Posts tagged “food

passion beat: chef david z. @ boqueria, flatiron

Boqueria's David Z. piles on the charm (photo courtesy Lyana Fernández)

When chef David Z. fell in love with cooking at the age of 10 in his native Veracruz, Mexico, he had to do it in secret – in those days, hanging out in the kitchen wasn’t considered manly.

He went on to open his own restaurant before coming to the US 12 years ago and landing a job at Midtown’s splashy Brasserie 8½. Today, David’s unabashed flare for food is evident at Boqueria, the popular tapas destination in the Flatiron District.  Looking much younger than his 50 years, you can spot him right by the window doing his craft; and if you’re smart, you’ll sit right in front of him at the bar.  That’s where I decided to chat him up in Spanish while I was waiting for my friend Lyana (whom you can hear perusing the menu during the video).

It was Labor Day weekend, and while nearby sidekick Sala One-Nine (a good choice for mid-week lunch specials) looked hungry for customers, Boqueria was buzzing as usual.  And there was David, turning out plate after plate of tortilla Española, manchego, and pan con tomate (his secret touch: a pinch of sugar).  He’s a natural comedian and could easily have his own cooking show – as he told me joke after joke, I noticed these weren’t ordinary tapas.  David is a master plater:  he smears aioli into fluttering fans reminiscent of Seville (“for the summer,” he says) and piles rounds of bread onto cheese boards as if they were miniature monuments.  I was mesmerized.

Above all, David is a passionate man.   He talks about his love for gastronomy as if he were serenading his beloved, and when I ask him about his effortless artistry, he tells me it’s all in the feeling: “Even though you’re doing it for others, you have to do it for yourself first.”

And he’s definitely muy manly.  Check out those Michelangelo-esque hands…


london loves from an old local

The bathroom at Jones' Wood Foundry on Manhattan's Upper East Side

One year ago today I came full circle: LHR to JFK.

It was the best decision I made since I undertook the opposite move nearly seven years before.

Now I get the best of both worlds – I feel equally at home in both cities. And while I might miss some of my old haunts, I take great pleasure in directing you to them. Here’s the list I keep sending to friends making the trip across the pond…

Top spot: Borough Market by London Bridge. It’s normally only open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays. Go there around 11am, graze, and just marvel at everything.  The Comte from Borough Cheese Company is well worth a nibble.  And if you need a perk, you can’t do better than a cup from Monmouth Coffee.

After Borough Market, wander down to the Thames River Path, then keep going west to Southbank. It’s a nice stretch along the river with restaurants, concert venues, and usually something colorful happening outdoors. You’ll also get a very romantic view of London as it gets dark.

If you’re in the mood for fish & chips, you’ll find it at most pubs; but for a special treat go to Geale’s in Notting Hill.

For a great British breakfast, check out my favorite cafe/free wifi place/concert space The Tabernacle, also in Notting Hill.

Two words: Indian food. Kahn’s in Bayswater is an institution.  I also love Rasa.

After Kahn’s, walk down to Artisan Du Chocolat for killer hot chocolate – thick and rich enough to spoil you for life. They also have a stall at Borough Market.

Get some museum action in South Kensington (V&A, Science Museum, Natural History). The Kensington Creperie is next door. Drool-worthy sweet and savory crepes.  Or head to The Abingdon for the most memorable sticky toffee pudding ever.

For a spot of history and solitude, stop in at St. Etheldreda in Farringdon, the tiny church where Henry VIII married Catherine of Aragon.  If you’re lucky, the crypt will be open.  When you’re done appreciating the architecture and stained glass, head to Piada on St. John street for relatively inexpensive and delicious Italian filled flatbread.

After that, go right across the street to Vinoteca for a glass.  Speaking of vino, a must-see is Gordon’s, the oldest wine bar in London. But not if you’re claustrophobic – you’ll have to descend stairs into a cavernous space. This is near Embankment which also happens to be near…Covent Garden. You’ll want to take a peek around there and pause at Scoop for the best gelato outside Italy.

