Monday, July 24, 2006

hillary

Many of my favorite meals have been prepared by or with Hillary. After college we lived together for a year and I have fond memories of big burrito meals, and even of meals made entirely of cheese and crackers (good cheese. Good crackers). I have eaten very well at buffets at her mom’s loft. I remember the summer after my father died, going to visit her at her dad’s country house. We sat together in the evening light outside, eating one of her trademark delicious salads, a hunk of Vermont cheddar and a big beautiful bread. Since then there have been many happy times in Millbrook, with corn, sausage, lasagnas, apple crisps, and butternut squash soups. Up in Cuyler, at Cerry’s parents’ house, she made the best peach and corn salsa (ok, maybe the only peach and corn salsa) I have ever eaten in my life. For my 30th birthday, she made platters of heirloom tomato salad that made everyone’s jaws drop.

Like many things she is good at, Hillary does not present herself as a cook. Her style is simple, fresh, and abundant; it is impossible to go hungry at her table. So it was only fitting that this past weekend, her wedding to Kofi, I had some superlative meals. Hillary and Kofi, it seems, not only make good food themselves, they attract similarly gifted cooks to their sphere, including Andrew and Jennifer. My first night in Chatham, I was greeted by Andrew’s grilled ribs, collard greens, fried green tomatoes (from the garden) with buttermilk dipping sauce and fresh mac and cheese. For dessert? Jennifer’s blueberry tart made from freshly picked blueberries. Eaten with white wine at an outdoor table as the sun set. Absolutely one of the best meals of my life.

The wedding was a feast in every way. A feast for the eyes—Hillary and Kofi, beautiful and radiant, weeping and smiling, the most beautiful brew. A feast for the ears—their voices as they read their vows, the sound of the rawest, truest emotion, voices that knew the depth of what they were saying. A feast for the heart—love, love, love, all around me love.

And of course, a feast for the stomach. The buffet looked like it could have been in Hillary and Kofi’s home: grilled asparagus, tomato/mozzarella/basil salad, and corn. The highlight was our take-away; each of us got a jar of jam, made by Hillary and Kofi with fresh-picked berries from the Hudson Valley.

As I danced my heart out all night long, I was filled with the most electric sense of sheer joy, for them, of course, mostly for them, but also for me—to know these two beautiful people, and to eat with them, for the rest of my life.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

reviews

I have some shout outs that are long overdue.

1. Franny's. Joanie Joan finally gave me a reason to get my butt over to Franny's on Flatbush several weeks ago. I didn't socialize much at the birthday party. Instead I holed up at the bar, chowing down on their organic, sustainable, local, amazing menu. The bruschetta with ricotta cheese and fresh peas was so good tears came to my eyes. The bartender saw, and he understood; he works there for chrissakes. The zucchini fritto was delicate, crispy, summery. The pizzas were perfection. And Joan's boyfriend showing up to surprise her as a birthday treat? Well, that was the icing on the proverbial (organic, sustainable) cake.

2. The Good Fork. Well, you know how I feel about Red Hook. This place is one more jewel in Van Brunt's crown. It is very cute, very good, and the service (though problematic the night we were there) is friendly. I had their signature "steak and eggs and kimchi" and it was weird and wonderful: slices of flavorful juicy steak, nestled into a ball of kimchi rice, topped with a fried egg, eaten with chopsticks.

3. Queen. If you have ever walked down Court street, from Borough Hall to Atlantic, you know it is a gastronomic wasteland. There are some bad delis, a few pizza joints, Wendy's, McDonald's, some tacky looking Italian joint...wait! That tacky looking Italian joint is a FANCY RESTAURANT! And, wait, are those REVIEWS in the window??? It is so very unlikely, but Queen is an excellent Italian restuarant masquerading as a mediocre, suburban mall restaurant. And although few people I know have been there, it was full the night I was there--a Thursday, by the way. The maitre d' is adorable-knowledgeable and friendly. The menu is extensive, and everything we had was terrific. The focaccia they bring to the table is soft and fluffy. We followed it with a fritto misto (calamari, zucchini, lemon) that was so flavorful, red dipping sauce was unnecesary. The arugula, mozzarella, pesto salad was perfect. We had three main courses, one better than the next, with scallops stealing the show.

sorrel

I love my CSA. I paid for my share, but that was weeks and weeks ago, so when I enter the church on Court street, sign in, and start grabbing beautiful produce to take home, I feel like I've won the produce lottery. Last week I got, peaches, cherries, lettuce, radicchio, onions, fava beans (!), and a choice of rosemary, dill, or sorrel.

I had never seen sorrel or tasted sorrel, so I grabbed a bunch figuring I'd learn something. It turns out that sorrel is somewhere between a green and an herb: lemony, earthy, and unique. If used in salads, people suggest mixing it with other greens, because its flavor is very strong. I found several internet recipes for a Jamaican favorite: sorrel soup. I tweaked them some, made my own, and was pretty pleased with the results.

