Archive | July, 2011

Slow Down: Sausage and Leek Casserole & Beet, Squash and Goat Cheese Mousse Napoleons & Corn and Leek Quesadillas

25 Jul

Food for the birds

I have been burning the candle at both ends and recently, I’ve needed a blowtorch to get either fuse to spark. Instead of gazing out the window on the train in the morning or going outside to watch the sun set, I spend my spare moments of “downtime” multitasking – shoveling dinner into my mouth from a plastic container while texting one of my colleagues while throwing a stick for Penny while doing my leg stretches while contemplating the existential questions of our time while debating the pros and cons of scheduling a lobotomy.

While vacuuming a healthful on-the-go snack into my pie hole on the train into the city Saturday night and purposefully skimming this week’s Talk of the Town, I caught a glimpse of myself in the train window. “Who is that pale hag?” I thought, glancing at a red-headed, squinting woman in black. “Oh right. That’s me. “

Tears welled and violins reached a dramaturgical crescendo in my addled little mind; waves of self pity crashed and threatened to pull me into a whirlpool of shame and blame. Then a pack of drunken, sunburned college kids got on the train in Scarsdale and started a Congo line down the aisle of the train. Generally public displays of fun on public transportation bring out my inner traffic cop, but these privileged little Westchester Ivy League monsters were just too genuinely silly-loving and perky to mind. Not too long ago, I would have probably joined the line and had a crazy night out with them.

But I had zany plans of my own to attend to. I tore myself away from the New Yorker, giggled at the Congo and tried to actually savor the moment for once. I was headed for one of my dear friend’s bachelorette parties. Helen Matatov is getting married, and I couldn’t wait to drink a glass (or three or four) with her, Lorraine, Ajla (in spirit), Ellen, her sister Michelle and the rest of the crew.
What happens at bachelorette parties probably doesn’t involve as much tickling and pillow-fighting in underwear as the husbands to be seem to like to imagine, but it still shouldn’t be sullied with a public airing (besides, I missed the really juicy parts since I had to catch the 12:37 am train back to Westchester). Suffice to say, many hearty sips were enjoyed, of vintages as ancient and storied as Pabst Blue Ribbon. Nothing’s too fancy for our Helen!

I will say this: we managed to get air-humped by a member of the Housewives of New York City’s louche band of bejeweled, tanned and bleached side-kick B-List characters. In addition to the impressive display of his hip flexor abilities, we were treated to his off-key, lusty version of B-52’s “Love Shack”. He may have been in his cups at that point. Other than that (and the brief assist I gave to a street-walker who couldn’t zip up her micro minidress), our evening was remarkably crises and uh-oh feeling-free.

And Sunday? I sat outside. Join me! Put down the smart phone. Go outside. Smell the roses while they’re still in bloom.

Oh, and I also cooked. Stephen and I made a Sausage and Leek Casserole, Beet, Squash and Goat Cheese Napoleons and Corn and Cheese Quesadillas. Plenty of carbs and happy fats to soak up any leftovers from the night before. (Stephen was jealous of my girls’ night so he launched a boys’ night in the East Village, which is a story for a different post). Click on for recipes!

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It’s Complicated: Asparagus Grain a la Jean-Georges & Milk Crumb Cookies a la Christina

18 Jul

Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Christina Tosi represent the two insular, mysterious, chilly poles of the little universe on which I spend far too much of my free time casting my gaze – that of haute, hoity-toity, over-intellectualized cuisine.

(I mean, really …. it’s just food. No one obsessing over the merits of a milk-based vs. egg white-based meringues is saving lives. But yet … food is the place where we meet and explore the fault lines of our war and peace; battles, treaties, mergers and marriages are made and broken over bits of crusty bread. Can the relative merits of one’s comestibles somehow influence the outcome of the discussion that is embarked upon while ingesting them? And if so, should a chef use his or her culinary powers for good or evil? Discuss.)

Jean-Georges is the apotheosis of modern French dining; he is the  grand pooh-bah of a restaurant empire spanning the globe, and encompassing all it has to offer. There’s ABC Kitchen, a love letter to seasonal, locavore, organic cuisine written in Careme‘s blood (think roast suckling pig, smoked bacon marmalade, grilled baby leeks), and then there’s the 3-star eponynmous Jean Georges, nouvelle cuisine to the hilt with a dash of Asian influence (think sea trout sashimi draped in trout eggs, lemon, dill, horseradish).

Christina is the apotheosis of DIY, punk rock, high-brow comfort food that turns bored, too-cool NYC hipsters into pie-hoarding, drooling, hyper-active, gleeful, credulous school girls. I thought only Lady Gaga was capable of inspiring that kind of personality-shifting devotion among the baleful downtown set, but judging from the lines that have snaked around Momofuku Milk bar’s block on 2nd ave. for three years, her fans are as die-hard and unwavering as Gaga’s.

