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Auspicious, Delicious

7 Jan

Well, hello there! Happy 2010 to you!

I hope your New Year started well, in fact, I honestly hope your New Year started with as delicious, and auspicious, a meal as ours did.

I decided that this Christmas was going to be the Christmas of beans.  It was a bold choice, I know, but much like any other person who has been touched by zeal, I felt the need to spread the gospel even if it meant giving gifts of dubious motivation.  So since my stepsister was getting a new crockpot from us, it was full of beans.  And since both of Isaac’s parents hail from the South, they got beans too.  Plus, both my stepsister and Isaac’s mom are trained anthropologists.  I figured that despite initial skepticism, they would come to see the beauty, cultural significance and, most importantly, the deliciousness of my gift.

I’m still waiting.

But, really, this is all just a long-winded way of saying that I kept a bag of beans for myself.  I mean, a girl needs to gift herself at Christmas too, right?  I had ordered a bag of Yellow-Eye beans to give to my stepsister, but when they arrived, they were so beautiful and so full of promise I just had to keep them.

And so we found ourselves on New Year’s Day watching the snow and the birds and boiling a ham hock and soaking beans.

Head below the fold for my versions of Hoppin’ John, Collard Greens and Red Rice, with a twist, of course.

Mt. Greylock

1 Dec

We got to the top, and there was nothing to see.

And yet in a completely white world, there was plenty.  After spending about 10 minutes in blinding whiteness I concluded that I’m really quite happy I never settled on “Arctic Exlorer” as a career path.

We thought we were supposed to be following the red blazes, which took us tromping off willynilly into the forest.  Multiple times they would just *poof* disappear.  But the baby blue blazes, they looked solid and dependable, so we decided to follow them.

And they took us to the top.  Up through the ancient, breathing, dripping rain forest and out into the wide white world, 2,200 feet above where we started.

What to eat after a seven mile hike? Pork of course!

Curry In A Hurry

19 Sep

My first “apartment” in New York was near Gramercy Park.

Sadly, it wasn’t near enough in physical or mental location for me to have been granted a key to this urban oasis.  From our perch in Philadelphia, the apartment was marketed to my roommate and I as a dorm room for SVA.  What it actually was was a room in an SRO.

It wasn’t bad, the room was clean and in a good location, but the other residents were, uhm, a little sketchy.  And, as you may guess, it was inevitable really, that the union of wide-eyed newcomers and crusty, down-at-the-heel hardened New Yorkers led to someone getting robbed.

I will forever treasure the look on the one policeman’s face as he digested my reply to his question; “Were there any identifying characteristics to your laptop?” “Oh yeah! It was covered in glow-in-the-dark stars and fuzzy duckie stickers!”  Ah, youth!

So, there I was, even broker than I had started out, with 2-day-a-week internship and a 5-day-a-week $10-an-hour retail job.  But! At least I was in New York.  And, best of all, I was near the beating heart of cheap food in Manhattan, Curry Hill.

I have always loved curry, even the sort that comes out of a packet, but my tastebuds had become more sophisticated during a stint of sharing cooking duties in a co-op dorm with an honest to goodness girl from northern India.  She taught me so much.  And so when I ate curry in New York, I always aimed for the most sophisticated and authentic place I could afford.

Sadly, this was nearly always Curry In A Hurry.  Aside from the cute name, and truth in advertising (the food really does come out quickly), there’s not that much to recommend the place other than its extreme cheapness.  But, it kept me fed, and that’s what really counts.

Happily, I’ve come a long way since those days, and I now prefer to make my own curry whenever possible.  One of the things Isaac and I miss the most about our weekends in the City is the diversity of food available to us at all times.  So this past weekend, when we were both craving something a little adventurous, we settled on making a gorgeous, soothing, balanced squash curry.

This might be the healthiest thing I’ve ever cooked what with the fake meat, kefir (my new addiction), nuts, turmeric and spices, and it might also be the tastiest.  This is a home run recipe; it’s balanced, soothing, invigorating, comforting and best of all gosh darn tasty.

So, if you know someone that, like me, works in financial news, or at a bank, or for the government, or in any aspect of the world that touches the global financial system, they probably need a hug and a bowl of something warm and steamy after this past week.

So do him or her a favor and make them some curry.  And then let them sit on the couch and stare blankly at the wall.  It’s been a rough week!

Head below the jump for Ann’s Sweet & Spicy Squash Curry.

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Arroz con Cranky

5 Jun

I fear I’m not always 100% truthful with you, especially on one very salient fact.

