A Tale of Two Sundays

Last weekend began my spring season of local wandering. Almost a year after starting this blog as part of a food blogging class with Steven Shaw (see the link to the International Culinary Center Foodblogging class on the right), I accompanied Steven and members of his 2010 class (as well as my former classmate, Ana from Hungry Sofia) on an outing. That day and today could not have been any different – one is not necessarily better than the other, the beauty is in the difference. I’m quite fortunate to be able to enjoy both.

Last Sunday:

Cold and rainy – not necessarily an ideal day of wandering New York City, but we were on a mission. The other Chinatown: Flushing, Queens. I’ve never been there before and it has been on my “to do” list for a couple years now. No better time than the present! It also helped that Steven knew the lay of the land and was willing to take on the responsibility of fearless tour guide. 

I met up with the 10 other brave souls at the Flushing Main Street station of the 7 train. Our mission: to taste our way through as much of the neighborhood as we could in 3-4 hours. We did a pretty amazing job of it – as if there was ever any doubt!  It was quite an adventure, yet we only barely scratched the surface. This place will require several more tasting trips to fit it all in.

We began with spicy lamb and chicken skewers grilled curbside on the corner of Main and 41st Avenue (at the intersection of Kissema). Ten of us huddled against a wall to stay out-of-the-way of the throngs of Sunday shoppers, eagerly awaiting the bouquet of smokey, juicy meat on sticks that Steven would soon present us with. Suggestion: if you do this, bring your own napkins (as we did), you will need them!

Next we moved on to a tiny dumpling shop on 41st Street just off Main (next to the place with the big rice bowl on the roof). The humongous steamed buns were fantastic – especially with a squirt of Siracha. The fried dumplings were so juicy we quickly ran out of those napkins mentioned earlier. We enjoyed all of this while hovering around a pay phone that served as our table!

From there, we walked off the onset of pork-induced coma, scouted out a few very interesting places to visit on future trips including a place called the Golden Mall that is anything but. However, the food in there looked and smelled amazing even though it is doubtful that the county health department has ever made a visit. (I’ll still take my chances).

Yes, this is where I want to eat next time I'm in the area.

Last major stop, and site of the majority of our carnage, was the Flushing Mall. Again, not exactly a mall, though it was strangely like a mall food court if your mall food court was in Hong Kong and the fast food counters sold chicken feet and pigs ears while making all the noodles by hand while you wait. We had some great dishes and some not-so-great dishes, and yes, we did indeed taste the cold chicken feet (not good) and pigs ears (pretty good).

Chicken Feet and Pigs Ears

We topped it all off with a mango ice sundae and some strange little cream-filled cakes that resembled Twinkies (a machine cranks them out on a cart in the middle of the mall). After a brief stop for bubble teas, we made our way back to the subway for the long ride home. Full, happy, and exhausted! For more on this trip, read Ana’s version on Hungry Sofia.

Today:

Sunny and warm – perfect day for wandering Park Slope. Where last week was a day of group activities and adventurous eating, today was a day of relaxed solitude and taking care of myself. First, a visit to the neighborhood organic cafe, S’Nice, for a vegan sesame “chicken” wrap and Thai salad with an iced green tea sweetened with agave nectar. It felt even more healthy since I was able to enjoy it sitting outside at a picnic table under budding trees in the bright sunshine. 

I continued on to my favorite sunny day writing spot, the Brooklyn library, where I soaked up more sun on the front terrace. All along the route, the neighborhood was bustling with smiling people, happy to be enjoying the first day of spring… free of winter coats and rain boots for the time being. Another beautiful day in the neighborhood!

Tuesday’s Top Five – LA Edition

I’ve always been an East Coast girl, even when I lived on the West Coast. Even more so, I’m a New Yorker, and as such, I’ve been a little prejudice against Los Angeles for a good long time. For years my friend Amy has been trying to convince me of the wonders of life in sunny southern California with little success and a bit of Brooklyn attitude to top it off!

Well, after my most recent visit last week, I think she finally got through to me. Not bad for less than 48 hours in the city! She wrote a great post on our whirlwind tour on the Eat Something Sexy Blogs, but I wanted to at least acknowledge the reasons for my change of heart.

1. The smell of things growing: After a miserable bout of snow storms, cold wet slushy rain, and months of gray in NYC, I was so happy to wake up in a place where bright-colored citrus fruits were growing in the backyard and walking for coffee was like a stroll through the botanical gardens. 

2. Kiss My Bundt: My new favorite bakery (on the west coast, at least). Full size bundt cake bliss (we had 7-Up cake the day we visited), baby bundts (good for two), and mini bundts (better than a cupcake) – we had chocolate Oreo cream and their famous red velvet bundt (only Cake Man Raven here in BK can rival this). Flavors change daily, the selection is fantastic, and they even offer baking classes in the evenings. Owner Chrysta Wilson is vivacious and welcoming, I look forward to meeting her again. She also has a new Kiss My Bundt Cookbook out that you can purchase by clicking here.

