Sunday, December 17, 2006

Year One is Done – FB2B, post 41

Well, hard to believe, but my baby blog is now a year old! It’s been cutting its teeth and going through some growing pains, much like any child. I’ve tried to give it room to develop and grow while attempting to guide it along in a positive and healthy direction.
I appreciate everyone who has read it, commented on it, and given me suggestions for it (but, no, Jon, squirrel melts will not be featured here). I hope that you all have enjoyed watching the process unfold as well as I’ve learned more about the food world and food writing. In 2007, my aim is to continue to work on content that everyone will enjoy and developing more recipes for you to use.
It would be great to hear from you more as well. I know that everyone is leading incredibly busy lives, but hopefully you can take time out for yourself and make catching up on this blog a part of that.
Here’s a toast to the next year – more food, more photos, more meals!

Buon appetito!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Is Thanksgiving Over Yet? – FB2B, part 40

Finally, after having digested my post-Thanksgiving binge of Food Network programming, I can once again face my stack of holiday food magazines and think about planning some new meals. Having seen an overwhelming number of suggestions and preparations for holiday leftovers, the one that really stood out wasn’t the “101 ways to make last night’s mashed potatoes appetizing again.”

It was, instead, a segment that appeared on Thanksgiving weekend Friday on The Today Show. Tyler Florence was demonstrating to Lester Holt how to make stuffed French Toast using challah and leftover cranberry sauce from a can. Stuffed French Toast is one of those things that I love to get when I eat brunch out someplace, but which I’ve never gotten around to trying to make at home.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A Season of Thanks & Giving – FB2B, part 39

On Thursday of last week, most of us gathered around tables loaded with treats and feasts. As part of our national tradition, a moment of thanks is usually given, perhaps with heads bowed in prayer, maybe with the youngest member of the assembly lisping sweetly through “The Lord’s Prayer.”

The Thanks part of my holiday this year was spent with an abbreviated version of my family. It has been a good while since we’ve had a more Norman Rockwell/mythical American form of this meal. I enjoyed it but it also brought to mind the fact that I’d read recently about how many folks aren’t even getting all the benefits that they could to feed their own families.

There are still lots of people in this country who depend upon assistance in order to nourish themselves every day. This isn’t to get super-preachy to everyone, but just to highlight that, in this season where we give Thanks for what we have, hands are reaching out to ask us to remember the Giving part by helping donate to those who have even less.

One of the things I enjoy about living in New York is that there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer. Somehow, though, I’d never really put that energy into food-related projects. It’s not even that it is difficult to find ways to help out, as my church lists the days that the local food pantry needs folks and a volunteer newsletter I get each month always has several sessions at local soup kitchens.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Hey Punkin’ – FB2B, part 38

Ah, it’s that time of year again. The magazines are filled with recipes for turkey with trimmings, side dishes galore, and pies, pies, pies. There’s hints for watching one’s waistline while not offending that aunt who brought over her favorite casserole, tips for trying to make those family favorites into lo-cal treats, and the inevitable pseudo-science articles about the sure-fire way to cook a turkey without giving everyone food poisoning.

I have a confession to make, however. There is one thing I just can’t stand about this holiday: Pumpkin Pie. This is a bit odd for two reasons: a. I love sweets and have been known to eat pies and b. I like pumpkin. I just don’t like the concoction that is usually presented at every standard Thanksgiving buffet. It’s just too cloying, too gelatinous, too something.

I can’t really put my finger on it, but each year I have the same problem of how to refuse to eat someone’s culinary contribution to the feast. So, my quest has been to look for recipes that present an alternative point of view to the pie. For years, I’ve searched out other options.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Clear Out the Cupboards - FB2B, part 37

As I mentioned in my previous post, I've been working some pretty long hours this past week. I've been staffed on a project that's to last a minimum of another two weeks so more of the same is ahead of me. As I get paid by the hour, that's some nice overtime in the bank; however, that schedule also takes its toll in other areas.

One of those is my eating and diet. Losing 10+ hours in opportunity costs (the amount of overtime I billed this week), doesn't make it easy to prepare, shop and plan for mealtimes. Perhaps it is for these reasons that the new Real Simple Food was appealing to me. I've enjoyed the regular magazine and often found some good tips in it, so I was interested to see what tidbits a version solely dedicated to food would tell me.

With hints about speeding up prep time, sample meals, and suggestions for what to stock in one's pantry, the magazine tries to address how to feed ourselves and our families with our time-starved lifestyles. It made me think that it was also long time since I had overhauled my own kitchen cabinets and fridge.
One item I think is really useful is "The periodic table of produce." It goes through how to store and how long to keep various items. For me this is always a challenge as I'm not always up for preparing dinner after working overtime. Sometimes, I have to admit, food goes bad before I have a chance to eat it. Hopefully, having this reference on hand, I'll be able to make smarter shopping decisions.

Now, in a soul-baring first, I'm going to throw open the contents of my refrigerator and cabinets. I know that they are not the best-stocked they've ever been, but I think that they have some good options. I just need to do a big shop to fill in the missing pieces and to restock some of those things I've used up.
A selection of spices is always good to dress up dinner

Oils and vinegars for cooking and marinades

Nothing in the freezer except chicken, puff pastry, filo, and cookie dough

Look: frozen peas, some pine nuts and almonds, and back-up coffee

Not much in the fridge except some breakfast food and cheese

Hmm...wonder from whom I learned to put foot lotion in the door...

Always good to have garlic, shallots and onions available

Coffee (of course), granola and pasta are always readily at hand

Baking supplies are top-shelf

And look what I found hidden in the back! Good thing I didn't buy this again.

Buon appetito!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Burgers Baby! - FB2B, post 36

Having pulled two 10-hour-plus days back-to-back, I felt I was entitled to pre-spend some of my future overtime earnings on dinner. Even the above pile of take-out menus didn't seem all that inspiring as far as choice. I'm not sure if it's just me, or my iron-deficiency cravings, but burgers seem to be a much-discussed topic in blogland lately. Even Frank Bruni was interviewed in A Hamburger Today.

I've written before about one of my favorite spots to grab a burger when the weather's nice in the city (see link). Tonight, however, that was too far to trek from my Midtown office building. I headed towards my apartment and stopped in at a local restaurant instead.

You know this place. Almost every area has one. It has reliable, tasty food and a solid menu. It's the place you think of for Sunday brunch or Saturday lunch, the place to take out of town guests to grab a bite their first night in town, and where you know the game is on (doesn't matter which one) every night. Most of all, it is the place where you can grab a good, meaty burger and at a reasonable price.
Isn't that lovely? Look at those fries - crispy and fluffy at the same time. I have a friend who can eat a whole portion in a matter of minutes. My burger came medium rare, as usual, covered in melted cheddar cheese, served on a toasted kaiser roll.

My additions were the standard for me: ketchup, mustard (not the yellow American kind), and a slice of red onion. It's a ritual for me when I decide that a burger is the thing to hit that hunger spot. In general, I skip the lettuce and tomato. It just interferes in my opinion. Besides, they always seem to slip and slide out of the bun.

