The Other, Other Island

7 Aug

I bought a car last week.

I know this may not sound like extraordinary news, especially since in, let’s say, 98% of the country most people own at least one car, if not several. But here in the city? Not so much. I sold my last car over 10 years ago when I moved here.

And I’ve been just fine without one. Sure, there have been plenty of times when the freedom a car offers has been a longed for and wished for luxury, but until recently, it just hasn’t been possible or necessary. That said, I’m very excited to have that flexibility back in my life. And of course, I’ve already named him, Oliver, in honor of my favorite episode of the best show on television.

So, you might be asking yourself, “Well gee Ann, what’s going on?” Well, you see, there are some changes afoot chez Granny Cart that necessitate the owning of a car. I don’t feel 100% comfortable sharing those changes with you yet, but I can say a few things. One: we are not leaving the city, never fear! And two, when everything is all set and done with, I probably won’t be able to talk about anything else, so sit tight friends!

The whole buying process was a little fraught. So when the weekend finally rolled around, it was time to take Oliver out for a drive. There are so many interesting places to go when you own a car in New York. We could finally go to Storm King; 500 acres of monumental sculptures and rolling hills. Or, we could head north and take a kayak tour of Bannerman Castle. Or, we could drive to Philadelphia to satisfy that decade-long pretzel craving I’ve been suffering. Or, we could drive to New Haven to finally figure out what all the fuss is about.

But, we decided not to do any of these things, at least, not at first. Instead, we popped over the Verrazano Bridge and went to Staten Island. Poor Staten Island… It’s definitely the most beleaguered borough. To wit, on Monday, one of my co-workers asked me what I’d done on my first weekend as a car owner. I told him where we’d gone, and with a pained look on his face he said, “Ann, don’t you realize, most people buy a car to escape Staten Island?”

Well, that might be true, but we had a blast. We went hiking in the Greenbelt, an amazing 2,500 acre park in the middle of the island. No, that’s not a typo, two thousand five hundred acres of untouched virgin woods and hills and swamps and ponds with 35 miles of trails (pdf) weaving in and out and up and down smack-dab in the middle (okay, slightly on the periphery) of New York City. That’s pretty amazing when you stop to think about it.

I used to have a lot more time in my life to sit around and surf the web looking for cool things to do with my copious free time. And even though those times are long gone, sometimes I’m able to recall a nearly forgotten post, like this one, that I’d filed away in that “maybe, someday” corner of my brain.

We hiked for nearly three hours and never saw another person, and only occasionally was the reality that we were still in New York City forced upon us. If you can’t make it to the Catskills or to the Adirondacks, seriously, this is a next best thing. Beautiful, chockablock with nature, quiet, solitary and simply gorgeous, I can’t recommend the Greenbelt highly enough. What an under appreciated treasure!

But, that wasn’t it. Oh no. Staten Island had much more to offer us than just the woods. After a quick stop to refuel with a slice from a pizza joint in a strip mall that seemed to have not been touched by the passing of time since, oh, they filmed Saturday Night Fever, we went to the beach, because, remember, Staten Island really is an island!

Great Kills is part of the National Park Service’s Gateway Recreation Area, which is made up of coastline in Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens and New Jersey. We only stayed for a few minutes, just long enough for me to pad about in the water and make a cursory pass of beach combing. The sky was threatening rain, and we had to get home with enough time to make dinner and do the laundry. I was sad to leave, but, I have a car now! I can go back anytime I want!

I was craving steak for dinner, but due to a few driving snafus, we didn’t make it home before all the neighborhood butchers had closed. So, I had to make do with what was lying around the house. I had some eight-ball squash, two frozen sausages, eggs and olives. Yeah, I could make dinner with that!

I chopped and scooped and sautéed and stuffed and came up with stuffed squash to serve with the minted white cabbage slaw that had been planned for. It was a wonderful dinner, but as often happens, we found that the squash are even better a few days later, as leftovers, with a chopped tomato salad of heirloom tomatoes, basil, garlic and dressed with good balsamic and olive oil spooned over top. This was my dinner last night, and it made me positively hum with delight.

It was a great end to a great day. We were sore and tanned from our adventures and full and happy from our dinner. I don’t know what all the fuss is about. I found the other (not Manhattan), other (not Long Island) island to be a quite pleasant place.

So, hang in there Staten Island! You’ve got at least one friend on the outside.

Head below the jump for the recipes for In-A-Pinch Stuffed Squash & Minted White Cabbage Slaw.

In-A-Pinch Stuffed Squash

prep time: 30 minutes ~ cooking time: 1 hour

  • 3 large Eight-Ball Zucchini, washed
  • Olive Oil
  • Garlic, to taste, minced
  • 2 Sweet Fennel Sausage, casing removed
  • Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 Lemon, juiced or Lemon Juice, about 1 tbsp
  • 1 large handful mixed Olives, pits removed and chopped
  • Chile Flakes
  • Salt
  • 2 Eggs

Halve the squash. Set one squash aside. Hollow out the two others, reserving the flesh. Place the four hollowed out squash halves in a baking dish. Chop the reserved squash and squash flesh into bite-sized pieces.

