Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fat Mardi From Brooklyn

Oh my, are those the sweet lumps of a bead-hungry parade-goer? No, they are Paczki (PUNCH-key), the plump Polish donuts that will magically turn you into one if you eat too many of them. They are eaten year round but are scarfed up especially on Fat Tuesday as the decadent parcels they are before the days of Lent. They are filled with jam, and the ones seen here are filled with cherry and plum (the real stuff, not a matte-finish polymer goo).

I researched king cakes again this year, an oval braided ring-shaped cake with garishly bright decorations in the Mardi Gras colors green, gold, and purple. I am interested in the community spirit of it. King cakes are shared in groups like most cakes and there is a trinket hidden in its crumb, usually a baby (representing the baby Jesus). Whoever gets this piece assumes responsibility for the next gathering and cake. It used to be that the trinkets were baked-in porcelain figures or penny-dolls, but these days liability requires most to have a plastic baby inserted after baking. I would love to see some of those old ceramic ones.

Perhaps there are king cakes to be had somewhere in New York, but there are definitly paczki. I found these at the tiny Polish bakery Rzeszowska on Manhattan Ave. in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Watch out for these hard sugar figurine-weapons that are starting to be prominently displayed. Come Easter, they can be unwrapped and flung to inflict pointy, adorable springtime traditionalism.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Infused and Furious

Weeks after I closed up my attempt at homemade chocolate liqueur, I opened it to discover a cocoa-scented elixir that will work nicely for stripping furniture and cleaning cuts. It was a disaster! The cocoa nibs and vanilla beans had done their part and given all their essence over to the base, which as the recipe specified- was 151 rum. I have never heard of including such a spirit in a cocktail, and the idea of this being "showcased" in one seems impossible, since a drop is face melting. I should have recalled the high school moment watching boys blow fireballs by spitting 151 over lighters. I am still tempted to try it again since I've tasted divine chocolate liqueurs (including a homemade one). Should I give it a go with regular rum? Please let me know if you have any ideas (that don't include blinding moonshine).

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Happy New Year Some More

Is this the third New Year-type post this year? Yes! This time it is for Chinese New Year, which is a vibrant experience in New York City. I started in Flushing, Queens for dim sum with friends on New Year's eve (1/25), watched fireworks over Manhattan from my fire escape during the week, and went to the parade in Chinatown this past Saturday. I am just now learning about this celebration, and it is easy for me to love. Dim sum is thankfully around all year, and is so appealing with its seemingly endless rounds of small different bites. Combine this feasting with copious amounts of joyful red, fireworks, and drums, and I am a giddy mess.

We started with shumai, and went on to a fried shrimp-stuffed chili, stuffed eggplants, pork shortribs, a bland congee (rice porridge), and lots of tea. I had chicken feet (above) for the first time, which were covered in a lovely sauce, and that is all I'll say about that...

I was impressed with the steamed pork buns, which were sweet and smoky and parceled in a heavenly dough that I wouldn't mind being wrapped up and steamed in myself. The perfectly spherical ones were filled with a thick sweet bean paste that tasted of peanuts. My favorites were these pork folded dumplings that slipped wonderfully, and delicate curried beef turnovers. All of the pastry-making was a marvel of texture and craftsmanship.

I insisted we order a gelatin dessert because it just looked so amazing, and reminded me of the fish tanks behind our heads. It was very firm and flavored with tea and goji berries and was interesting but so aromatic and strong that I couldn't eat more than a bite. After all this the bill was delightfully puny and we strolled through the busy streets and unusual markets.

On Saturday, the parade came down Mott street stopping and starting, with confetti shooting in the air, loud bangs, and tacky, traditional and exuberant everything. Afterward, we walked with every other person in the city down to eat soup dumplings on Pell street, which were perfect and simple and cheap. I felt lucky to be in such a city and especially to eat these wonderful things in the year of the ox. Here is to each bite taking us closer to our fortune, and not missing the opportunities on our plate.