Saturday, December 30, 2006

A Blue Christmas

If I had to name my favorite holiday, Christmas would not be it. Maybe it’s the busloads of tourists that invade Rockefeller Center clogging up already congested streets. Or perhaps it is the flocks of fierce and furious shoppers frantic to find a last minute present for Aunt Martha. I like giving presents to my friends like everyone else, I just don’t like feeling obligated to.
As you might have guessed, Thanksgiving is my preferred holiday, because it is a day entirely dedicated to food; the only presents given are ones that will soon to be consumed. Because of my Holiday Preference, Christmas plans tend to fall by the waist side. One year I went out to Indian Food, another I went out to a bar. Last year I went to the movies, a profane American custom in my mother’s opinion.
This year my roommate and I had decided that we would have a little Christmas Eve get-together at our place, but as the Eve drew nearer we were loosing our enthusiasm. Fifty-five degree weather does little to inspired holiday cheer, besides we would have to clean the apartment, and I would have to cook.
It was two days before Christmas and though I was setting out to attempt, for the first time, my mother’s Gingerbread recipe, I was not feeling the spirit. I put the butter, molasses, and spices in a saucepan to melt slowly on the stovetop and the mixture began to fill the apartment with a sweet and gingery scent. I closed my eyes, and inhaled taking in the aroma of my childhood. As I exhaled I released a euphoric sigh and when I opened up my eyes my roommate was standing before me. “ Are you familiar with Elks Candy Store on the Upper east side?” she asked me, her eyes full of warning. “Of course, my mother would get our ginger bread house there every year when I was growing up. She modeled her own recipe after theirs. Why?” I asked. “ Well apparently they went out of business.”

The entire day was one enormous blur of sugar, eggs, butter, and spice. I made Brownies filled with chestnut puree, and decorated the ginger bread meticulously using pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, and black caraway seeds.

There were ginger bread boys, girls, and flowers, I even made gingerbread maple leafs for a Canadian Friend of mine. By the end of the day I was exhausted, covered in icing, and though I was more than a little blue about the closing of Elk’s Candy Store, it was finally beginning to feel like Christmas.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Naughty and Nice

Yes I know, I have been a very Naughty food blogger. Not only have I denied you the conclusion of my 'Cultural Fridays'- In Paris post, but I have been entirely AWOL from the blogging circuit and for this I humbly apologize. As you all know I have started a new job, and at this time of the year in the restaurant business that translates as Holiday Slave; basically I have been working everyday and have had little time for much else, my exercise schedule has gone to shit, my correspondence has dwindled and I have been more than remiss in my food blogging . I have good news for you however, I have decided to be a nice food blogger and share with you my method of making friends at a new job...That's right, Cupcakes. I've never been very good with small talk so my first week I brought these cuties to work with me. Lets face it, there is no need for small talk when you're stuffing your face with Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes.

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes
18 servings

2 cups - all-purpose flour
1 tsp - baking soda
1 tsp - baking powder
1 tsp - coarse salt
1 tsp - ground cinnamon
1 tsp - ginger
1/4 tsp - fresh ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp - allspice
1/4 tsp - cumin (if you are brave, this is not in the original recipe)
1 cup - packed light brown sugar
1 cup - granulated sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) - unsalted butter, melted and cooled
4 - Large eggs, room temperature and lightly beaten
1 can (15 oz.) - Pumpkin Puree

1.) Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place cupcake liners in cupcake pan.
In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice.
2.) In a large bowl whisk together brown sugar, granulated sugar, butter and eggs. Add
dry ingredients and mix until smooth, then add pumpkin puree.
3.) Divide the batter in pan, filling cups up halfway and bake for 20-25 min. Let cool before
icing your little cakes.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

‘Cultural Fridays’ In Paris

I am sure that you are all on the edge of your seats with anticipation about the launching of ‘Cultural Fridays.’ Well, you will be even more intrigued to find out that my roommate and I never ended up at the Whitney Museum for The Picasso exhibit as we had originally planned. Nor did we end up at The Bemelmen’s bar for Martinis. What did we do instead? What any resourceful peasants would do, we spent the evening in Paris of course.

Perhaps its best if I start at the beginning. My roommate and I have been working opposite schedules for a while now and often find ourselves taking care of roommate business and social arrangements via gmail chat, me at home and her from her office. Today was one of those days. The Whitney and Bemelmen’s was on the agenda and we had intermittently been tweaking our plan as the day and the weather report progressed. At 11am she sent me a message, “AccuWeather says there is a chance of rain
An hour later I checked the weather and responded, “Currently, there is more than just a chance of rain” “f***ing AccuWeather!” she typed back bitterly. This is something we were in the habit of doing, blaming AccuWeather for undesirable weather. It was still early though, and we decided to wait it out. By 4pm the forecast read: THUNDERSTORMS and 50 MPH WINDS!!!

Our determination to participate in Friday night nightlife pretty much dissolved with the image of us entering The Bemelmen’s bar sopping wet and with our hair so badly wind blown that we looked like a certain member of an 80's hair band.

