Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Mango! You're my knight in shining armor and I love you...

Friends it is almost that time.  And you don’t want to miss it.  So prepare thyself.  I personally missed the Magnolias blossoming at the botanical garden and I think I blinked the day the cherry blossoms occurred because my street already looks like a pink volcano erupted.  But I’ll be damned if I miss my favorite culinary part of spring (and god damnit it is not ramps).  So what’s a gal like me wait for so impatiently? 

Indian Mangoes! 

Good fruit is sexy.  It’s living flesh that you take a bite of and you get to savor it’s juices as you try unsuccessfully to keep them from running down your chin.  You become giddy with embarrassment as you lick your lips to keep all its juices and bits to yourself but your sticky hands betray you.  When I was little we would get a crate of the most delicious oranges sent to us from some relative living in Florida…oranges like none you’ve ever had before and our mother would make us eat them standing in the bathtub or outside that’s how juicy they were. 

I did not get a chance to experience this phenomenon again until the summer of the Indian Mango in NYC.  Do you remember this? A few years back when the ban on Indian Mangoes was lifted, NYC was overrun by the whisper of a sexier version of our standard mango…our seemingly ubiquitous summer fruit.  Suddenly people who would never normally dream of heading further north of 14th street in Manahattan actually braved the wild and wily subways or rented a zip car to get to the exotic borough of Queens for these previously banned candies of nature.  Yet they were in such demand, and as luck would have it supplies so low…the price would get jacked up.  And we thought it was expensive to have the black market Indian Mangoes smuggled in from some dude’s suitcase! 

A mango! Mangoes are not rare or exotic anymore.  Or at least they aren’t supposed to be!  You can find them year round in delis. You no longer need to travel to Mexico to take a long stroll hand in hand with a lover only to have the fruit fall from it’s tree and plonk you on the head (clearly a sign of a doomed relationship).  It’s a treat served on a stick at Coney Island.  It’s served chopped (now so easy thanks to Slap Chop) on top of ice cream, and it’s in margaritas and mojitos everywhere.  So, when my chef at the time says he has this super sexy new dessert, the last thing I think he’s going to tell me it is…is a mango.

I repeat: A mango.  From Queens.  Well…ok not really from Queens.  From India.  But found in Queens.  And it’s really really expensive (for fruit) which we all know means it’s good.  But really, it is the best, juiciest mango ever.  And when I ate one, I had to run over to the kitchen’s prep sink at work to keep the juices from running not just all over my hands and chin, but from the floor!  Seriously, after eating this mango…even the tip of my nose was sticky…that’s how juicy it was.

Chef would take these mangoes and slice them haphazardly, and toss them with honey, pickled chilis (pickling since the end of the previous summer) and lime and salt and a tiny bit of champagne vinegar.  And, that was that.  It was so freaking amazing.  Ever since, it is something I try to recreate myself on an even more humble simple level. Although this was already a pretty simple dessert my favorite thing he ever did with these mangoes was one night a Chef Friend of his was in our restaurant on a date.  They were so enamored with eachother that they didn’t want to stay for dessert.  So, Chef packed a bag for them containing: one mango, one lime, and a tiny ramekin of this honey-chili sex sauce.  He told them to go home and eat it. 

I always imagined they had it for breakfast the next morning.

Moral of this story?  Any minute now, the Indian Markets (Patel Brothers in Flushing!) in Queens will be selling these amazing mangoes…until supplies run out.  Yes, they’re expensive.  But you know, mangoes bruise easily so we need to pay for them to fly first class.  No, really.  Who cares?  Go to queens!  Find the Indian mangoes!  Buy a case! I know you don’t want to go to queens.  No one does!  That’s why the mangoes are so damn expensive.  Go there.  Get mangoes.  Eat them in your bathtub!  Be happy.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Le Sigh

Ah Paris...And I don't mean Hilton.

  I went to a friends and family at a new restaurant.  It was Ma Peche.  Stop what your doing and go there now!  Drink their yummy cocktails named after Sonic Youth songs, drink my friend Abe's rose, and even if you think you're going to be too full get the steak.  For the record, I'm not telling you to get the steak because it's some magical cut from Creekstone Farms that they do just for David Chang (but it is) I'm telling you to get it because of the crack rocks they serve with the steak...these rice flour french fries.  Ah-May-Zing!  Seriously.  They taste like movie theater popcorn!

We also tried the Seafood Plateau, you know a Momofuku-ish take on the tower of shellfish that you get at every Brasserie in Paris.  And it was delicious.  And we all agreed that more restaurants should have towers of shellfish offerings.  We know they have it at Balthazzar.  Where else?  If you know please clue me in, so I can do a round up of these joints.

