Archive | February, 2008

Time

27 Feb

Time seems to be jumping all over me these days.

Snow, Reflection

I start each day fully intending to finish every last thing on my list. And then, by the time I get home, if I’ve got one thing crossed off that list, I’m satisfied. I’m sure every one of you out there is nodding your heads, thinking to yourself, “Yep, Ann, that sounds like life!”

Snow, Shadows

So I hope you’ll all sympathize with me when I admit two things; that a. I never found the time to get a “real” post together this week, and b. I completely and utterly missed the fact that The Granny Cart is now two years old. How did that happen? I have no idea. Time, she’s gotten the better of me.

Directions

It’s kind of embarrassing to follow-up what has to be my favorite post ever (and someone very special feels the same) with such a cop out, but, I just haven’t been able to find the time or intelligence to come up with anything exciting, funny or even resembling English to share with you this week.

Seagulls

So, until I find a moment of stillness in which to cogitate and write, go enjoy this post on My New York chock full of pretty pictures from our recent snowfall.

Sometimes it’s best to let images do the talking.

Two Hawk Walk

19 Feb

Ever been to Times Square?

Seagull

It’s the crossroads of the world, where Broadway crosses 7th Avenue, the intersection of commerce, art and technology, home to the famous New Year’s Eve ball and the TKTS booth and one of the most iconic locations in New York City. The next time you’re there, staring into the pulsing rivers of neon, standing on that tiny piece of asphalt as taxis and people whip by in a tidal flow, crane your neck back, gawk at the enormous buildings all around and try picturing Times Square as it once was; a farm.

Seagulls

This isn’t a trick that’s difficult only in Times Square. It’s easy to forget that New York was once a wild place. But if you pay close attention and do a little research, it’s easy to spot vestiges of our wild past. Spring Street was, yes, named for a spring. The ridge in Bay Ridge is actually a glacial moraine. And if you’ve ever wondered why city roofs are so often punctuated by water tanks, that’s nature, too.

Roosevelt Island Trams

Sometimes nature comes barging in, demanding to be recognized. The short, tragic lives of Hal the coyote and Sludgie the whale remind us that New York can still be a dangerous place. But other feral friends, much like their human counterparts, slip in and make themselves at home. They often serve as harbingers of a healthier environment, like the Harbor’s population of seals, some of whom enjoy swimming up the Hudson (itself a natural phenom, technically being a fjord that has tides and brackish water). And sometimes they’re just pure comic relief.

East River Boats

But then there’s the celebrities.

Who hasn’t heard of Pale Male & Lola? The pair of red-tailed hawks have chosen a prime piece of real estate, on 5th Avenue overlooking Central Park, to call their own (and they live rent-free) where they’ve happily raised successive broods of pigeon-eradicating birds of prey to the delight of the City’s birders and tabloids. But, just in case you need more, there’s a PBS special, and a wonderful book, and one for your kids or nieces and nephews, this website, and this website.

Or, if you’re in the city, you could just go for a walk.

Sutton Place Medusa

That’s what Isaac and I did on Sunday, and boy were we lucky. We managed to start and end our walk with, what were probably, sightings of two members of Pale Male & Lola’s happy family.

Sutton Square Rabbit

I wanted to walk from the Upper East Side down to the Lower East Side, so we took the train to 86th Street, grabbed a bite and headed for the East River. But just behind Asphalt Green on East End Avenue, we were stopped in our tracks by a flurry of feathers. I looked around trying to discern where they were coming from and spotted a red-tailed hawk up in a tree about 10 feet away hunkered down over a pigeon.

Red-Tailed Hawk, Feasting

The hawk stared at us for one moment then went back to plucking his feathery treat. We stood and watched for at least five minutes, possibly more. As I snapped away, the hawk would look up every now and then, as if he were posing. It was exhilarating. Even in the country I’ve never been that close to a hawk. They’re huge.

Red-Tailed Hawk, Feasting

Despite the glorious 60° weather, breathtaking architecture, flurry of river traffic and endless parade of dogs, everything after that hawk was a bit of a let down. We were forced off the river by the UN and decided to walk down to Trader Joe’s in Union Square as I’d had the brilliant idea of making paninis for dinner.

Nature Rolls In, The UN

But alas. The line to check out started at the entrance and snaked all the way around the store. No way. I don’t care how cheap TJ’s food is. There’s no way I’m standing in line for over an hour for it. We’re well enough suited for money to pay a premium to not waste time. So we hoofed it up 14th Street to the Greenmarket.