West Village Puddle

New York City and I do not always get along. From the timbre of many of my posts, you’d think I walk around in some sort of Disney princess bubble enveloped in a halo of chirping birds and hopping bunnies, magically making my way untouched through the seething throngs of grumpy commuters, clueless tourists and the hopelessly deranged. But this is not true.

Japanese Maple, Raindrops

Sometimes, for no conceivable reason, the city just pisses me off. The anger is not acute. No, it’s not usually one specific thing that sends me round the bend, it’s more of a crescendo of annoyance.

The mockingbird imitating a car alarm for hours. Our upstairs neighbor playing GTA IV at 5am. The ingrate that forces me to miss my train into work. The destruction of yet another piece of my city’s gritty heritage. Almost being hit by a bike messenger (again) careening the wrong way down a one way street. Yet another endless line full of tourists with no sense of urgency at my favorite coffee place.

May Showers, May Flowers

Yes, they’re little things, and probably make me sound a little petty, but man, sometimes, a girl just can’t take it anymore. We New Yorkers live so close together, so cheek by jowl with one another, so constantly in each other’s faces that it can really begin to wear on a being.

Nap Time at the Dog Spa

I try pretty hard to stay positive. I say excuse me when I run into someone, I smile at the checkout girl that’s just had to help the umpteenth pensioner from Spain figure out how to pay for his coffee, I grumble under my breath as the train-I-needed-to-be-on-so-I’d-be on-time-for-my-meeting pulls away without me, and I take photos in an attempt to help remember those old spots that won’t be there for the next generation.

But sometimes, a girl just needs to snap.

Won't Be Needing These For Awhile

Take this past weekend for example. I should have been buoyant and joyful; the weather was beautiful, my work was done, all I had to do was sit back and enjoy 48 blissful hours of sun, fun and food but no, I was cranky. The trains were all kerfuffled, the sky opened up and let fly like it was Armageddon and the farmer I wanted to buy baby kale from wussed out and left the West Village greenmarket early.

Statues & Man

So there we were, Isaac and I, skirting the edge of Washington Square Park, heading for the Union Square greenmarket, when I just snapped. I stopped like a stubborn donkey and began stomping my feet like a two year old mid-tantrum. I wanted to go home. The city, its chaos and closeness, its clamor and commotion had done me in. I was beaten.

TK TK TK

We got back to the apartment and I ran for the solace of my kitchen. I began chopping: spring onions, green garlic, jalapeños. Some went into a pot of Steve‘s magic beans, some went into a pot of rice, some went into a red salsa and the rest went into a green salsa. After a few hours of stirring and prodding and chopping and tasting, I finally felt better.

Vaquero Beans

And who wouldn’t if they were sitting down to a meal like this? Spicy rice, tender, fragrant, achiote-marinated shrimp, zippy pico de gallo, sublime salsa verde and, of course, those perfect, wonderful, fragrant, intoxicating beans. It was a perfect meal.

And yet, I woke up with the crankies again the next day, and the next, and the next.

But then, on Tuesday morning as I was harumphing and grumbling my way through my commute, I pulled my nose out of my Economist and noticed the gentleman sitting across the subway car from me.

Camarones y Arroz con Cranky

He was amazing.

In his 80s, he was impeccably dressed. A perfect summer-weight pinstripe suit, beautiful tan leather shoes, a flawlessly tied tie with matching pocket square, a straw fedora that was a work of art, waxed handlebar mustaches, Col. Sanders beard, and to top it all off, a yellow rose in his button hole.

Suddenly my outfit, which I had been so proud of earlier in the morning, felt completely disheveled. And yet, I was happy. This man, this one single man, who seemed pulled from another time; a kinder, gentler, more caring era, sitting next to a rockabilly-tattooed hipster chick, plastered a smile on my face that still won’t go away.

Vaquero Beans

Perhaps I’m a little hard on myself. Perhaps I really am just a giddy, wide-eyed, New York City optimist. Or, perhaps, I’m just a real person in love with a difficult city. Disagreements are bound to happen, but we’ll always make up.

Head below the jump for the recipes for Arroz y Camarones con Cranky.

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Rhubarb-barb-barb-barbara-ann

15 May

I am currently obsessed with azaleas.

Azaleas, Bee

Against an expanse of verdant, emerald green grass the shocking crimson, cerise and magenta bushes are my new favorite harbinger of warmer days. And to think I wasn’t even aware of their existence until Saturday.

After a dim sum brunch, Isaac and I decided we needed a bit of a walk. So we started walking, until we ran into a fence, and behind that fence were the azaleas. They’re magnetic. I couldn’t take my eyes off them, even to look where I was going. Needless to say, I very nearly walked into quite a few telephone poles.

And it’s not just me. My friend N told me she had been out biking and had the very same experience, except a bit more dangerous. She was on a bike and very nearly running into cars.

