Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Rural Projects Supperclub

Saturday 9/27/08 was the night of the Rural Projects Supperclub. Rural Projects is run by some dear friends of mine who are lucky to live in the beautiful and bountiful Columbia County, NY. Spending several days up there, I tried to hunt down as many immediately local ingredients as I could, in order to cook a dinner for twenty people. Though it was the end of the season, I found nearly everything I wanted- ( what, no local star anise?) at small farms, a co-op, and neighbors' houses.

There is an index I found of all the farms in every county in New York, with a handy description of their specialties and what-not. Over coffee in the tiny-hip town of Hudson, we plotted out where the organic farms were, and an efficient path to reach them. Though everything was found nearby, it still meant a fair amount of driving around in order to produce this dinner, but the trees were turning, so it was hard to feel bad about. Using the excellent advice of the Dear Friends, the farm list, and the help of an enthusiastic and patient co-navigator, the items were gathered, checked off and hauled in to meet their fate.

These sheep produced the yogurt and Roquefort.

One of several darling diners.

I used polenta made by Wild Hive Farm in Clinton Corners, which was technically out of my region, but jeez- how wonderful. I also found a vodka called Core (made from apples), that is produced in the county, but I had already started infusing my own, darnit. I got a chance to taste the Core and it was fabulous and smooth with an appley breath, and comes in a classy bottle. I will remember it for the future, upstate or not.

We were lucky to visit the homestead of some pals of my Dear Friends who grow almost all their own food. I was blown away to be in their beautiful house and garden, and be able to use a bit of their yield (eggs, squash, onions, 5 kinds of basil, tomatoes, carrots, and leeks-or rather, the largest single leek I've ever seen).

The most idyllic kitchen window.

Brown, blue, and green eggs, all laid by different hens.

A peek into their remarkable pantry!

After all the traipsing and collecting, there was cooking. Two friends of mine came down to help and were stellar, and there were plenty of helpers, logistical engineers, ambiance coordinators, and finally eaters, all interesting and talented and fun.

The evening began outside, with cocktail hour held underneath a sculpture by the first Rural Projects artist-in-residence. The piece is called Rt. 11 by Martine Kaczynski, 2007, and resembles an abandoned gas station canopy. Read more here.

My tribute to the location.

Rural Projects Supperclub Menu

"Rural Rose": Pluot Puree, Pernod, Cava
"Columbia Cocktail": Honeycrisp Apple infused Vodka, Rosemary Syrup, Soda
Hors d'oeuvre
Green Chile Mini-Tamales
Roquefort Walnut Shortbread with Sheep Yogurt and Apple Onion Pickle
Butternut Squash and Apple with Bacon and Walnuts
Spicy Greens with Shredded Beet, Fennel and Purple Basil
Moroccan Spiced Chicken, Smoky Eggplant Puree with Yogurt, Crispy Polenta, Roasted Tomato
Corn Ice Cream with Sexy Star Anise Whiskey Sauce

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Last Supper Festival

This fall season has brought me many wonderful events, and lined them up all in a row so that reporting on them fell off-until now. So, way back on Saturday 9/20/08 was the raucous Last Supper Festival at the artspace/venue 3rd Ward in Brooklyn. It was a multimedia event held at the change of the season to celebrate the harvest and the switch and featured an unusual mix of Brooklyn creatives. There were 13 short films, 13 artists, 13 food artists and bands (including a wild performance by the Hungry March Band) all brought together for an evening in Bushwick. The theme was "landscape" and the show came together as a poignant multi-sensory experience.

The food art included woks as suspended scales, acting as a mobile/serving buffet, and beautiful cast sugar medical objects, by duo Eve and Bowie.

I made architectural cookies, including this edible floor tile pattern of lavender sugar cookies and chocolate red chile cookies. On the wall were a selection of cookies based on some of my favorite ironwork fences from Greenpoint Brooklyn.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Love Badge

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Exotic Albany

Unexpected Jewels in New York's Capital City

I visited New York's capital region, a destination rich in Americana. Among the bowling alleys, drive-in movies, estate sales and homey porches are community vegetable gardens, old school diners, and a solid tradition of soft-serve ice cream.

There are piles of old cookbooks to be found in junk stores and garage sales, from church-lady collections to volumes compiled to promote a single product, such as Diamond walnuts or bananas or peanut butter. I love the illustrations of these books, especially the gelatin depictions. Luminous and futuristic, I try and understand the appeal; how it might have seemed modern to suspend food in any shape we wanted,with gem-like chunks set in a color-coded and quivering force-field. As interested as I am in texture and mouthfeel, imagining these dishes in my mouth does an effective job of reinforcing my interest in authentic foods. Especially ones I can't suck through my teeth.