Roosevelt Island Sanitarium

And there, wouldn’t you know it, as we were passing through the park, was another hawk. He was shuffling around in the grass looking aimless and shifty. I pulled out my camera, he took off and landed in a tree, silhouetted perfectly against the setting sun. These hawks, they sure know how to vamp it up for the camera!

Union Square Hawk

And so, with two hawk sightings under our belt we set off to Garden of Eden for some tangy goat cheese and paper thin slices of Jamon Serrano. I layered the meat and cheese on a loaf of Yianni’s amazing bread with baby arugula, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and sun-dried tomatoes for me (none for Isaac). I set the sandwiches in a pan under a foil-wrapped brick and then I committed a cardinal sin. I walked away.

Precarious Perch, Tudor City

A few minutes later I smelled burning. I ran into the kitchen, which was full of acrid smoke to see my beautiful, lovingly crafted sandwiches burnt to blackened slabs of coal. Isaac was, as ever, kind about the situation. He gamely told me to flip them over anyway, they’d still be delicious, so I did. And they were. To a point.

East 29th Street Horse

I know a burnt sandwich isn’t the end of the world, but after such a perfect day, a perfect sandwich, the world’s most perfect food, would have been, well, perfection. But I learned a valuable lesson that is easy to forget.

Panini B.C. (Before Charring)

Nature will do as nature wants to do, whether that is sending a tornado through one’s backyard of singeing an unguarded sandwich.

Which leads me to ask: What’s the most important lesson you’ve ever been taught by nature?

Ciao Italia!

13 Feb

We’re going to Italy.

Stormy Sunday

In just over a month, Isaac and I, and my entire family, will be winging our separate ways over the Atlantic to the land of wine, cheese, cured meats and truffles. We’ll be shacking up in a little house in a hill town in Umbria for a week, and then the two of us will spend a few more days, over Easter, exploring Florence, Tuscany and Rome.

To say I am excited is one of the greatest understatements of all time.

Stormy Sunday

I haven’t been to Italy in nearly two decades, and that trip was less than ideal. The tour operator was a proud graduate of some Soviet-era apparatchik machine. Rather than floating through Italy on a cloud of culture and food, we plodded from ruin to museum on a bus, like weary soldiers on a forced march.

Upon reaching our destination,the tour guide would bark at us to enjoy the culture and then herd us back onto the bus. We would then be driven back to our cold, grey hostel were we were fed cold, grey meat and told to go to bed.

My memories of that trip involve hunger, sore feet, cold, snow and a rain.

Snowflakes, on my coat

That is, until we befriended the bus driver. He was an older gentleman with wild, movie star hair, golden skin and sparkling blue eyes. One day, as we were being herded back to the bus in Florence, I spotted him lolling on a fountain surrounded by a bevy of the most beautiful women, all at least half his age, flipping their hair and tinkling with laughter.

My friend Brian, whose family was Italian and thus spoke the language, noticed him too (but I suspect he mostly noticed the ladies) and began chatting with him. The bus driver felt sorry for us. He hated the tour guide as much as we did, and so he started instructing us, through Brian, in ways to ditch her. Our bus driver fomented rebellion.

And suddenly, there it was! Beautiful, romantic, cultured, delicious, wonderful, perfect Italia. No cold, grey, sanitized, Disney-fied, fig-leaf covered, flag-bearing-tour-guide-approved Italy.

Nope.

Suddenly there was gelato and grappa, cute waiters and spicy tomato sauces, bare feet in the Adriatic and hidden galleries in Venice. We were free, and it felt delicious. But alas, this new found freedom came at the very end of our ten-day stay.

The World's Best Braised Escarole

I can’t wait to get back to this Italy. I want to try and find that delicious pizzeria in Assisi again, the one that clings to the side of the twisty road down the side of a sheer cliff, to climb once more to the top of that hill in Florence for the perfect view of the Duomo, to again dash madly across a Roman avenue without being squished by a roaring lorry, to sit in a palazzo and sip espresso as the sun sets.

Oh Italy!

But of course, what I really can’t wait for is the food. I’ve read that it will still be truffle season in Umbria. And we’ll be eating dinner each night at the house, so shopping at the local markets will actually be a fruitful activity. We’ll be able to buy vegetables and fish and meats and condiments and not just buy bread and cheese to eat while perched on a wall or on a ferry between islands (which, let’s be honest, isn’t the end of the world and I would gladly do every day of my life for eternity).

