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The Beet Goes On

9 Oct

Fall is finally here.

My waking days have quietly slipped into a gentle grayness.  Instead of being greeted by wide beams of golden yellow sun streaking through the front window, my mornings are spent in a cozy half-light.  And as the financial crisis rolls on, the last rosy radiations of the setting sun, that just last month greeted me as I left the the office, are becoming weaker and weaker.  Each night it’s a little darker, a little grayer, a little more obvious that summer is really truly over.

I’m fine with this, and in fact love it.  Fall in New York is the most glorious time of the year (even if the Yankees decided to act more like the Knicks and less like the Giants thus robbing me of one of my favorite autumnal traditions).  The air is crisp; the sky is the most glorious, searing, pellucid blue.  It’s scarf and stockings with riding boots and plaid wool skirt weather.  The greenmarket is bursting at the seams with the last of summer’s bounty as well as the radiant oranges, yellows and reds of squash and pumpkins and root vegetables.

And then there’s the weekends upstate.  Walking out the back door is like stepping into a Frederick Edwin Church painting.  The leaves on the trees are just beginning to change, some into shades of orange and red that shouldn’t be possible in nature.  And the smell! Oh the smell.  Dryness and earthiness with a hint of smoke.  Five seconds of breathing it in makes up for all the early mornings and long nights I’ve spent toiling away this past month.

Though we still have a hole in our house from the foul fowl, it looks like we just might (cross your fingers, knock on wood) get that fixed this weekend, and then we can go back to living a normal, turkey-free life (at least until Thanksgiving).

This past weekend was spent planning for the future.  I planted bulbs, which is no mean feat.  Our house was built directly on some geologic feature that makes it impossible to dig any hole without hitting a rock every quarter-of-an-inch.  I’m tempted to name the house “Rockfield.”  It sounds just a wee bit snooty, but is based entirely in truth.  While I was scratching away at the earth, Isaac raked the yard,  also no mean feat.  The house is surrounded by mature and magnificent stands of maples and oaks and birch and elm which are prolific leaf producers.

After all that hard work, we deserved a break, and a delicious dinner.  So we took a drive over to the Hawthorne Valley Farm Store, by the back route, through Spencertown, possibly the most beautiful New England town in all the world that isn’t technically in New England.  From there, we went to visit a farmer I noticed at the greenmarket last Friday.

I had asked Dan, the farmer, where I could buy his beef in Columbia County, since it seems foolish to buy it in the city once its been driven down from upstate only to put it back in a car to drive it back to where it came from, and he said that they sell at the farm on Saturdays.  So we dropped by, got a tour and bought some eggs, sausage and and two chuck eye steaks.

Fully provisioned, I hit the kitchen to make some borscht.  Everything was going along just swimingly until I began peeling the beets Isaac had bought at the greenmarket.  With each swipe of the blade, the beets became less rosy, and more, well, white.  Dammit!  He bought me chioggia beets!  Well, at least the back-up beets I had procured at Hawthorne Valley would be red, I thought.  And then I started peeling my beets… Ach du liebe, scheisse! I had done the same thing.  We had been bamboozled by the beets!

Ah, well, nevermind.  So the borscht was a little pale, and a little, well, less beety.  But Dan’s beautiful beef really saved the day.  The fat and amazing, clear flavor really, uhm, beefed *groan* up the soup and gave it depth that it might otherwise have been lacking.  I served it with some wine-braised cabbage and big chunks of rye bread.  It was fortifying and delicious, which was good, because we had another big day of yard work ahead of us.

We’re planning to move the garden next year.  It’s technically on our neighbor’s property (though he doesn’t seem to mind) and a little too close to the blackberry bramble, and it’s overrun with weeds and blackberries and we have too much yard, so we’re going to start over.

I brought up a huge stack of Wall Street Journals and New York Times‘, the detritus of the crisis.  We put these down on the lawn in a big rectangle, wet it and then made a huge pile of our leaves on top.  We’re going to do it again this weekend, on an adjacent rectangle of land.  Come spring, all I have to do is put a little compost over top, and dig right in.  Or so I’m told!

So, I’m alright with it being fall.  Things feel like they’re slowing down a bit.  And though my days in the City are a little gray, my weekends are full of joy and color.  It’s a nice balance, even when the borscht isn’t quite the color it should be.

Head below the jump for the recipe for Borscht, Of Another Color.

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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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Homarus Odyssey

8 May

It’s true, fish is not my favorite thing in the world.

Lower Manhattan From Red Hook

But clams and squid and scallops? Pretty close to the top of that list. But do you know what sits at the very tippy top of the piscine pyramid for me? Do you even have to ask? Oh, you do… Well, that would be lobster, naturally.

