Sunday, January 31, 2010

Food- (And Publishing!-) Related Goodness

It's always awesome when you forget about something you were excited about, and rediscover both it and the excitement. This just happened, as I received a check for a piece I did for the New Orleans Bride winter edition about the process of creating the perfect wedding cake. It seems that I'm currently on a behind-the-scenes streak, since I interviewed the lead designer for award-winning Gambino's Bakery in Louisiana to find out the process of creating what I call "the star of the reception."

Anyway, check it out!

P.S. Geaux Saints! Super Beauxl-bound! And what's going to be really interesting is that when you think about it Peyton Manning will have to make himself defeat his own hometown and hometeam their first time making it to the Super Bowl, which should be difficult in many ways for a native New Orleanian.

I've already got six feet of heroes, four pounds of macaroni salad, two pounds each of coleslaw and potato salad, and two olive and pickle trays ready for pickup Sunday morning from my favorite local supermarket, Best Yet. Boar's Head for everyone! And bread from Modern Italian Bakery, supplier of Long Island delis and my favorite, Campus Heroes. Yum! After all, the only time in my entire life I've cared about the Super Bowl needs to be commemorated with some serious food. Got wings, anyone? I'm out of funds :)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Epicurean Adventures: Life Full of Sweet Suprises

Of all my time living in New Orleans -- scratch that, of all my time living -- the best was when I was a food editor there, my writing picking up steam and my acquaintances and friends in the culinary world expanding daily. It's these people that made my experience so magical, that lit up the fire of inspiration in my ever-grumbling belly, and whose names still bring a smile to my face. And after six months away, it gives me a warmth inside that the flurrying snow this morning can't quench to know that I, too, am remembered.

A wonderful Somebody named Andy from FSC Interactive contacted me last week to find out my address and inquiries like this usually mean one thing: presents! Whether they be food or just a simple card, there's an inexplicable thrill to knowing that somewhere, something special is on its way to you.

So it was with great excitement that I received a package today, addressed (I saw with a laugh and a thrill) to The Vicarious Food Whore. Yay! And the icing on this cake? The outside of the box was splashed with one of my favorite logos: Sucre.

After an absolutely abysmal week, this was pretty much the best thing that's happened to me in a while. I say happen to me because seeing that one single word, Sucre, on any kind of box addressed to me ellicits a visceral reaction not unlike that of Pavlov's dogs, where I immediately feel fuzzy and grin like an ape. What's not to smile about? The sweet packaging with neatly tied bows! The pastel colors that skip like sunshine! The PRESENTS!

One thing I love about Sucre, too, is that even though they've gotten huge, they still remember their little people, and still treat each and every customer personally. Chef Tariq Hanna (*love* - he's like the Anthony Bourdain of pastry, a sexy badass with mad skills) and Joel Dondis (such an absolute sweetheart! And a fascinating dinner companion, I must say) still personally sign every card that accompanies a box of goodies. In this day and age, who puts that much attention to their details? No one but Sucre.

Anyway, I'd been nosy and asked Andy if it were Mardi Gras macaroons that I'd be receiving, since I fiend for these incredible Parisian mmmacaroons and drool at any mention of them (damn you again, Pavlov!), and was tickled pink to find that there were in fact, two boxes within my big box of presents, and that one big one was in the signature pastel-striped packaging that means one of Oprah's favorite things was headed into my mouth.

Unfortunately, these delicate goodies don't travel too well, as carefully packaged as they were, and the frail shell of the outer "sandwich" levels of the treats got a bit crumbled.  However, they were still a sight for sore eyes, and it was only with great difficulty that I forced myself to open the other box before diving into my favorite sweet treat of all time.

Box #2 was definitely a delightful surprise -- 15 beautiful, beautiful heart-shaped, cabernet red dark chocolate, slightly bitter in a luxurious way, with the earthiness of pure cocoa. So pretty, nestled securely in puffy lining, they glistened and glowed with that distinctive golden sheen that everything in Sucre seems to be dusted with, giving all of the delectable, gorgeously crafted sweets a magical, unearthly feel.

These chocolates were insanely rich; deep and bold dark chocolate made a crunchy hard shell around a raspberry filling so pure and fresh tasting that it was as if it were plucked off the plant and somehow made to grow and ripen further inside a protective chocolate home. The best part of it was its lack of artificiality that heavy hands with sugar tend to lend fruit. Many a good pie has been ruined for me as sugar takes the lead over natural flavor, but Chef Tariq's hand is ever steady, and the balance is refreshing.