So, here's a salute to those local joints, the ones that keep us fed when we are hungry and also serve us what our soul craves.

Buon Appetito!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

What's in the Fridge? – FB2B, post 35

I knew from the first minute I woke up this morning that it was raining outside. I could hear the sloshy sound of cars traveling on the streets, water spitting out from under their wheels. What a great excuse to lie around in bed all day.

Then, my stomach started to grumble a little. Obviously, it had other ideas for what I should be doing at that moment. I threw back my fluffy duvet and rolled myself out of bed, literally. I knew that I really had too much to do today to waste all of it sleeping.

Stumbling to the kitchen, still a bit bleary-eyed, I opened the fridge. Hmm, let’s see, there’s ham, cheese, milk, butter, eggs, and I know I have bread in the freezer. Inspired by something that was on the company cafeteria’s menu last week, I realized I had on hand the ingredients to make Croque Monsieur.
Although bit unorthodox for breakfast, this is one of my favorite all-time, top-5 sandwiches. Toast (how could one go wrong with that?), ham, melted cheese, and béchamel, then lightly grilled. Add an Orangina, and one could almost feel as though it was lunchtime in Paris.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

What’s up with that Now? - FB2B, part 34

Given the ever-changing nature of information, I’ve decided that every so often, I need to go back to earlier musings and give them a bit of a buff and shine, update them as it were. Several of the topics on which I’ve written previously have come up in other areas. Clicking on the bolded word(s) will link you to the original article. The link to the update follows the blurb about what’s new.
Taco Party – I never thought that my little ode to picky childhood eating habits would be a trend-setter, but it looks like Chow (the food website that is the successor to the failed, tried-to-be-hip food magazine) took my idea and spiffed it up quite a bit, making it more authentic and less 70s/80s-era suburban. The upshot is the same, though: do-it-yourself dinner can be fun for everyone. (see link)
Toast – Remember when I said that I just wanted said appliance to make toast, nothing else? Well, it seems as though not everyone agrees with me on this. I’ve see this version advertised elsewhere but had not known until I came across this article that now there is a celebrity endorsement for something that I consider a bit excessive. (see link)
S’mores – I have to thank my mom for bringing this to my attention. Traditional graham cracker squares are so last season, it seems, because now we have holiday ones. For the fall/autumn line for 2006, Williams-Sonoma has decided that we need bat-shaped versions. I’m not sure I could bring myself to eat these. Besides, they supply the wrong kind of chocolate for the purist s’more maker. And, just for the record, brown is NOT the new black. (see link)
BLT – The “Grinder” section of Chow had a brief blurb about tomato season this year. I thought it was interesting that this particular sandwich reference was used to start off the talk of end-of-summer bounty. (see link)
Spinach – This story continues to develop as investigators pursue the leads on what caused the E. coli outbreak. The New York Times dining section for today had an interesting article about what this case means for increased regulation of produce safety. I have to say that “smoking gun spinach” brings to mind a visual of hunting for some rogue greens who maraud around vegetable patches slaying innocent foliage. (see link)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Spinach-gate 2006 – FB2B, post 33


It might seem that I’ve been a bit mum on the latest food scare that broke out last week, but the truth is that I’ve been trying to absorb all of what’s been going on with this. E. coli and other bacterial infections are no laughing matter, and food safety issues are something that I hold pretty highly now that I’m getting a bit older and my digestive system seems to be getting more sensitive to things. I often think that people underestimate how improper handling of food items can make one very, very ill or even kill them.
I’ve lived through a few of these and have learned to take a step back to see what facts emerge before jumping to conclusions, waiting for the hype to subside. 

Remember “The Great Egg Scare” of 1988? For those who don’t recall, this was kicked off by then UK Junior Minister of Health Edwina Currie. In talking last night to someone who works in the restaurant industry, he said he still knows people who don’t eat Caesar salad because of the fear of salmonella in the dressing (a true Caesar uses raw or coddled egg yolks). For a little bit, it was enough to put me off of poached eggs, as well, but that soon passed.

Despite the prevalence of information to the contrary and tips on how to avoid poisoning oneself, I can see how folks would steer clear of anything but cooked eggs after the mis-statement that “a majority of British eggs were infected with salmonella.” Pity, because a really fresh, soft-boiled egg is a great way to start of the day (with buttered toast soldiers, of course). I wonder if the same thing will happen with spinach.

This particular scare hits particularly close to home, as recently I was diagnosed with slight anemia. It was concerning enough to my GP (yes, the same one who doesn’t know about the BBLT), that she wanted me to start taking iron supplements. Not being a big pill fan, I am also trying to get more nutrients via my diet in the hopes that I will not be taking these pills (which can have some downsides) for too long.

Truthfully, it’s taken me many years to actually enjoy eating spinach and one easy way to do that is to eat it raw in salads. Bingo, there goes that iron-supply treatment. That’s where the problem arises given the current situation. The company cafeteria at work pulled all of it (not even serving spanakopita as advertised on the luncheon menu today), and it also disappeared from the mesclun salad mix they normally serve. The managers had put a very helpful sign next to the salad bar explaining to us that due to FDA recalls, it was no longer being served.
Interested to see the impact of this movement on other food places, I took my camera and scoped out a few stores in my neighborhood. The small, mini-chain more high-end greengrocers didn’t have any on the shelves.
But look what I found in their loose, mixed salad bin….(in their defense, the original recall was for specific brands of bagged salad so maybe that didn’t qualify).
Then, I visited a larger chain of stores, one that’s quite prevalent in Manhattan. They had pulled all the fresh and bagged spinach off of the shelves. I couldn’t even find a bag of mixed greens that might have it included.
Lastly, because by that time I was really hungry, it having already been a long day at work, I decided to check out a local restaurant that features a great dish of grilled calamari and grilled, sliced potatoes served on a bed of sautéed spinach. I was curious to see what they would do.
They had a side of mesclun which was devoid of the same baby spinach as our company cafeteria’s. Nothing was lost on the meal by this change. It turns out that the chef (to whom I spoke later) said that he’d originally served it that way and had switched to spinach when preparing it in the winter.
This was akin to the day the Mad Cow news broke when I was living in Italy several years ago. Before I could make it to the butcher’s shop after work, all the beef and beef products had been pulled from the shelves. In a twist of supply-and-demand, all the non-beef items were prominently on display with new, higher prices. I’ll also be curious to see what the economic after-effects will be following on from this food scare. Are we going to be eating more iceberg this winter?
Buon appetito!
Many food websites and blogs have carried stories about what is going on with the spinach recall. I scanned quite a few of them and was a bit surprised that the food/dining sections of some of the larger ones didn’t have more extensive coverage of the issue and its implications for factory and organic farms. I had wondered if this would be used as a launch pad for a larger food safety discussion by the community of experts.
For a farmer’s point of view, check out Chez Pim. Marian Burros (whom some might remember from her Consumer Reporter days on Washington, D.C.’s WRC-TV) wrote very briefly about it in her column in the New York Times this week, and Nina Planck of Real Food wrote an Op Ed that was published today. Kim O’Donnell covered it more extensively in the Washington Post. I’ve been checking into CNN and the CDC site which are more up to the minute in my eyes, even if they are more factual than exploratory.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

My Summer Reading – FB2B, Part 32

While some folks might curl up with a juicy novel or the latest thriller, the dwindling days of summer 2006 found me reading up on blogs and blogging. I’ve also been analyzing some of the blogs I read on a semi-regular basis. Recently, after having written for eight months or so, I actually decided to do some studying up on this concept, much like looking at the instructions only after something doesn’t quite seem to work the way that you had thought it might.