Alas, since this shellfish extravaganza, and also perhaps because the menu at Ma Peche is in French (sort of) and maybe even because we also had the snails and sausage...I have had Paris on the mind.

Deep in the mind.

Like a dream.

I long for cities like Paris, like you wouldn't believe.  It is actually one of my favorite places that for a brief time was tarnished because of my traveling companion.  See many moons ago, I took someone to Paris while we were breaking up.  Why?  Not sure at the time.  But, for the record...do not ever go to the most romantic, dreamy place on earth while in the midst of relationship trauma.  Remember this! Because it's not about you, it's about Paris.  Paris is bigger and stronger than you.  Paris will destroy you.  Actually, worse than destroy you...Paris will merely light a cigarette and shrug it's shoulders at you.

And you'll destroy yourself.

So...with that I post something I wrote when returning from this grim trip to Paris with Le Douchebag. (and just in case you're reading this and you're wondering if I am talking about you...I am).  So, a repost from something I wrote for Snooth many years ago...in a galaxy far far away.

PS: In the immortal words of Colin Alevras (and ironically the beverage director of Momofuku and Ma Peche...) "If you don't get sweaty in Paris, it's your own damn fault."

We went to Paris for a long weekend with hopes of eating and drinking our way through town in a gastronomic fantasy come true. Like Bonnie and Clyde with oysters and Chablis. Instead we were like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern from Hamlet, lost behind scenes on the set of a beautiful play. Armed with our business cards, restaurant guides, and dozens of emails from friends, bosses, and wine reps on where to eat and, more importantly, where to drink, at every point of the day… we were shocked to discover two things: nothing is open in Paris on the weekend and what is open is boring. It’s a cruel joke.
My boyfriend said he had envisioned fully cooked and perfectly seasoned quail flying directly into his mouth while foie gras dripped down from the heavens. I’d dreamed of back vintages of Raveneau and of Champagnes that are too difficult to find in the States. Instead it was like we were in a food and wine ghost town. We did have two wonderful meals: L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon is not a terrible way to spend a ridiculous amount of money. And Le Comptoir was delicious in all its pig’s feet splendor but also replete with a surly older waitress, bien sur. What was so frustrating for us, even at these places, was that the wine lists were so thoughtless.

Boring and uninspired wine lists are something I complain about in New York as well. I’ve said it before, if I don’t like the wine list, I will walk out of a restaurant. I don’t understand how my fellow wine directors could not take the time to find the hidden gems of wine to compliment the beautiful cuisine. It seems lazy to me to have Veuve instead of Goutorbe on your list. It makes me feel like you think I’m stupid when you just put a bunch of wines down on a piece of paper and expect me to drink them. And worse, I feel insulted because I genuinely worry about my list. Do I have enough Washington wines? How is the price range? Is it biodynamic? How is the new vintage? Is the list interesting and diverse? Are the wines good? But after our weekend in Paris, I will add a new question to worry over while planning my list: If I was the guest would I be happy with this selection? The ultimate test.
Now, I know there are plenty of wonderful wine lists and many talented wine directors in New York. I’ve had the pleasure of dining at their establishments. And maybe those lists have helped to cultivate that expectation of greatness, or at least uniqueness on other wine lists and in myself. And perhaps this is what made it so difficult for me in Paris. It wasn’t about an being Americans in Paris but rather a couple of New Yorkers in Paris. Or rather, a couple of New York restaurant professionals in Paris. And we brought all of our expectations of food, wine, and service with us. It definitely made me pay attention differently to the guests in my dining room the past two nights. Are they celebrating, are they visiting, what are their expectations? One could possibly have a similar experience to ours, even in New York City. Though, I would venture to guess, that most people would react differently to a waitress pushing her off the sidewalk and out of her way if she were in NYC instead of Paris, n’est ce pas?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Solo Tuesdays

I love food.  I say that but really what I mean is that I love to cook. I love to cook food.  I know because I do not get the same enjoyment out of going to the local store and buying roasted beets and eating them as I do when I slow roast some golden beets for an hour and half and toss them with some lemon and balsamic and serve them with a little salad made from their own spicy green tops.  Somehow, when I make dinner I go into a moving meditation of sorts.  It used to happen to me when I would bake.  And still to this day, when I really need to process something mentally, the only thing that frees me is baking…it’s so methodical and sweet and seemingly selfless.