Throughout the day I had also been sending my roommate links to appetizing posts about Parisian bakeries, and chocolate and red wine pairing on one of my favorite food blogs, David Lebovitz’s Living The Sweet Life in Paris.

Wouldn’t you just love to be in Paris eating flourless chocolate cake and washing it down with a luscious glass of Cotes-Du-Rhone?” I pressed the send button, already anticipating her answer. She responded in two seconds flat, “Oh I would loooooooove be in Paris right now and I would looooove to be eating chocolate” I could hear her dreamy sigh as I read the text on my computer screen.

My roommate has always had a love of Paris; I on the other hand, have not. I traveled to Paris in my early twenties. I was incredibly ignorant at the time, on a bare bones budget, and a vegetarian; needless to say I did not enjoy myself. I will spare you the horrors of the numerous stories that illustrate my stupidity, but will share with you one in particular that demonstrates my then shameful culinary cluelesness.
While in the planning stages of my trip, a friend of mine, who had traveled to Paris many times, gave me the names of a few cheese shops to visit. My travel companion, Chris and I had for the most part been eating out of grocery stores due to our obscenely sad budget. In Amsterdam we had done a good job of sustaining ourselves on their amazingly creamy strawberry yogurt and sandwiches of Edam and tomato on nutty grain bread. We had no reason to believe that it would be any different in Paris…

Stay tuned for the conclusion of 'Cultural Fridays' in Paris

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Without Further Ado

I was just chatting about The Gourmet Peasant blog with Kadie, a good friend of mine in California. She told me that she likes the little films and all but, “where are those recipes????” It was impossible for me to be sure of her tone, we were chatting online after all, but the excessive use of question marks lead me to believe that she was not at all happy.

It is true. I have been a bit sparse in the recipes department as of late. It seems every time I sit down to type one up, something gets in the way - most often my own hunger - and I instead end up in kitchen whipping up a little snack or a full-blown meal.

So without further ado, and before I lose a perfectly good friendship, I hereby post this new and yummy soup recipe.

Thanksgiving I used this soup as a accent to my Roasted Carrot and Garlic Soup, but everyone
agreed that this incredibly creamy and peppery soup would have no trouble standing alone.

Creamy Parsnip and Apple Soup

4 med parsnips, peeled and sliced in half lengthwise
2 large rome apples peeled and diced
3 shallots
1/4 cup of heavy cream
4-5 cups of vegetable broth
2tbs ground cumin
1tbs cinnamon
1/2 - 1 tbs cayenne
2 tbs olive oil

1.) Preheat oven to 374 degrees. Toss parsnips in oil covering them completely and spread on a baking sheet.
2.) Roast Parsnips for 30-40 min, flipping them once during roasting. Parsnips should be golden brown.
3.)On stove top, heat olive oil over medium flame. When oil is hot add shallots and apples. Sauté for 3-4 minutes or until shallots are tender.
4.) Add parsnips and sauté for 2 more minutes.
5.)Add broth and bring to a boil.
6.) remove the vegetables and apples and puree.
7.) Add puree back to broth and season with cumin, cinnamon, cayenne, salt, and fresh pepper.
8.) Stir in cream just before serving and sprinkle with crushed pecans and pomegranate seeds.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Monday, December 04, 2006

'Cultural Fridays' Part I - The Cedar Cavern

So The Cedar Tavern, where I’ve been working forever, closed down for construction two days after Thanksgiving, casting me out of the job, and leaving my Fridays wide open. I have been working Friday nights for an embarrassingly long time and the idea of having them free has caused me to sympathize with newly released convicts who have to face the exciting and intimidating prospect of their newly entrusted freedom. Frankly, other than the chance to ask patrons, ‘do you want that on the rocks or straight up?’ I have no idea what this city has to offer on a weekend night.

I must say, the opening in my life was refreshing and immediately my roommate and fellow Cedar expat and I began planning a regular Friday night outing. “ How about we have a cultural night?” she suggested, “ almost all the museums are free on Friday nights.” The museum was a great idea; it would fulfill the novel and expansive potential of this newly realized freedom, yet there seemed to be something missing from the equation. “ The museum followed by martinis,” I exclaimed, and just as I spoke the words it occurred to me what it was that was absent.

The Cedar Tavern, as with many other bars, had been its own self-contained universe, stocked with a wide variety of regular customers. There was every flavor you could imagine, there was the belligerent loud mouth who Steven-Got-Even, the best bartender in NY, would eighty-six every other week, only to have Joey, the second best bartender in NY, welcome him back the following week. There was the jovial and talkative regular who joked around and made it his business to keep abreast of the goingons, as if he were the elected mayor of this intoxicating universe. Then of course there were my favorites, the ones who came in alone to enjoy a martini and read a book, to observe, and perhaps even to participate in some light banter with employees and fellow regulars.

They, all of them, were like fixtures and, like the sun and the moon you could estimate the time of day by their arrival and their departure. If, at two o’clock on a snowy afternoon, you found yourself in the neighborhood you could always stop by for a quick Guinness and a chat with Norman about the works of Gabriel García Márquez. If, at five o’clock on a weekday you had a half hour to kill, you could join Harold for a martini and an extremely overused, yet always entertaining joke at somebody else’s expense. If at two o’clock in the morning you found yourself a little lit, yet curiously questioning the laws of physics, you could always stop by for a bourbon with ‘Martini’ Dave and he would explain it to you using metaphors in jazz.