After work one day, I headed over to the Mid-Manhattan Branch of the New York Public Library to look for books about HTML (I love the NYPL.) and doing my own website. There must have been a mad rush by New Yorkers to brush up on their computer skills during the dog days of August, because not a single book on that topic was on the shelves. To me that seemed a bit odd, as there really isn’t much to starting one’s own blog from a technical standpoint. Log onto Blogger.com and it walks you through the process.

What I was trying to do by researching this was to figure out a deeper philosophical question regarding The Experimental Gourmand: Where is its place in the blogsphere and what do I want it to be? This is not a light-hearted endeavo(u)r. As this link from Cravings points out, blogs are now analyzing other blogs and selecting which ones they think are worthwhile recommending to the wider blog audience. It seems as though there must be some cycle in which newspapers or magazines highlight blogs and the foodblogging phenomenon because something seems to appear every so often about the same topic in the print press.

One of the key things about blogs rather than magazines and newspaper articles is that you can actually directly query the writer. Well-run blogs feature long strings of comments and often will have questions answered directly by the host. How often can you just ask someone about something he or she wrote and get a response from that person? I know that most of you who check out this site are lurkers (i.e., those who read but don’t comment), but for many folks this is a way to create a dynamic exchange of information and ideas.

Food blogs have expanded at a rapid pace since the inception of this method of communication. They have been considered for awards in the most prestigious of culinary prizes – The James Beard Awards. Several well-known bloggers have been awarded book contracts and have become food writers for the more mainstream newspapers and magazines (Julie/Julia Project, Chocolate & Zucchini). They even have their own advertising network.

In a twist (not with a twist), a few prominent food journalists are now hosting their own blogs, such as Frank Bruni of the New York Times. It seems as though the lines are getting a bit blurry these days, which is interesting as a cooking writer and teacher told me two years ago during her course, “Nobody reads blogs.” At that point, I’d been reading them for six months or more.

Many food blogs list their other favorite blogs and link to interesting articles by the same. The Food Section is one of my must-reads a couple of times a week as it brings together information from lots of different sources as well as highlights for what is happening in the New York food world. (I often think that lots of the food blogs are written by New Yorkers – are we that obsessed with food?) I also check out Gothamist on a regular basis.

What seems to have developed, from my blog, is more of a weekly food-related column more than what might be strictly considered a blog. My hope for The Experimental Gourmand is that you find the information on this site to be useful and entertaining. It’s definitely helped me realize that I am passionate about food and food-related things. I’ve learned quite a bit in trying to explore my passion for food and eating in working with this new medium and my digital camera. It also helps me chronical different events in my life and helps me to tuck away positive memories, even in the darkest of days.

As a parting shot, and by way of encouragement to get y’all more interested in this electronic exchange, here’s my list of some of my favorite food blogs. I probably look at each of these every week and tap into some of their links if I’m researching something in particular. Someday, and with your help, maybe I’ll get to be in their league. Not every city where you live even comes close to being covered, but I hope that you’ll find some sites from which you can get some great food and eating ideas. Some of these also cover health-related food issues.

101 Cookbooks (www.101cookbooks.com) – For those of you wondering about what to do with your overflowing shelves of cookbooks and pages of recipes torn from magazines, Heidi Swanson decided that she need to start cooking from them. Here are her chronicles.
An Obsession with Food (www.obsessionwithfood.com) – West Coast-based food writer who seems very tapped into that area’s happenings. I love the copper pots that he uses as his banner on the top of his site. He’s also very into wine.
Becks & Posh (www.becksposhnosh.blogspot.com) – Modern Cockney rhyming slang for “nosh,” according to the header on the site, Sam is very involved in the San Francisco food network. Really, one of my favorite blogs.
Bourrez Votre Visage (www.bourrezvisage.com) – French for “stuff your face,” this was one of the early blogs to receive press acclaim. I checked it out before posting today and it now seems to be an ad for one of the blogger’s own businesses. Shame because they had a good angle on DC restaurants. Good for the list of blogs on the “Food Blog Central” tab.
Chez Pim (chezpim.typepad.com) – Pim has made the transition to doing what she loves about food fulltime. She is considered one of the standard-bearers of the medium.
Chocolate & Zucchini (www.chocolateandzucchini.com) – an odd combination for a name, but then blog titles generally reflect the passions of the writer(s). This is an informative and very well-known blog. Clotilde lived for a few years in California and is now back in Paris. She has some great recipes and is now writing a cookbook.
Chowhound (www.chowhound.com) – Looking for the best restaurant in Guam? Trying to find out what to do with the random items in the food basket Great-Aunt Sophronia sent you last holiday season? Post your questions here and you are likely to find the answers to them. One of the early sites to tap into foodie mania.
eGullet (www.egullet.org) – Renown site for culinary information and tidbits. The forums are the places to find all sorts of information and food facts. This is the one site on which you will have to register to get access to all of its features.
Epicurious (www.epicurious.com) – This is an essential resource for cooks. I’m not sure that you could actually throw away all of your cookbooks and solely rely on this website for ideas, but you could come pretty close. The key to using it well is also to read the comments at the bottom of the recipes of those who have tried to make these dishes before you. Their changes can sometimes be goldmines. This site also acts as a repository for recipes from Gourmet and Bon Appétit magazines
Gothamist (www.gothamist.com) – o.k. so technically not a foodblog, but they do run food things and are great for updates of NYC happenings/politics/news in general. Also have Dcist, Sfist, etc. It is one of my daily must-reads.
Julie/Julia Project (http://blogs.salon.com/0001399) this blog has ended and Julie has moved to another site to continue her writing career (juliepowell.blogspot.com). She’s another individual who has made the transition from blog writer to author to freelance writer. Her hook? She worked her way through Julia Child’s The Art of French Cooking and blogged about it for the world to follow her successes and failures.
Leite’s Culinaria (http://www.leitesculinaria.com) David Leite is a respected food writer, some of whose work you might have already read. His articles on various food-related topics combine information with a dash of humor. This site is full of recipes that have been tried by his team of testers. He is the recipient of the 2006 James Beard Award for Best Internet Food Web Site.
Nordljus (www.nordljus.co.uk/en) – Hands down, the best blog out there for food photography. This isn’t just my opinion, either. Folks write about how in awe they are of these creations and their visual representation. Having just started to try to take photos of food (even if it generally doesn’t squirm around like little children), I can tell you, getting shots like these is not easy.
Slashfood (www.slashfood.com) – A much-quoted, very respected blog. Again, one of my standbys and must-reads. Also check out the links to other food blogs here.
Slice (www.sliceny.com) – hard to believe that a one-food-topic blog dedicated to pizza is a huge hit, right? Lots of people are very passionate about this topic. Also check out A Hamburger Today (www.ahamburgertoday.com) for another installment by the same author.
The Amateur Gourmet (http://www.amateurgourmet.com/) By a New York-based food writer and graduate student. His breadth is wide and he covers lots of topics. What might be more of interest to the non-NYC set are his cooking experiments, which he’s now letting us see via videoclip (vlogs).
The Food Section (http://www.thefoodsection.com) Personally, I don’t consider this to be a blog but more of an on-line food resource, as it gathers together information from various sources and republishes it. The yellow sidebar keeps track of lots of interesting articles, recent food press, and tidbits.
Buon appetito!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

