Cucumbers: is there anything they can’t do? When I was young, both my mother and my grandfather used to make a simple cucumber salad to pair with summer meals: cukes and red onions, lightly pickled in a sweetened vinegar solution. Crisp and refreshing, I was always over the moon whenever it was placed before me — they were cucumbers, after all. So I was overjoyed when I found the familiar slices in large glass bowls at several hotel breakfast buffets when I visited Israel years later, as a young adult. There, they were paired with bright red bell peppers, a beautiful and perfect addition to an already perfect side. I made this salad religiously for months after I returned stateside, and then, for no discernible reason, forgot about it for months — maybe occasionally years — at a time. With the heat of summer already upon us but no fresh kirby cucumbers available for raw consumption or true quick pickling, this oldie-but goodie is in order. Continue reading →
Of all the amazing things about Astoria’s food scene, the one thing it seems to be lacking is ice cream. In Jersey City, there was an ice cream shop literally around the corner from my apartment. I have fond memories of lightly stepping down the steps of my stoop into the barely cool summer night air with my roommate, in our pajamas, for a cone of amazingly intense, creamy chocolate peanut butter or cookies and mint minutes before the family-owned Torico closed for the evening. Astoria is dotted with frozen yogurts-on-the-wall, but good ice cream or gelato is, as yet, impossible to come by. A new gelato place opened down the block from me over the winter, and a friend and I finally tried it last week on one of the first insanely hot days of the season, with high yet guarded hopes. While it was charming for its bare decor and nearly silent European proprietor, the gelato was just sad. Gelato is supposed to be dense, creamy, and packed with flavor. This was the opposite: some whipped concoction that was instead packed with sugar to mask its lack of flavor. The strawberry, after two bites, had an almost artificial taste. I was reminded, again, that if good ice cream were to be had in this town, it would have to be made in my kitchen.
This balsamic roasted strawberry gelato has everything I want in an ice cream: it is impossibly creamy without being weighted down by the fat of a typical American ice cream. Its flavor is completely unmasked by the higher milk-to-cream ratio, intensified by slow-roasting strawberries with balsamic vinegar and maple syrup. It’s sweet, but not too sweet. The strawberry, instead, takes center stage. Pure but ramped up on balsamic-induced steroids. Continue reading →
Sometimes, lo and behold, I get a little tired of pasta, and instead get a hankering for risotto. Creamy and indulgent, short-grain Arborio rice grains soaking up wine and broth and whatever flavorings have been sautéed and toasted on the bottom of my pan. What stops me is the notion that risotto is time consuming, risotto is difficult, risotto is easily-mess-up-able. Is it more time consuming that spaghetti with garlic and olive oil? Yes. Is it difficult? Hell no. Forget about standing over the stove stirring five cups of stock slowly, oh so slowly, into your risotto. Cook’s Illustrated has a no-fuss method and we’re never going back. What better way to give it a test run than with a lovely, allium-rich late spring risotto?
Hear ye, hear ye! There are local strawberries at the NYC farmer’s markets! Thank the fruit gods, that rhubarb bridge really did bring us to summer sweets, and more quickly than I had imagined. I had gone to the Union Square Greenmarket last Friday for asparagus and ramps for an upcoming risotto I’m cooking up, but there was no way I was forgoing those gorgeous scarlet gems when I stumbled upon them. And the Pennsylvania farmer who prominently displayed them (the only one that day) took credit cards, which solved my “I only brought $15” conundrum, hallelujah. Six dollars for one pint and $10 for two wouldn’t be a bargain for giant strawberries trucked from across the country, but for small, sweet, tender berries grown locally and only just picked, that $10 was money well-spent. I brought them home after a couple of hours walking around downtown, and when I removed them from the bag I was reminded how delicate local berries can be. They needed to be consumed or baked into something lovely, stat. Good thing the fella and I were going to my baby nephew’s (um, and brother and sister-in-law’s) house for pizza Friday. Why yes, I would make us some strawberry balsamic basil hand pies for dessert.
It’s easy to get tucked into the cradle of comfort in the kitchen: bake the same things over and over, use tried and true recipes in your back pocket or from the very best food bloggers or cookbook authors. Tweak nothing. Why diverge from what works, has always worked, has been proven to work? But when you want to turn your favorite oatmeal into cookies, tried and true doesn’t always translate. So this week, with a little time on my hands, I experimented with versions 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 of peaches and cream oatmeal cookies.
