one year).

Pickled eggplant in olive oil

Thankfully, the experiment was a delicious success -- the eggplant was just vinegary enough and surprisingly firm in texture, although dripping with a slightly spicy olive oil. I'd added a few cloves of garlic to the pickling mixture, and crushed red pepper flakes as well as a small hot pepper to the oil. I also had added some fresh basil (this was a few weeks ago), which provided a gorgeous -- if not slight -- aroma. I ate the entire jar in one day (on a sandwich, with some mozzarella, as a side) and used the left-over oil to dress salads. Then, as soon as I got my hands on more eggplant, I made another batch. I spiced the second batch differently, using dried herbs instead of fresh and omitting the garlic, and it was just as good. I served it at breakfast the other day, something I'd never thought to do. Again, we ate almost the whole jar. Good thing I had doubled the recipe.

Pickled eggplant packed in olive oil


4-5 small eggplants
Sea salt
1 cup white wine vinegar
2 cups water
2 cloves garlic, peeled and whole (optional)
Crushed red pepper flakes
Dried oregano
Extra-virgin olive oil

Slice eggplants into silver-dollar sized rounds, put slices in a colander, and sprinkle generously with sea salt. Weigh slices down with a plate and allow to sweat for at least four hours (when sweating eggplant, be sure to put a deep plate under your colander to catch the run-off). This tenderizes the flesh of the eggplant and helps reduce bitterness. Remove excess moisture with a towel.

In a medium sauce pan, combine vinegar, water and garlic. Bring to boil.

In batches, boil eggplant slices for approximately 3 minutes. Set aside to cool.

In a sterilized jar, tightly layer cooled eggplant slices and chosen herbs.

Cover in extra-virgin olive oil.

Store at room temperature until opened. Pickled eggplant can keep in the refrigerator for up to a year.

Yields one 12-ounce jar.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Thursday morning No. 2.

I was planning a real feast for this Thursday morning; while trolling the neighborhood the other day, I picked up some gorgeous flint corn polenta and a big can of San Marzano tomatoes at Marlow & Daughters. I bought some eggs there, too, and for the past two days I've been dreaming about a bowl of creamy polenta topped with simmered tomato and a fried egg. My mouth waters every time I consider it -- even now, when I'm no longer hungry and I ate something else entirely different. Maybe next week, because today I didn't have time. I have a friend in town and all spare moments have been spent seeing shows, visiting New York friends and getting caught up on life. Last night, we chatted and giggled well past 2 a.m., so when the alarm buzzed at 9, I immediately rewrote my breakfast plan. Today would be an eggs and toast day. Besides, I justified through half-dreaming eyes, we're having lunch at Tabla, so we can't be too full.

Poached egg w/ radish greens

Eggs and toast is my favorite breakfast, and this variation -- poached eggs over sautéed greens with garlic and hot pepper -- took less than 20 minutes. While I brought the kettle to boil for coffee, I also boiled a small pot of water with an added dash of vinegar (I use rice, but white is fine). Then, in a heated skillet, I sautéed a handful of washed and dried radish greens in a tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil. When the greens started to break down, I added a minced garlic clove, a pinch of salt and a big pinch of crushed red pepper flakes. When the garlic began to release that wonderful cooked garlic smell, I removed the skillet from the heat and dropped the bread to toast. By this time, the water was boiling. While the coffee steeped (I use a French press), I carefully poached two eggs. As they took shape (2 to 3 minutes), I drizzled our toast with a little more olive oil and topped it with the greens. I finished that with the eggs and a dash of black pepper. The coffee was ready, and Camera Obscura was playing that way they do. It was -- without planning -- exactly what I wanted.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A new routine.

My friend has the enviable habit of taking himself to Balthazar every Wednesday morning. Ever since I learned of this, I've longed for a morning tradition of my own. I love the idea of being a breakfast regular, your server knowing how you take your coffee before you even sit down. I wonder if I'd be the type of person to order the same thing every time, or if I'd eat my way through the menu? Likely, it'd be the latter, because as much as I dream of having a routine, I'm not that kind of girl. Hence, I'll enjoy farina and dried fruit for breakfast one day, cold pizza with market arugula the next. Coffee, it seems, is the only constant in my daily routine.