An Unhappy Anniversary – FB2B, post 31

This is probably a more difficult post to right than usual, today. It’s not that I don’t in general write from the heart, but this hits a bit closer and is not as light of a subject matter as that about which I general opine. You see, tomorrow is going to be a long day, but then, it usually is.
The first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the devastation it wreaked across the Gulf Coast has passed. Right on its heels is the fifth anniversary of the attacks on the United States. In both cases, destruction was instantaneous, deadly and earth-shattering (in the literal sense of that word). Whole neighborhoods were torn apart and lives were changed forever or lost in the blink of an eye.
For the past four years, it has really been a matter of getting through this anniversary, of trying hard not to remember too much. Not to remember the way it used to be, what was lost, what still hasn’t come back. Not to think about it all too much. Despite the plethora of events taking place this weekend and next week to commemorate the terrorist attacks of 2001, I decided this time to reflect on my Lower Manhattan life from 09/10 and before. To try to remember.
Many of my memories of working in that area have to do with food and drink (some may be more of the latter than the former). Sense of direction? Well, mine has never been that great, which is a handicap in a city in which everyone generally refers to “south-east corner of something” or “north-west side of the street.” The two main Manhattan navigational landmarks were always the towers and the ESB (Empire State Building).
On more than one night out downtown, the comment was made by someone in our group, “Well, the towers are that way, so that must be South,” with a wave of a slightly inebriated hand. [the ESB isn’t visible from all parts of the city] After the attacks, the high-powered lights that illuminated the 24/7 recovery efforts took their place for a time. Now, it’s almost as though their absence fills that role, but that void isn’t always a reliable directional device, trust me.
After 09/11, there was quite a bit of press about Downtown businesses and how they were trying to survive and rebuild in the aftermath of the attacks. What struck me at the time, and some of what I still remember, is how many of these establishments were related to the food industry. Money may move Wall Street but its belly does need to be fed as well.
From hotdog carts to drinks at Windows on the World, from the food kiosks in the Plaza of the Trade Center, to the restaurants on Greenwich Street just north of the tower complex, the variety of choices was widespread in terms of price and cuisine. Even the vast mall underneath the plaza contained many places from which to dine during that lunchtime dash to nourish one’s body. Every so often, one had to get away from the company cafeterias that most organizations have.
I can pretty much still remember the list of options for errands and refueling stops that existed for workers in the area. I met friends at Gemelli (the Italian place off the Plaza), grabbed a quick bite at Hale & Hearty Soups, stood on line to get sandwiches at Au Bon Pain, nibbled on sushi at the place near the Sbarro, and on occasion, made a mad, mid-afternoon sugar dash to the Ben and Jerry’s at the complete opposite side of the complex from where I worked, always trying to beat my previous record for being away from my desk without being it noticed.
Some of my happier memories are of trying to find a seat at lunchtime on one of the benches that ringed the fountain in the Plaza, the golden statue gleaming in the bright summertime sunshine. Competition for these seats was fierce, like much of life in financial services. Stock Exchange traders in their color-coded jackets and large badges stood out there just as much as the sunray-grabbing fresh-faced interns and newly-minted analysts that flood the halls of financial institutions each summer with the same regularity as the arrival of seasonal produce.
Così had recently opened up a shop at one of the entrances to the complex and had also placed a small stand there selling limited numbers of sandwich and salad choices. This was great for me because it was closer to my office and meant that I could grab one of those coveted seats a bit earlier, taking time to listen to one of many bands that played during the sponsored lunchtime concerts. On a daily basis, the Plaza was a great, big melting pot of languages, cultures and peoples all snatching a brief, fresh-air break during their long, intense workdays. It was great people-watching.
Krispy Kreme had a store at the Church Street entrance to the Plaza, as well. Every morning, coffee in hand, I would pass by those large windows that seductively showed gleaming, fresh, hot donuts rolling by on the conveyor belts. I have to say, I never succumbed to this cheap, sweet advertising ploy, having already consumed far too many of these in my lifetime prior to the company’s nationwide expansion (they come from the South). For that, I am sorry.
In the evening, there were lots of places off the surrounding streets to gather with friends. I think I may have been back to a couple of them once or twice since then. Downtown is no longer the place to consider for a night out, despite the fact that there are still plenty of places to go. I sort of feel as though there’s a cordon that stops about Chambers Street. Prior to that, life was very different. It was just too sad to be down there, too difficult to party nearby where so many had died due to the fact that they worked in a certain place.
I’ve never been to New Orleans so I can’t speak to what happened there and how that city has changed. However, I did live in New York prior to 09/11 and have lived here since. One interesting facet of life in both cities is that eating and good cooking are treated as one’s birthright, hands down. The industries hardest hit after their respective tragedies were tourism and restaurants/food. Places were closed, some never to open again or whose reopenings remain in serious doubt. Residents and visitors to these establishments were gone or displaced.
In both cases, as well, the culinary community rallied round to help those who were affected by these events. Jobs were found, scholarships set up, and new attention was given to the importance of eating out as an integral part of these cities’ cultural landscape. Some places will never return. Some have found homes in other cities. New York has picked up some more Southern accents.
As we enter another year moving away from both of these tragic events, continuing to remember what was lost and hanging on to the good parts of what existed, creating new memories of food shared with friends is the best healing that we can have. Anytime I’m dragged down to view the pit, I insist that we grab a bite to eat down there. I’ve located a place for a great slice, found a favorite brunch place, and had amazing artisanal ice cream across the Brooklyn Bridge. With these tastes in mind, holding onto my more pleasant memories of what the World Trade Center area was like prior to that Tuesday morning, and ignoring all the press rehash of what happened on that crystal-clear fall day, I think I can safely make it through this anniversary relatively unscathed.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Truth is, I don’t really like Mayonnaise – FB2B, part 30

Mayonnaise is one of those food items that I have a dislike/hate relationship with. Over the years, I’ve hoped it would change but it hasn’t. The smell of a knife having been used to spread mayo and left in the kitchen sink makes my stomach turn. I can’t stand the way it makes bread all spongy or the sight of oozy white stuff in tuna or chicken salad*. Mayo on fries, don’t even get me started on how repulsive that is to me.

