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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

ugly/pretty/gross/yummy

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As you can see, I couldn’t not take a picture of this.  Laziness and hunger almost took over, but one bite in and I came to my senses.  I have to say, though, that I’m a bit conflicted with the looks of this one.  On one hand, I can’t deny its beauty – the amazing ruby-pink starbursts with chocolate brown edges, all laminated in thick, glossy amber honey.  Makes me want to go run out and buy brown suede boots and a rosy cashmere scarf for fall.  On the other hand, there’s something a little gross about a fig up close – all the little seeds embedded in the ripe flesh, everything all mushy and pink – frankly, it makes me all too aware of the fact that fruit = edible ovary…or, as Jeffrey Steingarten says, “an ovary we eat for dessert.”  Incidentally, a fig isn’t even a fruit, it’s actually a flower– but bottom line– the fig can look a bit gross.

In this case, I’ll conclude that it was more lovely than not.  The snack toast you see above, as I’ll call it, was my answer to an early afternoon hunger pang.  I spread a thin layer of peanut butter over a slice of whole grain toast, topped it with some fig medallions and drizzled over some honey.  I wasn’t sure about combining figs with peanut butter, but figs have a creamy, mellow sweetness to them that is almost akin to a banana, which I frequently partner with peanut butter..and with the honey, it was divine.  I just love the imperfect pattern of irregular circles, the jeweled tones, the nutty whole grains, just the wholesomeness of all the ingredients.  It was a chic little snack… it was like PB&J 2.0.

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‘Tis the season

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No, I’m not about to be that annoying person who starts talking about Christmas in August – and I say that because this past weekend I saw Christmas decorations in Costco and this morning the Rockettes performed “Christmas in August” on the Today Show.  Don’t get me started on that nonsense.

Nope, this is about the Season of Tomatoes, which is currently in full swing.  Ever since I had the Pappa al Pomodoro I wrote about in my previous post, I’ve been haunted by this deliriously delectable vegetable (sorry, I know it’s technically a fruit but it’s a veggie in my book).  In any case, I picked up a lovely box of heirlooms at the Union Square Greenmarket the other day, and spent a good hour marveling over them.  The colors were straight out of a Crayola 64 Crayon Set…Burnt Sienna, Brick Red, Dandelion, Blue Violet mixed with Fern Green.  The forms could have read from some children’s First Book of Shapes… lumpy, bumpy, round, oval, oblong.  Altogether and in short – marvelous.

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For a light summer dinner, I sliced up a few of these beauties and tossed them with pesto-flecked spaghetti, fruity olive oil and a salty dusting of Parmigiano-Reggiano.  The pesto was actually home-made — a few days prior I had decided to put my new food processor to work by pulverizing some leftover basil and mint I had in the fridge.  I didn’t have any pine nuts or walnuts on hand, but I did have some sunflower seeds so I tossed those in as a substitute.  An alternative recipe, I know, but in the end you really can’t go wrong with garlic + fresh herbs.  And what I learned that evening is that you definitely can’t go wrong when you add in some sweet summer tomatoes…

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Tomato, simply

pappa al pomodoroThere are a few foods I recall disliking immensely when I was young, only to have gradually and unexpectedly come to love over the years. The tomato is one of them. As a child, I simply couldn’t stomach the slimy, pulpy insides.  And the taste was just too “of-the-garden,” making me very aware of the fact that I was eating a Plant. There was no quicker way to ruin a burger than by adding a slice of tomato, and my mother’s insistence that it would add a lovely freshness to the sandwich only strengthened my desire to keep my meat patty naked and undisturbed.

Today, I love the tomato for its rich, sweet, yet pleasantly tart flavor. Its garden-fresh taste is a welcome addition.. its juiciness a palate-cleanser to richer foods. It is the symbol of a ripe summer, and a few days ago it was heroically featured in a delicious soup at Morandi.

Pappa al Pomodoro was the soup special that day, and it came chilled in a shallow dish. It was light in mouthfeel and intense in taste, with classic flavors of garlic, basil and balsamic vinegar. The soup had a slightly chunky texture that I later found out was bread– as Pappa al Pomodoro is made with stale bread that soaks up the juices of the tomato and thickens the soup. The result is surprisingly light, however, so much so that I mistook the tiny bread crumbs for celery or onion bits. It was a pure dish that honored only a few ingredients – seemingly humble yet sophisticated under the spotlight.

I ate the soup slowly, alternating with sips of a crisp Soave, and occasionally with some bites of crusty white bread dipped in fruity olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. It was a lovely, simple summer meal, and as I sat there enjoying practically-unadulterated Tomato, I felt very grown-up indeed.