And if theatre’s your thing, the TKTS discount ticket booth is about a 10-minute walk away in Leicester Square.  Or find out why cinema is so much cooler than the movies at Curzon – the Soho branch has a perfectly-placed Konditor and Cook cafe for a sneaky slice of something sweet.

As for logistics, buy Oyster cards for the tube and bus when you arrive. For me, the best way to enjoy London is to see where the crooked and cobbled streets take you.

Bonus super-secret tip:  lunch at Books for Cooks off Portobello Road.  The test kitchen at the back serves London’s best three-course deal.  But you have to know the drill:  get there at least 20 minutes before noon to nab one of the few seats, and be prepared to charm the regulars so they don’t hate me too much for telling you about this.  I enjoyed them – and this special place – so much.


my new favorite thing: roasted tomatoes

Raw tomatoes don’t usually agree with me, but the simplicity and sweetness of these definitely does.  So easy I feel silly giving a recipe: arrange tomatoes (these are the grape variety) in a baking dish, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil, season with coarse kosher salt and fresh-ground pepper.  Bake in a pre-heated 350-degree oven for up to 1.5 hours, or until skin is blistery.  Keep steady stream on hand in fridge to use in bruschetta, pasta, sandwiches, salads.  Instant teleportation to the south of Italy.


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.


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.


time to make the blintzes

“While Moses was giving the Ten Commandments to the men, the women were making blintzes.”

So says Lynn Kutner at the beginning of our 2.5 hour Blintz-A-Thon at a West Village synagogue. The author of two cookbooks, Bountiful Bread and A Pocketful of Pies, Lynn, like me, has Russian heritage – and a love of the kitchen – in her blood.  I am so grateful to her for being so generous with her time and culinary flair in anticipation of Shavuot, the joyous (dairy) holiday.

Watch as she shows us the tricks of the trade…and I make an attempt.  Note:  I asked Lynn how to maximize small kitchen space when making these.  Answer:  cook four, roll four.

All recipes © Lynn Kutner

Blintz Batter

Makes about 10 crêpes

3 eggs
2 tablespoons melted, cooled butter or 2 tablespoons (sunflower) oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 cup flour (unbleached all-purpose, i.e. Hecker’s)
1/2 cup water

1.  Break eggs into bowl.  Remove white “strings” using two spoons.
2.  Beat in next four ingredients.
3.  Beat in milk and flour very well to make sure batter is smooth.
4.  Beat in water.  Cover and refrigerate at least two hours, preferably overnight.

To cook:

Fry one test crêpe in a hot, buttered nonstick pan.  If it is too thick, thin batter with a few drops of water.

The technique for making a thin, even crêpe is to pour about 3 tablespoons of the batter onto one spot on the very hot pan.  Immediately swirl the pan so the batter coats the bottom evenly.  When the first side is nicely browned, turn and cook the second side.  The whole process takes 1 to 1 1/2 minutes.

It is the second side (the less pretty side) that is filled, so that the better side shows.

Lynn’s Healthy Crepes

2-3 eggs
2 tablespoons oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons pure maple syrup, honey, or molasses
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup (soy) milk
1/4 cup water

Blueberry Filling for Blintzes

(Fills about 8 medium)

One 12-ounce bag frozen blueberries or 1 pint fresh blueberries
1/4 to 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon corn starch
1/2 teaspoon cinammon
1/8 teaspoon allspice
Pinch of salt
1/2 tablespoon water
Small squeeze of fresh lemon

1.  Mix all ingredients except the blueberries in a saucepan.  Stir in the blueberries.
2.  Bring to a slow boil, stirring constantly.  Boil 2-3 minutes.  Put in an ice bath to cool.  May be made a day or two in advance.  Recipe may be doubled or tripled.