That’s probably a bit surprising as I like other gooey white food products: yogurt, sour cream, crème fraîche, double cream (mmmm…w/ scones please). Mayonnaise and I have just never hit it off. For some reason, though, this summer, when the tomatoes were at their peak, I decided I wanted to see if I could change that. I decided that maybe if I made my own mayonnaise, I might actually like it.

As you may have read on the previous blog, I went a bit tomato crazy in August. It’s just so hard not to, with such gorgeous specimens available. And the flavors are amazing. I decided that the showcase for this, using only Greenmarket produce, would be a BLT. Again, baring my soul to you, dear readers, I have to confess, I’ve never liked BLTs.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

It’s Tomato Time – FB2B, part 29

In the cycle of the seasons, the end of summer usually brings with it a plethora of tomatoes. A really fresh, ripe tomato that’s been raised outdoors (not in a greenhouse) smells just like a warm, lazy August day with sunshine, a blue cloudless sky, and the sound of bugs droning in the background.

If you can get the chance to pick one jus as it is ready, straight from the vine, you are one of the lucky ones. Hold it up to your nose and inhale (yes, this is legal). To me, this is its quintessential fragrance: the mellowness of the red with a bit of a sharp tang from the green. It is the contrast between the smooth roundness of the tomato and the prickly parts of the stalk from which sprung the vine on which it grew.

Some of these memories come from the years when my mother decided to cordon off part of our backyard so that she could grow vegetables (fortunately, it wasn’t any part of the yard where we used to kick soccer balls between used car tires). I can’t remember for how long she did this, but it has left me with a life-long appreciation for freshly-picked produce and the ability to know what a real tomato should taste like. I have been forever spoiled.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Preppy Meals – FB2B, part 28

In this entry, I decided to tackle something that I find mind-bogglingly fascinating and slightly strange at the same time. I know that it’s Wednesday, and that my posts are relatively consistently put up at the weekend, but an article in The Washington Post’s “Food” section today caught my eye. This article will be available for free from the paper’s website for a week, then it will go into their archives. So, as they say, “Get it while it’s hot!”

For a while now, there has been growing press about two new and different types of ways to get food on yours and your family’s tables each evening. Long-gone is the era of even middle-class families having cooks or someone to help with the household chores, well, unless you have lots of kids and make them do the work. Personal cheffing and meal prep places have been receiving lots of attention as solutions to our time-starved (forgive the term) lifestyles.
The former, for those not familiar with it, is where a trained cook comes to your home, fixes meals based upon menus you have chosen jointly and leaves them in your refrigerator with preparation instructions. Then, on a weekly/bi-weekly/monthly schedule, whatever you have chosen, he/she returns and starts all over again. Meals are prepared specifically to your tastes and dietary requirements.
There is some selection in terms of what you pull out of the fridge and heat up, but there’s no heavy cooking or prep work involved (however, depending upon the plan, you might prepare the salads and side dishes). For those who never want to fix anything and who balk at the thought of eating take-out or fast food every night of the week, although I’ve had roommates who didn’t mind doing that at all, this might be a good meal-plan option. Depending upon the prices, you might even come out ahead.
Washingtonian Magazine (www.washingtonian.com) in its October 2003 issue, did a great roundup and explanation of this service and the pricing; you can check it out online or back order it. The Food Network ran a segment on the topic a little while ago, and I think I’ve seen it re-run as well. Several schools that hold cooking courses also offer the possibility to receive personal chef certification and instruction. I’ve actually debated pursing this career path for a few years but am concerned about the start-up costs for it.
The latter meal-prep option, the one featured in the Post today, is where you go to a facility that has everything already set up, chopped, washed, and laid out, recipes are set up, and you yourself put together the meal for cooking later at your own home. There’s nothing for you to buy, everything is measured out to make a specific dish, and there’s no extra ingredients left over to wilt or mold in the back of your fridge (“Honey, what is this green fuzzy thing behind the mayonnaise jar?”). Again, there are various pricing options depending upon how much you would like to make and the kinds of ingredients you are using.
As an urban singleton, none of these plans seem to suit my lifestyle any more than ordering from my local whatever-cuisine place or stopping for a bite at the diner in my neighborhood. Besides, I like having leftovers. I usually refer to them as “next day’s lunch/dinner.” Part of it, I guess, is that I also like to cook most of the time. For me, preparing my own dinner is just a natural part of the day; sometimes it is even therapeutic and soothing to create a dish out of myriad ingredients I may have on hand. It also makes the apartment smell wonderfully homey.
I grew up in what might be termed a larger household, though, and admit that sometimes dinner was catch-as-catch-can what with our varying evening schedules (“Hamburger macaroni, hmm, must be Cub Scout meeting night.”), homework, piano practice, etc. Also, with so many family members, our taste buds weren’t always in sync. In this atmosphere, I learned how to wield a knife, wooden spoon and can opener at a much younger age than most of my contemporaries. I’ve actually been shocked to find, as my roommates have grown younger and younger over the years, how many people were never ever taught the basics about how to put together something to eat.
Perhaps that is part of the draw of these facilities: they allow people not to have the basic techniques that they were never taught and are afraid to learn but still let them manage to put food on their family’s table. I’m not trying to be harsh here. I guess I’m trying to understand why there is a draw to these places and services when I really don’t think that they save any more time than I do in fixing my own meals myself. (How hard is it to marinade a steak?) In reading through the menu choices, the possible selections seem interesting, but I’m not convinced that I’d know that far in advance what I’d like to eat on any given day.
In fact, cooking and shopping for one can actually be more expensive in the time-is-money factor per person, and I bet it is more costly than doing the same for a family. Especially, as for me to shop economically in New York City, I either have to take a subway or two buses or some combination of thereof to get to the least expensive places in town. We don’t have warehouse shopping in Manhattan and forget about loading up a car with food or anything else.
Personally, I wonder about giving up quality control (I like to choose organic where I can.) and the TLC that goes into personally selecting the ingredients for dishes for my loved ones. I learned so much about food and cooking by watching my mother prepare our dinners, feel that nothing can replace the smell of onions sautéing in melted butter, and remember the kitchen and dining room tables as the gathering places in our household. A large part of my childhood and some very fond memories would be gone without those moments. With new homes being built with dramatically increased square footage for those rooms and equipped with all sorts of special and designer features, it seems to me like a waste, then, not to use them to cook for and sustain our families ourselves.
Resource List:
The article in the Post mentions several services available in the DC metro area. Here are their websites, if you would like to check them out to see what they offer. As none of them offer services located in an urban setting, I was unable to test them out personally myself. The article also has a handy PDF comparison chart.
Many companies are located in various metropolitan areas throughout the United States and are run as franchises. They even have their own trade association (Easy Meal Prep Association) and many retail suppliers willing to serve them. 12-meal packages that you prepare on-site (with 4-6 servings each) varied in price from $199.00 (My Girlfriend’s Kitchen) to $230.00 (Dinner My Way). Menu selections also vary widely to my tastes.
Let’s Dish! (www.letsdish.com)
Thyme Out (www.thymeout.com)
Dream Dinners (www.dreamdinners.com)
Dinner My Way (www.dinnermyway.com)
My Girlfriend’s Kitchen (secure.mygirlfriendskitchen.com)
Buon appetito!