Back to the macaroons, though -- one of my most expensive obsessions. I of course grabbed at the most puffy one in pursuit of that flaky, puffy, airy feeling, and was a little bit let down, as my ecstatic fantasizing about the moment of consumption left my expectations quite high. Because of the unreliability of stable transport, the loss of the fragile shell pieces left it more dense than I've had them before, resulting in a bit of a chewiness that isn't often encountered in a Sucre macaroon. I can only assume it's because it was left out in the cold outdoors, since I can attest that they stay fresh for quite sometime, and that Joel and Chef Tariq would never let a product out the door that they didn't 100% stand behind. To make sure of this, I called my baby sis, who I'd sent Christmas macaroons to for her birthday, among other Sucre goodies, who commented that this must indeed be a fluke, since hers were light and totally amazing.

The flavor was of course fantastic, perfectly capturing the sugary sweet frosting of king cake, the glittering Mardi Gras colors adorably represented in puffy pastry. Chewiness aside, it still made me indescribably happy.

The only problem now is making these last ...

All in all, a rather spectacular end to an altogether horrendous week. Thank you, thank you, and thanks ever so much, guys. Y'all are my sunshine.

P.S. Want 'em? Get your own, and hands and eyes off my loot. Check it:
P.P.S. These, the white chocolate and toasted almond wedding cake chocolates, are my other favorites in the entire world, which I used as part of my wedding favor package to our guests ... too bad the staff stole/threw out half of them and I never got to eat my own wedding truffles, but these are the best damn pieces of candy I've ever eaten in my entire life!

Sucre - Wedding Cake from Sucre - Founder - Joel Dondis on Vimeo.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

All Roads Lead Back to Home

Well, you guys have read enough about my parents' restaurant on this blog enough that it became an inevitability that it eventually made it into print. It's with great pride (and honestly, a pretty significant amount of trepidation due to anti-Asian sentiment on Long Island and my awareness of potential backlash) that I present to you my first New York/Long Island print article!

This article was a really ambitious piece, and honestly, one of the toughest ones I've ever had to write. First off, it's a little controversial, which as a soft news writer, I haven't yet dabbled in. Normally, I'm not too scared of controversy, being a rather opinionated individual, but race and my personal roots have always been a sensitive topic for me, and a hard one to write about since it forces so many years of stifled anxiety and insecurity to bubble back up to the surface. I've grown a lot since I was a teen who was made ashamed by her classmates of her family's stereotypical, blue-collar living, and have grown to be very proud of the background such an upbringing has given me. Unlike some, I know the value of a dollar and hard work; I know what I stand to gain by consistently reaching for ambitious goals; and I know what I know about food because I grew up immersed in that world.

It wasn't until I became a food writer in New Orleans where I realized that being in the culinary industry, no matter how humble or lofty the establishment, was a positive thing, and for that, I cannot be more grateful. Going to Tulane and getting to know world-renowned chefs and award-winning professionals like Tory McPhail, Tariq Hanna (congrats, Tariq, for getting on TLC for the Ultimate Cake-Off!), Mike Stoltzfus, and the countless other names and faces that have given me pride in having a heritage based around cooking.

However, it's always hard to come back "home," to return to a place where attitudes about food aren't the same. In New Orleans, chefs were celebrated and elite; on Long Island, real ones are few and far between in the suburbs I grew up in, and franchise restaurant line-cooks were looked down upon with the same disdain as Chinese takeouts, Italian pizza parlors, and et cetera. Kids took jobs making sauce at pizza places -- Boy was one of them in his day -- and this occupation wasn't considered something that needed extensive training when you could just do it after school.

It's with this perception that I began writing this article, "Scenes From a Chinese Restaurant: Behind the Counter of a L.I. Accidental Icon." I wanted to show the people of Long Island that those people that man your local takeout are people, too, people with families, dreams, and far more intelligence and skills than the average customer assumes. All my life, helping out at the restaurant, not only was I discriminated against and disrespected, but I had to watch my parents be treated like worthless scum because negative misperception still exists in the suburbs of Long Island -- all while the whole family worked tirelessly through injury, personal grief, exhaustion, and severe weather just to scrape by year after year.