At our visit to the Pig Pit barbecue joint I was thrilled with fried okra, sliced brisket and corn fritters. My southwestern genetic heritage giggled as I focused on my okra and glanced around to see the words "tamales", "Frito pie" and "RC Cola". I knew not to get too excited about the Frito pie, and was right to be skeptical as I saw one being made, apparently created with a dollop of everything edible in the room.

At the Snow Man in Troy, NY, I had the most perfect soft cone of my life. It had a beautiful texture and was so dense and smooth that it displayed the fine lines from my tongue for a moment before slumping slightly into a mirror-melt surface.

Lunch at the Miss Albany Diner was a wonderful adventure. Its a compact original diner on an industrial stretch of road and has clearly staked out its greasy place in the world. There are rules posted everywhere mostly pertaining to how your kids should behave ("perhaps you should look into acting schools if your kid is attracting the attention of other patrons") and how many people can sit in the small wooden booths on what days that there are no substitutions. The cook regularly comes out to serve food and joke or give people a hard time, and there is an inventive "gourmet" side of the menu, which is totally unique. I had some pork sausage ("we make it in the kitchen and it has herbs, such as sage") with eggs and several cups of coffee.

On the way out I go in an abandoned-looking office furniture place across from the Miss Albany Diner to see if they have anything old or interesting. It looks like no one is there, but eventually a towering, shiny woman appears from behind a bank of computers and shows me some old (lame) stock in the back room. As I am leaving without chairs I notice that the mysterious office furniture woman is tanned and made up and hair pouffed and is wearing several inch high black patent leather heels with ankle straps and a satin miniskirt and top. Maybe this is Miss Albany herself?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Love Badge

Friday, August 22, 2008

Nice Coffee

The iced coffee drinking days of summer are growing numbered, but how else is a girl supposed to do the research unless she spends most of those days with an iced coffee in each hand? I offer up this end-of-summer review of some cold coffees you can grab in Brooklyn (and Queens) for one more month. (5 *'s is the best).

Cafe Grumpy
193 Meserole Avenue (at Diamond St.)
Brooklyn, NY 11222 (there is also one in Chelsea)

Frequency card: Yes
Food: Some ?
Consistency: Pretty good
Comments: The most expensive of today's list, the coffee is good and strong with a bit of sourness. The environment is large and varied with windows and a cozy, relaxed front room and a cavernous back room. There is a bench out front.
Rating: * * * * Strong is good.

Wyckoff Starr
30 Wyckoff Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11226

Frequency Card: No
Food: Yes
Consistency: Medium. Get it together!
Comments: They have the market cornered in Bushwick, and sometimes the quality can be a toss-up. However, they have the nicest staff in NY and when the coffee is good, its good. They have ok pastries. They have some interesting new savory tarts. They have fresh orange juice. They have good bagels. They have the option of tofu or regular cream cheese, with onions and cucumbers and tomatoes. This is a great breakfast sandwich, but hard to eat. They need to SLICE these options THINNER because big hunks of raw onion are unpleasant. They have seating out front and a tiny indoor space and they play good music. It is truly a community place.
Rating: * * * * This is a great place for making connections and feeling at home. One less star for the quality problems.

4007 Queens Blvd.
Sunnyside, NY 11104

Frequency Card: no
Food: Sort of
Consistency: Decent
Comments: This Turkish grocery and coffee store has some canned and dry goods and some cheeses and coffee by the pound. I had a wonderful spinach pie for $1.25 from the counter, and they dress your cup with milk and sugar before handing it to you, like at the deli. They use sugar instead of simple syrup so it's a little grainy, but they carefully plunk in homemade ice cubes made from coffee fetched from a Tupperware container. Aww.
Rating: * * * I'm sold on the cubes.

Gimme Coffee
495 Lorimer St (betw. Powers and Grand)
Brooklyn, NY 11211 (part of a mini-chain)

Frequency Card: Yes
Food: Balthazar pastries
Consistency: Good
Comments: Gimme Coffee! really cares about coffee, and they sell coffee beans as well as coffee drinks. They seem dedicated to developing the farm-to-cup perspective meaning that they are involved in pursuing and selling fair-trade, organic, sustainable or shade-grown coffees, as well as organic milks in their stores, compostable plastics and sourcing locally when possible. As far as the iced one goes: it has a creamy texture and a balanced flavor. The red interior and the graphic logo help create a dynamic brand that is focused and simple.
Rating: * * * * * Devotion to this kind of thoughtful behavior in business earns another star. All companies should address this stuff and not need to show off about it.

