Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Veggie Love

I started a love affair with kale yesterday. You think I’m speaking hyperbolically, but I’m not. I love kale's green leafy fabulousness with everything that I am.

I haven’t always had this love. Actually, I’ve avoided kale for years now. I’ve gone out of my way to be sure I never put it in my shopping basket. My refrigerator crisper has remained steadfastly—and, on certain days, quite proudly—a kale-free zone.

No longer.

And this is why: Kale ROCKS.

I’m not even going to go into the nutritional aspect: It’s green, it’s leafy, you get the picture. I love kale on taste alone, which means only one thing: Our love was meant to be.

How, you ask, did I make the journey from shunner of kale to ardent paramour? After a bunch of the stuff made its way into my shopping basket this weekend (unbeknownst to yours truly), I decided to make a little lunch with it yesterday. After consulting with Queen Kale (my sister) as to the ins and outs of this leafy wonder, I improvised a little dish that was so good I had to share (read: proselytize). Below, the recipe.

Oh, first, I should mention that I added some homemade roasted tomatoes that I happened to have in the fridge to my kale wonder dish, so I’ve included that recipe as well. Roasted tomatoes are a cinch to make and they’re great to have around so you can add them to all kinds of savory dishes (or put on a piece of crusty bread…or plop atop a wedge of parmesan). Without further ado, the steps to kale nirvana:

What you need:
1 bunch kale
1 large shallot
1 clove garlic
About 1 cup chicken stock (I used Pacific Natural Foods organic low sodium—delish)
Roasted tomatoes—8 halves or so (see recipe below)
Olive oil

What you do:
Take one bunch of washed, trimmed kale and chop it into thin strips. In a large sauté pan, sauté one large diced shallot and smashed garlic clove (which you remove at the end) in olive oil (add salt and pepper) for just a couple minutes. Then, put the big frizzy mass of kale into the pan, drizzle the chicken broth over top, add some more salt for good measure and then cover.

I checked my kale after about 7 minutes or so, gave it a stir and taste (adding more salt, natch) and it was fantastic. To make it even better, chop the roasted tomatoes and add them. Cover to warm through, check seasoning and enjoy! Another terrific finisher would be a squeeze of lemon or a liberal dusting of parmesan.

Ok, for the roasted tomatoes:

What you need:
Plum tomatoes—the ones that have no taste—any number (I typically make a big cookie sheet of these things, so figure on 10-15 tomatoes.
Dried oregano
Olive oil

What you do:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with either a silpat mat or tinfoil. Cut plum tomatoes in half lengthwise and take out all the seeds (leaving the center membrane). Because I hate stems, or even the semblance of them (it’s completely weird, I know), I also remove that tippy top dimple where the stem used to be attached. Do not by any means feel like you should follow this step that borders on the insane.

Next, put all the tomato halves cut-side up on the baking sheet. Liberally drizzle olive oil all over—and I mean liberally. What will come out of the oven will be a rich, tomato-y olive oil that you can flavor countless things with (barley, pasta, veggies, fish, meat…a wedge of parmesan—do you see a theme here?), so don’t be chintzy with your drizzle. Sprinkle salt, pepper and dried oregano over top. Pop the whole sheet into the oven for about an hour. Every oven is different, so check your tomato babies a couple times, turning the baking sheet if necessary. Also, you might find that they need more than an hour or perhaps less. When they start to turn a little brown around the edges, that’s typically when I take them out. Let cool on sheet, then store (along with all remaining olive oil—don’t let that stuff go to waste!) in a plastic container in the fridge.

I’m well aware that I’m hardly the first person to try kale, much less have an inkling of what to do with it. So why an entire post about it? What can I say…I’m giddy with happiness over my new veggie steady.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Survivors Ready?

There’s something about wind and rain that makes Manhattan feel like an episode of Survivor. When Mother Nature feels peevish, it’s everyone for themself on this island.

Take today. The skies are a dreary gray. Actually, they’re a similar shade as that gray Crayola you never used, the one that always stayed super sharp (unlike Midnight Blue or Carnation Pink, which were quickly worn dull). The rain thrashes you from every side, thanks to the quickly shifting gale-force winds, rendering umbrellas completely useless. Everyone is poorly equipped to handle the elements. And everyone is grumpy. Like impacted-molar grumpy.

So, my challenge today was to get to a morning appointment without looking like I swam there. It wasn’t easy. With no warning whatsoever, my umbrella flipped up—not once, but twice—into a triple-back aerial flip. It was frightening move of spindly metal and cheap black nylon that nearly stabbed a passerby in the process. Actually, two passersby.