This article's purpose was to give outsiders an inside view of a life spent in a takeout, not from the point of view of the kids there, but the adults that make it so that the kids don't have to spend their adulthoods at the the takeout as well. I wanted to make people on Long Island think twice about how they treat the people at their local takeout, to spur them to perhaps even ask them, "What's your name? How are you?" Often, these questions are never asked, and the Chinese-Americans are treated as "help" and never as humans.

The blame doesn't lie wholly with the outside community, though, and I hope that my article (although it might piss off some Chinese-Americans) can also serve as a call to action to this, the most invisible of minorities in America, to speak up and stop trying to stay under the radar and out of trouble. After all, it's the squeaky wheel that gets the oil, right?

Now I'm not trying to get all Reverend Al Sharpton up in here at all -- that's not my style. But maybe, just maybe, if people realize that these "immigrants" behind the counter are more than that, but brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, and beloved family members just trying to make a living, individuals with hopes, dreams, and potential, the world can be a little bit of a better place.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Eater's Remorse: Chemical Ingestion is Gross

I've been regaling those around me with tales of what I've come to the conclusion is an incurable disease. Online health forums all yield no results, only similar pleas for help, and hundreds of dollars worth of co-pays later, doctors laugh and tell me it's an unusual problem they've never encountered before.

Ladies and gentlemen, I cannot cease burping.

Right?! How silly is that? All my life, I've lamented my total inability to do so without trying really, really, really hard and eating something exceptionally fizzy, and now, ever since I was on meds for my TMJ (yes, I am aware I have an obvious underbite from a side view; no, I do NOT want cosmetic surgery to "fix" the appearance of my face -- I've known this face all my life, and it's served me fairly well), I can't seem to stop. They're weird ... hiccup-y burps coming from where heartburn usually stems from, popping and gurgling to my great annoyance every few minutes. In short, I am the equivalent of a hiccuping small child who just can't seem to stop.

Now, this wouldn't be more than a minor embarrassment if not for the fact that this burping were uncomfortable if stifled, and at times painful; and that the air going to my head literally makes me air-headed, and therefore dizzy. (See? Two punnies in one! Now it's three!) This light-headedness then makes me feel vaguely motion-sick, which leads to nausea. All this equates suckiness.

This makes it hard to eat stuff. Maybe it's my long-anticipated punishment for a life of gluttony, my normally friendly stomach finally rebelling and shouting, "Enough! I can't stretch any further!" However, eating is the only time I ever stop burping, and so the vicious cycle continues as I expand evermore.

So anyway, that's the backstory of why this week, I had to ingest chemicals of a ghastly nature.

As an ex-food writer and a current foodie (still, since I hope to be friends with my stomach once again), the idea of doing what they call a Barium Swallow to check out my innards really grossed me out. The concept of voluntarily drinking a cupful of chemicals is revolting to me, since I don't even like taking pills due to my lack of trust in said chemicals. (Which could more or less be perfectly founded, given that I didn't have this burping issue until I started on muscle relaxers and anti-inflammatories for my aching jaw.)

The concept behind a Barium Swallow is this: it goes in your mouth, down your throat, into your stomach, then your small intestine, covering everything in a thick coat so that the x-rays will reveal any kind of abnormality. I did an "esophageal" one, which I can only assume that the focus was to look at my throat and its functions.

Well, it all sounds very simple until it's go time.

I was put in a cloth hospital gown and asked to take a shot of something extremely fizzy. Then, I was given a big paper Dixie cup full of what looked like some of Elmer's best white stuff, more commonly found in kindergarten classrooms around the nation than your local doctor's office. Being who I am, I of course smelled it first.

It didn't smell like much. The best way to describe it was that it smelled like vaguely sweet ... goo. Really, that rubbery, odorless sensation that has no distinction of its own other than to emote its texture through what can only narrowly be classified as scent.

Downing it was a horror. This shit was foul. Now, I'm no shrinking violet when it comes to medication, being that I'd drink pink Amoxicillin shakes if they existed (Boy hates that stuff) and, in trying to control my burping, pop Maalox chewables like candy (it didn't work, in case you were wondering), but this was a whole other kind of just FOUL experience.

It didn't taste terrible, but it felt foreign and invasive. So thick, its consistency was more dense than the glue it so closely resembled. In fact, it's so wildly dense that it's hard just to get it past your lips, since it almost feels like attempting to swallow a very large, cup-shaped blob whole. It sticks to your lips and the skin all around it, forming a layer of residue that clings desperately to your face, adding self-consciousness to the negative feelings you're already feeling. A chalky aftertaste that smells vaguely of Play-Doh accompanied each sip, and I had to literally force myself to allow the substance to slide its globby self down my throat. What made it even worse than that was that it wasn't a smooth slide -- the Barium required serious gulping as glob after glob was pushed down into my stomach. The idea of letting this nasty feeling repeat repelled me, but I had no choice, since the absolute worst part of it all is that you're asked to basically chug it down.

