Saturday, February 25, 2006

dive

my new friend and i managed to spend several hours of friday early evening pretending that we were in some other city, and some other time. this is why nyc is the king of cities, because it is itself and several other places in the world, all rolled into one. as we bravely dove into a rather unusual second meeting, we celebrated with visits to 2 dives.

first stop: the burger joint, tucked away in the lobby of the swish parker meridien hotel. enter the hotel at 118 west 57th street. between the two front desks, find the brown floor to ceiling curtain with a small neon hamburger sign over it. part the curtains and you are suddenly inside a shitty, ceiling-tiled, nappy-smelling greasy spoon. there are burgers and fries. and beer. and soda. and milkshakes, or so it said on the hand-written sign. the burgers are perfectly sized and well-dressed, wrapped in white butcher paper, and oozing juices. the fries are shoestring, mcdonalds style, staining their paper bag with their golden grease. i half expected to see sawdust on the floor. as it says oh-so-modestly on the parker meridien website: "no complication, no confusion, just great burgers and fries."

the second stop was the subway inn, on 60th and lex. having discovered it the night before, by bringing myself back i instantly became a regular. awkwardly squashed between modern storefronts and the 59th street subway station, it is the most unlikely place you would ever expect to find on the (sorta) upper east side. i have walked by it for years, and suspected it held untold treasures inside. it does: red vinyl booths, a dusky light, and dirt cheap top-shelf liquor. the crowd, just as at the burger joint, is diverse and unchartable. who are these people, i wondered? where do they come from, and where do they go?

i don't know why a dive is called a dive. what are the characteristics? is it grime on the walls, or affordable booze? a gruffness on the part of the waitstaff, or a complete lack of pretension? as a verb, the word has a head-first connotation; for that reason, i do know why diving into things is scary. and also necessary. i never do it in a swimming pool, but i try to do it on dry land. my new friend and i, we dove, and for the first time there was a synchronicity for me between "dive" the location, and "dive" the verb.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

here comes the bride

people always talk about "the year all my friends got married;" this is mine. between may and october of this year, i will attend 7 weddings (that i know of so far). once upon a time, when a girl got married, it meant the beginning of her life as a personal chef. young women needed to learn quickly how to make a roast, whip mashed potatoes and bake a layer cake. because if you weren't any good in the sack at first, hey! maybe you could make up for it with a perfectly roast chicken. and perhaps, vice versa.

for my friends, mostly getting married at 30 or so, they are already cooks or not, and marriage certainly isn't going to change them. their fellas have already, um, tasted their roast chickens, and agreed to marry them, regardless. some of these fellas cook wayyyyyy better than my girlfriends. some of these couples live exclusively on takeout.

despite all this, bridal showers still occasionally include the old fashioned recipe exchange. just yesterday my friend who cooks nothing more complicated than a microwave dinner, emailed me frantically looking for a vegetarian recipe for a bridal shower she is going to. i whipped out an old classic, the miso onion recipe i stole from laurie a million moons ago.

it goes like this:

BAKED MISO ONIONS

4 cups quartered sweet spanish onions (3 medium onions)
2 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp barley miso or red miso
3 tbsp water ( i usually use closer to 4)
1 tsp dried thyme

preheat oven to 425 degrees
place onions in a baking pan
in a bowl stir togeher oil, miso, water and thyme and spoon/pour over onions
if this seems like not enough sauce (the more the better), make another half batch of sauce and pour it over also
cover and bake for 35 minutes or until onions are soft

these are pretty good right away but are significantly better after sitting in a tupperware overnight in the fridge, steeping in their own delicious miso juice. and i am pretty sure that one taste of these and your brand new husband will be very happy with the choice he made.

Friday, February 17, 2006

"hors d'oeuvres"

i put the title in quotes because the hors d'oeuvres i made today were props for a movie. i was instructed that they needn't taste any good (phew!), just look good enough to eat. this presented a particular challenge to me, who is bad with creative details, and whose food usually tastes pretty good but doesn't always look that pretty.

it was a blast. i composed platters with an eye towards color, and hopefully the extras playing party guests actually didn't mind the taste either. the menu was as follows:

1. shrimp cocktail, presented on a bed of wasabi peas.
2. mini potato pancakes with sour cream dollops and dill sprigs
3. spinach and cheese phyllo triangles on a platter with a dish of pomegranate seeds, for color
4. pumpernickel toasts with cucumber rounds, a piece of smoked salmon, a dollop of sour cream and a dill sprig
5. petit toasts with spread with herbed goat cheese and garnished with three capers
6. blanched asparagus spears wrapped in prosciutto strips

and damn if they didn't look beautiful! and damn if you can't make mini potato pancakes BAKED instead of FRIED!
and i am still high on the fumes of creativity and success.