I could go on and on and on, but I think you catch my drift; the closing of The Cedar has created unfamiliar and exhilarating possibilities in my life, but it has also left a giant chasm where this comforting and familiar universe once resided. It might be the case that a search is in order. Of course we could never find another Cedar, but we might be able to find a few different bars that could provide at least a fraction of what The Cedar had to offer. It was certainly worth a try!

So what is on the menu for the inauguration of Cultural Fridays? The Picasso and American Art show at The Whitney museum followed by Martinis at The Bemelmans Bar located in The Carlyle Hotel. Stay tuned to find out how my first Friday of freedom panned out.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Holiday Postpartum

So perhaps I owe you all a bit of an explanation about the Thanksgiving Shake and Bake. You see this quaint little montage is merely a link in the lengthy line of Peasant Thanksgiving tradition in which I require my guests to provide me with some documented form of entertainment at their own expense.

Thanksgiving 2000, I made everyone take a picture with these heart shaped antennas. She looked much happier doing the twist in my Thanksgiving Shake and Bake...

2001 everyone posed with an Indian Headdress...

And my all time favorite, Thanksgiving 2003 when everyone was subject to the Groucho Marx glasses.
Clearly my mother does not embarrass easily.

Why do I do this? There is no question that the Thanksgiving mishaps I have encountered have lopped years off the end of my life. One time the oven rack snapped under the weight of the turkey sending the thirty-pound bird plummeting through the bottom of the stove and into the broiler. Another year I learned that, when you brine the bird, it cooks faster! As charming as these escapades might be, the point is that by the time I have overcome the stresses of cooking, I have missed the liveliest part of the party. Just as I am free of the apron and can be at ease with my guests, they have all begun their one-way descent into a haze of butter drenched euphoria.
This is when Thanksgiving postpartum kicks in and I find myself asking, ‘ what is it that I have to be thankful for again?’ This year, it was only once I browsed the dancing footage that I realized what it was. I am eternally thankful that I have friends who have no problem humiliating them selves in front of a camera. Do they do it for the sake of my personal entertainment; do they do it because I would withhold their dinner if they refused? I will never be certain, but the moral kernel of the story is that when you are cooking for a group of hungry friends, you can get them to do just about anything.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Beloved Side Dish

The days before Thanksgiving are growing fewer and fewer, and the number of guests rises and falls as does my confidence. Not only is this holiday a heap of work the day of, but the entire week leading up to the festivities is crammed with back-breaking preparations: grocery shopping, decorations, soups need to be made, sauces concocted… Another thing to consider is time, not only is it a lot of work, but its an outrageous amount of hours, hours that I simply don’t have!*!@?!

You see, what these ‘festivities’ are doing to my stress levels? Something has to be done!
I reviewed the menu and decided that I would have to scale down on some of the higher maintenance dishes. Number one on the list, Brussels sprouts, sautéed in a port Dijon reduction and garnished with rustic shards of Parmesan. They are a beloved dish and have been a Thanksgiving staple for years, but replacing them with a simpler dish would lighten my load and also free up valuable space on the stovetop. Most everyone took the news well, all except for Aaron that is.

Aaron has been one of my oldest Thanksgiving devotees; he is also one of my favorite people to cook for on account of his spirited responses to each and every bite he takes. “Diggidy-Dog!>he says shaking his head after a mouthful of soup. After a nibble of salad, he jumps from his seat gyrating and shrieking Eurika! like an epileptic Elvis who has discovered something much more thrilling than electricity. It is impossible for me to write, without laughter, how it is that he responds to a mouthful of Turkey or stuffing for that matter. Foods of all sorts have a profound impact on Aaron, but it is the Brussel sprout that that has inspired the most heartfelt response.

Many Thanksgivings ago, when I first mentioned to Aaron that I was thinking about making sprouts he was more than a little skeptical. You see Brussels sprouts have never been his favorite vegetable. In fact, I’d go as fare as saying that during his childhood, he had a damaging encounter with the unsuspecting sprout and was now, years later, still experiencing post-traumatic stress. Aaron has an adventurous spirit however, and is a good sport, “I’ll give them a try,” he told me as if he had agreed to eat an insect.

It is Aaron’s original response to this innocent side dish that makes his later response so astonishing. After his first bite, he became quite, tilted his head down as if in prayer, and sat that way for almost a minute. Then, out of nowhere, possessed by some external force - good or evil it was hard to decipher - he popped out of his seat and began to twist around as if experiencing both pleasure and pain. Everyone at the table sat quietly half expecting a miniature alien to burst from his stomach and dance across the table. No such entertainment was on the agenda. When he had completed the unscheduled performance, he sat back down and continued eating, hepping and hollering with every spoonful.