I've never been much of a chugger. I drink a margarita every hour, and it takes me eons to get through a glass of wine. I'm a savorer, and I like to eat things and thing about them and roll the feeling and flavor around in my mouth a little bit. So being asked to slam down a cup of glue was not only insanely vile, but against my nature.

Ironically, at first glance, the technicians said my pictures looked pretty normal ... same as the ultrasound doctor had said about my stomach scan, which he had (hilariously, to me ... not so much to other doctors) proclaimed "grossly normal," as if it were a disappointment.

Anyhow, all I can do at this point is to hope that they figure out wtf is wrong with me. A clean bill of health is normally a good thing, but when you know something's wrong and no one knows what that "something" is, and you keep spending $40 at a time to be told, "Yes, that's very strange -- I've never seen such a thing," being proclaimed healthy gets old.

Until then, I'm on my fourth week of being off coffee, wine, alcohol, too much sugar, too much vinegar, tomatoes, onions, broccoli, and other things that used to make my life awesome. *Sigh.*

Friday, January 22, 2010

Man v. Food

*Update: As of Thursday, Food Network is back!

Sad story for y'all:

Once upon a time, in a pretty house on Long Island's South Shore, there lived a foodie couple who loved food and home renovations. Their TVs were 95% of the time tuned to channels devoted to those two things, as their daily lives were accompanied by Iron Chefs and House Hunters.

Then one day, after a New Year's out in Brooklyn, they returned to their cozy home, turned on the TV, and were greeted with dead air and a catty message from their big, bad cable company, stating that their good friends HGTV and Food Network were pulled from the lineup, due to Scripps Network's demands for higher pay.

It has now been nearly a month now, as the messages spewed by both Cablevision and Scripps become cattier and cattier, all while Cablevision customers throughout Long Island continue to pay high cable rates to not watch channels everyone else has access to (i.e. DirecTV and Dish subscribers). Cablevision claims that Scripps is being unreasonable since they've requested a rate increase of $20 million. Put in perspective, that's chump change per viewer, and still within a reasonable payment range as other companies pay it. Also, in light of a last year's revelation that the CEO of Cablevision received a $15.9 million pay package in 2008, it seems awfully unreasonable for Long Islanders to have to suffer without their buddies, Chef Morimoto, Bobby Flay, Alton Brown, Mario Batali, Guy Fieri, and others.

However, I've recently found my way back to the channels that, although less focused on the fun factor of cuisine, talk about travels and food that comes from such travels. I speak, of course, of the Travel Channel!

I'd watched Anthony Bourdain's show, No Reservations, often enough in my life to know that I like it. Boy doesn't so much, mostly because Bourdain approaches his travels as the Everyman, and expresses enthusiasm for simple meals and home-cooked entrees, leaving no sign that he's the accomplished badass chef he is.

I like it. Rustic food is good, rich, and hearty. You can't eat teeny tiny zucchinis all day long, after all.

Anyway, the Travel Channel also has another show that I've gotten very enthusiastic, and has introduced me to basically a man of my heart: Adam Richman.

The premise of his show, Man v. Food, is a simple one: man (Richman) must conquer exorbitant quantities or unrealistically spiced food. Not a trained competitive eater, this endearing gentleman proceeds to devour rich, greasy, fantastic types and amounts of food as he travels about the country in search of plate sizes that would fell lesser men by simple appearance at the table.

Adam Richman is adorable, in my book. The reasons to love this native Brooklynite are many:
  1. His logo is awesome. Seriously, a man in a helmet punching a drumstick in a boxing ring. It really doesn't get better than this.
  2. He can eat more than me. I respect that.
  3. He doesn't edit out his tears when spiciness proceeds to kick his ass, and makes no bones about the consequences of such conquests. Respect.
  4. He doesn't give a rat's ass about being a messy eater. This makes me feel good inside, like my perpetual spilling and staining is acceptable, provided I can eat copious amounts in minimal time. I can handle this stipulation.
  5. He doesn't care about getting food all up in his face. Eyebrows, hair, chin, cheeks, ears ... it's all gravy. Again, respect.
  6. He has these huge sad brown eyes. I like Bambi eyes.
  7. He has floppy hair that flops a lot in his enthusiasm to consume. Aww.
  8. He's really funny. No, seriously. Cracks me up. Silly in an endearing way, that you just want to pinch his barbeque-sauced cheeks and high-five his greasy ham-hands when he pumps his fist in triumph.
And so, at least one thing has emerged from this debacle with Cablevision: a love affair with a man after my own heart. I want to eat stuff with him, all day long.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Epicurean Adventures: Southern-ish in Sayville