Champion Coffee
1108 Manhattan Ave. (betw. Clay and Dupont)
Brooklyn, NY 11222

Frequency Card: Yes
Food: Yes!
Consistency: Awesome
Comments: The iced coffee is Americano (3 shots of espresso over water and ice) and it is perfect every time. Strong, never bitter or sour or burnt. There is a bench out front. There is a great backyard and a cozy interior. The staff is friendly. The food options are VERY good. There is a limited but quality selection of pastries, egg dishes, sandwiches, salads and a great gazpacho. I love the mini baguette sandwich with goat cheese, tomatoes and Calamata olives. Everything is appropriately priced and the logo is snappy.
Rating: * * * * * Champions.

Friday, August 08, 2008

A Closed Mouth Don't Get Fed

New Mexico July Part 4

It used to be that Santa Fe was served by many tiny local grocery stores tucked into every neighborhood. Most of these are gone, and the city has the big mainstream grocery stores. There's an Albertson's and a Whole Foods and a Wild Oats and a Trader Joes along with some successful smaller local stores like the Market Place and Kaune's Foodtown. And happily, there is still Johnny's Cash Store, a tiny one room grocery that opened in 1946 and is still run by Johnny and his family. The store is hidden up a hill in an old part of town, where the streets are narrow and twisting, and turning into the dirt parking lot could feel accidetal.

In high school, this is where we went if we had a break or ditched school and bought tamales and Dr. Pepper and individual cigarettes and sat outside on the portal to share them. The tamales are excellent and hot. This one was red chile pork and had ideal proportions of filling and masa.

Blue Sky soda is from Santa Fe and many flavors are made with real sugar. I like the grapefruit because it is not too sweet and makes a great substitute for tonic.

Johnny's also offers burritos.

Even though I bought the large bag of tamales from Johnny's, I still stopped at Albertsons to buy tubs of frozen chile. Everything (15-20 lbs) went into an insulated tote bag and got checked at the airport. It should last at least a month.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Burned Kitchen

New Mexico July Part 3

In a forgotten high place in the desert is a burned house. It was a wash, and almost everything remains where it fell. Whoever lived there moved on, or perhaps they rebuilt on another side of the property and never went back. Pots sit on the stove with skinny looped bars sticking out, their wood or plastic handles that provided leverage long gone. The sink is filled with the ceiling and the kitchen window.

A potato ricer is evenly rusted; encouraged by the many years of sparse rain falling into the room from the sky. A pantry cabinet has fallen all the way out of the kitchen onto its back below the slab. I am not sure why dishes and enamel cookware also litter the front yard. Were they thrown from below the billowing smoke that could be seen from miles away? Were they picked over later when the damage was complete and dropped dismissively into the dirt? There are shards of thick swirling glass midcentury accent pieces, and glinting triangles of a textured ochre pane maybe from the dining room or the front door. Flowers are still sweetly pink, patterns recognizable even after their residence became their most frightening kiln.

There is a high risk for fire in New Mexico, but I am not aware that houses here burn any more frequently than other places in the country. I have never been in a house fire, and hopefully I never will be. I walked through this record of fire and thought of the situations where I had to make the assessment: what do I have? What do I need?

Of course this could apply all things: to food, love, time, money, space, heath or furniture, but my life isn't always budgeted evenly. The questions mainly come up when I taste there isn't enough salt in what I've made or when looking at my collected dimensional clutter and bare walls, I wonder why I don't have more 2-D decor. I can feel at home almost anywhere and I have enough space to live and sleep and cook, but is it enough? Is it in the right place? Is it the ideal elastic hammock of my independent youth? What do I have and what do I need?

The smell of New Mexico is strong. After it rains, everything in the ground takes a deep breath and makes itself available to the air. The light bakes everything and the fearless plants are determined and fragrant. The environment is adaptable, wild, mysterious and comforting to me, and I breathe it. I try and smell the answers.

The smell of this fire is long gone. When I walk out of the kitchen and look at clouds above me I know I'll always have New Mexico, and it knows I need to go and be under more roofs. It won't tell me where, so I suspect there's more smelling to be done. And besides, the house in New Mexico isn't ready for me yet.