At first I was surprised with how well Aaron coped with the elimination of the notorious sprouts, “I understand,” he told me, “but only because I know you’re going to make them.” The certainty in his voice was chilling. “ They‘re just too much work, I don’t have the time,” I reiterated. But, with a sparkle in his eye, and with the grin of a car salesman, he grabbed my hand gently and in a comforting tone repeated, “ I get it, I do.” He took a deep breath, “But I know you're going to make them.” His certainty must have been less creepy this time because I instantly began reviewing the menu in my head one more time, trying as hard as I could to figure out how I could squeeze in the adored sprouts.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Gourmet Math

Thanksgiving invitation created by Margeaux Mulligan, artist, mermaid, and all around nice girl.

Last you heard six was twelve, that was before Elijah's girlfriend had to work a double at the hospital leaving six at the unsavory number of thirteen. As of today, Jessica is moving back to Florida restoring six to the unsuperstitious number of twelve.

Monday, November 13, 2006

It Takes Two...

Favorite Pastime

What does a Brooklyn Peasant do when the weather turns breezy and brisk?
This past Sunday I headed out to the local grocery, making a quick detour to the new bakeshop, Joyce, for a black and White cookie. I picked up a few things at the store then headed home to partake in one of my favorite pastimes, making soup. I spent the entire day doing what I love, cooking and singing along like a goof ball to Etta James, Carmen Miranda, and Elvis Presley.

As four pots of broth gurgled on the stove top, I fluttered about the kitchen to the Big Band jive of Cab Calloway, It’s the jim-jam-jump with the jumpin’ jive, makes you nine foot tall when your four foot five, Hep Hep!

I seared, I shredded. I swung and I swayed to the swing of Billy Holiday, deep rhythm captivates me, hot rhythm stimulated me, can’t help but swing it boy, swing it brother swing!

I minced, grinded, rattled and rolled to Lightnin’ Hopkins, Wow Baby, I don’t know your name, but I do believe oh yeah, you can shake that thing come on, come on baby, wow come on baby shake that thing.

It was a wonderful day, but somewhere in the back of my mind I had an awful feeling that I had forgotten something incredibly important. I reviewed the day in my mind. Was it the coffee? No, I had brewed myself the perfect cup at home, then had a wonderful latte from Joyce. Did I forget to add an important ingredient to one of the soups? That couldn’t be it, the soups, all of them, turned out as expected. The day was a complete success, perfect damn it! It was as I finished the last minute seasoning of the soups that I was captured by Lester Young’s incredibly hip and relaxed scat intro in It Takes Two to Tango. It was then that I realized what it was that was missing from my nearly perfect day. There is only one thing better than spending the entire day alone cooking, and that is spending it cooking with somebody else.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A Thankful Realization

I Can?

Every year at this time, the reality of what I have gotten myself into begins to sink in and I am overwhelmed with alternating waves of anticipation and fear, of exhilaration and desperation. This past week I had a realization; Thanksgiving is just around the corner! It is a realization that brings along with it a mixture of joy, because it is my favorite holiday, gratitude, because I am blessed with wonderful friends and family to share it with, and terror that I will lack the ability to make it happen.

I have been cooking Thanksgiving dinner for many years now and after each year I tell myself, and my grinning friends, that I will never ever do it again. Yet every year, when Thanksgiving rolls around, I have conveniently forgotten about my vow and I promise my friends that I will cook, “ but only for a few people this time, no more than six!”

It is never six. Six is always twelve and twelve is sometimes twenty-five. I’m sure plenty of people can handle cooking a three course sit-down meal for twenty-five people without losing their composure, I am not one of those people. As the guests start arriving I become a monstrous muddle of nerves, I refuse entry to the kitchen, and tell people not to talk to me. The balance between making it happen and letting it happen becomes impossible to negotiate and at more than a few moments through out the day I find myself asking, “how did I end up doing this, again?” It is only after the meal is served, and I glance over at my friends, fat, happy and lethargically sprawled about the room, that I find the answer to my question: I do it because I want to and because I can. I can.

This year, the sensible list of ‘six’ guests is currently at eleven. “But what about Jessica?” Margeaux asked me this past weekend,
“Alright, twelve, but her husband can’t come!”
I am determined not to let the number grow, but with two whole weeks left until Thanksgiving, anything can happen.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Honky Tonk Blues

This past weekend, nature was on the agenda. The plan: pick apples from a near-by orchard then spend the day making apple pie and apple butter. Sunday morning, having eaten an early breakfast, we- my mother, her boyfriend Dave, and Margeaux- piled into the car and headed for the Orchard. Zipping down 212 at fifty miles an hour with the bellow of Hank William’s Honky Tonk Blues pouring from the windows, we crashed into a racing deer. Well I left my home down on the rural route, I told my pa that I was steppin’ out and find these honky tonk blues... We struck the deer head on and she was tossed flailing into the ditch on the other side of the road. Margeaux screamed, and I took a deep breath and held as if I were about to dive underwater. “OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD!” repeated my mother gripping the steering wheel. Yeah these honky tonk blues…My mother slowed the car down but kept driving, “ Pull the car over,” shouted Dave. She didn’t respond, “Viv, pull the car over” repeated Dave. She slowed the car this time and came to a complete stop turning the key to the ignition as she began to cry. Yeah the honky tonk blues…hey lord I got’em, I got the ho –eee—onky tonk blues...