A new routine.

I was thinking about this, just now, as I chopped some leafy greens and a perfect orange pepper for an impromptu omelette. I love making myself a proper breakfast, but often I don't make time. It's a shame really, because sitting down to an omelette or a plate of pancakes is pure joy, especially when you can do it in your pajamas. I adore blogs such as Simply Breakfast, where a single image can capture a quiet morning, early light, ambition.

I am not a photographer. I like photography; I even took a few classes in college. But I am a writer, a writer who loves breakfast, and today I'm starting a tradition of my own: Thursday breakfast at my house, wherein I'll share a photo or two, and a little how-to. I hope you enjoy, and are inspired to treat yourself to something special and enjoy the morning calm. The omelette above I filled with sautéed garlic, greens, pepper and sun gold tomatoes (all from my CSA share). I served it alongside a toasted bagel and Greek yogurt topped with a spoonful of honey and red pepper flakes. I made myself a cup of China Rose tea, my favorite. And I licked my plate. You can't do that in a restaurant, which is why it's better I eat at home.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A potato salad for all seasons.

Picnic tools
I gave up French fries for summer: an admittedly silly attempt to watch my waistline and heart health, because things felt a little out of hand. Initially when I swore off the chips, I thought I'd discover worthy substitutions. But I didn't even try. Not seriously, anyway. I did slow roast countless batches of spuds in olive oil with fresh herbs (the ones below were with dill flower and garlic scapes, and they were spectacular), but I decided almost immediately upon taking my fry-free oath that the only way I would succeed (and survive) was to simply ignore my cravings and ride out the season. I confess to cheating twice: once on vacation (so it didn't really count), and once when I was eating mussels and so ordered the compulsory fries and failed to even remember my vow until I was down to maybe 10, and at that point...

Roasted spuds

A month into my experiment, I came across a recipe on the consistently lovely Blue Hour blog: salt and vinegar potato salad. Like chips, but not fried. It was the answer to my summer dilemma, so I bookmarked the recipe and promised myself I'd make it as soon as I could. But as the days passed and I kept thinking about that recipe, I realized that potato salad, like mussels, has stipulations. Mussels need frites, and potato salad needs a party, preferably in the park, with a gentle bit of sunshine and a slight breeze.

Of course, my fry-free summer was shy on garden parties, due to travel, weather and that thing we call work. But last Monday, on what may have been the last day of summer, I whipped up 10 pounds of this salad for a little soirée in Prospect Park. And it was awesome -- the perfect complement to the fresh-shucked oysters and pulled pork sandwiches. The vinegar onions are much more subtle than you'd expect, almost sweet. And the oil and vinegar dressing was, as always, perfect. Thankfully, there was enough left over for me to eat two more helpings when I got home, at which point I made one last promise: I'm going to make potato salad an all-seasons food, because this salad is as good as French fries. 

Not better, but better for you. And wasn't that my whole point?

Salt and vinegar potato salad

Salt and vinegar potato salad
Adapted from Gourmet


1 large red onion, cut into 1/4" segments and separated
5 pounds medium potatoes (Gourmet recommends Yukon Gold, I used russet)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to finish
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 1/2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/4 teaspoons sugar

In large bowl, mix 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add onion and toss. Marinate at room temperature, tossing occasionally, until onion softens and turns pink (1 hour).

In large pot, cover potatoes with cold salted water. Bring to a boil, then simmer uncovered until tender (20 minutes). Drain and allow to cool, then peel and slice into 1/2" wedges.

In separate bowl, whisk together Old Bay seasoning with sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar.

Add potatoes to onion mixture, and toss with vinegar mixture and extra-virgin olive oil.