My husband Stephen is the apotheosis of the anti-foodie movement. While he sympathizes with the socio-political implications of Slow Food, the notions behind the move to systematically revamp school cafeteria food, various organic vanity gardens planted by sundry political figures and the democratization of farmer’s markets; while he likes a hedonistic simmer in a delicious pile of yummy, bountiful, seasonal food as much as the next guy, his inherent no-nonsense approach to life and his violent and visceral distrust of fussiness and superfluous flights of whimsy render him less than bedazzled by, say, the presence of $18 chicken liver presented on crisp triangles of artisanal flatbread, on anyone’s menu. $32 a pound cheese? Don’t get him started.

Please! Whatever you do … don’t get him started.

And when he’s being honest with his stomach, his appetite, his desires and his palate, the first thing he reaches for is a cheesy, carb-y, bacon-flecked wedge of processed transfat.

When I told him I was making him dinner involving endives and asparagus based on a Jean-Georges recipe, he furrowed his brow and offered, “I like pasta.”

Click below for the recipes and his verdict on all of the foodieness.

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Meathead Veg: Meaty Mushroom Ragu & Banana Split Bread

11 Jul

Veggies I can sink my teeth into

For relatively ill-defined, but passionately felt notions, I have twice tried to give up the practice of eating meat.

Both attempts were wildly unsuccessful, and I could rationalize my dashes back into carnivorousness with a philosophical-cum-faux-scientific digression on the benefits of eating meat (on the small farms I use as the source for most of my meat, animals ward off predators, pests and act as giant fertilizer machines; even plant-only agricultural systems produce biomass and waste that is best utilized if kept in our food system by using it to feed livestock, except I would babble on for quite a while in a more and more irritating attempt to justify my lack of control), but I won’t.

I’ll just admit the truth, sans the somewhat rational rationalizations: I like it. Deep down, I’m a hedonist. I like to tear into a big, bloody hunk o’ flesh a few times a week and revel in its juicy, lush, strangely life-affirming unctuousness.

I try, instead of giving it up entirely, to limit my consumption to a few big carnivorous feasts a week, balanced out with a lot of veggies and grains. This was more difficult than it should have been for many years. I was afraid of mushrooms — a state of existence which now seems anathema, to me, to existence at all.

Mushrooms, in all of their Alice in Wonderland, psycho-active, poisonous, toad, poop and straight-up fungus associations didn’t entrance me, they freaked me the F out. I claimed it was the texture, but really? They seemed wild to me, too wild to consume. I ended up eating them, and falling in love with them, totally by accident.

Stephen and I were on a date a zillion years ago in the East Village at Frank Restaurant, one of my all-time favorite osterias in Manhattan, and I was too distracted by the chaotic, self-conscious, preening people-watching and strike-posing scene that can only exist in New York City, Paris and London, God bless them, to pay too much attention to the menu. I ordered the porcini ravioli, thinking it was pork. Duh. I saw Stephen smirk when I ordered, but I assumed he was getting his jollies over my long-standing and all-consuming obsession with pork products; the notion that he was hatching a dark and insidious plot to pollute my body with the dread fungi didn’t even enter my mind.

Two bites into dinner later, I looked over at Stephen.

“This isn’t pork, is it?”Horrified gaping.

“No, it’s not.” More smirking.

Blank panic, repugnance, terror. Mouth moving, no sound coming out.

Finally: “Mushrooms!” Choking, sputtering. My version of smelling salts: quick, repeated slugs of wine. Eventual recovery. Tiny nibble.

Enthusiastic gobbling.

Endless smirking.

Now I eat mushrooms, every kind, as often as I can. They’re like nature’s ugly, funky little miracles, quirky little beings that seem scary but are actually quite ordinary in their majesty; the John Cages of the fungi universe. (He also fell under the shroom spell, eventually becoming an internationally recognized mycologist.)

Stephen tries very hard not to lord the Great Mushroom Victory over my head, though he has been known to whip it out if I claim that I hate a food product. Next stop: tripe.

This week, I made two veggie dishes that are often as drab as they sound: Mushroom Pasta and Banana Bread. They’re like old ladies who haven’t hit the town in a while — grim, gray and insipid. But I made like Emeril and Bam! Kicked Them Up a Notch! The best part — they’re both easy and fast, perfect for summer munchies on the run.

Click below for recipes and photos.