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It’s terribly difficult for me to say no to ice cream, especially when it’s mint chocolate chip in the summer.  There’s something so perfect about that combination of cool and creamy when the weather is warm and you’re out for a post-dinner stroll.  I went with the kiddy-sized cup and the guy packed it to the edges, leaving me feeling particularly indulged and somewhat childish in my delight with that.  But the best part was that it came with a long, parfait-style spoon.  I am bizarrely obsessed with long stemmed utensils.  They feel elegant…and they also keep a safe distance from stickiness (I always eat my oatmeal with a long stemmed spoon).  And I absolutely loved the pink color of the spoon against the mint green of the ice cream– it reminded me of my bedroom when I was little.  I made it home just as the rain drops started, and even managed to save my last bite for a picture.

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Nevermind the fact that I’ve been in the business of advertising for 6 years– tell a girl that something has “limited” availability and any sense of reason simply vanishes.  Such was the case a few Saturdays ago when an innocent and wide-eyed tourist (me) was instantly convinced that fruit-filled mochi was the only thing worth having at a food market literally teeming with culinary options.

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The KCC Farmer’s Market was on our agenda from the second I booked my plane ticket to Honolulu, Hawaii.  C had already been and told me all about it– we couldn’t stop chattering about all the things we had to eat together– the pesto-mac pizza, the ginger-fizz cooler, the lumpias, fried green tomatoes, corn– the options were overwhelming.  I couldn’t get over C’s claims that KCC put Union Square Greenmarket to shame– a bold statment for a girl who rarely disaparages anything associated with NYC.  I was beyond intrigued.

When we finally arrived and saw the masses of people moving from tent to tent, I started panicking– where would we start? What should we eat? Is everything gone? It was only 9:30 AM, and I’m not used to having such a strong sense of urgency on a Saturday morning.  In any case, we decided to simply follow our vision…and sense of smell…the former kicked in first when C spotted the  mochi table and remembered reading about the famous Fresh Strawberry Mochi– the one that’s oh-so-hard to get, made in limited quanties for the Saturday morning KCC crowd, the one that we just HAD to try because if we missed out I’d have to wait until my next visit to have it which may not be for another year and oh my god I hope we’re not too late.  There were 2 containers left, 2 mochis in each, and we each got one.

Good god, Fresh Strawberry Mochi…how can I describe this joyful little pouch…this little bundle of heaven…let me count the ways:

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Surrounding mochi: chewy, velvety, pillowy, so pleasantly pliant

Azuki bean layer: chocolate-hued bite of perfectly pasted sweet bean bliss

Fresh strawberry center: ruby-colored fruit gem, sweet, juicy, the f-in jackpot

The verdict: I felt powerful for having gotten it before it ran out, and pity for those who hadn’t.  It was the perfect thing to eat at 9:30AM in a tropical paradise.

Oh, and P.S.  Cherry tomatoes from KCC make a great beach snack:

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img_0172West 23rd Street and the surrounding area is quite unique: part strip mall with its cityfied Home Depot, Olive Garden & Best Buy, part community housing for the creative-types in the Chelsea Hotel or the visually-impaired at Associated Blind Housing, utter chaos with all types of cars racing down the massive two-way street, sirens shrieking, cars honking, people smoking and laughing outside Gotham Comedy Club. And, nestled somewhere between Duane Reade and Garden of Eden is a little bakery with bright purple awning, called Madeleine Patisserie.

Once upon a time, this charming little French cafe was a sad, dingy little clothing store that sold cheap clothes on wire hangers. Today, Madeleine Patisserie sells beautiful, scrumptious French pastries, and has lines to the door with people waiting to order these teeny-tiny cookies called macarons. No, not the spiky little coconut styrofoam balls– macarons are completely different. These are delicate cookies with a wonderfully thin, crispy outer shell encasing two soft, chewy cookies that sandwich a silky smooth filling. They come in flavors like Caramel Fleur de Sel , Apricot and Champagne, Chocolate Rum Coconut, Pistachio, Lavendar, Rose…in all colors of the rainbow.

My favorite is Cassis: a chic, smokey-purple cookie exterior that crumbles away to reveal a delectable berry filling, hints of creamy vanilla offsetting the fruity tang. It’s a fascinating marriage of textures– crisp yet soft, airy yet moist, with a deep flavor that fills your whole mouth.

It’s just…lovely. I’ll leave it at that.

Madeleine Patisserie

132 West 23rd Street (between 6th & 7th Avenues)

New York, NY 10011

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So, here’s what I know: balance is the key to everything.  I know, not a novel concept, but it is a notion worth reconsidering when you’re pondering why, exactly, latkes are so good.  They start with the humblest of ingredients: potatoes, onions, and flour—fried in lard.  But then, atop the crispy golden lacy tangle of potatoes comes a perfectly tart dollop of sour cream and a warmly-spiced smattering of applesauce that cuts through all that oil as if that blue Crisco barrel was just a figment of your imagination.  See that balance right there? That is precisely what makes one think that one can eat 11 latkes without consequence.  That, and burning calories with an intense, muscle-flexing hour of dreidel.  Jeff, looking forward to Latkefest 16…

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So, I’ve been pretty positive in my blog thus far (save for one passionate expression of disgust). In fact, for those of you who remember Alec Baldwin’s guest appearance on Friends, at one point I feared I was starting to sound like Parker. The truth is that not everything is wine and roses, and it was never my plan to only talk about the good-tasting.