Sorrel Soup

3 cups veggie broth
2 handfuls basmati rice
1 bunch sorrel, washed and de-stemmed
1 tbsp half and half
salt and pepper

Boil veggie broth, add rice
Let rice cook for 8 minutes, stirring now and again
Add sorrel, stir for 1 minute, turn off heat
Use immersion blender to puree the soup
(Rice pieces may fly out at you)
Add half and half and salt and pepper
Stir.
Eat.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

i love ditch plains

I’m not sure why, but I think I can count the number of new restaurants I have been to in the past year on one hand. Ack—maybe even on 2 or 3 fingers. I read about restaurant openings, but it is so hard to keep up; they are cropping up like weeds. A few weeks ago I made a short list of places I intended to try this summer, and on this past Monday night, I checked off my first one.

I love Ditch Plains.

Named after a surf area on the North Fork of Long Island, this place purports to be a beachy fish shack, but it’s a bit too clean and classy for that. It serves the ubiquitous NYC $23 lobster roll, clam chowder, mussels, oysters, salmon, burgers, fries, etc. But the food is elegant and excellent, and if it was served in paper baskets and brown paper cones, I really didn’t notice. I remember white porcelain; I wonder if that’s the case.

P and I had:

1. Friendly service. We stayed for nearly 3 hours taking up a huge booth and we were treated with nothing but smiles, and languorous generosity.
2. Good white wine.
3. A spicy fried calamari salad that was unusual and delicious: chopped romaine and radicchio with battered and fried calamari and a spicy red chili salad dressing.
4. Oyster shooters: basically bloody Mary shots with a raw oyster at the bottom. Fantastic.
5. Steamed littleneck clams with our chosen sauce of shallots, white wine, parsley, and butter. They were tiny and flavorful. My only complaint: no bread to soak up the marvelous leftover sauce at the bottom of the pot. We used spoons (classy).
6. A lobster roll that certainly rivaled, if not surpassed, Mary’s Fish camp, served with excellent sweet potato chips.
7. Mississippi Mud Pie, served with our own bottle of whipped cream. Awesome.

So, my dear readers, surf on over to Bedford and Downing, in Manhattan, and if you can walk by ‘ino without being sucked in there first, pop into Ditch Plains.

Monday, July 10, 2006

ireland

There are people who are not very interested in food. A friend of mine in grad school used to eat cup o’ noodles every single day for lunch, and it was clear to me that food, to her, was merely sustenance. There was no pleasure taken in the eating of it, no disgust with too much sodium, no boredom with eating the same thing day after day. The truth was, I think she barely noticed what went into her mouth, and though I pitied her, I was also envious. If I stopped thinking so much about what to eat and when, or how to find the perfect lunch, or fondly remembering the perfect dinner, think how much brain space I would have for other things! Also, nota bene, she was skinny.

The past two weeks I spent in Ireland, and I discovered a nation of cup o’ noodles eaters. When I went to eat in Dublin, I checked two different guidebooks, and the paucity of food recommendations was my first clue that, although a pretty cool city, Dublin is not a place you go to for the food. Things I ate a lot of in Ireland: bacon, sausage, mayonnaise, scones, brown bread, chips and crisps. For two weeks I was hard-pressed to find a vegetable. Chicken curry was served with rice and chips (that’s French fries). It was like “side of vegetables” was never invented. A side salad could be found with some searching, but it was iceberg lettuce with a tomato wedge, some canned corn and “salad cream” on top. Once, my salad had olive oil AND salad cream. One salad, two forms of fat. Very efficient.

But enough negativity; let me mention the few fabulous things I did find. And let me also say that Ireland is a lovely country, full of friendly people, beautiful countryside and amazing history.

1. Sheridan cheese mongers. Right off of Grafton street, in Dublin, this place was a small haven, filled with wheels of cheese from all over the world. I asked a saleswoman to help me with some local Irish cheeses. She guided me through a tasting, based on my likes and dislikes, and I left the store with three wedges of excellent cheese, and a recommendation for a nearby bakery. With cheese that good, why was I having such bad food experiences?
2. La Maison de Gourmets. This French bakery, on Castle Market, was the bakery to which I was directed. I sought it out hoping to find the best scones in the city but discovered when I got there that it was—as the name suggested—strictly French. I bought a traditional boule and an almond croissant, and both were excellent.
3. Angela’s Coffee Emporium. In Clonmel, a small rural city, I struggled mightily with finding decent food. I found it finally here, at Angela’s, an organic sandwich and coffee bar where I could rely on getting good cappucinos, very good scones, and even (gasp!) fruit salad.

Rather than focusing on the worst sandwich ever made, at “The Gourmet Store” in Kilkenny, or the kebab in Dun Laoghire that gave me food poisoning, I will remember those cheeses, goat’s milk-tangy, richly cheddared….

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