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A Patriot Snacks: Corn Salad, Two Ways & Blue Cheese Fritters & Soba Mango Toss

4 Jul

Hudson River Valley farmer's markets are full of kittens and baby chicks in boxes and other equally cute, but more blatantly edible things

As July 4th weekend dawned, several conflicting obsessions gripped me: 1) This is the biggest sales weekend until the holiday season — how much stuff can I rationalize buying / sneak past Stephen without risking a throwdown?, 2) OHMIGOD — where has the summer gone and why am I not at the beach?, 3) What does this holiday mean, really — aside from giving most of the country an excuse to take a day off work, grill stuff to put in their mouths, guzzle beer from 10 am onward without getting into trouble with The Wife and watch shiny things explode in the sky?

The entire country seems gripped with these dueling existential crises. (It’s not just me, right?)

We all know someone who has lost their job, their marriage, their house or worse in recent years; our nation’s essential optimism has been frisked, zapped, tickled, searched and X-Rayed. Anyone who isn’t thinking about the broader implications of being an American citizen these days isn’t thinking at all. Generation X and Y grew up with parents who, in many ways, re-created the definition of America. Now we’re surviving the crash from the fallout of their little social experiment.

We all know the story … The Boomers, dissatisfied with the essentially un-American state of civilian life for minorities, women and the children born to the ceaselessly toiling, uneducated masses living in our city’s slums, marched, rioted, voted and campaigned for change. In the process, they discovered pot, acid, fondue, beaded curtains, fermented food, communal living, birth control, the electric guitar, the aesthetic benefits of frizzy hair, paisley, the conviction that war, by definition, was bad, the notion that unionization, by definition, is good and that everyone, by definition, is a winner.

Civil rights, and the cultural ephemera that accompanied them, forever changed the fabric of our country. We grew up thinking we could do anything and that we deserved everything. In many ways, we were right: after all, a black man is our president; his Secretary of State is a woman; the CEOs of PepsiCo, Kraft, Dupont, Yahoo, The New York Times Company and dozens of other multi-million conglomerates are women, many of them of variously hued ethnic descent and variously privileged (or un) backgrounds; I personally know two amazing women (Rachel and Kathy) who hold major corporate posts while still managing to be jaw-droppingly fab mothers, wives, friends and citizens.

But I also witnessed, first hand, the hideous chaos that the “if it feels good, do it” 1960s mentality wrought.

I mean, seriously, who decided that Frisbee sports, DIY fruit picking, carrying lap dogs in designer purses, internships, high-fives, sub-prime mortgages, tooth-whitening strawberry daiquiri gum, being a gluten-free vegan who occasionally eats salmon fritters, group hug therapy, Danish furniture, Fox & Friends and tinted moisturizer for men were good things that made sense and needed to exist? Addled descendants of the 1960’s, I say.

Fellow patriots, we have spent the last decade scraping the poop off of America’s windshield, poop from the doves and hawks still circling over our heads, fighting over the errant scraps left of medicare, social security, the space program, bailouts and funding for environmental disasters, world conflagrations, yada yada. How can we move forward with so much poop on our windshield?

But now, say it with me in a petulant voice reserved for toddlers on long road trips in desperate need of a tinkle run:

“Where is our piece of the American pie?”

Why can’t average, hard-working Americans afford to have a home, fill their cars with gas, properly educate their children, go on vacation once a year and occasionally hit the town and shell out for a sitter? Isn’t that an American right? I’m not so sure anymore. Perhaps it’s time to rethink what we, as a nation, can afford to expect to deserve. At any rate, I better.

I’ve spent many hours in the last year, walking in the woods, thinking about where Stephen and I want to go with our lives next, what our priorities are and should be, what we can and should afford to be able to do with our little pile of shekels and of course, Thoreau. Any book-lovin’ woods-walkers eventually turns to the original book-lovin’ woods-walker, Thoreau.

More and more frequently, I’ve been turning to his timeless words for guidance, and I meditate on one nugget from “Walden” in particular:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.”

It seems to summarize, precisely, what Stephen and I both want. A simpler, less crap-bedazzled existence in which we can enjoy the essence and fruit of a happy marriage and rid ourselves of the agita and propensity for acquisitiveness that New York City eventually sows in even the most Spartan of souls. Maybe someday soon, we’ll gather our shekels and acquire one more thing before digging in: a little cabin in the woods of the Hudson River Valley? Fingers crossed.

Corn, waiting for Stephen to shuck it

In the meantime, we’re frying dogs on the BBQ, singing and laughing along to the “Grand Old Flag” as the night sky explodes in a riot of colors, shucking corn on my parent’s deck, snacking non-stop and exploring the almost painfully adorable farmer’s markets in Putnam County.

Click on for our favorite Patriotic Snacks this weekend: Corn Salad, Two Ways & Blue Cheese Fritters & Soba Mango Toss.

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