Saturday, October 31, 2009

Friday, October 30, 2009

An Apple a Day

Behold the bounty!

My friend and I headed upstate yesterday with a tank full of gas and a dream—a dream of picking bushels of our own fruit at someone else’s farm.

It started out an idyllic morning, walking around with our baskets, marveling at the autumn scenery, picking apple after juicy apple.

But then we entered a dark, shadowy part of the orchard. The trees in this ominous-looking corner of the farm did not want to relinquish their precious fruit. At first I thought I was imagining things. There would be a shimmy or a shake of branches that would leave a red apple just out of reach. No matter, I thought, I’ll just pick a different one. There was another shimmy. Another shake.

And then it happened: A tree threw an apple right at my head. The tree next to it, equally as peeved, did the same. Before we knew it, we were in the throws of a full-on apple tree assault. Apples were flying everywhere. We ducked and weaved, dodging the fruity fastballs coming our way, and, in seeking shelter from the onslaught, we came across a tin foot...attached to a tin leg…

Oh, wait. That’s The Wizard of Oz.

Never mind.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sugar Rush

Halloween, God bless it, is the only time of the year that manages to conceal the fact that I have a sugar tooth the size of a football stadium.

No one at the drugstore looks at me askance because I’m buying bag after enormous bag of candy. Kit Kats, Snickers, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Tootsie Pops…the list goes on and on. It’s all, you see, for the children.

There is, however, one type of candy that I cannot abide and that is never foisted upon trick or treaters at our door: candy corn. These one-note triangular concoctions of gag-inducing sweetness are an affront to the entire candy aisle. Remember getting candy corn in your bag at Halloween? Few disappointments were ever greater. And if you traded candy at the end of the night, how many times did you try to unload your sorry bag o’ corn on someone? Answer: each and every time.

Judging from the foot traffic we had in our building last year, I’ve got about two king-sized bags of candy per kid. That’s a good ratio, I think. Gotta make sure I have enough for myself.

I mean, the children. Enough for the children.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Burn Notice

The other day I wrote about harvesting a garden. Part of that agricultural wonder was a massive amount of hot peppers. Like more peppers than any family—or neighborhood—could possibly consume.

This, predictably, led to me making lots of hot pepper dishes. To the point of pain. Now, I’m not sure what classification of hot peppers these little darlings were, but after a full 48 hours of burning skin I can only assume they were of the Holy-Christ-These-Are-Hot genus.

Here's the story: last week, we had a friend over for dinner. I started out with homemade salsa (wicked hot), which was followed by seared scallops and roasted shrimp (insane hot) with a roasted potato/corn relish (Hades hot). Not the most balanced of menus, I’ll admit. Separately, everything would have been great—taken together, however, it proved a capsaicin calamity for my fingertips.

I went to bed with my hands ablaze and quickly found myself unable to sleep because of the pain. I’m guessing I was the only person in Manhattan at 1 a.m. pouring half-and-half over my hands. I did this twice more in hopes that it would magically erase what felt like volcanic eruptions emanating from my epidermis (alliteration, how I love thee!).

I awoke the next morning to flashes of phantom pain. Undeterred, I went to the gym, and after a vigorous 8-mile run (read: kinda-respectable 2-mile jog), I hit the steam room. This apparently aggravated whatever dormant capsaicin remained because not only did my hands instantly flare up again, they then proceeded to scream—literally, scream—at me for the remainder of the day. And this is what they screamed:

“Hey, Top Chef, try wearing gloves next time you chop habaneros!”

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Kitchen Cravings

I tend to punctuate trying or joyous times in my life with food.

After graduate school, when I wasn’t pounding the pavement for a job I was baking bread. My passion for bread baking nearly derailed my budding journalism career. On one particularly depressing Valentine’s Day more than a decade ago, I took a truffle-making class and have since parlayed that therapeutic three hours into a happy holiday tradition. And every promotion or professional accolade that I’ve been fortunate enough to receive has been celebrated by me whipping something up in the kitchen.

Now that I’m freelancing at home and inching toward becoming a published author with what can only be described as hold-your-breath hope, my schedule and professional commitments have changed. Translation: I can cook pretty much whenever I want.

Case in point: Yesterday I made lentils and spaghetti sauce…because it was Monday. Today I’m going to make a flourless chocolate cake…because it’s raining. You see, I don’t need a milestone or annoying event to coax me into the kitchen these days. In fact, I might make a spice cake right now.

Why? It’s 9:30.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I See London, I See France

We’re awash in clutter. Not on the sidewalks. Not in our parks. I’m talking about up in the sky.

Maybe you’ve noticed the countless new buildings dotting our fair island: soaring monuments of glass and steel with windows like so much cellophane allowing everyone to see everything.