Cheese Filling for Blintzes

(Fills 10)

Mix together well:

2 packages Friendship farmer cheese (with salt, 15 ounces)
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons apple juice

While it’s not expressly noted here, fry the blintzes on both sides until golden.


mango magic, union square

Peeling and slicing the succulent mango can be tricky business.  Take in the street action on the SE corner of 14th Street and University Place; then watch as Luz, a local vendor, shows us how it’s done.  This was taken before I figured out you need to turn the iPhone, but I wanted to share it anyway.


friday photo: toast, brooklyn flea @ fort greene

(Click on image for fancy lightbox)


improvised interview: at the brooklyn flea (part 3)

Charlie of People's Pops shows us some muscle

After posting this photo as a video teaser on Facebook, I got a flurry of comments, including this email from a male friend: “A friend of mine once told me it doesn’t matter if a guy has a pot belly, as long as he has strong arms and shoulders. Apparently, that’s what triggers googly feelings in women. What’s you’re take on that?”  He was writing in response to my friend Cat’s comment that the guy had nice arms.

What’s my take?  I have to agree.  I remember being especially drawn to the arms of the guy I had my biggest teenage crush on.  He was a photographer for the school newspaper, and I just loved the way the veins poked out of his forearms when he held his camera.  Make of that what you will.

Today, there’s just something (not sure I’d call it “googly”) about watching a man’s sinewy arms grip a steering wheel…or feeling a strapping shoulder under your hand on the dance floor.  What do you think?  Methinks this post is going to stir up some trouble.

Meanwhile, scroll down to check out the muscle that goes into making all-natural shaved ice at People’s Pops – one of the coolest stops during my virgin visit to Fort Greene.

p.s.  In case you missed them, here’s part 1…and part 2.


improvised interview: at the brooklyn flea (part 2)

Next up from my Saturday afternoon in Fort Greene:  those cheesy guys I told you about.  Todd and co. behind forthcoming restaurant Speedy Romeo (with forthcoming website) talk fresh formaggio…plus a zesty flavor combination to set your tongue aflutter.  Make sure you watch the very end for a zealous taste test from the stylish and single (listen up, Romeos) Andrea.  Grazie, signores.

p.s. This is a three-part series of short videos.  Missed the first one?  Watch it here.  And make sure you come back tomorrow to see the muscles that are melting hearts…with ice.


improvised interview: at the brooklyn flea (part 1)

Andrea capturing the fabulous foliage in Fort Greene

Oh, how I wish I’d gotten an iPhone sooner!  Shooting that video with Taylor the ukulele player made me feel so in the zone, I knew I had to do more of it.  And now my only regret is that I could have taken really great videos starting in October when I moved back to New York and was rediscovering my old city with new eyes.  But I’m making up for it now – I can’t put the camera down!

Listening to and learning from people’s stories is one of my favorite things – it’s the reason I went to journalism school when I first came to New York in ’97.  And having the ease of video in the iPhone makes it possible for me to taste my old broadcasting days whenever something interesting pops up.  Which is often.

This Saturday, I met my long-time friend and fashion maven Andrea for a jaunt around the Brooklyn Flea in Fort Greene.  I found Fort Greene charming – great architecture, leafy, laid back – although Andrea and the locals tell me it’s getting to be just like the city they’ve tried to escape.  The market was very cool with unique food stalls I haven’t encountered anywhere else, so out came the camera.  I recorded three short on-the-spot interviews, and this is the first.  I wanted you to meet Andrea – my tour guide for the day – before I take you around to some of the delights I discovered.  Here, she talks Brooklyn, shows us her latest scoop, and tells us why she thinks the British do it better.

Tomorrow, I’ll introduce you to two Romeos getting fresh and saucy…with formaggio.


friday photo: brownie sundae at doma, west village

(Click on image for fancy lightbox)


watcha reading on, stranger?

I need a better camera, but you get the picture.  Saturday morning I set off on my usual walk to the East Village, except I wasn’t sure the whole way there whether I’d wind up at Veselka for Salmon Latka Eggs Benedict, or at the Belcourt for Vanilla Bourbon French Toast.