I arrived at my destination only modestly wet, not a hint of Tammy Faye Baker eye and my umbrella, amazingly enough, still working. Immunity was within reach!

Of course, there was the walk home, which was even more trying. At this point, the rain was pelting the ground in fat, powerful drops and the wind had escalated to Wizard of Oz strength. I was outside for less than two minutes when my umbrella decided it was really a tulip and damnit if it wouldn’t be recognized as such. I heard something about “Flower Power” and then the entire thing flipped heavenward and I was left trying to stay dry holding a giant dripping black tulip above me. That lasted a block until I shoved my umbrella-cum-nylon flower in the garbage can and decided to make a run for the nearest DuaneReade, which was two blocks away. That crazed woman you saw running down Second Avenue? It was me.

You know how in movies the rain comes down in uniform sheets and you think smugly to yourself, “Oh, that looks so fake. Rain doesn’t come down in sheets like that. If I were making a movie I would at least wait for a rainy day to get an authentic shot.” Well, I’m here to report that yes, rain in fact does pour down in sheets. Massive, sopping wet sheets.

I made it into the DuaneReade, picked up another umbrella, saying a silent prayer that this one too didn’t think it was a flower, paid for it and headed back into the contest before anyone else won. How I wanted to secure some shelter! Maybe some giant palm leaves, or bamboo. God, what I wouldn’t do for some flint and the ability to make fire! There was a perfect nook—with an overhang!—near this antique shop. Christ, would this challenge never end?

Eventually, I did make it home. To my warm apartment. That has a roof. And a stocked refrigerator. But let me tell you, it was close.

Fortunately, I’m not the least bit dramatic.

Friday, January 22, 2010

It’s Get Hit By a Bike Messenger Week

Ok, not really. GHBABMW doesn’t take place until late spring, but I’m thinking the calendar might have changed or something (is 2010 a leap year?) because this week I’ve seen too many near-misses with renegade messengers.

Ten years ago I participated in Get Hit By a Bike Messenger Week. Unwillingly, of course. It was a warm spring night—a Thursday, if memory serves—and I had just left a couple of friends to walk home to my teeny tiny studio apartment. There was a fun little company get together after work and then a few of us went this gourmet French fry place in Chelsea to eat an obscene amount of fries. It was warm evening and almost the weekend—it was just one of those moments where you simply love living here.

I stopped at the corner of 23rd and Sixth Avenue, waited for the light to change, paused until I saw the little white illuminated walker flash on the crosswalk indicator, and then stepped off the curb to cross Sixth Avenue and continue east on my way home. I took two steps before BAM! I was plowed over by a bike messenger barreling south on Sixth Avenue. (For those of you who don’t live in New York, Sixth Ave is a one-way avenue that runs, you guessed it, north.) Actually, “plowed over” isn’t exactly right, because the impact of the bike threw me up into the air like a pale, skinny rag doll and smack down into the middle of 23rd Street.

Now, you’d think that anyone who had a) been riding his bike the wrong way down a one-way street, and b) continued through the intersection without slowing up even though he didn’t have the right of way, and c) oh yeah, ran somebody down, would be a little apologetic. A tiny bit remorseful. But this was a New York Bike Messenger and not only wasn’t he going to help me up, he was going to yell at me while I was splayed on the pavement. Because, that’s just what they do.

But this bike messenger didn’t realize the self-righteous wrath, the screaming fury of denouncement, the polysyllabic bitchiness that a pale, skinny rag doll girl can muster up. Even when she’s lying in the middle of 23rd Street. Suffice it to say, Bike Messenger’s demeanor quickly turned. He helped me up, apologized profusely and handed me his business card “in case I needed anything.”

So, the moral of the story is, always look both ways when crossing the street. Lest you too become an unwilling participant in Get Hit By a Bike Messenger Week.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Good Reads

Forget Must See TV. I’ve got a handful of Must Read Books for you:

This is Where I Leave You
by Jonathan Tropper
This is nothing short of a brilliant romp and terrific read. The setting: Judd Foxman’s family comes home to sit shiva for their father…who was an atheist. Foxman, who just lost his wife (to his boss) and his job, is plunged into a sea of familial dysfunction. It’s darkly hilarious and poignant, by turns. You will not be disappointed.

Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street Fought to Save the Financial System—and Themselves

by Andrew Ross Sorkin
Ok, I’m not even half-way through this book and I’m already recommending it to everyone who will listen. Seriously—I’ve told my dog about it. The title spells out the subject matter: i.e. what happened when the financial world started circling the drain two years ago. But what the title doesn’t tell you is that this is a meticulously reported, brilliantly narrated, behind-the-scenes look at what was really going on. It reads like fantastically crafted suspense fiction…only it’s a true story. I cannot recommend it enough.