I love the country but, deep down, I am an urban peasant and am deluded with romantic notions of nature and how it is that my life intersects it. Growing up in the city has lead me to believe that nature is something I can let into my life or not, something I can schedule in when it is convenient or postpone when it’s not. A daily run in the Prospect Park and I’m ‘tuned-in with the elements’, a day of apple picking and whalah, I’m rugged. No one in the car got hurt but the deer died within a matter of minutes. We did not go apple picking that day, scheduled or unexpected, romantic or realistically gritty, I think we had had enough nature for one day.

I’m gonna’ tuck my worries underneath my arms, and march right back to my pappy’s farm and leave these honky
tonk blues, yeah the
se honky tonk blues. Hey lord I got’em, I got these ho—ee—onky tonk blues…

Though we did not go apple picking,
we still needed some apples for the pie.

We dedicated our pie, made with store
bought apples, to the deer that was killed
that day.

May she rest in peace.

Bombastically Buttery Butter Crust


2 1/4 cups - sifted flour
3/4 teaspoon – salt
14 tablespoon
s – chilled butter cut into pieces
1/2 cup – ice water


1.) Cut butter into flour with pastry blender* until resembles coarse meal. It should be crumbly and should not resemble a paist and is inconsistent in texture. Do not over mix or your crust will not be fabulously flakey.
2.) Sprinkle mixture with ice water a little at a time and mix in quickly with a fork.
3.) Work lightly with fingers squeezing it together. You should be able to work dough into a ball, if not add more water. WARNING: It is important to work fast the mixture must remain cold.
4.) Cut in half. At this point you can roll out your dough on a lightly floured surface, or you can refridgerate for later.

* If you do not have a pastry blender (a hand tool for cutting butter into flour), you can use two butter knives. Use knives to, literally, cut butter into flour, taking time out to toss the mixture. Cut then toss, cut then toss. This method works just as well as any other.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Secret soup ingredient

If you are making soup, and you don't have time to make your own broth, then Better Than Bouillon is the way to go. 1 tsp. is the equivalent of 1 bouillon cube or 1 8oz. can of broth.

Friday, October 27, 2006

And That's How The Weekend Began - The Departure

When you live in New York, it sometimes seems impossible to escape the boundaries of the five boroughs. It may even appear that every building, train, avenue and pedestrian is conspiring to prevent your departure. Sitting in a cab on Sixth Avenue in bumper-to-bumper traffic with only fifteen minutes till our bus left, it became clear to me and Margeaux that the city was going to wield every one of her powers in order to insure that we did not have the chance to leave.
“Maybe you should take eighth Avenue,” I told the cab driver wile nervously tapping my foot. It was too seldom that I had the opportunity to visit my mother in the country and I was not going to pass this one up without a fight. Not only was it a necessary break from the melancholy cityscapes of autumn, but also it was to be the culinary kick-off the holiday season. It was the final weekend of apple picking and we planned on making my mother’s melt in your mouth apple pie, there was soups to be made, meats to be braised, and apple butter to be slaved over; we were NOT going to miss that bus!
The travel gods clearly heard my demand because, twenty minutes later, having emerged from the jaws of the city, Margo was settling into her seat, and I was telling my mom what bus be would be arriving on.
“Are you girls hungry?” she asked. My stomach was growling so loudly that I was getting glares from other bus riders who were trying to sleep.
“Mom, when am I not hungry?” I replied with a smile.
“ I’ll have a little something waiting for you when you arrive”
And that was how the weekend’s journey began.

And That's How The Weekend Began - The Arrival

The "little something" she had waiting for us.

Mama Bear’s Outrageously Delicious Carrot Ginger Soup
Serves 3

1-bag of baby carrots
1/2-medium vedalia onion
1inch x 2inch piece of ginger, peeled and shredded
1-clove of Garlic chopped fine
6-cups of vegetable broth
1-handful Pomegranate seeds
Parsley coarsely chopped
1-tablespoon coconut oil

1.) Heat coconut oil over medium heat and sauté onions until translucent.
2.) Add ginger and garlic and cook for 1min.
3.) Add carrots (almost whole bag) stir for 1min then add broth and bring to a boil.
4.) Once broth is boiling, lower flame and simmer for 25-30 min.
5.) Remove carrots from broth, purée in food processor, and add back to broth.
6.) Garnish with parsley and pomegranate seeds.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

One Way To Cure a Hangover -Part II

Breakfast and coffee had begun the process of recovery, but it would take time before I was ready to face the world. Weekends in Brooklyn can be daunting even when you don’t feel as though someone has been hitting you in the head with a hammer for hours. If it isn’t the posh brunch goers that parade Dekalb Avenue, it’s the baby stroller derby that invades Park Slope, or even worse the clumsy rollerblading clans that assault Prospect Park. Nowhere is safe from the nine-to-fivers, who all week-long are tucked neatly away in office building, and are now finally allowed to occupy otherwise peaceful restaurants, parks, and sidewalks. Weekends in Manhattan belong to the tourist, in Brooklyn they belong to the nine-to-fiver.

