How Perfect

It seems ironic — to a large degree — that I would be writing about a near perfect day, seeing as yesterday was anything but perfect. But the good days have to come with the bad, and there are some days that work out perfectly. Or almost perfectly, seeing as perfection is all but attainable.

Start: a wake up call from the rising sun through my window to which I see crisp blue skies and a few birds flying by. Note: yes this day is going to sound over the top with details such as “a few birds flying by” and yes, they are all true. Note: I didn’t prepare for such a perfect day so the pictures are limited. Enjoy the words.

Finding a cup of coffee already made out in my kitchen, I strapped on my running gear and headed out into the beautiful Brooklyn day for a seven mile run around neighborhoods and through Prospect Park, which was comfortably full of runners, joggers, walkers, talkers, bikers, players, loungers, and horses. Pause.

Restart: A nice shower and a clean room at my fingertips, I headed out with my roomie to find my new guilty pleasure at the little local coffee shop on the border of Bedstuy and Clinton Hill: a chai latte with a shot of espresso. Dirty Chai, she called out and I laughed at the name, and ordered one for myself.

The uncapped chai-coffee lasted maybe two blocks on our walk to a mecca of relaxation deep into Bedstuy: a closed spa (50 dollars for an hour long massage ain’t nothing to sneeze at), hair salon, café/brunch spot, and a Candela store. Perfection.

We didn’t tend to our appearances, rather we ate brunch at this café which was named none other than the “Biggie Bedstuy Brunch.” Belgium waffle, turkey bacon, cheesy eggs, maple syrup, two coffees. We listened to good music and talked about new neighborhoods to which to move. I laughed too loud a few times and made the counter person look my way. After a delicious brunch, and buying a piece of their carrot cake (which was about three pounds of cake) for the later times, we headed out and I met up with a dear friend to walk around Park Slope and find a place to sit and talk and catch up and plan and.

We tried a few coffee shops but, anywhere and everywhere in Park Slope is nonstop laptop-ville. Honestly we walked into three places only to find twenty or thirty people with twenty or thirty computers, staring, listening to music, “working.”

On ward ho! We made it to café Grumpy in Park Slope which does a delicious pour over and a wonderful Flat White (like a cappuccino or cortado but less milk and more foam).  Note: carrot cake still in hand.

Two hours later, after telling stories and the like, I had to book it back to Fort Greene to set up a CSA distribution. Carrots and Parsnips and Beets and Celeriac and Rutabaga and Spinach and Onions and Garlic and Potatoes were on the menu this time. So for that, I sat at the bar, drank a glass of red wine and made little recipe cards. Soups! Next time, maybe some coconut milk kale. Note: carrot cake still in hand.

The distribution closed early, so I headed out to meet up with an infant weekly supper club with a friend from years ago. We had the hardest of times trying to figure out a place to go. Our conclusion? The Dutch in Soho. It’s delicious with an amazingly vibrant space.

We didn’t have any reservations, but we charged our way through to the bar and waited for a table. Only four sips into an amazing rum-bitters-orange drink were we being asked to sit in a corner table overlooking the whole bar area. Perfect.

The menu was unreal. Lauren and I tried to narrow it down, but really we could only take like three things off the menu. Instead, we decided to do two fried oyster sliders, one appetizer, two seconds, and…. Two desserts.

Note: Lauren and I aren’t what you would call big eaters at first glance. The waitress didn’t flinch and wished us luck. We drove through every bite.

Three hours after we sat down, and steak tartar with romaine, quail egg, olives, homemade Caesar, and short rib pot roast with golden turnips, stout and caraway and red wine reduction pan sauce, and beautiful halibut with yuzu butter sauce, tobiko, winter garden vegetables, and sour cream apple pie with walnut ice cream, and toffee cake with a grapefruit glaze that I want to recreate later, we reveled in the fact that we didn’t need reservations, and just had a symphony of flavors from drinks to oysters through to dessert to the fact that we had sat there long enough o have digested some of the food and not felt too full.