Amy & Chrysta

3. Providence: Two Michelin stars, two doors down from a friend’s house, and too good to pass up. This was the first restaurant of the evening on our only night on the town this trip. We were only there for appetizers, but that didn’t diminish the quality of service in the least – the attentive captain and sommelier both escorted our group of three (me and two Amys) through an assortment of dishes accompanied by a trio of wines that worked perfectly (chosen by us – three women who know their wines) – Cremant de Bourgogne, an Arnais from California, and Coeniubum from the Lazio region of Italy. The amusee was a fascinating (and delicious) array of tastes and textures: wasabi pea dusted marshmallow, a filled gougere, and a parfait of cured ocean trout layered with lemon gelee, 4-spice cream, and Japanese rice crisps (the real name escapes me right now). Though they were not serving the uni dish that we were there for, we were not a bit disappointed with the Hawaiian big eye tuna, the crab salad, and a diver scallop and fresh peas three ways (puree, shelled, and tendrils). All were exquisitely prepared, simple, and popping with flavor and texture.

Crab Salad
Crab Salad

4. Hatfield’s:  They just relocated to a bigger space in February 2010. Having not seen the old one, I can’t compare. The new space is chic, simple, modern yet warm and inviting. The open kitchen keeps the mood lively and comfortable. This was the second stop on the tasting tour – entrees (and as it turned out, dessert too). Since the three of us are more into apps than main courses, we opted for a selection from that side of the menu and were happy we did. If you go here, do not miss, under any circumstances, the tuna croque madame – it is a sensual delight that will leave you sighing and moaning softly to yourself, savouring each bite like lover’s kisses – buttery, rich lover’s kisses. We also had a silky cuttlefish salad, and delicate yet sinfully rich agnolotti. With these, we tried a few of the unusual (and quite tasty) wines by the glass: Oppidum Moscato di Terracina Secco Aquerelli from the Lazio region of Italy (another one!), a Spanish rosado, and a Savennieres. What we weren’t expecting was the dessert extravaganza that would follow, complements of a very generous general manager (Full disclosure: one of the Amy’s is a wine/liquor rep for the restaurant; this had absolutely no influence on my review of the food). The desserts were all great but with so many it was hard to keep track – my memory lapse was aided by the fact that each was paired with a different dessert wine or beverage! All were lovely and the pairings were spot-on (hope Amy’s notes are better than mine!) – my hands down favorite was actually a “cocktail” made with Taylor’s 20-year Tawny Port and Old Rasputin stout. Yum!

A croque madame that's better than sex?!

5. Donuts:  I learned something new over dinner at Hatfield’s – apparently Los Angeles has an unusually large number of donut shops and it is rumored that as many as 90-95% of them are owned by people of Cambodian descent. Hmmm. And open 24 hours? Even after a long night of indulging in some of the best food LA has to offer? Why not?! On the way home from our eating extravaganza we stopped at Amy’s favorite Cambodian donut shop for a sweet treat – worth it!

Famous donuts, open 24-7, EXCEPT when I try to go there!

Can’t wait for my next visit!

Catching Up – Why I Cook

Now that I’m back in NYC and have gotten back into my routine at work, I thought I’d catch up a little bit on this blog as well.

I’ve done a small amount of clean-up editing to the four Mountain Time posts from last week (added links, etc.), and am following along with my posted “itinerary” . Today is Media Review day, so I want to point out a great post on Hungry Sofia about one of my favorite treats from the Philippines, ube ice cream. The post includes a recipe that I adapted for the class I taught last year on Filippino cooking. It brough back great memories and provided inspiration to get back in a kitchen with my friends, old and new, as soon as possible!

On that note, I will finally attempt a belated response to a challenge posted last month by Michael Ruhlman asking readers why they cook.

My favorite response to the universal, yet deeply personal question “Why do you cook?” comes from Kathryn McGowan of Comestibles. Her description of cooking as a personal connection to history and culture brought up so many of the same reasons I choose to cook – though she wrote them more eloquently than I would have!

I’ll begin with a confession – I don’t cook very much anymore. There are two main reasons for this; the first is that I don’t have to (that sounds worse than it is). I work at a culinary school where other people feed me, non-stop, all day. The rest of my meals are usually eaten in restaurants for both business and personal reasons (yet always for enjoyment). The second reason is much more personal. My lifestyle has changed a great deal over the past 10 years; I no longer have the extensive circle of hungry friends and family visiting my home on a regular basis. Now, I visit them and they cook for me (and I’m extremely grateful for all the delicious meals I’ve enjoyed over these years!).

