Archive | July, 2008

‘dacksadasical

31 Jul

Boy do I feel better!

Five days of hanging out, swimming, hiking and reading sure can do a body good. Just as I had hoped, the weather was very cool, but bright and sunny when it wasn’t raining. And even though it did rain a lot, there weren’t many mosquitoes, which is a miracle really.

I communed with a loon and was scared of bears, hiked with Wally and stared at otters, whipped up tacos with my stepsister and ate steamers and brisket, pushed my nephew around on a big wheel in a pit of sand and paddled about in my mom’s kayak. A good time was had by all, but especially by me!

After last year’s punishing and pretty dangerous “hike” up Mt. Ampersand, Isaac agreed with me that maaaaybe we should try a slightly less challenging peak this year. After consulting our ADK Northern Region trail book, we decided to tackle Mt. Frederica and Lake Lila, home to the old great lodge, Nehasane.

But alas, it was not to be. About 100 feet into the trail we came upon a puddle. No, more like a small, stream-fed lake, about 30 feet wide and two feet deep. There was no way we could cross it and still complete a 7 mile hike with dry, blister-free feet. So, the only account I’m able to give you of the once great lodge and its surrounding lands is this one from 1894. It’s a pdf, so you’ll need acrobat to read it, but it’s worth it.

We clambered back into the car and drove to another trailhead. It turned out to be a completely flat walk along a ridge overlooking a lake, with lots of bear poop. We walked for about 45 minutes, and then I just couldn’t shake the feeling that there were bears everywhere, so Isaac graciously agreed to turn back. It’s hard to enjoy a jolly walk when you’re convinced you’re about to be devoured by an angry she bear, sadly.

So, the next day, we climbed Mt. Arab. It’s not a dangerous climb, or even all that difficult, just a little bit strenuous and short (only a mile) with excellent payoff. The view is wonderful, but if it’s not enough, there’s an old fire tower you can climb to get that extra special vista. But the best part about Mt. Arab is it’s just enough of a hike to prepare you for a truly spectacular sandwich.

Back in Tupper Lake we stopped at Larkin’s Diesel Deli for a sub, and boy was it delicious. And their baked goods look great too. I mean, who doesn’t love a homemade pumpkin whoopie pie with two choices of filling: buttercream or cream cheese?

Fed and fortified by mountain air and thinly sliced ham, it was time to check out the Adirondack Wild Center. What a place! It’s gorgeous right down to the cement paving the walkway. If you ever find yourself stuck in the Adirondacks with a three-year old and torrential rain, the Wild Center is your saving grace. Ducks! Really big pieces of ice! Tanks upon tanks of trout! Turtles! Miles of walking trails (in case the rain lets up)! And, did I mention, otters!?! I think I liked it more than my nephew. I can’t wait to go back again next year.

After dinner at Tail O’ the Pup (brisket: good, baked beans: outstanding, sweet potato fry dip: disgusting, ribs: meh), another midnight thunderstorm and one last glorious morning, we packed up and headed south. Issac and I left early so we could accomplish two goals we’ve been talking about on the way home every year for the last four.

First: We finally stopped at the Meat Store of the North. Based on this google search, there’s at least eight other people in this world that have been intrigued, bewitched and seduced by this store’s fabulous name. We got sandwiches and they were good, but the thing to get here is, obviously, meat for grilling, searing, braising, poaching and frying. Or pickled kielbasa. I’ll leave that choice up to you.

Second: We stopped at Saratoga and caught a race. My dad took me to my first race at the Spa when I was three. To say horses and this racecourse are in my blood is an understatement. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about all the happy summer days I’ve spent watching races here. It was imperative I take Isaac just once to see this magical place. And I did. Even though it was Whitney day, the crowd was sparse, but who cares! Despite slipping in a mud puddle and cracking my knee open, it was still a wonderful hour.

Second Race At Saratoga

The Adirondacks are such a wonderful place. Cool, filled with history, beautiful places, mountains to climb and lakes to paddle about in, I hope that if you get the chance to go there, you’ll love it as much as I do. I mean, for pete’s sake people, there’s otters! Enjoy.

P.S. — The otters aren’t just in the Wild Center either. My mom and stepdad went for a hike on new trail near our camp and saw three of them wild and frolicking about in a little pond. Apparently they make all sorts of grunting and schnuffly noises like pugs. Could otters be anymore awesome?

Escape From NY

22 Jul

I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but here? It’s hot. Again.

Way too hot for sleeping, and for walking. Too hot for cooking or for lying on the couch and watching TV. Too hot to read and far too hot to sit at the computer.

So, it’s time to escape. Tomorrow Isaac and I are packing up and leaving the city; first by train, then by car, to meet my family up in the Adirondacks.