This evening, as I was scrolling through some of the working photos/posts I have in queue, I came across this muffin photo – unviewed, ignored, and evoking feelings of mild irritation from the lackluster impact it left on me when I ate it for breakfast almost 2 months ago. I haven’t had any desire to write about it because there wasn’t anything great to say – and then it dawned on me that I had adopted some strange, unintentional pattern of optimism in my posts. I made the decision right there to feature more objective evaluations moving forward – and I’d begin with Le Pain Quotidien’s Blueberry Muffin.

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I was interested in this muffin from the start – I pass by Le Pain Quotidien pretty often and every time I would see those craggly, blueberry-studded mountain caps I was captivated. And to be fair, the rustic, sugar-crusted tops did have a pretty cool texture – but everything else fell flat. There was no life to the taste at all – the blueberries were just there, trapped in a dry batter, deceptively promising in their giant size…but they were deflated, un-punchy…kind of like poor, sagging, day-after-your-birthday balloons.

The crumb had a strange damp-stale texture. Though there was no crumbling – when I broke off chunks they held together fine – it was not moist in a way that yielded any sort of satisfaction. With the whole grains, I knew it was meant to be and taste of a “healthy” sort of muffin – which is fine, I am all for “healthy” – but it so lacked the fresh, sprightly taste that one expects from wholesome, healthy ingredients that I just found myself feeling annoyed at the thought of all the delicious muffins in this city that I could be eating instead. When it comes to baked goods, the opportunity cost can be high.

Though I was disappointed that they didn’t deliver, in my own sick way I was slightly relieved because the last thing I need is another baked good to get hooked on.

Le Pain Quotidien
124 7th Avenue (between 17th & 18th)
New York, NY 10011

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Last week, I was given a box of chocolate – literally. Four semi-sweet chocolate walls that formed a box filled with rich, fluffy milk chocolate mousse and sweet raspberries peeking out underneath a chocolate lid with a decorative chocolate and edible gold leaf handle.

I was simply delighted when it was set in front of me. It was more than just being excited about dessert – it was the fact that I was presented with a chocolate box – complete and packaged, mine to own and consume from start to finish. I had received a gift, and it was pretty, and it was edible and delicious, and it was mine (god that sounds materialistic and gluttonous, but it’s the truth).

This dessert, in taste and form, encapsulates the thought behind my blog: total preoccupation with the consumption– physical/visceral/intellectual/emotional– of “things.” Validating a theory that as creditable human beings, we desire not only the things needed for decent life, but something extra, something superfluous or sentimental or luxurious. Something to add “oomph” to our existence beyond the biological, to remind us that we are part of a social construct where there is a consumption and exchange of material goods and sentimental gestures.

So back to last week – at the annual Catalyst Award gala at the Waldorf=Astoria, 1600 people were given a box of chocolate at the end of their meal, and it was a beautiful presentation. It was also undeniably superfluous and totally luxurious…it was delectable, and I loved it!

Janet- thanks for the photo (and the company)!

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My grandmother makes her mandoo 100% from scratch, and the whole process is a beautiful execution of labor and love. The filling consists of meat and vegetables, each purchased at their respective specialty markets. Efficiency is no issue – she takes the bus to see Mr. Butcher Man on Irving for the best quality meat, and then she treks over to the market on Geary, that one with the good produce. For assemblage, she combines and seasons the meat (pork and beef), chops and cleans the vegetables, mixes them in with the meat to make the filling, stuffs the filling into made-from-scratch wrappers, and seals them good and tight with a solid, yet decorative pinch. The special part of her process (which makes all the difference) is the most arduous – the meat is hand chopped. Apparently ground meat is out of the question as a grind is too fine and thus flavor is lost. Perhaps more importantly, it’s essential to start with a premium cut.

My grandmother is a food purist – she strives for the best of the best homemade-everything, no matter how labor intensive the process – no compromise. Her mandoo is revered in my family, and what she goes through to make these batches of plump little dumplings is truly a rare process among today’s crazy, time-pressed generation. When I think about how customs evolve and dilute over time, I realize how critical it is to pass down to generations to preserve deeply important and sentimental traditions. So, when I was at home a few weeks ago, my mom, dad and I decided to attempt just that. Though we didn’t hand-make the wrappers (which when you’re making over 100 dumplings, feels impossible) we did everything else. I’m still congratulating myself for having handled the meat dicing – quite a feat as I never thought I could touch cold, raw meat, let alone hack into it – but I did it and was proud to contribute to what my grandmother might say is the most critical part of the process.

The final product was delicious…in taste, yes, but more so from the knowledge that we attempted to preserve a tradition and recreate a masterpiece. While I wish she could have been there, I now have an excuse to go through the whole process again with the original Master, and maybe I’ll even get to make the wrappers.

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