Neighborly

10 Sep

What is a neighborhood?

Bay Ridge

When I was a kid it was a discreet area. Our neighborhood was the set of houses on a horseshoe-shaped road. Everything beyond that was unknown.

Some neighborhoods in New York are as easy to define. Tribeca: the triangle below Canal Street. The East Village: everything from Houston to 14th street and from the East River to Broadway. Park Slope: the area around Prospect Park overrun by double-wide strollers. Dumbo: If you can’t see the Manhattan Bridge, you’re probably no longer there.

Bay Ridge has a definition too. Fort Hamilton Parkway to Shore Parkway, 65th Street to 101st Street. This is a huge, ethnically diverse area. Too big to call my neighborhood.

Block Party

Our block had a block party this weekend. Cars were moved, the street was blocked off, fire hydrants were opened and little kids buzzed up and down on their bikes and scooters while their parents sat in the sun drinking beer and barbecuing meats. It was perfectly idyllic.

Being recent interlopers into this tight-knit, insular world we participated by sitting on our stoop, laughing at the kids and chatting with our next-door neighbors.

Oh, and we grilled some meat on our tiny, UFO grill.

Teeny, Tiny Grill

That got us some attention. Everyone else had proper equipment; Webers were popular and some people even brought their ginormous propane fueled beauties out front from their backyards. More than one person walked by, saw our tiny grill, just big enough to hold one lamb steak, and broke into unbridled, perfectly understandable peals of laughter. It was a fantastically silly sight, I’ll give them that.

Regardless of size that little grill sure gets the job done. It’s big enough for about 10 coals, but really, that’s all you need. The meat was perfect and there was enough heat leftover to have done at least another, and probably some peaches, too.

And then we went inside to eat.

Grilled Harissa-Marinated Lamb Steaks

The people of Bay Ridge can be rather suspicious of new comers, whether you’re a white couple fleeing Manhattan or a large immigrant family, we all get the same shifty-eyed peripheral stare that speaks volumes. In one regard I don’t blame them. They’ve lived a life people write novels and make movies about. But, we’re all just people and inherently interesting regardless of where we come from and how long we’ve lived on a certain block.

Our adopted ‘hood is incredibly diverse, but it wasn’t always that way. The first wave of immigrants came mainly from the Scandinavian countries, then from Ireland and Italy, and more recently from various countries in Asia and the Middle East. There’s no obvious outward signs of tension between the old guard and the new guard in the neighborhood, but it’s still tangible.

The Best Cucumber Salad Ever

So we mixed the old Bay Ridge with the new Bay Ridge. We grilled on the sidewalk, a fine, deep-Brooklyn summer tradition, but we grilled harissa-marinated lamb, one of the finest Middle Eastern inspired dishes ever to come out of my kitchen.

I’m a little bummed it wasn’t easier to get to know some of the people on our block, but I am happy to have gotten to know a few people better.  I don’t think I can call this one street in Brooklyn my neighborhood, yet, but it got a little closer.

I’d say that’s a fine result.

Head below the jump for the recipes for Harissa-Marinated Lamb Steaks and The Best Cucumber Salad Ever.

Harissa-Marinated Lamb Steaks

prep time: 5 minutes ~ cooking time: 30 minutes

  • 2 Lamb Leg Steaks – this cut is a thick steak cut through the leg, kind of like a lamb osso bucco – I get mine from the lady at the Saturday Union Square greenmarket that sells Catskill merino wool yarn and lamb sausages.
  • 1 small can Harissa
  • juice of 1/2 Lemon
  • Salt
  • Olive Oil
  • Brown Sugar (optional)

Dump the can of harissa into a thick ziptop bag. Taste a very tiny bit. Is it very hot? Then add a teaspoon or more of brown sugar to balance out the heat. Add the lemon juice, a healthy pinch of salt and a small glug of olive oil. Zip the bag and moosh the contents together until they form a homogeneous paste.

Rinse the lamb and place into the ziptop bag. Zip the bag and moosh the meat around until it is covered by the paste. Place in the fridge to marinate for a few hours.