five stars

i am a chocolate ho; i'll eat almost any kind, no matter how debased. m and m's make me as happy as a hand-dipped jacques torres bonbon. mind you, this does not apply to cakes or cookies. i will gnaw my knuckles rather than eat a duncan hines cake, and lick the sidewalk rather than eat a chips ahoy. but when it comes to candy, it's all the same to me.

my friend laurie has been showering me with books of food writing, of late. the latest addition to my collection is "best of food writing, 2004," and i have been devouring it like it was a bag of good chocolate. the articles are excellent, and cover a wide swath of content and style. one piece, however, has walked away with my heart. a man named steve almond, a candyfreak, wrote a piece about the five star gourmet chocolate bars made by a company called lake champlain chocolates. before now, i didn't think food writing could make me laugh out loud. he writes as i wish i could write, tastes as i wish i could taste. in short, i am planning on writing him a letter and asking him to mentor me, i dunno, marry me, fuse his brain with mine, what have you.

a highlight: steve, completely obsessing over this new chocolate bar, goes to the factory to meet their "chocolate engineer."

"i suppose i was aware, in an abstract way," he writes, "that there were men and women upon this earth who served in this capacity, as chocolate engineers. in the same way that i was aware that there are job titles out there such as bacon taster and sex surrogate, which is to say, job titles that made me want to weep over my own appointed lot in life."

steve almond's writing was so winsome, that i became mildly obsessed with the five star bar, and wondered when i might come upon one. yesterday, in garden of eden (the store, not the biblical location), as i approached my cashier, i glanced down briefly at the sucker shelves. the sucker shelves are the shelves at the front stocked with all manner of overpriced chocolates and mints and gum, and from which i have never bought a thing in my whole life. there, right in front of me were some five star bars, looking nothing like what i had expected. small, like fancy chunky bars, they were thick and compact. i grabbed a peanut one, then remembered that the chocolate engineer himself loves the fruit and nut, and so made a quick swap.

i eat many of my meals on the run, which is no way to enjoy something. i really tried to hold onto the bar and save it for when i was still, maybe even seated, but i am an impatient girl, especially in regards to food. i pulled it out as i exited the astor place station, unwrapped it on the stairwell, and sunk my teeth in.

it's really good. steve almond is right, i suppose, but i didn't see the baby jesus, or cry with joy or anything. maybe i should have had the peanut instead? in moments like this i am reminded what makes greatness, and it's obsession. last weekend in baltimore i saw a 6 foot long model of the lusitania made out of matchsticks ("2 1/2 years of work," read the museum label), and had the same thought. steve almond is a great food writer because this bar made his head explode, and sent him on a journey to figure out how and why and where it was made. and he studied these bars as though it were rocket science, and wrote a beautiful piece about them, as though it were moby freakin' dick. 5 stars to you, steve almond, my food-obsessed new friend.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

island living

4 women, one small island, and a freezer full of meat. like the colorful cartoon geckos we stayed up trying to make into a sensical whole, the refrigerator, too, was a puzzle. egg, cheese, bacon, potatoes, brussel sprouts, apples, peanut butter and three loaves of wheat bread.

what drink can you make with rum, cold coffee, sugar, milk and cinnamon? what lunch can you make with what you've got on hand? how can you satisfy a late-night sweet craving when there is no grocer on the corner selling 6 kinds of frozen yogurt?
the answers: a connie surprise, a turkey/cheddar/apple sandwich, and a homemade apple crisp.

and how do you make three travelers feel welcome and loved? you stew them a pot of short ribs on the stove all day, for them to tackle after a day at the white sandy beach.

this morning, back on my usual island, i am snowed in. looking at my own fridge, i came up with the following breakfast. and it was very, very good.

scrambled eggs with leeks

1/2 leek, white part only, thinly sliced in half moons
knob butter
1 egg, and 1 egg white
sharp white cheddar, shredded on the microplane
salt and pepper

melt butter in a small saute pan. toss in the sweetly smelling leeks, and saute slowly over a medium to low heat, sprinkling them with salt and pepper somewhere in that process. lower the heat. meanwhile scramble your egg and egg white, and when the leeks are nice and soft, and maybe a little bit browned, pour in the egg mizture, and use your heat-resistant spatula to stir the egg mixture slowly. when the eggs are almost ready, toss in the finely grated cheese. toss onto your plate, and devour.
* a note about eggs: they are best when scrambled slowly over a very low heat. when i waited tables at bette's diner in berkeley, i learned from the masters. "we serve our eggs french style," we were trained to say, "they are cooked slowly over a low heat and are therefore quite soft, though not undercooked."

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