Deciding it was a counter day, I turned left on St. Marks Place for Veselka.  Halfway through my second hollandaise-drenched egg, a man appeared next to me with a Kindle.  Now, I don’t usually make idle chit chat with strangers at restaurants, mostly because eating out alone for me is me time, and I respect that in others as well.  But I had to say something – he had a Kindle.

Since I posted my thoughts about how social media will affect publishing, I’ve been obsessed with doing on-the-spot research with people on how they’re reading what they’re reading.

Turns out this guy was happy to oblige in Kindle conversation, and it also turns out he’s a pretty successful documentary filmmaker in Australia (I didn’t find out exactly how successful until I went to his site.)

His name is John Safran, and we talked until his chicken soup got cold, about the usual stuff – you know, scandalous Catholic romances, Jewish dating practices, and, of course, the demise of traditional publishing.  John loves his Kindle, and he showed me all the fancy features on it, like being able to control how much text appears on the screen.  I marveled at the clarity of the reading and also at how John, who has been living out of a suitcase for several weeks, managed to look so spiffy – his stylish clothes were perfectly pressed.

Whenever I’m carrying a “real” paper book, I feel like I’m lugging around a relic.  And putting mine up against John’s slim little Kindle, I also felt kind of retro – not in a cool way.  Also, isn’t it interesting that Kindle has more of a “Lovemark” than Nook?  I want a Kindle, not a Nook.  Or maybe I just want an iPad.

Either way, I’m just waiting for the price of all of them to come down.  And when they do, you can be sure that the current explosion we’re seeing in self-publishing is going to be of the Big Bang variety.

What about you?  Do you have an eReader?  Why did you choose yours?


friday photo: cookie swoop, east village

(Click on image for fancy lightbox)

I have a confession to make.  I left an important detail out of Monday’s post, Eat Like A Man, Look Like A Woman.  Sometimes I do eat on the move, like this week when I wanted something sweet after my usual jaunt to Caracas Arepa Bar.  Here’s Melanie at Birdbath, the “Neighborhood Green Bakery” that turns out 4,000 pretzel croissants a week…and my still one-and-only chocolate-chip cookie.  Yes, those are shoe boxes holding up the counter.


tastes and topics at tolaoche

Grasshopper Tacos at Tolaoche, photo courtesy of Lyana Fernández

My last post, Eat Like A Man, Look Like A Woman, seems to have struck a nerve – it got the highest views of any post since I started the blog in December.  Thank you!  Twitter had a lot to do with it, and for that I need to thank Lyana, an old friend from Miami and fellow Cuban American.

Lyana is largely responsible for finally getting me on Twitter two weeks ago after years of absolute resistance to the idea.  On Saturday night, we went to Tolaoche, a Midtown Mexican restaurant that’s getting great reviews.  When we sat down, the manager welcomed us to “the best Mexican in town.”  I told him that was a fairly large claim, and that we’d have to see about that.

He wasn’t making it up.  As we were wowed (and sometimes shocked) by every plate that came out, the conversation bubbled about the rise of social media – specifically Twitter – and what it means for the future.

Here’s the menu of tastes and topics we covered over the course of 3+ hours.

The House-made Sangria and The Notion of Celebrity

Whereas celebrities were once untouchable, Twitter evens out the playing field by giving everyone the same platform.  James Franco and I are both on Twitter.  Conceivably, I could send him an @ message he might respond to (particularly if I tell him I am inclined to proofread his Tweets – more on that below).  Anybody can be a celebrity today, but that doesn’t mean people are getting paid for it.  Lyana brings up the example of Jenna Marbles, a woman who gets over 12 million views on YouTube but doesn’t make a cent out of it…yet.

Grasshopper Tacos and Forgotten Grammar

I couldn’t even think about touching these tacos, but Lyana devoured them with relish.  Meanwhile, I lamented the sure death of proper punctuation.  Texting started it; Facebook sealed it.  My biggest pet peeve: the lack of commas in direct address.  Witness:

“Love your new haircut Justin!”

