To be a Writer, you must WRITE

Today is the first day of National Novel Writing Month. I heard about it through my writing group; but, since there’s little chance any of us (in the group) will write a novel this month, we are challenging ourselves to at least write something every day of November.

For many bloggers, posting every day is nothing new. In fact, my beloved teacher, blogging guru Steven Shaw, insisted on it when I began this project as part of the first-ever Food Blogging class at the International Culinary Center. Coincidentally, the next round of this life-changing class begins tonight!

"Beloved Teacher"

 So, in honor of the start of a new blogging class, National Novel Writing Month, and simply to get back to writing what I love (at least as much as writing what I must), I am going to post every day this month. If all goes well, maybe even longer!

Professional Development

Over the past several months I’ve been expanding my beverage tasting horizons – all in the name of “professional development”… can’t teach food and beverage pairing without a well-exposed palate… in short, I get to drink for work. Did I mention how much I love the business I’m in?

In addition to attaining a WSET certification in spirits earlier this year, I’ve also been focussing on more specific beverages…

Mmmm Pretty Beers

 

... and some of the foods that go with them

Beer and Food Pairing:

First of all, it was refreshing to focus my attention on another type of fermented beverage for a little while – one that happens to go better with many types of food than the one I teach about (no offense wine, I still love you most of all). We tasted pilsners, ales – pale & amber, and a couple of types of stout, focussing on their acid level, body, various aromas and flavors, and perceived sweetness – all things that impact what foods go best. I found IPA to be the most versatile for its brightness, exotic aromas, and depth. I was also reminded that a chocolate-y stout is a much better accomplice for chocolate than any Zin or Cab I’ve tried with it.

Sherry Tasting:

This one was part of a larger Spanish wine tasting event… I’ve long had a special place in my heart for sherries. They just don’t get the credit they deserve – not even from sommeliers. They certainly don’t get the proper placement and recognition on my restaurant wine lists. Sherries have range (tart and light to unctuous and sweet), depth, and complexity (intentional oxidation adds new flavors & aromas, etc.) that make them a better beverage choice with many foods. I have to write a paper about this one, so you’ll probably read more about sherry here in the near future.

Scotch Tasting:

I must admit that, even after my certification class, I did not really appreciate Scotch (not a fan of peat). I didn’t realize, at the time, that there is so very much more to Scotch than smoke & peat – in fact, many don’t have those characteristics at all. My eyes were opened and mind changed by a passionate & extremely knowledgable instructor, and some really good Scotch! I’m now a convert and planning a Scotch/Whisky-only multi-course pairing dinner for the spring. More on that soon as well. Have another whisk(e)y tasting this week to keep me on my toes!

Wine Tastings:

You can never taste enough wine. Especially when you teach about it. Under the circumstances, I don’t even come close to tasting enough wine on a regular basis (professionally, that is). I’m trying to rectify that situation. In addition to the aforementioned Spanish wine tasting event, I also attended one on Chateauneuf du Pape (some of my favorite reds) and Tavel (arguably some of the best roses out there). I’ll be attending a Bordeaux tasting event this week that I will be writing about for Eat and Tell in November… will keep you posted.

LA in Nibbles and Bites

This trip, I’ve kept the itinerary to a minimum – my hostess has a broken foot and I’m content to relax and go with the flow of being on vacation. We had the party to keep us busy the first day and a tasting event to attend on Saturday night (more in my next post), and several farmers markets I wanted to visit in an effort to reintroduce myself to cooking (more on that soon, as well)!

In between, we have managed to do a little bit of exploring. Here are a couple of places we visited for nibbles and bites, in the next couple of posts I’ll write about a wine tasting event and my reintroduction to cooking!

Yogurtland: I never really got into the frozen yogurt craze that seemed to enthrall so many over the past few years – never been to Pinkberry, or any of its competitors for that matter. That said, I’m never one to turn down a sweet treat, so when Amy tempted me with frozen yogurt flavors like taro and lychee, I was quick to agree to the short drive to La Brea and 3rd. This is a self-serve shop – a wall lined with softserve taps dispensing flavors ranging from tart plain yogurt to blueberry, chocolate, toasted coconut, and the promised taro and lychee. The line leads you past two condiment/topping bars before you get to the scales where you pay by the pound for your custom-blended concoction. I opted for four flavors: tart plain, taro, lychee and toasted coconut (all non-fat and full flavor) topped with mochi bits and tender coconut flakes. The texture was rich and silky, the flavors were pure and intense (though the toasted coconut was a bit weaker than the rest). The plain was a good foil for the three tropical flavors and the lychee was a bit tart – a good balance for the sweeter taro. Amy skipped the coconut (both the yogurt and the flakes). Together, for two generous servings, I paid just over $5… I would have paid that much for mine alone.