Friday, August 25, 2006

36 Hours Visits Washington, DC – FB2B, Part 27

A regular feature in the New York Times on Fridays is the piece where someone goes and visits a city, wanders around, eats at some local places, sees the sites, and then writes about it. O.K. That might be a bit simplistic of a synopsis, but the point is that these are quick bites about a place, rather than in-depth explorations of a city’s delights.


Please don’t think that I’m faulting this genre in any way, in fact, quite the contrary, I enjoy reading the pieces each week and have pulled quite a few articles for my places-to-be-visited collection. So, I was especially interested in today’s topic for "36 Hours" – my hometown-ish of Washington, D.C. – and curious to see the writer’s take on it. (click here for article) I was sort of disappointed, however, to see that he barely touched on some of the myriad eating establishments that dot the city’s landscape (Galileo, Zola, Marcel’s, and Kinkead’s among them).

Not ever hailed by any stretch of the imagination as one of the great culinary cities of the United States, or the world for that matter, I find it fascinating at how much has changed in the 10-plus years since I’ve lived in the area. While there were always a few stand-out restaurants, the stars were usually hidden amongst the reams of mediocrity and the downright awful – and I’m not just talking about the hot dog carts or the government-agency cafeterias (though I’ve eaten at both). Now, there seem to be plenty of choices and price ranges for places where one can find a good meal.

Here are some of my thoughts on the author’s recommendations about where to go and what to eat while visiting the Nation’s Capital. You’ll note there’s not a “death dog” cart among them. [Please note that the link to the original New York Times article will only be active for a week. After that, it is available for a fee from their archives service.]

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Ah…Crabs…mmm…yum – FB2B, Post 26

Just to break up the flow of my usual posts, and because I recently got back from spending time in Virginia with my family (always a source of inspiring, if unusual, thoughts), I was wondering if I should do something clever for this post like write an Ode to Old Bay® Seasoning. Then, I thought about it and decided that that might just be a little bit too weird so I’ve coming up with this haiku instead:

Container yellow, blue, and red
Hiding savory spice blend
To eat with sweet white crabmeat

While this brief spurt of creative inspiration might seem odd, devotion to this spice mix is very great in some parts of the country. My brother was even planning to pick up some of it to bring it back to London so that he’s not left empty-handed in case he or his wife gets a craving for a taste of home.


Growing up in a mid-Atlantic seaboard state, it was a staple found in everyone’s cupboard, or so it seemed. It was just natural to find it there (but then, so did was seeing a can for bacon drippings stored in the fridge, as well). Surprisingly, I don’t have any in my New York kitchen.  Up here, I don’t think I would ever find a use for it, but then, I might be too crab-specific about its flavor and point of reference. I’m a bit of snob about crab and skeptical anytime I see “Maryland Crab Cakes” on a menu. I want to meet the crab. I want to hear it say “Bal-mer.” If not, it’s poseur crab to me. It will be shunned.

One of Old Bay®’s chief uses, naturally, given the title is with Chesapeake Bay crabs – sprinkled on top during the cooking process and served on the side when eating the steamed goodies. Despite the over-fishing of the species (some of which I personally blame on the new, wide-spread popularity of soft-shell crabs, but that, for the record, is a personal bias) and the consequent higher prices for those that are being caught, my family has managed to keep up its annual tradition of reunion/crab feast during the summer months.



Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Let’s have S’more Fun – FB2B, part 25

In case you missed it, this past Thursday, August 10th, was National S’mores Day. If you type this string into Google™, you will come up with quite a few references to this tasty, gooey treat as well as some stories about its origins. I will leave all of that, and the link above, to those of you who may wish to explore the history of s’mores in more detail.

For those of you not familiar with this item, it is a crunchy, crumbly confection made with graham crackers, chocolate (a Hershey®’s plain milk chocolate candy bar, to be specific), and marshmallows (toasted, not singed in my book). Its construction is a careful process with the hot marshmallow melting the chocolate and the whole thing held together by the graham crackers on top and bottom.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

We Are What We Eat – FB2B, part 24

Remember when deciding what to eat every day was a relatively easy process? I’m not just talking about when you were all still living in your parents’ homes. In that case the answer usually was, “Whatever I decide to fix,” courtesy your mother/father/primary caregiver. [Hence the peas episode I wrote about several months ago.]
For the most part, as soon as you developed the ability to control what you put in your mouth, you ate what you craved (or ‘fancied’ for those readers in the UK), right? Certain moods or feelings match the foods that you want. What I’m talking about here is more the point at which we learned about how to eat and what was supposedly good for us to eat.
While there is no one, sure-fire way that I’ve found to figure it all out, it was interesting to note that this month’s issue of Food & Wine chose to highlight “How to be an Eco-Epicurean.” There are articles about various restaurants, tips about green products, recipes that are supposed to be healthier. Celia Brooks Brown, an American based in the UK, talks about vegetarian cooking. I took a course from her at Books for Cooks when I lived in London, and have always thought that she has some great food ideas.
I’ve been a long-time subscriber to the magazine so it was interesting to see them try to tackle this topic. This comes during an era when there is a major battle over the production of fois gras in the United States and bans on imports of Caspian Sea caviar have been implemented. It also comes during the period when the Greenmarkets in New York are celebrating their 30th birthday, as I wrote about a few weeks ago.
So, how do we figure out what we are supposed to be eating and how much of it is good for us to eat? Do you recall 4-4-3-2 Mulligan Stew*? Did you have that little workbook where for a week you had to fill out what you ate at each meal and then see if it fit into the food groups? Weren’t those cartoons kind of weird and creepy?
I’m sure that Fairfax County cared what I was eating and that I was getting a balanced diet prior to my entering 4th grade, but that was when they rolled that particular nutritional program out to us (along with the first of weeks of coursework on the American Civil War, but that is another story entirely). That was also the first time I had actually had to think about and consider how and what I was eating. Those school lunches (fish sticks, Jello® cups, Friday’s pizza squares, and all) were, I’m sure, part of the whole nutritional process. Even Salisbury steak must have fit in there somewhere, as well.
During elementary (or primary) school, these lunches were pretty standard. Then, in intermediate and high school we were able to make other selections. If I decided in secondary school to have French fries and a milkshake for lunch, no one was there to stop me. [For the record, I think I did that only a few times.] The lessons of that health unit had faded quickly during the intervening years.
Then, recently, we were told by the U.S. government that that wasn’t right after all, we were now supposed to follow the food pyramid. All that early nutritional education was just thrown away. I’ve tried to work with the parameters that the pyramid lays out, but I quickly decided I’d need to take more advanced mathematics to get everything to fit together. It was a bit too fussy to me. How did it all get so complicated?
To top it off, we’ve had loads of scares about the safety of our food and issues over what and how we should be eating it. Organics, locally-produced, cruelty-free, free-range. It can all be a lot to, ehem, digest, when all one is trying to do is to put a healthy meal on the table. I try to eat as best I can, but it can sometimes be really challenging, given a busy, time-compressed lifestyle. [I’m also one of those people who prefer to get my daily nutrients from foodstuffs rather than taking pills to balance it all out.]
As The Smiths once sang, “Meat is Murder,” but it goes much deeper than that. Food has become very political and what we put in our bodies has become a more complex issue. Trends in food preparation and production influence what is available for us to feed our families. Shortages and bans (like that on beef products following the mad cow scare in Europe) raise the prices of items we might even consider to be the staples (as can happen with bad crop yields of citrus fruits in Florida). There even seem to be “fashionable” food items each year that hit the markets like the interest in ramps, garlic scapes, and diver sea scallops.
Elie Krieger did an entire show on the Food Network called “Out of Exile.” In it she cooked with food items that we’d all been told previously to put on our “naughty” lists. Now, the evidence has shown otherwise, that we can eat those things, as long as we don’t overindulge in them. This doesn’t make the issue of what to eat any less complex when the rules keep changing on us all the time between what are “good” and what are “bad” foods.
But my overall philosophy is one that I’ve heard others who try to guide those who feel overwhelmed by all this nutritional information: everything in moderation and nothing to excess. Sometimes it works and sometimes I eat a whole small batch of cookies in a few days, but, in general, this is something by which I do try to live. Hey, even Julia Child admitted to a fondness for a burger every once in a while!
*Just for the Record:
Mulligan Stew is an actual dish. Typing that phrase in Google™ will come up with several versions and recipes. I think that there might have been a recipe at the back of the workbook we used in 4th grade, but I can’t seem to find my copy at my parents’ house. I’m not sure that I’ve actually ever made it.
Special Shout-Outs:
RM – you worried about the melon and proscuitto appetizer being a bit overdone. This month’s Bon Appétit magazine has the River Café team listing it in their easy menu suggestion.
Jax – I’m not sure if they did it just for you or not but that same magazine gave Matisyahu’s album Youth as a recommendation for their summer playlists.
Kitchen Witch Tips:
Another one of my favorite food magazines is BBC Good Food. In New York City, various branches of Barnes & Noble carry it. It has other great suggestions using local produce and can be a good source of ideas for doing meals on a budget. It also carries a variety of articles on making better food choices each month.
To see what your “Eco Footprint” is, you can go to www.earthday.net/footprint/info.asp. I found it interesting to see the impact of one’s lifestyle on the planet. Admittedly, not everyone and every community has the resources to be extremely conscientious, which the site acknowledges in its introductory section.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