Season to taste. Finish with additional oil if necessary.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 10-12.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The morning after.

The morning after...Roma
I've been devouring (or, I could say re-devouring) the letters of Martha Gellhorn, a/k/a Mrs. Ernest Hemingway III; I'm absolutely crazy about her. Her writing is candid and sharp and admirably self-deprecating, and I wish she were still alive so I could write her letters half as good as the ones in this book. I know loads of people -- myself included -- who lament the death of letters. Reading Gellhorn's, I'm reminded of a time in which I journaled and wrote little notes to my family and friends. I was too young then to practice the sort of discourse Gellhorn was clearly born for, but now...well, now is different. The only thing stopping me is my lack of ability. Or, is it my lack of time?

These are the same excuses I use for not cooking a certain meal or entertaining certain groups of friends. Like conversation and letter writing, dining (both in and out) is an art, and it's one I strive to practice well. These all are traditions that nurture familial bonds, friendships and romances. They inspire conversation and ideas. They nourish both literally and figuratively. I believe all this, but I believe this, too: "... I think parties are really the last refuge of the empty and shrivelled brain, and are more destructive to the body than cocaine and more destructive to the spirit than jail." Martha Gellhorn wrote that to Alexander Woollcott in 1942, the morning after. I take from it this: our time is precious, let us use it wisely.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Central Park, how green your garden grows.

Green Central Park
Central Park was bustling yesterday, as New Yorkers celebrated Labor Day with picnics and books, on bikes and with balls, but I trekked uptown for another reason: Wildman Steve Brill's foraging tour. A few weeks ago, my friends Michael and Liz took Wildman's tour of Forest Park, and the abundance of that trip inspired another. Turns out, New York City is teeming with edible plants, and yesterday I spent four hours learning to identify those in-season, gathering and taking notes. We even managed a quick picnic of our own, but the day's culinary highlight was our dinner salad of foraged Asiatic dayflower, lady's thumb, lamb's quarters and yellow wood sorrel. I know it sounds and looks rustic, and I'll gladly admit it was heartier than the salads I'm used to eating. I snapped the picture below after washing my finds, but before I leafed through them (pun intended) to remove stems and other plant parts I found unappetizing.

Edible plants

The sturdy, tear-shaped leaves pictured on the lower right are from the Asiatic dayflower, which flowers a beautiful purple and has kernel-like seeds -- all edible. Sadly, my flowers had closed by the time I got home, but they reminded me of pea shoots in texture and a bit in flavor, too. The leaves, however, were so...weedlike, I opted to chiffonade them, making them easier to eat and prettier to look at. The lady's thumb and lamb's quarters were also pretty hearty, and Wildman warned us about the flowers on the former, which taste -- go figure -- like plant. Wanting the full experience and the health benefits of the latter (lamb's quarters is an excellent source of B-complex vitamins, beta-carotene, calcium, fiber, iron, potassium and vitamin C), I used everything I had of both, cutting and tearing where I found appropriate.

The most naturally edible looking of the foraged plants -- and by far the tastiest -- was the yellow wood sorrel, which looks like clover and tastes like lemon. Its delicate leaves were a welcome addition, but despite its presence I couldn't help but think, "This salad looks foraged from a compost pile." Quickly, I added the only other raw edible I foraged: a red devil apple from the apple trees behind The Met. These red-fleshed gems were new to me, and pretty tart on the apple spectrum. I picked up four or five (you can't very well erect an apple ladder in Central Park, so we shook a branch and collected ours off the ground), and I might bake the rest. I also read they make a lovely pink-hued hard apple cider.

Foraged pink apples

Tossed with this oil and vinegar dressing (along with some foraged wild mustard seeds from Forest Park), my Central Park salad almost looked conventional. It certainly tasted like salad, and -- to my relief -- we all lived to tell the tale. I look forward to joining Wildman on future tours (he's leading one at Stone Barns Center on Sunday, Nov. 8), and to sharing those experiences with you. Mostly, I'm excited to have a garden to call my own, especially one I don't have to tend to.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Something happened today...