Cube Marketplace & Cafe: (on N. La Brea near Clinton Street) Amy and I went here for an early lunch on Saturday before an adventure in Orange County that I will write about in a subsequent post. The room is comfortable-industrial (not mutually exclusive terms in restaurant design). The four corners of the room comprise the marketplace – not terribly convenient for real shopping, great point-of-sale material for those seated next to the shelves of Rancho Gordo beans, Luxardo Maraschino cherries, Sicilian marzipan, olive oils, and pastas. The rest of the room is comfortable restaurant seating – booth-style banquettes, well-spaced tables and bar seating. There’s also a great cheese and salami selection displayed at the rear of the room. There were two menus – one for a vast assortment of cheeses, salumi, and small snacks (assorted olives, marcona almonds, and “huge toasted corn kernels”), the other for more substantial fare. Everything sounded so good that we had a very difficult time deciding, especially since we were only there for a light bite. We opted for the aforementioned toasted corn kernels (yum!), grilled baby octopus with grilled radicchio, pizza with buratta, prosciutto, and grilled garlic scapes, and sautéed fava tendrils with garlic and lemon. The octopus was tender and succulent, the fava tendrils (a first for both of us) were addictive – sautéed summer – green, bright, lemony. The pizza was good but not great – the ingredients were beyond fresh and the flavors were right on, but the crust was disappointingly nondescript.  Next time I’ll go for one of the many enticing pasta dishes and more of the farm-fresh side dishes (and some cheese, and salami, and…). I did, by the way, pick up some of my favorite Rancho Gordo beans to go, how could I resist?

The Release Party

Last night was the release party for Life of Reiley’s two latest books – Chrysta Wilson’s Kiss My Bundt and Amy Reiley’s new collaboration with Juan-Carlos Cruz, The Love Diet which is coming out next week. The party was at Amy’s house which is designed around a large open kitchen created specifically for events and commercial production, and I got to finally do some cooking! We featured recipes from The Love Diet including addictive walnut-blue cheese brittle and spicy lemongrass mussels. (I’ll try to get some recipes and more photos in very soon).

The festivities began a few hours before the actual party when the first couple cases of the new book were delivered. Amy has a tradition that when she gets the first editions of her books, she toasts with a glass of a custom blended Hennessey Cognac that she blended herself on a special visit to the distiller. What a treat – it was so feminine, delicate spices and lingering floral aromas… a great start!

After the initial media-only hour, the real party began. Friends poured in including Lisa Peju of Peju Winery who brought along some great Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon to go with the Perrier Joet Champagne. All of the wines were set up as pairings for Kiss My Bundt’s decadent Lemon Basil, Red Velvet and Callebaut Dark Chocolate bundt cakes.

It was a beautiful Southern California night; an outdoor living room set-up was ideal for comfortable conversation, and the evening was enjoyed by all. Amy held up well despite a broken foot and the obvious absence of her co-author who was, unfortunately, unable to attend for complicated personal reasons.

A Day in Fort Greene

All these years in Brooklyn and I still hadn’t gone to the Brooklyn Flea  – the weekly event that is part urban flea market, part eclectic food mecca. On Sundays it’s held at One Hanson Place (the old Williamsburg Bank Building, a historic landmark) – some indoors, some out.

This past weekend it ran simultaneously with an African bazaar that was part of the BAM DanceAfrica Festival. The brightly colored fabrics and crafts added to the intensity of the sunny day, the beat of the drums set the pace of my steps and added a sway to my hips that I couldn’t hold back if I wanted to. A cool breeze and an ice-cold lemonade kept the humidity and heat from the crowds at bay.

 As much as I enjoyed the festivities, the real reason I was there was for the food, and one thing in particular. Pupusas. Pupusas are Salvadoran stuffed masa flatbreads. The best in NYC are rumored to come from the Red Hook Food Vendors, a group of latino food vendors whose notoriety began street-side by the soccer field in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn. They’ve since spread the wealth by branching out to other parts of Brooklyn and beyond, including the Brooklyn Flea. A pupusa platter includes two pupusas (I had cheese and jalapeno and chicken), tangy cabbage slaw, sour cream, and a mild tomato sauce (pickled jalapeno slices on the side, if you like – I do) – all for $5.00. The pupusas packed intense flavors and comfort like only crispy warm masa and melty cheese can do – the slaw was a perfect crisp, tangy foil for the rich flatbreads.