The Lake of Dead Languages: A Novel

by Carol Goodman
This is one of those books that after you’ve put it down you can’t wait to pick it back up; it envelops you in a mood and leaves you craving another page, another chapter. The writing is positively lyrical—sparse, yet powerful. If you could read film noir, it would be this book. A perfect winter read.

Finally, I have a couple good friends you have written two terrific books. I know I’ve told some of you about them, but for those of you who I haven’t, here they are:

Inside Rupert’s Brain

by Paul La Monica
This is a spectacularly told analysis of Rupert Murdoch—what drives him and how he’s built his media company into a veritable global powerhouse. It’s particularly relevant, given how Murdoch’s kingdom is growing and the role of media in society is ever-changing. La Monica is a veteran reporter who's seen it and analyzed it all. Here, he's at the top of his game—hands down, there is no one better to tell the story of Murdoch.

The Wall Street Journal Financial Guidebook for New Parents

by Stacey L. Bradford
This is absolutely a must read if you have kids, are thinking of having kids or know anyone who has kids. Why? Because there’s precious little good information out there on the financial challenges that new parents face. Bradford, a veteran personal finance reporter and expert, tackles every topic of childrearing from a financial standpoint. Even better, she does it in an engaging, conversational manner that is her trademark style. This is a terrific book that’s sharply reported and wonderfully written.

So, my Q to everyone is, do you have a Must Read Book? If so, do tell!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Nincompoops R Us

Can NBC do anything right? Answer: No.

I should just end this post right there, because the story is so obvious, so in-your-face that, frankly, to devote more ink to it would be a shame. And yet I’m going to anyway.

For those of you who haven’t chronicled every excruciating moment of NBC inching its way closer to the crapper (or, watched as much TV as me), a recap: NBC promised The Tonight Show to Conan, a show that Jay had. NBC gave said show to Conan, bumped Jay to some odd variety show in the ghost land of a time slot that is 10 p.m., then, as ratings in every category cratered (more on that in a minute), it decided to give Jay his old 11:35 time slot back, moving Conan’s show, The Tonight Show, to 12:35, or tomorrow.

The Jay/Conan/NBC ClusterFutz is but a snapshot of the Futzupery that is corporate decision making at the Peacock Network. This is the station that’s home to Law & Order SVU, a beyond-tired franchise, Mercy, a show you’ve never seen, and Heroes, which, inexplicably, is still on the air. Good ratings, in other words, are not this network's specialty.

Indeed, the only good decision NBC ever made was keeping 30 Rock, one of the best half-hour shows on TV today, in my opinion. I will also say that I’m a fan of Parks & Recreation, The Office and Chuck. Although my world wouldn’t be rocked if I didn’t see any of them again. 30 Rock is another story, mind you.

But let’s not forget that NBC is also the network that aired Lipstick Jungle and The Philanthropist. With regards to the latter, I remain a big fan of James Purefoy, who seduced audiences everywhere with his portrayal of Mark Antony in HBO’s Rome—a brilliant series that lived far too short a life (fodder for another posting). However, the supporting cast in the show was offered no real scripted meat to sink their teeth into. And here I speak of the criminal underutilizing of Michael K. Williams—yes, Omar from The Wire. How do you not give him a big, fat vehicle in which to shine? This is Omar, people. Omar!

But I digress.

Now, let’s look at the highlights of a competing network. Hmmmm…..who should we examine? How about Fox? I want to be clear here: I’m limiting my comments to its entertainment programming—not its “news” offerings…we’ll leave it at that. So, here’s Fox’s marquee lineup: Glee, House, Fringe, The Simpsons, Family Guy, as well as American Idol and 24. The last two I’m not devoted to (but the rest of the country is) and my interest in Family Guy peaked several years ago (although my unabashed love of Stewie lives on). Still, this is a lineup. Sure, there are more than a few clunkers in Fox’s portfolio. Why, for example, Gordon Ramsey has been given multiple television vehicles remains, as ever, a mystery—as does the continuing allure of Cops and America’s Most Wanted. Some things were just meant to never be understood.

If you ask me, Conan should jump ship to Fox. After all, he can’t be in any worse company than NBC. (Again, I'm just talking about entertainment programming here…In the interest of offending no one, I'll refrain from commenting on other Fox offerings. For now, anyway.)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Sweet Dreams Are Made of This

There are some nights—ok, many nights—that I go to sleep earlier than my six-year-old nephew. I can’t help it: If I don’t get a solid eight hours’ worth of rest, I’m a terror the next day. Think Cruella de Vill meets Medusa—with hair just as frightening.

