Still cooking, posting over at redhookcsa.com. More posts over here, eventually.
Thanks for reading!
Still cooking, posting over at redhookcsa.com. More posts over here, eventually.
Thanks for reading!
Every fall, Angel and I await the return of The Grapes. Their name is always capitalized because they’re good enough to merit it. Officially, they’re a variety called Reliance, but that doesn’t quite cover how great they are. They’re not just any juicy red grapes, they’re bursting with the tangy grape-y flavor of Concords, though seedless and not quite as tannic. (I also love Concords, both the seedless and seeded varieties.) We first came across The Grapes at farm stands in upstate New York a few years ago, and ever since, we’ve hunted them down in the city greenmarkets.
One of my new favorite apple varieties is the Spitzenburg, and I’m in good company because apparently it was Thomas Jefferson’s favorite apple. I’m not quite sure where that bit of trivia comes from, unless there’s a piece of vellum somewhere listing Teenbeat-style likes and dislikes of the hunky 3rd president. Anyway, the Spitzenburg is firm and juicy, with light cider and lemon notes. I always choose apples that still have leaves attached. It gives them so much more character, don’t you think? This particular apple was doubly attractive because in addition to its two perky leaves, it also has three dried flower buds. It was the only blossom among its four branchmates to survive into applehood.
It’s a well-known fact that I am partial to purple vegetables. But really, I could take or leave any of the other purple vegetables (potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, onions, kale) – as long as I could still have their paler siblings, of course. These purple carrots are the ones I really love. It just makes me so happy to slice one open and see its bright orange heart and little orange veins poking through the purple layer. One of my long-held food theories is that colors affect taste (really, if you ate a spinach leaf or a raspberry blindfolded, you’d know what color it was). I think these have a slight bittersweet edge and a hint of fruit flavor. They can keep their color if cooked carefully, but more often than not, they just dye the rest of the food they touch.
The dusky apple in the foreground is an experimental hybrid called NY 428. (Behind it is a Honeycrisp, the indie darling of the apple world). According to its label at the greenmarket, the NY 428 has excellent flavor but does not last long in storage, so it never got a real name. It does indeed have good flavor; it’s fruity, tart, and slightly vinuous. I don’t remember its parentage, but it has some of the qualities of Winesap and Macoun apples. It would make a killer pie, I think, and I’m hoping to test it soon.
Introducing my new series, Deskmates. These are the foods that keep me going when I’m at work. Most of them are pictured on my desk, hence the name. Also, I end up eating at my desk while trying to respond to emails and edit drafts way more than I’d like to admit. No leisurely lunchbreaks for me!
At least I can enjoy the fruits of the season at my desk. And I usually stop to buy something at the greenmarket on the way from train to office.
Some of them aren’t even close to being local or in season, like this Minneola from Peru. I’m still not entirely certain of my personal plan for eating local, seasonable, and sustainable foods (besides choosing those as often as possible), but I’m allowing myself the occasional citrus indulgence. Until I move to California, that is, and have my own personal lemon grove. I’ll let you know when that happens.
Today, just before the torrential downpour, I walked through Soho to Sunrise Mart on Broome Street to stock up on my favorite Japanese foods. There’s a little Japanese store in Astoria, too, but I had other errands in Soho. I’ve decided to start making my own sushi rolls for weekday lunches to save time, especially since if I don’t bring lunch, there’s no guarantee I’ll make an effort to eat at work.
Nori sheets to make sushi to take to work
Bamboo sushi-rolling mat
Matcha for drinks and desserts
A huge pickled daikon, shown above after I sliced it
Wheat-free low-sodium Tamari
A red bean cake I ate in the store’s cafe section
Detox foot pads (not convinced they’ll do anything, but they were there and I’m curious)
Dried anchovies as a snack, and possible lunchbox treat when dressed with chili and sesame oil
Mmm. But even after all that shopping, I got home and realized I was down to 1/2 cup sushi rice and 1 tablespoon rice vinegar. I used them to make one asparagus and radish roll, and now I need to re-stock. Which is fine – I love grocery shopping!