Acqua Cotta di Maremma (Olive Oil Soup)

In anticipation, I have become even more obsessed with Italian food than usual.

On Saturday night I whipped up Paula Wolfert‘s Acqua Cotta di Maremma (aka Olive Oil Soup from Maremma) and the World’s Best Braised Escarole. On Sunday night we made Short Rib Ragu with pappardelle (which came out perfect, unlike last time, thanks to you guys).

It’s all I can think about. Sugo and cinghiale and lenticchie and tartuffo and porchetta and strangozzi. Is it March yet?

Short Rib Ragu with pappardelle

But what I really want to know is if you guys have any suggestions for things to do and places to see in Umbria? We’ll have a car and just under a week, so all suggestions are welcome.

As they say in Italy, grazie!

Head below the jump for the recipes for World’s Best Braised Escarole, Acqua Cotta di Maremma and Short Rib Ragu.

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The Chowder Bowl

5 Feb

So, the Giants won the Super Bowl.

Fourth Avenue Station, Brooklyn

If you’re anything like me, you’re still trying to figure out how they even got into what the NFL wants you to think of as “The Big Game” in the first place.

Perhaps, as a New Yorker, I’ve come to expect our teams to be mostly mediocre. The Yankees, as much as I love them, seem to have lost the come-from-behind fire that made them so exciting to watch for so many years. The Mets are always claiming to have finally procured that last player they need to become the best team ever, and then nothing happens. And then there’s the Knicks. Oh sweet mercy, the Knicks! Have you ever seen such a spectacle? They’re like a goat rodeo masquerading as a professional sports team.

Fourth Avenue Station, Brooklyn

I suppose I should admit right off the bat that I’m not a football fan.

That said, I was still aware that the New England Patriots were having a “magic season.” I knew that their quarterback was dating Giselle, I knew that they had the hubris to pre-print a book about their perfect year, I knew that they were virtually guaranteed to win. Yet I had no inkling that the team from our own backyard (also known as New Jersey) was even fair to middling this year.

And so, even though it is once again “TV free February,” Isaac and I granted ourselves a special dispensation to watch the game. And Puppy Bowl, of course. And since you can’t have a Super Bowl without food, I discovered something important, something I could get behind. This game wasn’t about a perfect season, or blue-collar heroes, about pretty-boy quarterbacks or coaching dynasties.

Fourth Avenue Station, Brooklyn

Oh no my friends.

This game was about chowder supremacy.

New England clam chowder vs. Manhattan clam chowder. Creamy and white vs. tomatoey and piquant. The chowder known around the world vs. the chowder maligned as the “other” chowder. The chowder kids cheer for vs. the chowder that makes kids groan.

Fourth Avenue Station, Brooklyn

But, not really. In my heart, there is only one chowder. New England clam chowder forever! I’ve tried to like Manhattan clam chowder, I really have. I love tomatoes and I love clams, but Manhattan clam chowder I do not love. It’s not a chowder. Chowders have cream and butter. But Isaac? Exactly the opposite. He loves Manhattan clam chowder best.

So instead of making New England clam chowder, which would have implied clandestine culinary support of the Patriots, or Manhattan clam chowder, which would have made the cook grumpy, a sure way to ruin the soup, we made Brooklyn clam chowder.

Fred loves football AND clams

What’s Brooklyn clam chowder you ask? It’s an homage to two of the greatest dishes we’ve discovered since moving to Bay Ridge.

The first is Polonica‘s cucumber soup; a simple broth, made creamy with a touch of sour cream and flavored with Polish dill pickles and tons of fresh dill. The second is a special we had once at local Italian stalwart Canedo’s; clams and mussels steamed in white wine with tons of garlic and hot, pickled cherry peppers.

Homesick Texan's Mythical Biscuits

Brooklyn clam chowder has its foundations in New England clam chowder, but the pickled peppers do give it a Manhattan chowder-esque reddish hue. I know it sounds weird to put pickles in soup, but you’ll just have to trust me on this. They add a beguiling flavor that’s very hard to put your finger on, an unexpected lightness and delicacy to a soup that can be a bit heavy.

Brooklyn Clam Chowder

If I may mix my metaphors, this chowder is a real home run. Especially when served with an endless supply of Lisa’s extraordinary biscuits, a pat of Ronnybrook garlic butter and a growler of locally-brewed SixPoint beer.

Brooklyn Clam Chowder

Top it all off with a Giants victory, and you’ve got the recipe for a very pleasant Sunday evening.

Head below the jump for the recipe for Brooklyn Clam Chowder.

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