I didn’t always love food.  I used to view it as an enemy.  I didn’t like a lot of things and I often found that I gagged over the texture of certain foods thereby needing to eliminate them from my diet and further limiting me in my early gastronomical ways.  I used to proclaim to my friends that my greatest wish was a pill we could take to receive all of our nutrients instead of having to eat. Of course this was a long time ago and during my vegan days.  As I look back, it’s really no wonder I gagged so often on my food, I mean how much tempeh and quinoa can one person eat?  I slowly added things to my diet: cheese (a god send), dairy in general, fish, mushrooms,…meat.  I’d be lying if I said I eat everything today.  But, I do try everything, at least once.  It is my new lease on life I’ve had for the past few years.  It’s so much more liberating to say that I don’t eat lamb because I’ve tried it every way possible and unless it’s Frenched rib chops then I don’t seem to care for it.  Or, I only eat pork or beef if I cook it myself or if I know the farm it came from. Or, chicken is still a definite no!  It’s so weird and they’re so damn cute those chickens! It feels okay to say these things because now I have actually tried them.  It’s better than not liking something because of your latest neurosis…ugh!  Why do so many neurosis have to manifest themselves into these bothersome eating issues?  But I tell you what, my greatest fear is exactly what I used to dream of…a pill to have to take to receive all my nutrients instead of eating food.

How did this culinary revolution come about for me?   Well, I guess a lot of things happened at once.  I realized how unhealthy I felt because although I was vegan, I wasn’t eating any vegetables really.  I was so concerned about getting non-meat protein into me that I had forgotten about things like fat, oils, and vitamins from veggies!  I actually would eat a bag of microwave popcorn with some spoonfuls of peanut butter for dinner.  Then one day I was working at a new restaurant…and the chef put up family meal and I will never forget it.  It was roasted arctic char and vegetables.  Nothing fancy but there was no other option. And it was on a plate…with a lemon wheel just to make it look all pretty.  And I ate it.  Without missing a beat!  Ate the whole damn thing like a recovering anorexic who just found some graham crackers in the trash, and thought no one was looking so she went for it!  Oh! So! Hungry!  Soon after that, the floodgates were open! I mean, it would take me another 7 years to eat meat but…a whole new world was open.  A world where I didn’t have to commit to this monastic vegan lifestyle.  And with the addition of dairy meant  I could bake and with the addition of fish meant I could go to people’s houses for dinner or actually have the balls to open a cookbook because at least some of the recipes would apply to me. 

And so just that happened.  I started reading cookbooks and food writing with great passion. I “got it” just a little bit more when I looked at the dining section in the paper…and my memories served me well.  I remembered having seen Julia Child and Dinah Shore when I was young somewhere.  I remembered my grandmother cooking.  I remembered that my mother made her own baby food for my brother.  And more and more I found that I was happiest reading about food and inspired by reading about food.  I would lay on a towel in the park in the sun reading about food until I couldn’t take it any more and would pack my things up and head to the grocery store just to go home and cook.

My biggest inspirations were, of course, Julia Child and MFK Fisher.  I mean my god!  What joy they had for food.  Maybe it was more than that.  Maybe it was that they were these lively sexual women who also ate…and I wanted that…for myself. Reading that when Julia Child landed in France she said the air reeked of Shallots.  I would giggle.  Reading that MFK Fisher would peel a tangerine and put the segments on the radiator for a few minutes to dry them slightly before eating them because the effect was almost like candy…I died…I swear…it’s the best thing I’ve ever read.  Or, Amanda Hesser writing that she made a pact with herself that even when dining alone to, at least, always use a real cloth napkin…no matter what!  These are things that I think about on a daily basis. 

Today is Tuesday.  Tuesdays lately have been a solo day for me.  A day where Schmoo is at work and I have off.  It sounds lonely.  And truth be told, it is a few of the minutes here and there but all in all I need this time to myself.  I spend the greater portion of my day, my week, my life caring for others.  I manage a restaurant caring for about 50 employees, balancing the needs of my staff and the hundreds of guests who choose to dine with us everyday…and they expect to be cared for too.  I care for my boyfriend.  I care for our apartment  or at least I try.  I care for my friends in my spare time (not much to speak of there) and I care for my cats one of which is nearing death on a daily basis but aren’t we all? I oscillate between  the need to hang out with my friends I never see, my boyfriend I can’t get enough of, and spending quiet time with myself to write or read.  Tuesday is my day to do it all.  Last Tuesday I hung out with Linda and that was great.  Tuesday is also my meatless day and so I made us a veggie dinner of Dal with aduki beans, coconut, apples, lime-butter, ginger and scallions.  We drank Champagne (duc de romet) and sat outside for the first night of the spring!  My favorite moment  was  when I was grating fresh turmeric into the dal…Linda toasted me and said “thank you for loving food”!