I, if I may say so myself, am an exceptionally understanding wife. Other husbands have told me so as they listen enviously to the independent activities I allow Boy. My only requirement for when Boy goes on solo expeditions with other Boys is that upon his return, he feed me, and do it well.

Two weeks after he went skiing in upstate New York, he finally decided to make good on that promise, and we got in the car and decided to drive down Main Street in Sayville (artfully portrayed here by painter Peter Tartaglia) in search of grub. Our local little village-type area, this cute downtown-y strip has bitty bars, kitschy shops, locally-owned restaurants, and other good things that happen when things are old and densely populated.

We were originally going to head in the other direction, toward East Islip's smaller downtown section which had a Meson Ole, but Boy missed the turn and so we headed east. We passed by a few bars, but I wasn't in a bar-food kind of mood, and but a cute, distinctively Texan sign caught our eye, and we decided to try the Armadillo Grille.

At first, I was afraid that this restaurant was a chain. The branding was too professional, the interior too Texas lodge-y, and the menu too well-printed. I was relieved when a waitress walked past and her shirt only listed two addresses for the venue.

When you first walk in, there's a big rock siding wall, and the most brightly lit bar I've ever been in greets your eye, stretching down the hardwood floored room. It's not that the light was glaring, but it certainly allowed an unmistakable view at your drinkmates, which I just thought was interesting. A large fireplace is situated on the far end of the dining room, and sticky-looking, high-gloss wooden tables came with a full brown roll of paper towels. We were in business.

We were immediately served fresh tortilla chips, light and airy, crispy and warm. I'm a huge sucker for house-made tortilla chips and I dug in, not regretting for a moment that I kept scratching up my already cut roof 0f mouth. (I'd say that's another story, but I honestly don't know how I acquired this particular injury.) The salsa was different, similar to Meson Ole's in that it was thick without being chunky, and sweet. It was sweeter than Meson Ole's, and tastier, too, but it did take a little getting used to from the tangy Tostitos style and the pico de gallo style I'm more accustomed to.

The food ended up being extremely buttery -- tasty, but a bit rich. I ordered a shrimp fajita burrito -- but being the pain in the ass I am and missing Felipe's Taqueria as much as I have been -- with fried instead of grilled shrimp, and with sour cream. I decided to be relatively good and ordered the marinated grilled vegetables as my side.

The shrimp fajita burrito was good, well-seasoned, but it lacked that "fresh" quality that goes with crisper innards. The vegetables were nicely caramelized, but I was looking for a crunchier sensation rather than a butter-coated one. The breading on the shrimp was definitely different than my beloved Felipe's, but the size of them was good. But then again, when you pay $16 for a burrito and sides, you best hope the shrimp is of decent proportions!

Boy asked to try a cornbread muffin, which was crusty and sweet as cornbread muffins ought to be, but it wasn't anything special. Give me a muffin from Jacques-imo's anyday!

He ordered the pulled meat sandwich, which was a sloppy fork-and-knifer of a job, with pulled pork and pulled chicken mixed together and served on a hoagie roll. It was good, the barbeque sauce being neither too sweet nor tangy, but as Boy pointed out, it wasn't altogether authentic, either. But whatever -- this was only about $10 or so.

The pulled meat sandwich also came with a side, and Boy wisely chose the mac and cheese, which was gooey and fabulous. Now THIS is a dish that doesn't suffer from over-buttering.

Long story short, it wasn't bad, but it wasn't awesome. Would I go back? Meh ... maybe. Would I ever get a burrito here again? Unlikely, but I WOULD probably try the other stuff.

Anyway, there's just so much more exploring left to do to return to an okay spot.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Epicurean Adventures: Second Breakfast's the Charm!