“Great mug shot Charlie.”

“Thanks for the ‘tape’ Kimmy.”

All of these should have a comma before the person being addressed.  Same goes for a simple greeting, thus: “Hi, Lady Gaga!” is the correct form.  Make the Internet a better place; love the comma and use it.  Don’t let it die!

Manchego & Truffle Quesadilla and The Demise of Agents & Publishers

No longer are we at the mercy of an elite minority telling us what we should read.  Lyana reminds me that this has been happening in the music industry for quite sometime, and that the written word is only just catching up.  She’s right.  And like frustrated musicians who couldn’t get a break, non-agented writers are feeling liberated and inspired to buck the system.  Take Amanda Hocking, who published her young-adult paranormal novels online last year and has since sold close to half a million.

My only concern is the devaluation of proper prose because of pervasive punctuation misuse.  Then again, the dictionary is supposed to reflect modern usage and not the other way around.  Nobody is speaking Chaucer anymore.  Can you imagine those Tweets?

Pulled Pork in Tortillas and Increased Political Awareness

You’ve all been having the same conversation, I’m sure.  Established governments have toppled.  People are much more informed.  And candidates need to give as much if not more attention to building an online platform as to politicking door to door.  Social media makes people feel heard.  And with that, they feel they can make a difference.

Dessert Sampler and the Reinvention of Higher Education

I have a hard time imagining kids sitting in a lecture hall listening to information that went out of date yesterday or even having the concentration to do so given the amount of stuff competing for their attention. And will kids even care about history when what’s at stake in the present has become the predominant focus?

Naturally the education model will need to change.  Maybe we will return to a system of apprenticeship.  This is a long way off, but it’s not unforeseeable.

Play Nostradamus: what do you predict will happen in the future thanks to social media?


eat like a man, look like a woman

Shirred eggs with wild mushrooms, manchego, bacon, and spinach at the Belcourt

My friend David said I needed to write a book about the secret of my “thinness” given how much I eat.  I told him I needed to figure out what it is first.  Well, I’ve been thinking about it; and since nobody is buying books anymore, I figured I’d just write about it here.  This is a long post, but I hope you’ll find it worthwhile.  Or you might hate me.  Either way, I’d love to hear what you think.

First, a bit of background.  I’m barely 5’1 and weigh 106 lbs (just had to check – I’ve never owned a scale, but the sublet I live in has one.)  That weight has stayed more or less the same over the past thirteen years: I was at 101 when I first moved to New York in 1997, and my heaviest was 115 (I was in a relationship and was eating the same amount he was eating, if not more.  I was also vegetarian at the time, which goes to show that cutting out stuff doesn’t immediately equal better health – especially not when you’re filling the void with cheese, ice cream, and late nights crying on the phone.)

AN OVERVIEW OF MY EATING HABITS

The truth is I eat a lot and with abandon…except for a few periods in my adulthood when I experimented with all sorts of diets.  There were the numerous failed vegetarian and vegan attempts.  Then the biggest experiment came when I got into raw veganism and even created a small health-coaching business around it. Some people have asked me why I gave that up, and here’s what I tell them:  haven’t you ever been into something and then not?  That’s pretty much what happened.  The simple yet truthful answer is that I fell out of love with it – it wasn’t me.   I get so much ecstatic pleasure out of eating, discovering new foods, and having an unbridled palate, that there’s just no way around it for me.

The more profound answer is that I also realized my experiment had turned me into a control freak.  It took a friend to point this out, and I thank her for it.  When I really thought about it, I decided that I could either live in a bubble and monitor every morsel that entered my mouth…or I could allow myself to share the world with other people and partake of one of the greatest pleasures humans have come up with.

And the third answer is plain shallow:  give or take five pounds, I weigh about the same when I’m doing strict raw foods as when I eat how I’m eating now.  Granted, being slim does not equal being healthy.  But the common denominator is that I am human.

