cheese duet – vermont country store

In the postcard-pretty town of Weston, Kathy and Lenora serve up samples...and smiles.

As I handed over $3 for a tiny bottle of Vermont Grade A Medium Amber maple syrup, the cashier flashed me a giant smile.

“Has anyone ever told you that you look like…Janeane Garofalo!”

It wasn’t a question.

Oh, dear.  I had finally come to terms with the whole Sally Field thing…and now this?

Perhaps I shouldn’t pooh pooh it;  maybe it’s the girl-next-door thing that makes people feel like they can talk to me and my iPhone.

So here’s another improvised interview – straight from the land of sugary sap, marvelous music, and lush landscapes.

Photo courtesy of HCK

durianrider’s first bite of the big apple

Raw romance: Durianrider and Freelee outside Whole Foods Union Square

Once upon a short period of time, I was a raw vegan.  I got really into it.  And then I discovered there were other people who were really, really into it.  That’s how I came across Durianrider.

The 34-year-old Australian athlete takes his healthy-living mission around the world with his partner Freelee and is known for his, shall we say, colorful videos.  So when I saw him standing next to his bamboo bike in Union Square, I recognized him instantly.

Turns out Durianrider (Harley Johnstone) had landed in our metropolis only 12 hours before.  Breaking news!  In this meaty interview (pun intended), he reveals what he eats in a typical day, where he thinks you should get most of your calories, and which New York landmark really made his jaw drop.

cuban quickie: bongo brothers food truck

Bueno, bonito, y barato: Bongo Brothers NYC Cuban food truck

I had just finished the breakfast special at Café Orlin when I spotted it:  a Cuban food truck.  ¿Que?   Sí, right on 5th Avenue between 18th and 19th streets.  I eyed it suspiciously – not just because I’d never seen it there – I’ve been burned by wannabe Cuban food before.

I grew up in a Cuban household.  My mother’s name is Lucy.  I have a right to be picky about these things.

And yet I’m not the best judge of what you might think of as Cuban cuisine:  instead of the usual meat dishes like lechón asado (slow-roasted pork) and ropa vieja (stewed shredded beef), I get intense cravings for plátanos maduros (sweet, ripe plantains) and tostones (salty, green ones).  And when I do, I don’t want to sit at a restaurant or hit the kitchen.  Or pay over the odds for something that’s never going to top mi familia’s.

Enter Bongo Brothers Cuban food truck.  $1 for an order of tostones or maduros.  $1!  So, even though I was full, I had to get a bite.  That’s after I interviewed Danny Teran – one-half of the Bongo Brothers team – who was very excited to talk to me and tell me his story, even while I held up his line of hungry customers…and despite the humming of the truck.  Gracias, Danny.  As you can see from the photo at the end of the video, I didn’t get very far down the street before I tore open the steamy parcel bearing memories of salsa steps, sunny skies, and sandy shores.  Hasta la próxima.

five more reasons to love new york

Al Mazur with his new fans at the 92nd Street Y

At the beginning of Love Etc., a new documentary, we see a couple in bed, limbs entwined under a mound of crinkled sheets.

“I have to move the car,” mumbles one of them.

It’s a slice of New York romance – and one of five real stories shot over the course of a year throughout the boroughs.

I was at the sneak preview last night at the 92nd Street Y.  The characters range in age from 18 to 89, but one story truly captured my heart:  that of Albert and Marion Mazur of Canarsie, who celebrated their 49th wedding anniversary shortly after the film was completed.  Their tenderness for each other was palpable in every scene – right down to Al’s careful slicing of his wife’s peanut-buttered toast when she became too frail.  Marion had always taken care of everything around the house, but now it was Al’s turn.

“Do you want to listen to the radio?” asks Al as they sit down to eat.

“I’d rather listen to you,” replies Marion, without missing a beat.

We’re treated to more lessons of love as we watch Al and Marion.  They didn’t always see eye to eye; it’s just that every disagreement ended with a mutual agreement to “start over.”  Al said that his 48 years of marriage had felt like 48 minutes.

Marion passed away a few months ago, and Al spoke about their enduring story during the Q&A: “I really don’t know where the time went.”  Then he told us their secret:

“We lived our lives together, but separately.  That was really it.”

He tried to get her to exercise with him, but it really wasn’t her thing.  She was into political events while he wasn’t, so she’d often do that on her own.  Yet their joint dream was to have a musical hit, and their baby was a song they called “Every Day’s A Holiday in Brooklyn.” Even then, they preserved their individual identities and fused them into a beautiful whole:

“I wrote the music line, and she wrote the story line.”

Love Etc. opens this Friday in New York City.

fab find: chozen “ice cream with chutzpah”

Chozen co-founder Meredith Fisher shares the flavors she grew up with

There are countless ice cream companies vying to cool you off under the summer sun.  How do you choose?

You don’t.

Chozen.  It has to be the most clever concept for ice cream I’ve come across, and I knew I needed to get an interview – and a taste – the second I saw it at Smorgasburg last Saturday.

With flavors inspired by traditional Jewish desserts and based on family recipes created by local bakers using all-natural ingredients, this is “Ice Cream With Chutzpah.”

Watch the video below to get the full story from co-founder Meredith Fisher, then make sure you check out the neat descriptions of all the flavors on their site.