Boy and I spent an absolutely fantastic New Year's Eve in Green Point, Brooklyn, bar-hopping with the same sidewalk-stumbling abandon that we were accustomed to in our beloved New Orleans, but with a bit more bite to our frosty inhalations than of the New Year's Eve past. We rang it in with great food and great friends at Teddy's, a favorite of our favorite Brooklynite power couple, with the most faboosh mac-and-cheese (with salad), clams (it was still raved about by Boy over breakfast the next morning), mussels, and beautifully spiced, tender calamari with tangy Remoulade sauce. Champagne toasts all around, wine flowed, tequila abounded, and vodka was our friend all night. So obviously, by the time the next morning arrived, we were desperate for the greasy goodness of a hearty breakfast.

We walked up the block to Enid's, a hipster/scenester-friendly restaurant regularly frequented by the residents in this residential neighborhood, for its convenience and what, my friend tells me, is a generally reliable menu. We arrived 10 minutes before its noon opening time, and went back home to try to persuade our friend, who had passed out fully clothed with his tie still in a snazzy full Windsor, to come join us, failed, and returned. After sitting down, we realized that their normal breakfast fare was replaced by a "New Year's Brunch." Initially, the options sounded pretty good. They had crabcakes and eggs for $13; sausage, biscuits, and gravy for $7 a half-order; mac and cheese with lardon and a salad for $8. The prices seemed pretty reasonable, and the soaring ceilings with kitschy decorations and a brightly lit bar made for a funky ambience. Bloody Marys and mimosas were served to the more hardcore of our team; I drank tea.

My lovely hostess ordered something that included the word chilenos and tortillas in it (nuevo huevos rancheros, or a variation thereof?) and I got the mac and cheese with lardon. It'd been a good long time since I'd had me some tasty lardon. The boys, after peering about interestedly at other people's dishes, decided to order the sausage, biscuits and gravy. Boy had lived in New Orleans long enough to realize that sausage + biscuits + gravy was a good thing, and my other friend was also a Tulane grad, thus in the know. As for Jared, well, when in Rome, eh?

The Bloody Mary was bar/laundromat/grill/lending library Igor's good, if not better, spicy and rich, and so I expected everything else to be delicious, too. Well, there's a reason that Enids is a bar by night, since even though the line had swelled to gargantuan proportions since we sat down, it was a disappointment of hipster proportions.

Boy's conversation when kind of like this:
Boy: Hm ... I think they gave me the vegetarian option. Does anyone else have any sausage, 'cause there's no sausage in mine.
All: *Shake heads.* No sausage.
Boy: Excuse me, miss? *Signals the waitress.* Umm ... I don't think there's any sausage in here ...
Waitress: Sure there is. *Grabs Boy's fork and begins to cut through the biscuit.* I'm sure it's in there. It's just cut up real small!
Boy: *Looks at her, flabbergasted. The biscuit is white as snow.*
Waitress: *Continues to stab at the biscuit determinedly.* See? It's right there! *Holds up a gravy-coated, long shape triumphantly and leaves.*
Boy: Uh ... that's a green bean, guys. *Scrapes off gravy.* Yep, definitely a string bean.

So that left several mysteries. For instance, where was the elusive sausage? Why was the gravy not even room temperature? Why were the biscuits so hard in the middle? And why, for the love of God, was there a string bean in the biscuit?!

Thinking that this breakfast was the only option and loathe to send back food, especially when hungry, Boy and Jared powered through their sad, sausage-less biscuits, but my other friend sent his back untouched. My lovely friend who'd taken us there apologetically sent her tiny appetizer sized bowl of six nacho chips and a mess of sour cream and beans (no eggs, by the way) back, too, which goes to show how unpleasant the food was, given that these two were the only ones of us that had put in serious, hard time in the restaurant industry as servers and bartenders both.

I, on the other hand, was the only one that managed to enjoy my meal. Spring greens tossed in a light house vinaigrette with little radishes (I left those on the plate) and sweetly toasted sunflower seeds were light and refreshing, and although my mac and cheese wasn't the best, it also wasn't the worst. Fatty pork does a lot to redeem food, I must say, and thick cubes of bacon are always good in my book. Unfortunately, my food was barely even warm, too, and the lardon was a bit too hard. So it was with distinct pleasure that I boxed the remainder of my meal up when my Brooklynite friend announced we were going to try this breakfast thing again.

We then walked through a lovely park and down a couple of blocks to return to the scene of the crimes of the night before, Teddy's. It was here that breakfast was done right, with a brunch menu, a breakfast menu, and a lunch menu, all with appetizing options that made it hard to move forward with our lives as we stared hard and urged a decision to jump out at us.