I still think eating raw is great and is the providence of the more evolved amongst us, and I continue to incorporate it into my day (more on that below).

YOU WANT TO KNOW SPECIFICALLY WHAT I EAT?

These days, mostly whatever I crave.  And I eat out every day.  This is in sharp contrast to what I was doing up until last year.  Moving back to New York has turned me into one of those women who only has pesto and butter in her fridge.  I used to cook all the time, but no longer.  It’s just too easy, exciting, and even cheaper to eat out when you live here.  If I were in a relationship and had a bigger kitchen, things would be different (especially since I’m now on the lookout for a man who can cook).

There’s no typical day, but a usual week looks like this:

  • Visit to Caracas Arepa Bar for a #19 (filled with black beans, grilled cheese, fried plantains, grilled peppers), plus either a soup or salad
  • Visit to Veselka for a bowl of vegetarian borscht or mushroom barley soup plus four (fried, not boiled) pierogies – two goat cheese and arugula, two mushroom and sauerkraut) – with applesauce, caramelized onions, and sour cream
  • Visit to Cafe Mogador for Hallumi Eggs atop roasted tomatoes with a side salad and a spice-dusted pita
  • Blueberry pancakes from La Bonbonniere or French toast from the Belcourt, both will real maple syrup
  • Salmon Latka Eggs Benedict from Veselka with the odd pineapple chunks they serve on the side
  • An occasional visit to Elephant & Castle for their massive sandwich specials with matchstick fries
  • A green smoothie once or twice a day (there’s the raw dose for you), consisting of bananas, frozen mango, frozen blueberries, baby spinach, and ground flaxseed (when I remember to put it in)
  • An almost daily cup of coffee with half and half and brown sugar often from my local cafe – sipped slowly while working, and occasionally with a slice of pumpkin loaf
  • Dessert nearly every day – usually something chocolate-y
  • Toast (from the farmer’s market) or half a bagel with butter when I need a snack – usually after staying out late
  • On top of this, there is usually a trip to City Bakery for macaroni and cheese or my beloved chocolate-chip cookie or – yikes – both*
  • Then there are the various dinners out with friends, where I never decline the bread basket and often choose a fish or meat dish

GENES, JEANS, AND ROUTINES

Before I go further, I am aware that a lot of people are going to be pissed off about this post.  They’ll think I have a high metabolism or that I just inherited good genes, and that my explanation for my “thinness” is lightweight.

Yes, some people have a harder time keeping weight off than others; and, biologically speaking, people like me wouldn’t have survived evolution.  Granted there are medical conditions that cause people to put on weight.  So what follows is a run-down of what I personally do that seems to keep the weight off for me:

Exercise that adds up

I walk a lot – and fast; I’m one of those annoying people darting down the sidewalk.  I take the stairs whenever I can – up as well as down.  I run, although not as much as I used to.  I ran the marathon in 2005, but I currently just go out for 40 minutes once or twice a week.  I do yoga at home, although not as much as I used to.  Nowadays I’m down to about two very gentle 30-minute sessions a week.  I dance whenever I can, although not enough.  I also started taking Aikido recently, a peaceful form of martial arts.  But I’ve taken a break from it because I was all bruised up – and I get scared doing the rolls.

So, all in all, a decent amount of exercise, but nothing to brag about.  And even when I’ve been traveling or I’ve been in situations that don’t allow for my usual city routine, I tend to keep the weight off.  But how?

Savor, savor, savor

As I said above, I eat out every day, and never on the run.  I make it an event.  I do not read or work while I am doing this, except for when a thought pops into my head (usually for a blog post) that I’ll scribble down on my notepad.  And I try not to eat and run – I’ll linger for a bit with a book and some more coffee.