Spring has finally arrived: the sun is out this week, and rhubarb has been spotted — and picked through and procured — at the Union Square Greenmarket. “O, frabjous day! Callooh, callay!” she chortled in her joy. But what to do with these nearly neon pinky-green, celery-like stalks? Especially when trucked-in, beat-up strawberries are still upwards of $6 or $7 at the supermarket? Can rhubarb stand alone? The answer, unabashedly, is yes. And with a sweet, crackly, crumbly crisp envelope and a touch of orange, they shine as brightly as that sun out there. Continue reading →
This isn’t a post about moms. The ones who wake in the middle of the night at your slightest cough or gasp from a nightmare. The ones who schlep from one end of town to another, to the next town, and back again, for figure skating lessons, violin lessons, piano lessons, general shenanigans. The ones who give in and get you a cat when you’re six years old, have you jumping around your living room with your brother at the thought of bringing home a tiny grey kitten-friend. The ones who hold your hand as you wade through life’s murky waters, are okay with a phone call in the middle of the day while they’re at work just because you’re bored or lonely or wondering what to do about a weird burn. The ones who teach you “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” The ones who are there for you, every single moment of every single day, without you ever having to ask, because being a mom means being completely selfless.
No, this isn’t about that. My mom hates coconut, and I did not plan very well this week. This weekend I’m making my mom key lime pie, but this post is really about Coconut Banana Nut Muffins. After all, Mom did teach me to listen to my body and eat the things I crave.
I’m having another one of those weeks: spending lots of time at work thinking creatively and then expending all that energy before I get home. I have a terrible case of writer’s block. I’m also feeling more and more like my commute is one of the things that’s killing me: It generally takes an hour, door to door, but often much more when the MTA is having a bad day. Some of that time I spend reading the news on my New York Times app or a good book when I have one, a lot of that time I had spent through the winter knitting cute baby things for my cute baby nephew, but mostly, I’m standing, stuck in between people who are as miserable as I am, holding onto gross poles that are still warm from other people’s hands, as we inch through darkened tunnels and try our best not to breathe on each other or look at each other. By the time I get home, I just want to rinse myself of the day, of that time wasted expending the energy needed to stand yet doing absolutely nothing but staring ahead, and do — absolutely nothing. I’m exhausted. I’m parched. And I should probably spend more time doing writing exercises so this kind of thing doesn’t happen.
Let’s try it: train. plane. propane. proton. pluton. neutron. noodle. doodle — wait! What was that in there? Noodle? How about spaghetti? Wait! Instead of writing the other day I spent a stupid amount of time watching Beyonce’s brilliant Lemonade. Spaghetti with lemons? And basil? And shallots? And cream? And parm? Ooh! Bing, there it is. Yes, let’s talk about Spaghetti al Limone — one of the greatest, simplest one-pot suppers ever to grace this little corner of Astoria. Continue reading →
Last week, we welcomed my nephew into the world: a tiny, pink, strong bundle of love who moves as if he were underwater, looks at us as if trying to understand, then closes his eyes to process where he is, what he’s seen, what he’s felt. I’ve been spending a lot of time wondering what he’s thinking, how his wires are translating his surroundings, the love, the touch of his beautiful, amazing mother and his wonderful father — my brother, now a dad. It’s made me think about life as a continuum, life as stars — tiny specks of light that take generations to reach the eye. The idea that we never truly die if we leave something behind: writing, wisdom, life, knowledge.
So I thought it was only appropriate when we gathered as a family at their apartment after my brother and sister-in-law returned home with their new little life, to bring them our great-grandma’s coffee cake — my mom’s staple, her last-minute dessert, so simple and satisfying in its ease. But at the same time, I wanted to give it a new twist to celebrate the newest generation in our family. And thus was also born cardamom coffee cake. Continue reading →
If you were to ask me what my number one, go-to, last-minute pasta dish is, I wouldn’t hesitate to say spaghetti aglio e olio. If you were to ask me what my number one, go-to, ridiculously-easy, don’t-feel-like-standing-in-front-of-the-stove pasta dish is, I would say this: Marcella Hazan’s four-ingredient tomato sauce. Continue reading →