After much deliberation and threat of tears, the table ordered some Eggs Benedict, Crab Cakes Benedict, Huevos Ancheros (not to be confused with popular Rancheros, which I fell in love with at Surrey's Cafe and Juice Bar of New Orleans), some other form of Mexican style eggs involving salsa, Canadian bacon, and other goodies, and beer for the troopers. The prices were astonishingly low, the Benedicts costing a shocking $8, and service was awesome. Our hardworking waitress was the one that served us the night before, and she treated us to a bottle of Proseco to start the new year off right. (After all, she did still owe us a round for our answering a question right on the contest last night ... even if we DID cheat ;-)

The potatoes were big chunks of red potatoes tossed with paprika, rosemary, and sauteed
onions, and filled half the plate. The eggs for the Eggs Benedict and Crab Cakes Benedict were actually poached the right way (vinegar and water), the yolks breaking in a luscious cascade over the English muffin bases. The crab cakes were made of mostly claw meat, but high quality claw meat, and had excellent flavor; the Canadian bacon was outstanding, perfectly and mildly salty, but mostly delectably sweet.

The Ancheros ended up being a fluffy unflipped scrambled egg omelet topped with black beans and salsa with a base made of a hard corn tortilla; it was almost as if it were a Mexican breakfast pizza, if such a crazy mix of cultures could be said to be. Anchero sauce topped the salsa and beans, and a healthy dollop of sour cream and some of the freshest guacamole I've ever had the pleasure to taste (not even being a huge fan of le guac) sat dividing the potatoes and the huge spread-out eggs.

And THAT was how breakfast SHOULD have started.

But on the upside, isn't it always better to start every year with a great story?

560 Manhattan Ave.
Brooklyn, NY

Teddy's Bar
96 Berry Street
Brooklyn, NY

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Epicurean Adventures: A (n Eating) Spree Grows in Brooklyn

As anyone that knows me -- well, at all -- can confirm, I am not a suburban girl. No way, no how. The ample parking only does so much to placate me when another ugly strip mall is erected, and is exactly why I choose not to frequent areas within a certain radius of any Walmarts. The lack of sidewalks confuses me (where do I walk?!), the Cape Cods and 1970s colonial houses make me depressed (oh, how I miss peeking in through the heavy draperies of Garden District Victorians and Mediterranean style manors of New Orleans ...), and having to drive everywhere makes me cringe (ahh, carbon footprint! Carbon footprint!). And so, even though I love my sleepy little hamlet of Oakdale and its sweeping river views and stately McMansions, it's a relief to get out of the gray-rimmed suburbs, commercial buildings and roads outlining the borders, and into a city.

With a big breath of relief, Boy and I made our way out to Green Point, Brooklyn this past New Year's Eve, to spend the holiday with native Brooklynites and Tulane college friends.

Now you may exclaim, "Wtf?! You complain about gray suburbs to go to Brooklyn?!" But this actually makes sense. I've always been more comfortable in cities, with their close-set buildings, tall towers, and colorful schemes and architecture. The bold reds, rusty golds, deep greens, and other fabulous, rich earth tones are everywhere, and now, as Brooklyn continues to rise in stature as one of the most desirable areas in the country, interesting shapes and the Tiffany blue of frosted glass abounds. Parks and playgrounds are scattered about, and people walk their dogs, exchanging friendly hellos. There's something about a suburb that makes people less friendly, although the crime rate is always higher in a city due to the high volume of people, interestingly enough.

Anyway, you're here for the food; not the stories. So I'll get back to it.

We arrived in Green Point, Brooklyn on New Year's Eve after a series of mishaps mostly involving Boy's refusal to drive back into our driveway from the street and retrieve my navigation system and our friend Jared's apparent inability to tell time. It was requested that we bring dessert, which we had planned on picking up before leaving the island. I'd hoped we could go to my favorite bakery, Benkert's, and get a lovely cake, since man, do I love me some lovely cake. However, due to Jared's extreme lateness, this was a no-go.

The reason the cake-buying was put off until the day of was twofold: a) Boy thinks Edible Arrangements are not tacky (they are, and thank God they ended up being ridiculously, unjustifiably expensive or I would have been shamed in front of all my friends by bringing overpriced melons in the shape of "flowers") and b) Boy thought he could get one the day of a holiday (he couldn't anyway, which sadly, says too much about suburban taste ...).