Heat a glug of olive oil in a large sautée pan and add the garlic. Cook until fragrant and add the sausage. Cook until browned. Add the squash. Season with a dash of Worcestershire sauce and the lemon juice. Cook until the squash is tender and most of the cooking liquid is gone. Season aggressively with chile flake and a little salt. Taste and adjust seasoning. Turn the heat off.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Crack the two eggs into a bowl and whisk until scrambled. Add the eggs to the squash mixture in the pan and fold in until creamy. Spoon the mixture into the four squash halves and place the baking dish into the preheated oven. Bake 20-30 minutes until the tops are golden brown. Serve one to each person. Enjoy!

Cook’s Note: This recipe would also be delicious with cheese or cream in it. For ultimate flavor, allow the squash to cool and stash them in the fridge for a day or two. Reheat the squash just before serving in the oven then serve with a tangy fresh tomato salad spooned over the top. Enjoy!

Minted White Cabbage Slaw

prep time: 30 minutes ~ cooking time: none!

  • 1 head Savoy Cabbage, washed and finely shredded
  • 1/2 tsp Fennel Seeds
  • 1/2 tsp Ground Coriander
  • 1/2 tbsp Date Syrup or Honey
  • 1 tsp ground Mustard of your choice
  • 2 cloves Garlic, very finely minced
  • Salt
  • Chile Flakes
  • 2 Limes
  • Lemon Juice
  • Sherry Vinegar
  • Rice Wine Vinegar
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 very large bunch of Mint, washed, picked and chopped

Place the cabbage in a very large bowl.

Add the fennel seeds, coriander, sweetener, garlic, mustard, a pinch of salt, a pinch of chile flake and the juice of the 2 limes in a bowl or glass and stir, whisk or froth to combine. Add an additional glug of lemon juice, a healthy glug of rice wine vinegar and a wee glug of sherry vinegar. Add enough olive oil to make a balanced, tasty emulsified dressing. Taste and adjust seasonings to your taste. Pour the dressing over the cabbage at least 30 minutes before you plan to serve the slaw. Turn to coat the cabbage in the dressing and do so every 10 minutes or so. Just before serving add the mint and turn to incorporate. Enjoy!

P.S. This does not keep very well in the fridge so eat it all if you can!

Recipe adapted from Greg & Lucy Malouf’s fabulous cookbook, Artichoke To Za’atar: Modern Middle Eastern Food.

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16 Responses to “The Other, Other Island”

  1. Julie August 7, 2008 at 8:32 am #

    I’m glad to hear you’re not leaving the city because that was my first thought when I read that you’d bought a car and changes were afoot. Congratulations on Oliver and I’m anxiously awaiting news of your big change.

    These are beautiful photographs. Who knew that a treasure like the Greenbelt existed in Staten Island? How wonderful.

  2. Mary Coleman August 7, 2008 at 10:19 am #

    What a wonderful dinner you fixed! Welcome back to the land of car ownership. Oliver is a grand name for a car. I didn’t know about that show, but am checking it out asap!

  3. Christina August 7, 2008 at 8:53 pm #

    I love wilderness in the city, and it sounds like Staten Island has plenty of that. When I lived in DC, my refuge was Rock Creek Park, and I know how restoring a bit of wildlife can be.

    But about that big news, boy, you’ve got my mind working. Curious, curious, curious!

  4. Terry B August 7, 2008 at 10:22 pm #

    Congratulations, Ann! Years ago, I had an old black VW bug that a friend named Ol’ Black Betty for me [for the Leadbelly song, later covered rather fabulously by one-hit wonder Ram Jam]. I must admit, when I think of Staten Island, I think of even young guys wearing velour track suits.

  5. ann August 8, 2008 at 6:28 am #

    Julie — Not leaving the city, I promise! How could I leave a place that holds such exciting surprises like the Greenbelt?

    Mary — Top Gear is so damn funny, but the snippets on the Website don’t really do it justice. If you get BBC America on your cable, I highly recommend watching it, or if not, at least rent the Botswana episode on Netflix. Probably the funniest hour of television I’ve seen in a dog’s age!

    Christina — I’ll have to check out Rock Creek Park the next time I’m in DC. It sounds really interesting!

    Terry — Ha! That’s a great name for a car. I had a dark grey Honda Civic that was the biggest lemon on the face of the earth. When she was good (which was rare) her name was Betty, but when she was awful (which was most of the time) her name was Ivan.

    As to Staten Island, you’re mostly right. A lot of the inhabitants are dudes with big hair, gold Jesus’ on chains who wear sweat pants in public and their girlfriends. Or they’re devotes of Wu Tang Clan (whom I have a serious soft spot for). Either way, it’s a fascinating place.