It was a beautiful day but I was hesitant to go outside. It was necessary however, to obtain some provisions for that night’s dinner so I downed yet another cup of coffee and prepared to brave the cumbersome strollers of Park Slope.
“How do you feel about Tuna?” I asked my Roommate.
I was now at the stage of a hangover when you feel guilty for everything you’ve put your body through and I was ready for a healthy meal. ‘A brisk walk will be good for you’ I told myself.
“ That sounds good,” she replied with a childish grin as she hid her face in her turtleneck sweeter,
“...and maybe some chocolate cupcakes.”

I knew, and any of you that know my roommate know exactly where she wanted me to go, and it wasn’t at all healthy. She did not want just any chocolate cupcake; she wanted Two Little Red Hen’s Brooklyn Blackout Cup Cake, the most sinful and irresistible cupcake ever invented. This unbelievably large cup cake is made out of moist chocolate cake and is slathered in chocolate butter cream icing, sprinkled with chocolate cookie crumbs, and, if that were not bad enough, is virtually exploding with chocolate pudding.
“Okay I’ll go, but I’m not getting anything for myself!” I told her with faltering conviction.

The park was sunny and crowded but, armed with sunglasses and headphones, neither the gangs of pedestrians nor the UV emissions could penetrate my anti-social bubble. With music blasting I kept a steady pace repeating to myself, ‘I will not have any cup cakes. I will not have any cupcakes!’

One Way To Cure A Hangover - Part II cont.

The bakery was full of little children when I got there and I took a deep breath before entering. As I approached the cupcake counter my heart welled up with inexplicable joy. “CUPCAKES!!!!” a little girl screamed with uncontrollable excitement as she ran up behind me and gazed romantically at the array of lavishly decorated goodies.
Maybe I could get something less indulgent, like a cookie, or a slice of pumpkin bread. I glanced back down at the line-up of cup cakes one more time and lost myself in the ripples of buttercream. The name of each cake was desplayed on index cards lovingly decorated with colored markers, Brooklyn Blackout, Pumpkin Spice With Cream cheese icing, Red Velvet, Lemon Cloud…
“Can I help you?” a woman behind the counter asked me waking me from my confectionary daze.
“I’ll take a Black Out cup cake”
My stomach was now growling ferociously and I realized, perhaps too late, that it was not such a great idea to go cup cake shopping with an empty belly.
“How many did you want?” she asked me with a straight face.
Was she serious or trying to break my resolve I wondered? My determination waned by the millisecond!
“Um…” I stammered. What is a peasant to do when there is only one Lemon Cloud Cupcake left in a room full of vulturous children just joansing for their next sugar rush?
“and…a Lemon Cloud as well.”
It was a losing battle I suppose.

Sure there are healthier ways to cure a hangover, there is olive oil with egg yolk and Tabasco, Milk Thistle, and even plain old tomato juice, but I must say that, the cup cake method is the most tasty of all.

Healthy Hangover Dinner

"Well at least dinner was healthy."

> Curried Cream of Broccoli Soup with a sprinkle of squash
seeds and dash of Goat cheese

> Broiled Tuna with a carrot, olive and ginger marinade

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

One Way To Cure A Hangover - Part I

“ Wine before liquor, never been sicker, vodka martini on an empty stomach before beer… "

I don't know, stupid?!? The one thing I can tell you is that, not eating all day then sucking back a Stoli martini before a night of beer guzzling is not such a hot idea. Is this something I should already know? Well, lets just say I had plenty of time to ponder the question as my morning hangover set in.
What does a Brooklyn peasant do to cure a hangover? Well it sure isn’t eating muesli. What I wanted desperately to do was to order in scrambled eggs and pastrami with grits and a side of pumpkin walnut pancakes from the cherished Tom’s Restaurant on Washington Avenue. Unfortunately, unlike every other restaurant in NYC that subjects its staff not only to Saturday brunch but to Sunday brunch as well, Tom’s is closed on Sundays. My hangover feast would have to wait for a Saturday hangover. With no other options for delivery, and a roommate also recovering from the abuses of alcohol, action had to be taken. I wiped the smeared mascara from my face, adjusted my tousled hair as best I could and made a quick run to the corner store.
I wanted to buy something greasy, fattening, and refined: pork sausage, bacon, cream cheese, and Jamaican Cocoa bread. I wandered slowly past the meat counter two or three times. I stood for an unusually long time staring lovingly at the boxes of pancake mix, much to the chagrin of the owner who probably thought I was a thief. It wasn’t easy, but I opted for at least a few of the healthier choices (whole wheat, turkey, and no cheese.)
At home, a sip of some strong hot coffee, a twist, a toss, and a dollop of butter later and breakfast was served: Toasted English muffins stacked with turkey bacon, scrambled eggs, a smear of creamy hummus, and a spoonful of my mothers homemade tomato chutney. Wow! Just what the doctor ordered: salty, sweet, with just the right amount of greasy. Hangovers are never easy when you don’t have delivery, but they certainly can be healthier.