494 Broome Street
New York, NY 10013
Last Saturday, some friends were visiting the city and charged me with making dinner plans . After they’d seen Rent, I met Elena and Kalyn outside the theaer and led them to Florent for dinner. I told them what I knew of the restaurant’s history and it’s foreshortened future on the way downtown. by the time we got to the West Village, Florent was packed and the maitre told us there’d be at least half an hour’s wait. I asked if we needed to put a name on a list, but he said, “No, I’ll remember who you are.” So we stood near the window and chatted, and soon enough he led us to a table. As we walked back, I noticed that all of the framed maps on the wall were marked “for sale on Ebay.” I was a bit conflicted about that, thinking at the same time, “It won’t be the same without the maps,” and “Maybe I should buy one.” (I didn’t win, though I bid on two.)
I finally got to try the boudin noir with apples and sautéed onions. I chose the appetizer size since I wasn’t very hungry, and it was just enough. I cut away the casing and scraped velvety bits of sausage onto the apple slices. This particular boudin was rich and flavorful without verging into fatty or gamy territory. Elena and Kalyn both had cheeseburgers, and proclaimed them delicious. They’re even thinking about making one more visit before Florent closes June 29th.
After dinner, I went to the bathroom, and when I came back Elena presented me with my very own Florent t-shirt. “Because you love this place and it’s closing,” she said. And it was the one I’d been secretly planning to get for myself! I love Florent’s cheeky designs – there’s been a stomach postcard on my wall for a few years now.
So I have about a month left to get back and try the paté and maybe something from the breakfast or daily special menus. I’ll report back.
Florent will only be around another month. Yes, it’s been all over the news lately, deservedly, because it’s been as much a cultural asset as a culinary one. Ian and I went there last week just to make sure we made it in to say goodbye before they close. We both had the excellent burger (on an english muffin!), and I need to go back at least twice before they close so I can try the boudin noir and pâté, maybe even the mussels. I’ve always thought about ordering those, but I end up with the burger every time. It’s just so satisfying to have a simple meal that’s made with care – familiar and unassuming, but special because of the feeling that goes into it. And that’s how I’d sum up the entire restaurant, if I had to. But I’m glad I don’t have to, because Florent is more than that sum. Everything in it – from the maps on the wall to the chilled beer glasses to the nubby rounds of butter – is done with taste, precision, and a sense of humor.
The staff go out of their way to make diners feel welcome. When Ian and I were there last week, we opted to sit at the counter rather than hold out for a table. The waiter brought us kid’s menus and a cup of crayons to share with the couple next to us. We were delighted – it’s not often a restaurant encourages play.
Since that dinner last week, I’ve been trying to write about Florent, but I can’t seem to do it without sounding sentimental (neither can any of the writers, either). So I’m just going to let it stand, this sentimental post. There’s a mystery about this place, I think, and it can’t be figured out even with repeat visits. But until it’s gone, I’ll keep going back to say goodbye.
Anyone who’s known me long enough to engage in a discussion of favorite foods (on average 10 minutes) has heard me wax evangelical about my favorite dessert: sesame rice balls in warm rice wine soup. They’re a sleek rice skin expertly stretched around a ball of sweet black sesame paste, bobbing with grains of sweet rice in a sweated rice wine broth. To someone who hasn’t grown up with these, a description of the flavors and textures might not make sense. I’ve found it easier to just introduce friends to this dessert in person. The little dumplings are sweet, nutty, liquid, chewy, and earthy; the broth is sweet, sour, floral, fruity. Even people who think they don’t like sesame are pleased to meet them.
There’s a long story about my love for these dumplings: our first meeting, a tragic restaurant closing, loss, despair, rediscovery, redemption, renewal. But really, all that matters is that I know where to get them again after a few frantic months of searching. Now all I want is to introduce as many people as I can to the sesame rice ball experience, if only to have company while I eat mine.