I don’t care so much about the exhibitionists who are taking full advantage of such transparency; it’s the view of everyone’s stuff I have a problem with. The piles of unsightly bric-a-brac, the thousands of unmade beds, the mountains of clothing strewn every which way—it’s all there for us to see. Passersby of these modern obelisks, these fanciest of fancy new buildings are subjected to a front-row viewing of everyone’s clutter. These multimillion-dollar apartments are more akin to flop houses or unkempt college dorms than they are to high-end living. It is, simply put, an ocular assault of epic proportions.

Windows are much coveted here, and with good reason. After all, living atop one another in such close quarters means that a view outside—even if it’s just a tiny sliver of sky—is all we got. Back in the day, when downtown tenements thrived, people hung everything outside: laundry, food, more laundry. Ropes crisscrossed the streets in order to hang whatever could be hung out the window. We’ve essentially come full circle.

Didn’t developers or planning boards consider for even the briefest of moments what these buildings would look like from the sidewalk? Did no one ponder what all those see-through buildings would behold?

Apparently not, because now we’re stuck with an unsightly panty parade up above.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Farmer Mon

I found myself digging for potatoes in Central Park last week. Let’s just say that ended poorly. Seems the Central Park Conservancy doesn’t encourage that kind of thing. On Monday, I walked behind a pig while he rooted for truffles near the trees at Centre Street. The Court Clerks weren’t amused. And today I picked what I thought were edible flowers along the East River bike path—an altogether inadvisable endeavor.

I can’t help myself. I might live in one of the most urban spots on the planet, but there’s farm in my blood. Maybe you have some too. If you find yourself fondling produce at the Union Square greenmarket on Saturdays, or plotting an escape from your concrete confines to an orchard three hours outside the city to pick your own, you’re probably harboring a farm gene or two.

Fortunately, I was able to get my farm on last month when I visited family in Cleveland. My grandmother’s garden was ready for the final harvest. I picked two giant baskets of tomatoes, upwards of 100 hot peppers, a massive bunch of parsley and one zucchini. A giant zucchini. A zucchini so impressive in its enormity it put all other zucchinis that had come before it to shame.

It was five pounds and bigger than my head. Bigger than my forearm. Heck, it was as big as the puppy.

It took days to eat. There was grilled zucchini, zucchini fries, zucchini sauté. By Day 4 of cooking nothing but zucchini for my husband, my quest to consume every last bit of this most massive of vegetables assumed a Dr. Suessian quality to it. Will you eat it off the grill? I will not eat it off the grill. I will not eat it off the sill. I do not like zucchini roast, zucchini toast and most of all, zucchini poached!

Suffice it to say we eventually (some might say “unwillingly”) ate the entire zucchini. Which is good, because I hear it was a bumper crop year for squash.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Farewell, Gourmet

Foodies everywhere felt a disturbance in the force this week. Yes, I speak of the surprise shuttering of Gourmet, the magazine that chronicled all things culinary for nearly seven decades. Upon hearing that Condé Nast had pulled the plug in the most unceremonious of ways, I did the only thing a self-respecting foodie could do: I made myself a chocolate-hazelnut torte and promptly consumed half. What can I say? I was mourning.

Gourmet’s many obits have discussed the reasons for the publisher’s move—declining ad rates, slumping circulation, the changing landscape of luxury lifestyle mags and, of course, the trying economy. There are myriad reasons, but the end of the day you just can’t get around the fact that from a return-on-investment perspective, you get a lot more bang for your buck online. And that leaves me with mixed emotions—kind of like when I’m faced with the choice between a flourless chocolate cake and a chocolate pot de crème.

Don’t get me wrong, as someone who worked in online journalism for years, I fully appreciate the immediate nature and community feel of electronic media. But I’m also old school. I got into journalism, many years ago because I loved writing and reading. Newspapers, yes, but especially magazines. There’s something about the feel of them—the pleasure that you get from leafing through a new magazine can be positively transformative. Much like when you unwrap a Baci chocolate.

So Gourmet is gone now and it’s a loss. A loss as sad as a gummy meringue, as a burnt cookie, as a dry, overdone steak.

You’ll notice I left out deflated soufflé—no one, after all, likes over-the-top food analogies.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Another One For the X-Files

It's October. If anyone is even reading this blog anymore, my apologies for the radio silence. There is only one explanation and I must be honest and own up to the lack of words on my end: I was abducted by aliens.

All I can say is that I'm happy to be back from the tight confines of the spaceship that hoovered me up from midtown more than a month ago. No more meals of green algae and moon rocks. No more reruns of Three's Company. And no more square dancing. Man, do those aliens love their square dancing.

And polkas.