Archive | August, 2008

Labor Of Love

28 Aug

Summer is almost over, and for me, it’s going out with a sniffle.

I managed to catch some crummy summer cold, probably not helped out by the insane pace I kept up while up at the house last weekend. I arrived and immediately plunged into planting a variety of leafy greens from Silver Heights Farm in the one reclaimed garden bed.

I planted butterhead lettuce, merlot lettuce, arugula, olive arugula, lacinato kale, tuscan kale (I’m not sure what the difference is either) and rainbow lacinato kale. I’ve been watching the weather obsessively online and it looks like it’s been really dry up there all week. I hope they survive.

And then after running some errands and hitting some farm stands I was home and the sun was starting to set and I was alone. It was daunting. I couldn’t figure out what to do next. So I walked over to the radio and flipped it on. And, what do you know. Out came the opening strains of my very favorite piece of classical music ever; Dvorak‘s ‘New World Symphony.’ As soon as I heard that watery, calming opening line of the largo movement, baaa dum dum, baaah dee dum… I knew everything was going to be alright.

The corn (from Samascott’s) was spectactular. Seriously, it’s a good thing Obama wasn’t trying to pick me to be his veep, because if video of what I did to that corn ever got out… I also made a quick fresh tomato sauce out of three humongous Brandywine’s I picked up from a stand off the Milan exit of the Taconic (I also got a beautiful braid of the most delicious garlic for $7) and Luisa’s version of Heston Blumenthal‘s broccoli.

It was a good meal, but aside from the corn, not earth shattering. But, the leftovers have kept me fed all week, which is a good thing. And I enjoyed cooking it on my electric stove. I never thought I’d fall for an electric stove, after the early, formative and not-so-positive experiences with the one in the house I grew up in. But this one? It’s delightful! It does what I ask it to. Has real highs and lows, and since it’s one of those flat-top ones, cleans up a dream. I never knew electric stoves could be so wonderful.

Sunday morning I went for a run, scared my neighbor’s horse, had a wonderful breakfast in town and then went to the nursery. I can predict that nurseries are going to be my new kitchen stores. I only went in to look; to judge how much Japanese maple trees cost (turns out, a lot), but, I walked out with a bag of compost and a score of plants. Sigh. I am not to be trusted.

So rather than spending my day poking about in used book stores and snooping around yard sales, I nearly broke myself planting plants. A lavender for Isaac and some foliage for me (I’ve developed a very unhealthy obsession with hostas). After a warm shower and a clean sweep of the house, Oliver and I found ourselves barreling down the Taconic once again. It was too short.

But we made it home in time for Mad Men, which, seriously, is all that matters on a Sunday night. And so, tomorrow Isaac is back! We’ll spend three days in the country, puttering and planting and going to the County Fair. I can’t wait.

I hope you all enjoy your last weekend of summer, hopefully sniffle free.

The Coop

21 Aug

Remember when I told you that there were going to be some changes around here? When I introduced you to Oliver and asked you to sit tight, that I would explain all in due time?

Well, it’s time. And no, Annie, it’s not a baby. I’ll leave that to Ximena. But someone did guess correctly. Yep, Robin, you were right. Isaac and I bought a house. (Must be that you guessed right since you have real estate fever too!)

I’d like to introduce you to our new coop.

The Coop.

It’s a very, very old farmhouse, built into the side of a hill a few hours north of the city in the Hudson Valley. Hopefully, someday, we’ll be able to move there full-time, but for now, we’ll continue to rent an apartment in the City and go upstate on weekends and holidays.

Sun setting over the garden.

And it has land! Oh glorious land! The previous owner had a garden in which she grew mostly flowers. There’s little plastic markers for plants, like tomatoes and peppers, but the only evidence that she had a green thumb for anything other than nasturtiums and sunflowers is one very sad, very abused looking summer squash whose vines gave me a rash while I was attempting to rescue it.

Summer Squash.

There’s also endless acres of high-bush blackberries that are just beginning to develop into transcendental, inky, delicious love bombs of juice and sweetness (if the deer don’t eat them first that is).

Blackberries, all the way down.

And then there’s peace and solitude and privacy and quiet, and a big kitchen and two big decks facing the sunset and lots and lots of empty rooms. It’s going to be a bit of time before we can have guests up, but I can’t wait.

The view from the kitchen.

For many months now, Isaac and I have been quietly looking for a place to call our own. We didn’t expect to find anything for quite some time, but the minute I saw this place, I got goosebumps all over my arms and my heart felt tight, in a good way. I knew it was the right house.

Storm movin in

Storm movin' in.