My toddler-esque bedtime is an endless source of amusement to friends and family. Dinner reservations for 9? Forget it. A midnight movie? Not a chance. Dancing until 4 a.m.? Please.

The way I see it, my sleeping pendulum has swung in the other direction. All throughout high school, college and grad school I was a serious night owl. I didn’t even like going to bed. All those late nights have finally caught up to me. Now my bedtime rivals an octogenarian. Actually, scratch that. My grandma goes to bed later than me too.

Tonight we’re going out to dinner with some great friends. At 6 p.m. No one who lives in Manhattan eats dinner before 8 p.m. Why are we? Because the mister and I go to bed so early. God bless them, our friends continue to remain friends with us despite our early turn-in time.

I’ve been thinking a lot about sleep, as it’s come up in a few articles recently. The Times ran a story about how more younger people are taking advantage of early bird special dinner times. I read this and immediately thought, “Yes! I knew others would follow my lead!” Alas, these folks weren’t elbowing the blue hairs out of the way for a table because it worked better with early bedtimes; they were being thrifty and getting a deal on a meal in these tough economic times. Sigh. In something else I read, Arianna Huffington challenged all women to get more sleep in 2010. Seems American women are among the most sleep-deprived in the world. Well, American women except for me.

So, I've decided that my resolution for this year is to stay up a little later, be a little more social during non-daylight hours. My big goal: 9:30 p.m. (baby steps and all).

Monday, January 11, 2010

Letting Go of Mistress Christmas

There’s something infinitely sad about taking down the Christmas decorations. It’s the ultimate admission that the holiday fun is over. There are no more twinkly lights. No more festive table arrangements made of evergreens and candles. No more stockings hung by the chimney with care—or, in the case of our apartment, the breakfast bar. Putting away the Christmas decorations means you have to face January. And February. Without nary an ornament or swag of holly.

This year, I served as Mistress Christmas for my family. We stopped exchanging gifts years ago and now only buy for the kids and dogs (yes, we treat our dogs as children). The thinking is that, for us adults, focusing on being together is more meaningful than opening up presents. Well, togetherness requires a leader, a Julie McCoy, if you will, to usher the family (sometimes begrudgingly) through one activity and gourmet meal into the next. My sister came up with the Mistress Christmas concept, the person who would serve as the invisible hand, the director of holiday cheer for the days we spent together.

It was my turn this most recent holiday to assume the awesome responsibility that is Mistress Christmas. I planned meals, wrote shopping lists and decided on a slate of activities for each day. I sent out formal invitations detailing the long weekend’s worth of fun. I made homemade chocolate truffles (a holiday ritual). Shortly thereafter, I realized that Mistress Christmas needed a trusted assistant—there was so much to do! So my husband was recruited as Mister Christmas. We purchased games for “game night,” designed and procured team t-shirts for a family football game (Whos vs. Elves) and made a home movie showcasing the year’s most memorable moments of all of us. Having taken lead on all things holiday, I was determined to make this The Best Year Ever.

And then Mistress Christmas got sick. Right along with Mister Christmas.

We managed to drive to Cleveland, with throats that felt like we swallowed glass, fevers that could melt butter and coughs that telegraphed our illness to anyone within a 400-yard radius. One visit to the Urgent Care center in town, two bottles of Nyquil, a package of Advil Cold & Sinus and too many tissues to count later, Christmas took on a distinctly different feel than I had imagined. There was no football game, with two of its starters sitting on the bench. And game night devolved into a coughing/snot fest that, frankly, no one wanted to be party to. Mistress and Mister Christmas felt oddly MIA from the entire holiday extravaganza they had so painstakingly planned.

But there are some things that even Mistress Christmas cannot control, and that’s just a reality I have to accept. I have two years before I am again given the honor of assuming the most prestigious of holiday titles. And let me tell you, 2011 is going to be The Best Year Ever.

For now, I must take down the tree. You know, before it spontaneously combusts.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Second Coming

Have you heard? At the end of the month Apple is going to announce a space-age, handheld device. Scratch that, it’s actually a GPS-enabled helmet that lets you fly wherever Steve Jobs wants you to fly. No, wait—it’s really a tablet. A revolutionary, game changer of a tablet computer that will be able to surf the Internet, make phone calls, drive the car, wash the dishes and open mail. Wirelessly. While levitating.