Thank you Linda!

This Tuesday…I am by myself.  And it is my meatless Tuesday.  I was tempted for a split second to walk down to Cobblestone Foods and order some beets and other roasted veggies to bring home to save time but I put my foot down.  I knew that I would feel better if I made myself something.  So, armed with my desires from the latest issue of Saveur, I went to the grocery store.  I made the Fennel baked with milk.  I also had the dandelion green salad with anchovies!!!  (we’re not counting that as meat right?  I mean I pulverized the hell out of them and made them into a bloody paste and whisked them into olive oil for a dressing).  And I poured myself some Pouilly Fume (a perfect accomplice to my veggies) by Andre et Edmond Figeat “Les chaumiennes” 2008.

And I set a little spot up for myself with a place mat, a fork, a knife, a glass of wine, and...a real cloth napkin. 

And I took my time eating in solitude.  Thinking of the flavors.  Thinking about the rest of my night ahead of me. 

Thinking that I can’t wait to make Chocolate Puddle Cookies for dessert.

True Wine Connoisseur (nothing over $20)


Ummm...Are you fucking kidding me?  This is great!  I'm watching all his reviews on you tube right now. Just wanted to share!  I actually can't top this so I've nothing more to add.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

I Blame It All On James Bond

So...yeah this is a re-post, previously found on Snooth  a wine-website that I did a couple of blog entries for years ago.  But, I was flipping through some old writing and found it and it made me laugh. So, I thought I'd re-share it with you.

I blame it all on James Bond. Really I do. Because that is where it all began. My interest in vintage cars, my penchant for international travel, my fascination with gadgets I don’t know how to work, and my love of a man in a suit (I’m a sucker for a double Windsor knot and a set of sexy cuff links).
But what I’m really talking about here is my obsession with Champagne.
I think for most people, Champagne is something you celebrate or toast with. Maybe something you enjoy on New Year’s Eve and probably don’t think about again for the rest of the year. There’s the type of person who might order a glass while she looks over the menu at a restaurant, appreciating the aperitif quality of the bubbles… but she probably doesn’t fuss too much over which Champagne she is actually drinking. Then there’s me. I drink it everyday. And I care, as if the balance of the world depended on it, what it is, who made it, where it comes from (within Champagne, of course) and what’s in it.
James Bond cared too.
Most of us remember that Bond loved martinis. If you do remember his penchant for Champagne you probably know he preferred Bollinger. My favorite moment is actually in Dr. No (1962) when James shows up to have dinner with Dr. No who is trying to impress Bond by pointing out the 1955 Dom Perignon, noting that it would be a “pity to break it.” James Bond, smugly and coolly, responds that he actually prefers the ‘53 and sits down to dinner.
There are beautiful and light Champagnes that are great as starter drinks (Bouchard Inflorescence), there are complex ones that can be thought over all night (Jacques Selosse’s Subtance or Pascal Doquet 1997), there are rounder, heartier Champagnes that benefit from food (Charles Ellner Seduction 1999). I also think of Champagne as the perfect finish… lightens the sweetness of your dessert and matches perfectly with Red Velvet Cake (Pierre Gimonnet et Fils or Egly Ouriet Rose). In fact, I think it is also the perfect beverage to sneak into a movie theater on a rainy afternoon, even if you have to drink it out of plastic cups (Billecart-Salmon Brut).
James Bond taught me that you can (and should) drink Champagne anytime. And while its innate luxuriousness and sexiness is obvious (James Bond would never drink or do anything unsexy), I think there are two real lessons here:
1. Champagne is wine and has fantastic pairing capabilities and should be enjoyed equally on its own as well as explored with various food flavors.
2. Life is short. Drink Champagne. It’s sexy and will make you feel glamorous.
I consider myself lucky. I fell in love with a man who loves Champagne as much as I do. In fact, one of the first questions I ask “wine” people is “If you were a wine what would you be?” To this, my boyfriend responded Champagne. Specifically, he responded with one of my favorite Champagnes. Good answer.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he looks great in a suit.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


I was reading a book on writing.  Right there, that’s already weird statement.  But some of us do it, you know.   I personally am working on a book, and therefore am working on an outline and therefore a proposal.  Those are the boring things so yeah,  I was looking for inspiration.  I flipped through an old writing exercise book and I stumbled across this entry that was to write about school lunches when you are looking for material.  School Lunches, the teacher says, were this horrible zone where we revealed ourselves.  It was during school lunch that we found out who we were and who we  really went to school with.  Whether or not we had a twinkie indicated if we were okay or not.