Anyway, off we went with snow on the ground and cake at the shop ... yet to be purchased. Oops.

Fortunately, one of our detours took us through an area of Brooklyn where we had a choice of Spanish or Chinese bakeries. We stopped off at a Chinese one (it had a parking spot in front of it) and I picked out the only cake design in the case.

Chinese cake is very different from American cake in many ways. It's not very sweet, for one, since the Chinese are salty/savory people and tend not to have too much of a sweet tooth, culturally. A spongy, light-tasting sponge cake (how apt of a name) is used instead of the usual crumbling yellow cake, and frosting is found only in a whipped cream flavor. Sometimes, you can get a vanilla-y whipped cream flavor. But normally, you get whipped cream.

Choices in filling are also limited to a fruit medley mixed in whipped cream, which may include anything from pineapples to Asian pears to mangos to melons. The top of the cake? Also decorated with fresh fruit, but usually melon balls and ripe strawberries. We didn't have any kiwis on ours, but this picture was the most demonstrative I could find, considering that ours got eaten too fast for pictures to occur.

The cake I got had a bit of a chocolate drape on it, but not very much, which suited me just fine, and since I feel that cakes with writing on it are kitschy and festive, allowed the girl to write Happy New Year (in English - Chinese wasn't even an option, since I was obviously very much an ABC) in gel on it. (Sidenote: Also, Chinese cakes have writing in gel. It's a little weird and gooey.) Unfortunately, as I was walking out the door with my $15-for-a-10-inch prize, a girl walked in with a tray of three of the cakes. *Sigh.*

Anyway, this cake was a success, since, as it ends up, our friends are in agreement that a) Edible Arrangements are tacky in a distinctly non-fabulous way and that b) fruit cake is good (? Me, personally -- I prefer buttercream hot messes on top of moist yellow cake). This made for a great finish for what was the star of the night, a one-pot meal that blew our frickin minds.

Our Green Point friends were of Polish heritage, having immigrated here as young children, and brought with them (along with a super-slick sounding language that leaves me fazed) an incredible knowledge of Eastern European cooking styles and dishes. Never have I ever eaten potato pancakes like the ones they've made us, nor stews with the power to induce eye-rolling ecstasy as theirs do. Slow simmered with love and a whole lot of patience (the latter being very, very different than the school of cooking I've always been accustomed to), we were treated to a delightful feast upon our arrival.

The apartment was filled with steam and succulent scents when we entered, rich flavors blending in the air like smoke for an opium-eater. My mouth instantly started to water, and it was with excitement that I dug into the salads they already had ready. Crisp Romaine hearts with fresh mozzarella, thinly-sliced prosciutto, and fresh tomatoes drizzled in balsamic vinegar whetted our appetites as fresh potatoes were mashed in a large pot with some sour cream.

As the asparagus steamed, well-trimmed beef short ribs continued to simmer off the bone in a gorgeously layered pot of hearty stew, tender carrots, celery, and onions mixing beautifully with the beef broth and a full bottle of red wine.

With that, the end of 2009 was off to a great start.

The first meal of 2010, on the other hand, was off to a much less delightful one, and makes for an awesome story that I plan to share in my next post. Stick around.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Sad Sadness In My Belly

Every time I come on here, I take a step back and go, "Gee, has it really been THAT long?"

Unfortunately, the answer always seems to be a resounding yes. And yet, I've eaten so much since my last post!

Christmas came and went, with spiral ham, penne a la vodka, fresh bread, rainbow cookies, pignolis, tilapia, creamed spinach, lasagna, honey glazed ribs, and other forms of delicious. In fact, three Christmases came and went, considering that dinners were consumed at both Boy's mom's, his dad's, and my own parents' place.

Unfortunately, part of the reason posting has been so much less frequent than days of yore, other than my obnoxiously draining personal life (I actually cried last night from being overexhausted ... wtf?!) is also because I haven't been eating and enjoying the act of eating that much as of late, which is essentially hell on earth for me, considering that I'm probably one of the most food-obsessed people one could ever meet.

Apparently, according to online forums, I have some kind of incurable disease that's a blend of acid reflux and convoluted hiccups. It's making me dizzy, lightheaded, and afraid to eat with the abandon and zeal to which I am accustomed. So I've been trying to be good for fear of hurting myself.

Gut, we were once such good friends. What happened?

I guess the doctor will tell me in a week when all my tests come back in. *Sigh.*

In the meantime, let us discuss new year's and its epicurean festivities soon.