So, when do I cook? Sometimes it is for professional reasons (cooking for special events is my favorite part of my job), the rest of the time it is for my family (and a few choice friends). Professionally, I prepare foods that are quite simple if you have the proper equipment and products. The focus is on layering flavors and textures to develop “deliciousness” (Dave Arnold’s word), then designing a presentation that is clean, visually stimulating and easy to enjoy. The menu choices are driven by theme, season, and the style that represents the image we have developed.

Personally, I maintain the focus on layering flavors and textures, however my presentation is less design-oriented. More importantly, my personal style of cooking is reflective of my fascination with cultural history and the role food plays in experiencing the heart of a culture. Eating and cooking are things shared by all. To learn to prepare the foods of another culture (or another era) is to learn something about how they live, what they value, and how they nurture.

I cook because I want to learn about others – past, present and future. I cook because it teaches me more about myself and the people I love. I cook because I believe that knowing such intimate habits of other cultures is the road to living peacefully in this ever-shrinking world.

Mountain Time, part 3

Note: I’m writing all these posts on WordPress for iPhone, so I can’t do much editing & can’t see how they are laying out. Please bear with ant typos or strange layouts, I’ll fix them when I get to a real computer. Modified 3/11/10.

Yesterday was amazing. the day started with a big early breakfast in preparation for our first day on the slopes… scrambled eggs, black beans with chiles, salsa fresca, and avocado on corn tortillas.

The skiing was awesome! The day was warm and sunny, and the snow was fluffy and smooth as silk. Nothing beats Utah skiing on a powder day!

After skiing home and a relaxing soak in the hot tub, my bother and youngest sister and their spouses joined us for dinner. Something hearty and simple – spaghetti and meatballs, tons of garlic bread, Caesar salad, and fudgy brownies for dessert. Plenty of wine as well (including Heitz Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon). All in all, a stellar night!

Not sure yet what today will hold, though it’s starting out nicely… oatmeal pancakes, sunrise on the mountainside, sapphire blue skies. Life is good.

Mountain Time, part 2

The room I’m staying in has a cozy sitting area. One window looks out onto the hot tub on the deck and, at night, a forest of white-light-crusted pines. the other window, as I discovered this morning, has a groomed ski trail running right by it, and a stunning view of the mountain trails.

It’s still very early in the morning, so I’m snuggled up, doing some writing, enjoying a great cup of coffee in silence before the rest of the house gets up.

Been thinking about “why I cook,” and about what I’ll make for my family over the next couple days… I never cook anymore. I’ll keep you posted! (Note: this is the subject of a posted dated 3/11/10)

Mountain Time, part 1

I arrived in Salt Lake City today for a family ski vacation. a storm started coming through just as we arrived. the drive up to Deer Valley through Park City was harrowing, but beautiful.

We are staying at the home of a family friend… an absolutely gorgeous condo/house with an array of amazing original artwork including the Thiebaud of candy apples (hopefully) pictured in this post; hot tub outside my suite (yes, suite), and steps from the chair lift!

Tonight’s dinner is raclette with all acoutrement and a few bottles of wine that we are out shopping for now.

Tomorrow is definitely a powder day!

Where The Chefs Ate Tonight

(Note: the following is a completely unbiased account of a meal which we paid for in full, at a restaurant where we did not know any staff, owners, etc.)

Mini size

It’s been a while since Chef H and I did some wandering together. Tonight she suggested a burger place that she swore has the most incredible milkshakes ever… she’s been craving their ricotta-pistachio milkshake since her last visit.

So we made our way, with friend Louisa in tow, to Stand at 24 W. 12th Street (between University Pl and 5th Ave). The room was casual, comfortable, and welcoming. We ordered cheeseburgers and a large fries to share, I enjoyed a Dark n Stormy made with house made ginger-ale (good, mild ginger flavor, not spicy). the burgers were big and satisfying, the fries were fresh-cut and crispy… so far so good. Now, what about that milkshake?

For starters, choosing a flavor could cause an anxiety attack – they all sounded so good! And, their made with Il Laboratorio gelato… can it get any better? In a word, yes. Not only do they serve a generous full size portion, but for a bit less you can get (a very generous sized) mini portion. Perfect for three ladies with sweet teeth!

We opted for a bit of over-indulgence: the ricotta-pistachio that H was craving plus honey-lavender, chocolate-peanut butter, and the house special toasted marshmallow. All were fantastic. However, the toasted marshmallow (garnished with the real thing) blew me away! It was like sticking a straw in a big fluffy perfectly toasted marshmallow.

As it turns out, tonight is a big night for my new favorite indulgence. It’s going to be on Food Network (for its second time, I hear).

I am already planning my next visit! (and planning to save up the calories as well!)