This video is fudged – I was so smitten by my scoop of Apples & Honey that I forgot to take a picture of it, so I ran down to Whole Foods yesterday to try out Chozen’s bestselling Coconut Macaroon.  Those are the pictures you see at the end.  I don’t usually buy ice cream to keep at home, but I had a very good excuse this time.  Now there’s no telling how long that pint’s going to stick around the freezer.  And the Chocolate Gelt is calling my name – I can hear it all the way from Union Square.

In case you’re keeping score – yes, I did indeed have two desserts in a row on Saturday.  Actually, three.  But one of them, as you know, was raw bananas.  So it doesn’t count.

fab find: rob & anna’s “it’s just bananas”

Who are these people? Watch the video below to find out

I’ve always loved coming up with names (“name generation,” as they say in the ad world.) And so I get especially excited when I run into an example of both why-didn’t-I-think-of-that branding and I-want-to-eat-that-now brand.

This week, I want to rave about two vendors who caught both my eye and my taste buds during my first visit to Smorgasburg – the all-food market happening every Saturday throughout the summer on the Williamsburg waterfront.

First up:  Rob & Anna’s.  It’s really only one person – or not the people you’d think.  You’ll see what I mean in this video when I introduce you to Emma Schwartz, the brains behind the one-month old enterprise.

Frozen bananas masquerading as ice cream is not a new idea, but nobody’s found a way to make it mainstream…until now.  I really want to help out Emma and her gang.  They’re completely unpretentious and have a rocking idea that’s so simple, healthy, and fun, it’s bananas nobody’s done it like this before.

Rob & Anna’s Frozen Banana Soft Serve.  Every Saturday at Smorgasburg in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  Go!  Or at least get their numbers up on their Facebook page.  Liking this post helps us all out, too.

And come back Wednesday when I’ll showcase two other ladies churning out another cool – and saucy – idea.

what to do with your mom in new york

Mother figure: Fernando Botero’s “Eve” at the Time Warner Building

For me, there’s only one way to travel:  with the tongue.  My trips revolve around food.  It’s something I learned from my mother, who trained me to eat out since before I could chew.  So when my mom was preparing to visit me last week, I first made a list of my regular haunts to introduce her to.  Then I looked at the list and sighed.  There was no way we could hit them all in the time she was here.

Here’s what we ended up doing – with a few non-gustatory attractions thrown in.  Bear in mind I live in the Village and wanted her to get a feel for my neighborhood, so most of these are downtown…

Day 1

Mom wanted tapas since she can’t get them in Orlando.  This threw a bit of a wrench in the plans since, even though I love Spanish food, it’s not a regular thing for me.  We followed a Time Out tip to Las Ramblas on West 4th which, disappointingly, didn’t score highly with us.  If I had a redo, I would have taken her to Pipa; and that’s where you should take your mama, too.

Day 2

If you’re not a theater buff, Broadway tickets are going to shock you.  But it’s mom we’re talking about here, so you’d better shell out.  We headed to the TKTS booth in Times Square on a sweltering day, but don’t bother.  Here’s the trick:  go to the theater’s box office 45 minutes before the performance and wait for returns.  That’s where you’ll get the best prices.  And, even though I cringed at the idea, Sister Act, it turns out, is surprisingly fun for both mother and child.

After that, we jumped on the A train down to High Street for legendary Grimaldi’s pizza.  Getting there post-matinee – around 5pm – was key.  No usual marathon wait, and you’re out the door for a scoop at the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory faster than you can say “mamma mia.”

Day 3

When your mom is a Cuban Catholic and your dad is a Russian Jew, there’s one thing you gotta do: get a history lesson at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum followed by an order of blintzes at B&H.

Did you know that if you live in an apartment building, you live in a tenement?  The root “tener” is Latin for “to hold,” and a tenement is simply a building that holds at least three families.  During the museum’s tour of the Orchard Street residence, you and your mom will also learn about the Prussian homemaker whose husband went to work and never returned (he skipped out on the family and was later discovered in Ohio), and, conversely, about the Italian cabinetmaker who went to great lengths to sneak his wife into the country sans papers.

Oh, I nearly forgot:  we started the day at the best breakfast (with the strongest coffee) in town:  Cafe Mogador.

Day 4

A place with 8 little tables and the best panini this side of Italy is special, as is your mom.  So take her to ‘ino on Bedford Street, where she’ll swoon over the stellar cheeses and fixings encased in perfectly pressed ciabatta.  Wash down with their freshly squeezed OJ, then head uptown for a stroll around the lower portion of Central Park before sinking your spoons into a lofty – and shareable – chocolate soufflé at Bouchon Bakery in the Time Warner Building at Columbus Circle.

At night, go to Suzie’s Finest Chinese Cuisine on Bleecker Street for old times’ sake – it’s where my mom and I ate when she moved me here in 1997 for grad school.  The food’s not so fine anymore; and maybe it wasn’t back then, either.  But I was 22 and had a lot to learn.

Wander up to Rocco so mom can pick up a real cheesecake as her carry-on luggage.  A very important detail they didn’t teach at NYU.

Have a glass of vino at my local Tavern on Jane – where the tables are draped with white paper and topped with big fat crayons.  A great spot to meet friends, talk for hours, and listen to your mom’s words of wisdom.

Day 5

Run over to Murray’s Bagels on 6th Ave between 12th and 13th for half a dozen so she can fulfill the remaining carry-on quota.  They’re each hot in the bag, crusted over with the necessary sprinklings, and worth every $1.15.

That’s all, kids.