Ummm… yeah, maybe if you went to school with Alice Waters or somebody like that. 

Where I went to school it was a different story.  Everybody did the school lunch thing which was this nasty greasy pizza square and french fries and chocolate milk every day.  I brought my lunch.  BROUGHT.  But, I was embarrassed that I did so.  So, I ate my lunch in silence and solitude in a stall in the bathroom after lunch.  Sometimes I would space it out throughout the day.  I would drink my juice after homeroom.  Eat my homemade “energy bar”  (thanks mom) after lunch and eat my apple in the halls towards the end of the day.   Maybe on some level, I knew that the food I had would be subject to ridicule but I also understood that I didn’t want to eat the food offered that most of my peers gobbled unsuspectingly.   What I do know is that lunch hour, itself, was awesome.  It was the one moment in the day (a whole hour!) where you got into fights, made up from fights, maybe did some homework, talked, and argued and read and had an whole hour to do what you pleased.  And at the end of the day, if you didn’t want someone to know who you were, you could make up an alibi or an alias or discard your food for something else so everyone would think you were normal for an hour while you were on display and then everybody would be released back to the wild to be themselves truly for the rest of the day.

I disagree that school lunches are the place where “they” find out how maladjusted you are. School lunch hours allowed you to create a new you.  I really feel that school pictures were the one area where they could catch you in the lie. You can hide from the school lunch…you can, I know.  You can pretend to be busy or in love, or have a stomach ache or something.  You can trade your stupid healthy food for some delicious processed item or you can use your allowance to buy your disgusting grease laden meal just to save face if that’s what your into.  Or starve yourself and eat in the bathroom, like I did.  I was literally fearful of the food they served in the cafeteria (and now as an adult I have learned rightly so).  But pictures?  No escape!  Oh my god.  Nothing struck fear into a kid like me more than this.  I always felt misrepresented as it was.  But nothing was a banner of truth of how much or little your parents actually loved you as the school photo.  And for me, this was a  nightmare.  We, as kids, were never on time for anything.  We were the only kids of divorced parents in our school (it was early for all that) and we were always getting shipped back and forth from one parent to the next or to or from our grandparents.  We were always in disheveled, wrinkled clothes.  We never had all our appropriate things with us.  I can’t tell you how many times I went to school on Monday from My dad’s place not knowing that I wasn’t going to be at “home” first and so I wouldn’t have the “right” notebook etc.  I was a mess.  Top that with my hair.  Add the school photo day into the mix and what would you get?…Tears!  My hair.  My god.  As an adult it causes me so much grief I think back onto being a kid and I laugh at the struggle. Seriously. 

My hair is crazy.  Imagine having thick hair.  Now imagine having coarse hair.  Now imagine having a curly perm in that thick, coarse hair.  Now, imagine that perm growing out or worse, imagine that perm only “taking” on one side of your hair…forever.  My hair is sort of curly, wavy,  thick, and it definitely has a mind of it’s own.  I get dreads after two days of not washing my hair.  If I brush it, my whole head looks like the end of a broom that has been electrocuted, so I don’t brush it ever.  If I let it go, I look like I just climbed out of the jungle.  If I spend my hard-earned money I look like a million bucks with Korean straightened hair, so long and shiny and straight but this only lasts until water or sweat find their way to the hair follicle. As a young adult I always fantasized about a man running his fingers through my hair, combing it.  The reality is that his hand would get stuck half way through.  The bigger reality is if I had just it straightened, I might actually backhand him for touching it at all.  This “peace of hair-mind” is  not something, even  at 36 years old that I can accomplish on my own…I’ve tried every brush, every blow dryer, every de-friz serum…(my boyfriend usually sings 80’s hair band songs while I try to straighten it because it just seems to get bigger and bigger) imagine a 10 year old with an even thicker version of this hair (because it has thinned out, thankfully as I’ve gotten older) and imagine having one side of your hair sticking straight out and the other flat and frizzy at the same time and standing on line for your school picture feeling that this was not fair, these people you were standing on line with were going to be flipping through the yearbook decades from now and this hair was going to represent you forever.  And you know, that if the cards were stacked against you properly you would have parents who loved you enough to do something with this ungodly head of hair…I mean how dare they let me loose with this hair.  My unorganized, distracted parents letting me loose with my skinny self, with unruly hair in pictures forever, like a wild mountain child.  This is much worse than being caught without a twinkie or worse an organic carrot bread thing your mom made with apple sauce instead of butter…