I love lobster like a jockey loves winning the Kentucky Derby. Or like the Queen loves her corgis. Or like Rupert Murdoch loves buying newspapers. Or like the Yankees love beating the Red Sox. Or like Isaac loves cheese. You get the picture. I love lobster.

But, like a lot of people, I don’t cook lobster at home. It’s not the killing/cooking thing. It’s mainly fear of mortal embarrassment.

Light, Red Hook

My friend Pam grew up near Boston, and every summer her mom and some of her friends would rent a little house on Nantucket. One summer, a few years ago, she invited me to join her for a long weekend on the island. You’d have to be crazy to say not to an invitation like that, and I’m not crazy.

So there we were, in the middle of preppy paradise, on the side of a dirt road, bikes in the grass, like true New Yorkers, fighting over which road to take to the beach. The best part? It’s an island! You can take any road and get to a beach!

Bleeding Hearts

We were two Type As, out in the middle of nowhere, arguing over which beach was best, when a pickup truck pulls over, and a guy leans through the window. “Pam?” She looks over and there, with a goofy grin on his face, is one of her bust buddies from college. Of all the dirt roads on all the islands in all the world!

He was on the island visiting a friend who was a year-rounder, so they threw our bikes into the back of the truck and drove us to the beach just in time for it to start pouring rain. But no matter, they were headed to a friend’s house who was having a party, would we like to go? Sure, why not we said, not knowing that we had just been invited to the best party on the face of the earth.

Red Hook

There were endless kegs of the island’s amazing beer. Racks and racks of fresh, local corn grilling over hot charcoal. Pit after pit of steamers cooking under beds of seaweed. And legions of lobster, some being grilled directly over the coals, others boiling away in vast cauldrons of water. It was like being invited to the Gorton fisherman’s heaven.

Since I was a guest in a place where I knew no one, I made a beeline for the steamers. I really wanted a lobster, but I felt a little funny helping myself to something that would cost more than $20 in a restaurant without knowing who to pay for it.

So I sat down with my plate of clams and a plastic cup of Whale Tale Ale to watch the lobsters. People were helping themselves with abandon. Apparently the lobsters were there for the taking, free of charge. Finally, I decided to join them.

I grabbed a hot lobster, sat down on a tree stump and cracked and hummed and slurped and made happy noises deep down in my throat. And then I ate another. And another. And possibly another. It was one of the happiest days of my life.

Statue Of Liberty, From Red Hook

So you see, since that day, I have thought of lobsters cooked over an open fire next to the ocean as the very apex of culinary perfection. If a lobster has been out of the sea for more than a few hours, it’s too old. If I can’t pull it out of it’s shell while lounging under a canopy of fir trees and stars, the ambiance isn’t right. If there’s cloth on the tables and waiters, I’m too embarrassed to make the magnificent mess that comes with properly consuming a lobster.

I’ve been to lobster nirvana, and I’ve come back. Anything less is, well, less. There was a whole, broiled lobster on the docks of Montauk that was memorable, but mostly I try to avoid lobster unless the conditions are perfect. One of these summers, we keep saying, we’ll go to Maine. I bet I can find perfection there, too.

Cockles

Lucky for me, clams and cockles and scallops and oysters run a very close second to lobster in my sea-critter-lovin’ heart. They too have that beautiful sweetness and iodine-tinged brininess that I so love in lobsters, but they’re easier to eat and cook, which you must agree, is a big vote in their favor.

Angel Hair Pasta with Cockles

And I had my fill this past weekend. I had the most delicious fritto misto as an appetizer at my birthday dinner, chock full of oysters and clams and the sweetest, most ridiculous scallops and prawns. And then on Sunday night, thanks to the other Ann, I sated my craving for pasta con vongole.

Roasted Asparagus

I served the pasta with beautiful roasted asparagus, scented ever so lightly with lemon zest and, like we had had at dinner the night before, a wee gluglet of very, very good balsamic vinegar.

Oh, and there was cheese bread. My friend N and her husband had seen it in Gourmet and made a plea that maybe, if possible, I just maybe thought I’d like to make it, just maybe I’d be interested in possibly giving them some?

Georgian Cheese Bread

And so I did. There was so much cheese in that bread, I only allowed myself the tiniest of slivers and then I wrapped the rest up in foil and brought it into the office. My co-workers reacted as if they hadn’t been fed in weeks. It was gone in, oh, let’s call it two minutes.

I think they liked it. Hopefully it helped them forgive me my whoopie pie pedantry.

Head below the jump for the recipe for Ann’s Pasta with Clams.

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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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Bah

9 Oct

The interweb, much like the Yankees and the weather just won’t cooperate this week.

And so, since I have no time to write a real post, I’ll leave you with this:

Fred of the Fuzzy Face

Fred’s back!

Don’t know who Fred is, click here.

More food later, until then, enjoy your moment of cute.