I ♥ Cheap Eats – FB2B, part 23

Once a year, the local city magazines in most metropolitan areas do an issue about the least expensive places to get a good, quality meal. I always find them to be great reads. They are also a means to discover the range and variety of what a town has to offer in the way of ethnic and creative cuisine.
This week’s (July 31-August 7) issue of New York Magazine, which arrived in my mailbox last week, is their annual “Cheap Eats” review. In it, they look at places to get a meal for under $25.00. From the outside, that might not sound like anything close to a possibility price-wise in a city like New York, what with the highest of the high-end dining establishments located here like Per Se, Masa, Alain Ducasse, etc.

Because, however, this is a large, diverse community, with many different incomes, there is a plenty of room for producing interesting and tasty meals that don’t make too large of a dent in one’s checkbook or require sacrificing rent for a night out on the town. The profiles of these restaurants are usually filled with interesting tidbits, and I often find some leads on places to mentally add to my “to be tried” list or am reminded of places that I’d eaten at once upon a time to which I really should return.

This year, I was thrilled and pleasantly surprised to see quite a few of my stand-by, Go To restaurants featured. If you can get your hands on the issue, the food photography is mouth-watering, at least to my eyes, or maybe I was just really, really hungry at the time I was reading the magazine. As with anything else in New York opinions as to what should have made the list will vary, and this is not something to be tackled on an empty stomach! The magazine provides their evaluation criteria in the article. Here are some of my thoughts on their choices (rankings ran from 1-101):

Shake Shack (#17)
Ranked among the 4 Star restaurants and snagging the number 1 slot in the burger category, I have no argument with this one. I would have liked to see it a bit higher, but think that maybe it was demoted a little for its infamous line. As with many popular NYC attractions (Shakespeare in the Park, movie night at Bryant Park, anything at Central Park) faithful patrons have devised all sorts of elaborate strategies for how to avoid waiting in what seems like an interminable queue just for an addictive Shack Burger, fries, and the frozen custard flavor of the day. There’s now even a camera installed so that hungry devotees can check online to schedule their arrival so as to avoid the crowds.

Thanks very much to them for having their 2006 opening day preview on my birthday this year. It was so worth it, and I even have the card to prove that I was there among the early-birds.
Otto Enoteca Pizzeria (#24)
I visited this ristorante a few months ago and wrote a review about the food and drink that we had on that excursion. I still haven’t managed to make it back to try the pizza, but it is on my list of things to do when I can round up some folks who’d like to try it with me.
Via Emilia (#41)
My heart skipped a beat and I started to hyperventilate when I thought that this Northern Italian gem had been lost forever. The part of the block on Park Avenue South where it was located has been cleared to make way for some new building – my money is on the usual condos. Turns out, they managed to relocate about a few blocks away and while I haven’t had a chance to visit their new digs yet, I’m just waiting for the first cold snap so that I can indulge in their luscious tortellini con panna or ravoli di zucca and maybe wash it all down w/ some Lambrusco. Although the owner is from Modena, it wraps me in warm memories of my years in Bologna and the food is nearly as good as being there in person.
Rickshaw Dumpling Bar (#71)
When the line at Shake Shack is really just too long and my patience too short, this other neighborhood joint is my backup dining destination for the Madison Square Park area. Dumplings are a great meal in my book. These come in all sorts of interesting flavors (the standard Pork, Peking Duck, and Chicken & Lemongrass are among some of the options) with matching dipping sauces (like plum and peanut). Paired with a side salad or soup, they make a wonderful, inexpensive, filling lunch break. While their chocolate ones got lots of press, I wasn’t really a fan.
Sip Sak (#78)
Meze are another sure-fire way to tame an appetite. I had eaten Turkish food when I lived in London, but had to wait several years until it followed me back here to the States. It was worth the wait. A drink with friends at the rooftop café at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, followed by a group dinner sharing the meze sampler plus a few other dishes at Beyoglu (the original uptown restaurant by the same owner as Sip Sak), and Saturday night out in Manhattan comes in at the bargain price of about $35.00 per person (depending upon how much one drank at the Met).
Republic (#97)
On one side of Union Square, is this delicious noodle bar with all sorts of flavorful, Asian-spiced menu choices. Although inside the restaurant, the long communal tables and deafening acoustics make it difficult to have intimate conversations, the noodles more than make up for it. Besides, when your bowls arrive, you’ll be too busy slurping up the long beauties to talk to your companions anyway. A meal and some locally-grown organic veggies bought at the Greenmarket will make up for everything else you put into your body during the workweek.
Buon appetito!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Pesto Pronto – FB2B, part 22

Happy Anniversary to the Greenmarkets! As both the New York Times and New York Magazine highlight they turn 30 years old this week. In a way, it is hard to imagine the city without these culinary resources, they’ve become something of an institution. Specials and the latest seasonal produce are highlighted on blogs, and new arrivals are heralded in the Dining In section of the Times on Wednesdays. The market has even published its own cookbook.