Sesame rice ball in soup (wine flavor)
100 Mott Street (bt Canal and Hester, New York NY 10013, (212)966-3988
New York pizza is always good. Yes, even the greasy slices you can get all night on the Lower East Side, even the pizza from the hordes of places called Ray’s, all claiming to be The Original Ray’s. Plenty of New Yorkers are devoted to one or another of the pantheon of coal- or wood-burning classics, like Totono’s or Patsy’s or Lombardi’s or Grimaldi’s. And plenty of New Yorkers just love it all, devoting themselves to pizza like they expect divine illumination to beam down upon them when they’ve finally sampled every pie in the city.
I’m not one of the pizza devout, though I rarely miss an opportunity to partake of the precious wafer. I’m more of a casual believer with strong leanings towards Totono-ism (it’s in Coney Island, mecca of the curious) and a particular affinity for the gospel of John’s. Ian and I stopped in Tuesday for a sausage and garlic pie, just early enough to avoid the inevitable 8pm line at the door.
Our booth was flanked by Swedish tourists on one side and German tourists on the other. The rest of the diners were young New Yorkers, except one older man dividing his attention between pizza and a book. Generations of pizza pilgrims have carved initials, rough hearts, and dates into the wooden booths and walls, and in the front room, most of the light comes from the red neon sign in the window. While we waited for our pizza to arrive, we recognized most of the songs playing: Elvis Costello, The Rolling Stones, The Ramones, and David Bowie’s cover of Jonathan Richman’s Pablo Picasso. That’s all I remember because once pizza appeared on the table, I had no attention for anything but the task at hand: to pick up a slice and gnaw my way from point to crust.
The pizza at John’s is a careful balance of textures and flavors, like all pizza should be. The coal-oven crust is crisp yet flexible, there’s enough tomato sauce to help the crust go down but not enough to make it soggy, and there’s just enough cheese to hold it all together. The sausage was tender and pleasantly spicy, and the fresh chopped garlic generously distributed. Something about this pizza is deeply satisfying, if understated. It’s a comfortable food, and because it’s so well-made, because all parts combine into such a cohesive whole, it lets you forget to analyze flavors, and instead you just enjoy a great pizza. Really, I think this is the secret goal of making pizza, to touch those feelings of comfort, history, youth. There’s a deeper mystery involved, I’m sure, but I think that’s part of why we all love pizza so much.
John’s of Bleecker Street
278 Bleecker St
New York, NY 10014
Phone: (212) 243-1680
Last Friday I traipsed through the streets of Fort Greene, Brooklyn looking for a private residence in which to have dinner. I chose a likely-looking home and just walked in, then waited for the residents to cook and serve food. They seemed happy to oblige me and the other people who’d had the same idea, and we all had a lovely dinner with eleven strangers. How is that even possible, you ask? Through the magic of the Ted and Amy Supper Club, is how.
I had read about things like this before – the underground dinner clubs, occasional restaurants, and speakeasies hidden in plain sight all over the city, revealed only to those who knew their secret. Finally attending one was at the same time the fulfillment of a mysterious quest and a friendly evening of good food and good company. I saw the Ted and Amy Supper Club mentioned in an article in Edible Brooklyn, and since I love its namesakes, I had to check it out.
Kara and Adam, the founders of the supper club, cook a meal in Kara’s apartment for 12 guests, a mix of their friends and strangers about once every two weeks. This time the menu was Italian, specifically Olive Garden-themed, since both Kara and Adam have culinary roots in the popular chain. The food gave a good-natured jab to the faux-authentic restaurant (Adam picked up salad dressing and unbaked breadsticks from OG itself), warmed us up with stuffed and grilled calimari, then justified our love for pasta with two flavorful, well-balanced courses: the first, a short rib ragu over pappardelle, and the second, penne with vodka sauce. Dessert was a light, well-executed (neither too boozy nor too dry) tiramisu. I’d describe how good it was, but I think the picture speaks for itself.
Over the summer, Adam says they plan to do more grilling in the tree-lined backyard, and I can’t imagine a better way to spend a hot city night. There’s an easy sign-up form on the website if you’re interested in attending, and once you secure a seat, you’ll receive an email with the exact address of Kara’s lovely apartment. Invite yourself over for dinner – they’ll make you glad you did.