Hopping on the subway home after making sure that we were going to do that again next Monday, to make the day more perfect, I stumbled on the same car as my roommate. I wore her hat, and we told each other about the day and spoke too loudly and accumulated some stares and didn’t stop talking until we parted ways in our kitchen.

How. Perfect.

 

 

 

Thanksgiving: The Day Cooks Love (Or Fear)

Text: “How was your fantastic food holiday”

Message: “I’ve been waiting for your post.”

Question: “So, what’d you eat on Thanksgiving?”

It might be just the American thing to do: ask about that holiday where we gorge ourselves and delight and laugh at the fullness we feel, let alone and sometimes separate from the satiation that is ubiquitous throughout homes warmed by ovens cooking turkey at 350 for 3-6 hours. Or, it might be the fact that I think about, talk about, write about, take pictures of food twentyfourseven. Whatever.

To answer those questions: My fantastic food holiday was splendid. It was wonderful and full of family (not all of my family, unfortunately, since we’re all spread out across the country trying to take over, but of course!) and friends and going to the grocery store and stocking up, and writing down lists and trying to time the cooking procedures just right and working well with Nancy in the kitchen and the oven not working the night before and making ice cream that might not be ice cream rather just frozen milk fats surrounding brandy… it was ridiculous.

Thanksgiving is such a strange holiday for me. It’s one of those days that I feel drawn to the home so that I can really flex my culinary muscles – it’s a day that centers around my passion, so why wouldn’t I love every second of it? I get to go to the grocery store, fight through the hoards of people in line for a turkey, go to the wine shop to pick out a nice red to couple well with those few sides that people may or may not focus on, then come home, blast the oven, turn on the open flame, and zone out to the sizzling, whispering, steaming food in front of me.

It’s also the holiday that I feel most comfortable being away from home, strangely enough. In the past 8 years, I’ve spent 4 of them abroad or away from the home. It’s a nice challenge, it’s a nice reminder of home, when it’s so far away.

But this year. THIS year. This YEAR! I’m home. I’m on the path to turning my kitchen official. I’m making money so that I can splurge on that nice cheese to make the squash casserole just that much deeper, that much better. This year was great.

On the menu, dear readers all anxiously awaiting:

Turkey Prepared according to Saveur’s recommendation (including letting the bird sit in the refrigerator for two days, to “dry out” the skin to create oh-so-moist meat)

Grandma Slappin’ Good Stuffing (non-vegetarian, folks)

Homemade, not-so-bitter Cranberry Sauce

Butternut Squash Bake (or casserole, whatever nomenclature you prefer)

Mashed Potatoes (mmm Half n’ Half abound!)

Not Slimey, Not Bitter, Not disgusting Collard Greens

Brussels Sprouts cooked in a Wok. Who knew?

Braised Carrots

Gravy (please pass the water glass, it’s that good)

No Biscuits… sad face emoticon

Rye Whiskey Ice Cream

Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust

Spicy Pumpkin Pie

Since the Recipes would take up another four pages, let me choose some of the favorites:

Nancy’s Stuffing:

It’s a secret, how annoying.

 

Collard Greens (that won’t make you run to the garbage)

In order of appearance

6 Strips of bacon

Cook these strips, cut in half, for about 5 minutes over medium-high heat

Olive Oil – a splash(ish)

2 big ol’ handfuls of Collards (they’ll cook down)

Salt  (to taste)

Pepper (enough so that you can see it on the collards)

1 package of chestnuts

1 White (or red) onion, chopped (or diced, whatever floats your life-vest)

Add all of this to the bacon, and let it cook together, over medium-low heat, for about 45 minutes. It won’t get too soggy, I promise (there’s no real liquid in there, remember)

Add a couple swigs of maple syrup 10 minutes before you’re done cooking the greens. More if you like them sweet, less if you like them not as sweet.