Back in the car Isaac asked me if there was anything he should write on the salesheet, and I said, “Write down Ann *hearts* it.” It took a little time to convince him of its charms; the ceilings downstairs are very low, and it tends to be a little damp, what with being built into a hill and all, but we finally realized that it was just those sorts of quirks that can be overcome and that make a house worth loving.

There are morning glorys everywhere. I know theyre basically a weed, but I find them mesmerizing.

There are morning glorys everywhere. I know they're basically a weed, but I find them mesmerizing.

So we made an offer, which was accepted so quickly it made our heads spin. And then everything else happened lickety split, until it was time to schedule the closing. For some reason, that took forever. But, then it happened, and then, all of a sudden, the house was ours!

One of the trees in the front garden

One of the trees in the front garden.

And so, last weekend, we spent our first weekend there. We sat in the sun and pulled weeds and grilled burgers, drank champagne and ate the delicious chocolate cake our realtor baked us. Basically, we soaked it all in and enjoyed the hell out of padding about in something that’s actually ours.

Our first dinner: burgers, salad, champagne.

And this weekend I’ll go back up there, sadly alone though, as Isaac has gone to England for work for two weeks. It’s going to be a very strange experience, rambling about in a big, empty house, all alone, just me and the deer and the coyotes, but I’m looking forward to it.

This is what the garden looked like before.

I’m hoping to plant some perennials and to scout out farm stands, to eat corn on the cob while watching the sun set, and then sitting on the hand-me-down couch with a glass of wine and a pile of my mother’s old Organic Gardenings to plan next year’s garden.

One solitary raised bed of the garden, after.

But don’t worry. We’re not planning to spend every weekend up there. There will still be plenty of New York City ramblings and pictures and stories.

Nasturtium, Morning Glory, Dew.

So, I hope you’ll stick around for our next chapter, because I can’t wait to share it with you!

The Recipe Tree

14 Aug

Where do recipes come from?

Do they fall, fully formed, from the recipe tree that stands on the middle of the earth, whose branches are so wide that they cover the entire world? Or do they swim about in the oceans, infinitely small, leaping out like a silvery fish to inspire when they feel they are needed? Or maybe they grow in the earth as grains of an idea, ready to help those that are hungry.

I’m not sure, but I know some of my favorite recipes have been an attempt to recreate a favorite meal that I ate while traveling. It’s just such a meal, about 15 years ago now, that first got me into cooking.

I was a junior in high school. Our German class had a sister gymnasium near Saarbrücken that we would attend every-other year for two months at a time. On the years we weren’t in Germany, our German friends would come and stay with us in the States.

My host-sister, Miriam, was a few years older than me, and in my eyes, so cool and accomplished. She had a wonderful older boyfriend (to whom she is now married), who was already in university and had a car. And so, we skipped out on a week of school and went traveling.

We went north, to Köln and Düsseldorf and Aachen and Belgium, and somewhere along the way, I cannot remember where, we ate in an Italian restaurant where I had a plate of pasta that still haunts me. It was simple, a ying yang of white and green linguini, with olive oil, crispy garlic and fried sage, but to me, it was the most exciting thing I had ever eaten.

Up until that point, pasta had always just been pasta. Something that should be covered in cheese or tomatoes. I’m also not sure I had ever thought of sage, at all, before that meal. And crispy, toasted, golden, transcendent garlic? It was too much. I was in love.

And so I arrived home, dressed in black, feeling cooler than cool, and immediately dove into trying to recreate the meal for my family. I think I remember my mom being amused, and I think I remember everyone actually enjoying the meal. From that point on, some of the most treasured souvenirs I’ve brought home from my travels have been recipes, or at least the germs of recipes.

On Saturday I tried to recreate one of the more recent souvenir recipes that I picked up, a pasta dish that I had on Good Friday in Florence. It was farfallle pasta with artichokes and fish. I have no idea what kind of fish it was, and I know our artichokes here aren’t the same, tender, breathtaking carcofi they have there, but when I saw crates full of teeny, tiny, impossibly adorable artichokes at the Greenmarket last Friday, I knew I had to try.

And so I did, with thunderously wonderful results. I used branzino, and braised the baby ‘chokes in vermouth and flavored the whole deal with a fragrant, pine nutty pesto. It was dreamy and delicious and immediately transported me back to that rainy, soggy, impossibly Italian night spent in a steamy, jewelbox trattoria, sitting next to the crotchety old man who ate an orange for dessert.

So, tell me, where do your recipes come from? Are they inspired by travel? By the ingredients you find at the farmer’s market or pull from your backyard? Do you prefer to riff on recipes from magazines or cookbooks? Or are you some kind of recipe evil genius?

Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments, and links if you’ve got them!

Head below the jump for the recipe for Ann’s Good Friday Pasta.

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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.

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