Fortunately I had a friend with me so I could try even more tasty bites without looking like too much of a glutton… that meant Asia Dogs – a fine example of my favorite current food trend, fusion street food (thank you Kogi Truck). This isn’t my first time enjoying an Asia Dog – I can thank my LuckyRice outing for that (click here and here for more)! Today we had a dog topped with kimchi and nori flakes, and one done up bahn-mi-style with julienne veggies and pate… kimchi wins.

The dining area was a bit rustic, but it was shady and had plenty of clean communal picnic tables. After an afternoon of shopping and snacking, we walked through the eclectic neighborhood of Fort Greene (a little industrial, a little Robert Moses era housing projects, a lot of brownstones and tree-lined streets). We headed to Fort Greene Park for a bit of people watch and relax in the shade. I’m looking forward to another visit to Fort Greene and a bit more wandering in yet another fascinating Brooklyn neighborhood.

A Walk With The Master, Part 2 of 2

Just when I thought I had completely screwed up my chances of impressing Alan Richman (go ahead, laugh!), he surprised me.

In the process of his characteristic blustery yet kind-hearted rant about my blatant lack of engaging description in my article, he “threatened” to take me on a walk around the block to teach me a thing or two about describing scenes. I took him up on it.

We quickly darted out of his office. As we passed the open door of Jacques Pepin’s office (where he was meeting with Chef Alain Sailhac), Alan called to them that he was taking me out back to teach me a lesson. Boy did he ever!

We took the elevator down 4 floors to the Crosby and Grand Street delivery entrance. Our mission – for me to describe various scenes and shops as we walked around a block that traverses SoHo, Little Italy, and Chinatown. We started at the bodega across the street.

My description of the fresh fruit stand in front was a bit pedestrian – “a rainbow of fruits and vegetables”, “golden and red mangos”, etc. Alan told me how he would describe the woman attending the stand by asking her questions and using her words. He also told me a great anecdote about a time he interviewed Feran Adria, expecting a mundane answer to a question and ending up with a small treasure of information. Lesson: always ask – you never know what amazing things you might learn.

As we walked on, classic New York City scenes played out all around us. At the same little market, a tall thin African man purchased a fresh coconut – obviously wasn’t his first time here… he knew about the large cleaver behind the counter that the woman uses to chop the pointy ends off the coconuts to reveal just enough tender flesh to insert a straw and sip the cool sweet-tart water. The man asked if he could chop his coconut himself. The woman shrugged, he hacked into the light-colored husk and returned the cleaver, she wiped it off and put it back in its usual “hiding” spot.

We continued. Our next stop was an odd scene, even for Grand Street. In front of a restaurant that once had a fairly high-profile (lost when the celebrity chef who opened it quickly departed) there was a scene that looked more like East LA than Manhattan. A dark brown naugahyde loveseat that was tattered and haphazardly patched more times than we could count was occupied by two Latino cooks from the restaurant wearing black hair nets, the knots of the nets arranged in the middle of their foreheads (this look has always made me think of gunshot wounds). They sat smoking cigarettes and carrying on a conversation with no care for the fact that their place of business was probably not going to live as full a life as the couch they were sitting on.

Next stop, the tiniest liquor store I’ve ever been in. It’s one of my favorite spots because it represents the true character of the neighborhood. Squeeze as much as you possibly can into the smallest space possible and make the most of it.

We turned the corner at Lafayette and headed south through the sidewalk construction then turned right onto Howard. Last stop – Lucky Bakery. Another small space. Not terribly welcoming – dimly lit, ancient asphalt tile floors and beat-up mismatched bar stools along a makeshift window-ledge seating area. Glass display cases full of Chinese baked goods – buns, rolls, and precious shiny lemon-yellow egg custard tarts. Next to each tray was a sign in Chinese – some had English translations, but not all (I’m convinced those are the best ones). The three women behind the counter continued their days conversation, loudly, in Chinese while we looked around. We asked about their pork buns and got a quick sharp answer of  “no more” in clear English before they returned to their conversation. Alan bought me one of those egg custard tarts. The puff pastry shell was rich and buttery, and so flaky it crumbled in my hand when I bit into it, but it melted in my mouth. Perfect.