Azaleas, Robin

Where were these magnificent azaleas, you might be asking? In a cemetery. But not just any cemetery, Green-Wood Cemetery. Pastoral, elegant, and only a little bit creepy, Green-Wood was founded in 1838 on the rural cemetery model first made popular in Europe.

Itwas always meant to be a place where families would go for recreation, to walk around and look at the beautiful graves and to stop and have a picnic. In fact, its popularity was an impetus for the planning of Central Park.

Green-Wood Door

It’s not quite as popular a destination today as it once was, which I’m okay with, because it has to be just about the only spot in all of New York City where you can spend two hours strolling up and down hills, gawking at birds, smelling the flowers, marveling at the blueness of the sky and the sweetness of the wind while only running into about five (living) people.

Stained Glass, Reflection

But it’s not all just beauty and peace. Green-Wood contains the location of the first major battle of the Revolutionary War, the first battle of the U.S. army, and the first battle lead by a young general, George Washington.

It was the Battle of Brooklyn. At the top of the hill where skirmishes were fought, in commemoration of the lives lost, stands Minerva, forever saluting her sister the Statue of Liberty down in the harbor.

Minerva, and if you look just under her right shoulder, you can just barely make out the cruise ship the Queen Mary 2

Green-Wood is also a birder’s paradise. It is known as a pit stop for a wide variety of migratory birds, as well as for its immense and varied population of locals. But, like so many places in New York, it is most famous for its immigrants. In this case, immigrant parakeets.

Minerva In Green-Wood

Parakeets? Oh yes. A rogue population of feral, acid green Monk parakeets live in the turrets of the Gothic gatehouse. I once went on a tour at the cemetery. We met in front of the gatehouse, and the parakeets were in such a lather over the size of our group, that the tour leader was forced to halt his remarks until he handed a megaphone.

Crazy Old Pine Tree

Upon bidding the parakeets adieu we didn’t feel quite walked enough, so we kept on walkin’ on and ended up in Propsect Park. It was such a happy, busy place. Hundreds of parties and picnics and Little League games and Frisbee tossers and creative anachronists and happy, snuffly dogs. We walked its length and ended up at the Grand Army Plaza greenmarket just as all the stands were shutting up for the afternoon.

Can you believe this is New York City?

This is my biggest complaint with this greenmarket, the stands sell out so quickly and close up so early. At a quarter to four there was only one stand remaining with anything other than bread, apples or cheese. Lucky for me, they had both ramps and rhubarb, so I grabbed some.

When we got home I whipped up a simple ramp risotto for dinner. It was gentle and rampy, satisfying and delicious. I saved the rhubarb for Sunday.

Green-Wood

I love rhubarb. I love its gentle, springy, somewhat azalea-like coloring and its alluring fragrance. My plan, since last year, in fact, was to make a glaze for some pork chops. And then I opened the refrigerator and saw how much rhubarb I had bought. A lot. There was no way I was going to need all that for a simple glaze. So i started pouring through my cookbooks.

Green-Wood Allium

I love pie, especially strawberry-rhubarb pie, as much as the next person, but I prefer my pie to be made by that next person. I’m just not a pie baker.

So I was looking for something different, something unusual, something that I could bring into work if I made too much of, and there, lurking in a book devoted to the seasonal cooking of the Hudson River valley, was the answer.

Rhubarb bread. Ms. Rose says it is the specialty of Mary Film of Buskirk, N.Y., who makes the bread for selling at bake sales in support of the restoration of the Knickberbocker Mansion in Schaghticoke.

Prospect Park

This is just about the easiest bread in the world to whip up, and oh my god… the smell! I wish that I could have invited you all over just so you could smell the aromas wafting out of the oven and through my house. It was beyond intoxicating. It was drool inducing.

By the time the bread was out of the oven both Isaac and I just stood next to the stove staring at it, willing it to be less than molten hot so we could tear into it.

Rhubarb Bread

Finally, it was time. We cut big, moist chunks off one loaf and tried not to bite our fingers amidst the mania induced by this bread. It is delicious. Rhapsodic. Purr-inducing. I’m ashamed to admit this, but we easily ate half the loaf, and probably could have eaten the whole thing if some part of my brain hadn’t snapped back into sanity and stopped us.

If you’ve got a friend with a large rhubarb patch, ask her for some, then bake her this. She’ll love you forever.

Rhubarb Bread

So I take it all back. I now think azaleas are beautiful, and can’t wait for the day when I can plant one in a yard of my own, but what I am truly obsessed with is rhubarb bread.

And you should be too.

Head below the jump for the recipes for Ramp Risotto and Rhubarb Bread.

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