Happier than a pig...
Actually it happened Wednesday, and chances are if you read Our Daily Table on a regular basis we already know each other and are therefore connected via The Internets. Please bear with me while I pretend otherwise for a moment. Because something happened, and it filled me with joy and excitement and a little bit of nerves, too, which I think is a good thing. Wednesday, I had a little interview published over at Jauntsetter, a fantastic travel sight for New York ladies, but a friend of mine on the west coast was quick to argue it's useful for anyone who loves to travel, if for nothing more than inspiration. I couldn't agree more. In the couple months I've been receiving Jauntsetter's weekly newsletter, I've considered a heap of new travel destinations (like this gorgeous eco-retreat in Vieques, Puerto Rico). I've also spent a good deal of time reflecting on my own.

I've seen a few things, and writing about them made me want to see more. It made me want to take a few more photos and keep a better journal (because this memory of mine isn't getting any better). It reminded me of my desire to speak other languages beyond being able to translate a dinner menu. But the truly exciting part -- the part that has me happier than a pig in...well, you know -- is that it affirmed a decision I made about a year ago to alter the way I live my life. At the time, I worked so much I hardly had time for my family and friends, let alone a little time away from home. I had fallen into a trap, and I was not that happy. And so, I mustered up some courage and I changed. I quit my job, and I did a little soul searching. I got a new job, and I started a few projects (Our Daily Table being one of them). I learned the difference between "my job" and "my work."

The changes have not come easily; I'd say that I am -- like this blog -- a work in progress. But I'm getting there. One step at a time, with a little help from my friends, my eyes and my heart open wide. If you've made it this far, thank you for indulging me. Now, let's get back to that business of food...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The heat goes on...

Triple Double-Double
I arrived home tonight from another trip to Southern California, and I realized on the flight back that these last five days may well have been the last of my summer jaunts. Sadly, they weren't spent relaxing, but wrapping up some family business. Still, I found time for a Double-Double and chocolate shake from In-N-Out (aren't they pretty up there?), and I even did a little cooking. As always, I was amazed by the local produce: in my aunt and uncle's kitchen, I was greeted by a heaping bowl of pomegranates (a fruit I associate with Christmas, but was surprised to learn grows this time of year in sunny SoCal); their garden was over-flowing with little cherry tomatoes, summer squash and squash blossoms; and even the larger supermarkets had plentiful displays of local greens (and red and yellows).

Bruised and beautiful heirlooms

The above tomatoes aren't from California, they're from Garden of Eve Farm on Long Island. Just as I started to write off this year's tomato crop, my CSA share turned out some gorgeous heirlooms and slicing tomatoes. Typically when the weather is warm, my cooking amounts to little more than a few chops and slices, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt. The thing I am willing to turn on the stove for (and the dish I keep turning to for an easy hors d'oeuvres, quick lunch or savory side dish) is crostini, or bruschetta. As far as I can tell, the difference between bruschetta and crostini is in the treatment of the bread. For bruschetta, bread is rubbed with garlic and olive oil, and for crostini, it is not. I suppose, then, that bruschetta is a type of crostini, I also bet there's a nonna somewhere who will gladly correct me.


Crost -- err, bruschetta -- makes great use of tomatoes. Simply thinly slice bread (I like Amy's seeded wheat), rub each slice with a garlic clove and drizzle with olive oil, then top with tomatoes and Parmiggiano-Reggiano. I prefer to broil everything together -- allowing the flavors to melt into one glorious garlic-tinged cheesy tomato crouton -- and top with fresh basil. If you prefer your tomatoes a little sturdier, toast your garlic-rubbed and oiled bread before proceeding with raw tomatoes. When those are gone, you can substitute pickled eggplant or stewed peppers or whatever else comes to mind (raw corn, roasted peaches, poached apples, sautéed kale...I could do this all day).

Call it what you want. Just don't call me late for dinner.