Breakfast Ritual - Part I

I am almost as much of a devotee of my morning yogurt as I am of my morning cup a joe. I have always been a fan of yogurt, but it is Greek yogurt that has won my heart. Greek yogurts, such as Fage, Krinos, and Dana, have been strained of excess water leaving them luxuriously thick and creamy. They are so rich that they taste more like a sinful dessert than a healthy breakfast or snack. I like mine with my freshly made muesli, a mixture of rolled oats, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit.
Besides being wickedly tasty, this morning mixture is also insanely good for your health. The live cultures in yogurt help kill bacteria in the stomach and also help strengthen the immune system. The oats help lower bad cholesterol and are high in fiber, and nuts such as walnuts and flax seeds are high in omega 3 fatty acids, essential acids that also help reduce bad cholesterol. I know, I am starting to sound dangerously close to a health fanatic, but its not true! Lets us remember that accompanying my healthy morning concoction is two cups of strong coffee with sugar and half and half. The health benefits of yogurt and muesli are simply the added bonus of my delightful breakfast ritual.

A Peasant Morning Ritual

1 container Fage 0% yogurt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup of Peasant Power Muesli (recipe below)
1/4 of an apple (gala is my favorite) cut in very very thin slices
dash if cinnamon if you so desire

1.) Mix all liquid ingredients in your favorite cereal bowl then add muesli mixture, fruit, and cinnamon.
2.) Its as simple as that.Chow down.

Peasant Power Muesli

2 cups - rolled oats
1/2 cup - soy nuts (these add incredible crunchiness!!)
1/2 cup - almond slivers
1/2 cup - pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup - walnuts chopped
1/2 cup - coarsely chopped almonds
1/2 cup - dried cranberries, or apricots
1/4 cup - flax seeds, whole or ground

mix all ingredients and store in airtight container.

* Interesting food fact- Muesli was originally created in 1900 by the Swiss doctor, Maximillian Bircher-Benner. The very Swiss doctor was ahead of his time in nutritional research, believing in the benefits of a balanced diet that included raw fruits and vegetables. Of course his invention of the cereal muesli has been perverted by modern cereal companies that pack their cereals with refined sugar and corn syrup among many other unpronounceable and probably cancer causing ingredients. Do yourself a favor and try muesli in place of your morning cereal.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Works

Sahadi's Salad

Mango, Arugula, and Snap Peas Salad adorned with fig, goat cheese,
and pistachio truffles
Serves 3-4

2 bunches of arugula
1 1/2 –2 cups of sugar snap peas lightly blanched
1 seedless cucumber
1 Mango
1/2 cup of chopped dill
1/2 cup of pistachios shelled and unsalted
2 dried fig or dried apricot if you prefer
goat cheese
olive oil
sherry vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

The Salad-
1.) Blanch snap peas for one minute then rinse under cold water and slice in half on bias.
2.) Peel cucumber and slice into large rustic chunks
3.) Peel mango and cut into thin slices
4.) Rinse arugula plunging into cold water then draining water in salad spinner. Repeat 3-4 times to get out all the sand (who likes sand in there salad? Not me.)
5.) Mix all the above ingredients and the dill. Set aside.

The Goat Cheese Truffles-
1.) In a clean coffee grinder (you have a coffee grinder, right? If no, then get one) grind pistachios and place in bowl. If you don’t have a grinder, then chop the nuts by hand.
2.) Chop figs in 4-6 pieces and surround each piece in goat cheese.
3.) Roll goat cheese balls in pistachio dust then chill until ready to serve.

The Dressing-
1.) Mix together two parts olive oil to one part Sherry vinegar, honey, salt, and pepper to taste.
2.) Toss 1/4 of dressing in to salad before adding the goat cheese truffles.

Aren’t you hungry?
Enjoy with some toasted pita points and a fine bottle of Malbec.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Weekend crowds at Sahadi's