I’m going to re-write the article that was so bad. Not because I have to, but because I still want to impress Alan Richman (go ahead, laugh)!

A Walk With The Master, Part 1 of 2

I’ve been taking a class at ICC called The Craft of Food Writing with the infamous Alan Richman. We are nearing our last class and today was my private one-on-one critique session. I’m typically quite confident in class but I admit I was nervous going into his office.

Rightfully so. The one or two of you who read this blog lately have probably noticed how little I have been writing, and you may also have noticed how I’ve been skimming over subjects instead of going into detail. My writing group certainly notices, and so, of course, did Mr. Richman. Ouch. Truth hurts. And, anyone familiar with his particular brand of curmudgeonly charm in his restaurant reviews will have a sense of what his review of my latest assignment sounded like. Again, ouch.

Wouldn’t have been so bad if he wasn’t so right! I raced through the assignment between doubles at work, other classes and life’s many distractions. Not my best work. Certainly not submission quality. I deserved the response I got.

Then, something wonderful happened – something that will stick with me as one of the most generous things a teacher has ever done for me. To teach me to write real, vivid descriptions (they’re there,  just need some coaxing and confidence to surface), he took me for a walk around the block…

My Lucky Break – LUCKYRICE, Part 2 & 3

Of course, I meant to post this in a more timely manner. Such are the drawbacks of a demanding career and an addiction to continuing education (aka homework).

Before I get into the past events, I just want to recommend that you take advantage of the LUCKYRICE Restaurant Week going on this week (May 3-9, 2010). A great selection of Asian and not-so-Asian restaurants in the NYC area are offering special menus and special prices in honor of this event. I have my reservations – get yours!

OK, so on with my second event of the LUCKYRICE Festival… This past Friday was the Night Market (in addition to a panel discussion about Buddhism and food with David Chang and Eric Ripert (Hmm…?) at the Rubin Museum of Art which I was not able to attend).

It was a warm, balmy night – perfect for wandering around DUMBO. The small triangle where Pearl and Anchorage streets come together was converted into a Malaysian hawker mall (think serious street food feast) – bright-colored awnings, twinkling lights, wafting aromas of coffee and curry, hungry adventurous souls waiting in line for expertly crafted “fast food”. Nyonya restaurant, a long-time personal favorite, was there with their usual fan club singing their praises.

Nyonya's Roti Canai

 Fiji Water (an event sponsor) was also there with one of the most unique set-ups I’ve seen at an event in a while – a photography both complete with live photographer, Asian-style props (umbrellas, hats, fans…), and free photos for anyone willing to give it a try, compliments of www.PoliteInPublic.com.  

Around the corner, under the Manhattan Bridge, the food festival continued. Twenty-six food purveyors, mostly NYC restaurants, lined the street under the arch on either side. In between, lively revelers moved from stall to stall tasting the sometimes strange (stinky tofu?), always tasty treats. Some favorites:

1. Double Crown’s Coconut Water Shaved Ice with Mango Puree

2. Fresh Ginger Ginger Ale by Bruce Cost

3. The Kati Roll Company’s spicy chicken roll

4. The Setai’s Crisp Fried Pork Belly, Kim Chee and Island Creek Oysters (absolutely stellar, as expected)

5. And, of course… Momofuku Milk Bar’s cookies (peanut brittle and blueberries & cream)

There was an indoor pavilion where all the alcoholic beverages were served, including a table hosted by my dear friends Dave & Nils from FCI (their Maker’s Mark Pu-erh Tea Cocktail chilled with liquid nitrogen, of course, nearly knocked me out!). It was too hot inside and too nice outside to spend too much time there, though I do regret not trying Brooklyn Brewery’s new Brooklyn Sorachi Ace… soon, very soon!

Part 3:

Since I know I wont get around to posting this before it is extremely dated, I thought I’d finish with a mention of the Sunday event held at The International Culinary Center (aka my second home)… I missed almost all of the event, sadly. But, I was able to catch Zak Pelaccio’s demo of braised beef short ribs over coconut rice. His deep knowledge and contagious passion for food and culture inspire me. And his food is damn good!

I had to leave before the next chef began, but not before I was given a bag of two Chinese wines to try – You’ll be seeing more on those very soon.