The lamb can be grilled for about 10 minutes per side over hot coals to a perfect medium-rare (of course the time does depend on how thick your steaks are, ours were about 3/4 of an inch thick). They can also be cooked in a cast iron skillet at 400°F for 15 minutes a side and then finished under the broiler for a few minutes to get a nice char. Either way? Delicious!

Serve with The Best Cucumber Salad Ever and some grilled flat breads. Enjoy!

The Best Cucumber Salad Ever

prep time: 20 minutes ~ cooking time: none!

  • 5 cloves of Garlic, finely minced
  • 3-4 Shallots, finely sliced
  • Juice of 1 1/2 Lemons
  • Dash of Sherry Vinegar
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt
  • Fresh Dill, to taste
  • 2 large Cucumbers, peeled, seeded and sliced thinly
  • really good, really thick, really creamy Yogurt

In a large bowl combine the garlic, shallots, lemon juice, sherry vinegar, a healthy glug of olive oil, salt and dill (I always use the entire bunch). Mix together and set aside while you prep the cucumbers. Add the cukes and mix to incorporate. Place in the fridge to macerate for at least a few hours.

Just before serving add a soup spoon’s worth of yogurt. Mix to incorporate. Is it coating all the ingredients? No? Add another spoonful. Mix again. Continue in this way until you’re happy with the thickness of the dressing. I used three spoonfuls this time around.

Serve alongside Harissa-Marinated Lamb or any other Middle Eastern or Mediterranean grilled meats and prepare to be worshiped. Enjoy!

15 Responses to “Neighborly”

  1. izzy's mama September 10, 2007 at 11:39 am #

    That cucumber salad looks like it would be great with lots of things..but hey..what happened to the Eggplant-Tomato Jam? Did you not get to it?

  2. Julie September 10, 2007 at 12:23 pm #

    Hooray for block parties! They’re a great way to get to know neighbors and the scene does indeed sound idyllic. Plus, your neighborhood sounds far more interesting than the average neighborhood.

    We have a big Weber kettle which was a gift from someone who thought our old one wasn’t big enough. It’s true we mainly use our grill when we have guests but I had been looking for a smaller grill (your size sounds perfect) because for most meals I grill for the two of us a small grill is all we need.

  3. Kevin September 10, 2007 at 12:29 pm #

    Wow does that look good. Charcoal grilled anything makes me drool.

    While we’re sharing grill stories. I have a propane grill, that is more often than not ‘converted’ into a charcoal grill – especially for rotisseried or smoked meats. I believe I’m one of the only people I know interested in charcoal grilling [as opposed to gas]. Here in Canada, convenience has definitely trumped flavor, as a general rule.

  4. Susan in Italy September 10, 2007 at 3:39 pm #

    The block party sounds great, a way to really create a neighborhood out of a bunch of houses. The photo of all the identical buildings reminds me of the neighborhood where I grew up.

  5. coollikeme September 10, 2007 at 6:19 pm #

    Looks fun.

  6. Christina September 10, 2007 at 6:23 pm #

    The fact that your neighborhood holds block parties means you’ve got a fighting chance towards becoming part of the hood. In my old neighborhood, I was one of the few white folks on the block, but after a couple block parties, I was as much a part of the North Madison block as anyone else. I wish it could be that way on the block I live now, but it just isn’t, and I don’t know how to make it so. ECG and roll out our lovely Weber for long, slow grills, we sip beers in our camping chairs, and still people don’t come out to talk. Seriously, who could ignore the smoky-goodness of hickory grilled tri tip?

    Your lamb garnered the attention of a few (deservedly so, from the looks of it), and each similar event can bring you even more opportunities to communicate. I hope that you build the relationships that you desire, because having neighbors and being neighborly is a beautiful thing.

    The addition of sherry vinegar, my new favorite vinegar, to your cucumber salad is inspired. Nice!

  7. Lydia September 10, 2007 at 6:26 pm #

    When we moved to Boston’s South End nearly 30 years ago, we would have block parties like the one you describe. The neighborhood was multi-ethnic, which was a rarity in Boston in those days (well, in these days, too), and the food reflected that: lots of Chinese, Latino, African, and Lebanese. It was a wonderful way to celebrate the diversity of the South End. I miss those days.