Tis the season for unbridled excitement, courtesy of the Cult of Apple. The faithful masses of Steve Jobs’s revolutionary company are notorious for whipping themselves into a frenzy before each and every announcement that Apple makes. Well every announcement except for ones where the CEO mysteriously leaves the company for a vague medical reason that turns out to be for an organ transplant. Those just don't rank.

For Apple acolytes, the company is akin to a religion. These are folks who will sleep in a line outside for days before Macworld so they can secure a spot to view the latest and greatest product reveal. Their devotion is easy to poke fun of—indeed, in my previous life as a financial reporter, I often did—but at the end of the day, all the snarky comments and bad metaphors about Appleheads can’t erase the fact that the company delivers what people want.

Which is why the latest announcement has rumor message boards crackling and legitimate media outlets drooling with excitement. Apple has a storied, not to mention highly successful, past of rewriting consumer technology rules. There was the Mac, iTunes, the iPhone—not to mention many of its software products, which designers routinely herald as best-of-breed. But there is one thing that Apple’s portfolio lacks: a category killer that seamlessly meshes together every wireless technology whim from the Internet to television to email to e-books.

Indeed, every company would kill to have such a product. Some have come close to knitting together a few of the disparate pieces: Game consoles, for example, have tapped into digital downloads quite nicely, although the infrastructure pipelines for such activities are arguably ill-equipped for the demands of high-definition. But no company has effectively pulled off a wireless mash up to satiate consumers’ myriad needs. For Apple to do this would be a major coup.

Of course, there’s the physical consumer interface of such a dream product, and then there’s the background infrastructure bits. How would it all work? Who would the partners be? Can Apple engender enough excitement with a mere product launch to get technology partners to line up like little obedient ducks? That, presumably, is the reason for Apple’s curtain raising at the end of the month and an actual shipment date several months later.

As the date approaches for Steve Jobs to stroll out on stage in his trademark black turtleneck and jeans (how is it that this guy doesn’t own another outfit, btw?), the pent-up excitement and blind proclamations of Apple’s genius will likely grow louder. It’s understandable. I mean, who wouldn’t want a game-changer? As the country picks itself up from the recessionary bootstraps, what better jolt of confidence than an American company leading the innovation charge? And an innovation that could lead to an uptick in consumer spending, which accounts for the lion share of GDP? What's better than that? If the landscape is going to be redrawn, you can bet that Apple will be playing a part. On this front, you have to applaud Apple’s ingenuity. It’s not Dell, a bland manufacturer of boxes, devoid of any innovation. Apple actually shifts how people around the world utilize technology. If it indeed happens again, it could produce a lovely daisy chain of beneficiaries.

All that said, it’s worth tempering all the budding optimism surrounding the coming announcement with a smidgen of perspective. Don’t forget that Apple is also the company that produced the Newton handheld and the Cube. Not exactly what you'd call category killers.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

End of an Era

Tavern on the Green, the Central Park mainstay who seduced so many with its tacky, gilded décor, has closed its doors for good. You’ve no doubt read the stories detailing the restaurant’s license dispute with the city or the auction that’s now being readied to sell the contents of the fabled spot. If you’ve lived here long enough, everyone’s got their own Tavern story.

Mine involves holiday parties—years of them in fact. Back in the day when I worked at SmartMoney.com, which was co-owned by Hearst and Dow Jones, we got to attend Hearst’s annual holiday party, held at Tavern on the Green.

Being there always felt like spending an evening at an eccentric great aunt’s house that was overly decorated with chandeliers, sconces and lots of mauve. Everywhere you looked there was something gilded or some sort of stained glass. Tavern was like a grand lady who wore too much garish makeup to compensate for her looks that had faded with age. Still, you had a soft spot in your heart for her.

And that’s why, looking back now, dipping into Tavern’s kaleidoscope of holiday cheer was a kitschy treat. We never arrived on time because, as daily reporters, we always had deadlines to meet, a million things to do before our day was done, so some of the buffets were fairly picked over by the time we walked in. But there was always another table brimming with different treats, another chafing dish being replenished, another food station to explore. There were ice sculptures surrounded by shrimp and crab legs, dessert tables longer than most city apartments were wide and uniformed servers rushing to and fro. In retrospect, that such a fete was held at Tavern on the Green, where all things over-the-top seemed to live, was perfect. It made for the quintessential holiday indulgence.

Today, many are mourning the restaurant’s passing, but not me. I think it’s great that someone is going to breathe new life into a location that, while possessing an odd charm, had grown stale over the years. It is, in other words, time to make some new memories.