I met my friend Margeaux on Atlantic Avenue this past Saturday so that we could go to Sahadi’s, one of my favorite food relates places to go in the city. Sahadi’s is kind of a Middle Eastern Balducci’s, for those of you who remember it, without all the pretension and definitely minus the high prices. Their dried fruits, nuts, coffee, and spices, displayed without frills in glass jars and burlap sacks, are some of the cheapest you’ll find. They are not lacking in variety either; they have raw, roasted, salted, unsalted, shelled, unshelled, and seasoned nuts. They have all the standard spices, pepper, basil, and oregano as well as Syrian and Lebanese spices and blends. They’re olive counter houses over a dozen varieties of olives, pickles and four types of feta cheese.
Did I say cheese? Lord have mercy! The cheese corner contains over a hundred assortments of cheese including fresh mozzarella, farm fresh cheddar, goat Gouda and Syrian and Lebanese cheeses that I’ve never seen anywhere else. In the back of the store there is a prepared food section where you can purchase, hummus, baba ghanoug, a selection of salads, and sun dried tomatoes.
As you head toward the registers you approach my favorite part of the store filled with huge jugs of olive oil, shelves of vinegar, mustards, and olive spreads. If you like jam, make sure to try mymoune, a brand of Lebanese jams including fig, strawberry, and mulberry. Yum! Closer to the register you will find an array of goodies including, huge chunks of Dutch dark, milk, and white chocolates for baking or just for eating, freshly cut Halvah, marzipan, and freshly baked baklava and pita from the very close by Damascus Bakery. To be honest with you, I rarely make it past this section of the store without purchasing at least a tiny piece of marzipan, or on my weaker days a hunk of luscious chocolate.
Needless to say, the store is very popular with Brooklyn locals and on evenings and weekends it can be found teaming with people. I myself hate crowds and make it a habit of going on weekday afternoons when there are virtually no line-ups. Unfortunately, Saturday, an hour before closing, was the only time that Margeaux and I could meet.
Margeaux was fashionably late so I waited outside the store and nerviously watched the store fill with shoppers eager to stock their pantries for the following week and to prepare for Saturday night dinner parties. I was getting anxious at the idea of squeezing and maneuvering the congested aisle ways. It seemed that hordes of people were entering the store yet only a few trickled out and I imagined the store slowly filling to its capacity then bursting like a balloon, showering the streets with the bitter sweet mist of almonds, cumin, and cocoa.
It was Margeaux’s first time at Sahadi’s and her eyes lit up with delight as we approached the overflowing bulk station, took a number, and stood aside for a substantial wait. I looked down at my number and pursed my lips with aggravation as an employee screamed out “NUMBER 37… 37….”; we were number 78. As I waited, I took in all the brilliant colors, wonderful smells, and breathtaking textures. I watched employees zipping and shuffling about the floor filling orders, and the energy and movement coupled with the blanket of layered conversation created a symphony for the senses. I released my clenched lips, and decided to enjoy the show.
The line went extremely quickly, in fact, and next thing you know our order was being filled and I had come up with a fabulous idea for a salad to make for dinner that night.
Having filled both of our baskets to the brim, we headed for the registers, successfully passing the enticing mounds of Dutch chocolate, the alluring array of Damascus pastries, and even the warm and fragrant stacks of freshly baked pita…well, that is until the woman behind the counter yelled out, “Pita bread three bags for a dollar, we must get rid of it, three for a dollar.” It was an offer we could not resist and we added to our load three bags of whole-wheat pita.
A quick trip to the produce store next door, and an interesting and eventful cab ride followed and we were at last at Margeaux’s humble abode where I was to attempt my newly inspired salad idea.
Not every time that I go to Sahadi’s is it such a momentous journey, but this Saturday’s visit was an event, one that I will hardly forget as it was the inspiration for the salad I have documented above. This one could even make it onto my Thanksgiving menu, or should I say “Gracias” Giving.

187 Atantic Avenue
Brooklyn NYr>

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Fefe Monster and The Coffee Fanatic

I admit it. I am a coffee fanatic, a coffee geek, and a coffee snob. I love coffee so much that I am excited about my morning cup when I go to sleep the night before. French roast, American roast, French press, drip, espresso, cappuccino, with whole milk, skim, or half and half any which way is fine with me as long as I get it strong and hot. The first thing I do upon rising is to participate in my brewing ritual. I grind, I brew, and I always heat my mug – something I picked up from my mother. I dream of the day they invent a “coffee Robot” that will brew coffee to my liking and wheel it in to me first thing in the morning saying, with electronic intonation, “Here is your coffee…Madeline.” I owe most of my fanaticism to my mother for getting me addicted at the ripe young age of two. There I sat in my high chair, reaching with delight for my morning fix, a tippy-cup filled with five parts milk and one part coffee, what I called my “fefe.” Until the explosive morning when my mother forgot to add the one part coffee to my milk, she was entirely unaware of the fact that she had created a fefe monster. I threw my tippy-cup on the floor. I kicked, I screamed, I cried, “FEFEEEEE, FEFEEEE!!” She had had no idea just how bad my adiction had become. She eventually weaned me off the caffeine, but by age twelve I was drinking a cappuccino before school every morning.
Why am I telling you this? Well, partially because it is one of my favorite stories to tell, and partly because I want you to take me very seriously when I tell you that you should forever buy your coffee from Empire Coffee & Tea co. They are truly the best roasters around. Many others, claiming to be serious about their coffee, will tell you to buy from Puerto Rican Coffee co. PR Coffee co. my ass! Okay, perhaps that was a little harsh. PR’s coffee is good coffee, but it is maybe my second or third choice. More often than not their beans taste bitter and burnt. Empire’s coffee is simply better. Maybe its because they roast in small batches, or maybe its because they have been doing it with love for 91 years, who knows why . The store is located on 9th avenue in the forties and is nothing fancy. There are two couches in the front and sacks of coffee and jars of tea in the back. You can buy your coffee by the pound, or have a fresh brewed cup and biscotti from the counter. I have been going there for about 15 years now, and the staff has always been incredibly nice, it’s actually almost bizarre how nice- this is NY after all. If ninth ave and 42nd is too out of the way for you, you can order their coffee online. The web sight is a little wacky and easy to navigate, after you fill out you order form you can leave a comment, or “ you could write some poetry if you like.”
So if you yourself are a coffee snob, or just interested in becoming one check out Empire Coffee & Tea co. online or at their store locations:

568 9th ave (41st-42nd streets)
nyc, ny, 10036
(212) 268- 1220
(800) 262- 5908

Monday, September 25, 2006