The other thing I do, and that I’ve related in a previous post, is that I make an effort to take my time to really experience my food.  I’ll close my eyes and smell the first bite before I take it, and I’ll feel the whole texture of the food on my tongue.  It’s kind of sensual.  I don’t generally rush through this wonderful pleasure, so I guess that means I put fewer things in my mouth in the long run.  Some people call this mindful eating or conscious eating.  Whatever you want to call it, it works.  If I am eating with someone, the focus naturally becomes the other person rather than the food, so I’ll make it a point to eat even slower.

When I say slow, I mean slow

I don’t eat fast food.  Same goes for cheap chocolate or anything that’s in a jar or a box.  If it’s going in this body, it hasn’t sat on a shelf for long.

Letting the hunger build

Aside from a smoothie, I have my first meal as late in the morning as I can.  When I start eating later, I naturally end up eating less.  I also like the feeling of working up an appetite, letting the empty feeling build, and then relieving it with the climax of a first bite.  Doing this makes me feel like I’ve earned my big meal, and the psychological effect is that I swear it tastes better, too.

This means I’ll have either a big breakfast or a large lunch, but not both.  Likewise, when I know I am going to dinner with friends in the evening, I’ll keep my other meals throughout the day fairly light.  Knowing you can splurge later appeases the need to overeat in the present.

Chewing calories rather than drinking them

This is a big one:  I hardly consume alcohol. I’m all for sharing a bottle of wine over dinner, but I never drink just for the sake of it.  If I’m out at a bar or a party, I’ll nurse a (small) glass of wine for hours; and you’ll often see me just having water.  I also don’t drink soft drinks.  Open bars annoy me.  Give me cake instead.

Mind over body

Here’s where I’m really going to offend people. I believe that I don’t become overweight because I made a conscious decision not to.  Most of the women in my family struggle with excess weight, and I think that as a child I decided that was not going to be me.

But just thinking this way is not enough (for all you Law of Attraction fans out there).  First comes the thought, then you need the action to make the thought happen.  So, whenever I’ve felt the excess weight creeping in – whenever my clothes start to not fit me the way I want them to – I immediately keep it in check and prevent it from spiraling out of control.

I’ll add more salads (always a good thing), cut back on a dessert every now and then, up the exercise a little.  Nothing major, but just enough to prevent myself from losing control over my body.  Because once you let things slip too much, it’s just a downward spiral.  So I curb the slipping in the first place.

Keeping it real

Someone once told me that if I wanted to become rich, I should write a diet book.  Anything with the word “diet” sells like Crumbs cupcakes. Well, there’s no simple formula, folks.  Same calories out as in is the boring yet effective strategy for weight management.  That, and a commitment to treating your food with the same passion, gratitude, and respect as you would your lover.

All this is not to say that I am perfectly happy with my body – far from it.  I’ve always battled extra padding around the waist, and I’d be a lot more toned if I went to the gym.  But one of the perks of getting older is that you learn to accept yourself more, care less about what people think…and pick clothes that drape strategically in the right places.

*So maybe a guy wouldn’t be caught dead eating shirred eggs.  But my picture of macaroni and cheese and a chocolate-chip cookie turned out blurry, and this one had my lipstick stain on the coffee cup…


new york alert: stellar arepas for a rocking cause

Yesterday, my eyes popped when I was at my number one taste in the East Village Caracas Arepa Bar.

Just until next Wednesday, the talented and friendly staff is cooking up a limited edition arepa of pulled pork, pico de gallo, and fried plantains; and every single penny goes to fund a new documentary about Los Amigos Invisibles, a seriously delicious Venezuelan band.  David Byrne discovered the band and brought them to New York, and the six men who originally formed the group are still together after 20 years.

I first heard Los Amigos Invisibles at a Mexican restaurant in London last year and was instantly hooked by the cheeky lyrics and danceable beats, just like I’ve been addicted to Caracas ever since my first bite of arepa number 19: La Mulata.