In fact, the markets are such a part of New York life that one of them even played a role in the healing our wounds after 09/11, when it had to leave Downtown Manhattan (along with many of the firms whose employees shopped there during lunchtime). The re-opening of the market that had been at the base of the towers was greeted as a return to something close to normal life and a sign of the city’s resiliency (along with the re-opening of Century 21!).

The market’s own booth at the Union Square market patiently handles queries from anxious foodies asking when the newest arrivals will be there and when whatever is next in season is anticipated. This week’s New York Magazine has a detailed map of the square and all the vendors who are usually there on Saturdays, but my favorite thing to do is just to walk around and take in what is for sale.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Vive La France! - FB2B, part 21

The Weather Channel says that it’s currently 92 degrees Fahrenheit outside (about 30 degrees Centigrade). That’s hot enough to do nothing but just sit around inside watching television and drinking cool liquids. But, to do that today would be something close to culinary sacrilege.

New York summers and street fairs go together like, well, just about anything you can think of to combine. To the uninitiated, these may sound like great fun: food, crafts, vendors, etc. all in a few city blocks. To those who get to live with them, they are experienced with the same measure of ennui and tolerance of the many themed parades that close down Fifth Avenue several times a year. They shut down bus routes, cause detours, change well-laid plans, and cause mounds of frustration.


There is, however, one special fair that takes place each year on a Sunday in mid-July that draws out the folks who most likely don’t usually brave these spectacles. The Alliance Française in New York holds its Bastille Day celebration in Midtown Manhattan, taking over three blocks on 60th Street. Local proprietors, restaurants and many things French are featured.


Sunday, July 09, 2006

The end of the season – FB2B, part 20

*Sniff* I can’t believe it’s here already. The end of the season has come and I completely missed them. I’m not talking about baseball. I don’t mean hockey. I’m not even referring to the World Cup. No, the season I am talking about is short, sweet and red. It is enticing, sometimes decadent, and very, very delicious.
The last of the farmers’ market strawberries have come and gone. Each year, as with asparagus, there is the fervor among the food set, especially those who try to eat as seasonally as possible, to hunt out and obtain, for as many weeks as is feasible, locally-grown, tangy-sweet, juicy strawberries.
I know that this might seem strange as you think, “What is this about? I see strawberries all the time. They are in my local grocery store year-round.” Those specimens you see in the plastic containers during the winter are a far cry from the ones to which I am referring. They could almost not even be the same fruit.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Name Change - FB2B, part 19

You may notice that there's yet another break in the sequence in which I usually post, especially as I took a hiatus a while back. I've been debating changing the name of this blog for a while and decided during my "six-month self-review" - triggered most likely by the fact that we've been going through these at work as well lately - that I should just take the plunge and not hesitate any longer.

Today is a bank holiday in the United States. As I couldn't afford to take off yesterday, it is sort of weird week for me. Saturday and Sunday were filled with the usual scramble to get errands done. Yesterday was really quiet, even more so than the day after Thanksgiving, and lots of places seemed closed. The financial markets closed at 1:00 p.m. and, in one of the major perks of working in the industry, some of us got to leave a couple of hours later, several hours before my usual departure time. Ahhhh, I did miss that when I was temping for non-financial companies.

What getting home when there was still plenty of sunlight did, was give me time to deal with the pile of magazines and papers on my floor. You know the one. It starts to take on a life of its own, growing, spreading, until really you think it should be paying rent in your room. It looked much larger earlier in the day. O.K. Maybe the rest of you have a more ordered existence than I.

In the pile were some great notes and recipe ideas. I also discovered some thoughts for the blog that I'd scribbled on various pieces of paper. It made me realize how much this concept I'd discussed a little more than six months ago over coffee with a friend has evolved more into something that does what the title now suggests: explore experimenting with food and enjoying various tastes.

It is my hope that the new title doesn't scare anyone away and, in fact, draws some of you "lurkers" (the term for those who read but don't post - I didn't make that up, btw) out to post your comments and ideas. Cooking and eating are about experimenting and trying new things and new recipes. I hope that my photos and tips will inspire you to do just that.

Buon appetito! (and now I have to return to the Italy-Germany game to root for my Azzurri - yes, that is a link to ESPN, probably one of the only that will ever happen on this site)

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Salad Days - FB2B, part 18

It’s hot. It’s bloody hot, but at least it’s dry. After lots of rain this week, it’s now really hot outside, just in time for a holiday weekend. Better yet, I feel as though my apartment traps heat so there’s no real escape.
This is the time of year when it is just excruciating to cook. Anything that causes the temperature to rise inside is to be avoided. Greens wilt. Appetites dwindle. Nothing seems appealing.

On the other hand, this is also the time of year when really great produce is available and loads of wonderful fresh fruit is coming into season. I took advantage of the nice weather to check out the newest edition to the farmers’ markets in town.



Nina Planck, who used to run the Greenmarkets in New York City, has set up two markets. One of them is on a thin triangle of land on Lafayette Street between Spring Street and Kenmare Street. This is the one that I visited today.  The newsletter they sent around said that some of the showings would be lighter as the heavy rain this week caused damage to some of the crops. Nina’s folks came up from Virginia to lend a hand this weekend. Next time, I’m going to try the other market on 6th Avenue between Bleecker Street and Houston Street.


Although, as the photos show, there were some nice veggies available, I didn’t find what I really wanted there, so I ended up at my usual – the Union Square Greenmarket. Unfortunately, it was later in the afternoon, my having been distracted by the England-Portugal World Cup match, so many places were closing up. I did pick up some salad greens and my first fresh local raspberries of the season.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

More Toasts - FB2B, part 17



Bruschetta tipica
Peperonata con mozzarella e pesto
Gorgonzola con miele

A few folks have given me feedback and their opinions about my last post. Most haven't posted them to the blog so I'll summarize. As I suspected, one half of the couple in my family who favors what I'll term as "pasty bread" - so light as not to really be classified as Toast, per se - wrote back about her preference. We did agree about the whole jam and butter thing, though.

Two folks were on the side to try to convince me to buy a toaster oven. While I will acknowledge a greater degree of flexibility for making cheesy, melty things than with a toaster, I think I'll just stick with the oven in that regard. Toaster ovens were actually banned, along with hot plates, from my university because they are a fire hazard due to the open heating element.

Someone did actually set off a dorm smoke alarm when I was there - not me, just for the record - so I don't really have a great memory of these appliances. Besides, in my wee NYC apartment kitchen we have room for only one major, counter-occupying device and the microwave trumps the toaster oven. So, the toaster is what we're sticking with for the moment.

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