Total, the flame should be kissing the bottom of your cast iron (or other pan) for about an hour and five to an hour and ten minutes.

If you let them cool, and save some for tomorrow, then they’ll be even sweeter and more tender. Just sayin, they go quite nicely on a “next day sandwich.”

Hide Your Face, It’s Andong.

Winter has never come up in a conversation about “the best seasons to travel in,” but as of late, I have been doing a lot of winter traveling. I guess most people shy away from the idea of walking around a new place, outside, in the bitter cold, hoping that the circulation continues to flow to all extremities. I would normally shy away too, but Korea has so much to explore – both gastronomically and historically – that it’s hard to pass up a weekend without getting out somewhere. That somewhere could be a museum in the hustle and bustle of the city, or a small town in the mountains boasting a delicious culinary feast. Normally, as you’d guess, I opt for the food frenzy.

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From Ground to Chopsticks: The Secret Ingredient

Nights like tonight, when – for some untold reason – I am wired into the late hours of the night are what made me an experimental cook. This un-bed-able energy, back in high school, came from being on my feet and serving people delicious Thai food for five or six hours. I guess I would be so hyped up from dealing with people, I wouldn’t be able to just crash, I needed a decompression. A winding down.

I found this relaxation period through one medium, and two outlets. The medium being food. The outlets being baking or Food Network. I never said I was a normal high school student, but this might be a bit extreme. Hopped up on restaurant energy and full of coconut milk from my almost-authentic Thai dinner, I would drive home jamming out to bad pop music, thinking about what baked good I was going to whip up in the hour of adrenaline I had left. Scones. Muffins. Cookies. Cakes. Crème Brule. You know, the usual for a seventeen-year-old high school student.

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Recovery; Or Taking Stock

Q: How are you? How have you been? How was Thanksgiving? How is the whole North Korea situation? These are all stock questions that have been buzzing in my emails, letters, and skype conversations as of late. All of them rightfully so; I have been out of the United States now for one-third of a year, Thanksgiving did just happen, and North Korea has gotten a little uppity recently.

A: I’ve been good, keeping busy by running, writing, reading, catching up on movies from time to time, finding new holes-in-the-wall around Seoul, and planning trips skiing, to Japan, Russia, and Thailand. Thanksgiving was spectacular both in the food and company departments and North Korea’s attacks on South Korea about two weeks ago didn’t really affect Seoul in the least. It was scary for a second or two, then life resumed as normal and I found myself calming down all of the kids, which in turn calmed me down.

“Teacher, we’re at war!”

“No, we’re fine. Don’t you worry about it. They would never do anything bad.”

“Why teacher?”

“Because that would be crazyyyyyyyyy” as I run around the room as if I was crazy, to distract them.

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The Army Came Over For Dinner

The beauty of Thanksgiving is that it is always “how Thanksgiving should be.” Calm, big, delicious dinners? Cooking frenzies that somehow all work out just right? About five pounds of excess turkey? Loosened belts? A bottle of wine per person? Family Drama? Family bonding? The drunken uncle off in the corner yelling at the football game? The younger kids running away from the cleanup? Yup that all sounds about right.

Here in Korea, 14 of us decided to get together and feast properly on Saturday. We didn’t have Thursday off (obviously), so we pushed it back, giving us a little more time to plan out our potlucking technique. Some brought drinks, some brought extra food, and some went to gate 17 of the US Army base here in Seoul and picked up the main meal.

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Summer Pastiche

I never really like following recipes, but I do love reading them. I mean what’s not to like about opening up a magazine, cookbook, or what-have-you, and perusing to see what someone, somewhere (out there), has published as the best way to prepare blueberries on a summer’s eve?

I guess there are a bunch of things not to love about it. Where’s the adventure? Where’s the learning from failure? Well hush up kids, let’s just take recipes as sources of inspiration for new flavor sensations!

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