I know it’s a great luxury to be able to escape to the woods and mountains once each summer; to be able to slow down and cool off for a few days. So, in case you can’t do the same, I wanted to leave you with two dishes that will, in their simplicity and ease, help keep you cool and nourished as the heat wave rolls on.

First, please try this chilled Cucumber, Radish & Buttermilk soup from Gourmet. It’s been sitting on top of a pile of pages pulled from magazines on the living room floor that, someday, I hope to file away into a semblance of order. It’s been there for months (sadly).

And then, on Saturday, while I was in the city hunting for dill with which to pickle, it finally caught Isaac’s eye. I felt my phone jiggling around inside my purse. When I pulled it out and checked the message, there was a picture of this recipe staring at me. It was brilliant!

It’s very sophisticated and pretty and didn’t taste nearly radish-y enough for us. So for those that are worried about it being too radish-y, don’t worry. With a piece of pan-fried fish, a little chervil garnish and some hearty multi-grain bread, it felt like a were supping at midnight somewhere in Scandinavia.

Second, I give you an homage to one of the best sandwiches in New York; the tuna sandwich at ‘wichcraft, but in salad form. It’s the combination of thinly sliced lemons, with the skin on, meaty, briny olives and alluring raw fennel that really makes this sandwich sing. But in salad form, without tuna, it needed a little oomph, so I added dried chile flakes, which have the additional benefit of helping you cool down.

So I hope you manage to keep cool in the midst of this ridiculous heat wave. See you in a week!

Head below the jump for the recipe for Mediterranean Fennel Salad.

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Tarted Up

17 Jul

I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but lately, there’s been a lot of talk around here about a lot of things that have had very little to do with food.

This is odd because this is, ostensibly, a cooking blog. I’ve talked about sounds and stillness and summer, about my neighbors and their bad eating habits, I’ve shared my secret place to hide-out from the heat, done some spring cleaning and vented, kvetched and complained. In fact, as far as I can tell, the last time I seriously talked about cooking was way back in the merry month of May.

And I’ve got a little secret about why it’s been this way. I’ve been in a cooking funk. An epic one by all accounts. Obviously I’ve been cooking; but to be perfectly honest, nothing I’ve made in a very long time, probably since that rhubarb bread, has really made me sit up and cheer. But! That has all changed.

South Street Seaport

On Saturday morning Isaac and I took a survey of the kitchen in an attempt to clear out some of the culinary driftwood we’ve accumulated. We settled on two areas in need of attention: beans and phyllo.

Since I learned to stop worrying and love the bean I’ve been hoarding them. I bought Yellow Indian Woman beans in Colorado, unknown yellow beans in California, dried lentils and ceci in Rome and Goat’s Eyes and “Little Horses” in Williamsburg (which sometimes feels like another country). I’ve also somehow accumulated three additional types of dried lentil.

And then there’s the phyllo. It’s been lurking in our freezer since January. That wouldn’t be such a bad thing if the box weren’t so big. It barely fits, and it’s hogging space that I’d like to have for preserving some of summer’s bounty; like tomatoes, beans, peas, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, peaches, strawberries, cherries and blueberries, to name a few.

So, it was settled. On Saturday we would cook the yellow mystery beans to ensure they’d be done and cool for a multi-bean salad on Sunday night, and then for Saturday dinner we would have a tomato and caramelized onion tart with phyllo crust and a fennel and olive salad. Or, at least that was the plan.

We went to the greenmarket in search of wax beans and snap peas for the salad to no avail. There was no fennel either. It was very mysterious, like everyone in the city had the same thoughts on the same day. So, we settled for some green beans and radicchio instead.

We got home and I put the mystery beans on the stove to cook, then I pulled the phyllo out of the freezer. It was around 5.30pm. I stood in the kitchen reading the directions: work quickly, keep the phyllo moist, brush the layers with butter, if frozen thaw for five hours before use… Sh*t.

No phyllo crust for us!

But I didn’t panic. Nope. I ran to the internet, to Martha. Martha and the internet always know what to do in situations like these! I looked up tomato tart, and to my great dismay they all called for butter crusts.

This was a problem for three reasons: 1. I had no non-special butter (I’m obsessed with this, but only for eating on bread), 2. I didn’t have time to let a butter crust sit in the fridge and 3. Isaac was on the phone with his mother while snapping beans in the kitchen so I didn’t want to run the food processor.

So I thought and thought and plotted and contemplated and cogitated and ruminated. And then I came up with an idea. Polenta. I ran back into the kitchen and whipped up a batch of instant polenta. When it was done I lined a pie plate with a medium-thick layer of it and popped it into the fridge to set up. Meanwhile I caramelized onions and bacon and glazed it all with balsamic vinegar.

I pulled the polenta out of the fridge, liberally dressed it with a flurry of grated Parmesan, poured on the onions and topped with slices of tomatoes. I looked down at the yellow and red tart and sighed with happiness. It was so pretty. So Martha, even!