  6. Sandie August 8, 2008 at 10:12 am #

    Silly, but I always name my cars too—congratulations on your purchase!

    I (for one) will always have a soft spot in my heart for Staten Island, if only because my grandparents raised their children and lived there many years. I have fond memories of visiting before they retired, and especially of my grandmother teaching me to make and roll out dough in her Staten Island kitchen. I treasure those memories to this day!

  7. Ann August 8, 2008 at 10:59 am #

    Staten Island also boasts one of the finest guitar shops ANYWHERE. It’s worth a visit if either of you have any interest in guitars, dobros, mandolins, banjos, etc., whatsoever.

    Congrats on the car! Now you can take a blanket, a picnic lunch and a thermos of hot coffee to Jones Beach when the weather turns chilly.

    Fab photos, as alway.

  8. Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) August 9, 2008 at 8:02 pm #

    I love love love Top Gear — but I’d never been in love with Staten Island until this post. Beautiful photos, and now I have a reason to go to, and not just through, Staten Island, too. But you’ve left us all hanging. What’s the news???

  9. Luisa August 10, 2008 at 8:48 am #

    Wow – I had no idea. I’m always looking for easy day trips to get out of the city and into nature. Can’t wait to explore Staten Island! Also, now am on tenterhooks about your exciting news. Fill us in SOON!

  10. Robin August 10, 2008 at 4:16 pm #

    I looove that insect picture!

    Are you buying a country home, missy?

  11. Anne August 11, 2008 at 12:27 pm #

    Today I have learned about Staten Island and Top Gear. And for that, I thank you.
    Congrats on the new car. I can’t wait to read about your news! Perhaps your car come with an infant seat? Just kidding! Kinda. (It’s true once you have kids you want everyone you know to have them.)

  12. Michelle August 11, 2008 at 3:55 pm #

    Yeah, I’ve always wondered what those green bits that showed up on Staten Island MTA map, but never did anything about it. Thanks for enlightening. I remember when my friends came from Paris and one of the things that they did was take a day trip to Staten Island, which I thought was somehow very French, trying to get off the beaten path.

  13. Marybelle August 11, 2008 at 7:29 pm #

    OMG – I LOVE TopGear! Oliver is a lovely name for your new car – and an excellent choice! Will we get to see his picture? I very carefully taped six hours of shows, thinking that my Dad would like it…he was not a big fan…so now I will have to tape it for my Mom – who thinks it is hilarious!

  14. Toni August 11, 2008 at 10:33 pm #

    My late husband used to live in Staten Island. He said he once found an old Revolutionary War canon ball when hiking in the Greenbelt. I never went there myself, but it always intrigued me after that story.

    Now, what I want to know is, how do you find the time to hike all day, put together a terrific dinner and PHOTOGRAPH it before eating???? Help me out here, please!

  15. ann August 12, 2008 at 5:42 am #

    Sandie — Oh, that’s such a lovely memory! That makes me feel even warmer and fuzzier about Staten Island.

    Ann — What an interesting tidbit! I never would have known that. I’m definitely locking that piece of trivia away for it’s proper day. Yeah, I’m pretty excited about the beach access. I think that’s my favorite part of having Oliver.

    Lydia — Top Gear is the best. I can never decide who I love more of the hosts. It changes with every show.

    Luisa — I think you’d love it. And if you go on a Saturday, on the drive back to the bridge you pass so. many. pork. stores! We were totally bummed to not be able to stop and pick up some cured meats or fresh cut steaks to take home and have for dinner. Ah well, next time!

    Robin — Hehe, I’m remaining mum on the topic for now…

    Anne — Heaven forefend! A baby? Noooooooo. Not now!!!! That much I can promise you. I can barely take care of myself at the moment! Plus, I’m surrounded by other people’s amazing kids that I don’t have to take home at night ;-)

    Michelle — Ha, that’s funny! That is so very French. Perhaps they were slumming it, in search of the wild “guido.” lol! I can almost 100% promise if you go there you won’t run into any of them, in fact, you probably won’t run into anyone. It’s a highly under-utilized park.

    Marybelle — HA! Oh that’s funny. I keep trying to get my parents to watch it, but its on at the same time as “Antique Roadshow” which means it’s an absolute no go. Ah well… More for me!

    Toni — That so does not surprise me, but what a shocking and wonderous thing to find in New York City! And about time… We’re living a pretty easy life at the moment. We get up early, set out early, hike, bop, and are home by 5ish, then eating dinner around 8ish. It’s not that hard!

  16. iHanna August 12, 2008 at 4:59 pm #

    I’m off to bed now so I don’t have time to read it all, just looked at all your lovely images and wow, so green and soo good! Your blog is just brimming with nice photos! Lovely!

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