  8. ann September 10, 2007 at 7:11 pm #

    Ugh, Izzy’s Mama, I cannot tell a lie… I went to the greenmarket early on Saturday morning with a list and wouldn’t you know it, but I completely lost patience with the ravaging hordes and barely made it out with the things I knew I needed for dinner. And then Isaac and I got rolling on our epic weekend of cheesemaking and the eggplant/tomato jam was forgotten. *hangs head in shame* I know, I’m a bad fooblog buddy, but I swear (swear!) that I’m going to make it sometime soon. It sounds just too damned good to not do so!!

    Julie — this little guy kicks butt! and it comes with a carrying bag that has a built-in cooler so you can take it on picnics and stuff too. How cool is that?

    Kevin — That’s so disappointing to hear! I thought Canadians were seriously serious about their meats… Maybe it’s just their donuts? (just kidding!)

    Susan — It’s a really pretty block. I should take pictures of all the incredible front gardens that people maintain. They’re spectacular. Maybe next weekend! By the way, nice to have you back! Greece sounds like it was amazing and relaxing. What a vacation!

    Cooklikeme — It was! thanks for stopping by.

    Christina — Thanks for your insight as always. You always have such a thoughtful take on things. If I lived on your block I’d totally come over and be like, “So, whatcha grillin’?” and then you’d never be able to get rid of me. Be careful of what you wish for ;-)

    Lydia — Ooooooh that sounds fun! Philly had a lot of block parties like that when I lived there (I’m sure they still do). They were sooooo fun and always such a mishmash of food and music. I miss those days too!

  9. Nina September 10, 2007 at 8:59 pm #

    I was born in Bay Ridge and lived there til I was 7 (Go Ovington Ave and P.S. 170!)… so I can’t give any tips on becoming part of the neighborhood that don’t involve pizza (Gino’s?!) and trading candy. But hope you find your niche and enjoy the stoops. :)

  10. ann September 12, 2007 at 8:04 am #

    Hi Nina! Thanks so much for stopping by. I think I might actually try your trick, but I’ll replace candy with cookies. I’ve never had Gino’s pizza, but I think I must now! I love our stoop. I think it’s my favorite part of my apartment.

  11. Terry B September 12, 2007 at 3:52 pm #

    A lovely post, Ann. Makes me think of a great block party when we lived in St. Louis.

    One way to ease into the neighborhood a little bit more is through neighborhood kids. If they’re selling fundraising candy or whatever for school, sports, etcetera, buy some. And on Halloween, sit out on your stoop with some candy to pass out—and maybe some beers hidden in a cooler to share with a parent or two. Don’t go overboard in either case, though. Otherwise you’re just the interlopers trying to buy your way in. Just keep it at a nice, neighborly level.

  12. Andrea September 12, 2007 at 3:55 pm #

    I have no grill so I can look with envy at yours! As long as it does its job right..I’m a fan of cucumber salad. Can’t wait to try this. One that I like is one cup vinegar to one cup sugar. Mix in two cucumbers (sliced thin) and two sliced jalapenos. Let sit overnight and voila. The cucumbers are sour, sweet and spicy.

  13. ann September 13, 2007 at 9:10 am #

    TerryB — Man, I LOVE that idea of beers to share with the parents! That’s brilliant! I’ve never been a Halloween person (not even when I was a kid) so any effort put up on my part on October 31st is a big one, but yeah, you are so right, nice, neighborly. You’re a smart man.

    Andrea — lovelovelovelovelovelovelove the idea of that salad. Thank you so much for sharing!

  14. aulaire October 14, 2007 at 2:52 pm #

    Hey, if you didn’t meet anyone from St Martin’s to excoriate, and you haven’t already vented at Amazon, you’ll feel much better if you do so. Most of the customer reviews will enrage you, but you’ll enjoy the enlightened one. C’mon! Add your own!

  15. ann October 15, 2007 at 7:57 am #

    aulaire — I DID read that one guy’s review! And the funny part is that I had read the passage about the stupid, stupid seagulls that very morning. I thought about adding my own voice, but I figured I couldn’t do a better job than he had already, but, you’re right, perhaps I should. God that was the worst book ever.

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