As the tart baked it gave off the most delicate perfume of roasted corn, bacon and savory onions. It was torture waiting for it to come out of the oven and cool down enough to eat. But boy was it worth it! This tart might be the most delicious thing I’ve ever made.

The flavors are deep and sexy, yet light and fresh. And, except for the 25 minutes it takes to caramelize onions, it is fast and very, very easy. This tart would be delicious with that lemony fennel and olive salad for a dinner party, or with a radicchio salad, like we had, for a simple dinner or, if you really wanted to gild the lily, with a poached egg on top for a fancy brunch.

So I hope you enjoy this tart. I know I can’t wait to make it again in a few weeks when the summer’s tomatoes are at their peak of deliciousness.  Oh, and about those beans…

They, too, were delicious and maybe someday I’ll find the time to tell you about them, but until then, nothing can compete with this tart!

Head below the jump for the recipe for Ann’s Off-The-Cuff Tomato Tart

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The Sounds Of Summer

10 Jul

With apologies to Simon & Garfunkel, at this time of year, darkness is my old friend.

Bird On A Wire

By the time I’m wrapping up my day at work, the building has shut off the a/c and I’ve been sitting at my desk, sweating from both effort and atmospherics, for on some days, over two hours. Leaving the sweltering confines of my cubicle and stepping out onto the half-lit, hurly-burly of lower Fifth Avenue feels refreshing.

Fly On A Fern

And by the time I step onto the by-comparison-silent sidewalks of Bay Ridge, the sun is nothing more than a spectacular neon bruise over Staten Island, bent into gaudy fractals by the evening’s weather pattern stomping across the harbor.

At The Top of Touch-Me-Not Mountain

The darkness makes it feel cooler, but it’s the sounds of the city settling into stillness that help erase the day’s woes. Let’s be honest, there are no sounds of silence anywhere in New York City. But stillness? Yes, stillness is something we can do. Stillness has a sound; many little noises melting into a gentle swell of quietness. Cats mewling for dinner, dogs yapping at planes, the Yankees game on my neighbor’s radio while she grills steaks for dinner, birds wishing each other good night, an easing of traffic, teenagers strolling hand-in-hand whispering as they head for home.

Dandelion

I’ve grown used to these noises and find them soothing. So it was a shock to arrive at our friends’ house in the Catskills on July 4th to the cacophony of the country; the rustlings and bustlings of animals settling in for the night, the whizzes and whistles of birds catching dinner, the humming and droning of mosquitoes, children giggling and screeching while chasing fireflies, dogs gossiping about the day’s events, thunder echoing off valley walls and finally, just past sundown, fireworks popping and booming in patriotic celebration of the day.

Shadows, Light

And what a revelation the morning was! What lies in a bird’s heart that makes it sing with such gusto and glee first thing in the morning? Is it the joy of seeing another sunrise? Happiness at being surrounded by so much greenery? The self realization that the ability to fly is a rare gift? It’s easy to be annoyed with birds in the summer, especially when one has gone to bed too late, full of the world’s most delicious barbecued pork ribs (seriously, better than any of the one’s I’ve ever managed to get here) and possibly one glass too many of rosé.  But one should never be annoyed with birds.

Ferns

What was in reality little more than 40 hours in the country felt like days and days by the time Isaac and I packed up and headed out for a hike on our way home. We were relaxed and well fed and ready to face another week of daunting proportions.

Sun

We arrived home just as Brooklyn was settling in for the evening. I walked to the back of the apartment, opened the fire escape window and reached out into the stillness to pluck two tomatoes off my plant. They were small, but perfectly ripe. I also pinched-off two wee crowns of basil.

Yay! \'Maters!

And then we stood next to the sink, half a tomato each held in our hands, and ate them with a dusting of sea salt and a few tiny leaves of basil, in silence.

Head below the jump for the recipe for Mint & Arugula Pesto.

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Fourth

2 Jul

It’s a short week at work.

Pea Flowers

Half-day tomorrow, three-day weekend beginning Friday.

Pea Tendrils

A Summer-induced torpor is taking over my body and mind already.  And so, in celebration of the languid, lazy weekend that’s so close I can nearly touch it, I’m going to take it easy on this post.

No recipe, no story; just some pictures and some links.  A few old posts have been going bonkers this week, so I figure, in the spirit of my summer lassitude, I’ll make it easy for you, my readers to find them.

Pea Flowers

Need delicious berry desserts for your Independence Day party?  Click here.

Hankering for some purple pickled eggs?  Click here.

Want some delicious carrot pickles for your picnic?  Click here.

Looking for a quick, easy, slightly unusual, utterly impressive and drop dead delicious first course? Click here.

Hungry for something unusual to grill?  Click here.

Cucumber salads got you down?  Need something new?  Click here.

Pea Tendril

So, go forth and enjoy your Fourth!  See you next week.