Caracas Arepa Bar is at 93 1/2 E 7th Street between 1st Avenue and Avenue A.  There’s also a larger Brooklyn location with a full rum bar at 291 Grand Street. Ándale, amigos.


friday photo: chocolate bar, west village

(Click on image for fancy lightbox)


the british are coming (again and again)

After I wrote my guide to British expressions, friend and fellow ex-pat Nadya sent me this picture from London:

Behold, “proper” in standard use at sandwich shop Pret A Manger.  The cut-off word is “porridge”, which is a national obsession and cultural institution over there.

So I took this picture, of the Union Square Pret A Manger:

The cut-off word is “toasties”, also a national obsession and cultural institution…over there.

And now Pret a Manger plans to open 40 more shops here in the next two years.  When I first went to London as a college student back in 1996, I was completely wowed by Pret and resolved that I should bring it to the States.  Well, they were obviously already onto the idea.  Be careful what you wish for.


chefs a-courting: my restaurant week in review

It’s courtship time for City chefs, with three-course lunches at $24.07.  I’ve hit three contenders, and there’s still time for you – New York Restaurant Week is actually a fortnight (a great British expression I left off my list) and wraps on Sunday .  Plus business is slow – whether the weather or the economy, getting a table should be a cinch.  But choose wisely…

3.  10 Downing
10 Downing Street, off Sixth Avenue

I can always tell whether I’m going to fall in love with a restaurant by the quality of the bread they put on the table.  I mean, if you’re not treating me well from the beginning, what can I expect later?  And this romance was doomed from the start: not even a roll.

Heavens knows what it does the rest of the time, but 10 Downing makes the gravest Restaurant Week mistake of all: laziness and conceit.  Whether it’s resting on its laurels or taking the piss (another useful UK import), I felt like I was eating leftovers – and certainly not the Prime Minister’s.

A watery potato soup preceded an over-cooked flank steak on a wilted smattering of greens before we were presented with the only dessert on offer:  a teeny tiny flan that just didn’t belong.  All in all, 10 Downing was a real downer.

2.   DBGB Kitchen & Bar
299 Bowery between Houston & 1st Street

Following a Facebook tip from a friend who posted a picture of her DBGB seafood risotto that looked pretty damn good, I decided to make a trip to Daniel Boulud’s place.

A play on the now defunct and sorely missed CBGB, the preened ambiance at DBGB is a far cry from the rock-star launching pad of years ago and is a stark reminder of just how much The Bowery has changed – not altogether for the better.

DBGB is the new East Village: casual, expensive, and a little too polished.  It’s cool in a premeditated sort of way, which is a little uncool.

What, you want to know about the food?  Well, that’s the problem.  So much thought is going into the dining room that they kind of forgot to pay as much attention to what’s coming out of the kitchen.

That’s not to say I had a bad meal; I just wasn’t swept off my snow boots.  A roasted beetroot salad with house-smoked mozzarella was good enough, and the risotto was certainly a worthy Restaurant Week offering, if a little too lemony for me.  The chocolate gateau had all the right trimmings, and I polished off the last ribbons of icing streaking my plate, though that’s not exactly unusual.  As for the bread?  If you’re going to serve me a cold freezer-to-oven loaf, please don’t bother.

1. A Voce
10 Columbus Circle, 3rd Floor

A Voce woos me right off the bat.  Six fat pieces of warm, sea-salt dusted focaccia glistening with olive oil and flanked with a generous side of homemade ricotta for spreading.

And that’s before the first course rolls out: homemade pasta filled with spinach and more of that can’t-get-enough ricotta in a sauce that’s blatantly buttery.  Next, gallina:  cornish hen pressed, roasted, and nestled atop al-dente lentils.  And finally, chocolate semifreddo:  a deliriously sweet parting capturing the depth of a gelato with the lightness of a mousse.  A memorable kiss that lingered on my tongue well after lunch.

Unlike others, A Voce takes Restaurant Week seriously and is smart about it: serving its best with all-out, impeccable service that treats the diner as the ultimate dish…and has had me dreaming of a second date ever since.  That’s amore.